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Getting Things Done

Preface: I actually wrote this post the morning of the election certification, with hope and optimism. Apparently I was misguided in that hope, as events so horrifically demonstrated. Don’t get me wrong, I have not lost my hope – not at all. And for that reason, I have left it as is, without re-editing it to capture the events of the storming of the Capitol. That was, at bad as it was, just a turning point, the exclamation point at the end of it all.

So much that has been wrong in this country is slowly righting itself. Note the critical adverb “slowly”. If on a scale zero is the peak of the worst in 2020, we are still right next to zero – perhaps 0.5; but still not smack on zero. I would not open a post with such a statement without due cause for optimism. And we certainly have ample opportunity to go back to zero. But I sense movement in the positive direction and I have hope.

The numbers say that the political division in our country was almost exactly 50/50 at the time of the presidential election – almost 50/50 – with just enough blue votes cast to swing the result to Biden. Yes, lots of claims of fraud, stolen election, and whatever. Sour grapes in my opinion. If falsifying election results was truly that easy, it would be happening every election. And because that Trump railed on at length over voter fraud months before the election, which meant the whole world was watching for evidence of fraud. Lots of claims were made, but with no tangible evidence. And I seem to recall the Dems claiming that Russia got Trump elected. So if you wish to believe the conspiracy theories, then Trump won by fraud in 2016 and Biden merely reciprocated in 2020, so it’s a draw.

But I do not believe in voter fraud, at least not at the national level and not to the extent by which he ultimately won. Too difficult, too complex, and far too impossible to keep the huge number of people required to pull it off, silent. So I wholeheartedly accept the results, saddened perhaps that the man I so strongly believed would take this nation to the next level. I truly thought Trump had what it would take to clean up Washington and run this country like a business. Already rich, no political ties – he seemed like he’d be the new sheriff in town. Crass, bold, and even impolite at times, he was not the usual candidate. And I was wrong. He came in as a megalomaniac and it just went south from there. Yes – he was immediately placed under a microscope and attacked by his opponents; talk of impeachment, Russian collusion, and constant and unrelenting lack of support including the Dems not attending his inauguration. He was hated before he even took the oath. But you know what – you’re the top dog, deal with it. But his ego would not allow him to ignore it and rise about it. His ego dragged him down below the water and he sunk to lows I never dreamed possible.

The day he truly lost me was when he mimicked a reporter with physical disabilities; imagine the president of the USA mocking and making fun of a disable person? Despicable. Yes, there were countless other comments, actions, and behaviors that were equally horrific, perhaps even more so. But that was the one that torpedoed me. And these last weeks since the election results were clear and visible even to a stone have done nothing but reinforce the fact that he has lost tough with reality and has slipped into a mental state that to me, warrants his immediate removal.

And today that very action takes its next step as Congress confirms the electoral college votes today. Well, at least most of them as there are still some small number of legislators remaining loyal to the end and vowing to not support the count. None the less, Biden’s victory will ultimately be confirmed today marking the beginning of the final end of Trump’s presidency. There is no other alternative. Trump did his best to completely derail the foundation of our democratic process – our electoral process. His hour long phone call to the Secretary of State in Georgia pleading with him to “go find” 11,877 votes was pathetic and completely un-American.

So Biden will enter office shortly, as hated by the Republicans as was Trump by the Democrats. But, there exists a fair sized contingency of Republicans who became disenchanted and embarrassed by Trump who may not fully support Biden, but will give him a fair chance. As I have said in the past, I am neither red nor blue – I vote by candidate – their beliefs, their platform, their record – but I do tend to lean much more to the right than not. And I fully support Biden; more as a step up form what Trump became than for his policies.

The vaccines are being widely distributed and administered and while the virus is still raging, we will soon turn the tide and begin beating it down. Predictably the “rich” are trying to jump into the front of the line – there have been some number of cases reported where they’ve been caught, even here in RI. And for every case caught and reported I am sure there are dozens more that were not caught. Sad and frankly reflective of the arrogance and privileged behavior demonstrated by our president. That behavior is not dissimilar to the Hollywood stars who cheated and lied to get their kids into elite colleges. One of them, Lori Laughlin, was just released for her couple of months in prison for her role in the scandal. Another example of social and moral decline in our society, rationalized by an overestimated feeling of stature, worth, and entitlement.

But despite the few rich people trying to buy their injections, there will be injections for all of us at some point in the near future. The states are not doing a great job with getting them out and delivered, but it is happening and our time will come. Of course, again predictably in our day and age, there is a percentage of people who are openly proclaiming that the vaccine should not be trusted. Their reasons range from the government implanting chips in us, to the government genetically modifying us (why??!!), to it being unsafe, to it being a placebo because there is no virus and everything in between. The only one that has a modicum of rational thought to it is the fact that the vaccine is indeed a different vaccine than many are used to. Rather than dead virus being injected to help us develop antibodies similar to the annual flu shot, this is a mRNA vaccine that actually does cause our cells to mutate. It is designed to teach our cells to produce a specific protein that mimics the spike on the coronavirus. Our cells recognize that spike as not belonging and develop antibodies that target the spike, thus “learning” to protect us should we be exposed to the actual virus. It is a technology that has been around for a while now and is effectively used in treating cancer and other diseases. So one can see where the fear and concern comes from if you have no other scientific information on the vaccine. Personally, I can’t wait!

