What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Rapidly shifting gears. I always forget just how steep the drop off in things to do is when a big project wraps up. Between last Thursday and this Monday I went from having 600 emails in my inbox and 47 missed calls on my phone to having a whopping 6 emails in my box waiting for action and no missed calls. For months there’s this gradual acceleration. It’s almost imperceptible. Before you know it you’re charging flat out, still accelerating, over the precipice, before slamming into the wall that is “business as usual.” I’m not exactly complaining that I’m getting a chance to catch a breath, but I am surprised more people don’t strip all their gears from downshifting so fast.

2. Housebreaking in the rain. Jorah has been a dream puppy as far as housebreak is concerned. Two solid days of rain, however, were something less delightful. Squishing around the yard every few hours in a steady fifty degree rain with wet feet is one of the joys of pet ownership that would surely make any dog owner question why the hell they decided to add a member to their family in the first place.

3. Playing bouncer. I spent a few hours this week checking badges and working the door to keep the riffraff out of a meeting. There’s nothing special about that – other duties as assigned and whatnot. I can turn off my brain and do as told with the best of them. It’s only later, when I put on my taxpayer hat and do some mental math about how much I made during my tenure as an up jumped bouncer, my eyes sort of roll back into my head. I have my own opinions of course, but I’ll leave it to others to decide on the application of resources… something something mosquito and sledgehammer.

4. Alabama. What the actual hell is wrong with you cousin fucking, backwoods, holier than thou asshats? Republicans are supposed to be the part of small government and minimal intrusion into people’s personal lives. You collection of assclowns would be hard pressed to find a way to be more invasive. At least when I think the government in Annapolis is a shitshow, I can look at your statehouse and remind myself that it could be worse.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The First Amendment. It’s plain that the First Amendment doesn’t mean what the masses on the internet seem to think it means. The 1st protects you from the government interfering with your speech in all its many forms. It means the FBI won’t come kick down your door when someone gets butthurt about something you posted on Facebook. By contrast this amendment has absolutely nothing to do with what a business such as Facebook will let you post on their platform… that you joined voluntarily and pay nothing to use. If you’re going to crusade for your rights, perhaps it would be helpful to first know what those rights actually are… because the Constitution nowhere guarantees your right to force a 3rd party to use their property to amplify your voice.

2. The Office of Personnel Management. It’s been 41 days since the bill authorizing a pay raise for employees of my Big Bureaucratic Organization was signed into law. It apparently takes at least that long to calculate what 1.9% of 2018’s pay tables were and add those two numbers together. And don’t get me started on the fact that if the legislative and executive branches weren’t both being led by children, that raise would have started showing up my pay sometime in January. Yes it’s allegedly retroactive, which is nice and all… but that also means the tax man is going to take a massive cut out of whatever check three or four months of retroactive extra pay eventually slide into. If only there were some parts of government who’s main job was formulating and executing timely budgets for departments and agencies perhaps this wouldn’t be such a difficult exercise.

3. Extraneous logins. I have accounts on more than one system at work that exist purely so I can log on to those systems once a week in order to keep my account active. I never have any actual work associated with those accounts and yet once a week I log on just to avoid getting an angry warning that my account is about to be disabled from our IT office. Like the old coffee can full of extraneous bits and pieces you keep in the garage, I’m told to keep these accounts active “in case you need them some day.” That this is how we do business never fails to stupefy me if I dwell on it for too long.

My own agenda…

I use to treat the State of the Union Address like my own version of the Super Bowl – an excuse to eat, drink, and be merry while consuming the massive amounts of information being beamed directly into my head from the well of the House and a few well-selected news sites. It was good times, even with the understanding that what was being delivered live on television was, at best, a wish list of ideas rather than any definitive statements of policy.

Politics for the most part has joined the increasingly large number of topics that I mostly lack the interest in dealing with on the wholesale level. Yes, there are a few areas I care passionately about and pay close attention to, but the broader discussion of how many times a speech is interrupted by applause, or who did something stupid 25 years ago, or gods forbid, said something that someone, somewhere might find in poor taste. I’m sorry, but the field in which I grow my fucks is desolate and barren. I have not one more to give on “issues” like those.

