Friday, November 30, 2012


I think God has enough of a sense of humor not to be offended that I find this funny:

Also makes me think of the good old Bill Cosby routine:


Attendance and grades, a link

I teach a stats class for our majors. I tend to have a skewed grade distribution in there - a clump of people in the B to A range, with a long tail going off to the left....there are always a few people who do spectacularly poorly in the class.

And it's really not that it's such a HARD class, I think. I try to teach it in a way to make it clear. I work lots of examples. I give weekly homework where I require the students to calculate the tests they are currently learning and I give copious feedback on the homework (and I also work through the problems on the board after I hand the homework back, so people can see where they messed up, if they did.)

I don't want to boast, but I've had people who came in at the beginning of the semester either apprehensive about math, or telling me, "My last math class was 10 years ago" (we get a lot of non-traditional students), and they wind up earning As. The advice I give to people who express concern about how they will do is simple: Attend class, pay attention to the examples I work. Do all the homework and if you have any questions or if there is anything you do not understand, come in and talk to me ASAP and I will see if I can explain it in a way that will make sense to you.

However, as I said, I have a few people who do spectacularly poorly. I have three or four this semester. Mostly they are people who miss class a lot. One of them even missed an exam with no excusable reason.

I don't always know the reasons people miss class. In some cases, it's lack-of-caring about school - I've seen that, I've seen people (especially in the intro non-majors class I teach) who don't understand the relevance of a class, who see the fact that we expect them to get something resembling a well-rounded education as an archaic rule passed down by "the man" to keep students down. (To be honest? I'd rather NOT teach non majors. There are a few in the class who really care and work hard and are interesting to teach...but then there's an equal number of real attitude-problem people that make my work more difficult. I try really hard to make the class "relevant" and all that crap - but sometimes you don't SEE the immediate relevance of something you learn, you don't realize it until later on).

Or people have more pressing matters (or so they think) in their lives at the moment. (I remember my dad, when he had a grad student who had been doing very well, more or less suddenly have his grades start to tank, speculate: "I wonder what her name is?" (meaning, he presumed the student in question had a new honey).

Or, a hurdle we deal with here because we have so many "first generation" students: we get people who don't have family support, or in some cases have outright family hostility. For example: being told to babysit nieces and nephews on a test day because the kids' mom wants to go out shopping, and it's the student's "turn" to do the babysitting. Or in some cases, I've had students who had demanding and rather - what's the word? Codependent? parents who pulled passive-aggressive crap on them that showed me (or at least I think) that the parent really doesn't want the kid to grow up and become independent. And I have sympathy for that....but there's only so far you can accommodate.

In some cases there are chronic health problems. If I know about these, I can work around them. Sometimes we get Disability Concerns letters, if the student goes through them. One semester, for example, I had a student with severe chronic asthma and was warned that he might be absent a number of days on fairly short notice if his asthma was acting up. (He actually had better attendance, and was more engaged, than most of the "non disabled" students in the class). Or I've had students who get migraines and I can sympathize with that, as I used to (rarely) get them myself, and I know how you really cannot function while suffering from one. But people don't always tell me. I get that I'm probably not really bound by any privacy laws not to disclose to other people....but I'd hope students who had had me for a few classes would realize I'm the type of person who would NEVER share details of someone's medical stuff with another person. (Single exception would be someone saying they were thinking of hurting themselves or someone else; in that case if I couldn't drag them into Counseling Services myself, I'd definitely call a bunch of people to let them know).

But in some cases, it's just poor planning, poor time management. I don't have much sympathy there. Oh, I get, that some people, like Mr. Skimpole, just have "no sense of time" and believe they should be shown incredible considerations because of that. But you know what? You can, barring certain specific cognitive disabilities, DEVELOP a sense of time. You can set alarms on your fancy shiny cell phone. You can leave the house fifteen minutes earlier. Or you accept the consequences - I'm not going to make accommodations for someone who missed class because something "really cool" was on TV, or because they wanted to have a long breakfast, or some damn thing.

