Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve Thoughts

Apparently the kid's critical thinking nodes have come unpacked.  It might have been evolution books that did it -- anyway, not only is she on the Santa quest among her school friends, zealously hunting down believers and interrogating them ("What is water-boarding?" she asked me the other day, making me slightly nervous), she also is furious that they all adhere to the Creation notion of how the universe came to be.

"Why?" she demanded of me.  This was after she had explained, in zealous detail, how evolution worked to one of her friends, and had the friend respond with a la-la-la-I-cant-hear-you-I'm-not-listening answer.  "Why are people so stupid?"

"It's not stupid," I corrected.  "You know she's not stupid."

The kid glowered and fumed.  "It's stupid to believe that the world was created six thousand years ago.  It's stupid to believe that evolution says we're descended from monkeys.  It doesn't say that!  It's stupid to believe that crud about bananas proving God must have created the world.  That's stupid!"

"No, that's willful ignorance," I said.  "Plenty of people don't want to know anything about evolution, or physics, or psychology, because they would have to change their worldview.  You remember how we talked about how scary that is?  How lots of people are scared?  You know how you feel when you're scared?"

She glowered some more.

"For lots of people," I said, "and this is the sad truth, it's easier to stay ignorant, and so they do.  They keep believing something that makes them feel safe.  That seems okay, and lots of people say it is okay, they say what does it hurt?  I'd say it was okay, too, except these things these people believe -- the religions -- they do hurt things.  Right now they're hurting our educational systems.  They're keeping kids in lots of our schools from being taught about evolution, for instance, which is the key to understanding modern science and critical thinking."

"It's also a lie."

"Well, they think it's not.  But that's not the issue, exactly.  The issue is, without a proper understanding of science, you can't do much else.  If they deny this bit of science, which is at the center of the rest, they have to deny so much.  Then they can't do any other kind of thinking, either, because they've got this walled off spot they have to spend so much time defending.  Geology, physics, psychiatry, all of them are based on the sort of thinking they can't admit.  So you've got, what,  third to half of the country living in this false world -- "

"Moo," she said, which is what she says when I have talked too much.  It is a hazard, if your parents are professors.

I grinned.  "Okay.  But it's not that your friends are stupid.  They aren't.  And quit attacking them.  They've got a different worldview.  Leave them alone about it."

"But they're wro-o-ong!"

"They think you're wrong.  Do they attack you?"

She scowled: because they don't.  In fact, her best friend defends her whenever zealous Christians come after her with tales of hellfire these days.

"Okay, okay," she muttered: visions of waterboarding, no doubt, dancing in her head.

Monday, December 29, 2008


A conversation which occurs in our household at least twice a week:

Not me: Why is it so cold in here?  It's free-e-e-ezing in here!

Me: It's sixty-eight degrees in this house and I am NOT turning the heat up.

Not me: But I'm co-o-o-ld!

Me: Well, put some clothes on! Fuck's sake!  You're running around in a teeshirt and underwear in the middle of winter whining about being cold.  Those clothes are in your closet for a reason, you know.

(Not me is NOT just the kid; it is also mr. delagar.  WTF, say I, is wrong with slippers and a sweatshirt?  Not to mention PANTS?)

Friday, December 26, 2008

What Now?

Over on Unfogged, they're wondering why and how kids would fall for that whole Santa thing, and why they don't clue one another in, which cracks me up, since my tiny Jewish Enlightenment thinker has, recently, been on her very own one-woman quest to do just that, through the Upper-El at her school.

"Ryan still believes in Santa!" she declaimed to me, back in October.  "And the Tooth Fairy!  And the Easter Bunny!"

"Well," I said, "you know, that's really his business."

"But he's nine!"

She went around interrogating classmates (there are only six students in Upper El, three in fifth grade and three in fourth) and reporting to me daily on who believed in what, along with the lengthy arguments she gave them for why such mythical critters as Tooth Fairies and elves did not, in fact, exist. (She would make an excellent Inquisitor, I suspect.)

