Monday, February 28, 2011

Going Through People's Stuff

I have finally figured out why my students think it's perfectly fine to rummage in my handbag when I leave the classroom. In order to make the task of endless paper grading a little more bearable, I turned on Dr. Phil's Show and discovered that parents who routinely invade their children's personal space and go through their pockets, cell phones, backpacks, and drawers are considered good and responsible parents.

After being brought up in the environment where personal space is not respected, is it surprising that my students have no idea that it is not acceptable to go through people's stuff in their absence?


Who Is Considered a Star. . .

. . . by the young people today? I need to include pictures of (American) celebrities that my students will recognize in a Spanish assignment. I discovered, however, that I'm hopelessly behind on who is considered a celebrity nowadays. I don't want to be one of those frumpy profs who hands out pictures of people that used to be famous 30 years ago and expects students who weren't even born then to recognize them.

So who is visually recognizable to 18-20 year olds? Please help!

Suing the Reviewer

When Thomas Weigend, a professor of law at the University of Cologne, wrote a 4-paragraph-long review of a book by Karin Calvo-Goller, a senior lecturer at the Academic Center of Law and Business in Israel, little did he know that the irate author would sue him in a criminal court. Apparently, nobody else noticed Calvo-Goller's book, and she decided to promote it by bringing a criminal suit against somebody who might well be the only person to have read it.

Academic publishing isn't easy. Getting people to read the product of one's scholarly labor is even more difficult. It's sad to see that some hapless academics are now resorting to these undignified stunts in hopes of attracting attention to their work.

The War on Women

The New York Times published an article that condemns the Republican war on women. We have witnessed such egregious assaults on the rights of women recently that even this conservative newspaper can no longer be silent on the issue:
Republicans in the House of Representatives are mounting an assault on women’s health and freedom that would deny millions of women access to affordable contraception and life-saving cancer screenings and cut nutritional support for millions of newborn babies in struggling families. And this is just the beginning. The budget bill pushed through the House last Saturday included the defunding of Planned Parenthood and myriad other cuts detrimental to women. It’s not likely to pass unchanged, but the urge to compromise may take a toll on these programs. And once the current skirmishing is over, House Republicans are likely to use any legislative vehicle at hand to continue the attack.
Once again, the Republican hypocrisy I wrote about recently is self-evident. On the one hand, legislation aimed at curtailing women's rights to an abortion is being discussed in a variety of states. The Republican majority in Congress states openly that it's main goal at this point is repealing abortion rights. (Jobs? What jobs? Who the hell cares about anything as ridiculously unimportant as that when you can rummage in a woman's uterus instead?). On the other hand, Republicans are trying to make sure that children who have already been born are deprived of health care and nutrition:
Beyond the familiar terrain of abortion or even contraception, House Republicans would inflict harm on low-income women trying to have children or who are already mothers. Their continuing resolution would cut by 10 percent the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, which serves 9.6 million low-income women, new mothers, and infants each month, and has been linked in studies to higher birth weight and lower infant mortality. The G.O.P. bill also slices $50 million from the block grant supporting programs providing prenatal health care to 2.5 million low-income women and health care to 31 million children annually.
After all this, how can anybody be blind enough to believe that the Republican anti-abortion frenzy has anything to do with "saving babies"? How can anybody be inhuman enough to support these cannibalistic measures?

I have always been fascinated - in the same way that one is fascinated with really nasty insects - with people who support Republicans. Anybody who has been graced with an ounce of brain matter can see very easily that this is a party that would rob everybody to benefit the tiny group of the extremely rich. That hates women to the degree of having a near epileptic fit whenever a woman tries to live her own life. That would gladly see children from poor families die out. That has come as near fascism as possible and is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to take the next step. How can anybody keep supporting them and still live with themselves? Isn't it obvious that these are vile creeps whose tenancy on the garbage heap of history has been guaranteed for a long time now?

Come on, people, try to forget about women's uteri for a while and concentrate on how many times the Republicans have lied to you. Weren't you told that their goal was to help you through this devastating economic crisis? Well, they lied as usual. Right now they are not only attempting to kill off poor babies but are also trying to destroy the housing rescue programs instituted by Obama's administration. There will be over 2,000,000 foreclosures this year.

Do you really hate women so much that you would keep voting for a party that is robbing you blind? Really? 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

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Store Hours

Is it possible that our local Schnucks is really open 24-7 like it says on the website? As somebody who was born in the Soviet Union, I find this next to impossible to believe. So I will go and find out for myself. 

No matter how much time passes since December 26, 1991, there are still things I can't get used to.

Quality of Commenters

I read a post on yet another Clarissa-bashing blog. The post was nothing new, it just indulged in some unhealthy fantasies about my sad and lonely existence and evinced fake sympathy to the state of my utter friendlessness (which, of course, is a figment of the author's strange imagination.) I wasn't surprised at the post but the comments made me feel a little scared. Here are some examples:
Everyone has already said everything I’m thinking….but I wanted to add that I’m one more person that loves you 
Love ya! 
Bless you sweetie! 
I have no idea what’s going on here but I love ((((((you))))))

And it goes on like this for a while. I looked into other threads, and the comments are all in this same saccharine, cloying vein.

Then I felt very grateful for my commenters who never come to tell me that they have no idea what I'm writing about but they love (((me.))) My blog attracts all kinds of commenters but, save for an occasional troll, they are all intelligent people who offer arguments and not just fake, meaningless declarations of non-existing love.

Thank you for being you, guys!

Liberal Academia

The Washington Post realizes that if its conservative subscribers get any less educated than they already are, they will not be able to read even the simplistic swill that this newspaper is feeding them. As a result, it decided to dial back its hate campaign against the commie hippie latte-swigging tree-hugging college professors. Now it is trying to convince its readership that getting a higher education might not deal such a serious blow to their children's Republican convictions. A clumsy article trying to argue in a very impotent way that college campuses are not all that liberal appeared in The Washington Post recently. It's titled "Five Myths About Liberal Academia" and can be found here in case you really enjoy bad writing.

