Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A literary diversion

(Found in a discarded literary text outside my office by a former teaching assistant -- I am putting it here so that I don't lose the flimsy page that it is on, since it's so amusing and, besides, has some choice words about poetry. Thanks to Grant.)

A Letter to Miss Georgiana Shipley, in memory of her pet squirrel

Dear Miss,

I lament with you most sincerely the unfortunate end of poor MUNGO. Few squirrels were better accomplished; for he had had a good education, had traveled far, and seen much of the world. As he had the honour of being, for his virtues, your favourite, he should not go, like common skuggs [squirrels], without an elegy or an epitaph. Let us give him one in the monumental style and measure, which, being neither prose nor verse, is perhaps the properest for grief; since to use common language would look as if we were not affected, and to makes rhymes would seem trifling in sorrow.


Alas! poor MUNGO!
Happy thou wert, hadst thou known
Thy own felicity.
Remote from the fierce bald eagle,
Tyrant of thy native woods,
Thou hadst nought to fear from his piercing talons,
Nor from the murdering gun
Of the thoughtless sportsman.
Safe in thy wirey castle,
GRIMALKIN [a cat] never could annoy thee.
Daily wert thou fed with the choicest viands,
By the fair hand of an indulgent mistress;
But, discontented,
Thou wouldst have more freedom.
Too soon, alas! didst thou obtain it;
And wandering,
Thou art fallen by the fangs of wanton, cruel RANGER!

Learn hence,
Ye who blindly seek more liberty,
Whether subjects, sons, squirrels or daughters,
That apparent restraint may be real protection;
Yielding peace and plenty
With security.

You see, my dear Miss, how much more decent and proper this broken style is, than if we were to say, by way of epitaph,

Lies snug,
As a bug
In a rug.

and yet, perhaps, there are people in the world of so little feeling as to think that this would be an epitaph for poor Mungo.

If you wish it, I shall procure another to succeed him; but perhaps you will now choose some other amusement.

Remember me affectionately to all the good family, and believe me ever,

Your affectionate friend,

B. FRANKLIN [dated 1772]

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Finally, some help with my grading!

For quite a while now, I've been hoping to get someone to help me with my grading. I have even thought of hiring migrant workers from down the street on New Hampshire Avenue.

Luckily, I've managed to train someone to help me. It seems like he's enjoying this new task immensely.

As you can see, I think he's doing a spectacular job. I had been planning to give this paper a B+, but Xan convinced me otherwise. Sage advice, that kid has. Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 25, 2005

Shh! The children are listening!!

Egad. According to my course's Blackboard site, my current students have discovered this blog. This is perhaps not surprising, since my sister-in-law has appropriated the domain name that matches my name and linked it to this site, therefore merely googling my name would probably allow access to this. (Other professors' names will link to books on Amazon; mine gets you this. Greeeeat.) They've probably been reading it the whole time and I've only just found out. Which means they already know too much, alas.

But perhaps not enough! And while I can control my classroom (or pretend to), I can not control the Internet. Therefore: former students, friends from high school and college, family members (with pierced nipples or without), and miscellaneous riff-raff -- feel free to dish out the dirt on me that you will. (Believe it or not, they indirectly know the passing-out-on-the-laundry-bags-at-work story -- yes, that was real -- so I'm not sure how much worse it can get.) I'm sure much of this information could be passed around quicker than you can hit the "Ctrl" and the "C" keys together. Determining fact from fiction might be fun as well; remember, class, don't believe everything you read on the Internet.

To the current students, however, I warn you now that should any of this information come up during a classroom discussion (particularly if it is an attempt to derail the class, and particularly if it succeeds), this would constitute the section in the syllabus known as "bad attitude" and you should officially consider your participation grade toast. *insert evil grin/cackling here*

Let the madness begin. (Gulp.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy tofurkey day!

Really, we're not having tofurkey -- especially after last year's tofurkey debacle. (It wasn't even a debacle. I think it's just that Angela has a problem with the whole notion of processed pseudo-meat.) We're sticking around here this year, with the Birdtowers coming over tomorrow. And what with the massive accident on I-95 this morning and the mountain of papers I have to grade, all I have to say is It's so good to stay home!!

But here's the real news: my parents have actually jumped back into the world of the Internet! It even appears that the Ann Arbor senior community they live in has a high-speed internet connection. (Those rascals!) So if you want to drop them a line, go at it!

And have some wonderful cranberries on us!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Can't win for losing

My class that had papers due today thinks that I am evil because they had to finish their papers before Thanksgiving, causing major stress.

My class that has paper due next Monday thinks that I am evil because they have to finish their papers over Thanksgiving, causing major stress while attempting to fend off the effects of tryptophan.


