Half a Million!

Today, we have had our 200,000th hit on the blog since it moved to WordPress on May 19 of this year. Together with over 300,000 hits we’d had on the previous version of the blog, this makes 500,000 hits altogether in less than two and a half years.

A Ukrainian banknote for 500,000

Yay for me, people! And yay for all the readers and commenters who keep reading, visiting, arguing, and linking. We have done ourselves proud here!

And Now Let’s Degrade Eastern European Women!

I always know that whenever an article or a post mentions “Eastern-European women” some offensive and annoying crap is about to follow. Here is an example. A post at Feministe is discussing some porn site that, apparently, enjoys a lot of popularity:

Obviously this isn’t a one-way exploitation street – it’s not just Western men (or just men generally) who are consuming internet porn, and it’s not just Southeast Asian and Eastern European women who are in porn. But Western men do account for a disproportionate amount of online porn consumption. And they’re consuming porn that is produced at bargain-basement prices by women who have significantly less financial autonomy than many American and Western European women.

OK, what?

Don’t you just like it how every woman who is not American or Western European has to be poor, miserable, starving and exploited? Nobody, of course, is even trying to provide any data that would support the assertion that Eastern European women have less financial autonomy than “many American women.”  I know that I, as an Eastern European woman, have a lot less financial autonomy in the US than I had at home. Does the author of the article even know that Eastern European women of my country get educated for free, get free medical care, and very very rarely carry insane amounts of student loans, car loans, mortgages, etc.?

And what’s with lumping the millions of Eastern European women into one huge, amorphous category? All that Eastern European women from different countries share is that they live in the same huge geographical region. Their level of financial autonomy varies widely from country to country and even from one area of the same country to another.

The reasons why Eastern European women go into porn and sex work in huge numbers are a lot more complex than this blanket assertion that they do it to avoid starvation. Women in my culture are very strong, powerful, domineering and assertive in ways that, believe me, “many American and Western European women” would be well served to learn and imitate. I understand that it’s very convenient to imagine us all as pathetic, silent little victims and burst out in passionate rants on our behalf.

But, honestly, we really don’t need it.

The Vector of Patriotism

Of course, when I wrote a post about how my students thought that Europe was invaded in year 711 by the United States, everybody laughed. Ha, ha, how ignorant of them. I now entertain people at parties with this story, and everybody is always in stitches. It’s funny, though, how often the very people who find this anecdote to be hilarious are guilty of the same kind of attitude.

To give you an example, look at the following post that makes a very convoluted argument trying to persuade the readers that if a fringe extremist militia in Somalia is not letting humanitarian aid to the starving, it must be the Americans’ fault. And also that the rise of the Khmer Rouge is the Americans’ fault:

The hostility of al-Shabaab to western aid is in all the media reports on the famine. It plays easily into stereotypes of senseless and cruel violence in obscure African conflicts. But what is often omitted is any explanation of why al-Shabaab are so hostile to westerners – one honourable exception is the US journalist Jeremy Scahill, who uncovered CIA sites in Mogadishu. His reports trace how al-Shabaab’s suspicion is rooted in the experience of a decade of devious US manipulation. Somalia has been the war on terror’s sideshow – and I choose the word deliberately: think of Cambodia and its bombing by the US during the Vietnam war.

The United States created the conditions for the starvation in Somalia, just as its illegal bombing raids in Cambodia led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge.

Let’s leave aside the clumsy turn of phrase about the “illegal bombing raids” (as if there were such a thing as legally bombing anybody) for the moment and consider the following. Both the author of the article and the blogger who quoted it must surely think of themselves as extremely progressive. Their constant public self-flagellation over the sins of their fellow Americans manages to conceal from them, however, how obnoxious this “nobody-in-the-world-can-as-much-as-fart-without-us” attitude is.

When I was an undergrad, I was once telling a classmate about the Holodomor, the organized famine in Ukraine that claimed the lives of millions of people in 1931.

“This is horrible!” my compassionate classmate exclaimed. “You know, I often feel ashamed of being an American.”

“Why are you ashamed about this?” I asked her.

“Well, look what we did to your people,” she explained.

Obviously, the idea that the Ukrainians could have suffered at the hands of anybody other than the Americans didn’t even occur to her. When I told her what really happened, she kind of lost interest in the entire story. Who cares about a famine or a genocide when they offer no excuse to indulge in the ever so sweet process of self-castigation?

It is undeniable that the United States have been in the habit of invading other countries and interfering with other nations’ business for a very long time now. However, things are never as simple as peaceful, nice barbarians living among flowers in the state of eternal innocence and then the bad, mean and horrible United States invading this paradise and destroying it with its presence.

The US manipulates and bullies governments of other countries. There are also always forces withing those other countries that manipulate the US and use them for their purposes. If your Liberal heart can’t take the idea of anybody manipulating the all-powerful US, then you’ve got to ask yourself about how Liberal you really are. If you are emotionally attached to the idea of humongously powerful, all-conquering United States (whether to praise it or criticize it), that’s a sign that you’ve been infected by the disease of unthinking, blind patriotism.

So let me tell you, people: ultimately, the vector of your patriotism is not all that important. Whether you think the US is the origin of every great thing that has happened to this planet or that it is the source of every evil, you are still proceeding from a profound contempt for every other culture under the sun. If you look at an event taking place on another continent, and the first thing that occurs to you is to look at how the US might have caused it, you are a fanatical patriot whose disrespect for other cultures is nothing but annoying.

I Love the Midwest

I have started to get a feeling people think I dislike the American Midwest. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I really love it.

