Friday, April 26, 2013

What Has I Gots In My Baggins?

The other day it occurred to me that the black shoulder bag that I use to carry my supplies from home to my various jobs was getting a bit heavier than usual.  This is not an uncommon occurrence for me, as I do tend to toss things into it far more often than I take things out of it. You never know when you will need a specific something, I suppose, although sometimes the need has to be startlingly specific to require that particular something.

But then I’ll have it.  And won’t I be the hero then?

However, having reached an age where wear and tear is starting to get a bit more obvious than it used to be, notably about the shoulders in this case, I decided that it would be a good time to take an inventory of my bag to see what could be offloaded for the time being.  There is no point in being a hero if it means having to resort to ibuprofen merely to haul around your gear.

This is what I found.

Two umbrellas, one black and one black with fluorescent polka dots.

It has rained for most of the last several weeks here in Baja Canada and the only reason we’re not up to our eyes in sprouting vegetation is that the high temperatures have only barely been enough to keep the rain from being snow.  Once in a while I manage to impress upon my children that they should carry appropriate gear in the face of this weather, but invariably it ends up forgotten – if I’m lucky, in my car, and if I’m not lucky then somewhere at school, at a 4H meeting, or some other destination.  The polka-dotted one came from my car.  I put it in my bag to take into the house and forgot it there, next to the other one that I had forgotten there after using it myself.  So apparently my children get this trait from somewhere very close by.

Twenty-three partially graded Western Civ II exams, focusing on the Enlightenment and the Long 19th Century (since returned, fully graded).

I grade these thing by problem rather than by student, so I end up going through each exam eight or nine times.  While it is a wonderful process for making sure that my standards are consistent across exams, it does mean that nothing is ever finished until the very end of the process.  This can get a tad discouraging after a while.

One excuse note submitted by a Western Civ student to justify taking the exam late, okayed by me.

When a student who hasn’t shown up more than a couple of times requests an extension for an exam, I want it documented.  If they’ve been attending, participating and generally making themselves known and trustworthy, then I tend not to worry about it.

One answer key for the exam.

This is how I usually spend the first part of the exam itself.  I figure if I can’t whip through it in a third of the time, they’ll never be able to do it in the full time.  It’s a handy barometer.

One wooden clipboard, with roughly a quarter inch of scratch paper attached to it, on top of which was a grading sheet for the Western Civ exams.

I have learned not to put the final scores on these exams until the very end, as otherwise I box myself in.  Sometimes you go through and realize about halfway through that your standards should have been adjusted, and it’s just easier to do that on my sheet than on each individual exam.  When I’m done, I transfer it all over onto their exams.

One CD case containing two CDs: Blue Moo (Sandra Boynton) and English Rebel Songs (Chumbawamba)

When I go over WWI in my Western Civ class, I don’t really go through the blow-by-blow of the war.  The textbook does a good enough job with that, and I spend my time going through the lead-in to the war (an interlocking series of tripwires set up between 1870 and 1914 that pretty much guaranteed the sort of continent-wide disaster that followed), the conduct of the war (trenches and what that actually meant on the ground), and the dispiriting conclusion of the Armistice (“They never knew they were beaten.  It will have to be done all over again.”  -John Pershing, Commander, US forces).  Chumbawamba’s CD has any number of protest songs from English history, but the one I play for my class is “The Old Barbed Wire.”  If you want to find the general he’s pinning another medal on his chest, but the private is hanging from the old barbed wire in No Man’s Land, between the trenches.  It’s a beautiful song if you don’t listen too closely to the lyrics.

I’ve largely given up trying to figure out how to play CDs in the various computers I find in classrooms – even when I do know how to make whatever version of whatever program they have actually work, the odds of it getting set up in time to be useful are pretty minimal.  So I bring in a CD player.  This one happened to have Blue Moo in it, and a fine CD it is in most circumstances though not really appropriate for WWI.  Unfortunately the CD player died, so my class never did hear any music this semester.  I didn’t even bring the CD player home from Not Quite So Far Away Campus.  Just the CDs.

