Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Free at Last! Free at Last!

The semester is over and most of the grading is done. I still have a few students who need to pull themselves out of self-inflicted trouble, so I'm waiting on some messages before I enter grades tomorrow, but I'm done otherwise.

This was a hard semester, for a lot of reasons. I taught seven sections with five new preps. Michele's research intensified and will result in her presentation at a conference next week in Miami. But the most significant reason is the impending move.

Yes. Moving. Again. Most of you already know that we're relocating to Minnesota in a month, and we're doing so without much of a plan in place. We have short-term housing arranged, but no jobs lined up. I haven't allowed myself to spend much time thinking about the situation, because I haven't had the spare brain-space, but now that school is done, and my hands will be busy packing and cleaning, my brain is sure to turn to that subject.

I say that I haven't let myself think about the move, and that's true, though I've done less well in keeping it from affecting me. I've been tense for months, more tense than my workload can justify. Maybe I can address that now that my mind can work with it directly.

Now that I have the time to post here, I'll have more to say about all of this in the next few days. For now, I'm going to get started on the packing and such.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Not Much to Report

This semester is going like most others. Plan, grade, plan, grade. I have a lot of classes, but they're enjoyable--especially Intro to Ethics. It's new to me and it's quite a change from the usual.

But today in my ten o'clock Comp II class I completely lost my mind. Today was the day to discuss "The Things They Carried," which is always a great day. It's a great story, and the students are engaged with the material enough to really bear down and learn about how to explore themes in fiction. It's one of my favorite days of the semester.

But two thirds of my ten o'clock students didn't do the reading. I chewed them out. Then I haltingly taught them about theme for a few minutes. Then I chewed them out again. Then I told them about all of the other things that I'd be able to teach them if they'd read the assignment. Then I chewed them out again. And then I sent them away, twenty minutes early, because I was disgusted with them.

They messed up my favorite day.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Monday, November 16, 2009

Food Blogging

According to the Washington Post, the number of people in America who are undernourished has risen sharply. Not terribly surprising, given the way the economy has gone, and unemployment with it. Still--it's kind of jarring to think that in this country
nearly 17 million children -- more than one in five across the United States -- were living in households in which food at times ran short, up from slightly more than 12 million youngsters the year before. And the number of children who sometimes were outright hungry rose from nearly 700,000 to almost 1.1 million.
I hate that they always focus on children for these things (the children! the children!) but this problem has a direct impact on how children develop and how healthy they can be as adults, so it's not purely pathos.

As Thanksgiving approaches we can expect to see any number of appeals for people to stop eating meat, and most of those appeals will be in the interests of the animals killed for food. James E. McWilliams has an op-ed piece at the WaPo that discusses the inherent political nature of our food choices, and rather than focusing on the treatment of the animals, he points out the number of ways in which factory farming is destroying the planet. That's where the discussion usually ends because of the tendency of people to answer with, "Yeah, but I like eating meat," and leaving the issue unexamined beyond that.

In a related point, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations claims that by the year 2050 there will be more than nine billion people on the planet, necessitating a food production increase of seventy percent. One way to increase food production? Stop feeding crops to animals and start feeding them to people.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sometimes, People Suck

Seems like a week where all of the news, even when it's good, comes from bad roots. The stories from this week make me want to find a cave to live in, far from the selfish, the deluded, and the stupid.
  • Topping the list of this week's assholes is Major Nidal M. Hasan, who decided that his best option in the face of frustration was to shoot a few dozen people at Fort Hood on Thursday. The mind boggles. The people he shot didn't start the wars he opposed, and they were no more involved in it than he was. The people he shot didn't deny him his release from his commission. The people he shot didn't determine his deployment to Afghanistan (if that's what pushed him over the edge). Get ready for a bunch of yahoos who lament "those people," the foreigners who cause so much trouble--even though Hasan was born in Virginia. Prepare for the religious bigots who will undoubtedly decry "those people," the Muslims whose religion provokes them to violence--even though millions of Muslims live violence-free lives in America and around the world. (UPDATE: No need to wait--it looks like vile conservative shit-spewer Michele Malkin has already stepped up for that faction.)
  • Overshadowed by the actions of Major Hasan is Jason Rodriguez, a disgruntled Floridian who decided that his best option in the face of frustration was to shoot a half-dozen people at the company from which he was fired two years ago. The people he shot didn't fire him. The people he shot didn't deny him unemployment benefits. Again, the mind boggles.
  • The saga of Louisiana Judge Keith Bardwell has finally come to a close--except for the civil suit he still faces for his idiocy. You may recall that Bardwell came to the public's attention for refusing to marry an interracial couple, the fourth time in the last two-and-a-half years he's done that, and the who-knows-how-manyth time he's done it in thirty-four years as a judge. Now he's resigned, and that's at least a positive development, even though it doesn't go far enough. Religious figures get to determine who they will and will not perform services for based on their interpretations of their various mythologies, but civil servants don't get to defy US law based on some whacked-out perception of "suffering" the possible children of such a union would experience.
  • Maine voters, or at least 53% of them, who voted to reject gay marriage. I'm confident that eventually common sense will win out, but for now it looks like the assholes are still numerous enough to block this simple measure of equality.
  • Michele Bachmann and her merry band of morons, who congregated to chant Faux News talking points and compare Health Care reform to the Holocaust. In addition to the idiotic signs, the crowd consisted of people like Judith Garloch, who traveled from Ohio to display her ignorance. She was enthusiastic, but like all of the other reform opponents, "Ms. Garloch, like many in the crowd who while visibly angry, could not articulate the main problems in the health care system or how they should be solved." That's because they don't have a fucking clue--they just hear "socialism" and "communism" and "death panel" and they don't want their taxes to go up (an unfounded fear) and they don't want their health care to change (another unfounded fear), so they froth at the mouth and repeat the nonsense they've heard.
The mind truly boggles. This planet is doomed.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Okay, Now He's Awesome


