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!



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Book Review: “White Ivy” by Susie Yang

White Ivy by Susie Yang

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


SPOILERS AHEAD

“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.

Everything I Want To Say To The MAGA Morons Cheering The Capitol Siege

Washington, D.C. (January 6, 2021) The Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli tours the U.S. Capitol to survey damage from violent protests earlier in the day.

I’m still seeing people cheering for the assault on the Capitol last week and I’m really fucking angry. This kind of attitude is dangerous and if they had any capacity for shame left, they should be feeling it right now. 

If I had the opportunity to face off with this ammosexual morons rooting for a massacre, this is what I would say:

Let me tell you a few things that you should consider before you start clamoring for more armed assaults on the Capitol, m’kay?

Let’s set aside the national security issues raised by taking the entire legislative branch hostage. I hope you’ve read enough dystopian fiction to realize that machine-gunning Congress is the doomsday scenario. Nothing good happens after that. You won’t get King Trump ruling benevolently. You’ll probably get China taking over the Western Hemisphere instead. Chew on that when you have a moment. 

For now, let me give you some additional food for thought.

On an ordinary day, thousands of people pass through the Capitol complex. That includes everyone from the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate – the second and third people in line for the presidency – to groups of middler schoolers on 8th grade class trips to DC. It’s not a hotbed of leftist machinations. It’s an office building and historic landmark. 

Speaking of those class trips to DC, kiss that good-bye. You think your kids will be safe if DC is a perennial target of unfettered domestic terrorists? Think again. Terrorists would be happy to kill some school kids to make their point. That’s what terrorism is about. Your reckless disregard for their lives is appalling.

The measures needed to secure important sites in DC will also make them inaccessible to the public. I hope you enjoyed the Smithsonian last time you saw it because you may not get a chance to come back.

Tourists aren’t the only ones who will miss out on normal DC stuff. The area around the Capitol is largely residential. It’s a hub of small businesses, homes, schools, and daycares. You gonna cheer when someone blows up an elementary school to “own the libs”? Well? Are you? 

I’ll wait for the answer.

You’ll be waiting, too. For consumer goods. Union Station is mere blocks from the Capitol. It’s a central rail hub for the whole Eastern Seaboard. Further attacks on that section of DC will make it a security issue. I hope you like your Florida produce overripe because its journey will take more time if trains can’t run through DC. 

And finally, this is REALLY FUCKING PERSONAL TO ME. I lived eight blocks from the Capitol. My husband worked in the House of Representatives for a decade. I know dozens of people who have been on staff for Representatives and Senators. They are all smart, committed professionals who wanted nothing more than to do their part to make America better. You, apparently, don’t care if those people live or die.

How can you live with yourself? 

No. Really. How can you live with yourself? Because you fill me with disgust and I don’t want to live with you and you murderous dreams.

Trump, Terrorism, and Social Media

Photo by Tyler Merbler at Wikimedia Commons

It’s been five days since a mob took the United States Congress hostage in a violent act of insurrection. And Donald Trump is still president.

Elected Republicans have shown their fealty to the mob by refusing to condemn Trump. They would rather tolerate violence against their own selves than suffer a primary challenge, apparently.

How did we get to a place where so many people are so in thrall to one man?

I’ve been reading up on parasocial interactions and relationships to try and understand the hold he has over them. That’s the fancy psychological term for when a person feels like they’re in a relationship with a media figure. 

For example, I’m parasocially convinced that Chrissy Teigen and I are best friends because I love her tweets so much. That’s why I (and many others) felt real grief when she lost her pregnancy last year. We were taking on the emotions of someone who feels like a friend, despite the relationship being entirely one-sided. 

Parasocial relationships are why old ladies stand up in church to ask for prayers for soap opera characters. The consistent exposure to personalities and characters begins to seem like real interactions—the lines between reality and media blur. 

Social media creates even more intimacy because it breaks the fourth wall, so to speak. A tweet or a Facebook post feels like a direct appeal. You think the poster is talking to you specifically. If the person responds to comments, it builds the sense that the whole interaction is a real conversation and you are part of it.

I think Trump has fostered this type of relationship with his base. They have a parasocial attachment to him as a person. They feel that he is their friend, the leader of their social group. And like my sadness when Chrissy Teigen was sad, they feel what he feels. Trump uses the direct appeal of social media to convey his feelings and draw his supporters into them. The more they respond, the more he responds to their response. It’s a feedback loop of co-dependent rage. 

