What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Algorithms. Facebook has recently decided that all of my personalized advertising should be focused on selling me condos in New York, Philadelphia, or DC. I’d be hard pressed to think of where I would want to live less than any of those places. I mean if there was property for sale in a Molokai at the leper colony, I’d be decidedly more interested in it than I am in East Coast city living. Chalk this one up to one of the small ways I know Big Tech still hasn’t completely figured me out.

2. Sport. If COVID-19 hasn’t done anything else, it’s at least muted the coverage of sports in America. With wall to wall coverage of the pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires, and the presidential election, professional sports, even in the midst of their own protests, has largely been a below-the-fold story. It’s a pity it won’t stay there once the other stories run their course. Athletes, like the rest of us, are entirely entitled to have an opinion… but I remain under no moral, ethical, or legal obligation to care what a bunch of grown adults who spent their time chasing a ball think about the topics of the day.

3. Baltimore. Fifty people were shot in Baltimore last week. It would be easy to blame that on guns – it’s what various Mayors and councilors of Baltimore have done for years. It’s always easier to blame the tool than blame the trigger-pulling constituents themselves. I wonder, though, how much of it is really do to what I have observed as the general ineptitude of city government throughout my adult lifetime. Currently the city can’t manage to keep up with the most basic services like trash collection. What hope, then, is there that the same august group of august leaders will stumble upon the secret sauce to bring violent crime under control? I have great faith that we can rely on them to keep doing what they’re doing while expecting different results.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

This week offers a real grab bag of topics that could easily be slotted into tonight’s post. There are rioters who the media insists we call protestors, there are those who want us to fall all over ourselves apologizing for the long history of the United States, there are people who refuse to follow simple, lawful instructions, there are local governments all over the country that are failing to provide the most basic services of government – the safety and security of their citizens, and there are those from every corner who are working all possible angles to find advantage in the chaos – whether that’s through committing acts of violence, theft, or injecting outside agitation into already unstable situations.

Like I said, there’s almost no limit to what I could have written on this Thursday. The problem is, I don’t want to. The only goal I’ve had for the last five years or so, really, is to be left in peace on the side of this hill… and that litany of topics brings me anything but peace. 

I spent some time at the office this week. I spent some time at home. I did a little work. I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve laid down on the floor and let myself become a human chew toy. I’ve worked through a not insignificant volume of gin. None of those things led me towards burning down a car dealership or taking pot shots at someone in the street. It leads me to wonder if we wouldn’t collectively be better off if we all just stayed in our damned lane, take a breather, and give the moment a chance to unfuck itself since continually ratcheting up the pressure doesn’t appear to be getting us anywhere productive.

Since that doesn’t seem likely to happen, I suppose I’ll just stay here on the hillside, rolling my eyes ferociously and muttering to myself. 

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.

Lowest common denominator…

I’ll admit it. I’m vaguely fascinated by news reports of some of the fringe actors in the modern “protest” movement – particularly the ones that define themselves as being “resolutely anti-capitalist.”

The Cold War kid in me has definite feelings about that. 

The middle aged adult me, the one with a vested retirement and decades of proven growth a tax advantaged savings account, has big feelings about it.

Far from seeing capitalism as the disease, I’ve always viewed it as the cure, though it’s far from a magic pill. I took my lumps back in 2008 just like everyone else – maybe a little more because I was determined to make good on my debts rather than just walking away from them or expecting someone else to foot the bill. Even after taking those lumps, though, I’m miles ahead of where I would have been had I opted out of capitalism to chase a Marxist pipe dream. Color me an enemy of the state for that, I guess. 

I’ve long mistrusted people as individuals – and have had virtually no trust at all of large groups of them who are convinced beyond reason that they have uncovered the One True Way. I don’t have the time or energy to do anything with fanatics other than mock them mercilessly. Life experience tells me that expecting everyone around the globe to link arms, sing happy songs, and do everything out of the goodness of their collective hearts is going to do not much more than shatter the hopes and dreams of a bunch of idealistic youngsters when the realize the world truly doesn’t give two shits about them or whatever cloud castle they’re trying to build. 

The history of our species is a long list of violence and blood-letting. If we pull back the curtain far enough on this wave of “anti-capitalists,” I’d speculate what we’ll find is just another group of elites who are inching along what they’ve identified as a newly feasible path towards gathering up the reins of power into their own hands. 

Me? I prefer the market-based approach. It doesn’t pretend to be kinder and gentler – but a system that rewards personal initiative and risk seems infinitely preferable to one that wants to smash everyone into the mold of lowest common denominator “equality.” 

The words we use…

If anyone ever wonders why I have a fairly jaundiced view of the narratives offered up by mainline media organizations, here are two headlines from local television news websites from the last 24 hours:

“Baltimore protestors tear down Christopher Columbus statue.” – WJZ Baltimore (CBS affiliate)

“Frederick Douglass statue vandalized in New York park” – WBAL Baltimore (NBC affiliate)

As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, words have meaning. What the words that are used to describe these two events tells me is that the mass media is taking a position on events rather than simply reporting on them. If you damage statue of Columbus, you’ll be described as a protestor (implying that your activities are in some way virtuous), but if you dismount a statue of Douglass, you are a vandal (implying the act is criminal in nature).

