Beyond the big show…

It’s election day in America – or rather it’s the last day of voting season in a presidential election year. 

What people seem to forget is that the election, the physical act of voting is just part of the process. The act of citizenship isn’t a one and done. Casting a ballot is the big, showy event, but the governing that comes after is where it matters – and where people generally lose interest unless the issues involved directly impact them in some way.

It’s a fine thing for your party of candidate to win an election, but what do you do after that? Do you stay engaged? Do you show up at council meetings, call your elected representatives, donate to your favored causes? Do you keep fighting for your ideas, how you think the country should be run, or your vision for the proper role of government in the 21stcentury? Do you tune out until the media starts beating the drum for the next big election?

Tonight (and probably for the next couple of nights) we’re going to count the votes. There will, eventually, be a winner. Some will celebrate. Others will look into the camera with that thousand-yard stare wondering how their candidate could possibly lose. Elections, even more so those in the media age, are moments of high national drama. It’s easy to get so caught up in that drama that you forget there’s a tomorrow, and a day after that, and a day after that one.

What we do with those days after is at least as important in the small role we played in the big show on election day. Having voted Libertarian, I know even before the counting starts that my preferred candidate isn’t going to win when the final votes are counted. That’s ok. I won’t be taking to the streets later howling for blood or at least hoping to loot the local Best Buy. 

Instead of rending my garments, I’ll spend tomorrow and all the days after doing what I do every day – I’ll talk about the issues that are important to me. I’ll advocate for more severe penalties for animal abuse. I’ll lend my name and occasionally some cash to organizations fighting to preserve the 2nd Amendment. I’ll call and email my county commissioners and state representatives when local and state government get a little too open handed with our tax dollars. In short, I’ll continue to be an engaged citizen.

For tonight, though, I’ll sit back, keep a stiff drink close at hand, and see how the big show plays out.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. If you’re going to push out a metric shit-ton of new mandatory training and tell everyone in the universe they have to take it sometime in the next ten days, it seems to be that the first step might be to make sure the end users are in some way functional before it lands on hundreds of thousands of desks as a short notice must-do task. Maybe it’s just me, but proclaiming something must be done and then making it physically impossible to do feels like a pretty shit way of doing business… Not that I’m in any way surprised.

2. I’m trying to schedule someone to come out and give me a quote for three new window binds that approximately match what’s currently in the house. So far, one can’t be bothered to call back, the next wants me to dismount one of the existing blinds and bring it in so they can look at it, and the third really thinks I should consider getting new window coverings for the entire house. You wouldn’t think it would be this hard to get people to show up and take my money, but yet here we are.

3. Despite the story the media is intent on weaving, you really can decline to support a candidate for office because you have fundamental disagreements with their stated policy positions. To see the prevailing message of the day though, if you don’t support Joe and Kamala, it’s obviously because you’re racist. Feel free to bugger directly off with that fuckery. 

On tracking the virus…

I’ve written before about the decline of personal privacy. We slap RFID tags on our vehicles to make paying tolls marginally less painful. We carry around a mobile tracking device in our pockets. Many of us live with home security cameras that can see all but the most private moments.

The tech industry’s move towards developing apps that use our phone’s onboard GPS to track proximity to potentially infected people may sound like an altruistic use of technology to improve public health. Outside of saying they’re working on this “neat new thing,” not much is being said about the implications that come along with using such a personal tracker. Without knowing what, if any, legal safeguards will be in place, details of what beyond proximity is being collected, how long it will be stored, who will have access to it, how it will be used, and what control I will have over what’s collected, I have to say it’ll be pass from me. 

I’ve signed over some degree of privacy to big tech already because I value the services they provide. At its heart, though, my cell phone is nothing more than a tool. I have no intention of taking life guidance from it – or from Apple or Google or any of the other firms racing into this space. 

I won’t be wearing a tinfoil hat anytime soon, but I feel like sooner rather than later I’ll find my phone living in a Faraday bag except for moments when I need to use the damned thing.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. RFID. Rolling our RFID at access points was supposed to make getting to work faster and easier while reducing the manpower required to make sure everyone showing up is actually supposed to be there. Over the last two weeks of the roll out period, seven of ten attempts to use the fancy new “no touch” pass system failed to function properly. It didn’t work and ended up being about two times slower than it would have been if I’d have used the regular access lanes. EZ Pass makes it work on the interstate at 70 miles an hour for anyone with a transponder from a dozen different states, but we can’t seem to figure it out in a limited deployment under controled circumstances at five miles per hour. To quote General Beringer in War Games, “After very careful consideration, sir, I’ve come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks.”

2. Human feelings. Its been a year since I made the decision that any further treatment for Winston was really just me staving off the inevitable while making him suffer for my own benefit. I’m just now getting to a point where I can look at pictures or the occasional video of him without becoming a blubbering mess. Feel free to ignore me if my eyes still happen to get a bit misty from time to time. Sigh. Human emotions are dumb and I’d like to have mine removed, please.

3. Finding “no.” I am a professional bureaucrat. Over the better part of two decades I have learned many useful tips and tricks. One of them, most assuredly, is how to use process and procedure to slow progress on an ill advised adventure to a bare crawl. Believe me when I say that I know how to run out the clock with the best of them. Sometimes, though, a project is going to take wing no matter how ill advised or badly developed the concept. It’s such a high priority to someone that it’s going to happen. Once a special someone is committed on that course of action, what I need the master bureaucrats to do is fall their asses in line and manufacture ways to find yes instead of laying down every possible hurdle. I see what you’re doing. I know those tricks, So please, get the fuck out of here with that douchbaggery just this one time.

