Cervantes Rules

For his presentation on the second chapter of the second part of Don Quixote, a student wrote two sonnets. In Spanish. Of his own free will, obviously. I don’t ask people to write poetry.

My class on Cervantes is the best-enrolled of all our highest-level seminars in the past 14 years (and maybe before but I wasn’t here then). This is a response to those who say that students aren’t interested in reading the Old Masters and are bored by complicated works of literature. It’s simply not true that students want gimmicky courses that are easy. We have weekly writing assignments and two essays in the Cervantes course. And I’m a very harsh grader.

Gender Studies Major

People have no understanding of how the system of higher education in their own country works. For instance, there’s a myth about a crowd of unemployable gender studies majors wandering around.

In reality, it’s a rare university that can afford a gender studies major, and those that do have the tiniest number of students. The programs that do graduate crowds of unemployable people are in psychology. A Bachelor’s degree in psychology doesn’t give you the possibility of any sort of clinical practice. The program is pure fluff. Students who can’t succeed in college are syphoned towards it in large numbers to create an illusion of tolerable graduation rates. After graduation, all they can do is go into the kind of jobs that enforce woke compliance. At my university, we have 500+ psych majors and 8 physics majors. And that’s not because there are no jobs in physics or chemistry. Actually, the starting salary for our chemistry graduates is $80,000. They are in high demand. But most of the students who enter the chemistry program fail within the first two semesters and switch not to the non-existent gender studies major but into psych.


The difference between a neurotic and a healthy person is that a neurotic expects everybody to change to accommodate his neurosis. We saw this during COVID when some people took the position that everybody needed to change their lifestyle to make them less anxious. A healthy person, instead, changes her own behavior and deals with her anxiety herself without farming it out to others. The neurotic approach is doomed to failure because anxiety has an internal source and can only be controlled internally.

More on Why the West Rules

Here’s another reason why the West rules:

Is anybody making the citizens of, say, Havana or Lima litter like they are paid to do it? I’ve been to Havana. People spend all day sitting outside in the midst of piles of garbage with no inclination to clean up their own space. Is anybody forcing them to live like this? No, of course not.

Sweep your own doorstep and don’t drive like a maniac, and already the standard of living will improve significantly. But it’s more fun to pout, so pout they will.

I was born in a country where streets were covered with garbage and dog shit. And then people got over themselves and started cleaning up their mess. It’s possible to do for yourself without waiting for a kindly benefactor. Anybody can be “the West” if they choose to do it.

Childhood Innocence

“Mommy, I learned at school that there are black people and white people. And they had separate water fountains. That’s history!” Klara says.

I love Americans, I truly do. But this obsession with race is seriously unhealthy. Why do kids need this at 6? Why is it so urgent to inform them before they learn to tie their shoes?

I did what I could, put her in a private Christian school but even there the favorite national pastime of scratching the itch of race has found us.

My kid didn’t even know the word COVID until we were in New York on Sunday and she read it on a billboard. And COVID was happening as she was growing up, not in the previous century.

What’s the rush to inform the kids about bad things? Are we worrying that they’ll avoid finding out? No, they won’t. Divorce, child abuse, slavery, FGM, Bucha, Stalin, Auschwitz, Rwanda, women on leashes, serial killers, Putin – they’ll find out for sure. And the only way to make it bearable when they do find out is to give them a childhood where none of this exists.

American Humor

Klara developed a very American sense of humor and makes up jokes that take me a while to figure out because they are different in structure from what we consider a joke in my country.

Here are some examples:

“What did a pickle say when it fell out of a jar?” – “That’s a pretty pickle!”

“What did the tag say to the suitcase?” – “May I tag along?”

“Why do you dislike stairs?” “Because they are up to no good.”

This made me think about cultural differences in humor. It looks like in English, humor is dialogic and based on wordplay. Our humor, on the other hand, is situational and narrative. We don’t have “knock knock” jokes, for instance, and it took me ages to figure out what they were. Neither do we have the “what did X say when Y happened” jokes. I don’t even perceive them as joke unless somebody explains them at length. Instead, we narrate little anecdotes where people find themselves in ludicrous situations and say silly things.

For example, here’s a famous joke: “Why does everybody say Pavarotti is talented? He’s terrible. He’s got no voice and no sense of rhythm.” “Why, have you been to a Pavarotti concert?” “No, but my friend Rabinovich sang a couple of Pavarotti’s arias to me.”

If you are from another culture, how do you make jokes?

Book Notes: Sara Mesa’s The Family

Sara Mesa is one of the best Spanish writers of the moment but her books are hit-and-miss. Some are brilliant, and some are disappointing. The Family is beautifully written and has a great premise but it ultimately fails because the author can’t stay faithful to the idea she’s trying to develop, and the novel ends up disintegrating into unfinished sketches that never come together.

Here’s what makes The Family interesting. It’s a novel about a bad, oppressive father. Usually, bad fathers in literature differ according to their political leanings. Bad right-wing fathers are tyrannical, controlling, religious, and omnipresent. Bad left-wing fathers are absent, distant, atheist, promiscuous and sexually inappropriate. In The Family, Sara Mesa tries to create a bad left-wing father who isn’t absent or promiscuous. He’s controlling, omnipresent, and sexually austere at the same time as he is woke.

Unfortunately, Mesa doesn’t go all in on the father’s wokeness. He’s the leftist of the 1980s and 1990s, which means that much of today’s woke insanity didn’t yet exist. If she’d set the novel today and really went for it, that would have been one great book. Instead, she runs out of steam, gets confused, and ends up with a set of vignettes that never really lead anywhere.