Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Two Sides of Living in the Moment

Pumpkin gave me two notebooks for my last birthday: one small one of the style that I use for my daily to do lists and one larger one with sparkles on the front.
Sparkly notebook

It took me a while to figure out what to do with the second notebook, but I eventually decided to use it as something like a gratitude journal. I wanted something to help me remember to enjoy the day to day things in life, and on a bit of a whim I decided that I would write an entry in this notebook every night before bed with three things:
  • A short summary of the day
  • Memories I want to keep
  • What I'm grateful for
For instance, last night's entry says:

Work, a quick trip to Kohl's after dinner w/[Petunia], rugby watching after kids' bedtime.

Memories: [Petunia] carefully trying on every style of boot before selecting the front-runner choice (Frozen-branded boots). How nice it is to work in the new office in the late afternoon.

Grateful for: having enough money for these things

The first entry says:

Beach day with [Petunia's] day care buddies.

Memories: [Petunia] going "out deep" with [her friend]. [Pumpkin] building a big sand castle on her own. [Mr. Snarky] making a river with a bunch of kids. Sitting in the shade eating Doritos and chatting with [other moms]. Snuggles from [someone's adorable baby].

Grateful for: Friends.

As you can see, these entries are not long or profound. To be honest, I tried this because I wanted to show Pumpkin that I was using her gift. I didn't know if I'd keep it up. I still don't, but I can tell you that it is a surprisingly nice bedtime routine.

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Monday, I had a dentist appointment. I hate getting my teeth cleaned. This is one time when I don't want to "be in the moment" at all. As I was lying there trying to not clench up while the hygienist scraped at something, I thought about how much nicer it would be if I could be reading the really interesting article I was reading on my phone right before the hygienist called me back.

And then I thought: I have finally found the killer use case for Google Glass.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Realizations and Celebrations

I'm having a tough week.

It is three months until my current main contract may or may not end- it is the way of contracting that I won't know for certain for another month or two. I don't have another contract right now, so I decided I need to start really looking for one. Friday, I made a plan for doing that, and it is a bit...daunting. I've come to realize that I was far more burned out by the events of early 2014 than I'd really acknowledged, and that led me to be a bit slack about building the contracting side of my business. Since that is the side that pays the bills, that was a mistake. Friday, I looked that mistake in the face and acknowledged what it means. It wasn't particularly pleasant to do that, but it was necessary.

Meanwhile, sales of Unspotted aren't as strong as I'd like. I have some reviews lined up that should post soon, and that will hopefully help. I also started a GoodReads campaign for it, trying to help it find its audience. In the process of doing that, I discovered that there were somehow two extra editions of the book on GoodReads. I've got that cleaned up now, I think, but it was frustrating and the end result isn't exactly how I'd like it.

And I'm in the lull period of sign ups for my Better Projects class. This is completely predictable: there's a spike when you first announce, another one right before the early bird registration ends, and (if you're lucky) another one right before registration closes. But it is still a bit demoralizing. I'm working hard to get the word out and sign people up, both because money is good and because I really believe in this class. It is hard to be hustling hard on something like that and not see the pay off yet.

In other news, our construction project is almost done, but we discovered a problem with drainage, and have decided that we have to fix out patio to resolve it. One the plus side, we get the new patio we wanted but decided we couldn't afford. On the negative side- more money flowing out of our accounts. Also, Mr. Snarky is spending his day today digging up a bush that is in the way of the new patio. I am not sorry to see the bush go. I am extremely allergic to its flowers. But, we have this huge to do list of other chores that I'll now have to do essentially on my own, since he is out in the hot sun digging up a bush.

To top it all off, I put off filling my birth control pills prescription until the last minute and then discovered I'm out of refills. GAH. That was an entirely avoidable mistake.

So, I'm in a bit of a funk.

But, my calendar says that it is time to launch the Tungsten Hippo Turns Two birthday celebration, so launch it I did! Nothing pulls you out of a funk like a celebration, right? And this is a good one. I'm giving away a copy of the next Annorlunda Books release (the one after Okay, So Look) to everyone who is on the Tungsten Hippo mailing list by November 1. I think the Tungsten Hippo mailing list is pretty cool, too- it delivers the week's recommendation, quote, and any other posts, short ebook related news and announcements, and a randomly selected bonus recommendation to your inbox every Sunday morning. So, join the celebration, get a fun email every week, AND get a free ebook November 1.

