They’re always self-inflicted…

One of the tasks that more or less defines my job was impossible to do this week until around 10:00 this morning thanks to a bit of software that had been migrated to a new and improved flavor last week and then promptly shit the bed.

Look, I don’t personally care. If Uncle wants me to do the work, he’ll make sure the systems and software all function. I can sit around twiddling my thumbs with the best of them. I am, after all, a highly seasoned bureaucrat. It’s the sort of thing that comes with the territory. 

The only catch is when systems are down for days on end, it tends to create a backlog and then when the boffins over in the IT office get sorted, the whole log falls directly on your head. That’s where we ended up on today – with at least three days of backlogged work in the queue plus whatever extra came in over the side before close of business. 

To at least one person, every bit of it was something ranging between “important” and “urgent.” To me, of course, it’s all just something to blast through as quickly as possible while trying to get about 80% of it tucked into the right places. If I’m being perfectly honest, since I read every single item that passed through my hot little hands today, I can tell you none of it was actually important, let alone urgent. It was mostly the living embodiment of the kind of electronic ephemera the bureaucracy passes around to continue justifying its own existence. It’s the kind of morass you really want to take a bit at a time rather than in anything resembling large chunks. 

It’ll get done – mostly because I don’t particularly want to deal with this particular hot mess again on Monday. It’ll get done, but I’ll piss and moan about it the entire time, because it’s just another wound we inflicted on ourselves for no discernable reason. If that doesn’t define government work, I don’t know what does.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Blue Falcons. From time immemorial there have been Blue Falcons. They’re the kind of people who would step over their own sainted grandmother or cheat their best friend if they thought it was a chance to get ahead. The ranks of the great green machine are thick with them to some greater or lesser degree. The worst of them, the ones who create a lot of smoke and heat but not much light, are the staff schmucks who think they’ll gain the barest marginal advantage by selling out someone down the hall over an issue that could have been remedied with an email. Being a buddy fucker isn’t a good look, friends. Even if you gain a nominal advantage temporarily, the taint will be on you till the end of your days.

2. Weekends. The problem with the weekend is whole vast swaths of the population are off at the same time. I found myself unavoidably out on Saturday afternoon to do some business with places that don’t obligingly open their doors before 7 AM. To my never-ending horror, there were people everywhere. Traffic backed up at every light. It’s goddamned nightmare fuel. Maybe I need to find a gig where I can take two sequential weekdays off instead of Saturday and Sunday… because weekends are absolutely not relaxing when I have to subject myself to the crowd.

3. There’s been a wave of “climate protests” across Europe. The most recent spate of “protestors” feature assholes damaging and destroying art across the continent who rank right alongside the Taliban scum who blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas or the ISIS fucks who destroyed the Roman theater at Palmyra. At best they’re petulant little shits throwing a temper tantrum because their ideas can’t draw support on their own merits… but in my estimation they’re domestic terrorists who should be delt with as such.

Can do attitude…

So hey, what we’re going to go ahead and do is pile all of you guys back in this room with no windows or moving air so you can spread disease and shout over one another to have conversations, participate in online meetings, and make phone calls. Oh, and by the way, those nice noise cancelling headphones that you’ve been using for years and make working elbow to asshole with everyone else sitting in cubicle hell tolerable are also now contraband… but don’t worry, we’re going to replace them with piece of shit one ear call center headsets that are a-ok.

We’re also going to rip the microphones and cameras out of your laptops so you’ll need to go ahead and use external devices when you’re teleworking to get those functions. No, I’m sure that won’t be in any way a pain in the ass. They’re one step away from explaining why it’s a feature and not a bug.

One of the real perks of working here at this center of excellent excellency is that even when you can’t imagine being able to drive morale even lower, someone finds a way. If there’s a way to make working conditions even slightly more unpleasant, we’ll get after it with gusto. We’re organizationally resourceful like that. It’s the kind of “can do” attitude we like to see.

The part of this whole sorry state of affairs that I’m going to enjoy most is that six months from now someone is going to wander through the area and comment that everyone seems angsty and hostile. If they’ve got a day or two to talk it over, I’ll be happy to give them the full list of how and why… with examples and annotation. 

Value added synergy…

In recognition of my first day back at the office under 2019 working conditions, I’m excited to provide an exhaustive list of things I did at the office that I couldn’t have done if I were home.

– Cleaned off a shelf in my cubicle to restock with coffee, tea, and corresponding additives and accessories. If I’m going to have to be here, mass quantities of caffeine are absolutely going to be necessary.

– Cleaned out a drawer in my cubicle that was filled with crackers, ketchup packets, and sundry foodstuffs that mostly expired early in 2020. Mostly this was just gross. For the record, I should note that mustard packets absolutely do not age well even when stored in a cool, dark place.

– Found two banker’s boxes with lids that someone was sending to recycling. Banker’s boxes are great for book storage. They’re now stashed in my cubicle awaiting a dry day when I can liberate them.

