Sunday, February 28, 2010

Preparing for a Blogging Anniversary

On April 1, 2010 - one month and one day from now - I will celebrate my first real blogging anniversary. My blog will be celebrating the first year of its existence. In order to thank all my readers for their continued support and interest, I promise to answer all respectfully worded questions that you always wanted to ask but never did. Feel free to leave the questions in the comments section of this post or send them to

Report by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce

Coalition on the Academic Workforce has recently issued a report on the working conditions in academia. The report confirms everything that those who have worked in the higher education system have known, feared and warned against for a long time:
Over the last forty years, there has been a dramatic shift in the instructional staff at US colleges and universities. Increasingly, institutions of higher education have hired faculty members who are not on the tenure-track and, in large part, are hired in part-time positions. In 1970 faculty members in part-time positions represented only 22.0% of all faculty members teaching in US colleges and universities; in 2007 they represented 48.7%. Of faculty members who are fulltime, well over a third do not have access to tenure. When graduate teaching assistants are included in the calculations, barely onequarter of the instructional staff are full-time and have access to tenure.
Just stop and think about this for a moment. Three quarters of the teaching faculty members are underpaid, overworked, underqualified, and have no job security. Three quarters of all people who teach college courses are terrified of losing their jobs if they say or do something the administration does not like. It's obvious that this system does irreparable damage to the quality of teaching.

Even though non-tenure-track faculty could be working for the same university for decades, they are still discriminated against in terms of compensation and the opportunities open to them at their departments:
Despite their permanence and vital contributions, full- and part-time non-tenure-track faculty members are often shortchanged by colleges and universities—in hiring, salaries, office space and equipment, as well as opportunities for review of job performance and professional development and advancement as both teachers and scholars.
To put it more bluntly, the non-tenure-track faculty members are often treated as shit. Unless, of course, they are a family member of some completely shameless member of the college administration, who puts their power in service of this particular person. Which, in turn, always produces even more resentment and tensions among faculty members.

One of the suggestions that CAW makes to improve this situation is the following:
The number of tenure lines should be sufficient to cover courses in the upper-division undergraduate and graduate curricula and to ensure an appropriate presence of tenured and tenure-track faculty members in the lower division.
This is a great suggestion that addresses a very important issue. Parents who go to great lengths in order to send their children to renowned universities usually have no idea that the more well-known a university is, the less it is likely that their children will be taught by an actual tenured or at least tenure-track faculty members. Most undergraduate courses at Ivy League universities are taught by people who do not have a doctoral degree in the discipline they teach. In more modest schools, undergraduate students have a lot more chances of being taught by people who have a PhD in their field and who have an active and current research agenda in this field (which, of course, is indispensable to ensuring high quality teaching.)

Colleges keep trying to save money on the things that are of central importance, while huge sums of money are being wasted on unnecessary, silly things such as college sports teams, huge unnecessary buildings, investments into real estate, etc. University education should be about acquiring knowledge, first and foremost. In the recent decades, however, it seems like everybody has forgotten that the primary reason students come to college is to learn.

Law and Order

Law & Order is my favorite show ever. I can watch reruns an endless number of times and never get tired of it. I even buy the show on DVD because I love grading papers and writing scholarly articles to it. Yesterday, we spent the entire day watching Season 7 on DVD.

When I first started watching it many years ago, I became convinced that New York is a horribly criminal city. The first time I went to visit New York, I fully expected to find a dead body under every bush. I refused to walk even 100 feet and insisted on taking a cab everywhere. When the people travelling with me suggested we go to Central Park, I was terrified. In Law & Order, there are always tons of cadavers lying all over Central Park, so I was appalled that my friends would suggest I go to such a scary place.

Of course, with time I realized that New York isn't that scary at all. I never found any dead bodies or severed body parts there. I did, however, encounter a set where the show was being filmed on my very first visit. Now, I can enjoy the show without worrying about the poor people of New York who have to live in the midst of all that criminality.

I don't know what I'll do if the show gets cancelled (there have been rumors to that effect).

Friday, February 26, 2010

What's Wrong With Sexting?

There was a hysterical article yesterday in St. Louis Post-Dispatch (hysterical not in the sense of being funny but in the sense of having been written in a fit of hysteria) about what needs to be done to prevent teenagers from sexting.

I wrote before about this anti-sexting paranoia which is obviously a sign of how sexually repressed the anti-sexting adults are. The only people in possession of a cell phone with a camera who haven't sent a sexually explicit picture of themselves are those who have absolutely no one to send it to. So where is the problem? The article in question tried hard to present sexting as some major social issue in need of discussion and regulation:
What do you do about the 14-year-old kid who gets caught snapping lewd images of herself with her cell phone and sending them to her boyfriend, ultimately risking a worldwide audience?, 
asks the journalist in a ponderous tone. Well, why should any one do anything? Why shouldn't the 14 year-old be left in peace to take pictures and send them or not, whatever she decides? And, incidentally, why is it implied that teenage boys do not engage in sexting just as much? Since when is this either an exclusively teenage or an exclusively female thing?

It's insane that some people should be so sex-starved that they would seriously consider criminalizing this harmless and fun activity.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Spring Break

I'm going to the beach for spring break!!! I love the beach and I haven't had a chance to go for a very long time, so I'm very happy.

Besides, I never had a real spring break beach vacation in all the long years that I was a student. Back at Yale, we, the poor students (all two of us) would sit at home sadly with our books while our rich colleagues would go party on the beach. Then, when I was teaching at Cornell it felt really annoying that my students could afford to go on spring break, while I couldn't. So now I have the chance to deal with my old resentments by finally going on a real spring break. :-)

My readers shouldn't worry, though, I will continue blogging from my BlackBerry right from the beach. :-) I just like saying the word "beach" so much.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Nation Cruise

I would kill to go to this fantastic event. And it's really inexpensive. But that would mean missing an entire week of classes, and I can't do that.

What are these people thinking? Couldn't they schedule it during some kind of holidays??

More Talks With My Students, Cnt'd

I am giving an oral exam in Spanish. The assignment is to talk about your ideal job.

Student: I want a job with a very good salary.

Me: How would you define a good salary?

Student: A good salary is above the minimum wage.

I don't know whether to be glad that students have such realistic expectations or to be sad that their hopes are so minimal.

