What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Home security. I’ve made a point to have an alarm system in ever house I’ve ever owned. Over the years and moving from house to house the systems have become progressively more complex, evolving from a few simple sensors towards something that’s constantly monitoring and able to show me the health and safety of the homestead in real time. In all my years of using a home security system, though, the only thing it’s ever actually alerted me to was various problems with the security system itself. It’s probably a good problem to have and I’m certainly glad it’s not constantly alerting me to real world problems at home… but I could have done with a little less time spent running diagnostics and troubleshooting earlier this week.

3. Better late than never. Ten minutes before 3PM, the powers that be expressed their concern about the weather and sent everyone home “two hours early.” That’s a fine gesture, of course, except that I would have had to travel back in time to take advantage of this generous offer. On my own authority I dumped in a leave request and departed the area at 2:30. It’s a safe bet to assume that I value my own neck a hell of a lot more than any of the aforementioned powers do anyway. My commute home took twice the normal amount of time and would have easily taken 3x as long had I waited around for others to make a decision and found 20,000 other people all trying to make a break for it at the same time. Thanks to the vagaries of the federal personnel system, though, even though I only took 90 minutes of leave and the powers subsequently approved a blanket 2 hours, I’m still out the 90 minutes I asked for because it was on file before the blanket leave was approved. Maybe it’s an even trade since I’m not stuck sitting on the road somewhere between here and there. Still, it’s just a helpful reminder that Uncle doesn’t put much of a premium on free thinking despite whatever lip service may be paid doing an “individual risk assessment.” That said, I regret nothing and will always use my own best judgement where issues of life, health, and safety are concerned – even if that means putting my money or my leave balance where my mouth is. It would just be nice if we didn’t play the same stupid game and win the same stupid prizes every single year.

4. Florida. I’ve mentioned the Sunshine State once already this week, but they can’t seem to keep themselves out of the news. I just find it mind boggling that all these years after the contested 2000 election any county in Florida has this much trouble counting little pieces of paper even when given the benefit of large and powerful electronic tools to do so. Surely if we line up enough Floridians they can account for enough fingers and toes to do the damned math, right?

Eight hours under gag…

As an employee of the Executive branch, I’m covered by what’s commonly known as the Hatch Act of 1939, otherwise known as An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, or Public Law 76-252. The intent of the Hatch Act is fairly straightforward, even if the means and methods by which it is enforced are somewhat murky. The act, essentially, says that as a federal employee, I cannot seek election to a partisan office for the duration of my employment and more importantly that I can’t use my official position or government time and equipment for purposes of campaigning, fundraising, promoting, or engaging in political activity while I’m “on the clock.”

Old Man Hatch had a pretty good idea about establishing and keeping the core of the civil service reasonably non-partisan as we transact the day to day business of government. Personally, I’ve I’ve never seen an employee willfully undermining the executive branch while on the clock in my tenure serving under both Republicans and Democrats, but I don’t know if that’s because of the Hatch Act or because we started killing off the spoils system in 1883 with the Pendelton Act. Of course how “non-partisan” the bureaucracy is when it comes to which parties and candidates it supports in our spare time is wide open for debate.

The Office of Special Counsel, supreme adjudicator of all things Hatch Act, has a number of laundry lists filled with what various types of executive branch employee may or may not do. What most of them boil down to is “don’t advocate for a particular candidate or party on government time.” It seems like a reasonable rule. It’s why you find me posting at all during the typical weekday it’s a funny, funny meme or a news article. I try very hard to live within Hatch’s spirit and intent as well as within its letter.

I do, however, want the record to show that being Hatched makes sitting quietly on social media on days like today a monumental exercise in self restraint. Something for which I don’t think we get nearly enough credit every other November.

Someone to vote for…

I did something stupid this evening. I waded into the middle of a Facebook post in which the basic premise is “If you don’t hate Trump you’re a filthy bastard.” Normally I don’t weigh in, but despite the lead in, most of the comments were reasonable and well considered. Of course we’ll see how long that lasts now that I’ve showed up.

To revises and expand on my comment there, let me start by saying I didn’t love candidate Trump nor am I a dyed in the wool fan of President Trump. Still, I voted for him. It’s a statement of fact that I wont hide from or be ashamed of.

In a discussion that swirled around the topic of “how did this happen, I offer offered this thought:

The real issue is’t just in President Trump. The issue is with the whole slate of candidates. If the best we can put up here in a country of 300 million citizens was reflected in this past election I don’t know how to go about fixing the root of the matter.

I’m a Republican who has voted across party lines for local, state, and federal offices when I thought the Democrats had a better candidate. In my mind, then and now, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were never candidates I would be able to get behind.

If you want better results give us better candidates.

Put up a Kennedy Democrat who isn’t threatening to tax more money out of my pocket or repeal the Second Amendment and I’ll give them every chance to earn my vote. As long as both parties are trying to swing themselves the extreme edges, there’s a vast unrepresented swath in the middle that’s crying out for someone to vote for instead of turning out to voting against.

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.

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.

Geek out…

Like more than a few of you, I voted today. The polls are still open for about 90 minutes for many of us here on the East Coast and for a few hours more out west. The early results should start coming in sometime shortly after 7:00… Which means it’s now time to geek out in front of the TV and start prognosticating.

As usually, I’ll try to keep most of my witty banter off Facebook for fear of instigating a flame war on my own page, so if you’re interested in a blow by blow account from the bunker here in Cecil County, make sure you follow me on Twitter: @jdtharp

Stock up on bread and toilet paper, hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife… It’s going to be a long night. Let the games begin.

What Annoys Jeff This Week?

I’m on a bit of a time crunch this evening so in no particular order, here they are:

1. The general public’s complete lack of awareness about what’s going on in the world when it happens more than 15 miles from wherever they happen to be at the time. World events are important if for no other reason than they are going to impact you whether you think they will or not. Like a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing, some decision made as a result of current events is going to impact you, your family, your finances, and your country (not necessarily in that order). For the love of God, please start paying attention… or at least promise me that if you choose to stay ignorant you won’t show up to vote in November.

2. Time Management. Keeping a room full of people waiting for thirty minutes without anything in the way of explanation is bad form, no matter who you are. So yeah, you people with piss poor time management skills just figure out how to get it together. The rest of the world is tired of waiting on you.

3. Car Pooling. Riding with other people sucks. You don’t control the speed of travel, the temperature, or really any factor of the trip other than where you start from and where you’re going. Being dependent on other people’s schedule blows. Sure, carpooling decreases the number of people on the road and decreases emissions, but it’s just so bloody inconvenient. It’s legitimately nothing personal, I just don’t think I’d like carpooling with anyone. In the future, I think I’ll either fend for myself or find a reason to avoid the trip completely.