All Russians Are Alcoholics

OK, folks, do you want to know why I was rejected for insurance coverage?

Apparently, on my visit to my doctor last December I reported “excessive alcohol consumption.” What I did report was one drink every six months or so. But hey, whatever a person with a Russian – sounding last name says about alcohol, what everybody hears is “alcoholic”, right?

The funniest thing is that the idiot doctor who reported this also has a Russian – sounding last name. He must be a total alkie.

Where to Do a PhD in Spanish?

Every once in a while, people write to ask me this question, so I decided to answer here:


Yes, seriously. Here is why:

1. They have the best funding. Cornell’s funding is almost as good but the place is depressive. Harvard has a great package but they don’t push you out fast enough. Brown is spotty in terms of funding. I don’t know about Princeton because whenever I ask, people who’ve gone there go to a very dark place in their minds and take forever to emerge.

2. The reputation of the school helps you get hired. It’s not a guarantee but it helps.

3. The library will blow your mind.

4. The program is very undemanding. And before you curl your nose, consider how great it must be not to be given useless hoops to jump through as you make your way towards your goal.

5. Nobody was accepted into the program this year, so the department will be eager to admit good, promising people.

6. And most importantly: I’m always here to give you helpful suggestions on how to handle being in the program.

I hated my experience at Yale. But that was nobody’s fault but my own. I had a set of naive, childish expectations both about the university and the country that buried me under the shards when they were smashed.

If you remember that this is a very poor and ugly region and abandon the idiotic fantasy of famous professors who will mentor you, listen to you, and talk to you, you will be much happier. Any hope of finding yourself part of a community of scholars, people who will have profound conversations with you, who will not shower you with endless platitudes should be abandoned immediately.

The best one can hope for – at Yale or anywhere – is to find one or two people who are in tune with you and will help you not to feel completely lonely.

Learn to work alone, use the Internet for meaningful discussions, identify those two intelligent people on campus you will enjoy being around, learn to smile vapidly through endless conversations about nothing, come up with your own career plan, try to find a mentor somewhere on the planet, and you’ll be fine.

And remember: this is the most rewarding, wonderful career ever. The prize awaiting you is huge, so keep your eyes on the reward and let that help you through.


I don’t tend to make the private emails I receive public but I’ve got to share this one:

Dear, have you eve thought about making your excellent blog about Our Brain and the Mystique of Hard-wiring available to foreign language speakers? I’m from Vietnam and could easily translate it in to Slovak for you.

Huh? Or as we say in Ukraine, tyuuuuuu*!

* The famous Ukrainian “tyu” is an interjection that can transmit any meaning and an enormous range of emotion, depending on the intonation and facial expression that accompanies it.

#Prudential Sucks Dick

Prudential has denied my application for long-term disability insurance and is refusing to tell me the reason “because of security considerations.” 

It was obvious from the start that the company was extremely reluctant to grant the coverage because, according to the terms of their agreement with our university, they are supposed to grant this particular coverage very cheaply. 

Did I tell you how much I hate insurance companies? I only got into this whole long-term disability insurance hunt because N believes that it’s crucial to have it. But Prudential was resorting to such dirty tricks from the start that I knew it as useless.

Jonathan Franzen: Literature’s Donald Trump

A fellow who’s normally reasonable but has suddenly gone all gushy writes in Inside Higher Ed about Jonathan Franzen ‘ s new novel Purity:

Every great new book is a revelation. A novel like Purity will be discussed and debated. If the book is as good as Franzen’s first two novels than a new set of ideas will enter our cultural bloodstream.

Great book? Ideas? Our culture?  Has the world gone insane? Franzen produces mildly entertaining beach and airport reads that have fuck – all to do with culture and ideas. The main characteristic of his writing is its extraordinary reliance on clichés and an utter lack of originality.

Franzen ‘ s novel The Corrections, for instance, revolves around the hoariest stereotypes about the degenerate, cynical, promiscuous East Coasters and the simple – minded, salt-of-the-earth Midwesterners.

One of the novel’s characters is a college professor who is fired when the administration discovers that she falsified her PhD diploma. The students protest, though, and the professor is not only reinstated but also immediately awarded a full professorship. This happens because she is a lesbian Filipina, and, as we all know, universities award full professorships to lesbian Filipinas without PhDs all the time. Beware the evils of political correctness!

I started reading Purity, and the first 100 pages are all about Franzen clumsily channeling 50 Shades of Grey. There is this creepily flirtatious email correspondence between a mysterious, rich, older man and an innocent and bumbling 23 – year-old girl. Franzen has written the novel from the young woman’s perspective which, in a male writer, is always a sign of age-related libidinal depletion. As usual, Franzen goes for the banal 100% of time.

The novel is not bad, however. There is some goofy toilet humor, as in a scene where the protagonist is so desperate to pee that she drops a cake she’s baked onto the scuzzy bathroom floor. That’s funny, in a way, but culture? Ideas?

People are so ignorant and have such undeveloped tastes that they think McDonald’s is a restaurant, Breaking Bad is art, Hunger Games is literature, Trump is a politician, and Franzen is a creator of ideas.