Water rights…

Most days I watch the local morning news out of Baltimore. During the week, mostly I’m keeping an ear open for the traffic reports and weather forecast. On the weekends, I imagine it’s just force of habit more than anything else. In any case, I should probably change that habit, because as often as not, Baltimore news just agitates the hell out of me.

Take this morning, for instance – when one report was covering the continuing deterioration of the city’s water system and proposal that rates be increased 9% a year over each of the next 3 years. Municipal water systems are almost the working definition of the kind of services one might expect a city to provide, but of course much of the utility network undergirding Baltimore has been buried for more than a century. That’s long past the time even the most ambitious of engineers would have imagined their work staying in service. If you defer maintenance on such a system long enough all manner of bad things will tend to happen to it. That’s the situation Baltimore is facing.

Maintenance, of course, takes money and that’s one of those things that Baltimore never seems to have. It’s one of those pesky consequences of making policy decisions that chase your tax base out of the city and into the county. But this morning, the story focused on a “local activist” who opposed this “vicious rate increase” even while admitting that he knew the system needed upgrades almost city-wide.

I suppose my real question is, if the those who use the water – the people and businesses served by the municipal water system – aren’t responsible for paying to keep the system running, who is he proposing foot the bill? For some reason I’m catching the scent of another Baltimore City boondoggle the cost of which the city is going to try to pass along to the more than 5 million Marylanders who don’t use the city’s water. I’m also more than a little curious as to how I can tap into that alternate payment source if they day ever comes when I need to replace my well.

I mean if water is a right and should be provided for “free,” someone else should pay for it… or maybe that’s only true as long as the cash flows one way: from everywhere else in the state towards the Inner Harbor.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Panera. About once every three months lunch from Panera Bread sounds like a good idea. I’ll walk in, order something that sounds tasty, get it back to my desk, and then promptly be disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I had hoped. It’s not their fault. If I would just show up and order soup and a bread bowl everything would turn out alright. This dissatisfaction is precisely what I get for walking in and trying something new when I already know there’s something on the menu that I like… but apparently I need periodic $10-12 reminders of why new things are bad.

2. Politics isn’t personal. Hard as it is to believe, I don’t hate people who have the audacity to disagree with my political positions. It’s never occurred to me to pick or maintain friendships based on whether anyone approves or disapproves of the right to bear arms, or to have an abortion, or on tax policy. Politics, in my mind at least, is mostly a “business” function. Although many of my beliefs are deeply held and intensely personal, I’m smart enough to know instinctively that with about 300 million other Americans all wandering around with their own moral compass and free will, there’s a chance that some of them might disagree with my positions. Some of them might even disagree intensely. That’s fine. Once upon a time that kind of disagreement was even considered healthy in a democracy… but that never stopped people from being able to share a drink or a meal together across the aisle. That sort of thing is probably out of fashion now, but fortunately that’s not something likely to dissuade me.

3. Game of Thrones. The idea that it’s going to be another twelve months before another Game of Thrones episode airs is just really sinking in. As much as I appreciate its far ranging filming locations and production values second to none, I despise the HBO programming model that delivers only ten new episodes per season. Although it’s apples and oranges, the first season of Star Trek booked a whopping 29 episodes. Sure, It’s a classic first world problem, but since I live in the first world that’s usually the kind I tend to encounter. It just feels a bit like perhaps there’s a happy medium that falls somewhere between the 11th and 29th episodes.

Pro tips from the office…

Here’s a pro tip from the average American office – if you’re bored and casting around for something to do, the answer should never be to park yourself in front of a colleague and then as many stories about your childhood, medical experiences, coworkers as you can come up with. Feel free to stop by to say hello, or to ask a question, or to relay some important tidbit of information, but for the love of all that’s holy, don’t look to the people you work with to entertain you when you can’t come up with anything better to do with your time.

It’s not necessarily a matter of interrupting anything important or time sensitive so much as it is that I simply have no desire to be your default method of passing the time. Do what everyone else does: piss away your day on Facebook, or walk down to the lobby and spend a few minutes watching TV, or take you cell phone and go sit in the john for 30 minutes. The important thing is that you not just make the rounds engaging everyone in 15-30 minutes of conversation from which it will prove difficult or impossible for them to escape.

I get it. We’re all bored. There are 746 million things we’d all rather be doing, but adding a person who doesn’t know when to STFU and move on to the mix adds insult to injury and makes one wonder what case could be made for justifiable workplace violence. In the average office, I’d be willing to bet a very large percentage would be willing to testify for the defense if you were to ever accidentally bludgeon your office talker into unconsciousness for the greater good.

