On the importance of knowing your audience…

I didn’t watch any of last night’s Super Bowl. The looks of confusion and disbelief when I tell people that is delicious. My up front admission of this saved me today from some, but not all of the conversations I didn’t want to have today. So vague is my understanding of the the state of modern football, even if I had watched, my only contribution was smiling and nodding at what felt like appropriate moments.

I don’t think my choice to be bowl-free makes me morally superior, but I can’t see any sense in watching something that doesn’t interest me when I have 300 channels of cable, 5 streaming services, and 1000 books stored away just waiting to be read. We live in a world where there are too many options to be troubled to stare at something that would bore me to tears.

I might flip on the occasional yacht race or tune in for women’s beach volleyball, but otherwise, there’s just nothing in the sporting world I consider a “must watch” event. There’s only so much free time on any given weekend and I’m determined to spend as much of it as possible doing things I want to do rather than things that might improve the next day’s water cooler conversation.

I mean I don’t drag disinterested people down into conversations about the details of Buffy episodes or the Royal Navy in the age of fighting sail. No matter how much those things interest me, I’m well aware they’re not for everyone. Now if I could just convince people to acknowledge that two groups of millionaires beating the hell out of each other for fun and profit need not be the central point of conversation we’d be all square.

Maybe I’ll just started responding to every football reference with “It’s just like when Rodney captured four ships of the line and prevented the French invasion of Jamaica during the Battle of the Saintes” or “I mean it’s not as bad as those couple of times when Buffy had to die to beat her big opponent.” All I’m saying is maybe you should know your audience a little before launching into a detailed discussion of your particular fandom. I promise you, the recounting of stats and plays sounds as nerdy to me as anything I could say about my fandoms does to you.

Lunch date…

For all my ranting and raving, I have a loose policy of not really talking too much here about my personal life. Often enough that’s because I’m not sure it would make for particularly dynamic reading. Plus, there’s the bit about the internet not needing to know absolutely everything I’m up to. Occasionally, though, there’s a little bit of a story that just too good not to share.

You see, I had a lunch date Sunday afternoon. Low pressure, low key, and the first time I’ve sat down in a restaurant since December 2019, when the rumors of plague started rumbling out of China. 

No, I obviously won’t name names, but she’s a lovely girl – charming, articulate, and a keeper of cats with at least a polite interest in books. I’d be hard pressed to remember when two hours in the presence of other people passed quite so pleasantly.

There’s a catch, of course – and not, probably, an obvious one. You see, in what I can only assume is typical of her fellow Millennials, there was a bit of a rant about capitalism, “the system,” and a Bernie-esq flavor of wishing to bring about a brave new socialist world. 

Look, I’m all for people being engaged, involved, and having informed opinions. I’m even up for the discussion should anyone want to have it. But it was hard not to chuckle a bit at the mental gymnastics it takes to talk about burning down the system while drinking $15 sangrias paid for by someone who earns their living by actively working to advance the system and prop up the military-industrial complex. Unless your plan is to dismantle the system one drink at a time, in which case then I suppose the revolution is now.

I’m not sure there will be a second date, but the first one was worth having if only for the pure entertainment value. 

What Annoys Jeff This Week?

1. Tucker Carlson. Tucker staked out a patently absurd position on his Fox evening entertainment program last week. I know, I know. I should be more specific because most of his positions come across somewhere on the absurdity spectrum. I know it was absurd because some of the most serious thinkers in DoD responded more or less instantly to rebut Tucker’s asshattery. They’re not generally people who feel compelled to stake out public positions, except in this case, ol’ Tuck decided to opine about things that are, by definition, these particular leader’s area of expertise. No one “attacked” Tucker. They simply had the audacity to tell him that he’s a moron and explain why that’s the case. No one violated the damned Hatch Act. Having a professional opinion doesn’t undermine civilian control of the military. Differing opinions are only dangerous when you’re so thin skinned or your position is so badly placed that you can’t defend it rationally. In this case, it seems Tuck and his supporters fall into both categories. As usual, the “leading lights” of right wing kook media have left me embarrassed to be an actual, practicing conservative.

2. Higher taxes. They say Joe is working on a new tax bill and it’s likely to be the largest tax increase since 1993. I see lots of people saying they don’t mind paying more taxes. Good on them. With or without a higher tax rate imposed by the government, they’re free to send as big a check as they want over to the treasury. They can do that. No one would stop them. But it seems what people mean when they say they don’t mind paying more tax is they don’t mind so you should pay more too. “But,” they’ll argue, “it only applies to people who make more than $400,000 a year – the ‘absurdly rich.’” Right, I think, because every tax that ever was started out as a tax on “just the wealthy” until our political machine needed a few more dollars over time and the “absurdly wealthy” became most every working sucker in the country. So, please, write as big a check to Uncle as you’d like. Feel free to give of your own income until it hurts. That’s your right and privilege. I’ll be over here fighting tooth and nail to keep every penny I’ve earned and distribute it how I see fit.

