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Sunday: August 29, 2010


Filed under: — site admin @ 1:50 PM GMT-0500

Phyllis Chesler’s latest column is titled “Islamist Agressors are Really the Victims” (in their own minds, of course). That reminded me of a newspaper story I hadn’t thought of in years, about something that happened in San Francisco around 1980. As I recall, it went something like this:

A man and a woman, strangers to each other, are riding an elevator. She lights a cigarette. He tells her, quite rightly, “Smoking in elevators is illegal”. She says “Fuck you”. He then pulls a knife and stabs her. As she is being taken away in an ambulance with a serious chest wound, he is led away in handcuffs, shouting “They’re treating her as if she were the victim, when in fact I was the victim! She had no right to smoke in that elevator!”.

Friday: November 6, 2009

What Does This Even Mean?

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:51 PM GMT-0500

Seen on a T-shirt worn by an 8th-grade Latin student (male):

Satan is a nerd.

Saturday: October 31, 2009

High School Humor

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:26 PM GMT-0500

One of my Latin II students, a 9th-grader, told the class that she wants to have three sons so she can name them Alvin, Theodore, and Simon. I told her that if she does that she’ll end up spending tens of thousands of dollars on therapy once they figure out the pattern.

Sunday: April 12, 2009

Life in a Small Town

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:15 PM GMT-0500

Most depressing things I’ve seen or heard in the last two weeks:

1. The policeman who pulled me over for speeding last Tuesday asked me about my driving record and I told him, quite truthfully, that I’ve had four moving violations in nearly forty years of driving, the most recent a speeding ticket in another county last August. He said that not having had a ticket for eight whole months made me an excellent driver, and let me go with a warning. Apparently a significant percentage of local drivers get several tickets a year, which explains a lot about my insurance rates. I’ve had one ticket each in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s, so I suppose I should be worried that the ’10s will arrive fairly soon.

2. The next evening, one of the actors at the play I was seeing (Comedy of Errors here) asked if that was me he’d seen pulled over by a police car. Thanks for noticing, funny man.

3. A week or so before, a fellow theater-goer asked me about the Loeb Classical Text I was reading at intermission and whether I teach Latin (yes) or Greek (if there’s any demand). We talked about teaching and learning for a good five minutes before realizing that if we were in the same grad department at the same time, we really should know each other. We knew each other’s names, but less than twenty years had changed both our faces beyond recognition.

4. My students sometimes offer unsolicited dating advice, which I can generally squelch by saying that I don’t really think dating advice from teenagers is very helpful to someone my age. Before I could do so last week, one of my 11th-graders offered to set me up on a date . . . with her grandmother. To make it worse, she seems to have been serious, and well-intentioned.

Sunday: March 30, 2008

Eavesdropping in Annapolis

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:36 PM GMT-0500

Joanne Jacobs writes of a (not entirely serious) proposal that high school students be fitted with shock collars to encourage good discipline. That reminded me of something I overheard in a restaurant in Annapolis, Maryland 15 or 20 years ago. Two 40ish female teachers were lunching at the next table, and one of them said “I think we ought to bring back capital punishment to the schools! Sorry, I meant corporal punishment — I always make that mistake.”

Two policemen were lunching at another table, and one of them said “Hey look! We made today’s paper.” After a pause to read the story, he said “It says we ‘subdued’ the suspect”, and the other policeman said in a satisfied tone of voice”Yeh, we subdued the Hell out of him”.

Saturday: September 15, 2007

Overqualified To Deliver Pepsis

Filed under: — site admin @ 5:12 PM GMT-0500

Joanne Jacobs links to a sad story about five South Korean autoworkers who were fired by Hyundai for not being high-school graduates: they were actually college graduates. My comment there seems worth posting here as well, with a bit of editing:

I’ve been fired from a job for having a college degree, and I hadn’t even applied for it. I was actually just a thesis away from my M.A. at the time. I was between regular jobs in a recession — the Carter administration was one long recession, as far as I could see –, and working intermittently for Manpower. Some of their temp jobs were quite pleasant: working as a flagman for the phone company out in the country when it’s 68 degrees and breezy is very nice, except for the lack of bathrooms.

