This is the only shamanistic strategy I know and use but it works every single time, so I highly recommend it.

I always lose or misplace things. Once, I turned over the entire house in search of my passport. It was nowhere to be found, and I was getting really worried. Feeling exhausted after hours of searching fruitlessly in all the places the passport was likely to be found, I decided to have a snack and continue the search. Of course, the moment I opened the refrigerator, I found my passport right there, on the top shelf.

This is why now I don’t waste time looking for things. Whenever I lose anything, I use my shamanistic strategy. This is what it entails: close your eyes and try to relax as much as possible. Try to avoid thinking and wait for the white noise to come. When you reach that state, open your eyes and immediately run in the first direction that occurs to you. That’s where your lost object will be located.

This is neither an atavism nor voodoo science of any sort. When we look for misplaced objects, we often guide ourselves by the knowledge of where the objects are likely to be, according to logic and reason. These reasonable expectations prevent us from remembering where we actually left the object in question. Our memories of events often are erased and substituted with what we think must have happened. This is precisely why witness accounts are so unreliable.

Through the Eyes of a Stranger: Children As Salespeople

What I find really weird is when people send out kids to sell chocolate bars, magazines, magnets, or any other kind of junk to collect money for charity. I think this is a very disturbing practice. Isn’t it too early for small children to be involved in the whole selling and buying ideology? They have the rest of their lives to feel like failures at selling stuff. Do they really need to be exposed to that as early as 5 (or 8, 10, 12)?

Also, is it really necessary to inculcate the idea that you can only be charitable if you manage to sell a lot? Then these kids grow up and it never even occurs to them that shelling out huge sums of money to feel self-righteous and good has nothing whatsoever to do with charity. People just sign monthly checks to charities in a completely mechanical way. Often, they even compete through the size of their donations.

We already have sales strategies invade too many areas of our lives. Is it really necessary to expose small children to sales under the guise of teaching them to be charitable? If instead you, for example, take a kid to the old folks’ home and get him or her to read a book or chat with a lonely elderly person, wouldn’t this do a lot more to develop this child as a human being than any amount s/he can bring in by selling stuff?

If I do decide to have a child and that child is forced to participate in this by their school, I’d just buy the entire stock of candy or chocolate bars or fridge magnets with my own money. And then I’d walk around with the kid distributing the stuff to people for free. Otherwise, I’d just die of shame if I see my (imaginary) child trying to sell things to people at an early age.

How do you, dear readers, feel about this phenomenon?

I was reminded of this disturbing phenomenon by this post.

Zizek and the Occupy Movement, Part II

The reason why I love Zizek in spite of all his outdated Marxist rhetoric is that he is great at coming up with pithy statements that summarize the issue perfectly. Take the following for example:

They are called losers – but are the true losers not there on Wall Street, who received massive bailouts? They are called socialists – but in the US, there already is socialism for the rich. They are accused of not respecting private property – but the Wall Street speculations that led to the crash of 2008 erased more hard-earned private property than if the protesters were to be destroying it night and day – just think of thousands of homes repossessed.

This is, in my opinion, a perfect response to many of the superficial critics of the movement.

Zizek also has something crucial to say about the false friends of the movement:

The protesters should beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support them but are already working hard to dilute the protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, those in power will try to make the protests into a harmless moralistic gesture.

I couldn’t agree more. There is nothing more potentially dangerous to the #Occupy movement than the attempts to drown the legitimate economic grievances and the important political message of the protesters in the sea of moralizing inanities about the evilness of greed. I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record but this is a central concern. Morality cannot and should not be addressed by political means. A political movement that has any chance of succeeding needs to abandon the weepy personal stories (many of which are not even that weepy and make the protesters look like spoiled brats) and exhortations about compassion and voice concrete factual demands. These demands should be addressed solely and exclusively to the elected representatives of the people, not to some private citizens who have no obligation whatsoever not to be greedy or to show compassion.

Zizek, of course, disagrees:

What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of concrete pragmatic demands. . . What one should always bear in mind is that any debate here and now necessarily remains a debate on enemy’s turf; time is needed to deploy the new content.