The landscape looks very familiar and endearing to me. The endless corn fields and the blue sky never fail to remind me of Ukraine. The food is crappy but very homey. The people are not very worldly but kind. The students are not very knowledgeable but curious and open to new experiences. The lifestyle is kind of weird but relaxing and thought-conducive.

When I was on the job market, I never applied to any places in the Southern states and only to very few universities on the West Coast. I knew that if nothing better came along, I could force myself to live on the West Coast but I was very unwilling to do so.

I’d say about 80% of the places I applied to were in the Midwest. On the East Coast, I applied to everything in and around Philadelphia because I love the city. So coming to the Midwest to teach was a conscious choice for me and not any kind of a personal tragedy.

I really stand out in the Midwest because of how I dress, speak, live and look. However, I feel this area, if you know what I mean. The times when I traveled to the West Coast, I found it beautiful and all, but I felt completely alienated from it. I could have fun in California, for example, as a tourist but not as a permanent resident.

So, to conclude, Clarissa heart the Midwest. 🙂

What do you think is the most destructive force to mankind?

This was one of the blogging topics suggested to me by WordPress, and I found it to be very thought-provoking.

If I had to name one force, concept, or school of thought that has had – and still has – the most destructive potential for all of us, I’d say it has to do with wanting to force your understanding of happiness on other people. It’s the self-righteous benefactors of humanity who have been this planet’s greatest scourge.

The people who decided they needed to bring the word of Jesus and the benefits of civilization to the indigenous peoples of the Americas and ended up wiping out entire cultures.

The people who wanted to eradicate poverty and exploitation once and for all and ended up creating the repressive monstrosity known as the Soviet Union.

The folks who keep invading other countries under the guise of liberating them from whatever and imposing “freedom” and democracy onto them.

The fanatics who bomb abortion clinics to force unwanted, unloved, rejected kids to be born.

Such people are impossible to reason with and to combat because they are driven by the belief in their inner goodness and altruism.

Ayn Rand gets criticized a lot for saying that

If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.

I’m sure, however, that she’s right. It’s these compassionate do-gooders who know for a fact what’s best for you that do the greatest damage to others. A person motivated by selfishness at least doesn’t humiliate you while s/he exploits you by telling you this is all for your own good. A selfish person motivated by simple, honest greed doesn’t demand your eternal and abject gratitude in return for robbing you.

What do you think? What is the most destructive force humanity has ever faced?

P.S. For those of you who missed my post on helping people, here it is. It was very popular when it was first published but Blogspot ate all the dozens of comments it generated.

House Dress

Walking from class to our campus Starbucks, I ran into a colleague from another department.

“Oh, I can see you have acclimatized to the Midwest completely!” she exclaimed with a smile.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, you are wearing a house dress to class,” she replied.

I don’t know what a house dress is, but I’m fairly certain I never possessed such a garment. I’m wearing my Jones New York dress. It’s expensive and beautiful. And I’m wearing it for the very first time today.

A house dress, my ass.

How to Read Accounts of Historic Events

In my Freshman Seminar, I’m teaching my students – among many other things – how to approach the reading of different kinds of texts. Today, we will talk about reading history and will then try to apply the rules I list in this post to Bartolome de Las Casas’s Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies.

Here are the basic rules of reading about history that I’m planning to offer to my students:

Things to remember when reading, watching or researching history:

a. There can never be a fully objective account of history

b. Don’t read accounts of history to find out what happened. Read them to discover what their author says happened

c. Only by accessing and contrasting different accounts can we figure out what took place

d. Every account of history is always ideological

e. There is always a hidden reason for why a person writes about history

Questions to ask:

  1. Who is the author?
  2. What do I know about this author? Country of origin, political affiliation, profession, etc.
  3. How does this knowledge about the author change my understanding of his or her text?
  4. What is the goal the author is trying to achieve with this text?
  5. What kind of data is used to support the author’s conclusions?
  6. What kind of attitude does the author have towards the readers of the text?
  7. What are the central concepts that organize the author’s thinking about this subject?

Is there anything else I should add? Feel free to offer suggestions (or dispute what I have written here, of course).

Affirmative Action, Part I

The battle for and against the Affirmative Action on American campuses continues:

Since California voters in 1996 passed an amendment to the state constitution to ban the consideration of race and ethnicity in public college admissions decisions and other state government functions, proponents of affirmative action have sought the help of federal courts to block such referendums.

Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of public colleges to consider race and ethnicity in admissions (in some circumstances), but federal courts have been reluctant to block states from opting out of such considerations. In July, five years after Michigan voters approved such a ban, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that the measure was unconstitutional, handing supporters of affirmative action a major victory. But on Friday, the full appeals court vacated the July decision and announced that it would reconsider the case.

I have a few things to say about Affirmative Action but, to change things around a bit, I will let my readers speak first and will express my own opinion on the matter a little later.

So what say you, esteemed readers? Should public colleges be allowed to take race and ethnicity into consideration during the college admission process? Are you in favor of or against the Affirmative Action?

A Russian Student in an American High School

A Russian-speaking blogger I follow has recently moved with her family to the US. Her daughter has just started high school in California. Those of you who read Russian can find the blogger’s account of her daughter’s first impressions of an American high school here. Needless to say, they are far from rosy. The Russian blogger is especially shocked at how vigilated and controlled every aspect of the high school environments is. Students are babied and treated like helpless invalids to a shocking extent.

What really stunned me in that blogger’s account, though, is the following question that the students were given during a geography lesson:

“Which Russian Republic is the city of Kiev located in?” The answers to choose from (the stupid multiple-choice format again!) were: Poland, Ukraine, etc.

Now I know where the whole “Africa is a country in Latin America” thing comes from.