Also, some of our best friends have family in town, so we met them at the beach yesterday afternoon. There was much boogie boarding. I wish I had gotten a picture of Petunia's giant smile as she got to join in the boogie boarding fun with a brand new board she and Mr. Snarky went and bought before the beach trip. It was pure joy. Pumpkin had a blast, too. The water felt wonderful, and we had a nice meal at Rubio's afterwards. Pumpkin even agreed to eat a quesadilla there.

Then, after the kids were in bed, Mr. Snarky and I reassembled our entertainment center and celebrated by watching the England-Wales rugby game. Before the game, the players were all wearing shirts that said "tackle doping." I was clearly tired, because here is the transcript of the conversation Mr. Snarky and I had about that:

Me: "Tackle doping? What does that even mean?"

Him: ????

Me: "How do you dope a tackle?"

Him: ?!?!?!?!?!

Me: "OH! Tackle DOPING.  I get it. It is about doping, not tackles."

Him: shakes his head in disbelief.

So, life is full of good things and fun moments. I am trying to keep those in mind, even while I put my grubbies on and go and tackle that to do list.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Really Rather Eclectic Edition

Another week gone, another chance to write more than one post in a week missed.... I won't even pretend that things are likely to be better next week, because Petunia's birthday is next Friday and we're going to Disneyland. I'll be a bit busy getting ready for that. In fact, that is part of what ate up my potential blogging time this week: I was clicking through to the menu for every single restaurant in Disneyland and California Adventure, identifying potential dining options that would work for my kids. It took a lot of time, but I hope it pays off in a happier visit to the happiest place on earth...

Anyway, I do have some links. First, though, since I keep forgetting to include my blatant self-promotion links in these posts, some blatant self-promotion. I have two things to tell you about:

1. I am now enrolling for the October session of my "introduction to project management for non-project managers" class. This is the same class I gave in June, with a new name to avoid a namespace collision with an unrelated book. I've raised the price a little bit (I gotta keep the kids in trips to Disneyland, you know...) but it is still a really good deal compared to similar classes. And actually, I don't know of any truly similar classes. Most project management classes focus on a single "flavor" and tend towards a heavy process that is probably not appropriate for most of the readers of this blog.

The students in the first class included professors, graduate students and postdocs, people in other academic roles, and people in industry jobs. I got nice feedback from many of the students, some of which I have quoted on the class page. And, as before, I offer a money back guarantee. If you take the class and think it sucked, I'll give you your money back.

Early bird registration runs through October 9, but if you sign up earlier you get good karma points for making me worry less about my sign up rate.

2. The next release from Annorlunda Books is now available for pre-order. Details and links to all the lovely pre-order options are on the book's web page.

The book is called Okay, So Look, and is a novella-length humorous retelling of the Book of Genesis. Author Micah Edwards is a professional comedian who has an obvious deep knowledge of and real affection for his source material. Every single person I've given this book to so far has said they really enjoyed reading it. I did, too, which is why I'm publishing it.

It will be out in paperback as well as ebook, and on a few more retail sites once it is actually released on October 14. Not all of the sites let a little publisher like me set up a pre-order. If you volunteered to be an advance reader, I'll send you your review copy next week. (If you wish you'd known I was looking for advance readers, consider signing up for my Annorlunda Enterprises mailing list.)

OK, that's enough blatant self promotion. On to the links!

This story about telling a little girl she has HIV is devastating and heart-warming and really, really good.

One of my Facebook friends shared this post about really being pro-life. I read it and thought "this is someone with whom I could find common ground" which is rare when I read anything by someone who is pro-life.

I am firmly in favor of a woman's right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. I think abortions should be legal, safe, and far more readily available than they are. I also would like to work towards a world where they are rare. I had a tiny little pregnancy scare recently, and even while I was contemplating how another pregnancy would turn my life inside out, and how it would make my current work situation really, really difficult, I knew that if it turned out to be a pregnancy and not a scare, I would go ahead with the pregnancy.

