As I was sitting at my desk this morning going through the usual early Saturday routine of paying bills and administering the other minutia that goes along with running the household, the power cut out briefly. Looking out the window towards the woods, annoyed, I counted the seconds – fifteen of them before the genny cranked over and sent it’s homemade electricity surging down the wire and taking life from the 19th century to the 21st in a matter of no more than 30 seconds. From time to time I regret purchasing a big ticket item that isn’t strictly a need, but I can tell you true that I’ll always consider the cash sunk into that generator money well spent.
It’s probably a good day when the most annoying part of a power failure is having to turn the coffee maker back on and wait for the cable modem to reset. Momentary inconveniences though they are, I suspect I’ll be spending some time this weekend looking at battery backup options for some of those “key systems.” Because once you’ve eliminated the big inconveniences, the small ones somehow become even more obnoxious.
Despite having no actual personal interest in event planning, I have a skill for it. I’ve largely learned to accept that fate for the time being. The thing about being a party planner is that it relies entirely on convincing people to go along with whatever wild ass scheme you come up with for them since you have no actual statutory authority to direct anyone to do anything.
The largest portion of my job that isn’t slamming together PowerPoint slides is taken up by “facilitating.” Since I’m not a subject matter expert in nearly anything these days, I specialize in putting the right people in a room and trying to help them come up with a plan. Sometimes people don’t want to play along. That sucks, but beyond flooding their inbox with meeting invitations and leaving the occasional well-worded voice message, I don’t have any actual power to force anyone to show up.
There are those at echelons higher than reality, however, that do have the power to force people to show up at specific times and places where they would rather not be. When those people turn to you and demand to know why someone isn’t in the room, well, the best I can do is shrug and remind them that I sent the invitation, I followed up with multiple calls, I sent a second invitation… and that at the end of the day, I’m not the one with the authority to make anyone do shit.
If those with legitimate controlling authority choose not to exercise it in favor of having we mere mortals ask nicely, I have no idea why they’d expect the results to be anything other than what they are.
Yesterday wasn’t the first snowy day I’ve had here on the homestead. Compared to last winter’s big storm, this one hardly rated a blip, except for the part where the last half of the storm turned to ice. It’s pretty to look at, makes for some interesting watching the dogs try to find traction, and cuts down trees and utility poles like nobody’s business. It’s that last bit that served to set the stage for the most important of the day’s lessons.
I’ve always known my AT&T wireless signal at home was spotty at best. Since I don’t make all that often, this fact was largely hidden by my home Wi-Fi picking up the slack for data purposes. It’s a system that works well enough under normal operating conditions. With Comcast having gone MIA due to any number of local lines being down, operating conditions yesterday were less than ideal. By “less than,” I mean that my fancy new iPhone was utterly and completely useless as a means of communicating for almost the entire duration of the cable outage.
Also learned yesterday was the fact that every penny I spent installing and maintaining my generator was money well spent. Twenty seconds after the lines came down, it roared to life and kept the furnace blower blowing, the well and sump pumps pumping, the dryer drying, and the lights lit. I cooked a normal dinner and settled in to watch The Hunt for Red October and then Master and Commander… while occasionally seeing candles dot the windows of the house across the street. It kept right on chugging through 18 hours without a moment’s complaint. With that I am well satisfied.
Aside from a few other minor details, yesterday’s experience was one up and one down. Over the next few weeks, I know I need to beef up my communications capability. That’s good info to have before I find myself in a position of really needing it. Once the ice melts off and I get a decent day, I also owe the generator an oil change and a pat on the proverbial head.
You could fill an entire sheet of paper with what annoys Jeff this week. I know this because I have just such a piece of paper in front of me while I’m typing this. Look at any three lines on that page and you’ll find three things that sent my blood pressure soaring into new and probably dangerous heights. The state of my cardio-vascular system, though, isn’t the point.
Instead of reading you the full list this week, I’ll offer commentary on just one – the one that is the most troubling, and pernicious. As Spiderman tells us, with great power comes great responsibility. That’s true enough, but what Spidey almost never talks directly about is how frequently people with that power abrogate their responsibility.
When that happens you have power making decisions based on optics rather than effectiveness… and once you have people more worried about how something looks in the photo op than how well it works in reality, you’ve lost any shred of credibility. Sure, you have the power to make those decisions. No one is going to stop you. They may not say anything, because everyone is terrified of telling truth to power, but they’ll judge you for it for the rest of your days. Sure, you can make people do stupid things, you can make them smile and take it, but you can never, ever make them like you or respect you as a human being.
I had every intention to write tonight about the history of controversial White House staff appointments in the last few administrations, but largely due to not wanting to do the research to validate my memory, I’ve decided against it. The truth is, almost as soon as your party finds itself out of power the memory of anything they did that stirred the least bit of controversy flees from memory. Except in a few rare circumstances, we tend to remember presidential administrations for all of their virtues and none of their vices. For the time being just take my word for it that every incoming president appoints staffers that the opposition believes is the devil incarnate. It goes with the territory.
