What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Home security. I’ve made a point to have an alarm system in ever house I’ve ever owned. Over the years and moving from house to house the systems have become progressively more complex, evolving from a few simple sensors towards something that’s constantly monitoring and able to show me the health and safety of the homestead in real time. In all my years of using a home security system, though, the only thing it’s ever actually alerted me to was various problems with the security system itself. It’s probably a good problem to have and I’m certainly glad it’s not constantly alerting me to real world problems at home… but I could have done with a little less time spent running diagnostics and troubleshooting earlier this week.

3. Better late than never. Ten minutes before 3PM, the powers that be expressed their concern about the weather and sent everyone home “two hours early.” That’s a fine gesture, of course, except that I would have had to travel back in time to take advantage of this generous offer. On my own authority I dumped in a leave request and departed the area at 2:30. It’s a safe bet to assume that I value my own neck a hell of a lot more than any of the aforementioned powers do anyway. My commute home took twice the normal amount of time and would have easily taken 3x as long had I waited around for others to make a decision and found 20,000 other people all trying to make a break for it at the same time. Thanks to the vagaries of the federal personnel system, though, even though I only took 90 minutes of leave and the powers subsequently approved a blanket 2 hours, I’m still out the 90 minutes I asked for because it was on file before the blanket leave was approved. Maybe it’s an even trade since I’m not stuck sitting on the road somewhere between here and there. Still, it’s just a helpful reminder that Uncle doesn’t put much of a premium on free thinking despite whatever lip service may be paid doing an “individual risk assessment.” That said, I regret nothing and will always use my own best judgement where issues of life, health, and safety are concerned – even if that means putting my money or my leave balance where my mouth is. It would just be nice if we didn’t play the same stupid game and win the same stupid prizes every single year.

4. Florida. I’ve mentioned the Sunshine State once already this week, but they can’t seem to keep themselves out of the news. I just find it mind boggling that all these years after the contested 2000 election any county in Florida has this much trouble counting little pieces of paper even when given the benefit of large and powerful electronic tools to do so. Surely if we line up enough Floridians they can account for enough fingers and toes to do the damned math, right?

Amazonia…

The internet is filled with opinions lamenting the decision to locate Amazon’s two new headquarters offices in New York and Northern Virginia. Opponents decry the local tax breaks used to lure in this whale of a business. They decry the traffic it will bring. They lament that the high paying jobs advertised as arriving with Amazon might not go to someone already in the local community. Lastly, they gnash their teeth at the very existence of such a corporate colossus.

The fact is, if New York and NoVA wanted to take a pass on Amazon, there are plenty of communities who would be happy to look past those issues to the virtue of having 50,000+ new jobs forming part of their tax base. They’d realize the sheer volume of other, smaller businesses that will crop up around such megalithic organizations as Google – the coffee shops, and restaurants, dry cleaners, and the inevitable technical support infrastructure that takes root to support big businesses while they focus on “core competency” that all create jobs and bring in taxes.

Look, I accept that bringing in a business like Amazon isn’t a silver bullet. Over eager local governments have a tendency to give away the store to draw in companies of that stature. To me, that says more about bad negotiating on the part of local government than it does a problem with having Google show up next door.

I’d be curious to know, of course, how many of these opinion leaders who rail against Amazon are happily using Alexa, or watching Prime videos, or enjoying their regular free 2-day shipping. Maybe none of them, but I suspect the number is far more than zero. The point is, if you have a problem with the deal Amazon worked out to locate their new headquarters complexes, your issue should be more with local government than with Amazon. I’m as big a critic as anyone when Amazon drops the ball, but in this case, all I see is a corporation following the best interests of the company and its shareholders… you know, doing exactly what a business is supposed to do.

Personally, I’m glad I don’t live anywhere within 50 miles of what is sure to be a traffic snarling nightmare. Dropping a massive distribution center ten miles from the house was more than adequate support from Amazon to help meet my consumer requirements. Where the locate or what they do with their fancy new three-headed corporate hydra is all fine with me just so long as they keep it in one of those fast growing urban centers I hear so much about and way the hell away from my nice quiet woods.

