Friday, September 30, 2016

On intellectual curiosity

I tend to worry at that "but you aren't interesting enough" thing. For me, that's one of my buttons....the idea that I'm a boring person. I don't WANT to be a boring person, but because I'm dependable and keep a consistent schedule (which I actually NEED in order to feel like the world isn't going to fragment into a million pieces and fly apart) and because I have decidedly non-mainstream interests....I tend to "read" as boring to the average person, I think.

I don't know. I know I shouldn't care. I'm generally interesting to myself, and I suppose that's what should matter.

Also, the tiny part of me that's a little contrarian says: "If your students aren't intrigued and interested by the topics you're covering and how you try to relate them to everyday life, that means they're insufficiently curious"

Which could be true. I know everything I read that is even very slightly factual has my brain going, "wait, what about $thing-tangentially-mentioned-here?"

For example, one of the papers I read the other day talked about an Iva annua dominated herbaceous community in Oklahoma, and how it had not been widely studied, and this is a plant species I had never known until I moved down here, but I've seen it at some field sites....so I got curious about it. And I looked it up, to see what research had been done on it (Not much, at least of an ecological nature). But there's some in the archaeological literature - apparently it was used as a food plant (the seeds of it) in pre-Columbian times here, and it's thought maybe it was cultivated.

And that led me to a paper on paleofeces, which I admit set my inner 12-year-old to giggling. And in a way, yeah, if you thought too hard about it, dissecting fossilized (or otherwise preserved) human feces for a living would be kind of awful....but at the same time, being able to find out what people who left no written records ate is kind of interesting. And just the idea that paleofeces is a thing. (And it reminds me of another paper I ran across while researching soil invertebrates: a study done of invertebrates found in the, uh, "deposits" under park service pit-toilets. Which would be worse than paleofeces because they would be fresher.)

And in the mystery novel I'm currently reading, there was a reference to Swan Vestas. I got from context that they were matches, but it was surprising that a specific brand was mentioned (as far as I can tell, it has no particular bearing on the mystery; it does not seem to be a clue). But it tells me something about UK/American differences: I doubt there's a brand of match here so widely used and so well-known it would be referred to by brand name in a story. And also, differences in the times: this novel is set in the 1930s where smoking was far more common (though there is reference made to "non-smoking first-class carriages" on trains), and so apparently more people carried matches. (Also, I suppose it was the days before reliable lighters were common. The v. few people I have known who were regular smokers seemed to carry lighters instead of matches with them.)

I also admit I'm surprised to see they're still made. I tend to think of those kinds of things as vanished brands.

But that whole kind of rabbit-hole thing, where one random reference in a book gets me looking something up: I guess most people don't do that? But I do get interested in stuff. And I have a lot of interests, which is why the stack of books beside my bed include ones on World War I, the end of the last Ice Age in North America, early human species, the Atlantic Ocean, how introverts differ from extroverts, and a book called "Eat this Book" by Eugene Peterson which I picked up because I always found his "Message" translation of the Bible intriguing (It was the one I used with the teen youth group and I admit some of the passages in it made me look at them differently from the New English or New International versions I was more used to). I have enough interests that it's hard for me to focus on just one thing. (And I admit, for my pre-bed reading, I don't like doing anything TOO closely allied to my work or else it can get my mind churning and I don't sleep well).

But I don't know. I care about these things, care about some of them passionately, and it frustrates me to think of people dismissing me as "boring" because I don't care about the same things they do.

Also, the "little part of me that's a contrarian" says that people maybe need to look at themselves when they condemn someone else as boring. (But it's only a LITTLE part of me that's a contrarian because I generally score higher on the "agreeability" index - or whatever that measure of personality is called - than is probably good for me.)

Well, at least...

I am getting some stockinette stitch knitting done, courtesy of New Rule. Working more on the current "simple socks," and then last night I pulled out a cowl I've had on the needles for something like a year and a half - it's just all stockinette, knit of Kidsilk Haze.

I read a few papers on Oklahoma prairie which give me some ideas for the talk, and last night read some on monarch butterfly conservation and now I also probably have a paper in mind for the next time I teach Senior Seminar and need to do a paper discussion. (In academia, sometimes you have to play the very long game).

I dunno. I guess I feel a little less dumb (or maybe it was dulness I was feeling). If I were better at fooling myself, I'd say I'd made progress.

I'm tired though and sick of dealing with people. I have people struggling in one of my classes. One is coming in to see me this afternoon and I don't know what I'm going to say to them about it; it seems to me almost to be the point where dropping the class might make more sense but there is no good tactful way to approach that.

The other person has been making demands of me. This is someone who, because of their background, seems to have been raised to think of themselves as special and deserving of extra-special treatment and of course a faculty member would come in in hours outside of normal class or work time to provide extra one-on-one tutoring.

Which I won't do, for several reasons:

a. In this day and age, it's a very, very, very bad idea to be alone in a building or even a room (if the door isn't open and other people aren't around) with a student. Too good a chance of someone deciding to say something happened that didn't happen.

b. I'm salaried. I get paid for just over 40 hours of work a week. I put in over 40 hours many weeks and I'm not going to put in CLEARLY extra.

c. I hold ten hours of office hours per week, and I am also willing to make (business-hours) appointments with people. The student in question is either in class or in practice during ALL the times (apparently) I am NOT in class between 7 am and 6 pm.

I dunno. Because, as I've said before, I'm so firmly in Guess Culture ("do not ask for something that seems to put the other person out, do not ask for things where it seems likely the answer is going to be no") I often wonder, when I have to say "no" to someone's request, if I'm being utterly unreasonable.

Of course, I can look at (a) above and tell myself, that because our world is (imho) currently fallen so far I am solely protecting myself....

But still, I get so tired some times of the level of expectation I hear. I had someone in another class ask me if I couldn't type up the stuff I say in class and distribute it (yes, instead of them taking notes). First of all, it doesn't work that way - I don't work from notes, I've been doing this too long for that, and sometimes I will use different examples each semester, and the time I would spend writing stuff up (even if I could remember exactly what I said in class) would take away from other things I need to do.

But secondly: there have been abundant studies showing that writing stuff down yourself (and WRITING - not typing, not recording) actually helps you learn and remember it. I KNOW this is true of me, to the point where I take notes when I am in seminars or talks even when they don't really have a lot of bearing on my own research, because it helps me to pay attention.

I don't know if this is a "times have changed" thing or a "people who become professors were oddball students" thing but I do see that occasionally - someone who fundamentally is saying, "Do all the work for me so I can get my diploma and get a job that pays better than the one you have"

I also had someone imply that my "review sheets" should be copies of the exam given ahead of time, rather than lists of topics to study or figures in the book that should be examined. I want to say, but don't, that when I was a student we didn't even GET review sheets - our notes were our review sheets. And anyway, it's totally dishonest to give a copy of the exam ahead of time....if I'm gonna do something like that, it's gonna be a take-home exam, it's gonna be long and hard and require outside research.

I don't know. I hope this isn't the semester that breaks me. I've got 13 years to go before I can retire with full benefits and I really need to be able to stick it out.

I also have to say, about cell phones: except for the fact that they're great if you're out in the field or if your car breaks down, I pretty much hate them. I had to hassle someone more than once to put away their cell phone this week. I know the usual argument about that is "If you were only more interesting...." but if I were interesting enough to compete with facebook or whatever it is, I'd be in an entertainment job where I'd be making at least five times what I do now.

I don't know what we'll do once they develop implantable ones. I hope I'm retired by then.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Everyone's so angry

I know, I know, I know the old saying: "if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

Well, dangit, I'm tired of paying attention. Most of the bad stuff going on is stuff I can do hang-all about. The stuff I can control (mainly: how I treat other people), I do.

So instead, I look for fun things.

This has caught my attention (And yes, it's all over the internet right now, and you don't have to click play if you totally hate it):



That makes me laugh every time I see it.

A couple thoughts:

a. I think part of my enjoyment of it is that I realized it was a guy playing a character - this is a comedian and the "character" in the video is apparently a DJ character he does. Sort of like a more benign and sillier version of "Borat."

b. I wonder if there's some linguistic joke in there, if the guy is playing on the fact that (to a non-English speaker) "Apple-pen" sounds kind of like pineapple, and yeah, "pineapple" is a kind of a silly name for that particular fruit. (In French and in German, the fruit is called Ananas, which is the genus name of it, so that makes more sense. I THINK the genus name was derived from a Native word in the place it came from, meaning "excellent fruit.")

c. I just like things that are silly and nonsensical and don't appear to have any deeper meaning.

I admit, though, because I tend to be a little dense about some of the more edgy or out-there double entendres, I thought I better check up to be sure there isn't any meaning behind the song that would make people go "Ew, gross! What kind of a kink must you have to like THAT song?"

As far as I can tell: No, it's just as simple as silly wordplay. (And confirmation that the guy is playing a funny character - so it's OK to laugh at the character because you're not actually making fun of the guy)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Instituting "new rule"

Yes, once again.

At one point in time I had a rule where I would spend one hour per day working on research (giving myself Sundays off, and usually Wednesdays or whatever other "wharrgarrrbllll I'm teaching for six hours straight" day I had off). This could include setting up research, collecting data, data entry, writing, or even just reading articles related to my research. (I don't read enough these days. At least not enough not-stupid stuff).

So, as part of my "Halt My Personal Stupidification in 2016 (well, what's left of it)" campaign, I'm reviving the rule.

Off to head home with a stack of articles and a plan to read them. And the same tomorrow, the same Friday.....and maybe I can let the butterfly workshop thing count for Saturday, seeing as I will be making some contacts.

