At the risk of drawing the wrath of the wokes…

I couldn’t help but notice that Chicago was the latest city seemingly brought to its knees by what their behavior indicates is a semi-organized criminal element. Large retailers as well as small businesses and restaurants were the target of looting throughout the downtown section of Chicago on Sunday night into Monday morning. The Tribune reports that some of the criminals responsible were seen loading their loot into the back of waiting rental trucks and other large vehicles. That hardly sounds like a spontaneous protest of social-minded reformers. A hundred looters, a small minority of those the video clips show participating in the pillaging, were arrested.

Last night, Black Lives Matter Chicago held a rally supporting those who were arrested… if one can use the word “rally” to describe the act of surrounding a police station and threatening violence if the group’s demands aren’t met. One of that organization’s leaders noted that the ongoing looting was simply “reparations,” further asserting that “Anything they wanted it take, they can take it because these businesses have insurance.” So, it turns out that theft and destruction are just fine as long as you call them something else.

The incident was triggered when a 20-year old suspect opened fire on the police, who had the unmitigated audacity to return fire when fired upon. Shocking. That particular detail was, of course, buried well down below the lead in most of the sources I read this morning.

I don’t know how long we’re collectively supposed to pretend that violent criminals are in possession of the insurmountable moral high ground in these incidents. At least a few media outlets are starting to report on these events more objectively rather than trying to sell the story of saintly and peaceful protestors versus the wicked and evil police. 

Look, you want to protest, sing your songs, clap your hands, wave your signs, whatever it is that legitimately peaceful protestors spend their time doing, fine. I’m happy for you. Do your thing. Whatever. The moment you use that platform as a cover for violence and criminal behavior, any credibility you may have had with moderate observers is pretty much null and void.

I’m sure this post runs the risk of drawing down the wrath of the internet wokes and getting me cancelled for having the temerity to break with their received truth. As long as it’s my name up there on the masthead, though, you can always trust that I’ll keep saying what I think rather than what’s simply in fashion.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Having no room for subtlety. If the internet wants to agree that all cops are bastards, then by extension we should also agree that it’s ok to define other populations based on a small percentage of the total. Based on this kind of bizarre internet logic, we can also accept, without further discussion, that all whites are racist, all blacks are lazy, all Jews are greedy or whatever your favorite stereotype happens to be. I just don’t have the time or energy to pretend that the world’s great complexities can be distilled down to snappy sound bites or funny, funny memes. The world is too damned complicated for that abject fuckery.

2. The moment before. I can tell the “big thing” is getting close. The phone has mostly stopped ringing. The torrent of email has turned into a trickle. A year’s effort is poised at the edge of the precipice that we must surely tumble down in just a few more ticks of the clock. I love this part because it means the big thing is almost over. I hate this part because there’s virtually nothing to be done now to change the direction we’re headed or the outcomes we’ll experience.

3. Reduced page count. Being back in the office this week has noticeably reduced my daily page count. Losing that hour in the morning and hour in the afternoon that are the daily commute is drastically cutting into my reading time and honestly I’m not a fan. I can’t help but think getting my nose into a book is, frankly, a better use of the constrained resources that is available time. Going back to doing this every day for real until the next plague comes along is just depressing.

What I learned this week…

I was pulled over this morning. The thing is, as soon as I saw the blues and reds coming up in the rear view, I basically knew what it was about. I’ve never entirely cured myself of the lead foot that’s afflicted me since dad first put me behind the wheel of a mid-1980s Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera when I was about twelve. I had a lot of horsepower and a wide open road and, well, one thing led to another.

My point is, I didn’t get pulled over because this particular trooper felt like being a jerk this morning. The guy was doing his job and just happened to be sitting somewhere where he got a good look at me being stupid.

Once we pulled off to the side of the road, I waited patiently, kept my hands visible on the steering wheel, didn’t fidget or reach around for things, and waited for him to come up alongside. I produced my registration, insurance, and driver’s license – while narrating what I was doing and where I was reaching; left rear pocket for wallet, glovebox for everything else.

