Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to Become a Member of Amazon Vine?

New Developments in the Tragic Death of Dr. Antonio Calvo

Read about new developments in the tragic death of Dr. Antonio Calvo here.

Migrating

In keeping with my restive immigrant identity, I decided that I couldn't leave well enough alone and created a huge headache for myself with this move to WordPress. I realize that in a year or two, when this blog has even more visitors than the original one had, the drama I've created around this move today and yesterday will seem funny. But there's been drama, people. I barely managed to get any sleep at night, my hands are shaking, and my ears are buzzing. A book arrived that I'd been waiting for, and I barely cared. And I also just discovered that I forgot to eat today. This blog has been making me very happy, and I'm terrified of losing readers and visitors.

So please keep coming to clarissasblog.com. Enter this new address into your Google Reader and blogroll. Bookmark it and link to it on your blog, Facebook page, or other resource.

The Wordpress Version

So here is the WordPress version of this blog:


Do check it out and tell me how you feel about it. Don't be too critical just yet because it already took me forever to establish it and move all the posts, pages, archives, and most of the comments to the new blog.

I know that everybody is going to hate it at first and it takes time to get used to the new format, etc. Believe me, I'm already freaked out about the entire thing. But it does seem like WordPress is more secure, it offers a lot more options for bloggers and there is a Blackberry app that will make blogging on the go even easier. 

Please visit and express opinions. What's good, what's bad, what's missing? 

Nothing is final yet and I can always cancel the transfer to WordPress.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Should I Back the Blog Up on Wordpress? Or Move Altogether?

After the Blogger collapse last week, Blogger is still not functioning properly. Several widgets on my blog are not working and it takes longer than usual to load. The Dashboard has been working poorly for several weeks now. Other people who blog with Blogger report continued issues with posting and commenting. After the unpleasant experience of Blogger being down for 23 hours last week, I have realized that I don't want to remain without my blog. I love blogging with a passion and want to continue doing it for a very long time to come. I'm only just getting started here, and I've got a lot more things to say. A real lot. 

So I've started thinking that maybe Blogger should not be relied on. I read that there is an option to export one's blog to WordPress and leave it there as a back-up option. In this case, if Blogger goes down again, readers will simply go to the WordPress version and continue reading there. Or is it a stupid idea?

Or maybe I should move the blog to WordPress altogether? Are there any distinctive advantages that WordPress has over Blogger? Or is it an even more stupid idea? 

Does it make sense to buy one's own domain name? What are the benefits of doing that?

Please help, people, I'm torn and confused. I'm placing a poll in the top right-hand corner and will also be grateful if you elaborate in the comments.

Clarissa's Frog Legs Soup: A Recipe

I love making soups because you can be as inventive as you want and use up all the stuff you have floating around the refrigerator. Today, I decided to make a soup of frog legs and fish. Once again, a Google search didn't offer any interesting recipes, so I decided to improvise. It turned out so good that I have already devoured two big bowls.

Here is what you will need:

3-4 pairs of frog legs
3-4 fish of any kind you like. The fish should be skinless but it is very important not to remove either the backbone or the tail. They are needed to make the broth less watery.
3 potatoes
2-3 carrots
salt, herbs, spices
some fresh sage

Here are the frog legs and the fish all ready for cooking. Separate frog leg pairs in two so that you have to separate legs. There is no need to chop them up onto smaller pieces.


You can use either fish stock or simply water if you have no stock handy. Place the chopped carrots and the frog legs into the broth (or water) and place the pan on high. You will need to bring it to the boiling point and then reduce the heat immediately.


Add a bay leaf, salt and pepper, and any herbs and spices you like. I added dry oregano, cumin seeds, several cloves, mustard seeds, and when the soup was almost ready, some fresh sage. Peel, cube and add potatoes to the soup. After 10 minutes or so, cut the fish into chunks of the same size and add them to the pot. Let the soup simmer on slow until the potatoes taste ready but not mushy. Here is how the soup ended up looking:


If you let it stand for a few hours after making it, the soup will taste even better.

Literary Characters Versus Real People

For years, my thesis adviser kept telling me, "Clarissa, these are not real people you are discussing. These are characters. You are not analyzing historical accounts or ideological manifestos but works of art." I had no idea what she was trying to tell me and kept getting annoyed.

And then I started reading criticism on female novel of development and realized that the following argument keeps being offered by the critics who write on the subject: "Novels reflect reality. The reality of women in the 19th century was that they were miserable, stunted, and oppressed. After the women's liberation movements achieved important successes in the 1970ies, women became liberated, happy and a lot less oppressed. Ergo, novels about women written in the 19th century will be populated by oppressed, miserable female characters who are incapable of developing. After the 1970ies, novels will show crowds of happy, fulfilled female protagonists." 

When you start reading actual female Bildungsromane, you discover that both novels and reality are a lot more complex than such facile definitions allow us to imagine. These works of fiction do not conform to the critical expectations in the least. Often, they present the exact opposite of what the above-mentioned argument leads us to expect.

This is probably the rule of literary criticism that it took me the longest to learn: characters are not real people.

