Objective: 2022 Voter Turnout

In “Respect for Acting,” Uta Hagen tells readers that good acting means making all your character decision in service of the objective. If you get stuck on the obstacles, you can’t move the story forward.

That is also true in politics.

The objective is holding a Democratic majority by winning midterm elections. The obstacle is state-level voting laws that make voting less convenient.

You can play to the obstacles and spend your time being mad at Republican controlled legislatures or Joe Manchin or past Supreme Court decisions. Or you can play to the objective and do something to expand Democratic turnout in 2022.

Pick a state. Find an organization on the ground. Join the effort to get bodies to the polls despite the laws. It’s really that simple.

Adventures in Writing: UnGendered Language

I don’t remember when is started making a point of using ungendered language in my writing. It’s been a few years.

At first, it came up in pieces where I referenced pregnancy. I got pretty good at constructing sentences that didn’t use the word woman or feminine pronouns. I write things like “anyone who is pregnant” or “expectant parents.” Friendly, folksy, neutral phrases. My goal is to make the writing sound so natural that a cis person wouldn’t notice that it wasn’t all about them.

In my current gig writing healthcare content, this particular challenge of language comes up more often.

This week, I was writing a piece on vasectomy techniques so I was avoiding the word man and masculine pronouns. The pronoun part was easy, since the publication’s style guidelines call for second person pronouns, anyway. I was also trying out be cognizant of the need for plain language, since the intended audience is mainstream health info seekers, not medical professionals or activists.

I thought I struck a pretty good balance overall; no gendered words, lots of very clear anatomical references. But the editor assigned to the piece came back with a note to make sure we were clear that vasectomy was for men. I was disappointed but this piece was work for hire. I have to follow client instructions. Still, I took a moment to explain that I had been trying to make the piece accessible to people who don’t identify as men.

To my delight, the editor replied that she hadn’t thought of that but she agreed with my instinct. Together, we brainstormed a couple of edits that made it clear that a vasectomy is for anyone with testicles.

I tell this story because it makes me happy to think that I put something into the world that will help people in a small way. And I’m happy that I encountered a fellow freelancer who was glad to join me in my quest to make my words inclusive. It was a good day at work and I wanted to share.

Kids Are Not Immune To Covid-19

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Emily Oster has a new article out in The Atlantic where she says it’s safe to let children resume a more normal social life this summer. She acknowledges that there is not yet a covid vaccine for kids but she writes, “Although scientists don’t quite understand why, kids seem to be naturally protected. As a result, you can think of your son or daughter as an already vaccinated grandparent.”

She goes on to make some risk-benefit analyses about severity of disease in children but I stopped listening to her because I was too angry at her for trying to apply economic principles to the path of a novel virus.

Now, I’m going to preface this by saying I’m not a virologist. But neither is Emily Oster, so you can choose which not-expert you want to listen to after you read what I have to say.

Let’s start with a journey back to the time I caught human papiloma virus (HPV). Remember that? Hahahahahahah! No, you don’t and neither do I because HPV is a sneaky little fucker of a virus that sets up housekeeping in human bodies without notice. You probably have HPV right now and you don’t even know it.

Chances are excellent that eventually your immune system will evict HPV and you’ll never know it was there. Or, maybe your HPV will be like mine and cause pre-cancerous abnormalities on your cervix.

If that happens, you’ll need a procedure called a LEEP where a doctor removes a layer of your cervix. It may require general anesthesia, you may bleed vaginally afterward, and you’re considered high-risk for cervical cancer until you get a clean HPV test. If you ever get a clean HPV test. A LEEP doesn’t cure HPV. It just cleans your own cells that have started to mutate into something that wants to kill you.

Oh! It might also affect your ability to carry a pregnancy because having one less layer of cervix means you might not be able to keep a baby in your uterus for 40 weeks. I was on cervical rest for most of my second pregnancy thanks to my close encounter with HPV.

Now, you’re probably thinking that I have lost the plot because we were discussing covid-19 and covid-19 doesn’t cause cervical cancer.

