Thursday, December 15, 2011

The semester is finally over

Heading out on break after this.

It's funny how I get really excited for break during the last few days of the semester and then exam week...and then once it's all over, I almost get a little melancholy. Don't get me wrong, I love my family and will be tremendously happy to see them, it's just...I don't like leaving my house unattended for long periods of time. And I miss my routine a little.

I think also I'm just kind of tired. A lot of times, towards the end of the semester, you're sort of running on adrenaline, and when it wears off, there's a big let down. I always feel tired the first couple days of break because of the change in the schedule - no getting out of bet at 5 am and being go! go! go! from that time until 9 pm or whenever I'm done for the day.

I think also you think about the changes over the past year. Right now, I'm kind of sad, because a long-time friend of the family (he was the husband of the couple that was the "designated guardians" for my brother and me, if anything had happened to my parents) died just a week or so ago. (It was cancer, that old bastard). I've sent a sympathy card and a "thinking of you at Christmas" card and will probably send a "thinking of you" card the end of January (these are folks that live far, far away from me now, so sending a card seems the best way to keep in touch).

And I have to admit: looking at the copy of his obituary that his widow sent - he was only a year older than my dad. That always gives me pause. We had several deaths in my congregation this fall but they were all people 85 or hits home harder when you think, "This is someone of my parents' generation" and I know there will come a day when I make the sad last trip "home" to bury one of them.

Which is why I'm so adamant about traveling over my breaks. I know some of my colleagues think it a bit odd that I take as much time to visit family as I do - but I'm far too aware (both because of things like the recent death of the family friend, and because of some of the health scares they've had in recent years) that I won't ALWAYS have my parents there, and I'm going to enjoy time with them as much as I can NOW, and try not to think about that future time.

My mom was also telling me about someone from the choir they belong to...this was a woman who had been estranged from her two sisters for years. She invited them to dinner every year near Christmas, and this year they finally said "yes." And apparently things are getting better between them.

So, a blessed Christmas to all of you. I hope you enjoy time with family and friends. I hope that if you have someone you've had difficulties with in the past, and there's some reason to reconcile, that you can. I hope the new year is better than previous years were....

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"The Waltons:

My cable system recently went through a bit of changes, and they adopted a few new channels. Some - there's one called YouToo? - I don't have much use for (It's apparently a channel devoted to people who want to get themselves on television. Meh.)

But now I get something called gmc, which a little Googling tells me is the Gospel Music Channel. Their tagline is "Uplifting Entertainment."

They show re-runs (among other things) of Judging Amy, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, and The Waltons.

I've been watching some of the re-runs of The Waltons. I vaguely remember my family watching it when I was a kid (I was never a very absorbed television-watcher as a kid for some reason; I usually had my Fisher-Price toys or Lego bricks spread out on the floor and played with them and half-watched what was on).

You know, I'm struck now by what a *good* show it was. The characterizations are fairly complex (well, at least of the adults; I admit I still confuse Jim-Bob and Ben), the people face real moral dilemmas in the episodes (and don't always behave perfectly). It also seems to capture a time and a place - or at any rate, if it's not an accurate version of Depression-era Virginia, it certainly doesn't *feel* modern-day. And - what surprised me but should not - the family openly shows its faith. There are scenes set in a church and Jesus is mentioned. (It seems now, a lot of television shows want to skirt the fact that yes, in fact, some people in the United States believe in the existence of someone called Jesus.)

I'm sure the show was criticized for being overly-sentimental or for showing a Depression-era family as sort of noble despite their poverty. (Then again: my mother talks about growing up poor in rural Michigan, and how although they didn't have much, they always had decent food on the table (her brothers hunted, and her family had a garden), and that they didn't really "feel" poor because they had each other.)

But I love it. I suppose, as I said, it's been criticized for being somewhat idealistic - but you know what? I kind of WANT idealistic in at least some of my entertainment. I want to be shown people who have strong moral fiber and who face tough times with equanimity. I want to be shown people who behave better than I might given the circumstances - I want people in my "entertainment" that I can look up to.

And so, I try to catch the re-runs of the show when it's on. (And it's really not all sweetness and light - in the Christmas 2-parter with the British evacuee children, Elizabeth turns out to be pretty nasty to them...though she repents of it later.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Something I realized today

This is something I've probably "known" for a while, but the events of today made me explicitly realize it:

There is a point at which I have reached my limit of tolerance of being crowded in with other people, and I just need to go off and be alone.

Today was graduation. They always tell us "be present at 9:30 to line up," which I interpret as "You need to be there at 9:20" - I was always taught growing up that the given meeting time was the absolute last minute, and you should really be there five to ten minutes earlier. The problem is, they tell up "Be there at 9:30" because many of the faculty take that to mean "Walk in the door at 9:55."

So I spent a lot of time waiting in a small stuffy windowless room with other early bird faculty.

Then we were lined up out in a hall. Stood there for some 15 minutes waiting on latecomers.

Then we finally filed in. We aren't lined up by department (though I really think we SHOULD be; I think that would be neater). I did wind up next to a colleague of mine, and he wound up next to some guy he knew from History.

Who then proceeded to launch into a sotto voce airing of every grievance he had, with the university, with his students, with the American people, with the world in general. All through the graduation. (Well, okay...he was quiet during the invocation and the speech by the speaker. But once students started filing across the stage....)

I don't know. Maybe I'm being excessively old-school in this but I think one should not carry on an extended conversation at an event like that. I sat there trying not to listen as the guy rehashed the details of Cain's alleged affair (Look, dude: the guy's out of the race, he's probably damaged his marriage seriously and ruined a lot of his credibility, can you just leave him alone and stop snarking?)

Also, some of the faculty were playing with their smartphones during the ceremony. I expect we will receive an e-mail asking us not to do that in the future. And as much as I don't like the nannying administrative e-mails, really - I DO think it's rude to be playing on a smartphone during a graduation, especially down on the floor where people in the stands can see you. (We're required to be there, unless we have a good reason. I suppose playing with a smartphone is an act of rebellion of people somewhere they do not want to be, or something. I know I've seen some of my, shall we say, less-engaged students do it in class).

I don't know. Have we as a culture lost the ability to sit quietly and at least LOOK attentive even if we're not that interested? I did listen closely during my school's graduation, a lot of people I knew were going through, and even in the other schools, there were a few familiar names - kids I had had in my non-majors class, and one person who received a scholarship I served on the selection committee for.

And there were the predictable air horns. I really do not like air horns at an indoor graduation. They hurt my ears. I understand the idea of rejoicing and celebrating, but still, they hurt my ears.

Eventually the ceremony ended, we all filed out during the recessional. There's always a reception with finger foods afterward but at that point I realized I was just SO DONE with being around people. I felt like I could not face another minute of being in a darkish cramped room with lots of people and the din of their talking (one thing about my hearing - or about my listening, perhaps: I have a really hard time following the thread of a conversation if there are others going on around me, so I usually stand silent and confused in those kinds of situations, because I have a hard time tuning out the extraneous conversations).

My colleague looked at me: "Aren't you going to the reception?"

"No," I answered. "I have a slight headache." (It was true - between the constant barrage of whispered griping and the air horns, and having stood for some 30 minutes in an overheated cramped room that smelled of the dusty velvet and unwashed gabardine of the academic robes, I did). But really, at that minute, the thing I wanted the most in the whole world was to go home, put my car away, go in my house, lock he front door, and not talk to anyone (or have to listen to anyone) for the rest of the day.

I've noticed before that I get distressed when I have to be around crowds of people I don't know well for too long; this was just the most marked case of it I remember. I suppose this is related to my living alone: probably a lot of people who choose to live alone do so because they are like that, they need times when they can just lock out the rest of the world and be surrounded by quiet. Or maybe, living alone decreases our tolerance for human noise and crankiness and crowding, I don't know.

At any rate, I was really grateful to walk into my empty quiet house and close the door behind me this afternoon.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Pro tip

Though probably none of you reading this need it. But maybe you could pass it on to college-bound students of your acquaintance?

The question, "Is there anything I can do to improve my grade?" is not a bad question. If it is asked in, say, the third or fourth week of the semester, after the first exam turned out to be harder than expected, or the student earned a grade lower than what they had hoped for. In fact, "Is there anything I can do to improve my grade?" is a very GOOD question when asked early in the semester and coupled with a true desire to do the things to improve their grade.

Here are some things I would suggest:

1. Bring your class notes to me, let me look over them. I may be able to give pointers on how to take better or easier notes.

2. Attend class regularly if you have not been.

3. Read over your notes every day after class. If there are things you are unclear on, write down what they are. Come to my office hours and ask me about them, or ask me about them when I ask in class if anyone has any questions

4. Evaluate your study skills. If what you're doing is not working, try something different. For example: studying with friends is usually not as good an idea as it sounds. At least, it never was for me.

5. Find a tutor. You can do that through either official on-campus services, and also many of our TAs like to earn a little extra money on the side doing tutoring. There are also some online resources our campus recently adopted.

6. Read the textbook. At the end of every chapter, read the questions given there and be sure you can answer them. While I don't use those questions on my tests, they still cover the same topics.

...and so forth. So if you come to me early in the semester wanting to improve your grade, great, I have lots of ideas.

What is not so good? Calling me up after the last day of classes and asking if there is anything you can do to improve your grade. Because short of pulling a real Hail Mary on the final exam, the answer's no. And another pro-tip: I know I've said this before but: Don't piss off the person who will be grading you. And yes, it does kind of piss me off to field calls from ten different people all wanting to know the same thing. Even though it says in the syllabus NO EXTRA CREDIT NO WAY NO HOW NOT EVER DON'T EVEN ASK, I know that's really what you're asking with "Is there anything I can do to improve my grade?"

