Saturday, August 08, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Looking Ahead Edition

My husband had to take some management training for work this week. They were asked for examples of difficult management problems, and his example was about helping his team remain effective while they are dealing with the problems around child care. He has several people on his team who have young kids and that has created some challenges for them and also for him as their manager. I am dealing with this, too, in my role as project manager. It is nice for a company to say "we'll give our working parents flexibility" but saying that does nothing. It is the middle managers who have to figure out how to make that flexibility happen while also getting work done. I haven't heard of any company saying they'll just aim to get less work done. 

Anyway, my husband told me that one of his fellow managers in the training said something to the effect of "I don't have kids and so I hadn't realized what a big problem this is."

I wonder if that manager has been living under a rock.  But, as my husband pointed out, there is a lot of news right now and it is human nature to gravitate to the news that matters to you, personally. He said this manager is a nice person, and he doesn't think she was trying to be dismissive of the problem. She's probably heard about schools starting online and whatnot and just hadn't thought about how that would create logistical problems for parents.  It is disappointing that his company hasn't offered more guidance to their middle managers on this, but then again, what real guidance is there to offer? I guess they could explain the challenges working parents and other care givers are facing right now and state a company policy of providing flexibility, but again... that doesn't do much. It falls to the manager to figure out how to provide that flexibility.

We talked about how there are no good solutions right now, not at work and not for schools. My husband's boss lives in a school district that thought they could petition to open elementary schools and was gearing up to do that. They were going to make every parent make a binding decision for the entire school year: in person or remote, but they hadn't provided much detail about what their plans were for either. There were acrimonious meetings and stressed out parents... and then the district discovered that they didn't meet all the criteria for the petition, anyway, and so nevermind! Everyone is starting with remote learning.

That district didn't cover itself in glory, but honestly, I feel bad for school administrators, too. They have been given an impossible problem to solve, just like the rest of us. They are probably doing their best.

Here's what I think: There is one real solution for this mess, and that is to do a real lockdown and get the virus transmission down to almost nothing then open slowly and carefully with adequate capacity to test and trace to keep transmission levels low.  This is what other countries have tried to do, with more or less success. We'd either have to do it nationwide or institute a real quarantine on people coming into the locked down region. We'd need to give people money so that they could survive a 4-6 week lockdown. Doing any of this would require a different federal government than the one we have right now. So the real solution is off the table.

There are no other real solutions that the rest of us can cobble together from the things we can control. There just aren't. All we can do is try to pick the best of the bad choices in front of us and try to remember that everyone is trying to do their best in a situation in which there is no winning.

Here's what I have decided I can do: Wear a mask when I'm indoors anywhere except my home. Wear a mask when I'm outdoors if I'm within about 10 feet of anyone not in my immediate family. Keep our outings to a minimum, while still letting the kids see their friends (outside, distanced) sometimes because we're looking at another 6 months of this. Try to give the people on my projects as much flexibility and understanding as I can. Give everyone who is trying to make a plan for anything right now (e.g., schooling) the benefit of the doubt and meet them with kindness. And work to make sure we have a different federal government come January.

So, how about some links.

Speaking of schools... I am worried by this article about extracurricular programs expanding into remote learning centers here in San Diego. The headline frames this as something available for people who can pay, but one of the programs is our local YMCA and as the article explains they do a sliding scale for payment. I think there should be programs for the kids of essential workers. It is clearly not something we can do for all kids, because if we could do that we could have regular schools. But  if you try to make rules about who can use these services, where do you draw the line? I am back at "there are no real solutions available to us right now just people trying to make the best of the impossible hand they've been dealt" and all I can confidently say is that we won't be using one of those services. 

Here's what my school district has said about plans for distance learning. I think we're supposed to get more detail next week. 

If you haven't read Ed Yong's piece on our American failure during this pandemic, you really should read it.

This tweet succinctly states how I feel. I'm planning for no meaningful improvement until after January. My county and state look to be getting our current spike under control, but I expect more spikes and no ability to reopen indoor things until we get a better federal response.


As we look ahead to how we might "build back better" here are some things I've been thinking about.

David Roberts has a really good look at the promise in Rewiring America's jobs report. If you want to know why we're replacing our aging furnace with a heat pump, it traces back to me listening to Ezra Klein's interview with Saul Griffith, who is one of Rewiring America's founders. He makes the case that we shouldn't frame decarbonizing our economy as a story of sacrifice, but one of getting a better life. Listening to that interview really changed how I think about the task ahead of us in dealing with climate change. 

Truck bloat is a real problem. It is also symptom of the same problem that gives us the gun extremists and the anti-maskers, and also I think the anti-vaxxers. This is the dark side of American individualism. If we are going to make any progress on our problems we will have to find a way to deal with this aspect of our culture.

Incidentally, my book club read a book that is both a really fun crime novel and an insightful look at the good and the bad of American individualism. I found it to be an engrossing read: American by Day, by Derek B. Miller. It is the second in a two book series, and I wish I'd read the first book first. It is called Norwegian by Night. I am still deciding if I want to read it since I know the outcome from having read the second book.

In less weighty news... Scalzi had some smart things to say about the Disney+ Mulan release

I think I need to start doing the "things that made me smile" section again, so here's what I have for this week:

This is delightful

This made me laugh:

I love this cake: 

This mama duck!

And here's your bunny for the week:

Have a good weekend!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Addendum to the Weekend Reading

I just finished mopping our floors and am stuck outside while they dry. I have some work I'd like to do today, but that needs a big monitor, not just a laptop screen, so it will have to wait until the floors are dry!

Since I'm out here for 20 minutes or so and don't really want to make myself sad by reading Twitter, I am going to write an addendum to yesterday's post.

First of all, to clarify the work situation: I am not planning to quit or start a job search. I am planning to tell my management my suggestion for making their new policy a little more workable, and then whether they take that suggestion or not, I am going to do my best to follow the new policy. I am pretty sure that I will fall short once school starts, and if that becomes a problem then I will start a job search. Nothing is ever certain, but I feel like I would have some solid leads to start with, and that makes me feel better about waiting to see how this policy plays out at work. I like my current job and I think I'm pretty good at it even now with all the extra interruptions and stressors. So it will all probably be fine, but what I was trying to say in yesterday's post is that if it isn't fine at this job, it will be fine for me and my family. I feel very fortunate to be able to say that and really believe it to be true, especially right now.

