Friday, April 30, 2010
Patriarchal systems across the world coincide in presenting the female body as diseased, inherently wrong, and in need of constant policing and control. This control is often carried out through the attempts to "repair" the female body medically. Women are constantly told that somehow they simply cannot exist unless their bodies are continuously modified through some form of medication. Hormone replacement therapy, HPV vaccine, PMS medication, Mydol. The idea behind all this is that female body is one huge mistake of nature, which can finally be stabilized thorugh the benevolent ministrations of pharmaceutical companies. The HPV vaccine is supposed to "only work" when administered to teenagers. Obviously, the goal is to start convincing women as early as possible that the very fact of being female equals being damaged and in need of a cure.
For me, all these efforts to present women as perennial invalids who need to be cured of their painful and problematic gender are the modern equivalent of foot-binding.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
On the other hand, however, I keep fighting back tears all day long. This is the hardest part of a teacher's job: letting go of students. You get to care so much about them that seeing them leave is painful. Thankfully, most of my best students will continue taking upper level courses with me next semester. So at least I will get to see them again.
The students keep coming up to hug me, thank me, or to say something nice. I'd almost prefer they didn't because I don't want to get all weepy in a public setting. After the classes are over, I will lock myself in the office and cry my eyes out. I even prepared some tragic music to accompany the weeping. Have I ever mentioned that I'm a huge drama queen? :-)
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
This book, however, is a breath of fresh air compared to the regular Russian-language literary fare of the recent years. I was the first literary critic to work with the short stories and the novel that comprise this volume, so I can testify to their high literary value.
Those of you who like Borges, Cortazar and the poets of the Russian Silver Age will especially enjoy this book.
To say all this is frustrating for a college teacher is to say nothing. In my course on Hispanic Civilization, I have gone to extreme lengths to wake the students from this note-taking stupor. I have made very provocative statements about all kinds of issues but, for the most part, they just write it down and then repeat word for word during exams.
All exams in this course are analytical and not factual. All students are required to do is provide their own opinions on the issues I propose. For the majority of students this turns out to be a very daunting exercise. The very idea of analysis terrifies them. They'd much rather memorize long lists of dates and names than offer their opinions on politics, history, and art.
I have heard horror stories about the damage done in the last decade to secondary education by making learning test-oriented instead of aimed at developing actual thinking capacities in the students. Now I am seeing the results of these efforts and, boy, are they sad.
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Here is an article about what actually happened.
The reason this is so stressful to me is not because I'm afraid that the students will write something nasty about me. I have a feeling my students really like me, and, besides, my evaluations have always been fantastic. What causes me this extreme amount of stress is the need to explain the new format of teacher evaluations to the students. The format of evaluations was changed as a result of the recent push to quantify student responses that I discussed here.
I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person but it took me a while to understand how these new quantifiable evaluations work. It took me even longer to come up with a way of explaining this to the students. Honestly, I have never had to spend this much time preparing any of my classes, even ones that deal with very complex topics. I keep going over the whole system in my head, but there are still details that escape me. It is possible that I'm having so much trouble with understanding how this works because of my autism. Hopefully, it will be less difficult for the students to figure this out.
The saddest thing is that as a result of all this effort and stress I will get a bunch of meaningless numbers that will hardly tell me anything about my performance in this course. Today, after I explained some grammar point to some students and was walking away, I heard one of them whisper to another: "I just love her! Don't you?" That's what I want to get from my student evaluations. I think I deserve that after all the effort I put into my teaching and student advisement outside of class. Instead, I'm losing time and sleep over somebody's unhealthy attachment to quantifying the unquantifiable.
P.S. Apparently, the students' got a hang of this process a lot faster than I did. I guess it was autism that made this so hard for me.
Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin is an independent group of academic, religious and political leaders, dedicated to promoting consideration of Gov. Sarah Palin’s political positions in the wider American Jewish community. We find Ms. Palin’s policy positions on Israel, Iran, national security, fiscal responsibility, energy, and social policy – as well as her record on these issues as governor of Alaska and candidate for Vice President of the United States – to be serious, substantive and politically mainstream. Though not at present a candidate for any political office, Gov. Palin’s track record in public office has been exemplary.I wonder what their take is on Palin's statements that the US is a Christian nation.
I think I'll stick with hoping that this is some kind of Evangelical propaganda.
Monday, April 26, 2010
11. "Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked." In 1936, Millan Astray, one of the fascist leaders of the Nationalist movement in Spain, interrupted a speech given at the University of Salamanca by one of Spain's greatest writers and philosophers Miguel de Unamuno. "Death to the Intelligence! Long live death!" screamed Astray. "You can win by brute force, but you can never convince," replied the elderly philosopher. This perennial fascist cry of death to the intelligence is echoed today by endless scorn that Tea Party fundamentalists heap on intellectuals, college professors, writers, artists, and everybody who has some of that thing they hate the most in the world - intelligence. This is why they idolize the illiterate Bush Jr. and Sarah Palin. This is why they hate people like Gore, Hillary Clinton, and Obama.
12. "Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations." Well, this is more of the same, really. Fascist regimes are characterized by a willing suspension of all civil liberties in the name of appeasing some undefined but intolerable fear that drives the citizens of a fascist state.
