Are People Kinder in Small Towns or in Big Cities?

It’s all a myth that people in small towns and little villages are more sociable and kind to each other than the residents of supposedly alienating big towns. Folks who have never left their tiny little burgh are less worldly, less educated, less kind, and less open to their fellow human beings.

Just to give you a couple of examples.

Recently, my parents were visiting my aunt in a small village in Nova Scotia. We are all great walkers in the family, so they set out on one of their ten-mile-long walks. Suddenly, a very fierce rain started pouring. This was completely unexpected, so these three people in their 50ies began to walk back in the rain along the highway. They were sopping wet and shivering. As they walked, several cars passed by. Since the area is so sparsely populated, all of the owners of passing cars were people who knew my aunt very well. It didn’t, however, even occur to them to stop and offer a lift to their middle-aged neighbor and her relatives. My aunt waved at the passing cars until her arm hurt, but nobody paid any attention.

This story reminded me of the day when I got stranded in Detroit during a snowstorm. I was travelling by a Greyhound bus, and when the storm started, all the bus passengers were simply dumped at the bus station for over 30 hours. Eventually, I got so starved and bored at the bus station that I ventured into the city. It is a very strange feeling to walk around downtown Detroit when it is completely empty and there is no traffic. It was so quiet, I could actually hear the snow fall.

Walking in the knee-deep snow was hard. I immediately got lost, and my clothes got wet. And then a car driven by a young woman stopped next to me. “Get in,” she said. “I’ll take you where you need to go.” This woman was one of the people who set out to drive on the icy roads of Detroit to rescue stranded pedestrians and take them where they wanted to be. This kind woman took me to an open convenience store where I got hot coffee and hot food. On my way back, I was also rescued by a nice snow-shoveller who called a truck to come and pick me up.

You’d think that one’s better off getting stranded in an area where everybody knows each other than in downtown Detroit. However, people who don’t get a chance to socialize much with other human beings lose their social skills completely. In big cities, you meet many people as a matter of course when you go about your day. In small towns, the streets are always deserted, the buses are empty, and people just sit at home watching the TV or, at best, hang out at the mall in areas where there is one.

I always know which of my students are from Chicago or St.Louis and which ones are from neighboring towns. The former are polite, sociable, and fun to be around. The latter always hunch their shoulders, stare at the ground, pretend you don’t exist, and never greet you in the hallways.

Alabama Brings Civilization Our Way

We were all worried that after Borders went out of business, we wouldn’t have a bookstore in town. However, as I just discovered, a company from Alabama bought the space where the Borders bookstore used to be and we will now have a bookstore once again!

A Birmingham, Ala.-based book store is buying up the Borders bookstore in Edwardsville.

According to the St. Louis Business Journal, book retailer Books-A-Million has received approval from a federal bankruptcy judge to take over the leases of the metro-east book store at 6601 Edwardsville Crossing Drive in Edwardsville and 13 others from the bankrupt chain. The business journal reported that Books-A-Million will pay $934,259 for the properties.

They only chose 14 of the many Borders locales around the country, and ours is one of them. This makes sense since we are a university town with many good readers inhabiting it.

I can’t wait to visit our new local bookstore.

What’s With the Drilling?

I’m trying not to read the Republican obsession with drilling everything in sight too psychoanalytically but it isn’t easy. Take the most recent announcement from Bachmann, for example:

Though it received an intense amount of scrutiny and was branded as an “incredible faux pas,” Michele Bachmann’s remark that she wouldn’t be opposed to drilling for oil in the Everglades isn’t going away. In fact, the GOP presidential candidate is going even further with her claims, arguing that only “radical environmentalists” would oppose drilling in the Everglades .

If a person is so dead-set on drilling where there isn’t even any oil to be found, then there has to be some problem there. I remember crowds of Republicans wriggling in ecstasy during the “Drill, baby, drill!” chants of the 2008 elections. That was kind of freaky. Now we seem to be getting yet another dose of that same spiel.

Where Do the Canadian Racists Go?

A friend forwarded this article on Martin Luther King, Jr. to me without a comment. When I first started reading it, I thought it was a reprint from a piece written decades ago. Then, I noticed the date and decided it was a parody of a profoundly offensive, racist piece of writing. And then I realized that it was not. This was written in all seriousness yesterday.

