What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Schedule. I’m deep in the weeds of designing a schedule for a three-day event where, at best, there’s one day of real content. The inevitable result will be a proposal that nobody likes – but that everyone will eventually go along with because no one else wants to come up with a better alternative. It’s just another week in the belly of the bureaucracy as an event planner, I suppose. Thank God there’s no real-world events taking place globally that would be a better place to allocate limited time and effort.

2. Joe Biden. I get it, he’s not Don Trump. At some point, though, that has to stop being enough reason to give the guy a pass. I never had particularly high expectations for a Biden Administration, but setting aside our policy disagreements on the proper role and function of the federal government, the first year has been less successful than even I expected. From the bungled evacuation of Afghanistan to rampaging inflation to failure to ramp up testing for COVID, most of what’s come out of the White House in the last 365 days has felt botched in many greater or lesser ways. Maybe it’s just me, but I expected more polish and poise from an administration who are largely old hands inside the beltway.

3. Google. About a decade ago, I set up a “Gmail for Your Domain” account to support jeffreytharp.com. It gave me up to 50 “branded” email address overlayed on the gmail.com platform and some other nice integration features. At the basic tier, that was a “free” service provided by Google (presumably for giving them the right to data mine your various inboxes). For a long time, it’s been a totally painless experience. They’ve just announced the end of this as a free service and now I have to decide if $6 a month is enough of an annoyance and pain point to motivate me to find an alternative and migrate to it between now and May 1st. Otherwise it’s a matter of abandoning tens of thousands of emails and other records in place and starting fresh with a new provider. Stupid Sophie’s choice.

A bit too high…

I’ll be the first to admit that my Instagram feed is not generally what most people would consider “wholesome.” It’s thick with porn stars, egirls, and instathots. Thankfully I don’t subscribe to that particularly American brand of puritanism that shrieks and clutches its pearls at even the mention of the human body. 

Occasionally, though, some other things break through the Insta-clutter. A couple of nights ago I was scrolling through my feed and I landed on a photo of row after row of books. It was a real thing of beauty – formal, but comfortable; well loved, but equally well maintained. 

“I want something like that when I build a house,” I mumbled to myself before filing it away for reference should the occasion ever present itself to build my own book room from the foundation up. 

Upon closer inspection, of course I want something like that. The picture that so fascinated me was of the royal library in the Palace of Versailles. 

It’s good to be ambitious. Goals beyond food, shelter, and procreation are what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. I fear, however, in this case I may have set my sights just a bit too high. 

The closet…

My master bathroom contractor called right before Christmas to let me know they had filed all the paperwork with the county to apply for the necessary permits. I’m glad to see some forward motion on this project. I’ve lived with it for seven years so I’m not really impatient, but now that I’ve started spending real money, I’d just like to get it over with. 

While I had some unallocated free time, before succumbing to whatever crud laid me temporarily low, I decided to start clearing out the linen closet and master closet attached to the master bath. The linen closet is going away completely and my closet is losing a foot to give me enough width in the shower to never worry about banging a shoulder or elbow. It’s a lot of shower, but it feels fitting to replace the enormous bathtub that’s occupied the room, unused, all this time. 

It felt like a real inconvenience at the time, but I’m beginning to see the value of moving every couple of years. It forced me to clear out the proverbial dead wood periodically instead of paying to haul it across the country. Having no such forcing function over the last seven years, things have… accumulated. This place is twice the size of the old Memphis house and even so, storage is beginning to feel constrained. It could be time for a general purge… or hiring another contractor to give me some climate-controlled storage in the basement. 

Last week, the contractor let me know that some of his team tested positive and others were exposed to the Great Plague. The translation of that, I assume, is that all previous schedules are in the wind. I expected this project would be underway in January. Now, perhaps, it’s a dream of spring… though delaying the time when I’ll have complete strangers trapsing through the house on a regular basis doesn’t bother me at all just now.