A Helpful Insight From a Fellow Blogger

It is uncanny how helpful reading blogs can be to a person. I've been putting off the moment when I will stop looking for more and more and ever more sources for a new chapter I want to add to my book and will finally start writing. The search for sources took so long that I have now completely forgotten what I read in the sources that I had found at the beginning of this protracted search. When the summer holidays began, I decided to inaugurate them with yet another search for sources. In the meanwhile, I kept congratulating myself on how hard-working and productive I was being.

And then, as I was browsing through some older entries on one of my favorite blogs, I saw a very short post that seemed to be directed at me personally. It said something like this, "Stop reading already. You have read everything you need on your topic. Now just start writing." 

"Hmm," I thought. "This kind of makes sense." So this morning I woke up early and finally started writing. And I already have 491 words in my new chapter. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it's more than I had written during all that time I was searching for sources.

I'm thinking of ordering a poster with this beautiful insight and sticking it in front of my desk. These three short sentences probably encompass the best piece of advice one can give to any academic.

The Demise of the Soap Opera

The genre of the soap opera is facing an inevitable death. Soap operas that have run for decades are being cancelled. ABC recently announced the cancellation of All My Children and One Life to Live. Guiding Light, my favorite soap opera, was slashed in 2009. (Notice the date, it's important.) As the World Turns was killed by CBS last Fall. There are rumors that even General Hospital is about to be replaced with a Katie Couric show.

If you look at the time-frame of these massive cancellations of soap operas, you will see that they are very obviously linked to the economic crisis that hit this country in 2008. The crisis hit industries that have traditionally been dominated by men the hardest. As a result, men who can afford a full-time housewife have become few and far between. I blogged before about the fact that, paradoxically, this crisis might end up being a positive development in terms of women's rights. Historically, the greatest pushes towards women's liberation came during moments of crisis. World War I brought women into the workplace and led them to demand the right to vote even more insistently than before. The turbulent sixties in the US inspired the women's liberation movement to fight against the patriarchy and finally defeat it an many important aspects. The collapse of the Soviet Union made Soviet women discover the word feminism and generate an interest towards it.

As the demise of the soap genre demonstrates, women who can be sure of always being at home in the afternoon with little enough to do but watch soaps are disappearing. More and more women are finally getting outside of their kitchens and into the workforce. While one might want to dismiss the cancellation of the soaps as a trivial event, it is evidence of profound transformations that are taking place in our society. Žižek loves quoting Mao Zedong's words: "There is great chaos under heaven – the situation is excellent." As traumatic as this crisis have been, it has done a lot to push women towards freedom.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Google Books on Kindle

In case you have also been taken in by Google's stories about how you can't read Google Books on Kindle, I have great news for you: it's simply not true. For some weird reason, I kept believing Google's claims and never checked it out for myself. Now, I finally decided to look into it and discovered that Google lies like a college administrator. Converting Google Books that come in e-pub format to Kindle's MOBI format is extremely easy and completely free. 

All you need to do is download Calibre (for free) from here, install it, and it will convert all your e-pub Google Books to the Kindle format in the matter of minutes. Then, you can either have the program send the converted books to your Kindle by e-mail, or just download them to the Kindle yourself via your USB cord. It's beyond simple, people.

I just downloaded three XIXth century Spanish novels that my library couldn't get for me for love or money. Did I mention how I adore my Kindle?

Funny 2

Another hilarious comment from my husband.

We are walking around the neighborhood and, once again, a nasty little dog runs up to me and starts barking its head off.

"And that's a nasty, horrible part of the American dream," my supportive spouse says.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Funny

After reading on my Twitter what President Obama's wealth amounts to, I decided to share this knowledge with my husband.

"Can you guess how much money Obama has?" I asked him.

"Altogether?"

"Yes."

"Well, that depends on whether he has a huge mortgage on his house," he responded completely seriously.

P.S. The number I saw in the tweet in question was $3.8 million.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Ernesto Laclau's On Populist Reason: A Review

I have to confess that I'm extremely disappointed by Laclau's 2005 book On Populist Reason. One thing you need to figure out before you start writing is what your audience will be like. Are you trying to address the specialists in your field or do you want the book to be accessible to any reasonably educated person? Once you have decided who it is that you are writing for, then you need to make sure that both the ideas you express and the language you use to transmit them are on the same level.

In On Populist Reason, Laclau seems to have forgotten how important it is to know your audience. He uses extremely complex, jargon-ridden writing style to transmit ideas that are beyond basic. If I am to struggle through the author's convoluted sentences and displays of erudition, I expect his argument to lead me to something better than the kind of trivialities that Laclau offers in this book.

Laclau begins his study of populism with an overview of the existing definitions of this concept. He points out that  the perception of populism as something that is a priori negative is the only reason why such definitions only succeed in demonizing populism in terms that are as negative as they are vague. Instead of analyzing populism, political theorists attempt to demonstrate how much they condemn it and then allow this condemnation to taint every conclusion they make. Laclau attempts to move away from such facile definitions and offer a more profound analysis of populism. However, he fails at that task quite spectacularly.

