# 02 Dec 2016, 09:30AM: Answering the Phone:
In one of my earliest internships, I volunteered in the local district office of my state Senator (that is, the guy who represented my area in the upper chamber of California's state legislature). I reordered and rearranged informational brochures for our waiting area, I filed, I took phone messages, I think eventually I graduated to writing drafts of replies to constituents for the staffers to revise and send. I volunteered there for a summer, which means that my time there overlapped with the Senate's recess, so I remember a lot more constituent service calls than policy calls -- and the district offices probably got fewer of those calls than the Sacramento office did, anyway.
One day, someone called and said something like, "I'm calling about the Senator's ethics violation." I had never heard anything about this and said "I'm sorry, which ethics violation is that?" to which the caller said "You mean there's more than one?!" I sputtered and put them on hold and took a message or transferred them to a staffer, which I clearly should have done as soon as I heard the tone of their voice and their general topic of inquiry, but hey, inexperience.
Within a few days, there was a letter to the editor in the local newspaper that mentioned this call and named me (I'm pretty sure misspelling my name) while excoriating the Senator and our office. My boss and colleagues sympathized and told me these things happen, and basically reassured me that this was not a black mark on my Permanent Record.
Decades later, I'm calling my local city councilmember, my Senators and my Representative who represent me in Congress, and related offices, spurred by emails from NGOs, aggregators like
"We're His Problem Now" or Wall of Us, and local meetings. And sometimes I stumble over my words, not sure whether they want my name first or my message. But when the intern on the other end of the line says "I don't know what her position is on that; could you call back in 15 minutes? All the staffers who would know are in a meeting right now," I can smile and say "Yes, I can, and I know how it is, I've been on the other end of this call, it's fine." And at least I know I'm not utterly blindsidingly frustrating to deal with. I know, empirically, that I am not as bad as it gets.
# 27 Nov 2016, 08:55AM: Clover:
On Sundays I make omelets. Today's omelets included three diced cloves of garlic.
"I wish to make you aware that we are basically in a garlic ratchet. I will be increasing the number of cloves of garlic involved in our Sunday omlets basically ad infinitum. In sort of a manigarlic destiny approach. So if at some point you find it's going too far, well, file a complaint with your local consulate."
"Well, since I am the one who buys the garlic, I think I can pretty effectively --"
"Oh, that's where the executive orders come in. You think you control appropriations?"
"Are you going to draw from the Strategic Garlic Reserve?"
"There's a slush fund."
(I see that I sort of went from early US President to ... emperor? ... to modern US President over the course of this flight of fancy.)
# 08 Nov 2016, 03:34PM: Podcast Recommendations:
Podcasts I've been enjoying listening to recently include the following (I have not made my way through the back catalog of all of these, by the way):
- "Politically Reactive" with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu: funny interviews about current political events. A favorite episode: their interview with Rachel Maddow.
- "How I Built This" from NPR, focusing on how people built new endeavors. A favorite episode: The story of Jane Wurwand, founder of Dermalogica.
- "Our Debut Album", in which comedians try to write songs. A favorite episode: "King of the Deep".
- "Say Why to Drugs" with Dr. Suzi Gage and Scroobius Pip, in which they share the current research on the effects of various drugs. (The bit of the intro where Pip says "pro-truth and anti-myth" has extra reverb or something and I adore it.) A favorite episode: caffeine.
- "Wolf 359", a scripted scifi podcast about a spaceship where things are getting sketchy. Listen from the first episode, but note that things get much more Battlestar Galactica-y starting in season 2.
- "The History of Philosophy in India", by Jonardon Ganeri and Peter Adamson. A couple favorite episodes: on the Mahabharata, and on women philosophers in ancient India.
- "Song Exploder", by Hrishikesh Hirway -- in each episode, musicians talk about how they made a particular song or score, and you get to hear the early components and drafts, and then you hear the finished piece. A few favorite episodes: Garbage ("Felt"), Weezer ("Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori").
