Monday, August 31, 2009

Ross Douthat's Weekly Exercise in Inanity

It's Monday, people, and my favorite joke of a journalist has regaled us with his weekly effort at writing. As an educator, I feel a painful itch to find him and tell him all about the way an argument should be structured and the most common rhetorical errors people commit when writing an analytical piece. Today's article, "A Different Kind of Liberal", should have been titled "Why can't liberals be as close-minded, uneducated, hateful, fanatical, and conservative as ... well, conservatives?"

In this piece, Douthat laments the near disappearance of "America’s dwindling population of outspoken pro-life liberals." What he fails to see, however, is an inherent contradiction between the words "pro-life" and "liberal." The truth is that the mere fact of using the word "pro-life" marks you as decidedly anti-liberal. We have a whole group of society dedicated to a very outspoken defense of this point of view. Those people are called Republicans in the best of cases, and religious fundamentalists in the worst. The idea that liberals would suddenly convert to this ideology is bizarre. What next? The support for "free markets", no gun control. no medicare, no social programs? Can we do all that and still consider ourselves liberals? Apparently, Douthat thinks we can.

One of the things I hate the most about conservatives of Douthat's ilk is their judgmental hypocrisy. He laments the fact that "the abortion rate for fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome, for instance, is estimated to be as high as 90 percent." In my opinion, you have to have some nerve to judge people who honestly see themselves incapable of raising a Down's syndrome child and choose to terminate. A truly religious person, in my opinion, can have no problem with abortion. For a believer, a mere human being cannot possibly hope to thwart God's plans. I believe that this child will be born eventually, only without the syndrome. Or, as a possibility, it will be born to parents who feel they have the strength to raise such a kid. Douthat's anti-abortion stance, however, has nothing to do with actual religious feeling. As we have seen many times, he is terrified of female independence and feels a profound need to control women.

Another annoying characteristic of this kind of writing is the constant effort at coopting feminism as a way of promoting an anti-feminist agenda. Douthat believes that he somehow has the right of telling women what "real" feminism is all about (in this case, being anti-abortion): "[Eunice Kennedy Shriver] knew what patriarchy meant: she was born into a household out of “Mad Men,” where the father paraded his mistress around his family, the sons were groomed for high office, and the daughters were expected to marry well, rear children and suffer silently. And she transcended that stifling milieu, doing more than most men to change the world, and earning the right to disagree with her fellow liberals about what true feminism required." The daring of a profoundly anti-feminist Douthat in judging what "true feminism" is would bewilder anybody even marginally acquainted with his women-hating writing.

What's so shocking about Douthat is that having failed to understand what being a Conservative means, he would set out to teach liberals and feminists what they should believe or do. He never even mastered the tenets of his own political persuasion and has the cheek to pontificate to others. People like Douthat are an insult to Conservative thought.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nina Atwood and the Chauvinistic View of Female Sexuality

Nina Atwood's relationship advice books have always scared me with their unapologetically chauvinistic view of female sexuality. Naturally, if she were an only unenlightened fool to produce this kind of nonsense, her ideas wouldn't be so scary. They have, however, become widely disseminated in the media. So widely, in fact, to have become mainstream.

The main tenets of Atwood's chauvinistic teachings are:
a) the worst thing you can do for a budding relationship "is to get sexual too soon". A woman's central strategy has to consist of "putting off sex until you have a real relationship with a commitment." Atwood doesn't explain, of course, why any sane individual of any gender would start a "relationship with a commintment" before figuring out if you are even sexually compatible. There is even less explanation for why anybody would even want to start a "real relationship" with a person who uses sex as a manipulation device from the very start;
b) after sex, the man should feel "obligated" because your "self-respect as a woman demands it". The most annoying thing here is Atwood's use of pseudo-feminist vocabulary to justify a decidedly anti-feminist attitude. According to her, a woman has to trade sex for commitment and obligation. In her world, sex is what a man wants, while commitment is what a woman needs. This, of course, has nothing to do with reality. The need for commitment and/or for sex is not gender specific and has more to do with the needs of a particular individual at any given time.
In order to justify this ridiculous approach, Atwood brings out the old chauvinistic myth that for women, sex is about intimacy, while for men it's about physical pleasure: "For us, having sex creates more intimacy. We wake up the next day wanting the relationship to move forward. If we’re brutally honest, we have to admit that we wake up the next day halfway in love and thinking of him as a boyfriend. This is nothing to be embarrassed about - it is perfectly natural and normal for a woman to feel this way! In fact, it is how we are wired." There is no proof whatsoever for these sweeping generalizations, except the vague and baseless declarations about being "wired" a certain way. And we all know how stupid such statements are.
It's strange to me that Atwood never stops to think how insulting such a position is to women. She believes that we are such simple, one-dimensional creatures that in order to achieve intimacy with us and make us fall in love, all you need to do is get between our legs. Our souls are located inside our vaginas, so it's very easy to get inside them. Men, on the other hand, are much more complex. It's not enough to sleep with them to achieve intimacy or reach their feelings. I can understand why some male chauvinist would want to promote this vision of women. But a woman? It's mindboggling. 

Paternity and a Weird Understanding of Feminism

The kind of absolutely insane ideas that people often attribute to feminists is mind-boggling. Melanie McDonagh of UK's Times Online is surprised that "feminists didn’t make more of a fuss" about DNA testing for paternity.
In her artcile "Paternity Tests Rob Women of Their Hold over Men", McDonagh suggests that "the ability to pass a child off on a man was a potent female weapon." For McDonagh, this was an undeniably good thing that was destroyed by mean, bad scientists and not protested enough by stupid feminists who failed to see how this scientific invention would end up by robbing women of their power: "The woman’s prerogative of knowing who is a child’s father was, when you think about it, the trump card of the sex. . . And then, all of a sudden, in our lifetimes all that changed. With the advent of DNA testing, that trump card became null and void. Men can require objective proof of a child’s paternity before they part with a penny for its upkeep. . . All of a sudden the balance of power between the sexes has shifted."

Of course, this whining about how much "power" (for what? manipulation? lying? milking men for money? What a weird understanding of women's power) women have lost with the advent of DNA testing tells us more about the journalist's own self-hating vision of women than about anything else. You need to have a pretty low opinion of yourself as a woman in order to bemoan the disappearance of a possibility to cheat both men and children out of the truth about paternity.

McDonagh seems to believe in all honesty that the truth about paternity makes everyone miserable: "You have to ask: is the man any happier for knowing that his children aren’t his? Are his children any happier now that their genetic father is proven to be someone other than their familiar father? DNA testing is the devil’s tool. It has certainly made this family more miserable."  It doesn't occur to her that children might actually have a need to know who their real father is. It doesn't occur to her that men are people too and, as such, should have the right to know who their children are. She doesn't care that many women have been able to prove their children's paternity in court, which gave them access to child support. All McDonagh worries about is that you can't pass off your child on a millionaire or a Hollywood actor in order to get a lot of money for yourself (which is, of course, a problem confronted by every woman on a daily basis).

