The unnecessary search for the perfect pen…

As much as the government likes to claim that we’ve gone or are going “paperless,” such claims are fabrications if not an outright lies. There as much if not more volume of paper flowing around the office now as there was when I showed up almost 16 years ago. One of the only other consistencies in all that time is that I’ve been on an eternal quest to find just the right pen. 

Copyright ANN PINSON/STARS AND STRIPES 

I’ve used roller balls, gel inks, ball points, felt tips, fines, and ultra-fines. I even picked up – and very quickly put down – a couple of fountain pens along the path. The truth is, I have the perfect pen sitting on the desk in my home office already. The Cross Century pen that my dad handed to me the night I graduated high school fills the bill as a “good pen” nicely. Given its sentimental value there’s no way I’m willing to risk losing it somewhere in the vast bureaucracy. Adding another Cross is cost prohibitive. What I’ve always searched for is a good, serviceable everyday pen. 

The fact is, I probably found the right pen for the job long before my search really began. All I had to be willing to accept was the learned judgement of a bunch of bureaucrats way back in 1968 when the General Services Administration adopted the 16 pages of requirements that ultimately resulted in the production of the definitive Pen, Ball-Point, Black, NSN 7520-00-935-7135. The venerable Skilcraft pen is harder to find in government offices than it used to be, but it’s still there if you know where to look. 

It’s not the best pen I’ve ever used. Sometimes the ink is a bit clumpy and it feels a little small in hand, but by way of trade off, I’ve never actually run one out of ink. That’s a claim I can’t make about a run of the mill Bic or modern gel ink wonders. I suspect this little wonder has more of a cult following than many will admit to, as plenty of them have been swiped from my desk over the years. It’s one of those rare moments when design and function are pretty much ideal even 50+ years later. 

That’s all a long way to say that I think my search for the perfect pen is probably over. I’ll keep my fancy Cross at home, but for the office I’ll be keeping a supply of archaic black ball-points on hand to meet my writing needs. It feels like one of the few designs that we, probably by pure dumb luck, managed to get right the first time… if I ever catch wind of anyone threatening to improve the design I’ll just have to requisition a dozen boxes to see me safely through the back half of my career. One box would probably be enough, but the inevitable reallocation through theft must be considered when determining supply requirements. Same as it ever was.

The state funeral…

When you look for pomp and ceremony, there are few who do it better than the British. They make state occasions look easy – the opening of Parliament, the sovereign’s birthday, and other moments of ceremony go on as if nothing could be more natural. Maybe that’s to be expected in a country that celebrates a monarchy stretching back a thousand years. 

State occasions are different here in our young republic. They tend to be more subdued and perhaps more egalitarian than those carried out by our cousins across the sea. The exception to America’s tendency towards more low key affairs, is the state funeral. It’s the one state occasion when our long ties back to the old world are most on display – and it’s a thing of real beauty. 

From the Old Guard flanking the horse-drawn caisson in procession along Pennsylvania Avenue, to the riderless horse with boots reversed in the stirrups, and the muffled roll of the drums if it doesn’t make your breath catch, are you even really alive? The casket, lain on the Lincoln catafalque, in state beneath the arching dome of the Capitol, with average Americans shuffling past, unnaturally quiet in such a massive space, is one of those sights and moments that you never forget. 

If you happen to be in the DC are over the next couple of days, do yourself a favor and go observe some of these moments – watch the procession to the Capital, wait for a bit in line to pass through the Rotunda and pay your respects. Even if you had political differences with the departed, its an American experience you owe yourself. 

Naw, we don’t need no logistics…

Hey, I know from experience that sometimes logistics can be hard. Getting an item from Point A to Point B in the right quantity at the right time can take a bit of work. When the chips are down and time is a factor, I’m glad I can count on the prowess of the United States Postal Service to let me down hard. 

My well-traveled package

But seriously, an item I ordered landed in Philadelphia last Saturday. In the four days since it has been transferred to Hyattsville, onward to Baltimore, from Baltimore to Washington (where it rattled around the Regional Destination Facility for 6 hours getting scanned repeatedly), back to Baltimore, and reverse coursed back to Washington where it has been sitting since 7:34 this morning. But I suppose I should be confident in the big bold promise of “Delivery by 29 November.”

I mean it’s not like the USPS has been charged with delivering mail and packages for well over 200 years now. Getting a little padded envelope from Philadelphia thirty miles down the road to Elkton is clearly one of the more logistically complex efforts every devised and executed by the mind of man. 

Thank the gods that the package in question absolutely does not contain medications that in any way are responsible for keeping me alive.

Sigh. Apparently, in mail, as in war, even the very simple things are so very hard to do.

But her email…

New reports suggest that Ivanka Trump used a personal email address to conduct official business. If true, those reports are a problem for her and for the administration.

So here I am, a card carrying Republican, in defiance of what social media says I’m supposed to say, arguing that the allegations should be investigated. Hand the records over to the FBI and allow them to do their job. I expect the House of Representatives, under Democratic control in the next session, will also want to hold their own investigation. That’s fine. Conducting such inquiries is a prerogative of the House. 

That said, I expect Republicans to observe the same standards that they did in their investigation of Secretary Clinton in demanding a through search of all pertinent files. Likewise, I expect House Democrats to largely observe that sending emails outside official government platforms “isn’t really that big a deal.” If Republicans pass the buck, they’re negligent. If Democrats rail that personal email is now suddenly important, they’re hypocrites. 

Of course there are fine points of detail that the media doesn’t bother with – things like classification level of the email,  privately owned server housing classified material, whether tens of thousands of emails were destroyed before they could be reviewed by the investigators, etc. They’re perhaps esoteric details, but they matter in the course of deciding if something is a legitimate “big deal” or if it’s Washington-issued “nothing burger.”

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.

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.