To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I've been considering writing about the sermon I heard last Sunday. LaShawn Barber has an interesting post entitled "Has 'White Guilt' Run Its Course?" (no) and it and some of the comments have inspired me to go on and do it.

The sermon was given by one of the associate ministers, who happens to be the son of our senior minister. The title was "Why Diversity Matters" (and let me say parenthetically that I long for sermon titles like "Behaving Like a God-Fearing Person" and I may do something about that before long.) He started out by saying that Memphis is a segregated city and we need to stop being that way. Okay, well, from what I read Memphis is actually more integrated than most cities, but I made a conscious decision to keep an open mind and listen to what he had to say.

What he had to say was a resume of his own experiences. All of his schooling, K-12, was at private schools here that are mostly white, so he was surrounded, as he said, with "people like him". College, ditto. He never was around black people much, apparently, until he went to seminary in New Jersey and got a job at a church where, for the first time in his life, he was a racial minority. Apparently he got some kind of epiphany and has come back to get us all straightened out. Okay, maybe it's ugly of me to put it that way. I have PMS. Shoot me.

Here's the deal: My daughter went to a parochial school K-6. The school was about 50/50 black and white. I remember one year they had an overabundance of boys in her grade for some reason, and there were 4 black and 3 white girls in her class. Public magnet schools for 7-12, and these teetered on the 50/50 mark the whole time; by the time she graduated from high school, white kids were a slight minority at that school. Our neighborhood is probably roughly 50/50. A white family moves out and a black family moves in. A black family moves out and a white family moves in. F played with the black kid next door - they set up a space ship in the back yard, I remember. As for me, the overwhelming majority of the last 24 or so years I have worked at places where white people were in the minority.

And then there's F's friend, also a member of that church, who went to Central High School here in Memphis, and was part of the 13% of the student population that was white.

We don't need anybody lecturing us about how segregated we are, especially someone with the - I don't want to say "privileged" because, even though it was more expensive, it wasn't necessarily any better than my daughter's. But "elitist"? Is that what I mean? background that he stood up there and told us he had. I think he was projecting his experiences onto the rest of us white folks without stopping to ask himself whether his assumptions were valid. That's partly a sign of immaturity, but also there's this:

One of the commenters on LaShawn's post said that she thought liberal guilt was a sign of laziness. "It is so much less effort to make a big display of self-flagellation, and throw some money (other people’s money) around than to really engage with people. It is so much less effort than to follow Christ, in whom there is no Jew or Greek, no black or white, no free of slave." Is it laziness that this minister hasn't gotten to know the portion of the congregation that isn't "like him"? People who can't afford expensive clothes and ski trips and attend or send their kids to public schools? And ironically, now I am going to talk about the virtue of diversity: If you spend time at work or at school with people who are not "like you" then it becomes easier to leave your comfort zone and connect with those people; or maybe your comfort zone just becomes a lot larger.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Monica, the Creole Princess, wonders where I am.

Well, I'll tell you.

Wednesday evening we called F to tell her that her laptop had been repaired and returned to us, and that we thought we'd run it down to her on Saturday. Found her sniffling over her chemistry homework. She was trying to do hybrid orbitals and sigma and pi bonds, and it was just not happening.

I happened to have a copy of her textbook here, because we'd originally ordered it from the Amazon used marketplace, and they sent the teacher's edition; and we threw the box away before we realized it and we couldn't seem to get the address to return it, so we kept the damn thing and ordered a student edition for her straight from Amazon. I don't know what makes it a teacher's edition, because it didn't seem to have any extra info, but because I had it here we were able to get on the same page and start gutting this stuff out. I have a degree in chemistry, by the way, so even though I don't use hybrid orbitals on my job and haven't thought about them in a long time, they don't intimidate me. As we worked, her quiet sobbing diminished and she started feeling more hopeful. I didn't know whether this was because her teacher did a poor job of explaining this stuff or because I kind of know how her mind works. For instance, she appreciates a little whimsy, so when I directed her to draw a structure I had her write her C's and dashes, and then stick her H's on like legs on a millipede. But she kept saying that things were starting to make sense and began answering my questions, so I knew she was getting it. At about 11:30 my brain went "click" and I told her I had to stop. We were partway through the last problem on her homework.

