Monday, November 30, 2009

A Diet Journal

I saw this insane thing in the Chapters bookstore in Montreal a while ago. So when I went back to Montreal last week, I simply had to seek it out and take a picture of it. 

In this "Diet & Fitness Journal" you are supposed to record all kinds of exercise you did every day and also every single thing you ingested. And this includes every sup of any liquid (even water.) The journal costs $19,99, which is quite a lot in the current difficult economic climate.

The actual page of the journal came out a little blurry, but believe me, the number of little boxes you are supposed to fill out every single day and the amount of information you have to provide about what you eat and drink is truly daunting. I wonder why the makers of this journal didn't decide to be honest and name it "Anorexia Journal." It is obvious that its only goal is to foster an extremely unhealthy attitude towards food.

A Woman's Place: Palin and Beck

Everybody who is familiar with my blog knows that I'm not a huge fan of Sarah Palin, to put it very very mildly. I have criticized her here, here, here, here, and in many other places. You can disagree with her politics, hate her way of presenting herself, dislike her penchant for expressing opinions about things she does not understand. But it is absolutely wrong to demean her because of her gender.

Glenn Beck, a disgusting parody of a human being, recently came out with the following statement on Palin that he, in his mind-numbing idiocy, probably considers funny. This was in response to whether he would consider a Palin-Beck presidential ticket in 2012: "I was just thinking, what, I'm going to take a back seat to a chick? Go shoot a bear, make some stew, I'm hungry in here. . . I’m just saying, Beck-Palin, I’ll consider. But Palin-Beck -- can you imagine what an administration with the two of us would be like? She'd be yapping or something, I'd say, 'I'm sorry, why am I hearing your voice? I'm not in the kitchen.' I mean, you'd have to live up to the evil conservative stereotypes, you'd have no choice but to do so." How is it possible that somebody capable of being so vile and obnoxious is even being listened to? Why do we allow such disgusting individuals to make money out of polluting our airwaves? What's wrong with us that somebody so miserable can even joke about running for president?

P.S. And of course, the second I wrote this, Google AdSense put an advertisement for Palin's new book on my blog. There is just no winning with this woman. :-(

My Blog Visitors

It's always fun to see where my readers come from. Here is a list of everybody who visited my blog this morning. It's great to see that people from such different places come to visit the blog. Thank you, my dear readers, for your support and your interest in my writing. You are the best!

United States Blacksburg, Virginia, United States
United States Astoria, New York, United States
Macedonia Kavadarci, Macedonia
Canada Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Australia Prahran, Victoria, Australia
Grenada Grenada
Italy Peschiera, Lombardia, Italy
Russian Federation Fryazino, Moskva, Russian Federation
United States Saint Petersburg, Florida, United States
United States State College, Pennsylvania, United States
Italy Trento, Trentino-alto Adige, Italy
Singapore Singapore, Singapore
Malta Msida, Malta
Turkey Istanbul, Turkey
Nigeria Nigeria
Vietnam Hanoi, Dac Lac, Vietnam
Slovenia Obrov, Bohinj, Slovenia
United States Edwardsville, Illinois, United States
United States Los Angeles, California, United States
Austria Vienna, Wien, Austria
United States Spokane, Washington, United States
United States Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
United States Lexington, Massachusetts, United States
United States Miami Beach, Florida, United States
Hong Kong Central District, Hong Kong
United States Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States
United States Middletown, Pennsylvania, United States
Canada Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

P.S. Don't forget to vote in the survey on the right.

P.P.S. These are just the visitors from about 2 hours this morning, so if you don't see yourself, please do not get upset. :-)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What Does It Mean That There Will Be No More Oprah?

Everybody loves Oprah. She is intelligent, articulate, courageous, smart, and beautiful. Everybody admires her and wants to be like her, and that's a given**. However, I think it is a great sign that Oprah is planning to cancel her show. Several years ago, her show managed to be interesting and relevant from time to time. In the recent years, however, it has turned more frivolous and more oriented towards bored rich housewives than any other segment of the population.

In the midst of a severe economic crisis, where most people are going out of their head with worry over how they will be able to pay the bills next month, The Oprah Winfrey Show has turned into a mean joke. The titles of the most recent episodes of the show demonstrate why Oprah doesn't know how to be relevant any more.

11/23 - "Inside Sex Addiction Rehab." Imagine the kind of people who believe in the existence of "sex addiction." You definitely do not get more housewifely than that.

11/25 - "Remembering Ted Kennedy: Vicki Kennedy's First TV Interview." Of course, interviews with the spouses of important dead people can only interest those who have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with their lives.

12/02 - Perms, extensions, highlights…secrets exposed! Then, why Beyonce's sister Solange chopped it all off. Plus, Oprah's own hair history unraveled!

And here are some of the announcements for the future shows:
  • Calling all overweight moms!
  • Are you a military wife?
  • Calling all weight loss winners!
  • Need help throwing a dinner party or birthday bash
The time has passed when this society could afford a huge number of people whose only occupations were eating, losing weight, doing their hair, and feeling horrified over the sad fact that sex exists and other people actually enjoy it. The state of the economy is forcing many people to forget these trivial interests and start having a real-world existence. Dedicating all of your meagre intellectual capacities to analyzing the color of your poop (an actual topic of one of The Oprah Show episodes) is not something too many people can afford to do right now.

Maybe the age of self-satisfied navel-gazing of upper middle class Americans is over. I hope that the upcoming cancellation of The Oprah Show is a sign of that. Maybe we can all finally forget about dieting and start thinking and talking about important stuff.

** To top off her great qualities, Oprah likes the Kindle and promoted it on her show, which makes her my hero. You can see Oprah with her Kindle in the picture above.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Why Being a Conservative Is Pointless

The man who looks for security, even in the mind, is like a man who would chop off his limbs in order to have artificial ones which will give him no pain or trouble. ~Henry Miller
After you've done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully. After five years, look at it with suspicion. And after ten years, throw it away and start all over. ~Alfred Edward Perlman, New York Times, 3 July 1958
It's the most unhappy people who most fear change. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966
He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery. ~Harold Wilson

Here is the definition of the word "conservatism" from an online dictionary:

1. Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.

2. Traditional or restrained in style: a conservative dark suit.
3. Moderate; cautious: a conservative estimate.
4. a. Of or relating to the political philosophy of conservatism.
    b. Belonging to a conservative party, group, or movement.
5. Conservative Of or belonging to the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom or  
    the Progressive Conservative Party in Canada.
6. Conservative Of or adhering to Conservative Judaism.
7. Tending to conserve; preservative.

The first and the last definitions are, of course, the ones that are most relevant to the understanding of the conservative trend in politics. And these very definitions demonstrate why conservatism makes absolutely no sense. Opposing change and tending to conserve go against the very essence of human existence. "This too will pass," said the famous inscription on King Solomon's ring. King Solomon was absolutely right. This very second I am already different from what I was a second ago and from what I will be a second from now.

