Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Stuck in the middle

The New York Times has just picked up on the "identity soup" movement, which I blogged about--and then got quite a bizarre comment from people who may or may not be the, err, soup nazis themselves--a month ago. Why the sudden interest from the "MSM"? Because unrest in France is a hot topic, and because the reason for those burning cars needs to be pinned down to something.

The Times piece confirms that, unlike some other, perfectly innocuous purveyors of pork soup, these particular French ladlers are trying to make a political statement: Muslims not welcome. Jews aren't welcome either, but that seems secondary to these particular bigots in this particular case. While you can't blame anyone in France from considering alternatives to a chicken-based broth, the fact that this soup is made from all sorts of freaky parts of a pig is not the problem.

Ilan Halimi is not mentioned in the NYT pork-soup story, although his tragic death, not the car-burning riots, is the latest crisis on the racism-and-chaos-in-France front. While the specific grievance of the pork-soup brigade appears to be Muslim immigration to France, dividing that country between the pork-eaters and the pork-avoiders, and defining the latter category as a foreign element, is, crudely but forcefully, telling both Muslims and Jews to get out. Are the soup-providers really nostalgic for a pre-Revolutionary era, when being French meant being Christian, or are they just imprecisely reactionary? Are they, like the advocates of the anti-veiling laws, merely saying that state trumps religion? Not exactly--it's clear that this segment of the French population is at least as happy to recognize hyphenated identity as are France's minorities. There's no pretext of inclusiveness.

As with the Halimi case, the soup nonsense brings up the question of when general assholishness can be considered racist assholishness, in other words, what's an act of hate and what's just a hateful act. Both the torturers and the ladlers make contradictory arguments: The gang that killed Halimi claimed to be not anti-Semitic, but rather just greedy, and that they'd inferred from Halimi's Judaism that he might have some money, only later to admit to regular, non-profit-driven anti-Semitism. The pork-soup-providers claim innocently enough that they are just helping the poor, OK, maybe just helping their own, only hinting at the fact that their real intent is sticking it to Muslims (and, if applicable, Jews) in France. Poor youths looking for a quick buck (well, Euro), and charitable types helping the poor? Violent anti-Semites and xenophobes with especially cruel and creepy, if non-violent, tactics? Who are these people? What is going on?

Or, to put it somewhat more clearly: It cannot possibly be that fantastic to be a Jew in France at the moment. Just as, way back when, Jews were seen as rich and thus evil by the poor because they were associated with the aristocracy, and yet were never able to really join the aristocracy because, well, they were Jewish, today's Jews are considered to be at once the enemy of the downtrodden and a part of a Semitic, non-European, anti-Western population invading France. Jews get to be symbols of the West to those such as Halimi's torturers, and of the East to the pork-soup crowd. While the pork-soup nationalists and the Jews might, one imagines, feel they have a common enemy, the pork soup pretty much obliterates the possibility of a united front against Islamicization of France. All this leads to cries from French-Jewish leaders for an end to racism... and sure, why not anti-Semitism too, while you're at it. If it's not too much trouble. Because being stuck in the middle leaves no option other than a moderate, timid response. No option, that is, other than leaving, but that would be letting the "identity soup" people and the self-proclaimed "barbarians" win. Bad situation indeed.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Assorted links to things you'd never, ever expect WWPD to link to:

The Volokh Conspiracy's David Bernstein on Israel's existence: Despite what some would have you believe, it's a country, and it exists. If in doubt, read this post, which probably won't convince you of anything, but you never know.

The Wall Street Journal's Matthew Kaminski (via Andrew Sullivan) on Ilan Halimi:

This murder dredges up the ghosts of French anti-Semitism past (Dreyfus, Vichy), but that's more than a trifle unfair. The police and media early on downplayed the racial motive, fearing as is their habit these days a backlash from Muslims, yet soon changed their tune. Now the whole establishment is united in condemning what the government calls an "anti-Semitic hate crime." The French president, prime minister, head of the biggest mainstream Muslim organization, the archbishop of Paris and the leader of the Socialist opposition stood together at a Thursday night memorial ceremony for Ilan at a synagogue in Paris. Hundreds marched in Bagneux, in the words of a banner, "against barbarism, anti-Semitism and racism." Home to 600,000 Jews, the most of any European country, France has succeeded in reducing anti-Semitic violence, which peaked in 2004.

