disapproving kitty

Saturday, January 16, 2016

It's More Productive than Arguing on Facebook

I started this a couple weeks ago, but couldn't get past #2.  I finally finished it.

After wading through some fairly repulsive vitriol on Facebook tonight, which required the hiding of yet another person on my feed, I got kind of nostalgic for the early days, when we all posted things about ourselves that began with "H" or ten movies that described our lives and whatnot.
So here's ten things you didn't know about me, in lieu of more banging my head up against the latest wall of ignorant bigotry flying around.

1. I always have to shower after scooping out the catboxes because I can't stand all the dust from the litter in my hair and on my skin and all, or the smell of it in my nose.  I have a weird thing about personal cleanliness that used to be even stronger than it is now.*

2. My childhood cats were named after Rudyard Kipling characters, Shere Khan and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

3. I can't think of a third one.

4. I enjoy vacuuming and mowing the lawn because you can see the difference when you are finished. This speaks to frequency with which I do these chores, so it's apparent that saying I enjoy them doesn't actually get me to do them that often.

5. I have, somewhat by accident, come to have a collection of nesting dolls. I didn't really intend to collect them, but occasionally people find cool ones and give them to me. My favorite is a round one that starts with constellations and ends with the moon.

6. I used to tap dance when I was little. This skill once helped me land a part in a play about women who tap danced rather badly, which is my exact level of ability -- rather bad.  I am okay with this.

7. In college I had a paid gig as a writer for a theater troupe. I also got college credit for it, which I found exceptionally gratifying. It's the only time I've ever been paid for writing. There's one piece from it I'm still proud of.

8. The first movie in the theater I can recall my father taking me to see is Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I fell asleep.

9. When I was little, I had a fascination with cutaway drawings, where you got to see the insides of a structure.  I still do enjoy looking at such drawings (Stephen Biesty's books are terrific!) and I occasionally peruse catalogs of home plans, even though I have no intention of moving.**

10.  Every time I go to IKEA I imagine that it will fill me with all the joy it does everybody else. Except it never does. I find it oddly overwhelming and filled with things that I mostly don't like but feel like I should but couldn't afford even if I did. Everything there falls into the "That's maybe cool, but I don't really need to spend money on it" category. As far as I know, I'm the only American to feel this way.

*this, sadly, does not mean that I keep my house spotlessly clean. Also, this cleanliness thing is probably exacerbated by my bizarrely strong sense of smell. (Most useless superpower ever.)

**I detest moving. At most points during the moving process I would rather set all my belongings on fire and start fresh at the new place.

Party Fatigue

A friend of mine posted today about how he'd never host a party for his kids at one of those mega-kiddie-themed-complexes.  It reminded me that a while back I wrote about how much eye-rolling I had for people who threw birthday parties for their kids at such places and I have to say now that I take it back. Not because they aren't headache-inducing, ear-splitting germ-fests (they are) but because I get now that sometimes it's just a helluva lot easier to fork out money to have someone else run and clean up the birthday mess. Also, you don't have to clean your house before taking your kid to SuperHappyFunPalaceofBouncingandVideoGames. Though in all honesty, I have to admit that cleaning the house beforehand was a lot more for me than for the boys who came to the party. Given what I know about 10 year old boys, I think they would not have noticed any amount of dirt or clutter if we'd just left it where it was.
We just finished the Month of All Things Celebratory at our house, which begins with DD's birthday, rolls through Christmas and New Year's, and finally concludes with DS's birthday so the grownups around here are feeling a little bit ragged around the edges. Party fatigue.
The kids are happy, though, and DS even said that this last birthday, which involved ten little boys, pizza and Ant Man* was more fun than one he had once at the local SHFPBVG.
So that's something.


*Have you ever watched an action-hero movie with 10 4th grade boys? It's an experience.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Also, Z packs Are the Bomb

After spending three days home sick,  I can definitively say that there is nothing so content in this world than a cat sleeping on the heating blanket turned up high.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

So, Here's the Thing

So, here's the thing.

I don't own a gun. Never have. Likely never will. If you've looked at previous postings about me and guns you'll understand why, and likely agree with me that it's best for all involved that I not be in possession of a lethal weapon. I think I've gone target shooting before, though, and enjoyed it, so there's that.

But I know people who own guns, and love them, care for them, know everything there is to know about how they are crafted, designed, maintained, modified (or are modifiable), sold, registered, licensed, and regulated. They know all the ins and outs and I'm glad that they know these things because I certainly don't and honestly don't want to. There are other things that I need and want to know instead, and there's only so much time and room in my brain.

So, here's the thing.

