What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Look, I never ask anyone to do anything on a whim. If I bother to send an email or pick up the phone it’s generally either to pass on a direct request from those at echelons higher than reality or something in general accord with some wild ass scheme of theirs. I don’t have the time or interest in creating requirements out of whole cloth – and as a matter of principle, I never make work just to make work. So, it would be incredibly helpful if people could just go ahead and do things instead of making me go 37 rounds on why. In the end, my rabbi has more suction than their rabbi and they’re going to end up doing it anyway, so why not save us both a few days of back and forth and just get on with it.

2. When I arrived back in Maryland almost a decade ago, I picked my primary doctor based on two factors. First, his office was ten minutes from where I’d be working and second, when the moment arrives that I need massive medical intervention for some reason, I want ready access to the combined expertise of providers and the advanced facilities available at Johns Hopkins. That’s all a fine thing… except, of course, in a plague year. In the before time, I could be there and back for an appointment in no longer than it took for a slightly extended lunch. These last few appointments, however, result in an 80-minute round trip and burning off 2-3 hours of sick leave. Sure, it’s still better than being in the office and having quick trip for appointments, but it’s bloody inconvenience.

3. I purged a fair number of people from my socials between the peak of Great Plague and the Capitol insurrection. I’ve always supported people’s right to say whatever they want… while maintaining my own right not to listen to whatever conspiracy fueled ranting they were on about. Just happening to know them twenty-five years ago, doesn’t create an eternal commitment on my part to listen to stark raving foolishness to the exclusion of all other topics. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a few of those exiles popping up as new “friend requests,” Yeah, that’s gonna be a hard no from me. I’d say it’s nothing personal, but well, I suppose it is.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The First Amendment. It’s plain that the First Amendment doesn’t mean what the masses on the internet seem to think it means. The 1st protects you from the government interfering with your speech in all its many forms. It means the FBI won’t come kick down your door when someone gets butthurt about something you posted on Facebook. By contrast this amendment has absolutely nothing to do with what a business such as Facebook will let you post on their platform… that you joined voluntarily and pay nothing to use. If you’re going to crusade for your rights, perhaps it would be helpful to first know what those rights actually are… because the Constitution nowhere guarantees your right to force a 3rd party to use their property to amplify your voice.

2. The Office of Personnel Management. It’s been 41 days since the bill authorizing a pay raise for employees of my Big Bureaucratic Organization was signed into law. It apparently takes at least that long to calculate what 1.9% of 2018’s pay tables were and add those two numbers together. And don’t get me started on the fact that if the legislative and executive branches weren’t both being led by children, that raise would have started showing up my pay sometime in January. Yes it’s allegedly retroactive, which is nice and all… but that also means the tax man is going to take a massive cut out of whatever check three or four months of retroactive extra pay eventually slide into. If only there were some parts of government who’s main job was formulating and executing timely budgets for departments and agencies perhaps this wouldn’t be such a difficult exercise.

3. Extraneous logins. I have accounts on more than one system at work that exist purely so I can log on to those systems once a week in order to keep my account active. I never have any actual work associated with those accounts and yet once a week I log on just to avoid getting an angry warning that my account is about to be disabled from our IT office. Like the old coffee can full of extraneous bits and pieces you keep in the garage, I’m told to keep these accounts active “in case you need them some day.” That this is how we do business never fails to stupefy me if I dwell on it for too long.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Designer kindling. The internet just tried to sell me a $50 cardboard box of L.L. Bean branded kindling. The biggest problem I have with any of this is that if Bean has bothered to assemble a 35 pound box of kindling and put it on their sales rack, more than one person has actually bought it. That means there are people out there among us that spent $50 to have kindling shipped directly to their door. It feels like there are so many better ways to start a fire – shred a bit of newsprint, tear off some parts of that empty cereal box, soak a few cotton balls in petroleum jelly, or put a match to some of the lint you cleaned out of your clothes dryer. Throw a few small, dry sticks aboard and you could have saved yourself $50 plus shipping. Then again, you’d have missed out on the chance to impress your guests with your big box of designer kindling. The deeper we wade into it, the more I really do hate the 21st century.

