Thursday, May 31, 2007

Three random thoughts:

1. About this guy who flew even though he was infected with a particularly nasty strain of drug-resistant TB (I know - he didn't have symptoms or anything but STILL):

he was apparently on a no-fly list. And yet he got on several planes and flew all around. And the TSA is confiscating cuticle scissors and not allowing people to carry bottles of water on planes*?

(*I don't fly so maybe that's been changed recently, but I remember when the dictum came down I just figured: that's it. No more planes for me.)

That doesn't exactly fill me with loads of confidence re: the TSA doing a good job.

Why is it always that honest, law-abiding people wind up having their freedoms abridged, but the jerks who think they're the only important person in the world manage to get away with doing whatever?

And - he went to get married. I hope to God he informed his wife of his health status.

Ugh. I think this guy is my Friday eff off. (I'm seeing in my head little satellite-diagrams like on that "Numbers" show, where you could trace out a whole chain of people infected, because one person on the plane got infected, then carried it home [unknowingly] to his wife and kids, and then the wife went to work at the day-care...and on, and on.

And it strikes me: this is a reason why it's a good idea for people to learn at least the basics of math and science. I'm no epidemiologist but I can totally see the implications of flying with a contagious disease - how it could ripple out into the larger community. [My father once cancelled a visit to come see me because he had a mild respiratory infection and didn't want to spread it to others he was traveling with].)

Yeah, yeah - I know, the guy wasn't symptomatic and he probably didn't infect anyone. But it still strikes me as a-holish behavior to say "I WILL fly" even though he'd (apparently) been counselled against it.

(I've resisted, up to this point, making any reference to the fact that the guy's a lawyer and one of the claims he was making was "But nobody told me NOT to fly." Yes, but I'm willing to bet they explained to you that you were carrying a serious disease that could kill other people if they got infected with it. Don't be looking for loopholes, sicky.)

2. I heard on the radio today that Neptune, like Mars, is experiencing global warming. (One of the radio hosts jokingly said it was because of cow flatus). Now, there is a part of my brain that is still 13 years old because my immediate next thought was: "I wonder if Uranus is experiencing global warming, uh-huh-huh-huh-huh."

(I really kind of hope it is, just because I can't wait to hear all the immature jokes that come out about it.)

3. I wish to goodness that my activist colleague would stop sending me all these damned invitations to join "communities of concern" or sign online petitions.

First off: online petitions aren't worth the electrons they're printed on. Even if I agreed with what they were asking for, I'd not sign them.

Secondly - even if I agreed with the ends of these "communities of concern," I have no desire to be dunned to give away even more of my time, money, or expertise. I'm kinda at the breaking point there, and I just want to draw back and have me for ME for a while.

I dunno. One of the things that kind of tires me out about the academy (but not enough to seek employment elsewhere) is the sort of constant, in-your-face tirade of simple solutions to complex problems. No, I don't think the Muslim terrorists would go away if we just left Iraq. No, I don't think the world would like Americans any better if we went around self-flagellating for whatever sins we seem to have committed. No, I can't walk to work and the grocery store instead of driving even though it saves baby seals and makes Gaia happy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I am now more than 1/2 way to another one of those Target visa 10% coupon things.

I just registered for a summer conference I'm presenting at. More than 500 smackeroos, and that doesn't include the hotel I'm staying at.

It always amazes me how much it costs to "do business" in the sciences:

journal subscriptions can be over $200 (over $500 if you're a library; they really screw libraries)

Many journals levy "page charges" of up to $50 a page (more if you have colorful maps or photos you need to print)

you sign your copyright away to the journal when you publish (and that is the one that rankles me the most: after all, it was the sweat of my brow and the tears of my effort that GENERATED that paper). So when you want to reprint one of your articles (if you want to do it "legally") for a class or something, you have to pay copyright charges to the journals for something YOU wrote.

if you request a reprint directly from the journal of some article or other, that can run $20 or more.

BUT if you review/evaluate articles for journals (for whether or not they're fit to publish), you do that for free; it's considered "service to the profession"

(Part of me wants to say, "yeah? I got yer service right here")

And then, of course, there are the conferences. Some of which are, forgive my French, basically an extended circle-jerk by the cronies involved with the discipline. (I tend to avoid those. I'm hoping this one won't be one of those - it's the first one of this type I've gone to.)

And MOST people, any more, don't have expense accounts or generous travel budgets. I get PERHAPS $150 "free money" to travel a year (that is, if the university decides to budget it and no one else needs it more), anything over and above that I have to write an internal grant for (and maybe get turned down if there's not enough money, and also have to have receipts out the wazoo for everything. Oh, and make the plans six months in advance because we have to get prior OK if we're requesting travel funds to go out-of-state.)

The thing that really stinks is:

a. you kind of HAVE to publish and present at meetings if you plan on remaining an academic scientist

b. doing research is so much fun but trying to get it published, or trying to present it, well and truly sucks - the sheer logistics of it (I had to sweet talk ask one of my colleagues to teach for a week for me this summer because this meeting is scheduled smack-dab in the middle of summer semester) and then the whole "pay a toll at every step" part of the process. And the delays - the expectation is that when you're evaluating a paper, you'll have it done and back within three weeks, but there have been times when I've had papers out where I've waited SIX MONTHS for one of the reviewers to finish.

It's like, "how can we take something that's fun and exciting and that the profs really enjoy and make the back-end, the raison d'etre for it, be such a giant chore that they come to hate it?"

Darwin's quoted as saying: "A naturalist's life would be a happy one if he had only to observe and never to write." True, that.


There are a lot of things going on in the "outer" world - a group of fools choosing to use their freedom of speech to desecrate the graves of the very men who fought to defend that freedom of speech, some fool who got on a plane when he had a contagious, drug-resistant form of TB - because he didn't want to change his wedding plans, the usual round of human selfishness or foolishness that tends to make the news.

But today I want to talk about something happier.

My bookshelves.

This is in part because I bought MORE yesterday. I have a Target visa card, which means that every time I accumulate purchases of $1000 (which takes a while - I'm pretty frugal and don't shop at Target all that often - but it happens) - I get a certificate good for 10% off one day's shopping.

(Last time I got one, I used it to buy my dvd player).

I had big plans for this time - I needed more bookshelves, Target has these fairly cute, easily-movable, faux Mission Style folding bookshelves. I thought I could fit two more in my living room, so I bought two.

(My house is rapidly reaching Total Bookshelf Domination. I have shelves in every room except the bathroom and kitchen, and those don't have bookshelves only because they are too small (and the bathroom tends to be too damp; I don't have a fan to exhaust the steam from the shower).)

I put up one bookshelf in my living room, though. (And it's okay that the other wouldn't fit; I can still have my nice big comfy chair in its same spot - it would have had to move if I had put the other shelf in - and I have a place to put the second shelf).

I started filling it. My shelving-system for books is a mixture of my own idiosyncratic preferences and laziness (as in: "I don't feel like carrying this book back to its proper shelf but here's a spot where it will fit"). So my bookshelves are even more confused, in many cases, than the famous files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

But when I get a new bookshelf, and can fill it "from scratch," there is more of a semblance of order. I have three of the Target bookshelves in my living room now; one has my math and science books on it (top two shelves: biology and ecology. Third shelf: math and physics. bottom shelf: geology, geography, and a few other things that are probably more anthropology than anything). The second bookshelf has some of my history books (top shelf: Euro history since about 1500. Second shelf: American history, mostly Revolutionary Era. Third shelf: ancient history and pre-1500 Euro history. Bottom shelf: again, a mix of stuff, some of them books on single topics (like "The Amber Room.")

This third shelf I decided to put "read-reading" books on (novels). The top two shelves are mystery and spy novels - the top shelf has all of my snazzy Folio Press editions of things (Hercule Poirot stories, Miss Marple stories, the new huge "Anthology of Shorter Crime Fiction") and also some other nice hardbacks (an older - but not antique - edition of Sherlock Holmes, some Dorothy Sayers. The second shelf is paperback mysteries - though mostly only ones I've not read yet; the idea is that I can reach over from my big comfy chair and pull books off the shelf when I want to read.

The third shelf is just a mix of novels, mostly more recent novels, a lot of them were books that had been piled beside my bed (part of the reason I wanted more bookshelves was to get rid of that pile. I kept knocking it over and having to re-stack it, and it makes sweeping the floor a pain because you have to pick up all the books and put them somewhere while you do it).

The bottom shelf is some overflow (from other bookcases) of spirituality, ethics, and religion books - mostly stuff I've already read, because that shelf is less accessible than the others.

(I'm not a big re-reader, but I rarely get rid of books. And I NEVER get rid of a book I really liked when I read it; I always figure I will want to look something up in it someday).

I do have three other bookcases in the room (my living room is quite large; it's like 20' by 15'). These are three, seven-foot-tall bookcases I had custom made years ago, back when I had a doll collection. (Now they house books). It's pretty much a gallimaufry on those shelves - I should go through and rearrange them sometime; what happens with those is I'll move books off to other places as I read them, and stick new books on as I get them, so the original order has pretty much mutated into a disorder. I have a couple shelves of other Folio Press books, and a couple shelves of British Victorian (mostly Anthony Trollope, one of my favorite authors). And I have a shelf devoted to some old Heritage Press editions that I either inherited or bought cheaply used. And a shelf of South Seas stuff. And one of poetry (although that spills over onto other shelves). And on, and on.

I love books and it gives me a lot of pleasure to have them around. Especially on a newly-arranged bookshelf, like my new shelf. There is something shiny and pleasant and nice about it - part of it is the order, part of it is perhaps a little bit of seeing-things-new (I didn't realize how many unread Ngaio Marsh mysteries I had until I tracked them all down and put them in one place).

I sometimes wonder if the love of books is somehow partly genetic. One of my grandfathers (the one I spoke of the other day, the WWI aviator) was so devoted to books that I've been told one of his sisters said, "He will wear the same awful old winter coat, and spend all his money on books." And one of my great-grandfathers on the other side of the family didn't learn how to read until he was 25 or so, but once he did, he was never without a book or other reading material, because he was so proud of finally knowing how to read and he loved it so much.