Whatever bill of goods that The Washington Post is trying to sell to its conservative readers, the truth is different. Unless we are talking about a student who has been brainwashed to the point of not having a single thought of their own, college education will end up broadening their horizons and demonstrating to them that any conservatism is unnatural, meaningless, and unintelligent

To the contrary of what many conservatives fear, progressive professors don't use the classroom to voice their political convictions. We simply don't need to. When I come into the classroom, looking chic, fashionable and professional and begin to share my knowledge with the students, my way of being is the best argument there could be against female subjection. I don't have to proclaim feminist slogans in the classroom. I bring my point across just by existing. In the same way, I make my students reconsider their dislike of immigrants. And of intelligent, knowledgeable, educated people. The list can be continued ad infinitum. (The dislike of people who use expressions such as ad infinitum could be added to the list).

Every literary text we read in class, brings the students closer to progressive values. For some unfathomable reason, there don't seem to be that many great writers who advocate accepting things the way they are, resisting all change, and trying to revert to some imaginary paradisaical moment in the past where things used to be perfect. 

We teach our students to think for themselves, identify gaping holes in any argument (such as the above-mentioned article in The WaPo, for example), to analyze and operate with facts. We are not always successful, of course, but when we are we end up creating more open-minded, intelligent, progressive people.

Conservatives exist on campus, of course. They are treated by everybody with compassion. Not because of their political beliefs, but because they are those hapless academics who never manage to publish anything. The conservative academics' CVs are very light on publications not because, as The WaPo article suggests, there is some bias against their so-called ideas in liberal publishing houses and journals. Rather, the very nature of research calls for the creation of something new, for progress, for a rejection of old certainties. A piece of research is always judged, first and foremost, on the basis of whether it contributes anything new to the understanding of the subject. The definition of a conservative is "Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change." It is self-evident, I believe, why this kind of person will not be able to transform their area of expertise in any significant way by their research.

Conservative forces in this country might manage to push another Republican president into office in 2012 by the sheer force of their mass hysteria. That, however, will not stop things from changing, progressing, transforming. Theirs is a losing battle, which is why their rage is so virulent.

Why Gender Privilege Does Not Exist

I have always said that "privilege" is a meaningless, useless, empty concept which is employed by people with lazy brains whenever they want to avoid any attempt at analysis. Let me use the mythical "gender privilege" to demonstrate that privilege is non-existent.

As a woman, I am routinely underpaid and discriminated in the workplace. In this country, women in all professions are paid less than men for performing the same work. This is disgusting, unfair, and wrong. When you experience it yourself, as I did, it is also very painful. So is that male privilege at work? You could say so if it weren't for one little thing. I could quit my job today and spend the rest of my life painting my nails and snoozing on the couch while my husband would exercise his male privilege to pay all of my bills, bear the financial responsibility for both of us, stress out about the competition in the workplace and the danger of being laid-off, and die several years earlier than I do. 

If I decided to exercise my female privilege never to work for a living again, everybody would applaud this decision. The New York Times routinely celebrates women who "opt out" of the workplace. "Choice feminists" keep screeching that women should have the right to choose to be kept by men their entire lives. If a man chose to stay at home permanently doing his nails and snoozing in front of a soap opera, there would be no similar social acclaim and support for him. He'd be a laughing stock and an object of derision for the rest of his life. 

Feminism got itself into a dead-end when it chose to analyze the workings of patriarchy in terms of gender privilege. Only when we recognize that patriarchy benefits both men and women while at the same time causing great harm to both men and women, will we be able to move ahead. This is a system that has existed for such a long time because it offers huge rewards to people whom it oppresses. It's time we stopped all senseless blabber about privilege and started recognizing that.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Psychoanalyzing Writers

One of the most difficult things that the teacher has to achieve in introductory literature courses is convincing the students that trying to psychoanalyze writers is a bad idea.

Benito Jeronimo Feijoo, one of the greatest thinkers of the Spanish Enlightenment, did not write his famous feminist essay "In Defense of Women" because "his mother was nicer to him than other writers' mothers and she spent more quality time with him." Both Feijoo and his mother have been dead for centuries, and their relationship is neither interesting nor relevant.

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Do You Earn Less or More If You Work in the Public Sector?

Remember our discussion about those lazy public sector workers who make huge amounts of money for doing nothing? And how the poor people who work in the private sector can only sit there and observe with envy the over-entitled lazy brats in the public sector? This table that I discovered at David Ruccio's blog tells us something different. Middle- and higher-wage employees make significantly less in the public sector. This means that people who are better educated and more experienced end up being punished financially for working in the public sector.

So enough already with this myth of lazy, spoiled public school professor who grow stinky rich on the public dime while doing nothing of value.

Grading

I've been very concentrated on my research in the past couple of weeks and as a result I fell a little behind in terms of grading. I make students hand in a written assignment for every day of class in each one of the classes. We also wrote a mini-quiz and a composition this week.

So today I put all of the papers I need to grade on the floor, and they reached higher than my ankle. I'm literally ankle-deep in grading. I need to get on this now, before I end up knee-deep in ungraded assignments.

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The Hypocrisy of Anti-Abortionists

You can hardly find people who are more hypocritical than anti-abortionists. They have the incredible gall of calling themselves "pro-life" when they favor subjecting women against their will to the risk and trauma of childbirth (the world average of maternal mortality rate is 400 per 100,000) and attempt to pass legislation making murders of doctors legal. 

They say they want to save the lives of babies when, in reality, they only struggle against the ejection from the female body of a couple of cells. As soon as these unwanted, unloved fetuses actually turn into babies after they are born, the anti-abortionists forget all about them. You'd think that with all their screeching, marching, protesting, assaulting women and abortion providers, and lobbying they would fall over themselves in providing care and support for these unwanted babies when they actually become babies. You'd think they'd be adopting all of those abandoned miserable children who have been severely damaged by being carried to term by mothers who hate the fact of their existence. You'd think these baby-lovers wouldn't rest until there wasn't a single abandoned baby in the world.

