Stupid Dirk! Always running away from death and forgetting machines!


I think the saddest part about Missy’s ending is that she made the call to stand with the Doctor and will never get the opportunity to do so.

I know. Hot take.

The ethics of pet ownership

I appreciate debates surrounding animal rights, pet ownership, veganism, etc, such as this one, which questions whether or not it is ethical to keep pets. The crux of the argument is that, ironically, the more we view our pets as “people”, as members of the family, the more it becomes unethical to keep pets, as we take away their right to self-determination. To some extent, it makes sense: how can we talk about animal rights if we deem it to be acceptable to systematically deny them rights?

That said, I find the arguments to be specious for a couple of reasons. First, while it’s true that “we dictate what they eat, where they live, how they behave”, etc, I’m not sure this necessarily conflicts with the concept of rights. After all, those of us who choose to have children also, presumably, love them as people, yet we also dictate these things to our children, as well. It’s true that our pets are usually fully grown versions of their species, whereas children are… well, children; if we let our pets out into the wild, they will usually be able to fend for themselves pretty okay. But, the same could be said for most children past a certain age; eighteen is a rather arbitrary age to claim adulthood, and children younger than eighteen could certainly take care of themselves if required–indeed, many are forced to–and many people older than eighteen are incapable of properly fending for themselves. Our pets, in many ways, fall into the latter camp; sure, they could probably fend for themselves, but we can do things for them that they cannot (e.g., vaccinate, protect them from predators). Further, while it’s likewise true that “pets can’t tell us whether they are happy being pets” with words, children can tell us this and we still find it reasonable to dictate their lives, often directly ignoring the expressed desires of our children with the knowledge that we know better. (Besides, it’s true that pets cannot talk, but they have other ways of showing displeasure–ask any cat owner who’s come home to some poop on the living room floor instead of the litter box.)

Second, two of the most popular pets are cats and dogs, animals which chose to domesticate themselves thousands of years ago. In both cases, wild versions of these animals realized that submitting themselves to human beings could be mutually beneficial: dogs offered protection, while cats offered pest control. In exchange, each received food, shelter, and care, even if it’s true that the level of affection we offer our pets is really a very recent phenomenon. (A particularly shocking revelation in the article, for me, is that pet owners as recently as the 1960s would put their dogs down before going on vacation because “it was cheaper to get a new dog when they returned than to board the one they had”.) In both dogs and cats, there are still wild versions of these animals that we do not keep as pets precisely because they were not domesticated–granted, some people try, but most find it to be an unethical practice (I’m not getting into zoos, which is a different debate entirely). I therefore find it to be a bit odd to argue against continued domestication of species that basically domesticated themselves and have remained domesticated for millennia. Of course, animals that were not domesticated pose a trickier issue, and perhaps we should not be keeping fish as pets; however, I’m not sure it’s the same to discuss keeping fish as pets as opposed to cats or dogs, as the history of their relative domestications is really rather different.

To be fair, I am a cat lover and have two here at home–both “indoor cats”, which is what entire other sets of experts believe is the ethical move. (I am also the kind of person who strongly resists the urge to say that I “own” two cats.) Both were rescued strays, although neither was actually rescued by me. One is nearly blind, has terrible sneezing fits, and had all of her teeth surgically removed a couple years ago because of disease–if she ever got out, she would die. The other, outside of being a bit hefty, would probably do just fine; however, she doesn’t appear to have any interest in going outside. In fact, neither does–when my roommate moved out a while back, he propped the doors open the entire time, and neither made any attempt to get out. Further, early on, I periodically took Arya outside just to see if she was interested in being an outdoor cat at all; whenever I did, she immediately grew terrified and didn’t calm down until I brought her back inside, at which point she began flopping incessantly. (Cats flop over and expose their undersides as a gesture of comfort and affection; they’re basically saying “I trust you enough to repeatedly open myself up to attack in my most vulnerable place”.) They may never be able to articulate it, but I’m still fairly confident that neither would be happier in the wild.

Back to cumbersome handwritten commenting

When I first started teaching many a moon ago (something like 84-90 moons), I taught at two colleges, both of the community variety. Only one used an LMS, and I had virtually no information on how to use it–although, to be fair, before I left, I had started taking professional development classes offered to help us; the other, at which I still teach, did not even have an LMS available to brick-and-mortar instructors (even today, the version of Moodle available to us is somewhat limited–e.g., discussion forums are disabled because they’re afraid we won’t show up for class otherwise). My professors in undergrad and graduate school generally collected papers by hand; even when they didn’t, I don’t ever recall getting feedback electronically–although I’m sure it happened and I’m just forgetting it. As a result, my instinct was simply to do the same: collect all papers as hard copies and mark them by hand.

Though I viewed it as just an occupational hazard, this was painful for several reasons, some less obvious than others. The biggest for me was the cramping and pains: I have a funky manner of handwriting, one that is decidedly not ergonomic, a fact of which I was not aware until it was pointed out to me when it was far too late to change it. (I handwrite poetry and prefer to take notes by hand, but generally avoid writing anything by hand outside of that.) But even beyond that, more universally, I taught six classes my second semester, totaling something like 150-180 students, and adjuncts generally don’t have office space in which they can leave papers and books, making my commutes rather cumbersome. Then there are organizational issues–after all, I wasn’t assigning and collecting only formal papers, and students are not always keen on clearly identifying assignments. The list could go on, really; all in all, hard-copy paper assignment and collection was something I loathed.

