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Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without

Friday, September 19th, 2008

The title of this entry is a saying that I heard many times from my grandmother [Grammy–my father’s mother] as I was growing up.  She was originally from Maine, but had moved to the mid-Atlantic region as a new bride when she was in her twenties.  She never lost her Maine accent to the day that she died, in her eighties.

I always thought that this was one of those “frugal New England” sayings, stereotyping the region and Grammy all at once.  As it turns out, it took coming to California to allow me to see my mistake.

Recently, when Jeremy was visiting, we went to the “Rosie the Riveter Homefront Memorial” in Richmond, CA, near where I work.  It’s quite an amazing place, in a park on the old site of Kaiser Shipyard No. 2.  As it says at the website, an estimated 18 million women worked in the defense industries during WWII.

And a part of that story is the history of the dykes–the women who dressed in overalls and worked in heavy industry–and discovered that there were other women who felt like that, too.  But that would take us rather far afield. 

The main part of the site is a sculpture that outlines the form of a ship under construction.  In the pavement that defines the keel of the ship are a number of incised stones that give the chronology of the war and of the war effort.  There are also sculptural element that outline the main architectural features of the ship.  They include plaques including photographs and other items of life during the war.  One of these is  a brief notice talking about hardships during the War.  One way of mobilizing Americans to contribute to the War effort was the slogan above.

I’m appalled that Bush’s response to the events of 9/11/2001 was to tell us to go shopping.  I fear that, with the current crisis in the financial sector, we’re in for another very bad patch–perhaps as bad as the [Great] Recession of the 1930s.

I find that I’m more and more interested in putting things up–this weekend I’m canning spaghetti sauce.  Somehow, it feels like things are going to get much worse.  So I share the saying above.  And really, it’s time for me to act like there are limits to what is possible.

Poll Traumatic Stress Disorder

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

   My life [other than work] lately has been consumed by politics…or rather, obsessing about politics.  In a previous post, I recommended  And frankly, I still do.  The guys that run it are really trying to summarize the huge mass of data that is accumulating as the political calendar moves toward election day.

   But this isn’t just a statistical exercise for me.  I care deeply about this election.  It is, as Joe Biden says in his “fireside chat” with Hillary Clinton, the most important election that I’ve ever voted in.  Even more than Nixon vs. McGovern.  So, I’ve been caught in a loop of logging on to 538 in the morning, and then spending the rest of the day being either elated or depressed, based on their projections.

   As the folk at DailyKos say, if you’re feeling anxious about the polls, get your butt down to a campaign office and do some work.  Unfortunately, I haven’t made the time to do that.  So I obsess.

  But I’ve had an opportunity to remind myself that “statistics aren’t reality”.  A couple of my friends are dealing with a cancer diagnosis.  So I’ve had a chance to revisit a remarkable essay by Stephen Jay Gould called “The Median Isn’t the Message“.  In it, he talks about his own cancer diagnosis, and the scary news that he got from looking in the medical literature.  And he talks about recruiting his training as a scientist to understand the statistics, and comes to the conclusion that the news isn’t as bad as it seems.   It’s a wonderful essay; I’ll wait until you come back.

  On the way by, he reminds us that the unavoidable part of life is variability–and that summary statistics dismiss that variation as “error”.  So, any particular poll isn’t “reality”.  It’s a poll.  And really, the only one that counts is the one that will happen on November 4.

   I’m going to try not to obsess quite so much.  And to recognize that there are ups and downs; but one thing is to say that it is all part of the process.  It won’t be a simple ticker-tape parade; there is a lot to be done.  So, let me roll up my sleeves and get to work.