Selective Vision

I just published the following as a comment to this post and decided to share it with my readers.

In my Hispanic Civilization class, we read A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolome de Las Casas and discussed the atrocities committed by the Spanish conquerors against the indigenous people (or at least I tried to discuss the atrocities). The students, however, were completely stuck on the novel idea that Columbus was not a great hero and a wonderful guy. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t steer the conversation back to the indigenous people. It was all about the students’ disappointment in Columbus.

Forget about all those slaughtered brown folks. A white guy turned out to be not exactly perfect. There is real tragedy for you.

Even as we are sitting in the Americas, I still can’t get this Eurocentric perspective out of the students’ heads.

Do You Need to Know How Many Partners Your Significant Other Had Before You?

It bothers me when people try to promote their own way of living their sexuality as the only “good” one. In a recent discussion of whether people have the right to know the number of sexual partners their significant others had before meeting them, Hugo Schwyzer presents his choice not to know as somehow more ideologically sound than its opposite:

When we’re in a monogamous relationship, what we have a right to insist on is that no names get added to the list after our own. It doesn’t matter if I’m number five or 55. I’ll be crushed if my wife adds a number six or a 56 behind my back.

But the right to ask to be last is not the same as the right to know how far we are from the first. And for me, part of being a good man is knowing what I don’t need to know.

According to this definition, I’m not a good woman because, for me, it is very important to know. Mind you, I’m not saying that people who choose not to ask are wrong and something is not good in their relationship. This is a matter of personal preference and it makes no sense, in my opinion, to attach an ideological significance to it.

Those of us who insist on knowing are in no way less “good” than those who don’t care to know.

Observations on Student Writing

As I shared before, my students did very poorly on their first essay. They did so badly that I couldn’t even give grades for their papers. So today we spent the entire class meeting rewriting the essay together. The students started rewriting their papers by hand, while I came up to each of them individually and discussed what was wrong in the paper and how it could be fixed.

And a very strange thing happened. A student who had produced a jumbled mess of God knows what in the paper he handed in, crafted a really outstanding piece of work by hand with almost no help on my part. It was original, profound, and a pleasure to read. Another student wrote a completely different paper, and it was so superior in quality to the original essay that I started wondering if the same person was the author of both pieces. And it was like this for almost single one of the students.

So now I’m wondering: how did this happen? Does writing by hand help them to write better? Or is the secret simply that in class there are no distractions, no noise, no Internet, no television, no music, and this helps them write well?

I am very surprised right now. After reading the papers, I felt quite desperate because I thought that this was a hopeless group where nobody was capable of writing a grammatically correct sentence. It turns out, however, that most of the students write very well.

Does anybody have an explanation for this strange phenomenon? And also, what should I do for our future written assignments? This is a Freshman Seminar that, of necessity, has a very strong writing component. We will write several more papers in this course. How do I ensure that no more poorly written papers are handed in to me by students who, apparently, are perfectly capable of writing well?

Should the Anti-Affirmative Action Bake Sale Be Banned?

Let me preface this by saying that I’m a great believer in affirmative action and that I consider the students at UC Berkeley who tried to organize a bake sale protesting the affirmative action to be silly, ignorant fools. However, the folks who believe the event should be prevented from taking place are also silly, ignorant fools.

In case you haven’t been following the story, here is what happened:

UC Berkeley student senators voted Sunday to condemn discriminatory behavior on campus – even if done in satire – in response to a Republican student group’s plans for an “Increase Diversity Bake Sale,” with pastries labeled according to race and gender. . .

The Republicans’ posting describes five price levels for their bake sale, with pastries described as “White/Caucasian” going for $2, “Asian/American American” for $1.50, “Latino/Hispanic” for $1, “Black/African American” for 75 cents, and “Native American” for a quarter. A 25-cent discount is offered for women. “If you don’t come, you’re a racist,” the post declares.

Hundreds of students opposed the bake sale on Facebook, and many sent letters of complaint to campus administrators. Alfredo Mireles, Jr., a UCSF nursing student who sits on UC’s Board of Regents, issued a statement condemning “a common stunt performed by college Republican groups to protest affirmative action policies.”

