Monday, December 15, 2014

Just gonna say:

I'm a college professor and if I'm ever spotted carrying a bag of hammers somewhere? It means I'm going to a Habitat for Humanity event and am bringing tools.

Being the change you want to see in the world should not include inciting violence.

Man, people just get me DOWN, you know?

Friday, December 12, 2014

"How dare you"

I got an e-mail from a student in my class that has an explicit attendance policy (as in, more than x number of unexcused absences* and you lose points). It was effectively, "How dare you give me a D because I have so many absences!"

Okay, I admit it: I kind of hate attendance policies. These students are allegedly grown-ups, they should be able to decide or not whether to come to class. And frankly, almost always, it comes out in the wash: the people with crap attendance wind up failing because they don't participate and they don't get important information. (And their motivation generally is poor; I don't know if poor attendance causes poor grades, or if the two are merely correlated, and people with poor attendance don't care about their education, and so, earn poor grades). And it's a big effort for me to keep track of as many as 80 students, their comings and goings, why they're not here, etc. I'd rather just dump the policy and say, "If you skip and you fail, it's on you. We told you you could not do well if your attendance was poor." but this is a gen-ed class and it's expected that we keep track.

(Also, there are rumblings that because 0.01% of the students on financial aid scam it, we may be required to take attendance - to require attendance - in ALL our classes ALL the time, and even perhaps report DAILY who is absent. Oh, why don't we just microchip the students, or put house-arrest bracelets on them? That would be a lot easier....)

(* And I am pretty generous about what I excuse: illness, even without a doctor's note - I tell people if they are reasonably sure they're contagious, DON'T come to class. Kid's illness. "got called into work at the last minute" if I get documentation. Funerals (I don't generally ask for documentation because it makes me feel like an ogre to, but most students bring a bulletin to show me). Jury duty. National Guard duty, though it's been a while since I had a student in the National Guard. Sports stuff, if I have a note from the coach.)

I don't know, though. I don't like the "how dare you" tone (the student did not say that, but it sounded that way from how the e-mail was worded). Their grade stands because there are RULES and the students know the rules, they read them and are told them on the first day of classes. In the workplace, there are rules, and people can get fired for excessive absenteeism.

But, gah, the entitlement mentality of some students; I've seen it in spades this semester - ranging from people hinting that they'd like me to e-mail them to remind them when their exams are (Surely, surely, there is an app where you can set up an auto-reminder? Or do like me, and write it down on a big calendar than hangs on your wall, and check the calendar?) to people telling me to e-mail them "everything they missed" on the day they were absent. (Meaning: Give me copies of your notes. Okay, kiddo, you ready to do a brain scan? 'Cos that's where my "notes" are these days.)

Oh, I had some wonderful students - I always do. But it's the snowflakey ones that eat up my time and that make me roll my eyes.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Tell me something good

These days, if you try to watch the news, you really have to have your Critical Thinking Hat on. There will be some story that is calculated to cause OUTRAGE and senses of HOW CAN THEY DO THAT and then when you dig a little deeper, it turns out you only have heard part of the story.

I just want to know what's happening in the world without people trying to manipulate me into feeling a particular way. Is that possible? Was that ever possible? I don't remember the news as being so sensationalistic when I was younger.

Also, it just seems like everyone is angry. Angry at some other group, angry at how things are, angry at capitalism*, angry at the Christmas (er, "holiday") season, angry angry angry.

(*My standard rejoinder: Would being in a serfdom, where you're essentially the slave of some baron, be better? Or a world where everything you eat, use, or own is something you have to make yourself, from raw materials you've obtained yourself? Myself, I kind of like capitalism.)

And it just makes me so tired. I know a large part of this is the news trying to whip stuff up but seeing my day-to-day interactions, it does seem that lots of people just have a lot of free-floating anger at stuff....

I mean, if you're angry about something you have control over, and you can change it by peaceful means that do not involve hurting other people**, by all means, go and do that.

(** I hate that I even have to make that caveat, but we live in an age of "Let's burn this b*tch down")

If you're angry about how the world in general operates....well, I don't know. Try to effect change locally? Change yourself? Try to have positive interactions with the people around you? Maybe examine your own assumptions? I'm amazed at the number of people I know who gripe about having an "old" iPhone or a "small" (36 inch) television. I don't even bother to note that when my mother was growing up, her family didn't have a tv AT ALL and they didn't have a phone (the old, wall-mounted, dial-up kind) until she was a second-year college student. And iPhones and big-screen tvs didn't exist when I was a kid, and when big-screen tvs came on the market, it was just the ultra-rich that could afford them. (And anyway, there's not much on tv these days that would be improved by being BIGGER, IMHO.)

The whole material greed thing - whether it's someone griping because their tv is a few inches too small, or whether it's someone promoting looting as a way to get their hands on the stuff other people have (and therefore, that the looter "deserves" to have) - it's chilling. It's putting things over people. Burning down someone's business because you're angry or you want something they have - I don't care if it's a tiny hardware store run by a mom and pop or a big "faceless" Best Buy franchise - how does that make the world any better? How does adding to the sum total of violence in the world act against violence? How does breaking someone's heart benefit you?

I know, some people will say I "don't understand" because I'm white and "privileged." And yes, I own that I have a certain level of privilege - of unearned, undeserved good things in my life: I grew up in a two-parent family where those parents were loving and gentle with each other and their kids. I grew up in a household that valued education and hard work. I grew up with a church family that taught me even if my peers made fun of me and thought I was a loser, there were people who loved me and valued me and I was pretty much okay. I grew up with a faith that told me to love God and to love other people, even when those other people make themselves unloveable, and that that love means you don't do harm to them. I grew up learning that if you got really angry at someone, to the point where you might say or do something you regret, the best thing to do is to walk away for a while until your feelings cool, and then go and talk to them and explain why what they did bothered you. And I learned that there were some people who just chose to be mean, but also that I didn't have to be like them.

I don't know. I know I tend to see connections between things that are not necessarily connected but I see video of middle-class shoppers pushing and shoving for "deals" on stuff they probably don't really need, and I see the looters in Ferguson (And I'm not making any assumptions about who they are; there are apparently  a lot of weird bad groups that showed up there because there was unrest - anarchists, and white supremacists, and other violent groups), and I see politicians yelling at each other on the tv. And I wonder if everyone's just gone crazy. And it makes me want to build a big blanket fort and take some books and a box of crackers and a thermos of tea in there and hide and just resign from the human race for a few days. I know that's not a useful strategy, that I have to go out among people. And I also know that people who strive to do what's right and what's good need to be out there and need to be heard.

But it just makes me so tired.

I know there's good stuff going on in the world but it seems so little and so scattered these days, and the bad stuff seems so strong.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Something small and nice

There's a lot of ugliness in the world right now. One of the things: the likelihood of the Grand Jury verdict coming down in Ferguson today, and what may come of that. While looking at a story online about that, I ran across this:

Lidia's Thanksgiving message.

(Don't read the comments. Ugly, snarky  people even being ugly and snarky there).

Lidia Bastiniach is a tv chef I've watched for a long time. I was delighted to find my cable provider recently picked up PBS' "Create" channel, as they often run her show there in the evenings. She's a "celebrity" chef, I guess, but very different from the super-celebrities (like Emeril or Guy Fieri). She's more low-key. Her show is more about "here is how you prepare this food" and less about her. Mostly, she prepares Italian or Italian-American dishes; sometimes she travels to show regional differences. (I first learned about "St. Louis-style" pizza from her show)

She strikes me as a nice person. I know I've been wrong in feeling that way about a "famous" person before, but every time I've read an interview with her, she comes off as genuine and also - as noted in this short message - grateful for the good things she has:

"As an immigrant Thanksgiving is a very special holiday for us. In our kitchen, the entire family gathers around the table, and we have an opportunity to give America thanks for the gifts in our lives here."

That's just nice. That makes me happy. As a native-born American, yes, I do feel gratitude on Thanksgiving for the gifts I have from living here - the gifts of freedom (esp. compared to being a woman in some other parts of the world), the gifts of opportunity (in two generations, my family has gone from barely-working-class to upper-middle-class), the gifts of education. And the other God-given gifts I enjoy: fairly good health, a family that loves me, friends that love me, a rewarding (mostly) career, enough abilities to provide for my needs in life, and even enough money to be generous with it and support causes I believe in after my own needs are met.

I AM going "home" for Thanksgiving next week. I look forward to it. It's a hectic time - I'm there for effectively three days and then have to turn around and come back - but I couldn't imagine skipping it.

And her last sentences of the commentary, before her trademark "Tutti a tavola a mangiare!:

"This Thanksgiving may your table be one full of love where food is the venue to gather with those who mean the most to you.  May you not only share a delicious meal but also stories, laughter and memories.  
That’s what this holiday is really about."

We need to remember that. The stuff doesn't matter; it's just stuff. It's what we can learn from our elders and the joy we can see in our youthful family members that is what really matters.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

the shirt thing

Probably most of you have heard of "shirtstorm," where one of the ESA guys involved with the Philae landing was photographed wearing a fairly ugly shirt with "sexy" women on it.

And then the backlash some women encouraged, and then the back-backlash that (mostly male) conservative bloggers (mainly) started. And you know what?

It makes me tired. It just makes me all tired.

Was it a bad fashion choice and a seriously tacky shirt? Yes. Are engineers known for making good fashion choices? Generally not.

Am I, as a woman who is arguably on the fringes of STEM (I am in biology, which some consider too "soft" a science...) offended? No, not really. I don't feel threatened by it. I've felt more threatened by a former administrator here who used to make rude, borderline-offensive jokes. But even then, I pretty much rolled my eyes and reminded myself of that's why the person in charge of committee assignments here does her level best not to put him on committees that meet frequently, so they don't have to interact with him as much. The biggest threat he posed to me was that he was an ADMIN and controlled some purse strings and might have input on promotions I waited until he was out of the room to roll my eyes and look at one of my colleagues and go, "What is up with that dude?"

