Sunday, October 30, 2005

Women like sex, after all

Hei Lun of Begging to Differ, who argued that "Men like sex more than women do" and that you could verify this by asking your father (!), has retracted his post. (What it means to retract a post yet keep it online does not entirely make sense to me--people can read his arguments, but not respond to them, since he doesn't really mean them, or something like that?--but regardless, just thought it was worth noting.)

Dowd weighs in

Maureen Dowd has really pretty hair and shoes. This in no way takes away from the seriousness of her arguments about feminism. It merely means that upon seeing her piece in the Magazine my first thought was, I should really redo the red. (I had reddish hair way back when, but it has since grown out/faded). It also makes me think I should, you know, write more articles. So she's a role model on many levels, even if I disagree with nearly everything she writes. But her article made me think (as, presumably, was the case for many readers, what with it being the most-emailed article and all).

It seems the whole Kass, etc., debate is really about this: young women are not planning for the future. Reasonably attractive college-age women have endless options, from abstinence to promiscuity, but older women either have a spouse or they don't. Too much emphasis on pleasure among young women will lead to a fun 20s but a lonely 50s. Men can be convinced that their college girlfriends won't put out until getting a ring, but they cannot be convinced that older women are as desirable as young. It's not that young women don't enjoy casual sex and multiple partners--everyone not in a committed relationship or with other specific objections wants these things--but that, once they get older, their options go from endless to extremely limited. By "catching" a man while young, women limit their own options and their own possibilities for ultimate pleasure, but are not forced to look for a spouse when they are middle-aged. This is all most unfair and upsetting, but as long as older men have more options than older women, it's unclear how this particular dilemma could be solved. Lesbianism might work, but is not a viable option for women who aren't attracted to other women. The relevant point here is that women's supposedly natural distaste for promiscuity is the outcome of so many other factors, but has nothing to do with a straight woman not wanting to sleep with as many attractive men as might offer.

Oxymoron, or sign of a neighborhood in flux?

"Park Slope Electroylsis."

Saturday, October 29, 2005

What Would Dreyfus Eat?

I don't know enough about Alfred Dreyfus the man to know whether or not he kept kosher. I sort of doubt it, since he was in the 19th century French army, where bringing a sack lunch was probably not an option. But while making salad niçoise for dinner just now, I noticed that, of all complicated, classically French dishes, it's the only one I can think of that, even if prepared with all the traditional ingredients, is 100% kosher. (I'm not including things like roast chicken, which could either be or not be kosher, but which are too simple to count in either direction.) Unlike steak frites, which would be kosher except that butter's usually involved, salad niçoise is just fish, vegetables, and eggs. Most cheeses are not kosher, which eliminates dishes with cheese as an ingredient. I tried to find the history of the salad online just now, but found only a bunch of recipes (including one for a crab salad niçoise, which wouldn't so much count) and this lack-of-wikipedia-entry. Does anyone know the history of salad niçoise? I'd like to think I'm on to something.

A NYC without Jews or abandoned buildings: I'll pass.

Writing at Gothamist about the "Rent is Too Damn High" political party, Jen Chung gives the Monty Pythonesque party the benefit of the doubt:

[P]art of McMillan's [of the Rent is Too Damn High party] hypothesis is that the Jews may be running New Yorkers out of the city. For example, he states, 'If You're Not Jewish, You Will Be Run Out of New York...' and speculates that Jews pretending to be Jews but aren't actually Jews are behind various schemes (or something like that). Well, that certainly won't appeal to Jewish voters. However, part of his platform, making sure that there are no abandoned buildings in the city in order to ensure housing for all, does make some sense.

Not to use a well-worn argument here or anything, but suppose a candidate suggested all this city needs is to get rid of all black people and, say, improve teacher quality. Well, part of that platform also makes some sense. But when another part of a platform makes the party one for raving, racist lunatics, then it's your duty when blogging about it--unless you, too, are a raving, racist lunatic--to ignore all the reasonable things the candidate may say, so as not to encourage people to vote for such a person. Because if this guy won, abandoned buildings would be the least of anyone's concerns.

Also, Chung writes that the party "certainly won't appeal to Jewish voters." Um, what voters in NYC will it appeal to? Chung seems to like their platform (read her post and see for yourself) so that's one vote they can count on.

Shocking the menfolk

Hei Lun at Begging to Differ, well, begs to differ:

At the risk of being mislabeled a conservative, I'm going to go out on a limb and make this bold statement:

Men like sex more than women do.

Now I know you womenfolk out there must be shocked, shocked at this, but I can testify that this is indeed true. Ask any man around you. Ask your local gentry. Even ask your father. It's true....

....What I really want to do is disagree with Phoebe Maltz's contention that "women enjoy it as much as men". († Amy Lamboley) Now this is obviously false to me and every other man in all of the known universe, but apparently it's not even to intelligent, college-educated women.

I like the fact that my BA from Chicago somehow comes into the equation, as if it were in the male libido and not French literature. Oh well.

After pointing out that women have an easier time getting men into bed than vice versa, he writes:

I could go on, but this is either just as obvious to you, or not as much. But I think that men like me would be more receptive to the points on the bigger issue of sex and marriage made by women like Maltz if they weren't based on premises that are so disagreeable.

What is "disagreeable" about my premises? "Disagreeable" doesn't mean something one disagrees with, it means unpleasant. He may think I'm wrong, but what in my argument was unpleasant? Again, oh well.

The comments to this post say what I was trying to say, but far more succinctly:

Kriston writes: Neither gender roles nor sexual relations are fixed constants. Maybe you've never met a feminist, Hei Lun, but probably the whole lot of them will tell you that the social expectations and demands placed on women are intended to curb their desire for sex.

Women are surely enjoying sex more now that contraception is a realistic option and men are expected to share the burdens of pregnancy, planned or not. And feminists have blazed the trail to a frontier in which women can have casual sex without being labeled as sluts.

As a purely scientific question, you have to get to a natural state of equilibrium before you can say one way or another. So long is power is involved, it's hard to say what's natural, isn't it?

How in the world has increased sexual freedom not led to increased sexual happiness? For men, maybe, the pickin's have become less easy; but for women, the increase in sexual freedom has come in the form of both legal rights and orgasms.

And Catherine writes:

"What I really want to do is disagree with Phoebe Maltz's contention that 'women enjoy it as much as men'. († Amy Lamboley) Now this is obviously false to me and every other man in all of the known universe."

i mean, just, have you ever thought that the fact you think this way is, like, YOUR FAULT?

Precisely. We are not in a state in which cultural expectations play no role, in which biology "punishes" men and women equally for promiscuity, and may never be in one. While birth control somewhat evened out the degree to which men and women are "punished" for sex, HIV has, with its asymmetric transmission rate, been a step backwards. And the threat of unplanned pregnancy has not disappeared, and remains a threat to women and not to men, so while gay men put themselves at risk when they are promiscuous, when straight women are promiscuous, they potentially involve another, entirely dependent human being as well (as not all can or will have abortions when faced with an unplanned pregnancy). The dangers for women simply remain greater than the dangers for men. So when a woman who enters a bar or a party and sees, say, 10 guys she'd like to sleep with, she will not try to sleep with all of these men because the aftermath would be worse for her than for them. To say a woman "wants sex" means two things: that she has the urge, and that she thinks it's a reasonably safe thing to do. Women with no fear whatsoever of being shamed by society or being forgotten in the morning (a small, perhaps, but increasing percentage) will nevertheless be more reticent than men. So does this mean women want sex less, and are less likely to seek out sex with many partners? Sure, but if nature could be better conquered, if the physical dangers of sex were more equal, then some of the things men like Hei Lun or Leon Kass "know" to be true about women's desire to settle down with just one guy would no longer be the case. That is where I disagree with Kass, Hei Lun, Ross Douthat, and the others: women do not simply want one man for the sake of having only one man, and out of a lack of a desire for sex with other men. That is nothing but male fantasy, and the only reason it seems like "just how it is" is that factors that have nothing to do with sexual desire are nevertheless very powerful in female decision-making.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Rothian romantic comedy, in 2005?

Since we're going to regress to a time when women were either virgins or whores, when metaphorical milk was not given away for free, why not a new romantic comedy "dusting off and quietly updating some of the themes associated with Philip Roth and Woody Allen"? Prime (not to be confused with Proof) is a movie about a Jewish guy, an Uma Thurman playing (playing?) a "shiksa", and a Jewish mother who is also a therapist. This all sounds most original.