I understand what Zizek is saying and why he believes it is too soon to begin to formulate what the practical demands can be at this stage. However, I’m not convinced that there is time. Winter is coming and it sounds like it will be a pretty harsh one. In Montreal, we are promised the coldest winter in 20 years, and New York always gets whatever weather Montreal does. Then, the holiday season will be upon us with its triple whammy of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Who can judge the protesters if they decide not to show up when it’s cold outside and there are things to celebrate?

The #Occupy movement is the most hopeful, promising and wonderful thing to happen in the US public arena for a long time. People are waking up, getting angry, getting engaged. I watch the coverage that shows the protesters magnifying the voices of the speakers by repeating what they say in a ripple effect and I feel that finally, finally we are seeing the children and the grandchildren of those Americans who stunned the world with their dedication to social justice in the 1960s and 1970s.

Those of us who wept with joy during Obama’s election victory speech and then listened in stunned horrified silence to him appointing Summers and Geithner to key positions almost immediately after that don’t want another major disappointment. We bought into the vague rhetoric of hope and change but as soon as our “hopey-changey” leader got elected, we realized that hope and change meant completely different things to many of us. We need to abandon the meaningless feel-good slogan-making of “99% vs 1%” and “greed is bad” and start voicing concrete demands.

If we let this opportunity to get something done go to waste, we might not get another one.

Tony Robbins and Latin American Identities

I thought I’d seen it all but starting an essay on Latin American identities with a quote from Tony Robbins is definitely a first.

I’m so exhausted that I’m not sure how I feel about this. If anybody is willing to tell me how I should feel about this, I’ll be grateful.

Seriously, people, I’m so overwhelmed with everything I need to do in preparation for my trip to the philosophy conference that I’m now scaring my husband, my sister and my mother by responding to their every suggestion with, “I’d like you to make this decision for me.”

If people have an opinion on what I should wear tomorrow, they should feel free to share.

I’m Haunted by Mexicans

Whenever my students are writing about Cubans, Uruguayans, Spaniards, Dominicans, Argentinians, Venezuelans, Colombians, etc., I always know that by the end of the essay, all these people will be mysteriously transformed into Mexicans. Often, I read statements like, “Jose Marti was an important Cuban thinker and the fighter for Cuban Independence. He loved his country of Mexico and worked hard to make it independent from Spain.”

The culmination of this trend was achieved in the passage I read today: “Jose Enrique Rodo, a thinker and educator from Uruguay, hated the United States and Mexico. Mexico was part of the United States, which is why he hated it. As a Mexican, he hated his own nation and wrote critically about it.”

Is there a way I can politely bring to my students’ attention the Earth-shattering news that not all Spanish-speakers are Mexican?

Sunday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion

This is the most egregious piece of news I have heard in a very long time. What kind of a complete and utter barbarity is this?

A brilliant post about the debates between the child-free and child-having folks.

Wondering how to make your blog get promoted by WordPress and get thousands of new readers instantly? Easy! Just come up with a very provocative title that is bound to anger people and make them want to learn more about what happened and then write an inane post that doesn’t even come close to fulfilling the title’s promise.

The shamanistic cure. Short, insightful, and to the point.

And this is the kind of post that always makes me go to my Stats page and stare at it with a happy, beatific expression. And before you blame me for being competitive, note that I’m sending visitors to a blog that has never done this for me. And it isn’t the first time I’m doing this.

“Someone is living a very strange life.” I can’t say more about this post because it will kill all the fun, but it’s really, really, really brilliant. This is a blogger who keeps disagreeing with me, and the feeling is mutual. But he is totally worth checking out.

An update on the DSK. It’s good to see that there is a blogger who doesn’t want to lose sight of DSK even after he has left this country.

Sexual dysfunction in men and circumcision: scientific data.

Who are the University Women? The post makes a very important point, albeit in a way that is so apologetic that it makes me cringe.

A really shocking story about two children who were swapped at birth by careless medical professionals at the maternity ward. In the country where it happened, a really inhumane and cruel policy of keeping newborns away from their mothers (and not even letting the fathers into the hospital) exists.

Spanish Prof writes brilliantly about the problems she has with the #Occupy movement. And here is Part II. OK, it’s long, but it’s brilliant, people. I highly recommend. Spanish Prof makes really astute comparisons between the events in Argentina in 2010 and the rhetoric surrounding the US #Occupy movement today. And here is Part III of her post.