An ugly shirt is nothing compared to ugly insinuations.

If I had a colleague in my department who regularly dressed like that, I'd probably mostly give him a wide berth rather than reporting him to HR. Now, if he regularly made statements of a demeaning and demonstrably-to-a-reasonable-person sexist nature (for example, not dropping doing the dumb "make me a sandwich!" joke or demeaning my abilities because I am female), I would probably talk to my immediate higher up (in this case, my department chair) and say that we all really need to have a meeting about 'expectations.' Or, if the response was "he gets to make those jokes and you just have to put up with it," meh, I'd brush up my C.V. and find a new job somewhere less annoying.

But the thing is, all the back-lash and back-back-lash? Don't we have more productive things to do with our time? I know I do. And I'm just on the fringes of STEM.

In conclusion: it's an ugly shirt. If I had been the guy's wife or mother or female housemate or whatever, I would have strongly counseled him to wear something a little less flashy on that day. If I were his boss, I probably would have chewed on him a little afterward for not wearing the standard button-down, or at least something less idiosyncratic. (And yes. People's bosses do have the right to chew on them for how they dress.)

But I think there are a lot of other things in the STEM fields that go farther towards discouraging the participation of women than one dumb shirt.

Monday, November 17, 2014

End of the semester

It's approaching. I've been busy, teaching an extra class is no joke.

I still have a few students I really want to give a good shaking to. They're not going to be able to compete in the job market (unless it's stocking shelves at the Lowe's) with grades and attitudes like they have. This is why I'm so bugged by "college for all" - when it ceases to be something seen as rare, and starts being seen as an extension of high school (which it should not be) lots of people don't value the education any more.

(Of course, part of the problem is that high school seems to have become an extension of junior high, and junior high of middle school, and it's turtles all the way down, but....if I were in charge of things I'd make grade schools more rigorous, end "social passes," and make the threat of expulsion a very real thing)

I do have a number of good students, but it's easy to forget them in the dealings with the Snarkmeisters (who always have some rude comment to make, either to me or to their colleagues in class) or the Problem People who seem to be like that character in Li'l Abner who always had misfortunes happening to them - their cars break down, their kids get sick, they have to go appear in court....and perhaps some of that stuff is made up (though I do ask for things like doctor's notes), but it's just frustrating having someone constantly missing important stuff in class because their life seems to be falling apart. Or there are the people who are aggressively clueless, who miss getting a copy of the handout of the data collected in lab, which I expressly point out will NOT be on the class BlackBoard page because our scanner is broken and I have no simple way to upload it....and then they come bitch at me for not making it available. Or who just plain flat don't listen to instructions in class and then are 100% lost during lab and I have to effectively re-teach the whole pre-lab for them.

But yeah. Getting kind of tired and really hoping my students next semester have fewer problems and are more mature. At least I've not had anyone crying in my office so far this semester, so I'm ahead of the typical semester.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

This election day

The choices I have make me kind of sad. That's all I have to say. There have been very few elections in my life where it wasn't a "lesser of two evils" choice rather than "this person is a good person and they will do good things" choice.

I will say if things happen as planned, I'm bracing for lots of hurt commentary. Whatever. My feeling is, we can go broke as a country in 10 years or in 15 years, take your pick. I'm in favor of 15 years, myself, but I recognize that at the rate we're going, we're still going to go broke, and then everyone better hope that they are as self-reliant as they think.

I will say that unless things change much between now and Nov. 2016, the BIG choice I will have then will make me very sad. (As I said over a year ago to my mother: "If our choice of next president is Hillary Clinton or Chris Christie....well, neither one of those is a GOOD choice.")

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This annoys me slightly

People are making a big fat deal about Pope Francis coming out and stating his acceptance of the Big Bang Theory (the cosmological event, not the television show) and biological evolution.

Um, if I remember rightly, Pope John Paul II said essentially the same thing some years ago? To relatively little fanfare, though I did mention the evolution thing in my general biology classes. (Though then again, some of our fundamentalist students unwilling to even learn about evolution still think Catholicism isn't Christianity)

I don't know. The whole "he's a rockstar, he's more liberal in some ways than past Popes, so let's make a big deal out of him" thing bugs me a little. (I probably don't have a right to, not being Catholic. But I am). Actually, I'm bugged by the whole "rockstar" thing. Not just for Popes, for everyone. The whole media-adulation thing. It's kind of like the Dalai Lama - people like to fawn all over part of what he says because he's this cool mystical non-Western guy - but they don't talk about some of the more rigid or harder things he says. I'm sure there's stuff Pope Francis has said and that he believes that your average media fluff-head would be aghast at, but they don't hear that stuff, they just hear the "rockstar" stuff. It's like Christianity lite: wanting the good stuff without thinking about the "go and sin no more" part of it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dear New York City:

The Ebola thing? It's going to be okay, really. We aren't having any kind of zombie apocalypse down here near Dallas, the guy who died of the disease didn't infect family members, and apparently the two nurses who caught it (probably from either intubating or putting an IV in Mr. Duncan) are doing better.

Though I admit, some of the news channels, with their thinly veiled attitude of OH NO, EBOLA IS NOW WHERE THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER LIVE! is a little off-putting.

We're gonna see more cases. We just are. But we're learning about this fast. I may not have a lot of trust in the CDC or even some hospital administrations, but I have trust in individuals (doctors, nurses) who want to stay safe.

And may we learn something that can be taken over to Africa and used to stop the suffering there - too many kids have lost their parents, too many parents have lost their kids.

Really, the bigger worry, I think, is the fact that there have been "unlinked" but similar terrorist attacks in Canada and your city in the past few days. And that there are young women and men here (the women are the one that boggle me) who think hopping a plane for Syria or where-ever to fight alongside ISIS is a dandy idea. That worries me a lot, too. As a woman, how disaffected and disengaged do you have to be from Western culture to think, "Yeah, going to a country that historically requires women to cover from head to toe and have a male escort when they're outside will provide me far more opportunities."

(I also admit some consternation that those in moderate Islam are not speaking up, the way Christians do about the excesses of that so-called "Baptist" "church" out of Kansas, of the way many did after an abortion clinic bombing.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

lack of confidence

If anything good comes out of the Ebola mini-outbreak in the  US, it will be to show ordinary people that the government is far from infalliable and that they can screw up on a regular basis.

Apparently the CDC told a nurse who had worked with Duncan that it was just fine to fly back home from Cleveland although she was starting to be feverish. (Granted, it was a LOW fever, and she was likely unable to spread the disease at that point).

But now - schools in Ohio are closing down for the day "out of an excess of caution," people who flew on that plane are freaked out. All because the CDC said, "Yeah, sure, get on a plane" instead of "We are contacting the nearest hospital to you right now, go there, they will isolate and monitor you."

I am extremely hopeful no one ELSE catches Ebola - and especially that there are no infections from these nurses having contact with anyone while they were asymptomatic - but it's going to be about a month before we know that.

Crap. I hope this doesn't eff up Thanksgiving travel, but I bet it will. (On the highly unlikely chance that more people become infected, and the disease becomes widespread - well, I will not be traveling to see my parents for Thanksgiving. I've already told them that and they completely understand).

It just seems that so many balls were dropped on this. For bureaucracies that can be incredibly draconian and heavy-handed in many things, it seems like they are not taking this sufficiently seriously. (If it were me? I'd absolutely quarantine every health-care worker who worked with the guy dying of Ebola for about 10 days, and then insist on three clear tests before releasing them. And test anyone they came into close contact with. And yeah, there might be a few false positives, but the main harm of that is someone gets isolated for a while who isn't sick. And I'd make damn sure that there was a way to suit up so you were fully covered, and disrobe to avoid transferring blood or sputum, if you were going to work with Ebola patients. And I'd shut down entry from the West African nations, at least as much as one possibly can do (people lie, people change flights) until the epidemic has gone down) Oh, and something I forgot: I'd have made sure the borders were as secure as humanly possible ALREADY. Which would help with many other problems...

I mean, the federal government can insist that kids can't have school lunches with white bread in them, but they can't tell someone who was directly exposed to the virus and starting to show symptoms, "No, don't fly home, go to the nearest hospital that has an isolation unit" instead? Priorities are so far messed up. (Also the fact that only a tiny part of the NIH budget, apparently, was dedicated to researching this.)

I wonder if this is going to be the HIV/AIDS of the 2010s....Only this disease seems like it might be harder to avoid if you're a health worker.

Monday, October 13, 2014

And another case

As I said before, I live within the Dallas media market, so I've been hearing a great deal about this second case of Ebola - a nurse who cared for Duncan has contracted the disease. At this point it seems likely she will pull through (she's not as sick as he was, and got care faster). But it raises some issues, I think:

1. Screening at airports. We should be doing this ANYWAY for the really bad infectious diseases. I mean, if you transport a pet across state lines you are really supposed to have a veterinarian's certificate showing they aren't carrying anything transmissible. People have, I think, changed - when I was a kid, if we had a vacation planned and one of us got sick? Either no vacation, or the sick person stayed home if there was someone available to care for them. Now, because of changes in attitudes (ME FIRST, ALWAYS ME ME ME) and changes in airline policy ("every ticket nonrefundable! You gotta problem with that?") and business policy ("You're sick? Too bad, you still need to get to that meeting. Take some Dayquil and go.") more people are traveling sick, or that's my sense.

2. Heck, in this crisis, we probably SHOULD shut down entries from West Africa as much as possible. Didn't they stop flights to Israel a couple days this fall when Hamas was lobbing missiles around? That seems less of a threat to the American populace in general than in bringing in people who may be sick with a serious disease.

