Saturday, January 24, 2015

Grocery store observations

I am not a big fan of grocery shopping. In my town, we have a walmart supercenter; a small, locally-run place which is v. nice but is more expensive and has limited selection; and an outpost of a mostly-dead chain.

I don't shop at the mostly-dead-chain place because they've long had the reputation of not pulling expired stock. Also, I have had a couple bad experiences there the few times I tried to shop there.

I tend to go to the locally owned place if I know they will have what I need - the checkout people are nicer and smarter, it's less crowded, the people shopping there are nicer. They also seem better set up for people who live alone (or are more cognizant of the fact that lots of people do, these days) in that they don't have stuff in ginormous "family packs" where you have to either freeze 7/8 of the stuff or else have a crew of friends willing to share it.

I don't like the walmart for myriad reasons, but I shop there because they carry certain things the local place does not, things that I need.

My other options are to drive an hour's round trip (or more) for stores like Kroger's. And a Whole Foods - well, that would be at least a 2 hour round trip, if traffic was favorable.

So yeah, we're kind of stuck.

I don't like walmart for different reasons than most of the loud walmart haters don't like it:

- they have a policy of carrying a brand or item for about six weeks and then abruptly dropping it. I get that some things don't have high demand but enough people I know have complained about this that I am guessing it's something more to do with them trying to cut lowball deals with the suppliers than with "people didn't buy that particular brand."

- The people who shop there. Oh, sweet Agnes, the people who shop there. I won't go on a Friday afternoon or the weekend the checks come out (or EBT cards get refilled). Yes, that's snobby and "bougie" of me, but there are people that shop our local store that DO NOT KNOW HOW TO BEHAVE IN PUBLIC and they seem a lot more common on the first of the month. As Heroditus Huxley has noted in other language, it's not a class thing, it's a behavior thing - there are people on assistance who don't stand and block the door, or have a yelling fit at the cashier when they are told they can't buy sodas with their WIC funds....but there are also people who do that kind of thing.

The other thing I hate about shopping at busy times is that it's just a crush of people and they NEVER have enough checkout lines manned, so you're standing ten deep in a line. And of course there's the person with an order that has to be broken into three separate orders with separate payments. Or the person who has a gigantic order and who waits until it's all rung up, then digs out their checkbook and wants to write a check. Or someone who argues with the cashier because they think their stuff should be cheaper.

And there are the poorly-supervised kids. And the rude teenagers. And the people on cell phones who don't see anyone else and will run into you if you aren't careful.

And it just makes me so misanthropic to be there when it's busy, and I know that makes Jesus unhappy with me, because I'm totally not loving my "neighbors" in that moment....but I just can't.

(So I shop early Saturday mornings, when no one is there)

- They don't have enough staff. Stuff doesn't get restocked very fast so it's not unusual to need something and there just be an empty space on the shelf where it is. If you can find someone, you can ask, but often you can't find someone, or they do the "that's not my department" thing and walk away.

- The stores are huge and are often illogically laid out so you have to go all over Creation to find what you need. (And like most groceries now, the stuff you need the most is at the back of the store. I know there's a "cooler set up" reason for that but I'm sure the people running the store figure making the person who needs milk trek past ALL THE OTHER FOOD is a bonus 'cos they might buy something else).

But there are a few grocery store frustrations and things I've noticed recently, and this is probably tied to the crap economy, and businesses not feeling like they can hire more workers because it's so expensive now to have a full-time person, and part time people can only work so many hours...

But I've found a lot of stores recently aren't as good as they once were at pulling expired stock. One of the reasons I don't shop at one store in town here is that they never did this....but increasingly, I'm seeing it in other stores. And yes, it's possible to check yourself. And I always check stuff like milk and cheese and eggs....but it's annoying because sometimes the "sell by" dates are printed very small and are blurry, and I hate having to check EVERY BLAMED THING so I'm not paying full price for a can of tomatoes that was at its best in 2012 or something....but more and more, stores are doing this. Recently, I've gotten a couple of items (cheese, and a yogurt sort of thing) that I got home with and realized they were past their dates. In the case of the yogurt, it wasn't until I started eating it. (It wasn't spoiled, luckily). The cheese I just threw out because it would have cost more to drive the hour's round trip to return it than it was worth.

