Friday, March 30, 2012

I have to remind myself...

...that I'm teaching for people like the guy I wrote about in the last post, or the woman in my intro class who always asks interesting questions, or the people in ecology who go, "Wow, I learned a lot in lab today!" and not guys like this guy, but:

I have a guy in one of my classes who is a douchebag. Sorry for the harsh language but that's the best simple description I can give of him. He seems very self-absorbed; on several occasions I have had to speak to him for carrying on a conversation with the person next to him. He also spend most of one class period snickering over the fact that he got a 69 on an exam.

Well, today, it was ten minutes until the end of class. I wasn't quite done (I was thinking I'd finish the chapter and we'd leave a bit early, but then a couple people had questions) and wasn't to a good stopping point yet, so I kept going.

And he groaned. Loudly, and pointedly, and in the most "OHGOD WHY IS SHE STILL TALKING WHEN THERE IS BEER TO BE DRUNK?" sense.

I fought down my annoyance and didn't respond but damn. This guy plans on being a doctor...or so he said at the beginning of the semester. All I can say is that he's got an awful lot of maturing to do if he thinks he's going to make it in med school.

So, deep breaths. I'm teaching for the people who get excited when they learn they CAN identify trees. Or the people who wish me a good weekend at the end of Friday class. Not for guys like this jerk.

Sometimes, you do the right thing.

I had a student call me up earlier this week. This is someone who has ALWAYS been in class, who has ALWAYS been engaged and responsible.

He said, sounding shaken: "My dad's in the hospital. They don't quite know what's wrong but they're talking about putting a pacemaker in. I don't know when they're taking him back for examination...I might not make it to class today."

I told him it was important that he be with his dad, that there was nothing happening in class that was more important than what he was doing now, and that he could get the handout I was giving either off the class website, or he could pick it up from me during office hours.

He stopped by to get the handout yesterday. And he thanked me profusely for being understanding of the situation. He said that his dad was better, apparently it's a problem that medication can control, so they're trying that first. I smiled and told him I had had family members with health problems (one year I raced up home in a hurry because a stress test showed a "blockage" on my dad and they were worried that he might need surgery - he did not, but I was grateful that I was able to be there). He said, "No, you don't understand: some of the professors were telling me, 'No, you need to be in class.'"

I don't know. I've had people ask for excused absences so they could wait in line to buy freaking movie tickets for a movie that was opening, or so they could drive 300 miles to see some band they liked play. I figure that a person's dad maybe going in for heart surgery is a valid reason for them to miss class.

I just told him he was welcome. But I felt good that he appreciated  my willingness to let him miss. It made me feel like I had maybe made one right decision this week.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I'm just tired. I think it's partly the "worst" allergy season in years (but they said that about last year, too), and the sudden onset of heat and humidity (dear God, what is the summer going to be like, if they're predicting 90 degrees for Palm Sunday?). But I think it's also what's going on in the world.

I haven't really said anything about the Martin/Zimmerman issue. Whenever I see something getting played up big in the media, and it seems like there's a simple narrative, I get a little suspicious. I also think that my input is not needed: I'm not a witness, I'm not an expert.

So many things I see in the news lately dismay me. Both the fact that the event happened to begin with (there's so much violence in the world) and also the way commentators want to spin the information to make it fit their own personal narrative.

It's one of those times that I have to remind myself that most of the things that go on in the world really don't affect me directly. I've started largely ignoring the news (except for a few minutes of local news, and that mainly to catch the weather). The place inside my head is a nicer place than the outside world. And really, save for voting in November, there's not a lot I can do to influence things. Oh, I mean, there are things I can do locally to affect individual people's lives...I can continue to do the volunteer work I do, or I can pick up trash off the roadside, or I can go to a committee meeting I'd really rather not but at which something important is going to be decided and I have some knowledge of the situation. But I can't influence the Supreme Court or write a budget for the U.S. that won't sink us further into debt, or eliminate the possibility of the Taliban rising again once we leave Afghanistan.