The most upsetting thing about this unenlightened and chauvinistic rant, though, is the picture it paints of feminists. The very fact of being surprised that feminists haven't protested the DNA testing presents us as science-hating money-hungry individuals who want to wrest the power to cheat and to lie from men at all costs. I wonder why McDonagh couldn't have written her piece without mentioning feminists at all. I guess the reason for that is her fear to recognize that her insane ideas are not supported by any reasonable person and are definitely not supported by the feminist movement.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Psychoanalysis in the US

I was very glad to see today's article in the New York Times on the rise of psychoanalysis in the US.In "Freud’s Adirondack Vacation," Leon Hoffman tells of Freud's visit to the US, the people he met, and the influence he exercised over the mental health profession in this country. In the past few decades, Freud's name has become something of an insult in American psychology. The pharmaceutical lobby is one of the strongest in the US. It is, of course, deeply opposed to a method that deals with mental issues sans medication. As everybody knows, Freud's "talking cure" arose specifically in response to the proliferation of barbaric methods of treating mental patients practised by psychiatrists in the XIXth century.

Today, our understanding of mental health revolves around the mindless popping of prescription pills at worst and the senseless quasi-scientific blabber offered by Dr. Phil. The latter, of course, often leads to the former. Folowing the cue of pharmaceutical companies, Dr. Phil's first pronouncement on most psychological problems is that the problem might be caused by an imbalance of something in the brain, which requires taking prescription medication.

In a country where it has become normal and acceptable to diagnose 2-year-olds with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (medication!), where schools label students as "hyperactive" (more medication!), where people often get prescribed 2 anti-depressants at once plus medication to deal with the side effects of the 2 anti-depressants, where psychotropic meds get peddled right from the TV screen, it would be a great idea to remember Dr. Freud and his American follower Dr. Putnam.

It's obvious that people have a vague desire for something different than prescription medication in the field of psychology. Dr. Phil's talk show originally gave some hope of presenting the "talking cure" in a more positive light. As we all know, the show soon degenerated into recommendation of prescription meds and a collection of unprofessional platitudes aimed at placating the bored suburban housewives who make up the bulk of Dr. Phil's audience.

Gradually, people begin to believe that medication and Dr. Phil's idiotic proclamations are all that psychology has to offer. As a  result, the popular trust for the fieldd at large becomes eroded even further.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trivialization of Literary Studies

What I hate the most about today's language and literature departments is how easily they believe in their own irrelevance and how apologetic they are inclined to feel about their own existence. While going through my daily blogroll I just encountered the following announcement: "Professor Scott Calhoun of Cedarville University in Ohio has found a modern approach that avoids the pitfalls of Moby Dick or The Scarlet Letter. Old stories don't have the messages that resonate with the modern college students. They've found other spokesmen for the current generation.All are welcome to an academic conference scheduled for October 2 at North Carolina Central University in Durham. No coincidence that U2 will be performing in Raleigh, NC, that weekend. The academic conference is all about U2.U2: The Hype and the Feedback will feature guest speakers delivering lectures that relate to English literature studies, but without the great white whale."

Academic conferences and doctoral dissertations on rock stars only turn our field into one huge joke. With all due respect towards U2, what they do has nothing to do with literature. We can "analyze" their lyrics for fun (say, at a drunken party this type of "analysis" always entertains people). But trying to milk their songs for enough content to be discussed at an academic conference is pointless.

The idea behind this joke of a conference is that students find classical literary texts "irrelevant." This attitude betrays the pedagogical impotence of the teachers who are incapable of helping their students discover the beauty of these texts. Such professors think that conferences on rock stars and classes dedicated to analyzing the lyrics of what are in reality very silly songs will make them seem cool and hip to the students. Of course, they will achieve some easy popularity with the C-students who want a course where no work needs to be done and no intellectual effort expanded. But I don't think that smart, motivated students who actually want to get an education and not just have a good time will be interested.

As to "irrelevant" canonical texts, I don't want to blow my own trumpet too much here, but when I was teaching Cervantes to high school kids ages 13-16 (as an extracurricular course), I couldn't force them to go home 45 minutes after the end of class. Even after I started walking away from the classroom, the students kept following me and trying to continue the discussion of Don Quijote. If it's possible to make Cervantes relevant to a 15-year-old, I don't see why it would be all that hard to make The Scarlett Letter relevant to a 19-year-old.

I hate it when people try to present the younger generation as stupid and only interested in texting and Facebook. Today's students are great. They are smart, motivated and they are dying for someone to introduce them to the finer things in life. They are perfectly capable of finding out everything they need about U2 on their own. It's our help with understanding Cervantes, Jane Austen, Flaubert, and Thomas Mann that they need. Let's not let them down and substitute real education with senseless blabber about equally meaningless songs.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


So today in class we had an exercise where the students had to read letters to agony columns and offer advice to the authors (to practice the Subjunctive.) One of the letters was by a young man who was jealous of his girlfriend (for absolutely no reason) and kept trying to prevent her from talking to or spending time with any other man.

What shocked me was that some of the students advised this man to spy on his girlfriend or follow her around without her knowledge. And these students were all male. They thought the advice was funny.

Happy Women's Equality Day!!

Today is Women's Equality Day!!!

It commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment (the Woman Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution), which gave U.S. women full voting rights in 1920.

This is a great day for all of us, women and men alike. This is also a day to reflect on how much work still remains to be done in the area of gender equality.

"The fact is, women are in chains, and their servitude is all the more debasing because they do not realize it." (Susan B. Anthony)

"I can't say that the college-bred woman is the most contented woman. The broader her mind the more she understands the unequal conditions between men and women, the more she shafes under a government that tolerates it." (Susan B. Anthony)

"Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel." (Bella Abzug)

"Women have been and are prejudiced, narrowminded, reactionary, even violent. Some women. They, of course, have a right to vote and a right to run for office. I will defend that right, but I will not support them or vote for them." (Bella Abzug)

"I have met thousands and thousands of pro-choice men and women. I have never met anyone who is pro-abortion. Being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion. Being pro-choice is trusting the individual to make the right decision for herself and her family, and not entrusting that decision to anyone wearing the authority of government in any regard." (Hillary Rodham Clinton)

"Man is not the enemy here, but the fellow victim." (Betty Friedan)

"The most notable fact our culture imprints on women is the sense of our limits. The most important thing one woman can do for another is to illuminate and expand her sense of actual possibilities." (Adrienne Rich)

"The more education a woman has, the wider the gap between men's and women's earnings for the same work." (Sandra Day O'Connor)

"But the problem is that when I go around and speak on campuses, I still don't get young men standing up and saying, 'How can I combine career and family?'" (Gloria Steinem)

"The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." (Gloria Steinem)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When it isn't Douthat, it's Fish

Besides my favorite uninformed quasi-reporter Ross Douthat, the New York Times offers some space on its pages to Stanley Fish, a quasi-literary critic. Yesterday, he regaled us with one of his conservative outpourings on the nature of higher education.

His article "What Should Colleges Teach?" starts with a sentiment I actually share. Fish talks about how rare it is to see a college student (and I might add, even a professor) write a coherent sentence bereft of grammar errors and syntactic monstrosities. If only Fish could stop there! But no, he proceeds to analyze the reasons for this problem. In Fish's opinion, the main cause of this verbal impotence is that composition courses include discussions of ideological issues. Fish believes that "all courses listed as courses in composition teach grammar and rhetoric and nothing else."

The problem with this suggestion is that it is absolutely impracticable. I have had an opportunity to teach two such courses and in my experience, you need to a) suggest a topic that might interest the students enough for them to want to write a good piece about it; b) teach them how to create a convincing line of reasoning; c) show them the rhetorical means of supporting the argument; d) demonstrate how to put the product of their thinking in writing. Of course, we could teach our students the rules of writing by making them write only about the weather. However, you can't (or at least I can't) maintain their level of passion for this exciting topic until the end of the semester.

