2020 by the numbers…

It’s been a big year at jeffreytharp.com. I mean that in just about every measurable way, because as the year closes out, views are up 52% over last year and more than doubled from 2018. 

Where do we stand, you ask?

  • 260 posts
  • 14,096 views
  • 929 likes 

Views only fell below 1,000 one month once this year, which is attributable to a change in how updates were served out to Facebook. Once I got that sorted, it was back to the proverbial races.

All things considered, that’s not a bad showing for a poky little personal blog that doesn’t have a discernable theme, does no advertising, and basically consists of me using it as a platform to bitch and complain about the utter stupidity of daily life. 

The fact that so many people have opted to come along for the ride – or just follow along to watch the shitshow – is absolutely remarkable. I’d say I’m humbled by it, but since you have been following along, surely you know better than that.

I won’t make promises of grand changes for 2021. There will be no wild rebranding or shift in focus. I fully intend to just plug along doing what I’ve been doing. Hopefully you’ll continue to like it (and recommend it to your friends for their reading pleasure). 

The year in books…

This morning, Goodreads helpfully provided a summary of “My Year in Books.” It turns out that I’ve churned through 77 books and 32,168 pages this year. If I can keep up the pace between today and tomorrow, I’ll add one more book and 358 more pages to that total before we formally close out the year. Those are respectable numbers, but I’m a little surprised that they weren’t higher, being in a plague year and all. All in, I’ll have exceeded last year by 12 books and 5,000 pages, so the Great Plague earned me one additional book a month.

For purposes of not wanting to sound like a lunatic hoarder, I don’t formally keep track of the number of books that end up in the to-be-read stacks over the course of the year. I suspect that number might actually be lower than the number I read this year. That’s an unprecedented situation, at least in recent memory. 

As far as what I’m reading, that ebbs and flows between obscure histories to pop fiction, with a healthy dose of anything related to Buffy thrown in. I make absolutely no apologies for the eclectic nature of what ends up filling my bookcases, because I love them all – even if I love some of them more than others.

So, what do we expect from 2021? More of the same feels likely. Maybe in the back half of the new year I’ll get back to making the rounds of local (and a few far-flung) used book shops on a semi-regular basis. Maybe I’ll even take a long look at what’s currently on the shelves and make some hard decisions about titles that seemed interesting when I browsed them for a $1 a piece at a neighborhood thrift shop, but are unlikely to ever drift to the top of the pile. Then again, maybe I won’t do that at all. Surely there’s a way to just add some more bookcases to that back bedroom without hiring a structural engineer to check out how much dead weight the floor will actually hold before everything ends up in the crawl space.

The only thing I know with certainty, that was true in 2020 and will be true in 2021, is that no matter what the year looks like, there will always be more books I want to read than there is time to read them.

With all respect to The Twilight Zone, even when there’s “time enough at last” and your glasses work fine, it’s not nearly enough.

Christmas pud…

Christmas pudding, or plum pudding as it’s always been called around my family table, as far as I’m concerned, is the definitive flavor of Christmas. It’s the treat that’s topped off every Christmas night for as long as I can remember.

It’s a dish so rich and tasty that the regicide Puritan and traitor Oliver Cromwell banned it in the 1650s. It’s dessert made with beef fat and a host of other sweet and savories, so you know it’s bound to be good, right?

I’ve mostly come to terms with the idea that I won’t be making my traditional Christmas trip home. Schlepping across the plague lands to a place that’s recently made it into the New York Times as having one of the highest positivity rates in the country feels like a bad idea, regardless of the justification. It’s a tradition I care deeply about, but when pitted directly against my instinct for self-preservation doesn’t really stand a chance. 

While I’ve settled myself on the idea not being home for Christmas, I realized quite late in the game that I don’t have the skill (or time) to make a proper pud on my own. Having a plum pudding to serve up on Christmas night, though, is a tradition I simply am not willing to forego even in the face of global plague. Fortunately, our friends across the water in the mother country are happy to drop one in the post and have it flown over. If the tracking is to be believed, it should be here tonight or tomorrow.

Now all I’ll have to do is manage the vanilla sauce and some semblance of proper Christmas tradition can proceed uninterrupted in spite of taking place in an alternate venue. For 2020, that’s probably doing alright. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Expectations. Facebook is filled with people who can’t wait for this year to be over. As if they expect someone to wave a magic wand and January 1, 2021 will magically recreate the world as it was in December 2019 – The before time.  2020 wasn’t great for most people. I get it.  Will 2021 be better? Maybe. Maybe not. It will simply be different. Spending weeks and months believing it’s going to be the pinnacle of good times, or even in any significant way different than today feels, in a word, delusional.