So, like the actual Super Bowl that preceded it, I will not be tuning in to hear the president’s remarks on the State of the Union tonight. I know I can rest assured that by the time I wake up tomorrow morning Twitter will be sure to tell me exactly what I’m supposed to think about it. I’ll read the highlights. Probably.

Congress and the president have their own agendas and I have mine. Between the three, I’ll let you be the judge of which one I think is the most important. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Data mining. Every time I start thinking that data mining is becoming too invasive and privacy becoming too fragile, the interent reminds me that it’s still pretty far away from going Skynet and killing us all. You see, I know this because companies that specialize mining “big data” keep feeding me ads about how to find and finance the “perfect engagement ring.” I’ll admit to having a passing interest in gemstones, but I can’t claim a need or interest in actually buying them. I have neither the inclination or reason to do so… and I’ve never once searched the internet for one. The cloud might know our reading tastes and hold the secrets to our collective perversions in our search results, but in many ways it doesn’t feel like the interent knows me at all.

2. Domestic enemies. All newly hatched federal employees take an oath of office. The one I took isn’t too far different from the one taken by a typical Army officer or even the one sworn by members of Congress. Unless I missed an unprinted annex or codicil, though, my oath to support and defend the Constitution didn’t include an oath of poverty and it certainly wasn’t an oath of unpaid servitude. That there are near on 400,000 people who swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic currently fulfilling their oath without pay is an embarrassment – made all the worse because each day they bring back more an more “unpaid help” in order to avoid inconveniencing anyone. Excuse me? It seems that if you’re going to have a shut down of something the whole point is to make it as inconvenient and painful as possible. And these twatwaffels are sure as blue hell “inconveniencing” the people they expect to pay out of their own pockets for the privilege of coming to work. I blame President Trump. I blame the leadership in both the House and the Senate. I blame every single member of Congress who uses this as an opportunity to grandstand. And I increasingly think I know who the “domestic” enemies are that our oath featured so prominently. 

3. Blood. Blood as a rule doesn’t bother me. I can see people bleeding and not flinch. The rivers could run thick with the stuff and I’m not sure I’d notice… but let me be strapped into a chair at the local doctor’s office and have someone start sucking vials of my own precious life-sustaining fluid from my veins and I’m apt to go all cross-eyed and pasty. I just feel like medical science should do us a favor and step beyond the age of leeches here.

My 16th year…

Yesterday marked the 16th anniversary of my life in sworn service to our mad uncle. People say that time flies when you’re having fun, but in my experience having fun is entirely optional. Time just flies. Well, more specifically, the years seem to fly. Individual days feel like they might well last for weeks on end. It’s when they get rolled up into their individual 365-count bundles that they race away from you.

From my vantage point here as a solidly mid-career bureaucrat, I won’t pretend there haven’t been some good times. A few of them are probably only good in retrospect and with the benefit of distance from the facts, but that’s probably to be expected. Over the last 16 years I’ve been privileged to meet some of the smartest human beings I’ve ever known. I’ve also met more than a few sniveling, conniving, climbers who I’d happily shank in a dark alley if I ever got the chance – and thought I could get away clean. Not one of that bunch is worth going to prison over, though I hope I’m still around when they inevitably overreach.

About once a year someone on the outside asks if I’d recommend government work. A decade ago I’d have said yes. Government work isn’t going to make you rich, but the pay doesn’t suck, the health and retirement plans are good, and you never have to worry about your employer going out of business. It was a haven for those who value stability – a place of low risk and correspondingly modest rewards. After a decade of living through multiple hiring freezes, multiple pay freezes, and multiple government shutdowns, though, I couldn’t recommend it with a clear conscience these days.

Uncle is no longer a stable employer – pay and benefits are just another political football at risk every year. If you’re going to live with that much uncertainty, you might as well go work in the private sector where you might have a chance at making some real money for assuming the risk that your company or contract won’t be there a year from now. I won’t go so far as saying that both options are equal – but the assessment of whether public service or the private sector is a better place to have a career feels like more of a dice roll now that it has in the last 16 years.

