Saturday, August 8, 2020

Quarantine, Week 21: Pride and Anger

I think the real story of this week for me is frustrated nostalgia.  FB memories is reminding me of years past where this week was spent at Disney/San Diego, at a beach in Delaware, at a lake in NY, and on a cruise with all of my family--parents, siblings, kids.  This year?  No vacation.  The occasional trips to random small towns stopped as Mrs. Spew has been battling non-covid bronchitis.  She is doing better, but we are not plopping in the car in search of modest sights and sounds.

Of course, lots of people have it much worse, so my complaints are also modest.  Things are mostly ok to good.  I was super pleased and proud with the latest Battle Rhythm podcast as we had our long-suffering (actually, she seems not to suffer much) research assistant, Alvine Nintai, serve as guest host while BR co-founder and co-host, the legendary SvH, actually has a vacation.  Alvine did great and it meant more to her than I would have expected.  She's moving on in September to finish her dissertation and start a job.  So, the next challenge is to find another student to fill the spot.

The biggest shock of the week was going to the mall--I was getting my eyes checked, and, yes, paying a lot of money for new glasses.  The shock was how busy the place was.  Everyone was wearing masks, although more than a few people seemed to think that noses were above it all.  This mall always seemed to be marginal--never that crowded, never that busy.  Except for the awful parking lot.  Now?  I guess people are bored.  Not sure back to school sales are driving things since, well, who's going back to school.

My anger this week has a couple of different focal points.  Trump?  Of course.  The destruction of the postal service, which appropriately enough serves his constituents more than not, is now one of the stories.  To game the election, more arson is required apparently.  I am also angry at Canadian folks because they too prioritized bars over schools.  My friends are pulling their hair out over the fucked up priorities from Ontario to California to NY.  I'd like to be of assistance, but not sure what I can do to help them.  I am also angry that Lebanon is governed so poorly that they allowed a small nuke equivalent of explosive material to sit on a dock for, what, six years?  The country was facing a difficult crisis before, in a moment, it lost its primary port and much of its grain supply.  This, alas, is America's future if Trump can win the election as he has already gutted so much of governance.  Anyhow, lots of anger on this.

So, I will conclude with some more pride.  I am spending the weekend revising the CDSN's annual report.  Technically, we should have produced it in April since our first year ended in March, but we were kind of busy with other things.  The report demonstrates, I think, that we have turned a grant idea into a viable and vibrant network, providing much value for our partners and for Canada.  I have been so lucky to work with such great people at Carleton, around Canada, and beyond.  While COVID has caused us to postpone the Summer Institute and hampered us in other ways, we have reacted pretty well, with new initiatives aimed at helping PhD students, at providing quick advice to government, and assisting profs as they prep for online classes.  I always am cognizant that I am asking people to give of the time to help move this thing forward, and they are not getting paychecks for it (well, except for my staff).  So, I am quite grateful as I ask again for a bit of time and expertise.

One fun part of doing the annual report was getting from Melissa the numbers regarding media appearances of the Directors.  I was surprised by the results as Phil Lagassé had twice as much as the next person.  I asked twitter who they thought would be first among Phil, SvH, and myself, and they were not so surprised:

Anyhow, I hope y'all are getting a chance to do something besides hang out at home.  Please vacation safely and at a distance!


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Where Is the Count When We Need Him?

In the midst of this madness, it is easy to lose track of all of the malice policies enacted by the Trump Administration.  I asked twitter after naming three, and I got a heap of feedback.  The top three that came to mind for me, thinking largely about the big effects, of the worst things with the most malicious intent since COVID hit American shores are: 

