Friday, June 23, 2017

Weekend Reading: The Going Quiet Edition

I have some vacation time coming up, and will be pretty scarce (or completely absent) around here for a bit. If you miss me, you can always read my archives, I guess.

But before I go quiet, here are some links for you:

My "if you read only one thing, make it this" link for the week is Rebecca Onion's interview with historian Nancy McLean about James McGill Buchanan and the intellectual underpinnings of Charles Koch's donor activism. I think we need to recognize that the goals of some of the big GOP donors are not what they are presented as. Here's a quote from the piece:

"The reality is that they are gerrymandering with a vengeance, to a degree we’ve never seen before in our history; they’re practicing voter suppression in a way we’ve not seen since Reconstruction; they are smashing up labor unions under fake pretenses, not telling people that they actually do want to destroy workers’ ability to organize collectively ... I could go on and on.

They’re doing a lot of things for strategic reasons and not being honest with the public about it."

Here's another scary one: what happens when the man abusing you is a cop.

Scary in a different way: The science of the heat wave that hit Arizona this week. (I can tell you from personal experience that 120 feels a lot different from 115...)

Sarah Kliff at Vox is one of my go-to sources for understanding what's going on with the healthcare bills. She had a post earlier this week about why the GOP are likely to pass it, even though it is really, really unpopular. The short answer is because they campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare, so they think they need to deliver. I think this is probably true. However, I also don't think they really campaigned on this sort of repeal and replace. We heard a lot about how premiums were unaffordable and the markets were going to go into a death spiral and the like... and both of those things get worse under their bill. So the question is, will their voters punish them for that? I honestly don't know.

Meanwhile, in California, we're looking at a single payer system. The LA Times answered some questions about that. I think the potential issue of people moving into the state just to get healthcare is one that will get a lot of discussion. We have a strong job market... but we're already struggling with affordable housing, so I don't know how voters will come down on this.

Are cats really domesticated? Eh, maybe not.

Here's a bunny inspecting a camera:

And here's a kakapo doing the same!

And that's all I have for now. I'll see you in a few weeks!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Weekend Reading: The Only Happy Things Edition

I have an extra couple of kids in my house today, and a to do list I don't think I'm going to finish. I haven't decided whether or not that means I have to abandon my plans to take the weekend completely off. It depends on whether I can get through all the "must do" items, I guess.

And my heart is hurting from the news this week. There is just too much terrible news this week.

So, this is going to be a short and unusual links post. I'm just going to share some things that made me smile this week.

First, though: I'm running a GoodReads giveaway for Hemmed In. Enter it for a chance to win a free paperback copy of Hemmed In!

This story about a little girl who saw a bride and thought she was a princess from a book cover she loves is sweet.

Auckland lights up for Matariki.

An indigenous viewpoint on a Van Gogh exhibition. This is really interesting, so it is my "if you only read one" recommendation this week.

People perpetuating national stereotypes in floods:

Wait for it... this is quite the subway performance.

Here are some beautiful bunnies:

Another bunny:

Happy weekend, everyone! Here's hoping that next week is less terrible.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Some Old-Fashioned Mom Blogging: Keeping a 10 Year Old Challenged

The political situation here continues to be depressing and somewhat scary, for a variety of reasons. The end of school year crunch is in full swing. We're packing the kids for a visit to my parents. We're driving them all the way over this year, because there is also my grandparents' 75th(!!!) wedding anniversary to celebrate. And I have a lot of work I need to get done this week, which may be somewhat hampered by the fact that I'll have two extra kids in my house on Friday (school is out tomorrow, and I arranged a child care exchange with another family to get us through to the weekend).

But I'm going to ignore that all for a bit and talk about my kids. They are getting so big: 7 and 10 now. I don't write about them as much because less of their story feels like mine to tell. I miss writing about parenting, but now that the issues we deal with are more individualized, it is harder for me to figure out how to write about it. A lot of babies wake up in the night. A lot of toddlers are picky eaters. There were individual details in our experiences, but the broad experience was widely shared. That is not so true now. I can see it when the old day care crew gets together. We still talk about our kids. We've known each other since our now 10 year olds were babies! But we aren't all commiserating about the same problems anymore. We're all figuring out different issues.

The parenting thing I'm currently thinking about the most is how to make sure Pumpkin gets to stretch her skills at the "right" level, whatever that is. She recently told me she's been bored at school a lot these last couple of months, which is what got me thinking about this. We chose the Spanish immersion school for a lot of reasons: we wanted our kids to learn a second language, it is close to our house, we liked the school... but also because we hoped the language immersion would stave off boredom.

