Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Brushes with fame

I recently received a fan email from a famous blogger, one whose blog I'm a big fan of. While this sort of thing has happened before, it's the first time in a while, so it reminded me to keep up with the posts, and to post things other than pictures of haircuts I've given myself or dogs I wish I owned. I also recently (well, currently, via AIM) received a suggestion from my one celebrity friend (he says z-list, I say d-list) that I turn this blog into a book. I have some time this summer, and could certainly use the cash. But how would it happen? Does this blog have a unifying theme? If so, is it one that would sell?

On an equally productive note, this evening I saw Maggie Gyllenhaal on the street. Lower Broadway, near the Strand, for the curious. Her guy is the one non-Israeli actor I have a crush on, and thus the one actor I might actually see on the street, but the stunning Peter Sarsgaard was nowhere to be seen. Think I'd have to change my name to Phoebe Maaltz to stand a chance, but so be it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Take This Article and Shove it

This article ("Take This Internship and Shove It," by Anya Kamenetz) sure looks familiar. Our points are awfully similar, though hers is better researched. Of course, mine appeared on Gothamist nine days prior to hers appearing in the NYT, which has to count for something.

Romance, languages, and literature

I need to give this blog "categories," so that one category can be "Trillion Books in French." This is my plan for the summer (and beyond), and while ideally some of the reading will take place on a beach in Tel Aviv, a cafe in Montreal, or somewhere further afield than gentrified Brooklyn, this is what's going on.

First up, "Huis Clos." It was my favorite of the books (well, plays) we read in Ms. Katz's French class in 10th grade, and I now realize why: it is super easy. I normally read French a bit more slowly than I read English, but this took about a second, and probably found it not too impossible in 10th grade either, and was thus able--odd for me at the time in French--to think about the book itself. The themes, teasing existentialism out of what each character says and out of the odd situation itself, all this is potentially more challenging, but I've taken courses on Sartre, so I know more or less what to look for and do not need to go through old notebooks in my childhood bedroom.

The famous line from the play is "l'enfer, c'est les Autres," or, "hell is Others." This is not, however, the line I remembered from having read it years ago. The one that stuck with me was when the lesbian Ines, infuriated at the possibility of her hetero hell-mates Estelle and Garcin hooking up, says of Garcin, "Et il n'est meme pas beau!," or, "And he isn't even good-looking!" While the meaning in the context is absurd--there is one man in the room, what exactly are Estelle's options?--it holds for love in general, even on the "outside," in the real world beyond a tiny, sealed room of this existentialist play. 10th grade is about the time when romantic love becomes interesting, and I remember even then seeing this line as a comment meant to extend beyond the immediate situation of the play or even whatever philosophical points Sartre was looking to make.

The line I most associate with Ines's from "Huis Clos" is this one from Un Amour de Swann. Swann here is the "Estelle," in a sense, the person who has undergone all the suffering and longing of love, but for a person with no particularly lovable qualities. But what are lovable qualities, if not by definition the qualities, however unpleasant, of the beloved? I find this question worth thinking about not just for personal reasons (I am 22, living in a society that permits multiple romantic relationships in one's lifetime, and am thus familiar with this sort of thing) but on a political level as well: Dreyfus-era French Jews--or, a few decades later and more famously, German Jews--loved their country even if it was "meme pas beau!" Herzl devoted unthinkable energy to saving the Jewish people-- going to lengths that make those of Romeo or any other celebrated lover seem rather unimpressive-- for whom he on the whole liked very little.

Comments?

I have long since turned on "word verification," yet there are spam comments trickling in at an alarming rate. While I'm slightly curious as to why this is happening, what I really want to know is how to get it to stop, and whether there's a way to get rid of these comments without going through the archives and deleting them one by one.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Le Baby-Daddy

Just got back from seeing "L'Enfant," the story of mildly retarded Belgian low-lives that will forever disabuse you of any notions that slim, pleasant-looking, baguette-eating French-speaking Europeans necessarily have even the slightest bit of class, dignity, culture, humanity, or--most importantly--gift for gab. These people just act, never think, steal not for drug money or glamor but just because, toss infants around like objects, and express both affection and disgust with a violent shove. It will also disabuse you of concerns over Europe's declining birth rates--these characters make Britney Spears's parenting seem impeccable.