Every time a shooting happens, people tend to line up on two sides. One side tends to be filled with people who don't like guns, and don't know a whole lot about them and shout about "common sense measures."  Except, I don't think they necessarily are "common sense measures."  Or they are, like "quit selling guns to people with homicidal rage issues" but those measures don't come with any practical way to DO it. I think that gun owners who are actually smart, safe and knowledgable about guns feel the same way about people hollering about these kinds of ideas as I felt when gun-rights folks called for laws demanding that every teacher open carry in the classroom to deter school shootings. 

Then there's the other side. The other side lines up and yells about how stupid the first side is, how their ideas are dumb, and ignorant and won't work, and 2nd Amendment! and the real problem is mental illness or what about alcohol? - that kills WAY more people and so on and so on.

Ignorance and arrogance scream at each other on both sides. We become convinced that the enemy is the American on the other side of the divide and do our best to vilify him.  We fall down the rabbit hole of social media memes, and more vitriol, ad hominem attacks, hate mongering and blaming while politicians grandstand and count your votes.

And the problem never gets solved. Hell, the problem is never actually identified properly.

So, here's the thing.

There are smart people on both sides of this debate. I know because I know them personally. Some of them are related to me, even.

Let's take two extremes off the table and agree that they're never going to happen. Anybody who mentions either as solutions gets summarily booted from the conversation.  Extreme one: no guns for anybody. Laws like England or Australia (or any other first world country where the vast majority of people aren't allowed to own firearms).  Sorry, it just isn't going to happen here.
Extreme two: everybody must have a gun. Arm everyone, all the time. Nope.  This isn't going to happen either, so let it go.

Now then.

There's some middle ground. See it? It's over there. It's all muddy, though, so watch your step.

And here's the problem:
Some people should not have access to guns†.
How do we figure out which people those are, and how do we keep them from having access to guns?

That's it. That's the thing.

Unless you have a concrete, plausible, practical, usable, legal, implementable solution, then you need to hush. Solutions proposed without supporting evidence will be returned for revision. Solutions containing logical fallacies will be fed to the dog.

You have your assignment, folks. Due date: yesterday.

*Or maybe they do.  Maybe they've spent passionate hours learning everything about something they detest. I don't function that way, but some people probably do.
†If you disagree with this, then you don't need to be part of the conversation.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Welcome Back?

I was going to call this post "Taking Another Stab at Things" but when I looked at it, I realized that it was a pretty bleak looking title, and might give folks the wrong impression.  I mean, I saw when logging in that the last time I wrote was about this time last year, probably in an attempt to stave off writing my holiday newsletter, which is what I'm doing right now.  I really need to write more often.
I've sat here thinking a bit, writing and deleting multiple times, about what to write.  I've been home, sick, for two days with far too much time to ponder the inadequacies of my navel, and this is not the best for writing chipper Holidailies entries. The prompt for today was something about which Christmas song do I love to hate or hate that I love.  The one that comes to mind is "Baby, It's Cold Outside" which I think most of my friends detest either because they just do*, or because they've decided to go with the modern re-interpretation that the guy in it is pressuring the woman and not taking no for an answer, and possibly roofie-ing her drink. (I just had to go look up the spelling of "roofie."  This is how not-in-touch with urban slang I am.) I know that when the song was created, it did not have this meaning, and, in fact, the drink in question was not even alcoholic, much less roofied, thus the joke in the song. Mostly, I like songs with counterpoint and good harmony, and I think the scene where Zoe Deschanel and Will Farrell sing it in Elf is adorable.
I like "Elf," too.  Sue me.
So that's the song that I not very secretly like that lots of people hate.
I rather feel the same way about "Love, Actually." There is an annual tug of war about this movie, and people I love and respect would like to see all copies of that movie shredded, burned, buried, dug up and set on fire again. I find that several of the storylines are completely implausible, kitschy, and have anti-feminist elements**. However, if that were the standard for all romantic movies, there would be none. (Which I'm sure would be fine with many people.)
Maybe tomorrow I'll try for a post about my life, or a rough draft of the annual newsletter.  I'm planning to go back to work tomorrow, though, so it's more likely to be a one-sentence update on the state of my cats.
Happy Holidays.


*Which is completely legit.  It's okay to just not like things.
**And why they cut the same-sex storyline defies understanding.  It was brilliant.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

It's Just a Matter of Trust

We are coming to that time of year when the kids are amped up to 11 and little gifts and handmade cards start appearing on teachers' desks and everyone is counting down the days to something. I don't make a big deal out of it, but I love those little gifts, and especially the cards that say "Thank you for teching me about tichnology becase i think it is relly intersting and I want to be a computer spechulist." Those are the best.  They make me feel loved and valued and trusted.
It's a big thing, to be trusted by a child.  Trusted that I am doing the best I can to help them become the best they can.  All of us, I hope, can remember a teacher like that.  Hopefully we can all remember more than one.  Teachers we loved, and some we didn't like so much but they did teach us something and, yes, probably a handful who weren't so hot.  Maybe they were at a bad point in their lives or were just marking time till retirement, or one who'd been pulled just three months earlier from 20 years of teaching Driver's Ed and told he'd be leading College Prep 10th grade history since they'd cut his program.  Poor bastard.  I can feel for him now, though I couldn't when I was 15 and didn't know any better.