Since having kids, my feelings on abortion are a real jumbled mess. Before I had kids, I think I would have considered an abortion if I was pregnant at a bad time. Now, I never want to have one. I would only consider an abortion if my life was at risk. I understand and respect the decisions of the women who have had them, no matter their reasons, but I don't want one.

What I really want is better birth control options. Even before the aforementioned scare, I was seriously considering having my tubes tied. (For reasons I will not discuss here, any surgical options will need to be on me, not my husband.) I'm getting a bit old to still be on the pill, although at least I have found a formulation that doesn't give me visual migraines. I didn't like the Mirena. I guess we could just use condoms but I'd rather not.

We really do need better options.

Anyhow, moving on...

Still talking about my uterus, but only in a peripheral sense: What My Uterus Can Teach You about Being a Tech Leader is a great title, and it is a really good piece, too.

I love this idea of feeding online trolls science. I rarely get trolled, but if I ever do, I'm going to try this.

Now that we're all done laughing about David Cameron and the pig, read this really good post about the problem with initiation rituals and power.

Weirdly, still talking about pigs... I really liked this cartoon with advice on creative work. Hat tip to A Gai Shan Life for that one. She also had a recent post on internet shopping and reading it made me realize I've graduated from the "buy everything I possibly can online" phase of parenthood to the "hey, a trip to Target is a treat!" phase. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not.

I love this tweet:




And that's all I have this week. Have a good weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Companies Behaving Badly

Corporate malfeasance has been in the news lately. First, Volkswagen was caught cheating on its
Gordon Gekko won.
emissions test for its diesel cars
. This is an upsetting story for two reasons: (1) a huge amount of extra pollution was emitted by people who thought they were buying a "green" car, and (2) it highlights the fact that we need to bring our regulatory processes up to date for an age in which the cheating can be done by software. Zeynep Tufekci has a really good op-ed in the NY Times about the second issue.

And then the Martin Shkreli and Turing Pharma hit the news with the decision to jack up prices on an old anti-infective used to treat malaria and toxoplasmosis. Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline has an excellent explanation of why other companies can't just come in and compete the price down like they usually do for generic drugs (its a loophole in the FDA regulations) and a rundown of other similar cases we've seen recently. Basically, some people more interested in finance than drug discovery and development have discovered they can make a lot of money on a certain class of old drug, and are doing so, with sometimes tragic consequences (read this comment on one of Derek Lowe's other posts on the topic and tell me you don't want to punch someone).

Derek Lowe also has a good, eloquent post about how Martin Shkreli and his ilk do not represent the attitude of the drug discovery industry, but how we need to do more to explain why what they are doing is not the same thing as what the rest of the pharma industry does. I'll go a step further and say that the rest of the pharma industry should think long and hard about whether the slimeball behavior of Shkreli and the other profiteers is just the logical and horrible extension of their business practices.

Yes, drug companies are companies and have to be run with an eye on making money. But from where I sit, a lot of the industry has gotten a little too focused on short term financial goals. You need to watch the money to make sure you stay in business, but there is a difference between staying in business and dancing a dance that will kill you in the long run to keep Wall Street happy in the short run. I am not an expert on finances by any stretch, but a lot of us on the science side of the business have felt like the finance guys have a little too much power right now, and we worry that they're driving our industry over a cliff.

Whenever people point out the issues of focusing so much on short term profits, we hear about the fiduciary duty of the company's executives and directors. But what does that actually mean? Despite what we often hear, there is no special duty to run a business to maximize shareholder value.

I see the value of our financial system, but I think we've let its values have an outsize influence on the values of our society. How, really, is a value system that says the most important concern is to maximize shareholder value all that different from the value system that Shkreli apparently operates under, in which it is absolutely OK to exploit a loophole to make as much money as possible on a drug you took absolutely no risk in developing- the impact on patients be damned? He's just maximizing value for the people who invested in his company, after all. How is it all that different from the value system that was apparently in place in Volkswagen, that said it was OK to cheat on emissions tests so you could sell more cars?

