Sunday, August 23, 2015

That sorority video

So, a video made by a U of Alabama sorority has been criticized - and I guess, taken down - because it is "too white, too blonde, and the women are dressed to alike" as some commentator said.

Uh. That describes 85% of the sororities in the nation, so I would say the video is actually an accurate depiction of life.

I saw some of the video. It's not offensive. It's pretty young girls having fun, or at least pretending to have fun, in "wholesome" college-kid ways.

I was never part of a sorority - I was too poor, not pretty enough, didn't care enough about clothes, and not into the party scene. And the whole idea of living in a house with 20 other girls and claiming to "love" them all "so much" - which is what I heard from the girls in sororities - well, I was skeptical about that. There are very few women I would say I loved like they were my sister, and certainly not 20 of them at one time. I would have been uncomfortable with the forced togetherness and forced affection that sororities seemed to push.

 But if a young woman wants to join one, I have no problems with that. As long as she does her research and is sure of what she's getting into. Yes, I do think frats and sororities probably promote drinking more alcohol, and drinking in ways that are not beneficial for a person's health, but that's slowly being addressed. And some frats had very bad reputations for how the women who went to their parties were treated (but trust me: word gets around and I remember most of my friends in college choosing to avoid some frat parties based on the reputation). And again, that's slowly being addressed.

But to condemn these girls for being what most sororities ARE seems kind of silly. Yes, there are a lot of pretty, blonde, similar-looking women at Southern colleges, just like there are at any college around the nation.

Yes, there are historically Black sororities and maybe one of them needs to make a competing video. I bet it would be almost identical to the U of Alabama video except the young women in it would be Black instead of white.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

the new normal?

So, the news this morning: three American marines, traveling in France, wound up taking down a would-be shooter on a train. From what little news I've seen, one of the Marines was wounded (I hope it is a minor wound and he recovered fully) and the terrorist was taken down, tied up, and is now in custody, from which I hope he is not released.

Apparently the train crew went and hid. (I will refrain from making a "French" joke here).

But I wonder, is this the new normal? Is this what we have to do now: because our governments lack the will to do anything to prevent would-be wrongdoers from coming into (or through, perhaps, in this case) our countries, we simply have to be prepared to take 'em down ourselves. Because our governments seem to refuse to recognize that there are those who hate us because we are not like them, and refuse to fight them there - we will have to fight them here.

Defense of the homeland - having a standing army and using them when necessary - is one of the legitimate roles of government. Working with our allies to reduce the threat that dangerous people in the world pose is one of the legitimate roles of government. However, our government seems to feel like they're more afraid of hurting the feelings of people around the world.

So as a result, American citizens will have to get used to being vigilant. They will have to be sure to have a "this is the direction I head if stuff goes really bad" plan in their head for places. Some of the stronger ones, like me, maybe will have to have a mentality of "This is what I can quickly grab and use as a weapon to at least slow the bad guys down so the kids and moms can maybe get out of the way when the shooting starts."

I think this perhaps dates back to September 11, 2001. Remember how the plane that went down in Pennsylvania was taken down by brave people who realized the terrorists who took it over were bent on doing great harm with it, so they decided to take charge of matters - of their own deaths, in fact - and get the plane to go down in an area where there was little chance of people on the ground being hurt.

I think a related issue is the fact that increasingly, teachers and others are being told that they are the "first line of defense" in a shooter situation. This past week, I did a little (very limited, and I think I need more) training in "how to barricade someone out of a classroom" and "how to confuse, try to hurt, and generally keep out a would be shooter." The unstated thing is, "You're not permitted to have a gun yourself, so improvise weapons as you can and also be prepared to die for your students."

Yeah. The new normal: our governments are unwilling to admit there are those who have declared war on us, so we are going to have to be a Home Guard, I think. And granted, a campus shooter is far more likely to be an unstable native-born white person who has some kind of nutso campaign against the particular campus, and preventing those kinds of things is difficult (though in some cases, perhaps, enforcing the gun laws already on the books might have helped. And certainly having an armed campus police large enough to respond quickly helps)

I don't know. It does seem that the "lone wolf" attacks, where the "lone wolf" is someone who ascribes a particular set of values (that would perhaps not be out of line with ISIS) seems to be increasing. I don't know what we do about ISIS, but "nothing" or "placating" isn't helping. As is not having good border control, so potentially a terrorist could sneak into the country - or even come across, pretending to be someone "just looking for work."

I really don't want my life to end in a shopping mall or a classroom or on a train because someone has decided that it would make their concept of God happy for them to kill a bunch of Americans, or a bunch of Christians, or whatever. But that may be it. If there are a bunch of little kids or someone else who can't defend themselves, and there's a Bad Guy who is clearly being a Bad Guy, I am grabbing a shelf support or a whiteboard or pretty much any heavy thing I can lift and try to slow them down, while also yelling at the weaker people to get the heck out. And I don't like having to think that way.

Good on those Marines. They did what Marines do, but they did it in a very different setting than they normally would. Unfortunately, there aren't enough Marines that we can have them everywhere.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fresh hells

You know how there's a lot of discussion about regulations strangling small businesses?

Well, to a lesser extent, it's happening on college campuses. We have had to do three separate different "trainings" on separate issues (dealing with violent/angry students, not sexually harassing people, and sexual assault avoidance - well, that last is still pending. We were supposed to have done it, I guess, but the link wasn't up yet).

I expect to see more of this. We've also been given increasing amounts of documentation we are mandated to include in our syllabi: information on Title IX. An affidavit on non-discrimination. Information on where students can go for help if they feel like they are in crisis. And on, and on.

And in some cases, I don't necessarily think it's a bad idea: having clearly posted, clearly available information of "This is how to get help if your roommate/friend/whoever is threatening suicide and this is how you can get help if you are seriously depressed" but the affidavits are....I don't know. I try hard to be fair and just and if I weren't I'd hope a student would call me on it, and it seems kind of, I don't know, hollow, to put a statement in there saying yst ou WON'T discriminate. (And the cynical side of me makes me wonder if it will make some people start LOOKING for things that LOOK LIKE discrimination)

But the thing is, they want 100% compliance. It's not gotten quite here yet, but I've heard that on some campuses, failing to comply means you don't get paid. Or you're not allowed to work with students. (Funny. I don't think I had to have a background check before I started working here....)

And you have to have someone to keep records on  compliance. And that doesn't come for free - you can't just tell one of the people in HR, "This is another part of your job now" because our HR is already overstretched with other stuff. So you gotta hire someone. And pay them. And pay for their benefits.

As I've said before: one of the three reasons why I think college has gotten so expensive is governmental mandates. (The other two: the fact that most people aren't actually paying with real money, so costs can be buried in it, and also the fact that parents and students expect a level of luxury that even when I was an undergrad, less than 30 years ago, was unheard of....ensuite kitchens in dorms, for example). You have a whole army of administrators who deal with this stuff (and harass departments over it).

(In fact, one of the offices lost some of the paperwork we signed in my department, and sent us all e-mails telling us we were "out of compliance" until someone complained and they relented and said, "Okay, okay, we'll trust you, even though we really shouldn't")

A lot of this stuff is what I call Someone Must Do Something syndrome: some magazines and newspapers report on an "epidemic" of rape on campus. Never mind that at least one of those stories was apparently fabricated. Never mind that when statistics are actually examined using good analysis techniques, it doesn't look nearly as bad as it originally seemed, it's a Crisis and Something Must Be Done.

So now there's a requirement that professors watch an anti-rape video. The students have to, also. But I admit, I wonder: would someone who could justify raping another person (let's, for now, leave out the various definitions and leave "rape" as "Having sex with someone who either has clearly NOT consented, or who is too impaired with alcohol or drugs to reasonably consent") going to have their minds changed by a video? I admit I'm cynical about human nature but I knew people who still said harassing things to their underlings even after the anti-harassment training. People who don't care about others or about consequences will not be made to care by a video, and people who do care, their time is just being wasted.

(And okay. Maybe there are some people naive enough not to know that, for example, pressuring a woman in your employ repeatedly to go out with you isn't sexual harassment, and in that case, a cluebat is useful - but one would think those cluebats could be applied as needed, rather than as a carpet bombing).

I don't know. I wonder what's coming down the pike. I've often said if they expect faculty to take on more of a "counselor" role, we're gonna require coursework in Psychology. I really hope it doesn't come to that.

Another thing: I've wanted for a couple years to get CPR recertified. I learned it years ago and was certified when I was in graduate school. Never had to use it but it was good to know I was certified just in case. I know the standards have changed, and also, we have the defibrillators now, which I think you need to be trained in.  When I ask about recertification, I'm put off, told, "There's not enough demand for that" and I guess if I want it, I'll have to find a YMCA or something that does it and go do it on my own.  Because I'd feel a lot better, even with our 'good samaritan' laws, knowing I had had recent training if someone in my class had heart failure and I tried to save their life while waiting on the EMTs.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

score one

Maybe this is "score one for common sense," I don't know.

So I was discussing with a colleague about syllabi. And he remarked: Given all that's going on in the country, I'm gonna put a statement in the syllabus asking students not to wear clothing with the Confederate battle flag to class, or symbols of white supremacy.

Now: the only time I ever saw anything on campus that was a white-supremacist thing was a mystery flier that was put up on the bulletin board (without approval from the campus office that approves such things for the activity bulletin board) and it was pretty quickly removed. And I don't remember students wearing the Confederate battle flag, but I tend not to pay that much attention to those things.

I don't like to come right out and say, "I believe differently from you (as in: it's freedom of speech and if someone is offended, they should start a discussion with the person wearing it, rather than my blanket-ruling everything) and so I think you're wrong" but I did think it was a problematic policy, and his hint that "maybe we all should do this" didn't go over well with me.

