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

https://twitter.com/solexposure/status/1319004913620246528


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!

Saturday, October 03, 2020

It Just Gets More and More Unsettled

I don't have a weekend reading post in me this week. The news is coming in too fast to try to write anything coherent about it. I think things are just going to get more and more unsettled and we all need to try to hold on to the fact that we don't know how this will all turn out. On one hand, that makes it easy to worry about the worst outcomes we can imagine... but on the other hand, there are other, better outcomes possible, too. I am trying to remember that, and when there is an action to take, take the action that aims for the better outcome. That's all I can do. 

Yesterday was Petunia's birthday. I took the day off work and we went to the beach after she finished with school. It was very nice. If you can get away from computers and TVs and out remembering that the world has a lot of beauty in it, I recommend that highly.





I will give you one link, a podcast I listened to this week that I really liked: Ana Marie Cox's interview with Eva Hagberg about her book How to Be Loved: A Memoir of Lifesaving Friendship.

And of course, you rabbits for the week:


Try to have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Holding On to Reality Edition

Yesterday, Pumpkin was invited to go to watch the Ruth Bader Ginsburg movie in a friend's backyard. We decided to turn that down. Two hours sitting near the same people, even outdoors, felt risky to us, particularly since we don't know the hosts well. I saw pictures from the event on Instagram and I think it would have been fine. Everyone was wearing masks. 

If Pumpkin had cared a lot about the event we may have let her go, but she'd already seen the movie (watching it with her history teacher last year was an event we could bid on in the school auction - she loves that particular teacher so we made sure we bid enough to get her a spot). And she's going to see those same friends today. They are going to the mall. This is San Diego, so malls are outdoors. The mall also has a mask requirement, even in the outdoor spaces. It is the mall I took the kids to for pretzels before school started, and my observation was that the mask requirement was almost uniformly followed and that people kept their distance from others. So this outing feels OK to us.

I hate how every invitation has to be considered like this, but that is our reality now and I am trying to just roll with it.

Speaking of reality... I have long found the penchant for just ignoring reality to be one of the most exhausting and infuriating aspects of the current Republican party. Climate change? Not happening. Or if it is happening, it isn't humans. No need to do anything. We're protecting people with pre-existing conditions! What's that about a court challenge to the ACA? Oh, pay no attention to that. Here's a meaningless executive order instead. Isn't it nice? And so on. We're constantly being spun and outright lied to and told we're delusional for noticing it. You disagree with me on whether we should make changes to address climate change or whether people with pre-existing conditions should be guaranteed access to health insurance? Fine. But own your position and disagree honestly. Don't lie to me about it.

And now this reality distortion machine is turning its attention to the election. Just look at how the story of those nine military ballots in PA has played out. It is going to be like this until the election and possibly beyond. It is exhausting and I think that is part of the point. The intention is to normalize the idea that the electoral process is controversial and suspect, and that this election will end up decided by the Supreme Court.

I think it is a catastrophe for the country if this election ends up decided by the Court. I actually agree with David Frum's analysis on this (click through to read the whole thread):

But I also think that there is a similar problem if the court decides narrowly in the other direction. This election really needs to be decisively settled by the voters. 

You know what I'm going to say about how to help make sure that is the case: Write letters to low-propensity voters with Vote Forward. Write postcards to registered Democrats with Postcards to Voters. Pick a campaign and donate or volunteer (or both). Get involved with one of the independent get out the vote operations, like Let America Vote or Fair Fight. If you're young and healthy, consider being a poll worker. Give money to Pizza to the Polls to help send pizzas to people stuck in long lines at voting places to encourage them to stay and vote. If you would normally be a Republican voter who is putting country over party in this election but don't want to give money to the more Democratic-leaning options above, Pizza to the Polls is a good choice! Also check out Stand Up Republic and Republican Voters against Trump to see if one of those organizations has an option for getting involved that feels right to you.

And if you know someone in Pennsylvania who is planning to vote absentee... make sure they know abut the privacy envelope!

In short, I strongly encourage you to find a way to get involved and then do it. My experience is that taking action makes me feel less anxious. If I catch myself doom-scrolling Twitter, I sit down and write a couple of letters or postcards instead.

Trump and his enablers are trying to normalize the idea that there will be irregularities requiring the Supreme Court to decide the election because they are losing the election and they know it. Dan Pfeiffer has a good piece on this, and how we should think and talk about what is going on. 

