Saturday, February 27, 2010

what does it mean that I've spent hours knitting a hedgehog for you?

This question is from the last post's comments, by the way. I don't really know the answer, but I did want to show off my knit hedgehog.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What did you get this year?

My birthday present from my Dad:

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark.

I think it's apropos.

On the subject of gifts: Economists are very curious about gift-giving, and the question they like to ask is "Why don't we just give people money?" I read an interesting explanation of this in The Armchair Economist (by Steven Landsburg): He rejects one of the common explanations, which is that people give gifts to show that they're willing to spend time shopping, by pointing out that since time is money, it would make just as much sense to give them the monetary value of the gift you would have got and the time you would have spent getting it (or better yet, give them the money and use the time by taking them out to lunch.)

He suggests that the opposite is the case. People buy gifts to show that they don't need to spend time shopping. What? It's simple, he says: the better you know someone, the less time you'll need to spend shopping for them. You won't have to spend hours thinking "Will he like this? Would it look better in blue? What's his size?" You'll know. So buying someone a gift is a way of showing someone that you know them so well that it's really not difficult at all to be their friend. I rather like this explanation (Even if I'm not so sure that time=money is a universally true statement.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why suffering?

I’ve been reading the Book of Job, looking for an answer.
This question has been asked by person after person, year after year, struck by fire or flood or disease or war. Why, why, why?
Usually, the question is addressed to God. If humans knew, why would they ask?
And yet we also offer our own answers, and sometimes accept them. Two of the standard answers go like this:
1) It’s our fault. We’ve done something wrong, or our ancestors did something wrong, and we’re being punished by God. This is the view expressed by Job’s friends, who tell him that he’ll suffer no more if he only repents of a wrong he doesn’t know he’s done.
2) It’s God’s fault. Usually for not being there. After all, if there were an all-powerful, good God, he would prevent suffering, right? Those who accept this answer see suffering either as proof of God’s non-existence, or as proof against God’s benevolence. Job’s wife expresses this approach when she tells him to curse God and die, since his suffering is, in her eyes, a demonstration of God’s injustice.

The marvelous thing about the book of Job is that it rejects both these answers. Job is not at fault– he is the perfect and the upright man. Nor is God at fault.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Is Matt older than my Dad?

This is one of the questions my four-year old cousin asked my Grandma this morning, when he came over to play.

(He also asked her "Are you older than my mom?" which led to a visit to one of the family photo albums (The one with pictures of his mother as a baby.))

Little kids ask lots of questions, it seems, because they're still trying to figure out how the world works. Most adults have already given up.

(Or they've somehow gotten the dangerous notion that they understand it all, which can lead to some pretty magnificent missteps.)

So hurray for questions, and may we never stop asking them!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How am I supposed to answer that?

I'm taking a survey on undergraduate engagement. It's a pretty well-put together and thorough survey, designed to see whether college students are actually doing all those things that are reported to make college experience so great. It's useful information for my university, and for educators in general, but it's also a useful self-check for me, to see how I've been doing.

How often have I connected ideas from my different courses?
How often have I talked with my professors outside of class?
How often have I worked harder than I thought I could in order to meet a professor's expectations?

Most of these question are pretty easy to answer-- I either have or I haven't (although there is a four step scale: never, sometimes, often and very often.)

Here's the question that made me stop, open a new tab, and start writing this post:

How often have you "had serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity than your own?"