The power cord from the above-described recently deceased CD player.

You can never have enough power cords.  This I did save.

One roll book containing:

Class records for two of my three current classes (the third being online), as well as several previous classes.

Yes, I’m one of those old-fashioned professors who doesn’t use an online grade book. 

A post-it note with the four-digit copier code I need to make copies at Not Quite So Far Away Campus

This is not to be confused with the copier code I had at NQSFAC two years ago, or the one I have at Home Campus.  Apparently they expire every so often and have to be renewed with some new random collection of numbers.  Because you never know if other faculty members will just jump your code and copy quizzes on your account.

Academic crime: it’s a mean old world out there.

Lecture notes for two Western Civ classes (WWI, and Post-WWI Chaos [Including the Russian Revolution]) and one US2 class (The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s).

Sometimes it’s hard to keep everything straight.

General Board Outlines for Western Civ II.

I throw a lot of information at my students, and I have found that if I put an outline of the lecture on the board beforehand they do a much better job of getting the main points.  And if I have an outline printed up and ready to go before I walk in, so do I.

The SCUM Manifesto.

This was a prop for my Civil Rights Movement class, in which we completed our discussion of the Civil Rights Movement (begun the class before) and moved on to discuss the Youth Movement and the Feminist Movement.  All of those social protest movements went through roughly the same arc, starting out fairly moderate and getting progressively more radical.  The SCUM Manifesto is an example of the radical stage of the feminist movement – the kind of shrill bogeymen (bogeywymyn?) who continue to haunt the fevered imagination of right-wing talk radio hosts even now.  It was written by Valerie Solanas (whose other claim to fame was shooting Andy Warhol) and it’s basic argument is 1) men are scum, 2) no, you don’t understand, men are just scum, 3) getting rid of men would solve all of the world’s problems [thus the title of the manifesto, which is an acronym for “the Society for Cutting Up Men”], and 4) men really are scum.  She makes this argument in what can generously be described as an obscene and borderline incoherent rage, and as a cultural monument to a specific moment in American history it is simply unsurpassable.

A syllabus for my Western Civ II class

Because sometimes even the professor forgets what comes next.

Accommodation plans for two Western Civ students

The university has a very nice system for students with documented issues regarding exams and such, and so long as they have the proper paperwork they can take those exams in much more conducive environments.  While I have never noticed any particular difference in terms of the grades they earn, I suppose it is a good thing for such students to have this available as an option.

Discussion 7 Feedback Notes for US2

Grading online discussions is a laborious and time-consuming process, at least the way I do it.  I read through each post (each student has to make at least three posts in my class, and it’s easier to read them in their proper threads while commenting on a central sheet than it is to read each student’s posts separately), making notes to myself as I go.  Then I summarize those notes into a feedback paragraph for each student, which then gets posted individually to each student.

A program from Lauren’s school play from February

The trees!  They talk!

Cue sheet, tech specs and introductory notes from Friday’s Performing Arts act down at Home Campus

My job as Performing Arts Guy down at Home Campus covers everything from negotiating contracts to hanging lights to making sure there is bottled water in the dressing room.  When acts come in after lunch and expect to perform three hours later, this can be a paperwork- and energy-intensive experience.

A crescent wrench

For hanging lights, what else?  I’ve had this one since college – it was, in fact, given to me by one of the theater groups on campus, and for most of my college years I simply kept it in my backpack.  You never knew when somebody would come running over to you as you walked between classes and beg you to hang or focus lights, and it was just easier to have it than have to walk all the way back to my dorm room to find it.  This actually happened a lot, given that a) there were 8-10 major student drama groups on campus, depending on how you counted, and b) there were maybe a dozen and a half of us who did lighting.

Of course, this could get me into trouble.  The first time I ever flew abroad I forgot to take the wrench out of my backpack, which I was using as a carry-on.  The security people hemmed and hawed about it for a bit, but ultimately decided – in that pre-9/11 era – that unbolting the wing would probably not be a very effective terrorist strategy anyway, so they let me pass.  It is a well-traveled wrench.

