Friday, March 23, 2018

Weekend Reading: The Short on Time Edition

I've got a lot to get done this evening, so I'll keep the intro to the links short. Thank you all for the kind words about my Grandma.

In self-promo links: Annorlunda Books is open for submissions right now. Spread the word!

In other links:

My pick for the one link to read if you read only one link this week is unfortunately only available to TPM Prime subscribers. But, I'll link to Josh Marshall's take that the crisis is upon us, anyway, and pull out this one quote:

"The future of the country now rests on the results of the 2018 midterms. That sounds dramatic and hyperbolic. But look at the forces moving into alignment. It’s not. It’s an apt description of what is before us."

I'll also put up this thread, which I found interesting and also a little disturbing:

It does feel like we're at an inflection point for our country. I hope we do well, but I am very worried about it. 

One of the reasons I'm worried is that it seems like the forces that oppose democracy are getting more open about what they're doing.

For instance, Scott Walker (the governor of Wisconsin) lost a court case and was told he needs to hold the special elections he has been avoiding, ostensibly because of cost, but actually because Republicans have been losing them. And so now, the Wisconsin Republicans are trying to change the law. Here's a summary of the events.

And of course, there are the scattered incidents of actual voter fraud, which have mostly turned out to be nothing at all like what Kris Kobach says voter fraud looks like in this country.

Joshua Keating argues that the return of John Bolton and the nomination of Gina Haspel are consequences of our failure to really confront the failures of the George W. Bush years. I think that a lot of our current problems probably trace back to our country's failure to really confront and try to heal from the bad things we've done... going all the way back to slavery and our treatment of Native Americans. But that's more to discuss than I have time for today.

I won't try to link to all the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica reports. You've probably seen them, anyway. But Matt Yglesias' take arguing that Facebook is just bad is maybe something you didn't see. You can also check out John Aravosis' look at the data Facebook had on him

I don't use Facebook heavily, and when I do, it is almost exclusively for posting or viewing photos of children (or pets) and vacations. I like it as a nice way to keep up with friends all over the world. I dislike it for a lot of reasons, and have tried to tune my feed to exclude what I dislike the most, which is links to political news.

In non-political links:

The JUMPSUIT project is really interesting. 

(Also, a reminder: if you like those sorts of link, I share one every weekday on my Annorlunda Books facebook page and Twitter account.)

This is a sort of technical blog post about a gene sequencing error, but it is an interesting story. Also, I never knew that rapamycin was named after Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

I quite like Kacey Musgraves' new song and may get her new album:

This brought back so many memories of my college days in Chicago:



That's all for this week. Have a good weekend everyone!

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Jumble That Is In My Head Tonight

This is a post about the jumble of life. I was going to try to say something more profound, but really it is just me writing the jumble that is in my head right now. It is a strange mix but I think it will help to write it.

My grandmother died this weekend. She was 94, and lived a full and good life. But if you'd asked me a month ago, I would have said I expected her to be around for another few years yet. She had lost some of her sharpness, but she was still very much herself, just sometimes a little confused. Then, a couple of weeks ago she experienced a sudden and steep decline. I do not think she would have wanted to linger long after that decline. But we miss her.

I am so glad the family was able to all gather for my grandparents' 75th wedding anniversary celebration last summer. Gathering in Phoenix in June seemed like a really strange thing to do, but I think we will all treasure the memory of that day.

My sister was able to make it over to see Grandma one last time. I was not. I could have made it happen, but my parents told me she would not really know I was there, and I decided to instead focus on getting things ready here, so that when I go home for the memorial I won't be worrying about a bunch of other things. It is summer camp registration season here, and this year both kids asked to change things up a bit, which made this registration season much harder than previous ones.

Pumpkin is tired of the Y camps she's been doing since she was six, and wanted to find some other options. I spent a huge amount of time researching options, and managed to book her into new camps for three of the weeks. One week, she'll do an "aerial arts" camp with her best friend, and getting that scheduling sorted took a somewhat epic email thread. For the other two weeks, she will be doing a "STEAM academy" that had a bunch of interesting workshop options. She got to pick two per week, and I think she picked really great ones. If she likes this camp, we'll probably try to arrange our summer schedule next year to let her do more of it. (This year, two of the weeks it was offered fell on weeks we were doing vacation things.)

Petunia is still interested in a lot of the Y camps, but really wants a friend with her, particularly for the ones she thinks will have a lot of kids. So we met up with her best friend's family this weekend to coordinate schedules. She also has one non-Y camp that she'll be doing with her best friend.