Because it just makes you look like a delusional and unrealistic person, frankly. Would you go to the IRS after doing your taxes and say, "Is there anything I can do to owe you less money?" Or to your credit-card company, and say, "Is there anything I can do to get my interest percent lowered?" Or to your boss to say, "Is there anything I can do to be able to work fewer hours in a week?"

What's almost worse than asking about "improving" your grade on the last day of school? Coming in and saying you want to get help, setting up a crapton of appointments to see me, and BREAKING EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.

Yes, Mr. Football Hero, I'm looking at you. Yes, I know, football is hard. Coach expects a lot of you. But maybe you could make your freaking appointments with me during, I don't know, my MORNING office hours instead of asking me to stay after my office hours are officially over and then never showing, and then saying the next day in class, "Um, yeah, Coach called an extra practice."

(My rant about how campuses tend to exploit their athletes - another rant for another time).

I wound up taking my phone off the hook this afternoon so I could finish up some research I really needed to finish without being interrupted every five freaking minutes.

Thoughts of home

I was brushing my hair this morning, gearing up to come over campus. My hair has gotten a little bit long and shaggy, but since it's so close (like, just over a week) before I go visit my family for Christmas, I'm just going to have the woman who cuts my mom's hair do it for me - she's good, she charges a reasonable price, and it will be easier to do it when I'm on break than it will be now.

And then I thought about it.

I thought about going to the little barber shop (yes, it's an old traditional barber shop: neither my mom nor I have elaborate hairstyling needs) in their town. And walking down the little old main street with my mom...and going shopping in some of the little shops there...and seeing the Christmas decorations that are up.

And I said out loud to my reflection: "Over break, I'm going to go shopping with my mom. And I'm going to bake cookies. And I'm going to decorate the house with my parents. And I'm going to wrap presents. And I'm going to knit. And I'm going to read books. And I'm going to make candy."

I'm going to do all the things I like to do, but don't generally get to do, because of the responsibilities I have.

It's been kind of a brutal fall here...I taught a new prep for the first time in 10 years and had totally forgotten how much more work that is than just updating regular classes. And we had issues with an adjunct...luckily, not someone involved with any classes I'm in, but one of my colleagues is going to have to delay his travel to visit family because she couldn't get her labs graded in a timely fashion. (This, kids, is why I don't like the idea of going to a cadre of low-paid adjuncts: you can't get good people, because the good people can literally make more money waiting tables). I don't know what we're going to do next semester, I haven't heard if this person is fired or not but I'd not be surprised.

And we've had some administrative shake-ups on campus that leave a lot of us wondering what's coming next.

And just what's going on in the world is frustrating and sad-making. I really have given up watching more than a minute or two of news at a time. I wish I could find a source of news that wasn't given to all the crazy WHARRGARRBLLL MUST CREATE OUTRAGE or that spins stuff so sickeningly. Even the local news is awful; they run poverty-porn a lot of days, or have poorly-reported health stories on how everything we thought was good for us isn't.

So I watch a lot of cartoons now. Even if every "Phineas and Ferb" episode has pretty much the same plot. Even if I think "The Adventures of Gumball" is kind of stupid. Even if some aspects of "Adventure Time" creeps me out and makes me sad.

And I watch cooking shows. Paula Deen throwing a stick of butter in a pan is more interesting to me than hearing about the latest missing housewife.

So what I'm looking forward to over break is trying to leave all the local crap - the irresponsible people, the snowflakey students, the meddling administrators - behind. And also ignore what's going on in the world to the extent I can. And hang onto the things that make me me, that the stupid geopolitical situation can't affect.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

sweet Schadenfreude

Okay, I admit it.

After hearing that Rod Blagojevich was being sent to prison for 14 years, my first reaction was to say (to the image of him on the television), "Watch out for yer cornhole, bud" like Lawrence in "Office Space."

This makes how many former Illinois governors in prison? Two that I know of....

Monday, December 05, 2011

Childhood Christmas classics

One of my favorite Christmas specials when I was a kid was "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Part of it was that I just liked the whole "animagic" stop-motion way of doing things (more recent updates - there's one of the Heat Miser and Cold Miser - that are CGI or some computer technique - don't have the same "homemade" feel and the same heart to them, I think).

And yeah, if you think of it, Rudolph's story is basically Dumbo's story (or maybe that's the other way around; Rudolph may have come first? I think he was invented in 1939 and Dumbo was a few years later?).

And yeah, I know a lot of people who are really uncomfortable with Santa not accepting Rudolph - I mean, of all the North Pole residents, you'd think Santa would be the one smart enough to see through the teasing of the other reindeer and see Rudolph's true worth. But you know? I realize now that I even accepted that as a child - because I had seen adults that I might otherwise look up to (like teachers at school) who could be short-sighted and not understand and sometimes even listen to the "mean" kids and take their side. And while it feels wrong, it's still something that has to be dealt with: sometimes grown-ups just aren't very, you know, grown up.

But there's some guy out there apparently who Rudolph is a bad influence. Because, I guess, the bullying reindeer weren't sent to Reindeer Juvie, and their coach (Comet? I think he was the coach) wasn't sent to endless HR seminars on Being More Tolerant NOW!

But you know? Even though Rudolph's story was hard and at times painful (especially for an unpopular kid like me: I could relate), ultimately, he did a couple of very good things:

1. He found friends. Hermie, the weird elf who wants to be a dentist, meets up with Rudolph and they decide that since they've both decided to be independent, they might as well be independent together. (Grown-up me, watching the special for the umpteenth time this year, giggled at the absurdity of that remark. But whatever). Hermie and Rudolph become friends.

Oh, and for that matter, Clarice: Clarice is better and smarter than any of those idiot young bucks. She likes Rudolph, she thinks he's cute, and she even prefers him after he gets rid of the fake nose he was wearing. Clarice can see the real Rudolph. True, she's perhaps not THAT much help in rescuing him....but I expect that she and Rudolph "kept company" and maybe even raised a few fawns in the future years, after the time when the special was set came to an end. And I'm betting Fireball and those other bucks who teased Rudolph were hanging out in the North Pole Singles Bar and Karaoke Lounge when Rudolph was happily at home with Clarice.

And then finally, Yukon Cornelius befriends the misfits. I'm not sure if that's because he's a misfit himself, or if that's just because he's Yukon Freaking Cornelius and he's cool that way.

But at any rate - rather than continuing to hang around the kids who abuse him, rather than continuing to be a victim, Rudolph goes out into the world to seek his fortune.

2. And then at the end, after everyone's rescued, and Hermie has shown his true bad-assery by removing the teeth of the Bumble that is threatening everybody, Rudolph totally saves the day! In fact, liabilities turn into assets: Hermie's crazy dream to become a dentist saves the entire reindeer family, and Rudolph's nose allows for delivery of the presents despite a giant fogbank.

Oh, I'm sure there are those who are rallying for the continued viewing of Rudolph As Victim would say "They're just EXPLOITING him!" but I prefer to think of it as "he showed them...they learned how wrong they were about him." I admit as a kid part of the reason I loved this story and loved Dumbo was at the end the put-upon protagonists triumphed...they showed up all their bullies, they proved how talented and cool they were to everyone. And, I assumed, they'd have a much better life after that - oh, maybe the bullies wouldn't want to be their friends (but hell, I didn't want to be friends with the kids who had bullied me) but at least they'd be mostly left alone. And at any rate, in the kid world, I suspect Rudolph is the best-known and best-loved of the reindeer. (And among kids who have seen the particular special, Hermie is probably among the favorite elves....though Buddy the Elf from the recent movie also offers some strong points there).

But here's the thing: I don't see Rudolph as a victim. I didn't, not even as a little kid. Because instead of going crying to someone in authority who would listen to him and then squash those other reindeer like bugs, Rudolph decided to go off and do his own thing - he went off and had adventures. And along the way, he found friends. Granted, his friends were maybe a little weird, but honestly? The friends I had in grade school were all kids who were a little weird and were outcasts from the "populars" clique.

Personally, I think showing someone being bullied, but ultimately overcoming it (And not overcoming it by going ape and shooting up the North Pole or something...which is another stereotype of the bullied kid) is preferable to turning the bullied kid into a total victim, who has to bring the force of law down on the bullies to make them shut up - to essentially say, "We will have a dictatorial system where there will be NO BULLYING." Because I don't think that's possible or realistic: better to teach the kids to cope with the everyday sort of bullying, and reserve the punishment for the bullies who are unusually cruel or who are physically violent.

Apparently a therapist-sort has re-written the story somehow. I hope it's not pretending that Rudolph never was bullied: pretending that the uglier parts of life don't exist doesn't seem very helpful to kids. Nor, would I think, having Rudolph run to, I don't know, the Burl Ives Snowman Guy and tattle on the bullies seems very helpful.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Characters from literature you can't stand

Once in a while, you read a book, and there's a character who just gets on your last nerve. Either they're poorly-written (the author's fault, in that case), or the characterization the author has given them makes them SO annoying.

Right now I'm reading Bleak House. I'm probably 2/3 of the way through. But I get slowed down because I keep running into that damned Harold Skimpole. He's the guy who portrays himself as "a child, just a child" and who says he has "no sense of money" and "no sense of time."

(I suppose a modern apologist for Skimpole would diagnose him with some kind of disorder...well, fine, whatever. But he's thoroughly annoying. I admit my main reaction to him is a desire to kick him in the butt and tell him to grow up and pull his weight).