3. That said, given that Duncan died, it may discourage other travelers: America isn't some magical country where you can come to when you're sick and get cured. Health care has its failures here, too.Especially if you're poor, if you're "not from here," if you're a person of may not get the same treatment. Oh, it might be better treatment than some small rural hospital in a developing nation, but big-city hospitals are not perfect. In fact, I'd probably avoid a big, central-city hospital for emergency care, if I were given a choice.

4. Apparently a nurse's union is crying foul that the claim of "protocol mistakes" seems to be putting the blame on the nurse. Okay. We are now to the point where we need to man up and woman up and stop worrying, at least for the nonce, about hurt feelings. If there was a protocol breach, it needs to be said that there was and the details need to be made public. And steps need to be taken to stop future ones. That said - there needs to be better training for doctors and nurses, stat (as they say in the ER). None of this BS of handing them a piece of paper with a weblink where they can watch a video on it. None of this BS of giving them a sheet of instructions. This is something that needs to be practiced. Important, life-saving things need practice: you need to actually USE a fire extinguisher in a "dry run" before you may have to actually put out a fire. If you own a gun, the responsible thing to do is to do periodic target practice to keep yourself up to speed.

5. And another thing: the first person who cries "racism" or "classism" or whatever about the airport checks needs to be told to man up or woman up. (Though I'd be willing to bet if a European-American nurse working for Samaritan's Purse or something was coming back from Liberia on a commercial flight, they'd be checked just as hard as a native of that nation. Or at least, I'd expect they would be. Or maybe even checked *harder,* seeing as they actually worked with sick people)

This situation, I think, represents a bit of a crossroads. If we toughen up and stop worrying so much about 'feelings' and do what is the right thing for the majority of the populace and health-care workers, we can most likely defeat this. But if we dissolve, as we seem so often to these days during a crisis, into blaming other groups for stuff or complaining about how things are "unfair" or playing the "whatever" card, we could see a lot more cases, and it will get a lot, lot uglier.

It makes me wonder what would have happened in WWII if we had the softer attitudes we seem to have now.

6. I've also been a hell of a lot more lenient about excused absences for sickness in my class. I want to train people that if they get really sick - because there WILL be a Norovirus outbreak or the flu - that they need to stay home. I've had a flu shot but I can still catch Noro and I don't want to get sick. (And I have approximately doubled how often I wash my hands, just to train myself). And yeah, maybe some people are taking advantage of that to skip class. But you know what? They do worse on exams. So it sorts itself out. I take attendance because the administration says I have to. I'm not going to encourage someone who may be contagious with WHATEVER to come to class. In fact, I have actively discouraged students who called me to say stuff like, "I'll make it to the exam if I can stop throwing up long enough" to NOT come and to reschedule.

As for me? I'm going to do my best not to come into contact with ANYONE'S bodily fluids. Luckily, in my job, that's not too difficult, provided someone isn't an idiot in lab who cuts themselves on a broken beaker or something. And even then, I can just hand them a Band-Aid and tell them to take care of it.

The nuclear option? I have several month's worth of canned and other nonperishable food, I have lots of books, so I go in my house, lock the door, and don't come out until the disease dies down. And I have chlorine bleach to wash stuff off with if I have to.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ebola vaccine

Apparently, they're working on one. Good. It can't come fast enough. Because then the good doctors and nurses and missionaries who go into the Ebola areas can be protected before they go. And people who live there who aren't so anti-scientific they think vaccines are of the devil, they can be protected. (And yes - apparently one of the issues in some areas of West Africa is that there's enough anti-Western-Science, pro-superstition beliefs that people won't get a vaccine that might save their life.)

Would I get it? Well, I live somewhere I'm highly unlikely to be exposed, but if I knew it was reasonably safe and effective, and if I felt there was a slight chance of exposure, yeah, I would. I'd want to be protected.

I admit that the slightly mean and snarky part of me wonders how the anti-vaccination types here (which range from the "my child is too special for the even small risk of a bad reaction, screw herd immunity" to the "vaccines are tools of capitalist fat cats that make money for the evil pharmaceutical companies, so I resist them, screw herd immunity" to the "God didn't intend us to stick disease in our arms, screw herd immunity" crowd)

(To that last one, my response is: "God gave the doctors and pharma researchers the smarts to figure out out. And vaccines may not be "natural" but polio is "natural" and I sure as shooting don't want polio")'

Because I think SOME of the anti-vaccination sentiment in the US comes from the fact that we've never really seen an awful and deadly and scary outbreak of a disease (especially one like polio that seemed to preferentially claim children). We've forgotten the reason why we fought so hard. (I see similar parallels in the small but alarming crowd of anti-water-chlorination people. Yes, there are some bad byproducts to chlorine exposure but trust me, cholera is a lot worse).

A lot of this thought was brought up by the fact that apparently there's someone in a Dallas hospital who may have been exposed while traveling. Dallas is not all that terribly far away, certainly it's within a day's drive. And I wonder: who else might that person have exposed before they got to the hospital, or while they were waiting there? How soon does someone become contagious when sick, and do we really KNOW?

Can you imagine: "Your child may have been exposed to Ebola; the librarian at their school just came back from missionary work in Africa and is showing symptoms." Or "All you professors teaching International Student X, you may have been exposed." Or, or,'s kind of scary.

I know some people are saying this is the Zombie Apocalypse that our pop-culture has so gleefully presented to us. I admit, I hate dystopian fiction and things like zombie shows because I'm all too good at imagining what it would be like if it REALLY happened, and I'm fearful that there could be a patient or two who travels around a lot, or goes to a crowded store, or goes to work for a few days, before realizing what they REALLY have, and then everything hits the fan all at once....

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I'm glad it's back

The season premiere of NCIS was last night. This is one of the few shows I actually make time to watch and the only one on the regular networks that I watch.

I hadn't really watched the re-runs over the summer when they showed them; part of it was I'd seen them already, part of it was that I'm still having a little trouble warming up to the new female agent (Ellie Bishop).

It's not so much that Bishop is so terrible, it's just that she's Not Ziva, and I liked the character of Ziva. And, well, okay: I tend to feel like Abby should be the smart-but-quirky female character. But I guess with Ellie they had to go with kind of the closest thing to the anti-Ziva they could do. (They couldn't do a true anti-Ziva: that would have to be a brainless, spoiled princess-type who would never manage to advance in the military and who wouldn't be accepted by Gibbs anyway).

But I liked last night's episode. I think it was because it tended to have most of what I like NCIS for anyway: Gibbs watching out for his team and also kicking bad-guy ass. There's something satisfying about Gibbs kicking bad-guy ass, and it's a satisfaction that relatively few shows give these days.

I like the character of Gibbs. In many ways I think he is a deeply moral man. Sometimes the things he does (e.g, shooting the druglord suspected of killing his wife and daughter) may be a bit outside the strict letter of the law, but in terms of "what's right," it's still something that seems moral. (As in: the druglord was never going to be brought to justice, he was ruining other lives, and so Gibbs essentially did what Atticus Finch did to that rabid dog: took it out so that it couldn't endanger others). Gibbs is quiet - it's kind of a running gag how little he says. He does what's right. He protects the innocent, especially those weaker than himself. He has a soft spot for children and for people like Abby. He gives tough love (and head slaps) when necessary. In my mind, he's the kind of man we need more of.

(Yeah, okay, so Gibbs isn't real. But I tend to think one of the uses of "art" or at least of "entertainment" is to show us a world we long for or something to aspire to).

I will admit I can do with less of the CBS drama-queening the "next week's episode" teaser - apparently it's something bad/sad involving either Ducky or Vance. Well, okay: the actor who plays Ducky is getting up in years (if I remember correctly, he's older than my dad, and my dad is nearly 80) and I could see the actor wanting to bow out gracefully by retiring and somehow having Ducky written out. (But please, no melodramatic deadly diseases). I'm concerned it's Ducky, because he's one of my favorite characters (But I also like Vance. But then again, they already wrote a storyline with a Director that had a terminal illness, even if she chose to go out in a different way).

But anyway - it had some of my favorite things (Gibbs being laconic, Gibbs protecting his team, Gibbs kicking ass, Abby being the worrier of the team, a little bit of Tony and McGee sibling rivalry) and I missed that over the summer.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Feeling better

I was REALLY bummed out earlier this week, to the point of having one of those "I don't know how much longer I can do this, but I don't know what other career to go into" conversations with a colleague. Part of it was the rude student, part of it was that half of a class failed to turn in an important assignment, part of it was that students flaked on me about something they had promised to do.

But last night, I had my capstone-level class. And we discussed projects the students could do. Several people had good ideas; the student I talked with the most had a really fascinating idea that could even be publishable, depending on the results he gets.

We need more students like him. Part of it is that he's a little older (just a few years younger than I am) and had a whole career (as a paramedic) before coming back to school to do what he "really wanted to do" (his words).

More and more, I'm starting to lean to the idea that some have proposed, that of having 2 years mandatory military (or other) service for younglings before they can go into the workforce or college. And while that would have ticked the heck out of me as an 18 year old (I was ready for college - I knew what I wanted to major in, I even kind of knew what I wanted as my career), there is a critical mass of people now (maybe there always was) who don't really have a clue just yet, and who kind of drift around their first two years and often wind up wasting a lot of time (and taking longer to graduate). And there's also the whole whine factor: I've had people whine at me because there are no make up labs and they were SICK and that's just UNFAIR. (Oh honey. Oh. Life isn't fair and the faster you learn that the better). Or that a month is too short a time to write a five page paper in. Or that "all that math" is "boring." And I can't help but think: If you had just spent the past 2 years scrubbing latrines and marching, or spent the past two years picking up trash on the roadside, or spent the past two years building stuff in National Parks, you wouldn't be whining nearly so much.