What I'm Reading Right Now

I always read half a dozen books at the same time. There are books for all kinds of moods and purposes among them. This is what I'm reading right now and why:

1.  Almudena Grandes, a well-known Spanish writer once wrote a hugely famous pornographic novel The Ages of Lulu. Since then, she has been trying very hard to show that she can do something other than pornography. (I do not recommend The Ages of Lulu as pornographic reading because it's really unappetizing kind of pornography. Although there is no accounting for tastes. I analyzed the novel in my doctoral dissertation and feel beyond fed up with its inept porn scenes.)

The main reason why I decided to read this author's El Corazon Helado/ The Frozen Heart is that it is 1200 pages long. I love endlessly long novels. Even though it's a mild form of exercise to keep this volume in your hands. (saly, it's not available on Kindle yet).

This novel about the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath turned out to be pretty good. It even made me cry twice. And I'm only on page 537.

2.  This is my mystery novel du jour. I picked it up because the main character is a psychoanalyst who is being pursued by a deranged former patient. Or a deranged child of a deranged former patient.

I have to say this is the weirdest mystery novel I have read for a while (and I read detective novels all the time.) Not only does the psychoanalyst have a pretty poor command of the English language, he is also a pretty freaky individual. You go into therapy with somebody this weird, you'll come out a lot more messed up.

I've been reading this book in bits and snatches for the past week and it always puts me to sleep in ten minutes or less. So I feel very rested.

It isn't a really bad book or anything. It's just very weird.

3. This book by a Canadian professor is brilliant. It discusses many of the important issues that the higher education system faces today in North America.

As somebody who was worked both for Ivy league schools and a public university, I can appreciate the truth of what Giroux is saying.

How can we talk of a higher education if the system is under the growing control of corporate entities? Should the purpose of higher education be to create obedient zombi-like robots, willing to sacrifice their lives in the service of their employers? Or should we remember that the purpose of higher education is to educate students as thinking individuals, capable of being responsible citizens, aware of the world around them?

Great book, even though it is sadly unavailable on Kindle.

4. Howard Zinn died recently and among the flurry of obituaries dedicated to him, I suddenly realized that - to my great shame - I never read any of his books. So I bought this one.

I only just started reading it, so my impressions for now are minimal. At this point, I can say that even though he is not as good as Eric Hobsbawm  (my favorite historian), his writing style is clear and precise.

I will share my impressions when I'm done.

5. This is another detective novel I'm reading. But this one is actually work-related.
I am preparing a talk based on this novel for a conference in my field. I really wanted to attend this conference for personal reasons (it will take place in Montreal, my home and my favorite city in the world!). There were no sessions of even remote interest to me, though, except a session on detective novel in Spain.

So I thought that since I spend so much time (and money) reading (and buying) detective novels, I could put all this effort to good use by turning the detective genre into my new research. And then the university will pay for the mystery novels I buy.

This novel is really good. It is written so well and the language is so delicious that you even forget to care who the killer is. And that is no easy feat to accomplish for a mystery author.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

First Impressions: Job Interview, Part II

It always feels very strange to discover how people perceive you. And how different it is from the way you perceive yourself. Recently, I discovered that the things that people noticed the most about me during my job intervew were:

1. That I'm obssessed with my BlackBerry. People say that I kept touching it and looking at it during the entire campus visit. I noticed today that it's true. I do keep looking at it all the time. Which is incredibly rude. And I had no idea I was doing it.

2. That I'm "nice, fun, and outgoing." That's really weird for me to hear about myself. I always think that I'm mean, boring, and the opposite of outgoing. (Can anybody help me out with an antonym for 'outgoing'? I've been teaching all day long and now I can't say anything in any language.) It is as shocking as reading in student evaluations that I'm "cheery, happy" and have "a sunny personality." I really prefer to see myself as dark, complex, mysterious, and tortured. And it turns out that other people see me as some kind of a cheerleader type. This is so weird.


Often, people think that if somebody is very good at what they do, this automatically qualifies them to be promoted to a leadership position. This, of course, could not be farther from the truth. It works the same in academia and in the corporate world. Somebody can be a top performer, or a fantastic scholar and teacher, but when promoted to be the leader of the group (the manager, the departmental Chair, the Dean, etc.), they turn out to be completely inept in this new position and end up destroying the team, the company, or the department.

Being a good boss and a leader of people is a gift that is entirely separate from any other achievements an employee might have. I do not possess this gift in the least, but my admiration for those who do is profound. We all know what a bad boss is like and how fast an inept leader can destroy years of progress made by a team, a company, or a department. Good bosses are a rarer breed. At least, in my experience and in the experience of my friends and relatives.

I have come to appreciate what it means to have a good boss in the past year. (As of now, my boss still doesn't know that this blog exists, so I can write nice things about her to my heart's content without feeling like a brown-nosing idiot.) I have a great boss, people. And when I say great, I don't mean a nice, cute, giggly pushover. This is a person who is insanely hardworking and she pushes everybody to work just as much. She lives at the department and we get messages from her evenings, nights, weekends, holidays, etc.

But she also knows how to motivate exceptionally lazy employees whose only goal is to procrastinate and have a good time (for those who are new to this blog, that would be me). I have never in my life thought I would volunteer for as many things as I do. And the only reason I do it is because I want to do something nice for my great boss.

The way she does it is by showing that she really cares about the employees. A day doesn't go by when she doesn't come by my office to ask how I feel, if everything is ok, if I need anything, if I'm getting all the materials and support I need for my work, if all of my issues have been resolved to my satisfaction. As a new employee, I don't know how things work yet but I have my boss constantly on the lookout against any unfairness that might be committed against me. I don't even need to watch out for my interests because I have somebody to do that for me.

Another thing she does (and I have no idea whether it is intentional or not) is activities that make you feel encouraged at the most difficult points in the semester. Sometimes, you feel exhausted and only want to go home and sleep. And then, you would get a letter or a card from the boss listing all the things that are wonderful about you. And then, of course, you have a surge of energy to be even more productive.

Having a good boss truly makes all the difference in the world.


In one of my classes we were watching an Argentinean movie The Official Story (La historia oficial). It is a very tragic story that explores the horrible aftermath of the military dictatorship in Argentina. Of course, I've seen the film many times, so while the students were watching it, I was grading papers for a different course. While grading, I discovered a blatant case of plagiarism among the essays submitted to me. Not only was a text copy-pasted from a website, it was also a really silly, horribly written text, full of factual errors.

