Friday, July 30, 2004

We Blog (or at least intend to do so at some point)

I went to Barnes and Noble near Lincoln Center today and saw a woman in the cafe reading this book very intently, sitting with a pile of other books on how to blog. It seems that, if she tries really hard, she just might become a blogger. I wonder if We Blog has a chapter on blog crushes. If it did, I'd imagine it would go something like this:

"Chapter 1: Blog Luvvin'

The most important part of being a blogger is the mass seduction of your geeky readership. Since you yourself are geeky, do not complain that your readership is no less so. No, it is your duty to make yourself appealing to those who may one day read your blog....

You may discover, after being a blogger for a while, that you have fallen for a fellow blogger. This is perfectly normal, healthy, even. It is estimated that by the year 2050, 99.8% of marriages will be blogosphere-based; some, it is believed, may one day exist only in the blogosphere...."

As much fun as it was watching a woman learn how to blog... I decided to splurge and spent $10 on the most fabulous shoes in the land, or at least being sold on the Upper West Side. (The blue ones, not the pink ones).

(Somehow I think a guide to blogging would advise against sharing that sort of narcissistic, shoe-centric information.)

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Blog crushes explained

Over at Crescat and elsewhere, there's a big discussion about blog social life--how is it that people have crushes on bloggers or blogs, when these things are, you know, on the computer?

There's the obvious answer--how do people have crushes on celebrities, characters from books, etc.? They just do.

But it seems to me that a crush on a blogger is, in a lot of ways, a perfect crush. You have a limited amount of information about your object of desire, and that information has been carefully selected by the object of desire so as to make him- or herself appear as intelligent and thoughtful as possible.  Also, whereas with a real-life crush, you find the person attractive but go on to idealize his or her appearance, with a blog crush you start from nothing (unless, that is, you have a thing for Matthew Yglesias, whose face his readers are surely familiar with). This is all the more true of anonymous bloggers, whose names cannot be plugged into friendster, facebook or the Google image search by the curious. Guest-blogging on Crescat, Milbarge admits that, "Maybe it's true that if I met them, I would see something that turned me off them and destroyed the crush." Of course he would. That's what makes blog crushes such a good idea.

All you've got, in the case of the law/libertarian/political sorts of blogs, is the casual and personal yet at times op-ed like rantings of some generally intelligent people, the sort of people you might know but don't, giving bloggers a girl- or boy-next-door quality not shared by most celebrities or characters in novels. (People like Eugene Volokh and his co-conspirators or Daniel Drezner are celebrities in the blogosphere but are barely even in the category Wonkette calls "famous for Washington").

So, from the sketchy outline you have of a blogger, you can project the fabulous crush-person you've always dreamed of liking from a distance. That's it for my explanation for blog crushes.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

First-name basis

The New York Times appears to be on a first-name basis with every last person under the age of 18.

From recently-underage junior socialite designer Jessie Della Femina to 17-year-old ex-con Charles Wyatt, everyone the Times reports on who has not yet reached majority is referred to by his or her first name. This cannot be in order to protect the anonymity of minors--we are informed when meeting Jessie and Charles that they are in fact Jessie Della Femina and Charles Wyatt. So why exactly is this done? Why not, for anyone old enough to be reported about, just use the standard Ms. or Mr.?  Any story in which first names are used takes on a certain human-interest or cutesy quality that it would not otherwise have had. The dry impartiality of a news article is replaced with an "oh how sad" or "oh how charming" tone, depending on the story. We feel, when reading about Jessie or Charles, that we are reading fiction.

I have no idea if referring to minors by their first names is an official policy at the Times, or of journalists in general for that matter, and would be curious to know.

Comments welcome

Seriously, people. My sitemeter indicates that people other than me read this thing (as shocking as that was to realize...), and I will not stoop to commenting on my own blog.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Beware of the West Side!

You see a lot of interesting people on the Upper West Side--a middle-aged man on a unicycle, a geisha, a full array of Stuyvesant teachers lurking near Sephora to spot me in the act of shopping for the perfect Hard Candy glitter eyeliner ("So that's what you've been up to since high school!")--but by far the coolest man ever to be spotted on the stretch of Broadway between 72nd and 81st was the old guy selling knives.

At least I think he was selling them.

In any case, there was an older man crouched on a stoop, a large variety of used-looking knives, not in any sort of packaging, at his feet. His legs were spread, knees up, in short yet baggy shorts, revealing a thin layer of tighty-whitey and a whole lot more. The combination of sharp metal and male anatomy, all on one stoop, all so close to the friggin' Fairway, was a little much to handle. This may be enough to keep me on the East Side for a few days.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

What next, a Gap?