Of course, this is nothing but an ignorant stunt. What is disturbing, however, is how quickly the students who are unhappy with it turn to the parental figures of authority to protect them from ideas they don’t like. College is the first taste of adulthood many students experience. It is sad to see that many of them are not ready for the opportunity to live like independent adults and still try to recruit Mommy and Daddy figures to make the bad guys stop saying unpleasant, “hurtful” things.

The adult thing to do would be for the dissenting students to boycott the bake sale (and what brings the point across better than having nobody attend the event?), to organize a competing event at the same time that would draw audiences away from the anti-affirmative action stunt, start a debate on the issue, engage their peers intellectually, etc.

It is also very sad that students seem to think that the only speech worth protecting is the one they agree with. It’s hard to engage with ideas that bother you intellectually. Arguing, debating, organizing alternative events – who needs all that when you can just run to the authorities and complain that somebody’s freedom of expression is hurting your feelings?


I try to be as democratic as possible in my interactions with students. However, it bothers me to get emails from students that start with “Hey!” I think it’s rude. At the very least, a student could go to the trouble of memorizing my very short and easy to remember name.

“Hey!” sounds like you are trying to attract a dog’s attention, or something.

Am I being touchy about this?

Environment, Medication, and Control

Isn’t it nice when you can pretend to care about the environment while helping the pharmaceutical companies rip people off even more? And place even more restrictions on how people access their medication?

The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday patients who use the epinephrine inhalers to treat mild asthma will need to switch by Dec. 31 to other types that do not contain chlorofluorocarbons, an aerosol substance once found in a variety of spray products.

The action is part of an agreement signed by the U.S. and other nations to stop using substances that deplete the ozone layer, a region in the atmosphere that helps block harmful ultraviolet rays from the Sun.

But the switch to a greener inhaler will cost consumers more. Epinephrine inhalers are available via online retailers for around $20, whereas the alternatives, which contain the drug albuterol, range from $30 to $60.

Mind you, I have nothing whatsoever against switching to more environment-friendly inhalers. However, I don’t understand why this switch has to remove the possibility of ordering the inhalers online. Why are asthma sufferers suddenly condemned to getting prescriptions for something they never needed a prescription for until now? How is it reasonable to ask people to switch to something that is more expensive in the current economy? For many people, this will be a serious increase in price that they might not be able to afford.

As it is, there are way too many substances that unreasonably require prescriptions. Take contraceptive pills, for example. What sense does it make that one can buy heroin easier and more hassle-free than oral contraceptives?

After this kind of news, it becomes easier to understand why so many people in this country say they are sick and tired of the government’s constant meddling and paternalistic attitudes.

Thank you, Estherlou, for pointing me towards this story.

Why Offering Criminals a Choice Between Jail and Attending Church Is a Horrible Idea

On the heels of our recent discussion about a decision by a small town in Alabama to offer criminals a choice between a short prison sentence and attending church, I want to offer the following considerations:

1. Such a decision violates the US Constitution and its guarantee of separation between church and state in an egregious way.

2. It sets a dangerous precedent of the government relegating its functions to private individuals and organizations. From there to vigilante justice, there is a very short distance.

3. If the government starts relegating its functions to private individuals, we will soon lose any vestige of the separation between the public and the private spheres. When the functions that belong strictly to the government are not well-defined and limited in nature, there is nothing to stop the government from invading every aspect of our personal lives.

4. The goal of incarceration is, first and foremost, to impose punishment for a crime. Equating church attendance with punishment is offensive to the religious people.

The very reason this country came into existence was the need to separate the church and the state. I can imagine nothing more un-American can opposition to this separation. A society where there is absolutely any overlap between religion and government is not a civilized one. The separation of church and state is one of the greatest inventions of humanity on the road to progress. Any violation of this great principle will lead to horrible results.

Sunflower Seeds and Meditation

Do you know why Ukrainians are always so happy, relaxed, laid-back, and stress-free?

Because we eat a lot of sunflower seeds. Getting them out of their shells requires such intense concentration that it becomes a great meditation technique. And the seeds themselves lower blood pressure. (Of course, the seeds should be bought as nature created them, in shells and unsalted.)

Just try it. It’s a road to nirvana.