Thursday, September 30, 2010

I do believe the end of the world is nigh.

Two points of data:

1. I had a student earn an 18 percent on an exam today.

2. Apparently the creature called "Snooki" from "Jersey Shore" has got herself a book deal.

I think it's time for me to head to the bunker.

Monday, September 27, 2010

All Hail the New Feeding Overlords

Heroditus Huxley blogged about this last week. There's a school district considering a ban on chocolate milk. Others are telling students not to bring in cupcakes or cookies on their birthdays.

(Actually, the New York Times wrote about the chocolate milk a while back. Predictably, most of the commenters were aghast that chocolate milk was still even an option. "Give the kids water!" one of them screamed. "We need to prevent childhood obesity AT ALL COSTS!" Apparently, later-in-life osteoporosis is a small price to pay for not having chubby kids. (and yeah, yeah, I know: broccoli and sardines also have calcium. When was the last time you saw a kid voluntarily eat either of those?))

And now, there's the article circulating that Americans Don't Eat Enough Veggies.

The CDC even says:

These findings underscore the need for interventions at national, state, and community levels, across multiple settings (e.g., worksites, community venues, and restaurants) to improve fruit and vegetable access, availability, and affordability, as a means of increasing individual consumption.

That word, "intervention," scares me. Are the Veggie Police going to show up on my campus (it's a workplace) and force-feed me V-8 juice (which I should not drink anyway, as it contains carrots, to which I am allergic) until I've met my minimum daily servings? Are they going to harass people until they capitulate and eat their damn veggies?

I mean - if a guy asks a woman on a date one too many times after she's turned him down, he can be fired for sexual harassment. But it's OK for the gov'ment to come to our workplaces or restaurants and tell us to eat veggies?

Look: what the hell gives anyone in government the right to mandate veggie servings. Or chocolate milk in the schools. Or anything like that.

Yes, granted: apparently poor diet is a problem for some children. But denying all kids a little carton of chocolate milk at the cafeteria is not going to solve the problem of parents who use McDonald's as a pacifier....nor should the government be trying to solve it. People need to take responsibility for themselves.

I remember being in grade school. The "white milk" (as we called it) frequently tasted bad. I don't know if it was the cartons or if it was close to expiring or what. The chocolate milk tasted better. And it was one small, tiny comfort, to have a little carton of chocolate milk in the middle of a day full of math timed-tests and vocabulary drills and being tormented by peers. It would have made life a little smaller and sadder if that had been taken away.

Already kids in school have so much heaped on them: high-stakes testing. Peers who disrupt class, harass them, bully them, and who don't get the butt-smacking they richly deserve. Having to carry clear backpacks. Getting a "referral" if you draw a WWII era scene and just happen to put a gun and a bomb in it.

It must suck to be a kid these days.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Vanished world

TCM was showing von Stroheim's version of "The Merry Widow" this morning. I watched a bit of it. I wish I could have watched it all.

The movie was made in 1925. It's a silent movie, and the silent movies TCM shows, they play pipe-organ music reminiscent of what you'd have heard in the movie palaces of the day.

I find silent movies fascinating. (And it seems that they're always on at the exact time I DON'T have time to sit and watch). They seem like such a vanished world...and yet, they were made less than 100 years ago.

The acting is done differently - it's more exaggerated, by necessity, because most of the story needs to be conveyed by gesture. There are occasional title cards with dialog (this movie seemed to have them more frequently than some silent movies I've seen), but mostly, the actors' actions have to carry the story.

As always in older movies, I also find myself looking intently at the clothes and the backgrounds and the furniture and seeing how things were different. I find that kind of thing really interesting, the whole little window into "how did people live then"

Also, these movies were made before the Hayes code, so they show things movies a few years later couldn't. (The on-screen information for this movie referred to it as a "risque" version, but really, from what I saw, there was nothing risque by modern standards. Or maybe it was the idea that here was a woman who married first out of spite, and then, after being widowed, was happy to flirt and be coy and all that...and the sex was implied. I didn't see enough of the movie to be sure)

It makes me wonder...what would movies be like today if sound had never been developed? What kind of constraints do not having sound place on what stories you can tell and how you can tell them? Or what would have happened if the Hayes code had never been developed?

