Words: Handmaid

There is some extremist judge being considered for the U.S. Supreme Court (again), and she’s in a spin-off religious sect that once bestowed the title of handmaid upon her. (AP)

This evoked the famous Margaret Atwood novel, The Handmaid’s Tale (en.wikipedia.org), and so there were some awkward news flurries about how HER faith group was NOT the inspiration for THAT story.

There was even a grumpy denial from the U.S. Senate Majority “Leader” (guardian.co.uk) in which he said, among other things, that the term was being used pejoratively, “because one liberal author put it in the title of an anti-religious novel in the 1980s…”

I’m in a religion, and I did not think the Handmaid’s Tale was anti-religious in any way… because I don’t naturally associate the oppression of women, including treating women as property, forcing women to conceive children with men not of their choosing, or restricting other basic human rights with religious values. You’d have to be part of a religion with a similarly oppressive belief system to see that horrifically dystopian novel as an insult to your— oh. OH.

News: 8 Million US COVID-19 Cases

From https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/, of course

What is concerning is not just the numbers, but the cases that go on and on, where people don’t fully recover for months. We need to look after those people, too – long term. And, as a country without a coherent health system, we would need to do things differently to handle that.

A conventional news story on the topic from the UK:

Long Covid: what we know so far

At the start of the pandemic we were told that Covid-19 was a respiratory illness from which most people would recover within two or three weeks, but it’s increasingly clear that there may be tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, who have been left experiencing symptoms months after becoming infected.

Sometimes, it is very difficult to live in a country that is opposed to joint solutions to problems… literally difficult to preserve one’s own life, or the lives of others!

News: COVID-19 Pandemic, continued

The COVID-19 pandemic continues apace, and remains out of control in the United States.

If there is any good news (beyond the low rates of infection and death in my own region and social circle, for which I am grateful!), it is that while infections continue to rise, a smaller percentage of confirmed infections are serious. There was some earlier, sparse data suggesting that people who wear masks may be receiving low enough exposure to the virus to fight it off successfully; now, data about viral load specifically is being examined, and is trending in a more convincing way.

I don’t want to post ALL the news on this topic (every news organization in is already doing that, it would be duplicative), but this viral load issue is interesting.

Covid-19 death rates are lower worldwide, but no one is sure whether that’s a blip or a trend

After working for three months straight at Detroit Medical Center, Said El Zein noticed that the coronavirus patients who began arriving in May appeared less sick than those who came before. More than 4,000 miles away in northern Italy, researcher Chiara Piubelli was struck by the same thing.

I’m describing this as good news, but even if this trend holds, it would still mean that more than 2 million people just in my country could potentially die. Which isn’t great, especially if you are one of them! It also remains ominous that children can have such high viral loads, as that may bode ill in those families/situations where they are looked after by grandparents and other senior caregivers. But fewer people getting the life-threatening version of the infection is good.

I’ll take any potentially positive trend, at this point.

~me, right now

I’ve completed 31 weeks of local/regional sheltering-in-place and minimizing in-person interactions with others to help prevent the spread of this illness. I am lucky and privileged to be able to do so.

While the wildfire smoke has compounded my lack of physical fitness (and added variety to my pre-wildfire allergic (?) cough), and the quarantine has kept me from seeing my parents (2-4 hours away), none of what I’m experiencing from the pandemic is important: essential workers are having a very different, more demanding experience, as are the many people whose livelihoods are risky, unsafe, or just otherwise disrupted due to safety concerns during this time.

I’m glad my locality continues to ban evictions (and won a challenge from landlords in court!), and that the schools are offering meal support along with other food charities. But it pains me that we aren’t one of the countries that is just paying everyone 80% of their salary to be sure they (and the businesses that employ them) make it through this.

While someone at my local pharmacy said they feel bad that kids won’t get to enjoy trick-or-treating for Halloween, I feel sad for EVERYONE. *

*Except the anti-maskers and the authoritarians, for whom I have no sympathy.

I miss my relationship with my hometown, and all that comes with that. I miss my relationship with the bayshore, with the people who run restaurants and shops I frequent, with my friends, with the library, with the museums, with the cafes, and just walking through the neighborhoods of this city, which are each so distinct in character… I’m eager to resume these interactions when it is safe. I’m hoping very strongly that safety will be possible.

News: COVID-19 global deaths topped one million on Monday

A milestone no one wanted us to cross, yet here we are. Today’s numbers from Johns Hopkins.

I’m rather discouraged. Not just because the pandemic continues to rage out of control, but because the conversation has shifted from, ‘how do we emulate countries that got this under control’ to ‘how do we try to fall somewhere in the middle of the range of countries where people hate their governments too much to save the lives of those around them?’ Which is a pretty dramatic drop in ambition.

