There Are Some. . .

. . . very brilliant and promising young Hispanists in the world.

Soccer Woes

A student from France wrote in to say that he hopes his team beats mine tonight. I have to wonder what kind of a genius scheduled the Ukrainian team to play at the stadium in the city that is the most hostile to the national team in the entire country. The poor idiots in the Donetsk area have been brainwashed into becoming pathetic Russian wannabes. This is why they hate the Ukrainian team and everything Ukrainian. I have many relatives in that are and I can tell you that it’s a very sad, miserable place.

This is what the commentary on the BBC site says:

There are a lot of empty seats in the Donbass Arena. It has been a sadly familiar sight during this competition.

Rain or no rain, we all knew people were not going to come support the national team in this stupid city. But they support and root for their own hometown team where the billionaire gangster who owns the city bought a bunch of foreign players and staffed the team with them. Idiots.

I still hope we cream those Frenchmen.

P.S. Now the game has been suspended because of the rain.

Obama Disappoints on Immigration

I know that everybody is excited over this (yippee, Obama is doing something for the immigrants!), but I’m very wary of this whole thing:

Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed. The officials who described the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it in advance of the official announcement.

The policy will not lead toward citizenship but will remove the threat of deportation and grant the ability to work legally, leaving eligible immigrants able to remain in the United States for extended periods. It tracks closely to a proposal offered by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida as an alternative to the DREAM Act.

Now, let’s just think about this. Some immigrants will not be deported on the spot. OK, that is good news, although I have got to wonder why a person who finished high school in the US is more valuable to the country than a person who got a PhD from one of the best American universities. Let’s leave that aside for a second and look at what these new measures will entail.

An army of bureaucrats will need to be hired to process this new variety of work permit. Like we didn’t have enough varieties of visas, permits, papers, etc. to complicate the lives of immigrants already.

That isn’t all, though. All of these immigrants can still be thrown out of the country whenever their work permit expires. This keeps them in a subjected position of perennially dependent people who are constantly terrified that the next permit will not be granted to them. As a result, we get thousands of young people (because this is very specifically aimed at young people who can be squeezed dry while they are still very energetic and can work hard and unpleasant jobs) who will develop short-term mentalities. This is very dangerous for the development of these people under the age of 30. When you measure your young life in 2 year increments, when you cannot plan anything beyond the next 24 months, you become a lot more reckless and incapable of long-term strategizing, which is a crucial skill one needs to be psychologically stable and successful in life.

Just imagine what it would do to you if you had no idea whether you might need to pack up and leave the country in 2 years. And went on in that position permanently.

This is an attempt at remedying a bad situation with a series of egregiously bad measures when a much easier solution is right there in front of us all.

Who Benefits From Licensing?

I was asked to comment on the following article:

The recession is forcing Americans to get crafty with their careers and think outside the bureaucratic box. But although the U.S. is supposed to be a country for self-starters, strict rules originally created to protect licensed professionals are making it extremely difficult for amateurs to get into business.

Jestina Clayton is the perfect example of an enterprising lady who can’t catch a break thanks to some rather high-and-mighty licensed professionals who want everyone to play by the rules, even though current rules really only benefit those who are already licensed. When Clayton moved to Utah from Sierra Leone at age 22, she started a small African hair-braiding business to pay the bills. But it’s illegal in the state of Utah to work with any form of hair extensions without a valid cosmetology license, which she found out thanks to a super-helpful stranger who emailed her and told her to delete her ad or she would be reported.

To answer the question of who benefits from licensing, I can share my experience of living in a country where the institution of licensing does not exist at all. When the Soviet Union fell apart, everybody needed to learn to make money. In the USSR, everybody got a pittance enabling people to survive  in exchange for doing absolutely no work. Obviously, this system wasn’t going to remain intact in a newly capitalist society. Some of my compatriots chose to stay in governmental jobs that paid nothing but offered them the dubious benefit of not having to work. Some people chose not to work at all and spend their lives moaning and whining. Others had to learn to do something that would bring in money.

Teachers turned into hairdressers, engineers became restaurant chefs, the Communist party ideologues transformed themselves into bankers, and so on. Anybody could become anything they wanted, try their hand at any endeavor. The government was not just weak in the FSU countries. It was pathetically feeble. No regulations, no licensing, complete freedom of wild capitalism. We are all educated people here, we have all read Dickens. I hope I don’t need to explain to you who wins under such a system, right? The most unprincipled, ruthless, shameless swindlers who’d cheat a baby out of a pacifier and feel not a twinge of conscience. And do you know who loses? Consumers.

I made decent money as a translator back in Ukraine in 1995-8. However, I found myself in an extremely weird situation where I didn’t know how to spend my money. Restaurants and cafes could easily poison you because nobody prevented the chefs and owners from operating in unhygienic environments. Hair-dressers were extremely likely to destroy your hair once and for all. Dry cleaners would do damage to your best clothes. Banks took your money and closed down. In short, every time you took out your wallet to pay for any goods or services, you got stiffed.

I’m talking about the events of 15-20 years ago. It’s possible that things changed since then, of course. However, even today half of all posts on every FSU blog that I read is dedicated to endless stories of people trying to buy goods and services and getting swindled, poisoned, infected, damaged or robbed. When my mother traveled back to Ukraine a few years ago, she decided to get a pedicure. For the next 3 months, she was trying to cure an infection she got there.

Similar stories happen in North America when people turn to unlicensed service providers out of poverty or inexperience. When I was an undergrad, a friend of mine used the services of an unlicensed amateur braid-maker. After that experience, she didn’t need a braid-maker for a long time to come because she’d lost half of her hair.

This is why all these stories about suffering hair-braiders leave me completely unmoved. I went to school forever to earn the right to practice my craft. I believe that it’s completely fair that I wasn’t allowed to teach my courses and publish my scholarship before getting certified according to high national standards. And I sure as hell hope that some quack who has not gone to the trouble of learning her work will not be allowed to stiff people out of money under false pretenses.

Of course, we could all sacrifice our time and energy and  investigate every single person we buy goods or services from. That would be the only alternative to removing the state licensing requirements and the governmental controls on the quality of goods and services. I, however, do not see why I need to waste my life on  researching every hairdresser, massage therapist, manicurist, teacher, etc. just in order to let irresponsible people peddle the services they don’t have enough knowledge to provide.

The world is getting more and more complicated every year. We all use a growing variety of products and services. This is why we can’t get bogged down in the frontier mentality of the era where everybody could grow their own food and make their own clothes and rarely ever relied on the paid services of others. One of the signs of mental health is the capacity to process the changes in one’s environment and modify one’s behavior to adapt to them. Let’s remember that before we start bemoaning the passing of times when all those strict licensing laws were not needed. It is as productive as lamenting the end of an era where we could save money by avoiding dentists because most people lost their teeth by the age of 20 anyway.

The Driving Saga Is About to Begin

So as part of the program of self-improvement, I found a driving school. All I need to do now is get my parent or guardian to sign paperwork, and I’m good to go.

I can just imagine this scene. Parents bring their kids to driving lessons while a middle-aged Clarissa is brought by her husband. I wonder if I can get him to pack my lunch and pat me on the head. It can be a sort of an erotic role-playing.

Who wants to bet that I will be the worst student this driving school has ever known? Imagine the plethora of fun blog posts, whoever.

What Is the Value of Fiction?

Reader Matt left the following interesting question:

What is the value of fiction? I get the feeling that you think reading these books contributes to the memo of being “sincere and eager to improve the universe” and stories like this help in that goal. Wouldn’t that time be better spent reading policy positions about energy, education, social welfare or books on business, technology … ie “harder science/disciplines”.