There was a dark side to King and it should not be ignored. Its effects continue to plague our society. Contrary to popular myth, the Baptist minister was a hypocrite who consistently failed to uphold his professed Christian standards. His rampant adultery and serial, life-long womanizing revolted even some of his closest associates. Large parts of his doctoral dissertation were plagiarized. He had numerous ties with communists and Soviet sympathizers. Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover knew this, which is why he considered King a “fraud.”

Moreover, King was a radical leftist. He promoted socialism, pacifism and the appeasement of totalitarian communism. He opposed the Vietnam War and even openly supported the Viet Cong and North Vietnam’s Marxist dictator Ho Chi Minh, praising them as anti-imperialists battling Western occupying powers. Yet, these Soviet-backed communists would eventually impose a murderous police state upon the Vietnamese.

And this isn’t even the most racist part of the article. King was to blame for all these things we normally consider part of the legacy of slavery:

King’s socialism also convinced many blacks to adopt welfare liberalism. It transformed them into a permanent Democratic constituency. The results have been disastrous. The nanny state has crippled the black community, undermining self-reliance, entrepreneurship and personal responsibility. It has fostered family breakdown, soaring rates of illegitimacy and trapped millions in a cycle of poverty and urban squalor. King showed blacks the way out from segregation, but he led them to an economic plantation.

So if you see black people living in poverty and squalor, you know whom to blame: MLK.

I researched Jeffrey T. Kuhner, the author of this vile piece of garbage, and discovered, to my horror, that he is from Montreal and even taught history at my alma mater, McGill University, at one time. The same time when I was a student there, actually. Good thing I never enrolled in one of his courses by mistake.

So if you are wondering why Quebec is less racist than the US, now you know. The racists all leave and go to write for the American newspapers.

Comments on Sex During Menstruation

I’ve just read a really good, interesting post on sexual activity during menstruation. The post was great, but then I read the comments. And now I’m sitting here trying to figure out if people made them facetiously or in earnest.

Take this one, for example:

I have absolutely no interest in having sex during the one or two heavier days of my period–it’s unpleasant, distracting, and dare I say it, GROSS.

People should feel free to have or not to have sex whenever and wherever they do or don’t feel like it. But I couldn’t help wondering how sex can be distracting. Distracting from what? Do people sit there concentrating intellectually on their menstruations, or what?

Or this one:

And here I thought sex was supposed to be consensual! Nothing like a little social coercion to get adults to do things they don’t want to.

Oh? and thank god that many adult relationship are built on more than sex.

It’s really curious how whenever somebody mentions the word “sex”, there will always be somebody who will try to steer the conversation towards consent and towards how there are other things in life than sex. Yes, there are. But mentioning this fact in this context is as silly as leaving a comment to a post dedicated to the upcoming elections saying that there are other things to care about than politics.

Respecting women doesn’t mean that you have to think that everything that comes out of their bodies is awesome and should be touched. Very few people think that because shit is a sign of a natural, healthily-functioning body, you have contempt for your partner if you don’t want to get covered in it during sex.

I find an attempt to equate menstrual blood with excrement to be deeply disturbing. I find it to be even more disturbing when it appears on a feminist site. Of course, it’s always possible this was just an MRA trolling.

And this one is definitely an MRA troll:

As a sex positive male, I have yet to have a relationship with a woman who did not view her own period (among other things, including oral in general) as gross. The best solution for my experiences is to make dinner (because I like to nothing more or less) and curl up with books or TV.

“Oh, it isn’t me who considers female bodily functions to be gross. It’s all women themselves who feel this way. I’m just a nice, understanding guy who makes dinner.” Bleh.

And my favorite:

Also orgasms are quite soothing for cramps IME. So its *medicinal*. Of course now that I have mirena its not an issue…I love medical technology.

This one has got to be facetious, right? Even though there are no smiley faces. But the commenter is kidding, right? RIGHT? We are still not at the stage of “Oh, to hell with orgasms, let me go down some pills instead”, are we?


There are a few topics that we address in my course on Hispanic Civilization that I use to measure if a student is completely hopeless or not. Quipus are one such topic.

 This legacy of the quechua people is one of the fascinating things I discuss in my series of lectures on Hispanic Civilization. I usually ask the students to guess what these are. They start offering suggestions, and the excitement in the classroom grows.

