Thursday, July 26, 2012

What I miss

I think about summers when I was a kid, and summers now. And there are some things I miss, that I probably didn't fully appreciate when I was a kid.

One thing: Where I grew up, it got down into the fifties, or at least the lower sixties, every night. You could open your windows at bedtime and it would be cool enough to sleep. (This was also in the era before "boom cars" - my neighborhood was pretty quiet). Here, where I live now, we get a stretch (starting about now) where 80 is the low at night. And that just feels all kinds of wrong to me, and it makes me sad.

Also, along with the getting cool at night, every morning when you got up when I was a kid, the world felt fresh and new. There was usually dew and sometimes even fog, and the air smelled good. We'd get breezes overnight that would sweep away any funk of the previous day. Here, where I am now, we get persistent high pressure during the summer, and even though the dewpoint is very high it seems very dry out...and when I walk out of the house at seven in the morning to go to work, I can still smell the exhaust from the truck route a couple streets over, and the stale grease from the Dairy Queen, and if a skunk got hit out on the road, I smell that too...the world seems kind of tired, like it didn't get renewed overnight.

(It's entirely possible the "world made new"/"same sad old funky world" is mostly a construct of my mind, and is the difference between being 8 and being 43.)

Another thing I miss - not so much the freedom of a summer-off-school., because frankly, the freedom got a little boring after a while - but the way you could go out in the morning and the world felt bright and new. I don't get out in the mornings much, other than to head over to work. I get some inkling of that old feeling on the rare days off from school when I either head out to do field research early, or I head off to do something like early grocery shopping. The sun's just coming up and there's a feeling of POSSIBILITY. I guess that's what I remember as a child: waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and then having a full day in which to do exciting things.

I went to a day camp for a couple years when I was a kid (I started going mainly because the person who was my BFF at the time was going). We'd show up early in the morning, just as the fog was starting to dissipate. I remember the activities: tennis first, then crafts, then swimming, then a rest period or sometimes organized games like capture the flag. Once a week (as I remember) they did away with that schedule and we either played big games all morning or took a field trip. (Usually the field-trip days were all days and we either packed lunches or had a box lunch). Now that I look back on it, I'm glad I had that experience. I was never that great of a tennis player, and the crafts weren't that exciting (the older girls got all the good colors of plastic lacing, and besides, I never got the hang of making lanyards). But I did conquer my fear of deep water in the swimming part, and actually got to be a pretty good swimmer. And also, just hanging out with friends and drinking "bug juice" (and making gross jokes about why it was called "bug juice") and running around the buildings of the big old prep school that I later attended for high school...

Another thing I miss from childhood summers: the weather was variable. Here, it gets hot, stays hot, and doesn't rain, usually from June until late September. When I was a kid, we'd have maybe a week or two of really hot days mid-August, but the rest of the time it bounced between the 70s and low 80s, and there was even the occasional day when a cold front came across the lake and cooled it down into the 60s. And some days were overcast, some days it rained. It didn't feel like every day was a carbon copy of the others, which is how it sometimes feels here, and I find that's not very good for my psyche. I find myself scanning the weather maps, hoping for a cold front (though they rarely bring any temperature relief) or any small chance of rain.

I'm sure part of the weather I experienced as a kid was due to it being a historically cool decade (the 1970s). I remember a few years in my late teenaged years when it got pretty dang hot - one summer we were flying back from vacation and there was some concern if we'd be able to take off on our connecting flight from Chicago to Cleveland because it was so hot....I think there was a report of a plane having a blowout on one of the landing gear that was blamed on the heat.

I wish we'd get another "historically cool" decade during what remains of my lifetime. (Though at this point I'd settle for the coming winter to be cold enough to kill off a few of the bugs).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Getting it off my chest.

I'm still thinking about what happened in Colorado. A lot of the Monday-morning quarterbacking makes me kind of sick, the idea that more gun laws, no, fewer gun laws, no, banning costumes at movies, no, rounding up "quiet" people and subjecting them to psych evaluations, no, whatever other thing....could have prevented it. I think I have two conclusions:

1. There's bad stuff that happens that can't be prevented. We can increasingly give up liberties, we can hide in our houses - but that won't stop bad stuff from happening. Granted, there are things you can do to lessen the risk of bad stuff happening to you - not walking alone late at night in a bad part of town springs to mind - but there comes a point where you have to live your life and just accept that there's a minute risk that something bad will happen.

