Friday, June 28, 2013

a progression

Just a strange little thing I've noticed driving around. Often, every small town has one particular type of business. Over the past 20-some years, there's been a progression:

late 80s-early 90s it was movie-rental shops - every wide place in the road had them
mid to late 90s - tanning salons
late 90s to early 2000s and somewhat still today - nail salon places (though more and more, you're seeing those as little outrigger shops inside larger grocery stores or places like Wal-Mart)

and now, it's those "e-cigarette" places (or "vape shops" as they seem to be called around here). I have no idea how popular these things are and if there's enough demand to keep the places open - it seems the prior incarnations (movie shack huts, tanning places) tended to die out, at least in the really small towns, as either the fad died down or the technology changed.

Makes me wonder what's coming next. Maybe 3-D printer shops, that let people come in with an image file of whatever they want, and they'll make a plastic replica of it?


I used to occasionally watch Paula Deen on the Food Network. She was nuts, her show was one cliche after another, but it was more fun than watching the news when I had just come home from work and needed to let my brain decompress.

Then I heard about the "incident." At first, I heard it played up like it happened yesterday - like she went around regularly using a discredited and ugly term for a black person.

Um, no. Turns out it was one instance, about 30 years ago.

And I admit, I felt bad about her (I think, though, there's a segment of the population who like to look at the things non-elites enjoy, and spit on them, and try to ruin their enjoyment of them) and decided not to watch anymore. Because it does feel a little skeevy to me to think about someone saying that, because usually, the stuff coming out of your mouth reflects what's in your heart.

But now, I don't know. Apparently it was one incident. And she made the comment about "Have any of you never said anything you'd like to take back?" Oh, hell, I KNOW I have. I regularly say stuff - no, not the word in question, not terms like that - but I say stuff that I realized hurt someone without my meaning it to, or I make a joke that's stupid and taken the wrong way, and yeah, I'd like to take it back. And I'm sure I said some really stupid stuff 30 years ago, which is about the time frame when she is alleged to have said what she said.

And the whole thing is just such a giant cluster, and such a weird thing: why does one famous person get to say nasty, hateful things (Alec Baldwin, I'm looking at you) and seemingly gets a pass, and another one said one bad thing decades ago, and it's time to get out the tar and feathers? (It's not politics: Deen, as far as I know, is an Obama supporter; I think she was also a Hilary Clinton supporter). Maybe it's the "you're a racist" thing; it seems now that even implying someone is a racist is about the worst brush you can paint them with these days. (Even worse than their being a misogynist. Or being someone who has been multiply unfaithful to their spouse. Or even someone who does questionable things with their sex organs - Anthony Weiner may wind up as the next president of NYC, despite his Tweetmeltdown)

I suspect some of it is that there's a segment of the population who sees folks like Deen as being uppity, and deserving of being taken down a notch: Why, she's a stupid Southerner! She promotes unhealthy food! She's icky! And there does seem to be a certain level of glee at her downfall. And I find that really unseemly. It's like there are some people that it's approved by some elite to "like" and to forgive if they mis-step, but if they're not on the list - well, then they can go to hell, and we'll laugh all the way as they go.

And you know? When someone who is famous, who is perhaps even looked up to by some, mis-steps and falls, it makes me sad. Even celebrities I generally dislike. (I'm watching with dismay now a couple of cases of NFL players - one who used to be a Patriot, one who is still a Cowboy despite being jailed - who have committed (or allegedly committed) crimes that led to someone's death. Actually, it seems that there have been quite a lot of arrests of NFL folks recently, and that's unfortunate, because they're sometimes held up as an example of men for boys to look up to....)

I don't like the glee at someone's downfall, even when it is someone who otherwise was a total jerk and maybe, just maybe, deserved it. (I once talked with someone who had met Deen. His impression of her was that she was a genuinely nice person, which is why it makes me all the sadder to hear of this incident.) I don't know what kind of a life a person has to take such pleasure in watching someone else's pain, watching someone else's career unravel thanks to a very ill-advised thing they did years and years ago....

And, I don't know, maybe instead of rubbing our hands together and cackling over stuff, we need to stop and realize: that could be me. I could say or do something wrong at some point and face those consequences. Would I want other people to treat me the way I am treating this person, my weaker brother or sister?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dear "Weather" Channel

You are the WEATHER channel. Not the CLIMATE channel.

When I turn you on in the morning, I want to know how hot it is going to be today. Not how hot some theorist predicts it might possibly be 200 years from now.

If I want to find out what current thinking about climate change is, I will read peer-reviewed articles from sources I choose, not listen to some alleged "expert" I've never heard of nattering on the TV box.

You started to fail as soon as NBC bought you. I'm tired of your crappy reality shows, your need to be like every other network (hint, you aren't, your focus is WEATHER), and your occasional alarmism.

If I had a pot of money, I'd start my own weather channel and focus on just that - WEATHER. With detailed explanations of what was going on, forecasts for around the world (I haven't seen a European forecast on TWC for MONTHS), and with, at most, six-month speculations on what the climate will do.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Smiley and frowny faces

I got to thinking about this when I was grading a round of quizzes. One of my students had written "I didn't study" on the top of her quiz and drawn a frowny face. (And yeah, her performance kind of bore that out).

