Saturday, January 29, 2011

I really hope

That the sound of what I am hearing going on in Egypt is the sound of a democracy being born.

But I have to admit, I kind of fear it is not...

Friday, January 28, 2011

What I said

A colleague today told me he was turned down for a sabbatical. Not because of merit, but because some paper-pusher decided that there would be NO sabbaticals, because there is no budget.

Even though my colleague had actually gone to considerable effort to see his classes would be covered without us having to hire a one-year replacement. They didn't even READ his application, it turned out.

But he's still turned down.

And then, the admin who turned him down said, " know, I have some funds in the budget, maybe we could hire an adjunct and you could get some release time."

WTF? You can't approve a sabbatical that calls for zero funding, and yet, your office has a big enough budget to have a slush fund?

This is why so many universities are so effed up these days. Giant administrations that behave more like the worst of the corporate world (or like Congress) instead of people who actually, might, you know, CARE about the well-being of their faculty and those faculty's ability to teach students.

I was scared my colleague was going to say he had handed in a resignation but I guess the economy is sufficiently bad that he didn't even consider it. I know I would have.

I'm also really scared for this fall; I'm anticipating us to have zero budget for student workers, which means a lot of the stuff they did, like monitoring the computer lab, will fall on our shoulders as unpaid overload. Plan on hearing me bitch a lot this fall.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Some better

If I am driven out of academia, it will actually be the creeping increase in administrivia that does it, not so much the students.

I felt a lot better after teaching one of my majors lab courses this afternoon. And it looks at this point that the TA will not need firing, and in fact the reason I was lead to believe they would be deserving of such was based on a lie from a more highly placed person.

It's a pity that certain people who are more highly placed than I am are so full of suck and are making it hard for me to do my work effectively and be as cheerful as I might be.

It's also a pity that they seem to have adopted the Congressional Model of increasing their interference in the lives of those whom they are supposed to serve. (In fact, it's a LOT like Congress with certain folks: it really is as if they believe the people exist to serve them.)

It's especially a pity that certain people get their little spheres of power, and then look around and ask themselves, "Who can I harass today? Whose life can I make difficult?"

Also, part of it is that yesterday was just the day of computer snafu. First, something went wrong with my copy of Acrobat Reader (I don't have a real need for the whole Adobe suite, so I just use the free download) and I could not open .pdf files. I tried reinstalling without success. I finally did a "hard reboot" and got it to work. Then, just as I was ready to start on the work I needed to do, our internet connection crashed.

It's the little crap- the stuff that interferes with my work when I'm ready and eager and have time to work -that just does me in.

Hopefully tomorrow - my other lighter day this week - will be uneventful and I'll be able to get a bunch of work done.

Malaise: I has it.

I keep telling myself things (students, the economy, the campus admin, all of it) will get better.


I feel like the news is still bad. I think I'm starting to burn out on academia.

(Bad stuff is happening. I may have to fire a TA.)

I know it's totally unworkable but I kind of wish there were some kind of program that, I don't know, every seven years or so, would allow you to take a year off and try a new career - I'd like to try working in a bakery. Or shelving books in a library. Or lots of things. Of course it would never work and I know I'd object to some professor wannabee with no experience and no training wanting to teach my classes.

It's just, right now the grass everywhere else looks a whole lot greener and I want to either convince myself that it actually isn't, or find that it IS, and then change careers.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

These are probably my issues talking, but...

...Dems and Repubs sitting together at the SOTU speech, I don't have a problem with. I DO have a problem with how so many news outlets are playing up the whole coy, "who is sitting with whom" angle, the whole "ooooh, this is just like BFFs! We're going to get to see who pairs up!" crap.

It feels like seventh damn grade all over again and I don't like it.

What's next? A Congressional Valentine's Day party, with red Hi-C punch and the congresspeople making shoebox "mailboxes" for other congresspeople to put cards in?

("Senator Gillibrand, I choo-choo-choose you")

I mean, DAMN. We have some real problems in this nation and they're talking about who's sitting together and who isn't? I guess gossip really has replaced anything like actual news.

The whole world is 13 years old and I do not approve of it one bit.

Monday, January 24, 2011

If anyone who teaches reads this...

How do you deal with a student who's not cranky, not demanding, but is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo needy that you feel like your head's going to explode?

I try to be tolerant - I tell myself the guy may have some undiagnosed disability - but we can't go five minutes in lab without him asking me what we're doing next, or asking if he's doing stuff right, or whatever.

It's like everyone in the room relaxes when he finishes up and leaves.

He's a nice guy and all that, and I hate to discourage him but golly, how's he going to function in the work world if he needs to be reassured/instructed this frequently?

I admit I've been on the point of losing my patience with him a couple times. And closing my office door when it's not my office hours and I know he's in the vicinity just so I don't get sucked into one of his convos. (Out of class, he can be a little whiny).

I remind myself that "everyone is carrying a heavy burden" but it's really getting hard to keep a calm demeanor (this is the second class I've had him in)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Valuing life

I've not paid great attention to the Gosnell case in the news, but what I've heard has been pretty disgusting: this 'doctor,' in the name of doing abortions, did things that even most abortionists would regard as beyond the pale.

