Thursday, January 21, 2010

A poem

I thought this idea up while walking home from the train tonight.

Disney Presents: Stephanie on Ice!!

No easier in the dark than in the morning gray
Sidewalk shines in the white lamp light ... sometimes
Water or something less fluid?  Won't know yet
Until I plant my foot in what I think is run-off

In one small moment
A slide, just a fraction of an inch
Stomach lurches--I'm going to fall! and die! or break my nose!
Arms straighten
Back curves
Eyes wide

Other foot plants itself
Lucky that this part of ground
Has friction
Sweet, sweet friction

A stretch of sidewalk, well lit
No shine, no gleam--the only state of water is the vapor in my breath
Heart drops--I can see the end of the safe zone
Slippery packed snow awaits me

People too lazy to clear their sidewalks
Or too lazy to check and see
Whether it's their responsibility
Or the town's
Either way, I wonder who is liable
If I slip and fall
Possibly into traffic

The streets are mostly clear
With only a little shimmer near the edges
Still safer than a sidewalk
But only an idiot
Would think it safer to walk in the road
At night
Facing traffic
Wearing black
Than to risk a fall on a sidewalk
With snow to perhaps cushion the blow

The lesson of the story
Is that even the best of us
With years of experience
Still feel the lurch
The fear
The dread
Until the other foot lands on rougher ground
Maybe we fall less
But we don't slip less on the ice

Slightly surprising

Apparently, Loki will try to eat anything I'm eating.  Except FRUIT SNACKS.

I'm not a Democrat, and Scott Brown is a poodle

Okay, more on the second one in a minute.

I'm not a Democrat.  A Democrat is a person who is a member of the Democratic Party.  I am not a member of the Democratic Party.  I am unaffiliated with any political party (mostly because I hate being put in boxes, and now that I can choose a box, I choose no box).  My political views and convictions are liberal and progressive, and I'm so far left of the Democrats right now that the only reason why I'd be okay with being associated with them is that some people still think you're either a Republican or a Democrat, and I'm obviously not a Republican.

A slew of Democrats in power right now, including President Obama, are what I would consider left-moderate.*  I think that if the Republican Party weren't going fucking insane right now, turning into a fringe group with mainstream status, the Democrats could be a bit more left.  But since they're trying to please and appease and compromise and speak reason to uber-conservatives who aren't interested in being reasoned with, they're not really doing anything that liberal right now.  As for being progressive ... long way to go.

So, I'm not a Democrat.  I tend to vote Democrat because moderate is the lesser of our current two evils (the other being conservative).  I vote for the party that isn't openly against women's rights, that isn't openly against queer rights, that isn't openly racist, that isn't openly classist, that isn't openly anti-immigrant, etc. etc. etc.  I say "openly" because plenty of Democrats (in power or otherwise) are those things, or do those things on an individual level, but the party itself is supposed to be what lefties and progressives are for.

And so that puts me in a weird position, where I'm not a Democrat, but I'm shuffled into generalizations about the party, especially when it comes to talking about Martha Coakley's defeat in the special election.  I'm not going to talk about her campaign because as far as I can tell, if you're not going to make the effort to learn about your political candidates and check your facts, and you seriously have to rely on things like advertising and Scott Brown and his truck, and you're livid that Coakley didn't shake people's hands on a cold day or that she called Curt Schilling a Yankees fan,** then I find you extremely annoying.  But what bothers me (besides the fact that Scott Brown is going to be our next senator) is that bloggers and journalists are talking about Democrats and progressives liberals as if we're all the same, and we're not.

Many Democrats voted for Brown.  Many liberals aren't progressives.  Many non-Democrats are not happy with the results.  What does that mean in terms of reporting?  In the same way that "Massachusetts has spoken" is completely inaccuate (it would be more accurate to say, "A slim majority of Massachusetts has spoken"), "liberals are demoralized" is completely inaccurate ("Many Coakley voters are rip-shit pissed" would be infinitely more accurate).

Onto Scott Brown himself.  I am very angry that he won.  Not only will he do a poor job of representing me because he's an upperclass Christian man, but from his voting record and political positions, I know he will make absolutely no effort to represent me in Congress.  That's supposed to be the whole point of Congress: get a bunch of people to represent each state and hopefully all of our citizens will be represented, and these representatives will make decisions in the interests of their constituents.  Right now, though, we elect people who makes us lots of promises, and then who go off to Washington, D.C. (which is not represented in the Senate) and do whatever the fuck they want, and then we have to beg them to please for the love of god do what we wanted them to do.  Not a good system.