To counter the effects of all of this, Xan will join fellow Alexander (son of a different Angela) in seeing the crybaby screening of Harry Potter. (For those of you worried about the effects of my son attending a PG-13 film, know that his first cinematic experience at 3 weeks was Kung Fu Hustle, rated R. Yes, I know, I should be shot because I exposed my child to subtitles at such a young age.)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Crazy dad dresses boy in silly hat

...and then takes a self-picture of it. My son's expression is priceless here. Who knew that he could already communicate the phrase, "Oh, shit!"

Your dad's a freak and he dresses you goofy. Deal with it.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 18, 2005

And they didn't even see the panda cub!

First time to the zoo. So exciting. And a moo-cow sweater. Can it get any better than this?

"Look, ma! A tiger! A tree! Scaffolding! A garbage can! WOW!"

Xan, groovin' on DC's panda mania

My son plans to eat up all of my time

It appears, however, that he will start with a light appetizer of Grandpa Mackey's old pocket watch. It sure does take a lickin' and keeps on tickin'...

(If you haven't guessed by all these pictures, I finally downloaded a bunch of photographs from my camera.)
Posted by Picasa

What if we told the college students about this?

"Say, Rusty -- I hear there's a kegger at the zoo. Only guess who's hosting?"

"Paws off my Yeungling!"

Posted by Picasa

The (Halloween) Wedding Photograph

Kate Taylor and Jared Davis traditionally have a blow-out Halloween party. As they mentioned at this year's party, the fact that they were getting married didn't mean we couldn't come in costume. Hence, a costume wedding.

As requested then:

For some reason, Angela resisted my idea of a temporary tattoo that said "Eat Me." But isn't this hat the coolest? Kudos to Heather, my sis-in-law. (Oh yeah, Marc, too -- after all, I just borrowed it from them.)

Since I already bought Xan's costume for next year, we're already planning the family costume. If anyone knows a good place to find plastic horn-rimmed glasses or an adult-sized amoeba costume, let me know. (This will make sense a year from now. Stay tuned.) Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 17, 2005

If there ain't no Arrested Development...

I forgot to mention in my TV-philic post the other day that I also watch My Name Is Earl. Which is odd, because Angela and I have been quoting some parts of this week's episode to each other, leading to giggle fits. My favorite line from this week's wedding episode? Joy: "I already got the DJ. I gave him a $25 gift certificate to Patty the Daytime Hooker."

Love it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

It's not inappropriate to blog about this if the person isn't my student

The high drama that resulted today began with the following email, which I am publishing verbatim sans the student's (not the referenced professor's) name, to protect their identities:

Professor Middents,
I know your new class Movie Star is full, but I need to be in that class. I heard there are other people trying to blue card in the class too. You can just tell me to talk to the registar because let me guess "There's a fire code" blah blah blah... but you can't let them do that. I am always getting shut out of classes I want to take. You should fight for more people to get into this class. Don't you want people in your class you enjoy being there? There are always people who dont show up for classes and dont go to the screenings. If you knew me better you would want me in your class. Ask Professor [M]. He gave me a 100 in participation... I know you're impressed, not. But you have to let me in this class. I really watch all the films and participate in class. I am super fun and [M] can back that up.
Thank you for reading my rambling.


OK, then.

My reaction to this was one of bafflement. Not at the request to let someone into my class: this happens every semester in the upper-level film classes and, while I like to tell my ego it's because I'm so super-cool, I know it's because we have a number of Cinema Studies minors who need to take my courses in order to graduate. This semester, the beginning number was set exceptionally low in order to control the number of students in the course. I was surprised, in fact, that my course had clsoed with 18 students, until I found this out. Many students had already emailed me asking (begging!) to be let it. After discussing the situation with several people, I happily decided to let seven people into the class, bringing the total up to 25 with no more. (I can't really go under that amount and expect people to be happy; I also would prefer not to go over that amount to make my own life easier, plus it's a good size group for this kind of class.

No, the key here is that I don't know this person. At all. I had heard her name from a student who five minutes before had dropped by my office for help from a paper, but I did not know her. If I had been familiar with this person, it might have been different. If someone like, say, former student Rusty had written this to me, I would have probably laughed before sending back a curt reply -- but that's because he's a lush from Cape Cod who used to sell me fish. (Doesn't that sound like there should be some kind of double entendre? And there isn't!)

(Tangent: I was shooting the breeze with recent alum C and current student M in my office hours on Monday, trading drunken idiot stories. M said, "Well, when I was a freshman, this drunk guy came into my room, got undressed and though I was his girlfriend, and I kept saying, 'No, no, Russell, you're in the wrong room!'" And C and I said at the same time, "Which Russell are you talking about?!" and then laughed because we knew we were both referring to good old Rusty. Alas, this was not who M was referring to, so I can still safely pretend that Rusty is a wholesome boy -- at least I could do this if I didn't keep reading his blog regularly. But I digress.)