So anyway, I decided to get the registrations done so that I wasn't still in the midst of email threads about whether we should do ice skating camp in week 3 or week 6 while I'm home for Grandma's memorial. I want to be able to ignore my email.

(Also, the kids and I had to go shopping this weekend because when I looked in Petunia's closet I didn't see a single thing that seemed appropriate for a memorial service. I was starting to think we'd have to improvise something, though, because since it is Easter season all the dresses are pastel and flouncy and not really much of an improvement on her Minnie Mouse skirt or dinosaur shirt in terms of appropriateness. But The Gap came through with a navy blue dress with understated pastel stripes and a matching navy cardigan. Phew.)

Of course I won't really be able to ignore my email for an entire week. For one thing, Pumpkin's 11th birthday party is soon, and I'll be getting the RSVPs for that. But I won't have to be super responsive to my email. I have the cake booked and Mr. Snarky is taking care of booking the jumpy. I just need to go off now and see if I can find some wands we can buy and thereby spare me the "make your own wands" instructions Pumpkin found on Pinterest....

The Harry Potter themed party is coming along well. Pumpkin came up with really great invitations, and has some good ideas for activities and treats. I'm going to hand over ordering Pumpkin's actual gift to Mr. Snarky and so I just need to get any party favors that need to be ordered sorted this week. That should be doable.

And that's the jumble that is in my head. A bunch of to do list items, overlaid with a sadness because my Grandma is gone, tinged relief that she did not linger in a state she would not have wanted. Thanks for letting me ramble. I think this has helped clear some space, so that I can let more memories of Grandma come in. Which is good, because I've said I'll say a few words at the memorial, and I want to make sure I remember all the best bits of the years I got to share with her.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Weekend Reading: The Themeless Edition

I have no theme for this week. I'm slowly getting back to normal, just in time for the crunch time of figuring out summer camps (this gets harder as the kids get older! They start wanting me to coordinate with their friends' schedules and are less happy with our default Y camp options). Also, my 10 year old will turn 11 soon, and after some angst settled on a Harry Potter themed party at home. This is funny to me because this is the child who steadfastly refused to read the Harry Potter books for years. One of her friends convinced her to try them this year, and she sped through them in less than two weeks and is now super excited about planning her party. She has lots of ideas. I am trying to be encouraging but also insisting that we focus first on getting the invitations out. I am sure I'll rally and get into the planning with her soon.... I'll try to get some good pictures of whatever she comes up with and will write a post about it later.

So anyway, let's get to the links:

In Annorlunda Books news, I'm ready to start gathering advance readers for Here's the Deal, Micah Edwards' humorous retelling of the Book of Exodus. If you're interested, sign up here.

David Roberts had a twitter thread about the problem with the NY Times op-ed page that got shared a lot, and he turned it into a column. It is worth reading, and I can't argue with his contention that the ascendant group on the right are more about tribalism than ideas.

The one problem I have with it is that it doesn't really reflect my friends who would consider themselves conservative but are not in the Trump tribe. To be fair, he's talking about columnists and "thought leaders" and not average people, but I think there are still a bunch of good people who are conservatives out there, who are just as lost about how to respond to the Trumpism crap as the rest of us are. I mean, none of us really knows what to do- that's why there's so much arguing about what sort of candidate Democrats should run, etc. I don't think the "Never Trump" conservative columnists are really doing a great job of representing these people's views, and I agree that right now, as a political force, they're not particularly powerful. But they are real, and I think there is value in continuing to hear their views.

I don't want us to get so riled up by the horrible things Trump et al are doing and the poor behavior of  most elected Republicans in this crisis that we forget that there are and always will be good people who disagree with us on some of the issues, because I think the eventual way out of this disaster involves us all learning how to disagree without hating each other again.

This Matt Yglesias analysis of the Conor Lamb victory seems right  to me. But maybe I just hope it is right? I don't know anymore.

And here is an article from Laura Putnam about what she saw on the ground in PA-18.

Here is your regular reminder that we already ration health care and we already have bureaucrats not doctors deciding what health care options we can have.

Here's a less high-stakes example from my own life. I have asthma. I am having a hard time with getting a long term lingering cough after I get a cold or other respiratory infection. The last time I saw my doctor, we decided to restart Singulair and also perhaps to switch up my maintenance inhaler. We decided that I'd see how the Singulair did, and then email if I wanted to proceed to trying a new inhaler. Today I decided to go ahead and try a new inhaler, so I sent her an email, and got the following back (paraphrased because I'm too lazy to log in to my patient account to get the exact words):

"I sent in a prescription for symbicort. If your insurance won't pay for that, ask to find out what medicine similar to symbicort or advair they will cover."