– I spent an hour in a meeting this morning. It was probably one of only 3 or 4 meetings I’ve attended in person in the last 30 months. I have no idea why I was invited as none of the topics were anywhere close to my lane. But there I was, because that’s where Outlook told me to be at 10:00. I could have dialed in for this meeting, but since I was there in person, I’m claiming it as an accomplishment for the day.

– Pushed the button to unlock our room door thrice. As far as I can tell, this is in fact one of my mission essential tasks. In light of that I’ve begun tracking how many times a day I push the button. If it’s going to be the thing that keeps us here in person, I want to make sure I get credit for it on my next performance appraisal.

– Got to listen to at least one person hack up a lung in each and every room I entered today. No idea if it was flu, cold, allergies, plague, or some new and exotic illness, but there they were, spraying the room and everyone in it with their aerosolized gunk throughout the course of the day. I’m just going with assumption now that the office is 100% where the Great Plague will finally catch up with me.

– It was Taco Tuesday featuring a selection of hard- and soft-shell tacos, homemade empanadas, all the appropriate toppings, and a selection of deserts. It was one of the rare occasions when I willingly violated my personal rules against participating in lunch events in badly lit conference rooms. 

There you have it. That’s what extra value you get for your money when I’ve schlepped over to cubicle hell instead doing business from the ease and comfort of my office at home. I’m sure it was all very “value added” or “synergistic” or “team-focused” or something.

Permitting…

I could go ahead and rant about everything what’s wrong with needing to get a permit to exercise a right specifically called out in the Bill of Rights, but the fact is it’s a restriction that exists and is unlikely to go away any time soon. Instead of focusing on that as the overarching issue, I’d like to comment on the absurdity of the permitting process itself. 

Let us assume for purposes of discussion that you are a holder of a permit to carry a concealed handgun in the state of Maryland. West Virginia does not require a permit, so there are no issues there. Your Maryland permit will cover you to walk into Virginia. The moment you walk into the other neighboring states of Delaware or Pennsylvania, though, you become an outlaw. Your Maryland permit does you no good there.

In order to get legal in Pennsylvania, you need to apply for a Pennsylvania non-resident permit, showing proof that your home state of Maryland has given you a permit, and then, of course, pay a fee. A few weeks later, if you’ve applied through a county that issues non-resident permits (not all of them do even though state law allows for it), they’ll call you to come pick up your card. It’s basically a cash grab by another name, but there’s no other way to get there from here. 

Delaware is a bit of a different animal. While they don’t recognize Maryland’s permit, they do recognize Utah’s permit. This means as a Maryland resident, what you’ll need to do to get legal in Delaware, is take a 4-hour class, send a picture, fingerprints, and (of course) another fee over to the great state of Utah and request that they issue a non-resident permit. As a Maryland resident who has never set foot in Utah, you’ll then be ok to carry your handgun into the great state of Delaware and a few other places not covered by Maryland’s permit.

If it seems like a logic defying patchwork arrangement, I suppose it is. And that’s likely by design. With three permits in your pocket – Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Utah – you can move about most of the country without running afoul of the law. I’ll just have to remember to stay out of New York, New Jersey, DC, Florida, parts of New England, and most of the west coast. That really shouldn’t be a problem. In the absence of adopting nationwide Constitutional carry, it really does feel like well past time there was some kind of national reciprocity to bring a degree of order to a decidedly disordered arrangement. As usual, I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen, so I’ll busy myself with satisfying the bureaucracy of at least three different states for the foreseeable future.

Salute to the unknown bureaucrat…

Somewhere in London right now is a nameless, faceless bureaucrat punching tons above his weight class as he struggles mightily to corral monarchs, heads of state, and plenipotentiaries. Each of them is a petty king or queen in their own realm and unaccustomed to going second to anyone. But our bureaucrat will be responsible for ensuring their good behavior if only for an hour or two.

No one will ever know who he is or what he’s done… unless the wheels fall off and blame must find a home. Tomorrow the world will watch the spectacle of Britain honoring one of its most favored daughters. The watching world won’t know or care how the show was made or anything at all about the bureaucrat.

It’s cold comfort, but I’ll know. Or at least I’ll have the barest inkling of what’s gone into making sure the spectacle looks effortless. I’ll marvel at the effort, the sleepless nights, and the frenetic pace. Though you’ll remain forever unknown, I’ll salute you.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Busses. I spent more of the week than I want to admit thinking about busses. One of the “other duties as assigned” that landed on my desk years ago for reasons that still defy logic, is facilitating a couple of charter busses to haul people from the office down to DC for an annual trade show every fall. It’s a boondoggle that was happily suspended due to the Great Plague for the last two years. It’s back with a vengeance for 2022, though, so now I’m in a great paper chase to figure out what hoops must be cleared to reserve, pay for, and fill up a couple of busses for people who are mostly interested in walking the exhibit floor and filling their bags up with cheap giveaway swag. 

