Monday, August 31, 2009

I'm here...

...just busy. Work is kicking my butt. (I am teaching an extra lab this semester and while I don't really have prep for it - it's the "service class" where a TA sets up and takes down the labs), it still adds to the workload.

And having 37 introductory students means getting 35* or so short papers to read and comment on (and oh yes, I do comment) each week.

(*35 or so because invariably someone will skip doing it. Fine, whatever. Less work for me. But don't come crying to me when your grade is too low by 20 points. Or 35 or so because someone says, "I just couldn't get it done, can I hand it in tomorrow" after they had a week to write a one-page paper. So I say "no.")

I also have field sampling today, a meeting with a prospective grad student tomorrow...and on and on.

I'm busy and pretty much happy but it means I have less time for other stuff.

I'm glad Labor Day is this coming Monday. (I suppose as someone who is in principle opposed to what labor unions are currently doing - at least, many of 'em - I shouldn't take it off but meh. I get tired.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I've had an up and down couple of weeks - I got a journal article accepted (finally), got some good work done. But I also wrestled with the self-doubt I always wrestle with, lost my patience with myself, got despairing over the new AHA "sugar guidelines" (no more than 9 tsp added sugar in a day, or apparently you get fatty fat fat and then die of TEH DIABEEETUS. And as I like candy and as I like sugar in my tea, and as I have been known in the past to get a wee bit obsessional over reading labels - well, I've had some issues these past couple days with my diet).

So I got to thinking this afternoon. There are things I need to do more of and things I need to do less of. And I should make a list, to remind myself.

Do more of (because it enriches my life and reminds me of who I really am):


light candles and just watch the flames for a while.

read articles and books in my field, especially about stuff I'm teaching, because it makes me feel smarter, and because the students get excited when I talk about stuff that's being currently researched.

be quiet; listen to music.

play the piano.

do my own home cooking, because it soothes me.

go to bed early when I'm tired.

breathe deeply.

maybe take up yoga again, if I can manage to not use it as a stick to beat myself with on the days when I don't feel up to doing it.

take a break and drink some water.

make tea (yes, even with sugar, if I want it).

read stuff that interests me: ancient history, Christian spirituality, history of technology, how people lived in the middle ages, Dickens novels, Gene Stratton Porter novels, books about maps and geography, funny books.

read my books of comics when I feel sad because they make me feel better.

get out on the weekend and go somewhere, even if I don't have a purpose in mind.

remind myself that I'm smart and capable and basically a decent person.


watch old re-runs of NCIS on USA Network if I'm tired after work and what I really want to do is sit and watch old re-runs of NCIS.

Do less of:

feel like I'm "second best" because I'm not as good at the ridiculous self-promotion that some people I know are good at.

watching the news.

getting upset over stuff I basically have no ability to change (save voting when it's time to vote, or praying).

second-guessing myself.

beating myself up for not being as "perfect" as I think I should be.

obsessing over whether what I eat is going to wind up killing me or making me chronically sick.

obsessing over my weight and hating myself for not being slimmer.

tell myself that I'm "wasting my life" because I occasionally like to spend an evening watching old re-runs of NCIS.

worrying overmuch about the future. (Number one, there's lots of stuff I can't control, and number two, the "ultimate" future, at least for one who believes in an afterlife, really is not something that one should "worry" about - it may get bad here but it will ultimately be OK.)

getting irritated because a particular person I know has an irritating voice. They can't help it.

in general, getting irritated at piddly stuff that I don't have control over.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Like running a restaurant...

As I said, I served at the local meal-kitchen this afternoon. Previously, I had only cooked, or prepared food ahead of time (previously, my schedule didn't allow anything else).

This is a service that feeds pretty much the poorest of the poor in our community. Lots of people walked there - some apparently fairly far. There were a number of developmentally-disabled people. I suppose it's hard in a tough economy to be employed with that challenge. There were a lot of older people, lots of what I assume were single moms - many fairly young.

I admit I'm apprehensive. I don't encounter lots of folks outside of the little circle I'm used to, and I once had someone accuse me of being a snob - saying I "wouldn't know how to relate" to someone outside of my socioeconomic stratum.

Turns out it's not that hard. You treat them with the same kind of civility you'd grant any human being. (I think I was also made apprehensive because one of the ladies at my church gushed on about how it was "a chance to show warmth to people who don't GET much warmth" and I wondered what that meant - I'm not exactly a warm and fuzzy person. Turns out "warmth" to her apparently means speaking politely to people, listening to them, and meeting their eyes when you talk to them. Again, what I figure you do for any human being you're interacting with. I guess I was afraid there'd be more hugging, or something. I don't even hug all my relatives.)