I wonder if maybe one of the problems of the 24-hour news cycle is that people begin to think of things having an immediate and extreme impact on their lives when those things are taking place half a world away. Or they think they can somehow change things by feeling strongly about them.

I don't know. I'm just very tired right now.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sticking my fingers in my ears

Because I don't want to hear the ugliness that's coming.

Dick Cheney got a heart transplant.

I can already hear the howls of outrage about how he doesn't "deserve" one because he's a bad, bad man and a wrong-thinker and all of that (and also that he's, like, OLD).

You know what? That kind of thinking makes me sick. I may disagree with President Obama on just about everything, I may be annoyed by Mrs. Obama's attitudes...but if, God forbid, either of them needed an organ transplant, I'd hope they got it. And I'd hope they'd have the best surgeons available to do it.

Because they have family that loves them. Because they're fellow human beings, and I don't like to see fellow human beings suffer.

The allocation of donated organs is pretty complex and has a lot of ethical questions about it. But I'm not going to claim someone "deserves" to die when a good-match organ is available for them just because of their politics or their attitudes. (I would probably feel differently if it were a mass-murderer on Death Row, but none of the individuals I've named above fit that scenario).

Increasingly, I'm disgusted by the ugliness, the "other-making" that both sides seem to engage in ("other-making" - using language that tries to dehumanize your opponent). I turn off radio hosts who have ugly "pet names" for politicians they dislike, or who use snarky terminology. I try not to use it myself; I try to disagree with the ideas and articulate why I think they're bad ideas, rather than demonizing the person.

(And I admit, though I didn't hear the broadcast, I am deeply dismayed by Limbaugh's usage of "slut" in the case of Ms. Fluke. I think it makes far more sense to argue from the "can we really afford all these new entitlements as a nation, and what does it do to people's mindset to let them think that every last thing they want will be covered by the government (meaning: taxpayer money)." Now, maybe he said that, I don't know...but what got the publicity was the ugly name, and as a result, the real debate (IMHO) got lost...but I guess that's how it's going to be from now on, like four year olds in a sandbox, throwing dirt and ugly names and not really explaining anything or trying to make their positions understood. We're not HEARING each other any more; we just seem to be looking for the next "gotcha."

The good and the bad

I did some traveling over the past week (my spring break). There are good things and bad things about traveling in public. I take Amtrak, partly because I'm too claustrophobic for planes (on Amtrak, you may be in an enclosed area, but at least you have a normal-sized window and you can see, like, the Earth out of it.) But also because I don't like "security theater" in the airports where I'm essentially "told" by the actions of the Agents that they think I'm a potential criminal and therefore better watch myself. On Amtrak, at least thus far, any security checks are minimal - I'm asked to show a photo ID when I hand my ticket to the conductor or car attendant, and once or twice they've done spot checks asking people to show their ticket stubs en route, but I've never been patted down or had my bags examined. I've heard of TSA agents coming on the train, and I've seen them milling about some of the bigger stations at "big" travel days (I remember seeing them at Thanksgiving) but I've never been stopped by seems they're just kind of there, maybe as a deterrent to things like pickpockets more than anything.

There are some problems with train travel:

Dude #1, carrying out a business convo on the train so loudly I could hear it in the next compartment. I would have written down and used the stock tips he was offering except he sounded like an idiot otherwise, so they'd probably be no good.

Laughing woman: I have no idea what was so funny but DAMN she laughed for like an hour. Loudly. So loudly I could hear it down the hall.

Children screaming and pounding on the walls of the compartment behind me, and then their parents yelling at them to be quiet.

Dude #2, in the dining car, all cursey and stuff. Look, I'm no angel, I use harsh language sometimes - but not in settings where there are children or other people who don't want to hear me mouthing off.

