You can’t always get what you want

28 07 2011

Completely irresponsible.

Yes, I disagree with the Republican agenda in general and the Tea Party agenda in particular. No surprise there.

And I’m not particularly happy with the Democrats, either—see my various Bam! posts—and their apparent inability even to generate an agenda (which is likely related to their lack of overall purpose).

But there are certain realities which are indifferent to ideologies and agendas, realities which include a high unemployment rate, divided government, and a wary global economy. There are, in other words, constraints on one’s aspirations, constraints which ought to discipline one’s behavior.

And yet they do not. Or, to put this another way, “limits” are apparently to be used only as an ideological battering ram by the TeaPers, rather than marking out the boundaries of a difficult debate.

Difficulty? What difficulty? We’ll simply wave our “don’t-tread-on-me-flag” and declare that our will is what is.

Why deal with reality when you are the Master of Your Own Universe?

It must be admitted, of course, that life in the real world is a little less heady, a little more complicated, and contains more than its share of frustrations. The notion of living within one’s means requires that we nail down just what we mean by “living with” and “one’s means”, and that the old Rolling Stone lyric is wrong only in that, honestly, you don’t always get even what you need.

We can change the world (the universe? not so much), but not by declaring the world changed. We have to do the work.

So, members of the House of Representatives, put down the flag and do the fucking work.

If you don’t like how and how much the government spends, you deal with that in the budget process. Want less spending? Then allocate fewer funds. Lower taxes? Ditto.

If, however, you want to increase defense spending, maintain agricultural price supports, protect subsidies for oil companies, fatten up the transportation/highway spending budget, fence out all illegal immigration, give money to survivors of tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, and fire, well, then, you have to make some decisions about those taxes.

You don’t get to say “no deficit spending” and then vote for deficit spending.

You want a balanced budget? Then produce a FUCKING BALANCED BUDGET.

And after you’ve produced an unbalanced budget, don’t pretend to have been victimized by your own actions.

Don’t say “hey, spend money on this,” and then refuse to hand over the credit card.

I’d prefer more spending: on multiple high-speed rail routes, a single-payer health plan, scientific and medical research, aggressive development of green technologies, elder care, day care, welfare, environmental protection, job (re)training, mixed- and low-income housing, education—the whole social welfarist shebang. Higher taxes, more and better services.

You want more, you have to pay more, full stop.

But maybe you don’t want to pay more. I think the anorectic approach to governance is wrong, but legitimate—or it is only legitimate if you actually lower your spending levels to match your revenues (and, frankly, if you don’t off-load any costs on to other entities). If you’re willing to tell people that they’ll receive precious little in return for the precious little they pay, then, okay.

But you don’t get say “I’ll cut—and there will be no blood.” And then double-back and proclaim your courage in dealing in “hard truths”.

Don’t paint yourself as a martyr—“I’m willing to risk my seat over this!”—for doing your fucking job, especially when you’re not doing your fucking job.

You took a job in government, a government which has obligations which predate your arrival and will incur obligations after you’re gone. Whether you like it or not, you’re responsible for those obligations.

So start acting like it.

There is power in a union

23 10 2009

Jasper’s apprenticeship is proceeding on schedule. I expect he’ll have earned full membership by the time he turns one.

Cats, in case you don’t know, have a union—global, strong, and utterly unbreakable. It is, of course, mandatory, but I’ve met to meet a cat who objects to the basic obligations of the union. And no wildcat strikes, either: the duties are immanent in all cat activities, such that there is no space or contradiction between the feline condition and the union.

Marx could have learned a thing or two from cats.

(It is also important to note the union is basically syndicalist, owing in large part to cats’  anarchist predispositions. No vanguard parties, here.)

There are various tasks which all cats must perform prior to initiation into the union (Indoor or Outdoor Division)—in Jasper’s case, Feline Union Local 226, ID (Brooklyn-East Flatbush)—as well as a selection of electives (to establish a speciality).

Jasper has mastered the following:

  • bag-diving
  • sink exploration
  • tub exploration (*note: extra points are earned if cat jumps into the litter box immediately following tub or sink exploration, thereby allowing for dirty paw-prints to be tracked about the dwelling)
  • toilet flushing inspection (*note: given the noise and generally bowl agitation, it often requires a build-up to the actual inspection, ranging from remaining in the room while toilet flushes, to jumping on lid, to actual inspection)
  • pushing pencils and/or other items from desk or table to floor
  • attacking bits of paper, fluff, or anything which might otherwise be considered garbage
  • garbage diving
  • walking across and/or standing on sensitive regions of body
  • laying in clean clothes
  • disrupting bed-making
  • jumping into chair to which human plans to return
  • batting at ankles from a hiding place
  • shoelace attacks
  • sock attacks
  • chasing string
  • chasing insects
  • poking head in refrigerator
  • jumping into open cabinet doors
  • knocking over at least one plant
  • laying in lap so as to interfere with human’s task (e.g., grading papers, completing crossword puzzle)
  • laying on book/magazine and/or otherwise interfering with reading
  • purring loudly in ear while trying to talk on phone
  • window dozing
  • successful jumps to high places
  • scooting between human’s legs to run out door
  • spewing liquid medicines over floor
  • behaving perfectly in the presences of guests
  • behaving horribly in the presence of guests
  • bogarting other cat’s food (a necessary task, but subject to punishment by other cat)
  • waking the human less than a hour before her alarm goes off
  • leaping on human’s blanket-covered feet
  • crawling into human’s lap on the hottest day of the year
  • spinning 180 degrees in air when surprised
Disrupting bed-making

Disrupting bed-making

Among tasks to be completed:

  • unsuccessful leaps into high places, preferably followed by a crash
  • mauling human when she attempts to place in cat carrier [#need has not yet arisen]
  • howling while in transit [#first trips don’t count; need for other trips has not yet arisen]
  • spitting out pills [#need has not yet arisen]
  • interrupting sex [#situation has not yet arisen]
  • singeing whiskers in candle
  • spazzing at presence of sticky item on fur
  • growling
  • breaking at least one item of human
  • laying on back, spread-eagled, in presence of guests

#While apprentices cannot be held responsible for failure of humans, they are nonetheless encouraged to manipulate humans so that tasks may be completed.