"I suppose this is due tomorrow," I said.

No, it was due Friday but she wanted to get it out of the way. I suppose F is one of the about 0.005% of the population that absolutely does not procrastinate. It gives her hives to wait till the last minute on anything, and this has stood her in good stead many times. So we agreed that I would take a look Thursday evening when I was fresher.

Took a look Thursday evening, and indeed the rest of it fell into place. A few brief explanations to her on the phone, and by George, she got it. And by the way, she told us later that on Friday her classmates complained bitterly that none of them understood the homework, so perhaps it was the teacher's explanations that were lacking.

But I had to go to bed early Thursday, because ...

... I had to be at work by 7:00 Friday morning. I used to work 6:00 - 2:30 when F was in high school, but apparently I have aged somewhat and it's hard for me to get up in the morning. I did get to work by 7:00. There was this very important 8-hour thing we were supposed to do that we thought we'd start by 8:00. We didn't start by 8:00 ... we didn't start by 10:00 ... we started at 12:10 but we had to stop ... didn't start by 2:00 ... by 4:00 ... by 6:00. Stupid little miscellaneous mechanical failures and dumb stuff. Murphy's law, I reckon. At 10:15 the CEO looked at me and said, "Laura, go home."

And let me parenthetically say that I look like hell when I am tired. I used to work with a black woman, Libby, who hadn't been around white people much and who learned a lot from me because she asked a lot of questions. She thought it was funny that my face changes colors. I have a lot of Celt in me, apparently, and we Celts have thin skin and sometimes flush for no reason. Or sometimes I get pale and maybe a bit greenish when I am very tired. One day at work Libby got sick and I took her to the emergency room. I called her mom in Kentucky and then stayed with her until her mom could get there. It was late evening when she did. They'd got Libby more or less stabilized and discharged her by then. Libby's mom had eyes for no one but her, but a day or two later at work, she told me that her mom had expressed concern about me and wanted to know if I would be all right. "Oh, yes," Libby responded confidently, "she just look like that." I DIED laughing when she told me that, but it's true that I look really bad when I'm tired.

So the CEO told me to go home, and after arranging for lab coverage the rest of the night and in the morning, I did. I was supposed to be back at 6:00 AM on Saturday but they called just after midnight and said there were electrical problems and they were telling everyone but the electricians to just not come in.

We had thought that R would take the laptop down to F at school by himself on Saturday, and I would see her later, but since I didn't have to work I went along. He had to drive the whole 6 hours, though, because I was SHOT. We didn't do much, just took the kid to lunch and to Wal-Mart and so forth, but shortly after we got home I fell into bed.

Church this morning, and then a very enjoyable lunch at Molly's with a friend I used to work with.

I still "look like that" though. Dang.

And I will close with this very funny thing that F told me: At a recent honors forum, the speaker, who was head of the English department, gave a very long talk about Eminem. F cares about as much about Eminem as she does sea slugs, so it would have been boring anyway, but she said he read his presentation, he did not look at the students or talk to them, and it was very long. It went ON and ON and ON. "I wanted to gnaw my leg off," she said, "but I couldn't think how to go about it." Isn't that funny?

And there it is, Monnie. You may be sorry you asked.


Update: My boss just called a few minutes ago (about 9:15) ... wants lab coverage starting at 6:00 AM, very important. He said to call one of my peeps but I think I need to be there ... sigh. Here we go again.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Here is a funny story:

Police seize rabbits -- again.

In October, Hillsboro police seized 158 live rabbits from Sakewitz's home and found nearly 100 dead ones in three freezers. She was charged with 92 counts of first-degree animal neglect and 165 counts of second-degree animal neglect.

(Well, the dead bunny part isn't really funny.)

Two days before the bunnies disappeared, Sakewitz repeatedly asked Rouches if police would return 75 of her favorites.