2. Duplicate names. I do my best when it comes to naming posts not to repeat myself. After 3,715 posts, though, some dupes slip through. It makes me absolutely buggy when I catch the site address reading something like jeffreytharp.com/duplicate-name-2. If I’d have had any idea that I’d be almost 4,000 posts deep all these years later, I’d have probably kept better track of titles as I went along, but it seems that ship has probably sailed. I’m certainly not going to go back and try to track it all at this late date. Just know, when you see a duplicate name it’s just a small thing that makes me want to burn down the whole internet. 

3. Reality avoidance. So, we have stubbornly high inflation, two quarter decline in gross domestic product, and a midterm election barely three months away. The president has released a statement saying, in part “we are on the right path.” It’s hard to imagine a more tone-deaf thing to say minutes after the Bureau of Economic Analysis releases their quarterly report indicating that we’re now in an economic environment that’s commonly called recessionary. In 1988, George H.W. Bush got throttled at the polls because he was out of touch with the domestic economy. In 1980, Jimmy Carter was turned out of office largely on the back of high inflation and negligible economic growth. I get that most people like to forget history, but if I’m a Democrat running in a competitive race in 2022, I’m scared to death that my party’s leaders are determined to avoid reality.

Bland, uninspired, and quickly forgotten…

For my money, there’s no bigger official waste of working time than the dozen or so yearly online training courses that we’re required to take. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m actually a big fan of online education. It’s what allowed me to get a master’s degree while I was traveling around the country for work. When properly designed and executed, online learning can be and is an effective strategy to reach people who otherwise would find that educational opportunity unavailable. 

That being said, the way it’s implemented matters. The “classes” I tool this week were exactly the classes I’ve taken every year for the better part of the last decade. I don’t mean that as an exaggeration. Clicking through the exact same information every year isn’t “continuing education.” It’s not education of any kind. 

I can only assume that the people who control these online classes expect that the average person is too stupid to retain information for more than 365 days. That’s probably true for some segment of the population. If you want them to remember something you have to beat them over the head with it at every opportunity. Even so, it’s farcical to call a program like that “training.”

All I’m saying is that if the intent is just to check a box and say you’ve provided training on whatever topic to your employees, but don’t want to take the time and effort to make it meaningful in any way, how about not making it 95 separate screens to click though before I can print the certificate. If the instructional designers and leaders who approve that mess aren’t going to even pretend that content and engagement are important, you’d better believe that my only goal is to click though as quickly as possible so I can get on with my day.

I’m all for education. I’m a big advocate for getting more knowledge. I am, however, also violently opposed to time-sucking, procedural nonsense that has no purpose other than satisfying some obscure regulation. If that’s what passes for education, no one should pretend to be shocked when anything that follows is equally bland, uninspired, and quickly forgotten.

The Bathroom Report: Day 12

It’s day 12 of the master bathroom remodel.  Plumbing and electrical rough in are complete. It’s also the second full business day of no work happening because we’re waiting on the county inspector to sign off on what’s been done so far.

I’m sure building inspectors do some kind of important work, but at the moment they’re at the very top of my shit list for being the reason there hasn’t been any forward progress on this project in two and a half days. Currently there isn’t even a date specified when the fine people from the county building will grace me with their presence. 

My enthusiasm for this project is, just now, at low ebb. The notion that the government should have a vested interested in when it’s ok to go ahead and put up drywall and stary laying tile in my bathroom would feel a bit farcical if it wasn’t so damned frustrating. Paying for the privilege of being hamstrung by slow-as-Moses county inspections is made all the more insulting because I’ve had to pay for the privilege of pulling the permits in the first place.

I’m a professional practitioner of the art and science of the bureaucracy. I know there’s nothing for it but to endure the process… but don’t for a moment think that I’ll be doing it with joy in my heart. 

Dull and duller…

There are any number of things I’m reasonably interested in. Some of those things I may even have a limited amount of talent for pursuing. I’m a passible amateur historian. I’m a tolerable planner… even though no one ever seems to make a differentiation between the strategic kind of planning and the weddings and events kind. I’ve managed to make a decent enough living from doing “operations stuff” in all its sundry forms.

What I am not, and have no interest in ever being, is a “contracts person.” Having wrapped up my second straight day of listening to people talk about contracts in all their glory, it’s hard to imagine something in which I could ever be less interested. I’m sorry, it makes paint drying or grass growing look downright engaging.

I know, at least intellectually, that getting the contract stuff right is important. This Big Green Machine of ours needs stuff and there are whole industries built around making sure we get it while they pocket a comfortable profit for their troubles. I’m never going to be the guy who makes it sound in any way engaging, though. It’s simply a fact of life… something to be endured… like dentistry. 

You could be forgiven for wondering why a whole week of contracting stuff isn’t actually run by the contracting people rather than by some random guy from a different office whose dog isn’t even in the same county as the fight. I actually know the wildly bureaucratic reason why it’s the way it is, but don’t for one single minute think knowing the reason means I’m ever going to like it.