Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Apologies to Charles Dickens for purloining one of the most famous novel openings ever written.

Well, another semester draws to a close. And, in general, that is a cause for celebration. Yes--it is early. I think this year the semester end is so early because Easter was really early. Our college combined spring break week and Easter break--thereby gaining a week of class instruction.

So, what's the best and the worst of this semester? Today, I had to deal with the worst--plagiarism. I absolutely hate plagiarism. I hate having to deal with it. But, I had a student who used three complete sentences from an external source without proper attribution and without using quotation marks noting that the words were not his own. When I handed back his paper with the offending section marked, he challenged me. I had printed off the original (which I found on the Internet) and showed him where he got the words. His defense--well, I cited a source. Yes, I said, but it's NOT the source where you got this section, and you failed to use quotation marks. He was adamant--he felt that since he gave SOMEONE credit, never mind erroneously, that he should not be dinged to plagiarism. HONESTLY. The worst.

Now, here's the best of times. It is spring on campus and the trees are blooming. The place positively sparkles.

See for yourself.

The last photo is of the newly constructed labyrinth, donated by student government. Isn't a labyrinth the most perfect visual metaphor for college? Here's a brief description of modern labyrinths and their uses. I like the idea of the contemplative aspect, which college students certainly need, combined with the seemingly endless journey. I have walked a labyrinth only once--it didn't do as much for me as I expected. But I still like the visual impact.

Friday, April 25, 2008

"To what purpose, April. . ."

Today, my husband and I began our annual spring task--opening the pool. We have had a pool in our backyard since the summer of 1981. In fact, I spent major portions of that summer floating in the pool--since I was pregnant with our daughter, the weightlessness that water affords was wonderful, as was the cool!

But each spring, this chore looms large. And, as I get older, my muscles and bones ache more and more each year.

The reward, of course, is getting the job done finally. We're not quite there--maybe another half day of work, but things are shaping up outdoors. In another month--plant all the annuals!

Opening the pool is one of the ways to measure the approach of summer.

Here are some other ways.

The ice cream truck returns to the neighborhood.

Boys climb trees

New puppies come out to play.

Before spring gives way to summer, let's celebrate the last days of April with this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay.


TO what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an
idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How NOT to do health research. . .

Today, students handed in their final work (except for the final exam) of this semester--a research paper. I really like their final project--it's a collaborative one, with students working in groups of 3 or 4. They have to select a developing country, then identify a problem in that country, and present an oral report the background on the country and problem, then argue whether or not the developed countries, especially the U.S., have an obligation to help solve the problem. Then each student writes her own research paper on the group topic. For example, one group selected Cambodia and the problem of human trafficking.

What I especially enjoy about this project is helping students to expand their research capabilities. Research is one of those things I do best. In fact, before I returned to teaching five years ago, I was engaged in research--sort of. Of course, there's a back story.

I have written about some of the various jobs I have held through my 40 + years of working, but I don't think I have written much about working at the health insurance company--my last full time job.

I was hired to do health policy research in a newly established institute. This institute was housed entirely within the health insurance company and was really something of a p.r. outreach arm. In other words, the folks at this company weren't really interested in doing true health research studies.

And how, you might wonder, did I learn about this? When I first joined the health insurance company, I had high hopes for doing some interesting health policy research and analysis. I enjoy figuring out why things are the way they are, so I envisioned pursuing some challenging health questions, for their own sake. When I first arrived at this new job, one study had already been completed, and another two were in publishing stages. So I set about to work with these works in progress.

Then I got my rude awakening. The completed study was on the health costs of violence--a very interesting subject. But the researchers were a small group from Princeton, NJ (not affiliated with the university) who had a preconceived notion of what they wanted the research to show--namely that the costs that result from violence are not really health costs, so health insurance shouldn't pay for them. Huh? I argued for awhile about that conclusion--I said what difference does it make which pocket you take the money from. If someone is injured by gunshot, the medical procedures needed to make him whole again have to be done, and someone will pay for the care. Clue # 1.

Then I had one of the doctors at the health insurance company come to me and say--why don't you do a research study that shows the terrible consequences of women having abortions. What do you mean, I asked. Well, they all suffer from guilt, and need psychiatric care--he answered. Huh again? See, when you do a research study you don't normally start out with the conclusion and then bend the data to produce the result you want. I nixed that "research." Clue # 2.