So I kind of arched an eyebrow and said, "Are you sure you want to do that? I'd deal with something like that on a case-by-case basis." (As in: if someone is being really in-your-face and offensive, I'd ask 'em to quit, but if they just quietly have a little patch on their coat, I'm not gonna say anything)

And I added: "I find the t-shirts some of the guys wear that have cartoons of women with big 'tops' and tight bikinis offensive, should I ask students to not wear those?" and he didn't really have a response. (And I would also find pro-pot t-shirts offensive. But again: I feel like it's not my place to police student t-shirts, unless it's (a) seriously vulgar or disgusting (as in: full frontal male nudity or extreme gore) or (b) clearly inciting problems (like, maybe, a t-shirt advocating killing people). And shoot, what about Che t-shirts? He killed lots of people. Not that I've ever seen, as far as I can remember, one of my students in a Che shirt. (Our students are a lot more likely to wear shirts with the Duck Dynasty guys on them)

I added: "Telling someone with a racist attitude that they can't wear a certain thing isn't going to change their attitude, and that's the issue here. And a certain proportion of people will see the request as a challenge, and it may create problems: you may get people wearing stuff they might not otherwise have worn, out of defiance."

I also mentioned that if you extended the policy to its extreme, you could see non-Christian students expressing offense at others wearing a cross or carrying a rosary to class (I've had a few Catholic students who either wore or carried one). And I DON'T want things to go there.

And he said: Wow, I never thought of that.

And we talked about it some more, and apparently I persuaded him not to include the policy - or at the very least, to hold off for this semester.

I also noted that we were both Northerners living in the South - and there is something that's seen as Not Cool about Northerners commenting on some aspects of Southern culture, and I could also see that causing a problem. I also find saying, "A student wearing a Confederate battle flag will offend the black students in the class and hurt them" to be kind of paternalistic - like the students can't confront the guy themselves or have such delicate feelings. Most of the students I've had down through the years, if they found another student doing something offensive, they either called them on it, or they said, "It's not worth getting upset over."

(Now I find myself wondering whether the person in question was harassed/teased much as a kid. I was, and it did make me grow a thicker skin and get better at going "meh, not worth being upset over" or "that just shows me what kind of a person THAT person is" and being better at sorting out the rare occasions when I DO need to say something to someone)

But frankly, I'm pleased I managed to persuade him, especially before the faculty meetings where he was thinking of suggesting it. And that I did it not by saying "You're wrong and here's why" but by saying, "Okay, let me suggest some of the consequences of this."

(And, honestly? If a student showed up in a vintage Dukes of Hazzard t-shirt with the General Lee on it, I'm NOT making 'em turn it inside out or something like that . This is NOT seventh grade and I tend to feel if someone wears something another person finds offensive, it needs to be discussed rather than hit with a blanket rule. And the other thing: if someone wants to pull the "I'm offensive to some people and I don't care, I won't be 'politically correct'*" card, well, other people need to understand that and they need to learn to deal with it, whether by avoiding or challenging or freezing out the person. Because there just ARE people like that in the world and you have to deal with them - I've worked with a few in my life and it sucks to have someone around you who equates being rude and unpleasant with being "real" - but you won't change them so you have to figure out a useful way to deal with it yourself.

* And I argue that there's a pretty thick line between "not being politically correct" and "being an a-hole." Not being politically correct is not excessively handwringing over "Do I call people from Mexico "Hispanic" or "Latino" or "Chicano" or what?" or not being politically correct is not pretending there is no difference between men and women. Being an a-hole is insulting someone and specifically saying stuff to them that they maybe have asked you NOT to say.

Monday, July 27, 2015

This is news?

I guess nothing else is going on in the world because the news channels right now are running extended stories on Caitlyn Jenner's new reality show.

I dunno. I wish Caitlyn well in her new life but I suspect she's going to have it far, far easier than most transgender people because she's famous.

There was someone on one of the channels talking about 'acceptance' and how the big thing Caitlyn needs is acceptance right now and I have to admit, I found myself thinking about a lot of the people I knew, self included, growing up, who weren't transgender or gay or any of those other things, but who also didn't get a lot of acceptance - I was made fun of because I was a smart kid who cared about grades. A friend of mine was made fun of for a learning disability. Another friend because she was markedly less well-to-do than some of the other kids in the school (the first time I ever heard the term 'trailer trash,' it was applied to her. And I remember thinking that she was kinder and classier than the kids harassing her, and that they were the ones being trashy). Later on, I had a friend of Korean heritage who got harassed for THAT.

Acceptance in this life is a rarity. People by and large are jerks to one another. It shouldn't be so, but also, people shouldn't act like there are just a few protected classes that suffer from insufficient acceptance. Part of the reason I'm such a loner now is that I was so rejected by my peers as a tween that I just "learned" other people my age don't want to be around me. That's not really true but it's hard to scrub that emotional experience out of your brain.

And it's not that we need more rules or laws or anti-bullying measures or any kind of top-down crap. What we need is individual people deciding on their own not to be jerks to other people. If you legislate what people can say to other people, they're just going to think those things harder. You can't change someone's heart or mind by forcing them. I don't have any good solutions to bullying or people being rude to other people - well, maybe if someone is a horrible bully to lots of people, throw them out of school (I really wish that schools had the authority to tell parents, "You need to teach your kid not to be a jerk or he or she loses the privilege of going to school here")

(And now they're on to Bobbi Kristina Brown. I guess the only stuff happening in the world today involves famous people....)

Friday, July 17, 2015

spotted on tv

An ad, featuring Geraldo Rivera, where he is saying something like, "Are they looking hard enough to find El Chapo?"

And my immediate thought was, "Have you checked Al Capone's Vault?"

(link is for those who may be too young to remember it. I was a sufficiently-gullible teenager that I actually WATCHED the damn thing; secretly I was hoping they'd find remains of some of the guys he killed, or maybe gold he had hoarded. It was an early lesson in hype and disappointment....)

I don't know, but....

Maybe allowing MILITARY PEOPLE to carry even in "Gun Free Zones" is a good idea, mmmmm?

I mean, if there's anyone I trust to carry responsibly it's a guy (or woman) who's had military training.

I hate to say it but I suspect, because of policies our country has been following, we're gonna see more of these kinds of "lone wolf" attacks. There are a couple shopping centers near me that have recruitment centers, don't think I'm going to be shopping at those areas for a while. I just worry about what the next targets will be.....synagogues? churches? day-care centers? And how long is much of the American public going to pretend this isn't happening?

I'm disgusted that this is happening in my own country. I'm horrified at what ISIS is doing to religious "minorities" in the countries they have usurped (including Muslims who "aren't Muslim enough" according to them). I don't know what needs to be done, but nothing is not that thing.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A culture's last words

"I'm offfffeeeennnnnnded."

I really think that's gonna be it. It's not going to be outside forces that kills us off; we're going to collapse from the inside under the weight of all the offenses we believe to have suffered.

The good news is that there is probably enough of a remnant out there who will roll their eyes at that sentiment, roll up their sleeves, and try to rebuild the rubble of society.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dealing with people

So, someone I do volunteer work with - let's call her Gina, not her real name - called last night. As she was calling obnoxiously late (IMHO; I get up crazy early and teach an 8 am class so I go to bed very early. Most of the people who actually care about me know this and don't call after 9 pm), I let voice mail take it.

I thought it was going to be letting me know details of the funeral of a mutual acquaintance (I can't go, teaching) but it was an "I need to meet with you" call.

Frack. Gina's upset about something. Gina's frequently upset about something. She calls me up - because I am the head of one of the subcommittees - and talks at me. And I just sit there and listen and tell myself that she doesn't get listened to at home which is why she does this. (We will leave aside the matter of the fact that I have v. few people to listen to ME.)

Anyway. Gina is one of those people I find working with fraught and stressful because some people, you know, what they say isn't really totally what they mean?

An example: a long time back, Gina said, "I don't want a leadership role in the group next year." And I was like, "Duly noted, okay" and didn't suggest to her she take one. Well, then I heard from ANOTHER person (let's call her Petunia) that Gina was upset because I didn't ask her for a leadership role. And I was like, "BUT SHE SAID SHE DIDN'T WANT ONE."

Apparently she's the kind of person who needs to be "stroked" by feeling "needed" for stuff and then refusing to do it. (If I wanted something that acted like a cat, I'd get a darn cat).

I have such a hard time with that. That breaks my brain. I tend to be pretty direct about stuff. If I don't want to do something, I will say: "I don't want to do X" and then I get annoyed if people keep asking me because I interpret that as pestering or nagging (and sadly, sometimes it's enough to make me relent and DO X just to get them off my back).

Or if someone does something that irritates me, my response is one of two things:

1. I go to the person and say, "You may not realize this, but when you did Y, it irritated me, and here's why it did" and usually they apologize and it's cool


2. I figure, "Meh, not worth getting upset over" and forget about it and keep going. Much of the time the annoying thing is an isolated incident.

But I don't keep punishing people. And I don't expect people to be freaking mind-readers, which is something a few people in my life do that makes me crazy. Part of it, I know, is my stuff: as I said, I tend to be fairly direct (or else, just shrug and go "not worth being upset") and I also tend to be, if not QUITE on the Asperger's spectrum, close to it, so I don't always get subtext and all the million insane things that some people (mostly women, in my experience, but that may just be my experience) do that strikes me as passive-aggressive. For example: not telling someone you are upset with them over something they did but continuing to snip at them and stuff - that's passive- aggressive. If I did something that insulted someone, I want to KNOW because nine times out of ten it was me being awkward or phrasing something badly and an apology should fix it. (I know when it's the reverse situation, and I'm the aggrieved party, and the person I call out for being rude goes, "Wow, that really came out wrong, I'm sorry" I'm totally like, "It's cool, we all do it sometimes." Intentions matter)

I find it exhausting to deal with people who have so much subtext going on, because I feel like I have to walk on eggshells and I feel like there are all these rules I'm not privy to. (In a way, it's kind of like "microaggression culture," where people are LOOKING to be offended and don't seem willing to extend the grace of saying, "Maybe that person is just socially awkward" or "Maybe that person didn't intend offense but what they said came out wrong" or perhaps even, "Maybe I'm being a little too sensitive here.")