Apparently a couple women died. Apparently the conditions in the place were "squalid." And apparently he did even more than what is sometimes euphemized as "partial-birth abortion."

I'm not going to debate abortion here. I personally am strongly opposed to it, and yet (and I don't necessarily think this is a contradiction), I am not as bent on having it made illegal again as some folks are.

I teach a general bio class that has a section on reproduction as part of it. The textbook goes into little detail about fetal development (which I wonder if it's maybe an intentional omission). I got some information from the March of Dimes and other sources on fetal development. I have one chart showing from week 1 to week 39, how the development proceeds.

It always strikes me how "early" the fetus "looks" human. And I admit it - and perhaps this is where I'm not so unbiased as I claim to be in teaching - I kind of hope some of the students in the class look at that, and take it into consideration, and if one of the young women winds up in a situation with a pregnancy where she knows she cannot or should not be raising the child, she'll consider adoption instead.

But anyway. This is not really about that so much as it is about someone who apparently either gave in to evil, or found some way to justify the evil he was doing. Did he think it was for the women's own good? Did he think he was fixing something somehow?

I don't like comparing people lightly to the Nazis and what they did. I loathe the way some are so quick to spout Hitler-comparisons with any politician they do not like.

But this....I can't help thinking of some of the Nazi experimentation and what went on in the death camps when I hear about this kind of thing.

And this happened in our own country. And apparently it went undiscovered for a long time. Did no one care? Did the mills of bureaucracy grind so slow that they couldn't catch this guy before now? Was it covered up? Could it be, as some have suggested, that it was largely poor, minority women being harmed, and that was why it was not investigated sooner?

This is why I get very, very nervous when people talk about doing things - medically - for others because "we know what's best for you."

This is partly why I'm so concerned about the possibility of legalizing physician-assisted suicide. If abortion is legal, and someone would commit the atrocities of a Gosnell, might not something similar happen if physician-assisted suicide becomes legal? Botched suicides, where the person is left brain-damaged, not dead but with no quality of life? Or, cases where the person was put to death because the doctor involved decided it was best for them, even if the person maybe wasn't entirely on board?

Yes, I'm sure most of the cases, everything would be above board. But I'm unwilling to risk someone being put down against their will because of incompetence or over-reaching on the part of some "suicide doctor."

Don't get me wrong: I don't have a problem with "advance directives," written by the patient and properly signed and witnessed. In fact, I am grateful to know my parents have such orders in place - orders they took time to think about, during a time when they were in good health and sound mind, orders they took time to talk about with each other and their doctor and a lawyer. Orders that they, as people of faith, doubtless prayed about.

I'm grateful to know that some day I may not be called to make a very difficult choice based on "would they have wanted the heroic effort at resuscitation?"

I think it's a very responsible thing to do.

What I have a problem with is the thought that there may be cases of doctors doing what they think is "best" for the patient, and that "best" being ending the life of someone they deem to have "insufficient quality of life."

(Yes, I know: I suppose it happens now, and probably more than I'd like to think about, but I suspect it would be much harder to catch and prosecute in a world where physician-assisted suicide was legal).

I suspect also in some cases depressed patients, especially, would be prone to the pressures that could come in an "end of life" discussion. Or, I can imagine someone who is old, who has outlived their spouse and friends, whose children are grown and far away, beginning to feel that they are more of a burden - that it is better for them to die and "get out of the way" - based on the ministrations of people having those end-of-life talks with them. I don't know. I've never been old and alone, but I have been young and sort-of alone (or at least, felt alone), and I know it's possible to get odd and not-very-good things in your head based on someone else's persuasive speech.

It is sinful - yes, I'm using that word - for a person to decide on the quality of another's life. It is that person putting themselves in the place of God, saying, "I don't think this person should live because they are...." whatever: very old, very sick, very disabled, brain-damaged, whatever.

I also think of the things that were done to the mentally disabled in our own country's past - the forced sterilizations, the way they were treated in institutions. (I have known a few people with Down Syndrome in my life). In a lot of those cases, the argument was either "we know what's best for them," or "it doesn't matter; they won't know the difference."

"We know what's best for you" is one of those chilling phrases. I hope it is one that does not increase in frequency in the coming years.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Are these dots connected?

I've been reading a bit lately about the phenomenon of "extended adolescence," where people don't have to "grow up" by 20 (or even 30) and are permitted (usually by parents) to continue to persist in teenager-like patterns.

And I've also noted the uptick in entitlement behavior.

A couple guys on the radio were talking about it the other day: apparently some customer in a donut shop went OFF on the person manning the counter because they were all out of sprinkled donuts.

Okay, in ricki's world, here's the appropriate response to "We are all out of sprinkled donuts at the moment": "Bummer. Do you have any with maple frosting?" and then being happy if the answer is yes. Or asking for an apple fritter instead if the answer is no.

I saw several examples of this behavior yesterday.

