We don’t really do consistency here…

One of the great joys of working for my employer is that we’re absolutely comfortable delivering mixed messages. It’s such a regular part of business that I doubt most people even notice. I notice, of course, because it’s exactly the kind of random foible that I enjoy writing about. 

I present the following by way of example:

On one hand, the message from the very top is that COVID-19 remains an existential threat to our ability to contest and not lose the nation’s wars. In light of that, every one and all of us must stay masked, be vaccinated, maintain social distance, and keep working from home because it’s dangerous out there.

On the other hand, the same organization is holding its last frenzied meetings about piling people from around the country into a large convention center for three days next week. I’m sure it will be a glittering affair with everyone fully following all published best practices and risk reduction strategies. You just can’t beat the synergistic effects of breathing all over each other to enhance lethality and multi-domain readiness… because it’s not so dangerous out there.

One of the great lessons I’ve learned during my career is that we are very serious about following rules and procedures, unless, of course, those rules and procedures are in any way inconvenient or interfere with what the gods on Olympus want to do. Then, it helps if you just think of them as suggestions and don’t take them seriously in any way. If you came looking for consistency, boy did you come to the wrong place. 

If you won’t follow the science, at least follow the history…

I got my flu shot this afternoon. I had the flu once. That would have been way back in 2004. It was a miserable few days shifting restlessly between bed and the couch. Every fall since then, I’ve been happy to get something that could prevent me from catching the bug or reduce its symptoms if I did end up catching it.

Having had the experience once, I didn’t need any further encouragement. I didn’t need to be entered for a door prize. I didn’t need someone from YouTube to agree with me. I didn’t need to be encouraged by athletes or movie stars. I did it because over the last 43 years, I’ve been vaccinated against I honestly have no idea how many different things both mundane and exotic. 

None of those previous vaccinations has enabled me to pick up 5G using my fillings or inserted a GPS tracker under my skin. I haven’t grown a tail or developed an insatiable craving for the flesh of babies. History tells me all those previous vaccines did precisely what they were designed to do. 

Smart people, with decades of education and training, have told me the flu shot is far less risky than the thing it helps prevent. I don’t believe them because I’m a rube who just fell off the turnip truck. I believe them because history tells me they’re right.

I am, however, just cynical enough to have gotten the shot at the tail end of a 4-day weekend so if something bad happens, I can take sick leave to cover it instead of ruining perfectly good time I had already scheduled out off.

Expansion pack…

I’ve had to expand the nonfiction holding section (also known as the spare bedroom). I’m a lot more selective about the history that comes into the house than I am about the fiction, but even so, the two small bookcases were literally bent under the weight of things and books were spreading out to occupy every flat surface in the room. As much as I love books, it just isn’t a good look on those rare occasions when the hospitality of the homestead is offered.

All this, of course, meant a flying trip to IKEA to bring on two new, larger bookcases. Now it’s a simple matter of getting them assembled and reordering the current mess. That can wait on a day that’s not quite so conducive to being outside… but thanks to the eternal shortage of everything, grabbing the flat packs when I had the time and they were in stock was a necessary evil. 

Overall, the questions of books and book storage here are now taking on a Jenga-esque feeling. Where new bookcases will go, if I’ll move ones I currently have, and how they’ll all fit together involves more thought than you’d strictly think reasonable.

My first thought to shore up the nonfiction front was to simply move the smaller shelves out of the library and put them to work in the guest room – replacing them with bookcases that match the two large ones I loaded into the library last year. The trouble is, the smaller cases are already earmarked, eventually, for my own bedroom. Their dark finish fits better there than the guest room. I’m not yet ready to put them to work in my bedroom there yet, though, and I’d really like to avoid cleaning them off and moving them on two separate occasions. It’s a surprisingly awkward and time-consuming process.

So the guest room, otherwise known as my nonfiction to-be-read pile, gets the benefit of two new Billy’s (in birch veneer since basic, and cheap, white has been going out of stock as soon as it shows local availability). Everything else stays put for the time being – and least until after the bathroom renovation is over and I make a decision on new flooring for the master bedroom. It’s not one of those dramatic improvements I’ll see and appreciate every day in passing, but it will be a decided improvement in managing and protecting a large and ever-growing book collection.

Call it money well spent.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Enterprise Service Desk. I waited on hold for 24 minutes after my laptop flashed all sorts of warnings about the impending doom of expiring certificates, to be told, oh no, just call back about two weeks before it expires. I mean if that’s the standard, maybe sync up the automatic warning message to not start flashing red with 41 days to go. But hey, at least I can look forward to pissing away another half hour on hold in the very near future… when I’m entirely confident I’ll be told I should have requested the new certificates at least 30 days in advance.