However, it remains true that I am getting squeezed from several different directions right now, and it is frustrating and tiring. There really isn't any place I can talk about that, except to my husband and even there I have to be careful because we're both frustrated and tired and it is all too easy to find ourselves arguing over something I just wanted to commiserate about. Twitter and this blog used to be where I could talk about those things, but the internet has changed and that doesn't feel like a good idea anymore.

Enough said.

The other thing I want to add is a link to a podcast series I am finding really interesting and helpful Vox's Future Perfect is doing a season called The Way Through, in which they talk to religious thinkers and philosophers and the like about what their traditions and ways of thinking can tell us about how to navigate the mess that is our world right now.  I have listened to the first two and a half episodes. I found the second episode, with Rabbi David Wolpe to be particularly good. In fact, I went back and listened to it again this weekend.  I like what he has to say about it being up to humans to fix our unfair world, and also about how to handle loss.

The other thing that has been cheering me up lately is watching old comedy clips from British comedian Sarah Millican. Definitely not for the whole family, but her clips usually make me laugh and that's what I need right now!

OK, the floors are probably dry and it is time to go make lunch.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Weekend Reading: Another Mixed Bag Edition

This was a challenging week for me, and the ways in which it was challenging do not bode well for the school year.

Petunia had two camps, both of which she really liked. They each had about one hour of online meeting time and some things to do on her own. One camp was Small Pet Photography, and the online time was spent building props for taking pictures with small pets. She mostly did that camp on her own, although she needed my help building a lightbox during the camp time on Thursday and making some tiny hamster-safe "pancakes" Wednesday night. We took the pictures on Thursday evening, when Daisy was awake. I shared a bunch of the pictures on Twitter. Here's another one:

Between the camp assisting and being really tired because Petunia's been having nightmares (and who can blame her, really?) I did not have a very productive work day on Thursday. I made up for it yesterday, but only by getting back online after dinner to do some more work.

The other camp was a camp about marine biology. There were some hands-on activities during the online sessions, including one where they made seashells and fossils out of salt clay. There were class discussions, too, which she enjoyed. But for this camp, she asked if someone could sit at the table with her during the online session. She says it is easier for her to concentrate on the online class if she has a grown up at the table with her. I think she's right, and so we try to accommodate this as much as we can. Luckily, this camp's online session was from noon until 1 p.m., so mostly I listened in while I ate lunch and then got my laptop and worked with the sound of five kids discussing marine biology with their teacher in the background. I also routinely work at the table while she does her online art class.

This will probably need to be part of our solution for how to make online schooling work for her, but it presents ergonomic and scheduling problems. Namely, I can't do more than about an hour on the laptop at a time. I have an old repetitive strain injury and need my ergonomic set up at my desk. And my husband and I are both in a lot of meetings during the day. This is just the nature of our jobs: I am a project manager and he is a software team lead, and so we both have jobs that involve a lot of coordinating and communicating. We're thinking about how best to get Petunia the company she needs while still doing our jobs. I think it is going to require a lot of coordinating and communicating. This was the week that really made it clear that it was going to be really important that we figure this out.

And then, on Friday, I received a work announcement of a change in expectations about our timecards. I don't want to go into details, because I don't think it is necessarily a bad policy per se, but the timing is a bit tone deaf. It is a change that would be fine and even good in normal times and is going to be difficult to make while also having to work with my kids at home. I read the email and thought "there is no way I'm going to be able to do that consistently once school starts." I have one suggestion that will make it a little better, which I will make next week. And then I will do my best and see what happens. There are a couple other companies that have reached out and tried to recruit me recently, and a couple more I think might be interested if I contacted them... and our family finances are in really good shape right now for reasons I am also not going to go into. So I'll be fine, no matter what ends up happening with this new policy.

But I am frustrated and tired and could use a break from having to figure things out. Looking ahead, I don't see this improving until we get a new federal government and so I had better figure out how to be OK with being frustrated, tired, and in need of a break because that's not going to change.

So anyway, I am in need of some unwinding this weekend. We'll see if I get it.

We're also looking to make some more donations this weekend (see comment above about our finances being in good shape) but given my current status of "tired of figuring things out" I am not sure where we should send our money. We've already sent to our food bank and our local relief fund multiple times. Anyone have good ideas about where to send our money next? I'm thinking maybe Modest Needs, but if you have ideas put them in the comments.

And now, for some links. Given my hamster photo shoot assistant duties and other activities during the week, I don't have that many for you. Here's what I have:

Joel Anderson's piece on the hypocrisy of people calling John Lewis a hero while also working against voting rights is really good.

I always read Rebecca Traister. Her piece on the reporting on the speech Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez gave this week in response to Ted Yoho's insult and not-really-an-apology is excellent.

I found this article, "American Exceptionalism Was Our Pre-existing Condition" to be really well done.  I continue to think about the choices Americans have about what we do next, what we learn from this crisis and our response to it, and how we take that forward into changes we could make to our society. I think a lot is riding on what Americans do next and I have no idea what that will be. The world could really benefit if we choose to use this crisis point to change our approach to climate change, for instance. If we do that, we could truly make a better world, but I want us all to remember we could have made that change without so many lost and altered lives. Our failed pandemic response will never be anything except a tragedy, even if it is what finally causes us to find a way to stand up to the forces of disinformation and find out way through to building a more sustainable society.

This is a good piece on some of the challenges of being a parent right now.

Emily Stewart's piece about the utter failure of our economic response to the pandemic is depressing, but worth your time.

There was a lot of focus on the new CDC guidance about opening schools, and some reports that it was modified by the White House (not good!) but the CDC also put out a more detailed and informative document about school reopening. I think there are still some really good scientists at the CDC doing everything they can to get useful information out. The undermining of the CDC but the political clowns we have in charge is one of the tragedies of this time, because it is going to play out in so many ways as we face future issues.