It appears that a new Plum Cafe-catered coffee shop has opened on campus. The UChicago Magazine's blog notes that "the University of Chicago Press building’s new Midway Gardens CafĂ© at 60th and Dorchester offers an enticing breakfast, lunch, and coffee option."


Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Do libertarians make better...bloggers?

For those in the blogosphere hooked on reading about libertarianism from people named Will, there's a new game in town. Will Non-Baude (to use Volokh-speak), aka Will Murray, asks the following racy question: "Would it be consistent with libertarian principals to have the federal government ban all state corporate subsidies?"

I guess it's titillating inquiries such as this one that are getting people nationwide (well, libertarian-blogosphere-wide) all hot and bothered over libertarians. In all seriousness, though, it's an interesting topic, Mr. Murray's got stuff to say, so go read.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Am I missing something? In defense of the French government

Ariel Sharon's recent suggestion that French Jews head to Israel has not made the French any more thrilled with Sharon than before.

As Le Monde notes, "La France ne recensant pas les individus sur la base de leur origine ethnique ou religieuse." (France doesn't keep records of people on the basis of ethnicity or religious origin).* Immediately following an anti-Semitic incident French President Jacques Chirac "announced an anti-Semitism task force" and "warned the criminals that 'when you attack a Jew in France, understand that it is all of France that is being attacked.'" And yet, as the New York Times points out, "What complicates matters is that there is no love lost between the Israeli and French governments these days." French Jews, the first to be emancipated, now live under a French government that is hostile to both anti-Semitism and, in a sense, Zionism.

While plenty of people use criticism of Israel as a guise for anti-Semitism, the French government is acting consistently when it condemns anti-Semitism yet doesn't leap with joy when Sharon invites hundreds of thousands of its people to jump ship; that the French government is neither anti-Semitic nor entirely pro-Israel does not strike me as contradictory in the least.  To France, officially, there are no Jews, just French citizens, many of whom may be of Jewish origin/religion, most not, but, as noted above, the French themselves are not technically keeping track. It is the duty of France, a secular nation, to defend the right of French people of Jewish--or any other--origin to remain French. Wouldn't it be somewhat anti-Semitic of France to tell Sharon, "you can have 'em"?

For France to be "pro-Israel" in this instance, for it to have Israel's best interests at heart, it would offer Jews to help build that country's Jewish population. But France should hold the interests of its own Jewish population above those of the state of Israel, which means trying to crack down on anti-Semitism in France, not sending its Jews elsewhere.

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Barefoot Contessa of Lower Broadway

Today I saw a conservatively-dressed woman walk with a similarly clad, also middle-aged female friend, up lower Broadway. The woman carried a shopping bag from Macy's and a purse, while her friend carried a tourist map of the city. They paused to look at a few stores, to gossip about people they knew, the usual. Something, however was missing. That something was the woman's shoes. She was completely and utterly barefoot all the way from, say, Houston up to Union Square. This amounts to about 3/4 of a mile of busy, filthy sidewalk.
Mesmerized, I walked behind the pair all the while, staying just close enough to see if the woman stepped on anything. Aside from a few puddles that may or may not have been composed of urine, she seemed to make it to at least 13th St. unscathed. A few things confused me about this:
1) Of all streets to walk uptown on barefoot, why Broadway? Lafayette, 5th, anything else would have been a bit less grimy.
2) What sort of a statement was intended by this? Being barefoot on the sidewalk in the Village makes a person stand out in a way that any number of piercings, tattoos, haircolors, and deformities do not. So clearly this woman wanted to stand out in a crowd. But for what purpose? Is it sort of a hippie statement, like, "While this may be downtown Manhattan, I picture myself in a field of lilies"? Or is it more of an anticapitalist thing? Surrounded by shoe stores, this woman choses to opt out of the consumerist shoe-centric culture. Yet all other visual clues suggested that this woman is neither a hippie nor especially anti-corporate.
3) The obvious: This was a woman who could afford to shop at Macy's, to visit a city as a tourist, who, it was clear from her tasteful but nevertheless sheer shirt, even had the wherewithal to remember to put on a bra that morning. Lower Broadway is not only home of what has to be the most shoe stores per capita anywhere, but is also a street lined with places selling things like socks, bandaids, flip-flops, any number of reasonable remedies. Why, of all these possibilities, was "barefoot" the best this woman could come up with? 

"I call them girlie men."

"Schwarzenegger Calls Budget Opponents 'Girlie Men'"


The Times reports: "At an appearance on Saturday in Ontario, Calif., Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, criticized the leaders of the Democratic-dominated Legislature, saying they were part of a political system that was 'out of shape, that is out of date, that is out of touch and that is definitely out of control in Sacramento.'"