I strongly believe that the best writing is produced by people who are passionate about its content. When you are forced to write about a subject that bores you and that is irrelevant to your life, the writing will reflect your lack of interest. Bringing controversial topics into the classroom motivates the students to want to think, argue, and ultimately put their ideas down in writing.

Teaching students to write well is extremely important. If, however, they have no content to fill the beautiful form we will teach them to create, then we have failed as educators.

National Guard

It's only the second day of class and already the National Guard recruiters have arrived on campus.

I wonder why I never (not once!) saw them on Yale and Cornell campuses. Of course, the student body here is very different in terms of financial background and social class. I hate the hypocrisy of the people who use the fact that some of the students here find it extremely difficult to make ends meet in order to acquire some cheap and expendable cannon fodder.

I also wonder why the university doesn't prohibit these recruitment efforts on campus. Shouldn't we try to protect our students from these things while they are with us?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ivy League Education

After my first day of teaching at a smaller not very well-known (at least yet, but give me a chance, it's just my first day here) university, I have no idea why people would pay huge amounts of money to send their children to super expensive Ivy League schools. Of course, Harvard and Yale grads have a famous school name to put on their CVs. But is that really worth upwards of $250,000?

As I observed my new students here, I discovered that in no way are they less knowledgeable and less talented than my Ivy League students. In some areas, their knowledge is actually greater. They are, without a doubt, more driven, hardworking and goal-oriented. I was truly surprised that not a single student whined at having written homework assigned the first day of class. (If you ever tried doing that at an Ivy League school, you surely know that huge collective moaning accompanies the word "homework" pronounced any time during the first week of class.)

My new students are so motivated to do well in their classes that two of them already cried today. Of course, I don't want my students to cry but it's great to hear them say: "I truly, really, totally want to learn. Are you sure I will be able to?" These kids are obviously less widely traveled (if at all) than my former students. Still, they have a hunger for the knowledge of other cultures that makes my job a breeze. For the first time in my life, after I finished a lecture over 20% of students raised their hands to ask a question. This is, of course, what a professor lives for.

So if you want to give your child a great higher education but can't afford to pay for an expensive, prestigious school, send them to me (or to a similar university). I promise, you will not be sorry. :-)

The Best Profession in the World...

... is mine.

Classes at my university have started today. I haven't taught for the last 4 months (summer holidays) and now I'm back to teaching. It's great, my friends! The students at this university are fantastic, I love them already. The colleagues are great and extremely helpful. The Chair is nice and funny (in a good way).

Teaching is the best kind of work there is (besides reading and research, which are also a part of my job). It's incredibly energizing, fun, and exciting. It's also great to be around the younger generation all the time because you remain young forever.

I have already taught two classes today and then one more remains in an hour. I never taught three classes in one day and I thought it would be hard. But actually it's not hard at all. I feel I could teach several more hours easily. God, I love my job. :-)

P.S. It's 2 p.m. here and I'm already done and completely free until Wednesday morning. Isn't that amazing?? :-)

P.P.S. I'm sorry for the hyper posts but the first day of school feels like a birthday to a teacher. I just want to jump up and down, laugh, cry, and celebrate in every possible way.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

White Male Sexual Anxiety

So I've been thinking about the men who came to meetings with President Obama with rifles (see my previous post). I believe the reason why they do it is the deep-seated white male sexual anxiety that is activated by seeing a very attractive and powerful black man. In this sense, a rifle serves as a huge phallic symbol that is aimed at reducing their sexual anxiety.

Friday, August 21, 2009

From Opinion Forum

Tom at OpinionForum just wrote this superb post that I just had to quote.

Politics and Packin’ Heat

August 21st, 2009

Just about 10 percent of our presidents have been assassinated while in office. Of those four, three were shot with handguns and one with a rifle (or rifles, depending on which conspiracy theory you prefer). You’d think we might be a little sensitive to people carrying firearms at presidential events — or political events of any kind, for that matter. But no — not in the goofy, wild-wild-west culture of America.

This photo shows a man carrying an assault rifle and a pistol at one of President Obama’s town hall meetings. Knowing how these people think, I assume both weapons were loaded. When this wacko was asked why he attended a presidential event so heavily armed, he answered, “Because I can do it. In Arizona, I still have some freedoms.”

The next photo is of a man at another of President Obama’s town hall meetings. He was more lightly armed, packing only a semi-automatic pistol. This ersatz hero carried a sign reading, as you can see, ”It is time to water the tree of liberty!” When asked in an interview on TV if the weapon had been loaded, he responded with words to the effect that of course it was; what use is an unloaded gun?

The sign being held by the doofus-looking guy in this photo refers to a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”

Granted, this fellow may not be sufficiently educated to know the full quote; he may be just parroting some blather from one of his NRA meetings. But, given that he was carrying a weapon near the President, we have to assume that he knows what he’s saying. Therefore, it’s logical to conclude that an armed man was threatening the President’s life.

My question is, why weren’t both of these idiots arrested, if only to be held until the President was no longer in the area? No, seems we can’t do that. Politicians are too frightened of any group that can muster a few folks to vote one way or another, whether it’s the NRA or the DailyKos crowd. The White House even stated that they had no objections to the armed men attending the President’s town hall meetings because they have the right to be armed.

Of all the circumstances in which it’s wrong to permit people to carry weapons, proximity to the President has to be among the worst — right up there with kids’ soccer games, in public parks, near schools and churches, in or near bars, in cars and trucks (road rage, anyone?), in the supermarket…. If citizens must be allowed to have handguns, they should be outlawed anywhere outside the home, where paranoids can barricade themselves for as long as they like and wait for the black helicopters to land on their lawn.

I made my views on gun control clear in an earlier article. Handguns, which are designed for efficiently killing people — and do it quite well — should be outlawed. Period. The only people who should be able to legally own and carry handguns are sworn law enforcement officers and a few categories of carefully vetted security personnel. Private ownership of long guns, basically rifles and shotguns, should be permitted, with licensing and other restrictions.

Please don’t undertake to educate me on the Second Amendment. I know what it says, word-for-word; I know the relevant constitutional history; and I’ve read the legal cases. That includes District of Columbia et al. v. Heller, in which the Supreme Court confirmed that the Second Amendment means an individual has the right to possess a firearm. I don’t disagree with that decision, just as I don’t disagree with the long list of firearms that are already constitutionally banned. If we can outlaw private possession of automatic weapons, shotguns with barrels too short, and mortars, we can also consign handguns to the trash heap.

If we can’t make that leap into the modern world, how about making it illegal to carry a firearm at or near a political event? Is that too much to ask?

[You can read the rest of Tom's great piece here.]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

No-Driving Community

Every time I mention that I don't drive, people react as if I told them I have three heads. Especially here in the Midwest, the idea of someone living car-free shocks people profoundly. "How can you live like this?" they ask. "It must be SO hard for you." Then they start treating me like I'm an invalid beyond the hope of recovery.
So I thought that since everybody today belongs to one community or another, maybe I should start one of my own. I would call it the no-driving community. We would promote the idea that not driving is actually great.
Contrary to popular belief, living car-free solves a lot more problems than it creates. I don't care about the gas prices. I don't have to think about whether there will be a parking spot anywhere I need to go. I don't even have to know whether the street I live is one-way or two-way. I have never visited the DMV, that scary place people love to hate. I don't have to change my licence and my plates when I move. I don't have to pay for insurance or deal with the car mechanic. I don't have to pay extra for the garage. In general, living without a car saves so much time, energy, money and nerves that I have no idea why any one would ever want to have it.
It is also great for the environment. Every time I walk home from the convenience store and see my neighbors crossing the same distance in a car, I feel incredibly self-righteous and environmentally conscious.
When I moved to Southern Illinois, everybody kept repeating that I would never survive here witout a car so often that my driving-free identity had trouble surviving. And then I discovered that there is a bus that takes me from my doorstep to my office on campus and there is a very efficient cab service. And in any case, one can always revive this long-lost survival skill which is called walking.

