Monday, May 9, 2022

Has Any Good Come From the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Introduction

The columnist Marilyn vos Savant was asked recently if anything good has come from the COVID-19 pandemic. Her answer was woefully incomplete so I aim to provide a better one here. Before I begin, though, I want to acknowledge that the pandemic has been tragic and of course I don’t want to minimize that. I merely hope that looking at silver linings can help us feel some gratitude.


Marilyn who??

Marilyn vos Savant is a columnist for Parade magazine, which comes tucked inside the Sunday paper. (Reading Parade is admittedly a waste of time, but the writing is so brain-dead simple, you can read the whole thing in about 40 seconds.) I’m often struck at how wrong Marilyn is, for being a supposed genius. For example, she explained the 40% college freshman attrition rate by saying, “In college, students must study subjects in which they have no interest and will never put to use.” This is both false and not the point. Students drop out because so many of our high schools don’t prepare students properly. (Given Marilyn’s defeatist attitude about college as an institution, should we be surprised she herself dropped out?)

On the topic of good coming from COVID, Marilyn acknowledged only that it might encourage people to wear masks when they’re sick. That was her whole answer, and it’s more of a hope (and probably a vain one) than a reality. And yet, there are a number of good things to come out of the pandemic, and the world’s response to it. What follows are just the more obvious silver linings.

The vaccine

Can you imagine the situation if there had never been a COVID-19 vaccine? Today, according to this article, the World Health Organization estimates that “nearly 15 million people were killed either by coronavirus or by its impact on overwhelmed health systems during the first two years of the pandemic.” But it would obviously have been worse without the vaccine. When’s the last time a vaccine was created on the fly, with a great reduction in governmental red tape, in time to save countless millions of lives? Hint: never. As described here, the worst five pandemics in history ended thus:

  • Plague of Justinian—“No one left to die”
  • Black Death—The invention of quarantine
  • The Great Plague of London—Quarantine
  • Smallpox—The first epidemic ended by a vaccine, but only after more than two centuries and countless millions dead
  • Cholera—The discovery that bacterial infection was spreading via contaminated drinking water

The COVID-19 vaccine totally saved our bacon. Without it, we might have no end in sight with countless dead, and/or we’d all still be sheltering-in-place. The vaccine represents a giant leap forward in the development of vaccines in general; a tremendously encouraging example of scientific cooperation; and, despite a lot of whining I choose to ignore, a triumph in governments’ ability to produce and deliver the vaccine at scale. Today, two thirds of Americans have received the vaccine.

Granted, I’m accustomed to great medical care because I live in an affluent community and have top notch insurance, but I was astonished to be able to get all four of my shots with very little trouble scheduling appointments, and moreover without having to provide any insurance information, and without paying a dime. For those of us sufficiently clear-headed to appreciate all this, it’s cause for cautious optimism that our healthcare system isn’t completely hopeless.

Telecommuting

At the outset of the pandemic, I worked for a division of a company that officially disallowed working from home. Nevertheless, due to a special dispensation  I’d managed to negotiate with my management, I was allowed to telecommute four days a week (and yes, it made me plenty nervous to be the outlier). From March 2000—when my employer went entirely remote due to the pandemic—straight through to last month, my colleagues and I only went in to an office once. Our entire division now follows a “hybrid” working model of visiting the office just twice a month.

I am super stoked because my commute, from the Berkeley area to Sunnyvale, was absolutely soul-crushing. My colleagues—all of them—are similarly delighted with the new arrangement. And this change is permanent—our former HQ building was sold off. (When we want to meet in person, we do “hoteling,” which means finding an empty cubicle in a corporate building shared among divisions.) The pandemic forced my employer to try out the telecommuting model, and it ended up working far better than anyone had expected.

This isn’t an isolated case. According to this article, before the pandemic only 6% of employed Americans worked from home; by May 2020, over a third were telecommuting. And as of last October, according to this article, 25% were still telecommuting all the time, and another 20% part of the time. And as of April, according to this article, roughly 25% to 35% of workers are still working from home, though only 10% cite COVID-19 as the reason.

Think of how many hours of commuting are saved. By my rough math, about 38 million Americans are teleworking who used to commute, and we’re each saving an average of an hour of commuting per day. Given that transportation is the largest contributor to carbon pollution, this telecommuting arrangement is a huge benefit to the environment … and it was brought about by the pandemic. How could Marilyn vos Savant not mention any of this? For a genius, she sure doesn’t seem very thoughtful.

Less illness outside of COVID-19

Did you find you seldom got sick during shelter-in-place? I used to dread the cold and flu season every year, but since March of 2020 I’ve only been sick twice, and both times it was pretty mild. There’s not a ton of nationwide reporting on minor colds and such, but this article notes a sharp drop in flu cases during the pandemic. So that’s been something of a silver lining.

Of course it’s hard to get excited about not getting sick when we were stuck indoors and tolerating masks all the time, but I think there may be lasting benefit. All that emphasis on hand washing could engender permanent behavioral change. I for one always wash my hands thoroughly when I get home from being out and about, and I’m not thinking about COVID per se when I’m doing it: it’s truly automatic. And who knows, maybe Marilyn is right and many sick people will be masking up from now on before they go out in public.

More outdoor recreation

Obviously COVID has killed a lot of Americans—almost a million, as of this posting—but heart disease (as described here) is the leading cause of death in this country, claiming about 659,000 lives every year. Unlike COVID, rampant heart disease in the U.S. shows no signs of going away. With the obesity epidemic closely tied to heart disease numbers, I think it’s significant that outdoor recreation increased significantly during the pandemic, even during shelter-in-place.