But maybe this will be what it takes to:

a. Make me stop feeling like I'm getting dumber and

b. Make me stop feeling like I'm lazy and not achieving anything work-related.

Yes, arguably I do push myself too hard, but when all I have to guide myself in adulthood is "making it up as I go along," it's really hard to know what's enough, what's too little, or what's too much. (I was going to say "what's right and what's wrong," but I think I have a reasonable handle on right and wrong, at least in a moral perspective. Not being incarcerated suggests that I am at least reasonably successful at THAT)

a little better

Got some work towards the talk done already and found some good sources this morning.

But I do wonder if I'm getting stupider - or if my attention span is tanking. I can't tell if it's simply age (I am circling the drain of 50....I turn 48 in February, which has me asking myself, "How the H did that happen?") or if it's the meds I'm on (too many antihistamines plus a beta blocker is probably not good for brain function and I hope I don't pass my "golden years" in a highly impaired state because of them) or if it's too many distractions (meetings, more paperwork, the internet close at hand and surfing Ravelry is more fun than reading technical papers) or if it's some kind of burnout (I've been at this job 17 years and this year, with its budget cuts, darn near broke me).

Or it could be allergies, I don't know. I hear one of my colleagues coughing and clearing his throat repeatedly and I know he has the same allergies as I do but his seem to manifest purely as physical symptoms, whereas mine seem more to affect my mood/alertness/concentration. (Which is so not fair. I'd rather have a nose that ran like a faucet and be able to think through an equation without having to write it down and look hard at it)

I also have a student who is kind of breaking me. This is someone that I think has concentration issues (undiagnosed, but they do seem to have attention span problems) and they have a habit of stopping class DEAD IN THE WATER when they are confused, and having to stop and go back and explain what symbol I just used for the nth time or rewrite something that I apparently didn't write quite unambiguously enough breaks my train of thought to the point where I have to stop and mentally rewind the past few minutes to pick up again where I was. I'm hoping and praying I don't some day lose my stuff in class and chew the person out (or, more likely for me - answer the question but in a very curt and bitten-off voice that conveys I'm ticked off).

I will also confess that feeling reduced hopes for the future doesn't help. My attitude has shifted over the years from "good things are probably around the corner" to "what fresh Hell is this?" Part of it is what I see as the gradual (or not-so-gradual) coarsening and increasing meanness of the culture. Part of it is changes in how academia works that means I put in more time on tasks that don't feel meaningful to me. Part of it is worries about "Will I actually be able to retire (even at 70) like my parents did and enjoy maybe a few years of doing what I want to do instead of what I must do?" Part of it is just geopolitical worries, or worries that I will be somewhere that is visited by the random violence that seems to be a part of life in the 2010s and thus my worries about "will I be able to afford to retire" will never materialize. (I probably need to see a lawyer and get a more-formal will than the thing I scribbled in a notebook when my stomach issues got so bad in January that I was afraid I'd be taken in for surgery).

Ironically, I ran across this article after following a link on Twitter and yes, that makes sense. I've had some very long weeks that felt good because I achieved "mission critical" stuff, but lately, I've had a lot of weeks that just felt long because I was filling out online forms I must now file, or sitting in meetings, or dealing with making arrangements for people who have problems, and have little time for work that feels meaningful to me. I don't know how to get that back; one of the things about modern academia is that students are less in a "sink or swim" environment and more in a "professors are expected to take on the role of pool noodles and floaties" environment, and as I've abundantly complained, I spend a lot of time propping other people up and I am left with little energy to prop myself up. (And I have few people willing to put any effort into propping me up. I don't know if that's a side effect of whining too much lately - the old Boy Who Cried Wolf problem, or a side effect of having, in the past, been too independent, but I'm in a bad place right now where I need some emotional support but feel I am not getting it.)

Part of it is the realization that those I am closest to won't be here forever - the people I care about the most in the world are aging. (Well, we all are, but you know what I mean). Yes, I have my brother, but he has his own family and our lives have kind of diverged in their paths. It's not that we're not "close" or are estranged or anything - it's just, we're both super busy and live a thousand miles apart so we're just not in contact much.

I dunno. I hope the Saturday trip up to learn about the monarch migration helps.

I hope the freeze we eventually will get will kill off some of the mold and pollen and that will help.

I wish I could get better about balancing work and life so I didn't feel guilty sitting down to knit a little but also that I could get more done at work.

What I need

Some better way of relieving work-stress than 'getting the stuff stressing me out done'

Because I can't get stuff done fast enough for that to work the way it once did.

(Really hoping I'm not developing something like ADD. I know it can happen to adults but my ability to concentrate on stuff is not what it once was. And now I'm wondering if there are any over-the-counter things that could help so I don't have to do the whole round of SRS MEDS and having to "dial in" a dosage and feel like crud for maybe months while that is figured out.....)

***

Also, one tiny epiphany while I was brushing my teeth, though I'm not sure if this is just me justifying things: I realized some of the people who have published a lot more are also people who have never taught during the summer, and I always have taught during the summer.

well, that's going to change next year, because I've decided my time is worth more than adjunct pay. And while I suppose it looks like shooting myself in the foot (some money is better than no money), I'm not teaching next summer and am doing research instead. So we'll see. If the upshot of them instituting PTR is that more research is expected of us, they're going to see people declining to do things they don't "have" to do, even if it means a smaller paycheck, so they can chase the elusive publications.

(I still love teaching but there is a lot about academia that I'm quickly becoming disillusioned about. Perhaps this is the form my midlife crisis takes? And if so, I'm a late bloomer with it, like with everything else - I'm closer to 50 than to 40 at this point.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Had a bad day

So it started off with getting stung.

And then I had a bunch of e-mails from students with (documentable) problems, some sad, some not so sad, but that mean I have to make some accommodations.

Gave a quiz in my class. The average grade was 50%. This was not a pop quiz; it was pre-announced, promoted as "practice for the exam." A review sheet was given. I was available for questions beforehand. So I don't know. My confidence as a teacher is kind of shaken even as I wonder if maybe it's more that the students aren't preparing hard enough. (A couple people did earn a perfect score, but only about 3% of the class). I did go over it (and post the grades after I graded them) and did a review with the rest of the hour so hopefully people will study more for the exam that's coming up.

And then my grant supplies came, but when I passed the information on to the person with the power to order them, there was a mis-communication and the wrong item was ordered. It's an item I can use on the project and actually kind of need, and shipping it back would eat up an inordinate amount of the remaining funds, so I just re-ordered the thing I need.....which runs $5 over the grant. Which could lead to one of three outcomes:

a. The department or the university "eats" the $5, no biggie
b. The Business Office calls me up and tells me to remit $5 to them to make up the difference. No biggie but a bit of an embarrassment to me
c. I'm in big, big trouble and have broken some rule that is technically insubordination or embezzlement or something....and it could be very, very bad.

Option c is extremely unlikely but I'm enough of a worrier (and enough of a Twilight Sparkle) to dwell on it and to wonder how I'd defend myself if called on the carpet. Could I point to seventeen years of kind-of exemplary service? Could I fall flat on my face and beg mercy?

This is why I never break rules; I'm too afraid of the worst-case scenario. I'm going to have bad dreams about this until I find out (after the first of the month) if I'm in the clear. And yeah, I do kind of worry about "secret rules" where there's something I've not been told about because there HAVE been a few situations where someone changed a rule, didn't notify me, and then I got chewed out for not abiding by the rule I didn't know about. And I dislike being chewed out and I admit I'm sensitive enough that it hurts a lot, even as I am going, "but this isn't my fault because I was going by the rule I knew and no one told me it had been changed!" And it does feel very unfair and hung-out-to-dry when there's a new rule you don't know about, couldn't have known about, but you're reprimanded for not following it...

Then, I read some of the promotion packets of colleagues. Woecakes. How did I ever make full professor? Shoot, how did I ever earn tenure? I've done NOTHING compared to these folks. I'm a lazy bum. So I spent most of the day feeling bad about that. And now worrying about post-tenure review: If they're looking to downsize, I'm the one who'll be getting the piece of paper with the black spot on it.

And yeah, yeah, I'm trying to tell myself:

1. You only see other people's "outsides" and you only ever see your "inside" so other people don't see the giant ball of insecurity and procrastination you are, they only see that you have, in fact, published *a little* (though one of the people whose packet I read has had three papers out *this year*) and that you get decent evals (though I also question those; there's a study suggesting they're worth very little other than as a popularity contest*)


(*And isn't it ironic. I finally gain some measure of long-desired "popularity" when I really need evidence that I am actually *good,* not just *popular*. Don't wish for ANYTHING kids, you might get it when you least need it)

2. I can't even remember what I was going for for 2 here....maybe something about comparing yourself to other people isn't good? But the problem is, it's hard not to... I don't know. I know there will always be people "better" than me, but I wish they weren't so MUCH better.

I tried to work on the talk I'm to give the first part of November (because that will come faster than I can imagine) but am kind of stalled. I have a kind-of, sort-of outline and I sort of know where I need to go for background but right now am feeling stuck and kind of overwhelmed.

And I had to make a long distance call and found my cell phone had somehow got turned on and had almost run out of charge. (And there's no way to do it that I know of from the office phones any more; I think the long-distance codes got taken away from us because someone abused them).


At least the call went through and I am registered for a weekend workshop (Monarch banding, and yes, you can band Monarchs and they do) which will also give me a contact person to talk to for some information about the talk I am to give....


But yeah. I really hate Tuesdays. If one day of the week is going to be a trashfire, it's going to be a Tuesday. Mondays I can handle but it's usually Tuesday that sneaks up behind me and punches me in the kidneys.