- The Recompiler podcast, by Christie Koehler, on current tech events and interviewing interesting people in tech. A favorite episode: interview with Heidi Waterhouse.
- "Track Changes", from Postlight (a consultancy in NYC), in which Paul Ford and Rich Ziade talk with each other and/or guests about tech and design stuff. A couple favorite episodes: parts I and II of an interview with a guy who was a big cheese at Microsoft and who has good deadpan.
- "Looking Sideways", about many aspects of making things. A favorite episode: an interview with Deb Chachra.
- "StartUp", from Gimlet Media, telling the behind-the-scenes stories of people starting businesses. A favorite episode: "Shadowed Qualities" (although I think it won't hit you as hard if you haven't listened to previous episodes about Gimlet Media and founder/host Alex Blumberg).
- "Election Profit Makers", in which friends (one of whom is David "Get Your War On" Rees) rant about the 2016 US election season and swap tips about how to bet profitably on the election. I found out about this via MetaFilter and my Dreamwidth acquaintances and have barely listened so far but enjoyed what I've heard.
# 08 Nov 2016, 10:46AM: Election Day:
I voted today.
Starting Saturday, and for a bunch of Sunday and Monday, I phone-banked and text-banked for the Clinton/Kaine campaign. I also caught up with a few aunts and uncles of mine to remind them to vote, and to ask them to vote for Hillary Clinton.
One aunt of mine has stage IV cancer. It's inoperable. She has trouble getting around but her son will drive them both to the polls tomorrow. If she can't get out of the car, poll officials will come to her and bring her a ballot.
Today I put on a pantsuit and went to our pollsite to cast my ballot. We got there maybe fifteen minutes after the polls opened. Already a long, quiet line curved around the block, under early light in a clear sky.
In New York State: watch out for the so-called "Women's Equality Party".
In New York City: The official government poll site locator site will also tell you your electoral and assembly district, which might help you bypass the first queue when you get to your polling place.
Everywhere in the United States (and for US citizens abroad): IWillVote.com helps you confirm where you'll vote and learn voting requirements (such as whether your state requires you to bring ID).
Several US states have same-day voter registration so you can register and vote today.
If you're having trouble voting, you can call the Election Protection Hotline.
- 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) -- English language hotline
- 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682) -- Spanish language hotline
- 888-API-VOTE (888-274-8683) -- Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog
- 1-844-418-1682 -- Arabic language hotline
Spanish speakers in the US can also text VOTA to 47246 for voting help.
Now: more phone-banking.
# 02 Nov 2016, 11:09AM: Book Catch-up:
I need to catch up with my book reviews or at least log some of the books I've read and liked. I have some notes going back more than a year -- I'll do a very uneven and incomplete recounting just to start catching up.
In mid-2015, for instance, I read and enjoyed several stories in the Kaleidoscope anthology, Andrea Phillips's Revision, Jennie Crusie's Bet Me and Welcome to Temptation, a big chunk of Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation, about a third of Charles Platt's interview collection Dream makers: the uncommon people who write science fiction, and more. And I reread Losing Joe's Place by Gordon Korman. I remember the first time I ever read Losing Joe's Place, in a childhood bedroom in Stockton, to calm and entertain myself after a scary episode of Unsolved Mysteries. It still holds up as comfort reading.
This year I reread Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy). I'd read them as they came out but this was the first time I read them all in a row. As I mentioned in a Making Light comment which is a longer review of the third book (but I softened my view upon rereading), I thought the shape of the books' narratives was interesting -- the first book is like an arrow, and the second is like a V, going from spaceship (and functional community) to space station to planet and back again. What's the third one like? Another commenter, TexAnne, said: an orbit. Yes. These are books about power-over versus power-with, about an unreliable narrator, about the Borg as protagonist, about complicity, and -- Ancillary Sword especially -- trying to give up privilege when it's superglued to your hand and won't come off (Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal takes on that same issue and it's a reason I'm fond of them both). The most resounding and heartbreaking bit of Ancillary Sword is Queter saying that she can make you look at it. Zeiat's demonstration of cakes and counters -- how we socially construct differences & sameness -- has an enthusiastic explication by JJ Hunter. I'm reminded of the comparison in Emily Nagoski's book Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life of us and constellations -- the effect of having the same parts, but arranged differently, can be tremendous. (And there's now a fan trailer for the Imperial Radch books!)
