Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another thing I don't understand

Bullying someone to the point where they decide suicide is a suitable "out."

Now, granted: usually suicide results in cases where there is other underlying mental illness. But it sounds like these little thugs actually assaulted the poor girl (throwing a "beverage container" at someone counts as assault). And they used all the powers of technology to harass her.

The little snots are even leaving nasty messages on her memorial Facebook page. (I hope karma exists, and I hope she's a right bitch.)

I was bullied to a certain extent in school. I think all the smart kids were in my school system. But at least I could go home at the end of the day and the bullies didn't call me up - or try to harass me at home. (They probably would have been made very afraid by my dad if they had tried. My dad - especially back in those days - could be very imposing and very scary without laying a hand on a person, or even implying he was going to).

And while I was harassed in the halls, while I got called names, while people spread ugly rumors...I remember mainly thinking, "Once I get out of school (or: "once this year ends"), it will be better."

And the summers provided a respite, because the only people I "had" to see were my friends and family.

I guess I'm glad I'm not a teenager now. And that I'm not the parent of a teenager. I remember a few years back reading about how a group of "mean girls" ganged up on another girl and did things like leave messages on her parents' phone purporting to be from a teen-pregnancy clinic. And I thought that was pretty despicable. But I think the cyber-stalking is even worse: it's like the person cannot get away from the bullies, no matter what.

And here's what I don't understand: there are very, very few people in this world that I would say I actively dislike. And my way of dealing with people I dislike is to leave them alone as much as possible: not talk to them, not talk about them. Act as if their life was running on a parallel track to mine and we never had contact. It seems to me to take an enormous amount of time and energy to torment a person the way bullies do - time and energy that I would rather spend doing almost anything else: reading, embroidery, watching movies, running around outside. Even as a teenager I knew I'd rather spend my time not worrying about people I disliked. So I really don't get the bully mentality: is it fun? Does it make a person feel better about themselves?

I know: there are bullies in the adult world. I have to deal with someone (thank goodness, very infrequently) who can be somewhat of a bully. I tend to chalk that kind of behavior (especially among adults) up to some kind of deep-seated insecurity.That the person doesn't feel good about themselves, doesn't like themselves, and in some twisted way, making other people tremble or even cry in their presence somehow feeds their twisted egos.

But I don't understand it.

I have to admit, and I feel really bad about this now, but here is the 7th grade pecking order for you: there was a girl who was even less popular than I was. The other kids called her "Rat." I took to calling her "Rat." I didn't harass her AS MUCH as the other kids, but I did my share of piling on. I feel terrible about it now - I, of all people, should have known and understood. But the weird illogicality of the teenaged brain took over...and it really was  like seeing the chicken lower in the pecking order out in the yard, something kind of feral emerged, and I was mean to her. And it made me feel worse, when I stopped and thought about it. It made me feel like a heel, for being mean to a kid even less popular than I was: like, it was easy, and I was doing it because it was easy and because I guess I thought it would make me look 'good' in the eyes of the popular kids. (I really hope Stacey - that was her real name - grew up to have a happier life. I hope she's successful and happy enough that she can either forget seventh grade, or look back at it and laugh)

(And again: if I had a kid, things like this would be why, if I could at all manage to do it, I would homeschool them. Yes, kids need "socialization" but there are some kinds of "socialization" that take place in the schools that do more harm than good).

Despite all of that - I fail to see how an anti-bullying law is going to do anything. Other than maybe enrich a few lawyers after families decide to file class-action suits against bullies' families.

I don't know a good solution to bullying. I wish I did. I think parents teaching their kids to be compassionate is a good start, but I know in this society we can't always count on parents. Maybe allowing teachers to throw disruptive or mean kids into some kind of alternate-school arrangement would help. But I think an anti-bullying law will just be Zero Tolerance all over again, where basically good kids get whacked with huge punishments for either doing something totally innocent, or for a little slip-up, and the truly mean bullying kids will just find another, perhaps even worse way, to torment other kids.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A few bad apples and all that

Thanks to Japanese pROn spam, comments are now on full moderation. I'm sorry about this, and it sucks, but I just get sick of removing x-rated spam links in a language I cannot read that are made on a post that they have nothing to do with.