So anyway. I have to call Gina back some time and "meet" with her, which displeases me. But I'm also not answering the damn phone after 9 pm and if she won't listen to my requests not to call that late, I'll just have to train her by not answering.

Friday, July 03, 2015


There's been some discussion of county clerks and the granting of marriage licenses, and concern that clerks may be required to do something that is objectionable to their personal beliefs.

Again, I can kinda see both arguments on this: when you sign up for a job, you sign up for all the requirements of the job. If the job changes to include duties you regard as immoral, perhaps it's time to find a new job*. But I also see that that's not really practical (and honestly, all jobs contain objectionable things)

(* For example, pharmacists not wanting to sell birth control pills that a doctor has prescribed)

However, it's also been suggested: well, in counties that have more than one clerk, hopefully one will be okay with issuing same-sex marriage licenses, and so you could just let it be known that same-sex couples come in THEN.

(I also think, just as there exists a list of religious groups - like Quakers, for example - who are "on the list" to be able to claim Conscientious Objector status because of their faith, if they so choose, maybe make a list - Catholics, conservative Jews, Southern Baptists, Church of Christ* - of denominations where gay marriage has not been approved, and if someone is part of that denomination, they can claim Conscientious Objector status to issuing same-sex licenses)

(*I'm guessing on that last one but I bet I'm correct)

And yeah. I can see an objection rising: "But what if there is only one clerk in a small county, and he's a Southern Baptist?" or "What if the only Unitarian clerk works really limited hours?"

And yeah, then it becomes inconvenient for a same-sex couple to get a license. Or they have to drive to another county or even another state.

But you know what? Just as there is no guarantee against one's being offended, there is no guarantee - it's not in the Constitution, for sure - against having to deal with inconvenience.

And you know what? As a single woman who lives alone, inconveniences are a regular part of my life. Yes, you can argue that a marriage license and obtaining it is a big deal, and you can argue it's "humiliating" to have to drive to another county for one.

But it's also humiliating to be without water for a week, because of some plumbing problem and the first day the plumbers are available AND you can be home from work is a week in the future. So you flush toilets with a bucket of water you filled up at work and carried home in the back of your car. And you use baby wipes to bathe. And it IS awful, and it does feel kind of humiliating - and I've been there.

And inconvenient: if my car gets called in for a recall and it takes more than a couple hours to fix, I'm having to call on people from church or colleagues to drive me places. To and from work. To the grocery, if it's an extended thing. And that's inconvenient for both me and them. And it *feels* humiliating to me to have to call people up and ask them for help.

And I live in a small town. There's stuff I use regularly that none of our few local groceries sells. So I have to drive to the next state (where the next town of any size is) and shop for it there. And that's a pain in the neck for stuff I use regularly.

I dunno. There's a point where "offensive to the faith of someone" buts up against "inconvenient to the other" and it seems a little shabby to me to want to cause offense JUST to avoid inconvenience - because an awful lot of us deal with all kind of petty annoying inconveniences on an almost daily basis. (And I would note - if you do it right, you should only ever need ONE marriage license for your entire life, whereas I may have to have extensive work done on my car five our six times during the 10 years I might have it)

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

a quick observation on the election

If the 2016 presidential race becomes a Clinton vs. Trump race, I WILL be voting third-party.

Or staying home.

(He is such a buffoon. I have a friend who says, "He could be good if he listens to well-chosen advisors" but I think that is highly, highly unlikely; it seems more likely to me the first time someone gave him advice that didn't fit his concept of the world he would fire that person. Also diplomacy is not only not his strong suit; it's not even in his deck of cards. And I get, we don't want a limp noodle when dealing with dictators of other nations, but we also don't want someone who will say exactly the wrong thing.)

I dunno. I'm trying not to answer the question, "How screwed are we?"

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A couple random thoughts

Maybe disrespectful, I don't know:

What's going to happen if a same-sex couple goes to a baker and wants a wedding cake with the Confederate battle flag on it?

And all the Hollywood (and other) hetero couples who said, "We're not getting married until EVERYONE can get married" - time to step up to the plate, no more excuses. (And I suspect in some cases it WAS an excuse).

Also, is there still an IRS "marriage penalty" on the taxes? Yeah, people are not gonna love that. (If it still exists).

I dunno. I personally am unaffected, at least directly, as I am neither gay nor married. I just hope this doesn't lead to a raft of unintended consequences (or maybe, in some circles, intended) for people practicing more conservative forms of faith. (I've hard a few people farther to the right of me opine that this is going to be a way to start trying to eliminate church tax exemptions, which would lead to a lot of churches - mine included - having to close, because most churches don't have that kind of money on hand these days. On the other hand: maybe in 30 years we go back to more and more "house churches" like back in the first days of Christianity, and there's less insistence on big facilities and the money taken in is more directly spent on missions and outreach. I know if we didn't have to keep up our big old building we'd be in better shape financially.)

I will also say that all the people on social media who are making it more about "THE PEOPLE WHO OPPOSED THIS ON WHATEVER GROUNDS LOST, NANNY NANNY BOO BOO" rather than "same sex couples can now marry and I support that" .... well, that's the ugly place our culture has gone to, for some it's more about crushing the other guy's face in the dust, apparently.

I am generally in favor of things that enhance stability in a culture (which marriage tends to do - though I will also say I can see some divorce lawyers getting ready for their practices to expand now) and I think many understand homosexuality differently than it was understood in Biblical times or even a hundred years ago (Then again, you read of pairs of women or of men who "shared accommodations" and from other things you read about them, you figured they were a couple in all but name, and it seemed in some cases people either pretended not to see what was there, or maybe they were more tolerant than we think of them as being)

I don't know. People smarter than I am on both sides of the issue probably have clearer ideas of the implications. My gut feeling is to get government out of "officiating" marriage and instead let people legally choose a "next of kin" who would fill the legal role a spouse would in re: inheritance and medical proxies and the like. And then leave it to individual religious leaders to follow their consciences, and tell couples they are not permitted to compel someone to marry them. (And there's probably no shortage of folks willing to)

I do have friends who are gay, some of whom lived in states that recognized same-sex marriage and so they got married, so that's one side of it. But the other side, as I said, I hope this doesn't lead to persecution of people who genuinely, as a part of their faith, have an opposition to same-sex marriage.

I think the reason I find this kind of stuff - with the spiking of footballs and all that - frustrating is that I can genuinely see both sides of the issue.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


I get that this is all very First World Problems (and oh, how I hate that, because what I hear is "you should feel very bad about complaining, shut up, because you're not really struggling), but I'm having a hard time:

- as much as I enjoy teaching summer, that's ALL I do. I go home and just collapse because I'm too tired for anything else.

- It's very warm in several of the classrooms, and humid to boot. That's partly why I collapse when I get home.

- My classes are mostly good but I have one person in each class who is constantly asking for "consideration" because they have crap going on in their lives that makes it impossible for them to hand stuff in on time or be in class. I give it, I let them do make ups and stuff, and then they just do badly on them. I'm sure it's the crap going on diverting their attention from class. But really, if you're trying to negotiate a job chance or family issues or moving or whatever, DON'T take summer classes at the same time. Summer classes move damn fast.

- Something I delegated to a couple other people didn't get done and I'm in trouble because they didn't do it. I took a couple hours today and did it but I am not happy I had to do it. And I'm especially super extra not happy that the person in charge thanked "all" of us even though she knew DAMN WELL it was only me that did it, when I wasn't supposed to HAVE to do it in the first place. The problem is butthurt. One of the slacker people gets butthurt when they're not thanked. So instead I get to be butthurt, privately and personally, because I don't express that hurt to other people because I know it's childish to.

- Other people who are supposed to take care of junk are AWOL. This is another sucky thing about teaching summers: people go on vacation without realizing that you're NOT and their not being here means you have to do extra stuff you don't normally do and don't know how to do

- I'm FINALLY getting to the research I've been trying to work on for DAYS. But now I'm tired and borderline upset and am having a hard time focusing on it.

- There's a bunch of other long-term stuff not getting done because (a) I'm having to mop up for people not doing their jobs and (b) I'm so fecking tired when I get home at the end of the day that doing more work is beyond my capabilities.

- Just what's going on in the world, the fact that people are trying to drum up hate when other people just want healing and to get on with their lives. And just EVERYTHING. I don't see it getting better corporately (in the sense of the bigger picture, not in the sense of corporations). Individual people may act lovingly and may do good, but it seems like there's this weird messy mob in our culture who wants to work against that and pit us all against each other. STOP IT. Most people are just struggling to get through their days, if my own life is any measure.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

People are stupid

Especially this jerk who shot up a black church, and killed nine people. Nine people who were pillars of their community, nine people who were parts of loving families, nine people who - I dare say - were working to make their community a better place.

I'm just....there's not so much useful I can add to the debate other than that I'm sad and I'm angry. I feel especially angry that this guy targeted a church.

And yeah, maybe he's a psychopath. Maybe he grew up steeped somehow in race hatred. But still, on some level, he chose to do this thing. We could suspend the First and Second amendments, we could shut down the internet, we could lock up all the "loners" and there would still be people choosing to do wrong, to hurt other people.

I also hate that so much political hay is being made of this. Because it boils down to this: this guy chose, on some level, to do this. It was his choice and his responsibility. Just as it is the rest of our responsibility not to do hateful things if we don't want to face the consequences of them.