In this case, there are several similar options and no obvious "best one" so we'll start with whatever insurance will cover. But if that one doesn't work well, then we have to essentially negotiate with the insurance folks to get to try different things. I've been through this with nasal inhalers (sorry, insurance co, I don't want to deal with persistent nose bleeds because one brand is cheaper for you than another). Instead of just stepping through options with my doctor, I see my doctor, she picks an option, if my insurance doesn't like it, I (or my doctor's office) call and argue why this option and not their favorite one... It takes time and has nothing to do with what is best for me as a patient. I eventually gave up on the nasal inhalers, and my allergies were worse than they had to be for many years until the non-steroid one went off patent and our pediatrician prescribed it to our kid and I started wondering if it would help me. It does. Azelastine is a godsend. I never tried it during its time on patent because the steroid ones were so much cheaper and the insurance companies kept steering me to those.

I'm not saying it is bad to consider cost vs. benefit in health care decisions. I'm just saying that we already do and I don't understand why so many people are OK with those decisions being made by for-profit companies but freak out at the idea of a government agency getting involved. At least I can try to change the government agency's policies via political means! The for-profit company doesn't even see me as its customer... because I'm not. My employer is.

Moving on....

I really like Nicole Cliffe's answer to the question from the parent of an "average" kid. I hate the obsessions with finding your one true passion/identifying your special talent, particularly as applied to kids. I don't think this message was as strong when I was a kid, but it clearly crept in, because I spent years feeling bad about having a lot of different interests and not being a superstar at anything. It is OK to not be a superstar! It is OK to not make a mark on the world that everyone sees. Our average little lives are beautiful and worthy.

Also, as I said on Twitter, sometimes the most useful talent you have is something that won't be apparent until you're well past high school:

I did not know about this:

I'd like to learn more about this effort in particular, and efforts like it in general. I keep hearing little snippets about what folks in Tijuana are doing to deal with the problems our changing immigration policy creates for them, but I haven't seen anything comprehensive. If you have, drop it in the comments.

I can't really call today's xkcd funny, but you should go check it out anyway.

This, however, is funny:


Giant fluff ball bunny!

Happy weekend everyone!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Getting Back on Track

"Cold" seems a far too bland word for whatever it was I am getting over, but I don't know what else to call it. It was some sort of upper respiratory virus (not the flu!) and it absolutely flattened me. It knocked me off track in several ways. My exercise routine is gone. I am not sure when I'll be able to pick it back up. I can't really work out until I can go for a walk without dissolving into a coughing fit. I will try to start easing back in this week, by picking up my lunch time walks again.

I had just been finding my footing at work, and that feels lost now. I expect I'll get that sorted out pretty quickly, assuming I can actually go into the office like usual this week.

Probably worse of all is that my ratio of news consumed to actions taken is waaaaay off. I have found that the best way to fend off despair in this current political moment is for me to not spend too much time scrolling through Twitter reading stories (as interesting as some of stories are) and absorbing everyone's angst and anger (as righteous as some of that anger is). Rather, I like to dip in and out of Twitter, and not stay there too long. I have some key sites I check to keep up on not just the news but useful analysis of the news (Talking Points Memo being a big one of those, but also The Washington Post, Vox, and a couple of the columns at Slate, and I check in on the LA Times when my daily local news check turns up a big California story). I also have a Twitter list of journalists that I check in on in the evening. With all that, I feel like I am informed without being completely immersed in the terrible things going on. However, when I was flattened on the sofa, it was far too easy to just scroll and scroll. I tried to read my book and couldn't focus. I tried to watch something on TV and couldn't settle. So I ended up scrolling.

The other piece of my plan for fending off despair is to take action. That is a really important part for me. I need to do something concrete every week to feel like I am fighting back against the rising ill tide. I am not a big activist. I am not making a big impact. I just hope that my little bit adds in with other people's little bits and helps move us back away from the abyss. I have decided that the most useful thing I can do is try to influence the midterm elections. I still feel like these will be the most important elections of my lifetime. So every week, I usually write some postcards, and I might also send a small amount of money to a candidate I think will make good use of it. For the last two weeks, I've been too sick to do that. This week, I need to pick that back up, for the sake of my own sanity. Luckily, that is something I can do even with a lingering cough!

Friday, March 09, 2018

Weekend Reading: The I Wasn't Actually Getting Better Edition

When I wrote last week's post, I thought I was almost over my cold. And I continued to think that on Saturday. On Sunday, though, it became clear I was actually in the equivalent of the eye of the storm. I have been dealing with a really bad cough for this entire week. I've managed to work most days, but have had to work at home quite a bit, because the cough is really, really bad, and I would hate to make my colleagues listen to it all day. 