13. "Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders." We all remember, I hope, how in the last days of his presidency George W. Bush forced the Congress to adopt a bill offering no-strings-attached bailouts to Wall Street companies. Today, Tea Partiers somehow try to blame the bailouts on Obama, who was demonstrably not in the Oval Office at that time.
14. "Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections." All of these things happened under the Bush administration. Threats against Obama have been coming in a steady stream from the Tea Party movement. We all remember how they showed up with rifles at their scary meetings.
If you are interested in learning more about American fascism, I strongly recommend a book titled American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges. He is a brilliant journalist, and this important book is packed with information and analysis of the rise of fascism among the representatives of the religious right in this country.
People tend to dismiss the tea partiers as a bunch of silly, misguided freaks who have no coherent political agenda simply because they do not have the mental capacity to understand the words "coherent" and "agenda." In my opinion, dismissing them out of hand is a mistake. Their agenda is fear and their policy is hatred.
Remember that the intellectuals dismissed Hitler's hysterical beer hall screechings until they were forced to recognize how many people found his ravings attractive. Today, we laugh at the unintelligent ramblings of Sarah Palin and her best buddy Rand Paul. I am afraid that when we finally wake up and realize the fascist nature of the Evangelical Tea Partiers, it might be too late. Yes, they are laughable, but this is precisely what makes them so dangerous. While we are laughing, they keep attracting more disenfranchised, scared, angry and resentful people to their side. People who have no idea that what they actually support under the name of Tea Parties is fascism, pure and simple.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
In my analysis, I will rely on the list of characteristics of fascism compiled by Dr. Lawrence Britt, just so that nobody can accuse me of defining fascism in some completely personal way.
1. "Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays." Obviously, the Tea Partiers are very nationalistic. The second they dislike somebody (such as, for example, President Obama), they start referring to them as un-American. Their constant flag waving is notorious. Remember how much song and dance Evangelicals created over whether Obama would wear an American flag in his lapel? That's part of this fanatical nationalism, without which fascism does not exist.
2. "Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc." Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Is that not the logic that led us right into the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, torture, Abu Ghraib, etc.?
3. "Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc." Have you noticed how often the Tea Partiers screech "Obama is a communist/socialist/Marxist/terrorist/Muslim!" Have you noticed how much they abhor immigrants or everybody "foreign-born"? If not, just read my recent posts on the subject.
4. "Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized." This was true under Hitler and Franco (Franco was a career soldier, and so was Millan Astray), and it is very true in the US today. Fascist regimes need to be involved in constant imperialist endeavors. For this reason, they need a lot of bodies to fight these endless wars. Consequently, military service is praised to the skies, and no criticism of soldiers or the army is allowed.
5. "Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution." What else is it if not the very agenda of Concerned Women for America and Sarah Palin, among others? Remember that these are the very people who pledged their support to the so-called Libertarian Rand Paul.
6. "Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common." We have all seen an incredible amount of censorship flourish under the Evangelical President Bush. Silencing dissent is a staple of a fascist regime.
7. "Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses." Tea Partiers and all other fundamentalists in this country are driven by fear. It consumes them to an extent where all rational thought is suspended and only raw terror of something undefined but vaguely threatening remains. As a result of this fear, they allow their authoritarian governments to push the Patriot Act down their throats and make fun of them through all those silly orange and red alerts.
8. "Religion and Government are Intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions." The Tea Party fundamentalists are plenty religious when it comes to abortions and homosexuality - two things that Jesus NEVER addressed specifically. They forget all about how Christian they are supposed to be, though, the second when somebody tries to provide the indigent with an acceptable standard of living - something that Jesus, incidentally, never tired of addressing.
9. "Corporate Power is Protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite." We have seen that in Franco's Spain and we are seeing it again behind every thing that Evangelicals do. Healthcare for the poor is for them a bad thing, while a huge tax break for Goldman Sachs evokes no protest from them.
10. "Labor Power is Suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed." So let's see, how do the Tea Partiers and Republican fundamentalists feel about the unions? Seeing as they have done everything in their power to destroy the labor movement in this country, we can draw the conclusion that for these people the unions are the devil.
(To be continued...)
According to the student, the US entrance into the war between Cuba and Spain was beneficial to everybody. It was good for the Cubans because the US "helped" them gained independence. Of course, after the independence was gained, the US never left but it was simply because it was so obvious that the Cubans werent capable of running their own country. It was beneficial for Spain as well because the US helped to alleviate their burden of having to run a country located so far from Spain. Sadly, the Spanish people didn't recognize immediately that the US was only trying to help them by entering into a war with them. And that happened because the Spanish weren't very smart and didn't know what was good for them. I kid you not, all this was written by the student completely in earnest.
As to the historical facts that contradict his brainwashed world-view, he simply skips them. USS Maine somehow misteriously exploded all by itself. The Monroe Doctrine also mysteriously applies to the case of Spain's colonies, the colonies this country had possessed for centuries before the Monroe Doctrine was adopted.
