What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Political (and non-political) violence. The halls of Congress, school, the workplace, the local supermarket, and nearly everywhere has always been filled with people who make me want to crack skulls. Somehow, I’ve always managed to resist the temptation to threaten or carry such notions into action. I’ve never found it particularly hard to avail myself of that restraint. Increasingly, issuing threats, tantrum throwing, and violent outbursts seems to be turning into the default setting. I’ll never for the life of me really understand why this section of the population can’t glom on to the notion that there are always going to be people doing shit they don’t like and the best solution is to just go home, have a highball, and remember that 99.99% of what anyone else does has absolutely no impact on their daily life. For the other .01% of the time, hire a lawyer and let them fight it out instead of acting like some kind of bloody ill-bred yokel.

Door-to-door sales. As a 44-year-old man, I can honestly say that I’ve never purchased anything (Girl Scout cookies excluded), from someone shilling their wares from door to door. There’s a long and storied tradition of this type of marketing, but this is the year of our lord two thousand and twenty-two and I can order almost anything I can imagine for two-day delivery directly to my doorstep without the add inconvenience of needing to tell an over-eager salesman no. I appreciate that everyone needs to work, but I’m not looking for a drive-by power washing any more than I’m looking for a new selection of Fuller Brush products or a set of encyclopedias.

Magically appearing new rights. Food is a right. College is a right. Healthcare is a right. A house is a right. Transportation is a right. This is a right. That is a right. Every damned thing you can think of is suddenly a right and should be provided to people at no cost to them. Except, of course, someone is always going to have to pay. Usually they mean “the government” should pay for it, but which they mean that whatever they’d decided is a right today should be paid for by those of us who are a) Paying the local, state, and federal income taxes the government will use to pay these things and b) Already paying for our own food, college, healthcare, house, and transportation. If I wanted to support a local family of four, I’d have had one of my own by now. You know what I see very little discussion of when people talk about their “right” to other people’s money? If you guessed getting a job and being responsible for yourself, your actions, your decisions, and your future, you’re a spot-on guesser. Well done.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Footboard. I’m officially not a fan of beds with footboards. Maybe it’s the kind of thing you don’t notice until you’ve already got a sore foot. I’ve always been a bit of a roller and thrasher while asleep, so as a result of my transition to the guest bedroom, I’ve been bashing my feet into the footboard for three and a half weeks now. How was this ever a popular bed design? It certainly couldn’t have taken into account anyone who might accidentally exceed six feet in height. Having a footboard was a non-issue when the bed in question was almost purely decorative. The number of guests I’d encourage to stay overnight is, obviously, incredibly limited, but let me just say that I’m officially apologizing in advance to anyone who might happen to visit in the future.

2. Busybodies. Have we always been a nation of busybodies? I don’t really do “social history,” so the question is a bit out of scope for me. Starting off early with the whole witch trial in Salem, though, kind of points towards yes. I don’t know how people have the mental energy required to care what other people are up to. As long as it’s not taking food out of my mouth or money out of my pocket, I have no idea why I’d care how people want to live their personal lives, who they want to fuck, what god they want to praise, or any of the other things that so many people seem to be so up in arms over. I can only assume that their lives are so boring they have no choice but to try living everyone else’s for them.

3. Failure to communicate. I’ve been playing a lot of telephone this week. I call the prime contractor, they call the sub, the sub calls the county, and then the chain may or may not ring in reverse. All I’m trying to do is get a straight answer on why getting reinspected is taking more than a week after the incredibly minor fix was made. Add in the fact that my prime changed field supervisors mid-project and it hasn’t been the recipe for clear and effective communication during this interminable two week stretch. I acknowledge that it’s possible that my background as a project manager and planner makes me a bit to sensitive to things like this, but it’ll absolutely be making the list as a “needs improved” on the after action report.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. My right foot. Last Thursday I noticed a little catch in my foot, especially if I were standing still for too long. By Tuesday I was walking with an undisguised limp. Here, now, on Thursday leaving my foot flat on the floor is an agony… and let’s just say I won’t be releasing film of me gimping my way around the house. I don’t mind being injured when I know what dumbass thing I’ve done to cause it. When it comes flying out of nowhere and for no apparent reason, though, well, that’s cause for severe agitation in addition to the baseline level of pain. Thanks to the internet, I know the general advice is to stay off the offending foot and give it plenty of rest. That’s probably a decent enough recommendation, but there’s critters to feed and a household to run, so the actual utility of that advice is marginal at best. It’ll either ease off or it won’t. If we’re still here this time next week, it’ll probably be time for professional intervention.