Plagiarism is the only thing students can do that makes me very angry. In literally saw red when I discovered it. My blood pressure went up and I felt horrible. Right then, the movie ended with a very tragic scene. We turned the lights on, and obviously the students noticed that I was visibly shaken (by the plagiarism, not the movie.)

As a result, the students decided that I must be a very sensitive person to be brought near tears by a film I have seen many times before. I overheard two of my students discussing my unusual sensitivity after class. :-)

I do recommend the movie, though. You do feel shaken to the core by it at the first viewing.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Leftist Realtors: A New Economic Reality

You know for sure that the economy is deeply in the toilet when The Nation, the most liberal, leftist, progressive magazine in the US starts publishing announcements from realtors who, in their desperation, claim to be commie-pinko followers of this magazine. Here are some choice samples of such adverts:

Santa Fe. Progressive realtor seeks same in clients.

Realtor seeks clients of the same persuasion as a Nation subscriber.

LEFT COAST, US. Work with the Realtor Who's on Your Side.

Realtor seeks progressive clients.

Of course, it's nice to see that many realtors have suddenly got in touch with their progressive beliefs. However, my cynical side tells me (I sincerely hope that I'm being too paranoid and these are actually leftist realtors) that the realtors' bleeding hearts are the result of the disastrous real estate market.

I love The Nation becase it never ceases to surprise me.

Poor Ross Douthat Still Ain't Getting Any

Would some charitable individual just fuck Ross Douthat of the NY Times already and spare us the boredom of his weekly "I-hate-everybody-who-has-sex-because-I-haven't-been-getting-any-for-the-past-decade" opinion column? As spring is approaching, Douthat is getting into his public fits of hysteria over other people's sex lives more and more often. Not surprising, since he so obviously has none of his own.

Today's column is dedicated to Douthat gushing with admiration (the only thing he's been gushing with for oh, so long) over the tabloids' prurient interest in the sex lives of famous people. Oh, how much the sex-deprived Douthat would love to dedicate his life to going through the dirty underwear of politicians, actors, and athletes. Revealing who slept with whom when and in what position has an important social purpose. Besides giving Douthat an outlet for his unrequited sexuality, that is. According to Douthat,
there’s a case for erring on the side of prurience. Some private acts should be publicly disqualifying, and the media need to be willing to go digging for them.
You can just imagine Douthat foaming at the mouth with his enthusiasm for digging for the information on the sex acts of others.

As usual, the "why-are-the-Democrats-incapable of-bipartisanship" Douthat cannot refrain from showing us his blatant use of double standards. (Of course, he would gladly show us something else, but nobody is willing to look.) Where McCain has a
complicated relationship with a female lobbyist
Bill Clinton engages in "philandering". Douthat's attempts to attract attention to the sex scandals within the Democratic Party (which even by the most modest calculations never come close to the staggering numbers of sex scandals among the sex-starved Republicans) lead him to pronouncements that are nothing short of shameless:
If the supermarket tabloid’s reporters hadn’t gone digging where other journalists declined to even tread, we might never have learned how close the Democratic Party came to nominating a truly disgraceful character for the presidency.
Imagine that, a disgraceful character as a presidential nominee, or possibly even as the President. But wait, that's nothing new. We'd had a really disgraceful character as our president for 8 endless years. And his crimes were kind of a little more serious than having a child out of wedlock. Like lying to the American people in order to start an illegitimate unnecessary war that would bring death to thousands. Or authorizing torture. Or taking away our constitutional freedoms. or destroying the middle class.

But why would a NY Times journalist care about all those things when he can gasp over the real horror of an extramarital affair.

Lying Anti-Women Doctors

So instead of just plastering his walls with "I hate women and that's why I'm an anti-choicer", this doctor prefers to bully women who come to his office with these lying pictures created by fanatical women-hating anti-choicers and used by doctors who have no idea what it means to respect a patient.

The funniest thing is that these so-called doctors would not be able to make a living without women. They need us for their livelihood but they hate us all the same. They use these vile intimidation techniques in hopes that if you show these cartoonishly stupid pictures of fetuses - that have no connection with reality whatsoever - women would be bullied into feeling bad for controlling their own bodies.

I have no idea where this particular "doctor" was educated but he must have been a pretty sucky student. If he had actually tried absorbing the material offered to him, he would know that the stages of development of a fetus look like what you see in the picture to the right, and nothing like his garish cartoon.

Why don't we see this, a lot more realistic picture on the walls of our gynecologists' offices? Why should we be exposed to lies and humiliations when we go to a see a doctor? What would we think of a cardiologist who put up the following picture on his wall to illustrate what your heart looks like after a heart attack:

If we were confronted by this silly cartoon in a cardiologist's office, we'd say he is an illiterate quack, wouldn't we? So why should we hold Ob-Gyns to a different standard? Why should we be fed lies right in the doctor's office? Is it too much to expect that I doctor would come to work to treat patients, not to brainwash them?

If a doctor greets you wth lies the second you enter his office, how can you trust anything he says?

Why is it that women cannot be left in peace - without somebody rushing over to hector, brainwash, humiliate and patronize us - even we seek medical care?

Anti-Choice Propaganda at the OB-Gyn's Office

I think visits to the Gynecologist exist for one purpose: to annoy me. I came to the doctor today to have my blood pressure taken. If it's high (which it often is in my case), that's a counterindication to taking birth control pills (as stupid as that sounds). So before coming here today, I took measures to lower my blood pressure. The measures worked until I came to the doctor's office and saw the diagram titled "Pregnancy and Birth" you can see right here.

As you can see, a fetus at 1 to 12 weeks looks like a fully formed human being and is absolutely the same as a fetus at 40 weeks. Well, it looks a little skinnier at 1 week than at 40 weeks. And that's the only difference I could find.

It's beyond frustrating that patients have to be exposed to these lies right in the doctor's office. Do people who make and exhibit this junk think women are stupid? How offensive is this?

It's unbelievable that not ontly does this particular doctor sell Botox injections as gynecological procedures, he also believes it's ok to exhibit this lying rubbish on his walls.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Who Works More: Student Responses

In the listening comprehension part of my Spanish language course, there was the following statement: "Teresa's father works as much as her mother." When answering the question "Who works more, Teresa's mother or Teresa's father?", only 20% of students got the answer right. Academically, it tells me they are still not very comfortable with the Spanish expressing "tanto como" which in English means "as much as." This is no big deal because we have a lot more time until the end of the semester to get this construction right.

