This is a Birkin bag that costs $280,000. Notice that you either have to hold the straps in your hand (which makes it impossible to use that hand to hold a cell phone, blog, take pictures, etc. Or, you have to push the straps up and hold the bag in the crook of your elbow, which is also quite uncomfortable. $280,000, people. And maybe something is wrong with my aesthetic perceptions, but I find it quite ugly.

And this is a bag I just bought from an artisan in Florida. It’s hand-made and one of a kind. It also has a chain that allows you to wear it over the shoulder.

This bag costs 7,000 times less than the Birkin you can see on the picture above. In my opinion, it is about 7000 times more beautiful than the crocodile monstrosity.

Will I have to end every one of my posts with the “Why are people stupid” query?

“Why Does My Blog Have So Few Hits?”

“I keep posting all the time but readers just don’t come. What am I doing wrong?” bloggers often ask. Here is a list of things you might want to consider, if you are one of them. Everybody else should feel free to leave their own suggestions in the comment section. Don’t worry, I will not insult your intelligence with the suggestions of the “write great content and check your spelling” kind.

  1. People prefer a dialogue to a monologue. If a reader comes to a blog several times and leaves comments, they are usually expecting some sort of a response. Nobody wants to feel like they are talking to themselves and not being noticed. Responding to comments takes time and effort but this is something you need to do to in order to acknowledge the effort of people who comment on your blog. It is also a good idea to follow your readers to their blogs. You might discover some pretty great blogs this way and start a fruitful dialogue.
  2. Reading is as important as writing. A successful blogger spends as much time reading other blogs and commenting on them as writing and commenting on their own blog. When you leave comments on other blogs, this allows both those bloggers and their readers to discover your existence and, possibly, follow you to your resource. Reading other blogs can also provide you with inspiration for your own posts.
  3. Pay attention to the post titles. I said it before, but I feel it bears repeating: for a beginning blogger, post titles are crucial. The best way to go is to imagine what a Google search that you want to take people to your post will look like and name the post accordingly. See, for example, the title of this post. I have absolutely no doubt that quite a few people will enter this phrase into their search engine and alight on my blog. In a while, I will even be able to tell you exactly how many readers came to the blog this way.
  4. Ask questions. A blog is a great thing not only because you can share your ideas but also because you can get help and feedback on a variety of issues. My life has become so much easier since I discovered that I can simply ask for help on the blog and people will offer extremely valuable suggestions and advice. On the other hand, readers enjoy sharing their knowledge and being helpful. Posts that ask questions and allow people to enter into a dialogue are always very popular.
  5. Listen to the readers. Of course, it’s impossible to accommodate everybody, but if there is a suggestion several readers keep voicing, it might be a good idea to listen. To give an example, I prefer to see posts that aren’t syndicated in full but just give you the first several lines in Google Reader. Readers told me, however, that they hated that and preferred to see posts in their entirety in their blogrolls. I don’t understand that but, since this is what people want, I changed the format of my blog’s syndication. There are obviously cases when accommodating requests is impossible for you. I still haven’t been able to honor the request of some of my readers to blog less. 🙂 Sorry, my friends, I just can’t help it.
  6. Explore the widgets. Some blogs are more hospitable than others and make it easier for you to explore them. Sometimes, you alight on an interesting post and want to read more by the same blogger on topics that are of interest to you. However, some blogs make it very hard to find one’s way around them. Tag clouds, lists of most popular posts, random posts from the past, and easy to navigate archives make people spend more time on the blog and read more posts.

Palin Pregnancy Deniers Gain Traction

Do you remember how I told you about this freaky group of conspiracy theorists who are bent on proving that Sarah Palin’s youngest child isn’t really hers? Those creeps who have spent years poring over Palin’s photos taken during her pregnancy trying to analyze whether “this is how pregnant women really look”? The ones who keep staring at the kid’s ears through a magnifying glass to see whether they have changed over time?

As long as they remained a marginalized group of crazed woman-haters, nobody needed to care much about them. However, certain pseudo-feminists have now started paying attention to these freaks and offering them a platform to vent their frustrations arising from not being allowed to rummage around in Palin’s underwear as much as they want. Recently, Hugo Schwyzer has decided to lend credence to this movement of Babygate (their favorite word) conspiracy theorists and went on the blog of one of their most rabid representatives, Lora Novak, for an interview.

If you decide to read the interview, you will see that every question Novak asks is that of a passionate anti-feminist who could care less about Palin’s politics. All that motivates her is the hatred towards women who manage to have children, extremely successful careers, and remain strikingly beautiful. What saddens me is that Hugo Schwyzer would try to attract his immense fan base to the website of this anti-woman conspiracy theorist and lend credence to her crazy ideas by entertaining fantasies about Babygaters’ unreasonable scenarios:

 If she did pretend that her daughter’s baby was hers, she did something that would be entirely in keeping with her faith and her frontier ethos.   This isn’t new.  A hell of a lot of children have grown up being told that their mothers were their older sisters, and that their biological grandmothers were their moms.

It is truly hard to find anybody who dislikes Palin’s politics more than I do. However, I would never participate in fueling the Babygate insanity by suggesting that it made an ounce of sense. I don’t remember a single discussion of whether a male politician’s children are actually his. Taking into account that it is a lot easier to be mistaken about who a kid’s father is than to doubt the identity of the mother, it is obvious that Babygaters are motivated by nothing other than their passionate hatred of women.

My blog doesn’t have nearly the popularity of Hugo’s (yet). However, when I blogged about Palin’s pregnancy deniers, I refused to link to their blogs. I didn’t want to attract attention to their vile anti-women propaganda and promote them by sending my readers to their anti-feminist  resources. I only wish that other people who claim to be feminists thought twice before offering support to woman haters of Novak’s ilk.

Mary Oliver’s “Singapore” As a Pseudo-Liberal’s Manifesto

I stopped watching the Oprah show several years ago after I noticed how often it offered reports on some particularly gruesome atrocity suffered by women in Third World countries and followed it by Oprah’s remark as to how “we, the American girls, should remember how lucky we are to live in a country where our rights are respected and nothing like this can happen to us.” The shamelessness of using the suffering of others to make one feel good about one’s own life became too much for me to bear.

Mary Oliver’s poem “Singapore” takes this self-congratulating attitude even further. Before I read a discussion of this poet at Jonathan’s blog, I had never read anything by her. Now, however, I have encountered a perfect manifesto for pseudo-liberals everywhere.

Oliver begins the poem with a nearly concupiscent image of a third-world woman in the most degrading position this poet can find for her:

In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something
     in the white bowl.

The nameless woman is on her knees in front of a toilet bowl. What can be more inspiring to a pseudo-liberal who goes through life motivated by the desire to find exploited, third-world people to feel sorry for? I can just imagine the author’s eyes lighting up when presented with such a vision. Of course, toilet bowls get washed everywhere on Earth (even though washing something in the bowl is a little less frequent). Who would want to write poetry about an American washing a toilet? That is not nearly as delicious as a person from Singapore – who by definition is imagined as oppressed and exploited – performing the action. It is also significant that the woman is not washing a purely Singaporean toilet bowl. Oh no, that would make her as boring as a Westerner who regularly gets on his or her knees to wash their own toilet. In order to be properly pitied, a third-world person has to wallow in the rich tourists’ excrement.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

Unlike the miserable woman from Singapore, the poetic ‘I’ has the lucky means to escape from this horrible, horrible country where people have to deal with messy toilets. Unfortunately for them, Singaporeans do not possess airplane tickets that would take them away from their disgusting realities.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain
     rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

The poetic ‘I’ is not only better than a Singaporean cleaning lady, it is also far superior to those other poets who have no social conscience and who keep blabbing about the beauties of nature instead of concentrating on the plight of oppressed toilet cleaners everywhere. Well, not everywhere. Just in those pathetic non-Western places.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and
     neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

In one breath, the poetic ‘I’ assigns a feeling of embarrassment to the Singaporean woman and comes up with an apology for her engagement in a debasing activity.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor,
     which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as
     hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, but like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

Of course, “it is a truth universally acknowledged” that every Asian woman will be compared to a natural phenomenon whenever a Western writer attempts to describe her.

I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop
     and fly down to the river.
This probably won’t happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

As usual, the condescending Westerner is ready to ‘want’ things for the object of her munificent attention. The cleaning lady’s presence at an airport, a symbol of the Western civilization that is contrary to the authentic nature of a Singaporean woman, alienates her from her true role of a winged creature whose place is in a more natural setting. She needs to go back to her roots, which the Westerner imagines as being next to a river. And if a river has nothing to do with the Singaporean’s vision of herself, nobody cares for the simple reason that. . .

