Friday, July 29, 2016

Weekend Reading

First of all, some blatant self-promotion. Or, more accurately promotion of things other people wrote and I published:

The Lilies of Dawn is out! Get yourself a copy. You'll be glad you did. It is a beautiful story, beautifully told. Here's the author's post about it, and here's the GoodReads page if you want to read some early reviews.

Also, the GoodReads giveaway for Academaze ends tomorrow. Enter now!

Moving on....

The Democratic convention is over. There were many great speeches. I think that Barack Obama's speech will be studied on day much like the Gettysberg Address, as a speech aimed at defending the existence of our democracy.

But the speech that I found most powerful was Khzir Khan's. If you haven't watch it, please do so. Just the image of him holding up his copy of the Constitution makes me get all teary.

Here's Josh Marshall on President Obama's speech and the terrifying gift of living in interesting times.

Matt Yglesias on why we should elect someone who is good at governing. Best line: "Make politics boring again."

Here is Jamelle Bouie on the Democrat's new type of optimism and patriotism.

There is so much truth in this tweet:

I've seen so many people wishing that Obama could stay for another 4 or 8 years. But... it is time to pass the baton. I don't know if we have our term limits set properly, but I do think we need to change leadership periodically, even when we love the outgoing leader.

This may be the only time I'm OK with a story about what a woman leader wore.

Sticking with the clothes angle: why so many powerful women are wearing the same jacket.

More clothing news: if you've got to fight a racist dress code, I guess you might as well have fun doing it.

Speaking of racism... taking Bill O'Reilly to task on his ignorant remarks about the slaves who built the White House.

This is a great post about how racism is represented in the stories we read.

I need something funny to end on. Sorry... my feed has been full of politics this week (and last week and the week before...) so I only have political funnies. But they're pretty funny.

A perfect Hamilton reference:

And Hillary showing some good judgment.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Some Election Musings

I did not watch the Republican convention. Even following it on Twitter made me feel stressed and sad, and angry, but not at the people the speakers wanted me to be angry with.

I can't say why I decided to turn on the Democratic convention on Monday night, but I'm glad I did, because Michelle Obama's speech was amazing, and restored a good deal of my faith in my country. Trump's amazing press conference (which again, I couldn't bring myself to watch, only read about) destroyed it again. And last night, President Obama's speech convinced me once again to hold on to my hope that we can continue our progress in this country towards a more perfect union.

Pumpkin was absolutely transfixed by Michelle Obama's speech, and has wanted to watch the speeches every night. We tune in after dinner, so we missed Joe Biden's speech last night (I watched it later) and Time Kaine kind of lost her (although she enjoyed the Spanish), but she paid attention through the President's speech.

She's been asking lots of questions, which I like, because it gives me a chance to try to put this weird election into context without needlessly scaring her.

One of her questions last night was about why we need to have two parties. At first, I thought she was asking about why we didn't have more than two parties, so I launched into an explanation about how in our congressional/presidential system, coalitions are built within the parties, and compared it to the situation in New Zealand's parliamentary system, in which coalitions are built between parties. I doubt I did a great job, because let's face it, I'm no political scientist. But I thought I did OK.

It didn't matter. What she wanted to know was why there were parties at all. I struggled through a bit about parties allowing people to coordinate and work together towards common goals... but I found myself talking more about why we need an opposition. Why, even when the party that is in the ascendency is the one with which I usually agree, I can't celebrate the utter implosion we're watching in the other party.

I don't know what the future holds. Maybe the Republicans will get their act together and morph into a party that is less beholden to racists. Maybe they will figure out how to turn themselves into a party that looks a bit more like the country, instead of a group of freaked out white people who want to go back to a time when everyone else "knew their place." If they can do that, I will be happy.

But I've started to wonder if maybe that is too much to ask, and if instead they are just going to die out, leaving just the Democrats. If that happens, then I strongly suspect (and in fact, actually hope) that the Democrats will have their own period of chaos, in which they end up splitting. Or perhaps the Greens will get their act together and evolve into something we can take seriously. I don't know. But a democracy needs an opposition, and given how our democracy is set up, it would not be healthy to have that opposition be entirely within one party.

So, if I think about what I hope happens- not about what I think will happen, but what I hope happens, here it is: I hope that this ugly election will help us find a path towards becoming what I heard Gwen Ifill call a "post-racist" society. I don't want a "post-racial" society, because that would deny us the beauty and strength in our diversity. But I firmly believe we can learn to celebrate our differences instead of fearing them.

