Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Feast

So this is our New Year's feast made by me entirely from scratch. Except the champagne and the little potted plant, of course.

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My 2009 Achievements

These are my biggest achievements of 2009 in the order of their importance to me:
  1. Found a tenure-track position at a great university.
  2. Published 3 scholarly articles.
  3. Taught my first Hispanic Civilization course. This is a perfect culmination to the decade that I spent in its entirety dreaming about how I will one day teach this course. It might seem like a small enough thing to other people but I spent exactly ten years working like a maniac towards this goal of walking into a classroom and being able to discuss any aspect of Hispanic Civilization without notes or preparation. Finally being able to do it makes me very happy.
  4. Read 71 books. It's somewhat less than usual but I did have to move twice this year, so I have an excuse.
  5. Started this blog.
  6. Submitted my book to a publishing house.
  7. Moved twice and survived it. Do you know that moving is considered to be one of main depression-triggering factors, alongside with the loss of a job, divorce, and major illness? Of course, I am so used to moving by now that it's not nearly as traumatic for me.
  8. Learned to live in Southern Illinois and even started to enjoy it.
  9. Assembled a lot of furniture on my own.
  10. Learned to use a dishwasher. (You may laugh, but when I moved into this new house and saw a dishwasher - for the first time in my life - I had to take my time to figure out what it was. Thank God for the Internet, or I might be trying to get it to do the laundry or heat the house right now. This kind of upward social mobility makes me extremely uncomfortable).
  11. Baked a cake which at least looks good. (I will share with my readers whether it tastes decent after out New Year's feast** tonight.)
I hope that 2010 is as productive for me as 2009 was. Although, I'll gladly do without moving or furniture assembly.

Happy New Year to everybody!!!!!!!! May your boldest wishes, hopes and desires come true in 2010. May we all find ourselves happy, healthy and fulfilled in every possible way.

** New Year's is the holiday of the year in my culture. We don't do anything special for Christmas, but New Year's is a really huge deal.

Max Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah: A Review

Max Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party is a brilliant analysis of the psychological disorders that inform the actions and beliefs of the fundamentalist wing of the Republican party. Blumenthal defines this faction of the Repubicans as "almost exclusively white, overwhelmingly evangelical, fixated on abortion, homosexuality, and abstinence education; resentful and angry; and unable to discuss how and why it had become this way." The author attempts to figure out precisely this: why and how the moderate sector of the Republicans has been taken over by the Bible-thumping, scary freaks.
Blumenthal arrives at the conclusion that in order to recruit people for their movement, evangelical fundamentalists rely on the culture of trauma. The author analyzes the "culture of personal crisis undergirding the Christian right" and discovers that all prominent fundamentalists come to their radical beliefs from the background of problematic families, sexual and physical abuse. The evangelicals are often so insistent on the correctness of corporal punishment for children precisely because abused kids later form a pool of possible new converts: "Many of those raised on a steady diet of corporal punishment demonstrate a tendency later in life to reenact the painful experiences familiar to their childhoods, through either radical-right political activism or cruel interpersonal behavior, or both. The appeal of illicit, even macabre sexual behavior to some social conservatives—a trend that has produced no end of colorful scandals—further reflects their sadomasochistic tendencies. The sadomasochism that is latent in so many figures of the new radical right is often activated by a traumatic personal crisis." Blumenthal analyzes the lives of a striking number of famous evangelical fundamentalists and discovers just how much their actions follow the pattern exhibited by sadomasochistic personalities.

Among other kinds of trauma that the fanatical evangelicals bent on overtaking this country welcome, the recession is the one that has made them really happy and has driven crowds of desperate people to their ugly megachurches and hateful sermons: "As most people agonized and even panicked over the sudden economic collapse, the Christian right’s peddlers of crisis lifted their hands to the heavens. They had a whole new world of trauma to exploit, more desperate and embittered followers to manipulate, and maybe—just maybe—another chance at power." Behind the rhetoric of exaggerated, screaming patriotism, the evangelicals conceal their readiness to rejoice over every kind of suffering experienced by the American people. This suffering is their best hope of finding new converts traumatized enough to buy into the cannibalistic beliefs of the Christian right.

We all know that prominent evangelicals have a tendency to be besieged by scandal at every turn. Blumenthal analyzes the connection between these people's tortured backgrounds and insane ideology on the one hand and the nature of the sexual scandals they are involved in on the other. Brought together, these stories of hatred informed by depravity and hypocrisy make a daunting impression. How come we allow these decidedly unhealthy individuals play such an important role in this country's politics?

In the secod half of his book, Blumenthal demonstrates how the Christian right set out to hijack McCain's presidential campaign from the start. According to the journalist, McCain was forced to accept the fiercely fanatical Sarah Palin as his running mate in order to pacify the fundamentalists. We all know, of course, where that led him.

Blumenthal writes extremely well. Even though he discusses a significant number of stories in his book, he manages to avoid confusing the reader with an abundance of dates, names, and details. The book is structured extremely well and is written in a lucid, beautiful prose style. This is decidedly not a holiday type of reading. It is unlikely to make you feel very hopeful for the political future of the country that allows a crowd of truly sick individuals to acquire such an incredible prominence. However, everybody who cares about this country has to understand that there is no greater threat to the United States than these fanatics.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year's Cake

This is the cake I just made - completely from scratch too - for our tomorrow's New Year's feast. Cooking is my hobby and I'm extremely good. However, I'm definitely not a pastry chef. I can only do the most basic kind of dessert. So this cake is my first ever venture into the realm of pastry making. I have no idea how it tastes yet but at least it looks good. And it only took me four hours to make.

Now I'm off to make the next dish on tomorrow's menu: a smoked salmon and caviar pie.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Can We Have More Immigrants, Please?

The Christmas Day proved to me once again that some areas of this country are in desperate need of immigrants.

As people who do not celebrate Christmas (for cultural, non-religious reasons), we were looking for ways to entertain ourselves on December 25. So we decided to go to the movies. I had been looking forward to the opening night of Sherlock Holmes with the extremely talented Robert Downey Jr. for a while. But even though we arrived at the movie theater half an hour in advance, we discovered it packed and our show sold out.

The reason for this sudden popularity of cinematographic art became very clear soon enough. Since we could not see a movie, we decided to go to a reastaurant or to a bar and discovered that absolutely every single place in our town was closed. Except, thankfully, the gas station.

Now, if this area were more ethnically diverse, we would have local businesses run by people who do not celebrate Christmas and hence do no close down on December 24 and 25. We could go to a Russian bakery, a Jewish deli, a Muslim restaurant and have ourselves a merry little something.

Immigrants bring a variety of customs and traditions with them and consequently allow the locals to have more choices in their own lives. Those who keep screeching against the advent of immigrants do not realize that they are robbing themselves of choices, expeiences, opportunities. Uniformity always tends towards the mediocre. After experiencing the results of the sore lack of diversity in Southern Illinois, I can say that this area is in desperate need of some people who are different.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tana French's The Likeness: A Review

I just fnished reading . What an absolutely delightful book, my friends! I enjoyed every one of its 480 pages profoundly. Tana French is a young Irish writer. The Likeness is one of those really good books that its female author tries to masquerade as a mystery novel. The mystery itself is not bad, especially if you manage to get over a few of the initial premises that border on the fantastic.

Cassie Maddox, a young Irish policewoman, goes undercover among a group of PhD students who live in an old house they are attempting to restore. This premise is, of course, highly unrealistic. Graduate students in literature have a certain way of talking and acting that cannot be faked. In reality, un undercover police officer would have blown her cover during the very first discussion on why Lacan is wrong about everything and Eagleton's new-found essentialism is annoying. Nobody can fake writing a doctoral dissertation convincingly. You have either lived through that process or not.

