Thursday, April 17, 2014

dear world

So apparently Jewish people are now being asked to 'register' their existence (and how many material goods they own) in eastern Ukraine.

Dear world: Please choose ONE AND ONLY ONE terrible decade we are fixing to relive:

or "other."

Also, I thought "never again" meant "never again."

Monday, April 14, 2014

I wouldn't hire 'em

Some of the students in one of my lab classes, I mean. I can't get over how some of them are utterly unable to follow directions that I both speak aloud and have written on a page, and how many can't remember from one week to the next the lab procedures - which are pretty much the same for most of the labs.

My top ten lab issues:

10. "Please wash the glassware you use. PLEASE wash the glassware you use." I don't have a lab slave teaching assistant for this class, so unwashed glassware means I have to stay after and do it, if I don't catch the person and shame them into doing it themselves.

9. "The lab exercise for this week is up on BlackBoard. (heavy sigh). Go to the computer lab and print out a copy." (This is for people who either chronically forget theirs, or skip class regularly enough not to get the handout)

8. That one guy who always shows up just late enough to miss the ENTIRE pre-lab lecture and then doesn't know what the butt he's doing.

7. "Beakers are for containing. Graduated cylinders are for measuring." Just put that on my tombstone, okay?

6. "NO WHAT ARE YOU DOING DON'T PUT THAT PIPETTE IN THERE!!!" as I fly across the room to knock the pipet they just used for one reagent out of their hands before they use it on the next reagent. "NO CROSS CONTAMINATION" could also go on my tombstone.

5. "No eating or drinking in lab." Seriously, some of you are industrial-hygiene majors. Why do I have to say this multiple times every week?

4. "If you spill a chemical, please let me know." I had a massive formaldehyde spill today. Luckily it was under the hood. But the person who committed the spill DID NOT TELL ME and that is NOT COOL.

3. "The plastic vial is for doing the extractions; the glass one is for the colorimetric tests." Seriously, we have done these procedures five separate times in the semester, why do you not know it yet?

2. DON'T PUT CHEMICAL WASTE DOWN THE DRAIN. No, we are not Wichita Falls and may be recycling our greywater to drink, but that day may be coming and I really don't feel like getting even trace amounts of heavy metals and cyanides added to my diet. Also I set out labeled waste bottles for a reason.

1. "No, it's too cloudy. Filter it again." Also I have said this multiple times to multiple people; you'd think they'd learn. They have to be able to get 100% transmittance on the colorimeter and there is ONE and ONLY ONE reason why that would not happen: cloudy samples. And yet every dang time, it's like a new surprise and it's me being hateful telling them to re-filter.

Three more weeks. Three more weeks and I'm done with this crew. I just hope this is an unusual lab class and not a harbinger of what future classes will be like.

humanity is ugly

So, some guy, allegedly a member of the KKK (I can't even believe they still exist in this day and age but they do) and a white supremacist decides to go and take out his rage at a particular group of people.

He winds up killing three people.

One of those people was a 14 year old kid who was an Eagle Scout. (An Eagle Scout at 14. And that puke wound up killing him).

This is where I get really uncomfortable with the whole hate-crimes legislation deal. If what this guy did is ruled "not a hate crime," that doesn't make the people any less dead. It doesn't make their families any less destroyed. It doesn't make the community they lived in any less hurt and questioning.

I've long said that to commit a violent crime against another person, you have to have hate in your heart. Oh, I get that hate-crimes legislation was designed to try to deter people who hated a particular group of people from acting on that hate, or perhaps to allow extra-special punishment for people who DID act on that hate.

But, as I said: it doesn't make the people killed any more or any less dead.

I really go back and forth on the death penalty. But I admit I come back to the idea that there are some people so dangerous that they need to be removed permanently. This guy would be one example: if he got let go, I wouldn't be surprised if he did the same, but even worse. And he's 73, so claiming any kind of leniency for him because he's "elderly" is ridiculous. (Also, why was he not in prison already? Apparently he has a huge rap sheet.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

group dynamics

I swear next semester I am *assigning* lab partners in my intro lab class. I'm done with this.