We act shocked when we see these egregious examples, but to me, they're just the logical, if extreme, extensions of the values we've allowed to become our guiding principles as a society: money matters more than anything, and it is OK- desirable even!- to do everything that is legally allowed to make more money. No other ethics need be considered. We already shrug off overworking salaried employees and abusive scheduling practices applied to hourly employees, after all- it makes the company more profitable, so how could we expect anything different?

Well, I expect different. I don't know how we change these values, but I think we have to try. Otherwise, we will surely see more and more scandals- or worse, we'll just get more and more inured to the crappy things companies do in the name of maximizing profits and we'll stop thinking of these things as scandals at all.

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In completely unrelated news, I'm running another session of my class that introduces the fundamentals of project management so that you can make your projects run better, and get more done with less stress. Here's the post I wrote introducing this session. If you're interested, check it out and sign up!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Day Late Edition

This post is a day late because I spent all day yesterday in LA. I drove up to give a talk, and then since I was up there, I arranged to meet several people for various reasons- including Tragic Sandwich because we just wanted to meet IRL. It was a great day, but it was a long day. I think I spent roughly 5.5 hours in my car. Hooray for my Prius: I still have 1/3 of a tank of gas.

I meant to prep the links ahead of time and post them from a coffee shop at some point during the day (like I did for the Tungsten Hippo quote), but that didn't happen.

Writing here isn't happening as much as I'd like right now. I got myself a wee bit overbooked right now, and am not finding as much time to just blog as I'd like. Things should ease up a bit soon- I just gave the talk that was one of the items filling up my schedule, I've got proofs back for Annorlunda Books' next publication (reminder: if you're interested in being an advance reader on this one, sign up here), and the renovations are asymptotically approaching done.

But for now, I'm pretty busy, and hobby blogging gets only the amount of attention I need to give it to keep myself sane. I do make notes on posts I want to write during periods like this, and eventually I have a burst of posts and probably over the course of  year or so it all evens out.

Busy or not, I do have a few links for you, so let's get to them.

Here's a nice review of Unspotted.

Speaking of Tragic Sandwich, I really liked her most recent post.

This is a pretty searing indictment of the white author who pretended to be a Chinese woman. I also saw reports that the name he chose was of a former classmate, which is just disgusting if that is true.

The internet after ad blocking. The ad blocking issue is a fight between tech titans- and content producers are collateral damage.

Here is a nice story about welcoming immigrants.

Why does gender neutral mean boy stuff is for everyone, but girl stuff is still just for girls? Ha ha ha. I know why. But why don't we work harder to change it?

What descriptions of future kitchens miss.

I don't have something funny to end on, but I do have something awesome: this photo of a bunch of moms in the Army breastfeeding.

Also, here's the story behind the cute purple girl dinosaur shirt I made for Petunia.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Muddling Through, the Parenting Edition

I mostly try to keep parenting stuff in perspective: people are amazing resilient and adaptable. I hate the hand-wringing, high stakes style of a lot of the things that get written about parenting. Relax, I think, a lot of this is out of your control, and we barely understand the stuff that is in our control. We're complex creatures, and it seems unlikely that any one parenting choice will make that much difference.

But... the sum of our parenting choices can make a huge difference. The hard part is that we don't know ahead of time which parenting choices are going to be the big ones.

A bunch of things have combined to make me think about this lately.

I'm reading Bob Sutton's book Good Boss, Bad Boss, which was a follow up to his famous book The No Asshole Rule. And I started to think about where assholes come from. I don't really think anyone is born an asshole. Or more accurately, we're all born assholes (really: newborns are the most self-centered and demanding creatures on the planet) but most of us grow out of it (mostly). So why do some people stay assholes? I suspect parenting has at least a little bit of a role in it. I don't think it is all down to parenting, and if you're still an asshole as an adult, I blame you, not your parents... but if I think about why some people are assholes, I think the answer is "no one taught them not to be," and parents have a big role in teaching their kids not to be assholes.

People like to make fun of the "touchy-feely" parenting approaches, but maybe they're reducing the number of assholes in the world. Or maybe they aren't. We don't really know. Still, I seriously doubt anyone sets out to raise an asshole, so there are probably some parenting choices that matter in this regard.

