Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Did I hear this right

Okay. So Donald Sterling, the soon-to-be former owner of the Clippers, was taped by his mistress, whom he was suing for embezzlement, making some vile racist statements.

And so now he's banned for life, and has to sell the team? (Though considering the profit he will make...)

I think of what my dad used to say: that the beauty of free speech is that the jerks out themselves. Should Sterling be banned? I don't think so. Should individuals decide not to go to Clippers games in protest of him? That's their right. Should sponsors drop him because they don't want to be associated with him? That's their right. Should some of the players leave for other teams? If they want to, and they get an offer, that's their right.

I suspect that even without the banning and forced sale, Sterling would suffer some pretty serious consequences. And yeah, I suppose he should. Though then again: of those of us who know 80 year old or older guys, how many of them HAVEN'T said something cringeworthy about another race. Or about women. Or about gays. Or immigrants. Or whoever?

I don't like the idea of doubleplusungood speech leading to immediate life banination. Let consequences work themselves out: sponsors drop the guy, maybe some players decide, "Hey, I want to go work for another team instead," loss of fans. Because beginning to attach extra-special-bad penalties to speech you don't like....well, I fear that leads down a bad path. Thoughts become, if not crimes, dang close to it.

Edited to add: On further thought - if there was some kind of a clause in the contract he signed to become an owner that prohibited certain actions, then OK. Though I know those things can be nebulous and can be interpreted more loosely or tightly, depending on how much some leadership entity wants to be rid of a person.

There are certain things I can't do and keep tenure. Oh, some of them would be pretty bonehead things - if I were convicted of a felony, for example. But some of the other things are more nebulous. What, for example, is "moral turpitude"? I have heard of faculty (not here) having affairs with undergraduate students. In my book, that would qualify as turpitude for several reasons. And yet, the people concerned kept their tenure....

Though I suspect at this point the guy is so tainted by what's happened, by the "gotcha" journalism, that he's gonna have to bow out.

Yes, what he said was vile. If an older male relative of mine said it, I'd walk out of the room and later tell him I didn't appreciate what was said. But it sounds like there's plenty of vileness to go around in the situation. (And for that matter, there are NBA stars who have said and done some fairly vile things).

Mostly this just makes me sad. Not just for what Sterling said but for the fact that it involved a much younger mistress (I wonder how his wife feels) who was allegedly embezzling and who set up taping in order to entrap him in saying something that apparently she could use against him. No one in this situations is dripping with virtue.

I confess, sometimes I think about that old Simpsons episode, where something bad is going to happen to the earth, and there are two spaceships: one with the Useful People on it (where Lisa gains a seat for her skill in proofreading - which would probably also be how I got myself on such a ship) and another one, bound for the sun, with the Useless People on it. And well, okay, I'm not as bloodthirsty as that, if there were two ships, one bound for a New And Better Earth and one bound for a Survivable but Just Meh Earth, I'd put Sterling, his mistress, and most of the people who called for his head on a platter on that second ship.

People. They never fail in their capacity to disappoint me.

Monday, April 28, 2014

"How's that workin' out for you?"

One of my chronic-skipper students once again earned the lowest score on an hourly exam. I don't really look forward to seeing (or not seeing, as the case may be) this person in class again next semester.

I also have one person who always has excuses, problems, whatever, and "has" to take the exam a day or two late. They have also failed to hand in most labs and any of the papers in the class. They seem to be that kind of person who just has trouble making it through life.

And I don't know about that. There seem to be some people who just can't get, or keep, their stuff together adequately to succeed. And I wonder how they will make it in the working world - if you can't meet a single deadline for a class, including deadlines you knew about on DAY 1 of the class, how do you meet deadlines in "real life." (I hate the "real life" vs. "college" dichotomy, as it implies that college is NOT real life, and therefore is either not to be taken seriously, or things like rules and deadlines are illusory in college and you don't need to worry about them.)

I mean, I get having a bad semester or having problems in your life - but from talking with this person, this seems to be an ongoing issue. I'm just hoping I don't get a call from an administrator like I did a few years back, telling me to accept the late paper without penalty. Though this time I'm prepared - I had a chat with our ADA compliance officer.

