Answering questions posed by Christmas carols

Is it far to Bethlehem City?  How long is a piece of string?

May we touch the gentle oxen?  Yes.

May we pull the curly sheeps’ wool?  Please don’t.

Do you hear what I hear?  The question you should be asking is, Do you smell what I smell?

Oh sisters too/ how may we do/ for to preserve this day/ this poor youngling for whom we do sing / by by lully lullay…?  National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Who is the King of Glory?  Duh, it’s the Lord of Hosts, pay attention.

What child is this, who, laid to rest, in Mary’s lap is sleeping?  Once again, you’re not paying attention.

I wonder as I wander… Sorry, that’s not a question.

What was in those ships all three, on Christmas Day in the morning?  Probably smuggled rum and spices.

How shall I send thee?  I’m gonna send thee right to the campus writing center because you don’t know what a topic sentence is.

Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?  F*ck you, pay me.

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I used to only have crazy friends

#2, of course, has mellowed considerably over the years.  :)  [But is no less entertaining!]

When I was younger, I enjoyed being friends with dramatic people.  People who always had crazy things happen to them.  Who thought crazy things.

Crazy people were interesting!  Normal people, not so interesting.

Some of those crazy friendships in the past came to bad ends, and pretty much always for the same underlying reason (at least according to my decade and a half later armchair analysis), whatever the external catalyst.  I have a strong personality and crazy people, even super-popular crazy people, tended to get a little co-dependent on me.  At about the time that I decided they didn’t really need me (my work here is done, fly little birdie) or I got uncomfortable with the situation and I wanted to let go, they would come to that realization as well but wouldn’t see that I wanted to let go too.  So they’d do one of those crazy blow-ups that people do or I’d get the silent treatment that people do when they don’t want to have a crazy blow-up.  (Or, most recently, one let me know that her therapist told her to stop associating with me.)  And I’d cry (because I care and because I feel like I’m in middle school and I wonder what is wrong with me) and move on with my life.

These days I’m old.  After the last incident (the coauthor whose therapist thinks God knows what about me), I said, that’s it, no more crazy friends.  And that was that.  My work is interesting enough that, unlike Matilda, I don’t have to find new ways to keep my super-agile mind occupied anymore.  (Although I did do a geometry proof during a really bad job-talk last week, but I digress.)  My life has been much more peaceful since then, probably because almost all of the drama in my life was vicarious through or directly caused by said crazy ex-friends, and with them gone I didn’t create my own.

The person who started this pattern, a college friend, emails me every few years to apologize for what she did to me back in college.  I always email back saying no worries, great to hear from you, and basically ignoring the crazy part of the email.  And that’s that.  She also put me on a mailing list for her business a few years back (I took myself off multiple times).  I hear from other folks about some of the more major dramas in her life, husband cheating, new husband, a baby (I think), and so on.  I don’t need to know the details.

In college she was surrounded by adoring fans.  She was beautiful and vivacious and popular like a movie-star (and a little bit of a user).  I wonder what must have changed that she feels the need to keep contacting me.  Or if nothing has changed, and she just needs more adoration than most folks have once they leave the institutionalized environments of high school and college.

In any case, I’m about to write my standard, “Great to hear from you… [broad personal and professional updates].”  But nothing more.

Tell us about your friends from the past and what has changed as you’ve gotten older.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

This [grant thing] that [redacted] has is really stupid.  So much bad science to “further women and minorities”.  Reading through their annual report and it’s thing after thing of, “We had this workshop, but nobody came.”  They’re also not checking to see if anything works even when people do come.  There’s not even data collected before and after to see if there’s even a change, much less a treatment effect.  There was one thing where they’re like, “we were going to do this survey but…”  They sent the report to me to evaluate, but the entire campus was “treated” and uh… the treatment seems to have been nothing.

Bad science makes the baby Jesus cry.  Poor baby Jesus.
They seem to have a lot of meetings too.  So basically, trying to further the careers of women and minorities at this school consists of making them go to pointless meetings.
See, this is why women and minorities can’t have nice things.

Argh!

(Note:  Some details in the above rant have been changed to protect both the stupid and our own rear ends.)
Are you ever astonished by the amount of bad science done for a good cause?  Have you ever noticed that it’s always the under-represented who have to waste time in meetings?

Thoughts on in-laws and Christmas presents for the kids

I’ve mentioned before that we don’t buy Christmas presents for our children other than stocking stuffers.  This year is no exception– I still need to buy candy and I picked up some fun smaller items to stick in the stocking, but other than that we’re done with shopping for the children.

Why don’t we buy Christmas presents?  Because my in-laws are insanely generous and they seem to be able to pick out stuff that DC1, at least, loves.  (DC2 hasn’t been around long enough to know how ze feels about the in-laws’ taste.)  They buy tons and tons of presents and if we added more it would be even more overwhelming.

Some people get upset at grandparent generosity.  They resent the buying etc.  I mentioned my in-laws’ habit the other day on a blog and someone said they had the same first-world problem and it made her angry.

It doesn’t make me angry, because the in-laws are getting joy out of picking presents and they live far enough away that we don’t actually have to show them the gifts. And some of the gifts are pretty spectacular– the kinds of things I dreamed of growing up (train sets, a giant wooden castle, a bicycle, a real microscope, a wii, etc.). But some portion of the presents end up unopened in our gift closet for other kids’ birthday parties because there’s only so much space and only so much a child can play with over the course of a year.

