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. 

Observations from an unpleasant week…

I’m sure it will come as a surprise to no one here when I say that I don’t, as a general rule, like new things. I like the same meals I’ve been eating for decades. Every object in the household has its place and should be in it. I mostly can’t control what happens outside the doors here, but what happens inside is done with good order and discipline. I suppose it’s the kind of thing that could make a person hard to live with, but the animals don’t seem to mind, so all is well.

Over this last week we’ve been adjusting, by necessity, to the new order of things. From that, I’ve made a few observations.

The most surprising of the bunch, is just how much water Maggie was taking in every day. I was refilling their gallon bowl at least three times a day. Now I’m averaging about a quarter of that. No wonder she wanted to go outside every two hours. I knew she was a thirsty girl these last few months, but the slow upwards creep of her water intake just didn’t seem overly alarming – except in retrospect. As always, hindsight is a bitch like that.

Jorah, fierce guardian and barker at of anything that moves in the yard or on the street has become terribly fearful of the backyard at night. For most of the last week he’s had to be trussed up in full harness and nearly carried outside for his pre-bedtime bathroom break. For these last two years, I had no idea that he was relying on a security blanket the approximate size and shape of a labrador retriever to cover him while charging off to bark at and chase anything that rustled during his nightly rounds.

The cat, not surprisingly, seems to be the most adaptive of us all. Hershel was back in the warm embrace of his own daily routine inside 48 hours. A week along, I’m quite convinced he’s starting to throw the stink eye at the rest of us who are still deviating, even if only slightly.

We’re still very much in a transitional mode here, but our wild ride over the last week is starting to settle into a new and slightly different rhythm. The sooner that comes together, the better, because new sucks.

Breaking up… sort of…

I did it. I told our current vet that although I’ve been happy with their service, I’m leaving to pursue less expensive basic medical care for two of the three furry little hooligans who share my house. Maggie will be staying put for the time being. With her thickening medical record and established relationship with the primary doc and specialists, I don’t want to rock that particular boat by reading someone new into the project at this late stage. George, of course, gets his own once a year trip to the local exotic vet practice.

Jorah is due for his annual checkup and vaccinations in a few weeks, so there wasn’t much room to put off decisions any longer. Thanks to the internet, I think I have our new vet (or vets, plural, since they’re a multi-person practice) picked out. It’s still a twenty-five-minute drive (but what isn’t when you decide to live in the middle of nowhere). Their online reviews seem impressive enough. They have on-site hydrotherapy, which is nice if I ever need to go that route again. They also have offer self-contained boarding, day care and grooming. I’m not altogether a fan of boarding, and it’s been a rare enough event that I’ve ever had to leave a critter behind, but I appreciate having the option bolted on to the medical facility.

If I’m 100% honest, I’m not sure this place will be much cheaper than where we’re leaving. They’ve got a whole lot of infrastructure that needs to be paid for and kept up. It’s definitely not the old-fashioned country vet I thought I wanted for them. What it does have, beyond the obvious, is the virtue of being open for 12 hours on weekdays and 10 hours on both Saturday and Sunday.  That’s the kind of thing that could save a guy at least a couple of emergency vet visits over the course of an average pet lifetime. I’m probably willing to pay a little bit of a premium for that… so we’re going to give this outfit a test run starting in July and see how it goes.

Unchanging an immutable…

We went through short stretch a few years ago where the number of mandatory yearly training classes was dramatically reduced. I can see from looking at my personal “mandatory training” tab today that things are swinging back in the other direction.

Sitting through these sessions online is marginally better than physically cramming 750 people into an auditorium, but only just. Maybe my outlook would be different if the basic content changed from year to year, but as it is, by the time I hang it up, I’ll have sat through 32+ iterations of threat awareness, substance abuse, anti-harassment, and cybersecurity training among others. The names of these sessions might be different, but otherwise not much else has changed with them in the last 18 years. It’s hard to imagine inertia will drive much change in the next 14.

All told, it’s probably 20 hours a year which could be just as effectively covered by taking 10 minutes and telling us not to use drugs, not to sell secrets, knock it off with the sexual harassment, etc.  I suppose there are entire offices that would cease to exist if people could be collectively relied on to simply follow directions, though. Whole bureaucratic empires would cease to exist and we obviously can’t have that.

We could just drop the hammer on people who routinely screw up… but it’s easier to swamp the guilty and innocent alike with wave after wave of “training” if only to avoid the inevitably awkward conversation with people who just can’t seem to get it right. The endless hours of training, it seems, isn’t the only thing that’s unchanging an immutable.

