On trumping festivity…

Last year was the first time in 42 years that I wasn’t in western Maryland for Christmas. It was different and decidedly subdued, but I didn’t particularly hate it. Now, here we are in December again and I’m starting to put together the plan for this year… even though it feels like we just did Christmas about seven weeks ago. 

Barring any significant Great Plague related issues, I’m more comfortable with the idea of making the trip this year… even if I’m not thrilled with the idea of driving into an area where every other Facebook post seems to mention friends, friends of friends, or family members who are militantly anti-vax or who are being throttled by the bug. 

Assuming I do go home for Christmas this year, it’s going to be another different experience. Excursions to the local watering holes, the casino, or restaurants are probably right out. I’ve avoided those things for the last eighteen months and making a Christmas exception probably doesn’t exactly pass the common sense test in the current environment. That alone opens up expanses of time I’m not use to having during these flying trips. Historically they’re a mad dash to see everyone I’ve promised to drop in on while I’m in the area. I don’t expect to make many of those promises this time around.

In all reality, what Christmas could mean this year is a change in where I’ll be tucked in with a dog and a few good books… and the need to potentially recruit a cat and tortoise sitter for a few days. It doesn’t feel particularly festive, but for the time being prudence continues to trump festivity.

Cubicles aren’t the problem…

Even back in spring 2020, in the early days when the Great Plague raged unchecked, some of us were still coming to the office. Often it wasn’t many – and certainly some came more than others, but on the average day there may have been five or six people spread out in a room built out to hold around thirty. For good, bad, or otherwise, those who make decisions were determined that the place was going to have at least the loose appearance of conducting business as usual. They were determined to keep the lights on.

I only mention it, because I had a bit of a unique career experience today. For most of this day before Thanksgiving, I was the last man standing… or maybe the only one without the foresight to drop a leave request for today and Friday. In any case, I spent most of the day with the place entirely to myself. The only time I’ve had an even similar experience was a million years ago when I was a fresh, young GS-7 working in DC who wasn’t banking enough vacation time to be extravagant about taking the Friday after Thanksgiving. Even then, there were a few other people knocking around the far reaches of the GAO Building’s 3rd floor, so I wasn’t completely on my own there.

Today was a real Time Enough at Last moment, which is to say it was kind of ideal. As it turns out, just being stuck in a room full of cubicles and awful fluorescents for the day isn’t necessarily the problem with the modern office. It wasn’t quite as good as a day working from home, but without all the people, I mean it didn’t particularly suck.

It looks like I’ve learned my one new thing for today, so I’m feeling pretty good about that.

Be not afraid…

It’s hard to miss all the current reporting on the growing impact of inflation on the overall economy. Even without the reporting, rapidly rising prices for petrol, food, and other consumer goods, the impact of our inflationary economy would be hard to miss. 

Most of the major news outlets paint a worrying picture – particularly for retirees, anyone sitting on a lot of cash (in a savings account or in certificates of deposit, for instance), or those who loaded up on variable rate debt (like your average credit card). That’s a fair concern, but it’s only part of the bigger picture.

If you happen to be a homeowner – especially one who locked in a mortgage when fixed interest rates drifted down under 3% – inflation gives you the bonus of paying back your loan on an appreciating asset with devalued dollars. If you happen to be holding equities as opposed to cash (including things like 401k, IRA, and other retirement savings vehicles), values should largely increase as the cash value of the underlying companies is inflated. All of that, of course, presupposes that your income also paces the rate of inflation, or at least doesn’t entirely stagnate during a period of sustained inflationary pressure.

I’m obviously not calling for a return to the bad old days of inflation, sky high interest rates, and 10% unemployment… but by read is that there are things out there a hell of a lot more frightening than a little pop of inflation every now and then, so for the time being my motto is “be not afraid.”

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The cost of comfort. The cost of propane this winter is going to be stupid. By contrast, my electric bill in the winter is usually minimal. By my way of thinking, I could reasonably knock a degree or two off the thermostat if I just put a space heater in the office where I spend my telework days. It’s a fine idea. The office is a nice steady 68 degrees, which by my standards is perfectly comfortable. The problem now, predictably, is that every time I walk out of that particular room – to get a fresh cup of coffee or to make lunch – the rest of the house feels like wandering around a damned icebox. It’s downright unpleasant. I’m not at all sure this new cost saving scheme of mine will survive the arrival of actual winter. I suspect my desire for comfort and convenience will trump my aversion to paying overinflated fuel bills. The next major project here might just be scoping out what it will take to replace my current, elderly air conditioning unit with a heat pump to drive the operating cost of keeping the whole place warm down to something more reasonable.