Jessica Calarco turned her good thread about the "school pods" that some parents are forming into an article, and it is also good. But the most important piece is that class sizes need to be small, whether we are doing online school or trying to get back to in person school. That requires federal funding and honestly I doubt we're going to get it. Don't get me wrong, I will contact my representatives and push for it, but the Republicans in the Senate couldn't even agree on their own plan for extending the extra unemployment insurance and the White House is pushing to making school funding contingent on reopening for on campus classes, so I am not hopeful that we're going to get the funding required to allow for small online class sizes, at least until January.

This is a good thread about why we need to start hedging our bets on our pandemic response:
And this is another good short thread about that:

Here's your weekly bunny:

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Dinner during Dora: Quinoa Tacos

It has been a long time since I've posted a Dinner during Dora recipe. My kids are well past the Dora age, but I still like a recipe that comes together quickly!

Like many people, we're trying to eat less meat these days. But how to reconcile that with the fact that we have tacos of some sort every Wednesday? (I know, it is supposed to be Tuesday, but Tuesday used to be Petunia's art class night and Mr. Snarky heated up leftovers while I shuttled her home from class...)

I have a decent recipe for a filling that is based on sweet potatoes, but I wanted something else.  I went searching and I found this recipe for quinoa taco meat. It is very good! I have made some modifications. The biggest is to essentially double the salsa. Back in the before times, I'd cook the quinoa the night before, and then the rest of the recipe comes together in the 22 minute Dora episode timeframe. Now I just cook the quinoa while working at the dining table, then put the taco "meat" together when I'm done with work.

Quinoa Tacos

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed (it is particularly nice looking with tricolor quinoa, but right now I have plain beige quinoa, so that's what is in the pictures in this post)
7/8 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup salsa (I use La Victoria Thick and Chunky. Medium spiciness is right for me, but that means my husband adds hot sauce.)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tbs olive oil

This first part can be done ahead of time:

After rinsing the quinoa, toast it in a medium saucepan over medium heat for a few minutes. Stir frequently so that it doesn't burn.

Add the vegetable broth, turn the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to simmer/low, cover, and cook for 15-25 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork, crack the lid, and set it aside to cool.

If you're stopping here for the night, put it in a container in the fridge until you are ready to do the rest.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. (In practice, I've done anything from 375 to 425 - if I'm making tater tots as a side (I know, this is high class) I do it at 400 or 425.)

Dump the cooked quinoa in a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir until combined.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the quinoa mix on that. It looks like this:

Bake for 20-35 minutes. Stir once halfway through. When it is done, it will smell yummy and look a bit toasted, like this:

Put it in a bowl and serve with your usual taco fixings:

Source: This Minimalist Baker recipe, with modifications

Who eats it: Just me and Mr. Snarky. I did try toasting some plain quinoa (i.e., cooked but without all the yummy stuff mixed in) for the kids. They declared it tolerable but then didn't really eat it either time I tried so I gave up and just do tater tots on the side. Pumpkin has her usual plain tortilla and Petunia has a quesadilla.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Weekend Reading: Back to Whatever This Is Edition

Vacation was nice, but we had to get back to work this week. I would normally say I was getting back to normal, but nothing is normal right now so I guess I'll just say I was back at work.

It is perhaps unfair to say nothing is normal right now. Some aspects of life are settling into a new routine, and what is "normal" except the expected routine? But I do not think what we're in now is a stable new normal. I think we're in a liminal period in between our old normal and the normal we'll build as we come out of this period of acute crisis. We do not know what that new normal will look like yet, and I hope we build it with some care.

One of the ideas I've kept coming back to during the last few years is the ideas of "The Jackpot," from William Gibson's novel The Peripheral. I don't want to describe the plot too much, because doing so spoils some of the fun of reading the book. But I can tell you that The Jackpot is not a good jackpot. It is a group of long-brewing catastrophes "paying out" in a short period of time - climate change, pandemics, etc. The result changes the world, but the world goes on and there is a new normal. I think about that as I think about how our world is changing now. I wonder if we still have time to avert The Jackpot or if we're living through the early days of it. There is no way to know from where we sit. But we can still try to shape the new normal that comes next.

During my vacation week, I read Agency, which is the sequel to The Peripheral. The Peripheral was written before the 2016 election. Agency was written after. Agency was delayed because Gibson struggled with how to handle the 2016 elections in the word he'd built. Much of the action of Agency takes place in a timeline in which the US 2016 election and the Brexit vote both went the other way. It was exactly what I needed to read last week. I love Gibson's books because they just dump you in the world he's built, and you have to figure out the rules of that world as you read. That is a very immersive experience for me, which was perfect for trying to escape the mess of our world for a bit. At the same time, reading a story set in a world in which 2016 went the way I thought it should was a good reminder for me. The timeline in Agency is still a mess. There are still big, difficult problems that threaten the future. It was good to remind myself that as much as many of the specifics of this moment would be different if the 2016 election had gone the other way, we'd still be facing the big problems that eventually become The Jackpot in Gibson's world - and more. That helps remind me to keep working on the problems we face, because winning the election in November won't magically fix them all. (We need to keep working on winning that election, though!)

So anyway, how about some links. I don't have that many, because it was a pretty busy week for me. I was catching up from a week off. We also had an invitation to hang out on the beach with a couple of Petunia's best friends yesterday afternoon. Whereas Pumpkin can see her friends in someone's backyard - they just want to talk in person, so it is no problem for them to stay 6 feet apart and wear masks - that hasn't worked as well for Petunia and her friends. They want to play, not just talk. So we find it works better to do something outdoors where we can stay distant and either masked or in a breezy environment. There is usually a nice breeze at the beach this time of year, so beach trips seem like one of the safest ways to let Petunia see her friends every now and then. Anyway, to make the beach trip happen, I had to stop work at about 2:30 p.m. yesterday. To do that, I shifted my schedule to start early and also worked long days Wednesday and Thursday. The beach was really nice, though, so it was worth it.