This was my own observation, from encountering crazy numbers of hikers along the trails in our regional parks, but is also substantiated by various data. For example, this article declares that “in 2020, 53 percent of Americans ages 6 and over participated in outdoor recreation at least once, the highest participation rate on record,” and that “7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020 than in the year prior.” And this article cites a 63% increase in bicycle sales in June 2020 vs. the previous year and a 31% increase in camping gear sales.

Perhaps some of this change will be permanent, now that so many more people have discovered the joy of being outdoors. Suffice to say the pandemic did a better job exposing people to exercise than PSAs ever did.

More outdoor dining

Where I live, in the Bay Area, lots of restaurants dealt with the shelter-in-place by creating outdoor seating areas, taking advantage of relaxed restrictions on things like putting tables on sidewalks or building seating areas out into the road, with barriers to protect diners. Traffic and parking have not become noticeably more difficult; what you mainly notice is how much fun people seem to be having and how many of them (about 100%, by my count) say things like, “How come nobody thought of this before?”

Actually, all kinds of people thought of this before but were stonewalled by the various interests who put motor vehicle accommodation above all other priorities. In this article, a state lawmaker from San Francisco explains:

If a city had come forward before the pandemic and said, “Let’s dramatically expand outdoor dining,” there would have been a lot of pushback. Like, “Whoa, what’s going to happen to the neighborhood? We need parking.” This is not a mysterious unknown now. Not everybody likes it, but most people do. They love it. And cities will go through their own local decision-making. In San Francisco, the mayor has proposed an ordinance to make the outdoor dining program permanent.

Silver linings for high school kids?

It is widely understood that the pandemic has been particularly hard on teenagers (and I even provided an albeit jocular coping guide in these pages). But in terms of silver linings, I’ll ask you to consider that not all teenagers would call the pandemic a purely negative thing. For example, I asked my younger daughter, a high school senior, if she feels like anything good came of the pandemic. She immediately replied, “I got to see my friends more.”

This probably sounds pretty close to unbelievable, but her explanation matches what I observed myself of her behavior. The shelter-in-place didn’t forbid people from getting together outdoors in small numbers, and for the better part of two years my daughter constantly went for long walks with her friends. Before the pandemic, most of these kids’ lives were booked solid with extracurricular activities so they seldom got to just hang out. To me, their less structured pandemic days looked like a time machine, taking these kids back to my generation when kids did what they felt like instead of only what would look good on their college apps.

Obviously I won’t be able to cite all kinds of articles supporting any notion that my daughter’s experience was widespread, but I do note this article pointing out that “Suicide rates for all ages dropped by 5.6% in 2020 compared to 2019. But this is not entirely unusual. Known as the ‘pulling together’ effect, suicide rates tend to dip during shared experiences of catastrophe.” And this report on a survey on the wellbeing of families states that although 31% of children reported that their emotional/mental health got worse during the pandemic, 16% report that it actually got better. Again, the pandemic still sucked, but 16% is a silver lining. (I say “sucked” instead of “sucks” … is it really the case we can now start speaking of the pandemic in the past tense?)

Online schooling, though it has been almost universally assailed as a big negative overall, also has its positive side. A Johns Hopkins University article from May of 2020 quotes Beth Marshall, associate director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health and an assistant scientist at the Bloomberg School of Public Health:

The pandemic has given schools a push to move everything online. There will be an incredible utility for this even after the pandemic has ended. For instance, schools may now be able to tailor learning to specific kids by supplementing their classroom education with online material. It is often a struggle to meet the learning level of all students. With virtual content, students can access gifted and advanced learning opportunities that are otherwise unavailable…. The same is true for districts that are resource-poor and do not have enough textbooks for their students. Many of the texts that accompany curricula are now online. If we can continue to access these when we return and have a hybrid of online and in-person education, it might start to reduce some of the inequities we have in school systems.

Another thing my younger daughter mentioned as a positive is that with online schooling, she no longer had to get up as early and finally started getting all the sleep she needed. Her experience is corroborated by the same Johns Hopkins article. Tamar Mendelson, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health and Bloomberg Professor of American Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, states:

Adolescents’ sleep clocks are programmed to go to sleep later in the night and wake up later in the day than children’s sleep clocks are. Adolescents can follow these rhythms to a greater extent now that they are not forced to wake up early to get to school, as long as they're getting an adequate amount of sleep.

(The article does caution that lack of routine can throw off a sleep schedule and lead to reduced sleep overall.)

Silver linings for college kids?

I asked my older daughter, a college junior, if she saw any benefits from the pandemic. Right off the bat, she cited three opportunities it created for her. Since she’s pre-med, for years she’s been on the lookout for healthcare-related volunteering opportunities, and was stoked to get work at a vaccination clinic. She was then able to find a paid position working a COVID hotline for students and parents, which led to a volunteer position at a hospital emergency department. She was able to handle all three gigs only because online schooling provided so much flexibility: with all her lectures recorded, she no longer had to work in the volunteer stuff around any kind of class schedule. In fact, she can even work a ten-hour shift on a weekday, which would have been unheard of pre-pandemic.

This flexibility also made getting required classes much easier, because she could double-book classes (i.e., enroll in classes that theoretically met at the same time). She also corroborates Beth Marshall’s comments about online schooling supplementing the classroom education with additional material for advanced students.

Meanwhile, since my daughter stayed on campus during remote learning due to these jobs, she made all kinds of new friends from among the international students who couldn’t go home. Sure, she’d have made friends anyway, but this widened the demographic from what she’d had in high school.