This senator-elect says he supports Roe v. Wade, but he also supports the ban on partial birth abortion (which, by the way, is not the name of any real medical procedure), as well as "conscience clauses" for professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and pharmacists.***  In short, he clearly does not actually respect women's autonomy over their own bodies and ability to make decisions regarding their bodies, sexualities, or health.  It also makes his support of Roe v. Wade extremely suspect; I wonder if he might withdraw his support for the decision now that he's not worried about garnering votes.

He opposes granting suspected terrorists fair trials, which is unconstitutional.  He talks about cutting taxes and investing in jobs, but none of these promised tax cuts ever help the people who need them (middle class, working class, etc.), and what money is there to invest in jobs if we've cut taxes?  I don't claim to fully understand the situation with our troops in Afganistan, but I'm pretty tired of war and not getting the full story on what the hell purpose these wars serve.  And I want to see that money used for domestic policy ... like investing in jobs!

He opposes healthcare reform, which is assinine because the state he represents has better healthcare than the reform would even provide.  I'm aware that a lot of Massachusetts residents might not be that concerned about reform because we already have ours, but to have a senator from a state where reform obviously works say he's against healthcare reform is. just. plain. stupid.

Scott Brown is being hailed as a new breed of GOP.  Guess what?  Scott Brown is a new breed of GOP!!  You know, in the same way that the poodle is a new breed of poodle!  TOTALLY new breed, yeah?!

Totally new poodle.

* I would consider them left-moderate.  I also have no degree in political science.

** No, I do not think that Coakley made even a remotely smart decision in refusing to shake hands with people.  I think that it's also not remotely smart for people to judge her for that.  Was her Yankees fan comment directed at Curt Schilling a good thing to say?  No.  Is it annoying as shit that Curt Schilling is using his position in Red Sox Nation to get us to vote for the candidate he likes?  YES.  Curt Schilling also loved George W. Bush and supported John McCain.  That's kind of like being a Yankees fan, when you think about it, because it's about rooting for the bad guys.

*** For those of you who aren't familiar with the idea of a "conscience clause," here's a 'splanation.  Let's say you are a pharmacist, and a woman comes into the pharmacy and asks you to fill her prescription.  The prescription is for a type of birth control pill.  And you, the pharmacist, firmly believe that contraception is morally wrong, that hormonal contraception is the same thing as an abortion, that preventing a pregnancy is the same thing as terminating one, or that either this woman shouldn't be having sex, or (if she's married) she should be trying to have babies ... etc. etc. ad inf.  You decide that it is your moral (often religious ... well, maybe always, I think) obligation to refuse this woman her prescription.  Or that it's your moral obligation to refuse to provide her with under-the-counter emergency contraception on similar grounds.  Or you're a nurse or a doctor, and your patient needs an emergency abortion or requests a non-emergency one, and you're morally opposed.

The conscience clause allows you to say, "I morally cannot provide you with this service."  Exceptions to the clause would be if there were no other people available to provide the service (only one pharmacist present in the store, only one doctor present, all available nurses necessary for a procedure, etc.).

The whole "Scott Brown voted to deny rape victims access to emergency contraception" revolves around his support of the conscience clause, to the point where yes, he believes that it should protect hospital workers even if there's a rape victim who asks for it.

The conscience clause is complete bullshit.  If you are a pharmacist or a doctor or a nurse, etc. etc., you have a responsibility to do your job.  It is absolutely none of your business why someone might asked for a particular prescription to be filled, request a particular under-the-counter medication, or need a particular procedure.  And if your religious or moral beliefs prevent you from providing these services, then you need to find another career.  If I ever find myself denied a service because of a conscience clause, believe me, I will not go quietly.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How was your weekend? What did you do? Online dating and the interrogation

I'm not an expert on exactly what to say on online dating sites that will make a person want to talk more with you.  I'm not even an expert on what I would want a guy to say to get me to be a little interested.  But there's plenty that you could say that I find totally annoying.

In this case, it's what I call the interrogation.  In my case, it happens when a guy IMs me or messages me and asks me a lot of questions.  Sometimes, questions are okay, usually if I'm the one who made first contact and the questions are more along the lines of "So, what's your favorite thing about working in advertising?" or "You mentioned you like this particular author on your profile; what books in particular do you like by them?"

But the interrogation is what I hate.  "Hey, how are you?  What are you up to?  Did you have a good weekend?  What did you do?"  Here's my answer: None of your fucking business.

Don't ask me how I am if you've never met me.  Don't ask me how my weekend was because you haven't looked at my profile and don't know what to talk about.

Or, you know, you can, but I probably will sound coldly disinterested.