My first posts from my new office

My old office and my new office

Sex is scary (at least to some journalists)

I wonder when it will be possible for feminist journalists to write about sex without assuming the prissy Victorian attitude of beleaguered virtue in need of rescue. As I have discussed before, the words porny, pornified, porned, pornification, and any variation thereof are endlessly repeated by writers who claim to be feminists.

The most recent example of this "sex-is-bad-mean-and-scary" attitude is Tracy Clark-Flory's article "Generation XXX: Having sex like porn stars". Like many other people who write about sex today, Clark-Flory conceals her terror of human sexuality beneath the guise of worrying about teenager's unhealthy sex lives. It would be much more useful, of course, if she left the poor teenagers (whose crazy sexual excesses are wildly exaggerated anyways) alone and just talked about the reasons why the idea of sex makes her so uneasy.

Teenagers watch to much porn, suggests Clark-Flory, and as a result, pick up unhealthy, exploitative attitudes to sex: "What's most interesting to me, though, is the idea that young women of my own porned generation are embracing a sex act most often intended to humiliate the fantasy whore on-screen. Someone will surely pen a book someday soon that details how women's pornification of their sex lives amounts to shameful self-exploitation. There's another way to look at it, though: Enthusiastically engaging in that defining act, the grand finale of most X-rated fare is one way to dramatically announce oneself as a member of our dominant sexual culture -- which is the world of porn." The overused variations of porned, pornification and similar weird terminology signal the author's enjoyment of talking about pornography. Simply put, a need to play so much with the word betrays a desire - and simultaneously a fear - to play with the reality of porn.

The feminists' uneasy attitude towards sex is part of the reason why breastfeeding children more or less until they are ready to retire has become a huge part of the feminist agenda. Reacognizing that female breasts are sexual organs is too painful, so huge efforts are being made to concentrate on the purely utilitarian, asexual uses of breasts.

As feminists, we have to recognize that this fear of porn, of our own breasts, of sex in general is the legacy of the patriarchal culture. We will never be truly liberated until we reclaim sex as our own.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Crazy Stuff

It's scary to imagine what's going to happen to children whose parents would put them into this $2000 crib.
Then they would go on Dr. Phil to ask why their child is behaving all crazy. This is a huge childhood trauma just waiting to happen.

What's Good about Yale?

It's a very unpleasant feeling when you have to be constantly ashamed of your own school. As I have mentioned before, I didn't even attend my doctoral graduation because I felt no emotional attachment to the school or the diploma it gave me. I hope Yale changes, of course, and then I will be able to feel proud of having gone there. It seems, however, that is not going to happen for a while. Recent news from Yale are very discouraging.

Yale University Press has deemed it necessary to censor a scholarly volume analyzing the cartoons that appeared in a Danish newspaper and sparkled a huge controversy: "After consulting what it says were two dozen experts, the publishing house decided that not only would the offending cartoons not appear in the book, but all renditions of Mohammad -- including a classic sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Dore -- would be banned." It's hard to imagine the book titled The Cartoons That Shook the World without the actual cartoons. What next, a book on Cervantes without a single quote? A book on Goya with no reproductions of his paintings? The whole purpose that the book's author, Prof. Jytte Klausen of Brandeis University, was attempting to achieve with her analysis is undermined. And for what? An unfounded fear that somebody, somewhere might get upset? Controversy? But isn't the whole point of publishing research to provoke debate?

Yale UP based its cowardly and idiotic decision on the opinions of some unidentified experts whose names it made every effort to conceal not only from the public but also from the author herself: "Adding insult to injury, the Yale Press's director, John Donatich, only allowed Klausen to read a summary of the experts' recommendations if she signed a gag order that barred her from discussing them." The only reason for this secrecy must be that the "experts" in question realize how unreasonable and undemocratic their "expert opinions" are. What's scary, though, is that a university press should limit its own authors out of a deference to a bunch of insane religious fanatics. Research cannot exist without the freedom of thought and the freedom of expression. Academics need to be able to conduct their work and publish their findings without the limitations of some badly digested idea of political correctness.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

University Center

This is where we have been having our two days of new faculty orientation. Unlike some other schools I know, this state university makes every effort to help new faculty feel welcome. And they feed us very well in the process. :-)

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

My New Campus

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Idiocy Rules

The reason why brainless, giggly, ignorant people like Sarah Palin are so dangerous is that their total lack of intelligence prevents them from upholding any moral norms whatsoever. As political opponents such people are truly lethal. Their one-track minds allow them to say or do anything because the ends for them always justify the means. Since this clown came out with her lies about President Obama's healthcare plan, many people have been gullible enough to believe her disgusting prevarication. Normal, kind and compassionate people who believed Palin are simply not cynical enough to even imagine that everything she says about the plan (and anything else, for that matter) is a baseless invention of her sorry excuse for a brain.

President Obama has now been forced to explain his healthcare reform plans on the pages of the New York Times. A huge part of his op-ed piece is dedicated to dispelling the idiotic myths that disgusting losers of Palin's ilk have been spreading around in order to scare people: "This is what reform is about. If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options once we pass reform. If you have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care you need. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. You will not be waiting in any lines. This is not about putting the government in charge of your health insurance. I don’t believe anyone should be in charge of your health care decisions but you and your doctor — not government bureaucrats, not insurance companies." Isn't it sad that Palin, who has been inept both as a Vice-Presidential candidate and a Governor, should have this much power to make people scared and the President nearly apologetic just by spewing forth some insane stupidity?

Obama tries very hard to bring the scared victims of Palin's cynicism back to seeing reason: "In the coming weeks, the cynics and the naysayers will continue to exploit fear and concerns for political gain. But for all the scare tactics out there, what’s truly scary — truly risky — is the prospect of doing nothing. If we maintain the status quo, we will continue to see 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every day. Premiums will continue to skyrocket. Our deficit will continue to grow. And insurance companies will continue to profit by discriminating against sick people. That is not a future I want for my children, or for yours. And that is not a future I want for the United States of America. In the end, this isn’t about politics. This is about people’s lives and livelihoods."

The sad reality, however, is that for immoral cynics like Palin it 's about politics. She wants power, she wants to be important, she wants to think that politically she hasn't been a total flop. So she will continue lying, prevaricating, cheating, faking, etc. This empty shell of a human being has nothing but her greed and resentment to guide her. Just as we finally got rid of George W., we have to be saddled with a female version of his cynical, immoral, greedy stupidity.