Another member of senior management came to me and said--let's research the health costs of caring for people in the last year of life. OK, I said--and then what? Well, then we (meaning the health insurance company) could decline to pay for really high cost medicine in the last year of life since it won't help the person anyway. Well, I noted, you don't know when a person's last year of life begins. So, I pointed out that such a study can only be done retrospectively and can never be applied prospectively. Oh. Another research study not done. Clue # 3.

Finally, another doctor asked if I could give some grant money to a company that had developed cancer treatments that could target specific cancer types. Sounded good. I asked how the researchers would identify which patients to use the treatments on. Then he said--we'll give them the patient information so they know who to contact. Huh? I suggested (gently) that it might not be a good idea to give to a third party confidential patient information. Oh. Clue # 4.

Well, my health research days were--shall we say--not long at that company. And my little health institute is no more. Truth be told--I am MUCH happier being "retired" and teaching college freshmen how to think clearly--I only hope their research efforts are less thwarted.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hug a Hippo

Apropos of nothing I have blogged about recently, I am writing about hippos today.

Recently, my daughter sent me a link of a hippo story that ran on Sky News. It was one of the most unusual animal stories I have ever seen. As a child, I did see hippos in the wild, but I didn't have the same fear of them that I did of lions. I should have. An
article that ran in the Smithsonian magazine two years ago noted the following: "But many Africans regard hippos as the continent’s most dangerous animal. Although accurate numbers are hard to come by, lore has it that hippos kill more people each year than lions, elephants, leopards, buffaloes and rhinos combined."

The video story tells another tale altogether. Herewith:

Who wouldn't love an animal such as Jessica. But in the house?

This story reminded me of another hippo story I saw not long after the December 2004 tsunami. In this case, the bond was not between hippo and human, but between hippo and a giant Aldabran tortoise. A baby hippo was washed out to sea off the coast of Kenya because of the tsunami. His entire hippo family was lost, so when human rescuers managed to get him back to shore, he was taken to a wildlife center. Now named Owen, the baby hippo encountered the tortoise Mzee--and you can read what happened next here.

I don't know about you, but after hearing/reading these two hippo stories, I have the strongest urge to hug a hippo!

Friday, April 18, 2008

'Tis the Season

No, not Christmas, but office cleaning.

Having just cleaned out my desk in my home office, we now have received notices here at my community college that we will be getting new furniture in early June. Consequently, we are to clean out our desks, file cabinets and bookcases, boxing everything up in preparation for this moving about of furniture.

Now, you would think that the announcement that we are getting new furniture would be cause for rejoicing. But you would be wrong.

All the office occupants here have become rather like pack rats. Professors have tunneled into their little burrows and stowed away, for lo these many years, books, papers, doo-dads, Lord knows what all. And, frankly, they are now deeply resentful that they might have to rid themselves of some of this detritus.

(thank goodness, this photo is NOT of the office I am in!)

It is really quite humorous to listen to these conversations. Grumble, grumble, mutter, mutter--who do they think they are?

I was flabbergasted at this reaction. See--the furniture here is what one might call from the early random collector and discarded items period. Nothing matches. Some of the items would not be in offices in state government. Trust me, having worked in state government, I know dull green desks when I see them.

In the office I share with two full time faculty, we have three desks--two are beige metal with a faux wooden top, the third is green metal, same top. We have two white bookcases that one of the full time faculty brought in, one short metal bookcase in taupe, another tall bookcase in beige. And the three desk chairs that we have are all different.

The new furniture will be modular (and matching), which may be part of the uproar. Faculty have collected small round tables, coffee tables, side tables. They have boudoir lamps, refrigerators, coffee pots, microwaves, radios. Every imaginable accoutrement which gives each office the vague air of a college dorm room. The word is, all these will have to go when the new modular furniturre is in place.

{YAWN} That's me barely concealing my boredom with the griping.

I have slowly set about tidying my things to store in boxes. And, in the process, I came upon this note I had posted to the door--it was making the rounds last year in email.


1. You accidentally enter your PIN on the microwave.
2. You haven't played solitaire with real cards in years.
3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three.
4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.
5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don't have e-mail addresses.
6. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.
7. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen.
8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn't even have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.
10. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee.
11. You start tilting your head sideways to smile. : )
12. You're reading this and nodding and laughing.
13. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message.
14. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list.
15. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn't a #9 on this list.

AND NOW U R LAUGHING at yourself.

Updates on the office refurbishing as news is forthcoming. I just got
the official email, which concluded thusly:

"On Friday, June 13th, after 5:00 PM, the movers should be removing and disposing of furniture from (said office) Bay. Removing carpet and painting (two coats) can commence immediately with new carpet and furniture being installed by June 20th. During that week, staff from (said office) must function elsewhere."