Of course, it isn’t.
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
the way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

. . . this woman’s smile and her entire existence are there for the sake of the poetic ‘I’ who uses the Singaporean woman to congratulate herself on being a superior poet and a wonderful, compassionate human being.

I strongly believe that it would be very useful to put up a poster saying “We do not need your pity” at every international airport of every Third World country.

Is Thomas MacMaster an Irresponsible Blogger?

While I was away on vacation, things have been happening in the blogging world. I have just accessed my blogroll for the first time in a week and discovered that everybody is writing about an American graduate student in Scotland who has been blogging under the guise of a gay woman in Damascus. Now that he has been revealed to be a straight man in Great Britain, numerous blogs are almost exploding in condemnation of his “dishonesty.”

If you care to visit the actual blog (one that attracted over 2,000 followers and had over 800,000 hits since it was started this February), you will discover that, from the very beginning, the texts that are posted on it are announced as a novel, a work of fiction. I wouldn’t say it is a particularly good novel, but the author tried to make clear from the start that this is what it was. Posts are referred to as ‘chapters’ and are structured as such. Can anybody really doubt that 4-page-long dialogues cannot possibly be faithfully memorized by their participants and transmitted word-for-word?  Any such account will of necessity be either fictional or fictionalized. Many of the posts on the blog are poems, which makes it even clearer that we are dealing with a work of fiction.

The reason why people are so upset about the ‘discovery’ that Amina Arraf is not a real person but a product of somebody’s imagination is that MacMaster managed to tap into a number of obsessions that currently preoccupy many liberal bloggers. What can be sexier in the mind of a progressive blogger than a gay Muslim woman persecuted during her fight for freedom within the framework of the Arab Spring? This was an image that was begging to be invented and, of course, it was. The West loves rewriting events happening in foreign places in its own language and in accordance with its own set of concerns. MacMaster did exactly what the absolute majority of commentators on foreign affairs do on a regular basis.

Talking to Westerners about feminism, gay rights, democracy, left and right, freedom, etc. is difficult because they so often refuse to recognize that these concepts can carry an entirely different meaning for people from other cultures. I studiously avoid any articles on Russian-speaking countries that appear in Western media because they keep trying to massage a very different reality into a set of concepts that are alien to it.

Of course, when a person called Amina Arraf with a suitably Arab (but still one that can be attractive to the Western gaze) appearance starts writing exactly what Western progressives want to hear from an Arab fighter for freedom and gay rights, everybody is extremely happy. Finally, these strange, incomprehensible people are giving us what we want and are speaking the language we have been eager to have them speak. When it’s revealed that the dream of the ‘correct’ Muslim gayness is nothing but a fantasy of an American blogger, the hope of finally encountering an embodiment of our pseudo-liberal fantasies is dashed and a wave of outrage is unleashed.

Volpi and Physics

In spite of all his defects, writer Jorge Volpi should be given credit for making physics sound fascinating and even kind of understandable even to a complete science doofus like myself.

In high school, I had entered into a pact with a friend who was good in sciences. She wrote my final exams in science-related courses while I snored at my desk. In return, I wrote her compositions in Russian and Ukrainian literature courses. I still have regular nightmares that my high school diploma (and all the subsequent diplomas I got) is getting revoked and I have to go back to high school to retake my Math and Physics courses. Now that I have read and even understood Volpi’s explanations of physics, I might be less terrified of the prospect.

Seafood in Clearwater

If I were fortunate enough to live in a place where fresh seafood were as abundant as here in Clearwater, FL, I don’t think I’d ever eat meat again. Just look at this bucket of steamed mussels, crab legs, shrimp and clams that they serve at a place called Crabby Bill’s. It costs $23 and is enough to feed two very hungry eaters.

The last picture is of a plate of conch fritters that a kind reader recommended I try. They are delicious and very filling. A plate costs $6, and for people on a budget could serve as a complete, scrumptious meal.

I’m now hoping to try sturgeon which is only served when it gets caught, which isn’t every day.

Reading Volpi

I’m reading Jorge Volpi’s In Search for Klingsor (if that isn’t the title of the English translation, let somebody correct me) and wondering if I will ever be so blessed as to find a male Latin American writer who is not a complete and utter woman-hater. I might have to go back to my resolve to avoid reading Latin American literature after this book.