Example 1: I was taking copying to the copy shop. I got in behind a woman from another department. She had about a dozen things to be copied, and gave very precise, very picky instructions to the counter dude about each one, and then harassed him about it. To the point where the guy in charge came out of his office and jokingly told the woman, "Be gentle on him. He's not at his best today." (It did look - and sound - like counter dude was just getting over the flu).

But the woman kept after him. Which meant I waited longer. And then, while he was redoing something for a barely-perceptible mistake, she started to talk to me about his performance of his job.

Lady, don't. Just don't go there. If you want to involve me in a discussion of who is right, the crazy picky person or the beleaguered counter dude who is just trying to do his job without coughing up a lung, you will LOSE.

Finally, she got done, sailed out of there, and I got my copies made.

Second example: at the post office. I went in to pick up a package that was waiting for me. Got in line behind a woman mailing boxes. The postal worker told her that the cost would be $12.45. The woman FREAKED. "THAT IS TOO MUCH TO PAY!!!" she exclaimed. The postal worker looked at her and quietly said, "I believe you said you needed it to be there Friday. This is the Priority Mail option, which will get it there then. I told you the parcel-post option would take a week but would be cheaper."

I don't know what the woman did - she huffed for a few more moments - but I finally got my package and left. (After having someone nearly back into me as I was leaving).

Finally, I went to get my allergy shot. A mom and her adult daughter (carrying a new baby) came in right after me. Mom mentions several times, loudly and in general, that her daughter JUST GAVE BIRTH. (Though from the appearance of the baby, I think "just" had to mean "at least a few days ago" and not "she just ahd the child in the parking lot.") First off, the daughter set the baby's carrier down next to me and while I'm not a mom, I know when a kid badly needs changing. Then the mom and daughter proceeded to argue about something. Finally the mom calls over to the receptionist: "Can you get her a drink of water? She needs a drink of water. SHE JUST GAVE BIRTH and shouldn't have to walk too much."

(Why the mom couldn't go and get the water, went unanswered. And unasked.)

The receptionist, bless her, went and got a cup of water for the daughter. Neither the mom nor daughter thanked her. They just took it as their due.

I was sitting and knitting - as one of my Rav friends says, "I knit so I don't get mad at people" - and the mother turned her gaze on me. "You should learn to do that" she said to her daughter. The daughter made a dismissive snort. "No, you really should." the mother said. "It's relaxing. And it feels so good to put a hat or a sweater on your baby that you made yourself." (The implication being, the only reason anyone would knit would be to clothe their children.)

The daughter continued to make dismissive noises and I was on the point of looking at the mom and saying, "You know, she shouldn't do anything she doesn't want to do" (If you're going to talk about me like I'm not here, then I can talk about one of you like they're not here) but then I got called in for my shot. When I came back out they had (thank goodness) been called into the exam room (but I could hear the rise and fall of their voices over the closed door and the white-noise machine - which means they were talking loudly and agitatedly about something).

There's a reason I live alone. And a reason I say a small prayer of thanks when I lock the door behind me each night and don't have to talk to anyone else.

I find though, it seems, more and more, that there are people out there in the larger world who just EXPECT. They expect people will do the mundane tasks they are doing. Or they expect to be treated like royalty. Or they expect to get exactly 100% what they want when they want it, and there will be hell to pay if they don't.

And I wonder if "extended adolescence" plays a role in that. The idea that people don't have to pick up the yoke of responsibility so soon, that they can go long periods of time without having to work to pay their rent or for their food - or in some cases, even do stuff like their own laundry.

I realize I'm kind of on thin ice here - when I went to grad school, I moved back in with my parents to save money. I didn't have to cook or pay rent. I did, however, help out with the cleaning and I did stuff like take care of my own laundry and making my own doctor or dentist appointments. And I continued to say "please" and "thank you" to people who were going to help me, or had helped me in some way. (It seems like a small thing but I've really learned how much it HELPS, sometimes, to hear a "thank you" when you've busted your tail a little bit for someone.)

I hope this is an anomaly and not a trend. I find that sort of entitled, I'm-getting-angry-if-I-don't-get-what-I-want-even-if-it's-not-your-fault sort of person very hard to deal with.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Yes, this.

Sometimes you're reminded of what you need to be reminded of. While surfing around this morning, I fetched up on Professor Mondo's latest post.

He and I are, in some ways, in similar circumstances. When I go to the "big" conferences and talk with people from Research I schools, I detect almost a note of...pity?... in their voices. Pity that I don't have the fancy jazzy lab equipment, and an army of techs, and a multimillion dollar grant. And that my teaching load usually hovers somewhere around 4/3 plus summer teaching.

But you know what? I don't want them to pity me. It's a giant PITA writing those multimillion-dollar grants, and even IF you get one, then you have the headaches inherent to dealing with them. And I'd rather, to be quite honest, be the person out in the field taking vegetation measurements, or the person in the lab analyzing soil, than to be the person sitting in my office telling the army of techs what to do. I'd rather DO than MANAGE. I'd rather have one or two research students I can work closely with, people I can chat with about other stuff as we drive to and from the lab site, people I can joke with as we wait for analyses to run in lab, rather than be the "big boss" for an anonymous group.