Having said that, however, I have to confess that French's writing is so good that soon enough you forget about these inconsistencies and even forget to care about the identity of the killer. The Likeness is a beautifully written story about today's Ireland. It offers incisive criticism of modern consumer society without falling into the trap of bemoaning the good old days:
Our entire society’s based on discontent: people wanting more and more and more, being constantly dissatisfied with their homes, their bodies, their decor, their clothes, everything. Taking it for granted that that’s the whole point of life, never to be satisfied. If you’re perfectly happy with what you’ve got—specially if what you’ve got isn’t even all that spectacular—then you’re dangerous. You’re breaking all the rules, you’re undermining the sacred economy, you’re challenging every assumption that society’s built on.
What makes this novel so enjoyable is that, in places, it reaches the level of insightfulness that is normally completely our of reach for the mystery genre writers. In The Likeness, the main conflict arises - and eventually leads to murder - because of a profound dissatisfaction that the characters of the novel feel with the very structure of society:
Part of the debtor mentality is a constant, frantically suppressed undercurrent of terror. We have one of the highest debt-to-income ratios in the world, and apparently most of us are two paychecks from the street. Those in power—governments, employers—exploit this, to great effect. Frightened people are obedient—not just physically, but intellectually and emotionally. If your employer tells you to work overtime, and you know that refusing could jeopardize everything you have, then not only do you work the overtime, but you convince yourself that you’re doing it voluntarily, out of loyalty to the company; because the alternative is to acknowledge that you are living in terror. Before you know it, you’ve persuaded yourself that you have a profound emotional attachment to some vast multinational corporation: you’ve indentured not just your working hours, but your entire thought process. The only people who are capable of either unfettered action or unfettered thought are those who—either because they’re heroically brave, or because they’re insane, or because they know themselves to be safe—are free from fear.
Just this one paragraph makes the novel absolutely worth reading for me.

The Likeness is only Tana French's second novel and an obvious improvement on her first one, In the Woods. I can't wait to see how far this growing author will go. Her talent is undeniable and her command of the language is unique. Maybe one day she will feel strong enough to stop hiding behind the protective screen of the mystery genre and will write actual literature. I have no doubt that French has enough talent to achieve that.

White Christmas

It's unbelievable but it seems like after days of annoying rain we are having a semi-white Christmas after all.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate.

I'm celebrating by reading an anti-fundamentalist book.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Letters to St. Louis Post Dispatch

So I subscribed to St. Louis Post Dispatch on my Kindle. I know I sounds a little weird that I would even want to do that but I thought I should start supporting journalism in the economically devastated area where I now live.

The very first issue of St. Louis Post Dispatch scared me with the amount of sheer undiluted insanity contained in the letters to the editor. I was so scared when I saw those letters that I accidentally permanently deleted that issue from my Kindle. Then I thought better of it and went to the online version of the paper in order to comment on some of the letters for this blog. The letters in the online version are understandably better than in the print version. People who use a computer on a regular basis and read papers online can be expected to have at least the most basic level of education. Hence, they do not come out with  quite the same degree of madness exhibited by those who send letters to the print version. However, I was still able to dig up some veritable gems. Every signature contains a link to the actual letter so that my readers don't think I invented this.
Unfortunately, global warming is no longer about science; it has become a religion for those who seek to control our lives.
Michael Knes, St. Louis County
Unfortunately, Mr. Knes forgot to mention the actual names of the sad idiots who would want to control the lives of poor, uneducated country bumpkins like him.
Just read another letters claiming that everyone’s aversion to abortion is rooted in religion and also that women who are raped and become pregnant will not be able to get a abortion. This is just another red herring, raised by abortion lovers. I would like someone to truthfully tell me how many women in 100,000 are raped and how many of these women will become pregnant. Some of our aversion to abortion is not rooted in religion but in common decency because it takes a human life.
Ken J. Paynton ,
Stanton, Mo.
I wish to God in heaven that instead of reading "another letters" this person read at least one book. Ken J. Paynton here abandons all human decency in his statement that a couple of raped pregnant women don't really matter much. He further explains that common decency takes a human life, so this must be the reason why he does all he can to avoid being a decent human being. I suggest that instead of worrying about other people's reproductive organs, Mr. Paynton dedicate his energy to learning how to construct a decent sentence. This will help him pen letters to newspapers in the future, since this is obviously the only outlet for his indecent writing skills and helpless logic.
Reading Casey Croy’s letter “Rooted in Religion” December 11, I thought I would put aside my Catholicism for a moment to see why I am Pro-life. Then I thought, number one, abortion kills a human being. If I don’t like the death sentence for killers, why would I approve of killing an innocent baby??? So much for Pro-choice and no need to look for number two.
The constipated tone of the letter makes me think that Ms. Dinkywink hasn't done a number 2 for a while, actually. I guess the intriguing process of taking her Catholicism off and then (presumably) putting it back on has been absorbing her entire limited attention span. On a serious note, however, did everybody notice how this person insists that it's the INNOCENT babies she doesn't want to get killed? Obviously, she would be pretty much fine with somebody wiping out a few of those guilty babies.

If you are surpised by the angry tone of this post on a nice and rainy Christmas day (or is it tomorrow? I keep getting confused about this), imagine how scary it muust be to live surrounded by these individuals. Something tells me that the editors avoid publishing the absolute worst among the letters they receive.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

More Talks with My Students

This was during my recent Hispanic Civilization course.

Me: After World War II, Spain's fascist dictatorship was isolated. The trauma of fascism was still fresh in the people's memories, and nobody wanted to associate with Hitler's erstwhile buddy, General Francisco Franco. Eventually, however, one country decided to lend a helping hand to Spain's fascists. The support and aid of this country allowed Franco's dictatorsip to remain in power for several decades more. [Building up to a dramatic finish] So which country helped fascism survive in Spain until 1975?

Student (looking jaded): The US.

Me: Good! How did you know this??

Student: In this course, whenever something nasty happens, it's always because of the US!

Me: Well, don't blame me for that!

If Your Romantic Partner Has Asperger's

People often come to my blog with the following query: "What do I do if my boyfriend / girlfriend has Asperger's?" There are many books out there on the subject. Often, however, they describe somebody who is a total jerk and then blame that person's jerkdom on Asperger's. is a prime example of such an account.

In my opinion, life with an Aspie does not have to be constant martyrdom. We can actually make an ideal life partner for the right person. Remember that one of the central markers of Asperger's is developing an exclusive interest in something or somebody and pursuing it wholeheartedly. If that object of interest is you, your Aspie partner will be the most loyal and dedicated person you will ever meet. We are also not prone to lying about feelings and emotions. While many people often say "Yes, of course, I love you" without meaning it, an Aspie will, in most cases, only say it if it's absolutely true.

There are, of course, certain qualities that somebody who wants to be with an Aspie needs to have or develop. Here is what I have come up with but feel free to add your own in the comments:

1. Don't be inquisitive and curious. The best partner for us is the one who either doesn't  notice the little OCD things we do, or pretends not to notice them. Being interrogated about your routines is torture. It is often easier to end the relationship than to give up on the routines or constantly feel that you are judged for them.

2. Develop your own hobbies and pursuits that will take up a lot of your time. An Aspie is somebody who often has obsessive interests that occupy a lot of his or her time. If we are not allowed to pursue these interests or feel that somebody is encroaching on the time we dedicate to them, we tend to start feeling resentful towards that person. If you need somebody who will spend every free moment they have  paying attention to you, think twice about entering into a relationship with an Aspie.

3. Memory and caring are two different things. Retaining dates, names, phone numbers, etc. is often very difficult for us. So if your patner doesn't remember your mother's name five years into a relationship, it does not mean she doesn't care about you. It means that she finds it very difficult to retain names because her brain works this way.

4. Give them alone time. Being alone and doing things nobody knows about is often very important to us. Don't interrogate your Aspie partner. If she seems reluctant to tell you where she was, it doesn't mean she has been meeting her secret lovers. In all  probability, she was just doing her OCD things that she doesn't feel like discussing with anyone.

5. He does not forget your name, he just doesn't like to say it. Often, we find it extremely difficult to call people we are close to by their given name. I have never, for example, called my partner by his name. Not once. I try but somehow it just doesn't come out. This has nothing to do with how I feel about him, it's simply the way I am.