Yet France's bigger worry is its Muslim population of five million, also Europe's largest. So it's not the anti-Semitism but the crime itself and the profile of the perpetrators that best explain the national revulsion. To put it bluntly, Ilan Halimi, many people here figure, could just as easily have been a Christian.

So this is somewhat like what I said, except I don't quite see how anyone would think Ilan Halimi could "just as easily" have been non-Jewish. While the barbarism and racism apparently doing well in France these days don't specifically spare the French-hyphen-French, anti-Semitism was behind what happened in this particular case, and not just by chance. Everything in Europe with nothing specific to do with Jews (car-burning riots, Danish cartoons) ends up somehow turning into a "Jewish" situation. While it's not exactly clear where Jews in Europe should stand politically--on the side of the West, but still lumped together with Muslims as foreigners no matter how many generations in a given place and thus subject to many of the same problems--it's clear that Jews are still considered very central to whatever's going on, whether the latest scandal involves Jews or not. The problem, then, isn't just a generic racism or barbarism or decay, but all of these things ending up channeled to hating Jews. That's where it all seems to lead. Stopping problems before they reach that point would probably be the way to go... But while none of this is especially cheery, Haaretz is the bearer of good news:

Haaretz's Daniel Ben-Simon and Leonie Schultens on French-Israeli relations: The gist of it is, France and Israel get along better than they had been getting along, Jews and Israel don't get quite so screwed over by the French media, and this is, at least in part, why Ilan Halimi's case is not merely referred to as a crime against justice, and so on.

There's a ton more to say on all of this, but sleep...

Sunday, February 26, 2006


It will happen. It hasn't happened in a while, so I may not get far. As in, a loop I used to make in Prospect Park was 3 1/2 miles, with running to the park another 1/2 mile. I might just make to the park, but I'm not optimistic. It is really, really cold out there.

Questions re: בית הבובות

What is this?: סיגפו

Who is this?: עומד מול ראי

Apparently, blogger, unlike my iTunes, recognizes Hebrew.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Andrew Sullivan on women

On why Tom Ford is clothed, surrounded by a nude Keira Knightly and Scarlett Johansson, on the cover of Vanity Fair:

Men and women are biologically wired to be attracted to different aspects of the people they lust after. Women, for some reason still opaque to me, are sexually attracted to a man's soul, his character, his style. Men want to see titties, as Dave Chapelle would say.

Would that this were the case for many "Daily Dish"-reading men, but it is not. I've argued this before, and seems I must once again: straight women like good-looking men. And when these good-looking men take their clothes off, this is a good thing. Sexism in this context is the force that makes it unacceptable for women to voice such shallow concerns, or more specifically, that which makes it somewhat reasonable still for women to put aside concern over male appearance and focus instead on male earning potential, or to put it more delicately, "character." Those of both sexes and all orientations can be attracted to minds as well as bodies, and will find that some attractions are more to one than to the other, but the best are to both.

But on a far more basic level, if Sullivan's claim were really true, if women were really just attracted to soul, character, and style, why would women have any sexual orientation whatsoever? Why wouldn't a woman be as good as a man for all of us, assuming this woman was interesting, intelligent, and so on, since it seems we don't care about the body itself? Clearly what's under the clothes is of interest. I honestly can't believe this needs to be pointed out.

Too short and intent on higher education for the runway

I've been meaning to go to the Jewish Museum's Sarah Berhardt exhibit, but for a variety of reasons (OK, an inertia preventing me from getting all the way from Prospect Heights to 92nd Street) I haven't yet seen it. But I have till April 2nd, according to this article on Bernhardt and Jewish female beauty. I will combine it with a trip to Yura, which has very good lemon tea cake and cappuccinos... but moving on...

Leslie Camhi attempts to figure out what specifically Jewish good looks would entail, if it's even right to say such a thing exists (it implies a Jewish race), and why there aren't more Jewish runway models. It is this part of her article I find the most amusing: "[M]ost Jewish girls today may be either a tad too short or far too intent on higher education to pursue the runway." I don't know how to respond to that... But while the usual tidbits surface--why, did you know Gwyneth has some Jewish blood, and let's not forget Natalie Portman, and, gosh, aren't Israelis better-looking than American Jews?--it's still a well-written article, one that ends on an uplifting note, discussing/quoting Magazine cover-girl Rachel Weisz, definitively Jewish-looking and definitively good-looking, name apparently unchanged.

