Friday, January 29, 2010

hope springs eternal

Maybe, just maybe, I won't have a lot of Speshul Snowflakes this semester.

So far my non-majors class looks good - they have asked some very good questions, questions that show me they're actually paying attention. And they've gotten into discussion and stuff. And they've laughed at a few of the intended-to-be-funny things I've said.

Oh, yeah, there's still the people in there who apparently have not had to exercise critical thinking skills, but I have a few "non traditional students" who seem pretty engaged and who will speak even if no one else is willing to.

Hard to tell with my other classes so far. One of them, to my annoyance, turns out to conflict with a one-credit hour course that seniors in another department MUST take the semester they are to graduate...and I always get several seniors from that department, because my class is a cognate for them. So Wednesdays I am missing 6 students from that class. It annoys me but nothing can be done short of changing the time of my class (other department is INFLEXIBLE) and I'm not sure I want to do that, as changing the class to the next most reasonable time would conflict with classes our own majors were taking.

One thing I can say about college teaching for me is, no matter how beaten down and sick of it I am by the end of one semester, I'm back again filled with hope for the start of the next semester - that this semester will be better, that the problems I had last semester could be traceable to personalities in my classes (and they often are) and with a new mix of people things will be better.

I'm trying not to worry too much about the possibility of mass classes in the future. Most everyone I've talked to on the faculty is roundly opposed to the idea (and also, I think, when the admin really looks at the numbers they will see it won't work: if you have to pay someone extra to teach a big class, or give them release time, you will have very small if any savings.) One of our big selling points has always been that we have small classes EVEN IN THE INTRODUCTORY CLASSES and that gets some students who could/would otherwise go to the larger more prestigious schools in the state. And so, I feel like, if we lose that, we will lose our shot at those students - and they tend to be good ones, folks who work hard and get good grades (and could get into those more prestigious schools) and want to do research and stuff.

I'd hate to see us become, as one of my colleagues said, "a glorified community college." Nothing against them, but I had a very bad experience one semester in grad school teaching at one - because of competition between several CCs in the area, this one carved out a niche (I found out later) by having VERY low admissions standards. I had two students who were functionally illiterate. I had others who regularly came to class sufficiently hung-over that they couldn't do anything. The average on my first exam - an exam that my students at the grad school I was going to would have laughed at - was about a 50%. I was called into the office and told I needed to lower my standards and "not disappoint" the students. And after that, I decided, "Well, this is not for me. If I'm supposed to give people the false hope that they can get a better career with a degree from this place, when they have gained no actual skills or knowledge, I don't want to be in on the scam." So I have a skewed view of CCs, even though I know there are many good ones.

However, I do think having "being able to pay the tuition in some fashion" as your sole admissions standard is not a good way to run a campus. Which is seriously what I think the community college I taught at had.

As I've said: the best students we get at my current school are as good as the best students pretty much anywhere. They're the ones who make teaching worthwhile. They're the ones who keep me soldiering on even when there other students roll their eyes, or sit tipped back in their chairs, arms crossed, defying me to "make" them learn something, or who score badly on exams and then come crying to me that they're really making As in all their other classes (which is usually a lie: they forget we can check their transcripts online). And I'd hate for the good students we get to either get fed up (by being shoehorned into 700 person intro sections) or decide to go somewhere else.

Also: if I have to teach big sections, I can't easily do things like take 15 minutes with a student who calls me up with questions that are tangentially related (but interesting, and he is interested in them) to what we are doing in class. If I'm too busy shoveling speshul snowflakes, the students who care and who might reach out get snowed under. And that makes me sad, because it's the people like the guy who called me up and said, "I know this really doesn't relate a lot to class, but if you have time, I would like to ask you about this topic..." that make teaching lots of fun and make me feel like I'm making a difference in the world.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

just one of those things...

It occurs to me, that if you're going to claim that Wagner was an "anti-Semitic d*bag" and that his music should never again be played because of that, AND you have been known to wear a Che Guevara t-shirt at times, your argument has lost some of its force.

Oh, I don't disagree about Wagner having been an anti-Semite (though I suspect if we searched the pasts of many composers, looking for reasons not to play their music, we'd have awfully quiet airwaves). But talking about someone's unpleasant beliefs while you have (I assume, because you stuck his face on your chest) tacitly approved of a murderous thug....