I am still concerned that this isn’t going to be our only pandemic, now that I see how BAD some humans are at taking precautions. All the jokes about how zombie movies show humans putting in waaaay more effort not to become zombies than is realistic are hitting me kind of hard right now. (Also, Train to Busan is an entertaining addition to the Zombie genre.)

News: Pandemic Precautions in San Francisco

From the excellent SF Department of Public Health page at https://www.sfdph.org/dph/alerts/coronavirus.asp

First off, I’d like to give a general shout out to my local department of public health for doing such a great job of data sharing. The website (sample above) is clear, and there is lots of data about how this has played out neighborhood by neighborhood, zip code by zip code. This information has really helped me think about my relative risks and make informed decisions.

Next, I have to give praise to the people of my beloved hometown, San Francisco. A city of 800,000+ people still managed to keep the infection rate very low. I LOVE YOU PEOPLE!

The City is still adjusting what services are safe based on infection rates around the state. (SoCal keeps messing things up for us.) The current version of the game plan is here:

Reopening San Francisco

We are gradually reopening to keep our City safe and healthy.

My museums are writing to me with some excitement about their October re-openings, which will provide a new experience: uncrowded, carefully timed exhibit viewings! That’s… actually rather appealing. (I can’t sit to draw, but I can live with that.) I’m contemplating that now, and the complex logistics of getting around.

(Transit service was reduced dramatically to ensure compliance with the safety precautions, while providing minimum support for essential workers. This was hard on the essential workers! This resulted in stable access to everything for people who drive everywhere, and less access for socially responsible, environmentally concerned transit riders. 🙁 Yes, that is [sad face].)

I’ll review the SFMTA COVID-19 Core Service Plan (sfmta.com) before I try to go anywhere in October. IF I try to go anywhere…

News: Practice Safe SIX

I love this town. So much.


More than ever, love is demonstrated with actions, to protect your family. When you wear a mask, you show that you love your loved ones. 40% of people with COVID-19show no symptoms. It is better to love from afar and protect them. Visithttps://t.co/cxFjh6Vhfs pic.twitter.com/0E2oCjOqK3

News: 200,000 Americans lost to COVID-19

The usual from https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/

The United States’ death toll is now being casually measured in other disasters, like how many September 11, 2001 death tolls occur EACH WEEK.

This truly is world-changing. The lost people alone are world-changing – history will run a different course than it would have if they were here… Also, the esteem in which New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan are held has truly risen quite dramatically. (Good for them! I’m jealous of their leadership!)

It is difficult to resume anything near normal life, in part because of the feeling that your safety depends on the least considerate people around you. Yes 90%+ of the people I encounter on my once to twice a week essential supply runs are wearing masks and keeping respectful distances from each other, but the ones that are blathering away on their phones without a mask, chain smoking on the sidewalk without a mask (pretend it is for fire safety), or merely averting their eyes while walking past without a mask – as if I can’t see them if they don’t look at me? – are there. We’re outside, and the odds are in my favor, but they are negative advertising for any optional indoor activities.

The UK press articles I’ve read are wavering a bit on how we SHOULD be living right now. (One is based in the UK, where a dramatic case spike is causing the anti-restriction government to impose restrictions.) For officials and news writers, is difficult to write about what death tolls are “acceptable” without sounding terrible. (There is a very tidy venn diagram of people who are willing to sacrifice entire categories of people for the economy and people who are terrible. ) It is baffling (and upsetting) to look at photos of partying crowds in known infection hot spots.

There is too little progress on improving our treatment of essential workers.

I’m hoping to be lucky enough to live through this, but also fear that this will be “the new normal” for far too long.

News: Marking the Passing of RBG

I’m one of countless people who admired and adored US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and her death yesterday comes as a terrible blow in a year of terrible blows.

She was an ICON. A heroine. A legend. A force for progress. Someone for whom people without specific religious beliefs prayed.

She worked in law, and was LOVED.

Her work, even before she joined the Supreme Court, CHANGED THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER.

I recommend this tribute/history:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed America long before she joined the supreme court | Moira Donegan

The most important feminist lawyer in the history of the American republic has died. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supreme court justice and singularly influential legal mind, was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, the court’s second-ever female justice, and served for nearly 30 years. She passed away due to complications from cancer on Friday.

I used to post quotes from her dissents to my office door, back when I worked in a law firm. I loved her writing! I loved her irrepressible fight do to right by people! And her writing was so sharp, so pointed, so clear, so well-reasoned…

This tribute is adoring:

Perspective | Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave us more than enough

A few weeks ago, Ruth Bader Ginsburg officiated the wedding of a family friend. She looked as brilliant as she always did, and as tiny. A photograph circulated on social media, Ginsburg in her white collar behind a lectern, and the responses were joy giving way to panic.

