Thursday, December 31, 2020

Good-Bye and Good Riddance to 2020

Well, here we are at the end of 2020. I took a peek back at my post about my 2020 goals and unsurprisingly, most of them didn't happen. I was doing pretty well for the first couple of months and then March came and my goals morphed into: stay alive, keep my family alive, and keep us all reasonably sane. Oh, and work to make sure we didn't re-elect Trump. By those revised goals, 2020 was a resounding success. It also sucked.

2020 was exhausting. It was probably the most difficult year of my professional life, as it was my job to keep projects on track while also enabling the flexibility we all needed while also supporting my kids doing school from home. It was nowhere near as hard as what health care workers, public health workers, and other essential employees faced but it was a hard year professionally. 

We also had to revise all our home routines, and I realized how much I leaned on the fact that we had routines. Between the busy work schedule, the need to find new routines for the work of keeping our home running, and the extra attention my kids needed, I struggled to find time for myself. I would often find myself awake before 6 a.m. and unable to get back to sleep, and the silver lining of that was a few minutes of quiet time on the sofa, watching the colors change through the frosted glass on my front door with no one asking anything of me.

But more than all of that, I think the most exhausting thing about 2020 was watching my government and my fellow citizens make bad decisions. It was exhausting to be so continually disappointed, and to need to keep trying to explain the inexplicable to my daughters. Even now, we seem determined to screw up the vaccines, which were the one part of our pandemic response we did well. 

Good riddance to all of that. I know that we are in for more difficult months in 2021, but I am hopeful that we're on the upswing now and that once the new administration is in place we'll at least have a plan for getting through to the end of this pandemic.

2020 brought some things I hope we'll carry forward with us, too. My older daughter discovered a love of long walks. My younger daughter's interest in art really blossomed. The crunch for time forced me to clarify my priorities, and while I hope I can open up more space for the lower priority things soon, I am grateful for that clarity about what really matters to me.

I haven't decided if I'll make goals for 2021 or not. On the one hand, the clarity 2020 brought could probably be channeled into some good goals. On the other hand, I am still exhausted and so perhaps my goal will simply be to make it through to my turn for the vaccine and to re-evaluate then.  

Luckily, I don't have to decide right now. Right now, I need to go make some cookies with my daughter and then settle in for New Year's Eve.  See you in 2021!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Lessons from Our Pandemic Failures

I have been thinking a lot lately about what we can learn from the current coronavirus pandemic. Ed Yong has a good story out today looking ahead to the next year of this pandemic, and he includes a section about the lessons we might learn, along with an acknowledgement that we may well decide not to learn them.

The lessons Yong highlights are ones I hope we manage to learn, but the focus of my musings has been a bit different. Perhaps it is because I live in a region that managed to do reasonably well at suppressing the virus for months, and then have that effort spectacularly fail to the point that we're now in the midst of a terrible surge with hospitals stretched thin and daily case counts stuck at 10 times their previous level. I have been wondering what happened and why.

We may never know exactly what went wrong, of course - our health department is too busy managing the surge to be able to collect the data that might tell us where the surge came from. It is probably a combination of things: political polarization leading to some groups in the area refusing to wear masks or follow health orders; competing economic and health needs leading to nonsensical rules, e.g., allowing dining at restaurants while telling people they can't gather in their own backyards; fatigue with the rules and the very real effect of loneliness building up over many months; and of course Thanksgiving (and now Christmas) pulling people to gather to maintain their traditions and connections.

I very much hope that people are studying the US's failed response because we urgently need to learn from our failures (and other country's successes), both to prepare for the next pandemic (which, as the WHO's Mike Ryan recently warned may be worse) and to help us address climate change.

One of the most depressing things about watching large swaths of the American public buy into conspiracy theories about coronavirus and refuse to do something as simple as a wearing a mask is the realization that if we can't even get our collective act together to respond sensibly to a pandemic that is literally killing people in all parts of the country, how will we muster the will to respond to climate change before it has reached catastrophic levels?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I recently read Kim Stanley Robinson's Ministry of the Future. I did not find it to be a particularly good novel (although I have heard that perhaps it is better as an audiobook), but one thing it does really well is make you understand what a climate catastrophe would be like. I found the catastrophe that opens the book particularly haunting. A heat wave strikes India, and it raises the wet bulb temperature above the limits of human endurance. Hundreds of thousands of people die a terrible, desperate death. (I did not know much about the potential for this particular catastrophe, so I did a little reading on it. If you want to know more about it, there is a sobering study that came out in May. NOAA has a good summary of it, and the Washington Post has a good article.)

Deadly heat waves will become more common, but since they will first strike in parts of the world that Americans usually ignore, it seems tragically unlikely that Americans will pay attention. 

Of course, there are climate disasters that will hit closer to home - we already see what they might be, with longer and more intense wildfire and hurricane seasons. But humans are really good at adjusting to the new normal and ignoring the warning these events bring. This may well have been a solid survival instinct in earlier times, but it is threatening our survival now. Here again, we have a lesson we can learn from the pandemic, in which people have grown inured to the mounting death toll

As all of these things have sloshed around in my brain, I've developed some thoughts about what we might learn from the pandemic to help us better respond to climate change. These are just the ideas of a moderately informed lay person. Consider them hypotheses. I hope academic studies give us more insight into which of these might actually be correct, and I'll be looking for those studies. But with that caveat in place, here are my ideas:

1. People will make serious sacrifices for the common good - but only for a limited time and with a clear goal in mind. In the pandemic, this meant that the countries that went for eradication or at least strong suppression were able to succeed with stringent lockdowns. In the US, where we always said we'd be managing but not suppressing the virus's spread, we probably needed to pivot aggressively to a different approach. Maybe a message of risk management? Maybe more extensive testing surveillance? I don't know what the better approach would have been, but the soft shutdowns we used were probably always going to fail eventually as people grew tired of the restrictions with no end in sight.

2. If you want people to change their behavior, you have to make it economically possible for them to do so. You cannot expect people who are just getting by to voluntarily take a short term economic hit for a long term greater good. Furthermore, when people are facing the loss of their livelihood or of a business they worked hard to build, they will fight to save it even when that fight causes harm to the community. We saw this in the pandemic with gyms and restaurants fighting against the public health rules even though allowing them to stay open would just prolong the underlying problem. We didn't give them enough support to survive in stasis for the length of the pandemic, and so of course some business owners fought the rules.

