Freebooters…

The filibuster has a long and storied history as a delaying tactic employed by members of the minority party in U.S. Senate. In its most simple form, the filibuster means the minority can prolong or delay a vote as long as they can keep a solid block of 41 senators behind the effort.

The problem isn’t really the filibuster in and of itself. It’s the fact that since the 1970s, the threat of a filibuster has been enough to derail legislation. Since then, all a senator has had to do is signal their intent to filibuster and the majority leader most often opts not to bring the bill to the floor. It wasn’t always thus. 

Rather than eliminate the filibuster – and the need to get to 60 senators to invoke cloture – simply fall back on the more historic rules of the Senate. If the minority party, a small segment of senators, or even an individual wants to block legislation, go back in time to when they had to earn it. Make the bastards hold the floor. Make them talk until their exhausted. Don’t let them eat. Don’t let them drink. Don’t let them sleep. Make them grind the machinery of state to a halt right there in the chamber with the cameras on them. Make them stay in session on Fridays and over the weekend. If they want to filibuster, make these octogenarian asshats do the work.

Right now, the minority party can weaponize the filibuster and the majority just stands around and takes it… but the majority can weaponize the rules and procedures of the Senate just as easily. Plus, taking the filibuster back to the future is the far more poetic option than throwing it over and turning the Senate into a smaller, more elderly, simple majority needing version than the House. 

Make the Filibuster Painful Again. That’s Ol’ Doc Tharp’s prescription. 

A mark on the wall…

I signed the contract for my bathroom renovation back in September. A few days before Christmas I got an email from the contractor stating that all supplies are backlogged, half the employees are out with the Great Plague, and every project they have is running way, way behind. Here we are in May, five months hence, and I’ve finally talked to the company’s operations manager and have a tentative start date plugged into the calendar towards the end of the month. At long last, there’s a mark on the wall.

Look, I’ve loathed the master bathroom in this house since the first time I saw the place. I almost took a pass on the house because of it. The giant tub and no shower made it mostly dead space to me. For the last seven years it has been serving as a glorified hallway where I kept the cat’s food and litter box and that I have to walk through to get to the master closet. Aside from the very big windows facing the woods and excellent natural lighting, it has no redeeming qualities at all. The room is cold as blue hell in the winter and for reasons I’ve never managed to figure out, has no particular aesthetic at all. It’s as if the original owners realized three days before they finished construction that they needed a master bathroom and scrounged up whatever parts and pieces they could on short notice.

I’m not saying this new bathroom is going to be particularly beautiful, but it’s damned well going to be functional. I’m cautiously optimistic that the designer (probably) didn’t let me get the overall look and feel too far out of whack. I mean it all looks good enough on the renderings, but there’s no way of telling what it’s really going to look like until it’s all there live and in person… which now looks like it’ll be sooner rather than later.

My fingers are firmly crossed in hopes that I haven’t spent tens of thousands of dollars on something I’ll hate once it’s all thrown together… Though the simple fact that I won’t have to schlep down the hall to shit, shower, and shave every morning will go a long way in making it a favorable outcome. Being able to do it all with toasty warm floor tiles will probably seal the deal regardless of appearance… and then I can rack and stack the list again and see what project is next.

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.

What I learned this week…

After you’ve been almost twenty years a bureaucrat, you think you know all the tricks in the book. With that kind of experience, one might be forgiven for thinking they’ve seen it all before. Even so, I’ve learned an important new skill this week that is sure to improve my abilities as a professional bureaucrat going forward.

Like the very best skills in every field, this technique seems deceptively simple. All you have to do to start is say “I agree with everything you’ve just proposed.” Then follow that statement with the qualifier, “with the following changes” and proceed to list half a dozen ways in which you’re going to change the proposal you’ve just nominally agreed with.

For a moment, the poor unsuspecting fool you’re dealing with might even think they’ve gotten the approval that they need to move something forward. Only later once they’ve digested the proposed changes will they realize their proposal may have been changed root and stem.

The good news is that this approach doesn’t have to be a one-and-done. You can keep on agreeing with the thing you just changed while proposing further changes through endless iterations. It’s the bureaucratic gift that keeps on giving. If you’re confident enough, you can keep this self licking ice cream cone rolling on for days or weeks, maybe even months under the right circumstances.

A lesser man might be enraged when realizing he’s been played by such a smooth operator. Not being a lesser man, I’ll just consider it a lesson learned and a new skill I’ll very quickly adopt for my own kit bag.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Late breaking winter. I had a passing thought that I might get through this winter unscathed in the landscaping department. It would have been the first winter since buying the place that was the case. Clearly that’s the kind of thing that’s a homeowner pipe dream. In the bright light of afternoon – and now that a lot of yesterday’s snow has melted off, I can see at least three boxwoods that appear to be broken at the stem, several other shrubs that may have been bent and twisted beyond recovery, and a reasonably good sized maple limb that landed squarely on top of a forsythia that was just starting to take off. Some people love nature for what it is. Me? Aside from the adorableness of the fuzzy animals, I find nature to be something to be pushed back against at every opportunity. Seems like I’ll have reason to break out the chainsaw after all.

2. Six hour days. I use to enjoy two hour delays. That’s until I ran into a short day that felt like it lasted at least 2,476 hours instead of just the six that the “clock” says passed.

3. Congress (again). These asshats literally only have a handful of things specifically named in the Constitution as part and parcel of their responsibilities as elected representatives. The fact that they fail so spectacularly to get those few things done even when one party controls all the levers of government speaks to both their uselessness and our stupidity for continuing to elect 90% plus of the same 535 people time after time after time. Truly democracy has given us the kind of governance we so richly deserve.