In my lab class, I currently have 14 students. Eleven of those are dilgent, hard working people. They mostly work in pairs and there is one group of three. They work together, if one person doesn't understand and someone else does, that person explains to them. They pay attention to my pre-lab lecture and know what to do. They get done in good time, hand in their papers, and then they get to scram.

And I'd get to scram early, too, if it weren't for my one last group. Two women and a man. One of the women has an enormous sense of entitlement. She also bitches about three times per lab period about how this week's exercise is "stupid." It matters not what the exercise it, it's just "stupid."

Um, you're majoring in this, right? So this is what you plan on doing with your life? If you don't like the super-basic labs where stuff is far, far less hard or tedious than it can be, well, I recommend switching majors.

I actually remember some of the labs from my basic bio class (which was high school AP bio). One big one I remember is the onion root tip. Most basic classes do some form of this: you either make and stain yourself (as we did) a slide of an onion's growing root tip, or use a prepared slide. You find 100 cells in the zone of active cell division (the meristem). You identify them to stage of mitosis. Then, based on the number of cells in each stage and how long the cell cycle generally takes, you can compute how long each stage takes. I remember doing that and thinking, "Whoa, cool. I didn't think about doing it that way but it works."

But to a lot of today's students (or maybe just to a lot of students who aren't really into science and who don't have a high tolerance for repetitive tasks like I do), counting 100 cells - well, you might as well put an orange jumpsuit on them, give them a sledgehammer, and tell them to go out in the hot sun and break rocks for 12 hours. Seriously, people act as if counting and identifying 100 cells is just short of torture.

And I'm like, wait until you get to grad school, 100 cells will look like a coffee break.

Of course, many of them are looking at med/dental/PA/whatever school, but still: I'm sure there are incredibly tedious things there.

And I do understand that probably counting onion cells seems irrelevant to someone who wants to be a surgeon or a physical therapist - but there's value (I tend to think) in anything you learn, and the idea of the technique (you have a process you can only see "stopped" stages of, now you need to estimate how long each stage takes) could be applied to other things.

But I get really tired of that one group - they tend to ignore the pre-lab (if they talk, I stop and shut them up, or I look at them and go "Do you have a question?" which I find usually shuts up in-class talkers. I've given up on the smartphones - I figure, if they want to dink around on their smartphones while everyone else pays attention, that''s  their loss. Except it's kind of mine, too, because they are always hounding me with simple questions I answered in the pre-lab lecture, and also, it takes them longer to finish and leave, so I am less likely to be done with lab early.)

But I see this increasingly much in college students: they think they know everything already, they think they've figured out what's important and what isn't, and they deem any class that is not narrowly focused on the one thing they are going to do with their lives as irrelevant and therefore to be ignored or complained about. The thing is - lots of people change their focus. I originally, as an undergrad, wanted to be a geneticist, but that gradually shifted to becoming a botanist over time, for various reasons (a big one: I didn't want to spend my research life trapped in a lab). Or you fail at something important. Or you don't get in to med school. Or you realize at 20 that becoming a doctor, under the new way medicine is done, is no longer appealing to you.

I tend to think that very little if anything you learn is ever a waste of time. I wish my students also felt that way.

Friday, April 04, 2014

you know what?

I'm sick of political "purity tests" for people.

You know, if you hint that maybe, just, you know, maybe, it might be kind of okay if a photographer with strong beliefs to the contrary doesn't want to take on the job of photographing a same-sex wedding, you suddenly become one to be shunned as a wrong-thinker.

Or, if you mention shopping at Hobby Lobby, because that's literally the only craft store within 100 miles, you're told "Oh, they oppress women (because, apparently, they won't give their workers the Plan B pill for free). You shouldn't shop there."

Those are extreme examples but increasingly I hear that kind of talk - that no matter what else you do, if you disagree, even slightly - or maybe fundamentally agree but note that there are complexities to the issue - you're an awful person.

Here's the thing - I've known people who would pass the most progressive "purity tests" out there - and they were huge (forgive the word but it's the only one that fits) douchebags. Just awful to other people, selfish, ungenerous, snarky.

