Thursday, March 31, 2016

Style as a Skill, and the Perennial Money vs. Time Decision

When I was a kid, I had a vision of what I would be like when I grew up. I always had a job of some sort. What, exactly, I thought I'd be doing would change, but I always had a career. I also had a nice home, which was stylish, yet comfy. And also tidy. This last bit is funny, because to say my room was messy as a child is an understatement of monumental proportions. But when I imagined what I'd be like as a grown up, my house was clean. Interestingly, the house of my imagination consisted of a dining room and living room. I can still almost see what I thought those would look like, but can't recall thinking about the other rooms at all.

I also imagined that I myself would be stylish and put together. Not super fashionable- that has never really appealed to me. But I would have a sense of style, and I would be confident in it.

I have actually achieved all of what I imagined, except that last part. My home is stylish enough for me. It is sometimes less tidy than I'd like, but it is tidy enough, and the recent addition has made it much, much easier to keep the living room at a level of tidiness that doesn't make me antsy. Basically, the kids' toys have been relegated to the new open space behind the sofa, so they don't bother me.

But my own sense of style? It has gone missing. I think maybe I had one when I was a younger adult, but perhaps what I actually had was a young and more fit body that looked decent in whatever clothes I decided to wear, and so the fact that I didn't have much of a sense of style wasn't really an issue. Back then, though, I didn't have the sort of home I imagined, so I wasn't living the life 12 year old me imagined then, either.

I've recently had an epiphany on the style front. I've realized that if this is something I want, I'm going to have to invest either some time or money in developing this skill. Just thinking that at some point in the future I'll magically develop a sense of style is silly.  That's not how skills work.

I had been thinking of a sense of style as a trait, like eye color, but that makes no sense. Anything that involves cognition can be improved upon... so either I should work on that or I should decide I don't care about this skill. Afterall, 12 year old me was not necessarily right about what adult me should be like.

However, I think I'd be happier if I liked my clothes more. So I guess 12 year old me wins this one.

Now the question is: will I invest time or money? If I'm going the money route. I think I need something more than the Nordstrom personal shopper provides. I need someone to come look at my closet, talk to me, and figure out (1) what sort of clothes I will wear, (2)  what sort of clothes I should wear, and (3) where those two things intersect. Once I'm confident in that, I'm happy to buy high end clothes, because I know they'll get worn and make me feel good when I wear them.

If I go the time route, I need to spend a lot of time shopping until I figure out (1), (2), and (3) on my own.

I don't enjoy shopping that much, so I'd rather go the money route, but I'm having a hard time convincing myself to spend the kind of money I think this would cost.

So I'm at an impasse. I'll let you know when I resolve it.

Have you ever had a "hey, that's a skill not a trait and I should work on learning it if I want to be better at that" sort of epiphany? 

Where would you come in on the money vs. time decision?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Weekend Reading: The Smorgasbord Edition

Here we are, at another Friday. I've almost caught up on my work after being sick a few weeks ago, so no doubt some surprise is lurking around the corner to put me behind again. I've been thinking about how I should arrange things so that my work schedule is a bit more robust to things like getting sick. I'll probably write about it over at my real name/work blog next week, so if that sounds like something you'd like to read about, keep an eye out over there.

I have a real smorgasbord of links for you today. I'm not even going to try to find a theme. Just pick and choose what looks interesting!

First up, if you follow any tech-type people on social media, you may have seen some whining and gnashing of teeth about something called NPM. Here's a story explaining what that was all about. The websites we rely on are so fragile, in so many ways. It is frustrating to me that no one seems to care. We'd rather push the limits of what we automate (see Microsoft's embarassment with its AI-bot Tay, for an example) than make the stuff we do now work better and more reliably. There's no glamour in that, I guess.