What I wondered about was: do teachers still draw frowny and smiley faces on student papers? When I was a kid it was fairly common practice (at least, smiley faces were. I guess some students did get frowny faces...) Or has that gone the way of lots of other things that could be seen as "mean" or "exclusionary"?

I will say that for some kids, frowny faces would not be a good motivator. I know for me they would not have been; if I did poorly on an assignment or quiz, even as a fairly young student, I would have felt bad enough about it without the added insult of a frowny face. Too many of those and I'd start to hate the teacher and hate the subject. Or are some students motivated by them? Or do some students need them, do some need the emphasizing that their behavior is not up to par?

(Perhaps that's why so much of the "health news" - lots of which sounds like nannying to me - infuriates me so much and doesn't seem to bother some other people. Perhaps there are people who are really unaware that exercise is good for you, and so, while I am snarling at the television, "What? Do you now want me to do TWO hours a day? When exactly am I supposed to sleep?!?!" there may be people that the message doesn't get through to. (Though a second question arises: how much is it the responsibility of the news media for the populace to "be healthy"? I would say almost none, aside from reporting about things like disease outbreaks or food recalls....)

I don't know. I've never drawn a frowny face on a student paper. Once or twice, in rare occasions, when it was a class I could joke around with AND someone earned a 100% on an exam (which is really rare in my classes), I'd draw a smiley face on it, partly to be funny (they are adults and should not need that motivation).....but that's rare, as I said.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Amazon: doin' it right

I know there are people out there who don't like Amazon for various reasons, but I love them. And I realized two more reasons why I love them:

1. Now, for many of the things you order, there is a link to tracking information right on the e-mail confirmation. No copying and pasting 12-digit alphanumeric things onto the UPS or USPS website - just click and it tells you where your package is.

2. Even better - I realized the other day lots of places I've ordered from (a couple online fabric shops, Caswell-Massey, and some of the gourmet food places), unless you specifically opt out of e-mails, they will e-mail you EVERY STINKING DAY practically, to remind you they're there. And Amazon doesn't.

Look, Caswell-Massey - yes, I shower regularly but it takes me some time to use up soap. Same thing with talc, even though it's eleventy-hundred degrees here in the summer and I need it so I can feel a bit fresher during the day (though I am probably more like one of Harper Lee's "teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum" by the end of the day). I don't need you to e-mail me regularly and say "Hey, hey, I'm still here! Hey, hey, want to order something from me?" It's like having emotionally needy friends.

Yeah, I have to go through and find the opt-out screens for a bunch of those sites and just prune the danged advertising e-mails I get (about 5/6 of the e-mail I receive....).

Amazon doesn't do that. They e-mail me when I've ordered something, they e-mail me when the thing has shipped, they e-mail me if I've sent someone a gift - but other than that, they leave me be. They don't send out weekly mailings with some kind of minimal percentage off to tempt me into buying. They know that I know they're there; they don't need to expend energy in reminding me.

(Frankly, I think way WAY way too many companies have bought into the "Constant Contact" model of business, where they have been told that customers won't use them unless said customers are constantly reminded of the business' presence - or that customers are so needy and desirous of attention that they need coddling every day.

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Call the midwife"

I've been watching this show (it's a British import, on PBS) off and on for a couple of months. (Off, because I am not home some nights when it's on, and also sometimes I am involved in doing something and I forget).

I like it, even as there are things about it that annoy me. (The "free contraception is a necessity" subtext of one episode, for example - the whole "here's an issue we're going to slip in and make it very palatable and appealing to people because it involves a sympathetic character." Maybe not the issue so much per se, but my feeling that my emotions are being manipulated in a certain way, that annoys me. While the "issues" aren't as heavy-handed as in some shows, they're still there). Still, I like it, partly because it's set in a time and a place (largely working-class Britain in the 1950s) that I know little about. And I enjoy this kind of show - which largely focuses on people doing their jobs, and what those jobs entail - more than shows like "Downton Abbey" that has a lot of rich-people-being-idle in it. (Some of my friends are really into Downton Abbey but I just can't get into it. Perhaps you have to have been watching it from the outset - I don't know who most of the characters are or why I should care about them).

But I do think the "doing useful work" vs. "being largely idle" distinction makes a difference for me - in the novels I read, I find the ones where people have careers they go about more interesting than the rich-idle-person novels.

I don't know if this one rises to something I want to own on dvd. (Yes, I know, many services have it available as streaming online, but I never bought a Roku box sort of thing (figuring I'd have to get a service call from the Creepy Techs at my cable company to help set it up) and my home internet connection gets slow and flakey at the end of the day, so....I'd almost rather shell out the $30 for a season's worth on dvd.)

I think part of what I like about the show is how the midwives, by and large, make the best of a bad lot - the difficulties in their lives, the challenges of living in just-shortly-postwar Britain (I think food rationing had probably ended just a couple years before the series is set, if I remember correctly). Dealing with really difficult people - the women they serve, and their husbands and other relatives, often tend to be the sort of people that Jesus talked about "loving your neighbor (even when it's bloody difficult)" about. (And some of the nuns - the midwives work out of a hospital staffed by nuns - are also rather difficult people.)

I may also find it interesting in that a number of the women I knew growing up had worked as nurses. Some of them were of the era where you were fired (! yes, forced to stop working) upon marriage; others were still working as nurses.

But I do tend to find shows like this -set in a different place and time - more interesting to me than the average sitcom or legal drama that's on the airwaves otherwise.

(I guess my viewing habits are strange: 1/3 or more cartoons, a few news and commentary shows, a few cooking shows, and then stuff like Call the Midwife.....there are whole shows on the major networks that I've never seen, and when someone mentions them, I'm like "that's a show?" Television has really changed since I was a kid and we got something like four or five different stations and cable and satellite were for "rich folks.")

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

It would be interesting

If it weren't so sad and scary.

I mean, the current big big scandal, the one involving the place sometimes called no such agency, and the fact that they allegedly now know that I've called my dad on my cell phone while doing my taxes in order to have a bitch session about how awful the IRS instructions are, and how they should just get rid of it and replace it with a flat tax....

But if it weren't so scary, it would be interesting. I have friends from all sides of the political spectrum who are outraged about this, who are either aghast that their government would do something, or who knew it all along and this is just proof. And apparently the ACLU is involved. And some commentators are saying it's not such a big deal - and again, it's people on different sides of the spectrum.

(FWIW: I objected to warrantless surveillance under Bush and I still object to it today. It totally shreds the presumption of "innocent until proven guilty" and it could be construed as a violation of the fourth amendment)

And I know, some folks are arguing, "But we don't have an oppressive government, so if you're not breaking laws, you don't have to worry" but I would at a big YET to a couple points in that statement....we never know what the future holds, and who knows? If there's someone in the IRS who allegedly thinks it's a good idea to move slowly and keep asking for more and more intrusive information on particular groups asking for tax-exempt status, or perhaps even to reveal the names of certain political donors - well, surely there are other suck ups in other agencies who look at which way the wind is blowing (or their own personal hobby horses) and who decide to play fast and loose with the rules themselves.

Maybe, I don't know, there's someone in the Medicare office who looks at requests for treatment, and drags their feet for someone because, meh, they're old, or meh, they're fat, or meh, they belong to a certain political party? And while I'm sure most people who work for the government offices are reasonably ethical - it just takes one jerk to ruin your whole day.

I don't know. I will say I am increasingly wondering what's going on, and has this been going on since 2001, and is there anything we can do to decrease it?

I know of the argument that it is "keeping us safe." Well, you could also argue that locking every citizen up in a prison cell would end street crime, but there's a point where "safety" becomes so constricting that you cease to desire it....

Monday, June 10, 2013

Spotted at the Target

So I had to run out and do some shopping (bigger than what I can do in town - we have a few decent stores but our grocery choices are not great).

In the process, I went to the Target. Now, it was warm here, but not nearly as hot as it's gonna get. Well, anyway, I wound up parked very near a Toyota Prius. And I noticed something that made me think....the person had left it running, presumably so the AC could stay on and keep the car cool. (My habit, partly because I worry about someone breaking into my car and stealing it, it to always turn it off and take the keys with me. Yes, it sometimes means getting into a hot car but that's kind of life.)

I shrugged, went in and shopped. Some 40 minutes later when I came out, there it still was, still running.

I just hope the owner isn't one of those people - like some hybrid-car owners I've met - who likes to go around lording it over everyone else how much BETTER for the environment his car is....I mean, I suppose it was running off of battery there, but STILL.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

trying to get stuff done, ugh.

Summer school is busy. We have a four day week, which means each of those four days has 20% more stuff in it than it does during the regular semester.

ALSO, offices are supposed to be open from 8 am until 6 pm - to get in the 40 hour work week. But a lot of them still have people taking long lunches as I am learning from trying to work on paperwork during my (brief) break between classes.

(Interestingly, there seems to be an inverse relationship between how much someone is paid and how much of their actual "office commitment" they fulfill - so our secretary, who makes fairly low wages, is ALWAYS here, whereas some of the high mucky-mucks pulling down six figures AREN'T. (nor are even their secretaries, apparently)

The classes are going fairly well though I have one person in one of them that I suspect of being a snowflake-in-training: they are going ON VACATION in the middle of the summer semester and are just counting on making up the work. (Including having me write a make-up exam for them).

However, on the upside - one of my colleagues who isn't even TEACHING one of the classes I teach this summer volunteered to set up its lab for me, because she "curates" the material used in it.

How grateful am I for that? SO grateful. It's a smallish thing but it really, really makes my life easier on an otherwise busy day. It's a huge thing to have good colleagues. I don't think I'd still be in academia if it weren't for the colleagues I have. I know there are many departments where there are factions or people who are really hard to work with all the time. We're too small for factions, and the one or two people who tend to having difficult personalities aren't difficult all the time, and their being difficult is less difficult than many of the difficult people I have dealt with over the years.