(And I have enough of the Little Red Hen in my psychological make-up to get VERY FRUSTRATED during the times when I do have a tech or two, to find that (a) one of the techs has got a DUI and can't drive to campus, so I can't count on them or (b) one of the techs is chronically late or (c) one of the techs really DOESN'T know how to do one of the lab procedures they must do, and they are too embarrassed to tell me, so they bollix it up. I'd rather be the one making the mistakes and having to fix them, than to deal with other people's mistakes).

And also, there are sometimes chances to enlighten students. Perhaps more at a Mondoville or at my little campus than there would be on a fancy, expensive, high-endowment school. Our students often are starting further behind the students who go to the big prestigious name schools in the state - they went to small rural schools where there just wasn't as much on offer, or the teachers weren't as great as the teachers at the Arts and Sciences academies in the big cities, or they're someone coming back to finish a degree after a few years in the workforce.

But when people start from "farther back," you sometimes are lucky to get to see them make huge progress.

And if you're lucky, you get a chance to inspire someone. And it's those things that I find myself clinging to during the difficult times - the rare instances when I know I made a difference in someone's life.

I had a student - who is now employed in a fairly high-responsibility position in a conservation NGO - write me a note after my class, telling me that the way I treated her (she was a non-traditional student and was going through a divorce at the time) gave her the confidence that she COULD earn a degree and do something with her life. That my influence was what encouraged her to keep going.

And another student, one who told me as we were out driving around doing research, that she hadn't really known what to do with her life before, that all she saw the girls in her hometown do were "get married and have babies, and not necessarily in that order," that now she saw what she wanted to do with her life. And she graduated, and works for one of the Federal agencies.

And the guy who came back from graduate school and thanked me for being such a "hardass" in my stats class, because his first-semester stats class was "easy" thanks to it.

And the occasional student who decides to major in biology after taking my non-majors class; the person who goes from Undecided to planning a career, due in part (I hope) to my influence.

I'm not saying these things to paint myself as a great teacher or anything: at best, I'm probably kind of average. But it's a reminder that where ever you are, no matter how small, how "backwater" some people may think it is, you can have a positive influence.

And for me, those notes and comments are things I treasure. I keep the note from the first student I referred to in my desk drawer and look at it periodically when I get down on myself, to remind myself that once in a while I do something right and it helps someone.

And I think that's maybe the best we can hope for in this life: to once in a while get the opportunity to help someone else, and we're either smart enough to see it, or lucky enough to do it without knowing.

Friday, January 14, 2011

No, you may not.

Okay. So I teach a class that is required of almost all our majors for graduation. And though they're supposed to take it as sophomores or juniors, most put it off until they're seniors. And the class usually fills up.

This semester I've had three people who waited until the last minute, and now need the class or they don't graduate in May. And the class is full. And I can't over-fill it, both for my own sanity and because there isn't enough buttspace in the lab and in the field vehicles for the field trips we do.

So those three people are on a waiting list. Maybe they get in. Maybe they don't. Depends on if someone drops or not.

Now, this morning, I get a fourth person showing up. Except, this is a guy who started out last semester, developed a 'tude, stopped coming, came and got mad at me when I told him he had earned an F. And he NEEDS the class to graduate now.

"Isn't there anything you can do?"

"No, I'm sorry."

"But I need this to graduate."

"I know, there are other people in that boat, but I'm sorry, I can't put anyone more in the class."

"But I can drive my own vehicle for the field labs!"

"No, I can't legally allow you to do that, for insurance and liability reasons." (this is true)

"But I really need the course!"

"No, I'm sorry. I'll put you on the wait list."

What I WANTED to say? "Then why did you flame out so badly last semester?" But I didn't.

I'm tired enough of people not taking responsibility (on oh, so many levels) and expecting to get bailed out that I didn't feel at all bad telling this guy "No, I'm sorry" as many times as I had to. I'll probably see him in the fall. Fine, whatever. He should have planned better.

Figured it out

My distress of yesterday, I mean.

One thing I've been working on, making a monumental effort on, is NOT WORRYING ABOUT THINGS I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER. Reminding myself that I control my own behavior, reminding myself that sometimes bad stuff happens even though you do what you can to prevent it (e.g., the life-long non-smoker getting lung cancer), reminding myself that stuff never is as bad as it's presented to be in the news.

And so when people around me start talking about how things we have no control over are making everything BAD, it's hard for me not to get sucked back into worrying and complaining and running around like a headless chicken that thinks the sky is falling.

The other thing is, there are several people I used to socialize with who have, of late, just become so cranky and sour. I don't know if midlife caught up with them, or if their lives aren't turning out the way they wanted, or what. But it's hard to carry on a conversation with someone when everything you mention gets used as evidence why everything's going bad and wrong. Like, when you comment that the weather is warm, they use that as the entree for a 10 minute rant about global warming and how we're only making it worse with air conditioning and cars and everything else. Or you make some comment about money and they start talking about how (depending on their view of politics) we're all gonna be taxed to death or how old people and children are going to be thrown out on the street to starve.