One week they sent me to Pepsi to help deliver sodas all around the county — including to two prisons (men’s and women’s) and a home for the criminally insane, which was interesting.* On Wednesday of that week, I was told I was fired (by Pepsi, not Manpower). Apparently they were using Manpower to try out possible permanent employees and just assumed I would be interested in signing on full-time. (I’m a Coke drinker myself, and wouldn’t have felt comfortable in a career delivering a product I dislike. Then again, I had the impression the pay was pretty good, so I might have considered it.) They apparently had an unwritten no-college-graduates rule. I certainly didn’t go around telling blue-collar workers I’d been to college and even grad school, and was annoyed that the Pepsi driver wormed the information out of me and then blabbed about it to his boss. He had begged me not to tell his boss about his back troubles so he wouldn’t be fired, and I kept that promise, even after being fired myself, though I was sorely tempted to get a little payback.

*The driver told me to be especially careful delivering sodas to the juvenile wing in the last place. He had had to chase a kid 100 yards down the hall to retrieve three cases of sodas the previous week. What was particularly impressive was that the kid was wearing handcuffs at the time.

Sunday: August 5, 2007

Overheard while Waiting to Take the PRAXIS Test

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:00 PM GMT-0500

Dramatic dialogue recounted by a man who teaches in a small town in the country (T = teacher, S = student):

T. What’s 60 divided by 15?
S. Four.
T. What’s 15 divided by 60?
S. We can’t do that, moron!
T. You’re twenty years old, still in high school, taking a course designed for 13-year-olds, and failing it, and I’m the moron?

I assume the last line is what he would have liked to say in retrospect, or what he did say under his breath, rather than something he actually said out loud to the student’s face.

Sunday: May 14, 2006

Gluttony and Self-Knowledge

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:47 PM GMT-0500

A link from Martin Kramer led me to two CHE articles by the pseudonymous ‘Thomas H. Benton’, The 7 Deadly Sins of Students and The 7 Deadly Sins of Professors. Here’s a bit from the first:

Gluttony: It hardly needs saying that most colleges struggle to control alcohol consumption by students and the embarrassing incidents and tragedies that result from it. But there are other manifestations of gluttony these days. For example, when did it become acceptable for students to eat and drink in class as if they were sitting in a cafeteria? Nowadays, I occasionally encounter a student who thinks it’s OK to consume a large, messy, and odorous meal in class. I once saw a student eat an entire rotisserie chicken, a tub of mashed potatoes with gravy, several biscuits, and an enormous soft drink during the first 10 minutes of a lecture. I felt like a jester in the court of Henry VIII. It seems hard these days to find a student in class whose mouth is not stuffed with food. Such students will often say that they have no other time to eat, but previous generations — who were no less busy — managed to consume small snacks between classes. That is why colleges have vending machines.

I don’t know when it became acceptable, but eating in class was not unheard of even thirty years ago. That was when I took a class on Aristotle’s Ethics at the supposedly-ascetic University of Chicago. One day, as we were discussing a chapter on one of the Greek virtues, we watched the fattest student in the class scarf down three hot dogs and a 20-ounce soda in under 10 minutes, while doing most of the talking. He had some difficulty making himself understood, since his mouth was full the whole time. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room who had to stifle the urge to say “what the Hell do you know about sophrosyne, you disgusting pig?”

Monday: August 22, 2005

More On Comparable Worth

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:22 PM GMT-0500

Pinch-hitting for Michelle Malkin, Betsy Newmark writes about the idiocy of comparable worth legislation. She hands over the technical argument to her husband, an economist. All this dredged up memories from a quarter-century ago.

I was living in San Francisco when I first heard of comparable worth in 1979 or 1980. One of the first studies was done by the city of San José, and I was interested enough – and dubious enough – to spend $5 and send away for my own copy. It may be in the bottom of one of the boxes I haven’t unpacked yet, but I may have discarded it: I certainly haven’t seen it in years. If it turns up, I’ll see how accurate my memories are after so many years and update this post.