(I have books inherited from both of them).

I have books lots of other places, too - my guest room has some built-in bookcases where I mainly keep books I've already read, but want to hang on to. And in my dining room, I have a wall of bookcases (again from Target but a different style than the Mission ones) that house my cookbook collection (I have lots of cookbooks; I love cookbooks, especially slightly older ones) and some of my gardening/nature books.

For example: I have a field guide to the mushrooms. The mushrooms of France, which is totally impractical, because the species here are different and I never plan on going to France (to hunt mushrooms or otherwise). But it's such a beautiful book - two little volumes, printed in, I think, the 1920s. Full of color plates that were made from watercolor paintings of the mushrooms, some quite colorful. I got the book because when the mycologist at the school where I did my grad work retired, he gave away a lot of his books. (An aside: my slightly jerkish labmate-at-the-time heard about it first and didn't tell anyone else - even though the prof had asked him to pass on the news - until he had gone down and pulled out all the immediately-useful books and the ones that looked like ones he could sell). But I still got the little French mushroom book and I look at it from time to time just because it's so pretty.

I also have bookcases in my bedroom - a big bookcase full of "childhood books" (both books I had saved - like my well-used set of the Chronicles of Narnia - and also books I had read as library books but then tracked down because I wanted to re-read them as an adult - like "The 101 Dalmations" [which is VERY different in some ways from the Disney movie] and "No Flying in the House" [which I searched for FOR YEARS and was overjoyed to finally find in a used book shop].) I also have two smaller bookcases with mainly spiritual/religious/ethics books on them, and also a few novels interspersed (again: my filing system breaks down periodically).

Finally - I have a sewing room with shelves; those house my quilting books and magazines and my knitting books and crochet books and other craft books.

It was actually good the second bookcase didn't fit in the living room; I can put it in here - my knitting magazines are beginning to overflow their current housing. (And I don't get rid of "pattern magazines" either - I figure there will be something I want to make someday, or something I want to adapt). I think what I'm going to do though is put all my quilt books together on the new shelf (right now they're mixed in with the other craft books) and use the newly-emptied spaces to hold the magazines.

I suppose to some of you this all sounds a bit Collier Brothers. And really, looking at it coldly, maybe it does. (I do get rid of some things: I don't keep "magazine-magazines" and I have given away books I didn't care for. In fact - I have a big box of "meh" books that I keep saving for the library's used book sale and should take down there some time).

The last apartment I lived in - when I had probably only 2/3 of the books I have now - when an inspector for HUD came through (it's a long story but all the apartments in town have to be inspected by HUD; it has something to do with some of the people who live there getting assistance. But HUD can inspect ANY apartment, not just the ones they're subsidizing). She didn't like what she saw, all the books (but they all were on shelves! That's what gets me - they were all neatly arranged) and she claimed they represented a "fire hazard." The manager of the complex recommended I rent a storage unit for some of the books (and, of course - they also rented storage units on the side).

That was actually what propelled me to go looking for a house of my own to buy - I was so fed up with the silly "rules" that came down new every year. And I was fed up that my upstairs neighbors smoked, threw their still-burning cigarette buts into my potted plants on my patio, and yet, my books were a "fire hazard."

I tend to feel like, by offending me that way, the rental company lost out: I was a quiet tenant. I never complained about anything. I didn't break stuff. I ALWAYS paid my rent on time (actually, usually a day or so early). I didn't mess up the apartment, I didn't do anything that attracted bugs. I just had a lot of books.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day.

The town I live in now - which is larger than the town where I grew up but still seems at times, strangely small and isolated - really doesn't do anything. Oh, I suppose people go out to the cemetery (as they always do), and there are the family picnics and times on the lake and such. But there's really no civic to-do, and I find that kind of sad.

I wonder if we're slowly losing the meaning of Memorial Day. When I was a kid, I knew (even from a pretty young age) that it was a day to remember those who died fighting for this country - and, by extension, to honor the veterans who lived on after fighting, as well.

I remember when I was a kid - growing up in a small town (and yet, it didn't SEEM that small to me, as a child - there were plenty of grocery stores and sufficient good doctors and clothing stores and mostly everything you, it's a half-hour drive, at least, for a lot of things), there was a lot that happened.

The biggest thing was the parade. The whole town shut down for the day for the parade. People lined the main streets to watch it go by. There were also events out at local cemeteries, particularly those where the war dead were buried. I also think some years there was a large all-town picnic after the parade.

Now, in those days (the 1970s), WWII veterans would have still been fairly young - some in their 40s, some in their 50s. And there were a lot of them. And they marched in the parade. There was an active American Legion post in my town. There were also a lot of civic groups. And there were the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts (back when scouting was still fairly "pure," untainted by the scandals of improper scoutmasters or the ACLU complaining about the God-mentioning of the groups). I was a Girl Scout - well, I was a Brownie Scout and a Girl Scout, briefly (until the whole cookie madness started; I decided I had little interest in being a saleswoman, and by that time, the meetings were pretty much covering stuff I already knew, or could get from library books - and there wasn't even all that much "woodswoman" type stuff; it was more etiquette and Junior Sorority type junk in my troop).

But back in the mid 70s I was still a Brownie, and those disappointments hadn't happened yet. My most memorable Memorial Day - the one that I use as sort of a template to compare what Memorial Day's become to - happened, I think, in 1976. The Bicentennial. There was still a lot of patriotic feeling then. It was good to be an American. It was something people were generally proud of, and if there were people who thought America was more bad than good, they either kept their mouths shut about it or they were generally regarded as cranks.

Anyway. That memorial day my Brownie troop was invited to march in the Memorial Day parade. And that was a big deal - a really big deal. I was tremendously excited about it, getting to be there in the parade with firefighters and Hero Soldiers and the high school marching band. It was great to be a part of something so wonderful, to be around people who were, in my eyes, bigger than life - people who had really done good stuff. (I didn't know all of the sad details of Hitler and the death camps and the atrocities committed in some of the Pacific Theater POW camps, but I did know that the veterans were men who had gone off and fought bad people to keep us safe and free.) I was proud but also kind of awed by the solemnity of the occasion and the responsibility I had to be a good representative of my troop and to show the proper respect for the flag (I would have rather DIED than done something that would have been seen as disrespectful.)

I even was picked to carry a small American flag. I was to wear white gloves with my Brownie uniform - my mother took me down to Dodds (anyone who lived in the same small town as I did growing up now knows where it was) and bought me a pair. (The only white gloves I ever really wore, except for a couple pair scrounged from rummage sales that I wore when I was in a costumey mode in high school).

I can't really describe the sort of heart-popping pride I felt - I was getting to walk with these hero people, and carry our flag, and be very grown-up about it. It was more than 30 years ago now but I still remember it and I smile. It was such a simple moment of happiness - something uncomplicated by all the "yes, buts" of modern life....uncomplicated by all the hundreds of ways people have of subtly qualifying good things.

Oh, I know. I know we're not perfect as a country. I know some people in our military have done things that were less than gentlemanly. (And I feel that they should feel even more shame because of who they are: Americans don't DO that kind of thing, dammit!). But I still have to admit that I still have a somewhat childlike view of the military: by and large, I still see them as men who go off to fight bad people to keep us safe and free. (Although I'd also add, ideally, that they fight to make other people safe and free, as well. Or that is my hope).

I have to admit I feel a certain pride when I hear things in the news, like how a large number of Iraqi captives were freed from their kidnappers by U.S. soldiers, with the help of Iraqi police and also the person who chose (probably at his own peril) to let them know about the captives.

And I feel pride when I hear about kids who were injured (many by in-fighting amongst different native groups) being helped at field hospitals or even flown to the U.S. for surgery.

(And I feel frustration and anger when I hear certain celebrities seeming to claim that our military indiscriminately kills civilians: no, dammit. We'd have fewer of our guys dead if that were the case. When civilians are mistakenly killed, there's an investigation, and often someone's punished for it, if fault is found.)

I'm not from a big military family - oh, I've had relatives, going back to the Civil War (and possibly the Revolutionary War on my mother's side). But I don't really have anyone who was killed in the line of duty, not in recent years.

On my dad's side of the family, people fought on both sides in the Civil War (my mom's family, they were all Northerners, so they were all Union).

My dad's dad was a WWI experimental aviator. In my mom's family, a great-uncle was an infantryman.

An uncle on my mom's side was in the Navy in WWII. Several of my cousins on that side went to Vietnam. (I had one cousin who committed suicide a few years ago; I sometimes wonder if the experiences he had in Vietnam - which he never wanted to talk about - played a part in that).

I've had a few younger cousins who served in the military but they all stayed stateside; they were in kind of between the Gulf Wars.

I can't go and put wreaths on any of their graves this Memorial day; I am 1000 miles away from some of them. I hope that the remaining relatives they have, where they are, are taking care of that.

And there's not really any official, civic way to mark the day here. It seems that where I live, unless you're doing something as a family, Memorial Day is mainly a day for carpet sales and sleeping in. And that makes me kind of sad. I wonder if some of our dividedness - if the idea that some people seem to be deeply offended by shows of patriotism - has anything to do with that, or if it's the sheer overscheduledness and insularity of modern life, where if a person gets a day off, by God they're taking it as a day OFF, and no one can tell them they have to help out with some parade.

(I have to say, as an aside, another thing that makes me sad: the whole rejection-of-patriotism I've seen from some quarters. The refusal to stand for the National Anthem or to show respect to the flag. It also angers me and puzzles me: yes, you have every right (accorded to you by our fine Bill of Rights) to dislike and complain about the way the government is run currently.

I complained about some of the things Clinton did, and I would have complained about Carter had I been old enough to have understood. But there is a difference between the imperfect modern government-as-she-is-run and the IDEALS that the flag and the National Anthem stand for.

America is a great country, despite what many people say. It is home to a lot of great people - people who, when there's a natural disaster, roll up their sleeves to give blood, or give up their vacation days to go and help with the cleanup, or give the money they had put aside for "fun" to help people who lost everything.