2. Missing historical context. For some reason the algorithm keeps feeding me all sorts of articles in which people – usually the under 30 set – are opining about all of us now living in the era of a great reset. Most of their puff pieces seem to be based on the idea that some combination of the Great Plague, hundreds of thousands of jobs available, rising inflation, the collapse of the modern financial order under the weight of “late state capitalism,” and a litany of other leftist fever dream issues are the birth pangs of some kind of brave new world. Their earnestness is kind of adorable… but I can’t help but think they’re missing every shred of historical context when they decry their lives in “the worst timeline.”

3. An expired card. The card that I use to pay for basically everything online expired a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been on the receiving end of a near constant barrage of “card expired” emails when various companies have tried to push through their charges. Updating this information isn’t particularly hard and in most cases it’s not even all that time consuming, but it’s a bleeding nuisance. It really feels like one of those elements of online retail / bill paying that should have a much more elegant solution… and no, the answer shouldn’t be to just hand over my bank accounting and routing information and trust 20 or 30 businesses to keep it secure forever. 

Better than the second, not as good as the first…

Today I had every intention of starting off the series of “controversial” posts I mentioned last week as the new limited run feature on Friday evenings. Due to overriding circumstances, look for that to start next week. 

I’m calling this particular audible because I was able to snag an appointment to get my COVID-19 booster shot yesterday. As a proponent of vaccination (if not otherwise a paragon of personal health), I feel like I owe an update on my experience with the Moderna booster. I’m obviously not a doctor, but if I can be a trusted voice in favor of vaccines for anyone out there, I feel an obligation to do so.

To be perfectly honest, eager as I was to get an additional degree of protection against the Great Plague, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the booster. The second Moderna shot left me pretty well throttled for about 24 hours. It wasn’t an experience I particularly looked forward to repeating.

I woke up this morning with the standard sore arm and a bit more sluggish than usual, but otherwise feeling fine. I waited, impatiently, for the onset of side effects at the 24-hour mark – when they struck me down following the second dose. Around 11:30, I noticed my attention span starting to slip. Nothing debilitating, but the early afternoon definitely required a far greater than normal effort to keep focused on whatever the tasks at had happened to be. Eyeballing my way through multi-thousand line spreadsheets was… not ideal. 

By about 2:00, I’ll admit to feeling well and truly run down… Not sick, just kind of tired and a bit worked over. It wasn’t the best day I’ve ever passed, but it was far from the worst. It was an easy price to pay for an extra measure of protection, especially given the prevalence of those in the local area who refuse even the most basic precautionary measures.

Feel free to sign me up for jab #4 when the time comes.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Parity. Part of my job this week was calling around and talking to people from other organizations who are saddled with their own version of my favorite dog and pony show. It’s no surprise that everyone I spoke to runs theirs a little differently. I didn’t uncover anything unexpected or particularly helpful, but I did discover that everywhere else, the person these other offices put in charge of their annual spectacular is at least graded out as a deputy director. Put another way they are all, a minimum of one good pay grade or two notches on the org chart higher than me. Yeah, that was a feel-good moment right there.

2. Inflation alarm. The federal government poured vast amounts of money into the economy over the last eighteen months in the form of direct payments via enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus payments and the Paycheck Protection Program. People, as they tend to do when they have money in their pockets, went on a buying binge. Stocks, houses, and consumer goods were all in the crosshairs of people with cash to spend. We spent so hard we overwhelmed the supply side’s ability to keep up with demand. And now, the headlines are screaming that we’re supposed to be shocked that inflation has taken hold and the price of good and services is increasing. Beyond the few classes I had to take as part of a social science major, I’m not a student of economics… even so, the results of increasing demand, limited supply, and boatloads of money in circulation is almost entirely predictable, no?

3. The waiting. Here I sit. About seven hours after getting the COVID-19 booster jammed into my arm. I feel fine, with barely even a sore arm to show for my trouble. What I do have, though, is the uncomfortable period of waiting. My first COVID shot was a non event. After getting my second Moderna shot way back in March, I had a bit of an aching arm, but went to bed and woke up the next morning feeling fine. Exactly twenty-four hours after the jab, though, I got to experience the unpleasant hit-by-a-bus feeling advertised as a potential side effect – chills, aches, lethargy – pretty much the full list with the merciful exception of nausea. That one skipped me, somehow. In any case, I’m sitting here, waiting to see what things look like around lunchtime tomorrow. Prevention is worth a pound of cure and all that, but I’m trying to mentally prepare for another lost day.