"Dude! I told her, it's just your parents!  They write the note!  They put it under your pillow!  Don't be a sap!"

"Sweetie," I said, "really--"

"But it's stupid, Mom!  They don't exist!"

"I know, but--"

"Ryan says when I grow up and have kids, and I see Santa bringing presents to them, then I'll believe."  She made a face of enormous contempt.  "First, I'm not having kids.  Second, Jewish!  Third, there IS NO SANTA!"

I grinned a little, intrigued.  "What did he say to that?"

"He says everyone has kids.  Jesus sends them kids."  She rolled her eyes.  "I had to tell him that is NOT how it happens."

"Um," I said.  "You didn't tell him..."

"Not at school, Ma!"  She rolled her eyes again.  "But Fern and Sarah agreed with me, they told him Jesus doesn't just send kids, you have to get married and do something first.  Which I'm never going to do, so."

"Well, you don't have to get married," I said, "but you do have to have sex.  And if you do have sex," I added, as always, "what are you going to do?"

"Birth control," she said, "but I'm ten, Ma, and I'm NOT having sex, Jeez."

"All right then," I said.

Monday, December 22, 2008


First night of Hanukah last night.  We had our usual wild rumpus -- latkes and brisket, gelt and snakebites, jelly donuts, and, because the Target has come to Fort Smith, I added Christmas crackers to the mix ("Whatever, you cracker," mr. delagar grumped) so everyone wore silly hats through the night.  The Other Liberal Professor and Mr. TOLP came, along with Mick and Miles, their younguns, and Uncle Charger, and the kids ate far too much sugar, and the menorah was knocked over only once, but did not set the table cloth on fire, and we talked departmental politics as well as U.S. politics and cooking and family and holidays past and stayed up late and it was cold, cold, cold outside when we finally broke up.  

Also, we have the cutest, smartest children in the country, in case any of you were wondering. (Oh, except for yours, I'm sure!)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thoughts on the Belt and Obama

So we had our first winter commencement here at the U a few days ago, on a wet and chilly December night.  All the faculty were penned together in our respective college clumps in one area of the arena, while the graduating seniors were herded into another area.  We had been told to arrive at 6.15, and many of us even did, though we fucking well knew nothing would begin for another 45 minutes: we had done this before, after all.  They tell us 6.15 knowing none of us will show up until 6.30 and some of us won't appear until 6.45 and then it will take at least ten minutes to herd us into lines, and someone will have to pee at the last moment, and another one will have forgotten her know academics, it's like herding cats.

Anyway, I was not two weeks off the operating table, and not well able to stand for 45 minutes (yes, I showed up on time, because I am OCD that way) but I secured one of the few available folding chairs and did not relinquish it; also I had the foresight to put two Vicodin inside me beforehand.  I wasn't suffering very much.  The College of Languages and Communications milled about me, and also the Colleges of Languages and Humanities.  We discussed how one should wear one's hood (who knows?  I put mine on and wait for someone who knows to wander past and fix it for me), which side the tassel goes on (this I do know: the left, because we're all Leftists); what various folk were going to do with the Break; who all had managed to get their grades on before Records started calling them with dogging phone calls and who had not; and, of course, politics.  Specifically, what we thought of this Rick Warren move.

Sigh: this is what we think of it.

You know, I understand those who say Obama is making the usual Obama move: big tent and all that.  I even understand those who say it's more devious than that, how he's playing a crafty political game, splitting the Religious Right's base from under them (I understand this, I just don't believe it for a second).  One, the tent can be widened with some other fella, frankly.  Not that guy.  Second, pull the other.

It's hard to see how this could be okay.

Then our Chancellor, who we are liking very much, most of us, had chosen as our speaker an African-American fella, a local insurance mogul, who had attended our university back in the day.  He was a good speaker, short, funny, to the point; but one of the things he said pointed at Obama -- look, he said, here's what this country of ours has done: elected Obama, and done what it promised, all those years ago, it said it would do: become a country where people are equal.