We all enjoy great freedom in this country - I do not have to show my papers or give a reason for my travel when I drive over to the next state to shop or go to a park. Regardless of what some of the paranoid types say, I am quite sure my phone conversations are NOT being monitored and no one particularly cares what books I'm checking out from the library.

Even more than that - and I think of this often, as I fit the key into the lock of my front door - in this country I, as an unmarried woman, am not only allowed but encouraged to own property. When I first mentioned buying a house, no one looked at me aghast, no one acted as if I were some kind of deviant. I am not required to have my father or my brother sign for me. I don't have to have any kind of a chaperone. That is not true of all countries and sometimes I think the protestors may forget that.

I am also free to go to church on Sunday. The church I choose; not some state-approved church. I am not stopped, taxed, or persecuted for choosing to go there. Nor would I be were I going to a temple or a mosque or an ashram or even going nowhere on a Saturday or Sunday. Those who claim the U.S. is some kind of shadow theocracy really don't know what a theocracy is like, I think

And all of these things - and more - all of these things I have, we all have, because there have been people willing to stand up and defend them over the years. Oh, I know - some people might say, "But Hitler would have never invaded the U.S." or things like that. But it's possible he would have. Like the bumper sticker says: freedom is not free. I don't think we can ASSUME we will always be safe and that the military is unnecessary just because we are comparatively safe at this moment.

I just pray that we never ARE invaded, that we never have to give up the many blessings of freedom we have. I pray that people don't let themselves get so demagogued as to willingly give up certain freedoms, because defending them seems "too expensive." Of course it's expensive. Everything that's worth anything is going to be difficult and costly.)

Saturday, May 26, 2007


I can't resist these kind of interactive widgets (First seen at It Comes in Pints)

Some wisdom from my favorite wrinkled green being:

(I hate that "Do, or do not. There is no try" comment. There, Yoda gets it wrong, I think. Of COURSE there is a "try." Haven't you ever heard of failure, you little green prune? How many things have I tried that I ultimately wound up with "do not" as the outcome?)

Then there are three that were inspired by the "Celtic" font and "Celtic" ribboning on that site - they're my takes on a "famous old Irish saying" that I doubt is either very old or very Irish - to me, it has kind of the ring of a 1970s ad copywriter who decided to crash one of his teenaged son's parties and take a few bong hits while he was there....

Yeah, I can be a cynical wench sometimes.

Movies part II

I'm back. More commentary on the trip later (plus a rant on people who are rude to waiters)

But I'm gonna quick identify the movies that I posted the keywords for. Joel got a few of them.

1. is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. One of my favorite movies ever. You would think, with a "caper" movie of its type, that once you knew the ultimate outcome, it would no longer be entertaining. But I still find it entertaining upon rewatching, partly, I think, because it's so beautifully plotted - there is such an unbelievable series of coincidences that have to mesh together for the action to happen, and yet they seem plausible, at least in the context of the movie.

Plus, I just like Michael Caine and his character in this one.

Plus, I can't help but laugh at Steve Martin doing "Ruprecht" (OKLA-homa! OKLA-homa! OKLA-homa!)

2. is Babe, also sometimes known as Babe, the Sheep Pig. Yes, it's a kid's movie. Yes, I tend to like kid's movies. I like Babe because it's kind of set in a never-never land - you can't quite tell if it's part of Britain, or Ireland, or Australia, or somewhere on the Southeast coast of the U.S. There's little intrusion of up-to-the-minute modern life (yes, there is a television and there are cars, but somehow they seem more DOMESTICATED than televisions and cars in some other movies).

I also have to say that I like it because what I see as the fundamental message is something I believe strongly in, and I wish were promoted more:

You can generally get farther in life more easily by being polite and respectful to those you are working with than you will by bullying them.

"That'll do, pig."

3. is A Night to Remember. (And I honestly don't remember the love story, unless you mean the young married couple, Joel). It's a pretty suspenseful movie, and seems to be pretty true to history - or at least what was known about the Titanic at the time it was made. I also like the fact - and I suppose this shows that I'm perhaps a bit of an anachronistic person - that a lot of the characters tended to behave with what would maybe be called "old-fashioned honor" - men allowing women with children to get into the lifeboats ahead of them, while they stand by and reassure the ladies that they will be "all right, really." And the bit with the string quintet (? don't remember the number of players but it's definitely not an orchestra) always kills me a little.

4. is the 1955 version of The Ladykillers. The Ealing Studios version, the one with Alec Guinness and a very young Peter Sellers. (There was a remake in 2004 with Tom Hanks but honestly it's not much good, at least not compared to the original). Part of the interest of the movie for me is the just-post-war (WWII) London setting, the fact that "Mrs. Lopsided" has this house that's partly damaged by bombs, just the whole "it's not here" feeling of the movie.

(I tend to prefer movies set in a time or place other than the one I inhabit. I do not care for movies that consist mainly of people far prettier than anyone I know going about lives that are somewhat like, but yet more glamorous than, the lives of people I know. And I loathe "meet cute" movies.)

The movie is VERY dark humor. (Suffice it to say, without spoiling things too much - there's one person "left standing" at the end, and it's not the one you might expect). But the interactions of the bumbling would-be armored-car robbers with their landlady is wonderfully comic...there's a tea party scene where you're alternately squirming with empathetic discomfort for the "boys" and laughing out loud at the incongruity.

5. (which a couple people guessed, incorrectly) is actually The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Yes, it's a rather sappy love story and the ending is, if you overthink it, perhaps a bit gruesome. But I really rather enjoy Rex Harrison as the blustery Sea Captain and I like the clever way that Mrs. Muir gets out of her financial difficulties.

(Incidentally, there was a short-lived comedy tv show in the early-mid 70s by the same name. This is not it. This is a black and white romance movie from 1947).

6. is Trading Places, which Joel got. ("Breaking the fourth wall" is when a character addresses the audience directly - it is as if they are in a room, okay, and they are breaking through the fourth wall - the one that would ostensibly separate them from the audience? Actually that seems to happen more in Ferris Bueller, but whatever).

I like the movie because, again, like #1 above, it's a caper move. Again, there's a series of unlikely events that have to come together for the plot to come off. But they do, and it does, and it never fails to amuse me when I see it.

I also guess I sort of like it for the idea that the two a-hole uncles of Dan Ackroyd's character - the ones who made the $1 bet that involved screwing up their nephew's life and taking a stranger and injecting him into a strange and unfamiliar world - wound up getting their comeuppance in the end.

7. is Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I chose it partly because it's pretty much a movie of "my era" - it came out when I was in high school and I remember going to see it with a group of friends. It's also just goofy. (I like Wayne's World for similar reasons - it's just silly and goofy and doesn't really have a lot of deep meaning).

I always kinda preferred Cameron to Ferris, though; I thought Ferris was a bit too much of a show-off.

8. is Cats Don't Dance. A not-very-well-known cartoon film from - I think it was like 1997 or so? Maybe earlier. It's one of those animal-world-talking-animal movies - a cat decides to seek his fortune in Hollywood, he joins up with a troupe of other animal would-be actors. But they wind up hitting up against anti-animal prejudice in Hollywood. (And no, I didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure out what group the animals were supposed to be an allegory for, if they were one at all; I just enjoy the movie). Again, it's one where hard work, politeness and civility, are rewarded in the end, and characters who act like a-holes or who are out for revenge wind up getting their comeuppance. (There does seem to be a certain theme to movies that I like).

9. is It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. (Which I, in my geekiness, wrote out on the pad of paper when I was looking these things up, as "It's a Mad^4 World")

It's not the GREATEST movie, ever, in terms of plot - there are some pretty big holes there - but it's a great deal of fun to pick out the various actors in cameo roles, or to see actors (like Peter Falk) that I knew better from later roles.

And again - it's just a silly funny movie. I like movies that are silly and funny and don't really have a lot of deep meaning. I like to be entertained sometimes.

(I also like the various "race-around-the-world" movies that came out at roughly the same time - like "The Great Race" with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Also very silly movies but also rather entertaining.)

10. is another one Joel got, "It's a Wonderful Life." This is one of the few movies that reliably makes me cry at the end of it. And it makes me wish I could crawl into the frame at the very end and go and live in Bedford Falls where there are people like George Bailey and Guiseppi Martini, who gave up his earnings from the restaurant to help George, and Bert the cop and Ernie the cabbie (which is supposedly where Jim Henson got the ideas for names of the characters on Sesame Street...)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

movie update

Joel - dang, you're GOOD. All but #5 that you guessed, you got. I'm particularly surprised about #3 (and I don't remember a love story but it's been a while since I saw it).

(and no, "Ghost" would NOT be on my list of favorite movies. Ick. Nor would "Dirty Dancing." Patrick Swayze is actually a turn-off to me.)

And I'm going to add an 11, people will probably be able to guess this:

11. Buddhist / Greed / Parallel World / Bathhouse / Bathing

Yeah, I tend to like animated movies.

I also think I must have grabbed the "genre" keywords for #8, here are the actual movie keywords:

8. Animal / Hollywood / Spoof / Prejudice / Kids And Family

(That makes it easier and more obvious).

And, D'oh, I did the same for #9. So here's the revised #9:

9. Dangerous Driving / Chase / Road / Buried Treasure / Greed

(Again - that makes it far, far more obvious, I think)

Movie Meme

I'm glad Joel asked (nice subtle Jerry Lewis ref there, BTW), because otherwise, I got nothin'. (I leave town this afternoon for a short vacation and the past couple days have been entirely taken up by field sampling with my research student, cleaning my house [so the ants don't take over while I'm gone - it's that time of year], and packing/doing the hundred things you have to do to make sure your house isn't a "rob me" beacon while you're gone)

Anyway. The rules of this are simple: Pick out your ten favorite movies, then look them up at IMDb. In the overview at the top of each movie's page, there are "Plot Keywords," usually five of them. (Plus more, if you click the link.) Take the first five, and post them. Then the rest of us get to play movie buff and see if we can guess them.