  1. Slowing down testing, which Trump admitted/bragged about.  One can fold into this the recent story about Jared starting to set up a testing policy and then dumping it when COVID seemed to be a blue state problem.  The failure to test, for me, is number one because of the following number: 156k and counting.  To get a grip on this pandemic, one has to test and test a lot and have quick results and then quarantine the positives and trace with whom they were in contact recently.  That the US has failed to bend the curve much has a lot to do with this.
  2. Politicizing masks.  Sure, some blame goes to Fauci and others who were worried about a run on masks denying doctors/nurses the PPE they needed, but the politicization of masks is a bigger problem.  That Trumpists refuse to wear masks, seeing as a sign of weakness, of a sign of being too Liberal, or whatever.  Had Trump mandated mask-wearing, his supporters would have followed suit and the non-followers would have done so because they want to live.  Getting mask wearing compliance is also key to containment.  Yet, we are having "debates" about masks when 150k people are dying here and not in places where they wear masks.
  3. Messing with the mail.  Clearly aimed to delegitmate the mail-in vote, which ordinarily is not so partisan but Trump guesses will be this time since he has made COVID seem like a hoax.
Then others responded:
  1. The whole Trump treated COVID like a hoax giving lots of air and light and fuel for the conspiracy theorists out there.  This ain't the flu, and it is not going away.
  2. Repressing Black Lives Matter protests.  It has backfired pretty spectacularly with American public opinion shifting quite a lot, which is why I didn't include it.  But a lot of people have been hurt, with more than a few journalists being blinded and some concussions and, yes, Trumpists driving through protests, hurting others.  Plus the use of DHS thugs has been awful.  
  3. Intercepting PPE that were going to states and Canada.
  4. The incredible corruption involved with the "bailout" that went to friends of Trump.
  5. The weak support for the rest of the economy including the failure to extend unemployment benefits and prevention of evictions.
  6. The effort to open the schools despite no funding, support, or plan.  A new way for Betsy DeVos to destroy public higher ed.
And of course, there is the continued arson that preceded the pandemic including: the continued kids in cages; nasty immigration policies; use of federal resources to line the pockets of Trump his cabinet, and pals; and the xenophobia, misogyny and racism.  It may be that the failed impeachment effort was a mistake--that the possibility of impeachment might have restrained Trump somewhat.  However, it might just be that this emergency has just given Trump more opportunity to do more damage.

Anyhow, just as Trump kept a list of Obama initiatives to undo, the Biden team needs to keep in mind everything Trump did and undo all of it.  It will be too late for 200-300k Americans who will have died due to Trump's bungling of the pandemic, but we must correct the awful mistakes and then make more progress (so, yeah, nuke the filibuster).

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Quarantine, Week 20: Disappointment, Frustration, and Glimmers of Hope?

As I predicted, it was the lamest of Steve-fests.  I guess it was perfect that when we ordered food for delivery that it never came, so we had to try again and ate late.  On the upside, my baking worked out nicely.  The cinnamon buns were great, and the intra-Saideman competition meant that my sisters on both coasts made them as well.  The cards from my relatives did make it to Canada surprisingly quickly given how slow mail is in both countries.  And the facebook-ization of birthdays meant I got to converse with friends from high school, summer camp, college, grad school, the various jobs since then, and, yes, the folks who I only know through facebook.  I can't really complain since I am healthy despite being deep in my mid-50s with my sore elbow (I blame wrangling baggage in Germany) nearly healed thanks to heaps of physical therapy.  Mrs. Spew has been battling bronchitis (non-COVID division), but is turning the corner on that.  Furloughed Spew is now Academic Video Editor Spew, doing great work cleaning up my videos for the fall course ... for a fee.  She's a pro, so I am loving what she is doing to the videos.  She also had cupcakes delivered on my birthday, so that was super sweet--on multiple levels.

