november 2020

11.2.20
Our power didn't get turned back on until late morning on Sunday, which means we did Halloween without power. That sucked for Will, because he had a bunch of Halloween blow up yard decorations that we took down in advance of the storm and obviously weren't able to put back up and inflate without power. But he and Julie did a pretty good job of making due, setting up a big spiderweb on one of the trees next to the street and decorating it with a string of purple battery-powered LED lights. On this they hung ziploc bags of candy with four or five pieces in each one that trick or treaters could grab from the web in a fairly safe way in a time of Covid.

Because power was still out in a lot of the neighborhood, including the streetlights, we went out while it was still light and came back before it got too dark. Will went as our mailbox this year, a costume that Julie made for him that actually opened to reveal mail inside. There weren't as many houses giving out candy this year, of course, but many of our neighbors did something like we did, either leaving candy on a table near the road or clipping bags to their fences, etc. Will got a pretty good haul, but just to be extra safe, we're going to let it sit for a couple of days before we open any of it.

Will's never been big on the eating candy part of Halloween anyway—he likes dressing up and walking around the neighborhood collecting it, but he doesn't have the sweet tooth that most kids seem to have. We also didn't carve our pumpkins this year—we had gotten them a couple of weeks earlier, but with the power out and the weather turning cold, no one wanted to put their hands into a pumpkin to scoop out the freezing pulp and seeds, so we just kept them as uncarved decorations.

As we were about to head home from trick or treating, we saw trucks heading down to where the tree had fallen across the road, so we followed them down to see what was going on. There were a couple of trucks already there, and they made good progress. One of our neighbors who talked to the supervisor said that they were hoping the power line crew would be able to come out that night to fix the lines once they cleared the tree, but that didn't happen—they did get the tree cleared, but the line crew didn't come until the next morning.

Even after our power came back, we were still without internet for a few hours because the same tree that had taken out our power had also taken out a major Comcast cable at the same time, and it took longer for Comcast to come and repair that. Still, but Sunday evening, we were pretty much back to normal, with renewed appreciate for all the daily comforts that electricity brings to our lives.


11.3.20
The big day is finally here. Fingers crossed the pollsters haven't led us astray like in 2016....


11.4.20
Like many progressives, I slept sporadically and fitfully last night, reliving the nightmare scenario from 2016 and dreading what the next four years might bring. But since early this morning, almost all the news has trended in a positive direction: as we got the counts for the number of mail-in ballots in key battleground states and started to get early returns on the ratio between Biden and Trump in those ballots, the possibility of Biden making headway in some key states became possible and even probable.

There's still a long way to go, and I don't expect Trump to stop his flurry of lawsuits and false statements, but at least there's some hope. We've had precious little of that in 2020, and the floor could still be yanked cruelly out from under us, but it's not over yet and it's clear that Trump is scared right now.


11.5.20
As returns have continued to trickle in today, it has become clear that the so-called "red mirage" predicted by many data wonks is starting to dissipate. The best proof of this so far is that, after election-day votes initially gave sizable leads to Trump in both of the must-have upper midwest states of Michigan and Wisconsin, the counting of the mail-in ballots has since not only given the lead to Biden but also given him a big enough lead that they have been called for the Democrat by every media outlet.

Moreover, of the five remaining states—Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia—Biden either has a lead or is close enough to have a realistic chance of catching up. North Carolina seems to be the one that's the most out of reach at this point (they also haven't given a status update of either number of outstanding ballots or updated their vote totals since early Wednesday), but all the others are in play, and in virtually all of them, votes are trending in the right direction (Biden has a decent lead in Arizona, but Trump has slowly been gaining, so that state may still be in play for Trump despite the AP and Fox News(!) calling it for Biden already).