I don't know much about movies. I enjoy watching some of the old ones on TCM. If I had more time, I'd try to learn more about them.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

good well-rounded education WIN.

I admit it, I'm going to be smug about this, a little.

Students are writing on the viability of a "citizen gene bank" for combating crime. One student argued against it, and claimed it violated the 10th Amendment.

So I wrote on his paper: "Actually, the 4th Amendment would be more relevant to your argument."

I will say I'm disappointed by the large number who say, "Of course I'd give my DNA to a national crime-fighting bank; I'm not a criminal!" Um, not entirely the point as I see it but thanks for playing.

Augh, papers.

So, as part of Writing Across The Curriculum or some such mandate, we have our non majors gen bio students write papers.

This is more of a pain than it's worth, save for the fact that maybe 10% of them learn something from me about grammar or structuring an argument (the ones who pay attention to my comments and don't just roll their eyes over how "mean" I am).

Anyway, here's today's crop:

1. fewer than half the papers were stapled. "I couldn't find a stapler." "I don't own a stapler" (Um, hon? They're not expensive. Especially not compared to the iPhone you're diddling with during class time. And yes, I see you back there playing with yourself phone).

2. Several came in printed very faintly. "The printer in the lab next door is running out of toner! YOU NEED TO GET MORE TONER!" Um, yeah. I'll do that right in between all my other duties. You could always, I don't know, call computer support, who are the people whose JOB it is to take care of the printers and who ACCEPT CALLS FROM STUDENTS. And I know you have your phone with you, I saw you playing with it during class.

3. Several people e-mailed them to me, rather than bothering to print them out. So I can print them out and staple them. And then they come to me and ask, in a great tone of concern: Did you get my paper? Yes, I did. Check your e-mail in class rather than texting your friends and you'll see.

4. One person emailed me that she was LIKE, REALLY SICK and couldn't make it to class, could she bring her paper to the next meeting? I emailed her back and said, "I really need to get these graded this afternoon, can you email me a copy?" (I mean, everyone ELSE does). Have not heard back. I assume this means paper is not done.

5. Had another person claim printer failure (in another lab) but that they'd e-mail it to me after class, HONEST. They actually did, so that means they actually had it done, rather than what I assumed.

AND: one person, this is the first (of three) papers she's turned in, totally did not follow the format I told them. There is no literature cited. There are no citations in the paper. And this is the Queen of Butthurt (seriously, she rolled her eyes at me when I told her she couldn't hand the last paper in over a week late, because NO LATE PAPERS is class policy). I can't wait to see how she responds to the low grade and the explanation as to why.

I also had someone - the other day - drop the phone they were texting on (holding it on their lap where it was harder for me to see) on the floor. I just looked at them with the giant stinkeye and they got embarrassed and didn't pick it back up until class ended. I also had someone open a book of essays in class today and start reading so I turned off the lights whenever I showed a table or figure or diagram. And I had Hungover Guy ask if I could make the room cooler. And my two Basketball Girls started having a loud convo, I stopped and stared at them until they shut up (for a while)

As much as I hate the idea of online teaching, you know, it might be easier in some ways? At least all the things that annoy me in class I would not actually see.

And if you get the idea from this post that I REALLY HATE CELL PHONES RIGHT NOW, you would be correct. Or rather, I hate the fact that students now feel entitled to play with their cell phones if the class isn't 100% entertaining and to their liking. Dammit, if I had Lady Gaga's talent for being shocking, I'd be making Lady Gaga style wages.

