A New Page: An Announcement and a Question

I just created a new About page for the blog. I have noticed that whenever I alight on a new blog, the first thing I do is read the About page. And it’s kind of weird that I have no About page of my own. So I created it and you can take a look right here:

About Page.

 

I also have a question for those who are not experiencing an autistic fugue right now. Do you know what I need to do to move the pages around on a WordPress blog? Right now the About page is the last one, and I want to make it the first one. So how do I rearrange my pages? I’ve been trying to figure it out for 15 minutes but my mind is a complete blank.

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Are We Frozen in Time?

As I was sitting at the spa last week, I decided to leaf through a glossy magazine. I hadn’t read one in years, and it seemed like this kind of reading would complete my spa experience. (Everybody deserves a chance to shed the intellectual burden and be stupidified every once in a while, OK? I’ve got enough facetious comments about this in RL, so no more are needed.) In that magazine, I alighted upon a very curious article that analyzed the trends in fashion, music, home décor, cars, etc.

The article pointed out that, during the XXth century, every 20 years or so brought profound changes in these areas of human existence. Think about clothes, for example. Could you wear the same clothes and sport the same hairdo in 1976 and in 1996? In 1950 and 1970? And what about pop music? Aren’t the differences between what people listened to in 1938 and 1958 or 1958 and 1978 glaring?

Now consider the past twenty years. See any changes there? Right you are, there are none. I could easily wear all of my clothes from 1991 today (if I could fit into them, that is), and nobody would think me strange. And we are not talking about a return of the fashion from the early 1990ies. There simply was no moment during the past 20 years when fashion changed in any significant way. I have clothes that are 10-12 years old and I still wear them on occasion. And every single time, I have to tell people how old my outfit is because nobody can guess just from looking at it.

Or take music. Is what you heard on the radio 10, 15, 20 years ago really all that different from what you listen to today? Can anybody spot 3 differences between Madonna and Lady Gaga? I can barely find one.

Hairstyles, facial hair, the way the cars look – none of these things have changed dramatically in the past 20 years.

I’ve thought about it for a while and I have developed a hypothesis as to why these areas of our lives seem frozen in time. I’ll provide my answer in the next post but, for now, I’d like to know what my readers think.

Have you noticed the phenomenon I’m talking about? How do you explain it? Or do you think there is no such phenomenon?

How Horrible, Mean Americans Destroyed the Soviet Poultry

If you have had the misfortune of living in the Soviet Union, then the words “Soviet poultry” have already made you pee yourself with laughter. If you haven’t, then I promise you’ll get why it’s funny by the end of this post. You see, it isn’t that hard to find out things about the USSR. All you need is do some research, ask a few questions, talk to people. Unfortunately, Stephen Cohen, whose bizarre and ignorant article about the Soviet Union has been published in The Nation, didn’t take that route. Instead, he wrote a piece that hammers in two ridiculous ideas:

1. When a bear sneezes in the woods near Magadan, somebody in the US must be to blame.

2. Soviet Union equals Russia. The other fourteen republics that constituted the USSR deserve neither to be mentioned nor to be taken into account.

It’s one thing when my freshmen respond to the questions of who won World War II with “Russians!” Cohen, however, is supposed to be a professor of something. I’d expect him to be able to figure out the difference between the USSR and Russia (a hint: you can do that by looking at a map for 30 seconds) and to realize that not everything in the USSR and the FSU happens because of some gaffe by the president of the United States.

The entire article by Stephen Cohen is an exercise in mind-numbing ignorance and intellectual carelessness. And what really bothers me is that many people will read the article and maybe even buy this quack’s books and form their opinions about the USSR on the basis of the egregiously stupid statements he makes. Let me just give you a few examples:

Accordingly, most American specialists no longer asked, even in light of the large-scale human tragedies that followed in the 1990s, if a reforming Soviet Union might have been the best hope for the post-Communist future of Russia or any of the other former republics.

In Cohen’s warped mind, the people to ask this question are some mysterious “American specialists.” What does he care that in 1991, 84% of registered voters in Ukraine came to the polls to vote on whether they wanted their country to become independent. And out of those voters, 91% voted in favor of independence. I cannot recall either such a high turnout or such a degree of unanimity in any US elections recently. And this is just Ukraine. Have you heard about the Vilnius massacre? The conflicts in the Transcaucasus area? Does the word Chechnya ring a bell?

Cohen obviously is not aware of any of these powerful independence movements. Anybody who is at least marginally knowledgeable about the nationalist explosions of the late 1980ies and early 1990ies, would not have written the following:

Nor have any US policy-makers or mainstream media commentators asked if the survival of a democratically reconstituted Soviet Union—one with at least three or four fewer republics—would have been better for the world.