I hope that this election is last gasp of the politics of White Fear. I hope that it demonstrates that catering to the segment of society that is responsive to these dog whistles (or, in the case of Donald Trump, clear calls via bullhorn) is not the path to power, so that maybe that segment of our society can finally force itself to find its place in our diverse society instead of pining for the "good old days" that were only good for them. They have been pandered to and lied to by their supposed leaders for far too long, and this has let them hide from the truth of our history and impede our progress towards living up to our founding ideals.

I hope that we can look at how close we came to electing a "homegrown demagogue" and reflect on how we got there, and then start the hard work of acknowledging the racist sins of our history so that we can find a way to redress them and make our diverse society more truly integrated, allowing us to create a society in which everyone gets a chance to live up to their potential and we all get to fully benefit from the full diversity of ideas in our society.

I don't think this is going to happen in my lifetime, but if, in the aftermath of this scary election season, we find ourselves at least on that path, all the anxiety and worry this election has caused me will be OK with me.

I'm sure Pumpkin will want to tune in to hear Hillary speak tonight. I wish I could enjoy this moment without the undercurrent of fear, but that is not what history has dealt us. So I will listen, and I will commit myself to work for her to win, and I will hope that we not only make it through the scary months ahead, but come out better on the other side.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Weekend Reading: The Trying to Move On Edition

Well, here it is Friday again. We're all back to our routines, and as I wrote yesterday, even improving on our routines.

So, let's get straight to the links.

Scalzi has a pretty good scathing post about Trump, the convention, that speech, this election, and all that, if you're still reading those sorts of things.

Yoni Applebaum has a good, concise article about why, exactly, that speech was so scary.

Ezra Klein has a good article about why Trump scares him.

Matt Yglesias has a good article on how the problem goes beyond Trump.

And that's enough of that s***show.

I refuse to spend my summer reading about that horrible man and his horrible family and whatever horrible thing he's said today. So I may try to tune out the politics a bit, but don't mistake that for me not caring. I care a lot, and last night I put my money where my mouth is. Next, I'm going to try to figure out what the most useful volunteer thing someone in a safely blue state like California can do.

Don't get complacent. Vote. Convince others to vote. Donate. Volunteer. This election matters more than most, and don't get lulled into thinking it is a normal election by the way some media can't figure out how to cover how unusual it is.

But I still think we'll get through this, and then come November, we'll need to start the work of really dealing with the racists in our midst. I have no idea how we do that, but if we don't, we're vulnerable to more elections like this one.

So, moving on to happier things.

Here's a nice story about how the Danish town of Aarhus is working to keep its young muslims from going to ISIS.

Tips for raising kind children. I picked up some new ideas from this.

This is a good look at the subtle sexism at work in expense policies.

Trip Gabriel got amnesia. His story about it is fascinating.

Some personal promo (or, more accurately, corporate promo):

Academaze, a collection of essays and cartoons that is like an insider's guide to academia in STEM, has a GoodReads giveaway running right now. Enter for a chance to win a paperback copy of the book.

The Lilies of Dawn, a beautiful, lyrical fantasy novelette from Vanessa Fogg, is available for pre-order. It comes out next Wednesday.

And something fun to end on:

Here is a cool dance video made with motion capture and computer graphics.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Living the Healthiest Life I Will Enjoy

One side effect of taking a beach vacation is that people take pictures of you in your swimsuit. And then you come home and look at them. There was a time when I was OK with that. I could see the bits of my body I wished were different, but basically thought "OK, yep, that's how I look in a swimsuit."

This time, I saw the photos and thought "OMG. Is that how I look in a swimsuit?"

Now, on the grand scheme of things, this is no big deal. I've gotten older. I've had two kids. Etc., etc. But I also know that I've let things slide a bit. I can see how I could find myself in a pattern of gaining 3-5 pounds every year, and that math doesn't look good for me healthwise, regardless of how I look in my swimsuit.

So anyway, I've decided that I'm not going to allow that 3-5 pound per year gain to happen. I may or may not be able to reverse the gain that has happened, but I can definitely try to stop it.

I thought back to that Vox article I read a few months ago from the weight loss doctor. One quote from that has really stuck with me: "live the healthiest life you'll enjoy."

And the thing is, I'm not doing that. I enjoy being more active than I've been lately. I feel better, both mentally and physically, when I'm more active.

So, what's gone wrong? I think there are a couple of problems:

(1) I feel pressure to work a "normal" day to prove that I've not gone part time with my new career set up. Prove to whom? I don't know. Myself, probably.