Well!  It is true that nearly half of Arkansas voted for Obama, but not half of Fort Smith did.  Laws no.  The stadium was icy silent, though they had liked his speech so far, as it had spoken of church, and prayer, and free enterprise, all that stuff they, as good Christian pirate Americans, hold so dear.  But if he was going to expect them to champion the cause of equality -- of black folk being equal to them -- well, really!  Might as well expect them to women being equal, or gay people having rights, or silliness like that.

They loosened up later, when he spoke of how he had gone up to finish his degree at the University of Arkansas (back in the day, our university was a two year college) and back then, as he pointed out, the U of A didn't let black folk room with white folk -- yes, yes, they nodded: weren't they enlightened ones, to have allowed segregation, not like them wicked people back in the sixties!  They'd never be like that, not them.

Just don't expect them to vote for one.  That's all.  Or no girls or atheists either.

Sometimes I need a really long nap.


Friday, December 19, 2008

School's Out!

Done with grading, done with commencement, all done until January 7 -- yay! -- a few blessed weeks now to do my own work.  I have two short stories I plan to revised (I even know how to revise them) and an article to bang into shape.  I might be able to get that done in this amount of time.  What's the odds?

Meanwhile: three days until Hannukah starts and for once I actually have the presents all bought.  (The kid, sternly, last week: "Have you bought the presents yet?  All of them?")  I don't have the house cleaned up; but I do have a really good excuse, that I am broken.

Did my first PT session this morning.  The PT woman told me not to lift.  How can I clean house if I can't lift?  I ask you!

Also my shoulder guy -- or rather his nurse -- is getting stiff about the amount of drugs I am getting through.  Apparently I am eating too many pain drugs.  They have no idea how many pain drugs I would like to eat: that is all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More Updating

I am still grading...may I just mention, in passing, how heartily sick I am of the Witness for Jesus cleverly disguised as an essay answer? 

Does this only happen in Arkansas?  Or only to professors who have foolishly mentioned that they aren't Saved?

In any case: if I have to read one more How Jesus Entered My Life And How Blessed I Am Because of it paper and/or essay this grading season, I think I might yak.

I have gotten a couple excellent papers, though: one on black English; one on dive bar sociolects; one of the sociolect of hang-gliders; one examining the use of color in Howl's Moving Castle.  So, well, 90% of everything being crap, as it is, I suppose I should be pleased enough.

BTW: my shoulder HURTS.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Weather Report

...metaphorical and otherwise.

My shoulder is repairing itself slowly; the bouncy weather (hot one day, icy the next, as fronts sweep through) is not helping.  I was up most of the night last night in violent pain, this despite taking five of my Vicodin.  (Shoulder guy took me off the Oxycontin, put me back on the lesser pain drugs.)

Mobility is increasing, though: I can lift my arm again, nearly shoulder-high, and type fairly well.

Starting official PT this week (I've been doing at-home PT since just after the surgery).

About halfway through the grading.  One plagiarist so far -- but only one.  Not so bad.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Grading Blues

I'm grading exams and papers, one-handed, grumpily -- our institution has a bizarrely brief period between the end of final exams and the deadline for grade reporting: about 72 hours this semester -- and with my usual qualms.

I just don't like grading students. It seems wrong. Back when I was teaching Latin, I had fewer issues, somehow, and I can't think why: I suppose because it was the test I was grading, and not the student, and the test was right or wrong, so who cared -- I was only deciding if they had learned Latin , nothing else.

Now, however, when it ought to be the same deal -- that is, I ought to only be deciding if it's the History of the English Language they have learned; or if they can construct an argument with good points and support those points with sufficient evidence, and that ought to be all that matters --well, I find myself thinking, no wonder this fella can't, he's a soldier, he comes here from the base, he's been up all night, he knows he's about to be shipped to Iraq, how in shit can I grade him the same as these six other students, living at home with their parents, with no issues on their minds but whether their Tivos are working?

