Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Professor's Life

People who know that I only teach 2 or 3 days a week often ask me what it is I do with the rest of my time. To satisfy everybody's curiosity, I will describe what I did today, a regular non-working Tuesday. Please remember, though, that September is a lot busier than most other months of the academic year, except April.

Since I don't have to teach today, I could afford to get up at 10 a.m. and then spend over an hour trying on different outfits. The one I eventually came up with was so good that people keep complimenting me on it all day long, so that time was well-spent. I also find that creating outfits, hair-styles and make-up routines is very relaxing. People who say they don't have time to express their love towards themselves on a regular basis through these or other methods end up paying dearly for this lack of consideration.

Then, I had coffee and checked out my favorite blogs. I also sorted blog-related e-mail. Today, for example, I received 2 offers of collaboration for my blog, both of which I rejected. One for ideological reasons (what on earth could have made anybody suspect that I would want to promote weird fertility treatments? Even if I were paid for it?) and another because it was so poor stylistically that I couldn't, in good conscience, support its author in any endeavor. Except improving his command of his native language, which doesn't seem to interest him for now.

After that, I went to my office and planned tomorrow's classes. This consisted of me looking at the syllabi and realizing I have a mini-quiz coming up. So I created the mini-quiz and took it to the copy center.

Then I went to lunch with the people of my translation round-table. We talked about different kinds of courses in translation we would like to offer in the future.

After lunch, I went to the Department of Theater and Dance to talk to its Theater Education students. I serve on a review committee that is trying to evaluate how well this department works and what can be done to help it perform even better. I couldn't be happier to have been assigned to review this particular department. Imagine reviewing the Department of Engineering. Or Mathematics. Not to offend anybody's sensibilities, but which is the only department on campus that has a costume-making class? And a scene-painting class? And dance studios? And sound equipment? We all pale in comparison. Besides, Theater Ed students turned out to be very articulate, talkative, and open. I had to make no special efforts to get them to open up, which was a great relief. If you ever tried getting students from the Dept. of Computer Programming talk to you, then you know what I mean.

Since the meeting with Theater Ed students went so well, I decided to make an overdue visit to the library where books that I requested a short time ago were being held for me. I still have trouble getting used to how great Interlibrary services work at my current university. Back at McGill, Interlibrary Loan was so poor that I learned to pretend it didn't exist at all. I mean, what is the point of getting a critical article 2 years after you requested it? At Yale, Interlibrary services were marginally better but still had this weird tendency to inform you years after the request was made that you can finally pick it up. Here, however, they deliver everything you need in 3 days (a week for particularly hard to locate items). So I always get these notifications that my books have arrived long before I'm ready to check them out of the library.

Then, I spent half an hour trying to RSVP to an e-mail inviting me to a lunch with the university's Vice-Chancellor on Thursday. Caught in a particularly tiresome fit of autism, I kept confirming that I will be there tomorrow. And the Vice-Chancellor's office kept reminding me that Thursday was not tomorrow but the day after. Finally, the Chair of my department got involved in this process and managed to make me realize that tomorrow was, indeed, not Thursday.

After clearing that up, I wrote a letter to our English Department protesting their decision to reduce the language requirement for their graduate students from two years to one. Since I was involved with boring paperwork anyways, I also wrote and sent out my report on the meeting with the Theater Education students. Having done as much as I can stomach in the paperwork department, I finally proceeded to the fun stuff - my research. Namely, an article on the XIX century Spanish novel which is in very early stages of construction.

But before doing that, I wanted to share what I have done so far today with you, my readers.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Don Quijote

I just asked students in my Hispanic Civilization class how many of them have read Cervantes's Don Quijote. I was incredibly gratified to see that a full third of the students raised their hands. Everybody else had at least heard about the novel.

When I asked the same question back at Yale, only two students raised their hands. Many of them didn't even know what I was talking about.

This proves that a) Ivy League education is extremely overrated, and b) students get better and better with every new semester.

Europe According to Estonians

Thanks to our Estonian reader V., here is a hilarious video about Europe according to Estonians. I especially loved the United Idiot Emirates. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Maps and Stereotypes

These maps are priceless, people. Enjoy!
What Europe looks like from France
What Europe looks like from Germany

The world according to Americans

The map of European stereotypes

Scrabble on Kindle

Great news for Scrabble-loving Kindle-owners: our favorite game is finally available on Kindle. Unlike Shuffled Row and Every Word, SCRABBLE for Kindle isn't free. For me, however, the game is definitely worth the price.

I'm fascinated by language games and Scrabble is one of my favorite word games ever. The only problem is that I really suck at it. I'm not being coy about it, or anything. Believe me, my Scrabble skills are abismally poor. A long time ago, I stopped inflicting myself at those of my friends who play this game. I tried playing with strangers online, thinking that, since I don't know them, I won't feel bad by making them suffer through the frustration of playing with me. Eventually, though, I gave up after receiving several polite suggestions that I learn the rules before I subject people to my horrible Scrabble skills.

Now that SCRABBLE is available on Kindle, I can gratify my desire to play the game without making anybody suffer. The Kindle version of the game can be played against yourself, against the computer (at various levels of prowess), and against your friends. I was afraid that it would take the system forever to think of a move, but that turned out not to be the case. The game against the computer proceeds fast. There are in-built functions that help those of us whose Scrabble skills are poor. Graphically, the game is beautiful and very easy to play. The only problem with the game is that now I've been playing it for 2 days and keep putting off grading students' exams.

"It's Just Your Opinion!"

People often respond to things I blog about with this weird reproach: "It's just your opinion!" Well, duh. Of course, I express my opinions on my blog. Wouldn't it be very strange if I expressed somebody else's? In the very fisrt post I ever wrote, I stated that blogging was the way I discovered to express my own opinions, which, unfortunately, is not something a young academic can do freely in their professional setting. Also, the header of the blog announces very clearly that this is what I'm doing here: voicing my opinions. Why some people feel the need repeatedly to reproach me for doing what I always said I was trying to do is impossible for me to comprehend.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Students and Money

My students were doing a group assignment yesterday in my Advanced Spanish Conversation class where they had to list ten things that matter to them the most in life, starting with the most important. One of the groups (consisting exclusively from young women) listed money as their number one priority. Friends came in the 6th place. Love was listed at number eight. The following dialogue took place between me and them:

Professor: I'm a little surprised that money appears as your top priority. How come?

Students: Because you can buy everything else with money.

Professor: Love? Friendship? Health? Happiness?

Students: Of course.

Professor: How about you, Jenny? You shared with us that you have a boyfriend. Doesn't he matter more to you than money?

Jenny (dead serious): Well, you see, professor, if I had money, I could buy myself a much better boyfriend.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Review of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom: Part II

In the first part of my review of Franzen's Freedom: A Novel, I explained why this novel is entertainment rather than art. Now I will tell you why it is really great entertainment.

