What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Court TV (Continued). We’re in week two or three or five or whatever of wall to wall coverage of whichever “case of the century” happens to be taking place at any given time. I’m pretty sure it aggravated the hell out of me last week too, but it’s worth repeating since the local and national news outlets seem to have no problem repeating themselves at every opportunity. A simple “the jury is still out” would be sufficient, but I suppose that wouldn’t let the talking heads opine about why the jury is still out, what it means, who’s behind it, and why that makes everything a nail biter. I’d be thrilled if someone would just give us a news outlet that focused more on facts and a lot less on opinion. Good luck filling the 24 hour news cycle with facts, I guess.

2. The Thanksgiving rush. Thanksgiving isn’t one of those restful and restorative holidays. Filled with travel, overeating, and a crush of in person or online shopping, it always feels like there’s a certain urgency to the rhythm of the day. It kicks off a 4-day weekend that’ll feel like it went by in about 35 minutes. It’s still just about my favorite holiday, but I’m going to feel like I need a good long rest when it wraps up.

3. Roving bands of what I can only describe as looters have reportedly begun pillaging high end retail shops in San Francisco. The latest headline makers were their takedowns of such big names as Saks, Louis Vuitton, and Nordstrom. I’m only left to wonder if and when the powers that be in San Fran might decide that their policy of letting “petty” crime like shoplifting go unchallenged and unpunished turns out to have been a pretty bad idea and does nothing so much as encourage increasingly troublesome criminal behavior.

Cubicles aren’t the problem…

Even back in spring 2020, in the early days when the Great Plague raged unchecked, some of us were still coming to the office. Often it wasn’t many – and certainly some came more than others, but on the average day there may have been five or six people spread out in a room built out to hold around thirty. For good, bad, or otherwise, those who make decisions were determined that the place was going to have at least the loose appearance of conducting business as usual. They were determined to keep the lights on.

I only mention it, because I had a bit of a unique career experience today. For most of this day before Thanksgiving, I was the last man standing… or maybe the only one without the foresight to drop a leave request for today and Friday. In any case, I spent most of the day with the place entirely to myself. The only time I’ve had an even similar experience was a million years ago when I was a fresh, young GS-7 working in DC who wasn’t banking enough vacation time to be extravagant about taking the Friday after Thanksgiving. Even then, there were a few other people knocking around the far reaches of the GAO Building’s 3rd floor, so I wasn’t completely on my own there.

Today was a real Time Enough at Last moment, which is to say it was kind of ideal. As it turns out, just being stuck in a room full of cubicles and awful fluorescents for the day isn’t necessarily the problem with the modern office. It wasn’t quite as good as a day working from home, but without all the people, I mean it didn’t particularly suck.

It looks like I’ve learned my one new thing for today, so I’m feeling pretty good about that.

Of scouts and resellers…

I go to a respectable number of book sales each year. It’s not an every weekend thing, but six or seven times a year, one catches my attention sufficiently to make venturing off the homestead for it potentially worthwhile. The ones I like to dig into are usually put on “friends of the library” or other organizations who specifically take in book donations – they’re specialists rather than “used stuff” generalists. If I happen to be passing by an estate sale or yard sale, I might stop out of curiosity. I don’t generally seek those out even when someone advertises “lots of books.” It seems my definition of “lots” is wildly different than the average person’s. Nine times out of ten, what’s on offer is a box or two of kids’ books or beat to hell paperbacks.

There used to be a breed of person who frequented these sales called a book scout. They knew their business. They knew their points, editions, conditions, and values and could evaluate a book on sight. The best of them seemed to have a sixth sense about whether there was real value in a book – whether even the newest ultra-modern was a $2 reading copy or a $200 first edition.

Time seems to be replacing proper book scouts by roving bands of resellers. They ply their trade online, making their money in arbitrage – buying for $2 and selling for $3. Their business seems to be one of volume over quality. They’re hell with a barcode scanner and figuring out the spread on Amazon. They collectively seem to know price, but not value. 

These resellers are in there like vacuums sucking up all oxygen in the room – sitting on the floors, sprawled out, making obstacles (if not spectacles) of themselves, trying to scan every barcode in sight. It feels tawdry somehow. There’s not a bit of old-fashioned book scouting about any of it. They surely passed over the $200 book I walked out with for $10 last weekend because it simply didn’t have a barcode to scan. It must be more cost effective to sell 200 books on a $1 margin, but there’s no soul in it.  

