What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Free” college. Almost a decade ago, the federal government stepped in and allowed people to refinance their mortgages during the housing crisis – but only if you let your payments fall behind. If you took your word as your bond and paid on time even though it was hard, well fuck you sucker. That’s why it took me $30,000 out of pocket to close the sale on my Tennessee house. I played by the rules and got properly fucked for the trouble. Now Senator Warren comes along and wants to push student loan “forgiveness” as the brave new way ahead. If she gets away with it, once more I’m a sucker for playing by the rules, doing the hard work, and being responsible for paying my own debts. I really do despise the 21st century. 

2. Morale. Apparently as a moral boosting endeavor we’ve installed a wall-sized mural with my organization’s name blazed across 30-feet of graphics and some fancy new signage in our bit of cubicle hell. I’m sure someone thought it would be a good idea and that everyone was sure to find it inspirational. I’m just not one of them. I’m probably too jaded and cynical at this point to ever be bought off by new signage. That’s just the kind of guy I am. Want to improve my morale? Throw me a step increase in recognition of the work I’ve done. Hit me with a time off award – that one is my personal favorite. Order up some office chairs that aren’t low bidder junk or computers that aren’t crippled right out of the box. If you’re going to spend the money, spend it on something that matters… because new wallpaper doesn’t get it done.

3. 5PM. Being a creature of habit, there’s not much I value more on any given weekday than leaving the office on time. I value arriving on time, too… because getting to work on time is a reasonable employer expectation. The converse should also be true – leaving on time should be a reasonable employee expectation. Except the average office is full of subtle signs and symbols that it isn’t the case. No one will come right out and say it, but you’re supposed to just understand and not mention that someone at echelons higher than reality has scheduled a meeting to start an hour or two after you’re supposed to have departed the area for the day – and that’s assuming that the meeting will accidentally start on time, which of course it won’t… The not so subtle message being that anything you have outside the office walls couldn’t possibly be as important as what’s happening inside them. Then again, this is often driven by the same people who think they can fix morale problems with wallpaper, so it’s whatever I guess. 

Crisis of the moment…

I’ve spent more of the last three months engaged in the pursuit of one single line of effort than is strictly healthy for someone. That’s fine. Someone has to be the institutional memory – even if only to remind you of why something sounds good on paper but goes to hell in a handbasket in practice. 

The bigger trouble comes when people who haven’t been paying meticulously close attention realize a Big Thing is about to happen. Then they want to get focused on it. They want to deep dive it and know all that there is to know. That, too, is fine… as long as one remembers that the more often you have to tell the backstory and provide months worth of details, the more limited the time remaining to actually do the work becomes. It’s a corollary to Tharp’s Maxim #1 – I can either go to meetings about the work or I can do the work. I cannot, however, do both simultaneously. 

In any case, we’re racing from fire to fire, from crisis to crisis, in hopes that somehow we manage to deliver a final product that isn’t ridiculous in the eyes of gods and men. It’s a tall order – especially when we keep inflicting wounds on ourselves.

I console myself with knowing that good, bad, or otherwise, in short order a Big Thing is going to happen no matter how hard we try to fuck it up in the closing hours. One way or another we limp across the finish line a week from tomorrow.

The “right” causes…

While the smoke was still rising from Notre Dame, social media lit up with posts decrying the ultra-wealthy who were anteing up sums measured in hundreds of millions of dollars for the rebuilding of the cathedral for not giving to the “right” causes. I lost track of the number of posts that said something to the effect of “Don’t give to Notre Dame because water in Flint or because the church is rich (which is a half truth at best because the wealth of the Roman church tends to be in items they can’t sell off or borrow against like St Peters or the Vatican museum) or because Puerto Rico.

It’s utter nonsense, of course. If you bothered to know anything about how cathedrals across Europe were originally financed a thousand years ago, you’d pretty quickly find that the local nobility and ultra-wealthy of the day gave lavishly to the cause. These symphonies in stone wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the funds that flowed in from those elite sources. 

Ultimately, these posts illustrate one of my unreconciled problems with the left – the simple fact that I don’t need their help and certainly not their permission when deciding how to allocated the money I put in the time to earn. It’s like the they just can’t resist telling me how they know better where and for what to spend my money than I do. I guess being a holier than thou do gooder is easy as long as someone else foots the bill. 

As for me, everyone can piss right off with that nonsense. Every time one of these lunatics tries to jam their hand a little further into my pocket, you can expect me to resist with all available energy. I’m no billionaire, but I’m proud of knowing that some small portion of my donation will go to restore or preserve such an important part of western civilization… But the hand wringing bleeding hearts should feel free to send their own check to the charity cause of their choice. I promise I won’t say a word about it, no matter how pretentious and attention seeking a cause they’ve selected.