I didn't manage to do much other than work, though. My kids were in a play on Wednesday, put on as part of their after school program. They were so excited about it! And they did a great job. I went to see the play, and only had to leave to cough uncontrollably once. 

I also started the delightful task of scheduling our summer camps. I haven't actually scheduled anything yet, but I've made the grid I use to track all the options and have started talking to the kids about what's on offer. As usual, there are quite a few camp offerings I wish I could take, but that my kids are unenthused about. But I think we'll get a decent schedule together!

The other big event of the week was that Tattoo, by Michelle Rene, came out on Wednesday. This is a really neat book and it is getting great reviews - it got a starred review at Publisher's Weekly and a five heart review will be in the next issue of Foreword Reviews. The Fill Your Bookshelf review came out this week, too, and is also quite good. You can also see what other earlier readers are saying at GoodReads.

If you're convinced, go grab yourself a copy: 
It is available on Overdrive, too, if you want to ask your librarian to get a copy of the ebook. It will eventually show up on Scribd, too.

In other Annorlunda Books news... every year, I donate a small percentage of my book sales to a classroom looking for books. This was last year's pick... and the project is in danger of not being funded. If you have anything to spare to help buy some books for some kids who need them, would you please chip in? If we can get it to within $200 of the target, I'll fund the rest from my personal (not business) funds. If it doesn't fund, we get to pick other projects to put our money toward, but it would mean a lot to me to see this one funded. It is a dual immersion program, and I know how expensive it is to buy Spanish books here. 

On to the links:

If you read only one link today, make it Alison Spodek Keimowitz' beautiful piece about what having leukemia taught her about facing climate change... and then let's all commit to do what we can to push back the collapse.

A close runner up for the "read this if nothing else" spot this week: A philosopher's explanation of why the way we think about drug addiction is wrong.

This LA Times piece about the changes that came to Jacumba with Operation Gatekeeper is a good reminder of the fact that there are trade offs that come from making the border harder to cross. 

Here's another immigration-related piece, about what happened after a big immigration raid in one Texas town.

The success of the West Virginia teachers' strike is spurring some teachers in other red states at the bottom of the teacher pay list to consider striking, too. I know teachers in Arizona are starting to organize. I grew up there, and I've friended a lot of my former classmates on Facebook. I'm seeing a lot of avatars turn red in a sign of support for the teachers.

This Scientific American article summarizing some recent modeling about the role of luck in success is really interesting. I like the definition of talent as being the ability to take advantage of lucky opportunities. 

Anastasia Basil argues against letting your kids have social media, and has an interesting idea for how to get them to buy into that. (h/t @CaleeL)

And for a different view on kids and technology... The On Being interview with danah boyd was really, really interesting.

We're coming up on this discussion with our older daughter, who turns 11 soon, and so I'm reading and listening to these things with more interest lately. So far, she has email and a smartphone (which she uses primarily to text us when she gets to school and to text with my Mom and my sister about a license plate spotting game they all play), and she has a Pinterest account, because she likes finding pictures of birds and fairy houses. She also finds craft projects to do, and I am starting to think that this is the perfect introduction to the difference between the best effort people post online and reality. 

A couple of her attempts to replicate the crafts she has found on Pinterest haven't turned out as great as they looked in the picture, which gave us a chance to talk about how we don't know how many attempts it took to get the result shown in the picture, and about photo editing, and a bunch of other things that I want her to know about as she heads into the age when she starts comparing herself and not just her art projects to the things she sees online. So on the whole, I guess I'm glad I let her have Pinterest.

In other podcast listening this week... Josh Marshall has a new podcast, and Episode 3 is an excellent summary of what we know about the Russia investigation.

Kate Wagner argues that you probably don't need to renovate your home. I sort of agree and sort of don't. Our renovation added a lot of additional living space, which has really improved our enjoyment of living in this home. Sure, we could have just moved to a bigger house, but that move would have had downsides, too, even if we'd been able to find a bigger house with the right configuration of space in our current neighborhood... and been able to afford to buy it (a lot of the bigger houses in our neighborhood have gone WAY bigger, and built up to capture a view, which would price them out of our reach). For one thing, if we moved, we probably wouldn't have a 50 year old avocado tree that produces hundreds of avocados every year.... More seriously, we love our location and didn't want to move, but needed more space. Now we have it. Other renovations we're considering: doing up our backyard a bit, to get more enjoyment out of it; updating our kitchen to better fit our style of entertaining while cooking (and to get more storage space); upgrading a bathroom so I can have a proper soak tub (not likely to happen, but I can dream). In short, we'll do renovations that increase our enjoyment of our house and our life in it. 

