Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Amy Bishop to go to trial...


The prosecutors are going to request the death penalty, and apparently in Massachusetts, they're going to try to bring her to trial for the death of her brother. (The defense is going to try for the insanity defense).

I have to admit that that incident was something that really shook me. I think it's because it happened in a setting not unlike the one where I work: a Southern university, a biology department, a faculty meeting. While I can't think of anyone on this campus that I would fear in that way (as someone who might try to kill another person), I have been in fairly difficult and emotional meetings. And I have seen the reactions of those who were turned down for tenure.

I don't know. I know that jail is no picnic, but it bothers me that she's sat there for so long - over a year - a year during which her victims were NOT alive, a year where their families had to try to carry on, a year where the campus had to try to rebuild the sense of security and trust.

I also admit to having some conflict about the use of a death penalty. Though I definitely think this woman should never be allowed out on the streets - there's enough evidence that she's a serious danger to society, probably one of those scary, chilly people who lack a conscience (based on what I've read of some of the other things she's accused of).

I don't know. On the one hand, I feel some concerns about the death penalty - there may be cases where it's misused. But in a case like this - or the case of the Oklahoma City bomber - where it's so clear that the person is the person who committed the crime - and where they're apparently unrepentant - I have far fewer concerns. In a way, it's as much to protect the community in the future as it is to mete out justice. Taking Amy Bishop's life will not bring back the people she killed, nor will it restore a sense of security on the campus. (I don't know what UA Huntsville is like right now; I think if on my campus something like the Bishop case happened, I'd think long and hard about staying - too many bad and fearful memories). But it will prevent her from getting out of prison, or being paroled in a misguided fit of sympathy, or something.

I don't know if she's genuinely mentally ill. I tend to think with cases of "not guilty by reason of insanity" there's some hope of treating the person and maybe restoring him or her to some functionality someday. But with someone like Bishop- from what I've read, it seems almost like there isn't a "conscience" there - and that seems very dangerous to me indeed.

I don't know. The man who shot President Reagan is still living out his life in a mental hospital. I know some people have claimed he's "too comfortable" there, that he should have seen more punishment.

I guess I'll say I'd settle for Amy Bishop being locked up somewhere - prison, mental institution - forever, if she's deemed not capable of being tried, or not competent during the time she committed the act. (Though from other things I've read - there was premeditation, which seems to me to suggest that she knew what she was doing at the time and was not simply insane.)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial day, 2011

I wonder how the observance of Memorial Day has changed over the years. I don't really have a good "handle" on it, because my main early memories of it were as a child growing up in a relatively-small and history-obsessed town. We had parades (One year, I think it must have been the Bicentennial year, my Brownie troop got to march in the parade. I remember it though I would have only been 7 or so. We wore our uniforms, most of us got to carry small flags, and, as part of the traditional flag etiquette (or at least, that's what the troop leader told us), we needed to get white gloves to wear. I still remember going to the little local department store - yes, such things still existed when I was a kid - with my mom and buying a pair. And I remember marching with all the veterans - mostly WWII veterans, who would have been in their 40s or 50s at that point but also a few WWI veterans who were still healthy enough to march.)

Where I live now - and where I lived before this - we are larger and perhaps not as in tune with our history (and where I lived before this, there was a largish contingent who would have been actively embarrassed at something they perceived as "glorifying the military."). But there are still parades in some of the smaller towns.

Perhaps the day changes as we cycle through the generations. The WWI vets have left us (Frank Buckles, the last U.S. Doughboy, passed recently). The WWII vets are rapidly leaving us. And I think my generation and the younger generations, war and soldiery means something different. We don't quite have the same "shared sacrifice" thoughts that people who lived through WWII had (My parents, who were small children during that time, remember some of the things - the rationing, doing things like collecting scrap metal. They don't remember it as being onerous; it was just something you did). And maybe our attitudes are different, I don't know. Mostly what I have read about WWII is that once we got involved, people were in support of it - of course, that could be a history-is-written-by-the-victors thing (and I have read of protests before we entered WWI; the idea that we didn't need to be involved in a European war).