I'm sure that many of my readers will remark that this is a very angry post. I am angry, people. I've been trying for a while to figure out what Obama's helathcare plan is about, what's good about it and what's bad. But Palin and her radio talk-show clowns have hijacked the discussion. All we can hear now are some ridiculous accusations on one side and some feeble attempts to fend them off on the other side. There is screaming and howling, which have left no space for a reasonable, well-informed discussion. This, of course, was Palin's goal from the start. She and her friends feel uncomfortable in discussions where people use three-syllable words and construct sentences complete with the subject, the verb and the object.
The question remains: will the cult of ignorance that culminated with Bush's election and Palin's nomination now rob us of a chance to have the healthcare reform we so deperately need?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My New Home

I have finally arrived at my new home. This was a move from hell, my friends. Everything that could go wrong did. And then some.

The elevator in my previous building broke, and I had to drag two enormous suitcases and two bags downstairs at 4:30 a.m. Altogether, my luggage weighs as much as I do, so that was pretty horrible. Thank God for my super nice neighbor Harry who magically appeared in the stairwell and helped me.

Then I had to pay extra (a lot) because the luggage was so heavy. Then my money disappeared. Then I lost my passport. Then I couldn't get my luggage back. Then I was afraid I wouldn't have enough money to pay the cab driver. Then the woman who had the keys from my new house was away.

But now it's all over and I'm finally in my new home. My stuff will only arrive in two weeks (hence the excessive amount of luggage), but it's kind of fun to live in a completely empty house.

Special thanks go to my wonderful sister and my beautiful boyfriend. You guys are a pillar of strength and the best support system an absent-minded professor could ever hope for.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Leaving Ithaca

I'm going to miss this great town a lot.

Walking down the Commons last night I saw a very well-dressed super respectable couple in their sixties strolling around smoking pot. I thought they must be parents of a new Cornell student who need to anaesthesize themselves before facing the huge tuition bill. Still, this is the only place you can see such things. That's why this is the town people come to if they want to feel young forever.
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Male Bodies

So which of these male bodies do you find more attractive? According to the New York Times' Guy Trebay, it's becoming more and more prestigious for men to look like picture 2 rather than like picture 1. According to Trebay's article, "it's hip to be round" for a man.
Of course, different body types attract different people. What's curious about Trebay's article, however, is the ideological spin he puts on male potbellies. There are two main reasons why, according to Trebay, men don't favor having ripped bodies anymore. One is a dislike of President Obama and the qualities we associate with him. Men, says Trebay, "may be reacting in opposition to a president who is not only, as the press relentlessly reminds us, So Darn Smart, but also hits the gym every morning, has a conspicuously flat belly and, when not rescuing the economy or sparring with Kim Jong-il, shoots hoops."
Another reason for the alleged male cultivation of potbellies is a resistance to being seen as gay: "“I sort of think the six-pack abs obsession got so prissy it stopped being masculine,” is how Aaron Hicklin, the editor of Out, explains the emergence of the Ralph Kramden. What once seemed young and hot, for gay and straight men alike, now seems passé. Like manscaping, spray-on tans and other metrosexual affectations, having a belly one can bounce quarters off suggests that you may have too much time on your hands. “It’s not cool to be seen spending so much time fussing around about your body,” Mr. Hicklin said."
As we all know, a patriarchal society places the burden of chasing after an impossible standard of beauty on women. If we are seen as nothing more than a piece of meat, the best we can hope for is to be an attractive, always ready for consumption piece of meat. The idea of being judged according to the same standard often reduces men to a nearly hysterical state. The Washington Post's Mark Regnerus is a prime example of how far men would go to convince themselves that a wallet can more than make up for the lack of beauty and youth in a man. That's it, if you pay a woman enough, she will overlook your lack of physical attraction. Regnerus prefers to believe that there is some part of a female body that gets physically excited at the sight of a big wallet. (We all now that if there is something big we want in a man, it's something other than a wallet, but let's not stress Regnerus out too much.)
I would have really appreciated it if Trebay and Regnerus just honestly said that the contemporary standard of beauty is difficult for both men and women to maintain. That it's painful like hell to be ashamed of your body. That it's a waste of time and energy to chase after the images of beauty sold to us by the media on a daily basis. That it creates feelings of insecurity and promotes eating disorders.
Instead, these authors go to great lengths to convince themselves that they can somehow escape from the cruel demands of today's media-inspired standards of appearance. Even when the very existence of articles such as theirs betrays a profound angst at being judged solely on the basis of their looks.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Weird Men Day

For some reason, yesterday was the day I encountered a bunch of weird men.

Situation 1 (where I discovered that some people are just begging for a putdown):

A drunk guy screams at me as I'm walking down the street: Hey, you! Hey, blondie! Don't be a stuck-up bitch, talk to me!

Me (exhausted from packing and out to buy more trash bags): Buddy, I'm not in the mood, just leave me alone.

Guy: Oh, she's not in the mood! Typical woman!

Me (very annoyed now): I'm sure that's the only thing you ever hear from women. Feels just like home, doesn't it?

Guy's friends: Boooh! Burn!!

Guy: Oh, shut up you guys.

Situation 2 (where I discovered men have no solidarity):

At my favorite bar a very respectful man from Baltimore strikes up a conversation about his city. The second he leaves for the bathroom, his friend comes up.

Friend: So my friend told me he's taking you home tonight.

Me: Don't worry, you can still take him home yourself, I really don't mind.

Friend: No... I mean... You don't understand, he was bragging that he'd sleep with you tonight.

Me: As I said, you don't need to worry. He's still all yours.

Friend (indignant): I'm not gay!!

Me (compassionate): Really? Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that!

Friend (confused): Urm... What? (Then he walks away all confused).

Situation 3 (where I discovered you have to be rude to get some people to respect your boundaries):

A guy with a shaved head comes up to me and grabs my hair:

Man: You have beautiful hair!

Me: And you have... no hair.

(The man cringes and disappears in the bathroom).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


There are several words that have been so overused lately that they have been emptied of all content. The word "privilege" is one of them. Regardless of the topic under discussion, people fall over themselves trying to detect, confess and bemoan every kind of "privilege" they might claim to possess.

The Oxford English Dictionary provides the following definition of the word:

• noun 1 a special right, advantage, or immunity for a particular person or group.

2 an opportunity to do something regarded as a special honour: she had the privilege of giving the opening lecture.
3 the right to say or write something without the risk of punishment, especially in parliament.

Paradoxically, in today's usage the 1st and the 2nd definitions of the word are being applied to destroy the third. Simply put, when people want to prevent you from "saying or writing something without risk of punishment" (i.e. having and expressing an opinion), they tell you that your "privilege" disqualifies you from doing so.

To give an example, recently a reader has told me that I shouldn't have an opinion about Carleton University because of my own "educational privilege" (meaning that I went to a more prestigious school as an undergrad). Of course, I could respond in kind and turn the "privilege" argument against him. I could say that as an immigrant, I'm by definition less privileged than he could ever be, so he should refrain from expressing his opinions on my experiences. Maybe in response he could claim some other area where my privilege trumps his. And so on and so forth.

Of course, then we would be stuck at the point where nobody can have an opinion on anything. Everybody's experiences are different, so you can always excavate some "privilege" that your opponents possess and throw it back at them to silence their point of view.

In liberal circles, people often enjoy tracing every shadow of their own "privilege." They tend to announce the results of this search with a self-deprecation that often becomes self-congratulatory. Then, they engage in public exhibitions of being ashamed for all that privilege. Of course, if you look long enough, you can discover privilege in anything: race, class, gender, language, body type, long hair, short hair, and the list continues ad infinitum. They love confessing how they are still not doing enough to recognize their privilege and fill page after page, discussion after discussion with talk about privilege.

