Thursday, March 31, 2011

Women Are Better Connected... Neurally

The search for differences between the brains of men and women has a long and rather confusing history. Any structural differences are small, and their significance is controversial. The one rock-solid finding is that men's brains are slightly bigger on average. Then again, men are slightly bigger on average in general.

A new paper just out from Tomasi and Volkow (of cell-phones-affect-brain fame) offers, on the face of it, extremely strong evidence for a gender difference in the brain, not in structure but in function: Gender Differences in Brain Functional Connectivity Density.

Here's the headline pic:
They used resting-state "functional connectivity" (though see here for why this term may be misleading) fMRI in men and women. This essentially means that they put people in the MRI scanner, told them to just lie there and relax, and measured the degree to which activity in different parts of the brain was correlated to activity in every other part. They had a whopping 561 brains in total, though they didn't scan everyone themselves: they downloaded the data from here.

As you can see the results were highly consistent around the world. In both men and women, the main "connectivity hub" was an area called the ventral precuneus. This is interesting in itself although not a new finding as the precuneus has long been known to be involved in resting-state networks. However, the degree of connectivity was higher in women than in men 14% higher, in fact.

The method they used, which they've dubbed "Local Functional Connectivity Density Mapping", is apparantly a fast way of calculating the degree to which each part of the brain is functionally related to each other part.

You could do this by taking every single voxel and correlating it with every other voxel, for every single person, but this would take forever unless you had a supercomputer. LFCDM is, they say, a short-cut. I'm not really qualified to judge whether it's a valid one, but it looks solid.

Also, men's brains were on average bigger, but interestingly they show that women had, relative to brain size, more grey matter than men. Here's the data (I'm not sure about the color scheme...)

So what does the functional connectivity finding mean? It could mean anything, or nothing. You could interpret the highly interconnected female brain as an explanation for why women are more holistic, better at multi-tasking, and more in touch with their emotions than men with their fragmented faculties. Or whatever.

Or you could say, that that's sexist rubbish, and all this means is that men and women on average are thinking about different things when they lie in MRI scanners. We already know that resting-state functional connectivity centred on the precuneus is suppressed whenever your attention is directed towards an external "task".

That's not a fault of this research, which is excellent as far as it goes and certainly raises lots of interesting questions about functional connectivity. But we don't know what it means quite yet.

ResearchBlogging.orgTomasi D, & Volkow ND (2011). Gender differences in brain functional connectivity density. Human brain mapping PMID: 21425398

Women Are Better Connected... Neurally

The search for differences between the brains of men and women has a long and rather confusing history. Any structural differences are small, and their significance is controversial. The one rock-solid finding is that men's brains are slightly bigger on average. Then again, men are slightly bigger on average in general.

A new paper just out from Tomasi and Volkow (of cell-phones-affect-brain fame) offers, on the face of it, extremely strong evidence for a gender difference in the brain, not in structure but in function: Gender Differences in Brain Functional Connectivity Density.

Here's the headline pic:
They used resting-state "functional connectivity" (though see here for why this term may be misleading) fMRI in men and women. This essentially means that they put people in the MRI scanner, told them to just lie there and relax, and measured the degree to which activity in different parts of the brain was correlated to activity in every other part. They had a whopping 561 brains in total, though they didn't scan everyone themselves: they downloaded the data from here.

As you can see the results were highly consistent around the world. In both men and women, the main "connectivity hub" was an area called the ventral precuneus. This is interesting in itself although not a new finding as the precuneus has long been known to be involved in resting-state networks. However, the degree of connectivity was higher in women than in men 14% higher, in fact.

The method they used, which they've dubbed "Local Functional Connectivity Density Mapping", is apparantly a fast way of calculating the degree to which each part of the brain is functionally related to each other part.

You could do this by taking every single voxel and correlating it with every other voxel, for every single person, but this would take forever unless you had a supercomputer. LFCDM is, they say, a short-cut. I'm not really qualified to judge whether it's a valid one, but it looks solid.

Also, men's brains were on average bigger, but interestingly they show that women had, relative to brain size, more grey matter than men. Here's the data (I'm not sure about the color scheme...)

So what does the functional connectivity finding mean? It could mean anything, or nothing. You could interpret the highly interconnected female brain as an explanation for why women are more holistic, better at multi-tasking, and more in touch with their emotions than men with their fragmented faculties. Or whatever.

Or you could say, that that's sexist rubbish, and all this means is that men and women on average are thinking about different things when they lie in MRI scanners. We already know that resting-state functional connectivity centred on the precuneus is suppressed whenever your attention is directed towards an external "task".

That's not a fault of this research, which is excellent as far as it goes and certainly raises lots of interesting questions about functional connectivity. But we don't know what it means quite yet.

ResearchBlogging.orgTomasi D, & Volkow ND (2011). Gender differences in brain functional connectivity density. Human brain mapping PMID: 21425398

Commemorating the Civil War

In two weeks our university is going to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War. Students and faculty members are invited to bring the mementos of Civil War that belong to their families. They are also urged to abstain from bringing any of their heirloom firearms to the exhibition of mementos.

Recognized

I was walking around campus right now, and a student I don't know stopped me. 

"Oh, you are Professor Clarissa!" she said. "My friends took classes with you and they loved you. I wish I could take your classes too but my program is too full."

It was very nice to know that after only 3 and a half semesters here I'm already getting recognized on campus. And, more importantly, not for anything negative.

And we have 14,000 students, in case you were wondering, so it isn't a tiny little place or anything. 