A couple of my favorites will doubtless be on EVERYONE'S list, so I'm going to choose movies I really like, that might not be on other lists.

I'm not a huuuuuuge movie fan but I can probably come up with 10. So here goes:

1. Caper / Con Artist / Farce / Sailor / Remake

(Oooh, that one may be hard to guess - not what I would have chosen for keywords).

2. Lyrical / Humor / Gentle / Competition / Friendship

(hahahaha! That one doesn't even have the MAIN distinguishing feature of the movie in it!)

3. 1910s / Ocean Liner / Disaster / Historical / Sea

(This is probably not the one you'd immediately think of. Big hint: I HATE it when they graft sappy love stories onto things).

4. Criminal / Aftermath / Horse / Bumbling / Criminal Gang

(Horse?!?! That's like, two minutes of the whole movie!)

5. Male Female Relationship / Book / Afterlife / Affection / Star Crossed Lovers

(Okay, so this one IS kind of a sappy love story. But at least it's not grafted onto something else.)

6. Money / Satire / Homeless / Breaking The Fourth Wall / Scam

("Breaking the Fourth Wall"? Okay, so one character DOES mug at the camera, but I really can think of better keywords)

7. Synthesizer / Teen Movie / Convertible / High School Teacher / Singing In Shower

(This and #6 are probably the most widely-known movies on my list).

8. Family / Animation / Musical / Comedy

(Yeah, like that really narrows it down. And to the Mary Poppins-haters out there: no, it's not Mary Poppins.)

9. Action / Adventure / Comedy / Crime

(I reiterate my comment for #8).

10. Drama / Family / Fantasy / Romance

(Wow, IMDb people - can you get any less informative? This particular movie is very closely related with a particular time of the year...)

I'm not going to tag anyone (that's just how I roll, yo). I'll post the answers when I'm back (in about a week). I will be kind of amazed if anyone guesses them all, or even if they all get guessed correctly...I think maybe the IMDb-ites got a little lazy on some of those.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Last week was graduation. As usual, I went. As usual, sat in the blazing hot sun (in a black robe made of some kind of synthetic that weighs about eighteen pounds). As usual, got a sunburn.

The speaker was some alumna of the place where I teach (normally we get a politician, current or retired).

I wasn't real happy with her talk.

Granted, maybe it was something some of the "kids" needed to hear, but after hearing it, I thought, "If that's how success is defined, I don't want to be successful."

Her definition of success could pretty much be summed up in four words: Top. Of. Corporate. Ladder.

Some of the advice she gave:

be the first one in the office - even before the boss. Be the last one to leave - even after the boss.

don't take spring break. don't take vacations. don't take a day off because you're head's about to explode and you're really close to losing it

she implied, don't take a day off when you're sick.

Nowhere in her talk did she give any of this advice:

love what you do and do what you love.

give back to the community; give back to where you came from.

life is short, and there's more to it than climbing the corporate ladder.

Now, granted - I suppose the corporate world, at least parts of it, is very different from academia. But I just found the speech kind of depressing, kind of like: Welcome to adulthood. No fun for the next 50 years.

I will say I am often the first one in - and I am usually in before my "boss" (depending on how you define it: my department chair, my dean, the college president, the students). I'm not always the last to leave, though. Some days I'm the first to leave. Some days if I get everything done I want to get done, and it's only 3 pm, I'll just take off, go work in my garden or something.

I'm a morning person. I like getting an early start to my days. I like hitting the ground running. But I also like getting done at a reasonable hour so I can go do something non-work-related. I also don't see much of a point of playing some crazy game of "chicken" related to who leaves last: if you're done with your work, if your shift's technically over, why SHOULD you sit at your desk with your thumb up your butt just to impress your boss? I realize this is not a just world, but I'd like to think it's just enough that your work speaks for itself - whether or not you're still in your cubicle at 6 pm.

There is something to be said for having a life.

Now, perhaps part of it is the alumna speaking was (I assume from the fact that her surname was the same as the one given for her parents) was single, without children or spouse to draw her away from the office. But that is not true of everyone, by far.

And if we learned anything from the excesses of earlier years, I think it should be that everyone needs to take time for the people that matter. And that they are not the only one who matters.

I don't know - I'm a single woman without family and yet I cherish the time I get off from work. I find things to do. I'm never bored and rarely lonely. I would hate having a life where I arrived on campus at 7 am every day (including Saturdays) and didn't leave until 6 or 7 pm. Oh, I have to do it sometimes, but it reminds me of how much I hate putting in solid 12 or even 14 hour days.

But this speaker, it seemed that her definition of success, required it.

She also never said anything about giving back, about doing volunteer work, about doing something outside of your work. And this makes me kind of sad - as someone who DOES do volunteer work and often feels a little overextended or even exploited because it seems there are so few who are willing to volunteer.

It's not just dollar signs that make the world go 'round. You can't always just write a check to "fix" things. I would LOVE to have more help with my various volunteer efforts.

But the biggest thing that got me was that she never ONCE mentioned loving or even enjoying what you were doing with your life - and I thought that was a standard staple of graduation speeches. Oh, I know, many people hate their jobs. But isn't part of the point of going to college to gain yourself a bit more flexibility so maybe you find a job you DON'T hate? To find something reasonably fulfilling?

Maybe I'm just in the minority, because I like what I do, and I can't imagine slogging off to a job Every. Single. Day. filled with loathing for the job and my only interest being the check at the end of the month. Because - you're trading your LIFE for what money you get. You don't get more lives - this is not a video game. While it's true you need money to live (living off the land is well-nigh impossible these days, and the other options - for example, picking up aluminum cans and recycling them for whatever it pays - doesn't seem terribly viable), there's also something to be said for not wanting to rip your intestines out for that eight or ten or twelve hours a day you are on the job.

I think the attitude - that the job is the means to the end of the paycheck - is a problem for many. I suspect the bars are filled with people every night who have that attitude, who have to drink themselves into another reality, just to be able to tolerate what's going on.

And she never mentioned families, or friends, or hobbies, or vacations (other than to warn people off them), or sitting down and reading a good book, or pondering just exactly why we're here. None of the deeper things of life - the things I would argue, in my worldview, are important to success.

It was, as I said, kind of a depressing speech. (Of course, it was also possible I was affected by the fact that my robe was basically a personal sauna by that time, and also, the molded plastic chairs they gave us to sit on were configured in exactly the right way to make my slight sciatica flare up miserably.)

I don't know. If I were asked to give a graduation speech, I'd do it differently. I'd choose some other tack.

I've often thought that if I were called upon for this duty, I'd choose to address the class with this advice:

Be kind. Take time to look at the other people around you, regardless of what they are doing, and remember they are PEOPLE just like you. The woman at the checkstand in the wal-mart is a person. The cop writing you a speeding ticket is a person. Treat them with respect (and not just the cop, out of fear of a larger ticket). Treating people civilly and with respect is what makes the world go around and it is what separates us from the animals.

Or, I'd take a different tack and talk about the different ways of defining success, and how it is important for people to determine which definition works best for them:

raising a child to be a decent human being
helping others
creating art, music, poetry, writing, stagecraft, whatever
getting published
being surrounded by a loving family, or people who are like family
plumbing the mysteries of our existence
having lots of friends
winning elections
saving people's lives
cleaning people's teeth
keeping people who are innocent of crimes they're accused of out of prison
seeing to it that society's protected by making sure criminals are caught and punished
not compromising one's principles (I would argue that's essential to any kind of success, however)
making a lot of money
being able to leave a legacy
having students who go out and do great things after learning from you
serving humanity
being a peacemaker
going through military service and winning medals for bravery and good conduct
being able to say at the end of your career that you always did what was morally correct

and on, and on....there is no one definition of success. And I think that's what rubbed me the wrong way about the woman's speech - it was a very narrow definition of success (money and prestige) aimed at a student population where I KNOW many - if not most - of the members would define success differently - more in terms of being true to themselves, of being able to stay near family, of providing service, of serving God (and yes, a majority of our students are fairly religious) in some way that they are uniquely suited to.

Oh, money is nice - I think at least 90% of the students would like to make "good money" along with what they did - but I think for our student population, many of whom come from modest backgrounds, there is something other than money that they're interested in.

And one thing I've learned is that you have to define success for yourself. You can't look at another person and hold them up as the sole definition of success; that would mean, in many cases, being untrue to your dreams and your goals. For example, for me: money is nice (and don't get me wrong; I'm remunerated VERY WELL for what I do; many months I kind of laugh to myself and say "they PAY me to do this!"), but I couldn't be happy in a career where I would be making more money by shuffling papers, or by being a cog in some middle-management machine, or where I had to do something that I considered ethically questionable. As much as the money, I need the feeling that I'm "paying my own way" in some less tangible sense - and whenever I see a student that I helped getting into grad school, or giving a paper based on research they did somewhere, or telling me, "Now I know what I want to do with my life after you talked with me," I feel like I've done that.

And that's a lot better, to me, than getting up one more rung on some "corporate ladder." There used to be an old counterculture saying, something like, "Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Almost done

Well, I'm done with my grading. I have some research-work to do today (as soon as Colleague manages to get in here). It's been a pretty good week.

*I finished a Major Project I've been working on for over 2 1/2 years

*I have my summer presentation (at Large National Meetings) pretty well planned out and most of the data analyzed (these meetings are in July so I still have a little time).

*I'm done (for a little while) with the daily round of teaching, grading, and prep (as much as I LIKE teaching it's nice to have a break from it now and then).

*I had a student stop by yesterday to check on his grade. This is someone on scholarship who needs to maintain a 3.0. He had struggled a bit in my class and was just below the C/B border going in to the final. Fortunately, he did very well on the final and got an 81% for the class as a whole - a B.

The look of happiness and relief on his face when I let him know he had earned a B was priceless.

*I had another student come and thank me because he "learned so much" in my class. Yeah, we have a small cadre of students who always bitch about classes being "too much work" but we also have a (probably larger, but probably also not as vocal) group that sees the high standards in my department as a challenge to be met rather than an obstacle to their ease.