More on economy

I've been making an extremely concerted effort for - well, for quite a while now - to be extra-frugal. No eating meals out, no random shopping, no mail-ordering stuff.

Part of this is just uncertainty - I have a very bad feeling that something's going to happen so that those of us in the middle class will get screwed on next year's taxes, and I need to have money saved up to pay them. But part of it is I've made the decision not to teach next summer, so I need to be sure to have at least 2 month's worth of expenses (including travel expenses, if I go to meetings) covered.

And you know what? It sucks. I mean, I was frugal before - I carried my little lunch over to school, I didn't get take-out, didn't do the floofy coffee drinks, didn't buy new purses or shoes unless the ones I was using had worn out.

But I wasn't really aware before of how often I ordered books off of Amazon, or mail-ordered craft supplies. And while it's good to work down on what I have built up, I have to admit it's disappointing to come home each day and KNOW there will be nothing fun in the mail for me; that except for the infrequent magazines, there are only bills and junk mail and solicitations from charities.

Many days, I get my mail, sort it as I walk in the door, and immediately dump all of it in the trash. (My friends and family, by and large, are poor correspondents; many of them can't even seem to be arsed to e-mail unless they have a question or a request).

(I've also been trashing the catalogs immediately they come, so I'm not tempted to order anything from them).

I've also gone over again to a more vegetarian-like diet, partly to save money but partly because the one good place that sold meat close to me closed up. And so, I can get the horrible, shot-up-with-phosphate solution crap the local wal-mart sells. (If your wal-mart sells good meat, count yourself lucky). Or I can drive for a better shot at meat, except the last few things I bought at the Kroger's in the next largest town were not that good.

And I suspect I may be bordering on anemia. Or just not getting enough of the right kind of protein. And that adds to my distress.

Teaching a 15-hour (or 14, depending on how you do the accounting) course load doesn't help. I'm tired all the time and always pressed to get stuff done.

So when the news trumpets "Recession is over!" and I'm still feeling misery on various fronts, it makes me roll my eyes and say, "pull the other one, it's got bells on."

I probably should break down at some point and mail order something. Just something small. Just so I can feel like someday I will come home and not have a mailbox full of stuff I don't want.


So now they're telling us the recession is over. Ayup. Has been since last summer.

Tell that to several of my high GPA graduates, who are still job-hunting and living with parents. Tell that to the folks who could afford a house, but who can't get a mortgage loan. Tell that to the two businesses in my town that closed down in the past couple months.

If the recession is over, does that mean that this is really the "new normal"? Where there's insecurity and people are afraid to spend money and most workers are squeezed to the limits of their productivity because businesses won't hire, so some individuals are doing the work of three people? And where the stock market is just blah, so much so that I've revised my "work until 70 or 'til your health fails" plan to "work until 72 or until you drop dead"?

I don't know if the economists see something many Americans don't, or if they've been told to lie, but from where I sit, sure doesn't look like ANYTHING is over yet.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The importance of persistence

I was reminded yet again yesterday of how I grew up relatively "privileged."

I don't mean in the sense of money (though we had enough of that for the necessities and many of the comforts, if not luxuries), but in the sense of what my parents taught me. How much they cared, so that they gave their kids what we needed to succeed in life.

A common kid-complaint is, "This is hard." At first, fractions are "hard." Or long division is. Or algebra. Or trigonometry. Or something in physics.

My parents had slightly different reactions to my (and my brother's) protests that something was "hard."

My mother would remark: "Few things worth doing are easy." And you know, I tended to believe that. Especially coming from her: she grew up in (what I now know was) near-poverty, she was the first in her family to go to college, she worked long hours in the summer to try to earn part of her tuition, she sought out scholarships and what work-study type opportunities existed so she could go through college. She wound up earning a Ph.D. and teaching college (until first I, then my brother, came along, and she decided she would really rather stay home and raise us than continue to work and pay for childcare. And luckily, my father was doing well enough that we could just manage that financially. As I said, we didn't have a lot of material luxuries - at least, compared to the others in our small town (on a global scale we would have been fantastically rich), but we were rich in a lot of important things).