In short, the entire essay is an example of a completely unbelievable instance of propaganda that has no interest in common sense, historic reality, and logic. It saddens me to think that everything we discussed in class during the semester, everything we read, everything we saw made no impression on this kid whatsoever. At the end of the course, he still reproduces the same ideological rubbish that he was fed by the people interested in sending him to die in the name of economic interests that are incomprehensible to him.
Friday, April 23, 2010
So I decided to give the guy a chance. Who knows, I thought, maybe he is an actual follower of Ayn Rand? Maybe he does, in fact, espouse Libertarian ideas. Of course, this optimism on my part suffered a mortal blow in the first 10 seconds of googling Rand Paul's name. I immediately discovered that one of his biggest supporters is the fundamentalist, hateful, and disgusting organization called Concerned Women for America. Just read the following statement these scary people make about themselves and tell me how would Ayn Rand react to this:
We are the nation's largest public policy women's organization with a rich 28-year history of helping our members across the country bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy. We help people focus on six core issues, which we have determined need Biblical principles most and where we can have the greatest impact.And of course, Ms. Rand would have found their position on abortion to be particularly repellent:
The group also opposes abortion in all cases, unless it is to save the life of the mother. Health exemptions are considered "immoral" and not supported. It also opposes emergency contraception, including after cases of rape, asserting that ECP is actually an abortifacient. CWA asserts that most forms of birth control—and all forms of hormonal birth control—are actually abortifacients, triggering chemical abortions.After all this, how can anybody seriously claim that today's Libertarians of Rand Paul's ilk have anything in common with the original movement created by Ayn Rand? The founder of objectivism would certainly be horrified at the very idea of being associated with this group of insane Bible-thumpers who see women as baby-generating machines with no will or desires of their own. Not only was Ayn Rand fiercely proabortion, she also actively despised Christianity.
I knew from the start that the Tea Party movement was nothing other than yet another bid for power on the part of the fanatical Evangelicals. What is sad, though, is that there are still people who refuse to see them for what they are and keep hoping that this movement has something to do with objectivism.
The way it works is as follows. We are informed that a colleague from another department has received an award. Instead of sending her a personal email to congratulate her, many people send chain emails to the entire teaching faculty. At this extremely busy time in the semester, it is very annoying to have to wade through 36 emails saying nothing but "Congratulations!", "Yay!", "Good job!", etc.
Often it feels like in academia we make our own lives more difficult just in order to have things to bitch about.
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Thursday, April 22, 2010
Here is the ad:
Why is it that the second you decide to give the Libertarians a chance they come out with something so embarrassing?
And now yet another movie sequel. How many more times do we need to hear that women are pathetic little idiots who can only be happy as housewives? Enough already with the stupid Sex and the City!
Now, it seems that nature is taking its revenge on me for my lack of positive feelings towards it. In this most difficult moment of the academic year, I am persecuted by birds. There are flocks of geese living next to my house and in front of my building at work and they screech all the time. There are also other birds next to where I live and they start chirping insanely early in the morning. Tonight, the pandemonium began at 4:52 in the morning. I know this because the screeching and the chirping woke me up at this insane hour. I tried going back to sleep, but the birds were relentless. The crazy noises they make drove me out of the house and into my office at the ungodly hour of 6:20 am.
Of course, when I arrived at work, I discovered that the screeching continues here as well. And it is even louder than the screeching I experience at home. The geese on campus are extremely aggressive, too. The student lore has it that a student was expelled last year for defending himself against the angry geese by hitting them with his backpack. So now self-defense is out of the question. For me, the noises these hellish creatures make is the worst aspect of having them around. Coupled with my current level of exhaustion, the screeching is really getting to be too much.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
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I've asked repeatedly to be given a larger classroom that would accommodate everybody who wants to take the course. This hasn't produced any results because larger classrooms are needed for "more important" things, such as calculus and statistics. Of course, differential equations (or whatever it is that the students do in those courses) are a lot more crucial than learning about art, politics, nationalism, and ideology.
The students keep begging me to let them into the class but the room I was given is small and the number of chairs is limited. The floor space that some students suggested they might use to sit during the class is kind of limited, too. Besides, I tried this once, and the experience of students looking up my skirt all class long is highly disconcerting. It's very annoying that on the one hand, we are being pestered to raise enrollment numbers, while on the other we are prevented from allowing into the classroom all the students that we managed to attract to our subject matter.
Monday, April 19, 2010
This is wrong, and we need to start changing this sad state of affairs.
The author of this article offers some really good, practical suggestions on how to acquire the most valuable commodity there is: free time.
Thanks to michaelalanmiller.com for recommending this article.
Anger and indignation were served up in giant helpings outside the Bi-Lo Center on Saturday as several thousand Tea Party activists cheered speakers who attacked President Barack Obama as a lying, taxing, foreign-born, anti-American socialist. Waving signs and flags with slogans including, "It's the Constitution, stupid" and "Vote them all out," people gathered around a stage where keynote speaker Tom Tancredo, former Colorado congressman and 2008 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, said Americans have reached the point where "we're going to have to pray that we can hold on to this country."If this isn't fascism, people, then what is? This is not a rhetorical question. Seriously, how can anybody be blind enough not to see this exactly for what it is? Just observe the logic: the lying Bush (who got this country into a bloody and meaningless war) is good and acceptable. And Obama (who lied about something they can never specify) is bad because he is - oooh, scary - "foreign-born." These people are beyond disgusting.
