Meeting Writers

A very old, slightly eccentric and highly esteemed scholar was saying to me once, “My dear child, why do you want to specialize in contemporary literature? If you do that, you might end up meeting writers. Believe me, there is nothing worse than that. They are all such intolerable creatures. Self-centered, in need of constant adulation and ego-stroking, peevish, and unreliable. Why don’t you join us, the Golden Age specialists, instead? All of our writers have been dead for a very long time. It’s such a pleasure to work with them.”

Impostor Syndrome

Academics often share that they feel like an impostor in a variety of situations: while speaking at a conference, delivering a lecture, introducing themselves as Professor ABC, etc. I often feel like this when I talk to my students about how to write well. I’m sure most (if not all) of it exists only in my imagination, but I can swear I see them think, “You even speak with an accent, so who are you to tell us how to write well?” (And then I get nervous, and my accent becomes stronger, and I feel even more like an impostor, and so on).

This is why I was so gratified to read the following comment on Jonathan’s blog:

Students often seem bland to me, because what they write is generic. They give me a standard view of things, not what they really think when that is stripped away. On the other hand, bloggers like Clarissa or Z always have something interesting to say because they are very much themselves. It doesn’t even matter whether I agree with any particular statement they make or whether I think their personal viewpoint is generalizable to any other human being on the planet. Who cares?

See? I do have the right to tell students a few things about how to write well.

IMF Promotes the Cause of Feminism in Ukraine

There are many gender inequities in Ukraine, the most glaring of which has always been a significant difference in retirement age for men and women. While women can retire at the age of 55, men have to wait until the age of 60 to be able to do the same. Taking into account that life expectancy for women is 12 years longer than for men and that many men don’t even get to live until the age of sixty, this difference in the age of retirement is nothing but sexist.

If you believe that such sexist differences in retirement age somehow benefit women, you couldn’t be more mistaken. For one, women are considered hopelessly old and useless by the time they reach 55. On the other hand, they still work because one can’t live on the meager pensions. The problem is that, once they pass the retirement age, nobody will hire them for good, well-paying positions. They have to content themselves with working in unofficial capacities, plagued with fear that the fact they still work is about to come out.

Now, however, the IMF has forced Ukraine to bring the retirement age for men and women into sync. People will now retire at 60, irrespective of their gender. In Russia, where the IMF holds no sway, the gender-skewed attitude to retirement inherited from the USSR still persists.

It’s great to see the IMF do something good for a change. Obviously, the IMF isn’t making Ukraine do this because it cares about feminism. This, however, is completely unimportant, given that the result of these policies will benefit the cause of gender equality immediately.

How to Make People Like Their Place of Employment?

At my department, we are assigned to teach three days per week in one semester and two days per week in the following semester (or vice versa). The Chair of the department always makes efforts to ensure that this system is in place for all faculty members, irrespective of where they are on the tenure track. It’s easy to get used to a good thing, so I assumed it was like this everywhere. However, I just discovered that there are places where you need to get tenure before you can hope for a 2-day teaching schedule.

This is one more reason to appreciate my department. I see absolutely no difference in the way junior and senior faculty are treated (except, of course, the salaries, which is only right.) I have a feeling that I somehow chanced onto this really great place of employment, so now I’m not even aware about how things could have been.

So many employers organize weird events to make their employees feel good about the company and spend tons of money and time on these efforts. The strangest corporate event I have ever heard of was at a huge financial company where middle-aged corporate types of the kind that sleeps in a suit and a tie clutching a briefcase and a BlackBerry had to jump around in sacks to show corporate spirit and a willingness to participate in corporate fun. They were traumatized by the event for weeks but didn’t feel like they could refuse.

However, you don’t need to do any of these things to get your employees to like the company and identify with it. All you need to do is just treat them right.

My sister is a professional job recruiter (you can read her advice on looking for a job here). She says that, in a difficult economy which is not likely to improve a whole lot, the employers who will come out winning will be the ones who learn to treat their employees well and will be able to offer people who work for them something greater than just the salary. She and her business partner and friend have a boutique recruitment agency that is still very young. They only have two employees at this point but they do all they can to make the employees happy and comfortable in the workplace. Here are some of the things they offer to the people who work for them:

a) educational opportunities (professional seminars and, in the future, possibilities to get another degree) paid for exclusively by the company. These are not the kind of folks who make an employee pay for professional improvement out of his or her own pocket;

b) respect for different working styles. Come in late, leave early, dress any way you like – as long as your job is done, there will be no humiliating dress codes, punching in and out, etc.;

c) regular trips to nice restaurants paid by for the company. And when I say nice, I mean really upmarket Montreal restaurants;

d) flexible schedules and regular hefty bonuses.

And this is just the beginning.

A good employer knows that everything is dispensable except human beings. Workers who love their job, understand how their place of employment functions and are enthusiastic about it are priceless. Only the employers who realize this will survive and prosper. The rest are doomed, be they part of academia or industry. This is why I’m convinced that my university, even if it isn’t very well-known at this point, has a much brighter future than many neighboring schools that are more famous but that treat their employees with a lot less respect.

What’s In Her Uterus?

Some professors apparently are not underpaid:

NEWPORT, KY (September X, 2011) – A journalism professor at Northern Kentucky University has posted a flier on the Internet offering a $10,000 reward to anybody who can provide verifiable and irrefutable proof that Sarah Palin is the birth mother of Trig, the boy she claims she delivered on April 18, 2008. . . Brad Scharlott, an associate professor of journalism, has read rumors online for years, and is now offering the $10,000 reward because he wishes to find the truth about the controversy. 

“The circumstantial evidence that Sarah Palin pulled off a pregnancy hoax, possibly to enhance her political standing, seems overwhelming,” Scharlott said, but added that he is still open to the possibility that Palin did give birth to Trig, and would gladly give the reward money to anyone who provides proof. 

The most hilarious thing about all this is that this effort is being loudly applauded by a group of pseudo-Liberals who were extremely appalled by the Obama’s birth certificate debacle. (Just do a search for “Obama’s birth certificate” on the website I just linked to and you’ll see.)

A fascination with strangers’ uteri is the only truly bipartisan sentiment many people share.

Do All Immigrants Love the Suburbs?

What is it with people trying to generalize and ascribe their own (quite freaky, I might add) experiences to others. Look at this individual who thinks he can speak in the name of all European immigrants:

“The suburban dream house is the idealization of every immigrant’s Dream — the vassal’s dream of his own castle,” wrote Italian-born immigrant Edgardo Contini. “Europeans who come here are delighted by our suburbs. Not to live in an apartment! It is a universal aspiration to own your own home.”

I’m a European who came here and I’m horrified with the suburbs. It’s all just empty streets, huge garages with tiny houses attached to them, and sprinklers watering the asphalt where nobody ever walks. The only entertainment is going to the mall and to the movie theater that only shows crappy comedies and weird cartoons. You can’t get anywhere without a car, everybody is dressed horribly, the food is really unhealthy. For people who want to raise children, suburban America is a nightmare.

Oh, what wouldn’t this immigrant give to live in an apartment in one of the great American cities! Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, maybe Seattle. That’s where life is. Culture, civilization, opera, people who read, travel, and debate. Hell, maybe even good coffee if one is very lucky.

I have no doubt that this Contini individual indeed dreams of being stuck in a suburb and good for him. However, there are many Europeans who find the suburban lifestyle to be intolerable.