I do have a few things for you:

There's a lot of talk about schools right now. San Diego Unified and Los Angeles Unified, California's two biggest school districts, announced earlier this week that they would be starting classes online only. We're in San Diego Unified, so that settled our decision about school. To be honest, that was a relief. We were leaning towards online because our daily number of cases continues to be high. That was going to be very disappointing for Petunia. I was glad that I didn't have to be the bad guy. She was still very upset by the news, but she's making peace with it and we're talking about how we can help make online school better for her.

Yesterday, Governor Newsom announced that schools in counties on the state watch list would not be allowed to open. (The watch list currently covers most of the state's population.) I was glad to see this, because before the announcement there were some districts in San Diego county planning to still open, and so was Orange County. We need more coordinated efforts to get the outbreak under control so that schools can reopen safely.

Of course, closing the schools puts a lot of families in a very tough spot. It is creating a new, high stakes version of the "mommy wars" and this tweet sums up the bind very well:

Left out of the tweet is the fourth option, which is always implied in these sorts of situations, namely "You are a bad mom." In this situation, that attaches to the decision to just muddle through and try to work and school at home as best you can.

Having been through the regular version of the mommy wars, I know there is no winning. There is no right answer. There is only doing your best to navigate a problem society created for you that no one family can solve. And that's all I want to say on that.

Derek Lowe has a good write-up of Moderna's Phase I results, now finally available in full scientific paper form instead of just a press release. He also summarizes some recent papers about T-cell immunity and coronaviruses that, as he says, are reasonably encouraging.

Here's a good resource from Vox if you need to send someone an accessible summary of the data on the effectiveness of masks.

Blog friend Bad Mom, Good Mom also has a good write up of the data on effectiveness of different fabrics in masks. The neck gaiter masks that my family likes best for long and/or active outings are a bamboo/spandex blend. I haven't seen any data on how well bamboo filters, but our standard behavior is to fold the mask over for a double layer if we need to actually be close to someone for more than a passing interaction. In most other ways, bamboo behaves a lot like cotton, so hopefully they are working as intended. I can definitely feel my exhale being directed downward by the mask when I'm running or otherwise exerting myself.

I've posted the link before, but here is the gaiter-style mask that I like - and my husband and 13 year old like it a lot, too. It is too big for my 10 year old and she also wants more fun prints, so she has a range of gaiter-style masks from other Etsy shops. We all also wear the ear loop masks. I wear a double layer cotton ear loop mask if I have to go into a store or be inside near other people. I have some I bought on Amazon early on and also some my Mom made me. I should probably get more.

This is a good thread on how we might get more people to wear masks. (Shaming doesn't work.)

This is a really sobering thread:

I am particularly worried about our testing situation. The huge surge of cases in several states is putting a strain on the test supply chain for all of us. Without adequate tests with a quick turnaround, the "test and trace" strategy of containment just cannot work. San Diego county was facing a serious shortfall of tests, and Helix, a biotech that was spun out of local giant Illumina stepped up to help. I was a bit surprised by that because Helix is a next-gen sequencing company and I didn't think any next-gen sequencing tests had been approved for diagnostic use for COVID-19. The mystery was solved by an article in today's newspaper: Helix is currently running PCR tests. So they are providing lab space and manpower on a different platform (with a different supply chain) than the one that had a shortfall. They hope to bring their next-gen sequencing test online for diagnostic use soon. Illumina also has a SARS-CoV-2 test that I believe they are working to get validated for diagnostic use. These next-gen sequencing tests would have impressive throughput, so it would be good news if one of them is validated for diagnostic use.

Here is some truth:

In other sad news... Rest in peace, John Lewis. I am so glad that Pumpkin and I went to see him and the other authors of March speak a couple of years ago. He was a great, inspiring man, and he will be sorely missed.

As the tributes roll in, let's focus on what would be a real tribute: re-instating the Voting Rights Act. A bill to do this has been waiting in the Senate for months. Let's fight to expand and protect voting rights. Let's rename that bridge, but we had better not stop there.

In other scary news... What's happening in Portland right now is very scary. I've seen a lot of tweets and statements from Democratic leaders condemning this, but now I want to see action. Local Oregon leaders are trying to stop this, but we need our Congressional leaders to step up and push back as hard as they can. The reality is that they can't make it stop, but they can at least make the people responsible come defend their actions in a Congressional hearing.

It is exhausting to have to keep pushing back, but pushing back works sometimes. The COVID-19 hospitalization data is back on the CDC's website, and the horrible rule saying that international students had to take classes in person or leave the country was dropped.

So... I guess we should all call our Congresspeople to ask for hearings on the events in Portland? I will try to post some actions as I figure out what they might be.

In news that has the potential to be good... Biden released his climate plan and it seems good. Let's get him elected and get him a Congress that will work with him and then we might actually make some progress.

In happier news... We all got a chance to see NEOWISE last night, using binoculars. We don't have great binoculars, and we live in an area with a lot of clouds and light pollution. So what we saw wasn't breathtaking or anything. Still, we saw it and that was cool.

Here's a view that is decidedly cooler than what we saw:


Happy weekend, everyone.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

A Report from a Very Different Vacation (and a Few Links)

We're still "vacationing" so this will be another short post. We had a good week, but while vacationing at home during a pandemic is nicer than working at home during a pandemic, it is not as good as a real vacation.

We went to the zoo and the beach. We went kayaking, and we spent a couple of hours fishing off the rocks at the bay. We put up our pop up shade and had a lazy day in our backyard on Wednesday and yesterday we had a water gun fight in our backyard. We've ordered in dinner almost every night, and I spent a lot of time reading in my hammock. But we still had to do dishes and the days weren't packed enough to get that "easy to sleep" vacation effect on Petunia.

It was weird being out and about so much, but mostly we saw other people being careful and felt pretty good about the things we decided to do. The San Diego Zoo has a 100% mask policy. I would say that about 75% of the people we saw at the zoo were wearing their masks properly. The other 25% had exposed noses or had pulled their mask under their chin. But the Zoo is also pretty much 100% outdoors, and it wasn't super crowded (they're limiting the number of people they let in) so it didn't feel unsafe.