And you know, as someone who finally figured out how to do the small-talk thing*, it's exhausting to deal with someone who has apparently changed the rules of small talk to "it will provide me with a gambit of how to talk about how everything is all wrong."

(* One of the reasons why I sometimes wonder if I'm a bit further along the Asperger's/Autism spectrum than some people is that for years, I was bad at small talk. I'd walk up to someone and abruptly begin talking about whatever topic we needed to discuss. Eventually I realized that it's really not done that way, that most people start out by asking how someone is, talking about the weather, talking about some neutral news item (like a sports team) and then gradually transition into the "actual" discussion. So it frustrates me a bit, having finally mastered "neutral" small talk, to deal with people for whom nothing is "neutral.")

So, what I can do: work on my own teaching. Work on my own research. Work with students who want to do research. And start expanding my small-talk repertoire to include ways to cut someone off when they're going into a diatribe that will only waste both our time and make me sad.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

thank God I don't have office hours today

So I can shut my door and be in my own little office with the reading I need to do and my Internet radio.

I have colleagues talking snarkily about how the university is going to Hell (I admit, there have been some changes this fall I'm not happy about, and perhaps the reason their talk bothers me so much is that I hope the changes are an anomaly and not a trend, and I don't like the thought of maybe having to polish up the CV and put it out places...and, oh wharrgarblll, go through the tenuring process again somewhere else. Ugh. (I did tell a friend recently, "If I leave this campus I will probably leave academia" but I don't know what else I'd do to earn my bread. I don't think I have sufficient money-acumen to go into business for myself - and I know I have too low a tolerance for not knowing when or whether I will get a next paycheck)

And someone is cussing out their computer. Loudly.

I don't know, sometimes I feel like the whole rest of the world has pms and I am the only sane one.

It's just...for my own sanity, I cannot listen to or participate in any more discussions of how things are getting worse. Yeah, yeah, we're headed for a currency meltdown. Yeah, yeah, China owns our asses. Yeah, yeah, we're on the slippery slope to whatever.

You know what? There's not a fat lot I can do about any of that. I've lived within my means. I've done my job. I've taken steps so that if things get really bad, I at least won't be among the first ones to die. (Though if things get REALLY bad, is it necessarily that great to survive an extra year and then starve or freeze or whatever else?). All I can do now is live my life and pray that things won't get as bad as some people are saying. And maybe not be quite so penny-squeezingly frugal, maybe buy the occasional small treat or luxury for myself, if indeed our currency is going to worth toilet paper in a few years.

I don't know. Locally in my tiny personal-sized pan pizza of the world, things are pretty good...I have enough money, my health is good, I have an interesting career, I have fascinating hobbies. I'm sure some of the other people around me I've heard giving voice to how "everything is falling apart" have some of the same good things in their lives...I don't know. I like to focus on the good things but it becomes increasingly difficult when you get all this static of bad things being discussed around you.

Right now I'm thankful for internet radio. And for having an office with a door. And for the interesting books I'm reading now. And for the students in my classes who give a damn. And for my colleagues, at least when they're being funny and interesting instead of whiny sourpusses.

I think this is just periodic overwhelmedness at ALL THE PEOPLE. Over break I was mainly just around family who are pretty much sane and don't dwell on the bad stuff.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

really down on people right now.

OH so much ugliness. So much hatred in the name of 'stopping hatred.'

I've said before that sometimes I wonder why God doesn't just wipe out all of humanity and, I don't know, start over again with the wallabees or something as the intelligent life on this earth.

I'm going to have to stop reading a bucketload of people I had been reading. Sadly, a couple of them seemed to be coming to the realization that "hey, hating on people whose politics I disagree with and saying terrible things about them is probably as wrong as what I'm saying people on the right are saying about people on the left." But that all changed with the "blood libel" comment.

(I'm too tired to look up the whole "blood libel" incident but if Palin did mis-use it, wow, was that a bad and ill-advised thing to do. And shows why it's important to be sure you're clear on the meaning and history of phrases before using them. And not to give your enemies any more ammunition.)

I'm just really fed up with people right now.

I'm going to go home now and hide in my sewing room for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

No, I'm not laughing with them. I'm laughing at them.

Okay, I admit this. I should be really ashamed I watched the premiere of the new season of "You're Cut Off" (this is one of those VH1 faux-reality shows, in which a group of utterly spoiled "princess" types are sent to live in an ordinary suburban home and do chores for themselves. And things are planned to cause maximal catfighting. It's a horrible, horrible show and I feel dirty watching it know, there's only so much punditry one can take, and USA network was showing wrestling, which I hate, so....)

Anyway, this was the show I talked about a year or so ago. I still can't tell how much of it is 100% pure acting (hell, ALL of it could be) and how much of it is that there are actually people in this world who do not know how to install a closet rod or a toilet seat, and instead of trying to figure it out or read the directions, sit down and whine about it.