By all means: get the "bad guys" off the streets. Allow people to protect themselves. But there's a point at which we're going to have to accept that bad stuff sometimes happens.

2. We're all looking for an explanation. We want to know why. I suppose on some level we want to know that because we think if we know "why," we can avoid something like this happening again. Look at how the news media jumps to (wrong) conclusions about the person's affiliation. People try to find some commonality. I was very put off on Sunday when one of the men in my Sunday school class remarked, "So often these shooters seem to be described as "highly intelligent and highly educated." " I realize I'm sensitive to that because I'm highly educated and arguably highly intelligent. I made some comment about that education doesn't necessarily grow a conscience, but at the same time I think blaming intelligence or education for this sort of thing is incredibly wrong-headed.

I think a lot of these violent crimes boil down to something very simple, and something that is unfortunately (in lesser degrees of severity of course) an epidemic in our society: not seeing the other people around you as fully human.

The only way I can imagine someone being able to kill civilian strangers (I exempt wartime situations here; that's sort of a form of self defense, or at least defense of one's country or way of life) is to dehumanize them to the point where they are like the enemies in a video game.

I've also commented in the past that I'm not a fan of separate hate-crimes legislation, because I believe any kind of crime against another human shows some level of hatred toward them. You can't beat up someone and steal their wallet without having hate in your heart on some level - whether it's a hatred born of feeling that life has wronged you and you are entitled to someone else's money, or a momentary hatred of the individual walking down the street because they refused to give up their wallet when asked, or whatever. It doesn't matter if that person is the same or different race from you, or sexual orientation, or gender, or religion, or whatever. There's still hate there.

The thing that fills me with sadness and dismay is the realization how common lesser forms of this hatred are. Look at a lot of the political commentary on places like Twitter - short bursts, often saying something horrible about the "other side." I've seen people actually wish death (or so it seems, if the statement is interpreted literally) on someone who opposes something they support. (And so often what is going on in the world canNOT be boiled down to 140 characters).

Or you see how people treat each other on the highways or in the grocery store or where ever. People shoving in front of others in line, people weaving in and out of traffic and cutting other people off. Recently I had someone cut me off on the highway and then give me the finger because I wasn't going quite fast enough to suit them. (I was driving at the speed limit). And while a lot of that is just anger and frustration, and I get that - still, it's so easy to see that person in the other car as less than human.

One thing a pastor once suggested struck me: that that person who is driving a little fast and a little recklessly, maybe they just got word their child was in the hospital and they were rushing to see him or see her. Or by a similar token, maybe the person driving slowly and cautiously just had a warning light come on on their dashboard, and they were trying to get to a place to pull off and see what was wrong without causing too much danger. There are sometimes extenuating circumstances.

I see this kind of behavior a lot at the grocery store. People yelling at cashiers, people pushing in front of other customers, people doing things like talking on their cell phones and nearly running into other people because they literally do not "see" them. And while I realize it's a long stretch from a person being selfish on a cell phone to a person harming other seems in our culture right now selfishness is growing, that there are some people who seem to encourage "not seeing" the other person...or rejecting them as somehow "less" because of their beliefs or attitudes, or whatever.

I've decided that I'm going to try my best to, if I criticize, criticize POSITIONS or ATTITUDES and not turn it into an ad hominem attack. There's too much of that already and it does make me repulsed when I see, for example, the woman screaming at a person in the Wal-mart because that person got the last whatever off the shelf when the woman really wanted it. I'm tired of the ugliness winning.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

What would you do?

(No, this isn't about the theater shooting. All I have to say about that is how sad it is, how awful for the families of the dead and injured, and how fed up I always get at the Monday-morning quarterbacking about gun control/stopping showing violent movies/"introverts and loners are ticking time bombs"/etc.)

I had to run over to the next largest town last night: I have to use a special kind of antiperspirant (because my underarms are delicate flowers that get upset if I use a scented, non hypoallergenic kind). Of course, my small town doesn't sell the brand I have to use. And yes, I can order it online - but I'm going on a trip in about a week and wasn't at all sure that it would arrive in time, and I was close enough to being out that I could see running out just before I left.

So I figured, heck, I'll run over there, go get my antiperspirant, go to the big bookstore, do some grocery shopping, grab dinner out. I went to one of those "casual dining places" - a sort of sandwich shop. Places that are fairly family-friendly, and I'd seen families in there before when I ate there. Generally happy families, happy kids, the place has a "play zone" where the kids can hang out.

