A Crime Nobody Cares About

I’m reading one of Peter Robinson’s mysteries, and it seems like this very solid writer really messed up by constructing his novel around one crime nobody cares about : the copyright violation. 

I mean you might care about it hugely in real life but would you want to read an entire novel about this scary villain who – oh horror! – sold illegal copies of Star Wars videogames?

This is a kind of crime that stands even lower on the hierarchy of suitable plots for a mystery novel than the murderer of an adult male.

Why Do We Need Scholarly Journals?

Voxcorvegis, who is a physicist, asks the following question:

 Universities around the world are cutting back on their services in the name of “austerity.” One such budget frequently being slashed is the one for scholarly journal subscriptions. This, sadly, is every bit as true in the sciences as it is the Humanities, but what I can’t understand is why it is such a huge problem. You see, as a physicist, I cannot recall the last time I have actually had cause to read a scholarly journal for the sake of catching-up on cutting-edge research. This is because I read all of my papers on the ArXiv,  a website offered by the Cornell University Library upon which physicists (as well as mathematicians, statisticians, quantitative biologists, financial economists and computer scientists) from around the world post the drafts of their papers before publishing them in journals.

We don’t have anything of the kind in my field, although it would be great if we did. I feel like many of the older people in the Humanities are very reluctant to embrace technology. Some even need to be convinced that if a highly reputable journal moves to an online version from a print-only version, this doesn’t mean that the journal has lost in quality.

At the same time, the creation of such a database will not serve the issue of us needing subscriptions to journals. In Humanities, we are not looking for the most recent, cutting-edge research. The most recent sources are not necessarily superior to the ones published 20, 30, 40 years ago. If I don’t have access to articles from the 70s and the 80s, I’m in deep trouble in terms of my research. I need access to everything that has ever been published on a subject I’m researching.

Simply put, we are not a field where linear progress occurs. Rather, we move in a variety of directions at any given time. When I offer new insights into a genre, for example, those insights don’t necessarily cancel out the ones made by a scholar of literature who worked in the 1940s.

On Austerity

This excuse that there is suddenly not enough money to support education, medical care, public libraries, unemployment benefits, etc. is now being used all over the world. We hear these lies so much that eventually many people are bound to believe them.

But none of it is true. There is money aplenty. There are tons of resources. The only thing that changed is that the greedy politicians and bureaucrats have gotten much greedier.

I am absolutely convinced of this because I see it on a smaller scale at my university, for example. All of a sudden, there is no money to continue database and scholarly journal subscriptions. Yeah, right. In the meanwhile, the administrators live in veritable castles with no attempt to practice austerity. Maybe I should publish a photo or two.

No money. Pssst!

A little More on Online Courses

For the first time in a long time my Freshman-level course on Hispanic Civilization has become hard to teach. And I mean that in a good way.

In a regular face-to-face course, you ask students, “Does anybody have any questions?” and immediately several hand flow up into the air.

“Yes?” you ask one of the students.

“Can I go to the bathroom?” the student immediately responds.

Cringing because of how anti-climactic the question is, you let the student go and turn to another student whose hand is raised, “Your question?”

“Will this be on the test?” the student retorts brightly. The rest of the students with raised hands nod vigorously, letting you know that this was their question, too.

I remember the exact moment when I got my last good question on this Freshman course. That happened in November 2009. And I think it was mostly a fluke.

However, now that I’m teaching this course online, I get hard, interesting, meaningful questions from at least two or three students every single day. (Since this is a summer course, it is taught 5 days a week.) I actually have to think and sometimes even look things up before answering them! This is a dream come true, people. I never have to think before answering the questions in my 100 and 200-level courses. Before the students get to the 300-level, they never come up with anything but the most trivial, easy to answer questions.

The online course, though, gives the students enough time (as well as an incentive) to ask good, thought-out, intelligent questions.

Now I want to come up with a way to foster the same kind of thing in my regular teaching.

Idiots Within the Quebec Protest Movement

I understand that youth and high spirits make people do silly things but if you want your political activism to be effective, you need to grow up. The student protests of Quebec were fighting for very important goals. However, as often happens, brainless idiots are likely to destroy the movement from within. See the following piece of news:

The student association at CEGEP du Vieux Montréal has come up with a unique response to the Quebec government’s controversial Bill 78 – and it involves purchasing assault rifles.

At a general meeting held Tuesday, the association expressed unhappiness with the “intimidation” and “state violence” in the Liberal government’s “anti-democratic” Bill 78. Those present then proceeded to approve the purchase of 47 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles – as a joke.

The student protest movement in Quebec (which, as I hope everybody remembers, I whole-heartedly support) has failed completely at winning over the sympathies of those parts of the population who pay the very high taxes which always made the cheap higher education in the province possible. The people who work very hard during the day get annoyed when they can’t get home at night because the area has been cordoned off due to the protests. The protesters have not managed to connect with these upper middle-class folks and have not even tried to show to them that their interests and those of the students are indissolubly linked.

We live in a world transformed by the technological revolution. The success of any protest depends on how well you manage to sell the protest in the media an on social networks. Ultimately, the winners will not be the ones who manage to bring the greatest number of people into the streets. The winners will be the ones who create the neatest, coolest, more attractive, most clickable and linkable image of themselves.

I’m sure that these jokes about assault rifles were super fun and there was a good round of laughter shared when they were made. However, this is a very powerful way of alienating the tax-paying full-time working people of the province. The only way to get the protests to be successful is to keep repeating, “We pay the taxes, we want our taxes to buy us something.” This idea will not fly if the actual tax-paying part of the equation is completely alienated.

How to Write Women?