In closing

Next time somebody goes on a little long griping about the pandemic, or asks you if you see any silver lining, you can just … wow, I was about to suggest you refer him or her to this post. But of course that’s absurd, this essay is 2500 words! You’re a pretty special person to make it to the end … don’t kid yourself that your hypothetical interlocutor has that kind of patience. Just send him or her to Marilyn vos Savant’s column. Sure, it’s woefully incomplete and misses the most important points, but it’s only 100 words and she’s really, really smart.

More reading on the pandemic

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Saturday, April 30, 2022

From the Archives - Bits & Bobs Volume IV

Introduction

This is the fourth installment in the “From the Archives – Bits & Bobs” series. Volume I is here, Volume II is here, and Volume III is here. If I were a famous writer, these posts would comprise passages from previously unpublished letters or lectures that I’d bring out just to basically print my own money. But since I’m only a blogger, I’m providing similar such collections for free because I think they capture moments in time (in this case my latter college years) that I think are amusing and/or universal. All of these below are from letters written to a friend, in chronological order, and the setting is the Berkeley area.


October 1, 1990

I really like the old ladies in my apartment building. It’s an old, very elegant building in one of the best parts of Oakland, with radiators that hiss and click all the time because the landlord keeps it as warm as a sauna in all the units, for the old people. They spend most of the time indoors, since they’re really quite frail and possibly afraid of the cruel, harsh society outside. Their perception of reality is based on precious few data: if they only make it outside once a week, and happen to see something unpleasant, they may assume that’s what happens all the time.

Case in point: today I was on my bike cruising down College Ave toward home, and some old geezer pulled out of his driveway without looking. A redneck type in a big pickup truck had to slam on his brakes, and started cussing real loud. The old dude seemed unfazed, and after the truck got by, the old guy kept backing out, and almost clobbered a taxicab coming up the other way. I was almost sandwiched in the middle since I’d been trying to pass. So I started yelling, in vain of course because the old fellow probably forgot both his hearing aids, and as I escaped by hopping my bike up to the sidewalk in front of my apartment, one of my elderly neighbors was standing there watching the whole thing.

I was struck by her look of fear because until that moment, I myself hadn’t really perceived much danger (my foul language and evasive action having been entirely automatic). So she asked what happened, and I tried to play it down, but it’s obviously made a big impression. As we walked toward the building, she said, “My god, you could have been killed!” Since the front door into the building lobby is awfully heavy, I opened it for her, and she said, “Thank you! I was so close anyway but you’re really never safe until you’re home, you know?”

So I try to be as polite as possible to my neighbors, to help them live out their lives in a tranquil and pleasant fashion. This one old lady, Ruth, obviously loves having college age people around; she seems to hang out in the lobby a lot and strikes up conversations. Once I encountered her on the stairs while I was descending at about a hundred miles an hour, and she had to step quickly out of my way. I apologized and said “excuse me” and everything, and she said, “Don’t worry, I won’t mess with you,” but then, with a wink, added, “But if I were a few years younger, I sure would!”

Nov 2, 1990

I was trying to study Latin yesterday and it ultimately overloaded my brain. We’re having our second midterm Monday and I’m hoping not to eat shit like I did last time. We learn so much in there it’s not even funny. Well, we’re supposed to learn it, anyway. Recently the instructor said, “Okay, we’ve been going too slowly so now we have to speed up to catch up with the curriculum.” Yeah, right. We’ve already covered more in Latin 1 than I did in studying through French 6 at UC Santa Barbara.

Today the instructor gave us two entire pages of vocab and irregular verb formations (all tenses, and in both indicative and subjunctive) to memorize, along with three pages of exercises over this new structure. “This should only take you five minutes,” he says. Yeah, right … I’ve been at it two hours and I’m still not done. The other day we “learned” something even the instructor conceded was really difficult, and afterward he said, “You’re all very smart. It took me months to learn this.” I said, “And we get a day?” He replied, “Well, you’re Berkeley students.”

Dec 5, 1990

Thanksgiving with what’s left of my family was pretty fun, but I paid a price. On Saturday I drove straight through the night from Colorado to to Geoff’s place in San Luis Obispo and then had to take Greyhound back up to Oakland, and then I started on my research paper. This was at about 11:30 on Sunday night. I called my friend A— to see if she was still up; she was, as she’d just started on her paper too, for the same class. This paper was due the next day, and would be 80% of our grade … so this was pushing it even by our shameful standards.

I finished at about 8:00 the next morning, and rode to campus basically in a trance, after the back-to-back all-nighters. In class we broke into little discussion groups, and I fell asleep in mine, and I guess I must have started talking in my sleep because I woke up and everybody was laughing. This one girl was just shrieking with laughter and couldn’t be calmed down. The professor came over saying, “Hey, what’s going on here?” and everybody was laughing except me. I looked at the professor and shrugged: no, I have no idea what’s come over my group.

June 4, 1991

So this dipshit college kid comes into the bike shop with a broken front quick release skewer and asks how much for a new one. I tell him $9.95, and he rolls his eyes and asks if I think he can glue it back together. I tell him no fucking way, but he says he’ll try it anyway. I tell him to be careful since his front wheel is going to roll off, and that I’ll see him a little later. I should’ve clamped his head in the vise.

September 10, 1991

I’ve finally got my health back after a bad bout of strep throat. But I still have this one queer symptom: I can’t open my jaws more than an inch because of the residual swelling down there. So I’m eating a bit more slowly lately. Like I had to eat this roast beef sandwich the other day, at which point I could only open my mouth about a centimeter, which was kind of embarrassing. A friend had me over for lunch and it turns out she lives in a sorority house now, where all the meals are prepared for you, so all I had to choose from to eat was the roast beef sandwich or a salad (which, as you know, is ideal for rabbits but not guys like us). So I’m there dipping this roast beef sandwich in the “au jus” and kind of smashing it into my lips and sucking it through the gap. Real suave.

