Eight hours under gag…

As an employee of the Executive branch, I’m covered by what’s commonly known as the Hatch Act of 1939, otherwise known as An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, or Public Law 76-252. The intent of the Hatch Act is fairly straightforward, even if the means and methods by which it is enforced are somewhat murky. The act, essentially, says that as a federal employee, I cannot seek election to a partisan office for the duration of my employment and more importantly that I can’t use my official position or government time and equipment for purposes of campaigning, fundraising, promoting, or engaging in political activity while I’m “on the clock.”

Old Man Hatch had a pretty good idea about establishing and keeping the core of the civil service reasonably non-partisan as we transact the day to day business of government. Personally, I’ve I’ve never seen an employee willfully undermining the executive branch while on the clock in my tenure serving under both Republicans and Democrats, but I don’t know if that’s because of the Hatch Act or because we started killing off the spoils system in 1883 with the Pendelton Act. Of course how “non-partisan” the bureaucracy is when it comes to which parties and candidates it supports in our spare time is wide open for debate.

The Office of Special Counsel, supreme adjudicator of all things Hatch Act, has a number of laundry lists filled with what various types of executive branch employee may or may not do. What most of them boil down to is “don’t advocate for a particular candidate or party on government time.” It seems like a reasonable rule. It’s why you find me posting at all during the typical weekday it’s a funny, funny meme or a news article. I try very hard to live within Hatch’s spirit and intent as well as within its letter.

I do, however, want the record to show that being Hatched makes sitting quietly on social media on days like today a monumental exercise in self restraint. Something for which I don’t think we get nearly enough credit every other November.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Meticulous devotion to the speed limit. OK, we get it. You’re an upright citizen, an honest taxpayer, and love your mother and apple pie. Those are all fine and good qualities to have, but it would be just terrific if you could move 20 feet to your right and have them somewhere other than puttering along in the passing lane. I know I’m a scofflaw and dangerous hoodlum, but Lord God Almighty just move your ass and let the rest of us get on with our day.

2. The definition of common knowledge. Any internet site that offers “12 things you didn’t know about X” is almost certain to involve more clicks than reading their article is worth. I usually avoid them to the maximum extent possible. Occasionally, though, some click bait is too tempting to resist. That usually involves the ones promising to teach me something new. Unfortunately, I read, I pay attention to details, and in general I’m aware of my surroundings. I also have a genuinely curious mind that thrives on the acquisition of new knowledge… So if you could go beyond general knowledge when creating your links to “things you don’t know about” that would be great

3. The incredible shrinking TP. I’m quite sure I didn’t suddenly start using more Charmin. I played along when they made the rolls narrower. Now it seems they’re putting less on each roll. The price, of course, is the same as it ever was. Maybe it would be ok to just plus up the price a few cents to keep up with inflation and stop fucking with it. Honest to god, I’m going to have to start researching where to get what use to be standard sized rolls of toilet paper. Then I’ll rent a warehouse and stockpile the damned stuff

Crime control…

You can’t spend an hour in America without hearing one side or the other make their pitch about gun control. I know the arguments on both sides well enough to quote them in my sleep. By contrast what I don’t hear almost any discussion about is crime control. Don’t let it be said I’ve ever shied away from stepping into whatever void I felt needed stepping into.

My simple proposal is that rather than controlling the inanimate object (i.e. the gun), perhaps we should refocus on controlling the people who use the object in a manner inconsistent with the manner allowed by law (i.e. to rape, rob, and murder). That leaves the vast majority of gun owners out of the equation because they tend largely towards using their weapons appropriately and in a reasonably safe manner.

Now here’s where things get heavy in the event I am empowered to pass legislation for a day. I propose the following tiered approach to addressing criminals who opt to use a firearm as they ply their trade:

1. If you possess or claim to possess a gun during commission of a crime, you receive the maximum penalty for the original crime plus an additional twenty years at hard labor (and I mean real Cool Hand Luke, chain-gang style labor). No option for parole.

2. If you display a gun (including realistic toys and BB or pellet guns) during commission of a crime, you receive the maximum penalty for the original crime plus an additional thirty years at hard labor. No option for parole.

3. If you fire a gun during commission of a crime, you receive the maximum penalty for the original crime plus an additional forty years at hard labor. No option for parole.

4. If you fire a gun during commission of a crime and the resulting projectile causes injury, whether intentional or unintentional, you receive the maximum penalty for the original crime plus an additional fifty years at hard labor. No option for parole.