Apparently this is a minor issue, and one he was not aware of - there is a particular admin on this campus who, when a student comes with a sad story, takes it upon themselves to pressure the faculty into granting accommodations the student isn't entitled to. And because it's an upper administrator, and even tenured profs like me are faintly afraid of what an upper admin could do, we comply.

Well, the ADA guy has told us not to do that any more. He thinks that the administrator is not TELLING us but ASKING us, but I will tell you that it sounded damnsure like "telling" when I had that conversation.

And a colleague of mine got called up by this admin, and he has said he is "just going to give a C" to the student in question that he got called about, which makes me all kinds of crazy, and I've tried to argue with him how it sets an ugly, ugly precedent, but he just wants to go along to get along ("My goal now is to get to retirement without being sued." Yeah, great).

Well, if the admin calls me up again about a student, I'm simply going to say, "I need that in writing and from the ADA guy." And then do my best not to budge. Because this is ridiculous - just as I feel a right chump when I follow the rules and am responsible and then find someone else got all kinds of rules bent for them, and they actually got a better outcome than I did, it's unfair to the majority of students who DO work hard to keep bending the rules BEYOND the baseline accommodations. Accommodations are to give everyone equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. The problem is, there are apparently some folks who can't deal with the fact that some of their "favorite" students (or maybe students with aggressive parents, I don't know) can't make it through college even with the playing field being leveled.

It's not fair, though, to a professor near the end of exam week to tell them, "This late paper that you hadn't heard any thing from the student about? You need to accept it and grade it."And it's not fair to the other students who worked hard and got their papers in on time.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I still think it's a bad idea

I watched a few of the news stories on "4/20" day in Colorado. (4/20 is some kind of stoner holiday; supposedly it originated with some kids who would go after their high school let out - at 4:20 pm - and go smoke dope).

I still think legalization is a bad and dumb idea. If even one more person starts using because "Hey, it's legal...." I think it's a bad idea. (I'm more okay with decriminalization - not locking up small-time users. But legalization, in a lot of people's minds, is tantamount to the government saying "This is A-OK to do, folks.")

Granted, the news stories showed the worst offenders and the most outrageous people - the ones who claimed they didn't want to do anything, ever, other than get high.

And if that's true, if that's not just the weed or the fact that they're on tv talking, that makes me sad. All you want to do is get high? You don't want to make a contribution to the world? You don't want to be a good parent to a child? You don't want to create something? You just want to sit in a haze that seems to me not all that different from the people in the long-term care centers with reduced brain function?

Makes me think sometimes we should charter a plane to a big island somewhere, put a sign on it saying "FREE POT INSIDE!!!!!" and then fly everyone who gets on to that island, drop them off, and leave them to figure out how to stay alive.

Me? I want to work for a living. I want to feel - at least on my good days - like I'm making some kind of contribution to society, that I'm trying to make things better. And in my free time, I want to create stuff. Or learn stuff. Or make music.

And yeah, yeah, I am sure a lot of that can happen when a person is at least minimally high, but it seemed to me the people intent on partying were pretty inert other than for smoking.

I know I am unduly harsh about this. But I've dealt with people with drug issues - bad neighbors I had one year, a student who came to class hammered, a TA who got kicked out of school for using and for stealing drugs. And I have little patience for any of that. Yes, people should be free to live their lives and I don't freakin' care what someone does EXCEPT when it's so loud in my neighborhood at 3 am that I can't sleep, or I have to throw someone out of class because we're doing a dissection lab with scalpels and he might pose a danger to himself, or when I was depending on someone to cover a class for me when I had jury duty, and they just totally flaked and never showed up.

Many things a person does create ripples in the life of others and it frustrates me when someone else's drug use makes my life much more difficult - or, in the case of the AWOL TA, makes ME look bad, like I was the one who flaked.

So, my experience is: heavy drug or alcohol use makes people selfish and irresponsible. And I don't have time to deal with people like that in my life. (As much as I love my relatives? If one of them was a user, I'd cut them out of my life - tell them I didn't want to see them until they were clean, and I wasn't going to help them out financially or anything).