The reason for this is, of course, that "recognizing your privilege" frees them from a need to have an opinion. As a "privileged individual" you can never understand the reality of those who are less privileged. Having an opinion about that underprivileged reality is absolutely unacceptable. Nobody is ever underprivileged enough to afford to have an opinion.

For me, any use of the word "privilege" today equals the person's saying as loud and clear as possible: "I refuse to think, consider, and analyze and try to hide this refusal underneath empty verbiage."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What's Happening to Canada??

God knows I love Canada. It's the place I call home, it's where my family lives, it's a beautiful country with amazing people. But recently news from Canada have been more and more and more disturbing.

In an article titled "Can a busy female politician give reliable evidence? A judge says no," Globe and Mail reports: "Lisa MacLeod's evidence in trial of Ottawa mayor was dismissed because she was commuting to Toronto, ‘leaving her husband and child in Ottawa'. MacLeod is a young female politician who commutes to her job at Queen's Park from Ottawa and leaves her husband, Joe, and four-year-old daughter, Victoria, at home. Mr. Justice Douglas Cunningham of Ontario Superior Court said this is a big distraction for the 34-year-old woman and as a result he felt he could not accept her evidence as corroboration of the Crown's key witness in the recent high-profile, influence-peddling trial of Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien."

It's unbelievably disturbing that in Canada a woman's evidence at trial isn't given any weight because she dares to be a working mother. This is beyond disgusting. Shame on you, Justice Cunningham! You give a bad name to all Canadians.

Now I have a question: is the growing frequency of such outrageous events a result of the noxious influence of Canada's Conservative party? Does the conservative ideology trickle down from the Prime-Minister's seat to infect all strata of our society?

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Letter to the Man I Love

My Love,

I always thought how great it was that you and I split the household chores evenly and never have to argue about whose turn it is to do the dishes or make dinner. I always appreciated your belief that there are no male or female activites, duties, or capabilities. I know that for a feminist like you it's crucial that I hold the same beliefs.

Today, however, UK's Daily Mail has informed me that the fact that you do household chores has made you "abandon [your] natural manly instincts and become [a] hybrid of both sexes." Even though you were the one to suggest we split our household duties, it turns out you must have been bullied into it by bad horrible me. According to a relationship expert Francine Kaye (yeah, I know, this "profession" can better be described as "loser-swindler"), you are now a "male-female hybrid." I have recently had an ample opportunity to verify that your "manly instincts" are perfectly fine, but who knows what could have occurred in these few hours we haven't seen each other? Maybe two years of all this dishwashing and bathroom cleaning have finally kicked in.

I got upset at first but then I realized that this "expert" considers me a "masculine-like female." I know this suggestion makes you laugh. But remember that time I stayed at home waiting for the fridge repair person? Remember how I sometimes book airplane and Greyhound tickets? This is what turns me into a masculine-like female in our expert's opinion.

So everything is fine, sweetheart. A male-female (you) and female-male (me) can surely find a way to mesh our male and female parts quite nicely.

And believe me, contrary to this article's assertion, I will never resent you for not treating me like your household slave.

Lots of love,

Carleton U, Once Again

I honestly thought that after my recent visit to Carleton University I would not get a chance to write about them ever again. Not so, however. Feministing reports that the school's administration just came out with an extremely offensive statement about a student who has been a victim of assault on campus: "Carleton University is being sued by an assault victim who says the school failed to have adequate security measures in the building where she was attacked. In response, Carleton has said that the student didn't keep a "proper lookout" for her own safety and should have locked the door to the lab where she was working." It is incredible that a university in Ontario, of all places, would engage in such blatant attempt at victim-blaming.

As I have discussed in an above-quoted post, Carleton is trying to squeeze out of the university's curriculum all courses that would give the students the skills necessary to analyze, question, and change ideological conditioning. They strive to create mindless little drones who would perform their duties and shut-up. In Carleton administration's ideal world, it would be possible to blame the victim of an assault for "provoking" the crime and get away with it.

But they can't get away with it. I am going to write a letter on my departmental letterhead protesting this disgusting statement to Carleton University's President and Vice-Chancellor. For those who want to do the same, here is the address where we can send our protests. I believe that doing this in a letter format will be more productive than sending an e-mail.

Dr. Roseann O’Reilly Runte
President and Vice-Chancellor
Carleton University
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ON, Canada K1S 5B6

P.S. Here you can find the description of the attack and Carleton U's unconscionable response. I have to warn you, though, that the details are painful to read.

What Ross Douthat Considers Sexy

I have to confess that after reading his most recent column in the New York Times, I started feeling kind of sorry for the poor guy. It turns out that two of Douthat's most favorite movies are the pre-pubescent silly comedies Knocked Up and The 40-Year Old Virgin. The reasons why he likes these truly idiotic films is are ideological (trust it to Douthat to find ideology even in something this inane): "They’ve made an effectively conservative message about relationships and reproduction seem relatable, funny, down-to-earth and even sexy." So staying a virgin until the age of 40 and an unwanted pregnancy are what Douthat finds sexy. As we have seen from his previous columns, Douthat's sex life is so miserable that he must be really lamenting not keeping his virginity for good (I wrote about the reasons for his hatred of women here and here .)
The director of these silly movies has just released a new film called Funny People. The lack of success of this movie makes Douthat really sad. I, however, see a lot of hope in this movie's failure. Maybe people are getting tired of this mindless kind of entertainment. Maybe they feel that they can finally have an agency in this world and don't need to numb themselves by Adam Sandler's stupid jokes and repetitive comic routines.
It's funny how Douthat's language always betrays certain truths that Douthat's badly digested conservatism prevents him from verbalizing. This is what he has to say about marriage: "More than most Westerners, Americans believe — deeply, madly, truly — in the sanctity of marriage." Douthat is right here, of course. Believing in the "sanctity" of any institution is, indeed, crazy. Believing in Judd Apatow's movies (which according to Douthat are based on "endless penis jokes and all") is even more insane. These films don't have a message, political or otherwise. All they do is provide us with completely mindless, escapist entertainment that we all need every once in a while. It doesn't oocur to anybody except Douthat, though, to take them seriously and build a political agenda around them.

Palin on Healthcare

Palin keeps wanting to have opinions about things she is too stupid to understand. The latest topic to attract her attention is President Obama's ne healthcare plan. The plan is complex, it requires reading, thinking, analyzing. But who needs all that if you can ascribe some horrible intentions to the President and then berate him for that?

Here is what Palin wrote about the healthcare plan: "And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil." Of course, what she describes here is beyond evil. One has to be a total Nazi to support the extermination of those who are deemed "unproductive".

The only problem with Palin's critique is that she should have addressed it to Hitler rather than to Obama. It is evident to anybody with half a brain that nothing in the President's politics or record suggests that he is a follower of fascism. He has been accused of many things but an accusation of this magnitude should be substantiated.

The healthcare plan is very important to all of us. It should be scrutinized and subjected to the most rigorous analysis possible. What Palin offers us, however, can't be called analysis. It's just a pretext she uses to proffer some entirely unfounded and bizarre accusations. She wants to use the natural feelings of compassion for the elderly, the terminally ill, and the disabled that every normal person has in order to manipulate us into hating Obama. She obviously feels that it's perfectly OK to use these people to achieve her political goals.

