My Sad, Lonely Office

It’s been three weeks and this is all that has been done in my office. I’m getting very frustrated wandering around campus like the shadow of Hamlet’s father and meeting students at Starbucks.

I want my office back already.

More on the Occupy Protests

And this is a much more realistic depiction of the Occupy protests:

This movement is currently dominated by a class of people who make up, perhaps, the top 20% of the ninety-nine in the US and Canada––and probably only four or five per cent of the global ninety-nine. . . So many of the activists interviewed around the “occupy” movement have demonstrated that this movement began as a manifestation of the petty bourgeoisie in crisis: some have spoken about a future where they can’t get the same jobs they could get in the past, revealing the widespread belief that this class deserves certain jobs; those calling for the “occupy” movement on facebook and twitter and countless “social networking” sites and tools (all of which are instruments that the majority of the global ninety-nine cannot access) focus primarily on the greed of the top one per cent––a psychological problem rather than the structural reality of capitalism.

I obviously don’t share the political views of the blogger who wrote the post but it is encouraging to see that realistic discussions of the protests have started to appear.

From my point of view, the bourgeois demands of the protesters have a lot of value. I believe that a happy, productive, growing middle class is necessary for the economic and political stability of a country. The erosion of the middle class is tragic for the US and for the Western European countries, so it’s fantastic that people are rising up and demanding change.

If only the protesters recognized that what they are defending is their right to a good job, a cell phone, a laptop, and a nice vacation. There is nothing shameful in wanting these things. There is nothing shameful in being middle class and wanting to retain that status.

Of course, when the protesters start telling us how their basic survival is at risk and that they are the 99%, then their movement loses all credibility.

It Would Be So Great

It would be so great if once, just once I encountered a story where a female academic doesn’t tell the readers how “I gave up a tenure-track job so our family could stay together” without even attempting to question why it was she and not her husband who had to sacrifice her career.

It would be so great to encounter a story where once, just once a highly educated woman didn’t say that “I wish I wasn’t stuck with the entirety of the “second shift” of cooking and cleaning” without questioning who the hell needs a partner capable of sticking you with the entirety of these chores while he prances out of the house to enjoy “candidate dinners, night grad classes, faculty senate meetings, social gatherings that represent important opportunities to network”.

It would be so great if instead of this endless whining about the general unfairness of the inhospitable universe that inundates my blogroll lately, I could find one – just one – story where the writer shares their situation and then analyzes how he or she contributed to creating his or her problems.

I’m not saying that stories of the “OMG, I’m such a victim and I have no idea how it even happened to me” variety don’t have the right to exist. I’m just saying that from time to time, very occasionally it would be nice to read another kind of stories.

How Not to Talk About the Protests

Whenever I read something like the following, I find it hard to figure out if the author is being facetious:

The people in the tumblr aren’t demanding to bring democracy into the workplace via large-scale unionization, much less shorter work days and more pay.  They aren’t talking the language of mid-twentieth century liberalism, where everyone puts on blindfolds and cuts slices of pie to share.  The 99% looks too beaten down to demand anything as grand as “fairness” in their distribution of the economy.  There’s no calls for some sort of post-industrial personal fulfillment in their labor – very few even invoke the idea that a job should “mean something.”  It’s straight out of antiquity – free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.

I keep hoping that this can’t have been written in earnest but I keep fearing that it might just be.

There is nothing more – not even modern – but fully postmodern than these protests that the very ignorant and drama-queenish author of the post refers to as “straight out of antiquity”. We are talking about people who can afford to spend all day every day protesting something that is, honestly, quite vague. And nobody starved as yet during the protests or is very likely to. How many people at those protests do NOT have a cell phone, iPad, laptop, etc.?

I am very happy that the protests are taking place. They are renewing my faith in the American people. But let’s just not exaggerate how miserable and on-the-brink-of-starvation these protesters are. Nothing is threatening anybody’s “basic ability to survive” in this country. Let’s not lose our grip on reality altogether and start pontificating about the “starving billions” of the US.

If you go to the 99% Tumblr you will discover a number of “real-life” stories that are supposed to make us question the “basic ability to survive” of 99% of us. I stopped reading after the 3rd story which features a young woman making the exact same salary as I do but somehow magically paying 35% in taxes on it (the real rate is 12%). I understand that one might have a hard time making ends meet on $52K+ at the age of 26. But I think that referring to such a situation as the brink of starvation is very offensive. Especially, to those who are actually on the brink of starvation on other continents.

I’m afraid the protests have no chance of achieving anything useful while people are formulating their grievances in this kind of way.

And I know that nobody wants to hear this, but it is very possible and actually quite easy to live in the US and not owe a dime to anybody. So “the bondage of our debts” is – at least to an extent – one’s own choice. There will be no progress until we all – the 100% of us – acknowledge that we have gotten ourselves into this mess by our shared and collective efforts.