Conservatives are people who are terrified of change. Which means that they are terrified of their own humanity. They would prefer to live surrounded by robots who keep reiterating the same preprogrammed movements. When confronted by evidence that human beings are not robots and are not interested in living in the mechanical paradise envisioned by the conservatives, they become enraged.

The instability of human existence and the human capacity to change, often in pretty dramatic fashion, are the characteristics that make our lives both scary and delightful. Of course, it's hard to accept the fact that every new day will bring a multitude of changes - both welcome and not - to our lives. But at the same time, who would want to experience even the most amazing day of their lives over and over again every single day until death?

In the last few decades, conservatives have become increasingly more rabid and scary in the outlandish manifestations of their rage. This is not surprising since the world today is changing at a more rapid pace than ever. Turn on Fox News (or don't, if you are unprepared for your senses to be assaulted by uncontrollable hatred) and you will see a bunch of people who hate the universe for existing in a state of perpetual motion, their fellow human beings for enjoying rapid technologic and intellectual advances, and themselves for being incapable of absorbing any new information, viewpoint, or fact of reality.

How I Feel about President Obama

Let me begin by saying that, of course, I am happy that the scary McCain-Palin team of unintelligent weirdos was not elected. And I am still very glad that it is finally possible to live in the United States and discuss the country's president with people from other countries without a profound sense of shame. And I still believe that of all the options we had in that election campaign Obama was definitely the best.

However, being better than Bush is not enough to qualify one as a good president. A houseplant would be better than Bush, but we still hope for a president who can do better than a cactus. After a year of Obama's administration, my feeling of disappointment with our new President is growing. I have a strong feeling that Obama is transforming into another Bill Clinton. I was afraid he would do it but hoped that Obama would remember how silly, contradictory, and useless most of Clinton's policies were.

Recently, Obama's actions remind me more and more those of a person trying to sit on two chairs placed in the opposite corners of a room at the same time. He ends up achieving nothing but looking pretty ridiculous to every one. The reason for Obama's vacillation, lack of clarity on his goals, and endless, destructive half-measures is the long-standing conviction of most Democrats that they need to be centrist. This is the most pernicious, misguided and wrong thing the Democrats could do for their own party and for the country at large. Nobody holds centrist views in this country. Americans are profoundly polarized. That's our reality, and we need to learn to live with it. The Republicans have learned this truth a long time ago and are manipulating it to their heart's content. The Democrats, however, are still in the grip of their delusional visions of centrist America.

When the Republicans come to power, they proceed to implement the policies wanted by their base, the people who put them in power. No amount of protest from the progressives manages to distract them even for a moment from their goals. Their single-mindedness and resolve are to be applauded. At least, these people know what they want and how to get it. For some reason, the Democrats can never do the same for their base. The second we, the progressive part of the US population, put them in power, they start caring more about the opinions of the conservative whiners and screechers and go out of their way to pacify them. As a result, the agenda that helped them win the elections in the first place gets diluted to the point of becoming utterly unrecognizable.

Women and young people have done incredibly much to put Obama in power. In response, he proceeds to create even more anti-women policies in his hugely misguided healthcare plan. The system of higher education keeps falling apart, while even more kids are being pledged to be sent to fight a losing war in Afghanistan. And the Democrats keep worrying about the conservatives' rage a lot more than they worry about ours.

President Obama still has at least three more (and, hopefully, seven more) years in power. Maybe with time he will realize that his desire to please every one is wrong. He will never please a certain segment of the population, no matter how hard he tries and how many concessions he makes to the conservatives. The people who turn on Fox News because they think they will actually hear news there should not be placated and pacified. They are a lost cause. We just need to let them stew in their impotent rage at the fact that the world is changing. Whatever we do, they are not going to like us. These people want to live in some mythical, fictitious past. Since we cannot make this vision of the past real today, they will continue hating their daily reality and everybody they see as complicit in creating this reality.

The Democrats are obviously headed for a huge loss in the next year's congressional elections. There is still time to save the people who voted for Obama from complete disillusionment and make that loss not as glaring as it will be if things continue as they are now. The only thing that the Democrats need to do is to start doing something for their own voters, the people who elected them. Let's stop worrying about hurting the conservatives' feelings so much. They have their own party and their own representatives in power. Our president needs to think about us and our interests.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Translator on This Blog

By huge popular demand, I have accomplished an impossible (for my poor technological capacities) feat and installed a translator on this blog. You can see the little flags right next to this post, in the top right corner of the page. Click on the flag that represents your language and the page will appear in translation.

Unfortunately, the place where I found this great widget does not have the code for a Ukrainian translator. Let's hope it will appear in the future.

I hope this will make the process of reading my blog easier for my readers from other countries.

P.S. I tried reading the Spanish translation of my posts and it immediately gave me a headache because this translator makes the exact same mistakes as my students. So now whenever I miss them, I'll just go and translate some of my own blog posts.

Do the US Need Smart People?

When you enter a good PhD program in the US, your university waives your tuition and pays you a stipend on top of that. Often, you also get financial support for travel to conferences and research-related activities. So basically, the US supports graduate students from other countries financially while they are getting their PhDs in the United States. Then, many years later, these people graduate and can finally start making good money. This, in turn, enables them to pay very high taxes to the country that made their great education and high professional credentials possible in the first place. And this is precisely the moment when the US decide that they do not need these people to stay any longer. If these PhD graduates do not have any employer willing to sponsor them lined up before or immediately after they get their degree, they are not given more time to look for a job. They are just asked to leave and take their US-acquired knowledge and their prospective high taxes elsewhere.

It is next to impossible for an Ivy League PhD graduate (like me, for example) to get a green card, irrespective of who might be willing to employ me. If, however, I were a mail-order bride, or managed to win a green card in a lottery, I would not have the visa-related headaches that I keep experiencing now**. Can anybody explain to me how this is possible? People who got their MBAs and PhDs in the US obviously speak English extremely well, are good, law-abiding, productive members of society, will pay very high taxes, and have been integrated in to the American society. How come we are less valuable than some person who auctioned his or her body on an Internet site, will probably never learn to speak much English and is obviously not going to bring in any taxes? How come we are less valuable than some individual who has won a green card in a lottery and can have any kind of a criminal history behind them?

My indignation has less to do with myself, since as a citizen of Canada I enter the US fairly easily (except for the stack of documents that I have to drag with mee on my every short visit.) But my colleagues with less fortunate citizenships have to undergo constant visa-related aggravations. The American universities that employ us as professors suffer as well. My university, for example, hires a whole group of dedicated individuals, whose only job is to tend to the visa needs of the university faculty.

I wonder if the US welcomes lottery winners and mail-order spouses instead of us because this country sees having too many educated, intelligent, articulate people around as inherently dangerous.

