Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I tried, guys

So I heard this stuff about Russell Brand in the news. About how he hates profit and hates capitalism and is a dangerous man.

And I admit, I've never particularly liked his comedy. I liked Despicable Me, which he did a voice in, but that's about the only thing he's been involved with I cared much for.

So I thought I'd rant about "these celebrity bastids who go around telling the rest of us how it's just dandy for the state to redistribute our money, because they figure that  they will be exempt, being CELEBRITIES!!! and also right-thinkers and all."

But, in the interest of knowing what I was going to be talking about, I went over to the New Statesman and tried to read the article he wrote, so I could see what he was really saying.

Emphasis on TRIED.

It's a big mess, guys. It jumps around a lot. In it, Brand confesses he's never voted (which immediately makes me give a bit of the stink-eye to anyone fomenting big political change. Okay, okay, that's probably a bit harsh. I admit there have been times I've threatened not to vote in state or federal elections because the choices I had were just so damn bad. And most of my adult life now, sadly, I've voted for the "lesser of two evils" than "a candidate I can really support").

I will say Brand really needs an editor. Or perhaps ADHD medication. I found his arguments really hard to follow. And I admit my comments in the next paragraphs jump around a bit, but it's because there's so much in the article and it's so mixed up that it's hard to organize my thoughts. (I also feel like I may have lost a few IQ points upon reading the article; I don't know)

That said, I think he's more a bit of a pillock (to use UK terminology) than really dangerous; I get the sense he's saying stuff he knows will sound extreme and transgressive and will get a lot of attention. I get the feeling he's upset but doesn't have a good thought of how to do concrete things to help others, other than talking about how bad banks and some corporations are. Somewhere in the mess he elucidates that noooo, he doesn't hate PROFIT (which, I suppose, is good, because one of my questions to him would be, "Well, then, if you hate people making money, have you sold all you own and given the money to the poor?"). But he hates big banks. And ummmm....some corporations. But Apple is pretty cool, except when they are like abusing their factory workers and stuff....

He speaks approvingly of winding up in the center of a "riot." I don't know. Based on the riots I've seen on the news, I'd be terrified for my life to wind up in the middle of one. He speaks of revolution and as I said before, I fear any big revolution (at least in the US and probably also in the UK - heck, perhaps MORESO in the UK) would be more like 1950s China than 1776 America. And, as someone who'd be tarred and feathered as an "intellectual," I have no desire for a Great Leap Forward or a Cultural Revolution.

A lot of people who talk about taking "corporations" down don't really think it through, I think. Do you enjoy growing most of your own food? Dealing with shortages? Having limited choices as to clothing and such? Going back to the kind of third-world, subsistence existence that he saw on his African trip?

Yes, some of the labor practices used by many corporations are awful. Yes, we probably should try to (a) change things and (b) buy from companies that treat their workers better. But most problems like this require solutions implemented over time, not a "BANG SMASH DESTROY" mentality. And not a sitting around and wringing one's hands and going "My fellow man is so blind and so selfish, and I am the only enlightened one"

I will also say the level of crudeness and rude-words that Brand inserts in his diatribe don't really make me any more inclined to listen to what he's saying. Yes, I'm a square and unhip, but you know, there are a lot of us out there who are put off by the use of a slang term for ejaculate in a situation where any other word....or no word at all....would have worked as well.

Brand describes a trip to Africa where he sees the poorest of the poor. Apparently this was not a mission trip or anything with an aid agency, it was tourism. He returned disgusted at his "santized" life....yet the thing is, I see no mention of concrete attempts to help, other than saying "All you lot here should feel very guilty that you sleep in a safe warm house and in a bed."

I may not be able to do much to change policy in my nation. But I can donate money to groups that help with, for example, education of children in some of the poorer nations of the world. Or to groups trying to give help after natural disasters. Or groups helping to improve agricultural practices for subsistence farmers. I realize in the grand scheme of things it may not be much....but no single person can do "much." We can do what we can. I think of the old story about the kid walking down the beach after a storm, throwing starfish back in the ocean, and the man who confronts him: "Stupid kid! You aren't big enough to save all the starfish. You can't possibly make a difference" and the kid throws another starfish back, and says, "I made a difference to that one."

