Same as it ever was…

There are about 16 different online or in person “training modules,” I’m required to take annually. Most take an hour or two of endurance. A few take a bit longer, particularly if you get a live host who likes the sound of their own voice.

This is the time of year when I’m working against the clock to get all of them finished… not because I think I’m going to gain any benefit from them, but because it’s just easier than fighting city hall on why this sort of thing is mandatory in the first place. 

I registered for one of the last two modules I need to knock off for fiscal year 2021 this morning. The registration guide for this particular class noted in bold red text that “the content for FY21 is the same as the content for FY19 and FY20.”

If the content is exactly the same this year as it has been for the last two years, it begs the question of why anyone is expected to cover that ground again – since they presumably passed the training on both previous occasions. I’m not saying it’s all perfectly wasted time, but you’re free to draw your own conclusions. 

It’s the kind of thing that will drive you to madness if you dwell on it too long.

If I’ve learned nothing else from almost trips through most of these training opportunities, it’s that sometimes it’s just better to turn your brain off and check the box.  

Unchanging an immutable…

We went through short stretch a few years ago where the number of mandatory yearly training classes was dramatically reduced. I can see from looking at my personal “mandatory training” tab today that things are swinging back in the other direction.

Sitting through these sessions online is marginally better than physically cramming 750 people into an auditorium, but only just. Maybe my outlook would be different if the basic content changed from year to year, but as it is, by the time I hang it up, I’ll have sat through 32+ iterations of threat awareness, substance abuse, anti-harassment, and cybersecurity training among others. The names of these sessions might be different, but otherwise not much else has changed with them in the last 18 years. It’s hard to imagine inertia will drive much change in the next 14.

All told, it’s probably 20 hours a year which could be just as effectively covered by taking 10 minutes and telling us not to use drugs, not to sell secrets, knock it off with the sexual harassment, etc.  I suppose there are entire offices that would cease to exist if people could be collectively relied on to simply follow directions, though. Whole bureaucratic empires would cease to exist and we obviously can’t have that.

We could just drop the hammer on people who routinely screw up… but it’s easier to swamp the guilty and innocent alike with wave after wave of “training” if only to avoid the inevitably awkward conversation with people who just can’t seem to get it right. The endless hours of training, it seems, isn’t the only thing that’s unchanging an immutable.

The limits of good intent…

I’m sure it was with good intent that the powers that be declared we would have a “Combating Extremism Stand Down.” The insurrectionist attack on the Capitol in January highlighted the obvious, but rarely discussed, presence of bad actors in the ranks. 

Our version of this stand down involves a mandatory 90-minute training delivered up by the most senior leader we could wrangle. That’s fine. It’s at least an official acknowledgment that some of the apples are rotten.

The thing is, getting after people who support insurrection isn’t best served by dragging thousands of people into an online meeting and rationally explaining that raising a rebellion is a bad thing. Most people instinctively know that extremism is bad. It’s this same approach that leads us to have a yearly meeting where we’re told 37 times that rape and sexual harassment are bad… and that’s sure done a legendary job at stopping rapists.

Preaching to the choir has its place, but telling people who are already doing the right thing that they should do the right thing doesn’t solve many problems. It hasn’t been effective in clearing rapists out of the service and I can’t imagine it will have any greater effect at luring out the extremist threat. 

If the powers that be are serious about scouring the place clean, there would be less talk and more smashing skulls. I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that rather than telling the insider threat to be nicer, maybe tearing it out root and stem would be a more effective strategy. Until extremists, rapists, or other’s who show criminal intent are fired, court martialed, hauled before a firing squad, or otherwise driven out, saying the words is fine. Raising awareness is fine. Just don’t expect that kind of minimal effort to get you where you want to be. 

Of elections and lessons learned…

On this day back in 2004, I was attending a week-long “training event” in Portsmouth, Virginia. I remember it clearly because it was the early morning the followed a long night huddled around the television in the hotel’s bar following the results of presidential election pitting George W. Bush against John Kerry.

Every time the instructors called a pause, a small gang of eight or ten of us would skitter across the hall from the meeting room to see the latest changes. As that particular morning dragged on and no winner was declared, we were later and later getting back from breaks. Hey, we were engaged citizens and it was a moment in history.

Eventually, after a particularly lengthy break – maybe after lunch – one of the instructors wandered in and offered the words I like to imagine he lived to regret. To a dozen young-ish bureaucrats he foolishly said, “Well, if you think the election is more important that what we’re doing in class, you should go ahead and stay over here and do that.” Now I’m not a fancy big city lawyer, but even then I was enough of a bureaucrat to recognize a great big, beautiful open door to waltz through when I saw one.

I’m sure he was trying to shame us into compliantly filing back into the meeting room. A few of our little clutch did wither under the instructor’s stink eye and drift back to training, but as far as I, and a few like-minded souls were concerned, we’d just been handed a get out of jail free card. I was sure then, as I’m sure now, that the outcome of the election and the mechanics of how it was decided, were far more important than analyzing our Myers-Briggs type, learning fun facts about our “leadership color,” or any of the other tidbits that could have been gleaned in their entirety from reading the course handouts.