That's not to say that I don't find this moment scary. I think we're in a very dangerous moment. Ezra Klein's recent interview with political scientist Suzanne Mettler on the four threats to democracy (guess what! We have all of them right now!) really highlights that. But it is a moment of opportunity, too, and people aren't giving up:

Even if we keep the election out of the Supreme Court, there is still probably going to be a 6-3 majority on the court. Should we fight this appointment? Sure, we should. I don't like our chances, but I didn't expect us to save the ACA back in 2017 and we did. If we lose this specific fight, I don't think we have to give up on the rights we care about, though. I went back and re-read the post I wrote two days after the 2016 election. I still believe those things. We mitigate harm while we take the issue to the states and look at other options for change, like passing new laws that address the concerns in the Court's rulings and working to change cultural opinion (I think this is what will eventually settle the gun issue, to be honest).

And we remember that even Justices we mostly don't agree with may make rulings on some issues that we do agree with. See, for instance, Gorsuch on Native American treaty rights.

In COVID-19 news... what is going on at the CDC and FDA is really alarming a lot of folks in biomedicine. Derek Lowe captures the situation well. I continue to think that there will be enough pressure on the companies working on vaccines to play it straight - coming both from external experts and their own internal staff - that we'll be able to tell whether or not we have evidence that a vaccine is safe and efficacious, regardless of what the Trump administration tries to do. For instance, the companies have published their study protocols, which is unusual but a welcome step right now. But the Trump administration will muddy the water for political purposes and make this harder than it needs to be.

There has also been some progress on trying to understand why some people get so much sicker than others with COVID-19. As this article in Science summarizes, two studies add support to the theory that those people do not have as much type I interferon. If this research holds up in further studies, this has clinical implications and may help us better treat COVID-19 while we wait for a vaccine.

Here are some things that made me smile this week:

I continue to enjoy looking at old vacation photos. Last week, I revisited a trip to Zion National Park that we took when Petunia was just a baby.

This picture:


This thread:


This needlework art:


This thread:


Here's your weekly bunny:


Happy weekend, everyone!

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Saturday Morning Thoughts, with a Few Links

I don't have anything profound to say today. I am sad and I am tired and a part of me wants to just turn inwards, stop caring so much, and find a way to live where all of this is not my problem. But I know that is a false path. As the pandemic has shown, there is no way to guarantee any of this stays "not my problem" and anyway, I just have to look at my children to remember why I need to stay in the fight. 

Reading the news of Ruth Bader Ginsberg's death was like a punch in the gut. I mourn her loss deeply, both because she was a great woman and because of what it means for our country. But it should never have been the case that our future depended on one woman staying alive and in her Supreme Court seat. Perhaps this can be the moment that shakes us up enough to realize that we cannot rely on individual people to be our saviors, whether they are Presidents, Supreme Court justices, or Congressional leaders. Our government is supposed to represent us all, and for that to work we need to look at how we got to where we are and think about what reforms we could enact that would make things more fair, and give the majority who want to deal with the problems we face a chance to do so.

I don't know what the right reforms are. I support making DC a state and giving Puerto Rico a chance to decide if they want to become a state, too, because I think people should have a voice in their government. I support reforms to limit gerrymandering and try to ensure that everyone's vote has equal weight, at least in electing the House. 

Beyond that, I am convincible. I have no great affinity for the electoral college and think those who fear doing away with it would take away rural voters' voices should perhaps come talk to some rural voters in California, whose voices are overwhelmed by those of us in the cities. 

We're clearly going to need to do something about the courts, but I don't know what that is. I am intrigued by the idea of making Supreme Court appointments a limited term, instead of lifetime, to ratchet down the high stakes brinkmanship we saw after Scalia's death and are now going to see again. I can see the merit of those arguing that we should expand the court if McConnell does what he says he will do and votes on Ginsberg's replacement while voting has already started, when he wouldn't even give Merrick Garland a hearing, but I suspect that option is just going to politicize the court further.

So I don't know what we should do right now, except - don't give up. I have seen a lot of people confidently stating what Ginsberg's death will mean to the election, to various precedents, and to things like abortion rights. But we don't know what the ultimate outcome will be, and so I think we just have to do the next right thing, to, uh, quote Frozen II. 

For me that is fighting hard to win the 2020 Presidential election, and win as many down ballot races as possible. I don't know how we fix the mess we're in, but I know we don't even get to try if we don't kick out Trump and the people who turned a blind eye to his corruption and anti-democratic behavior.

So here is what I'm doing today: continuing to write for Vote Forward. I think this weekend, I will also start writing postcards again with Postcards to Voters. There are active campaigns to help win down ballot races.