Yes, let’s forget the wishes of the Ukrainians, the deaths of the Lithuanians, the Armenians, the Georgians, the 300-year-long fight for independence by the people of Chechnya. Let’s pretend that none of these colonized peoples have any say in the matter of their own independence. Instead, let’s turn to the US media commentators. These commentators should decide which lucky three or four republics will be allowed finally to be independent and which will be drowned in blood to prevent their independence.

I lived in Ukraine in 1989, 1990, 1991. I saw the faces of the people when the Ukrainian flag was raised. I heard people sing “Ukraine hasn’t died yet” (our national anthem). Nothing short of an outright genocide could have stopped these folks from seeking independence. But what does Cohen care? For him, everything that happens in the world gets decided on the pages of the New York Times.

In support of his uninformed opinions, Cohen turns to manipulating the facts:

A majority of Russians, on the other hand, as they have repeatedly made clear in opinion surveys, still lament the end of the Soviet Union, not because they pine for “Communism” but because they lost a familiar state and secure way of life.

I have no doubt that a few years after India achieved its independence, many people in Great Britain still lamented the loss of the empire. No decent person, however, granted their suffering that they couldn’t abuse and exploit Indians more respect than they did to the joy of Indians who were finally free of the colonial overlords. It would be a lot more honest on Cohen’s part to include the opinions of people from newly independent Republics.

Now let’s turn to one of the most hilarious parts of Cohen’s rambling article:

 That kind of nihilism underlay the “shock therapy” so assiduously urged on Russia in the 1990s by the Clinton administration, which turned the country, as a columnist in the centrist Literary Gazette recently recalled, into “a zone of catastrophe.” None of the policy’s leading proponents, such as Larry Summers, Jeffrey Sachs and former President Clinton himself, have ever publicly regretted the near-destruction of essential consumer industries, from pharmaceuticals to poultry, or the mass poverty it caused.

I dislike Larry Summers profoundly. However, the destruction of “essential consumer industries” in the USSR is not his fault. It isn’t really anybody’s fault since those industries did not exist. By way of illustration, let me share with you a well-known Soviet joke about poultry:

An American chicken and a Soviet chicken are lying next to each other at the supermarket.

“Look at you,” the American chicken says. “You are so scrawny, ugly and pathetic. And your color is both yellow and blue at the same time. I, however, look beautiful. I’m plump, pink, and juicy.”

“Well,” the Soviet chicken responds, “at least I died a natural death.”

As anybody who lived in the USSR knows, finding a chicken to buy in the USSR was a rare feat, indeed. When you managed to find one, though, it looked exactly like the chicken in the joke. God, I’ll never forget those tortured-looking blue Soviet chickens. Seriously, blue was their color (after the feathers were removed.) They did look like they had died of horrible diseases. And those were the eighties. Which means that President Clinton was not the one who made them look that way.

In terms of poultry, the nineties were actually a great moment because American chickens started to get imported in the early nineties. They were abundant, plump, juicy and cheap. Many a poor family survived exclusively on those American chickens. But does Cohen care? Of course, not. The actual living reality of all those post-Soviet people is of no interest to him.

I could continue discussing other egregiously stupid statements this pseudo-academic makes in his insulting article but I don’t want this post to last forever. It really bothers me that many people are buying into the idiotic and uninformed opinions of this quack. It is very difficult to maintain an intelligent conversation about the Soviet Union nowadays because people glean their information from such unreliable sources.

Thank you, n8chz, for giving me this priceless link.

A Weird Gift for a Weird Family

Among all the weird gifts out there, this gift I found at a store in Canada truly deserves some sort of a prize for weirdness:

Can you imagine a family that needs a box of questions to suggest topics for dinner conversation? I mean, if you have nothing to talk about, what makes you think you are a family?

Who Has the Right to Forgive?

I have to say that I’m really puzzled by all these discussions as to whether Hugo Schwyzer should be forgiven for whatever it is he did in the past and whether his repentance is genuine. The only people who have the right to forgive or not forgive Hugo are the ones whom he hurt (I don’t know if he did or not, that’s his own private business.) If he (or any other blogger) shares a personal story that bothers me, I can say I feel repugnance, I can condemn the blogger’s actions, I can write passionate posts in response. But it isn’t my place to grant or withhold forgiveness from a total stranger.

It really bothers me that people identify so strongly with bloggers as to start seeing them in highly personal terms. We can all realize that this is unhealthy, right? I understand the temptation to spend a lot of time online. I succumb to this temptation too often myself. But the moment when you seriously start to consider whether you can forgive a complete stranger who has no personal relationship with you, I say you need to step away from the screen and go have a life.

Whenever I see those really scary news segments where some celebrity du jour apologizes to anonymous crowds for cheating on his or her spouse, I realize that this is a society where way too many people have no lives of their own and live vicariously through others.

The definition of “repentance” is:

Repentance (Greekmetanoia) is a change of thought to correct a wrong and gain forgiveness from a person who is wronged. In religious contexts it usually refers to confession to God, ceasing sin against God, and resolving to live according to religious law.

Got it? So unless you are either the person who has been wronged or God, you have no business expecting anybody’s repentance, believing or disbelieving it.

I hope to close the topic of Hugo Schwyzer on this blog for a long time to come. Before I do so, however, I want to say the following. I disagree with Hugo Schwyzer on a variety of issues. I’ve had some very heated discussions with him. I condemned his position on a host of subjects and have written about his views in very harsh terms.

However, the treatment he has been subjected to recently on Feministe is nothing short of disgraceful. What I find especially ridiculous is the strong religious vocabulary of “redemption,” “repentance,” “sin,” “reforming,” “redeem,” etc. used by many of the participants. (Just do the context search of the thread and you’ll see for yourself.) It feels like the entire Michele Bachmann camp of supporters has alighted on what is supposed to be a feminist website with no specific religious affiliation.

It’s funny how even the most progressive folks tend to slip into the preachy tones of the most annoying among Bible-thumpers whenever it suits them to do so.

Sunday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion

A brilliant deconstruction of arguments against same-sex marriage.

A great post on the war on drugs.

“Who could possibly view the term “breast cancer” as sexually arousing? What self-respecting medical team, seeking to produce an easy-to-understand booklet to promote early detection of breast cancer, can write phrases like: “The cancer in the organ under discussion” so as to avoid using the word “breast”.” Find out who has this completely insane attitude to breast cancer here.

Traditional upbringing in Zimbabwe. Eye-opening!

Will the young voters turn out for Obama in the 2012 election like they did in 2008?

The most vocal critics of my decision to let my kid “decide” for religion has come from my academic atheist friends who are aware of my own (lack of) beliefs.  They seem as eager to inculcate atheism into their kids as the religious are to instill certain beliefs in their.” What we need is more amazing parents like the author of this post.

I wish more people understood this: “Until we learn that people around the world are not necessarily the same as we are, don’t necessarily think in the same way and don’t necessarily appreciate the same things, we will continue to muck up foreign policy terribly.”

I like this blogger because she always has an original take on things and delivers it in a very concise, to-the-point manner. Check out this post on the different styles of feeding the homeless.

Fun Christmas reading: a great long post ridiculing a book of marriage advice from religious fanatics in a truly miserable marriage. I know one should be compassionate towards people who are this brainless but I can’t muster any good feelings towards them. maybe you will prove a better person than I am.

And if there is anything more ridiculous than books of marriage advice from religious fanatics, it’s dating advice from same religious fanatics.

Is teaching “cost efficient”?

It is clear that what most people in pursuit of ‘higher education’ want is not an education, strictly speaking, but a credential that will gain them admittance to a certain social and/or economic status. Education as most people  use it nowadays is a euphemism for a ticket to success, where the latter is defined in terms of money and social position.” I know exactly what this brilliant blogger means. All I wish for in my work is to meet more of those students who are looking for an actual education and not for a set of formal credentials. There are so few of them, though. . .

Copyright insanity keeps growing and spreading.

Iraq is about to disintegrate into a Civil War. Does anybody feel surprised? If so, I have to ask what rock you’ve been sitting under for the past fifteen years.

If you are as obsessed with reading lists as I am, check out this list of books that feature translators or interpreters as characters.

“[Feminism] is also the radical notion that men are people too, complete human beings, with the same range of emotions and the same capacity for empathy and self-control as any woman.” In this brilliant statement Hugo Schwyzer echoes my own profound belief and the subject of the most unpopular post I have written recently. Let’s see if Hugo manages to attract more attention to this idea than I did.

Ron Paul’s “extreme bet on an economic catastrophe.” Note that Ron Paul really needs our economy to collapse completely. Any other scenario will lose him money. If you know anybody clueless enough to vote for this religious fanatic, share this article with them.

For everybody who celebrates Christmas:

Merry Christmas!!!

 

And for those who don’t: 

Have fun perusing this link collection!

