What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Context. “Eisenhower wasn’t a great general because I’ve recently learned he was *very* anti-LGBT.” Uh. Well. He held supreme command in the 1940s. Context is king, people. Expecting a man born in 1890 to somehow embody the all the woke-ist 21st century sensibilities is, in a word, stupid. It’s like saying Charlamagne wasn’t a great commander because he refused to go vegan. 

2. Auto Save. I had a perfectly nice little post mostly written for Tuesday. I was wrapping up a final thought right before the power stuttered just enough to cause my computer to shut down. Historically the Mac auto-saves before it dies, but in this case everything just disappeared into the ether.  It’s the sort of thing generally prevented by the uninterruptible power supply… which also is apparently no longer working. So it’s a bit of a bad week for the home computer set up all around, really.

3. Numbers. Either I’m wrong or the spreadsheet is… and I’m pretty sure it’s not me. Or maybe it is. The real lesson here is that I should never be allowed to do work that involves large columns of numbers without close adult supervision. It very rarely ends well. Although I’ll make sure it at least ends “close,” so there’s that.

How to improve cubicle hell…

I was in the office today. Even five months into the Great Plague, the rhythms of the place carry on largely unchanged. With upwards of 70% of the staff working from home it has a bit of a ghost town feel… but the phones keep ringing, the email keeps flowing, the day-to-day work seems to be getting done, and ridiculous ideas continue to abound. If it weren’t for needing to pick up the phone instead of sticking your head over a cubicle wall, I’d honestly be hard pressed to know that today was any different than the before time. I suppose you can decide what to make of that information.

What I noticed most about the day, though, was the absence of periodic fuzzy interruptions throughout the day. I hadn’t noticed until now how much I’ve come to expect the cat to occasionally jump onto the keyboard or work through the next email one handed while one or both dogs lean in for ear scratches and ear rubs. Even with that, they’re among the least distracting coworkers I’ve ever had.

The golden age of working from home will end eventually – killed off by the unstoppable force of an employer who believe asses in seats equals productivity as much as by the immovable object of employees who equate working from home with a paid vacation day.

I’ve known for most of my working life that there’s very little I can do at the office that I couldn’t do from anywhere that has a reliable internet connection… but these last few months have only just reinforced that having the animals alongside makes the fuckery of the standard eight-hour work day infinitely more tolerable. If we’re all eventually going to be stuck back in cubicle hell eventually, adding some coworkers with wagging tails or a steady and reliable purr would be incredibly helpful.

Well that went well…

Everything that should have stayed dry stayed dry. I’m not spending the rest of the day running the chainsaw.

After almost nine and a half inches of rain over six hours this morning, I’ll take the bright blue sky and an inexplicably pleasant temperature as a solid win.

As long as you weren’t trying to hold the low ground, I’d say that went about as well as anyone could reasonably hope.

Pen and ink…

This weekend I visited the Maryland Board of Elections website and applied for a general election absentee ballot. I know, I know, my hard right friends will be sure I’m throwing my ballot into a swampy morass of leftist vote rigging. My leftist friends will be offended that I had to actually apply for the ballot instead of them being airdropped from one end of the state to the other. When both sides are pissed off, I generally feel like I’m getting something right.

Due to circumstances, I’ve voted absentee in presidential elections at least twice previously. Licking a stamp doesn’t give me the same warm fuzzy that I got from walking into the old-fashioned voting booths, throwing the lever, and closing the curtain behind me, but then again neither does the little scantron forms used with “modern” voting machines. Still, when possible, I like voting in person when it’s possible. It makes me feel like I’ve done something a little more important than sending in a rebate or paying the phone bill.

Look, you’re free to do whatever you want, but the idea of standing around for half an hour or more with several hundred of my closest neighbors, touching all the same things they touch, breathing in the recirculated air, and watching them argue for their “right not to wear a mask” has very little appeal. That’s especially when there’s a simple and effective alternative – although how effective it will be across each of the 49 other states remains to be seen. This feels like a good time to remind everyone that we don’t have national elections in this country – but rather a host of state elections by which we decide who represents us and forms that national government. 

Frankly, influencing an election to determine who makes up that government by hacking into an electronic machine feels a lot more likely to than doing so via pen and ink ballots, so I’m a little perplexed at why it’s even a thing we’re supposed to worry about. Then again, everything has to fit someone’s narrative so I’m sure there will be plenty of coverage about how both options are awful and we’re all doomed.

