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.

No comments: