Lining up in a mall doesn’t make sense

I’m all for social distancing, but I couldn’t figure out what the point was of having people line up outside of stores inside of the mall.

The food court at Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall on 9/5/2020

I had to make a run out to Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus, NJ this weekend. I had to drop off a return at the Amazon Books store in the mall. It was something I ordered online but that just didn’t work out quite how I wanted it to and I figured I could kill two birds with one stone: drop off the return and then drive 5 minutes over to IKEA and pick up a few things I’ve been looking to get since pre-COVID.

I figured there would be people in the mall, especially on a holiday weekend, but the crowds were massive. It was so packed in the common areas that I often had to walk slowly behind people or veer wide around large groups. There were often bottlenecks caused by lines of people trying to get into stores next to kiosks. It was often shoulder to shoulder. Keeping people in lines outside of stores was actually increasing instances of close contact.

I’d never been inside that mall before. It’s almost ridiculously big. I don’t really like shopping in person anymore but I’m interested in going back, hopefully when it’s not as crowded. I guess it’s because of how empty the city has been recently, but I actually started to get agitated by the crowds. It became uncomfortable and I had to get out of there.

I never made it into the IKEA either. Earlier on this year when IKEA first opened up again, I remember reading about long, long lines of people waiting to get into IKEA stores. Months later, they’re still a thing. There must have been 250+ people waiting to get into IKEA and the store was scheduled to close an hour and 20 minutes later. Half of the people there waiting weren’t even going to make it in the door, so I just kept driving and went on home.

I keep wondering when things are going to get back to normal. Will it be right after the election? Will it be next year sometime? Never?

And does it really matter anymore? I’d like to go back to the museums, but I’m not going to give myself the headache of trying to prepurchase tickets at tourist rates for specified time-slots. Other than that and the lines at IKEA, my day-to-day hasn’t really changed that much. Though, thinking about it, it would be nice to sit down at a restaurant again too.

I’m ready for another 4 years of more of the same

After 5 years of constant exposure, I think I’ve developed a tolerance for the hyper-sensationalized BS that passes for news now. Even with everything that’s going on this year, it doesn’t seem as bad as 2016 and I started wondering why. This year, we’ve had a global pandemic, an economic crash, and riots, but in a way it just feels like normal. And I wonder if it’s because I’ve just stopped trusting the news and I’ve stopped taking things at face value?

In the run-up to the election in 2016, the media crafted a narrative out of whole cloth and sold the idea that Trump was a walking catastrophe that would fundamentally alter the nation. When he won despite these dire and apocalyptic predictions, it was shocking because it was so contrary to the reality that had been constructed by the media and social elites. It really felt like something meaningful had happened and like something terrible was going to befall us all.

Four years later, the US really hasn’t altered course in any dramatic way. In fact, I imagine that Trump is more establishment than even the establishment could have predicted. He went pro-Israel in a decisive way by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. He’s stayed strong on stopping illegal immigration at the southern US border. He has been pro-military, but has also done troop draw-downs when it made sense. He put real effort into solving the North Korea problem. Everything we would expect from a US administration.

I personally don’t give AF that he’s in tight with Putin. To me, it makes sense to let go of the Cold War McCarthyism and shore up our relationship with Russia, especially considering China’s rise as a global superpower. It would be great if Russia didn’t interfere with our elections, but I see that more as a failing of Obama’s administration in terms of not putting measures in place to hold companies like Facebook and Twitter accountable for the ads they run.

I also don’t see Trump as completely responsible for the number of COVID-19 deaths. The biggest reason we’re seeing this many deaths is because Obama and the Democrats (when they had a majority in both houses of Congress) failed to pass real universal healthcare. Additionally, the Federal government only has so much power over the States and when States do something stupid, like not enforcing social distancing, that’s on the States, not the President. If the President rolled in with Federal troops unasked on US soil, that would be a bigger problem. So, blame where blame is due. That being said, Trump isn’t exactly out there promoting the benefits of a hyuge, beautiful, universal healthcare system, either.

I’m not really a Trump fan. I’d like to see universal healthcare and a UBI (or some law that limits the income inequality between corporate and actual workers). I’m not in favor of open borders or the lawlessness that Democrats are allowing and promoting either though. Or in paying reparations for something that I had no part in. Even more so than in 2016, there are no good choices when it comes to voting in 2020, but somehow I think things will be worse if Biden and Harris win.

Things really aren’t as bad this year as the media and Twitter would have people believe. Events are being overly sensationalized in the run-up to an election to try to unseat the incumbent. The amount of drama being concocted to try to get Biden in the White House is sort of worrying. It makes me want to reconsider conspiracy theories surrounding Hillary. To be clear, I’m not downplaying the wrongness of shooting unarmed people. I’m just thinking about how these events are suddenly being played up now, in 2020, an election year.

Trump is a blabber mouth on Twitter, but in reality he’s doing more of the same in terms of US policy. What the Democrats want to do is extremely radical. I just can’t get on board with open borders or reparations. I don’t believe in holding someone accountable for someone else’s actions. I just can’t see myself voting for Biden. I almost don’t even care.