The main goal of this novel is to make fun of a certain brand of pseudo progressives who proclaim their allegiance to liberal causes on every corner for the simple reason that this allows them to lead their very conservative lifestyles. Franzen's rabid criticisms of the Democrats don't mean, however, that he is in thrall to the Republicans. In Franzen's world, being a Republican means being so pathetic, ridiculous and stupid, that there is hardly even any need to discuss such blighted existences. The saddest thing for him is that the Republicans have colonized the political discourse in this country to the degree where nothing of substance is left of the Democratic agenda:

The conservatives won. They turned the Democrats into a center-right party. They got the entire country singing ‘God Bless America,’ stress on God, at every single major-league baseball game. They won on every fucking front, but they especially won culturally, and especially regarding babies. In 1970 it was cool to care about the planet’s future and not have kids. Now the one thing everyone agrees on, right and left, is that it’s beautiful to have a lot of babies. The more the better. Kate Winslet is pregnant, hooray hooray. Some dimwit in Iowa just had octuplets, hooray hooray. The conversation about the idiocy of SUVs stops dead the minute people say they’re buying them to protect their precious babies.
The main issue that Freedom: A Novel discusses is whether it is possible to uphold progressive values in any significant way in a society where an ultra-conservative discourse has won such a resounding victory.

One of the main theme of the novel is ecology. Its main characters are preoccupied with the ongoing ecological meltdown and pretend to work to diminish its effects. However, their ecological blabber conceals a strong desire to practice very traditional lifestyles under the guise of being hardcore progressives. Preoccupation with ecology are, in their case, a perfect excuse for participating even more fully in consumer culture. Their carefully practiced political correctness is a way of signalling their high social status:

There were also more contemporary questions, like, what about those cloth diapers? Worth the bother? And was it true that you could still get milk delivered in glass bottles? Were the Boy Scouts OK politically? Was bulgur really necessary? Where to recycle batteries? How to respond when a poor person of color accused you of destroying her neighborhood?
Walter, the main character of the novel, is the epitome of pseudo-progressive hypocrisy. The cause that is nearest and dearest to his heart is that of curtailing the population growth. he believes that if the world population keeps growing at the current rate, an ecological catastrophe awaits us:

We just want to make having babies more of an embarrassment. Like smoking’s an embarrassment. Like being obese is an embarrassment. Like driving an Escalade would be an embarrassment if it weren’t for the kiddie argument. Like living in a four-thousand-square-foot house on a two-acre lot should be an embarrassment.
Of course, as usually happens in such cases, Walter is so worried about over-population because he has very personal reasons to do so. Reasons, one might add, that are as un-progressive as possible:

Hidden at the back of his mind was a wish that everybody else in the world would reproduce a little less, so that he might reproduce a little more, once more, with Lalitha. The wish, of course, was shameful: he was the leader of an antigrowth group, he’d already had two kids at a demographically deplorable young age, he was no longer disappointed in his son, he was almost old enough to be a grandfather. And still he couldn’t stop imagining making Lalitha big with child.
All this advocate of curbing population growth really wants is to have yet another baby with an Indian woman half his age.

In spite of the above-mentioned "contemporary questions," the problems that plague the characters of Franzen's novel are caused by nothing other than their incapacity to give up un the patriarchal model of existence. Here again we see such staples of American literature as a perennially depressed, sexually unsatisfied housewife who has antagonized her children by her neediness, a middle-aged man who is incapable of bringing his pseudo-progressive agenda in touch with his desire to be a patriarch, and their children who are crippled by their parents' neuroses.

Keep the Stupid Cat Indoors!

Did you know that 2.7 billion songbirds are killed by cats each year?

Did you know that there are currently between 60 and 100 million cats being kept as house pets in the United States. This may, or may not, include feral cats and strays. About 70% of those cats are outdoor/indoor cats or strictly outdoor cats. That means tens of millions of domestic cats are given the opportunity to kill songbirds, every day?

Did you know that it is estimated that hundreds of millions of migratory songbirds are killed by domestic cats every year. A study conducted by Stanley Temple of the University of Wisconsin showed that domestic cats are responsible for the death of 19 million migratory songbirds a year, in Wisconsin alone. Being that domestic cats are an invasive species and not native to North America, they are not part of the natural food chain there. Not only are they killing birds that would have otherwise been safe from them, but they are doing so at such an alarming rate that they are actually taking food away from the animals that would naturally prey on migratory songbirds?

Did you know that several oft-cited studies form the basis for an estimate of 100 million to 1 billion U.S. songbirds killed annually by domestic cats?

If you didn't know about it before, now you do. So if you absolutely have to have a cat for whatever reason I will never understand, make sure you don't let it outside. My neighbors let their stupid cat roam free for hours every single day. We have a family of birds that is nesting in a tree next to my house, and I'm terrified about what this nasty cat might do to them. Honestly, I just hope that our resident opossum eats it or something.

Songbirds are beautiful and necessary for maintaining the ecological balance in this area. Domestic cats that people keep as furry toys are not. They are not indigenous to this continent, so all they do is destroy the ecological balance.
So please, please just keep the stupid cat indoors already.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Academic Job Search Tips, Part II

These are some more useful things I discovered during my process of looking for a tenure-track position in Humanities:

1. Do the research. When preparing a job talk, it is crucial to find out whether any of the faculty members at the hiring institution have written anything on the subject you will address. Probably, everybody in the world realizes that this needs to be done except me. Once, during a campus visit, my job talk was demolished by a senior faculty member who spent her entire career proving (incorrectly) that what I was saying was not true. The next day, the hiring committee that was very excited about me before started treating me like a leper. Many specializations have theoretical issues that are deemed ideological. You need to find out on what side of the fence members of your hiring committee are located and either say what they want to hear or avoid the subject altogether. In my field of Hispanic Studies, for example, uttering words like "Spanish Enlightenment" or "Spanish Modernism" makes you unemployable at many institutions.

2. "Evidence of active research agenda." These mysterious words that appear on many job announcements are often interpreted incorrectly by many grad students. Working on your dissertation does NOT count as evidence of an active research agenda. You need to have other things going on research-wise. Conferences you attend or organize, articles you submit (hopefully on subjects that differ from the topic of your dissertation) constitute evidence of active research.

3. Teaching and grant-related workshops. I always considered such workshops a complete waste of time, so I never attended them. It came as a complete surprise to me that having a couple of letters stating that you have attended (simply as a listener) this type of workshop boosts one's chance of getting a job tenfold. If you attend a grant proposal writing workshop, that counts as evidence of an active research agenda (see previous item). As weird as that sounds, it's true. A workshop only lasts a couple of hours and can be snoozed through effortlessly. Every workshop you attend sens you a letter confirming your attendance. If you can attach this letter and an explanation of how you implemented what it taught in your teaching or grant applications, that will help you a lot.

4. Tailor your cover letter to the specific institution. It's an incredible drag, I know. The temptation to create just one good letter and send it everywhere is massive. However, taking the extra time to find out what this particular institution needs and addressing it in the letter pays off big time. It is especially useful to address the geographical location of the school where you are applying. Hiring committees are afraid you won't want to live long-term in the often very backwater places where their schools are located. Talk about why and how much you want to live in this particular area. Even if you dread living there.

5. Apply everywhere. Even if a position describes somebody completely different from you, still apply. Hiring works in mysterious ways. I once applied for a position of a specialist in Latin American colonial literature at an Ivy League school. I specialize in contemporary Spanish literature. As you can see, the position advertised and my area of specialization could hardly be more different. The next time I heard from this school was when they sent me a contract to sign.

