Spammers Are Dumb

A spammer has been attempting to post a comment on my blog. The most hilarious thing about that comment is that it starts with the words “my hubby insisted that I offer you some advice.”

If there is one phrase that a feminist blogger will get annoyed with, it is this one. If there is one word this autistic can’t stand, it’s “hubby.”

You, stupid, stupid spammer. Just go away already and take your insistent hubby with you.

To Be Continued. . .

So it seems like the debt ceiling will be raised. Not to worry, though, there are several more rounds of this drama awaiting us:

  • We get not one, but two more debt ceiling votes in the immediate future, like Republicans wanted.
  • The McConnell notion of a future debt vote in which the president can get a small partial raising of the debt limit if he agrees it’s all on his own head, upon which Congress gets to have a meaningless “no” vote to wash its hands of it.
  • But that’s not good enough, so we also include the formation of Super Congress! It’s a Republican-desired committee tasked with making up to $1.5 trillion in budget cuts, so that Congress doesn’t have to do the dirty work itself. Then Congress gets to vote on whether to adopt those cuts…
  • … and we get the Republican demand of a “trigger,” because if those committee-proposed cuts get voted down by Congress, presuming the committee can even produce recommendations in the first place (the last one couldn’t), we get cuts anyway, in the form of mandatory across-the-board cuts of as much as $1.5 trillion.
  • As the GOP insisted, there are no new revenues. No tax increases.

If the Democrats were going to roll over and play dead anyways, then what was the point of the whole drama, I wonder?

I’m getting a sinking feeling we are never going to get out of this whole mess.

In Case You Have Started to Suspect. . .

. . . that I’m being contentious, controversial, provocative and obnoxious on purpose, well, duh. Of course, I am.

I could write about how roses are red, the sun is shiny, I adore my husband and my sister, and the world is lovely. I actually do write about those topics on a regular basis. They never generate any interesting discussions, though. With controversial posts, however, people get engaged, they participate, express fascinating opinions, argue. That’s just beautiful to me. I feel very enriched intellectually after each such discussion. I know of no better way to grow than arguing with intelligent opponents.

Seriously, what’s the point of reiterating endlessly things that everybody knows and agrees with, anyways?

I had two posts on contentiousness scheduled for the future but now I’m thinking that I should reschedule them to appear sooner. One is about contentiousness as a way of practicing Jewish identity and another about being contentious as a blogger.

Those Horrible Male Chauvinist Pigs

A feminist blogger has published a truly offensive letter she got from a male reader. Here it is for your perusal but, please, prepare to be shocked. This male chauvinist is completely out of control in his desire to demean a feminist blogger:

While I am a dude, and disagree with a lot of your worldview, I’d like to let you know I really enjoy reading your blog. You’re a very good writer and your posts are entertaining and thought-stimulating. Please keep up the good work — there is a paucity of actual quality content in the blogosphere, and I daresay that you’re propping up the mean.

Could you believe the gall? Those pigs feel they can just insult a female writer in this horrible way for the simple reason she is a woman. This is what the brave feminist responded to the offending reader:

When women write me, they never, ever tell me that I am “a very good writer” and to “keep up the good work” because there isn’t enough decent writing on the Internet. Women say things like “that post on consent changed my life,” or “Now I know I’m not alone/crazy/hysterical.”

Dudes, on the other hand, always feel compelled to inform me that they disagree with me (this is a non-negotiable component of dude fan mail), but that they are nevertheless are willing to be entertained by me. They usually include a couple of 25-cent words, like “daresay” and “paucity.” “Keep up the good work” is another essential element. Thanks for the dudely encouragement, dude! Because I was totally thinking about packing up shop and opening up a pole dancing studio at Whole Foods.

You go, sister! This will show them chauvinists how to compliment one’s writing. Jerks.

Of course, in the spirit of full disclosure, I received two similar emails from readers in the past week. The word “paucity” wasn’t used but the compliments to my writing were worded in a very similar way. Those readers are women, though. So now I don’t know how to interpret their emails. A terrifying suspicion has crept in: might they be wolves in sheep’s clothing, i.e. dudes in disguise?