(And yeah, I get the "but how, as a nation, would we pay for this?" I don't know, but I wish we had some way we could, because there are an awful lot of people I get in my classes who come from totally coddled backgrounds who expect everyone to bow down and do just what they want. And it ticks me off. And it ticks off the mature students, like the guy I was talking about above).

But anyway. I live for students like that guy - the people who have a passion, who want to be here, who know why they're here. He also talked about how he recruited his kids as field hands and how his daughter is really interested in birds and is keeping a Life List - she's 11. And I wanted to tell him, but I sometimes get shy about doing stuff like this, that he was a good dad because he was showing his kids that it's cool to be interested in stuff, that it's worth having things you care deeply about. I hope in a few years he maybe considers sending his kids here, we need more students who care.

I find my own passion for doing research flags when I have to deal with too many students who seem content to drift along, but it reignites when I talk to someone like that guy. (Actually, same with my passion for teaching).

I don't know how to keep from letting the energy vampires in my classes get me down. I do know I need things like conversations with students who do care to keep me going.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Not too much to say. Busy.

But I have one student I wish would DTFO (as HH says) of my class. This is someone who is CONSTANTLY checking his smartphone. He talks to the people around him,  and when I stop and glare at him he shuts up for a few minutes. He randomly leaves class early. In lab, he does as little work as he can get away with.

This is the second time this guy is taking my class. He failed the first exam.

I'm just done. I predict eventually I'm going to progress from glaring at him to saying something, and then progress to yelling if he doesn't get a clue that WHAT HE IS DOING IS RUDE AND IT PROBABLY CONTRIBUTED TO HIS FAILING THE FIRST GO-ROUND.

He also skips some Fridays because he finds more-fun stuff to do on Fridays (And yes, he essentially told me that).

It's hard not to take all that personally - which I am kind of doing, I admit. There have been a lot of times in my career when "fun" beckoned, but because I take my job seriously, I skipped whatever fun thing I might have done in favor of doing the right thing. And someone blatantly ignoring the class tells me, "I don't think your class is important and I don't think you rate even an iota of my attention."

And yeah, I need to get over that. And teach for the people who DO give a crap, because I have a bunch in that class this semester.

But the talking in class thing HAS to stop. It distracts me, it derails my train of thought, and I'm damned if I'm walking in there with a frigging SCRIPT of what I'm going to say just so Mr. I-don't-give-a-crap can keep up his stupid talking.

I don't even get why this guy is in college. He has a job with a local agency, which is partly why he has this attitude - he knows even if he washes out of the degree, he's still employed. He gives me the strong impression he doesn't care about education, doesn't think we know more than he why is he wasting someone's money (his family's, the taxpayers, or his own future income) to fill a seat and piss me off?

Thursday, September 04, 2014

dress code

So, I had a student show up to class today. Showed up in what amounted to a sports bra with sleeves (very short, very tight t-shirt - you could see her entire midriff) and a pair of shorts that looked like what I'd consider to be a reasonable bottom for a swimsuit. (I THINK they were some kind of lycra fabric; no I did not look very closely)

I don't know if the guys in the class noticed; I wasn't checking reactions. The thing is....that's just a little much, in my opinion, for a class. Understand most of the students in here show up in jeans and t-shirts, or jeans shorts of a reasonable length (rarely, there is someone in a pair of "Daisy Dukes") and a t-shirt. A few women wear skirts, usually of the maxi type lately, a few students wear those flannel not-quite-pajama-bottoms. So most of the students are fairly covered.

(Also, this is the classroom with the hyperactive air conditioning unit. I "run hot" and I have to bring a cardigan to class with me).

I don't know. That kind of thing (the inappropriate dress) makes me tired. On the one hand, yes, it's not really my business to say anything unless the student was truly violating public decency. But on the other hand, this is someone who is gunning for professional school. I just hope she dresses more professionally (or just plain MORE) when she goes for her interview....

Also, based on some things this student has said before, and based on the slogan buttons she sometimes wears, I suspect my saying something to her about her dress would be taken badly, that I might even be accused of trying to "slut shame" her. (I have no idea of her sexual proclivities or level of activity and frankly do not care).

As I said, this kind of thing makes me tired. This is someone wearing the most LOOK AT ME clothes possible, but I suspect if the guys in class WERE ogling her, there might be complaints. And I admit, I get really tired of people doing things to be 'transgressive' in some way and then complaining when people react negatively to them.

I don't know. I hope that she has a slightly more extensive wardrobe that will come out when it gets cooler outside....

I will say there are the occasional articles of masculine dress that bug me. I don't like t-shirts with sexual innuendo messages on them (Thank goodness that stupid "Big Johnson" t-shirt fad died years back). I don't like the really tight "muscle shirts," though men rarely wear them to class. Or the shirts that have the whole side seam essentially ripped out (and are sleeveless), so you see the entire armpit area on a guy. Again, I don't say anything but I find some of those things kind of distasteful.

I will say if I ever have a student in a lab I am teaching, especially one involving hazardous chemicals or boiling water, they will be asked to cover up.....I might even go to my office and get the giant old t-shirt I have advertising a now-defunct student club and give it to them to wear. Because I don't want to deal with an "accident report" for a student who got scalded on her belly because she had exposed bare skin in lab. (or the same for the armpit guys.)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

I can't, not any more.

You know the old saying about how if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention to what's going on in the world?

I don't want to pay attention to what's going on in the world any more. There's so much anger, so much outrage, and so many bad things happening. And there's screw-all I can do to fix any of it.

First, the pessimism: I think we will see more Fergusons in the coming years. For various reasons. In some cases, it may be trigger-happy cops. In others, it may be perps who push a little too far. And in some, it'll be the media or the attention-hound types who show up and make a big deal of it, and whip people up.

It's become all too easy to see other people as The Other of late.

(for what it's worth: My conclusion is there are no heroes in the situation. Everyone was wrong in some way. Even if the cop is vindicated....we will never know totally what happened at that altercation).

More pessimism: I won't be surprised if we see more terrorist attacks on our own soil. There are apparently ISL members who have US passports - who are US citizens. They could come back here and I don't know what. And quite aside from the disruption, loss of life, possible loss of a city (if they use a suitcase nuke or something and the survivors have to be evacuated and the area cordoned off), I suspect the government will use that crisis to add on more restrictions to law-abiding citizens. Because the law-abiding citizens tend to be the ones who have to deal the most with things like airport security, being stopped and checked out in some public place, etc.

Still more: I don't even know what will happen in Ukraine. Likely it will come under the domination of Russia once again. Worst case scenario is a full-blown war breaks out, and we see something like Crimea Round 2 or the Balkan Wars all over again. Well, actually, worst case scenario would be World War III.

And still more: What of the people crossing the border illegally? A lot of voices are calling for caring for the children, for caring for those claiming to be fleeing oppression. But then again: where does the money come from? We have poor kids in Appalachia, poor kids in the inner city who live under terrible conditions and 50+ years of federal programs don't seem to have made their lots vastly better. (I am fine with private charities choosing to do something, though I also think merely patting someone on the head and handing them a debit card only pushes the inevitable dealing-with of the sources of the problem further into the future).

And I look at all of this and I feel so tired. And yeah, on some level, hopeless. Even though I am a Christian and believe that Good will win, I really don't want to have to wait until "we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be" in order to see the world getting better.

And the other thing, as I said, except for praying (And I do. I pray for our leaders, that they will figure out some kind of wise path. And I pray for future leaders, that there will be someone good who comes forth and not merely someone who is looking to either repeatedly get re-elected or looking to merely shove the other party's face in it), there's screw-all I can do to fix ANYTHING.

I don't know. I was raised to be a 'fixer.' That if a problem came up, rather than giving up or throwing my hands up or sitting down and crying, that I was to sit down and figure out a way to fix it or at least make it better. And it's a strange feeling of detached hopelessness when it seems that the world is falling apart and there is truly nothing concrete I can do. I mean, yeah, I hear about a lot of people talking about the save-your-own-skin-and-your-family's stuff like making sure you have a good store of food and tools and other things....and I do that, but I don't want to just save my own skin. I want things to be better, full stop.

And as I said, I don't know what to do. I try to do what I can: to give my students the best preparation they can have for their future careers. To be a compassionate and caring person and to direct people in the direction of actual help when they have a problem (E.g., referring a student with bad personal problems to the counselor, so hopefully they can begin to work on them). To do volunteer work through my church and even stuff  like picking up litter in my neighborhood.

But that's all so damn small. It feels so small. It feels like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

And I realize on some level this is a "you don't control other people's behavior" situation: if someone decides to go and bust out the plate-glass window on a store downtown, simply because that store sells stuff the person can't afford and they think it is UNFAIR, I don't have control over that and frankly there's probably nothing I could say to change the person's mind. But I also....I don't know, I have such a hunger to do something that makes the world a better place and it feels like everything I can do is so insignificant. That things have got so bad that there's maybe nothing any of us can do to fix things.

And my reaction to that is to draw back. To watch cooking shows and cartoons instead of paying any attention to the news. To lock myself in my lab and work on research about stuff that really doesn't have any direct impact on humanity. To read Regency romances and detective novels and other books that flesh out a world in my head that is a lot nicer than the real world is right now.

I feel conflicted by this because part of me says that part of being a responsible person is paying attention to what's going on, partly so I KNOW but also partly so if things get bad enough I have to get out of Dodge somehow (though frankly, where I live is pretty far out of Dodge to begin with; it's probably where the rest of my family would run to if the larger cities they were in became undesirable because of being a terrorist target or something). But part of me feels that since I can't do anything, and it's destroying my happiness, and if I'm gonna wind up getting blown to Kingdom Come or have to spend the rest of my life trying to scrape out a living by farming and hunting (if the economy really goes kablam), that maybe it's better to be a happy fool now.