The immersion program bought us through 2nd grade, I think. There was a lot of language to learn, since we are not a Spanish speaking household. Then her 3rd grade teacher was really good at challenging different kids in different ways. Her 4th grade teachers were great, too- it was a team taught classroom, and I really liked some of the things they did. But for whatever reason, she got bored. I don't know if this is due to the increase in class size that comes with 4th grade here, or if the curriculum is less hard-charging in 4th grade, or if it was just when it was going to happen.

She did a lot of independent reading in class because she was finished with her work, and with the extra credit assignments on offer. I don't really mind that. I certainly did a lot of independent reading in school, too. But since she said she was bored, I think that's not enough. So I'm thinking about what we might do.

She really, really wants to stay at her school through 8th grade. I like that idea, too, for the convenience, and for the fact that at the end of 8th grade she should be able to pass the AP Spanish exam and also an exam that assesses biliteracy. These things seem like good things. I also like what I've seen of the culture of the middle school at our school, and think it would be good for her.

So, we need a plan to keep her growing at her current school. The school is not big enough to do pull outs for the high achieving kids, and apparently that's not the preferred way to handle them anymore, anyway. Maybe she'll get a teacher who finds a way to keep her challenged, but maybe she won't. I'd like to have some ideas about what to do if she still says she's bored.

I don't care so much about the boredom. Learning to accept a little boredom is an OK thing. But I do care that she gets to grow her skills as fast as she wants. Here are the ideas I've come up with so far:

  • More challenging independent reading, both in Spanish and English. She likes this idea. Her teacher from last year just lent her Anne of Green Gables in Spanish, which I think will be more of a stretch for her than her usual Spanish picks. And tonight, when we went to Barnes and Noble to get the latest paperback in the Land of Stories series (which she loves), she decided she also wanted to buy a copy of War and Peace (in English). I'm curious to see what she makes of that. She said if she thought it was too hard, she'd just put it on the shelf for awhile.
  • More non-fiction independent reading. She's game for this, but we're having a hard time finding books at the right level. The things we find are all too easy or too hard. I need to do some research.
  • Focus more on music. I think I channeled some of my energies into getting better at music at this age, and that is something that served me well over the years. Coincidentally, 5th grade is when the school band program begins, so she could conceivably be working on two instruments next year (piano and whatever she picks for band).
  • Bump up the intensity of our Chinese lessons. We do really low key Chinese lessons. We started before we got into the Spanish school, and we've kept them because the kids like them. We could ask the teacher to assign homework or something like that.
  • Try a programming course. She's not shown a lot of interest in programming, but she does like building new things in a couple of her favorite games (Geometry Dash and Roblox).  I could figure out what those actually are and see if we could parlay that into some programming interest.
  • Find more academically oriented or otherwise skill-building summer camps. She likes this idea but I hate it because it complicates summers more than they already are. But it is probably worth considering.
That's what I have so far. I'll keep thinking over the summer. Additional ideas welcome in the comments. Next time I'm in the mood to mom blog, I'll write about Petunia. There are things I'm thinking about for her, too, but at least she's not bored at school yet (she's still in the phase in which the language learning is keeping her busy).

Friday, June 09, 2017

Weekend Reading: The Mostly Not about Comey Edition

It was a beautiful day for a rollerblade today, marred only by the fact that I got to the parking lot by the bay and realized I'd left my socks at home. I went back to get them, and consoled myself with the fact that the extra driving meant I got to listen to more of Pod Save America's reaction to the Comey hearings.

(I like Pod Save America a lot, but I think it is probably only palatable to liberals like myself. However, the companion show Pod Save the World I can recommend to everyone. It is about foreign policy, and while it has a slant towards Democrats both in the host's viewpoint and in who he gets as guests, I think it would be informative to anyone. I would listen to the Republican-leaning equivalent, for instance. This week's episode of Pod Save the World was particularly good: the guest was former US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daadler, and he talked a lot about the limits on what we can do in places like Libya and Syria. I recommend it highly.)

OK, back to my regular links post.

First up, the blatant self promotion. My latest book, Hemmed In, came out on Wednesday. You can read about it and find all the purchase links in Wednesday's post. Thank you to everyone who has already bought it.

I'm also giving away two copies of Missed Chances, my first taster flight anthology, over at Tungsten Hippo.

Now, on to the links.

If you read only one link, make it this story about the kids who survived the school shooting in Townville, South Carolina. It will make you cry and want to hug your kids. But I think it is important not to look away from these stories. It is not true that there is nothing we can do about mass shootings, even if we can't find the political will to change our gun laws. Here is an old Mother Jones story that talks about some of things people are doing. Of course, we could also change our gun laws. There is a lot of room between where we are now and infringing on people's second amendment rights. We could explore that space if the NRA and its supporters were willing to discuss it, or the rest of us were willing to out vote them. We can also work to change our culture about guns. In this shooting, a 14 year old was able to access the family's gun and enough ammunition to commit a mass shooting with no impediment. You could change that without affecting the adult gun owner's right to the weapon at all.