Some trashy author came up with the following pearl of wisdom that idiots at pseudo-feminist websites are swooning over:

The female experience is different from that of the male, and if, as a male writer, you cannot accept that basic premise, then you will never, ever, be able to write women well.

Of course, anybody who believes in a uniform “female / male experience” that all people with a certain kind of reproductive system have irrespective of their race, class, language, culture, age, sexual orientation, religion, country of origin, etc. is an arrant fool.

Do people really not see that generalizing about the supposedly shared experience of billions of human beings just on the basis of how their genitals are shaped is an act that is profoundly ridiculous in nature?

Who Finds It Hard to Get Married?

I absolutely love it when people who have failed at absolutely everything write those hysterical articles telling women “you need to get married now!!!” because, in their warped patriarchal minds, a marriage is the best way to compensate for being a complete underachiever and a total failure. Such women see getting married as the ultimate prize because it will liberate them from the painful necessity of actually doing something with their lives.

As we all know, the patriarchal model sets up marriage as the only achievement worth having for a woman. (It’s not even having children. It’s marriage and nothing but marriage. Because it’s much simpler to sign a piece of paper than to give birth to a kid, and these folks are all into taking the easiest route available.) This is an extremely rewarding system for women who are too lazy to develop an identity of their own and work hard and who just want to gain social acceptance through something as easy as getting married.

I just found an article by some brainless idiot who, yet again, suggests that women need to change themselves and trim down their expectations in order to find somebody willing to grant them the only major wish of their existences and bestow the amazing gift of marriage on them. It is especially hilarious that people who see marriage as the only path to identity formation are precisely the ones who find it hard to get married. These poor suckers project their personal misery and endless rejection by everybody they meet onto other people. This is why it’s so enjoyable to read their analysis of women who supposedly find it difficult to get married:

You’re a Mess. You overdrink. You overeat. You overspend. You under-earn. . .

You’re Crazy. Crazy is where you LOVE INTENSITY. You want life to bring the exclamation points!!!!!!! Normal people, and relationships? Big, noisy YAWN. You think of yourself more like Angelina Jolie when she was with Billy Bob. Crazy is where you use your cell phone like an automatic weapon. You meet, have sex, fight and break up — all by text message.

 You’re a Dude. It’s not that you love the Cardinals, have short hair, or or make more money than most guys. It’s that, when it comes to relationships, you want to hunt them down and kill them. You call guys, you text guys, you ask guys out. You have sex like it’s a temp job.

You know what is really funny? This is absolutely the description of me when I was dating. And contrary to the loser author of this psycho article, it normally took each new guy I met about two dates to bring up marriage. I was completely uninterested in getting married at that time, but it was like there was no other topic on anybody’s mind whenever they met me.

This is what really bugs these “all-women-are-dying-to-get-married” freaks. They spend years trying to talk themselves into lowering their expectations (that are probably abysmally low already) and bad-mouthing women who have lists of desirable and undesirable qualities in a partner. It drives them to distraction that messy, overdrinking, overeating, overspending, intensity-loving, dudelike women with a list of preferences from here to the Moon have adoring husbands and perfect marriages while their pearl-clutching good-girl act hasn’t managed to attract anybody.

What they don’t understand is that it’s precisely their desperation, their desire to lower their requirements and just marry anybody who’d have them that make them so unattractive to potential mates. At the same time, their profound fakeness and the pathetic eagerness to please guarantee that nobody will ever want to give them the time of day.

Ukrainians and Russians

People often ask me if there is a difference between Ukrainians and Russians, so here is a real story that will forever answer this question.

N. and I are lying in bed, eating peaches and persimmons, and sharing quotes from the books we are reading.

“Life is good!” the easy-going and perennially contented Ukrainian member of our relationship says.

“Don’t say that or you will bring bad luck upon us!” the fatalistic and dramatic Russian member of our relationship responds.

We’ve been having this exact same conversation about 3 times a day every single day for as long as we’ve known each other.

That’s a cultural difference for you.

The Discreet Charm of Online Learning, Part II

Another great thing about the online course is the quality of questions that I get. I’ve been teaching this Hispanic Civilization course for 3 years, and only now am I finally getting the questions that I always wanted to be asked.

The way it works is that students watch the lecture videos and then take their time assimilating the information. Several hours (or sometimes days) later, they realize that there is something about the readings from the textbook or the lecture that is not entirely clear. Since the discussion thread is open in a very welcoming way, they feel free to offer their question or comment.

In a regular course, this rarely happens. There aren’t many 18-year-olds who are prepared to interrupt the lecture and say, in front of a roomful of strangers, “There is something you said 3 lectures ago that I didn’t quite understand.” Would you be able to do that? Now consider how much easier it is for you to post a comment on a blog thread that started a few days ago. See the difference?

There is another interesting phenomenon at play here that makes online exchanges produce valuable insights. For many people, online communications are a way of being more authentic than they normally are in any other format. The students seem somehow more open and sincere in the online discussions than I can get them to be in a face-to-face format of a large classroom. An online discussion feels a lot more intimate and personal than a regular course.

Of course, all of this – the active participation, the openness, the great discussions, the feeling of intimacy – could be achieved in a face-to-face classroom if I were allowed to teach smaller, seminar-type courses instead of huge lecture classes. However, our administrators are driven by enrollment figures. Whenever a class has 10 students enrolled, we start getting persecuted and martyred for that. Really, I’m not exaggerating. Even our language courses are capped at 25 students, which is way too much for a successful language course. Money-hungry administrators who need to rob both the professors and the students in order to increase their own humongous salaries do all they can to undermine learning by stuffing as many students as possible into a classroom.

Since the appetites of greedy administrators who needs their mansions and huge cars are not about to abate, I believe that the future of higher education lies in a mix of face-to-face and online courses.