And I don't like feeling that way.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Odd random thought

I suppose there's probably some law against this somewhere (or maybe not constitutional), but I was thinking about how they are saying there are apparently American (and also British) citizens who have joined ISL or ISIS or whatever you want to call it, and are fighting alongside of them.

And my first thought was this: rescind their American citizenship. So maybe that makes the guy a man without a country. I don't have a problem with that. (And the same thing for Britain). Because isn't what they're doing technically traitorous?

I don't know. Of all the things in the world that worry me the spread of some kind of crazed fundamentalism worries me the most. (I won't even call it Islam, because they're killing their supposed co-religionists, and a number of Muslims have spoken out against it (though we need more to)). They've got money, they don't have any compunctions about dying (or at least, the kids they recruit as cannon-fodder don't), they will kill others horribly and brutally to make "good theater."

It's a completely different philosophy from the West, and one thing that worries me is whether we have the fortitude to fight it in the way it probably needs to be fought.

But maybe declaring any person of American citizenship who decides to go join them a traitor, and not welcome back here, and losing their citizenship (and hell, I don't know if it's legal but: having their assets in this country frozen) might be a place to start. A small place, but a place.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

So far, so good

Classes have started. We had our first full week. In general, things look good, even though I'm teaching an overload.

Though there is one in every group. I received not one but two panicked e-mails from a student detailing all of their current Life Problems (none of which would rate an accommodation from the Disabilities office, so....) and that those things are going to be the Reasons that I have to do stuff for them, or make changes and adjustments.

And it just makes me all so tired. When's the point that I get to tell someone, "Suck it up; you're an adult now. If you don't want to be an adult please apply to someone who is, hopefully a family member, and see if they'll take care of you for the rest of your life."

Part of the reason for my tiredness is that I have a lot of stuff going on in my personal life right now that are just "suck it up and deal" moments. So my sympathy right now is kind of limited.

The other thing is, and I think students forget this: I have a total of five classes I am teaching. Between those five classes I have 115 students. That is far fewer than most profs in this nation but still, 115 people is a LOT of people to learn the names of. And it would be impossible to treat each one with the degree of specialness this person is requesting.

Yes, I am happy to do things like arrange for a 'quiet room' for testing for someone with a demonstrated disability. Yes, I can arrange to get a special chair for the person who's had back surgery. No, I have no problems with the person who has hip trouble sitting in the back so they can stand up periodically when it gets to bothering them. But I draw the line at playing emotional counselor to someone who probably needs to call their mom or their sister or their best friend.

And thank goodness I don't have the darn Readings class any more; that turned into a cluster fast after we decided to do it as a hybrid class. (it's a one-credit class, which SHOULD mean one hour of work and interaction per week, but the students never took that seriously. With the hybrid format I tried to force that and it wound up with a situation where I cared more about getting the class work done than my students did, which is generally a line someone teaching should not cross.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer's over. Except it really isn't.

I finished with my summer classes last week. By and large they were really good. I find that the summer students we get are typically more motivated and hardworking, and earn better grades, than the regular semester students. (I suppose this is because it takes a special motivation to attend college in the summer: you have one more class required for graduation and it's offered in the summer. Or if you go in the summer, you can graduate faster than an ordinary student.  Or you are an incoming freshperson and you want to hit the ground running in the fall. Or you're attending another school but can get some transferrable credits cheaper and with more individualized attention here.)

My grades are done and in. I haven't had any pleas for mercy or extra credit. (In fact, one of the small number of people who did not earn a good enough grade in my intro class came to my office after the exam to ask me to help her enroll in the same class for the fall, because "Now I think I can pass it." I hope so.)

I'm taking about a week's break to go visit family and generally decompress. Though I will say summer helped cure some of my teaching burnout - it's not me, it's the students, that make me crazy sometimes, and this spring, I just had one class who gave so monumentally small of a damn that it really wore me down. Teaching the same class this summer and having people tell me, "I was kind of dreading this class but it was really fun and I learned a lot!" or "Thank you for teaching this this summer; now I can graduate and go on to the job that is waiting for me" makes a big difference.

Then I come back. The local public schools start August 12. We start August 18, but that week before is filled with meetings - four solid days of meetings, at least two of them 8 am to 4 pm solid days. (We get fed lunch one day, I guess. The other day we're "invited" to go eat at the cafeteria - no notification as to whether we are expected to pay or not, so I'll probably pack my lunch that day).

I don't know. Mid-August feels way too darn early to start school. I understand the reasons: we get a couple days mid-fall break, we get the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we finish up well before Christmas (and give exams before Christmas break. In the era my parents went to college, exams were AFTER Christmas break, which I would have hated as a student). In the public schools there are a lot of one-off days off. They get most of the Federal holidays (we do not: we get MLK, Jr. day, and Independence Day, and Labor Day, but that's it). They also get random days off for "teacher inservice" or also, I think "parent-teacher conferences." And I guess that last one is only fair; if you're going to expect your teachers to be available between 5 and 9 pm or whatever it is to meet with parents, maybe it's a bit much to expect a full day of teaching that day....but when I was a kid, that was how they did it. (I think the conferences were also optional? My parents always went and I remember a teacher saying something like, "The parents that DO show up, they are usually the ones where all I have to say is, "Your kid is a good kid; they are doing well in their classes" and the parents I NEED to talk to don't show up.")

Anyway. It's hot. It was very hot last weekend. It's going to be very hot when campus grinds back open all the way on August 18. Those first two weeks (heck, the first month or so here) are just kind of miserable because it's so hot. Oh, the buildings are air conditioned but it's unreliable - sometimes a classroom will be "out." Or the a/c will go out in the faculty-office part of the building. Or it will be so cranked up in one room that that room is freezing. And it's hard to adapt and I often walk around with a headache from the variable temperatures.

And frankly, I think a lot of the students are not ready to be back. When I grew up, I was used to a school schedule where school started after Labor Day and let out for the year in early June. And that seemed to make more sense to me. August is kind of an awful month and it tends to be the hottest month in the summer, no matter where you are.

And yeah, I've heard all the arguments in favor of year-round school and I even agree with some of them (and heck, what I do essentially is teach year-round school for college students), but also, I think in some cases, at least for some kids still, there's value in having a big chunk of time off. Or, at least there was when I was a kid - maybe it's different now with the Internet and video games and 500 tv channels. But when I was a kid, we spend the summers playing HORSE, or having big neighborhood-wide games of Kick the Can. Or we'd go looking for frogs or minnows in a stream up the street. Or someone would set up a sprinkler for us to run through. Or I'd get a big stack of books from the library and spend the biggest part of some days reading. Or my brother and I would beg wood scraps from our dad and "build stuff." Or we'd climb trees. Or go looking for weird bugs or snakes. Or I'd beg my mom to let me bake cookies and sometimes she would let me.

A lot of it was learning to entertain yourself left to your own devices. And there was a certain degree of learning to compromise in there - I didn't like playing HORSE that much because I wasn't very good at it and until I had a growth spurt around 12 or so, I was one of the shorter kids. But I played it in the hopes that later on people would want to play hide-and-go-seek or Capture the Flag, both of which I did like. Or, I played because the only other choice was to go figure out something to do on my own, and playing a game that wasn't my biggest favorite was better than going and digging in the sandpile or something.

We were also largely left to our own devices. There were no cell phones, so if someone got hurt or something, you figured out a way to get them back home (carrying one of my smaller friends when she sprained her ankle) or you ran to a neighbor for help (like when one of the older kids got into a hornet's nest and got stung a lot of times and we were worried he was going to have a bad reaction). You figured stuff out, you were fairly independent.

I don't know if kids today are like that or if they have become less like that. I suppose if we had had cell phones back in the day, I could have called Christy's mom and asked her to come and pick her up when she sprained her ankle. Or we could have called Tim's dad and asked for help on the hornet thing. But both of those situations turned out okay, even with us left to our own devices.

And I see these occasional stories about a parent who gets in trouble because some busybody sees their kid left "alone" and worries on the parent's behalf that something bad will befall the kid. I have no idea how widespread that is, and if kids are more overprotected today. When I was a kid - in the late 70s and early 80s - by and large we were allowed to roam the neighborhood as long as we didn't do anything to dangerously stupid or anything criminal, and our parents trusted us to know the difference. (Well, smaller kids were expected to stay close to home unless a kid in their teens invited them to tag along, and the fact that one of the kids who babysat my brother and me was the oldest sibling in one of the families we palled around with probably had some influence on the degree of freedom we were given). But I remember walking the 1/2 or 3/4 of a mile to the "creek" as an 11 or 12 year old, going to catch frogs, and all my dad said was, "Don't fall in; it's really muddy right now." Maybe in an era now when there isn't a parent at home to kind of man home base, or maybe now when the world seems more dangerous than it was, it's preferable NOT to have long summer breaks anymore, I don't know.

(Though I wonder: is the world really more dangerous? I remember several high-profile kidnappings of young girls that happened in the early 80s, including one not too far from where I grew up. And they all ended pretty badly. But I don't remember my mom or my dad telling me not to go out, or preventing me from going places; they seemed to know that I was smart and canny and would come running back home (or to a trusted neighbor) if something seemed suspicious.)

Thursday, July 24, 2014


I know that a lot of people have to work and go to school. And I know some of the stupid rules of financial aid can make it harder to go to school part time.

But for the love of all that's good, I'm just so TIRED of people with lives where their education is their very last priority. I had someone this semester who skipped class several times because he could "pick up a good shift" at the place where he worked....and of course, I am reminded exactly WHICH days those were when I grade the exams he took, because that's where his score tanks. (He wound up failing the class. And this was one of those "But I always earned As in the past in classes!" people).