Need to Grumble

It's one of those days when one would be much better off staying in bed and not moving at all because everything comes out wrong. First, I attempted to show a movie in my class and, of course, the same idiot who always disconnects the stupid equipment disconnected it again. Which meant that I had to crawl around on the floor messing up my clothes and shoes for 15 minutes trying to connect the equipment. And I have no doubt that when I show up for the second section of this course later today, it will all be disconnected yet again.

After I managed to get the movie to start playing, I remembered that there was a sex scene in it. I had forgotten about the scene completely because I find it to be so innocent as to be fit to show to children of any age, let alone university students. So now I have no idea whether it would be considered appropriate by my Bible Belt students. The movie is called Butterfly. In case you are curious, you can watch this scene in the following video. If you do, please tell me whether it was a horrible idea to show it in class. It only lasts about 4 minutes altogether.



After the class, I remembered that I'd forgotten to have breakfast so I decided to have lunch. But the stupid University Restaurant had a pizza day today. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? Who on earth feeds professors with pizza for lunch?

It isn't yet noon and I'm already in a very grumbling mood.

Scholarly Base Maintenance Month

On his interesting and useful blog that helps people become research scholars, Jonathan Mayhew introduces the concept of scholarly base. This term refers to all the readings, all the knowledge that a scholar has accumulated in the course of his or her life. This is the kind of knowledge that one draws upon in one's research, that allows one not to feel stupid and lost at scholarly conferences, and that helps one to maintain a coherent picture of one's own field of study as well as several other fields that in some ways overlap with or border upon one's own research area(s).

A scholarly base needs to be maintained and expanded at all times because nothing is sadder than a scholar who works on the basis of limited and outdated readings that were done 20 years ago. I usually have my scholarly base maintenance month in the summer. This year, however, I have other things planned for the summer vacations, so my scholarly base maintenance month started this week. I have gathered a stack of books that need to be read before the end of the semester five weeks from now. Here are what these books are:

1. Three Latin American novels. As I was writing my recent blog post on Latin American literature, I discovered that my familiarity with it has grown pretty dim. To be completely honest, I read nothing new in this field since my doctoral comprehensive exams in 2005. So now I will be catching up using great reading suggestions from a fellow blogger who publishes her informative posts here.

2. Four books of philosophy (Badiou, Laclau, Bauman, and Eagleton).

3. Two books of literary criticism. Possibly I will write a review of one of them since it came out very recently.

4. Four books in my field of contemporary Spanish literature. There are several authors that I follow and some of them have recently released new books (most of which are extremely long, too.) 

The good news is that I read extremely fast, so I have no doubt all these books can be read by the end of the semester. I really can't wait to get into each one of them, so it will be a very fun month.

The readers of this blog should expect to be inundated with book reviews.

Inconscientemente, parecia querer buscar em autores, filmes e música, algum tipo de consolo. Como se alguém precisasse chegar perto de onde eu estava, colocar uma das mãos no meu ombro e dizer que aquilo era normal. Que acontecia também com outras pessoas. E que iria passar.
(Caio F. Abreu)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

UM AGRADECECIMENTO

QUERO AGRADECER A TODOS OS AMIGOS PELO ACONCHEGO E PELO CARINHO.
http://www.belasmensagens.com.br/mensagens/imagens/girldogtop.jpg
SEI QUE ANDO UM POUCO AFASTADA DO BLOG.
MAS ANDO MESMO SEM TEMPO.
FAÇO FISIOTERAPIA NO FINAL DO DIA..
MEU MARIDO ESTÁ USANDO O PC PARA REALIZAR AS DECLARAÇÕES DE IMPOSTO DE RENDA.
E PARA COMPLETAR DE VEZ EM QUANDO FICO SEM A NET. ONTEM TENTEI CONECTAR E NÃO CONSEGUI. FORA DO AR...
TAMBÉM TENHO O MEU TRABALHO QUE, MUITAS VEZES VEM COMIGO PARA CASA.
A ESCOLA ESTÁ COM MUITO SERVIÇO. MUITAS VEZES PRECISO TERMINAR EM CASA.
MAS AGRADEÇO O CARINHO DE TODOS.. A VISITA...A SUA AMIZADE...
UM GRANDE ABRAÇO A TODOS. LOGO DAREI UM PULINHO NO SEU BLOG. UM FORTE ABRAÇO EM SEU CORAÇÃO...



AGRADEÇO A SUA COMPANHIA!!!Clique Aqui e veja mais imagens


Republicans Are Such Great Comedians

The persecution of progressive scholars by Republicans continues. It has now spread to Michigan. These politicians probably don't realize how ridiculous they are making themselves look with their attempts to police e-mail communications of university professors. Just look at this fresh bout of idiocy that they have regaled us with:
The Mackinac Center, which describes itself as a nonpartisan research and educational institution and receives money from numerous conservative foundations, asked the three universities’ labor studies faculty members for any e-mails mentioning “Scott Walker,” “Madison,” “Wisconsin” or “Rachel Maddow,” the liberal talk show host on MSNBC.
 Of course, we all understand why mentioning Rachel Maddow in any context must be seen as a subversive act. The attempts to persecute people for writing the word "Wisconsin," however, are too ridiculous to be discussed seriously.

I really wish that the Democrats would fight back and request emails of conservative scholars (if they can find any, of course) that mention words like "Arizona," "birth certificate," and "Bill O'Reilly." We need to start treating these freaks the way they treat us. Let's stop taking their blows patiently and deliver some of our own!

