Sunday, January 31, 2010
"Before taking this class, I thought I knew all there is to know about Spain because I lived in California for a long time and there were many Mexicans there."
Note to self: Remember to mention in class that Mexico and Spain are different countries.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
That's patriotism for you. Now I feel like asking my students about Adam and Eve's nationality.
Book publishers refuse to recognize that the world has changed. New technologies have made their favorite practices of charging exorbitant prices for hardcovers completely obsolete. Still, they are trying to hang on to these gouging techniques in hope that somehow the new technology will just go away.
As a result of Macmillan's greed, Amazon was forced to pull the Kindle editions of their books from the Kindle Store. I'm happy that Amazon is resisting Macmillans idiotic behavior. Good job, Amazon! Let's punish these losers for their stupidity by refusing to buy their overpriced books.
P.S. Sadly, Amazon has had to give in to the greedy bastards at Macmillan. Here is part of Amazon's statement:
'We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles.
We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it's reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book...Of course, I'm boycotting stupid Macmillan. Their representative is bound to show up in my office trying to peddle their books as textbooks for my students. Is s/he in for a nasty reception!
We have had eight years with a President who was an unbending, uncompromising religious fanatic. Everybody knew his convictions because he had no fear of expressing them every chance he got. Nobody expected any bipartisanship from him simply because it was like expecting to draw blood from a stone. And everybody seemed to accept it. So my question is: why is it perfectly acceptable for a Republican president to be fanatical and intransigent in promoting the interests of people who voted for him but for a Democratic president it suddenly isn't? Do the bloggers, the journalists, the pundits, the politicians who keep harping on Obama's lack of bipartisanship even realize how completely hypocritical they sound?
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Today, however, I had to disappoint my students. I told them that the writer's visit to our university has been cancelled bacause of the budget freeze. The budget for Paula Varsavsky's visit was actually very very modest. The writer offered to limit the budget even more, but all to no avail. We are not allowed to spend even a dollar on such an important cultural activity.
I can't begin to tell you how frustrating this is. The students would have benefited from this in a variety of important ways. When I heard the President say in his yesterday's State of the Union address that universities need to start cutting spending, I thought how sad it is that we have to give up on such important cultural activities - which also cost next to nothing - while there is always money to send more troops all over the world and the Pentagon does not see even a tiny little cut in its spending.
They call it a "freeze" and a "cash flow problem." I know from sad experience, however, that when an institution gets into the practice of cutting funding for cultural and educational events, it's very hard to get it back on track. The efforts to kill the Humanities have been going on for a while. They started long before anybody even heard of the current economic crisis. I feel that this particular crisis is just an excuse that is being used to continue the assault on Humanities.
And more than anything in the world I hate having to deprive my students of the educational experiences they deserve.
1. To help the victims of the horrible pogrom in Jos, Nigeria.
2. To help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.
On the right, you can see the photo I'm hoping to get.
Here is the way to participate.
I know the times are tough but there are people who are in desperate need. Please check out the link and consider the possibility of participating in this noble effort.
Kudos to you, Kola, for coming up with this fantastic idea.
- Obama reminded that he inherited the economic crisis from the previous administration. This is a point that needs to be hammered home as often as possible.
- "American people should get a government that matches their decency." Hear, hear. But there is no hope of that any time soon. The field of politics mostly attracts hugely indecent people. It's rare that you see so many nasty faces in the same room as you do when you watch Senate hearings.
- "What unites us is that we all hate the bank bailout. It's as popular as a root canal." Then he proceeded to tell us why it was still necessary (not convinced!). And said there will be high fees on big banks. In my opinion, until Blankfein, Summers and Co are getting their bonus in the form of an extra TV hour in high-security prison, these "fees" are not nearly enough. It's not the bailout we hate, it's those disgusting criminals who are still at large robbing us blind.
- Support for small businesses - it's about time, but something tells me it will be super hard making this work. Huge companies are set on destryng small business as a concept.
- Gays should be allowed to serve in the military.
- China, Germany, and India aren't waiting, so why should the US?
There was a very scary moment in his speech, however. He said the following sentence that made me cringe: "Universities should cut spending." I really wish Mr. President had elaborated on that thought. Exactly what kind of spending are we supposed to cut? All our funds have been frozen 100%. My department could not even buy a pizza to thank people working in the lab for their efforts. I'm not into pizza, so I don't know how much it costs. Must be something like $6-7? Well, this type of cost has been cut already. What else can we do? Eliminate chalk, have me moisten my finger with saliva and try to write on the board in this way? Or substitute even more tenure-track positions with overworked, underqualified "instructors"?
I still have no idea what this scary statement meant. If anybody has any insights, please feel free to tell me.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
For some incomprehensible reason, about a dozen students, who answered all questions perfectly, neatly excised the Jews from their responses. Their answers look like they tried to avoid writing the word "Jew." I'm trying not to read too much into this, but it kind of makes me wonder . . . Where are the Jews?
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
I'm dropping out of grad school/leaving my job to follow my boyfriend. So what if I won't have a life and career of my own? At least, we will be together.
So what if I don't have an orgasm with this man? We get along well, and that's what matters.
I'm not going to have an elective C-section and avoid a long and painful labor. So what if my vagina gets torn to shreds in the process? It's not like I use it much anyways.
Who cares that my nipples are bleeding and I'm in pain? I'll keep breastfeeding until I drop dead because it's my duty.
I'm going to take on all kinds of boring and unfulfilling responsibilities at work. So what if they get in the way of my research and don't let me get tenure and promotion? Somebody's got to do it, and I'm always happy to be helpful.