More often than not, it felt to me that Laclau was talking to people he considers to be deeply unintelligent and unaware of the most basic tenets of political theory. He does it in the kind of language, though, that would prevent these ignoramuses from following his line of reasoning. Here is one of the many examples:
The complexes which we call 'discursive or hegemonic formations', which articulate differential and equivalential logics, would be unintelligible without the affective component. . . We can conclude that any social whole results froman indissociable articulation between signifying and affective dimensions.
This statement concludes over 100 pages of a very convoluted discussion and does nothing more than announce in this extremely technical language that communities are bound together not just by reason but also by emotions. Well, duh. This idea has been studied, discussed and argued ad nauseam for over 100 years now. There is hardly any need to convince those of us who are capable of reading Laclau's texts of something so banal.

In a similar way, Laclau offers a very plodding discussion that is supposed to lead his readers to the earth-shattering conclusion that - believe it or not - populist movements can exist both on the Left and on the Right of the political spectrum. I am sure that there are people who are unaware of this fact but these are not the same people who can get through 40 pages on floating signifiers.

I have also discovered from On Populist Reason that in the US populism has been hijacked by the Right that, against all reason, managed to convince farmers and blue-collar workers that the Republicans represent the interests of the regular folks as opposed to the Democrats who supposedly only defend the rights of the long-haired East Coast elites. I know that you must have already yawned twice as you have been reading this paragraph. We all know this, we have all heard this said a gazillion times. Why Laclau believes that it needs to be pointed out yet again is beyond me.

The book is filled to the brim with inanities of the most disturbing kind. On page 177 (close to the end of the book), we find out that in order for the populist appeal to be effective, there have to exist some problems in society. A society where institutional stability is complete, will not respond to populism. But, of course, perfect societies do not exist, so this situation is completely hypothetic. "Surprise, surprise!" I wrote on the margins when I read this. For the most part, this was my reaction to the entire book.

Coco Louco Restaurant in St. Louis: A Review

Now that I have discovered N. Euclid Ave in St. Louis, I can't stop going there. It even reminds me of Montreal a little in spite of being as empty as the rest of the city. And that's the highest compliment I can pay to a city. So yesterday we went to a Brazilian restaurant called Coco Louco. In the reviews I read before going there, people almost unanimously agreed that the food there was fantastic while the service was abysmal. In my experience, however, the food at Coco Louco could be a lot better while service was impeccable. (It's not like I'm doing this on purpose, people, but I never manage to agree with the popular opinion on anything.)
As you can see, the restaurant was pretty empty.
It was a Sunday, of course, but I
find it impossible to believe that there are
people in this city any day of the week
Our waiter's name was Benya and he turned out to be a Russian-speaker. That's one of the things I love about this country. You go to a Brazilian restaurant in the Midwest and get served by a Russian-speaking waiter. How cool is that?

As for the food, one thing that I can recommend highly is the appetizer plate for $14. Here it is:


The appetizer plate contains these great meat and cheese filled pastries that are called "pastel." The best kind is the beef pastel. It as so good that we ordered several extra ones to take home with us. As for the main courses, I wouldn't say that the ones we tried are really worth the price. I had the red snapper that you can see on the picture here:


It is quite good but it really didn't feel like it was worth the $27 the restaurant charges for it. 

Then, there was espeto mixto wihich is different kinds of meat grilled on a skewer. Brazilian cuisine is almost as famous for its meat as the Argentinean, but this meat was quite a disappointment. It was simply mediocre and unworthy of the famed name of Brazilian meat. You can see the skewer with some remnants of the espeto mixto on the picture here:


The dessert was really good. It's a mango mousse and we got it on the house. Here it is:


Overall, we had a splendid time because we always enjoy discovering new restaurants. The food, however, didn't really do justice to the great Brazilian cuisine. If the weather is nice next weekend, we will probably go back to St. Louis, and I will share with you a review of an Indian restaurant they have on N. Euclid.

China and Internet

You know what I just noticed? I've had visitors from pretty much all over the world on this blog. Just today there was one visitor from the Palestinian Territories, one from Cambodia, four from Serbia, two from Saudi Arabia, one from Tanzania, thirteen from Indonesia, one from Bahrain, and so on.

I haven't had a single visitor from China, though. Not just today but ever. I don't remember ever seeing a single visitor from China here. Are all these reports about the growing popularity of the Internet and blogging in China just lies? I know that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are banned, but are people even prevented from using Google?

The saddest thing, of course, is that now, when the US owes over a trillion to China, nobody will even try to mention human rights violations in that country.

The Ugliest Cake Ever

Is it just me or is it the ugliest cake you have ever seen, too?


I wonder what the cake is supposed to symbolize. A jail for Snickers bars? I'm also curious what a psychoanalyst would say to a person who actually gave this monstrosity to their mother for Mother's Day. 

I found the picture of the ugly cake here. There are many other repulsive cakes on that blog but this one is the definite winner.

Vegetarian: Clarissa's Vegetable Ragout

Recently, I felt a craving for a good, colorful vegetable ragout. However, a long Internet search didn't result in a single recipe that didn't look boring or monochromatic and didn't include either meat or canned vegetables. So I had to invent my own recipe. Some of the ingredients of this vegetarian ragout were things that I'd never tried before, like eggplants. (Yes, I'd never eaten eggplant in any form in my life.) I really loved the result and decided to share it with my readers.