Fall or: Embracing the worst season…

I hate that we’re losing a few minutes of daylight every day. The older I get, the less enamored I am with the onset of cold weather. Fall, as a season, doesn’t have much to recommend it. Even so, fall is a happy time of year. 

Aside from fresh apples, fall really only has one major factor in its favor – the fact that so many of my favorite living authors seem to have themselves plugged into a fall release schedule for their newest works. The first of many pre-orders has started hitting the streets and will be showing up on my doorstep in dribs and drabs between now and early December.

There aren’t many things I’d rather be doing than settling in with a good book and some spiked apple cider, so despite its other clear down sides, I’ll be firmly embracing the season’s slow descent into seemingly perpetual darkness.

A minor concession…

Today was the first of many concessions made to the changing season. Putting on jeans instead of shorts isn’t exactly abject surrender, but it does mark the day as the tipping point of the long slide into hibernation weather.

I’m ready for a bit of a break from schlepping hoses all over the yard, keeping the grass in check, and keeping up with the long list of other items on the summer maintenance list. Even though I’ve largely been home this summer, the indoor “stuff” always takes a back seat when it’s nice enough to be outside. With the extra traffic in here for the last six months it’s probably well past time to shift focus.

I’ll be in love with these days of coffee on the porch during these increasingly crisp morning… right up to the point where crisp gives way to cold. After that, of course, I’ll spend a few months pondering the virtue of those creatures that head south for the winter.

For now, I’ll appreciate the minor concessions… and hope that we catch a last few days of Indian summer in the coming weeks that will make such minor concessions briefly unnecessary.

Red shirt Fridays…

Since the beginning of the Great Plague, I’ve been an “occasional” essential employee. That mostly means I schlep over to the office on days when a warm body is needed to meet the mandate that someone physically be there.

Like my Pepto-Bismol pink shirts of yore, worn as a mark of being sick of a never-ending monthly series of hours long meetings that accomplished absolutely nothing, I do my best to arrive on duty these days wearing my finest red shirt. Like the red-shirted crewman of Kirk’s Enterprise, I know too well that my role here is to be utterly replicable phaser fodder.

What I’ve learned through four months of working through my occasional role as a red shirt is that easily 90% of what I do professionally can be done from anywhere in the world that offers a stable high speed internet connection. As often as not, it can be done faster from such far flung locations as my home office or back porch because the work isn’t interrupted every 15 minutes by chatty colleagues or impromptu meetings. If I’m brutally honest, the other 5-9% of work that I need to be in the office to do could also be done from remote locations, but would require something more than the current “basic load” of software we have to work with.

That leaves somewhere between 1-5% of work activities that require specialized access or equipment that can only be provided in the actual office. Even assuming the upper end of the range, which I’m not conceding other than for illustrative purposes, that’s a legitimate need to be in the office about one twentieth of the time spent working.

I have to wonder if, at some point, the universe of bosses will figure out that constructing these monumental buildings of concrete and glass are ultimately a bad return on investment. They’re literally billions of dollars of infrastructure that can’t be justified because the work doesn’t need those buildings to get done. Better, perhaps, to build smaller, more cost effective offices that people could use “as needed” rather than continue to proceed from the assumption that nothing can be done if it’s not happening in a cubicle.

I’ve got, hopefully, less than fifteen years left in this ride of mine, so I doubt seriously I’ll see that glorious awakening – not when the current generation of uber-bosses still like to throw around phrases like “team cohesion,” “collaborative workspace,” or “synergy.” They’re still too hung up on seeing asses in seats and slavering at the bit for the day they can bring everyone back to cubicle hell.

They have the power. They can return the office to (almost) exactly what it was before the Great Plague. They can, but they shouldn’t want to. They should replace the old constructs with something better, more cost effective, and employee friendly.

I know it’s a dream, but it’s a happy one – and one I won’t stop advocating for even when they bring all the red shirts back.

You won’t see this…

A few nights ago, I was wondering what someone was up to and realized we hadn’t talked in a while. This was a friend from way back there and back then, one who once might have almost been something more, but for unlucky timing, fate, or whatever interceding. It wasn’t all that long ago we carried on endless late-night conversations, just talking about the day that was or what we hoped for tomorrow. Maybe it wasn’t Big Love, but there was a connection there, a real friendship if nothing more.