And I've known people who said stuff about certain minorities, or about gay people, that made me cringe quite a bit - but then, it turned out, when they actually wound up working alongside a man they knew to be gay? They weren't awful to him. They didn't say anything. Because, you know, individuals matter. And while the person I'm talking about didn't agree with the way the man was living his life, they were smart enough to know that there are things you don't butt in about.

I have friends who are gay but I admit I'm still conflicted on the idea of requiring,by law,  say, an extremely devout Catholic to cater their wedding* because....well, because. On the one hand, yeah, discrimination is wrong and if this same Catholic person refused to cater a black heterosexual couple's wedding (or a black guy marrying a white woman's wedding), I'd be very unhappy and probably not ever want to patronize that caterer.....but matters of faith get difficult and prickly.

(*same-sex marriage is not recognized currently in my state, and anyway, this couple, I don't know that they'd want to do the big wedding thing. And at any rate: they're too nice of people to go to some caterer who would be uncomfortable with the idea and say "You WILL cater our wedding or we will call the government on you.")

I don't know. I tend to take the opinion that I go where I'm wanted, and don't go where I'm not. I'm a single woman. When I eat in restaurants, much of the time it's by myself. Some restaurants and some waiters understandably don't like that. (I do tip fairly generously). If I go to a restaurant and get the vibe of "We really would vastly prefer you were with a party of three others, or part of a family" I go "meh" and cross them off my list of places to go to again. But I don't go in, guns figuratively a-blazing, and demand that they serve me, and they serve me NOW and they put me at the BEST TABLE IN THE HOUSE. Because that's being a (sorry, again) douchebag.

And really, a restaurant that doesn't want me there? Why am I paying them? Why not go to the other fine establishments around here who actually seem happy to see me when I show up? And yeah, I get it: in some cases that baker may be the only baker in town. Or the only one worth going to. And that's unfortunate.

But, I don't know. I get so tired of being told, "Do this" or "Don't do that" when my reality suggests those things aren't really possible. Or that all the other good I do with my life is magically undone because I sometimes buy groceries at the wal-mart rather than driving the two-hour (!) round trip to get to a Central Market or somewhere. (And I guess Whole Foods is now no longer so ideologically pure? Am I remembering right?)

The whole thing just makes me freaking tired. Like I said: I tend to judge people on how they treat other individuals: are they generally nice to other people or are they generally jerks to other people? Or are there particular people they're jerks to because that person is a member of a certain group? But I tend to think that deciding someone's a jerk because they really, really need some rick-rack for their daughter's dress, and they really need it NOW, and the only place to get it is the Hobby Lobby....well.

Life is complicated and I think the problem is that people are trying to simplify it down to sets of binary choices that don't necessarily apply.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

unionizing college athletes

So apparently this is going to be a thing.

Well, I say, let's sit back and watch the unintended consequences roll in.....

1. Possible loss of amateur status

2. IRS wanting to treat their scholarships as "income"

2a. The fact that then, arguably, some of the athletes will make a higher "salary" (on paper) than some of their profs

3. The possibility of them going on strike (??? no idea if that's possible)

4. Their time getting eaten up even more than it is now by union meetings

5. Their having dues go to some union boss.

This actually might be a good education for some of these kids.

It won't affect me because I teach at a public uni (and one with such poor teams, by and large, that it wouldn't be worth unionizing them).

But I do remember that the old "may you live in interesting times" was actually intended as a curse...

Monday, March 24, 2014

some thoughts on current news

I've been troubled by the existence of a particular Kansas-based group that claims to be a "church" since I first heard about them. For one thing, it seems to me that they make the job of other Christians harder - people looking for a reason to dislike or dismiss or snark on that faith can bring up this so-called "Baptist" group as an example.

When they really aren't. When they are really pretty much the opposite pole of what a lot of Christians believe and want to do.

It also bothers me that they seem to want to exploit people in deep grief for....what? Their own agenda, their own attention, to get on the evening news? What good does it do anyone to throw salt in the wounds someone is suffering because their son, or their husband, or their brother (or their daughter, wife, sister) was killed while in military service?

I prefer not to add to the burden of sadness that already exists in the world.