I also think there is a certain sense of individual responsibility. Some of the things Brand is saying give me the sense that he thinks money should be taken from banks and corporations and just given to people, with no expectation that they use that money responsibly or go to work in the future. To quote a late countrywoman of Mr. Brand's: "The problem with socialism is eventually you run out of other people's money"

I would much rather choose to give a portion of my paycheck (and I do) to various groups doing work I can support, and whose work I can check up on and withdraw my support from, if, for example, I find there seems to be corruption or abnormally high salaries among those at the top. I cannot do the same with my tax dollars. I am sure some of those are used wisely, but I also am quite sure some of them are going to groups or individuals of questionable desert.

I have no idea if Mr. Brand gives money to charities trying to help with the issues he is concerned about. I hope he does. But it frustrates me to see someone who earns more than I do apparently trying to tell me what I should do with my money, and also implying things should change so there is more governmental control of people's lives.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Presented without comment

(Honestly, it's bad enough having to eat lunch at work without having to carry on a conversation with people. I like my colleagues and all but after 3 lecture classes in the morning, I'm done with talking for at least an hour, thanks)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

something I wonder about....

How does Giorgio A. Tsoukalos (the Ancient Aliens guy) feel about the fact that he's an internet meme?

I can see three possibilities:

1. Ticked off and insulted. Aliens are serious business! People are not believing his research!

2. Laughing all the way to the bank....maybe more people watch the show now because of the meme, and it doesn't matter whether or not he believes the alien stuff

3. Really laughing at his epic trolling of people, because the whole Alien thing is a giant joke he's been playing for publicity

I suppose there's a fourth one, "Meh, it happens when you're famous," I don't know.

I don't watch the show so I don't know how earnestly he seems to believe that every breakthrough technology in the ancient world is the result of alien intervention.

Personally, I'd hate to become an Internet meme/joke, but I may have an overblown sense of dignity or something.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Something I think faculty need

A "Samuel L. Jackson-izer" microphone.

For those times when you need to say something a certain way.

I gave an exam in one class today. As another class uses that room the next hour, and as we have been informed that under some subsection of the new ADA laws we are not permitted to give any extra time on exams unless the student specifically has an accommodation (I suspect that's an over interpretation on the part of the lawyers, but whatever), I had to turf the last few students.

So first, I was polite: "Please finish your exams and hand them in in the next three minutes."

Then, I was less polite: "I need the exams done now. Please hand them in."

Finally, I went and stood near the two people not done and waited. Finally they finished.

But if I had the Samuel L. Jackson-izer microphone, I could SAY into it, "You need to finish your exams now" and the microphone would convert it to "HEY! Finish yo' asses UP and hand in the MFing exam, sumbitches!"

of course, I'd only get to use it once before losing my job....

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

not a football fan

I've heard a bit about the Redskins controversy. I don't know. I get that some Native people are offended by it. I get that a lot of others aren't. Some people are offended by suggestions the name be changed* This is one of the problems about living in the world today - whom do you offend, who is the least horrible person to offend? (Because apparently, there's always going to be someone offended)

(Best joke I heard on this? "Washington Redskins is a name that contains a word that makes a lot of people upset. So they're changing the name to Eastern Virginia Redskins." Heh.)

I don't know. I'm not a football fan, I don't have any Native heritage, so I can't work up an opinion on this. Change the name, don't change the name, I don't care.

Because at this point, stuff like this being news feels like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. There's a decent chance we will default on the 17th, and even if we don't, we're facing huge financial problems in the future, largely from a system that is growing increasingly unsustainable (more people receiving benefits, fewer people who are paying in).

I don't know what real effect a default would have. I've heard everything from "practically none" to "that's the end, better make sure you've pulled out of the stock market, because they're gonna crater and inflation is gonna spike."

I love this country but I really hate what many of the politicians are doing to it. We are a country full of decent, honest, hardworking people. How did we manage to send so many who were not to Washington?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Early Saturday Mornings

Because I work fairly long hours (my hours are flexible but some weeks they are long when I'm trying to accomplish lots of things), I often use early Saturdays to run errands - gas up the car, buy groceries, do other stuff. This has upsides and downsides.

