Monday, May 22, 2017

Gaithersburg Book Festival

The weather here has been weird of late.  Or typical for these transitional periods.  So, after three straight days of 90 degree weather, we had been promised that Saturday would emerge a little overcast, a little cooler, but really very nice.  And well, I expected that to mean a dress and a scarf weather, and discovered that the day was breezy and cool. I met a friend who was already there for lunch.  She headed home, I went to a panel with Brigid Kemmerer and Michelle Knudson talking about their YA books, and then the next panel slot was jam-packed but in the end I went with Jack Viertel in conversation with Jason Loewith of the Olney Theater Center about Viertel's book on American musicals. They discussed some of the main structure points of musicals, along with some notable exceptions.  
I confess, after this panel, despite my interest in the next two slots, I reached a point where I could no longer take the cold and hoped back on the shuttle to get back to metro.  Despite my briefer than usual visit, it was still great fun and for every panel I did get two, there were several I wished time or scheduling would have allowed for. And even though I'm whining about the weather a little, it rained all day last year, so this was much better. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. It's AAPI month and of late, there's been more push around the apparent confusion some Americans have that Asian American Pacific Islanders are one group, rather than two that have some overlap.  This post takes a look at how that can lead to erasure
2. I confess, this was written by a friend, but you know a rant about the idea that romance writers or readers who are single because the books have ruined them warms the cockles of my heart. 
3. Book Riot summarized the news that crossed Twitter about Harlequin closing several lines. Kimani in particular caused concern because it was the most reliable place both both authors of color, and characters of color.  Sure, there are some characters of color in other lines.  Sure there were authors of color in other lines, although often writing about whiter folk.  The best outcome would be for all these authors to find places within the remaining lines. Certainly Kimani being organized primarily around the color of it's characters meant that readers who mostly like small town contemporary, or mostly liked billionaires had to work a little harder than readers of other lines to find what they wanted, which I'm sure impacted sales.  Lines have closed before.  Usually, there's some fallout, but if this results in the remaining lines staying as predominately white as they have been, it would be pretty bad business decision. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

An Evening with the "Serial" creators

Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, the team behind a little podcast called "Serial" you might have heard of were at Strathmore for a talk about the making of the podcast.  Given the case that the first season focused on took place in Maryland it was fun to watch them talk about how Maryland's information laws gave them access to files they might not otherwise have been able to access since ultimately the police officers involved decided not to speak to Koenig.  
Koenig and Snyder had worked together for many years at "This American Life" and felt the culture of hey, if you like this thing, try it, see where it goes really created the special blend that people have come to expect from "This American Life" and now several other shows, given the number of former "This American Life" folks across the radio and podcast landscape now.  They had once worked together on an episode of "This American Life" called "The Week" where they focused on stories from the week leading up to the show, from the splashy big news, to the small.  They had enjoyed that so much they pitched to the team the idea of making a show that was just that.  They said the reception to this idea was not great.  No one said no, but no one said super cool idea, go for it either.  They were not deterred and kept talking about it and kicking it around, and Ira Glass talked to Koenig and said hey, if this is the thing that speaks to you, then you guys should go for it, but do you have any other ideas?  And Koenig said, well, the opposite would be fun too, like a longform, multi-episode look at a single story.  And, well, since the show is called "Serial", I think the direction they ultimately chose is clear.  
They touched on the amazing momentum the first season had, and how they ended up having to try to manage (as much as one can) the internet and the news media.  They had made specific journalistic choices about things to include and exclude, had made certain deals with people that agreed to speak with them on condition of some form of anonymity, and to leave out certain things that they simply didn't have enough verification to include.  Not everyone on the internet played by the same rules. 
An audience member asked about the comparative lack of success for the second season which he had enjoyed.  Koenig and Snyder said they felt that the second season had been less buzzy.  It wasn't a murder mystery, and so people seemed to spend less time discussing it in between episodes in visible places (think pieces, podcasts, etc) but that the numbers did not support that it was less successful, and they also found that there were a lot of places they went where people were so glad they had done that story.  In fact another audience member stood up and said that he had been in Afghanistan for USAID and when the show started, people he couldn't get to talk to him about the case, all of the sudden began discussing it.  So he was grateful that it gave them that conversational starting point.
Ultimately, they felt certain that they would continue to follow the stories that spoke to them and seemed suited to this format, and work that way, rather than worrying about audience reaction. They did acknowledge that this was not a leeway all journalists worked with.  
It was a lot of fun to listen to them, and hang out in a theater full of podcast nerds.  (And that one dude who raised his hand when they asked if anyone hadn't listened to "Serial" yet.)


