Writing About History

As I mentioned before, I’m reading Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and it’s fascinating how the choice of words betrays the author’s political engagements. To give an example, Pappe describes the struggle for independence from the British colonialism as “Jewish terrorist attacks.” Of course, any anti-colonialist struggle can be described in such terms. Or it could be described very differently.

Take people who worked on the Underground Railroad, for example. You could say that they helped deprive owners of their property. Or you could call them heroes.

As the old saying goes, when he is on our side, he is an intelligence officer. When he is on the opposing side, he is a spy.

Do You Fear Context Collapse?

I was just being interviewed about my blog and the interviewer asked me the following very unexpected question:

“Do you sometimes worry that, through your blog,  people from different parts of your life will gain access to the information about you that is not aimed at them? Your colleagues might find out things about your personal life, old boyfriends will read about your current life, your relatives will read stories about your dating experiences, etc.?”

“Erm. . . no,” I said. “Do other people worry about it?”

“Yes,” the interviewer said. “This is what we refer to as “context collapse.” Many bloggers worry that different compartments of their life will comingle.”

“Huh. Not me,” was all I could respond.

It has never even occurred to me that people can see their lives in this way. I’m not being in any way critical, mind you. I’m just very surprised. This must totally be an autistic thing, don’t you think? I never considered that different contexts might call for different behaviors or a different way of relating to others. It doesn’t bother me that I never thought about it because I’m doing fine just the way I am (and even getting interviewed about my blog for the third week in a row).

It seems quite a strain to maintain all those personas for all those different contexts, don’t you think? I’m kind of glad I’m not doing it.

People never cease to surprise me.

A Very Cryptic Phrase on Fading American Customs

I read the following extremely cryptic phrase on Inside Higher Ed and couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to mean:

In today’s Academic Minute, Monmouth University’s Katherine Parkin examines a fading American custom that made it acceptable for a woman to propose marriage.

This has an eerie feel of a dystopian novel about the future where Fundamentalists have won, women are back to being chattel, and a sad academic of the future wistfully discusses the good old times when – as impossible that is to believe – women didn’t just sit there patiently, waiting to be proposed to.

Soon, we will read about “the fading American custom that made it acceptable for a woman to want nothing to do with marriage altogether.”

Group Dynamics

Group dynamics is a powerful thing, people. We are watching the same movie (Nine Queens, and if you haven’t watched it, you are wasting your life) in two sections of my Spanish Beginners II course. The course is the same, the material is the same, the classes meet on the same days and in the same building.

Yet, the group dynamics is very different. The two groups of students laugh in different places of the movie. They have a completely different collective reaction to it.

This is something that I observe all the time. I prepare an original activity, bring it to class, and the students love it. The activity works brilliantly, the students are very enthusiastic, and we achieve great progress in class. Two hours later, I bring the same activity to another section of this course. Students are bored and indifferent and the activity bombs.

A group is so much more than the individuals making it. It has a life of its own.

Do You Want To Know What I’m Reading Right Now?

I’m reading Ilan Pappe’s fascinating book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. It has been recommended to me by a reader of this blog, and I’m very glad I listened to his recommendation.

The review of the book is coming soon. I know there will be many people who will want to read it.

I think I’ve just created some real suspense here. 🙂


The Trope of a Repentant Evil Feminist

I really adore it when some stupid little woman-hater is straining his meager excuse for a brain to come up with a defense for his hatred of women. Instead of confessing (at least to himself) that he is a stupid and ugly little prick of a person who hates women because he is wildly irrelevant and massively unsuccessful, such a creature always – and I mean every single time – invents some fictitious feminist who has seen the evil of her anti-man ways and has repented. Alas, the repentance has come too late and fate has caught up with her.

Such narratives from woman-haters of all ilks and genders abound. There are imaginary women who made brilliant careers but then realized that the bugbear of feminism has robbed them of the joy of being kept by and condescended to by some equally imaginary man. There are fictitious women who chased after careers and were left lonely and pining for husbands and babies. (Note how we never hear about any men whose huge professional and financial success made them sad and lonely. That happens because all women are whores, obviously.) There are also all those feminist mothers whose daughters damn them for destroying their lives by not letting them wear pink. And there are feminist mothers who somehow demolish the existence of their sons by being – oh, horror! – college professors and even – a greater horror! – the bad F word.