The upside is places tend to be less busy, and the really annoying people (the people who feel entitled to do stuff like open a bag of grapes, eat a bunch, and then decide they don't want them, and leave them somewhere in the cereal aisle) are generally not out and about. I can get what I need and scram, which is a good day of grocery shopping for me.

(I don't like shopping in general. I like shopping in bookstores and craft-supply stores and antique stores and SOMETIMES shopping for clothes if I'm not rushed and desperate and looking for that one thing I need that will turn out to be on offer nowhere....But usually, I don't like shopping, and I especially don't like grocery shopping)

Anyway. So I ran out first to get gas in the car. I couldn't hold off any longer in hopes that the prices would drop below $3 (apparently some places in the US they have. We're close, but not there yet).

I got cat-called by some guy at the gas station.

Now, this rarely happens to me, as I am of an age, body type, and general standard of modesty that most of the guys who would cat-call don't notice me. But for some reason today this guy did.

Getting cat-called is not fun. I won't say it was scary, though I could see how being cat-called if you were walking alone down a dark street and for some reason didn't have your piece on you for protection could be. This was more creepy and icky and "really, dude?"

Here's a hint to the gents: Very few women, and very few of the kind who make good long-term partners, will respond favorably to a cat-call. (Though then again, maybe the cat-callers are looking for short-term fun, rather than long-term partners, and that's why they do it)

Then at the Wal-Mart, I learned that the surly cashiers work the early shift. I suppose I'd be surly, too, if I were at my low-paying job at 7 am on a Saturday morning and was expected to go to happy-clappy "teamwork" meetings (one was just starting in the Hardware section - they call them for different locataions - as I was heading out of there).

I've also found that the local wal-mart has gotten a lot worse about restocking. Of late, I've not been shopping there as often because I discovered a new grocery store in Next Town Over, and it's really nice, so I've been trying to take the time to get down there as often as I can. But it's an hour's round trip, and I didn't have that kind of time or energy today. So I went to wal-mart. Got the last two cartons of the kind of skim milk I use - usually they had multiples, and actually, the last time I was there, they were out, so I had to get 1% instead. And it's the same on most of the shelves. And I notice their "great value" store brand is replacing more and more of the national brands. This displeases me because I've found the quality of "great value" to be incredibly variable - some of the stuff is okay, some of the stuff is most definitely NOT, and I'm unwilling to experiment and hope that the new stuff replacing, I don't know, Ronzoni or whatever, is.

Also, the yogurt I normally buy? All the cartons on the shelf had already expired. I was going to tell someone but all the workers other than a few checkers were at the "mandatory meeting" and I forgot about it by the time I got to the checker.

It just feels very....I don't know, I don't like the word "ghetto" but it just feels like the wal-mart here in town has stopped trying because they know people mostly have to shop there and don't really have a choice, so meh, whatever, why should we restock the plain yogurt? People can eat the expired kind or go with something else.

I guess it's time to start keeping a better "nonperishable" list and make sure I've checked everything off it when I go to the grocery in Next Biggest Town. Or to use Amazon for ordering some of my groceries.

We really need another large grocery in this town. I doubt we'll ever get it, unless the town swells another 10,000 people or so, but we really need something that's the same size as the wal-mart but that seems more committed to customer service and actually keeping stuff on the shelves. I'd shop there in a heartbeat even if it meant paying more. As much as I can, I shop at the small family-run place here in town, but they're small and don't stock some of the things I need and use on a regular basis....

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

a fantasy of mine

Flipping around last night, I hit on "Extreme RVs," which is one of those Travel Channel programs. Normally, I'm not a big watcher of that sort of thing, but one of the models they were talking about caught my attention.

It's called the Pangaea. It's an offroading RV. Built kind of like a military vehicle - very sturdy, on a high-clearance truck chassis. But what grabbed me was what the spokesperson from the company was talking about - how they designed it for people going "out" for long stretches of time. There's a lot of pantry storage, and lots of storage space for clothing. And a very large water tank; they said on a fill you could get 2-3 weeks worth of time (I have no idea if that included washing, or if things like the greywater was filtered and reused as greywater, or if the toilet were composting/incinerating).