I realize that "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" and all that, but still. I find it distasteful that people wear Guevara t-shirts, apparently not knowing the misery he inflicted on some folks.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Perhaps a cheering thought

It is funny how things pop into my head sometime.

I was sitting in church yesterday morning, and the thought came into my head: if the teaching thing really does go south, and it's no longer desirable to teach (be it for reasons of special-snowflake-dom or the administration wanting to turn us into an IRL version of University of Phoenix), I could put my vague "retirement plan" into place.

My vague 'retirement plan' - something that's been rattling around in my head for four or five years - is to go to seminary, learn to be a minister, get ordained, and then either serve as a pastor in a church, or do something like chaplain at a hospital.

I say the plans are "vague" because I don't know if I genuinely have "the call" or not - I'd have to spend a lot of time contemplating it, and maybe talk to people who know. (Though I will say, I've had more than one person - one of them a retired minister - ask me if I had ever considered going into ministry. Which I actually did, as a young teenager, but then decided later I didn't really have "the call." But maybe I actually do. I don't know).

But anyway. It popped into my head that if things got really bad at my current workplace, even though it would mean pulling up stakes, making a big change ("We fear change" - Garth Elgar), taking some risks with my life, going back to student mode, still, if I'm willing to put some effort into things, I will succeed, eventually. Or, I will be "taken care of." I don't mean, like, by finding a sugar daddy - I mean, the thought I got, was "God will take care of you somehow, if you just keep trying, and if what you want to do is the right thing."

I'm not ready yet. And none of the things I am worrying about at my current workplace may even come to pass - or if they do, they may not be as bad as I feared. But for me, having a plan - even a vague plan - helps. It's like knowing there's a little escape pod I can jump into if things get too bad here, and though it may be rocky and difficult for a while, likely I will land safely somewhere and will be able to keep on keepin' on.

Friday, January 22, 2010


We pick ourselves back up off the floor, and head back out for another day of work, come what may in the future.

Because there is simply no other choice.

I used to say, during hard times, that at least I could take the small comforts of life: a nice cup of tea, a slice of pie at a coffee shop or old-style diner, going to the craft store for a half-hour or so. I have to try to turn back to those things and milk as much happiness as I can out of them, and try not to imagine whatever impending changes there may be hanging over my head.

I continue to soldier on because it's all I know how to do.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


This whole week has just been a big ball of suck on the personal front for me. I've had banking problems, bad news at work, snipy colleagues talking smack about people who happen to disagree with them politically. I've had stuff break, stuff go wrong, people take stuff that was said the wrong way.

I'm just kind of tired and sad. I get like this once in a while. And I get to feeling kind of sorry for myself. If I had been smart enough - or outgoing enough - or WHATEVER enough - and had managed to marry, I would not be facing all of this alone. I could come home and talk it over with someone else, get someone else's opinion. And I'd have someone else to come with me to the bank and back me up - or someone to sit by the phone at home and wait on a call while I am out taking care of necessary things. (And I'd have the chance at other times to feel useful by doing the same for him).

Sometimes being single in a community that is mostly couples and families feels a lot like fighting your way through a South American jungle with a dull machete while everyone else has chainsaws and Bobcats.

And you know, I know people love me and all. But sometimes I need to hear it. And yet, I can't quite bring myself to call a relative up - or a friend - and say to them, "Tell me that you love me." To me, that feels manipulative and needy. And the truth is, yes, dammit, I'm emotionally needy right now but I don't want those closest to me to know. It's kind of a very personal hell to be in - to feel like you need something but also have your feelings of not wanting to LOOK like you need it be greater than that need.

I'm just very worried and very scared about what will happen with my career. If teaching gets to be untenable, what do I do? I don't have a hella lot of skills. I don't have sufficient love or tolerance of my fellow man to do stuff like wait on tables - I'd be dumping hot soup in people's laps and stuff like that. I don't think I quite have enough saved up to go back to school and learn to do something else...and then what would I do with all my stuff? I'd have to sell my house and move away. I'd probably have to sell all my books. Or put them in storage, where they'd be damaged or stolen. (Been there, done that, years ago.)