And I had a couple people go on vacation. Yeah. A vacation they had scheduled knowing full well they were taking summer classes. I tried to work with them (gotta keep the enrollment up) but it was frustrating. I don't get much in the way of "days off" during the summer semester, and having to do stuff like arrange for makeup labs and makeup exams takes even more time.

I realize how fortunate I was as a student: I had just barely enough money to pay my tuition and my room and board. Not a lot of extras, not a lot of frivolities, and I did stuff like getting my shoes re-soled to avoid having to buy new ones. But at least I didn't have to work. (I did, for a little while, a few hours a week in a dorm cafeteria, so I had money to go to the movies and stuff. But I never worked more than 10 hours a week, and the dorm was really excellent about scheduling shifts around my class schedule. And if it had interfered with studying, I would have quit).

I know a lot of our students aren't in that boat - they have families to support or things like that. But we also get a certain percentage who whine about how "hard" they have to work and when you talk to them, you find out they don't have any dependents, but they have a big fancy pickup truck, and a new iPhone, and they want to go to the tropics for Spring Break, and and and. And there comes a point where my sympathy for those people dies: you're making a choice. You could cut back on hours at work and not have all those fancy things and do better in school and not have junk happen like sleeping through an exam-time and then harassing your professor into relenting and letting you take the exam late.

I don't know. Part of it is a sour grapes issue on my part: there's a lot of things I would WANT to do but don't because my responsibilities get in the way and I won't shirk my responsibilities. And there are things I might WANT to buy but then I look at my TIAA-CREF statement or my Vanguard statement and start calculating out how much I still need to be able to retire (and hope and pray there's not hyperinflation) and then figure I'm better off without whatever it is. But I get frustrated with being responsible when I see people NOT being so, and especially when their lack of responsibility means more work on my part.

I suppose I need to be tougher, and tell people, "You made your bed, now lie in it" when someone shirks class stuff and then comes crying to me for an extension or something. I usually am, actually, but with things like missed tests, it's hard and it's kind of painful to tell someone, "No, yes, I know you slept through it, but sorry. No." And then get some kind of sob story about how HARD their life is. (It's the nagging, it's the constant stream of reasons and excuses, that wears me out. Just accept my "No," okay? You understand "No means No" in other areas of your life, right? Then why not accept it from your prof?)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Just gonna say:

I watched most of an interview with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu this weekend.

And I'm just gonna say: I wish our current leader was more like him. Forceful, sure of himself, no BS that I can detect. Committed to defending his people yet at the same time points how the great pains that are taken to avoid collateral damage on the other side. Not unwilling to shut the interviewer up when he gets shirty with him.

Oh, I'm sure there are things to dislike about Netanyahu, and I'm probably seeing this as grass on the other side of the fence, but I suspect we'd have fewer foreign-relations problems (and fewer at-home problems) than we do at the moment if we had someone who was more willing to say what he really thought, rather than what he thought people (potential voters) wanted to hear...

Friday, July 18, 2014

All those people

I admit, as someone who's been a fearful flyer since she figured out it was possible for planes to crash, this kind of thing just horrifies me.

It horrifies me even more that it seems to have been confirmed that Malaysia Air 17 was shot down. Shot down from 30,000 feet. I didn't even know there were surface to air missiles that could do that, that had that kind of accuracy. That's chilling.

All those people. I hope they died instantly and didn't know any terror. And I also feel sad for the people who are the farmers and such living in that area, who had plane parts (and other things) come down in their yards.

What makes me especially sick? The US response to this will probably be a finger wagged at whoever is responsible, and that's it. And the situation in the Ukraine will continue to spiral downward. I'm trying to tell myself this isn't how World War III gets started, but I'm having a hard time convincing myself.

And it doesn't help that there's ugliness elsewhere in the world. (Though I will say, if what I've read about how Israel does its rocket attacks is true, it makes me hate Hamas even more, and feel even more like Israel is in the right - essentially, it sounds like Israel is doing *everything possible* to avoid loss of civilian life on the other side, and Hamas is trying to time its rocket attacks for when Israeli schoolchildren are going to or from school.)

Everything's such a mess right now. And we don't even have strong leadership to try to sort it out or even provide any kind of useful response.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"First World Problems."

There's a trend I see, among some who write/talk about food, economics, and health. One example is Mark Bittman's piece here.

I call it "First World Problems" because I hear people bemoaning how "awful" it is that food is cheap, and I do the confused-dog head tilt: "You'd rather there be a famine going on, then?"

And yes, I understand that the argument they are making is that when food is cheap, people eat more, and they eat more sugary and fatty food. But it's more complex than that. In the US, obesity is often a problem of people who are less-well-off because the cheapest calories for the money tend to BE things like dollar-menu hamburgers. And chips. And soda. Vegetables are expensive. (I think I paid close to $4 for a head of cauliflower recently). And then you have to prepare the vegetables - and if you're living where there's a less-than-ideal kitchen, or you're working long hours, or having to care for children on your own, or or or, it becomes harder.

I'm not saying it's impossible to eat healthfully when you're stressed. But it's harder. Even for me - and I make a good salary, I don't have any dependents I have to care for, and still, there are some days I look at that cauliflower in the vegetable bin and go "Meh. It's 6:30 pm. I'm hungry. I don't want to take fifteen minutes to cut this up and fifteen more to steam it, or forty-five minutes to roast it in the oven" and I go for something faster, like cereal.

But this is one of the things about some segments of our culture I find distressing. We've solved a lot of the big problems, and we're forgetting to be grateful for that.

People mostly aren't starving in the streets any more. Instead of rejoicing about that, we wring our hands about "cheap food" and the consequences thereof.

People aren't mostly freezing to death in the winter any more. But we worry about "cheap energy" and its effect on the environment. And try to do things like ban wood stoves because of the (OMG!) smoke. (I know a few people whose homes are electrically heated. And electricity is EXPENSIVE here, y'all. But they have a wood stove, and they have a woodlot. That seems like "problem solved" but there are some who don't want to let them use the wood stove - or require environmental retrofits that would price them out of being able to use it)

People aren't dying from bacteria in the water. Yet there are some who talk about the hazards of chlorination. I dunno; I'd rather risk the small hazard of chlorine by-products than the big hazard of possible cholera or dysentery.

Lots of diseases have been largely eradicated thanks to vaccines. But OMG, my children are too special for that tiny risk that a vaccine might pose, instead, I'd rather have them face the big risk of getting (whatever disease) and maybe passing it to a kid who couldn't be vaccinated for medical reasons. (I would have no problem with anti-vaxers - well, other than that their children don't really get a say - if there was no such thing as herd immunity.)

(Also, an aside: another way certain forms of extremism are awful - there's concern that polio may show a resurgence in Afghanistan and other mullah-dominated areas. Because apparently vaccines are a tool of the evil West. Sigh.)

And on, and on. I've talked about the whole milk-pasteurization thing before. Okay, I admit it: I wouldn't have a problem with people being allowed to choose and buy CLEARLY LABELED raw milk. But I'm gonna keep drinking the pasteurized stuff. I had ancestors who had milch cows and I heard stories of stuff that can be transmitted in milk. (Again, the kids, who might be affected more strongly, don't really get a say in this, it's their parents' decision. But I maintain that if people know the risks they should be permitted to buy the stuff. But they have to know the risks! And they can't sue the farmer if they get sick from raw milk.)

I don't know. Like I said, some of the people agitating about "oh, we have it too EASY now" almost sound to me like they WANT to see people dying in the streets. I'm sure that's not the case but it does seem to me to represent a lack of gratitude. Me? I'm grateful for Pasteur and Jenner and Salk and all those guys (and they were mostly guys) in the past who figured out ways for people to not die of stuff.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I still love Mike Rowe

Dirty Jobs may have ended its run (but Animal Planet sometimes shows re-runs, especially of the animal-oriented episodes) and Mike Rowe seems to have moved on to other things.

Kind of awesome things. He's promoting the idea that instead of getting a four-year degree in some subject that it will be hard to find a job in come graduation, that a lot of America's young men and women should look towards a more technical education, or a skills education. Or at the very least, be willing to get their hands dirty, to do jobs some might say was "beneath" them, to do hard work and to do honest work.

He's written a whole thing, called the SWEAT pledge ("skills and work ethic aren't taboo") and the idea is, he's helping to fund a scholarship for people willing to take this pledge.

(Frankly, if I had a kid, unless s/he was absolutely driven to a particular field, like I was with biology, I'd strongly suggest they become a mechanic, plumber, or electrician. Good honest steady work, work that can't be outsourced, work where very often, if your boss is an idiot, you can pick up and move to another employer - or become your OWN boss.)

Anyway, here's the pledge, it's one of those things that has gone viral:


(Skill & Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo)

1. I believe that I have won the greatest lottery of all time. I am alive. I walk the Earth. I live in America. Above all things, I am grateful.
2. I believe that I am entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing more. I also understand that “happiness” and the “pursuit of happiness” are not the same thing.
3. I believe there is no such thing as a “bad job.” I believe that all jobs are opportunities, and it’s up to me to make the best of them.
4. I do not “follow my passion.” I bring it with me. I believe that any job can be done with passion and enthusiasm.
5. I deplore debt, and do all I can to avoid it. I would rather live in a tent and eat beans than borrow money to pay for a lifestyle I can’t afford.
6. I believe that my safety is my responsibility. I understand that being in “compliance” does not necessarily mean I’m out of danger.
 7. I believe the best way to distinguish myself at work is to show up early, stay late, and cheerfully volunteer for every crappy task there is.
8. I believe the most annoying sounds in the world are whining and complaining. I will never make them. If I am unhappy in my work, I will either find a new job, or find a way to be happy.
9. I believe that my education is my responsibility, and absolutely critical to my success. I am resolved to learn as much as I can from whatever source is available to me. I will never stop learning, and understand that library cards are free.
10. I believe that I am a product of my choices – not my circumstances. I will never blame anyone for my shortcomings or the challenges I face. And I will never accept the credit for something I didn’t do.
11. I understand the world is not fair, and I’m OK with that. I do not resent the success of others.
12. I believe that all people are created equal. I also believe that all people make choices. Some choose to be lazy. Some choose to sleep in. I choose to work my butt off.