2. Hearings. In the summer of 1987, Congress held televised hearings about the Iran-Contra affair that featured then Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North. I remember the hearings in part because they were a daily afternoon fixture on the television as I passed regularly from the pool to the kitchen at my aunt and uncle’s house in Fairhaven, where we were visiting at the time. It’s funny the things that stick in the mind of a nine-year-old. In any case, we’re about to be treated to another round of televised Congressional hearings. This time, they’ll focus on something far more insidious than anything LtCol North dreamed up. After eighteen months, much of the nation’s attention has shifted away from the insurrection and treason that took place on and leading up to January 6th, 2021. In my heart of hearts, I hope that these hearings are a forum to both shed light on and hand down consequences for those who engaged in, supported, or passively acquiesced to the attempted violent overthrow of the legislative branch. I fear, however, that it will all be used for hour after hour of prime-time grandstanding by everyone involved.

3. People. OK, admittedly, I’ve never been a fan. With rare exceptions I’ve found that people are more trouble than their worth. Over the years, I’ve developed a pretty reliable sense for those who make the extra effort worthwhile. That sense, as was proven this week, is not foolproof. In fact, that trust in my own intuition lulled me into a sense of complacency. In that complacency, I missed warning lights that should have been wildly obvious. From any other direction, when evaluating any other person, they would have been. It’s been a good long time since I’ve so badly misjudged someone… and I’ll be bloody well sure it’s even longer before another one slips past the goalie the same way.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Thrift Savings Plan. One of the non-salary benefits that makes federal employment at least nominally attractive is access to the Thrift Savings Plan, a low-fee 401(k) style defined contribution retirement plan. The TSP website has always been a little bit clunky, but with only five basic funds and five target date funds to manage, it didn’t need to be particularly complicated. And that’s where the Thrift Savings Board, the fine people who run the plan, decided to revamp everything. The transition to a new web interface and record keeping system started in May and by the 26th the process was far enough along that users were effectively locked out “until the first week of June.” Well, as predictable as it is, the rollout of these “new and improved features has proven to be absolute hot garbage. I’m one of the lucky ones that managed to set up a new log in without causing the system to crash… even though I still can’t do anything once I’ve signed on. With millions of account holders and $750 Billion under management, you might be tempted to think there would be an incentive to get this rollout right. You would, of course, have been 100% wrong. The Thrift Board and whatever contractor the picked to develop this wonder-system have delivered up a complete and total turd.

Inspection. My bathroom remodel contractor has spent the last week and a half working great guns to stay on schedule. They left around lunch time yesterday and aren’t here at all today because work is at a dead stop until the county inspector comes by to do his or her thing. That might be tomorrow. It might be next week. Per the project manager and a call to the county office, “There’s no way of knowing.” I’m sure these county inspectors are doing God’s own work, but letting bureaucracy grind a project to a stop without giving a date-certain when they’ll even bother to consider giving approval for more work to get done is infuriating on just about every level. It’s the kind of thing that leads people to decide government is the problem rather than being part of the solution.

The BBC. First off, let me say I love the BBC. They’re one of my top two or three go-to news sources and provide the lion’s share of what television I actually still watch. I use to be able to stream some limited live events from their website. Apparently, I can no longer do that, being met by a banner that says “This content is not available in your location.” By my location, I assume they mean across the waters in the United States. Hey, look, I know the Beeb has its own bills to pay. I’d be happy to sign up for a subscription or a pay a license fee or whatever. I know there are ways to circumvent all that, but I’d rather just hit an easy button, pay a few dollars, and get on with it on the up and up.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Root causes. What the actual fuck is wrong with people? Twenty-six years ago, when most of my cronies and I were about 18, we had ready access to both rifles and handguns. We weren’t particularly well supervised back then and yet we somehow managed not to seed our world with chaos and mass murder. Back there and back then, it was the sort of event that was a true rarity. It’s why I struggle with the idea of blaming the tools people use when it happens now. The first semi-automatic rifle made its appearance in 1779. They became widely available on the consumer market in the closing years of the 19th century. It wasn’t until well into the back half of the 20th century where the commonly described “mass shooting” starts to become a thing that happens. That history is also why I struggle with laying the blame for these events at the foot of the gun. The technology hasn’t changed. It was as readily available in 1930 or 1960 as it is this afternoon. A basic semi-auto was more easily available then given the lack of background checks, permitting, and laws governing who can and can’t possess a firearm that came into vogue in the 80s and 90s. If we assume it’s not access that’s changed, we’re left to consider what factors have changed that lead to these events taking place now more than ever before. That’s a conversation that requires nuance – and since that’s not something that comes in a form of a good soundbite, we’re not likely to see from the political class, the media, the pros, or the antis.