I will say I'll be interested in seeing how much the black market for marijuana is affected by the Colorado legalization and "official" sales places. I know a lot of other states are kind of slavering over the possibility of "more tax dollars" but I wonder, are there still the low-level dealers who undercut the "official" centers because they don't charge state tax? (And is this going to affect the cartels at all? If legalization totally eliminated the cartels and their violence, I might be more grudgingly willing to accept it, but I suspect the cartels will either double-down on violence, or move on to producing and distributing meth or bath salts or something else.)

The other thing - governments have a long history of taxing "undesirable" behaviors (drinking, smoking, and even some would say, buying gasoline), but when those behaviors are reduced, the government finds they are as addicted to the tax money as the people previously were to the substance. So I'm not sure how that will pay out.

The other issue, as I've worried about before: what if some people take up pot smoking when it becomes "more normal," and then find themselves out of a job or addicted or otherwise unable to work? Are they going to want to go on the dole, and then chumps like me - who work hard and don't want to smoke the stuff - wind up paying their living expenses, and maybe even paying for their weed, seeing as they now claim to "need" it. (I've seen contradictory results on the addictivity of pot, but I can't help but think some people must become at least psychologically dependent on it.)

I don't know. As I said before, any other state that is considering legalization should sit back for five or maybe ten years and carefully study what's going on in Colorado, and decide "Is this worth it to us?" and "What unintended consequences are arising?"

Edited to add:

Because I kind of AM unpopular-opinion puffin, at least a lot of the time.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

dear world

So apparently Jewish people are now being asked to 'register' their existence (and how many material goods they own) in eastern Ukraine.

Dear world: Please choose ONE AND ONLY ONE terrible decade we are fixing to relive:

or "other."

Also, I thought "never again" meant "never again."

Monday, April 14, 2014

I wouldn't hire 'em

Some of the students in one of my lab classes, I mean. I can't get over how some of them are utterly unable to follow directions that I both speak aloud and have written on a page, and how many can't remember from one week to the next the lab procedures - which are pretty much the same for most of the labs.

My top ten lab issues:

10. "Please wash the glassware you use. PLEASE wash the glassware you use." I don't have a lab slave teaching assistant for this class, so unwashed glassware means I have to stay after and do it, if I don't catch the person and shame them into doing it themselves.

9. "The lab exercise for this week is up on BlackBoard. (heavy sigh). Go to the computer lab and print out a copy." (This is for people who either chronically forget theirs, or skip class regularly enough not to get the handout)

8. That one guy who always shows up just late enough to miss the ENTIRE pre-lab lecture and then doesn't know what the butt he's doing.

7. "Beakers are for containing. Graduated cylinders are for measuring." Just put that on my tombstone, okay?

6. "NO WHAT ARE YOU DOING DON'T PUT THAT PIPETTE IN THERE!!!" as I fly across the room to knock the pipet they just used for one reagent out of their hands before they use it on the next reagent. "NO CROSS CONTAMINATION" could also go on my tombstone.

5. "No eating or drinking in lab." Seriously, some of you are industrial-hygiene majors. Why do I have to say this multiple times every week?

4. "If you spill a chemical, please let me know." I had a massive formaldehyde spill today. Luckily it was under the hood. But the person who committed the spill DID NOT TELL ME and that is NOT COOL.

3. "The plastic vial is for doing the extractions; the glass one is for the colorimetric tests." Seriously, we have done these procedures five separate times in the semester, why do you not know it yet?

2. DON'T PUT CHEMICAL WASTE DOWN THE DRAIN. No, we are not Wichita Falls and may be recycling our greywater to drink, but that day may be coming and I really don't feel like getting even trace amounts of heavy metals and cyanides added to my diet. Also I set out labeled waste bottles for a reason.

1. "No, it's too cloudy. Filter it again." Also I have said this multiple times to multiple people; you'd think they'd learn. They have to be able to get 100% transmittance on the colorimeter and there is ONE and ONLY ONE reason why that would not happen: cloudy samples. And yet every dang time, it's like a new surprise and it's me being hateful telling them to re-filter.