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I am glad this basketball player has found another school, and sad that the team used a refusal to laugh a tired stereotypes as a reason to try to freeze her out.  It's worth noting that she sued the school and settled and is not allowed to disparage her former school. It's easy to think we've reached a point where these stories are the exceptions, because schools are afraid of being sued.  It might just be that they figure they can make folks settle out of court and that will cost less than doing the work to fix things. 
2. A Scottish person looked at the version of Scotland often featured in romancelandia.
3. The Undefeated followed two members of DC's Poetry Slam team.  Take a look at this video and understand why I show up at their competitions where possible. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Pre-Existing Conditions

Okay, disclaimer first.  I am not your HR or benefits administrator.  Everything I am saying is as me, a person on the internet.  But. But.  We have to talk about pre-existing conditions. So let's define the term and the reason behind it. 
I'm going to start with the basic premise behind insurance.  Insurance is essentially you making a deal to give a company money on a regular basis, so that if you experience a large and/or unexpected expense, the company will then cover this expense.  Kind of a more boring version of you saying I'll pay for dinner this time, next time you can pick up the check.  Insurance companies are, you may have heard, for profit businesses, so they put various rules in place to try and mitigate their financial risk.  And part of this is pre-existing conditions.  You see this in things like vision coverage too, where they sometimes require you agree to pay for vision coverage for at least two years, because they figure two years of premiums offsets your pair of glasses. Obviously, when we get to health insurance, we are talking about more than a pair of glasses.  So, pre-existing conditions are there to make it so you don't just pick up health insurance two seconds after you discover you had cancer and possibly are not a premium paying person long enough for the insurance company to recoup their expenses. Prior to the ACA it was not uncommon to see it on employer sponsored plans, particularly in companies that had a lot of turnover.  
I understand that this thing that may become was passed with a lack of clarity, but I feel fairly certain that the legislation as it existed when it passed the House, did not have a specific list of pre-existing conditions.  It basically removed the requirement put in place by the ACA that people be charged the same premium regardless of their medical history and turned it back into hair salon rules, wherein you can be charged different amounts based on your gender, your medical history, and your expectation that you might need so-called premium services like pregnancy coverage, and also meant that they can put into place a restriction that anything that is a pre-existing condition does not have to be covered by them for a period of time. HIPAA - unless they did something else we haven't heard about - still applies to group coverage and maxes that at a 12-18 months, and waives that if you had continuous coverage.  
So, what does this mean.  Let me tell a story.  I once started getting terrible headaches.  I took sick days off work (and I had a job where I did not get paid leave) and lay in bed.  Sometimes I tried to power through.  And because I had health insurance at the time, I called regularly to document this in case this turned into something else.  I had gotten as far as noticing they happened a lot Sunday nights and Monday mornings when a friend pointed out to me that I hated my job and maybe that was it.  (Hate is a strong word, but I knew it was time to go.) So, I figured out my next plan, and ultimately didn't give notice for another month because reasons, but my headaches went away.  I currently have health insurance. I have a number of known conditions. Allergies, asthma, things like that.  If I quit my job now, and couldn't afford the COBRA or reached the end of COBRA without getting another plan, and had a break in coverage before being able to work out a new plan, then yes - things that I had already been treated for count as pre-existing conditions. So my asthma inhalers (without which I need even more expensive nebulizer treatments), any cold that might really just be allergies, yes, those they could choose not to cover.  If it was group coverage, then after the waiting period I could get coverage, you know, assuming I made it that far.  But it would also apply to things I had not been diagnosed with but could be attributed to something I had previously been treated for, that coverage could be denied too.  So, if I ended up with migraines, they could pull those medical records and say, gee you had this period of headaches that you reported, so maybe that was really that, and now we don't have to cover this until the end of the waiting period.  
So, my point here is not to make you terribly depressed about the state of health insurance in this country. I don't think insurance companies are evil and no one is paying me to say that.  I think we have a system that is designed to make insurance companies money.  But there isn't a magic list of pre-existing conditions.  You aren't safe if your particular afflictions weren't on the list you saw. Everything is a pre-existing condition. 