And now I need to go home and do the workout I was supposed to do this morning but decided I "needed" another hour of sleep instead of, and try to do some more piano practice. I really kind of want to just crawl under a quilt and hide but being an adult means you keep going even when you don't want to.

Some of this is pre-research stress. I don't like the uncertainty of "new" research because this is me:





Though I don't know. I was mentioning that to a colleague - that I feel like "I have no idea what I'm doing" and another colleague butted in and said, "That's how research is supposed to feel."

Really? The sense I get from watching everyone else is that this is them:




And this is me:




So, I don't know. Maybe everyone feels like that second .gif and everyone else is a champ at hiding it and I am not.

But also, the fear of failure is strong with me and research is prime risk-for-failure territory.

wasps are jerks

My finger is hurting worse now and more swollen. My colleague the MD seemed somewhat concerned until I told him I never had allergic reactions (and the sting happened at 7 am and I am breathing fine right now, so). He suggested a baking soda paste on the sting but of course do we have any in any of the labs? No.

I suppose an MD would be more concerned than a field biologist; stings for us are a fairly common occurrence and our reaction is more along the lines of "cuss a little and slap some mud on it" whereas an MD might actually have SEEN someone in anaphylaxis. 

Then again, I did once see someone in the BEGINNINGS of it - way back in grad school, my group was out in the field (I THINK it was Plant Ecology class, it was my first semester because L. was still there - she dropped out in second semester to follow a boyfriend to his new job, which I really hope worked out for her). Anyway, L. had never been stung by a wasp or bee, and we were out in the field and she got stung. As we were walking back to the van, she complained that her throat itched. One guy in the class was an EMT and he basically told the prof in charge to "get her to an ER as fast as you safely can" so that is what the prof did - drove all of us in a 15 passenger can FAST on the back roads back from the field site. (If it were me? I probably would have left the rest of the class in the field - there was a TA to supervise - and come back for them). The EMT did keep reassuring her on the way that "I know how to do an emergency trach if it gets that bad." (though I doubt we had the actual equipment needed. Probably someone had a knife that would have worked as a scalpel, but no tube and no way to sterilize). Anyway, we got to the ER in time, she got whisked in, and we got taken back to campus. Later on she said they gave her megadoses of steroids and that fixed things - but also told her she was lucky that it was a "first reaction" because apparently anaphylaxis can come on faster with repeated exposures, and she hadn't developed a full-blown reaction.

And yeah, that's like one of my field-lab nightmares - that I get someone who doesn't reveal their allergy until AFTER they've been stung, and I'm faced with "call 911 or try to get to the ER." I think in this day and age the answer is "call 911 and give really good instructions as to where you are" and then wait; when L. got stung this was back in the early 90s and no one had cell phones, and we were a good distance from the nearest farmhouse, so it seemed faster to just try to get her to the ER on our own.

But yeah. Wasps are jerks. They sting more readily than bees and they are neither pretty like many bees are nor are they beneficial to humans like many bees are -many wasps are predators, and in fact, some are predatory on butterfly caterpillars, which just seems like jerk behavior to me.

(Yes, I am being rampantly anthropomorphic and speciesist, I don't care. My finger hurts, so shut up.)

At least piano is rescheduled for Thursday so if I even don't feel up to practicing more today I am probably okay.


Learned someting today

Wasps can sting even if they're cold. But the sting isn't as bad.

We had temperatures in the fifties here this morning. When I opened my door to leave for work, it was still dark (THANKS SO MUCH DAYLIGHT "SAVING") and I didn't see that a wasp of some kind (not sure what species; wasn't a hornet, I know that much) had crawled between my screen door and my front door. It was on the doorpost and I didn't see it (THANKS SO MUCH DAYLIGHT "SAVING") and I brushed against it and it stung me on the top of my index finger.

My first reaction was "shoot, there's something sharp on the door frame - would a bit of peeling paint be that sharp?" and then it was "OH CRAP COULD THAT HAVE BEEN A BLACK WIDOW" (I have had them on the door before). Then I saw the wasp.

My next thought was: "Lord, don't let my increased allergies in the past 10 years include a new bee-sting allergy" because those can be BAD. The last time I was stung by more than a little halictid bee, it was while doing my doctoral fieldwork - we got into a nest of hornets and I got stung 10 or 12 times on my arm. At that point, the only bad after reaction was that my arm was very sore the next day....

So anyway. I ran to run some cold water over the sting to try to make it hurt less, and decided to come on in to work - I wasn't having any breathing trouble, and anyway, if I developed it, there would be a better chance of there being another human around to help me.

I can see where the sting is - there's a little white spot on my finger with a tiny red pinprick in the center - but the finger doesn't seem to be swelling (which is a relief; my piano teacher is having to reschedule for this week depending on parent-teacher conferences, and today might be lesson day) and I don't seem to be having a bad reaction (though a quick check of Web, MD suggests they can happen up to a half hour after exposure....it's been about fifteen minutes at this point and I'm still okay).

But yeah. Not cool. Not cool in a lot of ways. I did make an "icepack" with ice from the ice machine and a baggie to try to keep the pain and swelling down.

But often, I find Tuesdays are more Monday than even Monday is.

Monday, September 26, 2016

the weekend's viewing

I keep telling myself I should take out a subscription to TCM's magazine so I have a schedule close at hand of what is showing. (I know: I can look it up online, but I often don't think to, and as a result, wind up coming in to a movie I want to watch 30 or more minutes into it).

This weekend, though, I happened to come across "A Face in the Crowd" as it was starting. I had heard a lot about this movie but had never seen it.

I can't quite say I *enjoyed* it in the way I enjoyed "Zootopia" or "Guardians of the Galaxy," but it was certainly an interesting movie. And spooky, given some of the political developments we've seen in recent years.

Most of you probably know the story: a ne'er-do-well named Larry Rhodes (played by Andy Griffith) is snatched from jail by Marcie Jeffries and put on the radio. He seems to reflect something in the Zeitgiest and becomes wildly popular....and is hired away from small-town Arkansas by a Nashville station. There, he is given a staff of writers and others (including a young Walter Matthau - whom I will admit I found kind of adorable - as "Vanderbilt, '44" as the uneducated Rhodes dubs him - needling the "college boy." (and yes, it has always been thus))

A mattress-manufacturer becomes his sponsor, wants him to do commercials. Rhodes makes fun of the sponsor, in a very calculated move to again pit the "little man" against the "big man" (whether that "big man" is educated or a businessman). The mattress firm wants to fire Rhodes but the fans nearly *riot* - burning a mattress in front of the company - and the manufacturer winds up putting up with the guy's shenanigans. (It's really kind of creepy how this movie seems to show some of the things we see happening in the culture today)

At the same time, Marcia Jeffries - that "good girl" that Rhodes mocked at some point for being 'cold and respectable' - realizes she's fallen in love with him, and they begin an affair, even though he is SO not good for her (and even though "Vanderbilt, '44," apparently has a little thing for her. And I admit, were I in her shoes? I would have gone for "Vanderbilt" in a heartbeat and left "Lonesome Rhodes" by the side of the, well, road. But I never did understand the bad-boy attraction some women felt; I always like the stable, perhaps slightly boring, guys, the ones who wore horn-rimmed glasses and were genuinely nice to their mothers and were polite to their underlings....)

(And I admit, I probably noticed the "cold and respectable" comment more than some women, as I could easily be described thus. Though perhaps "respectable" is as much from "lack of opportunity" as it is from any kind of early programming....)

It's actually made more explicit than I would imagine a 50s era film would do that she has stayed the night with Rhodes.

Anyway, Rhodes moves further up the ladder, being recruited by New York television and a "virility" pill manufacturer. And he gradually begins to change (power corrupts) - he starts to become the very things he mocked and despised as a down-and-outer. And then, a senator with presidential aspirations recruits Rhodes to help him learn how to "appeal to the common man." (In other words: to be not-himself). And Rhodes is all too happy to go along: more power, more prestige, more money.

Rhodes' wife - you know there had to be one somewhere - shows up and kind of punctures Marcia's happy dream of marrying him. The wife offers to divorce Rhodes, but only for $3000 per month (in 1957 dollars. I might note here that my after-tax, after-TIAA-contibution take-home pay is just about $3000 a month - so that's a LOT of money for "not doing anything," and especially some 60 years ago)

Somehow, though, Rhodes works it out...and then winds up marrying a barely-past-jailbait baton twirler who comes on to him at a contest he's judging. Which just shows you what a snake he is.

He continues to grow in power and fame and it continues to bring out his bad qualities (which were probably always there, just masked, in the down-and-outer personality). His eyes take on a mad glitter (and it is truly spooky, for someone who knew Andy Griffith mainly from re-runs of his tv show, as the kindly sheriff and widower father). He doesn't care who he steps on in his way up. He's abusive to his staff, he uses people. All he can see is that Fuller (the senator) has promised him a cabinet post - "Secretary for National Morale" (which is a super creepy idea in and of itself).

At the same time, his young wife cheats on him with his slick agent (former mattress company worker). Everything kind of starts falling apart. Of course, Rhodes has come to hold all the "little people" he came from in deep contempt; he sees himself now as better than they are because....I suppose because he's famous and they aren't? (Again, shades of stuff going on in our culture right now).

Eventually, he needs to be stopped. Mel Miller (the "Vanderbilt, '44" I referred to earlier) writes an expose on him and is planning to publish it. And finally, Marcia decides she has to do something - so, as his tv show is closing one day, she re-opens the mike that is supposed to be closed as the credits are rolling....and reveals to Rhodes' audience that the "playful banter" he appears to be engaging in (when you can't hear the words) is actually pretty horrible insults towards the ordinary folks who are essentially paying his salary by buying the products advertised on his show.....of course, Rhodes doesn't realize what she's done (she sits in the sound room, weeping, because she's broken her heart over this cad but also because she had to be the one to ruin his career) and he cheerfully heads out for a fancy dinner he had planned for Senator Fuller and others in his penthouse.