I especially like this excerpt: “A gay man once told me that he had an elaborate fantasy in which he and his friends could swathe Ginsburg in bubble wrap and then carry her, in a careful phalanx formation, up and down the steps of the court each day for work. He was laughing when he started sharing the fantasy, but by the end, he was crying. He needed to believe in this version of reality, in which there was a way to extend her life indefinitely, in which six or eight gentle gay men could somehow keep the person safe who kept the country safe, in which hope could be suspended above their heads in bubble wrap.”

This morning, to help me process the loss to my country, I went on Twitter and actually found comfort in the community efforts to celebrate her life. (You know times are hard if you turn to TWITTER for comfort!)


Her rest is earned. It is our turn to fight.


I know the popular analysis is going to be “we’re screwed,” and I *feel you.* But nah. RBG didn’t go out like that and neither are we. I’m not speaking that, and I’m not believing that. We gon fight. That’s what we’re gonna do.

As seen on Twitter, in a Tweet by https://twitter.com/sewmc28 that I’m not posting, because it includes GOP senators in the image, and I don’t want to put you through that.

One of the themes that came through Twitter among progressives is that our system is broken if one woman’s passing can create so much fear and dread for the future. Our future should not depend on any one person.

There is so much to fix, and so much work to be done. Go find a way to do your part. AND VOTE.

News/Data: Emissions Data

Here in California, where the climate crisis is literally hanging in the air, we are looking at ways to limit the remarkable damage that humans are doing to the environment. While individual responsibility is popular as a feel-good activity that makes some small positive difference (and which we should obviously all do), we could get ‘more bang for our buck’ by making big, systemic shifts. The usual obstacle is the business world and those who profit from polluting sectors. (We all know who those are.)

It’s always nice to look at data, though, and see whether the political battles over things like water use between the cattle farmers (VERY polluting & water sucking) and the almond farmers (less so, but they have a smaller lobbyist fighting force) are what should be taking up our attention.

Sector by sector: where do global greenhouse gas emissions come from?

Let’s walk through each of the sectors and sub-sectors in the pie chart, one-by-one. Energy use in industry: 24.2% Iron and Steel (7.2%): energy-related emissions from the manufacturing of iron and steel. Chemical & petrochemical (3.6%): energy-related emissions from the manufacturing of fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, refrigerants, oil and gas extraction, etc.

It’s nice to look at the breakdowns of this data, because something like “energy” isn’t just about the oil and gas companies operating in isolation: they have customers, and those industries are co-responsible. (Yes, this has been the oil industry’s go-to position for years, and I am reluctant to agree with them on anything, but they are selling their dirty products to other industries, and those buyers are also to blame.)

Our World In Data also has a breakout, which they link to here, about food. Food is a subject that is dear to my heart, and the environmental impacts of food have contributed to my commitment to a plant-based diet. When you look at this data, the reasons for this are obvious.

Food production is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions

When it comes to tackling climate change, the focus tends to be on ‘clean energy’ solutions – the deployment of renewable or nuclear energy; improvements in energy efficiency; or transition to low-carbon transport. Indeed, energy, whether in the form of electricity, heat, transport or industrial processes, account for the majority – 76% – of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Human food production deserves so much more scrutiny. The industry is rife with politics and waste, and has a major impact on the health of the planet AND on our health. My government has a history of subsidizing tobacco, regardless of the cancers smoking causes, because it is a US agricultural product, and all such products were worthy of promotion with tax money! (Gaaaah!) The “four food groups” concept was not about human health, it was about product promotion OVER human health! (Gaaaah!) And then there are these animal-agriculture-sourced diseases, like bird flu and swine flu and COVID-19, or the terrible (and often fatal) e. coli outbreaks when plant foods are contaminated by animal waste, which threaten humans because some humans eat animals. We are all paying for that.

These visualizations are useful and informative.

News: Reluctant Pandemic Update

The usual from https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/

Johns Hopkins has come up with a daily data video, which is really well-produced. I’ll embed it here:

We’re at a point where about 35,000 Americans are being diagnosed daily, and about 1,000 Americans are dying daily.


This is a rough time.

I was chatting with a colleague, and now all chats with colleagues begin with checking in to be sure the other person is okay at a basic level.

We gradually got around to the point of discussing when the world would be closer to functional again, and while she wondered if this year would look like an extreme outlier in the history books, I worried that the history books might mark this year as the beginning of… a new phase, not necessarily an easier one. And we both wondered aloud how to get some of the new part to be POSITIVE: to fix something of the many things that were broken when things were “normal.”

I hope we can. The old normal wasn’t great, and while many of us would trade anything to go back to it… we could do better. I mean, we might even be able to take care of each other and our planet. We could CHOOSE that, if we get through this. Better choices may be HOW we get through this…