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight: A Fantasy of Helplessness

This is the promised review of Twilight, everybody. I did all I could to suffer through it. Now I'm due for some good reading because I feel like my brain has been polluted by the horrible writing in this book.

The genre of female coming-of-age stories, to which Meyer's Twilight obviously belongs, underwent a profound transformation in the recent decades. Since the inception of the genre in the 18th century, the central idea of female novels of growth and development was a conflict between the female protagonist and the repressive patriarchal society that strives to stunt her growth and infantilize her. The heroine struggles valiantly against the patriarchal authority that prevents her from developing into a fully grown individual in every sense of the word. Often, however, she loses in this struggle and either dies or consents to being transformed into a perennial child at the mercy of a husband, a father, a family member, etc.

When the women's liberation movement made huge advances in its feminist struggle, everybody expected female coming-of-age stories to reflect the changes in the position of women in society. Finally, we were to read female Bildungsromane where the protagonist takes on the world, grows, develops, and uses her newfound freedom to become a complete and fulfilled adult who does not permit others to stunt her growth. Finally.

These expectations, however, were not fulfilled by the works of literature created by female writers who live in this new, liberated reality. I initially observed this phenomenon in the contemporary Spanish literature but Twilight demonstrates that this tendency also exists in other countries that have made important feminist advances. The tendency I'm talking about consists of the appearance of a huge number of female coming-of-age stories where the female protagonist goes to incredible lengths to infantilize herself. No oppressive patriarchal society persecutes these heroines trying to stunt their growth. Just the opposite, the female characters of contemporary female Bildungsromane often have a lot more freedom than most actual women of that age.

Take Bella Swan, for example. She finds herself in a situation where her divorced parents remove themselves almost completely from the task of supervising her. Bella could use this freedom to explore different facets of growing up, experiment, develop in a variety of directions. However, just like so many female protagonists of such novels she chooses to hand the authority over her life to a male protector/savior and his clan. Bella infantilizes herself in a society where nobody demands that from her. She goes to extreme lengths to become a perennial child coddled and protected by the Cullens.

In this sense, Bella does not stray far from her mother whom she describes as lost and useless without male protection. This is how Bella talks about her mother:
I felt a spasm of panic as I stared at her wide, childlike eyes. How could I leave my loving, erratic, harebrained mother to fend for herself? Of course she had Phil now, so the bills would probably get paid, there would be food in the refrigerator, gas in her car, and someone to call when she got lost, but still . . .
However, those protagonists of today's female Bildungsromane whose mothers are passionately feminist are as likely as Bella to stunt their own growth and infantilize themselves. Much has been said about the nature of Bella's relationship with Edward Cullen. While I was reading the novel, however, I couldn't help noticing how much their relationship resemble that between a very small child and her parent. She pesters him with questions (and if you have ever spent any time in the company of a three year old, you can't fail to see the resemblance), he watches over her as she sleeps, he is always there to protect her from the big, menacing world she does not comprehend.

Twilight is a particularly badly written representative of a powerful trend within the genre of female coming-of-age stories of our feminist era. Women are now in a position where they have to confront things that their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers never had to. Fantasies of helplessness, such as the Twilight Saga, allow female readers to imagine a world where they do not have to shoulder these new responsibilities. They can imagine themselves as eternal children supervised, protected and watched over by supernaturally strong and powerful men.

Now I have a few questions for my readers. The ideas I explore here are the ones that I developed in my doctoral dissertation. I want to spend this summer reworking it into a book. Did you find this post interesting? Easy to understand? Would you like to hear more on this subject? Any feedback will be welcome. Harsh criticisms will also be useful. 

Você é quem decide o que vai ser eterno em você, no seu coração.
Deus nos dá o dom de eternizar em nós o que vale a pena, e esquecer definitivamente aquilo que não vale...
(Padre Fábio de Melo)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Neuroskeptic Irreverent and Sometimes Profane, Study Finds

I was most surprised and honored to find out this morning that the Annals of Neurology has declared Neuroskeptic to be
Irreverent, sometimes profane, and can skirt the boundaries of good taste. Nonetheless, Neuroskeptic covers a rich mixture of important, engaging, or amusing topics focusing on the basic and clinical neurosciences, and does so in a data-driven, user-friendly, and comment-enabled format. Neuroskeptic is only one of a number of increasingly used web sites and blogs dedicated to promoting public education, rational discourse, and a healthy dose of skepticism around important issues in the neurosciences...
No really: Scientific literacy and the media. They also list a small number of other neuroblogs, although they leave out many outstanding ones including the blog that most inspired this one, and that everyone confuses me with, The Neurocritic.

Anyway, the editorial goes on to note that:

Last April, a series of sensationalist stories reporting the “creation of life” and a newfound capability to “play God” appeared in the national media following the demonstration that synthetic DNA could transform a mycoplasma species from one to another subtype(ref). This represented a tour de force of DNA synthesis, but probably only a modest step forward for the science of genetic engineering.

In response, President Obama directed his Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to prepare a comprehensive advisory report to help frame policies about synthetic biology(ref).

The Commission noted that sensationalist headlines may attract readers to scientific topics but do a terrible disservice by promoting “claims that fail to convey accurately to the public the current state of the field, the implications of research results, and the limits of scientists' present knowledge and abilities.” The Presidential Commission recommended creating a well-funded, interactive website... to monitor claims about new scientific discoveries and technologies.

Ideally, such a site would be only part of a wider effort to promote scientific literacy and critical thinking across all segments of society... In the coming years, scientific innovation is certain to play an increasingly large role in the global economy... The public discourse on these and related matters needs to be rational, evidence-based, and accurate.