2. Age of adulthood.  One of the first things I read on Twitter this morning was a call to raise the age at which one can purchase a long gun. I saw multiple tweets calling for the age to increase from 18 to something else. Suggestions were 21, 25, 26. Fine. We already declare other “adult” decisions out of bounds for 18-year-olds. If we’re going to be intellectually consistent, though, we need to go further. Eighteen should no longer be considered the age of majority across the board. Raise the age to buy a car, rent an apartment, or sign any kind of contract. Raise the age for enlisting for military service.  Raise the age to sign up for credit or a loan. Raise the age of sexual consent. And for God’s sake, raise the voting age. If those between the ages of 18 and twenty-whatever are too chowderheaded to make responsible adult decisions then just go ahead and delay all the rights, privileges, and opportunities of the adult citizen. Let adulthood start at 45 or whatever other arbitrary age we collectively decide is the right one. We seem to already have a generation that can’t manage to “adult” until they’re in their 30s, so just codify it already.

3. First reports. There’s an old saying about first reports always being wrong. When complex, fast moving events are happening I just assume that all of the details are bogus beyond the basics of where and what. Expecting a second-to-second timeline as events are unfolding is a fool’s errand. I’ve got at least one news feed running in the house pretty much from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed and how often the first details are wrong is pretty much an article of faith here. I’ll cheerfully call out Texas public safety officials if it proves out that they failed to follow local policy or in some way failed to respond appropriately, but I won’t sit at the keyboard and condemn them based on early reports and what people think they know. I’ll be swapping over to financial news until the story – and the reporters – get past the breathless, “breaking news” phase.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Random IT issues. I was issued a perfectly decent laptop a month or two ago. When I shut it down Friday evening and tucked it away for the weekend it was running just fine. For some reason, when I booted it up on Monday morning, I found it had turned into an underpowered and sclerotic piece of shit for no obvious reason. Opening files or programs took minutes. Some, like VPN never did work. I managed to limp along using webmail for a while, but eventually that too stopped working. After some begging and pleading to pull my helpdesk ticket forward in the queue and making an unplanned trip in to the office for our IT types to poke and prod at it a bit, the issue “seems to have resolved itself.” Look, I’m thrilled and happy to be able to function again, but I have no confidence at all that this has been a one-off incident and won’t now start happening at the most inconvenient possible moments.

2. Jorah. Before anyone gets up in arms, let me explain… I love my sweet, slightly neurotic boy, but the least little unanticipated sound sends him rushing the front window in a fit of barking rage. That’s fine enough, if not something to be outright encouraged most of the time. Where this tendency of his gets us into trouble is when the people across the street are in the middle of a major project to re-landscape their front yard. Then, it’s constant noise and movement that draws his loud and undivided attention. This, of course, does not bode well to how he’s going to respond when all the banging and foot traffic is coming from inside his own house. Yeah. That’s gonna be some good times.

