Sunday, December 16, 2007

Love and Joy come to you...

This time tomorrow I almost certainly (barring some kind of horrible delay) will be on a train headed to my parents' house.

That makes me very happy: to be away, to return to people I love and who love me, to put most of my many responsibilities aside for a short time.

I really have little I must do tomorrow before heading to the station: finish a bit of packing, wrap up a few loose ends on campus, pay a couple of bills that will come due while I'm gone.

To all of you: if you celebrate Christmas, have a joyous and blessed Christmas. If you celebrate it as a predominantly holy day, may the love of Christ bless your heart and your home. If you celebrate it predominantly as a holiday, may you find what your heart desires tucked in a stocking.

If you don't celebrate Christmas, at least have a happy New Year. And if you get time off from work, enjoy it. (And if you're a non-celebrant who offers to fill in for people who are [as I have known Jewish doctors and nurses in hospitals to do for their Christian colleagues on Christmas]: bless you. You are doing a very kind thing.)

As the old song goes: love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too, and God bless you and bring you a happy new year, and God bring you a happy new year.

I will be back early January.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wonderful Life

"It's a Wonderful Life" was on last night. This is one of my favorite movies, ever, and my opinion of it was reinforced last night (and I got to see the whole thing, from the start, without interruptions - in previous years, I've either forgotten it was on and come in a bit late, or got a phone call in the middle of it, or I was working on something like grading during the movie and couldn't really pay full attention...)

The movie does make me cry a little at a few points - at the end, of course, but also at the beginning when you hear all the prayers everyone's sending up for George Bailey (would that it would be so for every person who ever finds himself or herself troubled). And at the point of "realization," where George realized that Bert the Cop knew him - that he was back and had been born after all.

I realize the plotline has been used a lot over the years (and there have been a couple made-for-tv remakes), but in this movie, it seems fresh and surprising.

I also realize that there are people who view the movie with a cynical eye - the people in it who are good are TOO good, that people wouldn't really do what they do at the end to "save" George, that in real life Mr. Potter should have got the tar kicked out of him for what he did. But you know, I kind of like to wave my hand and ignore those things.

Yes, maybe the people in the movie are "too" good, too upstanding. Maybe the working class really is more like Mr. Potter's description of them than George Bailey's sense of them. But I love the movie because it portrays people as being good - that it portrays people as being able to be grateful for the help they were given and able to pay it back when it becomes necessary to.

For me, one of the "purposes" of art or entertainment is to uplift me, to make me believe that people can be better than what we see 24 hours a day on Fox News or CNN. To believe that people have that spark of the Divine in them that pushes them to do what might not be in their best self-interest in the most selfish sense, but which reaches out to a fellow human being and makes their lot better.

It's a good antidote to the hundred little news stories of "bad stuff" that nibble away at my good will - people looting the homes of folks in shelters during an ice storm, kids vandalizing the Christmas decorations at the home where a developmentally-disabled kid lives, people pushing and shoving and being rude and snappy in the stores, the whole gimme gimme gimme mentality that tends to come out this time of year.

At the end of the movie, through my tears, I said, "I'd like to step into the frame of the movie and live in Bedford Falls." Oh, I don't know how I'd fit in there - I'd probably wind up as the spinster librarian that Mary Hatch didn't become because George Bailey was born. And maybe, as some cynics have suggested, there's bad stuff lurking behind the pretty exterior - I know in the era the movie was made there was more overt racism and sexism and xenophobia (and I admit that even in the movie, the Martinis do border on being caricatures), and things like antibiotics and most childhood vaccines didn't exist (otherwise, George Bailey wouldn't have lost hearing in that ear). But I want to believe that the world of the movie would be better - maybe not more luxurious, maybe not more easy, but BETTER - than the world of today. Because of the people. Because most people are hardworking and good, and the ones who are bad (Potter), you know they're bad - they're not someone who hides their venom behind a smile and who then shocks you after you've been friends with them for a while.

And when you're down and out, people pray for you, and then, when they learn of something concrete they can do to help you, they do that. (And Clarence gets his wings at last.)

It's not a movie, I think, that would be likely to be made today, at least in the same form it was made then. I think there is too much cynicism in the world (or, perhaps, it's believed there's too much cynicism. Maybe the fact that the movie is loved by so many people puts the lie to that). And, certainly, the movie makes faith a bigger feature than most mainstream movies would today - the Martinis are seen crossing themselves, people pray, even Joseph and his "boss" (St. Peter, I assume?) are portrayed as talking to each other. And I don't think the ending would be the same.

(I know there is, but I have never seen, a Saturday Night Live skit where the townspeople gang up to attack Mr. Potter and exact their revenge. Perhaps it's a funny skit, but I have to admit another thing I love about the movie is that the townspeople do not exact revenge on Potter [well, he's probably never found out, that HE got the $8000 by mistake and just kept it]. But they show they are better than he is - he keeps money that he knows will break the Bailey Building and Loan; they dig into their pockets to save it. And that fits in with my worldview: when there is a problem you can do something to fix, you do it, you don't look for someone to blame or beat up on instead.)