My father responded slightly differently. He'd say to me: "I know it's hard. But you're smart, and you can figure it out." And that always made me feel better. I think part of it was that my distress was being acknowledged - and at the same time, instead of allowing me to give in and give up, my dad told me he knew I could do it, just try harder, work harder.

That was actually kind of the theme when we ran into problems growing up: Try again if you didn't get it the first (or second, or third) time. See if you can find someone who can explain it differently if you don't understand. Try looking at it a different way. Go to the library and see if you can find a book to look it up in (to this day, that's my first recourse when I don't know or don't understand something: find a book that explains it). If you have to, put it aside for a while, rest, and come back to it when you're calmer.

And I realize now how important that was, and how valuable, and how grateful I am to my parents for instilling that in us. I find now when I'm faced with what seems like an intractable problem, I get stubborn: I say to myself, "You're smart. You can figure this out" (echoes of my dad's advice!). And I dig in, and most of the time I solve the problem.

But I often see students who haven't learned this - who have, apparently, been allowed in the past to give up on "hard" stuff. And it's frustrating to teach people with that attitude.

An example, from lab. I teach a non-majors bio lab. We were doing osmosis this week, which, while it's not a super-hard topic, can be confusing if you've never worked with it before. During the lab, one group of guys called me over. "We aren't sure we understand this question" one of them said.

So I used my usual method: I asked them to tell me what they did know and did understand, and then started asking them questions based on that and aimed at getting them to what they didn't know.

Almost at the same moment, the light came up in all of their eyes. "Ohhhhhhh" one guy said. "I get it now." And he started to explain the answer to the question - and another guy picked up where he left off. And I smiled and told them they had it. And they thanked me for the help.

Then, later, one of the women in the class came up to me. "This is hard." she said. "I don't get it." So I tried the same technique- which, when it works, works very well, and I think the students remember better when I "force" them to come up with the answer on their own. She was having none of it though. "This is HARD." she repeated. "I Don't Get It."

I tried to help her as much as I felt OK doing but she just clamped down. Later, I saw her pulling the same thing on the TA in the class - he tried the same method I used and she still clamped down and finally just gave up. And that frustrates me, because everyone else in that class of 24 more or less "got" osmosis after working on it for a while. And she just decided to shut down and decide it was "too hard" or too much work.

As I said, it's frustrating teaching people with that mindset. And I wonder if there's a way of getting them out of it once they've hit 20 or so - I tend to think that if you develop the "I can figure this out!" mindset, it's going to happen as a result of early experience - like what I had with my parents - where, when something was found to be "hard," I was encouraged to keep working at it until I got it, or get extra help (in the form of tutoring or having it explained a different way).

(An aside here: that's the real source of self-esteem, IMHO: taking on a challenge that's somewhat difficult and then realizing along the way, "Hey! I get this!" or "hey! I can do this!" Not being told you're Special and Unique and there's No One Like You)

The other thing that the training I got from my parents did, was that I realized "I could do that thing in the past that I thought was so hard, and once I mastered it, it was easy. So this thing that looks hard now, if I work on it, eventually it will get easier."

But as I said: I'm not sure how to instill this in kids if they're not getting it early on, at home. (And even if primary school teachers try to instill it, if it's not being supported at home, it still may not take).

I might even go so extreme as to say that a big part of America's success over the years comes from people having said, "This is difficult, but I can do it if I keep working and keep trying." People who clamp down when things get hard and refuse to keep trying don't seem to get very far (at least in my limited experience teaching college, and observing other grad students when I was in grad school).