I do think there's still a hearty respect, at least here in the heartland, for the men and women who choose to serve. And there's a memory of those who didn't come back.

I don't know - is our military force smaller than it was in WWII? As a proportion of the population? Someone I know who served as a hospital chaplain a dozen or so years back said that nearly all of the men of that age group he encountered in the hospital had served in some capacity during WWII. Not all of them were eager to talk about it - and in fact, many of them were NOT eager, he said some of them still felt bad about the buddies that they left "over there." (Regardless of whether "over there" was a beach in France, or an island in the Pacific)

I've had a few former-military students, including a few (in my early days of teaching) who served in the first Gulf war. They didn't talk much about it. (I did once have a man say, when he came to apologize to me - and yes, some of my students do apologize when they earn a poor grade - that he was more disappointed than upset about the D he earned on his exam, but he wasn't going to dwell on it, because "once you've had people shooting at you, earning a D doesn't feel like the end of the world any more.")

It seems to me that in the past we downplayed a lot of the difficulties that those who came home - I mean, the emotional difficulties, the challenges of re-adjusting to civilian life - and we're just now beginning to realize and, hopefully, get help for the ones who need it.

This day I don't just think of the men and women who gave their lives overseas; I also think of their families - what used to be called the "Gold Star Mothers" and the others who watched and prayed and hoped and waited and then ultimately received the devastating news.

A thanks to all who served and are serving, and may we never forget that in order to have our liberties, we must be willing to defend them.

Monday, May 16, 2011


One last thing before I go on break:

memes - We the Who Cares
see more Memebase and check out our Troll Face lols!

The sad thing is, there are also many current members of Congress that this would equally apply to....

Sunday, May 15, 2011

And like that, I'm done

I'm glad the semester was over. This was less tough than many semesters, but still tiring.

(And of course, at the end, there was some craziness - a student who was getting an I from me for some reason thought she had to go and request it personally from the dean, which apparently upset the dean, because the dean is very into chain-of-command and doesn't seem to like random people coming into her office for stuff. So I had that little fire to put out. This is a student, I will say, who has a history of misunderstanding stuff.)

I'm not teaching this summer- I need some time off to work on research and to revamp some of the classes I teach. And also, I just am tired of the hectic pace of summer teaching - the constant go, go, go of teaching every day, and teaching longer hours each day, and having to STILL find time for those 10 hours of office hours a week.

I barely remember the summers of my childhood - I haven't a non-working or non-taking-college-classes summer since, I think, I was 15.

What did I do with my time? I know I read, I know my mom agreed to making twice-weekly trips to the library (during the school year, they were weekly trips). I guess I ran around outside a lot, climbed trees, looked for bugs, picked wild strawberries (we had a lot of wild strawberries - the good, edible kind - growing in the field behind our house. There's another species of wild strawberry that is technically edible but has a wooden texture and tastes horrible - I learned that as an adult). When I was younger, I would play in a sandpile with my plastic zoo animals, or play elaborate imaginary games with my friends. Or with other friends, I'd play Kick the Can and huge, neighborhood-wide games of Hide and Seek, or we'd go "exploring" in an area that had been plotted off to be a housing development, but which was never built. (I remember how eerie it seemed, especially the first time I went there - there were all the streets in place, the lampposts, the concrete driveways already poured - but no houses.) Or with my friend Liz, we'd go to a creek we knew, and try to catch frogs, but usually just wind up getting muddy.

It wasn't quite what some people have described - where they left the house after breakfast and didn't come back until dinner - and it wasn't as safe as it might have been in earlier years (when I was a young teen, in the early 80s, that was when there was a rash of kidnappings of young teen girls. While my parents didn't FORBID me from roaming the neighborhood with my friends, I think they were more mindful of where I was and when I was supposed to be back. And I was enough of a worrier that I started sticking closer to home.

I also did a lot of craft projects in the summers - built dollhouses, sewed doll clothes, did embroidery, did some of the typical kid-crafts like drawing on a plain white pillowcase with crayons and them my mom would iron it - so the design was at least semi-permanent. I went to day camp a couple of years and learned to play tennis and got over my fear of swimming in deep water and got to hang out with my friends from fairly early in the morning (I still remember the mist rising off the playing fields of the campus where we had day camp) to lunchtime.