A random plastic grocery bag

I think I stuffed that in there because of the rain, when I wanted to keep something dry.  I hope whatever it was stayed dry.

One copy of Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

My reading material for much of the week.  A classic.

A plastic spoon

No, I have no idea why this is in there.  I assume there was a reason once, but even that might be unwarranted.  Spoons just seem to accumulate.

Coins totaling 1.25 euros and 1 American cent.

The euros are there because I use them as a prop in my Western Civ class, when we get around to discussing the lurching steps toward European unification after World War II.  It’s more real to students when they have actual physical objects to hold on to.

The penny is there because dark, enclosed spaces of less than two cubic feet in volume located anywhere in the United States create pennies.  Certainly the mint knows better than to make any more of the things – nobody uses them for anything other than filling up change jars.  Spontaneous generation is really the only possible reason for them.  Nice of the penny fairies to have changed the design on the back recently so we don’t take them for granted.

Twelve pens in various stages of functionality, along with one pencil, one mechanical pencil, two highlighters, and nine dry-erase markers.

Writing implements are just the coin of the realm in academia.  I have no idea how the highlighters got there, though, since I regard them as evil.

A pen for a smart-screen computer.

This is a special pen and thus resides in its own pocket.  It only works on a touch screen computer, and it allows me to draw things that my compressed video class can see with a reliability that approaches 60% on good days. 

A set of keys for the theater and neighboring areas of Home Campus.

A lot of life in these modern times is simply the slow accumulation of metal keys and plastic cards.  As part of my role Performing Arts Guy on campus, I have an entire key ring for the various doors that make up the ins and outs of the theater, art and music building on campus, plus a key for the classrooms in the new building.  That much metal I didn’t want on my regular key ring because very early on I learned that trying to fit all those keys onto one ring would rip out the pockets on any pair of pants in the world.  So I transferred all but my campus office key to the extra ring and left it in my office.  But since they are now asking us to lock up our classrooms all the time in the wake of a series of thefts, I find that I need to carry it around in order to get into my classes.  I’m not carrying that set of keys in my pocket.  And thus we return to the refrain.

A wad of paper napkins.

It’s always good to have napkins.

A copy of a letter, dated 2004, from Tabitha’s allergist to any airport security personnel who reads it regarding Epi-Pens and why they should not be confiscated as a security threat.

So far we’ve never been questioned by security regarding Epi-Pens, which is nice, but you can never be too careful.  Some day some overzealous rental cop is going to try to force my child to travel without the life-saving medicine she would need in the event of anaphylaxis, and the results of such an attempt will not be pretty.  Best to have the paperwork and avoid that … unpleasantness.

A pile of unused 3x5 cards.

Because that’s how I roll.

A pile of used 3x5 cards from my Western Civ class, with student contact information should I need it.

If I leave them in my office, I won’t have them when I need them.  If I leave them at home, the same is true.  So they travel with me.  At the end of the semester they’ll get shredded, as I really don’t need to preserve that information.

No wonder my shoulder hurts.

Monday, April 22, 2013

News and Updates

1. I seem to have acquired a Spring Crud of some kind, one that started in my head and is moving inexorably down into my chest.  I seem to get these things a lot.  If there is a betting pool for my funeral, my money is on something respiratory.  Nothing that serious on the horizon just yet, mind you – right now it’s mostly just making me miserable and unable to focus at a time when I need to be a) grading madly and b) sleeping now and again.  Ah well.  Someday.

2. I actually got into a civil conversation on the internet with a complete stranger about gun control.  Wow.

3. We have solved the “yowling cat at 5am” problem thanks to a marvelous product called a “Thundershirt,” which sounds like a euphemism for something but is actually just a Velcro-laden wrap designed to swaddle your animal and make them feel less nervous.  Despite my initial skepticism, it works like a charm.  It does give Midgie something of a “three pounds of sausage in a two-pound casing” look, but keeps her quiet and we don’t have to shut her into the basement anymore.  That seems a fair trade.

