Sandra Heine Merchant asked about Crimea. This is an important but also a very sad issue.

My colleague, the political scientist, says she has resigned herself to the possibility that the Crimea will be annexed by Russia within two weeks under the pretext of “protecting” Russians.

All I see on the subject of the Crimea in Western media is the boring and idiotic discussion of “whose land this was initially.” As I always say on the subject of Israel, such conversations drive me up a wall. Which ethnic group “owns” land by right of original settlement is beyond irrelevant. None of us will ever figure out where we should go if we start reorganizing the world on this basis.

So let’s move away from this silliness and discuss what is really at stake. When Ukraine agreed to relinquish its nuclear arsenal, this was done on one enormously important condition. The condition is that if Ukraine agrees to live by the side of a huge nuclear power without any nuclear weapons of its own, the international community will guarantee that it will protect the sovereignty of Ukraine within its borders such as they were at the time of the signing of Budapest accords.

After the fall of the USSR, Ukraine was the third largest nuclear power in the world. Its nuclear arsenal was bigger than those of China, UK and France combined. And you know what Ukraine did with all those weapons? It send them to Russia. In 1994, the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances guaranteed, in exchange, that Ukraine’s 1994 borders would be respected. The United States offered to uphold that guarantee.

Handing over your entire nuclear arsenal to the country that has always been and is now the greatest aggressor against your sovereignty is a pretty big sacrifice, don’t you think? And Ukraine made this sacrifice to ensure global peace and stability. If the guarantors of this deal did not think that the Crimea region legitimately belonged to Ukraine, they should have raised that issue before the country relinquished all means of defending itself from Russia. It is an absolute mockery of the very idea of international law and the diplomatic process to start now discussing that well, maybe the Crimea should not be Ukrainian after all.

It is absolutely appalling that a country should enter into diplomatic agreements in good faith, fulfill everything it took upon itself to do, and then be abandoned to its fate. This is unconscionable.

Timoshenko’s Speech in the Maidan

As the resident authority on Ukraine, I’m happy to answer any questions people have on the subject.

Reader Stille asks about Yulia Timoshenko’s speech. Timoshenko is a Ukrainian politician who was jailed by the corrupt president Yanukovich. She was very popular as a politician and he feared her popularity. In jail, she was denied medical care, and as a result, has been incapacitated.

Timoshenko was let out of jail two days ago. She can’t walk, so she was speaking out of a wheel-chair. I sympathize with Timoshenko and am prepared to make huge allowances to her fragile mental and physical state after what she underwent in jail and what amounts to torture. And you know that I do not use such words lightly.

However, the speech she made in front of the protesters in the Maidan was a disaster. This speech has effectively buried her chances to win the presidency of the country. Which is very sad since she is the only politician strong and charismatic enough to play that role at the moment.

The biggest mistake Yulia made was yelling (in a very emotional and, as much as I hate to say it, hysterical voice), “Protesters! You don’t have the right to leave the Maidan!” The problem with this statement is that the people have been protesting precisely because they want to defend the right to decide to come out into the Maidan or leave it when they want to. They don’t want to swap one politician who dictates their right to gather or not gather peacefully for more of the same. As we say in Russian, “these are the same testicles but in profile.”

Ukrainians are not as opposed to public displays of emotion as Russians culturally are. We are known for going from laughter to tears and back in a highly charged, dramatic manner. As I mentioned before, when I go out for dinner with my family, waiters keep asking us if we are OK because our discussions of the weather sound like a quarrel. However, even with all that, Timoshenko sounded way too emotional even for the drama-queenish Ukrainians (of whom I am obviously one.) Even for me, her speech was too much. And I’m the “I hate the vile freakazoids” person.

There is still time for Timoshenko to get in a better physical and emotional shape but, for now, the general reaction to her speech in Ukraine is that of deep disappointment (this is confirmed by my Ukrainian colleague, the political scientist.)

I’m running to my book club but I will definitely answer the rest of the questions after that. Thank you for asking, people. Your questions are very intelligent and important.

