Battling the Vices of Others

At the gym today (yes, I’ve been twice, I’m now a total regular), I had a chance to listen to the news and caught a discussion about Bloomberg’s new plan to ban cigarette sales to people under 21. One of the participants advanced the argument that if 18-year-olds are old enough to go into the army and die, they are old enough to smoke. What strikes me as completely bizarre is that the “old enough to smoke” is up for debate while “old enough to die in Afghanistan” isn’t. This is the only issue worth discussing here because these cigarette bans are a total waste of time. Oral trauma happens way before one turns 18 or even 8, and it will manifest itself whether Mayor Bloomberg approves or not.

I especially like the argument that if people don’t start smoking before 21, they never will. This conjecture somehow mysteriously follows from the statistics that most smokers started  smoking before this age. It’s like all logic abandons people when they set on the path of combating the vices of others.

Of course, right after this news segment, I discovered things could be a lot worse. Apparently, some idiot school has been sending notes telling parents their kids are obese and shouldn’t be given candy on Halloween. I wouldn’t be surprised if this school believes this will stop bullying instead of promoting it. And, of course, making kids feel stress and guilt will totally prevent them from overeating.

“The Place Where We Are Right”

“The Place Where We Are Right”
by Yehuda Amichai

“From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.”

I haven’t been this touched by a poem in years.

Russians in Europe

I’m printing out job ads from Spain for my students and I’m noticing that the job requirements have changed dramatically since I last taught this course 2 years ago. The main difference is that now there is an overwhelming number of jobs that require the knowledge of Russian. There are especially many such jobs in the service industry.

Soon, all of Europe will subsist solely on serving the Russians. Until the Russian oil runs out, that is.

Gods of Teaching Are on My Side

I have to go back to teaching on Monday, and the gods of teaching have prepared a nice surprise for me: I’m just in time to introduce the present perfect subjunctive to the students. This is my most favorite tense of all Spanish tenses, but for some mysterious reason I never get to be the one to bring it to the students for the very first time. When they get to me, they have usually been acquainted with it in a very uninspired and boring manner, and it gets very hard to explain why this is a very exciting tense.

Present perfect subjunctive doesn’t exist in English but if it did, you’d encounter it in sentences like this:

I’m happy that the students haven’t started learning this tense yet.

The bolded purple part is where the present perfect subjunctive would be. It’s a present emotion directed towards the past, which makes for very interesting in-class activities.

Conservatism in Academia

Contrary to popular belief, most academics are deeply conservative. Se  the following definition of conservatism that, in my opinion, describes it perfectly:

A friend once described conservatives as people who agreed about one important thing—that at some point in the past, something went terribly wrong. After that, conservatives splinter into untold numbers of camps, since they disagree ferociously about the date of the catastrophe.

This is precisely the kind of approach that informs pretty much all of the discussions of academia among academics. Since conservatism is deeply alien to my way of being, this must be the reason why I don’t identify with my colleagues and don’t feel happy around them.

At an Unexpected Place

I’ve been wondering why nobody was offering any answers to the most recent riddle but now I’m seeing that it never posted.

In any case, the answer to the question about this extremely weird, uncharacteristic place that I’m less likely to visit than a McDonald’s and where I found myself today is:


It took my sister and me a while to remember when my last visit to the gym took place. We finally remembered that it happened when George W. Bush was still President. I have students younger than that gym visit. OK, not really, but it’s close enough.

So the last time I went to the gym was in 2008. And my penultimate time at the gym was in 2005. I wasn’t very sure how gyms worked and what one was supposed to do there, so I ended up in the weight room. There was a huge, very ripped young man there. He saw me strain to lift a bar, making scary grunts and terrifying faces, and nodded appreciatively. His face reflected a profound respect for a fellow weight-lifter who was working very hard.

Then he walked by the side of the device I was operating and saw that the huge weight I was lifting with all that effort was a single 1-pound bar. So it was his turn to strain every ounce of his will-power to avoid laughing out loud.

After I told my sister about my visit to the gym, she shared a very ambitious idea she has for her company.

“Well, if it’s possible to get me to the gym. . .” I said.

“Then anything is possible!” she exclaimed happily.

When NaNoWriMo Becomes Pathological

Writing is a great method of psychological hygiene. If you use the National Novel Writing Month for the purpose of unburdening yourself psychologically in preparation for the emotionally taxing winter months, that’s great. However, the moment that even the slightest whiff of a fantasy about eventually publishing the product of this writing and making money from it attaches to the endeavor, you need to know that you have walked into the realm of pathology.

Many people escape from the realization that they are not very happy with their lives using fantasies of writing a bestseller, becoming a rock star, inventing something that would make them millions, etc. If you need to hide from reality in these fantasies, that’s not a good sign. It would be a lot more effective to invest the time you waste each November on churning out the words nobody ever wanted to read into figuring out why you dislike your actual life so much.