I really like this:

I'm already seeing this kid's picture pop up in memes, but I think the original context is the best:



Happy weekend, everyone. May I stop coughing soon.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Weekend Reading: The Knocked Off My Game by a Virus Edition

I had such great plans for this week... and everything was going well until Wednesday afternoon, when I started feeling not so well. I was completely wiped out Thursday, spiked a high fever Thursday evening that spooked me and sent me to urgent care. I don't have the flu and my chest x-ray looked clear, so I guess it is just some virus that knocked me out.

I am better today, but not great. I am hoping I am all the way better tomorrow, because tomorrow evening, we're hosting a birthday party for my sister. If I'm not better, my excellent husband will step up and pull off our part of the party mostly on his own, but I'd rather that not happen.

I have spent the majority of the past two days crashed out on my sofa, reading things, so you'd think I'd have great links this week. I'm not sure I do... I wasn't reading at my most engaged level. But here's what I have:

First in self-promo: I did finally post the giveaway for the Tattoo pre-orders. And then I promptly got sick, so I haven't promoted it as much as I intended to. Which means your chances of winning the tote bag are pretty high!

In friend-promo: go read this beautiful story: Traces of Us, by Vanessa Fogg.

And this bittersweet, very short story: Buttons of Flesh and a Beautiful Fish, by Maura Yzmore.

Let's start with something other than the dumpster fire in the White House: the behavior of CEOs!

First, here's a summary of a study that found that CEOs cut investment (thereby boosting stock price) when their shares are about to vest.

And here's an observation from a TPM reader about the effect of the share buybacks (which is how a lot of companies are using their windfall from the recent tax cuts) on CEO pay. (Spoiler: Buybacks tend to boost CEO take home pay, because they boost share price.)

Dahlia Lithwick on the high quality public education that produced the articulate teen activists who have been in the news since the Parkland shooting. Imagine what our future might be like if we could give all public school kids the same high quality education. But too often, extracurriculars like theater and debate are no longer funded, so they only exist in schools with wealthy PTAs that can make up the difference.

Another interesting analysis prompted by the shooting and the resulting discussion: A look at how NRA money really influences politics - it isn't really by direct contributions to candidates.

And here's a look at the NRA lobbyist who has been very influential in loosening Florida's gun laws.

Staying on gun regulations for a minute... Matt Pearce had an inspiring thread on Twitter about the huge turnout at Moms Demand Action meetings in some red states:

I know that a lot of people felt like nothing changed after the Sandy Hook shooting, and that lack of movement after such a heartbreaking event meant America would never fix its gun laws. But something DID change. Moms Demand Action formed, and they have been steadily working to change American laws and culture with respect to guns. When they were unable to make progress at the national level, they turned their attention to state laws, and also started working on pushing companies to stand up to gun enthusiasts who were pushing more open carrying to "normalize" seeing guns in public in America. 

So, when Parkland happened and the teenage survivors started speaking up and moving people to act, those people had somewhere to go, somewhere that was already organized and with a plan of action. There was a place to send all that energy to try to break the deadlock. Will it succeed this time? I don't know. I think it will take a change in Congress, but that this might be one of the issues that makes that change happen. But even if there is still no national action, Moms Demand and other like-minded groups will keep pushing forward, making change happen.

Here's a look at the history of the gun used in a recent shooting in Chicago that I think is a good example of why we should have a background check and paperwork required every time a gun is sold.

OK, enough about guns.

Did you read Monica Lewinsky's piece in Vanity Fair? If not, check it out. 

This interview with Tom Scocca is worth your time for the last few questions when he talks about what good op-ed writing can do.

Amy Butcher's essay about the impact of the Trump years on relationships is searing. I have a lot of thoughts around this, but nothing well-formed enough to write down, so add this to the list of things that I might write more about someday.

Jamil Smith wrote a good op-ed about the reckoning Never Trump conservatives need to do. What I'd love to see: a thoughtful, non-trolly analysis of how Democrats can better protect themselves from suffering a similar fate. Most of what I've read along those lines so far has just been pointless rehashing of the 2016 primary given a thin veneer of forward-looking analysis. 

Here's an interesting write-up of how the Colorado Republican party handled a bad candidate that is an example of how things might have gone differently in 2016, and spared us all the mess we're in right now.

Did you see the Hamilton Polka? It is fun:

As is this reaction video:

This cracked me up:

And here's our closing bunny!

Happy weekend, everyone!