Some people use this weird strategy of choosing 4 or 5 schools they think will fit them the best and only apply there. In my experience, it is a colossal mistake. Even if your credentials are absolutely fantastic, this is a huge gamble. It is so much smarter to apply absolutely everywhere and have several offers to select from. Any Assistant Professor position is better than to be forced to accept a crappy instructor position where you will work for a pittance and with no benefits teaching a 6:5 course load. Besides, once you get into that track, it is extremely hard to get out of it.

6. Don't get discouraged. Remember: it is probably not your fault. You can craft a perfect letter of intent, gather a brilliant portfolio, finish your outstanding dissertation on time, have a stack of publications to your name, interview beautifully, give the performance of your life at the campus visit, and still not be hired. This is no reason to get discouraged and start doubting yourself (or crying on the phone to your boyfriend for 8 hours about what a screw up you are and how nobody will ever want to hire you if even such a dinky, bakwater place doesn't want you). In all probability, this has nothing to do with you. Only after you work for a few years at a couple of different institutions will you realize how often positions that are advertised are not really available. Hiring committees go through the motions of interviewing people and sitting through their campus visits because that's what the laws require. In reality, they often know already that they want to hire somebody else (a spouse, a friend, an internal candidate, etc.)

Good luck, dear colleague!

Part I of this post is located here.

Ukrainian Blood

I have no idea why the subject of my Ukrainianness keeps coming up today. Must be one of those days where the universe conspires to make one aware of her origins.

After I had a student paint a Ukrainian flag on my hand (see previous post), I decided to donate blood. Before you do that, you have to answer a series of questions. One of them is whether you have lived in Europe since 1980. If the answer is yes, you have to find your European country on a list they give you. Of course, my European country was not listed among the countries of Europe. A long discussion ensued between me and the members of the blood drive team on whether I'm completely sure that Ukraine is, in fact, located in Europe. I kept assuring people that there is no doubt in my (or anybody else's) mind in this respect. Still, I wasn't believed and the blood drive people started making phone calls to other people (and those, in turn, to some other people) in hopes of finding anybody who would know for sure where Ukraine is located.

Forty minutes later, we tentatively established that Ukraine is, indeed, a European country, after which I was finally able to donate blood. I count myself lucky because my Nigerian colleague was barred from donating blood altogether.


A student just painted a Ukrainian flag on my hand.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Blogging Anniversary

This blog has just had its 100,000th visit! (Which is not the same as a pageview, as readers Pagan Topologist and Justin have been kind enough to explain).

The 100,000th visitor hails from Columbus, Ohio. Thank you for coming to the blog, friend! I would also like to thank everybody who has come by to read, comment, share, and argue. My readers are the best and the most intelligent of all readers I have seen on any other blog.

This blog has only existed for a little less than 18 months, and I think that 100,000 visits in this time period is a very good number.

Yay to blogging!!!!!

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Meeting Ukrainians

I know I wrote about this before, but it still bugs me every time this happens. For some reason, people still believe that if I was born in Ukraine I must be really into meeting random Ukrainians with whom I have nothing whatsoever in common. It is as if the fact of being born in the same country somehow means that we must have things to discuss and a burning desire to discuss them.

I keep receiving gleeful communications from people I barely know, telling me that there is a group of Ukrainians coming by and why don't I join them for lunch. Yes, because I'm sitting here dying to have lunch with people I never even met.

This burning desire to bring people together based on their place of birth is as baffling as it is illogical. I left Ukraine for good 12 years ago. Never went back for a visit and have no plans to do that in the future. Ever. Doesn't it stand to reason to assume that if I were so totally into hanging out with Ukrainians, I would have never left the country? I mean, I don't have anything against Ukrainians, but what is there to talk about if we never even met?

Strangely enough, people who know that I'm ethnically Jewish don't do the same thing to me. Maybe it's because they realize how idiotic and anti-semitic it would sound if they were to say: "There is a group of Jews that is about to visit campus, so I'm sure you'd love to hang out with them. You Jews always have stuff to talk about, don't you??"

So now I have to schlep to this weird lunch with unknown Ukrainians and feel like a total idiot all the time I'm sitting there trying to get in touch with some latent Ukrainianness I'm supposed to possess.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Figured Out Why the IT Guy Hates Me!

Thanks to one of my favorite blogs, I now know why my IT guy hates me. This is exactly how I do my Google searches. I have noticed that the IT guy would make these choking noises while observing me do stuff on my office computer. So this is the reason, huh? Interesting. . .

I will try the new system tomorrow, though, and see how it works. Maybe I will invite the IT guy over to watch my newfound computer prowess.

If the cartoon is too small and you can't see it, click on it or go here and zoom in.

I Need Help Making Sense of Traffic Counters

If there are people who understand how this stuff works, please help me make sense out of this mystery. I've been using http://www.statcounter.com/ for information on the number of visits to my blog. Now, I have also started using the Blogger hit counter, which is powered by Google and is in-built into this site. The problem is that these two counters show widely divergent numbers of hits on this blog. And I mean very very different. I have blocked both counters from counting my own visits to this blog, so I know that the problem lies elsewhere. Does anybody have any idea which one of these hit counters I should trust? And why the numbers they give are so different?

If you are wondering why I care about it enough to dedicate an entire post to it - I have Asperger's, I count things, it's just the way it is. And when I can't count things correctly, it really really bothers me. Thanks in advance for any help!

When Did the Stereotypes that Sustain Mail Order Bride Business First Appear?

Countries where women are less attractive are no less disorderly than those where women are better proportioned and graceful. Even in Russia, which has the highest number of beautiful women than any other European country, the sexual excesses are not as uncontrollable as in other countries, and spousal loyalty is maintained a lot more strictly there.
                                                                                -Benito Jeronimo Feijoo, 1726. (Translation mine)

Thanks to my dear friend Olivier, who sent me this beautiful quote, I now know that the ridiculous stereotypes that make the entire mail order bride industry possible already existed in 1726. Even then, people believed in this myth of exceptionally beautiful and loyal Russian women. As a Russian-speaking, if not Russian, woman I find this too annoying for words.

Annoying Type of Bloggers

You know which type of blogger I find the most annoying? The one who publishes nothing but posts with very catchy titles that contain nothing but a link to a post by another blogger that contains nothing but a link to another post that, in turn, contains. . . You get the picture. Does anybody really believe that their readers have enough time to follow this endless chain of links because of a vague promise that something fun can be located at the end of the line?

I understand that everyone wants to give traffic to their friends who have linked to their own friends, and so on. But please, people, let's be respectful of each other's time. Just link directly to the damn article you want the people to read. It would also be really helpful if you expressed your own attitude to the piece you are linking to. Do you agree? Disagree? Why do you think it's an important article to read? Contribute something every once in a while.

I will now be cleaning my blogroll of everybody who has done this to me for 5 times in a row.

Another blogging offense that really bothers me is posting statements like: "Everybody, read this book, it's amazing!" And then posting the book's title. If you feel the burning need to share your love for the book in question, is it too much to ask that you mention what the stupid book is about? Is it fiction? Journalism? Textbook? Short stories? Novel? Play? Biography?

Everybody writes a stupid post or makes a silly blogging mistake from time to time but if you do this to your readers every day, then don't complain nobody comes to your blog.