The Scholarly Take on Ukraine

So I just had a long conversation with a colleague who is a scholar of political sciences and specializes in Ukraine. And I’m happy to report that everything I have been offering on this blog in terms of the analysis of the situation in Ukraine was echoed 100% by somebody who studies this as a scholar. She doesn’t know I have a blog but she pretty much repeated verbatim some of the things I have been saying here. (E.g. That if she hears once again about the pro-Russian East and pro-EU West, she will have a conniption. And that the protests are not about the EU. Nobody cares about the EU any longer. What are Ukrainians, stupid, to die for the stupid EU? Many people in the Maidan are very critical of EU and want nothing to do with it.)

Sister: I know you are otherwise occupied right now (and wow, man, congratulations!), but if you are reading this, you will be glad to know that my colleague coincides with you 100% in your analysis of Yulia Timoshenko’s speech. She told me about it using the exact same words you used and quoting the exact same parts of the speech. So yay, we both rock.

V.: My colleague also agrees with you that the attempts to mess with the language laws on the part of the new interim government are wackadoodle. (This is my term, the colleague used more scholarly expressions.) She says that futzing with the language laws is not and has never been one of the demands of the protesters in the Maidan. She also says that the nationalists are widely appalled by this development and see it as pig-headed. For instance, a venerable publishing house in Lviv (located in the Western part of the country) that is famous for never having published a single book in Russian has now announced that it will start publishing Russian-language books to signal its disagreement with these ridiculous legislative attempts to manufacture discord between Ukrainians.

I’m going to the colleague’s talk on Ukraine this Friday, so more is to follow. In the meanwhile, I put the poster for her talk on the door of my office and attached it with blue and yellow tacks.

The Value of Sociology

I chose to be on this book club for completely non-intellectual reasons, and now I’m paying the price. Lamont’s book annoys me to a degree I rarely experience outside of watching the CNN. I have a cognitive block that prevents me from seeing any value in sociology.

Lamont’s book offers a series of comments made by people who served on panels that award grants to research panels. To me, these anonymous comments are evidence of nothing bigger than the fact that these people chose to make these comments at a certain point in time for reasons we will never know. I call that gossip, not evidence.

Here is an example:

English faces the most acute disciplinary crisis, both demographically and intellectually. Several panelists hailing from this discipline question the very concept of academic excellence.

Do you see any difference between this claim and, “Several Ukrainians I know said they hate borscht, so there must be the most acute crisis in the attitude towards borscht in Ukraine”? I don’t.

In the quote, there seems to be a huge logical gap between the two sentences. And the entire book is like that. “Somebody said something, and it must be gospel truth.”

And the same author claims literary scholars deal in the subjective as opposed to the truth-based social sciences.

Contentious Disciplines

Lamont also believes that literary studies are more contentious than sciences. This brings to mind the history of genetics (is that scientific enough as a field of study?) in the USSR. A group of biologists felt so strongly that their scholarly vision was right that they got Stalin to execute a group of geneticists and jail the rest of them.

But no, of course, real scholars can never be as contentious as the “deprofessionalized” and “lacking rigor” (Lamont’s terminology) literary scholars.

Why Sociology Is Better Than Literary Studies

Lamont’s How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment keeps annoying me. Lamont keeps repeating that literary studies are “subjective and imaginative” while social studies are “objective and information-based.” Scholars of literature, she claims, don’t care about what’s true and welcome statements that are obviously false but pretty.

After going on about this for several pages, she “proves” her assertion with 2 statements made by 2 anonymous English lit profs in private conversations.

Yes, folks, this is real science, unlike those subjective literary studies. Somebody said something to me once or twice, so I can make huge general assertions about an entire field.

Of course, I can counter this with a claim that 3 people said to me that sociology studies exclusively pink giraffes with purple spots and insist that this must be true.

Emotional and Interactional Women

As I mentioned before, I’m reading Michèle Lamont’s How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment for my professorial book club. And right at the beginning I find the following little gem:

I oppose a view of peer review that is driven only or primarily by a competitive logic (or the market) and suggest in addition that peer review is an interactional and an emotional undertaking.

Seriously, can anybody be more of a cliche? She’s a woman, so her unique perspective is to look at the “emotional and interactional”? Ugh.