While it's not a big major thing, it's one of those little uncouth annoyances of modern life. Kind of like someone coming over to your house with dog droppings on their shoe and tracking it around your living room, and then you have to clean it up. You think twice before inviting someone in the next time. (Or you start asking everyone to remove their shoes).

Well, comment moderation is the blog form of asking you all to remove your shoes. I'm sorry I have to do it, but I don't like the risk of dealing with the mess and stink again.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


I've seen a couple signs in the area the past few days: people advertising that they have FRESH EGGS for sale. (I'm ahead on eggs right now, so I didn't even consider it). And I saw a yard in town with a small flock of chickens in it.

I've heard that chicken-raising is coming back into popularity. (Just no roosters, please. Roosters in a town setting can get disruptive).

I actually find these kinds of things cheering prospects: the idea that people, instead of sitting down and complaining about how times are bad and everything costs more, or demanding that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE in the form, I suppose, of food-aid to the middle class - they're just going out and buying chickens.

No, I don't have time for it. I can barely manage the basic maintenance on myself, let alone keep other living creatures alive. (I nearly killed my plants over spring break. I was about half way to where I was going to go when I realized I had forgot to water them before I left the house).

I tend to think anything that pushes people in the direction of more self-reliance (or, if not exactly self-reliance, at least kind of-sort of knowing how to do things for themselves) is a good thing.

I realize in some cases it isn't cost-effective: I doubt I could raise enough vegetables to feed myself, even if working in the garden WAS my full-time job. (My mom, when I was growing up, had an enormous garden. We grew corn and tomatoes and cabbages and beans and peas and brussels sprouts and carrots...and now I realize just how much labor that involved. Then again, it was my mother's choice (and she was very adamant about it, I understand) that she wanted to stay home and not work outside the house when my brother and I were small. I wonder now the amount my parents saved on grocery bills: my mom froze and canned tons of stuff, we had fresh veggies (not that I appreciated them then!) during the summer and fall. I bet it was a big cost-savings, not to mention being better than what the little grocery store near us had at the time.

My mom also baked most of our bread, and taught me how to do the same. (I wish I were better about baking my own bread. But again, it's a time thing: I work full-time, and then some, if you count the volunteer work I do, outside the house, and it's a rare Saturday even that I'm not at least partly involved with stuff). Again, I'm pretty sure that saved money. (And it spoiled me for most grocery-store bread.)

But I think there's a lot of value in knowing how to do stuff...even if you don't have to or choose not to. I like understanding where my food comes from, even if that box of eggs comes from the grocery and not someone in my town with a few hens.

It's kind of like that Tiny House Blog I keep writing about....that's really a powerful fantasy for me, and in some ways, it's like a pressure-release valve. (I knew a guy once who said for him, the thought of suicide was a pressure relief valve - as horrifying as that sounds. He said he'd never actually do it, but knowing that if things got TOO BAD he "could," helped him to realize that things were not TOO BAD - or anywhere near it - yet. I'm not explaining it well, he actually said it in a less horrifying way). Thinking about how I could buy a plot of land out in the country and hire someone to dig me a well, and maybe have a septic system (or even, a composting toilet), and get solar panels to run the lamps and radio, and basically live off the grid as much as's like, I imagine, if things ever got way, way too bad, I could kind of erase my presence in the modern world and try to live like a pioneer, to do the subsistence thing with beans and cornmeal and what vegetables I can grow...I know, as I've said before, it's totally unrealistic and probably after the first month with no magazines and no Internet and not being able to order anything out of catalogs I'd go running back to civilization, but in some way, as I said, it's like a pressure valve...I admit as I drive around the area, I scope out plots of land: that one is too near other houses, this one has enough trees on it but it's awfully close to a stream and that could mean mosquitoes and maybe flooding, this one is too close to the road....

I doubt, as I said, I'd ever actually DO any of the off-the-grid things, even something as small-scale as raising a flock of chickens, but I like the idea in the abstract, and I like the idea of dozens or hundreds of people in my area deciding they're going to do little things that maybe help them weather bad times.

(Because I still think the bad times are going to get worse before they get better).

And so I feel a sense of solidarity with the folks selling FRESH EGGS or doing roadside farmstands or the like. Sort of a "you go, girl" or a "you go, man"....that they're trying to do something to make stuff a little better, rather than expecting someone else to do it for them.