4. I’m happy they caught the bombers up in Boston.  I don’t want to know their names or anything about them or what twisted self-pitying logic they employed to justify their actions.  There is no cause that could justify those actions.  I want the survivor and any accomplices to have a fair trial and then – if found guilty – I want them buried so deep in the mists of history and the bowels of the penal system that their names will be forgotten even by their own parents.  I want them to live a long, long time knowing that they have been forgotten, abandoned, and left behind by humanity.  And I want nobody to notice when they die.

5.  For “bombers up in Boston” in the previous paragraph you may feel free to substitute the perpetrators of any of the many and varied slaughters of the innocent these days.  There are so many to choose from.

6. It snowed here most of Friday.  On April 19.  That’s just wrong.

7. My trash can ended up in the neighbor’s driveway this weekend.  These are the neighbors who managed to alienate everyone in a three-house radius within a month of their moving in, so I’m not really interested in talking to them to get it back.  For one thing, it’s cracked and has a hole in the bottom.  For another, they’re already using it as one of their own.  For another, I still have one more.  And further, since Our Little Town issued us brand new city-supplied trash cans that will be the only receptacles allowed as of next week, I figure getting rid of that broken down trash can is now my neighbor’s problem, not mine.  Enjoy it while you can, neighbors.

8.  Already, I am not sure how we are going to accomplish everything that is on our plate for this summer.

9. I generally use the previous exam as a template when I make up the next exam for my classes.  This keeps the formatting consistent.  Unfortunately, it also means that unless I check carefully, the exam essay question will be prefaced with the instructions for the previous exam’s question.  So there might, for example, be students trying to connect the Age of the Enlightenment with the Crisis of the 14th Century, which you can do but probably not within the confines of a one-page timed essay.  But I can’t penalize them for following instructions.  Looks like I need to make up a new rubric for those students.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Guest on the Porch

Molly Ivins once said that some days were like waking up and finding Fidel Castro hiding in the refrigerator.  Hard to know what to think.

Today was one of those days.

I leave the house fairly early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the better to make it up to Not Quite So Far Away Campus in time for my class.  It’s a fairly long drive, the nickname notwithstanding, and the weather around here has been tricky all semester – snow, driving rain, wind – so having a bit of extra time is good. 

I also like to rehearse the class in my head as I drive.  I’m a historian.  I don’t have experiments or problem sets – all I have is a story.  And when all you have to sell is a story, you have to get your transitions right.

So when I leave the house, then, it is early and I have quite a number of things on my mind.  Add in the fact that I have yet to make any headway on the extra-large traveler’s mug of Yorkshire tea that is nestled in the change bin by my seat (being too large for the cupholders), and you have a general sense of the fog I am in.

This morning I backed out of my driveway, put the car into drive, and then glanced up at my front porch.

“That’s odd,” I thought.  “Someone must have left me a package last night.”

But it didn’t look like a normal package.  It was black, for one thing.  It was also about two and a half feet tall, but only about eight inches wide.

And then it turned its head.

Here in Our Little Town there are any number of species of wildlife who live among us.  Raccoons. Rabbits.  Geese.  The occasional deer.

And a vast and growing number of wild turkeys, one of whom had apparently decided to take shelter on my porch from the driving rain.

Suddenly, I’m living in my own WKRP In Cincinnati Thanksgiving episode.

I watched it for a while.  It watched me.  We watched each other, secure in the knowledge that each of us would likely be the strangest thing we saw that day, and each likely wrong on that count.  This is America.  If a giant bird on your porch is the strangest thing you see all day you’re probably not trying hard enough.

Eventually I left.  When I got to the gas station, I called home – Kim and the girls were still getting ready to go to their various schools.  “Go to the front door and open it very slowly and quietly,” I said.  “There’s a turkey on the porch.”

Apparently they watched each other briefly, and then the door creaked a bit and the turkey hopped away into the neighbor’s yard.

It’s been most of the day now, and so far that turkey is still the strangest thing I’ve seen all day.

I need to try harder, I guess.