As for Obama, Tancredo said, "If his wife says Kenya is his homeland, why don't we just send him back?"
It's funny that they claim to be the followers of Ayn Rand, who - surprise, surprise! - was "foreign-born" and spoke with a thick Russian accent her entire life.
What a bunch of sad, pathetic, stupid, and angry idiots.
Heilemann and Halperin offer several possibilities to explain Palin's mental health issues. Post-partum depression and worry about her son who was being shipped to Iraq are some of the explanations these authors offer. I think, however, that Palin's experiences during the campaign itself offer a much better explanation. Game Change describes with a great poignancy how Palin was sitting there, completely lost and overwhelmed, surrounded by stacks of index cards and crowds of people who were trying to cram the most basic facts of world history and politics into her head. McCain's aides attempted to make her memorize in the space of a few short weeks the amount of information that it normally takes people many years of high-school, college, and adult reading and news-watching to absorb. If there was ever cruel and unusual punishment, this is definitely it.
Those who have been reading my blog for a while, know that I'm no fan of Palin (to put it very, very mildly.) However, it is really disgusting to find out how she was treated by the McCain camp. They used her, abused her, and threw her out. Today, Palin has joined a quasi-libertarian Tea Party movement. A real Libertarian would say of her plight that if she wants to be a governor and even a vice-president without knowing about World Wars I and II, about the Spanish Civil War, and about the reasons why there are North Korea and South Korea (examples from Game Change), she deserves everything she gets as a result. I am not a Libertarian, though. For this reason, reading about this poor individual, sitting there all lost, trying to absorb all this knowledge that is completely beyond her intellectual capacities, makes me feel very compassionate towards her.
A true Libertarian would say that it's her responsibility to have the requisite knowledge that would allow her to perform her job adequately. For me, however, Palin's woeful intellectual limitations are not only her personal failure. We are all to blame for creating and maintaining a system where a person graduates from high school, then college, then gets a responsible governmental position, all the while not having even the most basic knowledge about the world.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
In order to make the book more reasonable, Heilemann and Halperin chose to write it in a style that is a lot more conversational than academic. At first, the readers might feel put off by the authors tendency to offer guesses as to what the presidential candidates and members of their entourage felt and thought at any given moment. Statements like "'Fuck you!' thought Hillary when she heard the unwelcome news" do sound a little funny. However, if one doesn't get too hung up on such little flights of writerly fancy, the book ends up being very enjoyable. Even I, who followed these elections very closely, discovered many things I never knew from the book.
What I really liked about the book is that the authors are so fascinated by the facts that they never bother to infuse them with any personal political agenda. They describe the struggle between Clinton and Obama in a lot of detail and at length. At no point, however, was I able to guess which candidate the authors preferred. The authors leave you a lot of space to draw your own conclusions. All they do is provide a lot of data to facilitate that.
The chatty style Heilemann and Halperin chose for their book often leads them to a host of linguistic infelicities, such as "the place he were at." This is, of course, annoying but the book is still worth reading. The 2008 presidential elections were groundbreaking in a variety of ways. In these elections, illusion defeated reality every step of the way. Before, one could talk about spin overshadowing politics. Now, spin has become politics. It is crucial that we uderstand what went on during these elections because otherwise we will not be able to comprehend what is going on in the political world any more.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
The government has accused Goldman Sachs & Co. of defrauding investors by failing to disclose conflicts of interest in subprime investments it sold as the housing market was collapsing. The Securities and Exchange Commission said in a civil complaint Friday that Goldman failed to disclose that one of its clients helped create — and then bet against — subprime mortgage securities that Goldman sold to other investors. Two European banks that bought the mortgage securities lost nearly $1 billion, the SEC said. The agency is seeking to recoup profits reaped on the deal. . . The civil lawsuit filed by the SEC in federal court in Manhattan was the government's most significant legal action related to the mortgage meltdown that ignited the financial crisis and helped plunge the country into recession. The SEC's enforcement chief said the agency is investigating a broad range of practices related to the crisis.Personally, I will not feel content until all these disgusting creatures are in jail. Right now, some nasty brainless jerk called Fabrice Tourre of Goldman is under the investigation. Following in the footsteps of his boss Blankfein (who believes he is God), this is how Tourre described himself: "The fabulous Fab standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstrosities!!!" The only real monstrosity, of course, is that because of these losers' stupidity the entire world is now in deep shit economically.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Of course, as we have been learning this entire time, their opposition to the "welfare state" does not prevent most of the tea partiers from receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits.
All of this demonstrates that these people have absolutely no problem with the Big Government or the governmental intrusion into their lives. In fact, more often than not, they welcome these things.
The only thing that motivates these stupid tea baggers is racism. Just think about it. They applaud these policies when they come from a white dude in cowboy boots but protest these very same policies carried out on a much smaller scale when they come from a black guy? What is it if not racism? So how can anybody take these freaks seriously? Their peanut-sized brains are incapable of generating a single logical and reasonable idea. They feel so overcome by their insane rage and hatred that their tiny brains stop functioning entirely. All these people deserve is contempt and ridicule.