R-i-g-h-t! Function elsewhere--hhmmmmm!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dent de Lion

SUBTITLE: Mouth of the Lion (read on)
As I was leaving campus yesterday, I spotted one of the earliest and most tenacious spring flowers, though not necessarily anyone's favorite: the dandelion.

These perennials (isn't that ironic) are among the hardiest of plants, as any gardener knows who has tried to groom a dandelion-free yard. They are also much loved by children who love to grab the puff balls and blow them to the winds. Skilled photographers have captured dandelion seeds mid-scatter.

What fascinates me is the origin of the name dandelion. It comes from old French dent de lion (literally lion's tooth) derived from the shape of the leaves. Imagine--deep within human experience is this association between the shape of a plant leaf and the tooth of a feared animal, the lion.

The image of the lion's mouth figures in various ways in Biblical literature, particularly in the Psalms. Portions of the traditional Requiem Mass use a phrase from Psalm 21 which, in Latin, says--Salva me ex ore leonis (Translation: Save me from the mouth of the lion). In the mass it becomes Libera eas de ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum. (Translation: Deliver them from the mouth of the lion, lest the abyss swallow them up, lest they fall into the darkness).

I always loved singing that particular portion, whether Mozart's Requiem, or Fauré's or Durufle's Requiems. Each composer has a different musical interpretation of the section, and for the singer it is great fun to see how text translates to music.

photo of lion from http://www.conservationafrica.net/gallery/index.php?pid=60

I suspect one of the reasons the mouth of the lion has such power for me, if not people in general, is the terrifying prospect of being swallowed up by a lion. That may seem fanciful to you, and perhaps you even think me prone to exaggeration. But it is an image with which I grew up. One of the earliest stories I recall hearing was of a missionary who was, in fact, mauled to death by a lion. In brief, he had gone out to track a lion that had been preying on villages in what was then Northern Rhodesia. All this happened in 1931 (more than a decade before I was born), but my grandfather, who had been a missionary, and two co-authors wrote about this event:

"The lion charged. Myron Taylor (the missionary) shot but the bullet missed. The rifle jammed and the beast was upon him, mauling his right ankle and right hand and biting his left forearm. All the people who had accompanied him fled up trees for safety. The missionary was left helpless. The beast sat quietly by him for possibly fifteen minutes. . .then it ambled off into the bush."

Myron Taylor was carried to the mission station, and even though he received medical help, he died after two days. An interesting additional detail is that he was then buried at Sikalongo Mission, and when my sister died 17 years after his death, she was buried next to him.

I have no recollection of ever seeing a lion in the bush during my childhood, but such a vivid story imprinted itself full well on my brain. Oh, I am not at all fearful of dandelions (please!) but I find most fascinating the degree to which lion imagery rouses something deep within the human psyche.

To remove the image of the mouth of the lion, here's a smattering of spring flowers much more loved than dandelions.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Parting Gifts

Today, I decided I had to clean out my desk. I have somewhat co-opted our third bedroom and turned it into an office. When we first moved into our house (in 1980), there were just 3 of us--my husband, me and our son. The smallest bedroom was originally our son's. Then when we were expecting our daughter, we made this small bedroom into a nursery. And it remained our daughter's bedroom until our son moved out of the house, after college. One time, she went storming back into her bedroom, after some "discussion" we were having--she announced: I am going back into that closet you people call a bedroom. Her point being, it is a small room. But it makes a fine office.

Back to the desk. I had sort of let stuff accumulate. So, today was cleaning, pitching and tidying day.

And what should I come upon but these--special cards with various messages on the pink folded cards, each with its own blank insert, save for my name inscribed.

These cards were a parting gift from the time I held a position in our state Department of Health. I left that job in 1993--and I still have most of the pink cards. So, out they go in this cleaning frenzy.

It did make me think about the parting gifts we get when we leave jobs. I have held four different jobs prior to my current part time teaching in a community college. First, I was an instructor in a four year college; then I went to the state medical association; from there to the health department job; then a large health insurance company in our state. At two of those jobs I was feted to a going away honors.

But in each case, the gifts were . . .well-intentioned, but not what I might have picked. At the state medical association, I received a framed commendation from the board of trustees, and a large book called A Day in the Life of America--lots of interesting photos. I looked at it, then shelved it--no idea exactly where it is right now.

At the health department, my secretary arranged a lovely luncheon. I was given two gifts--a silver covered photo album, and the aforementioned note cards.