The student who came and thanked me was the same one who complained that the courses in his major (not my department) were too easy and that people taking them often seemed to be content to get by doing the barest of bare minimums. So I don't think he was sucking up (doubly so because the grades were already posted and because he's graduating this spring).


Actually, I think that's a big part of happiness - seeing difficulty (in whatever form) as a challenge to be met rather than as an obstacle to one's ease. Perhaps it's because we're basically adapted to be problem-solving beings (I've heard it said that anxiety is the natural state of the human race: if you think about it, Zog the Caveman, who was always hyper-alert, looking for sabre-toothed tigers and such, survived along with his family, whereas Oog the Caveman who just wanted to lie around and look at the pretty clouds, would be more likely to get eaten).

Shannon C. commented on this recently.

I know I'm happiest when I have some kind of challenge to face - some kind of thing that I can either "beat" or that I can let "beat" me. I think perhaps too MUCH ease is what ails us sometimes. When you're not dealing with some kind of difficulty, you FIND a difficulty, or so I think.

Look at some of the silly crap we argue over in the developed world. Now think of an African subsistence-farmer. Or a yak herder in Kyrgyzstan. Or someone who makes a living in the jungles of Malaysia by hunting and gathering.

Do you think they worry about the same stuff?

Probably not. Their main worry is getting enough food, avoiding injury or disease, finding shelter.

I think of the old (and likely apocryphal) story about the Women's Conference where women from the U.S. and Canada were talking about the "major problem" of "non-gender inclusive language." And a representative from either India or one of the African nations stood up, and spoke eloquently about the high rate of infant mortality in her nation, and about how kids were going blind from malnutrition, and how women still regularly died in childbirth.

The point being: we're too prone to see what's wrong in our own lives, rather than thinking about the things that COULD be wrong, but are not. We're too prone to see whatever (mostly minor, at least in the developed world) problems we face and treat them as major obstacles. (I get so tired - SO TIRED - of seeing people essentially throw a tantrum over something that will not matter two weeks from now. Or something they could fix with effort equal to what they have put into the tantrum).

Look, there ARE big problems in life. Cancer is one (and that's going to be my FFOT for this week: once again, I know a couple people who are being affected by cancer). But for most of us - we have so much, we have so few problems, we should be even HAPPIER than the kings of old (because, after all, even KINGS in the olden days didn't have flush toilets and hot showers and the option to buy strawberries out of season).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Guess I'm blessed...

because my department is remarkably free of the taxonomy of academic whackjobs, as described by Right Wing Prof.

(Okay, I admit it: I'm a bit of a Perky. I'm the one who happily teaches the 8 am slots; I'm the one who's not only in and functional, but cheerful and prepared for the day, at 7 am. I am not so perky come 5 pm, but there has to be some balance in life).

That said, I've seen some academic malcontents (some where I am now, in other departments. Some at other universities). So I'm going to add to the good Prof's list with a few of my own.

The Everyone-is-out-to-get-me

This person, when he's not given the committee assignment he requests, pouts. Not because he has been assigned to Academic Appeals or some such committee that's ten times the work of the others, but because he didn't get his choice and that's because everyone else hates him. If he doesn't get promotion when he thinks he should, no amount of explaining that the people who DID get promotion had eight published papers in the last five years, and had spoken at national conferences, and had brought in a sizable grant, and he had done none of those things: it's that people are somehow prejudiced against him.

It is exhausting dealing with these kinds of people; my general strategy is to avoid them, or if that's not possible, to conjugate German verbs in my head while periodically nodding as they talk.

The grievance-deliverer

This is the person who, no matter what the meeting topic is, has to bring up his or her own personal hobbyhorse: there's no reduced-rate health insurance for "domestic partners," only for spouses. Day care is only offered for the time you're actually in class, not for office hours. The room where I teach is too cold. We let in students with ACT scores that are too low. And on, and on.

It matters not that the complaint about the lack of domestic-partner insurance is being voiced at a meeting whose purpose is to plan the allocation of library funds for the coming year. The person has to be heard. He or she thinks that the more people that hear the complaint, the more people will rally to their cause.

The Hatfields and McCoys

I was once alarmed on a campus (not the one I am at now) when I asked a faculty member (I was a student at the time) where Dr. Xs office was. He pointed down the hall and said, "End of the hall. If I had a gun, I could shoot him from here."

I later found out (I was a fairly new student at the time) that that was the general tone of their relationship. It was well-known among the other faculty and the experienced grad students that you NEVER put the two together on a committee, even though their areas of expertise were somewhat complementary. Because if you did, you'd never graduate - your meetings with your committee would quickly devolve into an argument between those two.

I thought that was the most stupid and petty thing I've ever heard. I still think it's stupid and petty - the faculty's main interest should be in getting the students prepared, graduated, and out into a job. Not silly little turf battles.

the self-important swelled-head

This is the person who has posted the Literature Cited of EVERY paper that has ever referred to something he wrote on his door. (I'm using the male pronoun here because every one of these I've known has been male; I don't discount that women could be this way though). This is the person who always has to remind you of the grants they've been awarded, in chronological order. This is the person who is constantly "justifying" their existence by pointing out all the "great" things they have done (when in most cases those things are really not that different from what the rest of the professoriate does). I've just come to assume these folks are deeply insecure and so I nod and smile and make approving noises when they go on and on about how some obscure Hungarian researcher has cited their work in her most recent paper.

The "hey, could you get this for me"?

These are the people that you wonder at: how did they make it through grad school? Did their moms live with them? Did they have a spouse who did everything?

These are people who have no sense of time: they are always late for meetings, they never have things done when they should have them done. They often have "forgotten" their wallets or purses when you go out to lunch, meaning someone in the group has to "get" their meal for them (and woe unto that person if they come requesting to be paid back).

These are also people who often just have little black clouds of trouble following them around: weird stuff happens to them. They contract strange diseases. Their children get into strange trouble at school. And then the people have to take time off - these are the people that the "personal leave banks" are developed for. They are also frequently asking colleagues: "Oh, hey...could you take my 9 and 10 am non-majors lectures next week? I kind of have to be out of town..." without giving any but the most mysterious and nebulous of reasons for their absence. They also tend to be the kind of people who don't do much advance planning; the request to take the 9 and 10 am lectures for next week is often delivered late in the day on a Friday.

The TMI.

This is the person (and I find these days it's more commonly students than other profs) who feels the need to share EVERYTHING with you. The details of the symptoms of the stomach bug they had last week. What their dog found out in the woods and then proceeded to roll in. What kind of medical procedures - in great detail - they're going to have to have. How her husband "puked his guts out" when he was in the room while she was giving birth.

There's no good way - other than avoidance or sharply changing the subject - of dealing with these folks; they are simply immune to the fact that other people are grossed out, horrified, or bored by their long-winded stories.

A contrast

(What is it with all these celebrities being arrested for drunk driving? I mean, I might speed, I might distractedly pull out in front of someone, I might even drive with an expired tag through sheer forgetfulness, but I'd never, ever, ever drive if I had had even a full glass of wine*)

Anyway. Ty Pennington, celebrity carpenter, was arrested this week for driving drunk (I saw it in my local's very bizarre what "news of the outside world" reaches us...mostly it's the weird little soundbitey things, not the meatier stories).

I think it's an interesting contrast with the P*aris story. Here's what Pennington did, at least according to the accounts I've read:

*He apologized to his fans and co-workers.

*He admitted he did something stupid and criminal.

*He mentioned "accountability" (he or his people paid the $5000 bail and it's expected he'll show up to court in June)

*He said he's grateful he didn't injure anyone with his stupidity.

What he didn't do:

*Call upon his fans to beg to get him "pardoned" of the charges


*Try to say it wasn't his fault

*Claim that his "importance" (and I'd argue that he does more good in the world than the Hilton spawn; didn't he have that show where he remade people's houses for them when they couldn't afford to, like, for example, when someone had to start using a wheelchair and they couldn't afford the necessary house-mods?) should be a reason for his not being punished.

Here's part of what he said:

"We all make mistakes, however this is about accountability. Under no circumstances should anyone consume alcohol while driving. I could have jeopardized the lives of others and I am grateful there was no accident or harm done to anyone"

He also referred to what happened as a "wake-up call" (Does that mean he has a problem with alcohol? Or just that he did a stupid thing once that he won't do again?)

I suppose things may progress and change - he could always break bad and start doing the big Star Turn where he says he's not guilty or he should be forgiven or something. But for now, it looks like he's being classy about it. Well, as classy as someone who's arrested for driving drunk can be.

(*Yes, one glass. Alcohol affects me pretty strongly which is why I don't drink. The most I've ever consumed is a half-glass of white wine somewhere. I get that far and I'm like, eh, I don't want any more, I'm starting to perspire. For some reason, alcohol makes me feel very hot. And I don't mean "that's HOT" hot, I mean temperature hot.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007 might hit a bump and spill your drink

Or so the bad old joke goes.

(The set-up line: why shouldn't you drink and drive?)

We've had a rash of drunk-driving accidents where I live. In several cases, people have been killed (not the drunk; the innocent bystanders in the car he hit). It's sickening, because it's something that's preventable by using common sense: If you drive, don't drink. If you drink, get someone else to drive you.

I've happily been the "designated driver" in a few situations - I don't drink anyway, so it doesn't matter at all to me.

And, last week or so, there was the Cardinals player who was killed after drinking and driving. (And that's sad. And I think the Card's response of not permitting alcohol in the clubhouse MIGHT help, but their other suggestion: that they ramp up anti-drunk-driving messages to players, seems kind of silly to me: if you make it to legal drinking age in this country, you're pretty well inundated with "don't drink and drive messages. I'd argue what they should do is institute a policy where if you are caught drinking and driving, you are off the team. Permanently. And you're off any other team - out of MLB altogether. THAT might work.)

And apparently one of the less-talented famous people in the world was caught drinking and driving - on a suspended license at that. And a judge wants to send her to prison. But now, when P*aris Hilt*on is going to get hers for drinking and driving, people want her "pardoned."