I just got home from class. I was sitting in there listening to the professor reading her notes, and it sounded something like this:

It is easy to see to what species of entities Ullmann’s description does apply. Certain entities exist the full meaning of which can be said to be equal to the totality of their sensory appearances. For an ideal perception, entirely devoid of complications resulting from the interference of the imagination, the meaning could only refer to a totality of sensory appearances.

This comes out in my notes something like this:

Ullmann has some sensory perception thing devoid of complications from imagination interfering with sensory oh fuck this shit.

November 25, 1991

I went for a mountain bike ride in the morning before work yesterday. I wanted to leave early enough to have time, upon my return, to shower, eat, et cetera, so I didn’t invite my roommate Eric along. You see, by the time he shaved, shat, pumped up, put on his clothes, and filed a report with the bureau, the morning would be gone. The only flaw in my solo attempt is that Eric always carries the spare tube, patch kit, pump, and other survivalist gear. They would have been handy today. Imagine that the ride is basically a loop, of diameter d. The bike shop is exactly d away from where I had what we in the research and development program call a “happy accident.” A rock placed by the powers that be in a strategic location began an experiment in Reduced Inflation and Pressure (RIP) of the front tire. This led me to some impromptu analysis of the handling characteristics of a standard mountain bicycle with a front tire having absolutely no inflation. On the standard dirt sections, I noticed a remarkable change in the tracking of the front wheel. It wasn’t until the single track, however, that I experienced the most dramatic ramifications of the Handling Enhancement Characteristic Kinesthesia (HECK), a sudden increase in the muscular toning of the upper body due to special bicycle control requirements. Especially on rocks and large branches, the new technology provided a Divergent Arrangement of Multiple Navigations (DAMN). Because the feel was so dramatically different, I found it necessary to actually reduce my speed, although I expect that a little practice will see the RIP being a great improvement. A thirty second shower saw me open the bike shop only ten minutes late this morning. Happily, and amazingly, my American-made Sun Metal rim sustained no damage whatsoever!

April 20, 1992

I got this Chinese fortune cookie fortune that said, “His heart was yours from the moment he met you.” How much happier I would be with that forecast if I were a chick. If I were superstitious I reckon I’d lose some sleep. The newer Square Wheel location on University Avenue, where I work about half the time, is next to a Chinese restaurant, and another fortune literally blew in the door. It read, “To you maybe too greatness, especially love adventures.” It’s the best fortune I’ve ever gotten. But so far it hasn’t come true.

I just love it when things are lost in translation. My mom bought this “Electronic Mosquito Repeller” mail-order, and it has the greatest instruction manual. I offer you this excerpt:

Mosquitoes frequently infect you place in Summer, especially at night, They are externely irritating as they disturbed our sleep and the most annoying of all is the difficulty in getting rid of the itch & soreness. After, ordinary mosquito increase or “Electrified Mosquito Killer” are used. However the odour is unbearable and the abuse of some of them may become dangerous. . . . According to the research of insect ecology, most of biting mosquitoes are female ones in spawning period. A Spawning female mosquito is very disgusted at the approaching of male mosquito. Therefore, the trequency of Repel It’ is made to imitate the sound signal of male mosquitoes to repell female mosquitoes away.

Under the heading “Applications” are six pictures of possible uses of the Mosquito Repeller. They are: Sleeping, Camping, Dating, Hunting, Livestock Farm, Farming. Where the manufacturer got these ideas is beyond me. Dating? I can’t get over that. Yeah, when I go on a date, my biggest concern is how to keep those damned mosquitoes away. The picture shows this young couple sitting on a park bench, with the guy in the process of putting his arm around the girl, about to bust a move. The Repeller is sitting on the bench with little cartoon lines to indicate its sound. My mom sent back the thing back because the noise was unbearable. I wish she’d given it to me instead, since I could have used it for my dating. Of course, if female humans are anything like mosquitoes, and become “very disgusted at the approaching of male,” I hardly think it would help.

October 8, 1992

I’ve got a midterm in my Milton class tomorrow. As far as I’m concerned, Milton is a zit on the face of English literature. (Here I’m paraphrasing Turgenev, who was referring to Dostoyevsky, another writer I’ll be reading at length this semester.) If you ever have to write a paper on Milton, you can start it off with that quote from me. Footnote it by saying, “Dana Albert, Letter of October 8 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 1.” Whether or not you note the Turgenev origin is between you and your god. But actually, it’s probably best not to malign Milton, because you can usually presume that a grad student who is a T.A. for a Milton course really likes him … so you better brown-nose a little bit. Here, for example, is the first paragraph to my last paper:

When I first approached Milton’s “Sonnet 7” I found it a confusing, ambiguous mess given to complicated phrasing, difficult metaphors, and pronouns without antecedents. However, on second analysis, I find Milton to be the dopest, flyest, O.G. pimp hustler gangster player hard core motherfucker who ever lived.

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Sunday, April 24, 2022

FAQ - Take Our Grown Daughters & Sons To Work Day

Introduction

With the COVID-19 pandemic finally easing up, companies are bringing employees back into the office and gradually resuming business as usual. An annual event that was just gaining momentum before shelter-in-place is finally back, and this year is going to be better than ever!


What is Take Our Grown Daughters & Sons To Work Day?

Take Our Grown Daughters & Sons To Work Day (TOGDSTWD) is an annual event that gives grown daughters and sons, who are technically adults but still live with their parents, a glimpse into the “grown-up” world. Through this hands-on, immersive experience, these young adults can begin to imagine a life in which they, too, would hold down a steady 9-to-5 salary-type job, and actually move out and live on their own. A parent takes his or her grown offspring in to the office or other place of employment and allows them to “shadow” actual employees as they go about their traditional working roles. In addition, numerous fun activities are hosted, depending on what resources a company has to devote to the event.