During these transitions of power we all tend to forget that the presidency is bigger than any one man. It’s bigger than any single administration. Given our seemingly insurmountable differences we rarely stop to marvel at the unbroken succession of peaceful transfers of power stretching back to George Washington. Given the number of young democracies that fall into chaos when a chief executive departs, it really is something quite remarkable that we manage to get it done with little more than yelling at each other.
That’s not to say that the process is pretty or that it’s in any way satisfying for anyone involved. No matter the results of a presidential election, no one ever gets the whole loaf. Even with one party ascendant over the executive and legislative branches, there are plenty of opportunities for policy goals to be held immobile. One of the wonders of the American system is just how difficult the Founding Fathers made it to get anything done. That wasn’t done by accident.
Anyway, everyone take a breath. In 1933 Republicans screamed that FDR was going to turn us all into socialists. He didn’t. In 2016 Democrats are screaming that Trump will turn us all into Nazis. He won’t. Relax and remember that campaigning for the next presidential primary is only about two years away.
1. The confidence of youth. I’m not saying that I don’t still have a ragingly high level of confidence in my own abilities, but that confidence has been tempered with the experience of so many things that should be simple to do becoming a giant triple-stacked shit sandwich right in my hands. Occasionally it’s because of something I either did or failed to do, but more often it’s because of outside influences over which I have little or no control. Occasionally now I see a young project leader, eyes bright with possibilities, charge through a meeting as if nothing could possibly go wrong. I chuckle to myself, but I also feel a little bit sorry for him because I already know what the next act looks like. Experience is a harsh teacher and while those occasional flops have made me better over time, every now and then I miss the swaggering confidence of youth and a time when I was slightly less cynical about everything.
2. Things beyond my control. Believe it or not, I don’t think of myself as being much of a control freak. Most of life is pure reaction to those things we don’t foresee or exert any control over. While willing to accept that I can’t possibly control for and plan against every conceivable circumstance, I do like to imagine that I can bring some semblance of order to my little section of a chaotic world. I’m also enough of a realist to know that order begins to break down just as soon as it’s established and keeping a veneer of control in life takes all manner of effort on a pretty consistent basis. Knowing that there are a multitude of things beyond my control and being willing to accept those things just now is feeling like more of a tall order than usual. Maybe I need to sign up for some kind of master class in Zen and the fine art of acceptance.
3. Not being surprised. I’m a bit befuddled that anyone is somehow surprised that there’s a set of rules for the wealthy and powerful and another for the rest of us. It hardly seems like news that a long time politician “somehow” managed to get away with actions that would cause the average employee to lose their job, be barred from future employment, and possibly go to prison. While I’m certainly as outraged as anyone at the lies, deceit, and in my opinion outright criminal behavior foisted upon the public by a high profile politician, I can’t for a moment say that I’m surprised that the official consequence of those behaviors is absolutely nothing. If this is the kind of thing that surprises you, there’s a fair chance you’re just not paying close enough attention to the world.
Last night I once again woke up to the the neighborhood’s generators sputtering to life and then keeping their homes heated and lit for the duration of the five hour outage. By contrast my generator, perfectly capable of performing similar, if more limited, activities stayed warm and dry in the garage – mostly because 12AM in the rain is a really shitty time to drag it outside, tarp off a spot that will be dry enough to keep the direct weather off the running equipment, run extension cords, fuel the contraption, and then get it up and running.
So instead of noting the outage and waiting 20 seconds for backup power to bring itself online, I woke up once an hour from midnight to 2AM to serve as a one man bucket brigade. At 2:25 every smoke detector battery in the house gave up in unison. I chirping smoke detector under normal circumstances is unpleasant in the middle of the night. Five of them giving off their low battery call in a house that has no other items making noise is waterboarding for the ears. At that point it was off to the garage to drag in a ladder, replace the dying batteries, and restore peace and tranquility to the small hours of the morning. By that time it’s about 3:15, another bucket comes up from the basement and I’m staring at 3:30. Forty five minutes of dozing on the couch later and lights start to flicker. Somewhere ’round about 4:30 they come on to stay (so far).
It’s in that 30 minutes between “first light” and the scheduled alarm to wake me up for work that I decided to avail myself of the proffered allowance to take unscheduled leave due to the expectation of a snow storm that didn’t materialize locally. It’s safe to say I was in no fit humor to be around people – or perhaps that should be that my humor was even less fit than usual.
I’m forced to the undeniable, if obvious, conclusion that I am a creature of the 21st century. I expect the predictability of power coming more or less uninterrupted from the wall. Unlike that far off cabin I dream of in retirement, this place just isn’t built to operate in the absence of electricity.
The 20kW solution to that problem is coming sooner rather than later. Still, I find myself growing more impatient to arrive at the day when in a pinch I can be my own prime power provider and eliminate one more of life’s small annoyances.