Here there be spoilers...

I'll try not to be too spoiler-y, in case you're going to read it, but if you're planning on reading Lev Grossman's "The Magicians," you might skip reading this 'til later.


After here, there be spoilers.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the book. The after-Brakebills scenes were much less J.K. Rowling and much more Bret Easton Ellis: people drink a hell of a lot, lie around, scratch themselves, sleep with each other, and don't DO much. Until Penny turns up with the button that allows them to get into Fillory.

There's a comment made - towards the graduation-time of the main protagonists - that some of the magically trained folks either go on to "straight" graduate schools and do work in things like pharmacology. Or apparently some become involved in using their powers for things like preventing asteroids from hitting the earth. In other words: they decide to serve humankind. We do not see the lives of those folks, and given some of the comments near the very end of the book, I wonder if that is intended to be a way to "use magic and not screw up your life."

Because, at several points, Quentin has the very cold realization: magic is a form of power. It can, and does, totally corrupt.

There's a lot of pessimism in the second half of the book. Some horrible things happen - both magical-horrible and non-magical-horrible - to characters you have come to care about.

And yet, at the very end, there's a tiny hint, a tiny hope, of reconciliation, of forgiveness, for Quentin (in his life, Quentin summons The Beast twice - or at least he believes he does - and he feels eternally guilty for that).

But also, there seem to be elements of unfairness. That the teachers, the magicians, at Brakebills did not play fair. All of the students, upon graduation, were given a "cacodemon" that they could supposedly release and that would fight to the death for them. Well, Quentin's demon turns out to be a giant wimp, and instead of saving the day, makes things worse. And I don't know, I almost feel like in some way Fogg could have foreseen that...and given Quentin a better demon.

I don't know. I can't tell if the book is pro-God and forgiveness, anti-God, or if it is just saying that the universe is random, bad crap happens, and we don't really have a fighting chance, and there's no one out there who will step up to bat for us.

And yet, there's that last page, that very last page, that suggests some possible restoration of things.

There's also a strong sentiment of "be careful what you wish for" - several points in the book where Quentin gets something he wanted (most spectacularly, the travels to Fillory), it turns out to be really bad, and instead of leading to happiness, it leads to the destruction of a lot of things he valued (but maybe didn't realize that he did).

And actually, also, maybe there's the theme that "too much power is bad, unless that power is very strictly channeled." There's too much of a temptation to use magic for things that have selfish ends, and that seems to go badly quite often.

It's like, the Narnia-travel books seen through a very jaundiced, very jaded, non-believing-in-Aslan grown-up eye. Fillory is actually kind of depressing and anticlimactic.

I get the feeling that Grossman is trying to SAY something here...I don't know quite what? That the little things in life are really all that we have, that moment of happiness when you wake up on a warm summer Saturday, or the comfort of taking a hot shower at the end of the day, or laughing with a friend, and that that is what we should hang on to and live for, not yearn towards something bigger and greater? Or maybe he's saying that life is crap everywhere? I don't know.

I will say a lot of the characters wound up disappointing me somehow.

Especially the last we hear of Josh: he's passing up the chance to right what's gone wrong in Fillory (or at least that's the assumption I get of what Quentin, Janet, Elliot, and the unnamed "hedgewitch" are going to do) because he wants to try to stumble into Middle-Earth and "bone an elf." Really? REALLY? Wow.

Actually, given some of the situations in the book: it seems like sex, or the quest for sex, gets people into a lot of bad situations. Again, I'm not sure if Grossman is going somewhere with that other than the standard old, "people will screw around on their lover and wind up hurting them." (But it goes deeper than that, with the whole situation with Mayakovsky).

I don't know. It was certainly an absorbing story, but it doesn't exactly leave me feeling uplifted. Or, doesn't make me want to believe that magic is real and that some people have it as a power. Like a lot of modern novels, I get the sense that the characters are mostly stumbling through the narrative, and they do things that I - even as comparatively unworldly as I am - knows will lead to great heartbreak or trouble, but they seem not to be able to see that.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"The Magicians"

One of the books I'm reading right now. I bought it a couple months back - in hardcover - which I rarely do (most books I wait for paperbacks, or until Powell's or somewhere have used copies on their website).

