What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Capitulation. I’m appalled that a corporation with the size and resources of Sony Pictures folded like a rag doll when faced with what basically scales up to nation-state level cyber bullying. Personally, I would have put The Interview on every screen possible, made it available for free online, and publicized the hell out of it at every step – a full page ad in the Sunday New York Times unequivocally stating that Sony will not be intimidated or extorted. I’m even more alarmed at the silence coming out of our political leaders in Washington. At first blush this was a cyber attack directed against a private company, but what it really was is an attack on intellectual property every bit as real as an attack on a US flagged ship on the high seas or a missile targeted at one of our cities. Hacking carried out at the behest of a foreign power should be treated as seriously and responded to with as much fury as a conventional attack on American soil. If cyber is going to be the new frontier, we’d damn well better start defending it instead of showing cowardice in the face of the enemy.

2. Story Time. I’m sure all your family traditions and legends of Christmases past are very important to you. The memories undoubtedly fill you with happiness and joy. As someone who’s only a step or two removed from being a complete stranger, however, your stories don’t do much for me besides make me wonder why the hell I’m sitting here listing to you tell me about mid-century Christmas in the American heartland. It’s not so much that I don’t care about Christmas as it is I don’t care about *your* version of Christmas in 1964. It’s a distinction that some people seem to have a much more difficult time making than they really should.

3. Cuba. The Cold War’s over. We won. The very best thing we can do for the hungry and oppressed people of Cuba in the 21st century is welcome their island country into the warm embrace of the Monroe Doctrine, normalize relations, open two or three Atlantis-style resorts, a few casinos, and turn the place into a tourist destination. Some day in the not too distant future the Brothers Castro are going to be dead and I’d rather our interests have a leg up then find themselves looking in from the outside.

Official Christmas…

That title is a misnomer, actually. As it has been for the entirety of my career, what was held this afternoon was the official Non-Denominational Winter Holiday Luncheon (NDWHL). I didn’t attend and if the past is prologue all it meant giving up my chance to pay $18 for a mediocre lunch and the opportunity to participate in painfully awkward party games.

I don’t have any philosophical issues with the annual get together. Sure it’s awfully lame compared to some that I’ve seen put on by private sector creatures, but that’s not really the problem either. Hanging around with Uncle, you get used to settling for the PG, family friendly, version of everything. For me it comes down to the simple discomfort of spending three to four hours boxed into a room full of perfect strangers. Being surrounded by people I don’t know and being required to make polite conversation with them for hours is basically one version of my own personal hell.

There is simply no amount of cajoling, peer pressure, or guilt that would convince me attending the NDWHL is a good idea. Telling me who to work with is well and good, but I always reserve the final say when it comes to who I do and don’t socialize with… and when I know something is simply going to be awkward and uncomfortable, why on earth would I pay for the privilege of enduring it when I have any other option?

Humor, or the lack thereof…

Some people are funny – and no I don’t mean in that “Hey, pull my finger” kind of way. There are virtues to that kind of humor too, of course, but I’m think more about people who can turn drop a perfectly aimed barb on a dime. They have the knack. It’s some combination of timing, ability to turn a phrase, topical awareness, and lacing your words with just enough poison to let the point drive home without ever doing more than brushing against a subject.

Sadly, there are another group of people who wield sarcasm like a brute force weapon – a cudgel with which to beat people about the head and neck repeatedly. It’s a pity, because sarcasm is a real art form when it’s done right. When it’s done wrong, it leaves you looking like a total ass. There’s a fine line there and it’s critical to know where that line is at all times.

People who don’t have the gift just really shouldn’t try to force the issue. It shows every single time and it never stops being uncomfortable. There are few thing more awkward than a person standing around throwing out what they think are zingers while the rest of the captive audience is forced to ponder just how much of a tool that person really is. Here’s a hint: if no one else in the room is laughing, you’re probably doing it wrong. You should stop immediately. And you should consider never doing it again.

The world is a big place. Not everyone needs to have the same skills. For the love of God, if you don’t have a knack for humor please leave it to the professionals – or at least to the skilled amateurs. Sometimes it’s ok to enjoy the show rather than try to be a part of it.

Dull roar…

The dull roar of the shredder was my companion today. The previous occupant of my desk was apparently something of an old school bureaucrat; bound and determined to maintain hard copies of just about everything – emails, briefing slides, memos, checklists, and all manner of ephemera that go along with spending your life in service to Uncle’s great green machine. The reason I know this is that since I moved in a full file drawer and approximately twenty three-ring binders have been keeping me company here at my desk.

For the last six months I’ve been bound and determined that I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of picking up that mess just because I happen to be here now and he happens to be long gone. That makes about as much sense as going to the dog park and picking up after someone else’s dog. Sure, you can do it, but why would you?

