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I’m finally done! Now I get a long weekend to recover before the new quarter begins. Of course the minute I submitted final grades I got an email from a student complaining about a B+. Arg! I tried to give everyone a fair grade and not play favorites. The prof and TAs decided delibretely not to use a point system since it encourages grade grubbing. Of course posting the grades on the web results in the computer calculating percentages. Oh well!

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This quarter has been good to me, I’ll miss it. But for the moment I still have a lot of work to do. First draft of my 20 page literature review is done. I know for all of you that are in the middle of dissertations twenty pages is nothing, but I’m still new at this grad school thing. The literature on this particular topic is really interesting, which is great because I keep finding new articles, but its also terrible because I’m tempted to continue following the references into new and different areas, never finishing my paper.
I also talked to my advisor and agreed on some possible research interests. My thesis work is shaping up and I’m really excited. My advisor mentioned a research interest that she has always wanted to pursue, but didn’t have the technical knowledge. I’m also fascinated by the possibilities for research using this technology so I’m really excited.

I’m also a little concerned about the speed of my writing. It seems that five pages is about all I can manage in a day, which seems rather slow. I think I’m still not familiar enough with the topics I’m writing about to know what needs explaining and what is common knowledge within the discipline.

I still have to write two short papers and grade twenty exams in the next few days.
Ok, back to work!

In the last few years there has been an outbreak of interesting new science fiction and fantasy movies/TV series. I have always loved these genres. My parents read Lord of the Rings out loud while my mom was pregnant with me. When I was eight we didn’t have a TV but my brother and I compulsively listened to audiotapes of the The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and Star Wars. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of other, more serious forms of literature. Luckily I married a man who is even more of a sci-fi geek than I am. I’m not 100% sure why I like these genres so much, but I think it has something to do with the freedom to explore various moral questions and strange yet familiar situations freely. It seems that the recent improvements in special effects technologies have resulted in corresponding improvements in the story lines of science fiction/fantasy programs.

I’m not sure whether to be happy because many excellent stories are being translated to the screen or upset because watching the story on the screen is always a poor substitute for exercising your imagination. Either way, here are some thoughts on interesting new developments…(Don’t read any further if you don’t want the stories spoiled!)

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe-Beorn and I watched the DVD of this a couple of nights ago. Overall the story was well translated from the book, but there were some disappointments. I thought the acting was excellent, especially the white witch, who was properly beautiful and terrible at once. The children, though, seemed too far apart in ages. I always imagined the four children being very close in age since arguing and rivalry was such an important part of the story. In the movie the actor playing Peter, the oldest brother is about 16 years old and the actress playing Lucy, the youngest, is about 8 years old. I don’t think Lewis ever states in the books the children’s ages but a gap of 8 years seems much too large. The story has also been sanitized for the big screen. One of the most important scenes in the book is Peter’s first kill, Fenrus wolf, the witch’s first lieutenant. After the fight Peter is sickened, but is reminded by Aslan to properly clean the blood from his sword (wow! young man, right-of-passage, the horror of being a man, all that). In the movie Peter manages to stab the wolf without any blood touching the sword. Throughout the movie there is not so much as a drop of blood, even though there is a great and terrible battle for the whole of Narnia. As much as I understand the urge to protect children from violence and death, this story is a Christian allegory about the crucifixion of Christ. Somehow it seems wrong to subject children to the crucifixion but take the horror out of it, but maybe that’s just me.

The New Battlestar Galactica- I remember watching reruns of the original Battlestar as a child. The dichotomy between the heroic, persecuted human race and the evil robot cylons was not exactly brilliant, but there were lots of pretty faces and operatic drama. The new series turns the original on its head. Instead of a cliqued contrast between noble humans and soulless robots, the cylons have developed religion and become indistinguishable from humans through liberal mixing of organic and inorganic elements. The people in charge of saving the last bedraggled fleet of human refugees are all tragically flawed. Humans and cylons fall in love, torture their enemies, engage in espionage, and kill eachother. As the series progresses it become less and less a war of humans against evil robots and more and more like a war between two radically different human cultures.

The New Doctor Who-Classic Doctor Who is an acquired taste; you have to enjoy the cheesy special effects, strange costumes, sexism, etc. It was a BBC series that ran from 1963 until 1989. The amazing longevity of the original series relied on a clever ploy, which allowed the actor playing the Doctor to change while the series continued. The new series, which began last year in Britain, is a brilliant postmodern combination of ridiculous, silly plots and monsters and moments of deeply real emotional vulnerability. The Doctor himself is much more slick than in the original series and has developed a sexual side to his persona. (In the original the Doctor frequently ran around with scantily clad young women but was somehow forever asexual.) In the first episode department store mannequins controlled by aliens attack the Doctor. In the second episode the Doctor and Rose travel forward in time to witness the destruction of the earth. The best moment is a short scene between Rose and a blue skinned female space station plumber with a cockney accent. In a later episode Rose and the Doctor meet up with Jack Harkness, a bisexual (or perhaps pan-sexual since there are different species involved) con-man with a heart of gold.