In any case, mucking everything out of my closet is now feeling very premature. 

Ignorance…

Statistically, I’ve already lived a little more than half my life. I like to think that in that time, I’ve tried very hard to not stop learning. I have an inquisitive nature. There’s a certain joy in knowing how things work, seeing the uniqueness of the world and the universe beyond, and in trying to gain an understanding of how history has led us to the present.

I think often these days about Isaac Asimov, who said, “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”

You’re welcome to your ignorance, I suppose. Even in a world where the sum total of human knowledge is available through a device we all carry around in our pockets, no one can force you to take advantage of it. We can make information available, but there’s not a force on earth capable of making someone learn or develop a broader understanding of what exists outside their own limited experience, beliefs, or understanding. Some even seem determined to avoid any knowledge at all.

Here’s the thing, though… I don’t have any moral or ethical requirement to give ignorance equivalency with knowledge.

In the real world – and especially in the online one – I increasingly subscribe to a philosophy that suffers no fools. In whatever proportion of this life I have left to me, I don’t have a moment to spare to argue with ignorance, or worse, those who should be intellectually capable of knowing better than whatever batshit crazy position they’ve allowed to become their entire personality.

I can only promise that my mind remains open to new thoughts and ideas, but it will never be so open that my damned brain falls out.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Logging in. When I boot up my work computer in the morning, I have to log in using my access card and PIN. When I log into Outlook, I use my access card and PIN. One Drive? Access card and PIN. Teams. One more time, log in with access card and PIN. Just to start the day I have to log in using the same credentials four to five times depending what opens on startup. I’m sure there’s some important network security reason this is necessary, but it feels dumb and is 100% a daily irritant. 

2. Upgraded masks. For the last two years, I’ve survived plague free by 1) being vaccinated and boosted, 2) generally avoiding people as much as practical and 3) wearing a standard cloth face covering whenever I had to go into a questionable indoor environment. It hasn’t felt like all that big an ask. With the latest variant, word has gone out that it’s advised to switch over to more robust masks – primarily N95 or KN95 style respirators. That’s well and good, but I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money so far on various upgraded masks and a host of add on extenders, inserts, and other bits to get a better fit. So far, no combination of any of them has given me a mask that doesn’t immediately blow hot air around my nose and cheeks and turning my glasses into a solid wall of fog sitting on the end of my nose. Not falling victim to the Great Plague is important, but if I can’t be both maximally protected and fog-free, I’m going to have to err on the side of being able to see what the hell I’m doing when I need to leave the house.

3. Maryland’s Republican governor has proposed eliminating taxes on retirees as a means to discourage people from spending their working lives here and then immediately decamping for jurisdictions that don’t tax retirement income. For those who will face a potential tax bill from Maryland when they retire, it has to be a consideration. For instance, if you have the longevity to enjoy a 20-year retirement and the state reaches into your pocket to the tune of $4,000 a year, that’s upwards of $80,000 you’re leaving on the table for the convenience of not moving to a more tax friendly state. That’s not the kind of win the Democratic controlled general assembly will want to hand a popular Republican governor. Given Maryland’s historic love of raising taxes on its residents, it’s not the kind of thing they’d want to do if there the governor was a Democrat, either. I’m an unabashed lover of my native state, and I’d love to be able to make a plan to stay here along the shores of the Chesapeake forever, but unless our fearless leaders end up endorsing a plan like this, finances are all too likely to dictate otherwise when the time comes.  

Normal again…

Being sick is, by popular consensus, not fun. The worst symptom of my recent crud was an achingly short attention span. I couldn’t focus on anything. As a result, TikTok became my best friend. Thirty to 60 second clips were manageable and, if not exactly entertaining, helped pass the time. I usually read away whatever down time I find, but getting through more than a page or two at a sitting was pure agony. Even when I forced it, I couldn’t remember what happened two paragraphs in the past.