** Like a sheaf of papers I had to bring in with me for a week-long family visit to Canada.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Men Who Buy Mail Order Brides

Whenever I mention the word "Russia" on my blog in any context whatsoever, I immediately get these disgusting ads placed on my site by Google AdSense that advertise mail-order brides. I have already written about these sites and the way women on them present themselves and their expectations. This time, I decided to go on one of these sites** to look at what type of man (i.e. sorry loser) would try to find a woman in this degrading manner. (Of course, this is a vicious circle because this very post I am writing will bring more of this advertisement to my blog.)

This is the way in which the creators of the website answer the question why a man should use a catalogue of Russian women in order to find a wife:
Think a Russian woman is no different from any other? Think again! Russian women possess a certain indescribable quality you just can't find around the block. This unique attribute can be likened to a softness of character so personified, you'd swear it's all an act. Gentlemen, this is no act! A Russian woman is what every man wants a true woman to be. She's tender and not afraid to reveal her weaknesses. She realizes that she needs her partner's support, and for her, that's OK! She's not looking to compete with you, but rather to love you and be loved by you, nothing more. Isn't that everything a relationship is supposed to be?

First of all, it is obvious why the disgusting jerks who are attracted by this kind of advertisement will never find a woman who will actually like them and not just tolerate them for money and a green card. Second, I feel profoundly sorry for these idiots who are looking for a "weak" and "soft" woman in Russia of all places. Boy, are they in for a surprise. It makes me happy to imagine how all these freaks marry Russian women believing that they got themselves a sad, weak and submissive little slave and end up discovering that they are not and can never be a match for the strength of personality that these women possess.

The website in question is so stupid that it even tries to convince the ugly bride-seekers that Russian women are so weird that they don't care if the man they are with is butt-ugly:
Many men assume that all women are overly concerned with a man's appearance and how much money he makes? Sure, some are, but we know from experience that most Russian women aren't. In general, Russian women do not place undue importance on their partner's appearance or how deep his pockets are. They love their men for who they are on the inside and what they can bring to the relationship, not what they look like on the outside or how much money is in their bank accounts.
So what do you have to offer one of our ladies? Not quite sure? Well, are you prepared to be completely honest in your relationship, providing your full support whenever it may be needed? If so, you've already got what it takes to make one Russian woman very happy.
Observe the clumsy attempt to convince these men that mail-order brides are not after their money while introducing the contradicting idea about "providing full support." It's as if they were saying, "we know it's all about material gain for these women. Otherwise, why would they waste themselves on a sorry loser who is so ugly that no woman from his own culture has shown any interest in him? But it hurts us to think that nobody wants us except for our wallets, so let's pretend that it isn't true."

Truly, these men deserve all that is coming to them.

** Once again, I am not linking to this site in order to avoid promoting this hateful practice.

Quality of Life

The researchers at McGill and Harvard Universities analyzed the working conditions in 190 of the world’s 192 United Nations countries. And here are some of the findings:
  • 163 nations around the world guarantee paid sick leave; the U.S. does not.
  • 164 nations guarantee paid annual leave; the U.S. does not.
  • 177 nations guarantee paid leave for new mothers; the U.S. does not.
  • 74 nations guarantee paid leave for new fathers; the U.S. does not.
  • 48 nations guarantee paid time off to care for children’s health; the U.S. does not.
  • 157 nations guarantee workers a day of rest each week; the U.S. does not. 
This list is definitely going on the wall of my office. Maybe I will even make a laminated poster out of it. My students are in desperate need of learning this information. Whenever I ask them which country offers its citizens the best quality of life, they always respond that it is the US and are very shocked to discover that it is absolutely not true. The students believe the propaganda that keeps telling them how great they have it in the US and are less motivated to change things. They need to find out about the most basic rights that so many other nations guarantee to their people that the US do not.

The Father on Top

It isn't called the patriarchy for nothing.

My regular readers might remember my recent post "The Groom on Top," where I discussed how the groom's name always appears on top of the bride's in the marriage license. Today, I discovered an even more galling fact of a similar nature. In the papers of admission to the maternity ward**, signed by women who are about to give birth, the baby's father also signs his name on top of the mother's - every single time! Even in the process of giving birth, which is one thing that men definitely cannot do, women are still less important.

Taking into the account that women who are single mothers check into the hospital with no male company at all, this strategy of signalling male importance in the situation where men are definitely less relevant and often completely absent, is profoundly sexist. It's like there is absolutely nothing whatsoever that a woman can do in order to be deemed important.

** Do not worry, my friends, I am not giving birth.  I was accompanying somebody else to the maternity ward.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Who Caused the Collapse of the Soviet Union?

I have read several articles dedicated to the collapse of the Soviet Union recently. These articles attributed the breakdown of the Soviet Empire and the fall of the Communist system to a variety of the weirdest agents. There are analysts who are so uninformed as to believe that the Soviet system came to an end as a result of the actions of President Reagan or even the CIA (yes, the same CIA that failed in every single major operation it ever attempted to carry out.)

From somebody who saw the disintegration of the USSR from within the country, this is what happened: Forget Reagan, Bush Sr., the CIA, the FBI, and James Bond. They had nothing to do with the situation in question. There was a certain group of people in power in the Soviet Union. That group of people decided that the economic system of the Soviet Union couldn't be milked for much more profit because it had worn itself out completely. So they introduced a new economic system (which, of course, had to be accompanied by a new political structure and a new ideology) that allowed them to remain in power and exploit that system a lot more profitably.

So, in reality, there was no real collapse, breakdown, or anything of the kind. The same people who were in power before, are still in power now in the countries of the former Soviet Union. It is funny how Americans, who have this weird delusion that they are the root cause of pretty much everything in the universe, keep trying to find reasons for what happened to a huge country on a different continent within the US.

Where Are the Women?

To me, this is a very shocking picture, and if you don't feel pained by it, it means that you have internalized the chauvinistic discourse to the extent where the most glaring, senseless injustices seem normal to you.

It is very disturbing to see just one female face among the sea of male faces.

Well, at least we got one woman there, that's something. At the rate we are going, maybe in a couple hundred more years of feminist struggle we will get two or even three women out of the kitchen and into the public sphere.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

St. Louis to Montreal

Today I am travelling from St. Louis to Montreal. Two questions have been bothering me greatly on this trip.

One: how is it that the cheapest way to travel from St. Louis, Missouri to Montreal, Quebec is through Miami?

Two: why are the floors at most airports so incredibly slippery? I once had to run through the Atlanta Airport in heels to catch a connecting flight and I almost killed myself. In Miami, they take the insanity even further and put the super slippery metal thingies (that you can see here in the picture) into a floor that is plenty slippery as it is. I wonder whose bright idea that was.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T


My talented colleague Kola just published a tender and lyrical account of his recent trip to an African restaurant in St. Louis. When I read about how much Kola enjoys being in a place that reminds him of home, I feel profoundly jealous. I wish I could feel this way sometimes.