The other thing that's striking about the movie today is how self-denying George Bailey is: he gives up his dream of traveling, his chance at college, even his lavish honeymoon because there are things he can do (either with his time or money) that help other people. And he does them. Oh, there's regret - he doesn't immediately jump cheerfully to do those things (when his newly-married brother comes home and George finds out that Harry's probably not going to want to take over the Building and Loan, the look that passes over George's can see the wheels turning in his mind, going through the various stages of mourning for his dreams - but then he puts on a good face and goes along). George is a grown-up, and that's something that is striking, watching the movie today. He doesn't whine. (Oh, yes, at times he gets angry, he gets fed up. But most of the time he does what he knows is right - even though it might not be what he really wants - because he knows it is right). That might be another reason the movie wouldn't be made the same way today - I think society is different and a George Bailey figure might be viewed (by some, at least) as a chump rather than the hero he really is.

I guess that is why I love the movie so much: it reinforces my worldview of how things SHOULD be. Of how people (well, Mr. Potter excepted) would believe if they generally listened to their better natures.

(I also have to admit a little curiosity about the whole "what if you had not been born" thing. I doubt seriously I'd leave a "hole" like George Bailey did...but I'd like to believe that maybe there'd be differences...that the world is better with me in it. Of course I will never know, but the movie raises that tantalizing question - what have you, specifically, done to make the world a better place?)

And maybe that's another good thing about the movie - perhaps on some level it challenges people to act in a way that they would be missed if they were not here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

laughing instead of crying...

I heard on the news this morning that in some communities affected by the ice storm, where people have been driven out of their homes (because of no power and no heat), thieves are breaking into the houses and stealing stuff - including Christmas presents.

This is the kind of thing that makes me frustrated with humanity and steals my good will - that someone could do this kind of thing.

And then I thought, well, tomorrow is Friday so you'll have Emily's FFOT to post it on.

But I realized that no mere four-letter Anglo-Saxonism is enough to describe how I feel.

And then I got to thinking and thought of something that made me feel better, because it made me laugh a little instead of crying (which one could just as easily do).

I imagined these people caught, in handcuffs, and brought before a tribunal of Villains of Christmas Past to hear their opinion.

First up, of course, would be Mr. E. Scrooge, Esq. He would stand up, lean on his cane, and stare long and hard at the criminals. And then he would quietly say: "I cannot believe you did that. That is remarkably depraved. And I am saying that as a man who fired his only employee, and one with six children, on Christmas Eve."

Then, Mr. Potter would wheel in. He'd glare at the people in the dock, and then snarl: "If I had come up with a scheme like that, as God is my witness, I would have jumped off the very bridge young Bailey was contemplating throwing himself off of."

The Grinch would stand up, say nothing, spit in their direction, and stalk out of the room.

Heat Miser and Cold Miser would approach the microphone, each pushing the other to try to get there first. By virtue of his longer legs and slimmer physique, Cold Miser would reach the mike first, shortly followed by his brother:

Cold Miser: "Dudes, that's WEAK. Seriously."
Heat Miser: "And I agree with him on that!"
Cold Miser: "And we've never agreed on anything ever before."
Heat Miser: "It's totally true. We're always fighting."
Cold Miser: "But we agree on this."
Heat Miser: "Totally."

Next, Burgermeister Meisterburger would step up to the mike and say, "I am issuing a decree throughout the land, so that all may know how much you SUCK!"

A huge bird would be hanging around the back of the courtroom. Finally, prompted by other tribunal members, it would come forward:
"AWWWWWK! I am EON. This is not even my holiday! But you are despicable! Never in my long live have I seen losers bigger than you!"

Suddenly, the door would burst open and an immense, toothless abominable snow monster would rush in, grab the criminals, pick them up, and try to gum them to death...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I want one!

I just saw an ad for a new demolition tool (it's kind of like a crowbar).

It's made by Stanley. It's called the FUBAR.

Best. Tool. Name. Ever.

I want one - not because I currently have anything in need of demolition, just because it makes me laugh with delight that they named it that.

(In case you live under a rock or something: Fubar)

wee little etiquette lesson

So, I gave two exams today. And because my life is now officially Teh Crazy, I had a meeting that started before the first exam finished (I'm on another department's search committee and it was moderately important I was at the meeting - they were doing conference-calls with the references of one of the two top candidates; the next set is Friday).

So the secretary was kind enough to take over for me.

When I came back - less than 1/2 hour before my next exam, thanks to one reference who rambled ON and ON and ON (oh, and here's another wee little etiquette lesson: if you are called to be a reference for someone who has applied for a job, don't talk about YOURSELF, okay? The search committee is probably pretty pressed for time and doesn't want to hear it. I know we were all making those rolling-hand, "wrap it up, wrap it up" gestures as he talked).

Well, anyway, I raced in the door, thinking, "Maybe I can machine grade the first final AND gulp down the yogurt and grapes that is passing for my lunch today in the next 20 minutes." I stopped off to see the secretary to see if everything went okay.

Um, not totally okay.

One girl in the class - well, she's not really a "girl" as she is married and has kids - who showed up late (and cursed when I asked her whether she had a machine-grading form, and then left to get one) and didn't hear my announcement was kind of snotty to the secretary. "Well, then, when is she going to have our exams graded?!?!" she demanded.

This is someone - I described her to the secretary and she agreed it was the person - who has been demanding All. Semester. Long. (And she doesn't even have the grades to back it up. She got a D for the semester, and that just barely).

I went off to my next exam.

At the end of that, one of the students (the last one to finish because she's very meticulous) came up to me and said, "Might you have the finals graded by tomorrow morning? I really want to know if I hung on to my A."