Some like it lukewarm

Women aren't into sex. Men, however, want nothing more than to screw everything that moves. This is nature, who are we to judge? Oh, and why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

Or so argue Ross Douthat, Leon Kass, Harvey Mansfield, and, unfortunately, others.

Responding to a Slate piece in which Meghan O'Rourke asserts that Kass and Mansfield are out-of-touch old fogeys, young fogey Douthat concludes that "when it comes to sex and its consequences, women are more vulnerable then men - and that it might not be the end of the world for men, even conservative men, to occasionally recognize this elementary fact."

Women used to be a gazillion trillion zillion times more vulnerable than men when it came to sex. Biologically more vulnerable, and consequently socially and emotionally more vulnerable as well. Not just unwanted children one might have to schlep to soccer practice, not an i-banking career postponed, but death in childbirth was often the result. And women in many places are still subject to this risk. Only in recent years--and in privileged parts of the world--has it become possible for men and women to experience more or less the same biological consequences from sex. But, because the condom-pill (or what have you) combo is so new, and is still hardly universally used among those not wishing to have children, much of the cultural residue of sex being more dangerous for a woman remains. Also, some inequalities--such as in transmission of HIV; the fact that children, in even the most enlightened families, must still be given birth to by women; not to mention in the fact that if birth control--including condoms to prevent HIV transmission--is not used, things revert to "nature," do persist, serving as reminders of how things may be. But the fact of the matter is, humans have found ways for women not to be "punished" by "nature" for acts some deem immoral. Some conservatives are not content with condemning acts as immoral, but wish for women--women who grew up with the pill and condoms--to return to a state of affairs in which they will be physically punished for acts these particular conservatives aren't fond of.

We are now at a point when the biological consequences of sex can be, and often are, close to equal for men and women. While societal ideas of women being more "punished" for sex "naturally" than men are remain, the fact is, nature no longer inflicts this punishment the way it used to. Only a religious or otherwise irrational (and I say "irrational" with no value judgment intended) conviction could suggest that women would benefit from a return to "nature" and a removal of various technological advances. Once men and women are equally punished, or, rather, not punished, biologically for non-procreative sex, it all of a sudden becomes clear that (gasp) women enjoy it as much as men, that women used to enjoy it less than men--and still do in some situations--because intercourse had such well-known, dire consequences. But if nature can be controlled, and yet we choose as a society to cease to control it, we ought to have a reason, since it is, after all, a step backwards rather than a maintenance of the status quo. Why do we want things otherwise? Nature offers all sorts of inequalities--in "nature" diabetics wouldn't last too long--as well as other delights, such as 13-year-olds with raging hormones, people of both sexes with inclinations towards homosexuality, and other "facts of nature" which I would assume Douthat would not want to be used in determining which policies are based in nature and thus acceptable. Why is the admittedly natural inequality between men and women in terms of sex a part of nature we should see as worthy of conservation?

Which brings me to the second problem: I do not see how women would gain from this return to nature. Would there be no sex until marriage, so as to make sure the inevitable children are born into wedlock? At what age would this marriage occur? Waiting until one's mid-20s to first have sex might, ahem, bother some people. Which leads to this, related problem: sure, women could just refuse men sex in order to not give away the milk for free and so forth, but this suggests, again, that women do not themselves enjoy sex. This is why the milk-for-free argument is such nonsense--the "milk" goes, if you will, both ways, so witholding sex punishes both partners, assuming they like each other "in that way" and are reasonably coordinated....

In 1997, University of Chicago professor and bioethicist Leon Kass decided to expound upon what women want, or, rather, don't want. Women, it seems, don't want lots of sex with lots of men. Not because they have heard stories and read books about the terrible consequences for women who put out, consequences which have been rendered near-irrelevant by modern medicine, but because women just aren't like that:

"To make naturally polygamous men accept the conventional institution of monogamous marriage has been the work of centuries of Western civilization, with social sanctions, backed by religious teachings and authority, as major instruments of the transformation, and with female modesty as the crucial civilizing device."

Ugh! Once provided with birth control options not available during past "centuries of Western civilization," women are as "naturally" polygamous as men. Women are stopped from jumping on every person they find attractive for the same reasons as men are--so as not to cheat on a partner, so as not to get an STD--and whatever inequality remains is likely a mix between the remaining biological inequality (women are still the only ones who might get pregnant; HIV transmission is more likely for straight women than straight men) and the lingering idea that women will be punished for sex, an idea that developed when this was, in a more literal sense, true. Kass just makes no sense--the Bible was written/given/whatever at a time when these natural inequalities were not chosen by social conservatives but were unavoidable. Would most single, heterosexual women, with the promise of no unwanted pregnancy, no STDs, and no taunting from the Douthats of the world, have and enjoy having sex with multiple partners. Sorry to break it to you, men who would have it otherwise, but yes, this is exactly what would happen.

And Kass also makes this charming suggestion, one later to be expressed by David Brooks:

"Training for careers by women could be postponed until after the early motherhood years—perhaps even supported publicly by something like a GI Bill of Rights for mothers who had stayed home until their children reached school age. "

Ugh! I, for one, will have less energy at 40 or 45 than I have now, at 22. That science has not yet conquered. Whatever brain power I have had better be channeled into something now, while I still remember what my BA paper was about, while I still remember the languages and math I took in college. Imagine taking a standardized test after not seeing anything but your elementary school children's homework for 10 years. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? But of course it's not as if women have much to offer in the way of ideas, anyway.

And finally, a call-to-arms (or, rather, to crossed legs) if there ever was one:

"Is there perhaps some nascent young feminist out there who would like to make her name great and who will seize the golden opportunity for advancing the truest interest of women (and men and children) by raising (again) the radical banner, 'Not until you marry me'? And, while I'm dreaming, why not also, 'Not without my parents' blessings'?"

Ugh! once more. Women. Like. Sex. I could see withholding trips to Blimpie's or Arby's or sporting events, but sex? What of the woman who, in any given instance, wants sex and not marriage? And what's all this about parents' blessings? Good grief. The demographic Kass is so worried about--University of Chicago students and similar--is being told by its collective parents not to get married before getting a graduate degree of some kind. No "blessings" till that MBA is finished, dear. And you know what? Call me a conservative, but I like that status quo.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sleeping together

Matthew Yglesias has pointed readers to Brio, a Christian teen magazine. Not theology, but things like, "Is it a sin to wear a tampon?" The advice archives are possibly the most dangerous procrastination tool I have ever encountered, in part due to the links that simply beg to be clicked: "A Crush, Hepatitis C and Wearing Tampons" or "Ouija Boards and Guys." There's a lot of advice on how to stop being gay (including the oh-so-helpful suggestion that one was probably never gay in the first place, but rather admired another girl's "feminine qualities"), but that's to be expected. The stranger problem that keeps coming up, one I never knew was a problem, is that of a boy and a girl sleeping together, as in, falling asleep fully clothed, before marriage. That's apparently not permitted. Presumably same-sex bed-sharing is also no good, but I have not yet finished these archives, nor do I intend to given that that would waste still more time, so I can't say for sure. Regardless, I wonder what Christian advice columnist Susie Shellenberger would say about my most sinful post-Stuyvesant-prom night, during which give or take six fully clothed, fully geeky students of both sexes shared one bed. Nothing "happened," for all the obvious reasons, but there was some sleeping, so perhaps some hardcore sinning was, in fact, taking place.

What strikes me as unfair about this "sin" is that some people grow up in NYC, where apartments are minute and sleepovers mean bed-sharing is a must. You can't give everyone a bed or even floor space for a sleeping bag, or provide a room for boys and a room for girls. Is the assumption just that Brio readers do not find themselves, post-prom, in classmates' West Village apartments? If so, that would probably be a fair assumption.

Someone got here by Googling...

"what do hasidic jews do all day?"

Not in quotes, since never before had I written that exact phrase.

Well, what do they do all day, you ask? I'm guessing it depends on whether or not it's a holiday, and whether or not they are under the influence of Chabad. I'm guessing there's some going around and asking passersby, "Are you Jewish?" and plenty of totally unrelated stuff as well.

Thanks for asking. Next question?

Francophilic Zionism?

France, unlike Iran, believes Israel should continue to exist. I mean, it's something.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A return to carbs

Made striped bass tonight. It was better than "sea trout," but not as good as salmon. I want to like fish, but it's just not happening. Sometime, I'll go to a restaurant and see how fish is supposed to be prepared. But back to pasta-pizza-muffins tomorrow.