Pennsylvania is the easiest path here—if Biden can take that state, he crosses the 270 threshold. Nevada seems pretty set for him so that state and one other—like Georgia, which only has a difference of a couple of thousand votes as of this writing, or Arizona, where Biden currently leads—would also be enough to get him over 270. Hopefully that threshold can be crossed in the next 24 hours, but they should all be settled by this weekend, and there's a real chance that Biden could take 4 of the 5 remaining states for a decisive Electoral College victory to go along with his overwhelming popular vote win.


11.6.20
At this point, three days after the election when the majority of votes have been counted in most of the battleground states, it seems pretty clear that Biden is going to win the election. But as of this writing, none of the major networks have called it yet, which seems very odd—in any other year, there would be more than enough data to make solid predictions about which way each state would go, and there are enough states with solid enough trend lines that there are multiple ways for Biden to get over the 270 threshold.

There are three main reasons I can think of for this, and only one of them isn't cynical/depressing. That would be that the networks are being extra cautious because their traditional models can't account for the huge increase in both turnout (for both candidates) and the large number of ballots that were cast before election day (either mail-in or early voting) that aren't allowed to be counted until least election day. (There's no technical reason for this, but many Republican legislatures have set up the rule that way so that the results early voting/absentee ballots wouldn't unduly affect turnout on election day, and also to create the red mirage that happened in this election.) And given the perception about how wrong they were about predicting the 2016 election, the last thing they want is to make the wrong call again.

The two more likely reasons for not calling the election, however are these. First, with the volatility around election rules and norms, and a president (and possibly an entire party) who are willing to flout those and use the partisan courts that they've been busy packing over the past four years, the networks may be afraid of getting Trump and his base amped up and possibly violent unless the results are pretty much final and the states doing the counting are will to declare a winner. This sucks, because it's another way that Trump is distorting and damaging a bureaucratic process that will last far beyond his tenure in the White House. But even though this option is depressing, it would at least point to some integrity on the side of the networks.

But the most likely, and most cynical, explanation for not calling it yet is that the networks are getting HUGE ratings the longer this drags out as voters on both sides await hourly reports from the battleground states about how many votes were reported since the last batch and how that changes the vote totals for each candidate. Once they call the election, a huge percentage of those viewers will move on to something else and stop spending a majority of their waking hours tied into the news feed.

Given what we're seeing with the completion percentage of the vote counts in the remaining swing states, it would be shocking if they don't call it before the weekend is over (my prediction is that they're all just waiting for the dam to break—no one wants to be first, whatever their motivations, but once someone calls it, they'll all fall into line very quickly). And it's not like not calling it despite what the data is telling them doesn't have consequences—every hour that they delay when they know what the result will be just allows Trump to continue to sow doubt about the validity of the election and increase the possibility of instability and violence.


11.9.20
Whatever the reason, I was right about the election call—Trump's team scheduled a press conference in Pennsylvania to talk about the election at 11:30 a.m. Saturday morning, and between the announcement of the press conference and when it started, every network called the election for Biden.

It's good that they didn't allow another public spectacle filled with spurious and unfounded accusations about election fraud to take place in the context of an uncalled election, but it also points to my most cynical hypothesis being correct—they were holding off on calling it for as long as possible to keep ratings high, but finally felt like the balance between ratings and the public good shifted once that press conference was scheduled.


11.10.20
The Ravens have played two games since the last time I wrote about them, one loss and one win. The loss was against the mystifyingly-still-undefeated-Steelers, who are not as good a team as their record indicates. This was a heartbreaking loss in Baltimore with some very bad calls that went against the Ravens, but even though the game was close and was very nearly a win on the final play of the game, the real problem with this game was that we continued to see a lack of spark in the offense. The particular issue this time was Lamar turning over the ball a lot, but even though they've won their five of their previous six before this one, they just haven't seemed electric since their first game against the Browns.

The game a week later against Indianapolis started out feeling the same way, and Baltimore was down 10-7 going into halftime with the only points coming on a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown by the defense. The offense hadn't done a thing, it was making mistakes, and it looked completely overwhelmed. But something changed at halftime: they came out with a better game plan and more energy, and they capitalized on opportunities (like a interception by Marcus Peters which the offense converted into a touchdown which gave them the lead for the first time in the game).