Broadly speaking, this is why I write this blog, because it is indeed extremely important. Well, ok, the real reason is that it gives me an excuse to make funny pictures with MS Paint (someone accused me of using Photoshop to do those once - no, that would be too advanced). However, if a few people understand neuroscience a bit better in the process, I can live with that...

ResearchBlogging.orgHauser, S., & Johnston, S. (2011). Scientific literacy and the media Annals of Neurology, 69 (3) DOI: 10.1002/ana.22410

Neuroskeptic Irreverent and Sometimes Profane, Study Finds

I was most surprised and honored to find out this morning that the Annals of Neurology has declared Neuroskeptic to be
Irreverent, sometimes profane, and can skirt the boundaries of good taste. Nonetheless, Neuroskeptic covers a rich mixture of important, engaging, or amusing topics focusing on the basic and clinical neurosciences, and does so in a data-driven, user-friendly, and comment-enabled format. Neuroskeptic is only one of a number of increasingly used web sites and blogs dedicated to promoting public education, rational discourse, and a healthy dose of skepticism around important issues in the neurosciences...
No really: Scientific literacy and the media. They also list a small number of other neuroblogs, although they leave out many outstanding ones including the blog that most inspired this one, and that everyone confuses me with, The Neurocritic.

Anyway, the editorial goes on to note that:

Last April, a series of sensationalist stories reporting the “creation of life” and a newfound capability to “play God” appeared in the national media following the demonstration that synthetic DNA could transform a mycoplasma species from one to another subtype(ref). This represented a tour de force of DNA synthesis, but probably only a modest step forward for the science of genetic engineering.

In response, President Obama directed his Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to prepare a comprehensive advisory report to help frame policies about synthetic biology(ref).

The Commission noted that sensationalist headlines may attract readers to scientific topics but do a terrible disservice by promoting “claims that fail to convey accurately to the public the current state of the field, the implications of research results, and the limits of scientists' present knowledge and abilities.” The Presidential Commission recommended creating a well-funded, interactive website... to monitor claims about new scientific discoveries and technologies.

Ideally, such a site would be only part of a wider effort to promote scientific literacy and critical thinking across all segments of society... In the coming years, scientific innovation is certain to play an increasingly large role in the global economy... The public discourse on these and related matters needs to be rational, evidence-based, and accurate.

Broadly speaking, this is why I write this blog, because it is indeed extremely important. Well, ok, the real reason is that it gives me an excuse to make funny pictures with MS Paint (someone accused me of using Photoshop to do those once - no, that would be too advanced). However, if a few people understand neuroscience a bit better in the process, I can live with that...

ResearchBlogging.orgHauser, S., & Johnston, S. (2011). Scientific literacy and the media Annals of Neurology, 69 (3) DOI: 10.1002/ana.22410

I Am Not Going Anywhere!

People I work with keep hinting that I might not be staying at my current university for long but rather planning to look for a job with a different school. You know how in soap operas the main character is often the last one to discover that she is pregnant? The entire town knows that she is and has discussed the news at length while she is running around completely oblivious. This is how I feel during such conversations with my colleagues as to my supposed change of employment.

The comments I hear range from accusatory statements like "Well, why do you care so much if you will not be sticking around here for long anyways?" to kindly advice of "When you talk to the Dean, you have to pretend that you plan to stay here and seek tenure at our school even though it might not be true." The annoying thing is that I have no idea where people are getting this from. All my protestations notwithstanding, they keep giving me knowing looks and suggesting that they know something about me that I don't.

Now, the truth of the matter is that I love this university. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to confess that I didn't always feel this way. When I first came here I was sure that I would look for another job pretty soon. I snoozed through my orientation session because I was convinced that none of the things that were being said would be of any use to me since I wasn't going to stick around. See? I'm very honest about this.

However, four weeks after that, when the MLA job list was published, I didn't even glance at it. Because by that time I knew that wild horses wouldn't drag me from this campus. (I know it's a horribly cliched expression but I love it and don't care.) Barring an arrival of some truly horrible administrator who will make my life here intolerable, I am planning to stick around and seek tenure here.

We are not an extremely prestigious university just yet. I have gone for the prestigious, famous name twice in the past, though, and, believe me, I have learned my lesson. Prestigious names are just that: names. They bring one neither contentment nor intellectual advancement. It's true that people don't go all "Wow, that's so cool!" when I tell them my school's name. However, I am finally completely happy and at peace with my place of employment and that means a lot to me. 

For one, I love the students. They might have their limitations but they all come from normal, regular backgrounds. They understand what it means to start out in life without a trust fund, worry about paying the bills, work part-time jobs to put themselves through school, and rush home after school to make dinner for their family. Finally, I have students who don't regale me with comments of the "let them eat cake variety." 

As to the colleagues, it is very comforting to know that every single one of them was hired on their own merits. Every single person worked hard to be where they are instead of getting the job through nepotism, flattery, and familial relationships. We had a job search this year, and it was a real, completely bona fide search. And every faculty member expressed their opinions irrespective of whether they are tenured or not.

The teaching schedules are made in a completely fair and transparent way. The situation where junior faculty members get stuck with the most unprestigious courses that nobody wants or the most inconvenient teaching times doesn't happen. At all. Everything is 100% fair, honest, and right. I get a lot of time to do my research, and everybody celebrates my successes. The Chancellor not only doesn't snub me as a young colleague but actually goes to the trouble of learning my name (and it's a difficult name, let me tell you) in order to show respect.

