Sunday, July 5, 2020

#EscapeVelocity update.

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This post is going to be good news/bad news/good news, more or less.

As alert hearth/myth readers know, I have been counting down the days until I could retire from my day job and leave the Washington, DC, area. After a period of waffling, which I deemed "location research" so it didn't sound quite so bad, I decided at last to relocate to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

And after a further, mostly concurrent period of waffling, I settled on a date for my last day at work: Monday, July 6, 2020. Which is tomorrow.

The update, in short, is this: I'm still moving to Santa Fe, but tomorrow will not be my last day at work. And it's all thanks to COVID-19.

Like a whole lot of other companies, the law firm I work for sent everybody home with laptops in mid-March, as a test of whether our IT system could support the strain -- and then told us to stay there. We've been working from home ever since. This is a radical departure from the firm's historical stance on secretarial work. Our former manager once told me flat-out that legal secretaries would never be allowed to work from home. Well, that was then and this is now: Everything we do, with the exception of running errands, is done electronically. And a lot of the hands-on stuff -- for example, making sure catering is delivered for meetings -- isn't happening right now because our buildings are closed.

So as I said, we all went home. And then I went on my two-month sabbatical, as scheduled, on April 17th. When I "came back to work" on June 17th, we were still working remotely, but a whole bunch of stuff had changed. A new law -- the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act -- allows eligible employers to take a tax credit for keeping employees on their payroll. Our firm decided to take advantage of that. So most secretaries were switched to four-day-per-week work schedules. The few who were already working four days per week were moved to a three-days-per-week schedule. All of us got to keep our full-time pay and health care. (The changes do impact accrual of paid time off, but my PTO accrual was already whacked this year due to the sabbatical.)

Anyway, two things happened when I got back to work: 1) I was put on a three-day-per-week schedule for my last three weeks; and 2) the attorney I've worked for the longest persuaded me to stay on until the end of 2020 (not coincidentally, that's when the CARES Act provisions are set to end). I said I would do it if I could keep working remotely, even from New Mexico, and he said he didn't have a problem with that. It's a sweet setup for me: I get a part-time job at full-time pay, including benefits, and I can let my 401(k) recover for several more months. (Another plus is not having to get a part-time job to pay for Obamacare, as the job market is lousy for nearly everyone right now.)

There have been some nail-biting moments this past week, with more likely to come. While our Human Resources and Finance people have been figuring out how to do tax withholding for the resident of a state where we don't have an office, the "leaving the firm" machinery was still grinding away in the background. I received an email on Thursday from Payroll with a question about my final paycheck on 7/6. I told them I wasn't leaving. Then I forwarded the email to HR. A couple of hours later, I had a new tentative retirement date of 7/31. That gives the firm enough time (I hope!) to work out the rest of the tax withholding bugs so I can stay on 'til the end of the year.

Regardless, the movers will be here for my stuff on 7/16, and on the morning of 7/27 I am hopping in Eli and hitting the road for Santa Fe.

I say all this with some trepidation and a whole lot of gratitude. Nearly three million Americans have tested positive for this virus so far; as of today, 132,000 have died from it, and far more who have "recovered" continue to be sick; and millions have lost their jobs due to the economic shutdown. I realize how lucky I am to be able to keep my job and to retire on my own terms.

So that's the update: the Big Move West is still happening but retirement is delayed. And heads up that I probably won't be posting on Sunday, August 2nd.

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These moments of nail-biting blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

If you don't like what I like, that's okay.

tumisu | CC0 | Pixabay

I've come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of people in this world: the kind who know what they like, and the kind that think everyone would like what they like if only they gave it a chance.

This observation came to me after a conversation with friends on Facebook this week. The discussion was prompted by a meme that said: "If you could end Coronavirus by sacrificing one genre of music, what would it be and why country music?" I laughed and nodded, because I don't like country music. And then I shared it.

Some folks ignored, or read right past, the last four words and offered up their own nominees: opera, electronic dance music, dubstep, rap and/or hip hop, head-banger music, and polka all got their moment in the sun. And then somebody stood up for country, and I said I'd shared the meme because I don't like country. And then it was open season on people's taste in music. Mostly mine.

Maybe I asked for it by posting the meme in the first place. But I honestly thought folks would get a chuckle out of it and then scroll on by. Silly me.