I don't feel equipped to comment on the whole Confederate flag issue, which has cropped up again. I'm a born and raised Northerner, with no history with the whole flag and thing. My gut feeling is that if it's so deeply offensive to some, people of goodwill would choose not to display it, but I get that there's deeper stuff going on than a race thing. (Edited to add: I'm in favor of states taking it down as a semi-official flag, especially since I've read that apparently it became popular as an anti-civil-rights measure. But this current, "Let's paint everything gray and pretend that lots of the past didn't happen" is a bit alarming. There's a monument to the Confederate Dead a couple towns over from me, and a guy is now agitating to remove the statue and monument. Well, couldn't Japanese immigrants make a similar complaint about World War II memorials?)

I don't know. I think all the blame lies on this guy, and talking about guns or the internet or anything else is kind of pointless - there are thousands upon thousands who have guns and who only use them for target practice or hunting (or, in extreme circumstances, defense of their family in a life-or-death situation). Millions of people use the Internet and while I will say there are parts of the Internet (the comments section of just about any news site) that make me cringe and want to avoid them - I don't think the internet has changed me for the worse.

I WILL say, hearing the statements of the families of the people he shot - wow. Just, wow. That's being a Christian right there - some of them are talking about forgiveness. They are celebrating their loved one's lives rather than screaming at this guy. I think that's what we should focus on in this - the families that are showing the absolute depth of love they can have, the love that is informed by their faith.

It also frankly blows my mind that after the people welcomed into their Bible study - apparently even prayed with him - he could still do what he did. And that after that, some of them can still say "I forgive you and God will forgive you." I hope that ultimately becomes the take-home lesson from this event, not what the guy did....

(I don't think, if I were the family member of someone killed in that way, I could so quickly forgive their killer.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Right to die

Okay. I'm going to be up-front about this: I am pretty much against doctors killing patients because the patients ask to die. I don't have a problem with the "withhold heroic measures in cases where there would be no future quality of life" (which I think is also a wise advance directive to have, if you feel that way).

At the same time, I do understand some people not wanting to continue to suffer. If I were developing Alzheimer's, for example - would I WANT to stick around for the eventual end? I don't know.

Right now I'm in good health (thank God) and good frame-of-mind, and the idea of ending my own life is abhorrent to me.

My problem with the whole doctor-assisted suicide is, I admit, a slippery-slope argument: if we allow doctors to follow patient's stated wishes about "I want to die," will there then be those who either feel it's their duty to "persuade" people who seem to have low quality-of-life to take that path? Or will there be doctors who are maybe, I don't know, pushed by higher-ups or insurers to "cut costs" - which means trying to encourage the "expensive" (e.g., sick and unlikely to get much better) patients to end it all?

And do we eventually get to the point where the patient's wishes are considered less: "Oh, this person is autistic, they won't understand, so let's just do it." "This person has had a massive stroke and we're really not sure they have much cognition left, better to just end them."

But also, there's the question of family members. My parents, in recent years, have gone through a few minor health crises - thank God, in each case it was something that modern medicine could more or less fix, but it also brought home for me that there might come a day when something is NOT "fixable." And what if they're in constant pain, and want an out? How do I deal with that? I mean, part of it is, you have to say, "It's their decision," but what about in cases where a family member is not consulted? Or where there is estrangement that could be fixed?

(In both my extended family, and in my sister-in-law's family, there are some cases of estrangement. To me, it is strange and sad: yes, I have got my feelings hurt by relatives in the past. But that's life, people do hurt your feelings. I can't cut them out of my life because of some stupid thing they said or because they happened to push my buttons a few times.)

Anyway, I was reading this article, which discusses the legalization of euthanasia in Belgium. It mainly centers around the case of one woman, Godelieva, who suffered from depression most of her life. She divorced her husband (who later killed himself), wound up estranged from her children (though it sounds like her son tried to stay in touch somewhat). Apparently the practice in Belgium is to "read in" the family on the patient's wishes, but she never did....her son found out after her death.

I think I struggle with this because on the one hand, I understand not wanting to see someone go through endless suffering.....and yet, on the other, I wonder if there was more that could be done to treat the woman's depression.

Also, I think I struggle with the issue after knowing a couple people - one of them a cousin, I've written about him before - who committed suicide.

After Godelieva killed herself, her son went looking for answers. He arranged a meeting with the doctor who helped her and a proponent of assisted suicide. Eventually, though, Tom kind of broke down, he couldn't keep trying to have a reasonable discussion:

The gut-punch line of the article was this - Tom said: "You’ve just taken away the suffering of one person and transposed it to another!’ "

Oh man. Oh yes, that. I had to stop reading for a bit there. I wasn't super-close with the cousin who killed himself (he was almost a generation older than I was and was a married man with kids before I knew him)., but still - yes. The pain doesn't go away, it just moves to other people. And while maybe each person experiences less individual pain, it's still there. (His mother, oh, his mother, my was awful for her and for the rest of her life she questioned if there was something she could have done. I remember a sad and uncomfortable conversation with her on a family visit about whether or not we thought suicides were allowed into Heaven, because apparently some idiot who was well-meaning in their own mind had told her they were not.....)

I don't know. I don't have any answers. But I worry about culture and society getting to the point where there are people who are "throwaway" people because they are so sick or disabled or don't have something to "offer" to the betterment of society. And I also worry about people taking what is a very large and serious and severe step without letting family and friends know - family and friends who could maybe help them bear the pain and make it through.

A couple of the other suicides I knew were young people, and in one case it was more a situation of impulsivity, someone did something (over a break-up, mainly) that was a pain many people have had and, if they had just given it more time, they probably would have gotten over - that's another of my fear about legalized suicide: that there will be pushes to make it "easier" and "less burdensome" and that people who just might need some time and some talk-therapy and maybe a course of antidepressants instead decide, and are allowed to, take the irrevocable step.....

Also, how strange and eerie it seems to me: writing out letters to send to people, giving your key to a trusted friend, all those things, knowing in a few days you will be dead. As I said: I enjoy good health, both mental and physical, so my mind rebels - revulses - at the thought. (And yet, at the same time, I think: maybe I should have all that stuff already lined up, God only knows when there's gonna come a bus hit me or something equally awful. I have SOME arrangements made but not as many as someone older than I am probably would....)

Apparently one of the suicide doctors has a pattern of being sloppy about notifying family ahead of time, and is some legal trouble for that (good). Family should have some input, especially in the case of someone who is not terminal, or not in such great pain, but maybe "tired of life" (apparently a justification some want for suicide). Or at the very least, should know before the fact so they can say goodbye! If assisted suicide were legal here, and someone I cared about did it without letting me know so I could AT LEAST have a final goodbye.....well, I'd be incredibly angry. I might have no right to be, but I would be.

(I will also observe that two of the doctors described in that article seem uncommonly callous. I wonder, does doing assisted suicides make one so, or must one have a callous predisposition in order to go into that business?)

Of course, the fact that few of the people involved apparently have anything like a religious faith - and in fact, a couple may be anti-religious, could possibly play some role. Not all non-religious people are callous towards human life, and in fact, I've heard some atheists who are anti-abortion on the grounds that ending a life is wrong and that we are all just given this one go-round, and so should all get it - but at the same time, I think MY faith is part of what gives me a horror of throwing away what I see as a gift.

Friday, June 12, 2015

so much outrage lately

So many things that have gone on, that have fizzed up in the news (kind of like when you mix baking soda and vinegar), so many things people have gotten really shouty about.

I have just a couple of thoughts:

1. It's really a shame we can't generate electricity (or something similarly useful) from outrage. If so, we'd have 100% energy independence and probably be EXPORTING electricity to Canada or somewhere.

2. In nearly every case I've seen, the narrative is more complex than people have wanted to make it. Very, very few situations on this earth are a case of "Person 1 is 100% in the wrong and Person 2 is 100% in the right." Like what happened in McKinney this week: kids show up at a pool party in a neighborhood. Apparently the kids are not from the neighborhood and it's a pool the neighborhood's HOA dues pay for. Kids get rowdy. Cops get called. Cops are kind of rough with the kids who are "sassing back" to the cops. Cop pulls his gun (allegedly) on a young woman.

Some want to make this another "bad white cop, poor harassed black kids" thing. (And I find myself thinking: "Stop trying to make McKinney happen. It isn't going to happen.")

Yeah, the cop was overstepping his role to pull his gun on an unarmed kid (she was wearing a bikini, so there's nowhere she could have been keeping a weapon, as far as I can tell). But the kids were also being rude and unruly and they were doing something *against the rules* - having a pool party in a pool that was the property of a neighborhood where they did not live; a pool they didn't pay for. And, from what I've heard, some of the kids behaved very badly.

I've also heard that families in the neighborhood - both black AND white - were unhappy with the kids taking over the pool and were very unhappy with their behavior.

EVERYONE was a little wrong there. So it's not a "This little angel got roughed up by a demon cop," it's more like "This kid was behaving badly and violating community rules, but the cop did get overly rough with her."

3. I just fear stuff is going to get worse, that people are looking for stuff to be upset about. Looking for ways to further divide people.

4. I have no energy to deal with any of these things. I have no energy for people excusing people behaving badly. I have no energy for cops overstepping bounds and damaging their relationship with the community by jumping to the most extreme response.

Mainly, what I want, is by and large just to be left alone. And I want to leave other people alone as long as what they do is not endangering me or infringing with how I live my life. For example, if a neighbor decides to have a loud backyard barbecue at 2 pm on a Sunday, I might sigh heavily and roll my eyes and stomp off to the local library for quiet, but that's their prerogative. If the same neighbor has a loud party at 2 am, I'm calling the cops - because I, and my other neighbors, need our sleep.

Similarly: If I don't get to weeding my flower beds right away, having a neighbor call the city on me and have the city write me a nasty letter about abatement, that's kind of excessive and needless and is a jerk move on the neighbor's part. If I let my lawn grow up into a jungle and rats and snakes move in, that's a health issue that affects the neighbors and they are right to call the city on me.