"She was very respectful but had a desperation, that 'I need my rabbits,' " said Rouches, who told Sakewitz she had to wait for the court to rule on the case.

The police actually were caring for 200 rabbits, not 158, due to the brief period of unexpected mating they had before the sexes were separated. (Unexpected???)

Over the weekend a worried motel clerk in Chehalis called police, Hillsboro police Cmdr. Chris Skinner said. Sakewitz, he said, had rented a moving truck, stolen the rabbits and driven to a horse farm near Chehalis along Interstate 5.

Skinner said Sakewitz checked into a motel and asked the clerk for a ride. During the drive, Sakewitz spoke so obsessively of rabbits that the clerk became concerned.

The police regained the rabbits, but:

As for the rabbits, police started with 158 but there's no telling how many they'll end up with -- especially after Sakewitz mingled the animals again.

"You see where I am going with this?" Skinner said.

R and I are very strongly reminded of the hilarious short story Pigs is Pigs.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It seems our new Congressman Steve Cohen is in the news, at least in this internet publication.

I think Congressman Cohen tries really, really hard to assume other people's good will. Sometimes it backfires on him, as when he lost the primary to Ford Jr. 10 years ago and made some angry statements afterward about how he'd thought we had all gotten past the race nonsense. (I thought, don't know why you thought that, no one else does.) To clarify - in this primary, Cohen came with years of experience serving the same consituents in the State Senate, and Harold Ford Jr. came straight out of lawschool. Cohen thought his years of service would stand up against his opponent being black, and a Ford, and he said as much; then he got his head handed to him.

But seriously, if we ever do get past all the race nonsense it will be because of people like him who try very hard to just forge straight ahead as though racism and racists don't exist. I support him in that, although me being a conservative Republican, and him a liberal Democrat, he probably will never get my vote. : )

Monday, January 22, 2007

Charles Murray, one of the authors of The Bell Curve, had three articles on The Wall Street Journal online last week, dealing with IQ issues. I read The Bell Curve when it came out several years ago. At first I thought its arguments were fairly compelling, but when I reread them and compared them to my observations, I started seeing holes big enough to drive a truck through. There are a couple of interesting points in there, but there's a whole lot of dreck too.

I'll just mention one point here and probably have some more later. The book says that IQ is the best predictor of job performance, regardless of the job. Yes, on pages 78 and 79 of my hardback copy, the book says that even a busboy's job is done better by a busboy with a higher IQ. I've worked with people with IQs ranging from average to very high, and supervised a bunch of them over the years, and I draw a very different conclusion from my experiences. If I were hiring right now, and had access to the IQ scores of my candidates, (problematic here b/c I don't believe that IQ scores are always closely correlated to g due to text anxiety, etc.) and if I could pinpoint the minimal IQ that it would take to do the job, I might use those scores to identify a pool of candidates that I would be interested in. But for the next step, I would throw out the IQ scores and examine that pool of candidates for the important, make-or-break attributes: Can you show up for work every day? Get along with your coworkers? Take direction? Are you a team player? Do you shirk unpleasant tasks, or do you pull your weight? Are you curious enough to ask questions and learn more and more skills and help the group problem-solve, or do you just want to do your little tasks that you've picked out? Can you do things that seem stupid to you or that you don't understand the reason for, just because you're supposed to? (A big one in my field, always.) These things have little or nothing to do with IQ, and I say that because somehow the very smartest people I have worked with (smarter than me) have had their effectiveness in the workplace greatly diminished because of these. I've had to have two people I supervised fired over the years. (Only two, and that's probably because I'm too nice.) The second was a cut-and-dried case of falsifying, but the first was a person who was extremely bright, but who could not seem to exchange his internal requirements for external ones; that is, if a process struck him as being the right and appropriate thing to do, no one could convince him otherwise. You cannot have that in a regulated field like environmental chemistry. We couldn't get time considerations across to him either - like prioritizing work according to customer needs rather than what seemed to him the most elegant way. When he was let go, we replaced him with a woman who was much younger than he was, less experienced and less educated, and probably had less abstract intelligence, but she got in there and got the job done. Cared that it was done right, i.e., by the book, and on time. She was a much, much more valuable employee by anyone's measure. IQ by itself does nothing for the employer. I think having a high IQ is like having lots of money: you can spend it to do things that are fun and interesting, you can use it to benefit other people, or you can bury it in the back yard and forget you ever had it until it rots. Having it doesn't mean much, it's how it's focused and what you do with it.