People who suffer from midlife crises are precisely the ones who kept avoiding the realization that they hated their lives until such an avoidance became impossible.

Tuesday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion

I agree with this blogger that the opposition to Obama’s policies cannot be reduced to racism. It is based on racism but also on a lot more: “That’s why nothing Obama can do is right. It isn’t that he has the wrong policies or writes the wrong numbers into his budget proposals. It’s that he belongs to the wrong tribe. Who that tribe is, exactly, varies from person to person and situation to situation. Sometimes it’s racial and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s cultural — the whole guns-and-religion thing. Sometimes it’s the Makers vs. the Takers. But what unites them all is a sense of tribal grievance. People-Like-Me used to own American and need to take it back.

Your dinner plate (and your cereal bowl and your lunch box) are ruled by politics.”

I hate distracted cellphone-obsessed walkers even though I’m one of them.

“It should basically be raining condoms anywhere there is a concentration of teenagers.” And here is why.

I adore these posts by a Dutch guy who moved to the Midwest and is discovering America: “Before I ever came to Missouri, I asked my then-girlfriend what things one could do for fun in Saint Louis. Without a blink, she said, ‘Go to a baseball game’. Then it was silent for a long time.” I’ve been living here for 4 years, and I still don’t have a better answer. I’m kidding, I’m kidding, this area is not that bad.

White bean stew with winter squash and kale. A great recipe. Just make sure you substitute “a teaspoon of salt” (what a barbarity to put a teaspoon of salt into anything but a pickling mix) with just a pinch of salt. Seriously, folks, if I glopped salt by the spoonful into my soups, I’d be dead of a heart attack already. I promise that two weeks after you cut your insanely American intake of salt by 90%, you will discover who amazing food actually tastes.

After WW II we decided it was the Commies who were out to get us.  Now it’s the Muslim terrorists.  We go on and on about mental hygiene, but what about the pressure of constant wars and mass killings on the collective psyche?” Good question.

Thus the advance of machine intelligence will cause a surge in income inequality, but will also level the playing field for opportunity. In a recent interview with NPR Cowen predicted that “for a lot of people upward mobility will be a lot easier.”” Everybody is talking about this guy’s prognosis for the future but I find it reductive and silly. What do you think?

A ridiculously offensive campaign for “rape-preventing panties.”

Peru doesn’t seem to have any real problems to resolve, so it’s turning to Internet censorship. In a piss-poor country with insane racism and no opportunities for young people, this preoccupation with the scary, mean Internet looks quite idiotic. (In Spanish.) Peruvians, if you want to “protect children”, try feeding them first.

Russians are not as poor as Peruvians but they are even more unhinged in what concerns “protecting the children” by censoring the Internet. A bunch of crazed freakazoids  in Russia wants to ban swearing from the Internet. In Russia, this amounts to banning the Internet altogether.

Fascinating portraits made out of food.

How do you feel about the White House going pink to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month? I really think it’s quite stupid.

Translators, beware! This is how publishers might try to defraud you.

It is insane what some universities waste money on. I’m sure that if I check, I will discover that these schools have absolutely no money for their French, Russian, and Italian programs.

New Yorkers like to ridicule the racist Southern states. However, there are egregious instances of racism in this city.

Do people who write such headlines realize that they are promoting pedophilia?

It’s shocking how easily people in my profession believe vicious gossip even about the colleagues they love and respect. I’ve seen it happen time and again: folks who know you well and whom you expect to stand up for you, fall over themselves to believe and promote the most ridiculous gossip about you.

This is my experience, too. Students with bizarrely bad writing skills cannot be persuaded to listen to my suggestions because they think that being a native speaker guarantees a beautiful writing style.

People like to give their dreary jobs the dignity of capitalization, and sycophants can be counted on to lay on the capitals whenever possible.”

I agree completely with this sentiment about the intensely stupid NaNoWriMo: “Sometimes when I wander over to writers’ blogs where they’re talking about writing a novel in a week or how many words they write a day, I wonder about a couple of things, especially with NaNoWriMo and its children coming up in November: 1. Who’s reading those words? 2. Are those words worth reading?” Do you know that people actually use writing apps that punish them for stopping to think for more than a couple of seconds?

And the post of the week says something sorely needed: “I understand the rules of supply and demand perfectly well. I just don’t think they should govern how universities are run, because universities are not businesses. Universities don’t need to make a profit (at least legitimate ones don’t), and as such they should not be so subject to the idiotic whims of a general populace that thinks a bachelor’s degree should be 100% vocational training.” Yes. One million times yes.