2. USPS. I’ve largely abandoned the US Postal Service to the extent possible. Some of the places I order from still regularly use them, but for most anything originating here, I look for other options first. The delivery inconsistencies, delays, and downright failures from last winter still rankle. Now I see the USPS has a grand plan to improve itself… by intentionally slowing down deliveries and increasing prices. Yep. I’m sure that will bring people flocking in to their local post office.

3. Celebrity. The amount of time we collectively spend pondering the opinion of celebrities is kind of remarkable. I’m not entirely sure why anyone cares whether a man who’s very good at throwing a ball through a hoop thinks vaccines work. Don’t get me wrong here. I have plenty of favorite celebs. Some are funny, others insightful, and a few are just a pleasure to look at… but what I don’t generally look to them for is subject matter expertise in a field that demands decades of study and practice in which to gain proficiency. 

Doing great work…

A few years ago, my employer adopted a new pay system. Say what you want about the old General Schedule, but it was nothing If not predictable. Stay alive and employed for X number of years and you knew precisely where your salary would fall. This new system, riddled with administrative complexity and ostensibly based on the “pay for performance” concept, makes any such projection somewhere between impossible and useless.

The cornerstone of our new pay system is our individual written narrative – an annual self-assessment of what we’ve done and why it theoretically matters. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that kind of introspection… although by definition, the better you are at writing and telling your own story, the better you’re apt to do in the face of the committees charged with reviewing these self-assessments. Fortunately, in this system, as in NSPS before it, I do a reasonably good job of detailing why I’m absolutely wonderful. It’s not a system you’d want to work under if you’re in any way self-deprecating.

The theory here is that if pay is somehow tied to the value of individual contributions, people will be more engaged and work harder. I suppose it’s true up to a point. Once you’ve crashed into the upper limit of your designated “pay band,” the remunerative reward for working harder is pretty limited. Sure, you can qualify for a year-end bonus calculated using one of the more Byzantine formulas devised by the mind of man, but in raw percentage terms it’s not much… and 40% of not much is going to be immediately taxed back to the Treasury.

I’m only pondering the system at all, because I recently received the annual notice from the boss that it was time to send in my self-assessment. With so little at stake, it’s hard to imagine sweating too long or hard over the words than end up on the page. It’ll get done and I’m sure the writing will be lovely. I’ll assess myself as the ideal employee doing great work for God and country… and then the various committees and formulas will drive my scores towards the median and an appropriately middle of the road bonus will be awarded.

I’ll be forgiven, I hope, if I don’t find the process particularly motivational or apt to improve my performance in any meaningful way.

What Don wants…

I watched a clip last night of a rally over the weekend in which the former President of the United States waived off the January 6th Capitol Insurrection as an event that never happened.

Republicans in the House might be willing to go along with such blatant disregard for facts. Republicans in the Senate might be willing to stay silent for fear of drawing the ire of those who continue to support the failed candidacy of a one term president. State level Republican committees and state parties may line up behind the fabrication too.

I have no influence at all on what those other Republicans do or say. 

Unlike them, though, I have a sometimes uncomfortable tendency to stand with facts and truth in the face of lies – even when, maybe especially when, those lies are told by those in positions of power.

The facts in evidence are these: Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election. There is no substantive evidence of fraud. He (eventually) conceded, after first expending great effort to undermine the electoral process and people’s faith in it. As his supporters stormed into the Capitol, he refused to call them off at best and actively encouraged them at worst. 

Now, Don wants us to refuse to accept what we’ve seen. He says he didn’t concede. He says there’s no way of really telling who won an election. He’s saying nothing happened at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. Who are you going to believe, he seems to ask, a disgraced former president who fled Washington in shame on January 20th, or your own lying eyes?

Other so-called Republicans can do what they will, but from my seat here, I’ll stand against Don’s bid to rewrite history. I’ll stand against the weight of the party that just wants its members to fall in line because they think we all value power more than truth. I’d rather see the Republican Party cast down for the next generation than give in to those who betray the republic and hope we’ll all just look away.

My fellow Republicans – whether they be friends, family, or the party at large – are going to be sadly disappointed if they think I’ll stand with them for the sake of preserving peace and tranquility. I stand with and for the republic, the Constitution, and the laws… and there’s absolutely nothing political about that.

Weak in size and spirit…

The occupant of the White House is a member of the Democratic Party. Members of the Democratic Party also constitute the majority, though a slim one, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This week they’ll be struggling mightily to pass monumentally large spending bills, not crash headlong into the debt ceiling, and keep the lights on at federal departments and agencies across the country.

One thing I think we’re going to have to give up now is the illusion that our legislative process is broken because one party or another is made up entirely of obstructionists who live to say “no.” When one of those parties holding all the reigns of power is still struggling or fails to get their agenda passed, the fiction of blaming the opposition party is awfully hard to sustain.