I guess I was surprised to find we’re not even electronic “friends” anymore. That’s fine. People don’t really change, but circumstances do. I don’t have any expectation of ever knowing or standing to ask for the what or why.

I’m not angry, but I am just a little bit sad. 

I’m not the kind of guy who runs out and makes new friends. I don’t have the energy or interest. It’s why I’ve always put a premium of hanging on to the old ones.

I don’t suppose they’ll ever see this, but I hope our paths cross again someday. I miss their insight and honesty and trusted counsel from someone who always seemed to get what oddities were floating around in my head.

Towards a new federalism…

Change is coming. It’s so palpable that if you’re not too fried by the endless stream of immediate and pressing news you can almost feel it. In the long history of this republic, huge, sweeping change has never come in the good times. There’s no incentive towards structural change when the good times roll.

Over the last hundred years, the biggest changes in this country occurred following economic catastrophe and war, specifically the Great Depression and World War II. It’s probably too easy to assume that once we come out on the other side of the Great Plague we’re likely to see considerable changes coming to how healthcare is delivered and a host of changes surrounding the financial sector – strengthening unemployment insurance (and associated processing systems) at a minimum. Some of the changes will inevitably be of such scope and scale that 30 days ago they’d have been laughed out of the room rather than rushed through implementation. What would have seemed radical under the old version of normal could fairly easily become the new normal of the near future.

Those changes are coming – and no politician who’s interested in reelection will dare to stand against many of them.

Where the social compact that undergirds the republic regularly changes over time, the bigger change I suspect we may see is an unprecedented whipsaw in how we view the “federal” aspect of our federal republic. Since the Civil War, the government in Washington has increasingly centralized the powers of government. The pendulum swung so far that direction that some even argued that we had evolved beyond the need for states; Perhaps that we would best be governed in super-state, regional arrangements. 

What we’ve seen on the last three weeks in New York, California, and my native Maryland (among others), is activist governors leading the response to a health emergency in the absence of clear guidance from the federal government. In some ways, they’re the governors who understand the basic theory of emergency management – Local response is supported by the state while the states draw resources from the federal government when their own resources are exhausted. In this case, though, the federal resources barely seemed to get off the ground and governors were left to coordinate between themselves and directly with industry in an effort to fill requirements – while shaming what resources they could out of the administration. 

I wonder if this isn’t the first step towards a new federalism – one that reverses some of the 160-year long aggregation of authority to officials along the banks of the Potomac. There’s plenty of examples of state governors getting their response to this thing exactly wrong, though, so management at the state level is no guarantee of better results. Still, there’s part of me that thinks anything that reduces the authority of the federal government outside the scope of its “core business,” the better off we’re likely to be in the long run. I’ve been confounded lately by the people who with one breath screech “Trump lies” and then with the next weep bitter tears that the president hasn’t issued a nation-wide order confining citizens to their homes. Personally, I get a little nervous when any president or chief executive – puts on the mantle of “emergency powers” only to be laid down again when he or she decides the crisis has passed. History tells me that rarely ends well. 

In any case, there are changes coming. I’m not smart enough to tell you exactly what they’re going to be… or where the law of unintended consequences is going to jump up and bight us in the collective ass.

Three thousand…

Managing the public archive has gotten significantly easier since I went through a mad tear of consolidating several different blog platforms into this one WordPress account. I can tell from the handy dashboard that shows me everything from daily views to most searched phrases and what keywords are likely to be bringing people here that the number of posts here has now swelled to 3,000.

It’s a nice round number. It’s the kind of milestone or way-marker I enjoy hitting. It shows me that regardless of that somewhat ephemeral nature of the internet, there’s a transaction record of sorts showing that I have, in fact, done a thing – even if that thing isn’t exactly the great American novel.

Sometimes I think I’d like to spend some time going back to the early days and do a bit of reading – sort of a look back at where it all started. I’ve got a bit of real curiosity about what may have changed over the last thirteen years. Or maybe I’m more likely to find that I’ve refined and expounded my ideas a bit since then, but many of them are still found firmly rooted in the soil from which they sprung originally.

From time to time someone asks why I do this. I’m not monetizing the site. In fact I pay a noiminal fee every year to prevent adds from appearing here at all. Like I wrote up there in the “About Me” section many, may years ago, anything written and posted here isn’t necessarily done with an eye towards an audience. It’s done almost exclusively to vent my own frustrations and petty annoyances. Knowing that, the fact that so many of you hang around for the ride is downright humbling.