On becoming the villain…

If there’s been one constant during my tenure in the bureaucracy it’s that Friday is almost universally “take out the trash day.” It’s the day everyone throws the projects or tasks (i.e. absolute trash) that’s been stinking up their workspace over to the next poor dumb bastard who’s supposed to do something with it. 

The trash could be anything – vague policy, badly written memos, research or answers that are needed first thing Monday morning that no one got around to asking for until 4 PM on Friday afternoon. It’s all just junk that someone didn’t get around to working on before the weekend started to bear down on them.

On alternate Fridays, this endless flow of trash bears down on my desk. In the finest traditions of the bureaucracy, I do my part to shove it onwards through the pipe to make sure it doesn’t spend the weekend making a stink of my own work area. Where it ends up and what happens to it when it gets there is entirely secondary to its not becoming stuck on me.

Yeah, I’ve definitely lived long enough to become the villain of the piece.

That’s not how any of this works…

This morning, President Trump suggested via tweet that the general election in November should be delayed. Dude, seriously. That’s not how any of this works.

The United States has held its regularly scheduled elections through the Civil War, through the depths of the Great Depression, through two globe-spanning world wars, and yes, through past pandemics. 

Notwithstanding the fact that suspending elections is not among the powers of the president, the suggestion that doing so is necessary or proper flies in the face of both history and common sense. Suggesting that we as a country are somehow incapable of electing a leader in times of adversity defies the reality of the American electoral experience.

Let us assume for a moment that the election is delayed (something that would require changing current law that establishes election day as “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November”) – past November – past December – past January. Even in the absence of an election, an inauguration will take place on January 20th, so it’s not as if President Trump simply stays in office. His term expires on January 20th at noon. The office and powers of the presidency would then devolve to the next duly elected official in the line of succession – in this case that would most likely be the President pro tempore of the United States Senate since he’s in the middle of his term of office. We’ve skipped over the Speaker of the House of Representatives since her term would have expired along with President Trump’s on January 20th.

A suspended election doesn’t create an eternal Trump presidency, but it does make the creaking machinery of our Constitution work much harder than it needs to. Suggesting that such a thing is even a possibility belies both a tremendous lack of understanding of how elections in this country work and a fundamental disregard for the foundational institutions of the republic.

My new obsession…

Some people have used the last few months of forced disengagement to learn languages, write their great American novel, or somehow make themselves into more productive human beings. Meanwhile I’ve been over here mostly living the same life I’ve lived for years.. with the exception of developing a new minor obsession. I now find myself spending at least a few minutes every day looking over floorplans of houses I’ll never build.

I’ve spent time looking at floorplans for old houses, new houses, prop houses from TV series and movies, castles, Roman villas, and family compounds. At first blush, it doesn’t make much sense, but hear me out.

Even though the Tennessee house was “new construction,” the only personalization came in picking the finishes. The bones of the house were all pre-determined by others. Every other place I’ve lived was designed and built originally to meet someone else’s expectations and needs. In every one of them, I’ve found myself asking often, “Why the hell did they do it this way” as opposed to in an alternate way that would make more sense to me. Having spent my life living with other’s decisions, the only grand ambition I have left at this point is to build a house from the basement up – Fortress Jeff achieving its final form that puts walls, switches, and doors exactly where I want them and all with a general layout that makes sense for how I intent to live in it.

Even though I’ve spent months looking at floorplans, none of them has been quite right. Most of them have been miles off. Many of them, though, have had distinct elements that are perfect – or that could be perfect with just a bit of architectural rejiggering. I’m keeping an open file (a self-contained Pinterest board?) with screen shots and notes about each of them. That goes a long way towards showing what right looks like from my perspective here and now. We’ll see what right looks like after it’s had a decade and a half to percolate.

So, what does this perfect place look like? Well, my current kitchen layout basically gets transposed into a new setting, the front door doesn’t dump directly into the main living area, there’s a room for dogs – tiled and suitable for hosing down – a pocket office to keep the computer and other bits that keep the household running from dominating whatever other room they’d be in, three garage bays, and some bedrooms, I suppose. Forgive me, please, but I haven’t put much brainpower into the rooms whose purpose is largely to be places to go lay down in the dark with your eyes closed.

I know, describing it doesn’t do justice to what I’m seeing in my head. Sorry about that.