If the party in power fails to pass signature portions of their own president’s agenda or fails to gin up the votes for their own spending priorities, or can’t manage that most basic of Congressional functions – passing the federal budget – that tells me not only is the majority weak in size, but also weak in spirit. If the Congressional Democrats can’t get the job done when they hold all the reigns, they’re ripe to be picked off in the 2022 election cycle.

So as it turns out both of our dominate political parties are bad. One because it will cheerfully burn the republic to the ground if it means they get to hang on to power and the other because they can’t find the matches with both hands and a flashlight.

Shutdown prep…

Years ago, the federal government was touted as stable employment, promising a career that wouldn’t make you rich, but ensured that you wouldn’t die poor. It was a guarantee of a solidly middle class lifestyle during your working years and a comfortable retirement when the time came. The trade off, for such stability was forgoing the big salaries that could sometimes be had for similar work in the private sector. Those salaries, of course, came with risk that the contract that paid so well could disappear overnight.

Stable is a relative term, of course. Over the last fifteen years I’ve worked through hiring freezes, furloughs, and more government shut downs than I can really remember. That’s not the hallmark of a particularly stable employer. Then again, when I look at the elected officials who the people, in their questionable wisdom, have sent to Washington to represent them, “stable” isn’t a world I’d choose to use for many of them – both the politicians and the electorate.

So here I am, with the next government shut down hovering in the wings, once again preparing to defer or stop payments and dramatically reduce the scope and scale of operations at Fortress Jeff.

I’ve got enough years on me now to ride out a run of the mill government shutdown if I must. Still, planning for a few weeks or months without pay does make you question going with the “stable” choice all those years ago. If you’re going to be planning how to cut spending down to the bone every couple of years anyway, maybe some of those contract jobs would have been better in the end.

Our elected representatives are increasingly incapable of acting like grown adults, but then again, the same is true of the people who elect them. The curse of democracy is we continue to get exactly the kind of politicians, government, and society that we deserve.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Bureaucracy. Wednesday morning I received an email from the Office of Personnel Management. The sole purpose of that email was asking me to forward the email, a request to take a survey, to my supervisor. Yes, before anyone asks, it was a legitimate email versus some kind of elaborate and badly executed fishing expedition. Every time I start to think that maybe we have reached peak bureaucracy, Uncle goes ahead and sets the bar just a little bit higher.

2. Meetings that wouldn’t even justify being an email. The bosses called a global “all hands” meeting for our corner of the great green machine this week. There were 80 invitees in person or online. Squarely in the middle of when I’d generally be breaking for lunch. Surely, you’d think, this would be for the transmission of important information or critical organizational changes. No. It was 30 seconds of regurgitated talking points and 14 minutes of birthday cake for one of the top line managers. He’s a good enough guy and all, but if you’re ever wondering why morale has moved on from being in the shitter to being in the septic tank, I’ll present exactly this sort of asshattery as evidence.

3. Pants. I had to stop what I was doing in the middle of the day today and put on pants. Between the rain and the plummeting ambient air temperature, it was just plain uncomfortable. I’m not mentally ready to concede that the long summer is over. I’ve obviously spent too much time growing accustomed to conducting the business of the day in tee shirts and shorts. Making the transition back to actual pants feels… onerous. 

Another winter of discontent…

Remembering the fiasco of getting anything shipped between Thanksgiving and Washington’s Birthday last year, I’ve been in a bit of a race to pick up some books. It’s not that I’m in any danger of running out of things to read, but since I have a habit of picking up a series and then racing through it to the end, there are a few titles it’s going to be better to have on hand for when delivery services go absolutely sideways again this year.

Watching the supply chain struggle to not even keep up over the last year, it really feels inevitable that loading it down with the standard end of the year holiday surge will see the whole delicate machine grind to a near halt, if only temporarily. Products will still be flowing, of course, but there’s no guarantee that was moving through the network will be what you ordered. I fully expect basic delivery of goods to be almost unusable for a good part of the late fall and winter. Sure, I suppose your stuff will arrive eventually, but “timely service” isn’t going to be something to expect.

By this time next month, I’m planning to drastically curtail my use of online shopping and delivery. The sheer aggravation of waiting for weeks or months on things that should arrive in a day or two just isn’t worth it. I’ll draw down the stocks I’ve put up for the winter, or shop regional retail if it’s absolutely unavoidable. Now if I could just find the last book or two I’m looking for (at something less than fully-loaded collector prices), I feel like I could be all set to ride out another winter of discontent.

I’m not under any delusion that the supply chain will be completely untangled in 2022, but by the time the last Christmas card arrives in February or March, maybe last mile delivery will at least be usable for household basics again. I’m certainly preparing myself to see as much or more disruption than we did in in the closing weeks of 2000 and the first months of 2021. It’s one of those cases where I really hope I’ll be proven wrong and over reactionary… but I don’t think I am or will be.