Monday, January 31, 2005

Civil rights, Frank Costanza-style

Ugh, bad news.

The problem (and it's certainly been referred to before as a "Problem") is that Jews are eternally in a no-win situation. Europe didn't like Jews when they were in Europe, and now that they've mostly been driven out, still no luck. It is very depressing. So the only answer is to say, we're here, we're queer, get used to it, with "queer" being used, of course, to mean peculiar. (Those Jews who happen also to be queer in the original sense of the slogan may, of course, lay claim to both.) Rather than go off on tirades saying, "Israel isn't so bad, yes, we know it is a flawed country" (what country isn't?) or, "Jews aren't so bad, but yes, we need to shape up, move to Israel to get out of your hair... Oh no, we mean, we should leave Israel, because Zionism=racism," and so forth, Jews need to just shrug our collective shoulders and say, whether in Tel Aviv or Paris or New York or rural, Red-State America: "We're not going anywhere." As Frank Costanza said of himself and his wife Estelle, when telling Jerry's parents that, like it or not, the Costanzas are moving to Del Boca Vista: "You think you could keep us out of Florida? We're moving in lock, stock and barrel. We're gonna be in the pool. We're gonna be in the clubhouse. We're gonna be all over that shuffleboard court! And I dare you to keep me out!"

"...the armchair radicalism of Orientalism, neocolonialism, deconstructionism, white studies, critical race theory, queer theory, blah blah blah."

Samuel G. Freedman has a piece in the Times on an "invisible" Mexican janitor, the privileged brats of Stanford who ignore him, and the somewhat-patronizing (in my view) tutoring program meant to bridge that gap. We learn, of the janitor, "He earns $10.14 an hour at a university whose students pay nearly $40,000 a year in tuition, fees, and room and board." I wonder how many Stanford students actually pay this amount, and how many students there also work similar jobs, with similar pay and similar (in)visibility. But, moreover, there is an unavoidable conflict: Either such jobs are reserved for those who need them, i.e. not students looking to earn some extra pocket money, and there is a hard-drawn line between the invisible workers and the pampered students, or these jobs are open to all, students and non-students alike, and, while fewer jobs will be available to those looking to support their families, the dynamic on campus will be a more egalitarian one, with less of a caste system, and with student-workers and non-student workers interacting in normal work settings. Ideally, some kind of balance between the two can be struck.

Freedman continues: For the Stanford students, meanwhile, the tutoring provides a sense of purpose and human connection that cannot be taught. Many of these undergraduates won admission partly by doing "community service" for the most cynical of reasons, to build their résumés. Their courses here resound with the armchair radicalism of Orientalism, neocolonialism, deconstructionism, white studies, critical race theory, queer theory, blah blah blah.

While what I suggest may sound like levelling down when levelling up is possible, and while it may be just that, I would rather see students and non-students working side by side (as is the case in the U of C libraries) than see a tutoring program in which the "we help them" dynamic is maintained. There's something unpleasant about students learning from distinguished professors while the best a janitor can hope for is some kid barely out of high school, encouraging him to write poetry about...being a janitor. An ideal situation would be if Stanford offered some kind of adult education (no clue if it ever has) to its staff, taught by actual Stanford professors, while permitting its students to have that great learning experience that is a less-than-fascinating job. The question, though, is whether Stanford students are as willing as Chicago students to take such jobs. Much depends on the availability of research jobs to undergrads and on the overall wealth of the undergrad student body. The cheery stores and coffee shops near the Princeton University campus always seem to have help-wanted signs, while there is no doubt in my mind that if similar establishments were to open in Hyde Park (and no, "Third World Coffee" doesn't count), Chicago students would be fighting to work there.

Quotes of the day

"Good miss."--my tennis teacher, in gym class, indicating that, while I failed to get the ball over the net, I nevertheless had good form. For some reason this cracked me up at the time.

"You're that Phoebe!"--a girl in my gym class, upon hearing me say that I planned on blogging about being congratulated on my "good miss." My hitting partners (there are three of us, yes, it's very Huis Clos) both incorrectly attributed my complete lack of hand-eye coordination to many hours spent at a keyboard. Truth is, if anything, I'm better than I once was at tennis. Other things revealed in gym class: "partner" is a poor excuse for "husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend"; Peter Sarsgaard is sexy but not for everyone; Peter Sarsgaard is not my "type" but I like him all the same; my male hitting partner, though straight, finds Liam Neeson sexier than Peter Sarsgaard; and, as neither of my hitting partners are into dudes, if Mr. Sarsgaard were to suddenly show up, he'd be all mine.

"...theory of ideas..."--one man talking to another on the first floor of Classics.

"...la philosophie de l'esprit..." a different man talking to yet another man, both in black, somewhere in the Harper-Wieboldt vicinity.

Alternate Identities

So, Eugene Volokh over at the Volokh Conspiracy has a really nice column in which he'll answer all questions related to Law Review.

The thing is, he calls it "Law Review Lara" and uses phrases like the following: "Lara's advice, which by sheer coincidence also appears in her friend Eugene Volokh's Academic Legal Writing..." You may note that Lara, his alternate personality, is female. Does this strike anyone else as just slightly off? Why does a well-respected UCLA law professor find the need to take on such an odd persona?

...just curious.

(update: Prof. Volokh has also written a fictional story for Legal Affairs entitled "The Love Charm." See for yourself. Don't get me wrong, the guy's brilliant, but it's an interesting other side to his personality...)

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Slithery feminist?

Dylan writes:

...I do not expect women to ignore my own flaws. My emotional hangups on hopeless causes aside, that's the biggest reason I rarely ask anyone out. It's not even that I don't think they'd go out with me; I don't think they should go out with me. If I found some hot girl who was happy with a guy who needs to lose 30+ pounds before he'll think he looks good, I would nevertheless keep her at a distance until I was in shape.

It seems the Slithery D is adhering to the policy I've advocated on this blog: Men care how women look, women care how men look, so women should insist upon men looking good. The problem, though, is that plenty women probably do ignore whatever flaws it is Dylan is referring to (having never seen him, I'll just take his word for what he sees these flaws to be). Women today are, every day of the week, ignoring men's physical flaws, while striving to fix their own. I find it admirable that Dylan matches his superficiality (but is caring how one's partner looks superficial, or a form of self-respect? Caring, I should add, does not have to mean caring that s/he be conventionally attractive, but just physically attractive by the given individual's framework...) with an acknowledgement that women have an equal right to be superficial. But "emotional hangups" and obsession with one's perceived flaws are never any fun for anyone, male or female, so while I'm happy to see that Dylan is a primping-feminist, I still find his post a bit disheartening.

Clueless

In the NYT Sunday Book Review section, modest Wendy Shalit notes: "Authors who have renounced Orthodox Judaism -- or those who were never really exposed to it to begin with -- have often portrayed deeply observant Jews in an unflattering or ridiculous light." OK, perhaps. She continues: "Some of my Jewish friends have intermarried with people of other faiths; others have gone back to their traditional roots. Because I did the latter, I'm fascinated by the ways different Jewish communities understand and misunderstand one another. "

Is this really a question of a former and a latter, of two mutually exclusive categories? And is intermarrying abandoning one's roots any more than never marrying, never having kids, and thus never technically abandoning or adding to anything? Can't roots be returned to in ways that don't specifically involve mating with one of your kind? Is marrying within the faith the only true test of devotion to Judaism? In a certain sense, bringing more Jews into the world may be the primary duty of Judaism, but this is more likely to result from intermarriage than from staying single and childless. I'm clueless. Any thoughts?

This Toddlin' Town

I've returned from a internet-less weekend in Dubuque, Iowa. I can only say that I continue to fail to see a reason for Iowa and Western Illinois (along with most of the Midwest, for that matter) to exist at all.

Maybe that makes me a liberal elite. Too bad I'm not liberal.

In any case, the NYTimes has an interesting "Editorial Observer" article on drunk dialing. Drunk dialing is something I personally have never done, though I have indeed been on the receiving end a drunk dial numerous times. Not sure why drunk dialing is newsworthy, but then again, I'm not sure why SpongeBob is newsworthy, either, and he seems to be getting no small amount of press lately.

Apple was recently named the world's most influential brand, followed by Google, Ikea, Starbucks, and Al Jazeera. I don't know what it says about me that of these top five, four are a part of my daily life. (I'll soon be sitting in on my Ikea bed in my apartment, listing to music on iTunes while sipping a Venti Chai from Starbucks and checking my Google Mail). As for the fifth--well, I don't speak Arabic and am somewhat okay with a western "bias" in my news (if that means news that values democracy, rights, a world free of terrorism, and equality for women) but I think a diversity of news is generally a good thing, so kudos to Al Jazeera even though I won't be one of their clients any time soon.

Say what you will about the war in Iraq, we should all be happy that today's voting has gone well. Whether we agreed or disagreed with the rationale for war, or initially agreed and then felt horribly betrayed as the deceit of this administration became apparent to us, we should all be happy that the Iraqi people are now able to vote, and that this marks the first large milestone in getting Americans--and Iraqis--out of harm's way. Besides, the actions of failed states have a disproportionately bad effect on blue states, anyway.