The first sign something's wrong is the joke about "going way down" that the elevator operator makes, but Rhodes is too full of himself to twig to anything then.

He arrives at his apartment to find that everyone has canceled: in a few short moments, he has become absolutely toxic to anyone with aspirations of getting the vote of "the little man." So he is standing in his empty (huge) dining room, surrounded by a cadre of African-American waiters (and it struck me how those characters, who were put in a servile role, and would doubtless have been ridiculed and abused by Rhodes, stand there with quiet dignity, even when he goes nuts and demands that they show him love).

And Rhodes does snap. Oh, he's got something wrong, something missing there, in his psychological make-up all along, but it comes to a head now. He screams, he raves, he gets right up in the face of the oldest of the waiters and demands he show him love....some days later, when Miller and Jeffries finally go to see him, he is still raving (and drinking, apparently) and demanding people love him....

In the end, they leave him. We don't know what becomes of him, but presumably Jeffries and Miller will go on to better lives with him out of it.

The movie is creepy, I've said that before. I wonder if it's slightly more creepy to people seeing it now - people who mostly know Griffith as "Sheriff Taylor" and a raft of other benign roles (I had previously seen "No Time for Sergeants," which is a movie I liked a lot, where he plays essentially a good-hearted hick, but a hick who saves the day). But it's also creepy in its portrayal of narcissism and the corrupting influence of power and seeing someone who is probably a sociopath act. (I think I read somewhere that Griffith asked for a few old chairs to wreck up before the big scenes so he could work up a head of anger)

As I said - there are some things in it reminiscent of what goes on in politics today (and perhaps always has, seeing as the movie was made in 1957) but also pop culture (the whole idea of asking a musician/actor/sports star for his or her opinion on some matter outside of their field of expertise, and treating that opinion as though it's deeply-informed and more meaningful than someone else's, because it was given by a Famous Person).

But I also wonder if some of Rhodes' narcissism isn't in all of us in the Internet age - the "You're going to love me!" scream near the very end. We all want attention. Some get more attention than others. And I admit, there are times I've seen people getting attention that seemed undeserved to me, especially at times when I felt I was laboring in obscurity, and I admit I felt some....not very nice things....about it. Oh, I suppose the fact that I realize they were "not nice" things and that I never felt motivated to act on them mean I'm not too far gone, and the fact that I have a pretty solid grounding in my faith and when I am at my best I CAN "labor in obscurity" and take some kind of pleasure in knowing that what I am doing is doing some good, somewhere, in the world, even if no one recognizes it.....but I also acknowledge that there IS a little bit of the Crazy Fluttershy in me (to bring in another character who uttered that infamous line) who wants to stamp her foot and declare, "YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE ME!" (even as I know that love that's demanded is no love at all....)

But all in all: the movie is complex and frankly at times kind of scary and I think, very well done.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A little happiness

I mentioned that I had hung up the shelf I bought (back in February!) to display some of my extra blindbag ponies. Yesterday afternoon I installed the Ponies in it. It took a little while sorting through the box of extras to pick out the ones I most wanted for the shelf.

There's a set of the Mane 6 scattered throughout it, mostly in glitterated form. (I LIKE the glitterated ponies, even if they are less show-realistic). I don't have a glitter! Fluttershy so she's just regular old (Rainbow-Dash-mold) Fluttershy, but Princess Twilight is glitterated, as is Rainbow Dash and Applejack. Rarity and Pinkie are from a more recent run where the glitter is *embedded* rather than sprayed on (and therefore perhaps a bit more aesthetically appealing).

Beyond that, I went heavily for the one-off molds - my spare (glittery) Snails is there, and one of the nurse-ponies. I even found a spot for the tiny little figure of Smarty Pants.

pony shelf

Here are some close ups.

pony close up 1

There's Smarty Pants! (And Neon Wave Granny Smith....)

And more:

pony close up 2

This kind of thing makes me ridiculously happy. I've always liked arranging stuff, ever since I was a kid. (I also loved doll's houses when I was a kid, the whole idea of arranging the little furniture and accessories). I suppose it's perhaps a desire for order, and perhaps control.

And yeah, as soon as I got this done I thought, "If you could find another shelf like this, or a printer's tray, you could put it up next to this, and put up even more of the ponies" Shut up, brain. (Except that's not a terrible idea, really. I enjoy having these on display.

I also worked some on Starbuck. It looks really narrow in this photo and I'm hoping it's because it's all crowded up on the needle and that it will fit when I finish it. It seems like the shoulders should from holding it up next to me....

Starbuck in progress

Friday, September 23, 2016

Name and backstory

While eating dinner, the phrase "Danger floof" popped into my head (reference here, warning, contains snake and spider pictures as well as animals).

Anyway, the unicorn's name is now Ellie Dangerfloof. And she has a backstory: she is an agent on Their Majesties'* Secret Service. She LOOKS sweet and innocent, but that's part of her cover. Her unicorn magic is her weapon - she can use it for (non-lethal, this is Equestria after all) force against would-be wrong-doers - imprisoning them in a forcefield bubble, or levitating them, or making any weapon they might have useless against other ponies.

(*Celestia and Luna, of course)

Yes: "Dangerfloof. ELLIE Dangerfloof." She started out in Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns but quickly progressed, and then wound up at the Secret Dark Magic Defense Academy, where she honed her skills. She has a near-eidetic memory and the power to eat mass quantities of junkfood without gaining weight.** Her weaknesses are foals, birds, and early mornings.

It's funny - it's been a long time since a purchased stuffed toy inspired this kind of vivid backstory.

(** Yes, inspired slightly by Ellie Bishop on NCIS, which is where I got the Ellie name)

The weekend begins

or, Das Wochenende beginnt.

(I am definitely getting better at German, I can tell it when I practice Duolingo - I don't even have to stop and think about some verbs any more).

I DID go down to the little downtown (well, what's left of it - still mourning the quilt shop). I went to the new antique place which was nice but didn't have anything that really grabbed me so I didn't buy anything. There was one "whatnot" I contemplated as "might that be a good home for my G1 Ponies" but it was kind of low and would have to sit on the floor somewhere, and it would be hard to see them on it....I think I will need a wall shelf for them.

I also went to the little gourmet shop. Bought a jar of peach honey (as in: from bees whose hive is kept in a peach orchard) which should be good. I've been making biscuits occasionally off of a simple recipe from the Farm Journal Bread Book and I'm thinking fresh biscuits and peach honey would be a good dessert some night.

And I bought a couple of bath fizzies figuring they are a fairly cheap luxury and taking a warm bath with Epsom salt or something that helps my dry skin is a good form of self-care.

I also spotted several items that would potentially make good Christmas gifts for hard-to-buy-for people in my life, so I will go back down there as Thanksgiving gets closer (I see my brother and his family then, so we pass gifts to each other for Christmas then). Also they do free giftwrapping, so I can get them pre-wrapped. (provided TSA doesn't co-opt Amtrak and start making people open all their luggage....)

I also went to the little gifty type shop that a friend of mine from AAUW runs. Found a super nice card for my niece (which I will mail from the post office, in hopes of avoiding any potential card thieves). It's one of those "3-D" cards that folds out to make a little scene - this one has different zoo animals on it, and she's crazy about animals, so she will enjoy it, I bet.

And I got myself a little present. They had some stuffed toys including a very cute white unicorn. I debated it (I don't NEED more stuffed animals, don't really have room for more, and just the other day I was contemplating starting the "G4 style" version of Minty I want to do). But in the end, I couldn't resist. As I was paying for my stuff, my friend asked, "Oh, is the unicorn for your niece?" (I suppose she might have offered to gift wrap it, I think they do free wrapping as well)

"No," I said, slightly embarrassed, "It's for me."

And then she chuckled and said she had a teddy-bear collection, so....

(I might not have 'fessed up other than that she is someone who knows me)

But now I am faced with the question of a name. I'm pretty sure Unicorn is a girl, but what name?





I thought of Ermentrude (I kind of have a thing for the weird old royalty names, but that one doesn't fit). She's not quite an Ellie, either, which was another name I thought of. Marshmallow? Perhaps. Maybe some other sweet white food? I don't like Meringue as a name. Fluff?

She's colored a bit like Twinkleshine from My Little Pony, but I'm not crazy about that name either. I will have to keep thinking.

Eierauflauf? Which would be a Germanic name (it means something like a souffle - literally, "eggs run amok") and it's a word I've liked since I learned it.

Or maybe Floof? I kind of like Floof.

Though she might still actually be an Ellie. Gonna have to think about it.






Yeah, maybe Ellie.

(Nope, never gonna outgrow stuffed animals. I think it's too late at this point.)

And "self-medicating"

It's impossible to tease out the placebo effect but I am going to try to make myself turn off media in the evening (well, other than perhaps movies or something) and knit instead of reading stuff on the Internet.

I worked on Starbuck last night. I'm up to the point of starting the waist shaping. One of the amazing things about fingering-weight sweaters is what a (comparatively) tiny amount of yarn you need - I'm probably more than half done with the body and I'm still on my first ball of each of the yarns. (Few ends to weave in, yay).

And anyway, given our normally-blazing climate, thinner sweaters work better, and if it DOES get cold, I can just put a thermal layer under them, or go for the Amy Farrah Fowler look and put a cardigan on over the sweater and turtleneck I'm already wearing.