But it seems like people have lost ANY balance and there are some people going, "But I should be able to have rats and snakes in my yard" but there are other people going "She has ONE dandelion in her flower bed and that is unacceptable." It's like we don't know how to live in community, how to live and let live, how to go, "You know? Her yard is kind of a mess but she works long hours so let's leave her alone for now" or maybe even: "Her yard is a mess but I know she's not been well this spring, maybe we should see if she'd be willing to accept a little help from us in cleaning things up."

Some of the stuff that goes on, I think, boils down to a failure to love ones' neighbors (on both sides). And that kind of thing, well, this is how I think the Major Proponent of trying to show a little love and tolerance to your neighbors would react:

'Cos people just aren't getting it.

Friday, June 05, 2015

the end of "microaggressions"?

There does seem to be a bit of a sea-change in some of the reporting about colleges and the idea of students wanting to avoid the "challenge" of uncomfortable ideas, or being exposed to something with which they disagree. At first, the reporting seemed to be "Oh, OF COURSE we need to ban these things, you don't want people being unhappy all the time" but now it does seem to be slowly shifting to, "These students are going to have to work in jobs some day where they may be confronted with uncomfortable ideas. Certainly they are mature enough by college age to handle them!"

And I admit, this is one of those nuanced things that some people don't necessarily do well. There's a difference between being an out-and-out jerk to people and quietly expressing who you are in a way some people might not want to see for whatever reasons. An extreme example would be this:

Quietly expressing: as a Christian, I wear a cross pendant to class some days. This becomes a "microaggression" when a student who is not a Christian says they feel excluded or hurt or whatever because I am showing off what I believe

Being a jerk: I tell students in class they all need to be Christians or they are going to Hell and I openly proselytize in class  (something I would never, ever do. If I have a student come to me and genuinely ask me - because they have genuine questions - about my faith, I will tell them. I will not say, "You need to believe like me or you will go to Hell," because that's no way to bring people to the faith and is no way to treat people.)

The thing is, though, more and more, people want to shut down the first type of expression, where a person is being themselves in an unobtrusive fashion - if I had a Muslim woman student who wore a headscarf, I would not feel uncomfortable or threatened; if I had a Jewish student who wore a star of David I would have zero problems with that.  And this is sometimes because people tend to behave in the second fashion: if, for example, a student came to my department and complained to one of the men that he couldn't take my class because his religion forbade him from being taught by a woman, and we needed to work out some kind of situation where all his classes were taught by men, that would be kind of jerky behavior - because there's no way that that demand could be met in my department, and what's more, when you go to a public state school you can't demand that level of accommodation. (I suppose, if there exists a brand of religion like that, it has its own sex-segregated universities, and that's fine, I guess).

So: don't be a jerk to other people. But likewise, don't let other people tell you that things like wearing a cross to class, or talking about evolution in a biology class, or talking about opposing political ideas in a history class, or whatever, "hurts your feelings." Well, okay: you can have hurt feelings but the way you should act on them is to realize that you're gonna hear stuff you don't like as an adult and you just deal with it, not telling other people to change who they are or what they teach in order to keep you from being hurt.

I think this actually brings up partly why I find the whole "don't do that, it's a microaggression" thing so annoying, personally: All my life I had people tell me to suck it up and deal. So there's a kid in my fifth grade class who says mean things to me? Suck it up and deal, he's jealous of you because you're smarter than he is. (I never quite bought the "the person is being nasty to you because they're jealous" argument, even though all the adults made it). Or: "You're being excluded from a playground game? Suck it up and deal, find something else to do." Or: a couple girls jump the line and get the "good" jump ropes every time? "Suck it up and deal."

I also "sucked up and dealt" during the years the idiotic "Big Johnson" double-entendre t-shirts were the fashion. I didn't like them, I thought they were gross and stupid, but I wasn't going to say anything to a student wearing one because, you know, he has the right to express himself like that. Oh, if he were applying for a job and he showed up in that shirt, I'd be less likely to hire him, but that's another thing we taught students: there was a time and a place for stuff.

So for me to be told, "You have to walk on eggshells and bubble wrap every word that comes out of your mouth, just so someone won't take offense" gets a giant rolling-of-the-eyes from me. You know what? I sucked it up and dealt so much during my previous years of life that I could be an Electrolux.

And what's more, in some cases hearing, "Well, you're the member of the 'majority' here, so you have to be sensitive" in the sense of downplaying my participation in my faith, or doing certain things (the whole idea of some schools doing away with honor rolls so the lower-achieving students "don't feel bad") is frankly kind of annoying: if you extended it out, you could see something like, "Don't show your face around there, you're a MAN and that might offend someone" or similar.

And yeah, again: not being a jerk to people is the best way to be. Not making "stupid woman" jokes, for example, if you're a man. And yeah, I've heard my share of those down through the years, my usual response is to roll my eyes and tell myself that that guy's humor isn't to my taste, or to plan to avoid him in the future if I can. But likewise, being offended because I'm on a committee that is majority men - that seems kind of useless.

And anyway, it comes down to individuals. There are some men I work with that I would like to be on a committee with, some I would loathe being on a committee with. Their gender or sex or sexual orientation or whatever has nothing to do with it; their personality or how they work - both very individual things - has everything to do with it. Same with women - there are some I'd rather extract my own teeth than serve on a committee with, there are others that are perfectly cool.

Actually, I think some of the problems of the whole mindset that contributes to the "microaggression" ideas has the problem of seeing the group only, and not the individual. And one thing I've learned in my life is that there's HUGE variation in individuals, and you can't look at someone and make a lot of assumptions about them based on group membership - their skin color, or their heritage, or their religion, or which gender they're sexually attracted to. (To a limited extent, I can make some assumptions based on dress and behavior - the guy who shows up to class in all high-dollar sports gear, some of it with the tags still hanging off of it - well, I can generally count on him having different expectations from the guy who shows up in khakis and a polo shirt, or the guys in jeans and a college t-shirt. Or the person who is chronically loud and addresses people with a lot of four-letter words tends to be less respectful of my authority in the classroom than the person who speaks respectfully to his fellow students) I have had students in all ethnic groups who were very different from each other - some were hardworking and diligent and sober and kind to the other people in class, some were not so skillful but were decent people, some were gifted students but right jerks, and some were just slackers. And I can't assign any ethnic group, necessarily, to any cluster of behaviors, because I've seen 'em all.

And what this tells me is that trying to assume, "This student is of African heritage so he or she will be made uncomfortable reading books like The Great Gastby that are about exclusively white characters" is kind of dumb. Yes, maybe some students will complain about "the canon" but they're free to read extra-canon books on their own time if they want to. Or they're free to make arguments in favor of someone new being added, or being substituted in the canon - their argument doesn't HAVE to be taken, and we don't have to go "Oh no! We might OFFEND them if we don't do what they want!" and blindly do it - or, as some schools have done, make the changes they THINK students might agitate for, before it ever comes up.

The other, larger issue here is: life is gonna offend you. There's gonna be stuff that happens that ticks you off. Sometimes it's dumb little stuff, like the guy pulling in front of me in a 40 mph zone and then slowing down to 15 because he's on his cell phone. Maybe it's big stuff, like some administrator who has some goofy beliefs about women and therefore tends to be rude to them when they have to work with them. But that's life. If the goofy administrator undercuts you, you do have processes you can follow to try to get some justice (and yes, they don't always work, but that's a lesson to). The thing is: life isn't fair and people do sucky things. You should try not to do sucky things to other people, but at the same time, calling for someone's head - or calling for only letting people speak if they agree with you - is silly, dumb, and also potentially dangerous. We need different ideas out there. (What if, for example, when fire was discovered, a critical mass of cavepeople decided it scared and threatened them and it needed to be stamped out?) Yes, dumb ideas wind up getting pushed to the side and that's how it should work (e.g., blanket anti-vaccination ideas, where people say crap like "it's not 'natural' to prevent a kid from getting these diseases"). But the ideas should be heard. (My dad is fond of saying one of the beauties of free speech is that the assholes self-identify. How much more toxic would it be if people were restrained from putting their silly ideas out into the marketplace of ideas, but they managed to work behind the scenes to get them into practice? Better to hear the silly idea and be able to argue that it's silly).

I don't know. When college becomes a "safe zone" where people are never challenged in their thinking, never presented with ideas that contradict their previously-held ones, or never challenged by being made to work hard (that's one I've sometimes heard), we might as well shut them down.

Friday, May 15, 2015

the Amtrak accident



And I'm sitting here going, "Isn't it possible the engineer had a seizure or something and it was something really bad but fundamentally unavoidable?"

Disclaimer: I use Amtrak. I like Amtrak's long-distance service. I wish Amtrak owned its tracks so its on-time performance was better.

I hate flying, and I hate what airport security has become - a big show to make people think they're safe, performed by a group of poorly-trained, low-paid people, some of whom get power-crazy and make the people they're supposed to be serving miserable.

Amtrak is a lot nicer - for now - about security. (Oh, there are occasional screw-ups, and that doesn't mean local or federal LEOs can't hassle someone - there's a story out about some guy allegedly traveling to the west coast with a lot of cash on his person, and at some point DEA agents got on the train and used the asset-forfeiture rules to claim they could take it, because they assumed it was drug money, when it actually appears to be otherwise. But that's a problem that could happen anywhere).

I've never had my bags searched. I've never had to go through a scanner. Once or twice, going through one of the larger cities on the route I take, Homeland Security or someone walked the train, once with police dogs, but they never said anything to me. (Granted, I travel in the sleepers, am a middle-aged white female who looks very non-threatening....)

But I get tired of all sides of the issue using a tragedy to try to make hay.