When is TOGDSTWD?

This year’s event occurs on Thursday, April 28—the same as the traditional Take Our Daughters & Sons To Work Day. This way, adult offspring can see actual children attending as well, and perhaps feel the slight stirrings of embarrassment that they’re really in the same boat, despite no longer being students.

How does Take Our Grown Daughters & Sons To Work Day create a fairer, more equitable world?

This annual event helps inspire our adult offspring to “launch”—i.e., take charge of their lives and eventually become a nation of homeowners and economy-boosters, instead of malingering with gig-economy nowhere jobs while their degrees get stale. Parents: imagine a world where nobody borrows your car all the time and returns it with an empty gas tank!

Can everybody participate?

Parents will need to check with their employers about whether their offspring can participate. If you work for the CIA, or in a surgical operating room, or as an Air Force pilot, it may be difficult to accommodate your son or daughter. On the other hand, for positions in manufacturing or mining, it can be easier to participate than with traditional Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, because no child labor laws apply!

I work from home. Can I still take part?

Yes, though it will be trickier. See what kind of support is in place now that teleworking is so widespread. Your toughest job will be to keep your adult child from getting drawn in by all the distractions in your home—though frankly, that’s a big part of your own job too, is it not? Meanwhile, TOGDSTWD is a great chance to emphasize to your offspring that just because they’ve seen you fall asleep at your desk watching webinars, they can’t expect to get away with that … after all, it took you years to get where you are.

I am coordinating this event for my company. Can you suggest some fun activities?

Yes! Below are a variety of ideas for making this day a big hit with parents and their adult children alike.

Career Exploration Panel – Company employees host a panel on how to break into the adult work world. The twist is, all panelists are people who got a slow start, spending years as waiters or baristas before getting their acts together. They will describe how they spun their limited work experience into a workable résumé and talk track, and managed to insinuate themselves into corporate America. What better way to give hope to the “Lost Generation 2.0!”

Career-Themed Coloring Books – At first your adult child may feel insulted, but this isn’t like the coloring they did in preschool, where they were encouraged to explore their artistic side by going outside the lines. This exercise is all about staying within the lines, to explore what it’s like to simply do something the way “the man” says. This is a fun way to build a skill that is so important for these young college grads.

“Kids” Cook-Off – This is a great one if your offices have a kitchen or cafeteria. In this twist on the original child-oriented concept (where parents cook, kids vote, and everyone grabs a fork), it’s the adult children who cook—and actual meals, not just Top Ramen and box mac ‘n’ cheese. Parents vote on what turned out best, and the top prize is getting to eat that (as opposed to the loss-leader entrees). Best of all, the young adults do all the cleanup! This is to teach these not-quite-fledged offspring that there’s more to daily sustenance than Mom’s home cooking and Uber Eats.

Have Your Offspring Interview You – Chances are your adult child has already been through plenty of mock interviews (which obviously didn’t help). But this time, he or she interviews you, the parent/breadwinner. It’s been so long since you were actually interviewed, you might find this a challenge ... especially with the tough questions your kid will throw at you. This activity is all about parents building empathy for their adult children’s difficult journey.

Record-a-Video Contest – This is a simple concept: throughout the event, parents are challenged to make videos of the activities, and at the end of the day they submit them to a panel of judges. There will be prizes for both Best Video and Most Videos. The offspring, meanwhile, must surrender their phones upon arrival at the event. This way, the tables are turned and the adult children can witness how annoying it is for somebody else to be buried in their phone instead of paying attention.

Quiz: What Do Your Parents Do for a Living? – This one is guaranteed to be a hoot. As many times as you’ve explained your career to your kid, it’ll become obvious they weren’t paying attention, and their guesses can be comically inane. Here are some surprising answers from last year’s event:

  • “You, um, take a lot of calls…”
  • “You work on that … that application thingie, that system … whatever the thing is that gives people internet.”
  • “It’s either marketing, or program manager. Maybe both?”
  • “You coordinate … stuff.”
  • “Something with databases, CCRs or CRMs or something? Basically tracking things in some way?”
  • “Some kind of techie thing, involving meetings where people try to sound smart to themselves.”

Business Email Workshop – Toward the end of TOGDSTWD, the adult sons and daughters will each write an email to the organizers describing their experience. Then they’ll work with their parents to polish the email until it’s “business grade.” This means turning phrases into complete sentences, adding capitalization, and most of all changing the tone from offhand and dismissive (e.g., “to2ly lame, waste of time”) to earnest and professional (e.g., “I felt the day was extremely useful in terms of helping me discover the vast possibilities available to me to have a meaningful career that helps me grow personally, while building a better future for everyone”).

Is there an Excused Absence form I can download to get my adult child out of his shift at the coffee shop?

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to excuse an adult from a service sector job as to excuse a child from school. After all, we’re trying to poach from these businesses’ already diminishing workforce. At least gig workers will have no good excuse to skip the event!

The event website merchandise catalog offers a “Hydration Water Bottle.” Is this the same thing as a water bottle?

We really struggled with this, actually. It’s not completely correct to call it a water bottle, because you could put just about any beverage in it. On the other hand, “hydration bottle” just sounds weird. So we went with Hydration Water Bottle. Note that the contents of the bottle could be hot, so be careful.

Can I donate money to the Take Our Grown Daughters & Sons To Work Foundation?