6. Prepare for destruction of pretty things. If you like good china and expensive carpets, either forget about it or look for a new partner. The neurological symptoms of Asperger's include clumsiness and a difficulty with maintaining balance. Everything will be broken, spilled, and destroyed. My best friend 'Mafalda' came up with a brilliant solution after I destroyed her new sofa: she bought me a sippy cup. Way to go, my friend!

7. Prepare to be embarrassed. Some of us come up with ways of dealing with social situations but some of us don't. It is probable that during social gatherings your partner will say something offensive to your friends, relatives, or colleagues, will wander off looking all distracted, or fail to respond when people talk to her. If these things bother you, think twice about making your partner attend such gatherings.

You can read more about Asperger's here and here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Surprise! Sex Is Not Psychologically Damaging

It always makes me laugh when people go all wide-eyed and self-righteous and start telling me that the American society is "sexually permissive," "porned," and "raunchy." These are the people who believe that a lot of talking about sex somehow equals having a lot of sex, which, of course, is silly and untrue. A recent study on the psychological effects of casual sex is a perfect example of how insane the sex-based discourse is in this country.

This is how the study in question announces the context of the research:
Speculation in public discourse suggests that sexual encounters outside a committed romantic relationship may be emotionally damaging for young people, and federal abstinence education policy has required teaching that sexual activity outside of a marital relationship is likely to have harmful psychological consequences.
So the researches set out to prove that casual sex does not damage the participants psychologically (even though it obviously does a lot of damage to the sex-deprived journalists and members of the public, who cannot get over the idea that somebody somewhere is actually having sex and maybe even - the horror! the horror! - enjoting it.)

The results of this study were not surprising: casual sex or "sexual activity outside of a marital relationship" does not cause psychological damage. Why it is necessary to waste resources and time on proving something that is so obvious is beyond my comprehension. Every sane individual must surely know that it's the absence of sex that causes grave psychological harm. It is sad that scientists are forced to dedicate themselves to proving self-evident things simply because a large group of sexually repressed maniacs has colonized public discourse.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Southern Illinois Equivalent of the Snowstorms Back East

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Amazon's PayPhrase Is Getting Scary

I'm sorry to keep harping on the subject, but the Amazon's PayPhrase is getting into a really bizarre, scary stage. The phrase that was given to me yesterday in response to a purchase was "Clarissa's Delicious Dumplings." It is needless to say that the purchase was a book by Sophie Hannah which had nothing to do with dumplings in any way or manner.

Want to guess what I had been eating a couple of hours before I made that purchase? Yep. And they were unusually delicious, as I kept saying throughout the meal. (I have a witness and a co-participant in the dumpling-eating activity, so don't think I'm making this up.) Now I view the dumplings that are still remaining in the freezer with a deep suspicion. Who knows what method they have of communicating with Amazon?

Still, this last PayPhrase is way better than the one that hinted on my "tiny talent." I am waiting for a response from my publisher and I really hope his reply does not include the words "tiny talent." That would make me really angry with Amazon.

P.S. Thank you nice, kind readers who purchased Kindles following a link from my blog. This will allow me to buy over a dozen new books and consequently get many new payhrases from Amazon. :-) Happy reading!

P.P.S. Today, the Amazon corrected itself and regaled me with a phrase I really like: "Clarissa's Philosophical Success." Now that's something I enjoy hearing. :-)

The Horrors of Motherhood: Sophie Hannah's The Wrong Mother, A Review

The semester is over, the final grades are in, so now I can continue on my search for a relaxing reading list for the holiday season. Mystery novels are my favorite genre of mindless fun reading. I am always on a search for promising female writers, and for some reason, British female mystery writers (or even the writers who, like the talented Elizabeth George, pretend to be British) are always a lot better than female detective novel writers from anywhere else in the world.

My latest discovery is . As a mystery novel, Sophie Hannah's The Wrong Mother: A Novel is almost as good as it gets. (And don't worry there are absolutely NO SPOILERS in this review.) It is a breathtaking, fast-paced police procedural, which thankfully does not overdo the details of police procedure. This novel does exactly what a good detective novel is supposed to do and keeps you guessing until the very last pages. At the same time, it is not one of those annoying mysteries where the readers could not have possibly guessed at the identity of the killer/s simply because the  author did not provide them with some crucial information. Hannah provides enough clues for her readers to solve the riddle for themselves. Another thing that endeared Hannah to me is that she does not revel in gruesome details and does not scatter body parts over each page of the book.  There is also no arcane knowledge of crime scene analysis that is the hallmark of many boring mystery novels.

At the same time, Hannah has a lot to say about womanhood and motherhood, and this made her novel especially fun to read. The following statement, for example, echoes one of my recent posts:
[Women] shoulder burdens rather than dellegate them to their husbands or partners. Often they assume a man wouldn't be able to cope in the way that they can. Plus, they want to make everyone happy, even if it's at their own expense - you know, the martyr mentality. The 'have-the-men-had-enough?' mentality.
Hannah portrays convincingly the painful lot of women who have chosen to parent both their children and their husband, reduced to the role of an eternal teenager in need of mommy's constant mothering.

Hannah's vision of motherhood, which is the central topic of this novel, is beyond bleak. Many of the book's characters are women who used to be extremely happy as single women or in childless marriages. The moment they had children, however, their lives became profoundly and utterly miserable. I have no way
of judging whether Sophie Hannah's portrayal of motherhood is correct, but I have to say that it is extremely powerful.
There is a 'conspiracy of silence' about what motherhood is really like. No one tells you the truth
says one of the novel's characters. Hannah sets out to break this conspiracy of silence and tell her readers what motherhood is really like. The world of being a mother is not what cheesy Hallmark cards tell us, she says. It is constant, undiluted misery, capable of breaking even the strongest and most determined woman. Of course, Hannah recognizes that there are many women who truly enjoy motherhood. The only women who feel like this, however, are the ones who are only good at motherhood and completely incapable of achieving anything else in life. They excel at being mothers because they can't excel at any other pursuit. The following passage is powerful and hilarious and offers a perfect example of both Hannah's writing style and her ideology:
The mothers who immerse themselves in . . . 'the whole mummy thing', the ones who are only so good at mothering because they have to be, because they are afraid of setting foot outside their own front doors and they need the perfect excuse. Can't hack it in the real world? Have a baby, then, and let everyone praise you  for your commitment and devotion to your child above all else. Stand at the school gate twittering, 'All I ever wanted is to be a mum.' People without children can't get away with making an equivalent statement, can they? 'Excuse me, madam, but why do you sit at home all day doing sod all?' 'Oh, well, it's because I want to devote myself to being a niece. I've got an aunt, you see. That's why I've decided not to achieve anything ever. I really want to pour all my time and energy into my niecehood.'
This paragraph is definitely one of the funniest, most beautifully sarcastic things I have read in a while. It also demonstrates why the US mystery writers cannot possibly compete with writers from Great Britain. In order to sell your book as an American author, you have to engage in the Jodi Picoult type of lachrimose, stereotype-laden, Oprahesque writing that offers nothing but the most washed out trivialities.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Day in the So-Called Life of a Goldman Sachs Investment Banker

When I read this description of a regular day of what Goldman Sachs investment bankers believe is life, I thought that the purpose of this article was to scare people away from this insane, burn-yourself-out-and-die-of-a-heart-attack-by-the-age-of-40 lifestyle.

I was wrong, thoough. There are people (or should I just be honest and call them poor pathetic robots that have no idea how to be human?) who actually choose this slow and painful suicide instead of just having a life.

The author of this agenda did their best to try and find some sense of humor in what is being described here. However, when you look past the feeble attempts at joking, what you take away from this sorry description is an overwhelming sense of pity for people whose lives are so empty and useless that they would consent to such a horrifying lifestyle in order to avoid facing the reality of just how empty and useless they are.

This last page of the selection presents this insane suicidal lifestyle as something positive.

When asked why they live like these, the sad, miserable individuals in question say that it's a "personal choice." Well, obviously it is but the interesting question is why actual human beings would decide to commit this painful and protracted suicide.