For instance, I refill my prescriptions through a website. For awhile now, it has been failing in what looked to me to be a random way. It would accept all my information, including the day and time I wanted to pick up, show it back to me (again with the day and time for pickup), and then fail when I clicked the final confirm and tell me the date field couldn't be null.  I finally figured out when it fails: it fails if I try to schedule a pick up for the following day. I see now place on the website where I could report this issue. So fine. I will just always schedule to pick up on the same day, even when I know I won't pick up until the following day.

Anyhow, Mr. Snarky sent me this chart about the best places to be a working woman. The story is more complicated than those metrics show, of course, but it is still interesting. You can play with how the various indicators are weighted, and the rankings change. Thinking about my own career path, the metric I think is missing is some sort of measure of how thick your skin has to be to random BS to make it to positions of leadership. I have no idea how you measure that, but I'd call it the BS factor.

There's a study showing that negative rumors take longer to debunk on Twitter than positive rumors take to resolve. This isn't surprising, I guess.

The PBS News Hour is hosting a quiz to find out how much of a bubble you live in with respect to "average Americans." If you are willing to get past the fact that it is based on Charles Murray's work, you can take it. I did, and it pegged me exactly: an upper middle class person who grew up middle class.

As I said on Twitter, I find it a bit ridiculous that I get to be considered middle class, even with the "upper" as a qualifier. My family income puts us in the top 5%. (Here's a calculator if you're curious about where you fall.) I don't see why that should be called middle. I wonder if we started calling families like ours "rich" or something like that if we'd be more open to sharing our wealth a bit more via taxes.

Of course, if you call me rich, you need a new term for people like the Zuckerbergs or the Gates. Super rich? Ultra rich? Mind-blowingly wealthy? I don't know.

Moving on again. Here's a story about how someone found out that their product name was offensive and just... fixed it. I know! You wouldn't think it was possible, but it is.

Did you catch the Twitter truth-telling from the San Francisco BART account? If not, here is a summary and some more explanation from the person who was running the account that day.

I did not know this, and it is super cool:

(UPDATE: My readers did the checking I should have done, and this is not actually true. I'll leave it here as an example of why false internet rumors are so hard to resolve...)

I guess too many people are donating Fifty Shades of Grey to charity shops in the UK:

That's all for this week. I have a couple other really interesting-looking things bookmarked as "to read," but I need to get dinner started... so those will have to wait.

Happy weekend all, and Happy Easter to those who celebrate!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Dispatches from LA

I spent last weekend in LA, at the Bindercon conference. For those who don't know, Bindercon is a conference of women and gender non-conforming writers. I decided to go last year, almost on a whim. I saw a tweet or an ad or something about early bird registration, and the price was low... and I thought, hey, I need to learn more about the literary world, and this seems like a relatively low cost way to start doing that.

Also, I was feeling a bit put upon by constant demands from my family, and the idea of a weekend away in LA sounded really nice.

So I bought tickets.

As it got closer to time to go, I started second guessing myself, and almost donated my tickets to someone else.

I'm glad I didn't do that. This was one of the most welcoming conferences I've ever attended. The organizers set the tone, by announcing at the start that "everyone who is here is meant to be here," and the participants really lived up to that. I had a great time. I was struck by how many things are the same for women writers and women scientists, and I enjoyed learning about the things that were different. The experience made me wish I could go to equally welcoming conferences in a variety of fields. The compare-and-contrast thing makes for a really intense learning experience.

I don't want to summarize the entire conference, but I want to mention a few things I picked up, in no particular order.

From a discussion on having a diverse career, led by Pamela Redmond Satran, I picked up three things:

  • "Seize your confident moments" (Satran was telling a story about submitting a pitch for a TV show: she had done the development work even though she thought she might be wasting her time, and so when an opportunity and a confident moment coincided, she pitched... and it worked. I love this phrase because it acknowledges that we won't always be confident, but also encourages us to take advantages of the times that we are.)
  • "Get comfortable with being uncomfortable" (This may become my new mantra. So much of what I am doing now makes me uncomfortable, but that is because it is stretching me and helping me grow what I can do. It is in support of the greater good.)
  • The idea that different projects can be good for different things. It is OK to take a project that bores you but pays well so that you can make the money you need to allow you to pursue the projects that interest you but don't necessarily pay well.
Some advice from Lisa Kudrow (she and Robin Schiff had a "keynote conversation" during lunch on Saturday):
  • When negotiating, don't think about what you "deserve." Thing about how much the people on the other side need you, and how much leverage you have. That will help you know how hard to push.
  • Don't take rejection personally. Take it as a message that what you have "is not what they need right now."
The writers were big into networking, but they don't call it networking. They call it building a community. That is a nice way to think about it, I think.