Maybe this is the end of college teaching as a career for people, the future is University of Phoenix where people with "real jobs" moonlight (literally; I know someone who worked for them and they were expected to be available quite late into the night) by being "content providers." I don't want to be a content provider. I want to be a professor. But maybe that career is going away. And maybe some would say it's time for it to go away, maybe we really are all a waste of tax dollars. I don't know. Maybe only the really damn good hot-shot researchers will have university careers. And the rest of us - those of us who are at best "floppers," will have to go out and try to find something else to do with our lives. (I don't do research that would be interesting or seen as valuable by most people. I'm not curing diseases or looking for new energy sources. Actually, some days I ask myself if I even deserve this job.)

I realize on some level that I'm whipping myself up into a flurry of "what ifs," but it's my nature to want to be prepared - emotionally or otherwise - for bad crap that's going to happen. That sometimes mean I agonize a lot over stuff that never happens.

I don't know. I almost snapped at my dad last night, he asked, "Are you getting enough to eat?" I mean, of all the nonsensical questions (from my perspective, at least). I almost said, "Dad! I weigh [number redacted] pounds, I could afford to miss a few meals. But I'm not! And of all the ways I could fail to take care of myself, that's the one I'm least worried about!" And I've been on the verge of tears a few times this week.

It is too early in the semester for me to feel this way. I need some kind of good news, or, actually better, some kind of reassurance.

(I need reassurance - both that I am doing all right, that I am not totally screwing everything up, that I am not horrible at what I am doing - and in a more cosmic sense, that things will be all right (and I don't just mean all right "on the other side," I don't want to have to wait for that). I don't feel up to asking the people right around me for it though. It's hard for me to ask for emotional support when I need it because I have cultivated this illusion of being the tough strong career woman who doesn't need anybody...)

I had something at church I was supposed to go to tonight but I'm just going to skip it. I'm tired and I have a sore throat. I don't absolutely have to be there (it's not like a meeting that I need to be at). I know I will have people sad-faced on Sunday because I didn't show up, but you know? I just don't feel well. (And I know: "If you feel sad, go out and be around people; it will make you feel better." It doesn't always work that way for me. In fact, often I feel more stressed...because the parents get onto the parenting discussion and I have nothing to say, or because I feel like I have to be "up" and entertaining, or just because the whole thing breaks up later than I would like it to and I worry about being tired the next day).

I suppose all of this COULD be because I'm coming down with a cold (hence the sore throat). That would be the best possible explanation.

bang, the shoe falls

We got an e-mail today telling us to brace for a 20% budget cut this fall.

Which means no budget for adjuncts, and (I fear) none for TAs. Like, none at all. Like, the intro labs that we usually staff with TAs, we will have to staff. Which means big honking unpaid overloads for all of us.

And we may be seeing "temporary" pay cuts. Depending on how big those are, that could be an issue. I budget pretty closely so I can sock away a lot for retirement - I may have to rethink that and just pray for big gains in my investments or plan on working 'til 75 (and pray I stay healthy enough to), and cut my retirement savings.

They're also pushing us to consolidate classes: courses where there are four or five sections of maybe 40, lump them all into one giant section. The carrot has been proffered of 3 hours of "release time" or extra pay for whoever bites that bullet. But I - and the colleagues I've spoken to - are highly opposed to this, because:

a. our main selling point is that we have small classes with personal attention. Put 150 kids in a class and you can't give them attention.

b. the 10% or so of Speshul Snowflakes that make your life miserable - that would be 4 in a typical class now, 15 to 20 in a mass class. That alone makes me almost want to stop teaching. I really cannot deal with people who either have problems of their own creation, or have truly trivial problems that they then puff up into reasons why they need special accommodations. I am sure the 3 hours of release time would not be enough to deal with the added load of pain.

c. If they start doing that with the intro classes, we lose majors. We lose majors, we have other classes that can't make - it becomes a vicious cycle.

d. There will be pressure to, for example, teach ecology once a year only, with a big lecture of 40-70 people, and then teach the labs as 2-3 jampacked labs. So they get less attention. (And we already get half load credit for you could wind up with ten of your contact hours being lab, when you're actually IN lab for 20 hours a week, plus the unpaid prep time).