He is almost had up on the charge of not being able to pay his debts - so he winds up taking all the money that Esther Summerson and Richard Carstairs have in the world, to pay off his debtors. He sponges off EVERYBODY. Some people inexplicably find him "refreshing" and "entertaining" but I think most readers of the book (at least, the few people I know who have read it and whom I have asked) find him awful and annoying and someone you'd back away from if you knew him in real life. In some ways he comes off as perhaps a bit of a sociopath - the only person who exists for him, the only person who matters to him, is Harold Skimpole. He apparently feels NO SHAME at extracting 24 pounds (an enormous sum of money in those days) from two orphans.

Actually, when you think about him, he's actually kind of frightening - there's not really a conscience there, there's just this ego that says he deserves what he gets, he deserves his food and his lodging and he deserves not to work, simply because he does not really WANT to.

And the thing is: I've seen modern-day Skimpoles. I've read about them. People who seem to believe that they should be cared for, either by the government (a/k/a, the taxpayers) or by someone else, because they're entitled to it. Or they won't take a job they're offered because it seems below them, or because it requires getting up early in the morning. Or they won't take certain classes that they really need to graduate - and try to find ways around taking those classes - because they have heard those classes are "hard," or involve a lot of math, or something. They're the people complaining that their credit card debts should be discharged or their student loans forgiven, well, just BECAUSE. Because they want it and feel somehow they deserve it.

I think a big part of my disgust with Skimpole in the book is that the real-life Skimpoles annoy me so much...the people who tell me that I'm "good at" some thankless volunteer task, and so I should do it along with everything else I already do, while they do not lift a finger to do anything. The kind of person who, as I'm carrying sixty pounds of equipment down the hall to the lab, follows me and yammers at me about something I "need" to do, while I'm totally focused on not dropping the equipment or straining my muscles any more than they already are.

The Little Red Hen (a childhood hero of mine) would want to scratch out Skimpole's eyes.

I think my frustration with Skimpole is that it seems to me right now the world is full of his descendants, and there are every day people deciding that they should be more like him. And I recognize it's unreasonable and somewhat petty of me, but yes, I get extremely annoyed when I see people shirking responsibilities. I know its partly a sour-grapes thing on my part - there have been far too many days this fall when I've arrived on campus at 7 am, gone home with a stack of work at 5 pm, and either finished, or put up what I could do the next day, at 9 pm. And then to have people saying to me, "You need to..." while they seem to be doing little.

I'm actually kind of surprised at how visceral my reaction to the character is - I don't generally detest book characters. But I do detest Skimpole, and there's some other emotion there as well - almost, but not quite, a fear - a sense that he's such a creature of ego that a real-life Skimpole would not stop at ruining someone's life or even harming someone to get what he wanted.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Another little thought on leadership...

A long time back, I wrote about strong leaders (willing to stand behind decisions but also willing to admit when they were wrong) and weak leaders (want to push the blame onto others). I also think there are the "promotion" type of leaders and the "director" type of leaders. (This is based on something I heard being discussed on the radio early this morning.)

Some political leaders (sadly, increasingly few in our country, it seems) want to promote what is good for the country and the people - but then step back and let the people do their thing. There are laws, of course, but there aren't BAZILLIONS of laws designed to micro-manage everything. Natural consequences, in some cases, are allowed to happen: rather than being forbidden from doing something that might not be good for them, people simply have to decide whether they accept whatever the consequences may be. (For example: drinking lots of sugary soda is not good for you. However, rather than rationing how much sugary soda an individual could by, a promotion-type leader would allow the publication of research showing that lots of sugary soda isn't that good for you, and assume the people are smart enough to decide if they want to drink it or not, and how much).

Other leaders are the directorial type of leader, who want to tell people what to do, in detail. These are the micromanagey types. The ones who don't want anyone to be hurt or offended or feel like stuff is "unfair." So they straitjacket everyone with regulations so that people will be "safe."

You can probably guess what type of leader I prefer, and what type annoys me.

But it occurs to me - this is what the radio commentator was talking about - there are a lot of people who WANT a director-type leader. They WANT to be told what to do. They want the responsibility for their choices to be taken out of their hands.

And you know, I see that among a lot of the young people I teach. Rather than thinking for themselves, they want me to plan a project for them - or tell them the next step to do in lab - or warn them of every damn thing that could go wrong. (I shouldn't really have to tell someone, should I, that a lab hotplate gets hot when it's turned on?) And I wonder if there are just enough people who want to sink down and be mommied or daddied and be told what to do, that we wind up getting leaders who think it's a dandy idea to set draconian limits on the salt that can be in restaurant food, or tell us what kind of light bulbs we can buy, or, perhaps, in the future, tell us how much electricity we may use.

I dunno. I guess if a critical mass of people want that, fine. Become like the people in Wall-E who are coddled and cared for. I'll take early retirement from my job as soon as I can, go build a cabin somewhere in the mountains, live off the grid as much as possible, and do my best to ignore the dictates of people who think they have more horse sense than I do.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Adventure Time," you're creepin' me out...

I really liked Adventure Time (the cartoon) when it first started up. But lately, there have been a few things about it that I find...unsettling.

The most recent one is the "Jake's Croak Dream" episode: Jake has a dream in which he dies, and decides that it's his destiny to fulfill that dream in real life. Which just struck me as very dark and very sad. (And ends with Fin deciding that he can not leave Jake's side forever, since Jake died alone in the dream...and therefore, he can't die if Fin is beside him.)

Also, some of the backgrounds in the episodes (especially in the one about Marcelline's dreams) makes me wonder if rather than being set in kind of a never-never land, if this is actually some kind of weird, post-apocalyptic future where most of the world has been see ruins of skyscrapers and stuff in the backgrounds, and the technology that Fin and Jake have seems to be very cobbled-together, sort of "Mad Max" style.

Also, it's alluded to the fact that Fin is the "only" human. That he's never seen anyone like him, and apparently he never even knew his biological parents. (There's a possibility Susan Strong is a human....but now that her belowground city has been restored, I wonder if we'll see her again). In one episode Jake talks about the "great Mushroom war" or somesuch...and now I wonder if "mushroom cloud" was what was meant.

Or, I'm probably reading too much into this. (Curse you, high school English classes that made us analyze every 'text' we experienced). But it doesn't seem quite as sweet or as sunny as it did in the earlier episodes.

I think we need more Princess Bubblegum. There's been a recent lack of Princess Bubblegum....

Monday, November 28, 2011

Not shopping

I'm not a fan of the Black Friday hype. I think it's an idea whose time has gone - back in the days (days that maybe never existed), when people shopped for Christmas only after Thanksgiving - when stores like the Woolworth's and the downtown department stores opened their toy departments the day after Thanksgiving, when Christmas windows were revealed that made sense.

Now, it's mainly a showcase for the worst sort of uncivil, selfish behavior.

(HH has her own take on it here).

I went one year. There was something, I don't remember what, that my dad wanted to get. So it was hyped as "It'll be FUN. It'll be a family thing."

Um. No. No amount of free elf ears (that was one of the promotions early shoppers got) or free candy or discounts could make me do that again. And the shoppers in my parents' town were more civilized than the stuff you see on the television. It was just very crowded, and we wound up waiting a while outside in the cold wind, waiting for the store to open, and then there was shoving and long lines at the registers and I can't even remember if we got what we went for or if they were already sold out.

I watch with dismay, though, the people who trample other people, or knock them down and grab what they had, or, in one case this year, pepper spray other shoppers (Recruit that woman for the Davis police!). Is your humanity REALLY that cheap, that it can be bought for $50 off some television set? Do you REALLY need a $2 waffle-maker? (I manage to exist without a waffle-maker, somehow.)

I think part of this bad behavior is the fact that it seems a lot of people don't feel shame any more. They don't think there's anything so awful about being featured on the news for being nasty and unpleasant to their fellow humans. (Hell, some people may even get off on that kind of publicity).

Also, it makes me wonder: if someone's willing to knock down and perhaps trample another person over a video game, what will happen if there's ever a shortage of a genuine necessity, like food? Makes me shudder to contemplate. (And makes me grateful for my stored supply)

I see Black Friday deals meeting one of three fates. Only the first one do I think is a good result:

1. A critical mass of the populace says "Forget that noise" and stays home, and either cyber-shops or shops on other days. For me, it's not worth whatever discount on whatever hotly-desired item to deal with the crush of humanity. So the stores eventually decide it's not worth it, it's not worth the ill-will it generates, and give it up.

2. Enough of the trampled/elbowed/whatever shoppers decide to sue the retailers, whether they have grounds or not. It becomes enough of a nuisance that the stores decide it's not worth it.

3. The government decides Something Must Be Done! and bans Black Friday sales. Or bans discounts over a certain percentage. Or requires a lottery system for people to get in and get the stuff. Or something. And that would be the worst one, because once that camel's nose is under the tent...well.

I don't know, really, how bad the "bad" Black Friday behavior is. I'm sure part of it is that there's more publicity as a result of the 24 hour news cycle and the need, apparently, to show all the aspects of shocking human behavior that can be found. I do know I've been shoved, pushed, run into by people who can't look up from their cell phones, banged with shopping carts and all that at my local grocery during busy times, and it fills me with dismay...people don't "see" that the other people around them are people. It makes me wonder if we're just getting worse as a culture, and if it's going to culminate in a future where lots of people (like me) are afraid to shop at busy times because of what could happen.

Because, really: is a cheap television, or a difficult-to-find video game, or some super-discounted kitchen gadget REALLY worth it? Is it worth acting like an animal to save a few bucks? I know times are hard right now, but as I said: I survive without a waffle maker or video games and I have only one television in my house, and it's neither big-screen nor LCD.