And while I don't remember it happening to me, I do remember seeing people "stranded" at a table in the dining car with three fellow seatmates, all of whom were totally engrossed in their smartphones...leaving the fourth person sort of an odd man out, left to stare out the window. While I don't expect to make lifelong friends on the train, I do think it's nice to at least speak to the people you're assigned to eat dinner with...

And there's always the potential for delays...even weather delays, even with Amtrak. And there's the potential for unpleasant employees but I have to say nearly all of the Amtrak staff I've dealt with recently - sleeping car attendants, a conductor, the people in the dining car - have been friendly and nice. (I think part of the secret is to say "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me" and generally recognize the people as fellow human beings. Well, I also tip, and that probably helps, especially when I get the same people working the dining car that I've seen before...)

There are also some really nice things about train travel.

I mentioned the lack of "security theater" before - and the feeling of being safe on the rails (even if airlines are perhaps statistically-speaking, safer). But there are other things:

As I said, I get a compartment. That means quite a few hours of mostly-uninterrupted (if the parents in the next compartment can persuade their kids to stop banging on the walls) reading time. I read a couple of books this time; one on Ice Ages in general, another one on the Little Ice Age (the roughly 1300-1850 time span of colder European temperatures). And part of a book on the lost colony of Roanoake.

And there's the scenery. It's not always great - we seem to pass a lot of junkyards and blighted neighborhoods, probably part of that is NIMBY at work - but there are also lots of nice small towns and interesting Ozark scenery (though I'm usually asleep for that).

Just as you get to see the annoying people, you get to see interesting people. I stepped out at one of the longer station-stops (a crew change stop so they let people get off and walk or smoke) and I saw a group of Amish teenaged girls (I think they were teenagers; they were about the height and build you'd expect of young teens but it's hard to tell from the clothes) running races up and down the platform for exercise. (Lots of Amish and the more-traditional Mennonites (you can tell them by their dress; some of the more liberal Mennonites don't dress differently from an ordinary person) use the train.) An older couple with a teenaged disabled son helping him out, he was really excited to be traveling on the train. A young couple apparently on honeymoon taking their photo next to the train car they were in. The usual crew of train buffs or retired train employees who will tell you all kinds of interesting stories if you let them...

I also like most of the employees I come into contact with. I'm sure there are the "bad seeds," the people who know their job is probably largely a sinecure (I don't think it's easy to fire a federal unionized employee) but most of the people I come into contact with seem to enjoy working on the train and seem to enjoy people. Several of the dining car attendants who are regularly on the run I take greet me almost like an old friend. I don't know if that's because I tip fairly generously, or because I'm polite, or because I don't make crazy special-snowflake requests (and trust me, I've seen those, in the dining car) or some combination...but it's kind of nice to walk into the dining room and have someone say, " must be on break again!"

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I'm only PART Irish (about 1/4) and my family never was much into "ethnicity" when I was growing up, so I'm not terribly in touch with my various heritages. And also, my father "switched allegiances" (his family was largely non-practicing Catholic - my mother's family was fairly staunch Protestant, so they wound up as Disciples of Christ and that's how I wound up as one).

And I'm not a big fan of the "drink green beer until it comes out your various orifices" celebration that this day seems to be (or at least, seems to be in the large college towns: years ago I lived down the street from a nominally-Irish bar and I just knew to wear earplugs the night of St. Patrick's Day).

But I do like the idea of this as a more reflective day. I've always been fond of the prayer/poem attributed to St. Patrick, commonly called "St. Patrick's Breastplate."

I especially like this section:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

It does, to me, convey that idea of being surrounded and protected by Christ.

I admit, a lot of days lately I "fail" at the "Christ within me" part - I get too annoyed at my fellow humans, I don't have the patience and tolerance and the ability to stop and go, "They may have some underlying problem that's making them do this" (Like: the person who cuts you off in traffic may be preoccupied because they are on the way to the hospital to see someone very ill). So it's something I need to work on more: being better at showing compassion and tolerance when it's warranted, giving "tough love" when necessary (because Christ showed tough love when He knew it would benefit the person - like the woman at the well, who had been married multiple times, but was at that moment living with a man to whom she was not married). And I need to work on being better and discerning when compassion is needed and when tough love is needed. (But I find that so hard. I think that's one of my blind spots in understanding my fellow humans).