Or does it?

We don’t know what covid-19 does over the long term because covid has been a pathogen that affects humans for approximately 16 months. There is no data on the long-term effects because there is no long term. But there is plenty of data to show that other viruses can behave in destructive ways for years after initial exposure.

Think about chicken pox. That’s a virus and, like covid-19, it’s not super harmful to kids when they first get it. But then it hangs out in the body for years and sometimes reappears as shingles. Shingles is painful, debilitating, and highly contagious. That’s one of the reasons why we started vaccinating kids for chicken pox; to prevent a more serious illness in later life.

Zika is a virus that doesn’t cause dramatic symptoms in the person who has it. However, if a pregnant person gets Zika, it can cause major fetal anomalies, including problems with brain development that lead to microcephaly. The baby is likely to have lifelong disabilities.

Polio is a virus that can cause paralysis and death in children. People who have survived polio are at risk of post-polio syndrome, a neurological disorder that emerges 30 or more years after the person has recovered from polio. It causes chronic fatigue and progressively worsening muscle weakness.

Covid-19 is a virus just like all the ones I just mentioned. We know that some people who contract covid-19 continue to have symptoms for months after exposure. No one is sure why that’s happening or what to do about it. Some covid-19 patients end up with irreparable organ damage. Others have circulatory problems that don’t resolve. Covid-19 is unpredictable. Disease longevity and severity vary widely and no one can predict who will get sicker or if they will get better. Nor do we know if covid-19 will stay in the body and re-emerge later in life.

Which brings us back to Emily Oster’s hypothesis that it’s fine to let kids risk covid-19 exposure because they probably won’t get too sick in the short term. She’s right about that but what about the long term? Will there be post-covid syndromes that wreak havoc on people years later?

And do you want to put your kids at risk of that happening to them?

I can’t tell you what to do but I’m not going to back down on covid-19 mitigation for my family. I expect there will be vaccine for kids by the end of this year. I can wait until then to resume normal life. That seems better than waiting decades to see what covid-19 might do to people I love.

Reopening Montgomery County Public Schools

This is a letter I sent to my Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools on 2/23/21. None of them have replied. None of my concerns have been addressed in public statements since then.

Dear Dr. Smith and Board of Education Members,

I am a parent of two MCPS students and I have been following the reopening plans quite closely. The more I learn about they way the central office has put together this plan, the more confused and upset I am. It appears that this entire scheme is a top-down dictate, devised without input from teachers, administrators, parents, or students.

Everything you have presented up to this point leads me to believe that you are returning kids to buildings just for the sake of having kids inside buildings. I understand the ostensible reasons for opening buildings but you haven’t spoken to any of those reasons. For example:

Mental Health: Many parents and school counselors have been worried about the mental health effects of the pandemic. However, I have yet to hear concrete plans for how the schools will manage this concern. If there is an effort in progress to identify and help students with significant mental health needs, I hope you will clarify that. If there isn’t a plan for this issue, then there needs to be one. Otherwise, MCPS risks failing on one of the top priorities for the return to school.

Social Isolation: There is no doubt that bringing students into the same space will provide an immediate remedy to the fundamental problem of social isolation. However, sitting masked, at a desk, 6 feet away from classmates, with constant 12:1 student to adult supervision is hardly an ideal environment for socializing. K-5 students will have recess periods to interact in a purely social way but that isn’t true for middle and high school students. What does MCPS plan to do to proactively address the social needs of kids? If you don’t have a clear guidance to schools for that, you need to develop it.

Childcare: Four days per week of full time in-person school for K-3 students does address childcare needs for those days. Is MCPS offering any support for before- and after-care or care for asynchronous instruction days? What about care for kids in grades 4 and 5 who will be on an A/B week schedule and still need care 50% of the time? What about childcare in the event that a student needs to quarantine and do virtual learning for some period of time? Will the school work with employers to aid adults in managing unexpected schedule changes? How is MCPS planning to assist families in piecing together the childcare they so desperately need? Or is the plan to cover only a portion of a child’s time and leave families to figure out the rest on their own?