Well. Last night, as I had just been served my food, a mother and three kids came in. Two were tween/early teen girls and were perfectly well behaved, they seemed happy about the treat of dinner out. The third was a boy of somewhere between seven and nine. Who was throwing a fit:


Screaming and sobbing as his mom dragged him up to the counter where you order (his sisters looked mortified and told their mom what they wanted and went to find a table).

The kid continued to scream and cry and throw a tantrum. EVERYONE in the restaurant could hear him. He didn't shut up. His mom spoke quietly to him but I could not hear what she said.

He continued to fuss through part of their meal, finally he curled up on the floor and grumbled.

Okay: dismissing any kind of issue-beyond-his-control (he did not SEEM like someone on the Autism spectrum, and yes, I've known a few kids who were), what's a mom to do?

I know what I'd do if it were me and it was just me and him. I'd look at him the moment he started screaming (even before getting to the counter) and say, "Okay, we are going home. But you are obviously not feeling well so as soon as we go home you are going to BED and you will not be watching any television or playing any video games or reading any comic books (...or whatever), and I do not expect you to get out of bed before 6 am tomorrow." (It was a little bit after 6 pm at that point). And I'd do it. I would enforce the "you're going to bed because you obviously don't feel well" because (a) I don't want the kid to learn that he can get just what he wants (I assumed part of his upset was that maybe there was something on tv he wanted to see that he was missing) by screaming, and also (b) reinforce the idea that throwing a fit in public is not normal behavior.

But I don't know what I'd do if I had two other children with me, kids who were well-behaved and enjoying themselves. The girls were not old enough to be left for any length of time (or at least, I thought so), so the mom couldn't take the boy and say, "Okay, we are going OUTSIDE until you settle down." And it was 105 degrees out so she couldn't make him go sit in the car. If it were me? I'd hate to tell my daughters, "Sorry, your brother's being a pill, we're going to go home and eat peanut butter sandwiches" because that seems like caving to the little kid's behavior - teaching him that he can get what he wants by making a scene, and he can make his sisters' lives miserable by doing so.

Perhaps I would have said to him, gotten really in his face, "You will be quiet RIGHT NOW. Any further outburst from you, each outburst earns you a day of being banned from television/videogames/internet/whatever else you like to do" and I would enforce that. Maybe even do like my mom used to do and make the punished kid do housework and gardening alongside of me.

But, gah, what an awful situation. I started out being annoyed by the mom ("Why doesn't she take that brat outdoors?") and then feeling bad for her ("She can't just leave, what about her two daughters? It would be unjust to deprive them of a treat just because their brother is being a baby"). I shot the mom a sympathetic look but I have to admit the kid's screaming kind of ruined my dinner.

And people ask me if I'm "sad" because I never had kids...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Friday flip-off

Or Thursday, whatever. Thursday is my Friday in summers because we have a four day week.

But this week I want to administer a hearty go-soak-your-head to administrators who want to micromanage every aspect of our lives - down to, apparently, our e-mail signatures - we're now told what font to use and what information to include, and we MUST have the campus logo. And yet, there are some big problems (for example, campus buildings losing power in the late afternoon because of insufficient capacity for power demand) that won't be addressed, or "there's no money for that."

I can guess why we've been dictated what to have in our signatures, though, and that leads to my second, my go-fall-off-a-log: the people who felt the need to put information of a personal/political nature in their signature files, and thus make everyone else have to read it when they sent out an e-mail. I know of several people who had Bible verses in their signature lines, and while that doesn't bother me, I know people who would be greatly bothered by it. (Also, the fact that we are a state school raises some questions...) I guess I'd include a go-pound-sand for the people who are so hair-trigger offended by stuff that they called someone up and complained to them, and so rather than calling the person in question and asking them to remove the verse, the someone decided instead that we ALL will have ALL UNIFORM signatures.

The problem is I'm unsure of how to append the logo image. My chair has offered to help me do it but gah...neither she nor I should have to be dealing with this.

it makes me think of Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Friday, July 13, 2012


I'm teaching two summer classes. One is a majors-oriented class for upper-level students. My class this summer is small but mostly diligent, they ask interesting questions, they work hard.