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I have received several e-mails from readers who are worried about a delay in the posting of their comments. If you find that the comments you post to the blog don't appear immediately, this happens because I need to approve them before they post. Sometimes, it takes me a little while to see the comments (especially, when I'm sleeping). The reason why I moderate comments is that there is a racist, homophobic troll bugging my blog. Everybody who is not that nasty creature will definitely see their comments posted.
Thank you for leaving comments here! I am truly grateful for everybody's intelligent participation.
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Thursday, April 15, 2010
At first, I thought she didn't understand how the conditional sentences work. And then I realized that the matters were a lot worse. What she doesn't understand is how life works. :-)
It's only April 15th today and already I feel completely wiped out. I have no idea how other people deal with this life-style 50 weeks of the year.
In order to avoid the hard work of April plunging me into depression, I engage in the practices of psychological hygiene. For example, this Sunday will be my birthday. I need to be in a decent psychological shape to enjoy and celebrate it. For this reason, I am freeing up Saturday for various self-pampering activities. My schedule for Saturday includes very long baths, hours of watching television, practicing my hobby of cooking something absolutely extravagant, sleeping, and staring stupidly at the ceiling. I don't care how many ungraded papers, unprepared classes, and abandoned paperwork accumulate in the meanwhile.
People need to think about their mental health a lot more than they do, in my opinion. Bringing yourself to a breaking point because you feel that you need to fulfill all your responsibilities is ultimately an exercise in utter irresponsibility.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Of course, high enrollment numbers mean more money in tuition fees. But at what cost? For me, this enrollment obsession means that I have to waste valuable class time explaining that there is no country called Ustingay. And that not only is Africa not a Latin American country, it is not a country at all. And that the Mexican Revolution did not happen in Spain. And that there was no country called the United States of America in the VIII century. And that Hitler was not a communist. For the majority of students, this means that while I'm explaining these very basic things to their extremely unprepared colleagues, they have to sit there bored out of their minds. And the money they paid for tuition goes to waste. For the unprepared minority, this means that they will probably have to drop out after their freshman year, having wasted a year of their lives and a big sum of money they paid to attend classes they are not prepared to attend.
In reality, when we allow students who are not even remotely ready for college to enroll, we are selling them our services under false pretenses. We promise them that we will somehow magically overcome the huge lacunae of knowledge and get them to a place where they can have a college degree.
We need to recognize honestly that for reason too well-known to be enumerated here, the secondary education system in the US is failing miserably. And we can't allow this problem to end up destroying the college education system as well.
One solution might be to offer a very basic college entrance exam. Since high school diplomas are inadequate in measuring who is ready for college, it rests with us to make sure we don't harm either the prospective students or the system of higher ed in general.
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Lori Whisenant knows that one way to improve the writing skills of undergraduates is to make them write more. But as each student in her course in business law and ethics at the University of Houston began to crank out—often awkwardly—nearly 5,000 words a semester, it became clear to her that what would really help them was consistent, detailed feedback.As we can see, this insane practice is justified by the claim that it's impossible for the professor to read and grade 500 papers each semester. In the discussion that follows, pros and cons of this kind of outsourcing are discussed at length. What is shocking, though, is that nobody stops to consider how it is even possible that such idiotic measures would be taken instead of simply opening more tenure-track positions. What our higher education needs is not people from other countries grading papers of students they have never met in the course they know nothing about. Rather, we need to stop cramming hundreds of students into the same classroom. We need to stop cutting down on tenure-track positions and stop saving money in these ridiculous ways.
Her seven teaching assistants, some of whom did not have much experience, couldn't deliver. Their workload was staggering: About 1,000 juniors and seniors enroll in the course each year. "Our graders were great," she says, "but they were not experts in providing feedback."
That shortcoming led Ms. Whisenant, director of business law and ethics studies at Houston, to a novel solution last fall. She outsourced assignment grading to a company whose employees are mostly in Asia.
All of this stupidity with on-line teaching, insanely huge classrooms, and now grade outsourcing is destroying our higher education system. This is wrong, people, and it needs to stop.
I haven't been skinny since the advent of puberty. I have also been blessed by high self-esteem and a great body image, so I never tortured myself with the desire to be size zero. Or even size eight. In the last year, I have gained some weight, which, from what I hear, is very normal when people start their first full-time job. It might later go away. Or it might not. Both possibilities are perfectly fine with me. What is funny, though, is how people react to my weight. For the most part, they studiously avoid noticing this simple reality to the degree when it becomes really funny to observe their heroic efforts not to mention it. It seems like for some reason people assume that I have to be heart-broken about it and any mention of this can send me over the edge. These same people have no difficulty mentioning any other change in my appearance, so the avoidance of the weight issue seems extremely strange. The idea that I might be perfectly fine with it - or even happy about it - never seems to cross anybody's mind.
When I refer to my own weight, people often feel so uncomfortable that they immediately try to silence me on this subject. I remember how I was once talking with a very nice and kind friend of mine and said something to the effect that I'm not skinny. "Oh, Clarissa, don't say that about yourself!" she replied all horrified. Apparently, being skinny is often considered as uniformly good and desirable, while not being skinny is perceived as undoubtedly horrible and painful.