5. If you fire a gun during commission of a crime resulting in the death of any individual, you have forfeit your right to enjoy the benefits of civil society and will be taken forthwith to the designated place of public execution where you will be hanged by the neck until you are dead.

Now I know that doesn’t solve all the issues. Our best efforts are never going legislate away people who behave irresponsibly or the fact that sometimes legitimate accidents do happen. Still, it feels like a step towards making the penalty for committing crime with a firearm terrible enough to be a legitimate deterrent to many if not most who aren’t deranged or otherwise determined to do harm.

Maybe it’s my wide libertarian streak showing, but if we’re going to get into the business of banning things (which we are), let’s be about the business of banning specific actions (and then enforcing those ruthlessly) instead of outlawing broad categories of things. Our long history as a country has proved that unilateral bans don’t work as intended and generally only lead to “bigger and badder” levels of crime (I’m looking at you here alcohol and drugs). So since we know up front that’s not going to work out like we might plan, let’s go ahead and at least start by pummeling the current crop criminals into submission before we set out to create a whole new class of criminals by even more blanket bans.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Grown adults. I’m totally on board with kids being excited to see the snow. I’ll even forgive students who are excited at getting the day off. What I don’t think I will ever come to grips with are grown ass adults who crowd around the window eyes agog whispering and tee-heeing. Yes, it’s snowing. No, it’s not all that exciting. If you don’t stare askance out the window on a typical rainy day, there’s not much call to do it just because the temperature happens to be below 32 degrees. I know not everyone has gainful work to do on the day before a Thanksgiving, but I’m over here madly trying to get something wrapped up and off my desk before everyone makes a break for it so if you could at least pretend to be productively engaged that would be great.

2. Internet legal experts. You know, I’d have a lot more respect for the deluge of legal “opinions” smothering the country if I had any sense at all that the people behind those opinions had any sense of the purpose of a grand jury or the basic concepts of how the legal system works. Although I taught basic civics, I’d never have the audacity to claim undisputed knowledge about the intricacies and vagaries of the American judicial system. I do however know enough to be certain I’m not expert. That’s why I’ve not made many comments on the particular case du jure. While I haven;t hidden my opinion, I opted not to take to the interwebs to dazzle the world with it. I’d far rather stay quiet and be thought a fool than open my mouth and remove all doubt. It’s a shame the average American internet poster isn’t as circumspect.

3. Email. I was away from my desk most of last week, so when I stumbled in to the office on Monday I had approximately 900 emails waiting for me. Of those, I reduced 600 that were either overcome by events, spam, messages I was copied on for no apparent reason, or otherwise emails that didn’t require an action on my part besides hitting delete. Of the 300 remaining messages, 2/3 were of minor importance directly to me, were confirmations, status updates, or otherwise information that required little more than a “yes,” “no,” or “acknowledged” in way of response. That left approximately 100 messages that legitimately needed my attention, that required substantial thought, or that I needed to farm out to others in an effort to generate a response. We all could have saved a lot of time this week if the first 600 “so what” emails had never been sent. We could have saved a little more time if we collectively stopped to consider if we really needed to send any one of the next 200 messages. More importantly, I wouldn’t be scrambling around at the end of the 3rd day of mailbox clearing trying to respond to the 100 that really mean something if I hadn’t needed to wade through the other 800 emails to find those little gems. My point? Email is a tool, but you don’t have to be. Please use your distribution lists and the reply all button for good instead of evil.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The inconveniences of middle age. Knee problems. Back problems. Shoulder problems. Wrist problems. Mercifully they all come and go, but I know deep down they’re all there lurking under the surface and waiting for the perfect excuse to put in appearance. I’m really beginning to hate the mornings when I wake up with a sore “something” for no apparent reason. I can see an injury if I were out toting, lifting, or hauling, but an injury from just laying there for six hours? Yeah. That happens more often than I want to admit. It’s definitely a problem I didn’t have 20 years ago… and it makes me a little nervous about what it’s going to feel like 20 years from now.

2. Tharp’s Law. For me, a full work week consists of 40 hours on the job. Now generally, I’m at my most productive – that is, actually generating usable products and service – when I’m actually at my desk doing a little bit of what we like to call analysis. Reading, writing, distilling information from multiple sources into a consistent and coherent thread of an idea. I like to think I’m pretty good at it. When I’m not so productive is when the scale tips and I’m spending more than half my time preparing for, attending, or writing summaries of meetings. This week, it’s been well over half the available time. Therefore, the fundamental truth of Tharp’s Law is as follows: For every hour spent prepping for, attending, or summarizing a meeting, you’ve lost an hour of productive time that you’re never going to get back and in which actual work will never occur. It’s a simple 1:1 ratio and it’s constant as the speed of light (in a vacuum).