As my friends and I discussed after the movie, what's perhaps most striking about this movie from an American perspective is how the very classic baby-mama/baby daddy combo, the life of petty crime, the poorly-thought-out, nihilistic behavior, all of this was involving two of the whiter white people Western Europe has to offer. If the protagonists were people of color, the audience would have either been offended or thought, "and so?" The behavior is meant to be more surprising coming from people so "Aryan." But it also goes beyond race--there are plenty of white low-lives in America, but how many take occasional breaks to eat elegant baguette sandwiches? Or wear such elegantly disheveled, East Village-ready clothes?

Because of their white Western Europeanness, the audience is led to wonder whether perhaps there's more to these characters than it appears. But, there isn't. In the NYT review of the film, "'L'Enfant' ('The Child') Shows a Thief Who Eventually Finds Redemption," Manohla Dargis is quite far off. Bruno, the thief in question, never thinks beyond his most immediate needs, and his occasional apologies or claims that he has changed are inevitably followed by demands for money or to borrow a cellphone, followed by further antisocial activity. That the movie ends on one of his "oops" moments makes him seem pathetic, but in no way implies he intends to mend his ways. Bruno would be incapable of this--his only friend is a young child, and his ability to plan more than several seconds ahead is simply not there. The movie is depressing in its bleakness, but I cannot imagine anyone tearing up during it, as there is no moral dilemma whatsoever; you are observing pathetic low-lives for whom "redemption" is unfathomable.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Papua New Guinea

It has recently come to my attention that everyone I know knows everyone else I know. Thanks to an ever-consolidating circle of Stuyvesant alums and our NYC-based college friends, it appears that everyone is or was dating the friend of someone I had this or that interaction with in 10th grade, or my second year of college, or last week. And vice versa. And so on.

While this is a wonderful, intelligent, sophisticated group of 22-24-year-olds, it is also disturbingly incestuous. Or, at the very least, disturbingly provincial. I never thought of myself as coming from a small town, but apparently I did. It is inhabited by a disproportionate number of people who do well on standardized tests, but it is also one in which you can say the name of a social studies teacher at a party and half the heads in the room begin nodding and reminiscing.

Every time I hear of (or find myself in) another such connection, I'm half thrilled at what a neat group of people I'm surrounded by, and half ready to go somewhere where no one would be just a link away from every embarrassing thing that ever happened to me, ever. For some reason, I always assume this place would be Papua New Guinea.

The Papua New Guinea urge is different from the Israeli-army urge (one based on various considerations, but which will nevertheless be postponed for various reasons), or the weekend-away urge. Papua New Guinea would be all about... I have no idea, as I know nothing about the place, but I am almost certain I would never, ever, hear a thing that would all of a sudden summon the memory of a bad grade, an unrequited crush, or that time I forgot I'd worn mascara, had a snowball fight during lunch, and returned to English class to a some highly amused--or was it concerned?--classmates. From the CIA handbook: "Melanesian Pidgin serves as the lingua franca, English spoken by 1%-2%, Motu spoken in Papua region note: 715 indigenous languages - many unrelated." Fantastic. Sign me up.

Future Hipster of America



An attempt at long, sideswept bangs (a perennial quest, one which alternates with the quest for Shirley Manson-red hair) resulted in what will be, in several months, some of the best LSBs around. Hate hipsters, love the bangs and the leggings.

"Celeste, Heste..."

On "Seinfeld," Jerry doesn't know the name of the woman he's dating, only that her name rhymes with a part of the female anatomy. During and then after dinner tonight, I kept forgetting the name of the restaurant we were at, and the only way I could remember--aside from asking my dining companions--was to remind myself of this episode, to think of the different parts of the female anatomy, to think of names rhyming with that, and to come up with "Celeste," which strikes me as an improbable name of an amazing Italian restaurant.

