The Bathroom Report: Day 33

It’s the end of another week here at the endless bathroom project. OK, that’s maybe an exaggeration, but it sure feels that way. I assume it’s because we’re now counting days past the originally scheduled finish date and the end still isn’t in sight. 

The end may not be in sight, but there has been some solid progress made this week. The DITRA membrane is on the floor and the shower is (partially) tiled. The tile work has been slow going. I’m told that fitting the pebble floor and some of the angled bits of the first course of wall tile needed to accommodate the long slope of the shower pan took a bit of doing, but it’s in and the first coat of darkener is on it. The crew is plugging away at it, though, so it’s daily visible progress if nothing else. Plus, given the vague memory of my one long ago experience in installing a tile kitchen backsplash, that was considerably less involved than what they’re working on, I’m perfectly happy to let them contend with it.

I’ve mostly given up on projecting when I think this will be finished. I know getting the tile done is the longest pole of this particular tent. The rest – dropping in the vanity and the plumbing and lighting fixtures – should go (theoretically) quickly. That’s what I’ll keep telling myself. It should help to stave off the madness.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Political (and non-political) violence. The halls of Congress, school, the workplace, the local supermarket, and nearly everywhere has always been filled with people who make me want to crack skulls. Somehow, I’ve always managed to resist the temptation to threaten or carry such notions into action. I’ve never found it particularly hard to avail myself of that restraint. Increasingly, issuing threats, tantrum throwing, and violent outbursts seems to be turning into the default setting. I’ll never for the life of me really understand why this section of the population can’t glom on to the notion that there are always going to be people doing shit they don’t like and the best solution is to just go home, have a highball, and remember that 99.99% of what anyone else does has absolutely no impact on their daily life. For the other .01% of the time, hire a lawyer and let them fight it out instead of acting like some kind of bloody ill-bred yokel.

Door-to-door sales. As a 44-year-old man, I can honestly say that I’ve never purchased anything (Girl Scout cookies excluded), from someone shilling their wares from door to door. There’s a long and storied tradition of this type of marketing, but this is the year of our lord two thousand and twenty-two and I can order almost anything I can imagine for two-day delivery directly to my doorstep without the add inconvenience of needing to tell an over-eager salesman no. I appreciate that everyone needs to work, but I’m not looking for a drive-by power washing any more than I’m looking for a new selection of Fuller Brush products or a set of encyclopedias.

Magically appearing new rights. Food is a right. College is a right. Healthcare is a right. A house is a right. Transportation is a right. This is a right. That is a right. Every damned thing you can think of is suddenly a right and should be provided to people at no cost to them. Except, of course, someone is always going to have to pay. Usually they mean “the government” should pay for it, but which they mean that whatever they’d decided is a right today should be paid for by those of us who are a) Paying the local, state, and federal income taxes the government will use to pay these things and b) Already paying for our own food, college, healthcare, house, and transportation. If I wanted to support a local family of four, I’d have had one of my own by now. You know what I see very little discussion of when people talk about their “right” to other people’s money? If you guessed getting a job and being responsible for yourself, your actions, your decisions, and your future, you’re a spot-on guesser. Well done.

Not what I signed up for…

A few months ago, my doctor started hectoring me to schedule an appointment with a nutritionist. The guy cured some recurring foot pain I was having years ago with the power of positive thinking, so I’m usually game for anything he wants to try.

Let me start off by saying I could probably have gotten a cardiology appointment more quickly that I was able to get something scheduled with a local nutritionist. I made the appointment so long ago that I’d honestly forgotten about it. In fact, it wasn’t until my boss mentioned this morning that I was scheduled off this afternoon that I remembered it at all. That’s not the finest hour for my long-term memory, but I made it on time today so at least I have that going for me. 

I’m not sure what the doc expected me to learn. Eat less, exercise more, knock it off with the red meat and gin. I’m perfectly willing to admit intellectually that I should be exercising an hour a day or that I should be eating low-calorie, flavor-free foods. But the simple fact remains that a) That’s not how I want to allocate my limited free time and b) I like foods that don’t taste like someone smeared cottage cheese on cardboard. I’m well aware that I’m taking years off my life… but I’m not at all sure that the cost of adding years is worth what joys I’d be expected to give up.

This all would have been a fine use of an afternoon, except for the part where when I called requesting an appointment with a nutritionist, the nice people at Christiana instead made me an appointment with an endocrinologist. She was pleasant enough, I suppose, but far more interested in sending me off for a round of all the bloodwork than discussing how to make low-fat lasagna that doesn’t taste worse than the box in which the noodles arrive. I’m pretty sure that’s not what my doc or I really had in mind… but she said her office will be happy to refer me to a nutritionist, so I guess I’ll just go ahead and build a whole suite of medical professionals while I’m waiting on that to happen.