It probably seems more idyllic than it actually was - most kid memories are. But I can still remember the magical feeling of going home after The Last Day of School on the bus. (Some years, the bus driver did the route "backwards" - stopping first at what would have been the last house on the route). The feeling of having the summer open up in front of you like a blank piece of paper in Art class, or like the start of a movie you've been waiting to see for a long time...

I will be working this summer, just more to my own schedule. I guess I still feel a tiny bit of that expectant feeling, the sense that summer is an blank book waiting to be written in.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Well, the inevitable finally happened.

My friend - I think I asked for prayers for her family over a year ago - finally lost her mom. In a way, it was a blessing - she was so far advanced with Alzheimer's that she no longer recognized anyone - no longer spoke, for that matter. I know my friend was being run ragged going to the nursing home to help feed her and to watch over her.

(Most people are saying my friend's father, who is still mentally sharp but whose body is failing, will probably pass soon - that he was "waiting" because he wanted to be sure there was someone to advocate for his wife 24/7 in the nursing home where they lived).

The funeral is tomorrow. I've got someone lined up to cover the exam that overlaps it - I can start the students off, then leave when I need to. They're also doing a reception, which I will not stay for (I have a second exam that day) but which I need to bake cookies for, tonight.

Also, tonight is the Visitation at the funeral home. I had planned to go - but now I just don't think I am up to it. I'm tired. There was some stuff hitting the fan in my department today. I gave and graded an exam. And now it's 1/2 hour until the Visitation starts and I've not started the cookies. (And I really, really need to wash my hair).

I feel bad about missing the Visitation but our CWF lesson last night was, in part, recognizing when you are hurrying too much. And I decided when I needed to make a second grocery trip (to pick up the ground nuts - an integral part of the cookies I'm making) because I forgot them the first time, that was a sign I was trying to do too much.

Also, it got hot and humid here all of a sudden and I'm hurting. I never feel more like a Fat Girl than I do when it's hot and humid - I ache, it feels like a pain to drag myself around, I perspire.

So I think I'm going to make the cookies, shower, rest, and figure that going to the funeral tomorrow reasonably rested is more important than going to both the Visitation and the funeral and being tired.

This is interesting

"10 Commandments" for successful students (could also be called The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Students). I saw that over at Joanne Jacobs' place.

It makes a lot of sense: Take responsibility for your actions, take notes, learn good time management, don't act bored (because actions can become thoughts/beliefs)....In general, the whole idea of being ACTIVE in your education and taking RESPONSIBILITY for it.

Of the students I've observed over the years, the most successful ones - the people who went on to graduate/professional schools or got interesting careers - were by and large the people who took responsibility for themselves and what they were learning. They didn't expect everything to be spoon-fed them, and if they missed class for some reason they either came to talk to me to find out what they missed, or asked a trusted colleague in the class.

I used to think that "love of learning" was the most important thing you could teach your child; now I'm beginning to wonder if "take charge of your own life" is more important - that you should swim like a shark instead of drifting like a jellyfish. Because I see an awful lot of "drifter" types and they seem to ultimately wind up unsatisfied with their lives, and often seem to want to blame other people for their not getting what they wanted.

I know I had a lot of blessings in my life - a good, supportive family, good teachers, never went to bed hungry, never worried about my safety, all of that - but I also was taught that I was smart and capable and that I had the ability to make things happen, and if I wanted something to happen in my life, I had to think about my goal, plan how to get there, and then follow those plans. Hard work is valuable and important, and I hope the up-and-coming generations are learning that, because I sometimes see people who don't seem to have had.

Monday, May 09, 2011


A person here on campus may have done a VERY passive-aggressive thing that will screw over several of our abilities to get grades in in a timely fashion.

Which, of course, hurts the students as well.

I'm really put out with this person. I can't tell if it's phoning it in because they're a short-timer, or if it's specifically engineered to make it difficult for the rest of us - again, because this person is a short-timer and now has a bad attitude.

I'm just mad because it screws over the students. (Well, also because it will ultimately make more work for me).