Now, I have no problem with people reading fiction. But isn’t it essentially just another form of entertainment comparable to tv, movies, comedy clubs.. Maybe I made a connection you weren’t implying, but I’ve always viewed the importance of literature as VASTLY overstated. Its great as a form of entertainment, but I get the feeling people who read fiction a lot think it is somehow “sophisticated” etc…

Who better to answer this question than a literature prof? As we all understand, I consider that there are few pursuits as crucial as reading literature. If I didn’t think that, I would have chosen a different profession. So what is the value of literature and why shouldn’t one just read business books and technology manuals instead?

Literature is the only form of reading that has an aesthetic component (except, probably, criticism of literary works.) When you read a poem or a novel, you don’t encounter a source of information on a subject, you find a work of art. You can have a sublime experience of being touched by beauty and transported by it into a different mode of existence. Here is how Jonathan Mayhew, a scholar of literature, describes this experience:

Yesterday, when I was reading in the coffee shop, I was thinking about what I was doing. The poetry I was reading was by Andrés Sánchez Robayna, a poet from the Canary Islands. I stopped to memorize a few short poems. Occasionally, I thought of ideas I could use in my book, but mostly I was experiencing the poetry as a sacred act of communion with nature. It is a sacred act for the poet, and for me as a reader. This has nothing to do with any particular religion. It is the sacred in its purest form. (Some people need religion to get at the sacred, and others use religion to avoid the sacred. The guy at the table next to me had a Bible and some other religious books that he was studying, but I don’t know which category he fell into.)

Terry Eagleton, another famous literary critic agrees:

Art . . . has a good deal in common with religious belief, even in the most agnostic of environments. Both are symbolic forms; both distil some of the fundamental meanings of a community; both work by sign, ritual and sensuous evocation. Both aim to edify, inspire and console, as well as to confront a depth of human despair and depravity which they can nonetheless redeem by form or grace. Each requires a certain suspension of disbelief, and each links the most intense inwardness to the most unabashedly cosmic of questions. (Figures of Dissent 96-7).

A reader of literature has a very easy access to an entire range of sublime, extremely profound experiences in his or her pocket. I can access what is best in me as a human being by reading literature. How sad, how barren and miserable is an existence devoid of such experiences!

We, the human beings, have messed up a whole lot. Wars, genocide, torture, slavery, oppression. As you think about the course of human history, you almost despair of the human civilization. However, while some people were busy murdering, raping and exploiting, others were contributing to this one area that redeems us all: art. And we don’t have to be artists to contribute. The beauty of art is that we can participate in the only redeeming activity of humanity in the capacity of readers, spectators, and listeners.

I have more to say on the subject but my break is up and I have to go create my masterpiece of literary criticism. 🙂 Feel free to contribute your answers: why do you read fiction? Just because it’s fun? Or do you have other reasons?


Classics Club #5: Anthony Trollope’s The American Senator

When Anthony Trollope’s mother discovered that nobody was going to help her support her numerous family, she came up with a great scheme. She started traveling to the US and writing travel books that ridiculed the Americans. Colonizers love hearing how crappy the lives of their former colonies are after they win independence, so Mrs. Trollope’s books sold well.

When Anthony Trollope became a famous writer, he decided to atone for his mother’s sin of writing about a British person traveling in the US and feeling stunned by the American barbarity. He wrote The American Senator, a novel about an American traveling in England and criticizing the barbarity of many of the British institutions (the fox hunt, the rigidity of the class system, the House of the Lords, the sale of priesthoods in the C of E, etc.) I really identified with the American senator, Mr. Gotobed. And, believe it or not, it wasn’t his wonderful last name that endeared him to me. The American is so earnest, sincere and eager to improve the universe that he reminded me of me. With a complete lack of regard for social conventions, the senator goes on and on diligently explaining to people how completely messed up their lives are. Seriously, folks, Mr. Gotobed, c’est moi!

The rest is under the fold.

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