Why? Because she "because she provides beauty and excitement to ''(most of) our otherwise mundane lives" (h/t to Ken S.)

Oh, if there ever were a statement I wanted to fisk...

I won't comment on the "beauty" thing, because it's catty to mention her meander-y eye and her too-thin nose. Or the fact that she really could use perhaps another 15-20 pounds on her frame (and NOT in the chestal area).

But "excitement"? If your main source of excitement is hearing about the debauched doings of a girl who is famous solely for being famous - who apparently makes a living (over and above the hotel money) by being paid to show up at parties - you really need to look closely at your life. Like Charles Barkely said - "I'm not a role model" (And everyone reamed him for that, but no one listened to the rest of the sentence: "...because parents and teachers and local people should be the role models.")

Besides, "excitement" is highly overrated in my book. Peace, calm, and contentment - now that's worth working for.

As for "mundane lives"....well, that's really a nice slap in the face to the Working Americans who go out to their jobs every day, who keep this country running, so Paris-sites (heh, get it?) like Hilton can go out and party at night. Honey, the guy who mops up your vomit in the hotel is one of those "mundane lives" you're referring to. The doctor who pumps your stomach when you take something you shouldn't have is one of those "mundane lives." If you asked them, they'd probably admit they don't give that much of a flip about you and your doings: they're more interested in their families, their friends, making the house payment...It just shows the narcissism of the very famous to think that people are shocked and horrified that you are going to be subjected to such treatment as going to prison, because, OMG! You're famous.

Celebrity, believe it or not, isn't something most of us aspire to.

I'd hate to be famous - hate to have that kind of scrutiny where, if I decided I wanted to go out and eat pancakes at a restaurant, I'd see my face splashed all over the gossip rags next week with something like "Ravenous Ricki Eating Binge! Why is she packing in the food?!" Ugh.

Look, I sympathize with the fame-sucks thing. I'm sure it sucks to be famous. I suspect you're secretly coveting one of those "mundane lives" you seem to mock. Like, maybe being a schoolteacher. Or waiting tables at a posh restaurant. Or even being a receptionist in a doctor's office. Something stable, something predictable. Something where you can go home at 5 or 6 or whenever and take off your shoes and your stockings and even your brassiere if you want and just relax and be YOU. Instead of being "on" all the time.

But it just puzzles me, how we idolize certain famous people in this country. I heard a certain amount of dismissiveness about Queen Elizabeth II when she came - about how people were 'fawning' and "scraping" to her and how "disgusting" it was.

Well, Queen Bess has actually DONE some worthwhile things in her life (okay, the kids she gave birth to are debatable, but she was a symbol of the Empire in its declining years and even now she's a gracious and polite woman).

I heard things like "we fought a war some 200 years ago to get rid of royalty!" Yes, but - considering the way many people react to rock stars, sports stars, or even famous-for-no-good-reason people, it seems we've re-created a royalty - perhaps one less worthy than what we kicked out in the first place.

I can't quite believe the outpouring of bile against the judge who would sentence Paris (I hope he has protection; I could just about see some crazed fan trying to "avenge" her). And the outpouring of pity. (I do, however, believe the atrocious grammar and orthography, sadly.)

I guess I can sum up my reaction to the people who are wanting to "protest" and to "sihn" petitions to get her off (once again) with barely a slap on the wrist:




Seriously - go out and volunteer somewhere. Help people less fortunate than you. Plant a garden. Pick up trash in your town. Because your premise (that Paris Hilton deserves to be allowed to do whatever she wants, because she brings "beauty and excitement") is incorrect. And your way of presenting it is horrifying and atrocious and anyone who values the English language (and, for that matter, I suspect, most people over the age of 25) are aghast at the delivery of said premise.

That said - what if you get your wish? And she gets off with a slap on the wrist? And then, she dies in a horrible crash caused by driving drunk? What have you accomplished then?

Look: there need to be consequences for actions. It's better she face the consequence of spending some time in the pokey (and losing her license. I'd actually like to see it lost permanently but I don't imagine that will happen) than she have the possible future consequence of dying herself or killing innocent people.

If I were enough of an idiot to drink and drive? I'd take what punishment was doled out to me and thank the good Lord I didn't kill anyone during my indiscretion. There's such a thing as "'fess up, fix up, and make up" in this world: if you screw up, you admit it, you do what you need to do to make it right, and then you ask forgiveness. It's not "mundane people 'fess up, fix up, and make up and I squeal until I get what I want." No. It's EVERYBODY, when you screw up, you 'fess up, fix up, and make up.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

quiz thingie

Usually I don't really go for the quiz thingies that are on the internet, because so often they seem to be mostly Barnum statements ("say what the people want to hear, be very general about it, and they'll think it's true") or the questions on the quiz have no answer I agree with (e.g., "I like this musician best" followed by the names of four people in pop that I've never even heard of)

But this one, I like.

If it's Barnum statements, at least they're Barnum statements I agree with:

I'm a Mandarin!

You're an intellectual, and you've worked hard to get where you are now. You're a strong believer in education, and you think many of the world's problems could be solved if people were more informed and more rational. You have no tolerance for sloppy or lazy thinking. It frustrates you when people who are ignorant or dishonest rise to positions of power. You believe that people can make a difference in the world, and you're determined to try.

Talent: 41%
Lifer: 28%
Mandarin: 74%

Take the Talent, Lifer, or Mandarin quiz.

(The funny thing is - the Time article linked to - claims that the Clintons are "mandarins" and also that much of Republican thinking now is very anti-Mandarin; that the so-called "elites" of the Democratic party are Mandarins. I'd disagree; I think that there are people across the political spectrum fall into every category.

I think Time's article really doesn't fit with the quiz results.

It seems to me that

Lifer = "I've been here the longest, I've put in my time, I deserve good things"
Talent = "I have natural skills and talent. I'm special. I deserve good things."
Mandarin = "I worked hard for what I have, and I continue to work hard. I deserve good things."

I suspect the basic principle behind all of these groups is that they feel they are the deserving one by virtue of whatever characteristic they consider is the most vital: seniority and reliability, or talent, or hard work. Probably everyone's a little bit wrong.

But I have to admit I'm a little proud of that description given up there.

And I'd also argue against the perception, claimed in the Time article (and yeah, it's an article from '96, so whatever) that people think the Mandarins didn't earn what they have. Education? Trust me, it's hard work getting a degree. It's hard work training your mind so you are not a victim of lazy or sloppy thinking. And it's hard holding on to your principles in a world that often seems to have lost them - which is what seems to me to be a guiding characteristic of those who value hard work and achievement as the path to success. Not that any of the groups - the Talents or the Lifers - seem particularly predisposed to dishonesty or sloppiness; perhaps a better way of looking at it is that these are the Platonic ideals of different paths and far too many people fall off them. Clinton may be a Mandarin in some respects, but I don't see a person who truly hews to the path as being willing to do some of the things he did to get/keep power or privelige.)

heavy weather

We've been having storms off and on the past few days. In fact - last night, my county was under a tornado warning (but the weather news-guy - the only GOOD local news reporter, thankfully, is the weather dude - observed that they didn't have confirmation of a tornado on the ground. And I live in a big county.)

And I got to thinking about how one of the probably-unrecognized blessings of computer advancement are the improvements in weather forecasting.

A generation ago - when I was a kid - there were Civil Defense sirens that were rung. There wasn't Doppler radar; what weather radar there was was fairly primitive. I remember being bundled off into the basement (I grew up in NE Ohio) and having to sit there for a LONG time until they were sure there wasn't going to be a tornado.

Before my time - the 30s and 40s and even into the 50s - there really wouldn't have been any warning, unless a farmer out in his field or a cop on the beat happened to SEE the tornado and was able to call it in to a radio station or something.

In 1974, in Xenia, Ohio, a very large storm of tornadoes killed 32 people (link, for the weather buffs like me).

In 1999, 40 people were killed in the outbreak of massive tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma.

Hopefully - only 9 died in this most recent outbreak.

But I would guess that before weather-radar, there would have been far more deaths.

I'm always kind of fascinated by the severe-weather coverage - it is now to the point, in larger urban areas at least, that they can pinpoint the neighborhoods or even the STREET INTERSECTIONS that are in danger.

That's a far cry from hearing that "all of Summit County is under a tornado warning until 10:15 pm" and my having to grab my stuffed Snoopy doll and go hide in the basement with my parents and my brother.

And so - another thing I'm grateful for on the list of modern conveniences and comforts? Good weather radar. And people who are well-trained to interpret it and convey the information.

a (rare) Tuesday Stupid Spam

Got one this morning (at my WORK email, no less) that claims

"lying sprawled naked on a bed of ice also helps."

Well, sure, if you're a boiled shrimp that's trying to be put out of its misery by being digested as part of a "shrimp cocktail."

Other than that...I'm thinking frostbite would rapidly become a problem.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Do you see them? Do you hear them?

I took this weekend off and went for a day of boutique-type shopping. About an hour south of me there's a small city that prides itself on its "historic downtown with unique shops." There are many antique shops, and a couple of quilt shops, and a tiny yarn shop, and lots of shops selling what one of my friends derides as "stuff you don't really need" - scented candles, hard-milled soap, fancy keychains, that kind of thing.

(True, maybe you don't REALLY need it. But I like the hard-milled soap. I'd much rather use a nice bar of soap made by hand by someone who is interested in color and botanical extracts and such than a bar of Ivory that I can get 3 for $4 at the wal-mart but that will go all mushy in a few weeks).

I like going there and shopping for several reasons:

1. It is AWAY. I mean, it's out of town for me - if someone "needs" me for something, well, they just have to keep "needing" me until I get home. Or do it themselves. (I keep my cell phone turned off for just that reason).