Absolutely, donations are always welcome and in fact are what make this program go! Unfortunately, we are not able to accept checks, credit cards, PayPal, Venmo, or Zelle at this time. Program liaisons are available to collect cash contributions and provide receipts. Please note that docents never have more than $200 on their persons to make change.

Is this program a great way to make a change?

Please see above.

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Sunday, April 17, 2022

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2022 Paris-Roubaix

Introduction

It’s 5:00 a.m. Do you know where your blogger is? I’m right here, I’m up, and I’ve got the 2022 Paris-Roubaix bike race on my screen. You’ll get a blow-by-blow of this race whether you’re tuning in later this morning, this evening, or in 2023 when you’re nursing nostalgia for the age when France was more than just a giant hole in the ground courtesy of Putin.

By the way, if you’re looking for nonbiased, totally fair journalism, look elsewhere. If I think a rider is doped, a dope, or just dopey, I go ahead and say so. That’s just how I roll.


2022 Paris-Roubaix

As I join the action, the riders have 124 kilometers (77 miles) to go, my cat’s been fed, my coffee is hot, and Phil Liggett, the announcer, says the riders are “distracted.” I’m not sure what this means, but then I’m not really awake yet. It’ll all make sense soon … or not.

Some guy named Jens Reynders (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) has been off the front  for a while and has about twenty seconds. I’ve never heard of him, but then a lot of favorites are missing from this race so who knows.

Back in the peloton, Filippo Ganna (Ineos Granadiers) takes a spill and now he’s putting his chain back on.


Will you look at that! It appears that Peacock, the sports network I have to pay money to just to watch a bike race here and there, is blocking me from taking screen snapshots. I hadn’t counted on this, nor on them no longer covering the Tour of Flanders. It’s apparently part of the “everything is going to shit” policy that the entire cycling media industry has adopted: GCN+ only shows a handful of races in this country, and I can’t read cyclingnews.com anymore because they want to charge me like five euros a month for access. Needless to say they’re dead to me.

Oh no! Reynders has a puncture! He tries to get a new wheel from neutral support, which used to be a 10-second affair before the bikes got so advanced they no longer have quick-release wheels so you actually need a freakin’ wrench.


Not a very good photo obviously but I’m forced to use an actual camera (well, a phone) pointed at my laptop screen, the way the kids do with Snapchat so they can make their online bullying and humiliation permanent. You know what, Peacock? You can suck mine.

So anyhow, Reynders gets a 40-second wheel change while the pack bears down upon him. Phil is so excited about the danger here that he may have wet himself. But the peloton gets past without incident.


And here’s a potentially important attack: it’s Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious), with three other dudes.


Mohoric made a big splash some weeks ago when he won Milan-San Remo with a thrilling, caution-to-the-wind descent of … god, whatever that last descent is. He was pushing it so far, his tires skittered along a couple times, and he went off the road and had to bunny-hop back onto the asphalt. Mohoric’s team is totally lubed, of course, but I can’t take that win away from him—he had huge balls that day.

I don’t get it: the print-screen button won’t get a still shot of the video footage, nor will the Windows Snipping Tool. But that can’t stop me from getting you this photo of Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos Granadiers) getting a bike change. Note the bottle he’s bringing over from his other bike. Why couldn’t they just have a ready-filled bottle already in the cage?


Ah, but look closely: there is a bottle already in the cage. What’s in his first bottle, that he’s so keen on keeping? Hmmm….

This breakaway is firming up, like a flourless chocolate cake. We’ve got Mohoric, Davide Ballerini (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Casper Pedersen (SM), Tom Devriendt (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) and Laurent Pichon (Arkea-Samsic). They’ve got 33 seconds on a chasing duo and they’re entering Secteur 20 of the cobbles.

So who’s the duo? Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Connor Swift (Arkea-Samsic). Phil says, “Twice today he’s missed the important sprints.” I have no idea who, or what, Phil is talking about. He may not either.


Politt and Swift are 36 seconds back, and the main chase another 30. Those are big gaps but there’s 100km to go. That’s pretty huge.

Phil says 8 or 9 years ago “they disqualified a number of riders” for going under the gate at a railroad crossing. This is untrue. The riders were handed a time penalty but weren’t disqualified. Phil’s salary is rightfully mine.

The lead group now has 51 seconds on the chasing duo, and 1:20 on the peloton, as they head into the Trouée d’Arenberg. Look at that, by the time I got my snapshot the gap went out another 3 seconds.


This is one of the most brutal sections. A rider in the break loses a bottle. And Ballerini punctures! D’oh!


Dang, the break just lost 20% of its engine with Ballerini out.

Back in the main bunch, Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) is just kind of hanging on the back, clearly suffering. Not sure what his problem is.


The announcers keep talking about Mohoric as though he were solo. Granted, he’s doing more than his share of the work, but he’s not doing all of it. He probably could, though. As you’ll surely recall, in Stage 7 of last year’s Tour de France he dragged the breakaway along for dozens of miles before soloing away to win, with no apparent effort. His Bahrain Victorious team had similarly not-normal successes in the Giro and the Criterium du Dauphiné that year.

Politt has been dropped by Swift, who has caught Ballerini.

Okay, they’re it looks like van Aert just had a flat or something because he’s dropped that last group and is chasing solo to get back to the main peloton.


Last year’s winner, Sonny Colbrelli, isn’t here to defend his title because after a race some weeks ago, right after crossing the finish line, he had a frickin’ heart attack! Medics saved his life but the poor dude has a pacemaker now and may never race again. Former winner Peter Sagan is out, too, having been sick all year (or is he just sick of racing?).

Van Aert drives the pace at the front of what’s actually the fourth group, being like a dozen seconds behind the main peloton.