Here is what my Vegetable Ragout ended looking like:


I'm folding the detailed description of how to make it under the jump break to spare those who aren't interested the trouble of scrolling through endless photos of diced vegetables.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Copyrighting Blog Photos

What I find very weird is that many people go to the trouble of posting angry warnings that all photos on their personal blogs are copyrighted and shouldn't be used without the owner's permission. I'm not talking about any kind of artwork here. Just regular, completely unprofessional photos everybody snaps on a daily basis. I don't know what possesses people to feel so protective about stuff that they choose to post online. 

As for me, if I post a photo on my blog, this means that I want people to use it. If somebody finds my clumsy pictures useful for any purpose, that's great, I'm happy. Free exchange of information is the best thing about the Internet. 

A Weird Article on College Education in the New York Times

While I agree that trying to impose the business model on academia is wrong and that high standards of education should be maintained at all costs, I am often baffled by how people go about defending these useful ideas. Take, for example, the recent article in The New York Times titled "Your So-Called Education." After reading it, I realized that, according to the article's authors, the greatest problem in higher ed is me. Let's look at some of the points the article makes.

The quality of college education is slipping because:

1. "In a typical semester, for instance, 32 percent of the students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week."

I must be a real underachiever because in my undergraduate courses, I never assign more that 30 pages of reading a week in any given course. I teach literature and culture, so reading is pretty much all we do. However, my goal is not to get the students to skim through as many pages as possible. I want them to read critically, to engage with the text, to try to go through it slowly. If you read 3 pages a week but manage to come up with some analysis of it, it's a lot more useful than gulping down 100 pages of a text just to fulfill some silly requirement.

2. "50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester."

In my trademark course on Hispanic Civilization, students write several short essays that come up to less than 20 pages per semester. The writing component is crucial to that course. (Because I decided that it should be.) However, I don't see how it helps anybody to get the students to hand in reams of poorly written garbage. If a student manages to produce a single beautifully written page at the end of the semester, I will believe that my goal in the course has been accomplished. Students come to this Freshman course with no understanding of what distinguishes good and bad writing. Giving them humongous writing assignments will only lead them to reproduce the same horrible writing techniques they brought to college from their high schools.

3. "The average student spent only about 12 to 13 hours per week studying — about half the time a full-time college student in 1960 spent studying."

I wonder if anybody has counted how many of those hours a student in the 1960 spent hunting for information and doing manually all those things that today are simplified to an incredible degree by the Internet and text processing. If we take into account how much faster the writing becomes thanks to text editors, I'm sure we will arrive at a conclusion that today students work more.  

4. "Not surprisingly, a large number of the students showed no significant progress on tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing that were administered when they began college and then again at the ends of their sophomore and senior years. If the test that we used, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, were scaled on a traditional 0-to-100 point range, 45 percent of the students would not have demonstrated gains of even one point over the first two years of college, and 36 percent would not have shown such gains over four years of college."

I must have poor critical thinking skills myself because I truly fail to understand how critical thinking and complex reasoning can be measured on "a traditional 0-to-100 point range." The authors of this article bemoan the fact that the business model has been imposed on academia, but they fail to notice to what incredible degree they have been infected by this very model. Good reading and good writing for them are about a number of pages. Complex reasoning is about a number of points. In short, numbers rule supreme.

5. "Expanded privacy protections have created obstacles for colleges in providing information on student performance to parents, undercutting a traditional check on student lassitude."

The idea that educators would somehow benefit from having even more helicopter parents buzzing around them is bizarre. Has anybody ever developed their critical thinking skills because they were afraid their parents might scold them in case they didn't? 

6. "Too many institutions, for instance, rely primarily on student course evaluations to assess teaching. This creates perverse incentives for professors to demand little and give out good grades."

The idea that professors who demand little and hand out easy grades are the ones who get good student evaluations is completely misguided. If I told you what percentage of students I fail each semester, I think you'd agree that I'm anything but an easy grader. My evaluations, though, have always been fantastic. Students actually don't like professors who ask too little of them. In my teaching experience, the only way to get students to evaluate you highly is to demonstrate that your knowledge of the subject matter is profound.

7. "And the Department of Education could make available nationally representative longitudinal data on undergraduate learning outcomes for research purposes, as it has been doing for decades for primary and secondary education."

Given that primary and secondary education in this country have gone completely to the dogs in the past couple of decades, this suggestion really mystified me. "Longitudinal data on learning outcomes" is the bureaucracy-speak version of teaching to the test. This model inflicted untold damage on our secondary education on a daily basis, but now we are to inflict it on higher education as well.

In short, even when The New York Times is trying to do something good, it ends up  producing the exact opposite.

Wired for Compassion

We all know how much I adore pop-science articles that brainwash our anti-science population with talk of brain wiring. (I even blogged about it on my very first day as a blogger.) Volumes of actual science have been published disproving the sexist claims of these brainless brain wirers. Still, they keep publishing their rubbish and ignoramuses keep eating it right up because it fits in so neatly with their expectations of clear-cut gender differences.