It’s weird because they give more to my kids each Christmas than I got from my entire extended family and Santa combined growing up. My own grandma would give one really nice present to each of us (like a porcelain doll) at Christmas when we were kids.

My FIL is stuck in a job he hates where he has to work a lot of unpaid overtime. I can’t help but think that if they were a little less generous with the grandkids, that they would have more financial freedom now. But it isn’t my place to say anything, and if they cut back it would also affect the other grandkids whose families have different values about Christmas and presents.  They are scrupulously fair about these things and each grandkid gets exactly the same dollar amount.

So we make up for it by not doing any Christmas gifts ourselves. Except the stockings.  We save what we would have spent and it will be there in the future should the in-laws need it.  (Though they probably won’t given that they’re in the last generation of generous pensions.)

Did you get a lot of stuff for Christmas as a kid?  Are things different today?

Link love

Feral homemaking also wanted to do a personal finance reality check this week.

Jim C. Hines demonstrates how ridiculous book cover poses for women are and raises money for charity in this pose-off with John Scalzi.

Dreadful acres discusses crappy cellphone and internet reception in the country.

Teaching kids programming skills by letting them “program” their parents:  I want #1 to do this and send me video.

In case this tenure thing doesn’t work out, to simplify discusses the benefits of living in a van down by various rivers and how to do that with a cat.

Speaking of hilarious cat antics, Scott Eric Kaufman has a cat that looks funny now.  His funny posts make me LOL.

Should you work for free?  A flow chart.  Related (and also stolen from Scalzi comments section):  A great video on contracts (and how to get paid).

Leah solves our holiday Christmas tree problem for this year.

A sweet gift for the dad who has everything, including a loving daughter, from tales and trenchs.

I have two very different songs stuck in my head:

Ask the grumpies: Would shorter bills help government?

First Gen American asks:

I was brainstorming with my friend on how to make our government more effective at driving change. One idea we had was to put a character limit on bills that go before congress. (Say a 3 page limit). So instead of having a huge proposal with 8000.sections and all kinds of ear marks, you attack a problem like health care or the economy in bite sized chunks. I am not an economist but we have implemented a similar strategy with contracts st Work. Keep them simple and add one page amendments as needed if the situation arises. We dont try to cover every scenerio ahead of time, unless its a joint venture type thing.. Nefotiating ala carte is faster than trying to do everything at once. Would love the economic’s view of this concept.

Wasn’t this one of Herman Cain’s suggestions?

Sadly, although this suggestion on the surface seems like a good idea… bills tend to be long partly for good reasons.  (Partly for bad reasons too, but earmarks are the grease on the wheels of bipartisanship.)

First, in general, we only want government intervention in the case of market failures (including paternalism).  That’s because when we have government intervention, there are almost always unintended negative consequences, and factors will almost always try to go back to their unfettered market state, even if that means people are worse off.  A lot of legislative detail goes into limiting these unintended consequences (small business exemptions, for example) or closing up loopholes.  That adds length.

Negotiating a la carte really doesn’t work in federal government.  When one party tries to hold the other up, legislation just doesn’t get passed.  I’m not an expert in political economy, but I understand that these huge bills work well because they allow compromise and earmark bribery.  Without that, things do not get done because bills are just not voted on.  There would have to be reform to the way congress does business in order to have even a chance of bringing legislative pieces to a vote.  On top of that, some things only work when all the pieces are in place and do not work a la carte.  The health care bill in particular is an example of this– costs need to come down, coverage must be mandated, and insurers must not be allowed to discriminate.  These three items need to happen together, missing any one leads to the act not working.

In business it’s different– vendor and client have similar goals and a more collegial working relationship.  In government, especially these days, political parties score points off each other by blocking the other from getting things done.  It’s less collaborative and more combative.  There are winners and losers and not just winners.  Additionally, the effect of a repeated game will be different, as congresspeople don’t get to choose who else is in congress, but business folks get to choose who they make a contract with next time.  These differences make it easier to have simpler contracts in the private sector.  (Contract theory is also not my area of expertise though.)  When parties are combative, I bet contracts get longer and cover more contingencies– in fact, I bet someone has already published a lovely model describing that idea, and possibly even tested it.

So, bottom-line– those bills are huge because government isn’t efficient and needs to cover all its bases.

Students will drive me out of academia, part 2.

I want to write fascinating awesome things with this cool pen. Instead I am stuck answering student emails about why they can’t do their homework on time, have mercy because they have 6 classes, woe is me.  Sigh.

What I said was, you had the assignment for a long time and you have known the schedule all semester. If you waited to the last day to do it, oh well.  [not in those words]

Do your 6 classes not give syllabi with due dates, allowing you to plan ahead? Oh, they do? Well shucks then, I guess you’re just not keeping up.
In general…
my student is a sassing bitch.
  my colleague had a student send threatening emails.
  we’ve both had to protect our TAs from students who harrass them.
Why do I keep this job, again?
I would find this job better if I felt more respected. And if I didn’t feel that at any moment a student might snap and become a creeper.  It’s too bad that I have to tell my RAs and TAs to keep the phone number of campus security handy, for protection from their fellow students who don’t know how to handle their own rage and entitlement.

All my female colleagues have stories of creeper students.

This is not acceptable.  The men don’t get creepers.
I call on all humans to end the patriarchal nonsense!