Smart…

I saw an article this afternoon calling for the development of a “smart toilet.” Let me leave you with that thought for a moment. A. Smart. Toilet.

It’s not enough that the modern toilet needs to have a heated seat, LED mood lights in the bowl, UV self-disinfecting lamps, and a spritz of water up your backside to give you that perfectly fresh feeling. Now we can apparently look forward to an internet-of-things connected loo that evaluates our leavings. I suppose since it’s wi-fi enabled it can communicate with the web-enabled refrigerator and make sure we’re getting more roughage added to the grocery list. It beggars imagination to figure out why a toilet needs to know when, precisely I get up in the middle of the night to take a leak. But there is is, the future out there just waiting for us to catch up.

When I was a kid the old outhouse still stood on the family homestead. Sure, it was being used to store rakes and shovels, but the building itself was still there. It was young enough not to have been rotted away by time and weather. Jump now 30 years later and we’ve technologized even the simple concept of the indoor toilet.

There is an almost endless array of reasons I find the 21st century largely stupid and abhorrent. That this smart toilet is a thing that could even exist has now rocketed to the top of that list.

I seriously can’t get to my little cabin in the woods fast enough.

Election month…

I’m old enough to remember a time when we had an election day in America. On the Tuesday after the first Monday in November everyone showed up at their designated poling place and voted. By 11:00 that night the results were reported on the three major networks and everyone went to bed more or less satisfied that the results were the results.

What we seem to have now is an election month instead of just a day. We have early voting for a few weeks, then we have actual election day, then the batch of ballots that someone finds unsecured somewhere, then there’s the inevitable batch of recounts and legal challenges that stretch out for God knows how long. It doesn’t feel like we’re making progress on this front. In fact I tend to think we’re making the opposite of progress.

I don’t foresee a circumstance that will take is back to a place where we all agree to just show up on one day to register our vote in the local elementary school, or fire hall, or church basement… but I think we should. We’ve overcomplicated the plumbing on what should be a very simple exercise of the franchise. We’ve over complicated it and everyone is busy looking for the perfect way to stop up the drain.

Sometimes the old ways aren’t better because they’re the old ways – they’re better because they’re just better.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Allegany Busted. I joined a Facebook group a few months ago that shows who’s been arrested in my old home county. It gives you a picture, a name, some vitals, and then their arrest record. If anything has ever sent me into a rage about the American justice system it isn’t that it’s slow or biased, but rather that it’s possible for someone who’s 28 years old to have been arrested 20 times and was somehow free to move about the county and get himself arrested for the 21st time. Maybe three-strikes-and-out is a little too excessive, but can we not agree as a society that by about your 20th strike you’re not going to be rehabilitated and constitute a clear danger to the health and welfare of the community? How someone like this should ever been entitled to breath free air again is simply beyond me. We humanely euthanize dogs that are vicious and can’t learn to live with the pack. I feel badly when society has to put down a dog, though. I wouldn’t bat at eye if we gave a short drop and a sudden stop to members of this professional criminal class.

2. You’re Fired. Social media is rife with “well informed” “opinion leaders” trying to make an argument that President Trump can’t fire Attorney General Sessions. Given the Attorney General’s position as a political appointee, AG Sessions served, using one of the most delightfully flourished phrases in the language, “at the pleasure of the president,” and he can and was fired. Sure, you’re free to use “asked to resign” as a euphemism, but the end result is exactly the same. The Office of the President often has a Senate conformation hurdle for hiring, but has pretty sweeping powers when it comes to terminating someone from the ranks of the political appointee class. I can only assume what these amateur political scientists on social media mean is that President Trump *shouldn’t* have fired Mr. Sessions. Even with this broad interpretation, their accuracy remains to be seen based on the amount of political fallout that’s generated and how it settles out. It’s certainly not going to damage the president’s standing with his base and he’s pretty consistently displayed an abject disregard to the opinion of the opposition party so the whole thing could end up being just another day in the West Wing in 2018.