Here is one of the most recent examples of such a piece. It tries to convince us that vaginas are more compassionate than penises, even though the bearers of said vaginas and penises disagree:
Mercadillo and his colleagues describe an experiment featuring 12 women and 12 men. As the participants viewed a series of 100 photographs, their brains were scanned using fMRI technology. Every second image was one that evoked compassion (according to previous research). Examples included sad human faces, war scenes and depictions of famine. “No gender differences were observed in the frequency of reported compassionate experiences,” the researchers report. However, what was happening in the participants’ brain told a different story. As the compassion-evoking photos were viewed, activity was observed in two areas of the brain — the thalamus and the putamen, part of the basal ganglia — in women but not in men.
 I'm not going to provide a detailed analysis of why this so-called study conducted on an extremely representative sample of 24 people in a scientifically backwards and profoundly sexist country is idiotic. Echidne's Blog has done this beautifully already. I just want to call your attention to how both genders are degraded in the concluding lines of this fascinating piece of journalistic stupidity:
So ladies: When the men in your life seem insensitive to suffering, try not to respond with scorn. The problem, it seems, is one of brain circuitry. It shouldn’t be hard to take pity on them; after all, you have an enormous capacity for compassion.
Men are presented as not entirely human here. They have to be pitied and condescended to by women who do have the capacity of experiencing the full range of human emotions. At the same time, just like centuries ago, women are still being exhorted to be understanding and forgiving with men. Five hundred years ago, we were supposed to do that because it was our God-given duty. Today, we are still expected to condescend to men because we are told that this is how our brains work. Some things don't ever seem to change.

Jesus As Reagan's Sidekick

You've got to love those hilarious folks who somehow manage to combine fanatical Christianity with Libertarianism. Of course, one must have no understanding whatsoever of both to believe that they can be upheld simultaneously. (If you are wondering what Jesus would think of free markets, then I'm wondering whether you know anything at all about Jesus.)

So here is a very inventive blog header whose hapless author is trying to resolve the painful contradiction between worshiping free markets and worshiping Jesus:


As we can see, this particular Reagan fan chose to put "Ronnie" first and Jesus second. I kind of feel sorry for Jesus because playing second fiddle to Reagan, of all people, is quite insulting.

P.S. In the very top post of this freaky blog, I found the following sentence that tells us all we'll ever need to know about such folks' scary brand of religiosity:
 I had a lot of sinful years without Christ but God is in the business of forgiving sins.
What I wonder is whether God is successful in business and whether he pays any taxes. I know that Jesus wants us to pay taxes, but does he pay any himself? This is what theologians need to be working on.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman: A Review


The inexplicable success of Stieg Larsson’s mysteries is the best thing that has happened to Scandinavian writers since Selma Lagerlöf. Larsson’s untimely death left a void that publishers are trying to fill desperately. Scandinavian names, long descriptions of cold weather and depictions of carnage in Sweden, Norway and Denmark are suddenly in vogue. Since many Americans are a bit confused on where Sweden is actually located, all European mystery authors are experiencing a surge of interest in their books.  


As you can see from the cover of Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman, this author’s publishers are doing all they can to milk Stieg Larsson’s fame for all it is worth. This, however, is something that, in my opinion, this author doesn’t need. This book is very good. Its only defect is that it is too drawn out. In his zeal to create as many twists to the plot as humanly possible, Jo Nesbø goes a bit too far and creates a 100 or so pages somewhere in the middle of this long book that feel quite redundant.

If I had to compare Jo Nesbø’s style of mystery writing to another author’s, I would say he bears no similarity to the weirdly boring Stieg Larsson. Rather, Jo Nesbø is the Norwegian version of Michael Connelly. (Connelly apparently agrees and has published rave reviews of this writer’s work.) Nesbø’s protagonist called Harry (sic!) Hole is a police officer on a mission. He is also a lonely drunk and a die-hard romantic who gets treated badly by the woman he loves. Nesbø isn’t nearly as good as Connelly in creating a complex and richly-layered protagonist. His Harry looks a little cartoonish at times. He is much better than Connelly, however, in writing the ending to his mystery. Connelly’s endings tend to be much too abrupt. This gifted writer doesn’t seem to realize that you cannot announce the culprit’s name on the last page and just be done with it. The laws of the genre require that after the culmination there should be a winding-down period where the readers are offered an explanation of either what drove the murderer to commit the crimes or a description of the deductive process of the detective that resulted in solving the mystery. Nesbø’s ending is absolutely perfect.

The Snowman is a serial killer mystery. In the novel, Norwegians seem quite frustrated with the fact that they alone, of the three Scandinavian countries, have failed to produce a serial killer of their own. There are other cute moments in the book that have a very specific Norwegian flavor. See, for instance, the following passage that would have Ayn Rand die all over again were she around to read it:
'It's a very small shop. We don't have many customers. Almost none until the Christmas sales, to be honest.''How. . .?''NORAD. They support shops and our suppliers as part of the government's trade programme with Third World countries. The message it sends is more important than money and short-sighted gain, isn't it.'
This is, of course, a very dangerous game that the third richest country in the world (after Luxembourg and Qatar) is playing. Oil comes and goes while people who have been corrupted by such ridiculous handouts remain.

There are some sparks of wisdom in this novel that I wanted to share with you. One of the characters says, for example:
Our generation has turned itself into servants and secretaries of our children. . . There are so many appointments and birthdays and favorite foods and football sessions that it drives me insane.
Anybody who has observed the frantic scrambling of the Western parents to organize endless play dates and activities for their children will have to agree with this observation. 