And Sometimes It’s Just a Cigar

Somebody I know has been recommending Juan Cole to me forever. So I finally found time to check him out. And this is the first article of his I stumbled upon:

I take it the American news cycle is dominated by the artificial debate over raising the debt limit. It is a silly season story. The budget was being balanced by Clinton in the late 1990s, and the Republicans were the ones who created long-term structural deficits by slashing taxes on the wealthiest Americans (even Bush argued with Cheney over the second cut), by an unfunded prescription drug give-away to get votes from the medicare crowd, and by two unfunded wars, one of them illegal in international law.

The reason that the Republicans deliberately destroyed the balanced budget and created unprecedented government debt was precisely in hopes that at some point they could use the debt as an excuse to destroy social security, medicare, and myriads of educational and health programs. They represent rich people, and the rich don’t want to be having to bear their fair share of the national burden. What better way to get out of having to pay those pesky taxes than making sure the government doesn’t do anything for anyone but the rich.

So everything unfolding in Washington was planned out in a room in 2001, and is going according to plan.

I like a good conspiracy person as much as the next person, but this one is just too outlandish. A group of people huddled in a room ten years ago and planning everything that would happen ten years from then would make for a bad Hollywood movie. Reality, however, is always a bit more nuanced, complex, and unpredictable.

Also, I don’t think that demonizing the Republicans in this way is useful to the Liberal cause. If they are capable of such brilliant, out-of-this world planning and strategizing, then we really might want these resourceful and organized people leading the country. Of course, the question arises as to why such ultra-intelligent folks allowed themselves to lose the White House in 2008. Maybe that was part of their hidden agenda whose consequences will become evident ten or a hundred years from now.

The reason why the Republicans are anti-tax is much simpler, in my opinion. The voters who handed them the congress last November are anti-tax, so the Republicans are simply following through on that popular sentiment. In my Spanish class that I was teaching right around the time of the 2010 elections, we arrived at the chapter in our textbook that introduced the vocabulary related to politics. I always ask my students to begin approaching the new vocabulary by creating sentences with the new words. From these sentences, I discovered that my students in the American Midwest overwhelmingly believe that taxes are the government’s way of ripping off hard-working folks to feed a huge bureaucracy.

One might not like this fact but the truth is that there are very very many people in this country who are anti-tax and anti-government spending. A huge number of citizens is driven by the hope of becoming extremely rich and buying their own yacht. Whether they will succeed or not, having that possibility is crucial to them. They are more prepared to identify with a millionaire on a personal jet than they are with an unemployed steel worker. Even though their personal circumstances place them much closer to the steel worker, their sympathies still lie with the more positive example of the millionaire. Psychologically, this makes a lot of sense.

I’m sure most of my readers are well-aware of all this. As in immigrant, however, I felt puzzled by this phenomenon for a long time. Only after living in the Midwest and talking to people of all ages and professions did I begin to understand why these hard-working folks seem to vote consistently against their own economic interests. The thing is, they don’t. They are neither stupid nor deluded. They simply vote for the interests of their future selves, the ones who will have managed to make it big eventually.

Should We Celebrate Sex Workers or Condemn Prostitution?

I have been planning to blog about this for a while but then a blogger whose work I follow beat me to it. Here are the opening paragraphs of his brilliant long post on the subject:

By now I am getting extremely annoyed with a certain discourse around sex work that has become popular amongst some sectors of the North American (and occasionally European) left.  Originally a discourse that was limited to lifestyle [and predominantly male] anarchists, as well as a few hippy sex fetishists, the political assertion that sex work is liberating, and that the liberating potential of sex work should be treated as part of a radically progressive politics, is now being embraced by the broader left-wing population and gaining the support of so-called feminists, socialists and communists who should know better.  Indeed, the unqualified pro-prostitution position is being treated by some as a litmus test for numerous radical commitments as it is now attached to, and turned into a falsely essential component of, feminism, queer and trans liberation, and other anti-oppressive political positions.
Before going any further I want to emphasize that I believe that sex workers should have the right to unionize and that prostitution should be decriminalized.  The normative status of sex work, the so-called “oldest profession”, in capitalist society is clearly a result of patriarchal hypocrisy that preaches sexual puritanism on one hand and then reinforces this puritanism by, on the other hand, allowing sex to proliferate on the black market and in especial sites.
Choice feminism insists that every “choice” should be equally respected and valid. Of course, it’s easy to forget how many choices are made because no other option is available and how often oppressive systems coerce people into enthusiastic participation in their own oppression. More and more often, I see my blogroll polluted by posts from pseudo-feminists that condemn any critical analysis of prostitution as anti-feminist and non-progressive. It is especially annoying to read something like the following on a feminist site:
When I was working in public health, I heard about an amazing Brazilian anti-HIV campaign called Maria Without Shame, which featured pictures of a sex worker accompanied by slogans like: “You need have no shame, girl. You have a profession.”
Notice that this “amazing” campaign is addressed exclusively to women. Also, observe how the word “profession” is being used in this context. Of course, the pseudo-feminist who gushes about the campaign is not in the least concerned why a patriarchal society with horrifying levels of poverty like the Brazilian society is so interested in selling prostitution as a legitimate and respectable profession to its women.
Instead of “celebrating sex work”, I believe we should analyze the underlying causes of prostitution and address them. This cannot be done unless we drop the inane “every choice is valid” kind of reasoning.

How Would You Handle This?

Miriam asked me to share one of my experiences with burqa-clad students that fuels my belief in the appropriateness of the ban on burqas in Western societies. Feel free to weigh in.

I had a burqa-wearing student in my Beginners language course at my very first university. This is a very interactive course where students are expected to speak to each other, enact scenes, move around the classroom, and interact with each other in a variety of ways. The burqa student, let’s call her A., sat in a corner during the entire semester and didn’t participate a single time. I never heard her (I assume, but who really knows?) voice. It is difficult as it is to create an environment in the classroom where students are not inhibited to speak in a new language. A silent, shrouded presence in the classroom definitely didn’t help. I always try to help students relax by telling them that everybody makes mistakes and that nobody will laugh at them because everybody is in the same boat. In this case, these arguments were a waste of time.

During the exams in these courses, students are supposed to place their IDs on their desks while they are writing the exam. An invigilator walks around and compares the ID with the face of the student writing the exam. This procedure is especially crucial for language classes because there have been cases when students sneaked a native speaker to take the exam in their  place.

I was confronted by a group of angry students from my course who demanded an explanation as to why A.’s identity didn’t have to be verified. One student aggressively told me that the next time he will come to the exam in a mask and we will just have to trust that it’s him and not his best friend from Mexico. I had no idea how to explain why one of the students was being given a preferential treatment during the entire course, as well as during the exams.

At that time, I was only learning how to be a college-level teacher. All I did in response was mumble incoherently and feel uncomfortable. Today, I know how I should have handled this issue.

What would you do in such a situation?

How Feminism Helped a Bad Student

A reader just wrote in to say that she enjoys my stories about the Soviet Union. (Thank you, kind reader!) So I decided to share yet another story. It is post-Soviet but still fun.

In Ukraine, I was a university student at the Department of Foreign Languages. The way the system worked was that an oral final exam counted for 100% of the final grade. You had to show up a the exam at the end of the semester, choose a random piece of paper among the many on the professor’s desk, take a few minutes to prepare, and speak on the 2 or 3 topics on your paper. In some courses, you needed to write a final essay to be allowed to take the exam.

I worked hard to make a living when I was a student. For this reason, I rarely showed up at the university. Normally, I’d just read the textbook the day before the exam and get a top grade as a result. The quality of education was pathetically low, and I saw no reason to waste my time coming to classes where the professor did nothing but read the same textbook out loud.

One of the courses I had to take was Sociology. I didn’t attend a single lecture or seminar. At that point in time, I was busy finishing a big translation for the Academy of Arts and Sciences of the Russian Federation. There had been an accident a little while before where I had suffered severe burns to my arm. I still had to type up my translation for hours each day, which I did while shrieking in pain from my damaged arm and hand.

So, of course, the Sociology course was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t even find an opportunity to go to the library and take out the textbook before the exam. For my final essay, I went to the British Council, took out several books on feminism, and used them to write my essay. I translated the sources and even quoted them. I was very interested in feminism at that point and cared little that nobody around me had any knowledge about what the word stood for.