It was, I will say, 2 hours of pretty hard work. I was a "runner" - meaning I went back to the kitchen to get more salad, or more ice, or another pan of casserole, and I spelled the servers that needed a break. (Everyone else took a dinner break. I wasn't feeling very hungry - it's this darn low-grade headache - so I just filled in for everyone and then had a piece of toast when I got home).

Even with the headache I kind of enjoyed it. It's purposeful work. You know what you are doing. You don't have to make big decisions; it is very immediate. People need to be fed. We need ice to put in the water or tea. We need paper towels to mop up a spill.

I do like that kind of work. I don't think I'd go for it every day of my life - I don't think I could be on my feet like that for an eight hour day every day - but once in a while it's a nice change from the head-work I do most of the time.

It IS like running a restaurant. The kitchen is run by a couple, with help from friends and family, and then the volunteer work of different churches and civic groups on a rotation. (They have grants and I think some family money to help pay for it). The man was there at something like 7 this morning getting ready - and they were still finishing up when they told us we could leave around 6. It takes a lot of care and organization and it's subject to the same Board of Health regulations as restaurants. (And everyone is super careful, realizing the implications of the food kitchen being shut down for uncleanliness).

And it does remind you to be grateful for what you have - that I go home at the end of the day and stand in front of a stocked refrigerator and debate as to whether to cook an egg, or have salad, or fix bean soup, or whatever, for dinner. Instead of queuing up with ~100 other people and waiting to be provided what someone I don't know has cooked for me. (And I guess you don't have the luxury of being picky. I will admit another reason I didn't take a dinner break is that the chicken casserole being served simply didn't appeal to me)

We served maybe 200 people. That's less, they say, than the last time my church served there. I don't know if that means there are other social services out there, or if things are really beginning to improve a little, or if it was just a hot day and some of the folks who would have had to walk decided not to.

But yeah, it makes me glad to have the job that I have. Glad to have a paycheck that is outrageously good by global standards (and even, I think, by US standards, at least outside of the richer parts of New York and LA). Glad that I can depend on my own self to take care of myself.

But now I'm tired.

more on the "soup kitchen"

I decided a long time ago the only kind of "activism" I would participate in was the kind where I was actually doing stuff that "helped." Feed someone in need a meal. Pick up trash on the highway. Help rebuild at a kids' camp.

Because my few experiences with trying to "change" things have ended in frustration - when I was involved with a group that proposed a change to the laws 'round here that was eminently reasonable (well, in our estimation), we didn't even get heard. Because someone sent a lawyer to our group to tell us that we couldn't go any farther, and the leadership of the group (wisely) decided you can't fight city hall.

Which is why, as fed up with the state of the government as I get sometimes, I don't go out to town hall meetings or tea parties or anything like that. Because I am impatient. Because I don't like standing around waiting for something to happen, waiting to have my say.

I'd rather go back in the kitchen and wash pots and pans. Or knock mud-dauber nests off of cabins.

The world needs all kinds, I think. The kind who will go and wait for hours for a Representative to (maybe) show up so he can challenge him on some legislation he's proposing. But also people like me who go, "I don't have the patience for that" and would rather drive for Meals on Wheels or something like that.

Also, I don't tend to be the kind that people listen to. In real life, I'm rather soft-spoken and introverted - I don't have that forceful impression.

So I figure I'm better off trying to do what little I can to help. I may not be demanding that the government, figuratively, teach the people to fish, but I'm at least (figuratively again, unless tuna casserole is the menu for tonight) at least giving people a fish for today.

arrrrgh. headache.

I've been fighting a headache all day. Someone in my department apparently fired up some new piece of equipment and it still had machine oil or something in it, there is this weird burnt-oil smell in the hall.

I agreed to help people from my church serve dinner at the local "soup kitchen" (well, really, we serve full meals, not just soup) this afternoon. I AM NOT BAILING, even though I don't feel red hot. I've had too many people bail on me when they agreed to help me.

But I admit I'm apprehensive. I'm not that great at interacting with people I don't know at the best of times. And our "random public" can be pretty random.

I also realized why I so rarely read much in my office any more. People (colleagues) have conversations out in the hall, the sound carries, and it distracts me. And it feels cranky and mean for me to step out and go, "Hey, guys...I know you're standing outside Jen's office to talk, but I can hear it. Yeah, I know, I'm just next door but I'm reading..."

So I surf the web instead of reading the journals I SHOULD be reading, then haul them home on the weekend and get cranky because I don't take time to relax on the weekend.

Ear plugs. Maybe I have to bring the extra ear plugs I bought for my evil neighbor's barking dog in to my office and use them. Though that seems just as cranky in a passive-aggressive way for me to pull an ear plug out to hear someone if they come in to speak to me. Argh. Sometimes it frustrates me that our offices are sort of "tenement style" where someone whispering at the end of the hall can be heard in most of the other offices.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wait, what?

