Thursday, November 20, 2014

Something small and nice

There's a lot of ugliness in the world right now. One of the things: the likelihood of the Grand Jury verdict coming down in Ferguson today, and what may come of that. While looking at a story online about that, I ran across this:

Lidia's Thanksgiving message.

(Don't read the comments. Ugly, snarky  people even being ugly and snarky there).

Lidia Bastiniach is a tv chef I've watched for a long time. I was delighted to find my cable provider recently picked up PBS' "Create" channel, as they often run her show there in the evenings. She's a "celebrity" chef, I guess, but very different from the super-celebrities (like Emeril or Guy Fieri). She's more low-key. Her show is more about "here is how you prepare this food" and less about her. Mostly, she prepares Italian or Italian-American dishes; sometimes she travels to show regional differences. (I first learned about "St. Louis-style" pizza from her show)

She strikes me as a nice person. I know I've been wrong in feeling that way about a "famous" person before, but every time I've read an interview with her, she comes off as genuine and also - as noted in this short message - grateful for the good things she has:

"As an immigrant Thanksgiving is a very special holiday for us. In our kitchen, the entire family gathers around the table, and we have an opportunity to give America thanks for the gifts in our lives here."

That's just nice. That makes me happy. As a native-born American, yes, I do feel gratitude on Thanksgiving for the gifts I have from living here - the gifts of freedom (esp. compared to being a woman in some other parts of the world), the gifts of opportunity (in two generations, my family has gone from barely-working-class to upper-middle-class), the gifts of education. And the other God-given gifts I enjoy: fairly good health, a family that loves me, friends that love me, a rewarding (mostly) career, enough abilities to provide for my needs in life, and even enough money to be generous with it and support causes I believe in after my own needs are met.

I AM going "home" for Thanksgiving next week. I look forward to it. It's a hectic time - I'm there for effectively three days and then have to turn around and come back - but I couldn't imagine skipping it.

And her last sentences of the commentary, before her trademark "Tutti a tavola a mangiare!:

"This Thanksgiving may your table be one full of love where food is the venue to gather with those who mean the most to you.  May you not only share a delicious meal but also stories, laughter and memories.  
That’s what this holiday is really about."

We need to remember that. The stuff doesn't matter; it's just stuff. It's what we can learn from our elders and the joy we can see in our youthful family members that is what really matters.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

the shirt thing

Probably most of you have heard of "shirtstorm," where one of the ESA guys involved with the Philae landing was photographed wearing a fairly ugly shirt with "sexy" women on it.

And then the backlash some women encouraged, and then the back-backlash that (mostly male) conservative bloggers (mainly) started. And you know what?

It makes me tired. It just makes me all tired.

Was it a bad fashion choice and a seriously tacky shirt? Yes. Are engineers known for making good fashion choices? Generally not.

Am I, as a woman who is arguably on the fringes of STEM (I am in biology, which some consider too "soft" a science...) offended? No, not really. I don't feel threatened by it. I've felt more threatened by a former administrator here who used to make rude, borderline-offensive jokes. But even then, I pretty much rolled my eyes and reminded myself of that's why the person in charge of committee assignments here does her level best not to put him on committees that meet frequently, so they don't have to interact with him as much. The biggest threat he posed to me was that he was an ADMIN and controlled some purse strings and might have input on promotions decisions....so I waited until he was out of the room to roll my eyes and look at one of my colleagues and go, "What is up with that dude?"

An ugly shirt is nothing compared to ugly insinuations.

If I had a colleague in my department who regularly dressed like that, I'd probably mostly give him a wide berth rather than reporting him to HR. Now, if he regularly made statements of a demeaning and demonstrably-to-a-reasonable-person sexist nature (for example, not dropping doing the dumb "make me a sandwich!" joke or demeaning my abilities because I am female), I would probably talk to my immediate higher up (in this case, my department chair) and say that we all really need to have a meeting about 'expectations.' Or, if the response was "he gets to make those jokes and you just have to put up with it," meh, I'd brush up my C.V. and find a new job somewhere less annoying.