The most precious commodity in any society is leisure. The availability of leisure time to people after they have covered their basic necessities is the central criterion used to judge the level of comfort that the society is offering to its citizens. Only people who are terrified to be left alone with their essential inner emptiness are incapable of cherishing this precious commodity. Don't get me wrong, there is hardly anybody in the world who loves their job more than I do. However, I would not be able to perform it quite as well if I did not use my leisure to grrow personally and intellectually. The people described in this article need to spend their every moment faking extreme business in order to fill out their vacuous existence with an imitation of important activity.

Another thing to consider is that people who work in these highly competitive predominantly male environments are living an intensely homosocial existence. They lie to themselves and to others, saying that they are motivated by money. However, here as well as everywhere else, money is not of primary importance. What matters to these sad, little robots is sticking it to other men. Not surprising, given that they do not have any other place to stick their uninspiring little dicks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Amazon's PayPhrase Keeps Freaking Me Out

Since I wasn't enticed to adopt the semi-offensive PayPhrase that Amazon suggested to me yesterday, they evidently decided to keep trying. Today's phrase is "Clarissa's Unusual Slippers" . This is kind of scary because I have, in fact, been wearing the unusual slipper-socks given to me by my Secret Santa at work.

Now I am really freaking out. Do I spend so much time at the Amazon web-site that they now know what I wear while browsing for books? Their website is my homepage at work, so maybe they have a way of knowing things about me.

Another question that bothers me: if they are right about the unusual slippers (which they are), maybe they are also right about my tiny talent? This is a sad possibility to consider. One thing I know for sure is that I am absolutely buying something at Amazon tomorrow just to see what the new PayPhrase they assign me has to reveal about me.

What Women Need According to WaPo

For anybody who has read my blog at least once before, it must be pretty obvious that I'm not the kind of a person who reads The Washington Post regularly. However, I do skim through it every couple of months to see what depths of idiocy its so-called journalists can reach. Today, an elderly indivudual named Richard Cohen has come out with an article titled "Why is there no female Tiger Woods?" where he offers a clumsy recitation of most idiotic myths about female sexuality.

Like many patriarchal losers of his ilk, Cohen cannot accept the simple fact that women might have sex for pleasure. This is why he goes out of his way to convince himself that the only reason why women have sex is to have babies. Conversely, the reason why women don't have sex is in order not to have babies. Cohen pretends that he doesn't know that modern methods of contraception allow women to avoid the danger of every sex act culminating in a pregnancy. This quasi-journalist is desperate for an explanation why nobody has had any sex with him for the past couple of decades. The sad thing is that his pathetic search for this idiotic explanation has to be done publicly, and the poor readers of his newspaper have to witness these embarrassing efforts at convincing himself that nobody wants him because of some obscure evolutionary designs: "Women seem not to have the evolutionary urge to couple with cheaply dressed strangers. They have a stronger need to mother — to have a child and then raise that child. . . Since recreational sex can lead to diapers, women have to be prudent. As they say down at the Fed, they have to consider the out years. This is why women more than men link sex to love and commitment. I'm not saying that all of them do or all of them do all the time. I'm just saying that there seems to be few women who behave as Tiger Woods did. Even women who have no moral compunction against multiple affairs draw the line at a number somewhat below Tiger’s." One can practically smell the desperation of this poor man, who is falling all over himself in order to keep believing that women haven't cheated on him, or if they did, at least it wasn't that often or with that many people.

I have noticed that men, who insist on some special link that women make between sex and love/commitment, usually are the ones absolutely incapable of offering even marginably passable sex to anybody. It is as if they were saying: "I can't offer you sexual satisfaction because I suck in bed. But I can offer you marriage and access to my wallet. And since you are a woman, that is what you need, right? Sex isn't that important to you, right? Please tell me it isn't. Please please somebody just tell me that women don't really need sex! Pwease, pwetty pwease!!!"

This image of constantly cheating men and women who have their noses perennially stuck in a baby's diaper is so near and dear to Cohen that it blinds him to one simple reality. If it were true, then who the men would cheat with? Unless the cheating man in question is gay (and there has been no suggestion that Tiger Woods is), then for every act of cheating by a man, there needs to be a woman present.

Cohen ends his article with a childish outburst against the group of people he sees as his biggest enemy: the feminists. He blames feminists for the fact that many women have discovered that sex is fun and does not have to be sacrificed to the needs of moth-eaten fools like this journalist. Cohen thinks that if he repeats something enough times, it will eventually come true: "The reason the Glass Ceiling has not broken is that women have other priorities — maintaining relationships and being a mother. This is the way it is, and this is the way it has always been." Note the hysteria in these last sentences. "It has to be this way because I can't deal with the thought that women might have other priorities. If they do, then what is my role in life? Who will need me?"

The answer is clear. In today's world nobody except an irrelevant rag like The Washington Post needs outdated chauvinists like Cohen. And the reason we still encounter the glass ceiling everywhere is not that we are only interested in babies and relationships. It's that wherever we go and whatever we attempt to do, we encounter a condescending jerk like Cohen  lecturing us on our needs.

Why Do We Need to Believe that Men Are Inept?

Patriarchal societies limit the areas where women can apply themselves and excel to the private sphere. Kinder, Küche, Kirche (Children, Kitchen and Church) are considered specifically female pursuits. The sphere of Church does not, of course, need women as pastors. they are only needed as sheep ready for indoctrination. The "Kinder, Küche, Kirche" scheme would not work, however, if women did not receive some compensation for limiting themselves to this sphere. The compensation that the patriarchy offers women for limiting their opportunities in the public sphere is the belief that at least in the private realm their competence is absolute and cannot be challenged by silly, incompetent men.

In this respect, a commercial of Hanes socks comes to mind. A woman comes home to discover her husband dipping their son's feet into a weird white substance. It turns out that the man is tired of  socks that don't fit and is using the substance instead. The woman rolls her eyes and takes out of the bag a pack of Hanes socks that she throws at her husband with a sigh of exasperation. This commercial presents men as fools who are so inept in the simple tasks of daily life that only a smart, competent mater familias can deal with these mundane problems.

The same happens with many sites, books, and articles that offer parentting advice. Here are some prime examples from an article that teaches mothers of newborn children how to handle and manipulate the father of their baby into loving the child and helping to take care of her or him.

1. "Your partner may feel less confident than you do in caring for the baby’s daily needs. He may want to watch you diaper, bathe or feed the baby before he tries to do these tasks on his own. Or you might end up learning these baby basics together. Either way, compliment his efforts, and see them as one more reason to give him a hug and one more moment when you can share the miracle of your infant." Now, why should any of this be true? Why should a man necessarily be "less confident" in attending to HIS child's daily needs? Why is it somehow assumed that a woman is born with the knowledge and confidence needed to change diapers and bathe babies? New parents, who never had an opportunity to change a diaper before in their lives, are on a completely equal footing when their baby is born. It is possible that the father will learn to do these things faster and better than the mother. Also, the idea that a man has to be cajoled and complimented into caring for his own child is very strange. The whole tone of this piece of advice suggests that the father is some sort of an overgrown baby who needs to be parented by his partner.

2. "Comments such as “He has your eyes!” or “Wow! I can tell he has your sweet smile!” help your baby’s father appreciate how much you love about him. In front of your partner, share the good news with your friends about the “family affair” that you and he have begun, a true partnership in parenthood. Doing so will send him a message that you need and love him - a sure way to help him feel great." The question of why a grown man (who hasn't just got through a pregnancy, hasn't given birth recently, and is not breast-feeding) needs to be helped to feel great remains unanswered. There is nothing wrong, of course, about saying the things listed here. What bothers me is the suggestion that they should be said with the purpose of manipulating men, instead of being offered spontaneously by BOTH new parents to each other, irrespective of gender.