The final score was 24-10, with Indy going scoreless in the second half. It wasn't a blowout, but the second half was something to build on. It will be interesting to see how the next few weeks go with injuries mounting (pro bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley is out for the season, star defensive lineman Calais Campbell is likely out for a game or two after straining his calf, and Covid seems to be spreading in the organization) and the hardest stretch of the schedule coming up, with an away game at New England, a home game against the Titans, and a game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. If they can come out of that without losing any other stars to injuries and with at least one win, they have a real chance to run the table for their final five games and put themselves in a strong position to make the postseason.

The outlook on UGA's season is not as sunny, however. They lost—badly—to SEC East rival Florida, who they have beaten for the last three years in a row. With the way the schedule has worked out this year, this means that UGA will not win the SEC East, which means they will not play in the SEC championship game, which would have been their only slim chance of making it to the playoffs this year. That loss effectively ended their season, because with the expectations the fans have had for the past several years, anything short of a championship run is going to be seen as a failure.


11.11.20
We're about a week into file reading season, and things are going pretty well so far. We're very lucky that, despite losing three full time admission counselors and not being allowed to replace them due to the Covid-influenced hiring freeze, everyone on our team has at least two years of experience in our office under their belt (and many have five or more), and we experimented with reading in pairs remotely last year as it offered more convenience and cut down on commute hours. So although it will be new reading completely over Zoom or the phone, the basic process has been in place for four cycles now, and we do have a little bit of experience with the process when partners are working remotely.

Because we're down some staff members, I took on an additional territory that by itself is likely to be larger than both the regions I read last year, while also keeping my longstanding territory that I've had for several years. I usually try to read two days a week, but this year I'm going to do my best to hit three (full time counselors read four days a week), and I can already tell I'm going to need that time—my queue for ED1 files is about twice what it has been in recent years, which can't be explained solely by the large applicant pool this year.

One thing that will help me keep my workload balanced, however, is that both in our office and in enrollment services in general, people are sticking with proven processes and we aren't doing too much that's new. This is both for stability/stress reduction purposes and as a result of our tight budgets—new initiatives typically take a decent amount of flexible capital, and even though we'll have some savings because it seems unlikely that we'll be doing any travel or hosting any events this fiscal year because of Covid, we don't have enough spare manpower or budget to do anything radically different that what we've done the past couple of years.


11.12.20
There was a brief window in early October when our school district was considering letting students return to in-person learning, but that was right as we were beginning to enter the current spike of cases (which, when you think about Covid fatigue, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, seems likely to continue climbing until at least the end of January). They issued new guidelines for when they will start to prepare to open the schools again, and even if we get good news about vaccines or therapeutics (I have no faith that we'll flatten the curve or reduce cases to the level the schools require by people doing the right thing in regards to masks and social distancing), I doubt we'll get anywhere close to the transmission rate before the end of the school year.

That really sucks for Will, who definitely does better in an in-person environment where being under the teacher's observation helps him with his focus issues (along with the influence of his classmates—he doesn't like to stand out as a problematic kid, so when his peers are focused and doing work at their desks, it's easier for him to do it too). But it also sucks that in his final year at his elementary school, a school that he loves and has had such a great experience in, he won't be able to do so many things that you can only do in the fifth grade and that he has been looking forward to, like being a crossing guard in the morning or running for school president. Not to mention the fact that he'll never meet his teacher in person (at least not while he's in her class).

I'm not too worried about the transition to middle school—he's always done pretty well adapting socially every year (most years he seemed to end up in classes where he knew almost none of the students from previous grades, and he always found a new circle of friends quickly), and even though it will be a new school, most of his elementary school will also feed into that middle school. But I won't pretend that the move to middle school isn't already a bigger transition than moving from grade to grade in elementary, and when pile on top of it the fact that it will likely have been more than a year since he's physically interacted with other kids by the time this is all said and done, and I'm definitely expecting some rough weeks at the beginning of the first semester.