In local news, I'm hugely bouyed by the revelation that Alan Keyes is ineligible to run for governor of Illinois in 2006, because of the residency requirement (three years). Let's hope the conservatives of downstate don't run someone only slightly better than he.

Well, I guess that's it for now. I should stop blogging and be productive...

Falafel and sake

There's a piece in the City section about the "Little Tokyo" on and around Stuyvesant Street in the East Village. The article explores various cultural issues, and is an interesting enough read, but mainly it made me miss Sunrise Mart, Sobaya, Decibel... Conveniently located about a block southeast of Little Tokyo is an even littler "Little Israel" (follow the link and scroll down), home of Holyland Market, Hummus Place, and, most importantly, Chickpea. Why is Chickpea "important"? Because if you're going to sake bar Decibel, you'd better have a substantial meal--say, falafel--beforehand. Soba noodles, though in theory a more appropriate pre-sake-bar dinner, just won't do the trick. Thus the multicultural brilliance of NYC.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Are Americans getting shorter?

In the past few years I've got from a size four or six to a two, and I have not lost any weight, as far as I can tell, in this time. My old size six pants fit the same as my newer size twos. This is because, as we all know, clothing is getting bigger along with the shoppers themselves, and stores realize a customer thrilled to finally be a ten and not a fourteen will buy that dress, while one who sees she's still a fourteen will give the dress itself a more careful examination.

But I was shocked today, trying on pants at a Banana Republic in one of Michigan Avenue's many "vertical retail environments," when I realized that the slacks I was trying on were too short. Yes, they were a petite, but at 5'2'' I've always assumed I'm petite's intended audience. And no, they were not meant to be cropped or capris. Nope, I was simply too tall for these pants. Feeling tall, skinny, and glamorous, I nevertheless did not end up buying anything at Banana Republic. I did, however, overhear a middle-aged man say to his wife, in a different part of the mall, "I've never really understood Banana Republic." The concept or the store? Probably the store, given the context. But does anyone really understand Banana Republic? It's like the GAP, but somewhat higher-end, like J.Crew, but a touch less preppy, like Club Monaco, but not as edgy...

Afternoon in the city


Ani lo rotza lagoor bih kibbutz. Posted by Hello


I have nothing against turning a Seattle's Best into a Starbucks, but I was hoping to stop at the above coffee shop, so I was disappointed to see that this is the interim period between the two.  Posted by Hello


What are "boutique apartments"?  Posted by Hello


Sushi-making demo at the Bloomingdales home store, where I had just finished a cappuccino, most of a massive rugelach, and my Hebrew homework.  Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 27, 2005

French withdrawl

This is the first quarter in some time that I am not taking a French class. I've taken just about all they've got, and the few I haven't seem to meet when I have more important things to do, such as take certain Core requirements without which I won't graduate on time. But it's sad not taking a French class, and I miss the language. I'm concerned that I'll forget it this quarter; my B.A. paper will be in French (!) but I will not be hearing much French spoken on any regular basis. I'm thinking French radio, something, some compensation will be needed. As much as I would enjoy making my committment to all that is French be a strict 35-hour work week and a few glasses of wine each night with a steak and salad, with cheese as dessert, with a movie playing in the background about two beautiful Frenchmen discovering themselves and each other....I'm thinking pasta, diet Coke, and French radio will have to suffice.

I am also about to switch into some sort of FrangHebrew--appropriate, in that I study France and Zionism--and will thus end this post with: L'Universite de Chicago, bihcafeteria, la nourriture n'est pas mitzuyan, hee rah, hee lo tovah, ani rotza falafel et fromage....And with that, a snack of organic (but, thankfully, sweetened) cereal, origin: Whole Foods; brand: Arrowhead Mills; resemblence to cardboard: surprisingly slight.

Roots

"Put the hair dye away, please. Bury it deep underground."

Reihan doesn't like dyed hair. And, as someone currently waiting for a strange shade of red to grow out, and for the dark brown (so said Stuy kids) or black (so say Chicago kids) natural color to return, I sympathize. But as someone who had a supercool hot-pink streak in her hair for the first two years of college, and who still harbors a not-so-secret desire to have hair the color of Lola's from Run Lola Run, I must protest. While I agree with Reihan that highlights-lowlights should be banned for aesthetic reasons (and feel the same way about stilettos, but not other high-heeled shoes), and while I, too, believe "there ought to be some limit to self-fashioning," I don't see hair dye as the place to draw that line. Unlike cosmetic surgery, hair dye is only sometimes used to make a person fit a conventional beauty ideal. While cosmetic surgery tends to have an end goal of making a person look younger, WASPier, or bustier, hair dye can--and in many cases does--make a blonde a brunette, a brunette a pink-haired individual, and so on. While many go for the "I may be naturally anything but blonde and blue-eyed, but see what I can do" look, others, myself included, use hair dye not to look a different race, but to look, well, different, to mix things up a bit, with the knowledge that, in a few months, the natural color will have returned.

There's something arbitrary, though, about where natural-looking ends and fake-looking begins. Accepting that showering, nail-clipping, and such are sanitary and not beauty routines, whether one draws the line at lipstick, hair dye, Botox, or facelifts is just a matter of personal preference, though such preferences are often couched in moral terms. Along the same lines, spending $100 on a pair of shoes seems obscene to some, while a person whose shoes cost $150 may find another disgusting for spending $500, while that person, in turn, finds another, who spent $800 on the same pair before they went on sale, ridiculous. Then, there are those who are horrified by fur, and who wag their finger with one hand while carrying a leather briefcase with the other...

The only belief I have about beauty treatments that could count as ethical and not just aesthetic is that I am creeped out by any procedure whose end goal is to make the recipient look "Aryan." Walking around my neighborhood in NYC, I see a sea of nose jobs and dyed-blond hair, and for what, to acheive using new technology what other, more sinister projects across the Atlantic failed to solve? Super creepy. My sense is that, what with the increasingly obese population and thus with thinness becoming progressively more scarce, along with slenderness, beyond ethnic resemblance to the Founding Fathers, being a sign of prosperity, racial characteristics are becoming less important determining factors when it comes to beauty in America. A thin but "ethnic" person will get a role on TV, a modeling contract, or a date, well before someone who is blond, blue-eyed, and heavy. Just a thought.

Like we didn't see this coming

Sumo wrestling in Brazil. How predictable was that one? At least there's something for everyone: The latest semi-naked Brazilians to be photographed by the Times are male, while the last round were, I believe, female.

Extreme Makeover

The rumors are true: WWPD will be getting a makeover. (P, on the other hand, is happy with her recent haircut and sees the need for no further overhaul at the moment.) Design- and computer-savvy co-blogger Nick will be behind the changes. What will the new WWPD mean? The following:

The blogroll will be organized, and blogs I've been meaning to add will be added. Blogs that do not update or are MIA will probably stay,because you never know.

The layout will be prettier. Not being Nick, I have no idea how this will be achieved, but I'm thinking pictures, I'm thinking shiny things, I'm thinking dachshunds...

It will be clear who's posting. For now, here's a guide: references to an iPod come from Nick. References to a cute puppy Westie come from Molly. References to attractive men come, in theory, from any of us.

Not the best way to reach "safe, legal, and rare"

I have long been bewildered by what the logic might be behind laws requiring minors to get parental consent prior to having abortions, when it's quite obvious that having a child at 15 screws the typical female over a whole lot more than having one unintentionally at 20 or 25. The law tends to look at minors as not yet fully capable of looking after their own or society's interests, so how did it come to pass that the "stupid" act minors are being prevented from doing is ending the pregnancy, when clearly, from the perspective of both the teenager and society, the kid continuing her pregnancy to full term is probably not the best idea?

My own take on the issue is that abortion should be, as many others also believe, "safe, legal, and rare." I do not go for the whole Barbara Ehrenreich line of thought, where abortions are to be looked upon as sometimes necessary and thus always an option to use with pride. I am not entirely sure what, morally, an adult woman capable of caring for a baby but having not planned to get pregnant should do, whether an abortion in such a case is the best idea. Whenever possible, adult women who don't want to get pregnant should take precautions. The adult woman who finds herself pregnant because, oops, the guy didn't bring condoms and she had stopped taking the pill, does not get as much of my sympathy as the teenager who wasn't thinking, and then found herself in a mess.

In other words, in the quest to make abortion rare, why not emphasize responsibility on the part of sexually-active adults, both men and women, rather than restrict abortions for the one group of pregnant individuals who can be pushed around most easily by the law, but who stand to benefit the most from the right to an abortion?

Heal the world...

...make it a better place,
for you and for me
and the entire human race.
There are people dying;
if you care enough for the living,
make a better place
for you and for me.

So sang Michael Jackson in his admittedly sappy 1991 song "Heal the World," which I recently listened to (explanation: I'm listening to all 2256 songs--that's 8.36 GB of music, if you're curious--in my iTunes playlist), and which recently set me thinking.