I had been grading their finals as they were handed in (not the best practice, I admit, but I'm so pressed for time this week. And by that point there were so few people and they were so scattered I know no one was cheating). I was almost done with the exams that had already come in, so I told her: come back to my office in a half-hour and I'll see if I have it done.

See, she asked politely.

So I had the two sets of exams - I ran the machine-graded ones through the machine quickly, and then had the grades for the other class' exams. And I thought: I gave the machine-graded exam first; by rights I should enter its grades first and total up the grades for that class first.

But then I thought - but that person was snotty to my secretary. Theirs can wait.

So I did the exams for the class with the student who asked politely first. (And she did come back, and was happy to learn that yes, she hung on to her A.)

The thing that so rubbed me the wrong way about that one student is this: she was one of those people who acted like the universe revolved around her. She acted like she was my only student (not by a long shot, honey. You're not even the only student in that class, and that class is not my only, nor is it even my main, priority). And yet - she failed to hand in a lot of assignments. She showed up LATE to the final without a vital piece of equipment (the machine-grading form). And I had announced that several times when she was in class (heh. One of my friends said, "You should have said, 'Oh, I guess I forgot to announce it to YOU when I announced it to everyone else'") and it was on the final-review sheet.

So you know? Acting entitled but being kind of sloppy about how you "do business"? Not a good combination at all.

At least - she got a D. Which means she's done with that class. (D is technically passing, here.) And since she's not majoring in my field, I will almost certainly never have to deal with her again. Oh, I'll have to deal with others LIKE her, but at least I won't have to deal with HER.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

beer n legos

This is for Bingley, Ken, and all the other beer-fanciers out there:

It's the kind of thing that makes me laugh like a crazy monkey. Drunken lego people, the March of the Toreadors, and a chicken.

I love the Internet.

"That's my son, the drunken manly stud. I'm proud to be his bud."


I held extra-special-bonus office hours today. I told the students: I don't NEED to be here, but I WILL be here between 9 and 11. This is your best shot to come in and ask questions before the final. (I did this specifically for my non-majors class; their final is at 8 tomorrow morning).

How many people showed up?

Exactly 0.

How many people called me?

1, but it was someone wanting stamped into an "instructor permission" class I teach next semester.

How many people e-mailed me?

None, if you don't count spam and the back-and-forth involved in planning the meeting of a search committee I am on.

So - the way I look at it, people have abdicated their right to complain that they didn't understand anything. I'm goin' out to lunch. (I have to be back by noon to stamp in the guy who needs in to my class; he works so noon to 1 is the only time he has free.)

we'll see if this works.

I just called my local paper to have them "hold" the papers for me, starting next week, while I am up at my parents' for Christmas.

The last two times I have asked for this, I have come home to a yard full of newspapers, some still in the plastic bags used on wet days, some soggy messes. Clearly the person who delivered the papers either never got the message, or ignored it entirely.

My complaint is twofold: first, it's kind of nasty and awful to have to pick up five or six inundated newspapers from your yard. And more seriously, a pile of papers in the front yard can be kind of a beacon to thieves. Now, I live in a low-crime neighborhood and my house is small and modest (kind of telegraphing, "Not a lot of real valuable stuff in here," but I still do have a tv and a vcr and jewelry and other probably-easily-pawnable stuff), so I do worry a bit.

(When I ask for my mail to be held? It's ALWAYS held. Never a problem there.)

I told the person in the Circulation department specifically about the problem and she said she'd do what she could. But as they have a really hard time (it seems) keeping carriers, maybe the carrier doesn't give a flip about the requests. (However - if the papers do keep showing up in my yard while I'm gone, and IF my house were to be broken into? That's going to end my relationship with the local paper. Which is kind of cheap and crummy and sad anyway - they don't run any of the "good" comics (which I suppose are expensive to run), they have frequent "howlers" even in the headlines (One recent one was "Ground Broke on New Facility." Meaning, that ground was broken for the construction, not that the ground was in some way faulty before construction began).

And no, I've not tipped my carrier. Maybe that's the secret - it's a little extortion racket. But as some days my paper doesn't show up at all, and others it's thrown into the neighbor's yard, and on wet days it's not always in a baggie. And that happened even back when I *was* tipping at I kind of feel like it's not worth tipping if I'm still having problems. I thought tips were a reward for good service, not a bribe to get service at all.

I don't think it's so HARD to ask someone "don't deliver papers to this house for a couple weeks" but maybe it is. (I know, I could ask a friend to pick them up. But you know? I should not have to. I should not have to encumber my friends with that request. I pay for the paper, I should be able to request its stoppage.)

So I don't know. If the paper still winds up being delivered this time, I may just cancel my subscription (regardless of the status of my house re: burglary) when I get back, because it aggravates me that I can't leave town and trust that my paper will be stopped.

a letter

My church women's group's Christmas party was last night. It's mostly "fun" without much "serious" - we have a potluck dinner and do a white-elephant gift exchange (where you never know if the gift you choose will be something nice-but-something-that-particular-person-couldn't-use or something awful - there are a couple of "awful" gifts that make the rounds every year).

But we do have a devotional. I particularly liked the one this year. I do not know if the person who did it wrote it herself or if she found it published somewhere.

It was a letter. She described it as a letter that could have been written on the first Christmas, or any Christmas after that.