Look, I just don't want to talk to a stranger about how I spent my weekend!  I don't even understand why these people ask these questions; they're pretty intrusive.  It's not making conversation; it's obvious that you have nothing to talk about, and if you have nothing to talk about, then why would I be interested?


Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Absurdities of Advertising

Or, just one in particular.

A lot of commercials, especially for women's products, have a message like this: "We ALL know we have this EMBARRASSING problem, and here's something we can do now to fix it!"

For example: "We ALL know we have PUBIC HAIR that grows in such a way as to stick out of underwear or bikini bottoms, and here's something we can do to fix that problem!"

My question: If we ALL have this "problem," then why is it a problem?  Isn't it NORMAL, then?  And if it's inappropriate to display pubes, like if they're sticking out of your bathing suit, shouldn't bathing suits be changed to cover those areas better?  Shouldn't it be something that we're not all ashamed of because. It's. Normal?

Oh, patriarchy.  You are just so frustrating.

Mamma Mia

I'm watching Mamma Mia on HBO, and while I like it, I've got some issues with it.  Spoilers follow if you're not interesting in knowing any details.

First off, there are two women in the story who have made it clear that they're not interested in getting married: Donna and Rosie.  Donna, the main character and single mother of 20-year-old Sophie, runs a taverna on her own.  She slept with three different men around the same time, and therefore has no idea which of the three men is the father of Sophie; when she got pregnant, she was disowned.  I actually appreciate this part of the story: we don't judge Donna for her sexual past, or even the lack of father for Sophie, and because we identify with Donna, we're not sympathetic to her mother, who disowned her.

And so the rest of the movie doesn't necessarily work too well (or, I should say, the story, since the movie is an adaption of the musical).  You've got a mother raising her daughter, no father in the picture, and the mother (until this point, I suppose) has managed to stay afloat financially.  So even if it makes sense for Sophie to want to know who her father is, out of curiosity, I feel as if she would have started a dialogue with her mother about his identity.

And while I agree with Sophie's fiance, Sky, that she doesn't need to know her father's identity to be a complete person, or to have a "real" family, I also think his whole assertion that she's having the wedding just to find her father is unfair.  So it's even more annoying that once Sophie learns the "identity" of her father, she calls off the wedding.  While on the one hand, I read it as a 20-year-old getting too caught up in the romantic ideal of marriage, on the other, I think a lot of people see it as the fickle nature of a woman who doesn't know what she wants.

And meanwhile, Donna, who has been FINE on her own until the arrival of her three ex-lovers, suddenly isn't fine and very unconvincingly talks about how she's TOTALLY happy being independent.  Again, on one hand, we can see this as her never getting over Sam, and then it makes more sense why she so quickly agrees to marry him.  But on the other hand, the character undermines the credibility of women who actually ARE fine being single, or being financially independent.

And then there's Rosie, one of Donna's friends who is perfectly happy being a lone wolf.  After a day of meeting Bill, one of Sophie's fathers, she's totally smitten, even though he seems completely, utterly uninterested (seriously; I was watching, thinking, "Oh my god, she's singing to him about how she likes him and he's going to reject her, isn't he!").  It sort of reinforces the subtle idea that women who say they're happy being alone really AREN'T.

I do like this movie.  It's silly.  And it's sexual (the scene where Rosie and Tanya ask Donna if she's getting any, and she uses a drill to euphemize slays me).  And it has Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan (first older man crush back from his Bond days, siiiiiigh), and Colin Firth in it.  Triple swoon.  But the messages are really ... problematic and weird.

EDIT: Also, Julie Walters in this movie is fucking hilarious.  I keep remembering that she also plays Mrs. Weasley, so it's extra ridiculous to hear her talk about donkey testicles and then have her sing "Take a Chance On Me."

Friday, January 15, 2010

A luff affair ... or two or three

Things Loki is pseudo-in-love-with:

His Triforce

My big toe

The aluminum material of my laptop

The Starry Night blanket

The glass sliding door

The slats of the blind in front of the glass sliding door

One of the leg posts of one of the chairs in the living room

One of the leg posts of the coffee table

The clicker (remote control for the TV)

My watch

My phone

My glasses frames*

The Wiimote**

The Wii console

My index finger

* Depends on his mood; sometimes he's scared of them

** Not the nunchuck; he's afraid of that


I found myself wondering yesterday why I don't remember such a global and national response to the Dec. 26th, 2004 tsunami.  Maybe it was because I was only 18 (geez, that's creepy--I was still in high school), and back when I was 18, I wasn't nearly as aware of international issues as I am now, nor had I even thought about feminism and progressive thinking before.

