What Annoys Jeff this Week?

The hardest aspect of writing What Annoys Jeff this Week isn’t finding the three things that have agitated the shit out of me during the last seven days, it’s the culling through the multitude of life’s little indignities to arrive at the three that best sum up the week that was. As ever, it’s a precarious balancing act between my liberty to speak and my willingness to deal with the consequences of those words once they’ve left my brain and shown up on the internet. In that spirit, I proudly present you with the 110th installment of What Annoys Jeff this Week.

1. Failure to communicate. Nine times in ten I don’t mind when something I’ve bought and paid for is backordered. As long as I know it in advance or it’s communicated to me as quickly as possible after the order. What you shouldn’t do is wait for two weeks, fill the balance of the order, and only then let me know that the one widget I needed to make it all work is backordered indefinitely. Some people would probably shrug it off, but for me it’s a sure guarantee that I’ll repackage the whole thing, return it at your expense, and never conduct business with you again. When you fail to communicate with the customer, at least when that customer is me, everyone loses.

2. Being not quite sick. There’s a murky line somewhere between feeling well and being sick. I’ve found astride that line for the last two days. With an obnoxious cough, a turbulent stomach, and a general feeling of malaise, I’ve mostly crashed through the mid-week period feeling vaguely out of sorts and enjoying the attention span the Almighty gave to the average walnut. It’s not the recipe for doing great and wonderful things. In fact it’s most likely the recipe to make sure foolishness and asshattery lurk around every corner.

3. Anything to do with the Winter Olympics or the Super Bowl. So there rest of the world doesn’t respond with a visceral sigh when someone mentions either the Olympic Games or the Superbowl. I’m sure there are even those reading this now who are beside themselves with anticipation of the great and exciting things to come. As for me, my disinterest has been driven to a state of outright hostility by the sheer shove-it-down-your-throatedness of media coverage of both of these events. I’ll leave the rest of the world to their excitement. As for me, I’m not a bit interested in any of it… until the summer games… or the world women’s volleyball championship. Whichever comes first.

Won’t get fooled again…

If you stick around any sufficiently large organization long enough, that which was shall be again. A reorganization here, a shuffle there, a bit of consolidation, another reorganization and it’s as if all the powers of the universe conspire to carry you back to the way things were before the wheel first spun. It’s one of the great universal truths of the bureaucracy.

Some people get up in arms over such circularly repeating patters. Others will tell you how much of an improvement the “new” system is over the “old” one. They’ll cheerfully tell you that it’s better than sliced bread and twice as nutritious. Some people will buy the company line about gaining efficiencies and economies of scale. Those who approach life with a slightly more cynical eye will shrug, maybe chuckle, and keep on doing what they’ve always done.

In that spirit, I can only offer the words of one of the 20th century’s great poets:

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution;
Take a bow for the new revolution;
Smile and grin at the change all around;
Pick up my guitar and play;
Just like yesterday.
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray;
We don’t get fooled again.

That Pete Townshend, man… He would have been a masterful bureaucrat.

Matchbox…

I grew up in a generation that still played with toys rather than electronics. For a large part of my childhood, my toys of choice were cars. Matchbox, Hotwheels, Micro Machines, you name a brand of toy car in the early to mid-1980s and I probably had it. Come to think of it, I probably still have most of them packed away somewhere. While matchbox cars made great toys, what they don’t make is great transportation for a full grown human man.

How do I know this to be a universal truism? Well, for the last two mornings, I’ve jammed my 6’2”, 300# frame into a Hyundai Elantra. Since I’m use to driving the automotive equivalent of an aircraft carrier, I feels a little disingenuous to proclaim my powder blue rental the worst car in all of human history. I’m sure for those who are more slight of build and a foot shorter they’re probably just fine. Sadly, all I see is what it’s lacking; minor things like power, and handling, and storage, and a driver’s seat that doesn’t feel like sheet steel. It does, however, have satellite radio, came iPhone ready, and doesn’t swallow a quarter tank of gasoline in a day’s commute, so I’ll give credit where it’s due.

But even with those good points, it’s basically a matchbox car… and I can’t wait to get out of it. Or maybe I just can’t wait to get my Tundra back in the driveway where it belongs. I can already feel the neighborhood judging me because of the adult go-cart sitting out front and I’d like to get this dark chapter behind me as quickly as possible.

I’d be there by now…

As I sat down at my laptop this morning at 6:15, it occurred to me that if telework were a thing we could do on a regular basis, I’d be at work by now rather than just sitting here waiting for the body shop to open at 8AM. I could have worked for two hours, taken an early lunch to deal with the truck, and still gotten in a full 8 hours before my usual quitting time. Instead, I’ll do a little writing, drop of the truck, take a few hours of vacation time, and work about half as much as I would on a normal day.

As a former supervisor, I’m well acquainted with the challenges of working with people spread out all over the countryside. It’s tough, but with the right people it’s eminently doable – where there’s the will to make the extra effort. Of course where there isn’t the will, you end up with a lot of arcane rules that make telework something you have to beg for once a year rather than a regular part of your workweek… and I’m sure you can all guess how I feel about begging for anything, let alone begging for something that would make me a better, more productive employee. I’ll lead the horse to water, but it’s going to have to decide to drink all on it’s own.