It started out, "My dear children."

It went on to say, "There are people in this world who are here to deceive you. They will try to convince you that you are not smart enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not good enough, that you've broken too many promises, that you've lived too many lies..." through a long litany of things that people use either to beat themselves up or to beat other people up. The letter writer (who it is supposed to be I am sure you have guessed by now) goes on to say, "You do not belong to those people. You belong to me. And I love you, you are precious to me."

The letter writer adds "I have given my all for you, to show you how much I love you."

I have to admit I was fighting tears during part of the letter (okay - in case you didn't guess, the conceit is that it was God writing the letter to humanity). But I do that SO MUCH, telling myself I'm not smart enough or good enough or whatever. I let people's criticism of things I do become evidence to me that I'm NOT good enough (and not that I need to improve that one particular thing, or that that particular event didn't go as planned, or that the person is just lashing out and it's not me, it's them). I let the mistakes I make be proof that I'm not worthy to hold down the job I do, or do the things I do, or whatever.

So it's something I need to hear, and something I find almost surprising, to be reminded of. That although I may screw up, there's still something worthwhile in there.

I find myself thinking of all the crap I've taken over my life - as a kid, I was called "retard" (which still puzzles me). I was told I was ugly, I was told I was stupid and a "spazz" and all kinds of things. And I think people do internalize that stuff, especially as kids. (I still think I'm kind of a spazz but I also think there are some silly/positive connotations to that - you can be a spazz because you're really enthusiastic about something, for example)

(And yes, I know, "spazz" used to be a very horrible insult to people with certain types of motor defects. By the time I was on the scene, it was pretty much used as a synonym for "nerd" or "geek")

And as a teenager, I believed myself - for some reason - to be hideously ugly. (I'm still surprised and taken aback when someone comments positively about my appearance. I was in a wool shop over Thanksgiving break with my mother and while I was looking around, I overheard the owner say to my mother, "she's a pretty woman." Which surprises me, a little).

As an adult, I was essentially kicked out of the first grad school I attended (because I didn't have a good enough research plan). I was criticized roundly and (I think) unfairly by a supervisor my first semester of being a teaching assistant when I went back to grad school. I get nasty comments on evaluations from time to time. And every one of those things is like a little coal burning in my heart - it hurts, and I have no good way to put out that hurt. I tend to dwell on it and when I'm lying awake in bed at night I return to those criticisms and use them as evidence - almost like I am on trial - of why I'm no good.

I wonder if anyone really believes themselves to be "good enough" or if everyone is carrying around some sense that they're messed up - either generally messed up or messed up in some very specific way.

And yet, my faith teaches me that despite my perception of messed-up-ness, there's still something valuable there...there's something worthwhile.

I once read an essay that surmised that our lives are kind of like a tapestry we weave. And because we're human, mistakes get woven into that tapestry. But at the end of our lives, the writer suggested, when we see God, God takes that tapestry and either fixes the mistakes - so it's complete and whole and we can see what it was meant to be - or else somehow transforms the mistakes so the tapestry is whole. And you know, that's something I kind of hold on to. Something I kind of hope for - that the things I screwed up in this life will either be undone (so they don't matter any more) or will be changed so that although it may have been a mistake at the time, it comes to be an integral and good part of the whole.

I don't know. But it's funny, in such a self-esteem obsessed world that at least some of us seem to be walking around a lot of the time feeling like we're not good enough.

(And I do see a difference between accepting yourself as a child of God - and therefore valuable to God despite everything you know about yourself - and having a sort of false self-esteem, where people tell you that everything you do is perfect and wonderful. I'm just not very good at articulating what that difference is...perhaps it's the difference between flawed-but-still-valuable and I-don't-believe-I-have-any-flaws).

Monday, December 10, 2007

One down

...the first of the three finals I give is over.

This one is given as a take-home exam because it's in my computation-intensive class. I make up four different versions (well, the essay questions are the same; I feel I must do that for fairness' sake).

One student never handed his in. He still COULD but as there's a precipitous drop of points once the deadline is passed (and for every hour thereafter), it's getting to the point where it might not be worth it to him. (And not worth it to me to grade).

I am kind of put out because the three amigos I had in that class (sat in the back, chatted, ignored me, didn't always hand in homework, were sometimes disrespectful of other students) showed some evidence (but not provable evidence) of copying on the exams (as in: they got the same things wrong in the essay questions). Whatever. It works out in the end. They did badly on the test.

I will say on a happier note that two separate people thanked me in person for the class, said they learned a lot and enjoyed it. (They both earned As. I don't think they said they enjoyed the class BECAUSE they earned As; they probably earned As because they put in the effort and they cared about it, so they learned the stuff. One of the guys also aced the final, which is kind of rare.)

I also got a Christmas card thanking me from a student who, though not an A student, did work hard in the class and I could appreciate her hard work.

So, three people out of 19 thanked me and thought the class was worthwhile. That's a new record. I'm not going to worry about the copycats because of that. (I kind of say to myself, when I suspect a person of cheating but can't "prove" it well enough to justify flunking them: "Well, it's THEIR soul." No, I don't think their cheating will consign them to one of the rings of Hell [even one of the upper, less-nasty ones], but I do tend to think that that kind of thing can come back to haunt a person - as in, they don't have the chops when it comes to doing the thing on the job, or they get caught out some time in the future.).