Trek…

Since I was old enough to start making my own decisions about what television to watch, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek. There was a time in the late 80s and early 90s when I could have probably quoted every line of the 3 seasons of the original series, watched in syndication and taped to re-watch countless times on a score of clunky VHS tapes. Six movies and The Next Generation followed, adding to the franchise. I largely fell away during the era of Deep Space 9 and Voyager and Enterprise, though.

I wasn’t overly thrilled about the prospect of bringing the old girl out of mothballs with J.J. Abrams at the helm. I don’t generally like the current Hollywood approach of reanimating every old TV show and movie in an effort to pump more cash from an already tapped well – as if having an original idea or story to tell is some kind of crime against humanity.

With that being said, I’m pleased to report that Beyond manages to hit most of the right notes for this old Trek fan. As troubled as I was originally about these new movies breaking off onto a new timeline, I think this installment comes just about as close to the tone and feel of an original series episode as a fan could hope without putting everyone back on a low-budget set with a bunch of flashing lights and toggle switches. Although I’d never threaten to call this new incarnation of the Start Trek universe “campy,” it finds the proverbial sweet spot somewhere between keeping most of the old timers happy without alienating a new generation of fans. It was nicely done.

The kind of guy I am…

When the temperatures rise towards 100 degrees, some people want to go out and take folks to cooling centers or hand out bottled water to those working in the heat of the day. By contrast, when I got home today I gave the begonias a big drink and then jury rigged an old cracked bird bath to hold water in case any of the fuzzy or feathered critters in the area don’t feel like trekking 300 yards down to the stream.

I’m not sure if I could have explained what my priorities are and the kind of guy I am any more clearly in a 1000-word essay. Make of that what you will.

Strange new world…

This presidential election can’t seem to help itself from turning into a shitshow on the global stage. As if to add an exclamation point to the idea that neither of our two major parties has their act together, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee is being forced to resign due to emails pillaged from a not-nearly-secure-enough server and published online. If I were the candidate of that party, knowing that my own emails are susceptible to the same treatment, my pucker factor would be ratcheting up pretty significantly right now.

I can’t be alone in seeing the grand irony of leaked email being the thing that so bedevils the Democratic Party, can I? Like others, I assumed emails would be the undoing of the candidate instead of the party boss. That may or may not still be true, of course, especially now with rumors rampant that a foreign power was involved in making these specific emails public in an effort to influence an American election.

Each day the world becomes a less certain place. The old rules continue to hold less of a grip. All I know for sure is that it’s a long way to November. I won’t even try to guess what real and fictitious information may come to light between now and then. It’s a strange new world.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Baby on board. It takes a special kind human being to believe that installing a small yellow “Baby on Board” sign is going to imbue their vehicle with some extra protective abilities. As if someone would be driving along and otherwise decide to drive into them until the moment when they realized that a baby might be involved. When the driver of one of these vehicles decides that they’re going to weave in and out of traffic, tailgate a dump truck, and jump a curb because they cut a turn too short, well, I’m just not sure how much I or anyone else should care about whatever baby you happen to have on board. I mean if the driver doesn’t have any regard for their own health, safety, or welfare or that of their offspring, asking their fellow drivers to be careful sort of defeats the purpose.

2. Reorganizing. One of the best parts of any reorganization is learning all about the new tasks you’ll be doing. As everyone shuffles their seats you’ll be picking up new assignments and passing along some of your old work to other people. That’s always how the concept is pitched, anyway. In reality though no specific method of casting off those old duties is ever really defined so if you’re not paying attention you just sort of end up doing all the old jobs plus all the new ones too. If you don’t mind being an obnoxious little shit, though, you can feel free to start making unilateral decisions about what activities get thrown over the side and what you keep doing. In the absence of clear guidance from leadership, it has always been my policy to create my own. Eventually someone will notice that some percentage of things aren’t getting done and start asking questions and shuffle that work off to the appropriate person… or they won’t. In business school that’s what we learned to call a win-win solution.

3. Political party conventions. Once upon a time, party conventions met to do important things like actually select their nominee for the presidency. Our pesky habit of voting has largely made the selection of a candidate a foregone conclusion long before the party loyalists show up in the designated city. In fact no major party convention has selected a nominee outright in my lifetime. That leaves the conventions as largely a four day, made for TV pep rally. That’s fine, I suppose, but even major news outlets are spending less time covering “events” the outcome of which are a foregone conclusion. So I say spend the money on something more effective like direct mailers or TV spots in contested states… and leave the awkward hugs between people who hate each other in the dustbin of electoral history.