Some more thoughts:
  • Several different people talked about allowing 1-3 days of mourning after a big rejection or when something fails. But then you put it behind you, and get on with the next thing.
  • A nice thought from attorney and writer Natashia Deón (whose book Grace sounds amazing): start each day with your own thoughts. (This was in response to a question about not letting social media take over your time: she doesn't open social media until after her morning routine.)
Some things I am working on really believing, and that the conference helped me get closer to really believing:
  • It is OK that I'm figuring things out as I go.
  • As long as I don't misrepresent myself to anyone, my best is good enough. No matter what happens.
  • If someone doesn't like me, I don't have to fix that. I can just avoid that person. (Or, as the writers would say: "surround myself with a community that supports me.")
Some things I learned from having a weekend on my own:
  • Having dinner and drinks with a good friend is an incredibly restorative thing to do.
  • Reading an entire novel is one sitting is an incredibly restorative thing to do. (I read Ancillary Mercy.)
  • It is good to take a little time to just do what I want, without regard to anyone else, now and then.
And the final thing, which was not from Bindercon or having time on my own or any of that, but from taking the opportunity of a 2.5 hour solo car trip to finally listen to Hamilton:

I'm not throwing away my shot.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Weekend Reading: The Politics-Free Edition

I am in LA for a conference. I decided to buy Hamilton for the drive north, and see what you guys have all been talking about. It took me about 2/3 of the way through the drive, and WOW, I get it now. It is really brilliant. The little bits and pieces I'd listened to so far don't do it justice. You really need to listen to it straight through to get just how brilliant it is.

So that's my number 1 recommendation for your weekend.

But you were probably expecting things to read, not things to listen to, so here are you go:

First of all, I posted something over at the Annorlunda site about the three new books I'm working on right now. They're all great, and all quite different from each other. I'll have more to say about each as the release dates near, but I have already set up the sign up forms for advance readers, if anyone is interested. Here are the links:

In other publishing news, I've put Unspotted on sale for $0.99. If you've been tempted to check it out, now's a great time. Purchase links are available on the Annorlunda site.

On to other things...

I've decided to avoid politics in my links this week (unless you count the Hamilton recommendation as politics!) mostly because I need a break.

Awhile back, California had to release a bunch of low level offenders due to prison overcrowding. It did not unleash a crime wave.

In other horrifying news, Dune Lawrence's story of being targeted by a smear campaign is scary, and represents another important scenario that the tech companies blithely ignore or wave away as not their problem, even though it is their products that make this sort of campaign possible and effective.

There is nasty new exploit targeting Macs. If you use iCloud, consider setting up two-factor authentication. Really, we should all be using 2FA on everything. I know, it is a pain. And I'm not all the way through putting 2FA on all my accounts, either. But it is worth doing.

I'm feeling very unobservant because I do not remember ever noticing men in mini skirts on Star Trek TNG.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher also has a great new way to sign emails. If you enjoy puns, click through and read the replies.

Happy weekend, everyone! Cheese!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Life Made of Choices

Somehow, despite inserting a trip to my daughters' school in the middle of the day, I have managed to charge 6 hours of paid work today. I consider 7-7.5 hours of "chargeable" work to be a full day, so I will do some more work later. But I'm going to reward myself by writing a blog post before I move on to the next item on my to do list.

(If you're curious: I went to school to see Pumpkin receive an award. She and Petunia both got awards for "responsibility" this week. On different days, of course.)