I will say that because of my lowering some of the cutoffs a bit (something I had agreed to do after looking at the pre-final exam grade distribution), some people may have done a bit better than they strictly deserved. (Well, the girl who tried hard and got a C would have just barely missed getting the C under the old cutoffs, so I guess I can feel good about that). Then again - some of the "problem" people will get Ds instead of Fs, which will keep them from having to take the class again, but won't unnecessarily pad their GPA.

Very bimodal distribution in the class - almost no Bs, almost no Cs. A good number of As (and As who came about it honestly: the cutoff changes didn't really benefit them), a lot of Ds and an F or two. But that's how it always is with the class: if you pay attention, do the work, and pay attention to the questions on the exam, you can generally pass. If you work hard and come in to talk to me when you don't understand something (which all of the A students did), you can often pull an A. It's the people who only read half the exam question and then go answering something I DIDN'T ask who wind up with Ds or Fs. Or the people who don't do homework. Or the people who find their back-row convo SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING than what's actually going on in the class.

So, whatever. What goes around comes around. The people who earned As should feel good; this is not an easy class or easy material although I try to make it as understandable as possible. The person who earned a C thanks to the new cutoffs will probably be happy - she was in last week asking me what she had to make on the final to "pass" (meaning, get a C. D is technically passing but most of our more concerned students do not consider it so). Normally I hate that question - because it's a question a "slacker" tends to ask, someone who hasn't tried all semester. But this is someone who tried, and just had some problems (not entirely caused by class material; she's an RA and there's been some bad drama in the dorm she's had to deal with). We figured it out, and I was happy (when I graded her exam) to see that she JUST made it, with the new cutoffs.

Yes, it makes professors happy when students get As, or when they manage to pull off a grade they didn't think they could. Regardless of what some students believe about us.

Friday, December 07, 2007

a moment of levity

Maybe this will help.

I got a spam message this morning listing as the sender, "Your Doctor."

You think I'm HOW stupid, now? Like I'm going to open an e-mail because it claims to me from "MY" doctor.

That's like something Homer J. Simpson would do: "But Marge....The computer said the message was from MY doctor! I had to open it!"


Ken: someone actually said "He did it because he wanted to go out in style"?!?!

That utterly and completely floors me. If I were not the sort of person who generally abstains from cursing (especially on this blog), I'd probably be dropping a string of four-letter words and body-part and bodily-function references to refer to that person.

"Going out in style" in my book amounts to something like saying, "Either this wallpaper goes or I go" before you breathe your last. Or picking out your best pimp-suit for them to put you in for your wake. Or maybe doing an Isadora Duncan.

But one doesn't make a statement by taking innocent lives. That's terrorism. I don't care what the statement is, how important the terrorist thinks it is, how global or how personal.

Saying that this creep did that to "go out in style" is not unlike commenting that under Mussolini, the trains ran on time.

People f-ing amaze me.

Of course, if we didn't have the concept in this country that getting on television and saying something makes you "famous" (no matter how imbecilic that something is), or if the bottom-feeding newsgrubbers didn't feel the need to cram a microphone in the maw of every Joe and Jane Sixpack out there when some tragedy happens, we might be spared this kind of idiocy. (Of course people might still THINK such betises, but at least the rest of us are spared listening to them.)

And the local radio news is all talking about "stepped up mall security." Good thing I wasn't planning on going shopping any time soon. (I wonder what that will amount to - frisking customers as they walk in the door?)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

What can you do?

So the big news story now is the mass shooting in the Omaha mall. I have a friend who lives in Omaha (she and her family are all okay) so I paid perhaps more attention to it (at least at first, before I knew they were okay) than I might otherwise.

Because these are the kind of news stories that make me need to turn my television and radio off.

Because there is literally nothing (well, aside from praying for the families who lost loved ones) I can do in this situation. It's one of those random events that makes life scary if you think about them too much.

I know the talking heads will come out, and the topics that will be addressed will be:

1. Gun control
2. Gun control for people with mental issues
3. People with mental issues (and, of course, they'll be VERY VERY careful to point out, "We're not implying that everyone who is depressed will become a shooter" but in some cases that disclaimer may become a bit hard to swallow given the way the newscasters then hype things)
4. The issue of "community." (Has the guy been branded a "loner" yet? That's another thing that always comes out in these things and it makes me twitch because I'm kind of a loner yet the thought of shooting a person* makes me want to vomit)

(*with the exception of self-defense or defense of a person or people I loved very much. I could probably shoot to kill if, for example, someone was threatening my mother's life)

5. Shopping malls (Oh, don't laugh. Someone will surely blame "American consumerism" in some way).
6. The idea of "security" (Will shopping malls acquire metal detectors and TSA-like screenings for people coming in? I'm sure some will call for it. I will say if that comes to pass, all of my shopping will be internet-based.)

And the truth - at least as I see it - is that NONE of those issues may help that much. The kid who did this was a screwed-up individual who apparently read an article in the newspaper about some other mass killer and thought "this is a good way to become famous right before I kill myself" and he went and did it.

Random, and sad, and horrible.

But I don't think making women subject to purse-searches or diaper-bag searches or subjecting men to briefcase or man-bag searches before they enter the mall will help at all. Oh, it might LOOK good. But I don't think we'll necessarily be any safer - and it will make the whole process a little less comfortable - instead of being able to walk in with the convenient fiction of "This is a mall, it's a safe place" we will get, right in our faces, "You are never safe in any public place ever."