I don't know what a perfect parting gift might be. At one time the custom was the proverbial gold wristwatch (or maybe even at one time the pocket watch). I have received more clocks than I know what to do with--from having served on various advisory boards.

When I left the health insurance company, some of my employees took me to lunch. One of them gave me an electronic footwarmer! Never used it.

OK--my ruminations on parting gifts are over.

How did the desk cleaning out go? Quite fine, I think.

And the office cat even approves.

Any thoughts on the perfect parting gift?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Are You a Good Wife?

When our children were small, we went on a family vacation, driving up through some of the New England states. We visited Cape Cod, Provincetown, Newport, RI, and Boston. One of our stops was at Plimouth Plantation. This lovely site is a recreation of the original Plimouth Plantation that was settled by the Pilgrims who emigrated from England.

The village buildings and layout reproduce the presumed conditions of 1627, and the people there (actually actors) stay completely in character. As one website notes:
People in historic period costumes carry out their daily tasks which would have been conducted by the occupants of the settlement. Their dialect is recreates the flavor of the period as well.

When we visited there we had a lot of fun interacting with the “residents.” I particularly enjoyed myself, and probably embarrassed my children in the process. We went into one house just around the noon hour, and the residents were getting ready to eat. They told us that they would always sing a psalm before the meal. In fact, they said the plantation leader had rewritten many of the psalms into hymn mode, and would we like to sing along? Well, I need no second invitation to sing, so I joined in. That’s when my children looked embarrassed—Mom, you didn’t have to sing along.

Another house we stopped in was the residence of the village physician. At the time, I worked for the state medical association, so I really enjoyed conversing with the physician. In his garden, he was growing several medicinal flowers, including

Foxglove is a flower from which digitalis, used in treatment heart ailments, can be extracted. Thinking myself quite smart, I asked the physician if he had heard of using willow bark to reduce fever and relieve pain. He was totally in character, and asked me whence came this knowledge? I replied, well, it is well known to the Indians that willow bark has these properties. He drew himself up and sniffed his reply—use something on good Christians that comes from savages? We would never do such a thing. So much for me showing off what I knew.

Then came the coup de grace. As we were walking around the village, one of the villagers asked me if I was a good wife. I think I sort of spluttered—well, I try to be. Ah, he said—then you are not a lady or a gentlewoman, but a good wife. Humph—a little light clicked in my brain, and I realized he was asking about my social status, not my upright moral character. And then I remembered the Nathaniel Hawthorne story “Young Goodman Brown.”

See, social ranking would have been lord and lady, gentleman and gentlewoman, or goodman and goodwife. So much for social climbing. And I was just a goodwife!

First two photos from Wikipedia; last one from the website http://www.pilgrims.net/plimothplantation/vtour/index.htm

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oh, My!

Note just received in my campus email (at my community college). . .

CANCELED: Tonight's Workshop, Thur. April 10th on "The Importance of Education"

Due to low participants our workshop for tonight has been CANCELED and will be re-schedule for the Fall semester, date & time TBA.

Note: message reproduced exactly as it appeared in my in-box.
Oh, my!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

You’re Not My Type

Recently Laura posted her personality type, indicating “from KGMom,” but also indicating that “Parts of this made me howl with laughter.” Of course, I am curious as to why, but still don’t know what got her howling.

It did, however, get me to thinking about what a person can learn by knowing her “type.” First, note that Laura’s post is titled Myers-Briggs. This approach to personality typing (NB: there are many other approaches) was first set forth by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs. As the official website indicates the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) personality inventory, based on Jungian psychology, hopes to make the theory of psychological types understandable and useful for people. “The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment.”

Carl Jung

I don’t want to get all wrapped up in the theory. I just enjoy knowing my type—INTJ—and seeing how it explains some of the preferences I have.

My husband and I first encountered MBTI when my husband planned a retreat for an adult church group we belonged to at the time. He contacted some people to lead the retreat, and they used MBTI as the basis for their content. All of the retreat attendees had to fill out lengthy questionnaires in preparation.

On the first night of the retreat, the leaders divided us into two groups, calling out our names individually. One group was placed in the middle with all the other people forming a circle out around us. (I was in the middle group.) Then the leaders asked: when you go to a party where there are a lot of people you don’t know, what do you do? The people out around looked genuinely puzzled. What’s the big deal? They laughed and showed supreme confidence that the question was no challenge for them at all.

Those of us in the middle sat quietly. Perhaps we looked down, or tapped our feet nervously. Finally, one of us said—do we have to go to this party? AHA! The first aspect of MBTI had been revealed. There are people who love to be around other people, and then there are people who are quite content to be alone. Hence, extroverts (E) and introverts (I).