I want to write about books, and also about how our lives are made of choices, some ours and some other people's, some large and some small. But mostly about books.

I also have to write a tiny bit about the US election. Sorry, people who are tired of it. This part will be short. I find myself obsessing about this election more than I usually do. I always have a preference for who wins, but this year is different. I am reading much more election coverage than usual, and thinking about it more.

This is because of Trump, obviously. I have a settled on a preference in Democratic primary, and it is cool to have a woman so close to securing her party's nomination, but we've been here before. I suspect I'll feel more emotion on that front when the nomination is actually hers (which it looks like it will be, unless Sanders has a truly remarkable run in the rest of the primaries and caucuses.)

But Trump is something different, at least in my lifetime. One benefit of reading so much coverage is that I'm starting to understand that we've seen candidates with some of his characteristics before. Or more properly, remember, because I had an excellent high school history teacher and much of what the commentators are pointing out sounds vaguely familiar in that "I haven't thought about that since high school" sort of way.

We've definitely had openly racist candidates in my lifetime. I remember Strom Thurmond's last two decades in the Senate, after all. But by the time I remember him, he'd toned it down to dog whistles. I've been aware that the less subtle form of racism was not gone from our country for quite awhile, but it is a bit breathtaking to see it so openly on display at the rallies of someone who is the frontrunner for his party's presidential nomination.

I think, though, what fascinates me about this election is that it is our chance to answer the question "what would you do if a fascist tried to gain power in your country?" We're not doing so well on that question right now, but I still have hope for us.

I don't want to get into the details of whether or not Trump meets the textbook definition of a fascist. The man has studied Hitler's writings. He is running rallies that are bringing racial and political violence into our political process. He has stated he wants to curtail press freedoms. He bars members of the press he considers unfriendly to him from his rallies. He has said we should bar all Muslims from entering the country. I could go on.

Bear with me, I'm almost to the books part.

I have long been fascinated with the question of what I would have done if I was living in Germany at the time of the Nazis. I am not convinced I would have recognized the danger. If I did, I am not convinced I would have known when to fight and when to flee. I think it is hard to recognize when the situation has tipped from "bad but worth trying to fix" to "the way your world works is being upended and you need to adjust to the new reality."

And this is why I loved The Dream of Scipio by Ian Pears. It follows three storylines in a particular part of France. One storyline is at the end of the Roman Empire, one is in the time of the Black Death, and one is in World War II. In each storyline, people have to decide what to do as their communities and way of life and indeed the very rules by which they are living their life crumble around them. I enjoy Pears' writing, but I love the book for the exploration of the period of time when everything is just starting to fall apart.

I sincerely hope we aren't heading for one of those periods, but this is the first time in my life I've ever felt like we could end up in such a period, depending on the choices we make. And I think that is why I'm so fascinated by this election. What will "mainstream" Republicans do if Trump gets enough delegates to secure the nomination? Will they try to hold their party together, or will they abandon it and start a new one? What is the "right" thing to do? (I don't know.) What if Trump has the most delegates but not enough to win? Again, I don't know what the right thing to do is. It feels like we're heading towards an inflection point of some sort... but who knows what choices will put us on the best trajectory? Who can even say what the best trajectory is at this point?

It has been many years since I read The Dream of Scipio, and I have forgotten many of the details of the plot. But I retain the sense that all of the characters were faced with choices, whether they recognized them as such or not, and that it was not always easy to say what the "right" thing to do was, even from the safe position of knowing how the historical events in which the story is embedded turn out.

So, sticking with the theme of choices, the second book I want to talk about is Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. This is an amazing book, in which the protagonist keeps reliving her life, but each time the trajectory is slightly different, based on choices she makes or things that happen. It is set in the lead up to World War II, during the war, and immediately after the war, mainly in England. The protagonist experiences the Blitz in London, and in a couple of the timelines, she experiences Nazi Germany. It is such a good book on so many levels. If you're only going to read one of the books I talk about in this post, this would be my pick.