The other thing - with a lot of the big problems, health issues, family problems, crises at work - well, it sounds a little heartless to say because many of those problems are beyond the student's control, but - if you're missing two or more weeks of class? It probably makes more sense to drop out of school, get your life back together, and return later. And I get that that's not always workable, and some of the stupider aspects of how some financial aid works is that it's preferable to fail and retake a class than to drop out - but it really is hard to catch up after missing that much class, especially if there is something going on (like a major audit at work, or dealing with divorcing parents) that is going to distract one's attention. (I know it was a BAD semester for me - and I was teaching, and I had all my materials pretty much lined up and ready to go - the semester my dad was going through diagnosis of what eventually turned out to be early stage prostate cancer (which, thank God, he beat) - I was sad and distracted a lot and I know it badly affected my teaching. And that wasn't even as dire as many of the things students have tried to soldier on with).

But I really hope my chronically-absent stats students don't come back to me demanding some late-semester accommodation "because." They haven't kept me in the loop, I don't know if there are extenuating circumstances or if they just are poorly organized or don't care, and that makes it hard for me to be able to turn around and show a lot of sympathy. Especially at what is generally the busiest time of the semester for me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What is this, I don't even....

There's a case where a man was sent to jail for a month because he mocked a 10 year old girl with cerebral palsy.

Okay, let's put aside for now the question of whether something like that rises to being an offense to be jailed for (arguably, it could fall under free speech, but then again it could fall under harassment and intimidation). And apparently the case is muddied by the fact that he alleges she called his son names, and apparently there's bad blood between the family. Let's put all of that aside and look at the man's actions.

Mimicking how a kid with CP walks - how they have to walk, because of their disability?

My only response to what this guy did is to use language I don't often use: That's a douchebag move. That's seems so cowardly to me. It's low. It's not being a grown-up, but then we have no shortage of chronological grown-ups in this country who behave like spoiled children.

I don't care if she called his son names. There are some things that should be "off the table" when it comes to retaliation, and an ADULT making fun of a CHILD'S disability is one of them. (He has a disability himself, apparently: he's not smart enough or doesn't have enough common sense not to act like a jerk, at least in this situation).

I hope the girl involved realizes that this incident tells us far more about the character (or lack thereof) of the man than it does about her.

(Disclaimer: I was friends with a kid with CP when I was in junior high. Actually, I wound up sitting at the "disabled kids'" table at lunchtime - partly because the popular kids made it hard for us to sit anywhere else, even if we had wanted to split up, but partly because enough of the popular kids were (to use that term again) douchebags.)

I suppose this is also a lesson on parents getting too involved in their kids' disputes. You know what? I was called names ALL THE TIME as kids. In some cases my mom had to look them up in a slang dictionary because she didn't know what the "new" meanings of some of them were. And I remember her great consternation when some of my fellow classmates called me a "slut" (I was 10 and hadn't even held hands with a boy) and she went back to the dictionary to see if there was some other meaning than the one she knew. (There wasn't, and her conclusion was that the stupid girls heard the word from older kids, just knew it was an insult without knowing what it meant, and hurled it at someone who happened to be innocent of its charges). Kids can suck. Lots of little kids can be amazingly mean to others. We don't need adults - who should know better - sinking to that level.

What I've said before applies: If I had a kid, and there was any way on God's green earth I could manage it, I'd homeschool. To protect them from the stupid cruelty of other kids. And I guess, from some idiotic adults.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Did I hear this right?

I was just walking through the room when the news was on but I thought I heard a comment made to the effect that, "They could split up dealing with the fiscal cliff and deal with spending cuts later."

Okay. So if that's correct, they're going to raise taxes now, and cut spending later?

Does anyone else hear Wimpy (from "Popeye") saying "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today"?

(Actually, I think the fact that some of those shows - like Popeye - were replaced by more-modern, sensitive cartoons may be part of our problem. Wimpy taught an important lesson: don't keep enabling a moocher. Just like that character on the old Sesame Street who was "trying to get your nickels" (as my dad put it, and he also would talk to my brother and me about how advertisers would "try to get your nickels")

Inflation and real money

Something I've been thinking about:

The "increases outpacing inflation" in college tuition, and the rise in prices of medical care are probably caused by similar reasons.