Apparently Tabitha took some video of our guest on her iPod.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Enlightened Communication

I don’t really have anything of any particular value to add to what has already been said about the attack on the Boston Marathon except perhaps to note that it is further proof of my theory that anywhere up to ten percent of humanity isn’t worth the space it takes up on the planet and every once in a while – increasingly often these days, alas – that group makes itself known in cowardly and violent ways.

At that point it is up to the other ninety percent of us to clean up after them – to heal the wounded, to comfort the afflicted, to bury the dead, to attempt, however much in vain, to restore sanity to a world gone mad because such attempts have value in themselves regardless of their success rate.  Also, to hunt down those responsible for such acts and firmly remind them that taking up space on the planet is not a self-evident necessity and that their presence really is no longer required.

I have spent a fair amount of time listening to newscasts on the radio and reading reports online about the attack.  There were a lot of very thoughtful things said, and many acts of selfless heroism that were noted appropriately.  There is comfort in knowing such things.  And then I made my big mistake by looking at some of the comments underneath the stories.

If you value your sanity, if you wish to regard the human race with any shred of hope or affection, if you still think democracy is a good idea, you will never, not ever, not even once, read the comments section of any major news web site.

The very first comment I read – the very first one – said something along the lines of “Typical Teabagger!”


I have made no secret in this space of my contempt for Teabaggers and their efforts to subvert the American republic and substitute in its place a satanic combination of Gilded Age plutocracy and Iranian-style theocratic rule that would have horrified the Founding Fathers and should continue to horrify any rational American citizen now and for the foreseeable future.

But blaming those attacks on Teabaggers?  With no proof whatsoever?  With information about even the events themselves still sketchy and incomplete?  With the wounded still bleeding?  Seriously? That’s just twisted.

Some people exist solely to remind us that our opponents do not have a monopoly on assholes.

Of course, among those opponents are similar sorts – and in my experience far more of them, which is one of the reasons why they are opponents – and they were out in force too.  My personal favorite bit of evidence that the supply of bodies far exceeds the supply of souls in this world was one particularly vehement Teabagger who insisted (literally even before the smoke had cleared) that this was all a “false flag operation” run by the federal government to make the Teabaggers look bad.

No, son, you’re doing a real good job of that your own self.  Pro tip: it’s not always all about you.

On the other hand, it is interesting to see how he assumes that this is the sort of thing that most Americans would easily believe Teabaggers would do and that the government merely had to slaughter the innocent in order for blame to fall naturally on the Teabaggers.  I’m not really sure how to respond to something that self-defeating, but there you go.

We’ve been discussing the Enlightenment in my Western Civ class for the last month – that fascinating cultural and intellectual movement that began in the seventeenth century by stressing reason, natural laws and progress and has since come to define pretty much all of Western civilization.  Everything that makes up the West today is either a product of the Enlightenment (science, the Industrial Revolution, the Lockean Liberalism that defines both ends of the American political spectrum, and so on) or exists as a reaction against it (Fundamentalism as a Christian movement, Romanticism, the Conservatism that started with Burke and slowly morphed into Nationalism in the 19th century, and so on).  It’s a fascinating topic, the Enlightenment.

One of the central tenets of the Enlightenment is that people are basically good – that they are not the corrupt, depraved creatures of Calvinist thought but instead fully rational and self-interested creatures, capable of discerning their true interests and producing the best of all possible societies on their own.  Spin that one way you get Laissez-Faire capitalism.  Spin it another way you get liberal democracy.  But the key thing is this notion that human nature is essentially positive.

So how did one explain conflict, then?  There was a lot of conflict then as now, and people seemed fairly capable of doing some pretty awful things to one another in the name of their causes even in the 18th century.  How come all those good people were doing all those awful things?

Many Enlightenment thinkers decided that the root cause of that gap was miscommunication.  That people simply didn’t know the full story, but once they did their better natures would take over and conflicts would be eliminated.

Every advance in communications technology since then has been heralded by this same utopian dream of better communication wiping out misunderstandings and ushering in a new age of peace and prosperity for all.  The penny press.  The telegraph.  The telephone.  The radio.  The television.  Esperanto.  All of it.