I don’t think these guys are evil. They wouldn’t be doing what they do if there wasn’t a market for the $3 book. Increasingly, though, I wonder if my days at the sales are numbered. At some point the sheer aggravation of dealing with them won’t be weighed out by the utter joy of making a real score. There’s a big part of me that would rather just pay a dealer something close to retail than continue to trip over 101 resellers.

Time, distance, and the laws of men…

It’s that special time of year again when the gods on Olympus like to pretend that they are not in any way constrained by time, distance, or the laws of men. It’s a few days before Thanksgiving and those high and mighty gods have, right on schedule, realized that the minions on whom they depend to work their will will increasingly be unavailable thanks to end of the year leave taking.

Now what someone with a modicum of common sense might do, is prioritize whatever effort or efforts are legitimately “most important” and concentrate on getting those through the gate first. What we’ll actually be doing, of course, is piling on increasing levels of stuff to do and then watching as “leaders” gnash their teeth and rend their garments because it’s not getting done.

The pool of available people to keep up with whatever wild-ass new ideas the bosses dream up will get a little smaller every day between now and the end of the year. It would be comical if it weren’t absolutely predictable. I’ve watched this spectacle first hand since 2003 and can only assume this great green machine has been up to the same kind of pre-holiday fuckery since Washington was a Lieutenant.

Look, I really am sorry… but if you’re looking for a guy who’s going to jump through his own ass, moan, and wail, because your failure to plan has become an “emergency,” I’m just not your huckleberry. Never have been. Never will be. You have my word on it.

On making a difference (or not)…

The number of people who call my phone thinking they can steamroll me with some variation of the phrase, “My boss said…” would honestly blow your mind. I’m sure whatever their boss said carries some relative weight… with them. Since their boss is almost never anywhere on the list of people who sign my yearly performance evaluation, what we generally have is them passing along information that could, in a certain light, be considered interesting to me, but that is also almost entirely irrelevant.

I promise, I’m not out here making shit up as I go along. If I’ve done something, it’s because someone who does figure into my rating chain has either told me to do it or will support my interpretation of whatever led me to take a specific action.

After nearly twenty years at this, I don’t get impressed or intimidated by titles or shrill voices. But feel free to call and raise your complaint. I may even smile and nod sympathetically right before I proceed with doing whatever I was about before you called.

Follow my advice. Don’t. Either way, it honestly makes absolutely no difference to me. But good luck when someone higher up the pecking order asks your boss why it didn’t get done.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Electricity. There are a lot of things I’m willing to jump into action and take care of around the house. Most things involving electricity don’t make the cut. I can replace an outlet or, if pressed, replace a ceiling fan, but beyond that in the universe of things that involve faults, the unusual, or things behaving badly, I’m a man who knows my limitations. That’s why I had a pair of electricians here at 7:30 this morning to diagnose a room full of oddly behaving outlets. Turns out, all those outlets were on a switch… located 30 feet away in a different room. Why it was designed like that is anyone’s guess. All is operating normally now, but gods, I could have fiddle around for weeks and never a connection between office outlets and living room switches.

2. The Republican Party. Does this even need going into? Paul Gosar, Maggie Green, Don Trump, Matt Gaetz, Lou Gohmert, and Jim Jordan are the contemporary standard barers for the party I’ve identified with since long before I was registered to vote. If that doesn’t scream that American conservatives have lost our way, and possibly our minds, I have no idea what would.

3. Court TV. If there’s anything worse than sitting in a courthouse watching a trial because you’re required to participate in it in some way, it would have to be voluntarily watching a trial on television. I don’t care what the latest “trial of the century” is, I just can’t see spending time hanging on every word. Like sausage, I don’t have any interest or need to know how it gets made. The only thing of even passing interest is how it turns out in the end. The breathless coverage across every media outlet in the country must be of interest to someone, but for my money it’s a waste of otherwise good airtime and electrons.  

More toxic than Facebook…

The same people I see commenting that Facebook (or all of social media) is toxic are the same ones plugging away, sharing memes, articles, and generally being fully immersed social media day in and day out. That’s the catch. No one is making you, me, or anyone else use Facebook. No one is forced to have the app on their phone. Not one single person is mandated to log in everyday and participate in the electronic circus.