Tea with the queen…

I was invited to tea with the queen. Well, not exactly tea and not with the queen, but there’s a rough equivalency. It certainly felt a lot like being a bit player serving at a 16th century royal court.

What I was really invited to to was to spend the better part of 90 minutes sitting quietly against the wall watching the gods on Olympus eat their lunch while discussing the important matters of the day. Let me repeat that for those in the back… I was summoned into the elite presence to watch people eat their lunch.

Yes, I was also there to provide deep background information on the flying circus and traveling medicine show that I’m nominally charged with running, but in reality I was there, missing my own lunch, in order to watch a large group of other people eat theirs. 

It’s hard to imagine that was the best possible use of 90 minutes with less than two weeks to go until zero hour, but I suppose the pay’s the same whether I’m getting anything done or not. So, if anyone out there is in need of someone to stop by and watch you eat, feel free to get in touch. I’m quite sure I’ve had these experiences enough now to qualify expert.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The bridge into North East, Maryland. It might be a mild exaggeration, but it feels like various companies have been working on the bridge that provides the only direct access into “downtown” North East for about 87 years. The Romans built Hadrian’s Wall, spanning the width of Britain in about 14 years. The Empire State Building took one year and 45 days to build. But the state and the county and the original contractor who got his ass fired off the project and everyone else wants to cry the blues that it’s “only” taken five years so far to replace a fairly straightforward two lane bridge the crosses over a railroad track. What we have to show for that five years of effort is the northbound lane – and that hasn’t even been opened for traffic yet. When I’m out on the weekends and run into people, I often wonder how they function in the day-to-day world. I’m increasingly convinced that they actually don’t.

2. This is probably too much information, so if you’re feeling overly sensitive, it may be best to skip on to the third weekly annoyance. You see, recently at work I hurt my back standing up after taking a shit. It was showing marked improvement and I really thought it was well on the way to being serviceable again… but I know the inability straighten my back completely for those few minutes means it’s going to be twitchy for at least another week or two. That’s ok. It’s not like I have a list of spring yard work tasks that need to be accomplished anytime soon. It seems that this is your 40s.

3. I have a dream. I dreamt the lottery pool I participate in won the Cash For Life jackpot. I sprung up from that dream fully awake with the shit-eatingist of shit eating grins on my face. You can well imagine the disappointment on really waking up and realizing that a) the pool doesn’t play Cash for Life; b) It wasn’t even the correct night for the Cash for Life drawing and; c) it was all my brain’s little way of saying “fuck you very much.”

Preparing to beg forgivness…

We’ve entered a particularly dangerous part of the year… the point where the volume of information flowing towards me surpasses the available time in which to process it. Forget about trying to do any reasonable analysis, synchronizing or integrating data, or otherwise trying to build a comprehensive framework for whatever is happening. 

For the next seven business days I’m operating purely on the the input – reaction model. It’s triage, which incidentally isn’t a great way to function over any sustained duration, but isn’t awful in the short term… as long as you don’t particularly mind that while you’re making decisions based on short term convenience, there may be no one assessing the longer-term impact of those decisions. 

In fact, some would probably tell you longly and loudly that I am, in fact, not a “decision maker.” Technically that’s absolutely correct. My function in life is to provide information to the deciders and then carry out the decision as best I can. The reality, of course, is that there’s not always a decider around when you need one…. and even when they are around the time it takes to get them to make the actual decision is so long that 57 other decision points have piled up waiting for someone to do something with them.

Sometimes permission is a luxury the ticking clock just doesn’t accommodate. Fortunately I’m 100% comfortable begging for forgiveness as needed.

Levels of review…

In my little corner of the Giant Bureaucratic Organization, very few pieces of paper ever move further than one’s own desk without passing through one or more layers of review. These reviews are almost the very definition of what it means to exist within the bureaucracy – the very reason the term “paper pusher” came into existence.

It’s hard enough to move a single piece of paper, say something as simple as a memo. The complexity and convolutions involved in getting something larger – say a document of several dozens of pages is mind boggling. It’s a herculean feat of bureaucratic mastery involving three layers of review at a bare minimum. I’ve personally seen the number of reviewers go as high as 14  on a single document. I’ve heard stories that the numbers can grow even larger as one progresses through echelons higher than reality towards the beating, five-sided heart of our bureaucratic empire. Each and every non-concur along the way carries the risk of sending you back to the starting block to try again.

I’m not saying that reviews are entirely pointless or without merit. In some cases I’d even argue that they are absolutely necessary. When it becomes the reviews themselves that drive the process rather what is being reviewed, I can’t help but believe that there is a flaw in the system. Then again, I’m a poor simple history major who learned to read original source documents that may have virtually no relationship to standard English usage so what the hell do I know.