What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The telephone. Once again, for those that didn’t get the message the last time, at any given moment there are probably 5-10 different ways of making contact with me that don’t involve my needing to answer a ringing telephone. Facebook, email, text, Facetime, IM, certified mail, fax, telegram, smoke signal, and semaphore, are all perfectly acceptable methods of reaching out to touch someone. Regardless of whether I’m at the office or at home, more often than not I’m doing at least three things at once… and regardless of how important I think you are as a person, the chances of me stopping all of those things to focus exclusively on a phone conversation are slim to none. Translation: You’re going to get a better and more thoughtful response when you send me a text or an email. On the phone, the best you’re going to get is an occasional “uh huh,” and a “what?” now and then when I get distracted by whatever else I’m working on. So please, can we all agree to reserve the actual phone calls to legitimate life and death situations?

2. Facebook advertising. I know I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook, but lately I can’t get past one or two items down through my newsfeed before finding myself looking at some kind of poorly designed add or “sponsored” post. I’m not dumb enough to think that Facebook should be providing their service for free, but I really do wish they’d find some way to make the ads slightly less obtrusive. All the current iteration of ads seem to do is interrupt the general flow of the page and make me wonder how long it’s going to be before enough people are sufficiently annoyed to start heading to the door. I really do believe Facebook is a valuable utility, but they need to do a hell of a lot of fine tuning to make the current brand of in-your-face marketing at least palatable. Until then, I’ll just make it one of my own small personal missions not to do business with any company that spends dollars running these craptastic social marketing spots.

3. Time management. Just because I’m not freaking out, don’t assume that I’m not busy. In work, as in most things, I have a method to my madness. If you watch carefully, between 8AM and about noon, there’s a flurry activity as I clear out whatever ridiculousness showed up in my inbox overnight. After lunch, there’s a bit of a lull, where I can actually catch up on longer range stuff, read the stunning number of memos and policy letters that we publish, do research, or work on PowerPoint. Starting again around 2PM there’s another flurry of email and phone calls as people try to get things off their plate before going home at the end of the day. If I’m sitting, staring intently at one of my monitors, you can go ahead and assume I’m either a) trying to read for comprehension; b) trying to decipher something higher headquarters wrote in a wholly misguided effort to “be helpful”; or c) trying to compose an articulate message that easily comprehensible by all who receive it. What I’m not doing is sitting around, being bored, and looking at lolcats. Usually.

A face in the crowd (and better off for it)…

The best part of just being a face in the crowd is that you get to spend a lot of time watching people in power, whether that be the legitimate power of elected office or the almost completely fictitious power that resides in a fancy sounding title. The most common denominator that I’ve observed so far is simple – the more powerful the individual being observed, the less control they have over their own lives. The ones with real power, the ones who are minor princes of the universe, seem to have their days scripted, their movements controlled, and have barely a spare minute to do so much as scratch their own arse.

It’s hard to believe, but a younger, more ambitious version of me once thought that sounded like an ideal way to spend a career… long flights, clamoring between meetings, and generally being indispensible. With a third of my career in the rear view, I can honestly say that the shine is well off that idea. These days, the last place I want to find myself is at the center of the hive. The older I get, the less inclined I am to let other people dictate my schedule or to cede control over any portion of my life. My one concession is the 40-hours a week that I spend working for wages… and that’s only grudgingly because I like eating and having a roof over my head.

I’m sure it’s a fine way to live and all, but for me, having the maximum amount of personal control over who I interact with, what I do, and when I do it is pretty damned important. On balance, short of being named absolute monarch of a small tropical island, I’m not sure that’s something I’d want to give up – especially not for something as temporal as a spiffy sounding title and not much else.

Saved this space (for no apparent reason)…

We had a “surprise” town hall meeting at work today and I was saving this space for some sharp and scathing commentary on what I assumed would be breaking the official silence on sequestration, fiscal uncertainty, and the impending budget cuts to our little slice of paradise here at the top of the Bay. Instead we got the typical once a quarter, “you’re doing great work” speech and a few other pearls of wisdom. In the absence of crippling financial news, I find that I don’t really have anything to say.

Waiting to find out what the world will look like a month from now every time someone calls a meeting is a tough way to live… especially in a place that loves meetings as much as we do. So yeah, this space stayed blank for no apparent reason today… but there other shoe is out there somewhere. It’s lurking, and waiting. Waiting to fall out of the sky to pummel some poor dumb group of unsuspecting employees that had the misfortune of thinking that going to work for their Uncle seemed like a good idea at the time. Boy are they gonna be surprised.