The beach we picked was not crowded, and there was a nice breeze. We saw several groups wearing masks as they arrived, and only taking them off once they found their spot in the sand. Since it wasn't crowded, people did a good job of spacing out on the sand. The kayak shop had a good set up where you scanned a QR code to fill out the release form online, and the staff that helped you get the kayaks were all masked.

The riskiest thing we did was probably our lunch after kayaking. My husband had convinced me to try an outdoor patio restaurant next to the kayaking place. It is a new restaurant in that spot. He had scoped it out while on a bike ride and really wanted to try it. He was right that they had a pretty good set up - all outdoors, and with a nice strong breeze off the bay. There was only one other table occupied when we wandered up so we decided to give it a try. For the first little while, it was great. The food was pretty good, and the sea breeze felt nice. But then a group of ~10 young people came up. They stood near our table for uncomfortably long without masks on, debating whether to come in. We'd pulled up our masks once they came near. One or two of them noticed that and pulled masks out of their bags, but didn't put them on. They finally wandered up to the counter to order and saw the large "no mask, no service" sign and the rest of the group dug disposable masks out of their bags and they all put them on. However, they took them off as soon as they walked away from the counter. Instead of sitting on the opposite side of the patio, they sat down at the table between us and the other customers and the table next to it. They started talking loudly across the tables. I heard the other customers behind us ask where the group was from. They were from Paradise Valley, which is a suburb of Phoenix.

We were almost done with our lunch, so we hurried up and finished and left. As I left, I saw that the two men at the other table had pulled their masks up, too. The big group were technically following the rules, but were not being as careful as they could have been.

I think there is a lesson in that experience. Whatever set up you design, you have to design for the most clueless people who will encounter it. I don't think the group of young people at the restaurant were trying to be a problem - I think they're just not used to the mask and distancing norms that we've developed here. From what my parents tell me, there are very different norms in play in Arizona (which also has the worst outbreak in the US right now). The restaurant could have helped by putting their "mask up" sign at the entrance to the patio instead of at the counter, and they should probably remove a couple of tables so that it would be impossible for groups to seat themselves too close to other customers. I think it is like the masks at the zoo - 75% of the people will do the right thing on their own. You should design things so that the other 25% are steered to doing the right thing, too.

I tried not to spend a lot of time on Twitter this week, so I don't have many links for you.

But here's a big write-up in Science about opening schools, which I've bookmarked to read later.

And here's a great picture of the NEOWISE comet:

Here's some rabbit art:

And here's some real bunnies for you:

Have a good weekend everyone! I will be back to "normal" - whatever that means right now - next week.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Not Really a Weekend Reading Post

We're at the start of our "vacation at home" - so I am not going to write a full post today. I am trying to relax and get into a little bit of a vacation mood. I have only been moderately successful so far.

This post from Josh Marshall sums up how I feel about our situation right now. But dwelling on that will not get me in a vacation mood.

It is the 4th of July, and it is going to be perfect beach weather here. Every San Diegan I know is planning to stay home, because our beaches are almost certainly full of people from surrounding areas that have a higher rate of COVID-19 than we do (and our rate has been going up - on Monday we will land on the state list of counties that have to shut down indoor dining and some other things).

But if I dwell on that, I won't get in a vacation mood.

This essay perfectly states the decision we face about reopening schools. Here's the argument in a nutshell:

"If we want schools to open in a few months and stay open, we need to keep community transmission low. The best way to do that is to suppress the spread of the virus. That means looking at what is reopening and when, and figuring out whether those sectors of the economy are really more important than schools. All reopening will likely increase community transmission to some degree."

I want to print it out and mail copies to the local politicians who are prioritizing opening businesses. I want to tell them that if my 10 year old has to do school online this year, I may find that I have to ask for reduced hours at work so that I can give her the attention she needs to have online schooling succeed - which would mean I'll make less money. Which will mean we'll order in less, and perhaps put the solar panels we're planning to get on hold. Take those decisions and multiply them by all the kids in school and tell me that won't hurt the economy. The idea that the only thing that matters for the economy is reopening as many businesses as possible was always magical thinking from people without the ability to think through the downstream consequences.

And I'm extremely lucky to have a job that would give me the reduced hours and not just tell me it is full time or nothing.

Oops, there goes my vacation mood again.

In other topics: I found Ezra Klein's interview with Nicholas Carr really interesting. They talk about how various types of communication technologies change our brains. It is a conversation grounded in the research we have on the topic and also in what we know from the history of past communication technology changes.

This is one of my favorite poems, and it appeared in my timeline yesterday so I though I'd share it with you for the 4th of July: Let America Be America Again, by Langston Hughes.

Here's your weekly bunny:

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Weekend Reading: A Mixed Bag Edition

I posted on Twitter last night about how my county's COVID-19 numbers are going in the wrong direction, and I'm worried.  Two weeks ago we were seeing ~150 new cases per day, and a test positivity rate of 2-4%. We'd been there for weeks. I wasn't thrilled to have plateaued at such a high number of cases, but I felt like it was a level at which we could possibly keep things under control with testing and contact tracing.

Now, we've had a week of ~300 cases per day, and three straight days of record high numbers, including 440 new cases yesterday. Our test positivity rate id up to ~6%, and we hit the level of increased hospitalizations that my county identified as a trigger for potentially modifying the health order. We'd previously hit the trigger based on number of community outbreaks for several days in a row.

I no longer feel like we'll be able to keep things under control with testing and contact tracing. I want my county to make changes, and I want us to make the changes fast. The nature of COVID-19 is that our metrics are all lagging indicators of a problem. We've already baked in the next two weeks of cases. What we do now will decide if the numbers we're at in two weeks are a peak or the start of a scary exponential curve.

My county's response so far is to increase its messaging about masks (which have been mandatory here for a long time) and to say it will increase enforcement of people violating the health order. They just shut down another restaurant, so maybe that's for real. I don't think it will be enough. I think we need to shut some things back down - maybe close indoor service at bars and restaurants. I don't think my Board of Supervisors has the political will to do it, though. That makes me sad.