Directly behind my driver’s license in my wallet is the license that the state of Maryland requires me to hold to purchase handguns. He obviously saw it. The trooper asked if I had any guns in the vehicle. No, sir. Hands back to a very visible place on the wheel. OK.

I sat quietly for about five minutes, waiting for someone, somewhere to report back that I have no current points, no history of violations, and I’m not sitting on a stack of warrants.

Once we confirmed all that, I was handed back my documentation, issued a warning, and told to be safely on my way.

Every word that passed between me and this particular trooper was civil and professional. I didn’t feel any compulsion to give the guy a hard time or make an already dangerous job more difficult. I didn’t want to make a point or try to capture the whole thing with my phone.

We were sitting there on the side of a two lane country road because I gave him a reason to put me there.

So what did I learn this week? Nothing new, just a good solid reminder that if you act like you’ve got half a brain in your damned head, accept that you too can be in the wrong, and don’t antagonize the officer who’s just trying to get through his day, an engagement with the police doesn’t need to result with rolling around in the ditch getting your dumb ass shot.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Intellectual inconsistency. As recently as a few weeks ago, the popular narrative was of police brutality, cops shooting unarmed citizens, and the racist tendencies of police departments across the country. This week the news is full of those arguing that only the police should have semi-automatic weapons. It stands to reason that if you think the police are a bunch of trigger happy racist jerks, they’re precisely the group of people you don’t want to have armed with “sophisticated weapons of war.” Then again, intellectual inconsistency isn’t so much of a big deal when your argument stems largely from a place of emotion rather than from logic, so there’s that.

2. Any given day. On any given day there’s no real way to tell what might be considered a priority by echelons higher than reality. There’s no reliable to plan for it, no way to prepare in advance for all possible topics of interest, and really no gauge for whether that particular thing will continue to be important the next business day. It makes for some interesting conversations with people going on for minutes sometimes without realizing they’re discussing too different things, but what it doesn’t do is make a good platform for getting anything done.

3. Office space. If you’re going to want to hold meetings about every single thing every single day, it might have been a good idea to plan on having more than two or three conference rooms for the thousand plus people you’ve poured into this fancy new building. At a bare minimum you should at least make sure your meetings end on time so the people showing up for the one scheduled to start immediately after yours doesn’t end up playing Tetris on their phones for thirty minutes while they wait for you to wrap up “just one more thing.”

Peace Officers Memorial Day…

Today is Peace Officers Memorial Day. For most people it’s a day that probably passes un-noted or little remarked. That’s fair. The only interaction most people ever have with a police officer is getting a speeding ticket. When you don’t need a cop or they haven’t caught you doing something stupid, their presence just kind of fades into the background.

My perspective comes from a slightly different place of course. In the formative years of my childhood, my dad wore a badge. Some of my earliest memories are of the smell of gun oil, the zing of a whip antenna bouncing off a low hanging branch, and vacation road trips interrupted by stopping along side the highway to aid someone in distress. Growing up, “police officer” wasn’t a simple job title. They were real people, many friends of the family who are friends still. Maybe that’s why I feel such disquiet when confronted by those with no respect or regard for the work done by those men and women who pin on that badge every day.

Police officers leave their home every day doing the kind of work that most of us wouldn’t tolerate for a single shift. They don’t always do it perfectly, but I’d be hard pressed to show you another group of people who are more intent on doing the right thing day in and day out.

You have every right not to like the work they do. You have every right not to like the way in which they do it. But the fact that last year 146 of them gave their lives in performance of their duty insists that they’re worthy of both my respect and yours.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

The One Network that Rules Them All. When I got back to the office on Monday my computer didn’t work. Well, it worked, but the network didn’t. After 30 hours we stretched a Ethernet cable halfway to Baltimore so I could at least check email, but so far the official response has been “we have a help ticket in.” If you want an employee to be productive it feels like the minimum they should do is make sure you have basic office equipment that works. But alas, that seems to be a bridge too far.