And you know? That takes a toll on the psyche, I think. I'm relieved that after the Virginia Tech shooting, my campus didn't knee-jerk and order metal detectors or require all faculty and students to walk around with our ID tags on little leashes around our necks...because that kind of thing says, to law-abiding citizens, two things:

1. We don't trust you not to do something horrible
2. And not only do we not trust you, but we don't think the campus is safe.

And the thing is? If some sick f*ck wanted to come to campus and take a bunch of people out, having us walk around with our ID tags on would be useless. Maybe worse than useless if said sick f*ck had a beef with the university, he'd know exactly who to aim at.

I don't know. There's a horrible randomness to things that happen, but sometimes I think trying to make things "safer" by abridging the freedom of lawabiding citizens. (And while it's true that if I have* a concealed-carry permit, I'd never carry the gun into a store, never carry it in my purse, etc., still, I'd object to having to hand my handbag over to some minimum-wage wanna bee cop to rifle through).

(*being purposely vague. Even though I don't think anyone who knows me reads this blog)

It's hard for me to explain it make a good cohesive argument against people who would have that done. I guess it boils down to: I like my privacy. I like the fact that if I'm carrying feminine hygiene products in my purse, no one has to know. Or if I have a bottle of medicine in there, no one needs to see the label and learn what it is. And I'd hate having to give that up every time I walked into a mall, or my office building, or the library. (If it came down to that? I'd probably buy one of those travel-pockets that you can wear inside your waistband or brassiere and use that as my "goin' to the mall" purse. Because I just don't like the thought of someone rifling through my stuff.)

I guess the other objection is that, 99.99%...of the population never causes harm. And yet, when new regulations come down the pike, they are the ones who have to comply with them. And the criminal element, the people who would do evil - they can find a way around regulations and laws. (The point of being a criminal is that you break the law! If you have no compunctions against shooting innocent people, you're going to find a way to get a gun in a supposedly-secure building.)

So I don't know. I guess my perspective is this: It's sad and it's horrible. But sometimes sad and horrible things happen and they cannot be prevented. And that there's evil in the world, and sometimes that evil does evil. And there's not a lot you can do to regulate or legislate evil away.

My prayers are with the families of the people who lost loved ones, the people who were injured, and the people who are afraid. (I know my friend talked in her e-mail to me about how it was "scary" to think of such a thing happening in her hometown). But I think - kind of like how I think about terrorist attacks - really, the best way to get past this is for people to go on living. Not to hole up in their houses. Not to require strip-searches before you enter a wal-mart. Not to try to ban guns (because again: you ban 'em, outlaws will get 'em.).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

rudeness: we has it.

In one of my classes, the students are doing presentations this week. I enjoy that (I'm off the hook from talking, and also, some students who don't do that well on exams do excellent presentations, and that makes me happy - it makes me feel like, "well, this levels things for them a little bit").

But one guy today was having a hard time. His project just wasn't that good (and believe me, I tried to help him choose better) and he just wasn't presenting very well.

The smartass of the class (sits in the back row, has a big ego, constantly talks about the high grades he's getting - they're really not all that, but I let him live because he periodically says something so FUNNY in response to one of my questions that I actually crack up in front of the class) started whispering with the two girls on either side of him. Whispering about how the presentation "sucked" and all that.

Now, I ask you: These people are, like, 20 years old. We are in a classroom that is, at best, 25 feet by 15 feet. Does he not think the guy knows what's going on? Especially when I've stopped him mid-comment throughout the semester to ask him if he "has anything to share." Or do they have no tact? Part of the reason the guy up front was having a hard time was that he was un-used to presenting and was nervous.

I turned around and glared at the guy and his "lady friends" and they shut up, but I felt like that was something I should not have had to have done.

Sometimes my college students are as immature as my youth group kids. And that's saying a lot.

(And speaking of youth group: I have a problem. Several of the kids have cell phones and I'm getting INCREDIBLY SICK AND TIRED of having to remind them to a. turn the dang thing off during the lesson or group time, b. not play loud raunchy music on them when they're waiting for dinner, and c. not text each other at dinner. (I ask you: they sit across the table from each other and text each other. Either they're sending off-color jokes they don't want me to hear, or they're just so dang addicted to it they can't stop.) I've contemplated confiscating the cell phones until the end of the evening when they're abused, but I'm a little afraid of getting an irate call from a parent over it - some of the parents are incredibly protective of their kids' stuff. If it weren't so expensive (and so hard to get permission), I'd build a dang Faraday cage in the Youth room to block signals.

It's like - I spend all this time talking about community and caring for one another and not closing people out of the circle, and here they are, heads down, texting. Or calling people not in the group to tease them or claim that "J. likes you!" while J. protests in the background "I don't and you suck!" Or something.

I'm beginning to feel that cell phones are more of a detriment than a benefit to our society. I went to the post office today and saw the signs they have up all over the place - "Please Refrain from Using Cell Phones While Talking to Clerk." and I thought, "what a screwed up society that we can't figure that out on our own; that we can't take 30 seconds of our life to actually interact with the human being who is serving us, because we think we're so important and our conversation with the person on the other end is so important."