But the thing is, all the back-lash and back-back-lash? Don't we have more productive things to do with our time? I know I do. And I'm just on the fringes of STEM.

In conclusion: it's an ugly shirt. If I had been the guy's wife or mother or female housemate or whatever, I would have strongly counseled him to wear something a little less flashy on that day. If I were his boss, I probably would have chewed on him a little afterward for not wearing the standard button-down, or at least something less idiosyncratic. (And yes. People's bosses do have the right to chew on them for how they dress.)

But I think there are a lot of other things in the STEM fields that go farther towards discouraging the participation of women than one dumb shirt.

Monday, November 17, 2014

End of the semester

It's approaching. I've been busy, teaching an extra class is no joke.

I still have a few students I really want to give a good shaking to. They're not going to be able to compete in the job market (unless it's stocking shelves at the Lowe's) with grades and attitudes like they have. This is why I'm so bugged by "college for all" - when it ceases to be something seen as rare, and starts being seen as an extension of high school (which it should not be) lots of people don't value the education any more.

(Of course, part of the problem is that high school seems to have become an extension of junior high, and junior high of middle school, and it's turtles all the way down, but....if I were in charge of things I'd make grade schools more rigorous, end "social passes," and make the threat of expulsion a very real thing)

I do have a number of good students, but it's easy to forget them in the dealings with the Snarkmeisters (who always have some rude comment to make, either to me or to their colleagues in class) or the Problem People who seem to be like that character in Li'l Abner who always had misfortunes happening to them - their cars break down, their kids get sick, they have to go appear in court....and perhaps some of that stuff is made up (though I do ask for things like doctor's notes), but it's just frustrating having someone constantly missing important stuff in class because their life seems to be falling apart. Or there are the people who are aggressively clueless, who miss getting a copy of the handout of the data collected in lab, which I expressly point out will NOT be on the class BlackBoard page because our scanner is broken and I have no simple way to upload it....and then they come bitch at me for not making it available. Or who just plain flat don't listen to instructions in class and then are 100% lost during lab and I have to effectively re-teach the whole pre-lab for them.

But yeah. Getting kind of tired and really hoping my students next semester have fewer problems and are more mature. At least I've not had anyone crying in my office so far this semester, so I'm ahead of the typical semester.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

This election day

The choices I have make me kind of sad. That's all I have to say. There have been very few elections in my life where it wasn't a "lesser of two evils" choice rather than "this person is a good person and they will do good things" choice.

I will say if things happen as planned, I'm bracing for lots of hurt commentary. Whatever. My feeling is, we can go broke as a country in 10 years or in 15 years, take your pick. I'm in favor of 15 years, myself, but I recognize that at the rate we're going, we're still going to go broke, and then everyone better hope that they are as self-reliant as they think.

I will say that unless things change much between now and Nov. 2016, the BIG choice I will have then will make me very sad. (As I said over a year ago to my mother: "If our choice of next president is Hillary Clinton or Chris Christie....well, neither one of those is a GOOD choice.")

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This annoys me slightly

People are making a big fat deal about Pope Francis coming out and stating his acceptance of the Big Bang Theory (the cosmological event, not the television show) and biological evolution.

Um, if I remember rightly, Pope John Paul II said essentially the same thing some years ago? To relatively little fanfare, though I did mention the evolution thing in my general biology classes. (Though then again, some of our fundamentalist students unwilling to even learn about evolution still think Catholicism isn't Christianity)

I don't know. The whole "he's a rockstar, he's more liberal in some ways than past Popes, so let's make a big deal out of him" thing bugs me a little. (I probably don't have a right to, not being Catholic. But I am). Actually, I'm bugged by the whole "rockstar" thing. Not just for Popes, for everyone. The whole media-adulation thing. It's kind of like the Dalai Lama - people like to fawn all over part of what he says because he's this cool mystical non-Western guy - but they don't talk about some of the more rigid or harder things he says. I'm sure there's stuff Pope Francis has said and that he believes that your average media fluff-head would be aghast at, but they don't hear that stuff, they just hear the "rockstar" stuff. It's like Christianity lite: wanting the good stuff without thinking about the "go and sin no more" part of it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dear New York City:

The Ebola thing? It's going to be okay, really. We aren't having any kind of zombie apocalypse down here near Dallas, the guy who died of the disease didn't infect family members, and apparently the two nurses who caught it (probably from either intubating or putting an IV in Mr. Duncan) are doing better.