e. It just furthers the eating away of people's morale.

f. Three hours of release time means that majors-level classes do not get taught. I teach typically 12-14 hours per semester; three of that is the non majors class, the rest of it is divided among majors' classes. If I had three hours of release time to take, I'd have the unappealing choice of "which majors' class do I cancel?" (I wouldn't take extra pay. I have sufficient money for my happiness right now; what I don't have is sufficient time. I would rather at this point have more time and less money than more money and even less time).

g. This will hamstring research. If we're all teaching 200 student sections and doing unpaid overloads, none of us will have time for research. (As a colleague said: we will be come a de facto community college)

I know, I know: I should be happy in this economy to have a job. But this seems very poorly thought out. We are already "down" a person in my department, and we all generate a high number of FTEs or whatever the hell they call them (student butts in seats per faculty hour).

I don't know. What I said yesterday about job worry/job satisfaction stands. Even if poor decisions come down the pike and then are shot down, it still hurts morale. One of my colleagues had to spend about 10 minutes figuratively talking me off the ledge after I got the email and started thinking about classes of 200 and what that would entail. (I know, lots of people teach them, but part of the reason I came specifically HERE is because I thought I would never have to teach them).

Yeah, the economy is recovering SO well.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

that "dissatisfaction" thing.

There was a report over the New Year's break, stating that Americans' "job satisfaction" levels were declining.

Now, granted, there is possibly some media hype in there. Or possibly some fudged statistics. But I can tell you that in the past semester - the past year - my satisfaction with my job has gone down a bit.

And it's all "external" factors - things over which I have no direct control. I can name three big things. These things may also be true of other people who have started doing things like reading books on going back to the land (something I do periodically. And no, I don't think I could actually do it.)

1. The whole country feels somewhat unstable. I feel like I'm waiting for another big shoe to drop - tax-wise, regulation-wise, who knows. (Though I feel like maybe that shoe will be a bit less heavy given yesterday's election...) I keep waiting for the next big plan that will tax us to death. I look at my own finances - I am doing comfortably well for now, but I'm not really left with a whole lot at the end of the month. I put away $700 a month in a TIAA-CREF account (that is before I ever see the money). I just about tithe at my church, and I give small amounts of money other places, like the Salvation Army. I can cover my utilities bills, and I have the "good" cable package (though I see now that they are jacking its price up again). I have enough money to buy sufficient nutritious food and even to eat out once or twice a month. And I buy books and embroidery floss and quilt fabric and suchlike.

BUT: if there were some big new tax levied on me, or if a VAT on top of our income tax was shoved through (I have no problem with the concept of a national sales tax IN PLACE OF an income tax, and in fact I think that plan might have certain things to recommend it), I'd have to cut back somewhere. Not sure where. It doesn't make sense to me to cut back on retirement savings, because I have no trust that the government will be able to afford to even pay me back what I paid in to Social Security (and even though I'm a prof, and we often aren't covered, some of my taxes taken out do go to them). And cutting back on nutritious food feels wrong: why should I endanger my health because of taxes? To think that I might have to eat Kraft Dinner instead of the fresh spinach I buy, just so I can pay more taxes, makes me angry. And cutting back on giving also feels wrong.

I suppose I could cancel my cable, but that's one of my few forms of entertainment. And I couldn't even get the weather then, without having to go to the internet for it.

So I think a lot of people feel very unsure about what's going to happen: what are we going to be bailing out next? What new crap sandwich is going to be served us on a silver platter, and we are told to enjoy it because it's good for us?

2. This is somewhat related to #1: On the job, people are unsure about what's going to happen next. In a lot of cases, one person is doing the work that two formerly did. People are tired. But a lot of people feel like if they speak up, they may be the next to go. I have friends who say they feel "fear" at their jobs, because of the cuts.