To be clear: I like country rock -- the crossover stuff that was popular in the '60s and '70s. I like bluegrass. I tend to like folk music. But I don't like the stuff country radio stations play. Back in the early '80s, I worked in the news department of a country music station, and I could not stand the music. I don't know what it is -- whether it's the Southern accents or the twangin' guitars or the lyrical emphasis on beer and trucks and the good ol' USA -- but it just doesn't do it for me.

Well, a couple of folks took that as a challenge. "Listen to this song! How can you not like it?" Uh, because it's country? "But if you stopped listening in the early '80s, you haven't heard alt-country. Try this!" Okay...and nope. "Now this one, if you don't like it, you must be dead inside." Huh. I guess I'm dead inside.

Why do people do that? I mean, I've been known to inflict Flook on people, but only after they've said they like Irish trad.

No, really, I get it. I do. People fall in love with something and they want to share it. And music is a natural for that, being so tightly entwined with emotion as it is. The best music evokes a strong emotional reaction. We say it speaks to us.

Some of us are primed to hear the message of certain songs -- to feel the feelings the music is trying to evoke. And some of us just aren't. And that's okay.

If you like country music, have at it. More power to you.

And if you don't like Irish trad, that's okay, too.

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In case you followed the link above and wondered whatever happened to my adventure with the Smithsonian Boomers Chorus: I enjoyed the experience for what it was, but a lot of my fellow singers had no musical experience and we didn't have anywhere near enough rehearsals for those folks to perfect the music. Next time I'll look for a group with a higher level of musicianship, even if it means having to audition for a spot.

And also the spring session was canceled due to the coronavirus lockdown, just like everything else.

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Who's Flook? I'm glad you asked. Here's a taste -- but feel free to skip if it you don't like Irish trad.


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So what's going on with that #escapevelocity thing? We're closing in on the final days, aren't we?

We are. And some things are changing. The situation is still kind of fluid so I won't say more right now, but tune in next week for a full report.

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This bloggy musical interlude has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep washing those hands and wearing that mask!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Guerrilla warfare by social media.


There's an iconic photo circulating on social media of President Trump's rally in Tulsa, OK, last night. The photo was taken by Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford. I'd use the actual photo in this post, but Getty Images is distributing it, and those people would nail me for copyright infringement in a heartbeat. So imagine this: A sea of blue stadium seats like those in the copyright-free photo above, empty except for one. In it sits a man wearing a mask and holding a Trump campaign sign that says, "Make America Great Again." (If imagination isn't doing it for you, you can go here to see the photo. It truly is iconic.)

Alert hearth/myth readers know that I am a liberal. Well, a progressive. Actually, slightly to the left of the Dalai Lama. They also know I avoid talking about politics on my blog. So I will not speculate on what the low turnout (just 6,000 people, by the Tulsa Fire Department's estimate, in an arena with 19,000 seats) may portend for the president's chances for reelection. And I am definitely not going to get into the Trump campaign's excuses for the low turnout, and their dismissal of reports that a bunch of teenagers reserved so many of the free tickets that the campaign was tricked into believing a million people would show up.

Those kids, though. That's worth a blog post.

The New York Times reports it all began on June 11th, with a more-or-less innocuous tweet from the Trump campaign encouraging folks to use their phones -- otherwise known as pocket computers -- to reserve tickets to the rally. Fans of Korean pop music (known as "K-pop stans") began sharing the info on TikTok and encouraging their friends to grab some tickets with the intention of not showing up. Fellow members of Generation Z, or Zoomers, amplified the message on both TikTok and Twitter. Some videos featuring the sign-up information were viewed millions of times. The kids weren't stupid about it, though -- many of the videos were deleted after 24 to 48 hours to keep the Trump campaign from finding out.

They punked their parents, too. A number of adults tweeted after the rally that they were just now finding out their own teen had snagged a ticket or two or ten.

This is not the first time K-pop stans have been credited with -- or vilified over -- guerrilla warfare by social media. Late last month, Dallas police encouraged people who had video of illegal activity related to protests in the city to upload it to the police department's iWatch app. K-pop stans obliged with "fancams," or videos of their favorite performers singing and dancing. That crashed the app. When the police got it back online, the kids modified their tactics -- adding some actual protest footage to the front of the fancams. Thousands of these videos were uploaded before the cops shut down the app.