So what if I don't feel like having sex right now? I don't want to upset my boyfriend or hurt his feelings. I'm just going to do it and hope it's over fast.
I come home from work dead tired and immediately start cleaning, doing the laundry, and cooking. Of course, I'm exhausted but if I don't do it no one will.
Sacrificing your interests, making your body serve everybody else's purposes except your own, suffering, accepting pain as your natural state of being - these are some of the most popular ways of signalling your belonging to female identity.
If anybody has their own version of why this happens, feel free to tell me in the comments. Then, I will propose my theory of the reasons behind the sacrificial womanhood.
If you believe that cutting down on education and investing more and more in the Pentagon are non-related issues, you've got to wake up. The fewer people have access to education, the more desperate kids will turn to the military to make some kind of a living. So the only way to provide the Pentagon with more bodies that can be sent to death and mutilation is by destroying what's left of public education.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
I have been teaching languages for more years than I care to mention. If I do, people might think I'm on the verge of retirement, which is completely untrue. I think that I kick ass at language teaching, and my students seem to agree unanimously. The only language among those I speak that I cannot teach, however, is my own. I am a native speaker of Russian, which is the language that I speak at home. I attempted not even to teach it, but to tutor somebody in it a while ago. It was a complete and total failure. I couldn't answer a single question my students asked me. "So why do you conjugate this verb like this?" they would ask. Or, "How many verb groups are there?" And even though I have been speaking this language my entire life, I had no idea what to tell them. I didn't know which grammar points would turn out to be especially hard to the students and how to make them clearer. I had no idea why I was speaking the way I was and couldn't explain it to the students.
Teaching languages is a skill that it takes people a long time to acquire. Being a native speaker of the language is completely irrelevant to whether you will be able to teach it. In their push to eradicate the Humanities, university administrators try to substitute tenure-track teaching faculty with underpaid, overworked, and often woefully underqualified part-time instructors. This measure seemingly saves money for colleges. Tenure-track and tenured faculty teach a limited number of hours, expect to have sabbaticals and course release time, and cannot be forced to teach 9 courses per semester with no TA.
This measure always turns out to be counterproductive. As a tenure-track faculty who only works two or three days a week, I have the leisure and the motivation to design complex, engaging, and original learning activities for my students. I have the knowledge necessary to ensure that every aspect of the activity has a pedagogic rationale. I am invested into making sure that the students do well, since in all probability I will see those same students in my higher-level classes and I want them to be prepared for that. I have time and energy to get to know all of my language students personally and help each of them overcome their personal struggles with the subject matter.
Aside from being a lame attempt at saving money, squeezing foreign language and literature courses off the campus has an important ideological goal. Our classrooms are always small and are organized around students talking, expressing themselves, and doing all kinds of creative things during the entire class. This is not a huge lecture in macroeconomics, where hundreds of students are sitting in complete silence for 2 hours, being indoctrinated by the professor and never getting a chance of formulating their own opinion, let alone expressing it.
At the same time, speaking another language requires adopting different ways of thinking, seeing the world, relating to your reality. It is a lot more difficult to zombify a person who has developed alternative modes of relating to the world. This is precisely why so many efforts are being made to prevent American students from learning about other languages and cultures.
Friday, January 22, 2010
When I heard about Obama's rush to abandon his most cherished goals even before anybody actually asked him to do so, I remembered George W. with a kind of weird nostalgia. Sure, we made fun of him and couldn't wait for him to go away, but the guy had his strong sides. It is impossible to imagine Bush Jr. giving up on a piece of legislation that mattered to him simply because of losing one Senate vote. Anybody tried to stop the legislation he supported, and we would have him on television in matter of hours, raving about unpatriotic pro-terrorist evildoers who are trying to destroy our values or freedoms.
And he got results, too. Of course, these were really horrible, scary results, but you've got to respect the strength and the dedication it took to strip the Americans of their constitutional civil rights, for example. I mean, the guy decides that he doesn't like the Constitution, so he goes and introduces the Patriot Act without giving a rat's little tookie about anybody's opinion. The people who voted for him definitely got their money's worth, while those who voted for Obama are still waiting for him to deliver anything.
From the moment he was sworn into office, Obama has dedicated a lot more effort to appearing "bi-partisan" than to anything else. It is as if he hadn't been around for the preceding 8 years and had failed to observe that Bush Jr., who was signally uninterested in any kind of bi-partisanship, got reelected to his second term in office. Somehow, Obama seems oblivious to the simple truth that when you fall over yourself to give up on your beliefs even before anybody suggests you do, you only end up appering weak, irresolute, and indecisive. These are obviously not the qualities anybody wants in a president.
And it's the same with everything. Fumbling, half-measures, and so on. Today, Obama announced that he is ready to put some restrictions on banks. Good for him, but why just "some restrictions"? Why not just bring back the Glass-Steagall and proceed from there? It worked for a long time, so just bring it back and stop inventing the wheel.
What Obama refuses to see is that all these attempts to appease everybody will cost him the next elections. He will never attract the Republican base simply because they have their own candidates. But in the process of trying to ingratiate himself clumsily with the conservatives, he will lose the people who voted for him in the first place. They will be so disillusioned that they will simply fail to show up at the polls. And who can blame them.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Since I moved, I went to a new doctor for my prescription. I was only given one for 3 months and asked to come again for a new one because I am a new patient. My health insurance paid the doctor $132 for this 10 minute long visit. The entire visit consisted of me engaging in the following idiotic conversations with the nurse (I didn't even get to see the doctor):
Nurse: Have you had any pregnancies?
Nurse: Any abortions?