Those lousy apples, they were few and far between, and in truth, I knew no teachers who were truly awful.  And even if I didn't like them, for the most part, I trusted them.  So did my parents.  So did the community.  We trusted teachers to teach us, and grade us on what we'd learned, and honestly decide if we should move on to the next grade.  Not an infallible system, to be sure, but one that relied on professional people doing what they'd been trained to do, with both the objectivity of the professional lens and the subjectivity of humanity to know when maybe the test wasn't going to cut it.

Teachers knew that when parents came in at conferences and said "We're getting a divorce" that the best anyone could hope for was that their child would be upright and breathing at the end of the year and the learning would have to come later.  They knew that the 15 year old sobbing in the back of the room because her boyfriend had just dumped her might have known every answer 20 minutes ago, but would know nothing now.  They knew that two and a half hours on a single test in a single sitting was way too long for anyone under the age of 15, and maybe even then, so they wouldn't even think of doing such a thing. They knew all this, and so much more. And we trusted them.

When was it that we stopped trusting teachers?

Sure, I suppose you could point to the few bad apples and say they're to blame, but I'd defy you to find me a profession, ANY profession without its slackers, incompetents and just plain jerks.  Find me a profession where those people aren't in the ranks of power, protected by connections, or just lost in the noise of the big corporation.  Tearing a profession to pieces on the basis of a few poor performers defies logic.  Refusing to trust any teacher because one might be bad defies reason.  That isn't it.

When did we stop trusting teachers?

Perhaps it was when "A Nation at Risk" came out, pummeling America's educational system, showing with facts and charts and impressive statistics that we ranked near the bottom of, well, everywhere in the known universe educationally and couldn't think our way out of a wet paper sack. Maybe that's where it began.  Only, it wasn't true.  Just like "The Bell Curve," which proved beyond doubt that white people were smarter than black people wasn't true. In the case of the latter, the authors had forgotten to sort for poverty.*  Minorities are over-represented at the low end of the socio-economic-scale, you see.  When all of Murray's results were sorted out by economic levels, it turned out that black kids were as or more intelligent than their white counterparts.  Like "The Bell Curve," "A Nation at Risk" was comparing apples to kumquats, and when you sort for poverty, US kids, and US schools hold their own.  We don't have an education crisis in America.  We have a poverty crisis.  Education is part of that crisis, to be sure, and as long as we fund schools through property taxes, it's going to continue.

So why did we stop trusting teachers?

Was it because legislators looked at poverty and knew there was no way to sell it?  There's no way to tell constituents that we need to fix poverty and we don't know how, so let's see who else we can blame?  Or was it because legislators looked at public schools, the places that could be a magic bullet against poverty, and decided instead that they could become a means to funnel ungodly amounts of money to their private donors?  Testing is BIG business.†  Testing costs a fortune. Private companies make the tests.  They grade the tests, they compile the reports, they keep ALL of it a secret.  Teachers, they send the tests home.  They grade them and send them home for parents to see for themselves what it is their children can do.  But test companies, those same companies who fund campaigns, do not.

So why do we not trust teachers?

When was it that we decided that the evaluation system we have built and have kept improving upon since schools began wasn't good enough to determine if teachers were doing their jobs?  How was it determined that looking at how a group of 9-year-olds can do on a single test, given over 2 1/2 hours in a one day, can determine not only the sum total of what knowledge they gained in a year, but also whether or not the teacher was the one responsible for it?  A teacher can be judged adequate or no based upon a test given to fewer than 10 of her students.  Through the magic of statistical manipulation, the test results from a tiny number of students can be used to determine just how good she is or isn't. We have put our faith into numbers, but as Mark Twain once said "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."  This is where we have put our trust.

When did we stop trusting teachers to know when a child wasn't ready to move forward?  Failing one of these tests can mean a child is held back an entire grade.  A test the teacher doesn't see.  A test the parents don't even get to see.  All the faith we used to put into teachers is now in the hands of these testing companies, who are paid through public funds, and who heavily lobby (read: fund) legislators.
Most of you are saying right now "I DO trust my children's teachers."  And, in fact, you do.  I would even bet that you trust most of them a lot more than you trust your representatives at the State Capitol and in our Nation's Capitol?**  You trust teachers to do right by your child, and you should be asking asking their leaders, and their leaders' leaders, all they way to the Statehouse-- "Why do you not trust teachers?  Why are we testing our children like this?  Who does it benefit? What does this testing tell us that we couldn't know from having our teachers simply doing their jobs as we trust them to do?"