I think that should be the motto for the 21st century. (or at least the first ~10 years of it). So many things have happened in the world that make a person (or at least ME) wonder if they're crazy, or if the rest of the world is.

Here's the latest: The White House apparently hired an outside company to send out those "unsolicited" e-mails.

(Well, at least they didn't attach a notice saying, "Forward this mail to ten of your friends, or else bad things will happen to you!" and go on to give a story of some woman in Buttlick, NH, who didn't bother to forward the mail and who lost her job, her husband, and her purse the very next day)

Please, someone explain to me: how is this different from the unsolicited e-mails friends send me that claim things like, "YOU ARE GOING TO ABSORB ALUMINUM FROM YOUR ANTIPERSPIRANT AND GET ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE SO STOP USING ANTIPERSPIRANT NOW!!!11!!" or "Have you ever wondered why Proctor and Gambel products have a moon and stars on them, and there's also this cult called the Moonies...."

Yeah, yeah, I know. Other than that I can go and check the veracity of those claims on Snopes.

Seriously? I think one of the fastest ways to piss off people in your base (and especially out of it) is to fall into the mindset those "Constant Contact" commercials promote ("Harvest your customer's e-mail addresses and send them newsletters every day! Don't let them forget your existence for a moment!")

I don't know, but IMHO this is one of the more tin-eared things that someone in the upper reaches of government has come up with. It's right up there with the (for a while) nearly-weekly "press conferences" in prime time.

(I'm betting it's Gibbs came up with this idea, but I could be wrong.)

I will say I didn't get any of the "unsolicited" e-mails, so I guess I'm not on that "list." Which is a big relief.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Argh, parking. I have never been on a college campus where parking was not kind of a headache.

At least for me, it's alleviated somewhat by the existence of "faculty lots" where we can pay a small premium for a parking pass, and then park there. And I do it. It's worth it to me because one of the lots is mere steps from my building.

But the faculty lots lead to other issues.

I did my spiel in class the other day about "If you are parked in THIS lot" (doing the flight attendant big-arm gesture to point out where the lot is), "that is a faculty lot. Student lots are HERE" (another big-arm gesture in a different direction) "and there are a VERY few student spaces behind the building if you arrive early.

But if you park in the faculty lot, you may be ticketed."

I did not add, "and tick off the faculty who PAID to park there."

But still, we get grumbling from the students: the argument being, shouldn't there be just a first-come, first-served sale on the parking passes (so of course, the students, having little to do in the summers, can camp out like they do for the iPhones, while the faculty just have to pray there are a few passes left when they get out of class or in from doing research).

I'm irked by the argument that students should be able to buy parking passes and park in the faculty (and staff, I have to add that - staff get to have priority places too, if they want to pay) lot.

Oh, I know why - a lot of students want to rush into campus (whirrr-SCREECH!) two minutes before the start of class and KNOW they can park close to the building. So they can grab that extra couple minutes of sleep in the morning. Or whatever.

But, you know, we don't GET that many perks. I jumped on the faculty lot parking when it came on-line because in the days before the faculty-lots, I couldn't leave campus mid-day and plan to park when I returned - so all doctor and dentist appointments had to be scheduled at the end of the day, if I had a meeting off-campus, I'd just cancel my office hours after it if I had any.

Because the parking was just that bad. I might wind up walking 1/2 mile to get back to my building after parking in the afternoon.

And that's not so cool if you're staying until after dark. We're a pretty safe community, but still. It's not cool to have to walk out to your car alone late in the evening when it's far, far away.

And there's the issue of carrying stuff. I often am juggling multiple things: my purse, my lunch, several textbooks, an umbrella if it's likely to rain, a stack of graded papers, maybe some materials for a class demonstration. Parking close makes it easy. If I had to park far away I would either wind up making multiple trips or dropping something.

But there's also the issue of just hierarchy. Shouldn't the people who WORK HERE - the people who are providing the education - get one tiny little perk? What's so horrible for the students about being told, "You're a student here. If you want to park, we have several student lots. Yes, they are not terribly convenient. Yes, they sometimes fill up around 10 am. Deal with it."

The big part of the problem is that the majority of the dorm students have cars. And they drive to class. I am not kidding. The dorms are barely the length of a football field from most campus buildings (we are a bit farther, I admit that), and still, students have to drive to class.

On my old campus, students living in the dorms - if they even were allowed to bring a car to campus (you had to have a good reason) - parked in a "distant lot" that was served by minibuses a couple times a day. So if you needed your car, you could either catch the minibus, get a commuter friend to drive you out there, or walked the ~2 miles to get there.

It worked pretty well and helped with congestion on campus.