I don't know what she thought I could have aborted since I had already said I'd had no pregnancies. This mystery remains unsolved. Then we had the following exchange:
Nurse: Have you been married for a long time?
Me: A month.
Nurse: Huh! That's strange.
Nurse: You look like you have been married a long time.
I still don't know whether to take this as a compliment or an insult.
Now I have to go back for more inane conversations in the same style. I swear to God, it's easier to get access to heroin than to simple harmless birth control. Of course, nobody is interested in making these unnecessary visits to a doctor disappear as part of this so-called healthcare reform.
Even with prescription insurance, a packet of pills (that lasts a month) costs $28. It is so frustrating to hear all the anti-abortion propaganda in a society where access to legal birth control is so painful and expensive. How can anybody expect a teenager from an underprivileged background, for example, to have money for this prescription and the endless visits to the doctor to get it in the first place?
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Another reason why I consider multiple choice completely counter-productive is that it gives 3 or 4 wrong answers for every correct answer. What is the purpose of suggesting mistaken responses to the students? The wrong answers might end up sticking in their brain, and then it's hard to remove them from the students' memory.
From the teacher's point of view, while correcting multiple-choice assignments is very easy, creating them must be quite painful. I mean, you have to sit there inventing those mistaken responses, which seems like a royal waste of time. I wonder who is the genius who initially came up with this useless form of testing the students' knowledge.
Monday, January 18, 2010
It is true that there are very few conservatives in the academic world. The existing conservatives are usually marginalized and ridiculed by the rest of the academic community. The reason why this happens is simple: in order to be a professor you often (although not always, due to pervasive corruption) need to have a brain. Having a brain and believing the conservative swill about the inferiority of women and gays, creationism as a valid academic subject, the saintly nature of free markets, the war between civilizations, and so on, are obviously two completely incompatible things.
How can a professor vote for Bush who says things like "What is our children learning"? How can an academic vote for Palin who, when asked what magazines she reads, says "All of them"? How can a person whose job is to disseminate knowledge support a political movement dedicated to the eradication of knowledge and intelligence?
In order to rise to prominence as a conservative politician, one needs to dedicate one's life to demonstrating a profound and complete rejection of everything that might be deemed intellectual. A while ago, the noted journalist Paul Krugman observed that the Republicans "have become the party of stupid." All you have to do in order to see the truth behind Krugman's statement is turn on the evening news or open a newspaper. People whose poor language skills should have made it impossible for them to graduate from high school have come to symbolize the Republican party for everybody all over the world. Of course, there are intelligent, well-spoken conservatives in this country. It's hard for them, however, to make themselves heard or noticed behind the barrage of loudmouthed, angry stupidity coming from mainstream Republicans every single day.
The job of an academic is to disseminate knowledge and generate ideas. Thinking is what we do for a living. The only way to vote Republican is to amputate one's thinking capacity for good. So obviously, a Republican professor is an impossible contradiction. The only thing that is really surprising in this phenomenon is that it still manages to surprise any one.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
There are many examples of such puzzles. There is an entire book and website industry dedicated to preparing you for this type of job interview. The one you see on the left is particularly popular, although there are many others (How to Ace the Brainteaser Interview, The return of the brainteaser interview: puzzles that challenge your logical thinking are back. , Brain Teasers, Book of Puzzles & Brain Teasers, etc.). This is an example of such a puzzle:
Three men and one woman find themselves on a deserted island. They only have two condoms between them. How can these 3 men have safe sex with the woman?
Believe me, people, I am not making this up. This is an actual question people are asked during actual job interviews. I am not even going to address the entire set of nasty, hateful assumptions that inform this so-called puzzle. Like, who said these men are necessarily interested in having sex with this woman, as opposed to with each other. Or, why would the woman want to have sex with all of them.
The main question here is what is the purpose of making this type of idiotic puzzle the central part of the job interview process. Contrary to what Microsoft and Wall Street companies claim, the goal of introducing puzzles into the job interview process is not to find the most creative thinker among your candidates. The real purpose is to find the most obedient, robot-like one. No self-respecting person with a degree from a respectable university will tolerate being asked stupid, irrelevant, and often offensive questions like "How many piano-tuners are there in New York?" or "How to design a spice-rack for a blind person?" The goal of such companies is precisely to weed out self-respecting, intelligent candidates. All they need is employees who would obey any humiliating task they are given without questioning their bosses on the legitimacy of the assignment.
the place of his fear. As a result, a lot of what he has to say bears no relation to reality. For instance, Bauman sees us as constantly moving away from coercion and towards freedom. He observes (or he believes that he observes)
Bauman spends quite a lot of time attempting to construct an argument on the basis of this perceived disappearance of coercion and its substitution with something else:the ever more evident dismantling of the system of normative regulation, and thereby the releasing of ever larger chunks of human conduct from coercive patterning, supervision, and policing, and relegating ever larger numbers of previously socialized functions to the realm of individual "life politics."I thought about this statement for a long while, but for the life of me I can't see how anybody can say that the world today is moving away from supervision and policing. I don't want to keep belaboring the point of those new airport scanners ad infinitum, but what about the US Patriot Act? If that is non-invasive and non-coercive, I honestly don't know what is.
Coercion is being replaced by stimulation, forceful imposition of behavioral patterns by seduction, policing of conduct by PR and advertising, and the normative regulation, as such, by the arousal of new needs and desires.
Bosses tend nowadays to dislike having employees who are burdened with personal commitments to others-particularly those with firm commitments and especially the firmly long-term commitments. The harsh demands of professional survival all too often confront men and women with morally devastating choices between the requirements of their career and caring for others. Bosses prefer to employ unburdened, free-floating individuals who are ready to break all bonds at a moment's notice and who never think twice when "ethical demands" must be sacrificed to the "demands of the job."