But I had read a really interesting review of it, and I wanted to read it.

It's what I call a "secret lover" book - one that you find so absorbing that you wind up sneaking off to read a few pages here and there, stealing time from other things you really should be doing.

Normally, for me, those kinds of books are one written in first-person POV; this one is in (if I remember the terminology correctly) limited third-person - the world is seen through the eyes of Quentin Coldwater (the protagonist)

I'm going to try to avoid spoilers here (and anyway, I'm about 1/4 of the way through the book so far, so there's not much to be spoiled yet, I guess) but I have to give a little bit of detail.

The story involves a school for magicians. But this is not Hogwarts...the students are older, the stakes are a lot higher. (And something really terrible just happened a few pages ago, something that will probably really divert the path of Quentin's life, and not in a good way, I expect).

Actually, it's reading a bit more like "The Secret History" (roll your eyes if you must, but I kind of liked that one) than Harry Potter. Or maybe it's like a mash-up of Harry Potter, The Secret History, and Catcher in the Rye - in that Quentin is in some respects kind of a Holden Caulfield-like character. Or at least, a character who read Catcher in the Rye once and decided it was cool and decided to model himself somewhat on Holden. (And I knew people in high school who were like that).

And maybe there's a bit of "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" (Another book I LOVED) thrown in.

Brakebills (that's the magicians' college) is a lot less warm and fuzzy than Hogwarts (even in Hogwarts' least-fuzzy portrayals). Bad stuff, seriously bad stuff, can and will happen. Eternal vigilance is required on the part of the faculty to tamp down that darkness and keep it from invading.

Also, the characters are not lovable Ron Weasleys or Hermione Graingers. They're foul-mouthed, one of the students apparently sexually abuses some of the other students (well, maybe abuses is not exactly the right word; it seems the encounters are consensual). Quentin gets into a spectacular fight with a punk who calls himself Penny. Again, you get a sense of a dark current running under things, that there's this struggle between good and evil and evil could just possibly win.

But aside from that, there's all the fascinating (made-up, obviously, but I find this is a book it's easy to suspend disbelief for) impedimentia dealing with learning to work magic. One of the early tests students face - they are given a clear glass marble and asked to enchant it in some way. (Alice, who seems to be the most powerful magician there, but is painfully shy and has secrets of her own, animates it and turns it into a small glass creature that runs around the table top). And there are different "Disciplines," vaguely corresponding to college majors (though they are chosen for you by the faculty, based on what they deem your aptitudes to be: there are Physical Magicians, and Herbalists, and Healing Magicians...)

And I think part of it is, really, at its base, it's a school-story. (Just like Harry Potter is, just like many of the British childrens' books I read as a kid were). And I find school-stories interesting. I suppose it's because I'm in academia, it's something I know and love and find familiar.

And I admit - something I've never totally outgrown - I catch myself writing myself into the story. Or reconfiguring the world to put myself in it. Would I be the student gifted in herbology, who can make healing potions from simple garden flowers? Or would I be a Knowledge magician, who keeps the secrets and the information and sees that it is passed on? And it's a fascinating world, despite the fact that I fear it may "break bad" in the coming chapters.

It's an absorbing book. I may not wind up loving it (many "modern" novels frustrate me in some way; often it has to do with the unwritten rule that every character has to be tragically flawed and deeply troubled and do something that screws up their life, even when that "something" is a thing that I - as a relatively innocent and unworldly person can see coming, and wind up cringing and doing the literary equivalent of the person saying "don't go in the basement!" to a character in a horror movie). But it's a fascinating story and the characters are rich and complex.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Il faut cultiver nos jardins"

That's from Volataire's Candide. It's the last (or very nearly last) line of the book. Literally, it says, "We must work in our (own) gardens." Figuratively, in context, it means, "Attend to the stuff you can have an effect on."

I think that's what I need to do. My getting upset over what I interpret as a creeping takeover of our freedom isn't going to help anything. I can vote, and I will vote, come November, but frankly, there's not much else I can do. Writing letters or calling offices no longer does anything. Watching the news only makes me disgusted. I feel at times as if we are living in something like pre-Revolutionary France, where the "aristocrats" (which WE elected) are saying stuff like, "Rules don't matter" and "we make it up as we go along."