What is a lot more disturbing, though, is the sexist nature of the answers coming from the students who did not recognize this construction and decided to guess the correct answer. Every single one of them guessed that Teresa's father works more than her mother. Even though there was absolutely nothing in the text to lead them in that direction. If it were a matter of simple, ideologically untainted guesswork, at least some of the 80% of students who got this answer wrong would say that the mother works more. Somehow, the students' vision of men and women still revolves around the father who works hard and the mother who does a lot less. This makes me very sad because in the low-income families these students for the most part come from, women in all probability work full-time jobs and contribute as much as men. Their contribution, however, is overshadowed by the ideology that presents women as working less than men.


This picture from the visit of an Argentinean writer to our campus appeared at the blog of a fellow blogger and colleague Kola. The woman with the crazy hair who is standing with her back to the camera is the author of this blog.

Since the picture is so readily available, I wanted to take this opportunity to explain once and for all why my hair is so crazy and what is the ideological message behind it. Once, students asked me why I don't do anything to control my hair, and my explanation even inspired one of the students to dedicate his final essay to the exploration of the ideological dimensions of hair. A good teacher can turn anything into an educational opportunity. And a good blogger sees everything as an opportunity to write a post. :-)

As I mentioned before, I grew up in the Soviet Union. The Soviet system had a complex and far-reaching network of measures aimed at breaking the will and the individuality of every citizen so that they would be compliant and malleable from the earliest moments in their lives. Female hair was seen as ideologically dangerous. There is, of course, a long history of imagining long and unruly female hair as symbolic of unbridled and uncontrollable sexuality. The more repressive a religion is, the more it strives to mess with female hair. The Soviet system of repression was especially dedicated to destroying female sexuality as one of the most dangerous forces to any totalitarian, repressive, patriarchal regime. (Maybe I'll write a post about that some time if people are interested.)

When I went to school, I discovered that hair was the main site of a battle between female students and school authorities for the control over our bodies and our self-expression. We were constantly berated for letting our hair loose (in the literal sense that in the minds of the Soviet people would eventually lead us to do it metaphorically). We were endlessly told to braid our hair, put it in a pony-tail, or controlled in some way.

Since then, I practice faithfully my freedom to have my hair in as wild a state as it can get on its own (and you should see it when the weather is wet and rainy). It's my own way of saying that I have the exclusive and inalienable right to do whatever I see fit with my own body and everybody else should just accept it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Power Outages

In a couple of my posts, I have mentioned that we have been having unexplained campus-wide power outages which caused the university to be closed down last Thursday and nearly resulted in the cancellation of an important cultural event yesterday. Maintenance teams have been trying desperately to find out what was causing these outages.

Yesterday, it was finally discovered that a stretch of cable near our Religious Center got damaged. (Don't ask me why there should be religious centers on campuses when there are no secular knowledge centers in churches.) This is what plunged our entire campus into darkness and prevented our students from acquiring knowledge during the un(en)lightened hours of the power outage.

Thanks to my annoying habit of seeing every event as a text to be analyzed, I can't but find this whole set of occurrences to be highly metaphoric. Students in this economically blighted, culturally challenged Midwestern area are struggling to get access to the light of knowledge. However, one of the institutions that is most bitterly opposed to learning, culture, education, light, civilization, and progress is religion. Infiltrating our campuses is not enough to prevent students from acquiring knowledge. So religion turns off the lights altogether.

This is what happens when you forget about the separation of church and state and let religion come to campuses. Soon, all intellectual light is snuffed out and the students' lives are plunged into the darkness of religious prejudice.

P.S. For those of my readers who are completely unfamiliar with the concept "sense of humor": this post is meant to be facetious.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Paula Varsavsky

In one of my previous posts, I told the sad story of how my university denied funding for the visit of a noted Argentinean writer Paula Varsavsky to our campus. We are suffering from a budget freeze caused by the refusal by the governor of Illinois to cover the state's debt to our university. My whiny and angry post brought very good results. Not from the governor, of course, but from the writer herself. Paula was so kind that she offered to come to our campus on her own dime. More than that, in order to do so she refused a paying offer of a visit from another school.
I was very excited to have Paula come to our university and speak to our students. Our student body does not come from rich backgrounds, so the cultural exposure the students have in this tiny Midwestern town is minimal, at best. My students have no knowledge of the military dictatorship in Argentina, the dirty war, the desaparecidos. They never heard of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo or of Jorge Luis Borges. The Falklands war (or la guerra de las Malvinas) means nothing to them, either. I know that it sounds incredible that such kind of ignorance can exist in the world, but, sadly, this is true.

In this sense, Paula's visit was a godsend. Our students got an opportunity to meet a real Argentinean writer (who has been translated into English) and hear first-hand about the experiences of a female writer in the post-dictatorship Argentina. Paula is a great public speaker, and her talks are always a lot of fun. We had a bit of a scare early in the day when there was a campus-wide power outage. I felt terrified that the campus would close down because of it and I would have to tell the writer that she came all this way for nothing. Thankfully, the lights went back on in a while.

I wish the administration of all educational institutions realized that you cannot offer good education if it is completely detached from the world around us. Our students need to be exposed to a wide variety of cultural experiences, without which the very idea of a university education becomes one huge joke. They need to meet writers, artists, politicians, and academics from all over the world. They need to discover that the world is huge and does not consist only of the limited realities they are familiar with. American students in general suffer from a grievous lack of knowledge about other cultures, other countries, world politics, international issues, etc.

As teachers, we make heroic efforts to bring this knowledge and these experiences to the students. But nobody else seems to care much. The President announces that colleges need to "cut costs." The governor defaults on the state's paymens to universities. It's like nobody realizes that our students cannot avoid being the citizens of a globalized world. There is some basic knowledge that they need in order to be able to do that.

Thanks to Paula Varsavsky's kindness, we have been able to offer this opportunity to our students. But if we have to continue running on no resources, the intellectual future of American students looks very bleak.