The rest of the "Breastplate" can be found here

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sleep and dreams

Gah. I'm having the awful, oppressive, upsetting dreams again. This happens when I'm both physically stressed (this is an uncommonly bad allergy season) and mentally stressed (lots of work to do, not a lot  of free time, a couple of rather difficult students in my classes). I actually dreamed last night that one of my students committed suicide and left behind a note essentially saying it was my fault because I wasn't "nicer" to him, and I was having to defend myself before some sort of a tribunal. Before that, I was dreaming about having to carry a jar of mud (? why? I don't know, but apparently it had some purpose) around the vacant lot of the house where I grew up and deliver it to someone without being seen and captured. (It was like some kind of a wartime thing. Perhaps I was influenced by watching part of "I Was a Male War Bride" on TCM the night before, despite its being a comedy....)

I hate that. I hate it when sleep stops being a refuge and starts being something I fight a little because of the dreams I might have. (I woke up from one of those dreams with a pounding heart and in a sweat. It's possible it was a hot flash - thank you very much, perimenopause - but I couldn't get back to sleep for like an hour).

I try to use little mental scenarios to help myself fall asleep. I imagine a place to live that's different from where I live - a lot of them are inspired by things I see on Tiny House Blog. I don't know why I have the recurring fantasy of having a little cabin in the woods, off the grid - but I go through all the imaginings of how I'd have it set up (somewhere cool enough in the summers that I wouldn't need to worry about having enough power for air conditioning; having LED lights that draw less energy, so maybe I could make do with solar panels and be off the grid...). Or a lighthouse. Or a big old farmhouse somewhere really remote, where I make my living raising apples or pears or something.Or even weirder places, like a treehouse (though I still haven't figured out how a person would work indoor plumbing in one, and I'd need indoor plumbing). or a cave that's outfitted for human habitation.

The funny thing is, in every single dang one of these fantasies, I live alone. I guess I've lived alone long enough that it's not really possible for me to imagine - at least in my going-to-sleep-fantasies - sharing my habitation with another person. (Not even really a pet, although in some variants of the farmhouse daydream I have sheep or horses, but they have their own place to live and sleep at night, separate from me).

I get very elaborate in my imaginings...down to what kind of floor-coverings I have, where the bookshelves are, how (in the houses without a lot of windows) I get enough light in my off-the-grid life to be able to read.

I don't know what it says about me that so many of my daydream type of things involve me living far away from other humans. I'm really not THAT antisocial. I suppose it's that I get sufficiently fed up with dealing with people during an average workday that it seems like a nice fantasy to have days upon days where I don't see or speak to another human being...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The little pleasures

Of the small pleasures in life, I think one of the best ones is being able to get into a warm shower on a chilly day.

(And yes, it's chilly here - chilly and rainy.)

I wonder if people in the developed world, who have always lived with safe clean running water really appreciate what a blessing it is. (I was without hot water for a couple weeks a few years ago when my water heater died, and more recently was without water AT ALL for a week when the line leading up to my house cracked. Living without running water - or without hot water - is possible, but it's certainly not convenient.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

It makes a difference.

Some weeks back, I helped out at a campus recruitment event. I do this every year; it counts for service and I kind of enjoy doing it. I help out with the second half of the event. This year, the colleague of mine who does the first half got bronchitis and lost her voice, so I took over the first half of the event as well.

Yesterday I got the thank-you letter they send out (a form letter that we can then stick in our post-tenure review files). However, the person in charge of the event attached a separate handwritten note thanking me for stepping in at the last minute (and also coming EXTRA early and hauling a lot of stuff).