I am tired of watching leaders in successive places make the same mistakes, and sad that it seems my local leaders, after doing so well at first, are now going to make the same mistakes. And I am sad for my family. My kids are being very patient, but I can tell they're struggling at times. We all have shorter tempers and sharper tongues than usual. We are all looking forward to out planned "vacation at home" week, the week after the 4th of July. We are planning to go to the beach, the zoo, and maybe a garden or two. We will probably also rent kayaks and/or standup paddleboards and get out on the bay. I feel like our plans are now at risk due to the rising case numbers. Many of our planned activities will stay safe (kayaking, for instance, is naturally socially distant!) and others may need to be done earlier in the day (e.g., beach outings). We can always hang out in our backyard. It will be OK. But I am still sad, because it didn't have to be this way.

Anyway, let's have some links. I've been thinking and posting a bit more about masks. I think we need to stop trying to convince the unconvincible and focus on normalizing mask-wearing to the point that the 70% if us who are reasonable are wearing them when recommended - i.e., indoors or when within ~6 feet of people outdoors.

I also think it would be helpful to acknowledge the various problems people have wearing masks and suggest solutions.

Along those lines, this thread probably explains why I sometimes feel like wearing a mask while exercising (hiking or running, mainly) exacerbates my asthma:

It is probably NOT actually exacerbating my asthma, but it is triggering the same "can't catch my breath" feeling that I associate with an asthma attack.

The good news is that I find the tube mask (aka neck gaiter) style of mask does not cause this reaction for me. My theory is that this is because the tube mask allows more space for the exhale to dissipate, but I don't really care WHY it works, just that it does!

I can wear a tube mask for long periods of time, even while exercising. And because the tube mask is super easy to pull up and down, I only have to have it up while passing close to someone. As an added bonus, the tube mask style does not fog up my sunglasses.

I have several bamboo tube masks that I bought on Etsy, which I find very soft and comfortable.

My kids both prefer this style, too, for most things. If you search on Etsy for "neck gaiter" you'll find lots of options with cool prints. We have a unicorn print and an outer space print and more on the way. I have also seen them sold by LL Bean and UV Skinz.

Petunia likes to wear the cute earloop style face masks my mom made for her, too - but her ears are too floppy to wear them easily. I solved that by sewing two large buttons on a stretchy headband. She wears the headband, and loops the mask over the buttons when she needs to wear it. She likes that enough that she asked me to make more headbands like this. I bought a three pack of headbands and have been slowly modifying them.

My mom reports that the button trick works on caps, too.

I have seen some people mention that masks can be hot, which I can see would be a problem in some parts of the country right now. I saw someone of Twitter post an idea to store the masks in the freezer so that they'll be nice and cool when you need one.

Another common problem is that wearing a mask can lead to your glasses fogging up. Pumpkin wears glasses, and this is why she prefers the tube masks. There are also various summaries of advice for avoiding the problem available now. Here's one from the Cleveland Clinic.

I never got back to the post I was going to write about what we "bought" with our initial lockdown. Luckily, Dr. Bob Wachter from UCSF did it for me:
We could have done more, but we didn't get nothing from that lockdown. But this tweet from the end of his thread is true, too:

There is a study out of France showing that elementary kids in an early outbreak region did not transmit SARS-CoV-2 that much. This tweet summarizes and links to the article - but it is important to note that the kids here are age 6-11:

An earlier look at high school kids in the same region indicated they transmitted just about as much as adults. (Here's a write up on that from a long time blogging friend!)

This would argue for focusing on reopening schools for younger kids and leaving the older kids at home - the younger kids are also harder to teach remotely (anecdotal data from everyone I know with a kid in 2nd grade or lower!) and can't be left alone to study at home while parents work. I wish we weren't in a place where we have to think about these things, but we are and so I also wish we'd think about these things with all the info we have in mind.

As it happens, we may end up with a split in our household, where Petunia (5th grade next year) goes to school on campus and Pumpkin (8th grade next year) mostly goes to school online. This was based on their stated preferences, and it is making me feel somewhat better that the data we have indicates this is a rational split, too.

And of course, there is this:
We are NOT really prioritizing opening schools right now. We're engaging in magical thinking about how safe it will be to open schools and hoping for the best.

In other news... California is mandating an increase in electric semi trucks. This is good news!

One thing that is making me hopeful right now is that we seem to be more willing to reckon with the fullness of our history than we have been at any other point in my life. It is not enough, and we have so, so much more work to do. But it is a start.

Michele Norris wrote about George Washington's slaves this week. It is worth your time. It includes the mention of the fact that Washington's false teeth were made from teeth pulled from slaves. This made me think of a fictional story I read about that years ago, by P. Djรจlรญ Clark. It is also really worth your time.

In things that made me smile....

This article about trying out a bunch of different online AirBnB "experiences" was fun.

When we can travel again, I want to go see this shrine in Kyoto!

An explanation for insomnia:

OMG this bird:
I've also really been enjoying following the saga of the bunnies in @SarcastiCarrie's flower pot.

Teddy bears on a roller coaster!

Here's your bunny for the week:

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Little Bit Ranty at the Start Edition

I started a post on Tuesday about whether we "wasted" the time we bought with stay at home orders. It was going to be a list of the good things we did (lots of clinical trials, for instance) and of the the things I wish we'd done (e.g., make better plans for providing people who live in crowded housing a way to isolate if they get sick).

Then I got an email from our school district about their plans for reopening for the 2020-21 school year, which begins at the end of August here. The info they provided wasn't bad, but it wasn't anything close to an actual plan. There will be three options for next year: fully on campus, fully online, and online with a small number of on campus activities. We have no details about what those options will look like, except that our school district says they only have enough money as of right now to offer in person schooling for half of the school year. If additional funds don't come through, we'll be back to everyone going to school online mid-year. Wheee!

The next step is for us all to fill out a questionnaire about which option we prefer and then our school will put together a plan. Then later this summer, we enroll in one of the options.

OK, fine, I thought. The questionnaire will allow them to gather data to help them craft a good plan. But no, we received the questionnaire on Thursday and it literally just has a question to select your preferred option and a comments field.