And all of this seems pretty self-evident to me, which is one reason why I find The Bell Curve and the further writings of its surviving author so irritating.

OK, well, here's another one. Although the book is careful to point out that even if you know the average IQ of a particular population, you can't apply that to a specific member of the population, people do that anyway. So the book goes on and on about demographics and the reader is strongly tempted to think of people as members of a demographic, not as individuals. Some time ago I had a conversation on a message board with a person who told me that because I am from Mississippi, I am less likely to be literate. I couldn't convince him that because he was dealing with an individual, "less likely" or "more likely" was irrelevant; either I was literate or I was not. He insisted that he liked knowing things like that before he dealt with people because it saved time. Another person in the discussion said that that was about the clearest exposition of racism he'd ever seen - only it wasn't racism, of course, it was regionalism (I guess). Same concept. I think the demographic stuff could be of very limited use. For instance, if somehow you could know the average IQ score of the students in a particular school (and see my caveat above about that) you could predict the average scores of various standardized tests and compare your predictions to the actual scores to see if the school is doing an adequate job of educating that population. You would not know how the school is serving the kids at either end of the IQ range. You would certainly not know the capability of any particular child at that school. Unfortunately I think a lot of people do that "time saving" thing without even realizing it, and what a pernicious thing that is.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Looking into vacation packages. We think we might take a little trip in Rome, Florence, Venice. Just a little week-and-a-half jaunt. Got to start saving my pennies.

Monday, January 15, 2007

We can all stop holding our breaths and wondering what Harold Ford Jr. will do now that he is out of office.

He is going to start teaching at Vanderbilt - offering a seminar on "Foundations of American Political Leadership". I think this will be a good fit for him. Ten years' experience in the US Congress should certainly give him insight, and the fact is that he's a gifted speaker. His students are in for a treat.

But I'd hoped that he would run for mayor of Memphis next. With all the crime, trash along the streets, rundown abandoned buildings, and everything else Memphis offers as opportunities for improvement, our dear mayor decides that our quality of life requires ... a new football stadium. Unbelievable. Does he see the same city I do? I won't ask if he lives in the same one I do - I know he doesn't.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Tertia has a couple of posts about a kid in South Africa who made prank emergency calls from his cell phone and caused a lot of trouble. (Scroll past her funny post about her terrible-two twins. Actually, read it as you scroll. I feel for her.) Tertia wonders what punishment would be appropriate for him, and how much the parents ought to be held responsible.

One of the guys at work told me his son, age 15, had to do 50 hours of community service because he spray-painted his name, in letters 6 feet tall, on a brand-new freshly-painted water tower. I said, "His OWN name? He didn't have enough sense to paint somebody ELSE'S name?" I'm sorry ... I know it's vandalism and all ... but I think it's really funny.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Don't miss Nzingha's funny post. Watch the video first. R and I watched it together. My comment to him was that while I don't normally use the word "a**hole".... He laughed his head off and agreed with me. Nzingha's smackdown is very satisfying.

Also, I'm adding the Creole Princess to my sidebar. My mom actually ran across her blog and kept emailing me about it. I suppose she found it when she was looking for recipes, and stayed for her very expressive posts about all kinds of things. Monnie is dealing with some very serious issues in her life, but she's facing them down, and having some fun too.

I could be very expressive right now about my job. I'm enjoying the daylights out of the actual functions. We're getting new lab equipment all the time. Getting it set up and figuring it out, writing procedures and so on, is actually lots of fun. Troubleshooting stuff in the plant is fun too - I've never done anything like that before and I'm on a very steep learning curve still, which I always enjoy. I like everyone in my group, very much. They like each other, which is nice, they take initiative and take care of stuff without my asking them to, and care about things being right, and just everything you could hope for. What's the problem? you ask. Well, I'm not certain about the long-term prospects, and I'll leave it at that. Actually, I'll go on to say I'm not certain about the short-term prospects. Gosh, I hope things work out because I'm happier in that job than I have been for quite some time.