Here is the most recent example of such a story concocted by a fool du jour who is bothered by the existence of feminism:

Closer to home, I have listened to a feminist friend talk with concern about her only child, a son in his early 30s, who has struggled with work and relationships. In her own work, as a professor in the humanities, she has seen her classes dominated by young women, not only in numbers but in participation and academic performance.

“Why do you think this is happening,” I asked her, referring to her classes.

She replied without hesitation, “It’s the women’s movement.”

I know she is worried about her son, but, as I have seen so many times when parents talk about the problems their sons are having, she sees it as an individual problem, not as a social one. I am sure it is hard for her to accept the possibility that the feminism she so strongly believes in might have, by ignoring boys, allowed a progressively more unbalanced situation to develop, one in which her son is caught up.

Tons of literature on why female students choose to Major in Humanities instead of Sciences exists (a small hint: it has nothing to do with the victory of feminism but a lot to do with its failures.) The brainless loser who authored this piece doesn’t need to read the massive research on the subject, however. He has found his answer: feminism is to blame. He has no idea why or how but one thing he knows for sure. If the weather is bad, money is tight and he is miserable, some feminist somewhere must certainly be to blame. Because an imaginary feminist in his head told him so.

Is Social Security Beyond Redemption?

Of course, I’m not an economist but people who are economists share my belief that the Social Security system in this country is beyond redemption:

Readers of this column who pay income taxes should brace themselves for the substantial new taxes that they will soon be paying to bail out a Social Security system whose cupboard is already bare – a Ponzi Scheme whose Trust Fund is full of Treasury IOUs instead of invested monies from past payroll taxes.

The politics of entitlement is very ugly. Politicians simply cannot keep their thieving hands out of  an apparently limitless money jar.  Addicted as they are to the jar’s contents, they ruthlessly renege on contracts when the jar runs empty.

And of course, politicians are above the law. They cannot be sued in the courts for breach of the Social Security contract.

By the time I get to the retirement age, there will be nothing whatsoever left in the Social Security Trust Fund, so I’m not even taking it into consideration as a hypothetical for the time when I retire.

Once again, if you have better news for me, feel free to share. As you have probably noticed, I always try to see the positive side of every development (see here, for example), but I can’t see my way past the realization that Social Security is dead and gone.

Does Being Rich Make One Unethical?

An interesting study that demonstrates a tendency towards unethical behavior among the rich people:

Four lab tests . . . revealed those who considered themselves upper class had greater tendencies to make unethical decisions. This included unrightfully stealing something, lying in a negotiation, cheating at a game of chance to boost their chances of winning cash or endorsing unethical behavior at work, such as stealing cash, receiving bribes and overcharging customers. “This isn’t just a case of upper socioeconomic people being more willing to admit that they would be unethical,” Piff said. All these lab findings held true regardless of participants’ ages, gender, ethnicity, religiosity and political orientation. “I was surprised at the consistency and strength of all these effects — upper-class individuals often acted unethically three to four times more often than lower-class individuals,” Piff told LiveScience.

What I don’t like about this study is that it confuses cause and effect. It seems far more likely to me that, rather than people being more unethical because they are rich, it is simply easier to become rich if you are not weighed down by many scruples.

Confucius said, “In a society that is ruled by law, it is shameful to be poor and unsuccessful. But in a society that is ruled by lawlessness, it is shameful to be rich and successful.”

Neo-Nazi Websites

As an autistic, I have this obnoxious tendency to blurt out things without thinking, which sometimes makes people uncomfortable. I was sitting at my Eastern European Studies round-table recently, listening to people talk about their research, when suddenly I announced,

“I’ve been reading Russian neo-Nazi websites. . .”

People at the round-table don’t know me well, and judging by physical appearance alone, I look extremely Russian. The facial expressions of my colleagues betrayed horror. “Did we invite a Russian neo-Nazi to our roundtable?” they were thinking.

So I continued, trying to salvage the situation, “. . . because as a Jew, I consider it crucial to track the developments of neo-Nazism in Europe.”

The feeling of relief in the room was palpable.

I do, indeed, follow Russian neo-Nazi websites because it fascinates me to see how their contributors manage to reconcile their love for Hitler with the fact that Hitler considered Slavs to be an inferior race and was preparing to wipe us all out. Neo-Nazi sentiments in the Russian society are strong and it is a huge mistake not to pay attention to their consolidation.