Petunia really, really, really wants to go back in person. She hated online school and says she'll do whatever she has to do to go back in person. Pumpkin says she wouldn't mind the online option if all the subjects were taught as well as her history class was in the stay at home period this year. The district says the online option will be "high quality" with more engagement than we got this spring. That makes sense - they've had more time to prepare.

Meanwhile, San Diego county hit one of its triggers for slowing down reopening: We had seven community outbreaks in a seven day period. In fact, we hit it twice - after announcing we'd hit it on Thursday, we had two more community outbreaks on Friday. A "community outbreak" is a cluster of three or more cases in different households, all caught in the same place.

Three of the community outbreaks reported in the last week started in gatherings in private homes. Others were in a restaurant, a campground, a business, and a "social club" that wasn't supposed to be open. Our health director has said the ban on gatherings in homes will likely stay in place until there is herd immunity, either via a vaccine or accumulation of cases. I think this is terribly misguided. That is at least a year away. You cannot expect that people will not see their friends and family for a year. I think our health authorities need to offer guidance on how to safely have gatherings, i.e., keep them small, distant, and outside.  San Francisco has it figured out and so do many other places. Meanwhile, here in San Diego we're still entirely focused on getting as many businesses open as possible. I predict we'll see a lot more outbreaks from private gatherings, because they are impossible to monitor and prevent and people miss seeing the people they care about.

So anyway, what are we going to do about the school questionnaire? I think we will fill it out saying we prefer the on campus option, and then write some comments about wanting the school to take advantage of our lovely San Diego climate and move as much as they can outdoors. I had been worried by mixed messages about whether masks would be required, but our governor took care of that for me this week. We've been working on finding mask options that work for the kids, and so we're set for all day masking.

But I am also going to accelerate my efforts to teach my kids how to do more cooking. I think that we need to be ready for the scenario in which both adults in the house are sick and the kids have to feed themselves. Luckily, our kids are old enough to do this (they are 10 and 13). Honestly, I should have been pushing more cooking skills already, but they both have a fear of the stove that we'll need to overcome and I've been lazily waiting for them to just outgrow that.

I am just so angry about how we could not find a way as a society to prioritize making it safe for kids to go back to school. My kids have the best possible "learn at home" scenario - their own spaces, their own devices, and two parents with flexible jobs and the educational background to be able to help explain things. And it still sucked for them. My kids will be OK whatever happens in the 2020-21 school year. A lot of kids won't be, for a variety of heartbreaking reasons. Read this Buzzfeed article about how much the stay at home orders sucked for kids, and how unevenly that impact is felt. It just breaks my heart that risking a repeat of this because we can't get our collective act together.

In other news....

Read Jamil Smith's essay on Juneteenth and the difference between emancipation and freedom.

Derek Lowe summarizes what that dexamethasone trial means. My take is that this is good news, but that a lot of doctors were probably already using steroids for the same reason that the trial was done - you would expect a steroid like this might help in a cytokine storm situation. But it is always good to get clinical trial results and I think usage of the drug will probably go up. But I wish we had a more robust public health messaging environment right now, because this is absolutely NOT a drug to take as a prophylactic. It depresses the immune response, which is why it helps the very sick COVID-19 patients. Taking it early in an infection or in an attempt to prevent infection may do harm. As any asthma patient on long-term steroid treatment knows, steroids increase the risk of a respiratory infection. (But they are what we're given if we're having a hard time getting our lung function back to normal after recovering from an infection.)

Anyway, as Derek says, this may reduce the fatality rate (which is good news) but will do nothing to change the course of the epidemic. Right now, our best interventions for changing the course of the epidemic are distancing and masks.

Here's a devastating look at how much our poor response to this epidemic has hurt us.

And we continue to have a poor response, so we'll continue to have more deaths that could have been avoided.  The scenes out of Tulsa as people prepare for the Trump rally are so depressing. People crowding together, joyfully flaunting not wearing masks.

I mean:

I think that even after we bungled the early response, we had a moment in late March/early April when we could have been convinced to rally together and have a better response if we'd had better leadership. But we had Trump and so here we are.

I am mostly done arguing with people about masks. The people who don't think they are necessary now are not really evaluating the evidence and making a rational choice, they are cherry-picking things to post hoc rationalize a choice they are making for other reasons. But Bad Mom, Good Mom has a nice write up on why we wear masks if you or someone you know is in that tiny sliver of people who genuinely aren't sure if the evidence supports mask wearing.

The next time someone asks me for definitive evidence that masks work, I will ask them for definitive evidence that masks don't work and be done with it. Arguing with these people is a waste of time and energy.

Here is a good thread on a recently reported study of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections in Wuhan. The fact that they see evidence of potential lung damage in some members of this group is pretty sobering.

Even before the pandemic, I'd been thinking a lot about how to balance my love of travel with the impact of travel. This essay captures that ambivalence really well.

In other travel news: authorities in Alaska removed the bus made famous in "Into the Wild" because people wouldn't stop risking (and occasionally losing) their lives to go see it.

This is a really interesting interview with one Romney to Johnson to Bloomberg voter who was participating in Black Lives Matter protests in DC.

A perfect response:

And here are some fun things:

I looked up the YouTube channel of the two actors mentioned in this story out of Singapore and it was delightful.

This thread made me smile:

Here's a beautiful bird:

Here's your bunny for the week:

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Facing Reality Edition

This was the week when I finally accepted that we're not going to bring SARS-CoV-2 transmission rates down here, even in San Diego where we've done a decent job of keeping them from rising. When we send our kids back to school at the end of August, we'll be sending them back to something far from normal - I don't know yet if the school year will be abnormal because it is a hybrid of online and in person, because it is all in person but with heartbreaking rules that keep our kids from interacting much with their peers, or because we've said "oh well" and sent them back to seemingly normal classes with the fear of bringing a potentially deadly disease home to their families.

I am pretty angry about this, but that is neither here nor there.

I think my county is opening up more than seems prudent - bars and movie theaters opened here yesterday - while at the same time not providing good guidelines on how people can safely see their friends. This to me is a recipe for a slow-moving catastrophe. Our decisions mean that the virus will be spreading in our community for the foreseeable future, possibly until we get a vaccine and make enough of it to vaccinate widely. But we're focusing on opening businesses and not on giving people real guidance for how to adjust to this new normal we've decided to make for ourselves.