3. Jim Acosta. Jim Acosta, CNN’s White House correspondent, has taken to the airwaves and social media platforms, retweeting that “freedom of the press is under attack.” Whether revoking press credentials from one individual employee of a company that has a healthy population of other employees more than capable of picking up his slack is actual an “attack,” of course is subject to debate. That said, it seems he does not like to see his rights abridged or trifled with by the government. Personally, I welcome Mr. Acosta and his company at long last to the defense of constitutional liberties… but until as he takes up the banner to defend all of the other liberties so carefully enshrined by the founders, I’ll opt not to give one good goddamn about what Mr. Acosta thinks.

You ain’t seen nothing yet…

There are approximately 76 million news and commentary sites you can go to today that are perfectly happy to drone on and on about what they expect Democratic control of the House of Representatives, a more entrenched Republican position in the Senate, and the host of other election results to mean. What’s going to happen when the 116th Congress is gaveled into session on the 3rd of January? Opinions will range from the president and congressional leaders finding some compromise on massive infrastructure spending to a wildly vindictive House leadership that will investigate the president to within an inch of his political life and then impeach him. On this Wednesday after election day, either one feels like it’s within the realm of possibility.

What’s really happening, though, is that across the country 435 current and elect-members of the House are waking up, smiling at their good fortune, and kicking off their fundraising efforts for the 2020 election cycle. Current and future senators will be doing the same thing, although some with a slightly less focused sense of urgency with their next election cycle as far as 6 years off. Political pros from across the spectrum are dusting off their presidential election year plans and looking for ways to fill up their war chests. Those with an eye towards the presidency in 2020 have already been building their machine, quietly, for two years or more.

Campaigns are never really over. There may appear to be a pause between one and the next, but that’s just because the news cycle focuses on something else for a little while – Firing an Attorney General is an especially effective distractor if you have one you can spare. The fundraisers, staff, and key volunteers who under-gird elections in this country are hard at work laying the groundwork for the next iteration of Who Wants to be a President.

If you thought 2016 was bad, or 2018 made you clutch granny’s pearls, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Eight hours under gag…

As an employee of the Executive branch, I’m covered by what’s commonly known as the Hatch Act of 1939, otherwise known as An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, or Public Law 76-252. The intent of the Hatch Act is fairly straightforward, even if the means and methods by which it is enforced are somewhat murky. The act, essentially, says that as a federal employee, I cannot seek election to a partisan office for the duration of my employment and more importantly that I can’t use my official position or government time and equipment for purposes of campaigning, fundraising, promoting, or engaging in political activity while I’m “on the clock.”

Old Man Hatch had a pretty good idea about establishing and keeping the core of the civil service reasonably non-partisan as we transact the day to day business of government. Personally, I’ve I’ve never seen an employee willfully undermining the executive branch while on the clock in my tenure serving under both Republicans and Democrats, but I don’t know if that’s because of the Hatch Act or because we started killing off the spoils system in 1883 with the Pendelton Act. Of course how “non-partisan” the bureaucracy is when it comes to which parties and candidates it supports in our spare time is wide open for debate.

The Office of Special Counsel, supreme adjudicator of all things Hatch Act, has a number of laundry lists filled with what various types of executive branch employee may or may not do. What most of them boil down to is “don’t advocate for a particular candidate or party on government time.” It seems like a reasonable rule. It’s why you find me posting at all during the typical weekday it’s a funny, funny meme or a news article. I try very hard to live within Hatch’s spirit and intent as well as within its letter.

I do, however, want the record to show that being Hatched makes sitting quietly on social media on days like today a monumental exercise in self restraint. Something for which I don’t think we get nearly enough credit every other November.