What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Online training. Yes, I’m sure there are many wonderful online training tools and modules in use out there, but I haven’t personally come across them yet.  In fact, if I’d say the only thing the current crop of mandatory online training has taught me is how to click through repetitive nonsense as quickly as possible while focusing on doing other, less onerous things. At least most of the training hasn’t be changed up in over a decade, so I’ve learned to miss the “gotcha” questions that trigger remedial instruction which is a small mercy at least.

2. Supply runs and/or delivery. Leafy greens and gin are currently hovering near unacceptably low stock levels at Fortress Jeff. Fortunately, the resident tortoise has been accommodating about allowing me to supplement his usual spring mix with heartier greens like kale, so I’ve been able to forgo needing to add a second supply run for the last two weeks just for him. The gin situation isn’t dire… and I could move on to rum or tequila or whisky… but lately I’ve had a taste for gin and that means at some point I’ll have to hazard a trip into the great wasteland to restock. Even with the inherent exposure risks of schlepping out into the world, I still like it far more than having some total stranger deliver it to my front door.

3. Cotton masks. Look, if you want me to sport a fancy cotton “mask” (aka, a folded handkerchief) while going about tasks in public, you’re going to need to come up with a methodology that also prevents my glasses from fogging over while I’m doing it. I’ve attempted most of the recommended hacks with little result. So, you see, what I have to do is make a choice between the possible benefit of wearing a handkerchief as a medical device and the known cost of not being able to see a damned thing. I can only assume it’s better overall to be able to see and avoid walking directly into people than it is to be masked and not be able to tell the difference between a person and a mailbox.

Dreaming the vampire slayer…

If you’ve known me for any time at all, you’ll know I have a deep and abiding love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I shouldn’t be surprised that Buffy and the whole Scooby Gang eventually found their way into my subconscious.

I don’t remember much in the way of details. The setting was distinctly southern California, though the sun-walking vamps made for some dissonance even in my dreamscape.  Buffy was there, and Giles, Willow, Zander, and Cordy. Spike and Dru were the baddies, but not the baddies. 

The only thing I remember with clarity is I was dumbass civilian who decided to take a swing at the Big Bad. In a standard fight scene trope, he caught my fist on the fly and squeezed until I could feel the joints starting to strain and pop… and then he dusted. Thanks Buffy.

That’s where I woke up, with my hand jammed uncomfortable underneath me, bearing my not insignificant weight, clinched into a fist, and hurting like nobody’s business. 

Apparently, my brain generated Buffy and the Scoobies to let me know I needed to roll over. So I’ve got that going for me, which I guess is nice. 

Prior experience not required…

Ask me anything posts rarely disappoint. They often lead me down rabbit holes that I’d otherwise never end up finding. Today’s post is one of those.

If I’m absolutely honest, I wasn’t expecting to write a post about flour and yeast this week. Baking isn’t a skill I have. I wish it was, but my forays into anything involving baked goods have so often ended in disaster that I let other people make my bread and bring in the Amish experts when I need anything fancy. That there was a disruption in the flour and yeast universe just wasn’t something that was on my radar until someone asked my thoughts on the supply being bought up by “people… with no prior experience.”

Being generally a free market kind of guy, my initial response is mostly that I don’t care who is buying products at a micro level and that sooner or later the supply chain will shift to accommodate new demand realities. Digging a bit deeper though, I don’t think having a whole slew of new home bakers out there is necessarily the worst thing that could happen. Whether it’s baking, cooking, or running a nuclear power plant, there was always a time when the people doing those things had no prior experience. Excluding them from the market is bad business – and will decrease the number of potential people in the future bringing baked goods to work once the Great Plague is over. In other words, everyone has to start somewhere… and where better than a point in life when we all have wide open stretches of staying indoors and needing something to occupy the hours.

From a slightly different perspective, I think the broader lesson to be learned here – about yeast, cleaning supplies, or toilet paper – is that it’s probably a good idea to have a little more than we think we’ll need from week to week or month to month. Just in time delivery works well for a lot of products, but when it comes to the basics of everyday life, keeping what you already know you’re going to use in 30 to 60 days on hand suddenly doesn’t feel like a terrible idea, does it?

Towards a new federalism…

Change is coming. It’s so palpable that if you’re not too fried by the endless stream of immediate and pressing news you can almost feel it. In the long history of this republic, huge, sweeping change has never come in the good times. There’s no incentive towards structural change when the good times roll.

Over the last hundred years, the biggest changes in this country occurred following economic catastrophe and war, specifically the Great Depression and World War II. It’s probably too easy to assume that once we come out on the other side of the Great Plague we’re likely to see considerable changes coming to how healthcare is delivered and a host of changes surrounding the financial sector – strengthening unemployment insurance (and associated processing systems) at a minimum. Some of the changes will inevitably be of such scope and scale that 30 days ago they’d have been laughed out of the room rather than rushed through implementation. What would have seemed radical under the old version of normal could fairly easily become the new normal of the near future.

Those changes are coming – and no politician who’s interested in reelection will dare to stand against many of them.

Where the social compact that undergirds the republic regularly changes over time, the bigger change I suspect we may see is an unprecedented whipsaw in how we view the “federal” aspect of our federal republic. Since the Civil War, the government in Washington has increasingly centralized the powers of government. The pendulum swung so far that direction that some even argued that we had evolved beyond the need for states; Perhaps that we would best be governed in super-state, regional arrangements. 