I enjoyed this book quite a bit and recommend it highly. Of course, it didn't hurt that snow was mentioned pretty much on every single page making this summer heat somewhat more bearable.

More on the Neighborhood Dogs

The summer is here with a vengeance. We are at +35C every day. This means that I run the danger of having my blood pressure shoot up. This happened to me last summer and I was completely incapacitated (although not prevented from blogging) for almost six weeks. So this summer I'm trying to avoid a hypertensive episode by taking very good care of my health. One of the things I do is walking 10 miles a day. And, as usual, the nasty neighborhood dogs try to do all they can to scare innocent passersby away from the street.

Today I was walking around the neighborhood when a neighbor's dog spotted me. Thank God in heaven, this particular dog was on a leash because it pretty much flew up into the air when it saw me and started barking so aggressively that one would think I'd just drowned her puppies right in front of her. 

"Oh, don't worry, she just loves you to death!" the dog's owner informed me with a beatific smile.

"Whose death?" I inquired as I ran away.

Philosophy As a Way to Work Out Your Worldview

I wrote before about my deep interest in philosophy and reader el asked me to elaborate on the reasons why I'm so interested in it. I have to confess that my engagement with philosophy is purely utilitarian. As hard as I tried, I haven't been able to become interested in whether things exist outside of our consciousness of them, what apperception means to Leibniz as opposed to what it means to Kant, how the ontological  concept of substance developed from Plato to Hume, and how Dasein is different from Existenz. 

Of course, you need to be familiar with the boring basic concepts of philosophy before you can proceed to the really fun stuff. It's the same with all branches of knowledge. You need to spend hours memorizing Spanish conjugations and cases when the Subjunctive is used before you can start talking to people, watching movies and reading books in the language. Philosophy has a language of its own, and it needs to be mastered if you want to begin to approach the works of the leading philosophers of our times. The reason why I have put myself through the aggravation of deciphering Kant's and Heidegger's mind-numbing texts is that philosophy provides the best short-cut to a deeper understanding of how things work, how societies operate, and what motivates people than any other field of knowledge. 

The kind of philosophy I'm most interested in is the one that lies in the crossroads between philosophy itself and other fields of knowledge. Philosophy and political science (Ernesto Laclau), philosophy and psychoanalysis (Julia Kristeva), philosophy and film studies (Slavoj Zizek), philosophy and social studies (Zygmunt Bauman) offer insights into subjects that are central to human existence. Trying to create one's own worldview without using the ideas that thinkers have developed over the entire course of our civilization's existence is similar to finding your way to the Americas without relying on the maps and the technology that we have today. Of course, you could find a couple of rusty caravels and just sail in an undefined direction hoping to arrive at the New World eventually. Or you can buy an airplane ticket and let the advances of humanity take you there much faster and easier. An airplane ticket is costly and so is the understanding of philosophical concepts. But both are worth the price.

Philosophy Conference, Update

So remember that conference on philosophy that I was dying to attend? My talk proposal has been accepted! Thank you everybody who encouraged me to apply even though I do not specialize in philosophy and have had no formal training in the discipline. I'm extremely happy that I didn't choose the safe bet of a conference in my field where everybody gets accepted and instead went for something much more difficult but a lot more fun.

I will blog about my debut as a philosopher at length.

Even in the happiest marriages. . .

. . . there are moments when you'd rather be anywhere rather than in the matrimonial bed.

P.S. Four "boring" reactions and one "appalling"? The post is less than 1 line long, people. How bored can you get with it? 

Movies I Actually Love, Part I

I have mentioned time and again how much I dislike cinema. It pretends to be art but almost always fails to live up to the claim. As entertainment, it is too authoritarian for my taste. There are, however, several films that I love and consider to be as close to works of art as any movies can be. Here they are in no particular order.

1. Before Almodovar sold himself out to Hollywood and started churning out idiotic tear-jerkers of the Hable con ella and Todo sobre mi madre variety, he was actually a great movie-maker. What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984) is, in my opinion, his greatest work. Every frame, every move of every actor, every single word are absolutely amazing. I really wish we could have the early Almodovar back, but obviously that's not going to happen.

2. Before Javier Bardem sold himself out to Hollywood and became the new favorite lap dog of the egregiously untalented Penelope Cruz, he was one of the most gifted actors of his generation. Mondays in the Sun (2002) is so professionally and beautifully made and Bardem is so incredibly good in it that I can't stop watching this film. I'm now on my second DVD because I watched the first one so many times that it became useless.

3. El verdugo (1963) or Executioner by Luis Garcia Berlanga is a classic of Spanish cinema. It is a very quiet, low-key portrayal of how easily and casually one can slip into performing acts of atrocity in the most mundane way possible. In many ways, this film is very symbolic of what the entire XXth century has been like.

4. In case you think I only like Spanish-language movies, you are wrong. Crash (1996) by David Cronenberg (not to be confused with a 2004 film by the same name) is a brilliant movie. It has been criticized by prissy viewers and film critics. Nevertheless, it is one of the most insightful cinematic analyses of sexuality that I have ever seen. The movie's tone is subdued to the point of being flat which is precisely what makes it standout against the background of regular Hollywood concoctions that attempt to deal with sex. Hollywood film-makers and audiences are so terrified of sexuality that they talk, cry, babble and prattle it to death.