It was no surprise to me to learn that I am, in fact, an introvert. Many friends of mine were taken aback, or at least skeptical. I readily speak up in public settings, and for much of my career have been in a front and center type position. But, I crave solitude. I hate big anonymous parties. Nothing makes me cringe more than having to be at a training session where I know no one. I frankly can’t abide small talk.

The second set of initials—N or S—refers how people gather information. This is the one place in which I differ with my husband. I am an N, meaning iNtuitive, tending to see the “big picture” or more like to see the forest rather than the trees. My husband is the opposite—Sensing, that is focusing on details.

The most telling examples come at my expense. I have been known to go to the grocery store, in search of a specific product—let’s use peanut butter for an example. I will get the brand right, but miss the small print—crunchy. Hmmm—I meant to buy smooth! Oh well—big picture, at least it’s peanut butter. But to my husband, the crunchy vs. smooth DETAIL is very important.

One final example. The strangest pairing of letters is the final one—J or P. J means Judging, and P means Perceiving. Neither label tells you much. Judging people tend to be organized, preferring to complete a task. They make lists (boy, do I make lists). Perceiving means keeping options open—don’t ask me how you get that from “perceiving.” When we went to our church retreat, we had our son and daughter along. When our son took the test, he turned out to be a P, where his parents were both Js. LIGHT BULBS all over the place. I work to the task, wanting to get it done. Our son tended (and still does) to want to keep his options open. But when you are a young teen, and you are putting off a task, you can drive your goal oriented parents stark raving mad.

So, that’s why I enjoy knowing my type. No, it doesn’t answer everything. And, yes, it is an explanation, not an excuse. My husband and I are not the same type, but we are very similar and mesh very well. Knowing the type of a co-worker might explain a work habit that has been maddeningly puzzling otherwise. Knowing my own type helps me know how to compensate for what I might rather do.

If you want to take the test, go
And if you want to share your type--please do.

Artwork on INTJ from: http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/myers-briggs/intj.htm

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Fouling the Nest

Having recently posted on the assiduous encroachment of development at the expense of green space, I now turn my worries to a story I heard of only recently.

There is a huge garbage pile of plastic floating in the Pacific! Now, I am a fervent recycler--I have been recycling since before recycling was fashionable or even required by local laws. We used to save all our glass (divided by green, brown, and clear), our newspapers and our plastic containers. Then once a month we drove to a nearby collection center. About ten years ago, our township instituted weekly collection, simplifying recycling.

In addition to recycling, I try to be conscientious, requesting paper, not plastic, or better yet buying my own reusable bags. But, I am sure I could do more. I confess to buying bottled water--as George Carlin has observed: when did people decide they needed their own portable water supply?

I guess what I am driving at is that I consider myself environmentally aware, and even caring. I know I have a larger carbon footprint than someone living somewhere in Africa, but I do try to be less consuming. So, I was stunned to read about this plastic garbage dump. It seems the ocean currents in the Pacific have gathered up and trapped mountains and mountains of plastic trash. The brave organization Greenpeace has
documented this phenomena. Estimates vary on the size: one estimate said double the size of Texas, and another said it is equal to the land mass of Africa.

To give you an idea of why this plastic collects in the Pacific, check out this animation of plastic in Pacific caught in
vortex of ocean currents (from Greenpeace). And here's a link to a CBS news report on the subject:


We are fouling our nest.

Now to another aspect of fouling. . .

While talking with a colleague at my community college the other day, she told me when she advises students which English professor to take, she gently steers them away from one particular professor. Apparently, there is someone at my college who tells students to include as many swear words as they want in their writing--after all, they should be learning to express themselves.

I was astonished to learn this. Not because I am such a paragon of virtue, mind, but because I thought we were to be teaching students how to write in a formal context. Having spent quite some time in the business world, I have never encountered swearing in writing in the business world. Oh, to be sure, such language probably is used in some places. But not in my composition classes.

Here's why. I want students to expand their vocabularies. And I tell students that when they swear, they are demonstrating a paucity of language. Predictably, they say--huh? So I just say--look it up.

I came across a site that analyzes blog content for swearing.
Here's my "score"-

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?

Created by

I am no angel, but I do try to practice what I preach. Rich vocabulary here, folks, not salty.

I suppose if I were to swear in my blog it would be in response to the problem of the plastic garbage dump. And, it would go something like this: what the hell is wrong with us humans?