OK, moving on.

Here's another story (warning: video) that made me very, very sad. It is the story of a man who was deported from the only country he has ever known because his adoptive parents failed to fill out some paperwork. Watching the story, I just kept thinking about how many times America failed this man. Note that his deportation process started in the Obama era. We need to fix our immigration laws. Another problem that is stuck in political limbo because some people refuse to negotiate at all and the rest of us haven't found the will to out vote them.

Adam Serwer wrote about the myth around Robert E. Lee and why statues honoring him should come down, and then followed up with a piece responding to some of his critics. These two pieces are really worth your time.

Claire McCaskill's questions to Orin Hatch, the chair of the Finance Committee, about the process being used for the current health care bill are really good. We're relying on rumors to figure out what is going to be in the Senate version of the bill, because they won't tell us.

Vox continues its really strong reporting on the health care debate with a visit to talk to some Kentucky voters who are on Obamacare, disappointed in how Trump and the Republicans are changing it... and  many of them planning to continue voting for their Republican representatives, anyway.

I saw a lot of venom aimed at these people on Twitter, and while I understand where that comes from, I think we should all take a step back and ask ourselves how easily we would change our party preferences. Our party allegiance is often integrated into our sense of identity. (Ezra Klein had a good piece exploring this recently.) This has gotten more pronounced in recent years. We can argue about what caused that (I personally think Fox News deserves some of the blame), but we also have to face the reality of it, and recognize that it is going to lead to things like people voting for the representative who voted to take away their health care. We can't change that outcome by ridiculing them. We can either look for ways to change their minds, or we can look for ways to outvote them.

Honestly, I think this politics-as-identity thing is part of why we can't make progress on guns or immigration, too. It is a huge problem right now. I have no idea how to fix it.

If you are interested in thinking about how to change people's minds... here's an essay from someone who changed her mind, and it is worth reading.

If you have any stomach at all for revisiting the reasons for the outcome of the 2016 election... here is a piece about some research into developing questions to assess "modern sexism" and how where someone falls on this scale relates to how they voted.

I have limited patience for revisiting the reasons for the 2016 outcome, but found the research interesting. My Twitter feed occasionally still devolves into a fight between "Bernie would have won" and Hillary supporters and I am so, so tired of it. I hope neither Hillary nor Bernie runs again. I think it is time for new leaders. Hillary seems to be settling into a role in which she reaches out and offers support to prominent women who are getting grief from jerks (e.g., Kim Weaver, the woman who dropped out of the race to replace Iowa Rep. Steve King, citing death threats and other intimidation). That seems like a great role for her. I don't want her to disappear. I think she has valuable experience and can still do a lot of good. But let's get some new people in the race for 2020.

Since I'm on a Vox-linking tear, I'll add Matt Yglesias' explainer of the debt ceiling fight we may be about to have.

I think you can all find coverage of Comey's testimony and the like on your own. But I will share this quote:

And here are some pictures of a cute bunny:

And here are some more bunnies because I think we all need more cute bunnies in our life:

Happy weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Release Day for Hemmed In

I picked a bad day to be the release day for my latest entry in the Annorlunda Books Taster Flight series. Everyone is distracted by the upcoming Comey testimony (and just released opening statement), and I don't blame them. In fact, if I could redirect some of the attention away from that, I'd direct it to the fact that the Senate is preparing to vote on their version of the AHCA, and we still don't know what is in it.

But, June 7 was the day I picked, and anyway, there is always something more important distracting people right now. It is a tough time to be trying to build a business that depends in part on getting people's attention.

Still, you're reading this! So I have your attention, and I can tell you about Hemmed In. It is my fourth "taster flight" of classic short stories, and I think it is my favorite. I liked the other three a lot, but this one wins because it has a story that latched on to me when I first read it and has stayed in my mind ever since.

I first read Susan Glaspell's A Jury of Her Peers when I was looking for stories for Missed Chances, my first Taster Flight. It did not fit that theme, but I loved the story, and it has stayed with me, popping into my mind for time to time, ever since. It is the story of two women called to come collect things for a farm wife who is in jail on suspicion of murdering her husband... and to tell you more than that would ruin it.

I keep a spreadsheet of potential stories to use in anthologies, and I eventually realized that I had several stories gathered that would fit a theme about women's lives and the aspects of those lives that men don't always understand: Edna Ferber's The Leading Lady and Mary Lerner's Little Selves were also on my list at that point. I knew I could add The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Gilman Perkins, a classic story read by many people in college women's studies or women's literature classes. I never read it in college, but a lot of my friends (and my sister!) had and recommended it to me when they heard about the Taster Flights.