For some reason, however, my relationship with my place of origin is very different. Whenever I hear people in the street or in a store speak Russian, I go out of my way to avoid being recognized as a Russian-speaker. When there is no way out and I am confronted with a necessity to exchange a few remarks with my former compatriots, I always feel completely at a loss. It often seems to me that Russian-speaking people are only capable of comments that are either mean, sarcastic and aggressive, or that are completely incomprehensible to me. Like Alice in Wonderland, I often understand the meaning of each word they say, but fail completely to grasp the general meaning of a sentence.

Even though I love my native food, I am often reluctant to go to the restaurants that serve it. It's hard to digest even the best food in the world when you are surrounded by people whose behavior makes you ashamed of being part of the same culture. When I was in graduate school, I made several attempts to hang out with people from my former country but it was an unmitigated disaster. Somewhere in the first five minutes of the encounter, my former compatriots would manage to make some sexist, racist, xenophobic, or homophobic remark that would make my anger flare up and that would be the end of that cultural rapprochement**.

My sister is about to have a baby and she decided not to make any efforts to teach the baby Russian. It is with a great sadness that I confess that I really understand that decision.

** Here I want to note that these are not necessarily the characteristics of Russian-speaking people per se. This type of behavior has more to do with being a Russian-speaking immigrant. As I explained here and here, immigrants from the former Soviet Union find it particularly hard to adapt to their new countries. As a result, they compensate for their profound discomfort by lashing out in these aggressive ways.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith, and Revolution: A Review, Part II

Among other things, Eagleton's Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (The Terry Lectures Series) is such a joy to read because of his brilliant deconstruction of Christopher Hitchens's obnoxious God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything: "Hitchens seems to hold the obscure Jewish sect of the second-century BC known as the Maccabees responsible not only for the emergence of Christianity but also for the advent of Islam. It is surprising that he does not pin Stalinism on them as well." Eagleton is absolutely right when he suggests that atheistic fundamentalism is in many respects an exact copy of religious fundamentalism. It is just as intransigent, dogmatic, reductive, and obnoxious.

Everything I have said so far might produce the erroneous impression that Eagleton is trying to create a defense of Christianity. This is, of course, not true. The critic is opposed to a unilaterall dismissal of this complex and intricate worldview but he recognizes that "Apart from the signal instance of Stalinism, it is hard to think of a historical movement that has more stupidly betrayed its own revolutionary origins." Apart from Eagleton's unintelligent characterization of Stalinism as stupid, this statement could not be more true. Many people's hatred of Christianity has nothing to do with Jesus's teachings but is rather addressed to what many of the proponents of this religion have done with it: "Far from refusing to conform to the powers of this world, Christianity has become the nauseating cant of lying politicians, corrupt bankers, and fanatical neocons, as well as an immensely profitable industry in its own right." (I swear to God in heaven, that if I ever learn to write half as good as Eagleton, I will die happy.) Are the actions of many of its followers enough, however, to discredit Christianity once and for all?, Eagleton asks. Haven't the tenets of Liberalism, the ideals of Enlightenment, the central points of Marxism suffered the same fate? Does this mean, then, that we should abandon all of these ideological and intellectual movements in their entirety?

In his brilliant analysis, Eagleton hits upon an absolutely wonderful definition of Christianity that I have been searching for my entire life: "Any preaching of the Gospel which fails to constitute a scandal and affront to the political state is ... effectively worthless." It is amazing that a Marxist like Eagleton has been able to understand the very nature of the New Testament so much better than all the quasi-religious freaks out there put together and multiplied by five.

One of the things that make Eagleton's philosophy especially endearing to me is his passionate defense of the values of Enlightenment. He enumerates the ways in which Enlightenment has come to defeat its own basic propositions but still maintains that the task of Enlightenment is far from over. Just like Christianity, Enlightenment has been discredited by the atrocities done in its name by its misguided, unintelligent followers. This is why so many people today fall over themselves in their rush to abandon the Enlightened philosophy as wrong, evil, and outdated. These thinkers are just as wrong as the wholesale deniers of the value of religion. Eagleton himself was guilty of Enlightenment-bashing on more than one occasion, and I am glad to see that his position on the issue seems to have shifted towards a greater degree of reason (pun intended.)

One of the most fun characteristics of Eagleton's writing is the way he pokes fun at Americans: "For some in the USA, the C-word is 'can't.' Negativity is often looked upon there as a kind of thought crime. Not since the advent of socialist realism has the world witnessed such pathological upbeatness." Eagleton defends his way of voicing his critiques that soem people may stupidly deem offensive: "Societies in which any kind of abrasive criticism constitutes 'abuse' clearly have a problem."

Once again, let me reiterate that this book is fantastic. If you only read one book of philosophy this year, let it be this one You are going to have a blast reading it. It is one of those books where you feel extremely sad to turn over the last page because you want the jouissance to continue.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reason, Faith, and Revolution by Terry Eagleton: A Review, Part I

In April of 2008, Terry Eagleton gave a series of talks at Yale University. Since I was in the process of looking for a job, I only managed to visit the last lecture in the series. Eagleton's brilliant lecture on religion and the subsequent reception made two things very clear to me. First, Eagleton is an amazing lecturer and listening to him is one of the greatest intellectual pleasures one can experience (especially at Yale, where intellectual pleasures - or actually, pleasures of any kind - are few and far between.) Second, Eagleton's personal life is pretty contemptible and makes one wonder how it is possible to be so brilliant and so daft at the same time.
I was very happy to discover that a book based on Eagleton's lecture series has not only appeared in print but has also been made cheap enough for me to buy it in Kindle version. This collection of essays is written in Eagleton's incomparably beautiful style that is funny and incisive at the same time. The theme of the essays is fascinating: Eagleton offers an approach to religion from the Left that is neither reductive nor stupid, as similar books often tend to be. The playfulness with which Eagleton talks about religion offers a beautiful contrast to the usual deathly gravitas informing the style that academics both on the Left and on the Right employ to discuss religion.

With his incomparable sense of humor, Eagleton makes fun of the entity he calls "Ditchkins." This is his new term for referring simultaneously to Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Eagleton ridicules Ditchkins's reductive and simplistic vision of religion that forces them to enter into an unproductive science versus religion dichotomy: "Unlike George Bush, God is not an interventionist kind of ruler. It is this autonomy of the world which makes science and Richard Dawkins possible in the first place." Religion, says Eagleton, deserves an analysis that is at least a little bit more profound than the usual all-religion-is-bad approach taken by many Liberals. In their defense of rationalism, the critics of religion often demonstrate an irrationalism which is as strong as the one they keep denouncing: "This straw-targeting of Christianity is now drearily commonplace among academics and intellectuals - that is to say, among those who would not allow a first-year student to get away with the vulgar caricatures in which they themselves indulge with such insouciance."
Eagleton doesn't stop at destroying the pseudo-rationalist piety of the so-called progressive scientists. He also demonstrates - in his inimitable, hilarious way - the ridiculous nature of the US fundamentalist Evangelicals and their utter failure to understand pretty much anything about the religion they claim to hold in such a high regard.