I’m glad that for today at least it wasn’t me… but since every silver lining has a dark cloud around it, it’s pretty much left me with nothing interesting to say tonight.

Liberal leave…

Vast swaths of the federal government operated with a “liberal leave” policy in place today. Loosely translated, this policy says “Travel conditions may or may not be dangerous this morning so instead of us actually making a decision to be open or closed, we’re going to let every individual go ahead and flip a coin to decide whether they want to work today or not.” I don’t have any particular heartburn with them using this approach on days when the weather is decidedly questionable in the early morning hours.

Rest assured, if at any time I realistically thought my life was endangered by the commute, I’d be the first to throw in the towel and head back to the house. As much as I would have enjoyed a Monday spent hanging around the house drinking coffee, I just wasn’t so in love with the idea that I wanted to use up a day of my own annual leave to make it happen. What I really wanted was for Uncle Sugar to go ahead and give me another day free of charge. Let’s be honest, it’s going to have to be a blizzard of epic proportions before I’m willing to say it’s so bad out there that I want to burn off a day of precious, precious vacation time… and usually that’s when Uncle ends up making the “right” call anyway and letting everyone stay home.

As nice as cooling my heels for an impromptu four-day weekend would have been, I’m too much of a leave hoarder to make it happen today… but don’t think for a second that I didn’t regret that decision when I was sitting at my desk looking at a metric ton of new emails that had been piling up since Thursday afternoon, the flashing “voicemail” light on my phone, and a line of people that had things that needed discussing. In retrospect, maybe I should have been a little more liberal with my leave after all, but that’s just another day of putting off the inevitable.

Today’s feature presentation…

downloadThe next posts don’t need much in the way of introduction. I think we’re getting into one of the parts of the old MySpace blog that everyone seemed to enjoy. Yes, we’ve reached the end of January 2007 when the old blog took on a real “Jeff’s gonna bitch about work in almost every post” flavor. Like most of these other old posts, some are better than others. A few might actually rise to the level of being insightful in their own way, but even the least of them is jam packed with snark… and after all, isn’t that really what you want to see? So go ahead and grab a cup of coffee, sit back, relax, and enjoy today’s feature… posted live in and color in January and February 2007.

A total slut…

For the last few weeks, one particular phrase keeps popping up on the list of terms that people search for when they end up finding my blog on Google. That phrase: Hot Lesbian Cheerleader.

I can only imagine how disappointed they are when they click in and see that, in fact, http://www.jeffreytharp.com has very little do do with that particular fetish. As much of a pity as that is, I’m glad they stop by from time to time. When it comes to visits, hit counts, and clicks, I’m happy to be a total slut. I’m just happy to see the counter going up, regardless of why they happen to be here. Maybe that makes me a bad blogger, but to paraphrase Eric Cartman, it’s my sexy blog and I’ll do what I want.

For those of you who stopped by hoping for hot lesbian cheerleaders, yeah, I’m sorry about that. Clearly you were lured here under false pretenses. Personally I’d complain to Google, because honestly, if that’s what you’re looking for, I’m the last thing you really want to find in your search results.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Lip syncing. If I were to make an eight hour recording of me sitting at the keyboard banging away at what I’m sure is some very important memo or PowerPoint briefing, and then push the play button on that recording every morning when I sat down at my desk and claim that I’m working, it’s fair to say that my boss would call me an idiot and tell me to get back to work. My argument that the performance was recorded “live to tape” probably wouldn’t be sufficient to convince him that a recording was a good enough substitute to actually doing the work live and in person. Not being a professional audio engineer, I don’t know whether Beyonce performed live, live to tape, or whatever. I’m not sure I really care all that much, but it strikes me that if your occupation is “singer,” it’s probably a good idea to show up and, you know, actually sing.

2. Dress codes. On days when the temperature falls below, say, 20 degrees, I think office dress code requirements should automatically be relaxed to allow for jeans, boots of sufficient size to account for wool socks, flannel shirts, and possibly hats with ear flaps. I don’t exactly know who came up with the idea that a shirt and tie equate to professional conduct, but I think it’s safe to say that can get just as many memos written while wearing Levis and Doc Martens as I can while wearing slacks and wingtips. I’ve managed to slowly ease out of wearing a tie, but sadly, my struggle for greater clothing equality against oppressive government rules continues unabated.