Here, though, everyone HAS to have their car immediately available. There's talk that they're building a "distant" lot (across one of the main streets from where the dorms are) but I bet it's not widely used unless students are required to park there.

I understand needing to have a car - I'm not anti-car. But I do think if you're on a college campus, there should be the expectation that you're going to walk a few hundred yards in a day.

The big joke on my campus is that the students drive to class all through the day, then drive to the gym in the afternoons so they can work out so they won't get all doughy and out of shape. (When I was in college I walked several miles in a day. I didn't even own a car)

But I get tired of the students whining about how much "better" we have it than them and how "it's not fair." Yeah? You know why it's not fair? It's not fair because I spent 10 years or so of my life without much of a social life, generally pretty poor, devoting most of my Saturdays to working. It was called being in grad school. I paid my dues, now I should at least be able to park within sight of my building.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A wish for the rest of the week.

Or maybe more a prayer:

God preserve me from any more helpless people. (Or people who have learned to act helpless because it makes people do stuff for them).

Or if God won't preserve me from them, will He at least keep me from metaphorically ripping their heads off when they come to me with yet another question that they could answer if they Read the Freaking Manual.

a suggestion

I realize some will vehemently disagree with me on this (and I'm not at all sure it's even a viable suggestion, given the way the world works, sadly) but:

How about the US government, the lobbyists, the drug companies, everyone involved, suspend trying to deal with a "health insurance reform" bill for a MINIMUM of six months.

Talk about something else for a while. Work on something smaller.

Because we're at the point where we have a great deal of heat, but no light. A lot of noise, and very little signal.

So we have things like Sarah Palin talking about death panels (and yes, maybe what she said could be a logical conclusion drawn from some of the parts of one of the plans on the table, but I will say I think it was perhaps a bit rash of her to say it in the way she did).

And we have people screaming and shouting at town hall meetings, and while I understand their frustration at what seems like an oligarchical Congress, and while I understand the fear of what may come, I have to admit that shouting down a representative solves little.

And Peter Singer saying things like:

"The death of a teenager is a greater tragedy than the death of an 85-year-old, and this should be reflected in our priorities. We can accommodate that difference by calculating the number of life-years saved, rather than simply the number of lives saved. If a teenager can be expected to live another 70 years, saving her life counts as a gain of 70 life-years, whereas if a person of 85 can be expected to live another 5 years, then saving the 85-year-old will count as a gain of only 5 life-years. That suggests that saving one teenager is equivalent to saving 14 85-year-olds."

(He does note these are "generic" individuals and goes on to point out that things might be "different" if the teenager was a violent criminal and the 85 year old was "still working productively." But even that argument makes me shudder a little, because it seems to suggest that an 85 year old who isn't "working productively" is not worth saving.)

He also observes later on (here is the article) that "most people"

"...would prefer, say, 10 years as a quadriplegic to 4 years of nondisabled life, but would choose 6 years of nondisabled life over 10 with quadriplegia, but have difficulty deciding between 5 years of nondisabled life or 10 years with quadriplegia, then they are, in effect, assessing life with quadriplegia as half as good as nondisabled life."

Okay, fine. If the individual in question makes that assessment, not a problem. BUT if some doctor - or some "ethics panel" - or some "cost control specialist*" makes that decision, NO. It is wrong.

Because that begins to say "who has value; who does not have value." I don't want some person telling my my parents' lives no longer have value because of their age, or their health condition, or their degree of impairment, whatever. Yes, my parents have DNR orders in place in case they become compromised to the point where they would no longer have quality of life - but that was THEIR decision, made long before any illness crept on the scene.

(And I am grateful for them doing that. Because if it comes to that, it will save me and my brother and my sister-in-law the agonizing decision of what to do and whether we are doing what they wanted)

(*And yes, I know. Insurance companies have these and sometimes they deny treatment an individual would choose to have. I know in my community there have been several "benefits" to try to raise money to pay for over-and-above treatments for individuals. And in several cases, I've donated. What I'm saying is, the "cost control" specialist would decide, and there would be no recourse - in the name of "fairness," no other option. Not sure if that would happen, but I could see some pushing for it)

I also cannot find the citation, but I think I have heard some bioethicist's suggestion that seriously ill premature babies be allowed to "slip away," because of the cost of caring for them - and the fact that they were likely to be "damaged" as older children (blind, deaf, developmentally delayed, whatever).

And again: if a family, with much thought and discussion and prayer (if they are people of faith) decide that it is preferable to take no "heroic" measures to save the life of a seriously compromised infant, that is one thing. But for an outside agency to recommend to parents to NOT have their infant cared for because it is not "cost effective," well - to me that seems evil.

I cannot think of any other name for it.

Yes, I know. Sick premature babies, their care is exceptionally expensive. But I cannot feel right about "letting" them die because it is "inconvenient" to care for them.