I am going to redirect some of my giving to political campaigns again. We'd been focusing on donations to help people in need due to the pandemic. We need to sit down and figure out the balance we think is right, but I decided to start by sending some money to Mike Espy, who is polling surprisingly well in Mississippi (better than McGrath polls in Kentucky...)

I will think on where to donate next. Possibly to Vote Save America's "Get Mitch" campaign, because we need to flip the Senate. Possibly to Pinboard's Great Slate, because I like the idea of investing in down ballot races that can help move some Senate races, too, and I think we need to fight everywhere. I like the idea of helping to pay off fines and fees for ex-felons in Florida, so that they can regain their full rights as citizens, including their right to vote.

I don't think we all have to agree on what the next right thing is, but I hope we can all agree that we should figure out what we think it is and do it. 

That's where I'm at this morning.

Here are some of the links I wanted to share with you:

If you haven't listened to Olivia Troye yet, here is the video:


She is a mid-career, lifelong Republican with everything to lose by speaking up. I doubt I agree with her on many issues, but I appreciate her service and am  impressed by her courage and integrity in speaking up. I hope she has a good team around her to buffer her from the inevitable reaction. I wish some of the men who have served in the Trump administration, are now at the end of the careers, and have less to lose would show some similar courage and speak up now.

I put off listening to Ezra Klein's interview with epidemiologist Julia Marcus about how to think about coronavirus risk. I am tired of thinking about coronavirus so much! But I am glad I finally listened to this podcast. She has a good way of framing the decisions we are all having to make, some insightful things to say about why it is such a failure that these decisions are all being pushed down to us as individuals, and a really good point about how we tend to turn fear into anger, and how that is counterproductive. I think some folks in San Diego would be well-served by thinking about that last point, as we face falling back into the most restrictive tier due to an outbreak among students at SDSU

Another thing I listened to this week that I really liked: Krista Tippett's interview with Rev. angel Kyodo williams about keeping hope alive in 2020 (and more - it is a really good conversation, and after I finished it, I went and re-listened to their 2018 conversation, too.)

Some things that made me happy this week:

I posted a new Where in the World quiz on Adjusted Latitudes. I am continuing my strategy of browsing old vacation photos to make me feel happier.

This picture:


And here's your weekly bunny:


I have a long list of things to do, and a desire to spend some time in my hammock now that the air is better... so I am going to end here. Don't give up hope. The fight is not over. 

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Trapped Indoors Edition

The heat pump installation fix last Saturday worked, and so we have AC. It was lucky that we got it when we did, because in addition to abnormally high heat, a fire broke out in East San Diego county last Saturday, and so our air quality was terrible most of the week. We've left the AC on all week even as the temperatures cooled because we didn't want to open the windows and let the outside air in.

Unfortunately, my HEPA air filter also stopped working this week. It could be just because it is old - I've had it for about 15 years. Or it could be because I forgot to turn it off when the heat pump installers were here and perhaps some of the insulation that got deposited all over our house got in it and clogged it. If I'm lucky, it is the latter and I can take it apart and unclog it this weekend. I hope so, because my eyes are burning and my nose is runny. I am not sure if that is from the fire or just my regular allergies but either way getting my HEPA filter back will help fix it!

It has sucked to need to stay indoors this week. As I mentioned in my last post, I miss sitting out in our backyard at dusk. However, I should be able to start that again soon, if our region's luck holds. The fire in the East county is mostly under control now and the air quality here is much better. I don't think I'll do any strenuous exercise outside this weekend, but I think I can sit outdoors this evening. I will be thinking of my friends in Northern California and Oregon who do not have that good fortune yet. 

So anyway, on to some links:

This Washington Post story about the people who are living in a decrepit motel near Disney World is heartbreaking. The lack of help available for them is a choice we make. It is a choice we make when we underfund social services, but it is also a choice we make when we won't allow enough housing to be built. Every area in the US has work to do in this regard, but the specific work is probably different in different places. It is easy to point at states like Florida that have gutted their social safety net and say they should shape up, but I guarantee you could find equally heartbreaking stories of people clinging to the edges of a desperate situation in every state. We should all own the problem and work to fix it.

I have been thinking about this a lot in regard to climate change. I came across a question from someone about what people can do to address climate change. I can't remember the context of the question, unfortunately, but I think the answer for almost all of us is to engage in the political system. Individual action isn't going to solve climate change (although we can all try to make choices that will help) and individual acts of charity aren't going to make it so that we don't have stories like the ones at the Star Motel. 