None of this happens, though. Anti-abortionists aren't adopting scores of unwanted babies all over the world, they are not investing any money into rehabilitation problems that would mitigate the damage caused to children and women by being forced to go through a pregnancy that is undesired, hated and experienced as a horror.

If you oppose women's right to abortion and have not dedicated your life to adopting and rehabilitating unwanted babies, then you are the biggest hypocrite the world have ever seen.

Forgetting Spring Break

Something unbelievable happened. I forgot about spring break. Just erased it from my mind completely. I was talking to the students about the syllabus and noticed there was a weird space between class dates.

"That's strange," I said. "Is something wrong with the syllabus?"

"We have the spring break the week after next," students answered looking at me like I was retarded.

How is it possible to forget about a vacation? I understand forgetting about work but vice versa?

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Letter to Georgia's Rep. Franklin

Jill at Feministe posted this fantastic letter that we should all send to Georgia's crazed Re. Franklin who is sponsoring legislation that will require all women to file police reports every time they miscarry:
Dear Rep. Franklin,
I applaud your efforts to support the rights of zygote citizens of Georgia by criminalizing miscarriages and investigating every instance of fetal death as a potential crime. The Georgia State Assembly knows that life begins at the moment of conception, and a fertilized egg death is a human death — a death that we should all grieve, and of course investigate to the fullest extent until we find the responsible party and bring them to justice (the death penalty, which your bill prescribes as the punishment for killing a pre-born Georgia citizen, is definitely appropriate here). I couldn’t agree more, and I would like to help.
As I’m sure you know, more than 50% of fertilized eggs –Georgia citizens! — naturally don’t implant, and are flushed out of the body during menstruation. I am personally concerned that my own murdering woman-body may have flushed out some human beings, and I may have flushed them down the toilet without knowing that I was disposing of Georgia citizens in such an undignified way. This must be remedied. I would like to be sure that I am not killing any more Georgia citizens — and that if I am, they are able to receive a proper funeral and not a burial at sea, and that our state police can dedicate valuable time and resources to investigating their deaths.
To that end, I attach a picture of my latest used tampon. I am preserving this tampon, as well as all of my other tampons, pads, feminine hygiene products and soiled panties from my current menstrual cycle, so that the Georgia State Police can come collect them as evidence. I would also be happy to drop the specimens off at your office, should you want to examine them yourself.
Please let me know if I can make an appointment to give you these items. Or, since I appreciate that you are a very busy man, please let me know when the police will be by my home to collect them, as my next cycle is rapidly approaching and they are starting to smell. I cannot keep them in my refrigerator for much longer.
Thanks for all the work you do to further the pro-life cause.
Sincerely,
Jill Filipovic
This is Rep. Franklin's contact info:

Rep. Bobby Franklin
401 Coverdell Legislative Office Building
Atlanta, Georgia 30334
Phone: 404.656.0152
Fax: 404.656.5562
bobby.franklin@house.ga.gov

Funny Video on Science

The very first real reader of this blog V. just shared with me this great video. Watch it if you are either in sciences or love to make fun of Lady Gaga:

Dorothy Seymour

I'm sorry for posting so much, people. I often resolve to stop inundating people with posts so often but there are so many things going on everywhere that are worth commenting on that I just can't help myself. This is a story that was brought to my attention by reader Patrick whose controversial comments we all appreciate. Thanks, Patrick!

The baseball lovers among us must have surely heard about Harold Seymour's seminal studies of this sport. I know nothing about baseball but even I have heard his name and know of his importance to the writing of baseball's history. Now it turns out that much of the research for all of the books and most of the writing for the last one had been done my Seymour's wife Dorothy, his life partner of 30 years whom he refused to acknowledge as a co-author. 

Dorothy contributed a lot to Harold's career from the moment they married. She was helpful in helping him get through the writing of his doctoral dissertation:
As a good '50s wife, she typed the 632-page dissertation in which Seymour traced baseball from a childhood pursuit of boys into a full-fledged business and American cultural centerpiece. Cornell University awarded him his doctorate in 1956, and the dissertation helped launch sports history as a legitimate scholarly pursuit. It grew into his first baseball history book, published in 1960.Dr. Seymour's wife knows now that she probably contributed more to that dissertation than the academic world would consider appropriate. In the preface, Seymour acknowledged "the help of numerous individuals and organizations."He did not mention Dorothy.
Everybody knows that being the partner of a person in the throes of writing a doctoral dissertation is very hard. Those of who who suffered through the process of researching, writing, revising and going nuts over the dissertation know how much we owe to those people who were by our side and put up with us in the process. Seymour, however, felt nothing similar. A wife for him was not as person. She was a convenient object who was supposed to produce and shut up.


The most frequent argument male chauvinists use to disparage women is that the entirety of human civilization was created by men while women just sat there twiddling their thumbs and sometimes managing to look pretty which only served to distract men from their all-important endeavors. I wonder how many of the great works of literature and scientific advances owe their existence to the silenced wives who toiled in the background and whose input was never recognized.

Harassing Posters in the Classroom


Fellow blogger Izgad was kind enough to allow me to share with you this picture of a posting board that is located in the back of the college classroom where he teaches.

I'm completely incensed by this. In would refuse to teach in this classroom. Then, I would bring one of the administrators to look at the board and ask them to explain why it is OK for me to be harassed in the workplace. Then I would get in touch with the feminist organization on campus and ask them what it is they see as their mission if something this egregious slipped right by them.

I'm sure there will be readers who will not understand what the big deal is and why I find this offensive. Something tells me these readers will be male. So for them, I found the following picture:


How would you like to teach your classes while staring at this the entire time?

Ricardian

I have a host of weird hobbies and interests. One of them consists in collecting materials coming from Ricardian Apologists. To honor this interest of mine, I will regularly post reviews of Ricardian sources and start a new page on this blog where I will gather links pertaining to the topic of Ricardian Apology. It might seem like a boring subject at first, but bear with me, and I will tell you why it's fascinating.