Learning Loss: “Our kids are falling behind” is probably the most cited reason to bring them back to school. We all accept that virtual learning has drawbacks in terms of curriculum delivery and that typical in-person teaching corrects that problem. However, we are not returning to typical in-person teaching. Instead, we are phasing in a series of disruptions to instruction. Each new group of students returning to buildings changes the logistics of the building. Staff will have to adapt to the new circumstances with each phase. Any need for quarantine will create more disruptions to in-person instruction. All these disruptions have the potential to negatively affect curriculum delivery. How will you mitigate that enough to prevent further learning loss?

Of even more concern is the fact that the instructional modes are going to change for every student in the county. In order to accommodate classes that simulatenously take place in-person, down the hall in an overflow classroom, and virtually, teachers will have to adapt their instructional methods dramatically. There will be a significant period of adjustment for teachers and students to get comfortable with the new teaching styles. With no time to practice or troubleshoot, there are bound to be missteps. Lesson plans won’t work out. Technology won’t cooperate. Implementing a universal change to instruction doesn’t seem to address the issue to learning loss at all. Quite the opposite, actually.

On a personal note, these changes leave me feeling betrayed on behalf of my children. They have been among the students who were thriving with virtual learning. They want to continue with school as they have been doing it all year and I am in a position to agree to that. However, I expected they would continue to get the same – or better – quality of instruction that they have had all along.

While I believe their teachers and principals are committed to doing right by the 60% of MCPS students who are remaining remote, I have no such faith in the Board or the leadership in the central office.

I honestly don’t know why we are doing this at this point in the school year, expect as a means to facilitate state testing. You haven’t made plans to address the underlying reasons for returning to buildings. You don’t plan to help them manage socialization and mental health struggles. The childcare aspect is insufficient. And instruction may actually be worse in the spring thanks to the massive shift you are expecting of everyone involved.

I would like to support your ideas but so far, you haven’t given me a reason to do so. I hope you alleviate my concerns in the near future.

Rage Against The Broken Machine

We have reach the in-fighting stage of the pandemic, and I have to say, I’m not a fan.

People in my town have started lashing out at each other over school and business restrictions. The comments section of any news outlet is pretty gnarly. Lotsa name calling. I keep thinking they should refocus their anger on the real enemy: our inadequate social safety net and the kind of politicians that created the problem.

Instead, I keep seeing rage-filled criticism of covid mitigation policies – particularly about schools. In those screeds, people talk about the pandemic as of it’s been going on for years and it will never end.

I’ll hear statements like “Schools in X have been open since December but schools in Y are lagging behind with a March opening! How can the district deliberately hurt kids that way!”

Thats’s, like, 12 weeks difference. It’s not an eternity. It’s shorter than the 2021 Major League Hockey season.

I know it’s all frustrating. I know it’s hard to watch someone else get the thing you want. I know. But y’all. It hasn’t been that long.

The virus is 15 months old. Some of the science about opening school buildings is under 6 months old. That science is different than science that is 9 months old and also different from science that is 3 months old. There may be new science tomorrow.

This entire experience has been built on shifting sand. There is no security for anyone.

And THAT is the biggest problem.

The most egregious wrong of the covid era is the lack of support the government has given the people. There should have been childcare subsidies. There should have been increased access to mental health services. There should have been bail-outs for business owners and furloughed workers.

That’s what we should be really mad about: we have no safety nets for working families, business owners, or people in mental health crisis. That should be the target our collective rage.

We all have to live in our communities after the pandemic ends. Fighting about dates and phases won’t solve anything. Instead, let’s plan for making it better when this crisis ends.

Is It Really Learning Loss?

You can’t log in to the internet right now without some expert shouting about “learning loss” for K-12 students. Allegedly, every kid in America is “falling behind” and we need to get them into school pronto or they will never learn anything on time ever again. The schools are “failing our kids.”