For me, mentioning weight is not offensive. The avoidance of the subject, however, is because it betrays a person's belief that people who are not thin must necessarily hate their weight and be miserable about it.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Students leaving high school and entering university score at around 50 percent on a test administered during the past five years by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Worse, they finish their university studies and, on average, score only 54 percent. Universities are obviously doing a poor job of training students in these essential subjects.Read more of the post here and take the test in question here. I got 81,81% on the test, which is a lot more than what an average "college educator" gets. I'm proud of myself but I kind of hoped I would get 100%. I don't teach US history but I'm fascinated by this subject.
Commercial I: A man, a woman, and their toddler come to a restaurant. The woman gets up to go to the bathroom. The man looks terrified and bereft. Of course, the idea of being left alone with HIS own child for 5 minutes must be intolerable. The little boy starts whimpering, and the father feels completely lost. Then, he gets a brilliant idea. He whips out his phone, downloads a video and sticks it under the toddler's nose. The child immediately acquires a suitably zombified look and starts staring onto the screen. Problem solved! Can you imagine a commercial where a woman is similarly traumatized by the necessity to spend five minutes alone with her small child? Something tells me that this kind of commercial is not likely to appear any time soon.
Commercial II: A woman, a man and their two children come to an amusement park. The woman stops to check her phone. She needs it to work in case the kids disperse and she needs to find them. The kids are waiting patiently for their mother to figure things out with the phone. The middle-aged father, however, has disappeared. He has run off to take a ride on the merry-go-round, leaving his wife to deal with THEIR children alone. Once again, can you imagine a similar commercial where the gender roles are swapped?
As I stated in my first post on this subject, creating this image of men as inherently inept in the realm of interpersonal communications, romantic relationships, and child-rearing is a way for society to compensate women for infantilizing them in everything that pertains to the public sphere. Women are not supposed to be competent and powerful at work, in politics, or anywhere in the public sphere. Men, in turn, are not expected to be mature, competent, and responsible in the private sphere.
What we get as a result is the perennial division of the public and the private along gender lines.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Even the kindest portrayal of people with Asperger's is concentrated on presenting us as some kind of eccentric geniuses who are smart but completely inept socially and as a result make everybody around them feel extremely uncomfortable.
On the one hand, ridiculizing autistics attracts viewers. Many people need the kind of entertainment that gets more and more extreme with every new episode, show, movie, etc. These people feel so benumbed by their sad daily existences that they need entertainment to tickle them into consciousness, albeit momentarily.
Because of shows like these, it is often useless to try telling people that you have autism. "No, of course you don't!" they say in indignation. You are nothing like people with Asperger's that they show on television!" Well, my friends, do you know what the difference is between me and these characters? I'm real and they are not. They are fictional characters created for a specific purpose. Such shows might entertain you but they will never teach you anything useful or truthful about autism.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
We're talking about the six hundred thousand people without work, who want to earn their daily bread honestly without having to emigrate from their homeland in search of a livelihood; the five hundred thousand farm laborers who live in miserable shacks, who work four months of the year and starve the rest, sharing their misery with their children, who don't have an inch of land to till and whose existence would move any heart not made of stone; the four hundred thousand industrial workers and laborers whose retirement funds have been embezzled, whose benefits are being taken away, whose homes are wretched quarters, whose salaries pass from the hands of the boss to those of the moneylender; the one hundred thousand small farmers who live and die working land that is not theirs; the thirty thousand teachers and professors who are so devoted, dedicated and so necessary to the better destiny of future generations and who are so badly treated and paid; the twenty thousand small business men weighed down by debts, ruined by the crisis and harangued by a plague of grafting and venal officials; the ten thousand young professional people: doctors, engineers, lawyers, veterinarians, school teachers, dentists, pharmacists, newspapermen, painters, sculptors, etc., who finish school with their degrees anxious to work and full of hope, only to find themselves at a dead end, all doors closed to them.
We are all complicit in this. We look at a president who can't read and then go and elect him for a second term. We seriously consider as a vice-presidential candidate a person who is dumb as a door-nail. We keep trying to dumb down our college-level courses. Instead of asking students to read, think, analyze, and write, we make them look up information on the Internet and then regurgitate it. We accept it as normal when people proudly tell us that they never read anything or follow the news. We read articles in the leading newspapers written by people who cannot compose a sentence without making three mistakes. We watch TV shows where stupidity is celebrated and education is ridiculed.
Andrews's book is so scary because if a supposedly educated person whose job is to analyze events and report the fruits of his analysis (which is meant to be an intellectual endeavor) turns out to be as immature, irresponsible, and stupid as a 12-year-old, what can we expect from people who have not been as blessed by education and very well-paying white-collar jobs?
When an entire society turns away from intelligence and embraces a cult of stupidity, chances are there will be a systemic crisis of major proportions. This time, these immature, unintelligent, whiny jerks have led us into an economic collapse. Tomorrow, it will be something else. Unless we, as a society, embrace the idea that being stupid, irresponsible, and immature is unacceptable, we will keep being shaken by these crises on a regular basis.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Sunday, April 4, 2010
We went to an Easter dinner at the house of the Chair of my department. There was a lady there who used to work for our department teaching Russian and French but she is now retired.