What we need to push for is probably different in different places. In the swing states, fighting to get Democrats elected may be the best first step. In deep red states, it might be engaging in issues activism to try to move the Republican officials you're sure to end up with to act on climate. Here in California, I am increasingly convinced the best thing I can do is speak up for allowing denser infill housing in urban areas. This issue is going to drive my vote in our upcoming mayoral election (between two Democrats) and I am starting to take other steps like leaving comments in support of housing and protected bike lanes during the public comment period of local planning decisions.

I am no expert on these issues so I won't pretend I know what the absolute best thing to do is any place, even San Diego. But I do think that if we want to make things better, we are going to have to push outside our comfort zone a bit and engage. 

Also, we absolutely have to get Biden elected. Four more years of Trump probably dooms us to a pretty bad climate outcome. We really need to change the Senate, too. There's a lot to work on right now, so I guess the good thing is we're spoiled for choice as to where we want to engage!

Moving on... 

I think Susan Matthews' essay about what she's learned in the last six months of pandemic-living is really good.

Anne Helen Peterson's essay about the habituation to horror and the need to fight it so that we can take advantage of this period of time in which real change might actually be possible is also really good.

The Politico story that broke last night about Trump political appointees trying to change what the CDC says in its scientific publications is just infuriating. This line, in particular, really struck me:

In one clash, an aide to Caputo berated CDC scientists for attempting to use the reports to "hurt the President" 

These people are so morally bankrupt that they can't recognize that the CDC scientists were attempting to use the reports to publish scientifically sound information and to help Americans avoid getting sick.

Here is an example of the sort of scientific report that the CDC publishes: An epidemiological study found that adults with positive COVID-19 tests were twice as likely to report having eaten in a restaurant than adults with a negative test. My first thought was maybe that is just indicative of higher risk-taking overall, but the report says:

In this investigation, participants with and without COVID-19 reported generally similar community exposures, with the exception of going to locations with on-site eating and drinking options.

So I think we'll continue to avoid indoor dining.

This observation from William Gibson is a good one:


And now for the things that made me happy this week:

I love this - both the fact that the city will install mosaics and the fact that so many people are making mosaic portraits of their cats:

A cool cloud in NZ:


A pretty bird:

This flower:

This art:

Here's your bunny of the week!


And some bonus bunnies, because this looks like an album cover. Tell me in the comments what type of music you think they play!


Happy weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Dealing with Burnout When Everything is on Fire (Figuratively and Literally, It Turns Out)

Today was a hard day. I am feeling burned out, and there is no end to the cause of the burnout in sight. Work is busy, but it isn't work causing the burnout. It is everything else, and while I can take time off work, there is no escaping the everything else right now. So I have been thinking about what I can do to alleviate the burnout when I can't escape its cause. I decided that maybe writing a post about the things that have actually helped might help me think of more. 

One thing that has helped a lot is finding a book that can pull me in and thoroughly distract me. This is easier said than done. I have tried many books, and most have not done this. In the early days, I started to fear I wouldn't be able to read - I kept trying and not being able to stay focused on the book. But then I read the manuscript that will be the next Annorlunda Books release, Lagoonfire, by Francesca Forrest (cover reveal just posted this week!) and it completely sucked me in and I realized I'd just need to keep trying different books until I found one that absorbed me. Here are the books that have worked so far:

  • Agency, by William Gibson. I've written about this at length before. Even though The Jackpot feels disturbingly close, it is not the focus and the plot is so engrossing that both this book and The Peripheral (which is the first in the series) manage to feel like a warning and yet still be a fun read.
  • High Risk, by Chavi Eve Karkowsky. I knew from my days following the author's blog that the writing in this book would be wonderful. It is more than just beautiful writing, though: It is a well-constructed exploration of maternal-fetal health and I found it somehow calming despite the high stakes topics being discussed.
  • American by Day, by Derek B. Miller. I read this one because my book club picked it. I am so glad we picked it - I would never have found it otherwise, and it was a thoroughly diverting mystery/action story with some good thought-provoking things about American culture thrown in. I've got the first book in the series (Norwegian by Night) waiting for me to get time to try it.

And that's it. I've tried a lot of other books. Some, I finished (usually the book club books), others I decided to set aside and try in less distracting times. 

I would dearly love to find TV to watch that would feel good and distracting, but so far the only series we've watched that really worked for me is The Mandalorian. We watch a lot of 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown on YouTube, too, but that is more just a filler than a proper distraction.