The final book I want to talk about also explores choices, and what we make of them, but in a much more subtle way. It is a memoir called Orchard House, by Tara Austen Weaver. The author's mother decides to buy a house with a really large yard and overrun garden, and the author joins in—and takes ownership of some aspects of—creating a beautiful garden in this space. The garden is metaphor and learning experience, and also helps frame her quest to make peace with her life and the limitations of the people in it. She's not unhappy, but she's not really happy, either, and the garden helps her understand why, and move towards a life more like what she wants. Again the elements of choice (her decision to make the garden a large part of her life) and chance/other people's choices (her mother's decision to buy that house) come together to create her life. Ultimately, though, it is her choice how to respond to her circumstances, and in the end, she learns that it is that response that really determines how she'll experience her life.

I think there are limits to that final lesson. There are some things—the Blitz, for instance—that are pretty much horrible no matter how you choose to respond to them. But then again... if you read Life after Life, you'll see that decisions the main character make do influence how she experiences even that overwhelmingly terrible time. The details are obviously fiction, but the larger conclusion strikes me as true, and it is an interesting thing to ponder. Atkinson doesn't take the easy way out: there is no obvious rule about how to respond to bad things. In general, things seem to turn out better when the protagonist takes action in response to the situations in which she finds herself... but not always. It is really a thought-provoking book.

And now, it is after dinner and I have promised my kids a trip to the ice cream shop to celebrate their awards, so I will close this post. I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of it in the comments!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Some Good Things

A story from Petunia, written on my whiteboard. Spelling corrections are in brackets.

Un buen dilla [dia]

Yo estan en mi casa. Yo no es triste. Yo es flis [feliz] es mi buen dilla [dia]. Yo veo pez. Mi pez no es triste mi pez. Es fulis [feliz]. Mis amigos no es triste. Mis amigos es fulis [feliz].

She's writing more stories now. Whereas Pumpkin generally won't try to guess how to spell a word if she doesn't know (she'll ask someone), Petunia is happy to take her best guess, which makes her stories even more fun.


When I first set up our aquarium, I let the pet store employee talk me into accepting some "rescue snails"- i.e., some other customer's snail had babies and these were the result. Sadly, it seems that these young snails go through long periods of dormancy. I keep thinking they are dead, but they pass the sniff test, and then eventually wake up and start moving around for a few days, then go back into whatever they are doing where they look like they're dead.

Whatever is going on with them, they weren't eating enough algae and it was taking over our aquarium.

So I went and bought another snail. I got a "regular" one this time, and it is going to town eating algae. It is actually really cool to watch when it is attached to the side of the aquarium. You can see its little mouth chomping away on the algae.


I fianlly wrote a post of my own over at Tungsten Hippo (rather than just posting a Book Introduction guest post). I wrote about what I've learned from reading a bunch of old stories.


And now I'd better get started on my day, since the time change has already stolen an hour.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Weekend Reading: A Sort of Friday Follow Edition

I thought that maybe I'd write this post and just ignore the election, but a couple of times now I've tweeted about how fascinating it is to be following some Republicans on Twitter right now, and people have asked me who I follow, so I decided I'd spend a little bit of time on that.

I don't follow anyone obscure: just David Frum and Ross Douthat. Between them and what gets RTed by the more liberal-leaning journalists I follow (I really like Jamelle Bouie and Matt Yglesias, to name a couple), that is about as much Republican commentary as I can handle in my timeline. Politics isn't my profession, after all. If you're looking for another conservative-leaning American voice, you might try Megan McArdle.

Both Frum and Douthat occasionally tweet out something that makes me want to scream at them, but they at least live in the same fact-based world in which I live, they just interpret it differently. I can't bring myself to follow any of the people who inhabit the part of the Republican world that is less moored in reality. However, from what Frum and Douthat are RTing, I will say that even some of those people are vehemently anti-Trump. We'll see how that holds when we get to the general election, I suppose.