Now I wonder if maybe it was because South Asia and Indonesia are farther away than Haiti.  Maybe it's because the US only sent about $400,000 in aid according to Wikipedia.  Maybe it had something to do with Bush being president.  I have no fucking clue.

It was a devastating event; hundreds of thousands died, and I know that even today, many areas and communities are still recovering.  It's not that I think that the situation in Haiti is necessarily "better," especially considering the state of the country even prior to the quake.  It's that I'm trying to understand why I feel so much more involved in this event, and not the one in 2004.  Is it because I've grown older?  More socially aware/responsible?  Or is it because of geographic or politics?

Some people are being idiots about the quake in Haiti, Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh specifically.  Their racist, assholish, narcissistic filth is humiliating, since I'm apparently from the same country that they are.  What the hell is wrong with them?  Limbaugh is going on and on about how we're helping LIGHT AND DARK-SKINNED!!!! people.  Robertson is claiming that it's a "true story" that Haitians made a deal with the devil to escape the French.

I wonder if we made one to escape the British.

To make matters worse, now that there's an outpouring of aid and volunteers and supplies and everything else, everything's bottlenecking in Haiti.  Roads are blocked, there's very little return fuel for planes (and landing is a motherfucker), and survivors are growing impatient.

Do survivors have the "right" to grow impatient and angry?  That's not even the right question to ask.  You don't have to have permission to have particular emotions, and in this case, it's understandable.  I mean, your home is destroyed, your loved ones are either dead or missing, you're injured, you're starving, you haven't had clean water in god knows how long, and here are these people who are supposed to help you and all they have is aspirin.

It's awful.

I do wish I could fly down and try to help, but I also know that I should not, even if I actually could.  I would be another person in Haiti requiring food, shelter, and water.  I might be helpful to help administer medical aid, but I wouldn't be able to do anything on my own.  I wouldn't speak the language.  I wouldn't be able to search for people in the rubble.

So I donated to Partners in Health, a Boston/Haiti based health initiative that currently has hospitals/medical center areas in Haiti and is working to help people injured in the quake.  I assume that soon, they'll be treating people who have become ill from lack of food or clean water or infection from injuries.  It's the least I can do, I think; my money is going towards helping someone or some people get through this impossibly devastating event.

If you CAN donate, please do.  If you CAN'T, you really can't, then don't, but spread the word.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Weird Dreams

Last night, I dreamt that I was in a group of people who would slowly be turned into horses if we didn't correctly answer 5 GRE analogy questions in a specific amount of time.  I remember thinking, "This is going to be bullshit easy," but then the vocabulary words were ones I'd never seen before,* and some of the analogy questions either didn't have analogies in the answer choices, or they were actually some sort of analogy/sentence completion hybrid.  I panicked.

* Upon waking up, I realized that I hadn't seen the words before because they were made up (one of them was something like VEXAMPURE).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Glasses as Non-Fashion

I'm wearing glasses today because my eyes have been ridiculously sore recently (long story short: they've been red and watery since Friday, with some improvement over the weekend until Monday night).  My mental image of myself is sans glasses; when I look in the mirror, I'm always quite startled at how I look when I'm wearing them.  And since I'm unused to wearing them at work (just as, three years ago, I was unused to wearing them in class), when I leave the apartment, or when I'm out in public in general, I feel like I forgot to get dressed or something.

I hate wearing glasses.  I'm not suggesting that everyone in the whole world or in all of history also hates/ed wearing glasses, or that they SHOULD hate them.  I, personally, myself, hate wearing glasses.  I just don't like to wear them.  There's nothing about them that could be fixed and then I'd magically like wearing them.

But I have to wear them.  I can't wear contacts ALL the time, and when my eyes are in rough shape, I can't wear them regularly at all.  I don't have the money for LASIK.  Glasses are a necessity.  If I can't find them, I'm frantic.  Again, I hate them.  I do.  But I rely on them.

My contact lens perscriptions are -7 in my left eye and -8 in my right (lenses at these powers don't come in quarter sizes, so when I needed something stronger than -6.5 but weaker than -7, there were no options); I don't know my glasses perscription because it's somewhere in my closet where I stuck it without looking in it.  I wear my glasses for important things (like work or driving) so infrequently that it is a waste of money for me to update them regularly.  My old ophthalmologist insisted that if I updated my glasses, I would wear them more often (he only wanted me wearing my lenses for 10 hours a day--that's never going to happen).  I kept trying to explain that I already knew from past experience that that was not and never would be the case.  Like I said, I don't like wearing my glasses, and it's not something that's going to get fixed.