I revisited some of the other collections of old stories that I had on my Kindle, and found Kate Chopin's A Pair of Silk Stockings. Hemmed In still seemed too short, so I decided to add The Bohemian Girl, by Willa Cather, another story I really love. It may be my favorite thing I've ever read by Willa Cather.

I love all the stories in this anthology, and I think that reading them together makes them even better. The idea behind the "taster flight" concept is that just like I notice new things about a beer when I taste it as part of a flight with other beers, I notice new things about a story when I read it as part of a collection of other stories. For instance, I noticed a new detail upon re-reading The Leading Lady after recently reading The Yellow Wallpaper.

If you want to read the stories and see what I mean, you could theoretically go read each one online. They are in the public domain! But for a mere $2.99 you can get my nicely formatted versions on your ereader, from one of these fine retailers:

There is also a paperback, available at Amazon and Createspace right now, and coming to other vendors (, IndieBound) soon.

If you want to help me spread the word, you can share this post, or you can share the Annorlunda Books release day post or my Tungsten Hippo post. The book is also on GoodReads, so you can add it to your shelves. So many options!

Thanks for taking a break from the political maelstrom with me!

Friday, June 02, 2017

Weekend Reading: The Cosmopolitan Edition

So, we're leaving the Paris agreement. I am not surprised. I don't even think we can really blame this one entirely on Trump: a large group of Republicans have been opposed to doing anything to address climate change for a long time.

I am sad about the decision, though. I don't know that it will have much impact on what the US actually does about climate change: states and cities are already leading efforts to decrease our carbon footprint, and so are a lot of American companies. Most of the impact of the Trump administration on the environment will be due to less flashy decisions: regulations gutted, public lands put up for sale.

But the decision will still have some impact, and I think that impact will reach beyond climate. It contributes to a lessening of America's standing in the world. I know some might think I am exaggerating, but....

From my conversations with my friends around the world, I'd say that is a fairly accurate representation of how we are viewed right now.

I think Jeet Heer has this right:

And William Gibson made a similar observation:

Now, I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing in the long run if we end up in a more multi-polar world, where the US doesn't have such outsize influence. But one of the things I find most darkly amusing about this entire mess is that there is a huge overlap between people who were most worried about the standing of the US and tended to fret about "the rise of China" and things like that and people whose vote in the last election most hastened the decline of the US.

I don't care about the decline in US power, but I do care about the decline in the ideals we once championed, however imperfectly. David Roberts had a good piece on that in response to Trump's decision. He discusses a debate between tribalism and something he calls cosmopolitanism. I don't think cosmopolitanism is really the best word for it, but it is also the word that Gianpiero Petriglieri used in a piece last December that I also really liked. So I guess that's the word to use.

Whatever word, I'm on that side. I want a world that is less tribal. I want a world where the random luck of where you were born has less influence on the outcome of your life. I want a world where people from all parts work together to make things better for everyone. Our global institutions are clunky and imperfect, but instead of tearing them down and retreating into our tribes, I wish we'd try to improve them and work through the difficult problems and our inevitable disagreements with words, not weapons.

I think the feeling that my country is pulling away from that vision might be what is alienating me from it the most in the aftermath of Trump's election. I want to be part of the global community, and I am increasingly unsure of whether I will be living here. I hadn't realized that this was part of the unease I'm feeling until I read Roberts' piece. I haven't worked through the questions it raised for me, but it is something to ponder.

Moving on to other topics....

If you only read one thing in my links list this week, make it Jamelle Bouie's article about the wave of racist violence we're living through. He puts it in its historical context, and explains how the rise of intolerance in politics is historically linked to a rise in racist violence.

Rebecca Solnit's piece about Trump is really good.

I think Josh Marshall is right: there really is not innocent explanation for Jared Kushner's attempt to set up secret communications with Moscow. I still think that the fire in the midst of all this smoke is more likely to be tied up with debt and shady real estate deals than with anything ideological, but I keep coming back to the quote from former CIA director Brennan: "Frequently, individuals on a treasonous path do not even realize they're on that path until it gets to be too late." 

If you live in California, you might be interested in this article about teaching the truth about California's missions. I had a fourth grader this year, so just finished navigating this history with her. I hope I did a fair job. I feel like her school did a pretty good job: one of their field trips was to get a presentation from a local tribe member about what Kumeyaay life was like before the Spanish came, and how the missions changed that. I am sure there is still room for improvement, but the report she produced felt like a better way to learn about the subject than the traditional "build a mission" approach.

This series of tweets was a definite lolsob moment:

And that's all I have today.

Except, I meant to say that I am still looking for advance readers for Hemmed In. Sign up if you're interested!

And a bunny. Obviously, you need a bunny:

Happy weekend, everyone