I did watch a little tv last night...news coverage. Yeah, two more questionable police shootings. At least what I saw from Charlotte last night, the people seemed just to be chanting and holding up signs. And there was the line of older African-American gentlemen (I saw one I know was a minister; he had a clerical collar on) who formed a buffer zone between the cops and the protesters - just standing there quietly, or else talking calmly with either group. That gives me some hope.

Protesting is fine - we have a long history in this country of peacefully protesting stuff. But when you start throwing stuff or trying to injure others or are damaging someone else's business or property or trying to frighten ordinary citizens, that's where I part company with you. Trying to injure a third party, who is not involved, because you yourself feel (or actually were) injured is wrong. It just expands the circle of pain, and there's enough pain in this life already.


I dunno. I've started to "say" things various places and deleted it because everyone's so angry right now and it's so easy for things to be interpreted through one's own lens.

And I also think a lot of the anger right now is because so many people feel they are not being heard. In some cases they may genuinely be not being heard, in others, maybe not so much.

I often feel I'm not being heard but I also know I haven't really been wronged so I probably just need to shut up and get over whatever hurt feelings I might have about not being heard.

I don't know. This is where I put up my hands and declare myself a "bear of little brain" and don't try to propose solutions because I don't have any.

***

The theme of yesterday was "getting stuff done" - I typed an exam, and made a homework for one of my classes, and I graded an exam from that class. And I went to the mechanic's and had the oil and filters changed (it was past time, though not "past time" on the mileage) and have the fluids and battery checked, all of that. And I did the workout it was too humid to do at 5 am, and did my laundry and washed my hair and changed the sheets on my bed....

I also hung my Cheerleader Applejack picture - I commissioned someone I follow on Twitter who does fanart to draw me a picture of my "inner cheerleader." It came out supercute (the person goes by LeekFish, at least on Twitter) and I got a little "floating frame" for it, and now it hangs on the wall over my bed. I also FINALLY hung up the "house box" that I bought back in February to house some of my spare blindbag ponies - it was late by the time I got that up so the Ponies will be installed this afternoon, I want to take some time to choose who gets the slots.


I'm trying to get everything set for next week by the end of the day today so I can have tomorrow and Sunday off. Still have no concrete plans of what to do. I'd LIKE to go antiquing somewhere but I don't know - don't feel like braving bad traffic and also don't want to wind up somewhere crowded and full of rude people like last week.

Then again, I have to figure out what to do for the potluck on Sunday. (We have one every month). I am leaning towards seeing if I can find a decent pork shoulder and do slow-cooker shredded pork.

***

What I really would like would be a trip to a nice large craft store - either a quilt shop or a yarn store or even just a general craft store. But that's not gonna happen. I'm still feeling "on the outs" with JoAnn Fabrics, and anyway, they're at the end of the driving I don't want to do. The yarn shop in Whitesboro is closed this weekend because the owner is at Stitches Dallas. (And yeah: if I drove in Dallas traffic I'd be all over that, but I don't.)

There's absolutely no place this side of the Red that I could find. At least, no place within a short drive. There's allegedly a quilt shop in Ardmore but that's an hour away and I'm not even sure they're still open, as their website was last updated in 2015. (And Google Maps still shows the local quilt shop as open, so I don't trust ANY of their information).

I dunno. Maybe I go downtown this afternoon and look at the new antique shop that opened and see if the gourmet shop has anything new (the last time I was in there, there was nothing I needed or wanted. I wish they carried more food items and less high-end cookware/bridal-registry type items)

***

Or maybe I go look at ceiling fans at Lowe's. I'm beginning to really hate not having an overhead light in my bedroom and even though the lights on the old fan are probably okay (it's just the fan motor that burned out), I need to replace the whole thing. I also kind of want to get another floor lamp for in there, but Lowe's is not an ideal place because their lamps tend to be cheaply made, so I don't know.

I do have the money to buy something nicer but it's hard to find it - we don't have a lighting store and most of the stores we DO have sell the cheapest stuff - which then breaks, and needs to be replaced, and in the long run is probably more expensive than buying one GOOD thing and keeping is for 15 years as would be my tendency. So I don't know. Maybe I try Vermont Country Store for a floor lamp....

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday morning things

* Almost wrote Wednesday. Man, this week has felt long, though.

* It's still ungodly hot here. Too hot for the first day of fall. That's SUPPOSED to change but I am not trusting weather reports right now as they have been so wrong these past 2 weeks. Supposedly it will rain Sunday and then we will be in the 70s next week. I hope so but I am not getting my hopes up.

* Random thought of the morning: "TL:DR" (where you give a short summary up front) is the opposite of clickbait. Also, what is now called "clickbait" used to sometimes be called "burying the lede." How times have changed. (We did a unit on newspaper writing in sixth grade (? I think it was) Language Arts and I remember the big thing was: put the main point up front because (a) people might not read the whole story and (b) the story might have to be cut for space)

I also have a demonstrated fondness for the concept of Teal Deer, so I would naturally feel some opposition to clickbait. (And also: clickbait is annoying to me. It's annoying in the way a "news story" online is where, when you get there, you have to watch a video that takes five minutes instead of reading the paragraph or two in a matter of seconds).

* This is an example of a clickbaity story: What Knitting is Doing to Your Health That You Probably Never Thought About.

Here's the TL;DR - it is POSSIBLY good for your mood and brain. (Possibly, because most of the "studies" cited are convenience samples, which aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Or the electrons, for electronic surveys). I guess there are a few more solidly done papers that do suggest it can relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety and the like if they are low-level.

(Hm. Maybe I self-medicate with knitting. And maybe those weeks I'm too busy to knit I'm unhappy not JUST because I'm too busy, but because I'm also not knitting?)

But anyway: one of the dumb little crusades I'm going to take on now? When ever I link a story with a clickbaity title, I am going to give the teal deer. Because I enjoy sticking a pin in the clickbait balloon and I also dislike how we've entered Peak Clickbait, to the point where local news, reporting on things that COULD be immediate safety concerns, does them clickbait style. ("You won't believe what happened on Highway X!" and it turns out there's a MASSIVE accident that's shut it down)

* I got an e-mail from the textbook publisher yesterday: one of their other editors is falling behind, could I take over some of their work? It would have meant the same kind of pay as for the previous chapters.

I thought about it because money.

And then I said "no." My grant supplies got ordered yesterday, and when they come I will have to set the project up and start monitoring it. And I admit: coming in and working the better part of a Saturday on eye-crossing editing work isn't quite my idea of fun. The money for the first whack of it was nice and will fill the hole left by being paid adjunct wages for the summer, and more money would also be nice, but I really need the time more at this point.

And also, I have to admit, having all my "free time" eaten by extra work isn't good for me. I need downtime.

So I sent them back a very polite e-mail thanking for their interest (hoping they will read between the lines and understand it to be: "please think of me in the future when you have more work") but saying that at this time I could not take it on.

I feel good about that decision.

* This weekend I am taking mostly off. I don't have anything looming; I wrote the exam for next week yesterday afternoon, I don't get another whack of grading in until Monday. One thing I'm learning is that work expands to fill the time you give it and so maybe it's a good idea to grab some relaxation time when you can.

Not sure what I will do. I DON'T think I'm going to drive to Texas; that roundabout detour got really old really fast and I also learned that the road I use as a detour is apparently Drugs Central, and while it's UNLIKELY people will be out there conducting deals early on a Saturday, still.

And also: the level of crowding in the stores last week and the level of human rudeness kind of broke me from wanting that kind of interaction for a while. There's still an *outside* chance I consider driving to Ardmore or one of the intermediate towns in my state and do some antiquing instead.

Or I just stay here - I noticed the big old office-furniture store that was closed FOR-EVER has reopened as an 'antique mart' and while my heart is still broken for downtown (after losing the quilt shop and after the paperback exchange left and that building has sat empty for nearly a year), maybe I can get my antiquing fix there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Still destination TV

I watched the premiere of this season of NCIS last night. This is one of very few shows I make time to watch (rather than opportunistically watching, as in, "I'm tired, I have my knitting, let's see what's on TCM and if I want to watch it")

I was apprehensive because Michael Weatherly (Tony DiNozzo) had left the show at the end of the last season (in a somewhat tearjerker way - though not as tearjerkery as it could have been, seeing as presumably the character is still alive, just not part of NCIS). Also, when I heard the replacement agent was to be played by Wilmer Valderrrama, I was like, "Fez? Really? They're getting FEZ to replace Tony?"

Well, Valderrama is now all grown up and he doesn't LOOK like Fez, and doesn't play the role like a buffoon like Fez. I actually....kinda like Torres. And it doesn't help that, IMHO, Valderrama grew up WELL. And yes, a little eye candy is not a bad thing. I hope the character goes good places and doesn't become annoying.

I will say Sean Murray (who is Tim McGee) has got a bit....thin....for my taste. I hope it's not un-wellness, just exercise and diet carried a bit far, but I liked the "babyfat Tim" of the earlier seasons' look better. (Or maybe it's just aging, a little? I think he's about 10 years younger than I am but still, we're all aging. I know my face has got thinner in the past few years and I haven't even dropped that much weight from my adult maximum).

I'm glad Abby is back, and Ducky. (And 2016: you leave your mitts off David McCallum, okay?)

I did not particularly care for the other "new agent," though she may not be permanent - Quinn? I think that was her name? I didn't like how she hazed Bishop. (And I guess Bishop has grown on me. I didn't like her at first but I felt really unhappy and uncomfortable for her when Quinn was doing the "Nope, don't remember you" bit and I was like HOW CAN YOU NOT REMEMBER THE WOMAN WHO IS A SKINNY SNACKMOUTH WHO ALWAYS SITS ON THE FLOOR?!?! but of course it was hazing).