2. It's nicer stuff than is sold locally. Oh, I understand the whole economics of it: I live in an economically-depressed area. Most folks where I live live on a stricter budget than I do, a budget that doesn't necessarily allow for bars of hard-milled soap or $1-a-piece chocolate truffles. But the thing is, in Wal-Mart-land, so many things kind of get lowest-common-denominatorized that sometimes, it's almost a little depressing. (I know: again, I have a friend who claims that "if you can't get it at wal-mart, you don't need it." Well, I suppose again, it depends on how stringently you define NEED. Technically, one doesn't NEED toilet paper as long as one has some leaves or an old copy of the Sears-Roebuck catalog. And one doesn't NEED drinking glasses, as one could drink water straight from the tap or milk straight from the carton and buy all other beverages in single-serving cans).

3. Did I mention that there's a yarn shop? And two quilt shops? I have none of that locally - my only local crafts-supply option is the aisle-and-a-half at the wal-mart, and that cants heavily to scrapbooking these days. (Scrapbooking is just one of those things I do not get. It's not that I think people who scrapbook are silly or are wasting their time or anything, it's doesn't appeal to me. And that lack of appeal, I have to admit, extends to my being sat down by one of the scrapbookers and made to look at months' worth of family pictures, mounted in clever and cute ways.) So it's a real joy to get out and see what's out there, what new products are available. I suspect the way I feel is kind of like how the pioneer wife felt when she FINALLY managed to persuade her husband to hook up the buckboard and take the whole family into town to the dry-goods store.

I always wind up buying more than I "need," because I tell myself: and it might be a long time before you get back here. Again - I bet that's a bit of what the pioneer women felt, except they would doubtless have been on a far stricter budget.

That said - I find that more and more, my enjoyment of taking a day out is a bit...intruded the way some people act.

More and more, I see people who act as if they believe either
a. they are at home in their living rooms and all that is around them is merely a virtual, online experience

b. they are in some kind of a bubble and no one else can see or hear what they're doing


c. They are the Most Important Person in the World and so it doesn't matter what those other shlubs think or feel; being the Most Important Person entitles them to act however they want.

We have our own version of Valley Girls around here. I'm not sure what else to call them. They're typically very "priveliged" women - usually they're what some deride as the "idle rich." Trophy wives, some of them. Their days seem to largely be filled with shopping, decorating and re-decorating their houses, going out for lunch with their friends, and...I'm not sure what else because I only ever see them out shopping and in restaurants.

The ones I saw Saturday were no exception. Cell phone plastered to the ear, they barrel through antique store after antique store, gabbing away to their invisible friend (usually it's some litany of complaints about husband/kids/gardener/housekeeper/neighbors or an ongoing discussion of how they CAN'T find the thing they WANT. Or how some store had the NERVE to have the thing they wanted, but have a SOLD tag on it...that some other patron got to it first).

I don't know. This behavior always strikes me as strange because when I'm in an antique shop (or even an "things you don't really need" shop), I like to slow down. I like to walk through, paying attention to the things, considering the ones that catch my eye. Is that wall-shelf just what I need? $65 is a lot of money to me but it's a cool-looking shelf. No, wait, on closer inspection it's kind of roughly cut; poor workmanship's covered up with a coat of white paint. Okay, move on....

For me, when I get to go shopping like that, it's a whole day thing. It's an escape. I'm usually alone (and NO, that doesn't bother me. I LIKE shopping alone). Rarely, I'm with a single close friend or with my mother. But at any rate - the point of the day is looking at stuff, considering stuff, enjoying the stuff.

Watching the Southern Valley Girls (and I nearly got run over by one of them; she was walking fast and not watching where she was going), I get the feeling that for them, shopping is kind of like me going to the wal-mart at the end of the day when I realize I'm out of milk and I need it: get in, get what you need, get out.

It's very much "hunter" as opposed to "gatherer" and that strikes me as strange behavior for an antique shop.

The Southern Valley Girls are also the same people who SPEAK. VERY. LOUD. AND. STACCATO. to the Hispanic lady behind the counter of the sandwich shop - they assume she doesn't speak English, when in fact, if they had paid attention to her interaction with previous customers in line, they'd see that she speaks English at least as well as they do.

Oh, and they keep up the conversation on their cell phones while they're ordering.

(I'm sorry, but I consider that the height of rudeness: if someone is waiting on you - like at a lunch counter, or a cosmetics counter, or at a checkout stand, HANG UP THE BLASTED PHONE. There is a fellow human being in front of you. Acknowledge them. Even if checkout-counter people are surly sometimes. They deserve at least your attention. Your invisible friend will wait for you.)

And, still on their cell phones, they sit down - two or three at a table - still on the cell to someone else.

It's really bizarre to me. I suppose it's because I don't LIKE talking on the phone (even as a teenager I didn't talk on the phone much; I never "got" the marathon gab-fests with girl friends or with the guy you were "going with." Although actually, I think most of those consisted of both of you just sitting there holding the phone, not knowing what to say.) But I look at it and I'm like: you have two friends in front of you, and you can't get off the horn with your other friend long enough to talk with them? Why even meet for lunch, then?

I also got to hear an awful lot of one-sided conversations: again, mostly complaints about husband/boyfriends. (And yet, people pity me because I'm single).

I really DO NOT UNDERSTAND the need to be on the cell phone for that long. I know I don't have anything that interesting to say - I can barely eke out a 20 minute conversation on the phone with my PARENTS once a week, for goodness sake. And I'd suspect they're more interested in what's going on in my life than most friends would.

But the biggest thing that gets me is the whole "person in a bubble" phenomenon - I was jostled, stepped on, nearly run into - all in the span of a few hours. And it wasn't that crowded - it was sort of a rainy day and there weren't as many people out as there often are. But it's getting, more and more, like people are so intent on the person who's speaking in their ear that they fail to notice that they're bumping into another person on the sidewalk. (Or maybe they don't consider it; maybe the person on the sidewalk isn't a person to them?)

It makes me kind of sad - it's like we are becoming a nation of navel-gazers, people who can't see past the tips of our noses. I wonder what would happen if someone had a heart attack, or a stroke, or fainted, or something, on the street? I like to think that someone would immediately step up and get help for the person, but looking at some of the people I saw Saturday, I almost feel like at least some of them would sigh in annoyance (again, to their Invisible Friend) and roll their eyes as they stepped over the stricken person.

I wonder if there's a bigger connection with what's going on in society to this - the fact that it's increasingly hard to have any kind of discussion of a controverisal topic without someone becoming mean-spirited about it and stooping to ad hominem attacks rather then trying and debating the IDEAS on their merits. Or of kids who grow up with basically feral manners, who don't understand the importance of saying "excuse me" or "thank you" or not making hurtful remarks to people (I know, I know: "that's kids." They've done it for ages. But it seems to be getting meaner lately).

I don't like the thought of us becoming a nation of islands unto ourselves, where we are all tiny tinpot dictators of all we survey, where we justify rudeness to others because they are "other," and where, instead of stopping and trying to enjoy whatever is in our vicinity, we are so focused on our litany of complaints to our Invisible Friend speaking in our ears, that we don't see the birds singing or the flowers blooming or the artwork in the shops or all of the wonderful things that surround us, if we just LOOKED.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Three characters meme

This is to keep me from totally bugging out as I grade papers...

I've seen this lots of places - at Sheila, and Pale Page, and now Nightfly's. So I'm gonna do it. I must warn you, I mainly read mystery novels these days (all my poor overtaxed brain can take), so my choices won't be as literary and intellectual as some

Three characters (at least) you wish were real so you could meet them:

1. Albert Campion. Is he really that "ineffectual" looking? What's his real name, and why did he adopt "Campion" as his nom de guerre? Besides, he's a young-ish, single (at least in the novels I've read) male detective, and that interests me. (And if he really looked anything like Peter Davison, who portrayed him for the BBC, that would be a plus).

2. Nero Wolfe. I like to think he'd appreciate my intellect (and perhaps my legs as well; several times it's reported he positioned a young female witness who was talking to him so that he could see her legs). He is a "difficult" person - in fact, many women repulse him, because they are very utilitarian or they are of a somewhat hysterical bent. I like to think I'd be that rare woman who could keep up with him conversationally and intellectually. (And I don't use "contact" as a verb. And I know the difference between "infer" and "imply.")

3. Merriman Lyon, from the Dark is Rising sequence. He's fascinating - it's implied that he was actually Merlin, somehow kept alive and safe, all these years. He also seems like a very gentle person - with people who are fundamentally good and moral - but also very strong and tough when good people are threatened.

4. Mr. Toad from Wind in the Willows. Oh, I think he'd probably annoy me after a while, but I think it would be fun to meet him.

5. Claudius from I, Claudius. Yeah, it's an odd choice, I know. But ancient Rome fascinates me and also the idea that this guy was such an "outsider" (he stuttered, and apparently had something like epilepsy...). Yes, I know Emperor Claudius was a real person but I'm assuming the fictionalized version is fictional enough to count.

Three characters you'd like to be:

1. Precious Ramotswe, from the Ladies' Detective Agency series. She's wise, she's more than ordinarily perceptive. She also seems to have a good humor and a sort of a quiet way of accepting the things that happen in life. She does not seem to be a worrier and that appeals to me.

2. Elizabeth Bennett. Oh, hell, it would just be FUN. You know it would.

3. Lucy from the Narnia books. What an amazing walk through a wardrobe and be in a different world. And yet, one that plays by rules not unlike (and perhaps, in some respects, better) than our own. And I'd love to meet the various talking animals. And the description of Lucy and Susan watching Aslan's resurrection is one of the more touching scenes I've read in a book (as either a child or an adult).

4. While we're on the subject of childhood books: Sam from "My Side of the Mountain." I read that book obsessively as a child - I loved the back-to-the-land idea, the thought of being totally self-sufficient. And the thought of being ALONE, without having to deal with any other people. I realized (even as a child) that it was basically an impossible dream - the world I lived in was even then too dangerous for a girl to go out on her own and live in the woods. And besides - running off with just a flint and steel and a pocketknife? I'd miss my books too much. And comfortable bedding. And indoor plumbing.

Three characters who frightened you:

1. I'm going to be unoriginal here and list Cathy from East of Eden. But...she IS close to a soulless character I remember reading in literature.

2. The Dementors, from Harry Potter. Something that can suck away your soul....ugh. It makes me feel cold just thinking of them.