While yes, it's true that Judaism is not exactly racial, that there are Jews of all races, it gets a bit irritating when article after article embraces the sudden discovery that this or that "Aryan"-looking actress has some Jewish ancestry, or is actually completely Jewish, despite appearances. There is such a thing as Jewish-looking, and it is neither attractive nor unattractive in and of itself, and so can have representatives in everyone from Weisz to Woody Allen, Barbara Streisand to (which Israeli actor to name? there are so many...).

The idea of exotic Jewish beauty must sound, well, foreign to anyone reading this in New York (or, presumably, Israel). But the concept exists elsewhere in the U.S. It's weird. I don't think anyone would say that beautiful African-American women are "exotic," and while this is still said of Asian-American women, in this context it's considered offensive, something to be transcended, not embraced. Since Americans are of all races, and basically always have been, why not scrap "exotic" altogether? It's 2006, and it's about time.

Friday, February 24, 2006

This calls for a "silent march"

I can't say why I'm so moved, depressed, furious, etc. about what happened to Ilan Halimi. In part it could be the whole French Jews/Dreyfus Affair obsession, which explains why I was reading things that would lead me to the story to begin with, but that's not it exactly. It could be that, at 23, he's about my age, and looks like someone I might have known. But still I don't think that's it either. I think it's that what happened is deeply, incredibly, evil, and unlike cartoon or port controversies, there's no debate, no calm discussion, possible. Whatever one thinks of torture in the context of war, remember, this is torture in the context of happening to be Jewish in France, at a time of peace.

From Haaretz: The reports about Halimi in France did not mention that he was Jewish. Halimi's family was livid. His mother accused the authorities of ignoring the anti-Semitic factor. "Had Ilan not been Jewish, he would not have been murdered," she said. She was widely quoted in the French media, and the authorities began to retreat.

On Tuesday French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said that "the murder had anti-Semitic motives." "They kidnapped and murdered him because he was Jewish - in their words, the Jews have money," he said.

What a long way from the Dreyfus Affair. Except, well, it is. First off, at least there is some speaking out, at least there aren't only the vague calls for justice (or, in more modern terms, for anti-racism). But more importantly, French Jews now have options. There doesn't need to be a Herzl now because there already was one--if an event like this makes Jews wish to defend themselves as a nation, the nation's already there, a physical state more than ready to accept French and all other Jews. While Halimi will never be able to move to Israel as he had planned, others may do so.

Also important is the fact that it seems France is also, at least on the surface, doing its part to make it so that Israel is not the only option for French Jews, that all French citizens may stay in France with the understanding that they as individuals (if not their communities) are protected. While Herzl may have been off about the Jewish state's existence making things much better for those Jews who would choose to stay in places like France (every time native-French Jews are attacked, it's said to be over the conflict in the Middle East; the exception seems to be this case, in which the motive was "he's Jewish and thus must be rich"), Israel's existence does give Jews a certain voice they didn't have before. And France does not come across looking all that terrible after this. Even if the gang's methods--using a woman to lure their victim, the putting out cigarettes on him--bring to mind some French stereotypes. But the government seems to be doing the right thing, kinda-sorta, although considering anti-Semitism as a secondary motivation still seems a little strange. As for the French-Jewish leadership...

The story seems to have reached the New York Times, which reports: "Nobody is denying that their priority was money," said Roger Cukierman, president of CRIF, France's umbrella Jewish organization. "But their vision, based on the prejudice that Jews have money, and then once they are kidnapped, the way they happily tortured them, shows the anti-Semitic element."

An anti-Semitic "element"? Nothing is ever considered truly anti-Semitic, it's either a reenactment of the conflict in the Middle East (assuming all French Jews, no matter how many generations in France, to symbolize the Israeli government), or, apparently, a mugging with a tinge of anti-Semitism. Assuming Jews are by definition rich (including those who must work in cellphone stores to make enough money to move to Israel--that certainly implies a trust fund) is not at all anti-Semitic. To put it in as subtle terms as possible: WTF?