3. "Put yourself in his shoes: You’ve been given so much of the attention during pregnancy; now it’s time for that attention to shift to how “we” are doing as a new mom and dad. Let your partner know what you’d like him to do and accept his telling you his needs too. This is new territory - although he may know which salad you like at a restaurant you always go to, he may not know how important it is to you that he give the baby a bath." Poor man, it really makes me feel sorry for him. He must have felt so neglected every time he heard people say to his pregnant partner: "Wow, you've grown so huge. How are you feeling?" He really needs to be compensated for all this 9-month long loss of attention. This inept fool is so concentrated on his feelings of resentment for not getting enough attention that he is incapable of realizing that a baby might need to be bathed periodically.

4. "Intimacy means different things to different people. But one way to boost your emotional satisfaction as a couple for the rest of your lives together is to marvel at the miracle that is your child. Set the stage now: Share your feelings about the baby as you bathe, diaper and hold her together; then never let those feelings go as your baby grows." Note the reference to "setting the stage." This is one of the most long-standing patriarchal ideas: the woman's power lies in her talent to play act and  manipulate. It's a great way to get what you want and feel good about proving that there are some areas where you are smarter and better than men.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Amazon Makes Fun of Me

There is a new service that Amazon offers now where you get the following suggestion: "Next time use Express Checkout with PayPhrase Buy on Amazon and across the web with a simple phrase." I'm still not sure what this service entails for the simple reason that I am kind of hung up on the "Pay Phrase" that Amazon suggested to me.

My pay phrase is: "Clarissa's Tiny Talent." I have half a mind to call them and ask for the reasons why they concluded that my talent isn't small but actually tiny. And then I stop and think about the phrases they might have come up with for other customers concerning their "tiny" attributes. 

This might actually hurt people's feelings, Amazon. Are you trying to scare customers off during the Christmas season?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Closing the State Universities

The president of our university has recently informed us of the prospects our school faces as a result of the refusal by the State of Illinois to give us the money it owes us. The "absolutely worst-case scenario," according to the president, is that our university will be closed altogether. This is highly unlikely, he says, but nevertheless, we need to know that this possibility has been mentioned.

This is, of course, the worst-case scenario for the teachers and the students of our university. It is, however, very much in keeping with the real goals of the current administration, as has become painfully clear from recent events. If 30,000 new troops are to be sent to an unwinnable, useless war in Afghanistan, we need a place to get these fresh bodies to send there. The US Army had a tough time meeting its recruitment goals for a while now. However, if we were to close public universities, the kids who come here to get an education would see their options shrink dramatically. Many of them will have to enlist because there is little else they can possibly do with their lives.

The support of the first-time voters for Barack Obama's candidacy was a huge factor in putting him in the White House. From what I hear, most of my students voted for him.  As one of them told me last week, "I voted for Obama, but today I have no idea why." My students are appalled  (even more than I am) at the possibility that their professors might not get paid for teaching them. I wonder how they would feel if they hear about the recent discussions of our "worst-case scenario." How often have we heard that the young generation is apolitical, that it doesn't care about elections, that it rarely votes? Can we honestly be surprised any more? These young people voted for change, and what they got as a result is more war, less education, less jobs, less opportunities.

Recently, several bloggers have been writing how great it is to see a black family celebrating Christmas in the White House. I agree. It is great. This happy feeling and the joy of "at-least-it-isn't-McCain" are pretty much the only positive results of this administration so far.

Monday, December 14, 2009

And Even More Funny Things

Keep in mind that I preserve the original spelling, grammar, and punctuation in every quote.

"Spain had been overwhelmed with all the fighting that they could not partake in World War II."

"If Hitler had not stepped into Spanish Civil War to help himself in the soon to come world war, the outcome could have differed severely."

"Maybe one day someone will come up with a  dance where the man follows the woman because this way to sexist feeling to me." [Once again, native English speakers.]

"I love that about this dance that it goes side to side instead of back and forth. No other dance is like that and it makes it more appreciative when something is its own. Do you see why this dance is considered sexy yet?" [I don't know about the dance but the sentence structure is the unsexiest I have ever encountered.]

"The conquistadors looked at the Spanish like they were Gods. The myths and strong faith of the indigenous took a toll on their logic but that was what they only knew back them (sic.)" [I wonder what took a toll on this student's logic  and led him to forget that the conquistadors were Spanish.]

"Countries learn from the mistakes that were made in history and religion should never take so much control over the choices we make to have a strong economical country." [We have all learned that having religion in control makes our country very uneconomical.]

"Today in our country the military would never let religious traditions affect the choices the government makes." [Isn't it great to be young, idelistic, and naive?]

"As most people know, the United States has the reputation for putting our nose where it doesn't belong. We jump into other countries with good intentions, but most of the time it just seems like we are trying to win a popularity contest." [This is A Real American Student, if anybody is curious.]

Talks with My Students, Cont'd

End of the semester always brings tons of funny stories. Today, a student came by to find out his final grade. Of course, I spoke to him in a whisper to prevent other people from hearing his grade.

Me: You got a B.

Student: A D??

Me: No, a B, like in "bar", not a D like in "daiquiri."

Student: Well, I can see you are ready to celebrate the end of the semester!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

More Funny Things from Student Essays

"The US have never really had bad relations with Cuba, but as for these days we don't have much of a relationship with them at all. I think that the embargo between US & Cuba is good because it allows for more opportunities for both countries." [I swear to God, we had 3 presentations, 2 class lectures, and 1 DVD on the embargo, and still it didn't seem to have registered at all.]

"Femicide is where all those women were being killed in Latin American countries and it isn't that big of a deal." [This is a female student writing, mind you.]

"Chavez has aligned Venezuela with odd countries such as Iran, Cuba, China, Russia, Bolivia, and Belarus."

"As a young child, Che's father would host parties for the Republicans that had served in the Civil War. Surrounding Che by many leftist beliefs sent his mind into orbit."

"Che Guevara started to enjoy many radical authors including Faulkner and Mussolini."

"Che Guevara excelled in sports. The Many (sic) sports included swimming, soccer, golf, cycling, and as a union rugby player." [This is an English-speaking student, by the way. Actually, they all are.]

"These people had to leave their homes and children behind because of their own countries inhabiting their farmland."

"Upon graduating, Che set off on another journey which he eventually landed in Guatemala."

"Raul introduced both Fidel and Che. The both of them had such an effect on each other that night that Ernesto had agreed to liberate Cuba besides Fidel and Raul Castro."

"Castro's idea was to rid Cuba of all U.S. owned property and to disband from America completely."

"Although the Bolivians were very poverty stricken, these Bolivians did not open their arms to Che and his band of guerillas. I believe by this time Guevara had become a novelty item to countries he attempted liberation."

"In conclusion, I believe that both Fidel Castro and Ernesto 'Che' Guevara were both major influences in the liberation of many Latin American countries including Africa." [I have to confess that I failed to mention in my lectures that Africa is NOT a Latin American country. My bad.]

"Che was more of a revolutionary than Fidel Castro. Although Fidel Castro did supply many furnishings to the efforts Ernesto sought to encounter."

"In 1936, Spain declared Civil War within their country."

"In 1931, a new form of government came to power in Spain, the Second Spanish Republic. The new government wished to institute more religion and added freedoms."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

From my students' final essays:

I loved teaching my Hispanic Civilization course. There is a beautiful variety of opinion among my students. They also have such a cute way of expressing themselves that grading their papers has been a lot of fun. Here are some of the most striking statements from their final exams and final essays:

"Capitalism is the worst. If at all possible I would renounce my citizenship from the US."

"I think the US embargo on Cuba should stop. I mean the US  take and take, but do not give back."

"In the Argentinean society, it seems that when two people get together they can do some strange and crazy things."

"The International Monetary Fund kicks Latin American people while they are down."

"Argentineans enjoy moments of suspense and confusion."

"As Fidel Castro led the Cuban Revolution to the eventual overthrow of the Bautista (sic) regime, large decisions loomed in the foreseeable future."

"Cortazar's story "The Continuity of the Parks" is a strange soap opera gone weird." [I think this student stumbled unwittingly on the perfect definition of postmodernism.]

"Cuba went from being America's favorite ashtray/gangster paradise, to an enemy with missile capabilities in less than 30  years."