National security. Apparently the cell phone storage area at the office presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States. The solution to this was to move the unlocked cabinet that contains 20-30 personally owned cell phones at any given time out into an open hallway. Perhaps we have served national security, but it feels like all we’ve really done is encourage property theft in the process. Call me crazy, but leaving an $800 phone unsecured in a building where people steal pie from the fridge feels just a little bit stupid. Net result, instead of being able to check my phone periodically during the day when I’m on my way to to meetings or go take a whiz, I’ll now be adopting a smoker’s schedule and schlepping out to my car once an hour. If only there were an easier way to be compliant and not try to pretend your employees live in 1983. Sigh.

Blaming others for bad personal decisions. Two douchebags were cornered in a cheap motel room by the police earlier this week in my adopted home town. Then they decided that being on the run from felony charges in another state wasn’t the only bad decision they wanted to make. One after another they raised their very realistic looking BB guns and very quickly paid the price for that level of stupidity. There are a couple of lessons here: 1) If you’re planning on making a last stand, try to have something with a bit more kick than a kid’s toy and 2) If you’re wanted on a felony warrant and the tactical unit shows up, all of your options from that point forward are bad for you… but some are worse than others. Now to the people who say it should have been ended peacefully, that they should have starved them out, all I can say that the only people to blame for these deaths are the ones that ended up getting killed. They committed a violent crime, they fled the jurisdiction, and when the police caught up with them they threatened the officers. I’m sure they were someone’s son and daughter, after all someone loves even the most useless of human beings, but as for me, well, sometimes I think it’s nice when the gene pool cleans itself a bit.

The talk…

Many years ago on the day I got my driver’s license my father sat me down and offered a few last minute words of instruction. It had nothing at all to do with the rules of the road, but instead the unwritten rules that apply when being pulled over by the police. You see, even though I’m white and he was a cop, those rules, however unwritten, applied to us too. Frankly, anything that might help mitigate the potential for being accidentally shot for being a non-compliant douchebag during a traffic stop is welcome information as far as I’m concerned.

The advice I got wasn’t anything earth shattering. Wait quietly with your hands on the steering wheel while the officer approaches the vehicle. Follow his or her instructions precisely and answer questions respectfully. Don’t make any sudden movements and don’t get out of the vehicle unless told to do so. For the most part, what he was telling his teenager was not to get stupid and cocky with the cop whose main concern is making sure he gets to go home to his own family that night. Put another way, it’s always best to remember that the life you save may be your own and try to behave accordingly.

See, as far as I can tell, having “the talk” with your kids about how to interact effectively with the police – or with anyone else for that matter – doesn’t make you a saint or a martyr. It makes you a normal parent looking out for the best interest of your kids. It’s just the responsible thing to do.

On a swivel…

Back on the 4th I asked someone, if they were intent on spending the holiday among the throng, to do me a personal favor and keep their head on a swivel. They seemed surprised at the request and asked if there was a particular reason they should. As the assassination of five police officers in Dallas has shown, I hope none of my friends are any longer in doubt of why I ask them to be aware of their surroundings as they walk into a crowded environment – like a protest or fireworks display or shopping mall.

Our police officers are incredibly dedicated. They’re over worked, under paid, and utterly under respected by their elected leadership and so often by the very citizens they serve. If they can be drawn into an ambush like this you’d damned well better believe the average civilian can too. So yeah, if you ever wonder why I do my level best to avoid large groups of people and why I encourage those I love to do the same, sadly now you know. None of us can have perfect situational awareness, but we owe it to ourselves when we’re part of the crowd to be as aware as possible – of entrances, exits, avenues of advance and retreat, locations for cover or concealment, and of what’s occupying the high ground. Your life – and the life of those to your left and right – could very well depend on it.