There is a parable about a frog in a pot of cool water.  If the water warms gradually, he stays put.  Were it to heat suddenly, he'd spring out to freedom. But with a slow heat creeping about him, he would complacently stay until it was too late, cooking to death when the water began to boil.

It used to be that testing days in Ohio -- those days of immense stress and anxiety -- was only two days long for 3rd grade. Now it has jumped to eight.  Eight days.  From three days for 4th and 5th graders to ten.  TEN days spent on high-stakes testing.  The water is beginning to boil.

Why are we doing this?

Is it because you don't trust teachers?

Is it because you trust politicians more than you trust teachers?

I don't think so.

It's time to start asking the hard questions, and deciding whom you trust.



*They'd also used a lot of data from questionable sources. To read more, you can start here.
**To find out who your State Representatives are, you can go here.  For National ones, try here and here.
†To find out more about testing, try here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Reason for the Season

A few weeks ago, my school's principal made a blog post (He communicates staff info via blog post.  It was 3 weeks into the school year when I discovered this and realized I'd been missing the weekly updates because of it. I am not with the times.) about not leaving the non-Christians out of our annual December celebrations.  Between this and the edict that holiday parties were to be no longer than an hour (plus a recent dearth in the number of room-parents to put the parties together) there has been some grumbly talk in the staff room about the true meaning and all.
 My first thought was that it a pretty cool message for him to post, so I shared with the staff how I saw "Christmas" celebrated in both India and Turkey, both decidedly non-Christian-dominant countries.
In both cases, Christmas was a fairly secular affair, with a parade in Delhi featuring both Santa Claus and a Charlie Chaplin impersonator as the main attractions of a giant parade.  They threw candy to the onlookers, and I have to say, in all fairness, that it was the most disgusting candy I've ever tasted.  If this had been my childhood experience with Christmas, I'd have boarded up the fireplace at an early age.  But the local children seemed pretty happy with it, so maybe it's a cultural thing. In Turkey, Christmas had been conflated with New Year's, and was celebrated on the 31st, with feasting and merrymaking at restaurants or private parties in people's homes. In neither case, unsurprisingly, was the birth of Jesus ever mentioned.
This was unsurprising because one country is predominantly Hindu and the other Muslim. Besides which, December 25th has absolutely no relation to the birthdate of Jesus anyways, so it really shouldn't bother anybody.  (If you don't believe me, Google it.  Biblical scholars are abundant on this topic.)
So if it's not Jesus' birthday, what's the Reason for the Season?
It's the same reason that Hindus and Muslims are celebrating the primary holiday for a religion they don't believe in:  it's cold and dark out.
It's December.  This far north it's cold, even in India.  It gets dark around 5 pm and doesn't get light again till way to late in the morning.  Skies are grey, it rains and snows a lot, the wind is harsh and people are grumpy.
It has been like this for a long time.  4000 years ago when the people in the fledgling stages of what would become civilization developed calendars, they knew that these were the shortest days of the year.  The last of the harvests were in, the fatted animals were all slaughtered, dried and salted, wine and beer were finally fermented, the ground was cold and covered with snow and there was nothing to do but wait it out till the days grew longer again.  Food stores were full, days were short, and I can imagine many huts full of women sick to death of bickering children who could not run around outside and play enough.  So why not have a celebration?  On the 22nd of December or so, something truly wonderful happens.  The days start to get longer again.  The sun begins its long, slow return.
So why not have a celebration?  Without something to look forward to, Winter is a time of unmitigated cold, hunger, misery and depression.  (This would be the month of February in Ohio.  We really need some kind of festival come the end of February. Someone needs to start a petition.)
The early druids knew this and celebrated Solstice.  So did the Chinese and members of other East Asian cultures.  The Romans had Saturnalia, and I'd be willing to bet that there are equivalent celebrations in the histories of every Northern Hemisphere culture settled far enough above the equator to notice the cold and shortness of days, and every Southern Hemisphere culture mid-June.
We celebrate in December because we need to.
In 336 C.E., Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor declared Jesus' birthday to be December 25 and co-opted the Solstice holiday from every other religion around.  Everyone was celebrating then anyway, so why not give the feasts a spin that gave a boost to his reign?
Today, in America, Christmas is a largely secular and commercial affair, with stores putting out Christmas displays along with back-to-school sale items, playing holiday music before Halloween and starting sales on Thanksgiving when everyone knows the only people who should be working are the police, fire department, hospital workers and movie theater employees.
It's about being festive on the darkest days of the year and knowing that good things will eventually come again.  That's something we should be able to celebrate in schools without anybody getting offended unless they want to be.
Food. Light. Friendliness. Giving. A little time off.
I can get behind that.
Whatever is *your* Reason for the Season, may it be celebrated with warmth, love and peace.
But seriously, I'm not kidding about that February thing.