He’s no Baron Baltimore…

I like having divided government in Maryland. For the last eight years it restrained the Democrats who perennially control both the House of Delegates and the Senate from relentlessly raising taxes unchecked and launching new programs for every wild do-good idea that someone in PG or Montgomery County pitches to them. Those moderating tendencies are also what kept the whackjob MAGA wing of the Republican Party from taking over the state and installing a treason apologist in the governor’s office.

But here we are now with the Democratic Party controlling both houses of the General Assembly and the governor’s office. It feels like a sure bet that it’ll once again be the season to tax everything under the sun – up to and including the rain that falls upon our golden shores. Those revenues will inevitably flow towards the urbanized counties while western and southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore will be politely told to sit down, shut up, and keep our checkbooks out.

I agree with almost none of Wes Moore’s political philosophy. From taxation, to guns, to his “social justice” initiatives, our new governor will be carefully calibrated to hit all of the Democratic Party’s sweet spots. That’s a strong departure from former Governor Hogan, who regularly annoyed the extreme right wing of his own party while holding moderate policy positions across his tenure in office.

On his inauguration as 63rd Governor of Maryland (not inclusive of our great and illustrious proprietary and royal governors prior to 1776), I wish Mr. Moore joy of the day. I hope he leaves the state better when his term ends than it was when he found it… but I suspect what we’ll see is a growing tax burden, excessive and onerous legislation and regulation, and governmental policy designed more around making people feel good than achieving any objective real world goals.

Bland, uninspired, and quickly forgotten…

For my money, there’s no bigger official waste of working time than the dozen or so yearly online training courses that we’re required to take. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m actually a big fan of online education. It’s what allowed me to get a master’s degree while I was traveling around the country for work. When properly designed and executed, online learning can be and is an effective strategy to reach people who otherwise would find that educational opportunity unavailable. 

That being said, the way it’s implemented matters. The “classes” I tool this week were exactly the classes I’ve taken every year for the better part of the last decade. I don’t mean that as an exaggeration. Clicking through the exact same information every year isn’t “continuing education.” It’s not education of any kind. 

I can only assume that the people who control these online classes expect that the average person is too stupid to retain information for more than 365 days. That’s probably true for some segment of the population. If you want them to remember something you have to beat them over the head with it at every opportunity. Even so, it’s farcical to call a program like that “training.”

All I’m saying is that if the intent is just to check a box and say you’ve provided training on whatever topic to your employees, but don’t want to take the time and effort to make it meaningful in any way, how about not making it 95 separate screens to click though before I can print the certificate. If the instructional designers and leaders who approve that mess aren’t going to even pretend that content and engagement are important, you’d better believe that my only goal is to click though as quickly as possible so I can get on with my day.

I’m all for education. I’m a big advocate for getting more knowledge. I am, however, also violently opposed to time-sucking, procedural nonsense that has no purpose other than satisfying some obscure regulation. If that’s what passes for education, no one should pretend to be shocked when anything that follows is equally bland, uninspired, and quickly forgotten.

How “common sense” regulations are applied in Maryland, or A proposal for common sense voting regulation…

On July 12th, the President of the United States remarked that “it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book.” It’s a nice bit of hyperbole, but the fact is that federal law prohibits a firearms dealer from selling a handgun to anyone younger than 21. It also prohibits everyone who’s not a licensed firearms dealer from transferring a handgun to anyone younger than 18. Since the very thing he’s telling us is bad and easy to do is already illegal, it strikes me that he could have an enforcement problem rather than an insufficient legislation problem… but let me explain why I would say such a thing.

I only bring this up because if our elected leaders think it’s “too easy” to buy a lawful handgun, I’d happily invite them to try walking through the process here in my native Maryland. The first stop is a 4-hour training course which will run you about $100. This portion is waiverable for those who meet certain conditions – law enforcement officers, current and former military members, and current owners of one of Maryland’s “controlled” species of firearms. The next step is applying for the Maryland Handgun Qualification License. This requires a potential buyer to submit a set of fingerprints ($52.75) and an application to the State Police (an additional $50), then wait for up to 30 days while the application is reviewed. Before you’ve even set foot in a gun shop, the state has already dinged you for at least $102.75 in fees – and that’s just if you don’t need to take the class as well.

If your application for a Maryland HQL is approved, all that means is that you have been given permission by the state to go to a gun shop, select your handgun, and then send the state another application for their permission to actually purchase the firearm you desire. Then you wait and on the 8th day you may be allowed to actually pick up your firearm from the shop… or not. That depends entirely on the store you’ve purchased from. If the state has a longer-than-seven-day backlog (I’ve seen the backlog run as long as two months) in conducting their mandatory checks, some shops will wait for final release to the customer while others strictly observe only the seven day wait mandated by law. Oh, and don’t you dare think about trying to go through this process any more often than once per month.

So there you have it, from start to finish you could be looking upwards of a 60-day process filled with regulatory hoops in order to legally purchase a handgun. I can see how that might be far easier than walking into a bookstore and picking up the latest best seller or heading over to Best Buy to pick up a new laptop… or in a pinch, even walking into a library and checking out a book or using one of their computers. Very difficult tasks, indeed. Unless, of course, the president was talking about people who sell a firearm illegally. In that case, I don’t suppose any number of new laws or additional fees will be much of a bother to them since they’re not bothering to comply with the existing laws anyway.

I’m often curious how many of my fellow citizens might be convinced to support similar “common sense” regulations that impinged on their Constitutional right to vote by requiring state issued identification, a 4-hour voter’s training class, a $100 voting license, and only being allowed to vote one ballot per election cycle – so if you want to vote for president, forget about also voting in the down-ballot race for Senate, governor, or county commissioner. I hope I can be forgiven for thinking that if one freedom can be thus abridged, there shouldn’t be a problem placing similar checks on the others as well. It’s for our own good after all.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Everything being bad for you. Sunscreen is bad for you. Sun burns are bad for you. GMO crops feed the world, but they’ll make your kid grow a tail. Egg whites are ok. Egg yellows steal your soul or some such foolishness. As much as I appreciate living in an age of seemingly limitless information, I need to break down one cold, simple truth: We’re all going to die. Some will die young. Some will die old. It’s been that way forever and there’s no current way around it. Everything is bad for you. Everything in the world is trying to make you sick and speed you to your grave… As much as I appreciate people who honestly want to live a healthy lifestyle I just don’t have the mental energy to worry about whether the tomatoes at the Amish market was raised without pesticides or antibiotics in a free range, organic environment. Maybe it should concern me more, but it really, really doesn’t.

2. Delmarva Power. Yes I know I can save money on “peak savings” days by turning off my air conditioner between the hours of 2PM and 8PM when demand is highest. No, I’m not going to do that, though. Your job is to produce and distribute power to satisfy demand – yes even on the hot days – so no I won’t be sweating my ass off in my own home on the next 97 degree day so you can avoid lighting off the last few boilers or skip buying energy from a 3rd party producer. I’ll keep doing my job so I can pay the bills, you go ahead and do yours so we don’t unexpectedly plunge back into the 1870s.

3. Manual signature required. We’re in the year AD 2015. It defies imagination that there is still a situation where I would have to print something out, sign it with a pen, scan it, and then send it back to someone in order for something to be “official.” It’s even more fanciful when we decide to send the same document around for electronic signature “so we have both on file.” Two exact copies of the same document. One signed by pen and then sent back electronically, the other signed by ID card and then sent back electronically… both then printed out and stuffed into a manila folder to be deposited in a file drawer and then not to see the light of day for potentially a decade or more. The fact that this is still how we do things is, sadly, not at all a cause for surprise.

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.