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Adventures in Electricland

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There’s something you have to know about me. 

I am no good in an emergency.

Or, rather, I am, as long as there is an emergency.

It’s when the emergency is over that I go to pieces, and I’m completely useless for–well, it depends. 

After Bill died, I was completely useless for about a year, but that was an extraordinary circumstance.

The emergency that occurred here Thursday night was not so extraordinary.

It started around nine or so, at night, and what it started with was a scene out of somebody’s movie.

We have a chandelier in the dining room, a little one, that’s on a dimmer.

Don’t ask.  The dimmer wasn’t my idea.

The switch had been wonky for a while, but we almost never use the dining room.  The lights on the chandelier were off, and we therefore presumed that the switch was also off, and had been for–well, months.

We were wrong.

The first thing that happened was the the light on the chandelier went on.  They didn’t snap on, the way they would if we had pushed the switch.  They sort of gradually glowed on, as if they were signalling the existence of a ghost in the dining room.

What a ghost would want in my dining room is a very good question, but it isn’t one I could answer if I tried.

At any rate, I sent Greg over to turn the chandelier off, and when he did he found that the metal pole of the dimmer switch was very, very hot.

I had him turn the switch off anyway, and then I called 911.

I will say that the 911 people were everything you’d want in 911 people, although why the fireman had to call for backup from six extra guys after he’d already determined it was just the switch, I don’t know. 

We have a lot of fires in this town, from what I can tell by sirens going by in the night–it’s not crime; we seem to have none of that–but this must have been a slow night.

The fireman came and turned off the breaker to that light and used this neat little machine to determine that we did not, in fact, have an electrical fire in the walls. 

The police officer who came along with them–a woman–liked Greg a lot, and spent most of her time trying to bring him down from his usual “I’m going to panic now and get it over with” position.

Actually, he isn’t that bad.  He just tends to get extremely revved up, so that he has to run around Doing Things until he unwinds, which can often be several hours after the emergency is over.  It’s the best time to get him to do chores.

At any rate, the emergency wasn’t much of one.  It was a bad switch, and the next day my friends Carol and Richard (see any Gregor acknowledgements page) came over and installed a new one.

In the meantime, however, I’d passed into my no use for anything phase, and I couldn’t get to sleep until really, really late, in spite of having called my calmest friend to get him to help me calm down.

And the lack of sleep meant that I went into my very last class in a state of–well, what  you wouldn’t want me to be in a state of if you were in danger of failing.

It was my regular class, too, not my remedials, which means it was the class for which I have the least patience when students are busy shooting themselves in the foot.

It was an interesting collection of people, too–I think I’m going to have the most lopsided grades list I’ve ever had.  Lots of As, lots of Fs, not much in between.

It is virtually impossible to fail any class of mine if you do what I tell you to do.  I allow them to rewrite papers as often as they like for a better grade, without penalties.  I accommodate their schedules so that they can get their papers in (also without penalties) and still make it to work or take care of their children.

In spite of all that, I still get a solid little knot of people who simply will not do anything at all, or who leave everything to the last minute so that even if they do what they’re assigned, they have no time to fix it if they’re wrong.

And the ones who leave it until then are almost always the ones who will, in fact, do it wrong.

In this, they are not too much unlike my remedials, but there is one big difference–they almost never resort to rampant dishonesty to try to weasel out of the F.

My remedial students will whine that they did do the paper and I gave it a grade–but of course be unable to find said graded paper.  They’ll tell me I wrote the grade down wrong–but of course either cannot find the paper with the other grade on it, or find the paper and the grade is the one I have in my book.  They will complain that “you didn’t tell us to do that!” about virtually any assignment.

My regulars are much more on to themselves.

They don’t like it, and they’re embarrassed, but they will own up to it.

I’ve spent the last couple of days wondering if that’s the really important thing–wondering if some of my remedials are remedials not just because of the bad schools and the chaotic home environments, but because their response to screwing up is so often to do anything at all to evade responsibility for it.

If I think about it, my best remedial students–the ones who get through it and go on to actual college work–almost never do that dancing around it all thing.  If they screw up, they come to me and say:  what did I do wrong and how do I fix it?  And then they do what I tell them to do.

There’s a writer named Barbara Ehrenreich whom I often find interesting to read.  One of her big arguing points is that there is no such thing as a “culture of poverty,” that poverty is a matter of just not enough money, and that’s it.

That line always bothered me, because it seems to imply that what we do–how we conduct our lives–has no effect at all on the way our lives proceed.

This seems to me to be untrue on the face of it.  If you drink yourself into a stupor every day, you will end up poor and on the street, unless your family has literally millions of dollars to support you.  The children of the middle class who behave that way end up down and out, and I’ve known more than one or two of them.

But I’m also pretty sure we couldn’t run a society of any kind, egalitarian or otherwise, with people who respond the way most of my remedials do to–well, to everything.

And I wish I knew how to fix it. 