Also, the comment about "I'm doing this to her because she's a little too tightly wound" got my hackles up because I have been accused of being a little too tightly wound. (I probably AM, but meh. I get stuff done.) So if that was a move calculated to generate sympathy for Bishop (who seemed not to have been popular with some fans, at least at first), it worked, at least on me.

One other thing about the premiere, there was a sweet little callback to the show that NCIS was spun off of - I saw "Patrick Labyorteaux" in the opening credits and was like, "Oh, could it be?" and then I started looking for him (he has a distinctive face). And then I was like BUD!!!! (Bud Roberts was my favorite character on JAG, along with his wife, Harriet). (He's got white hair now. Not sure if the actor actually does or if it was just for the character, but whoa.)

The story....well, a lot of the NCIS stories aren't the most deeply-plotted, but that's not why I watch; it's for the characters. (Kind of like why I read some of the golden-age mysteries I read: Christie is honestly not that gloriously-written, but Hercule Poirot is so much fun I can overlook some of the clunkiness or bad handling of certain types)

I AM learning

I don't understand ALL of what is said in the video, but I understand much of it.

Also: German compound nouns are fun.



It's ALMOST like a German version of "The House that Jack Built," or "The Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly."

(And in other news: apparently, based on an offhand comment made in class one day, the up-and-coming generation is not familiar with "The House that Jack Built." Well, a few years ago I was slightly shocked to learn that the up and coming generation does not seem to be familiar with "The Little Red Hen." What DO they teach them at these schools?)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"Gamekeeper" is growing

Or, I do still knit:


I'm almost done with the second repeat of "Aragog" (There are five repeats each of three different patterns: one knit/purl, one lace, and one cabled). I may or may not do the full five; it will depend on if I seem to have enough yarn and also if the scarf will be too long with the five repeats.

It's still way too hot to even think about wearing scarves. We had a heat index over 100 today. It was fairly miserable. And we had a dewpoint of 77 for part of the day, which is really miserable and is about as high as I've ever seen it.

Also, I got a call from the Bloomington, IL post office. The woman there was very friendly and helpful and said it was "concerning" that two cards mailed to the same zip code a couple months apart would both have gone missing. She gave me the phone number of the postal inspector and I called them. (To my surprise, there was still someone on duty after 4:30 pm Central time). The woman there was also very helpful, took down the two addresses I had mailed to and told me:

a. my local post office WILL get in touch with me and if they do not I need to call the inspectors back
b. A postal inspector MIGHT call me if they need more information, but if they have what they need they won't.

Apparently they are going to look into it. She agreed that one card going missing was probably 'the machinery ate it' but two going missing looked suspicious. She also said that they liked to have people call about this stuff - even over cards with NO money in them - because it's the only way they know that something's going wrong. (And anyway: I feel like if you can't trust the mail not to be stolen from, you might as well just give up on your nation and culture.)

She did note that they get a lot of reports of stolen cards close to Christmas, especially from people's personal mail boxes, because crooks think there might be money or gift cards in them. Which is kind of awful but also tells me if I am EVER sending a gift card to someone, to put it in something that's not obviously a greeting card AND to send it from the post office directly. (I would never send cash in the mail, regardless of what my grandma did.)

I also mailed off the first two sets of cards today: one set from the mail slot at the post office (they will go out today, as mail is picked up at 4:30), the other set from an on-street blue box (they will go out tomorrow as the mail is picked up at 2:45 pm). I will send the remaining three cards one-at-a-time from my personal mailbox. I have a list of whose cards went how, so when people get back to me I will be able to see if any of the cards went missing.

Though the fact that cards I sent went missing but not bills I paid makes me wonder if maybe it WAS someone in the 61761 zip code messing with things, or if it could have been a random, bizarre, "the sorting machine ate TWO cards" coincidence.

And at any rate: if none of the cards go missing, people I know get fun mail.

a little experiment

Because I can't just let these things lie.

I have acquired roughly a dozen addresses from Twitter followers and Ravelry friends - people all across the US. And I'm going to buy a bunch of cards this afternoon and mail them out. One-third will be mailed from the mail slot at the post office, one-third from a street postal box (one of the "blue boxes"), and the final third from my home mailbox. (Those will be sent on different days, not all at once, just to add some variability).

I've asked all the recipients to let me know when they get their card. (A few have promised to reciprocate, which is nice but not necessary). That way, if the cards all sent from my personal mailbox fail to reach their destination, I will know there's some jerk who's coming through my neighborhood and picking stuff out of mailboxes (which I slightly suspect; some days it seems like all I have is either the junkiest of junk mail or bills, and there are a few issues of magazines that seem long delayed). If it's a random sample, that tells me it's someone in the system.

Not that this will matter in the least to the USPS as cards are cheap. (My secretary, who has relatives in law enforcement, tells me that USPS puts "dummy packages" into the package stream to try to catch in-house thieves. But I bet people lifting cards wouldn't be punished much, not unless there was a big monetary claim made by an Important Person).

My suspicion is that the cards are going missing because a thief somewhere figures they might contain cash (when I was a kid, my grandparents' birthday SOP was to stick a five-dollar bill in the birthday card. They all reached us intact but that was a more innocent time) or because there might be a gift card in there (which makes me worry then for the future of credit cards being replaced...you can feel it in the envelope).

I SUPPOSE it could be simple coincidence, that two cards got eaten by sorting equipment, but it seems awfully coincidental that it was two cards, sent 2 months apart, to the same zip code. (one was my dad's Father's Day card, the other was a greeting card to a friend living in the same town). And yes, I'm sending a Halloween card to my parents as part of the test....that's going to be one of the Post Office ones because I also slightly wonder if there's someone in the central-Illinois mail-sorting facility with some sticky fingers.

But it makes me both angry and sad. Just one more thing in the modern world we can neither trust nor count on. Why, when I was a kid....like I said, my grandma sent me $5 on my birthday in the form of a $5 bill stuck in the greeting card, and they ALWAYS reached me.

(Now I wonder: did my grandma even HAVE a checking account? I wonder how she paid her light bill and phone bill if she didn't.....maybe there were offices in her little town where she paid in person, in cash?)

And yeah, this will cost me money, but I don't care. For one thing it satisfies my curiosity and for another, if the cards make it, it will make people happy and I enjoy doing that.

I'm not happy

I found out yesterday that at least two (and possibly more) greeting cards I sent out recently never made it to their recipients. Starting with my dad's Father's Day card, stuff has been disappearing out of the mail.

I can only guess that this is either some random crook raiding mailboxes (I don't leave mail in the box overnight; I usually put it out in the morning before I got to work) or, worse, some crook in the USPS's employ lifting greeting cards out of the mail stream. I am guessing cards go missing (I have paid bills by check without problems) because people think there might be cash or gift-cards in there.

I'm both angry and sad. One of the things I enjoyed doing was sending cards to family and friends. Oh, you can do e-cards, but some of my older relatives don't have e-mail.

I reported it - first, I caught my mail carrier as she was heading back down the street. She had not heard any complaints but told me to call it in to the local post office. I did, they took the information but told me the "national" had to do the investigation. So I called them. Like any big bureaucracy, it was a big mess, with an involved phone tree and finally the person I got seemed to lose interest when I said there was no cash or gift card in the missing cards I sent. So I figure they will do darn-all to investigate it.

So, solution: I ordered a pack of postcards and some postcard stamps. So from now on, anyone whose birthday/graduation/whatever it is is getting a postcard. Sorry. That's how it has to be: "Happy birthday, here's a photo of Arches National Park." The crooks have taken yet another thing from us.

(I figure: postcards are less likely to go missing since it's obvious there's no money or gift cards "inside" it)

There's the outside chance that there are new machine-readers that can't read my handwritten address but (a) my writing is bad, but not THAT bad and (b) I've received things with sloppy handwritten addresses okay.

Also, both of the cards I know FOR SURE went missing went to the same zip code, which makes me wonder if it could be someone working in that general sorting area.

I suppose what I need to do is figure out a friend or relative with a different zip code and test-mail a card to them, and see if they receive it.

(I mailed a card or two - I think, I don't remember for sure - to people on Ravelry and I didn't hear back but you don't always know in that case).

But, crikey. It DOES seem to me like more and more petty criminal activity is happening and it makes me both angry and sad.

(Also: apparently my office phone isn't working; I missed two calls that came when I was sitting in my office and also the "message light" never came on).


****

I also turned off the "click this to prove you're not a robot" thing. I know people hate it and dear knows Blogger makes it hard enough for people to leave comments if they want to. I am still moderating. If, however, taking the "no robo" restriction off means I get 10000 spam comments for every one real one (slight exaggeration), it's going back on.

don't make me sad, spam bots. Well, sadder than I already am.

(Somehow: "makes it really hard for real people to comment but still lets spam bots attempt to" is symbolic of so much in our culture right now)

****

This has been a really terrible allergy season. My eyes feel extremely puffy today. I'm tired, despite having slept longer than normal (did not get up to work out). I have little motivation to do ANYTHING so I'm going to have to reach as deep as I can to find the "enthusiasm" for glycolysis for Iteration 2 of my intro class for today.

That's the hardest thing: when I'm not "feeling it" (which happens a few times a semester) to have to walk into class and be up and be on and do it. Oh, I always manage. The last time I didn't was way back in grad school (round 1) the day after one of my aunts died and I actually started crying a little in lab (I explained why and the students understood), but it's still HARD. 