It turned out that this woman is the daughter of a White Army officer and a White Army doctor. Her parents were on the side of the people who lost the Civil War in the twenties and had to escape from Russia. They eneded up in Morocco, which is where she was born.
And we both ended up in Southern Illinois, teaching at the same university.
History works in the weirdest ways.
This is a book that needs to be read, even though it will make you lose your faith in humanity for a long time to come. Andrews analyzes in great detail how the lending institutions gradually became more and more driven by the desire for instant profit without stopping to think for a second what will happen long term. The author also brings to light the incredible, mind-boggling stupidity of Greenspan, Bernanke, and Co. He demonstrates how corrupt and dishonest the Bush Jr. administration was.
None of this, however, is very new. At least not to me. From the moment I moved from Quebec to the US, it became obvious to me that the housing prices in this country were ridiculously over-inflated. I saw my friends and colleagues pay really insane, seven-figure prices for poky little apartments in Manhattan or run-down bungalows in Connecticut and immediately realized that this was the game I would never agree to pay. Mortgaging away your life for the next 30 years in hopes that the bubble will get even bigger and the price of your house would magically grow seemed like a genuinely stupid proposition even for someone like me, who at 27 was woefully ignorant about economy. Today, when I understand the workings of this country's economy and politics a lot better, I am even more reluctant to participate in this insanity.
What really bothered me in Busted: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown was not the story of the housing bubble. It was the story of a nearly fantastic immaturity. Immaturity on both sides, the lenders' and the borrowers'. Those who handed out completely unsecured loans to people incapable of ever paying them off and those who accepted loans they could never even imagine paying off. Andrews was one of those who accepted. And accepted. And accepted some more.
The immaturity and total intellectual impotence of this man - who, once again, writes for the economics section of The New York Times - is mind-boggling. He decides to take out a loan to buy a half-million dollar house. As a result, he knows that his entire paycheck will go towards his alimony payments and the mortgage with not a dime left over for the bills. Of course, he hopes that his new wife will make enough money to cover all of their living expenses. Nothing would be all that wrong about this picture, if it weren't for one tiny detail. His new wife has been a house-wife who hasn't worked a day in the past 20 years. Besides, she is accustomed by her former husband to living the life of luxury. She didn't even do any work around the house because her first husband paid for a housekeeper. On top of that, Andrews gets this woman to move to a completely different part of the country. Then, he expects her to find a well-paying job - with no skills, no connections, no experience of being an employee - and start paying all the bills: "We had both assumed she could earn enough for us to get by. We didn't have any idea how she would do it; we were both simply sure that she could do it." It is incredible to encounter such profound intellectual impotence from any one over the age of 12.
This is not the weirdest thing about Andrews's relationship with Patty, the woman who eventually became his second wife. He left his first wife and proposed to Patty before Patty and he had ANY kind of a relationship. They hadn't even as much as kissed, let alone had sex or lived together. And these are not some horny teenagers. These are people who are almost 50 at the time. During marriage counselling, Andrews and Patty discover that they do not see eye to eye on 90% of issues discussed. This, however, does not suggest to them that it might make sense to postpone the wedding until they actually get to know something about each other.
Andrews's path to penury begins when he takes out a sub-prime mortgage on his new house. Over the next few years he gets so far into debt that you couldn't dig him out of it with an excavator, just to keep the stupid super expensive house. And you know why? In his own words, "Even though it was all about buying a house in the suburbs, it felt vaguely exciting, edgy, and a little gangsta." When a balding, paunchy, white gentleman in his late forties is motivated to take out an impossible loan because he wants to feel "gangsta", of all the stupid things, you know that something is seriously wrong here. And this is supposed to be a well-educated upper-middle-class individual, who works as a journalist, for Pete's sake!
In order to climb out of the financial hole he has dug for himself, Andrews tries every crazy borrowing practice out there. He runs up a staggering credit card debt, empties his pension account, and even hits up for money his elderly mother. There is just one thing he doesn't do: try to cut down the costs. Andrews goes through his wedding to his second wife in throes of a panic attack over mounting bills and huge debt. After that, he proceeds to pay the caterers that were hired for the wedding. Of course, the idea that people who can't pay the electricity bill might be able to do without a catered wedding never crosses his mind.
For a while, Andrews's family income rises to $200,000 per year. I don't know about you, people, but for me this is a staggering amount of money. One could live like a king on half that amount. Still, Andrews cannot make ends meet. Even though the debt is growing and his interest rates become sky-high, he keeps spending on things that cannot possily be considered necessary expenses: cable telivision, HBO, beach house, Ipods, expensive clothes, the list is endless.
Andrews criticizes the irresponsible lenders virulently. He never stops to think, though, that those who criminally handed out unsecured loans were motivated by the same basic immaturity that got him into so much trouble: have fun now and assume that things will somehow work out in the end. These people, who are so immature that it makes my hair stand on end in horror, are the ones that got us into this mess. They mortgaged away our future, and their children's and grand-children's future because they wanted that Ipod, that house, that vacation right now and didn't want to pay for them. Now, we will all have to pay for their lack of responsibility and their inhuman immaturity for decades to come.