And I realize, there's the big question: where will the money come from? Well, I don't know. I do know in a number of cases (people I knew, or friends/relatives of people I knew), the insurance the family had paid for most of it. And in some cases some seriously sick little babies got to grow up to be reasonably healthy, happy toddlers.

It seems to me that many of the "good" health insurance companies seem to manage. Because they have people like me, who, as I said, take until the year is more than half over to meet our deductible and who maybe go to the doctor twice in a year (both times for check-ups only) and who don't need any heavy-duty medications and all of that. What my university pays in for me - what I would be paying in if I had private health insurance - is more than what I use in a year in health care. But. If I were to get into a car wreck. Or if I were to contract H1N1 flu from a student and needed to be put in the hospital - the fact that that money had been paid in and had covered others would allow me to be covered in my time of need.

I know people who had pretty extensive cancer treatment. And it was mostly paid for by insurance. And I don't see health insurance companies failing the way GM and banks are. (Which is why I'm twitchy about government intervening in health insurance).

Another thing we get are lots of folks sticking their oars in, pointing fingers, trying to blame and shame. What really got me on this hobbyhorse this morning was hearing a quotation from the director of the Cleveland Clinic - who has an article here, who says if it was up to him, he'd stop hiring people who were "obese."

He was quoted (perhaps misquoted, I don't know) on my local news as saying,

"It is our patriotic duty to 'take care of ourselves.'"

Brr. I suddenly feel very cold. What about people who get an unlucky genetic draw? Was it their patriotic duty to choose "better" gene donors? What about people who "do everything right" and still get sick? What about people who get old? A lot of the chronic diseases we spend a lot on are diseases of aging.

And I feel particularly chilled because, as I pointed out the other day - I am overweight. Actually borderline obese, if you read the strictest interpretation of BMI. And I work out and eat vegetables and avoid fried food and fatty meats and keep my food portions small. And still this man seems to HATE me because of what I am.

It scares me to think that some day my keeping a job, or keeping insurance, or having a doctor be willing to treat me could be determined by that 20 pounds I can't seem to lose. Or even by that 5 pounds that pushes me up into the next category.

(Seriously, if it became the case? I'd just stop eating until I dropped to the "necessary" weight. Oh, maybe I'd pass out in class, maybe I'd be grumpy and weak and get sick - but hey, they say being "fat" is more unhealthy than that, no?)

So I don't like where the discussion is leading.

YES, we need to do something for people who are in the "gaps" - who are underemployed, or have some pre-existing condition that makes it hard for them to be insured. We need to make sure that our retirees get continued care.

But I don't want to see interference in the lives of people like me, who are pretty much happy and taken care of and don't need help. (And I realize that that's not the plan now. But it seems that some would like to keep pushing towards a system more like "single payer")

None of the plans on the table, it seems to me, are viable right now. None of the stuff Obama has promoted seems well-enough fleshed-out to work as a plan. Which is why I suggest a "suspension of hostilities" for a while. Get more people involved, more people thinking about it. Try to figure out a way of helping people truly in need without breaking up the system that works well for a lot of us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I could go for this...

Simon Fraser University* is instituting a separate kind of failing grade for serious cases of cheating.

I could go for that. Speaking as someone who dealt with a pretty egregious plagiarism case not all that long ago. I think it is potentially helpful to differentiate between, "They just couldn't cut it in class" and "They failed because they were dishonest." (Also, at least where I teach, "honestly" acquired Fs can be expunged if the student re-takes the class and gets a considerably improved grade).

I wouldn't use it for, say, someone with wandering eyes on a test. (I do give zeroes on that particular test) or for someone who plagiarized a "minor" paper in a class. But for someone who plagiarized the "big" class paper, the one worth as much as an exam, or a more advanced student plagiarizing or otherwise falsifying a research project, I'd do it.

I will say in my department there are a few students that we've warned not to come to certain of us for recommendations due to their history of having cheated. In fact, one of my colleagues made two of his students cry.

He caught them looking off of each other's tests and sharing answers. So he called each one separately into his office and went through the spiel about how there are certain ethics in the Conservation field, that the field is pretty tight about those ethics, and that violators will often find themselves having a hard time getting a job.

He went on to talk about how he was disappointed in them, and how he expected better of them. He finished up by saying, "Don't come to me for recommendations; you won't like what I will write"

And each cried.

(And they were GUYS. Big, ordinarily-tough conservation guys).

Because I think people who are honest should be rewarded, and people who cheat their way through should go to the back of the line.

(*And I have to admit I snort a bit with laughter whenever I see the acronym. Too bad it's not Simon T. Fraser University)

I hate patchouli.