Thanks to the internet, we now know that this is not true.

The magic of the internet, made possible by the very advances in science produced by the Enlightenment, works against the continued existence of that movement, by showing us in clear detail how intractably squalid human nature can be, even in the face of the strenuous efforts of 90% of humanity to overcome such miserable wastes of space.

The heroism displayed in Boston was real, and nine out of ten is always good odds.  I’m not too worried about the human race.  But do not forget that other ten percent out there.  Rest assured, they do not forget you either.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Strings Attached

It was the Big String Concert last Thursday, here in Our Little Town.

Every year all of the students in town who play string instruments – from violins up to double-string bass – gather together in one spot for an evening of music.  Invariably, this happens on a night where I can’t attend.  One year it was because I was teaching class.  Another year it was because I had another obligation down at Home Campus, though I did manage to duck out and catch the end of that show.  Not the part with Tabitha in it, unfortunately, but what can you do.

This year I got to go!

The way it works is that they divide the students by age group.  All of the fifth-grade musicians, from whatever schools, are lumped together in one orchestra.  There is also a sixth-grade orchestra, a seventh-grade orchestra, an eight-grade orchestra, and one consolidated high school orchestra.  The orchestras get smaller as you go up in age, which is kind of a shame but that’s what happens as kids get older and more things compete for their time.  Each orchestra gets to do one song, and then they do a big combined number at the end.

This year they changed the setting a bit. 

Usually all this happens, as one might expect, in an auditorium.  Each orchestra does its thing, and then they go back into the house while the next orchestra shuffles onstage.  This year, some logistical genius figured out that if everyone was onstage at the same time they could eliminate all the shuffling.  All they would have to do would be to point the audience’s attention at the correct orchestra.

Don’t laugh.  That’s not an easy task in a nation where 47% of the electorate still thinks you can increase income by cutting revenue.  Getting people to focus their attention where it needs to be can be a trick sometimes.

The other question, of course, is where you are going to put such a collection of orchestras.  It’s not like you’re dealing with garage bands, who take up an average of six square feet not including the amps.  Orchestras are rather larger than that, pretty much by definition.

Yes, the basketball court.

This turned out to be a capital suggestion, by the way.  Everyone was there.  They never dimmed the lights, so all the parents could take pictures without having to use their flash (except for one idiot in the corner, because there is always one idiot who thinks rules don’t apply to them).  It’s got a hardwood floor, so the acoustics are pretty good.  You could see everyone all the time, including your own child, since that’s what you came for anyway – and a basketball court is sufficiently wide that you could sit directly in front of your own child’s orchestra and still see everyone else.  And no shuffling, which meant the concert was all music, no logistics, and over in about half the time.  Genius!

Of course, the drawback is that a basketball court has seating on both sides, so if you sat on the wrong side all you saw were the backs of people’s heads.  But whose fault was that?

Let me tell you, whoever thought of moving this concert there should get some kind of award.

The concert itself was a grand time.  They cycled through the orchestras in age order, with the youngest first.  Tabitha’s orchestra played a Russian folks song, which went very well although she was more interested in the high school’s rendition of the Mission Impossible theme.  It’s a goal, then.

It was a very nice night.  Good job, Tabitha.  I'm proud of you.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


It’s getting harder and harder to tell the spoons apart.

We go through a lot of spoons in our house.  For one thing, they’re very useful things – you can substitute them for pretty much any other utensil if you work hard enough, but the reverse is not true (ever tried to eat soup with a fork?  It’s … tedious).  And for another, they tend to commit suicide by garbage disposal more often than you’d think.  The life of a spoon must be hard indeed.

So we keep buying new spoons.  New soup spoons.  New teaspoons.  But the old ones hang around too, because they are useful still.  It’s not like they get stale or anything.  Bottom line: there is quite an assortment of spoons in our drawer.

It is my job to keep them in their proper slots.

I’m the dishwasher in our house.  When Kim and I got married, that was the division of chores we made – she did laundry, I did dishes.  It has worked out quite well, in a “not-having-pink-socks” kind of way.  But the bottom line is that when the spoons come out of the dishwasher, it is my task to put them back into the tableware drawer in the right places.