11.13.20
Most of you who follow politics even marginally probably know by now how Georgia's crazy election system works with regard to runoffs, but here's a quick synopsis: if no candidate in a given race gets above 50% the vote, which can happen in any race with more than two candidates, then there is a runoff between the top two candidates (meaning someone must get above 50% of the vote) a couple of months later.

This was expected to happen in the race for Kelly Loeffler's seat: she was appointed by the governor when Johnny Isakson retired last year, and although his term doesn't end until 2022, the rules dictate that a vote to fill the seat for the remainder of the term at the next November election. Since there wasn't a traditional primary process for that seat, lots of candidates from both of the major parties (as well as several third party candidates) entered the race, which ended with Democrat Raphael Warnock getting about 33% of the vote with Loeffler getting about 26%, while another Republican candidate got about 20% and several other candidates split the remainder of the votes in much smaller numbers.

But we also had another senate race this year for the end of David Perdue's six year term that had a normal primary and only had Perdue, Democrats Jon Ossoff, and a Libertarian candidate. It initially looked like Perdue would be above 50% and would avoid a runoff, but with the Libertarian candidate getting about 2% of the votes and the mail in ballots leaning heavily Democratic (just as they did with the presidential race), the razor thin margin Perdue had above 50% evaporated and he ended up with 49.7% of the vote.

So now we will have two senate elections for Georgia in January (one of which will be for a full six year term and the other of which will be for the two remaining years on Isakson's term), and wouldn't you know it, the senate currently looks like it will be 48 Dems to 50 GOPs. So if the GOP wins at least of these seats (which is extremely likely, despite Trump losing the state), Mitch McConnell will remain the majority leader of the senate and will be able to continue his decade plus of obstructionist behavior. But if the Dems can win both—again, very unlikely—then the senate will be tied 50/50, meaning that the vice president—Democrat Kamala Harris—will serve as the tie breaker, effectively given control of the senate to the Democrats for the first time since 2010.

What this means for those of us who live in Georgia, however, is that every day between now and January 5 will be filled with the same onslaught of election ads that we've already been deluged with since the summer. Not only will the control of the senate be at stake, but there is no other significant national race happening during that time, so all the dollars from both national parties will be dumped into ad buys in this state.


11.16.20
Back at the beginning of the baseball season, the Braves were selling cutouts that would sit in the seats for home games in lieu of real fans, who weren't allowed inside the stadium for home games the entire season. So we bought one and put Will's picture on it, and we got lucky that it was placed so that we could catch a glimpse of it whenever a left handed batter came to the plate.

We weren't sure whether we'd get to pick it up at the end of the season, but they emailed a few weeks ago with a link to sign up for days to come get them from the stadium, and we signed up for this past Saturday. We weren't sure what to expect, but the email said that everyone would be required to wear masks and social distance, etc. This was true for the most part, especially inside the stadium, but the Braves don't have any control over the retail/dining district around the stadium (called the Battery), and although many people were wearing masks, there were a decent percentage who weren't, and the ones who weren't also seemed to enjoy walking unnecessarily close to people who were masked up.

The Braves were also having an end-of-season sale that was mostly outside in the concourse, so we did that while we waited for them to retrieve Will's cutout. We got a t-shirt for Will and also bought two game-used baseballs: one was a grab bag that could have also contained an autographed ball but actually contained a ball from the first round of this year's playoff games, and the second was a ball from last year's playoffs, specifically game 2, which we attended. MLB has set up a really cool system where every game ball is affixed with a hologram and an id number, and you can look it up online to see who threw the pitch, to whom, and what the result of the pitch was. Having a game-used ball is unique enough, but being able to see exactly what moments and plays the ball was involved in was pretty cool.