Apparently the grad student across the hall from me is using it. Not sure why. But I don't like stepping out into that pong.

Land whale

Apparently that's what I (and a lot of other women) are, according to an animal-activism group that shall not be named. (They are the same allegedly-animal-welfare folks who came up with Sea Kittens).

I hate this. I HATE this. The implication of the campaign is that if we all became vegetarians, *poof,* we'd magically become thin (and, apparently, not-disgusting for these types to look at).

Well, the argument is that it's "good" for us - the campaign is called something like "Save the Whales" (That's so cute I just threw up a little).

Here's the crux of my problem with a lot of what these so-called progressive groups do: telling someone they're disgusting (and that's the implication of the ad campaign; I don't care how beautiful REAL whales might be) and that they "need" to change for their own good is not a useful way of promoting your cause.

Because people like me will feel both anger and alienation - not that I ever supported this group that shall not be named to begin with - and some people will feel sad.

Here's a clue, for those of you who have never been overweight:

We know we're fat.
Telling us how much we disgust you does not help.
Terms like, "lardass," "whale," "fatso," "blubber-butt," "fatty fatty 2 by 4" - they DO NOT HELP.

The same people who would be aghast at calling a developmentally disabled child a "retard" (and rightly so) see nothing wrong with using pejoratives towards fat people.

(I use "fat people" as a neutral term. I know some people might see it as a pejorative but I'm not gonna go down the PC road of "people of size" or some other lunacy)

Even if you think it's a moral issue (and I know some people who do. And it makes me crazy, because you hear people spouting crap like, "If you just stopped drinking sugary soda" - well, I don't drink sugary soda NOW. Or "if you just got your butt off the sofa" - I work out an hour a day PLUS I am on my feet a couple other hours teaching) demeaning someone in that way does not help.

Even telling us "It would be good for you to lose some weight" is not that helpful - unless you are my doctor or spouse, you don't have the right to say that to me. YES, DAMMIT, I knot it would be "good" for me to lose some weight. Don't you realize I've been working on that, with limited success, for ten years or more?

Seriously? I wouldn't be at all surprised if a fat person went on a shooting rampage, and in the note they left behind, indicated how very sick they were of being judged by people who didn't even know them, of being told how they're lazy and greedy and lack self-control and on and on.

And even beyond that - this alleged animal-rights group is known for not caring much about people. So why are they even meddling? If they want to save the whales, they should do things like, I don't know, go after the Russian and Japanese trawlers that are actually killing actual whales. But of course that's hard, and it's a lot easier and more fun to be rude to overweight women.

(And of course it's WOMEN. I'm not even going to rant about the insane standards-of-beauty that exist for women in our culture, where it's considered correct in some circles to rip a certain patch of body hair out by its roots, so you're bald as an egg in that area and happen to look like a pre-pubescent girl)

I don't know. I'm bracing for a lot more hatred towards people whose BMIs are greater than 22 (as mine is) as the health-care-insurance reform plan drags on. Because "everyone knows" that all fat people cost so much in medical care.

Well, except for folks like me. Who just made her $500 annual insurance deductible last week, and that only because I need expensive vials of allergy serum made up a couple times a year.

I have to say, I now apologize to any smokers I may have vilified in my younger and stupider days. It's really irritating to be declared An Enemy of the People based on what might otherwise be "neutral" personal choices.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Oh back to school, back to school...

There's a Henry James quotation that goes, "Summer afternoon, summer afternoon...the two most beautiful words in the English language."

Well, I think we've established here I'm not particularly a fan of summer.

But I do love back to school. Always have. Even as a kid, when kids were supposed to groan and roll their eyes over the event, I secretly loved it.

I loved everything to do with it - the chance to learn new things, to have a schedule again, to (maybe) make a friend in class this year (and later on: maybe to make a BOYfriend in class).

I loved all the back-to-school planning: buying new shoes (a "good" pair of oxfords and a pair of tennis shoes for gym). Buying new clothes (at least a few). All of the school supplies: folders and crayons and pencils and everything all NEW, all unmarked-on and ready to be used the first time.

I loved going to the school (I don't know if all school districts did this but mine did) a few days early with my parents to find out who my "homeroom" teacher and other teachers were, and to see the list of kids in my class, and to figure out where my classrooms were - the halls still mostly empty and echoey, still kind of smelling of summer, but with that distinct feel of anticipation that back-to-school brought.

I also liked back-to-school because it felt like the beginning of fall. I have always loved fall more than the other seasons.

And so back-to-school felt like all kinds of good things starting up. The world seemed full of hope.

And I still feel that way, even now that I'm on the other side of the desk (and I don't get long summers off because I choose to teach summers). The world seems full of hope again. Two of the textbooks I have are new editions (even though at least one doesn't seem to have changed much, at least I can replace the old broken-spined copy I've been using for a few years).