But ugh. So now that's something else I have to police, in addition to checking on sodium content and reading ingredients to make sure a couple food additives I'm sensitive to are not in the item.

Also, the whole issue of "not enough checkout lanes." Some places have self-check lanes but I tend to dislike those, and also, most stores say they are for a relatively small number of items, and because I like to shop only once every 10 days to 2 weeks (if I can manage to do so), I have a big order of I wait in line.

(One reason why I like the locally-owned place and shop there, even though they are slightly more expensive: if more than three people are in line, they OPEN ANOTHER ONE until all their lines are open. Usually when I go there I don't have to wait more than a minute in line)

I don't know. I know it sounds a little entitlement-minded, but I often wind up shopping when I'm tired or in a hurry to get done and get on with what I need to do, and I don't like having to do so much of the work myself: self-checkouts with self-bagging. Checking to be sure every single darn item is still sufficiently within its freshness window. I suppose the next evolution will be a giant warehouse with stuff on high pallets, and ladders everywhere, and you have to go and find what you want and get it down off its high shelf, and cut open the cardboard boxes or take off the pallet wrap when a new case needs to be opened...and yet, you will still pay increasingly high prices for groceries.

(I would not mind using the self-checkout nearly so much if they offered, say, a 2% discount to people who did. But that's not gonna happen).

This morning, when I went to the walmart, I noticed something I hadn't seen in years.

When I was a kid (this would have been the previous big recession, the one of  the late 1970s), a lot of stores featured an aisle or two of "generic" items - these were things that had no brand, you couldn't usually figure out what factory made them. They were in plain white or yellow containers with the item's name (e.g., "ROLLED OATS") printed on it in black. There was minimal other information; usually the RDA label and a list of ingredients were it. This was different from store brands, which were usually clearly made in the same factories as national brands, but because of less advertising budget, were cheaper. The generic stuff was dirt cheap compared to national brands, and at least the few things we tried, were not really comparable. Maybe for stuff like rolled oats and really basic stuff it was fine, I don't know. But the generics where I grew up were not that good, and there was definitely a stigma attached to them....

Well, generics are coming back. Walmart now has some items that are in plain blue boxes (blue, I suppose, for walmart) with the name just printed on them. Not many items; I think I saw macaroni and cheese and brownie mix and corn flakes.

And I admit, I have some other weird associations with generics. I don't know if this is some dumb thing my kid mind put together, or if I heard some offhand comment my dad made....but they always made me think of Soviet Russia. When I was a kid, it was the tail end of the Cold War. There were a few "exposé" type tv programs (or segments on something like 60 Minutes) about life in Soviet Russia of the time. And the biggest thing I remember are seeing the lines to buy food, and hearing that in some cases, people waited in line for six hours for a sack of potatoes, or something like that. And that there was almost no choice in the stores - if they had canned fish, they had ONE kind of canned fish, and you took it or went hungry. No asking "But do you have salmon?" no saying "But I don't really care for mackerel...."

I also remember hearing a story from someone at church, they hosted a person who had defected, and when they took this man to the grocery store in the US for the first time, he broke down crying - because he could not believe how much food and how much choice there was, he had thought what he had heard back home about the US had to be a fairy story.

And somehow, in my kid mind, I conflated the awful, empty, choice-less Russian shops with the generic foods....and I would always shudder a little bit walking down that aisle, wondering if that was our future.

So far, it isn't. But once in a while, you know? You hear some intellectual sort of person, often who works for the government, commenting that we have "too much choice" in our groceries. Either "too much choice" because then people make the "wrong" ones, or it's not "green" to have fifteen different varieties of canned fish on the shelves, or....I don't know what. But I get really uncomfortable with people who decide they would like, by fiat, to reduce our choices in what we can buy....because I think of those Russian people queuing up for the better part of a day (And how would people who worked for a living do it? I'd STARVE because I can't make multiple hours in a day to wait in line somewhere) and I think of those aisles at the local grocery store with their eerie, blank boxes on them.

And yeah, food is expensive and getting more so. I bought a head of cauliflower this morning (almost $4!) and the woman checking me out blinked and said, "Is that right, did I ring it up wrong?" and I kind of groaned and said, "No, cauliflower has gotten high." (Then again: I can get four meals or so out of that cauliflower, so it's still cheap compared to some things.) So maybe someday soon I will be having to revert to the blank boxes for whatever I need. (Except most of them probably are too high in sodium; those of us who have to restrict are a small enough market that most manufacturers ignore us.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


So, a bunch of alpha-parents decide that they're not going to vaccinate their kids against measles, because, I don't know, Jenny McCarthy said not to or something.