3. Erdogan. Turkey’s president is threatening to torpedo the application of Sweden and Finland to join NATO. He’s accused them both as being “home to terrorists.” I’m not an expert on Turkish terror, but since it’s Erdogan doing the talking, I can only assume what we’re seeing is a good old-fashioned shakedown. Now that Turkey’s president has planted his flag, I’m expecting that way below the radar, someone from the State Department will swoop in with a big bag of cash or a novelty-sized check, and for reasons that aren’t discussed in front of the media, Turkey will quietly reverse its position. Failing that, there’s always the option of going with a stick – where the U.S. will have to threaten to withhold something that Erdogan wants in order to get his capitulation. Maybe it’ll be a combination of the two, but letting the tin pot dictator of Turkey dictate terms to the rest of NATO just feels like bad policy overall. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Crypto. I hold a vanishingly small position in Bitcoin. Of course, that position has grown even smaller over the last week. The collapse of Bitcoin has been met with the expected gnashing of teeth. Crypto was billed as a lot of things – including the future of online transactions as well as a hedge against inflation and the vagaries of traditional stocks. It was going to be the New Gold. Its behavior in the current downturn hasn’t proven any of that out. I mostly bought in wanting to learn about this new technological wonder, rather than execting Bitcoin would pop to $1,000,000 and I’d make my fortune. Crypto, for all its hype, has an astonishingly unproven record of being useful in the broader economy outside of being an item of curiosity. At best, it’s felt like even more of a casino than your run of the mill investment opportunities, so as they say, “don’t gamble with funds you can’t afford to lose.”

2. People. After attempting to resolve my ants in the well issue last summer by working with well and water experts and meeting with only temporary success, I turned to a local exterminator this spring to get a second opinion. I’m not sure whether I should be insulted or not that the first thing he said to me was “Yeah, don’t dump any poison down the well.” I suppose just the fact that he said that so quickly implies that there’s a non-zero number of my fellow residents of Cecil County who do respond to similar issues by actually running out and poisoning their own water source. I assured him that I had no intention of emptying a bottle of Terro into my drinking water supply and that I was consulting him for alternative approaches that wouldn’t result in potentially killing myself. The more unsettling part of this whole conversation is that the people who do have to be cautioned against drinking poison are also the people we encounter on the roads each day. They’re the people we encounter while we’re getting groceries. They’re the ones who sit in judgment of us as jury members. They’re the people who go to the polls to elect our leaders. Honestly, the fact that such a warning needed to be said explains a lot about why things are the way they are.

3. An unnamed online brokerage. On a lark, I opened an online brokerage account years ago. I threw a few dollars in it and attempted to teach myself a bit about the exciting world of penny stocks. Believe me when I say that didn’t go anywhere beyond giving me a solid lesson that I have no business spending time being a stock picker. As the market began its fall back around the first of the year, I dug out my log in and set up a small weekly buy order for a broad index fund. It was a chance to use the falling knife to begin capturing some shares outside what’s locked up, sacrosanct and untouchable, in my retirement accounts. I try very hard to be a set-it-and-forget-it investor. In fact, going weeks or months between looking at things isn’t uncommon. The fact that this particular broker has somehow managed to bungle my last two automatic transactions, though, has me double checking all their work to this point. Add in the apparent impossibility of getting authoritative answers from customer service and I’m left to wonder if it’s not time to decamp for an alternative platform. That’s its own flavor of pain in the ass, so I’m begrudgingly staying the course for the time being. If the next transaction inexplicably goes wonky, I’ll have to try elsewhere for my own sanity.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Pope Francis. In a report this week, the Pope has said NATO is responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I’m sure His Holiness is a wise and intelligent churchman, but I have to encourage him to get the fuck directly out of here with that line of thinking. The person directly responsible for the invasion of and subsequent destruction in Ukraine is Vladimir Putin. Period. Full stop. John Paul II took a courageous stand against Soviet repression across Eastern Europe. It seems his successor would rather stand with tyrants… and that heaps nothing but shame on him. 

2. Page views. My page views fell off a damn cliff this week and I have absolutely no idea why. As of this evening, views are down 68% from this time last week. Mercifully I’m not trying to sell anything here, because that’s just abysmal. Is it something I said? Was there a tweak to the algorithm? I’ve got loads of metrics about this page, but not one of them is giving me any particularly helpful insight. I’ll keep plugging away, of course, because more than anything else, this blog exists as a platform to vent my spleen before I get a chance to bottle it up. Past that, the added views are just kind of nice to have. I’d still be doing it even if no on were reading. Which at the rate these views are dropping could be sometime early next week.