And in my own profession - well, I am lucky in that I have tenure and unless we were really to have terrible, unbelievable budget problems, I can't be let go. (They can "RIF" - "reduction in force" - people if they are in danger of having to close the school. And yes, even tenured folks). But - we are operating on a smaller budget. Things have been cut to the bone. I mentioned I am working without teaching assistants - they usually worked as lab preparators for me, or they took some of the pressure off during lab by answering student questions so I was not run ragged in my big labs. This year, there's little money, and frankly, the gross anatomy class needs a preparator far more than I do. But it's going to hurt....I'm going to have to take a couple extra hours each week to do that stuff. (And woe unto ANY student who leaves unwashed glassware on the bench! I get on to them for that when they do it when there's a TA who technically would make more money (because they spend more time working), but it's really bad to have a prof have to wash glassware "on her own time.")

And speaking of "on our own time" - there's now a push for, I think it's called, community engagement? We are "expected" to do public service volunteer work. And we're "expected" to get students involved. It is not a requirement as of yet but I could see it becoming one. And we're expected to write an annual report of our activities. And we see, as far as I can tell, no benefit from doing this report. I suspect the admin who thought up the idea may win an award sometime down the road, and it's us who did all the work on it.

Don't get me wrong: I don't object to doing volunteer work. Hell, I do quite a bit. But I do object to (a) being told to harass the students - some of whom work long hours to pay to go to school - to do the same (b) having to write up a report and (c) the intimation that only 'certain' work qualifies - that my working at a church-sponsored food bank might not count because of the religious connection.

Oh, and the biggest objection? The sense I get - and I realize this is very much an "I feel" statement, but I feel like the university is saying "I OWN you. Even on your time off. And I can make you work for me."

And I think a lot of people are feeling that - that their careers are creeping into the time off that they have, and that they can't say "no" to it.

And a lot of time we get asked to do stuff - write additional reports, go to meetings, go to workshops - and often we are given very little turnaround time. We are told about something for the first time maybe 24-48 hours before it is due (in some cases). And I know we "only" have 12-14 "contact" hours, but that doesn't mean the rest of our time we're sitting in our offices, and that we will merrily pipe back "I'm free!" like Mr. Humphries when someone asks us to do something. No, more often, if it's me, I'm doing the lab prep I don't have a TA for, or grading, or prepping for teaching, or trying to get a little research time in, or advising students, or helping students. Getting an e-mail at 3 pm that says, "OH HAI YOU NEED TO DO THIS BY 5 PM TOMORROW" is only going to make me angry. And overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed a lot these days, to the point where I actually snapped at a student once.

3. The third reason I think a lot of people are struggling with job dissatisfaction is other people. It seems to me that the "speshul snowflakes" - the people who feel entitled to anything and everything they want, because, dammit, they're SPECIAL - are taking over the world. I've had more demanding e-mails in the past semester - demanding stuff it was not my place to provide. Asking for stuff like extended due dates when I already told them I didn't take late papers. Or doing stuff like just e-mailing me the paper late (two no-noes there) and expecting I will happily grade it. Or coming and complaining to me. Or telling me "You need to make it so I can attend a different lab." (Um, buddy? I have no authority over labs even if I wanted to do that).

And that's even before you deal with the people who want to text in class. Or who take up three students' worth of space with all the crap they carry around - laptops and loaded backpacks and extra sweatshirts and their laundry baskets and who knows what. And they get cranky if someone asks them to move something so they can sit down.

And there are the people who walk-and-text. I've nearly been mowed down several times in the hall by flocks of students punching away at their cell phones, and just expecting that any oncoming traffic will get out of their way.

And that's just MY experience. Friends who work as receptionists at doctors' offices, who work in different offices-that-help-people, that work retail, have even worse stories.

(And I admit: yeah, it's possible to have a bad day. I had a problem with a check and had to go down to my bank to straighten it out and I melted down a bit (got teary and loud) when they told me they couldn't help me. But I realized I was losing my stuff, and apologized, and said I had had a hard day (it was true) and straightened up)

It's like a lot of people have forgotten how to live in community. It's like they have forgotten there are other people around them, like they think they are the only ones who matter.

And so all those things together...well, they make me want to cocoon up in my house (the fear about what's going to happen re: government, and also the rise of the speshul snowflakes) and also make me worried and twitchy about the future of my job - both in terms of "how bad is the budget going to be come fall" and in the sense of "will there come a breaking point where I will say, "I cannot do this any more"?" either because of piled-on responsibilities, or because of sense-of-entitlement people making my life hell.

