A Really Nasty Search

This is probably the nastiest search that brought some jerkwad to my blog:

What kind of a freaking loser enters something like this into a search box?

I’m nothing if not accommodating, of course. Especially with people who seek knowledge. So here is a recipe for you, idiot: take your sorry little ass to the nearest police precinct and repeat your query to the officer on duty. I’m sure ample help will be provided to you.

Sometimes, I’m very sorry that WordPress doesn’t allow one to trace the IPs of people who come to the blog through searches. This user definitely needed to be identified.

Who Holds All the Wealth, Men or Women?

I said many times before that my primary identity is that of a feminist. I’m a feminist first and a professor, a scholar, a Ukrainian, a Jew, a Canadian, an autistic, a Hispanist, a blogger and everything else second. But I think that memes like the following one do nothing but hurt the cause of feminism because they appeal to cheap, meaningless outrage and not to facts and reason:

1%: The percentage of the world’s wealth held by women, despite the fact that they comprise 40% of the world’s workforce.

This just makes no sense at all whatsoever. All these men who hold 99% of world’s wealth, are they single? Or gay? Do none of them have wives? Daughters? Mothers? Sisters? Or do they all live in countries where women are legally precluded from owning the wealth of their male family members? This should mean that the Americans, the Canadians, the Western Europeans, the Australians, the New Zealanders, the Russians, etc. are all out. Who’s left then?

As to the percentage of the world’s workforce that women (or men) supposedly comprise, anybody with even a minimal knowledge of economics must surely realize that this figure is taken out of thin air. Many countries (such as the countries of the Former Soviet Union, for example) run on an unofficial employment market. There is simply no way to determine legitimately who does or does not work and what wealth they do or do not possess in such countries. Take, for example, the case of the former mayor of Moscow who, according to all paperwork, is nearly indigent because he put his billions in his wife’s name to avoid criminal prosecution. Have such people been taken into account when calculating the gender breakdown of wealth?

By all means, let’s be outraged by gender inequality. Let’s be as outraged as we possibly can. But for the love of all that’s holy, let’s be outraged about something that is worthy of outrage. Not something that is so patently silly.

Was Stalin Aware of Romeo and Juliet?

I’m reading a new novel by Almudena Grandes, one of Spain’s leading authors. At the very beginning of the book, the narrator tells a story in which Stalin makes a reference to Romeo and Juliet. “This must mean the story is apocryphal,” the narrator immediately concludes. “Stalin couldn’t have been aware of Romeo and Juliet because his Russian was never very good.”

It is true that Stalin spoke Russian with a strong accent his entire life. This is not surprising since it wasn’t his language. However, poor knowledge of Russian has never prevented anybody from being familiar with works of Shakespeare. I have a strong suspicion that Shakespeare himself was not a fluent speaker of this language.

At the same time, having an accent, even a strong one, in no way precludes very high proficiency in reading in a language. Stalin was not only a poet, who in his youth managed to get published and even included into an anthology of best poetry in Georgia, he was also an avid reader, and not only in Georgian but also in Russian. His party nickname was “Koba”, after a character in a novel. After his death, Stalin’s huge personal library was recovered and is now available to researchers. Many a learned volume has been written on the extensive notes Stalin left in the margins of his favorite books.

It is important to remember, that even at the height of purges, Stalin almost never killed writers who wrote in Russian. He exterminated every single Ukrainian writer of note but Russian-language authors were cherished by him. Osip Mandelshtam, the greatest poet of the twentieth century in Russia (in my opinion) and a Jew, and Isaak Babel, another Soviet Jewish writer, were the only ones killed by Stalin. Mandelshtam wrote a poem criticizing Stalin and making fun of his appearance, and Babel had an affair with the wife of the NKVD chief. Save from these two egregious cases, Stalin protected Russian-speaking writers.

Stalin’s favorite writer, Mikhail Bulgakov (not a Jew and actually a notorious anti-Semite), wrote books that were very critical of the Soviet Union and also very complex in a truly Modernist way. Stalin loved Bulgakov’s work so much that he attended the performance of one of his plays dozens of times. He also protected Boris Pasternak (who was actually one of the greatest translators of Shakespeare into Russian. And a Jew). Pasternak’s name was put on a list of people to be arrested and Stalin himself crossed him off the list.

There is ample evidence that Stalin read very carefully every single work of literature that was nominated for the highest literary prize in Soviet Union, a prize that bore Stalin’s own name.

I’m not writing this to defend Stalin in any way. He was a bloody dictator and a horrible person. An ignoramus, however, he was not. He was an autodidact from an indigent family who spoke with an accent. None of these things, however, suggest that he was stupid or illiterate.

Are Desperate Job Seekers Being Bamboozled?

For a long time now, job seekers who contacted recruitment agencies didn’t have to pay anything to be matched with jobs. Prospective employers were the ones who paid recruiters to interview candidates and provide them with people who would best match the job requirements. Now, however, websites have started to appear that charge candidates membership fees and offer access to prospective employers for free.