In both cases, it's rare you're paying "real dollars" for it. Most of us have health insurance that covers the medical costs. And granted, there are tests and medications and things now that there weren't fifty years ago, but one of the men I go to church with was talking about how a friend of his who is on dialysis found that Medicare is billed some $7000 (I think that was the figure) per SESSION of his dialysis. Of which he has three sessions a week. And there are set-ups for six or eight people to get dialysis at the same time.

I wonder what dialysis would really cost, if the government wasn't paying for so much of it. (Or insurers. I wonder if there are some insurers who are heartless enough to "time out" someone on dialysis; to tell them they've used up their allotment for the year).

On the one hand: dialysis is necessary for people who have kidney problems. But on the other: does a 3-hour session of it REALLY cost $7000?

I've had more doctor visits lately than I have in a while. My heredity caught up with me and I developed a little chronic health issue that runs in my family. It's partly reduced by diet and exercise (which I am DEFINITELY doing, and I told my doctor that I will probably be one of the most compliant patients she ever sees in that area, because I'm a control freak and if I feel like I can control the issue by eating healthfully and doing stuff like avoiding salty fatty pizza and hamburgers, I will do it.) and also by a low dose of a medication. And by learning to calm the hell down, but I'm having a harder time with that.

But I've had something like three appointments in the past month, each of which has a co-pay for me of $25. My insurance pays about $100 per visit. Is 20-30 minutes of my doctor's time, plus a weigh-in, heart-rate check, blood pressure check, and temperature check worth $125 or more? And I'm assuming, based on the appointments I've made, my doctor sees at least a dozen people per day, five days a week. I know there's overhead on the building and costs of equipment and everything, much of that is "that's really what it needs to cost" versus "that's what insurance will pay." (And I wonder: if I had NO insurance, would I be charged $125 per visit? I could afford it - just barely, by cutting back elsewhere - but it would be a strain to pay $375 in a month to see a doctor (though in the future, that will probably be less frequent - every three months, or every six. And thank God the problem I have is minor and controllable)

I don't know. I do know doctors go to school for a long time and have lots of expenses (malpractice insurance, for one thing) but I know if I were doing consulting in one of my areas of expertise (say, soil science), I wouldn't be able to charge $125 an hour (at least not where I live) and have clients.

Granted: I want doctors to make good money. I want it to be an attractive profession for "the best and the brightest" but I suspect there are other things (like tort reform) that would make it even more attractive without charging as much money. (And if malpractice insurance dropped in price....) Or if doctors had less paperwork. I have friends and relatives who are doctors and one of their major complaints is the mountain of paperwork and regulations they have to deal with.

I've also heard of some doctors who have a revolving door - patients see them for maybe five minutes at a go. I guess I chose well in my doctor in that she takes a lot of time to talk with me, and she does listen to my heart and lungs and all that every appointment. And I'm sure some of the revolving-door stuff is again driven by money - cost of overhead, cost of malpractice, maybe cost of paying back med school loans.

I think of the things you read about the older days - when someone went into the hospital to have a baby and the total bill was like $150 (including hospital stay) rather than the thousands it is today. And while I realize, as I said, technology is a lot more advanced (and there are a lot more things they look out for in newborns now), and there's been inflation everywhere, I still wonder.

I suppose some of the high cost to those of us with insurance is the fact that there are people who can't or don't pay....(for a while I was dealing with collections calls for someone with my same last name and same first initial, and it was apparently medical debt. I finally did make it clear to the company that I was not the person they sought). But there does need to be an option so that those with no ability to pay get at least a basic standard of care....but I know of a number of doctors and dentists here who do "free clinic" days several times a year and invite people who cannot afford care, or who can't afford regular care but could make a small donation, to come and get at least diagnosed and some basic treatments for free. And I am sure there are charitable groups who help provide healthcare for the indigent or those who simply can't afford it....but I guess there aren't enough of them. I mean, there needs to be some basic humanitarian standard, even someone like me who objects to carrying "freeloaders" on her back (figuratively speaking) gets that.

But again, I wonder how the cost of medical care is calculated.

And I wonder if something similar is operating in college tuitions. Again, I want professors to make a decent salary (and I most definitely have a vested interest in that!) and for people like deans and secretaries and librarians to. (What they pay the secretaries and janitors here is pretty sad. Most of the service staff have a spouse who makes better money, or they have a side career, like being a landlord). But tuition does seem to keep going up, and I wonder if some of that is the high percentage of people on financial aid or scholarship....if it's that the money becomes "unreal," that it's not clearly coming from one person's pocket, and so it's like Monopoly money.