So please, tell me, would I not be all kinds of fool if I left this place in order to be at a school that sounds great but has none of these things? I'm way too old to care about silly things like prestige, fame, and names that sound important but cover up a reality that is rotten to the core. (Another cliche. What's wrong with me today?)

And now that I have explained all this at great length, maybe I should print out this post and stick it on the door of my office. Because it would be great finally to put this matter to rest.

The Sign That I Really Like a Blog. . .

. . . is that I'll enter its url into the address line manually. There are currently six blogs that merit this effort on my part. The rest have to appear in my blogroll with a new post for me to access them. Another sign of true love for a blog is that I access it from my cell phone when I'm away from a computer.

Keyboard Bag

I saw this amazing keyboard bag at MOMA's store. I am so enamored of it that words fail me to describe the intensity of my feeling. Is it not the cutest thing you have ever seen? Is there a nerdette in the world who wouldn't want one?

They come in different colors, too.
 What an absolute beauty, people. If you feel like you can afford this bag at this moment, here is the website. Make the nerdette in your life (whether she is you or somebody you care about) really happy.

I'm not being paid to promote the bags or anything. I just love them and want to share this beautiful dream with people, even though I can't buy one myself right now.

Being Ashamed of Illinois

How come my state elected this stupid freakazoid who tells members of Congress to "stop talking about jobs" and concentrate instead on repealing the HAMP legislation that helps people get out of their crushing mortgages? Has this vile harpy been to Illinois lately? And once again, Republican voters, is that really what you voted for? A Congresswoman who wants the Congress to stop talking about jobs? Who seems visibly annoyed that the word "jobs" has been mentioned in her presence?



Can you believe it that this anti-jobs and anti-mortgage relief clown has been representing the 13th district of Illinois since 1999? And don't talk to me about the context of Biggert's utterance. The only context that matters right now is crushing unemployment. A member of Congress should go to sleep and wake up with the words "job creation" on her lips. She needs to scream "I want to create jobs!" during sex. It is her obligation to live and breathe jobs until she manages to make sure that some are created in her state.

Of course, it's entirely possible that people who live in Biggert's district don't give a rat's ass about jobs because they are concentrated on something else. See here the most recent comment from the website of the Illinois 13th congressional district:
I called the village of Downers Grove last year and was pleasantly surprised when I asked if it would be alright having a group of people say a prayer at the Village Hall. They turned me over to a very nice gentlemen ( I still have his name) and said I didn't need a permit. And asked if I was going to have over 50 people in case they were doing work at the time. I was really upset about national prayer day being cancelled. I also made a comment how nice it was to have the American flag all over town.
I mean, what do religious fanatics care about jobs and boring stuff like that when there is a much more pressing matter of destroying the wall of separation between church and state?

Religious fanaticism will be the downfall of this country.

Amazon Mom

Can anybody explain to me why there is such a thing as "Amazon Mom membership" but no "Amazon Dad membership"?

Are people truly that medieval? 

I'd never join such a disgusting, sexist program that devalues fatherhood in the most egregious way possible.

Philosophy

I have always been interested in philosophy. There was never any chance for me to get a formal training in philosophy. All my programs of study were too full for me to take a single course in it. So I'm a complete autodidact in this area. I follow the works of Alain Badiou, Zygmunt Bauman, Slavoj Žižek, Ernesto Laclau, Giorgio Agamben, and Terry Eagleton (whom I also consider a philosopher, irrespective of what anybody else might say.) This is what I do for fun, in case somebody thought I wasn't nerdy enough.

So the reason that I'm sharing all this is that there is a really interesting conference in philosophy that is being planned in Canada. I'm dying to give a talk there because the topic is right up my alley. I'm so interested in going to that conference that I wouldn't even mind paying for the trip myself (shhh, don't tell anybody at my university in case I do end up needing the funding to go.) However, I don't think that if I submit a proposal it will be accepted because I'm not a philosopher but a literary critic. Which will be unfair because I could contribute a different perspective on things.

Just wanted to share.

Sempre acho que namoro, casamento, romance tem começo, meio e fim. Como tudo na vida. Detesto quando escuto aquela conversa:

- ‘Ah, terminei o namoro… ‘
- ‘Nossa, quanto tempo?’
- ‘Cinco anos… Mas não deu certo… Acabou’
- É, não deu…?
Claro que deu! Deu certo durante cinco anos, só que acabou.
E o bom da vida, é que você pode ter vários amores.
Não acredito em pessoas que se complementam. Acredito em pessoas que se somam.
Às vezes você não consegue nem dar cem por cento de você para você mesmo, como cobrar cem por cento do outro.
E não temos esta coisa completa.
Às vezes ele é fiel, mas não é bom de cama.
Às vezes ele é carinhoso, mas não é fiel.
Às vezes ele é atencioso, mas não é trabalhador.
Às vezes ela é malhada, mas não é sensível.
Tudo nós não temos.
Perceba qual o aspecto que é mais importante e invista nele.
Pele é um bicho traiçoeiro.
Quando você tem pele com alguém, pode ser o papai com mamãe mais básico que é uma delícia.
E as vezes você tem aquele sexo acrobata, mas que não te impressiona…
Acho que o beijo é importante…e se o beijo bate…se joga…senão bate…mais um Martini, por favor…e vá dar uma volta.
Se ele ou ela não te quer mais, não force a barra.
O outro tem o direito de não te querer.
Não lute, não ligue, não dê pití.
Se a pessoa tá com dúvida, problema dela, cabe a você esperar ou não.
Existe gente que precisa da ausência para querer a presença.
O ser humano não é absoluto. Ele titubeia, tem dúvidas e medos mas se a pessoa REALMENTE gostar, ela volta.
Nada de drama.
Que graça tem alguém do seu lado sob chantagem, gravidez, dinheiro, recessão de família?
O legal é alguém que está com você por você.
E vice versa.
Não fique com alguém por dó também.
Ou por medo da solidão.
Nascemos sós. Morremos sós. Nosso pensamento é nosso, não é compartilhado.
E quando você acorda, a primeira impressão é sempre sua, seu olhar, seu pensamento.
Tem gente que pula de um romance para o outro.
Que medo é este de se ver só, na sua própria companhia?
Gostar dói.
Você muitas vezes vai ter raiva, ciúmes, ódio, frustração.
Faz parte. Você namora um outro ser, um outro mundo e um outro universo.
E nem sempre as coisas saem como você quer…
A pior coisa é gente que tem medo de se envolver.
Se alguém vier com este papo, corra, afinal, você não é terapeuta.
Se não quer se envolver, namore uma planta. É mais previsível.
Na vida e no amor, não temos garantias.
E nem todo sexo bom é para namorar.
Nem toda pessoa que te convida para sair é para casar.
Nem todo beijo é para romancear.
Nem todo sexo bom é para descartar. Ou se apaixonar. Ou se culpar.
Enfim… Quem disse que ser adulto é fácil???

(Arnaldo Jabor)

Student Insights on Democracy

"So what does this author think about democracy?" I ask my class.

"He really likes it," students respond.

"What makes you think that?"

"He is in favor of people being ruled by a small minority, access to which is extremely limited. That's democracy," they respond completely seriously.

When I explained the etymology of the word "democracy" ("power of the people"), they were genuinely surprised.

Out of the mouths of babes, indeed. . .

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Lunella Ristorante in New York: A Review

If you've never been to Lunella Ristorante in New York's Little Italy, consider yourself truly blessed. That restaurant is a complete disaster. The food it serves is not really Italian. It might have stood on the same shelf in the refrigerator with real Italian food but that's as close as it ever got to anything Italian. The service is abysmally poor.

I ordered seafood risotto. Ordering risotto is the best way to figure out if a restaurant is worth visiting again. I have ordered all kinds of risotto at a variety of restaurants across the continent. Some are good, some are bad, some are indifferent. Lunella's risotto, however, is not a risotto at all. It's rice with seafood. It isn't a bad plate of rice, mind you, but it should not be called risotto when that isn't what it is.

Now, I wouldn't bitch about a plate of food that was far from spectacular if that were the only thing that's wrong with Lunella. However, the service at that place was so horrible that I still feel traumatized. When we received the handwritten bill that wasn't easy at all to decipher, we discovered that a 22% tip had already been included. This is a very strange practice that we hadn't been warned about at any point during the bill. Many people pay the restaurant bill without reading it in detail (especially a handwritten bill that is difficult to understand). Just imagine how many people just paid the amount requested and then left a tip on top of that.

When we asked the waiter why the restaurant was doing this, he became extremely aggressive. First, he insisted that this was a common practice in New York, which is a patent lie. Then, when we disagreed (very politely, I might add), he screeched, "I don't give a fuck!" and threw the bill at us. This wasn't a matter of money for us because we were going to leave a good tip initially but such attitude was simply shocking. The manager came up and refused to acknowledge that the conduct of the waiter who yells profanity at polite customers might not have been entirely appropriate. The waiter, in the meanwhile, was lurking in the background, banging food trays, and showing his discontent in every imaginable way. Since I left my country 12,5 years ago, I haven't witnessed such naked and unjustified displays of aggression  from complete strangers. Even the criminal who mugged me several years ago was less scary than this waiter. Which is not that surprising, given that he is, in all probability, a compatriot of mine.

So my advice: whatever you do, avoid the horrible Lunella restaurant in New York at all costs.

E você me olha com essa carinha banal de "me espera só mais um pouquinho". Querendo me congelar enquanto você confere pela centésima vez se não tem mesmo nenhuma mulher melhor do que eu. E sempre volta. (Tati Bernardi)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ukrainian National Pastime

Here is how the product looks when you
buy it
The most popular national pastime of Ukrainians (as well as our brilliant relaxation practice) is eating sunflower seeds. As you are working to liberate the seed from the shell, you forget about all your troubles and experience true nirvana. Sunflower seeds also help to lower blood pressure, which is important for Ukrainians whose national cuisine augurs early death from a stroke to people who consume it on a regular basis.

In these photos you can see the most recent innovation in the complex process of struggling with sunflower seeds. I hope that the talented individual who invented this fantastic thing makes a lot of money off it because it isn't often that people come up with something this amazing.

And this is how the contraption looks
while you are using it
The seeds are sold in a plastic cup that is located inside of another plastic cup. You join them with a red plastic clip and place the shells in the empty cup. You can easily carry the whole contraption wherever you go. When you are done, you just close the cup with a plastic lid and throw it out. Is that amazing or what?