11.17.20
Although the Ravens did not play a great game yesterday in New England, it's still hard to tell whether they're capable of returning to the offensive powerhouse they were last year or whether the strides they made in the second half against Indianapolis were a fluke. The weather was a HUGE factor in this one—it was raining the entire game, and it was a downright deluge during the final series when the Ravens needed to move the ball down the field and score. That's usually accomplished with passes, which are all but impossible to throw (and catch) in weather conditions like that. It was bad timing, but they wouldn't have been in that position in the first place if they had played better earlier in the game.

Injuries continue to be a concern as well. They were without several important pieces of the defense to start the game, and that got worse when defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who is an integral part of our run-stopping defense, got injured and left the game in the first half. And then there was another devastating injury on the offensive side, with tight end Nick Boyle suffering a serious knee injury that will knock him out for the rest of the season.

Even though next week's game against the Titans is at home, I'm very concerned that we'll be able to pick up that game or the second game against the Steelers the following week if we continue to lose key players and we don't find a productive identity on offense. That means we could head into December with a barely-winning record of 6-5 and needing to win out from that point to have a realistic chance at a wild card spot.


11.18.20
Back in the summer, we had hoped we'd be at a point with testing, contract tracing, and flattening the Covid curve that, with special precautions, we might be able to go visit family for the holidays. We though if we could get tested a couple of days before we left and so could my parents and my youngest sister (who lives in their town and is in their bubble even though she doesn't live with them), and we all tested negative, then we might all feel comfortable staying with them for a few days and being able to pretend like Covid doesn't exist.

But with the rapidly accelerating case numbers, none of us felt good about that plan, even if we could all get access to tests in a timely manner. And now that we've gotten good news about one of several promising vaccine candidates (with hopefully more to come in the next couple of months), along with a new president who will develop a national response strategy for controlling and combating the virus, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and for once I don't feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football that Lucy's holding when I start to convince myself that by next summer we'll all have access to safe vaccines and life can start to get back to normal.

It's disappointing, of course, just like almost everything else this year, but we invested an enormous amount of energy and sacrificed so much to make sure our family doesn't get infected and stays safe until we have Covid under control. Knowing that there's an endpoint coming would make us feel even more foolish if we broke isolation now for a family visit and ended up catching the virus. Even though it's tempting to relax our protocols now that the goal is in sight, that would be the worst thing to do, because the objective is for everyone to still be alive and healthy by the time the holidays roll around next year, and we're on a path to do that if we can just stay steady.


11.19.20
I've run out of movies that I actually want to watch on the streaming services, and I'm not ready to start a new series, so I've now watched a couple of movies that I wasn't that interested in but decided to give a chance.

The first of these was Solo on Disney+, which Will and Julie swear we watched for movie night once. But I must have been tired and dozed off, because I didn't really remember any of it, although there were scenes every now and then that felt familiar. This wasn't as bad as I was expecting, but it wasn't great, either, and it was easy to see why it didn't do well coming out shortly after the fan-dividing The Last Jedi.

They took one of the most beloved characters in the Star Wars universe and gave him a backstory that was alternately generic or too enmeshed in references to the original trilogy, surrounded him by ultimately forgettable characters (except, strangely, a droid named L3-37, and of course Chewbacca), and had him played by an actor who very rarely hit the right notes as a younger version of the character made famous by Harrison Ford in his prime. Again, it wasn't as bad as I was expecting based on reviews, and I guess it was entertaining enough to be worth watching once (especially since it's included on a streaming service we're already paying for), but I can't imagine I'll ever watch it again.

The second movie was Nightcrawler, a creepy killer vehicle for Jake Gyllenhaal who plays a weird, desperate loner who is definitely a sociopath and likely has a couple of other personality disorders to go with that pathology. He's looking for get-rich-quick schemes he can invest his time in when he comes across a freelance film crew that shoots the immediate aftermath of a police event (the gorier the better) and sells it to local news stations, and he decides that's just the thing for him. He builds up his cred in this new career by realizing he can start to create some of the violent news stories that bring in the biggest dollars, starting with causing a serious accident for a rival freelance news van and culminating in setting up a shootout between police and two violent home invaders wanted for murder where he also positions his assistant to be shot and killed so he can film the death.