Paula Varsavsky's Visit to Our University

Details of the visit to follow.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ross Douthat's Suggestion on Sex Ed

I haven't been commenting on the NY Times' opinion columnist Ross Douthat lately for fear of boring my readers with endless criticisms of this ignorant woman-hater. However, his suggestions for high school sex ed programs are too hilarious to be missed. For Douthat, the best kind of sex ed program - the one that will finally reduce unwanted pregnancies and STDs in teenagers - is
an abstinence-oriented program with a strong community-service requirement, and a comprehensive program that essentially provided life coaching as well as sex ed: participants were offered “academic support (e.g., tutoring); employment; self-expression through the arts; sports; and health care.”
Get it? Teenagers are interested in sex, so we should try to distract them with community service and tutoring. They will, without a doubt, get so fascinated by these super cool activities that they will immediately forget all about sex.

This idea that academic support and community service can control the raging hormones of teenagers must be some kind of a new scientific breakthrough. I wonder if Douthat has brought this discovery to the attention of the scientific community. Who knows, there might be a Nobel Prize for him in the near future.

Of course, an ugly, inarticulate, dogmatic religious fanatic like Douthat must have been incredibly unpopular in high school. While everybody around him was exultantly engaging in sexual exploration, he must have been hanging out in boring religious youth camps, hating everybody who was having a good time. Today, he is still tortured by the idea that somebody somewhere might be having a good sex life. This is why he strains his feeble intellect in a search for ways of preventing teenagers from having sex. It is obvious, however, that the best way never to get laid - whether as a teenager or as a grown-up - is to be like Douthat.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Foreign Languages Month, Part II

Catherine from India is giving a really fun talk as part of Foreign Languages Month.

I would so love to be able to wear something this beautiful to work. My culture, however, is not known for beautiful clothes.

Maybe I should buy a sari to wear at home.

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On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan: A Review

After his brilliant novel Atonement (that not even a horrible movie based on it manged to destroy), I was weary of reading anything else by Ian McEwan. You never know if a writer is one of those people who manage to create one great work of literature and then keep trying to feed on its fame. Still, I decided to risk being disappointed with McEwan's On Chesil Beach. It turned out to be one of the best reading decisions I could have made.

On Chesil Beach is a fantastic novel. It tells the story of two newlyweds who, on their wedding day in the summer of 1962, are preparing to have sex for the first time in both of their lives. Neither of them knows what sex is like, they are both scared, and the bride finds the idea of having sex with the groom extremely disgusting, in spite of thinking that she "loves" him. The couple's lack of knowledge about sex turns their wedding night into an unmitigated disaster.

Now, this might sound like a pretty depressing topic, but the book is absolutely hilarious. I tried reading it while administering an exam to my students but had to give up on this idea. It simply isn't nice to laugh out loud and bang your head against desk becuase of the hilariousness of the reading matter while students are struggling with their exams. The following, for example, is the description of the marriage proposal:
When they were alone one afternoon in late March . . . she let her hand rest briefly on, or near, his penis. For less than fifteen seconds, in rising hope and ecstasy, he felt her through two layers of fabric. As soon as she pulled away he knew he could bear it no more. He asked her to marry him. He could not have known what it cost her to put a hand - it was the back of her hand - in such a place. She loved him, she wanted to please him, but she had to overcome considerable distaste. . . She kept that hand in place for as long as she could, until she felt a stirring and hardening beneath the gray flannel of his trousers. She experienced a living thing, quite separate from her edward - and she recoiled.
If it seems surprising to you that in 1962, of all times, anybody would be naive enough to mistake something like this for love and even want to get married on the basis of such an evident lack of physical desire, think about how many people buy into the religious propaganda of abstinence before marriage. Imagine how many people - even today - are going through the following self-torture for the sake of some vaguely defined social requirements:
They whispered their 'I love yous.' It soothed her to be invoking, however quietly, the unfading formula that bound them, and that surely proved their interests were identical. She wondered if perhaps she might even make it through, and be strong enough to pretend convincingly, and on later, successive occasions whittle her anxieties away through sheer familiarity, until she could honestly find and give pleasure.
It becomes clear soon enough that where desire is lacking, there can be no love. Physical desire is the foundation of love within a couple. The struggle to understand the other person, resolve problems, forgive, try to figure things out is fruitless if people do not experience a powerful physical attraction to each other. If this kind of desire is lacking, the motivation to keep trying is just as big as the one a person would have with a neighbor or a simple acquaintance. (I can't even say a roommate because these characters have never tried living together, so their bond is even more ephemeral.) As a result, Florence and Edward discover that their relationship dies a painful but a very fast death in the first few hours of their marriage.

I believe that instead of filling the heads of adolescents with idiotic pro-abstinence propaganda, any sex ed in high schools should begin by an obligatory reading of On Chesil Beach. There are so many people even today who screw up their lives completely because they mistake simple friendship for love and try to force a romantic, physical relationship where there is no foundation for it in actual physical desire. There are many people who, like Florence, force themselves to suffer through sexual acts with people they find repulsive for the sake of this castrated definition of love. How much self-violation could be avoided if people were to recognize that sexual desire is not supposed to serve their social expectations. When you try to make your body comply with what you think is prestigious, this poor, violated body of yours will make you pay dearly.

As hilarious as this book is, it also raises some very important issues. On Chesil Beach is one of the most insightful things I have read in a long time about the crippling nature of the puritanical understanding of love.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

African Americans in the XVIth Century Spain

Now I have discovered that it isn't just the word "Jew" that my students resist pronouncing. They also have a problem with the word "black."

Lazarillo de Tormes and The Swindler: Two Spanish Picaresque Novels (Penguin Classics)We are reading a XVIth century Picaresque novel Lazarillo de Tormes. The stepfather of the main character is a black slave from Africa. When I ask my students who the stepfather is, however, they keep saying that he is "African-American." I have pointed out twice that this character could have hardly been "African-American" for the obvious reasons. Yet the problem persists. Now they have taken to saying that he is "Well, you know." Which, of course, annoys me beyond what I can express. We can't go through the course well-you-knowing important realities and groups of people.

The novel is actually great. So I highly recommend it as good, fun reading.