Both of these hypotheses can inform our response to climate change. Here's what I think they tell us: 

We should try to limit the personal sacrifice we ask of people as we reduce carbon emissions. This means we need programs to make electrifying our lives economically beneficial for individuals, but it also means that we need to think long and hard about how we handle the fossil fuel industries, which employ a lot of people. Investing public funds to help them transition gracefully may feel like paying ransom to some very bad actors, but we need to be clear-eyed about what the alternative would look like. This may be a case where the best move is to pay the ransom.

If we're going to ask for a sacrifice to achieve a common good, we need to make sure that sacrifice is time-limited and the end point is clear. I am not sure what this looks like in the climate response. Perhaps it is just that when we ask a community to accept change to support our response, we need to be clear what the end point will be for them and how long it will take to get there. Instead of saying "we'll retrain coal miners into other jobs" we need to provide specifics about what the new economic plan for their region is and how we will get them there.

During the pandemic, we have asked people to sacrifice to get back to normal. As we address climate change, we will be asking people to sacrifice to get to a new normal. I think that new normal will be better, but change is hard for people and we need to acknowledge that and have plans to ease the transition to the new normal. If we ever thought we could just tell people what they needed to do for the common good and they would do it, surely the pandemic response has shown us that this is not the case. We must learn from our failures and do better.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Weekend Reading: Our Turn in the Surge Edition

Covid case numbers are high here in San Diego, and all over California. After doing so well for so many months, we're now most definitely not doing well. Vaccinations are underway, but they won't come in time for so many people.  I don't really have an explanation for what happened. Thanksgiving, yes, but our numbers were already headed up before Thanksgiving. Maybe people just got tired and let their guard down. I suspect we missed an opportunity by not giving people better advice about how to safely see friends and family outdoors. Our weather should have given us a great advantage, and I think we didn't use it as much as we could.

The message I pieced together from reading studies and advice from experts was: 

  • See friends and family outside and either distanced or masked. Be careful, but see people now and then because we're in for a long haul and we needed an approach we can stick with for a year or more. 
  • Try not to be inside with people you don't live with (or haven't quarantined to see). 
  • If you can't avoid being inside with people, wear a mask no matter how far apart you are and try to increase ventilation. 
  • If you want to be indoors and unmasked with someone, both parties need to quarantine for two weeks first.
  • If anyone from outside our family needs to be in the house for awhile (e.g., the people who installed our heat pump), we go outside and open windows and run our whole house fan for 20-30 minutes after they leave.
  • Surface transmission doesn't seem to be a major route, but since I follow the news from New Zealand where they traced a few cases to surface transmission I know it is a possible route. My approach is to continue to wash my hands frequently, try to avoid touching my face, particularly when out and about and touching other things, and to clean high contact surfaces frequently.

But I am not a public health expert, so I acknowledge that my rules may not be the ideal ones. I am also not an expert on health communication and risk reduction during a pandemic, so I don't know if something like my rules, clearly communicated from all levels of leadership would have been more successful than the "stay home, don't see people" message was. I also don't know how my more nuanced message would have worked out in our current political moment. Anyone who says there would have been an easy way to avoid the mess we're in has not been paying attention to what public communication is like right now. 

Anyway, we're in the surge now and our hospitals and ICUs are full and it is a tragedy. I have a lot of thoughts about what we might learn from this tragedy in terms of preventing future tragedies, but they are not fully formed and anyway, that's not where I want to dwell right now.

So, on to the links. I don't have many because I've been spending most of my spare time finding gifts for people. Our response to the surge has been to avoid all unnecessary trips to stores, so shopping has been all online this year, which has been hard! 

But here's what I do have:

Here is some concise advice from one of the experts I've been listening to:

David Perry wrote a very good piece on how utterly we have failed our children. I think a lot about how this year is shaping the world views of my daughters and their friends.

Some good news: The Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial is fully enrolled. A third vaccine with a different modality and manufacturing path would surely help our supply issues. I hope for a successful trial.

In political news: I agree with this argument from Josh Marshall that we must not let bad faith behavior from Republican leaders trick us into wasting time on them.

Dan Pfeiffer has a sobering look at why Republican politicians might get even worse over the next few years

Some things that made me happy:

These ice and snow sculptures are beautiful.

What beautiful pictures:

Beautiful embroidery:

O Holy Night is my favorite Christmas song, and somehow I'd never heard Tracy Chapman's beautiful version of it.

Here's your bunny for the week:

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Starting to Feel Like Christmas Edition

Our tree and outdoor lights have been up since the weekend after Thanksgiving, but I've been decidedly lacking in Christmas spirit.  I wouldn't say I am brimming with spirit now, but I am starting to feel a little less grinch-y.

My kids were bummed that we won't get to see my parents for Christmas and so I decided to try to cheer us all up by having a little fun with these small metal Christmas "mailboxes" my mom gave them a couple of years ago. I decided to put them out on the chest behind the sofa in our living room and put a small gift in them every day from December 1 to Christmas Eve. The baseline is little candies - Hershey's Kisses and Starburst - and every few days I put something else in. I've done fuzzy socks, gloves that allow you to still work your phone, and detangler combs. I have some Christmas-themed masks on their way.

You may be seeing the problem with my idea. In a year in which I am trying not to go into shops, I need to come up with not just stocking stuffers for their actual stockings but also for the mailbox thing. Oops. 

But Petunia is starting to get into the mailbox thing, and Pumpkin is getting really into finding good gifts for everyone... and maybe I can get in the spirit, too. We might start doing some baking this weekend. Baking usually gets me int he Christmas spirit, and at the very least I will have some treats to eat!

Anyway, on to the links.

If you're looking for gift ideas, the Cool Mom Picks site and their associated sites have a bunch of posts full of ideas.

On the pandemic front:

I am going to assume you will find plenty to read on the EUA for Pfizer's vaccine. This is great news, and I remain in awe of how quickly both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are going to be available. This is due to the combined effort of many scientists and others in those companies, the NIH, the FDA, and more. And it is also due to remarkable good luck that none of the myriad of things that often go wrong in a development and clinical trial program went wrong. 