[To be continued...]
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Scholarly inspiration is a strange thing, indeed. You never know what will bring it out.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T
Friday, April 2, 2010
Q.: How long have you been teaching?
A.: This year, I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of my teaching career. I'm not ancient, I just started very early. [The last statement was in response to the interviewer's incredulous look.]
Q.: What makes a bad student?
A.: In my teaching philosophy, there are no bad students. There are only students who did not receive enough attention, encouragement, and support from the teacher.
Q.: How do you find a balance between work and personal life?
A.: In our profession, it is very easy to do so. We only have to be at work 2 or 3 days a week, seven months in a year.
Q.: Then why do so many professors complain that they are overworked and never have time for anything?
A.: I guess they are a lot more responsible than I am.
Q.: How do you preserve your enthusiasm for teaching? I often see professors who look like they don't even care. How do you avoid that?
A.: I'm sure they care a lot. Everybody's teaching style is different, so some people are not as demonstrative as others.
Q.: What advice would you give to freshmen?
A.: Dedicate your first year of college to learning how to learn.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Answer: I really liked this question because it made me think a lot. As an autistic, I'm not very big on communities. It is next to impossible for me to feel as part of any community. I have met some really cool people in the blogosphere. I even met one of my colleagues who works in my department first as a blogger and then as a "real" person. I have discovered - to my great surprise - that there are a lot of people who think like I do about many important issues. At times, I have felt nothing short of shocked by how much support I got.
Community-wise, blogging led me to become very disappointed with the feminist community and very inspired by the Asperger's community. So the results are mixed. I'll keep thinking, though!
Question: How come you only linked to blogs writen by MEN? and what does this say about you as a feminist?
Answer: This one also made me think a lot and analyze my motives. I have no idea why at this point in time I like the blogs I listed the most and not some other blogs. I don't think that gender has anything to do with it. If I could find some female blogs that are both progressive and don't mention the word "privilege" every 15 seconds, I would be happy to read them. I welcome suggestions and self-promotion!
Question: If an Asperger boyfriend dumps you, will he at least miss you?
Answer: A fellow Aspie blogger Izgad said yes. My answer would be no. But then again, my Asperger's is way stronger than his. :-) As for me, I have a tendency to develop intense enthusiasms and intense dislikes for people and things. When I like somebody, it means I REALLY REALLY like them. But if they disappoint me, I tend to forget that they ever existed, to the degree of not recognizing them in the street.
Question: So how is the troll doing? :-) :-) :-)
Answer: You won't believe it but the troll keeps coming here religiously. I'm flattered to have such a faithful fan. I'm hoping my intelligent texts will somewhat civilize the troll in the long run.
The University of Washington billed it as a debate among distinguished law faculty over whether the new federal health-care law is constitutional. But while the four panelists at a packed event Tuesday may have differed on some of the finer points, they all agreed on the big question: They said the new law passes constitutional muster and that various lawsuits arguing the opposite — including the one joined last week by state Attorney General Rob McKenna — have little merit or chance of success. Even John McKay, the former Republican U.S. attorney for Western Washington (who was forced out in 2006 under contentious circumstances) said that while he sympathized with some of the political issues in play, he thought the lawsuits lacked merit. In fact, he questioned the timing and thrust of the cases: “One way to say it is, that this has to be seen as a political exercise,” he said. Moderator Hugh Spitzer noted the lack of a vigorous dissenting voice. “I will say that we tried very hard to get a professor who could come and who thinks this is flat-out unconstitutional,” he said. “But there are relatively few of them, and they are in great demand.”Trying to find academics who support the anti-intellectual and grievously ignorant Republican worldview is a tough undertaking, indeed. There are no doctoral degrees in stupidity, you see. At least, not yet.
One of the reasons why I liked this dentist so much is that - unlike many other doctors - she did not treat me as a vegetable that has no thoughts or feelings. Often doctors perceive you as an object in need of repair. As soon as they see you, they proceed to do things to you without attempting to explain the procedures they are performing or find out whether you want those procedures performed in the first place. I don't like going to see doctors because whenevr I go, I feel my identity slipping away from me. Outside of the doctor's office, I see myself as a respectable, intellectual, independent, and higly-opinionated human being. Inside, however, I turn into this powerless thing that is incapable of being an active agent of her own life. And I really don't dig that feeling.
When I shared these feelings with my sister, she said, "If you want to feel really powerless and objectified, try getting pregnant and giving birth." She is right, of course, as sad as that is.
My new dentist, however, was very different in this respect. She actually took the time to explain to me what she was doing every step of the way and asked me what I wanted to be done. I wish more doctors were that way.
Today I'm celebrating my one-year anniversary of blogging.
This has been a great experience so far. I am deeply grateful to everybody who has been visiting the blog, reading, sharing my posts, leaving comments, and arguing with me.
For those of you who weren't around when I started to blog, here is my first ever post explaining the reasons why I decided to do it:
Why I decided to blog