In a way, the Trump base’s anger is not really their anger; it’s HIS anger. They want to protect their friend from the forces he fears and hates. They are trying to avenge wrongs against Donald Trump, the individual, because he directly told them, via social media, to do so. Maybe he didn’t specify tactics, but he gave them the mission in direct and unambiguous terms. 

That is why the swift and total withdrawal of his social media access is important.

By cutting off his direct access to his base, the base loses that false intimacy they feel toward him. They lose the dopamine charge they get when he “talks” to them. Their exposure to him drops dramatically. He can no longer continue the conversation they have been having all these years.

Perversely, this is like quitting a lousy relationship cold turkey. In the break-up of an actual relationship, the first weeks are a detox period where you miss the person and question all your choices. But over time, habits of being with that person weaken and their influences over you weakens at the same time.

In an ideal world, this will be true for the people in parasocial thrall to Trump. After a few weeks of withdrawal, they may find their attachment to him has diminished. If that happens, they might be less likely to do his bidding. Unless a compelling surrogate appears to fill the hole left by Trump, the fervor may start to fade, at least among most of his base.

I expect that there will be significant unrest in the next few months. Most of it will be similar to the kind of events we saw last summer at the height of the BLM tensions. Those are the events that I think will sputter out without Trump’s direct reach to his supporters.

I also believe there will be radical cells intent on insurrection. I think we will see domestic terrorism continue for the remainder of Joe Biden’s presidency, if not longer. When the Trump team said they were releasing the Kraken, they weren’t lying. They just didn’t mention that the Kraken was a group of angry white paramilitary groups willing to kill for their cause.

What can any of us do now? I don’t know. I’m sorry I don’t have answers or even ideas right now.

Stay safe. Wear a mask. Take care of yourself.

Aftermath

Photo by Kendall Hoopes on Pexels.com

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” -Ida B. Wells

Thoughts after yesterday’s assault on the Capitol:

  • The entire Supreme Court needs extra security. I wouldn’t put it past some of the MAGA caliphate to try and assassinate Justices to prevent from swearing in Biden and Harris.
  • Pelosi and Schumer need to announce a full investigation into the failed response by Capitol Police.
  • The Oversight Committee needs to hold hearings on why the Pentagon and White House balked at sending National Guard.
  • The FBI needs to track down as many of the participants as they can. They need to hold press conferences regularly to publicize arrests and charges.
  • Adam Schiff needs to call a hearing to find out where the intelligence failure was and why the FBI didn’t anticipate this or, if they did anticipate this, why they didn’t act on it.
  • Merrick Garland needs to be prepared to put all the puzzle pieces together and prosecute conspiracies to commit insurrection. If the White House, the Pentagon, and the intelligence community knew a violent action was likely but did not act on it, they are complicit. Moreover, Trump is complicit for telling the mob to march on the Capitol yesterday.
  • Every journalist needs to explain to the whole world that this wasn’t a protest. Breaking into a building that holds the top three individuals in the line of presidential succession isn’t a First Amendment issue. It’s a national security threat.
  • Anyone suggesting that Democrats attempt to work across the aisle needs to be flicked on the nose like a naughty kitten. We do not negotiate with terrorists or their enablers. Period.

Book Review: “If I Had Your Face” by Frances Cha

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


“If I Had Your Face” by Frances Cha is captivating. Simply captivating.

I don’t know much about South Korea or Korean culture so this story was an education for me. The women in this book are all trying to navigate a world where there is no set path for success. They’re limited by the old-world family status rules that still loom over society. Being poor, being an orphan, being the child of servants is a nearly insurmountable obstacle for them. Education, beauty, and talent don’t exempt them from social rules meant to maintain the privilege of the elite classes.

The four women in the story connect as childhood friends, roommates, and neighbors. They all have different careers – a hairstylist, a sex worker, an office worker, an artist. Their pasts range from tragic to sordid and their futures are unknowable. They must work unimaginably hard to get by. But all of them find moments of joy and friendship with one another.

I loved all these characters and felt deeply invested in their success. The world they live in isn’t fair. The ending of the book didn’t feel like the end of their stories and I can almost imagine them out there, still living outside the pages.



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