If you've never worn contacts, or you're just not sure what -7 and -8 mean in terms of my vision, it means that my vision is crap.  I've only met two people in my life who are not legally blind, but have similarly bad vision.  That's not to imply that the next step for my vision, if it were to get worse, would be legal blindness, but to make it clear that there are people with worse vision than I have, but their vision can't be corrected with lenses, and that I've yet to meet someone with worse vision who isn't legally blind.  I often can't see people's faces when I'm not wearing corrective lenses, and I'm usually unable to read the big E on the vision charts.  I have to wear a watch to bed because I can't always read the time on my alarm clock.  When I played flute regularly, I couldn't wear glasses to rehearsals because I couldn't see the baton using peripheral vision (which made for some crappy playing on my part during our wind ensemble tour, when I had conjunctivitis).

So, you know what annoys the crap out of me?  People who don't need to wear glasses (meaning perfect vision; I know people who don't always NEED to wear glasses, but prefer to because it's easier than taking them on and off situationally) who wear glasses as a fashion statement.

That's not to say that fashionable glasses are stupid.  I'd like to be able to see without having to wear really stupid-looking frames.  But when people who don't need glasses wear fake ones, I find it upsetting.

As common as shitty vision is, it's still a type of disability.  I'm not legally blind, but what if I were?  If my vision couldn't be corrected, and it was always like it is now when I don't wear lenses, I wouldn't be able to drive.  I wouldn't be able to work in this lab, or this field.  I'd have to hold reading materials so close to my face in order to read them that I'd go cross-eyed (I just tested this out, by the way; it's unpleasant).  I could use my computer, since I've VERY occasionally used it sans-lenses, but I would only be able to use it for a short period of time, and I probably wouldn't rely on it for anything.

I'm grateful that I'm able to function normally even though my vision is rotten without any sort of treatment.  I am.  But glasses are part of my disability.  It bothers me when people use them as a fashion statement, without any connection to the purpose of glasses or the problems that require them.

Anyway, it just really bothers me.  About as much as it bothers me when I have to wear glasses, like now.  Uuugh.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Tonight, I spent hours typing in vocabulary words and definitions into an online flashcard generator.  I entered 430 cards (428 words--two were repeats with different parts of speech and meanings) total, all from the vocabulary lists in one of my review books.  I have a set of flashcards that I purchases which have a lot of the same words, but some new ones; they're great for vocab work on the train, but I need to enter in the novel ones into the generator soon.  And then I have an entire other prep book that I haven't even opened yet.

That's right, kids.  I'll be taking the GRE in February using a combination of methods from Kaplan, Princeton Review, and Barrons.  I am unstoppable.

Well, I got 630/630 on my first, online practice test, which wasn't great.  Next time I take an online one, I'll try to pay to get my essays graded.  I hate not knowing how they're graded, so maybe I should see if anyone I know works for Kaplan GRE.  I know how the SAT ones are scored, but I don't know how much that'll help me.

Anyway, I was typing in a definition, and I was supposed to type the word "fickle."  Now, I was sitting in an awkward position; the only table I can work at is the dining room table, and that's mostly covered in menorah, candlesticks, and fish (singular).  So I was on the sofa, lying down, computer on my knees and book between me and the computer.  I think I strained all of the muscles in both hands trying to type all those cards in that position.  But it was difficult, and I was, much too often, hitting adjacent keys while typing.

And so, I typed "fuckle" instead.  And thus, a new curseword was born.

I have resolved to use this new curseword to discover its best usage.  I'm way excited.

Reid's Racist Comments

So, Senator Reid's ridiculously racist comments, where, during the 2008 Presidential race (no pun intended), he described Obama's lighter skin and lack of "Negro" dialect as reasons why he (Obama) could successfully be elected President, have been all over the news.

I'm not sure whether or not I think Reid should step down.  On the one hand, I do agree that saying something obscenely racist and offensive doesn't negate everything else about a person (for example, we can think that The Pianist is a fantastic movie without condoning Roman Polanski's behavior or anti-woman attitudes--just as being a rapist doesn't make Polanski's movies automatically suck, making good movies also does not excuse him from being a rapist, or the consequences of his rapist actions).

But these comments are really, really, really offensive, as well as incredibly revealing about racism in the US.  Look, I'm really not SURPRISED that an old, white, upper-middleclass straight guy said what Reid said.  Everyone's going on about how he's a Democrat, isn't this shocking!!!11! (or they're getting all racism-apologetic, talking about how it's OKAY for him to be racist because he's a Dem).  But it's not shocking.  I know enough about the Democratic party to know that they're not progressive.  So this isn't surprising at all.  Just annoying.