Terrorism doesn’t come in just Muslim or Christian flavors. It also comes in the form of political extremists who blow up federal buildings with truck bombs or who shoot up peaceful protests with rifles. Terrorism has been with us far longer than most want to believe – ask an Englishman about “the troubles” or do a little research into the events that triggered the First World War. We can’t eradicate the impulse in some sick bastards to inflict grave harm on society, but we should damned well prepare ourselves to take action when those inevitable bad days come.

Body cameras…

I’m not sold on the idea that every cop in America needs to wear a body camera for the duration of his or her shift. I don’t think they should be a special exemption just for the sake of being police, but the whole concept of the body cam is one I find intensely problematic. If the police are the vanguard of this “always filmed” society, how long does it take until they’re standard issue in other sectors. Slap a cam on retail employees to make sure they’re being polite to customers. Check the vid feed from guy running the register to make sure he’s not handing out a free apple pie with that #3. Securing information is a breeze when everyone with access to it is required to wear a cam so the security guys can overwatch everything set in front of them.

There are plenty of supposed benefits to slapping a camera on everyone. For me, so far, the case hasn’t been sufficiently made. It feels wrong. It feels vaguely un-American. I’m just not sure that I want a camera hanging around my neck to film my next walk to the coffee stand, or to the restroom, poking through unread emails, or taking a loop around the courtyard while I’m trying to chew over a particularly troublesome issue.

Being filmed during the day from start to end feels incredibly intrusive – and while it would undoubtedly change some behaviors, I’m not at all sure it would make me a better employee. It would make me a more cautious and fearful employee, but that’s a long way from making me better. Maybe in this one thing my thinking is a relic of the last century, but the current obsession with getting it all down on film screams a vote of no confidence in your people to do the right thing more often than not. If your people are scumbags, the camera won’t fix that. If they’re not scumbags, no camera is necessary. I know which way I’d address the issue, but getting rid of the asshats up front is a lot harder than just buying some fancy new gear and calling the problem fixed.

If history is any guide, of course, we’ll continue to chase the easy solutions until all we’re left with are the hard ones. Some things never change.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Drink your Ovaltine. I had a meeting last week. That’s not unusual in that the bulk of my professional life is spent getting ready for, attending, or recovering from meetings. This one was special though, because we had a 4-star general spend twenty minutes telling us to eat right, exercise, and get eight hours of sleep a night. A full general. Eat your veggies and get lots of sleep. I have a hard time imagining Eisenhower or MacArthur or Patton spending so much time ensuring their people enjoyed a nice kale salad and got tucked in at night. So do me a favor out there and remember to drink your Ovaltine so you can grow up big and strong.

2. Our big thing. Our grandparents went from riding horses to riding rockets. Our parents built the internet. So far what our generation has done is develop faster and faster methods of sharing pictures of cats with everyone you’ve ever known. No cure for cancer. No flying cars. Just incremental improvements on stuff that’s been around since we were kids. Where’s our big thing? What is it we’re supposed to be doing to leave our mark on the world? I’m as clueless as everyone else I guess, but someone needs to figure this mess out and get working on it.

3. Only when it’s convenient. There are a slew of stories in the press this week about the meteoric rise in Baltimore’s murder rate this month. An AP story weeps that “Now West Baltimore residents worry they’ve been abandoned by the officers they once accused of harassing them.” Well shut my mouth. You treated officers like dirt, sued, and badmouthed them at every turn and suddenly the community is surprised to learn the blue line between civilization and chaos is a little more thin than they realized. I appreciate their efforts to have it both ways – to have a deep and active police presence banging heads and taking down criminals but not the “low level” criminals who are “members of the community.” Sorry folks, it’s a binary system. The law is the law – felonies or civil violations – and when you break that law you recognize that there could be consequences for your actions. For decades parts of Baltimore thought they’d be better off without law and order. Well gang, next time let’s go ahead and remember to be careful what we ask for… because unintended consequences can be a real mother.