Niceness and Tenure

FemaleScienceProfessor raised an interesting issue of how important it is to be liked in order to get tenure. Here is, partly, what she says:
You don't have to be liked to get tenure, but you do need to be able to function in your job. You need to be able to interact with people, especially students, in a positive way. If the reasons someone is widely disliked are related to how they treat students, postdocs, staff, or, in some cases, colleagues, then this characteristic may well be a valid tenure issue.
This is, in my opinion, a very idealistic approach. I can still remember the times when I was so beautifully idealistic about the academic world. I wish I could summon that wide-eyed belief in the goodness of academia but it's too late for me. The sad reality of the matter is that no one cares if you treat students, postdocs and staff as shit. They should care, of course, but they don't. Being liked by the administration and often by the colleagues has to do with how accommodating, self-sacrificing, and non-controversial you are. As long as you sit quietly in your corner, smiling brightly and acquiescing to everybody's suggestions that you give up even more of your research time for the benefit of everybody else, you are fine. Of course, you can still be denied tenure if somebody's illiterate relative needs your spot.

The sad thing is that very talented people are somehow not very smiley, cheery, and accommodating. If you want winking, giggling, cutesy individuals, you get Sarah Palin. If you want independent thinkers, you get somebody who might be abrasive, tough in defending their opinions, and often uninterested in wasting time on making nice with everybody.

P.S. Once again, apropos of Amy Bishop:
William Setzer, chairman of chemistry department at UAH, said Bishop was appealing the decision made last year.

"Politics and personalities" always play a role in the tenure process, he said. "In a close department it's more so. If you have any lone wolves or bizarre personalities, it's a problem and I'm thinking that certainly came into play here."
I guess the people at this school would never want to have the likes of Einstein or J.D. Salinger around them.

Monday, February 15, 2010

When Professors Become Killers

Amy Bishop, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Alabama in Huntsville was denied tenure. So she came armed with a handgun to a faculty meeting and shot at her colleagues, killing three of them and wounding others.

She got her degree from Harvard, was well-known in the academic community, had patented inventions. The university of Alabama milked her intellectually and professionally for years and then decided to throw her out. Just like that. There are hundreds of such indignities taking place in the academic world every day.

Don't get me wrong, I think what Amy Bishop did is horrible. But when you think of what it means to be a female academic in the sciences (and in Alabama, of all places), you realize that being denied tenure after decades of struggling, humiliations, abuses, and sacrifices is a veritable tragedy. If you are denied tenure by such a backwoods school at the age of 42, your career is over. It was all for nothing.

There is something really wrong with the academic system that takes bright young academics, chews them down, and spits them out as mental wrecks ready to go on shooting rampages.

This is so horrible. I just can't get over this story.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Anti-Porn Feminists: An Oxymoron

Turns out that among all the weird phenomena in the world there is one called Anti-Porn Feminists. Of course, everybody knows that there are often bad, abusive things going on in the porn industry. These abuses should be discussed and fought against.

But feminists who are anti-all-and-any-kind-of-porn? How insane is that? Why not just be honest about it and call themselves "anti-sex feminists"? The idea that all porn is bad and everybody who watches porn wants to abuse women is preposterous. Pornography is a way for people to explore their sexuality, their erotic fantasies. Any attempt to take that away is censorship of the worst order. The very idea that you can control your sexual fantasies betrays a profound misunderstanding of the very concept of human sexuality.

What disturbs me in this weird feminist anti-porn movement is that more and more often one encounters so-called feminists who promote the exact same agenda as the fanatical Focus on the Family or some other even more repressive religious organizations. Porn bad, erotic fantasy bad, sex bad, housewife good, homeschooling good, burqa fantastic. That this kind of claptrap is being sold to us as feminism is very annoying. For centuries, patriarchy repressed female sexuality. For women, sexuality was only acceptable as a vehicle of child-bearing and nothing else. Women were seen as an object of sex, and never as a free subject. The idea that all pornography is offensive to women comes right out of that mind-set.

There are many women in the world who live their sexuality freely. And they enjoy pornography on a regular basis. There are female film-makers who make porn tailored exclusively to the needs of women. It is very puzzling to me that some people would claim that all pornography presents women as objectified and abused. That is simply not true.

In the case of the anti-porn feminists I linked to at the beginning of the post, their vocabulary betrays a profound fear of sexuality. Of course, they are smart enough to couch their fear of sex in quasi-feminist and quasi-political terminlogy. The reality, however, is that they are as uncomfortable with the very idea of sex as any fanatical preacher who promises fire and brimstone to everybody who dares to want sexual enjoyment.

Is There A Left?

This is one of the smartest things I have read for a while:
Keep in mind that the political spectrum in much of the world, and certainly in places like Australia, USA and Europe, is very far right. So you're actually choosing between two right wing parties, one of whom is extreme right and another slightly less so.

One of the central tenets of right wing philosophies is that rich people get richer. They dress it up a little differently, but that's the fundamental. The political debates we get these days are about how quickly and to how great an extent this can happen, and how much at the expense of poor people can it be (eg. how much can you get away with before they revolt, strike, or engage in other stubbornness).
All other discussion is off the table. If you try to represent an argument balancing the range of possible political systems, perhaps taking advantage of the good points of several, you get labelled an extremist. It's very difficult to get a discussion going, or throw ideas around. If you represent a genuine left of centre perspective, you are labelled as a loony or downright dangerous.
Thus, the terms "left" and "right" no longer have any useful meaning, as people might historically think of them. A more honest framing would be "degree of right wing extremism".
I wish I had said it first. But the quote is from here, and I first found a reference to it here. It happens very rarely that I want to shut up and let somebody else be heard but this is just that kind of case.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Asperger's and Reading

A fellow Aspie blogger Izgad just wrote a brilliant post on Asperger's and reading fiction. The Simon Baron Cohen quiz, the most widely accepted test for non-neurological manifestations of Asperger's, is based on the assumption that people with Asperger's dislike reading fiction. I'm not a huge fan of this particular quiz as it is, and Izgad's intelligent objections make the quiz's shortcomings even more evident.

This is what Izgad says on this matter, and it resonates very deeply with me:
I would argue that my interest in reading is not despite my Asperger syndrome, but is one of the ways that I manifest Asperger behavior. Obviously I take to books much easier than people. Books are much better friends than people; they are easier to decode and you can open and close them as it suits you. Books do not misunderstand you and try to hurt you. Fiction provides precisely the sort of "human" relationship that I can deal with. The motivations of characters are written in words that I can decipher, as opposed to facial expressions.

As many of the readers of this blog already know, I am a literary critic and a professor of literature. I read and analyze fiction for a living. I also have "Severe to Extremely Severe" form of Asperger's. These things are not only not mutually exclusive. In my case - and evidently in Izgad's, too - they are closely interrelated. My love of classifying and categorizing is a huge help in my work as a literary critic.