Sorry, folks, this is as personal as it gets here at WWPD.

Fish update

Since my most-commented-on post in a while was on my attempts at becoming a fish person (not in the mermaid sense) I figured I should let everyone know the follow-up:

I bought fish at the farmers' market on Saturday, but had no idea which kind to get, since the options were unfamiliar to me, except for tuna which looked good but a) was expensive and b) would not be an adventurous enough. I was most curious about striped bass, but they were out of the fillets and only had smoked or whole fish. Too confusing. So I pointed to the various fish fillets available and asked the man working at the stand which were which and ended up going with sea trout. I'd never heard of it, but it looked harmless enough. My roommates and I do not yet have a working oven, so I cooked it on the stovetop with lemon, olive oil, salt, and pepper. As it cooked, it began to remind me of fish from the Pierce dining hall, just sort of thin and limp. I had this sudden image of the dining hall and all of a sudden the fish looked really unappealing. But it ended up tasting decent, I suppose. Next stop: striped bass. For real. It just looks so neat.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Pit-stained Prada

I have nothing to say about the article in New York Magazine about where gentrification in Williamsburg ends, since I've spent little time in either gentrified or ungentrified L-train territory. However, one of the highlights of every school break I spent in NYC during college was taking 6-train trips to Nolita, an area I'd loved during late high school and that most definitely had no parallel in Chicago. So I was curious to see if the "Nolita bubble" had, in fact, burst. Apparently stores are closing because the economy does not sustain tiny shops on side streets selling Vietnamese lacquerware.

Nolita's failing is that it is an area whose entire appeal is based upon its being off the beaten path, away from the throngs of tourists and commercialism of SoHo. Yet, in pure geographic terms, Nolita is right next to SoHo, and any tourist daring (or lost) enough to cross Lafayette will soon be in is midst. Plus, there are plenty of tourist spots within Nolita's borders (pizza places, mainstream bars, overpriced iced cream certainly not intended for the local hipster/models), and one of the main subway lines leading to SoHo brings passengers to what is actually Nolita (Spring and Crosby). Nolita's appeal, though, is that it offers a charming and approachable segue between Lower East Side edginess/grittiness and SoHo mall-dom. Sure, you feel safe walking around Nolita at night, maybe a bit less than in SoHo and more than on the Lower East Side. And the boutiques in Nolita may have SoHo prices, but the clothes have an independent or unusual feel to them that makes them suitable for wearing to bars on the Lower East Side. And finally, Nolita is genuinely a, well, cute part of the city, with a not-forced-seeming European feel, and with more simultaneously beautiful and cool people than might be found anywhere else on the planet. (Williamsburg may have its hipsters and Soho its models, but the forces meet in Nolita as in no other place I've been). Plus, for an expensive area, it has its bargains, from cheap designer jeans at Find Outlet to well-under-$10 meals at Rice.

The epitome of Nolita for me would be the Prince Street store Ina. It's used clothing, complete with used shoes and extra-markdown bins, but everything is still objectively super-expensive. How much should used shoes ever be, even if they have a bit of a Manolo logo left on the inner sole? While the store feels very downtown and casual (though it apparently now has a branch uptown), it is meant for people who are familiar with uptown labels and who want to pay a bit less not for avant-garde fashion but for the same clothes Upper East Side 14-year-olds were wearing three years ago. Just as it's dubious whether even in NYC there's enough of a market for pit-stained Prada, the entire neighborhood will probably have to just get absorbed into SoHo or fall apart.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Just got back from a fantastic day with my roommate Katherine. We saw the Prague show at the Met, which was filled with relics and shiny things; looked at agnes b.; went to the home of my bright-green vegan bag; and ate the absolute best Thai food in the history of the universe. I had no idea pad see ew could be so good, and at I think the exact price as Snail pad see ew, but in a much more chic setting in a far more posh city and area.

Worth noting: at Dean and Deluca before the Met, Katherine pointed out these, um, special muffins. I borrowed a pen and wrote down on a receipt what they were:

Mufflafel: wheat flour, chickpeas, fava beans, zucchini, eggs, soy milk, manchego cheese, canola oil, sugar, spices, sea salt, baking powder.

This is fusion/yuppie food/Westernized Middle Eastern food at its worst. Is it a muffin? A falafel? Why zucchini and cheese? I like muffins and falafel, I like manchego, but even just typing this list of ingredients make me somewhat queasy. No, I did not try it--went instead with a cappuccino, which, while not fantastic, at least did not contain, say, a shot of tehina.

Also worth noting: On Madison in the 80s, Katherine and I both tried on a most gorgeous pair of rain boots. We'd reconciled ourselves to the fact that we were buying the same color and size boots, but at $28, they seemed too good to resist. I figured we should just check about the price before going to the register, and we were informed that they were $125. "You must have been looking at the socks," said the man helping us. Indeed, the socks tucked into the boots as part of the display were $28. With that, we removed the boots, tails between our legs, and headed back to Brooklyn.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Model minorities

Letters to the "Style" section complain about an article last week about two Asian-American sisters who've written the book on how to raise high-achieving, hard-working, "Asian"-like children. The letter-writers don't like the stereotypes inherent in the sisters' project and don't think being a "model minority" ought to be anyone's goal. They have a point. But how exactly is Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers - and How You Can Too different from French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating For Pleasure? Where were the rallying cries of French-Americans sick of being stereotyped as thin and chic?

Friday, October 21, 2005


Via Gawker, here is a story about two sisters who look as though they could be run-of-the-mill junior high school girl-bullies turn out to take things further than most, and are apparently white supremacist rock stars. That's nice. I googled their band, "Prussian Blue," and discovered that as younger kids these girls were dirty blonde, which is amusing insofar as it means their current platinum-blondeness is independent of any "Aryan" ancestry.

According to the ABC piece, the girls' mother put them up to it:

"It really breaks my heart to see those two girls spewing out that kind of garbage," said Ted Shaw, civil rights advocate and president of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund — though Shaw points out that the girls aren't espousing their own opinions but ones they're being taught.

On that point, April Gaede and Ted Shaw apparently agree.

"Well, all children pretty much espouse their parents' attitudes," she said. "We're white nationalists and of course that's a part of our life and I'm going to share that part of my life with my children."

Which brings up the question: When is children's political activity their own? Hannah Arendt apparently didn't think children should be used for political ends. I agree completely. Things get more confusing when you're talking not about babies in "Kerry" t-shirts but all people under 18 who hold political opinions. Is a child rebelling against his own parents' views, saying the opposite of whatever he hears them say, any more worth listening to than one blindly following? One stuck, in an immature way, on a cause he knows little about? If both children and adults can be politically inept or politically savvy, even if 18 is the voting age, must all political acts by minors be seen as mere extensions of their parents' own actions? (Why aren't juvenile offenders' parents the ones going to prison?)

When is it a minor's political activity evidence of exploitation? Does the fact that the "Prussian Blue" girsl' youth is being used to attract people to the cause mean that they are being exploited? What if an especially attractive adult were voluntarily doing the same thing, performing white-supremacist songs--would that be considered exploitation? These girls are not infants. Does that mean, if they've been homeschooled by a mother who insists they be white-supremacist singers, they have much say in the matter? No, but chances are she'll encourage them on this path indefinitely. When do they become responsible for speaking up? Or will they, like the Olsen twins, turn to the evils of brown hair dye and New York City?

There's no obvious line between when someone's a baby wearing a political-slogan bib and when he's an individual responsible for his own politics. But I'm not sure these girls are as much of a liminal case as Ted Shaw of the NAACP would like to think.

Do we like organic?

The "Thursday Styles" sends (send?) such mixed messages. First, we are told to doubt the organic-ness of non-food products marketed as organic. But later, we are directed to a new Park Slope boutique selling "modern and organic jewelry." Which is it? Do we like organic? Do we trust it? Is "organic" ever used colloquially (natural-looking) or scientifically (containing carbon), or does it always mean preservative-free? It's so much easier to (do as I do and) not worry about "organic," but the Bobos wouldn't be in Paradise without it, I suppose.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Seafood is confusing

I've decided I should like fish. It's never appealed to me, but now, all of a sudden, it does. Blame it on the slowing, middle-aged metabolism (I am 22, after all, no spring chicken. Not that I've ever been much of a fan of chicken...) or simply getting tired of pasta, cheese, and vegetables every night. So, brilliant readers, some of whom might even be Ashkenazi Jews and thus blessed with those extra levels of intelligence beyond comprehension, I have some questions:

1) What types of fish are tasty? Striped bass looks intriguing but expensive. Salmon and tuna are so last season. "Chilean sea bass" is really a euphemism for "East River Scum," or something like that, right? Trout sounds appealing, but I've only ever had smoked trout, and am not sure what I'd do with a whole fish if I had it before me. Help!