I have talked before at some length about things that I think drive up tuition. Some of those things are perhaps necessary evils (more administrators to deal with the increased paperwork and federal/state mandates), some of the things are because parents and students say they want them (fancy workout facilities, wifi in the dorms, dorm rooms with kitchenettes and private bathrooms) and all that stuff costs money.

But it does seem that on a lot of campuses, what you pay has outpaced what you get, and it makes me wonder where the money goes.

Oh, I'm not complaining about my salary: I do very well, thank you. If I teach in the summer, I make just shy of $60K a year, and I get health insurance and the option to pay a small amount for extra dental and vision and long-term-care insurance. But there's an awful lot of deferred maintenance on my campus, and the library is always suffering cutbacks....and I wonder where the rising tuition money goes. I know we have lots of administrators and lots of coaches and they make some pretty high salaries. And I know there are certain mandatory costs, like site licenses for software in the computer labs.

But....I just wonder, sometimes, you know? (I will say: I strive to work hard at teaching, to do a good job grading. I want the students to feel like they got their "money's worth" in my classes and then some. I do know of a few profs in other departments who could be accused of phoning it in - but in my department we all seem to work pretty darn hard and care a lot about getting our students the best education we can, so they can go out and get a good job in their field. And our track record of doing just that is pretty damn good, if I do say so myself.)

I wonder how things would change if we had to go back to the system of YOU pay out of YOUR OWN pocket for most medical stuff (I would think we'd still need something like catastrophic insurance, to cover really dire stuff) or back to the system of parents and/or kids working to pay their own tuition. Could we go back and do that? What kind of cutbacks would that take?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Was he kidding?

I didn't watch the Soul Train awards, but I did hear a soundbite from them.

And the way it's been snipped out, I honestly can't tell if the speaker is joking or serious. Tone of voice used says "joking" to me, but would someone joke about President Obama like that in front of a crowd of entertainers, many of whom (I presume) are supporters? Was there a collective sucking-in-of-breath after he said it, like "Wow, he just really put his foot in it"? I wonder what the crowd reaction was.

I will say that even as a joke, the "Lord and Savior" thing rubs me a bit the wrong way, and my brain immediately blipped to:

"Do not put your trust in princes,

in mortal men, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.

(Psalm 146, verses 3 and 4).

EVERY human being I have worked alongside or looked up to or known has, at times, disappointed me. Oh, I forgive them for it (though there are some I won't trust any more because of the level or constancy of the degree to which they disappointed me). But there's no human being - sorry, Obama-supporters, not even our President - perfect enough to be called Lord. There just ISN'T. And there won't ever be a human being like that. We're too selfish, too prone to conditional love, too desirous of getting ourselves ahead even if it's at the expense of another.

I do hope Foxx was joking; as I said, it SOUNDED to me like he was, regardless of what some of the conservative commentators are saying. But....if it's a joke, it's not a terribly funny one.  And in somewhat poor taste, I think, considering how many of us are gearing up to observe Advent, when we remember the coming of our real Lord and Savior.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thank God.

I'm thankful it's nearly the weekend for me. And barring one little bit of research work I want to clear up, I have nothing I HAVE to do.

And thank God - and I mean that sincerely - that Monday night I will be on a northbound train going to visit my family for Thanksgiving. A couple of days around sane people who love me and understand that too much noise and too many people get to me after a while.

(I called my mom about the punk mom at the PO yesterday and she just told me to forget her, that someone who gets so defensive over someone giving her kids the stink-eye is too used to apologizing for their bad behavior. She's probably right. But thank God I don't have to go back to the post office for a while).

And it's nearly holiday time. I plan to decorate my house this year. I know a lot of "efficiency experts" who claim that if you're traveling for Christmas, you "shouldn't" decorate your own house but screw that. I need some happy, I need some shiny. I need an excuse to pull out my teddy bears and line them up on the sofa. I need fairy lights. And I'm going to pull out my Christmas CDs and listen to them.