What annoys me in most articles and books on autism written by people who do not have it is that they concentrate on everything autistics cannot do. They forget that there are many things that we can do precisely because of our autism that people who don't have it cannot. I call many of the manifestations of my Asperger's "my superpowers" because that is exactly how I perceive them.

It's Not a "Recession," Stupid!

It annoys me beyond what I can describe to hear people talk about the current economic crisis in the US as a "recession." For those who fail to see the importance of not using the wrong term to describe what is going on, here is a dictionary definition of the word "recession":

recession  /rɪˈsɛʃən/


1. the act of receding or withdrawing.

2. a receding part of a wall, building, etc.

3. a withdrawing procession, as at the end of a religious service.

4. Economics. a period of an economic contraction, sometimes limited in scope or duration.
Get it? LIMITED in scope or duration. If something recedes for a while, it has the capacity of going back. Like the tide that recedes and then comes back in. It withdraws and then comes back.

So if you talk about what is going on right now in this country's economy as a "recession", it means that you are clinging to the misguided belief that eventually things will go back to the way they were before the current economic meltdown. Come on, are you kidding me? It is never going to go back. We have to acknowledge that this is no temporary recession. This is a deep-seated systemic crisis of huge proportions that is going to transform the way we live, whether we want it or not.
Preferring to hide in illusion from unpleasant, uncomfortable reality is what got this society into the current crisis. Let's not compound our mistake by refusing to recognize what is going on.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Campus Closed

Now our campus has officially been shut down and I can start my weeknd that will last until next Tuesday.

I have the best job in the world, people.

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No Electricity

So I got up at 6 am today and came to work early in order to be very productive. But then the electricity went down campus-wide. The classrooms and offices are dark, the computers are out, even Starbucks is closed. The university administration doesn't want to make the decision on whether to dismiss the classes for the day, so professors and students have been wandering around like ghosts for the past 2 hours.

This is very boring.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Philip Roth's The Humbling: A Review

While Philip Roth's latest novel The Humbling is definitely not on the same level as his earlier masterpieces American Pastoral and The Human Stain, its is still pretty good. Written in Roth's luminous style, The Humbling tells a story of Simon Axler, an aging actor who loses his capacity to act and is plunged into a depression as a result. His wife leaves him, and Axler sees himself as condemned to loneliness for the rest of his days. Then, he starts an affair with Pegeen, a lesbian who is 25 years younger than he is. When Pegeen gets bored with their relationship and leaves, Axler is devastated.

This novel offers a profound critique of the male chauvinist way of thinking and of the problems it causes to the men who try to hold on to the obsolete macho ideology. Axler treats Pegeen as a voiceless, malleable doll, who needs to be transformed into a version of womanhood he considers to be acceptable: "All he was doing was helping Pegeen to be a woman he would want instead of a woman another woman would want." Understandably, his efforts to "cure" Pegeen from being a lesbian through fancy clothes and expensive jewelry fail.

In his efforts to analyze his relationship with an independent, self-sufficient, intellectual woman from the vantage point of outdated chauvinistic beliefs, Axler makes himself look utterly pathetic. he expects Pegeen's parents to be happy about their daughter's relationship with him because he is rich and can 'take care of her', whatever that means: "Here is this eminent man with a lot of money who's going to take care of her. After all, she's not getting any younger herself. She settles down with someone who's achieved something in life - what's so wrong with that?" Later on, Axler expresses a belief that Pegeen is involved with him because of his erstwhile fame as an actor.

Axler forgets that, unlike decades ago, an educated professional woman has no need to be with a person of any age or any gender because of money, the imaginary need "to settle down," or because she needs anybody to take care of her. What Axler fails to understand - and what costs him very dearly in the end - is that Pegeen's only reason to be with him (or with anybody else) is her desire. Gone are the times when women like Pegeen needed to attach themselves to an older man for prestige, money, or protection. Today, a woman who makes her own living can choose the sexual partner(s) she wants based on nothing but her own feelings and desires.

Pegeen is not the only woman Axler misjudges on the basis of his outdated sexist beliefs. Sybil, a woman he meets in a hospital, is for him "helpless, frail, and child-like." He misunderstands Sybil's inner strength and determination and ends up completely clueless about her.

In his long career as a writer, Roth often was criticized for the sexism of his novels. In my opinion, The Humbling is the writer's attempt to atone novelistically for that.

P.S. After I finished this review, I checked out some of the other reviews on this novel. I was shocked to realize that most people who have reviewed it consider the novel sexist. Apparently, for some people the mere fact of mentioning a relationship between an older man and a younger woman is in itself sexist. According to this weird logic, in order to avoid being sexist we have to pretend that such relationships do not exist.

Culture Shock

This post first appeared as a guest post on Check it out and pay special attention to the nice things the author of the blog, my kind colleague Kola, says about me. :-)

When I was 22, I emigrated from Ukraine to Canada. I was fully prepared to experience a massive culture shock but none came. Sure, it took some time to get used to the idea of a credit card and a check-book, realize that a bus driver doesn’t give out change and there is no need to negotiate the price of a ride with the cab-driver before getting into the cab, and figure out why maple syrup can be poured on bacon and eggs. The process of learning these small things was really fun and caused me no shock whatsoever.

Five years later I decided to go to graduate school in the United States. Having lived in North America for a while, watching American TV and reading American books and newspapers, I expected even less of a culture shock on this change of residence. I was only moving to Connecticut, where the climate and the way of life were supposed to be pretty similar to what I had gotten used to in Canada.

Boy, was I ever wrong. A massive culture shock hit me immediately after crossing the US border and remained with me for years to come. It took time and effort to understand this new reality, learn to like, and eventually even love it.

I the US I discovered a deeply divided society. Glaring class inequalities, the likes of which I never saw back in Canada, racism, religious fanaticism, gender inequalities, economically devastated areas with the kind of poverty I never saw even back in Ukraine, crime, violence, inept governmental structures. All this was very different from the US I had seen in movies and TV shows.

But soon I also discovered that yet another US exists. The country of intellectuals, thinkers, artists. The country of hard-working, kind, generous people, who have not abandoned the struggle for the perfect society they inherited from their founders. The country of intellectually curious people. The country of people who hate injustice and inequality. The country that deserves better than the corrupt structures governing them.

