Friday, April 26, 2019

Weekend Reading: Another Grim Set of Links on Another Beautiful Day

It is another beautiful, sunny day here. Wonderful rollerblading weather! It was the sort of rollerblade outing that makes me feel really lucky to live here - a sunny day, a cool ocean breeze, the spring break crowds have gone home, the summer crowds aren't here yet... Just wonderful.

In other good news: Our Tesla arrived yesterday, so I got to drive to the rollerblade in style. It is too early to write up my impressions of it, other than to say it is a really pretty color of blue. I promise to write more once I've driven it a bit more.

Unfortunately, the links I have to share with you aren't so sunny. We're in a really difficult period. It is not at all clear how best to fight back against the anti-democratic (small d) forces at work. I still think there is time to fix this mess through at least somewhat normal means, but I don't think we can be complacent at all. 

My book club read Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me this month. One part that has really stuck with me and made me think was what he wrote about struggle. Early on, he writes:

"And still you are called to struggle, not because it assures you victory but because it assures you an honorable and sane life."

Then, at the end, writing about the struggle his son will need to make, and about how that relates to those of us who get to live in the American dream ("the Dreamers"), he writes:

"Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle for themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all."

Coates has a specific meaning of struggle, and of "the Dream" - but I will not try to summarize that here. I'll just say "struggle" doesn't mean to struggle economically. He's talking about a deeper struggle than that. I think of it as in part the struggle to free yourself from the constraints of an unfair society, and the struggle to make a better society. But I think it is more than that and encourage you to read the book for yourself. It is not a long book.

Early on after Trump was elected, I was in a conversation about what would protect us from the threat he poses, and I said something to the effect of "Congress will not save us. We have to do it ourselves, and I'm not sure we're up to it."

I still think that. Mueller couldn't save us. The Democrats in Congress can't save us. Mueller had his part, and the Democrats have their part. Either could certainly have sunk us. But we, the people, will need to save us.

In short, those of us for whom this country has largely worked well need to learn how to struggle. It was our failure to struggle that left us open to the catastrophe of the 2016 election. Russia meddled, sure, but their meddling just exploited the existing fault lines in our society. We were complacent and did not work hard enough to heal them. It is our failure to struggle that is putting our world at grave risk from climate change. We need to take up the struggle if we are to get back on a sustainable course, let alone one that leads to a better society. And I am no more convinced that we are up to it than I was in 2016.

With that preamble, here are my links for the week:

Josh Marshall on the misleading spin that's been put on the Mueller report, and the fact that it does, in fact, show that the Trump campaign conspired and coordinated with Russia.

I don't think we'll learn the full truth of what happened without a real Congressional investigation. It looks to me that Trump agrees, because he's fighting hard to keep a real investigation from happening. Here's Marshall again, this time on the need for Congress to stop treating Trump's obstruction of their valid oversight requests as politics as usual.

Of course, the rot isn't just in the White House. Here is a depressing look at how Republicans are responding to losses at the ballot box by fighting against democracy.

David Roberts at Vox has a rather depressing summary of a new report about the viability of the Climate Right.

That's all the reading links I have this week. I know they are a bit grim, so I will also reiterate that I have found taking action helps me feel less helpless and overwhelmed by it all. I'm going to start posting my weekly actions again. I suspect I'll mostly post on Fridays at lunch time.

My actions aren't big, and I don't know if they are "right"  or the "best" thing to be doing - they are just what I'm doing right now. I posted my actions for this week already, but in case those tweets have scrolled off the sidebar, here are the two things I did: I donated to Swing Left, because I think their state-based strategy for preparing for the 2020 election is a good one; and I requested some more addresses for Marc Friedenberg in a special election in PA. This is a bit of a long shot of a race, but I think it is worth fighting as hard as we can everywhere. Also, voting is a habit, and it seems like encouraging Democratic voters in PA to strengthen that habit is a good use of my time.

I do have some recommended listening this week: I really like the Flash Forward podcast, and the Desert Creep episode is a reminder that climate change is just about rising sea levels.

In happier things, I have some tweets:

I love this:
And also this - bunny art!

Cute sleeping bunny!

Have a good weekend!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Weekend Reading: The Staying Sane Edition

So, the Mueller report is out. I assume you can find anything you want to read about it. If you're looking for a measured summary from people who know the law, I like Lawfare blog for that. From a more partisan, but still pretty measured viewpoint: I like this TPM article about what comes next.