The argument made a huge impression on me, and I still have vivid (though perhaps inaccurate) memories of some of the details. As I recall, thirty different city jobs were arranged in a grid or table of two columns and fifteen rows. Jobs dominated by women were in one column (the left, I think), those dominated by men in the other. The two most difficult jobs, one all-female, the other mostly male, were in the top row, two slightly less difficult jobs in the next row, and so on down to the two easiest jobs. Average salaries were given for each. The reader was supposed to be impressed by the fact that the jobs in the mostly-male column all paid quite a bit more than the ‘comparable’ jobs in the other column – 25% to 40%, as I recall. I was impressed by the fact that the study equated jobs that were clearly not equal. The two bottom jobs were Copy Machine Operator (no maintenance or repair involved) for women and Junior (or perhaps Apprentice) Painter for men. These may be equally easy in most ways, though it would be hard to prove, but the latter is far more likely to lead to premature death, what with all the time spent leaning from tall stepladders. I would expect it to pay more. The two top jobs were Senior Librarian and Senior Chemist, and I don’t suppose I have to say which was mostly male and which was all female. As with all the other jobs, the criteria for equating these two were not stated, but I imagine it was something like ‘both require a Master’s degree in the subject and 10 years full-time experience’. The fact that Chemistry is a far more difficult subject than Library Science, and that chemists often spend their days dealing with toxic, carcinogenic, and explosive substances instead of harmless books and magazines, must have been omitted from the criteria used to equate the two jobs. The other thirteen pairs of supposedly equal jobs were just as blatantly unequal, though I’ve forgotten the details. In short, the study was hogwash, baloney, nonsense – I’m trying to be polite here – an attempt to argue for equal pay for unequal work.

The other thing that struck me about the study was that the lowest paid of all thirty jobs, Copy Machine Operator, paid only $200 (less than 2%) per year less than I was making as Senior Programmer for a small company measuring air pollution, supervising one other Programmer and four Data Processors. The grossest inequality in the study was the one between the city of San José and private industry.

Sunday: March 20, 2005


Filed under: — site admin @ 10:54 PM GMT-0500

As already reported, Tuesday could have been meatier, but Thursday was better. I went to Charlottesville to see a friend’s lecture. At the dinner in his honor afterwards, I had steak tartare with chopped pistachios and garlic toast for the appetizer, and sweetbreads with mushrooms and bacon for the entrée. Sweetbreads is an ambiguous term and can refer to brains, pancreases, or thymus glands. I asked the waiter, and he assured me that these were thymuses, though I forgot to ask from what animal — most likely veal. I’ve had lamb brains before: they were bland and mushy. Thymuses (thymi?) are chewier and more flavorful, but, like Pelléas and Mélisande, once will be enough for the next ten years or more. I’d still like to try pancreases.

Sunday: March 13, 2005

Asking for Trouble

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:46 AM GMT-0500

An Irish pub near Lincoln Center advertises Eggs Benedict, Florentine, and another kind I’ve already forgotten for $10.95, “eggs, any style” for $9.95. I wonder how many diners brunchers try to save a dollar by arguing that “any style” obviously includes Benedict and Florentine and the other kind. Does the pub give the discount to anyone clever (and cheap) enough to ask for it — it’s only a dollar difference — or risk a lawsuit by refusing? I’m no lawyer, but it looks like a hard case to defend.

Wednesday: March 9, 2005

Ten Things I’ve Done That You Probably Haven’t

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:11 PM GMT-0500

(From Eve Tushnet [start here and scroll up] and Terry Teachout, among others.)