It continues: "'I call them girlie men,' Mr. Schwarzenegger said of the Democrats, as hundreds of shoppers who had gathered to hear him speak roared their approval at the Ontario Mills megamall, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles. 'They should get back to the table and they should finish the budget.'"
Seems someone needs to pump that political system up.

Urination and cappuccinos: a vicious cycle

Friends do not respond well to being told, "Gotta go, I'm tired," with the explanation being that "tired" is code for "need to check blog stats." Then again, when hanging out is sitting at a sushi place with people from high school, talking about calculators, the need to be near a computer is a good a reason to have to leave as any.
While away from the computer, a friend and I were discussing why there are no public restrooms around Spring and Crosby in SoHo. She noted, correctly, that the only reason this was a problem for us was that the one at Starbucks was out of order, and that, with public restrooms, you'd have to pay, at which point you may as well buy a drink somewhere.
Which, I pointed out, would bring you right back where you started, since a cappuccino (from the off-the-beaten-path, good value dump known as Dean and Deluca) was what had gotten me in that predicament to begin with.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Friday, July 16, 2004

Sound advice from Lifetime, television for women

"Relationships are like thighs. They start out smooth, then they get a little lumpy, but without them you don't have a leg to stand on."--The Nanny's mother.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

An unneccessarily silly disclaimer

Will Baude's "Necessary Silly Disclaimer" makes it known that: "None of the views expressed on [Crescat Sententia] by me, or my Crescat co-bloggers, or any Crescat guest-bloggers, represent the views of The New Republic or anybody else rather than each of us individually."

Taking Will's lead here, let me make it known once and for all that none of the views expressed on "What Would Phoebe Do?" should be taken to represent the views of Dissent magazine. Nor, for that matter, do they represent the views of Vogue or Elle or Marie Claire; nor Italian Vogue, nor the Weekly Standard, nor tennis heartthrob Anna Kournikova. No, this blog is not any sort of official statement from the government of Belgium or Brunei. While many have asked if this blog is the porte-parole of Le Monde, as it so happens, it is not.

All things being equal: The PR voting strategy

Back in January, I rated the Democratic presidential candidates "in order of teeny-bopper acceptability," arguing that the better-looking the next president, the better off our country will be. The ideal candidate would be one "most likely to make even the most avowed anti-Americans swoon."

That was my suggestion for the Democratic primary. My advice for the general elections isn't so different. All things being equal (as they are to Naderites and swing voters), we ought to put in office the slate most likely to make other countries hate us less. While this may seem like suggesting that we let the world outside the U.S. determine our next president, it really just amounts to looking after the country's best interests: good PR, provided by whichever slate is less offensive to people around the world, can only serve to make Americans safer.

For those who are already convinced that, say, invading Iraq was a wonderful/horrible idea that has made America safer/a bigger-than-ever target for terrorists, the PR strategy is clearly not worth bothering with. Responses to the PR strategy suggestion along the lines of "how could you say that PR is more important than the Iraq war being a wonderful/horrible idea" are thus missing the point--there are a lot of people out there who do see good and bad in what Bush has done, good and bad in what Kerry might do, and are looking for something--anything--to tip the scales. There are plenty of more concrete points for and against Bush and Kerry, but these can all cancel one another out after enough switching between reading the National Review and the national politics section of the Village Voice, after watching Fahrenheit 9/11 and then reading Christopher Hitchens sharp critique of it. For those voters who are uncertain as to which candidates would keep the country safest, the PR approach is a decent one.

People around the world already hate Bush, whereas Kerry is more of an unknown quantity, as he has not yet been president and is notable to those not carefully following the campaings mainly for being the person the "Beat Bush" folks are now promoting by default. Then again, Kerry is no Clinton and does not seem the sort who will seduce the world with his charm.

I leave it up to WWPD readers to determine whether Kerry-Edwards or Bush-Cheney wins the PR contest, or, for that matter, whether to use the PR voting strategy in the first place.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Let them eat Tasti

In a remarkable cultural exchange, the French are now looking stateside for restaurant advice.

The Times reports:
"Now, though, the French are looking to America, in particular New York, for inspiration in all things culinary. Even — best whisper it — when it comes to French cooking...And behind this is not just the dress-down revolution but a very American realization that the highest standards are best maintained through profitability. Financially, a formal restaurant simply can't compete with a bistro, where the menus are simpler, more gets sold and fewer employees are needed."