I love the whole thing but I especially love #1 - because I see far too many people who feel like they're "victims" of some kind when really, they just hit a rough patch but they have giant opportunity. And it's kind of uncool right now to say you are grateful to live in America, but I'm totally okay with being uncool: I am grateful, incredibly grateful, to live here. Yes, we have some problems but we still have great opportunity and still have great freedom.

I also love #4. I have days when I'm not "feelin' it" when I gear up to walk into the classroom so I do what I can to MAKE myself feel it. Also, by bringing your passion with you,  instead of "following" it, you can better deal with whatever changes or reverses you have in life. I got a gig in a state I had never visited before I interviewed here. In a lot of ways the culture is different from what I was used to. But I wanted the job, I recognized it was a good deal, so I made it work. Again, it's not perfect, there are always problems, but on balance I see things as being far, far better than they COULD be.

The whole theme of the pledge is "taking responsibility for myself" and I think we need more of that right now in this nation. I would love to see people start pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, stuff getting better economically, us electing some politicians who take the Constitution more seriously, and everything getting better and better. I think it will take individual citizens choosing to be this way, though, rather than anything that comes out of Washington DC or anywhere. 

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

a quick thought.

I have real issues with the whole "check your privilege" idea - the idea, apparently, that you should somehow feel guilty for the accident of being born white (or male, or hetero, or American, or whatever) and should somehow, I don't know, ramp down how you do things in life because of it.

The problem is, in my mind, that kind of closes out some of the opportunity for gratitude as a result of undeserved good things. And as a Christian, I've been taught all my life that there are a certain amount of good things we enjoy that are totally and utterly undeserved.

In another way of saying it: I don't think I should feel guilty that I can afford to comfortably pay all my bills; I should feel *blessed.* And I do. (And yes, I give to a few carefully-chosen entities that help those who are less blessed than I am, so hopefully they can get a hand up and can have a life where they get to earn a decent living and come to enjoy some of the blessings I have...)

Monday, June 30, 2014

I just wanna say

To all of the more left-leaning folks that are around me, and that I follow (or, now, used to follow) on social media:

Kindly take a deep breath.


This isn't the end of "America." My understanding is that it only affects a few corporations, only CERTAIN forms of birth control, and it only affects IF THE CORPORATION WILL PAY FOR THEM. Hobby Lobby isn't gonna fire you for going out and buying it with your own money.

And this seems to affect only a few corporations. For which you don't have to work, and, hell, which you don't have to shop at if you don't want to. (Seriously. I saw someone say she was going to "give up crafting" because of the Hobby Lobby decision. Honey, you might rethink that, making stuff is good for keeping your blood pressure down.)

I'm also so not ready to deal with the anti-Christian snark that's going to come from predictable sources. This is one sliver of Christianity. And okay, I kind of agree with some aspects of it: I loathe the idea of abortion and wish they never happened. (And yet, I recognize it's not a perfect world). 

One way that I'm coming to hate social media: poorly informed people coming out and just spewing moments after something happens. It's all knee-jerk, it's all emotion.

Emotion's gonna be what does us in, I bet.

I....think I'm gonna avoid social media for the rest of the day. Just got too much to do to deal with the outragey outrage.

It also strikes me as interesting that there's huge reactive commentary (mostly snark, very little thought-out commentary that I've seen) about the Hobby Lobby case, and essentially NONE about the unions case (that a public union cannot make non-union members pay fees). I thought that was another decision that some people said would ruin this country if it went "not their way" (which it did.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

thank goodness, voting is tomorrow.

As someone who still has a landline (one of the few) and someone of the lesser party affiliation in my area, I've been barraged with robocalls and "surveys" this past week and a half.

I'm glad it's nearly done.

And a pox on the politicians for thinking this will get people to want to vote for them. Same thing with spamming our mailboxes daily with fliers. I'd choose to vote for the guy who didn't do it but they ALL do it. It sucks.

At least this time we seem to have fewer character-assassinatey ads than some go-rounds.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

covered in alligators.

There's a saying 'round here, "up to your a-- in alligators" that sometimes gets translated into a nicer form of "covered up in alligators."

That's how I feel right now. I like teaching summer classes, the money is good, but DANG do they move fast. You have to be super-on-top-of-your-game to keep up. (And I'm worrying about the manuscript I want to be writing - when will I get to that?)

Also, the students are....different. Some are different-good (dedicated, hardworking students wanting to graduate early or to get a fast track to their degree). Some are just different. I have a student I'm interpreting as emotionally needy (I could be screwed up on that) because this student e-mails me multiple times every couple days with questions on EVERYTHING.

Also, the student has made several appointments to come see me (they have expressed a fear that they are failing) but has broken every single one. (At least they e-mail me to let me know they're not coming). I'm guessing this is someone with a lot of fear about "talking to the professor" but I don't know how to fix that - I can't present myself as any more cuddly than I already do, short of coming to class in a teddy bear suit.

Also, I wonder: at what point does it stop being MY problem that a student is afraid to come in and talk to me? A number of other people in that class have, so I know it's not that I present as difficult. And I've always been cordial about answering this student's questions, both in class and through e-mail. But it's impossible to make someone do something they don't want to do but probably need to do (meet with me). And I guess I should stop worrying about it and figure that if they can't be enough of an adult to come in, then that's not my problem.

I also interpret this person as emotionally needy, so I'm wary about reaching out TOO hard - I once had the experience of a student I reached out to suddenly assuming I was her substitute big sister or something and sharing ALLLLL of her TMI problems with me. (She was having some...gynecological issues, let's say. I referred her to the campus nurse, and tried to communicate, without coming out and saying, "I really don't need to know this and I also really don't WANT to know this.) So I admit, I'm afraid that being TOO open will make some students decide suddenly that I am their bestest friend, and that gets really weird and uncomfortable.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How are they against tornadoes?

Joanne Jacobs had a story about an allegedly bulletproof blanket that schools can buy (at $1000 for 3, and I can see an entire Simpsons episode about how the teachers figure out which students are "worth" protecting with a shortage of blankets).

I don't know. For a lot of reasons, this makes me sad:

- there are probably better, more pro-active solutions to the slim risk of an "active shooter situation" than to have the kids cower under blankets.

- Even though "active shooter situations" seem more common than they once were (though I wonder how much of it is filling-the-24-hour-news-cycle), they're still more rare than other threats that kids face

- The blankets are expensive, but some schools will probably feel compelled to spend limited funds on them, at the insistence of parents.

- Teaching kids to cower in the face of danger seems distasteful to me. Yes, I get that in a shooter situation hitting the ground and playing dead may be what saves you, but  honestly? As a kid who was a major worrier, the idea that "someone might come in the school and shoot it up so we have these blankets" would really make me feel uneasy.

- And anyway, kids are already being told, "We suspect you of carrying contraband" (the clear or mesh-only backpacks) or "We think someone is going to bring a weapon in" (metal detectors in some schools). There's a weird siege mentality that bothers me as an adult and I know it would have bothered me as a kid.

- I tend to think it would be better to have trained staff - or, heck, like in some Texas schools, teachers who are licensed and reliable - serve as a sort of armed guard. It wouldn't have to be obvious, it wouldn't have to be adults patrolling with drawn guns, like the kids are Faberge eggs being transported through the Wild West or something.

- There are a lot of other threats that are probably more likely. Hence my title. I grew up in Ohio (I've written before about how I remember hearing about the 1974 tornado outbreak - one that caused many deaths, and in Ohio, many deaths in Xenia). The "cower in place" we learned in school was tornado drill. We'd get into one of the long halls (most of which had glass exterior doors on the end, but no one ever explained how that was OK, at least to my satisfaction). We'd get down into something like what yoginis would call "child's pose," only instead of stretching out our arms in front of us and "peacefully resting our forehead on the floor," we'd clasp our hands at the nape of the neck. The idea was, we were told, we were protecting our brain stems, so that tornado-shrapnel could not snap our spinal cords.

Even at the age of 7 or 8, I knew enough science to fear that was BS; that since the school didn't have a proper basement, they were just doing the best thing they could and if a tornado came through, the only thing to do was to pray it would miss the school, or at least miss the hallway you were in. At home, tornado warnings meant we went to the basement and got under a sturdy workbench my dad had. Luckily, in my town, the safety of those things was never tested.

But in a lot of parts of the country, I think if they're going to make an investment in the kids' safety, far better to do something like have a few reinforced safe-rooms everyone can troop into during heavy weather than to buy those blankets. (And in the photo, it still looks like parts of the kids are exposed; a commenter noted that the most they'd probably do was protect you from stray bullets.)

I know they've also come up with a college-campus version: a reinforced whiteboard a faculty member can pull down and use as a shield, presumably when they offer themselves up as a potential sacrifice to protect their students. (I don't know. Some classes I've had, I frankly don't LIKE well enough to even contemplate that.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Not sure whether to be concerned or annoyed

Summer teaching.

I have one student in one of my classes who has e-mailed me no fewer than four times (in a week and a half of classes) to try to set up an appointment to see me. They have missed every one of them; the morning it's scheduled they e-mail and push it to the next day.

Which makes me think this is a Highly Avoidant Person. I know about this, as I have avoidant tendencies. (Right now, I have all the receipts from a work-trip on my desk, and I MUST fill out my expense report by the end of this month if I am to get any money back, but I just feel so meh about dealing with the minutiae of paperwork that that involves, and I feel very especially meh about the e-mail I will probably get back telling me how I did it wrong and to go back and redo it. Because they change the rules every year.)