2. Republicans. Every idiot coming out of the woodwork to cry “fake news” or “stolen election” is systematically working to suppress the number of Republicans who come out to vote in the Georgia special election for two open Senate seats. If you’re a Republican and not laser focused on holding a firewall in the Senate, you’re letting your teenaged girl-like infatuation with one person get in the way of seeing the whole board. You can stan Donald Trump as much as you want, but he lost. Period. We’ve got a chance to save the Senate and through that body temper the more extreme legislation being pushed from the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party. If you’d rather litigate history than get suited up for that fight, honestly, I have no idea what you’re doing here other than wasting your damned time.

3. Pay freeze. I see that the White House has joined the Senate in calling for an FY21 pay freeze for federal employees. Trump, Obama, Republican, Democrat. Party doesn’t matter as they’re both happy to implement pay freezes during their tenures in office. In a year that saw a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 bailout and individual cash payments of up to $1,200 per person (if you didn’t have the audacity to sell a property in 2019 and be ranked in the 1% for the 15 minutes between closing the sale and paying off the mortgage), pleading governmental poverty feels like a stretch… especially when the original proposal called for an already austere 1% increase and the federal government (despite the virus) is on track to receive a near-record amount of tax payments.

Beyond the big show…

It’s election day in America – or rather it’s the last day of voting season in a presidential election year. 

What people seem to forget is that the election, the physical act of voting is just part of the process. The act of citizenship isn’t a one and done. Casting a ballot is the big, showy event, but the governing that comes after is where it matters – and where people generally lose interest unless the issues involved directly impact them in some way.

It’s a fine thing for your party of candidate to win an election, but what do you do after that? Do you stay engaged? Do you show up at council meetings, call your elected representatives, donate to your favored causes? Do you keep fighting for your ideas, how you think the country should be run, or your vision for the proper role of government in the 21stcentury? Do you tune out until the media starts beating the drum for the next big election?

Tonight (and probably for the next couple of nights) we’re going to count the votes. There will, eventually, be a winner. Some will celebrate. Others will look into the camera with that thousand-yard stare wondering how their candidate could possibly lose. Elections, even more so those in the media age, are moments of high national drama. It’s easy to get so caught up in that drama that you forget there’s a tomorrow, and a day after that, and a day after that one.

What we do with those days after is at least as important in the small role we played in the big show on election day. Having voted Libertarian, I know even before the counting starts that my preferred candidate isn’t going to win when the final votes are counted. That’s ok. I won’t be taking to the streets later howling for blood or at least hoping to loot the local Best Buy. 

Instead of rending my garments, I’ll spend tomorrow and all the days after doing what I do every day – I’ll talk about the issues that are important to me. I’ll advocate for more severe penalties for animal abuse. I’ll lend my name and occasionally some cash to organizations fighting to preserve the 2nd Amendment. I’ll call and email my county commissioners and state representatives when local and state government get a little too open handed with our tax dollars. In short, I’ll continue to be an engaged citizen.

For tonight, though, I’ll sit back, keep a stiff drink close at hand, and see how the big show plays out.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Ammo. The ongoing shitshow that is 2020 has had many troubling moments. One of the bright spots, from my perspective, is that it’s brought a huge number of first time gun purchasers into the fold – people who have made a conscious decision that self-defense isn’t something they can or should leave to “the authorities” and decided that owing a firearm isn’t, shouldn’t be, the sole province of local Bubbas and Gomers. I think it’s absolutely terrific… but holy hell, this year has made it somewhere between hard and impossible to lay your hands-on ammunition at anything approaching a reasonable price. 

2. Housekeeping. If life in a plague year has revealed nothing else to me, it’s uncovered how much I truly despise basic housekeeping chores like dusting, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms. In the before time, I could get away with doing them no more than once a week since for huge stretches of time there was no one here getting things dirty. With me and the animals now occupying all parts of the house 24/7, though, I’m after it three times a week. Sure, it’s better than the alternative of being back in cubicle hell full time, but I’m not a fan of the new cleaning regime. I’ll keep at it, of course, because my deep desire for neat and orderly is far stronger than my aversion to running the vacuum one more time.

3. Cooking. Over the years I’ve grown reasonably competent at keeping myself fed. I have a three-ring binder of recipes I know I like – and most of which will provide me with a few days of leftovers so I can make large dinners for myself three nights a week instead of seven. I love every meal that comes out of that binder. The trouble is, now that we’re well into the seventh month of the plague year, I’ve made each of those recipes multiple times and the regular infusion of things picked up on the way home from work has dropped to almost non-existent. As competent as I am at feeding myself, sometimes you really just want someone else to do it. Those opportunities, by my own choice, are few and far between. Sure, I could drum up some new recipes, but, for the same reason I don’t pick new things off a menu in my favorite restaurant, that would inevitably lead to ending up spending time an effort making food I won’t necessarily enjoy. I’d rather sit down to a meal I’m bored with than risk something that’s inedible… so it looks like I’ll be spending some time over the next few weeks tweaking some of the old recipes to see what I can come up with.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

I’m about as freedom loving a libertarian leaning Republican as you’re likely to find. Smart people are telling me that covering my face holes with as simple piece of cloth is helpful in reducing the spread of a disease that’s currently wrecking the economy and killing some people. They’re not telling me that a mask is the cure. They’re not saying it will magically stop the spread of all airborne particles. They’re saying that in their best scientific estimate, a mask will reduce transmission if I wear one when I’m away from home and in proximity to other people.