And I will pick up some canned tuna and peanut butter and beans and stuff on my Saturday shopping trip, to donate to the big drive they're having for the food banks here. They mentioned at the Monday CWF meeting just how down giving to the food banks have been. And yeah, times are tough all over, and I get that some people who used to donate may actually be relying on the food banks now. Thank God, I'm still in a position to have enough money to buy some extra staples to pass on to them, so I'm going to do it.

And I'm going to pick up a toy for Toys for Tots. This is a little tradition I've started: to find some toy, something that would have been something that either my brother or I would have really enjoyed when we were kids, and buy it, and drop it off for Toys for Tots. Because, I don't care whatever bad decisions someone's parents made: it's nice to think of a kid getting a toy on Christmas when he or she might not otherwise.

(And yeah, I'm still kind of mad at the outside world after yesterday, but like Linus Van Pelt, I tend to love humanity but hate people)

And again: to me it's a very tangible way of showing my gratitude that I both have enough now, and that I was one of those kids who was blessed with good parents who cared about me and made good choices and that every Christmas there was always at least one thing I really wanted under the tree. And it allows me to remember, a little bit, what it was like to be a kid waiting for Christmas. How huge that was, how fun that was. How it really was in a lot of ways the best time of the year.

I'm ready to say "screw you, I'm goin' home" to most of the outside world,. and to turn inward and put up lights and a creche and bake cookies. Because I need to stop and remember that there's more to live than grading and cranky people.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

It's confession time: I'm an awful person

Yeah, I'm an awful person. Because, honestly, I don't like most children. I really don't want to be around children very much.

Oh, there are exceptions. A few of my friends have children who are funny and nice and well-brought-up. But the average urchin out there? Nope. Keep them away from me and me away from them.

This was brought home to me today when I had to go to the post office. I had had an AWFUL day so far: dealing with students with massive entitlement issues (though how that differs from any day, I can't tell you). Had a faculty meeting where we learned more administrative lunacy (apparently one of the higher admins thinks it's fine to tell a prof what to teach, and says "You still have academic freedom. For example, you an decide whether you allow chewing gum in class or not."). Had to negotiate our constantly-torn-up streets and drive through an intersection that SHOULD have a stoplight, but instead has a red-flashing-light so we have to treat it as a four-way stop, which means traffic is ALWAYS snarled and ALWAYS backed up a mile and a half.

And so, I wasn't exactly cheerful when I walked in. And then, as I tried to go through the glass double doors, a group of four or five kids under eight banged through them. The doors are ALL glass so they could see me coming. The door very nearly HIT me. I jumped back and gave them a look.

The mom said, "Sorry" but not in a way implying she was sorry. Thinking I had a moment of privacy, I shook my head and kind of horse-snorted (where I blow air out my mouth and my lips flap; it's sort of an involuntary expression of frustration). The woman turned around and snarled at me: "They're ONLY children!"

Yes, okay lady. I'm a monster. I'm an unnatural woman who hates children.

Because I want people to like me to a degree that is unhealthy for me, I apologized: "I'm sorry. I'm having a really terrible day."

She did say: "I'll PRAY it gets better" but the way she bit off that word "Pray," it sounded more like and "F YOU" to me.

Okay, fine: I get it. I'm not fit to go out in public. I should just, as a pathetic single person, always bow down and get out of the way when there are CHILDREN out there. No matter how pushy and ill-behaved they are. Because the children are our future! And it takes a village! And all of that crap!

And you know? I wouldn't go out in public and expose the worthwhile people who are raising children to my horribleness, but there are some things you just can't do online. I'm sorry. I'll try to avoid going out in public in the future. 

I'm glad I didn't have kids. I'm not sure I'd have the patience to deal with them when they got pushy and rude. And it's bad for a kid to see their mom break down and cry because she can't cope with it any more.

And yeah, I did come home and cry for about fifteen minutes. Because there's some random woman in my town who thinks I'm a child-hating monster, and because I reacted badly to a situation I should have approached with more grace, and because our dang post office is in such an awful inconvenient spot that I'm already in a bad mood when I walk in, just because it's such an ordeal to get there. And because of everything else. And because no matter how bad the administration gets on campus or how entitled the students get, I'll be teaching until I drop dead, because my retirement savings are just freaking evaporating. I should have just SPENT that money, spent it and enjoyed it, and, I don't know, just planned on checking out early or something.

