What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Things from the Before Time. People are returning to the office. What I’ve noticed, particularly among a certain set of semi-senior or management types, is a quiet, unspoken determination to do things the way they were done in the Before Time. There’s a willful effort at suspending disbelief and denying the reality of the Great Plague. The fact that people aren’t quietly going along with their fervent wish to roll the clock back to February 2020 almost hits them as a surprise… as if they want to wish away the fact that over the last 30 months, the people didn’t find a better way to work and arguably a more rewarding way to live. But here they are, shocked and surprised that most of their colleagues aren’t thrilled and excited to commute, spend eight hours a day siting in florescent hell, or pile into a charter bus packed elbow to asshole with 53 of their new closest friends to take a two-hour ride. The powers at echelons higher than reality can make people return to cubicle land, but their expectation that anyone will do it with a smile in their heart is going to be sorely disappointed. 

Hurricane coverage. I’ve never really understood why networks make their anchors stand in the rain looking like drowned rats for their newscast. I know television is a visual medium, but I think everyone watching has had enough experience with rain to know what it looks like when you get caught in a downpour. Sure, show the aftermath. That’s probably newsworthy at some level. During the storm itself, though, there’s honestly just not that much to see that can’t be caught through a window or from under some minimal level of shelter. Sending grown ass adults to stand outside to demonstrate that it’s raining and windy, doesn’t feel particularly useful to my understanding of the coverage.

Being a dollar short and three months late. The plumbing company I had originally planned to use to install and new and improved water filtration system (more than two months ago) called rather sheepishly on Monday morning. The voicemail went a little something like “Oh, hey Mr. Tharp… We, uh, have a plan here for your filter system… We, uh, must have put it in someone else’s file and, uh, wanted to schedule a time to come out and get started on that work.” I appreciate the level of audacity it must take to make that call, particularly after I spent a month calling weekly to see where the plan was and when they were going to get started, before giving up and handing the project to a company that came out, drafted the plan, and did the work all within a week’s time. Mistakes, I’m told, happen. This, however, is one that could have been avoided at any of five or six points along the way if they had responded to a customer’s efforts to make contact. I encourage this company to go, and I can’t emphasize this enough, fuck themselves. 

Permitting…

I could go ahead and rant about everything what’s wrong with needing to get a permit to exercise a right specifically called out in the Bill of Rights, but the fact is it’s a restriction that exists and is unlikely to go away any time soon. Instead of focusing on that as the overarching issue, I’d like to comment on the absurdity of the permitting process itself. 

Let us assume for purposes of discussion that you are a holder of a permit to carry a concealed handgun in the state of Maryland. West Virginia does not require a permit, so there are no issues there. Your Maryland permit will cover you to walk into Virginia. The moment you walk into the other neighboring states of Delaware or Pennsylvania, though, you become an outlaw. Your Maryland permit does you no good there.

In order to get legal in Pennsylvania, you need to apply for a Pennsylvania non-resident permit, showing proof that your home state of Maryland has given you a permit, and then, of course, pay a fee. A few weeks later, if you’ve applied through a county that issues non-resident permits (not all of them do even though state law allows for it), they’ll call you to come pick up your card. It’s basically a cash grab by another name, but there’s no other way to get there from here. 

Delaware is a bit of a different animal. While they don’t recognize Maryland’s permit, they do recognize Utah’s permit. This means as a Maryland resident, what you’ll need to do to get legal in Delaware, is take a 4-hour class, send a picture, fingerprints, and (of course) another fee over to the great state of Utah and request that they issue a non-resident permit. As a Maryland resident who has never set foot in Utah, you’ll then be ok to carry your handgun into the great state of Delaware and a few other places not covered by Maryland’s permit.

If it seems like a logic defying patchwork arrangement, I suppose it is. And that’s likely by design. With three permits in your pocket – Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Utah – you can move about most of the country without running afoul of the law. I’ll just have to remember to stay out of New York, New Jersey, DC, Florida, parts of New England, and most of the west coast. That really shouldn’t be a problem. In the absence of adopting nationwide Constitutional carry, it really does feel like well past time there was some kind of national reciprocity to bring a degree of order to a decidedly disordered arrangement. As usual, I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen, so I’ll busy myself with satisfying the bureaucracy of at least three different states for the foreseeable future.

Congressional ineptitude…

It’s that magical time of year when thoughts turn inevitably to the non-zero percent likelihood of a government shutdown. This stems from the inability of the United States Congress to pass a basic federal budget any time in the last 15 years. Yes, for 75% of my career, your federal government has been funded through makeshift resolutions rather than via the actual federal budgeting process. It’s an arrangement that has led to a number of furloughs and government shutdowns while our beloved representatives in Congress attempt to find their asses with both hands and a flashlight.

