Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Dude was the best TA ever"--direct quote

This past semester I was a teaching assistant for Intro to Sociology, which was a new and interesting trip for me. You see, being a TA means many different things at many different places. But what it means here in the sociology department at the U of M is usually that you show up to class, sit there while the prof lectures and pretend you're paying attention, hold office hours no one comes to, and grade things. Pretty straightforward, and not a bad way to make nearly 12 grand a year.

But Intro is different. When you're a TA for Intro, you have to run "discussion sections." These are basically smaller versions of the class because someone somewhere must have felt guilty about sticking 200 kids together in one class. So, in this case, I had an hour discussion section before class, then the three hour lecture, and then a differet discussion section after class.

And I learned something about myself. Namely, that I was hidesouly under-prepared for what went down. This was the first time in my life I ever had a class of my own. And there's not really a training session or practice or anything. You just kind of get thrown in there, told to teach something vaguely on-topic, and good luck. Well, I don't recall anyone telling me good luck.

This may have been the single most humbling experience of my life. I was a bit cocky going in; I mean, I know my stuff, I'm an outgiong guy, I've got extensive improv experience. I really thought I could handle pretty much anything, and besides, it's Intro--how hard could it be? Well, it turns out it's very hard. For example, on the very first day, I had planned what I was sure was way too much to do that day. When we were done with everything I had planned, we were a good 25 minutes into a 50 minute period. Not too much you can do there, other than admit you're an idiot on the very first day of class. A great way to start things.

But, still, what is the point of all these ramblings? Well, this past week I got my first set of student evaluations. And I mean ever, because I've never been in a position to be evaluated before. However, I just couldn't bring myself to read them. I mean, I really, really felt like I fucked up that class. To the point where I almost apologized on the last day because I felt like I had been so horridly out of place and done such a shoddy job.

But last night I finally read them. Now, I have to preface this by saying that probably more than half of the students only did the required bubble-sheet part of the eval (in which my average scores we exactly the same as the department averages), but a good number did actually write comments. The only negative one read "I wish I had been in Rehema's (the other TA) section because she grades easier." Technically not true because Rehema and I grade pretty much the same, but hey, not too shabby.

Overall, though, they were pretty damn positive, including the titular praise from this post, though the self-effacing part of me wants to think some of the good comments were sarcastic. In the end, I don't so much know that there's a point to this post other than a mixture of relief at evals that weren't anywhere as bad as I thought they'd be and my general vanity. But I suppose a grandiose point that can be brought home from this is that you should always cut yourself a little slack, because you're probably doing a much better job in life than you think you are.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I wonder what Terry Ryan's up to right now?

Well, he's gone.

And we got the possibility of having maybe one or two good players in the next couple years.

This hurts...real bad.

Please do not call me all day, for I will be curled in the fetal position, holding the beloved ticket stub from the game of his 1,000th strikeout to my chest, while gently sobbing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Not to brag, but some of us saw this coming

I'm not one to give much creedence to the notion of issue burn-out, but even I can't get enraged about the war sometimes these days. I mean, does anyone out there believe in it anymore? Something like 60-70% of people consistently report they want the troops home. The troops themselves continually (according to surveys) say they don't believe in the war, and even the Republicans running for president are acknowledging it should be ending soemtime soon.

But if you don't mind, let me try to get us all riled up again for a minute. By now you've hopefully heard that the Bush administration lied at least 935 times to the American public in the run-up to the war. You know, the war that's costing us over 11 billion dollars a month.

Let's recap that really quick: We're spending $11 billion a month on a war that we have indisputible eveidence was based on a lie.

Even without the hundreds of thousands of dead people that's appaling. And now all of the Democrats are pretending they didn't know any better when they voted for the War in the first place, but in their defense, they already have enough to worry about right now because the houses they bought with sub-prime loans are being forclosed on (they were mis-lead about that one, too).

Of course, some of us saw this coming a little earlier (like, before the war started). So, if I could, I'd like to reiterate my appeal that next time you believe us. You know, before 100,000 or so people are dead, we've spent several hundred billion dollars, and we've completely destroyed our standing in the international community. Couldn't hurt to try.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Difficulties of Cleaning the Bookshelf

I really love books. What can I say? I write that sentence and realize how painfully, painfully nerdy it is, but yet it is completely true. However, at the same time, I look at the bookshelf over-flowing with random literature and the random large piles of books in every corner of my room and realize I can't keep on going like this. Not only is it really annoying to have that many books in your room, I also am keenly aware of the fact that I'll have to move again at some point relatively soon, and I just can not believe I'm going to be willing to carry all of those books.