It continues: "There seems to be little repining about this in France. Indeed, many there see the dominance of bistro cooking as a return to classical simplicity. Nonetheless, it has taken an American-style revolution in informal dining to revive an interest in classic, back-to-basics — we might even say, in honor of Bastille Day, 'peasant' French food."

Let the French be warned: It's a slippery slope from haute cuisine to classically simple bistros to a certain frozen dessert. Where Frenchwomen have the Paradox that permits them to eat pur beurre and look none the worse for it,* New York women have long since realized that the French Paradox "simply can't compete" with tasti-d-lite for lunch as a diet plan.

I'll accept that food in Paris, at least, is frequently better than food in New York (not bringing Hyde Park into the discussion, for obvious reasons). I'm just pointing out that it might not be long till fashion- and figure-conscious Frenchwomen discover fake iced cream.

*A recent trip to agnes b., where I expected to have a pleasant time looking at fabulous clothing far too expensive to actually buy, went awry when the saleswoman, presumably of the French persuasion, interrupted my conversation with a friend about how cool some pants were to let me know that I would not be able to fit my hips into them. "These are teenager pants," she said. The three of us then had a brief and unpleasant chat about why what's a size 4 at, say, the Gap is more like a size 10 at agnes b. The saleswoman, it seemed, was not a fan of the more, ahem, kind American sizing: "Here, I'm a size negative-two!" How unfortunate for her.

Chicago snags top spot among Onion science articles

Seems some important research is being done at the U of C.

From the Onion "In spite of billions of dollars spent and decades of research, scientists at the University of Chicago said Monday that the scientific community is no closer to finding a cure for the potentially fatal disease of obesity."

A cure for obesity right on the Chicago campus may have just slipped out of these scientists fingertips. The Burton-Judson dining hall, uh, problems* earlier in the year may have caused a pound or two to be shed:

The U of C Magazine reported: "Losing a battle, if not the war, against rodents and roaches, Burton-Judson Dining Commons was closed February 21–22, when Health Department officials found mouse droppings in the kitchen. Although the hall reopened for lunch the following Monday after passing an early-morning inspection, B-J and Housing officials reported cockroach sightings later that week—but the hall remained open."

*I assure WWPD readers that, as far as I know, the situation has improved, and do not wish to imply otherwise. Nevertheless, for my own paranoid reasons, I may never set foot in that particular dining hall again.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Zoning, not nerdiness, keeps Chicago students locked in their rooms at all times

It turns out that the real reason Hyde Park is bleak and miserable isn't that U of C students are (or think of ourselves as being) too bookish, but is in fact the result of zoning restrictions. Chicago professor and Volokh conspirator Jacob T. Levy weighs in on today's hot topic, "Where's the Gap?" After summing up Will's and my arguments, he asks:

"Honestly, what are they teaching in University of Chicago economics classes these days? I thought Chicago was supposed to produce libertarians who knew to look for government failure behind market strangeness. In short: it's the zoning. "

Levy also gives a good summary of the bustling commercial zone that is Hyde Park:

"The old joke goes that you can buy anything in the world you wnat to in Hyde Park, as long as it's a book. Two of the country's great bookstores are here, plus a very good used/ rare book shop, a very nice Borders, and a mediocre little Barnes & Noble. But (as Phoebe and Will point out) there's nary a Gap in sight. No Banana Republic. No Indian food, no sushi, no Bed & Bath, no Whole Foods or Trader Joes, only one restaurant allegedly first-rate restauarant (though it isn't) where outside speakers or job candidates can be brough without embarrassment, very few low-price studenty restaurants or bars. No comic book stores or gaming stores. No poster stores or boutiques selling precious little $200 Guatemalan peasant skirts. No Birkenstock dealer. And so on, and so on. The area around the U of C looks nothing like the area around any other American residential college or university I know of."

He's only slightly incorrect here: there's sort-of-Indian food (Rajun Cajun, anyone?) served in a dilapidated cafeteria setting, and Kikuya serves something sushi-like in a lovely setting over by the Metra tracks. But his overall point is indisputable.

Levy concludes:

"Don't get me wrong; I love it here, and the neighborhood as well as the campus have real virtues. But there are also real quality-of-life sacrifices involved in living in a city neighborhood where there is so little walking-distance commerce, and so many barriers to developing more of it. Those sacrifices aren't made necessary by the (deserved) pride our students take in their commitment to intellectual pursuits. "

I agree with Levy that being at the University of Chicago is worth sacrificing quality of life. But I remain hopeful that one day quality of life may move closer to quality of education. Man cannot live on rare books alone.

I'd like to receive home delivery of the New York Times... I can get headlines like this one in print:

"Abercrombie & Fitch May Be Cool. But Cool Only Goes So Far."