2. Freedom of Speech. No, the NFL is not taking away anyone’s “free speech.” The First Amendment specifically prevents government from restricting speech, so unless you live in some Bizzaroland where you’re being governed by the commissioner and franchise owners, you sound like a ranting lunatic when you make that argument. The league, like most other business, is identifying what they deem acceptable behavior in the workplace. Knowing those conditions, people are then free to work for the NFL or not. As it turns out, even millionaires aren’t exempt from having a few limits placed on what they can say and do at the work place. After all, if it weren’t for those kind or rules, who in your office would decide that their version of “free expression” was dispensing with pants for the duration of their 8-hour shift?

3. LED bulbs. Over the last 3 years I’ve worked steadily to replace all the incandescent light bulbs on the homestead with LEDs. There’s been a surprisingly respectable reduction of power consumption (and corresponding reduction in cost) over time. This week, the bulb in one of the garage door openers went out and I dutifully replaced it with one of the spare LEDs I had laying around. It turns out there’s enough wattage running through the opener even when it’s “off” that it keeps the bulb lit at what I’m guessing is about 10% of it’s full output. It’s probably not enough to burn the house down, but it’s enough to be aggravating. I’d rather have a old-fashioned bulb burning for 5 minutes than a fancy new LED that burns all day every day until the end of time.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Hate speech. Here’s a fun fact, just because you happen to disagree with something someone says, that doesn’t make it “hate speech.” If that were the hight of the bar it needed to cross, damned near everyone I talk to on a daily basis would have to be considered a hate-spewing douchcanoe. As it is, these people generally just happen to have opinions with which I disagree. I suspect the key difference is being able to tell the difference between getting your little feelings hurt and someone who actually says something threatening. Many can’t seem to make the distinction, or maybe they’re too deep entrenched in their “safe space” hiding from the scary words to be able to tell the difference.

2. The new, new boss. I’ve only just formally met the new boss a few hours ago. He seems like a decent enough human being. He’s the third boss our office has had inside the last 12 months. I have no idea if that says more about us or them, not that it matters. It’s just another dash of mayhem in the day while he learns our names and we learn how he likes his PowerPoint charts and whether he wants one space or two after a period in written communication.

3. Ash and trash. The problem with relying on the media to give you information is that regardless of your source, it’s almost always going to be slanted by bias either intentionally or unintentionally. Like when you see Huffington blazing forth with the headline “The Middle Class is Dying.” While that makes a fine headline and all, they don’t dwell much on the actual meat of the Pew survey they’re referencing. What almost none of the stories I read based on that survey tell you is that while the percentage of middle income earners is decreasing, more of that decrease (as a percentage) is attributable to people moving into the ranks of higher income earners than because they are dropping into the range of lower income earners. You actually have to look at the Pew report to see that “Notably, the 7 percentage point increase in the share at the top is nearly double the 4 percentage point increase at the bottom.” Since that factoid doesn’t fit nicely into the narrative the media wants to sell, you don’t see it unless you dig a bit deeper. Sadly that’s just another example of why we need to be our own fact checkers when it comes to the ash and trash slung out by professional “news” sources.

4. The unmitigated asshat who decided rush hour was a good time to try taking his two-lane wide load across a two-lane wide bridge. Believe me when I tell you that it should not take 40 minutes to navigate the 4.6 miles between Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, but it did tonight thanks to one misguided driver and the parade of state and local police who forced him to see the error of his ways. If I wanted to deal with that kind of traffic buffoonery I would have taken the job at Ft. McNair when I had the chance.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Elections. So apparently the good people of Crimea can throw off their Ukrainian overlords, declare themselves sovereign, and promptly ask to be consumed by Russia all within ten business days. It makes one wonder why it takes us 20 months to gear up for a fairly straightforward presidential election in this country. Then again, I suppose it’s simpler when the whole thing is orchestrated in advance and the outcomes are always a foregone conclusion. Of course this whole discussion is pre-supposing that our own elections aren’t orchestrated in advance and the outcomes aren’t foregone conclusions. Food for thought.