Friday, November 18, 2011

"What are they teaching them in schools today?"

Something I've noticed with a lot of my students is that they don't seem to have a lot of mental flexibility (for lack of a better term).

For example, in one of my classes, I was teaching a dihybrid Mendelian cross. This is where you have two unlinked traits, you have to be able to figure out the combinations of offspring two parents could have. The most complex situation of this is double-heterozygotes, such as AaBb x AaBb. The main trick to this is figuring out the types of gametes each parent could make (in this case, AB, aB, Ab, and ab) and then properly recombining them.

So I worked out an example of the double-heterozygote for my lab students. And then turned them loose on the exercises, which include figuring it out for a DIFFERENT double heterozygote (same exact situation but different letters/different traits) and a double heterozygote crossed to a double recessive.

I was kind of startled at how many people shut down on the second problem...I thought I had emphasized that the "trick" to this is figuring out the types of gametes, and had gone through a couple examples, but the students couldn't look at an aabb individual and see that ab was the only type of gamete it could make.

What startled me even more - after showing the AaBa x AaBb example, and then the students having a RrTt x RrTt example in the book, how they COULD NOT TRANSLATE what they learned from the AaBb example to the EXACT SAME SITUATION WITH DIFFERENT LETTERS.

I see this a lot - knowledge seems to be very 'compartmentalized' - it's all cook-book, it's like some students are just learning to pull a certain combination of levers without thinking about what those levers do, and so if the levers change - even if it were a minor change - they're lost.

Now, I realize, people who become professors were atypical students, but I find this kind of attitude tough to deal with. Surely in everyday life you're met with new and different situations that are kind of like what you faced before, but also kind of different, and you learn to adapt to them?

I wonder if some of this...flailing...that some students do is a result of being taught to the test: that they're learning content, but not learning what to DO with that content. That they can solve the kinds of problems most likely to show up on a standardized test, but they're not taught that those problems are "templates" or guidelines for dealing with similar problems.

I don't know. Somedays I think what we should do is scrap public school 'as she is taught' and go back to the Trivium and the Quadrivium. (Logic, grammar, and rhetoric; arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.) Or something. I'm really amazed at how many of the students coming through my's like they're intellectually out-of-shape, they're not used to thinking hard about stuff, and instead of being like me after the holidays and going, "whoa, I got really pudgy, I probably better get back in training!" they complain about how "haaaard" everything is and shut down.

I DON'T think they're stupid. I don't even really think they're lazy. I just think the people who can't do this stuff (a small percentage, true, but they're enough of a drain on my energies that they seem like a lot) have never been faced with this kind of a challenge and they don't want to take it on. It's frustrating, because from where I stand, to succeed in med school or dental school or at need to be up to those kinds of challenges.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Okay, I'm done.

I have this one student. Let's call her Ophelia. Ophelia has spent the ENTIRE semester pissing and moaning about how HARD everything is, how much WORK everything is. She's VERY vocal and uses a tone of voice I interpret as borderline rude.

Well, she stops me before I start class today: "I don't understand the calculations from lab! I can't do the lab!"

So I sigh. And I say, okay, let me finish the chapter we're working on and I'll go over the calculations again for you and for anyone who needs them.

So I do that. Look out over the class. A number of students have their calculators out and are taking notes. Ophelia? She's talking with her boyfriend/the guy next to her she flirts with in class (I'm not sure which: I don't care to enter that much in the personal lives of students).

You know what? I'm done. If she gripes again that she can't do the lab calculations, I'm going to mention that I noticed she was talking with Fortinbras next to her during the entire time I was going over stuff, and that that's not cool. And I'm going to tell her (in more polite terms of course) that she can suck it, because I put myself behind in class FOR HER and she apparently couldn't be arsed to pay attention. So whatever.

Free will

I got to thinking about this, after hearing about some of the legislation that's being considered in various California cities: banning pet stores, to protect against "puppy mills" and large numbers of unwanted dogs and cats; banning the sale of fur clothing; the various 'dietary' measures (like banning trans fats).

And something struck me: If, like me, you believe in God, you also most likely believe that God gave us free will to make choices. We have a choice whether to love God or not, a choice whether to do right or do wrong.

And the government in some municipalities is trying to abridge that free will by legislating against particular behaviors they dislike.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going total-libertarian on this: I support laws against (among other things) murder, rape, child abuse, theft, assault, and a host of other things that directly harm another human. (I'm even OK with bans on smoking in government buildings. I tend to think bar/restaurant owners should be able to make the choice - just as their patrons should be able to make the choice whether to eat there or not - but if you're stuck in line at the DMV and you have asthma, it's not cool to be stuck behind a guy puffing on a stogie).

But it seems to me so many government employees want to justify their salaries (I assume) by micromanaging the lives of their constituents.

You know what? I probably wouldn't wear fur. While I don't have a problem with hunting (Most of the hunters I know are very concerned with getting humane quick kills), I have questions about raising animals in cages solely for their pelts. But that's me, that's my personal decision, and I would never wag a finger at a woman in a fur coat and tell her she was wrong. Most decisions carry a moral complexity that the nanny-staters like to ignore. For example: fur (and wool) is a renewable resource; synthetic fabrics are not. Nor will they biodegrade. (And cotton, the way it's traditionally grown, is hell on the environment.)

(And yes, I buy "cage free" eggs, though that's partly because I think they taste better, and yes, I can tell a difference. But they ARE more expensive and I realize that's a choice I can make because of my particular circumstances, and not everyone can choose that).

The thing that gets me is, with any of those legislatures who are wanting to ban salt or toy guns for children or whatever - if someone came forward with a proposal against extramarital sex, or requiring a counseling period before marriage, the legislators would throw up their hands and go, "You can't legislate morality! You can't tell people what to do with their lives!"

Um, yeah.

(Actually, I'm somewhat in favor of the idea of a counseling period/waiting period before marriage; I have seen too many people rush into it who take it very lightly. It's a serious thing. It SHOULD be a serious thing. It's a vow to another person, and, if you are at all religious, your God as well.)

But I don't know. If it was good enough for us for thousands of years to make our own moral decisions about what to eat, what to wear, how to spend our money, etc....why isn't it good enough any more?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wait, what? No, seriously, wait, what?

Ever have one of those days where you feel like you woke up in bearded-Spock world?

Here's the latest news story that made me go, "WTH, humanity, WTH?"

Parents buying chicken-pox-contaminated lollipops to avoid vaccinating their child.

Okay. I'm of the generation that dealt with chicken pox the old-fashioned way (my brother brought it home from kindergarten and I caught it - and yes, because I was some years older, I was really really sick with it). I'm not opposed to the vaccine, though now I see they're saying it doesn't grant lifelong immunity and kids will need boosters. (Having had the chicken pox seems to give stronger immunity, but it also gives one a risk of developing shingles later in life).

But here's the thing I don't get: "We think that vaccines are unsafe, so we're going to order a lollipop over the internet from a total stranger, and use that to infect our child." I'm a bit less skeeved out by the "pox parties" (a fad in some areas: when a kid comes down with chicken pox, you have a sleepover at their house, so your kids get it, too).

(At first I thought maybe it was that the vaccine manufacturer had decided to go to an oral vaccine - like how I was vaccinated against polio, back in the day - but that's not it at all. I have to admit I would support the idea of oral vaccines if they were as safe and effective as the jab-in-the-arm (or the butt) kind)

For one thing: Isn't sending an infectious disease through the US Mail illegal, not to mention, a really, really bad idea? What if there's a postal worker who's never had chicken pox, and they get exposed? And for that matter - what if the kid who licks the lolly to contaminate it has some other infection going on? And what's to stop some horrible creep from sending out lollies with, I don't know, Hep B or something on them?

I understand not wanting your kid to be a pincushion. (I hate shots myself). But I don't think this is a wise alternative.

Penn State, what the heck?

Okay. So, it looks like one of the assistant coaches at Penn State was caught molesting kids he was supposed to be helping (through a charity he set up). Someone sees it, goes to Joe Paterno. Paterno doesn't call the cops. The administrators who find out don't call the cops.

When the stuff hits the fan (This, kids, is another reason to tell the truth and do what's right: if you try to cover crap up, it starts to smell after a while), Paterno says he's retiring. Then the regents fire him.

Then the campus goes nuts. Students are "rioting" (as they said on the radio here, though the rioting looks more like property damage than anything - I think of rioting as being more violent towards people, but still - if they figure out who damaged property, they should at a minimum be made to pay for it).

This tells me two things:

First, football has become far, far too important on college campuses. Look, the former defensive coordinator was DIDDLING KIDS. I know people who think that should be a capital offense - as in, you go to Old Sparky, too bad, so sad, you should have thought of it when you had those unnatural urges.

I tend to think that Paterno SHOULD be out for not having said anything. While I don't know that there would be a way to deal with this without it coming out big and bad in the press (and maybe the public humiliation will cause other programs to examine what's going on that might not be above-board), Paterno and all the others involved should have called the cops the first they knew of the situation. I don't have any heartbreak over the administrators who apparently tried to cover it up being fired. Anyone implicated in the cover-up should be fired.

Because, isn't it true, that you're complicit in a crime if you see it being committed, and you do nothing to stop it? Isn't there such a thing as accessory-after-the-fact.

