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.


  1. I AM worried about the VRA and places making it even more difficult for black voters to vote. Seeing what they did why the VRA was still in place and now it isn't. Not so much about turnout as obstruction.

  2. That is true.

    To be honest, I'm worried about the whole damn thing.

  3. I miss crocheting, but ever since my pregnancy with Baguette, it makes my not-carpal-tunnel flare up. Embroidery served a similar purpose for me, but I need room to keep the silks organized while I'm stitching, and I don't have that right now. Fortunately, I have grown-up coloring books to fill that void.

    Crocheting is more portable, though.

  4. EarthSciProf9:01 PM

    Agree about Flint and agree about lead decontamination. Kevin Drum had an infographic today (or yesterday?) about the huge economic return that would result from lead decontamination. One would hope that the moral/ethical return on helping many of society's less fortunate would be even more convincing to people but it seems that is rarely the case.

    1. Funding lead decontamination is such an obvious Right Thing To Do. I hope we start doing it. It is shameful that it took poisoning an entire city to figure out we should do it.

  5. How do we decontaminate though? When I look up how to do it for my own garden (not sure if we have a problem), I found suggestions to either add soil (to cover the problem soil) or remove the problem soil. But where will the "good" soil come from or the "bad" soil go to?

    1. This is not my field, but I think they scoop up the dirt and clean it when decontaminating large sites. You can add things that bind to lead and try to filter the now sequestered lead out. There has also been some work on engineering bacteria that can eat and sequester nasty heavy metals, but I don't know if anyone has tried to make a strain that would help decontaminate lead.

      If they go with a "cover with good dirt" method, I suspect they could get good dirt from construction sites.

      Also, from a practical standpoint, the obvious first place to start would be paint in old buildings. Which is much easier to remove, although to do so safely requires special techniques.


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