The old reliable focus has slowly come back over the last few days. In fact, last night was the first time in two weeks that reading wasn’t misery. The words spooled out, pages turned, and whole chapters were swallowed up by the evening. This morning I was even able to remember that ground I covered. It’s a relief. 

Being able to comprehend complex ideas and story lines is a profoundly underappreciated skill. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss that until I couldn’t do it.

Hooray for being “normal” again.

Culling the stack…

Before I fell ill with whatever crud wore me down after Christmas, one of the major items I managed to knock off my to do list was culling the to-be-read shelves. You can count on one hand the number of times I’ve willingly let things fall out of the collection. Buy enough books over enough years, though, and things have a way of accumulating. Despite your best efforts, some of those things turn out to be real dogs. 

I’ve never been shy about buying a nicer volume to replace something I already have on the shelf, so some of them were duplicates I was happy to move elsewhere. Occasionally I’ll look at something occupying shelf space and realize no matter how much time I have, I’m never going to read it. I hate to admit it, but when you start approaching 2000 volumes in your average home, space starts to become something of a premium. That’s all a way of saying that even for me there are good reasons to sometimes get rid of books.

I filled the back seat of the truck with my culls and cast offs. I’d waited until the volume justified taking a minor road trip. The local shop might have offered a few dollars for the lot – hardly worth going there versus just donating the bunch to Goodwill. I don’t blame the local shop owner. He knows his business and that he’s the only game in town when it comes to buying used books. Judging from the unopened boxes sitting in his aisles and stacked in every foot of space the fire marshal will let him get away with, getting inventory is never a problem.

The trade off with taking my batch on the road is that I’m sure to spend far more filling the gas tank than I’ll recoup from selling everything I’m hauling with me. There was nothing special or rare in the mix and the return on most used books is pennies on the dollar. It’s just part of the obsession that you accept when you’re into it deeply enough.

Knowing I wouldn’t even recoup my travel cost was worth it though, to hand them off to a proper bookman at one of the great east coast used book shops. They’ll get most of these good reading copies placed into the hands of someone who will appreciate them. Better that than dropping them somewhere where they’ll inevitably end up turned to pulp in the hands of a paper recycler.At my level of collecting, it’s not about turning a profit. With the exception of a few high points, all I’ll manage to do is make sure most of the books here are able to survive another generation or two into the future. If I’m lucky, one or two of them might survive to have a bicentennial and find their way into the hands of someone who loves them like I have. That’s not bad compensation for the time, effort, and expense. 

You can’t go home again…

When I go home for Christmas, I always make a point of searching out the favorite foods of my youth – unique flavors that live in my mind as essential elements of growing up in Allegany County. Across the years, savoring those tastes has become as much a part of my holiday tradition as a presents or a tree.

Sheetz coffee was a mainstay of my caffeine habit from the time I started driving. I’d go out of my way to get their standard drip brew over any other competitor. Now they’ve installed some fancy looking grind-on-demand “coffee system.” It looks pretty sitting on the counter, but what comes out of it doesn’t taste like Sheetz coffee. It might even be a decent cup of joe under other circumstances, but it’s not the flavor I wanted. For my money, Wawa or Royal Farms now offer up a better tasting selection of old-fashioned drip coffee.

For years, Snyder of Berlin (not to be confused with Snyder of Hanover) made what was packaged as “British style salt and vinegar” potato chips. As a connoisseur of salt and vinegar chips, Snyder’s was my favorite. It was an intensity of flavor not replicated anywhere as far as I can tell. Their packaging has lost the “British style” imagery… and their chips, it seems, retain only the barest hint of salt or vinegar flavoring. Herr’s and Utz now blow them away on all counts. 

The D’Atri’s cheesesteak sub has, for me, always been the definitive taste of western Maryland. That’s why I was horrified to find it something unrecognizable. Yes, it was a sub made with cheese and steak and their proprietary lettuce concoction… but the flavor profile was all wrong. Even the bread was different. It’s like walking into McDonald’s and finding that they’ve replaced their fries with tater tots. Sure, they’re made out of the same stuff, but it’s just not right. This is the one that really breaks my heart. 