Part of my strong reaction to this is that I consider child molestation to be one of the worst, if not THE worst crime, a person can commit. Because what they have done is destroyed a young person's trust, stolen their innocence, and set that child on a path that they - and those who are going to try to help them - will have to work VERY hard to correct. (These were ten year old boys. I am not sure how I'd feel if they were 18 year old new football recruits. I'd still be disgusted, I'd still think the defensive coordinator should be fired and do jail time (if it could be proven the encounters were non-consensual))

But my second thought on this is disgust at the students who rioted. For one thing, it makes me wonder if they care more about their football program than the lives of the kids that Sandusky harmed. (And I think, from all I've heard, it's pretty cut-and-dried that YES it was him and YES he did what he is accused of). And for another: if you disagree with a decision your university makes, you do NOT protest that by destroying property.

This just reminds me of how some 18-22 year olds really aren't entirely in their right minds - or at least aren't part of the time. This is kind of like some of the hangers-on at OWS...they're not thinking through the consequences, they're kind of turned on by the idea that they're DOING something to stick it to the man.

If you're really angered by the regents' decision, here are some ideas:

1. Withdraw and attend a different school.
2. Contact alumni donors and explain your frustration, it might sway them to change their donation (And trust me - large donors pissed off at the regents' actions can cause stuff to happen)
3. Write letters
5. Refuse to support the football program in the future.

BUT: and this is where I part company with those students who are angry at the regents - remember that there were kids harmed in this situation. I know, I know: Joe Paterno has been head coach for longer than I've even been alive. I know, he's an institution on campus. But he screwed up. Yes, maybe he's being made a scapegoat - but there are also administrators leaving under a cloud. There should be consequences. I don't know that his actions necessarily justified firing but I'm amazed he didn't think it right to call the cops then and there, and try to get Sandusky out of the program then.

The more I see of the "industry" of collegiate football, the more I question it. I think it's gone from an entertaining auxiliary that brings in money to the school, to, on some campuses, something that even eclipses the university's real reason for existence - the academics.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

An open question to those who teach:

Have you ever wanted to drag a student aside after class and say, "If you hate this subject so much, if you find all the exercises so tedious and boring, why are you majoring in this subject?"

I have someone like that this semester. EVERYTHING is awful, EVERYTHING is an effort. The person does not *seem* depressed (I am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt). They try to con other people into the class into doing their work/collecting their lab data. And they act as if being an undergraduate is THE HARDEST THING **EVER**.

I've had a rough couple of weeks - mostly outside-work life-issues and health stuff - and so I'm not exactly sympathetic to someone who lives in the dorm, eats in the cafeteria, and is taking 12 credit hours feeling like they're the most put-upon person ever.

Snapping back....

The Memebase site (one of the I Can Has Cheezburger sites, and yes, I love many of those sites dearly), has a running gag about "Terrible Teacher" (It's actually more aimed at grade-school teachers, and actually, yes, I had teachers who did a few of those things...)

Anyway, I was thinking that "Snotty Student" could be the reverse side of this. Just a few ideas:

"Shows up to class 20 minutes late; complains about missing announcements at start of class."

"Shows up to class 10 minutes after everyone has finished quiz; demands to take quiz anyway"

"Has 6 weeks to write research paper; calls night before it is due to say they don't understand the assignment and can't do it" (This one actually happened to me)

"Six grandmothers died in one semester"

"Needs excused absence for Friday's class: says favorite band 'in the whole world' is playing"

"Skips class; stands in line for new videogame release"

"Ignores announcement about proper clothing for field lab; complains about fire ants getting into their flip-flops"

"Spills soda on desk; leaves mess for custodian"

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

It's ugly

I think the continued poor economy is affecting people badly. It seems lately I've seen more rude, awful, pushy and even dangerous behavior - both in stores and on the road.

I had to run to the grocery store this afternoon for some supplies for feeding my women's group this week. The store had marked down all the leftover halloween candy and had it set out in carts near the checkout line. People were pushing and shoving to get to the candy. I don't know if it's just the "bargain" mentality kicking in, or if people are buying into the news about shortages of things like peanuts and coffee and chocolates, or what. I also saw some rude behavior in the "regular food" aisles.

And I got behind my first "extreme couponer." I should have been tipped off when the woman behind her (herself with a full cart) pulled out and left, but I didn't, and got in the "shorter" line.

(To my credit, I didn't get angry, didn't say anything. I just stood there and told myself that (a) you chose this line and (b) you don't really have to be anywhere for a while, so while it's annoying to wait, you can wait).

I do think that if that sort of extreme couponing becomes a bigger trend, it might be nice to have lanes for "people without coupons" or for them to more closely police the "20 items or fewer" lanes, and really ask the people with a full cart to leave that lane free for the people with just a few items. (If they asked it that way - in the sense of "Please leave this lane open as a convenience to people who only have a few items and are in a hurry" that might work better than "No, you cannot bring more than 20 items through." Though, I don't know. Someone with a real entitlement mentality might not care about the other people.)

I don't know. It just makes me sad and tired to be out among the general public these days - it seems there's so much bad behavior. Recently, driving through a construction zone where you have to merge down to one lane, I guess I wasn't moving fast enough for the guy behind me, because he pulled out, ran down to the merge-point, and then very pointedly cut me off. (I was trying to leave a car-length between me and the car ahead, just for safety reasons). I hit my horn and shook a finger (my INDEX finger - the finger you wag at a small child when they misbehave - not that OTHER finger) at him, but really, what's the point? Someone who thinks that's okay probably thought it was funny it ticked me off.

I don't know. The funny thing is, my response to seeing bad behavior is to (generally) try to be nicer myself - to let people pull out of parking lots if I'm out on the street and they're trying to get out (ESPECIALLY if I'm at a stoplight where stopping and hanging back a car-length to let them out makes no difference in my travel time), stuff like that. Or being as polite as possible to cashiers after the previous person unloaded on them. (Hint to the complainers: the cashiers are not the cause of the inflation in food prices.) Like, I think maybe I can try to undo some of the rudeness by being extra nice. I don't know.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"College should be free"

Apparently this is something some of the OWS protestors are asking for.

I have a couple of problems with the concept; one is a practical problem, the other is a more philosophical problem.

I don't deny that college has become expensive. And for a lot of jobs where you once could be hired with a high-school diploma, you now need a B.A., or even in some cases, an M.A. And that's a problem.

I've already commented before on why I think college has gotten so expensive; I think it's mainly a combo platter of growing administrations (in some cases, because of added accounting or assessment type duties, or added student services; in other cases, there does seem to be mindset that "more administrators is better"), decreased state funding for public schools (not necessarily a bad thing, perhaps, in these days of strapped state budgets, but you do have to ask students and parents to shoulder more of the costs), and a desire for the newest, fanciest, and latest - I've seen new dorms where the dorm rooms/suites were far nicer than any apartment I ever lived in.

And yeah, we do need to ensure that college is at least somewhat affordable for people who want to go - a big part of the American dream is that people can have upward mobility if they work for it. The kid who grew up in a working-class family can become a surgeon if he or she works hard, earns good grades (and has an aptitude for science - and the dexterity required of a surgeon). And it makes me sad to think of people being closed out of that.

(I will say, my small university? We STRIVE to be affordable. And I consider it important to give my students the best education I can - I'm not giving them the "$5 education" whereas if I were at Harvard or somewhere I'd give them the "$20 version," I try hard to teach the students what they need to know regardless of whether they're trying for med school, want to go to grad school, or are taking college classes with no ambition greater than working at the local casino)

But I have two (maybe really three) problems with the idea of college education being "free" - which would really mean the taxpayers pay for it.

First of all: it costs money to keep a school open. You have to pay the electrical providers, the Internet providers. You have to buy books for the library. And you have to pay your faculty. (I mentioned before: I'm close to the top of the "food chain" of faculty, and I make $60K a year. Which I think is a good income, but I do not think it lavish or excessive.)

If the state paid for EVERYTHING, corners would have to be cut. Already, because of cuts in state funding, our library cannot afford everything it could ideally have. And we've got some serious "deferred maintenance" issues on campus. I can imagine in a fully state-run university, they'd have to cut faculty salaries...and then, if the salaries got low enough, you would not be able to get or keep quality people, at least in most fields. (If it came down to me, for example, being told, "You will make $25K a year, or find another job," I'd probably wind up (sadly) leaving academia. I suspect my skills and native intelligence could land me a better paying job in some other field.)

So that's the practical issue. (There's also the political issue that I don't think the state should pay 100% of a thing like that.)

But there's also a philosophical issue. My father remarked that he read the Communist Manifesto and other similar books when in college - and that "communism is beautiful on paper but ugly when people get involved." By that, he meant, in a perfect world, socialism or communism would work. (And in some limited situations - like some religious orders - a sort of communal property-held-in-common lifestyle DOES more ore less work.). But in the larger world, it doesn't. Because people tend to be selfish. And some people believe that "some pigs should be more equal than others."

But also, as he pointed out: property that no one owns, no one tends to keep up. Because no one has an investment in it. (There's also an essay out there called The Tragedy of the Commons. It's not quite the same idea, but it's similar).

If you have insufficient investment in something, you don't care about it.

And so, I'm afraid that if students were going to college for "100% free," there would be a critical mass of students who would not value their educations...who would slack off, and party, and not do anything. (Because if college was free, there might also be full employment for adults, courtesy of the government. And if there's no competition for anything - there's really little incentive to be excellent.)

Even now, I can see some students who are on loan money who don't try as hard as the people who are working their way through (or who earned good scholarships for which they must keep a certain GPA). (I've also heard students claim they're just going to default on their loans, because "Who will come after me?" Oh, my dear children, oh....)

If we make college free, people won't value it. (But I agree that neither should it be so expensive that only the very wealthy or connected can afford it).