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.

On losing the patience to argue…

I was going to write a bit today about guns and violence or maybe about the Dow taking a 700-ish point stumble. I’ve covered it all before. It’s well trod ground and I’m not sure I have any particularly new insights to offer up for the discussion.

Then again, I don’t suppose having new information or insight is what having an opinion on the internet is about. It seems too be about determining who can shout the loudest and gin up the most favorable ratio. Mercifully I was born into a world where I don’t rise and fall based on my ratio and it’s not what drives my positions. If it were, God knows, I’d tighten up the focus around here instead of letting it just be a free flowing blast of whatever’s knocking around my head four afternoons each week.

I have friends on nearly every side of every policy position. As hard as some might find this to believe, I’m a bit like Switzerland. When it comes to who I choose to be friends with, I’m the soul of indifference about their politics, who else is in their circle of friends, or most any other discriminator that people use to decide who they want to spend time with. It’s historically also why I would never even consider putting more than about three of my friends in the same room at the same time. It feels like a brawl would be just about inevitable.

So here I sit, comfortable in my on positions, but always willing to entertain new evidence and adjust as needed – without feeling any need to jump up and down, screaming about whatever the new issue of the day is. As I’ve gotten older, the need to convince other people of my rightness or their wrongness has diminished considerably. It’s not so much that I’m not passionate about certain issues as it is not being interested in expending the energy necessary to cover the same ground three or four dozen times.

It turns out, in my advancing middle age, I rarely have the patience to argue… but don’t let that fool you into believing I’ve changed my spots or that I won’t rise like a sleeping giant in defense of my principles if needed.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Lack of attention to detail. Someone on post is advertising a very nice, newly renovated town house for rent at $1700 a month in the Bel Air school district. It looks like a lovely place to live. The only problem is whoever is trying to rent it out has fat fingered my office phone number onto their flyers and I’m now fielding more calls about real estate than I am actual things related to my job. If I were trying to get $1700 a month for something you can be damned skippy that I’d make sure I had the right number… as it is, now I have to tell a lot of disappointed people that the place has already been rented. After enough of those, I’m assuming someone will start wondering why they still don’t have a tenant.

2. Policy matters. I read an article this week that urged voters to remember that the 2020 election is a referendum on President Trump and reminding them that “policies don’t matter” as long as someone else wins. I think it strikes exactly the wrong tone. See, I’m not some kind of moralistic crusader from the right wing. I don’t care if you’re on your third wife and like screwing porn stars. I do care if you support a strong national defense, preserving the Second Amendment, and enforcing law and order on the border. I care if you want to explode income tax rates upwards to pay for a grab bag of “free stuff” promises. Implementing policy and enforcing the law are precisely why we elect a chief executive in this country. Pretending that policy doesn’t matter because you’re desperate to unseat someone who says mean things doesn’t pass my common sense test. Want to win my vote? Start talking about policies I can get behind. It really is that simple.

3. Waking up. I’m mostly over the crud that victimized me for the last three weeks. Everything is back to near normal… except the very tail end of my sleep schedule. Instead of the usual and customary 5AM, my internal clock is now waking me pretty consistently between 4:15 and 4:30. Another few days of it and it may just be easier to start going to be earlier and living with it as the new normal.

What I did on my snow day…

My first experience with telework, or working from home, was way back in about 2005 when I was home based in central Maryland and working in downtown DC five days a week. Any option that saved me from the 35 minute drive, 30 minute metro ride, and ten minute walk of a commute (when everything worked exactly the way it was supposed to) was a welcome change.

Since then I’ve worked for bosses that were true believers in the virtue of having employees work from home and I’ve worked for others that were firm in the belief that nothing happens unless they could physically see asses in seats right outside their own office door. The truth is, even though I support the idea and take advantage of it at every opportunity, I recognize that finding success working from somewhere other than an office can be very much driven by the personality and work style of the person doing the work.

If that sounds like less than a full throated argument to let everyone work from home as often as they want, it probably should. There are some jobs – and some people – that would be badly served by having that kind of flexibility in deciding were the work gets done. By contrast there are plenty of people and situations that are perfectly well suited for doing the work from anywhere. So, if you ask me if I support telework, the honest answer is, “well, that depends.”

I like to think I’m reasonably successful at carrying out the vast majority of my day-to-day tasks regardless of where I happen to be physically located. Tending to email, participating in meetings, reading or writing, pondering recommendations are all things that, thanks to the wonder of the interwebs, are location agnostic.

Due to the slightly comic language of the agreement that lets me work from home on a regular basis, when the outpost of the bureaucracy where I work is closed, I’m on the hook to log and and carry on business as usual. The catch, of course, is that I’m one of the few people who have taken advantage of this opportunity… which means my snow days are largely made up of sending email and leaving voicemails for people I already know aren’t going to be around to read or listen to them for 24 hours. Yes, it’s ridiculous. No, it doesn’t get after the kind of continuity of operations anyone wants to pretend we have during an emergency. It’s just the way things are.

If sitting around largely talking to myself on a few rare days in the dead of winter buys me a day a week of staying home and working in my fuzzy slippers the rest of the year, it’s a farce I’m perfectly willing to go along with to keep the peace.

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. 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.