More as logging than as reviewing: I haven't yet blogged here about reading Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer, Known Associates by thingswithwings, Hold Me and other recent works by Courtney Milan, Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, Making Conversation by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, the Hamilton book, Zen Cho's The Terracotta Bride, Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings, Jeannie Lin's The Lotus Palace, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl written by Ryan North, Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, part of Breaking the Bow: Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Ramayana, and probably other books. And I want to note that in the last year I've reread, or reread most of, Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon, Travels by Michael Crichton, Zodiac by Neal Stephenson, American Taxation, American Slavery by Robin Einhorn, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury, A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag by Gordon Korman, and Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary -- plus probably other stuff I'm not remembering off the top of my head. I read Octavia Butler's Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower, one of which I'd read before and one of which I hadn't. Bracing, and inspiring the way that memoirs of successful activists can be inspiring.
Right now I'm making my way through Elinor Ostrom's Nobel Prize lecture, "Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems", and Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge.
# (1) 01 Nov 2016, 09:46AM: Political Memories:
I've been reminiscing about past US elections and administrations.* I've been paying attention to US federal politics since the early nineties, which means I remember a lot of details that many younger politics enthusiasts don't. I decided to dredge some of them up:
I imagine some of my readers will be utterly uninterested in this litany, and some will be a little curious, and some will say "AGGGGH" and remember a bunch of things they thought they had forgot in a partially pleasing and partially disorienting experience. I will admit that this entry is mostly aimed at that last group.
* I misheard Leonard or something and we came up with the phrase "Munchin' Accomplished" which he immediately realized ought to be the name of a George W. Bush-administration-themed food cart. It would serve:
- Freedom fries
- "Condoleezza" rice (her name is Italian, so, risotto maybe?)
# (1) 31 Oct 2016, 11:47AM: How Do We Encourage Technologists in the Public Interest?:
As I mentioned when the Recompiler interviewed me, my inspirations and role models in technology are technologists who serve the public interest. The person who introduced me to free and open source software, Seth Schoen, is a kind teacher and a rigorous thinker who deploys his software engineering expertise at the intersection of technology and activism. I was lucky enough to meet the right people early in my career so I see public interest technology as a desirable and viable career path AND something you can integrate into a career that doesn't focus on nonprofit/government work -- but not enough people know about it, and not enough institutions encourage it.
How do we help encourage and employ more Seths, more Bruce Schneiers, more Eleanor Saittas, more Kelsey Gilmore-Innises? If you were to say "Sumana, that's a pretty infosecurity-centric list there, what about people who are more about analytics to enable policy work, or the web developers at 18F, or --" then I would agree with you! This is a broad and deep field, and thus a broad and deep question.
Again and again, we were told that public interest organizations and government will not succeed if they do not quickly figure out how to better harness the wave of innovation sweeping the world, and that one key element of that challenge will be to implement more effective strategies for developing and integrating technologists into relevant organizations and projects.
That is from A Pivotal Moment: Developing a New Generation of Technologists for the Public Interest, a new report that aims to help philanthropists choose what to fund (and how) to make this change happen. This is not just a bunch of vague "let's grow the pipeline" stuff. The authors interviewed 60 experts, laid out 26 specific things we can do (many of which are already in progress), and made a bunch of recommendations. Section III, starting on page 10 (page 16 of the PDF), summarizes the interventions in five categories: interest cultivation, skill-building, recruitment and training, skill deployment, and growth and retention.
If you can influence decisions on grants or donations, or if you just want a framework for thinking about this problem and its solutions (and where your existing work sits in the ecology), check out the report.