We have all heard the opening lines of Shakespeare's Richard III:
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.
In Richard III, Shakespeare presents Richard as a nasty, ugly, humpbacked character who compensates for his lack of male charms with an unquenchable thirst for power:
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace, 
Have no delight to pass away the time, 
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun, 
And descant on mine own deformity: 
And therefore,--since I cannot prove a lover, 
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,-- 
I am determined to prove a villain, 
And hate the idle pleasures of these days. 
 Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 by Henry Tudor who started the Tudor dynasty. His death is often considered to be the symbolic end of the Middle Ages in England. Richard has been accused (and this is very important) of murdering his two young nephews who were legitimate successors to the throne. Ricardians believe that Richard was unjustly accused of killing the boys. They have offered very strong arguments as to why it makes no sense to accuse Richard of killing the two young princes and as to who was the real murderer. I will acquaint you with the Ricardian version(s) of events little by little.

Now you might ask why I, who am neither a medievalist nor a scholar of English history, became so interested in Richard III. When I was 9, I discovered the story of Boris Godunov, the Russian tsar who, just like Richard III, rose to the throne against enormous odds and was accused of killing the little prince Dmitri who was a legitimate heir to the throne. There are two famous literary works in Russian literature that take competing positions as to Godunov's guilt in the murder of the little Prince. Pushkin, the greatest Russian poet, wrote a famed play called Boris Godunov that supports the version of Godunov's guilt.

A.K. Tolstoy (not to be confused with a much inferior Leo Tolstoy, the author of the vapid Anna Karenina and War and Peace), however, wrote a much better (in my opinion) play titled Tsar Boris where he suggests that Godunov was not to blame for killing the Prince. I was so impressed by these competing literary accounts that I wrote my first piece of literary criticism at the ripe old age of nine, comparing these two works of literature.

The myth of Boris Godunov, an upstart who ascends to the throne as a result of cunning and a murder of a prince of blood, is as much a mark of Russian bloody separation from the Middle Ages as the story of Richard III is of England's.

Now think about what's going on in the US today for a second. Are we not living through a very similar debate as to who is more worthy of ascending to the throne, Bush Jr., who inherited it or Obama, who forged his birth certificate? Oh, you don't think he forged it? Well, maybe Richard III and Boris Godunov didn't kill anybody either. Maybe a painful entrance into modernity is always accompanied by a debate about whether inheriting power is more legitimate than ascending to power through one's own efforts. Maybe it always involves questioning whether "the upstart" has usurped power through a crime against the true, royal blood.

Teaching Rewards

There are many annoying things that come with being a teacher. This is a profession that transforms you, and not always in a good way. A teacher is often a person who grasps at any opportunity to offer a lecture.

"Do we have any bread left, honey?" a teacher's partner asks her.

She clears her throat and launches into a lecture on the meaning of bread, its history, and ideological ramifications of its consumption. In the meanwhile, the hapless partner munches on the bread and wonders how he got himself into a  relationship that is an eternal classroom.

At a party, a well-meaning host often has to approach a teacher and tell her, "Sweetie, we are not in the classroom. It's OK not to answer every single question people ask of others."

My mother who was a teacher of mathematics in our country became very used to students greeting her entrance into the classroom by standing up (which is traditional in our culture.) The students don't sit down until the teacher tells them they may do so. One day, after teaching 10 classes in a row (which was a regular practice in the Soviet Union), she walked into a crowded subway car. there were no empty seats, so many passengers were standing. When she saw all those people standing when she walked in, my mother thought she was in yet another classroom.

"Good evening. Please be seated," she announced in a loud teacherly voice. The passengers regaled her with bewildered stares.

However, being a teacher has its rewards. I just received an email from a former student who thanked me for everything I taught her and shared how she is using the activities I presented in class with her students. And they love it. 

When a student feels like getting in touch to thank you long after the course ended, you get the highest teaching reward imaginable. No award for excellence in teaching could beat this great feeling.

Entitlement and Parents

I read the following comment at College Misery today that made my hair stand on end:
I recently learned my parents gave my younger brother $40, 000 so that he could buy part of a regional airport. These are the same parents who paid $50,000 less for my college education than they did for his, and who told me two years ago that there was no way I could live with them or borrow money from them since they didn't have any.
Some people's sense of entitlement is really scary. They forget that the moment when they reach the age of 18 their parents don't owe them anything any more. If your parents are willing to support you financially after that, that's great. They are not, however, obligated to do so in any way. They have the right to dispose of their money, the money that they made for themselves, in any way they wish, and nobody, in my opinion, has the right to dispute their choice and feel resentful about it.

If I were to discover tomorrow that my parents gave $40,000 to my younger sister so that she could buy an airport or anything else, I would be very happy on two accounts. First, that my sister had the money. And second, that my parents were in good financial shape that allowed them to make this kind of gifts to whomever they chose. As I was growing up, I was always told by my parents, "The only money that is truly yours is the money you made." This was a very valuable lesson as it taught me never to desire or begrudge anybody else's money.

Many people tend to see their parents as property that belongs to them and that has no life, will or desires of its own. Parents are people, too. They are responsible for their children's well-being until the children reach the age of majority. After that, they have no financial obligations to their children. 

The Insanity Is Contagious

Do you remember the bill in South Dakota that proposed to legalize murders of abortion providers? The idea caught on, and now Iowa and Nebraska are considering similar legislation. The people who are pushing for these bills are the same people who call themselves pro-life. These are also the same people who screech about how much they hate governmental intrusion into citizens' lives while advocating governmental intrusion into women's bodies in the most egregious way possible.

Just to think that a bunch of sexually repressed maniacs who hate any reminder that others do enjoy actual sex lives would make such a public spectacle of three states. 

Who's next, I wonder?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Research Is Unforgiving

There are many wonderful things about the academic career. A great amount of free time, a high social position, a respectable salary, good benefits, the opportunity to spend one's life reading, thinking, and writing, getting paid for expressing one's opinions and growing intellectually, the chance of helping young people to develop their love for learning - all these things make our job one of the best career choices possible. There is, however, one big obstacle a beginning academic needs to overcome, which consists of actually finding a tenure-track position.