I'm also teaching the non-majors class again (after a year off to teach the intro majors class, which I have to say I enjoyed teaching and hope I get to do again). These guys are mostly incoming freshmen. VERY incoming freshmen, as in, this summer is their first semester on a college campus.

They're very immature but it's kind of a fun immaturity. They're not jaded yet and most of them still have enough fear of the professor (me) that they treat me with a certain level of respect - they may joke around and harass each other before class, but when I start talking, they (mostly) shut up and pay attention.

Lab gets kind of crazy. And you know, I like teaching labs because that's where you see more of a person's personality, I think: if they're a whiner it tends to come out more in lab, if they're chronically clumsy, you see that. And even with having all these students together in lab for four hours every week, I still pretty much like them. Like I said, they're immature and a few of them do whine a bit - but it's almost a good-natured whining, like "I know it's expected that I complain about the workload but you know I don't really mind it." Or at least they seem to understand why they have to do the stuff they're expected to do.

Also, after having the awful, super-sense-of-entitlement student I had this spring - the guy who would buttonhole me after lecture EVERY DAY and tell me about his pathetic life and how much it sucked to be him, while I was calmly saying "I have another class I need to go and teach, I cannot discuss now, come to my office hours" (and he bitched me out - or at least, I assume it's him - on my evaluations for "not being available." Yeah, not being available when you want me to be). So I'm kind of inoculated against the sort of garden-variety shenanigans that these students pull.

Anyway. I guess my TA is not. I have a lab TA and she's excellent but she's not as patient as I am. (Well, she's also probably 20 years younger; I think age can teach you a lot of patience). One of the students - actually, one of the more vocal guys, who I kind of like because though he complains about stuff he's at least funny about it, and he's polite and respectful to me - seems to get under her skin. (Like I said: I think my age and prior experience has inoculated me against being bugged by his goofiness, it seems very mild by comparison to some things I've dealt with).

Anyway, the lab yesterday included measuring blood pressures before and after exercise. The idea is, you get a baseline pre-exercise (though the bps are not taken in ideal conditions- it's not quiet enough and no one follows the "put your feet flat on the floor and lay your arm on the table" directions). Then the student has to go and run for 2 minutes. Normally, we make them run in place in the lab, but in the summer - we're the only class in the building at that time so I told the students it was OK to run in the halls, or to run out the back door of the room, run around the building, and come back in the front.

So the guy was picked by his group to be the "exercise subject" (well: one of the other people in the group had a walking cast on her foot, and the guy in question plays intramural soccer). He griped about it, good naturedly of course, and got ready to run out the back door. As he was heading out, my TA yelled out,


It was totally unexpected and everyone else in the class burst out laughing. (I couldn't help it; I laughed too).

The good thing is the student wasn't at all insulted by it. You do have to be a little careful what you say to people in class and sometimes a joke or an innocent comment can really blow up, but this guy is jovial enough that it didn't bug him. (I think the fact that the class is a pretty cohesive group - they really all pretty much like each other - helped. I've had classes that were split into factions or where there were two people who REALLY disliked each other, and keeping the drama/insults to a minimum can be a challenge).

Monday, July 09, 2012

Is it just me? (a question)

Am I just being cranky, or is "Betting on America" a really *awful* campaign slogan?

To me, it sounds like giving up. It sounds like the person I know whose 401k tanked and who said, "I guess 'winning the lottery' is my new retirement plan."

I dunno. While I tend to be somewhat laissez-faire about gambling as an entertainment, it's a truly lousy way to plan your future. (I know too many people who have planned on "winning big" and who wound up losing more than they - or their families - could stand to lose).

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Childish, but it made me feel better

As some of you know, I make an effort to work out for an hour a day, four to five days a week. (I am still fat. There is no justice in the world). I do this because I am healthier when I am working out, I feel better, and usually doctors shut up about the weight-loss pills when I give them the stink-eye and say, "I work out an hour a day and strive to eat a healthful diet." (If they don't shut up, or accuse me of lying, I fire them.  One of the reasons the "healthcare reform" concerns me is that if I have less choice of doctors, I may wind up having to see someone who constantly hounds me until I give in and wind up destroying my heart valves or something by taking whatever kind of synthetic speed they're pushing for "weight loss" these days)

Anyway, to keep from being bored to craziness by it (an hour on the equivalent of a treadmill is no fun), I listen to music or to the radio. Yesterday afternoon I was listening to Dennis Prager, whom I rather like listening to, but I LOATHE the ads the radio station plays. About 90% of them are about...guess what...weight loss.