I'm sure the "silent march" (what else?) planned by the CRIF will do a lot to fix the situation.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Do markets in Provence really sell melons "grown hydroponically in Israel"? So says Michèle de La Pradelle, apparently, in Market Day in Provence, which seems like a ridiculously fascinating book, at least to someone who totally fell for the whole French-markets-have-better-food hoax. What was I thinking? All those berries I ate unwashed, cheeses from which I had to pick out the occasional goat hair, and now this? Behold:

Through his selling setup, the stallholder stages two competing representations of nature: its universal, generous fecundity, but also a more intimate image: the well-tended nook, the lovingly cultivated little garden behind the house....

Moreover, the selection of products here does not follow customer logic —“I need carrots and a bouquet garni for the daube”; “This guy’s got tarragon but not lettuce”—but rather the logic of the gardener torn between constraints of soil and climate, her concern to grow good produce, and her own momentary fancy. To whoever wishes to hear it, the stall recounts the cycle of the seasons (I don’t have strawberries yet; We don’t carry anything wrapped in plastic), the nature of the soil (“The asparagus? It’s from Velleron—it’s all sand down there”), and the gardener’s adventures (I tried pumpkins this year—it worked). Putting a dead rabbit or a bouquet amidst the cabbages, henhouse eggs next to snap peas, a bunch of daffodils close by the raw fava beans; adding a few items gathered wild (a basket of girolle mushrooms, a punnet of blackberries, a few branches of sweet fennel) evokes the multiform activity of the traditional domestic economy.

The piecemeal look of this selling arrangement also strengthens the impression that we are not dealing with a professional tradesman here, but rather with a peasant of the sort Chayanov described, who occasionally comes to sell his surplus on the market....

This arrangement, designed to evoke the peasant economy (which has long since disappeared from the region), is in fact not frequently encountered on the Carpentras market. The small number of stallholders who play this card serve as a reference for the many more whose allusions are so subtle they are not always perceived—gardener’s baskets instead of crates, slates bearing the words “haricots du pays’” [local beans] in clumsy handwriting, bouquets of flowers that here can pass for decoration—or whose knowing winks at the customer allow doubt to subsist: a question like “So you don’t want any of my plums?” is meant to be heard as meaning that the fruit comes from the seller’s own garden.

I've long been suspicious of the trend in all things "organic;" in unfounded fears of genetically-altered tomatoes; in worrying, of all things in the world, whether you are cooking with local, seasonal ingredients. But at the same time, farmers' markets, whether near the Arc de Triomphe or Grand Army Plaza, have always drawn me to them. Aesthetically, they work. They allow you to do your food shopping in a place that doesn't resemble a Citibank, a Staples, a Starbucks. And the idea that the food comes from a farm is charming--I'm not exactly filled with nostalgia for Europe as it once was, but buying goat cheese at a market where, a few stalls down, one can visit with real-life baby goats has a certain appeal. At one market I went to in Paris, there were baby farm animals in a pen. It was so fantastic. Goat cheese, just slightly runny, with a not-too-moldy but thick-ish rind... tiny strawberries... tiny arugula... oh yes. All most excellent, especially if presented on a closed-off Parisian street.

The market fantasy is, in other words, the only old-world fantasy I allow myself. I don't yearn for a time when people with money had class, when everyone knew their place, when the kids weren't like they are today, when gentility and noblesse oblige were the order of the day, when Europe didn't let in all those ferners, when... right. I'm pretty firmly with modernity. Except when it comes to buying food. Raspail market over Fairway any day.

But now, this. The dream is shattered. It's all the same. I can just throw in the (paper) towel and shop at Key Foods. Or even (gasp) D'agostinos. The horror.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A presidential weekend

As documented in previous posts, I did some exploration of windy, freezing-cold Brooklyn and of queer-friendly Park Slope. Since then, I made a quick, unsuccessful (or, from the perspective of my bank account, successful) run through the Barneys Warehouse Sale, where I didn't even want to buy anything, and then a much longer, much more spending-heavy trip to Chelsea Market. Buon Italia is the best place ever, and as much as I like Japanese, Vietnamese, and Middle Eastern food, any cuisine without a sufficient diversity of cheeses always strikes me as deficient. But back to Barneys for a second--who brings not one but two teacup chihuahuas to a super-crowded warehouse sale? A woman who wears my size, that's who, which was how I ended up nearly elbowing the animals many times in my short time there. This makes me reconsider my plan to bring Gertie (aka my future dachshund) with me everywhere I go.

Fast-forward to tonight: Katherine and I are not just going to go to the same Japanese place every time we get a "nice" dinner out. Oh no. We are going to try anything and everything. Which led us to the Pepe Rosso chain's Avenue C branch. Which seemed like a good idea at the time, but from which we are still recovering. Katherine really lucked out-- first she got a dish with a sandy side of spinach, replaced by a side of broccoli rabe with a hair in it which clearly belonged to neither of us. I got one of the heaviest, if not worst, plates of creamy pasta-with-pesto I've ever encountered. By the end of the meal, we were both quite ready to pay up and head out. But not before the waitress decided, for our troubles (namely the sandiness of the spinach) we should get a tiramisu on the house. The thing plopped down, was massive, and while the thought counts and all, it was not the most appetizing thing either of us had ever seen.

Then we decided to get a drink somewhere. First we tried Zum Schneider (sp?), an extremely popular German beerhall, which seemed nice enough, aside from being too crowded and smelling too strongly of goulash or similar. We ended up at the Delancey Lounge, which met my semi-requirement (fireplace) but did not have the requisite big fluffy dog a fireplace, in my view, implies. But still, the combination of a fireplace and being at the base of the bridge is strangely successful. Highly recommended.

Not that there's anything wrong with that

Tonight I went with one of my friends to a lesbian bar. I was looking for something to do, and they would be showing "The L Word," which I'd never seen. Plus, I'd heard good things about the place from people including gay men and straight women, so I figured why not? So, some observations:

1) This is the only bar I've ever been to that has "low calorie" cocktails. Who, exactly, is the target audience? Wouldn't such an option make more sense in the hetero post-college yuppie bars of Yorkville or Murray Hill, or in Chelsea, rather than at a lesbian bar in Park Slope?

2) In one scene in "The L Word," a character on the road to transitioning from a woman to a man gets rather graphically involved with a (gay, male) character played by Alan Cumming. It appears that the non-Cumming actor is playing the, ahem, active role in the proceedings. This does not seem physically possible, and while some more knowledgeable types informed me of the various attachable equipment presumably involved, it still doesn't quite make sense for a variety of reasons. Little illogical things like this always get to me. Also confusing to me was why a butch, presumably female-preferring character and a gay male character would be so passionately coupled off, but I figured that as a "'respectful' hetero," or more importantly as someone who'd missed maybe the first 15 minutes of the show, I should only ask so many questions.

3) I repel lesbians. It's a fact. Women who like women do not like me, at least not in that way. I'd noticed this before, but never had it been quite so obvious. The intently cruising women cruised right past me without so much as looking over. I'm not exactly an over-the-top, walking straight-girl stereotype--highlighted hair, a French manicure, sorority sweatshirt, Kate Spade purse, etc.--so what is going on? Where is the big sign that says, "I like boys," is it on my forehead such that only lesbians can see it?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

On a lighter note

Why I should get a dachshund:

John Frieda, where are you?

Bad news

Because it had been a while, because this year had been less anti-Semitic than the previous, something clearly had to be done. So now this. Why, one wonders, might a gang have tortured this French-Jewish man? Is it possible that the gang's vocal anti-Semitism had anything to do with its motives? It's certainly not something French Jews should be at all worked up about, so it's a good thing French Jews have been advised to remain calm. Since after all, Parisians get abducted and tortured all the time for no particular reason.

The time has come to look back fondly on the flaming-car riots.

The end of the dark ages

This has been quite a good week, for reasons including but not limited to randomly getting free pastries at Falai Panetteria; now having so much Israeli music it's ridiculous; and the newly-fixed light in my room, which had been out for weeks if not months, but which, thanks to a combination of Katherine's finding a decent ladder and Katherine's father not having vertigo has now been fixed. Which means that I can sit in a non-dark room listening to music in Hebrew other than that one Ivri Lider CD. Finally.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I was happy for an hour this evening

Tonight was my first-ever UChicago young alumni happy hour. Not the first of the year, but the first I actually remembered in time to go. While I was very tempted to just go to Noodles on 28 (just the random noodle place I passed on the way to the thing), I made it through a couple hours of schmoozing before diving into enough stirfry for tonight's ample dinner and tomorrow's ample (if cold/greasy) lunch. I brought with me two non-UChicago alums (from Stanford--what is this slumming I do on the weekends...) which caused a bit of a stir, but nothing of Courtney Love-esque proportions. I had two whole beers, which meant that I spoke to people I had not met previously, but again, nothing of Courtney Love-esque proportions. As usual, I managed to find the only non-bankers (the grad student/non-profit-worker huddle) in a large crowd of people who are presumably bankers. And then Masha (the remaining non-UChicagoan) kindly accompanied me to the aforementioned noodleteria, and watched me eat a surprisingly old-time-hot-and-sour-sauce-coated platter of tofu-broccoli. A good time was had by all, except for the poor soybeans whose lives were needlessly cut short to make way for my dinner.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sports coverage

I was alarmed to see that a bull terrier, the only dog breed that goes beyond not-cute and into ugly, won Westminster. But more disturbing still is the fact that a dachshund has never, ever, been best in show. How could this be? If I were the judge, a dachshund would win every year. People might cry "bias" but then again, people would also be able to bask in the warm glow of longhaired dachshund wonderfulness. This is the closest I've ever come to caring about the results of a sporting event in which I did not know any of the athletes personally.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Read all about it

My latest article for the University of Chicago Magazine is online.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

I've never been much for poultry

But goodness. Nothing like this to make us proud to be Americans.

Impulse shopping

Yesterday Katherine and I hit the town. The town being Brooklyn. We'd planned a trip to the Middle Eastern food stores of Atlantic Avenue, but upon reaching them, I realized I could not buy food while hungry, and that if I entered Sahadi's in my current state, I'd end up leaving with a moving truck filled with barrels of olives, dried fruit, nuts, and massive jars of tehina, which, while appealing, our apartment couldn't really store. So we headed over to Bar Tabac, which was neither bar-centric nor tobacco-centric, but which does make incredibly good hamburgers, not-bad freedom fries, one of the best salads ever to accompany a hamburger, and surprisingly dirt-like coffee. Katherine got some kind of tuna, which she says was good.

Because nothing like a hamburger makes one think, time to buy random, brightly-colored items from addictive Brazilian store Rapisarda, home of my green bag, my mother's green bag, Katherine's wallet, my wallet... Thus "addictive." And the sale bin was filled with what I had, inexplicably, been looking for for months if not years: shiny leggings. In neon pink or dark blue. Went with blue, because I try not to make the exact same choices I'd have made as a six-year-old. Katherine got some fabulous checkered tights, after asking if they had gray and getting an explanation about how the store does not stock things in such sedate colors. Yet they do stock beige tights, which is apparently a source of conflict for the sisters who run the place. It's hard to be a super-cool Brazilian boutique owner, I guess.

When we went to the register to pay, the saleswoman took note of the somewhat embarassing fact that both of us were carrying wallets distinctively from that same store. Katherine's with elephants, mine with dots. The sign on the door as we left, on the inside of the store, said "We'll be back soon!" Which, we noted, works both as a sign to indicate that the owners are gone, and as an affirmation of the obvious: anyone leaving the store will, assuming they are not suddenly deported or arrested or otherwise incapacitated, be back soon.

Friday, February 10, 2006

In honor of the Sabbath:

1) There was an ad just now on the subway for Shabbat. As in, a subway ad, rather than for Kaplan prep-courses or to learn how to be an air-conditioner repairman, to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath. My favorite subway ads, though, are the ones just put up by random people, typically postcards, in Spanish and English, offering an easy way to gain or lose some massive amount of weight, but sometimes for far more specific things, such as urging riders to go to some far-out part of Brooklyn for a party. I'd almost be tempted to go to a party that had been flyered for on the subway, but then again...

2) Someone reached this blog searching (no-quotes) for "why do jewish women coax everyone to eat." Why indeed. I'm assuming Jewish women in the fashion industry are exempt, as are those living on the Upper East Side, but web searches can only be so specific.

3) There is apparently such a thing as inter-Yeshiva floor hockey. Evidence that Stuyvesant is not, in fact, the least like a "normal" high school of any school around.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Looney toons

I've been reading about the cartoon mess, but am late in blogging about it, so whatever I have to say has presumably been said. But, oh well:

As wrong as the response in the Muslim world has been to the offending cartoons, I also find the delighted response to them to be more than a bit creepy. If the entire free world were simply delighted that a newspaper in Denmark had the guts to run anti-Semitic cartoons, despite ample Jewish protest, that would be creepy, right? Well, the protest has gone well beyond, well, protest, but that doesn't make the cartoons themselves any more laudable. Unlike Andrew Sullivan, who believes offending as many people as possible is the key to freedom, I believe that there can at once be freedom to offend and a certain amount of restraint--coming from individuals, not the government--keeping different groups kind to one another.

Which is more or less the stance of this solid Haaretz editorial on the scandal. But one point in the piece does not quite help the argument:

The publishers argued that they have the right to publish these drawings, in the name of freedom of expression and to protest the self-censorship that Europeans are imposing on themselves with respect to Islam. But even freedom of expression - noble though it is - requires limits. Jewish communities worldwide, and even the official Israeli government, have always been sensitive to, and protested vigorously against, anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish publications throughout the world.

The limits to expression ought to come from individuals, not from governments or from fear that the result of one's expression will lead to worldwide rioting. But that's neither here nor there. What's interesting is that of course Muslims are going to be, as Jews are when the tables turn, "sensitive to, and protest[ing] vigorously against," propaganda meant specifically to provoke them. A Muslim is not going to look at one of these cartoons and think, gosh, I should condemn suicide bombing and all other forms of terrorism, so that the Danes will like me more. An article might accomplish something along these lines, but a provocative cartoon will not. So Muslims have every right to be upset. It may seem like oversensitivity, but when similar cartoons were produced at the time of the Dreyfus Affair, Jews could hardly have been accused of overreacting, and... right.

But...I am confused by how the same side in this fight is testing free speech by running Holocaust cartoons and meanwhile saying, in effect, that free speech is limited to that which does not offend. Which is it? Much like the simultaneous argument that Zionism=Nazism, but that the Nazis were actually a benevolent bunch, here is one of those contradictions that manages to obscure whatever the point was in the first place. Would the ideal situation be a more PC European press? Or a good fight in which the Muslim world "wins" by producing the more offensive cartoons?Wasn't the Holocaust-denial trend making the rounds before the cartoon riots?

What strikes me the most is how ridiculous the methods used by the so-called enlightened West, that great civilization, Western Europe in all its progressive, post-modern glory. While rational arguments do exist against Islamist terrorism and making women cover themselves from head to toe, how is the battle being fought? Nasty cartoons and pork soup. Us-against-them style, so as to make whatever moral superiority the Western argument in the freedom-versus-terror struggle ought to have all but disappear.

A tangential note, one presumably not discussed elsewhere: Boycotts are the story of the day, with Danish cheese suffering the most. And in Europe, at least in some places, foods labeled "made in Israel" are presumably so labeled so as to be avoided. At the Fairway supermarket on the Upper West Side, this is, I'd imagine, not what's going on. The Israeli foods section is located in that tempting area near the checkout, just before the pre-register chocolate array. So of course an impulse purchase was in order. I bought more zatar than I figured I'd be able to finish in months, then realized this stuff is more addictive than I'd imagined, and goes with--no, improves-- absolutely everything. And while it seems like the sort of thing where a little would go a long way, that is not the case, and about half of the massive container made its way onto one Greek salad.


In the wise words of Monty Python: "Look out, there are llamas."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Quote of the day

[His Eastern European grandparents'] intention was to marry in New York and take American citizenship, in which case I might have been born in Brooklyn or in Newark, New Jersey, and written clever novels in English about the passions and inhibitions of top-hatted immigrants and the neurotic ordeals of their agonized progeny.--Amos Oz, "A Tale of Love and Darkness"

Friday, February 03, 2006

Grosser than a cuddle-puddle

On the subway this evening, something happened to me that never had before, most likely never will again, and, frankly, I would have never thought possible. A man--who was, to be fair, clearly out of his mind--was about to get off the train with his various bags and so forth, but before exiting decided to spit copious amounts of fried chicken, projectile-like, at me and the woman seated next to me. As in, bits of fried chicken landed on my bag and boots. The mechanics of this baffled me, and I began laughing at the situation, which, oddly enough, no one else on the train seemed to find at all amusing. Was it that legendary New Yorker jadedness? Sympathy for the lunatic who clearly meant well, I mean, who doesn't have a hankering for semi-digested chicken on the train back to Brooklyn? I was relieved to see that my scarf and book remain largely poultry-free, but am a bit concerned about my bag, which I would say I can no longer, in good faith, refer to as "vegan."