Here is a story about the Sanofi vaccine effort having less good luck. We are now manufacturing-limited in vaccine distribution, so it would have been really good to get another vaccine with a different manufacturing mode. But it looks like we won't get that as soon as we had hoped.

Still, I think it is a good time to stop and be grateful for what we have, and I am thrilled that the health care workers who have been risking their lives during this pandemic will soon be protected. Here is a short thread on that:

The rest of us need to mask up, limit our outings, take steps to reduce risk when we do see other people, and hope for a successful manufacturing ramp up for the vaccines we do have.

I think we need to get better in our messaging about risk reduction, too. We have years of research from the HIV epidemic that tells us "abstinence only" messaging does not really work. I agree with Julia Marcus on the need to help people learn how to reduce risk when they do the things they consider essential, even if we don't consider those things essential.

On the politics front:

I am glad the Supreme Court slapped down that ridiculous suit from Texas. I am horrified that so many Attorneys General and other Republican elected officials signed on to it. We are in a dangerous place, but again I assume you can find news of that on your own.

Here is an opinion piece I strongly agree with: we've stopped expecting civility from Republicans while we still demand it from Democrats. I don't want Democrats to get more aggressively rude and threatening. I want us to stop giving Republicans and the right wing protesters a pass for being rude and threatening. 

On the climate change front:

I finished reading The Ministry for the Future. I am not going to write about it here, because I want to do a larger post on it. I'll just say that it had a lot of interesting ideas, but that the structure of the novel annoyed me sometimes.

There's good news on batteries. Before the pandemic, we had been low-key debating what we'll replace our Mazda 5 with when the time comes, which we thought would be within a year. Now we hardly drive anywhere so are wondering if it might last a little longer. Maybe we can hold out long enough to wait for the next big advance in electric cars. Or if we can't, maybe we'll decide to lease for a bit and wait to see.

As great as it will be to have people in the White House who believe we need to address climate change, I think a lot of the action will remain at the local and state level. Here's an article about Nashville that shows what that can look like. If you're looking for a way to help fight climate change, look at what your local government is doing and see if there are any local initiatives you can support.

David Roberts, my favorite reported on the climate change and environment beat, has left Vox and started his own Substack newsletter, Volts. Here is the first post. The newsletter is free until the end of the year, and after that you only get some of the posts for free. I am annoyed by the move to newsletters - I don't actually want this stuff in my inbox!- and wish we could all go back to old school blogs (like mine!) but I understand people need to make money and so here we are. I signed up as a paying subscriber. This is the first newsletter I've actually decided to pay for. 

(I am a subscriber to Anne Helen Peterson's Culture Study and Zeynep Tufecki's Insight and may eventually convert one of those to a paid subscription but haven't yet.)

Here are some things that made me smile this week:

This article about a man who designed a smartwatch app to help his dad who has PTSD nightmares from serving in Iraq.

This thread is long but delightful:

This thread on dogs recognizing dogs is fun:

My husband found this San Diego band and we enjoyed trying to guess what part of San Diego this was filmed in:

Here's your weekly bunnies. I think this duo is dropping their new album soon:

Happy weekend, everyone!

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Weekend Reading: A Somewhat Grim Edition

Times are grim. They are grim here, and we are in nowhere near as much trouble as many parts of the country. But our cases are up and we've reached the limit on ICU bed space (less than 15% available) that is the governor's new threshold for a stay at home order. I think we'll be under a stay at home order tomorrow. Businesses here are already struggling - there are so many stories about long standing businesses closing for good - and while our county and state have both released some funds to try to help, it is nowhere near enough. We needed federal aid, and Mitch McConnell is instead focused on shielding employers from COVID-related lawsuits. I could maybe see providing such a shield in conjunction with generous aid that allows people to do the right thing without losing everything... but as it is being offered with just a small amount of aid, I think it is a recipe for businesses opening and employees getting sick and dying.

And he hasn't even passed this. Everyone is yelling about what Democrats should or should not accept, and McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate haven't passed a damn thing. There's nothing to accept or reject right now, just a lot of talk. I don't have a clue about why this is how things work now, but does anyone else remember conference committees

We really have the wrong type of federal leadership for this moment. But lots of people - people in places with far higher infection and death rates than my area has - looked at that leadership and said "yep, that's what we want" and so somehow the rest of us have to figure out how to deal with this.

The stay at home order won't change anything about how my little family is living right now. We'd already pulled back as cases rose - no more going to shops for anything other than essentials! - and have been limiting our restaurant patronage to take out from the beginning. 

This week brought us another study showing that indoor dining is just not safe. Masks are off because you can't eat with a mask on. People are talking, because people go to restaurants for a social experience. And people are probably talking loudly due to ambient noise. It is just not possible to make this safe. It is always going to come down to a matter of luck, and with more cases around these days the odds are not with you. 

Zeynep Tufecki has a good writeup of the new study, putting in context of earlier studies as well.

The CDC has released new guidelines that match what my personal guideline has been for quite awhile: Don't be indoors with people not in your household without a mask.

You don't want this disease, and you particularly don't want to get sick during a surge - as this story spells out, hospitals are getting overwhelmed and that means people are dying who probably would have lived if they'd gotten the disease earlier, when case loads were lower.

If you're wondering why FDA emergency authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is taking a little longer than approval in other countries, this article explains it. Personally, I think the more thorough review is a good idea particularly since there are non-pharmaceutical interventions (e.g., masks, avoiding indoor gatherings) that can reduce spread during the review time. The tragedy, of course, is that so many people refuse to follow advice about non-pharmaceutical interventions.

David Roberts argues that Biden should learn from Trump's "flood the zone" strategy and run a blitz to get things done. 

In recommended listening: Ezra Klein's interview with Kim Stanley Robinson did indeed convince me to read The Ministry for the Future. I am about halfway through it now. I will probably write some more about it when I finish it.

Here are some things that made me smile this week:

This is a really interesting story about diacetyl, the compound that makes Chardonnay buttery but also can cause "popcorn lung."

I want a book of these "where are they now" snippets Jane Austen told her family!

This tweet blew my mind. Someone do some historical studies to find out if it is true!