Only no one mentions that “on time” is a social construct that is entirely malleable if only we had the will to make changes. All the arguments about opening schools could be settled if we, as a nation, agreed to revise our arbitrary annual learning goals.

Kids don’t have to learn things on a particular schedule. We made up the standards. It wasn’t handed down on stone tablets from on high, never to be revisited or revised. We could alter the whole educational timeline to accommodate the pandemic. We just….haven’t.

Seriously. The entire concern about kids losing a year of classes could be mitigated by collectively agreeing to teach them the stuff they should have learned this year, next year.

Their brains aren’t going anywhere. The information isn’t going anywhere. It can happen later.

But rather than planning for make-up classes when the pandemic ends, we told kids to suck it up and get to work. We took away all their learning tools and said “Learn the same amount of stuff anyway.” It’s unrealistic and unfair to them.

Now, I acknowledge that learning loss for certain groups is a real and present concern. Initial acquisition of literacy and numeracy are far easier at young ages. Kids who are trying to learn English as a second language need specific supports, as do students with special needs.

I believe those students should have had a special focus this year. They will truly lose the opportunity to learn if their needs aren’t addressed.

But the high school kids who are tying to cram in as many AP courses as possible before graduation could weather a delay. Those kids could have done some independent study projects with their teachers acting as advisors. Or they could have gone back and revisited material form prior years to deeper their understanding. We didn’t have to try and keep cramming a standard curriculum down their throats.

They can learn calculus next year. European history will still be available after the pandemic. Hell, we could offer them all an additional year of high school or a free year of community college to make up for the lost time. But no. We’re making everyone mask up and try to pretend education can proceed as normal.

It sucks and we suck for doing that to our kids.

The real problem in schools this year isn’t students or teachers. It’s the other adults (parents, politicians) who are demanding typical results in decidedly atypical circumstances.

In other words, it’s our fault and we’re the ones failing our kids with our unrealistic expectations.

AIDS and Acquittal: The GOP Has Always Been Like This

Picture of the AIDS quilt in front of the Washington Monument

In the 1980s, Republicans sat silent as AIDS wiped out a generation of LGBTQ+ men, some of them among the greatest artists of their time.

By the end of the decade, the art world tried to celebrate the lost souls by displaying their work. For example, the Corcoran Gallery of Art planned to host a retrospective of the works of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Some of his photos are quite explicit. Masterful, insightful, but explicit.

In response, Republican Senator Jesse Helms freaked the fuck out and tried to defund the entire National Endowment for the Arts, which had helped fund the exhibition.

That is who the GOP is. A group of people that won’t lift a finger as people they look down on die. Then they will rush to shit on anyone to tries to honor the dead

So, if I don’t seem terribly outraged by the acquittal vote today, it’s because I’ve known for 30 years that the GOP ain’t nothing but garbage.

Photo Credit: National Institutes of Health, shared under public license via Wikimedia Commons

Book Review: “The Night Hawks” by Elly Griffiths

The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!

Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway books are my favorite mystery series. I enjoy how characters are all engaging but their personal stories don’t overwhelm each individual mystery plot.

In this 13th installment of the series, fans find Ruth back in Norfolk, where she is now the head of her university department. This puts her on a collision course with DCI Nelson, of course. The two of them must work together to solve a series of unexplained deaths as well as confronting their long-time feelings for one another.

This time, they are tasked with exploring local myths, like a dog that is a harbinger of death and a farm with a tragic history, as well as a rising body count. Everyone has secrets and its a race to discover who is killing to keep them.

As always, the crime at the heart of the story was perfectly plotted and paced. Griffiths has a talent for giving readers the right clues at the right time so we feel like a part of the team solving the mystery. At the same time, she never gives away the ending too soon.

The ending of this books was satisfying from a crime-solving standpoint but Griffiths left readers with a major cliffhanger about Ruth and Nelson. I look forward to the next book in the series to see where that goes!

View all my reviews

Book Review: “White Ivy” by Susie Yang

White Ivy by Susie Yang

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


“White Ivy” by Susie Yang should have been amazing. And it almost was.