Also, with the "defunding" thing and some people talking about how deeply and mortally offended they apparently are that some of their tax dollars go to Amtrak: meh. There are a lot of things my tax dollars go to fund that I am really not crazy about. And the comment about "I never take it, why should my tax dollars to to it" makes me want to go, "Childless homeowner here, let me tell you about my property taxes." (And all the sales taxes I pay - here, we have close to a 10% local sales tax. Some of that is to fund new school buses. Some of that is to fund a sports center that was presented as The Best Thing Ever And Will Bring Big Revenues To Town Because Tournaments but really didn't. I've never been out there, but I pay for it.

The problem is, if you're going to have not-privately-run (And I don't think any company would take it on in this era) multi-state trains, it's probably gonna be a Federal thing. And yeah, we can argue the role of Federal dollars and if they should be paying for that - but once the people all get out of the hospital. Same with the "more funding for infrastructure" argument.

I'm traveling myself in less than a week. Yeah, on Amtrak. No, I'm not worried. For one thing, it's western long-distance service and the fastest it is allowed to go is 79 mph (and given the freights Amtrak competes with, it's often slower). My bigger worry is that some Bubba decides he is gonna race the signal and try to get across the tracks ahead of the train - that happens fairly regularly (usually with freights) and nearly every time the car loses.

But yeah. Is this what the news has become now? Two big echo chambers depending on what channel you choose to watch? Ugh. (I try to get my news online but even then it's hard; so many sites are either virtually content-free or else have loud autoplay video. Or they make you watch what they are showing on television, which misses the point: I can read faster than I can watch, and if I'm trying to quick grab some news in 10 minutes I don't want to sit through some talking head)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

An observation on graduation speeches

So it's now the silly season (one of many in our culture). People getting invited to give speeches, people getting DISINVITED (this seems to be a new thing) to give speeches, people being paid way too much to come give a speech, bla bla bla.

You know what? I wouldn't be all that troubled if they did away with the Obligatory Graduation Speech altogether. Or maybe just keep it for high schools, but limit the speakers (as most high schools do anyway) to someone who has done good locally: a doctor that does pro-bono work for the poor, a judge who set up a drug court in the hope of truly rehabilitating first-time offenders, a businessperson who has brought jobs to town....

But the whole mess of getting a high profile speaker for colleges (Where is the President going to speak this year? Where is Big Famous Movie Star going to speak? Where is Beloved Author going to speak) is kind of overdone.

And you know? Being a Big Famous Somebody doesn't mean you give good speeches. I've sat through graduations - now, granted, we mostly only get Locally Famous Somebodies but I can tell you how accomplished or famous someone is is not necessarily a guide to how good their speech will be. I've sat through some TERRIBLE speeches from Locally Famous Somebodies: either they rambled all over the place and were way too long, or they were viewed from the very limited prism of that individual's experience (I think of the businesswoman who defined Success as: "you come in before your boss, you leave after they leave, you don't take vacations"). Or it becomes All About The Person.

Here's a big big hint to would-be graduation speakers: it's not about you. It's not about what you did, or how great you are, or what injustices you personally have suffered in your life. Graduation is about the graduates. Get up, give a short speech that either contains general but helpful advice, or that congratulates them and their parents on their achievement, shut up, sit down, let 'em graduate.

I have to admit, this is something I've considered. Not that I'll ever be asked to, because I'm not a Big Famous Anybody, but I can think of three topics I could expand on for an "advice" type speech:

1. Gratitude is important. (This could also incorporate elements of "Look what you all did! One hundred or more years ago this option would not have been open to many of you. Many of the things you are going to go out and do as careers weren't even invented when your grandparents (or maybe great-grandparents, I'm old) were born)

2. Never stop learning, always have something you care about. Also maybe noting the joy of being able to read a "classic" on your own time schedule and knowing you never have to write an essay on it. I took almost a year to work my way through Middlemarch and  I think I learned more from it and enjoyed it more if I were trying to read it in two or three weeks, like the typical lit-class schedule in college. Also, the fact that I could make my own interpretations and draw what I believed to be important from it, rather than feeling like I had to suss out what my professor's prejudices and hobby-horses were, and write the essay tailored to those. (Sad but true, that's how some humanities courses work, or so I learned)

3. See the other person. By that, I mean, recognize the humanity of others around you. Other people are not merely obstacles to your happiness. They have their own lives - their own fears and hopes and dreams and problems and joys. (When I am at my best, I can tell myself that that person who is doing things that annoy me is doing them NOT to annoy me personally, but because their own personal hang-ups cause them to do those things. And that I probably do things that annoy other people too). I've seen too many people abuse cashiers or bank tellers or waiters/waitresses over stuff that was NOT under the control of the person being abused. I make a point to be polite to customer service people (being polite does NOT preclude being firm or persistent if you are not getting the help you need and they are supposed to give) because I know they get dumped on so much. And I find I often get really excellent service in places other people complain about, and I wonder if it's because I strive to be polite and friendly, and so the people are more willing to help me.

I'd pick one of those and expand on it. Do a short speech, limit it to one topic, and at the end congratulate the graduates and their families.

But I get tired of reading/hearing clips of speeches that seem to be about the person speaking, about what they've "suffered" (when they probably come from a wealthier, happier background than many of the students - and I know this because I teach and I've tried to help students with diverse problems or sadnesses). Or the self-congratulatory speech - my own college commencement speech was a guy who practically broke his arm patting himself on the back for all the good he'd done in the world.

I also tend to feel there should be a moratorium on inviting politicians who may still run for office someday (Well, maybe limit it to Federal office - people who are running for president or Senate or to be a Representative). Too much chance of it turning into a circus and being about the speaker and not about the graduates - I'd feel cheated, after working for four long years, to have the focus of my graduation shift to "Joe Blow is making a stump speech!"

(Also, the increased security with certain politicians would make it a nightmare for families going to see their kids graduate. I know during my advanced-degree graduations, as we were heading in to the arena, they made us unzip and open our gowns. I don't know if that was to be sure we were actually *dressed* under them, or to be sure we weren't carrying some kind of contraband, or what. It was weird and a little unsettling.)

Friday, May 08, 2015

This is why I kind of hate the internet

Some of the people I follow various places live in the UK.

Some of them are also leftward of me politically.


Cripes. We've gone, in a couple decades, from "I disagree with you politically" to "you don't vote like me and that makes you akin to a mass murderer."

I'm kind of dreading election 2016 here for those very reasons. I may wind up deleting all my accounts out of frustration.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

I dunno

Past few weeks have been one of the "world's gone crazy" situations for me.

The latest thing is the (good) cop taking down the would-be terrorists in Garland. I live in the Dallas media market so I've heard a great deal about this. And there's a lot of commentary out there.

I dunno. I wouldn't choose to host an event like that. If my town did, I'd plan on being as far as I could be from the venue where that was happening.

But they still have the right to do it, even as I might think it is something I want to stay away from.

Because if we start telling people, "No, you can't do those kinds of things" then where do we stop? Do we tell Christians to take crosses off their businesses (or off their persons)?

I honestly think between this kind of thing, and between the whole "we want employers to pay for birth control and abortions no matter what their religious position is" and the same-sex marriage issue, we're going to see a lot of challenges to the "freedom of religion" part of the First Amendment in the next 20 years.

And it's gonna get ugly, I anticipate. And the pessimistic side of me says there will be people agitating for either abridging or doing away with some of the Bill of Rights. (Some will argue that that has already happened, in practice if not on paper).

I don't know. (With the same-sex marriage thing, my feeling is: get the government out of marriage. Encourage people to appoint a power-of-attorney and make a legal list of who can visit them in the hospital and have them make a will and all that. And then encourage couples who want to marry to find a religious leader who wants to marry them. In an ideal world - and our world is far from ideal - that means Conservative rabbis or Southern Baptist ministers or conservative priests will not be pressured to marry same-sex couples, whereas the more liberal Reform rabbis, or Unitarian Universalist ministers, or other more-liberal Protestant ministers can decide to. Give people freedom. But I will observe that it seems slightly tacky to me to go to someone that you KNOW is going to feel opposition to what you are going to do, and force them - using the government and the courts - to do it.

I dunno. I can respect the beliefs of those who absolutely don't want same-sex couples to marry but I admit at the same time, I think anything encouraging long-term commitment is probably a net good for the culture. And I say this as a long-term single.)

The whole health care thing? I expect it's going to blow up one of two ways: either it will be found to be unsustainable as it is, and it goes back to some kind of either employer-based or private-paid system, maybe with more Medicaid for those who can't afford it. Or it goes full-blown single-payer, which I admit makes me nervous, because he who pays the piper calls the tune, and already my workplace is being a bit intrusive with the "wellness" reminders they give us (apparently if we are all skinny vegetarian exercise buffs, no one will ever get sick or hurt, and we won't cost our insurer ANY money ever....) The government - well, picture the DMV or the IRS doling out health "advice".....

But as for people saying, "I find the practice of other religions abhorrent and I wish not to be reminded of them" or "The particular strictures of my own faith must be extended to everyone else regardless of their faith" - there's not really a fix for that beyond saying, "No, that's not how we work as a country, and if you don't like it, there are other places you can emigrate to."

I mean, I am all for personally not doing things that would offend others. But there are lines. I would not get up in front of a class that I suspected had Muslim students in it and draw a man on the blackboard and say it was Mohammed. And I don't wear low-cut tops or shorter-than-the-knee skirts in class, just for modesty and propriety reasons.....but I would not comply if an upper administrator told me, "This student in your class, for religious reasons, objects to your teaching with your hair uncovered, could you put this headscarf on for the class?*" (Or, worse: "Could you swap classes with a male colleague, this student doesn't want a woman teaching him")

(*Not necessarily Islam; there are some other conservative religious groups that expect women cover their hair)

I don't know. It seems like being able to live together is becoming increasingly hard, that there are some voices who want to drown out all the other ones. Maybe it has always been so, it just seems that I notice it more now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

We need more of these

Some bright spots, in the whole Baltimore mess:

 - Allegedly, some ministers went out and formed a human barrier between protestors and the police - so on the one hand, the police wouldn't be so tempted to use their batons on people merely yelling stuff, and on the other, I hope, to dissuade the protestors from throwing stuff or otherwise becoming violent.