There are many positions where one can end up after getting a PhD. One can become a Visiting Professor, an adjunct, a lecturer, an instructor, or get that horrible curse of scholars in the Humanities, a post-doc. It is only a tenure-line position, however, that opens the door to the wonderful things I have listed above. All other positions only lead to crazy teaching loads, no support for research, ridiculously low salaries, and no power of decision-making at one's institution.

Tenure-line positions are very hard to get nowadays. In the first year I was looking for a job, over 400 people competed for one tenure-track job in my field at a college that nobody will ever consider first-tier. The second year I looked for a job, things got worse. Many people fail to find tenure-line positions for a few years after they get their PhDs. Often, they discover that these several years that have elapsed since they graduated and that they spent as adjuncts, post-docs or instructors make them nearly unhireable for any tenure-track positions. As an example, see this story from College Misery.

It might seem very unfair that employers would reject people who have graduated a while ago in favor of "freshly minted PhDs." This policy does, however, have a very practical justification. Research is a very unforgiving endeavor. It is similar to a jealous, high-maintenance lover who cannot be abandoned even for a short time, let alone for years. A while ago, I listened to a scholarly presentation by an academic who hadn't done any research for a few years for a variety of personal reasons. As a result, he was completely clueless about some important new developments that had been done in his field. His presentation sounded like a valiant attack on windmills that weren't really there any longer.

Unfortunately, the teaching loads of adjuncts and instructors are huge, while the pay is extremely low. As a result, they have to teach part-time at a variety of places just to make ends meet. Who has time and energy to think of research under those conditions? Prospective employers understand that and are unwilling to give tenure-track positions to people who have been in such jobs for a while. After I got the PhD, I knew that I had to do everything I could - and more - to get a tenure-line job. Or I would be out of academia for good. This is an extremely stressful situation to be in, but that's how things are.

What Everybody Needs to Know About Bandwidth

Mike, who is an expert on everything that has to do with connection technologies (pardon my clumsy expression but I'm a little tired this week), writes the following on his blog:
People in general just don’t really understand how fantastically, insanely cheap bandwidth is these days. It’s so cheap imagine that if you went to the grocery store and your monthly food bill was a fraction of a penny. . . Yes, there does need to be equipment in place to support all the traffic. But I can buy and roll out enough equipment to provision a small country – say, 10 million people — with 100Mbs synchronous connections for not more than 100 million dollars. (Yep, really.)

I had absolutely no idea about this because this is not what we keep hearing about the pressing need to kill unlimited usage plans.

In case you didn't know, AT&T recently cancelled its unlimited data usage plan for cell phone users and made all of its plans usage based.

Inconsiderate Coworkers

Some people have no idea how to be civil to their coworkers. They believe themselves to be the center of the universe and don't seem to realize that other people exist. We complain about our students having no manners, but how can these kids be expected to behave courteously when they see esteemed older professors being extremely inconsiderate towards others.

Today, I'm showing a movie in two of my classes. In order to ensure that the audio-visual equipment works well, I stayed until after classes ended yesterday and did a trial run of the DVD. I hate making students waste valuable class time while I fumble with the equipment. So I made sure that everything worked perfectly and left. Today, I come to class and discover that:

a) the person who taught before me didn't log off. Which meant that I had to reboot the computer. This operation takes at least 5 minutes since the computer is not extremely new.

b) the audio-visual equipment was disconnected. There is no legitimate reason why one would need to unplug the sound system and the DVD player that were turned off and weren't bothering anybody. But this is what the inconsiderate colleague did. So I had to crawl around on the floor for ten minutes, messing up my clothes, and letting the students experience the richness of my swearing vocabulary in Spanish while I connected everything back.

The next time I'm showing this movie today is 2 pm. I'm quite resigned to yet another inconsiderate person messing up the equipment yet again. 

You Can't Be Smart All the Time

"Today we will be watching a movie based on a work by the great Spanish realist writer Benito Perez Galdos. The movie is called The Grandfather," I announced in class.

"Great!" the students responded. "What is the movie about?"

"It's about a grandfather," I explained authoritatively.

The students almost choked with laughter.

This does not bode well for the article I have started to work on and which will be based on this work of literature.

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Judging Other Cultures

Bill Maher has become a target of a veritable barrage of critical posts, tweets, and articles because he said the following on his show recently:
Let me get to the other religion which is on my mind because I was more excited about the Arab revolution in the Middle East this week, before we heard the horrible news about Lara Logan and I looked at this: 94 journalists last year were killed - that's a lot - a 139 the year before.  You know it's forget when you see what we consider tv stars cause there are anchor men and anchor women over there; it's not a reality show.  This shit is really dangerous and we do not know the details of what happened there, but I think it's fair to say Muslim men have a bad attitude about women in general and I would just like to say to them, that you're never gonna have this revolution happen, unless there is also a sexual revolution that goes with it.
In the ensuing discussion with Tavis Smiley, Maher admitted that he is judging other cultures and defended his right to do so:
I am saying, I'm not prejudiced. That's pre- judging; I'm not pre-judging, I am judging. I'm judging. They're worse, what's wrong with just saying that? You're a cultural relativist; it's not relative. 
(You can watch the relevant part of the show, read the transcript and see the criticism that has been heaped on Maher as a result of these statements here.)

I'm not going to argue with the strange people who have chosen to see in Maher's words an apology for the kind of sexism that still exists in Western countries. Saying that something is bad can only mean that everything else is good only in a universe that is completely devoid of logic. What I find interesting is Maher's courage in leaving aside the fake pseudo-Liberal "tolerance" of everything that is different. A refusal to judge another culture (person, group, etc.) according to the same standards that one uses to judge oneself or one's own culture is not a sign of respect. It's a sign of a deep-seated condescension and an unabiding fear of otherness. 