But this is becoming increasingly difficult to do, as there seems to have been rather a creep in the size of spoons in recent years.

The teaspoons that we recently purchased on our last daytrip to IKEA (yes, we do that for fun – IKEA is to Kim what bookstores are to me) are nearly as big as the soup spoons that I had before we got married.  The soup spoons we recently purchased are almost the size of serving utensils.  The serving utensils are the size of gardening implements.  Meanwhile the old teaspoons look like new honey dippers, and at the current rate of depreciation they will soon look like dented butter knives.

What is the purpose of this?

Have our mouths gotten bigger?  I suppose it’s possible – most things about Americans have gotten bigger in the last few decades, with the possible exception of our political morals.  Undertakers had to upgrade the size of caskets a few years back, so I suppose it might make sense that we’d need bigger spoons.

I’m not sure this constitutes progress.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

News and Updates

1. I just don’t like making this sort of post, because it means that I haven’t had the time to write a real post.  It’s a way of marking out some of the random thoughts and events that have occurred so I don’t forget.  I suppose that in itself is worth something, especially since otherwise things get lost.  But still.  It’s more fun to be able to think about things a bit.

2. My children have now had yet another experience that I have never had – they spent Friday night cruising Our Little Town in a white stretch limo.  It was a friend’s birthday party, and her mom – somewhat at a loss as to what to do for a kid who is too big for the usual birthday party but not old enough to go out drinking – decided that two hours in a limo followed by a nice dinner at the local hibachi grill would be perfect.  And you know what?  It was.  Apparently they spent the two hours eating, giggling, singing songs over the intercom with the driver, and generally marveling at the existence of a quarter-mile-long vehicle with a mirrored interior.  Me?  I was just impressed that the driver managed to back the thing into my driveway without casualties.

3. While they were driving about town, I was down at the County Fairground, setting up for the annual Pre-Fair Cat Show.  This meant hauling out several million folding chairs and about that many six-foot-long tables, all manufactured out of depleted uranium and grief, and arranging them artistically throughout a metal and concrete building specifically designed to maximize echoes.

4. Not surprisingly, therefore, we found ourselves spending all day Saturday at the cat show, which was most pleasingly arranged, thank you very much.  Tabitha was in charge of Midgie – who genuinely hated the experience, to the point of developing salt crystals on her nose from sweating so much – while Lauren entered into the photography and art section of the contest.  Kim served as a judge’s assistant, and I spent most of the day in the food booth.  Lauren took home a couple of ribbons for her efforts, but Midgie was not deemed medal-worthy this time around.  She did win a certificate declaring her “Best Dressed,” as she has nice markings, but any hope of  “Miss Congeniality” probably died when she hissed at the judges and threatened to ruin their credit ratings.

And your mangy little dog, too.

5. Rather than do the intelligent thing and just stay home curled into a fetal ball after the cat show, Kim and I ended up going out to the Home Campus production of The Full Monty.  It was a good show, and I enjoyed the sets and lighting because that’s the sort of thing I pay attention to in shows.  Force of habit, what can I say?  And yes, they did go full monty on us, though a carefully designed lighting cue (brilliant backlight, no front light) kept the visuals to a minimum.  This was probably a good thing.

6. There is just way too much grading to do.  Grading is the least rewarding part of teaching.

7. It is a fascinating thing to hear reports of a national news story for the better part of a week and then realize that you know someone who is deep in the middle of it.  Someday, when the dust settles, I will have to ask this person about what actually happened, as opposed to what was reported to have happened.

8. It is finally spring here in Baja Canada, which means that the snow has melted and the minor league baseball team is back on the field.  Sometimes that happens in the opposite order, and it was close this year.  At least the robins aren’t freezing their tail feathers off anymore.  And here in Wisconsin, once the temperature peeks above freezing everyone pulls out the t-shirts and ramps up their ice cream consumption.  Because it’s spring, dammit.