This is silly, and I'm going to try to stop it. My career mantra right now is: "If I'm paying my bills and that looks like it will continue for the next 6 months, I'm doing OK." Because, honestly, that's all I could ever guarantee in my old career.

And, for the record, I just picked up a project that is likely to go through next year, and possibly through 2018... so I'm good. (Do you hear that, inner critic? I'M GOOD.)

My other career mantra is: "I will not screw over anyone who agrees to work with me." What this means is that if you book me for a seminar/workshop, it will happen, no matter what else is going on in my work life. If I've had to go back to full time employment, I'll happily take vacation days to fulfill my commitments. (But see above about my new project, so this isn't likely to happen.) If I take on a book to publish, I will work hard to get it the readership it deserves. I will just do that work over a longer timeframe than traditional publishers, both out of necessity and because I believe that is a better way to do it.

(2) I think I should do the most efficient exercise options, not the ones I enjoy the most.

This is probably related to point #1. To get the most "bang" for the time I felt I could spare for exercise, I've been focusing on running, which is near the bottom of my "I like to do that" list (although I still feel better after a run than before one). Even worse, I've been running in my neighborhood instead of by the bay. I actually sort of like running by the bay with my headphones in. Running in my neighborhood is something that I no longer actively hate, but I do it for how it makes me feel after the run, not because I enjoy it at the time.

So I've decided this is going to stop. I'm going to be more active and enjoy my flexible schedule while I have it. I have my time tracking to keep me honest and make sure I put in my 35-40 hours each week.

And I'm going to do the exercise I like!

I started this week. Instead of going out for a run in the neighborhood yesterday, I dragged out the wave bag and did some kickboxing. It was GREAT. And today, I feel the good kind of sore. Not so sore that I can't walk up stairs or load the dishwasher, but just a little sore to let me know those muscles worked. I'll be doing a kickboxing workout every Wednesday, I think.

Today, after work, I drove to the bay and went for a run before I went to pick up the kids. It was hot (for San Diego) today, but the bay breeze was beautiful. I enjoyed the run.

Next week, I'll stop work early on Friday and go rollerblading. I may or may not also do the Thursday run. We'll see how I feel. I don't want to overdo things. It is better to slowly increase exercise levels.

I was careful not to moan about the swimsuit pictures in front of the kids. However, they have coincidentally been helping me up my activity levels, too. Pumpkin had a tough time transitioning back from vacation. This was probably part jet leg and part just a huge drop in family time. One day last week, I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk after dinner. This was a spur of the moment idea to try to short circuit a meltdown I saw coming. And it worked! In fact, she liked it so much that she wants to go for a walk every evening after dinner. So we have been. I've learned a lot about the minutae of camp games and the plot of the books she's been reading, but we've hit on a couple of more substantial topics, too.

Petunia, meanwhile, has suddenly discovered a love of badminton (or "birdie" as she calls it) and insists on trying to hit the birdie back and forth for as long as anyone else can stand it every evening. We suck and we're using a badminton set I bought for $5 at the drug store. But we're getting better and she loves it... so I guess I'm going for a walk and playing some badminton every evening for the foreseeable future.

Improved fitness, here I come!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Wellington, Auckland, Rarotonga: The Award Show Version

As I mentioned, we're just back from a two week vacation in New Zealand and the Cook Islands. We spent a week in Wellington visiting family, then flew to Auckland for a few days to see some friends, and then flew to Rarotonga for four days to see friends and get some actual summer in our summer vacation. I'll probably write up each stop, like I usually do. But most importantly, here is the award show version of the trip, as is my tradition.

Best hotel: We had no consensus in this category, and we only stayed in two hotels: The Coral Sands beach apartments in Rarotonga (which was very nice, and Pumpkin's favorite), and the Barclay Suites in Auckland, which Petunia preferred. I'm going to give it to The Coral Sands. It wasn't right on the water like the places I've stayed in past trips to the Cooks, but it was just a minute stroll to the water, and the apartment itself was nice, well-appointed, and comfortable. AND they gave you a loaner dumb phone to use while you're on the island, which made coordinating with our friends so much easier. The Barclay Suites were fine, and had a great location, and maybe we'll stay there again... but we've stayed a lot of similar places on various trips through Auckland, and these weren't my favorite for anything except location, maybe.

Best Restaurant: We ate out at several great places in Wellington, and we picked up some delicious pies from a bakery near my sister-in-law's house. We mostly ate with friends and at cafes during our few days in Auckland, but I did have a delicious caramel slice at one of them. However, when I asked people to name their favorite restaurant it was either Trader Jacks or Sails, both in Rarotonga. 