I found this post through Mike’s blog.

If You Admire Juan Cole, You Are Seriously Deluded

I don’t remember which of my readers recommended this Juan Cole character for me to read but I get progressively more appalled with each post of his I encounter. Not only is the guy a sexist of major proportions, he is also a complete bigot. Here are some really offensive statements from his recent post on the persecution of the Coptic Christians in Egypt:

The current round of Christian protests was sparked by a Muslim-Christian dispute in the town of Mar Inabu near Edfu in distant Upper Egypt, over whether a storefront church there was properly licensed. The small Christian congregation of two dozen families in the town of 50,000 maintain that it it has been, for some time. Local fundamentalist Muslims argued that the building was not zoned for religious use but was rather a private apartment. The Christian attempt to build a second story over it with a dome was attacked by local Muslim fundamentalists. You wouldn’t think a dispute like that would be best resolved by burning down the church, but that is what the fundamentalist Salafis are accused of doing.

This sounds like a very nasty attempt to justify a burning of a church. Oh, of course, it so totally didn’t happen. How could it have happened if  it wasn’t the smart thing for the fundamentalists to do? Because, as we all know, fundamentalists always follow the most reasonable, logical path. Also, note the expression “the current round of Christian protests.” If you ever get a chance to talk to a Coptic Christian from Egypt (which I, for one, took the trouble to do before writing this post about the situation of Coptic Christians in the country), you will soon discover that this dismissive attitude to the “current round of protests” conceals the reality of constant and egregious persecution of this religious group.

The conflict between the Salafis and the Copts in Upper Egypt is likely at least partly over class and status hierarchies. Although Coptic Christians are only 10 percent of Egyptians, they are a larger proportion of the population in Upper Egypt, and there some are part of provincial elites, being landowners or merchants. Many Salafis are working or lower middle class.

So, of course, these nasty rich exploiters deserve everything they will get from the downtrodden victims. Who are, of course, the powerful majority in every respect.

The important thing to note is that while one can understand Christian anger over the events in Mar Inabu, it is a tiny place way out in the boondocks, and what happened there is, while hardly unprecedented, not typical of the fate of Christians in Egypt.

Oh, of course, if you can dismiss a place as “tiny” and being “in the boondocks”, then who the hell cares what happens there? Of course, this attitude is precisely the one that informs every invasion and bombing the US has engaged in overseas, but Juan Cole isnt willing to recognize that.

And then the post offers a convoluted discussion of why the military responded so violently against the Coptic Christians. Because, obviously, the simple truth that the Coptics are persecuted on religious grounds – as they have been for a very long time – is not sufficient. Fundamentalists persecute religious minorities everywhere in the world. And when fundamentalist Christians persecute the Muslim minority in the US, it is just as appalling when the Muslim fundamentalists in Egypt persecute a Christian minority.

I have news for every progressive / Liberal reader of this blog: if a grievance of a persecuted Christian / Muslim / Jew / Hindu / Sikh / Buddhist / agnostic / atheist / Confucian / Pagan, etc., etc. does not carry the exact same weight with you, you are just a stupid, bigoted fool of the Bush Jr. kind.

The Story

Since I’m so completely exhausted, I will share something weird about myself. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been inventing this story that I keep retelling to myself and that has accompanied me throughout my life.

Over the 3 decades that I’ve been composing it, the story has grown and become very convoluted. There is the protagonist (a very autistic, mostly non-verbal version of me who is still – and always – a literary critic) and a cast of supporting characters. There have been many twists and turns of the plot. Things that were first mentioned in the story, say, a quarter of a century ago, develop in strange new directions. Minor characters rise to prominence as their hidden relationship to the main plot line becomes revealed.

The story takes place in an invented world which I see in a very detailed way in my mind. The imaginary world has a map and everything. The characters have lived in a number of different houses over the years. I can see every single room in each of the houses in my mind, every piece of furniture inside them, every ornament on the walls.

As an actual literary critic, I can tell you that the story doesn’t have an ounce of artistic value. It’s like a Latin American soap opera. Or even worse, a really bad romance / fantasy novel. It has a huge psychoanalytic value, though. Whenever something traumatic happens to me in real life, I transfer it to the story – within the story’s magical terminology – and replay the situation there until it becomes non-threatening.

I don’t think I’ve gone to sleep even once in the last 30 years without telling to myself a new portion of the story or replaying some of the best parts from the past.

There is no particular point to this post. I just wanted to share.


I just went outside and heard this crackling noise that at first I couldn’t identify. And then I realized that it was the sound of the leaves falling from the trees under a gust of wind.

Thank you, universe, for the Fall. It means that snow – even the tiny little amount of it we get here – cannot be far behind.

Oh Norway, now that I married a warmth-loving Russian person (an oxymoron if there ever was one), I don’t think I will ever get a chance to live in your beautiful sub-arctic climate.