At least I have few requirements on me this afternoon: set up tomorrow's lab and also (finally) arrange to get my supplies ordered. And buy cards (see the post above) but that's more of a fun thing. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday Morning Things

* Tiny Pony Wrap-Up: I kinda liked this episode. It was interesting how Applejack's *distrust* of Flim and Flam led her not to want to attack that as the main friendship problem (even though Fluttershy thought it was) and her skepticism led her to investigate further, and she then found the underlying issues.

I also liked how Fluttershy's ability to communicate with animals allowed her to get information, both from the magic-act-on-a-trapeze bunny and from the pink guinea pigs.

(The episode was set in "Las Pegasus," the Equestrian analog of Las Vegas. But, to keep it kid-friendly, instead of drinkin' and gamblin' and other-things-only-legal-in-Nevada, the place is kind of like a giant Chuck E. Cheese, but with no screaming children and no creepy animatronic figure. (And no bad pizza - that's my main memory of my ONE trip to a Chuck E. Cheese, the pizza was terrible. I was about 13 so there were few other attractions for me. We went because my brother wanted to go SO BAD and I think it was his birthday....we made a long trek to the nearest one which was far away from where we lived. I guess he wasn't that impressed because he never asked to go back).

So Flim and Flam are now like carny barkers in Las Pegasus, promoting the Equestrian version of Cirque du Soleil and the Equestrian version of Siegfried and Roy. (I will note in passing that no "BEST FRIENDS!" jokes passed between Seigfried Pony and Roy Pony, and that seems to be considerable restraint on the part of the writers there. Though I don't think the actual Seigfried and Roy were actually "best friends.")

Anyway, the actual underlying source of the friendship problem was "Gladmane" - a Fat Elvis pony, though he also seemed to borrow heavily from Gravity Fall's "Gideon Gleeful" (the child who was a fake-psychic and who, at first, everyone LOVED despite him being a creepy manipulator). And also, as the episode continued, I found myself thinking of every "crooked Southern politician" character that Charles Durning played in his long career.

And actually, the friendship problem here is kind of a sad and creepy one, though one I bet a lot of kids encountered (I did): one "friend" manipulates the others by telling them lies, telling them the others don't like them. And so, that "friend" keeps everyone else at loggerheads and gets all the attention for himself or herself. And while the resolution is kind of unsatisfying (Gladmane is deposed - his golden statue pulled down - and he is run off, and Flim and Flam take over the casino resort, and it's implied they'll be no more honest than they were before), at least the various performers saw through Gladmane's manipulation.

And I will say, VERY early in the episode, I looked at Gladmane and said to myself, "He's gonna be the bad guy." I've been conditioned to look at people who are, well, "glad handers" as people who can't be trusted - the old "if they shake your hand, count your fingers afterward" type. Sad but true, I tend to be a bit suspicious of anyone who seems TOO charismatic and acts like they are a friend to everyone.

* It's super humid right now. The elbow I broke some 25 years ago is aching, and I've been having some breathing discomfort. (We're supposed to get a heat index in the low 100s today, which is not good either. I'm ready for summer to be done but I guess it isn't just yet).

* I'm kind of unhappy and unsettled about my town. There's kind of a low level drug problem (well, several, I guess) here: most recent news is there was a shooting over $160 worth of cannabis. The thing that makes me uncomfortable was it happened on the road that leads to one of my field sites (apparently the guys drove up and did the deal from their cars?). And yeah, it was late at night and I"m only out in the day, but still. And there was the case - I think I talked about it? About the guy who shoplifted a couple cans of whatever the Freon equivalent is now, tried to return them to the Wal-Mart for money (this is apparently a common scam) and who tried to stab the customer-service worker when the worker wasn't going to fall for it.

My local wal-mart doesn't do the "order online, pickup curbside" (we are too small, I guess, and I suspect they don't employ quite enough people) or else I'd shift to that when I had to shop there. I know, I know: I shouldn't be scared but I'm getting to the point of "the less I engage with most of humanity, the better" - Saturday's trip out wasn't that fun. A couple stores I went into where I didn't *need* anything, I saw the lines at the cash register and just walked back out. I don't know if it was because it was a payday for some people (people who get paid twice a month - my check only comes once) or if there was some event going on but the stores were slammed and people were *not* on their best behavior. (I first typed that as "pest behavior," which yeah, some people were on).

I also saw some guys driving through the parking lot of the shopping center - making circuits, I guess, so people would see them. They were in a big pickup truck, with a Confederate flag strapped to it (so the flag waved as they drove) but they were also playing loud rap music with misogynistic/crude-word lyrics.

Their truck had Wisconsin license plates. I hope they went back home. And I hope they were just behaving that badly because "We're here and we'll never come back" and they don't torment the people in their town with that kind of noise. Also, as I commented on Twitter: "I hate Wisconsin rednecks" (And yeah, I probably violated some corollary to Godwin's Law with that comparison, but that was the first thing that sprang to mind)

There was also a little car in the parking lot painted green and gold and COVERED with Packers memorabilia (which made me wonder: could the 'Boys be playing Green Bay on Sunday? I looked it up, no). The car's owner was in the bookstore and he was similarly decorated (so I guessed who it was).

I dunno. That was pretty harmless (and really, the Wisconsin rednecks were annoying but ultimately harmless) but I do notice those things and I wonder if more and more lots of us are starting to feel insignificant and there's a "LOOK AT ME" strain coming out in our culture - people doing ridiculous things to get noticed. (I feel the temptation in myself; it's hard feeling invisible a lot of the time). But it does lead to more loudness and potentially more conflict (e.g., if someone had tried to speak to those guys about their flag, it could have turned unpleasant) and I don't know....

* I did get to the natural-foods store. It's a little nicer than most of the big-box stores because I think at least some of the employees there are part-owners, and it seems to me that in a small, indie business where the owner is on-site, there's more of an effort to provide customer service and to make people happy and want to come back. I was able to obtain several food items I like and use (a brand of VERY SOFT and good chocolate macaroons, frozen sweet potato tater-tots, some of the little sausages I like) but that I can't get locally (Boo to you, wal-mart).

I wish they'd open up a branch here. I don't see that happening, though. But if they did, I'd always shop there.

* I roasted a chicken Sunday night. This is one of the simplest but one of the best things I can make. I think I've talked about the method before but I read about it in maybe one of Ina Garten's books? And ever since I tried it, I never looked back, it is how I always roast chickens now.

First, you need a good chicken. The one I got was Kroger's house organic brand but locally one GOOD thing the wal-mart carries is Harvestland chickens, which is Perdue's "organic" brand and is pretty good.

Then you need the right vessel: it has to have a tight fitting lid and hold heat well. I use my four-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, which is ideal for this.

Then, prep is simple: preheat the oven to 350. Take a lemon and cut it in half, and take a medium-sized onion and quarter it. Have some butter handy and some poultry seasoning, or better, mix a bit of the seasoning with some softened butter. Remove the chicken from its wrapper (and the "guts" from the chicken. And Kroger's organic brand, they don't bag up the guts like some companies - it was not a pleasant surprise to reach in and squeeze a liver). If there's a lot of fat around the openings of the chicken, pull it off and dispose of it. (I guess some people are now using things like chicken and duck fat for cooking. Full circle, I guess: years ago goose fat was a thing, though I think that was more as a way of avoiding using dairy butter in "meat meals" for families that kept kosher). Clean the chicken if that's your thing (I know some sources say it just spreads the salmonella around). Put a tiny bit of olive oil in the bottom of the pan and put the chicken in. Stick the lemon and the onion into the cavity (I don't do stuffing, but these things help to flavor the chicken and keep it tender). Reach under the skin of the breast (Yes, I leave the skin on. I sometimes even eat bits of the cooked skin when the chicken comes out. Life is short and it's nice to enjoy things sometimes) and put in a little bit of the butter or butter-and-seasoning mix. If you didn't mix the poultry seasoning into the butter, sprinkle it on the chicken.

Put the lid on, put it in the oven. Cook it for 2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on how big the chicken is. You can test with a meat thermometer but usually that time is plenty.

The chicken stays a lot more moist because of the butter and the onion and lemon. And because it's closed up inside the pot. Also, buying a good-quality chicken makes a difference, I think.

If you want the skin really brown and crispy for presentation purposes you can take the lid off fifteen minutes before the end of cooking but I never do. The skin does crisp up a *little* even with the lid on.

And of course, it's best fresh and hot, but the leftovers are pretty darn good too. Roasting a chicken on Sunday night means I have simple food for the rest of the week. I always say I'm going to make enchiladas or something but I usually wind up just eating all of it as cold chicken.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

"Three fictional characters"

This is something that either is trending, or people are trying to get STARTED trending, on Twitter: Describe yourself in three fictional characters.

One of the people I follow did it, choosing Reepicheep (she does various fencing-related activities), Velma (from Scooby-Doo), and....I think it's a librarian? From Buffy? Maybe? (Sorry, I don't know the last one).

So I decided to do it, and you know, it's surprisingly hard. I wound up picking three, but there were others I might have included.

Miss Marple was my first. Mainly for the knitting but also because I am often the one no one notices, but I tend to see and observe everything, and I fancy I am a reasonably good judge of human nature.

Fluttershy, because there has to be a pony in there, and I tend to think my personality - risk-averse, quiet, not-dealing-well with performance pressure - is probably closest to her (Though Twilight Sparkle, at least pre-alicornisation, would be a close runner up: rule-follower, book-obsessed, socially awkward). Also Fluttershy knits, at least in the extra-canon comic series.

The third was hard. I needed a professor, or so I figured, to relate to my career. But there aren't that many fictional woman professors, and most of the fictional professors I know aren't....the most wonderful characters. So I picked Pomona Sprout, from Harry Potter, who also has the bonus of being the closest thing to the wizard-world version of a botanist, and she is also a Hufflepuff. (I would TOTALLY be a Hufflepuff if I were going to Hogwarts.)