Three more weeks. Three more weeks and I'm done with this crew. I just hope this is an unusual lab class and not a harbinger of what future classes will be like.

humanity is ugly

So, some guy, allegedly a member of the KKK (I can't even believe they still exist in this day and age but they do) and a white supremacist decides to go and take out his rage at a particular group of people.

He winds up killing three people.

One of those people was a 14 year old kid who was an Eagle Scout. (An Eagle Scout at 14. And that puke wound up killing him).

This is where I get really uncomfortable with the whole hate-crimes legislation deal. If what this guy did is ruled "not a hate crime," that doesn't make the people any less dead. It doesn't make their families any less destroyed. It doesn't make the community they lived in any less hurt and questioning.

I've long said that to commit a violent crime against another person, you have to have hate in your heart. Oh, I get that hate-crimes legislation was designed to try to deter people who hated a particular group of people from acting on that hate, or perhaps to allow extra-special punishment for people who DID act on that hate.

But, as I said: it doesn't make the people killed any more or any less dead.

I really go back and forth on the death penalty. But I admit I come back to the idea that there are some people so dangerous that they need to be removed permanently. This guy would be one example: if he got let go, I wouldn't be surprised if he did the same, but even worse. And he's 73, so claiming any kind of leniency for him because he's "elderly" is ridiculous. (Also, why was he not in prison already? Apparently he has a huge rap sheet.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

group dynamics

I swear next semester I am *assigning* lab partners in my intro lab class. I'm done with this.

In my lab class, I currently have 14 students. Eleven of those are dilgent, hard working people. They mostly work in pairs and there is one group of three. They work together, if one person doesn't understand and someone else does, that person explains to them. They pay attention to my pre-lab lecture and know what to do. They get done in good time, hand in their papers, and then they get to scram.

And I'd get to scram early, too, if it weren't for my one last group. Two women and a man. One of the women has an enormous sense of entitlement. She also bitches about three times per lab period about how this week's exercise is "stupid." It matters not what the exercise it, it's just "stupid."

Um, you're majoring in this, right? So this is what you plan on doing with your life? If you don't like the super-basic labs where stuff is far, far less hard or tedious than it can be, well, I recommend switching majors.

I actually remember some of the labs from my basic bio class (which was high school AP bio). One big one I remember is the onion root tip. Most basic classes do some form of this: you either make and stain yourself (as we did) a slide of an onion's growing root tip, or use a prepared slide. You find 100 cells in the zone of active cell division (the meristem). You identify them to stage of mitosis. Then, based on the number of cells in each stage and how long the cell cycle generally takes, you can compute how long each stage takes. I remember doing that and thinking, "Whoa, cool. I didn't think about doing it that way but it works."

But to a lot of today's students (or maybe just to a lot of students who aren't really into science and who don't have a high tolerance for repetitive tasks like I do), counting 100 cells - well, you might as well put an orange jumpsuit on them, give them a sledgehammer, and tell them to go out in the hot sun and break rocks for 12 hours. Seriously, people act as if counting and identifying 100 cells is just short of torture.

And I'm like, wait until you get to grad school, 100 cells will look like a coffee break.

Of course, many of them are looking at med/dental/PA/whatever school, but still: I'm sure there are incredibly tedious things there.

And I do understand that probably counting onion cells seems irrelevant to someone who wants to be a surgeon or a physical therapist - but there's value (I tend to think) in anything you learn, and the idea of the technique (you have a process you can only see "stopped" stages of, now you need to estimate how long each stage takes) could be applied to other things.

But I get really tired of that one group - they tend to ignore the pre-lab (if they talk, I stop and shut them up, or I look at them and go "Do you have a question?" which I find usually shuts up in-class talkers. I've given up on the smartphones - I figure, if they want to dink around on their smartphones while everyone else pays attention, that''s  their loss. Except it's kind of mine, too, because they are always hounding me with simple questions I answered in the pre-lab lecture, and also, it takes them longer to finish and leave, so I am less likely to be done with lab early.)