I also continue to think about the Patrick Blanchfield post about Sandy Hook and privilege that I linked to a few weeks ago. The part that is really sticking with me is the bit about how sometimes the "right" thing to do as a parent is help your kid learn to adapt to the world, rather than forcing the world to adapt to your kid. Of course, sometimes the world does need to adapt to the kid. Knowing which situation you're in is not as easy as I assumed it would be.

And let me tell you, these particular parenting stakes feel really high sometimes, even when you're faced with issues far less complex than what Nancy Lanza was dealing with.

Pumpkin is a wonderful, delightful child. All of her teachers and camp counselors tell us that. She has plenty of friends, and is happy at school. What more could I hope for?

Well, she's also a fairly sensitive kid. Sensitive isn't the right word, but I don't know what a better word would be. High strung is too pejorative, although I will confess to thinking of her as high strung at times. Emotional isn't quite right. Highly empathetic only partially covers it.

Anyway, she feels things strongly. She can get overwhelmed by her anxiety sometimes. She can't stand to watch most movies, because she's worried about the scary bits. "Scary bits" does not mean what you might think: they include most elements of plot. She really wants to go on the Ariel Under the Sea ride at Disney California Adventure, but is worried about the part with Ursula, and is now saying she won't go.

You get the idea.

How much do I shield her from the stuff that bothers her, and how much do I work with her to find ways to handle it? I feel no need to make her learn how to tolerate more movies, but then there's a little bit of rain on the way to school in the morning and she almost loses it over the prospect of having to watch movies instead of having recess, and I wonder if maybe we should be working on teaching her to like movies.

I want to help her find the confidence to risk more and explore more, without making her miserable in the short or long term, and without sending the message that there is something wrong with who she is.

How the hell do I do that? I have no idea. We muddle along, trying our best. Some days, I'm sure we're screwing up completely. Other days, I'm marginally more hopeful.

We have a similar issue with food. We all agree that it would be better if Pumpkin ate more things, Pumpkin included. But getting there is not as easy as you might think. There is a lot of great advice out there for parents of kids who have fairly normal picky eating issues, but less information for how to handle a kid like Pumpkin, who is really afraid of new things. I am sympathetic- I am not that dissimilar- but we're at the point where it is hard to plan a trip to Disneyland (for instance) because of issues with what she'll eat. She knows this, and feels bad about it, and that can start a truly unhelpful spiral of anxiety. So I've been working with her on strategies for finding things to eat when we're out and about. Am I getting them right? Should I instead take a "too bad, this is what we're eating" approach? I don't know. I really don't. I just know that letting her get hangry doesn't seem to do anyone any good, so we tend towards the "accommodate her quirks" side on this one.

We are working on learning to like scrambled eggs, though. I offered a reward for being willing to try something new once a week, and scrambled eggs are what she seems to want to try the most. Will this work? I don't know. All the usual advice says that offering a reward for trying new foods is a bad idea, but those people don't have to try to plan my family vacations and I've tried all the usual advice and it hasn't helped at all.

We are all the products of so many experiences, the majority of which are not under our parents' control. I remind myself of this, and of the fact that I am a picky-eating, movie hating, sometimes overly anxious grown up who still lives a happy life, For the most part, all of our parenting dramas turn out OK in the end. I don't know that I ever ate a vegetable growing up, and now I make salads to accompany dinner most nights. I still don't care for most movies, but those are easy to avoid as an adult.

So we muddle on, loving our quirky kids, trying our best to figure out when to embrace the quirks and when to try to smooth them out, hoping we're doing OK.

Two delightful, quirky kids, neither of whom has starved.
Parenting: sometimes it is super high stakes, sometimes it doesn't matter what the hell you do. And you never really know which is which.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Mostly Lighthearted Edition

I have complicated feelings about September 11, but I do not think I could do justice to them if I tried to write about them. I'm going to ignore the significance of this date, and instead provide a mostly lighthearted list of links for your weekend reading.

The only serious link I have is to a post from author Patrick Rothfuss about a fundraiser Worldbuilders is running to help Syrian refugees.

This piece about hot chicken in Nashville is really good, and about more than just chicken.

The problem with Trillian - and with flat characters in general.

Paul Ford's article about how he's addressing the wage gap his daughter will face is really good.