Last week I cleaned my office over at school - I have a clear desktop to work on again, all of the old papers from the summer are gone. Things feel like a fresh start. (One of the best parts of being a professor, I think, is every four months or so you get a fresh start with new classes.)

Even though the economy still kind of sucks, and even though we've weathered some bad stuff (a big budget cut, a top administrator leaving under a bit of a cloud), the world still feels filled with hope.

9 am today I start my first class.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

More on power.

(Not to be confused with "moron power." Heh.)

Dave, you're right. I didn't think about the "takers" on the "public" side of things when I was composing my screed about the "Let them eat cake" sorts in bureaucracies and leadership positions. But it is true. I see it myself a lot of the time.

An example: Two students come in on two different days for advisement.

The first student shows up, hands me copies of his transcripts, hands me a filled-out plan-of-study, says, "I still need to take classes u, v, w, x, y, and z for my major, and I know class z is only offered in the fall, and class v is only offered in the spring." And he suggests a tentative schedule. And maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. Maybe there's a conflict of times. Or maybe he's overambitious and doesn't know the little quirks of the departments (like, you shouldn't take Techniques in Wildlife Research and Organic Chemistry the same semester, because the labs in both are super-hard-intensive and it will drive you nuts), so I can give him some pointers and some advice.

And after a few minutes of work and consultation, we hit on a schedule that will work for him, that will get him further down the road he needs to be on. And he thanks me and heads out on his way.

The second student shows up, nothing in hand. No transcripts. No plan-of-study. I ask him if he knows what he wants to take and he shrugs. I ask him what he's already taken and he can't remember. I ask him for his student ID number so I can at least look up his transcript online, and he fumbles in his wallet for several minutes before finding the card with the ID.

So then I have to either go and get a copy of the blank plan-of-study, or if I'm lucky, I have a spare one in my office. So I begin suggesting classes. Well, class a is out because it meets at 8 am, and he "doesn't do mornings." And class b, there's too much math, he doesn't want that right now. And everything I suggest is shot down, complained about, met with a blank look or shrug. After twice as much time (at least) than I took with the first student, I cobble together a schedule for the guy. Guy grabs his schedule and slumps out, no thanks, no recognition of the time put in. And then he comes back at the end of the semester to gripe at me for giving him a "hard" schedule - or he comes back and tells me he's up a creek, because he won't graduate "on time" and it turns out it's because he either dropped a couple of the classes because they were "boring" or he skipped one repeatedly and failed.

And yeah. Which person do you want to help?

I tell myself I'm "in it" for that first guy - that the people who know what they're doing and where they're going and how to get there are the ones that I'm here for, and the sad-sacks who really just want to extend adolescence by four more years before reality hits them upside they head, helping them is what I get paid for.

But I can see cynicism creeping in to the life of a public servant when they have to deal with too many people in that second category.

I once had a MERP (minority-recruitment program; I think that's the acronym the school used for it) student working with me, who had previously worked in a public-aid office as a clerk. He once told me one of the reasons he was going back to college to get a second degree (in biology) was that he never ever wanted to work in public-aid again, it was too depressing. (I think he actually wound up going to Physician Assistant school. So he might still be having to deal with sad-sacks from time to time, but at least a lot of the time he's probably dealing with decent people).

I guess the moral of the story? There's a lot of potential bad in everyone, and each one of us has to guard ourselves to try not to let it come out. I know I've stifled myself many a time when some student came unprepared to my office. Or demanded a make-up exam and then never showed at the scheduled time. Or whatever.

RIP, Les Paul.

I don't know much about guitars, but I know enough to know that Les Paul was a certified genius - that he changed the face of jazz and what eventually became rock and roll because of his invention. And his musical skill. I wonder how many kids became guitarists after hearing Les Paul records? A lot, I bet.

Apparently he also invented (or at least, had a big hand in the development of) multi-track recording, also an important innovation.

From what I've heard of the man, it seems he had a good life. He used his skill and talent to do something that made lots of people very happy. (Apparently he was still performing not that long before the end of his life - he loved performing, I guess.)

Other people with more knowledge of the man than I will probably say it better, but I know that Les Paul was tremendously important to popular music.

Why I will never run for office...

...or buck to be a Dean, or want some kind of high-level, highly-placed position:

Watching what news I watched over break, something crystallized in my mind that had been floating around there for a while:

"They don't care about us."

Oh, I'm not just talking about Congress, though the whole mess with them voting appropriations for new private jets (when I know people who feel right now that they can't scrape together the cost of a coach ticket to go visit grandparents) was the catalyst.

I've seen it time and again. In government, both local and national. In university bureaucracies. In church leadership, even.