2. Cash. Paper money still has it’s place. I think those who herald the death of the dollar bill are a bit premature in that regard. With that said, one of the places where no one has any business waving around paper money is at a toll booth during the peak rush of the afternoon commute. Pony up the couple of extra beans a year, get over your paranoia about tracking your car, and get with the ezpass program. No one needs to deal with your dumb ass dropping your $20 out the window and then being too close to the booth to open your door to retrieve it while they’re trying to get home. The only thing it says about you is that you are an unredeemable asshat.

3. Redaction. A moment ago this space was filled with a third point that was a scorcher. I was poured to overflowing with the kind of snark you’ve come to expect from jeffreytharp.com. Then, sadly, I highlighted every word and punched the delete key. Redacted. Because someone was probably going to get their little feelings hurt and end up being more of a enormous joy-suck then they are already. Some day I will have the chance to say everything that’s on my mind… and when that day comes, woe betide the poor feckless fool who tries to stand between me and saying my piece.

But not the others…

One of the worst arguments I’ve seen repeatedly in the gun control debate over the last six months almost always goes along the lines of: Well, you have to have a license to drive a car, so why not a license to own a gun? The thing is, the Constitution does not specifically address your right to transportation – by car, horse and buggy, train, air, slow boat, or on foot. Ownership of a car does not require licensure or permission from the state or federal government. If a 15 year old has the coin in his pocket (and his parent’s permission as a minor), he can buy and possess any car on the lot. Licensing drivers conveys the privilege to operate the car on the roads, not the “right” to own it in the first place.

Since gun ownership is a right defined by the Constitution, the more analogous argument would be in requiring a state and or federal license to speak publically. Since words are so often used to bully people and that bullying directly results in emotional and physical harm up to and including suicide, before someone is allowed to exercise their “right to free speech,” they should be required to take a four hour word safety course and obtain a license from their state indicating that they understand how harmful words can be. Perhaps we should also extend the licensing requirement to the right to vote, since elections, too, have real world consequences. In order to exercise your vote as a citizen, you should be required to show identification and pass an exam showing a minimum proficiency and understanding of the issues of the day. Since we’re free to abridge one constitutionally protected right, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be equally free to abridge the others in order to make the world a safer, more harmonious place.

As much as I hate to say it, for me it’s not a pro-gun/anti-gun position that’s the real issue here. I would be every bit as apoplectic if the state and federal government were trying to restrict the other right that I enjoy as a free citizen of the United States of America. The right to keep and bear arms is just the one that the powers that be have decided to come after first. I’m a good enough student of history to know that once one right falls, the others are all the more endangered. I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with how people can love some freedoms, but not the others.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The phrase “Assault Weapon.” The variants of the AR-15 and AK-47 that are commonly available on the civilian market are not “assault” rifles, regardless of what people call them. Real assault rifles (read the type of rifle generally used by the military), are capable of fully automatic fire, meaning that when the trigger is held down, the gun fires until the magazine is empty or the receiver jams. A semi-automatic in the AR- style (or any other style for that matter) requires a trigger squeeze for each round to fire. An alarming number of people seem to be under the misguided impression that just because a gun is based on a military design, it’s a military gun. I’d almost have more respect for the ban supporters if they’d come right out and say that they want to ban military-looking semi-auto rifles“ because even though they don’t know a carbine from a catamaran, those AR’s are just scary looking… As if the gun knows the difference between a walnut stock and a “scary” looking black carbon body. Oh, and one more thing. Please, for the love of God, please stop calling them “machine guns”. It’s embarrassing for everyone.