We've been having family movie night just about every week. Mostly, I do this because the rest of the family likes it. But my recent choice of Bill and Ted Face the Music was a good one - for some reason, that movie made me really happy, and it gave me the escapism that people like about movies (most movies do not do this for me). 

I had hoped that getting back out on my rollerblades would help, but I am not sure it does. There are too many other people, even when I go early, and too many of them aren't wearing masks, creating extra stress around navigating the crowded spots. 

The exercise habit that seems to help the most right now is going for a walk in my neighborhood while listening to podcasts. I have recently started trying to go out for at least a short walk between the end of my work day and the time I need to start dinner. I found that I missed the way listening to podcasts on my drive home helped me switch off my work brain, and so I'm trying to replicate that with walks. 

I like to sit in our backyard with a glass of wine and watch the light fade and the birds fly over head. I haven't been able to do that this week. It looks like the fire that is fouling my air right now may be brought under control sooner than expected. We caught a break and had cooler weather and less wind than expected today. So maybe I'll be back to that habit soon.

If I am in the right mood, practicing embroidery is relaxing. I usually listen to podcasts while I do that, too. I may decide I am ready to move on from just practicing stitches to stitching a simple design.

One of the things I usually do when I'm feeling burned out is plan a getaway - even if it is just a day trip somewhere close to home, getting away helps. This is not possible now, and so I have turned to looking through photos from past vacations. This has been surprisingly helpful. I wrote about my latest trip down memory lane over at Adjusted Latitudes. Maybe I should try to post more there, if only to get time browsing through old photos!

The other thing I find soothing is listening to music on YouTube, and trying to find new things. I guess it is a way to explore when we can't actually go out and explore. Here is one of the new songs Mr. Snarky and I found and like:


And that's all I have. I will piece together some combination of things to get past this bout of burnout. What are you doing these days to keep yourself feeling somewhat OK?

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Heat Wave Edition

We're heading into a heat wave. I am sitting at my dining table sipping my morning tea so it is not super hot yet... but it will be. We happened to be getting the heat pump that replaces our aging furnace installed this week. It was supposed to be operational yesterday afternoon, and since heat pump also means AC, we were expecting to have air conditioning this weekend. But something was wrong with the circuit board or something went wrong during the installation and fried the board. They looked to see if they could get a replacement, but none were in stock at their supplier, so they'd have to order from the manufacturer... so no AC yet. We had resigned ourselves to a hot weekend. After all, we've been in the house for 13 years (almost exactly - we moved in on Labor Day weekend 13 years ago!) and have survived several heat waves.

This morning, I heard my husband's phone buzzing. He was still asleep, so I picked it up. I saw that it was the owner of the company that is installing our heat pump. They found another unit they could take the circuit board from. The installer is going to come fix our unit today. Maybe we'll have AC after all? In which case, the new standing argument in our household will be about whether to turn on the air, and if it is on, what to set the thermostat to. (My husband likes it 76. I think that is ridiculous cold and think we should set it at 78 and probably wouldn't turn it on until it was over 80 in the house.)

We are genuinely grateful that the installer is coming out on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, and that the owner is arranging for it. We suspect they are making the same calculation all the solar panel sales folk make when they see our house: Tesla in the driveway, no solar panels on the roof. These people will be buying solar panels soon! The company installing our heat pump also installs solar panels, and they know that we selected an all-electric heat pump and prioritized energy efficiency over low cost. They have to be fairly certain we'll be getting solar panels soon. And they are right! That is next on our list. 

Anyway, let's have some links. I don't have many this week, but here's what I have:

I decided that we needed to replace our furnace with a heat pump after listening to Ezra Klein talk to Saul Griffith about how electrifying everything is a path towards decarbonization. This week, I listened to Klein's new interview with Griffith about his plan for how we can rapidly decarbonize. It is a good, inspiring interview. We are already feeling the effects of our changing climate (hello, heat wave!) and we are running out of time to act. Griffith's plan is a plausible way we can act - it doesn't assume huge and unlikely lifestyle changes. He has some interesting ideas about how to get the existing energy sector to stop fighting the needed changes, too. 

The woman who was filmed being surrounded by protesters while she ate her dinner wrote a really good response to what happened - I agree with her that this was a local event that didn't need to become a national discussion. I think we need to relearn how to keep some things local.