This made me laugh. My husband also does most of our laundry (although I tend to be the one who folds it). That is probably the only thing I have in common with Angela Merkel.

On discovering that you're a meme:

I love little quirks of language like this:

This week's bunny looks so cozy! I am a little jealous.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Weekend Reading: The More Like Weekend Listening Edition

I hope all of my American readers had a nice and safe Thanksgiving. We did! 

I am still in holiday mode and so this probably won't be a long post today. But we'll see what happens as I start writing! Sometimes I surprise myself.

I have been reading The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie, and now in the phase where I'd really like to be sitting out in my backyard enjoying the sunshine and reading it. It is very different from the Imperial Radch series but I think it is equally good.

One of the interesting things in The Raven Tower is the world-building around how gods work, and I think anyone who enjoys that aspect of The Raven Tower might also enjoy the Tales of the Polity books by Francesca Forrest, which Annorlunda Books is publishing. The Inconvenient God is available now, and Lagoonfire will come out in March. The world of the Polity is not at all similar to the world in The Raven Tower, but there is something about the exploration of what it means to be a god that makes me think these books go well together.

Speaking of Lagoonfire... it got a review in Publishers Weekly! It is a nice review, and I am very excited about it.

OK, on to the links.

This piece by Amanda Mull gets at some of what I think has gone so wrong with America's pandemic response even in places where state and local government are taking the pandemic seriously. Our failure to provide aid to sectors that really can't operate safely is leading to illogical rules and that undermines all of the messaging from health departments. 

This Greg Sargent interview of David Wasserman is an interesting discussion between two people I find to be pretty smart on electoral politics.

The story of what happened in Michigan after the election is amazing and infuriating.

If you think the only shenanigans that Trump is getting up to on his way out is trashing our democracy by falsely claiming vote fraud... think again. This is pretty terrible, both for the career government employees he's apparently planning to fire right around the holidays and for the fact that he wants to fill these positions with loyalists:

I have so many podcast recommendations for you! 

First up: Ezra Klein's interview with Ian Haney López about what Democrats get wrong about Latino voters is not what you probably think it is going to be and it ended up being a really hopeful listen for me. Haney López has done research into what messages work well with different types of voters and his findings are really interesting, but more important (to me) is the fact that a message that I think is true - that powerful interests are amplifying racial conflict to protect their own economic interests - works well across many different types of voters. 

I also have two podcasts that are both about how to heal the divisions in America right now. 

The first, from Krista Tippet, is an interview with Karen Murphy, who has worked in Northern Ireland, Rwanda, and other places with an organization called Facing History and Ourselves. She has so many interesting things to say about how her work could be translated into our current situation in America.

The second I found a bit frustrating, but it is also really worth your time: Ezra Klein interviews/debates with conservative writer David French about how to move forward now. French is arguing for more federalism as a solution. It is an interesting argument. However, the thing that really frustrated me in his argument is that he points out that his conservative neighbors speak with real enmity about "Blue America" but he does not interrogate why that is or acknowledge that they may be reacting to a caricature of us provided by the right wing information sources they prefer and not how we really are. He just accepts that this is where we've landed and argues forward from there without interrogating the way that this enmity his neighbors express might be a real threat for left-leaning people who live in their communities in a way that is not mirrored on the other side. Still, I am glad I finally listened to that discussion.

Finally, I keep forgetting to post this lovely interview between Krista Tippett and the Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who died recetly. Sacks has some really interesting things to say about working with people with different beliefs while remaining true to your own beliefs. I really enjoyed this podcast.

And some things that made me smile:

This is a lovely story about a Native American tribe working to bring condors back to their land.

This beautiful tree:

A pretty bird:

I think wombats were nature's way of saying "sorry for all the deadly animals" to Australia:

Here's your rabbit of the week:

Happy weekend, everyone!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Weekend Reading: The a Few Links, a Few Laughs, and Cute Animals Edition

I am finding the general discourse depressing these days. It is like we looked at all the possible ways to respond to a pandemic and chose all of the things that would make it worse and decided to do those things and then just yell at each other: "this is all your fault!"

I read this article by public health expert Julia Marcus about the lessons we could learn from the HIV epidemic when it first came out and it has stayed with me. We missed the chance to follow her advice and now we're in another surge. Still, the lessons about effective communication and risk reduction remain valid. 

And that's all I'll say on that topic.

Let's get to the links.

I think this article about Ben Carson's coronavirus diagnosis is the thing I read that made me the most angry this week - and I read about the GSA administrator's refusal to do her damn job and so the competition was stiff. Carson says Trump authorized antibody treatment for him. Why in the world would Trump's opinion about who should get antibody treatment carry any weight? This administration is running around modeling the worst behavior and encouraging their followers to disregard public health advice. When it catches up with one of them and they get sick, they get the best available treatments and so far, they have all survived. Their followers are not necessarily so lucky - and neither are the other people stuck with the consequences of their followers' actions. It is infuriating. 

I have been really impressed with the group Run for Something, so it is probably not surprising that I like their founders' advice for what Democrats should do now.

I found this article about four people who went to a remote pacific island to do environmental work in February really interesting.

David Roberts wrote an interesting article about electrifying our fleet of trucks and the industrial policy we'll need to do that - it is worth a read.

In recommended listening: I like Majority 54 for its no-nonsense view on politics, and I found this week's episode on the future of the Democratic party particularly good.

This made me laugh:

And so did this:

And this is beautiful:


And of course.... Bunny!

Have a good weekend!

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Weekend Reading: Preparing for Tough Times Ahead Edition

We're a week on from the day the election was called for Biden. I am trying to hold on to the joy of that day as we turn to face the hard work ahead. We should work to win those Georgia Senate seats, but also think clearly about what we can expect if the Senate stays Republican. For that matter, we need to be more realistic about what a 50-50 Senate will be like when the Democratic side includes moderates like Joe Manchin. 

I say that not to demonize Joe Manchin - I think he is probably accurately representing the people who elected him, and we should remember and respect that and figure out how to work with that. There is a difference between representing your constituents' views and obstructing all progress and we shouldn't take our anger at the obstructionists like McConnell on the people who are representing their constituents in good faith.