When I arrived at the exam and took the paper with my questions, I realized that I had not the slightest idea what the terminology used in the questions even meant. I had no textbook or notes or anything with me. So, of course, I prepared myself to failing the exam very spectacularly.

The professor in the course was a young, nerdy-looking guy. Since I had never come to class, that was the first time I saw him. Now I not only had missed every single day of class and came to the exam unprepared. I had also handed in an essay that passionately defended feminism to a male professor in a rabidly patriarchal society.

As I was sitting there, staring despondently at my questions, the professor suddenly asked,

“Which one of you is called Clarissa?”

“Me,” I answered in a tenuous little voice.

“You are the student who handed in an essay on feminism, right? It was absolutely brilliant! I loved it,” the professor suddenly announced. “You can go now, I will give you an A for the course.”

As I crept out of the room, I mused that feminism was even better than I’d thought before.

What I Have Done to Adapt

People have somehow gathered from my recent posts that I defend the right of immigrants not to adapt in any way to their new country. Nothing could be further from my point of view. I emigrated twice, and every time worked hard on figuring out how things worked in my new country and adapting to them. Unless you are willing to engage in such efforts, you have no business emigrating, in my opinion. One of the reasons why emigration can be so helpful to one’s personal development is precisely that one goes through this transformative process and learn new things about oneself. (Zygmunt Bauman talks about it better than I ever could, so I won’t retell his ideas.)

So here are some of the things that I learned to do differently after I emigrated:

– I now pay taxes honestly and in full. What’s more, it makes me feel good to do so.

– I haven’t plagiarized a single assignment when I was a student. (In my country, you had to quote without attributing. It was required.)

– All of my whorish attires have been sacrificed. Oh, I miss them sorely. . .  🙂

– I now say “Hi, how are you?”, “Please” and “Thank you.” Sometimes, I even smile at strangers.

– I don’t steal office supplies from work. I have been tempted, I confess, but I haven’t done it.

– When a stranger politely addresses me in the street with “Excuse me, Ma’am, I’m sorry to bother you”, I don’t bark “What??” in response. I’ve even been known to say, “Yes, how can I help you?” a couple of times.

– I don’t toady to my supervisors at work.

– I don’t humiliate, offend or demean students in any way.

– During departmental meetings, I vote my conscience, even when everybody else’s vote is different.

– I refuse to be afraid of expressing my opinion.

– I have learned to enjoy a hamburger. (That’s one of the most surprising adjustments to me.)

– I don’t call people after 9 pm and don’t arrive unannounced at their doorstep.

– When a bar closes at an ungodly hour of 11 pm, I meekly pack up and go home.

– I don’t scoff at everything any man says the second he says it. I now listen and even engage in a dialogue.

– I have learned to wait in line for a bus, instead of running to the doors like a tornado, sweeping everybody off my path.

There is room for growth, of course, since I am yet to learn to operate a grill, remember what sport St. Louis Cardinals play, and wear jeans.

What did you do to adapt to a country where you emigrated, studied or lived for a while?

First Blogger, Now LiveJournal. Who’s Next?

First, Blogger started malfunctioning in April-May of this year. As a result, many people left the platform and moved their blogs somewhere else.

Now LiveJournal has crashed. From what I hear, LJ bloggers now have limits on how long their posts can be. And still, nobody guarantees that the blogs will work. (If you think Blogger’s customer service is bad, you need to meet LJ’s. That one is truly abysmal.)

This shows either that blogging is becoming more popular with every passing day or that somebody is sabotaging popular blogging platforms. I’m not very much into conspiracy theories, so, for me, blogging is on the rise.

Blogging offers so much creative freedom that no Twitter, Facebook or Google+ can substitute it. It is a way to go beyond the triviality of posting endless pictures of boring events and senseless status updates. Its goal is not to let you sort your small group of acquaintances into a great number of circles to convince yourself you are more important and popular than you are in reality.

Blogging is all about expressing yourself in a way that makes it quite obvious very soon whether you actually have a self to express.