It was revelatory realizing that could not only collect papers electronically but even grade them electronically, as well. I still have no fucking clue how to use “track changes”, but inserting comments is easy enough, and beginning with my third institution, I had an LMS through which I could collect them. I don’t think I started right away, but as I grew more familiar with them, I began to require that all papers be submitted through that college’s LMS, and all of my grading was done either in the LMS itself or in Word. It felt fantastic to be free of all of those loads: I no longer had to carry papers around with me, since everything was in the cloud and accessible wherever I was; my wrist and middle finger were no longer in fearsome pain (I know typing is associated with wrist problems, as well, ones I certainly have, but typing has always been easier for me); and there was no risk of losing or misplacing anything, and therefore no more wondering Did s/he really not submit the assignment, or did I misplace it? I thought it was better.

Now that I’m approaching my ninetieth moon, however, I’m beginning to think I had it right in the beginning–perhaps I could have used better organizational skills, but that grading by hand is better as a whole. My wrist still hurts, and I’m not looking forward to carrying around tons of papers, but grading by hand is far, far faster. It feels counterintuitive to me–I type faster than I write, so why shouldn’t electronic grading be faster? Well, therein lies the first two problems: when I’m grading electronically, my comments are far longer than they would be, but simultaneously take up far less room on the page, which makes me feel like I need to comment even more. (As I tell my students: trust me, I can always find something else to criticize.) Beyond that, though, when I handwrite comments, I also tend to focus my thoughts, which likely leads to clearer commenting; further, when I’m marking grammar and mechanics, I can quickly underline and use shorthand to identify problems rather than highlighting and explaining (which, again, both for aesthetic and other reasons, I feel the need to do when typing). Then, of course, there’s the fact that we tend to retain information better off the page, which means I’m reading more quickly, as well.

There’s another thing about which I’m curious, though, something I’ve only thought about recently. My standards as an instructor have not gotten appreciably tougher since I started teaching–and, in fact, I think they’ve gotten much clearer as I’ve honed my understanding of the field. Nor have my attitude and mannerisms changed at all (if anything, I’ve mellowed with age, I think). Yet, compared to my first few years as an instructor, I’ve noticed in feedback that my students–at least the ones who take issue with me–tend to increasingly view me as sarcastic, condescending, and/or arrogant. I have a theory that this is, at least, in part because of the switch to electronic, long-form commenting. It’s notoriously difficult to convey emotion via text–hence our social use of emojis and the like. (Emoji? How is that pluralized?) While one might expect a writing instructor to be able to convey emotion better as a whole, one would be wrong because writing is hard, but also, I believe commenting to be closer to text-messaging than writing a longer essay–i.e., it’s easier to come off poorly. Therefore, I believe, critical comments are more likely to come off as overly harsh or condescending, purely due to detail and length. Focused, shorthand comments handwritten in the margins, however, are more likely to feel like notes and suggestions than lengthy diatribes against the student’s intellect, constitution, and general agreeableness as a human being: more Hey, consider this! than Hey, let me explain this concept that you may already know in immense detail and outline the many reasons why this section of text is weak and needs to be fixed! Even just aesthetically, what I see is a satisfactorily filled margin of feedback possibly comes off to the student as a wall of critical text. The speed thing is counterintuitive, therefore, but the result is counterproductive.

I don’t think I have any real way of testing this, as any change could be a result of any number of factors, including me simply enjoying a class more or subconsciously adjusting other facets of my approach. It could also be that I’m simply more of a grumpy dick these days, or that I have become a much harsher grader, or that these darned youths are just so entitled these days. (I don’t really think it’s the last one, but it is certainly possible that expectations have slowly shifted for one reason or another, including, but not limited to, a constant refrain against the humanities from the highest echelons of our society.) Nevertheless, I do believe that I am going move to a two-tiered system of assignment collection and feedback this semester: collect all submissions via the institution’s LMS, but also require a hard copy for any assignment I intend to mark up. Maybe it won’t help with perception. On the other hand, maybe getting through a stack of papers in a more reasonable amount of time will make me happier as a whole, which will lead to a change in perception, as well. (Or not, but do still value my happiness to whatever minuscule level upon which the adjunct unions and administrators have agreed.)

Through my repeated attempts at using productivity planners–the most recent being called simply Productivity Planner–a fact I’ve learned about myself is that if I write out plans to do something in the evening, I will manage to be productive the following day, but in just about anything but the things I planned to do.


Tens of thousands of words have been written about the death of Sense8 already, and I don’t have any hotter, more prescient takes on the matter, other than to echo that the show was a progressive, diverse dream–even if it was a rather messy dream at times, often with stilted dialogue–and one that is really necessary at this moment in time. Too often, diversity on television–of sexuality, of ethnicity, etc–gets a saccharine treatment, or else becomes a homogeneous experience in itself; Sense8 brought everything together in a way that felt natural and focused on looking forward. Likewise, I also understand that it was outrageously expensive, and I’m not going to quibble with Netflix’s numbers and choices on that front. I do wonder about that risk factor, though. My thing is that Sense8 is exactly the kind of off-the-beaten-path show that you would think Netflix would want to continue investing in. If Netflix starts killing off shows with small but passionate followings, what signal will that send to other shows looking to take risks? Hopefully we see more shows like Sense8 moving forward, but I can’t help but feel that cutting a cutting-edge show that was working on some level, even if it was flawed in other areas, will make other showrunners more cautious in potentially bad ways. It remains to be seen, of course, but still.