To me, this is an example of where the stupid thing that someone has said reveals a lot about their mindset.  While yes, I do think it might have been better if Reid had never said anything so incredibly racist and stupid, even if he didn't SAY it, he obviously THINKS it.  This way, I know that he harbors this racist idea.  If he had been smart enough to keep quiet, then we wouldn't know about it.


I don't know if he should step down.  If there's precedent for it, then yes, he should.

I find it moderately hilarious that the GOP is claiming a double standard.  First off, I don't think it's that accurate to compare Former Senator Lott to Senator Reid, although it's not TOTALLY inaccurate.  Second of all, the GOP doesn't understand what a double standard actually means.  Really.  You guys have no clue.  I'm serious.

Anyway, we'll see what happens.  I'd like to see Reid do SOMETHING to try to repair this huge issue he created, something more than just saying, "Whoops, sorry!"  After all, he made the comments almost two years ago, and he's only apologizing now that everyone knows about it.  I'd file that under "Only Feels Bad Because People Are Angry, Not Because S/he's Legitimately Sorry."

SAT Essay

I teach for Kaplan Inc.; more specifically, I teach the SAT for the Boston Pre-College Office.  My favorite section of the test to teach is the essay, since I took the writing twice back when it was a separate test, and I improved my essay score by 5 points (and my total score by about 140, a lot of which was from the essay).  So, after reading up on the GRE on Wikipedia, I checked out the SAT.  I decided to look at the criticisms, to see how fair they were.  Here's one section:

"MIT Study

In 2005, MIT Writing Director Les Perelman plotted essay length versus essay score on the new SAT from released essays and found a high correlation between them. After studying over 50 graded essays, he found that longer essays consistently produced higher scores. In fact, he argues that by simply gauging the length of an essay without reading it, the given score of an essay could likely be determined correctly over 90% of the time. He also discovered that several of these essays were full of factual errors, although the College Board does not claim to grade for factual accuracy.
Perelman, along with the National Council of Teachers of English also criticized the 25-minute writing section of the test for damaging standards writing teaching in the classroom. They say that writing teachers training their students for the SAT will not focus on revision, depth, accuracy, but will instead produce long, formulaic, and wordy pieces.[32] "You're getting teachers to train students to be bad writers," concluded Perelman.[33]"

Look, I teach this test.  I can't give away exactly how the essay is taught, since you need to take a Kaplan course for me to be able to do that.  But let's use common sense.

Let's say that you write an essay for the SAT, and it's 2 medium-length paragraphs long.  What are the chances that you've managed to write a good SAT essay?  Here are the basic instructions for any given SAT essay:

"Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations."

Can you develop your point of view on an issue and support your position with reasoning and examples in two paragraphs?  Probably not.

As for factual errors, College Board hasn't ever really pretended that it checks for those.  You can lie in this essay.  Really.  Of course, it's much easier to tell the truth than it is to lie, but if you want to make up a historical figure or book character so you can use them as examples to make your point, you can do it.  The essay is not meant to actually measure your knowledge of whatever you're talking about (if you want to do that, take a subject test).  It's meant to examine your writing abilities.  So no one cares if you write about how Obama wants to create death panels because no one cares how accurate it is as long as you're able to utilize this factoid properly in your essay.

So, if the test is meant to measure your writing abilities, and we agree that a student is more likely to write a better essay if s/he writes more, rather than less (there is a cap of 2 handwritten pages, so students can't write 10 pages, which they probably couldn't achieve in 25 minutes anyway), then obviously there's going to be a correlation between essay length and essay score.  The essays are still judged based on non-length attributes, of course, so it's not as if readers are just looking at length and applying a score.  But honestly, I guess I just don't see a problem with this.

The fact is, you cannot really FIX this problem, if it even is one.  The only way to have factual accuracy be a requirement would essentially be to give students laptops with internet access for them to look up information during the exam, and considering the ways that that would facilitate cheating, I doubt anyone would suggest that.  After all, students are not informed of the topic of the essay prior to the test (to prevent cheating/pre-writing), and so they wouldn't be able to study their sources and examples beforehand.*

Does the essay really measure writing ability?  I have to grade the essays for my students when I administer the test (for the real test, there are professional readers, but Kaplan trains all of its teachers to know how to pretty damn accurately score these essays), and I can tell you, the better writers usually start out with higher scores and/or improve the most (poor writers often never get the hang of how to write an SAT essay).  So, yes, I think there's value in the writing section.

Honestly, if people want to question the applicability of the SAT, I think it would be more worthwhile to examine the cultural biases.  I don't think that the SAT is perfect, nor do I think it's a good test for everyone.  But to argue that the essay portion is bogus because of a correlation is to misunderstand how the test works.

