10 December 2009

Minty shorts

Back in March 2008, I added a second operating system to this Sony computer I'm using right now. Upon booting up, I could choose between Windows Vista and Ubuntu; most of the time, I used Ubuntu.

Last month, I somehow got Ubuntu's security policies so completely screwed up that I had to reinstall the operating system. Instead of downloading a whole new installation disk image, I used a disk that Jerry Baker had given me the last time we were in the USA--Linux Mint. I liked it so much that a few days ago I completely converted this computer over to Linux Mint.

This 100% fresh installation of the newest Linux Mint operating system turned out to have some unexpected advantages. For once, all my sound settings were chosen automatically--and correctly. Linux Mint also includes software and easy pathways to third-party drivers, so that (unlike with the original Ubuntu installation) I didn't have to hunt for the files needed to play DVDs, use a digital projector or second screen, and so on. Wireless Internet access, printer, and scanner were provided for without any intervention on my part. MTP support for my MP3 player was almost automatic--I had to activate a plugin included with Rhythmbox, the music player/manager included with Linux Mint. In short, the operating system looks good and does what it should with an absolute minimum of drama.

For the last couple of days, we've been the subject of a TV crew from the local television station. Yesterday I was interviewed at the Institute, and today the camera visited my second-year class. At the time of their visit, we were working with a text from Lolly Winston's Good Grief, a novel I've enjoyed using for its great examples of conversational English dialogue. The excerpt we used this week was a particularly heavy scene, but the video recording took place while we were dealing with the language. By the time we began our discussion of the emotional drama underneath the language, the camera and microphone were gone.

In the novel, today's situation was this: the hero Sophie, a recent widow, has become a Big Sister to a troubled teenager, Crystal. In today's excerpt, Sophie finds out something disturbing about Crystal:
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The radiators in the house have only two settings—scorching or off—and the kitchen feels as hot as Death Valley today. Crystal chews and stares into space, absent-mindedly pushing up her sweater sleeve. The inside of her forearm is striped with red marks. At first I think she's drawn all over herself with a red pen. No. The marks are cuts. I stop chewing. She quickly tugs down her sleeve, clenching the cuff in her fist.
"Don't like pepperoni?" I swallow and lean toward her.
"I'm a vegetarian," she says disdainfully. "Probably I'm going to be a vet."
"A veggie vet?"
She nods. "I saw a nature show on a guy who saves horses? Sometimes he can't fix them and he has to, like, give them a shot so they die." She fans herself with her dirty paper plate.
"Why don't you take off your sweater?"
"No." She finishes her soda in two big gulps. I notice that the cuffs of her sleeves are caked with something reddish brown. Blood? Food or dirt, I hope.
"Crystal, will you show me your arm? It worries me."
"Okay." But she doesn't move.
I reach across the table and wrap a hand around her wrist. With my other hand, I push up her sleeve, then turn over her arm. The soft white underside is slashed with crisscrosses of cuts, raised like argyle. Her skin feels hot and jagged. Crystal sucks in her breath, blinks.
"What happened here?" I feel my pulse race but try not to seem alarmed. Some of the wounds are fresh, congealed blood at their edges.
Crystal jerks her arm away and yanks down her sleeve. Her shoulders curl into a hunch.
I move my plate aside and fight to maintain the same even calm I kept when Ethan's skin was as gray as oatmeal and he was too weak to climb the stairs. You don't want a sick person to see in your expression or hear in your voice how frightened you are for them.
Crystal bites her lower lip.
"Did you do that on purpose? Like the burns?"
She rolls her eyes. "Duh."
There's no end of fruitful questions for discussion: why did Crystal hurt herself? Did she want Sophie to find out? What would we do in Sophie's place? I've used this material now two years in a row, and with two different groups today. I was moved and very impressed with the depth of the insights our students expressed--in English!--but I will preserve the privacy of the classroom and not report the details here.
Righteous links: A bit more on Linux Mint: one of its positive reviews, and a guide for those thinking of converting from MS Windows--including helpful information on additional programs you might want to replace familiar Windows programs. A sober editorial about Afghanistan. My doubts go beyond those in the editorial. The McChrystal/Obama proposals and price tags seem to assume building Western institutions in Afghanistan--Western-style army, Western-style police. Is this importation of an essentially Western model truly sustainable? What happens when the props, both political/coercive and financial, are pulled out? There's an interesting note about warlords paying their forces 3x as much as the army. It invites the question: by whose definition is one armed group the "national army" and another armed group NOT the army? In contrast to Crystal, Joel writes love on his arm. What is the state of Russia's heart? One of the most amazing and haunting images I have seen recently. If the Gospel is true, it is true in the midst of depression. Test it for yourself.
A "Midnight Special" time capsule.

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