But back to the Tulsa rally. The kids are claiming victory, saying their efforts ruined President Trump's rally. There's some doubt about whether they affected attendance, as an unlimited number of tickets were available. Less in doubt is whether the prank affected the mood of the Trump campaign. I would hazard a guess the campaign's claim of handing out a million tickets was exaggerated by a factor of 10, at least -- but to have just 6,000 people show up when you were expecting 100,000 would be a gut punch for anybody.

I called this a prank a minute ago. But I think I came up with a better description above: guerrilla warfare. It's in the same spirit as the tactics used by American troops during the Revolutionary War. The Americans didn't have as many men as the British did, but they had learned guerrilla tactics from fighting Native Americans. So they waited in the shadows to pick off British troops one by one, or lured away a small group of British soldiers to a spot where the odds favored the Americans. Military historian Max Boot says the British troops couldn't handle it. "Armies do not like fighting guerrilla wars," he told NPR. "They regarded it as being beneath them, because they don't regard guerrillas as being worthy enemies."

I've heard time and again that we can't count on young people because they don't vote. And it's true that younger Americans don't turn out at the polls the way we older folks do. But that doesn't mean the kids can't be a force to reckon with, and I think we dismiss them at our peril.

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These bloggy song-and-dance moments have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wear a mask! Wash your hands!


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Dear Past Me: Shut up.

True confession: I straight-up stole this photo from Google Maps. It's a satellite image of Washington, DC, bounded by 17th Street NW on the left (west), 15th Street NW on the right (east), K Street NW at the top (north), and the White House at the bottom (south). Your cross streets, from the bottom up, are Pennsylvania Avenue NW, H Street NW, I (sometimes written as Eye) Street NW. (Fun fact #1: There's no J Street in DC. Fun fact #2: If you go one block farther west on H Street, you'll come to the building I worked in, back before COVID-19 sent us all home.)

The stretch of 16th Street NW that you can see on this map is the part that's been renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered city crews to paint the slogan on the street after the Trump administration ordered federal forces to clear the peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park (all that green between Pennsylvania Avenue and H Street) with tear gas and flashbang grenades -- all so that President Trump could stroll across the park and hold up a Bible outside St. John's Episcopal Church (on the northeast corner of 16th and H) for a photo op.

You can't see it very well in this photo, but there's more painted on the street at the end of the slogan. It's the DC city symbol -- three stars above two bars -- which was put there by the city, and an additional phrase added by Black Lives Matter themselves: "Defund The Police".

Like a lot of white folks, I was taken aback by the wording. Defund the police? Like, disband them? Surely you don't mean we'd go without police protection at all.

On Facebook, I shared a post of George Takei's, in which he suggested "demilitarize the police" would be a better way to put it. I agreed with him, and I went on to say:

[B]y stepping straight to "defund," BLM...is telegraphing they're not interested in compromise. They want all police to go.
It's the same issue I had with repurposing the word "privilege." That used to mean the 1%, the people born with silver spoons in their mouths. Now we're told every white person is privileged. I understand now what they mean by using "privilege" in this context, but I didn't to start with - and I was angry, frankly, to be lumped in with the rich and powerful who are controlling all of us.
That was a week ago. In the interim, I've read a number of articles and posts from black folks who have detailed the microaggressions they put up with, day after day, year in and year out.

Now, white folks face microaggressions, too. I certainly have. Random strangers on the street have felt the need to tell me I'm fat. Other people have accused me of being smart, as if that's a bad thing. (Although Americans do view intellectuals with suspicion. And everybody hates a smart woman.)

But here's the thing: I've never lived in fear of my life for being fat and smart. I've never had to worry about a cop pulling me over for a minor infraction and then killing me because of my brainpower -- or my waistline.

So now I understand that after years and years of experiencing these daily microaggressions, and of hearing platitudes from politicians about how things must change, and of watching police kill black folks for no reason and wondering who's next -- I can see how you might not want to couch your demands in acceptable language. You might want to shock white folks. Because then maybe they'll pay attention and actually do something about these injustices.

In short: Past Me, shut up.

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These moments of bloggy humility have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Mask up, people!