We have some big problems we really need to make progress on and we have to make that progress with the Congress we have not the one we wish we'd elected. The absolute best case scenario is that Biden manages to broker deals to get the progress we need, but we should be prepared for the fact that we may really hate what we have to give up in some of those deals.

Speaking of big problems... the COVID situation is dire in much of the country. If you are planning to have Thanksgiving indoors with people not in your immediate household, you should be quarantining already. My parents are coming over for the week of Thanksgiving. They have a safe travel plan and are staying in a rental house in our neighborhood instead of staying with us. They will come inside our house and spend time with us and our kids, though, and so we've been quarantining since Monday and so have they. We feel OK with this plan in part because the case loads in Arizona (where they are) and San Diego (where we are) are not super high right now. I do not know if I'd feel OK if we were in a part of the country with higher loads. I think it would probably come down to how safe we could make the travel plan.

We are also having Thanksgiving dinner with my sister and one set of friends. They cannot quarantine because of work reasons and therefore we will have Thanksgiving dinner outside, sitting at least 6 feet apart. I have given up on the traditional turkey as too hard to serve safely and too likely to get cold too quickly, and am instead planning to make chicken and vegetable packets (exact recipe still to be determined - menu planning is on my to do list for this weekend!) Right now, the forecast is for mid-60s and sunny on Thanksgiving day. I've bought fleece blankets and some outdoor heaters, and our yard gets good mid-day sun. Fingers crossed, the weather will hold! If it doesn't, we have all agreed that we'll reschedule the meal for a day with better weather. 

If you are not able to make safe plans to have Thanksgiving with others, I hope you are able to do something to make the day special. When I was in college, I could not afford to go home for Thanksgiving. Sometimes, I was able to join friends for Thanksgiving, but not always. My senior year in college, I was facing Thanksgiving on my own in my apartment. I bought a turkey breast cutlet and some stuffing mix and made a small dinner for myself and watched TV. (I also worked on grad school applications, because those needed to get done!) It wasn't the best Thanksgiving ever, but it wasn't terrible. This was pre-internet and TV on demand. I think the options are better now! 

If you're planning a remote holiday celebration, you may like this article about how to make Zoom holidays feel special.

Whatever you decide to do, please stay safe! We're in a really difficult stretch right now, but better days are coming soon. We'll have a better federal response starting January 20. The preliminary news on the Pfizer vaccine is better than most anyone hoped for - there are still challenges ahead, but I now think it is likely that we will have a vaccine that is making a meaningful difference next year. 

OK, enough pontificating - on to the links!

I found Ezra Klein's interview with Anne Applebaum about authoritarianism insightful and useful. It was sobering, but not depressing. At the very end, Klein asked Applebaum about what lessons we could take from Europe about how to defeat authoritarian parties. She said that what seems to work best is to not have the culture-based battle the authoritarians have framed, but instead to get real things done that improve people's lives. Let's all try to remember that when President Biden is making deals that we may not entirely like.

Anne Helen Peterson's interview with sociologist Jessica Calarco about the terrible bind working moms are in right now has been all over my Twitter feed, and for good reason. If you haven't read it yet, it is really worth your time.

Here is a write up of some political science research about what's happened to the Republican party recently. The problems predate Trump (go listen to that Anne Applebaum interview for more on that - she decided not to vote for McCain because she saw this problem coming!) and we really need to be clear-eyed about the threat we are facing. 

Ezra Klein makes the case that democracy reforms would force the Republican party to actually compete for majorities instead of playing to its base.

I am almost through the first episode in the new Weeds podcast series on the next four years. I recommend it - Matt Yglesias interviews a center-right Bloomberg reported about what went right in the Trump economy and what lessons we can learn from it. 

Here are some things that made me smile this week:

This unbelievably cute newly recognized species.

Matt Harding became internet famous for traveling the world and doing a somewhat dorky dance in lots of different places. I always enjoyed his videos. Seeing his post-election call celebration come across my Twitter feed was such a nice surprise!

This picture:

Here is your bunny for the week:

Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Making a Claim on Joy

I am not in general a fan of how early it gets dark these days. I like to take a walk after work and listen to a podcast to clear my head of work thoughts, and I had to turn my phone flashlight on by the end of tonight's walk. I have a jacket with a reflective stripe on it but I think I may need to start carrying a proper flashlight, too!

However, over the last week or so I have noticed something that almost makes up for the fact that I'm walking in the dusk: Christmas lights are going up early in my neighborhood. I noticed the first couple of houses with their lights on just a few days after Halloween. This week, a few more houses joined in.

I have no idea why these neighbors are choosing to light up their houses early, but I find it surprisingly cheering. To say that this has been a tough year in so many ways is obviously a huge understatement. I took yesterday off to spend some time with my kids (who were off school for Veterans Day) and I was surprised by how unrefreshed I felt last night. 

Don't get me wrong: I had a nice day off. But it wasn't enough. Frankly, I don't know what would be enough. This year is just so hard, in so many ways. The pandemic has made almost every aspect of my life harder and created so many extra problems for me to solve, both at work and at home. The election was a cloud of stress and worry over the year, and even though we won the most important thing, the way so many elected Republicans have reacted to Trump's refusal to concede only increases my worries about the long term health of our democracy.  And now I'm watching COVID-19 cases skyrocket all over the country and tick steadily higher here and that makes me worried and so incredibly sad. 

Last night, as I realized how exhausted I am by this all, I also realized that I had better figure out how to get through it because none of this is going to change anytime soon. 

Maybe my neighbors on onto something. Maybe the only answer is to stake a claim on whatever joy you can find. We're thinking we may put our Christmas lights up early this year, too.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

An Overwhelming Feeling of Relief and Other Post-Election Thoughts

So, we did it.

I know a lot of people wanted to win more, but we did the most important thing. We beat Trump.  And we didn't just barely beat him. Biden is currently at 50.7% of the popular vote - a 3% lead, and a percentage that is on par with Ronald Reagan's popular vote in 1980. We flipped Arizona and Georgia! (Yeah, I know - still preliminary, but all the election numbers nerds on Twitter think those states will remain in Biden's column.) This is a convincing win.