Though I admit, some of the news channels, with their thinly veiled attitude of OH NO, EBOLA IS NOW WHERE THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER LIVE! is a little off-putting.

We're gonna see more cases. We just are. But we're learning about this fast. I may not have a lot of trust in the CDC or even some hospital administrations, but I have trust in individuals (doctors, nurses) who want to stay safe.

And may we learn something that can be taken over to Africa and used to stop the suffering there - too many kids have lost their parents, too many parents have lost their kids.

Really, the bigger worry, I think, is the fact that there have been "unlinked" but similar terrorist attacks in Canada and your city in the past few days. And that there are young women and men here (the women are the one that boggle me) who think hopping a plane for Syria or where-ever to fight alongside ISIS is a dandy idea. That worries me a lot, too. As a woman, how disaffected and disengaged do you have to be from Western culture to think, "Yeah, going to a country that historically requires women to cover from head to toe and have a male escort when they're outside will provide me far more opportunities."

(I also admit some consternation that those in moderate Islam are not speaking up, the way Christians do about the excesses of that so-called "Baptist" "church" out of Kansas, of the way many did after an abortion clinic bombing.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

lack of confidence

If anything good comes out of the Ebola mini-outbreak in the  US, it will be to show ordinary people that the government is far from infalliable and that they can screw up on a regular basis.

Apparently the CDC told a nurse who had worked with Duncan that it was just fine to fly back home from Cleveland although she was starting to be feverish. (Granted, it was a LOW fever, and she was likely unable to spread the disease at that point).

But now - schools in Ohio are closing down for the day "out of an excess of caution," people who flew on that plane are freaked out. All because the CDC said, "Yeah, sure, get on a plane" instead of "We are contacting the nearest hospital to you right now, go there, they will isolate and monitor you."

I am extremely hopeful no one ELSE catches Ebola - and especially that there are no infections from these nurses having contact with anyone while they were asymptomatic - but it's going to be about a month before we know that.

Crap. I hope this doesn't eff up Thanksgiving travel, but I bet it will. (On the highly unlikely chance that more people become infected, and the disease becomes widespread - well, I will not be traveling to see my parents for Thanksgiving. I've already told them that and they completely understand).

It just seems that so many balls were dropped on this. For bureaucracies that can be incredibly draconian and heavy-handed in many things, it seems like they are not taking this sufficiently seriously. (If it were me? I'd absolutely quarantine every health-care worker who worked with the guy dying of Ebola for about 10 days, and then insist on three clear tests before releasing them. And test anyone they came into close contact with. And yeah, there might be a few false positives, but the main harm of that is someone gets isolated for a while who isn't sick. And I'd make damn sure that there was a way to suit up so you were fully covered, and disrobe to avoid transferring blood or sputum, if you were going to work with Ebola patients. And I'd shut down entry from the West African nations, at least as much as one possibly can do (people lie, people change flights) until the epidemic has gone down) Oh, and something I forgot: I'd have made sure the borders were as secure as humanly possible ALREADY. Which would help with many other problems...

I mean, the federal government can insist that kids can't have school lunches with white bread in them, but they can't tell someone who was directly exposed to the virus and starting to show symptoms, "No, don't fly home, go to the nearest hospital that has an isolation unit" instead? Priorities are so far messed up. (Also the fact that only a tiny part of the NIH budget, apparently, was dedicated to researching this.)

I wonder if this is going to be the HIV/AIDS of the 2010s....Only this disease seems like it might be harder to avoid if you're a health worker.