5. As I said many times before, nobody knew how to make movies like the Russians. It's very difficult to choose one film that I consider to be the best among the incredible production of the Soviet filmmakers. I guess, Unfinished Piece for the Player Piano (1978) has got to be the winner from the Soviet epoch. The film is based on a play by Anton Chekhov. Chekhov is obviously a genius and making a film based on his work is a huge challenge. Nikita Mikhalkov, the director, used to be so good that he created a version of Chekhov which is better than the original. This is also the only film where Mikhalkov delivers a great performance as an actor. (His acting talents are extremely limited but here he was really good.) Forget about the plot of this movie, just observe how beautifully the director creates the ambiance. The actors are phenomenal, as usual in Soviet movies. 

6. From the post-Soviet era, I recommend Heart of a Dog (1988). This movie is based on a novel by one of the greatest Russian writers of the XXth century, Mikhail Bulgakov. Once again, as amazing as the novel is, the film manages to be almost as good. Unlike the previous movie I listed here, I don't think this one exists with English subtitles. Which is a shame because non-Russian movie-lovers are losing out on something huge here.

(To be continued. . .)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Osama's Porn Collection

No matter what religion a fanatical fundamentalist belongs to, he is still going to turn out to be a damn hypocrite. I'm sure that after all their sex scandals, Evangelicals are happy to know that they are not alone amongst the most fanatical representatives of world religions. It might even turn out that Osama's porn collection overlaps with the ones enjoyed by the most rabid preachers of Christian virtue. Here is an article about the porn that was discovered in Osama's compound:
The pornography recovered in bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, consists of modern, electronically recorded video and is fairly extensive, according to the officials, who discussed the discovery with Reuters on condition of anonymity.
If bin Laden hadn't gotten himself killed, he could have easily run for office as a Republican candidate. The guy was obviously hypocritical enough for that. 

Obama and Osama

I understand that it's easy to make a mistake and confuse the two names but people really should be more careful. I almost had a heart-attack when I saw the following in my blogroll:
So, Obama is dead.  Which is to say, he’s a martyr.  Of the many gifts the US gave him in his life, and they were many, this may be the last one.  Some say he didn’t want to be martyred, at least not right this moment, and no doubt that’s true.  But the difference between seeking martyrdom and not minding that much exists.  He didn’t really go that far out of his way to avoid death.  He could have shaved the beard, had some plastic surgery and disappeared into Indonesia.  He would never have been found.  His compound was not heavily guarded.  Bin Laden need never have been in the line of fire.
It's only when I got to the part about the beard that I realized whom the author of the post was actually referring to.

Responses to Blogger Meltdown, Part III

And here is the funniest part of the responses to the Blogger malfunction. I now present to you the Blogger conspiracy theorists:

I'm beginning to become very worried, I suspect the problem cannot be fixed and soon Google will announce it can no longer continue with the Blogger service due to a fatal system error.  Blogger is better than Gmail and Google search combined. Blogger is better than sliced bread!!!!!! Blogger is the best thing in the world. DON'T SCRAP BLOGGER!

So beware users if you ask to many Questions of post that you should look for alternatives Your acount gets suspended

Google = Enron

I saw someone's post about the eBlogger has been sth like hacked / blacklisted regarding security reason (in US)

Google is slowing trying to get control out from bloggers. 

Either Google is incompetent, or, the CIA is mucking about with Blogger because there have been so many posts on the CIA's psy-op in Abbottabad in Pakistan

I have two blogs.  One of them is on a topic some would consider controversial.  It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens to my blogs or others that are deemed "controversial" or "sensitive."

And this is Blogger's official response that is either a deliberate pun or an explanation for the ineptitude of Blogger's employees. 

Blogger:

Thanks for your patience in the mean time.

Responses to Blogger Meltdown, Part II

Thank you, everybody, for sticking around while Blogger was down and preventing the stats of Clarissa's Blog from slipping down even marginally.

To reward you for your patience, here are more hilarious post titles from the Blogger Help forum. These are all completely real. I did not invent them or change them in any way. 

Wistful:

i'm leaving blogger for  avoiding more pain in the future. of course blogger will not miss me.

Tragic:

We Should Have Been Warned

My entire blog is gone

Blogger goes down, taking 30 hours of posts with it

This is a suspense thriller that I wish I could opt out of :(

Psychoanalytical:

broken posting - broken communication

Yes, we are frustrated, but let's put this into perspective. 

Philosophical:
In a perfect world, everything would work the way it is supposed to. Since we don't live in a perfect work, stuff doesn't go according to plan. In this case, it didn't.

Business-like:

Can you please give us a TIME for blogger being back up. This is adversely affecting my business.

My blogger is still down and unavailable! Please advise

Why no further updates as to when service will be restored?

Didactic:

yes, our blogs are down, but we survived before the invention of the blog.  It's a blog.   12,000 people died as a result of the tsunami-earthquake in Japan.  There are children who won't get breakfast this morning.  Millions of Americans live in substandard housing. We expect everything to be fixed in an instant.  Doctors are still searching for a cure for cancer.  Buildings cannot built overnight.   Sometimes, even computer glitches can be difficult to repair. 