One of them strikes me as particularly egregious. It's for Hoodia, which is an extract of an African milkweed plant (I looked it up. Incidentally, many milkweeds are toxic, that is why so few animals eat them). The guy pushing the stuff talked about how the hoodia made him forget to eat...he boasted about how he went to bed one night and realized he had "forgotten" to eat at all that day. (That just seems very disordered-eating to me. It's one thing to carefully control portion size, as I do, and consider what you eat to be sure you're getting the essential nutrients....but to miss a day's nourishment and be happy about it? That seems very screwed up.)

And I hit the breaking point. I said out loud, "Your ad is bad and you should feel bad." (reference, for those unfamiliar with the meme). And you know? It made me feel a lot better.

Childish, but it made me feel better.

I may be using that same line on political ads as this campaign season ramps up.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Celebrating freedom

Yeah, yeah, I know: in some areas especially, it's under assault. (I'm looking at you, Mayor Bloomberg.)

But still, we have an awful lot of freedom in this nation (and at this point in time) that people in other places and at other times do not have.

I particularly think of women in Muslim-dominated countries, as I am a woman myself. Here in America, I enjoy the freedom of being employed, owning my own house, owning and driving my own car, being able to go shopping without a man to 'chaperone' me. I can dress however I want provided I conform to minimal laws concerning not disturbing the peace by being extremely immodest. I will not be arrested for wearing a short skirt or a low-cut top.

I also have freedom of conscience. I can go to whatever house of worship best fits my conception of God, or I can choose to go to none at all. There is no state religion (no matter what some may claim) that is compelling me to worship in a particular way or even worship at all. I can give money to any religious group I believe in, or not give money to any at all.

I do not have to show papers if I cross a state border. I do not have to have proof of why I am traveling somewhere and whether that travel is "essential." I can go alone if I choose, or I can take along any person I wish. If I am stopped on the street and asked to show identification, I can demand to be told why.

I can spend my take-home pay however I choose. No one will question me if I buy loads of books and only buy a new car when my old one is worn out. No one will question me over WHICH books I buy. And while there are plenty busybodies who would presume to tell me what foods I should or should not buy, or what entertainment I should or should not engage in, there still are no laws allowing them to enforce that - or preventing me from telling them to go pound sand.

(I can still find incandescent bulbs in some stores and buy them.)

If I disagree with the government and what it's doing, I can write about it here. No one from the government can come and arrest me for that. Likewise, if a group of people and I decided that there was something wrong, we could go and stand in a public place and talk about it, and no one could arrest us for that. Every four years I get to vote for who I think makes the best president (well, of the choices we have...) and every two years I get to vote for representatives. And I get to vote on a variety of "state questions" as well. Had I lived as a woman one hundred years ago in this nation, I could not do that.

Regardless of what some people say, I do not fear the police breaking down my door in the middle of the night. And there are places in the world where that was a real possibility for some people. (Probably still is, in some parts of the world).

If I were accused of a crime, I would have a right to a 'speedy' trial. And the right to have my case heard by and decided upon by twelve other citizens. And I would have the right to have a professional to represent me and present my case.

Sure, there are problems in our nation. Some of the problems are rooted in the people we have chosen in the past number of years as our representatives; some of the problems may be that a lot of us seem to want to get something for nothing. And yet, despite those problems, we still have a lot of greatness and freedom beyond what many countries can even dream of.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Did I hear this right?

Item on the radio news: Starting next year, every car to be sold in Europe must be equipped with a Breathalyzer.

So, I assume: you're gonna have to blow every time you plan on driving somewhere?

I can totally see the nanny staters here being all over this. And that offends me. I don't even drink, so why treat me as a potential DUI? And even beyond the whole ethical thing of suddenly treating everyone like potential lawbreakers even when they would never do anything so witless as driving drunk, there's another issue:

What happens if the technology fails? What happens if John Q. Employee gets into his car at 7 am on Monday morning after having drunk nothing stronger than Coffea arabica and the car won't start up, because the breathalyzer is crapped out? Sure, John's wife Jane could probably drive him to work as long as her car's breathalyzer was working, but what about Single John or Single Jane - or one-car families?

I really don't like this idea. Therefore, I expect we'll see it here within ten years.