2) Do you really have to go food-shopping every day if you eat fish for dinner? This would pose a problem. I enjoy a weekly trip to a farmers' market, the occasional search for mini-diet-Cokes, but beyond that, not so much. Does fish keep? Do I need to tell my roommates, forget the shower and bathtub, this is now an organic, free-trade fish farm? This may be hippie Brooklyn, but that would not go over well.

3) If I spend the rest of my life consuming only muffins, cappuccinos, apples, pasta, mozzarella, and arugula, will anything bad happen? Will I become nutritionally deficient, or will I end up the author of the formative text on the diet of the new millenium, that millennium being the one beginning either in 5000 or 5001, depending how you look at things?

I may be no genius, but at least I live in Arendt-stabilized apartment

So I went to the Indecision reading at Book Court after all. The book seems amusing enough, and apparently takes place on Chambers Street. I ended up buying the Hannah Arendt Reader, not Indecision, figuring if the Indecision bug bites, I can always go to the Strand. My decisiveness was short-lived, however, as I showed my boyfriend a nearby cafe ("Bar Tabac") then waffled about it (too hipster? too phonily Francophilic?) just long enough to make it to a Flatbush Avenue sushi place (oxymoron? perhaps, but I haven't keeled over yet) before it closed.

Let me say this: Hannah Arendt was super-cool. I would venture to say she might even beat Ed Koch in the smart Ashkenazi Jew department. Reading Arendt, or just reading about her, is the intellectual equivalent of seeing Amanda Peet at the City Bakery--why can't that be me? If there is, somewhere, an individual who thinks like Arendt, looks like Peet, and, say, is close friends with and thus gets free clothing from Agnes B. of agnes b., then the world is unfair, but at least I'd have my role models all rolled up into one.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Core-less conservatives

Mark Oppenheimer must be praised for the following: He makes some of the typical, Allan Bloom-style complaints--colleges put too much of an emphasis on diversity and sports and not enough on the Classics--but has an argument I have not seen before, which is that students should have fewer pursuits but take the few they have more seriously. Part of the conservative critique of college, as I understood it, was that students today are free to focus exclusively on hip-hop or Native American basketry and are not forced to take a bit of Latin, a bit of calculus, and so on. Oppenheimer offers a conservative critique with a different goal, so for that I will forgive the fact that the essay would have been significantly improved without the following:

"Now, I have taught at Wesleyan University, Yale, and Stanford University; and I have taught some very brilliant students. In fact, they only seem to get brighter; I doubt very much whether I or many of my friends from the Yale class of 1996 would be admitted to Yale today."


"I wrote a great senior essay, exactly the kind that [author] Anthony Grafton praises. It was about the sermons of William Sloane Coffin Jr., the chaplain of Yale College from 1958 to 1975....I loved writing that paper. I worked on it sporadically for a whole year, probably five or ten hours a week. The final draft was thirty-five pages long. It won a commencement prize and probably got me into graduate school."


"...I was selected to be one of twelve students in the advanced nonfiction writing class taught by the novelist Robert Stone....That semester I was starring in a production of Hedda Gabler, teaching an English enrichment class to eight bright but poor New Haven middle school students, running intramural cross country, and dating a blue-eyed girl from Dallas. I didn’t do a very good job at any of those things. I was tired all the time. I had Robert Stone for a teacher, and I did lousy work. I blew it."

But, back to his intriguing argument: "As activities have multiplied, the curriculum has diversified, which is both a cause and an effect. Choosing from a menu of activities – academics, sports, student government, community service, etc. – students spend less time on academics, and what time they do spend is forcibly divided among various disciplines or 'distribution groups.'"

Aren't distribution requirements generally seen as a too-wimpy version of a core curriculum and as something that should be added to, not subtracted from? But it's interesting to see this view challenged. I went to UChicago thinking the Core would, in a non-gender-specific sense, make a man out of me, and have no doubt that two quarters of astrophysics build character. But would that time have been better spent with me thinking more about French literature and other subjects I was more interested in, not to mention successful at studying? I'm not so sure, and in any case I had time to do both. Not that I would have said so at the time.

What Oppenheimer wants students to engage in is "single-minded purposefulness... following a single interest until it is exhausted, and sacrificing other opportunities along the way." He writes, "Well-rounded and liberal is a perfectly nice way to be – I hope it describes me – but it connotes no particular meaning or calling or purpose. It’s a way to be, not a reason to be."

I still wonder why the typical student cannot have both. Whether great intellectual feats by undergrads are prevented by language requirements and rocks for jocks labs. I'm sure some students truly are overcommitted, but Oppenheimer does not show this to be the insurmountable problem he claims it is.

This, though, confuses me: "What I find missing, alas, is the four-year humanities version, the college that encourages a deep humanistic rigor, a bookworm’s version of MIT. The University of Chicago, Columbia University, and St. John’s College are the closest we have: they have taken certain stands, there are certain authors you must read in order to graduate. But courageous as those stands seemed during the curricular battles of the 1980s, they are yesterday’s victories. Which will be the college to ban e-mail? To eliminate athletic recruiting? To require that its students register to vote? Which college president will venture that denying an ethnic group its own dean, making the students responsible for planning their own activities, will help them become more resourceful, enterprising adults? What school will not only add majors – environmental studies, Asian-American studies, computer science – but have the temerity to cut them?"

Which school will ban email? Good grief, not any school I would ever attend. He actually believes UChicago should go the Luddite route? But what of my Core Humanities course, Philosophical Perspectives, or so many others where an integral part of the course was email responses to readings of difficult texts? And why cut majors? Why not, by Oppenheimer's own argument, the more majors the better, since that way each student can spend more time on his own pursuits and less doing work unrelated to his interests?

And finally: "This scene [of aescetic committment to a single purpose] could be at Princeton or Yale today, though more likely at Ohio State University or University of Southern California, where students are less aggressively over-committed and the odd intellectual might be holed up in his off-campus apartment just doing his thing. But at any American school, it would be fairly uncommon. Rather, the infatuation with Wodehouse would be slotted into one term, senior year. A professor would chaperone the infatuation."

This thing you're reading now, this blog, began while I was a student at the University of Chicago. I'd like to think I was as "agressively over-committed" as students at Princeton and Yale (no laundry list of my activities, but I kept busy, did my schoolwork, enjoyed doing it, even), and yet had time for a solitary, extensive intellectual (in the sense of brain-using, not in the sense of profound) pursuit. Of dubious quality, sure, but it's taken time and thought, and no professor told me to do it, nor was it my senior project. Professors have occasionally commented here, but, as should be obvious from the rambling and veering off onto subjects like Japanese hair-straightening, no professor is chaperoning. I am in no way unique here, and was, if anything, late on the bandwagon. Matthew Yglesias, Will Baude, and countless others have spent time at challenging colleges writing thoughtful blogs. The very existence of frequently-updated student blogs coming out of elite colleges ought, I think, to be of some comfort to Oppenheimer.

Via The American Scene.


I got an email about a reading by the author of a book called Indecision. I've read about this book, and it looks intriguing, but I can't decide if I'm up for going.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Who will save your soul?

I know I said I'd have a full reply to the Malcolm Gladwell piece on Harvard, Jews, and well-roundedness, but first, from the NY Magazine cover story on the study about how gosh darn smart the Ashkenazim are:

“I have always believed that the smartest people in the world are Asians,” declares Ed Koch, former mayor of New York (and, let’s face it, a pretty smart Ashkenazi Jew). “If you look at the special schools in New York City, they have so many. I think Stuyvesant’s 40 percent Asian now, and Bronx Science is 50”—actually, 53 and 49 percent—“so this paper is something I question."

This is all oh so scientific. Who applies to Stuyvesant or Bronx Science? I have no idea--I didn't do a census of my fellow eighth graders when I took the test. If Jews are, as alleged, so brilliant and good with money, then a lot might already be in private schools and not bother with the specialized high schools. And the racial makeup of two schools in NYC is supposed to reveal which race is smartest in the world? And which Asians, for that matter? It makes no sense, and is not worth worrying about. Koch is adorable, but is not helping make the case for Jewish genius with his observations.

