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.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Some random thoughts

I was visiting family last week.

It's hard watching family -especially parents - age. My mom is still pretty much in good health (she went up on a ladder to put a shutter back up - I was holding the ladder. I tried to encourage her to let me do it but she insisted. Then again - being on an antihypertensive, I do occasionally get moments of dizziness and maybe being up high on a ladder is not so good. But she has borderline osteoporosis (and I can SEE she has shrunk in height), so I worry).

My dad's knees are terrible. Nothing that can be done short of surgery that's not likely to be successful at this point. It sucks. He does PT to try to keep some mobility but I can tell it just really sucks to have such bad knees. (he used to play football and run track, and also hiked a great deal....and then learned when he was 45 or so that he had one leg shorter than the other and was developing scoliosis. He has an insert for his shoe but probably got it too late for his knees)

Their 55th anniversary is this year. Their church does a "silver and gold" Sunday in June; it honors people who have been married 25 years, or 50 years, or 50+ years. They ask for a wedding photo to go in a Powerpoint that's shown at the reception. My parents actually don't have any wedding photos (long story that is best explained as "it was sort of an elopement") but my mom found one from when they were traveling together shortly after they were married.

I was still 10 years in the future at that point, but when I looked at the photo, I thought: yes, I remember when they looked like that. It made me a little sad - I remember when I was small and my dad used to lift me up and hold me in the air so I could "fly," I remember when I believed he could fix anything that got broken. I remember thinking how glamorous my mom seemed. (She wasn't, really, I guess, and I don't think she'd describe herself that way. But she SEEMED glamorous to me.) I remember when both of them had dark hair. (My dad's hair is totally white; my mom's is salt-and-pepper).

When they were the age I am now, they already had both their kids and had been married for 20 some years. My life turned out really differently than how I thought it would when I was a kid. Not that I'm sad about that; it's just interesting to think about "How would things be different if I wound up with a high-school sweetheart or something that I married straight out of college, and had kids, and tried to stay home with them?"(as my mom did, and I think if I had had kids I would have tried to do the same if there was ANY way it could be done)

My brother and sister-in-law are doing the parent thing, but at a later age than my parents even did. The world has changed. My mom talks with some frustration about being referred to as an "advanced-age prima gravida" when she was expecting me. (She was in her early 30s) (One reason they waited so long: they wanted to be financially stable and have bills paid off first).
I also look at my parents and wonder at how their lives have changed - my mom is, in many ways, much more of a caretaker now. My dad can still drive, but with his bad knees, it's a lot harder, so she drives them nearly everywhere. She does all the yardwork he used to do. And she does it patiently, and without saying anything, without complaint. I suppose that is how it is when you love someone, and I'm sure it's a lot easier having to be a caretaker for someone in physical aspects when that person is still mentally the same person they always were - they can still talk to you, they still remember all the things you have done together, they can still do a lot of the paperwork type stuff couples have to do. But I confess, I'd still find it challenging to have to take on ALL the household work plus do things like drive a spouse to physical therapy several times a week. I admit it: I'm kind of selfish about my free time and I know I feel resentful sometimes when I feel like I "have" to clean the house and mow the lawn as well as do my full-time job. And I feel resentful when a student makes claims on my time I feel they do not have a right to. I suppose it's different when you're married to someone, and you take the "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health" part of it seriously.

My mom jokes that the vows they said didn't have her saying she would "obey" - I think the Disciples of Christ dropped that fairly early on - but I'm pretty sure they did the for-better-or-for-worse and all of that. And really, that's a good  philosophy of life in general: you have to take the bitter with the sweet. Bad stuff happens and while it sucks, you just deal with it and keep going.

I suppose my life has changed a lot, too. Perhaps you don't notice it as much when you're living it. I admit, sometimes I miss the days when I was in grad school - I had far fewer responsibilities than I do now, when I had to make a difficult decision about something in a lab I was teaching I could go to the prof in charge and ask his or her advice. Now I'm the prof in charge and I have to be the one making the tough decisions and doing things like busting the plagiarists. (One of the deals one of the profs I taught regularly for had going: if one of his TAs caught plagiarism or other cheating, we took it to him, and he brought the hammer down. It was much less stressful, and I suppose the students were more likely to listen to him).

And now I'm staring down a new summer semester - it starts tomorrow. I'm hoping it's better than last semester was; that one chewed me up and spit me out, partly because I had a critical mass of immature people in two of my classes and while it wasn't a LOT, it was enough to really get me down.