And the Prize for Guessing the Correct Answer in the Penultimate Post Goes to. . .

. . . reader Thoreau whose enlightening blog you can find right here.

The great invention of the XXth century that impressed the people lost in the taiga was:

The plastic bag! “It’s a glass that crumples but doesn’t break!” they kept exclaiming. Who cares about television and refrigeration when the miracle of the plastic bag exists!

I’m preparing a lecture on the encounter between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of the Americas and this story will help me to make the point about the complexities of an intra-civilizational dialogue.

Have I Missed Anything?

I love my students and everything, but there is one question that they tend to ask that invariably annoys me.

“I haven’t been in class since the semester started,” a student tells me. “Have I missed anything?”

Oh no, not at all. These five lectures we have had since classes started? We just twiddled our thumbs in complete silence. That’s what I get paid for, you know. For not communicating anything of importance to the students over the course of 5 class meetings. It’s actually so rare that I manage to contribute anything of value to the classes I teach that you should feel free not to show up for as long as you wish.

Couldn’t the question just be worded in a less annoying way? Like, for example, “Could you tell me what I missed?”

Or, better yet, “What can I do to catch up?”

Or, best of all, “What can I do to catch up with all the extremely important, fascinating and crucial material that you have been delivering with a great passion and profound knowledge of the subject matter during every class meeting and that I had the horrible bad luck of missing?”

The Greatest Achievement of Civilization

In 1978,  a family was encountered in the Russian taiga that had abandoned civilization a very long time before and had hid from their fellow human beings for generations. These people were religious fanatics who wanted to preserve the purity of their beliefs. When they were discovered, it turned out that many of the advances of modern civilization were not only unknown but also completely terrifying to them. Electricity, airplanes, refrigerators, television, recording devices, cameras, even newspapers – all these things were completely incomprehensible to them.

However, there was one modern invention that shocked them more than all others. One object we use on a daily basis that these people who were stuck in the past couldn’t even comprehend.

Can you guess what this greatest achievement of the XXth century science was?

I’ll reveal the answer after everybody gets a chance to make a guess.

Academic Schedule and Fairness

One of the reasons why I love my department is that everything is always organized in a very fair, transparent way that doesn’t leave junior faculty members feel downtrodden or exploited.

I know that at many other universities untenured faculty are stuck with the courses that nobody else wants to teach and are given the most inconvenient schedules ever. The level of intrigue surrounding the creation of course schedule is worthy of Calderon. At the end of the process, everybody hates each other so much that people are practically ready to put cyanide in each other’s coffee mugs.

Not so at my great university. Today, for example, I sat down with the Chair of my department and chose the courses I wanted to teach and the schedule that I find convenient. Not a single course that I’m teaching here has been foisted upon me against my will. To the contrary, senior colleagues seem obsessed with making sure that I teach exactly what I want and that the breaks between the classes are neither too long nor too short.

Our department has escaped what I call “the hierarchy curse”, which is something that tears apart many an academic unit. We all take turns teaching higher-level courses and nobody gets stuck always teaching the same lower-level course (unless that’s what they really want to do.) It’s the same at faculty meetings where nobody ever pulls rank or expects you to sit there quietly not daring to voice your opinion until you get tenure.

Every day, I discover more proof that accepting a position at this university was a great decision for me. Let alone for the students and the university at large. 🙂

Let’s Spit on Eric Angell

I never heard the name “Eric Angell” before, and I’m sure you haven’t either. But we all need to find out who this guy is now because he is a vile, nasty jerk and, possibly, a criminal.

Here you can find his pseudo-comic monologue in which he narrates the hilarious story of raping a woman. You can see from the comments of other so-called comedians and the reaction of the audience that they are perfectly aware that this is a story of rape but they just can’t stop laughing.

The only marginally good thing about this horror show is that it has been taped, so now everybody knows who Eric Angell is and can spit on him whenever he shows his disgusting, ugly mug in public.

Women, beware! This is a predator who thinks rape is a huge, big joke. Of course, now he will claim that the story was invented but it doesn’t make him any less of a nasty loser who thinks that rape is funny.

I learned about this horrible story here.


Tell Me Who Your Friends Are

Nominatissima wrote a fascinating post on how age gaps in friendships one maintains can be conditioned by one’s autism. There is also an age gap in my friendships, although I don’t think it has anything to do with autism. I have realized that while I’m friendly with men from a variety of age groups, I’m most comfortable with women in their sixties.

The reason for this preference is that most people I meet are from the world of academia. The women who are now in their sixties had to make their careers as scholars in very inhospitable circumstances. As a result, they have become very strong, powerful, skeptical, opinionated, and I’d say quite domineering. These are all qualities that I admire and that draw me to these women.

Online, I meet really cool women of my age group that are fascinating and fun to talk to. In real life, though, I can’t find anything in common with the women in their thirties I encounter.  Ideally, I’d meet a female friend of about my age who could, on occasion, talk about something other than the color of the baby’s poop and the struggles with the husband who refuses to do his laundry. I’m not denying that these are valid topic for conversation, but I find talking about the husband and the babies all the time to be excruciatingly boring. If I ask a person what they are reading and they respond, indignantly, “Who has time to read?”, then I lose all motivation to listen to their baby poop stories.

Mind you, I’m not trying to draw any conclusions about women of my age group in general. I’m just narrating my experiences.


In class, we discussed what Castille is at length. Looked at pictures, analyzed the history, and then went over the entire thing.

Last night, in anticipation of today’s mini-quiz, a student wrote me an email asking, “I’m sorry, what’s Castille again?”

And here I thought this was the Google generation.

Seriously, doesn’t it take less time just to Google the word than write an email and sit there waiting for a response?

I might be a bad teacher, but I didn’t write back.

Neurotypicals Are Different

My aunt Natasha traveled from Ukraine to Montreal over the weekend. It was her first time ever on an airplane, and the trip is long and exhausting. We were all worried about how she would deal with it both physically and emotionally. She has arrived already and she’s perfectly fine, but we were worried in the process.

“So imagine what happened to Aunt Natasha at the international airport in Kiev,” my sister told me. “She was sitting there, waiting for the flight, and then she met a woman who was also travelling from Kiev to Montreal on the same flights! So they traveled together.”

When I heard the story, my first impulse was to feel deep compassion for poor Aunt Natasha. Imagine the stress of traveling to Frankfurt, waiting there for several hours, and then taking another airplane to Canada! And as if that weren’t enough, now the unfortunate woman had to be sociable with a person she didn’t even know, spend time and pay attention to her, find things to talk about – how horrible! Gosh, I’d rather not travel at all rather than be forced to spend so much time with a chattering stranger. I mean, you’d probably have to remember that person’s name and listen to their stories and observations. Brrrrr.

And then I realized the story was being told to me as something positive. To a neurotypical eye, Aunt Natasha was lucky. Having a  stranger to travel with was a good thing.

Neurotypicals are strange, people. I wonder, is anybody looking for a cure?