Of course, as happens with every good book, there are things in Eagleton's essay collection that I find unconvincing. Eagleton surmises that the resurgence of the importance of religion in the late capitalist society is a postnationalist phenomenon. I am a lot more weary than Eagleton of accepting the very existence of post-racism, post-feminism, post-nationalism, and the likes. In the US, for example, virulent nationalism and fundamentalist religiousness walk hand in hand and do not exist without each other. Evangelical fundamentalism has become the national idea of the US for the lack of any other set of beliefs or concerns that can possibly bind this country together. Whenever somebody begins to talk about post-nationalism and post-racism, I know that this is either a fan of the Oprah Show or an academic hiding deep within the ivory tower.

It is impossible to read this book by one of the greatest living philosophers and literary critics without having uproarious fun on every single page. If you want to indulge yourself by reading a philosophical treatise that is exceptionally well-written and that will make you laugh until it hurts, Eagleton's new collection of essays is perfect for you.

Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller: A Review

I normally don't read biographies but was so much fun that I finished this huge 600-pages long volume in 4 days. Heller's biography of Ayn Rand is extremely detailed (sometimes, excessively so), but it is overall well-written and fun to read.

For the most part, Heller sticks to relating the facts and doesn't attempt to offer her own interpretation of anything. This is a very good decision for this author because on the few occasions that she does venture an opinion, she almost often commits some annoying gaffe. Attempting to analyze (unsuccessfully, I might add) Rand's personality, Heller comes up with the following weird statement: "Rand was Russian by both birth and temperament. Born into a bourgeois Jewish family..." Evidently, Heller doesn't seem to realize that if you are born into a Jewish family, you can hardly be Russian at the same time. Later on, Heller shows her complete lack of knowledge about the Soviet Union when she claims that "not much economic or technological progress has been made during Communism's 75 year reign." This is a glaring lack of understanding of her subject matter, and I wish Heller abstained from talking about things she knows absolutely nothing about.

I am very grateful to Heller for offering her opinions very rarely throughout the book because wherever she does, her point of view strikes me as profoundly uninformed. She goes as far as saying that the American use of nuclear weapons against Japan "saved hundreds of thousands of American lives, and possibly as many Japanese lives." Overall, however, she sticks to the facts and spares her readers the painful necessity to confront her profound ignorance of world politics.

One of the most unfortunate characteristics of this otherwise good and informative volume is the author's excessive reliance on the information provided by Rand's longtime gigolo Nathaniel Branden. This talentless individual attached himself to the writer at the early age of 19 and spent his entire life mooching off of her talent and accomplishments. After her death, his earnings and importance obviously diminished, so Branden decided to keep milking his affair with Rand by sharing with the world every single detail about their sexual relationship. For some unknown reason, Heller doesn't realize that a person, whose only way to make his living is by exploiting a sexual relationship he had with someone famous, cannot be trusted as a reliable source of information. Branden's insistence (once again, after the woman who helped him make a fortune was already dead) that he never wanted a sexual relationship with Rand and was practically bullied into it by a 5"2' slender woman characterizes him as a vile little twerp. It is to the detriment of this otherwise good biography that he and his embittered wife should be given so much credence by Heller.

Another thing about the book that I didn't enjoy is the excessive, in my view, amount of detail as to Ayn Rand's friends and acquaintances. We do not really need to know the exact date and circumstances of her encounter with every single person she ever knew.

In spite of all these faults, the book is very good and I'm glad I read it. I discovered many interesting things that I didn't know about Ayn Rand. Her political convictions were actually closer to mine than I ever imagined. Ayn Rand was a long-time passionate proponent of women's right to an abortion. The idea of an embryo having "rights" was as disgusting to her as it is to me. In her final address in 1981 she rallied against "family values" and the growing religious bent of the 80ies Republicans. Something tells me that she would be just as annoyed by Palin as I am. She rejected the Libertarians on numerous occasions and made fun of them.

I highly recommend this informative biography to any one who is interested in learning more about Ayn Rand's life and work.

Political Convictions of the New Generation, Part II

After yesterday's disappointment of hearing about the paultry and ultra-conservative political concerns of my female students, I was quite relieved to discover that my male students, at least, have a broader list of political interests. Not one of the male students even mentioned abortion. Their concerns in the realm of politics are the following: 1) the economic crisis; 2) the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and 3) the access to higher education. Altogether, it seemed that male students found the topic a lot more fascinating than my female students. All of them had a lot to say, and their approach was interesting and insightful.

The question remains why the women in my class are only interested in politics inasmuch as it allows them to police other women's sexuality. In feminist circles, we still are inclined to talk exclusively about how patriarchal modes of thought and existence are promoted by men. We are often embarrassed to discuss just how much the patriarchy relies on enthusiastic and passionate support of many women.

I tried to point out some of the reasons behind women's support of the patriarchy in my book that is currently under review by one of the publishing houses in my field. I realize, however, that the "evil-men-oppress-good-saintly-women" mentality will find my research exceptionally disturbing. In my opinion, feminism will continue at its current dead-end until we summon enough intellectual and political honesty to recognize what is right in front of our eyes. Why does the younger generation of women seem so uninterested in feminism? has been a central question for many feminist critics. We have searched for an answer everywhere, except in the actual opinions of the representatives of this largely anti-feminist generation of women.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Political Convictions of the New Generation

I am administering an oral exam to my students right now. Among other things, they have to deliver a narrative about their political convictions. After listening to a few of them, I discovered to my great dismay that the only political issue on their minds is their opposition to abortion.

The most upsetting thing about this is that all of these students are women. It is also very frustrating that in the midst of such a severe economic crisis that is going to hit them hard when they graduate they consider abortion the only political issue of any interest.

These women are still so young, yet the desire to police other women's reproductive organs seem to be their only quasi-political concern. I'm waiting for my male students to come in for their exam and hoping that they will show a greater political consciousness.

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The Fall

So who needs the New England Fall when it's just as beautiful here in Southern Illinois?

This is a tree in front of the building where I work.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Oprah Participates in Marginalizing Female Sexuality

Today's Oprah Show decided to make a contribution to the ever-growing genre of shows that otherize female sexuality. The show's title is "Why millions of women are using porn and erotica?" Evidently, the answer that women do it for the exact same reason as men is still unacceptable for Oprah's conformist viewers.