Only to image that at some point somebody so unscrupulous and unintelligent as Palin actually had a chance to become the Vice-President of the United States. The thought literally makes me cringe.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Pick-up Artists

So it turns out that George Sodini, a mass murderer and a woman-hater, was one of those pick-up-artist losers. Numerous sources report that he read and attended his seminars. The "pick-up community (there is a "community" for every kind of weirdo out there, it seems) creattes techniques that supposedly allow ugly, unpopular, stupid people to meet and date beautiful women. I say "stupid" because you have to be beyond dumb to reach a certain age and still fail to understand that you don't need pick-up lines, strategies, conversation starters, etc. to have a fulfilling personal life.

The main idea behind this "art of pick-up" is that you have to be as insulting as possible to attract women's attention. There are some people who are making pretty good money by peddling this theory to desperate idiots who haven't been laid in years and don't have a chance to be noticed by anybody with half a brain. When I read some of the techniques they offer, I realized that quite a few of them have been used on me. My only response to this kind of behavior has always been, of course, a total rejection of a jerk who would try to approach me in that way.

Here are some examples from one of the sites:

KINO OPENERS (TylerDurden) Pushing girls, grabbing drinks out of their hands, lightly hip checking them, snapping bra straps, grabbing hats off heads, poke her, tap the opposite shoulder, etc…(these require no memorization are easy for newbies)

PRIMP OPENER (Harmless) First, here is the frame you're using for this opener:
"You're CUTE... but I'm going to make you a ROCKSTAR!"
This is, in fact, the exact wording I used to open Schematic's HB9 on Saturday night. I opened her and I let him take over and #close her. (He should have gotten more. Bad schematic. Oh well, I'll call her later. Maybe)
You don't even need to say anything to open, so this works in the loudest clubs.
You walk up, of course making sure to keep your BL under control. (Shoulders away, etc.) You check her out then make a face like you aren't happy with what you see. Then you hold your hands out like you're judging her style. You move in SLOWLY, pick some article of clothing (hat, shirt, etc. Best if it's upper body or head) and PRIMP it. Take her hat and TWIST it ever so slightly. Now, back away, lean back, look her over, and give her a thumbs up.
"NOW you're a SUPERSTAR!"
Continue with push/pull if you wish... "But wait..." and twist the hat back the other way. If she touches her hat, bust her for messing it up.
Tell her she's allowed to be seen with you now, and promenade her around the club.

COMPLIMENT OPENER Compliment her on something she’s wearing or her hair or just style in general. The trick is compliment openers are to never compliment her on her physical beauty.
You have an incredibly energy about you You have an artless grace That’s an incredible whatever-x accessory/garment

There is also a technique called "negging." It's a putdown that is supposed to make a beautiful woman feel so insecure about her looks that she will consider dating you. It's from this site:

Your hair looks shiny, is it a wig? Oh well it looks nice anyway

That’s lovely long hair – are they extensions?

I think your hair would look better up/down

Nice nails – are they acrylic. Oh, well they look good anyway.

Awww, how cute, your nose wiggles when you laugh – look there it goes again !!!

Is that your natural hair colour well its not bad So you changed it to that?

You have U shaped teeth.

Well at least you have a nice body

Eww your palms are sweaty

Where is your off button

Were you a dork at school or something

Your kinda cute, like my little sister

Did you parents not give you enough attention as a child ?

How short are you?

You’re already back to square one with me

You need to get out more often...

I can see you work out…………occasionally

Wow, that’s a great tan….have you like not washed for a week or something he he

Wow, I reckon with a bit of training you could be a stripper or a pole dancer….how cool would that be

You remind me of my weird ex

Oh – you’re one of THOSE

You have a nice act but somewhere in there, is a little girl who just wants to be held and appreciated for who she is.

A suggestion for would-be-rapists from one of these idiotic sites:

Stop Asking For Permission. Can we dance? Can I have your number? Can I kiss you? Because guys don’t know what it’s like when someone asks for permission to escalate intimacy, they don’t realize how lame it is for them to do so. Asking for permission introduces an awkward moment where the girl’s brain floods with reasons not to do what you are asking to. Plus you make it seem like you are scared of getting rejected, a quality not attractive to most women. Instead of asking, just do it and see what happens.

It's unbelievable that any man would be clueless enough to pay for seminars that offer this kind of suggestions.

Whom Does Patriarchy Oppress?

Echidne's Blog just posted the following quote from Robin Morgan: "And let’s put one lie to rest for all time: the lie that men are oppressed, too, by sexism—the lie that there can be such a thing as men’s liberation groups. Oppression is something that one group of people commits against another group specifically because of a threatening characteristic shared by the latter group—skin color or sex or age, etc. The oppressors are indeed fucked up by being masters (racism hurts whites, sexual stereotypes are harmful to men) but those masters are not oppressed. Any master has the alternative of divesting himself of sexism or racism; the oppressed have no alternative—for they have no power—but to fight. In the long run, Women’s Liberation will of course free men—but in the short term it’s going to cost men a lot of privilege, which no one gives up willingly or easily. Sexism is not the fault of women. . . ."
There are so many things that, in my opinion, are profoundly wrong about this statement that I hardly know where to begin. There was a moment in the history of the Women's Liberation movement when this vision of "all men oppress all women" made sense and could be used in order to mobilize women to take the first steps towards political activism in favor of women's liberation. But today this rhetoric of "men are masters, women are slaves" is about as productive as the "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" myth. The idea of men and women perennially at war for "privilege" (I swear, if I hear the word "privilege" one more time, I'm going to explode) is extremely simplistic and naive. The world is so much more complex than what this vision suggests.
Patriarchy hurts men and women because it presents us with a very limited set of roles that we have to fulfill with no room for our individual preferences. Morgan's statement is based on an equally limiting view of gender roles: men are always the oppressors, women are always the oppressed. I disagree that oppression is committed by men against women. Things are so much more complex than that. Oppression is committed against all of us by the patriarchy.
A question might be asked, if patriarchy is so oppressive to everybody, then why does it still exist? It exists because it offers us certain things in return. And when I say "us", I mean both men and women. Unless we recognize this painful, upsetting, offensive reality, there will be no moving forward. Only an honest discussion of what the patriarchy takes away from women and men and what it gives us back will allow us to dismantle the system.

PhD City

It's not for nothing this is the home of Cornell University. :-)

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Ithaca Is Gorges!

I'm going to miss this great town so much.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Myth of the Liberal New York Times

As if Ross Douthat's weekly column weren't enough, he now spread out to the regular conversation column with Gail Collins. She normally shares this column with David Brooks in a very weird format where she plays the role of a little lady in need of being enlightened by a big smart man. Now that Brooks is on vacation, Douthat substitutes for him.

Douthat's and Collins's debut column is titled "Are Liberals More Corrupt?" The title alone begs the question of why anybody would claim that this is a liberal-leaning newspaper. They could have asked, of course, "Are Conservatives More Corrupt?" or at least "Which Party Is More Corrupt?" But no, our liberal paper par excellence has no interest in exploring even the possibility of the Republican corruption.

In his response to Collins's vapid questioning, Douthat plunges into theorizing about a vague possibility of liberal corruption. There are no actual facts this "journalist" can offer. All he gives us is this truly bizarre conservative reasoning about how the very existence of government fosters lobbying. Lobbying is bad, hence we have to reduce government to reduce the effects of lobbying. He never stops to consider, of course, that a reduced governmental control will allow companies to do whatever the hell they please without even wasting time and energy proving their case to anybody. Besides, taking out the government in order to reduce corruption is like cutting off your head in order to avoid having to buy hats.