It occured to me that the hope that inspires this song has rather disappeared from the American worldview. A hopeful inaugural speech from a President is met with incredulity from a skeptical public, who doesn't really expect there to be any real progress toward anything approaching a moral ideal any time soon.

Why is this? Where did our hope go? Wasn't there a time when we were inspired when our President gave us a mission, before this decade is out...? Where did American hope go?

Is it, in a post-modern, Fanonian/Socialist way, an admission that maybe the world doesn't need healing, thank you very much? I think not. Last year was, after all, a global year of voting. Something in the model of democracy and rights seems to have taken hold.

Is this loss of hope, perhaps, the real result of September 11th? That we no longer care to hope for the world, or dare to hope that the world can indeed be healed? Maybe.

I'm alarmed by something I read today. Michael Howard, the Conservative leader in Britain, is running on an anti-immigration platform; he wants to set a quota on the number of people offered political asylum in the UK. (How does that work? You've been tortured for your political beliefs, but you're the 1001st person to have been tortured, so go sod off!?!?) Such insularity is now endemic in Europe. The idea is, protect ourselves, before even thinking others. So what if we used to be "the other"--these are dangerous times.

(Protecting ourselves is indeed an admirable goal. But since when is immigration a weakness, and not a strength?)

To a very large extent, this insularity has taken root in this country. Restrictions on immigration--beyond securing borders to closing borders--are closer every day; they were almost inserted into the post-9/11 report legislation. Sure, we'll donate when a massive tsunami overtakes some islands in the Indian Ocean, but the hopeful idea that America could effect positive change in the world--and that the world would embrace an American ideal--is gone.

Whatever its cause--bad foreign policy by a botched administration, the necessities of the war on terror, the follies of capitalism, MJ being charged with child molestation, or something else--I mourn its loss.

View from the Jeffrey


Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Astrophysics explained

(Weekly) Standard Candle: A publication with a known level of conservatism used to measure the conservatism of other publications.

Redshift: A euphemism used by Lawrence Summers for the monthly reason why women just don't get science.

Special Relativity: A constitutional amendment prohibiting states from banning marriage between cousins.

Supernova: It's sold at Zabars.

Rich Cluster

Zabars' Most Wanted

A while back, I saw a woman on Michigan Avenue, near Oak Street, who looked exactly like Donald Rumsfeld. Then, more recently, I saw a woman lower down on Michigan who resembled Al Sharpton as much as any woman could. I pity them both. But Esther Kustanowitz of the blog My Urban Kvetch has surpassed me in weird near-sightings: she spotted an Osama Bin Laden clone on 86th and West End. Too funny. And, now that I think of it, reminiscent of the Seinfeld in which Kramer and George discover that the owner of a double-parked car they've been waiting to move was, in fact, Saddam Hussein.

Missing the obvious

It occurred to me why undergrads might (rightly) have less reverence for the Reg than do grad students, and why Reg-reverence among undergrads might increase as one goes from first- to fourth-year: The more you control what courses you're taking (and thus which work you're doing at the library), the more positive associations you'll have with the place. An undergrad at Chicago, much like a high school student, is taking a bit of everything, and, though Chicago classes tend to be on a much higher level than what one encounters in most high schools, a first-year nevertheless ends up taking many classes not in his major, some of which he finds painful. The Core is worth it, but it isn't always fun. A grad student, on the other hand, is studying some relatively (or highly) narrow topic about which he is passionate, and thus relishes time spent in whichever part of the stacks his subject lies. Sure, there are stressful moments at the Reg, whether one is studying one's favorite thing ever or trudging through a Core requirement, but it's especially hard to think of the Reg as a temple when you're on hour five of a Core Bio lab write-up. The Reg is a fabulous resource, but if you're there to do your math homework, you're not perusing the stacks for a novel (or the equivalent for a math-oriented student fulfilling his humanities requirement).

And while I, like Will, agree with Victor's post for the most part, there's one bit I must respond to: "I also tend to regard the library-work that undergrads (and some grads) do in extremely high regard. It is a priestly function, tending to the temple." I understand that Victor is a self-proclaimed fan of irony, but I honestly cannot tell if he is using it in this case. Having done some of the aforementioned library work, I'm almost certain that none of my co-Stacks Assistants considered themselves to be fulfilling a priestly function. Granted, a person who despises libraries might not be drawn to the job, but had a grad student come up to me in the stacks while I was shelving, say, on the B-level, and told me that I was fulfilling a priestly function, I would have been stunned.

The Modernist

Today, it's become fashionable to mock those tall, black skyscrapers, which are as much a void of transparent glass as they are structure. Hallmarks of a movement known as the International Style, which was to a large extent born in, nurtured in, and eventually became synonymous to the city of Chicago, they are now reviled.

Philip Johnson, though, knew that these towers represented something truly revolutionary in the history of architecture. In fact, he helped write the manifesto for the movement. And a true believer in the movement, he lived it; a tranquil structure, his Glass House was at one with its surroundings and much harder to criticize than the straw men of the tall, black structures in the middle of crowded city blocks, and so often used to prove the guilt-by-association of him and his contemporary, Mies van der Rohe.

Though Johnson, with the rest of the architecture world, would eventually move on to Postmodernism, most famously with the AT&T Building (now the Sony Building), it is for his involvement in these tall towers he will most likely be remembered.

And before we judge them--and him--for their environmental wastefulness, for their stripped-down lack of decoration, for their "too much sun" and "big black monstrosities," let us remember that they are the products of their time, a period in which there was no "green" architecture, in which the city as we know it was just being created, in which the necessity of aesthetic--of anything--was being questioned by the Modernist project. A post-war time in which America could achieve anything, and the limits of human achievement were the limits of the imagination.

Johnson pushed the bounds of the available engineering techniques of the day, and of the way we thought about architecture. His reduction of architecture to its basic elements was a necessary step. Without him, without Modernism, we would be less aware of what we as humans--with skyscrapers representing one of the pinnacles of our acheivement--are capable of. And our skyline would be much the worse for it.

Philip Johnson died yesterday. He was 98.

Yikes!

Seems asserting that grad students often look down on undergrads is a touchy subject, somewhat like, say, announcing that men are innately better than women at math. To end this once and for all (or, realistically, for now):

I don't think all the grad students think all the undergrads are dippy.

Some undergrads do find some grad students sketchy.

Some undergrads and some grad students are dippy, and some of both groups are also sketchy.

All preconceived notions fall to bits when the undergrad/grad in question finds a member of the other cohort attractive/interesting/intelligent.

Mostly, though, we're all here because we want to be here, which includes liking the people around us, regardless of status at the University. Chicago is a cool place, we're all intense, intellectual, what have you, whether in Sevens, pajamas, or, in my particular case today, impractically high-heeled boots. I like it here, and, when deciding where to go to college, found Chicago to be as undippy and unsketchy as it gets, and have not been proven wrong.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Report from the Reg

What with all the buzz surrounding the Reg today, here's a first-hand account of the Regenstein Library, 4th floor reading room, between the hours of approximately 7:30 and 10:30 p.m.:

  • Woman, probably grad student, with a meal in tupperware and a phone going off, albeit on vibrate.
  • Girl, probably undergrad, in sweatpants.
  • Co-blogger Nick, with whom there was much whispering and general silliness.
  • My physci textbook, notes, and old homeworks, with which I am now better acquainted than I once was, and with which I will become still better acquainted later tonight and tomorrow morning.
  • Natalie Portman, in the flesh, spreading jam on toast.
  • No wait, that was me eating a Twix and drinking the best coffee the basement of the Reg has to offer.
  • The Virial Theorem, in a g-string.
  • The Schwarzchild Radius, which has been measured to be the distance between the table at the Reg where I study and the single-user bathroom where I primp.

a slight addendum to phoebe's debate

I was in a Dominick's the other day, shopping at a non-inner-city grocery store, and one of my friends--a former U of C undergrad--had an awkward encounter with the person who led her tour at Pritzker:

"Hi"
"Hi...didn't I just lead you on a tour where I was slamming..."
"You were slamming the undergrads."
"...right. And you..."
"I was an undergrad."

Now, I'm not a shining example of the behavior of undergrads. I chew carrots on the fourth floor of the Reg while plugging away on my book, amidst more serious, dissertation-minded peoples.

But see, here's something to pop the balloon of these pretentious grads who think they're so superior. The fact is, undergrads include all types. Future I-bankers (horrid as they may be), future lawyers, future doctors, future tool in the capitalist cog who simply wanted a good liberal arts education.

But "grad school" people get to exempt from their ranks those who are in the so-called "professional schools." No one thinks of the U of C "grad students" and inludes the B-schoolers in their suits and absurd "meet and greets." I say, if we want to take an obnoxious-meter of grad v. undergrad, we must include those people in those schools as well. In which case, of course, the superficiality quotient of the "grad student" goes up considerably.

And besides, grad students, if you're feeling insecure, just beat up on us. There are two of you for every one of us. You'll never find a better ratio of grad:undergrad for teaming up on us. It's not our fault you're afraid of the sunlight.

So there.

two cents on...

The Inauguration Speech:

The reason we heard all fluff and no substance (and no social conservatism) is because he can do all that in the State of the Union on Feb. 2nd. Watch for it...

Andrew Sullivan:

"The Academy" doesn't deserve your kudos for ignoring Fahrenheit 9/11. It was released on DVD and thus excluded from consideration. Andrew, you're killing me here.

The snow melting:

Icicles! Dangerous, but the part of me that hails from the South says, yay!

Blogs:

Who knew Dave Barry had a blog!? In other news, I really like Eric Zorn's blog at the Chicago Tribune, not only because he linked to me once, but beause he's smart and interesting.

Blazers:

Instant respectability, yours at H&M for an undisclosed sum. We paid too much perhaps, but it lets us get away with wearing racy shirts and creates unspeakable irony. Just leave the tweed behind, folks. That's been done.

Vodka:

The staple of all girl-drink drunks. The Times weighs in, and the result is a surprise to this snob.

Hewlett-Packard:

It's bad enough that my six-month-old computer is completely dead, but don't insult me by sending a cheap version of the hard drive I just paid for.

Me:

I should be working. Also, I'm not Phoebe, so don't confuse us.

WWPD:

Not just a blog...also, instant procrastination! Even more so when we start to work on our (hushed silence) new redesign in a couple of weeks (drowning acclaim).

That's all, folks.

They don't much like us

A while back, I reported on a man at Bonjour Bakery who expressed his distaste for Chicago's undergrads, the implication being that grad students are good people, undergrads not so much. Now, in thinly veiled complaints about "the upstarts and the young'uns" and pajama-wearing, Mountain Dew-drinking dorm-dwellers, Chicago's grad students are making their feelings known. While the grad-undergrad division is not mentioned explicitly, we all know what's being discussed, so let's put it out in the open.

While it would be a stretch to say that there's all-out hostility between the two major groups of students on campus, it's fair to say that we (undergrads) annoy them. While, at Chicago, many undergrads go on to grad school, and serious types are the rule and not the exception in the College, to current grad students, we're a bunch of pre-i-bankers who've just discovered alcohol. They are eccentric and brilliant, we are well-rounded and dull. They haven't bought new clothes in five years, and we're all wearing new pairs of Seven jeans. They're married and/or bitter, and we've just discovered the opposite and/or same sex. In short, they're the real deal, and we're a bunch of rich-kid posers here for a four-year vacation before adulthood sets in.

(Here, insert sheepish nods from any grad students who may be reading this.)

And there's a bit of truth behind the myth. A 20-year-old is more likely to be getting some financial support from his parents than is a 30-year old. Someone's who's already been through college is bound to be more jaded than a student who's just arrived. And a kid who just graduated from high school more closely resemble a high school student in both appearance and behavior than will a 35-year-old mother of two. And it goes beyond age: Grad students have elected to stay in school beyond what's necessary for employability (though an MBA or JD won't hurt). College students, on the other hand, are often in school because their parents or high school guidance counselor gave them a gentle shove on the behind and said, "Go!"

But now, a few words in our defense. First, we may not all be headed towards several years of studying post-post-modern interpretations of Proust, but neither are business, law, and medical students. And then there's the matter of our silliness: We may be newer to drinking, but I'd bet that undergrads party (and, for that matter, lounge around in coffee shops, gossiping or pretending to do work) far less than grad students. We are, as I said, a serious bunch, and I will have more on this later, but my friend is waiting for me in the lobby. We are on our way...drumroll please...to the Reg.

"Meet the ____": Dated, not scandalous

Andrew Sullivan's justified in condemning Rabbi Daniel Lapin (Rabbi Rabbit?!) for blaming Jewish presence in Hollywood for all that is debased and deviant in today's popular culture. But Lapin, though he goes way overboard, is onto something in choosing Meet the Fockers to pick on. I have not seen the film, but I did see Meet the Parents, and have seen commercials for the aforementioned sequel. My lack of interest in seeing Meet the Fockers stems from its premise: neurotic Jewish man falls for blonde non-Jewish woman. Yawn.

Movies like Meet the Parents (and presumably also Meet the Fockers) are designed, strangely, to get nods of understanding from the generation that nodded and laughed along with Annie Hall and Portnoy's Complaint. In other words, the horny-Jewish-man-meets-hard-to-get-shiksa genre had its run but is now dated. It's offensive, too, but offensive doesn't have to mean worthless, and both Annie Hall and Portnoy's Complaint are brilliant portrayals of the mentality behind this now-classic American genre, one that really spoke to its audience at the time. But an older generation had Annie and Portnoy; do we need mediocre versions of the same thing? Does this even still hit home?

The New Yorker piece on Ben Stiller suggests that current young audiences see the Parents/Fockers scenario as universal, with visual gags, silly in-laws, etc, as relevant to all. David Denby writes:

Many teen-age boys are walking masses of libido, too, and Stiller is their man, while girls seem to find his candidate status charming or touching—for all the wild look of desire in his eyes, he’s hardly a threat. For kids, the fumbling Jewish male may simply function as a universal, adaptable representative of their insecurity about their own lives.

Denby's piece is both a defense of the genre's continued appeal and an admittance that times have, in fact, changed. Now I'm by no means saying that crowds of protesters ought to congregate in front of theaters showing movies of the Parents/Fockers variety, but it would be great if the older, movie-making generation would stop revisiting this particular theme, as it is, well, lame.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Paris is freezing...

Why, I ask myself, are the Europeans so worried about global warming, and we're not. It this a capitalist/socialist divide? A cultural thing? What's going on? And then, I read an article which included the following sentence:

"[The report on global warming] warned of 'climatic tipping points' such as the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melting and the Gulf Stream shutting down."

See, that's why the Europeans care so much. Ever looked at a map of Europe? It's at the same latitude as mid-northern Canada. No lie. The only thing that keeps Europe warm is, well, Florida. Okay, it's the Gulf Stream (discovered, btw, by good ol' Ben Franklin), which keeps the North Atlantic warm. Absent the Gulf Streem, the Eiffel Tower's surrounded by nothing but ice.

There's a real reason to fight global warming--to preserve Paris as a place for pretentious and disgruntled Americans (like myself) to flee. I'm sure Phoebe would agree that the loss of French men would make this Earth not worth inhabiting...

Catfight

I seem to be engaged in an in-print and online debate over the importance of beauty at the U of C. Julie Fredrickson has responded to her critics, with a new article in the Chicago Weekly (not online), and I feel obligated to respond.

First, I'm not so sure about the connection Fredrickson makes between looking good and wearing things like Seven jeans, which appear to be somewhere in the $200 range. Choosing to upgrade on any particular item is fine--I, for one, will pay a bit more for better beer--and I do not deny that sometimes more expensive jeans look...like more expensive jeans. In essence, Fredrickson confuses paying to look conventionally well-off with caring about fashion. I have nothing against the conventionally-well-off look, and have been known to shop at Banana Republic, but when I think fashion, I think agnes b., or that dude who's always in Classics with the motorcycle boots and the perfectly sculpted hair.

Also, Fredrickson notes that "a random survey of girls in Hutch during lunch last Friday showed that every girl asked knew what a pair of Sevens was [sic], indeed two girls were even wearing them." I do not find it remotely bizarre that there exists, in Hutch, a table full of girls who spend a lot on their jeans, or who are at least familiar with the concept. But what Fredrickson fails to say is how many girls she surveyed. (And what with Lawrence Summers's recent remarks about girls and math, the timing could not be worse.)

I have a confession to make: I am guilty of liking that the U of C is a blazer-wearing, self-consciously-disheveled place, one where Abercrombie is tolerated, not celebrated. I don't go for the intellectual style of dress myself, preferring some combination of francophilic nonsense, neon-colored accessories, and solid-colored pastel-pink or black tee shirts, but I like that when I arrive on campus after a vacation, I can tell that I'm back at the first sighting of a just-so worn-out leather satchel, or a slightly torn elbow patch. I do not believe that a student in head-to-toe Abercrombie should be scoffed at by professors, but I'd imagine professors don't much care what we wear, regardless. When we graduate, we'll have to look good by societal standards, but I'm happy I've got another quarter and a half to work at looking good by the U of C's rubric, which means, in effect, dressing as I please.

My latest post is up...

...at UChiBLOGo. I covered the screening and discussion of a French movie, Drole de Felix. Proper accent marks, and a link to the movie on IMDB, come with clicking the link.

A thimble of wine with your dressing-free salad?

In NYC, smoking is banned in bars. This leads to big crowds forming, of smokers and their non-smoking buddies, in front of each bar, making it impossible to walk down the street at night in the Village without navigating your way through a horde of drunks. But of course, part of the fun of the Village at night is navigating your way through a horde of drunks, so perhaps not so much has changed.

Now it has: Excessive drinking has been pegged at more than two drinks for a man and more than one for a woman, and it seems that NYC is up to its ears in excessive drinkers. And excessive is, of course, a bad thing.

After 32 percent of excessive drinkers in Greenwich Village and Chelsea comes Gramercy Park and the Upper East Side (25.6 percent); the Upper West Side (23.5 percent); Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope (22.2 percent); and Union Square and Lower Manhattan (22.1 percent).

This definition of excess confuses me. Two or three drinks are excessive, sure, if one is thinking about driving, but in the neighborhoods mentioned above, it's easy enough to find public transportation. The definition of excessive drinking parallels the one former NYT restaurant critic (and former U of Cer) William Grimes encounters when attempting to follow the new federal dietary guidelines. Grimes, who says he is thin and healthy, nevertheless found that it took some major dietary changes to get his regular eating habits to fit those currently recommended. Grimes stresses the impracticality of the dietary guidelines (which he cannot get himself to follow), and I'd imagine that the drinking guidelines currently being employed are equally unrealistic. A couple sharing a bottle of wine on a date is guilty of excessive drinking, as is a man who has three beers over several hours at a party. A woman who, in the course of a meal, has a pre-dinner or after-dinner drink, as well as a glass of wine with dinner, has also apparently crossed the line.

While drinking below the "excess" level, and, of course, not drinking at all, are viable options, the less-than-one-or-two rule ought to be looked at as an ideal to strive for, not as a hard-and-fast line past which one becomes just another statistic. I am not against the existence of eating or drinking guidelines, and do think there's something to be gained by having an understanding of what's very harmful, what's a little bit harmful, and what's fine. But to get all smug and Jane Brody-esque, looking down on those consumers of full-fat cheese (Argh! Got four varieties currently in the fridge.) and on anyone who ever says, "I'll have another," can easily cross the line from helpful nudging to an unnecessary shoving down other people's throats of certain "ideals" that, while ideal in general, may not work for many healthy individuals. Because what ends up happening is, someone reads that a hamburger and three beers will do them in, so they think, "What's the harm in another burger plus a six-pack? I'm already done for."

I hate to say it, Andrew, but...

...I told you so. And in this case, I really do wish I were wrong.

Andrew Sullivan says that if the gays play nice and don't push for rights in the next few years, then everyone will eventually "see the light" about what good people gays are. He even went so far as to say that upholding the Defense of Marriage Act (which prohibits marriage at a federal level from being extended to homosexuals) was a good thing.

But, proving that no matter how nicely gays play politics, (or interior decorate), they still hate us, Senators are again pushing for a Federal Marriage Amendement, says AP/Yahoo! News:

Senate supporters of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage said Monday they intend to press for passage in the new Congress, brushing aside mixed signals from the White House on the issue's importance at the start of President Bush's second term.

"Who's to say whether we have enough votes or not," said Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., noting that the new two-year Congress has just begun.

He said he expects GOP leaders to call for a vote before the 2006 elections and added, "I think it would be foolhardy to back off when we've got a good head of steam coming out of the election."

The article further discusses some uncertainty that the Dems may actually move to block the bill. Not that I would blame them. In any case, it's a nice way to start out the week. I think I'll go drown my political disenfranchisement sorrows in some Tazo Chai Latte...

Sunday, January 23, 2005

With invitations, wording is everything

Last Friday an email was sent out to the Chicago Friends of Israel mailing list, urging people to attend the "Saturday Night Israeli Movie Night 7 p.m." The movie my friends were planning on going to was one I'd already seen, so I thought, why not go to the Israeli film instead and perhaps meet up with them later? But then I opened the email, and it began, "Still do not have saturday night plans? How about the Saturday Night Israeli Movie Night..." Geez, if you're trying to get people to go to an event, there's no need to imply that the only reason anyone would go is that they are a loser with nothing to do on a Saturday night. And I began to imagine what sort of people would read this email and think, "I still do not have Saturday night plans. This, and this alone, will get me out of my room, where I've been studying/chainsmoking/rocking back and forth for the past week." Or perhaps, "S/he left me for that creep/skank, and now I have no life! What will I do? Aha! Israeli movie night, the answer to my problems!"

The prospect was just too depressing, so although the event itself was probably fine, I could not get myself to attend.

Snow cred

The blizzards here have divided the campus along Snow-State and Non-Snow-State lines. There are those who wade through 4-foot drifts and say, "This is nothing," and then there are the folks shivering at the bus stop, either in head-to-toe winter sports gear or in inappropriate garb from previous, non-Chicago winters. Snow cred conveniently replaces street cred, the means by which students from urban areas scoff at kids who never before encountered the dangers (or the pleasures) of city life. Given my background, I suppose I have moderate amounts of both snow-cred and street-cred, though a mugging near-miss at my bus stop here, followed a week or so later by a tough climb over a mini-mountain of snow to get to that same bus stop, suggest that NYC did not, in fact, give me the cred I'd imagined.

The Ethicist isn't

A man writes into the Ethicist, says his daughter cheated once--and only once!--in high school, and now he's concerned, though the high school removed the offense from the girl's official record, that she will nevertheless be obliged to tell colleges she applies to that, yes, she once cheated. The Ethicist's answer is a piece of work, indeed. This is how the wise one concludes:

I hope college admissions offices will show a real understanding of youthful fallibility and the possibility of reform, regarding this misstep not as the defining moment of your daughter's life but as an anomaly. With luck, colleges will admire her integrity for owning up to her misdeed.

First problem here: I would guess that this was not her "first and last offense," as the father so confidently states in his question. At Stuyvesant (which, lord knows, is probably where the girl in question is in school) the kids who cheated did so mercilessly, and would, in their four years, get caught maybe once. A calculating student would see that she could get away with saying she was young and stupid once, but would hesitate to tell colleges--or her father--that she's cheated before and has cheated since.

This, though, is what aggravates me:

THICK ENVELOPE UPDATE: The daughter was asked about cheating, she replied honestly and she was accepted by her early-decision college. It is gratifying to see integrity rewarded and an admissions office display such savvy and humanity.

Savvy and humanity? Utter nonsense. For every cheating daughter of a Times reader a savvy and humane college admits, there are a whole bunch of smart, honest, but less, well, savvy kids getting thin envelopes in the mail. The college process may be as fair as possible, but it is still incredibly unfair, and tiny slips count against everyone. Even if we take the father at his word that the girl only cheated once, a college's being understanding in one kid's case means being brutal in the cases of the other kids vying for that spot. It is not remotely "gratifying" to see that this girl may be taking the place of some kid who, as I did (and do), takes doing her own work seriously, even if the results do not always match exactly what colleges are looking for. (Suddenly I'm remembering that dreadfully low grade I got in high school physics. I most certainly did not expect "humane" responses from colleges, and was pleasantly surprised when Chicago and some other schools were able to look past it.)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Starbucks, again

While waiting for the bus back to Hyde Park this afternoon, I noticed an ad in the bus shelter for Chantico, a new drink offered by Starbucks. Chantico is making it possible to "go for coffee" while actually going for a cup of melted chocolate. This is bad, bad news. Nothing wrong with chocolate, but is this really the direction we need to be going in? I adore olive oil, but I don't drink it straight. The ad might as well read, "Having trouble passing the 400-lb mark? This'll help." Chantico, it appears, is being marketed as a beverage, not a food, which is especially disturbing given that the Dunkin Donuts across from the bus stop with the Chantico ad is a different ad, one for the new steak, egg, and cheese sandwich, served, oddly enough, on a bagel. So now, a conceivable breakfast in Chicago, and presumably elsewhere in the country, would be steak, egg, and cheese on a bagel, washed down with a cup of melted chocolate. There'd better be many, many miles of incidental walking between your closest Dunkin Donuts and your local Starbucks if you're gonna go down that road.

winter wonderland...

I ventured to Starbucks today for my daily dose of Venti Chai Latte. When I got into the shower, it was bright and sunny. When I ventured out, it was snowing again, and as I approached, a Starbucks employee was de-snowing the sidewalk.

I sat down in my hoodie, enjoying the atmosphere without forcing myself to write or lug a computer and a big reference book along. I sat in the comfy chair and watched the sun emerge.

And then, I watched as within 20 minutes, the church across the street disappeared, and a half-inch of snow was deposited. Another Starbucks employee swept the sidewalk.

The sun poked its head again. I sad and read, immersed in Bill Bryson's tales of England as another half-inch of snow suddenly appeared. And a third Starbucks employee emerged, this time salting the sidewalk to within an inch of its life.

Still I tarried, not only reading but also eyeing the cute guy sitting across from me. The sun poked its head. And a Starbucks employee prevented a couple from continuing their makeout session.

And, the snow reappeared, claiming a temporary victory for white in its battle with brown for the color of Chicago's streets, a car got stuck in snow on the corner of 55th and Woodlawn, and I trudged the one-block distance home. As I left, with a frozen pizza and an over-heated apartment waiting for me, another Starbucks employee was sweeping the sidewalk yet again.

Phoebe Maltz winter coat

Going to Whole Foods in the middle of a blizzard may have been a mistake. But I've decided to think of the trek as my workout for the day, if not the month. I think, in this particular session of incidental walking--well, incidental snow-drift-climbing--I burned more calories than are contained in everything I just bought at Whole Foods. While this sounds like it could be a good thing, it is certainly not cost-effective.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Natalie Portman g-string

The post you've all been waiting for:

I just broke down and saw Closer. Ended up sitting too close, so to speak, which made everyone look a bit chunky, even tiny Ms. Portman in her oft-Googled g-string. I was expecting the movie to be terrible, so it ended up seeming not bad at all. I also haven't watched television since winter vacation, so it was a bit like giving up desserts and then having a stale Twix--hit the spot, but wasn't the best thing ever. This was what I will take with me from this movie:

  • Natalie Portman has a fabulous haircut in the film. I will let my hair return to its natural color, which is about what hers is in most of the movie, and my hair, too, will be fabulous.
  • Clive Owen shirtless is better than Jude Law shirtless.
  • Jude Law fully clothed is better than Clive Owen fully clothed.
  • Julia Roberts should not be blonde.
  • Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney, in the preview for The Wedding Date, were better-looking than the whole Closer cast combined.
  • Debra Messing has cool long red hair. I will keep my hair the fake color and let it grow long.

In other words, Closer moved me on many levels. Profound, dare I say challenging, stuff.

Saran-wrapped girls got nothin' on this math book

Today was the annual Polar Bear Run--Chicago's version of the traditional mid-winter streak across campus. While waiting for the bus in the Reynolds Club, Jenn and I (both fully clothed) noticed we were standing near several girls wrapped in Saran Wrap, clearly just done with the run, who were attempting to transition from plastic wrap to regular clothing in time to catch their bus. This was, needless to say, quite a spectacle. And then, standing behind us, was a man (I'm guessing--just guessing--a grad student) very intently reading a book, which Jenn, who got a better look than I did, determined was math or similar. There were naked girls like four feet in front of him. And he did not look up. And no, it doesn't matter if he was gay (which, given his sweater, I highly doubt)--nudity is nudity, you see it, you look up, especially if everyone around you is in full winter gear, waiting inside for the bus because it's too cold to go out and check if one is on its way. But the dude just keeps reading. This was by far more interesting than the naked girls.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

1992

I guess I'm living in 1992. I did notice that I've been revisiting Green Day and Nirvana a bit lately, but I didn't realize that I'd never left the Nineties to begin with. Using the New Yorker description of that year as my guide, let me count the ways:

  • I can easily think of what BoyzIIMen sound like. No idea what Maroon 5 is--does it have anything to do with the paper I write for?
  • I don't have, and have never tried to use, TiVo.
  • Same goes for the iPod.
  • I don't use Botox (and no, its use is not unheard of among girls my age).
  • Nor do I text-message.
  • I have, however, passed handwritten notes in the not-so-distant past.
  • I eat pasta (i.e. "carbs") most nights of the week.

The New Yorker's definition of what's "2005" from the perspective of a fictitious rich 8th-grader says more about rich 8th-graders than it does about 2005 versus 1992. In the NYC private school world, time moves very, very quickly, and if you don't have the right stuff (be it the latest high-tech gadget if you're a kid, or, if you're a parent, the latest cosmetic procedure) then you're either poor or, god forbid, eccentric.

I'd imagine that most Americans, especially New Yorkers, if asked what makes 2005 different from 1992, would say "2001." At least, that's what I'd say. I'm reminded of the socialite-y woman I noticed, on the morning of September 11th, absentmindedly walking the lap dog while hordes of workers--businesspeople, office workers, everyone--headed north through the sidewalk, the street... While I understand the New Yorker piece to be intended as a cutesy, playful mocking of a trend-obsessed kid, for whom only today's bands are worth knowing, it says a whole lot more about how easily people forget. I mean, an 8th grader today might not remember the attacks, but you'd think his parents might mention it from time to time. The end of the piece, in which the kid exclaims, "I’m so grateful to live in 2005!" made me shudder.

See eww later. Damn, I hope not...

I had a momentary lapse of judgment and agreed with my friends that Snail (as bad as the name implies, no offense to escargot fans) was where we should go for dinner. This general lapse of judgment was followed by a more specific one: I thought that, if I asked for it without the egg, the tofu pad see eww would be tasty and wonderful. Clearly the egg was not the problem: It was mushy, oily, with overcooked noodles and more or less raw broccoli. As usual for an evening on which Snail strikes me as a good idea, I hadn't eaten much at all earlier in the day, so I of course wolfed the thing down, and, though it tasted OK at the time...

The rest of the evening will be devoted to Hebrew and Astrophysics. Oh, will it ever...

...Hyde Park restaurants tend to be mushy, greasy versions of whichever cuisine they claim to represent in the neighborhood. Cucumber-and-tomato salad at Nile? Mushy. Pizza at Medici? Who are they kidding, it's on a croissant-dough base...

...But enough of that. The work is beckoning. As is the diet Coke, which is the universal antidote. Well, might not do much if the culprit was dioxin, not just mediocre Hyde Park pad see eww, but for the latter, can't complain.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Just checking...

Wasn't it Betty Friedan, not Germaine Greer, who wrote The Feminine Mystique?

Walking and Waddling

Points taken, Mr. Thunder. Walking does something for weight-loss (though nothing that a small, "healthy" snack won't cancel out). I should admit that I'm anti-walking this week because I'm bitter--it's too cold to walk anywhere now, here in Chicago, and I miss being able to go from point A to point B without having to wait for a bus.

A Freudian, Seinfeldian take on Summers

Andrew Sullivan thinks Prince Harry "deserves all he got" but is a "huge fan" of Harvard president Lawrence Summers. This should be an easy one to agree with: dressing like a Nazi=bad, stating unpopular, offensive, but at the very least debatable views=good. Well, not quite. I agree with Sullivan that Harry's act was one of "idiocy," but as for his take on Summers... I'm not annoyed by Summers' comments the way I was by David Brooks' suggestion that women start popping out kids around, err, my age, but there's a bit less to celebrate in Summers' remarks than Sullivan seems to find.

Fellow Chicago student (and math major) Maureen Craig has a good takedown of Summers on her blog, noting that it's not exactly that boys are supposed to be better at math and science in general: "The only area of brain function remotely related to science or mathematics where men consistently out-perform women is in three-dimensional spatial reasoning. I'm not sure how much of a role this plays in biology, chemistry, and physics, but as a mathematician I can state with a high level of confidence that the skill remains utterly unused until multivariate calculus." This fits quite well with my own experience of being utterly inept at physics, yet having done well in first-year calculus. I don't know of any female friends who've followed the exact same pattern, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are more of us out there.

But what's at stake here is that Summers' remarks appeal to Sullivan because of their blunt, tell-it-like-it-is nature, their complete indifference to the rules of P.C. Well, here's a blunt, tell-it-like-it-is comeback: What keeps men in power isn't biology, it's their mothers.

(A disclaimer here: all the assertions that follow come from strictly anecdotal evidence. Don't expect, like, hard science or anything.)

In the first-ever WWPD quiz, I asked of whom the following statement was written: "His mother, who adored him and remained...the dominant influence on his personal life, raised him to dream of himself as meant for great things." Though it refers to Theodor Herzl, it could just as easily apply to all guys one comes across who have that swagger that suggests they believe they are "meant for great things." In daughters, educated parents--the ones most likely to produce leaders in various different fields--value social skills, beauty (in particular thinness) and intelligence insofar as it manifests itself as wittiness, being obedient at school, and so on. With sons, parents are fine if the kid's a bit eccentric, they don't want to seem too lower-class and care about whether the kid likes sports, but they'd love it if their son turns out to be some kind of crazy genius. And if a boy shows some aptitude for science, philosophy, math, or similar at a young age, his parents--especially his mother--will be overjoyed. They will encourage him to pursue his intellectual talents to the exclusion of all else. He will grow up to be obnoxious, overly confident, and, as a result, a success. How do I know that this is how it is? In the words of Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld,* "I live and breath." ("Women's intuition?" Whatever. Men and women alike are aware of this phenomenon.)

*On the show, Seinfeld's mother says of her son, "How could anybody not like Jerry?" She just can't comprehend. That, not biology, is what holds women back.

We're not *that* odd...

My friend Jenn pointed out that my Maroon article on primping at the U of C has been written up in Chicago web publication Gapers Block. Gapers Block writer Veronica Bond hints that Chicago students don't look so hot, male or female. Hey, we're not so bad. Really, we're not.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The UES paradox... is no paradox

Waddling, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to disagree with you on a couple points:

It is simply not true that "all French people, not just women, remain lean and trim." They're not as heavy as Americans, and have better diets overall, but are catching up. In fantasy-France, everyone has full-fat yogurt with fruit for breakfast and steak frites, salad, and red wine for dinner, but all in small portions, of course, and fits into a small size at agnes b. In real-life-France, there are stops at Quick (a fast-food chain) and there's easy access to candy bars, some even of the Twix variety.

And it's also not true that "incidental" walking--i.e. walking to work, to the store, etc., rather than driving-- is "the kind of exercise that slaughters calories." It would be nice if a 45-minute walk could keep you slim, but it's unlikely. Sure, it beats 45 minutes spent eating Cheetos, but it doesn't do much more for you than 3/4 of an hour, say, blogging.

The French paradox is immensely appealing--how do they do it?--but doesn't wash. (And this is not meant as a slight to the French, who, for the most part, do wash.) Ignoring that actual French people do not all follow it...the "French" way of life will make an overweight American a little bit lighter, but will put such a person at risk for all sorts of tobacco- and red meat-related diseases. For those who need a culture to emulate when trying to lose weight, the lifestyle of wealthy Americans in places like Manhattan will keep a person far thinner and healthier than the traditional French diet of cream, meat, tobacco, and wine. And such a lifestyle doesn't require an i-banker income--just eat very little, maybe do some serious exercise, like running (which requires no gym membership or special equipment), and make sure that your peers are super-bitchy and will make you feel bad about passing the 100-lb. mark.

Edina vs. Saffy at Columbia

Molly is blogging again (yay!) and has a good response up to the whole Columbia University mess. There are just a couple things I'd like to add. What I find most upsetting about what's going on at Columbia, though, is that the professors don't think much of their undergraduate students, and complain that their college students are parochial, inexperienced fools. Rashid Khalidi expressed this view in New York Magazine, when holding forth on those Jewish kids from Long Island City, and the NYT reports that several Columbia professors share the sentiment.

Some pro-Mealac professors say the anti-Mealac students are, in effect, hicks, products of sheltered environments where pro-Palestinian views are absent. One faculty member suggested that there is "no underestimating how ignorant college students are."

The term "ignorant" can mean two different things--either someone lacks knowledge but is open to being informed, or a person willfully remains opposed to learning about alternate opinions. Students by definition are supposed to be ignorant in the former sense of the word. So it's useless for professors to complain that their students didn't come to college with a nuanced, detailed, and balanced understanding of world events. The job of a professor is to inform, to give facts, and to challenge (not necessarily disprove, and certainly not just angrily shout down) students' preconceived notions. While it seems lame and obnoxious even to fellow undergrads when "that guy" (it's almost always a guy--ask Summers for the biological explanation behind that one--though I'll admit I've been "that girl"...) goes on and on in a freshman seminar about how he alone knows what Plato meant by whatever, but how much humility is to be expected? Must students preface everything they say in class with, "I am but a lowly undergrad from the sticks/suburbs/Upper East Side and what I'm about to say is surely way off, and no more than a pathetic parrotting of things my parents told me, but..."?

Even those who have conquered ignorance (i.e. professors) still tend to stick with their originally-held views, and frequently have no more nuanced political stances than do their students. It is easy to move in academic circles and never encounter conservative views, though intelligent conservatives do, in fact, exist. This is why a group of liberal professors created Left2Right, precisely because liberal academics are notoriously incapable of comprehending where their intelligent, reasonable (i.e. not Ann Coulter) political adversaries are coming from. But "learning where their adversaries are coming from" often just means learning more clever ways to bring the opposition down.

And this idea that the "bad" type of ignorance, among college students or others, is correlated with whether one is pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, or somewhere in between, is just ridiculous.

What this really comes down to, though, is that professors and college students are engaged in the Absolutely Fabulous, Edina versus Saffy conflict. The older generation can't believe how uncool the younger one is, how not with-it they seem to be, while the younger generation can't believe the idiocy and trendiness its elders. While the Middle East conflict is complex, with both sides having legitimate grievances and having made serious errors, on college campuses, being pro-Palestinian is chic and being pro-Israeli is not. Is this because Jews are supposed to be dorky, so whoever opposes Jews is by definition cool? Is it because keffiyehs are thought to be more glam than yarmulkes? Who can say. It's just that, in the campus debate between the hip and square, between the left-leaning in-crowd and the mysterious Red Americans who are to be studied from a careful distance, the pro-Israelis (a group that was once considered a subset of the left) are lumped in with the folks who don't want evolution in their textbooks.

The Times piece acknowledges the role that trendiness plays in all of this:

Pro-Israel professors on campus, who have been conspicuously quiet, say they feel cowed and nervously out of fashion. "Many Jewish faculty members feel uncomfortable with this whole issue and wish it would go away," said Stephanie G. Neuman, a senior research scholar and the director of the university's comparative defense studies program, who has taught at Columbia since the 1970's. "Most of them come out of the same leftist, assimilationist background as I do. We're uncomfortable with the idea that the left has abandoned Israel and maybe abandoned Jews. We're in cognitive dissonance."

It might just be that I've been studying the Dreyfus Affair...but the parallels are uncanny. Assimilated, free-thinking Jews are afraid to protest anti-Semitism (or even to investigate whether it is, in fact a problem and then do something about it if it is) because they're afraid to seem whiny and annoying and thus provoke further anti-Jewish sentiment. Rather than argue forcefully for their own role in determining what direction the left is to take, Jewish leftists worry about overstepping their bounds. And it's understandable why they worry, since people like Rashid Khalidi seem to think that pro-Israeli Jews are pretty much running the show as it is. But there's nothing intrinsically conservative about being pro-Israel (being pro-Sharon, perhaps, but that's something else), and leftist or socialist Zionist views were and are hardly inconceivable. Allegience to the left is allegience to principles, not to the supposedly left-wing side of some conflict currently being waged at Columbia.

upcoming events...

When I was a student, I used to get bored doing work (imagine that!) so I'd google my professors. Well, when I googled my rather unassuming Biochemistry Prof., Marvin Makinen, imagine my surprise to find that, during his youth, he'd been incacerated in one of the worst Soviet prisons on charges of espionage.

Why, you ask, was a young American biochemist on such a mission? Well, he'd been interested in the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of literally tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the end of WWII (think: Oskar Schindler but less complicit), but who mysteriously disappeared at the end of the war (most likely b.c. he refused to spy for the USSR).

Makinen's presenting a paper on the statistical studies he's done into Wallenberg's disappearance, and though he's generally pretty tight-lipped about his time in the gulag, it should nevertheless be interesting.

Who: UChicago Biochemist Marvin Makinen
What: "Development of Forensic Database Methods in Search of 'the Disappeared': The Case of Raoul Wallenberg" (paper for lecture)
When: Wed. 1/19 at 4:30 PM
Where: UChicago, Pick Hall 101

Makinen, btw, also discovered how Penicilin works at the molecular level. So he's no Biochemistry hack, either.

Oh, and for those of you who are Woody Allen fans (and what self-respecting WWPD reader isn't!?), check out my tied-for-second-favorite-movie-ever, Manhattan Murder Mystery at Doc tomorrow...

okay Pheobe, I'll stop using your soapbox now.

brrrrrrrrPod

I just got back from downtown, where I took in Million Dollar Baby and Meet the Fokkers, both of which I enjoyed. In any case, as I was coming home--mind you it's three degrees out right now, not counting wind chill--I was, as I have been since our cold spell began, continually frustrated by the neck-strangling difficulty that is wearing an iPod while wearing a scarf. and if one also wants to carry a messenger bag on one's shoulder--well!

Smart people at Apple computer: this note is for you. Humans went to the moon. We created heinously amazing things like the iPod, the Huygens probe and Pad See Ew with beef. Surely something can be done..?

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Broadway census

I see the value of having racially diverse schools, companies, and the like. But must absolutely every event for which Americans gather be one in which all races are proportionately represented? In the NYT, Jesse McKinley writes:

The study [of attendance at Broadway shows], which collated 8,078 responses to a detailed questionnaire distributed at Broadway performances throughout the season, also confirmed a number of less happy - and longstanding - trends, including the audiences' continued homogeneity and age. The Great White Way is apparently precisely that: 80 percent of Broadway audiences are white, with Hispanic, black and Asian-American groups logging only 3 to 4 percent each.

Frankly, who cares? The Times? Broadway producers? Broadway shows are, in my opinion, kinda lame, and while some others would surely disagree, the fact of the matter is, going to Broadway shows is not a prerequisite for leading a fulfilled , happy, or even upper-class life. Seats at Broadway shows aren't like spots at Harvard or seats in the Senate--your ethnic group is not somehow missing out if it doesn't appear in statistically appropriate numbers. And it's not as if minorities are barred from attending the shows, which, if it were the case, would be terrible, but clearly all that's at stake is lack of interest. Can't it just be that Broadway shows tend to appeal to certain people--white, older, not from NYC--and that that's neither a good thing nor a bad one?

Broadway shows and race are also discussed in another article in the Times. In her review of Essie Mae Washington-Williams's memoir of growing up as Strom Thurmond's mixed-race daughter, Dear Senator, Janet Maslin cites a passage she finds especially relevant to Washington-Williams's unique situation:

But in the end this is worth reading for more than its glimpses of the elusive senator. Ms. Washington-Williams does have her own story to tell. Its central conundrum is reflected in an anecdote about her first impressions of New York City. Her sense of the city was formed by musicals like "On the Town." And as she heads north from Midtown, she wonders disappointedly why Harlem isn't part of that Broadway tableau. Her cousin Calvin explains, "We've got our own music."