Here’s the thing: Both acts are criminal. Those involved in both are vandals committing wanton acts of destruction. None are entitled to a pass for acting like spoiled children intent on throwing a temper tantrum at public expense.

I’d love to say it’s hard to believe I need to say such a thing in the 21st century – worse yet that it will be a controversial sentiment. Yet here we are, twenty years deep into our particularly stupid century.

You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes.

What I learned this week…

There’s not much new under the sun. I suppose there never really is. If reading history is taught me anything, it’s that collectively we have a real tendency to do the same dumbass things over and over again while expecting different results.

With every week that goes by I find myself increasingly at odds with the world. The central pillar of my life philosophy has almost universally been I’ll leave you alone, if you leave me alone. We seem, now, to inhabit a space where even wanting to just be left to your own devices is some kind of heretical commission against one group or another.

It’s utter bullshit, of course. I don’t have much use for people. That’s not based on color, orientation, gender, or anything other than a lifetime of experience dealing with people in groups and individually. With a few notable exceptions, the experience has almost universally been disappointing.

So what did I learn this week? That’s easy. No matter the position you stake out, you’re always going to be the villain in someone’s story. If I’m going to be damned either way, it might as well be for doing what my own conscious dictates rather than capitulating to the mob on either side.

What I learned this week…

At the risk of being accused of not taking anything seriously, the thought that’s occurred to me more often than any other this week is wondering how, exactly, so damned many people have eight or nine days off, largely in the middle of the week, to be able to spend so many days in a row schlepping around the streets of America’s major cities. 

I wish I were even being facetious. I’m simply amazed that so many people have the amount of free time in the middle of the day that being this level of involved would require. I mean don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a nice pile of vacation time stacked up, but not so much I can fire off a week of it at a time due to unplanned circumstances.

Maybe what I learned is that I’m not getting as good a deal on leave as I thought I was. Best believe I’ll be making sure to educate myself further on this one.

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.

At the risk of falling victim to internet outrage…

In the age of financial panic, COVID-19, and riots in the streets, my day to day experiences bear very little resemblance to what I’ve been watching on the nightly news. It’s very much like watching the whole thing unfold like an oddly scripted TV series where facts are made up and the plot is almost entirely nonsensical.

I’m getting up, feeding the animals, going to work, making dinner, and doing those million things a week that keep a household running. I think the so what here is that for every criminal cop, every window smashing rioter, and every grasping politician there are millions of people who are basically like me – focused more on whatever it is they do to get through their own day than whatever it is the news broadcasts and social media channels are spewing.

You’ll never see pictures of that, because people getting on with life isn’t flashy. It’s not newsworthy. It is, though, just about the most common thing in the world.

So if you want to hang your social media in black bunting, go for it. You want to imagine yourself a daring revolutionary standing tall among the barricades, that’s fine. Want to rend your garments because you hate wearing a face mask? It’s your funeral.

Just know that outside the echo chambers of social media and the news outlets there’s a vast swath of America that’s sick to death of fuckery in all the forms 2020 has decided to present to us… and it’s not that we don’t care about what’s happening so much as it is that while everyone else in the country seems to be able to spend weeks on end rallying or marching, a couple of us are still working and trying to manage the day-to-day.

Maybe some people won’t say it for fear of drawing the ire of the interwebs, but I’ve never posted anything for fans, or clout, or praise, but just because it’s what happened to be rattling around my head on any given day. Why should today be any different?

Marks on the wall…

It’s mid-May, a magical time on the calendar where the end of the long slog through the months of spring bereft of federal holidays is in sight. The long holiday weekend for Memorial Day is almost upon us. That usually marks the first of my planned four-day weekends, with Fridays as often as not spent trolling through used book shops, antique stores, flea markets, and barn sales. Given the climate, that normal kickoff to summer doesn’t feel likely to happen, which is, in a word, disappointing.

The next mark on the wall is a week of leave starting on June 1st that I scheduled back in the depths of winter. That’s historically a week when I go further afield on my quests for the next interesting item – ranging widely through eastern Pennsylvania, the Delmarva, and central Maryland. That too seems like an activity that will surely still be out of reach just three short weeks from now. I also question the value of taking a restorative week of vacation time when I’ve already mostly been home for the best part of two and a half months. I’ve often enough needed a proper break from the office, but needing a rest from being at the house is beyond my understanding.

In any case, the marks on the wall by which I plan my year appear to be lining up to fall in 2020. Admittedly, two months into the Great Plague and its associated closures probably makes me a little late to this particular party. Although I find this impending change of plans annoying, they’re not debilitatingly so. They certainly don’t drive me to take to the streets in protest… even if that’s the cool new thing to do.

There will be other marks on other walls at some point in the future yet to be determined. My vacation time balance isn’t going anywhere (as long as I’m not dumb enough to let it expire at the end of the year) so holding those plans in abeyance isn’t cause for alarm just yet. Getting all up in my feelings about anything that’s not happening feels about as useful and productive as wandering down to the river and ordering the tide to go out.