And so it always worries me to see someone who does that "I can't DO THIS" over something, particularly something that other people around them are mastering. It's one thing to try repeatedly and not be able to (I am not much of a singer and I acknowledge that); it's totally another to not even want to try.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"love notes" argh

Without outing myself too much (as to where I live), I live within AM radio hearing-distance of Dallas. So I hear some of the Dallas news from time to time.

Something lately that's appalled me: congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson allegedly (or not-so-allegedly, apparently she's apologized for doing so) funneled money supposed to be for low-income scholarships to family members.

Okay, another bit of "I'm in Politics, so I have Privilege" attitude. I suppose it's not surprising any more.

What gets me, though, is her supporters: instead of accepting that she did wrong, or calling for her to make it right (though apparently she is going to do so now, after having been caught, though it's not clear if the scholarships are going to be rescinded or if she's going to repay out of her own funds, however she may have gotten them), they called for "sending her love notes" to "let her know how much we appreciate her!"

This is just another thing that makes me furious. File it in with the "Oh, so you saved money and bought less house than you could possibly afford? Fine, then you can bail out the people who bought big mansions they couldn't" or the "You're being frugal? Great! Hand over that money so we can give it to politicians who can't be" attitudes.

I think of all the people who work hard, who are honest, and who get mostly trouble for their efforts - all the volunteer workers I know who have to put up with complaints and stuff. Who never get thanked. Who probably would value a "love note" (and yes, I've occasionally sent 'em.)

(And yes, part of this is sour grapes: 99% of the tiny amount of feedback I get is negative. I didn't do something right, I didn't do something to someone's unspoken standards, I didn't do "enough." Or students take issue with how tough I am. Or I'm "mean" because I won't accept papers 3 weeks late. Or whatever. I know, I need to just suck it up, but it gets WEARING to only hear when you've screwed up and having to assume that no feedback = you're doing OK.)

And yet, someone who essentially defrauded some of her own constituents, gets such rabid and unthinking support. I guess this is how people that the rest of the country looks at and goes, "they're so corrupt, how can they possibly still be in office?" manage. Or how cheating businessmen prosper. Or whatever: there are enough people willing to overlook the big moral failings* because they're gettin' the pork they love so much.

(*In a totally different camp would be someone who screwed up and was truly repentant, and did what they could to make it right. That person I'd be willing to forgive and perhaps even give another chance to. But it seems so many people these days - in any field - who are corrupt, they're so busy spinning and making excuses and blaming others that you never even hear a "sorry" come out of their mouths.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

A little better

I had a meeting of one of the ladies' groups I belong to last night.

One of our big focuses (foci?) is raising money and giving scholarships - often to students who are not-as-eligible for other help. We awarded two last night.

One of the women came from Central America originally. She didn't give the whole story, but what I figured out from reading between the lines was that her family was fairly upper-middle-class, until a business partner defrauded her father of a lot of money (and there may have been other problems). With the help of people in the Baptist church (she and her family were members), they got sponsors here, came here, and her parents are trying to rebuild a business. (And I guess they are going through the process to become citizens).

She spoke pretty passionately about her faith, about how she felt that God was leading here here, because now she has the opportunity to do many good things.

She talked about her love of America: "This is the country where your dreams come true" she said "Everyone has the opportunity to do what they want with their lives." She said that with hard work, she'd get what she wanted - to work with a church, and maybe be involved with the Christian music business.

She also remarked: "In America, people will help you. Just ordinary people! If they find out that you need help, they will help you." (She did not seem so keen on the idea of the government helping people, but rather the idea of it being individuals or small groups like faith groups)

She also remarked that one of the things she was trying to do, in her work with her church's youth, was to teach young women - "The Enemy," she said, "The Enemy wants to convince girls that they have to look a certain way and dress a certain way and that is what makes them beautiful...but that's all a distraction; beauty is who you are, it's what is inside you." (I thought this was an interesting observation because physically - I mean, her face and hair and figure and everything - she was a very lovely woman, but she didn't seem to want to "trade" on that in her life. She did say that in her home country, the emphasis on dressing sexy and looking a certain way was even stronger than it was here.)