At the very beginning of the show, we are offered a suggestion that women watch porn for the storyline. Several people that Oprah interviews reiterate this idiotic idea. Then, the porn star Jenna Jameson announced that she only ever had 3 or 4 sexual partners, which sounds a little weird since people who have 3 or 4 partners are usually capable of remembering the exact number. Even people as dumb as Jenna Jameson. Then, everybody lost interest in sex and proceeded to discuss how much money this porn star made at every stage of her career. The subject of money was discussed with the type of glee that people of other cultures often reserve for discussions of sex.

Of course, after I realized that this was the only original contribution this show was going to make to the topic, I stopped watching. God, what wouldn't people say to themselves and to their audiences composed of bored suburban housewives in order to alleviate their nagging suspicion that other people might actually enjoy sex.

Shows like this are this puritanical culture's way of exorcising its profound fear of female sexuality. It saddens me that Oprah, who is a pretty intelligent woman, would want to participate in something so stupid.

Canadian Kindle!!!

Now, it seems, the Kindle will finally be available to my fellow Canadians as well.

Here is the link to a great article on the subject by a fellow blogger and Kindle-lover. It contains many useful links that let you know how to proceed about owning a Kindle if you are Canadian.

It is extremely unfair that something as amazing as the Kindle should have been unavailable to people in Canada. Now finally my countrymen and women will be able to experience the delight of owning this wonderful device. Since I got my Kindle 1 year 6 months and 13 days ago, there hasn't been a single day that I didn't use it. It is the most convenient, beautiful, useful and amazing thing I have ever known.

The wireless access on the Canadian Kindle will unfortunately be limited. This happens because Canadian wireless providers are a huge, nasty mafia united in keeping the wireless costs incredibly high (as anybody who lives in Canada knows from sad personal experiences.) Still, on the Canadian Kindle you will still be able to download your books instantly and will also have the access to Wikipedia (or so it seems.)


My university had all of its professors take an ethics workshop online. The workshop was pretty complex and sophisticated and took quite a bit of time to complete. A week after we completed it, we discovered that it is possible we will not receive our salaries in December (right before the Christmas and New Year's celebrations). The university and the Governor of our state have known that the state has been defaulting on its payments to our school for a while (since summer, actually.) In the meanwhile, we were encourage to incur research-related expenses with the promise that we will be reimbursed for them. Nobody warned us about the possibility of not getting our paychecks, so we have been making no savings and no provisions for this daunting prospect.

We are still not being told what exactly will happen with our paychecks. There is a lot of vague rumors that nobody is trying to address in spite of numerous pleas. The President of the University will give a public talk tomorrow, but of course, it has been scheduled for a time slot when more than half of all professors on campus are in class (including me.)

As a result, I have a few questions: How ethical is it to lecture people on ethics while concealing this crucial information about their livelihood from them? How ethical is it to waste money on ethics workshops when salaries might not even be covered? Is the Governor of Illinois doing the ethical thing and waiving his salary until he can ensure payments to us, state employees? How ethical is it to keep paying a Governor who betrayed his voters in such a basic way? (Of course, if this governor had cheated on his wife, the whole country would be abuzz. Leaving a bunch of college professors in an economically devastated area without any means of existence, however, interests no one.)

I understand that the crisis is severe and there are cuts everywhere. I don't understand, however, why a state that seems as poor as Illinois would want to waste resources on constructing and maintaining a new Guantanamo on its territory. How is that an ethical thing to do?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ayn Rand

The last M/MLA conference where I spoke the day after getting married was good in all respects except one: the book-fair. Normally, I love book-fairs at conferences, but this one looked more like a parody of a regular fair. It was held in the same room where banquets were served to the participants. The abundance of food presented a disturbing contrast to the paucity of actual books available for purchase. It were as if the conference organizers were trying to suggest that food for our stomachs is way more important than food for our minds. The only book there that attracted my attention was Anne C. Heller's biography of Ayn Rand titled Ayn Rand and the World She Made. I couldn't have afforded to buy this book (especially in the light of the threats by the governor of Illinois to stop paying our salaries) if it weren't for a much cheaper Kindle version. I have only just begun reading this dense 600-page book and I will write a detailed review of it when I finish it. For now, however, I just wanted to write about Ayn Rand and the reasons why I find her work fascinating.

Ayn Rand, the author of the immensely popular The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, is the inspiration of Libertarians (whom I dislike profoundly) and is often grouped together with people like Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan (whom I despise and consider to be disgusting individuals.) I hate Ayn Rand's deep-seated mysoginy and her profound self-hatred as a woman and as a Jew. I find her gushing descriptions of enormous dollar signs made of gold to be vulgar and pathetic. I consider her admiration of "progressive capitalists" to be childish and silly. I find many of the things she wrote to be deeply offensive. But still I believe that she is a great writer and I love her books.

I know it is hard to get past all the offensive stuff in Rand's writing. Once you do, however, you might encounter a veritable treasure, just the way I did and continue doing every time I reread her two most famous novels**.

Of course, part of my interest in Rand has to do with the fact that I identify with her on many levels. She emigrated from a Russian-speaking country to North America almost at the same age as I did. She was Jewish by ethnic origin but not by virtue of religious belief. From what little I have been able to read from Heller's biography, it has already become clear to me that Rand must have had an exceptionally strong form of Asperger's. (Many of the things that seem to baffle her biographers become perfectly understandable once you think of them in terms of Asperger's.)

If you think about it, Ayn Rand's achievement as a writer is truly unique. She only started to learn English at the age of 21 and managed to achieve the level of language skill that allowed her to write extremely long, complex, and beautiful novels. I cannot think of any other writer who achieved a similar linguistic feat. (Please do not bring up Nabokov. He spoke English from his early chilldhood and spent a lot of time in England and surrounded by English-speaking people starting from infancy.) I started learning Spanish more or less at the same age Ayn Rand started learning English, and even though today, when I'm 33, my Spanish is really great, I could never hope to write a work of fiction in this language. And my complete lack of literary talent is not the only reason. The amount of effort it would require to achieve such a level is simply beyond me.

I'm going to share some of my favorite quotes by Ayn Rand, which hopefully will make it clearer why I enjoy her work.

This quote, for example, sounds like a veritable Aspie manifesto: "Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men." If you don't find this beautiful, Asperger's is probably not a part of your existence. :-)

In spite of Ayn Rand's declared homophobia, the following quote can be addressed to the idiots who keep voting against gay marriage rights: "Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual)."