* From what I remember of the Biology AP test, we did have to write short essays on a few biological topics (I think I got ones about moss and the MHC, both of which I TOTALLY BS'ed even though I understand the MHC better now; we never learned either in class).  I do think that this is a better (NOT perfect, just better) way of testing knowledge in essay sections; the goal wasn't to see how well students could write, but to see how well they understood a concept.  If you were to add a writing component to the SAT subject tests (some of them, anyway), I could see that maybe working.  Then again, I don't teach any of the SAT subject tests, so what do I know?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

More weird dreams

Last night, I dreamt that I missed the train for work, but forgot to call in to say I'd be late.  At around 3pm, I realized I should call because I might get fired otherwise.  I first had to think of an excuse that wasn't, "I was sleeping."  I ended up justifying me missing work because my aunt needed a babysitter, and I decided that yes, it was okay for me to miss work for babysitting so my aunt could GO to work.  But I wasn't actually babysitting.  And then I woke up.

Phone alarm

I set my phone calendar to alert me at 9:40 am that I need to check the mice today.  On my way to work, I remembered anyway and erased the calender item.

At 9:40 am, a ring tone that I've never used (one of the upbeat phone ones) alerted me to an event scheduled.  The event?

Name of the event: several "y"s with umlauts (taking up the entire line)
Dates/times: Oct 13, 13652 7:63pm to Feb 31, 4095 11:59pm
Repeated End Time
Until Feb 31 4095


Also, this isn't the first time this has happened.  It did the same thing last time, but that was months ago and I didn't write it down for posterity.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

This is how Zelda works

A lot of you know that I'm a fan of the Legend of Zelda series.  I first really got introduced to the series with Ocarina of Time in 1998 (I liked video games, but I didn't really think that I was good at them until I started helping my brother solve the various puzzles).  Since then, I've never really been able to shake my love for the series, and I've also recently gotten involved in Zeldathon, a newish annual Zelda marathon for charity (which is awesome and when we next hold it, you all should donate and watch and cheer us on, etc.).

Many of my friends like video games, too, and we'll recommend games to each other.  If I think a friend might like the series, and s/he hasn't yet played it, I'll recommend Zelda.  Usually, though, these friends have already played Zelda, and many who haven't ... still haven't (boo!).  Finally, I got one of my friends to start playing Zelda, specifically Twilight Princess, the latest console game (until the newer one is released by the end of this year, yessss).  My friend, KJ (KeyboardJockey--she and KosherBeef are my officially nicknamed friends), just started playing the other day.  Meanwhile, I lent my copy of the game to my best friend and her brother, and so even though I was suddenly eager to go back to TP and work on my complete game file, I couldn't (wah!).  So I decided, finally, to play Wind Waker.*

Here's what happened last night:

(Approximately 1:30 am--IM to KJ, who was online but away and non-responsive)
Me: BTW, don't play Zelda on work nights.
Me: Because then it'll be 1:30, and you won't have gone to bed.
Me: Even though you have to bring your car in around 7:30 and not be late for 9:30 lab meeting.
Me: All because you opened up a new dungeon, and you thought, "I'll just have a look inside."  And then, "I'll just go till the next warp jar."  And then, "Well, I'll just get the boss key; it can't take THAT long."  And then suddenly you've beaten the boss, you're back on the generic town island, and some guy is asking you to play a game where you have to catch three pigs in 2 minutes.
Me: You have been warned.

Here's what happened this evening:

(Approximately 8:00 pm--IM conversation with KJ)
KJ: its funny how I saw your message about wind waker
Me: Oh, the one I left last night?
KJ: bc an hour later I saw it bc I was just debating whether to go to the next dungeon or not

And that's how Zelda works.

* The story behind my relationship with Wind Waker is a long one, chronology-wise.  I was one of those people who was super excited when I saw the E3 video of a GameCube Link and Ganondorf battling each other.  And I was one of those people who saw the cel-shading and thought, "Okay, Nintendo, this is called a step BACKWARDS, graphics-wise."  And I was one of those people who thought, "Look, I have a hard time finding Link attractive when he's not an adult and not even the least realistic looking."

I heard it was good, but the lack of super-realistic graphics and Hot Link made it difficult for me to feel excited about the prospect of SAILING, so I passed.  I also didn't want to spend money on a new game console since I was only going to be buying it for, you know, ONE GAME.**  I did try it when I was in high school; I borrowed my friend's GameCube and his copy of the game and got to the Tower of the Gods (somehow, though, I don't remember ... playing through the first two dungeons; I remember the first boss, but not the dungeon).  But I didn't really ... like it, so I gave up on playing, eventually returned the console, and didn't really think about it much.