I have no idea whether Maher is familiar with Žižek, but his closing statement in this discussion is very much in agreement with what the greatest living philosopher has to say about tolerance:
You know what, when you tolerate intolerance, you're not really being a liberal.
This statement could have easily come from Žižek himself.

Settling

There is this trend I'm seeing in a lot of popular writing that consists of criticizing people in their twenties and thirties for being immature and irresponsible, especially as compared to the way their parents lived when they were the same age. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article by Kay Hymowitz who sees this phenomenon as mostly limited to men:
Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This "pre-adulthood" has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it's time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn't bring out the best in men.
 Hymowitz, who is a rabid anti-feminist, blames this state of affairs on mean, nasty feminists who made all men "bad." Her argument is boring and has been made a gazillion times before by other anti-feminist screechers. Hymowitz's hypocrisy is, of course, self-evident. Without feminism, she wouldn't be writing articles for The Wall Street Journal. She'd be making sure that the dinner was ready on time and struggling to avert the disaster of her husband dumping her for a 20-year-old secretary. There is nothing even remotely curious in Hymowitz's desire to dump on a movement that gave her everything.

What I find interesting, though, is that her sentiments as to a prolonged "pre-adulthood" as a negative phenomenon are often echoed in progressive feminist circles. In a discussion of Hymowitz's article, a progressive blogger Hugo Schwyzer made the following comment:
I don’t think that “extended adolescence” is entirely a fiction — the “drifting” phenomenon we see of young men who are waiting for some certainty to strike is real. It’s not in the bars of Manhattan that we have the problems. It’s on the couches and in the basements of much of the rest of the country, where we have an ever-rising percentage of young men hooked on pot, porn, and World of Warcraft, with mama still doing the laundry. It’s not feminism’s fault, of course — it’s the fault of a culture that refuses to believe in men’s capacity to self-regulate and to achieve.

Hugo refuses to blame "extended preadolescence" on feminists. He, however, still sees it as problematic without ever explaining why it bothers him so much. What's wrong with people not rushing into marriages and careers but, rather, taking the time to enjoy life, pot, porn, and World of Warcraft? 

People who have pushed themselves into marriages that are OK but do not make them ecstatic, into jobs that are fine but don't make them light up with joy are begrudging those who refuse to settle for this kind of existence their freedom. Those who settle for something mediocre cannot fail to dislike those who don't. Saddling yourself with a host of duties and responsibilities that you never really wanted and slipping into a lifestyle that could never be described as a bed of roses is likely to make you look with resentment at those who are in no hurry to do the same.

At 15, 20, 25, we wait for our lives to begin. We know that one day our real, adult lives will start, and eagerly await to see what these lives will turn out to be like. And then, one day, we wake up and realize, "Oh my God, this is my life. I'm living it right now. This is kind of it." One might greet this realization with horror or with joy. Of course, it also likely that people who enjoyed an extended pre-adolescence will be as terrified with the life they ended up having as those who pushed themselves into boring marriages and unexciting careers at an early age. However, they will at least have the memory of having had fun with their pot, porn, and World of Warcraft.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

DOMA One Step Closer to an Inevitable Demise

The Attorney General will no longer support the ridiculous and offensive to any normal human being Defense of Marriage Act. And not a moment too soon. It's mind-boggling that in the XXIst century a country like the US should cater to a small group of crazed religious fanatics by passing silly pieces of legislation such as DOMA. This is from the Attorney General's statement::
Much of the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed DOMA.   The Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional.  Congress has repealed the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.   Several lower courts have ruled DOMA itself to be unconstitutional.   Section 3 of DOMA will continue to remain in effect unless Congress repeals it or there is a final judicial finding that strikes it down, and the President has informed me that the Executive Branch will continue to enforce the law.   But while both the wisdom and the legality of Section 3 of DOMA will continue to be the subject of both extensive litigation and public debate, this Administration will no longer assert its constitutionality in court.
Finally, this Administration has stopped insulting all of us by supporting the Defense of Marriage Act whose only value lies in placating the crazy religious fanatics who can't stop policing other people's personal lives for lack of their own.

Russian Globe

There must be a reason why this globe on the front of a hotel in Russia is turned upside down but I'm not ready to venture a guess.


The name of the hotel is also hilariously funny but you have to be a Russian-speaker to get it.

Thank you, reader Michael, for sending this in!

Silly Sociology

I first had an inkling that things were not going extremely well in sociology when I looked for a definition of collective identity among the works of today's leading sociologists. The state-of-the-art definition I encountered was the following:
Collective identity is something that somehow brings certain people together.
The earth-shattering announcement that collective identity is something came in a very thick and expensively edited book with glossy hard covers that was published by a group of sociologists in 2002.

Then, a Canadian friend who is in sociology begged that I take part in the study conducted by his department. The study consisted of a survey I had to answer online where I was expected to finish the statement "I'm a. . . " 25 times. It became clear to me very soon that they were expecting me to place my salient collective identifications first, and the less salient later. I sat there for a while, staring stupidly at the test. The only answer I could come up with was, "I'm a person." Then, I started providing variations on that. "I'm a beautiful person," "I'm a tired person," "I'm a stupid person who agrees to take part in idiotic sociological studies."

At least once every semester our graduate students in sociology ask us to participate in a study they are conducting. Every single time, the questions they ask us are mind-boggling in their silliness. Last year, an earnest grad student tortured me for 20 minutes with questions about "work-life balance," a concept that I find impossible to comprehend. Work is obviously a part of life (at least for me, given that I am employed). Work and life are not two separate entities. It isn't like I die when I arrive at the office and then come back to life after I leave it. You cannot balance a whole and one of its parts, can you? 

When I regaled the grad student with this speech, she looked at me like I was an idiot and said, "This is not how you are supposed to answer. The goal of the study is to prove that for female academics achieving a work-life balance is hard. So you should tell me how hard it is." 

Of course, I was not surprised that a sociological study was being conducted in order to achieve predetermined results. Or that it was based on a meaningless set of terms. Or that anybody would want to waste time and resources on such a useless exercise. I just told the student that my work and life were in perfect balance and it wasn't hard at all.