So instead, I'm going to turn inward. I'm going to focus on research and teaching and my various hobbies. I'm going to read a lot - not politics, but the novels I have on the shelf, the books of history, the popular-press science books that may actually help me to teach. I'm going to watch cartoons on television or re-runs of House, MD, or NCIS or I'll watch the cooking shows.

Because, I give up. Aside from voting, nothing I can do or say makes any difference to how Washington is run. It's a giant stinking swamp and short of a Jefferson-style revolution (as he said: sometimes it's necessary to shake things up), I don't see it changing. If a pitchfork-and-torches brigade starts marching, maybe I'll join in, but most likely not.

But what I can do is try to prepare my students for their careers. And do research that will perhaps advance my own - who knows what's coming. Maybe I will have to defend my job every year in the future as universities decide that tenure is no longer viable under the new economic regime and decide to abolish it. Maybe I will have to grab every opportunity I can find to earn more money and bank it against inflation or future higher taxes or whatever. Or buy canned goods and ammo. Or something.

I don't know. I feel like there's a centipede's worth of shoes left to be dropped involving our nation and our culture, and I don't like feeling like that.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I have but one thing to say

In response to the events of this afternoon/evening.

I quote Ralphie Parker:


"git yer fair share"

(I'm sorry. I cant' write about the healthcare debate. I've decided that after watching all those machinations, like the old saying about laws and sausages, I am going to have to become the political equivalent of a vegan.)

Anyway. The Census. I guess I'm very out of step with the rest of the American populace - or what whoever is doing the census ads think we are - because I'd present the issue totally differently.

I guess my ads would be rejected and ignored. Because one would be:

"Fill out the census. It is part of your duty as a citizen." and the other would be "The Census: it's mandated in the Constitution. You like the Constitution, don't you?"

(Of course, if I ran the circus, the census would be one question long: how many people live in your household? No questions about race, no questions about whether or not you own your home...yeah, I know, old census data is valuable for genealogy, but these days at least, I'm sure there's copious other data out there. And the race questions...if they're used along with numbers for redistricting, I could almost kinda see some gerrymandering going on...)

But all of the ads are essentially appealing to the "gimme" mentality: the one about the schools, the one about the buses (and another quibble: when is the last time you saw a town of 1000 that had buses? But that's the example the ad uses.) The whole thing is, "Get your FAIR SHARE." Uh, yeah. I think the school districts know how many kids are in town without the census. I think city planners can figure out, "Wow, congestion on our roads is getting really bad" without the data (for that matter - how soon will it become available? The ads make it sound like "fill out the census, and abracadabra, you will have enough buses and enough schools and enough stoplights." Um, doesn't quite work that way).

So I don't know. Is the American public that selfish, or are the advertisers that cynical, that they think the only way to get census data is to tell us they're gonna give us stuff? (If it comes down to that - why not offer a chance at a free iPod or know, "We will give away 1000 new iPods to randomly drawn participants")

I admit it, I'm a bit more cynical about the census now than I used to be. The first one I filled out in 1990, I dutifully did the whole thing...and then they sent a census worker to my apartment! I don't know why, but I was kind of embarrassed letting the young woman with her official badge and clipboard into my messy space (it was getting close to finals when she showed up) and answer orally the same questions I had filled out on the form. In 2000, I don't even remember if I did it - I may actually have not gotten a census form (I was still living in an apartment - but a different one, in a different part of the country - then).

This year, I look at the questions. Do I own my house? Do I ever live or stay somewhere else, like in prison? Do I have a second home? (That's another part of the "do you ever live somewhere else" question). What race am I?

If I were mixed-race - like, if I had an Japanese mom and a "mixed European white" dad - I'd be a bit confused, there's no box for that. There's no "mixed" box. I know that was a big issue last time and apparently they've not rectified it. I wonder what mixed-race people do? Do they put down the one they relate most to, or do they check more than one box and hope they don't get a follow-up call to explain?

I understand why the census bureau would want to know, but there are all kinds of issues with race and how you see yourself. (Hm. I wonder what Navin Johnson would put himself down as.)