3. I spent today doing exactly the same things that I did yesterday. I answered emails, entered information in a fancy database, and generally moved electrons around from Point A to Point B as needed. The only difference between today and yesterday was where I was physically sitting when I did those things. Yesterday I was parked in the sun room with two dogs snoring in the background and today I was in my designated cube with seven or eight conversations humming in the background. Plus, today added an extra 80 minutes to the day since I had to drive to my cube and back to do exactly the same things I did yesterday from the comfort of my home office. “But we need to have a presence in the building,” is the most patently farcical reason I can think of to justify the construction, maintenance, and daily running cost associated with a modern office building. The argument against remote working forever is effectively that we need to have people in a special geographic spot because we happen to have a special geographic spot. As far as I can tell it has absolutely nothing to do with productivity or whether the work in any way depends on unique geographic positioning.

Record setting…

Sometime around 10:00 last Thursday night, jeffreytharp.com set 2020 as its best year for views yet. That’s not a bad place to be at the tail end of October and the numbers, of course, keep ticking up every day. Say what you want about the suffering of life in a plague year, but having people home, bored, and dinking around on the internet has done great things for my numbers.

I’m sure there are people out there who are making an actual living at this. God knows I get enough emails about “monetizing your platform.” That’s never been my goal here, though. The only reason jeffreytharp.com exists at all is as a venue for exorcising some of life’s daily bile without my brain exploding… and maybe offering up a bit of entertainment along the way.

Sure, making a few coins from it would be nice, but I value my position as an amateur bitcher and complainer. Maybe I could take the whole thing pro, but surely it would lose some of its charm when in the back of my head I’m always conscious of what drives views and spend time worried about who might be offended. That’s just a risk not worth taking, so we’ll keep on as we are… because I feel like there’s going to be a lot of things that need saying over the next few months.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Interesting times. People always say they want an adventure, or value new experience. They throw it all over social media, on their dating profiles, or bring it up any time they have introduce themselves. Now all you seem to hear is gnashing of teeth because someone isn’t getting an “authentic” high school experience or their long-awaited vacation was cancelled or their favorite holiday will look a little less Currier and Ives. They’ve landed smack in the middle of a once in a century pandemic and an election cycle like no one currently living has ever experienced… but that’s apparently not the “interesting times” they had in mind. It turns out what people really mean is they wanted entertainment and the illusion of adventure because the real thing is much harder to wrap your head around.

2. The Midwest. Talking heads keep yammering on about midwestern states “like Pennsylvania.” Buy a goddamned map. I know you’re using midwest as shorthand to mean “post-industrial” rust belt states, but you sound like an idiot somehow implying that Pennsylvania isn’t right here on the east coast. I suppose expecting nuance and detailed analysis from the professional media is far too much of an ask in this era of short attention span theater.

3. Election month. Back in my day, elections were held in on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. If you couldn’t make it to the polls on that day you could send in an absentee ballot. It seems to work well enough. I don’t know when exactly we started moving to having first an “election week” and now something more like an “election month,” but I’m not sure we’ve done much more than make what should be a simple proposition far more complicated than it needs to be.  And for the love of God don’t get me started on the people who are stomping around wanting to count mail in votes that arrive six and a half weeks after “Election Day.” If it’s really important to you, you wouldn’t have dawdled and would have had your shit in order well before the deadline. Personal responsibility matters.

In which I oppose mandatory fun…

Mandatory fun is bad. I don’t mean it’s badly intentioned. I’m sure whatever powers that be inflict mandatory fun on the rest of us probably think they’re doing something positive, if not exactly something wonderful. It just seems to me that the forced joviality of people who work together pretending to be the best of friends feels awful in just about every possible way. Consider, if you will, when was the last time you had an unadulterated good time at the office Christmas party or the company picnic? For the record, I don’t consider going because you need to “make an appearance” or because it’s slightly better than spending those hours at your desk to qualify as fun in this instance.

Most people make at least some small effort to have a firewall between what they do for fun and what they do to make a living. Maybe there was a time long ago, before everyone was an easily offended, uptight stick in the mud, when these official organizational celebrations were good times. Today they mostly feel like a formality – just a small nod to that bygone era. Most people will go along with it, of course, because making waves is rarely the best tactic to endear yourself to whatever bosses you serve. Go along. Get along. It’s one of the oldest stories in the working world. 

If you insist on mandatory fun, my recommendation is to keep it simple. Make sure there’s lots of food, back up a beer truck, and maybe hire a band. Let people self-select with what and who they choose to engage. That’s probably about as good a situation as you’re likely to manufacture. There are ways to screw that up, though. You could overlay the lukewarm pay as you go food with several mandatory training events and dispense with the beer truck, thus ensuring that even the illusion of a “fun day away from the office” is shattered completely. 

It’s easy in cases like this to blame the planners… but I can reasonably assure you that they want to deliver a better product than the specified and implied guidance allows. Experience tells me that the real fault in these cases lies in the realm of leadership and the good idea fairies that dwell with them. I mean if someone really was all that interested in boosting my morale, all they’d have to do was give me a couple of hours off and point me towards the closest used book shop. I don’t expect there would be a line for that, but then again I don’t subscribe to the idea that a good time necessarily has to be a team activity. 

