I think I need to take up gardening now. I have never grown a thing or even kept a potted plant but I’ve got to have some genetic memory of all the generations of Ukrainian peasants who toiled on the land, right?

So what should a person who has no idea about gardening do as her first step? Is there some book or a website? Are there gardening outfits?

Also, if we move in on May 31, is it too late to plant some flowers? And does anybody know if it makes sense to plant decorative red thyme in Southern Illinois?

When I ask people I know these questions, they begin to make fun because the idea of me gardening seems too extreme. But I learned to drive and I go to two different gyms, so change is possible. Especially, given the genetic memory.

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Totalitarianism Is Invincible

Totalitarianism is invincible because people embrace it so joyfully. Freedom terrifies them so much that they will agree to anything as long as somebody dictates their behavior. A coffee shop whose owner believes she is entitled to tell people how to use their property doesn’t encounter any opposition:

I was here working on my laptop when I looked over and saw that there’s a sign that says ‘laptop-free,’ ” says Luna Colt, a senior at the University of Vermont.

During a recent visit, Colt is shocked that using her computer is against the rules.

“My friend and I started talking about it because we’re both on screens,” Colt says. “Then I said, ‘Should I go up there and apologize?’ “

It is unbelievable to me that anybody would be so terrified, insecure and childish that they would apologize for being dictated to and mistreated.

This seems like a little thing but it surely tells us a lot about how easily people renounce their rights in order to present themselves as obedient little children. I would never continue patronizing a business whose owners would try to tell me that I can’t use my property while on the premises.

And the business owner’s reasoning for banning laptops is very totalitarian, too:

Whalen says it’s not just about money. “To walk into a place and see people looking at their screens with a blank stare, it takes away just kind of the community aspect of it — of you being in a place with other people,” Whalen says.

She thinks she can decide for her customers that they need “the community aspect” and enforce it. The only way such people manage to stay in business is because so many customers welcome totalitarian environments.

Academic Work Habits

A study of work habits of 30 academics at Boise State University showed that:

Faculty participants spent 17 percent of their work week in meetings – including those with students – and 13 percent of the day on email (both for research and with students). So combined, he says, 30 percent of faculty time “was spent on activities that are not traditionally thought of as part of the life of an academic.”

About one-third of work-week days – 35 percent – was spent on teaching, including 12 percent for instruction and 11 percent on course administration, such as grading and updating course webpages.

Just 3 percent of the work-week day was spent on primary research and 2 percent was spent on manuscript writing.

As I always say, people will do anything, and I mean anything at all, including attend useless meetings and dawdle with email and “update websites” all day long just to avoid doing research. I used to be one of them but then I took care of this problem.

I will now record everything I do in a week to compare my own productivity numbers to these. Uncharacteristically, I even have a meeting this week, so something will appear under “Service.”

An Inner Russian Gets a Pedicure

I can never find a pedicurist who’d make me happy because pedicurists tend to be very chatty and their favorite subject to chat about is how my toenails are unreasonably small. I, of course, prefer to think of them as dainty and don’t welcome criticism of them.

Why aren’t there any churlish pedicurists who don’t want to talk and don’t make me feel like a weirdo with freakishly small toenails?

Normally, when I want to make people stop talking I do what I call “channeling my inner Russian”, but in view of recent events that seems unpatriotic.

So I’m blogging instead and pretending I’m writing super important work emails.

Possible Republican Nominees

Republicans are kind of worked up about Obamacare, about the foreign policy failures, they’d like someone who is either engaged in those fights in Washington or a governor who’s governed successfully in real time, i.e., now. So a Scott Walker or a Mike Pence, or a Ted Cruz or a Marco Rubio or a Paul Ryan. And I think all of them, incidentally, would be better candidates probably than Jeb Bush against Hillary Clinton.

I don’t know who Mike Pence is, but God save us from the rest of them.

Whereas Scott Walker and Mike Pence and Marco Rubio and all those guys get to say: generational change, conservative reform agenda, get away from the failures of the Obama years.

Seriously? If these guys (save for the mysterious Mike Pence who might just be different) represent generational change in the Republican party and are supposed to take us away from the recent failures, then hello, President Hillary Clinton.

Facebook Wars

A friend on Facebook posted the following:


I responded with, “And that, my friends, is the worst kind of anti-woman statement known to humanity.”

By the way, Facebook suspended the account of a famous journalist in Russia because of an anti-Putin comment he posted. Now we know that Zuckerberg is pro-Putin. That’s quite weird, especially in the view of the recent proposals by the head of the Education Committee of the Russian Parliament that the website of the Parliament mention that Russians are Aryans.

From the Life of a Fanatic

Cliff Arroyo made an interesting comment (because  his comments always rule) that made me remember a funny story from my past as an undergraduate student:

I once had a supposed advanced intro-ish course taught by an excellent and insightful professor but rather than prepare the ground he zoomed right into the very latest hotness and we were all lost.

I remember a course like that when I was an undergrad. It was taught by a visiting star scholar from Spain. The course was on Golden Age drama. The star professor said at the beginning of the course, “I’m not going to analyze Calderón’s plays here, you’ve all read Life Is a Dream a hundred times, so it’s boring to keep talking about that. Instead, we’ll talk about the history of reception of these plays.”

That was the first time in my life I heard Calderón’s name, so I was absolutely terrified. Half of the people dropped the course immediately. The professor didn’t care because he is such a star that student evaluations or retention were of zero interest to him.

I, on the other hand, immediately ran to the library and spent the entire semester sleeping 4 hours a day, catching up on Golden Age drama. There were so many crucial works of literature from that era, and I had only been learning Spanish for 1,5 years by that time. Eventually, I wrote my MA dissertation on Calderón’s reception. But I’m a fanatic, and most students aren’t. Don’t we all wish we had a classroom full of our little clones to teach? Gosh, what wouldn’t I do with students like me!

A Glimpse Into the Future

Ceuta and Melilla are tiny enclaves in Africa that belong to Spain. They are all that’s left to Spain of its imperial glory. They are also among the most tragic places in the world.

Every day there are reports of desperate immigrants trying to enter the enclaves. They know that Ceuta and Melilla are part of the EU and that the moment they manage to cross the border they will be protected by Spain’s immigration law and will not be deported.

Ceuta and Melilla are surrounding themselves with fences, border patrols do what they can to prevent the Africans from reaching the fences, the Spanish parliament is debating whether the Spanish border lies right before, right after or right at the fences, and immigrants have started to form crowds and storm the fences, hoping that the border patrols will not manage to stop all of them at once.

Almost nobody outside of the region knows about Ceuta and Melilla. But this tragic place offers us a glimpse of what the future might be like for all of us. Global warming will bring increasing shortages of resources and the scarcity will hit the poorest areas on the planet the hardest.

I read news about Ceuta and Melilla every day and can’t stop imagining the time when we find ourselves locked in small embattled bastions of prosperity among a sea of desperation and poverty.

Putin Is a Second-Hand Stalin

My favorite Russian blogger (the one who is 89 years old) wrote that Putin is a second-hand Stalin from a flea market.

My own Russian husband has realized that, these days, the phrase to start and end the day is, “Putin is an asshole.” And also, “Crimea is Ukraine.”