Thursday, February 27, 2014

RIP, Harold Ramis

Sad to hear of Harold Ramis' death earlier this week. I feel kind of like I felt when John Hughes died - that someone who was really important to the movies I watched as a teen growing up was gone, and that things would be different, and we'd never quite recapture that same exact style.

Harold Ramis was a decent comic actor - he usually seemed to be the straight-man type, and I think a lot of nerdy people gravitated towards his characters (particularly Egon Spengler). But he probably shone best - or at least I think he did - as a writer. He's largely responsible for "Meatballs," and "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters," and "Groundhog Day" (those are just four of his films; he's done lots more than that).

Most of the movies he was involved with, there does seem to be an underlying sweetness - "Meatballs," for example, which I saw for the first time in its unedited form just recently (and admit, was a little taken aback at the language - oh, yeah, I'm sure some kids spoke like that but I would have been in beeeeeg trouble if I had). The whole subplot of Bill Murray's character trying to get some of the less-liked or "loser" kids to feel good about themselves - the pep talk near the end with the kid who was their camp's last hope to win the Camp Olympics with his cross-country skills. The whole "It just doesn't matter!" scene.

And "Groundhog Day" - which is on my short list of favorite movies - it's essentially a story about redemption, about learning to live outside our own wants and our own heads, and that's how we move on. (It's interesting - that underlying theme has some deep resonances with Christianity, but it could also be seen as sort of a Buddhist worldview, I think - and I know Ramis was quoted at least once about his interest in, and following of, the Buddhist philosophy as an adult). I find "Groundhog Day" a profoundly moving movie, even though it's also laugh-out-loud funny in a lot of places.

(One thing I read in one of the obituaries - that he and Bill Murray had been "estranged" for a few years. I don't know why and it doesn't matter. But apparently, before Ramis' death, the two reconciled. And that makes me happy - I know too many people who didn't get that chance to reconcile with someone who had been important in their life.)

I think movies, even more than television or books, seem to be a cultural touchstone for people of my generation or my circle. I think most people have had the experience of quoting a movie line and having someone else in the group quote another line back to them - and there's a moment of laughter and recognition (and I don't know why I'm always surprised, considering how many hundreds of millions of people probably see the big blockbuster movies, but I am surprised, and suddenly feel like, "This is someone who gets me, at least a little bit.").

I can't remember the context now, but the line "Lighten up, Francis!" was once used (jokingly, of course) in a faculty meeting and it broke the tension and everyone laughed and went back to being cool. And I've said to students, when we're out doing fieldwork and they're working with 50' tapes to lay out transects, "Don't cross the streams; that would be bad" (meaning: don't get the tapes off parallel) and that usually gets at least a chuckle.

I do think for Generation X, between John Hughes and Harold Ramis - well, that's a lot of the movies that were important parts of our lives. And now both of them are gone.

RIP, Dr. Spengler. You'll be missed.

Friday, February 14, 2014

They may be trying to "train" me

So. I gave a first exam in one of my classes today.

As this is allegedly an 'advanced' class, I followed good pedagogy and made the test mostly essay.

Mistake, ricki. Big big mistake.

Essay tests take a LONG time to grade, and sometimes (though not this year) you get that person with the handwriting like a drunken spider, and you're squinting at the page, cursing them, as you can feel the rods and cones dying, and wonder if you'll be sitting on a street corner some day with a tin cup, saying, "It was....EXAM POISONING!!!"

But this semester, I'm noting a disturbing trend. When a student can't answer a question, rather than doing what they can or even just leaving it blank, instead they answer a totally different question. Like, the question they'd like to see there. (Or, perhaps: the question that WAS there on last semester's exam. Yeah, that's why I write different ones each time).

I've had to use my "This does not answer the question asked!" angry grading notation more this go-round than ever before.

I don't know if (a) this is an unusually gormless group, (b) they didn't study hard enough (or had another big exam this week, or heard I was a pushover on tests, which is false) or (c) this is a trend.