These guys are about two minutes behind the leading … shoot, what’s the equivalent of “trio” but for four? Ha! A bit of luck, somebody has fallen out of it, so I can call it a trio. It’s just Mohoric, Pichon, and Devriendt at the front now.

Is it wrong to wish it were raining on these guys? That made last year’s race so exciting. Wouldn’t it be cool if the organizers sent airplanes up to do cloud-seeding? And then sent those planes over to northern California to end the drought we’ve been having? And then sent those same planes over to strafe the headquarters of NBC to punish them for blocking my screen grabs?

Pichon grabs a bottle. Look at how ugly those helmets are. And Devriendt’s uniform is pretty dorky … that neon green is so ‘80s.


There’s only one American in this race: Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Granadiers), who won the Brabantse Pijl quite recently (Wednesday, I think). He’s just a pup, at only 19, but he totally soloed, like a boss. He’ll be working for his teammates, particularly leaders Ganna and Michal Kwiatkowski.

Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ) has a mechanical. He’s a strong favorite for today (or at least was—let’s see how he recovers from this).

We haven’t seen much from last year’s runner-up, Florian Vermeersch (Lotto Soudal), nor from the third-place finisher, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix). Phil is saying the leaders are setting a record pace, which is good because it’s Easter and my mom is down visiting. I don’t want to hold up breakfast here.

Wow, the riders just had to suddenly steer around what appears to be a diaper in the roadway! It’s too bad for the cursed Peacock snapshot-blocking or I could have grabbed a photo to show you. You’ll just have to take my word for it. How did that diaper get there? Did a disgruntled mother throw it out into the roadway? Or a mischievous older sibling? Or am I hallucinating? (No, I haven’t had that much coffee.)

Mohoric gets a bottle. It’s got a gel attached to it. He struggles to get the gel into his jersey pocket—the first time he’s visibly struggled today. Look at this guy … he doesn’t even look like he’s going hard.


Phil has just uttered the phrase “Adri van Aert.” This is a very interesting goof, even for Phil. He evidently conflated the names “Adri van der Poel” and “Wout van Aert,” which seems an easy enough mistake to make except that the van der Poel in this race is of course Mathieu, who is the son of Adri, who retired a couple decades ago. Perhaps this is why it takes Phil several seconds to grasp that he’s misspoken, and to correct himself. In his defense, he’s like 90 years old and has probably announced thousands of races.

Speaking of very old people, I wonder if we’ll see anything out of Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) today. He won a few years back, but last year just looked tired all day. Gilbert did his first Paris-Roubaix in 2007, and he’s 39 years old … kind of long in the tooth for a classics rider. The oldest winner of this race was Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, who won in 1993 at age 38.

Weird, Mohoric seems to suddenly be getting dropped! Okay, he claws his way back.


Mohoric still doesn’t seem to be suffering but maybe he just has a good poker face. Now he’s stretching his back, or perhaps trying to hump his handlebar stem. It’s not always easy to tell which, though riders in breakaways don’t generally hump their stems unless they’re just insanely horny. I wish I could get snapshots of all this. Grabbing the phone camera just takes too long.

Poggio. That’s the name of the descent Mohoric soloed on in Milan-San Remo. It took me this long to remember.  I think I got up too early.

So, back in the peloton Nathan Van Hooydonck (Team Jumbo-Visma) puts the hammer down on the front as his teammate van Aert yells from behind, “Faster, you fool!” (Presumably.)


Now van Aert takes a monster pull and just like that, the gap to the leaders shrinks by like 30 seconds.


Wow, the pace making has forced a bit of a split and the front group is much reduced. Not sure van der Poel is even in there. Okay, there he is. I’d recognize that helmet anywhere.


And what’s this? A crash! A rider has unwisely decided to do the rest of the race on foot, and in abandoning his bike left it lying in the road for somebody else to run into! How many times has his mother told him not to do that?! He’s like one of my damn kids!


It looks like the upshot of that mishap is that this Alpecin-Fenix rider has gone out the back, so van der Poel no longer has a teammate in his group. Dumb luck, that.


Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Granadiers) has dropped the chase group and tries to bridge across to the leaders. This forces van der Poel to ride hard at the front.


Pichon is dropped! A rider after my own heart (and legs) because that’s exactly the kind of thing I would do. (If I could even make it into the race, which of course I couldn’t.)


Van Aert attacks his group! Huge gaps appear instantly!


Van der Poel and Kung are the only ones who can match van Aert.


The gap to the leading duo is only 38 seconds now, with 43 km still to go.

The chasing van Aert trio has caught van Baarle and Pichon. Now, if they all work together, blah blah blah, etc.

“Van Aert is now like a man possessed,” Phil says, proving what that fossilized rocker, Keith Richards, said about ageing celebrities and how they eventually become caricatures of themselves.

D’oh! Van Aert punctures! What a bummer for him!


It’s a quick bike change, but still. Very bad news for the giant Belgian. He chases back like a motherfrockle. He’s got a dozen seconds to make up, by my rough count.


And suddenly something happens to Mohoric! Who can say what! There are just gasps from Phil and Bob, and the camera is suddenly pointing at the sky. Maybe the cameraman had a seizure. But suddenly Devriendt’s all by himself, not really pedaling that hard, looking vaguely confused, like he’s thinking, “Wait, what wasn’t in the script. Who am I supposed to draft now?”


Van Aert is back in the lead group now.


They suck up Mohoric and now have like ten guys. Devriendt is doomed, of course.

Ben Swift (Ineos Granadiers) takes a short pull at the front … his first of the entire day. Perhaps he knows van der Poel isn’t in this group, and wants to keep it that way.


Devriendt is totally fried, and pedaling squares.

Crazy! Mohoric freakin’ attacks! He takes some other dude with him and now they’ve got Devriendt.