Just how far does cool go? I didn't bother reading this article, so I'll never find out.

And really, if even trucker hats are past cool, then isn't Abercrombie even further away, having never even had a moment of Lower East Side glory?

Dilemma solved

I've just found the answer to the age-old question of what on earth am I going to do after college. It is contingent on Kerry winning the presidency. If that happens, I will apply to be a vice-presidential intern. Beret and everything.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Shopping: Where it all began

This past quarter I took a course on the year 1848 in France. A lot happened that year--class conflict, rise of the bourgeoisie, the beginning of a modern, technologically-advanced society--so much that there was not only an entire seminar devoted to it at Chicago, but also an exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt museum in New York. The show, "Faster, Cheaper, Newer, More: The Revolutions of 1848," focused on how design changed in the U.S. and in Europe. From rubber to daguerreotypes to buildings made largely of glass, 1848 and the years just before and after, the material world, like the political one, moved forward and started looking more or less like, well, now.

Shopping as an activity, whether buying or just looking, also began around 1848 with the advent of the department store. It turns out that the first department store in New York, coming onto the global shopping scene before even Paris's Bon Marche and Harrods in London, was the A.T. Stewart Store, located on Chambers Street, just a few blocks east of Stuyvesant High School.

Today, Stuyvesant students looking to check out department stores may head over to lower Broadway, to the Bloomingdales in the former Canal Jeans space or, better yet, world-famous Century 21, both within easy walking distance. Meanwhile, University of Chicago students may study the surprisingly fascinating history of shopping but may not, in fact, shop, for fear of seeming too much like, God forbid, Princeton students.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Location, location, location, part III

Will responds: "Thus, the argument goes, keeping Hyde Park's shopping scene dismal keeps at bay people to whom convenient blue jeans are more important than intellectual rigor-- not because Chicago students don't shop, but because Chicago wants people for whom shopping is of secondary importance."

Does that imply that, say, Princeton (or perhaps the Institute for Advanced Study), seeks people for whom shopping is of primary importance because there's a J. Crew and a Banana Republic within walking distance of the campus? No school exists entirely independent of its surroundings, and prospective students are correct in considering where various schools are located along with what the academic possibilities look like.

University of Chicago students may seek "intellectual rigor" but they are also drawn to the fact that the school's in (OK, near) a large city. A large city with bookstores, yes, but also cheesy bars, Vienna Beef places, and, yes, clothing stores, from H&M to Bloomingdales to, yes, the Gap.

A d-liteful encounter

For no particular reason I walked down Lexington to the Bloomingdales area today and was approached by a young woman who had chosen me, of all the many people on 62nd Street, to ask the following question:

"Are you from around here?"

Seemed fair. I am from the area, so the woman can't be faulted for being perceptive. So I answered in the affirmative.

"Do you know where I could get frozen yogurt?"

I pointed her to a candy and nuts shop that promised "frozen desserts."

"No," she said.



"Oh, in that case, you could go to 77th and Lex, or about 70th and 3rd, but there might be one closer."

Without a word, she vanished into the crowd, with that determined look of a woman in search of fake iced cream.

My question is this: What exactly was it about me that made me, of all the people on that block, look like the sort of person who'd know where the nearest Tasti-d-lite was located?

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Young woman serving Barbara Ehrenreich at Wendy's: not a girl, not yet a non-final appellate court judge

According to Crescat ringleader Will Baude, "Copy-editing is much like working in a non-final appellate court (or at least how I imagine it to be)."

Looking back on my own admittedly brief career, I can find similar parallels. Shelving books at the Reg, for example, was in fact remarkably similar to being a Japanese emperor.

I suppose there is something to be gained by imagining that one's tedious jobs (or tedious moments in one's otherwise fascinating jobs) resemble more complex and challenging ones. This would come as news to Barbara Ehrenreich, whose much-lauded book, Nickel and Dimed, is an account of one academic's experiment posing as a worker (i.e. working) at various low-paid jobs across America. While ostensibly an examination of whether it's possible to survive getting paid minimum wage, the book is also a discussion of how unpleasant it is for someone used to one way of life to adjust to another. She doesn't like getting fast food and working, well, tedious jobs, and is confused about why the "real" workers aren't more, well, worked up. She never quite separates what is a strong and much-needed point about the difficulties of this nation's working poor from her own personal distaste for situations unlike her own. I got the sense from Nickel and Dimed that Ehrenreich wouldn't be a huge fan of any tedious job, even one that paid, say, $50,000 a year.

In her recent New York Times op-ed, "The New Cosby Kids," Ehrenreich botches yet another reasonable argument-that poor young blacks shouldn't be the nation's scapegoats.