Political:

I just don't understand why Blogger has maintenance problems these days? Being terrorist attacked? I'm losing my readers!

A military compound in Pakistan was just bombed and 80 people have been injured and my blogger service is down.

Have we been attacked by the Russians or Chinese. I can't for the life of me understand why Google would have these kinds of  maintenance problems.

Medical:

I am getting shakes..withdrawals....HELP

How long is this going to take? I'm beginning to have Blogger withdrawal!!!

Corruption in the Higher Education System in Spain

A professor in Murcia is claiming that he is persecuted for writing a book about how corrupt the system of higher education is in Spain:
A Spanish university has denied that disciplinary proceedings against one of its professors are a response to a book he wrote alleging corruption at the institution. José Penalva, professor of education at the University of Murcia, has been accused of absenteeism and could face dismissal. He told Times Higher Education that he believed the real reason for the action was a book, published last month, in which he claimed that political influence and nepotism were rife in Spanish universities. Corrupción en la Universidad (Corruption in the University) describes what Professor Penalva sees as the incestuous relationship between Spanish universities and local politics, which he believes is a major factor in the "mediocrity" of the country's higher education institutions. "The rector always is a person who has a lot of power in the local community, and is always supported by a bunch of deans and politicians who scratch each other's backs," Professor Penalva told THE. "This explains why Spanish universities are at the bottom of the international rankings: there is no accountability, so the quality of research is very low," he said. . . Professor Penalva said Spanish universities were legally obliged to advertise academic positions, but that the majority of the members of the selection panels were appointed by the university's rector and the dean of the department in question. "This explains why 98 per cent of lecturers and professors in Spanish universities are 'local candidates' who have already worked in the department and have a 'godfather' there," he said.
I have no idea whether Dr. Penalva is, in fact, guilty of absenteeism, but I do know that he is absolutely right in his charges against the higher education system in Spain. I love Spain and have dedicated my life to the study, teaching and promotion of its culture. However, I have to agree that Spanish higher education is for shit.

When I first started out as a student in Hispanic Studies, my dream was to do my PhD in Spain. Then, gradually, I began noticing certain things that made me reconsider this plan. All of the brightest Hispanists I knew were doing all they could to leave Spain. When I asked them why they didn't want to look for a professorial position or a grad school program in their country, they would tell me that they didn't have the kind of connections it took to be successful in Spanish academia. The quality of courses in the Humanities is, more often than not, abysmal. Sexual harassment, nepotism and exploitation of graduate students are rife. As a result, scholars who want to do actual research and advance on their merits and not on the number of anuses they have been able to wipe clean with their tongues abandon the country.

It is not humanly possible to dedicate enough energy and time to research while simultaneously trying to cultivate connections with everybody who might be remotely "useful." Of course, I have seen academics here in the US who choose ass-licking (and I don't mean in a good, sexually fulfilling kind of way) over doing scholarship. Eventually, however, brown-nosers realize that this is a losing strategy and nobody in the academic community respects them. In Spain, it is just the opposite. As a result, students end up receiving sub-standard education and the prestige of Spanish college diplomas evaporates.   

P. S. If anybody knows where I can get the book in question, I will be very grateful. This is a book I would love to read and review. (Ordering online from Spanish bookstores is a humongous waste of time, as anybody who has ever tried it will know.)

Responses to Blogger Meltdown, Part I

A good blogger sees everything as a topic to blog about. Even the recent 21-hour-long shutdown of all Blogger blogs has produced a variety of interesting, blog-worthy observations. Take, for example, the Google forum where people have been venting their frustrations and asking for updates on the Blogger debacle. I have culled out the most curious titles of the comments on the recent events from the forum. Now I'm offering them to you, so that you can fully appreciate what a blogger experiences after being deprived of access to his or her blog. I have placed the titles into different categories to facilitate their perusal.

I warn you, though, that you are about to face a human drama of incredible proportions.

Desperate:

When will Blogger be working again? It's 9:24PM here, and I haven't been able to access my account for hours!!

3rd Attempt for help, still no responses!!! Please Help!

Blogger is broken

I can't even VIEW my blog. Help!

I don't want to know how many people have asked this question, I want the answer. How do I log onto my blog with bX-u32g6r?

YOU FOOLS GOOGLE/BLOGGER. 

Heelpsss !!! I can't Access my account today ...!!

I just want to blog!!!!

Existential:

I am lost without my blog, when will it be fixed?

What Going On ??

What does this mean?

WHY?

Is it the End of #Blogger.Com’s Era ?

this error will haunting me always.

Religious / superstitious:

Sweet Jesus, there are problems with Twitter too (and the Blogger Borg implodes)

Is this all problem with Friday 13?

What in Heaven's Name Is Going On With Blogger?

Lyrical (this is my absolute favorite section. You can totally sing every one of these comment titles):

My blog is missing, been taking away.....

Ooo.. Blogger!! Please, Bring Back the Our Account Now !! :(

when will this all will end, this is enough for too long

Help, My Blog Has Fallen And It Can't Get Up - Hello, Life-Alert?