All over the "developed" and affluent part of the planet, signs abound of fading interest in the acquisition and exercise of social skills, of people turning their backs on politics, of growing political apathy and loss of interest in the running of the political process.
Bauman's recent Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers? (Institute for Human Sciences Vienna Lecture Series) made a dubious impression on me. Everything Bauman has to say about identity is really good. Everything he has to say on other topics, however, is really not. This is unusual, since normally philosophers are provoked by the topic of identity into uttering strings of annoying platitudes. Bauman avoids this danger and talks about identity in a thought-provoking and profound way. The other subjects he addresses in Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers? , though, are analyzed in a much weaker way. Unfortunately, a moment comes in everybody's life when our brain cannot process change as effectively as it used to when we were younger. As a result, we see any change in our world as at worst terrifying and at best negative. This is, sadly, what happens to Bauman. His fear of today's reality taints his analysis and robs it of any intellectual value. As I already explained, I have no patience with anybody whose sexism and racism do not allow them to recognize that life today is without a shadow of a doubt better than at any other point in history. Bauman's lamentations about some unspecified past when everything was better, fresher, and sweeter are a testimony to his nostalgia for his lost youth. This nostalgia is so strong that it overruns the obvious ethical considerations that should have helped Bauman remember that the current historical period he dislikes so much is characterized by an incredible progress in the rights of women, racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities.
In this review, I will first address the parts of Bauman's argument that I really liked. Then, I will proceed to discuss the much weaker second half of this book.
Bauman starts his discussion of identity formation by observing how much the task of creating an identity is linked to fear, anxiety, and constant insecurity:
Identities exist today solely in the process of continuous renegotiation. Identity formation, or more correctly their re-formation, turns into a lifelong task, never complete; at no moment of life is the identity "final" There always remains an outstanding task of readjustment, since neither conditions of life nor the sets of opportunities and threats ever stop changing. That built-in "nonfinality," the incurable inconclusiveness of the task of self-identification, causes a lot of tension and anxiety.The idea that identity today is negotiable, fluid, and non-static has, of course, turned into something of a favorite platitude among the theorists of identity. What is different in Bauman's analysis is that his thinking does not stop there. He realizes that the qualities of fluidity and variability of contemporary identities do not in any way rob them of their potential to do harm. It is a given that everybody today moves seamlessly between identities. This mere fact, however, does nothing to alleviate the dreadful burden of identity.
By its very nature, collective identity requires a common enemy. The ever-growing complexity of today's world makes the need for this enemy stronger, instead of weaker:
The act of selecting a group as one's site of belonging in fact constitutes some other groups as alien and, potentially, hostile territory: "I am P" always means (at least implicitly, but often explicitly) that "most certainly, I am not Q, R, S, and so on." "Belonging" is one side of the coin, and the other side is separation and opposition-which all too often evolve into resentment, antagonism, and open conflict. Identification of an adversary is an indispensable element of identification with an "entity of belonging"-and, through the latter, also a crucial element of self-identification. Identification of an enemy construed as an incarnation of the evil against which the community "integrates," gives clarity to life purposes and to the world in which life is lived.
Consequently, when the world becomes less clear and more complex, a group needs to construct an enemy who is more and more evil with every passing day. Thus, those who believe that we live in a post-identity world are completely wrong. I have no idea whether these people even follow the news or turn on the television. There are no structures in place today that would dilute the strength of collective identifications. Just the opposite.
After this impressive discussion of identity, Bauman proceeds to talk about the actual subject of his book, which is the relationship between ethics and consumerism. And here, unfortunately, his argument begins to fall apart. In order to introduce the topic of ethics, the philosopher comes out with the following bizarre statement:
In order to have self-love, we need to be loved or to have hope of being loved. Refusal of love-a snub, a rejection, denial of the status of a love-worthy object-breeds self-hatred. Self-love is built of the love offered to us by others. Others must love us first, so that we can begin to love ourselves.It honestly took me a while to realize that the author was completely serious in this statement. When I finally saw that no punch line was coming and this is exactly what he meant to say, I felt pretty embarrassed for Bauman. You cannot proceed to theorize on the basis of your psychological insecurities and neuroses. Of course, we can never escape them, but the least we could do is avoid projecting them onto the entire world. The kind of self-love that is so dependent on the aceptance and approval of others is beyond unhealthy. A theory constructed on the basis of this vision cannot convince anybody.
Friday, January 15, 2010
I didn't know how to explain to them that if I did it would look like what you see in this picture.
Of course, if I were to dress like this we would achieve our goal of attracting people to our department. Unfortunately, those people would mostly be police officers and not prospective students.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
As the leading Spanish newspaper El Pais astutely observed, while the economy of Ukraine is in shambles, there is at least no doubt that Ukrainians enjoy their democratic freedoms. Freedoms of expression, association, and belief are - for now - available to all Ukrainians. This will obviously end if Ukraine turns into a dominion of Russia. No political or ideological dissent is tolerated in Russia, where the old habits of a totalitarian state have come back in full force.
The imperial mindset of Russian politicians has suggested to them a great way of distracting their citizens from their poverty and lack of democratic freedoms: contempt and hatred towards everybody who is not Russian. People in Russia are indulging in their hate of everybody else - from Ukrainians to Americans - with a vengeance. Those Ukrainians who are likely to vote for Yanukovych will do that because they want to identify with Russia. They are blind to the fact that being Russian wannabes does not convince actual Russians to suspend their contempt towards everybody who is Ukrainian.