Banning Student Use of Technology in the Classroom

McGill University in Canada is my alma mater and the most wonderful educational institution in the world. However, it is now one of the leaders in an unfortunate tendency to police student use of communication devices in the classroom:
Arash Abizadeh, a McGill political science professor, has already taken advantage of the new guidelines by completely banning the use of mobile computing or communication devices in his classrooms, barring extenuating circumstances. Abizadeh cited multiple studies linking evidence of the use of such devices in the classroom to poor academic performance, greater distraction for users and fellow students, and decreased ability to "digest and synthesize" main points.
As I said before, such measures reek of desperation experienced by professors who have no idea how to make their students interested in their subject. Enforcing such rules also infantilizes students by robbing them of a chance to learn to make their own choices and bear the consequences of those choices. If some of the students make a decision to waste the money they are paying for me to educate them, how is that my problem? If they believe it is more important for them to update their Facebook page than listen to my discussion of the Picaresque novel in Spain, who am I to argue with that belief? They are adults, they should learn to make these decisions for themselves. The are old enough to know where their own priorities lie.

The funny thing is that those same professors who keep moaning about the growing immaturity of today's college students are the ones who are the first to implement such high-school-like measures. As for me, I couldn't care less how students spend their time during my lectures. My job is to make my knowledge available to them. If they choose to forego the great opportunity to learn from me, that is their loss, not mine.

Art or Entertainment? A Review of Franzen's Freedom, Part I

I didn't buy Jonathan's Franzen's Freedom because of some spat this writer apparently had with Oprah. Nor did I buy it because, according to rumors, President Obama was so eager to read it that he rushed to the publishing house to get an advance copy. I also did not buy it because of the comparisons many readers and critics have made between Franzen and Philip Roth. I bought the book simply because of its length. As I mentioned before, I cannot resist a novel that is over 500 pages long, so I did not resist this one.

I want to begin this review of Freedom: A Novel by putting to rest the perennial questions of whether Franzen is "the new Philip Roth" and whether this is "the next great American novel." My answers are: no he isn't and no it isn't. This is a very good book, I have enjoyed it thoroughly. This is one of those books that preclude you from doing anything else until you finish it. It is, however, not a work of art. It is great entertainment that has nothing to do with literature. Now, whenever I say things like that, people interpret them as an attempt to denigrate a novel. They believe that entertainment is some kind of a lower-quality art. This cannot be further from the truth. Art and entertainment are things of a completely different order, like a star and a steak, a river and a song. They cannot be placed into the hierarchy of better vs worse because they don't belong in the same category of phenomena and do not serve the same purpose.

There are two main characteristics that place Freedom: A Novel into the category of entertainment rather than art. One is the author's use of artistic means, in this case, the language. Franzen has an unfortunate tendency to find a cliche he really likes and then reiterate it to death. To give an example, he comes up (pun intended) with the following metaphor that has been done to death long before Franzen chanced upon it: "His prophetic dick, his divining rod." Then, the author keeps returning to this tired image, as if he feared that the readers missed it the first 15 times he brought it up (pun intended, once again.) Even if he were the first writer ever to create this metaphor (which he is not by far), this insistence on such a clumsy image is similar to Dr. Phil's repeated use of his trademark cliches: "Who's gonna buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?", "Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?", etc.

Franzen also has trouble avoiding pomposity. The narrative flow of Freedom: A Novel is often interrupted by statements whose grandiloquence is completely out of sync with the tone of the scene. For instance, the author spends half the novel ridiculing a really horrible marriage of two completely mismatched people. The narrator pokes vicious fun at their pathetic attempts at a sex life: "Craving sex with her mate was one of the things (OK, the main thing) she’d given up in exchange for all the good things in their life together" and "the weekly thirty minutes of sexual stress was a chronic but low-grade discomfort, like the humidity in Florida." This is beautifully said and very funny, as I'm sure everybody will agree. Then, Franzen has to go and spoil this verbal beauty by slipping into annoying and completely misplaced pomposity. After sex, these same two people "lay and held each other in the quiet majesty of long marriage." Once again, this reminds me of Dr. Phil. He would bring some really horrible parent to his show (like that woman who follows her 27-year-old daughter on every single date she has ever had) and launch into a pompous rant on how they are a great parent who obviously truly loves their child.

Another reason why Freedom: A Novel is entertainment rather than art is that there is nothing in this novel worth analyzing. As much as I loved reading it, I would not be able to teach it in a course. There is nothing to teach or discuss. The author explains everything with so much painstaking detail as to leave no room for the reader to have a single thought of their own. After doing that, he explains his ideas once again. And a couple of pages later, even one more time in case there are still some readers who misunderstood his purpose. In short, I will know that there is no hope for the system of higher education in this country when novels like this one become part of college curricula.

(To be continued. . .) 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Words of Wisdom from My Father

My father is an important scholar of applied linguistics. He is also a gifted writer, whose short stories and novels have been published in several different countries. As a writer, he has this way of putting things that is wise, incisive, and hilarious. So I just wanted to share a small excerpt from our correspondence with my readers:
Americans love their flag like a wounded person loves his bandage. And they love the word 'America' as Shakespearians like the word 'Shakespeare', the only difference being that Shakespeare dropped no bombs on anybody.
Now do you see where I get my brilliant wit?

Here is more:
America teaches the whole world human rights - which makes it look like a teacher who never attended school.
 I will share these two statements with my students tomorrow and see what happens.

Sarah Palin Advances Feminist Goals

Don't worry, gentle reader, I haven't suddenly gone insane and decided to agree with Sarah Palin's claims that she is a true feminist. The politics she promotes is profoundly hateful towards women, repressive, and patriarchal. At best, her feeble attempts to sell herself as a feminist icon are  risible. At worst, they are deeply offensive.

However, when I heard about one of her recent speeches in Louisville, KY, here is what I thought. Palin is popular with the most conservative, rabidly patriarchal segment of our population. Women who attend her speeches have been brainwashed since birth with a pseudo-Christian propaganda of female subjection. Finding a husband to please and obey, popping out babies, cooking, cleaning, going to Church, relinquishing control over their bodies, their sexuality, their professional and spiritual realization - that's the dreary life path shared by Sarah Palin's female listeners.

So I imagine them sitting there, wiped out by a life of drudgery, of endless repetitive household chores, of feeling like they have achieved nothing comparable to the important things done by their husbands, never having a real voice, never being able to travel, to be financially independent, to have a life of their own. And then there is Sarah Palin speaking to them from the podium. Delivering, of course, all the expected ultra-patriarchal cliches. But still, what her listeners see in front of them is a well-dressed, well-groomed, very rich woman who has a very active public life, a very successful career, who definitely has her own voice (albeit a very shrill one), who so obviously would have never been content with a life limited to cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing, whose husband is obviously a lot weaker than she is and who needs her a lot more than she needs him.

All this has got to register on some level with Palin's female audiences. They have to start experiencing a vague realization that they have been cheated out of many important things by the environment where they grew up. That they, too, could have had a life. Maybe after seeing Sarah Palin a few times, they will secretly start wishing that their daughters choose Palin's way of independence instead of their mothers' way of subjection and drudgery.