Wow! I had no idea I liked writing so much about sci-fi/fantasy. Next up, my all time favorite sci-fi/fantasy books!

I’m never sure if these personality tests are measuring my personality or the personality I wish I had, but I like these results.

If you want to try the test yourself, look here.

As seen on What the hell is wrong with you?

So I realize that all my complaints about academia aren’t particularly original or interesting, but this blog is my space to complain if I want to! (Stomps foot!)

The question of the day:
If you are going to plagiarize why choose the first website that comes up when you google the topic? For example, you are writing a paper on the development of Muir Woods so you lift huge portions of your paper directly from the National Park Service website. Just to make it completely obvious, you include important information like the hours the park is open and where the parking lots are located.

Did I mention that my advisor just got a big grant, so there might be money for me to work on/analyze some of her research as my thesis? I have my own research ideas, but I’m driving myself crazy trying to rush to perfect them. Better to help her for a while and continue reading/perfecting my ideas so that my disseration is more successful.

I have been frustrated with the educational system at Big Ag U. As a grad student, it works fairly well for me. I’m a small enough fish to go mostly unnoticed by the powers that be, which allows me to do pretty much what I want will teaching enough to get my degree paid for. But I feel bad for the undergrads; these people are supposed to be the top students in the state and this is how the system repays them for all their hard work during high school? It’s true that their writing skills are frequently pathetic and most of them refuse to say a word in discussion, but is that really their faults? They have been brainwashed by too many years in the public school system.

My problem is the wave of apathy and disinterest that I feel when I walk into my discussion sessions. It’s not fun to try to fight against that sinking feeling. I’m tired of being asked, “Is this part of our grade?” I’m also disappointed with students’ ability to retain any of the lecture materials. The lecturer I’m TAing for is a very enthusiastic and fun and yet students barely remember anything about the lectures. It could be their lack of attendance, considering the class has close to 120 students and on most days there are no more than 70 present. But there is no way, as far as I can see, for me to effectively teach them three hours of material in 50 minutes of discussion.

I have been grading term papers after sitting on them for a week. They actually aren’t as bad as I thought at first glance. Many students wrote sophisticated analysis’s of the connection between historical forces and the development of a specific landscape. Its not that I feel bad for giving poor grades; its just that I hate seeing work half finished, ideas mashed together and only partly formed. But without the power to reshape the class syllabus, I feel powerless to really improve student writing or thinking. Unfortunately, the system seems to reinforce students’ focus on grades as primary motivators.

Just when I was about to give and attempt to motive students by threatening grade punishment, I ran into an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov 8, 2002, titled “The Dangerous Myth of Grade Inflation.” The author, Alfie Kohn, confirms my suspicions that the extrinsic motivation provided by grades as been found to be inversely related to an intrinsic love of learning. He also points out that there is no real proof of grade inflation and academics have been complaining of this phenomenon for over one hundred years. But as a tiny cog in the giant machine called Big Ag U. it is very difficult for me to refocus my students away from grades and towards real learning.

Since there is now less than a week of actual classes left and I have a ton of papers to grade, the procrastination has really begun. My new slogan this quarter is “I can’t complain,” because compared to some of my previous quarters this one isn’t bad. I haven’t been losing much sleep and have only had the occasional panic attack.

Things to do:
Grade ~30 papers
Write one 15 paper literature review
Write two 5 page response papers
Grade ~30 essay style finals
Finish a website for my advisor
Turn in 3 assignments for my computer graphics course

I’m deeply disturbed by a new commercial for Milky Way bars. It involves a man and woman standing on the doorstep of a house. Its clearly the end of a first date, and the woman does not allow the man into her house. The man retreats back to his car, to the comfort of a milky way. But as he goes to bite the candy it magically turns into a beautiful young woman who showers him with praise. This is followed by the slogan, “Milky Way…Comfort in a Bar.” I was immediately disturbed by this commerical, but watching it again I noticed something even more disturbing. The young woman has a strange accent. I can’t identify its orgin, but I can only conclude that this woman is supposed to be exotic/passive/easy.

This poem is long, but when I read it I was reminded of how much I like Ferlinghetti.

ARE THERE NOT STILL FIREFLIES

Are there not still fireflies
Are there not still four-leaf clovers
Is not our land still beautiful
Our fields not full of armed enemies
Our cities never bombed to oblivion
Never occupied by iron armies
speaking iron tongues
Are not our warriors still valiant
ready to defend us
Are not our senators still wearing fine togas
Are we not still a great people
Is this not still a free country
Are not our fields still ours
our gardens still full of flowers
our ships with full cargoes

Why then do some still fear
the barbarians are coming
coming coming
in their huddled masses
(What is that sound that fills the ear
drumming drumming?)

Is not Rome still Rome
Is not Los Angeles still Los Angeles
Are these really the last days of the Roman Empire

Is not beauty still beauty
And truth still truth
Are there not still poets
Are there not still lovers
Are there not still mothers
sisters and brothers
Is there not still a full moon
once a month

Are there not still fireflies
Are there not still stars at night
Can we not still see them
in bowl of night
signalling to us
our so-called manifest destinies?

-Lawrence Ferlinghetti