Another post in which timely decision-making is discussed…

Letting decisions fester until the last possible moment is rarely a recipe for arriving at a well-considered answer. That may seem somewhat counterintuitive, because having more time to decide should allow someone to make the decision based on more perfect information. In my experience, that’s almost never actually the case. What really happens is that the decision is just put off and no actual thought is put into it until it’s the flaming bag of dog shit blistering the paint on your front porch. Put another way, the default setting is procrastination.

The real problem with waiting isn’t just that you leave a bunch of people sitting around with their thumbs up their asses while the pondering drags on for days or weeks. The problem is that in most cases decisions get delayed until it’s too late to apply any academic rigor and you just end up going off half-informed in whatever direction seems best at the time. Shooting from the hip with a scattergun is probably a fine strategy for defending your home from hopped up delinquents, but it rarely passes muster for decisions that require a little more fineness.

It’s not how I’d do things. In fact it’s precisely the opposite of how I run the 128 hours of my week for which I am the designated decision-maker. For the 40-hours a week wherein I have no decision-making authority whatsoever, though, that’s its own can of worms. The very best I can do is appraise those who do decide on the potential bad things that will result from waiting. After that all that’s left is a shrug and a muffled “told you so.”

When four equals eight…

I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the extra four hours off this morning. I never turn my nose up at free time off. That being said, four hours is just an awkward amount of time. Given the passible but not clear state of the local roads, my commute in is going to take an hour. Given that the average driver is stupid and there will undoubtedly be more than one driver on their way home this afternoon that puts it into a snow bank, my drive home will likely be over an hour. At a commute to work ratio of less than 1:2, if you’ll excuse the phrase, it just feels like something of a waste of time – as if we’re opening the doors today just so someone can say “yes, we’re open,” without having much concern for whether or not anything actually happens inside those doors.

Liberal leave – time off for which pre-approval isn’t required – is an option. Due to the peculiarities of Uncle Sam’s timekeeping regulations, though, under these circumstances one can’t combine the 4-hour delay with an additional four hours of liberal leave. If you’re going to stay home, those four hours in the afternoon are going to cost you a full eight hours of vacation time. That was a hard lesson learned.

So now the roads could be running with lava and there could be a troll under every bridge between here and there, but damned if I’m going to spend eight to get four. The math just doesn’t work, so I’ll go in, eat lunch, check some email, bitch about the snow, and then schlep home. Not exactly a recipe for productivity, but I’m sure it counts on someone’s report card as a full day’s work.

2 hours…

I’ve lost track of the number of snow related 2- and 4-hour delays and closures we’ve had this winter. This morning just adds one more to the tally. The only thing I can say is that “they’ve” been marvelously inconsistent in how they choose to respond to each and every snow event. This morning, for instance, is another two hour delay. That might be the right decision based on conditions where such decisions are being made, but being a guy who lives 45 minutes from the office, my conditions and theirs don’t always correspond. Such is the case this morning. From what I can see of the surface conditions outside, even if I leave two hours later than normal, it’ll be half an hour meetingsdemotivatorbefore I get to a road where I can see blacktop. Based on past experience, a good estimate is that my drive in will take take about twice as long as usual.

After a winter of having delays announced, rescinded, changed, renounced, and extended, my visceral instinct is to give it an old fashioned “screw you guys, I’m staying home” today. Sure, that would mean giving back the two hours of admin time this morning and burning off a full 8 hours of leave. I’ve got a mountain of leave banked, so that’s not really the issue.

The one hang up I have is that at some point this morning I’m supposed to be in a meeting. It’s not a meeting I’m particularly interested in, but it’s mine. And I feel a inexplicable level of guilt at pawning it off on one of my poor unsuspecting colleagues. I don’t know why. There are plenty who have no compunction about taking a day of unscheduled leave and dropping their shit in someone else’s lap to deal with. Still, I hate the idea of being “that guy.”

Of course none of that means at 0800, I won’t make the call, but I want you all to know that I’ll be positively racked with guilt about it if things go that way.

On deciding not to be a blue falcon…

One of the best things about working for Uncle is the cornucopia of new and interesting words that have entered my lexicon. That’s particularly apt this morning, when I’m looking out as far as the floodlights will let me and seeing wall to wall blue-falconsnow, wind blowing like a mother, and a temperature hovering at 16 degrees. It’s the operative definition of “not fit for man nor beast.”

Wisely, my employer opted to pull the trigger on a 4-hour delay. Under normal circumstances, for someone who maybe lived closer to the office, that would be a good thing. For me, with a 50+ mile round trip, going in for four hours in weather like this basically means I’ll spend more time commuting than I will actually at work. Logic would dictate that I just go ahead and take four hours of vacation time and call it a day. Of course logic has no place in government service, so it’s not that simple.

Punching out today would basically make me a blue falcon, leaving whoever was unfortunate enough to show up at their desk to cover a spectacularly useless meeting that I’m supposed to endure this afternoon. I already inflicted that fate on people while I was off for Christmas, but since it was scheduled in advance, it feels less falcon-ish somehow.

Once the sun comes up, I’ll get after the shoveling, cleaning off the truck, and give it the ol’ Frostburg try at getting to the office somewhere in the general vicinity of on time today. I’ve decided not to be a blue falcon. Because I clearly lack good decision-making skills.