- A mom, seeing her son out in the protestors, ran up to him, and effectively grabbed him by the ear (well, he was wearing an identity-concealing balaclava sort of thing, but it LOOKED like she grabbed his ear) and PULLED him out of the line. Go, mom! I think I saw her quoted as saying her son wasn't perfect but she didn't want him to be another Freddy Gray.

- People cleaning up after the mess, trying to put stuff back together.

Yes, the police overreacted in the original case. If they are responsible for the death of Gray they need to be dealt with as strongly as the law allows, and someone probably needs to go into a lot of the big-city police forces and clean house. I get that officers sometimes react badly because their job is dangerous and things can make them fear that they won't come home some night - but at the same time, there are people who tip over into seeing the perp as subhuman and deserving of punishment BEFORE he or she goes to trial, and that's not the way we should roll as a country. Yeah, sometimes a person might need to be grabbed a bit roughly and restrained, or perhaps even tasered in some cases - but doing something that might hasten their death, just because YOU think they're "scum" is wrong.

I don't know how to fix the problems in the police force but I know I've heard of several big-city forces that tend to treat certain suspects unduly badly, often because of their race. This needs to stop. Yes, there are dangerous, hardened criminals out there but from what I have read, in this case it looks like the cops were in the wrong.

The rioters were equally wrong. I have no beef with the people who stood and waved signs or who linked arms and walked and chanted. I DO have a problem with the people who broke other people's stuff, who destroyed what might have been the only easy-to-get-to pharmacy in the neighborhood, who made it even LESS likely businesspeople will open up businesses there (because of the perceived risk).Busting up a business, throwing rocks and bottles at people, that's not First Amendment rights.

It's a complicated and ugly problem and the result of too many people on too many sides not taking responsibility for themselves.

(And I admit, I cringed over the idea to close the schools - some children will have been scared by that. Even though I grew up in a secure and stable environment, if there had been "unrest" in my area, and they decided to close the schools, I would have been scared and confused and thought the world was ending. Older kids, too - some of the teens - is being out of school for the day really a good idea? I guess there was a curfew, but still).

I don't know. I fear we're just going to see more and more of this, as agitators continue to agitate (allegedly, residents said the worst actors were NOT people they knew from the neighborhood), as more and more people become convinced they are owed, as the economy continues to suck so people can't get decent jobs, as the family continues to fragment....and so on. I can sadly only see it in general getting worse, and the people who stepped up - like the clergymen and that mom - are gonna have to step up even harder.

Monday, April 27, 2015


I don't know. I don't have anything much to say.

If this is how the human race is going to end, by fracturing into groups and each group burning the other's stuff down, then let the end come sooner rather than later, and let trees-of-heaven and cockroaches and rats and urban coyotes live in the rubble.

Sorry. I'm in one of my periodic "Humans really suck" moods. Well, some humans do.  They give in to the dark side, the side that tells them because they've been wronged (or believe they have), that it's okay to wrong someone else, someone who is not the one who wronged them.

I pray to God we never have an officer-involved shooting here. That's a selfish prayer, and I openly admit it. I don't want rioting in my town, I don't want the grocery store near me to be looted and maybe close down forever. I don't want to look at a line of angry young people with rocks in their hands and maybe see one or two of my students (or former students) in there. I don't want the local cops, some of whom I know, to have to go into an armed mob that have sworn hatred of them.

I'm also really, really f'ing exhausted. This is my heaviest grading week of the year and I lost a good chunk of time this afternoon because a student came and was anxious at me about stuff. I get that this person has anxiety issues and I tried to be calm and comforting and tell them that yes, they were going to pass the class, but.....I kept looking at the exams I was grading and the labs I was grading and the exam I was trying to write and everything else and wishing the person would decide to leave.

I shouldn't have watched the news this evening. I should get better at scraping off people who are trying to eat up my time when I'm busy. (Or maybe not. I don't know. Maybe my not scraping this person off helped them, maybe they'll turn around and do something good with their life....Sometimes I really wish I got George Bailey's chance, you know? To see whether what I did actually had any kind of a good impact. Because some days I look at the world and it seems so screwed up, so why am I even trying?)

Monday, April 20, 2015


One thought on the whole Cannabis News Network thing (CNN apparently spent yesterday evening showing programming about "Weed Nation"): I hope this starts to make pot "uncool."

I think one of the big problems with the creeping legalization of pot is that people see it as a fun and cool thing to do, and they don't think of the consequences for their health or their jobs or other things - in a way, it's kind of like cell phones. I can't list the number of times I've gotten stuck behind someone driving too slowly and weaving on the street, or someone running a four-way stop, or someone pulling out into the wrong lane, because they were on a cell phone or were texting.

And I've vented my rage here before about people texting in class.

Cell phones are fine in some cases. But too many people want to be able to use them all the time - too many people get hooked on them. Too many people use them where it is inappropriate.

And that's kind of how I feel about the growth of the pot industry. As I've said before, I don't care too much about decriminalization - don't lock up the small-time users (then again, the fact that there are violent drug cartels, who probably would seek to undercut any legal suppliers anyway....I don't know. I'd love to see demand go away, that's what will ultimately solve drug problems).  I don't care about the person who wants to smoke a joint on Friday evening, at home with friends. But I don't want to have to go to the grocery store and navigate around stoned people. I don't want to deal with people on the job who are stoned. I don't want students showing up to class high, or telling me they're too "wasted" to take an exam and need a make up.

As I said: people using it in their own homes or places where I don't have to deal with it, fine. (But I'd also hate living in an apartment complex and regularly having to smell it, just as I felt about cigarette smoke).

But for goodness sake, don't PROMOTE it - as some news stories do. Heavy pot use makes people stupid and indolent and we don't need that in our country. Though then again, maybe Dr. Sanjay Gupta talking about it too much will make some teenagers go, "This is baby boomer stuff, ew" and want to avoid it. I don't know.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

thought of the day

There are people in the world who would declare sugar "evil" but will say the actions of people I would clearly identify as terrorists are "misguided."

(I fully expect to see calls for banning sugar, or at least added sugar,* in my lifetime. This would make me angry and unhappy, as sweet things are one of the few sensual pleasures I have left....I don't want SLEEPING to be the only sensual pleasure I have left, for goodness sake)

(*Banning sugar across the board would be impossible; we'd be reduced to eating nothing but meat and a few vegetables that are v. low in starch)

I hate hyperbole.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

Yeah, I've been reading a little about the whole Hugo Awards controversy.

I am not a big SF reader....I pretty much read a bunch of different stuff, but some of the things I like (e.g., Connie Willis' time-travel stories) count as SF.

But the whole mess - the whole Dead Puppies vs. the SJWs vs. I don't know who else. It makes me throw up my hands. I think our culture is starting to get crushed under the dead weight of people deciding they are going to be offended at everything.

It seems to me there are people on one side complaining about "privilege" and the need to be inclusive and on the other side people going "Offensive? You wanna see offensive? Here, I'm gonna be as offensive as I want to be! You think this is offensive? Choke on it!"

In other words: both sides are being jerks. I don't mind discussion, I don't mind debate, but we've dropped into an ad hominem world where people are largely being jerks about stuff.

And I'm done with that. If I read a book, I want it to be an interesting story. I don't care about the sex, color, ethnic background, sexual orientation or whatever of the writer....unless they spend a lot of the book beating me over the head with how "diverse" they are as a writer or try to make me feel bad for who *I* am. I don't offend easily....but if someone were to start going on mid-story about "white privilege" or some such I'd roll my eyes and put the book down and make a mental note to be very careful about that author in the future. I'm not saying those issues couldn't be explored, but all too often they are done in a heavy-handed, didactic sort of way.....

I want to read good books.

So anyway. I am now going to look at any and all "awards" in most realms as being like the Nobel Peace Prize - sort of a popularity contest where the winner is chosen partly to make the choosers feel good about themselves. So "award winning" is now meaningless. Instead, I'm going to read authors I have enjoyed in the past, or books that people whose judgment I trust have said good things about. (Same goes for movies, same goes for tv shows....)

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday

I always associate this hymn with today. It's rare that I hear it that it doesn't bring me to tears.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


All the conservative commentators who are practically slavering over "the end of universities" (apparently to be replaced by proficiency tests and people reading books as autodidacts) make me so tired.

If universities go away, how will I earn my bread? For that matter, how will lots of medical/engineering/physics/etc. research get done?

I really wonder and worry. I don't have a lot of skills beyond teaching and it would be very hard for me to ramp up for something new. (Especially if there were no teaching institutions....I have a friend who tells me because of my attention to detail, I'd make an awesome patent examiner, but I have no idea how one goes about getting qualified to do that).

I don't know. Not everyone needs to go to college, agreed. But let's also agree that SOME people do need to go to college, and professors can't live on hope and air.

(for that matter - most of the rise in tuition? Is not rise in your average teaching prof's's an increase in bureaucracy, some of it to meet governmental mandates or increasingly demanding parents.)

I'm putting away money for an eventual retirement, but I couldn't afford to retire at 50 or 55.....

Also, the whole "professors are liberal parasites who coddle the students and don't make them do any work, and just indoctrinate them" meme makes me tired. I try to figure out what the eventual employers of my students need for them to know, and teach them that, even if it's stuff that I don't find all that compelling. I could spend months on, say, seed dispersal, but I don't, because I know there are a lot of other things, like being able to estimate deer population sizes or write plans for controlling an invasive weed, that the students will actually need.