Because by and large, my remedials are not stupid in the IQ sense.

They’re just–like this.

Written by janeh

May 13th, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

9 Responses to 'Adventures in Electricland'

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  1. I never found Ehrenreich particularly interesting, and that’s part of why. Whatever her observed facts, her conclusions are driven by the policies she prefers. Sane, honest people derive their conclusions from their observed facts and their policies from their conclusions, so she’s missing at least one of the two. (“Sane” would be my guess. Try her book on job placement firms.)

    If you start thinking that behavior has consequences, then childrearing becomes more important than many federal and state bureaucracies. And after a while you start reflecting on PJ O’Rourke’s comment that liberals have invented entire college majors to prove that no one is responsible for anything. If the only thing that really interests you is government transfer payments, you don’t want to start thinking along those lines.


    13 May 12 at 1:33 pm

  2. I think Ehrenreich’s point is simply that poverty doesn’t necessitate that particular culture. You do find people who are poor who don’t evade responsibility like that. You also find rich people who do the equivalent–though they seem more likely to try to buy their way out, rather than just lying. Of course behavior and child-rearing matter–it’s just that “poverty” doesn’t explain what your behavior and child-rearing will look like.

    Cathy F


    13 May 12 at 3:19 pm

  3. I haven’t read Ehrenreich in years. I have a vague memory that I liked something she wrote, but it can’t have been that thing about poverty. Certainly, not all poor people share the same sub-culture, but certain sub-cultures are rather more likely than others to become self-fulfilling prophecies of future poverty for its members.

    I tend to think the inability to accept consequences or responsibilities is found in all levels or sub-cultures of society, although some people are better at hiding it, or at least guessing when it won’t work, than others. It’s something that, I think, must be trained into people, because it sure doesn’t come naturally, when there’s trouble, to say ‘It was my fault, I’m sorry’. I hate doing it myself.

    And I think I’d have turned off the power to the house before touching the suspicious switch. I’m scared of electricity.


    13 May 12 at 4:00 pm

  4. CA, there are people with incredible amounts of money and power who don’t want to accept responsibility for their actions. If I weren’t afraid of diverting the Blog, I’d name names. There also are poor people who do everything right and can’t buy a break.

    But the one who succeed over time focus on what they can do about the situation–even if the “solution” is jury-tampering or bribing a witness. Insisting that “this is all Joe’s fault!” is not a solution, even if it’s true. That, I think, is Jane’s point, and it’s the exact reverse of Ehrenreich, who runs screaming from the notion that behavior might have consequences.

    BAIT AND SWITCH was the last straw with me. She spent pretty much an entire volume getting upset with placement agencies for focussing on the parts of the process the people needing jobs could control–how did they speak and appear; how were their resumes written, and how many times had they applied–instead of being indignant over non-transferable insurance and what she regarded as inadequate unemployment benefits. Not only was she unwilling to consider that behavior had consequences, she was incensed that the employment porfessionals would even consider such a thing. Her entire writing and politics boils down to “behavior has no consequences–and if it does, it shouldn’t.”

    I doubt she lives her life that way. There’s no reason she should inflict it on others.


    13 May 12 at 4:41 pm

  5. “And I think I’d have turned off the power to the house before touching the suspicious switch. I’m scared of electricity.”

    Precisely. If you can’t figure it out for yourself, get an expert to point out the master switch/breaker in the fuse box or whatever the US equivalent of that is and practice makes perfect. Drill the procedure into yourself and the boys until you can all do it in the dark – blind-folded.

    As for behaviour and consequences, there been a big hoohah in the left wing print media down here over the last few days about how dare employers try to tell their (mainly female) employees how to dress on the job. The consensus was that women had the right to decide for themselves what they would wear and that it was none of the bosses’ business. It baffles this senile auld phart brain of mine how there can be any dispute about the right of employers to set the tone of their enterprises. Just because (as is often the situation here) government employers only rarely, if ever, choose enforce even the most liberal dress codes does not mean that the assumed “right” of government employees to please themselves about what they’ll wear automagically flows on to employees out there in the real world where in a highly competitive business environment appearances are important.

    No point in trying to explain to this generation that behaviour has consequences. They’re simply not listening.


    13 May 12 at 6:49 pm

  6. You don’t explain to someone that behavior has consequences–you demonstrate it. We run into a fair number of kids these days whose parents have not allowed their kids to learn this, so it is left up to the colleges and/or the employers. Fortunately, I have no compunction about doing so. ;)

    Cathy F


    14 May 12 at 1:33 am

  7. Not really relevant – but I thought it was interesting as a take on responding to bad things.




    14 May 12 at 7:13 am

  8. Wow, mainstream media gets a clue about college vs. vocational education…


    Now there are some consequences to point to.


    14 May 12 at 6:40 pm

  9. Cheryl, SNAP! I was just about to post the link to that myself.


    14 May 12 at 8:30 pm

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