It’s billed as a story about a troubled Chinese-born teen who struggles to fit into the WASPy Boston suburbs. She acts out, steals, and finally gets caught attending an illicit party at the home of the boy she has crush on. Her parents send off to China for the summer to stay with relatives. She returns to find her family has moved to a new city where she should be able to make a new start. But all Ivy ever wants is to return to Boston to start again at the moment when she was wrenched away from her middle school crush.

Lo and behold, that happens. She grows up and moved to Boston. Serendipitously, she reconnects with the crush, a now-successful entrepreneur named Gideon from an old money family. She also reconnects with a childhood friend named Roux. Also an immigrant, Roux has achieved enormous wealth through less legitimate means.

Ivy gets engaged to Gideon but cheats on him with Roux. Neither relationship is any good; Gideon is detached and unreachable, Roux is possessive and violent.

This story deals with a lot of themes that make for good books. Old money versus new money. Family of birth versus family of your choosing. Immigrants versus establishment Americans. And, of course, it touches on the fascinating stories of Chinese people who lived through the Maoist revolution and eventually escaped to America.

You know what this book absolutely did not need in it’s final chapters? A murder and a revelation that someone has been gay all along.

Look, I can tolerate a lot in the name of literature. I didn’t mind that Ivy was selfish and unlikable. Her complete lack of self-awareness was useful for moving the story along. She was an empty vessel. Her life was a quest for fulfillment but she didn’t know what would fill her up.

When she reached a crisis point where she needed to choose between Gideon and Roux, she should have had a reckoning about her own failings. Instead she pushed Roux off a cliff and killed him.

What? No. Murder is not a good way to tie up loose ends. It’s lazy writing and it took me out of any belief I had in the story. All I could think was that Yang created Roux for the express purpose of pushing him off a cliff later. Maybe that’s why he felt underdeveloped; he was never expected to survive the entire book.

If that wasn’t enough, Ivy gets to her wedding day only to realize that Gideon has been gay the whole time. She is his beard but she never knew. Rather than deal with that deep lie, she just…marries him.

Why? Why did Gideon need to be gay? Was that supposed to be a twist? It fell flat. I could easily accept Gideon as simply remote. I could believe Ivy was so attached to her middle-school dream of a life that she would marry a man who was more symbol than spouse. Making him gay and secretly in love with his best friend was just…pointless.

I’m not sure what the process was for the final quarter of this novel but if an editorial team was looking at it and hollering “Yes! This will keep readers guessing!” they misjudged. This reader wasn’t wowed by the final bombshells. I was just annoyed by them.

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Advocacy Still Matters

Photo by David Renken on Pexels.com

Hi! Good morning! How are ya?

It’s been 23.5 hours since the Biden/Harris administration took over. Slightly less since Schumer and the Democrats took control of the Senate.

That seems like the right amount of time to wait before emailing my Senators.

I’m stoked about the opportunity for sweeping reforms this year. Well, at least until I remember that Mitch McConnell still exists. That Horcrux of a Senator and his caucus are in a position to use parliamentary rules to prevent anything good from happening.

This morning, I used ResistBot to send my Senators a quick note encouraging them support filibuster reform. Here is the text. Feel free to use any part of it if you want to do the same.

I am asking you to reform the filibuster rules. It’s long past time that the majority got to be in charge of the legislative process instead of being hampered by minority obstruction.

The 117th Congress is a singular opportunity to undo the harm done by Trump; we cannot assume there will be continued Democratic Party control in Congress after 2022. This is the time to act decisively and pass laws that expand voting rights, election security, health care access, reproductive justice, fair wages, and other progressive priorities.

That will not be possible if Mitch McConnell and his caucus retain the right to deny cloture to any bill they don’t like.

The Republican Party is not good at policy-making or policy-implementation. I, like millions of other Americans, want them out of the power. I don’t want them exerting control through obstruction. If they want to work on passing bills, fine. But if they don’t, they need to get out of the way.