I think I'm kind of fascinated by the whole thing because, even discounting for the fakeness of the show, the idea that there are women out there who (a) claim to never have cleaned their own house, (b) don't know what their credit card balance is and don't care, and (c) think it's perfectly OK that they're 22, not employed, not looking for work, and being supported by their parents - and more than just supported, having cars and expensive shoes and purses bought for them.

It's so foreign to me. It's actually kind of like reading old National Geographic stories on some distant tribe with a totally different lifestyle.

I guess what amazes me is how the characters on the show claim to justify their sponging off of others...that they "deserve" everything they have, because they're special or they're pretty or whatever. And it amazes me how these women present themselves as being totally unashamed of the fact that they're sponging off of either parents, boyfriends, or husbands, and that, in fact, they believe they "deserve" every Jimmy Choo and Prada bag that they demand be bought for them. (and I'm being very careful in my wording here, because there's a chance the thing is entirely put on, and all of the women involved are actually students at some theater school who have been hired to act as if they are spoiled-rotten "kept women" for the purposes of the show. If so, they're pretty talented actors.)

I will say there was a total laugh-out-loud moment for me last night. I mean, I feel terrible laughing at the woman (and yet, I don't, not that much). I can't remember what it was apropos of, but she remarked, "I'm not stupid. My GPA in high school was like 2 point something."


Okay, maybe she's not STUPID but she certainly wasn't STUDIOUS.

(I can't tell you my exact high school GPA; we were graded on an odd, 7-point scale, where 1 was abject, should-not-be-at-private-school failure, 3 was equivalent to a D, 4 was about like a C, and 6 and 7 were "honors," and "high honors," respectively. I think my GPA hovered somewhere around a 6 (or perhaps slightly below, the year I took Calculus.)

Will I watch other episodes? Maybe, maybe not. I admit, it's a waste-of-time type of show...but at least I got one good laugh out of it last night. And sometimes, you know? Mindless trash tv is a good way to relax.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What can we do?

I don't know. The whole "general public" response I've seen to the Arizona shootings has me very sad, and thinking that "minimal contact with the public is the way to go in the future."

Lots of people are blaming the Tea Party for what he did. Or Sarah Palin. Or, some are saying, if you read between the lines, "This is what you get with untrammeled free speech." (And dammit, if this shooter idiot gets people calling for modifications to the First Amendment...)

My interpretation? The shooter was unhinged. Dangerously unhinged and he probably should have been in a hospital.

Jared Loughner's college days (And the comments on that article are saddening; they are the ones that make me want to hide from many of my fellow humans). (A perhaps more balanced article, and without commentators frothing at the mouth, is here.)

I don't know. As much as I advocate individual liberty (and individual responsibility), I also think there needs to be some means to require people who are spiraling into the sort of unreality Loughner wound up in to get help - or at least go to a place where they are unlikely to cause harm. I know, there are commitment proceedings, but I think the family has to be on-board for that, and apparently Loughner's family was pretty unconcerned about what was going on with him.

This is a somewhat unaddressed issue on college campuses. There are lots of students with different problems. Even beyond students with diagnosed mental illnesses, there are people all along the spectrum of personality and interaction, from people who can be utterly grating and rude and difficult to people who will smile and shake your hand while planning how they are going to hurt your reputation, to people who are so painfully shy that you can't get them to even say their name in class.

And I know - probably more than most people, I find myself distressed by the passive-aggressive types, or the backstabbers, or the people who seem to enjoy being rude. But it makes it harder for a group to function. I've seen how one rude or nasty person can take a group from being able to work well together to a group full of people who are all suspicious of each other, scared of speaking up, and not able to accomplish things. One person with a really bad attitude can poison an entire classroom. One person who flies off the handle easily can close down discussion and make people afraid to speak up. And the painfully shy people can become even more withdrawn and intimidated by someone who is obnoxious.

And that's just with people within the realm of "reasonable" behavior. Based on what Loughner's instructors and fellow students have said, he went way beyond that, to the point where people were threatened. And it took a long time (comparatively) to have him "invited off" campus.

I participate in a couple online forums for college profs, and I've heard other stories. A young woman prof being "stalked" (to the point where the person waited for her outside her evening class) by a former student who thought she should be dating him. Profs who have students shout over them, or talk over them, or sing during class. Profs where students brought large knives to class, took them out very showily at the start of class, and set them on the desk in front of them. Students who make what could possibly be interpreted as threats.

On a campus I knew, a student once threatened the life of a chemistry prof after he failed the prof's class for the second time. And then the student put his hand through a plate-glass window. The campus security people escorted him off, and he was essentially told, "If we see you on campus again, you will be arrested." Of course, a few years later, he was allowed back to complete his degree. I am not sure if he had to show proof of any kind of anger-management treatment or anything...

It's a balance that's tough to make. On the one hand, there's a lot of pressure to "mainstream" students. And it's unfair to someone who may be fighting against, say, depression, to tell them, "No, we do not want you on our campus." And people who've had problems in the past who make an effort to fight through them, they deserve a second chance.

But on the other hand: few profs have much training in psychology or counseling. It's hard to know how to react to someone with anger problems, or someone who seems a bit out-of-touch with reality. (And another thing: a lot of us profs have personality oddities ourselves. I know I'm easily bullied and intimidated.)