An article by Douthat with which I agree 100%. I never imagined I would say this about a piece of writing by Douthat but I can’t find anything in the article to disagree with. Thank you, Izgad, for sending it to me!

Does the “99% vs 1%” Slogan Make Sense?

Reader n8chz says on the subject of whether the “99% vs 1%” slogan makes sense:

I take it as a political statement that the middle class have more interests in common with the lower class than with the upper class.

My question is, really? Is this a convenient myth we are telling ourselves, or is this actually true?

There is a grievous lack of a social safety net in this country. Let me remind you, however, where the money for this social safety net comes from in the countries of Western Europe and in Quebec that have it. It is financed by the very high taxes paid by the middle class.

In Sweden, the income tax rate is 57.7%. In Germany, it’s 42%. In Belgium, it’s 50%.

We like to pretend that if we prevent the hedge fund managers from paying smaller taxes than they should on their investments, that is going to make a massive difference to the economy. It’s all a convenient illusion, though. Every more or less socialist system in existence right now is based on taxing the middle class heavily.

This is precisely why the #Occupy movement is so invested into promoting the myth that we are all 99% and that we have the same interests and goals. You can nationalize every single private jet and every single private island in this country outright, however, and that is not going to finance a passable social safety net even for as short a time as the next 50 years.

It’s so much fun to protest and wave catchy slogans on Wall Street while feeling like you are bravely fighting for the cause of the dispossessed. It is a little harder, though, to agree to be taxed at the same rates that one’s Western European and Quebecois sisters and brothers do.

I have a question for my middle class readers. Are you willing to give away between 50% and 60% of what you make in taxes to pay for the universal free healthcare, very cheap or free higher education, very high unemployment benefits, free amazing daycare for the poor, etc.?

Through the Eyes of a Stranger: Stories From an American Party

I know people enjoy my party stories, so I will share a few experiences from today’s Halloween party at a colleague’s house.


The moment we arrive at the party people start uttering what to me sounds like a very cryptic phrase, “Go Cardinals!”

“This is strange,” I think. “I know these people, and I’m fairly certain nobody here is Catholic. So why are they all interested in cardinals all of  a sudden?”

I approach a group of people and say, “You know, a student submitted a paper to me this morning. The topic was supposed to be Latin American national identities, but instead of the title, he wrote what you are saying, “GO CARDINALS!” Could you tell me what this means?”

People looked at me with a compassion normally reserved for the terminally ill.

“The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series last night,” a kind soul explained.

“Cool!” I said. “It was a series of what, exactly?”


After figuring out that the Cardinals were a baseball team, I approached the Chair’s husband.

“So,” I said, “are you a Cardinals fan?”

“Yes!” he replied. “The moment we discovered our team won last night we drove to St. Louis and partied until 3 am!”

“That’s so great,” I said. “Now I realize why my neighbors kept screaming all night long. I thought they were just excited about the midterms. I hear that baseball is a very intellectual game, is that true?”

The Chair’s husband plunged into a passionate discussion of baseball. I decided that now that I had him pegged as a baseball fan I had something to contribute to the discussion.

“Baseball rocks,” I said. “Unlike this totally weird American football. I mean, have you ever seen anything stranger than that weird game?”

“Erm. . .,” this ultra-polite man responded, “I’m not sure if you are aware that I’m a football player. I coach our high-school football team.”


N. got . . . erm, tipsy enough to share the following story (even though he is Russian, he is no drinker, so I never heard this before).

“I was talking to my former thesis adviser,” N. said, “and I mentioned that I had gotten married.”

“Oh, who is your wife?” the thesis adviser asked.

“She is the rising star of Hispanic Studies at X University!” N. proudly responded.

“Wow,” the adviser said. “I had no idea you were married to Professor C.R.!”

Professor C.R. was at the party and she cast a terrorized look in my direction when N. shared his story.

“Your thesis adviser knew what he was talking about,” I answered. “Professor C.R. is a star.”


The main difference between an American party and a Russian-speaking party is that everybody is so nice, kind and welcoming that even an autistic and an ultra-intravert feel comfortable and happy. It is unbelievable but during the entire party nobody made a single snide comment or a critical remark about me, N., or anybody else.