Anyway, here's something Douthat wrote about Trumpism that I'm glad I read and would never have found if I didn't follow him on Twitter.

If you think I'm being mean about there being a portion of the Republican world that doesn't live in the fact-based world, this fact check on this week's supposedly substantive Republican debate from Ezra Klein will show you what I mean. I have no problem with people who accept facts and have a different response to them than I do. We can discuss things and maybe find a compromise. I can even live with political spin. But I don't see how we can get anywhere when one of our two major political parties seems to be veering into "we'll just make things up" territory.

Apparently, the Republicans in the US Virgin Islands looked at the current field of candidates and refused to assign delegates to any of them. Their delegates are going to the convention uncommitted. They may be on to something. I couldn't bring myself to watch the Republican debate, but based on what I read about it, none of these candidates are really qualified to be President. It is a mess, and if the race weren't seeming to settle into a two-way competition between a demagogue who spurs his followers to political and racial violence and a psycopath who seems to be hated by everyone he has ever come into contact with, it would be fascinating to watch. Instead, it is mostly horrifying.

I feel genuine sympathy for the reasonable Republican voters out there. (And this is not the blog to argue there are no reasonable Republican voters: I am a fairly liberal, reliable Democrat, but I have Republican friends and family who I like and do not think are evil or idiots.) What a horrible choice they face. I feel zero sympathy for anyone in the Republican establishment, though- not any senators or representative, and certainly not the party officials. They made this mess.

OK, that's enough politics. Here are some other things:

Given Hillary Clinton's gaffe about the Reagans and HIV/AIDS, it seems a good time to post a link to this story about the men who survived.

The world is designed for men (and largely by men).

Because You're a Man- gender flipping what happens to a lot of women who are speaking on panels in their field of expertise.

Enough depressing things.

I can't remember if I posted this link before, but oh well, it is good enough to post twice: an essay from a very tall blind woman on being herself.

Here's a write up of some cool science about birds using syntax. And here's the original paper, for those so inclined.

And here's a giant rabbit.

That seems like a good place to end. Happy weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

A Slightly Frazzled Hodge-Podge

I've been feeling overclocked, in that slightly frazzled, dropping balls sort of state I get when my mental load is too high.

Here's what it looks like when I get in this state: I screwed up the weeks of our summer camp schedule. Luckily, I caught it before I booked the wrong things, but it was still extra work to sort it out and get it right. We signed mortgage paperwork today (we're refinancing back into a "normal" loan instead of the remodeling loan we got to do the renovations). They sent us some paperwork to fill out ahead of time, and I forgot to bring it with me. I remembered it while I was getting Pumpkin to bed last night, but forgot about it by the time I was done with that and didn't think about it again until I was driving to the loan company's offices. I screwed up scheduling parent-teacher conferences, so we ended up with suboptimal times. I'm still waiting for confirmation that we at least got the conferences for Pumpkin and Petunia on the same day.

Basically, I start making mistakes and having to redo things.  Plus, I feel stressed out and worried all the time.

There are all sorts of reasons my mental load is high right now, most of which are not work related, although it doesn't help that I'm behind on things due to my recent illness and asthma issues. But the frazzled feeling is spilling over into my work hours and impeding my work. There aren't two versions of me, one for work and one for home. There's just one me, with one brain, and one set of emotions. When things are out of whack in one part of my life, I suffer in all parts of my life. I hear that some people can compartmentalize things to the point that this doesn't happen, but I am not one of those people.

So, anyway, I decided I need to fix this. Luckily, I know what I need to do.

I wrote a "home" to do list for the next couple months in a Google Doc and shared it with Mr. Snarky. (I'd love to keep this stuff on a kanban board, but he won't actually use any of the electronic kanban boards we tried, we don't have space for a second physical kanban board and I won't give up my work one, and he will use a Google Doc... so Google Doc it is.)

That helped a lot. Tomorrow, I'll go for a run. Maybe I can get some yoga in this week, too.