There is a subset of people - hell, maybe it could be ALL people, I don't know - who, when they get a little power, LOVE that power. ADORE that power. See that that power entitles them to things the peons below them aren't worthy of.

And so they do two things: first, they do everything they can to hang on to that power. And second, they start believing that they do, in fact, deserve special treatment.

And I don't want to risk becoming that person.

I've even seen it, as I said, in the power-structure of some churches. Perhaps some people are more immune to developing that mindset - being steeped as they are in the "Servant Leadership" idea that Jesus espoused. But I have seen people who, upon getting some power, wanted MORE. And they wanted to be the only ones WITH power - no compromise.

I think in part the church split my congregation weathered some five years ago was a result of a few individuals getting some power, looking around them, and going, "Why are these old farts still getting their way at all? Why can't we remake the services to be exactly what we want? Why don't we get to spend the church's money on exactly what we want?" And so they left, to start a new church. And there's still bitterness. And people at my church are still asking themselves, "What did we do as a congregation to deserve this?" (And my answer is: nothing. It is the nature of people to behave that way; we were just unfortunate bystanders).

I've also seen it in city government, where ridiculous things happened because a small cabal of people got together and convinced themselves that this thing would be a good idea, that it would build a "lasting name" for them, that people generations down the road would thankfully remember those farsighted councilpeople for doing what they did. And then the thing they want turns out to be a giant boondoggle, a waste of tax dollars, and something the tax base of the community remembers the councilpeople's names for - but mainly so they can NOT vote for them next go-round.

And at universities. I will hasten to say that where I am now is better than most. But I do remember at another school, trying to help an undergrad (I was a grad student at the time) who was reduced to tears because she had a problem, and the different office workers kept sending her to different offices; no one seemed to want to actually HELP. (And I learned from that: if you can't immediately help someone, but think another office can, CALL that office to (a) verify that they can help and (b) alert them that they will NEED to help. [and now, as a faculty member, I may carry a bit more clout than some student walking into the office asking them to help them]).

I've also had the experience of some petty bureaucrat, who really hasn't much power, using what power he or she has to make the person that it is their job to serve miserable. The whole "jump through the hoops, monkey, and then we'll see if I help you" phenomenon.

And it all disgusts me. We were put here to help one another. Yes, it is sometimes inconvenient. (And I probably need to set better boundaries for myself; it is really not unreasonable for me to expect to finish my lunch before dropping everything else to help a student). But it seems to me to be a part of human nature: that power makes people do unsavory things. It makes them think they're better than others. And that's why I'm getting so fed up with Congress. And why I'm still hurting about the church split. And why I have simply refused to do anything other than the "grassroots" type of stuff - like picking up trash or working in the food bank - rather than fundraising or trying to work stuff out with the town council or trying to get laws changed, because dealing with people who have a little power and like to wield it frustrates me too much. I will happily clean up the same stretch of road every quarter, but trying to get the litter ordinances changed - forget it.

Because "they" don't care about "us." As much as I hate "us" and "them" terminology, I think there's nugget of truth to it here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Oh, you know you were thinking it....

....about the beer summit: XKCD's take.

I laughed out loud for about five minutes about that.

And it makes me sad that a few of my Internet haunts, if I were to post a link to that, I'd be immediately SHUNNED as an "unbeliever" in the Greatness...that I would even dare to laugh at a crude stickman-depiction of him.

(My main thought on the whole issue? While my complexion is different from that of Prof. Gates, and therefore my experience may be different, I do think it is a reminder to all of us academic types that arrogance is certainly unbecoming, and that we should remember that in the Grand Scheme of Things, we are actually several (or more than several) rungs below the cops in terms of People Who Make the Community Work Smoothly.

Oh, and it's really ill-advised to make a "yo' mama" joke to a cop. I'm still shaking my head over that.)

Break time!

This one sneaked up on me. Summer semester is done, I have a couple of weeks before fall semester starts. Back at the beginning of the summer I bought tickets (I'm glad I did now, they would have cost more even if I could get them) to go see my folks for about 10 days.

So I won't be here for a while, won't be able to join in on next week's FFOT (and may there only be the minorest of minor things for people to tell to FO).

Tomorrow I leave. Like I said, this break kind of sneaked up on me - I was working like a crazy person and then, bam, Thursday afternoon it was all done. I spent yesterday doing necessary stuff to get ready to go, today I have to prepare a Sunday school lesson and I had vague plans to go over and do some cleaning/reorganization in my office, but I'm really done for two weeks.

And I need this time off. I had one very demanding person in my summer class. They were a decent student but still - it gets old having someone show up at your office every 30 minutes during the day. And I had to stay on my toes because I had a blind student, I had to have everything ready a day or two in advance so I could e-mail it over to Disability Concerns so they could convert it to Braille for him.