For a while now I've considered the Schwarzenegger phenomenon underwhelming. He's unimpressive as an actor. He's been in a small collection of good movies (consider Terminator, Total Recall, Kindergarten Cop) and a whole bunch of kickass--but ultimately inane--movies (Commando, Terminator II and III (I admit I have never watched the fourth one)) and some bad movies (Twins (not a good film), Junior, Jingle All the Way). Not great work, overall.

Circumstances have allowed him, though, to redeem himself. He opposed a proposal recently, and--this is cool--down the left margin of his veto letter Arnie spelled out "Fuck You." Now, what is the likelihood of that? I don't even care--that is pure awesomeness.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Have I Mentioned That John Scalzi Is a Smart Man?

This is a pretty good assessment of the White House-Faux Noise feud.

This is Amusing . . .

. . . but it seems like a strange article to appear on the website of a Catholic newspaper. It amuses me. I am amused.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Just Link-Surfing

Some time ago I read somewhere an explanation about how one can choose beliefs that struck me as extremely silly. The author claimed that since "believe" is a verb, and since verbs are actions, and since we have to choose to act, that it just stands to reason that we can choose to believe things. I've been writing about that argument as I remember it, but since I can't find it I don't feel comfortable sharing my argument yet. It could be that I misremember, or that I've invented a memory. I don't know. I thought it was in Paul E. Little's Know Why You Believe, but a quick flip-through hasn't even revealed a sensible section of the book for that to appear in.

So I was tooling around the internet trying to find some references to that argument when I came across another at a site called 1 in Faith: A Christian Bible Study. The sentence I liked about this argument was this:
In English the verb for faith is "to believe," as faith does not have its own verb.
The author's right of course. If I have a belief about something, I believe it, but if I have faith in something I don't faithe it. This contributes to the confusion in our discourse about belief. There's more to their argument that I don't appreciate as much--such as trying to completely separate faith in something from the belief that the something exists--but this is a useful nugget.

Now I just need to find that original bit I was looking for.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Excuse Me While I Nerd This Out


I've been reading The Atoms of Language by Mark C. Baker for the last month or so, and it's fascinating. He's approaching Chomsky's Cartesian Linguistic position in a way that can classify language syntax into a system analogous to Mendeleyev's early versions of the Periodic Table of the Elements. He has only identified eight "parameters" that would correspond to elements in the periodic table, but this is just the beginning of a line of thought. Maybe it won't yield any useful ideas, but the construct is interesting.

Anyway, the book is about syntax--sentence structure and word order--and draws on languages across the globe. Baker discusses polysynthetic languages such as Mohawk, which don't express ideas in sentences so much as they do in elaborately modified words. He also describes the differences between subject-verb-object languages (like English) and subject-object-verb languages (like Japanese). The entire book is about how communication in each language determines the order in which words appear in sentences.

And that's why I started laughing uncontrollably when I read this sentence on page 204:
A contemporary of [Franz] Boaz, [Ferdinand de] Saussure is famous (among other things) for emphasizing the arbitrary relationship between the sound of a word and its meaning.
Just think about how that sentence is put together for a second.

Ready? Do you see it? Of course you do, but let me blather on about it anyway. The problem is in the placement of the parenthetical "(among other things)." It's clear that Baker means to say that Saussure is famous for "emphasizing the arbitrary . . ." among other things. But the way this is printed it says that "emphasizing the arbitrary relationship between the sound of a word and its meaning" has made Saussure famous and other things. What other things? Nefarious? Athletic? Immortal? A hat? A brooch? A pterodactyl?

This isn't to diminish the work Baker has done--it's interesting, approachable*, and has potential--but despite the amazing amount of attention paid to word order in this book, the garbled word order in this sentence managed to escape an author, who knows how many reviewers and proofreaders, at least one editor, and maybe several more people. I have to giggle.

This is an illustration of the fallibility of even the most intelligent, the most qualified, and the most vigilant people in their respected fields. What chance do the rest of us have for living error-free?

*I say "approachable" because I had only one semester of linguistics and the jargon here didn't throw me. Even the numerous models were interesting.