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Grading, and much more

The grading part

I enjoy teaching, I really do. I like interacting with students, I love the occasional moments in class when they seem to get it—and show it, by coming up with something I had never thought of that, upon their explanation, makes perfect sense and is even better than the example I gave. But grading? Grading is hard. It hurts my eyes, my writing thumb, sometimes my very soul.

On the day I finally finished reading and grading all their papers (on which I have to say once again, google is really a bad writing strategy), Kevin Drum points to a Brad Delong post on student papers:

  1. Nobody ever told them—or they have forgotten, or they are too stressed for time—to revise. They are handing in first drafts.
  2. Nobody ever told them that if you are going to hand in a first draft, an easy way to significantly improve it is to, when you are finished, cut the last paragraph from the paper and paste it at the beginning. Your final sum-up paragraph—written at the end, as you have by trying to write down what you think discovered what you really do think—is almost always going to make a better first paragraph than the first paragraph that you wrote.

I tell my students about no. 1 all the time, and I’ve repeatedly found no. 2 to be true in my own writing. It not only works for whole papers, it works within paragraphs—I find that after a couple of sentences of mucking about, I often realize that my third or fourth sentences fit just right when placed at the beginning. I’m sure this would mortify Professor McClintock (by far the hardest but best writing instructor I ever had), who told me that without a good title, a writer doesn’t know what he or she is writing about; I imagine that would apply to an introductory paragraph, as well, but revisions have to fit into the process somewhere. I think he agreed with that, after all.

The much more part

Kevin Drum hits a double, with a second post, this one about voting rights, prompted by a Jonah Goldberg op-ed. It reminded me of a nice comment on the subject of voting by Clay Shirky. Shirky writes:

In the line at the polling booth, the guy with the non-ironic trucker hat and nothing other than an instinct for who he trusts cancels the vote of the politics junkie who can tell you the name of Joe Lieberman’s Delaware field manager.

In Is Social Software Bad for the Dean Campaign?, I suggested that Dean had accidentally created a movement instead of a campaign. I still believe that, and this is one of the things I think falls out from that. It’s hard to understand, when you sense yourself to be one of Mead’s thoughtful and committed people, that someone who doesn’t even understand the issues can amble on down to the local elementary school and wipe out your vote, and its even harder to understand that the system is designed to work that way.

You can ring doorbells and carry signs and donate and stay up til 4 in the morning talking with fellow believers about the sorry state of politics today, and you still only get one vote. If you want more votes than that, you have to do the hardest, most humbling thing in the world. You have to change someone else’s mind.

Internet culture is talking culture, so we’re not used to this. In our current conversational spaces, whether mailing lists or bulletin boards or weblogs, the people who speak the loudest and the most frequently dominate the discussion.

Imagine if a mailing list had to issue a formal opinion on the issues discussed, and lurkers got a vote. The high-flow posters would complain that the lurkers votes would not reflect the actual discussion that took place, merely the aggregate opinions of the group, and yet that is how the primaries work. Talking loudest or most or even best means nothing.

Yet more

If you made it this far, give yourself the Total Drek Commendation for Wading Through Long Posts. I never realized how many surface my house has until I tried to clean all of them (in some cases, cleaning, stripping, sanding, staining, and then varnishing them). But we seem to be about done, after all: The house officially goes on the market tomorrow, at which point you can all look it up on the internet and judge me.

Amid all these transition-related events, I have even accomplished some dissertation work, but I’ll leave discussion of that for later. Short version: Survey research is hard.

If it doesn't have a floor, can you call it a bedroom?

Armed with a map and the latest listings from the Daily Sun, we spent the weekend in Flagstaff looking for a place to live. Perhaps more appropriately, we spent the weekend in the car, which was itself primarily in Flagstaff, except for the 250-mile one-way drive, at which time it was on the highway.

Winter doesn’t seem like a very good time to go house-hunting up there. Even the nicest rental—and there are not very many of them, a point to which I will return—is surrounded by mud. And this winter, extraordinarily heavy snow shellacked the trees in most of the neighborhoods we visited, so that piles of dead wood waiting for pickup line every driveway. And, there just aren’t that many listings available in the spring, as most leases run into the summertime.

But what was available was, well, by and large, you’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We drove out into the country south of Flagstaff to a couple of smaller mountain communities that a friend recommended we check out. Based on that ill-fated adventure, I have just a bit of Advice to Future Landlords: If the “home” you would like to rent isn’t ready, don’t advertise it, and don’t promise over the phone that you’re “going to fix it up real nice.” Holy hell, this place was miserable: It looked like it was rotting on its foundation, the porch was decrepit, the walls were filthy and peeling, and four crumbling sofas sat in the bedroom—which at least mostly obscured the holes in the floor.

Increasing the price range quite a bit didn’t open up many more options—it just made for hovels with more bedrooms, generally. We developed a handy translation system for making sense of rental ads.

  • Cozy: Apartment is in a basement with six-foot ceilings.
  • Condo: Squalid mud hut
  • Cottage: Studio apartment with six-foot ceilings located in the rear of a mud hut
  • Clean: Cleaned once, when new, since abandoned to entropy and/or badgers
  • Carport: Lean-to currently occupied by a badger
  • Eclectic: Remodeling begun and aborted by at least four different “handymen.” Both closets are “still full of my tools, but you can probably squeeze some of your stuff in there.”
  • Fenced yard: Fifty-degree slope ringed by cyclone fencing and stray dogs

After a trying weekend of driving, calling, and google-mapping (and waiting for something better to come up on HBO; how many times can they show Coneheads in any single two-day period?), we finally found a place that seems like it will do the trick: It’s clean in the conventionally-understood sense, and actually really pretty, inviting, and comfortable. It’s owned and managed by a professional who has taken great care of it, and although it’s perhaps not ideal because of its price, we’re actually really excited about it. It’s in what looks like a nice location, with relatively easy access to downtown and to walking trails for the dogs. However, it wouldn’t hurt to have more options, so now is the time, gentle reader, to call up those old friends living in Flagstaff and mention that you have an internet best buddy who is looking for a place to live, and might they have any more leads?


About, the short version

I’m a sociologist-errant. This site is powered by Textpattern, Pair Networks and the sociological imagination. For more about me and this site, see the long version.

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