And so I think it's not so much dissatisfaction - I still love teaching, still love doing research - as a vague worry that eats at my ability to be perfectly content in my career.

I'd like to see things change. I'd like to see people wake up a bit and realize that they are not a COW (center of world). I'd like to see some backing-off on added duties, ESPECIALLY considering that some of us are working without TAs, and that those of us who teach lab science get 1 hour credit load for two hours in lab (which also might include an hour or more of prepwork and clean up). And I'd like to see the government step off on its intrusion into our lives.

sadly, I don't see any of that happening soon.

Wednesday morning quarterbacking

So, two of my colleagues are bemoaning yesterday's election results. One of them remarks, "Now Congress won't get ANYTHING done!"

and I'm sitting here thinking, you say that like it's a problem.

I will say I'm insulating myself as much as possible - under the guise of it being a busy day - because I really am in no mood to hear spleens being vented about how stupid people in Massachusetts and America in general are supposed to be.

Could it possibly be, not that people are stupid, but that they think statism is a bad idea, and they see the way to stop it is voting against people who tend to advocate it? Gah. I hate politics.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

y'know what...

These days, whenever I hear a politician talk about giving "the working public a fair shake" (as I overheard on the teevee a little while back), I now envision them holding us upside down by our ankles to see how much loose change will fall out of our pockets. And maybe, if they're REAL lucky, they can get the whole wallet to fall out.

Feh. I used to say, "When a politician says 'It's for the children,' hold on to your wallet." Now I think "When a politician is talking, hold on to your wallet."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Catalogs, I get catalogs...

...and sometimes they have stuff in 'em that make you go, "What the HECK?"

Here's one. This is from Acorn, which is sort of an Anglophile catalog. They are offering editions of three well-known works where they can substitute in your name...or names of people in your family - to up to a certain number of characters in the book.

(They had books like that when I was a little kid. They were frankly pretty crappy, or at least the couple I had were. Not well written at all and once you got past the novelty of seeing your name and your pet's name in the story, it was kind of MEH.)

The three classic works currently on offer are

Pride and Prejudice.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.


Romeo and Juliet.

That was the one that made me truly go "WTF." Because, if I remember correctly, the catalog copy seemed to hint that these would make nice romantic gifts.

I have not read Romeo and Juliet, I admit it. But it's kind of hard not to know the story in our culture.


Doesn't it seem a little creepy to you, to have your name and the name of your SO subbed in for R and J, knowing that he will drink poison and she will stab herself?

Or is it the kind of thing you have made up as a "Fatal Attraction" gift for a lover who has spurned you?

I don't know, but if I see that sort of thing promoted as a Valentine's Day present, I will know there are some very stupid people in this world.

(And the others: it feels kind of banal, and perhaps heretical, to me to have, say, "Brittany" and "Josh" take the place of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.)

Hitting the ground running

It's going to be a busy semester. Two of my classes are 100% full (as in: there is no where else in the room for someone to sit), the third is close to 100% full. I have something like 8 Readings students. And I have two graduate students. The first one just began her research but she's very independent so I can just unlock the room for her and let her work - she has done all the necessary reading and has the experimental design figured out.

And I have an undergrad research student. I have mixed feelings about this one; this person can be EXTREMELY demanding, and yet at the same time they are very enthusiastic. And I think this person realizes that they sometimes make life difficult for the profs; this person has prefaced coming in to see me with "Sorry, I'm here to make your life difficult again" or something similar.

And we're waiting for some shoes to drop. First, the FEMA certification thing - are we doing it as an online training, or, as I've read some of the information, are we going to have to block out time when we can go and sit in a room and be talked at and then do a simulation? And are we going to be asked to cancel classes, or give up a weekend for it?

There's also the budget issue. I am working without teaching assistants this semester. A lot of us are. Some people are lucky enough to have students that "owe" them (because the prof in question got the student an internship, or the student is doing paid research with them) that they can get a few volunteer hours out of. We've also been told that we may run out of copying budget. (If that happens? I will just drive to the nearest Kinko's when it comes finals time and copy my finals on my own damn dime. I'm not going to go to "project the question on the screen and make everyone take blue book tests" situation). And that we may see another 8-10% budget reduction.