But more importantly, as I left for my usual Monty Python album-fueled run this evening, clad in the finest tank top and red UChicago butt shorts, I once again ran into some folks more observant than myself, celebrating a holiday I was ignoring. These three Hasidic boys asked if I was Jewish. I couldn't tell what they were asking until I took the headphones out. They informed me that it was Sukkot and asked if I would shake and pray over their lulav and etrog. So I figured what the hey--this wasn't like Chabad with its incessant emails--but felt awfully silly standing there on Flatbush Avenue, dressed as I was, saying a prayer for a holiday I would never have thought to observe. They didn't seem especially surprised that I not only knew it was Sukkot but knew enough Hebrew to easily say the prayer. As I was running, another group of Hasidic boys passed and I'm almost certain the young one also asked if I was Jewish and would, I imagine, have had me shake and pray once more. I'd have told him I'd already done this, thanks, but I am not capable of such complex religious thought while running, which may have something to do with why all of the other more religious types in the park were walking at a leisurely pace.

"Women's Studies, Black Studies, Latino Studies, Queer Studies, Native American Studies, and so forth"

Looks like Allan Bloom is alive and well and writing under the pseudonym "Norman Levitt." Did you ever stop and think about the fact that American universities are bastions of PC, with brainwashed, brainwashing professors and student populations incapable of anything but the most base desires? And that conservatives have flaws as well, you know? You did? No way!

Norman Leavitt's essay in Spiked is more of the Bloomian, Tom Wolfeian story; if you bought it then, you'll buy it now, but it's nothing new:

First of all, there is Profland, the traditional faculty, oriented, presumably, to serious scholarship and its code of values. But Profland lacks real cohesion. Its postmodern wing, for instance, usually doubles as a faction of the PC Mafia. This is even more true of the Myrmidons of the Downtrodden, who staff the various 'oppression studies' programmes - Women's Studies, Black Studies, Latino Studies, Queer Studies, Native American Studies, and so forth. Collectively, they are the consiglieri of the PC Mafia....

....Beyond Profland, the Undergraduate Eloi predominate, drenching the campus in booze, sex, downloaded music cuts and annoying ring-tones....

Oh yes, professors really are just mindless spouters of political correctness, and those vulgar college students, gosh, wouldn't universities be better without them? Why would a serious institution of higher learning let in people interested in sex and booze? Disgusting.

I wondered, after reading this article, whether Levitt got his idea about universities from a careful reading of I Am Charlotte Simmons. This man really does not like college students, and isn't much more fond of professors. It's a good thing he never has to interact with any... oh wait: "Norman Levitt is Professor of Mathematics at Rutgers University."

Via Arts and Letters Daily.


You can grow up NYC and still be surprised by seemingly obvious things in the city. As a native New Yorker, I'd always taken pride in avoiding Midtown, visiting the area occasionally, only to walk through Barneys and sigh at the shoes I will never own and scowl at the 14-year-olds buying said shoes and remarking how cheap they are now that they've been reduced to a mere $400... But now that I work in the area, I've been forced to confront the fact that it is not the barren wilderness I'd once imagined it to be. For example, today was my first time in the new (or new-ish, at this point) Grand Central Station. It's gorgeous. But, more importantly, it's got the goods, and the goods are Two Boots pizza. I got a slice of "Mel Cooley" (pesto, ricotta, red pepper, sundried tomato, and mozzarella) and it was spectacular. Real and spectacular.

In case I tire of Japanese grocery snacks and vaguely Cajun pizza, my father notes that there is a Chipotle in Midtown, too. This I may have to investigate. Maybe it'll even have free burritos, but I'm not counting on it.

From what I can tell, Midtown is good for the following things:

1) Reminding one's self that not every wealthy person in Manhattan is a model/actor/hipster/dilettante with her own Nolita boutique and favorite speakeasy private-club restaurant in DUMBO. Some wear crisp shirts and get up before noon. For reasons I could not explain, I find that refreshing.

2) Relatedly, Chicago nostalgia. Walking around Midtown, I'm always half expecting to turn a corner and see Fox and Obel or the Bloomingdales home store, or a horde of peppy women in track pants and North Face fleeces. Midtown may represent New York to the world, but to me it's a bit of Chicago in my hometown.

3) Buying cheap underwear at H&M, thus furthering the quest of the laundry-free existence. I'm totally serious--laundry is no fun. The whole "laundromat as bar/lounge/literary salon" concept has not yet reached my otherwise trendy part of Brooklyn; nor, to my knowledge, has my building's dryer been repaired.

Monday, October 17, 2005

How cute! Matt has an opinion.

Matthew Yglesias has responded to my post on "Harriet," arguing: "Now of course it's one thing to say that many Miers detractors probably harbor some sexist sentiments (probably true) and another thing to say that Miers' detractors don't like her because they're sexists (almost certainly false -- as they say there are plenty of women judges they'd enthusiastically embrace)."

Apparently Matt, er, Yglesias sincerely believes that conservative critics would be fine with a different, more qualified female nominee. I agree that they claim that they would, and certainly think that they ought to feel the way they claim they feel, but by calling Miers "Harriet" they lose so much of their credibility that I'm going to have to out-liberal Yglesias here and say that all bets are off on how great a role sexism plays in their thought process. They would, at the very least, call a female nominee they deemed acceptable by her first name, too.

My take on first names in politics: Calling Hillary Clinton "Hillary" is like calling George W. Bush "Dubya" (neither "George" nor "Bush" would do)--when your parent. or spouse with whom you share a last name, has served as president of the United States, and you choose to enter the running, you can pretty much expect that you will be called something other than just your last name. As insulting as that may be, it's more than made up for by the fact that being the child or spouse of a former president is a bit of a boost, one could say, to those with political aspirations of their own. Outside these circumstances, male politicians go by first name when trying to show that they are men of the people--NYC mayors "Rudy" and "Mike" are more commonly known as Giuliani and Bloomberg, but going by a first name is in this case not unlike a politician's taking the subway to work or making an appearance at a dumpy neighborhood diner. With female politicians in general, the most obvious answer is that they get called by first names for the same reason they get complicated yet bland hair, makeup and clothing, for the same reason that the wife of a male politician is of more interest than the husband of a female one; in other words, women and men are different, sure, but society continues to treat the two sexes more differently than is, I believe, ideal. On the other hand, a female politico who embraces the use of her first name is trying to project a nurturing image, as though no matter what office she seeks, she's no more harmless than the head of an exurban PTA. In doing so, she is using her political savvy to her own advantage, exploiting sexist stereotypes, and could, perhaps, be worthy of praise.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Pinter over pita

Hurray for Zatar, which Will Baude reports won the Nobel Prize for Literature despite or perhaps because of the political controversy associated with it. Oh wait, that's not it... But in any case, zatar is most excellent. Mine comes from Holyland Market, in the East Village, and is currently in my parents' spice drawer. I've been meaning to pick it up, so Will's post was a welcome reminder. The best use of the spice blend I've ever encountered was at a falafel but also other stuff place outside of the Bedford L stop. Mmm!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

JAP chic

Jews do not need "hipster Jews." Why not? Because hipster culture is all about liking things ironically, and hipster Judaism is about laughing at "Jewish" neurosis and dorkiness. Hipster Judaism is regressive, "Annie Hall" over "Yossi and Jagger"--because it's fun to ironically mock Woody Allen for being a nebbish while it fits into no particular neat box to watch gorgeous Israeli men fight wars and fall in love. Hipster Jews, I should note, are different from hipsters who happen to be Jewish. By "hipster Jews" I mean people who embrace a self-deprecating persona and for whom returning to the era of "Portnoy" is as charming a pursuit as digging through bins at the local Urban Outfitters for t-shirts proclaiming a love of "Saved by the Bell."

What we need are not hipster Jews, but chic Jews. Obviously there are already Jews who are chic, including some who dress according to religious rules and maintain a stylish look within those bounds. But is there a specifically Jewish stylishness, the way there are, for example, different types of Asian, gay, and black chic? While true stylishness ought to transcend all obvious cultural sub-types, each sub-type has its stylish and less-stylish interpretations. (Calf-length white t-shirts? Eh. Red dreadlocks? Definitely.)