Ehrenreich guarantees everyone from well-meaning liberals (and conservatives) to P.C. warriors will be sympathetic readers by choosing an argument with which few would feel comfortable disagreeing: that poor young blacks have it tough in America. Who is Ehrenreich going to find who will outright deny that? Sure, not everyone would agree with how she’d try to fix things, but she’s set up her op-ed as a fight between the people who acknowledge that poor young blacks tend to have difficult lives in this country and those who refuse to admit it.

When writing as if each sentence ought to end in an exclamation point, it’s difficult to make assertions that don’t occasionally conflict with one another. Ehrenreich uses, to back up her point, the fact that “only a minority of [welfare moms] were African-American.” She then asks, “what about the fact that a black baby has a 40 percent chance of being born into poverty?” Now, either she’s blaming Americans for wrongly assuming that many blacks are poor, or she’s trying to emphasize that blackness does correlate with poverty.

Racially-charged rhetoric, however, is the way Ehrenreich decides to take her piece, for better or worse. “It's time to start picking on a more up-to-date pariah group for the 21st century, and I'd like to nominate the elderly whites.” Ehrenreich feels the need to maintain the racial polarization of her op-ed throughout. Rather than picking on young blacks, we must pick on old whites. “The law-abiding old whites," she adds, oh so humorously, "are no prize either.” While Ehrenreich is being facetious, she could have done it in a way that didn’t keep reemphasizing black versus white, again and again. The comments Ehrenreich makes about the nation’s elderly—that often they require insulin and become bald—apply just as much to blacks as to whites.

Ehrenreich acknowledges, at the end of her article, that she is fact implicating “the elderly rich.” Are we to believe that, just “Arab” and “Muslim” can be used interchangeably, so can “elderly whites” and “elderly rich”? Are all overlapping categories to be collapsed for simplicity’s sake at the Times?

Drawing distinctions between the oppressors and the oppressed is not always so simple, but for Ehrenreich, dividing the country into poor, young, and black and rich, old, and white is as good a way as any of doing so. Seems she was served at Wendy’s (was this part of her Nickel and Dimed experiment requiring to eat fast food?) by a tired-looking black girl. As in Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich assumes that any job or life situation she herself wouldn’t want must be an objectively miserable existence. And plenty of people nationwide look—and are—tired, but Ehrenreich chooses not to notice the tired fashion models, investment bankers, and, ahem, professors and picks up on only the sleepiness of fast-food workers.

Rather than question her use of the world “girl” to refer to a young black women she encountered at Wendy’s (don’t want to mess too much with her liberal cred, tempting as that may be; but seriously, if Trent Lott called a young black man serving him at McDonalds a "boy" things might not go over so well), let’s say the person was in fact high-school age. Let’s say, crazy as this may sound, that this was her after-school job. “Contrary to the stereotype” (to borrow a stereotype-demolishing phrase from Ehrenreich’s own op-ed) some black teenagers really are high-school students. The young woman’s identity may not entirely be that of “fast-food worker” and she may well be moving on to things that Ehrenreich would approve of. She’s still just a girl, not yet a woman—how does Ehrenreich know that this Wendy’s job is it for her for life?

Then again, working at Wendy's is a lot like working in a non-final appellate court. Or so they tell me.

Friday, July 09, 2004

"They were my great-grandfather's," said the Chicago student of his Diesel jeans.

Will Baude has simultaneously contradicted me and caused my blog to get hits from a few people who are not close friends or family. I must now do a thorough fisking.

According to Will: "I think Phoebe confuses cause and effect. Hyde Park is devoid of Michigan Avenue's shopping opportunities not because people are afraid the GAP would destroy the young American Mind, but because UChicago (largely, but not exclusively) caters to folks who don't buy (or won't admit to buying) new pants so frequently that they want their blue jeans within walking distance."

Yet Will's point--that Chicago students are often the sort who won't admit to buying lots of clothing, implying that they do nevertheless buy it, just in secret, is precisely what I was getting at. The new clothing doesn't just appear randomly on many Chicago students' backs every few weeks; no, it is, as I pointed out, the result of furtive trips to Michigan Avenue. Or visits to from the Harper USITE while quickly switching to another, more respectable website (say, Arts and Letters Daily) whenever anyone might be looking.

My argument is simple: the shopping is happening, so it might as well be convenient and out in the open.

I find it striking that Will refers to the "American Mind," with the capital "m," which suggests that he's referring to the late Chicago professor Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind. If one is to accept that Saul Bellow's character "Ravelstein" was in fact based on his real-life friend Bloom, then Bloom himself was something of a shopaholic. Presumably Bloom's own American Mind remained intact while his American Body remained well-clad. In his honor, I say, what the hell, let's put a J. Crew on Ellis. (Ravelstein's tastes were a bit more high-end and not so bourgeois, but you've gotta start somewhere).