Today, I find the following to be especially relevant. The state is threatening us with withholding our salaries and we are fed the constant exhortations to service and sacrifice: "It only stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master."
As a teacher and a researcher, I absolutely have to agree with the following: "The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody had decided not to see."
This is so profoundly true: "The worst guilt is to accept an unearned guilt."
If only the Democrats in general and our current President in particular remembered this, how different would this country be: "There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil."
Come on, don't tell me you don't like the following: "To say "I love you" one must first be able to say the "I.""
I wish the people in charge of the US foreign policy for the last century and a half thought about this: "An attempt to achieve the good by force is like an attempt to provide a man with a picture gallery at the price of cutting out his eyes."
Nothing could be truer than this: "People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I've learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one's reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one's master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person's view requires to be faked."
And this: "No one's happiness but my own is in my power to achieve or destroy."
And this is just simply beautiful: "The only man never to be redeemed is the man without passion."
** I want to reiterate that my praise is solely for Rand's novels. Her essays and treatises are nothing other than silly and outdated, in my view.

Zoe Heller's The Believers: A Review

Zoe Heller keeps producing books that could have been great if she had only managed to stick to her original purpose without getting distracted. Her novel What Was She Thinking? : Notes on a Scandal: A Novel was not bad at all, and if you think otherwise, it is probably because you were put off by the pretty weak film version . I have just finished Heller's new novel  and at first I really liked it. The beginning of The Believers is simply hilarious, and it's no wonder that the book made the Best Books of 2009 list by Publishers Weekly. Heller ridicules - often in a pretty vicious way - a certain type of self-righteous leftists whose holier-than-thou attitude sometimes conceals pettiness and unenviable nastiness. You can get a pretty good idea about the first part of the novel from the following quote: "Karla always spoke of Mike's job as a union organizer with the reverence of a missionary wife describing her husband's evangelical work in Borneo."

Unfortunately, somewhere after the first third of the novel, Heller decided to abandon this line of her story and turned to creating a trite, boring, and repetitive melodrama. The children of the above-mentioned self-righteous leftists are understandably disillusioned by their parents' political agenda and start looking for the meaning of life in drugs, affairs and Orthodox Judaism. Among these three solutions as they are described by Heller, the drug addiction is presented as pretty much the most innocuous one.

In one of my previous reviews, I wrote about the lamentable tendency of female writers to feel scared of writing an actual work of literature. These talented authors escape from the task of writing good novels by turning to secondary genres. Gillian Flynn retreats into the realm of the mystery genre, while Heller falls into the cheap tear-jerking melodrama. The same as with Flynn, we see in The Believers a gifted writer who is somehow too afraid of her own gift to let it flourish. In our patriarchal society, even very talented women obviously have a very hard time believing that they can dedicate their lives to anything other than trivialities. Trivial literature, trivial lives, trivial occupations; women still often see themselves as secondary human beings, secondary writers, and secondary artists.

Marriage vs Divorce

While going through the marriage ceremony on Friday, I couldn't help but notice how much easier it is to get married than it is to get divorced in North America. When you want to get divorced, you have to go through a waiting period, pay a huge fee, file tons of papers, and explain why you want to get divorced (this last part being humiliating beyond what words can express. Especially since "I don't want to be with this person any more) is not considered to be a good enough reason for divorce.) When you get married, however, the process is extremely simple. Nobody even went to any trouble to check our identities. One could actually bring anybody and marry them under anybody else's name.

This tells us that the government really really really wants everybody to be married and is really opposed to people getting divorced. This type of intrusion into people's private lives is aimed at simplifying the process of  control over the citizens. When everybody is paired up officially and is neatly accounted for, it is easy for the government to keep track of us and our lives.

The Most Special Day of My Life, Take 2

So as everybody knows already, I got married on Friday. I didn't understand why people say it is supposed to be the most important day of my life when I got married for the first time, and I still don't understand it now. If a relationship isn't happy, no huge, elaborate ceremony will make it so. If, however, being together makes every day special, then signing some papers does nothing to change that.

We agreed to take a non-traditional approach to the whole process. For the proposal, we flipped a coin to see who would propose first. I won, so I proposed, and then he proposed after that. I always thought it was extremely unfair that only one person had to ask, while the other person has the power to grant or withhold consent. That always seemed to me not a little humiliating.

We also decided to avoid one huge celebration and have many little ones instead, spread throughout the entire next year. I don't see the point of having one big, complicated event that's expensive, tiresome, and wears everybody out. Instead, we can have little celebrations with our friends an family members, where everybody who wants to spend some time with us and celebrate will get an equal opportunity to do so. So, in reality, this will be a year-long wedding.

People have already asked me whether we feel any different after getting married. Honestly, the answer is no. Every moment we spend together has been magical from the day we met and no amount of signed papers can change that.

P.S. From a conversation with the groom:

Me: So now let's go and have our honeymoon.

Groom: And what was it we have been having for the past several years?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Honeymoon Hotel

Our honeymoon hotel is the coolest ever. You can feed these lovely fishes who live right by a seafood restaurant. I really hope that this little pond isn't the place where the restaurant gets its seafood.

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Being a True Academic

Nobody can say that I'm not a true academic after today. I went to get married straight from teaching two classes and I will be combining my honeymoon with speaking at a conference tomorrow.

Of course, the classes today were the worst of my teaching career. I was babbling incoherently for most of the time. For some strange reason, I kind of suggested that Spain's fascist dictator Francisco Franco and the then-future king Juan Carlos had a sexual relationship. Then, I tried to clarify and somehow mixed President Bush Jr. into the whole mess. When trying to clarify that, I began to insist - very forcefully, too - that Franco was a dictator of Cuba.

So it's good that I don't get married every day and not even every decade.

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Wedding Ceremony

The weirdest part of the marriage ceremony is when the officiant says: "From now on, you will be one mind with one thought." It isn't hard to guess which single thought that is going to be in our marriage. :-)

The part I enjoyed the most is that when the groom and I were waiting for the judge, we maintained an interesting discussion about the influence of one's class background on their politics. :-)
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Ta da!

"Reader, I married him..." (C)

The details to follow.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Penile Extension for Lloyd Blankfein

So the more I think about Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs and his sad bicycle ties, the sorrier I feel for him. Imagine how minuscule the poor creature's penis should be for him to spend his life trying to compensate in such excessive ways.

Since so much government money is going to him in order to help him deal with the psychological consequences of this grave physiological shortcoming, I suggest that we deal with the issue once and for all and pay for a good, solid penile extension for this individual.
Just imagine, people, we pay for this little operation once and then we can stop handing over our money to Blankfein once and for all. With a penis of a semi-decent size, he will not need all these endless cars, boats, helicopters, houses, and red ties with bicycles.He will finally stop compensating and leave us all alone.

Come on, my friends, we can do this. Let's petition the government to establish the "Lloyd Blankfein's tiny penis fund." Look how sad and pathetic he looks in this picture. Imagine all the people he destroyed with his insane greed. Wouldn't everybody feel so much better if Blankfein's penis got to be a reasonable size?

What's More Important: My Conference or a Crook's Tie?