We liked Trader Jacks for its wonderful pina coladas (me), its top-notch ika mata (Mr. Snarky), and its chilled out location right on the harbor in Avarua, the main town in Rarotonga (the kids). You can go dip your toes in the water on a pebbly beach while you wait for your food (and our kids did). You can watch the outriggers head out for a friendly race while you sip your drinks (we did). It is a great spot, and has completely recovered from being basically flattened by a cyclone in 2005 (check out the top picture in that post).

Best way to wait for your food

We liked Sails for the nostalgia (it is where Mr. Snarky and I got married), the ice chocolates (which seems to be a combination of Milo powder, chocolate syrup, and ice, blended- Pumpkin thought they were the best thing ever), and the fact that you could go dip your toes in the water from a sandy beach while you waited for your food (Petunia).

Best Tourist Activity: Another split decision. Petunia and Mr. Snarking say snorkeling. They were the only ones who really snorkeled on our first attempt, at a good snorkeling spot but on a sort of breezy and cool day. Pumpkin and I tried snorkeling at Muri lagoon. I saw a few fish, but I have done so much better snorkeling. It was fun, and neat to snorkel next to Petunia... but not a great thing. Pumpkin didn't like snorkeling. Pumpkin says the best activity was stand up paddleboarding on Muri lagoon. I agree that was fun, but my favorite tourist thing was visiting Zealandia in Wellington and seeing a tuatara and a lot of native birds.

Best Kid Moment, Pumpkin: Playing with everyone else's kids. Pumpkin loved meeting all the new kids, and especially loved playing with her cousin. She was great with all the kids.

Best Kid Moment, Petuina: Sharing her few toys happily with other kids. She only had a few toys along, and a couple more bought as souvenirs, and she shared them without complaint.

Best Parenting Moment, Mommy: Keeping the kids awake while we waited for our flight home from Rarotonga. I was rewarded: they both slept really well on the plane. I, on the other hand, was woken up by the guy a few seats over having a panic attack, and I never really got back to solid sleep.

Best Parenting Moment, Daddy: Teaching Petunia how to snorkel. She's hooked.

Best Playground: The one at the bottom of Mt. Eden in Auckland. There was a flying fox AND a push train (one kid sits on a little train engine on a monorail track while the other kid or a parent pushes them around in circles- Petunia LOVES this). There was also a cool climbing structure Pumpkin loved.

The runner up was the beach swing at the beach near our hotel in Rarotonga. This was just a simple rope swing hung off a coconut palm. The kids loved it.

Because some people have been confused about how you hang a rope swing from a coconut palm.

Worst thing: The kids say the dogs on the beaches in Rarotonga (dogs mostly run free there, but they also mostly ignore people unless said people want to scratch their ears). I say the long flights and the jet lag upon returning home.

Best food item: Mr. Snarky says the seafood platter we got at a restaurant down the beach from our hotel. I say hokey pokey ice cream. Pumpkin says it is a tie between the ice chocolate and some strawberry Tang mix I bought at one of the shops in Rarotonga. Pumpkin says it is cheese scones, particularly if served with apple juice.

Best mosquito magnet: Mommy, as usual. I came home with six mosquito bites, despite having bought tropical strength DEET our first day in Rarotonga, and using it liberally. Petunia got one bite, maybe, but it wasn't itchy. Neither Pumpkin nor Mr. Snarky got any. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Weekend Reading: The I Can't Catch Up Edition

Between the coup/coup attempt in Turkey and the horrific truck attack in Nice, I'm feeling pretty somber today. But I don't have anything profound to say about either of those things, so I guess I'll just post the links I have.

Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, both prominent conservative writers, have an op-ed in the NY Times about what they see as the way forward for the Republican party after Trump. I don't agree with all of what they're proposing for policy- but of course I don't, I'm a Democrat- but I sincerely hope the Republican party does some soul-searching and makes some real changes soon. I still think we'll manage to avoid electing Trump, but if the Republican party continues on its current path, we'll probably get another Trump-like candidate sooner rather than later, and eventually, one of them will win. That is a scary thought.

(Either that or the Republican party will completely implode and then some other second party will form, perhaps involving some sort of fracture in the Democrats and a regrouping with some portion of the Republicans... that sounds interesting in all the ways that make "may you live in interesting times" a curse.)

Here's Matt Yglesias on why congressional Republicans (and the rest of us) should take Trump's authoritarianism seriously.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on how excessive police violence puts the police at risk, too.

Josh Marshall on the fragility of the peace and stability we in the Western world tend to take for granted.

One of the interesting things Vox published while I was on vacation was a defense of the American revolution.