It was really not a good movie, and I don't want to take any more time to try to dissect it's weak attempt at some sort of social commentary around our lust for viewing the misfortune of others and how the main character was just a reflection of all of us, blah blah blah. It's just not worth it.


11.20.20
I finished the first reads on my Early Decision files this morning, just in time to take most of next week off and truly step away from work tasks for a few days. The calendar is weird for this round this year—we usually have a few days after Thanksgiving to finish off the initial reads before we go to final committee review, but this year committee starts the Monday after Thanksgiving and its scheduled for a full week (usually, because of the relatively small number of applications, committee work only takes 2-3 days, so it would have been easy to move committee back two days and give people some cushion after Thanksgiving).

But whatever. I'm done and that's all that matters. I have a few meetings on Monday and a couple of small data projects due, but I should be able to easily knock those out and not have anything hanging over my head as my time off for the holidays starts.


11.23.20
The Ravens had yet another tough loss yesterday, this time to the Tennessee Titans, the team that knocked them out of the first round of the playoffs last year. They had a chance to win very late in the game, but the defense let a tackle slip on third down that led to a touchdown, which then required a last-second field goal from the Ravens to tie the game and get to overtime. And then we allowed Derrick Henry—the one player who should have been the top priority after running all over us in January—to run for a 29 yard touchdown and the win.

They are now 6-4 and face the Pittsburgh Steelers at home on Thanksgiving night, just four days after the tough, physical game against the Titans. The Steelers are not anywhere near as good as their so-far perfect 10-0 record would suggest, but that doesn't mean that this Ravens team will be the squad that will be able to demonstrate that. They seem demoralized and disoriented, unable to make up for the loss of several key players to injury and reeling from losing three of their last four after starting 5-1. The season isn't over if we lose at Pittsburgh, but it does mean they're going to need to win out and have some other teams lose in order to have a shot to make the playoffs in a very competitive AFC field.

I'm taking off the rest of this week, which I don't normally do for Thanksgiving. But later this evening, the newest expansion pack for World of Warcraft launches (a month after it was originally scheduled), so I'm going to burn some vacation days that I'll lose otherwise and immerse myself in that world for the next couple of days. We aren't traveling this year, of course, and we're doing a much more low key celebration as a result that won't take nearly as much prep. So even though we'll miss seeing family this year, I am looking forward to a true week off with less to stress about than usual for the holiday.


11.30.20
It seemed like a waste to make a whole turkey given that our day-of celebration would be just the three of us plus Julie's mom (sitting outdoors and socially distanced as usual—we got really lucky with the warm weather in that regard), so we ordered a smoked, spiral-sliced, glazed ham from our favorite local barbecue restaurant. We complimented this with a few (but not all) of our typical Thanksgiving sides—sweet potato casserole and green bean casserole—plus mac and cheese from the barbecue place and roasted brussels sprouts (which we make a lot, but just not usually for Thanksgiving). It was a modest feast compared to most years, when we typically host 5-10 guests, but it was appropriate for this year.

To finish out the weekend, we did our holiday decorating, getting our tree and setting up our growing army of inflatables in the front yard. We usually do that a week or two after Thanksgiving, but Will is always eager to get going—he loves holiday decorating, especially Halloween and Christmas—and we were also a little concerned about tree shortages this year. We got our tree on Saturday and it was decorated by Sunday night, and the yard was set up by then too. And a special addition to the collection arrived earlier today: a giant red inflatable Christmas tree (12.5 feet high) that I got as a surprise for Will. It will require that the existing blowups be rearranged to accommodate it, but I'm sure Will won't mind.

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