Jasper has shown a particular ability in the specialty of Technology Disruption:

  • walking across and/or standing on keyboard
  • blocking monitor from human’s view
  • rendering keyboard dysfunctional through the stomping on a particular combinations of keys
  • pulling cord(s) out of computer
  • attacking mouse
  • hitting mute button on keyboard
  • sending computer into sleep mode
  • inspecting printer output

To complete certification in his specialty, however, he’ll have to

  • turn computer on
  • turn computer off
  • jam printer

Once he achieves full membership, he may not only pursue as many specialties (including but not limited to  Nighttime Disruption, Meal Disruption, Theft & Disappearance) as he wishes, he is free to innovate in the development of new specialties.

Bean became an emeritus member (Feline Union At-Large, ID)  upon reaching her 15th year this past fall. Any participation in paper-blocking and bag-diving is therefore strictly voluntary and meant solely for her enjoyment.

We humans, of course, have zero control over and only limited bargaining power with this union. They are united and strong, and we, weak and scattered.

Which means they’ll win every time.

Teach the children well

4 03 2009

Do I go with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young—or Pink Floyd (‘Teacher, leave those kids alone!)? Do good, or try not to do harm?

Eh, I go back and forth. My colleagues Jtt., D., and I spend a fair amount of time dissecting just what is required of us as professors, both by the college and our own senses of obligation. We deplore efforts to sex up the curriculum, or to put a shiny happy face on the educational endeavor generally, but none of us is quite willing to write off what we do.

In short, we take teaching seriously.

As an adjunct, however, there are limits as to what I’m willing to do for my students or for the college. As I mentioned to a colleague at another institution, the shitty pay of adjunct-ing is somewhat compensated for the by the release from meetings: if I am paid only to teach, then that is all I will do. My current college is good about paying for adjuncts to attend enrichment seminars (perhaps at the, ah, urging, of the union), and, knowing that I have a long commute, my department chair schedules all of my courses two days a week.

That said, there are things I won’t do as an adjunct that I probably would do as a tenure-track professor. One, I refuse to correct for grammar and style. However important I think good writing is, I’m a political science prof, not a composition teacher. I grade on synthetic and analytic abilities, not syntax.

Second, I refuse to agonize over late papers. This is a recent conversion. Most students hand in work on time; a few do not. I used to believe that the principle of fairness required me to penalize the latecomers, but I’ve since decided that any ‘real’ penalty often assumed an importance disproportionate to the offense. And it was a pain in the ass to determine a fair penalty across all categories of tardiness—this one had to work, that one’s kid got sick, the other one hit a wall—when to penalize and when to waive? It was more trouble that it was worth, and I’m far more interested in the students’ mastery of the material than in their promptness in delivering proof of that mastery. That I no longer penalize lateness has had no effect on the percentage of students who hand their work in on time.

Finally, I refuse to agonize over the grading process itself. When I first started teaching, it was very important to give students plenty of feedback, to try to help them improve their performance over the course of the semester. This evolved into a practice of having students write a rough draft of the first part of a paper, which was graded and returned with about a page of notes, and then writing a complete final paper, incorporating the changes suggested in the marked-up rough draft. Only it didn’t work. Oh, one or two students would actually rewrite their drafts, but more often they would simply paste the draft into the final version—often complete with spelling and grammatical errors. I then switched to a modified version of this: I offered students the option of writing a draft (which would be graded), or just going with the final version. More than half would take this option, although, again, they often ignored the comments on the drafts. I stopped this practice completely after a student complained to my then-department chair that I gave too much feedback. Too much feedback! Fine. Done.

Were I not an adjunct, I might feel a more-than-minimal sense of responsibility to the college and the standards it was trying to raise or maintain. As such, I might reconsider how my standards do or do not match the standards of my institution. Now, however, I worry about the standards of effective teaching and whether I live up to my own understanding of those standards. That’s enough, I think.

Still, my understanding of those standards does lead me to ‘non-required’ work. My college uses Blackboard, which is a kind of online syllabus and bulletin board for students and professors. I haven’t been trained in this, so haven’t made use of it. I like the idea, however, of having some place my students could to refer to additional course-relevant resources, or even just copies of syllabi and paper requirements.

So I set up a blog for my students. Although it’s still not where I want it to be, I put in a fair amount of time and effort setting it up—time for which I will not be compensated. But if I’m to measure my performance by the standards of efficacy (as opposed to, say, institutional demands), then it’s worth that time and effort to at least try to increase or deepen that efficacy.

I like my institution, but I won’t forget that I’m in a mercenary relationship to (with?) it. Can’t say the same about my relationship with my students, however: in the classroom, good teaching reigns.