She also thanked us profusely for the scholarship - it came at a time, she said, when she was sitting in her apartment wondering how she was going to manage in the coming months, but also trusting that God would provide. (And I guess, through us, He did.)

So I felt better after last night. (I suppose it was something I "needed" to hear). It's hard not to get caught up in all the minutiae and to see all the little bad things, but it sure does help to be reminded that once in a while, something you are involved in winds up helping a person and being good for them.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Why isn't this my life?

I'm listening to internet radio while trying to grade. They just played "Somewhere" from West Side Story, which I always think of as "The TIAA-CREF song."

The educators' retirement-funding program used to have a series of ads, showing romanticized views of college campuses, teaching hospitals, and such.

You can see one of those ads here

Those ads - I will admit, in my more susceptible moments, they made me cry a little. Because they were such an idealized, gold-tinged view of the campus. You never see the faculty tearing out their hair because (as just happened to me) a teaching assistant informs them on short notice that they can't be available to help today. Or you don't see the student who plagiarized arguing with the faculty member that they 'didn't know it was wrong.' Or the grinding long hours of grading, where students get things wrong that you thought "everyone" knew.

Why isn't my life more like the TIAA-CREF ads and less like, I don't know, a Mike Judge movie based on the funny-to-the-observers crap that happens in the workplace?

I'm just really worn out from this week. Both my TAs have had to leave unexpectedly for crazy reasons this week, I found a badly plagiarized paper, I had a student claim on an exam that "water is a great source of energy in the diet!" (good God, has the "eat nothing" propaganda penetrated this far?), there are certain individuals "above" me who should have the Imperial March as their theme song.

I'm losing the joy of it, guys. I don't know what to do.

This irritates me

The guy in Florida who wants to burn Korans to mark the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. (I'm sure you've seen it in the news. I'm not linking to any of the stories. In fact, I feel a bit of a hypocrite for giving the man any more attention or publicity).

This bothers me on many levels.

First off, it's the attention-hound impulse at its worst. No one would have known this pastor without his stunt. And now he's all over the news. Sure, it's negative attention, but in today's screwed up society, being notorious is as good as being famous. There are hundreds of people - thousands of people - out there who are doing some real good in this world, who are trying to make things better, and they don't get ANY attention from the news. But let one guy take things too far - and they're all over him. You have to be dysfunctional to get attention these days, I guess.

And I suspect there are a lot of the families of people who died who are upset by this. This guy is grabbing headlines, he's turning the anniversary of a grim and sad day into somewhat of a circus. It's disrespectful to those who died, IMHO.

Second - and probably most important, in my mind - this is a bad advertisement for Christianity. Christians don't gain points by bashing the religions of others, and certainly not by doing something that an adherent of the religion would regard as offensive. (I exempt cases where the "offensive act" is an act that saves another individual from harm; for example, a Christian man getting between a mob bent on stoning an alleged adulteress and the soon-to-be victim would be a brave and good act). It doesn't hurt Christianity that the Koran exists. I have never read any of it but it does not offend me that it exists.

The other thing is, not all Muslims are terrorists. (I'm sorry if you believe they are, but they aren't.) There are many people in this country who follow that faith who are appalled by the terroristic impulses of some of their co-religionists - and who are also appalled by the misogynistic and other negative impulses. (I know. I have had Muslim students who have talked about it.) Just as I don't condone what this pastor is doing - just as I am disgusted by the Westboro "Baptist" idiots - just as I condemn those who would bomb abortion clinics in the name of their faith, there are Muslims who are aghast and disgusted by the thought that someone claiming to be of their faith would use it to kill others.

My faith calls me to love people. (Yes, it also calls me to spread the Good News, but it doesn't tell me to be a jerk about doing so, by burning another religion's texts). I can't see the burning as being anything but an angry and inflammatory act that will make things worse instead of better.