I have no doubt that she excluded my answers from the final results of her study.

Is Hamas Anti-Women?

People love simplifying complex issues, paring them down to the degree where all complexity is lost, and all that remains is an oversimplified, meaningless slogan. Thus the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is transformed into "Israel bad, yay to independent Palestine" or vice versa. The proponents of such an approach tend to feel extremely self-righteous. They believe that they have solved the problem and found a solution, so they despise all of us who dare remind them that the issue may be a little bit more complex than what their Hollywood-inspired "good guys versus bad guys" mentality suggests to them.

Liberals are especially funny in this respect because they have a history of vocally supporting regimes and political movements that, if successful, would have killed, imprisoned or muzzled these very liberals in the matter of seconds. Take, for example, the liberal sympathies towards Hamas. You have to be deaf, mute and blind or have just moved here from the moon not to realize that Hamas is extremely anti-women and anti-gay. To give just a little example of the most recent instance of Hamas's anti-women barbarity:

 A Gaza rights group says the ruling Hamas militant group has barred male hairdressers from working in women's salons. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said Monday that five male hairdressers were interrogated and forced to sign declarations that they wouldn't work in women's salons. Male hairdressers for women are rare in conservative Gaza where genders rarely mix in public. Hamas tried to impose a similar ban last March, but backed down after an outcry. It's the latest attempt by Hamas to impose its strict version of Islamic law on Gaza's 1.5 million people. The group took control of Gaza in 2007. It has also banned women from smoking waterpipes or riding behind men on motorbikes.
So how ridiculous are the so-called liberals who claim they are feminist and militate for gay rights, while simultaneously thinking that handing over an entire region to anti-women and anti-gay religious fanatics is a wonderful idea?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Putin Against Google

You know that a country is not on a good path when its leaders criticize that nasty, mean Internet for spreading the news of popular unrest and political protests. The authoritarian government of Vladimir Putin and his puppet Dmitri Medvedev has decried the role that the Internet played in the recent events in Egypt:
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's deputy blamed Google Inc in an interview published on Tuesday for stirring up trouble in the revolution that ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. "Look what they have done in Egypt, those highly-placed managers of Google, what manipulations of the energy of the people took place there,"Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin told the Wall Street Journal. Such strong comment from one of Putin's most trusted deputies is a clear signal of growing concern among Russian hardliners about the role of the Internet in the unrest which has swept across the Arab world. . . In contrast to state television, Russia's Internet is remarkably free and the home to often scathing criticism of Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev and the entire Russian elite. Russia has so far resisted placing restrictions on the Internet, but analysts say there are a group of hardliners close to Putin who would like to impose controls similar to China's.
Putin, who made his career in the KGB during the Soviet times persecuting dissidents and working as a spy, cannot fail to hate the freedom to exchange information that the Internet offers. His attacks on Google are easy to understand for anybody familiar with how the majority of the people in Russia use the Internet. The greatest and most popular Russian search engine, www.yandex.ru, doesn't index websites in the same way that Google does (based on their usefulness and degree of popularity.)  Yandex is controlled by certain political and financial groups that make sure, for example, that during elections an independent politician doesn't get his or her name listed in any searches.

One of Putin's main fears is that the Russian people will tire of Yandex's manipulation of information and will switch to Google. For now, this hasn't been happening because the Yandex format is still more familiar to the Russian people. Soon, however, they might start waking up to the idea that a search engine that restricts your access to information isn't worth using.

I'm just afraid that when the Russians finally awaken to Google, we will have already lost the last shreds of net neutrality, and Google will become exactly what Yandex is today: a convenient tool for corrupt politicians and the oligarchs who bought them.

Why You Are Still Not Married?

I love my readers. They are always there for me to answer questions or make me feel better when I'm tired. Today, a fellow Canadian and a reader of this blog Patrick read my post that discussed how exhausted I was, and immediately sent me this wonderful link to a hilarious article titled "Why You're Not Married." here is how the article begins:
You want to get married. It's taken a while to admit it. Saying it out loud -- even in your mind -- feels kind of desperate, kind of unfeminist, kind of definitely not you, or at least not any you that you recognize. Because you're hardly like those girls on TLC saying yes to the dress and you would never compete for a man like those poor actress-wannabes on The Bachelor.You've never dreamt of an aqua-blue ring box. Then, something happened. Another birthday, maybe. A breakup. Your brother's wedding. His wife-elect asked you to be a bridesmaid, and suddenly there you were, wondering how in hell you came to be 36-years-old, walking down the aisle wearing something halfway decent from J. Crew that you could totally repurpose with a cute pair of boots and a jean jacket. You started to hate the bride -- she was so effing happy -- and for the first time ever you began to have feelings about the fact that you're not married. You never really cared that much before. But suddenly (it was so sudden) you found yourself wondering... Deep, deep breath... Why you're not married.
The rest of the article is just as priceless. I laughed until I almost choked. My students will be grateful to Patrick who helped me get into this great mood.

In case anybody is wondering, the reasons why this imaginary projection of the author's self is still not married are that she is a bitch, shallow, a slut, lazy, selfish, ruled by her hormones, and not good enough. then there is the regular patriarchal drivel about needing to lower one's expectations, thinking less about oneself, etc.

Welcome to the XXIst century, everybody!

Bathroom Police



This lovely set of instructions on how to use the toilet appeared in our professors' bathroom today.


I'm wondering if the person who felt the need to tell professors not to urinate on the floor and leave the bathroom seat up for some unfathomable reason could first figure out that "every time" are two separate words.

Revelations

It's a day of revelations for my students. First they discovered, just like Moliere's M. Jourdain did, that they speak in prose. Then, I asked them (in Spanish, of course) if they spoke Castilian.

"No!" they answered in unison.

"Yes, you do," I said. "You just answered a question in Castilian."

"Get out of here!" exclaimed one of the students in English.

I'm not sure how I would translate that response into Castilian in a polite manner.