Here's another interesting article that came out while I was on vacation: Phoebe Maltz Bovy on the subtle sexism of some male minimalists.

This is a really interesting essay by Suki Kim about having her writing misbranded as memoir, and her struggle to be taken seriously.

Pamela Ribon on another side of Pokemon GO. Read the post she links to, too. A lot of people in my Twitter feed are playing Pokemon GO and some of them are Black, and everyone (so far) seems to be having a lot of fun. But some people have also pointed out that there aren't a lot of pokestops in Black neighborhoods. I think there's a lot to think about in this phenomenon, and I suspect augmented reality and the ethical questions it raises will only get more important as we move from the somewhat awkward interface of our phones to something less intrusive.

This has been another tough week. I like this advice:

And in that spirit, I'll tell you that the next Annorlunda Books release is available for pre-order. The Lilies of Dawn is a beautiful fantasy novelette by Vanessa Fogg, with an equally beautiful cover by Likhain.

Or, if you want to read some brilliant short non-fiction, this week's Tungsten Hippo recommendation is a really great one. I resisted this book, expecting to find it cliche or exploitative... or I don't know what really. But it is an amazing story and really well told.

And finally... not funny, but quirky: here's something I may try. I could rant on and on about the difficulty of buying sports bras, or really any bras, once you are larger than a D cup. I don't get me started about swimsuit shopping. Even living in San Diego, with its beach culture, I'm unable to shop in stores and try things on. I have to order online and cross my fingers I'll like how things look (or be willing to send things back). On the grand scale of problems, this is a minor one. But it is annoying.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Holding the Center

I'm just back from a two week vacation. You probably guessed that from the two week absence of posts. We went to New Zealand, with a four day stopover in Rarotonga on our way home. The main purpose of the trip was to see family and friends, but a lot of fun and touristy things happened, as well. I'll post about those soon.

I expected to get a lot of questions about Trump and his candidacy during this trip, and I did, despite the fact that the Brexit vote distracted people quite a bit. We were frequently asked what we would do if Trump gets elected.

The honest answer is that I don't really know. We've talked about it a bit, but given the current situation, it still seems like an extremely unlikely outcome, so we haven't really talked about it seriously. We said that we'd probably stay, to vote against him in the next election. We are, after all, not in any of the groups most threatened by him, and I feel a bit of a duty to try to stand up for those who are.

We'd probably start moving money to New Zealand, though, as a hedge against things getting worse. Besides, I'd love to buy a vacation property there some day, so it would perhaps make sense to do that, anyway. We'd certainly have more serious conversations about when we'd leave. I take the risk Trump poses seriously. I think he is a threat to our democracy, and I am incredibly disappointed in the Republicans who are acting like they have no choice but to support him. We all have a choice not to support him now, and if we do not exercise it, we risk a future in which we no longer truly have that choice. I really do believe that, and I am not alone.

So if Trump is elected, I'd want to sit down with my husband and define some criteria of what would make us leave. We are lucky to have an easy option for leaving, but we'd still need to recognize when we should take it. I like our life here. I think it would be all too easy to keep justifying and excusing things until one day we looked around and realized we missed our chance to leave.

And then, while we were in Rarotonga and essentially out of contact with the rest of the world (by choice: of course, there are newspapers, TV news, and the internet in Rarotonga, we just chose to ignore them), things got worse. It is very different reading about events like the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and the subsequent attack on police officers in Dallas, after the outcome is known than to follow events as they are happening. Still, I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me want to turn right back around and fly back to the island I'd just left.

But as scary and frustrating as things are right now, I don't think it is time to start moving money or forming a plan to leave. I don't really believe in American exceptionalism. I think we can fall to authoritarianism as easily as any other country, perhaps even easier than some. I don't think there is anything uniquely democratic about us. But I'm not ready to give up on us yet. I think we just need to hold our nerve and keep working to make our country better, keep trying to build a better, more inclusive union while also working to allay the fears of those who feel threatened by the growing diversity that I see as our strength.

I look around and see a lot of people trying to do just that, and while I am dismayed by the slow pace of change and the violence that we're seeing, I want to stand with them, if only by staying and voting and raising my kids to believe in the value of diversity and the need to keep working to make the world a kinder, fairer, better place.

There is a famous quote form a Yeats poem:

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

The center still holds right now. It feels frayed, but it holds. It holds not because of any magical properties of our Constitution, but because enough people are choosing to make it hold. This is going to be a difficult time as the parties hold their conventions and the general election campaign really takes off. Let us hope the center holds, but also remember that whether or not it holds is partially up to us.