Derek Lowe has an excellent round up of where things stand with the various COVID-19 vaccine efforts

Pharma companies are also apparently planning to pledge not to send their vaccines for FDA review without extensive safety and efficacy data. That they feel the need to issue such a pledge is a sad statement on what has happened to our federal scientific agencies in recent years. It is particularly apparent to us now during the coronavirus crisis, but similar pressure for politics to overrule science has been happening at the EPA for the entire Trump presidency. 

Anyway, given how the Trump administration is behaving, I think this is a good move from the companies. I've seen a lot of cynical takes, but there are two reasons I think this is on the level: (1) it is in pharma and biotech companies' interest for the public to remain confident in the FDA approval process, and (2) pharma and biotech companies are full of people who understand the science of the pandemic and know that an effective and trusted vaccine is our only way out of this in the long term. Their work has been seriously disrupted by the pandemic. They have reduced the number of people who can be in a lab at the same time so lab time is scheduled and not readily available, they are wearing masks at work and working from home when not in the lab. Clinical trials for treatments for non-COVID diseases were put on hold for awhile. It is no in their interest to rush out a vaccine without solid efficacy and safety data and the trust of the public.

And now for things that made me happy:

Here is a nice reminder that the world is full beauty and awe-inspiring things if we can still see them:


And here is another, funnier reminder of the same:


This little girl is wonderful:

And she got her wish:


Embroidery bunny!


Real bunny:


Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Feeling a Little Overwhelmed Edition

I took two half days this week to go do some fun things with my kids. It was good and I am glad I did it... but I paid for it with a really tough work day yesterday. Work has been extra busy lately, and by blocking off two afternoons I pushed a bunch of meetings to Friday so I had back-to-back meetings most of the day and had to work late just to get through the small amount of other work that absolutely had to be done yesterday. It was exhausting and I woke up this morning aware of having dreamt about things I need to do for work. Blech.

There's also a lot going on at home, too. Next week is the first week of school and so I have several emails with information to read, absorb, and pass along to my kids. Also, Pumpkin is a teenager now. She's still a great kid - this isn't a complaint about a sullen, difficult teenager! But she wants to make plans with her friends. Luckily, she is very concerned about COVID-19 and so they are alway plans I think are safe - e.g., this morning she went on a hike with a friend, both wearing masks. But because our school is a magnet school, her friends live all over the city and often the plans require a parent to drive her somewhere. This is why this post is so late today. Instead of a leisurely morning drinking tea and writing, I took two round trips to a neighborhood about 20 minutes away from us. 

Petunia's got needs, too. She's been really enjoying her online art classes. The schedule obviously has to change as school starts. The studio owner created a weekly watercolor class with her in mind, which I really appreciate. It will be after dinner, though, so I need to work with Petunia to figure out how to make that work with her other evening activities - particularly playing with her hamster, who is only awake in the evenings!

(By the way, if you are on Instagram you can follow me there to see pictures of Petunia's art when she deems it good enough to share and also a lot of pictures of her hamster. And occasionally some other things! I am on Instagram because that's where Pumpkin and her friends hang out online and so I feel I need to make sure I am somewhat aware of what's going on there. My handle on Instagram is restlessrabbit42.)

All of which is to say... I'm fine, but I'm tired and I didn't have time to read very much this week so it might be a light week for links! I never really know until I start posting them, though, so here goes:

I don't have any links to share about what has happened in Kenosha, or the Republican convention. I will say that I am profoundly disturbed by the reaction of many people on the Right to the shooting at the Kenosha protests. This tweet sums it up:

I read the charging documents, and it is clear the DA does not think there is a case for self-defense here. Of course, that is only one side's story, and I will wait to hear his defense before finalizing my opinion on what happened that night. However, this much is crystal clear: He didn't have to be there. He chose to drive across state lines with an AR-15 and to insert himself and his gun into that situation. He is no hero. He wasn't "fighting back" - it wasn't his town or his property under any sort of threat. He could have stayed the hell at home and left the response to the protests to the people theoretically trained to handle them safely. (Of course, those people don't always respond well, either, but at least they are adults acting in an official capacity, not a teenager amped-up on a hero complex to join a bogus "militia.") That young man didn't just go looking for trouble, he brought trouble with him. That we have devolved to a point where people are heralding him as a hero is really, really frightening.

This tweet is a stark statement - from a writer for The Economist, no leftie radical - of where we're at: 

Your actions in this election are picking a side in that decision, no matter what extenuating circumstances you believe exist. You are picking a side. Make sure you'll be proud of the side you choose.

If the threat to our democracy isn't motivation enough to work to ensure Trump does not win in November, consider what a Trump re-election is likely to do to the climate. (Spoiler: nothing good.)