Booster…

While the people of social media are still caught in the grip of fighting out the benefit of vaccinations, deciding who should or shouldn’t wear a mask, whether they need to wash their hands, or whether state of federal regulations have primacy of force, I’ve been over here trolling local pharmacies for open appointments to get my COVID-19 booster. I’m pleased and happy to say I’ll have that knocked off my to do list by close of business tomorrow.

Yes, I’m one of those unapologetic crazies that thinks the steady upward swing of civilization has been marked by, among other elements, the forward process of medical science. With pills to keep my blood pressure in check, pills to keep my blood glucose levels from rocketing off the chart, lenses that correct for my shitty eyes, and shoe inserts to give my arches a little extra support, I’m a walking, living example of that basic truth. My life has been made longer and better in every possible way because I’ve opted to “follow the science” rather than bleaching my innards, relying on crackpot home remedies, or picking up my medical supplies from the local feed and seed store.

By all means, continue arguing. Continue being emotional invested in a wild conspiracy narrative concocted by random, unknown people on the internet. Continue believing that SmokingQ1776 on Parler or Dr. Nick from Newsmax know more about health, medicine, and pandemic response than globally recognized experts backed up by decades of education and experience directly related to the problems at hand. That is, after all, your undisputed right as an American. In this country we have no laws preventing you from being a dumbass. 

In my estimation, all aspects of life are a matter of risk and reward. My read is that I face a far greater risk by getting in the truck and driving to the office than I ever will taking what is, by now, one of the most tested and administered vaccinations of my lifetime. Boosting my chances of not getting cripplingly ill or dropping dead from a once in century feels viral plague feels like a pretty solid reward when weighed against a truly miniscule level of risk.

But that’s not the emotional argument people seem to be looking for, so whatever.

Really good parking…

Perhaps the very best part of the COVID experience has been the wildly improved parking situation on the days I can’t avoid going to the office. We’re the stereotypical office complex surrounded by acre upon acre of asphalt… and if you didn’t time your arrival just right, or gods forbid, needed to leave to do something and then come back in the middle of the day, you might as well be parked in the next county. I won’t be showing you pictures, but take my word for it, the historic parking situation here is a case of really atrocious environmental, industrial, and human design.

COVID (and wide-scale telework) has mostly freed us from the tyranny of the parking lot. In a few of the far distant sections, there are even respectable sized weeds growing through cracks in the pavement. No one has needed to park way they hell out there in almost two years now.

This morning, I tucked the Jeep into a spot not much worse than the ones reserved for our own lords of creation… and I was far from the earliest arrival for the day. I had to leave for an appointment to get one of my ID cards fiddled with at 9:00. In the olden days, that would have been the kiss of death. Upon my return, I’d have been banished to the furthest reaches of the lot. Today, though, after 45 minutes away, I pulled in to exactly the spot I vacated… and in fact could have gotten a few spaces closer.

Sure, COVID has killed friends and family. It has poisoned the well of social discourse and revealed so many closeted crackpots in our lives. If that’s the price we have to pay for really good parking, though, maybe the struggle and carnage was all worth it. I mean if people can’t be bothered with basic preventative measures, why not start looking at this thing from the bright side, right?

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 Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. A week full of suck. The work I do to pay the bills is, by necessity, somewhat unpredictable. There’s very little way of knowing from day to day or week to week how high or fast the tide of work might be running. This week, all week, the tide was running high and fast and shoving every damned thing towards the rocks at every opportunity. Some weeks are like that. Still, I’ll be awfully glad to see the backside of this one… on the off chance that next week will contain less suck.

2. The good old days. I miss the good old days of the Great Plague – when the masses were all running scared and staying home. The commute into the office was an absolute dream back then. I imagine it’s how the leaders of the old Soviet Union felt, with lanes down the center of each highway reserved exclusively for them. Now it seems every schmuck with four wheels is back on the road. Good for the economy, I suppose, but I’m just not sure I’m in favor of it.

3. Allegany County. I couldn’t help but notice yesterday that my old home county is now sitting firmly atop the list as having the highest case rate of the Great Plague in the state of Maryland. I also noted, perhaps obviously, that for a while there the local hospital was so overrun with patients they were diverting sickies elsewhere… when and if they could find a bed. Now, I’m not saying all of these things could have been entirely avoided, but there’s an awfully simple way a lot of the troubles could have been minimized or mitigated… but that would depend on not getting your medical advice from talk radio and YouTube, so it’s a pretty big ask.