Half a dozen of us opted to stay put that day. Maybe we didn’t learn much out of the official leadership curriculum, but we did learn a bloody fearful lesson about being careful what options you lay out when you have no idea how people will react. In all my long career from then to now, when there was only one “right” direction, I never presented it as an optional activity.

Most of the “leadership training” I’ve been sent to has been laughable in one way or another, but just this once, I feel like there was a solid lesson learned.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Training. A month or two ago I made a concerted effort to knock out all the mandatory online training I was supposed to get done this year. Generally, figuring out how to sign on to the system is far more difficult and time consuming than the actual training, but fine. Every week, though, some new ridiculous “important mandatory training requirement” gets added. Look, I’m a bureaucrat, I’ll waste an hour or two doing whatever the bosses decide is important, but could we at least pile all up so I can blast through it in a day or two instead of inflicting slow death by a thousand cuts?

2. “First Amendment” violations. I feel like I have to say this once every three months, but Facebook literally can’t infringe upon your First Amendment right to free speech. Facebook is a publicly traded company, not a branch of government. They’re free to do whatever they want on their platform – including flagging and deleting anything that doesn’t conform to the broadest possible interpretation of their established terms of service. No company is no more required to let you use their intellectual property as a soapbox than I am to let you stand on my front porch spouting nonsense. If you don’t like the terms under which Facebook lets you use their platform, the answer is to stop using it and find an alternative… because ranting and raving about Facebook violating your rights makes you sound like a moron.

3. Election 2020. We’re exactly two months away from the 2020 general election. I was occasionally checking in prior to the conventions, but with the ongoing tantrum throwing by candidates and surrogates, go ahead and color me uninterested. I haven’t missed voting in an election since I first registered in 1996 – and I have no intention of missing this one – but there’s absolutely nothing currently being bandied about across traditional, social, or alternative media that I find helpful in any way. Honestly, I can’t believe we’re paying good money for this abject fuckery.

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. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Online training. Yes, I’m sure there are many wonderful online training tools and modules in use out there, but I haven’t personally come across them yet.  In fact, if I’d say the only thing the current crop of mandatory online training has taught me is how to click through repetitive nonsense as quickly as possible while focusing on doing other, less onerous things. At least most of the training hasn’t be changed up in over a decade, so I’ve learned to miss the “gotcha” questions that trigger remedial instruction which is a small mercy at least.

2. Supply runs and/or delivery. Leafy greens and gin are currently hovering near unacceptably low stock levels at Fortress Jeff. Fortunately, the resident tortoise has been accommodating about allowing me to supplement his usual spring mix with heartier greens like kale, so I’ve been able to forgo needing to add a second supply run for the last two weeks just for him. The gin situation isn’t dire… and I could move on to rum or tequila or whisky… but lately I’ve had a taste for gin and that means at some point I’ll have to hazard a trip into the great wasteland to restock. Even with the inherent exposure risks of schlepping out into the world, I still like it far more than having some total stranger deliver it to my front door.

3. Cotton masks. Look, if you want me to sport a fancy cotton “mask” (aka, a folded handkerchief) while going about tasks in public, you’re going to need to come up with a methodology that also prevents my glasses from fogging over while I’m doing it. I’ve attempted most of the recommended hacks with little result. So, you see, what I have to do is make a choice between the possible benefit of wearing a handkerchief as a medical device and the known cost of not being able to see a damned thing. I can only assume it’s better overall to be able to see and avoid walking directly into people than it is to be masked and not be able to tell the difference between a person and a mailbox.

Four months later…

Jorah will be rolling over the 11 month mark this week (with his official birthday designated as October 26th). It feels like a good time to assess where we are now that he’s had four months of learning how to fit into the household.

I’d like to say that the whole process has been seamless, but anyone who follows along with the day to day saga on Facebook would immediately know that’s a bald faced lie. Since Jorah was about six months old when he picked us out, he’d had plenty of time to learn a lot of bad habits at the shelter. It also meant I missed out on the early training window when most dogs learn how to act in civilized society. I’d never say that an older dog can’t learn new tricks, but getting those new ways of doing things through their fuzzy little heads is just going to take longer and require a lot more effort. Jorah’s a smart little dog, but he’s no exception to this. Teaching him any new behavior has felt like it’s taking far, far longer than it should. My overall experience has been that young pups are far more receptive to basic training. Winston and Maggie had their share of training issues, but didn’t go through months where I was legitimately concerned that they were never going to “get it.”

