This Ruthless World

Adventures in absurdity

Archive for the month “December, 2011”

The Seasonal Diet: A Memoir

Image by Maggie Smith

I was having lunch yesterday in a quaint restaurant and noticed an unusual cookbook on a shelf by my table. As I perused it, I discovered that all the recipes in it were arranged by month and consisted of ingredients that would have been available during the season before modern agricultural techniques and improved transportation options made most foods available to consumers all year round. “These days, Americans do not appreciate the beauty and simplicity of eating seasonally,” wrote the editor in her foreword. The book was published in 1973.

Well, I am an American, and I do have a first-hand experience with eating seasonally. This is not because I am very old, but because I grew up in Russia, which did not begin to see Western-style abundance on its store shelves until well after end of the Soviet rule (and with that, Soviet-style production) in the 1990’s. Below is an account of what it was like to live on a seasonal diet. Read more…

When Multiculturalism Becomes Bigotry

A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine took a trip to Uzbekistan, a small land-locked country in Central Asia. The people who inhabit it speak a Turkic language, are predominantly Muslim and possess a rich and ancient cultural tradition. In centuries past, their position along the Silk Road and the fertile Fergana Valley made Uzbek khanates rich. It was then that Tamerlane built his gleaming blue-and-gold palaces at Samarkand, and the area became renowned for its scientists, mathematicians, poets and artists. Today, Uzbekistan is a poor country, with a crumbling infrastructure and a low standard of living. And yet, it rewards the traveler intrepid enough to venture into that part of the world with sights of exquisite beauty and ornate ancient cities that represent, I think, the closest anything in the real world comes to resembling the idealized, nostalgic East that we think of when we read the Arabian Nights.

Notwithstanding the splendor of places like Samarkand, Kokand, Bukhara and Khiva, my acquaintance was disappointed. Read more…

Do Your Kids a Favor: Send Them to Daycare

Image by digitalart

The American Psychological Association’s recent announcement that working mothers experience greater levels of happiness and lower rates of depression than their stay-home counterparts is not exactly a revelation. Nor is it surprising that a number of Internet commenters have reacted to the “news” with a faux concern that working mothers make children unhappy, and that there is nothing worse for our kids than this new and dangerous trend of being left with (gasp!) paid strangers for most of the day. Such comments are based on one of the most enduring myths about parenting — that historically, children (at least in the Western world) were raised as nature intended, by their closest family. History, however, is quite different. Read more…

R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is dead.

He was sick with a dreadful disease, so I suppose this should not be shocking. And yet, it is — so alive was his mind as it came through in his writing, it is hard to imagine him gone. It is not like me to become emotional over the death of someone I did not know personally. But tonight, quite uncharacteristically, a part of me wants to cry. Read more…

The Jerk Disorder, the Genius Syndrome: the Many Infuriating Faces of Medicalization

Image by Ian Kahn

Once upon a time, not too long ago, everybody who was anybody either had bipolar disorder or was “believed” to have had it. It was the affliction of rock stars, whose habit of trashing hotel rooms and the penchant for irrational behavior were seen as signs of a tortured genius. These days, bipolar disorder retains some popularity, but after more than a decade of movies celebrating subdued quirkiness as the new cool (starting with AmĂ©lie), Asperger’s Syndrome — the pastel-colored end of the Autism Spectrum — is all the rage. Don’t get me wrong: there are people living with serious, debilitating psychiatric and neurological conditions. But there is also an enormous crowd of au courant hipsters who see the “aspie” label as a mark of the distinguĂ© or, alternatively, a handy label to explain behavior that is rude, immoral or unusual. And boy, how easily they diagnose themselves and others. Read more…

“Is It Worth It to Go to College?” Part X: Majors that lead to unemployment

It has become fashionable of late to disparage college education and college-educated. For awhile, the prevailing societal ideal was to give everyone, regardless of financial status, socio-economic background, aptitude or intelligence a chance to get a college degree, and thereby an entrance into the heretofore exclusive world of well-paid jobs and intellectually and socially rewarding careers. However, decades of pushing millions of people through college with little regard to whether it was right for them resulted in college education losing its patina of exclusivity, and with that, the power to open doors and fill money coffers. Mickey Mouse degrees proliferated and standards for obtaining a college degree, some college degree fell so low that employers could no longer regard it as proof of skills and competence. At the same time, skyrocketing demand, coupled with inflation, drove the prices up, so that in the end, college degrees became prohibitively expensive while being, at best, only the first step towards establishing an academic or professional career.

These days, we are living through a period of reaction, when pundits have gone to the opposite extreme, furnishing “proof” upon “proof” that one should not go to college, except for a STEM degree. Read more…

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