It makes me profoundly sad sometimes, and it makes me wonder where we're going to go from here. I don't like endless rules and regulations but honestly, the way some people act, I fear the 90% of people who use consideration and follow the unwritten rules of etiquette are going to get regulated to death because of the 10% who are too clueless to consider the feelings of others. And of course the 10% will continue to violate the rules, and we'll just get more rules heaped on our heads as a result.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

oh my word

Well, here's how I used approximately the past 6 (really 7, now that I think about it - I used one hour earlier this afternoon to start) hours (with a break to eat, a break to go on here to check my e-mail and whinge about people who think "Field and Stream" and Encarta (yup, someone used Encarta even though I told them they couldn't) are acceptable sources):

Read 20 student papers through once for flow and content
Read the same 20 papers again (in a different order) and applied comments to said papers.

And one reason why I REALLY like the good papers, the ones where people followed the directions and did good background research and proofread them carefully? I don't have to write very much on them. It's the poorly-done papers that take the most effort on my part to grade, mainly because I feel the need to justify every point I take off. (I wish I could use "general sloppiness" as a catch-all reason, but I can't).

And one thing that frustrates me? When otherwise intelligent people (people I KNOW have the smarts and skills to do a good paper) don't, either because they're lazy or because they procrastinated.

I'm wiped out - and I still have to do the point tabulations and apply grades. But that's for tomorrow morning.

I just hope some of the folks read the comments I put on the paper. I try really hard to show, you know, "If you were re-writing this, this is what you'd want to change." Part of the reason I offer rough draft editing is because then people actually have a chance to put those kinds of comments in practice where it will actually affect their grades - where it is clearly practical.

If I were... adviser to the high muckety-mucks running NCLB?

I'd suggest they incorporate "Being Able To Follow Directions" as a main directive at every grade level.

I am trying to grade research papers here and some (about 1/4) of them make me want to beat my forehead into a bloody pulp on the edge of the desk:

1. You canNOT do a valid experiment with sample sizes of one. I have talked about that. I have pointed it out ad nauseum. Just because you want to do it that way does not make it right.

2. You canNOT write a paper over experimental research you did and leave out the results and discussion. That does not a research paper make.

3. "Field and Stream" is not a peer-reviewed resource.

4. "and so on" or "et cetera" are TOO vague for a scientific paper. We went over that.

5. I issued a list of instructions for writing the paper, referred to that list, READ most of it aloud one day in class, put it up on the course website. Why did you not follow it when I had in big honking letters on the top "FAILING TO FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS WILL CAUSE LOSS OF POINTS"

6. Trying to make me laugh with your clever writing and puns will not endear you to me. This is a SCIENTIFIC paper. Please be appropriately serious.

7. Do not hide things. Label the abstract "Abstract" so I know it's that and not just a poorly-organized bit of introduction. Don't make your tables obscure. Remember ricki's rule for college success #1: do not piss off the person who is grading you. After reading the first 10 papers, having to search for ANYTHING is going to piss me off.

8. Wikipedia is not a peer-reviewed resource. We went over this quite a bit in class. It may be wonderful for settling bar bets or gleaning information on old episodes of Scooby-Doo, but it is not a valid scientific resource.

All of that said, some of the papers are pretty good, and I had a record number of people this semester hand in rough drafts (I have a deal - if they get me a good draft of the paper 10 days or so before the due date, I will read it, comment on it, but not grade it - basically give them a free shot at correcting stuff I'd take points off for on the final paper).

But it's that two or three where I read them and go "the Hell?" that get me every time. There's not enough strong hot tea and dark chocolate in the world to make those papers go down well.

Five things

Michele has a post up about five things she doesn't like about this time of year. (And if you read A Big Victory regularly, you probably don't need me to issue a "language alert," but I will, for the more meek souls who are blown out of their chairs by f-bombs and the "s" word).

I have to admit I kind of agree with her on the people-whose-worst-instincts-come-out-while-shopping and with the "OMG! They said "JESUS" in public discourse! It's a THEOCRACY here now!" folks.

But there are an awful lot of things I totally adore about this season, so I'm going to focus on those:

1. Crazy, over-the-top light displays on houses.

Yes, it's tacky as heck. Yes, it raises people's electrical bills for the month of December and makes Mama Gaia cry even more than farting sheep do. But I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the crazy, overdone, Griswold-house light displays.

I just do. I can't really explain it but it makes me crazy happy to drive by someone's house at night and they've got it all lit up, and maybe a plastic Santa and reindeer on the roof, or those fake plastic snowmen with a light inside them (which look really odd here in the South, because it almost never snows, and it was close to 80* yesterday).

The town where I used to live, the local newspaper columnist had an annual contest that was for something like "Most outrageous Christmas display." And people totally got into it - it was amazing how much work people went to (especially considering the prize was like a gift certificate to a local pizza place).

I think part of the reason I love it is because it's so does nothing to advance the person doing it (in some cases their neighbors even look down on them for it), but they do it, by and large, out of the love of doing the thing and the pleasure it gives to people like me who laugh like five-year-olds when they see a house all lit up.

2. There are special "treats" to eat.

My local Mart of Wal is selling "orange sticks" right now- apparently only for the holiday season. These are those jelly candies (like the jellied centers in Bridge Mix) dipped in chocolate. I can't find them any other time of the year.

So of course I buy a box or two and enjoy them throughout the season. Because they're just something I like: the really intense orangey jelly candy (it must have real orange peel in it) and the sweet milk chocolate. Mmmmmm...arrrggghhhh. (Homer drool).