I try not to get my "feelings hurt" but I often think, when I read these commentators, that there's nothing I could say or do to make them not hate me for my career choice. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

three foods post

There's so much awful stuff going on in the world (like terrorist attacks) and so much stupid stuff (like a coffee purveyor wanting to engage hurried, caffeine-deprived people in a discussion on race) that I can't even.

So, I'm going back to something I remember reading in a cooking magazine (I think it was) a while back - they'd ask some chef what three foods they ALWAYS had on hand, and what three foods they NEVER bought.

Five things I always keep on hand:

1. Canned wild-caught salmon. It's good, it's easy to make dishes with it, it's a shelf-stable protein so in those weeks when I can't get to the store I can still make salmon patties or salmon salad or my favorite, creamed salmon. In an emergency you could even eat it straight from the can.

2. Lowfat plain Greek yogurt. First, because it's my go-to lunch food (quick, low in sodium, easy to digest) but also, there are a lot of things you can do with it - it substitutes for sour cream in quite a few things, and I've added it to things like soups and tomato sauce in the place of cream. It doesn't curdle like cream, it's lower in fat, if you don't cook it at too hot a temperature it still has its probiotics intact. I credit my avoidance of the little stomach bugs that go around to the copious amounts of plain yogurt I eat. (Also, you can dress it up however you want - cut up fruit, jam, honey, or even savory things like chutney)

3. Jarred red cabbage. Again, this is easy. The "real" homemade stuff is better (but not that MUCH better) but it is a lot of work to prepare and it also makes more than I can eat in the period of time for which it stays good. And it keeps forever until you open it, and once opened, it keeps for a while in the fridge. And it's one of the less offensive (to me) vegetables out there.

4. Oatmeal. Plain, old-fashioned oatmeal. This is my regular breakfast. Part of it is a health thing (plain oatmeal is high in good stuff and low in stuff I need to be avoiding) but also I've learned that it keeps me fuller than cold cereal does. And it's really not that bad done in the microwave. And, like plain yogurt, you can add whatever you want to it to flavor it - I've used honey. Or a spoon of apple butter and some cinnamon. Or maple syrup. Or a spoon of peanut butter. Or cut up fruit. Or cut up dried fruit.

5. Semisweet chocolate chips. Good to add to oatmeal (see above), good in baking, good to even take a small handful and let them melt in your mouth when you need a little chocolate. I get the Ghirardelli brand, which are available even at relatively benighted groceries like the local walmart (which recently eliminated several items - including the Lindt truffles - that I used to buy. I suppose they couldn't get the distributors to cut them a cheap enough deal or something.) The Ghirardelli chips are really pretty good quality chocolate. (I know, I know: you are free to argue that Scharffen Berger or whoever's is better, but we're talking about chocolate I don't have to drive an hour to buy)

Three foods I don't buy:

1. Soda, either regular or diet. I honestly don't like it that well and it's an easy way for me to avoid extra sugar in my diet by not drinking it. Once in a great while I will have one at a restaurant (though these days, if I'm getting a sweetened drink, it is more likely sweet tea). I'm not going to be one of those Puritans who says no one ever should drink soda, I'm just saying I don't like it well enough to spend part of my calorie budget on it - I'd rather be able to have cheese or chocolate. Instead, I drink plain tea (usually hot tea at home) or lowfat milk or water.

2. Cured meat. I avoid this mainly for sodium reasons. I do admit I slightly miss sausage on pizza and things like salami, but I don't miss them enough to try to rebudget my diet to have them. There's also some limited evidence that high (like, daily) consumption of cured meat can increase cancer risk, and as I had one grandparent who died of stomach cancer....well, I'm probably better off avoiding it.

3. Broccoli. I can't bring myself to like it. I've tried it, but I just can't do it. And too much of adulthood is eating things you don't really like and avoiding eating the things you would rather eat, all in the name of health, so I draw the line at broccoli. (And cooked spinach. And Brussels sprouts, though I do need to try those again some time.)

Three things I would eat more often if I lived somewhere other than I currently do:

1. Fresh fish. I'm, I don't know how many, miles from an ocean? And I'm pretty far from a large airport so fish brought in from elsewhere isn't usually an option. Around here, the common fish are tilapia (which I just don't like, it's like the tofu of fish) and catfish (also don't like, I don't care for the texture, and most of it is farm-raised, which to me means they spend a lot of time eating their own poo). Once in a while there are "pan fish" available, usually only if you know someone who fishes and gets enough extra to share. I like salmon and trout, but they're not widely available in fresh (or even previously frozen) form in the stores here - as I said, locally, I have wal-mart, and that's pretty much it, and even the groceries in Next Biggest Town don't really have a fish case.

I remember when I was younger, my family lived near a real fish market and we used to get all kinds of stuff, even monkfish, which is apparently really uncommon now (it was called "poor man's lobster" with good reason. I guess it's not cheap any more, even if you can find it)

The frustrating thing is so many of my cookbooks seem to assume that EVERYONE has access to a fish market, and that canned fish is for losers. (Check your big-city privilege, cookbook writers...)

2. Meat. Again, it's hard to find good meat! I live in the middle of cattle country but am regularly disappointed in the steaks I get at the store - either they're tough for what cut they are, or they have little flavor. (I could deal with the toughness by cooking longer, but if it's a piece that's low on flavor, long cooking will just drain away what flavor is there). I can get decent chicken (go figure) so I actually eat that more often, but I admit I miss good beef and pork. (And the pork I can get seems to come from pigs bred to be extra-lean, so it's ALWAYS dry.)

3. Salad. It's hard to find decent salad greens. I rely on spinach a lot but time was when I lived near a store that sold bulk spring mix, and mache, and something called corn salad (not actually corn, it was almost like a lettuce, except I think it was in a different botanical family). Actually, produce in general isn't as good here as it was when I lived in a larger city. I do tend to rely on frozen and canned stuff more here.

I mean, I'd never want to live in a big city again for lots of reasons, but grocery shopping is harder and less-satisfying now.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Maybe a little success?

Yeah, I know, it's been a while. I've been busy.

And it seems like it's now a truism that every semester, I will have a difficult class, a class with a critical mass (in our small classes, that can be as few as four or five people) that just drag the whole class down and make me want to tear out my hair. It's not always the same class but while it's going on in a class, it gets me doubting my teaching skill - I nearly scrapped and re-did one whole class last semester after having a couple of people who behaved like jerks in there. Now, this semester, that class is SO different, I'm glad I didn't rush to a new textbook or anything like that.

It's a different class that's giving me issues this semester. This is a class that's a cognate for another major (which I will euphemize as Other Major) on our campus. Other Major has the reputation of being "easier" than we are; in fact, several people recently have switched from our major to Other Major after repeatedly failing (usually because of the student's failure to put in sufficient effort) one of our classes.

Also, Other Major has a slight reputation as being a "party" major. One of my colleagues informs me that at conferences that students attend, the faculty and students go out drinking together. Now, that would be one thing, MAYBE, if it were a graduate program and if it were students and faculty going out for a beer or two and a talk. But no, this is DRINKING drinking, not "let's have a beer and talk" drinking. I can't verify that other than that my colleague generally doesn't make stuff up. But whatever.

So, I have a group of 4-5 people from Other Major (well, I have a few more, but they're a lot quieter). I can't tell if one of the guys from Other Major just tends to be a class-clown, or if he's embarrassed/not sure how to act around a female prof (Another fact: Other Major has only one female prof, and apparently she's "one of the boys." I am NOT, in fact, some of the men in my department would not be called "one of the boys.") But he's goofy and it's goofiness that borders on being annoying to me. So far I've done the pained-smile thing response to the worst of it....

There are also a couple other people who like to talk. And like to text. And I caught them passing notes, yes, PASSING NOTES one day in class. (I will remind you I teach college, not fifth grade). I spoke to them about that. I regularly speak to them about the talking being disruptive.(And the giggling. I'm JUST insecure enough that students giggling in class makes me wonder if my slip has come loose and is hanging below my dress, or if I have a bizarre stain on my shirt front, or if I just inadvertently said something that now has an Urban Dictionary meaning*)

But, the victory in all this: The first exam, they did dismally poorly. The students from My Major all earned decent grades. The students from Other Major who are taking the class seriously and participating appropriately earned decent grades.

In fact, one of the crew earned the lowest grade on the exam. I make it a practice to put the average, standard deviation (even though people who haven't had stats don't know what it means) and range on the board. And one woman in the crew started exclaiming, super-loud (so I'm SURE I was meant to hear): "Are you f***ing kidding me? Are you f***ing kidding me? I EARNED THE LOWEST GRADE?!?!!"

(Honey, someone has to. That's kind of how it works)

I ignored the outburst, assuming it was a play for attention.

But I did e-mail their advisors about the behavior and the poor performance. And this past week and a half? They've been a lot better. So I wonder if maybe their advisor took them aside and told them they don't have to LIKE the class, but they have to PASS it. I just hope they do well (or well enough) on this next exam; I'd like to see them get some kind of good outcome from trying to be a little more serious.

(*Oh, and about Urban Dictionary usages.....some years back a colleague came to me and asked me, "Do you know of any 'dirty' meaning to the phrase "shot his wad"?"

Now, I'm kind of old - I knew the phrase as a shooting phrase, where old muzzleloaders were a pain to reload (with powder, wadding, and bullet) and a shooter would not waste a loading on a shot unlikely to strike home - so "shooting ones wad" meant an ineffectual effort.

Alternatively, I knew it as a gambling term, where "wad" meant "wad of cash," and a gambler who had shot his wad meant he had spent all his money, with no winnings to show for it.

But no, now, it means.....ejaculation. Yeah. Great. That was why my colleague's class laughed at him. (Though it gets better: he was using it in the sense of discussion allocation of a plant's resources to reproduction, so in a peculiar way, it was appropriate.) But I worry that eventually so many words will take on secondary, "dirty" meanings that we will have to sharply curtail our vocabularies.....that we are on the road BACK to grunting and pointing as our "language.")