So it turns out that the State of Illinois owes a huge sum of money to our university and refuses to give it back. In order to keep paying salaries to people, the university had to stop all other payments to its employees. We will not get reimbursed for the books and DVDs we bought for class or for our travel expenses.It seems that for our society giving the criminal CEO of Goldman Sachs a new boat is a lot more of a priority that offering my students a chance to have a worthy education.

I will be speaking at a conference on Saturday and I wanted to be reimbursed the $360 I spent on this trip. Now this will not be possible. Even though the university had promised me this money at the time of hire, now I will not be getting it.

I went on the Hermes website and found the famous bicycle tie worn by the vile Lloyd Blankfein. Here it is although in a more subdued color scheme. It costs $170. So if this ugly little twerp were to forgo just a couple of his ridiculous ties, this could pay for my conference. I will never understand why the state prefers to pay for his ties and not for my research and educational activities.

Maybe according to these people, my work in education is less godly than being able to rob people blind while dressed in a vulgar tie.

The CEO of Goldman Sachs and God

We have been hearing the name of Goldman Sachs a lot recently. This is a company that relies on huge bailout sums dished out by the government to support the incredibly lavish lifestyles of its top management. The very existence of Goldman Sachs is the most anti-capitalist thing I have seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Strangely, people often use the example of this blood-sucking, economically unviable monster to denounce capitalism. This happens because of many people's profound ignorance about the economic workings of the USSR. The Soviet economy was based on the existence of huge, monstrous corporations that couldn't keep themselves afloat and had to rely on governmental bailouts to stay solvent.

In this sense, Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs, is the biggest commie out there because he implements the Soviet economic system very successfully and unapologetically. In his recent interview with the UK's Times Online, however, Blankfein demonstrated a complete ignorance of his worthy Soviet trend-setters that paved the way for his current exploitation of governmental resources. This crook's vision of himself is far more grandiose. According to Blankfein , he is "doing God’s work." Sadly, the journalist who interviewed him forgot to ask this disgusting little criminal which god it is that he worships. But I guess the answer to this question is self-evident.

According to Maureen Dowd's today's column in The New York Times, "Goldman, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, banks that took government bailout money after throwing the entire world into crisis, have said they will dish out $30 billion in bonuses — up 60 percent from last year." As an honest, hardworking taxpayer who hated the Soviet economy and believes in the values of capitalism, I am appalled at this. It angers me beyond belief that my taxes should go towards helping ugly, ridiculous losers like Blankfein pay for his idiotic "Hermès tie with little red bicycles on it." I mean, a tie with red bicycles? And this is somebody who gets our money? Have we all gone collectively insane that we hand over our resources so easily to this snakeoil salesman?

The sad shells of human beings who work at Goldman Sachs recognize that they are addicted to getting more money, a lot more money, and even more money. They recognize that they are “completely money-obsessed. ... There’s always room — need — for more. If you are not getting a bigger house or a bigger boat, you’re falling behind. It’s an addiction.” Giving government money to these losers is like giving rent money to a heroin addict. Everybody knows an addict will not actually spend the money on rent. He will go out and buy more drugs with it. It's the same with these Wall Street vultures. The second they get the bailout money, they immediately award themselves huge bonuses (for doing an incredibly poor job in their actual employment duties). And then they need another humongous bailout. And the rest of us have to work our asses off to provide enough resources so that a stupid jerk in a red bicycle tie can keep compensating for his tiny, almost unexistent dick with buying yet another huge boat.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Was the Collapse of the Soviet Union a Disappointment?

There is an article in today's El Pais about the disappointment that many people from the former Eastern bloc feel about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing process of transition to a new political and economic system. Many people in the former socialist countries (especially those who belong to the older generations) lament the breakdown of the Soviet Union and think it was a negative thing that had a horrible impact on their lives. Evidently, the Soviet Union was a terrible, monstrous system that committed a lot of crimes against its own population and against the people of many other countries. It is hardly possible (or I would even say absolutely impossible) to find one redeeming feature of this system. So why do so many people feel nostalgic about the Soviet Union?

In order to find an answer to this question, we have to remember that a very special system was formed in the Soviet Union which was based on amputating certain characteristics in every one who wanted to survive under it. A huge number of people spent their lives not doing any actual work. The remuneration that they got for presenting themselves at their workplace and doing absolutely nothing there was a mere pittance. It allowed you to cover your most basic necessities but in return you could avoid doing any real work for the duration of your lifetime. When the Soviet Union collapsed, this became impossible. Everybody had to learn to work, make a living, and fend for themselves. The generations that were used to the system where their basic necessities were covered and they sismply didn't have to work at all were understandably distraught over the new reality. For the first time in generations, people had to learn what it means to write a CV and a cover letter, what job interviews feel like, and what it means to work (and I mean to work, not to sit around gossiping with your colleagues) a full working day.

One of the sad legacies of the Soviet Union is that working for a regular salary is somehow shameful. Of course, it is acceptable to work for huge amounts of money, but everybody who makes an average salary is still considered to be somewhat a loser. The Soviet system did everything in its power to kill off the spirit of entreprise, personal achievement and personal responsibility. And it succeeded in this effort. This is why there are still so many people in the former Eastern bloc countries who feel nostalgic about the communist times.

Berlin Wall

This is a little Berlin Wall that our students made to commemorate the 20th anniversary of its fall.

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Roberto Bolano's 2666: A Review, Part I

by the late Chilean-Mexican writer Roberto Bolano** is, without a doubt, this amazing author's masterpiece and a worthy culmination to his incredible literary career. 2666: A Novel consists of five parts, and the author hoped that they would be published as separate novels. His heirs, however, decided to publish it as one large novel, which I think was the right decision, even though it contradicted the writer's wishes. The novel is huge, so I am going to review each of its part separately.

I. The Part about the Critics

From the moment I started reading the opening part of 2666: A Novel, I literally started moaning with pleasure. Bolano's language is mesmerizing and I would even say scrumptious. This writer's skill in constructing simply delicious sentences is incredible. This part of the novel is definitely not to be gulped down in one seating. It should be savored during long winter nights, appreciated and tasted word by word as if it were a delicious and rare wine.

"The Part about the Critics" is especially near and dear to my heart because it presents a beautiful parody of academic life. The main characters are four literary critics who are obsessed with the work of the same writer. Bolano's knowledge of the little weirdnesses, obsessions and peculiarities that drive an academic's life is profound and he makes great use of this knowledge in order to poke gentle fun at us. In their search for an elusive author in whose work they all specialize, three of the four critics find themselves in Santa Teresa, a small Mexican bordertown.There, they are confronted with the unusual for them reality of Mexico and find out about the feminicide that is taking place in Mexican bordertowns.

** Unfortunately, this site's format doesn't allow me to use diacritics, so I have to write the Chilean writer's last name in this weird way. Believe me, it annoys me more than I can say.