"Latin America has many extremely intelligent people. However, all these intelligent people move to the US or Europe in order to make more money."

"In his essay, Galeano tells about how Europe and US are not right, so why should countries look up to them. I do not agree with Galeano. I think that there are many successful European countries, and the US has done quite well themselves."

"No matter what you are doing in Argentina, you are never safe or alone."

Friday, December 11, 2009

I'm So Sorry for Poor Tiger Woods

Poor Tiger Woods just announced that he is taking an indefnite break from golfing. The recent media howling around this great sportsman has been nothing short of disgraceful. People are so horrible to him, and why? Just because he cheated on one Barbie doll with a dozen or so other Barbie dolls.

Of course, if the initial Barbie doll divorces him, he will lose most of his hard-earned money. As a result, he must now withdraw from playing golf and dedicate himself to mending fences with the Barbie doll # 1 who is using this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to renegotiate her prenuptial agreement. Imagine what kind of an individual races to see her attorney as soon as she gleefully discovers that now she has the perfect excuse to milk her rich and famous husband for even more money.

Tiger Woods had to issue a statement that sounds beyond hilarious to my non-American ear. It starts as follows: "I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people." I haven't heard anything quite so insane for a while. People who can be "hurt" by the infidelity of some one they have no relationship with are not normal. They need to go and get a life immediately.

These celebrity marriages are a total joke. They revolve around nothing other than money, fame, prestige, and who gets to milk the rich person for more cash. It sickens me that the very people who follow these stories on the news with so much dedication preach about the sanctity of marriage and vote against gay rights. Come on, people. Sanctity of marriage, my ass.

Relaxing Reading for the Holidays: Lauren Grodstein's A Friend of the Family

I have administered my last final exam of the semester and now feel prepared to go into full holiday mode. Of course, there are still  papers and exams to grade, but I don't consider that work. I blog while my students write their final exams and the grading goes nicely while accompanied by Law and Order marathons. I even have my own collection of Law and Order DVDs to accompany grading. As I mentioned before, I am really into procrastinating as a way of life and the only art form I am talented enough to practice, so I have a nice holiday schedule planned out to reward myself for pulling through the first semester on tenure-track. A huge part of the plan consists of lying in bed (possibly, for days in a row) and reading really mindless, relaxing books on my Kindle. As a result, I am now on a search mission for this type of books*. You need to remember that, as a college professor, my holidays last for over a month, so a lot of reading can be done in that time.

The first relaxing holiday reading that I discovered was Lauren Grodstein's A Friend of the Family. I never heard of this author before, but my Kindle suggested it, and it knows me pretty well by now, so I took its advice**. The book is an easy, fast-flowing, engaging read. The plot is organized around the kind of obsessive Jewish parenthood that comes as a result of an existence consciously stunted in every other respect. The protagonist, Peter Dizinoff, is completely invested into playing the role of a dedicated husband, good father, helpful doctor, and nice friend. His most cherished goal is "to be a good boy," and he strives tirelessly to avoid veering off the path of goodness, as he perceives it. He rarely dares to form an opinion of his own, let alone express it. Peter cherishes the extremely rare instances where he did attempt to have and express his own point of view and never fails to mention whether his wife approved of this particular opinion thereby allowing him to hold it.

The intelligent, successful woman Peter really loved did not want him, so he settles into a conventional and convenient marriage with a woman who is kind of OK but does not awaken any profound emotions on his part. He lives his entire life with this woman who only has sex because it makes for a "healthy marriage" and who only needs him around to pay bills and look good to her neighbors. His career goes pretty well, but, once again, it is far from being what he imagined.

As a result, he channels his unspent emotions into an obsessive fixation on his son Alec. Alec is a gifted artist and wants to live in a way that would allow him to develop his gift. His father, however, has different plans for him. Peter expects Alec to serve the purpose of validating his existence. He wants his son to graduate from college, find a job, get married, move to the suburbs, and start producing grandchildren for him. When Peter discovers that Alec has a different vision of his own life, he goes into an uncontrollable rage.

Peter sees himself as a great father, even though he is completely incapable of recognizing his son's right to have his own dreams, beliefs, opinions, and wishes. The following dialogue between Peter and his wife reveals the exact nature of Peter's fixation on Alec: "'Pete, would you want Alec married and miserable for your sake, or happy and alone for his?' 'Married and miserable,' I said." Peter keeps asking himself why his son cannot just be "obedient," just like his father. He never stops to question himself, however, about how much happiness his life of following the rules and being obedient brought him.

In general, Grodstein is not an extremely strong writer. She did, however, manage to tap into the reality of a horrifyingly invasive and obsessively destructive parenthood. I really enjoyed reading this novel because it rings very true in this respect. It is truly scary to realize that there are many parents like Peter around us.

* According to the survey I posted recently, people prefer me to write things other than book reviews. However, the book reviews bring the greatest number of visitors to the blog. Which is another incomprehensible mystery I am facing today.

** I can't believe I don't have to wait for books to go into the paperback edition any more. I spent years waiting for the books I really wanted to read to become available at a reasonable price. Now, thanks to the Kindle prices, I can buy them the day when they come out. And if you think I talk about the Kindle too much, wait until you get one, and then you'll understand.

What Makes a Good Course?

So I taught three courses this semester. Two of them were new for me, and they went really great. The thrid one, however, was kind of a flop. The classroom was really bad, which contributed to creating what I perceived as a discouraging atmosphere. This was one of the few "non-smart" classrooms we have left here on campus. This means that there was no audio-visual equipment that I could use. From the first couple of classes, I realized that even using a projector to show transparencies in that long, dark, and depressing classroom was useless.

In general, the whole course was very unlucky. When I tried bringing the students to our language lab to watch a movie, something would go wrong every single time (which did not happen with my other courses.) It took us four tries to actually get through that movie with all the technical issues we had. The feeling I got from the group dynamics in class (which is absolutely different for every single group you teach, irrespective of the course) was one of lack of enthusiasm and often even boredom. Since I taught this course before, I didn't prepare much for it. Instead, I just used the materials I had come here with. I was so convinced that this class was a flop that I even confessed it to my Chair.

Today it turned out, however, that my feeling of disappointment was not shared by the students. This was my only class this semester where the students signed a collective card for me, saying that I am "a wonderful professor and a great inspiration." Then, a few of them came up to thank me individually practically with tears in their eyes. Honestly, I am floored by this result. I thought that if I don't enjoy the course, the students wouldn't like it either. Now I don't even know what to think. It seems that the courses that turn out to be my best ones ever are the ones where I don't prepare much for them.

Is God telling me that in order to become an even better professor I should get even lazier? And work even less? For now, this is the only conclusion I can draw from this strange experience.

The New York Times Blames Me for Americans Getting into Debt

I'm honestly getting to the end of my rope with The New York Times. Every single time I have opened this paper in the past couple of months, I have seen something annoying and weird.

Today's opinion column, for example, has revealed to me that the person to blame for the fact that more and more Americans get deeper and deeper into debt is . . . me. And other people like me. In the article "Is the American Dream Over?", David Brooks suggests that people "who can manipulate ideas and abstractions," who have "unique mental skills," and who are highly educated are to blame for the growth of the uncontrollable culture of consumption that drives people into debt. At a first glance, this point of view seems completely bizarre. When you read Brooks's line of reasoning that led him to this strange conclusion, however, you realize that, in terms of bizarre, you truly ain't seen nothing yet.

These highly educated people, says Brooks, "have tremendous cultural influence" and "unwittingly set the norms everybody else must live up to." Television networks, for example, fall over themselves to depict our upper middle-class, highly educated lifestyles. For Brooks, these educated cultured lifestyles consist of having "the bigger house (which now seems normal) or the multiple cars or the flat screen." People who don't have our high educational levels and the same sophisticated set of skills try to catch up with this lifestyle that we, the educated people, uphold and advertise. However, since they don't have the same set of skills, they go into debt, and "the consumption merry-go-round will begin again."