Another scary thing is that in an article about governmental corruption there is not a word about the incredible extent of corruption we have seen under the Bush administrations. Has Douthat heard the words "defense industry"? Did he snooze through the Hurricane Katrina debacle? Is he really so out of touch or is he following the well-known sales technique of "fake it till you make it"?

The Jerk of the Week

This is a real story. A female Japanese employee who works for a recruitment agency was updating the candidates' database. She wrote to one of the male candidates to see if he was still interested in a new job. He gave her the following answer: "Right now I'm making $150,000, so I'm not interested in a new job. By the way, I noticed that your name is Asian. I only agree to date (sic!) Asian women, so tell me if you would like to go out some time."

Is this disgusting or what?

Great News: Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor has been confirmed today as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States by a vote of 68-31. She will be the Court's first Hispanic justice and its third female justice.

This is incredible news. One of the most important thing the President of the US can do is to appoint a Supreme Court Justice. If President Obama does nothing else right in his presidency, he will still be a president who has been able to appoint a great lieral jurist as a Supreme Court justice. After the disastrous appointments of the Bush era (Samuel A. Alito and John J. Roberts), this is welcome news indeed.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More on Brain Hardwiring Mystique

My reader Quisp kindly suggested a link to an article by Janet Shibley Hyde titled "The Gender Similarities Hypothesis." This is a truly great piece of research that is aimed at dispelling the "Men-are-from-Mars-women-are-from-Venus" myth through meticulous scientific research. It is so refreshing to read such a well-constructed and well-reserached piece after all the junk science dedicated to promoting this fallacy that bobmards us on a dily basis.

Not only does Shibley Hide present a lot of data to counteract the gender difference myth, she also talks about its social consequences: "Gilligan’s (1982) argument that women speak in a different moral “voice” than men is a well-known exampleof the differences model. Women, according to Gilligan, speak in a moral voice of caring, whereas men speak in a voice of justice. Despite the fact that meta-analyses disconfirmher arguments for large gender differences (Jaffee & Hyde, 2000; Thoma, 1986; Walker, 1984), Gilligan’s ideas have permeated American culture. One consequence of thisoverinflated claim of gender differences is that it reifies the stereotype of women as caring and nurturant and men as lacking in nurturance. One cost to men is that they may believe that they cannot be nurturant, even in their role as father. For women, the cost in the workplace can be enormous. Women who violate the stereotype of being nurturant and nice can be penalized in hiring and evaluations."

In conclusion to her great article, Shibley Hide says the following: "It is time to consider the costs of overinflated claims of gender differences. Arguably, they cause harm in numerous realms, including women’s opportunities in the workplace,couple conflict and communication, and analyses of selfesteem problems among adolescents. Most important, these claims are not consistent with the scientific data." The essentialized view of gender offers us an illusion of simplifying the world's complexities. But the price we pay for this fallacy on a daily basis is too higgh.


I have no idea why today I keep encountering Kindle-related articles wherever I turn. I guess this testifies to the ever-growing popularity of the Kindle that makes Kindle-haters foam at the mouth. One of them is Nicholson Baker whose article "A New Page: Can the Kindle really improve on the book?" has been published in The New Yorker.

Anti-Kindlers tend to come up with the weirdest criticisms of the device. Their strange arguments are aimed at hiding their fear of technology and their lack of affinity with today's world. They can't keep up, it's as simple as that, so they try to conceal this self-evident truth behind endless anti-technology rants.

So what are Baker's objection to the Kindle? First of all, it's not pretty enough. The e-paper isn't as white as the journalist hoped it would be and the font isn't very attractive, which somehow detracts from the value of the texts one reads on the Kindle: "Monotype Caecilia was grim and Calvinist; it had a way of reducing everything to arbitrary heaps of words. " I personally happen to believe that nothing could reduce, say, Cervantes Don Quijote to an arbitrary heap of words but I guess it's just me.

The next reason to hate the Kindle is that there are many stupid books available in the Kindle format. The fact that these same books are also available at every major bookstore means nothing to Baker. It's all the Kindle's fault.

Another complaint is that "photographs, charts, diagrams, foreign characters, and tables" are often mangled or simply absent on the Kindle. It doesn't interest Baker that now there is Kindle DX, made specifically for the kinds of texts that have lot of tables, charts, and diagrams. When this journalist finds out about this version of the Kindle, I'm sure he will complain that the Kindle doesn't do the dishes or cook dinner.

The next objection: the Kindle doesn't preserve colored illustrations. That's true, it doesn't. As an avid reader, however, I haven't missed colored illustrations in the books I read ever since I turned 6. Yes, the Kindle is not for looking at pictures. It's for reading texts. Since when isn't it enough to just read a book without being distracted by illustrations? Has Baker never read a print book that had no pictures? How many articles did he published complaining about that experience?

Another horrible thing about the Kindle is that its books are encoded in a format that protects the rights of the writers. So all you get on the Kindle is "a grouping of words in front of your eyes for your private use." Baker is undaunted by the faact that a print book offers you the exact same thing. If it's electronic it must be bad.

Baker's last objection to the Kindle is the weirdest. This bad device, he says, turns the page when you press the next button. So if you press it before finishing the page, you will find yourself at the next page. So the buttons do what they are supposed to do? What a horrible little machine!

Is the Publishing Industry Headed for Disaster?

The New York Times informs that Sony is daunted by the success of Amazon's Kindle and has decided to bring down prices for its new releases.
As every Kindle owner knows, one of the most attractive features of the Kindle is Amazon's guarantee that all new releases will be priced at under $10. For those of us who would never consider buying a hardcover because of its impossible price and have to wait for a paperback edition to come out, this is great news.
It turns out, however, that e-book companies do this at a loss since the publishers refuse to acknowledge the new reality of electronic reading devices and demand the same amount of money for a Kindle version than for a hardcover: "Book publishers will still retain their traditional cut of every e-book sale — about half the hardcover retail list price. But they are concerned that as online retailers like Amazon and Sony gain market power, they will eventually tire of losing money on e-book sales and ask publishers for lower wholesale prices, a move that would cut into their profit margins. “We all know that these companies are taking a loss and that’s not going to continue forever,” said Jonathan Karp, publisher and editor in chief at Twelve, an imprint of the Hachette Book Group." The publishers' insistence on getting the same amount of money for a hardcover book as for an e-book makes no sense whatsoever. A digital version requires no investment into paper and printing. If the book publishers were at least marginally environmentally minded, they would see how great the proliferation of e-readers would be for the environment.
This brainlessly greedy attitude on the part of publishing houses will inevitably result in the same disaster as that experienced by the music industry. If the publishers fails to recognize that the times when you could sell a hardcover for about $30 are almost over, they risk alienating their customers altogether. People will turn to more accessible and cheaper ways of gaining information. The invention of the Kindle makes it possible to get people to read a lot more. Instead of using this great opportunity, however, the publishers are hopelessly stuck in the past, trying to preserve a practice that fails to meet today's expectations of the readers.
There are quite a few writers who have seen the amazing potential of Amazon's Kindle. Often, a writer would offer a new book for free in order to get potential interests acquanted with and possibly interested in buying the rest of her books. These smart writers understand that the Kindle can bring them a greater visibility and, ultimately, bigger profits. I wish the publishing houses would finally wake up to the idea that they can't use the same outdated business practices and hope to survive in the new millenium.