Sometimes it’s increasingly difficult to tell if I’m the sane one and the world has gone mad, or if the world is sane and I’ve lost my mind. Maybe it doesn’t make any difference.

Pawns in the game…

Being that 99% of anyone who reads this blog are Americans, what I’m about to say probably falls into the category of an unpopular opinion. Fortunately, the older I get, the less of a damn I give about holding contrary opinions. That’s what you get in exchange for the perennially sore back and occasional spontaneous additional aches and pains, I guess. It’s probably a more than fair trade. 

In any case, my current unpopular opinion is that although it’s certainly unfortunate, I’m not losing any sleep about the two Americans who were captured in Ukraine and are now being held by the Russians. Before you start with the hate mail, hear me out – American citizens were warned off of traveling to Ukraine. The State Department withdrew its personnel from the country. The U.S. military is not taking an active role in the conflict.

The Americans in question, with full knowledge that they were going to be in an active war zone, beyond the operational reach of U.S. diplomatic and military support, decided to sign up to fight for Ukraine. Their decision, in many ways was heroic. They went where their conscience dictated, despite the personal danger in which it placed them. Doing so, of course, was as much foolish as it was heroic. That’s the catch, you see. Doing the heroic thing, by definition, meant that they accepted an awesomely high degree of personal danger.

Now that these men are in the hands of the Russians, the real weight of their decision has become obvious to them, their family, and those following along at home. I don’t wish these guys any ill, but the reality is they’re third country nationals caught out in someone else’s war. They’re strangers in a strange land. There’s probably a reasonable chance they’ll eventually be exchanged for someone the Russians want to fetch out of a deep dark hole somewhere at some point in the future. Maybe they’ll meet a different, less fortunate fate. For now, though, they’re just another pair of pawns in this new version of a very old game. 

Staring at the tree…

The U.S. Supreme Court generally clears the deck of all pending opinions before going away for the July 4thholiday. Typically, the higher profile the case, the latter the opinion is handed down. That means in the next ten days, we can expect to see new rulings on abortion, religious liberty, the environment, and the Second Amendment.  It’s enough to make a court watcher absolutely salivate with anticipation.

On the other hand, it’s enough to make me seriously consider proclaiming the month of July a social media-free zone. Regardless of how these pending rulings come down, public outcry will be equal parts intense, uninformed, and obnoxious. Responsible analysis will be tough to come by and will immediately be downvoted by partisans. I honestly don’t know if I’ve got it in me to sit around listening to so many people suddenly being engaged and interested. 

Being engaged is good and all… but not just on the big days. That’s just a recipe for people losing their minds as some kind of performative display of giving a shit. It means a whole lot less than paying attention when the sausage is being made. The Supreme Court rightly gets a lot of press, but 99% of law, policy, and regulation never touch their front door. If you’re focused only on those nine judges you’re staring at the tree and missing a whole universe worth of forest to your left and right and in front of and behind you. 

Sigh. Maybe if I just mute all notifications and just spend a month watching cat videos on TikTok the summer won’t be as bad as I’m anticipating. It really does feel like the ideal time to drawing up the digital drawbridge until people settle the fuck down.

The Bathroom Report: Day 26

After pissing away 14 days waiting for the county, we’re back in business. My crew of two has been here the last two days, patching holes, closing up the walls, and generally getting everything set to install the shower pan, lay in the heated floor, and start working through a small mountain of tile.

Heating the floor was one of my non-negotiable items – one of those things I’d have blown up the project without. With the master bathroom being as far from the furnace as it’s possible to be and still stay under roof, the room never quite gets warm. During heating season, the living room may be toasty, the master bedroom is comfy enough, but no matter how hard the furnace is working, the bathroom at the end of the house has never been anything but cold. That obviously won’t be an issue with Bathroom 2.0. Depending on how successful it is in the bathroom, it’s an option I’d like to look hard at when it’s time to replace the flooring in the currently carpeted sunroom.

I was forced, thanks to design oversight early in the process, to make one trade away this week. Since I was determined that the shower niche should centered on the wall instead of offset, I had to give up my heated towel rack. There was no way to mount it where it needed to be that wouldn’t have resulted in drilling directly into the back of the niche. I hated losing that little feature, but spending the next dozen or more years looking at an off-center niche would have made me far twitchier over time than continuing to be subjected to the indignity of room temperature towels. 

Seeing that the ceiling had been closed in, I asked “innocently,” if there was a plan to replace the vast sea of blown insulation that had come down when they opened it up. The sheepish look from the project leader told me that I probably wasn’t supposed to notice/ask about that. It’s not mentioned in the contract, so I’m sure I’ll get a change order and bill for it, but losing every bit of heat I put into the floor directly through uninsulated sheetrock in the ceiling feels like a dumb idea. Whatever it costs to rent an insulation blower for half a day will be worth it.