As a university professor with five degrees from extremely prestigious schools, I have to say that Brooks's vision of how educated people with "tremendous cultural capital" live is extremely strange and evidently inspired by silly TV shows. My current house is big, but it is rented, as I have no interest whatsoever in buying real estate ever. I don't drive, so there is no question of a single car, let alone multiple ones. And my TV is tiny and cost $260. The last time I shopped for clothes was May. And not because I don't like clothes, but because shopping is very boring to me. Over 20% of my income goes towards buying books. Otherwise, you have to possess a really wild imagination to see me as participating in the "the consumption merry-go-round."

Honestly, I'd love to have more influence on setting the cultural standards. I sincerely believe that everybody would win if we spent more money on books and less on cars, gas, expensive huge TV sets, and silly crap like that. Somehow, however, I don't feel that my high education has turned me into a cultural icon. A lot more people are influenced by the lifestyles of Paris Hilton and the like than by the way of life of even the most prestigious thinkers and philosophers.

The conservatives' favorite bugbear is the "educated elites" who have supposedly colonized mass culture and tell everyone how to live and what to do. (Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America talks about it beautifuly and hilariously.) This article is one more attempt to present people with high degree of education as hateful, superficial, and bad. If you take Brooks's argument to its logical conclusion, it seems that the best way to repair the US economy and cure people from consumerism would be to remove the educated people altogether, or at least to reduce our number significantly. This hatred of the educated people by the conservatives is very logical on their part. Anybody who is even marginally acquainted with what it means to think for yourself would be incapable of buying into any single item on the Conservative agenda. They need mindless drones, who would produce and shut up. Anybody with a mind of their own is potentially dangerous and should be silenced.

It is still curious to see, however, how far some people go in their desire to blame the educated people for every single of the world's ills.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Real Angry American Woman

My penultimate post was graced by the funniest nasty comment this blog has received so far. It was so good that I simply had to dedicate an entire post to it. A commenter who calls herself A Real American Woman left this hilarious outburst as a response to my post:
Quit acting like you're American. You were not born here. You came from some shitty country and are trying to act like you know everything about us. You are NOT American.

Kindly go fuck yourself.

 First of all, I have to say it is really sad that some Real American Women are so hung up on the idea of fucking themselves. I can see, however, why nobody would want to fuck somebody with such a nice personality and why she would be reduced to obsessing over fucking herself. As somebody who is evidently very familiar with the process of fucking herself, she is trying to spread the joy of it and goes from one blog to another advising people on this interesting pastime.

Another curious thing is that this individual asks me to "quit acting like I am American." This is a little weird since I don't think she ever saw me and could judge how I act. I am very curious how acting like you're American would look like. I kind of hope that "real Americans" are not all like this angry person because that would be way too sad.

The main goal of this comment seems to be to inform me that I was not born in the US. Does this person suspect me of not knowing where I was born? Is she hoping to enlighten me with some new and interesting knowledge on the subject of my place of birth? Does she believe that not being born in the US is some sort of a shameful fact that people might want to conceal? Is she trying to reveal this fact of my life believing that I somehow try to conceal it?

The great news, however, is that most "real American women" (and men, for that matter) are nothing like this sad, angry person who has nothing of any value to contribute to a discussion and just spouts her venom all over other people's blogs..

Tundra in the Midwest

I will never understand what strange psychological problems lead people to drive this kind of total monstrosity in the Midwest of all places. Besides being an environmental nightmare, it is incredibly ugly and inconvenient. Getting into it and finding a place to park it must be quite a production. 

I keep wondering whether the proud owner of this coffin-like structure even knows what tundra is and whether he is hoping to find it in Southern Illinois. It is pretty cold here right now but we are still too far away from turning into a tundra.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The United States Are

An angry ignoramus has landed on my blog today and attempted to criticize my grammar. Instead of just asking politely and then waiting to be enlightened by somebody smart (meaning the author of this blog, of course), the dufus in question decided to express a silly and uninformed criticism.

As with everything I do, there is an ideological reason why I often say "United States are" instead of "United States is." Anybody who is even marginally familiar with the history of the change from the plural to the singular verb form in the case of talking about the United States can easily understand why I use it this way.

So for those who don't know: before the Civil War (remember that pesky affair?), the common usage was "the United States ARE." After the war, this usage started to erode (gradually) and with time transformed into "the United States IS." This is commonly considered to signify a greater unity of the country achieved in the aftermath of the Civil War.

In my opinion, however, today the country is split politically, culturally, and ideologically in a very radical way. Talking about the US in the plural allows me to highlight the fact of the split without using too many words. It is an ideological statement on my part more than a statement on grammar.

I wish people could ask if there is something they don't understand instead of annoying me with gratuitous condescending remarks.

A Kind Gentleman

So since people seem to like my real-life stories, here is one that happened today.

The weather here in Edwardsville is beyond miserable. It is cold, and what is even worse, incredibly windy. I hate wind because it messes up my hair, and then I have to walk around all day long with a hardo that looks like a crow's nest. So I was walking to the bus stop, envisioning a long and painful wait for the bus in the horrible, cold wind, when a car stopped by and a kind gentleman driving it addressed me.

Kind Gentleman says: Are you going to school?

I think: Wow, I must look real great today for this person to think I am a school student.

Kind Gentleman says: Aren't you a professor at our university?

I think: OK, so I obviously don't look as good as I thought. But at least I manage to look intellectual in this freezing wind, which is good enough.

Kind Gentleman says: Get in the car, I'll give you a ride to school.

I think: That would be nice, but what if he is a serial killer? [What does it say about me that this is the first thing that occurs to me?]

Kind Gentleman says: I am a Chair of X Department.

I think: OK, even if he is a serial killer, at least I will feel warm before I die.

So I got in the car, and the kind gentleman did turn out to be a colleague and he drove me straight to work.

Conclusion: I need to stop watching so much Law and Order: SVU.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Teaching Columbus's Journey

A student made a brilliant presentation in my Hispanic Civilization class yesterday on the differences between the way Columbus's journey is taught in public schools and the way I was teaching it in class. I loved this presentation because it demonstrates very clearly how ideology is made and imposed on school-children.

So here are the main differences between the way Columbus is taught in public schools and the historical reality of the journey:

1. Columbus sailed in search of gold. In his letter to the Spanish crown, Columbus gives as the one and only reason for his journey the need to find more people to convert to the Christian faith. Many people believe in the myth that Columbus's journey was motivated purely by the reasons of greed. Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America, for example, harps on this subject endlessly and tediously. One has to have no understanding of the Medieval mentality whatsoever to believe that a search for gold and spices was the only reason for such a huge undertaking. As everybody knows, the riches of the Americas ended up bankrupting the Spanish Empire precisely because economic considerations always took a backseat to ideological needs in the Medieval and Early Modern Spain.

When I asked my students to read Columbus's letter to the Spanish Crown and tell me what reasons HE gives for his journey, their unanimous answer was "To look for gold and spices." Even though the text was right in front of them, they paid no attention to it and kept voicing the same tired myths that they had heard many times before in high school. This just goes to show how easily ideology makes us disregard the evidence that lies right before our eyes.

2. The Spanish Kings refused to fund Columbus's journey for a while but then finally agreed in 1492. They didn't just suddenly agree to fund Columbus's trip because a whim overtook them one morning. In 1492, the Christian Spain finally conquered the last Muslim Kingdom on the territory of the Iberian Peninsula. In the same year, Spanish Jews were expelled from the country. Columbus's journey was funded as a response to these two major events. To put it in very simple terms, when there were no more people to convert on the territory of the Iberian Peninsula, more people needed to be found somewhere else.

My students told me that the schoolchildren are not being taught the religious reasons behind Columbus's trip because they are too young to understand such things. However, these children are obviously considered mature enough to understand greed as a reason for exploration of distant lands.

3. Public school students are offered carefully edited parts of Columbus's Diaries where everything that has to do with the descriptions of the indigenous people Columbus encountered is excised. The descriptions of the indigenous people and their treatment by the Spanish conquistadores are edited out because nobody wants the students to remember that the very existence of their own country is only possible as a result of the genocide of Native Americans.