They also didn't talk about how you got electricity out in the boonies. (They did observe it was all-electric, no need for propane). One of the fans of the model noted that "You can just drive until you're ready to pull off, and then you're good." So I'm assuming there's some kind of onboard generator. (I can't imagine a solar panel would generate adequate power via a battery system to do more than run a few lamps - and there's a full kitchen with an induction cooktop and everything).

But I have to admit, that thing taps into one of my big wants - to have the equivalent of a house, a REAL house, with a proper bathroom and kitchen and a place to sleep comfortably and a way to really be out of the weather (unlike in a tent) that I can just drive away to where ever. The idea that I could just pick up and LEAVE, go to the boonies or the deep woods or somewhere when life got to be too much, or when the zombie apocalypse started or when I really didn't want people to find me for a while, is a pretty attractive one for me.

And this thing, it's not just minimal "bathroom, kitchen, place to sleep" - it's pretty luxurious-looking. (And the storage....lots of storage everywhere, because, as the spokesperson said, a lot of their customers want to just go off and not be bothered with going into "town" for a while.

It won't ever be more than a fantasy, though, for me - the thing is multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars (!) I guess that kind of thing doesn't come cheap. But oh, how nice to just be able to go somewhere, anywhere, and have all the comforts of home with me, not have to worry about hotels or finding a place to rent or whatever. (And don't speak to me of "roughing it" camping. That is something I do not do. Pit toilets and gang showers in a wash house are not for me.)

Monday, October 07, 2013

I try to be nice

I guess I do have a "misery magnet." I try to be nice but keep people at arm's length a bit, because frankly, I don't NEED to know everyone's full life story.

But I get some people who just buttonhole me. I've learned that lots of people, especially young women, seem to want to share the details of their mental-health treatment with me. Now, I know next to nothing about the state of the art of "brain drugs," I have never studied anything in that field (there's a reason I became an ecologist and not a medical doctor). And I don't want to know the details as they're often sadmaking and uncomfortably personal.

I know why some people do this: the more people who know about mental health treatment going on, they figure, the less stigma. Yes, I suppose that's true. In a lot of cases mental health issues are biochemical in nature, kind of like type II diabetes has a biochemical component, and there is not much stigma tied to that. (Still, there is some: I have had students claim "If you're fat, you're going to get diabetes, and it's your own fault." Not true- there's a large genetic component, and some have even proposed that in some cases, a virus may be partly to blame)

Other people, I suppose, it's an attention thing. That always makes me uncomfortable, when it is. For two reasons: first, I don't like sharing lots of details of my own personal life with comparative strangers (she says as she writes on the blog...) but also because there have been a lot of times in my life when I might have liked a little attention, to be listened to a little, and there was NO ONE THERE. And it frustrates me to play the role of "comforter" to another when I feel like I may be using up all my emotional reserves and not have any left for myself when I need it.

And frankly, sometimes I'm busy, and getting buttonholed in the hall without any gracious way to say "I really need to scram now" isn't good.

I don't know if this is a small-town thing, or a Southern thing, or what, but I don't remember other places - like when I lived in Michigan - lots of people wanting to share the very personal details of their life with me, and I confess, knowing some of that stuff, hearing some of that stuff, makes me uncomfortable. 

I don't know. I want to be compassionate to people, I want to help people. I just wish I had less of a misery  magnet. Or a crazy magnet. Or whatever.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013


Based on some of the online commentary wankage I've read, I'm expecting to see a D vs. R civil war break out soon.

I'm well stocked with food and books and other necessities, so I can hide out in my house for a good while and probably avoid the carnage, but....there was discussion earlier this summer about "some percentage of the populace is agitating for an armed rebellion" and my reaction was, "In this day and age, the outcome is more likely to be like China in 1950 rather than the 13 colonies in 1776."

Yes, I'm that pessimistic. And yes, I'm considering ALL the outcomes of the Chinese revolution there, up to and including purges/forced labor of the educated classes.

I realize that's a pretty pessimistic and far-fetched concern,'s gonna get uglier before it gets better, I think.