The other guy is Yves Lampaert (QuickStep – Alpha Vinyl).

Van Baarle attacks from the chase group to go after the Mohoric trio.


And Van Baarle has caught them.


Just look at how fat Lampaert’s handlebar tape is. Fricking crazy. Maybe he’s got carpal tunnel or something.


My dad used to retape his handlebars without removing the old tape, ever. The bars just got fatter and fatter. It was pretty bad.

Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) drills it up the side of the chase group and takes off … also his first time facing the wind today.


Stuyven has a pretty big gap. Van Aert takes off after him, Kung in tow.


This duo catches Stuyven and now the trio has a decent gap on the rest of the chasers. Now a few more make contact. Van der Poel is just sitting at the back of his group, letting the race get away from him. He must be hurting.


Now Stuyvens has a puncture, and has to chase solo after a bike change!


Stuyvens looks pretty strong as he chases the Van Aert group.

“And now Stuyvens has another bike change!” Phil cries. Uh, Phil, that’s called an “instant replay.” Sheesh.

Kung drills it on the front. He’s so large, the other riders are completely eclipsed so it looks like he’s solo.


And now Ben Turner (Ineos Grenadiers) crashes, and the rider behind tries to kick him in the back as he comes by!


Hmmm. Perhaps that was just swinging his leg for balance, actually.

Meanwhile, van Baarle has attacked the leaders and is now solo.


Ignore that 1.1 km to go indication in the photo above. That must be how much of this cobblestone section is left. They have at least 15 km to go in the race.

Stuyven has caught the chase group, sort of … all that’s left of it is van der Poel, apparently. Or maybe that’s backwards, I guess he was still ahead and only van der Poel caught him. And now drops him.


Note the Ukranian flags in that photo.

“These riders are just riding on pure strength now,” Phil says. What else would they be riding on? Electricity?

I guess I should mention that van Baarle’s lead has been growing. I’ve been in denial, I’ll confess, because obviously I don’t like Ineos.


Kung had a problem and had to chase down van Aert, but now he comes back to the front, always willing to help chase.


Van Baarle looks like he’s really suffering. He’s got a good 40 seconds on the Mohoric/Lampaert group, which isn’t making much progress because Lampaert is just sucking wheel.

“Mohoric has pretty well sowed his onions,” Phil says. Does this make sense to anybody in any universe? Is that a thing? “Sowing his onions?” No. I looked it up. Only hit is a how-to video on growveg.com.

Mohoric flicks his elbow. Lampaert waddles slowly to the front and takes a totally weak pull.


It’s not looking good for anybody but Van Baarle. He’s got almost a minute, with only 7 km to go, and I think all the cobbled sections are done.

And now a truly bizarre spectacle! Lampaert suddenly feels incredibly horny and tries to hump his stem! Why do these riders do this? Too much testosterone?


Sure enough, that strange behavior proves disastrous as Lampaert goes down hard! (Get it?)





That will certainly cost Lampaert the podium. Will somebody find this man a girlfriend, please?

The chase group has  gone flaccid. They have caught Mohoric, but have no hope of reeling in van Baarle. They’re biding their time, waiting for the sprint for second now. Look at van Aert, looking back like, “Hey, is anyone else gonna come help?”


Van der Poel just doesn’t seem to have it today. He’s done essentially nothing but get dropped. He leads a small group now but is just going through the motions.


And now van Baarle reaches the velodrome and takes 1.5 hot laps, all by himself with a huge lead.


Van Baarle has the win. He goes for the “I can’t believe it” victory salute.


The so-called chase group eventually reaches the velodrome. Mohoric unwisely leads things out.


And Kung launches an early move, surely aware he could never beat van Aert in a match sprint!


But van Aert fairly easily grabs Kung’s wheel…


Van Aert comes by to take second, Kung rounding out the podium.


Look at Devriendt throwing his bike there, as if he could make up a whole bike length that way. Ya gotta have heart!

Here’s your top ten.


These guys finished like half an hour ahead of schedule, so I want to thank them, and their team doctors, for that.

Now they’re interviewing van Baarle.

INTERVIEWER: You did it. You won Paris-Roubaix.

VAN BAARLE: Yes. It appears so. It’s crazy.

INTERVIEWER: This is the race that you wanted to win, is that correct?

VAN BAARLE: I am fairly sure that everybody wanted to win. And actually there are lots of races I wanted to win, but yes, your statement is accurate.

INTERVIEWER: Your whole Ineos team was on the front today, was that planned?

VAN BAARLE: Not at all. We didn’t want to chase everyone. But we did want to be in the front foot.

INTERVIEWER: I think you mean “on the front foot.” But even that isn’t just right. I don’t think “front foot” is a thing. Only “back foot.” As in, not being on it.

VAN BAARLE: You will have to excuse me, English is not my first language.

INTERVIEWER: Say, that reminds me. Is it true that one Dutch slang term for vagina literally translates “front butt”?

VAN BAARLE: Yes, that’s true, although it’s not the most common term used. But, um … what were we talking about?

INTERVIEWER: I can’t recall. Anyway, nice talking to you.

VAN BAARLE: …


Now it’s time for the podium ceremony. The winner’s trophy, a giant cobblestone, emerges slowly on a motorized pedestal, which is an even dorkier effect than it sounds. Van Baarle hoists the stone above his head fairly easily as the entire crowd holds its breath, wondering if he can do it.


The winner should really wear his helmet on the podium. I mean, what if he lost his grip on that stone? It would totally hit him on the head.

Well, that’s it for today. Check back here next month for the Giro d’Italia, because that’s on another network and I think I’ll be able to provide hi-res photos. Sheesh.


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