And you know? It makes a difference. I know we should not expect to be thanked for doing things like that but it makes a difference. I'm far more likely to volunteer for stuff again if I feel like people notice what I'm doing and appreciate it.

Sadly, this isn't always the case with volunteer work. I've worked in capacities where all I heard were complaints. And yeah, okay, if someone is actually doing something wrong, they need to be corrected on it. But an ongoing stream of petty, "Why aren't you doing it exactly the way I want it?" comments wears a person down and saps their good will.

In my field - in the sciences - praise and even thanks for stuff you've done are rare. (It seems to me that in the art-related fields, it's more common). Sadly, it's gotten to the point where if someone praises something I've done too heartily, I'm immediately suspicious: what are they going to ask me to do? What kind of agonizing task do they have lined up for me that they are buttering me up to do?

Still, it's nice to get that little handwritten note that says, in effect: Hey, I saw that you took on more work than you were planning and more than was expected of you initially. Thank you for being willing to do that.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Hypothetical question

This hasn't happened yet, but I suspect someday it's coming.

 If a student in your class drives drunk, gets thrown in the pokey and loses their license over it, do you have to treat it the same way that you'd treat an illness in another student? Meaning, if they miss an exam, and your "emergency illness" policy is that they can make up the exam, do you have to do it for the DUI student?

 My inclination is a strong "no." People choose to drink, they choose to drink to excess, then they choose to drive once they are drunk (which is a very stupid and dangerous thing to do). (And yeah, I suppose someone will make the tiresome argument that some people "bring" illness upon themselves by not eating enough vegetables or some damn thing. Well, it's not as clear of a cause-and-effect as "get wasted, drive, get stopped by cops and you're in trouble" is)

I bring this up partly because I have a student I'm concerned with...I think they have a substance-abuse problem. I can't tell for sure, other than they miss a LOT of class with no excuse given, they are often kind of vague and unfocused in class (can't follow directions, get things hopelessly muddled - this is the person who called me up all angry that I didn't tell them where lab was going to be when I had mentioned in class "We will meet in the lab room this afternoon"). Sometimes they smell VERY strongly of mouthwash, which I think is one way people cover up the smell of alcohol? I don't know. I admit, this person is also a thorn in my side: they are one of the multi-disability people who want to demand even more accommodations. I had to call Disability Concerns to ask, "Is it really true I have to allow make-up labs for this person even if their absence was unrelated to their disability?" because that is what the person was claiming. (The official answer: no way, not if you don't do make-up labs for others).

 Also, this person has (apparently) still not taken the most recent exam, which was on Friday (They have to take it in a quiet-room setting). I expressly told this person they NEEDED to take the exam on the same day as the rest of the class, and I e-mailed the head of Disability Concerns to inform him of it. I told him if the exam isn't on my desk by the end of this week (well, I was more polite than that), the student can forget it. This one person is driving me to fits and making me miserable. Part of me wishes they'd drop but as this course is a required course for graduation...if they drop or fail, I'll just see them again in the future.

Monday, March 05, 2012


This is why I very rarely discuss politics IRL.

It seems the tone of discourse has become, "If you disagree with me, you are a wrong, unprincipled, hateful person. And probably stupid as well."

If someone questions whether birth control should be 100% paid for, they are branded anti-woman. If someone suggests that just MAYBE Catholic institutions should not be required to pay for birth control for employees, because it's against their religious teachings, that person gets branded anti-birth-control and it's said of them that they want to BAN birth control.

It's argument by hysteria and I'm sick of it.

My argument on the whole health-care-paying-for-birth-control-and-the-like issue stems more from the fact that we are probably 10 years away from being in Greece's financial situation - do we REALLY want to keep down that path, or do we want to do something now that might prevent it? Health care is only part of it - many other things will have to be cut. Things that are painful to most of us. I think I've said before I'd be grudgingly okay with means-tested Social Security for my generation (which means I probably wouldn't get any, but then again, will I get any Social Security if things continue as they are now?) if it meant that the people who really NEED it in the future have a better shot at getting it.