Ukraine was a despised and looted colony of Russia for centuries. Our people were exterminated by the million in horrifying acts of genocide, our culture and language were destroyed. We have been taught to hate ourselves and to feel hugely inferior to the Russians. The propaganda techniques that Russian leaders employed in order to make Ukrainians feel ashamed of their non-Russian origins have been wildly successful. Many Ukrainians, especially from the Eastern part of the country (which is incidentally the place where I come from), hate being Ukrainian and are eager for Ukraine to return to the role of a bullied and exploited colony of Russia.
The prospect of seeing Ukrainians heading for national and cultural self-immolation saddens me beyond what words can express.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The moment China, the oil-rich states, and other international investors stop buying U.S. Treasury Bonds, the dollar will become junk. Inflation will rocket upward. We will become Weimar Germany. A furious and sustained backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually and psychologically for collapse, will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans. A cabal of proto-fascist misfits, from Christian demagogues to simpletons like Sarah Palin to loudmouth talk-show hosts, whom we naively dismiss as buffoons, will find a following with promises of revenge and moral renewal. . . There are powerful corporate entities, fearful of losing their influence and wealth, arrayed against us. They are waiting for a moment to strike, a national crisis that will allow them, in the name of national security and moral renewal, to take complete control. The tools are in place. These antidemocratic forces, which will seek to make an alliance with the radical Christian Right and other extremists, will use fear, chaos, the hatred for the ruling elites, and the specter of left-wing dissent and terrorism to impose draconian controls to extinguish our democracy. And while they do it, they will be waving the American flag, chanting patriotic slogans, promising law and order, and clutching the Christian cross.-Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion
This long quote from Chris Hedges's Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle demonstrates perfectly why I think this is a stunning piece of journalism at its very best and a book that any responsible citizen has to read. I absolutely loved this book (except Chapter 2, which seemed like it was taken from a completely different book and can be resumed as "Pornography bad, Dworkin good, sex scary, intimacy comforting.") I suggest that this chapter be skipped altogether in favor of the brilliant political analysis of the rest of the book.
We are vainly trying to return to a bubble economy, of the sort that once handed us the illusion of wealth, rather than confront the stark reality that lies ahead. We are told massive borrowing will create jobs and re-inflate real estate values and the stock market. We remain tempted by mirages, by the illusion that we can, still, all become rich.None of these so-called measures are working. Endless bailouts and stimulus packages that have indebted us in an unheard of way have failed to jumpstart the economy and move the country out of this crisis. Still, nobody is proposing any alternatives to this failed system. The economy of the US operates in exactly the same manner as the unsustainable Soviet economy. Nobody, however, is willing to recognize it. People believe that if you call this perversion "capitalism" and "free market economy" often enough, it will actually turn into capitalism and free market economy. Reality has been substituted by illusion in so many areas of life, Hedges observes, that people often refuse to see and identify what is right in front of their faces. This rejection of reality in favor of illusion haunts all spheres of our lives:
Faith in ourselves, in a world of make-believe, is more important than reality. Reality, in fact, is dismissed and shunned as an impediment to success, a form of negativity. The New Age mysticism and pop psychology of television personalities, evangelical pastors, along with the array of self-help best-sellers penned by motivational speakers, psychiatrists, and business tycoons, all peddle a fantasy. Reality is condemned in these popular belief systems as the work of Satan, as defeatist, as negativity, or as inhibiting our inner essence and power. Those who question, those who doubt, those who are critical, those who are able to confront reality and who grasp the hollowness of celebrity culture are shunned and condemned for their pessimism.The reason for this resistance to acknowledging the reality that lies right in front of us is that the very few of us possess the intellectual, psycholigical, emotional, and linguistic tools needed to perform this task. Rather than decipher the incomprehensible, confusing, and often painful reality around them, people prefer to escape into the world of cliches and make-belief. Who wants to dedicate their lives to addressing complex, important issues, if you can happily escape into the world of triviality?
Reality is complicated. Reality is boring. We are incapable or unwilling to handle its confusion. We ask to be indulged and comforted by cliches, stereotypes, and inspirational messages that tell us we can be whoever we seek to be, that we live in the greatest country on earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities, and that our future will always be glorious and prosperous, either because of our own attributes or our national character or because we are blessed by God. In this world, all that matters is the consistency of our belief systems. The ability to amplify lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives lies and mythical narratives the aura of uncontested truth. We become trapped in the linguistic prison of incessant repetition.(I'm quoting so much because the way Hedges writes is so powerful, concise, and convincing that I don't want to deprive my readers of the enormus pleasure of seeing the way a real journalist should write. This is a rare pleasure nowadays.)
One would expect, of course, our system of higher education to help students acquire the intellectual and linguistic tools needed to analyze the failings of our poitical and economic systems. This, however, does not happen. As anybody working in the higher education system knows all too well, our universities have been undergoing the process of transforming themselves into robot-churning factories. Hedges's understanding of the way the higer education system has been appropriated by the military-industrial complex is profound:
The bankruptcy of our economic and political systems can be traced directly to the assault against the humanities. The neglect of the humanities has allowed elites to organize education and society around predetermined answers to predetermined questions. Students are taught structures designed to produce these answers even as these structures have collapsed. But those in charge, because they are educated only in specializations designed to maintain these economic and political structures, have run out of ideas. They have been trained only to find solutions that will maintain the system.Our universities have become nothing but "high-priced occupational training centers." Graduates are incapable of approaching their reality in a critical way. All they are trained to do is to service the system as efficiently as possible. Now that the system itself is in dire need of a rehaul, there are very few people around who would be at least capable of recognizing this fact, let alone do something about it.