3. Politicians. I’ve been looking, among other things, at the varied responses to the draft Supreme Court opinion on abortion, the continued agitation for free money handouts to those who took out student loans, the thus-far lackluster efforts of the January 6th committee, and clear disconnect between what Republican “leaders” said about Trump in private versus what they say for public consumption. The conclusion at which I’ve arrived is that it doesn’t appear that there is one single national-level politician anywhere in the country that I have any interest in voting for… for anything. Except maybe for expulsion to a desolate island in the South Pacific. They’re collectively just about the most uninspiring bunch I can imagine. I’d be hard pressed to think of anything they’ve done that makes me more likely to vote for a single one of them than I am to just throw my damned vote in the sea. They are, to a man and woman, about as useless a bunch as we’ve ever had the misfortune to seat at the highest levels of government.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Virtually in person. Monday was one of those days where I was in the office fulfilling the (in my opinion) questionable requirement that our little team must always have a warm body in the building. Like the ravens at the Tower of London, the whole enterprise would collapse should we all simultaneously be doing the work from anywhere other than our assigned badly lit, gray-toned workstations. The only meeting I had that day involved seven or eight people… half of whom were also physically in the office. It’s awfully telling that despite so many people being on site, the whole meeting was held over Teams with everyone participating from their desk. If we’re all going to be meeting virtually from our own section of cubicle hell, I’d really love a non-corporate speak explanation of why there’s even a push to have more and more people in the office? You’ll never convince me it doesn’t defy logic and plain common sense.

2. Pulling rank. This week, as I may have mentioned, was the yearly spectacle where I attempt to stage manage / executive produce a three-day series of presentations. This year there were 9 organizations and 21 separate presentations across three days. This event rated permanent support from me, three guys who managed the IT infrastructure from soup to nuts, and a handful of rotating support personnel from each of the participating organizations that fell in for their portion of the event and then buggered off. By way of contrast, there was another event on Tuesday morning. This one lasted 90 minutes. It rated support from a staff director, six subject matter experts, three guys to manage IT, and another half dozen aides, support staff, and various strap hangers. If it sounds like I’m in any way angry and a little bitter, I like to think it’s justified hostility and just one of the many reasons why I hate the last week of April.

3. Choices. At the princely cost of $4.25 per gallon, I filled up the truck this morning from about a quarter tank and spent $77.60. I didn’t jump online to “Thank Brandon” or scream “Orange Man Bad” because I know the American president has next to no direct control over setting global commodity prices. I paid my bill without much comment, because paying his way in this endlessly beshitted world is a man’s job. Well, that and because no one twisted my arm 12 years ago in west Tennessee when I bought a big V8 powered pickup truck knowing full well that on its best day, I might get a little more than 16 miles per gallon. Brandon didn’t do that. I did… and so did everyone else who opted for size and power over efficiency. Want to find someone to blame? Take a hard look in the mirror.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Failure to plan. I’ve rented you the hall. I’ve provided the stage. I’ve laid on the cameras and the furniture. I’ve blocked off all the time in the world for people to rehearse, dry run, and generally get to feel comfortable with their part. What I can’t make people do, of course, is actually show up and do any of those things. Mostly I put in the effort because I want people to be successful – or at least I want to set the conditions for their success. What I’ll be intensely intolerant of, however, is when those same people who have displayed conspicuous indifference in planning find themselves in a panic five minutes before things go live next week… Because that’s almost inevitable while also being nearly 100% avoidable.

2. Work clothes. Having spent the majority of the last two years working from home, it hasn’t been necessary to keep much in the way of a “work” wardrobe. I mean mine almost exclusively consists of khakis and polos, anyway, but that’s all stuff I’d wear day-to-day in my real life. After two years of little exposure to the general public some, perhaps most of it, is starting to look a little tatty around the edges. That’s an issue I hadn’t noticed until I realized I needed something more or less presentable for five days this week instead of my normal one or two. If you think the idea of needing to buy clothes specifically so I can drive 40 minutes to sit in a cubicle isn’t grinding my gears, you must be new here.

3. The end of April. The back half of April is my hardest two weeks of the year. The only thing holding my temper just barely in check is not wanting to be unemployed. Stress is up because I’m supposed to be delivering a product that no one else gives a shit about until the day it goes live. My blood pressure is through the roof. I can track it year over year and it consistently spikes during these two weeks. I’m eating like shit, tossing and turning through the night, and generally just not taking the time to do the normal things that more or less keep me on an even keel the rest of the year. All in all, it’s not a great time when your general outlook is often described in such glowing terms as “bleak” and “kind of dark” on the good days.