What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Shipping. I know it’s the busiest shipping time of the year – and now it’s overlaid by the number of people who have increasingly turned to online shopping during this plague year. The big carriers – UPS, FedEx, USPS – are likely running near capacity and will be doing so for the next few weeks at least. I’m enough of a logistician to know that when you flood the pipeline, the amount of time to get things from Point A to Point B increases. Even in a low-defect environment (and I’m not conceding that delivery services are that even on their good days), an increased number of items means a correspondingly increased number of errors.  I’m a reasonably rational human being who understands these things… but that in no way means I’m not getting thoroughly annoyed by the number of packages in the last few weeks that seem to have been lost in transit or simply “disappeared” from tracking apps. 

2. Dog life. A certain short haired dog of mine decided earlier this week that he didn’t like going outside when temperatures were hovering at or below freezing. That led to an issue Tuesday night where he’d been “holding it” so long that he’d periodically dribble when he walked. Not cool. As a guy who once sequestered himself to the kitchen for six months to crack the code on housebreaking, I’m fairly certain a fit of willpower and determination will also see me through this phase too… even if that means carrying the fuzzy little bastard out the door over my shoulder like a 70-pound sack of squirming, unhappy potatoes.

3. Xfinity. I like to keep something streaming as background noise while I’m working from my home office. Usually that means one of the big news channels, but could be Futurama or Star Trek reruns when I get tired of hearing whatever stories the major news outlets are pimping on any given day. Increasingly, I’m met with buffering, dropped feeds, basically unwatchable content when signed in to Xfinity’s streaming website. Sure, I could just turn on the TV in the other room and boost the sound a bit, but that’s inconvenient for switching between channels as the mood strikes. Basic diagnostics show all speeds are great and I can’t come up with a reason there should be a problem, but there is one. I’d be considerably less aggrieved if this wasn’t part and parcel of the same Xfinity that wants to slap me with yet another regular charge for busting through their arbitrarily set data cap every month. Look, I don’t mind the cost of the service, but if you’re going to pillage me out of $250+ a month, I’d very much like to get the services for which I’m paying.

Endangered species…

I’m almost universally indifferent to rules, regulations, and policies about people. Mostly I’ve grown up with and still believe that in the absence of special situations or circumstances, most grown adults should be able to tend to their own needs. It’s one of the defining characteristics of being a fully fledged adult across all the vast animal kingdom. Put another way, when bad things happen to people, you’ll rarely find me batting an eye.

There are easy ways to gin up my ire, though. This morning, the Department of the Interior managed it in spades when announcing rollbacks of key provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

Taking a hatchet to the regulations emplaned to protect our most threatened species and their habitat is one of those issues that will get my attention every time. It should get yours too. It should be hard to delist a species. It should be hard to encroach into protected areas. Determining what species and geography are protected and to what degree that protection extends should be an act of science, not an administrative policy decision carried out with little oversight and even less understanding of its consequences. As a professional bureaucrat, I can tell you from hard experience letting the scientists have a say is going to be better.

I want to say this one time, loud and clear, so there is absolutely no doubt about my position: If you are making decisions based on “left” policy dreams or “right” policy desires, you’re a bloody idiot. Make the decisions based on the best science we have available… and when, somewhere down the road, we have a better scientific understanding of the world, change again.

The cattle industry supports this deregulation effort. There are ways to protect critical habitat that won’t undermine the beef industry. The oil industry also supports reducing the effect of the Endangered Species Act. Here too there are ways to regulate that allows the United States to reap the benefit of it’s underground treasure without relegating species to museum pieces. I don’t oppose all regulation on spec, but I do oppose stupid, one size fits all regulation – just as much as a oppose stupid, once size fits none deregulation.

The best approaches are almost never an all or nothing proposition. Pretending that we can’t protect the environment and grow this economy makes you sound like a damned fool. Arguing that we can’t build another house for fear of killing every animal alive makes you sound like a hippy lunatic. There’s a middle way and we can find it.

My credentials as a meat eating, 4×4 driving, gun toting, flag waving Republican are beyond reproach. It’s why I have no compunction about splitting with the party on individual issues. My pro choice stance already makes me anathema in some fair number of Conservative circles, so standing apart on one more issue is hardly a deal breaker for me

I’ll fully endorse any legislative effort to “tighten” up the language of the Endangered Species Act to roll back these new policy changes and to make such changes harder to publish in the future… though I don’t hold out much hope of the current dysfunctional collection of representatives to get that job done any time soon.

Doing the hard work…

I’m not an expert, not in this field anyway. I am however, due to many years of experience at wading into topic areas where I lack formal education or training, a generalist of remarkably broad scope. I’m good at looking for connections – or for the places where connections should be but aren’t. It’s a knack I have for reading, comprehending, and then synthesizing material into something approximating a coherent and rational bit of information. On my very best day I’m a pretty brilliant analyst. On an average day, I like to think I’m still awfully good, just maybe getting the job done with a little less flourish.

I need to point out in no uncertain terms that what people do with the information once I give it to them isn’t really my field. I’m not a decision maker. I don’t want to be one. What I will do is present you with the best, most coherent information I can pull together in whatever time is allotted for the task. That’s my one iron clad, most absolute guarantee.