In a few months I’ll climb over the halfway point on the long road to whatever retirement might look like in or about 2035. That feels like a far more important milestone than yesterday’s just passing another year on the job. Who knows, maybe my mood will even improve. Probably not, but it would be a neat trick if it did.

And we’re back…

Assuming I keep up with it so long, I think I can safely say that this blog will expire on or about the day I retire. It turns out that when I don’t have the job sucking every ounce of fun out of five days each week, I really just don’t have that much to say. That explains the spotty schedule of posting I maintained over the last couple of weeks. Not only didn’t I have much to say, but I had virtually no interest in sitting down and writing up whatever was rattling around in my head. It turns out you don’t need much catharsis when you don’t have something agitating the hell out of you on a regular basis.

The good news, or bad news, depending on your perspective is that the days of not needing to vent my spleen on a regular basis are still far off in the future. Now that we’re back on the normal schedule, I have a feeling that my notebook will soon be refilled with all manner of angst-causing stories just begging to be told.

Look, I’m thankful for the pay check – and glad I’m not one of those poor bastards at State, or Treasury, or Homeland Security either working for nothing or stuck sitting around waiting and wondering when the next direct deposit is going to hit. That shouldn’t put anyone under the delusion that there’s nothing I’d rather being doing than clearing two weeks worth of emails from my inbox while scouring them for the one or two nuggets that might need some actual attention.

We’re back… and that’s probably a good thing in that long march out towards the back half of this career… but don’t think for a minute I’m not missing the long, lazy days when a few critters and a good book was more than enough to fill the passing hours.

The unnecessary search for the perfect pen…

As much as the government likes to claim that we’ve gone or are going “paperless,” such claims are fabrications if not an outright lies. There as much if not more volume of paper flowing around the office now as there was when I showed up almost 16 years ago. One of the only other consistencies in all that time is that I’ve been on an eternal quest to find just the right pen. 

Copyright ANN PINSON/STARS AND STRIPES 

I’ve used roller balls, gel inks, ball points, felt tips, fines, and ultra-fines. I even picked up – and very quickly put down – a couple of fountain pens along the path. The truth is, I have the perfect pen sitting on the desk in my home office already. The Cross Century pen that my dad handed to me the night I graduated high school fills the bill as a “good pen” nicely. Given its sentimental value there’s no way I’m willing to risk losing it somewhere in the vast bureaucracy. Adding another Cross is cost prohibitive. What I’ve always searched for is a good, serviceable everyday pen. 

The fact is, I probably found the right pen for the job long before my search really began. All I had to be willing to accept was the learned judgement of a bunch of bureaucrats way back in 1968 when the General Services Administration adopted the 16 pages of requirements that ultimately resulted in the production of the definitive Pen, Ball-Point, Black, NSN 7520-00-935-7135. The venerable Skilcraft pen is harder to find in government offices than it used to be, but it’s still there if you know where to look. 

It’s not the best pen I’ve ever used. Sometimes the ink is a bit clumpy and it feels a little small in hand, but by way of trade off, I’ve never actually run one out of ink. That’s a claim I can’t make about a run of the mill Bic or modern gel ink wonders. I suspect this little wonder has more of a cult following than many will admit to, as plenty of them have been swiped from my desk over the years. It’s one of those rare moments when design and function are pretty much ideal even 50+ years later. 

That’s all a long way to say that I think my search for the perfect pen is probably over. I’ll keep my fancy Cross at home, but for the office I’ll be keeping a supply of archaic black ball-points on hand to meet my writing needs. It feels like one of the few designs that we, probably by pure dumb luck, managed to get right the first time… if I ever catch wind of anyone threatening to improve the design I’ll just have to requisition a dozen boxes to see me safely through the back half of my career. One box would probably be enough, but the inevitable reallocation through theft must be considered when determining supply requirements. Same as it ever was.