And as I've said before: we need to promote non-college paths into the workforce for people who don't WANT to become doctors or engineers or nurses or researchers or professors or lawyers. We need to encourage the skilled trades - I know that there are some employers who cannot find qualified people for skilled-trade type jobs, currently.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Don't think I'll be watching

One of the kids' tv networks (The Hub) has given Warren Buffett his own cartoon.

You read that right. Warren Buffett as a cartoon character. The show is apparently one of those overtly-educational cartoons, aimed at teaching kids about earning money.

(My immediate reaction: Mr. Buffett, are you also going to teach them about taxes, that anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 what they earn will go to the government? After all, seeing as you now have a tax plan named after you...)

Aside from the fact that I just find the idea of a cartoonized Warren Buffett faintly creepy, I also find those kinds of overtly-educational cartoons NOT entertaining. (Remember "Captain Planet?"). I suppose they play a role but I remember hating those kinds of things even when I was a kid. Though I could be wrong about this one, and I hope I am. Maybe what kids need is some show promoting earning money and being smart about it, instead of just the endless "gimme gimme gimme" that some kids seem to learn.

But I hope they're not too heavy-handed about it. Because the heavy-handed shows can be just awful.

There are some cartoons - Phineas and Ferb does this a lot - that sneak in snippets of educational stuff, like vocabulary words ("Aglet") or little historical facts. Or some shows aimed at younger kids take a problem-solving theme and try to teach some moral lessons, like don't immediately reject someone who's different from you. And as long as those aren't done in a heavy-handed way (and in Phineas and Ferb, there's almost a winking, "hey, kids, here's the daily dose of education" humor about it), the cartoon can still be entertaining.

Although, I don't know...maybe there is a precedent for teaching kids about money and investing via cartoons; I remember an old Looney Tunes cartoon where Sylvester came into a lot of money, and Elmer Fudd (I think it was Elmer) taught him about how investing it being better than spending it, because it generally improved the country by allowing businesses to grow and new products to be made.

Though, I don't know, looking at some of the statements I've received lately from TIAA-CREF and my IRA, I'm beginning to think maybe spending more and investing less is the way to go right now. Because that iPad or whatever might drop steeply in value when I walk out the door of the store, but at least I still HAVE something for my money, instead of just shares of some company that may or may not increase.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Something strange in lab that bothered me.

I do a tree-identification lab with one of my classes. We did it today. What I plan for the lab is this: I get out herbarium sheets (dried, mounted specimens of leaves and twigs), set them out, give the students some guidelines of characteristics to look for. After they've spent a while examining and drawing and writing descriptions of the specimens, I take them out on campus and show them what live trees I can (the ones we have representatives of on campus; not all of the trees they need to learn are planted right on campus).

This year, something new: several student whipped out their cell phones and began photographing the specimens rather than looking at them, drawing them, etc.

I didn't make too much of a fuss - after all, we're all told "PEOPLE LEARN DIFFERENTLY" but I have a feeling these students won't know the trees as well as the people who went slowly around the room, sketching each leaf, writing down details and characteristics of it.

And one thing I tried to convey when we were out on campus was that you often need to use multiple senses to identify something. Yes, I can identify most trees on sight - looking at the growth-form, the leaves, in some cases the bark - but I also like to feel the leaves of some species (there are a few that you can tell closely related species apart by the fact that, for example, one has hair on both sides of the leaf and the other only has it underneath). Or that some species feel especially waxy. And in some cases, you can use smell - my "verification character" for one of the cherries is to scratch a bit of the bark and smell for bitter almonds - because they make a cyanide compound in the bark.

(In a way, it's like being an old-timey ME or crime-scene investigator: you have to consider everything. You have to smell stuff, feel stuff.)

A few people halfheartedly photographed the trees in the field.

Part of me wonders: in the future, when there are "apps" for everything - tree identification, bird identification - where does that leave those of us who learned it the old-fashioned way? I admit the idea that everything can be called up on the cell phone makes me a little sad; I have put in many hours learning my trees and herbaceous plants, and I used to pride myself on how well I knew stuff and how fast I could identify things. Is an electronic brain going to replace the human brain?

But on the other hand, I think of my Grasses of North America professor, who would bring four or five species into the lab each week and then FORCE us to spend fifteen minutes looking at and drawing each one. "You should spend more time looking at it than you do drawing it" he'd say. Meaning - look at the details, pay attention to the characters, learn what's important.

One thing that worries be about the too-easy "e-learning" is that maybe people aren't stopping to look for what's important - that they get information overload and learn things in a very superficial way, but never plumb the greater depths.

I used to annoy some of my labmates in grad school when I knew a plant really well and could identify it fast. They'd ask me "How do you know?" and I'd sort of shrug and go "Gestalt". But that's true - that's how I'd do it. I'd have looked at the plant so many times that I developed a mental image of it, and I knew what characters to look for without even thinking about it. (I also have an excellent visual memory, I've found).

But I do wonder sometimes if by making things seem fast and easy - like taking a cell-phone photo of plants you're supposed to learn to identify - if people aren't somehow short-circuiting real learning.

I don't know.

It does make me sad that maybe my way of learning stuff - the time-consuming, slow, but ultimately rewarding and satisfying way - may seem outmoded now.

But we'll see - I made a mental note of who used the "slow methods" and who snapped pictures and scrammed. In a couple weeks I take them out in the field and it will be interesting to me to see if there's a difference in the knowledge levels and memory. I suspect there will be, but I don't know for sure.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

laughing at work.

The SOP when something goes wrong with classroom technology is to report it to our chair, and then ask the secretary (who has the real power) to call whoever-it-is- who is to fix it.

Well, one of our projectors started going wonky. I told the chair, she groaned and said, "That probably means the bulb is starting to go. Have J. call computer services, but it seems like they order one bulb at a time, and it takes two weeks to get here."

I immediately thought of a movie line. (This is rare; I am not like Tony DiNozzo by a long shot).

"Well, ain't this place a geographical oddity," I quipped. "Two weeks from everywhere."

She laughed ruefully - I am sure she got the allusion. But that's one thing I like about where I work - that you can make jokes and people are more than likely going to laugh. Some college campuses, seriously, they look at you suspiciously and go, "What do you mean by THAT?" (possibly calculating how you offended them) or they think you aren't taking things seriously enough.

And one thing I've found is, when I lose my ability to laugh at stuff (which has happened over the last few months, largely because of the state of the world), I do get kind of miserable. And it's like I lose some of my creativity and problem-solving ability. So it's welcome to me to see my ability to laugh at stuff - especially the stupid stuff (like having to wait two weeks for a crazy projector bulb) come back.

Also, in my department, I think we're able to laugh a lot together because the problems we face tend mostly to be external to the department - funding problems, or helicopter parents, or administrators who don't totally understand that science classes cannot be taught the same way as English classes or Business classes. And that helps to make us a cohesive unit, whereas some departments have factions that fight amongst themselves, and that's just ugly and sad. One thing I'm tremendously grateful for - and which means I would have to have an extremely enticing offer elsewhere to want to leave - is that we all mostly get along. We have some differences of opinion, we all have personality quirks that can be annoying - but they're all things we can live with. And having a pleasant workplace (in my mind at least) trumps higher compensation but dealing with miserable human beings.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Makes me sad

This just shows me how broken people can be, and how envy/selfishness can destroy the lives of innocent bystanders.

I'm talking about the news story about that man in California. He was engaged in an ugly custody battle over his son with his ex-wife. So he went to the salon where his wife worked and killed her.

And a bunch of other people.

And so now there's not just one family grieving, but many. There are people all through a community whose sense of security and "I can go and do stuff and be reasonably sure I won't die randomly when I'm out doing it" have been shattered.

And worst of all, there's a kid who now has NO parents. His mom's dead, his dad's surely bound for life in prison. (And even at that, if I were a judge? The dad would NEVER get custody of the kid now).

I just hope and pray there's someone - a grandparent, an aunt-and-uncle, a close family friend - who can adopt this child and help him begin to heal from what he's experienced.

I used to watch Joan of Arcadia back when it was on television. I remember one of the comments made on the show (I think it had something to do with Joan's boyfriend's mother dying) that everything you do has ripples...and those ripples go outward in ways that are good or bad, and they affect other people you might never even thought they would effect. And I remember Adam (Joan's boyfriend) saying something to the effect that he hoped the ripples he made were "good ripples."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

thought of the day

Just because envy is currently more fashionable/more acceptable than greed, doesn't make it any less ugly than greed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What I should have said.

I gave an exam in one of my classes this week. One of the students - this is the person I talked about before who shut down when they couldn't quickly find the lab in the lab manual and accused me of not putting it in - claimed that she didn't like my exams because they were "too hard."

That led to a little eruption of griping - I needed to give more detailed review guides (oh, my children. Let me tell you a tale, back in the Pleistocene when I went to college...there were NO review guides. And there was no WebCT where you could look up class notes. No, my children, you were entirely on your own. And some of the professors were even mean! And some only had 2 hours of office hours all week and were never in outside of office hours!)

So anyway. I let them gripe and listened, partly because there's always the off-chance there's a genuine grievance in there I need to address, but also partly because I figured they needed to let off steam before the test.

(As for the "too hard" - this is a class that earned like a 72% average on the first exam. I don't think the exams are too hard).

Another person griped that "You expect a lot of us. This is a hard class."

Well, yes, I acknowledged. This is a class with a lot of challenging material and I understand that.

What I didn't say, but perhaps should have, is this:

"Yes, I expect a lot of you. But I expect a lot of you because I believe you can do these things. I think that if you work hard and apply yourself a little, you can learn this material. I have students coming back from their grad-school programs thanking me for being tough, because they are finding they are well-prepared.