3. Gollum, from The Hobbit, and later, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Gollum scared me when I read "The Hobbit" as a child; I think he is even scarier after you learn his origins. I think the whole "soul fallen from grace" (or perhaps rather more, "Soul that voluntarily gave up grace") thing tends to scare me..other characters who were unpleasant but made less of an impression fit this mold.

4. Michael Valentine Smith from Stranger in a Strange Land. Yes, he scared me - there was something MISSING there - something not-right, by earthly standards. And besides - someone who could vaporize you with just an odd thought? That's creepy. I know lots of people regard Stranger in a Strange Land as a real masterpiece but I frankly found it kind of cynical and depressing.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

please and thank you

Kate: "done beats perfect," as they say. I knew (and know) lots of people who don't get "perfect" grades but they learn just as much, if not more, than the people who do.


I'm reading a book right now called "Say Please, Say Thank You." (Donald McCullough). As you could guess, it's on civility and politeness (but NOT, as the author is quick to point out, etiquette: there is a difference, he says, between knowing precisely what fork to use at a fancy dinner and treating people with basic kindness and respect).

The book is one I find extremely quotable (so I'll subject you to some quotations from it, here). I agree with most of the author's basic points.

I also agree with his observation that none of us are perfect, that we all slip (even this morning, driving to work: that guy behind me who apparently couldn't be arsed to turn on his headlights even though it was dark out, and then roared past me - passing on the right, which is technically legal here but always spooks me badly - when I was stopped, waiting for traffic to clear before making a left turn. If I could have talked to the guy in that car, I would have said some choice words to him. Also about his choice of bumper stickers...I tend to think that insulting people's religions is neither funny nor cute)

McCullough relates a story, early in the book, about an experience where he "lost his civility" - in an airport shop, buying something from a woman who didn't get off the phone the whole time he was interacting with her. She shortchanged him and he kind of got in her face about it and about her being on the phone. The woman told him: That was my mother. She's disabled and can't get out much. She needs me and I can't be with her as much as I want to because I have to work (or words to that effect).

McCullough relates how he felt a total heel after that - how he had assumed that it was the frivolous sort of conversation, and that he had really been more unpleasant about the short-changing that he needed to be, and so on.

And he makes an interesting point:

The Golden Rule tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Because this is in the form of an imperative, we might have the wrong impression: we might imagine that we can choose to put this rule into effect or not, depending on whether we obey it. Actually, it's closer to the Tall Buildings Rule - step off the top of a tall building and you will be squished on the sidewalk. We're talking law here, a statement of what happens in the universe of relationships. Whatever you do unto others they will do back to you. Call it the Law of Reciprocal Action.

McCullough goes on to explain how when that law gets broken, it can lead to a whole chain of events: treat someone with disrespect (and that's his fundamental argument: the whole "good manners" thing is treating people with respect, whether you think they deserve it or not) and they will likely turn around and treat someone else with disrespect...and on and on. It's like the old saying about the guy who has a bad day at work and then comes home and yells at his kids and kicks the dog.

But McCullough points out there's a reverse to this: when you treat someone BETTER than they deserve (he uses the example of Aldonza/Dulcinea from "Man of La Mancha" - Aldonza is little more than a prostitute, but Don Quixote insists on seeing her as "his Lady." At the very end of the play, just before Quixote dies, he sees her, transformed - because he believed her to be his Lady, he believed better of her.

And - though the book really isn't intended, I think, to have a religious tone, McCullough does suggest that we are, after all, children of God - and that the whole please/thank you/excuse me thing could, in fact, be acknowledging that. Giving people their dignity.

He has chapters on different topics: starting with "Please" and "Thank You" and moving on to things like respecting others by not being late (! I know people who are chronically late; the feeling one does get is that they think their time is more important than your own).

In the very first chapter, he makes a fine point:

The one who neglects to say "please" creadles within his or her soul an infant dictator who thinks it's all right to bark orders and who may just grow up to become a cruel despot...

That may be overstating things a bit, but...yes. There is something of the dictatorial in the person who doesn't preface requests with "please."

He also speaks of gratitude, and its importance: he points out something that I have noticed many times, that there is an inverse relationship between a sense of entitlement and a sense of gratitude. That stopping to be grateful is acknowledging that on some level, we have enough. It is sufficient. That the half-full glass could just as easily be empty, so let us rejoice in the fact that we have half a glass' worth.

And he remarks also that our culture works against this:

When we say 'thank you,' we heave a sigh of satisfaction in a world of grasping. Instead of reaching out toward more, we pause to enjoy what we have.
This is why gratitude has a hard time surviving. We live in a culture of consumption that constatntly tells us we need more. The New York Times estimated that the average American is exposed to 3500 commercial messages each day...they're all saying, "You don't have enough! Keep striving to aciewve more and acquire more!" A thankful spirit gets run over in the ensuing stampede...

McCullough also discusses "white lies" and their obverse, what most of us in the blogosphere refer as TMI. He points out that white lies - and here he means "snow white" lies, not "black, or gray, or even off-white lies." These are the kind of little lies that are designed to protect the other person - not coming out and saying exactly what you feel (like, if someone asks you if their unattractive haircut is becoming to them). He also points out that part of politeness is sometimes NOT sharing information, and that this is hard in a "tell-all world."

(And yes, I am aware of the contradiction of writing this on a blog, which is basically a diary where I am slapping the pages up against the plate-glass window of the world for all to read as soon as I write them).

He points out that Aristotle had a good rule: honesty, he said, was telling the right truth to the right person at the right time in the right way for the right reason.

Or, more simply put (as my university's "wellness" magazine included in a "list of suggestions for surviving family reunions) - before you say something, ask yourself: is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

In the last chapter ("Tell your buddy his fly is open"), which he suggests people skip to after reading the chapter on white lies, he continues with this thread:

Does this mean we should always blurt out the truth, no matter what? No, I don't think so. Let me suggest two guidelines. First, the truth must be pertinent to the situation. Lewis Smedes has beautifully summarized what this means: "A politician out to speak the truth about public matters as he sees them; he does not need to tell us how he feels about his wife. A doctor ought to tell me the truth, as he understands it, about my health; he does not need to tell me his views on universal health insurance. A minister ought to preach the truth, as he sees it, about the gospel; he does not need to tell the congregation what he feels about the choir director [and here, I add: this is the very crux of what bugs me so about the pontificating entertainers - I really do not need to know how much t.p. Sheryl Crow uses, even if she's joking about it] Telling the truth does not call us to be garrulous blabbermouths. Truthfulness is demanded from us about the things that we ought to speak about at all." It is neither ethical nor courteous to dump all our feelings at all times on all people.

In other words: avoid TMI.

One thing that McCullough never states explicitly, but that underlies so much of his writing is the concept of self-control. As I said earlier - thinking about the guy who scared me by passing me on the right (when I could hardly even see him) this morning - there are things I would have LIKED to have said to him. But the truth is, if I were really allowed to confront him? I'd probably not say any of them. I might express a desire that in the future he drove with his headlights on, I might tell him he scared me by passing so fast on the right and that it struck me as dangerously impatient. But I'd not curse at him, not call him an idiot - when I was actually confronted with him.

I think, perhaps, the anonymity of the modern age, of the internet, makes it easier to be rude. It is easier to forget one's self-control when the person who is the object of one's ridicule is not standing right there being spoken to face-to-face.

I will admit that one of the things I struggle with on a regular basis is this:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.” But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!” [a Syriac word indicating great contempt, meaning “empty head” or “one who acts as a numskull” see Barnes, 1972, p. 52; Lenski, 1943, p. 219—CC] shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, “You fool!” shall be in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:21-22). (from article)

I do not have unlimited patience for what I perceive as foolish behavior. I do not like feeling I am being taken advantage of (for example, by people who come to me pleading disorganization or lack-of-experience or something, and therefore, they need to hand something in late). It is hard for me not to feel contempt for people that, I think, failed to use common sense. (It is probably my greatest failing in terms of personality). But I am reminded of the words I quoted above (and, I will say in my defense, I never say the thing to the person's face - I may criticize their behavior, but I will not call them a fool, except in my own head.)

I am not sure how to get past that, and it is something I struggle with.

However - the whole issue of courtesy. It is such a large topic and such a vital one. I am generally good with the basic "please and thank you" of everyday life. I am frankly often surprised at how few people say those things. It really does not cost a person anything, and it does, I think, make the other person feel better - in that you are seeing them as a PERSON, and not an obstacle in your path or as a servant.

It all comes down to the fundamental problem of seeing other people as PEOPLE - as fellow beings who love and fear and hope, as fellow beings who are as bound for the grave as we are, and who are deserving - and yes, I think, deserving, by mere fact of their existence - of a little basic kindness and respect.

I have real problems with people who label politeness as "repression" or who say it's unnatural. Well, yes, wearing clothes is unnatural, too, when you think about it. So is being vaccinated against diseases. So is having indoor plumbing. But those are all blessings of society (and regardless of what YOU may say, I argue that indoor plumbing is a blessing. And a vaccine that prevents me from getting polio or measles or tetanus. And so is clothing - even if it's just to cover the parts of me I'd rather the world not see).

It is not being "real" to be impolite to people. It is being impolite. "Realness," I'd argue, is a more difficult concept - it's closer to telling people the right truth at the right time (as per the Aristotle concept). It's saying the things the person needs to hear, but not necessarily including things they don't need to hear.

The problem I have with rudeness being seen as being "genuine" or "real" is...well, it's also part of the self-control idea. Yes, it may be closer to our animal natures to grab and wallow and push and force ourselves to the front. But we are not merely animals. We have intellects, or, if you like, souls. And I think that is the fundamentally human part of us - not tool-using, not walking upright. It is the fact that we can choose how we behave. We can choose to be animalistic and make the lives of others more miserable. Or we can choose to be on the side of the angels (as I would argue it) and strive to restrain our impulses to make people's lives miserable - and in fact, respond to those better impulses, those impulses to make people's lives a little nicer and a little better.