The look most commonly associated with American Jews, among women at least, is what's referred to derogatorily as the JAP look. Bloomingdales, Scoop, Intermix, and probably all sorts of other names I'd know if I were from, say, L.A. I've already argued that American women in general are no less chic than, say, French women, and my point here is along similar lines. Followers of the JAP aesthetic are criticized for being overly materialistic and not sufficiently stylish. But the whole concept of "bling" suggests that materialism and fashion need not be mutually exclusive. While artfully arranged thrift-store clothes get high praise from fashion-oriented types, there are also good and bad ways to arrange clothing purchased full-price at Big Drop.

I happen to like an aesthetic that blends JAP with Japanese, French with futuristic, and that favors neon colors, pastel colors, black, silver, and white. I don't go for the hippie or Abercrombie looks (or the dreaded prep-school Grateful Dead-fan look, which blends the two; think khaki, tie-dye, and hemp necklaces), but that's just me. I can, however, appreciate a well-put-together hippie or frat boy, and, while I would not choose to look that way myself, I can appreciate the chicness a stylish person whose look could be described most accurately as "Jappy."

Friday, October 14, 2005

Is there some such thing as used?

In a move that will interest at most two other bloggers, I now have in my possession a pair of Seven jeans. They were Old Navy-cheap, like-new as much as pants made to look used ought to be (no rips* or stains), and--and this is key--have already been shortened by someone else in the 5'2"-5'3" range. I got them at Beacon's Closet, a most fabulous vintage store that avoids the three main vintage pitfalls, which are: 1) Super-expensive clothing reduced slightly but not nearly enough to count as cheap used clothing; 2) Clothing cut for people who lived in an age when waists were high and half the size they are today; and 3) Clothing that is currently for sale at Express, but has already been worn, and so costs about a dollar less than it would at Express. (#1 is specific to NYC, #3 to Chicago, and #2 to everywhere vintage clothing is sold.)

So I once again semi-surrender in my fight against designer denim. The fabric and fit are admittedly better than what's found at the GAP. But I maintain that these jeans are not enough nicer to cost $180.**

* At my regular coffee bar in Midtown, I was recently served a cappuccino and muffin by an otherwise pleasant-looking young man...with jeans (of indeterminate designer) with a large rip on the upper left-hand side revealing a lack of undergarment. My question: Why? Was it to show how, unlike the office-types he serves, he chooses to have a low-key, non-corporate job? To imply that his job does not pay well enough to mend his pants? Was he simply oblivious? His otherwise stylized look would suggest that it was intentional. But unlike a rip at the knee, or even an ass-level rip with underwear of some kind showing, this transcended hipster and was flat-out gross. Revealing outfits can go right, but they can also go very wrong. But aside from the failings as a fashion choice, who wants coffee served by someone whose...very self is just a few inches from where milk is being foamed? I'm all in favor of moving beyond Ann Taylor and the brothers Brooks, but this was something else entirely.

** In the recent "Since When Do Handbags Cost $1000" article in the Times, the point was made that first there were super-expensive shoes, then jeans, and now handbags, as though with each new ascension in the price of something basic, the previous one begins to wane. A piece in Slate asserted that "Overpriced denim is an essentially fickle market," citing the fact that many super-expensive jeans are now on sale. Everything at Banana Republic goes on sale, but has the preppy work-clothes bubble burst? "With the average pair of jeans costing $25, it's hard to imagine how many more people will be willing to shell out eight times that much for some high-priced jeans, no matter how well they fit." My prediction? People will continue to shell out more for jeans until the apocalyptic subway explosion-type-thingy wipes us all out. Expensive jeans used to be for spoiled teenagers; now they are for women (and some men) of nearly all income levels who care how they look. You know how mirrors used to be extremely expensive, but are now an ordinary household item? How fatness used to be a sign of wealth yet now indicates poverty? Things change in society, and it could be that our society is slowly deciding it wants to spend more of its income on jeans. This new ratio of "jeans":"other stuff" may stay where it's at. That's not to say that individual pairs of jeans won't go on sale--they will, like all other clothing. Yet the American public has not responded to $200 with horror but rather with delight. We like the fancy-pants, and they're here to stay. As, I should note, are the $400 shoes and $1000 bags. Has it become passe for the women into that sort of thing to spend this much? Certainly not. I have no idea what such women are spending less on to compensate (lord knows it isn't rent), but it's got to be something.

That's "What Would Maltz Do?" to you

Why do conservative pundits, who scoff at those who call criticism against Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers sexist, insist upon calling her "Harriet"? That's not helping their case. I happen to agree that there's plenty to criticize, so there's no reason to assume sexism is the issue, but if she doesn't get to be "Miers," then can we truly belive these pundits would respect even a more accomplished female nominee? Lame as she may be, she still deserves to be called "Miers." She is not a child simply because she's underqualified to be on the Supreme Court. Yikes.

But back to these pundits, well, one of them: Gerard Baker's "Weekly Standard" piece, "The Trouble with Harriet," might better be titled: "The Trouble with Neoconservatism in 2005." Baker (or should I say Gerard) writes:

"In an attempt to put out the fire on the right lit by the nomination, White House officials have been reassuring supporters that Miers is fine because she is an evangelical Christian, who can be relied upon to vote accordingly. This is about as troubling as it gets. It's not that there's anything wrong with evangelical Christianity. It is just that it should not, cannot, be the principal credential for appointment to the highest ranks of the American judiciary."

Two problems with this:

First, why say, "It's not that there's anything wrong with evangelical Christianity." There's plenty wrong with evangelical Christianity, not to mention with every other idea human beings have ever come up with. What this should read is, "There's nothing wrong with a nominee being an evangelical Christian." That would make much more sense. But this piece does not so much make sense as tread super-lightly so as to assure readers that the neocons are still as afraid of offending evangelical Christians as they ever were. Obviously this nomination is an example of just how absurd things get when the church-state line is eliminated. Yet Bush's original backers can't quite get their heads around the fact that this particular disaster implicates the entire neocon-evangelical alliance.

Second, Baker states: "It's just that [evangelical Christianity] should not, cannot, be the principal credential for appointment to the highest ranks of the American judiciary."

Not the "principal credential"? How about not a credential, period? Of course her faith shouldn't be held against her, but the frightening thing here is that it's supposed to win her points. This is just the sort of thing that makes all those undecideds who pulled the lever last-minute for Kerry feel vindicated.

The problem with Miers is not that she's an evangelical Christian woman, it's that she's unappealing both to those who want to see an evangelical Christian in power and to those who want to see a woman in power; in other words, no reasonable American without some special outside knowledge of Miers' Supreme talents could possibly think she's the best choice. The problem with calling her Harriet is, I think, self-evident.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Future gay rappers of America

Andrew Sullivan declares "The End of Gay Culture," arguing that homosexuality has become, in effect, normal, such that the defining cultural traits of gays and lesbians in American have little to do with their gayness. He compares the end of gay culture to the "end of jazz" feared to go along with the civil rights movement: Would civil rights for blacks mean an end to jazz?

I see the point Sullivan is trying to make, but must ask him this: What, then, will be the gay hip-hop?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Whiny post: You've been warned

Gawker reports that the F train was acting odd today. I can verify this, kind of. After leaving work and going out into the rain, noticing that my boot had lost its sole, taking a pair of my mother's boots (with her consent!), going back to Midtown via the slowest bus in the world, descending the ten trillion escalators of the 63rd and Lexington station, I waited a long, long time for the F train to arrive. I mean, it did eventually, and did not turn into a G train (though that would not have affected me, so perhaps it did and I didn't notice), but that station doesn't try to hide the fact that it's wayyy below ground. It looks a bit like hell as conceived of by the creators of South Park, except flooded. Plus, riding the F reminded me that the 1-2-3 and 4-5-6 have spoiled me. Geez, the F train is slow. And it's the sort of train where you're about to take a seat until you notice that the seat next to the one you were eyeing has on it an upright coffee cup. It might have been empty, but I wasn't so much in the mood to check. Then there was the inevitable vest-wearing, psycho-rather-than-ethnic-or-religious-or-athletic-or-hipster-headgear-sporting, nervous-looking man, who got on the train (where else?) right before it entered the tunnel.

Yes, there are people suffering more than I was today. Including those passengers of the F who found themselves inexplicably on a G. But still, orange-alert subways and just-repaired-but-now-defunct boots are not good, not good at all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

How I'm spending Yom Kippur

By responding to this Malcolm Gladwell piece in the New Yorker. Yes, it's been out for a while, but it mentions both Stuyvesant and the University of Chicago, talks about Jews (not 19th century French ones, but can't have everything) and so requires a WWPD analysis in the mode of explication de texte. In other words, a line-by-line treatment.

