Student Writing Woes

I teach two really good groups of students this semester. They are active, engaged, do the readings, and we have really great discussions in class.

Today, though, I sat down to grade the first mini-essay (1-2 pages long) one of the groups handed in this week. And I realized that I wouldn’t be able to give a single one of these students a grade. The essays are all abysmally poor in quality. Endless, confusing sentences, sentences with no verbs, countless “they” and “them” that refer to completely different things, wild generalizations, boring repetitions, the words “interesting” and “important” in every other line, a passive construction in almost every single sentence, vague disquisitions apropos of nothing in particular, apostrophes appearing where they have absolutely no place, etc.

Incas suddenly become a “Spanish culture.” Jews practice Islam. Jarchas are people. Columbus single-handedly wipes out the entire indigenous population of the Americas. Ferdinand and Isabella help the Visigoths to destroy the Roman Empire. And it isn’t that the students don’t know these things. I have no doubt that if I asked them questions about these subjects in class, they would answer correctly. The problem is this horrible carelessness that pervades every instance of written communication.

This will be a very long semester.

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Governmental Bureaucracies Squeeze Small Businesses

Let me tell you a story of a day-care in Montreal that is being persecuted by the government’s bureaucrats. On a regular basis, bureaucrats descend on this truly excellent day-care and do all they can to make the owners, the teachers, the kids and their parents as miserable as possible. Here is a list of some of the requirements the bureaucrats have imposed on the day-care during their most recent visits:

1. The custom of bringing in bunnies from the neighboring farm for the kids to pet has to be abandoned because petting bunnies is dangerous to the kids.

2. An aquarium with goldfish cannot be installed in the day-care because kids can catch salmonella. From a closed down and locked aquarium. Probably by osmosis.

3. A carpet where children sit and play should be removed and kids should sit on the floor instead. Carpets are, apparently, unhygienic.

4. Children should not be fed soup. Even though they like soup and parents are happy that kids eat it. In case the day-care still insists on serving soup, beans should be added to it. Why beans and not something else is never explained.

I’ve been to this day-care on many occasions and I can testify to the fact that it is really great. Kids have to be dragged out of it to be taken home because they love being there so much. The day-care doesn’t get a dime in any kind of governmental funding. As a result, the government that allows its own state day-cares to do anything they want persecutes this private day-care viciously slapping endless fees and fines on it. This drives the day-care costs sky-high.

This is only a small instance of what I see as a full-scale effort to destroy small business in Quebec.

Who Buys All That Zara Stuff?

Who could have thought that Zara could have possibly made its owner so rich? Just look at number 7 on this list of the richest people in the world:

In Spain, Zara is looked down upon as a chain that offers clothing for moneyless wannabes and poor housewives. In the US and Canada, many people have no idea of the contempt Zara evokes in Europe, so they buy the brand as if it represented some sort of high fashion. What is surprising to me is that Zara is the only clothing brand that got its owner on the list of the richest people in the world.

Am I missing something here? Is Zara a lot more popular than I thought it was?

How Much Does an HPV Vaccine Supporter Cost?

And this is how Merck, one of the pharmaceutical companies that want to convince us we all need to be medicated all the time for everything, has bought itself an HPV vaccine supporter in Rick Perry:

Over the past five years, it turns out that Merck [the company that manufacturers the vaccine] gave over $350,000 to the Republican Governors Association, a period in which Perry was heavily involved with the group, and the RGA in turn gave $4 million to Rick Perry.

And wait some more! Merck’s lobbyist on the vaccine issue was Mike Toomey, Perry’s former chief of staff. Toomey recently co-founded a super PAC that plans to raise over $50 million for Perry’s campaign.

The reason Bachmann is still against the vaccine has nothing to do with anybody’s religious or political beliefs. She simply hasn’t been paid yet by Merck.

So much rubbish has been said and written recently about the vaccine in an attempt to present it as some sort of an ideological issue. I have even seen hints that being in favor of this vaccine is some sort of a feminist and progressive statement.

The Merck CEOs, in the meanwhile, are laughing all the way to the bank as they imagine the silly rubes they have been able to dupe into believing that womanhood and human sexuality are potentially lethal by nature.

If you are a pseudo-Liberal who wants to attack me for this post, don’t waste your time. You, guys, have Merck on your side, which means you have won already. Soon, the HPV vaccine will be mandatory for everybody. So you can just relax. As you are reading this right now, Merck is probably busy buying out everybody who needs to be bought to force people to take their garbage.

Does Disillusionment With Obama Equal Racism?

I just read an article which suggests that if you are a Liberal voter who feels disillusioned with President Obama and is unwilling to vote for him in 2012, you must be a racist:

The 2012 election may be a test of another form of electoral racism: the tendency of white liberals to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their white counterparts. If old-fashioned electoral racism is the absolute unwillingness to vote for a black candidate, then liberal electoral racism is the willingness to abandon a black candidate when he is just as competent as his white predecessors.

The reason why the article’s author believes that Liberals who are in no hurry actively to support Obama’s 2012 presidential bid are racist is that, apparently, Bill Clinton got a better treatment when he was running for his second term:

The relevant comparison here is with the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton. Today many progressives complain that Obama’s healthcare reform was inadequate because it did not include a public option; but Clinton failed to pass any kind of meaningful healthcare reform whatsoever. Others argue that Obama has been slow to push for equal rights for gay Americans; but it was Clinton who established the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy Obama helped repeal. Still others are angry about appalling unemployment rates for black Americans; but while overall unemployment was lower under Clinton, black unemployment was double that of whites during his term, as it is now. And, of course, Clinton supported and signed welfare “reform,” cutting off America’s neediest despite the nation’s economic growth. . .

In 1996 President Clinton was re-elected with a coalition more robust and a general election result more favorable than his first win. His vote share among women increased from 46 to 53 percent, among blacks from 83 to 84 percent, among independents from 38 to 42 percent, and among whites from 39 to 43 percent.

President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans—from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now.

I think that the Clinton presidency definitely bears some responsibility for Obama’s low approval ratings among Liberals today. I don’t think racism is involved, though. Admittedly, I wasn’t living in the country when Clinton was president, so Liberals who did should feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. I have a feeling that many progressive-minded voters see yet another smooth-talking, intelligent, charming politician who came to power by attracting the American Left to his cause with many promises and beautiful speeches and then failed to deliver. I’ve heard many people refer to Obama as “yet another Clinton.” The disappointment with Clinton makes it harder for people to invest in this type of candidate yet again only to see their hopes dashed.

Another reason why Obama will find it harder to get re-elected than Clinton did is, of course, the economy. Most people don’t see any improvement in their financial situation since Obama was elected in 2008. This makes it much harder for them to care about anything he can deliver in other areas of life.

A Scandal Around Oscar Nominations in Russia

I know that nobody will have any interest whatsoever in this post, except maybe my 3 staunch and long-suffering Russian-speaking readers. But since this is my personal diary, I will still write about this story because I find it fascinating. In any case, this is Saturday, the day when the smallest number of readers accesses the blog, so I will not bug anybody excessively with it.

As I mentioned before, anti-American sentiments are strong in Russia today. Stories of “those stupid Americans” are constantly invented, shared, and celebrated. The Russian government does all it can to stoke these feelings of superiority towards the “idiotic Americans” and their silly way of being. In the artistic circles, it is fashionable to ridicule the United States as the home of philistines and ignoramuses who are completely incapable of understanding art, a place where nobody ever reads any books at all, and where only complete rubbish is produced and consumed in terms of culture. (For my Canadian readers, I want to clarify that this wave of anti-American propaganda only concerns the US. Canada simply does not register at all for most Russian people.) American movies are referred to as horrible garbage that can in no way compete with the beautiful traditions of the great Russian cinema.

What is really hilarious, though, is that those same film-makers who spend their lives publishing articles on the inferiority of American film start biting each other’s heads off for the privilege of their work being nominated as the best foreign-language film by the Oscar committee. At this very moment, a huge battle is being waged by the leading Russian film-makers as to who will be nominated by Russia for the Oscars. The level of pre-Oscar hysteria in a country that keeps repeating how little it cares about the stupid entertainment of the stupid Americans is nothing short of fascinating.

The roots of the scandal go back to the Soviet era. Nikita Mikhalkov, one of the greatest Russian film-makers of all times, belonged to a very important, connected, and rich Soviet family. This means, of course, that today he is the all-powerful and authoritative overlord of everything that is related to movie-making in the country. (Remember that there was absolutely no transfer of power when the USSR supposedly met its end, and the same people are in power today who were in power during the Soviet times.)

Sadly, Mikhalkov lost his film-making talent a while ago (I hear that he is a very heavy drinker, even by the Russian standards.) The last time he made a good movie was in 1994. I’m talking, of course, about his Burnt by the Sun, a film that won him an Oscar.

So Mikhalkov decided to get himself another Oscar this year. He got a huge amount of money out of the Russian government and filmed two sequels to his Oscar-winning Burnt by the Sun. The film is heavily ideological, extremely patriotic, and very pro-Russian Orthodox Church, which is why the government sponsored this expensive movie in its entirety.

The sequels flopped completely, even though the Russian government forced groups of people (especially school students) to watch them. As bad (for Mikhalkov) or good (for everybody else) luck might have it, this is also the year when the Russian film industry seems to have become extremely successful. Some really great films have been made in Russia this year, like, for example, Faust, a film that won the Golden Lion in Venice. And there are two other films that people say deserve to be nominated a lot more than the long, convoluted and cheesy melodrama filmed by the son of a Soviet boss.

The funniest thing is that Mikhalkov’s movie (which, admittedly, is no work of art) has a much better chance of actually winning the Oscar than any of the other movies people are saying deserve to be nominated over his. One of those films deals with very Russian realities that I can hardly imagine anybody outside of the country caring about. I can barely make myself care about them, so I don’t believe the Academy folks will give a rat’s ass about the film. Another one of these supposedly more deserving movies sounds like it’s beyond pretentious. And it was filmed by a director known for pretentiousness. (He is the guy who filmed this horrible Russian Ark crapola that graduate students love to watch to feel worldly and sophisticated.)

The scandal around the Oscar nomination, however, has long stopped having much to do with who has a chance of winning the award. It is now being used by film-makers, film critics and actors as an opportunity to vent their grievances against the dynasty of Communist party bosses who just can’t be pushed out of their positions of power and authority.

OK, now I have gotten this off my chest and I can promise not to treat my readers to any boring Russian gossip for a while to come.

An Addition to the Right-Hand Panel of the Blog: A Calendar

Readers have complained that the archives on this WordPress platform of the blog are inconvenient to use. This is why I have placed a calendar on the right-hand panel. If you bring your cursor to any date on the calendar, you will see a box with the titles of posts published on that day. I hope this will make it easier for people to navigate the blog. You can press on the date that interests you and that will take you to the posts published on that day.

I hope people find this helpful!