Then, I got a Wii,** and I decided to borrow some GameCube games from my cousin, specifically Wind Waker.  I'm a Zelda fan--I should play it.  But it sat on my bookshelf for a good year and a half.  And now I'm finally playing it.  And I really LIKE it, EXCEPT for the sailing (and I have a major complaint about part of the plot, but it's a spoiler, so shhhhhh, I can't say).

** Okay, so I bought a Wii specifically because I wanted to play Twilight Princess using the Wiimote.  I'd already PLAYED Twilight Princess (on a friend's GameCube, and I enjoyed it because I'm a purist and right-handed Link is bullshit).  While I did have the money and don't feel as if I've wasted it (although I have wasted my life with it, thanks to Harvest Moon), yes, I did buy a console, specifically to play ONE game that I'd already played.  JUDGE ME.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Back to Work

So, it's Monday, and I'm back at work.  It's a bit slow, but I spent the morning planning a protocol, and I'm letting some transwells incubate for a while this afternoon.  Things will be much busier later this week, at least, since tomorrow I get to spend a lot of time counting cells.

I have to make an adjustment to my no-chocolate-indefinitely plan.  I bring Special K protein bars and Quaker granola bars to work regularly, and both have chocolate in them.  I also have hot chocolate in the house that I haven't finished.  So my adjustment is that I can have the protein and granola bars and not have them count, and I can finish the hot chocolate (but can't buy more) and not have it count.

I made the weirdest purchase on  Or, I guess it's not that weird, but after I made it, I realized how absurd it was.  The Sims 3 ... a microwavable heating pad ... and tennis balls.

The Sims 3 will have to wait until February 13th, unfortunately, because I'm taking the GRE that morning and I really need to study (I'm fucked as it is; the Sims will just make it worse).  The heating pad and the tennis balls are for my shoulder(s).  I used those CVS-brand Thermacare pads on my right shoulder a couple of times, and they REALLY helped.  But I prefer something reusable, and as I'm a bit worried about having electric heating pads burn down my aaprtment, I picked out one I can microwave.  Takes less than a minute, apparently, and will stay warm for 45 minutes.  Excellent.

Tennis balls?  Lie down on the floor on your back, put a tennis ball under your shoulder, and roll around.  It pushes the tennis ball into the shoulder muscles around the shoulder blade, and basically massages the muscles.  I am ridiculously excited.  My shoulder is hurting just thinking about it.

In other news, it just occurred to me that just under a year ago, I had mono (eek!).  And last night, I realized that there was one majorly positive thing that happened in 2009: no flare-ups.  None.  Nada.  Maybe I'd get some swelling, but it would be gone by the next day and it wouldn't be back.  Amazing.  I've been having flare-ups regularly for years, since the beginning of college (before that, I was still learning to manage my hives, so I didn't have deep tissue swelling, but I did have pretty much constant, horribly painful hives).  No flare-ups since October 2008.  Wow.

In about 20 minutes, I have to remove the gelatin from the transwells, flip them back right-side up, and then put laminin in them.  Fun!

Friday, January 1, 2010


I don't like to make straight up resolutions for the New Year.  It always feels so futile.  So, while one of my goals is resolution-y, the other two are slightly different.

My shoulders, especially my right one (the one that's always worse), have been a wreck recently.  While getting massages from CA are all right for now (since she's not allowed to charge until she graduates, bwahaha), they're not enough, and they're just alleviating the pain, not preventing it.  And I sure as hell can't afford to pay for massages regularly, not until I move somewhere cheaper (REALLY cheaper).

So,  I'm going to make a serious effort to strengthen my rhomboid muscles, the ones that are cramping up with massive knots.  I'll also invest in a good heat pad for the right shoulder.  I've got some good rhomboid exercises and stretches, so I CAN do it.  I just have to start working on it regularly.  I'm starting now because it's gotten so bad, not simply because it's the new year.

I've done this before, but I want to do it again: How long can I go without chocolate?  We'll find out!  But it's okay; I've got Skittles.

I want to keep my room cleaner, and maintain it a bit better.  It's not just because I lost a $150 check that was free money from my credit card complany (boooo, can't believe I was so stupid), but because I HATE living in a messy space, Loki gets miserable because of it, too, and I can't use my room for anything.  Including exercises and stretches, which I need to do for my shoulder.

So, those are my somewhat resolutions.  It's good to write them down; it'll help hold me accountable or something.  Cool.