If it's wrong to harsh on my soldier student, well, what about my single mother student, working the third shift at Wal-Mart, her with her two kids and her food stamps and her junker car that keeps breaking down? She's missing classes because her kids are sick so much and because that car won't start and because she needs to take extra shifts when she gets offered them -- is it fair, really, to hold her to the same standards as that nineteen year old honor student whose mama does his laundry?

Or the kid back in the corner, that manic-depressive who can't get out of bed half the time...what about him?

Or even if I don't fret about any of that, if I only grade their tests qua tests -- do they know the work or don't they -- well, another big section of my grade deals with squishier issues: a quarter of the grade is based on whether the student has been in class; and if he has not, if he's missed more than five classes in a given semester, I start docking his final grade, three points per missed class. I don't do this out of petty viciousness, but because my classes are highly interactive. We do a lot of work in the room, discussion in the literature classes, analysis in the grammar classes and the comp classes, work that can't be recreated or made up or done by one's self, at home, with a textbook. I explain all this early on and repeat it, more than once, as we move through the semester -- though, if you're missing lots of class, you might miss these tiny lectures.

Anyway: is it justice to penalize students for what some of them have difficultly helping? If it's not, should I then penalize anyone? (I can't penalize some and not the others, obviously.) If I can't penalize anyone, then I'm back where I was -- who will come to class? We get half the students not showing up on any given day. (Never the same half.)

Here, at Crooked Timber, we've got a post semi-related to this topic -- examined the great question of grade inflation, which has always gotten up my yak.

Grades in general, though: grr.

Montessori schools, btw, do not grade at all. One of the things I like best about the approach.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ow, Ow, Ow

I'm back at work today. My shoulder guy took out the stitches ( well, he didn't; his tech did) and said I could take the brace off while I wrote, so I am no longer typing left-handed. However, ow. Using the keyboard hurts. Also, my shoulder muscles are so wonked I can't lift my arm to the desk -- I have to use my left hand to put it up there.

Shoulder guy promises a month of PT and I'll be zooming. I have my doubts.

He says this dizziness I've been having is from hitting the pain meds too hard. Too hard for what? I say. What is this language you are speaking?

Meanwhile, on other fronts, Laura, at the kid's school, this is one of the far-right Christians, the one who argued with the kid about whether Obama was a Christian (still does, in fact) tells the kid the other day that she "just can't" read the Tale of Despereaux because in the opening pages the mother mouse says she doesn't want to have anymore babies. Wicked, ungodly mama mouse! Wicked ungodly book!

This Laura is ten, have I mentioned?

"What?" I said, muzzled with Oxycontin.

"I told her if you just read past that bit," the kid said, "it's really good, but --"

"Hadn't she already had a lot of baby mice?" I said, struggling to remember, since I read through all of Kate DiCamillo's books a few summers ago after reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, having picked it up from the children's new book section because the title was so cool. "How many mice babies does the mouse Jesus require her to have?"

The kid was silent a moment. Then she said, "I'm not having any babies."

"That's up to you," I said, which is my standard answer to this declaration. "It's your body."

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I'm Alive

Though I can barely type (this is being brought to you left-handed) so posting will be brief.

Diagnosis: ideopathic bone spurs and a torn ligament. (Yay Zelda, who sd it was bone spurs weeks ago).

Now I am strapped into a highly amusing jet-black brace which encases my entire upper body and right arm and makes me look like the Borg professor -- all this to keep my right shoulder in a neutral position at all times, except when I am doing my excruciating P.T.

Doc gave me a big fat bottle of Oxycontin, so what do I care?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Okay, Then.

Conversation overheard in the Student Union:

Student #1: I hate English with a fiery Passion from the fiery depth of Hades, do you understand? I hate, hate, hate, hate it.

Student #2: I love English. I just hate these English teachers here.