I dunno. I understand that it's important, but in this climate of government seemingly wanting to get its tentacles into everything (or so I sometimes feel), some of the "innocent" questions (like: "do you own your home") seem like they could be used for other purposes, if someone managed to violate the 72-year embargo on linking data to individuals.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A modest proposal

One of the scientific journals I read has a Letters section, where people can write in. Often it is the sort of pissing-contest "I think Dr. Smith is misguided in his assertion in the article of volume 421, issue 3" where then Dr. Smith replies and tells the person how their assumptions are all wrong and they totally misunderstood him

I tend to ignore those articles.

But there was one this time, pushing "climate neutral conferences" - advocating adding a cost of "a few euros per participant" (you can see where the folks are from) to allow the purchase of carbon credits. (because, of course, NO ONE is paying enough for registrations to meetings already [eyeroll])

Frankly, they don't take the climate-friendliness far enough.

Instead, I would advocate for "virtual" conferences. Instead of asking people to travel to some inconvenient and usually expensive spot (a society I used to belong to was fond of meeting at a ski resort. It was the off season, but it was still wildly expensive), set up a conference link via the web. Most institutions now have distance-learning-type capability; people could present via uplink.

This would have many advantages:

1. Faculty members and other "working folk" who earn their bread by doing something else other than (or in addition to) research would not have to decide whether to skip a conference or cancel their classes. They could arrange to present at a time when they were not in class - or even better, arrange their presentation where their students could watch it. The students would both learn about the professor's research, and they would see how you present a talk. (Either a good example or a horrible warning, depending on the particular prof's speaking style).

2. The vast majority of us (by "us" I mean working professors - who are still the backbone of most conferences) don't have expense accounts. I have, at most, $150 a year of travel funds. That usually pays for the registrations at these things (And it won't, any more, if they decide to tack on a climate surcharge). I have to pay for the hotel room out of my own pocket. And meals out of my own pocket. And I have been places where I actually SAW restauranteurs jack up prices the day a conference began - when I had been there a day or so early. (I suppose it's good for them to make money, but it annoyed me to the point that I wouldn't eat at that place). So for some of us, we're paying $1000 or more of our own money for the privilege of going to a conference. (Which we kind of have to do, for tenure and promotion). And it seems that conference promoters often pick expensive areas: city centers, resorts, etc. I suppose it's nice to go to Snowbird if your expense account or grant is paying for all of it; for those of us peons who do a lot of our research on a shoestring, it really hurts to pay $200 for a hotel room. Even if we do something we should have been able to stop doing after we graduated grad school, and room-share with several other relative strangers.

3. It will eliminate the need to travel. I do not fly any more. I cannot face the groping, x-raying, being told to remove my shoes - the whole degrading rigamarole designed ostensibly to catch terrorists. Also, travel takes time. And it is expensive. And it can be risky, depending on how and where you have to travel. And you can face horrible delays: what about February conferences, when a massive late-season snowstorm grounds planes? How do you hold them then?

4. People would not have to arrange for extra child care. Or drag their kid along and hope there were enough activities. Spouses wouldn't have to be separated for a few days to a week (Yes, I know, many conferences have spousal activities, but taking two people is twice the cost of taking one). And for single parents, especially without nearby family, I'm sure the child care issue is a nightmare.

5. It would allow for more student participation. Student day-passes could be free - or almost free. For many grad students, cost really is an issue in going to meetings, and not everyone has an advisor with a grant who can pay for them to go.

6. People giving talks or presenting posters could agree to an option to have them archived online. After an "embargo" period, the talks and posters could be made available for viewing by non-conference attendees. It could even count (maybe) as a publication! For that matter, a small "admission fee" could be charged to see the posters and talks, to pay for the website maintenance.

and finally:

7. Much less carbon dioxide will be generated if no one is flying, driving, using those hotel rooms, etc., etc. It would be SO much more climate friendly!

And as for the complaints of those in the tourism industry: People who present at conferences generally don't spend a lot (out side of hotel and restaurants), and if they were freed from "Aw, man, I gotta go to Baltimore in August to meetings" they might just decide, "oh, hey! Since I didn't have to spend that $1200 going to a conference, I'll take the family to the Great Smoky Mountains and we can go camping!" (Okay, so maybe a different state/region gets the tourism dollars. But still).