Now personally, with all of the elected branches of government controlled by members of the Democratic Party, I find it hard to believe they’d shoot themselves in the foot by failing to even pass a continuing resolution to fund government operations for FY23. Although I find it hard, I don’t discount the possibility completely. Having “full control” of the Congress over the last two years has certainly highlighted the Democrat’s inability to get along among themselves. Having one or two of their members bolt during negotiation is certainly well within the realm of the possible. 

In the past, a government shutdown meant most of us went home and sat around wondering if there was going to be a provision for back pay when the doors eventually opened again. In my experience, the answer was always yes, but it was never a certainty until a special provision was passed allowing for it. Thanks to a new provision in law, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019, the question has been permanently resolved. Uncle Sam is now required to pay his employees in full at the end of a shutdown, regardless of whether they were sent home or not.

With that delightful piece of legislation now enshrined in law, my level of concern at the potential for the U.S. Congress to become the world’s largest circular firing squad has been almost completely eliminated. Sure, it’s bad from a PR perspective, it holds up our representative democracy to all sorts of mockery, and it makes our most senior elective leaders look ragingly incompetent… but that’s pretty much the opinion I have of them already. At least this way I know I’ll be getting paid. Eventually. So, bring on the Congressional ineptitude. 

Monday and other inconveniences…

It’s Monday. Again. It feels like Mondays are happening more and more often these days. I know that’s not how time works, of course, but it still feels like they keep showing up all out of proportion to how often we get a Saturday thrown into the mix. Perception is a hell of a thing, and what brings me to my real point today.

If I really dredge the far recesses of my mind, I can still vaguely recall the version of me that was a young, highly motivated professional who wanted to do all the things, go all the places, and generally be in the middle of everything. That version of me is unquestionably dead and gone, replaced by one that isn’t interested in wave making or in any way drawing unnecessary attention to himself or whatever he may be doing.

I can’t really say if one approach is particularly better or worse than the other. Both feel equally valid. Both are based on conditions, circumstances, and past experience. Present me has learned, from hard experience, that there’s no real benefit from getting too far out over my skies. Sure, maybe I could stick the landing, but the more probable result is face planting into the nearest tree.

Right now, experience is screaming in my ear that seeming too eager or too competent will lead to nothing but angst, frustration, and an increased workload. It’s better, then, to keep on quietly, not fouling anything off, but equally determined not to give in to any conspicuous display of more than average competence.

I like to think it’s a reasonable precaution in uncertain times.

Like magic…

This is the third month of having someone come in and take care of the “heavy” housework – floors, bathrooms, and kitchen with a side order of regular dusting thrown in.

Once a month they show up for an hour or two and do their thing. The bathrooms and the kitchen sparkle, the dust is off the baseboards, and animal hair magically disappears from the furniture. I’ve gone from skeptic to full blown acolyte. It’s probably the only bill I pay every month that doesn’t make me wonder what, exactly, I’m getting for my money.

I think I’d still be vaguely weirded out if I were handing them a key and hoping for the best, but since they’re doing what they do while I’m happily sequestered with the dog in the back bedroom / tortoise habitat / book storage facility, it doesn’t feel sketchy at all. Maybe having bathroom contractors in and out of the house most days for three months has taken some of the edge off having strange people milling about.

I know I’ve said all of this before. I get the terrible feeling that I’m going to repeat it every month like a broken record, but it’s really just that magical.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Eye strain. My eyes aren’t getting worse, the doc tells me. My prescription hasn’t changed now in three years. In response to my complaint about not being able to read deep into the night like I used to, “Your eyes are just getting old,” he says with a grin and the hint of a chuckle. Apparently looking at a computer all day and trying to read all night, is just straining the hell out of them, which is what’s making the world go all blurry after 8 PM every night. The fix, maybe, is to add a set of reading glasses to my current bifocal order. Theoretically, that will mean when I’m reading in the evenings, I won’t have to keep looking down through the bottom third of my lenses. If that doesn’t do it, we’ll order a set that really magnifies instead of just adjusting the focus for my crummy vision. I’d pretend to be indignant, but at this point I’m willing to try most anything to get the situation corrected or even just improved.

2. Autumn. We’ll see the first few hours of autumn today. I don’t particularly mind the onset of cooler weather, but I resent the hell out of the days getting shorter. If feels like losing a lot more than we’re gaining for the trouble. This time of year always comes along with a certain nagging black dog. History tells me he’ll be around for the next 10 or 12 weeks. I’ll perk up a bit at the solstice, when we’ve gone over the hump and days lengthen instead of grow shorter – with its promise of gaining something rather than losing it. Until then, I’ll simply go through the day with a slightly increased baseline level of aggravation. It’s probably not so much that anyone would notice, but I’ll damned well know it.