And people make cookies that only get made this time of year.

And people share "traditional" things - people in my department, they kind of shyly bring in this cake or some appetizer or something and go "We have this every Christmas." And I love that, both because of the sharing aspect (and I learn a little more about that person, I get a tiny insight into who they are and where they come from), but also because, well, it's free food. And it's food different from my usual yogurt-crackers-fruit trifecta that makes up most lunches.

Myself? This is the only time I ever make roll-out cookies because they are such a mess and such an effort otherwise. But it is Christmas, so it is "right" to do them, and they don't seem that much of a pain to clean up after this time of year. Whereas in, say, June, they would.

3. Regardless of all the bad mall-behavior and mis-behavior at parties and such, people DO tend to be a bit nicer and kinder.

Yes, I really do believe this. I really do think this is true. People who might not write a check to a relief organization any other time of year will throw some spare change in a Salvation Army kettle. Or people may stop and remember what time of year it is before they chew out some underling. Or people are more willing to let others' imperfections slide - they're more willing to be forgiving. Because, you know, it's Christmas.

I don't know if it's some atavistic remnant of "Santa Claus is watching you!" or if it's a still-felt impulse not to dishonor the birth of Jesus by behaving like a heel, or what. But for every person playing Death Race 2000 in the Wal-Mart parking lot, there's someone else out there trying to reconcile with someone they hurt over the previous year.

4. Church services. I realize that this isn't part of everyone's Christmas experience or anticipation, but it's a big part of it for me - going into the clean bright church, newly decorated with greenery and red bows and candles, and hearing the same old good news I have heard every December since I was old enough to remember. And seeing the Advent candles lit, and singing the good old familiar hymns, and the anticipation, and the planning...even the reminders that we need to make ourselves spiritually ready, that we need to do a sort of housecleaning of the soul (which, I suspect, in some people, leads to the reconciliations I talked about above).

It's the start of a new year in church, and new years are always filled with hope. And hope is a good thing. Next year will be better. Things will turn around. This coming year will be really good, with lots of growth and love and understanding. This is the year we'll really understand what Christ meant, this is the year we'll really serve Him as he should be served.

Oh, come the end of the year, I may feel like I often do: "Get lost, old year. Don't let the door hit you in the backside on the way out." But at least for a while, there's enough hope - enough wonderful, crazy, irrational (by the world's standards) hope that it spills over into the other areas of my life.

5. The gifts. (At least I'm honest). Yes, I like the whole process of getting and giving gifts to people. It is fun. It is a way of showing someone that you love them. It's a lot of fun to go out and shop for people you love - or at least it is for me.

Now, granted: I don't experience the malls much this time of year. I tend to do Christmas shopping starting in the summer, when I'm traveling, when I'm new and different places with interesting things to buy for people. By the time the crappy "executive gifts" (usually some kind of chrome-plated monstrosity that he's "supposed" to keep on his desk) come out, I'm long done with my shopping.

And I also have the good fortune that I pretty well love everyone I buy gifts for. Mostly it's my immediate family, plus a few friends, plus some more distant family (which I usually do food gifts for: nothing for them to store, and it's something everyone can share - most of my more distant relatives are big families where I never know which adult kids are going to be home for the holidays). I don't have the pressure of having to "impress" anyone with my gifts, there's no competition in my family that way. I usually spend more than I "should," or at least more than I start out intending to spend....but so often I see "just the perfect thing" for someone, and of course, because it's "perfect," it will make them happy, and I love making people I buy it for them. And readjust my plans for everyone else's gifts accordingly.

The best moment of course is watching someone unwrap your gift (at least when they like what you gave them.)

I also like, I have to admit, getting gifts. I have an amazon wishlist that my family has the address to, and my parents ask me (and my brother and sister-in-law) to write down lists of things we want or could use (plus information like sizes). And then we get a few things off that list. (It's not as mercenary as it sounds. It's not like Sally on Charlie Brown Christmas asking for "and bring as many as possible. Or if it's easier for you, send money - preferably 10s and 20s."). I try to ask for mostly small stuff, and maybe one or two more expensive items. (Mostly it's books, although this year I put on some dvds, seeing as I now have a dvd player...)

It's fun to sit in the living room the day or so before Christmas and see the wrapped gifts stacked up, and wonder at what they's a tiny little window to being a child again, when there was some toy that you felt you would DIE if you didn't get, and a box shows up under the tree that is just about the right size...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

a farewell to a 70s icon

Evel Knievel is gone.

The Nightfly: Happy landings

Evel Knievel was one of those memorable figures from my childhood. He may not have occupied as central a place as the Muppets or the Greatest American Hero did, but he was THERE, and he was cool (I commented on Nightfly's blog that he was "badass before we knew what badass was"). His job was doing dangerous, as a child, I knew that was just cool. Even if I didn't want a job like that myself.

Nightfly also refers to the little friction-powered toy of a mini-Knievel on his motorcycle. The kids across the street from me had one, and I remember how much fun we had setting up more and more hazardous jumps for it to attempt. (I think the toy finally met its demise when one of the older kids tried to set up a flaming hoop for mini-Knievel, which he unfortunately never cleared)

Knievel may have had his problems (he described himself as being an alcoholic, and he was in poor health towards the end), but in his glory days, he was awesome.

All the "extreme sports" types of today owe a debt to this man.