I don't know. As I've said, I hate traveling to meetings: I hate worrying about whether delays will keep me from getting there on time, I hate spending hundreds of dollars for even a "cheap" hotel room, I hate feeling like I'm being screwed over by some of the people running restaurants who offer a "special conference menu" that has fewer choices and higher prices, and I don't like going to places I would never choose to go to for "fun."

So I think virtual conferences would solve a whole lot of problems.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Cause and effect?

If you are a student, and you and two of your best buds sit in the back of the classroom, and you carry on an ongoing conversation to the point where the prof has to stop three times during the class to let you know you are being disruptive, and then you get scores in the 40 percents on an exam, might there not possibly be a reason for that, other than that the prof is being unfair to you?


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cranio-rectal inversion

Nancy Pelosi: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

NOOOOO! no no no no.

You have it bass-ackwards, as we like to say out here in bitter-clingy country, lady.

The more I think about it, the more having the entire Capitol Hill abducted by aliens and taken to the planet Zorf (where they will be kept in a human zoo in relative comfort, but where they can no longer affect our lives, for the entertainment of the aliens), and the rest of us starting over with a new batch of legislators, would be a good idea. (And perhaps throw in the White House and the Supreme Court for good measure).

If I were re-making the rules for Senators and Congresspeople?

1. Strict term limits. Oh, I don't care about the "wah wah wah, but what if you get a good person in there?" Eventually, I think, everyone gets corrupted. They get what my father refers to as "The Washington Disease," which is a sense of entitlement combined with a desperate need for attention, and those symptoms can only be assuaged by re-election.

2. They have to follow whatever health care plan they "provide" the taxpayers with. No extra perks. No shots at whatever better-faster healthcare that might come through the military (unless they are actual veterans).

3. Salary only what is necessary to keep them and their families alive. Perhaps, even more, provide them with an apartment. A small apartment. And enough to eat on. But don't make the job attractive financially. (And that includes the pension and perks: they should have no better than the average American).

4. You try to diddle someone on your staff? You get ridden out on a rail and have to wear a scarlet S on your chest, for Sexual Harasser. (And yes. I've come to a decision about Massa based on what I've heard and read). Or if you do anything else that would get an average American fired or thrown in jail: cheating on taxes, using the postal perk for personal uses, embezzlement...

I'm sure there are more, but that's what mainly strikes me right now. Rather than having what seems like a group of 1760s French Aristocrats up there, we need small businesspeople. And farmers (real farmers; not just guys who own a lotta land). And nurses. And people who worked in factories.

I'm afraid any more that it's so expensive to run for office that we will keep getting the Entitled Class (who think they are our betters) though.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Feeling in my gut

I haven't watched/listened all the Massa coverage. So I could be totally wrong on this all. And I don't feel like I can make a call on "he's a bad man who wants to prey on his young male staffers vs. The Administration pushed him out because he would have voted against the health care bill"

But from what I've heard, my gut feeling about the man is, "Attention whore." (We need fewer attention whores in politics.)

Also: am I a terrible person for thinking "Massa's in de cold, cold groun'" every time I hear that name?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

I dunno

Thanks, guys. I guess I worry about the whole "public universities are a waste of tax dollars" screaming because I can see that kind of thinking trickling down...becoming more acceptable...and maybe making people question stuff. I've heard a few commentators who are not even all that extreme hint that public universities are a bad deal, and that maybe they should be purged in some way.

A lot of folk who don't totally understand how teaching works, will see a courseload of 12-14 hours for a prof (which is what I typically carry, and which is actually on the high end of average) and think that means we are only working 12 to 14 hours a week.

Would that were so. I usually have at least 2-3 hours of grading (and in weeks where I give exams, maybe 6 hours of grading). I also have an hour or so's prep for each hour of class I teach. Plus lab set-up or take down. Plus a couple hours a week answering questions or advising students. Plus I try to do research, and ideally devote five or six hours a week to that. And then there's committee work. And filling out paper work. And writing the reports on What I Did Over My Summer Vacation To Become A More Effective Teacher or that kind of stuff.

And it adds up.

And I think right now, I'm just feeling some distress in general. There's a big push from all sides to get people to do "more" - on campus, to do more volunteer work, to be "available" more to students. At church, there's constant reminders to the Elders that we're kind of expected to be at pretty much all church functions...and there's just this constant, more, more, more. We need more of your time. We need more of your attention.