3. People. Donald Trump is easy to mock. He’s a twice impeached reality television star-in-chief who spent his final days in office plotting the undoing of our republican form of government and when caught red handed begged his followers not to believe the evidence seen by their own lying eyes. As we’ve learned over the last seven years of his candidacy, his term of office, and his post-presidential career, that’s just Donald being Donald. The really troublesome bit is the people, who despite all evidence – or perhaps because of it – still rally to the call of this disgraced carnival barker. Make no mistake, there’s still enough of them, added to critical mass of those who are simply ambivalent, that it’s entirely possible he’ll be on the ballot two years from now. You can’t blame the former host of The Celebrity Apprentice for that part. It’s only a possibility because people are gullible, too invested in the narrative to be open to new information, or too stuck on their pride to admit they’ve been misled and find another way ahead.  

Global wealth, exceptionalism, and mediocrity… 

According to an article in The Guardian, in 2021 the number of millionaires in the United States increased by 2.5 million, bringing the total of millionaires in the US to 24.5 million. Put another way, approximately 7% of the people living in this country have a net worth of at least one million dollars. That number is so high compared to historical levels that according to the article “the number of millionaires was becoming so large that it was becoming ‘an increasingly irrelevant measure of wealth.’” 

In my mind, having 39% of the world’s millionaires knocking around the country is a good news story. It speaks to the unprecedented level of wealth creation the American economy and global trade have fostered. We’re creating wealth in greater amounts and more quickly than ever before in history and it’s a testament to what’s still possible with brains, effort, and a bit of luck.

The Guardian, of course, takes pains to point out that the largess of the global economy hasn’t been fairly distributed. As if anything in the world has ever been distributed fairly. Natural resources aren’t sprinkled evenly across the world. Intellect isn’t awarded equally at birth. Gnashing your teeth over issues of equity is, of course, the trendy take, but it’s not how the universe works. 

Personally, I’m far happier knowing it’s possible to be exceptional, somewhere towards the right end of the bell curve, than knowing for a certainty that we can all look forward to an equal share of mediocrity.

The agitating present…

Having spent the last week and a half taking in a steady diet of new from the UK, I tried this morning to adjust back to information from sources closer to home. It wasn’t a particularly happy reunion.

Aside from the local weather forecast, I’d be hard pressed to tell you about a single story covered my go-to station out of Baltimore that I could gin up any interest in at all. Murder, mayhem, hints of corruption – nothing new under the sun. Switching over to CNN it was the predictable drumbeat of catastrophic weather, rerunning the election of 2020 and the general fuckery surrounding it, and all manner of talking heads I’m increasingly convinced don’t have the first idea about what’s happening or why. 

I’m sure there are a host of things I should be interested in, or that I should at least have a bit of general knowledge about, but friends I’m here to tell you that I just don’t. Maybe it’s simply news overload. Maybe it’s too many sources peddling a decidedly weak product. Whatever the cause, I’m far more interested in reading analysis of what happened a continent away 500 years ago than I am in lending my eyes and ears to what happened yesterday thirty miles from home.

I’m sure once the midterm election gets a little closer or the case against the former host of The Celebrity Apprentice ever gets a bit of traction, I’ll tune back in – or at least gin up a modicum of interest. For the immediate future, if it’s not coming through BBC, The Times, or one of the news aggregators I glance at in the morning, I’m going to be ok not paying attention.

If something legitimately important happens, I’m sure it will break through the static. Until then, I’ll be perfectly content studying the past rather than being thoroughly agitated by the present.

An utterly cotton headed loss for words…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been far better at expressing myself in writing than in words spoken aloud. Something about the slowing down and crafting the words on the page versus simply opening my mouth and letting them fall out as unorganized or partial thoughts, I suppose.

Even though writing is supposed to be my strong suit, it’s all a dry well tonight. I’m lucky to string together a coherent thought about not being able to put more than half a dozen words together without my eyes crossing and my brain going into vapor lock.

I’m going to go mix a very tall gin and tonic, get a night’s sleep, and expect the cotton in my head to be a bit less dense tomorrow and the day after that and the one after that. Before long, I’ll be back to full throated raging against annoyances, wry observations, and occasional bad takes on current events. For now, I’m just going to let coming down from forgoing a lot of sleep and mainlining a single story for the last eleven days take as long as it takes.

I know a lot of people keep saying they wish they weren’t living in such interesting times… but I wouldn’t miss it for the world, even if it does occasionally leave me bleary eyed and nonsensical.

Salute to the unknown bureaucrat…

Somewhere in London right now is a nameless, faceless bureaucrat punching tons above his weight class as he struggles mightily to corral monarchs, heads of state, and plenipotentiaries. Each of them is a petty king or queen in their own realm and unaccustomed to going second to anyone. But our bureaucrat will be responsible for ensuring their good behavior if only for an hour or two.

No one will ever know who he is or what he’s done… unless the wheels fall off and blame must find a home. Tomorrow the world will watch the spectacle of Britain honoring one of its most favored daughters. The watching world won’t know or care how the show was made or anything at all about the bureaucrat.

It’s cold comfort, but I’ll know. Or at least I’ll have the barest inkling of what’s gone into making sure the spectacle looks effortless. I’ll marvel at the effort, the sleepless nights, and the frenetic pace. Though you’ll remain forever unknown, I’ll salute you.