On the other hand, a person who came in to install a piece of equipment asked me if I was happy in my job, and if I'd be interested in working for his employer ... in Houston, TX. I reckon I'll send a resume. Product development (lab equipment), setup and training and so forth. Why did he bring this up? Well, apparently I impressed him with my competence when I plumbed argon and oxygen to the analyzer; and when, during our conversation over lunch, he discovered that I understand the difference between precision and accuracy. One would like to think that these are very commonplace things, but apparently one would be wrong. And may I add here, that I consider it a boss's job to train people at every opportunity. My lab folks have a lot of experience time-wise but it's not as eclectic as mine. So I try very hard not to just do things myself because I know how, but to teach and train and give everyone the opportunity to practice and learn; GC maintenance, and calculations, and a little theoretical chemistry, and different approaches to documentation, all kinds of stuff. They're all interested in everything, which is wonderful. We all hope we can stay right where we are. Well, we'll cross our fingers.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Been dealing with some issues related to analytical lab work.

A bit of frustration at people who don't seem to remember their Algebra I from middle or high school.

A quadratic equation, also referred to as second-order, is of the form
y = ax² + bx + c.
If it goes through the origin, which it will if the curve fit is forced through zero, it will be
y = ax² + bx.
It's possible that b will be zero, in which case it will be
y = ax² + c
or, if forced through zero,
y = ax².

It will never be
y = ax.

I am reminded of people I went to school with, who if they had a history teacher assign an essay and then count off for sentence fragments or misspellings, complained that that wasn't fair because it wasn't an English class. A sentence fragment is a sentence fragment. A quadratic equation is a quadratic equation. Even if you meet one in a dark alley on a stormy night, it must have an x² about it somewhere.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

In Sunday School this morning we talked about faith. Among other things, we discussed how one maintains faith in God when really bad things happen. I remember that C.S. Lewis talked about that in terms of taking a cat to the vet; if I'm not mistaken, this is in A Grief Observed.

We took little Molly to the vet yesterday morning and had to leave her a couple of hours. Molly had a UTI several months ago, so when we feared that one of the cats was having symptoms of such we immediately decided to get Molly checked out. (That's the editorial "we" there, in case you are wondering.) It turns out that she's fine, to our relief. The vet tech said her urine was "beautiful" which I doubt was true in the aesthetic sense, but I know what she meant. But when we went to pick her up, it took them a while to bring her out. I think she was fighting them. Molly's pretty scrappy. One of the techs finally brought her out with a towel wrapped around her and covering her head.

"Don't make her look at dogs," I joked, some fine specimens just entering the waiting room. But the tech had no intention of trying to remove the towel from Molly and in fact, didn't want the towel back. Molly was growling until I took her in my arms and spoke to her. When she heard my voice, she pushed her head between my arm and my body and grew quiet. I held her like a baby all the way home as she burrowed as close to me as she could get.

The point of all of this is that you can't explain to a cat why you are taking her to the vet. If you tried for a million years, you could not make your cat understand. As Lewis put it, the cat cannot differentiate between the vet and the vivisectionist. From Molly's point of view we delivered her over to strangers, who frightened her and probably caused her some pain. Certainly they made her smell bad, no small consideration for a cat. But even though you know your cat can't understand why, you do what you have to do for your cat's sake, and hope that her love and trust are strong enough to overcome her anger and fear. And this is actually not a bad analogy for our inability to look at things from God's eternal perspective. I think that when we get to heaven, all kinds of things will become knowable to us. Paul said in I Cor. 13 that we have imperfect knowledge now but then we will see everything clearly.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

So the guy who came today to install the sulfur analyzer suddenly blurted out, "I know you from somewhere!"

"No, you don't," I said, "but I'll add you to my list."