Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The right to be an idiot in private

Dan Savage thinks a right to privacy should be written into the Constitution. He makes a good point. While it should not be put into law, people also ought to have the right to be annoying in the privacy of their own homes/celebrations. From hippie-poseurs to nouveau riche walking-Jewish-stereotypes, everyone should be allowed to be a fool in private without getting judged too harshly by the outside world. Well, it's not so much that it should be a right--anyone has the right to have an opinion on anything anyone else does, public or private--but that grand, sweeping declarations of how wrong or disgusting it is to, say, be a college-educated white person living in Bushwick, or hire 50 Cent to perform at a bat mitzvah, seem a bit misguided.

The Bushwick artist-house and the rapper-led bat mitzvah are objectionable for the same reason--they involve socioeconomic and racial mixing going on in potentially but not outright offensive ways. While the Bushwick pseudo-hippies are hardly flaunting their privileged position in society, they are guilty of having (or appearing to have) more than those around them, both materially and through their race or level of education. While a super-successful black rapper and a super-successful Jewish businessman are both, well, super-successful, there's something crude and stereotype-fulfilling about the latter hiring the former to sing at a party. Even at lesser bar/bat mitzvahs, where the hired entertainment is just some random dancers, when the singing/dancing help is black and those funding it are white and Jewish, some will inevitably cringe.

No one's putting on a minstrel show (or, for that matter, a thug-themed party), no one's strutting around Bushwick in sorority sweatsuits and Longchamp bags (or so one hopes), yet any time diversity arises naturally, any time racial/socioeconomic differences are salient, people start to wonder if something's amiss. Yet in neither of these cases (Bushwick and bat mitzvah) is anything morally reprehensible going on. Should whites really not move into Bushwick because their presence--even if they themselves live in semi-squalor--might eventually lead to gentrification? Should crass, bat-mitzvah-throwing parents go out of their way to be tasteful at their own private events? Somehow it's OK to be rich and white if you are classy and restrained and don't try to move out of whichever rich, white enclave you live in, but once you embrace diversity ("gentrification") or buy goods and services and thus boost the economy while lessening your own bank account ("ostentatious"), you're out of luck.

And finally, enough with the flashy bar mitzvah exposes, already. These events are a real boon for those middle-schoolers lucky enough to know someone who knows someone who's having one. One of my happiest childhood memories is of attending a bar mitzvah at the Pierre, of a boy I'm not sure I ever met, where I not only could eat as much parmesan cheese as I wanted, from a great big wheel of it, but got asked to dance by a boy a grade older than me, bestowing infinite status on my sixth-grade self. Unlimited cheese and positive social interaction, all in a lavish setting, are about as good as it gets in junior high. Don't take that away!

The inevitable

This has happened before. Hair dyed vibrantly red turns orange. And looks dreadful. My hair is now coated in red Manic Panic. I'm not so much worried about how the dye will look (the guy at Ricky's, not especially interested in making a sale, advised against) as how or where to wash it out without destroying any surfaces in my apartment...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The arrival of modernity


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And God said, let there be stay-at-home moms

Ross Douthat is back with more "telling it like it is" social conservatism, this time critiquing Linda Hirshman's piece in the Prospect:

I'm not going to argue with [Hirshman], since in general I think she's fighting a losing battle, and because her prescriptions - encouraging women to opt out of the less-than-lucrative liberal arts majors in favor of higher-salaried tracks like economics; suggesting that women start marrying down, or younger or older, so that their hubbies will be more amenable to sacrificing their own careers to help out on the home front; proposing a nationwide natalism strike, in which women refuse to have more than one child - are interesting without being even faintly realistic. (She also writes that "conservatives justified the unequal family in two modes: 'God ordained it' and 'biology is destiny'" - and since I believe in 1) God and 2) biological differences between the sexes, which make women more likely than men to choose children over a full-time career, I guess I have to plead guilty on both counts. But I think I'm right.)

I'm not sure if the battle Douthat is fighting is a winning or losing one, but either way, it merits a response, because it makes no sense whatsoever and yet is being passed off as a serious discussion of a serious issue. Obviously a person could, like Douthat, believe in God, and, unlike Douthat and the conservatives Hirshman mentions, not use this belief to justify a woman staying in the kitchen and so forth. Hirshman is not saying that anyone God-fearing is a conservative, but that conservatives are (mis)using faith to support their own political goals.

Also, Douthat says he believes in "biological differences between the sexes, which make women more likely than men to choose children over a full-time career." Fair enough. But to him this means that "biology is destiny." That's a bit of a leap, isn't it? Conservatives want individuals to fight their "biological" inclinations in all sorts of ways--why shouldn't women, who are "biologically inclined" to throw tupperware parties, use the same willpower used by ex-gays, monogamists, etc., and become businesswomen?

But it's the "I think I'm right" that really does it. Isn't it a given that people who write down their opinions--online or off--think that they're right? Isn't the point to actually be right, or at least to argue convincingly that one is right, rather than to merely assert this?

Still, Hirshman's argument isn't entirely sound, but not for the reasons Douthat provides:

What better sample, I thought, than the brilliantly educated and accomplished brides of the “Sunday Styles,” circa 1996? At marriage, they included a vice president of client communication, a gastroenterologist, a lawyer, an editor, and a marketing executive. In 2003 and 2004, I tracked them down and called them. I interviewed about 80 percent of the 41 women who announced their weddings over three Sundays in 1996. Around 40 years old, college graduates with careers: Who was more likely than they to be reaping feminism’s promise of opportunity? Imagine my shock when I found almost all the brides from the first Sunday at home with their children. Statistical anomaly? Nope. Same result for the next Sunday. And the one after that.

There's a problem with this sample--the Times brides are not merely educated women, but educated women who want their weddings written up in the Times. Only a certain (perhaps traditional?) sort of person would want this. While, as David Brooks points out in Bobos in Paradise, changes in the NYT Weddings pages reflect changes in society, as long as the weddings are not selected at random, they're bound to be skewed towards those newlyweds who go in for not just marriage but also the whole mystique of the wedding itself. Hirshman gives other evidence as well, but she keeps mentioning the the NYT-bride example throughout the article, as though it were especially convincing. It's not. Otherwise, though, her overall point--that the glass ceiling is at home--makes a great deal of sense, and her other examples seem to support it.

Capitalism is the new religion

I will eat falafel from any venue. It's not the sort of food you expect to have been prepared in the most pristine conditions, I suppose. I'm very particular about where I get sushi, muffins, and bagels, somewhat picky with pizza and coffee, but any falafel will do. In Paris, I had falafel at a restaurant with a truly filthy outhouse. Yes, a restaurant. Yes, an outhouse. Well, sort of a bathroom-outhouse fusion, but very much BYOTP. (Think about it.) Today, when Molly mentioned good falafel in a loading dock, I readily agreed. Which was a good thing, as this falafel was not half bad. Nor, for that matter, is my Hebrew, because just hearing someone say the word "lishtot" reminded me to grab a diet Coke.

In keeping with the Parisian theme of today's lunch hour, Molly and I hit up the Petit Bateau sample sale. In the interest of completely eliminating any relevance whatsoever this blog may have, I'll let you know that I got two white tank tops, a pink long-sleeved v-neck, and a black longsleeved crewneck. The sale itself was held in a church, which amused me because, in "The Ladies' Paradise" the new, big department store is referred to many times as being church-like. (Am tempted to make a remark about how a sample sale in a church is a bit like a bar in a synagogue--a sneaky way to attract converts--but should probably just send it along to Sarah Silverman, who has the monopoly on ethnic/"JAP" jokes these days).

Double insanity

One thing led to another, and I sang "Oops... I did it again" at a karaoke bar in Chinatown this evening. "One thing led to another" meaning that my friend Masha turned 22, and I consumed most of a beer. It's a great song, "Oops...," but Masha's roommates, who are from states redder than this one, performed a country song about a girl named "Fancy" who becomes a successful prostitute, at the behest of her own mother. This song is far superior to anything Britney, but its lyrics do seem somewhat applicable to situations in which parents push their kids to become underage popstar sex symbols, so it all relates. Kind of. In any case, karaoke at a friend's birthday beats walking down the street, trying to prevent myself from singing along to music coming out of headphones, only to realize that I would look doubly insane if I were to really belt out one of the songs I was listening to, because the lyrics are in Hebrew and I'd mispronounce (or entirely miss) a number of the words. I think singing as Britney got the urge out of my system, and I will no longer be tempted to sing along with Ivri Lider while walking to and from the subway.

Buy stuff!!!

In Zola's "The Ladies' Paradise," there's much discussion of how department stores managed (as they do today) to fool the public, attracting crowds by selling items at or below cost price, then allowing more expensive items they never knew they'd wanted to catch their eye. That technique is, err, old hat. The latest innovation those sneaky shopkeepers have come up with is the unintimidating high-end experience. Stores like Scoop or Intermix probably led the way here, with the entire concept of high-end jeans or sneakers moving things along as well. Basically, the typical consumer will deem stores (or restaurants, or neighborhoods) "too expensive" on the basis of how they look, before ever actually looking at prices. If you pass a boutique that's super-intimidating, filled with clothing that could only be worn to occasions unlikely to arise in most people's lives, then you might not think of entering. But if you ("you"="I" for our purposes; it could refer to you as well) pass a boutique that appears to cater to teenagers, with jeans and shiny things in the windows, you think, hey, that's a store I could shop at. While the prices remain absurdly high, the new designer clothing experience is no more intimidating than a trip to the GAP. You can leave and think, I just got jeans and a t-shirt, no big deal, but have spent enough to have bought a new suit. So, rather than shockingly cheap high-end merchandise, we now have shockingly overpriced (though many are now accustomed to it) low-end attire.

That's my profound thought for the night.

Let the hippies be

After I came out against the Park Slope Food Co-op, readers might expect me to be equally negative about the pseudo-hippie artistic types who've set up a commune in Bushwick. And indeed, I once wrote a somewhat critical piece about these sorts of living arrangements. But while they're not for me (even if the Bushwick commune bears a superficial--though not economic--resemblance to the apartment I live in), I can't say I'm opposed. People have a right to be insufferable--or rebellious, depending how you see things--within the privacy of their own homes. Setting up an exclusive, interview-only community, where residents take pride in how different their pursuits are from typical American ones while owning iPods (see the slideshow), attending graduate school, having boyfriends, and getting clothes dry-cleaned, is just one of an infinite number of ways to set up one's living arrangement. True, to live in such an situation you'd probably have to be unmarried, but not necessarily, and presumably many members will eventually marry and leave, given their ages, so it seems unlikely that this set-up is a permanent one for most who are involved. The residents are not suggesting that anyone who doesn't pick up and move to a Bushwick commune is yuppie scum, they just like having a lot of roommates who share their creative/pretentious preferences, roll their own cigarettes, and so forth. They do not claim to be saving the world, are not exactly gentrifiers--ten people with two bathrooms will not attract a Starbucks, even if many of the ten are white--but just decided to live in a setting in which they'll feel comfortable.

But, as a Gawker commenter points out (albeit far more elegantly), $800 a month is a bit steep for co-operative living in a dangerous neighborhood. Non-hippie living arrangements in the city can be found for less, and in more gentrified areas. And what a good thing that is.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The enduring sketchiness of Duane Reade

Molly's onto something. I already knew my local Duane Reade was sketch city--a group of guys were once cheerfully (I want to think jokingly) discussing--with one of the (female) cashiers--the possibility of gang-raping a woman or disposing of her body--but the options are limited enough that Monsieur Reade got my vote when deciding what I'll choose as my local pharmacy. While there just now, I heard one of the pharmacists/assistants conversing with a voice on speakerphone--a woman giving her date of birth, her last name, the spelling of her last name... and then the pharmacist/assistant asked the woman if she needed anything other than birth control. Um, a little privacy, maybe? Is that what happens when you call things into Duane Reade? Couldn't the pharmacist have at least used the technical name for whichever method the woman on the other end needed? I don't think birth control is anything to be embarassed about, wish it were available more cheaply and with less hassle to all, but does "Ms. X" really need to be put in a situation where she unwittingly announces to all of Duane Reade that she's on the Pill or similar?

Relatedly, this ethical conundrum's been on my mind for a while now, and it relates, so here goes:

Let's say a woman walks into a pharmacy to fill her prescription for the Pill. Turns out she gets one of those social-conservative pharmacists who won't give it to her. This is their conversation:

Woman: I'd like to fill this prescription.
Pharmacist: Sorry, that goes against my religion, I cannot provide it.
Woman: But I need it for health reasons.
Pharmacist: That's what they all say.
Woman: Seriously, health reasons only.
Pharmacist: How could I possibly believe that?
Woman: I'm a lesbian.

What happens next? Would she get the prescription? Surely no matter how wrong a social conservative considers homosexuality, there's no moral reason to prevent a lesbian who is truly taking the Pill for health reasons from taking it, unless the pharmacist believes that a) the woman might get raped, and all life is sacred, ergo... or b) she may well have a change of heart and become ex-gay before the month is over.

"Jewry of Muscle"*

I go running almost exclusively on Jewish holidays, in part because I have those days off from work, and in part because I so enjoy being asked to pray with Hasidic 14-year-olds in Prospect Park. So I can't really come out against the 92nd Street Y's decision to keep its gym open on Shabbat, at least not from a self-righteous perspective. While part of me wants to say, ick, this is the final triumph of cultural/crass Judaism over the real deal, the cult of the body over monotheism, the other part of me thinks it's like Zabar's selling ham--things are as they are, and catering to a relatively small observant population as a formality, when there are options for those who care about such things, is unneccessary and phony.

New York Judaism is as much about being shomer everything as about mimicking Woody Allen in your neurosis and hangups. Which all goes back to Hannah Arendt's point about Judaism versus "Jewishness," the latter being what came out of emancipation and assimilation, an identity based not on religion or nationality but on certain identifying qualities, ethnic or behavioral, that forever marked Jews as different from those around them. It's a transition from, "Jews are those who believe the Messiah has yet to arrive, and who don't eat certain foods" to, "Jews are so funny and clever, a bit conniving, yes, but their men are supposed to make great husbands." It's all sort of, yuck, and makes me want to move to Israel, where perhaps things are a bit different than they are here. Or maybe Israel appeals to me for other reasons...

Also, the Manhattan JCC's on 70-something, not, as the NYT article says, 86th, as will be known by 112% of those reading it.

*Apologies to Max Nordau, who presumably didn't have elliptical machines in mind.

"I wanted to wear the blue vest, why'd you put me in the red one?!"



Hmm, so Kei has posted the absolute cutest picture ever known to the blogosphere, if not to mankind, and it doesn't even involve any pandas. The above picture is not the most flattering one ever taken of a dachshund, but I promised a picture of an especially agitated dachshund, so if I'm going to keep my blog-promises, not to mention keep up with Kei in the dachshund-blogging, I must post it all the same.

Battle of the Boroughs

Over the past few days, walking around the city, I've unintentionally come across both my senator and my mayor. Bloomberg was hovering around the West Side, where they were inflating the balloons for the parade, and was surrounded by all sorts of protective individuals, cars with tinted windows, and so forth. Schumer, on the other hand, was just at the Grand Army Plaza farmers' market with his daughter (who, I now remember, is, like Bloomberg's daughter, a former classmate of mine), looking laid-back and entirely ordinary for the neighborhood.

Which leads to the obvious question: Brooklyn or Manhattan? I spent most of this past week back in "the city," and would have to say I do miss it to some extent. People are everywhere, opportunities to buy random crap abound, and long subway trips can be avoided. But Brooklyn (OK, the part of Brooklyn I live in)... here, the babies are multiracial, the middle-aged lesbian couples affectionate, and the dogs poufy and gigantic, rather than tiny and overgroomed. I'll take Brooklyn. For now, at least, until this building becomes available.

Friday, November 25, 2005

"The international law expert declared hamantaschen a violation of the Geneva Conventions..."

The University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentasch debate, which I covered last year for the UChicago Magazine's blog, is the subject of a new book, and consequently was written up in the New York Times:

Here at Chicago, where 15 percent of the 4,500 undergraduates - and, Mr. [Ted] Cohen estimated, "112 percent" of the faculty - are Jewish, it overflows the largest auditorium, with devotees pinning "I {sheart} Hamentaschen" buttons on their T-shirts, including ones that proclaim U.C. the university "where fun goes to die." Despite its reputation, Mr. Cohen noted, Chicago is not only where the atom was first split but also where Second City, the improvisational comedy giant, was born - not that long after the latke-hamantasch debate.

Among the eminent Hyde Park humorists - and debaters - highlighted in the book are the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, who said the matter could be settled by the equation L=qH2/3; Hanna Holborn Gray, then the university's president, who explained that Machiavelli was not only Jewish but loved the latke; and Allan Bloom of the Committee on Social Thought, whose talk was titled, not surprisingly, "Restoring the Jewish Canon."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Wit or not?

My parents get TimesSelect, which has allowed me the joys of reading David Brooks's attempt at humor. If you find the show "Frasier" knee-slappingly delightful, then you will simply adore Brooks's charming references to Zagats, "mischevous" wine, TimesSelect, and getting a good table at a restaurant. Oh, how he understands us so!

Thanksgiving pandablogging

We should all be thankful for the existence of pandas, which are profoundly silly and fluffy animals. Not quite as nice as polar bears, but still worthy, and far more high-profile when it comes to blogs. So here's a roundup of pandablogging throughout the internets:

Let's start with the most disturbing. Once you've recovered, move along to this only-incidentally-panda-post. And now, you are ready for the ultimate in panda.

When two charged double-a batteries return to my camera, there will be a picture, not of a panda, but of an especially agitated dachshund.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A final subway anecdote for the evening

My roommate Katherine was on the train recently when she saw a couple of kids, looking suspiciously Stuyvesantian... with folded sheets of white paper, doing math homework. She told me this, and of course I understood immediately: They have Ms. Avigdor! Katherine and I were both in her calc class way back when, and we had to fold our homework just so. It was very old-school, very "I walked to school 30 miles barefoot in the snow," but it kept us on our (frostbitten) toes, which is what you need when taking second-term senior year calculus. Katherine asked the kids if they were in Avigdor's class, and they confirmed this. She reports that, as she was a stranger and of the opposite sex, the aforementioned Stuyvesantians did not look her in the eye. Sounds about right.

Hummus is the glue that holds my life together

I have eaten a great deal of hummus (Hummus Place, most recently with Molly, and Taim just now with Sam) lately, and while I like it enough, I've been eating it when not up for it, which is just no good. But I have other, more exciting, more bloggy news:

1) Gothamist/Garth has picked up my Metropolitan Diary-esque story of Orthodox Jewish girls on the subway who go get pierced. Now the following two things will happen, one causing the next: a) many people will read my post about Orthodox teen rebels, and b) those girls' parents will be pissed.

2) I met Matthew Yglesias, the most famous blogger I've ever met in real life, unless you count the time I sat next to someone who may or may not have been Andrew Sullivan at a Thai restaurant.

3) Molly's blogging again! With an awesome subway anecdote of her own.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Silver boots mean party

See below for evidence of the glimmer of social life in my otherwise highly productive weekend. Pictured below are my roommates, Katherine and Anna, as well as our honorary roommate Masha, whose housewarming party was most wonderful. I consumed two entire beers over several hours. Rock and roll, baby!

In other news, I finally tracked down Ivri Lider's CD, the one with the song from "Yossi and Jagger" on it, at Holyland Market in the East Village. I am going to (re?)teach myself Hebrew from this album. Or torture my roommates with "ch" sounds, which apparently not everyone appreciates as much as I do.

Masha's "castlewarming" party

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Grandest of all Army Plazas

Only in NY?

On the subway back from Manhattan this evening, I found myself in the middle (physically, not vocally) of a conversation about what to pierce next, at what point piercings look trashy, and which piercing salons were better than others. A typical subway conversation if there ever was one, second only to, "Move into the center of the car, and stop filming me with your camera phone while you're at it." But the discussion participants? A group of Orthodox Jewish girls, as was clear from the long skirts and the discussions of Shabbat. I would say "Only in NY" definitively, but there are probably other places in the world where such a scene might occur.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Shabbat shalom, from the Style section

Occasionally, an image comes along that is somewhat distressing to look at, yet one simply cannot look away. The photo of bat mitzvah girl Amber getting kissed on each cheek by her parents in Miami, wearing a $27,000 dress, with Ashanti and Ja Rule hired to perform at her party, is obviously meant to appear as grotesque to NYT-reading sophisticates. While the point of the article--big-name stars perform at private events for loads of cash--is not specifically about bar or bat mitzvahs, the notion Americans already have of a grotesque and crass party is associated more with these events than with, say, weddings or anniversary parties. Conspicuous consumption happens all over the place, in America and beyond, but if at the center of it all is a 13-year-old "JAP," it's all the better. Photographs from bar and bat mitzvah's are now all the rage, meant to be looked at ironically, to induce cringing, and so on.

The problem, of course, is that the image of Jews in America becomes that of an overly-dressed-up adolescent, looking simultanously awkward and spoiled, coming of age amidst the exploitation of not only hired singers and uniformed caterers, but also of their very own religion. Is nothing sacred to these people? Good grief!

Bar and bat mitzvahs are tacky not because they're Jewish parties, but because they're tailored to 13-year-olds. While adult parties can center around alcohol and children's parties around cake and fingerpainting, adolescents need something else. Dancing, shiny things, bright flashing lights, goodie-bags, one-upping one's friends, this is all quite normal for that age. But then once you start involving elderly relatives, and taking pictures of the proceedings, it begins to look as though everyone involved simply loved the macarena and the electric slide and those bracelets that glow for days if you keep them refrigerated, but which will inevitably leak all over your refrigerator. 13 is not the best age to pick for centering an event around, and for photographing. But as long as Judaism in America remains to many a culture with traces of a religion, the bar and bat mitzvah will continue to provide hipsters and sophisticates with more material than they know what to do with.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Housing, not polygamy, the cause of the French riots

Daniel Drezner has already pointed out that the French rioters do a very good job of acting very, well, French. This continues when one examines the new alleged root cause of the rioting: polygamy. While polygamy is illegal in France as elsewhere in the West, isn't one of France's claims to fame that it is highly tolerant of men's extramarital dabblings? When Mitterand's wife and mistress showed up at his funeral, France was showing how much more of a sophisticated place it was than the U.S., where around the same time, Clinton was getting impeached for receiving some now-infamous non-intercourse acts from a woman other than his wife. France saw itself as more liberated than America, but also as more highly evolved, and plenty of Americans agreed. But now, the fact that many African families in France are polygamous has led some to believe that such a lifestyle is conducive to producing children who will go out and burn cars.

The only difference I can see between the often-accepted, traditional French mistress model and the African polygamous model is that a Mitterand is not living in a tiny apartment with all the women he's sleeping with and all their children, while an African immigrant with several wives and their children is. The problem's not polygamy, then, it's housing. Get each wife her own charming flat in the 7th Arrondissment, get the man one of his own nearby, and the next thing you know, cars will remain flame-free.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Last high-school related post for now, I promise

But look here--there's pictures of Stuyvesant right there in the New York Times! Which is not so extraordinary--it's not as if it were a tiny high school in Nebraska--but it's still not every day I get flashbacks to rushing to zero period when I click "enlarge this image."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Stuyvesantians defying stereotypes, right here in my living room!


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Tonight, I did not miss Hyde Park


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Crash into me

I've inspired Amber to consider returning to her high school hair color. This somehow seems appropriate, since lately I've been feeling very, well, high school. This is not only because I am almost constantly spending time with at least one of three high-school classmates, or because I am once again commuting in NYC. It is also because my attempts to save money have included the resurrection of various items from high school. Rather than buy new stuff, I can go to my parents' place and reclaim things I'd forgotten I owned. This has led to all sorts of discoveries and incidents. A pair of ancient, formerly-velvet size-six pants from the GAP reveal that yesterday's six really is today's two. And a couple days ago, my roommates walked in on me... listening to Dave Matthews Band, right there in the living room. I mean, I'm not about to start buying new music, I'm getting a bit sick of the Magnetic Fields, and I'm too computer-illiterate and legalistic to attempt illegal downloading. I swear, it's not that I actually like Dave Matthews Band. OK, maybe just a little.

UChicago: Burke and baby pandas

My former astrophysics lab partner Kei is clearly involved in a conspiracy whose goal is for me to get absolutely nothing productive done, and to turn my brain into complete ecstatic mush. Her blog has gone all baby-panda, complete with links to movies of the baby pandas squeaking. It's all too much.

In Slate:

David Brooks, columnist, the New York Times

This is going to sound awfully pompous (but hey, I went to the University of Chicago), but the two most important books I read in college were Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France and Hobbes' Leviathan. I loathed both books at first reading, but they both explained how little we can rationally know about the world around us and how much we have to rely on habits, traditions, and intuition. I've been exemplifying our ignorance on a daily basis ever since.


We're not so bad. Really we're not. Goooo Chicago!

Pictures return to WWPD

My mother kindly bought me a replacement for my camera's defunct battery charger, which I'd been meaning to get for a while now. Thus the return to gratuitous pictures of caffeinated beverages I've consumed, and my oddly-dyed hair. And thus fewer gratuitous rants about the French Jewish reaction to various historical events, and the awfulness of co-operative grocery stores. So whether my camera's newfound functionality is a good or bad thing for WWPD is a matter of opinion.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Live in NYC for less

Aside from the obvious--cram as many people into a tiny apartment as possible, avoid eating at Masa and shopping at Barneys, don't own a car--how can this be done? I'm trying to figure this out, after the reddening of my hair turned out to cost nearly twice what I'd thought it would (damn blow-drying charge--Who knew? But how else can you tell if the hair is the right color if it isn't dry before you leave the salon? Why oh why did I stray from Manic Panic?). So I'm going to see today if I can spend a whole day without buying anything. This would be easy enough, if it weren't for the existence of a thing called the cappuccino.

Yes, the cappuccino will be my downfall. I first encountered it when it was far less than its current $3 and up, but am now hooked, and it's too late. And then there's my morning coffee place, where after like 100 beverages you get one free, as indicated by stamps on your coffee card. These cards, more specifically, will be my downfall. I made a seemingly sound investment recently in a $10 (but with free beverage) thermos from a place in the Village--the idea being, I'll make coffee before going to work and not even have to set foot in the land of temptation. But upon purchasing the thermos, I was handed yet another one of these cards, meaning that I will now have to go back and get yet another cappuccino from this somewhat out-of-the-way but still fabulous coffee bar. That makes three such cards I've been stuck with this fall. How to keep track?

How financially gullible am I, that I keep getting suckered into taking these cards, convincing myself that a "free" gazillionth cappuccino is a good deal? There's a UChicago facebook group, something like, "Contrary to popular opinion, being Jewish does not make me good with money." Indeed. While I always used to think that having passed the Stuyvesant test meant that I was (if only in 8th grade) decent at math, I now know otherwise.

So far, so good, though. I am almost done with my French press-made coffee with non-foamed milk, and, if the caffeine was enough to support this sort of rambling blog post, perhaps there is hope, after all.

If only someone had thought of this sooner:

"Rice Calls on Israel and Palestinians to Resolve Differences."

I can never show my face in this town again

Gothamist has posted my latest rant about the Park Slope Food Co-op, as one of their "Opinionist" pieces. It's been a while since I've plastered my dubious opinions all over my own neighborhood, but my new, Maureen Dowd-esque hair has inspired me. (Actually, upon further examination, it's more Angela Chase than Maureen Dowd.)

Friday, November 11, 2005

To whom it may concern:

My hair is now red. Not reddish. Not tinged with red. Not red-if-you-look-under-certain-light. It's Shirley Manson red. Maureen Dowd red, if I don't put on the proper eyeliner. I am pale, but red does not go well with my coloring. I don't care; red hair is awesome.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"Despite the relative silence, the Jewish community remains wary."

The above sentence refers to which of the following conflicts/eras:

a) The Dreyfus Affair.
b) Germany in the early 1930's
c) The U.S. post-9/11
d) The riots in France, currently underway
e) The Spanish Inquisition

Nobody, of course, would expect the answer to be "e."* The answer might be "f) all of the above," but I have not included that as an option. No, the answer is, in fact, "d) The riots in France, currently underway." An advisor to CRIF is quoted as saying, "We are concerned as Frenchmen, and we are a little more concerned as Jews."

The "JTA" and "Jewish Week" websites (and the CRIF site, which is in French) are filled with all sorts of information about the French Jewish response to the riots--and to life in France in general--including this: "About 3,000 Jews move from France to Israel each year, one of the highest rates of Jewish immigration from any single country." Is this true? Starting in what year?

The JTA piece on how relieved French Jews who've made aliyah are to be out of France includes a quote from "[Lionel] Levi, sipping a Perrier in the Netanya sunshine." Also quoted is "Claude Ben David, who made aliyah with his wife and children 14 years ago and now owns Chez Claude, a Netanya falafel** restaurant." So maybe it's easier to be French-Israeli than Jewish-French?

So the riots are not specifically anti-Semitic. While the rioters are of the same background as those who have been committing anti-Semitic acts in France, and while the riots are being referred to as a French intifada, Jews are not currently the target. French Jews by and large made a point of saying the Dreyfus Affair, too, was a French problem and not a Jewish one, despite the obvious anti-Semitic motivation behind Dreyfus's conviction and the still more obviously anti-Semitic outbursts--demonstrations, cartoons, etc.--that were such a huge part of the Affair. But does that mean that French Jews ought to move to Israel at the slightest hint of possible future anti-Semitism? How much danger is too much? Jews who cry, "anti-Semitism!" at anything and everything--see Seinfeld's "Uncle Leo"--get no sympathy. But if French Jews are scared, even if their fears eventually prove irrational, they can only be expected to act on how they feel. I would like to see all French people stay in France and work things out amongst themselves, and see only those French people with a Zionistic passion moving to Israel, but the world is not my personal social experiment, so those who wish to leave should leave.


*Apologies to Monty Python.
**I have eaten falafel twice today. At lunch, I asked a man working at the falafel place (who, it should be noted, very much resembled the kibbutz guy who was supposed to have taken Fran's virginity on "The Nanny") if they had forks and his answer was, "ken." Does this mean that I look Israeli or that the man at the falafel place understands but does not speak English? Discuss. At dinner, I did not order falafel, but accompanied Sam and Molly to Taim, where they ordered falafel and I ordered zatar bread and something that was supposed to be eggplant but was in fact tomato sauce. But then they brought over samples of their falafel, which were all mine, given that I was the only one of us stupid enough to have not ordered falafel in the first place. Sooo much falafel. Too much? Most likely. I must issue a fatwa against my own future falafel consumption. I am not qualified to do this? Hey, if a rabbi is qualified to declare Taim not only kosher but also vegan, then anyone can do anything. It's America, isn't that the point?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

As promised, a return to non-mocha-related discourse

Too many articles to link to, and not enough time, so here's my Francophilic-Zionistic take on the riots in France:

The first assumption would be that Jews would side with Sarkozy. He's all Giuliani-like, cracking down on the bad guys, on a population that has hardly been friendly to Jews. But then, look a bit deeper: French Arabs are still considered to be "Arab" no matter how many generations they've been in France, and the same often goes for French Jews. Which means that French Jews have a special place in all this (not "chosen," alas, just special): They can both identify with being French-but-not-French and identify with the French government/ethnically French society in condemning any and all frightening, potentially Islamist acts within France or elsewhere.

The problem with my post, I realize, is that I am not a French Jew and thus cannot speak for how it "really feels" to be one right now. This sort of criticism is often affixed to American Jews who claim to speak for Israelis. (I do not make such a claim). The difference is that Israel would want me as an Israeli, whereas to be a true "French Jew," rather than a Francophilic American chock full of origine juive, would take significantly more effort and would require decisions to have been made, and effort to be French to have been put forth, by my parents, grandparents, and so forth. In other words, I can be accused of ignorance, but not hypocrisy. But my point holds, no matter what a bona fide French Jew would tell you: it's an ambiguous situation. My cousin Caroline writes in the Jerusalem Post:

Once the violence has been quelled and the leaders of the insurgency imprisoned or deported, the leaders of these official bodies - or alternative leaders - must be vested with the ability to bring French Muslims into French society. These efforts may involve ending the French welfare system as it is presently constituted and shifting subsidies from government handouts to job training. It must certainly involve consistently asserting law and order in the immigrant enclaves.

This is a conservative, Israeli take, no doubt, but it reveals that even a right-wing Jewish interpretation of the French riots need not be entirely critical of the Islamist or potentially-Islamist side and may well be surprisingly moderate.

I'm an addict!

So I realized when I made it to 1pm (barely) with no caffeine. While one might assume I would at that point be up for even the most burnt 75-cent cup of coffee known to Midtown coffee-carts, one would be way off. To compensate for a caffeine-free start to the day, and to cancel out the headachy fogginess, I got a nice-sized (though called "small") mocha. It was fantabulous, but cost more than I'd meant to spend on lunch.

This is not much of a story, I realize. But once the post-mocha crash fades, you'll be hearing about the French riots, Japanese hair-straightening, Natalie Portman in various states of undress, or whatever it is WWPD's readers are most interested in.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

In the Maroon

The Chicago Maroon apparently now links to this blog. Which is awesome. Also incredible is that Hyde Park will be getting its very own Japanese spa, complete with--what else?--Japanese hair-straightening.

Monday, November 07, 2005

"Lines from Israeli music kept peeling away in my head like onions."

A longer post about the official Francophilic Zionistic interpretation of the French riots (hint: not what you'd think... I take it back--I have no idea what you'd think), but first, a link to a recipe for and article about French onion soup, in Haaretz:

"And now what, now what? Maybe a green salad."

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Overwashed, overthought

We already have Seven for All Mankind and Citizens of Humanity. What's missing from the lineup of designer jeans is a brand called Rights of Man, or, better yet, Droits de l'Homme. The left back pocket would be embroidered with the original declaration, while the right would be embroidered with a passage from Hannah Arendt's critique. Because it's the insignia on the ass that reminds people of the brand. This would be at once more obvious and more subtle than whether a blueish line curves in one way or another.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Reactionary travel-writing

NYT travel writer Bruce Bawer is nostalgic for the old Europe (as opposed to Old Europe) in which tradition was king and kebab stands unheard-of.

In Amsterdam, Bawer is put off by "the spectacle of street-corner drug peddlers (few of them Dutch) or scantily clad women (also non-Dutch) posing in crimson-flooded windows."

How is "Dutch" being defined? Did Bawer ask the drug peddlers and the scantily clad women for their papers? Were they not wearing clogs?

Bawer, it seems, prefers a town called Alkmaar:

Enhancing the quaint small-town feel was a huge street organ (a fading Dutch tradition); its proprietor shoved it up and down the pavement as it tooted "Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye" and "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue." (I recalled this fondly the next day when, at a family-filled restaurant in Amsterdam, I went bug-eyed at the obscene rap lyrics blaring from loudspeakers.)

Walk into any "family-filled" jeans-and-sneakers store on lower Broadway in NYC and feel free to go bug-eyed there as well. But of course you wouldn't find "real" Americans in such a store, anyway.

I also love the feeling of safety. To live in Amsterdam these days is to be gloomily aware that the Netherlands is suffering from formidable, and deepening, urban problems; strolling around Alkmaar, you'd hardly know it.

Sort of like if you stay between 57th and 96th on the East Side, you'd hardly know anything else existed. How lovely!

It gets worse:

Yes, Alkmaar has immigrants (on a downtown street called Gedempte Nieuwesloot, you'll see kebab shops and signs in Arabic); but compared with multicultural Amsterdam, it feels unmistakably Dutch. Height is part of it: even in the Netherlands - where the people are the world's tallest - folks from this region are known for their stature.

Did Bawer just advise NYT readers to visit a town because people are tall there? (What happened to "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue"?) Maybe there are shorter people living in Alkmaar, but they all hide out during the day in attics.

The rising social tensions that already afflict the major Dutch urban areas, however, seem destined, sooner or later, to alter life in places like Alkmaar. Best, then, to catch this town's gentle pleasures while you can.

Right. Because the "tensions" afflicting the Netherlands are worrisome because they might make small-town life less charmingly authentic for American tourists.

A beautiful, charming, fantabulous Netherlands would be one in which tall and short, ethnically Dutch and ethnically everything else, could all share in both the "gentle pleasures" of small-town life and the wilder ones of the city. What Bawer is fawning over, a "real" Netherlands, is not even consistent with Dutch history, which had its clogs, sure, but also its Spinozas. It's some fantasy of his which really did not need to make it into the Times.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Fabulousness for all!

Matthew Yglesias and Susan Konig have two very different takes on perceived class differences at Upper East Side private schools. I'd have to say I'm with Yglesias on this--you knew who had money and who didn't. That's putting it mildly. Susan Konig's description sounds about right for Stuyvesant, where the super-rich generally did everything they could to hide that fact, and where the more moderately well-off were still quite embarassed about it, but it does not ring true for a private school like, say, Spence.

Konig writes:

We had kids who lived on Park Avenue and went off to beautiful country houses every weekend (heck, we even had Kennedys). Other kids at our school were on scholarship — their families struggled to get by. My family was somewhere in the middle — between the Kennedys and the struggling. But we kids never knew which was which, or who had what — there was no contest of ostentatious wealth. We were all just kids together.

Ah yes. "My family was somewhere in the middle." Nearly everyone at Spence, myself included, would have said this about their family, and it was meaningless in any real-world sense. "We're just normal," or, "We're middle-class." "Middle-class" being, of course, anyone whose family owned just one horse, or whose summer house was not in the most exclusive Hampton. The sense I always got--one thoroughly confirmed when it became known that I was transferring to Stuyvesant--was that NYC public school students--specialized science high school students included--were assumed to be destitute, about the same as the children Sally Struthers wants so desperately to save. I've written about this before (see link above), but I'm writing on this subject again as a segue into a discussion of a far more glaring inequality: Some of us are closely related to Vogue editor Anna Wintour and others are not. See, merely being Anna Wintour's daughter makes you an authority on all things fabulous:

Bee Shaffer, the daughter of Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor, said she first met Mr. Theyskens at the Costume Institute gala last year, when her dress by the designer was nearly ruined during a rainstorm upon her arrival. Mr. Theyskens took her to a restroom where he rescued her evening with the slow and methodical application of paper towels.