Although that sounds grim, it could be a lot worse. For one thing, we are a very collegial department and we're willing to share the sacrifices that need to be made - people were saying stuff at the meeting like, "I know you really need a TA for that lab; I can make do without having a grader this term" and things along those lines. If we were a turf-battle-y sort of department it would be a lot more difficult to deal with but everyone seems to have the attitude of "This sucks, but we all have to deal with the suck so let's do what we can to make it seem to suck less."

And so far, there's been no rumor of pay cuts or "furlough days." (I'm not sure how that even WORKS if you are a people, yeah, I could see custodians not coming in certain days, but if you're a prof - you can't very well cancel classes. And you have a set amount of work to do and no one really gives a flip if you complete it all in one big miserable frantic day, or spread out over a couple of days. And I tend to prefer taking my time on stuff. So I suspect for many profs a "furlough day" would be a de facto short-term pay cut, because we wouldn't work LESS.)

And, of course, on a global scale, it could all be worse. What's going on in Haiti is sad, and hearing the politicization of tragedy is sad. I've done what I can do: sent a donation to a reputable organization that has a long-term track record of helping in these situations, and then tried not to get too caught up in the grief-wank that the news is trying to generate. Yes, it's sad. And it's tragic if someone you care about is there and you don't know how they are. But - there seems to me to be something vaguely distasteful and exploitative about news anchors sticking microphones in the faces of Haitian ex-pats who have gone to church to pray for their friends and family members back home, and ask them how it feels to be waiting without any word. (I always wish someone would spit at the news person and say, "How the hell do you THINK it feels?" as they push past them.)

I will say I've seen an awful lot of kindness done by people who want to help. By and large, Americans (the only group I really have experience with, but I expect other nationalities are the same) are decent people who care, and who care even about people they've never met. And that often they will give even when it means that they have to rebudget and do without some things they might want or even need. That's one of the beautiful things about this country - that we are really not selfish, regardless of what some may claim.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

RIP, Miep Gies

Miep Gies - one of the people who helped hide the Frank family during WWII - has died, at 100.

I remember reading a (probably abridged) version of Anne Frank's Diary as a schoolgirl. I remember being sad and horrified that such a thing would happen to people, simply because some "leader" said that they were different and wrong.

And I remember being angry - angry that people like Miep Gies would have to put their own lives in danger, because what was going on in the world around them so contrasted with the values they held. And I always wondered: If it were me, would I be brave enough to hide people? Would I be brave enough to keep bringing food and supplies, knowing each time I did, I was risking my own life?

I honestly don't know. I'd like to think I WOULD be brave enough to say "Damn the risk, I'm doing what's right" and go on and do it.

I hope no one ever has to face that choice again. (But knowing this bad old world, they probably will - heck, there are probably people in Iran or China or South America facing similar choices under different situations, humans' hatred of people who are "different" being what it is).

I'm glad, though, that she wasn't caught. And that she preserved the diary. And that she had a long - and I hope, peaceful, life afterwards. (I hope she had a peaceful life and took some comfort in that she had done the right thing, even if the residents of the Attic were ultimately captured)

Monday, January 11, 2010

New semester

My syllabi are done (A whole day before they "have" to be - they would have been done earlier had the Little Ice Age not slowed my return home).

I guess I'm ready for a new semester. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Speshul Snowflakes will be minimal this semester. I did put some new scary language in my syllabi (about not abusing cell phones in class, and I put an attendance policy in for the classes where I didn't already have one - I hate doing that but, you know? If students behave like children, I have to treat them like children. I'm done with people skipping 20 class sections and then coming to me in the last week of classes asking me how it's possible they're getting a D because they get As in all their other classes...)

I've got a few new ideas for some things to maybe grab their attention more (for the soil science class, I'm going to bring in one of those shiny newspaper inserts, my tea mug, the little container of "mineral" face powder I wear, a tube of mud facial mask, a bottle of Kaopectate, and maybe one of the little china dogs from my collection, and observe that they all have something in common. (They all contain, in some form or another, clay, which is one of the components of soil). It's sort of a silly little thing but maybe it will get people's interest.