And that's all I'm going to share on that topic. I have the same opinion I've had since Trump was elected: We're in a slow-moving Constitutional crisis and at an inflection point in our history. I think we face a real risk of, if not losing our democracy, backsliding to become a less-democratic society. I don't think all is lost, but neither do I think we're home free. I don't know what the best course of action for Democratic leaders is right now, but having watched the behavior of the current group of Republican leaders over the last 2.5 years, I am more convinced than ever that they need to lose power. The only way I know to make that happen is to support voting rights in general and Democrats in particular, so that is what I am doing.

But in the meantime, I have to stay sane. So I went on my rollerblade today and appreciated the beautiful day.

And here are some other stories you can read to take a break from this mess:

Here's a write up of some interesting research about the sleep (and health) impact of where you live in a time zone.

The latest I've heard on the cause of the fire at Notre-Dame is that it may have been an electrical fault, but I still think this essay from a former roofer about the risks of repairs is worth your time.

Roxane Gay wrote about an Italian restaurant in LA and now I want to go.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what our cities would look like if they weren't so car-centric. Vox's David Roberts went to Barcelona to explore the idea of "superblocks." The whole series is interesting, but the installment about superblocks as a model for "post-car" urban living is the my pick for which to read if you only have time/interest for one.

Bunnies!




Tuesday, April 16, 2019

In Which We (Finally) Buy a Car

I've mentioned a couple of times that we were shopping for a replacement for our 2007 Prius, and promised to write up some thoughts on our car hunt.

Our Car and Commute Strategy

First, some background on our cars and what I call our car strategy. We have two cars: One "small" car that we use primarily for around town and short out of town trips (1 week or less), and one "large" car that we use for longer car trips (if we're not flying to the starting point and renting a car). We prioritize fuel efficiency in both, but particularly in the small car. For the large car, we also think about luggage space and the ability to hold my husband's bike in the back without taking off a wheel. When weather and schedules allow it, he takes his bike in to work one day each week, leaves the car and bikes home, then bikes back to work the next morning. He has a safe bike route if he goes through one of our urban canyons. The distance is a bit too far for him to want to ride to work and back in one day, but he enjoys the split day biking schedule. It works best if he can leave his bike locked in the car on the day he drives it in... hence the requirement to be able to fit the bike in.

I do not have a safe bike route to work. Neither of us has a reasonable public transit option to work right now, although that might change if Mr. Snarky is still at the same work place when our new trolley extension opens. My work location is unlikely to ever have good public transit options, but I do get to work from home once a week.

Right now, our two cars are a 2007 Prius and a 2010 Mazda 5. Both are showing signs of nearing the end of their lifespan. The Prius' main battery is likely to fail in the next couple of years, and enough other little things are going wrong that we decided to it is time to replace the car. The Mazda 5, meanwhile, has never been quite right since it was T-boned in an accident when it was only a year or two old. It was repaired, but we think the frame is not quite aligned, because we've had to replace things like the engine mounts more often than we should. We've just done one more "big" repair that our mechanic thinks should last at least three years. We don't plan to do another. (The engine runs great, and we otherwise really like the car - it was just bad luck about the accident, and the fact that the repair wasn't quite right wasn't apparent until more than 5 years later, so we're just going to let it go and replace it a little earlier than we might otherwise.)

Given that we know we'll be replacing both cars within the next five years, we decided that we'd look at cars that could potentially replace either of our two cars in the long run - with the caveat that whatever we bought now had to be able to make the trip to Arizona and get gas mileage as good as or better than our current Prius while doing it. We usually get about 40 - 45 miles per gallon on the drive to Arizona. (I get about 38 miles per gallon in my usual around town driving. The Mazda 5 gets 20-25 miles per gallon.)

Our Car Search Parameters

We want to replace the Prius with something that gets better gas mileage. In fact, we want the best fuel efficiency/least environmental impact possible given our other parameters. We live in a state with a relatively clean energy mix, so we decided to look at plug in hybrids and electric cars. Here are our other parameters:
  • At least one of our two cars must be able to fit Mr. Snarky's bike in the back, without taking the wheel off
  • At least one, and ideally both, of our two cars must be able to make it to Phoenix and have the cargo space for our luggage for a week
  • At least one, and ideally both, of our two cars should be able to make our daily commute on battery
    • Treat my commute as ~30 miles round trip
    • Treat Mr. Snarky's commute as ~20 miles round trip
    • Only Mr. Snarky has electric car charging stations at work, but I drive farther so I'll get the most fuel efficient car.
  • Both cars must be able to handle a commute plus a trip to Petunia's art class round trip without refueling. Treat this as adding 15 miles to the commute.
  • Both cars should be able to drive to LA without refueling (~150 miles)
  • It would be nice if at least one of our two cars could transport at least 5 people
We have a preference for ending up with one plug in hybrid and one all electric car once we replace both cars, but the timing of our replacement (needing to replace the Prius first) means that we also considered the option of ending up with two plug in hybrids.