9. Pro-tip for students: If your writing makes your professor think of the Inigo Montoya Lexicographical Uncertainty Principle, you probably need to rethink your strategy.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Chipping In

So now my taxes are paid.

Well, actually, they were already paid.  But through the application of a fair amount of software, several hours on hold with the company that made said software because apparently having software that won’t update on Macintosh computers is considered okay for general release into the consumer market, and a fair amount of honest guesswork as to what numbers belonged in what spaces (fortunately the 1040 form does not ask you to swear that all your numbers are correct; it just asks you to swear that you believe that they are all correct, and that is a matter of interpetation), I know how much I’m getting back. 

I like it when I get money back, because it is just found money to me.  I didn’t know I had this money, and suddenly – BOOM! – there it is.  Yes, I know that the financial types complain about people like me and kvetch about “interest-free loans to the government,” but you know what?  The government needs it, and fortunately for me at this point in my life I don’t, at least not right away.  I need an enforced savings program more than I need the dollar or two in interest that money would generate in my own accounts, and therefore I consider it a fee.  It says something that the federal government charges less to use my money than my own bank does.  Sometimes the private sector really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When we get our money it always goes into the summer fund – one of the joys of academia is only getting paid nine months out of the year unless you can scrounge up a summer class or suchlike.  Or if the summer fund is sufficiently full it goes into the project fund, which is much the same only a whole lot less fun (at least for me).  Given that both Kim and I will be working this summer, projects it is. 

This year’s project will be a redo of our upstairs bathroom, which has not really been upgraded – or, for that matter, much noticed at all – since we moved into this house in 1996.  If we can put aside a sufficient level of project fund money it will allow me to fob that whole remodel onto trained professionals who will not only do the job correctly but will also not ask me to have any part in doing so other than to write a check, which two things being not unrelated.

If I want a  home repair job done correctly, the last thing I want is to do it myself.

Kim is already knee-deep in the sorts of books and other publications that cater to such projects.  Did you know there are entire magazines devoted to nothing but remodeling your bathroom?  I am agog.  So far my only contribution has been to request a feasibility study on making the whole thing a Swedish-style wet room.  Given that the room is about six feet square with a sloping ceiling to get it to fit under the eave this is probably unlikely, but you never know.

But regardless of the existential status of taxes paid or unpaid or the destination of returned moneys, this year’s tax forms are now in the mail, heading toward the IRS.

No, I didn’t e-file.  I will probably be the last person in America who sends in their tax returns electronically. 

For one thing, I’m not in a rush – as a general rule either I am going to use the refund money in the summertime (in which case there is no pressing need to have it now) or I owe them money (in which case they can wait).  For another, as someone who spends an inordinate amount of time online I know better than to trust the internet with anything important.  Cat photos are one thing; taxes are another.

I know that I’m not supposed to like paying my taxes, but I do.  I put money into my country and I get services back – what’s not to like? 

Right now there is a President who is not actively trying to subvert the Constitution, destroy the fabric of American society or reduce the middle class to abject poverty through massive transfers of wealth to the already rich (and would that I had a governor I could say the same thing about).  The post office still exists despite the best efforts of Republicans to legislate it out of existence through unusual and inappropriate financial requirements.  We still have a strong military even though it has been thoroughly abused by two recent fantasy wars launched by the previous administration without anything like adequate planning for either combat or post-war operations.  The full weight of the federal government remains squarely behind Social Security and there is even some funding still headed toward NPR.  And so on. 

The list is long, and the benefits accrue.

Why wouldn’t I want to help fund such things?  I am not so selfish as to think that I owe nothing to the community and society in which I live.  I am not so blinkered as to deny that whatever I have made in this world it has not been by my efforts alone.  We built that; not I built that.  You make sound investments in the world around you, and you make sure they pay off.

We have forgotten that this is a nation of “We the People,” and that the government is US, not THEM.  When we follow the narrow-minded, short-sighted, ideologically juvenile, and radically selfish in their calls to abolish both government and taxation we do ourselves and our history a tremendous injury.

So I pay my share.

It’s the American thing to do.