Saturday, November 28, 2020

Weekend Reading: The More Like Weekend Listening Edition

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

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

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

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

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

OK, on to the links.

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

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

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

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

I have so many podcast recommendations for you! 

First up: Ezra Klein's interview with Ian Haney LΓ³pez about what Democrats get wrong about Latino voters is not what you probably think it is going to be and it ended up being a really hopeful listen for me. Haney LΓ³pez has done research into what messages work well with different types of voters and his findings are really interesting, but more important (to me) is the fact that a message that I think is true - that powerful interests are amplifying racial conflict to protect their own economic interests - works well across many different types of voters. 

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

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

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

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

And some things that made me smile:

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

This beautiful tree:

A pretty bird:

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

Here's your rabbit of the week:

Happy weekend, everyone!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

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

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

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

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

Let's get to the links.

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

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

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

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

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

This made me laugh:

And so did this:

And this is beautiful:


And of course.... Bunny!

Have a good weekend!

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Weekend Reading: Preparing for Tough Times Ahead Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, enough pontificating - on to the links!

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some things that made me smile this week:

This unbelievably cute newly recognized species.

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

This picture:

Here is your bunny for the week:

Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Making a Claim on Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 08, 2020

An Overwhelming Feeling of Relief and Other Post-Election Thoughts

So, we did it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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