But the nuances of argument get lost in "you wanna push Granny off the cliff!"

The thing is, I don't think we can keep spending money as a government the way we are now. If you're deeply in debt as an individual, do you keep spending? (Wait....don't answer that).

Say I was deeply in debt as an individual...say I had some huge expenses. Say, the water line to my house broke and needed to be replaced (as it did, recently). How do I pay for it? Well, I take the money I had saved up and spend it on that. Then I curtail my discretionary spending - not eating out at restaurants, not buying books, etc. - until I've saved back up what I spent. Yeah, it sucks. But it's better than having the water line break and having to take out a loan (and go through the approval process for same) BEFORE I could fix it.

I think as a nation we need to take that attitude more with our governmental projects - not just assume that somehow the money will magically appear in the future, 'cos it won't.

But I'm really REALLY really REALLY disgusted with the "you're just an ugly antifeminist" attitude that people are taking with anyone who dares question whether our government should be paying for birth control for everyone....

Sunday, March 04, 2012


Like a lot of the rest of you, I've been watching, horrified, at the aftermath of the Midwest (and South) tornadoes this past week. I'm just old enough to remember the big tornado outbreak of 1974 in Xenia, Ohio. I grew up in Northeastern Ohio (the opposite side of the state) from Xenia, but it was still a big thing in the news. (I guess the Xenia tornadoes were part of a much larger outbreak, but I remember that day as the Xenia tornadoes, because that was what was in the news. Funny, it was a few weeks after my brother was born and I don't even REMEMBER him being on the scene... I guess he was up in his cradle or something.)

Even though I live now in what's traditionally considered "tornado alley," I remember far more tornado worries as a kid - running to the basement with my parents when the sirens sounded. Some springs, I remember keeping my treasured Snoopy doll (the one thing I felt I would have really been lost without) as close to me as possible (at least when I was at home) so that if the siren sounded, I could grab him and get to the basement (I knew there was no way on Earth my parents would let me run up to my bedroom to get ANYTHING).

I suppose the reason I weathered a lot more tornado warnings during the years of my childhood than the years I've lived here is that tornado forecasting has gotten so much some cases, in metropolitan areas, they can give the intersection of streets nearest the worst of the storm. And radar is a lot, lot better than the grainy, green-and-white radar I remember from my childhood. And all of that is a great blessing and I don't always think people appreciate how much the forecasting of dangerous weather has improved.

But still, in some cases, apparently the best warnings, the most careful behavior when taking shelter can't resist natural forces...My prayers are with the families who lost family members in these tornadoes, and with the people who lost everything and are going to have to try to rebuild their lives. I know everyone says "Stuff is just stuff" and lots of things are replaceable....but some things, like photos and heirlooms, really aren't, and if they're gone, all you can really do is cherish your memories of them.

I hope this is the last we hear of bad tornadoes this spring. I hope the climate patterns this year (it looks like another La Nina year) do not lead to more "extreme" weather events.

Friday, March 02, 2012

I'm trying to understand

I suppose it's a curse of being an academic/curious person, but I try to understand other people's motivations, why they do things. Sometimes, I guess you can't.

I keep thinking of the latest school shooting. I grew up not too terribly far from Chardon, Ohio. I kind of know the area (Haven't been back in 20 years, but that's another matter). When I turned on the news one day and saw the breaking news of the school shooting, my response was, as always: "NOOOOOOO!"

I don't get it. I can think of exactly one situation where I could justify to myself killing another person: Self-defense, if I or someone weaker than I, were in clear and immediate peril of dying. Like, for example, if someone had a knife to a friend's throat, and I had a gun and a clear shot - I'd take that shot. Or if someone broke into my house at night and threatened me with a weapon. Other than that, no. Even in the case of bullies. Even in the case of something like blackmail. Even in the case of something that might ruin your reputation.