So those kids go to Disneyland. And one of them, or some other kid (it's possible it could have been a tourist from somewhere where vaccines are less common) was there with the measles. And now there's a measles out break.

and now,  some of the park employees have it.

Even, apparently, a few who were vaccinated. That's what scares me - I have been vaccinated three times in my life (as a baby. Then later, as a small child, when my brother got the vaccine and the pediatrician we saw at the time believed the version I got was "no good." And then again, in grad school, because they claimed they couldn't find it on the records.)

So I would HOPE I was immune (I know, you can get a titer done. But I don't think my insurance covers that). But how awful - to think you're protected from this rather awful disease (it's not the flu, it's far worse) and you're NOT. And someone, because their parents were special snowflakes, has just infected you.

Seriously. I'd want to trace down patient zero, and if they were one of these people who didn't vaccinate because of Jenny McCarthy or who the hell ever, I'd want to sue them. (And sue the anti-vax celebrities, for good measure).

It's called HERD IMMUNITY. You're not getting the vaccine just for YOU. You're getting it so that people around you who are on chemo and can't be vaccinated, or who have severe allergies to vaccine components, or who have an autoimmune disease, or who are babies too young to be vaccinated, are protected.

It's selfish, if your kids aren't in one of those groups, to say, "Nope, not gonna vaccinate them, because the infinitesimal risk of a bad reaction is too much risk."

I made special care to take the flu shot (I would have, anyway) when a friend of mine was going through chemo and other treatments and couldn't have it - I didn't want to risk infecting her.

I wouldn't have quite so much of a problem with anti-vax parents if it was only their kids that were hurt, but in a lot of cases, it's other takes something like 85% to 90% of the population being immune to a disease (through vaccines, mostly, these days) to stop its spread.

Measles, while generally not deadly, is one of the worst diseases for spreading: its R-nought (a measure of its reproductive rate, essentially) is 18. Ebola's is two.

And measles can have nasty sequelae. My understanding is that those are increasingly likely the older you are - so those adult park employees are very unlucky.

I, just....I tend to lean libertarian in some things, and I tend to not like the government compelling us to do stuff. But vaccines, that's kind of different, in my mind. I wish people would stop being stupid about them and I wish Jenny McCarthy had kept her mouth shut. And that that British doctor who published the lies about vaccines and autism was kicked out of his profession before he did that.

I grew up with enough older relatives, great-aunts and the like, who raised kids during the "polio summers." I had someone who would have been an aunt who died young of what might have been rubella. So I'm pretty seriously pro-vax.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Free" college "for all"

This is another one of those proposals that will sound lovely on their surface to some, but which will have all kinds of unfortunate unintended consequences.

I GET that President Obama (a) Wants some kind of legacy that will make people "like" him again and (b) really and truly (probably) believes that college is not just the best but the only path to success.

However, this plan is just such a bad idea.

First of all: not everyone needs to go to college. Not everyone SHOULD go to college. There are a lot of careers out there, good careers, where something like an apprenticeship would work better. Or trade school. If I had a kid approaching college age, and he or she wasn't absolutely 100% sold on a particular career that required college (e.g., doctor, scientific researcher, teacher, engineer....) I'd suggest they consider a trade, like plumbing or electrical work. Because those are good jobs, they're needed jobs (Oh how happy I am to see my plumber when I need him!). They can't be outsourced....even college teaching, now, is in danger of being outsourced.

I wish "Dirty Jobs" had had more of a societal impact than it apparently did; one of the messages I got from the show is, "There's a ton of jobs out there that, while not glamorous, are decently paid and you can be happy working them." In fact, a lot of the people Mike Rowe interviewed seemed HAPPIER in their "dirty" job than the average executive, doctor, or teacher. (I suspect that the jobs that involve destroying stuff for a living are very therapeutic....)

But there are other issues:

1. You appreciate something less if you don't have to work for it. A man I know was a driver for a bottled-gas company. His route included a lot of different people, including some people who had essentially been "given" houses by the government. His comment was that the people who worked to pay for their houses, however modest that house may be, generally took better care of it than the people who were given the house outright.