When I finally reveal that this is the quechua equivalent of a book, the students all gasp in amazement. If there is a student who still doesn’t wake up even for something as stunning as this, I know that s/he is a lost cause intellectually.

I very rarely encounter such indifferent students, though. Usually, 20 minutes into my lecture on the indigenous civilizations of the Americas, everybody is awake and listening breathlessly.

“Ah, you just wait a little,” I always think. “Next week when we will talk about the European conquest of the Americas I will have you all sobbing.”

Is Obesity Preventable?

I wasn’t going to blog about my annoyance with Shakesville for a while but when I see attacks on Jamie Oliver, one of my favorite chefs, I can’t keep silent. The blog is attacking Oliver for promoting healthy eating and healthy lifestyles:

So this morning I see that professional fat-hater Jamie Oliver has posted a petition which he’s asking people to sign in support of his “Food Revolution,” and in which he’s included the bullshit stat that “obesity in the US costs $10,273,973 per hour” (sure) and notes, in all-caps, “OBESITY IS PREVENTABLE.”

Celebrities who have signed the petition are posted in rotation: Jennifer Aniston, Eva Longoria, P. Diddy, Kim Kardashian, Ryan Seacrest, Ellen Degeneres.

It’s always nice to see wealthy people with access to the best food, comprehensive healthcare, personal trainers, private chefs, and individual nutritional plans put their names to a petition admonishing the fatties that OBESITY IS PREVENTABLE.

Stating the very obvious fact that obesity rates in this country are ridiculously high does not make you “a professional fat-hater.” It makes you a person who states the painfully obvious. You can talk as much as you want about obesity in the US being caused by “natural variation, poverty, and racism”. To do so, however, is to suggest – against all reason – that natural variation, poverty and racism do not exist anywhere else in the world. If they do but obesity doesn’t, then, obviously, something has got to be wrong with this entire line of reasoning.

The idea that only the rich people can avoid obesity is also completely ridiculous. Anybody who has taken the trouble of visiting other, poorer countries (or has at least watched a program or two about them on TV) must have noticed that millions upon millions of people in the world – who, incidentally, can’t even dream about “the best food, comprehensive healthcare, personal trainers, private chefs, and individual nutritional plans” – are not obese. One of the things you notice about the US when you visit it for the first time is the huge number of obese people that you do not encounter anywhere else in the world.

We can, of course, hide our heads in the sand, ostrich-like, and dub everybody who mentions this fact of objective reality a “fat-hater” and an eliminationist. Or we can start asking why a country where people have the standard of living that most of the world cannot even imagine has this great number of hugely overweight people. Until we start discussing the issue and not hiding behind the fake wall of quasi-acceptance, the reasons why this is happening will not be addressed.

The post I quoted then proceeds to compare obesity with homosexuality. Once again, this is a completely specious argument. The number of homosexual people all over the world does not vary from country to country or generation to generation. Nobody is implying, I hope, that you can only encounter gay people in one country during the lifetime of just a couple of generation of people. The terrifying rates of obesity in the US, however, are not shared across cultures and eras.

When I first started living in the US, I discovered that to maintain the same weight I had in Ukraine and then in Canada, I had to eat almost twice as little. When I moved to the Midwest, things got even worse. Something is wrong with the food (and the lifestyles) in this area. Of course, until we realize that American obesity isn’t just something that happens naturally, we will not be able even to begin finding out what it is that is wrong with the food we eat and the lifestyles we lead.


It’s only the second week of classes, and already I’m quite seriously behind. The reason is that there is so much remedial teaching I have to do that I keep running out of time before getting to the subject of the course.

It would be great if the students knew what the Roman Empire was, realized what the term “the Middle Ages” refers to, could find Mexico on a map, didn’t mix up Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, and were aware of the fact that the US did not exist in year 711. There are also problems with vocabulary, and I have to stop every two minutes to explain words like “indigenous,” “feudal,” “aqueduct,” “nomadic,” “synagogue,” “lyrical,” etc. Several students didn’t know how to spell the word “Muslim.” The weirdest version that it took me a while to decipher was “moslium.” Maybe this student thought I was referring to a chemical element like potassium or cadmium. Several students didn’t know what a mosque was.

Explaining all this devours class time like I can’t begin to tell you.