3. Third things. Sometimes there are no third things because the first two are exhausting and one of the two makes your wrist hurt.

With no apologies…

One of my younger sisters was working at The Mall in Columbia yesterday morning when an as yet unidentified douchebag walked into a shop on the second floor and started shooting. That’s my way of saying that this one is something close to home and not simply an academic exercise in which I take my beliefs out for a walk. Yesterday, she did what she was supposed to do – sought cover and concealment, made sure her people were safe, and waited. Knowing our shared family traits, I would never go so far as to say “waited patiently.”

On any average day the vast majority of law abiding citizens of Maryland go through their day with nothing standing between them and the violent acts of a few than the tacit social compact that says the state should have a monopoly on violence. By extension, when you find yourself in harm’s way, the only course of action is waiting for the machinery of the state to come to your defense. While someone is committing the most violent of crimes even a few yards away, the state wants you to sit quietly and wait for them to take action on your behalf. That’s not a criticism of the Howard County Police Department, Maryland State Police, FBI, or any of the others who, by all accounts, were on scene incredibly quickly and did yeomen’s work to secure the area. It is a criticism, however, of a system that expects and encourages people look to the organs of the state to clothe, house, and protect them.

Despite the quick response of law enforcement, there were a few minutes – even if it were only one or two – where the first, last, and only line of defense was a locked door, patience, and hoping for the best. That’s not acceptable level of self defense to me – and shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone, really. I wish Maryland recognized the right of its citizens to defend themselves in equal and opposite measure to the force being brought to bear against them. In a world where only criminals have access to firearms, only criminals will use them – leaving the average person in the street beholden to the state entirely to provide for their personal defense. Some people – perhaps the majority in Maryland – are perfectly happy deferring their self defense requirements to the state. I’m not one of them.

Yesterday’s events hit close to home. I’m convinced now more than ever and with no apologies that free men and women must be allowed (and prepared) to defend themselves with all possible force at a moment’s notice. Sadly, I’m sure the leadership here in the great state of Maryland will politicize Columbia and use this as another excuse to lay even more onerous restrictions on those of us who try to live inside the bounds of the law.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Being polite. I realize the social convention that tells us it’s bad to walk around punching people in the face exists to protect all of us from each other. God knows there are probably of plenty people out there who would like nothing more than the opportunity to slug me with no repercussions, but still, there’s something infuriating about being in a position day-in-and-day-out of being annoyed to your wits end and not being able to say or do anything about it because it would be considered rude. The people who don’t get typical social cues shouldn’t be covered by normal social conventions. When I’ve turned my back to you and you keep talking, I should be allowed to punch you in the face. Invade my personal bubble? Punch in the face. Have no clue that others aren’t interested in a monolog about your top five worst medical problems? Punch in the face. Twice. You get the point. When someone lives outside society’s norms, maybe they shouldn’t be protected by those norms. If your feelings get hurt and your nose gets bloodied in the process, well, maybe that’s just a lesson learned… and yet for some reason when you tell someone they’re being an obnoxious douchecanoe, you’re suddenly the asshat. There is no justice.

2. Celebrities. You know the funny thing about celebrities behaving badly? Their asshattery is only covered by the news outlets because we all tune in. Justin Bieber getting a DUI? News. Brittany Spears flashing her hoohaw. News. Kim and Kanye doing anything? News. Except the thing is, it’s not news. People get DUI’s, show their lady parts, and are generally stupid every day of the year without it being the lead story on every website and newspaper in the country. Celebrities get the attention they do not because they behave badly, but simply because we allow it to be so. It’s the classic example of ignore it and they will go away. Or at least they’ll continue to get into trouble, but do it more or less in anonymity and without it becoming a spectacle. It’s a crying shame that we all can’t just agree to ignore these tools until they stop getting the ink they so desperately want.

3. Policy. As a rule, policy is something I’ve always considered a guideline. It’s the user’s manual version of how to do things – 98.9% of the time, policy coverers just about everything you’ll deal with on a regular basis. Conveniently, though, policy very rarely has the force of something more codified, say like a regulation or a law. That means there’s almost always a way to get an exception to policy (or in more extreme circumstances just ignore the policy because it doesn’t pass the common sense test within the context of new or extenuating circumstances). No one is doing themselves a service when the blindly follow something just because “that’s how it’s done” or “that’s the policy.” You see, the problem with blind adherence to anything is that it so often comes with unintended consequences… and those so very rarely end well for anyone.