3. Medical science. I’ve got my next regular check up with my favorite should-have-been-a-Prussian-Field-Marshal general practitioner tomorrow. This will be the first of two visits this year where he tells me to exercise more, eat less, stop having fun, and that way maybe I’ll live a long and boring life. That’s fine. It’s his job and he seems to be good at it. Hopkins tends not to hire people that aren’t good at it, which is one of the reasons I’m willing to drive so far out of my way for a basic checkup. Still, what I really need him, and the broader medical community to do is come up with a pill or procedure that fixes whatever damage I manage to inflict on my body without needing to change my lifestyle and habits in any meaningful way. God knows I don’t have a death wish, but I’m not sure a world without perfectly grilled steak, penne pasta with vodka sauce, and the humble potato in its many pleasing forms is worth living in… and let’s not even get started on how many more productive and entertaining things I could do if it weren’t for spending time on a bike to nowhere every evening. Science just needs to get off its hump and come up with a way to keep us from getting dead with a minimal amount of effort from the patient.

Stall speed…

The thing you have to keep in mind about writing is that it’s way more art than science. Sure, there’s a set of basic rules about where the comma goes, what gets to be capitalized, and something about predicates and adverbs that I really never caught on to when I was in school. Since the rules are sort of flexible and there’s no actual penalty for ignoring them, I find it easier just to go with what looks right than what may be technically accurate. Encyclopedias are often technically accurate, but when’s the last time you saw someone reading Volume K for fun and relaxation? That’s not my point, though.

As much as I’d hoped to be able to get my work in progress to the point where it could spend some time with an editor this spring, that possibility is looking less and less likely as more and more days go by without actually making any progress. I seem to have reached stall speed and stayed there since a week or two before Christmas. It takes some serious self discipline to plug away at something like a book day after day, especially when you’re in the middle part of the tunnel and there’s no end in sight. It’s sure easy to set aside for just a few days… but damn is it hard to pick up again a month and a half later, even when you realize you are desperately behind your self imposed schedule.

The solution, of course, is to just sit down and force yourself to do it – to stay at the keyboard until word come out either from inspiration or are wrung out of your head by sheer force of will. In either case, the words won’t necessarily be good, or even usable, but it’s the first step towards getting back into the routine and getting back to the point where you can see progress again. Until then, all the pissing and moaning in the world isn’t going to do any good… even though it does make you feel better. Momentarily. Sooner or later, though, you’ve just got to suck it up and get back at it.

Do over…

As best I can figure, life is collection of opportunities taken and those missed. On the whole, I like to think I’ve seized the initiative more often than I’ve let a good chance pass by. Occasionally, though, a good one slips by despite your best intentions to the contrary. If you’re incredibly lucky and manage to find yourself in just the right place at just the right time, every now and then you might just find yourself face to face with what could have been if you dove left instead of right. When life hands you a do over, it’s best not to ask too many questions and hope the older, wiser you is more audacious than your younger self. I tend not to make the same mistakes twice… but that in no way prevents me from making new and different mistakes at every opportunity. Either way, I’m taking my mulligan now.


I philosophically disagree with nearly every one of the president’s major policy initiatives. I strongly supported his opponent during the election and I will continue to speak my mind here and to my elected representatives voicing that opposition. I think for a few minutes today we can all stop the rhetoric and look at what a remarkable moment an inauguration really is. When a president isn’t reelected, it represents a peaceful transfer of power, from one person to another, and often from one party as another. For all the acrimony in our inauguration-270x270politics, the fact that we can still manage it without tanks in the streets probably speaks more to the wisdom of the Framers than it does to our own clearly limited amount of national self control.

Even second term inaugurations are something special – an elected leader, a man we imbue with seemingly absolute power – comes before the people, and swears to uphold and defend the Constitution. We can debate how well or poorly he manages to do that over the next four years, but for today, we should simply agree what a remarkable feature of republican government that really is. Our leaders don’t swear to do a good job, or be popular, but to defend the very idea of self government. That’s heady stuff… but it’s our job as the body politic to hold them accountable for it.

Most of us never swear an oath to support and defend the constitution (though a few of us do), but it’s an inherent responsibility in or collective role as citizens of the republic. So, today, let’s enjoy the spectacle that is the inauguration of an American president. And tomorrow let’s get on with the hard work of being actual participants in the process.