It’s just a Game…

I read the Entertainment Weekly article on Game of Thrones’ eighth season this morning. I almost wish I hadn’t. Although it feels like it has been years since season seven ended and I’ve been giddy at the thought of the kind of monumental television the season might be, I’m not sure I’m ready for it to be over. I almost feels like it might be better if the 8th season went unaired so that it remains forever subject to imagination.

That’s not practical, of course. HBO expects a hefty return on their investment. There are spinoffs to market. And all, stories do eventually reach an end… even if we find their end unsatisfying (I’m looking at you here Sopranos).

I like a lot of television programs. There aren’t many of them that I feel invested in, though. Series come and go and for the most part once they’re gone I don’t spend much time thinking about them. TV is ephemera – something to be consumed in the moment rather than to be dwelled upon. Thrones is different not just because it’s occupied my imagination for nine years now, but because the story it tells and the characters themselves are just so damned compelling.

It’s just television – just a Game – but knowing that winter, at long last, is upon us, leaves me wishing the long summer had lasted just a little bit longer. I’m desperate to see who wins and who dies, but I’m just a little bit heartsick at seeing it all drawing to an end.

Blackout…

One of the walls of the room wherein I’m trapped for eight hours a day features three large televisions. At any given time at least one of them shows a feed from the major cable news outlets shouting the current headlines at us. You don’t realize how little “new” news happens in a day until you spend months with rehashes and repeats washing over you every 30 minutes. It’s possible there’s a lot of news breaking out there somewhere, but it’s an awfully small portion that anyone is going to spend time talking about (and trying to monetize through advertising).

One of the better side effects of this 40-hour a week exposure is that my brain seems to have developed a basic self-preservation strategy of tuning almost all of it out. When someone asks “hey did you hear that?” I can usually respond honestly with, “no.” The other side effect I’ve noticed is that this constant stream of news has left me bereft of the desire to watch or seek out any news for the rest of the day.

With the exception of a few minutes of local weather and finding out the daily body count in Baltimore when I get home from work, the rest of the night is almost completely news free. I should show more of an interest, but I find this newfound disinterest to be a remarkably freeing experience. Sure, I still care what goes on in the world, but I’m becoming a hell of a lot more selective about what I want to burn an increasingly limited amount of mental bandwidth learning about or engaging on.

Some news is good for entertainment value (when bad things happen to stupid people), other bits are good to know because it impacts finances (business news and federal budget stuff), and finally there’s the space allocated to any news or information involving animals. Past that, maybe I should care, but I just don’t. Whatever intellectual energy I have left once I get home is far more effectively spent focused on the next spy novel or great thick books about war.

I intend this self-imposed (partial) news blackout to continue indefinitely.

Doing stuff…

I’ve mostly accepted that aside from making a quick stop to top off groceries or for fuel, weekdays are going to be mostly consumed by going to, being at, and returning from work. By the time I get home, tend the herd, and have a bit of dinner, my brain has pretty much turned to mush. All I’m good for after that is mixing a decent drink and maybe a passingly interesting blog post.

The weekends, for their part, aren’t much better with their time eaten up with errands, cleaning, yard work, and generally keeping the homestead from falling down around my ears. By the time that all gets knocked out, it’s usually already late Sunday afternoon.

What perplexes me, and in fact makes me a little bit jealous, is how other people seem to carve out time to actually go do things for recreation. Of course I’m not likely to show up in a stadium full of people, but I wouldn’t mind so much getting out to stomp around the high ground at Gettysburg or take the tour at Independence Hall. Those things take time, though, and I know the minute I pull out of the driveway my mind is already going to ticking off the things that are lurking around not getting done.

I’m telling you folks, inside my head is a damned strange place to live sometimes.

Thanks Hollywood or: The Most Important News of the Day…

I like movies. I don’t like going to the theater to watch them, of course, because people, but still I like the idea of losing yourself to a story for a couple of hours. As much as I like movies, I’ve always struggled a little bit with the “awards show” concept. It’s always struck me as a bit of inside baseball, when the market already does a pretty fair job of telling us what movies are “good” and which ones were “bad.”

Box office receipts aren’t everything, I know. Some movies are made because someone with deep pockets and enough horsepower to get it done want to follow their passion. If you’ve got tens of millions of dollars to spend and that’s what you’ve set your sights on, I say good on you and go with God.

Having a laundry list of insiders telling me what movie was “best,” though, doesn’t really work for me. I find movies, like every other kind of art, to largely be something that largely depends on the eye of the beholder. I like period drama and old masters. That someone else likes comedy and modernism doesn’t make either one of us more right or more wrong.

With all of that said, I’m utterly and completely perplexed by the cry that rose last night from social media and today across the news sites and morning talk programs. I “work live” all day every day and can say with certainly that mistakes happen. You correct them and move on as quickly as possible, which seems to be what they did last night. That it’s something that anyone cares about enough to make it The Most Important News of the Day leaves me with even less faith in humanity than usual. Thanks Hollywood.