I expect to be doing a lot of crying in the coming years because I don't see things getting any better.

Monday, November 12, 2012

You've heard of "RTFM"?

You've heard of RTFM (read the (bleeping) manual)?

Well, there's a corollary: FTDD. Follow the Damn Directions.

Yeah, I'm grading another exam and it's UUUUUGGGGLLLLY. In fact, some of the "wrong" answers are almost like, I don't know, they had a previous-semester's exam and just memorized it and spat up what the answers were for THAT, totally ignoring that I write new and different exams every semester BECAUSE there are "frat house files" floating around out there.

I'm really put out with this crew. Has everyone just decided to give up? Did I miss some memo somewhere that we're all now wards of the state, and we're just to pretend to look like we're working and we get our checks, or something like that?

I'm really unhappy with my students right now. These are NOT stupid people. They are being lazy and people being lazy pisses me off.

ETA: No, really. It is just random crap, almost as if someone memorized last semester's test. Totally nonsensical non-sequitur answers to the questions I am asking. And this is maybe 30% of the class.

interestingly, the International students (two from Asia, one from Africa), none of whom have English as their first languages? Are kicking the butts of the Americans. This makes me angry and yet at the same time does not entirely surprise me.(I mean - I'm not angry they're doing well. I'm angry my fellow country-men and -women are doing so poorly. This is NOT an impossible class. Difficult, yes. Impossible, no.)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Seriously, guys, wtf?

I gave an exam the other day.

On my review sheet, and in class, I harped on: "You need to know how to do these particular sets of calculations." Less than 10% of the class got them. This is despite working through them in class, my posting examples on the class website, and my having 10 hours of office hours a week where I sit in my office, more or less with my thumb up my butt, waiting for people to come in and get help.

I also told them, "Understand how this particular model works and be able to list the possible outcomes."

And on that question, about half the people just barfed up unrelated stuff, I guess in the hopes that they thought I wouldn't read carefully and would just check it off?

What frustrates me is that these are smart people. They're seniors. They should know better. I don't know if it's that they all have been admitted to med school or something and figure tanking grades now won't matter. Or what.

But I'm pissed off at them for being so lazy, when I went to extra trouble to make a detailed review sheet and to TELL them to know certain things for the exam.

I refuse to put up with any sadfaces or whining when I hand these exams back. They knew what was supposed to be on the exam. Either they didn't study, or they studied, didn't understand, and couldn't be arsed to come and ask me.

The job market really sucks right now, it will probably suck for a good long time. Not knowing your stuff is not going to help you get a job in your field.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Okay, I'm done with social media.

Too much football spiking, smugness, etc.


I just hope we make it okay through these next four years. I'm worried about the financial state of my country. I'm worried that more small businesses will close, and that the favored corporations will grow and prosper because they get governmental help they don't really need.

I'm worried about what this will do for my chances of actually retiring some day.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

I voted

So the damned robo-calls can STFU now.

I really hate robo-calls. I wish they could be banned for political purposes just as they technically are (despite the execrable Rachel from Cardholder Services) for businesses.

Apparently, my particular voting registration is rare in the district in which I live, so I get all of my party's calls. (I'd register I, because really, in some cases, neither R nor D describes me, but that would close me out of any primary voting here).

Sadly, throughout my adult life, my presidential vote has mainly been "I like the other guy less" than "I really like the guy I voted for." I suppose that's a feature of how our system is but it's kind of sad.

I hope they can make voting go smoothly for the folks on the East Coast (and maybe, I don't know, hand out blankets and canned food while they're at it?). I've watched the devastation with dismay and y'all are in my thoughts and prayers. I hope all the snafus preventing help from getting where it needs to be get unsnafued fast.

I suspect this is going to be a long night. I'm not going to watch any of the coverage. For one thing it bores me and for another it dismays me. I'm going to either read a book or see if there are any good cartoons or cooking shows on. I'll find out tomorrow morning if the race was decisive enough (and there haven't been any shenanigans) to pick a winner.

(I will say, I hope Romney wins at least one of Axelrod's "I'll shave my mustache off" states. Just, because.)

Friday, November 02, 2012

A very short open letter to Donald Trump.

Dear Donald,