Today, I hit the point of exhaustion – or maybe the point of exasperation – with needing to shuffle around that long forgotten paperwork to get to things I actually need for myself. I attacked the monument to bureaucracy with gusto and was soon rewarded with easily 2000 pages of documentation whose ultimate fate was shredding and ignoble recycling into consumer paper products. Call me crazy but chance of my being called on to produce a 5 year old email addressed to someone else about a project that has been closed out for 4 years seems to be slight at best. It’s almost as if we’d have all been better off if no one had hit “print” in the first place.

And that brings me to my point – I hate paper documents. I avoid them at all costs. When they show up uninvited at my home the first thing that happens is they get transformed into a beautiful PDF, get a searchable name, and then go into the archive for use in the future if it turns out that they’re ever really needed at all. As often as not, that’s the last time human eyes will ever look upon those particular electrons. It’s an approach that’s served me well at home for almost a decade now – virtually making the one lone file cabinet I own obsolete. Now if I could just convince the office that fully digitized documents are better for everyone…

I’m not holding my breath on having any ability to urge the behemoth to step into the twilight of the 20th century so the shredder’s dull roar will likely be my near-constant companion for the next two decades.

What Jeff Likes this Week

Bread may be the staff of life, but a good cup of coffee is the foodstuff that makes life worth living. Coffee and I have had an ongoing, hot, steamy affair since I was 13. At one point or another I’ve taken it black, American style with cream and sugar, dripped, pressed, perked, or frothed, from Ethiopia, the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, Kona, or South America. I love it in all it’s many forms – except iced – that stuff is pretty off-putting. It’s the beverage that starts and ends my day. It picks me up and puts me to bed. Day in, day out, week on week, and year after year it’s perhaps the most reliable feature in a universe that is otherwise hell-bent on change. Some will argue the point, but as for me, I count the cultivation of the coffee plant as one of the great high water marks of civilization itself.

“But,” you say, “It’s just a caffeine delivery system and you’re nothing but a damned addict, Jeff.” Sure. Maybe so. But it’s one of the last legal vices any of us are allowed to have… and it’s about as close to touching the face of God that we’re likely to find in this life.

Note: This is the 4th entry in a six-part series appearing on jeffreytharp.com by request.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Protocol. Apparently over the last week we’ve had royalty in America. The reason I know this is because on several occasions, I ran across articles written to advise my countrymen on the proper manner of bowing before the future English sovereign and his future queen. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Brits – their television, their sense of humor, and yes, even their quaint old fashioned notions of nobility… but here in the States, we’re citizens rather than subjects. On points of procedure for when it’s appropriate for an American to bow to the future monarchs of a foreign power, even one with whom we have a long and special relationship, the correct answer is simply “it isn’t.” We’re Americans. We don’t dip our colors and we don’t bow to royalty (or anyone else for that matter).

2. Sweats. In conversation many months ago a friend was shocked when I mentioned something about not having worn sweat pants since some time in the George H. W. Bush administration. She was shocked – possibly appalled – at my lack of concern for issues of comfort. In an effort to show that I do occasionally try something new, I picked up a pair recently and was duly impressed by their level of comfort compared to my usual Wrangler jeans. I supposed the biggest problem is I’m not exactly the type to go through the day just lounging about. Generally I’m doing something even if never leaving the confines of historic Rental Casa de Jeff. My real problem was what the hell you’re supposed to do with all the ephemera that usually ends up in my pockets – a pen knife, my phone, keys, etc. Sure, they were plenty comfortable, but I found myself trying to reach into pockets that weren’t there for objects that over the course of the day ended up scattered all over the house. As far as I’m concerned that level of inconvenience is too high a price to pay for a stretchier pair of pants.

3. The 113th Congress. The honorable members of the House of Representatives once again are spending the dying hours of a continuing resolution haggling over what amounts to peanuts in terms of the federal budgetary process. While no one is seriously talking about another shut down at midnight tonight it’s a possibility at the outside if they can’t find their way clear to passing a CR to cover the next few days while they rehash the omnibus spending bill before them. That they finish this way sums up the totality of this Congress nicely – even unto the end they’re collectively incapable of exercising one of the very few responsibilities entrusted to them in the letter of the Constitution. How very typical. Asshats, one and all.

Sherman says…

ShermanIf you want to get a read on my opinion about enhanced interrogation versus torture, I can only refer you to the Epistle of St. William to the Atlantians, in which he states in part:

“War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out… I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect and early success… When peace does come, you may call on me for anything. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.”

– Major General William T. Sherman in his letter to the Mayor and City Council of Atlanta, dated September 11, 1864

Sherman knew a little something about getting the job done without getting too squeamish along the path to victory.