For all the good news this week, I’ve had to come to terms with the original project schedule being hopelessly blown. In fact, the original plan called for wrapping everything up next week. Well, everything except the glass panel for the shower that’s allegedly going to have an additional 3-6 week lead time from when they get the final measurements. The schedule might be blown and it may be well into July or August before I can actually use the shower, but I couldn’t help but notice that the pile of material and supplies stacked in my bedroom is dramatically less than it was at the beginning of the week. There’s visible progress and I couldn’t be happier to see it. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Footboard. I’m officially not a fan of beds with footboards. Maybe it’s the kind of thing you don’t notice until you’ve already got a sore foot. I’ve always been a bit of a roller and thrasher while asleep, so as a result of my transition to the guest bedroom, I’ve been bashing my feet into the footboard for three and a half weeks now. How was this ever a popular bed design? It certainly couldn’t have taken into account anyone who might accidentally exceed six feet in height. Having a footboard was a non-issue when the bed in question was almost purely decorative. The number of guests I’d encourage to stay overnight is, obviously, incredibly limited, but let me just say that I’m officially apologizing in advance to anyone who might happen to visit in the future.

2. Busybodies. Have we always been a nation of busybodies? I don’t really do “social history,” so the question is a bit out of scope for me. Starting off early with the whole witch trial in Salem, though, kind of points towards yes. I don’t know how people have the mental energy required to care what other people are up to. As long as it’s not taking food out of my mouth or money out of my pocket, I have no idea why I’d care how people want to live their personal lives, who they want to fuck, what god they want to praise, or any of the other things that so many people seem to be so up in arms over. I can only assume that their lives are so boring they have no choice but to try living everyone else’s for them.

3. Failure to communicate. I’ve been playing a lot of telephone this week. I call the prime contractor, they call the sub, the sub calls the county, and then the chain may or may not ring in reverse. All I’m trying to do is get a straight answer on why getting reinspected is taking more than a week after the incredibly minor fix was made. Add in the fact that my prime changed field supervisors mid-project and it hasn’t been the recipe for clear and effective communication during this interminable two week stretch. I acknowledge that it’s possible that my background as a project manager and planner makes me a bit to sensitive to things like this, but it’ll absolutely be making the list as a “needs improved” on the after action report.

This time it’s different…

History doesn’t repeat. Sometimes it doesn’t even rhyme. There are, however, in my estimation, any number of trends we see again and again. Often, though, those trends flow across such long sweeps of time that there’s little or no “generational memory” of the last time they happened. 

COVID-19 was a great example. Confronting widespread plague or communicable disease isn’t something that was fresh and new for 2020. Humans have been dealing with pandemics since the rise of civilization. The last time we faced a pandemic of such scope and scale was a hundred years previously with the Great Influenza of 1918. Given the hundred-year interval, it was an event that had nearly passed out of living memory. Although civilization had seen pandemic many times before, “this time is different.”

The major stock market indexes are down 20% from their highs in 2021. Business reporters and talking heads are wringing their hands about wealth destruction, there being no floor, and the end of capitalism. They’re obviously ignoring the fact that bear markets are a normal part of the economic cycle. In fact, we’ve seen 14 bear markets since 1945. It generally takes about two years for markets to regain their previous high-water mark. We’ve been there and done that, but “this time is different.”

Currently, the United Sates is experiencing a year over year rate of inflation of 8.6%. It’s driving prices of all manner of goods and services higher at the fastest pace we’ve seen since 1981. Many of us are too young to remember anything from 1981, but there it is, right there in the recent history books. In all likelihood the Federal Reserve will crank up interest rates to and a little beyond the pain threshold, pull money out of circulation, and inflation will cool to a manageable level. You can already hear the cries that “this time is different.”

I hate to throw cold water on the almost gleeful panic, but the only thing different this time is that we’re the grown ass adults who happen to be the ones experiencing these events rather than our parents or grandparents. Nothing that’s currently dominating the news is new. It’s the same shit different day that people have been dealing with as best they can for hundreds of years – it’s just that our lifespan is too short to effectively pull back and see the whole board. It’s far easier to believe we’re living through special and unique circumstances that could happen only to us.

Let’s all come back in about 30 months and check my work. 

Detached from reality…

Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. It wasn’t a fact blatantly obvious at the close of election day, but one that became rapidly inescapable as absentee or mail in ballot totals were added to in person vote totals over the next few days. Certainly, by Friday of that week, the trend – and outcome was clear. I knew it. You knew it. The media knew it. The political class knew it. The overwhelming majority of American people knew it. 

Hard as Trump and his people might spin tales of election fraud, the claims were not reflected by the evidence – a fact that court after court found as one ruling was handed down after another, while other, wilder claims were thrown out as having no merit on their face. It seems that everyone except Donald Trump and perhaps his inner core of true believers was well aware of the state of play.