Maybe I’d feel more strongly if I was still swallowing the media narrative, but I’ve gotten so tired of wading through heavy political bias that I’ve really slowed down the amount of news I watch. I’d rather read a good book or watch a fun show than tune in to get my outrage forecast for the day. When I can find a good show that isn’t making overt US political statements, anyway.

Anyway, November will be here before I know it. Unlike 2016, when I was madly posting on social media about how terrible things were going to be, I’m staying distanced from here on in. It’s not worth the stress. I’m working. I’m exercising. I’m gaming. I’m getting satisfaction from learning Japanese and Spanish and how to set up a web server. Maybe I just don’t care as much because I’m comfortable? Maybe. But I’d like to think that it’s because I learned from 2016, when I worked myself up just to see 4 years of more of the same.

Trying to Approach the Day with the Right Mindset

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.

But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading.

Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.”

Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations, ~170 – 180 CE

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on Stoicism and came across this quote by Marcus Aurelius. It’s a very grounding message.

We should understand people’s bad behavior to be a normal, inherent part of life and living in a society. Rather than be affected, we should make sure that we continue to do the right thing and press on, understanding that people who behave badly are coming from a place of ignorance. And rather than retaliating or getting into a confrontation, we should continue to do our best because it is in the best interest of all involved, including ourselves.

Or at least, that’s what I understood from the quote. I’m not there yet, but it seems like a nice goal to work towards. Basically, not letting other people’s BS affect me and continuing to strive for excellence.

Thoughts on the 2020 Census Low Response Rate

Let me ask you this: if someone walked up to you in the street and offered you $1,091, would you say “No thanks”? According to a George Washington University report, every person that failed to respond to the 2010 Census cost their state an average of $1,091 dollars.

People complain about their communities all the time, especially in the Bronx. The Bronx is one of the worst off areas in the entire country. But people also don’t want to do anything to improve their situation, even when doing it is free.

You use public transportation, the school systems, the hospitals, the roads. Maybe you get EBT (food stamps). Maybe your Mom is elderly and gets some sort of medical assistance. You get a lot of services, but those services don’t just appear from thin air. Someone has to pay for that, right? They’re all partially funded by the federal government.

How does the federal government determine how much money to send to each community? The Census! The Census Bureau counts people, removes personal details, and releases statistics to the rest of the government for the purposes of allocating funding and determining representation in the House of Representatives.

Tables source: Census.gov

It’s pretty simple. The more people that get counted, the more federal funding your community gets relative to the rest of the country. So if you don’t complete the census, you’re cheating yourself and your community out of essential services. You’re cheating your parents. You’re cheating your children.

It takes 5-10 minutes to complete the Census online. You can call someone to get the Census done if you don’t understand the questions. There’s really no excuse.

It doesn’t matter if the government has your social security number. It doesn’t matter if you’re on welfare and they “already know where you at”. That’s not how the government works.

If you want that money, if you want your neighborhood to improve, then you have to respond to the census. If you don’t, then funding for services and/or programs that you use could get cut and/or run out before funding is reallocated after the 2030 Census. This only happens once every 10 years.

Completing the census is more important than voting. When you vote, the politician that gets in office does whatever they want regardless of what they promised during their campaign, but when you complete the census, the government has no choice but to allocate funds according to the count and give your area more seats in the House of Representatives if that’s how the numbers play out. That’s just how it works.

Why do I care so much? Because people being willfully stupid bothers me. Because when I hear someone say, “No thanks” when a census taker asks them to complete the Census, that response is so stupid that it just stays with me. They’re not selling you something. They’re trying to give you something that you need. All you have to do is spend 5-7 minutes and take it.

Only 55% of New Yorkers have responded to the census, but guaranteed next year someone who didn’t bother to respond will be complaining about how the federal government doesn’t do enough to help poor communities like the Bronx.

Baking flaky biscuits for two in cast iron

As a kid, when we visited my grandmother in Georgia on the weekends she would make biscuits from scratch. Biscuits and bacon gravy. I always looked forward to eating breakfast there. It was like having a feast every week and different family members would show up each weekend. I’d still be going to her house every weekend if I lived in Georgia, but I’d be doing the cooking now I think.

About a year ago I decided that I should learn how to make biscuits for myself and I did some research online to find a good recipe. Something fast, simple, and reminiscent of how my Nana makes them. I wound up finding this recipe:

Watching this guy cook in a cast iron skillet got me interested in using cast iron as well, but getting involved with cast iron is a pretty serious commitment so I held off for quite a while before I bought a 12″ cast iron skillet. There’s a lot of preparation involved in seasoning cast iron and it was daunting at first. Now that I have the hang of it, it doesn’t seem that tough at all. And cleanup is a breeze, if you’re using them right anyway.

You can’t really cook flaky biscuits for two in a 12″ cast iron skillet, though. I mean, you can, but it’s not practical, especially since that’s where the bacon will be frying. So, I was using a 9″ cake pan. A few weeks ago I finally picked up a smaller cast iron pan and after seasoning it a few times in the oven, I finally used it to bake some biscuits.

I’m not sure if it’s just in my head, but I felt like the texture and flavor of the biscuits was a lot better this time around. And even if it is just in my head, what difference does that make? It was fun, felt good, and tasted good. And now I’m carrying on a tradition from my childhood, even if it’s just for my wife and I.