And I am WORN OUT. I just am. I got sick earlier this spring and I really do think it was because I was just so tired out, had been running in fifteen different directions all the time.

It's funny...there's a lot of lip service paid to 'taking care of yourself first' but when you try to do that, sometimes, there's a certain level of guilt applied.

The fact that the economy seems to be getting worse and worse, that lots of things may change in bad and difficult ways in the coming months, also distresses me.

And the fact that there seem to be more workplace shootings, or other forms of violence...apparently a custodial worker at Ohio State shot and killed a couple of others just recently, and in Dallas, some guy tried to kill a couple of people at a financial services firm...and it's like everyone has gone frothy crazy, like no one any more can see that problems are PROBLEMS, yes, but they do not require the final solution of killing yourself and/or other people.

And I look around at my students and colleagues, and wonder, who is fragile enough that they could possibly snap? Is there anyone I have to look out for?

It's very much a siege mentality these days and it's exhausting.

Monday, March 08, 2010


I really should not read the far-libertarian blogs.

Because now, I am being told I am a moocher, a parasite, and very likely a Communist.

Because I teach at a public university. Which should all be shut down. And those of us who teach at them, I guess, put in a battle royale with all private university faculty and those few left standing at the end get to teach at the few private universities that remain.

I don't know. I already fear having to justify my existence more and more. I already fear being told my courseload is going to double because we can't employ TAs or "instructors" any more because of budget cuts.

I hate the world right now. I feel like it's going to get a thousand times worse before it gets better, and I wonder if it's even going to get better in my lifetime.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Unreconstructed power-user.

I've decided that the "swirly bulbs" (CFCs) can suck it.

I had these things in my house for well over a year. I have not seen a drop in my electrical bills at all. I take that to mean either (a) they are not nearly as "efficient" as claimed (and you can't get rid of them when they burn out!) or (b) I am not home nearly enough for the amount of time I use electric lights to make a difference.

So the other day, I went to the Lowe's and bought a big big package of "Reveal" bulbs - real incandescents - and took the swirly bulbs out of my bedroom fixture and replaced them with real bulbs. The difference is amazing, how much better everything looks. How much better *I* look when I look at myself in my mirror.

I didn't throw the CFCs away - after all, they still have "life" in them (and you can't throw them away, apparently, anyhow; you have to find somewhere that will grudgingly accept them). My next step is to consider replacing the cheap horrible bedside lamp I have that requires a CFC bulb (it's a weirdly configured bulb) with a NICE bedside lamp.

Oh, and I had to go to Lowe's because my local wal-mart has apparently decreed that in the Name of Greenness, they will ONLY carry the incandescent bulbs that go in appliances. Everything else is swirly bulbs or those swirly-bulbs-inside-globes (and how dim must those be) that look kind of like incandescents, but aren't.

Another wal-mart annoyance: one of my friends noted this. He said: "Does it seem to you like wal-mart has vastly expanded their own brand (the Great Value stuff) at the expense of shelf-space for other brands?"

Dammit, I think he's right. And while I have no issue with generics being available (and I buy the Great Value shredded cheese: it's pretty much the only brand they carry that doesn't use a sulfate-based anticaking agent, which upsets my stomach), it irks me that they're slowly seemingly edging out national brands.

That's what kind of scares me about the economy: that everything will become a gray, stale, cheapest-possible set-up where we have to buy the equivalent of "Victory Coffee" and such - and all the niceties like imported butter cookies and fancy ice cream will be a dream of the past. I know that's a very unlikely thing, but to hear some folk talk about how everything needs to be "equal" and how folks "feel bad" when they can't afford nicer stuff that some people can afford - and that that's a problem - I wonder. That we'll wind up shopping at the equivalent of GUM where we get our loaf of bread and droopy vegetables and can of milk and that's the ONLY choice...and that any "extra" income goes to taxes to help subsidize that milk and bread and vegetable.

I don't know. I try to avoid the economic news but when you see empty storefronts or hear of businesses shutting down, and see things like national brands being dropped in favor of house brands, it's really hard to believe that a "turnaround" is happening.