Leah Stokes wrote a very good piece about California's current climate disasters, the blackouts, and why renewable energy is the answer, not the problem. It is really worth your time to read the whole thing, which is not long. But this quote in particular struck me:

"I don’t want to live in a world where we have to decide which mask to wear for which disaster, but this is the world we are making. "

This story makes me angry - a teacher in LA has had to leave her home because a right wing podcaster has called down his followers on her... all because she wore an "I Can't Breathe" shirt. The father who sent the screenshot to the podcaster should be ashamed of himself. This outcome was predictable. Also, my school district has a policy against taking screenshots of their online classes for student privacy reasons. Does his?

Honestly, these people are bullies. They scream about "cancel culture" and make fun of "safe spaces" but they demand spaces safe from any challenge to their opinions and they are quick to try to get anyone who won't go along with that fired. 

As for why school is online in the first place....

Given the recent White House meddling in CDC and FDA decisions, I know a lot of people are worried about how we will know if we can trust any announcement about a vaccine. Here's how I will judge: I will check to see if Peter Marks has quit his job  and I will check in with what industry folks are saying. I obviously have some private sources there, but honestly, the best source is probably the In the Pipeline blog.

If all of those disturbing links are making you anxious - or if you're feeling like you're on the sidelines in this election and want to get more involved, there are some things you can do:

You can donate money, of course - pick a candidate and any level and give them the money to fight against the rising darkness. Or you can give to a group like Swing Left who have a solid 2020 strategy.

If your political home is more on the Right and you're having a hard time donating money to Democrats, you can give to organizations like Vote Riders who are working to make sure voters have the ID they need to vote. Or you can give to Pizza to the Polls to send yummy pizza to people stuck in long lines at their voting place!

You can also write for Vote Forward! I've written a couple of batches of letters, and I think it is even easier than writing postcards. You just need to write a couple of sentences about why you vote.

Whatever you decide to do, I urge you to do something. It will make you feel better and we need all hands on deck.

And now for things that made me happy this week:

Ezra Klein's interview with Hannah Gadsby was so interesting and at times very funny. 

This is a nice version of The Parting Glass:

But I still think the version on the Waking Ned Devine soundtrack is the best, because I don't think it is really meant to be a dirge, and it is often sung as one:

A cute hamster! (Not ours):

And of course, here's your bunny for the week:


Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Weekend Reading: The I Loved Roll Call Edition

I didn't expect to watch much of the Democratic National Convention, but I ended up watching a lot of the speeches from the first three nights on a delay and we watched most of the fourth night live, at Petunia's request. Her interest began when I decided to show the kids the roll call. Petunia loved it. So did I, really. If you haven't watched it, here it is:


I agree with Christina Cauterucci: It made me feel patriotic. And also really happy.

Alexandra Petri's piece about Biden's acceptance speech and the contrast with Trump is less happy-inducing, but it is very, very good and you should read it.

Dahlia Lithwick's piece about the Obamas' speeches and voting is also not very happy-inducing and very, very good.

My county is off the state watchlist, and unless our case numbers go back up, schools could theoretically reopen on August 31. That is also the first day of school in San Diego Unified, but they've already said they won't reopen until all of the county triggers are back in compliance, and we currently have far more community outbreaks than the county's threshold of seven in a seven day period (we're at 19 right now). I am sure some of the districts in the county will restart in person schooling as soon as the state allows, though. We already have a bunch of elementary schools with waivers allowing them to start in person schooling.

I am fine with San Diego Unified's slower approach. It is a big, diverse district without the same level of money to pay for outdoor tents, extra staff, etc., that many of the schools with waivers are using to minimize risk. 

Now that we're off the watchlist, people are of course asking when gyms, restaurants, and bars can open for indoor dining again. I sure hope the state keeps the brakes on this time, because we've got a couple county supervisors who don't have the sense to realize that if we reopen indoor activities we'll end up with another spike in cases. At a minimum, I hope we go more slowly this time so that we can see which indoor activities can be done safely. I am not optimistic.

It is also surreal to be watching people in my county argue that a rate of ~200 cases per day means we should reopen while my friends in Auckland are under a lockdown due to an outbreak that has a total of 92 cases. The New Zealand approach of eliminating the virus was probably never a viable option for the US, but the high levels of transmission we're willing to tolerate is surprising to me.

And now, for some things that made me happy this week:

Reading what happened to the "lost" colony of Roanoke.

Beautiful teapots:


Cool:


Baby quetzal!


Baby bunny!


Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Get Ready to Fight For It Edition

Things sure do seem grim right now, don't they? Census cut short, Post Office being sabotaged, pandemic being disastrously mismanaged.... It is easy to feel discouraged. But I think we still have a chance to turn things around. The stakes are high and I do feel like we're running out of chances. It is not a time to be complacent, but it is also not a time to be despondent. There are still actions we can take that are pretty easy. We are not yet to the point where the only way to fight for our democracy is to take to the streets and risk arrest. We don't want to get to that point, and we only need to look at the news coming out of Belarus this week to remind ourselves of that.

So, here are some actions to take:

1. Complete your census survey! The time period for in person census taking has been reduced. The more of us who take the survey without requiring a visit from a census taker, the better. Complete your survey now and tell all your friends and family to do so, too. This is really important! Here is a short summary of why.

2. Make a plan for how you will vote, and make a back up plan. Vote.org has links to the rules for every state. Read the rules for your state and figure out how you want to vote. 538 has also put together a nice guide to the voting rules in every state. Take a minute to look at the rules in your state and think about how you will vote.

I think the most important thing is to be sure you will vote. After that, you can think about strategy. There are advantages to in person early voting, if your state offers that. Some states do not allow counts of absentee ballots to start until election day. Here is a summary of the rules by state. There is a concern that if the vote on election day looks more in favor of Trump than the final vote, he will try to use that to sow confusion and contest the election. Therefore, if you live in a state that doesn't count absentee ballots until election day and does allow early in person voting, that is an option to consider. 

There are also concerns about the Post Office, given the straight-up sabotage that is underway. I will say more on how we can respond to that next. In terms of your voting strategy, you may want to hand deliver your absentee ballot to a drop box or the voting office in your location. This is the "Vote Like Miss Sylvia" option Jonathan Capehart wrote about.

3. Take action to protect the Post Office. Do this not just because the sabotage is an attempt to mess with the election, but because it is causing real problems for people who rely on the mail to get their prescriptions, particularly in rural places without a pharmacy nearby. Contact your representatives. If you are represented by Republicans, tell them you want them to provide the Post Office with the COVID relief funding that was in the bill that passed the House. If you are represented by Democrats, tell them you want House hearings on what is happening at the Post Office. Here is a script (in a long thread) from a political staffer who has been providing good scripts and ideas for how to pressure our elected officials since the Trump era started:


4. Build the wave. A close election is easier to monkey with, so let's make sure this isn't a close election. I had been writing postcards encouraging Florida voters to sign up for Vote by Mail, but I am no longer certain that is the best advice. So for now, I have switched to writing letters to encourage people to vote with Vote Forward. That's not to say that I don't think other people should keep writing postcards in support of voting by mail! I don't really know what the best strategy is and so I think we all just have to do what we think is best. I'll be back to postcards later, I am sure.  I was just intrigued by the Vote Forward idea of trying to reach unlikely voters to encourage them to vote, so I have decided to try it.

If you have money to donate to campaigns, consider donating. There are lots of different strategies out there for how best to spend your money. Pick the one that resonates with you. Two I like are Swing Left's "Super State" strategy and @Pinboard's approach of focusing on tough down ballot races in competitive Senate states.

I've also given directly to some Senate campaigns.

5. Help the people struggling right now. If you have money to spare, there are so many people who need help right now. Donate to your Food Bank or your local COVID response fund. Iowa just got hit with a devastating storm. The Cedar Rapids Community Foundation has a disaster relief fund you can donate to. 

6. Stay healthy. Keep distancing, wearing your mask, and being careful.

OK, let's move on to some "regular" links.

This essay on returning to school from Jen Coleman, a teacher in Alabama, is like a gut punch, but it is very, very good and you should read it.

Mark Joseph Stern's essay on the return of birtherism and its larger racist context is very good.

We really should get the world weaned off of fossil fuels. We'll be healthier for it.

I didn't know about the 1917 explosion in Halifax until we visited the city last summer. It was a tragedy that changed the city. I found this essay about what lessons it might provide for Beirut really interesting.

You probably saw all my tweets about that study people are pointing to to say neck gaiters are bad. Here is a nice article explaining why we didn't actually learn anything about neck gaiters from that study

I don't have a nice selection of things that made me smile this week. Perhaps that is why I feel so tired right now... I will try to do better next week.

At least this week's bunny post definitely made me smile!

Have a good weekend, everyone! I'm off to make sure I've done everything in my list of actions at the top. I hope you'll join me!

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.

Yep:


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!