Yep, it’s hot and uncomfortable. My glasses fog up and the four-month lack of barbering means my beard sticks out at the edges in a way resembling nothing so much as a 70s porn star wearing a bikini. I don’t like wearing a mask, but doing it because smart people say I should isn’t in any way infringing on my constitutional liberties. There’s no part of the Constitution that guarantees your right to make others look at your stupid face.

If you’re one of the people tempted to respond to this post arguing that “it’s just the flu” or “it’s the media” or “it’s a vast left-wing conspiracy,” just go ahead and shut the fuck up. This isn’t about politics. It’s a very simple matter of smart versus stupid… although it has gone a long way towards showing which mouth breathing yokels we should collectively avoid even when masks are no longer needed.

What I learned this week…

At the risk of being accused of not taking anything seriously, the thought that’s occurred to me more often than any other this week is wondering how, exactly, so damned many people have eight or nine days off, largely in the middle of the week, to be able to spend so many days in a row schlepping around the streets of America’s major cities. 

I wish I were even being facetious. I’m simply amazed that so many people have the amount of free time in the middle of the day that being this level of involved would require. I mean don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a nice pile of vacation time stacked up, but not so much I can fire off a week of it at a time due to unplanned circumstances.

Maybe what I learned is that I’m not getting as good a deal on leave as I thought I was. Best believe I’ll be making sure to educate myself further on this one.

At the risk of falling victim to internet outrage…

In the age of financial panic, COVID-19, and riots in the streets, my day to day experiences bear very little resemblance to what I’ve been watching on the nightly news. It’s very much like watching the whole thing unfold like an oddly scripted TV series where facts are made up and the plot is almost entirely nonsensical.

I’m getting up, feeding the animals, going to work, making dinner, and doing those million things a week that keep a household running. I think the so what here is that for every criminal cop, every window smashing rioter, and every grasping politician there are millions of people who are basically like me – focused more on whatever it is they do to get through their own day than whatever it is the news broadcasts and social media channels are spewing.

You’ll never see pictures of that, because people getting on with life isn’t flashy. It’s not newsworthy. It is, though, just about the most common thing in the world.

So if you want to hang your social media in black bunting, go for it. You want to imagine yourself a daring revolutionary standing tall among the barricades, that’s fine. Want to rend your garments because you hate wearing a face mask? It’s your funeral.

Just know that outside the echo chambers of social media and the news outlets there’s a vast swath of America that’s sick to death of fuckery in all the forms 2020 has decided to present to us… and it’s not that we don’t care about what’s happening so much as it is that while everyone else in the country seems to be able to spend weeks on end rallying or marching, a couple of us are still working and trying to manage the day-to-day.

Maybe some people won’t say it for fear of drawing the ire of the interwebs, but I’ve never posted anything for fans, or clout, or praise, but just because it’s what happened to be rattling around my head on any given day. Why should today be any different?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The NeverEnding Project. If it weren’t for the Great Plague, I’d have had this particular project behind me for almost a month now. Instead, though, it got delayed, deferred, and then converted to an “online experience.” A better man than me might be laser focused on delivering a world class product – or at least be interested in something beyond the minimum acceptable standard… but honestly, my only objective is for this time-sucking vanity project to reach its long-suffering conclusion, regardless of whether it’s good, bad, or mediocre.

2. The market isn’t the economy. A million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a youth, an obscure southern governor won the presidency on the back of the mantra “It’s the economy, stupid.” Despite the easy money propping up the stock market right now, I have to think that underlying economic conditions driven by our response (or lack thereof) to the Great Plague will be what drives Election 2020 as we draw towards November and people broadly start paying attention to electoral politics. My take, bound to be unpopular in MAGA circles, is that if the Republican Party wants to maintain any relevancy in the next four years, it’s time to focus all our time and money on holding on to the Senate.

3. Complaints. The number of things I do on a weekly basis because “if we don’t, someone might complain” should be disturbing. Doing things just so MaryJane Douchebag doesn’t open her yap just doesn’t feel like a good enough reason to do something that you wouldn’t otherwise do. No one (except me) seems to find it disturbing, though. I have no idea when we became a society that spends so much time worrying that someone might complain, but here we are. It’s dumb, I hate it, and it’s just another example of how the 21st century is absolute trash.