For a while now, I have been discussing with my friends and colleagues the very scenario that Hedges describes in the first quote of this post. This crisis is not going away any time soon. People will start to get scared, restless, depressed, and angry. They will turn to the Evangeical fascists for consolation. It's good to see that there are thinkers who realize that we are going in this scary direction and are trying to do something about it.
We all remember Obama's insightful remark about bitter people clinging to guns, religion and hatred. I still remember what a relief it was to hear a politician say something so smart and relevant for a change. If the President is smart enough to understand that we are going in the direction of religious fascism, then why is he doing all he can to push us towards this horrifying prospect?
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
I was also stupid enough to start doing a translation into Russian during small breaks between classes, which somehow switched the Spanish-speaking part of my brain off.
On the positive side, I managed to demonstrate my first ever PowerPoint presentation to my Hispanic Civilization class effortlessly. This class is so big that I think I'm going to lose my voice soon. Still, it feels fantastic to have so many students listening to my lecture. The enrollment in this class is three times what it used to be before I came to this school. I guess my students did tell their peeps about this "totally radical course." :-)
I picked this book because I got interested in how North American guys perceive Russian culture and people.
I grew up and lived next to Moscow until I moved to the US in 2003, which gives me some grounds to think I know how things truly are in Putinland. Given a delicate subject of this book – Russian women – I hoped to have a good laugh while comparing the content of this book with reality.
I am happy to say my expectations have been exceeded fivefold.
The author starts by introducing two Canadian guys, Bob and Alex, who work as mid-level software engineers in Toronto. Both their professional and personal lives leave much to be desired (i.e., suck): the only source of joy in Bob’s after-divorce life is spending time with his kids. Although Bob (according to his own words) is fairly good-looking with a long string of pretty girlfriends in the past, his present condition (according to his best friend Alex) is termed as “butt-ugly”. Unlike Bob, whose child support payments put a sizable hole in his budget, Alex has managed to escape the dark side of marriage by never having one in the first place. In fact, he appears to be performing better in the dating department, although he complains that it’s not cheap: despite all the equality talk, Canadian women are not eager to split the dinner bill and 99% of the time Alex has to pick it up. It’s a good thing that he can economize by still living at his father’s place. To make it short, both guys seem to be disillusioned in bitchy, pushy, over-demanding, and mercenary women.
Alas, they don’t see any way out: since all the women in North America are like that, what is a nice Canadian guy supposed to do? cross the Atlantic?
Literally enough, crossing the Atlantic turns out to be the solution to all of their problems. The two friends are forced to fly to Moscow, Russia, to fix a few software bugs, and they end up fixing their miserable lives into the bargain. As it turns out, Russian capital is filled with warm, hospitable, fun-loving people who quickly bring back to life the jet-lagged Canadian pilgrims. Russian women prove to be absolutely gorgeous, elegant and feminine creatures who are so much unlike their North American sisters that it’s just breathtaking, period. Most importantly, Russian ladies are smart and sensitive enough to see what great guys Alex and Bob really are, and they have no inhibitions expressing their appreciative feelings to the two gentlemen. After they spend ten days in Moscow, our newly born software engineers return to Toronto, but life is never the same without their Russian girlfriends. Within a few weeks, they fly back to their loved ones and propose. Needless to say, the two ladies are beside themselves with joy and gratitude and can only answer yes. In a few months, all six of them (I forgot to mention that each lady has a fairly grown up kid) would move to Canada to start a new life.
Now, if Alex and Bob strike you as two losers who cannot put two and two together, I agree. The funniest thing is that the book has no lack of information about what is really behind that syrupy fairy-tale. A few other characters in the book supply lots of accurate facts and opinions about what drives the men and women who sign up for that mail-order-bride-like business. However, all of their advice falls on deaf ears: Alex and Bob never stop to wonder why it only takes them a 13-hour flight to Moscow to become marriage material.
It is funny to observe the many forms anti-feminist backlash can take. The author of this book feels uncomfortable in the world where women have claimed for themselves a place of equality and human dignity. He hates the idea that a woman can have thoughts, desires, and opinions of her own. In the inhospitable universe where women have other goals than attracting and satisfying men and men have to learn to treat women as human beings, Dornan turns to the myth that submissive, compliant, doll-like women exist in parts of the world still unspoiled by vicious feminism. The greatest joke of the book is that in his search for such women he goes to Russia, of all places.
Anybody with a modicum of intellect and historical knowledge would realize that Russian-speaking countries have a historical legacy of female empowerment unmatched in the West. Women of my generation (early 30ies) were brought up by mothers and grandmothers almost a 100% of whom worked full-time their entire adult lives. In class, at work, at home, and in the majority of public settings, Russian-speaking women have been dominant (or, I would even say, domineering) for decades. This, of course, came at the price of complete sexual disempowerment and repression for women.
This is why it is so hilarious that anybody would be so deluded as to search for a sexy submissive doll in a Russian-speaking country. If anything, the pathetic mail-order bride seekers find the exact opposite.
Monday, January 11, 2010
First, the negative evaluations:
I like her overall but I wish she didn't skip around so much.
Do not talk so fast!
Rushes through lessons, can be vague.
Didn't dress colorfully enough. [Yes, that is an actual comment by an actual student.]And the positive ones (I am only putting the ones that are funny here to avoid looking self-congratulatory):
I did not even dread going to class, nor did I even desire to skip - love Clarissa! [I especially liked the use of the word "even" in this context.]
