Winter Legs

Since summer has made a brief reappearance here in St. Louis, I decided to go to work in my summer clothes. This was a mistake because legs look very sad at the end of January. They acquire this tragic color of Soviet sour-cream: very white with bluish tinges. Whenever I catch a glimpse of them sticking from under the skirt, I get scared.

Well, at least their color goes together with the blue necklace I’m wearing.

Pickled Cabbage as a Form of Political Protest

A scandalous Russian politician known for his pro-fascist, anti-Ukrainian and woman-hating statements visited Ukraine and was happily sharing his extreme views at a press conference when a woman in the audience threw pickled cabbage at him and yelled, “You hate Ukrainians!” This politician hates pretty much everybody in sight but Ukrainians have been an object of his particularly ┬ávirulent statements. And Ukrainians have always been known for carnavalesque forms of political activism.

This Russian politician was created as a political project by the Kremlin and the KGB in 1990 when it became clear that the rapid transformations the country was undergoing had produced a very large group of people who weren’t mentally equipped to handle the stress. These people were experiencing a psychotic break with reality and were too many to be dismissed. In order to provide them with an outlet for their rage and resentment, this “politician” (called Vladimir┬áZhirinovsky) was put in charge of voicing in very loud and obnoxious ways the most outrageous ideas anybody could think of.

The Russian leadership has been extremely good at organizing fake protest movements that absorb the votes of the discontented groups, create an impression that there is a variety of political parties in the country, and maintain the status quo.

This is why I always have fits of roaring laughter whenever people in the West try to inform me that there is democracy in Russia.

The Reason Behind Intrigue

Let’s proceed from the assumption that most human beings are rational creatures guided by a healthy self-interest.

If that is so, then what makes people invest inordinate amounts of time and energy into petty squabbles that could be resolved within minutes through the medium of a frank discussion? There has to be something they get from crating a quagmire of meaningless little intrigues that poison their lives for decades.

Obviously, one part of it must be a profound need for a high level of stress. Still, they choose this specific way of maintaining a stressful environment so there must be some sort of a pay-off in it for them.

True story. There are these two academics who have been engaged in a vendetta for over 20 years. The number of nasty things they have done to each other (and each other’s friends, and each other’s graduate students) is staggering. The initial reason for the animosity between them was that when they were newly hired Assistant Profs, the Chair of the department invited one of them to a party at his house but failed to invite another one.

Instead of getting together for a beer and sharing a kindly joke about the older academic getting all dotty and trying to play favorites, the young professors conceived a profound mutual hatred and have been persecuting each other ever since. The rift-causing Chair has been dead for over a decade, yet the drama does not abate. It is sad to think of all the articles these very talented scholars could have published, all of the students they could have mentored, and all of the parties they could have organized as friends had they not been so dedicated to wasting their lives on this idiotic squabble.

I see one person after another get bogged down in the muddle of their own making. Good, intelligent people they all are. Yet the need to get into a huff over something completely trivial and blow it out of all proportion seems overpowering. This mystifies me because of how useless and un-productive this is. For me, the best-case scenario is: I come to work, do my job, like everybody, everybody likes me, peace, love, bubble gum.

Only too often, however, I discover that many people can’t tolerate a peaceful environment and need to taint it with petty intrigues. If you have any insights why people do that, please share.

P.S. I would like to keep this discussion intelligent, which means that silly suggestions that this is somehow more ubiquitous in academia than anywhere else are not welcome. I’ve had enough of dealing with people’s immaturity this month to last me until May. And if you insist, I will regale you with a story from the world of business which is even worse than the one you just read about.