I've written a lot about how writers get paid these days, so I'd be remiss not to share this article on the topic.

One of our Kiwi friends sent us this BuzzFeed post about New Zanada, and it made me laugh.

Ed Yong's article about the Homo naledi discovery is really great.

I'm busy working on the formatting of the next Annorlunda Books release, which is called Okay, So Look, and is a humorous retelling of the Book of Genesis by Micah Edwards. I wrote a bit about why I decided to publish this one in today's installment of Founding Chaos, and if you're curious, go read it (it is in the "Promos" section).

I won't reiterate it all here, I'll just say that this book easily met my stated publication criteria of "I like it, and I learned something." Actually, I really liked it. I think a lot of people will, if they'll give it a try, but that this is a book that might struggle to find its audience. Therefore, I'm hoping to get a lot of advance readers to help me spread the word. If you're interested, sign up here.

Don't forget I'm running a back to school sale until Tuesday.

I posted a new crappy thing I made: a "Disneyland Rocks" magic wand, made for Petunia, who is so excited about the upcoming trip to Disneyland (for her 6th birthday) that she made herself a crown, too.

Speaking of awesome little girls:




And with that, it is time for me to sign off and go pick up my two awesome girls from school, so we can head to the back to school picnic. Happy weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Back to School: A Fresh Start and a Sale

Today was the first day of school for my kids- and the first day of Kindergarten for Petunia.

Walking to school
Everything went well. The only person who cried at drop off was me, and I had sunglasses on, so only Mr. Snarky knew.

Petunia said her first day was "fine" and that she could understand her teacher as long as her teacher used her hands. (For new readers: my kids go to a Spanish language immersion school.) She was happy when I picked her up, and gave me a big hug, which was nice. My days of exuberant welcoming hugs at pick up time are numbered... Pumpkin just waved and said "hi, " no hug at all....

I'll be interested to see if Petunia has the same delayed anxiety about the immersion program as Pumpkin did. They have very different personalities, so perhaps she won't. But not being able to understand what your teacher is saying has got to be really hard for a kid, so perhaps she will. Regardless, I'm going to try not to worry about it. We're going out to dinner tonight to celebrate the first day of school, and we'll just focus on that for right now.

Last night, as I was making the scones that Petunia likes for lunch, I was thinking about how the new school year has always been my favorite time to start new habits- I like it even more than the new calendar year. I'd fallen out of this practice, since it has been something like 20 years since I had anything that felt like "back to school" myself, but having kids gives me the chance to revive it.

I decided that I'd revive my practice of getting up 20 minutes early and going for a run, and did indeed do that this morning. We'll see if I can keep that up.

I also decided that I'd run a "back to school" sale on my books, spurred on by the idea that maybe some people out there are wanting to make a "fresh start" by leaving academia, and Navigating the Path to Industry can help with that. One of the great things about running my own company is that I can make a decision like that on a whim, so why not? But, since this was a bit of a last minute whim, I didn't have time to change the prices in all the distribution channels. So, the sale is running through an offer code at my GumRoad account. If you purchase an ebook via my GumRoad account, you get the MOBI file (for Kindles), the ePub file (for other ereaders), and the PDF (for printing or reading on your computer), so although it isn't quite as easy as just clicking "buy now" on Amazon and having the book arrive magically on your Kindle, it isn't hard, either.

For the next week, if you enter "backtoschool" in the offer code box when you order Navigating the Path to Industry or Unspotted, or when you purchase the recording of the Run Better Meetings seminar, you'll get 30% off the purchase price.

Hurry- this offer ends next Tuesday, September 15 at midnight.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Weekend Reading: The World Breaks My Heart Edition

I actually had a wonderful day today. Petunia starts kindergarten on Tuesday, and she and I had a "special day" today, just like I'd done with her sister three years ago. We had so much fun.

I managed to put the rest of the world out of my mind for the day, which was necessary because large parts of the rest of the world- including some parts right here in the US- are heartbreaking right now.

It is shameful that it took a photo of a drowned three year old to wake us all up to the human suffering that is the "refugee crisis," but I guess it is not surprising. There is so much pain and suffering in the world, and the people in favor of higher walls, stricter policies, and the like are so sure of themselves and so strident, and those of us who would like to do more to help the less fortunate people in the world usually don't have such cut and dried policies to offer... so it is easier to just tune the entire thing out.