What we’ve seen on the last three weeks in New York, California, and my native Maryland (among others), is activist governors leading the response to a health emergency in the absence of clear guidance from the federal government. In some ways, they’re the governors who understand the basic theory of emergency management – Local response is supported by the state while the states draw resources from the federal government when their own resources are exhausted. In this case, though, the federal resources barely seemed to get off the ground and governors were left to coordinate between themselves and directly with industry in an effort to fill requirements – while shaming what resources they could out of the administration. 

I wonder if this isn’t the first step towards a new federalism – one that reverses some of the 160-year long aggregation of authority to officials along the banks of the Potomac. There’s plenty of examples of state governors getting their response to this thing exactly wrong, though, so management at the state level is no guarantee of better results. Still, there’s part of me that thinks anything that reduces the authority of the federal government outside the scope of its “core business,” the better off we’re likely to be in the long run. I’ve been confounded lately by the people who with one breath screech “Trump lies” and then with the next weep bitter tears that the president hasn’t issued a nation-wide order confining citizens to their homes. Personally, I get a little nervous when any president or chief executive – puts on the mantle of “emergency powers” only to be laid down again when he or she decides the crisis has passed. History tells me that rarely ends well. 

In any case, there are changes coming. I’m not smart enough to tell you exactly what they’re going to be… or where the law of unintended consequences is going to jump up and bight us in the collective ass.

What I learned this week…

It’s week two of the crisis, but I’m still learning things. I’m leaning so many things that honestly it’s just easier to list them.

1. Bread, the book says, is the staff of life. In a crisis the breads I like most – sourdough and seeded rye – stays on the shelf longest. Even when most else is picked over, I can usually find one or the other in stock. So I’ve got that going for me in the apocalypse, which is nice.

2. Two monitors isn’t a luxury. I’ve spent the last two weeks working exclusively on a laptop. It’s find for basic word processing, but if you get into any heavy lifting in Excel or find yourself needing to edit the fine print in PowerPoint, there’s just no substitute for dual monitors. If I thought they’d get here before the Great Plague is scheduled to end, I’d order up a pair of cheap screens to retrofit the home office, even if it did temporarily crowd the much prettier Apple rig sitting on my desk.

3. Last and finally, I need to talk to myself more often while I’m working from home. After almost two weeks of having just a few phone conversations and occasionally talking to the animals, my throat feels like ground chuck now that I’ve spent the day chittering with people in the office and fielding the random phone calls. It’s probably also because of today’s distinct lack of afternoon tea and honey.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Spring mix. Look, a hungry tortoise needs to eat. I’m slowly working on getting George to accept pelletized dry food as a supplement, but it’s a hard sell for a boy who was raised from day one eating fresh leafy greens. Fortunately, there hasn’t been a shortage of spring mix, kale, or collared greens, but I still have to schlep out to get them… and that happens just about every 4th or 5th day, because fresh greens get slimy in a hurry. I’m a past master at drying off and storing spring mix in layers of paper towels, but what I really need is for that stuff to just last for another day or two before turning to slime so I can knock down the mandatory trips out of the house from two each week to one. 

2. Masks. Reports are that the CDC is considering recommending everyone where a mask when they leave home, which is exactly counter to the recommendation that the general public didn’t need masks that they’ve been pushing for weeks. Adjusting to new information is fine, it’s how science is supposed to work. Except it can’t work that way right now. The CDC suddenly recommending that everyone should wear a mask when there aren’t enough of them in the supply chain to satisfy the demand just of the medical community is irresponsible. Sending 300+ million people out to panic buy masks will make them even harder to acquire. Even if it is the best medical advice, in the current environment it doesn’t make sense.

3. Essential. A former boss of mine could always be counted on to remind you that “words have meaning” whenever you wrote something that wasn’t exactly the way he would have put it. The thing is, you see, he wasn’t wrong. Words absolutely have meaning. We use them to convey information. The word that seems to be creating the most struggle this week is “essential.” Sure, everyone wants to feel like they’re important. They like to believe that they’re the cog without which the great machinery of state can’t run. There are jobs that can’t be deferred for a month, a week, an hour, or a minute. There are jobs that need doing right fucking now. Despite what people or bosses think, most of us don’t really make the cut. 

You ask, I answer…

It pains me to admit this, but a lot of what drives this blog is the need to talk about the people and situations I find myself dealing with at the office. With working from home mostly being the order of the day, I find myself with a significantly reduced level of angst and agitation. Unfortunately that also leaves me with far fewer topics than I usually have knocking around as things to talk about.

So this is where you come in. As we do from time to time, I’m throwing the doors open and inviting you to ask me anything. Is there something you’re dying to know? Is there a topic you think deserves my personal narrative treatment? Do you just want me to sweat out something I’d never even considered writing about? This is your shot.

I’m not going to get hung up on format or directions. Comment directly on this post, leave a comment on Facebook, tweet me, send an email or direct message. I’ll even keep your identity confidential if you’d like. I’m trying to keep this easy for you and interesting for me after all, an anonymity often makes for a more interesting question.

Fire away. The sooner you tell me what’s on your mind, the sooner I’ll be able to give you some kind of half-assed answer.