I will leave the analysis of why this didn't translate into greater down ballot success to others. This seems like a reasonable explanation to me:

That would be good news for the upcoming Georgia Senate runoffs, since Trump won't be on the ballot in January. We of course still need to work like hell to win those runoffs. Stacey Abrams is already showing us the way

Back during the primary, I wrote that I didn't think Biden was the right person for this moment. Having watched how this campaign played out, and now watching the aftermath, I think I might have been wrong. Democrat's best case scenario is a narrow Senate majority, and the more likely outcome is that the Republicans maintain a narrow majority. Moderate and progressive members of the Democratic House caucus are arguing publicly about why their majority in the House shrunk.  

Yesterday, I listened to Ezra Klein's interview with Evan Osnos, who has just published a Biden biography. I recommend that interview for anyone trying to get a sense of Biden's approach to politics, and how he has evolved over his many years in the public eye. I came away cautiously hopeful that Biden's deal-making approach to politics might be exactly what is needed, certainly within the Democratic coalition. It remains to be seen whether there will be anyone willing to make deals on the other side of the aisle.

Biden ran a campaign that highlighted his strengths and convinced me he understood the challenges of the moment. In the end, I happily cast my vote for him and not just against Trump. Time will tell what the Biden administration can accomplish, but I can't argue with the priorities they have identified on their transition website and this list of early executive orders Biden is reported to be planning gives me hope.

I have a bunch of thoughts that I jotted down over the week of watching election returns and trying to keep my anxious 11 year old calm about the results. Instead of trying to turn them into a cohesive narrative, I think I'll just take them one by one.

1. We cannot will the country we want into existence. We have to work for it. Many of my more progressive friends like to say we are a center-left country with a voter suppression problem. I think there is something to that, but it is not the full story. I think the disappointment and a lot of the Democratic infighting we are seeing about the down ballot results is not just due to the polling misses that misled us. I think too many of us think we should be winning by large margins and assume that anytime we don't win by large margins it is because someone screwed up. I think the reality is that there are many people who don't want to vote for Democrats, for a variety of reasons. In this election, some of them set that aside to vote for Biden - and we should be glad they did! - but decided to vote Republican down ballot. 

We should work to turn out our voters. We should work to find new voters. We should work to persuade those who are persuadable to vote for us. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking we are the natural majority of the country. We need to work for it, and we need to have strategies for making progress when we must work within split governments or with tight majorities. We cannot just will ourselves into a different world.

2. The country would be in much better shape if the Republican party would choose a different path - but there is very little Democrats can do to make that happen. The silver lining in the results that show Trump increasing his vote share among some Latinos and other people of color is that it could show the Republicans a different potential future if they would pay attention to that message. I have watched in amazement for years as Republicans fail to recognize that there are many people within the Latino community who would prefer conservative policies but are driven away from the Republicans by the overt racism and xenophobia. I suspect there are similar voters among many if not all ethnic groups. I honestly expected that the California Republican party would have figured that out and changed course by now. But they have not, and instead they continue to lose power. When I first came to San Diego, it was a fairly Republican place. We just had a mayor's race between two Democrats and flipped our county board blue.

As much as I think the country would be in a better place if both major parties started from a place that embraces the reality that we are diverse, multi-ethnic democracy, there is not much that Democrats can do to move the Republican party in that direction. All we can do is try to keep winning elections and hope they eventually figure that out. 

3. Even if we end up with a Republican Senate, we need to fight hard to fix the problems we see. I know Mitch McConnell is promising obstruction. Let's not assume he will get his way. We should still advance legislation that strengthens democracy, like statehood for DC and Puerto Rico. The Republican platform says they support statehood for Puerto Rico. Let's send the Senate a bill that does that and force Marco Rubio (who is up for re-election in 2022) to explain why he is against it.

Similarly, while we won't get something called "The Green New Deal" through a Republican Senate, there are a lot of climate-friendly policies that poll really well, even in red states. Let's put those forward and see what we can do.

I think that too often we just assume the Republicans won't do the right thing and channel all of our frustration at Democrats for not somehow fixing it anyway. What if we instead channeled our energies towards peeling off a few Republicans now and then?

4. We need new leadership in Congress. It is unclear to me how much of the down ballot pain is really due to leadership decisions, but it is very clear that there are energetic younger members who have different ideas for how to win elections and move this country forward. It is time for generational change in leadership. I genuinely don't understand why some of these people don't want to retire - don't they have books they want to read, trips they want to take, grandkids to spend time with? But if they won't retire and let a new generation come in, I guess we'll have to start forcing the issue. 

5. We have a propaganda and disinformation problem in this country. It is coming from Fox News, but also from various other directions on social media.  I have no idea how we counter this, but there are people who study exactly this issue and we need to listen to them and start figuring this out. Next time a would-be autocrat comes on the scene, we might not be as lucky as we were this time.

That's where I'm at right now. I am relieved at the outcome of the election. I think everyone who helped win this election should celebrate and enjoy the victory. And then we need to get back to work on fixing the problems we have. I am tired of thinking this much about politics. I'd rather do other things. But this is the moment I live in, and I want my kids to have a better future than the one we'll get if we stay on our current climate trajectory. So I'll keep working.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Final Weekend Edition

 Well, this time next week we'll either know the outcome of the election or be hunkering down for a long fight. I just made what I think is my final round of donations - but I've said that before, so who knows if I'll decide to do another round out of anxiety later this weekend? Probably not. I'm going to try to get offline and think about other things for a bit.  Anyway, I picked a handful of down ballot races to donate to, under the theory that they can boost turnout in their districts and also maybe flip some useful seats. 

Today is Halloween, and it is a weird one. We don't expect that trick-or-treating will really happen in our neighborhood. From what I'm hearing from more community-involved friends, most people are planning something different for their kids. So we planned something different, too. Or somethings different. Pumpkin has an outdoor, distanced party to go to and another outdoor, distanced party to help a friend set up for her brother and his friends. We're having one of Petunia's friends over for an outdoor Hallowegg hunt. Then we are planning to go to that friend's neighborhood to see a house with particularly impressive decorations. Pumpkin is OK with how Halloween is changed this year, but Petunia is sad about it. I asked her what in particular she thought she'd miss about the regular Halloween and she said it was being out after dark with her friend and being silly. Maybe the visit to the decorated house will somewhat substitute. I don't know.