I also see this to a certain degree in some of the students: the ones whose ways are being paid by a parent often are the ones who are here to do four more years of partying before they have to "grow up" and get a job. Or, I have students who take out multiple loans and kind of shrug and go, "The government will forgive them" or, in one case, "What? Are they gonna come after me for their money?" (Actually, yes they will, but whatever).

Disclaimer: My way was largely paid. When my paternal grandparents passed away, they owned a large amount of real estate which was sold and the money divided among the three sons of the family. My dad's plan was to invest it and use the proceeds to send my brother and me to school. (One of the other brothers bought a boat, and I think the other one bought a summer house and RV). But I knew that that money came from somewhere, and it was my dad's deciding that he didn't want the trappings of wealth but rather a secure life for his kids - so I worked hard and did my best not to squander that money.

2. This will funnel a lot of people not ready for college into college. It's a band-aid on a chest wound. What NEEDS to be done is have k-12 education reformed to the point where kids don't graduate from high school unable to read or do everyday math and who have no knowledge of the Constitution or the history of this nation and no understanding of basic physics, chemistry, or biology.... time was when a high school diploma was what you needed for many jobs. Now, a high school diploma is worth less than it was - and so now a bachelor's degree is required.

My fear is that, rather than preparing people better for the workplace, a college diploma will become as meaningless as a high school diploma currently is. (Some would say we're already there. I will say in my classes I fight like hell to keep standards high - with the blessing of my chair - and expect a lot of the students so hopefully they walk out of my class KNOWING something and BEING ABLE TO DO something)

We don't need more college grads, we need more high school grads who actually know something.

Also, funneling people not ready or not in the mindset for college will lead to problems with morale for the teachers/professors. Already, I know of schools where profs are regularly cycled OUT of the intro level non-majors class because it quickly becomes soul-deadening and you need a semester or two's respite before going in again. And it is distressing to deal with students who have trouble reading (not because of a learning disability but because they just have so little experience doing it). Or who don't know math that you remember learning in fifth grade (I have had that happen). Or who stop you dead and ask you to explain some ordinary word you just used that they don't know the meaning of.

The other issue is, if there's some kind of GPA required to keep the entitlement? That's gonna be ripe for grade inflation, and dozens of weepy, "But I need a C or else I lose my entitlement" students.

Already, I deal with way too many students who blame me for their poor performance and either try to bully me into giving them a grade they did not earn, or lay a guilt trip on me. I once had a student tell me I had "ruined their life" because they weren't going to get into Pharmacy school because I wasn't "giving" them an A in my class. Well, I sighed and rolled my eyes (this student was on the phone so they couldn't see me) and opened up my gradebook. And, lo and behold: they had failed to hand in four of the lab assignments. THAT'S why they failed to earn an A, and I told them as much. They weren't happy, of course, but I am still able to hold up my head.

And yeah, yeah: I'm tough enough to deal with the guilt-trippers and the criers. But I'd rather not. And having eight or ten people every semester's end do it is a drag, and it uses up time I could be using more productively.

But the thing is: sending people to college without giving them the "tools" they need is foolish. It doesn't matter whether that "tool" is basic math or if it's the ability to own up to their own mistakes; people who aren't ready for college won't magically become so just because it's free.

3. It's very likely not even all that necessary. Community colleges STRIVE to be affordable. Pell grants cover a great deal of the costs most places, and it still is possible to work and take classes-part time and pay for it all. Granted, you need to have a decent job, and decent jobs are harder to find than they once were - but even occasionally you hear of the person who clawed their way into the middle class by working at McDonald's and taking a class or two from a community college each semester, and they eventually earned a degree.....

4. This is a very personal concern, but: it will probably hurt schools like mine. We are NOT a community college, but we serve some of the same population. We're a small, four-year, regional public school. I am, by and large, proud of the job my university does: for a pretty unprepared incoming body (lots of kids from small rural areas, lots of kids from humble backgrounds, lots of "first-generation students,") we do a good job. A great many of our graduates (I mean, from my department) get jobs in their field and do pretty well. On good days, I feel like I'm performing a service because I'm helping people advance themselves and also preparing people to man the workforce.