The Dean Showed Me a Penis Bone

A walrus's penis bone
I'm sorry, people, I just had to share this story. I was having lunch with our Dean today. Before going into administration, he used to be a marine biologist. One of the things he used to show to his students (to an understandably great acclaim) was a penis bone of a walrus. I don't know about you, but I had no idea that penis bones actually existed in nature. I always thought there were part of folklore. The bone the Dean showed me was smaller than the one in the picture but it's still one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen. Just imagine how many things about our human culture would be completely different, if human males had something like this.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Academic Job Search Tips, Part I

The reader sarcozona, whose great blog can be found here, asked me to share my experiences during an academic job search. I was on the job market for two years. The first time, I got a Visiting Professor position and the second time, a tenure-track job. In the process, I discovered how unprepared we, the ABDs and the newly-minted PhDs, often are for the demans of an academic job search. If I were to go on the job market now, I would do pretty much everything differently. So here are some of my suggestions:

1. Forget about the dissertation. Contrary to what they drill into us at mock job interviews in our grad schools, prospective employers couldn't care less about our dissertations. They care that the dissertation a) will be finished and defended on time and b) that our research will allow us to teach a wide variety of courses. So if your cover letter includes a detailed description of your dissertation topic, throw it out. Instead, say things like, "Three chapters are already finished and approved by the thesis director. I am absolutely positive that I will submit the entire dissertation on March 15 and will defend it in May. My thesis adviser agrees with this timeline." Whenever you are asked to talk about the dissertation topic during interviews, make sure you explain that this research will allow you to teach several different courses on different levels.

2. Make people forgive you for being an Ivy. If you happen to be doing your PhD at an Ivy League school, you have to know that instead of offering you this huge advantage you always hoped it would, it might turn out to be an equally huge liability. People thing that Ivies are stuck up, condescending and superior. You need to be as humble, self-effacing and modest as you can to let people see that is not the case with you. Never say things like,"What we do at Princeton is . . .," "The way this course is taught at Yale is . . .," "We have these great facilities at Harvard that  . . ."

3. Make yourself useful. As much as we want to believe that the purpose of an academic job search is to provide us with employment that will allow us the freedom and the resources to pursue our research, that is not really the case. Employers want people who will serve employers' purposes, not their own. You have to state very clearly that you love teaching lower-level courses and courses outside your area of expertise. There is a high probability that you will not get to teach a course in your area of specialized interest for years. You need to make clear that you understand this and are happy about this.

4. Remember that it's the person who gets hired, not a list of credentials. Between a candidate with fantastic credentials and the one who isn't as well qualified, the one who will get hired every single time is the one who has the nicest personality and who looks like they would fit this particular department the best on a personal level. I'm very proud of my CV, my degrees, my teaching experiences, and my publications. But the reason I was hired as stated by the Chair of my department was that I'm "nice, outgoing, and fun." People who have been reading this blog for a while know that I have autism, so I'm neither of these things. So as they say in sales, "Fake it till you make it."

5. Don't complain. Another useful slogan I borrowed from people in sales is "Less bitching, more pitching." No matter how lousy your grad school experience has been, you can never ever give even a slight hint of that during job interview. Everything is perfect, everybody is great and kind, your colleagues are fantastic, and your thesis director is helpful. Even if you know that the person interviewing you has been involved in a mortal feud with a senior faculty member at your department, you still can't even hint at disliking them. Say you haven't had much contact with that person because your focus is on finishing the dissertation as fast as possible. Which you plan to do by March 15 and defend it in May. And your thesis adviser agrees.

Part II of this post is located here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why Is Kindle Advertisement So Uninspired?

When Amazon's Kindle first appeared on the market in December of 2007, it was a completely revolutionary device that changed forever the way people read, buy, publish and sell books. Since then, many other companies realized that the future belongs to electronic reading devices and started making and selling their own. I was one of the early adopters of the Kindle and my level of hapiness with this - I can't even bring myself to call it a device - beautiful thing keeps growing.

What I find very suprising, though, is Amazon's utter failure to advertise the Kindle. First TV commercials that featured it were really idiotic and incomprehensible even to someone who has been using the Kindle for years. The commercials consisted of some really silly cartoon where a person dropped it in the water and then dived in to recover it. A very weird and annoying song played in the background. All any reasonable person could deduce from this commercial was that the Kindle is water resistant, which it absolutely isn't. No actual characteristics and capabilities of the Kindle were even remotely referred to in this commercial.

Then last May, iPad hit the markets. Hardcore Kindlers like me know that in what concerns electronic reading the Kindle has significant advantages over the iPad. For one, the Kindle is a lot smaller and weighs a lot less than the bulky iPad. The Kindle is perfect to be carried in a woman's handbag, while the iPad requires a backpack to be carried with you at all times. The Kindle has its own keypad, so you don't have to touch the screen all the time, leaving nasty fingerprints on it. Another area in which Kindle is a lot better is that it can be read in direct sunlight. The iPad can't do that. Its screen works like a computer screen. You can't use it on the beach, on a picnic, or pretty much anywhere outside. This, of course, defeats the entire purpose of having an electronic reading device. (The iPad is actually significantly bigger than my netbook, which does fit into most of my handbags and is a real computer, with a real keyboard.)

So did Amazon do anything to publicize these crucial differences between the Kindle and the iPad? Not really. At least, not until today. I just saw for the first time ever a commercial that points out how useless the iPad is compared to the Kindle for reading on the beach. Today is September 19, and the whole topic of reading outside in the sunlight is kind of passé. This commercial would have made perfect sense in May and during the summer. What the hell is Amazon trying to achieve with these utterly inept and completely half-hearted attempts to promote the best thing they have ever come up with? This is enough to make a passionate Kindler very angry.

Why Are Young Americans So Interested in Religion?

I was grading my students' essays yesterday and was taken aback by how many of them thought it necessary to mention that they are Christians. Believe me, I did not solicit this information from them in any way. They had to show an admirable degree of inventiveness to insert this information into an essay on a completely unrelated topic. This made me wonder why so many young Americans, especially in the Bible Belt where I happen to live for the moment, are so interested in religion.

In other developed countries, you will be hard-pressed to find anybody in their teens and twenties who would mention their religious affiliation with this degree of insistence. Most young people in Western Europe have no religious affiliation. Even in Spain, the country where a Catholic fascist dictatorship remained in power until 1975, you will not find anybody younger than 50 attending Mass. Even 50-year-olds are few and far between at religious functions. Most people who give any thought at all to religion in Spain are in their 70ies and 80ies. So why are young Americans so different from their European peers in this regard?
Part of the answer might be that if you don't go to church in this area of the country, there is nothing else to do, no other way to entertain yourself and spend time with other kids your age. Churches are the only institutions that organize activities for kids and young adults. Otherwise, life in the American Midwest is mind-numbingly boring. Young people here can't go to bars or night-clubs until they are 21. Even then, there are hardly any bars and night-clubs worth visiting. Most of them are geared towards a far older clientele. In the tiny college town where I live, there are quite a few pricey bars and restaurants where a university professor can go to partake of expensive wine and gourmet dinners. There is one sleazy looking place where one can go to dance and imbibe really horrible liquor. There are a couple of family-oriented bars/cheap restaurants. There is one tiny movie theater that is sold out pretty much every weekend. And that's all there is for miles and miles and miles. Mind you, our town is the liveliest place in the area. The rest of small towns here don't even have these paltry entertainment choices.

