There’s a first time for everything…

I’ve made something of a hobby out of ranting and raving about the job, poking fun at the nature of the bureaucracy, and generally saying out loud what I suspect a lot of us have thought at one point or another. The truth is, I’ve had a remarkable career – well beyond what any kid born down the crick in the late 1970s had any right to expect.

With one or two notable exceptions I’ve been blessed with bosses who existed somewhere in the good to exceptional range. Again, with occasional exceptions, I’ve mostly had colleagues who I both liked and respected.

In a few months, I’m coming up on 19 years on the job. Through all of that time, I always felt capable of informally working through any problematic issues that came up. At worst, there would be an awkward conversation and things could be nudged back on track. For the first time in almost two decades of service, I’ve encountered an issue that couldn’t, by its nature, be resolved informally, off the books.

Despite my reputation as a grenade thrower, let me say that I absolutely hate having been put in this position. I hate that I needed to be the one to say something in a universe that values going along to get along. I hate that it puts more trouble on my boss’ plate when it’s already piled high with shit sandwiches. I hate that I have colleagues who could be put into a worse position than they were before I opened my mouth.

Mostly I hate the fact that decisions made by those at echelons higher than reality made any of it necessary in the first place. 

A war footing…

I hear a lot of calls to “put the nation on a war footing” to battle COVID-19. There’s a lot to unpack in a statement like that. Going on a “war footing” has implications beyond what people seem to think it means.

A few nights ago I heard one of the endless number of network talking heads claim that during World War II, Ford Motor Company was making a new 4-engine bomber every 63 minutes. That statement is absolutely true… but only if you’re looking at a range of dates from 1944 or ’45.

The B-24 Liberators built by Ford would darken the skies over Europe and the Pacific by the end of the war… but when America entered the war in 1941, exactly none of those planes had been built. Ford didn’t start building the plant (Willow Run) to build those bombers until about 1940. The plant wasn’t finished until 1942. In ’42 and ’43 production suffered from a combination of issues ranging from supply shortages, product quality, labor/management disputes, and the sheer learning curve of translating automobile production into building aircraft. What worked for building cars didn’t always translate directly into building airplanes.

Because of these challenges, Ford didn’t meet their legendary “bomber an hour” goal until 1944 – three years after America went to war and four years after they began construction on Willow Run, and only a year before the war ended.

All I’m saying is try to bear reality in mind when you hear someone say “just tell a company to ‘start making’ Product X,” whatever the product happens to be. It took Ford two years to get there even when they had the plant and equipment in place. There’s a lead time from demand signal to production. Companies that build respirators likely aren’t sitting on a lot of spare plant capacity “just in case” a once-in-a-century pandemic breaks out. New plant and new producers can be brought online, but it takes time and a massive infusion of capital… and the faster you want it, the more it’s going to cost. There’s no way around it.

If you’re saying you want the US economy to focus on kitting out the supplies and equipment needed to respond to COVID-19 to the exclusion of almost all other consumer goods, we can do that. We’ve done it before… but putting us collectively on a “war footing” has long lasting consequences and second or third order effects that absolutely no one has even started to consider.

Who to blame or, Bad intentions…

I have a very simple rule here at Fortress Jeff: When bad things happen as a result of piss poor decision making, the buck stops with me. I get the credit for the good stuff so it’s only fair that I take the blame when my decisions go awry.

When I was 20 years old and walked into the cave-like bar in the basement of the Hotel Gunter, I knew damned well and good I was under the legal drinking age. I also knew they’d serve me. When the local constabulary arrived asking to see everyone’s papers, I wasn’t the victim of a totalitarian police state. I was the victim of being a stupid 20 year old making my own bad decisions.

Four years later, when my beloved Jeep was broken into. The slash and grab cost me a few hundred dollars of CDs and an ashtray full of change. Yes, I blame the criminal for breaking into a locked vehicle, but I share the burden of blame because I left an easy target sitting in plain sight. If there hadn’t been something of obvious value in clear view I wonder if he’d have passed on to the next target of opportunity.

If nothing else, social media has shown me that we live in a world where people think we should just all love one another and there are butterflies and peppermint sticks at every turn. The reality is that we live in a world where bad things happen and where there are natural consequences that accompany every action. When you play stupid games, there’s a strong probability that you will win stupid prizes. No amount of wishing it different will change that.

I’m not here to shame any victims or absolve the fault of any criminals, but I am here to say that we’re all responsible for our own behaviors and actions. Bad things happen to good people all the time. The very best thing we can do as individuals is to understand the important relationship between action and consequence and the do our best to mitigate our personal risk factors. One awfully easy way of reducing the number of bad things that could happen to you is to give it some thought before you walk down a dark alley alone, or leave your computer laying on the back seat of your car, or drink until you’re blind drunk. People with bad intentions are out there already and they may do horrible things anyway, but it damned well doesn’t mean we should make ourselves an easy mark because we think we’ll be untouched by other people’s bad decisions and immune to the consequences of our own.