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"And He's Not Even a Marxist!": The Nation's Shabby Coverage of William Cronon's Persecution

In case you haven't heard the story, William Cronon is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has recently become a victim of persecution on the part of the state's Republicans. They are filing a lawsuit demanding access to Cronon's emails that contain words such as “Republican,” “collective bargaining,” “rally,” and “union.” You can find Cronon's blog that explains what happened and why here

Of course, any thinking individual who values freedom of speech is appalled at this most recent show of contempt for the Constitution of the United States on the part of the GOP. However, some progressive journalists have taken a very strange approach to defending the right of a scholar to mention the word "union" in his emails. This is an excerpt from an article that The Nation, a magazine that I subscribe to and like, has published on the subject in its blog:
Many faculty members call themselves “Marxists” or “socialists,” and some describe themselves as “anarchists” or “revolutionaries”—but Cronon doesn’t. He’s not Bill Ayres, the education professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago who happily defends his Weatherman past. Cronon describes himself as a “centrist.” He says he’s never belonged to the Democratic (or the Republican) party.
How is it relevant at all whether Cronon is or is not a Marxist, an anarchist, a satan-worshipper or a creature from the Blue Lagoon? Are we to have different standards for people based on how they identify politically? Is a persecution of somebody who is politically centrist more egregious than the persecution of a radical?  I couldn't care less about Cronon's politics in this situation. All that matters to me is that he should be able to say, write and publish whatever he wants freely and without fear of persecution.

British Government Fails Maths, Economics

The British government has decided to change the way English universities are funded. They say that this will improve teaching quality; I doubt it. Worse, however, is that the new scheme, the stated justification for which was to save money, is now seriously at risk of being too expensive. From next year universities will be allowed to charge up to £9,000 per year for undergraduate courses, up from the current limit of just over £3,000. However the government is also cutting their basic funding allowance by 80% to compensate. So government pays less and students pay more - eventually; the government will pay all the money up front in the form of a loan to the students.

The government's cost projections assumed that the mean fee at English universities, and hence the mean size of their loans, would be £7,500 per year. Why, no-one seems to know. Sources are unanimous that this was what they assumed, but no-one links to any kind of report explaining why. Maybe they gazed into a magic crystal ball. Parliament, performing a separate analysis, also worked under the assumption of £7,500, and their reason was that

we have assumed that... this fee covers the 80% reduction in [central government funding]. The average fee... is assumed to be £7,500 per annum for an undergraduate degree.
However, this is just silly. For averagefees to be £7,500, anyone charging some amount more than that, would have to be balanced out by someone charging the same amount less. That's what an average is.

However, no-one can afford to charge less, even if they wanted to, because they need to charge £7,500 to pay for their teaching and break even. £7,500 is the minimum not the average. But plenty will want to charge more. Oxford and Cambridge, for instance, were blatantly going to charge the top amount, because they're "top" universities. As a result, every other university which aspires to be elite will have to charge £9k, to keep up with Oxbridge.

Hence a domino effect goes down the line: every university will want to charge as much as the ones immediately ahead of them, so as not to look cheap. (The alternative, that they'd try to undercut them in price, makes no sense when you consider the amounts of money involved; the savings to the students would be minimal but the message - "we are cheap, therefore not very good" - would be loud and clear.)

I've whipped up a little plot showing all the universities which have currently announced their fees along with their position in the latest university rankings. A few small institutions are unranked and so don't appear.

The rankings go up to 115 so if the universities ranked over 58 charge over £7.5k, the others would have to charge less to cancel them out. I'll try to update this chart when fees are announced, but I think it's a forgone conclusion that this won't happen. Last updated 06/04/2011 10 am. See also here for a frequently-updated expert analysis.

The government is now seriously talking about having to cut what little direct university funding remains, in order to avoid losing money - from a policy which was supposed to save money. Yet this was always going to happen given what I said above. Indeed this policy, which was sold to the country as a cost-cutting measure, was always going to, at best, break even until the graduates repay their loans, and they won't even start doing that until the first batch graduate, in 2015 which is the next election year.

So there seem to be only two possible options. Maybe they knew it wouldn't save money, but in that case, why did they do it? It's not winning them any votes, so there must be a long-term plan, but what? The other possibility is that they genuinely thought it would save money. So it's a question of bungling incompetence vs. mysterious scheme. I'm not sure which is worse.

British Government Fails Maths, Economics

The British government has decided to change the way English universities are funded. They say that this will improve teaching quality; I doubt it. Worse, however, is that the new scheme, the stated justification for which was to save money, is now seriously at risk of being too expensive. From next year universities will be allowed to charge up to £9,000 per year for undergraduate courses, up from the current limit of just over £3,000. However the government is also cutting their basic funding allowance by 80% to compensate. So government pays less and students pay more - eventually; the government will pay all the money up front in the form of a loan to the students.

The government's cost projections assumed that the mean fee at English universities, and hence the mean size of their loans, would be £7,500 per year. Why, no-one seems to know. Sources are unanimous that this was what they assumed, but no-one links to any kind of report explaining why. Maybe they gazed into a magic crystal ball. Parliament, performing a separate analysis, also worked under the assumption of £7,500, and their reason was that

we have assumed that... this fee covers the 80% reduction in [central government funding]. The average fee... is assumed to be £7,500 per annum for an undergraduate degree.
However, this is just silly. For averagefees to be £7,500, anyone charging some amount more than that, would have to be balanced out by someone charging the same amount less. That's what an average is.

However, no-one can afford to charge less, even if they wanted to, because they need to charge £7,500 to pay for their teaching and break even. £7,500 is the minimum not the average. But plenty will want to charge more. Oxford and Cambridge, for instance, were blatantly going to charge the top amount, because they're "top" universities. As a result, every other university which aspires to be elite will have to charge £9k, to keep up with Oxbridge.