2. Anyone who has ever argued a variant of “the Second Amendment only covers muskets.” Assuming for a moment that the Constitution and Bill of Rights only apply to items in existence at the time of adoption in 1789, by extension we’d also have to argue that the First Amendment only protects speech in the form of newspapers and standing in the town square spouting off about whatever is on your mind – forget about the internet, television, radio, and telephone. And forget about a right to privacy, the Framers didn’t even bother mentioning that in the text at all. You either have to accept that the Constitution is a living document and means what the courts say it means, or that the Constitution means what it says in plain text applicable only to the world as it was in 1789. You can’t have it both ways based on whatever select bit or piece fits your particular world view.

3. Grounds. Taking a big gulp of coffee only to end up with a mouth full of grounds ranks right up there with root canal on my list of bad things. Since it’s happened on two separate days this week, it might be time to break down and reevaluate my dependence on my long serving Mr. Coffee brewing station. Clearly this is a situation that can’t be endured much longer.

State of the Union…

In the strictest possible sense, the state of the Union, is peachy. It’s not like we have states threatening to join up with Canada or Mexico or anything. We’re in the middle of a presidential election cycle where if the incumbent is turned out of office we’ll most likely see yet another peaceful transition of executive authority. Considering world demographics, even the least among us is doing better than the large majority of everyone else on the planet. We survived our capital city being sacked. We survived a brutal civil war and then fought in the war to end all wars before getting pulled into the war after that. In between these wars, we survived finical panics and Great Depressions, pestilence, and famine. Despite it all, we’re still here and managed to cure contagious diseases, send a man to the moon, and connect the world with nothing more than electrons. Keep in mind, we did all those things in our free time when we weren’t occupied dealing with the big stuff. That’s my big picture thinking about the state of the Union, anyway.

If you distill the state of the Union down to the question of whether you’re better off now than you were four years ago, the response probably isn’t as positive. There are plenty of people who can’t find work, can’t buy or sell a house, and at best have spent the last four or five years treading water at best and being pulled under at worst. It’s not an easy time for America and it’s not an easy time to be American. It’s easy to be an optimist when Wall Street only goes higher and unemployment runs at 3%. It’s a hell of a lot harder to be an optimist when you can’t find a job or you’re going to bed hungry at night.

So, you ask, what’s really the state of the Union? Well, it’s probably somewhere between the two extremes. That’s where reality tends to live. It’s neither as strong nor as weak as the pundits and politicos make it out to be. The United States, warts and all, is still the shining example of how to be a republic. Local, State, and Federal governments fight one another. Political parties fight with everyone. Even the separate branches of the same government are locked in Byzantine conflict. Somehow we muddle through without veering too far left or too far right. Dysfunctional as it is, the process is still a wonder to behold. With financial crisis spreading through Europe, our lifeblood oil flowing from the Middle East, and the supply chain for our consumer goods that stretches all over Asia, we Americans are once again learning that we have to engage with the world – the whole world. The future, and a far stronger Union, lie in the direction of cooperation, consensus, and international competition. It’s a hard lesson, but one well worth learning.

I’m not dead yet…

OK, so I’ve been told by those whose advice and wise counsel I trust implicitly that my last post sounded more like a funeral oration than the heartfelt farewell I was trying to hit. I don’t suppose I have to confess that the move has me a bit bewildered and out of sorts. As much as I have moved, it should be old hat by now, but it never really seems to go that way.

I think a large part of my melancholic tone can be attributed to the fact that in the days leading up to Christmas, I was stuck mostly thinking about the future rather than doing something to actually carry out the plan. Now that I’m here in Memphis waiting to close, and the boxes are all on a truck somewhere between here and Maryland, I’m feeling much better. I’m ready to tear in and actually do something.

There are things back in Maryland left undone that I wish I would have been able to get to. There are family and friends I will miss horribly. But tonight, there is new ground stretched out in front of me. There is a new way ahead to forge. There are nearly unlimited possibilities. And that makes me a happy camper.