Bill Barr, in his testimony before the select committee appointed to investigate the January 6th insurrection, asserted that when then President Trump went before the cameras claiming theft and fraud, “he was detached from reality.” Let that phrase sink in. That’s a man who has twice served as Attorney General of the United States observing that the guy we’ve entrusted with the nuclear launch codes was having a hard time telling reality from make believe. 

I’m increasingly convinced that on January 6th we stood a hairs breadth from an American chief executive, gotten high on his own supply, refusing to leave office. How close we came to overwhelming the creaking, 200+ year old Constitutional safeguards that have always been more than enough to guide better men who held the office, is absolutely horrifying to behold. 

 If seeing these facts and patterns of behavior laid out now, when not caught up in the heat of the moment, doesn’t give you even a moment’s pause, I don’t have any idea what would. We got incredibly lucky that the American system, under incredible and unprecedent pressure, worked. We’d be well served to never run it that close to the red line ever again, because I fear being delivered safely out the other side had a lot more to do with luck than skill. 

Some thoughts concerning the bipartisan framework on gun control…

It appears that the United States Senate, in a rare bit of bipartisan effort, has cobbled together a framework for new gun control laws. As one of those people who will be stuck complying with whatever goofy laws the state and federal government come up, I have some thoughts on the issue. I’ll try to get through them in some kind of logical order.

I think most people who know me will be a bit surprised as they get through (most of) the rundown:

  • Clarify who must register as a licensed firearms dealer. This feels like a bit of a no-brainer. Clarifying current regulations defining who’s “engaged in the business of selling firearms” should make it easier to understand exactly what that phrase means and who needs to be in compliance in order to conduct that business appropriately.
  • Enhanced penalties for straw purchases. If you knowingly and intentionally purchase a firearm with the intention of reselling or otherwise giving it to someone who is legally prohibited from owning one, you ought to have the book thrown at you. I have no idea what percentage of total sales are straw purchases, but each one of them is an insult to every one of us who jumps through all the hoops in order to stay in compliance.
  • Closing the “boyfriend loophole.” Makes sense. If you’ve been convicted of abuse against your domestic partner – whether married, living together, or in a “serious dating relationship” – your propensity to violence or poor decision making is documented and the state therefore has a vested interest in limiting your ability to escalate that violence.
  • Increased mental health funding. Sure. Is anyone out there really saying that we don’t need to improve access to mental health in this country? I’m not going to turn this post into a brief history of mental health failures over the last century, but getting past the idea that “they’re nuts and there’s nothing we can do about it” is probably a good idea.
  • Enhanced school security. This one feels like something of a red herring. School shootings and “mass shootings” as a whole grab the headlines, but they make up a vanishingly small portion of overall violence in which a perpetrator uses a firearm. I mean sure, more security for soft targets is fine, but you’ll get more bang for your buck in getting people who commit crimes using a firearm off the streets and keeping them there.
  • Enhanced background checks for buyers between 18 and 21. Personally, if we’re going to make gun owners a suspect class, I’d say go all the way back and make sure the review includes juvenile records as well. Walking in with a clean record on your 18th birthday shouldn’t count for more than being a little felon as a minor.

Of course, there’s one bit of this proposed framework, that I’ll be watching with intense interest: Expanding red flag laws.

In Maryland, our red flag law takes the form of the Extreme Risk Protection Order and allows a spouse, domestic partner, dating/romantic partner, relative, law enforcement officer, or medical professional to potation the court to require an individual to surrender firearms and ammunition to the state and to refrain from purchasing new ones. It further provides the court with the ability to refer the individual for emergency mental health evaluation. Some states are more or less restrictive on who can waive the red flag to trigger this process.

It sounds eminently reasonable on its face, but feels replete with opportunities to be abused – by those who might file for an ERPO illegitimately, by an overzealous judiciary, and by the government agency that can continue to hold an individual’s firearms days and weeks after the ERPO has expired or been rescinded.

Unlike some, I don’t think these red flag laws necessarily violate any kind of due process expectation on their face. I do expect, however, that they need to be very strictly constructed and closely overseen in order to prevent them from slipping towards a scenario where those subject to an ERPO find themselves like those Americans who were incorrectly placed on government “no fly” lists with no recourse besides a faceless, shrugging, government bureaucracy.

Personally, if I were king for the day and I wanted to get after gun violence, I’d spend my time chasing better legislation to put violent offenders in the deepest, darkest hole that local and state government and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons could find. Commit a crime with a firearm and the whole world ought to fall down on your head. Instead, we continue to usher these individuals into the revolving door of arrest, incarceration, release, wash, rinse, and repeat… but that’s not the story that’s going to ever lead the headlines and captivate public attention, so we are where we are.