Brain Exercise

As we all know, a great writer once said, “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time.” Let’s exercise our first-rate minds, shall we? I’ll go first.

Putin is a disgusting, vicious freak but the law against international adoptions that he passed over the strenuous objections of dissidents is good and necessary.

Reproductive rights are absolutely crucial but Planned Parenthood disgraced itself and fucked up royally this summer.

Stalin was a vicious, bloody dictator who didn’t lie when he said, “Life has become better, more joyful.”

Michael Moore is a brilliant film – maker but his movies are total garbage.

Cuba is horrible but it’s a good thing that diplomatic relations have been reestablished.

It’s wonderful that Spain now has a new party that is disturbing the two-party balance but I hope it gets massively trounced in the elections.

I donated money to Bernie Sanders ‘ s campaign but I can’t wait for him to lose to Hillary. To whom I’ll never donate any money, by the way.

I highly recommend this exercise on a regular basis to prevent brains from fossilizing. And I also want to remind you about the “what have I changed my mind about this month?” exercise. It’s up to us to combat our natural tendency to slip into drooling rigidity.

And to paraphrase the great writer we started with, a first-rate mind can be changed.

Politics or Herd Mentality

Bernie Sanders is a good, decent fellow. He says he won’t run as Independent if he loses the nomination. And this is the right thing to do even if some pouty contenders don’t get that.

I wish more people could say “Bernie Sanders is a decent fellow” or “Rick Perry kicked ass with his brilliant cancer speech” without planning to vote for either of them. Like in the old joke (“Sweetheart, bad news! That thing we thought was an orgasm turned out to be asthma”), what they confuse for politics is herd mentality. Everything is about choosing a group and then signaling one’s belonging to it at every opportunity.

I wish people got tired of their own orthodoxy every once in a while. I wish that instead of making a decision once and for all and then superimposing it on every situation, they made decisions anew based on actual evidence and not on their need to belong to an imaginary community. I wish people were capable of holding two contradictory thoughts at the same time and not fear an imaginary expulsion from an invented group.

Reading Woes


While the writing part of my sabbatical is going great, the reading side of it is not proceeding according to plan. I find it hard not to veer off in all kinds of directions because there are so many fascinating things to read. And then I find myself reading all kinds of things that don’t make a whole lot of sense for my research. Of course, I can explain how I got to the accounts of medieval Spanish historians from the literature of the economic crisis but that’s not very helpful.

It was so great to be a student with a reading list given to me by somebody else.

Inventing a Nation

Nation-building always rests on a very bizarre set of activities. This year, for instance, Russians are spending an insane amount of money to celebrate the birthday (or is it the death?) of a medieval prince of Kiev who lived 1,000 (one thousand) years ago.

The fellow’s big achievement seems to be that he forced his subjects to adopt Christianity. He almost went with Islam because the idea of having many wives was attractive but the prohibition of alcohol made him choose Christianity instead. There was also a reason why he didn’t choose Judaism but I forget what it was. A shame, too, because a Jewish Ukraine would have solved the problem of Middle Eastern tensions easily.

Why the Russians, only 2% of whom even practice Christianity, would go so nuts over some fellow from Kiev who lived 1,000 years ago cannot be explained in terms of logic.

Unfortunately, some facile Ukrainians have joined the madness and are engaging in the competition of “No, the medieval prince is really ours.” It makes me curl my toes in shame when I hear a fellow Ukrainian begin to debate who’s more entitled to the medieval fellow.

As Ernest Renan pointed out, nationalism requires too much belief in what is patently untrue. Ascribing a nationality to some poor fellow from a millennium ago who would have been completely baffled by the idea of a passport is one example.

Teenage Truckers

Drivers as young as 18 years old could be allowed to drive 80,000-pound trucks between states if Congress goes along with a proposal backed by the U.S. trucking industry that safety advocates say would be a disaster.

Yes, that’s totally what we need. Teenagers driving enormous trucks. Well, it seems like in this country it doesn’t bother anybody to have epileptics and depressives on the road, so why not.

The Slow March of Truth

Finally, people are starting to wake up. Here is an article that repeats almost verbatim everything I’ve been telling you for years: whatever Putin does is not reactive, he’s not responding to any actions of the West,  his actions are motivated by internal needs.

I have no doubt that eventually the truth will sink into the lazy brains of even the staunchest defenders of the idiotic “If Putin sneezes, it must mean that Americans provoked him into it.” It’s a pity this is taking so long but lessons of obsessive, diseased patriotism take a long time to unlearn.

Remember where you heard all of this first.