Still, though, I need you to always remember one thing. When the information I’m working with is incomplete, wrong, folded, spindled, or mutilated in some way, the results you get are going to be suspect. When the amount of time available doesn’t allow for a full detailed analysis, the results are going to be suspect. Now the good news is I’m always going to present my assessments with those limiting factors highlighted for the world to see. I’m never going to shirk the analysis because it’s too hard, but damned if I can help it when you’re caught up in shitty input leading to shitty results.

Say my name…

FullSizeRender 2The United States Office of Personnel Management is the big daddy human resource office for the federal government’s executive branch. From hiring, to pay and benefits, to security clearance investigations, there’s OPM, standing watch over a treasure trove of government employee’s personal information. So bungling are they at the job of protecting that information that 20-odd millions past and present employees are now “protected” by a third-party identity theft prevention company.

So well protected are the data stored in OPM’s vast archive that they apparently don’t know who’s who themselves. Which might help explain why I got a letter addressed to an Edward Tharp at my current mailing address. I’m not now nor have I ever been known as Edward Tharp (which they’d know if they had bothered to reference any of the information I have on file with them). Edward isn’t even my middle name, so that excuse won’t carry them very far.

In the vast swath of the bureaucracy, I’m sure somewhere there is an Edward Tharp wondering why he didn’t get his security breach letter.

Mistakes happen. I make plenty of them. But mixing up something like an employee’s name and home address when you’re trying to restore trust that you are on the job protecting our personal information really just reinforces the idea that you have no bleeding idea what you’re doing down there. Name and address should be up there near the top of our HR folders. That should be an easy win for you guys… but if you can’t get that right, I hope you’ll forgive me if I remain permanently skeptical of your ability to handle the big things.

Higher headquarters (or, The Everlasting Know-It-All)…

General George Washington stayed in contact with the Continental Congress by means of fast dispatch riders.

General U.S. Grant send word of his victories to Lincoln across the wire.

General Dwight Eisenhower stayed in contact with Allied HQ in London by radio (and through the occasional, and often troublesome visits from elements of the Combined Staff).

Today, we have the ability for the people who dwell within the five-sided insane asylum in Arlington to count every nut and bolt in the inventory. We can do it. We have the technology. As is often the case, though, no one has pondered if it’s something we should do just because we can.

Situational awareness is a beautiful thing… but at what point do you trust the people on the scene to violently execute the mission without further “assistance” from higher headquarters? Eventually, the ability to become an Everlasting Know-It-All just makes everything more difficult. I know everyone wants to think their little piece is indispensable, but history shows me that our greatest commanders have moved the world with a hell of a lot less data and a hell of a lot more faith in their subordinates.

As always, it’s not a sermon, just a thought.


Contrary to popular belief, I don’t have ESP, clairvoyance, or the ability to teleport back in time to set right things that once went wrong. When an email sits in your inbox for 12 days and misses a key suspense to echelons higher than reality, no matter how frantic you sound at my desk, I can’t magically manufacture correctly updated data for you to use in a report. If it was due on the 8th and it’s now the 11th, you’re pretty much hosed no matter how brilliant I make the numbers look.

I’m not going to point out that you, as the high and mighty Uberboss, have two administrative assistants who sit right outside your door and are theoretically supposed to keep track of your email and calendar. I know the three of you are probably overwhelmed by the number of messages slipping stealthily into your inbox undetected. Email is sneaky like that. New messages are rarely boldly highlighted in any way and it’s so easy to overlook the little red exclamation point… or the fact that the message title turned red when it was close to becoming past due.

I know your wandering around issuing a slightly different version of the same random task to every third person who’s unfortunate enough to cross your path keeps you awfully busy, but Uberboss or not, when you behave like a petulant child, that’s pretty much how you’re going to be treated.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of previously de-published blogs appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Reading is Fundamental…

In theory, I work with responsible adults who have the ability to both read and understand the English language. The majority have an undergraduate degree and many have at least one master’s degree. Therefore, you’d think it would be easy enough to follow a set of directions that said simply:

Review the attached documents and provide your written feedback via email to Mr. Random Bureaucrat at random.bureaucrat@bigagency.gov not later than 10:00 AM.

Of course, what actually happens is you get flooded with messages that say things like “I didn’t like the way things were formatted, so I changed the layout and increased the font because I can’t see so good. Oh, and I changed some of the numbers because I don’t think they were right.” Or someone wanders to your cube wanting you to take dictation about the 37.25 things they want to change. Or someone sends in their changes at 4:32 PM and is then offended when you don’t drop everything, immediately recall the data that had been sent up the chain of command at noon and make their “critical” changes.

Look jerkwater, we spent three months crunching the numbers you sent us. Don’t blame the analysis because you don’t like how things turned out. And definitely don’t blame the analyst when you want to send in “updated” data six hours after the absolute last deadline for changes has passed.

For the love of God and all things good, right, and holy, spare us all the embarrassment of how badly it must suck to be you and read the instructions next time.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.