Our Long List

I found a useful comparison of available plug in hybrids and another one of electric cars. Using these lists and our parameters, I created a long list of possibilities. I decided I would only consider plug in hybrids that could go at least 20 miles in electric mode when fully charged, and we only considered electric cars that had a range of over 200 miles. Then Mr. Snarky and I each did some research and compared notes, which led to some cars being ruled out very early. In those cases, I've noted why.
  • Plug in hybrids:
    • Prius Prime
    • Honda Clarity
    • Chevy Volt - ruled out because 2019 is the last year these are being made and that bothers Mr. Snarky for reasons I don't agree with but decided weren't worth arguing about.
    • Chrysler Pacifica - ruled out because Mr. Snarky refuses to drive a minivan, despite my argument that the Mazda 5 is a minivan. SIGH.
    • Ford Fusion
    • Hyundai Ioniq
    • Hyundai Sonata - ruled out on trunk space and because if we're getting a Hyundai, I prefer a hatchback (my first three cars have all been hatchbacks and I am sentimental)
    • Kia Niro
    • Kia Optima - ruled out on trunk space and because if we're getting a Kia, the Niro is a better fit for us
    • Subaru Crosstrek - added to list despite a lackluster 17 mile all electric range because Mr. Snarky likes Subarus (his first car was an Outback and he is sentimental) but then quickly ruled out because it is not actually available yet
    • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Electric cars:
    • Nissan Leaf S Plus
    • Chevy Bolt
    • Hyundai Kona - ruled out because Mr. Snarky thinks they are too ugly
    • Tesla Model 3
We test drove every plug in hybrid on our list, and none of the electric cars. That is because once we did some research on the availability of fast charging stations, we decided that only the Tesla could meet our preference for a small call that could make the trip to Arizona and you can't test drive Teslas. The halfway point between San Diego and Phoenix is Yuma, Arizona. We stop there on most trips between home and my parents' house, and there are in fact some general level 2 charging stations there (shout out to the Chargehub site for making it easy to look these things up!) but to make long road trips possible, what you really need are the level 3 stations (also called "fast charge"), and there just aren't enough of those around yet on the routes we care about to make any electric car except the Tesla feasible.

The Tesla supercharger network, though, is quite good and after spending some time on their map (and having personally seen their stations in Yuma and Gila Bend), we were convinced that we could in fact drive the Tesla to Arizona, no problem. There are superchargers in El Centro, Yuma, and Gila Bend. The only problem is that the location of the supercharger in the Phoenix area is not at all close to my parents' house. However, we found DC2 chargers within walking distance to my parents' house and decided we could leave the Tesla in contention.

The Test Drives

We took advantage of the fact that both of our kids were away for spring break and test drove a bunch of cars. We also ate at a lot of restaurants they would never tolerate, but that's a different post.

Here are our short impressions of all the cars we drove:
  • Prius Prime - Nice. Drives like our current Prius, really. We test drove it twice and really liked it. The only downside is that the back seat only seats two. There is a console between the two back seats which our kids would love but would preclude every carrying five people.
  • Honda Clarity - Also really nice, but Mr. Snarky has an irrational hatred of the rear wheels "covers" that nod at the original Insight design. Lots of cool features, though, and it has a great electric range.
  • Ford Fusion - Really nice to drive, heaps of cabin room, but almost no trunk space. If you want a plug in hybrid and need to transport multiple basketball players with no luggage, this is the car for you.
  • Hyundai Ioniq - I expected to love it (hatchback! A normal back seat!) but we didn't like how it behaved when you accelerated hard in all-electric mode. It had a slight but noticeable lag between tromping on the accelerator and actually accelerating. We have a lot of short freeway on ramps in the older parts of town both here and in LA, and I thought I would not like this behavior in that situation.
  • Kia Niro - We really liked this car! Roomy, with excellent cargo space. The only downside was the rear visibility was not great. However, I remember the adjustment when I went from an Integra (great rear visibility) to a Prius (not so great rear visibility) and it was not really a problem, so that didn't rule the car out.
  • Mitsubishi Outlander - Mr. Snarky loved this car and it is his current front runner for an eventual Mazda 5 replacement. I didn't like its fuel efficiency outside of its the electric range, though - it is a heavy SUV, and it only gets 25 mpg in hybrid mode. That is fine for a Mazda 5 replacement but if we buy it now, we'd be without a fuel efficient car for the drive to Arizona.
The Decision