One runner-up who didn't make it (I guess I was thinking "books" more than "film") would have to be Henrietta Lowell. She's kind of clumsy and messy and socially awkward but despite that she IS good-hearted and lovable (at least, I think she is). She's also a botany professor so that fits also.

I'd also have to include one of the fillyjonks, perhaps the One Who Believed In Disasters (because of her tendency to worry about things despite the fact that she is able to survive the worst possible thing happening). But in some ways I'm also a bit like the hemulens in those books as well - a little fussy, a little bossy, a little pedantic, prone to wear too many clothes (or so the Moomins think).


(Funny, with the exception of the generic Hemulen, there aren't really any MALE characters that spring to mind. Oh, I'd like to be able to be a bit imperious like Nero Wolfe, and also only work when I felt like it. Or perhaps, from a cartoon, Ice Bear, because he is good at a great many things - and he is also a knitter)

A couple thoughts

I rewatched (most of, was making dinner during part of it) "Wreck-It Ralph" last night (It was on "Freeform," which used to be ABC Family).

Thought number 1: Does it mean that I'm fundamentally immature if I take philosophical "advice" for my life from children's movies and cartoons? Because there were two things towards the end of the movie that struck me.

Thought number 2: Ralph's motivation for much of the movie is wanting a "medal" like Fix-it Felix gets - he wants it as "proof" that he is important, and isn't such a bad guy after all (Ralph can't quite deal with his role in the world, but is shown throughout the course of the movie that it's an important role.).  He gets a medal, eventually - well, two, actually, one given as a "bribe" and the other being one his new friend Vanellope makes for him. Ralph winds up very nearly sacrificing himself for Vanellope and during that process, he realizes the importance of that role. And then, at the very end, he notes: "Turns out I don't need a medal to tell me I'm a good guy. Because if that little kid likes me..."

Yeah, that was kind of straight in the feels for me; I tend to expend too much of my energy on looking for "outside" validation.

Thought number 3: Ralph starts out living in the dump and being miserable and complaining about it, and going to great lengths to try to change everyone else so he's seen as a "good guy." By the end of the movie Ralph decides instead to build himself a house in the dump....to improve his circumstances the best he can, to take control of it without expecting everyone else to change for him. (And he also builds houses, and welcomes in the critters that have escaped from "closed down" games, like Q-Bert). The idea of "Change what you can, instead of sitting around complaining about things not being perfect."

Sometimes I wonder how much these modern fables (really, that's what I think of a lot of these tings as) affect the kids that watch them. Is a movie with a (minor, and not emphasized) moral of "change what you can to improve your life, instead of just sitting around and complaining" going to overcome some of the other cultural programming out there?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Just one thing

I really hope these "I have cats I can't take care of" dreams are related to lack of self-care and time off, because then maybe today will fix it. (Plans to go to the bookstore in the faint hope they're going to carry the Brit Knit magazines - last few times they've really thinned out the crafts section and I wonder if they can't get the imported mags any more or if I was the only one who bought them. Also have plans to go to the Target for stuff like laundry detergent but may also hit the toy aisle just to take a look).

Also am sad to learn Quilter's Newsletter Magazine - which has been around about as long as I have - is ceasing publication. It does seem a lot of craft magazines are folding (and, suspiciously, a lot that got bought by F and W publishing, so that makes me wonder). I called the number in the magazine (you can't do it online, despite the much vaunted, "We are going to all-online content now!") and got my McCall's Quilting subscription extended.....I hope that one keeps going.

I admit it, sometimes when stuff like this happens (and the closing of the local quilt shop, and other things), I have this feeling that "everything that makes you happy is going away, and you're going to have to search hard for new things"

It's too early in the semester for me to feel this tired. I'm sure it's allergies (because I'm also more "clumsy" right now - having trouble playing the piano well - and that's another symptom) but I am READY FOR IT TO BE DONE. And seeing as next week is going to be in the mid 90s with no rain, it won't stop next week.

I just need to get out of the house, and out of the tight little circle of home-work-church that I have been following for the past several weeks. I know, that's a very modern sort of problem to have; people living in soddies on the prairie wouldn't likely have felt that kind of boredom or isolation, or if they had, they wouldn't have complained about it. (Perhaps the better solution for me is to learn how not to be bugged by my circumstances, rather than trying to change them....)

but still, I need to get out. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Stuff I've learned

* I have real troubles with the "Future Perfect" in German - I just can't keep the order of verbs (and in most cases there are three) straight, and remember that the clauses go IN BETWEEN two of the verbs.

I really need to dig out my books and focus on sentence structure more: Duolingo is fun for vocabulary but it's awful for actually teaching proper grammar, and I am one of those pedants who wants to learn the underlying rules for stuff.

* Reading around on some of the edu-blogs today, someone quoted stats on special education and it was noted that kids receiving speech therapy count as special ed.

So, for a short time in seventh grade, I was Special Ed. Because my braces gave me a lisp and they tried to work that out of me. (Didn't work that well: I have been without braces for some 30 years and I still lisp slightly, especially when I'm tired. I also sometimes stammer a little when I'm tired or stressed or get two conflicting thoughts in my brain at once). And yeah, I admit I sighed bitterly and thought to myself "I got treated par-for-the-course for the Special Ed kids, too" (And when I got pulled out for extra work on penmanship. And my penmanship is STILL terrible. I print everything because even I can't always read my handwriting.) The thing is, both those things: they didn't help me function as an adult and they made me more miserable as a kid. I wonder what other special ed things are screwing kids up right now that will not lead to them being any more functional as adults?

(And I know from Special Ed kids: a couple of the girls, one of whom I *think* had high-functioning Asperger's and the other of whom had spina bifida, were among the only kids who would sit with me at lunch.)

* What might Neanderthals have sounded like? The "Mrs. Pepperpots" on Monty Python, a little bit:



* I guess I need to be extremely more explicit with instructions. I went over the guidelines for a paper that I handed out - verbally and on paper - and I still got papers that didn't in any way, shape, or form conform to the guidelines. Which makes me sad because (a) the students will be unhappy with poor grades and (b) they will ALLLLLLL be rewriting them (I have that as an option, because of Reasons*) and it means in two weeks I'll have to do this all over again.

(*Reasons: this is the first project of this nature some have attempted and I want to be all Kindly Brontosaurus and not Mr. C. Monty Burns about things and want to be all maternal and welcoming and junk and have it be good for Retention and the like.)

I can't tell if this is

a. "Wharrrgarrrblll I don't know how" (in which case, they should have come in and talked to me; I told them to do that)
b. "LOL, I can rewrite it" (but I'm averaging the two grades and a 100% and a 20% is still just a 60% average....and they knew that going in)
or
c. "She can't possibly expect that much" (Oh, Grasshopper. You have so much to learn).

I wish I could tell if it was people who were genuinely unprepared and panic-flailing (in which case there's maybe something I can do) or if it's people just, uh....demi-butting** their way through it.

(** the best euphemism I can come up for for half-@$$)


* Speaking of demi-butt, I saw somewhere - one of those random quotations - "If our butt crack was horizontal, our cheeks would applaud when we walked up stairs." I admit I was tired at the time but that made me giggle a little, as awful as it is.

*Could weather prediction be getting *worse*? It seems of late they will be like YES WE WILL HAVE RAIN AND COOLER TEMPERATURES NEXT WEEK and then when "next week" gets here, the predicted temperatures creep back up (we might hit 95 next week. Ice Bear does not approve) and the rain chances go away. Or is this just a freaky season?

* Are you a jerk?. Kind of interesting. And yes, I worry about exhibiting narcissistic (the whole "Am I invisible? I feel invisible, I wish people would notice me") behavior. But I guess I'm not particularly Machiavellian. (And I'm not an a-hole - and yes, there are a few rough words in that article). It is actually interesting in that the guy makes a distinction between jerks and a-holes and I've long thought there was one - that the jerk is more generally self-centered and "not seeing" the other person, but that the a-hole was more directed in how they acted, as in, they want to make a particular person miserable (e.g., like the waiter who, through being overworked, messed up their order, so they're going to make the poor guy suffer for it).

Sometimes I suppose I AM a jerk because I get wrapped up in my own head or my own problems but I do try very hard not to be an a-hole. (If a waiter who seems stressed messes up my order, I will probably send the order back, but will be cool about it, especially if he says, "Oh, wow. Sorry. I really screwed that up." My response is often something along the lines of "That's okay, no one's perfect.")

(Then again: perhaps being a bit of a jerk or even an a-hole is sometimes needed when you are not getting the customer service you need. I've had situations where I've been very sweet and polite and all "Oh, well, no one's perfect" and got no satisfaction - but if I push myself to be ever so slightly grumpy, people snap to. And I HATE that because I tend to think that honey, not vinegar, should catch flies, but I guess, like my old grad-school buddy used to say, "It doesn't TAKE all kinds, there just ARE all kinds..." and some people need a little bit of a cattle prod to get them to do what they aught....)

(And fwiw: the person taking up 2-3 parking spaces if it's close to a store or business: that's being an a-hole. Someone doing it at the tag-end of the lot where it doesn't affect others' ability to find a spot?  I don't care. Do what you will. I figure even with a new car eventually it's going to get dinged so I have never worried about it, but I know some people do. Just, if you're gonna straddle the line of a spot, do it somewhere far away so the poor guy trying to stop off on his way home to get the makings of mac and cheese for his three kids are home sick, or the woman who is trying to get her weekly shopping done before her evening meeting, doesn't have to walk halfway to the moon and back because you took the only three close spots)