If this is the way Columbus's journey is taught to school children, I can only imagine what happens with the teaching of the US history.

Monday, December 7, 2009

More from Secret Santa

My secret Santa keeps surprising me. Today I received these really fun socks.

I wonder if the colleague who gave me these is trying to suggest that my socks have been boring so far. Or maybe s/he noticed that I was wearing socks that didn't match last week. What do you expect, people, it's the end of the semester.

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Feminists and Facelifts

The mainstream media have created a wide arsenal of tactics aimed at making feminism sound ridiculous, pathetic, and silly. The New York Times has a long history of painting this picture both of feminism and of women in general. The latest effort in this direction belongs to Judith Warner, one of the NY Times' most reactionary columnists.

In her article "Bo-Tax Backlash," Warner explains that feminism has abandoned its loftier pursuits and has began concentrating on fair access to plastic surgery. According to Warner, feminism today has become "a matter of a tight face and a flat belly." This happens because, somehow, in Warner's world, the age of feminist political activism is long dead and gone: "And yet it says something true enough about the way many younger women understand feminism at a time when organized, real-world activism has hit wall after wall of political impossibility. Sneaker ads teach that feminism is all about taking control — of your figure." It never occurs to Warner that actual feminists might have very little - if any - input into the creation of sneaker ads. In her desire to promote the idea that feminism is irrelevant and obsolete, she pretends that it makes sense to look for feminist manifestos in advertisement.

Warner's solution to the lack of progress of today's feminism is to get rid of our high expectations and accept whatever crumbs we can get from our lords' and masters' table: "Maybe we should talk about having entered into the middle age of feminism — a moment when stock is taken, dreams are deferred and real life is faced in all its ugliness. Because to do otherwise is no longer youthfully idealistic, just foolhardy. Because you’ve got to hold onto what you’ve got, consolidate your gains and avoid potentially disastrous future losses." This sad and defeatist position may seem foolhardy to Warner, even though many feminist women in the past struggled against conditions that were a lot worse and still came out winning in the end. As for me, I prefer my "youthful idealism" to this washed out revisionism any time.

The funny thing about this kind of writing is that these journalists who seemingly support the ideas of feminism while working hard to present it as pathetic are a lot more dangerous than open, in-your-face supporters of patriarchy. Warner presents the death of feminism's relevance as a fact that saddens her but is still a fact we need to acknowledge and accept. Her fake sympathy towards feminist agenda is nothing a but a veil she uses to mask her discomfort with idea of feminists who are working hard to achieve important goals. She'd much rather see us as vain, ridiculous, and obsessed with out appearance.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Southern Illinois and the Star of David

While visiting the Kerasotes movie theater here in Edwardsville, I was very happy to see that Southern Illinois celebrates my Jewish heritage by placing these huge beautiful Stars of David right at the entrance to the theater.

And people told me this place was backwards and uncivilized when I was first moving here.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Brothers: A Review

I only go to the movies maybe once a year. So this review of Brothers with Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, and Jake Gyllenhaal will probably be my one and only movie review of 2009.


The movie shows a scarily typical American family that is leading a completely vapid, senseless, emotionless existence. Their food, their clothes, their pastimes are drab and boring. They are incapable of any real, profound human emotion or any thought that rises above the purely mundane. The only ways men in this family of sad, uneducated people can make a living are becoming a criminal or going into the military. When Sam, the responsible family man, is declared dead in action in Afghanistan, his widow Grace is kind of sad but not a whole lot. Sam's wayward brother Tommy starts hanging around, and Grace lets him occupy Sam's position in her life. She doesn't seem to care much one way or the other which one of the brothers repairs her kitchen,  plays with her daughters and engages in romantic interludes with her. Then Sam unexpectedly comes back, which is also kind of OK with the utterly vapid Grace, played convincingly by Natalie Portman, whose total lack of personality in real life suits this role perfectly.

Sam, who has gone through hell in Afghanistan, feels that he cannot learn to reinscribe himself into this world of interchangeable, wives, husbands, children, siblings, and friends. Everybody expects him to suck it up and resume the kind of existence he led before his horrible war experiences. However, Sam actually grew some personality during his captivity and torture. He is incapable of understanding this empty kind of life any more, let alone actually living it

The powerful and painful message of this movie is that some people can only be shaken out of the stupor they live in by something as horrible as what Sam goes through in Afghanistan. At the end of the film, Sam goes into a psychiatric facility. Apparently, he will have to undergo therapy in order to be cured of his newly found humanity. Then, he can attempt to join the world of robots represented by his family members.

Friday, December 4, 2009

African? We Don't Need Your Blood!

We've had a Red Cross truck parked on campus all day today. People were encouraged to come by and donate blood, which, of course, is a great initiative per se. But what happened to my colleague Kola, who is our Fulbright scholar from Nigeria, is not so great.
As you can discover from his most recent post, Kola was denied the opportunity to donate blood simply because of his place of origin. For some reason, being from Nigeria or even having sexual relations with a Nigerian disqualifies you from giving blood in the US. As Kola discovered, this happens because in some bigoted minds Nigeria is firmly linked to the HIV.
So is it true that a Nigerian is more likely to be HIV positive than an American? Here are some statistics: "In Nigeria, an estimated 3.1 percent of adults between ages 15-49 are living with HIV and AIDS." (More information here.) In the US the percentage of people infected with HIV is actually very similar: "In March 2009 Washington DC reported an HIV prevalence of at least 3% among people over 12 years - similar to rates in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa." (More information here.) Actually, as I was walking past the blood bank I heard two American students talking about donating blood. They both said that it was a good idea but they couldn't participate right now because neither of them could guarantee that they were not HIV positive.
My colleague was told that the blood bank's refusal to accept his blood has to do with FDA requirements. It's easy to blame such things on the FDA. When we consider the matter, however, it becomes obvious that the only reason for anybody to be be more suspicious of Nigerian blood than of American blood is racism.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Academic Boycott of Israel

People at my university (a.k.a. the best, most amazing academic institution in the world) have started joining the academic boycott of Israel. [If you don't know about this boycott, you can find a lot of relevant information here.] I have been asked to join the boycott as well, and for the past few days I have been researching the boycott and trying to formulate my attitude towards it. Since I am in Hispanic Studies, I don't have many (or, to be honest, any at all) opportunities to collaborate with Israeli scholars or attend any academic conferences held in Israel. My interest in the subject is, thus, purely a matter of principle.

One of the reasons that people give to oppose the boycott is that it isn't likely to effectuate any real change in the way Israel treats the Palestinian people. This line of reasoning is, in my view, completely specious. This should be a matter of ideology. We cannot avoid upholding our convictions just because they might not be practical or useful.

Having said that, I have to state that I am opposed to the boycott. As I said before, the way Israel is discussed in the liberal circles (and even among otherwise intelligent and well-informed academics) is extremely reductive and simplistic. I am absolutely convinced that both Israelis and Palestinians have a profound need for the conflict and the terrorism that they are experiencing at each other's hands. This is the way both these groups create their national identity. This is not the matter of a bad Israel versus good Palestinians, or evil Palestinians versus good, long-suffering Israelis. This is a game that both peoples are playing with utter abandon because they need it.

People who support the boycott often reference the academic boycott of South Africa. They fail to see that the case of South African apartheid was absolutely different from what is going on in Israel. The difference lies in the way nationalism works. Apartheid was a horrible system of racial marginalization and persecution and the desire of all progressive people to see apartheid come to an end had nothing to do with state-building and nationalism. Nationalism has its own long history and its own mechanisms that make it impossible to equate nationalistic struggles to other kinds of persecutions and injustices. Pontificating about Israel and Palestine without first obtaining the knowledge about the workings of national identity is not a smart thing to do. Israelis and Palestinians do not need more uninformed people getting on a soapbox and preaching about things they do not understand very well. Anybody who has any understanding of nationalism whatsoever will realize that boycotting Israel only helps Israeli nationalists.

If you are interested in how nationalism works, here are some basic readings that will help you understand its origins and mechanisms: