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.