The frustration came mostly in two academic forms: how much the super reliable end up doing and how little the unreliable do.  This is a challenge in the academic world since incentives ... are largely absent except for internally driven motivation.  I had a talk this week with a pal who was putting together a No Committee to help her say no to stuff.  We then went through all of the stuff she does, and I was astonished.  She is doing an incredible job doing so many things--it is so unfair that she gets asked to do so much.  I am pretty sure this is fairly typical of successful women in academia--as they climb up the ladder, they are still underrepresented and they tend to want to pay it forward, so they do far more mentorship than the dudes and they tend to asked to do far more stuff so as to represent their gender.  This then impedes their progress towards full professor since most of this stuff that they get asked to do is not measured for Full which comes mostly down to books and articles and maybe grants.
I don't have this problem because I am not added to bunches of service stuff to represent--there are plenty of middle-aged white dudes.  However, uneven burden-sharing can hit me, too.  This week, because one of my colleagues refused to do some of the work that we are all supposed to do, I have to do more work.  This guy has probably not been as strategic as other folks I have met (including a certain someone at my old job)--in the old post about academic politics, this guy would get coded more as crazy than tragically lazy.  So, I am grading this weekend more than I should, which makes me cranky.  Not as cranky as when my food wasn't delivered--hangry Steve is unpleasant.
Uneven burden-sharing is inherent in academia, just like it is inherent in NATO.  In both cases, the collective action challenge can be mitigated, but it cannot be eliminated.  And focusing on it all of the time probably does no one much good.  So, I shall move on.

Sports are back!  I tend not to watch much basketball, but I am going to do so now.  Partly out of curiosity to see how the games are different in the bubble, partly to support the league's embracing of Black Lives Matter and how the players will use their platform for social justice, and partly because of boredom.  I am not going to watch baseball because, well, it is not going to be around for long thanks to mismanagement.  Also, it is boring.  The good news out of this contrast is that structure and agency both matter.  The NBA has a good relationship with its players, and it has the best commissioner, so it is not a surprise that this league, along with the WNBA, got it right.  Baseball, which has a lousy relationship with its players and a lousy commissioner, got it wrong.  Hockey, which tends to have bad owner-player relations and a usually crappy commissioner, seems to be doing ok in part because they, like the NBA are just finishing the season, and in part because they lucked out and moved to Canada, which has mostly managed to bend the curve (the numbers in Ottawa the past two weeks were in the wrong direction).

Of course, my biggest frustration remains with governance.  The Canadian crisis du jour (non-pandemic division) is that the government gave a big covid-relief contract (summer employment for teens) to a cult movement charity focused on voluntourism which just so happened to have employed Justin Trudeau's family and the family of the Minister of Finance.  Ooops.  Trudeau testified this week that he knew that there would be a perception of conflict of interest so he paused, asked folks to take a second look, and then .... went ahead.  So close to doing the right thing.  Another shot in the foot, an unforced error.
On the bright side, Canada is finally launching an app for contact tracing although they are not calling it that.  The testing is still too slow here, some provinces are handling this poorly, with Alberta leading the way.  Ontario, where I live, is pressing to get on with K-12 without providing the resources.  Doug Ford's early out of character smart responses were, alas, out of character.  He is returning to form, and it is not good.

Meanwhile, in the US, my repeated statement "Biden will win if there is an election" seemed more
applicable with Trump's incredibly bad tweet and with polls showing that Biden will win ... if there is an election.  The GOP, by refusing to extend unemployment benefits, same to be in the same death spiral as the anti-maskers.  Ideologically, it might make sense.  As an election year stance, not at all.  I am of mixed feelings, as I want people to get the help they need (including more than a couple of relatives), but the country would be better off if the GOP gets crushed this November.  Both because the Dems could get more stuff done and because it might lead to the GOP changing, learning, and maybe figuring out a way to be a decent second party in this two party system.  But I really want to see people get the aid they need, I want the government to do what it takes to stop the spread of COVID, and I want the cities and states to get the help they need to treat the patients.  It is just an ugly, ugly time in the US.
Yes, prep for online teaching continues.

The glimmer of hope?  The protests are continuing and getting larger.  The efforts to repress in Portland have led to a wider mobilization, and that will lead to more voting and more activism.  John Lewis's death reminds us that good trouble is an important part of making progress, and there is a hell of a lot of good trouble being had out there.  The kids, as they say, are alright.