It seems to me that if social media is the electronic equivalent of having lead paint, asbestos insulation, and sewer gas filling your home, there’s a simple step any one of us could take to avoid it. We could just not use it. We could delete our accounts or not sign on. 

That, of course, demands a level of personal responsibility and being accountable for our own decisions. It’s far easier to go ahead and blame Zuck for something we individually control with no ifs, ands, or buts.

It’s the same story for the inevitable subset that gnash their teeth over violent television, profanity on radio, or pornography. The easiest thing in the world is to just change the channel, find a different station, or not look. “I saw something I don’t like, so I changed the channel” doesn’t make for a particularly engaging story, though.

My problem has never been with content on television, radio, or the internet. The far more nefarious problem is this group of people who want to enforce their particular brand of morality on everyone else like some kind of half-assed digital Taliban. 

I’d like to say I’m perplexed about how and why so many struggle with simply turning off whatever it is they find objectionable… but it seems all too obvious that they would much rather have the issue to worry themselves (and the rest of us) over than to find an actual solution to their troubles.

I find that far more toxic than anything Facebook can throw at me.

Be not afraid…

It’s hard to miss all the current reporting on the growing impact of inflation on the overall economy. Even without the reporting, rapidly rising prices for petrol, food, and other consumer goods, the impact of our inflationary economy would be hard to miss. 

Most of the major news outlets paint a worrying picture – particularly for retirees, anyone sitting on a lot of cash (in a savings account or in certificates of deposit, for instance), or those who loaded up on variable rate debt (like your average credit card). That’s a fair concern, but it’s only part of the bigger picture.

If you happen to be a homeowner – especially one who locked in a mortgage when fixed interest rates drifted down under 3% – inflation gives you the bonus of paying back your loan on an appreciating asset with devalued dollars. If you happen to be holding equities as opposed to cash (including things like 401k, IRA, and other retirement savings vehicles), values should largely increase as the cash value of the underlying companies is inflated. All of that, of course, presupposes that your income also paces the rate of inflation, or at least doesn’t entirely stagnate during a period of sustained inflationary pressure.

I’m obviously not calling for a return to the bad old days of inflation, sky high interest rates, and 10% unemployment… but by read is that there are things out there a hell of a lot more frightening than a little pop of inflation every now and then, so for the time being my motto is “be not afraid.”

The dark side of time off…

You might think that coming off a few days of vacation time, I’d be feeling rested and have an improved outlook.

That’s not really my style, of course. These days off only whet my appetite for the future date when I’m no longer bound to toil for wages. It’s why I relentlessly track that mark on the wall. It’s especially true when my return is met with three days of backlogged email filled with messages about projects that recur year after year and combine to be the bane of professional existence. 

It’s Telework Monday and that does marginally improve my outlook. At this way insult isn’t coupled with the injury of eight hours of fluorescent lit cubicle hell.

It might sound like after this short rant, I should be embracing the siren’s song of anti-capitalism. Nothing could be further from reality, though. Universal basic income or whatever something for nothing schemes are in vogue now surely wouldn’t be lucrative enough to support any kind of lifestyle I’d want to live.  Exchanging time for money remains the most efficient and effective way to procure good and services I want while building a future in which my time really will be entirely my own. 

That’s absolutely a play I’m willing to make, but it doesn’t mean for a moment I have to pretend I’m having a good time while I’m doing it. It’s better to schlep through the asshattery to get where you want to be, even if that means bitching and complaining all the way, I’d think. 

The next long weekend…

I started the latest in my ongoing series of very long weekends at 4:00 this afternoon. My out of office message is set, my laptop is packed away, and I won’t be sparing another thought about COVID, or briefings for industry, or taskers for the next five days. It’s a decidedly good feeling. 

I have no real plans to speak of. I’m sure there will be a bit of junking and book hunting in the mix, but for tonight there’s nothing that even passes for a plan. I’ll be going as close as I ever do to playing it by ear. I’m not sure my version would pass as anyone else’s idea of spontaneity, but I’m ok with it.

I usually try to keep the blog schedule moving along without interruption during these vacation days, but as always, for the next few days I’m reserving the right not to sit down at the computer unless I’m really feeling a strong bit of motivation. I really have no idea whether I’ll be posting for the rest of the week or not. It’s a total coin toss.

Not to worry, of course. Even if I’m quiet here for a few days, there’s not much chance at all of me shutting up on Facebook or Twitter, so you can always treat yourself to a micro-rant elsewhere on your preferred social media platform.