Mill Road, Marbletown, NY; a Saturday morning in February

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WOOHOO! Mars landing!
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Just pay for the damn app!

I don’t use ambient noise generators on my laptop very often, but when I do, I have come to enjoy A Soft Murmur. It has a decent selection of sounds and allows you to create different combinations and save them. It’s not overly fiddly, though, and I appreciate the balance of features and simplicity.

When I went to take a look at their mobile app, I found a bunch of negative reviews. Nearly all of the bad reviews were complaints that a bunch of the sounds that are free in the web version are locked in the mobile version and have to be paid for.

Expecting the price to be steep (given all the complaints), I installed the free version and then took a look at the cost to upgrade and unlock all the sounds…

It is $1.99.

That’s not a buck-ninety-nine a month, or even per year. It’s one-time charge of $1.99 to have the full app.

While I generally know better than to ask questions like this, what the hell is wrong with these people upset over two dollars? I know there are plenty of folks out there who are barely scraping by and do not have a lot of spare cash to throw around on app purchases. However, I’m guessing that people who are taking the time to log in to the App Store and post a negative review are in that category.

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The GameStop Rally Exposed the Perils of ‘Meme Populism’ – NY Mag Intelligncer:

Platforms like Twitter and YouTube have democratized participation in public discourse. The range of people and ideological factions that can make their voices heard in America’s political debates is exponentially larger today than it was two decades ago. This has had many salutary effects on our politics. Dubious economic orthodoxies are harder to sustain — and sound heresies, harder to suppress — in an environment of unceasing, unfiltered public debate. The mainstream media’s conventional wisdom is no longer primarily shaped by the social world of Beltway cocktail parties, but by the more diverse and cantankerous chatter of their Twitter feeds. The left has exploited this openness in myriad ways — from influencing the technocratic details of Democratic policy proposals to crowdfunding socialist primary challenges to organizing mutual aid campaigns to bankrolling a vast network of alternative media outlets.

Nevertheless, the republic of tweets is no popular democracy. Twitter users are much younger, more educated, and wealthier than the American public as a whole. And those who tweet about politics are, by definition, far more interested in consuming news media than ordinary Americans. These biases shape Twitter discourse and the viral causes that arise from it. Like social media itself, meme-fueled populist uproars are liable to privilege spectacle over substance, the concerns of college-educated young people over those of those less online constituencies, and the hasty embrace of (ideologically affirming) conclusions over the exercise of epistemic humility.

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None of us can be prepared on our own.

Earlier this morning, I happened across a post by Ben Brooks about rethinking his bug-out bag setup, a bug-out bag being the pre-packed bag or backup you have ready to grab when some emergency hits. I do not always agree with Ben, but he’s a good writer and I appreciate the amount of thought he puts into his reviews and recommendations.

The whole idea of bug-out bags has never really appealed to me. It’s one thing if you are frequent business traveler and have a second set of toiletries and other essentials ready to go—it makes getting ready to go on a trip quicker and easier, and you’re less likely to forget the toothpaste if you have a tube that always lives in your bag. But this idea that I’m going to have my foldable solar panel, medkit, flares, knives, tarps, and other tactical gear all stowed and ready to go for when the zombies apocalypse comes? No thanks—seems like prepper crazy town to me.

And reading through Ben’s post, it sounds like he ran a bit afoul of that crowd with his assertion that you’d be better off tailoring your bug-out bag toward a few days’ stay in a hotel or with the in-laws than being ready to build a shelter and forage in the wilderness.

When I hear people talking about stockpiling MREs in their basement and preparing to survive on their own in some kind of apocalyptic disaster scenario, it always seems like cosplay to me. The image that always comes to mind is the series of scenes when the bombs fall in the BBC’s Threads. Everyone panics, no one knows what to do, and everything falls apart. The Sheffield City Council retreats to their underground bunker, only to be trapped there and cut off from everything when the buildings above them are reduced to rubble. Prep all you want, but if something like that were to actually happen, you’re still screwed.

There are probably a vanishing small number of people who could actually survive for a little while, but it mostly seems like the prepping genre is about people trying to give themselves a feeling of individual control. It’s no wonder they get so upset when someone tells them “Yeah, you can’t actually do this on your own. Focus on more practical scenarios.”

It is a manifestation of the upset a bunch of people felt about Obama’s “You didn’t build that” line back in 2012. We’ve had an organized effort in this country for decades insisting that the only way to think about freedom is at the individual level, and lots of us have internalized that notion to one degree or another. If you are building a business or responding to a disaster, we are told, you can only count on yourself. Same goes for trying to find or keep a job, or deal with an illness, or get an education.

The reality is that we all rely on the connections and systems our society has built up around us. We depend on other people, we depend on organizations, we depend on the government. The idea that we are all rugged individualists—or even that we could be—is fiction, a fantasy deliberately constructed and promoted by ideologues with a specific agenda.

So if having a bag packed and ready to go makes you feel better, by all means—get it ready and leave it sitting by the door. But if you want to actually be prepared for disasters, or even just get through your life, the way to prepare is to acknowledge, support, and expand the web of services (or, perhaps, the threads) that connect us all together.

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It is kind of crazy how desperately aggressive the emails from Facebook become when you go a week or two without logging in.
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Yes, I would really like for my kids to be back in school. No, I’m still not sure it’s a good idea.

Our school district has been fully remote since last March. My kids have done pretty well with the remote learning, and I have not been working since fall, so having them home all the time has not been as much of a challenge for us as it has been for a lot of other families.

Last week, the School Committee voted to authorize a return to in-person learning sometime in April. The motion was in response to a petition that has been circulating around town for the last few weeks. The petition called for the district “to begin offering an In Person Learning Model to all students by no later than April 26, 2021.” The petition states that hybrid model would be acceptable, and that the district should continue to offer fully remote learning for families not ready to send kids back into the building.

I wish I knew how I felt about this.

As with so many aspects of this pandemic, it feels like there is both too much and too little information. I keep hearing that there is data indicating that schools are not a significant source infection, but these claims are either caveated with lots of statements about “assuming sufficient precautions are taken,” or they are being shouted by people who just really want kids to be back in school.

Is there data? Maybe. Is there a lot of motivated reasoning going on? Definitely. From what I can tell (and I am by no means any sort of expert), it seems like the data we have indicate that schools tend to mirror community spread. It is an easy jump from that statement to the claim that, if infection rates are low in your community, then the schools should be open. However, it seems like where the discussion bogs down is that the schools and the community are two parts of a whole, and that the virus spreading in one of those parts affects the spread in the other part, and vice versa.

I don’t see how we can look at our general community spread—which can only be considered low when compared to the catastrophically high levels across the entire United States—and say “Yep, we should re-open the schools.”

The other question I keep coming back to is what people actually mean when they say “re-open the schools.” For the folks circulating the petition in my town—despite the language in the petition about a hybrid model—I think they’re imagining something pretty close to what school was like for the kids on March 13 of last year. The reason I think that is that when they talk about it, they’re all about how kids need to be able to play with their friends and socialized and have a normal life.

That, however, does not at all match up with the “sufficient precautionary measures” caveats that the public health experts plaster all over their op-ed pieces. Masks, social distancing, staggered schedules, no recess, no lunch in the cafeteria—until we achieve drastically higher levels of vaccination and immunity, a day in school is going to be utterly unlike anything people tend to imagine when they think of kids in classrooms. Maybe that’s still better than our current situation—for a lot of families, that’s probably true, and maybe for mine too.

I don’t know—the whole thing seems terrible, and none of the options seems good. This pandemic SUCKS.

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