It isn't so surprising, then, that kids gravitate towards churches. This, of course, works to the advantage of the religious Right. These children and young adults can be brainwashed at an early age and turned into faithful Republican voters starting with their very first visit to the voting booth.

I'll Never Understand Americans

I'm watching the most recent episode of Project Runway and the challenge is to design an outfit honoring the style of an American icon of fashion and style. . . Jackie Kennedy Onassis.


A person who had the great taste to marry this?

And who walked around dressed like this? Who had all the money in the world and chose to don a cheap stewardess outfit?

I mean, just look at this embarrassing monstrosity. Not every mail-order bride would stoop this low in her hunt for riches.

I don't want to offend anybody's ultra-patriotic American sensibilities but has there ever been anything more vulgar that the entire Kennedy clan?

And if you are about to break into a rant about J. F. Kennedy's progressive views, please don't. The guy was so pig-headed that if the Soviet Union's Nikita Khrushev hadn't backed down, there would have been a full-fledged nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the US. And one obviously has to work hard to be even more stupid and pig-headed than Khrushev.

I understand that every culture is in need of its icons but this is too sad, people. Bailouts to Goldman Sachs and Co demonstrated that Americans do, indeed, find it fashionable to get screwed by filthy rich disgusting old farts. Is it in that sense that Jackie Kennedy is considered "a fashion icon"?

PhD Vanity

I read a couple of blog posts making fun of recent PhDs who put up all their diplomas on their office walls, sign their customs declaration as a 'Doctor' and have the automatic signature in their e-mails say Dr. XYZ. Of course, doing these things is silly, vain and obnoxious. But come one, people, is it so hard to understand?

Can't a person be permitted this tiny little spot of vanity after suffering through years of graduate penury, explotation by the university, contempt and abuse at the hands of senior faculty, insults from the thesis director, being told that every single word you have ever published is garbage and crap, your writing is horrible, terrible, awful, dreadful gobbledy-gook, going through several 9-month-long job searches, feeling like a total nobody at the MLA convention in your leaky shoes and the only decent business suit that you maxed out yet another credit card to buy while your well-off potential employers who have chosen to conduct inerviews in the most expensive hotel you have ever seen and where you can't afford even a stupid cup of coffee make fun of you and humiliate you? Can't a person be allowed to hang on their walls a couple of diplomas if it makes them feel good about of themselves after getting 92 letters of rejection in their first year of looking for a job and 77 in the second?

After killing themselves to deliver a great class and a great presentation during a campus visit only to discover that the job had been promised to somebody's friend or spouse all along?

After being pawed and salivated over by a vile old professor for years and being terrified to say anything because he has the power to destroy your career?

After being asked by a professor to do them small house-cleaning or baby-sitting "favors" and being terrified of the consequences when you refuse?

After being accused by an old and respected male academic at your very first international congress of having had your talk written for you by your (male) thesis adviser (the obvious suggestion being that you are sleeping with him)?

After having a male grad school colleague interrupt your presentation with "We all know, Clarissa, that compared to a man, a woman is a lack and an absence"?

After having the rest of your male grad school colleagues (except you, Oli, you are a star) spreading the most vicious gossip about all the male and female faculty members you supposedly slept with to get your perfect grades?

After moving four times in two years between different countries and states on no money whatsoever?

After seeing your mother cry and say for the gazillionth time, "Why on earth did you have to choose this idiotic academic career instead of having a real job like all normal people, like all my friends' kids who can now start  helping out their parents?" and having nothing at all to respond because all she says is true?

After learning that in every intellectual discussion where male colleagues are present you have to learn to scream at the top of your lungs and actually punch them or restrain them physically to get yourself heard?

After breaking up with yet another guy who is intimidated and driven to impotence by your incapacity to pretend that his uninformed arguments are, in fact, logical and convincing?

After hearing I don't even know how many times, "You really want me to believe that you are doing a PhD at Yale? Ha ha ha. How much have you had to drink?"

After realizing that your Slavic last name makes you next to unemployable in the field of Hispanic Studies, no matter how fantastic your credentials are?

After discovering that at the age of 31 you will have to get your much younger sister to feed your for the next week because you have absolutely no money to pay for groceries and even though you received a great job offer you have to refuse it because you are too honest not to honor the agreement you entered into with your grad school?

After realizing at the same ripe age of 31 that you can't afford to take a bus in the city of Montreal because the bus fare is $2.50 and you don't even have that puny amount? And being too humiliated to confess this shameful mendacity to anybody because it makes you look too pathetic.

I didn't put up any of my diplomas on my office walls for the simple reason that office walls in my buildings are covered with some weird metal sheeting. I have no idea what kind of genius thought it a good idea to turn professor's offices into a bunker, but there you have it. I do, however, have the automatic signature in my university e-mail say Dr. "Clarissa." And when I got my first tenure-track job, I put a label "Dr. Clarissa X" on the door of my house. I know how ridiculous that makes me sound, but after everything I just shared with you about my grad school experiences, this little act of vindication made me feel so good that I refuse to feel bad about it.

Searches That Bring People to This Blog

I have no idea why but I never used this function of my blog's statcounter before. Now I did and discovered that people sometimes get directed here by asking questions I never answered. So I decided to make these folks' lives easier and provide my answers to their queries.

1. "what kind of jobs can a female with asburgers do": There are various possibilities here. A female (just like a male) with ASPERGER'S can do any job she wishes to do. A female with ass burgers is more difficult to define in terms of possible employment. If she nakes these ass burgers, she can open a chain of restaurants and become a new McDonald's. If the burgers are growing out of her ass, she can become a porn star.

2. "is latisses safe to use while breastfeeding": The correct question should be why would anybody in their right mind take prescription medication to make their lashes grow whether they are breastfeeding or not??? People, come on! This shit is so potent that it can change your eye color for good. I'd use Latisse to test a doctor to see if s/he is a quack or a responsible medical professional. If a doctor agrees to prescribe you this rubbish, how can they be trusted with one's health?

3. "is eat pray love racist": The book is based on the assumption that brown people exist to entertain bored rich American women. Do you think that's racist?

4. "why do people hate religion?": Do people really need to do a Google search for that? Pick up a history textbook or simply turn on television and you will have your answer.

5. "why people immigrate to quebec": As somebody who emigrated to Quebec 12 years ago, I can answer that question with one simple set of figures for you to consider. As a penniless immigrant, I did a BA and an MA at the best university in Canada. After getting my diplomas, I had absolutely no school-related debt. Not a dime. Now, if I had emigrated to the US and got 2 degrees at, say Harvard, which in Canada we call the McGill of the South, I would have graduated with a debt of at least $300,000.

6. "is it ok to hate kids": As long as you aren't doing anything bad to them, then sure, why not. I really respect people who decide not to have children because they simply don't like kids. They are a lot more honest (and a lot less damaging) than those who force themselves to have kids because that's what society expects from them and then abuse and neglect those poor children.