Thursday, May 04, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I had suggested a while back, that someone should set up a matching system so that people who were phone shy could work with people who were not phone shy to call their reps. It's possible such a thing is not allowed.  But I read with interest, about this app that let's you record a message to be placed in your congressperson's voice mail that night.  It does, as the articlw suggests, also post copies of your message, so you would perhaps leave a lightly different message than otherwise. 
2. RA's at GWU have voted to unionize.  
3. This list of outrageous nachos intrigues me.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Tonys: One Sentence Summaries

Disclaimers: 
-I have not seen all of these shows. 
-Obviously one sentence summaries cannot capture all the magic. 
-I do this out of love. 

In honor of the Tony Nominees, my one sentence summaries of the plays and musicals nominated for best play or musical. 
 A Doll's House Part 2:  Things still suck for women.  
Indecent: Putting on a controversial play was super hard a century ago. 
Oslo: Diplomatic relations in the Middle East are tough. 
Sweat: Manufacturing towns in the US are dying and will make you hate your friends and neighbors. 
Come From Away: If you and your boyfriend were having trouble before, just wait until you get stuck in Canada for a few days.  See also: Canadians are super nice to unexpected visitors. 
Dear Evan Hansen: Depression and grief are both easier and harder in the digital age. 
Groundhog Day The Musical: Stuck in a day, might learn a lesson. 
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812: Cheaters suck, but look a comet!

Monday, May 01, 2017

"Smart People" at Arena Stage

I went to see "Smart People" Friday, and when I tried to talk to some friends about it Saturday, it was hard to find a balance between the serious issues of race in America that the play covers, and yet also how fricking hilarious it was. There are four characters, Valerie, Jackson, Ginny, and Brian and their lives intersect in many ways until there is a final dinner party involving all four where things get really real.  There are also many moments where the characters interact with someone offstage, a feat of both writing and acting that it managed to seem normal, and I felt like I fully understood the unsaid parts of the interaction. The play is set specifically during the 2007-2008 period, which includes to the election in which we elected Obama.  At first this felt a little unnecessary, the characters do talk some about the election, but on reflection, I see that setting it specifically in time allowed it to stay there, rather than have it feel strange that they didn't acknowledge whatever future political things might come.  
Brian is a white professor studying implicit bias, aka, the inherent reactions white people have to black people.  He has gone from being the golden boy professor to having funding pulled, and being asked to teach classes he feels are beneath his skills.  Ginny is an Asian American professor who meets Brian when they get put on the same diversity council.  She is studying third generation Asian Americans and as such wants to work with Jackson who runs a clinic in Chinatown. Jackson is black, and runs a clinic but is also a surgeon at a fancier hospital where he is running into issues with upper management.  He is basketball buddies with Brian.  And he meets Valerie, who is an up and coming actress, when she has an accident on set and ends up in the ER.  Valerie is also black and ends up volunteering for Brian's study.  The characters overlap and intersect more than that as they date, fight, hang out, and try to figure out how to just live their lives. 
It is the kind of play I think would be perfect to go to with friends that you know would have a great conversation with you afterwords, even if all you did was name your favoritest parts.