And yes, there are bright lights: the Patriot Guard, for example (one semester I had a student who was a biker, and he volunteered with them when he cold. I was proud of him for that). Or the other people who form a human screen between the protestors and the family and try to protect the family from the ugliness.

But of course the group in question is back in the news because their founder (who was also apparently "excommunicated" at some point) died last week.

I'm hoping he found grace and mercy far exceeding what he seems to have shown here on Earth. And if it's not too awful of me, that he now regrets the way he behaved.

But I also found myself thinking this morning, in that sort of half-awake state when you first get up, of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. A recap: there was a very wealthy man, in a time and a place where there was really no social safety net, so the disabled or indigent had to rely on family or on the kindness of people in their town to survive. Lazarus was such a man; he apparently had a skin condition that made it impossible for him to work (he was probably ritually unclean, was the implication, I guess). The dogs would come and lick his sores (ugh). He would sit outside the rich man's gate and beg. The rich man could have helped Lazarus by letting him have the scraps from his table - but even that was too much for the rich man to do.

Eventually, as happens to all humans, Lazarus died. As the text states, he was taken to the bosom of his father Abraham - because he suffered here in this life (and also, in some commentaries, he was someone who trusted and relied upon God), he wound up in a pretty nice afterlife.

Then the rich man died. And he wound up going to "the other place" (as we used to call it when I was a kid). He's suffering. He calls upon Abraham and asks him to send Lazarus (not only is this rich man uncaring towards others; he retains a giant sense of entitlement even past the grave - considering he expects the former beggar outside his gates to bring him water) with a drop of water to cool the rich man's burning tongue. Nope, is Abraham's reply. Can't be done.

So then the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to the rich man's remaining family, to warn them to change their ways, lest they suffer the same fate as the rich man. Again, Abraham says no, it can't be done. And besides, Abraham adds, they have the Law and the Prophets; do they not read them? And the rich man explains that just as he didn't regard the Law or Prophets when he was alive, they do not. And Abraham argues that if they won't listen to the existing scripture, they will not be convinced by Lazarus....

And I find myself wondering if that founder is now casting about, wishing someone could be sent to his family, to tell them that they're going about it wrong, that they will not help anyone by telling everyone they're doomed and sinful and going to Hell, and instead they need to do something differently.

I don't know. It just frustrates me, how that group behaves.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Ran across this little information-dump: Pot isn't so green, after all
I saw the last image in that list, and my first thought was: "I don't smoke pot. So can I have my incandescent bulbs back, please?"

(I really, really dislike CFLs. I haven't yet tried LEDs, which my parents tell me give better light, because they're SO EXPENSIVE and I sincerely doubt they will last as long as claimed).

I don't know. The little-l libertarian part of me says, "I don't give a flip if someone smokes pot, as long as they don't get out on the road after doing so (or as long as they don't show up stoned to my lab class the week we're using hazardous chemicals)" but I do think there are going to be serious unintended consequences to legalizing it for recreational use.

There are a few legislators in my state eyeing it as a possible tax cash-cow, and while normally I am all about taxes I can choose not to pay (like playing the lottery), I just think it would be better for all other states considering legalization to wait five or ten years and watch what happens in Colorado.

I also worry that legalization for recreational use will lead to more pot-users, and more users losing their jobs, and possibly disability claims of "I can't work because I 'have' to smoke pot and no one will hire me now" and then the rest of us will be on the hook to take care of those folks. I don't know how likely that is but it's something that makes me uncomfortable.

Also, I want the right to throw students who are high out of my class. I had to do it once with a drunk student; he stumbled in boasting loudly about how he was at a bachelor party the night before and was "still really hammered" and it was a week we were going to be dissecting starfish, and I just didn't want him taking a fingertip off with the scalpel, so I told him that he had to leave, that he obviously wasn't "feeling well." (Luckily, he did, without too much issue. And I knew he lived in the dorm, so it wasn't an issue of him driving somewhere.)

But I will say: I don't want any self-righteous pothead claiming how his habit is "better for mother Earth" than whatever habits I have (tea, chocolate, buying fabric....)