Will also notes: "(...she doesn't try to argue that Columbia's bookstores trump Powells and the Seminary Co-op)" (parentheses Baude's; not these parentheses, these are mine). Yes, I have committed the cardinal sin of the Chicago intellectual world: I've been caught putting value on things other than books. Oh Allan Bloom, oh Saul Bellow, oh...other such folk, I admit it! It's not all contemplating Plato, all the time, I confess! Oh, Fran Drescher, I have watched your show in reruns on Lifetime!

Scandalous: Middle-school girls invade Friendster

No, this isn't about the mysterious spots on Gwyneth's back. No, this scandal has more of a New York Magazine than New York Post feel to it.

It seems that Friendster has been overrun with 14-year-old private school girls. A number of young women, grinning in their photos with mouths full of metal, often surrounded by five or so middle-school clones, are claiming to be anywhere from 18 to far, far older (the most popular age they pick seems to be 21). Yet strangely they make reference to things like "Nightingale '08" and "Spence girls do it better." Their interests and testimonials are awfully heavy on the sleepaway camp references for a group of supposed 20-somethings.

They like Buckley boys, they make the sort of sexual innuendo people make after having maybe once gotten to second base (i.e. using said sort of terminology), they list their extracurricular activities; most importantly, they list their friends. Basically, they use Friendster as a clique-record-keeper. But Friendster does not just link them to fellow Interschool young women. There is, believe it or not, another possible audience for these sorts of profiles.

What exactly do these girls want with their "Serious Relationship and Dating, Men"? Think of the men who get off on girls with braces who like ballet, chillin' in the Hamptons, and horseback riding, and who can't wait till starting upper school at Riverdale. These girls are advertising themselves as wealthy jailbait, whether they like it or not.

While the online dating/networking/friend-linking service is ostensibly for those 18 and over, nothing stops people from claiming to be any legal age they feel like. Plenty of profiles have, say, a picture of Nikki Hilton, a claim that "Nikki" is 76 years old, that "her" occupation is U.S. senator, and so forth. In other words, surfer beware.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Amenities envy

Shopping possibilities can really make or break a university.

A walk on Broadway over by Columbia today revealed just how lacking the area around Chicago is when it comes to pleasant things to purchase. While they say that Morningside Heights is to New York what Hyde Park is to Chicago, the two neighborhoods aren't comparable. Columbia students can, after a day of grueling classes, head down from Oren's coffee on 112th, home of the tastiest and most caffeinated iced cappuccino in the city, and continue down to Club Monaco on 87th and the GAP and Banana Republic on 86th. Those with less princessy inclinations than yours truly may stop at various natural, hemp-linen-looking clothing stores (outfitters, it seems, to at least half the women in the neighborhood) and independent bookstores.

Many Chicago students have a sort of shopping phobia, assuming that proximity to a source of, say, new tee shirts would cause the University to lose its intellectual edge. Given that the school is perhaps most reknowned for a less-than-socialist economics department, it is not that Chicago students are especially anti-capitalist.

If a GAP were to open on 55th Street, goes the argument, people would forget about Hegel and Aristotle and spend weeks on end trying to decide which jeans best flatter their asses. This is absurd--as much as they hate to admit it, Chicago students, like mere mortals, buy new clothing and accessories from time to time. It would actually leave more time for important scholarly business if Chicago folk didn't have to sneak up to Michigan Avenue every time they wanted to buy pants.

Geez, if everyone who purchased clothing lacked intellectual credentials...perhaps the better option, then, would be for Chicago to become a nudist university. Sure, it gets cold in the winter, but what with all the passages between campus buildings, it might just work.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Moore fun than a trip to the mall

Like one or two other people across the nation, I saw "Fahrenheit 9/11". It was like "The Little Mermaid,"--a tear-jerker par excellence-- except that the theater was filled not with teary five-year-olds but with a horde of anti-Bush adults.

Michael Moore shows the Bushies getting made up for the camera--as has already been pointed out elsewhere, everyone looks creepy when getting made up for the camera--and also allows himself to be filmed, sporting the, err, natural look. No "Queer Eye" team exfoliated or plucked Moore before he faced his own cameras.

I found this aspect of the movie one of the most unfair--who, aside from those on reality tv shows, wants their beauty regimen caught on tape? Just because Michael Moore can pull off the low-maintenance look doesn't mean we all can look spiffy effortlessly.