Such websites (and I’m not linking to any of them because their practices disgust me) are also completely dishonest. Here is how responsible recruiters at Pronexia explain why such websites should not be used:

Another thing that makes me sceptical is the site’s claim that the average salary of their members is $200,000+. A senior executive at that level should not be posting his or her resume on a job board. At that level, you should have made enough of a name for yourself to (a) have a solid network around you should you be looking for re-appointment and (b) be constantly solicited by headhunters. This makes me question the site’s target market. As a headhunter myself, I would not use the site’s services to look for senior-level candidates (free or not). I would have a very hard time understanding why they are paying for services of a job board.

The answer is simple: the creators of such websites are lying through their teeth to bamboozle desperate job seekers into paying membership fees for a useless service. Remember, if you are a job seeker who is working with a headhunter or a recruiter and you get asked to pay anything, this is probably a scam.

From what I hear, a great resource for non-academic job seekers is LinkedIn. There are some services on it that you pay for but the initial placement of your profile is free. Prospective employers are also a lot more likely to see you there than on some shady website that rips you off and offers nothing of value in return.

Another Tragedy at Yale

A Yale employee committed suicide last week:

Yale police are investigating what they are calling the apparent suicide of a school employee.

John Miller, the manager of community programs for the school of music and an alumnus of the school, died on Thursday morning. School officials said he fell from the fourth floor of Hendrie Hall at 165 Elm St.

As saddened as I am by yet another tragedy at my alma mater, I am not surprised. Nobody wants to talk about it but the truth is that the environment on campus is so oppressive that such tragedies are, unfortunately, doomed to happen all over again. There is no doubt in my mind that, yet again, we will hear about how this is an isolated incident that was caused by mental issues of a single individual and how this has nothing to do with the “extremely safe” Yale campus.

There are many things that are deeply wrong at Yale. I remember my years there as ones of constant, unrelieved depression. Only after I started working at my current university did I realize that one didn’t need to wait until becoming a famous tenured professor to avoid being humiliated and mistreated in academia. The contrast between the way in which Yale’s President Levin treated his graduate students and junior faculty members and the way our Vice-Chancellor here behaves towards us is glaring. Here, we are human beings worthy of respect and every consideration. There, we were nobodies. Unless we had ultra rich parents, of course.

What’s Up With Netflix?

Is anybody aware of what is going on with Netflix? Why do I suddenly get a dramatic email from Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix that starts with the words “I messed up. I owe you an explanation”?

Has there been some scandal over Netflix recently that I missed? I read the email but it doesn’t explain what the big deal is. Or is it simply a PR move to attract attention to the company?

How To Prepare For the Test?

One question that students love to ask and that is pure torture for my professorial soul is “How should I prepare for the test?”

In a course that is run the way it should be, if I do my job right and the students do theirs, there is no need to prepare for the test. My goal is not to get my students to memorize information for the purposes of reproducing it for the exam or the mini-quiz. This is a completely useless exercise that defeats the entire purpose of higher education which should be to teach students to think for themselves.

Today, we have a test in one of my courses. The test will provide students with excerpts from texts we read  and discussed and they will have to analyze them. That’s it. No memorization, cramming or regurgitation of anything will be involved.

Students who are unafraid of thinking and expressing their opinions will breeze through the test. Those, however, who want “correct answers” provided for them beforehand will not have a good time.

On Friday, when I was explaining the format of this test and mentioned that the students would have to provide their analysis of the texts, one student asked, “Will it be multiple choice?”

I would really like to know the name of the enemy of humanity who invented this nasty multiple-choice obsession and how it is possible that people think the words ‘analysis’ and ‘multiple choice’ belong together.

Is the Expression ‘White Trash’ Racist?

For those progressives who like bandying around the expression ‘white trash’, I think a reminder is in order that the expression originated from and was extremely popular on slave-owning plantations. It is a product of the system that considered only people who owned slaves to be valid human beings. According to Harriet Beecher Stowe, slavery created “not only heathenish, degraded, miserable slaves, but it produces a class of white people who are, by universal admission, more heathenish, degraded, and miserable.”

I also want to remind everybody that between 1907-1927 eugenicists insisted on forced sterilization of many ‘white trash’ people who were deemed unfit for procreation on the basis of their supposed promiscuity and in-born criminal tendencies.

I suggest that everybody consult White Trash: Race and Class in America before bandying about this offensive term.

In Case You Still Think My Job Is Very Easy

I have an idea for a new project, so I’m reading a lot of primary sources right now. The 1,096-page-long novel I just finished will work really well for what I want to do. However, it was a huge sacrifice to read it. The main characters were first tortured very graphically by Francoists, then even more graphically by the Stalinists, then really really graphically by the Nazis, and then some more by the Nazis, and then by the Soviet troops during World Word II. At some point, the protagonist went on a trip to Jerusalem, and I was afraid now he would now be tortured by the Zionists, but that, at least, didn’t happen.

Jokes aside, because of these endless and very detailed descriptions of torture, mutilation, rape, and killings, I’ve been having nightmares and panic attacks for the entire time I’ve been reading the book. And now that I finished it, there will be two more in a similar vein. So let nobody say that I haven’t sacrificed enough for the cause of literary criticism. I’ll be a nervous wreck after I’m done with these readings.