In completely unrelated news, I'll be in Portland, Oregon, on April 16. I am busy that day, but have some time around that day if anyone wants to schedule an in person version of one of my seminars or workshops.

Looking further ahead, we're going to New Zealand this summer, and if I could schedule something in without interfering with the primary purpose of that trip (relaxing and seeing friends and family), I would do that. I don't like to publish vacation dates ahead of time, so if you're interested, email me for my schedule (wandsci at gmail dot com).


When I started this post, I thought I might write something about the election, but bleh. I think I'll go read my book instead.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Weekend Reading: The I Give Up, Let's Talk Politics Edition

Hey! I'm feeling better! And I'm not on prednisone! Times are good.

I was going to make this links post all about politics, but then Hope Jahren wrote a really good NYT OpEd about sexual harassment in science, and you should go read that, too.

Here is my favorite quote:

"A great chorus of formal condemnation shall be lifted up, and my male colleagues will sputter will gall, appalled by the actions of bad apples so rare they have been encountered by every single woman I know."

I actually do appreciate the outrage of my male colleagues. I understand why they are surprised. But the point about the bad apples not being so rare if most women have run across at least one is a good one.

And here is a good commentary about race and journalism by Christopher Benson.

OK, back to politics. This seems to be the week that people really started to freak out about Trump, particularly on the Republican side.

I am not sure I have it in me to provide a lot of commentary, so let's just go to the links:

Someone dug up the NY Times' first article about Hitler, and Vox has made it readable. We tend to assume rabid demagogues don't really mean what they say. But sometimes, they do.

Jacob Weisberg on Trump's uniquely American brand of demagoguery.

Perhaps the most useful article for understanding how we can have so many people voting for Trump is Amanda Taub's long and data-packed article about authoritarians (note: that is not the same as authoritarianism).

As wrong as I think Trump's voters are, I still think it is worth thinking about them with empathy. Here is one attempt to do that.

I admit it is hard to maintain empathy when reading some of these quotes from "secret Trump supporters", though.

Here are some quotes that made me feel better: the Republican voters who are saying they won't vote for Trump.

As depressing as Trump's success is, he is still unlikely to win in the general. Here's the math.

OK, so let's talk about the other likely nominee! Here is a good, long look at Hillary Clinton and Black voters from Michael Eric Dyson.

To leave on an up note: this story about women authors in Nigeria is really cool. And this is just a really good essay from someone who is comfortable with who she is.

And now, it is dinner time. Happy weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

A Hodge-Podge, Searching for Wisdom

I am working on my third crochet project, and it is the first one that I can say is looking "right." I'm making a blanket for Petunia's stuffed bear. Petunia picked the yarn. I am managing not to drop or add stitches.

I mostly crochet at gymnastics on Saturday morning. I like sitting at the viewing window with my project out, chatting with the mom of one of Petunia's classmates, who is much, much better at crocheting than I am.

I don't mind not being very good at crocheting. I enjoy the process of getting better. I find the repetitive stitch-making soothing. It makes me think of Madame Defarge, from "The Tale of Two Cities". I haven't read that book since high school, and I don't remember much about her character other than that she knitted, and that in her knitting she made a record of the people who were killed. I think she is not meant to be a sympathetic character, but maybe if I re-read the book now I would find sympathy for her. I imagine her knitting not just as a means to secretly record information but as a means to find calmness and strength in truly difficult times. This may be something I have entirely invented, but I like the image.

Sometimes, you cannot control the events, and you just have to work on controlling yourself so that you can respond to the events. Events here can be read from the micro to the macro. I'm of course concerned with the election, and as a Californian whose primary is in June, I suspect that even in this unusual year, my vote will have no practical impact on the outcome of the primaries.