The audience (at 19th and Broadway) reacted most negatively to Wolfowitz, above, using his own spit in place of hair gel. While I'd rather not be one of those people who looks for anti-Semitism everywhere, there's something sinister about the way in which, while all the other Bush folk are caught being made up, Wolfowitz is caught grooming himself like a beast. He's clearly doing it as a joke, playing to the camera, but Moore shoots it as though he's revealing a deep dark secret of how the man puts himself together each morning. Ugh.

"So what if I like pretty things"--Rufus Wainwright

The Democratic ticket just got a whole lot prettier:

Friday, July 02, 2004


It's hot out, so I couldn't quite make it to the shoe repair place without stopping somewhere along the way. Barneys looked tempting and air conditioned, so I followed the surgically-altered hordes through the revolving doors on 61st and Madison.

First, since shoes were already on my mind, I went to the floor that promised to have them. There was a sale--many shoes once close to $1000 are now more like $300. While one would expect a student/magazine intern to buy designer shoes continuously, that is not the case. (Insert Carrie Bradshaw reference here--what is the connection between wanting to write for magazines and wanting nice shoes? Vicious cycle if there ever was one.)

I tried on the one pair that was least intimidatingly priced--a $140 pair of Robert Clergerie shoes that were something between a loafer and a clog, but with a back and a pointy toe. This looked as strange as it sounds, explaining how they ended up so reduced, but they fit and maybe Robert Clergerie knows something that I don't about how shoes should look. I felt like buying something ridiculous, I really did, but went with an iced cappuccino instead. This was probably the way to go.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Confederacy retroactively integrates

It seems that the late Strom Thurmond's bi-racial daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, is proud of all her ancestry: Ms. Washington-Williams "now wants to join the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization of descendants of soldiers who fought for the South in the Civil War."

"Ms. Washington-Williams is joining the Confederate organization not to honor the soldiers that fought for a Southern way of life dependent on slavery, but to explore her genealogy and heritage, her lawyer, Frank K. Wheaton, said yesterday," reports the New York Times.

Isn't it clear to Washington-Williams that these groups, though ostensibly created for the biological descendents of Southern racists, might just turn out to be ideological descendents of the Confederacy as well? Any person who chooses that particular aspect of his or her ancestry to embrace should be suspect.

Her lawyer refutes this, saying that her presence will in fact be one more step towards interracial understanding:

"Mr. Wheaton said it would be 'shortsighted' for anyone to regard Ms. Washington-Williams's application as supportive of racism or slavery. 'What her presence in these organizations does is continue to encourage the dialogue between black and white that would never otherwise take place, because they are exclusive,' he said."

What sort of dialogue would have to take place? I'm reminded of an episode of that classic sitcom, Designing Women, in which an all-white country club recruits a token black member* for the sake of appearances. Why wouldn't these Confederates want to admit the occasional black person ridiculous enough to want a part of their nonsense? It's unlikely that such an organization would ever be substantially integrated, because so few of the existing eligible (Confederacy-descended) blacks would ever want to join. These groups would continue to function as nearly-all-white social clubs, who are we kidding here?

The obvious question is, is this all basically civil rights activism through irony? Is Washington-Williams demanding admittance to an obviously racist institution with a straight face, claiming genuine interest in her heritage while actually using a loophole to point out that, haha, this absurdly racist club, despite its most racist intentions, has to admit blacks, after all, if it wishes to strictly follow its own exclusive admittance policies? Washington-Williams is making these groups look as silly as they are--or at least I sincerely hope that's what she intends to do, because that would be pretty awesome.

This story is a perfect example of why it's not such a good idea to have pride in one's ancestry, something out of one's control and thus not worth trying to take credit for. Washington-Williams is correct in acknowledging that she is descended from both black slaves and white racists, but are either of these facts really things to celebrate?

A professor interviewed for the Times piece "called Ms. Washington-Williams' quest to lay claim to her white roots 'novel.'" He added, "Most would be interested in following the roots that take them back to Africa." I can understand the interest in following one's roots, or even laying claim to them. In Washington-Williams' case in particular, laying claim to her most recent ancestry was crucial in that who her father was--a famous and powerful white racist--had been kept secret for so many years. I wish Washington-Williams the best of luck gaining admittance to the club, but hope she realizes there are better things to do with your time than hanging out with a whole bunch of people whose ancestors happened to know yours.

*("Anthony," played by the ever-wonderful Meshach Taylor--the flamboyant but oh so, err, straight assistant to the otherwise white and female Sugarbakers interior decorating firm. Yes, I've watched a bit too much "Lifetime" in my day--a better use of time than fraternizing with racists, perhaps, but not necessarily more productive).