And the professors and other students should have some of an expectation of being able to come to class and not feel intimidated all the time - or worse, as one of Loughner's instructors said, keep checking over their shoulders to be sure a gun is not being aimed at their backs. There should not be a "hostile workplace" and unfortunately, sometimes that is at odds with the ideas of more open admissions.

One of the problems is that some mental illnesses (classicly, schizophrenia) tend to show up at that stage of life - late teens, early 20s. A student who may have been fine before he or she left school may begin to deteriorate on campus. And also, students are more on their own - you might have an RA if you live in the dorm, but RAs (and roommates) vary in their level of involvedness. (Actually, there is a lot of "benign neglect" where someone will be absent several days, you will ask someone you thought was one of their friends what's going on, and the "friend" will shrug and say they don't know. We had an instance on campus of a young woman disappearing for several days - later, it turned out she had gone to visit a new boyfriend - but had told no one where she was going, and the campus police were acting as if it were a kidnapping.)

Also, there's an attitude on a lot of campuses - this may be an outgrowth of PC - of "it's your bag, man," where people may not "call" someone on troubling behavior because, you know, what's right and wrong for YOU might not be so for other people. And on college campuses, there is readier access to alcohol and drugs, which can further affect someone who already has some problems with brain chemistry. And students who ARE on some kind of medication, sometimes decide they're OK to go off of it - or without someone like a parent to remind them, they don't take it. (We had a case here of someone on anti-seizure medications deciding they were OK to go off them. They weren't.)

And a lot of these things - taking medications you are prescribed, avoiding stuff (like drugs) that might mess you up, going for help if you feel you need it - are personal-responsibility things. Though maybe in the cases of breaks-with-reality, you can't count on a person to be able to take responsibility. I don't know.

I've never had a student who truly scared me in class. I did have one, once, who came to my office hours and yelled at me over something and got what I considered to be inappropriately angry over a small issue. I called his advisor (fortunately I knew who it was) and told him because - and this kind of chills me now to think of it - but what I was thinking was "there needs to be a paper trail just in case, so people don't go on the news later saying, 'I never knew he could get violent.'"

Fortunately, nothing came of it. The advisor told me the student had "anger issues" and that he knew he did and that the student was "working on it." Later on the student dropped out of school.

I have had students who disrupted class - mainly in the form of running commentary that they thought was funny. It's grating, but it's not scary the way someone who would clearly seem to be detached from reality would be. I'm not sure how I'd deal with someone who told me my class was "illegal," or who yelled at me in class. I'd probably be a bit of a coward and excuse myself, and call Campus Security from the nearest phone. (Though in some classes, my Conservation Guys would probably have my back, and they'd either get the person to shut up, or THEY'D pull out their (technically disallowed in class) cell phone and call security for me). I don't know. I suppose if I really felt the person was a threat, I'd dismiss class and let the students leave. I don't know if that would help or hurt, but maybe it would at least get the "innocent bystanders" out of the room if there really was going to be a problem.

It makes me sad that I even have to have these kinds of contingency plans in my mind. (And I suspect that's going to be our new duty this spring: "Come up with a detailed plan of how you will protect your students from someone in class who is a threat because they are out of touch with reality." When of course, it's not our responsibility for having admitted the person in the first place, or kept them on campus.)

I honestly don't know what the administration's reaction would be if one of us came to them with a concern that a student seemed to have the potential to be a threat in class. Would we be taken seriously? Would we be put off with platitudes? Would we be accused of being unfriendly to them? And how long would it take to have someone who was a problem removed from our classroom? (Or would we be told to "suck it up"?).

I will admit that it scares me a little bit to think that there are other people like Loughner out there, with the potential to become violent as they become more detached from reality, and that their family and co-workers (if they have them) and friends (if they have them) don't seem to put any pressure on them to get taken care of. (Or maybe people like Loughner intimidate those close to them enough that the people are really afraid of pressuring for them to get help.)

(But really: people need to dial back on the fitting-his-actions-into-their-pet-theories-about-politics. Apparently this guy had no coherent political beliefs that could drive what he did; he was detached from reality. And I know people who have some pretty vehement political beliefs - on either side of the aisle - who would be horrified at the thought of using violence as a way of getting their desired positions enstated.

Another thought: when this first came out, before we knew much about the shooter, my reaction was, "Forget any supposed political affiliation; this guy is nothing but a terrorist. People who kill innocent unsuspecting people in the names of advancing some agenda are just terrorists." Is he still a terrorist if he was arguably not in control of his actions because of his mental illness?

And the biggest question, and the one I wish I had a good answer to: how do we prevent other people who may have the same issues as this shooter did from becoming violent, and how do we guide them to help that will allow them to have a more fulfilled life?

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Oh, no.

So, I was ironing and folding some quilt fabric I had bought, stacking it into piles based on fabrics I planned to use together. I decided to take a little break, walked out of my sewing room, and flipped on the television.