After the Ioniq test drive disappointed me, the Prius Prime became our front runner. I thought we'd eventually end up buying the Prius - we both liked it and I was the only one bothered by the rear seat situation. But then, we went and drove the Clarity and the Outlander to finish out our research, and we discovered how much Mr. Snarky liked the Outlander. As we discussed the Outlander, I uttered these fateful words: "If the Outlander really is your top choice for an eventual Mazda 5 replacement, we might as well buy a Tesla now and just drive the Mazda 5 for any trip the Tesla can't handle."

A little light went on in Mr. Snarky's eyes when I said that, and before I knew it, we were deep in Tesla research and watching videos about how much stuff you can cram into the Model 3 storage spaces.

The more he researched the Tesla, the more he loved it. I am less excited by all the technology, but will admit that it looks like a really nice car, and I am impressed by its safety test results. My last concern was about charging it when we were actually at my parents' house (and not just driving there), and the discovery of the DC2 charging stations within walking distance convinced me we could make this work. 

And so, yesterday we pushed the final button on the Tesla website and confirmed our order. We'll have our Model 3 in a couple of weeks.

I would not have predicted this outcome at the start of our research. If I could have predicted it, I could have saved us a lot of test driving time! But I also have come to know how Mr. Snarky makes this sort of decision, and I know that the research and the test drives were essential. I would have been happy with either the Prius Prime or the Kia Niro, too. In fact, if Mr. Snarky would have considered the Kia Niro a Mazda 5 replacement, we'd have bought that now and waited to buy an electric car in a few years. But once he drove the Outlander, he decided the Kia Niro could replace the Prius, but not the Mazda 5. I wanted to end up with one electric car enough to push a bit past my preferred car price... and the deal was done.

I'll report back in later about how we like the Model 3!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Weekend Reading: The Beautiful Day, Somewhat Depressing Links Edition

It is a beautiful day here today, and I'm feeling good after a lovely rollerblade outing. I think we're entering the time of year when I could just copy and paste that first line into every Friday's post....

Anyway, you don't come here to read me gloat about my city's weather. You come for links, and I have links!

In self-promo links: as I mentioned in yesterday's post, The Dodo Knight is out now. Get your copy today - and if you share a picture of your copy or receipt I'll send you a discount code for Tattoo.

In other links:

This post from Josh Marshall about the dark times we're in is depressing, but worth reading. It is my "if you only read one thing" pick for this week. The 2018 election provided an important brake on our slide, but we're still sliding. I don't think it is wise to assume we'll be able to stop the slide just by focusing on the 2020 Presidential election, and I don't even want to think about what is going to happen if Trump is re-elected.

But, as distressing as this all is, there are still good people working to get our democracy back on firm ground. I feel better when I'm taking action, and I think the research shows I'm not alone in that. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the suckiness of this all, I really recommend finding a way to join in the work to fix things.

Personally, I just gave my first political donation for the 2020 cycle to Mark Kelly's campaign for Senate. And I bought more cardstock so that I can write more postcards.

But there are other ways to get involved: donate to fight for voting rights or to help people get the IDs they need to vote. Swing Left has a new strategy for 2020 that makes a lot of sense to me. Indivisible is still active and highlighting ways you can get involved. If you're looking for an organization with a more conservative lean, Evan McMullin and Mindy Finn are still active with Stand Up Republic. There may be other organizations active from the conservative side of politics, too, but I don't know as much about them because I'm clearly coming from a more liberal political bent. If you know of some, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Moving on....

If you're confronted with the "we're not a democracy, we're a republic" talking point... here's the answer.

The health insurance situation Jim Hines describes in this post is one of the worst case scenarios that factored into my decision to go back to regular employment. With the constant attacks on the ACA, I decided it was safer for our family to have both adults on group health plans.

This is a really interesting story about the need to keep the location of some plants and animals secret.