Hence a domino effect goes down the line: every university will want to charge as much as the ones immediately ahead of them, so as not to look cheap. (The alternative, that they'd try to undercut them in price, makes no sense when you consider the amounts of money involved; the savings to the students would be minimal but the message - "we are cheap, therefore not very good" - would be loud and clear.)

I've whipped up a little plot showing all the universities which have currently announced their fees along with their position in the latest university rankings. A few small institutions are unranked and so don't appear.

The rankings go up to 115 so if the universities ranked over 58 charge over £7.5k, the others would have to charge less to cancel them out. I'll try to update this chart when fees are announced, but I think it's a forgone conclusion that this won't happen. Last updated 06/04/2011 10 am. See also here for a frequently-updated expert analysis.

The government is now seriously talking about having to cut what little direct university funding remains, in order to avoid losing money - from a policy which was supposed to save money. Yet this was always going to happen given what I said above. Indeed this policy, which was sold to the country as a cost-cutting measure, was always going to, at best, break even until the graduates repay their loans, and they won't even start doing that until the first batch graduate, in 2015 which is the next election year.

So there seem to be only two possible options. Maybe they knew it wouldn't save money, but in that case, why did they do it? It's not winning them any votes, so there must be a long-term plan, but what? The other possibility is that they genuinely thought it would save money. So it's a question of bungling incompetence vs. mysterious scheme. I'm not sure which is worse.

Passport Ownership by State

Through Mike's great blog that is always filled with useful links I found the following map that shows how many people own a passport in each state of this country:


The article that accompanies this map explains that
States with more passport holders are also happier. There is a significant correlation (.55) between happiness (measured via Gallup surveys) and a state’s percentage of passport holders.  Yet again, that correlation holds when we control for income.
I wonder if we can use this data in the promotion of our university's Study Abroad program.

It makes absolute sense that people who have traveled to other countries would be happier. After interacting with people from other cultures, seeing how they live and becoming friendly with them, travelers are less likely to buy into anxiety-producing  mythology of besieged Americans who are envied and hated by everybody else on the planet.

O que eu também não entendo - Jota Quest


Essa não é mais uma carta de amor

São pensamentos soltos

Traduzidos em palavras

Prá que você possa entender

O que eu também não entendo...



Amar não é ter que ter

Sempre certeza

É aceitar que ninguém

É perfeito prá ninguém

É poder ser você mesmo

E não precisar fingir

É tentar esquecer

E não conseguir fugir, fugir...



Já pensei em te largar

Já olhei tantas vezes pro lado

Mas quando penso em alguém

É por você que fecho os olhos

Sei que nunca fui perfeito

Mas com você eu posso ser

Até eu mesmo

Que você vai entender...



Posso brincar de descobrir

Desenho em nuvens

Posso contar meus pesadelos

E até minhas coisas fúteis

Posso tirar a tua roupa

Posso fazer o que eu quiser

Posso perder o juízo

Mas com você

Eu tô tranquilo, tranquilo...



Agora o que vamos fazer

Eu também não sei

Afinal, será que amar

É mesmo tudo?

Se isso não é amor

O que mais pode ser?

Tô aprendendo também...

♥ ♥ ♥

UK's David Cameron Pushes for the Destruction of Academia

So many things have happened while I've been away that I hardly know what to blog about first. The conservative assault on scholarship in the UK is one of the topics that deserve immediate attention of all of us who value intelligence and oppose the cult of ignorance promoted by conservative forces everywhere. David Cameron's government will now pull the funding of all research in the Humanities that does not support his weird idea of "big society":
Academics will study the "big society" as a priority, following a deal with the government to secure funding from cuts. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) will spend a "significant" amount of its funding on the prime minister's vision for the country, after a government "clarification" of the Haldane principle – a convention that for 90 years has protected the right of academics to decide where research funds should be spent. Under the revised principle, research bodies must work to the government's national objectives, although the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that ministers will not meddle in individual projects. It is claimed the AHRC was told that research into the "big society" was non-negotiable if it wished to maintain its funding at £100m a year.
The article where I found the above-quoted statement proceeds to suggest that
It is government money. They have the right to spend it on what they want.
This, of course, is completely ridiculous. This money doesn't belong to the government. It belongs to the taxpayers who hired the government to manage this money. If the way these hired managers administer the funds given to them by the people does not serve the public good, the citizens of the country have every right to send the government packing.

The problem with forcing academics to pursue only those projects that study the "big society" is that nobody really knows what this concepts actually means. It was coined in order to promote a political campaign of a party that is not famous for its high intelligence and is supposed to have as its goal 
 to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will 'take power away from politicians and give it to people'.
I don't think that even the people who came up with this strange definition know exactly what it's supposed to mean. As a result, it will be possible for the UK's conservative government to exercise firm control over the country's intellectuals based on a set of criteria that nobody has even bothered to define.

What Cameron and his posse of fools don't understand is that when people start their research, they don't know where it is going to lead them. If you begin a research project and expect it to reach a predetermined set of conclusions, you are going to fail. A responsible academic does not conduct research in order to support ideas s/he had before beginning the project. Nobody can reasonably guarantee that the funding one received to promote the "big society" will end up supporting conclusions that have anything to do with that goal.

Now, every academic who wants to engage in a project will have to come up with elaborate ways of convincing illiterate idiots in charge that the project in question will fit into these unintelligent politicians' view of what the country needs. This will result in a lot of aggravation, bureaucracy, corruption and will bring about absolutely no positive results whatsoever. Unless, of course, you count the destruction of UK's academia among positive results. This, I believe, is the ultimate goal of the British government.