But I see this increasingly much in college students: they think they know everything already, they think they've figured out what's important and what isn't, and they deem any class that is not narrowly focused on the one thing they are going to do with their lives as irrelevant and therefore to be ignored or complained about. The thing is - lots of people change their focus. I originally, as an undergrad, wanted to be a geneticist, but that gradually shifted to becoming a botanist over time, for various reasons (a big one: I didn't want to spend my research life trapped in a lab). Or you fail at something important. Or you don't get in to med school. Or you realize at 20 that becoming a doctor, under the new way medicine is done, is no longer appealing to you.

I tend to think that very little if anything you learn is ever a waste of time. I wish my students also felt that way.

Friday, April 04, 2014

you know what?

I'm sick of political "purity tests" for people.

You know, if you hint that maybe, just, you know, maybe, it might be kind of okay if a photographer with strong beliefs to the contrary doesn't want to take on the job of photographing a same-sex wedding, you suddenly become one to be shunned as a wrong-thinker.

Or, if you mention shopping at Hobby Lobby, because that's literally the only craft store within 100 miles, you're told "Oh, they oppress women (because, apparently, they won't give their workers the Plan B pill for free). You shouldn't shop there."

Those are extreme examples but increasingly I hear that kind of talk - that no matter what else you do, if you disagree, even slightly - or maybe fundamentally agree but note that there are complexities to the issue - you're an awful person.

Here's the thing - I've known people who would pass the most progressive "purity tests" out there - and they were huge (forgive the word but it's the only one that fits) douchebags. Just awful to other people, selfish, ungenerous, snarky.

And I've known people who said stuff about certain minorities, or about gay people, that made me cringe quite a bit - but then, it turned out, when they actually wound up working alongside a man they knew to be gay? They weren't awful to him. They didn't say anything. Because, you know, individuals matter. And while the person I'm talking about didn't agree with the way the man was living his life, they were smart enough to know that there are things you don't butt in about.

I have friends who are gay but I admit I'm still conflicted on the idea of requiring,by law,  say, an extremely devout Catholic to cater their wedding* because....well, because. On the one hand, yeah, discrimination is wrong and if this same Catholic person refused to cater a black heterosexual couple's wedding (or a black guy marrying a white woman's wedding), I'd be very unhappy and probably not ever want to patronize that caterer.....but matters of faith get difficult and prickly.

(*same-sex marriage is not recognized currently in my state, and anyway, this couple, I don't know that they'd want to do the big wedding thing. And at any rate: they're too nice of people to go to some caterer who would be uncomfortable with the idea and say "You WILL cater our wedding or we will call the government on you.")

I don't know. I tend to take the opinion that I go where I'm wanted, and don't go where I'm not. I'm a single woman. When I eat in restaurants, much of the time it's by myself. Some restaurants and some waiters understandably don't like that. (I do tip fairly generously). If I go to a restaurant and get the vibe of "We really would vastly prefer you were with a party of three others, or part of a family" I go "meh" and cross them off my list of places to go to again. But I don't go in, guns figuratively a-blazing, and demand that they serve me, and they serve me NOW and they put me at the BEST TABLE IN THE HOUSE. Because that's being a (sorry, again) douchebag.

And really, a restaurant that doesn't want me there? Why am I paying them? Why not go to the other fine establishments around here who actually seem happy to see me when I show up? And yeah, I get it: in some cases that baker may be the only baker in town. Or the only one worth going to. And that's unfortunate.

But, I don't know. I get so tired of being told, "Do this" or "Don't do that" when my reality suggests those things aren't really possible. Or that all the other good I do with my life is magically undone because I sometimes buy groceries at the wal-mart rather than driving the two-hour (!) round trip to get to a Central Market or somewhere. (And I guess Whole Foods is now no longer so ideologically pure? Am I remembering right?)

The whole thing just makes me freaking tired. Like I said: I tend to judge people on how they treat other individuals: are they generally nice to other people or are they generally jerks to other people? Or are there particular people they're jerks to because that person is a member of a certain group? But I tend to think that deciding someone's a jerk because they really, really need some rick-rack for their daughter's dress, and they really need it NOW, and the only place to get it is the Hobby Lobby....well.

Life is complicated and I think the problem is that people are trying to simplify it down to sets of binary choices that don't necessarily apply.