Darwin’s price…

My news feed has been flooded for the last couple of weeks with the “news” that a heroin epidemic has broken out. Well, I don’t suppose that’s news really. HBO built a pretty popular television franchise by telling the story of heroin almost a decade and a half ago. It’s not exactly a new problem, even if it has taken on new faces and occupied new territories – territories that were once largely the traditional province of prescription drugs and methamphetamine.

A local county here in Maryland reported twenty heroin overdoses in the first two weeks of February this year. Now hang on to your hats, because what I’m about to say will probably annoy a large number of people and might even cost me a few friends. Still, though, I think it needs saying – if only because the currently popular discussion of mass treatment versus mass incarceration seems to continually miss the target.

Maybe it’s time to just accept that there are a certain subset of people who have accepted death as a risk of what they’re doing. If people want help, by all means give it to them, but if their actions demonstrate clearly that they’ve resolved to die in a ditch no matter how much help is available to them, well, it seems like the problem will sort itself out fairly quickly. At what point is it just stupid to save someone who’ll be on the street knocking over a liquor store or stealing from their former friends and neighbors to fund their next fix as soon as they’re out of the hospital or jail. It might be a kindness to allow Darwin to extract his price sooner rather than later.

Now before someone comes screaming at me that addiction is just like any other treatable disease, let’s remember that even though I’m diabetic I may be killing myself slowly with my dinner options, but I’m not breaking into anyone’s house to steal pie and I’m not out working the corner to raise cash for my next Snickers. It’s not just a difference of semantics.

I know there isn’t a chance in hell of my shell of a plan ever being adopted. For the most part people are entirely too softhearted to allow natural consequence to take its course. The point is, what we’ve been trying clearly isn’t getting the job done, so what’s next?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Unintended consequences. I read an article this week decrying the fact that so many fuel efficient cars on the road are causing the federal highway trust fund to go broke. All I could do is sit back and wonder if this is something that should have come as a surprise to anyone when they were laying on tax incentives and pushing people towards higher efficiency standards and cute matchbox car looking vehicles. Less fuel used, but definition will lead to lower revenue if all else is held equal. Now of course the writers of this article lead that into the discussion of whether we should raise the national gas tax or lay an entirely new tax based on miles driven or some other calculus. I noted with much annoyance that prioritizing funds and making due with what’s available, leaning out the highway construction and repair process, or privatizing antiquated infrastructure weren’t even part of the discussion. It troubles me to no end that a goodly proportion of people in this country only ever look at the revenue (and how to increase it) side of the equation rather than first looking at how we reduce costs and gain efficiencies using what should be a massive economy of scale that Uncle could generate if he were spending judiciously rather than just chasing the next dollar. If they didn’t think the problem past the “fuel efficiency is good” phase, why on earth should anyone trust them with even more money?

2. Being wrong. Remember back six months ago when I was complaining about the polar vortex? I have a confession to make. I think I may have gotten that one wrong, because quite frankly putting on another layer felt way better than reaching the point where modesty, social convention, and the county sheriff say you can’t take any more layers off. But don’t worry, wait six months and you can be sure I’ll be right back to complaining about being frozen right down to the bones. Wash, rinse, and repeat as needed.

3. The “working lunch.” There’s no such thing. Either I’m working or I’m at lunch. They are, in my mind, mutually exclusive activities that have no business occurring simultaneously. Lunch, for purposes of this discussion is defined as a 30-minute period of not work dividing the four morning hours of work and four afternoon hours of work during a standard business day. Dragooning everyone in the office into a conference room, “asking” them to bring food, and then talking about “work stuff” for an hour is a thinly disguised meeting. The only reason it has a passing resemblance to lunch is that there happened to be food in the room while it happened. As for me, I need my 30 minute break in the middle of the day to help prevent my brain from melting and leaking out my ears. I think we can all agree that’s something we should all try to avoid if we can.

Mood…

Here as the week slides into the halfway point, I find myself in what I can only describe as “a mood.” It is most assuredly not a happy place, but it’s made worse because I can’t quite put my finger on what the problem is.

Actually, that’s a lie. A falsehood. A fabrication. I can identify with great precision the source of the vast majority of my angst and ill feeling. Except, of course, we’re not allowed to say things like that out loud. As part of our social contract, we’ve all agreed that we won’t call out bullshit when we see it. We’ll go along to get along and maintain the illusion of happiness with our little fictions. We won’t say anything that might upset the balance because we fear the consequences. I’m as guilty of it as anyone, maybe even more so because I can feel the truth physically twisting at my insides wanting out, but I hold my tongue for the sake of keeping the peace and preserving the status quo.

The whole illusion gnaws at me. Day in, day out, pretending that batshit crazy is perfectly normal and counting the years, months, days, and hours until you aren’t compelled to do it any more. Just one time I’d like to stand up, open my mouth, and let the truth fly out. Unvarnished, impolite, brutal honesty.