When people read the very critical things I write about the US on my blog, they sometimes ask me, “Why do you live in this country if you dislike it so much?” But I ask, does hating injustice and inequality mean hating America? Or is it just the opposite?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Barking in a Foreign Language

This post is written by a guest blogger, Kola Tubosun whose great blog you can check out here.

Prompted by two related observations in my mind at the moment...

One was the search term in my blog statistics today. Some random person had apparently been directed to my blog by searching for the term "barking in a foreign language". This is not so strange when I realize that I had once made a blog post about the cartoon that I found on the glass entrance to my department.

The second was this very comprehensive article, and discussion, in the New York times about why, or whether Americans will really, learn Chinese. I enjoyed reading it and picked up a few nuggets, one of which was the fact that the interest of many Americans in learning foreign languages came from political and economic expediencies: They learnt Russian during the Cold War, Arabic after 9/11, Spanish because of their neighbours, and now Chinese in the wake of China's global economic uprising. Thus said the writers of the article. Not me, even though I have learnt also from a few interactions on the matter that many American students now study Chinese for the purpose of gaining leverage in the emerging economic world.

The article doesn't mention Yoruba, Swahili, or any of the other minority world languages being learnt in Universities all over America, but that is not the point - I guess. As much as this point in the article could be seen as a generalization of perhaps a genuine interest of students in expanding their worldviews, I believe that there's something interesting about the said American foreign language fad. For a fact, the govenment of the United States has shown more interest in languages spoken in parts of the world with some economic, political or cultural relevance to its own survival. At the Fulbright conference in December, I had made friends with a guy called Osama from Yemen, a Fulbrighter on a similar programme. That was before the Christmas Day bombing attempt, and its subsequent link to Yemen. After the terror attempt, I asked a friend if she thought that Yemen will now get a lesser slot in subsequent Fulbright programmes because of the terrorism incendent, and she said NO. Quite the opposite, she said. If this all rings true, then Hausa will also soon become another language of interest for Americans in the coming years, because of the failed bombing attempt of Christmas day. This creed can then be summarized somewhat thusly:
"If he has tried to kick your ass, kick his ass too, and then learn his language. You might understand him more, and thus prevent any further aggression."      
Whether this is true, or whether it ever works as planned in the long term, is of course subject to debate.

From Clarissa:

I highly recommend Kola's great blog, which is not only intelligent, humorous and exceptionally well-written but is also peppered with my insightful comments.                                                                                

Why I Dislike Third-Wave Feminism

People who have been around this blog for a while must already know that I dislike the so-called "third-wave feminism." Whenever I get to talk with one of the representatives of this movement, I get reminded of my dislike. So why does third-wave feminism bother me so much?

A fellow blogger tinceiri has left the following definition of third-wave feminism in the comment section of one of my recent posts:
Let me explain what third-wave feminism is about:

* Against Ableism
* Against Classism
* Against Ethnocentrism or Western-centrism
* Against Homo-/bi-/queerphobia or Heterosexism
* Against Racism
* Against Sexism or Misogyny
* Against Transphobia or CISsexism
* Against Religious Bashing
* Honoring Bodily Autonomy
* Supporting Sex Workers
* Anti-Biological Essentialism
Everything listed here, of course, sounds fantastic. What kind of a maniac could be opposed to these great things?

Unfortunately, the excellent intentions of third-wave feminists are completely undermined by the statement (from the same blogger I quoted before) that "third-wave feminism respects the choices of everyone." After a very short discussion, it always comes out that these feminists do not really support any kind of choice on the part of everybody. People who abuse others, racists, chauvinists, ableists, and xenophobes make all kinds of vile choices, and obviously third-wave feminists do not support those choices.

The question arises, then, if you do not in reality respect everybody's choices, why say you do? Why take up as your movement's motto something which is so patently untrue? My explanation is that when these feminists say they "respect the choices of everyone", what they are actually trying to say is that they do not want any of their choices to be questioned. Gaining rights always entails gaining responsibilities, and it is precisely the burden of extra responsibility that these feminists do not want. They want to exist in this comfortable reality where personal is not political, it is just a matter of choice. They want to preserve the right to live in a decidedly non-feminist way and still call themselves feminists. This discussion, for example, was one of the perfect examples of wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

Third-wave feminism is, in my opinion, a brand of feminism that has no future. Unless we accept that having the rights of a valid and complete human being implies having the responsibilities of a valid and complete human being, our struggle for equality is meaningless.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Literacy Tests

Everybody must have heard by now about the nasty remarks made by the former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo about his desire to see the literacy tests for prospective voters brought back as a legal practice. You have to be an obtuse, illiterate racist in order to fail to realize that these vicious literacy tests were used as a tool of excluding black voters from expressing their political will.

However, I believe that something good can be rescued from this practice. Let's administer literacy tests to politicians aspiring to high elected offices. If somebody had thought of this before, a simple literacy test could have saved us eight horrible years with George W. Bush.

P.S. We were going over new vocabulary in my Spanish Intermediate II class. I don't allow students to speak English in class, so when they had to remember what the word "analfabeto" ("illiterate") means, many of them were stumped. One student came up with the following great definition of the word: "Es Presidente Bush!" ("It's president Bush!"). Immediately, everybody understood the meaning of the word.

A St. Valentine's Gift Suggestion from Amazon: A Fake Vagina

I've been browsing Amazon for suggestions for a St. Valentine's Day gift for my husband. One of the first two recommendations Amazon gave me was the curious product you see on the left. I have absolutely no idea what in my shopping history with Amazon could have given them the idea that this is a good recommendation to give to me.

Another question I have is how this is a good gift for St. Valentine's Day, of all possible festive occasions. If a man is getting a gift for St. Valentine's Day from his partner, this surely must mean that he has an access to . . . erm . . . the real thing. Even though the real thing is not a vibrating one. So why would he need a "Vibrating Deluxe Masturbator"? Maybe I'm not enlightened enough to get the point of this. Also, it's kind of annoying that when I checked out the "For Her" section of Valentine's gift recommendations, no women-friendly suggestion was made to me.

I wonder if any male is actually getting this pricey gift for St. Valentine's Day this year and what his reaction will be.

I sincerely hope my blog doesn't get tagged as pornographic again because of this post (as happened with this post.) My interest in this device is purely academic. It's bad enough that now I will not be able to blog while administering an exam in one of my classes tomorrow. The students might misunderstand the intellectual curiosity that motivated me to post this and include this particular picture.