Saturday, July 18, 2020

Weekend Reading: Back to Whatever This Is Edition

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

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

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

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

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

I do have a few things for you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a really sobering thread:

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

Here is some truth:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Happy weekend, everyone.

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