There are other signs of healing around the country if you look for them; indicators that we are slowly mending, or at least trying to mend. There are a ton of sayings about this sort of thing: it’s always darkest before the dawn, you can’t go up until you hit rock bottom, etc. but the truth is that the point at which things begin to improve is the point at which we say enough and begin to turn it around. And I truly believe that we, as a nation, are seizing the calendar change to a new year, the change to a new president, and the deliverance of a pandemic vaccine to enact that change. We are finding a reason to find hope and then using that to affect that change.

It is nearly the second week of January here in New England and it is 40-degrees outside, with more of the same in the 7-day forecast. January is typically the month of horrifically cold weather here: zero or at least single digits, with daytime temps barely rising. Pipe freezing cold that I used to hate at work when I was responsible for keeping the place from freezing. I don’t know that those frigid days are not in our future but I will take what we have now for as long as possible. Having said that though, I would love some ice and snow for my grandkids to play on and in like I did as a kid. This is New England so I have no doubt I’ll get my wish. But not yet….

My daughter bought an old and somewhat rundown house in the fall. Great bones as they say, but it had been empty for some number of years and thus in need of a lot of work. In early October they decided to have natural gas service brought into the house so they contracted with the utility – no rush. But in November her heating system failed and required replacement. She new she had gas coming so it made no sense to buy an oil burner for only a few weeks or so and then have to replace it with a gas burner, so she bought gas and requested the utility to expedite the new service. She was promised it would go in by December 12th; then the 19th, then the 23rd. And during this whole time, she had no heat. And is pregnant. We had early winter cold here in December with temps going into the low teens at night through those weeks. All she had were some small electric heaters to huddle around to try to stay warm. And she called the utility every day and every day was promised that they were working on it and it was coming. Eventually she bought a used wood stove and that provided decent heat downstairs and made life a little more tolerable.

I tried to stay out of it but finally I just couldn’t take it anymore so I began an email campaign with the utility, starting with the customer service rep she had been dealing with. That got me nowhere so I signed up for a business info service and got some email addresses for upper management personnel in the utility and that got me some traction. She was placed on the priority list, the no heat list, and we were promised it would be taken care of. But then the next day we were told that they could not obtain permission to excavate across the road. So I went to town and was told it was the state, so I went to the state and was told that the utility had no permit filed for a gas line to her house and no request pending in the system.

And so began a game of who is lying to who between the utility and the state. Ultimately the utility was able to demonstrate that they did indeed have a permit and the state had entered it into the system with a typo so it never came up when searched. And that is why the utility could not get the release to excavate because the info had been entered incorrectly into the system. So late yesterday the state found and corrected the mistake and granted permission to the utility to excavate across the road. The gas service goes in Monday!

There are several lessons in that abbreviated tale. One of them is that I should have inserted myself into the process sooner. I wanted to let her do her house her way, and if she was not pregnant, I might have just continued to stay out of it. But knowing January was coming like a freight train I finally had to intervene. Another lesson is to not take “we’re working on it” as an answer more than once or twice. Ask for more detail, more information such as who is “working on it” and exactly what they are doing to “work on it”.

But the really important lesson in this was in how to approach the different people involved. I receive a quick and detailed and personal response from every single person I emailed. I used no foul language, claimed no sense of entitlement, and demanded nothing. I asked for help, help for my daughter, with a succinct yet clear explanation of the problem, how she got into the situation, and the steps taken unsuccessfully to date. But in each case, with each person, I asked for a person – that person in the email or a person named within it – to step up and be responsible to take action. And then I requested an update on that action.

To ensure a task is accomplished, especially in a large and bureaucratic organization, several things have to happen. A specific person has to be clearly designated as the one responsible for completion of the task. A schedule needs to be clearly defined as well with expected dates for step completion clearly noted on it. And finally, there has to be regular (daily or weekly) meetings held for that specific responsible person to update the status of the task and performance to schedule. By the nature of the actions it instills accountability upon the responsible person. No one likes to be called upon daily and have to report that they did not make any progress, that the schedule has slipped, and the that completion of the task is in peril. By being named as the responsible person and by being required to report upon their progress, they assume the mantle of responsibility and rise to the challenge.

And if responsibility for a step falls to someone else outside the original person’s department or organization, you need to do the same with them for that step and hold them accountable by name and with a schedule. Accountability. I learned it, used it, often at work. And it worked once again. Thankfully.

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