But I am also a bit buffeted by events local to my life. I caught a cold, and that turned into a bad asthma attack. I was given prednisone, but without the usual taper. That led to a spectacular crash (prednisone depresses the function of your adrenal glands, so when you go off it suddenly, you can get profound fatigue), so I had to do another dose to get the taper. I get irritable while on prednisone, and I was already irritated by how much time I've lost to being sick. I am struggling to keep my emotions under control. I am also really hungry (another prednisone side effect), and trying not to give in to that too much. I should perhaps crochet more.

On the bright side, I am done with the second round of prednisone tomorrow. I suspect I will still feel some fatigue for a day or two, but that should hopefully go away.


I have seen some commentators argue that this election is going to come down to whether or not Black women turn out to vote. I don't know if this is true or not, but it is a little insulting that people are wondering about the turn out of the group that historically has the highest, most dependable turn out. I think white liberals are being clueless about the extent to which the candidates on offer have always represented a choice between compromises for Black women. This is perhaps not as new a situation as we think it is, at least not for everyone.

I have to say, I cannot think of a group of people I'd rather have in the position of controlling our fate. I don't mean that in any mystical sense. I mean that in the sense that I cannot think of a group of Americans whose life experiences are more likely to have given them the ability to look at this mess and make a good decision. America excels at making Black women make choices when there is no safe answer. Practice makes perfect.

I know Black women supporting Hillary, and others supporting Bernie. A lot of the Black women I follow online are not saying who they support (or haven't decided yet). I have no insight at all into how this entire thing is going to turn out, but I hope that no matter what, we can learn to think a little more deeply about the nature of the American electorate and what our priorities are in this country.

We probably won't, though.


I didn't watch the Oscars. This was not a political boycott on my part. I never watch the Oscars. I am not a big movie fan. I also didn't watch the concert for Flint, but it came across my Twitter stream while I was waiting for Pumpkin to fall asleep, and I decided to donate.

I remain deeply, deeply angry that we need to raise money to help the people in Flint. This was a catastrophe entirely of their government's making, and their government should damn well find the money to fix it. But they won't, and I cannot stomach the idea that we will fail the people of Flint again. So I donated.


Do you remember the crime wave of the 90s? It is back in the news because of the resulting crime bill, that some blame (perhaps not correctly) for our current problem with mass incarceration. I was living on the South Side of Chicago in the early 90s, and I remember the fear of crime. I am not remotely qualified to comment on the merits of that bill, but the crime and the fear of crime was real.

There have been all sorts of theories put forward for the spike, and the subsequent drop. The one I find most convincing is lead poisoning. Kevin Drum wrote a good summary of the theory, and some of the other theories, for Mother Jones.

If lead poisoning was in fact a major cause of the crime wave, it makes the rhetoric of pathology around the crime wave particularly heartbreaking. The only pathology there was one we created, by poisoning children.

There is still a lot of lead contamination out there, and it is not evenly distributed. If I were a rich person who wanted to fix something obvious and non-controversial, I would choose lead decontamination. The science is pretty clear: lead exposure is bad for you, particularly as a child. We allow some children to be exposed to much more lead than others. Fixing this would surely be a good thing. We might be surprised how much of a difference it would make. I honestly think the racist narratives we all absorb about "personal responsibility" and  "different cultures" are blinding us to a course of action that should be obvious. We're poisoning our children. We should stop doing that.


It can be so discouraging to look at all the problems we have. It can seem like we will never do better. But I think we are doing better, just not uniformly, and we are not moving in anything like a straight line. I think that perhaps every change for the better is accompanied by a lot of churn like we are seeing now. Perhaps that is the only way to change things. I do not know.

It is scary, and unsettling. It is exhausting to try to do right when it is not always clear what "right" is, and even the people whose voices you generally trust do not always agree.

All I know is that we can't stop trying. We can question our assumptions. We can apologize when we get it wrong, and we can try to do better. We can clean up the messes we have made. We can take a deep breath and try to really hear what this election cycle is telling us, and try to be clear-eyed about what we need to do to become that "more perfect union" we all learned about in school, but never really lived in.

I don't know how we keep our cool through this. Maybe we can't.

Maybe try crocheting.