7. "had a c section and feel like failure": Please, don't! Just don't. You brought a person into this world. You created an actual human being. That's huge, lady. Who cares how exactly you did it? Don't let this stupid anti-c-section propaganda make you feel bad about yourself and make you feel like you are less of a woman or anything like that. Enjoy your child and be proud of yourself. And tell anybody who criticizes you for havinga c-section exactly where they can stick their stupid anti-woman propaganda.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reading Student Essays . . . Again

It's that time of the year and I'm back to reading student essays. The most hilarious thing so far was the reference to "Jewish programs that took place in Europe in the XIV century." After I read three essays discussing these "Jewish programs", I finally figured out that my students were referring to Jewish pogroms. I never thought such a tragic topic would ever make me laugh as hard as it did.

There has been a good surprise among these essays, though: I discovered a student who is a talented writer. It's great to see somebody who is so stylistically gifted by nature. I even feel a little jealous.

This is the third semester in a row I'm teaching this trademark course of mine on Hispanic civilization. Every new group of freshmen (it's a freshman course) is better than the previous one. Every semester I discover that I need to make review questions, exams and quizzes more difficult than the ones I used last semester. Every time, the questions they ask me get more incisive and harder to answer. Sometimes, I want to stop and ask: "Did you just ask me this? How on Earth did you think of asking me this?" So to those who like to bemoan the stupidity and the lack of intellectual curiosity in today's teenagers I can only answer that they have no idea what they are talking about.

And in what concerns "Jewish programs," the first semester I taught this course there were lists and lists of similar bloopers which I published on this blog. This time, the "Jewish programs" have been the only real mistake fnny enough to post.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gay Activist Kidnapped by Authorities in Russia

Alekseev is dragged away by the police during a peaceful gay pride
event he organized
 The most famous gay activist in Russia, Nikolai Alekseev, has been detained by Russian authorities in the Domodedovo airport when he was trying to leave the country on business.

Russian authorities have been pressuring Alekseev to get him to withdraw the cases against the homophobic actions of the Russian Federation that his organization has pending with the European Court of Human Rights.

Russian militia is detaining a gay activist
 For years, Alekseev and his supporters have been trying to organize a Gay Pride event in Moscow. Every time, the homophobic local government bans the parade and brutally attacks the people who gather to attend it. Moscow's mayor Yury Luzhkov is a notorious homophobe. He has repeatedly denounced all attempts to hold a Gay Pride Parade in Moscow. The mayor, who is the most powerful and feared person in Moscow, is well-known for his vile homophobic statements.

At this point, nobody seems to know for sure what happened to Alekseev, where he was taken, and who is sending text messages from his cell phone claiming that Alekseev is ready to withdraw his court claims against Russian authorities and leave the country for good.

In 1993, sexual acts between consenting males were decriminalized in Russia. Since then, the Russian gay community has gained visibility and has worked hard to promote a message of tolerance. Still, Russia's official attitude to sexual minorities has remained viciously homophobic.

Another Free Guest Pass Key for Starcraft II

Here is another free guest pass key for the new Starcraft II. The person who gets here first will be able to use it for free for 7 hours of game time or 14 days from activation (whichever comes first):



1. Go to www.starcraft2.com/guest

2. Create a Battle.net account or log into the one you already have.

3. Enter the Guest Pass Key into the field provided.

Have fun!

Do "We" Need A Cure?

Autism-related websites are filled with parents of autistics clamoring: "A cure! We need a cure!" Good, I thought, when I first read such statements. These parents love their children and want to give them a family whose members are more like them. That's why they are hoping a cure for their neurotypicality will be found soon, so they can join their children in the world of autism. Just like the loving parents in Ray Bradbury's story about a child who was born into a different dimension.

Soon enough I realized that the "we" in these "We need a cure!" slogans refers to these parents' desire to pump their children full of drugs in order to make them more "normal." When they say "we", they mean that they have decided that their children need to be cured from their way of being. It's hardly surprising that a child would want to escape to a world of her own in a family environment where her parents are incapable of seeing where they end and she begins, where they confuse their own wishes with her needs.

The line of reasoning these parents offer for wanting a "cure" for their children is that it pains them to imagine their kids having to navigate the world that is hostile to autism and difficult for autistics to live in. They forget to mention, of course, that they are the ones who created this unhospitable society and keep it in place through their belief that there is something intrinsically wrong with the autistic way of being.There is no difference between them and the parents of gay or transgender children who subject their kids to all kinds of inhumane "treatments." You'll never hear them recognize their own homophobia and transphobia. "Oh no, I'm not homophobic," they'll say. "But so many other people are and I want to protect my child from their hatred. That's why I want to do all I can to make him not gay." A similar way of thinking inspires people who send their teenage children to plastic surgeons. "I love my kid no matter how she looks," they claim. "But it's objectively easier for a woman to live in our society if she has a bigger chest and a straight nose. I'm only doing this for her own good."

This is the pinnacle of consumerism. You create a child (who, mind you, never requested to be brought into this world in the first place) and then you find the product you got unsatisfactory and start paying for improvements. The "improve-your-kid" project allows one to consume an ever-growing number of goods and services, which is the only thing that can make a consumerist mentality happy. The plastic surgeons, sellers of treatments for homosexuality, pill-pushing psychotherapists, the pharmaceutical companies are always ready to oblige. And it's not that hard to find something worng and in need of a "cure" in your child if you look hard enough. She is too boisterous and active? Oh, she must have ADD, let's pump her full of Ritalin. She is too quiet and solitary? Oh, then she must have autism. We need a cure! We need a cure now!

The funny thing is that if autism were "cured," there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the very same parents who are now clamoring for the cure for autism would find something else wrong with their children and start demanding a cure for that.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Corporate Charity

This is a true story. I just heard of a company that is holding a cupcake sale for the cure of . . . diabetes.

Next thing they will hold a cigarette sale for the victims of lung cancer.

Saving Modern Languages at Swansea U: A Petition

Republican Soviets and Soviet Republicans

One of the reasons I dislike the Republicans so much is their wholehearted adoption of Soviet-style political practices. If this comparison surprises you, that's only because you have been taken in by the anti-Soviet blustering they maintained during the Cold War years. In reality, though, whenever I talk to a Republican or see one on television, I feel like I've been transported right back into the Soviet Union. Here are some of the commonalities between the Soviets and the Republicans.

1. Militarism. Having a huge military machine that would consume the greater part of the state budget is something that both Republicans and Soviets find near and dear to their hearts. Invading people "for their own good" characterizes the foreign policy of both these groups.

2. Homophobia. The Soviet leaders fulfilled the Republican dream of making homosexuality punishable with prison sentences.

3. "Too big to fail" type of economy. Just like the Republicans, the Soviets gave huge bailouts to unwieldy, unprofitable corporations to keep them in existence against all logic and reason.

4. Puritanical morality. Soviet sex ed classes were the Republican dream come true. Abstinence until marriage was the only acceptable way of being. High schools and universities had mandatory gynecological exams whose goal was to establish which female students were not virgins. The lists of girls who weren't virgins were publicized and these girls were shamed publicly. Sounds like music to Republican ears, doesn't it? Contraceptives were not outlawed in the USSR but were impossible to buy anywhere, which amounts to the same thing.

5. Jingoism. The cloying flag-waving patriotism in the Soviet Union was formulated and promoted in ways that would bring tears of joyful recognition to the eyes of every hard-core Republican.