But if they can go here, or go two years to a community college for "free," they're gonna do that - and our freshman classes will dwindle. (Mine almost didn't make this semester....) One of the worries I have, now that I have tenure (and so can't be fired unless I do something criminally stupid or totally stop trying) is that I could wind up being RIFfed if things get too bad - let go, because of "Reductions in Force" - in other words: enrollment has got so small we can't afford to keep you on.

I know that's unlikely as long as there's a Biology department because I teach a couple of pretty-core courses, but still.

5. This should probably be #1 but: Dammit, it's NOT "free"! Someone is paying for it. The government doesn't just magic money out of thin air - it comes out of the pockets of every working person in the nation. And one of my problems with a lot of governmental "charity" programs (as opposed to faith-based or grass-roots charities) is that all too often, someone in the government department that is "overseeing" the program is able to dip his or her hand into the cash stream - and skim some of that taxpayer money off. For whatever, whether it's to pay lobbyists to protect their job or whether it's for lavish workshops somewhere or "travel costs" that are over and above what anyone in the private sector would be allowed.

And, yeah yeah, people in faith-based or NGO charities can and sometimes do give into the temptation to skim....but there, more often than not, it's called embezzlement and its perpetrator winds up in prison.

So, what I hear when I hear about "free" community college: great, more money out of my pocket to send people to the schools that compete with us and to essentially tell those people that they are entitled to be educated just because they exist, and that they should also make a stink if they don't get the grades they want so they keep the entitlement. Lose-lose.

Yes, four-year colleges are often expensive, perhaps "too" expensive....I've addressed that before and I'll just note again that SOME of that expense comes because of governmental mandates about stuff where someone has to be hired in order to be sure the mandate is being complied with....

Monday, January 12, 2015

One more thought about it

Perhaps one other bright spot that could come from the horrors in France? (Other than the fact that many, many people stood up, and effectively said, "I defend the freedom to speak, even if I disagree with that speech")

Perhaps people in the West will start looking at the "microagression" culture and going, "You know? forget that noise." People maybe will straighten their spines, open their eyes, and stop looking so hard for stuff to get offended about.

Are people gonna say offensive stuff? Yeah, they will. I've had people say offensive stuff to me, probably will have someone say something to me this week that I could take umbrage at. But a person has to decide at some point whether it's better to shrug off most cases of a person being an ass to them, or whether it's better to go around perpetually upset and chewing other people out.

(Note: I do reserve taking someone aside for a "come to Jesus" meeting if they do something really beyond the pale, like using the c-word-that-is-extremely-offensive-to-most-women to describe me. And then I'll watch them: if they apologize and change, everything's cool. If THEY get offended and say it's their right to say insulting things to me even when I've asked them to drop one particular insult: well, yes, it is their right. But it's also my right to have as little to do with them as possible in the future, and that's what I'd do, even to the point of, if it were a coworker, going to a higher-up and saying, "Please never put me on a committee with this person, and here is why.")

Because the thing is, you don't know what will set someone off. I admit, I laugh at a lot of the off-color jokes colleagues occasionally tell. (I don't tell them myself; I don't quite feel I can get away with it). But other people might be really offended by them. I once had a student minorly freak out in class over a photograph of a snake in a PowerPoint presentation, and I once had a student who was so afraid of birds that she would not approach the stuffed and mounted specimens out on display for one of the labs, and in fact, opted to lose the points on that part of the lab.

However, neither of those students went to my higher-ups to report me for "creating a hostile environment" and if a colleague told a really gross and in-my-opinion beyond-the-pale joke  in my hearing, I'd not go to HR. (I MIGHT, depending on the joke, later on tell them in private I didn't find it funny, but my general inclination is to let stuff like that drop)

And yes: going to HR over something is not the same as shooting someone. But it does stem from, perhaps, a similar impulse - a desire to control, to shut other people up, to only ever hear things that fit in with the narrow band of what you "want" to hear. (I am now also thinking of the arguments some of my Christian fundamentalist students have raised over "having" to learn about evolution in biology....)

Some commentator or other was opining that for everyone on a US college campus raising the Nous sommes Charlie banner, that person might also consider working to see speech codes dismantled. Or not be so fast to dub someone saying something stupid as "hate speech." People say all kinds of stupid things and I tend to think the proper response for someone saying something stupid is generally to roll your eyes and perhaps point out the stupidity of it. (Perhaps some in politics might have benefited from that treatment earlier in their careers....)