Why the need for a line-by-line examination? Any article with the following sentence simply cannot be ignored by this blog: "If Harvard had too many Asians, it wouldn't be Harvard, just as Harvard wouldn't be Harvard with too many Jews or pansies or parlor pinks or shy types or short people with big ears." Hmm, too many Asians, Jews, short people with big ears, queer types, and shy people, I think I went to that school. Twice. But "too many" is a judgment, and I happen to feel quite comfortable in those surroundings. After all, I'm short and Jewish, but am convinced that, deep down, I am either Japanese, a gay man, or both. (As for big ears and shyness, oh, homeroom 7T, how I miss you.)

Yay! Something new to put in my vegan-leather bag

Philip Roth has a new novel coming out. I'm excited. Almost as excited as I was about the green bag, but I'm a Jewish American Princess, right? Roth would expect no less.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Go Chicago!

Good to know the University of Chicago is still admitting the right people. From the Sunday Styles:

Don't get Andrea Goldstein started on "Troy," the 2004 film based on Homer's "Iliad" that starred Brad Pitt as Achilles. A freshman at the University of Chicago, Ms. Goldstein, 18, was so incensed after seeing the movie that she wrote an anti-"Troy" polemic in her high school newspaper....In 10th grade Ms. Goldstein used her account on a popular blogging service called LiveJournal to start an online role-playing game about the Trojan War.

And then:

For Zach Herz, 19, a sophomore at the University of Chicago, ancient literature has an appeal that goes beyond the words themselves.

"What the classics give you is an understanding of our culture as the last expression of forces that have been in play for thousands of years," he said. "It makes you a little bit more modest, makes you understand that you're part of something big, of this great cultural thing that will go on after you're dead and that started before you ever were born."

And as for his thoughts on "Troy," he said it's a modern reflection of a different time. "The Greeks were comfortable with gods ruling their lives in a way that we're not. Instead of being a movie about Zeus and Poseidon and all that, it's a story about Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt is apparently our new god."

I miss the place.

Igloo Brooklyn

Kei's blog continues to be a source of information WWPD only wishes it could have come up with. So, I'll do the second-best thing and link to Kei's picture of a dachshund in a special, dachshund-ready glove compartment, which she explains is part of a "concept car by Honda, which features a crate for pets by the dashboard." Kei also calls for more bernese mountain dog, shiba inu, and akita-blogging from me, but lately I've been seeing samoyeds. One giant samoyed and, a few days later, a samoyed puppy. These dogs are so much like polar bears, and my roommate Katherine and I are both big fans. If only there were such a thing as "Igloo Brooklyn," since even the biggest brownstone might not do.

Online restaurant menus: Do we need them?

I'm not sure what I think about the (relatively) new development of restaurant menus being available online. It takes all the mystery out of dining out when you can not only read what the NYT and Village Voice critics thought of the place, but also decide precisely what you will order before even visiting the place. Reading this prior to heading to Cafe Steinhof meant that I'd decided on the cheese spaetzles well before reaching the restaurant. And they were some tasty cheese spaetzles, no doubt about it, but had I not had the chance to think about these spaetzles for so long beforehand, I might have decided on, I don't know, smoked trout with potato salad, in the heat of the moment. On second thought, perhaps it's not so bad that restaurant menus are now online.

"Vegan leather" in "Bococa"

So I did it. I got the green bag. It is this, but emerald green, and so much cooler than it looks in this picture. (I will do something about my camera-battery situation soon so I can capture the actual bag in all its glory.) The woman at the Court St. boutique where I got it told me in great detail about how the bag is Canadian, of which I approved, myself being 1/4 Canadian, and about how it is "vegan leather." Does it make me a bad person that my first thought was, "aha, that's why it's not $400" and not "good, I feel so virtuous"? I mean, I had Korean beef bulgogi barbeque for lunch (proof that Little Neck, Queens, is no longer garlic-free), and was wearing knee-high leather boots when buying the bag, so I could hardly pretend to have chosen it for such noble reasons. Regardless, never have I seen such leather-like plastic, and never have I owned so fabulous, so green a bag. It is apparently the new "it" bag, at least among "Bococa" shoppers.

Which brings me to the obvious question: What is "Bococa"? Isn't it just that which lies between Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights and is cheaper and consequently hipper than that which surrounds it? Since when did that expanse get a veggie-burger-esque name? Pardon my Manhattanite/Chicagoan provinciality, but I had not realized this area existed. I had been to Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens, which is apparently the same as "Bococa" plus Boerum Hill, but had no idea that this was an area comparable to Paris's Marais neighborhood, superchic and with superchic-looking French pastries. I'd obviously turned before reaching the right street when I was in the area before. In any case, I'm now $85 plus tax behind where I had been, but it was so, so worth it. Even if the bag in question is synthetic.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Seize the handbag, for tomorrow you may be blown to bits on the subway

Sometimes reading the newspaper really puts things into perspective. For instance, this article about $1000 handbags made me think so differently about my own handbag dilemma: there's this bag, it's bright green leather, it's $85, and it's gorgeous. And the subways are about to explode, so why not?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Ye olde NYC real-estate fantasy

Today I saw my future house. It's the prettiest house on the prettiest block, well-situated in terms of buying cheese and accessories (and, really, what else is there?), and big enough to house the biggest, fluffiest dog(s) imaginable. It's near enough to some grittiness that it wouldn't be, say, $30 million, like those houses on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, but is right between Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights, meaning that the two spiffiest parts of Brooklyn are easily accessible.

Two problems with this house:

1) It appears to be inhabited.

2) I am at the point in my life when I still cannot quite believe I make enough to rent a barely-3-bedroom apartment on the edge of Park Slope with two roommates.

But mark my words, it will one day be mine.

Opening doors

In a building in Manhattan where I’ve spend a great deal of time, one man opens the door and a second man rings the elevator button but never actually enters the elevator. In another building across town, one man helps push along a revolving door while another sits at the security desk. It is, in fact, more difficult to go through a revolving door when someone is helping push it along than to go through the door unaided, just as it is easier to push an elevator button than to wait as someone’s arm blocks yours and prevents you from pushing it yourself.

But the point of living in a doorman building is not about ease of entry-and-exit, or even about safety. In most doorman buildings I've been in, familiar-looking people are let up without question. This means that a psycho ex—the person most likely to cause problems—will be let up, while a delivery guy will be given the third degree. No, the point of living in a doorman building is the same as having an apartment with a “WBF” (wood-burning fireplace) or hardwood floors—it’s something you’re supposed to want, that increases the value of your home, but that is rarely considered on its own merits. Is it actually that much better to have someone open the door for you?

Having tried both, I much prefer living in a non-doorman building. I don't really like paying people to do things for me that I could do for myself, things that the person doing them for me knows I could do for myself. It makes me feel silly to have a door opened for me, like the doorman is thinking, "Look at the princess who can't even open her own damn door," even if I am not a resident of the building and thus had no choice in the matter of who would open the door. I cannot make my own damn jeans, cannot make my own damn cappuccino and still get to work on time; those things I feel OK about paying for someone else to accomplish. But I have two functioning arms, a basic knowledge of key-and-door mechanics, and see no reason for the division of labor to introduce itself into the door-opening part of my life.

For the same reason as middle-class and above residents of New York City at times choose non-doorman buildings over ones with doormen, many are drawn to the Park Slope Food Co-op, an institution which provides lower-priced organic or otherwise yuppified groceries to members who work a certain number of hours every four weeks [or is it month?], such that the store is staffed entirely by its own shoppers. This utopian ideal manifests itself with women standing around one of the prettier main streets of brownstone Brooklyn, wearing fluorescent guard vests with the same designer jeans worn by women on the Upper East Side shopping at Citarella or Grace’s Marketplace.

Is it better for those who can to pay for services they could provide for themselves? Members of the Co-op—some very well-off-looking, and many undoubtedly well-off, given housing prices in the area—prefer to staff their own supermarket, partly to pay a bit less for (allegedly) better food, partly so as to avoid putting themselves in an awkward overclass-underclass situation. But if they put up with this awkwardness, they'd add new jobs to the neighborhood, jobs needed by people who do not consider bagging groceries a charming escape from the world of corporate law, who are not looking for the sense of community empowerment that comes from heaving organic oats with your fellow man, but who want to get paid by the hour for doing legal, safe work.

Aesthetically, I prefer not to see a largely minority service sector serving rich whites. Walking down Park Avenue and seeing blond babies getting pushed around in strollers by poorly-dressed (or, worse, uniformed) black or Filipino women does not make me especially thrilled with the status quo. But which of these two possibilities—an in-demand service sector with snooty sorts making the demands; or an enlightened, self-sufficient bourgeoisie— better contributes to social mobility?

According to the New Yorker piece on doormen, sociology professor Peter Bearman believes that the existence of doorman buildings does not make the socioeconomic gap between doormen and residents any greater. For every dollar that goes to a doorman, it’s a dollar that could not go to the education of resident’s children, and one that could go to the education of the doorman or his children. While this sort of trickle-down may be irrelevant in the buildings on Park in which residents can send large families through boarding school, college, and beyond with ease, not all doorman buildings house the super-rich, and some doormen are also students or are otherwise looking to opportunities to move beyond opening doors, literally.

Living in a community of high-rent walk-ups and DIY grocery stores is a lot like going to a tiny liberal arts college with left-wing pretensions, but where no one without a spare $120,000, a high future earning potential, or an opinion about foreign film will ever be encountered. Everything looks as it should, but somehow, something is not quite right.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Jogging-induced Jewish guilt UPDATED

This morning, my boyfriend went to synagogue and I did not. I felt a bit guilty--not that I've gone in recent years, even for the High Holidays, but peer pressure is not a negligible force, even in religious matters. But I had a lot to get done today, so I figured it wasn't the best day to find God, when doing pretty much anything would have been procrastination.

Eventually, though, some procrastination was needed, so I went for that most productive-seeming procrastination: running. As I ran around Prospect Park, I began to notice that most people around me were Orthodox or Hasidic Jews, on their way from shul, (prayer?) book in hand. And there I was, running. Well, jogging, not that that makes it any better. Listening to a Monty Python album rather than, say, music; again, not that that makes it any better.


This may ease the guilt, especially if it's preceded by fasting, not jogging.


Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers' remark that she considers President Bush to be the most brilliant man she's ever met is a reminder that, as President Clinton made clear, even the most basic words can have infinite meanings. It is possible Miers has never met another man, or that she means something special by "met." Or perhaps "brilliant" refers to coloration, as in, all the other men she'd met before were duller or more pasty-looking.

Also worth considering is that she's one of those people who express superlative enthusiasm over everything--each slice of pizza, movie, or museum exhibit is the best, ever.

But what her remark really brings to mind is that everything is relative. For instance (and here I connect this post with the earlier, Proof posts) commenter Dylan complains about Gwyneth Paltrow's "strictly average body" and "thin hair." Well, her ordinary body is pretty much the goal of women these days, and as we all know from the discussion of Japanese hair-straightening, too much hair is not always a good thing. While thick hair and curvaceousness sound appealing in the abstract, not all who possess them are happy about it. Maybe, when Miers sees Bush as brilliant, she's merely pointing out that there are no absolute truths in this world, and "brilliance," like "good hair" or "a good body," is in the eye of the beholder. Sure, that must be it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Looks like...

I don't know anything about this new Supreme Court nominee, except that her photo on The New York Times homepage reminds me of a certain type of Florida senior citizen who smokes three packs a day and has that vaguely ureic smell of accreted cigarette. any case, one can only hope for the sake of the nation's second-class citizens that both Roberts and Miers are not as bad as we all fear they might be.

More on Gwyneth, math, and the U of C

Commenter Maureen notes below that Urban Outfitters sells t-shirts that say, "I'm too pretty to do math." I can't verify this, but I did see a man on the street once with a shirt that said, "They said there wasn't going to be any math," which is the most brilliant t-shirt in the world, followed only by a distant second, which are my neon pink and neon green C&C t-shirts I got for $8 a piece at the Intermix sample sale.

Commenter Dylan finds Gwyneth Paltrow only mildly attractive. Gwyneth Paltrow, in turn, finds all bloggers and blog-commentors breathtakingly gorgeous. But to respond to Dylan, all that I can say is I'll speak for all the women of the world who in no way resemble Paltrow and state that it's a relief that not all men consider this ideal. But speaking for all truth-tellers of the world, I must say that Gwyneth Paltrow is simply stunning, even when made to look as crummy as possible, so much so that playing a character with a habit of "never leaving the house or being even marginally polite to strangers," she still ought to have gotten more attention. The character sat on her porch on 46th Street, in full view of passers-by--what, does no one ever take a walk through Kenwood?

And finally, to respond to Will, and Jacob Levy: Of course it's a very U of C movie, as much as is ever likely to gain a widespread audience. I would argue that my friend Joe Hanson's brief role in the reality series "Beauty and the Geek" brought more U of C to a popular audience than all of Proof, but point taken re: UChicago movies--this sure beats When Harry Met Sally. Still... Will remarks: "The only male character with more than four minutes of screen time other than Paltrow's father had the hots for her even when he only glimpsed her for a few minutes in a years-old flashback." Yes, but that does not prove, so to speak, that the movie allows for the Paltrow character to be as attractive as the Paltrow we see before us. Said male character is a math grad student. How many women is he supposed to be meeting? Even an average-looking advisor's daughter might have inspired such a fantasy. And to respond to Levy: Yes, the movie is true-to-life. But it was missing something. And that something was undergraduates. There is a college at the University of Chicago, but you would never have known it from the movie, which shows plenty of the campus but which made the U of C out to be a research-only, geniuses and would-be-geniuses-only type of place. Maybe it's just that, as a college student, I was more conscious of college students being all over the campus. Maybe grad students really don't notice all the girls with sweatpants that say "AOPi" on the rear end, or the boys with popped collars on their polo shirts, or the sweatpants-wearing, housecest-having masses. Maybe the only way to show how unique a place the University really is would be to ignore the things that make it like other schools. And Levy's right about the movie's truthfulness regarding place--remarks about the Northside, Evanston, and downtown make it clear that Hyde Park is its own universe. And lord knows, Catherine wouldn't have given a damn if Hyde Park had a GAP.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The joy of cooking something other than pasta

If it were up to me, I'd cook pasta every night. Problem is, it is up to me. I would attribute this to my being a grown-up, but honestly, it's been pasta every night for as long as I can remember. It's not so much about liking the taste as about not wanting to spend each night trying to decide what to have for dinner. But then, on Nantucket, I ordered a salmon-fillet-atop-salad appetizer at a seafood restaurant and devoured what had to have been over a half a pound of salmon. It hit me that something might be missing from my diet. So tonight, I went to Union Market, a Citarella clone in Park Slope which claims to have "the freshest seafood in Brooklyn", and got a third of a pound of salmon, after Katherine assured me that a quarter of a pound would not be enough. I also bought a lemon and pepper in a grinder, figuring this would all somehow become dinner.

Upon returning to the apartment, I realized that I have no idea how to prepare fish or what to serve with it. According to my roommates, we don't have a working oven, so attempting to copy the way my mother cooks fish was out of the question. We do, however, have a stovetop, so I attempted to more-than-sear the fillet while simultaneously cooking pepper, eggplant, and tomatoes in a different pan. Did this even go with salmon as a side dish? Is fish really supposed to smell fishy? Shouldn't I have bought white wine for the occasion?

Once the whole thing was cooked, it was most excellent. Sure, the side dish made no sense ("overwhelmed the fish," a real chef might say), and yes, some wine might have been nice. But regardless, I'd call it a success.

Gwyneth as "Math is Easy" Barbie

Remember how there was a Barbie a while back that said, "Math is hard!"? The movie Proof is the tale of one tall, skinny, gorgeous blond woman's ability to simultaneously be a math genius and frolic around the UChicago campus, making everyone else--extras I recognized as UChicago students, UChicago grads watching the movie, and so on--look bad. Those proofs! Those abs!

I really liked Proof. But as with other movies in which Gwyneth Paltrow plays a genius (The Royal Tenenbaums, anyone?), her looks are distracting. It's not that someone couldn't be really good at math and really good-looking. And Paltrow is a talented enough actress to make the audience believe she's a genius. It's just that in both movies she's playing a character who's not supposed to be stunningly beautiful. No one in Proof reacts to her as if she is--her sister expresses no jealousy, the guy after her is interested in either her own or her father's mathematical ability. He once complements her on her appearance, but in the way one complements a friend who for once wore something other than sweatpants (a common situation at Chicago), not in the way one reacts to someone who looks like Gwyneth Paltrow. As in The Royal Tenenbaums, a gaunt figure meant to represent a tragic character ends up looking, on-screen, more Audrey Hepburn than mopey goth girl from your high school.