  1. Given scholarly lectures on four different ancient authors at four different British universities in one week: Lucretius at Leeds, Tacitus at Durham, Pseudo-Aeschylus (Prometheus Bound) at University College, London, and Propertius at Oxford, all the usual 50-minute academic length except the first, which was shorter, to fit in with the format of the Leeds Latin Seminar. I spent over ten years on the academic job market, with one (1) on-campus interview to show for it, and even this didn’t help.
  2. Told a tenured professor and colleague to his face that he’s a fucking liar and asshole. (He was and is, and had just proven it, not for the first time, in person and in detail.) And no, I was unsuccessful in my job-hunt long before that.
  3. Had my pay docked for coming back to the Mayflower office with two fewer wheels on my truck than it had when I left. It was rolling along quite nicely with twelve, but should have had fourteen. The ones that fell off were on the right side of the rear axle of an empty flatbed trailer, so I couldn’t even see them from the driver’s seat unless I was turning right. (I probably should have noticed that the trailer bed was tilting a bit to the right.) I worked 65 hours that week, and the $100 taken out of my pay (half-price since the wheels and tires were old) left me with less than $15 in take-home pay, which wasn’t much even thirty years ago. The idiot who changed the inside tire the day before and obviously forgot to tighten the lugnuts got off unscathed, and (I’m pretty sure) wasn’t even told what he’d done. He worked for a tire company and I worked for Mayflower, so it was easier just to take all the money out of my check and not bother him or his boss about it.
  4. Contributed 230 wasps to the collection of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History in Washington, all carefully labeled with date and place of capture. Most were collected in the Great Dismal Swamp while I was in high school. (I found butterfly-hunting too unsporting, if not downright cruel, and my reflexes were too slow for dragonflies.) They were grateful enough to give me the backstairs tour of the building, which made my biology teacher (I was in college by then) a bit envious: he didn’t get his until long after his Ph.D.
  5. Read Aristotle on the Prime Mover and operated a Prime Mover™ in the same year. This was during a strike at Mayflower, when my brother ‘Steevil’ and I worked a few weeks at one of its competitors, mostly in the warehouse. The company was too cheap to provide us with hammers, but previous employees had left behind a convenient hand-sized chipped rock very much like a stone axe, which we used to hammer the clips onto the storage pallets (the 3-D kind). So I’ve used a Prime Mover and a stone axe on the same job.
  6. Read every line of Ovid’s surviving verse in Latin (over 1,000 pages) without ever getting around to reading his surviving prose (less than one page). Maybe I’ll do that later tonight.
  7. Helped fill a garbage truck so full of moving company trash that it wouldn’t come out. It was a beautiful spring day, there wasn’t a lot else to do, and the driver was a part-time preacher who liked to talk and was good at it, so we just kept stuffing in more trash as we listened to him talk. (We also tested the crushing apparatus with 2 x 4s, cinder blocks, and small appliances and found that it could handle anything we gave it.) With a garbage truck, you can always squeeze in a little bit more, and there’s no clear dividng line betwen not-full and full. When we got to the dump, we opened the back door and lifted the container part (the body) to the usual 45° angle, but the trash just stuck there. Pulling on the dangling bits didn’t help, which is probably a good thing, since the whole mass might easily have come down on our heads and buried us. It took over an hour of jerking the truck forward with the body fully uptilted — not recommended in the driver’s manual — before the trash finally shook loose and slid out.
  8. Been asked by my boss at a computer company to help his strikingly beautiful 16-year old daughter with her homework, when the book I’d brought to read on my lunch-hour that day happened to be Lolita. (I’d just finished Pnin.) Fortunately I managed to keep it hidden. He wasn’t a very literary guy, but I imagine that’s one 20th century novel he knew something about.
  9. Spent the night as guest of the captain on a Navy landing ship anchored in Chesapeake Bay. I think it was an LPH: it was the mother ship for smaller landing craft, with a huge gate on the stern, an inside well for the baby landing craft, and a helicopter deck above the well. I took along three friends, fellow freshmen, plus a senior invited as a courtesy since he was planning to join the Navy after graduation. I wouldn’t have asked him if I’d known he was going to wear his cape and sword. Fortunately it was getting dark by the time we got to the dock to board the open boat that would take us out to the ship. A storm came up and we all got thoroughly soaked on the way, had to jump for the shipside ladder, and then spent the night in the bunks that would have been full of Marines in wartime. We only saw the captain (an old family friend) for a few minutes when we arrived, since he wasn’t expecting us and was busy getting the mayor and other honored guests back to shore. The junior ensign had to lend us all pants while ours were in the laundry. When we left in the morning, we got a lot of funny looks from the hundreds of Midshipmen who were just arriving to see what a real ship is like — at least the guy with the cape and sword did, though the rest of us were dressed like early-70s college students, which didn’t help. It was a beautiful spring day, and we had one of the landing boats all to ourselves.
  10. Made a living for ten years as a computer programmer, without ever taking a single course on the subject, not even a one-day seminar.

Probably some of my readers have done that, so here’s a bonus entry:

  1. Visited a client’s site to see why the computer we’d sold them wasn’t working, and found that the only problem was that it was not plugged in. You probably thought that was an urban legend.