When someone uses offensive language that "nice people" don't use* - whether it's against blacks, women, gay people, Asians, or whoever - well, I tend to think that tells you something about the person using the language, rather than the person they're using it against. (My father is fond of saying that "one of the beauties of free speech is that the assholes self-identify.") And as a result, you can tell yourself, "I really don't want to hang out with that person." or "I don't trust her judgment."

(*They don't use it not so much because they're afraid of backlash, but because they do not do to others that which would be abhorrent to them. Golden Rule, people)

The thing is, everyone's gotten so hair-trigger. To the point where colleagues wonder if they need to put "Trigger Warnings" on more sensitive content in their classes. While I get in some special cases you have to take care - I've had students with PTSD and other issues in the past - I also think one of our duties as adults is to be adults and take responsibility for our own feelings. Yes, some college classes contain uncomfortable material - in some cases, that's kind of the point, to get beyond what is merely comfortable.

And as a professor, I personally hope we swing back to a more free-wheeling, free-speech style on campus - I admit sometimes I worry that something I say inadvertently may get me called on the carpet, and I know based on my record and past history I would ultimately be forgiven, but still, what a hassle.

And also, to go around in a perpetually-offended state: how tiring that must be. How much more preferable, I think, to use that energy to study or play the guitar or throw pottery or play tennis or any hundreds of other choose to be happy, and to choose, if someone says something asinine, to chalk it up to awkwardness or foot-in-mouth disease. I know for me, about 85% of the time when someone I know says something that causes the mental phonograph-needle-screech for me, it's that they're overtired, or awkward, or upset, or trying to make a joke that has gone very wrong. And so I shrug, and forgive them. And in a lot of cases, they come to me later and go, "That thing I said? It was stupid."

It's happier, I find, to go through life assuming that when people say really unfortunate things it's not intentional, and that stuff that happens is just stuff that happens, and not stuff designed to thwart one's own personal happiness. And I hope some of the other people I've met, who seem to go around looking for people to "sin" in their speech decide this as well....

Saturday, January 10, 2015

I don't know

I've been watching (or listening to, while traveling) the news about France for several days now.

My main reaction is that when someone blasphemes the central figure of MY faith, I sigh and move on and accept that Jesus is bigger than any of the stupid insults foolish men may hurl at Him. (And of course, He went through that very thing during His time here on earth....)

I can't understand a concept of "honor" that requires you to kill people whom you disagree with....

Also, from what I've read, the magazine that was attacked had a history of poking fun at EVERYONE. Apparently Catholics and Jews got almost worse parodying. But of course, most people-of-faith react kind of how I react. As I said, I can't understand going from "That person drew something that is a major insult to my faith" to "That person should therefore die."

(It's also possible that Charlie Hebdo was simply a convenient target; this could be the start of a bigger terror campaign, considering what happened yesterday.)

A couple of random thoughts:

A. This is what happens when people who immigrate to a country are not encouraged to assimilate. One comment I read was that the goal should not be for the Muslim immigrants to fear the French police/state more than they fear their imams; it should be for them to value the freedom of France more than the idea of converting others to their ideology.

Also, the shadow of an idea that there are some Islamists who want to take over France and make it a theocracy: I wonder how likely that is. I know some write about that with fear but short of an armed coup and major take-over, I don't see that happening in the near future.

I don't know. Maybe a change to immigration policy? But it seems like the EU set the policy and won't change it. But I tend to think countries should not allow in people who will work to take down the country. 

B. I didn't know of the existence of no-go zones before now, I had to look them up. Scary concept. I mean, we kind of have de facto no-go zones (for certain groups) in American cities, but the idea of lining off areas and saying, "If you don't belong to this group, you can't go here, and what's more, we're kind of going to ignore what goes on in those areas."

