What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Historical context. Despite having featured prominently in an Obama Administration read across America event in 2015, Dr. Seuss is now, apparently, the author of racist content. The guy was born in 1904 and did his most prominent work in the mid 20th century. Expecting that his writing would reflect whatever ultra-woke orthodoxy is in vogue here in the 21st century is patently ridiculous. If we’re going to judge every writer who ever put ink on paper by modern standards, the allowed reading list is going to be awfully restricted. If your goal is to only allow approved, untroublesome content that supports your philosophical notion of how the world ought to be on your shelves, I suppose it’s a good position to stake out. Personally, I’ll go ahead and keep a wider range of books on my shelves. Then again, I’m not the kind of guy who’s afraid of a little historical context seeping in around the margins. Being shocked that people are products of their times and don’t exist in accordance with contemporary beliefs would be adorable if it weren’t so incredibly dumb.

2. The US House of Representatives. The House is closed for business today because of the threat of a follow-on insurrectionist attack. That sends exactly the wrong message. It speaks to fear and intimidation – that the rebels of January 6th were at least partially successful. Holding up the business of the republic out of fear of common rabble is nothing more than a missed opportunity. Better keep on, draw them near, and then crush them utterly. 

3. Taxes. I got my prepared tax return back from the accountant’s office this week. Seeing the gory details all there in black and white is just about enough to make me gag. As my favorite for instance, in 2017 the top 50% of income earners in this country paid 96.9% of all income taxes (with the evil 1% paying 38.5% of all income taxes collected). We’re not just taxed on income, of course. Individuals also face payroll tax, capital gains tax, property tax, a whole universe of excise taxes, and more. You’ll never convince me that the problem is that we’re not being taxed enough in this country. We’ve got a veritable orgy of spending that’s been getting worse regardless of what party holds the whip hand, but as long as votes can be bought with dollars from the treasury, I can’t imagine ever getting it under anything approaching control.  

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Context. “Eisenhower wasn’t a great general because I’ve recently learned he was *very* anti-LGBT.” Uh. Well. He held supreme command in the 1940s. Context is king, people. Expecting a man born in 1890 to somehow embody the all the woke-ist 21st century sensibilities is, in a word, stupid. It’s like saying Charlamagne wasn’t a great commander because he refused to go vegan. 

2. Auto Save. I had a perfectly nice little post mostly written for Tuesday. I was wrapping up a final thought right before the power stuttered just enough to cause my computer to shut down. Historically the Mac auto-saves before it dies, but in this case everything just disappeared into the ether.  It’s the sort of thing generally prevented by the uninterruptible power supply… which also is apparently no longer working. So it’s a bit of a bad week for the home computer set up all around, really.

3. Numbers. Either I’m wrong or the spreadsheet is… and I’m pretty sure it’s not me. Or maybe it is. The real lesson here is that I should never be allowed to do work that involves large columns of numbers without close adult supervision. It very rarely ends well. Although I’ll make sure it at least ends “close,” so there’s that.

Looking for pie…

For the last thirty minutes of my workday I couldn’t help but overhear a colleague making multiple phone calls, desperately trying to “find pie.” I don’t have any idea whether he was looking for pie, pi, or PIE, but the man was committed. I’m writing this just as a reminder that in almost everything context is king… because I can’t for the life of me shake the mental image of this guy desperately seeking “the whole pie” that someone had maliciously taken from him.

Come to think of it, I could really go for a nice coconut custard or lemon meringue. I’m sure it’s not what anyone was talking about but like I said, context matters.

Renewed…

Based on the email that arrived overnight from my domain registrar, it looks like http://www.jeffreytharp.com will be sticking around for at least another year. I suppose that could be good or bad depending on your point of view.

Taken wholly out of context, the email left me thinking about the issue of renewal in more general terms. It strikes me that this is a chance to evaluate where this blog has been and where it’s going, what’s worked well enough, and where I’d like to nudge it in slightly different directions. None of that is the work of a single day and certainly not of a single post.

Lately I’ve been kicking around the idea that I need to tighten up the focus of my writing a little bit. As you’ve no doubt seen, what shows up here tends to be sort of wide ranging, off the cuff ideas and commentary. That’s one of the aspects of this blog that I’ve always enjoyed. It has occurred to me, though, that in order to make it more than just whatever happens to be on my mind at any given point in the day (and to broaden its appeal beyond people who know me and want to see what I happen to be ranting about), there needs to be some kind of method overlain onto my particular brand of madness.

When it gets right down to where the fingers meet the keys, I don’t know exactly what I want this space to say about me and what I’m trying to do with my small slice of the internet. I have a hard time imagining that I’d be able to stay focused on just one or two main themes after I’ve spent the last seven years blogging about whatever notion captured my interest. With all that said, I want to believe it can be more than what it is currently. You might say I have a passion for this kind of writing. The commitment I’ve made to keeping this page current – now racing towards it’s eighth anniversary – is the longest commitment I’ve ever willingly made to anything in my life. If that doesn’t speak to passion for an activity, I’m not sure what would.

Now if I could just gin up a way to make this work a little less pro bono and a little more income earning, we might be on to something here. Then again that one time when I tried to make my living from history, my first passion in life, it quickly turned into work and a situation other than fun. Maybe I’d be best served by not trying to make a buck off of this one and just keep doing it because it’s what I love.

All of that because Go Daddy sent me an email. Sometimes I really do wonder just how the hell my brain works.

Celebrating Columbus…

I’m told by today’s endless media loop that celebrating Columbus Day isn’t cool. Blah, blah, genocide, blah, blah, conquest, blah, blah not a very nice man. Blah. Here was a guy who loaded three small wooden ships, pointed them west, and hoped at some point to find land waiting for him on the other side of the ocean before he ran out of food and water.

Christopher_Columbus“But, but,” they say, “He was looking for the Indies and only landed in the Caribbean by accident.” I suppose that’s true… but since I know people who can’t go across town without using their in-car navigation system, Google Maps, and hand written directions, I’m willing to cut the guy some slack considering he decided to cross an ocean using wind power and maps that were, at best, a wild ass guess of what might be out there.

“But, but,” they say again, “He killed all those nice natives.” Yeah, he did that. Can’t deny it. What seems to be forgotten in the discussion is Europe in the 1400s was a regular charnel house. Between the black plague and the Hundred Years’ War, letting the bodies hit the floor in the new world most likely didn’t particularly strike anyone as an unnatural state of affairs. All of our contemporary assessments of Columbus come from a 21st century perspective that is at least a full lifetime removed from any real concept of mass die-offs caused by war and pestilence.

We simply lack a point of reference for what “normal” was in the late 15th century. Even as a student of history, I always had a problem with those in the business who feel the need to apply contemporary morality to historical events. History is all about subtlety and context… and both are completely lacking when we try to hold Columbus to the standards of modernity.

Today, I’m celebrating Columbus Day. If that’s not cool, well, so be it.