If I didn't expect a lot of you - if I made the class a giant easy A, you should be insulted. Because what I'd be saying with that is, 'I don't believe you can work up to high standards, so I'll just pat you on the head and move you along.'"

I didn't say it, partly because I felt there wasn't time (and some of those things might have been a little harsh), but also because we've become so "student centered" that I could see someone taking it the wrong way and going to the dean. (And I really want to avoid our current dean as much as possible. Our current dean is a super-micro-manager who will make your life kind of miserable if they think there is a problem with how you "interact" with the students).

But it's true: from what I've seen of these students in class and in lab, they are ALL smart enough to handle the material. Some of them may not WANT to work as hard as it would ideally require, but they're all smart enough.

Another observation: A lot of this class is med-school-bound. If they think *I* cover a lot of material and expect "too much," then they have a big, bad surprise waiting for them.

"Do the hard things," kids. Anything worth doing in this life takes effort.

Sunday, October 09, 2011


A friend of mine is having problems with her son being bullied. He's mildly ADHD, so he's a "weird" kid in the eyes of a lot of of the other kids. And he gets set off really easily - she's working with him on his temper, but it's slow going.

The aggravating thing is that the school is blaming him. "If he just didn't get upset, if he didn't push back, those other kids wouldn't bully him."

While I tend to come down on the side of "teach your kids to be tough, because there are people who will try to bully them all through life," I think there's also a point that adults need to step in and be the adults.

Blaming the kid for getting upset when other kids harass him seems wrong.

Other kids will ALWAYS cut the "weird" kid out of the herd and harass them. I didn't have anger issues when I was a kid, but I cried easily. So guess what some of the other kids' favorite sport was? Making me cry. Saying mean or rude or nasty things to me, doing stuff like excluding me, anything they would think would set them off. Sometimes the teachers saw and did something (though some well-meaning but ham-fisted ways that teachers stepped in made stuff worse, actually), sometimes they didn't.

What was the lesson I learned? Don't trust your peers. Ever. I can't quite unlearn that lesson. So, thanks a lot, stinky little bully kids. Probably part of the reason I never dated much, part of the reason I remained single was that every time I worked up the courage to begin thinking of asking a guy out, I immediately imagined him laughing at me, or saying some cutting remark that would make him look "big" to his friends - and so I decided no, being alone is not worse than that.

It must really be awful to be a kid today, even with all the lip service given to "ending bullying" - I am sure at a lot of schools "bullying" has gone underground but is still there. And cyberbullying - harassing kids over the Internet - you couldn't get away from that, the way I could go home on Friday afternoons and be bullying-free until Monday morning.

Frankly, I roll my eyes when any sentimental adult talks about how "angelic" kids are and how some of them seem to have a direct line to God and stuff. Because it seems more to me that a lot of kids seem to have a direct line to The Other Guy. Which is why teaching them to be civilized, to understand that other people have feelings and get hurt and all of that is so important. (And sadly, I've seen a few kids lately who don't seem to be learning that lesson).

This is just another way in which people frustrate me.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

I can't read any more.

I can't read any more/listen to any more on the "Occupy Whereever" movement.

It makes me too sad. And frankly, too scared: There are people (a small number, I am sure, but still) calling for things like "kill the rich."

It's all fine the people who are laughing at the clueless 20 year olds in the crowd who are protesting mainly because they think it's cool - but I think we make too much fun of the movement at our collective peril. There are, I think, a small number of well-organized, persuasive, potentially violent people that are in the movement - that could sway some of the weak-minded people over to their side.

Already some in NY government have allegedly received threatening e-mails over a surtax on millionaires. (And when I heard this on the news, my first thought is: Are these being investigated for what they are, terroristic threats? I haven't heard if they are but I damn well hope so - if my 75 year old dad has to be patted down and take of his shoes in the airport, and carry a special letter from his doctor warning that his fake knee will trigger the scanners - then they damn well better look for the people saying, "Kill the rich" and threatening to firebomb restaurants.

(Of course, it's possible - though I'm not sure even a NY politician would be this slimy - that they're faked up, as a reason for the tax hike to be pushed through. "Look, we were threatened. You don't want violence in the streets, do you?")

The other thing - as someone was saying on the radio this morning - it's the millionaires and other taxpayers who are providing the DSC services in the occupied parks. And it's going to be city workers who pick up all the (literal, in some cases) crap after these. (That really frosts me - for all the talk of being in favor of "the little guy," the protestors don't seem to care about the city workers who have to clean up after them.).

(Sometimes I wonder if this will lead to Atlas shrugging....and then we'll see just how well we get along without "the evil rich." I know if I had lots of money, at this point I'd be seriously considering retiring to a small ranch or farm somewhere and, I don't know, raising lavender or boarding people's horses for a minimal cost over operating expenses and just doing what I want to do and saying "screw it" to the idea of trying to make lots more money)

As much as I've bitched in the past about living in a small, comparatively remote I'm grateful. And I'm grateful I have cop neighbors. And I'm grateful there are as many armed and well-trained people in my town. Because we MAY be seeing an armed insurrection at some point. And I'm grateful I have former-military students who I bet would have my back in some kind of really ugly situation.

damn, I'm glad I have all that stored food. If "occupy Wall Street" turns into "occupy Wal Mart" and people have to cross screaming protestors to get their damn groceries....And I'm glad I have so many books and craft supplies stashed away; if it comes down to us all having to wall ourselves off for a while while things get very ugly.

I don't know. I've said for four or five years that I think we're headed for a new civil war in this country - or are perhaps in a "cold" civil war. I really don't want to see that. But I fear it will happen.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Takes one to know one, I guess

Michael Moore: "The rich are kleptomaniacs and sociopaths."

Takes one to know one, I guess.

He's calling for caps on Wall Street salaries and the salaries of rich businessmen. Why not also cap salaries of entertainers, while we're at it?

What I totally don't get is why is a wealthy businessperson - who probably creates meaningful jobs for a lot of people - is evil, but some entertainer making just as much money, and who probably mainly creates jobs for hangers-on, isn't.

I'm not saying entertainers are evil, I'm just saying it makes no sense to me to vilify one group for making a lot of money and remain silent about others.

I don't know. This is ugly and will get uglier. I hate to say it but I'm glad my annual salary is about $60K: that's enough for me to be comfortable on but probably low enough that I can continue to fly under the radar of the haters.

I really, really hope we're not heading to some kind of Dr. Zhivago future where people with big houses are expected to warehouse many families for "the party," and where those who have education and have worked and earned a lot are considered potential enemies. I've heard some news clips of people actually suggesting violence (Rosanne Barr and her "beheading" quip, for example) and I admit I'm beginning to get a bit scared.

I can see the "kill 'em and take their stuff" idea growing like a cancer among some groups of people, aided and abetted by the frankly irresponsible comments of has-been entertainers...time for the honest folks to think about locking and loading, I guess.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The protestors

I have to admit, I'm sure part of this is filtered through my own feelings/experience. But I'm frustrated at the protestors and the news coverage of them.

Granted, I'm the kind of person who, if I see something I think is wrong and unjust, I'm more likely to say to myself, "Okay, what can I do to work towards fixing this" rather than "Gee, I should go and complain about it to someone." For example, if affordable housing were a big problem in my town, and I had the time and the passion, I'd join or start a Habitat for Humanity chapter*

(*And yes, I know some people have objections to some of their practices/people who were in charge/etc./etc. but I've seen some of the work they do and at the grassroots level it can be very helpful to people)

There are actually many groups in my town aimed at dealing with hunger, poverty, illiteracy, lack of job training, you name it - all groups of people, largely volunteer, who saw a problem and said, "What can I do to help fix it?" Most of these folks fly under the radar - they don't seem to want to draw much attention to themselves - but they do a lot of good work.

And that's why the people sitting on Wall Street frustrate me. Yes, there's injustice and unfairness in things (just look at BoA deciding to charge $5 a month for the privilege of a debit card - thanks, Dodd-Frank), but sitting around and complaining won't do much. (Hell, these days, writing to your Representative apparently doesn't do much, either).

I also got a distinct sense of entitlement, and possibly also privilege, off of the protestors interviewed. Several of them spoke with the undercurrent of "I want the rich people to give me stuff so I can do what I want." One guy wondered aloud why pot hadn't been legalized yet. (FWIW: I wouldn't have a huge problem with decriminalization, but it seems a lot of chronic pot-smokers don't exactly achieve a lot in life...). Several said they wanted to dismantle capitalism, but when asked, had no alternative, other than a "more just" system.

(Heh. I watched "Dr. Zhivago" on TCM this weekend...I'm now thinking of the scene when his family's home is taken over by the Bolsheviks (? I think - it was one of the "people's" groups) and 14 families installed in it - the place running to rack and ruin, presumably because no one could be arsed to take care of anything, because it wasn't their property - and Zhivago bitterly commented it was a "more just" system (ironically and bitterly - said mainly to appease the dour Party Leaders that were in charge).)

I wonder, would these folks REALLY like an old-time agrarian system, where if you don't work, you don't eat? Where there aren't thinks like iPads to be had, and Facebook doesn't exist because Mark Zuckerberg is too busy trying to keep his widowed mother alive on what grain he can grow?

(And I have to admit, I roll my eyes at everyone who talks about "evil corporations" while Googling something on their iPhone...)

I think really what a lot of the protestors think is that they're a special class who shouldn't have to work - not like those evil rich people who should work and should support them.