C. How do we balance giving people the freedom to more or less live their lives with the need not to have groups or individuals who feel that massacring others for being different is a good idea? You hear this kind of thing sometimes when there's a shooter situation or a mass-murder; talk comes up of the person being a "loner" and then there's talk of looking very closely at all the "loners" lest they be dangerous. (As someone who is a bit of a loner but who would never, ever, ever harm another human being (except if my own life were clearly at risk), that makes me twitch). And yes, I have known Muslims who considered harming non-believers (or any human) an abhorrent and anti-Islamic thing, so I don't buy the "They're all bad and should all be thrown out of the country" argument. The radical Islamists are a dangerous group but expelling all Muslims is like saying "Someone claiming to be a radical Evangelical Christian blew up an abortion clinic, so let's shut down all Christian churches"

And the bigger issue of how much liberty do we give up for some kind of relative safety? I don't like the level of surveillance that exists in an average American city these days. I would loathe having to walk through a metal detector each day to get to work. I would strongly object to a "government observer" sitting in on the church services and Sunday school classes to "make sure nothing subversive was said." And I don't know that surveilling ordinary civilians does much of anything, other than remind people that they're not as free as they once were.

And I also don't like the idea of encouraging citizens to snitch on each other; that was an idea that was floated shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, but to me it seems like a way for petty neighborhood feuds to be escalated and there to be so much "noise" (of people falsely reporting others, either as revenge or because they misinterpret stuff) that any REAL information that might be useful gets buried.

D. The "We are all Charlie" cry rings a little false to me when some publications that have sort of self-censored use it. And it seems like another example of the age of hashtag activism.

E. Another sad thing? I hear that some European Jews are being counseled not to wear the Kippah (yarmulke) in public. Now, this isn't just related to the current state of emergency; anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe once again. (And again: how do we balance encouraging people to practice their faith while at the same time preventing those who would do harm in the name of faith? I would argue that killing people in the name of your faith is always wrong....). It's like, did World War II teach us NOTHING?

What I DON'T want to see is appeasement - the saying, "Well, you know, maybe we shouldn't do certain things....and then maybe they won't hurt us." Because that could end in women losing their drivers' licenses and being asked to wear the burqa. Or in Jews once again being expelled from the countries where they live, like they were in the 1930s.

I don't know. I'm really glad that this is one of those situations where I have no authority in dealing with the situation. I wouldn't want to be a French politician or military leader right now.

2015 started out really awfully. I hope the rest of the year is better.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Time to start again

Our Spring semester starts Monday. The good news is all my classes "made" and I have a 12-credit-hour semester rather than the 17-credit-hour one (I did not get 'credit' for two of those credit hours, so no extra pay, because it was a team-taught class; my campus is not good at dealing with load for team-taught classes and I suspect they'd really rather no one ever did them, because figuring out stuff like load for them is "hard")

My intro level class this semester is quite small but that will be good after two sections of it last semester. The problem any more with intro level classes is that there's a certain percentage of the students you have to 'socialize' into college (e.g.: "don't talk to the person sitting next to you because the person in the next row, who actually gives a crap about their grade, can't hear the class") and there are also the people who are just lost and scared. I'm not that good at being a cheerleader/den mother for scared college freshmen because I admit I'm not always 100% sympathetic - when I went off to college, my mom and dad moved an old armchair and carpet scrap into my dorm room, I unpacked my books and clothes, and my mom and dad were like, "Bye! See you at Thanksgiving! We know you can take care of any problems that come up!" and I was kind of, sort of, on my own from there. (That was largely because I was at a school some five hours from my parents - not like they could drive up and fix things even if they felt compelled to). So on some level, I expect the students to be able to grow up enough to find their own help.

And yes, I get that some may need counseling or other professional help; the thing is, I'm not qualified to give it.

So I'm hoping for a low drama semester. Last semester was FAIRLY low drama, at least compared to some, but I could really do with an even-lower-drama one. I have a manuscript I want to finish and get out this spring; I have an idea for a future research project I want to develop and if too much of my mental real estate is taken up by people's problems, I can't do that.

(I wonder if this is really why a lot of women choose not to go into research: either the way our brains work or the way we are socialized, we tend to put others' needs first, and to be a serious researcher you pretty much need not to do that. In fact, to be a really serious, big-deal researcher, you probably need a partner at home who will do all the housework, laundry, marketing, cooking, and bill-paying, to free you up for that. I think this is also why so many of the "canonical" writers have been men: back in the day, a married woman's time was taken up with raising children and housework (or with directing the servants to do the same) and even today, if you're a single woman, your life is heavily centered on getting crap done so you don't have as much time to devote to creating. I wonder at the really productive writers or composers or whatever - did most of them have a "carer" who did all the cooking and such, or did they have super-confident, super-capable servants who just silently attended to everything?)

At any rate: I need to carve out research time this semester and the schedule I have will hopefully make that easier.