Here is a good review of a book that sounds really interesting: Learning to Die in the Anthropocene. I'm not sure it is what I need to read right now, but I'm going to file it away for a time when I think I could take it. I've been thinking a lot lately about how my city could become less car-centric, and maybe a book like this would tie into those thoughts and give me some new ideas. Or maybe it would just depress me!

Since we're debating whether to get a plug-in hybrid or an electric car, I've been doing some reading on their relative merits. This Wired article summarizes a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists about the full environmental impact of electric cars. We're likely to get solar panels, particularly if we get an all-electric car, but I don't want to make the car decision based on an assumption that we will get them. The car we get has to be a good choice even without solar panels. Luckily, California has a quite clean electricity mix, and so do our neighboring states (the most likely places we'd drive in our small car).

In alternative modes of transport news: My city is taking a sensible step to make the dockless scooters and bikes less of a nuisance. I think solutions like this are essential if these dockless vehicles are going to stay on the scene. Otherwise, there will be too much backlash against them, because it is really annoying to find the sidewalk blocked by one of them.

This article about the various historical ages of online parenting may only be interesting to people
who have been online parents through all of the ages... but that includes me, and so I found it interesting!

Here's my source for reusable plastic bag recommendations. This showed up in my Twitter feed and that was the kick in the pants I needed to finally buy some.

In recommended listening, Ezra Klein interviewed Will Wilkinson, who was once a libertarian and is now involved in starting up a new "center right" think tank. It was an interesting interview for a lot of reasons, including Wilkinson's thoughts on how people change their mind on political topics.

I always enjoy Maggie Smith's morning posts. I particularly liked this one:




In case you missed Needhi Bhalla's important curry thread:


Bunny!


Thursday, April 11, 2019

Little Updates

No, we don't have a new car yet. We're getting closer... and so in lieu of a post about car shopping, here are some small updates on other things.

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The latest Annorlunda Books title is now available - The Dodo Knight, by Michelle Rene, tells the story of the friendship between Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, the little girl who was the muse for Alice in Wonderland. Before Alice in Wonderland was published, there was a falling out between Carroll and the Liddell family. No one really knows what caused it. Rene imagines an answer in this novella.

I'm running a release month promo for The Dodo Knight - get details on that and all the purchase links over at the Annorlunda website.

And here's Fill Your Bookshelf's review. Everyone I know who has read this book has really liked it - so if you're at all tempted, give it a try!

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One of my goals for this year is to get out and enjoy my city more. I pay a lot of money to live here, and there's more on offer than just great weather (although the great weather is nice). Prompted by that, and by my lingering regret that I didn't listen to my sister when she told me that I should go see Come From Away during its pre-Broadway run at the La Jolla Playhouse, I got tickets to go see Diana, a new musical about Princess Di that is currently running the La Jolla Playhouse and may well head to Broadway next.

We went and saw Diana last night and it was a lot of fun. It may not be on the same level as Come From Away, but it was definitely worth the money and the time. I thought the female leads (Diana, Camilla, and the Queen) were all very strong.

Plus, the program listed the upcoming season at The La Jolla Playhouse, and there were a couple of other shows we might want to go see.

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I don't have a new car yet, but the research process has made me more thoughtful about my environmental impact than usual. I find it easy to get overwhelmed by how much I'd have to change to live a really green lifestyle. To counteract that tendency, I try to focus on just getting better. I don't have to get to the best I can be, there is value in just getting better.

I thought about what aspect of our daily lives could easily be made more green, and I settled on food storage. We use entirely too many Ziploc bags, particularly to store the bread I make for Petunia's breakfasts and the scones I make for Pumpkin's lunches. So I did a little research and bought these silicone "bags." They arrived today. They're a little smaller than I thought they'd be so they won't work for the scones, but I think they can be made to work for the bread, which we slice before we freeze. (You may wonder why I don't just use Tupperware: We have a relatively small fridge and no space to get a bigger one. So space in the fridge and freezer both are at a premium.)

I also bought more mesh produce bags, because I never seem to have enough with me when I'm at the store.

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The poppies up by Lake Elsinore have gotten all the press, but there are flowers blooming everywhere here right now. The weeds native plants that line some of the roads I drive are full of flowers. Gardens are full of flowers. Even the ice plant on our back slope is full of flowers. We had so much rain earlier this year, and now we're reaping the rewards. Except in my front yard, which has some flowers but far more weeds....

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