I don't know. I work for a living. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy my work, I feel like I'm useful to society and I'm doing something that helps people. And I enjoy getting my paycheck so I can pay my bills and go grocery shopping and maybe buy some books to read. And it irritates me to see someone who's apparently intelligent and able-bodied saying what sounds to me like, "I shouldn't have to work for a living because I don't want to." That they expect the rest of us to support them, just, well, because.

This is why I think stories like "The Little Red Hen" should be required in all grade schools. And parents should tell them to their kids. And work - whatever it is - should be seen as valuable and perhaps even noble, and that sitting around on your butt is not a desirable alternative.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Some teaching stuff

I've been fairly quiet on the teaching-discussion front this fall. I've been crazy busy (new preps are a lot of work, and the stats class I teach can be intellectually exhausting), but things have been pretty good. Dare I say it, lest I jinx myself? But I seem to be having a special-snowflake-free semester.

And a couple good things have happened. I got an e-mail from a former student who is now in grad school. He was thanking me for the background I gave him in the stats class, because "A lot of my friends from other schools are struggling with the intro-level graduate course in stats and I'm not." Now, granted, he was a good student - and I'm sure that helped. But it made me smile because I remember him bitching about some of the things I required them to do in that class. (I've had that experience myself as a student: had a "hard" teacher that I bitched about and even didn't like that much, and then later on, when I got to a higher-level class, I was all "WHOA. They were a really good teacher, they taught me so much.")

I also have an ecology student who is in the "capstone" senior class. (This is a catchall type class on things like Appropriate Interview Behavior and where they do assessment testing). They've been doing the assessment testing right now, and she has the class right before she has been coming into lab and saying, "You know that thing you talked about in class? It was on the test we took today!" (In fact, this last week, she commented: "That stuff about the competition in the barnacles you talked about this morning? It was ON THE TEST! So I know I got that right!" The thing is - I've never seen these assessment tests. They are the carefully-guarded "nationally normed" tests that are given with Fort-Knox-like security. So I cannot be accused of "teaching to the test." But it makes me feel good that the things I have decided are significant to teach the students are also things the ETS and other groups have decided are significant.

And finally, I am teaching an intro majors class. This is the first time - usually I get the non-majors survey class for that slot. Oh, my gosh, is there a difference in dedication between majors and non-majors. Oh, my gosh, is there a difference in the level of POLITENESS. I suppose for the majors they realize, "I'm going to see this prof again, I better show them some respect" and for the non-majors it's all "Pah, I'm never going to have this person for a class again, so what does it matter?"

I also teach a section of the lab for the majors intro class and you know? It's a joy to see the students progressing. We've gone in a few weeks from students who were afraid of graphing, who needed to be reminded what the independent and dependent variables were and which axis you used, to those same students looking at their data and going, "Oh, I need to graph this, okay, this thing is the independent variable and this other thing is the dependent variable" and doing the graph like it's no big deal. (Oh, granted, there are still some students who struggle with stuff - but in general, people's confidence level has really increased, their comfort with the material has really increased, and it's cheering to see that.)

So it's turning out to be a busy but good semester.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Crying? There's no crying in the news!"

Or at least, that's what I wish.

I was busy working on something last night. The local news ended and the network (CBS, I think) news came on.

And they were talking about how some California school districts were having to consolidate, and how Everyone Is Sad About That.

They interviewed a teacher who expressed fear that students would "fall through the cracks" in her class, now that she was 30 students.

They interviewed a little girl who was disappointed to be in such a crowded class. She said "Kids talk and I can't hear the teacher." (Okay, honey: here's a lesson in being a squeaky wheel. Bitch at the kids about being noisy. Bitch to the teacher that she's not shutting up the kids. Frankly, I'd like to see more cases of teachers being able to throw disruptive kids out of their class).

And they interviewed a little boy. Who started to cry. That's when I groaned and hunted down the clicker to change channels. Yup, he was crying. Why? Because he had to leave his old school, and apparently, all his friends went to different schools now and oh, how sad it was.

And this is what drives me NUTS about how these kinds of narratives are presented. Find the crying kid. Or the scared senior who thinks she's going to be eating cat food to survive. Or whatever.

And you know? We're just in a damn bad time now. I wouldn't be at all surprised if 40 years hence they refer to this as the Little Depression, or even the Second Great Depression. Cuts are gonna have to be made. People will be sad.

Hell, if the narrative went the other way, they could find a mom who was sad because she wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom with her kids, but because of the current tax-and-inflation situation, both she and her husband have to work full time to make ends me. Or someone like me, who is frankly kind of depressed because of how ugly the future looks: I don't anticipate having a comfortable retirement like my parents are, DESPITE having $700 of every paycheck put in a TIAA-CREF plan, DESPITE scraping together $4K a year to put in my Roth, DESPITE paying into my state teacher's retirement - I don't believe any of that is going to be there in 30 years, or if it is, it will be so diminished by inflation that I will probably spend my 'golden years' working as a greeter at whatever the 2040 version of Wal-mart is. And that makes me sad and frustrated and angry.

The thing that enrages me about putting a crying kid on the news is how exploitative it is - not just of the kid but of the feelings of everyone watching. I hate being told how to feel about something, and that's precisely what the news is doing. (Which is why, except for situations like this one - where the news came on while I was busy doing something else - I get all of my national/world news these days from reading it seems less pornographic that way.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sometimes you have to laugh

There's just so much news out there that makes me so tired. (Politics makes me want to throw up right now).

But sometimes I can still find some amusement.

You've doubtless seen the now famous photo of Obama, where he got tired of waiting or something (and on that, I can sympathize with him: I hate having my picture taken, especially group shots where the photographer is all, "Oh, let me take JUST THREE MORE SHOTS so I can be sure I have a good one) and waved.

They were discussing it on the news this morning.

And this popped into my head:

"All the single-term presidents (all the single-term presidents)
All the single-term presidents (all the single-term presidents)
Put your hands up, hands up!"

(And of course, later on, the chorus would have to me, "If you like me, you better pass my new jobs bill...")

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Failure isn't always epic. Or permanent.

This is an idea that's been discussed a lot, because of the article "What if the secret to success is failure" in the NYTimes.

Prof Mondo discusses it

The concept that there's a difference between failure and defeat is important. And I admit, it was something I struggled with as a kid - I was good at a lot of stuff, I earned good grades. Then I got to college and I had a few hard lessons: one semester, I had a very tough chem prof, who didn't follow the textbook (and didn't tell us where he was sourcing his material, until one day he let it slip that he was following Fermi's discussion on thermodynamics... I ran to the big bookstore (the big old flagship Borders, which I'm sure is dead now, and it makes me sad to think of that) and found a Dover reprint copy for $4 - and then I could pass the class after reading it). I earned D on an exam from him. My first D ever, I think. (Even in phys ed, I managed to pass, even though I couldn't climb up the rope and was a failure at field hockey).

One thing I learned was that that D could be recovered from - I studied my ass off for the final exam, earned an A- on it, and that brought my grade up to an acceptable B. (Of course, there was collateral damage: I didn't have as much time to study for Genetics, and so my A in that class dropped to a B+ after the final. But, oh well, at least I didn't have to repeat Chem II.)

I think "grit" is a very good shorthand for what kids need to learn. I see "grit" as a certain resilience, an ability to keep going even in the face of things not going well. Persistence is part of it. Part of it is what I described a long time ago as the tinkerer mentality - someone who is stubborn enough to say, "I will not let this beat me, I will keep trying things until something works."

I think this "grit" is probably best taught by parents. I know I learned my "grit," however much I may have, from my own parents. My mom came from what would today be called a working-class family. She was the first of her family to go to college (and she went on to earn a Ph.D) She has that "you do what it takes" mentality - she told me MANY times in my childhood about how she worked for "thirty-seven and a half cents an hour, plus tips" (I will NEVER forget that phrase) as a waitress in the summers in order to pay part of her way through school. She also sought out scholarships and even though, like me, she's someone who hates asking people for stuff, she went around and asked for departmental work to earn extra money during the school year. She lived in a co-op house that was mostly for lower-income women, they were expected to do all the cooking and housekeeping and such...but that was what it took. And my dad, while his family was better off, he worked in a foundry in the summers, and at places like the USPS (he had some interesting stories about them). Because he needed to.

While I had a considerably softer time of it in school (I worked, but only a few hours a week, and that was to have money to go to the movies and stuff), I still had that mentality of "I can't let this beat me."

Even more so, in grad school. I had times when the analysis software wouldn't work, or I got bad results, or something went wrong. And while I admit there were many instances where I did sit down and have a good cry for a few minutes (grad school can be stressful), at the end of that I'd get back up and go, Okay, what do I have to do now?

And I figured it out.

And I still do that. I may get momentarily overwhelmed by "stuff" (as I also said earlier, one of the keys to success is to know when you're about to lose your stuff and need to walk away from the situation for 20 minutes or something), but then I go, "This is stupid and I won't let it beat me." I think that's actually another summing-up of grit: recognizing that most of the problems we have in this life are not insurmountable, and in fact, a lot of them are really quite stupid.

But I see more than my share of people who just shut down in the face of problems...just have Complete System Failure and can't go on. And I don't know how you learn "grit" as an adult, or if you even can.

Again, I think this comes back to being a thing like morals and ethics and treating other people with respect: it's something you gotta learn at home, when you're young. And sadly, there seem to be parents out there who are abrogating their responsibility on any of those things, and when the people who don't learn persistence or treating others respectfully or not to damage other people's stuff grow up, they become holy terrors that are hard for all of the rest of us to deal with. (At least the no-grit people aren't as terrorizing as the others, and it's mainly themselves they hurt.)