With no apologies…

One of my younger sisters was working at The Mall in Columbia yesterday morning when an as yet unidentified douchebag walked into a shop on the second floor and started shooting. That’s my way of saying that this one is something close to home and not simply an academic exercise in which I take my beliefs out for a walk. Yesterday, she did what she was supposed to do – sought cover and concealment, made sure her people were safe, and waited. Knowing our shared family traits, I would never go so far as to say “waited patiently.”

On any average day the vast majority of law abiding citizens of Maryland go through their day with nothing standing between them and the violent acts of a few than the tacit social compact that says the state should have a monopoly on violence. By extension, when you find yourself in harm’s way, the only course of action is waiting for the machinery of the state to come to your defense. While someone is committing the most violent of crimes even a few yards away, the state wants you to sit quietly and wait for them to take action on your behalf. That’s not a criticism of the Howard County Police Department, Maryland State Police, FBI, or any of the others who, by all accounts, were on scene incredibly quickly and did yeomen’s work to secure the area. It is a criticism, however, of a system that expects and encourages people look to the organs of the state to clothe, house, and protect them.

Despite the quick response of law enforcement, there were a few minutes – even if it were only one or two – where the first, last, and only line of defense was a locked door, patience, and hoping for the best. That’s not acceptable level of self defense to me – and shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone, really. I wish Maryland recognized the right of its citizens to defend themselves in equal and opposite measure to the force being brought to bear against them. In a world where only criminals have access to firearms, only criminals will use them – leaving the average person in the street beholden to the state entirely to provide for their personal defense. Some people – perhaps the majority in Maryland – are perfectly happy deferring their self defense requirements to the state. I’m not one of them.

Yesterday’s events hit close to home. I’m convinced now more than ever and with no apologies that free men and women must be allowed (and prepared) to defend themselves with all possible force at a moment’s notice. Sadly, I’m sure the leadership here in the great state of Maryland will politicize Columbia and use this as another excuse to lay even more onerous restrictions on those of us who try to live inside the bounds of the law.

Long range planning…

When it snowed last week, I didn’t put a high priority level of effort into shoveling the driveway. After all, I have a large, powerful 4-wheel drive truck and given the relatively southern location and moderating influence of the nearby water, snow doesn’t tend to stick around very long here at the rental homestead. I shoveled out a parking pad and a path to the mailbox, figuring that that would be sufficient for a couple of days until the melt set in. It seemed like a reasonable decision at at the time.

What that decision failed to take into account was the air temperature wasn’t going to climb above the low 20s for days on end. I also didn’t count on getting another inch or two of snow sometime today. Still, with the truck, a snow covered driveway with a few packed down icy spots isn’t exactly a big deal. It wasn’t until last night that I remembered that I was going to drop off the truck at a local body shop on Monday so they could do the repairs from last week’s unpleasantness. That means I’ll be swapping out my 4×4 for a rental that will probably have more in common with a matchbox car than it does with an actual motor vehicle. That friends, is a failure of long range planning and a lesson in unintended consequences.

Now that the driveway is too packed down to shovel effectively, I’m jumping to Plan B: adding a couple of bags of road salt to my market list and hoping I can melt two ruts down to blacktop between now and Monday. Woops.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Being polite. I realize the social convention that tells us it’s bad to walk around punching people in the face exists to protect all of us from each other. God knows there are probably of plenty people out there who would like nothing more than the opportunity to slug me with no repercussions, but still, there’s something infuriating about being in a position day-in-and-day-out of being annoyed to your wits end and not being able to say or do anything about it because it would be considered rude. The people who don’t get typical social cues shouldn’t be covered by normal social conventions. When I’ve turned my back to you and you keep talking, I should be allowed to punch you in the face. Invade my personal bubble? Punch in the face. Have no clue that others aren’t interested in a monolog about your top five worst medical problems? Punch in the face. Twice. You get the point. When someone lives outside society’s norms, maybe they shouldn’t be protected by those norms. If your feelings get hurt and your nose gets bloodied in the process, well, maybe that’s just a lesson learned… and yet for some reason when you tell someone they’re being an obnoxious douchecanoe, you’re suddenly the asshat. There is no justice.

2. Celebrities. You know the funny thing about celebrities behaving badly? Their asshattery is only covered by the news outlets because we all tune in. Justin Bieber getting a DUI? News. Brittany Spears flashing her hoohaw. News. Kim and Kanye doing anything? News. Except the thing is, it’s not news. People get DUI’s, show their lady parts, and are generally stupid every day of the year without it being the lead story on every website and newspaper in the country. Celebrities get the attention they do not because they behave badly, but simply because we allow it to be so. It’s the classic example of ignore it and they will go away. Or at least they’ll continue to get into trouble, but do it more or less in anonymity and without it becoming a spectacle. It’s a crying shame that we all can’t just agree to ignore these tools until they stop getting the ink they so desperately want.

3. Policy. As a rule, policy is something I’ve always considered a guideline. It’s the user’s manual version of how to do things – 98.9% of the time, policy coverers just about everything you’ll deal with on a regular basis. Conveniently, though, policy very rarely has the force of something more codified, say like a regulation or a law. That means there’s almost always a way to get an exception to policy (or in more extreme circumstances just ignore the policy because it doesn’t pass the common sense test within the context of new or extenuating circumstances). No one is doing themselves a service when the blindly follow something just because “that’s how it’s done” or “that’s the policy.” You see, the problem with blind adherence to anything is that it so often comes with unintended consequences… and those so very rarely end well for anyone.