So four months on, where are we? Jorah is a dog who happily goes to his crate – as long as there’s a treat involved. He’s gone weeks now without randomly peeing on the kitchen floor or sneaking off to the laundry room to go. He’s started to have some self-awareness and there are fairly noticeable signs that he’s ready to go outside – noticeable at least when you’re paying a degree of attention. He still doesn’t love road trips, but he’s learning to tolerate them – even willingly walking out to the garage instead of having to be carried the whole way. He’s caught on (mostly) to what should and shouldn’t be chewed to oblivion.

Since his overall bladder control has shown marked improvement, he’s now even getting to spend time in the living room. Mostly it’s limited to an hour or two in the evenings and he’s still a long, long way from being a trusted agent able to enjoy the space unaccompanied, but it’s progress. After spending ten weeks confined to my own kitchen any progress on this front is cause fo great joy and celebration. You don’t realize how much you miss regular access to the big television and comfy seating until you don’t have it.

Progress has been slow, but hasn’t been equal across all fronts. Jorah is still peeing in his crate at night once or twice a week. We’ve mostly ruled out medical causes, which leaves me casting around to sort it out as another problematic behavior issue. For now, it’s restricting water in the evenings and pushing back my own bed time to try giving him less time overnight to have a problem. It’s not ideal, but the alternative of scheduling a 2AM bathroom break is even less appealing.

Realistically, I know he’s come a long way from the scared-of-his-own-shadow little dog that came home with me over Memorial Day weekend. I don’t know if I can realistically say that the worst is over just yet, but at this pace, Jorah might just be a tolerably well integrated member of the family by the time Christmas rolls around.

The almost two month report card…

So, Jorah has been part of the family now for a little shy of two months. Best estimates place him at just about eight months old. The shy, quiet little guy I met at the SPCA is now a ball of energy prepared to spring into a dead run at the first hint of an opportunity.

Blogs and Facebook posts are filled with tales of shelter dogs who fit seamlessly into the family – of the ones who seemed to have been there all along with the perfect manners and behavior. Jorah, isn’t one of those. He can be quite sweet when he wants to be. Lord knows he’s photogenic. But the fact remains, my new dog is kind of an asshole.

He enjoys laying on the cat and steamrolling over Maggie out in the yard. He likes to gnaw on any hand that gets close to his mouth. He’ll chew drawer pulls and insists on licking every single surface he can reach. About every third or fourth day he decides peeing in the house is just easier – which is why we are all still more or less living in two rooms with easily cleanable floors.

On good days, he’s a charmer and it’s really good. On bad days, I find myself frustrated that this is the first animal I’ve had who doesn’t just seem to naturally “get it” after a few months of persistence. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by a remarkably easy to get along with series of dogs in the past, but this one is putting me through my paces. It leaves me wondering if it’s just his nature, something about the six months before I got him, something I’ve changed, or if there’s another intangible at work.

We’ll get the job done. I have no doubt that I’m every bit and more stubborn than this little dog… but the envisioned quiet nights with two of them curled up snoozing in the living room feel as far off as they were on day one. And if I’m honest, that makes me just a little bit sad.

The better part of a month…

Jorah has been part of the household now for a few days shy of a month. He’s weighing in at a svelte 36 pounds and based on some best guess work from me and the vet, we’re estimating his age at about 7 months.
He’s loaded with good dog tendencies. He’s remarkably calm and takes guidance well. He wants to please… but remains very much a work in progress. We’re still spending our “family time” quarantined to the kitchen and laundry room with their blessed solid surface floors for easy clean ups. Given the option he still like sneaking off to pee in front of the washer or dryer… a habit we’re combating largely by a combination of keeping him leashed to me or crated when I can’t keep eyes on him every moment. Eventually I’m sure he’ll catch on to the whole idea that “out” should be a consistent thing, but just now he has some stubborn “teenage” dog streak and the lessons seem to be going slowly. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the living room, with its comfortable furniture and giant TV that I haven’t used in weeks. The sacrifices we make…
He likes to eat grass and sticks and rocks. The rocks are probably the most troubling in terms of the damage they can do to teeth and the digestive system. We spend a lot of time in the yard with my fingers jammed in his mouth, muttering “drop the damned rock.” I’m sure that’s not the best training strategy. This week he’s decided he also likes eating charred remnants out of the fire pit. Those he’s crushed and swallowed long before I can get to him. So that’s a thing that happens now as well.
I’m doing my best to remember that he really is still very much a puppy (despite his size) and that the transition from living at the shelter to the domestic bliss of Fortress Jeff has got to be a challenging one. I’ll admit, too, that I’m a bit of a shit when it comes to proper training techniques, so there’s a fair amount of blame for me in all this. Still, I missed the stage of middle of the night bathroom breaks and teething so on the whole I’m getting the better end of this deal.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t gone to bed more than once in the last few weeks wondering why the hell I got another dog – and a young, energetic one at that. Those feelings are mostly contained to the days when I’ve spent all day at work and he’s spent all day getting rested up.  All things considered, Jorah is a remarkably good boy who has come a long way towards fitting into the household. Now that I’ve said that, I fully expect he’ll spring the door on his crate tomorrow and demolish the entire house.