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:


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. 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.


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!