Until you see a photo like that, and are reminded that you would probably do the same thing those families are doing, if war came to your part of the world. You would try to get your family to safety, or at least I know I would. Staying and fighting seems less of an option when you have children you cannot protect from the bombs, or from conscription.

So now we're all trying to figure out what to do, and how to do it. And none of our countries have done all that well so far. It shouldn't have taken children dying to show us that, but then, it usually does. We also should have known what would happen when the countries with the land routes started putting up walls. Desperate people will still be desperate, and they will go the more dangerous way. And some of them will die. We already knew this. 

We like to think that we're not like the people trying to come to our wealthy countries, and this is not noble but neither is it evil- it is too scary and it hurts too much to really admit how precarious life is. But then we see a photo like the one of that little boy, and we can no longer pretend that we're all that different.

And that is why I think the photo is changing the conversation so much. 

Anyway, this is supposed to be a links post, so I'll link to my Tungsten Hippo post about a really thought provoking short ebook on borders. I don't necessarily agree with all of the author's conclusions- humans are certainly not the only territorial animals, for instance, so although our borders are a bit arbitrary, the fact that we make them is probably not as easy to dismiss as the author might like- but I think his arguments are really worth thinking about. He is arguing primarily from a place of morality, not practicality, and on that point I do agree. Our current system is pretty hard to defend from a moral standpoint, even if you only look at economic migration. When you also look at the plight of refugees, it is downright bankrupt.  

Speaking of morally bankrupt: the US "social safety net"or lack thereof feels pretty morally bankrupt to me, too. 

Read that story along with this thoughtful piece about the future of work from Tim O'Reilly. (Yes, geeky types, that Tim O'Reilly, the one responsible for all the tech books with funny animals on them that are on your bookshelves.)

The problem I have with the direction we seem to be heading is that we're just pushing more and more risk onto individuals. Retirement? You don't need a pension! Get a 401(k). Benefits? Just demand a premium for working as a contractor, and fund them yourself! Safety net? Save and make your own!

Go back and re-read that Vox piece on people living in the US on $2 per day if you don't see the problem with this transfer of risk from the collective to the individual. It usually works out OK for people like me, who have the skills that can demand a premium, and can make enough money for self-funded benefits and safety nets to be at least within the realm of possibility. At least it works out OK if enough of our luck holds. But it sure as hell doesn't work for the really poor people in this country. 

What will it take for us to recognize how similar we are to them? We seem immune to their suffering. 

Speaking of which, John Scalzi published an interesting piece looking at his "Being Poor" essay 10 years after he wrote it. I hadn't realized it was prompted by the lack of empathy people had towards so many of the people trapped in New Orleans after the storm. If something like Katrina happened now, would we have any more empathy? I doubt it. Once again, we like to think we're somehow different, that we'd never be caught in that situation. Once again, we're lying to ourselves if we think that.

So I guess the problem I have with the age of "continuous partial employment" that we seem to be entering is that it largely seems to be architected by and promoted by relatively privileged people who don't really understand how different their reality is from the reality of the people described in that Vox piece... and at the same time fail to grasp how vulnerable all of us are to the unpleasant surprises of life. The ethos about work coming out of Silicon Valley right now is tolerable- maybe even good- when everything is going as planned. But if your health falters, if you need to take care of an aging parent, if your kids don't do well with the "usual" arrangements... things start to suck pretty quick.

So, wow. That was a bit of a downer of a links post.

If you want to try to help the refugees, PRI has a list of some organizations to consider. Or maybe tell your politicians that you want your country to take more people in. 

If you want to help the poor people here, look for your local charities. If I hear of a good place to donate to help in the Mississippi delta, I'll let you know.

And because I think we need something to cheer us up after all of that, I give you President Obama dancing in Alaska:


And a few other links:



This is a really thoughtful and empathetic post about the problem with rape jokes. Read it even if you think you don't want to read another thing about the problem with rape jokes. 


I don't really have anything funny to end this post with, but for parents of seven year olds, this will probably sound familiar:


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