Very interesting and full of information. [I'm glad they think information is the only thing I was full of.]
Totally radical course, definitely gonna tell all my peeps about this one. [I'm not in touch with the jargon, but somehow it feels that this student was trying to say something positive about me. I hope.]
I thought I would hate this class but I love it.
A+. Pay her more! [Hear, hear.]
She is extremely intelligent and an amazingly interested teacher. [I truly hope the student meant I'm interesting.]
Clarissa is not intimidating or scary (LIKE PROFESSOR X).My merit review committee seems to have been impressed as well. They gave me higher grades than I, in my infinite modesty, even asked for.
Friday, January 8, 2010
The authors and the readers of The Economist are so terrified of feminism that they need to convince themselves that today's feminism has become the exact opposite of what it is. Feminism is not into defending gender equality any more, they claim. According to The Economist, today's feminists defend their reight to be "less aggressive" and "more nurtuting":
The new feminism contends that women are wired differently from men, and not just in trivial ways. They are less aggressive and more consensus-seeking, less competitive and more collaborative, less power-obsessed and more group-oriented. Judy Rosener, of the University of California, Irvine, argues that women excel at “transformational” and “interactive” management. Peninah Thomson and Jacey Graham, the authors of “A Woman’s Place is in the Boardroom”, assert that women are “better lateral thinkers than men” and “more idealistic” into the bargain. Feminist texts are suddenly full of references to tribes of monkeys, with their aggressive males and nurturing females.
I don' know who the illiterate authors of the above-quoted texts are. What they say is stupid and uninformed. There are anti-feminist ideologues who use this "women-don't-need-success-they-just-need-to-nurture-men-and-babies" swill to brainwash the younger generations into despising feminism. Calling them "new feminists" in order to make people think feminism is stupid is wrong and annoying.
The author of this weird article proceeds to berate these imaginary "new feminists" for pushing the agenda of "gender differences." This, of course, is one of the most common devices aimed at discrediting a person or a movement. You ascribe to them some really idiotic ideas that they never held in the first place and then chide them for holding such obviously wrong views. Of course, no feminist can support this gender-differences rubbish. Also, nobody who considers themselves a feminist would react with anything other than utter disgust to these ramblings about monkey-like nurturing and cooperative women.
And the only monkeys I have encountered recently in discussions about feminism are the ones who wrote and published this idiotic article.
Some European countries that have somehow been able to preserve certain remains of human dignity and mental sanity - Spain and Germany, for example - are still resisting the madness. Others, like the Nederlands and Italy, are falling all over themselves in their desire to appease the United States by any means necessary.
It is still unclear whether anybody on the planet honestly believes that these invasive procedures will really do something to stop terrorism. We have been removing our shoes in airports for a while now but somehow I don't remember hearing any reports about hundreds of terrorist attacks being stopped by these measures.
The whole mess of this last failed attempt to blow up an airplane is a competition in ineptness. The terrorist is so inept that instead of exploding the airplane he blows off his own junk. The counterterrorism agencies are so useless that they never figure out he might be dangerous in spite of warnings. Obama-haters are so stupid that they blame him for the fact that this terrorist managed to board a plane in Amsterdam. They must honestly believe that Amsterdam is part of the US. The European Union is so silly that it is willing to strip itself not only of clothes but of the last shred of dignity to make the US happy.
This is how we are willing to be seen by airport security.
This is where our fear is taking us.
P.S. The people at airport security can easily adjust the resolution on the scanners to achieve a much better visibility of any area of the body, including the genitals.
P.P.S The third picture has been pulled since the reader Mike pointed out that it is fake. Thank you, Mike, for your vigilance!
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Since I come from Montreal, this kind of snow is nothing to me. The locals, however, are not used to anything like this. In Montreal this kind of snow is considered business as usual and nobody would cancel classes even for twice as much snow.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T
If you don't think this is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen, then I don't know what your problem is.
Many of the floors of Burj Dubai will be residential. Imagine what it must feel like to live in this incredible building.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Here is the part of the article that made me worry about the future of feminism in this country (or, if we are very lucky, just in St. Charles County):
The court awarded Payne-Naeger $1,262 per month in child support and $3,500 in maintenance. Various investments and retirement funds were to be divided equally between Naeger and Payne-Naeger. The ruling said both parties agreed the monthly cost of maintaining the household exceeded $10,000. Zerr said Payne-Naeger, who has an associate's degree in advertising design, could earn $20,000 per year. She has not been employed for more than 20 years, but the court said evidence at trial showed she was capable of continuing her education and finding a job.I know that it's hard to get past the $10,000 that some people apparently need to "maintain a household." The whole idea sounds kind of offensive in the middle of a harsh economic crisis. Leaving that aside, however, I wonder if the court that made this ruling sees an obvious contradiction between the first and the second parts of its decision. Why should a healthy, grown individual who is capable of finding a job receive "maintenance"? How come child support is a lot less than this mysterious maintenance? I understand the need to support underage children. But how is it fair that one adult should "maintain" another adult with an amount of money three times bigger than the amount of child support he pays to his children?
Such rulings infantilize women and are deeply humiliating. The court in this case seems to be suggesting that even if you are an educated woman capable of finding employment, you still need to be kept by a man. Even a man who is not a part of your life any longer.
Just consider the difference in the way we would normally react to a story about a man who has not worked for 20 years in spite of enjoying perfect health and is asking that his ex-wife "maintain" him to the tune of $3,500 per month after the divorce. Nobody would respect him much, and you know why? Because we see a man as a human being - or rather, the human being by default - and expect him to be responsible for himself and his own life. A woman, however, is still mostly seen as not a wholly valid human being. She is, rather, an appendage to a male. That is why we see it is kind of normal that a man should pay car maintance, ex-wife maintenance, a bike maintenance, etc. A woman is forever a man's possession. And a possession needs to be paid for.