I suppose the fact that it's teenagers involved in these shootings says something. I know, teenagers are prone to believe things will NEVER get better. That it's always going to be like that. I suspect that's part of the reason behind the high suicide rate - people are using a permanent solution to what is actually a temporary problem. (Thank God my parents were there for me, thank God that I felt even at the worst days at school when I felt like I'd never fit in ANYWHERE that they cared about me and that at least I fit in in my family...)

Every time I hear of a school shooting, I wonder: are they becoming more frequent, or does the 24-hour news cycle and the (possibly false) sense of connectedness we have now mean they get reported more? When I was growing up, most of the news you heard - other than big global things like about OPEC meetings or yet another Soviet leader dying - was purely local. If there was a school shooting in Washington State or in Maine or somewhere, I don't know if we would have heard it. But now with CNN and Fox and MSNBC and all of those, with hours and hours to fill, and with competition - with the need to grab people's eyes - sensationalistic stuff makes the news.

And sometimes I wonder if for sick or evil people, if that doesn't feed the desire to do things like this: a way of going out in a blaze of - well, not glory, but a blaze of SOMETHING - of getting 15 minutes of fame. I suspect a big number of school shootings are really intended as what's called "suicide by cop" - the shooter wants to die, but instead of just killing himself (have there been ANY school shootings done by girls? I'm sure girls can be violent but it seems to me in our culture that we're more likely to turn our anger on ourselves alone - so girls seem more likely to simply commit suicide without taking others along), he has to kill others as well. I suppose because in some twisted way, he thinks it makes him a big man, or it impresses or scares other people. (I dunno. I suspect Satan's seen far worse in his career...)

I also wonder if the casual attitudes towards life and death in our culture (not just violence in the media, not just video games that celebrate being a thug...) is part of it. Or if part of it is that it's increasingly easy to see the other person as not-a-person. (One thing my faith teaches me, and it often stops me up short when I'm cussing about someone driving foolishly on the road, or complaining about someone in the line ahead of me in the grocery store: we are all children of God. God loves us all. Whether we know it or not, whether we believe it or not....we're all human, we all have some kind of value. That person who is arguing with the wal-mart cashier was someone's baby once. That guy pulling in and out of lanes on the interstate and making driving risky could be someone's dad. Maybe he's doing risky stuff because he's hurrying to get to the hospital, where someone he love is close to death... in my calmer moments I can remind myself of this and am less likely to go off on people. Oh, people still frustrate and annoy me - or rather, their behaviors do - but I try to see them as PEOPLE, first and foremost). And I wonder if a lot of these shooters are seeing the people they're mowing down as just so much meat, so much grass, not people.

I don't like the angle that "he was bullied, he was in a program for at-risk kids." Because that's too pat and too easy. I was bullied to a certain extent in school. I know lots of kids who were bullied worse than I was - some of my Youth Group kids, for example. I also know kids who got sent to the "alternative" high school (though in my town, that seems mostly to be for girls who are "in the family way" and maybe a few kids whose parents caught them with pot). That stuff doesn't make someone a bad person,  and it sure doesn't justify violence to others. Bullying is a huge problem but it seems that scrutinizing the bullied kids - which is what the "oh, he was bullied so he shot up a school" would seem to suggest - is not the answer.

I don't know. Every time one of these shootings happens, I cringe: there's probably no easy way to prevent seems to me that teaching kids from cradle days the value of human life, to treat others kindly even if they don't always treat you well, and that tough times don't last. And probably also how to "fight back" on a small scale. (I think also allowing schools to expel the worst bullies might help. Or, for that matter, dropping the age at which compulsory schooling would end - but that's another question for another time). I think a lot of the policies in place at schools right now allow things to fester and escalate so that when things happen, they're big and bad.

I heard they're trying the guy as a juvenile. I think that's unfortunate.