I find this kind of email completely inappropriate on many levels, bordering on rude. Most students thankfully don't send email like this -- and if they do, they know me and (hopefully) know how to hit the return key to write more than a single block paragraph. To a stranger, however, such flippant tone turns into brazen and unearned arrogance. The same problem often occurs with sarcasm in email, which can become dangrous offensive. I showed her email to a few other professors in the department, who all agreed that this was really uncalled for.

Here is my reply:

[X] --

Let me start with a reprimand: you should really be careful about the note of your email messages for people that you don't know. Yes, [A] just stopped in and told me you were interested in the class; the cavalier and, quite frankly, unusually aggresive tone of your email may not be intentional, but that is the way it comes across. It does not work for me and actually strengthens my reserve to keep my policy the way it is.

It is true that the class is now full and I am no longer issuing bluecards. The reason for the current cap has nothing to do with firecodes and everything to do with the quality of the class. This will be a work-intensive class with a lot of class interaction and the larger the class is, the more diffuse the energy will be. 25 students is the maximum that I believe the course will work at and that is what I am sticking with for now. Had you emailed me yesterday, you would have been guaranteed a spot. Seven people got ahead of you, however, and so now you will have to wait.

You are currently #2 on the waiting list -- someone else just emailed me right before you -- and I will let you know if someone drops the class for you to swoop in and grab their spot. If you see a space open, grab it without telling me and you're in. Stay vigilant and hopeful and you will probably be rewarded.

And next time, read over your rambling and consider how a stranger might react to your email. I'm sure you're a wonderful student, which makes it a shame that we have started off this way.

Assuming that current student A had called X the minute after she left my class, I also brought a copy to today's screening and said, "You might want to tell your friend to phrase her email a little more appropriately." A said that in fact she had not said anything to X. I thought this would be a good lesson.

Silly me to think that this was over.

When I walked out of my office, packed up and ready to head home for bathing duty, I found outside my door a crumbled, weeping woman with another professor from my department in front of my door. I assumed this woman was in the other professor's class or something, or that she was being kind at what I assumed was the result of a break-up or something.

"Are you OK?" I asked them both.

Weeping woman could not speak, she was hyperventilating. My colleague looked at me, somewhat dumbfounded.

"Are you waiting for me?" I asked, thinking that I really needed to go home.

"I think she is," said the professor.

"But I don't know who she is, she's not one of my-"


Sure enough, this was the person who had emailed me earlier, having now received my email and a phone call from her friend A, who said I was clearly pissed. (I was.)

Not one to leave a weeping student that I am the cause of in the hallway, I invited her into my office, where she eventually calmed down and, hopefully, finally udnerstood that email should not be so quickly or thoughtlessly sent.

I'm curious to know if you think I was completely out of line here. I really don't think I was, but I'm open to criticism.

Oh yes, the final question: did I bluecard her into the class? No. As stated in my email, I am full and she is now #2 on my waiting list. Tears did not change that.

Here endeth today's netiquette lesson.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Those students have no idea how fortunate they are...

...because I only decided to check my email and other blogs after I finished grading their midterms.

Because thanks to JJ, I just found out that Arrested Development has been cancelled.


On the (only) plus side, now I can watch less television. All I need is for Lost and L&O:SVU to get cancelled and then I can officially take out the bunny-ears and only use it to play DVDs.

I am actually going to try to participate in this try-to-save-it campaign. I recommend.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Not quite like the film with Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon

Yesterday, I spent all day (and by that I mean from 6:00am to midnight) working the Takoma Park municipal elections. I had worked the presidential election last year for Montgomery County because they desperately needed Spanish-speaking election judges and, in the process, I caught the civic duty bug. This time, however, I actually got to work in Takoma Park. (Last time, I just shunted off to Silver Spring. As such, I met a very surprised Chris Lewis from AU Library's Media Services.) And one of the side benefits of the venture this time about was that four of the 25 of us workers happened to live on my very own street! So now I know more neighbors. I was also lucky enough that the people who I got to work with were really a lot of fun, as we started getting punchy about a half-hour into the day. Of note to you politicos out there: Takoma Park adopted a resolution where they would not use touchscreen technology for municipal elections, so we were back to good old-fashioned paper ballots yesterday. They took forever to count, but it made the count exciting -- and people commented all day about how much they loved the paper trail.

My ward actually had a contested race which was a squeaker, and the incumbent mayor won by a good though not large margin. More fascinatingly, a write-in candidate in another ward got about a third of the votes of the officially uncontested winner of that race -- who apparently won his seat last time around as a write-in candidate. It is the write-in candidate thing that I wanted to blog about, however, because people write in the damnedest things. My favorite mayoral votes tallied last night include:
  • Mickey Mouse,
  • Vladimir Lenin,
  • Dick Cheney,
  • and, my top choice, Mai Dog.

The most amusing thing about this is that apparenly at the official results notice this evening, the poor City Clerk has to read all the names of everyone that was voted for. And naturally, this is being broadcast live on the Takoma Park city local cable channel. Tune in for what promises to be a scintillating reading.