There are plenty of articles out there about how to evaluate risk, but I think the advice would carry more weight if it came in the form of public health recommendations. For the most part, it won't, because no recommendation is going to include "go to the movie theater," and too many of our political leaders desperately want people to go spend money at businesses even if that puts their health at risk.

And even when public health officers do issue orders, they don't always get the back up they need from political leaders. Look at what happened in Orange County with masks. The public health officer issued an order requiring masks and received threats. She resigned and her temporary replacement has rescinded the order.

This is not an isolated thing. Public health officials are resigning, retiring, or sometimes getting fired by hostile political leaders, all over the country.

I am not aware of any such backlash against our public health orders here in San Diego. When I've gone out to stores, everyone was wearing masks.  However, when my husband went to pick up takeout from a local restaurant last week (not long after restaurants were allowed to reopen for onsite dining), he reported that staff and everyone picking up takeout were wearing masks. The people waiting for tables? Not so much, despite the fact that the health order says they have to keep their masks on until they are seated.

Also, we're reopening for tourism now, too, and at this time of year our biggest source of tourists is Arizona, which seems to be headed for real trouble with coronavirus and also does not require masks. Will local tourism establishments enforce the mask order on visitors who are not used to be required to wear masks? I am skeptical.

So anyway, my husband and I are trying to figure out what a safe and sustainable lifestyle will be right now, with the idea that we're stuck in this spot in between OK and crisis for probably at least another year.

One thing we did is finally give in to Petunia's pleas for a fuzzy pet. Meet Daisy, our new hamster:

In that picture, she's enjoying some time out of her cage exploring her playpen. Petunia has been doing a lot of research about how to be a good hamster owner, and is so far delighted with her new pet, even though Daisy sleeps way more than Petunia would like during the day. (Hamsters are nocturnal, after all.)

Pumpkin didn't really want a pet but is glad we got a hamster and not a dog (Petunia's first choice). Pumpkin wants another bookcase for her room. She'll get that soon, too, because if I'm going to tell my kids we're mostly stuck at home for longer than I want to admit, I'm going to try to give them the things that they say makes that bearable.

We've also started seeing some friends, and allowing our kids to see some of their friends. However, all meet-ups are outdoors with everyone at least 6 feet apart and with precautions around food and bathrooms. We're also keeping our social schedule pretty sparse.

We're looking at the list of reopened things and trying to think about what activities we think offer the best ratio of fun to risk for our upcoming "staycation." We're all taking the week after the 4th of July off and will try to have fun.

Anyway, I have a few links for you:

Lest we get too laid back about the coronavirus risk: There were reports this week of the first US lung transplant for a coronavirus patient. The patient is in her 20s.

Comparing how we've handled coronavirus with how New Zealand has handled it is a bit depressing, but if you want to read a summary of New Zealand's response: here is a good one.

There was good news out of Missouri: The two sick hairdressers did NOT infect everyone else, probably because they (and all their clients) were wearing masks.

Really, the evidence that getting a majority of people to wear face masks really would help keeps piling up. The people who decided to make face masks a political battleground have done so much harm.

Derek Lowe had good summaries of where we're at with antibody treatments and also with vaccines. Both posts have some cautious good news but also a warning about the very real challenges still ahead.

Former CDC director Tom Frieden wrote a really good piece on how we're looking at the wrong metrics and suggested some better ones.

This is a bit of a gut punch:

I have mostly written and shared links about COVID-19 in this post, but I am reading things about the protests and the chance we have right now to make some real progress on our long-standing problems of racism and police brutality. I have taken some small, unfocused actions (mostly donating money) but need to figure out what more to do. I will try to do that and write about it soon. In the meantime, please don't take my relative quiet on this as an indication that I don't care. I do care. I am reading and thinking how best to take action.

Somewhat related to that, here is a really good flowchart on when to use African-American and when to use Black (and yes, the emerging style guide is to capitalize Black):

There has been a lot of churn about public health experts not condemning the Black Lives Matter protests. This thread is an excellent response to that:

And now for a happy thing:

This tweet made me smile, and if you want to know why and also enjoy some really fun sci fi, read Space Opera, by Catherynne Valente

And here's your bunny for the week:

Have a good weekend, everyone. Wear your mask!

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Weekend Reading: Just a Few Links this Week

I lost most of my morning to an almost-migraine. I had the symptoms that tell me it would be wisest to go back to bed (the beginnings of a headache, a woozy feeling, and feeling very cold), so I did.  So now it is 11:30 and I'm still in my PJs and the sum total of my accomplishments so far are making toast for Petunia and hanging a load of laundry on the line. Let's just say that the weekend to do list has a lot more than that on it.

I had a few things I really wanted to share, though, so I decided to go ahead and write a short post.

If you read only one thing, read Whose Grief, Our Grief, by Saeed Jones.

I am about 2/3rds of the way through Ezra Klein's recent podcast with T-Nehisi Coates and it is outstanding. There's a lot of good stuff in there, but don't miss Coates' take on the progress represented by this moment of protest. It is right at the start.

Anne Helen Petersen has been tweeting a thread of protests in small towns and cities across the country. It is amazing.

She wrote about why this matters, too.

I found Dahlia Lithwick's essay on why these protests are different than earlier protests in the Trump era really insightful.

Geneviรฉve Jones-Wright, who recently ran to be San Diego's district attorney, wrote about why we need a better police oversight board here.

Meanwhile, in the pandemic....

The NY Times had a useful piece on how to hug right now.

Ed Yong wrote about "long haulers" - people who are still experiencing symptoms months after getting infected with SARS-CoV-2.

My local paper wrote a good piece about case investigators and contact tracers.

Derek Lowe provides an update on trials of remdesivir and to tocilizumab. There's some encouraging news in there, but nothing that makes me inclined to be willing to get close to other people without a mask.

And another antibody drug enters trials.

Here's a bunny for you:

Have a good weekend, everyone!