Naive Questions for Fellow Profs

If you are a literary critic who has worked on analyzing poetry, what did you read, what sources did you study to teach you how to do it?

If you are a critic who has worked on analyzing film, what did you read, what sources did you study to teach you how to do it?

What do you recommend to your students to acquire these skills?

Anti-Americanism in Russia

The following passage could be used to teach students about understatement:

Remember the jingoistic, post-9/11 days of “freedom fries” and “freedom toast,” after France declined to join the U.S.-led coalition? Well, in the wake of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the global backlash it has prompted, Russia is experiencing something similar, only intensified by total state control of the media.

Freedom fries are child’s play compared to the anti-American hysteria that is engulfing Russia. It is a mistake to connect it to current events, though, since it always existed. It maybe took a tiny little break in the late eighties and has been getting ramped up like crazy since the late 1990s. 

What’s different in today’s anti-Americanism in Russia is that it is now a lot more racialized than it ever were. Ritual lynchings of President Obama and enormously offensive racial jokes proliferate. And according to the most recent poll, 17% of Russians believe that a nuclear war would be a great idea. This number is growing but it’s heartening that at least some American media have started noticing what is going on. 

The War on Testing

A whiny letter from an irresponsible teacher shows us how the terror of the “government” is created and stoked in kids:

Our state and federal government say that I have to give these tests to you. That you must take them. And I need you to know how very sorry I am about that.

I have no control over this. I have no control over whether or not I give you this test. But, like I always tell you, I do have complete control over my own thoughts and my own words. So here is what I need to say to you.

I do not agree that these tests will tell me what I really need to know about you as a learner or as a human being. I do not agree that these tests will make me a better teacher. I do not agree that these tests will improve our schools. I do not agree that you need to sit in front of a computer for over five hours in order for the government to find out what you know and what you can do. I do not agree that you should not have a choice in how you are able to show all of the things that you are capable of doing. I do not agree that in order for the state to know that I am doing my job that you have to suffer through tests.

I believe that standardized tests are quite useless but that doesn’t cancel the dishonesty and nastiness of this open letter. Standardized tests are aimed at testing, first and foremost, how well teachers do their job. Yes, the tests often suck at reaching that goal but this is not a battle that should be fought through kids. The only responsible thing to do here would be to get kids excited about the test and eager to take it. Making them feel anxious and scared of the big, evil, scary “gubmint” is completely useless short-term and enormously counter-productive long-term. Children who grow up to the lullaby of “nothing good can come from the government” will not be equipped to preserve a functioning and strong government when they grow up.

In the era when the nation-state is collapsing and the governments of the eroded nations are retreating from all functions but half-hearted policing, I find the people who are fretting about too much government to be quite puzzling. When the “gubmint” goes away with its (admittedly silly) standardized tests, it will take many other good things with it. Public schools at every level are likely to be one such thing. One would think that teachers might have some interest in preventing such a development but not a single one of the massively popular secondary ed authors that I follow cares about anything but this idiotic war on the standardized test du jour

Why International Relations Are So Fucked Up

International relations are so fucked up these days because of the Iraq war of 2003. The war was

Barbarians are destroying the treasures of Nimrud
Barbarians are destroying the treasures of Nimrud

either completely pointless or was allowed to be framed as completely pointless to the general public. And now, everybody is so freaked out about the possibility of getting into another pointless (or seemingly pointless, which is the same thing) war that nobody is willing to do anything about anything.

The ISIS bandits have destroyed the treasures of Nimrud. Their Russian colleagues have razed Debaltseve. All that is left for the two is to organize supply lines for nuclear weapons, and then they will be able to proceed to destroy the world that angers them so much.

In the meanwhile, US and UK, the only countries that ever had a consistent foreign policy different from this rage at modernity we see in ISIS and Russia, are reacting to the mess of the Iraqi war by retreating into a weak and reactive position in international relations. This will obviously not change whatever happened in Iraq back in 2003 but will mess up the present and the future for a long time to come because “let’s close our eyes and pretend nothing is happening” is not an effective foreign policy approach.

Further reading: Great Britain is disappearing from the world stage.

Another Aspect to the Murder of Boris Nemtsov

Aside from the extraordinarily offensive Muslim – bashing side of the Putinoid explanation for the murder of Boris Nemtsov, there is another part that bothers me.

Nemtsov was Jewish. And now the whole story has been turned into “Muslims and Jews are killing each other, as usual, so who cares?”

“Ethnic Russians” will now have multiple orgasms as they enjoy this lovely opportunity to hate Muslims and Jews at the same time.

This is all beyond disgusting.