"It was literally the first time we had met," Ms. Shaffer said. "He's really so sweet." She said it was unusual to meet a fashion designer whom she could not imagine doing anything else as a career, although Mr. Theyskens told her at a luncheon last week that he had also considered working as a florist.


And, since this post has not yet veered into total free association, I must add that a man taking a girl into a restroom and doing anything "slow and methodical" is only a family-friendly story if the man in question is a fashion designer who, as a little boy, wished he were a girl.

Shall we keep them?

For those who've spent the past week catching up with old friends and shrugging ineffectually at ever-growing piles of forms to fill out and dirty laundry, the time has come for a news brief: There are riots in the French suburbs.

Why should we care? We at WWPD are neither French nor suburban. Yet we have grown tired of reminding conservatives that yes, women enjoy sex, and the time has come to discuss other subjects of equal if not greater importance than Leon Kass's estimation of the female libido. What's happening in France has some huge implications, and is definitely worth paying attention to.

The riots look, on television, at least, very, well, American. Minorities living on the outskirts of a city are in conflict with police, cars are burning, everything is a mess. Anger is not demonstrated by a fierce debate on a literary television show, or by a snide word or two in a patisserie, but by good, old fashioned flaming cars. It seems France has an American-type problem on its hands. Will it choose an American-type solution?

This is the real problem, so often ignored, that Europe still can't get past the idea that there's such a thing as a "real" Dutchman, Frenchman, German, and so forth. America is unique in that it does not have this problem. While "all-American" conjures up a certain image, ideally Americans do not allow themselves to believe, on either a political or social level, that some Americans are more American than others. Does France's problem excuse individual criminal acts? No, but it does get to the truth of the motivation more than looking at radical Islam as a free-floating force against which Western democracies are helpless.

Despite its shunning of hyphenated identity and insistence that all of its citizens are equally--and nothing but--French, France has a problem: whenever a minority group in country is involved in a conflict--one its members started, of which its members are victims, or a combination--the possibility of that group up and leaving is immediately brought up. When there was a surge in anti-Semitism a couple years ago, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon suggested French Jews move to Israel. France protested, but the fact that Sharon's words seemed fairly reasonable, as though French Jews are somehow more mobile than other French citizens, is itself worrisome. Now, while French Muslims are rioting, much of the discussion is over whether France should have even let "these people" in in the first place, or whether "they" ought to be tossed back out again. (via Dylan).

While the French government itself has not endorsed the idea that minority populations are less than permanent societal fixtures, it needs to act--both through declarations and through policy actions--in such a way that this is no longer the reality of the situation. When poor, black Americans were left homeless after Hurricane Katrina, there was no outpouring of suggestions that this demographic--those directly affected and others--leave the country. America debates the status of illegal immigrants, not always coming to the most just conclusions, but American citizens of all backgrounds are treated as here to stay.

A liberal nation simply cannot see itself as containing various populations--often composed of the nation's own citizens--which can be encouraged to leave the country whenever things aren't going so well. If a group of ethnically French individuals lost it for one reason or another, they'd be arrested, but no one would suggest their entire town be shipped off somewhere, even if the town's members might be, deep down, supportive of the criminals. Similarly, a liberal nation cannot accept that when a minority group is discriminated against, it can always emigrate. A liberal nation must permit emigration, but does France really want to be a source of refugees?

I'm not sure what sort of policies France could enact that would make its Jews and Muslims feel--and be perceived of as--more fully French. The much-criticized ban on religious headcoverings clearly had such a goal in mind, but symbolic policies need to be supported by low-profile, economic, and structural ones. I last encountered economics in Mr. Lewak's classroom in 11th grade, so I'm not the one to go to for specifics, but the idealist in me does think that good laws could largely counteract cultural tendencies that convince people worldwide that, in France, there are French people, Muslims, Jews, and so on.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Just say no to cigarettes and chocolate milk* (and painted nails, white bread, and everything else)

"I am astonished," writes Jane Brody, "at how some women with elaborately painted daggers extending from their fingertips manage to type, dial cellphones, even sign their names. I wonder what joint deformities may await them decades hence after using their fingers in such unnatural positions."

Leave it to Jane Brody to notice a seemingly harmless pleasure and immediately think up an associated disease.

I pick on Jane Brody, but the truth is that the entire health-as-morality crusade--which Brody certainly represents-- has taken things to an unnecessarily ridiculous level, such that anything with purely aesthetic value is suspect, anything that exists merely to look good and/or give pleasure must be bad for you and thus bad, period. Not only are the aesthetically pleasing aspects of harmful substances--tobacco, alcohol (other than "red wine with dinner"), vanilla bean doughnuts, mmm...-- given no consideration whatsoever, but even acts without harmful consequences are frowned upon. Nice clothes? Fashion causes eating disorders and cocaine addiction. Television? Causes smoking among youth and thus causes cancer. Nice shoes? You'll ruin your feet. Acrylic nails? Joint disease awaits.

Life simply cannot be lived taking "decades hence" into account at all times. Do you want to be the person on the subway, sober and wearing sensible shoes and unpainted nails, when the terrorists strike?

*Apologies to Rufus Wainwright.