Good God, but couldn’t the world use a big heavy dose of that?

But we live in a world where words have consequences. So I swallow that honesty one more time. Push it back down into that place where it comes from. And pray to whatever gods are interested in such things for the power and good graces to let me smile and nod and not launch into a raving diatribe at inappropriate moments – knowing, as I do, that no good would come of it.

Ah, see? I feel better just for getting that small rant out in the open. My safety valve of a blog once again saved my soul.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Elections. So apparently the good people of Crimea can throw off their Ukrainian overlords, declare themselves sovereign, and promptly ask to be consumed by Russia all within ten business days. It makes one wonder why it takes us 20 months to gear up for a fairly straightforward presidential election in this country. Then again, I suppose it’s simpler when the whole thing is orchestrated in advance and the outcomes are always a foregone conclusion. Of course this whole discussion is pre-supposing that our own elections aren’t orchestrated in advance and the outcomes aren’t foregone conclusions. Food for thought.

2. Cash. Paper money still has it’s place. I think those who herald the death of the dollar bill are a bit premature in that regard. With that said, one of the places where no one has any business waving around paper money is at a toll booth during the peak rush of the afternoon commute. Pony up the couple of extra beans a year, get over your paranoia about tracking your car, and get with the ezpass program. No one needs to deal with your dumb ass dropping your $20 out the window and then being too close to the booth to open your door to retrieve it while they’re trying to get home. The only thing it says about you is that you are an unredeemable asshat.

3. Redaction. A moment ago this space was filled with a third point that was a scorcher. I was poured to overflowing with the kind of snark you’ve come to expect from jeffreytharp.com. Then, sadly, I highlighted every word and punched the delete key. Redacted. Because someone was probably going to get their little feelings hurt and end up being more of a enormous joy-suck then they are already. Some day I will have the chance to say everything that’s on my mind… and when that day comes, woe betide the poor feckless fool who tries to stand between me and saying my piece.

Long range planning…

When it snowed last week, I didn’t put a high priority level of effort into shoveling the driveway. After all, I have a large, powerful 4-wheel drive truck and given the relatively southern location and moderating influence of the nearby water, snow doesn’t tend to stick around very long here at the rental homestead. I shoveled out a parking pad and a path to the mailbox, figuring that that would be sufficient for a couple of days until the melt set in. It seemed like a reasonable decision at at the time.

What that decision failed to take into account was the air temperature wasn’t going to climb above the low 20s for days on end. I also didn’t count on getting another inch or two of snow sometime today. Still, with the truck, a snow covered driveway with a few packed down icy spots isn’t exactly a big deal. It wasn’t until last night that I remembered that I was going to drop off the truck at a local body shop on Monday so they could do the repairs from last week’s unpleasantness. That means I’ll be swapping out my 4×4 for a rental that will probably have more in common with a matchbox car than it does with an actual motor vehicle. That friends, is a failure of long range planning and a lesson in unintended consequences.

Now that the driveway is too packed down to shovel effectively, I’m jumping to Plan B: adding a couple of bags of road salt to my market list and hoping I can melt two ruts down to blacktop between now and Monday. Woops.

Banned…

I saw a Facebook post yesterday morning from my alma mater proclaiming a smoke free campus. Personally it’s sort of a “whatever” moment for me as it doesn’t impact me one way or another. You can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been back on campus since I walked across the stage at the PE Center. Plus, there’s the whole quitting thing so I won’t be strolling campus jonesing for a fix any time soon. Still, it got me thinking about the old stomping grounds a bit.

I probably shouldn’t admit this here on the internet, but some of my best memories from college are the times sitting on the wall in front of Cambridge Hall smoking and joking with whoever happened to show up. Those were some great late night conversations and friendships that were bonded in the face or driving snow, wind, and rain. Of course it was always nice that if you jumped inside the wall, you could find a few feet of dry space and keep the conversation going? I could rattle off a few names, but for their sake a decade later I won’t. If you’re reading this, chances are you know them or might even be them. Standing in front of Dunkle? Yeah, I was there too. Or if I was lucky, I got one of the coveted benches at Guild Center between POSCI classes. It was a golden age… and as much as the anti’s would have me feel ashamed of it, I enjoyed every puff.

Look, I know the health risks of smoking. You’d be hard pressed to find a current or former smoker who doesn’t. We’ve lived them and will continue to live with the repercussions for the rest of our lives, but that’s the choice we made. I’ll direct you to the ill-fated experiments of Prohibition and our ongoing War on Drugs as an example of how “banned” substances come back and ruin your day with unintended consequences. The only thing this kind of ban does is force those intent on continuing an activity to find alternative ways and places to do it. They’ve moved the behavior across the street and declared victory because it isn’t happening “on campus.” That’s some victory they’ve got there.