I wouldn't have thought Halloween would be the thing that bummed me out, but it has. I am sad that I won't get to see all of the cute little kids in their costumes and give them treats. I am sad that my kids won't get to go trick-or-treating with their friends. We're coming to the end of the trick-or-treating years, and I am wondering if it might turn out that last year was Pumpkin's last year. I am sad that instead of making an easy plan about trick-or-treating, I spent a bunch of time figuring out alternative plans. I am sad that I had to take a special trip to the grocery store to get a pumpkin to carve and now no one particularly wants to carve it. I am just sad about how screwed up everything is, I guess.

But, on the bright side, I finally found a bag of the good candy corn and a bag of the almost-too-sweet candy pumpkins I like so much. It isn't quite right (I usually buy a bag with a mix of candy corn, harvest corn, and the almost-too-sweet pumpkins), but it is better than the waxy off-brand candy corn I'd found earlier.

So, here are some links for this weird, unsettled weekend.

First, some semi-self-promotional news: The next Annorlunda release, Lagoonfire, by Francesca Forrest, is now available for pre-order! This story features the same protagonist as The Inconvenient God, her earlier novelette. I love the protagonist and find the world Forrest has created so interesting. I can't wait for everyone to get to read this book! I am also looking for some advance readers

In other Annorlunda news, I decided to make The Four-Fifteen Express, a classic ghost story by Amelia B. Edwards, available on the Annorlunda website for Halloween. It is a good story - check it out!

On to other links. First, political news:

There are so many stories of people going to extreme lengths to vote this year. Here's one I bookmarked.

This story about the people who took advantage of all-night voting in Harris County, Texas, is really worth your time. I still think the option of making mail-in/dropbox voting easy is better than all-night voting, but I am impressed with the County Judge in Harris County who made the most of the authority she had.

Also, note that the voter in the lede of that story was motivated by anger at the restrictions on dropbox locations. Given that so few people in Texas can qualify for mail-in ballots, I wonder if that decision to limit dropbox locations may turn out to be an own-goal, like the North Carolina Republicans' attempted shenanigans with their state Supreme Court a couple years back. Time will tell.

Speaking of the Harris County Judge... she won her election in 2018 by a narrow margin. Local elections matter!

Prepare for election night by reading up on what to expect based on various swing states' rules.

This tweet may help explain why so many Trump supporters have spent the last four years so angry. Even back in 2016, I noticed that they were "sore winners" - still aggressively yelling "f*** your feelings" at people who didn't support Trump. I didn't really understand why. But maybe some people really thought that voting him into office could stop the cultural change underway in this country, and are angry that it hasn't.

In coronavirus news...

This is a really good visualization/explanation of the risks in a few different inside settings.

Derek Lowe has a good round up of the latest news from antibody trials. I am frankly puzzled as to why there aren't more trials testing the efficacy of early or even prophylactic treatment with the various anti-COVID drugs we have, particularly in vulnerable populations like people in nursing homes. 

There is some good news, though: Death rates are down. This is one reason why we flattened the curve early on - to give doctors a chance to figure out how best to treat this disease. I have always said that I do not want to catch COVID-19, but if I have to catch it I want to catch is late as I can. The only caveat to that is that I would not want to catch it during a surge that overwhelms hospitals, like what we're seeing in so many states right now. 

I bookmarked so many other things to read, but it just wasn't happening this week. I hope to have more varied links to share again soon!

And now for things that made me smile this week:

This story about a gym in DC and the elderly woman who enjoys watching them from her window is wonderful.

This thread is fun:

I don't know why, but this tweet really tickled me:

Not sure what I'd do if I walked out to my car and saw this:

These are gorgeous photos:

Here's your bunny for the week:

Happy Halloween and happy weekend!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Weekend Reading: A Little Late and a Little Short Edition

This post is late today because I woke up earlier than I wanted to, decided I'd lie down in our guest room/music room for a bit... and woke up and hour and a half later! It felt good to get a little more sleep, but why couldn't I have just stayed asleep to begin with?

This is the first weekend in a long while that I haven't had "write postcards/letters" on my weekend to-do list. It feels a bit weird. I'll pick some races for donations but I am coming to the end of that, too. 

I am thinking about what to do next. I need to stay involved because there is a lot more work to do on climate action, small-d democracy initiatives, and other things I care about. But I am not sure how best to stay involved, and how to balance that with other things I care about - like Annorlunda Books, which I haven't been able to invest as much time in as I'd like to lately. (However, this time next week I'll be posting a link to the page for our next release, Lagoonfire, by Francesca Forrest!)

I am hoping to take a walk or two this weekend, and maybe spend some time in my hammock and think things over. 

Anyway, here are the links I have for you this week:

I'll start very local. San Diego Unified has released some details about the plans for "Phase II" reopening. I am cautiously optimistic about this, but we don't have dates yet. The district says it wants to see what our case load is like at the next calculation for our state rating. We've been teetering on the edge of dropping to the most restrictive tier - only staying in our current tier because of our high testing rate - and so that dampens my optimism for our chances of having our kids back to school in person soon. Pumpkin (8th grade) is reasonably happy with remote learning, but Petunia (5th grade) really wants to get back into class. 

However, there is pressure to move ahead because Phase I, in which the kids who are academically struggling or have an IEP, were invited back for short periods of small group in person instruction has had problems.

Zooming out to the national level... this Washington Post pictorial story on the early voting lines really moved me. People are so determined to vote, and that is inspiring. But it is also a little sad, because it doesn't have to be as hard as some places make it! I filled out my mail in ballot last Saturday, sealed and signed the envelope, and then walked it to my local library branch to drop it in the drop box. There were two volunteers there who could have answered any questions and gave me my "I voted" sticker. There was no line. I signed up for text alerts, and on Wednesday I received a text confirming my vote had been received and would be counted. It could be this easy everywhere.

Ezra Klein's piece on the fight for democracy is really good. It is my "if you read only one thing" pick this week. Klein says he uses his podcast to work out ideas for pieces sometimes, and I've listened to a lot of the podcasts that I suspect went into this piece. I think I have previously linked to his interview with political scientist Suzanne Mettler on the threats to American democracy right now, but I'll link to it again because it was really good!

As the case load in the upper midwest continues to grow, I keep thinking about this article about some of the people who went to Sturgis this year and how it didn't have to be this way.