The heart, though, of any house I would ever build is almost certainly a “great hall of books.” You know, something medieval, but with excellent shelving. In fact, if the construction budget looks thin, you should probably just expect a library with a monk’s cell bedroom and kitchen attached… although giving up the garage would be extraordinarily painful.

The real trick, of course, will be figuring out how to cram everything I want into a footprint that doesn’t go sprawling across the countryside and send me into bankruptcy. Those details, though, are far less interesting than where, exactly, to put the inglenook. Hopefully my next obsession will be a self education in creative construction financing.

A bloody mess…

The morning feeding here starts most every morning at 5:30. It’s usually a completely uneventful part of the day. Today it wasn’t, of course. It was a bloodbath.

For the prior 24 hours Maggie had been growing a fearsome looking lump under her incision. It was worrying enough that I changed her follow up appointment to this afternoon rather than waiting for Thursday, when it was originally scheduled. We fell seven hours short of that appointment when she dove into her breakfast and the dam broke – leaving a trail of blood tinged fluid dripping down her shoulder and quickly spattering the floor.

“Not good,” my initial early morning response. Maggie didn’t seem bothered at all. She didn’t even slow up on inhaling her breakfast.

Over the next three hours, what I’ve now learned is a common post operative condition called a seroma, steadily grew smaller as the fluid continued to drain – mostly into the kitchen floor. I’ve mopped today. A lot.

Our vet assured me this is all fairly normal. He was happy enough with her progress to take her sutures out, and advising “just let it drain” while handing over another 10 days worth of antibiotics just to ward off any future issues.

So here we all are, confined once again to the kitchen in an effort to keep random canine bodily fluids from soaking in to more sensitive parts of the house. I can only hope this iteration won’t take nine months.

I’m happy my girl is on the mend… though I wish it would involve just a little less oozing.

Going online…

I had a pretty normal undergraduate experience – 4 years, a couple of summer or winter classes, and done. I managed to earn a full academic scholarship at least for tuition, so fortunately I didn’t have to pay the freight for that education. I won’t say I loved every minute of it, but I look back very fondly on those four years.

In the early stages of my federal career I was on the road more weeks than not and opted for an online MBA. I don’t know what the fees for such a thing are now, but back then I was paying $1,850 per six week class, for a total of $24,050 by the time I earned my degree. My impression of online education, based on that MBA experience, is that you could get as much or as little out of it as you were willing to put into it. It wasn’t hard to slip through doing the minimum, but to really learn the subject you needed to put in extra hours beyond the homework and discussion boards. I didn’t love it, but I ended up learning a lot and it served its purpose for a guy whose schedule wouldn’t have otherwise supported getting a degree. 

I’m seeing articles indicating that brick and mortar schools largely plan on charging full tuition for their slate of online classes for the fall semester. I fully realize that these schools have sunk costs that they need to keep paying regardless of how instruction is delivered, but at the same time I can’t fathom by what logic an entering freshman would pay full price for severely reduced services. Better I’d think to take your intro level classes from the local community college, save your money, and transfer them on when your school of choice opens back up for learning in the flesh. Under the circumstances, I’d even argue a gap year could be a better investment of time and resources.

Pretending that you’re completely justified in charging full price for the undergrad college experience while providing significantly reduced service feels distinctly like perpetrating a fraud… although if you have a large enough group of people willing to unquestioningly pay the bill, I suppose you can take every cent they’ll willingly hand over. 

Who wants to learn new stuff anyway?

OK. I’ve arrived at an executive decision. Keeping up a weekly feature highlighting “what I learned this week” just isn’t working for me. Call it a victim of COVID-19.

Yes, my home state of Maryland is continuing to open up. I could go eat at a restaurant, do some in-person shopping at local retail establishments, or do many of the other things that people did to amuse themselves in the before time. The catch, of course, is that I didn’t spend a lot of time doing those things back then – and I lack all motivation to do them now. 

Curtailing my primary interests to whatever is happening on my woodsy acre means less opportunity to see something truly new and different that also passes for interesting to a broader audience. I’m still learning plenty, but won’t pretend that finding the perfect mix of herbs and spices for my meat sauce or investigating what’s killing off some of the local pine trees makes for particularly enthralling Friday reading. Likewise, regaling you with what I consider interesting tidbits from whatever books I’m currently reading doesn’t feel like something that would get all that much attention.

For the foreseeable future, I’m putting Friday back into the normal posting rotation. No theme, no special emphasis, just whatever ridiculous shiny bauble happens to have my attention that day.