Anyway. I don't know what I can do - for that matter, I don't know if I SHOULD do anything - if it's someone being avoidant. I mean, this is someone who's technically an adult, and frankly, one thing I learned in a hurry in college is sometimes you need to woman up and do the stuff you really don't want to do, because being an adult means that it's on you to do those things.

But it's also possible this person is just the specialest of snowflakes, and keeps finding stuff more "fun" to do than to come in and see their boring old professor and find out that the reason they're doing poorly on tests is that they aren't studying more than an hour in advance for them. Or whatever. Or it's someone whose life is in such a shambles that they can't make it to appointments.

But still. It irks me to set aside a time, and then find out, "NOPE! Set up another time tomorrow." (At least this person has the kindness to e-mail me in the morning, unlike some students who set up appointments, never show, and I'm left sitting there until I feel "enough" time has elapsed that it's okay for me to leave.)

People are funny though. As avoidant as I am about "difficult" meetings, I feel like it's a greater embarrassment to reschedule - so I make the meeting and by God I show up to it. (It may take me forever to get around to making the appointment, though).

Also, attendance has been worse this summer than in the past, which makes me apprehensive. Each week in the summer is like 2 weeks in the regular semester, so missing much can really sink a person fast. And I don't make my summer classes "easier." I know some profs do but I feel like I should make the class as equal as possible to the regular-semester version.

Monday, June 09, 2014

A random thought

You know how some universities catch hell (especially from conservative commentators) for having pop-culture classes, like ones on the Simpsons, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Klingon?

It occurs to me that these kinds of things are tailor-made for MOOCs. (inspired by seeing this. There's even a small charge for the class so apparently the developer has found a way to make it pay.)

Because: the people likely to take those courses are going to be motivated to pay attention to them, because it's a particular interest of theirs. The way MOOCs currently work (at least at most universities), you don't get specific credit for them, so someone couldn't avoid coursework in the natural sciences (say) by taking a course on alien xenobiology or something. And because they're sort of an add-on, people won't feel so much like a university degree is being (further) watered down.

I've said before, some of the ideas promoted as being done via MOOCs, like remedial classes, are a terrible idea. Remedial and intro classes, I think, for most people, need to be in a classroom or at least "traditional" online setting, where there is contact with the instructor and tests and a certain level of accountability. The last thing we need is having people who dislike math and did poorly on the math section of the ACT being herded into a 1000-person class where they don't really see the instructor, where the quizzes may be self-graded, and where it's all on the student to complete the class.

But "fun" classes, classes on stuff that only a very, very small percentage of people (e.g., comic book writers, media reporters, etc.) might actually use in their career - but which lots of people might want to take for fun - could work as a MOOC.

I could even see things like "Shakespeare for the Adult" (a course aimed at people wanting to learn more about the plays, but who are now done with school) or "Art Appreciation for non-artists" and that sort of thing.

But please, don't push intro bio students into a MOOC to learn genetics. That's just all kinds of bad.

Saturday, June 07, 2014


Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of D-day.

I remember learning about it in school. In fact, one year, in grade school, there was a  local veteran who had been in D-day and was willing to talk about it to the school - so we had an assembly where he talked about what it had been like, and then took questions from the kids. This would have been the mid 1970s, so the veterans were still mostly with us, and were still fairly young - in their 50s or thereabouts.

(That's where I learned the D stood for Day. It doesn't really represent anything different. Also, H-Hour, the H doesn't stand for anything different).

It's amazing to read about. The bravery, going out there and doing what had to be done (to turn the tide of the war) even though you knew there was a good chance you'd be killed. Disembarking under heavy enemy fire (and strong winds making the landing harder) and just going, going, going. Because you had to.

And a huge number of men were enlisted in those years. Pretty much every family in the US had someone who was in the forces somewhere. (My mom had an older brother - I never met him, he died when I was a baby - who was in the Navy in the South Pacific). I wonder whether we (Generation X and following generations) are somehow softer, if we could find enough good recruits for that large of a force today. Oh, of course: lots of men and women go into the military, and by and large they are very tough people who get the job done. But I wonder if the average American is as tough now as his or her 1940s-era counterpart.

I suppose, though, given what we are fighting and how we have to fight it now, it's different. In World War II, you were fighting an organized army, that had specific uniforms. They were lead by a leader of a country who was determined by us and our allies to be in the wrong (I would argue that objectively, any reasonable person would find a fascist leader to be in the wrong). But I also think that by and large, the ordinary citizens of those countries were not so much a threat or our enemies... I remember reading about some German POWs who were sent to camps in, I think it was Nebraska? and after the war, at least a few of them asked permission to stay, noting that as POWs of the Americans, they were treated better than they were as recruits in the German army. (And that always struck me: that we were better to our enemy combatants we had captured than their own leadership was to them.)

Now, the enemy is far more nebulous. Rather than being the soldiers of a country, it's more of an ideological thing. (We see Americans who have "gone to the other side" and fought against us, and in some cases we don't know our enemy until he blows us up, or comes damn near to it.) That seems harder to fight, and also there are so many unpredictable things - thinking of the Boston Marathon bombers - they were allegedly brought in under an asylum program, but they turned out to be terrorists as much as the guy on the street in Kandahar who wants to blow up American soldiers.

And yes, there were alleged cases of spies infiltrating in WWII, but you also hear of cases of them being apprehended. (Something someone once told me, I have no idea if it's true or not, but one thing they used was to ask the person to sing "all verses" of our National Anthem. Because native-born Americans would almost certainly only know the first verse, and supposedly someone who received instruction in "how to be an American" might have learned all the verses.)

Also, with the war on terrorism, there's really no way to say, "We beat them and we won." When Hitler killed himself (presumably either because everything was crumbling or because he didn't want to be caught and put on trial), things started to fall apart and ultimately Germany capitulated. And the Allies were able to declare terms of surrender they had to agree to, and essentially we wound up shaking hands and beginning to put life back together. (And arguably, at times since WWII, Germany, or at least West Germany, has been a better ally to us than France was....) But I don't see any way to declare our war with terrorism "over," short of killing everyone who identifies with that particular strain of Islam (And there can always be new converts...) or of ending the hatred of Western culture in some of the world. (Which isn't gonna happen, even if we made huge, Constitution-violating changes in how we all live our lives).

But I also think we've changed as a society. Perhaps we don't have the same backbone we had in WWII. (And oh, how I'd love to see Patton or some of those other general resurrected and put into the fight against terrorism. Maybe they aren't "politically correct" for the new order of how US politics works, but I think they'd do a lot of good.)

But it does make me feel awe to think of what those men did, so many years ago - the courage and the sacrifice. And really, it was what began to tip the war to the side of the Allies winning.

And now, sadly, those men are leaving us all too rapidly.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014


So, one of the fallouts of the Sterling thing was that apparently Mark Cuban came out and said he was "bigoted."

Because, among other things, he said if he saw a big bald white dude with tattoos, when he was walking down the street late at night, he'd cross the street.

Uh. Yeah.

In my mind, "bigoted" would be refusing to hire a dude just because he had tattoos, without looking more into his background. Or shouting a racial epithet at a kid of a different race from you. Or constantly making "stupid woman" jokes in the hearing of your female co-workers after they've asked you not to.

I'd call what he was talking about more "prejudicial" or "discriminatory" - not as bad as bigoted.

Heck, I judge people all the time. Mostly on behavior (because it's kind of stupid to judge someone by their skin color or stuff like that that they have no control over).

When I was coming back home on the train, I saw a guy in the station. Big huge white guy. Shaved head. Large swastika tattoo on one arm, smaller tattoo of an 88 (which I now know is symbolic in neo-Nazi circles) inside a laurel wreath. He was wearing a t-shirt with the sleeves torn out so it was fairly clear he wanted people to see the tattoos.

And my first thought: "Dang. I'm glad I have a compartment and won't have to sit near him."  And then I looked around, and thought, "I hope he doesn't cause trouble for anyone." (How uncomfortable would it be, to be someone who lost a grandparent or great-grandparent in the Holocaust, to wind up sitting next to that guy?)

I mean, I suppose it was remotely possible they were temporary tattoos, and he was a sociology grad student doing an experiment. Or something. But I kind of think that's unlikely and less possible than he was a guy who is part of a group that is unjustifiably angry at certain other groups and perhaps wants their extermination. And I'd rather not deal with someone with beliefs like that.

And yeah, that's prejudicial, maybe. But I tend to think someone who proudly displays the fact that they're a skinhead (or more than that) is not likely to be the kind of conversational partner I'd enjoy - or have much in common with.

I judge students on behavior. The former military guy who apologizes after inadvertently saying "hell" in class one day - I think more highly of him. (Even if I'm not bothered by the word, and in fact, say it myself sometimes. Just not in class). The woman who tries to stealth text under the table, I think, "She either thinks she's too smart for the class and doesn't need to pay attention, or she doesn't want to be here." The person who ALWAYS has issues, ALWAYS have problems: I wonder how they will get their stuff together enough to hold down a job.

How much of this is bad? How much of this is a problem? I think of the student one summer I agreed to take on to do research after they begged and pleaded me to (even though I knew they weren't so great at keeping up their regular schoolwork). And then they got a DUI. And then they stopped showing up. And then they requested an Incomplete, which they never fulfilled. And if I had just said, "No, your record shows you're not ready for this yet" in the first place, how much frustration I would have saved myself.

There has to be a balance between being a jerk who unfairly judges people harshly, and someone who's just a big marshmallow and winds up being taken advantage of (or worse: maybe not crossing the street to get away from where the skinhead is walking will get you attacked). I don't want to have to accept everything equally.