People Enjoy My Book

And here is a quote from a private message I received about my book:

I have no idea why you keep presenting your book as dry and unappealing and something that people shouldn’t feel pressured to read; it’s absolutely fascinating, despite the me-not-knowing-Spanish obstacle!

I will now continue fishing for compliments. People who say fishing is a very relaxing hobby are right.

Tony Judt on Israel

I just read an interesting, albeit not a very new article by the great historian Tony Judt. Here is a curious paragraph detailing the change of the West’s vision of Israel:

Before 1967 the State of Israel may have been tiny and embattled, but it was not typically hated: certainly not in the West. . . The romantic image of the kibbutz and the kibbutznik had a broad foreign appeal in the first two decades of Israel’s existence. Most admirers of Israel (Jews and non-Jews) knew little about the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948. They preferred to see in the Jewish state the last surviving incarnation of the 19th century idyll of agrarian socialism – or else a paragon of modernizing energy “making the desert bloom.” . . . In politics and in policy-making circles only old-fashioned conservative Arabists expressed any criticism of the Jewish state. . .

But today everything is different. . . Today only a tiny minority of outsiders see Israelis as victims. The true victims, it is now widely accepted, are the Palestinians.

This is completely true, and such a change has, indeed, taken place. It has nothing, however, to do with the West caring about Palestinians. The very idea is risible if we take into account the intense anti-Muslim sentiments that exist in pretty much every Western country.

What Judt is refusing to notice is that something has changed in the West to make this change of attitude towards Israel unavoidable and necessary – to the West. The immigration of Muslims into Western countries is booming. The “support” for Palestinians – which doesn’t cost the Westerners anything – is an easy way to tell themselves, “No, it’s not true that we hate the Muslims in our midst. We are proving that every day by bravely supporting Palestinians.”

This is a nifty little way to exorcise collective guilt for everything one is actually doing and feeling towards the Muslims who are close-by. And the initial support of Israel in the first couple of decades of its existence was motivated by the same old collective guilt over the Holocaust. Now that itch has mostly been scratched and a more delicious one has appeared:

In the eyes of a watching world, the fact that the great-grandmother of an Israeli soldier died in Treblinka is no excuse for his own abusive treatment of a Palestinian woman waiting to cross a checkpoint.

No it’s not. It is, however, a great excuse used by the “the watching world” for its own mistreatment of a Muslim next door.

Doctors, Engineers and Teachers in the USSR

Reader Observer Jules asked a very interesting question:

love your work…the Soviet Period is of particular interest…would like to see you expand on the fact that the USSR created more women physicians, engineers and teachers than any other political structure allowed.

First of all, we need to remember that, in the case of the USSR, “physicians, engineers and teachers” should be placed in inverted commas. 

I love questions about the Soviet Union and am always willing to answer as many of them as there are. The USSR did achieve an almost 100% employment rate but it was done by creating job positions that weren’t really jobs in our understanding of the word. This was especially true in the case of “engineers”, the absolute majority of whom were not qualified to do any engineering work at all. In the United States or Canada, an engineer is a highly respected professional with a great social status and a good salary because this is somebody who possesses specialized, hard-to-acquire knowledge. In the Soviet Union, however, engineering jobs – again, not always but in a vast majority of cases – went to people who were incapable of producing any actual work.

In his brilliant novel In the First Circle, the Nobel Prize winning writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn describes how these “engineers” were educated and how incapable they were of understanding anything about engineering. An engineer in the USSR was, in the majority of cases, a person who came to work in the morning and spent the entire day chatting with colleagues, doing crossword puzzles, drinking tea, snoozing, and just not doing much else at all. I will never forget my mother’s friend, an engineer, who had worked at the same company for 25 years and at the end of that work couldn’t even say what the company’s name was. 

Among doctors and teachers, the proportion of grievously uneducated and unprofessional people was also extremely high. After the collapse of the USSR, engineers, doctors and teachers were precisely the people who didn’t manage to find their place in a capitalist system because they have no skills to offer on the job market that anybody would want to pay for. As a result, there is this bizarre situation in the FSU countries where engineers, doctors and teachers are today among the most marginalized, impoverished groups of people who do nothing but bellyache that the government doesn’t offer them enough handouts. 

Now, if we turn to the gender part of the issue, it is true that all women were employed in the USSR. However – and this is a curious paradox – you will not find a culture with a greater degree of unhealthy interdependence between mothers and children, including adult, middle-aged, and even elderly children. With all of the mothers in the workplace full-time, there were not, as one might suppose, crowds of children, roaming the streets freely all day long. To the contrary, the USSR produced generations of completely controlled, helicoptered, Mommy-dependent people. Scratch any post-Soviet person and I guarantee that you will find some sort of a diseased issue (or, ever more likely, a host of issues) with the mother. This, however, doesn’t have to do with the employment, workplace, or specific professions. It is a separate problem altogether.

Why Is Tenure Application So Painful?

I have been discussing with a colleague why the tenure application process had to be so painful.

My explanation is that the point is to make people appreciate tenure more after making huge sacrifices to get it. Nothing I did on the tenure-track even remotely rises to the level of the complexity of compiling this dossier. The strategy helps people avoid having anti-climactic experiences when they do get tenure.

My colleague says the point is to beat people down so that they lose all of the fantasies of the “Just let me get tenure and I will finally start saying what I really think.”

And now I will let you guess the proponent of which of the two theories is a happier person. is actually not that bad. It still kind of freaks me out with all the searches people make for me but I just noticed that my articles have been downloaded a lot. Like hundreds of times. And that’s not at all unpleasant.

And by the way, people who have searched for my book: the publication date is 2014, not 2015. If there are people who really want to read it and don’t mind reading off the screen, send me an email and I will share a Word file copy.

I am extraordinarily grateful for the interest in my scholarship.

Can Anybody Explain This?

If you aren’t an immigrant, you don’t know how complicated an immigrant’s reality is. I’ve spent 16 years on this continent and I still don’t understand what’s going on every so often. For instance, this morning I discovered this on my lawn:




Does anybody know what this means? Why would people hang toilet paper on my trees and mailbox? I drove around the neighborhood, and it’s just my house. Nobody else has had it happen.

Somebody rang out door bell at 1:30 in the morning. That freaked me out but I didn’t open the door because I never open unless I specifically invited visitors. So I’m guessing that the people who rang the door bell placed toilet paper on the trees. Which is a seriously bizarre thing to do.

Does anybody have an explanation?