I'm also a bit concerned - and maybe some of you wise people who are more involved with government agencies will know what this is - but we got a cryptic e-mail referring to NIMS training through FEMA. I did Google it, but all I know is that it's something to do with responding to "incidents" and it's a preparedness thing. That doesn't tell me what I want to know: which is, is the "training" maybe watching videos online and taking a questionnaire that anyone with reasonable common sense could pass, or is it going to be some kind of horrible, paper-work filled thing, that they will doubtless spring on us on a Friday afternoon (or worse, for me, a Monday morning, and tell us it has to be done by midday Tuesday).

I called my dad who used to do a lot of safety-related stuff with students, but he didn't know. (I presume this is something new).

I'm apprehensive because of late, we've had a few things sprung on us with very short notice to complete them - almost like the person doing the springing didn't realize that we are teaching and doing research and advising students and (now) doing volunteer work (and documenting same, for a new administrative push for "engagement"). Or maybe the person doing the springing just isn't doing any of those things.

I have a post brewing on the report that came out last week about increasing job dissatisfaction in Americans, and how (though I still like most of the aspects of my work) there have been things that have happened in the last year that make even me feel less content and satisfied....

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Good riddance, 2009.

Yeah, I'm finally back. I was delayed by the Wrath of Al Gore that seems to have gripped most of the nation this week.

Anyway, even though even-numbered years have historically not been so good for me (my cousin who committed suicide did it in 2004, I lost a lot of people I loved in 2008), I'm glad to see a new year here.

And I was thinking back over 2009, and one thing that seems to have been a theme that year, which I sincerely hope doesn't continue, is the idea of attention whoring and the people who do idiotic and dangerous things to try to get on television.

We started out (and ended, it looks like, from the Celebrity Apprentice stories) with Rod Blagojevich, disgraced politician. Dude cannot shut up. Dude has the "look at what I can do!" (anyone remember MAD tv?) complex so badly. In January or so, he was digging himself into holes comparing himself to Gandhi and Martin Luther King. (Seriously, Rod, what the heck?). And he's still claiming some form of innocence.

And then there was the whole Jon and Kate mess. Granted, they already had a show (but don't anymore, I presume). But cripes, what an ugly thing. It's always sad to see a marriage disintegrate, it's even worse seeing it on the news. Not that it's what I'd regard as newsworthy, but I'm coming to think that "bread and circuses" doesn't just apply to ancient Rome any more. Mainly in that situation I feel bad for the kids, who were pretty much exploited in the show and who now are probably caught up in a custody mess.

And then in October, there was Balloon Boy. Disgusting. I remember feeling like a chump because I actually prayed for the kid when the radio news (I was driving around in my car and didn't have access to a tv to see what the balloon looked like; had I, I might have questioned how a kid could actually be lifted by such a comparatively small thing) said he was probably in the balloon. And then the whole thing melted down pretty spectacularly. I think that whole family is a banner case of "can't foresee consequences." How could you NOT think you'd be caught out in that situation? How could you not think your six-or-whatever-he-was year old child wouldn't blurt to the words your idiotic-if-not-nefarious plans? (Note to would-be Dr. Evils: Do not have small children in your entourage.) But they were blinded by the desire to get on the telly, and so they tied up rescue crews for hours (I hope no one actually needed help during that time and didn't get it as a result).

And then there were not two, but three White House gatecrashers. Apparently the one couple had aspirations of getting on a "Real Housewives" show with the stunt. And apparently the woman involved claimed all kinds of crap about herself at first - that she had been a cheerleader for the Redskins and such - that never actually happened. Again, lies like that: how do you think you're NOT going to be found out? Do you really think people won't bother to fact-check? (Well, yeah, increasingly they DON'T, at least on the news, but there's probably someone out there anal enough or cynical enough to look things up, and then blog/Twitter about it.)

I don't know. I think of the old dictum, which my grandmother once quoted, that a true lady got her name in the paper three times in her life: when she was born, when she married, and when she died. Now, I admit, times have changed, and I'm glad in many ways they have, but if I ever get my name in the news, I want it to be for something good and worthwhile - like, I witness a bad accident and use my first aid skills to save someone's life before the paramedics get there, or I discover a new species, or I come up with some kind of clever new lab technique.

If I ever get so desperate for attention that I start doing stupid and reckless stuff, I hope my friends and colleagues will slap some sense into me.