I mean - some have been calling for a slow-down on the mosque-near-Ground-Zero plans, in the name of compassion (for those who were killed) and tolerance (it does look like a thumb in the eye to other faiths, at least from some angles). This is worse, in my opinion, than the mosque plans: all it does is gain notoriety for a preacher. It doesn't advance Christianity (In fact, it's being used as a stereotype. "All Christians are idiot bigots" is the undercurrent on some of the news stories).


And finally - yes, it could put our troops in danger. Or Christians (or even "American looking people") abroad in some countries in danger. I realize, yes, the crazy Islamist types don't NEED provocation, that the fact that I'm not walking around in a burqa, only allowed out in public under the protection of a male in my family, is enough to provoke them. But. This is like throwing gasoline on a fire to try to make it calm down.

I don't know. On September 11, I will do what I always have done since 2001 - light some candles, say a prayer for the families of those who died. And also say a prayer that all people who would advance misunderstanding and hatred in the name of religion (or really, any other belief) would realize that their ways are wrong, and repent from that.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

well, crap

Hold the prayers and good thoughts for the moment.

Meeting-person is out sick with a stomach bug. So we will be meeting later on.

Monday, September 06, 2010

What's really bothering me

I have a Big Important meeting tomorrow. With a Big Important person. Someone who's been kind of a bully towards me in the past, and someone that I have a really hard time "reading." (Most people, I'm pretty good at figuring out where they're coming from, what their "issues" are, but this person - I just can't.)

It doesn't involve me KEEPING my job, but it does involve ADVANCEMENT in my job, and how I feel after this meeting may in part influence my decision to (a) stay here longer (b) consider taking the Big Scary Step of applying for a job elsewhere or (c) consider getting out of academia all together. (It's sort of a "Is this what the future is going to be, dealing with these kinds of attitudes, and do I really want that" kind of thing).

So I'm scared. Scared because of this person's bullying tendencies, but also scared because I really don't want to wind up making the decision that "this place is becoming an untenable place to stay, time to do a Job Search."

If you could spare a good thought for me, I'd appreciate it.

And also for my sister-in-law, if you have a spare good thought for her. She's dealing with family-of-origin craziness that she should not be having to deal with. My brother is supportive of her and it's probably good she has him, but there's only so much he can do to help.

And the husband of a friend - his name is Dave - is going through some weird health issues and we don't know yet what's wrong.

So yeah: life is unstable and unhappy for a lot of people 'round here right now.

Some days, I wonder

Heard on the news today, the anchor was talking about whatever this new jobs-plan is. And the way he said it, I swear it sounded like he said:

"Today, Obama announces his plan to simulate job growth."

Uh-huh, that may explain it.


I'm feeling SOME better. It doesn't help that I hear continued calls for (depending on the commentator) the absolute abolition of tenure (Even a five year contract, where my being re-hired might be contingent on my generating "enough" overhead costs via grants would not be something I'd be happy with), not sending your kids to college because it will warp them, requiring some kind of "jobs accountability" from state colleges (e.g., not enough of your grads get plum jobs, you go away), etc., etc.

I think it's that sort of quiet, below-the-radar drumbeat - the fear I have that maybe we're headed for some kind of situation where either tenure, or, worse, public higher education, is abolished, that really is getting to me as much as anything.

And I hate the stereotyping of some commentators: I'm NOT a left-wing loon. I do not try to inject politics in my classes. I try to show students both sides of issues. I try to teach them to write and communicate well. I'm trying to do my damned level best by them, and it seems like a lot of what I hear these days is a giant "YOU SUCK YOU COMM-SYMP PARASITE" from the libertarian and even populist end of things. And it's hard to feel strong and want to keep going when you feel as if a segment of the population really doesn't want to understand you or where you're coming from, they just want to stick to the script.

