Ask Clarissa

Please use the comment thread of this page to ask me any questions. I will either answer them here or, if your question is especially interesting, write a separate post in response.


461 thoughts on “Ask Clarissa”

  1. If college is the new high school in terms of being basic competence and more people are going to college as the years pass, should we expect to see more formulaic movies set in college and less formulaic movies set in high school?


    1. I never thought of this possibility but it seems very likely. The TV shows and movies of pre-adulthood are growing in popularity as pre-adulthood itself keeps growing.


    1. Classic Putinoid propaganda. Quotes from Putin are integrated seamlessly into the text without even mentioning who suggested these lines. And the author is smart: starting from a position that looks sympathetic towards Ukraine and injecting poison drop by drop before coming to a full-swing Putinoid attack by the second half of the article.


  2. You probably know this but I wanted to give you some background before asking you a question on this topic. India has been ruled by one political party, the Indian National Congress, for the majority of its existence. Rajiv Gandhi, our former PM (son of Indira Gandhi) married an Italian woman, and after he was assassinated, she came to be the president of the INC. Although she was never part of government, it was common knowledge that she installed a puppet to be PM, and she was de facto prime minister of India for the last 10 years. Basically, she had all the power and none of the accountability.

    The current right-wing government always made this to be a campaign issue. How can a foreigner occupy the office of the PM? There’s obviously an element of xenophobia here that the opposing political party (now in power) has brilliantly exploited. You see this party talk about restoring India’s former glory, the good old days, etc.

    It’s scary and I don’t identify with that one bit. BUT, the one thing that has always bothered me is that after spending decades in India (she got married at 21, now in her late 60s) has not even learned Hindi, or any other Indian language. She speaks at a 1st grader level, and I’m being charitable here.

    So, I don’t care that the leader of India isn’t born here, but I do care that he or she speaks the language. Am I being a flag-waving nationalist here? Is there a way to disentangle language from nationalism? Can I impose this demand on my leaders (know at least one of the ‘national’ languages) and still call myself a liberal?

    Something like this would be unthinkable in any other country. Could you imagine the US President not knowing English? Or the French President not knowing French? Still, thinking along those lines bothers me a little.


    1. Well, let me put it like this: I would not understand anybody becoming a president in Ukraine who didn’t speak fluent Ukrainian. And Ukrainian is pretty much a dead language that all of the politicians who speak it had to learn from scratch. Hindi, on the other hand, is not anything like a dead language. It deserves to be learned and spoken by the country’s leader. I would be very upset by a leader who doesn’t speak, love and cherish the language. Sonia Gandhi had a life time to learn, and I totally get why you’d be bothered. I’d be bothered, too.


    1. I support the Russian troops going back home and ending the war. After that, Ukrainians will figure out how to run their country. Whatever they choose is up to them. My only interest here is for the war to end.


  3. Hi Clarissa!

    I have read your blog and I find it very interesting. Also, I read some of your opinions regarding Ivy League and state schools, that’s why I am leaving you this question. For a PhD in Spanish, between U of M and Cornell, which school do you think would be best? Thinking in the possibilities of finding a job with TT. Hope you can answer, thank you!


    1. I’d go with Cornell if you are a Latin Americanist and U of M if you’re a Peninsularist. Cornell is a fascinating place to be for future Latinoamericanists. If you choose Cornell, though, take care of your mental health. The place has a bad vibe in spite of its incredible beauty. Even for very stable people it’s a depression inducing place. I would have never believed it if I hadn’t experienced it.


      1. Thank you! I am a Latinoamericanist. I’d rather to live in Ann Arbor, but I believe that Cornell would be a better fit for me. It’s going to be hard, living in an isolated city, but I’ll have to get used to it. Thank’s for the advice!


  4. Hi Clarissa,

    I am Dev. I have heard USSR used to follow command Economy(Planned) for a longer period. And i can see from the stats that the Group B (Consumer Goods) were given less importance than the Industrial goods.

    People especially Farmers had lot of problems. If so, Why can’t the Farmers of the state alienate to the highly paid industrial sector??

    Are there any restrictions?? In one Article i have seen the below comment….

    “In 1982, to stimulate the production of gloves from moleskins, the Soviet government raised the price it was willing to pay for moleskins from twenty to fifty kopecks per pelt.”

    If so, People do prefer to produce moleskins right??? Then there will be a lot of alienation from other sectors to moleskin production. This can led to shortage of other goods.

    Please Clarify the Economy of which the Soviet Union Followed.

    Thanks in Advance


    1. What “highly paid industrial sector”? Workers were paid very modestly.

      People did do everything they could to flee from the kolkhoz to the cities because life was marginally better there.

      As for moleskins, you do realize that it’s a tiny niche production and not an industry? It’s influence on the economy at large is negligible.


  5. Hi! I was curious: I’ve been thinking of starting my own blog or website, and I was wondering if you make any money off of this blog, since there aren’t any ads? I’m interested because all of the advice that I’ve seen for making an income off of having a blog is to either use ads/affiliates or to promote products.

    So, if you do, how do you make any income of of this site???


    1. That’s not an easy question. When I did research on collective identity, I worked through an insane number of sources and found nothing of value. The absolute gem of my collection of platitudes on the subject of collective identity was the following definition created by a group of sociologists:

      Collective identity is something that somehow keeps some people together.

      (Emphasis is mine.) This tells us a lot about the state of affairs in this area of research. One volume after another repeats with parrot-like constancy that identities are multiple, fluid and intersecting plus they are something that somehow does something else. And that’s it.

      The only area where there is interesting, valuable work that’s being done is national identity. Everything else identity-related is boring as all hell.


      1. I have a very strong self-identification as a mathematician. I suspect most mathematicians do. I also identify as a professor.

        Do you not identify as a professor, teacher, or at least an academic? In my experience, most professors and teachers do. At least one friend quit a teaching job several years ago to pursue a music career. She was shocked after the fact by how much emotional pain was caused for her by giving up the self-identification as a teacher.


        1. I love being a professor but that’s a job. I don’t see that as an identity because identities are hard to change. They are powerful because we don’t control them.


    1. Yes. What can I say? It’s all true. I castrate my own teaching all the time because there is always something that offends somebody. I will be a happy person if I can go through a week at work without hearing about somebody’s hurt feelings.

      I get to teach the Spanish language a lot. Obviously, there is no way to do that without correcting mistakes. But correcting mistakes hurts feelings. So I’m supposed not to correct them. This isn’t even about the content of my teaching being provocative to somebody. It’s the very fact of teaching that is hurtful. Just my presence in the classroom as a figure of authority who sets rules and evaluates work is painful to some. It’s worse than even just being about freedom of speech.

      I don’t want to sound alarmist but I’m worried about these developments.


      1. You’re not an alarmist at all. I’m sure your experiences mirror those of many people in academia, and I’m reading more and more about this subject.

        To me, this hypersensitive mentality is not only alarming, it’s quite literally sickening. People are growing up thinking the world is a bubble and when they face the harsh realities of real-life, they will cause a lot of problems for a lot of people. The victim mentality that is taking hold will cause people to feel attacked at all times and lash out and overreact. Even worse, the institutions are taking them seriously! The only real winners are going to be the lawyers who are going to make a lot of money handling these cases.

        It’s also doing a huge disservice to academia as a whole, and especially to the humanities. Even I find myself having strong pre-conceptions against people who study gender studies or sociology. I’m sure there are many people in those fields doing real work, however, it can’t help but think that the whole field is full of a bunch of over-sensitive stunted children that will lash out at the slightest perception of a threat.

        Anyway, it’s a serious topic and academics everywhere needs to start thinking about how to fight back against these sickening mentality.


  6. Hey Clarissa! I am becoming increasingly more interested in telenovelas and you are the only person on this big wide web who also seems interested in them, if you could email me so i could share my interests with someone or point me in the direction a group i would be so thankful! Please get back to me soon! Much love, Samantha ❤


  7. Have you been to Cahokia Mounds (under 20 miles from you) and if so, could you post about it, if not, could you pleeeeease go and post about it? It will be fresh air later in the spring!


    1. I did write an answer! It’s strange that it didn’t post. Weird things have been happening as a result of the most recent WordPress app update. I can bring the page back any time if people like it.


    1. I have 5 scholarly degrees including a PhD from Yale. I’m a tenured professor with a stack of publications in different languages. Among these publications, there is an award-winning book.


  8. My father took private lessons in Russian in Mexico City in the 1940s, from a Menshevik couple. They taught him a mournful song, a prisoner’s song, about looking at the sky through a small window that is high up on the wall in the cell. I am guessing this is a famous song but cannot find it. It is not one of those jaunty chansons. Does N. have any idea … ?


  9. I have heard that many public schools nowadays assign “projects” to first and second graders which are impossible for a child to complete without adult help. The idea is supposed to be to get parents involved in their child’s education. How will you deal with this if you encounter it? It has always seemed ridiculous to me.


    1. Yeah. . . I agree, it’s idiotic. I’m opposed to homework at all until at least the age of ten. But the whole point of school is socialization into existing structures, so we’ll do it and will be wildly enthusiastic about it.


  10. Hi Clarissa.

    For silly reasons, I need to learn about the culture and history of Aztecs, from as early as possible to the Spanish ventures there. What would you recommend in terms of books or articles? I am interested in both dry, broad outlines and more colourful accounts that get you a feel for the culture (doesn’t need to be the same source).


    1. The best sources I read on the Aztecs are by
      Miguel León-Portilla. He’s considered the leading authority on the Aztecs. His books are very well-written and beautifully researched.

      There is also the work of Bernardino de Sahagun from back in the 16th century.


  11. Dear Clarissa,

    I am the founder of #HelpAfricanAlbinos and personally write to you kindly requesting your support because you, as an Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer, are a person who I believe can make a difference.

    I would like to draw your attention to a new novel, “Then She Was Born” that also forms part of an international human rights campaign which has been endorsed by Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama and eleven Nobel Peace laureates who lent their voices and who each read aloud a different sentence of the novel, recording a video message and being pictured alongside the official hashtag #HelpAfricanAlbinos.

    “Then She Was Born” is an independently published work of fiction that meets the same standards as books published by mainstream publishers. You are an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer and your honest (but not mandatory) review of the book would allow this story and the reality faced by many to become noticed.

    The e-book is published through Amazon KPD select (free for Kindle Unlimited and Prime) but if you prefer I can send it to you as a gift. There is no obligation of a review.

    It would be my pleasure, if you agree, to mention your name in the e-book in the “thanks” section and your review, if you have a blog, will be showed on the official website campaign ( with a link attached.

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your understanding and time with this important matter.

    Please give a chance to this initiative.

    With my best regards,

    Link to Kindle:


    1. Wordads were weird all through 2016, for some reason, but whatever the bugs were, they seem to have been removed, and the payments are back up. Yes, it’s better because I control my own destiny, so to speak, and with adsense you are at the mercy of any hater who wants to crash your revenues.


  12. I am sure you have enough to do but in St. Louis, do you ever go to the public library? A site my cousin uses, but that I do not trust, swears that in it, one can find Benjamin M. (Moses or Matveevich, depending on the country and language you are in) Bary’s 1889 obituary. I had no idea he died in STL, and still do not believe it (same site has various errors about his kids) but am curious. There must be some way I can get this info from a library here but there isn’t an easy way (you have to be a STL person to just go into the library’s HeritageSearch database, etc.). Anyway if it is a 3-minute task and you can look it up and don’t mind, I’d be deadly curious — otherwise I’ll do it when I am in library in person and can use advanced resources.


  13. Hi Clarissa, I didn’t want to drop this question in a comment to one of the current posts so as not to derail those discussions.

    What, in your opinion, makes good literature?

    I have been burned many times in recent years by “literary fiction” of all forms –too often the piece is an excuse for flowery, obnoxious, self-important onania with the aid of a thesaurus. Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at online and print journals that specialize in short fiction. There is one that came up as top tier in literary flash fiction, and I find ~70% of what I’ve read there to be devoid of plot and simply insufferable. These pieces made me ask: why the hell was this written at all? There is no head nor tail, no story, nothing that makes me feel anything or think anything other than “Geez, what a big head you have…”

    On the other hand, I have found some great writing — clear, focused, with a strong emotional resonance — among the books and stories that nominally fall under the “lesser” genre fiction. While I understand that genre fiction is about the story and often meant to provide escapism, literary fiction is supposed to be realistic and also employ “advanced literary instruments.” It’s just that the latter is so often gag-inducing owing to being tedious, impenetrable, predictable, syrupy, snobby… Just plain obnoxious.

    I guess I hate it when I see that the writer seems more concerned with themselves, in particular with being perceived as clever, than they are with any aspect of the reader’s experience.

    What’s your take? I imagine that you place the clarity of writing and originality of ideas very highly. What about “advanced literary instruments”? Do you get annoyed by writers’ self-importance?

    Anyway, I would appreciate Clarissa’s digest on what makes a work of fiction a good piece of literature, perhaps one with the potential to become a classic!

    Many thanks!


  14. Hey Clarissa, do you have any advice on getting access to academic books and articles when you’re on a slim budget and aren’t associated with any university? The local library is pretty barren and is missing a lot of classics, never mind leading research. Mostly interested in political philosophy & adjacent stuff.


    1. Do you live near any public universities? If so, all public university libraries must make a library card available to the general public. (There is usually a small fee. The large public university near me charges $15.00 for a library card.)

      And with that library card you have access to all the holdings and can even inter-library loan from other libraries. It’s a great deal and one of the best parts of the public university system.


      1. That’s great advice. Our university also does it for local people. Our library collection is not great but we have access to iShare which lets you get books from all over the state of Illinois.


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