On Hugo Schwyzer’s Resignation from the Good Men Project

I think that resigning from the GMP was a very positive and redeeming act on the part of Hugo. After its founder, Tom Matlack, published his supremely inane post that pushed the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” ideology, no self-respecting individual could remain part of the project. I declared the GMP officially dead the moment I saw that ridiculous piece, and it seems like Hugo Schwyzer felt the same.

My new-found hope that the most famous male feminist in the country was not beyond redemption, however, faded pretty soon. In a post explaining his resignation from the GMP, Hugo Schwyzer just couldn’t help displaying his trademark condescension to women. I know this is a longish quote (even after I pared it down somewhat) but please try to read it in full. This quote from Hugo Schwyzer’s post is crucial because it allows us to see very clearly why feminism has run into such an hopeless dead-end:

Seemingly innocuous words often have a profound charge depending on how and by whom they’re used.  . . What many men fail to understand is that accusing a woman of being insane or of engaging in reprisals merely because she’s expressing forceful disagreement has an equivalent ugliness. . . All of this behavior reflects two things: men’s genuine fear of being challenged and confronted, and the persistence of the stereotype of feminists as being aggressive, wrathful,  “man-bashers.”  The painful thing about all this, of course, is that no man is in any real physical danger on the internet— or even in real life — from feminists.  . .

There’s a conscious purpose to this sort of behavior.  Joking about getting pelted (or putting on the football helmet) sends a message to women in the classroom – and online: “Tone it down.  Take care of the men and their feelings.  Don’t scare them off, because too much impassioned feminism is scary for guys.”  And you know, as exasperating as it is, this kind of silencing language almost always works. Time and again, I’ve seen it work to silence women in the classroom, or at least cause them to worry about how to phrase things “just right” so as to protect the guys and their feelings.  It’s a key anti-feminist strategy, even if that isn’t the actual intent of the men doing it — it forces women to become conscious caretakers of their male peers by subduing their own frustration and anger.   It reminds young women that they should strive to avoid being one of those “angry feminists” who (literally) scares men off and drives them away.

My regular readers probably know me well enough to realize why this quote bugs me so much. Hugo Schwyzer describes a phenomenon that definitely exists and that deserves to be discussed and analyzed. And then he immediately destroys his entire argument by saying that this anti-feminist strategy “forces women to become conscious caretakers of their male peers by subduing their own frustration and anger” [emphasis mine].  And this makes absolutely no sense.

At the very beginning of this long quote, Hugo Schwyzer recognizes that one should be very careful with words. By the end of it, however, he demonstrates that he has no interest in exercising such care. A woman cannot be “forced” to do anything by some silly strategy. Agreeing to become “a conscious caretaker of male peers” is always a choice. And that choice brings certain rewards at the same time as it exacts a certain price. I’m saying this as a woman who has never subdued her rage to placate men* and can’t say that her life has been in any way thwarted by that decision.

Another problem with this argument is that the silencing strategy Hugo Schwyzer describes has nothing to do with gender. Once again, it is a dud, an issue that is not related to gender in any manner but that masks as a feminist concern in order to distract us from true feminist concerns. Using gender stereotypes to silence people works extremely well on both men and women. Let’s not forget that in the patriarchal mentality, men are supposed to take care of and provide for women. As my favorite Russian blogger says, “The only goal of a man’s existence is to solve a woman’s problems and make her life easier.” How difficult do you think it is to bully into complete and utter silence a man who is at least somewhat in thrall to patriarchal stereotypes?

And if said hypothetical man allows himself to be bullied into silence by these stereotypes, that will be his conscious choice and he will get a pay-out for doing so. Just like a woman does when she chooses to shut up in order to be considered “a good girl.” See? Not a gender issue.

There is a very interesting discussion that could have happened here about the strategies we use to manipulate and silence our interlocutors. Sadly, Hugo Schwyzer’s overpowering need to see women as perennial victims and men as victimizers has gotten the best of him yet again.

I’ve been wondering for a while why Hugo Schwyzer is so haunted by this desire to see women as weak and helpless and men as powerful and in control in every single situation. After I read his post about one of his marriages, the answer became clear to me. Hugo Schwyzer has a history of being extremely disempowered in his relationships with women**. In his pseudo-feminist writings, he creates a universe were women are powerless and he can finally feel like a savior of weak and pathetic damsels.

* In the spirit of full disclosure: I have done so to placate women. And that was a conscious choice on my part. It would be very easy for me to blame this decision on my cultural conditioning and upbringing. If I were to do so, however, I would not be honest. This was always my own choice. 

** Just read the post. Even if only 10% of it is true, I will never stop feeling sorry for a person who has been treated in such a horrific and shameless way by a manipulative and nasty partner.