Well, these days, everyone's got their own music. Plenty of (if not most) white kids from the suburbs would rather go to a hip-hop show than to a Broadway musical. An irony-loving hipster indie-rock fan is unlikely to jump for joy upon realizing he's received two tickets to "The Lion King." A society matron probably wouldn't trade in her seat at the Metropolitan Opera to go see "Rent." Broadway show's aren't for everybody, not because they're expensive (they are, but so are many NYC concerts, nightclubs, etc.), but because they're big, loud things in Midtown that not all people consider worthwhile uses of time. That older white people are statistically overrepresented in their audiences is neither a "happy" trend nor an unhappy one. It's just how it is.

From Brad Pitt to chunky layers

Via Gawker, seems she of the original "Rachel" cut has ditched the (allegedly) hottest man alive for her hairdresser (who may or may not be the hairdresser responsible for that particular mid-90s 'do). I never much liked the "Rachel"--a poufy but straight, dirty-blond layered look, with shorter pieces in the front and the whole thing suspended by shimmery but rigid hairspray, or so it appears--and, because of the "Rachel," always ask hairdressers to angle my hair in the opposite direction, with the back a bit shorter than the front.

Bring "out" the dead

OK, this should be it, but Nick's Lincoln comment reminded me...I'm not sure what the postumous outing of various individuals is supposed to do for gay rights now, for the right of living gay people to marry, to join the army, and so on. Andrew Sullivan is, as Nick points out below, altogether fascinated by Lincoln's gayness, to the point of dwelling on it beyond any relevance it might have. But Sullivan is also suddenly coming to the defense of the once-despised Susan Sontag, whose wife, as it were, has been largely ignored in obits of Sontag, but who nevertheless placed high up in Sontag's will. Problem is, Annie Leibovitz wasn't exactly Sontag's wife, at least not according to Sontag, who, in a quote Sullivan posted a while back, outed herself, but maintained that Leibovitz was just a friend.

Sullivan writes: "Annie Leibovitz is second in line only to Susan Sontag's son, according to the New York Daily News. In Virginia, Leibovitz would, of course, have to fight for this in court. In all those states with bans on civil marriage and civil unions, Sontag's bequest could be challenged by Sontag's relatives as well, if they so chose." He adds, dryly, "Still, since Leibovitz and Sontag were just good friends, why should anyone worry?"

But this is crucial: If Sontag and Leibovitz were just good friends, and didn't even consider themselves married, then perhaps the law doesn't and shouldn't owe much to Leibovitz. If a straight person with an opposite-sex best friend dies, does that best friend automatically get morphed into a spouse? Now, it's certainly possible that Sontag and Leibovitz were, for all purposes, married, and that it was societal homophobia that, despite Sontag's being out, prevented the two to declare the status of their relationship. It's also highly possible that Sontag was a complex and unconventional woman who towards the end of her life chose a partner who fit no particular societally (gay society or straight) role: a platonic female best friend. Had she lived longer, perhaps Sontag would have fallen (romantically) in love with another woman or man, and would have put this person higher up in her will, but as it was, at the time of her death, perhaps Leibovitz was just the person she was second-closest to. The law does not check up on married couples to make sure they like each other like that, but the idea is, marriage is what happens when people decide to go well beyond friendship, committment-wise. Even if the law does not recognize gay marriage, Sullivan does. He refers to his own "boyfriend" not "husband" or "would-be-husband" and is accomplishing nothing by giving Sontag a wife she may or may not have actually had.

Somewhere, in some strange afterlife, Abe Lincoln and Susan Sontag are gettin' it on with each other at this very moment. Or maybe they're just sharing a bed, dreaming, respectively, of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, both of whom are on the market once more...

Andrew Sullivan is just plain wrong. And annoying.

Look, generally I like Andrew Sullivan. So maybe this is the lack of caffeine talking. But I'm rather appalled at what I read in his blog just now thanking the President for rescinding his support of the Federal Marriage Amendment, because the Defense of Marriage Act is adequate. The "money quote" (as he would call it):

We should refrain from any constitutional or legal challenge to DOMA for the foreseeable future (something I've urged for a long time now). We should also refrain from any attempt to force any state to recognize a gay marriage from another state (of course that's different from a state voluntarily recognizing such marriages). We should practise moderation, just as the Senate is practising moderation....The president has given us this opportunity. It would be crazy not to reciprocate. But for the record: thanks, Mr president.

Mine eyes doth deceive me. Thanks Mr. President!? For what!? Scapegoating fags to get re-elected?!

Look, it's an overused tagline, "writing discrimination into the constitution." But the fact is, it's truer than most people realize. The existence of the FMA and the DOMA will render completely impossible legal equality for homosexuals, because they provide a rational basis for discrimination against homosexuals (see: 14th amendment law). As long as those laws exist, all of the other rights homosexuals have accumulated are completely at risk. Those who really don't believe that's what's at risk here should talk to Rick Santorum, who wants to be the next POTUS.

But beyond that, Sullivan's strategy is simply absurd. What minority ever got anywhere by compromising and pretending like nothing was wrong for a long while? When did accepting the status quo ever force anyone to change anything? Since when do government instiutions and people in red states like change?

We win hearts and minds by making clear the injustice done to us. We should make them want to write it into the consitution, not make ourselves acceptable to them--because, and Sullivan just doesn't get this--we'll never be acceptable to them as long as we're gay, and that's not our fault, that's their fault. Eventually, the whole edifice of gay rights will crumble. And then we will see what social conservatism has wrought. There will most certainly be suffering along the way. But at least history will not judge us and say, they were the minority who went out not with a bang, not even with a whimper, but who even asked to be handed their hats.

Too many people in this world--oddly enough, many of them conservatives like Mr. Sullivan--seem to believe in the Hegelian view that the world is progressing inevitably to some better state. It's by no means the case, say I. No bit of progress ever came without fighting tooth and nail, and we shouldn't forget the lessons of history, which teach us that our progress so absurdly reversible (e.g., the Florida adoption law, passed after Stonewall and upheld last week). Let us not be the shepherds of our own destruction.

P.S. Andrew--enough about Abe being gay for a while already. We get it--you're fascinated. Let's move on, eh?

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Reg update

Yeah, made it. Ran into occasional co-blogger Nick Tarasen, who informed me that he doesn't like coffee, he likes chai, and that that's why he couldn't eat some M&Ms of mine that had somehow ended up on my overturned coffee lid and which may have made contact with coffee. If Molly were here, it would have been a real-life WWPD? (re)uinion, but alas, she is in NYC, so no such luck...

As for actual work, I am well into problem number one of the physci homework, which is blissfully free of equations and which involves looking up definitions in the textbook. The second involves two students, one who weighs 115 lbs. and one who weighs 175. Clearly (assuming these are, respectively, a woman and a man of average height) this word problem does not take place in contemporary Brazil...

Lipstick Regian

I've been trying to put off the inevitable. Part of this afternoon's procrastination has involved rediscovering my bright red lipstick. A little too glam for a trip to the Reg, but in this weather, anything that counts as an extra layer shouldn't be too easily dismissed.

French eye for the anti-Bush guy

Michael Moore is the latest American makeover recipient. And, never one to fear being called a francophile, Moore let a Frenchman named Laurent do the dirty work. It appears he has received what is currently termed the metrosexual treatment--spiked hair, hipster glasses, removal of baseball hat--and he looks less grungy, to be fair. But should a man whose whole image is being one of (or at least one with) "the people" really be getting his goatee dyed by the owner of salons called "Privé"?

Deconstructing Harry

Yeah, he's a dumb, pampered kid, probably something of a creep, but beyond that, I'm not sure if anyone's considered that Prince Harry's decision to get all Nazi-ed out for a party had less to do with his being fed up with being in the public eye, or with his exercising his right to a private life, than with a certain amount of deep-felt resentment at being born at a time when being an English prince means little more, relatively speaking, than being a very rich English dude. Think about it--he has to grow up knowing that, had he been born just a few centuries earlier, the circumstances of his position would have meant far more than getting to buy his offensive costumes at taxpayers expense. For most of us (excepting those living in tsunami-affected or war-torn regions and the like), if we imagine that we were born into our own families, but in earlier times, we can be assured that our lives would have been much, much worse. Depending how far back in my family you go, you encounter victims of the (actual, non-costume-wearing) Nazis, pogroms, ghettos, and all manner of banishments from who knows which European countries. Go back into other people's families, you get slavery, serfdom, and other sorts of misery. But if you're a royal in today's England, sure, you have access to modern technological advances, but you're also comparatively less impressive than you once would have been. By decking himself out as a Nazi, Harry was asserting that he was above the law, and certainly above the judgment of anyone--tabloid-writers, British Jews, North American bloggers--beneath him. A high-up royal living at a time when these things matter could not just dress up like a Nazi, but could decide he felt like killing five people whose last names started with the letter "Z" and that would be the afternoon's entertainment.* Well, the sad (for him) fact of it being 2005, he had to apologize. Josh Cherniss wisely suggests that Harry just give the whole royal business up for good. One must keep in mind that this is an option--being royal is a tradeoff, and if Harry just wants the money, he could write a book about his experiences and otherwise forfeit the whole thing.

*Admittedly I know little about British royal history--I confuse it with French royal history, which I know a bit more about, and tend to assume Blackadder tells it like it was.