6. Hatred of the poor and the unemployed. If a person is unemployed and can't find a job, it's their own fault, right? Or at least, that's what every Republican likes to believe. The Soviet leaders carried this conviction to its ultimate consequences and gave out prison sentences to people who found themselves out of work. Social mobility in the Soviet Union was completely impossible. Just as impossible as the Republican would like to have it.

7. Hatred of the Humanities. No other branch of learning suffered as much persecution in the USSR as the Humanities. A Republican would weep with joy observing the completely castrated Soviet Humanities.

8. Hatred of hairy hippies and intellectual elites. How many times have we heard the Republicans thunder against long-haired hippies and nasty intellectuals who pervert the wholesome American youngsters? Welcome to the USSR where a man who let his hair grow longer than a crew cut would be expelled from school or fired from his job. Hippies were routinely rounded up by the police and beaten up. Intellectuals were treated like public enemies, ridiculed, and criticized to death.

So these are just a few similarities between the Republicans and the Soviets. You can find a lot more as soon as you start looking carefully. I tried to come up with any significant differences between them but can think of nothing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Some of the Features of This Blog

In this post, I'm going to list some of the features of this blog that people might not have noticed before and might want to use more in the future.

1. Pages. Right now, we have 4 pages on this blog. "Home", which is the one where you are right now and where new posts appear. "Activism" where I give links to some important causes you can support by writing letters or e-mails. "Asperger's" where I collected some of my best posts on autism. "Controversy" where I brought together some of my most controversial posts. I will add more pages in the future, so keep checking them out.

2. Translator. On the right, you have a translator that can automatically translate the blog posts into a few different languages. As all free translators, this one is very far from perfect. Sometimes, it's just fun to use it to see how many mistakes it makes.

3. Sharing. Underneath the translator and this blog's e-mail, you have a button that allows you to share my posts on Facebook and Twitter. Obviously, when you share my posts, that makes me very happy, so continue doing that.

4. Twitter. These are some of my most recent tweets.

5. Clarissa's Blog on Kindle. If you press this button, you will see the Amazon page of this blog. there, you can read some of the nice things my Kindle readers have said about the blog.

6. Search This Blog. This is a very useful function that allows you to enter any word, name, or concept and see if I blogged about it.

7. Search 2.0. This is a very cool function where you can enter any book title to see if it's available on Amazon. This search box will take you directly to Amazon where you can browse, buy, or read the great reviews people (including me) are posting. Of course, when you buy something on Amazon after getting there from my blog, that benefits me financially a little bit, so I'm all for everybody doing that. :-) Don't worry, Amazon divulges no personal information to me and I have no way of knowing who bought what.

8. Recent comments. This box allows you to see what people have been commenting recently. It takes a while to refresh, so don't worry if your most recent comment doesn't show up instantaneously. It will be there eventually.

9. Labels. This is a list of tags I have used in my posts. The ones that come in the largest letters are the ones I blog about most often.

10. Followers. Unfortunately, not every reader can be an offical follower. You need to have your own blog with Blogger, or at least a Blogger profile to become a follower. So mostly, my followers are fellow bloggers. Thank you, guys! I remember when I only had 1 follower and it felt very lonely.

11. The Blog Archive, Useful Links, and Amazon Ads need no explanation.

12. Map. If you scroll down, you will see this cute little map. It is usually wildly wrong on the number of visitors, either giving a lot more or a lot less visitors than actually came to the blog on a given day. In spite of its incurable inaccuracy, though, I like it because it shows from which parts of the world my readers come and that's really cool.

13. Countdown. At the very bottom of the page, you can see this really pretty countdown that is counting how much time this lazy layabout academic still has to go until the next long summer holidays. Today, there are still 7 months and 3 weeks until the end of the academic year.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Random Things I Like

1. Bubble baths. I can stay in a bathtub for hours, reading, eating, talking on the phone, planning my classes. People keep telling me how bubble baths are horribly bad for my health and I will die a painful death as a result. But at least I will die happy, so that makes it worth it. :-)

2. Peaches. My passion for peaches is borderline obsessive. The months when peaches are not sold are sad and painful for me. I especially love doughnut peaches, and if you don't know what it is, see the picture on the right and do yourself a favor, buy some. They are heavenly.

3. Kindle. I know I have most of the regular readers of this blog sick and tired of my peans to Kindle, so I won't say anything more about it. I only want to mention that I sometimes put it to bed next to me on a special pillow. And if that sounds too weird, remember, I have autism, so I get very attached to objects.

4. Airports. I love hanging out in airports. Every airport has a personality of its own. Some are cold and distant, some are friendly and welcoming. I have many special memories attached to many different airports across the globe. Curiously, my feelings toward a particular airport have nothing to do with how I feel about the city where it's located. For example, I adore Montreal and consider it the best city in North America. It's Pierre Trudeau airport, though, is one of the most unwelcoming places and I have a very strained relationship with is. Detroit, on the other hand, I don't like too much. But I'm in love with its airport. It's one of the coolest places in the world.

5. Potatoes. I think I'm suffering from a serious addiction to potatoes. If I don't eat any for a week, I will suffer withdrawal symptoms. Does anybody know what it is in potatoes that can cause addiction? I'm baffled. Of course, I come from a potato-loving culture, so it isn't that surprising.

6. Sand clocks. I have no idea why but I have been mesmerized by sand clocks since early childhood. When I was little, I wanted one so much that I actually stole it from another little girl. I'm still ashamed of that but I honestly couldn't help it, I just felt that I needed to have it at all costs. Of course, I didn't manage to conceal this theft, which was very embarrassing. Thankfully, my mother was very understanding. She went to talk with the people whose clock I stole and I ended up keeping it with no punishment and no questions asked. And don't worry, I haven't stolen anything since then. Probably because I never met another sand clock that I would like as much. :-)

7. Silver rings. I love wearing silver rings on every finger. My students are so used to seeing me in my rings that once when I came to class not wearing any, a student exclaimed: "Oh my God, are you sick? Where are your rings?" Now I always wear them so as not to alarm my students.

8. Very long books. Whenever I see a book that is 1000 pages or longer, I just have to have it no matter what it is about. Last week, for example, I barely managed to resist the urge to buy a medical textbook that I obviously wouldn't have had any use for. I wanted it simply because it was so beautifully huge.

9. Writing reviews at Amazon. People who are seriously into writing Amazon reviews will understand me when I say that it's a complex and demanding hobby. There are tricks and strategies that hardcore reviewers use to advance their ratings. I only picked up this hobby recently but I'm already learning many fascinating things about Amazon reviewing. Not only is it fun but it also allows me to spend as much time as I like at the Amazon website without blowing my entire salary on it.

10. Lafayette, Indiana. I just love Lafayette so much and miss it terribly. So many beautiful memories I have are connected to this town. There is this Canadian bar, called Sgt. Preston's, and this Indian buffet restaurant that is so amazing. The picture on the right is the view from the window of the house where we used to live in Lafayette. There was this great Russian grocery right around the corner where I would go almost every day. I wish there were something like this where I live now, but no such luck. We have to schlep all the way to St. Louis to get our kind of food. If any of my readers hail from Lafayette, say hi to your beautiful and romantic town from me.