People frustrate me, I try to be helpful and think of the other guy but it seems that all too often I run into people who either don't, or who are thinking of how to mess up the other guy :(

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

People frustrate me.

I've had the experience, fairly recently, of listening to the sour grapes ranting of someone whose contract is not being renewed. Apparently this person has decided not just to burn their bridges, but to throw gasoline on them, and then urinate on the burned remains when they're done.

The problem is, my office is near this person's office. Near enough that I can HEAR everything they say. Yes, even with Internet radio turned on and the volume as high as I can make it and still be able to work. (Another person with an office on my floor has actually decamped to another section of the building for his office hours of late).

This person is doing something I consider pretty dishonorable, telling people that they got fired because they were "too tough" and that the rest of us are just
"pandering" to the students.

This makes me ANGRY. Very, very irritated. I regularly get complaints that I am a 'tough' teacher, but then again, I have kids come back from grad school - or from careers in the field - and thank me for the preparation I gave them. There are several people in the department that I would describe as "known hardasses" - one of them gives take home essay exams that can take up to six hours to complete. That's not being easy on the students.

We also have an excellent record, as I've said before, of placing people in agency jobs, in graduate school, in professional school. People who have worked for their degree (oh, we have our share of slackers who then wonder why so many people who were in class with them have jobs and they don't) wind up doing well - getting and keeping jobs, or getting a basic job then quickly moving up to more responsibility.

I don't think that means we're too easy on the students.

The thing is, something I've learned: you need to develop the skill of meeting the students where they are, and then pulling them up to the level where they need to be. We get a lot of people coming in with poor backgrounds in math or in writing. Several of us work HARD with these people - the two "known hardasses" I referred to earlier, in particular - forcing them to do multiple re-writes of papers, or giving them more and more applied math stuff to do in the labs - until they learn.

Sure, some people don't. Some people wind up switching majors. That's not a problem. I'd rather have lower retention but better standards for the people who do stay.

And I admit, early on, I had to work hard at the "meet them where they are" thing. And also the how you "pull them up to a higher level" thing. Some people are eager students and it doesn't take much work; other people have a lot of pride and don't like to admit to themselves or to a faculty member that they are lacking in background, so you have to be tactful. But you learn it, and when it works, it can be really rewarding to see someone who struggled the first semester you had them in one of your classes do well by the time they're taking the last class in the sequence that you teach.

But the thing is: you don't give up on people. Or, if you do, you don't let on. (I admit, there are one or two people I sort of give up on every semester. Though then again - if they come in and say, "I really, really need help. I know if I can pass the final I can just squeak by with a pass in the class and that's all I can hope for now" I will sit down and do what it takes to help them - because once in a while, there is someone who pulls it off, and that's also a great feeling.

This person, from what I heard, openly gave up on people. Belittled people who didn't do well on the exams. Claimed that people weren't smart enough or whatever to have the aspirations that they had. But the worst part? They apparently did it in front of the entire class.

It's one thing to take someone aside and say something like, "You know, unless you can get your chem grades or understanding of chemistry to a higher level, you might want to rethink Pharmacy school" or "You realize PA school is very competitive; earning a C in physiology might present a problem for admission." (Though I rarely even make those kinds of predictions unless someone specifically asks). It's another to call people out in front of a classroom - and it probably violates FERPA on some level.

We tried to mentor this person, I guess it didn't "take." Whatever.

I tell myself a few more weeks and I will have quiet on my floor.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Good for our SEALs!

That's pretty much my main reaction to the news that Osama has been killed. Well done, gentlemen.

Otherwise, I admit, the news leaves me kind of...flat. While it's taking out someone who was (probably) still a threat, and while it was maybe slightly avenging what happened on 9/11...still, I don't see this putting an end to the risk of extremist Islamic terrorism. And I don't see them easing up on any of the "security theater" crap in airports any time soon.

It does make me sick to think of him living in (apparent) luxury in a house in a town in Pakistan. I think they did the best thing, with the burial at sea, so there's less chance of their being shrines and things springing up to him.

Would that we could eliminate every person who would step up and fill Osama's role...