Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Academic Out Group

I attended a talk today that reminded me of why I'm at times not a big fan of university life and culture. The speaker opened his talk on the politics of gun control by showing some images of sport shooters and their guns. Some of the images were of children shooters, in various poses with their weapons. The speaker's intention, as I perceived it, was to get some quick laughs at the expense of the people depicted in the images, essentially to get the talk off to a rousing start. And it worked, based on the laughter I heard around the room.

Now, I have never engaged in sport shooting, nor have I ever fired a gun for any reason. It strikes me, however, that such activities are reasonable ways to pass leisure time, if one enjoys that sort of thing. Who's to say that firing bullets at a target is really all that different from, say, kicking a soccer ball at a goal? Yet imagine if the speaker had presented images of immigrants, perhaps children, from El Salvador playing soccer in a dusty suburban field surrounded by pupusa trucks, with the idea of eliciting laughter at the ridiculousness of the goings on. Would anyone have found it funny?

Maybe I'm missing the point, though. The speaker was really just reciting out of the NRA play book, saying exactly what the gun group tells its members. "They are coming for your guns." Fair enough. The joke's on the NRA and the NRA can handle it.

I can't escape the feeling, however, that behind the humor is really derision for the lifestyle of recreational guns itself. The unnamed targets, to lay it out there, are white, working class southerners, a racial and socioeconomic "out" group in the world of today's elite academia. The pervasiveness of this kind of stereotyping and outright prejudice is sad anywhere in the world. For me personally, it is especially sad when it occurs within the confines of our institutions of higher education.


Christmas Card

Sometime in late September, we received word that there was to be a stamp contest. If you could draw a Christmas picture on a small sheet of paper, you could win.

Now, my picture (which you can see) was much worse than my sister's bursting present. We turned them into the school judges to be looked at.

In early October, Studio A showed a slide show showing all the winners. At the 5th grade point, they showed my picture! At first I had no idea that mine was a winner until my best friend told me.

Later, in November, they were selling it as a card because there was trouble at the post office. BUMMER! So we ordered a pack and it came in late November. Given that I have short-term memory loss, I forgot all about them. Here we are, December 12th, and my classmates give me the package and told me it was on the floor.

Now, there it is Mom, I really do have short-term memory loss!


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ceramic Snowmen

Growing up with a mother who was a ceramics teacher provided me with plenty of opportunities to demonstrate just how bad of an artist I am. And the reminders have mercilessly followed me into adulthood.

You see, every year, when it is time to decorate the Christmas tree, a pair of ceramic snowmen magically reappear (thanks Des!). Apparently, I painted these snowmen when I was little (at least I hope I was little!). As you can tell, I didn't have much respect for the conventions of keeping the paint inside the lines (the distinction between scarf and snowman being particular blurry).

Some things never change!


Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Moratorium

Being recommended for a Fulbright award is definitely a professional milestone and a seminal moment in our little family story. It also immediately raises like a billion logistical things (big and small) that we will have to work out by summer.

What should we do with the house?
Where will Julie and Z go to school?
How will Desi's sabbatical work out?

There will be plenty of time to take care of all of this business (or so we have told ourselves!). In the meantime, we have prohibited ourselves from stressing out over these details, at least in the short term. You see, this is something we have been thinking about for years, and the application process itself was fairly involved and time consuming. To move past the good news and on to the planning without any celebration or acknowledgment would be, we think, missing out on a moment that is important in and of itself. Hearing all of the varied reactions of family and friends has been certainly been a fun and interesting part of this initial period. The winner of the funniest response? "That [Fulbright award] sounds twice as good as the Halfbright award that I'm familiar with."

Of course, our little moratorium on planning can't go on for very long (and, deep down, we have been laying out options this whole time anyway)...


From Green to White

Our flight path from London to Dulles took us right over Belfast (McGill country!). We then skirted Iceland and Greenland and reentered North America via Newfoundland. It was there that we saw what was to us a really strange sight. Running alongside some coastal towns was this strip of frozen land, pretty much dead straight for mile after mile after mile. What is it? Train tracks? Roads? Canals? We need some help with this one...


Rail Replacement

Our trip Sunday morning back to Manchester airport was not what we originally expected. It turns out that the tracks are repaired overnight, when there are few passengers. We therefore had to jump on the so-called "rail replacement" bus. Here's how it unfolded...

The bus pulled up and the driver announced our destination. He then quickly whispered to us not to get on. This was the bus for the drunkards. The "decent people" should get on the bus that would momentarily be pulling into the station. Thanks for the tip!

Our reward was a quiet and beautiful ride through small town Yorkshire and beyond. Stone village after stone village. Twisty road after twisty road. Pubs with names like "The Wise Owl." Yeah, we probably could have been most of the way to London by the time we arrived in Manchester, but the small towns and countryside made it worth the diversion.

And a fitting end to our jaunt through the north of England...


Four in the Morning...Both an End and a Beginning

As Desi has mentioned, the time change on a trip like this messes up your sense of what is early, what is late, and even what day it is. A great example of this is our experiences on consecutive 4 ams.

4 am, Saturday, December 1st. This 4 am marked the end of a long and eventful day. Not only did I work all day at the university (while Desi became an expert in all things Leeds), but then we headed to Manchester for the Marillion show. After the concert ended, we milled about, bought a couple of concert tees, and headed back to the Oxford Road train station...too late, it turned out, to catch the train back to Leeds. What to do? Jump into a cab and head to Piccadilly Station, which is open all night. By the time we jumped onto our delayed train, it was 1:45 in the morning. (But 8:45 on the East coast, so we were WIDE AWAKE!) By the time we arrived back at the Weetwood, it was 4 am and definitely time for bed.

Fast forward 24 hours and it was a 4 am wake-up call so we could start the journey home. As we checked out, some drunken (or very merry!) revelers were just heading up to their rooms. And they were not alone. 4 am in Leeds, a town full of college students, is a lively time, to say the least. The buses can be full, at least near campus. And the train station is where young partyers from Huddlesfield congregate to head back home after a night (and morning) out. And Manchester is no better. We had to change benches when a lad staggered by, looking like he was on the verge of ...well, you know what...

Let's just say that 4 am is a time to see it all...while being wide awake...