What is going on? They're saying a bunch of people have been shot in Arizona at some kind of a political town-hall type thing...some people have died but there are conflicting reports.

I watched a few minutes and then went back and ironed off some more fabric, because I just couldn't watch any more.

There's been some discussion that the representative who may have been a target was the subject of criticism and "abuse" from the Right. I have no idea if that's true or not, I have no idea if it's relevant here. (Possibly, the shooter was one of those random nutjob types, or had a grudge against someone else)

There's a lot of commentary already flying. I'm going to wait until things settle down more before I draw any conclusions about what's going on.

It's sad and it's ugly and I hope everyone who is being operated on now survives and heals. I hope they caught the guy and can figure out why he did it and maybe try to prevent similar events in the future.

IF this was a politically motivated attack, that's just wrong and evil. I don't care how strongly I disagree with some politician's policies or dislike them as a person; the only way I want to see them leave office is after being voted out by a majority of the voters. (Or, I suppose, convicted, if they're really and truly corrupt).

I don't like all the violence and rumors of violence (exploding mail packages, shooter events, the stuff that happened in Europe last week). Makes me feel like there's some kind of big bad thing building. I know a lot of the stuff is probably unrelated, but I still keep reciting Yeats' "The Second Coming" in my head when these kinds of things happen.

My prayers are with the families of those who were killed, those injured, and also with the people who had to witness this event.

Thursday, January 06, 2011


I don't generally make New Year's Resolutions.

For one thing, New Year's (and New Year's Eve) isn't that big of a holiday for me. I don't consume alcohol, I don't like to stay up late, I get actively annoyed at the "Last Year In Review" stuff that takes over the news (and other programs) the last week of the year.

But I think there are two, maybe three, reasons why I don't make resolutions.

First off, I tend to feel that improvement - seeing where you need to improve and doing something about it - should be more of a year-round thing. That just as Valentine's Day isn't a "get out of the consequences of being kind of a jerk to your beloved for the rest of the year, free" card (even if you buy a really, really nice gift), I don't think January 1 should be the only (or main) taking-stock day.

I do the whole taking-stock thing a lot. "Well, that didn't work" is a common refrain in my life, followed up by, "What can I try that will work?" Whether it's teaching, or a research technique, or even something like getting rid of ants in the kitchen. And I realize resolutions are different from that, but "Be A Better Teacher" is more nebulous and difficult to implement than, say, "Require the students to do more writing, and give them more detailed feedback on it." Or, "This lab activity is stale, you need to come up with a new one." And usually the specific ideas only come at the time when something isn't working...and are best implemented then.

Also, I think my irritation with the whole idea of resolutions is that it allows the more self-critical side of me to overlook the things I already do. Exercise? I try to do that for an hour a day, five days a week. I don't know that I'd have time for more exercise, or even if it would be so good for me to do more (There's some evidence that "excessive" exercise - I'm not sure how that's defined - depresses the immune system). Eating healthfully? I actually do pretty well, and my few vices fall into this camp, and I'm not sure a person without vices is terribly interesting. (And besides, dark chocolate is now supposedly good for you. Well, in "moderation." (And gah, how I hate the words "in moderation.").

And other stuff. Someone I know resolved to go to the Women's meetings at church every month. I already do that. And other Responsible Grown-Up type things, I already do a lot of them. Pay my bills on time. Don't spend money I don't have. All of that.

So I think for me, rather than burdening myself with yet another thing, I'm good, thanks, and I'll just keep doing what I'm doing. (Is that anti-American? To say that you're good with what you already do to keep healthy/advance in your job/be a responsible person, and so, not make resolutions? I actually had someone once imply that there was something wrong with me because I wasn't frothing at the mouth to Change Everything Now! and that I was willing to accept that I do "enough" already.)

I think the other reason why I don't care so much for new resolutions at the new year is this - if you celebrate Christmas, the New Year comes at the very end of it. (I suppose some people in the U.S. do the whole twelve nights thing, culminating with Epiphany - which, if I remember correctly, is today - but I don't do that, and it does feel very much like Christmas is over). You're putting away the lights and the decorations, the gifts have been opened, the cookies have got stale (if your brother didn't eat them all before Christmas)'s back to a more ordinary existence. (I guess, strictly speaking, it's not quite Ordinary Time yet, but then we Disciples of Christ aren't very good at following the liturgical year). And for me, at least, to put all the shiny pretty things away, to be thinking about a new semester beginning with whatever challenges that may bring - it just feels like too much to look at myself and go, "I must begin losing 20 pounds this very instant!"

(I'd probably be more inclined to make St. Patrick's Day resolutions. Or Flag Day Resolutions. But New Year's? It comes at a time that already feels kind of cold and sad to me).

So I don't know. I will admit to twitching over the "new" slate of television programs on some channels, all about Cooking Healthy! or Decluttering Your Life! because they just make me tired. (And really, for me? Watching cooking shows is kind of like the way some guys watch sports - I know I'd never actually be able to do what's being shown, but it's sure fun to watch it being done to excess. Seeing someone broil fish and steam broccoli is not as much fun as watching Paula Deen throw butter around.)