And the scariest thing of all - this woman homeschools her poor children. If many children in St. Charles County are "educated" by people of similar values, we should not expect feminism to arrive in this area any time soon.
Antidepressant medications likely provide little or no benefit to people with mild or moderate depression. . . Rather, the mere act of seeing a doctor, discussing symptoms and learning about depression probably triggers the improvements many patients experience while on medication.
Really? There actually needed to be a study demonstrating this? Even the relentless pharmaceutical companies have recognized that anti-depressants are useless. These powerful drug-pushing concerns have been brainwashing the public for decades with their mantra of "depression is a chemical imbalance in
your brain which we will cure by a prescription medication. Or two. Or three, if you are stupid enough to buy into our advertisement of an anti-depressant on top of another anti-depressant taking care of the residual symptoms of yet another anti-depressant."
If you read the entire article I quoted, you will see how apologetic Dr. DeRubeis sounds about his findings. All he is saying is that if you feel depressed, it makes sense to discuss this with somebody instead of guzzling crippling chemicals. To the public zombified by the endless ati-depressant commercials the scientist's message might come as a huge surprise. Still, I'm glad that finally somebody dared to publish findings that are likely to cut into the huge profits by the nasty pharmaceutical companies.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Members of the public pay to join the club, for which every third week they meet in a bar for a 10-minute talk by a humanities professor on some provocative topic (yes -- only 10 minutes -- it's called an "intellectual hors d'oeuvre") and then enjoy (non-intellectual) hors d'oeuvres and drinks. These talks are regularly heard by 100-plus people who get to know more about the humanities."Our first course is Professor X, followed by beer and curly fries." Is that what one kills oneself for in graduate school? To be offered in ten-minute servings before a hamburger and a pitcher to a bunch of people who want to pretend they have a brain? Of course, this kind of public would never be able to deal with more than 10 minutes of intellectual material every 3 weeks. How sad.
This "we-need-to-save-the-languages" attitude is very frustrating. Like the recent introduction of invasive airport security scanners, it attempts to treat the symptoms without addressing the root of the problem. I don't even want to go over the entire list of things that demonstrate how urgently relevant the Humanities in general and foreign languages and literatures in particular are today. The only type of people who doesn't realize this is the one who attends the embarrassing intellectual hors-d'oeuvres.
The real reason why our students are reluctant to major and minor in foreign languages is that they are born and grow up in a culture that keeps telling them that they live in the best country in the world and that everything beyond the US borders is not worthy of interest. Other countries are presented as uncivilized, weird, and dangerous. The best thing to do about people from other countries, my students are told, is to build a wall or install a scanner to hide us from the bad, scary "them."
Taking courses that introduce them to other cultures can be a disconcerting experience for American students. Their preconceived notions about some vague superiority of the US over everybody in everything are shattered. Often, it's easier for the students to major in disciplines that do no require them to engage in any painful intellectual analysis.
Monday, January 4, 2010
Many Cuban bloggers only get to see their own blogs once every couple of months. Still, they persevere and publish regularly. One of the ways of making their posts appear online is to include the text of the post into the letter sent by snail mail to a relative or friend residing outside of the country. Brave Cuban bloggers put their lives at risk to bring the truth of what is happening in Cuba to the world.
I discovered all this from an article in the main Spanish periodical El Pais. Here is a list of links to some of these great blogs:
Voces cubanas, Desde Cuba, Revista digital, Penúltimos Días, Cubaencuentro.
Let's support these brave colleagues by reading their blogs.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
It is curious to observe to what lengths people are ready to go in order to convince themselves that inflicting yet another inconvenience, humiliation or debasement upon themselves is going to make them safe. For years we have been taking off our shoes, going through explosive-testing cameras, enduring endless lines in the airports, and undergoing searches and questioning. And none of it works. I don't know how many times I, a peaceful graduate student and later college professor, have been taken aside into a special room for suspicious people and questioned for lengthy periods of time when trying to cross the US-Canada border. I got so used to it that now I always arrive at the airport 3 hours early to make myself available for questioning which is surely coming. None of these measures, however, prevented the most recent terrorist - who was on a list of suspicious individuals - from getting on board with explosives.
Now we are supposed to parade naked in front of the customs officers in futile hopes that this new humiliation will finally buy us some peace of mind. It won't, though. All that is awaiting us as a next step in this frantic rush to appease our fear is a prison-type cavity search. The fear is growing, and soon enough nothing short of having a customs officer with his nose up your anus will make us feel secure enough.
Understanding the consequences of certain events, seeing similarities, and experiencing fear as a result is a very human thing to feel. So we attempt to strip ourselves of our humanity by stripping obediently in front of the customs officers in hopes that if we manage to play the role of cattle convincingly, nobody will want to hurt us. 'Look what we allow to be done to us,' we seem to say to the terrorists. 'Look how readily we give up our comfort, our privacy, our self-respect. See how sad and pathetic we are? Why would you want to waste your time hurting such a sorry bunch of sheep?'
It doesn't help, though. Dehumanizing ourselves is not a way to go.
Friday, January 1, 2010
Happy New Year, my dear friends and readers!!!!
I hope that this new year 2010 will bring so many great things and so much happiness to all our lives, that we will no longer need any New Year's resolutions.
I really hope that you are getting very drunk with some great people in a really great place right now. I definitely am.
[This is a scheduled post]