If it's a trend, I'm really unhappy. My essay questions are NOT that devious. They are over topics that were both discussed in class and that are in the textbook. I also hand out a big long list of "topics you will want to study" (maybe I need to rephrase that as "topics you NEED to study"). My review sheet is NOT a joke, it's not a suggestion only, at least if you want a good grade.

(Cue me muttering that back when I was in college, we didn't even GET review sheets. Our NOTES were our review sheets. And we had to walk to school in 18" of snow, uphill both ways.)

But yeah. I don't get the "I'm going off on a tangent that has nothing to do with the topic at hand just because I don't know the answer and that makes me uncomfortable." Do they think I just look for filled in answer blanks without reading?

There are gonna be a lot of unhappy students come Monday. I hope that unhappiness serves as a goad to work harder, at least to some.

(Standard disclaimer: yes, I did have a few people earn As. So my exam was not impossible.)

But I wonder if they're trying to make me throw up my hands and go "Awww, screw it. All multiple-choice next time" because those are hella easier to grade.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Now I remember

Why I hate the oncoming spring and the changes in the weather.

I've had a near-migraine (not enough to justify a sick day, but enough to make working unpleasant) for three days. My teeth feel like they're going to fall out. (I have been chewing carefully on one side to begin with; I have an old filling I fear is eroding. I have a checkup in two weeks where I can either get that verified or be told that it's still sound and I don't want to have to make an emergency appointment before then).

Oh, and they've decided to do tree maintenance with chainsaws and stuff around my building on campus. Hooray!

This is better than it being 30 degrees below normal temperatures and icy, I guess, but my sinuses actually felt BETTER during that time than they do now.

And in a few weeks, the fornicating trees will literally start fornicating (well, releasing pollen) and my spring allergies will ramp up.

We're also having mold issues in my building but no one is DEATHLY ill so nothing is being done about it. I expect it will take someone contracting fungal pneumonia that is CLEARLY spread by one of the species growing in the building before they actually try to clean it up.

I've been sleeping a lot when I've been off work, because my sinuses feel so crappy and sleeping is about the only thing that helps them.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

"The library's named after a DUDE!!!!"

You may have heard about the students at Columbia (or Barnard, some of the reports I've heard said Barnard) that filmed a porn video in the library, to protest a variety of things. (The radio news here spun it as "Because the library was named after a dude" but it sounds like it was also about "the expectations of female behavior on campus")

I dunno. Maybe I'm a Philistine here, but I don't think that's quite what Gandhi intended with "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I guess they're getting notoriety for it, but....if there's a culture on the campus of pressure for women to have sex when they don't want to, or if they think women are being objectified, I kind of think there are maybe more productive ways of directly tackling the issue.

Also, I have admit, the "It's only dead white dudes in the canon" argument doesn't generally sway me, at least not in the sense of "We have to throw all of them out and find replacements." It's a historical thing that most of the well-known writers were dudes....and most of them were white Europeans. In the past, generally men were ABLE to write because they had wives to take care of the day-to-day stuff. Most of the women writers of the past that I know were women who weren't married, and many of them came from well-off families. And until recently, most of the known books out there were by Europeans, or people of European heritage. Yeah, you may not like it, but it's kind of how history happened. And much of American culture still harks back to Shakespeare and Dickens and even sometimes people like can't change things overnight by declaring "Those guys are now taboo; here are the new cultural icons" because culture doesn't work like that.

(Though honestly, in the future? Maybe we'll be hoping that people read, period, much less read Dickens and Shakespeare.)

Maybe I'm unenlightened. Or maybe my perspective is very different. But when I walk by the library here (which does happen to have authors' and philosophers' names on it, and as far as I can remember, yes, they are all dudes), I don't feel harassed or excluded or put down. It's just how things were. I'm grateful things are different now - if it were still the 15th century I might not be able to read at all - but I'm not outraged at how it is.