And the thing is: if I lost my job in some crazy upheaval, I don't know what I'd do. Especially now when jobs seem to be so hard to come by. Oh, I have a year or so of money saved up, but I suspect it would take longer than that these days for me to find a job, unless I went out on my own and, I don't know, tried to make a living as a seamstress or cleaning people's houses or something - trying to be self-employed rather than having a boss. I don't know.

Actually, maybe cleaning houses for a living wouldn't be so bad, if there were enough people who could afford to pay me. Or if I could find some kind of barter-job where I did stuff and got paid in food. I don't know. For some reason, these times, the news I hear, makes me immediately go to the back-to-the-lander place in my mind: not the nice, fuzzy, "let's play at being the Ingalls family" idea I had of it years back, when it seemed unlikely to ever happen, but sort of a bunker-mentality vision, where I'm having to grow and can a lot of my own food, and that kind of scares me.

Friday, September 03, 2010


This whole, horrible, full-of-suck, full of idiot bureaucrats preventing us from doing our jobs the way they can be done, full of people with a wee tiny bit of power using that wee tiny bit of power in precisely the way that can make other people the MOST miserable, week can go take a flying leap.

I'm DONE. I'm DONE, y'all. If I had a winning lottery ticket in my hand, my letter of resignation would be on my chair's desk so fast.

And it's not even the students that are driving me up the wall. I want to both cry and hit something.

And there isn't even a "fresh" FFOT thread for me to post this on.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Argh. I wanna Fisk this, but I also don't.

Okay. So you probably heard about the idiot who committed suicide-by-cop yesterday in the Discovery Channel building. It was another of your typical whackjobs, someone who was so desperate for attention that they made up a cause (at least, that's what I interpret) and then went out with guns and alleged bombs and threatened the lives of innocent folks. All to be taken down by cops when they had a good shot.

(And I sincerely hope the fool is having a lot of 'splainin' to do on the Other Side.)

Anyway, my most politically-motivated colleague poked his head in the door this moment to comment:

him: "You heard about the guy who held people at Discovery channel hostage?"
me: "Yeah. He was a whackjob."
him:"Apparently he was an environmentalist."
Me:"Yeah. He was a whackjob. He was opposed to the shows they had about big families."
Him: "But he was an environmentalist. He was on the left! You usually expect those shooter types to be right-wingers with guns."

And I was in the middle of working on something, and I didn't feel like getting dragged into his own personal spiral of pointiness, so I just grunted and reiterated that the guy was a whackjob.

But, two thoughts hit me after my colleague left:

First: I don't agree with his assessment. I would argue that you either can't find a political alliance, or that there would be an equal distribution of people who ally with the "left" or the "right" in these things. The Unabomber was more left than right, IMHO. The guy who killed all those students at Virgina Tech was, as far as I can tell, unallied. Most of the workplace shooters probably are unallied. Even the guy who flew his plane into that federal building in Austin wasn't really truly right or left - he had weird ideas coming from the extremes of either side.

And second, and more importantly: It's not a matter of politics, dammit. When someone gets to the point of thinking killing other innocent people is okay to advance their agenda, they have gone beyond the bounds of politics and I think whatever side they ally with should disown them and agree that they are, as I said, whackjobs.

The ONLY reasons for shooting someone, IMHO, are (a) armed combatants (soldiers) in wartime, (b) self-defense where you might be killed, maimed, or raped if you do not resist or, (c) defending someone who is weaker and may be killed, maimed, or raped by the wrongdoer if you do not do something to protect them. That's IT.

(And the cop in this case fulfilled condition c. And good shot.)

Hostage-takers are nothing more than terrorists. They are not promoting a cause, they are not advancing anything. Most of them are severely damaged human beings who, if they can be captured alive, probably need years of therapy and medication in an in-patient setting before they can even have any consideration of returning to freedom.

So I don't know. I'm irked by the dude's comments. Though I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

But this is just part of the "cold civil war" that I believe is going on in the country.