We really enjoyed our time in Nova Scotia last summer, so I tend to notice Nova Scotia stories now. There is trouble there over lobster fishing. As an American, I have absolutely no high ground from which to judge these sorts of stories, but my personal opinion on any dispute over the rights assigned in a treaty between colonizers and the Native population whose land was colonized is that treaty rights are the law and should be honored. If that creates hardship for any group of non-Native people it is on the rest of us to figure out how to alleviate that, not the Native group exercising their rights.

This is an interesting interview about QAnon, why it is so appealing to so many people right now, and what the rest of us might do about it.

Here are some things that made me smile this week:

A truly 2020 pumpkin:

This artwork:

Here's your bunnies for the week - first painted

And then real:

Have a good weekend!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Home Stretch Edition

Today, I will go to the post office and mail the 180 letters I wrote for Vote Forward. I think I will have time to write more postcards before we're out of time to have them arrive before election day - but I'll wrap that up this week, too. 

This weekend, I will also fill out my ballot and take it to the official drop box at the library in my neighborhood. I finished making my decisions on the various propositions and down ballot races Thursday night. 

I will also pick some races to get my final round of donations.

Soon, this election will be over for me - except for the waiting. 

Last night, as Mr. Snarky and I enjoyed our Friday night beers, we checked in on the NZ election. So we went to bed knowing that Labour was definitely going to win, but not yet sure whether they'd be able to form a government on their own. This morning, the results are in, and the answer is yes, Labour can form a government on their own. There is some question as to whether they will invite the Greens to join them, though.  The Greens also had a good night, including winning in the Central Auckland district in what is apparently a giant upset.

Checking in on the NZ elections Twitter hashtag last night was funny - a mix of very local commentary (as to be expected) and Brits (and a few Aussies) watching jealously as a country resoundingly chose competent, empathetic leadership. 

This American was watching jealously, too. But hey - we have a chance to make a similar choice for competent, empathetic leadership soon, so let's take it in equally large numbers! I don't care what the polls say. Vote.

One of the small silver linings of this difficult period has been watching average Americans fight for our democracy. We're writing postcards and letters, taking on phone and text bank shifts, making record amounts of small donations, volunteering to be poll workers, and most importantly, voting early, even when doing so requires waiting in long lines. 

We can't tell much from early voting turnout, really, but I still find what is happening in Texas right now to be inspiring.

Did the Republicans perhaps overplay their hand with their "you can only have one dropbox per county" stunt? Who knows - but maybe.

One possible outcome of this moment is that the Republicans have overplayed their hand in general. Even moderate Democrats are talking about expanding the court, and I rarely hear anyone express any hope for bipartisanship anymore. I don't celebrate this. I think we're in a sad and dangerous spot as a country and it is no means certain we'll come through it well. But it does us no good to pretend the Republican party is something it is not.

Brian Beutler argues this case well - the Republican party is not acting in good faith and have not been acting in good faith for awhile, and we need to stop pretending they are. I wish this were not the case. I wish we could have good faith arguments about policy ideas and all agree to abide by the outcome of those arguments, but wishing something doesn't make it true and if can't all face the reality of the moment we're in, we are sunk.

I found this podcast discussion between Vox's chief legal correspondent Ian Milhiser and political scientist Norm Ornstein about the structural impediments to true small-d democracy in America right now and the possible outcomes if we don't take steps to fix it to be very clarifying. 

There was news this week about a patient in Nevada who was reinfected with SARS-CoV-2. Derek Lowe has a good summary of what we know about reinfection and why, for now, he isn't terribly worried about it. 

Here are some things that made me happy this week:

Listening to this podcast in which Chris Hayes interviews Zach Carter about his new biography of John Maynard Keynes. No, really! Keynes led an interesting life and I may read the biography if I ever catch up on my "to read" stack enough to buy a new book.

This beautiful crochet/lace:

Beautiful ballet:

Here's your weekly bunny:

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Weekend Reading: Short and Late Edition

This post is going up later than usual because we actually had plans this morning. The plan was to meet some friends at the zoo, and spend the morning looking at animals and catching up. When we pulled into the zoo parking lot 5 minutes after opening time, though, it was clear this would not be a good plan. The parking lot was packed, with more cars pouring in constantly. We weren't sure if we'd be able to get into the zoo without a long wait - they have reduced capacity. 

So we called our friends and changed our plan to a stroll around Balboa Park, instead. That turned out to be a nice change - the weather was good, and since we were so early, the playground (newly reopened!) was not crowded and Petunia and her friend got a chance to play. We're nearing the end of the playground years, but the swings and a few other things are still popular. We walked around, saw some new things, and then had lunch from a hot dog vendor before heading home. It was a very nice morning.

Almost everyone we saw was wearing a mask, even though we spent the entire morning outdoors. It was nice to see that.

All and all, it was a nice morning. I needed a nice morning out with friends! We're going to try to do this sort of thing more often. 

So that's why the post is late. I also realized that I don't have many links for you this week. I am trying to doomscroll less, and so I see fewer things. 

Here are the links I have:

This is a good, short piece on how the decisions we make now will determine the future of the planet's climate.

This piece on how voters won't believe that Republicans actually hold some of their more extreme policy stances is mind-blowing and infuriating and really worth the time to read and think about what it means for those of us who are trying to avoid those extreme policies.

Susan Hennessey and Quinta Jurecic make the skeptic's case for Democrats to expand the court if the Barrett nomination goes through. Like them, I would rather that the Republicans in the Senate decide instead to step back from the brink. But that seems unlikely, unless the ongoing COVID outbreak associated with the announcement of her nomination forces their hand.

I found Ezra Klein's conversation with political scientist Susan Mettler to be helpful for thinking about the threats to our democracy right now but also the potential of the moment to unstick some of our deadlock.

These jobs numbers are both horrifying and utterly predictable given how hard it is to be a working mother right now - even for me, with my kids old enough to mostly handle online school on their own and a job that can be done from home with a great deal of flexiblity:

OK, time for some happy things:

This made me laugh:

And this thread made me smile:

This cat has it figured out:

This is a cool quilt:

And so is this one:

Here are you weekly bunnies:

Have a good weekend, everyone!