Kindle Singles

Very rarely do I criticize anything that has to do with the Kindle. I love it and I wouldn't be without it for any amount of money. However, this new invention by Amazon called Kindle Singles is annoying. Amazon's attempts to push it on faithful customers who have no interest in this weird format are even more annoying.

Kindle Singles are short essays (30 pages or so) on a variety of topics, each one of which is more idiotic than the next. Why would I want to read the story of somebody whose only claim to fame is that his father didn't manage to make money as an Amway employee? Or a weird "love story of a teenager hunted by a diabolical voice?"

Of course, people should read whatever rubbish they want in any silly format that suits them. What I find irksome, though, is that now the entire e-books page of the Kindle store is filled with these Kindle Singles that are interspersed with regular books. Also, Amazon keeps recommending them to me, even though I have no idea what in my buying history could have suggested that I might like either the content or the format.

I'm in a crabby mood today. If you are looking for the definition of the word "cantankerous," come meet me.

God Loves Me

I'm exhausted, people. Last Friday I was in meetings all day long. On Saturday and Sunday I worked very hard on my article. Yesterday we had a variety of activities related to our candidate's campus visit, and I was preparing this week's classes in between. Today I'm teaching my 3 classes, and there are more campus visit activities. So I will need to have a major relaxation and fun day tomorrow.

What to do, though? How to relax and rest? So I go to the Amazon Kindle store and I discover that six more books by my favorite Ruth Rendell have become available on Kindle today. Of course, I read them all before but rereading Rendell's books when I'm too tired to read anything new is my favorite way of replenishing my energy levels. After I spend most of Wednesday doing this, I will be able to start working on a new article on Thursday.

And then there are still people who doubt the existence of God.

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Extremely Controlling Parents and Autism

Reading posts of the parents of autistics is sometimes scary. Look at some quotes from just one post:
I’m caught between looking out for her safety, and trying to loosen the leash a little.
Because she isn't really a child, you know. She's a puppy. This is about a little friend her daughter tried to make:
 This little girl, let’s call her Angie, is about a year older than Julia, and gives me a bad vibe.  I know it seems ridiculous to get a bad vibe from a 7-year-old girl, especially when her mom is like the sweetest woman on the planet, as are her older siblings, but  I can’t help it.  First it has to do with the things I see her do when Julia’s not looking.  She makes faces and rolls her eyes at Julia, and such.  Then it’s the way she often checks to see if I’m watching.  She makes me uncomfortable.
And more about the poor child's attempt to form a friendship. Note that this is an autistic child who might not find forming  friendships to be all that easy in the first place. Just observe the attempts at programming the girl: nobody is your friend, you are mistaken if you think they are. Also pay attention to how the mother has already figured out what the child's emotional reaction should be. The girl isn't even entitled to her own emotions.
 She has absolutely no idea that this girl isn’t her friend.  None.  And the really heartbreaking part is that if she were to discover that fact, it would devastate her.  
 And the culmination of this ode to pervasive control:
 It’s not enough for me to just tell her to trust her instincts, and to not let people fool her into breaking the rules, or doing something dangerous.  She needed me to tell her she can’t walk on the handrails.  Well who the hell would’ve thought she’d do that?  I have no way of anticipating what the next little manipulator will try to get her to do.  So, right this second I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to keep my girl safe, and still let her explore her world a bit.  
Is anybody wondering what it is that the little girl is escaping from through her autism? I know I'm not.

P.S. Please don't try posting anti-autistic crap. I will not let it through anyways.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Polyglot

Our job candidate, who is a native speaker of Portuguese and a teacher of Spanish, greeted me today with a recital of a poem by Pushkin. In Russian. Then he greeted my colleague who teaches Chinese with a long phrase in Chinese. Then he spoke in Yoruba to a colleague from Nigeria. Then I felt so bad about the puny number of languages I speak that I retired to my office and almost avoided hearing him talk to other colleagues in German and French.

Alcohol on Campus Visits

I always think that there is nothing more American Puritans can do to surprise me but not to fear! They keep coming up with new ways of  making a show of their prissiness. It turns out that no alcohol can be had at the dinners we offer our job candidate during his campus visit. Or, at least, the university will not reimburse that part of the restaurant bill.

The reason why a person who has just gone through a grueling campus visit cannot have a glass of wine or a beer at the end of the day at the expense of the university that invited him for the grueling campus visit is something I will never be able to understand. If there is some crucial difference between a can of soda and a glass of wine, I am failing to see it. Is it the fear that somebody, God forbid, will have a tiny shred of fun on the university's money that's driving this policy? Is it the fear that after one drink the candidate will become a raging alcoholic and will sue the school for making him one? Or is it simply one of those manifestations that employees are actually human that terrifies administrators out of their wits?

And, of course, I will be offering the candidate a drink and paying for it myself. After everything we've put him through today and will tomorrow, that's the least I can do.

My Debut As a Bitchy Interviewer

Being on the job market is still very fresh in my mind. I remember very well how terrified one is during phone interviews, MLA interviews, and campus visits. Now that I'm on a real search committee for a job candidate (as opposed to those fake ones where the choice is predetermined and everybody just goes through the motions), I feel a lot of compassion towards the candidates. My first instinct is to be kind and reassuring with them.

However, this job search is extremely important. My own professional future might depend on it to a larger extent that I would wish for. For this reason, I will have to put my kindness aside for the moment (which isn't very difficult for me to do, as regular readers of the blog must know by now) and ask every tough question that comes to mind. I'm also not one of those academics who fears that people will see her as "too bitchy." My guiding principle in life is that people would worry a lot less what others thought of them if they only knew how rarely human beings think about others.

At my department, junior faculty members are treated as equals. Nobody expects us to sit there quietly and nod in agreement. Not a single senior colleague has ever pulled rank on me or declared that my opinions were not valuable because I was less experienced. Now, I'm going to have an opportunity to have a one-on-one dinner with the candidate where I will be able to find out everything I need to take an informed position on him. I hope I don't make the candidate suffer too much in the process.