But now, after having spent a half hour going through the shelves and the floor, I've not even got half a box full of books I can let go of. And most of them are books I got for free when professors were retiring that I wasn't really even interested in to begin with. I just can't seem to let any of them go, even though I fully know I'm being completely ridiculous. The argument with my inner, rational self goes approximately like this:

Will you ever read Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling again? You hardly even read it when you was supposed to for an Intro to Philosophy class 6 years ago! Come on, it's a classic philosophical text! Why not keep it? Besides, it makes you look deep to have high-brow books sitting around.

But what about the obscure Marxist "theory" books that are really just crazy old men arguing historical minutae with one another? Yes, I know, but they're out of print. What if I want to read them someday? Then I won't have them and will forever curse the day I let that gem of a book go.

Ok...but a college textbook? Are you serious? Yeah, but that book changed my life when I was in college! I can't get rid of that! Citizen Kane got rid of Rosebud and look what happened to him! I don't want to die some crazy and embittered William Randolph Hearst stand-in muttering "the sociologically examined life" to myself as I slowly fade away into regret and nothingness.

And there I stand even still. I've got half a box full of books to give away, and several thousand arguments as to why I should never get rid of a single book ever again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dissecting the Democratic Debates

First of all, applaud me for avoiding the obvious and groan inducing triple-D comment in the title.

Anyway, in watching both the Democratic debates last night and before in New Hampshire (which, if you happened to be making a drinking game out of, be glad you didn't chose "drink every time they say change"), I think I'm ready to call it an Obama-Edwards ticket. Not that I wan't that ticket, but that's what I think it will be.

Sure Hilary had a win in New Hampshire and a big upset in Nevada, but we're moving to the South, where one could reasonably argue race could be a more positive factor than gender amongst Democratic primary attendees, and states like Minnesota, famous for electing the first Muslim member of Congress.

But there's also been some clear positioning. John Edwards, the Dickensian boot black of the debates ("Oi! Oy'll shine that White House up good, me will! Sharp as a thistle, clean as a whistle it'll be!"), has clearly been siddling up to Obama in the most shame-facedly naked display of desperation since the midget drove the tank. Edwards has clearly decided he has no shot and that he's hitchin' his wagon to the winning horse.

Pay attention the next time you hear him in a debate. He opens about half of his points with "So I argue, and Senator Obama agrees with me, blah blah blah" or "Senator Obama and I agree that blah blah blah" or some variation of that. I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if during the debates he was writing "Obama + Edwards" inside of little hearts in his Lisa Frank notebook.

So you heard it here first: the Democrats will end up running an Obama-Edwards ticket, and they'll have the smilin'-est, most positive, can-do ticket in the history of politics.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Back with a depressing post

So after a month of crazy travels and oddly random adventures (much more on those later), I thought it best to come back swinging with some old school political rantings. So here goes:

This evening, in memory of Dr. King, I attended a showing of The Devil Came on Horseback, a documentary centering on Brian Steidle, an ex-Marine turned humanitarian observer in Sudan, and eventually the Darfur region.

Steidle was essentially the first person to bring back classified (for unknown reasons) photos of the genocide occuring in Darfur. While the horrific photos initially sparked intense media coverage of the issue (despite the Defense Department asking him to not share the photos with anyone), the attention waned and public focus moved on to [insert rant about mainstream media descent into tabloid coverage over actual news here].

A panel afterwards actually featured some insightful comments and ideas for action, including discussions of several divestment campaigns (I'm proud to report both the state of Minnesota and the U of M have divested all holdings from Sudan). But one of the most practical was a hotline that has been set up to contact elected officials urging them to take action:


In an ingenious move, all one needs to do is call the number and enter their area code. They can then press 1 to be connected to their Representative, 2 to be connected to their Senators, and 3 to be connected to the White House. It even plays a short recording of talking points for you to mention before you are connected.

And even someone as cynical as yours truly believes in the power of contacting elected officials, as even the hyper-conservative representative I had when I was in undergrad (Jim Nussle, at the time the Chairman fo the House Budget Committee...also famous for coming to session with a paper bag over his head) signed on to the call to close the School of the Americas citing constituent pressure, and this guy did not budge for anyne, so it must be useful for something.