Nearly all of my favorite foods from back home and back when now seem to exist only in memory. I’ve managed to recreate a few of them in my own kitchen, but most, I expect, are gone and will never return. The bright spot, in an otherwise disappointing food experience, was M&M Bakery. Their peanut butter frosted cinnamon roll doughnuts were exactly as I remember them… and that means they were possibly the finest doughnut ever devised or concocted by the mind of man. I’m wildly thankful they haven’t tried to improve upon it.

I guess old Tom Wolfe was right. You really can’t go home again. That won’t stop me from spending the next 40 years pining away for tastes and flavors I can still conjure immediately in my mind.

The interregnum…

The week between Christmas and the new year is more or less a lost week. Let’s face it, it was still 2021 and there was still plenty going on. Even if you weren’t paying attention to world events there was more than enough that needed doing, but the whole week has forever felt like it exists out of time or in a universe where time has no meaning. 

It’s an interregnum as the old year closes out and the new one starts. I don’t hate it. I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s an odd sequence of days that don’t feel quite right.

Add in that I spent most of my time alternating between the bed, the couch, and one of the various La-Z-Boy’s scattered around the house and it’s pretty much the week that wasn’t. At least it (probably) wasn’t COVID, so I’ve still got that going in my favor, even if it was one of the nastier head colds I’ve had in the last half-dozen years.

Here we are a little more than a week later and the last remnants of this particular crud are finally dissipating… but hey, I have one of those fancy oxygen meters, a few boxes of KN-95 and N-95’s, and a few other odds and ends now due to my paranoia of the Great Plague. Given how hard it is to find a simple test, even my NyQuil addled brain was able to grasp with growing realization that if I should come down with it, I need to be prepared with whatever tools I can muster to triage and treat myself.

The interregnum is over. I’ve put together a decent little stockpile against what feels like an increasingly inevitable bout with the plague. Still, I can’t quite shake the feeling that mostly it was a perfectly good week of annual leave utterly wasted.

In continued opposition to right wing nutters…

A year ago we watched as conspiracy theory fueled, right wing violent extremist nutters stormed the Capitol after being egged on by then President Trump. 

Today, I’d be hard pressed to say that anything has gotten better with the exception of Donald no longer being able to use the machinery of government to circumvent the laws and Constitution. It seems a not insignificant percentage of the country still thinks that disgraced carnival barker is still the rightful president. About the same percentage think that the COVID-19 vaccines are a one world government effort to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids or some such abject fuckery. I’d expect the Ven diagram there to be a near-perfect circle. That would make fine fodder for a separate, but related, post on the price we pay for the rise of disinformation, willful ignorance, an America’s peculiar strain of anti-intellectualism.

If anything, I suspect conditions have deteriorated as positions have hardened. Little or nothing has been done to sure up the institutions of government, making it more difficult to subvert the peaceful transfer of power following an election. Baring something unexpected, we could even see Donald back again as the presumptive Republican candidate for president in 2024. A second Trump presidency reinforced by a sycophantic Republican controlled Congress is the nightmare scenario, because then all brakes, guardrails, and safeties would be off.

I used to think a terrorist loose with a nuclear weapon on the streets of Washington or New York was the worst-case scenario. Now I’m far more worried about the ring leader of a domestic terror movement seizing control of the government and all the levers of power that go along with it. 

Our Constitutional government is, perhaps, more endangered than it was when insurrectionists briefly seized the seat of American government and sent the Legislative Branch into hiding. Republican leaders won’t condemn the vile, treasonous creatures who lead, financed, and participated in the Capitol insurrection – but I will curse their names and memory for as long as I have breath… and I’ll consistently use my voice to oppose any and all who seek to undermine our Republic