But regardless, Celeste might be the best restaurant ever. It's up there with Al di La, but somewhat cheaper and with better food. So, better than Al di La. The only reason I say "might" re: Celeste is that my knowledge of restaurants is limited primarily to New York City and, within the city, places where no dish on the menu exceeds $20. Or maybe one dish does, but that's the superfancy one that no one would ever order unless trying to make a point or write a restaurant review. So perhaps Jean Georges or Masa is better than Celeste, but it doesn't matter. Celeste is fantastic. My only concern is that the place won't last--not only is it far, far too tasty to be on 85th and Amsterdam, but they seemed to undercharge us. Not something likely to disappoint a table of recent college grads, but nevertheless not the best business model.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Looking back on years of geekdom

WWPD's two-year blogoversary is coming up, seeing as my first post was on May 29, 2004. Lest you think I was a "late adapter," I should point out that my first-ever blog post, period, seems to have been November 26, 2003, and had the computers at UChicago's Paris Center been a bit less tempermental that fall (the building was still under construction), it would have been a bit earlier still. My first blog-reading was even earlier, but unless the government kept records of my andrewsullivan.com and Oxblog reading as a very geeky, then-neoconservative-leaning UChicago first-year, precise dates for this are unknown.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Absentminded tourism

I have to read a trillion books in French. I'm trying to figure out where best to do this--a library? my apartment? the park? a coffee shop?-- and have come up with the answer: the subway. I read best on the subway, where it's not so much that there are no distractions as that the whole point of the subway is not looking up at anyone else and just keeping to yourself. Which means, if you don't have a book, that you have to be careful where you direct your glance, as a blank stare in the wrong direction could lead to making a new friend you'd never wanted. But, if you are lucky enough to have a book, or to have a neighbor with a decent one, you will look at the text and nothing but the text up till, and perhaps a bit past, your intended stop.

So I made more headway in Proust on a 40-minute trip on the 4/5 than I did in an hour in a coffee shop. The only problem with the subway plan is I'm not sure it's the best idea to take a book and ride subway lines from one end to the next, completely distracted from my surroundings. This may be post-Giuliani, $50-million-brownstone New York, but it's still probably a mistake to sit on the train for hours on end with a 2000-page book in French, looking like an absentminded tourist.

And speaking of absentminded tourism, whatever happened to that Comedy Central show, Wanderlust? If you find Borat/Ali G at all amusing, you'd find this show perhaps even more so.

"Get into Yale. Get love"

There's an article (and video multimedia!) in the NYT about the Seekers, Stuyvesant High School's evangelical Christian club. I remember the Seekers well. They met in the first floor lobby at the same time as the girls' track team, which meant that as my teammates and I sat in a large circle doing various stretches that seemed to fascinate our male classmates, we were stretching to the sound of this club singing, "I love Jesus." I remember finding this combination hilarious.

The irony here is that we were all looking for ("seeking") the same thing. One of the prayers posted up by a Seeker on "Jesus Day" was apparently "Get into Yale. Get love." Well, there were two reasons anyone joined the girls' track team at Stuyvesant, where few runners could possibly hold their own in any sort of serious competition: to get into college, and to get a better body. I'd still go with track over prayer, as colleges really do care if applicants have done a sport, even if they are miserably untalented at it, and the effect of running four miles a day and doing endless crunches cannot possibly be matched by asking for salvation in the Stuyvesant lunchroom.

As for why Stuyvesant allows such a public presence for both the Seekers and their "Jesus Day" celebration, it probably something to do with the fact that most non-Seekers found the group dorky and ridiculous. Evangelical Christians in Tribeca, at a high school full of sarcastic non-believers of all stripes, are less likely to peer-pressure their fellow students into believing than to get thoroughly mocked by groups of stoned, culturally-Jewish kids from the Upper West Side or Park Slope.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Oh, politics UPDATED

Pity poor Hillary Clinton, burdened with the "baggage" of her husband's scandalous yet much-missed two-term presidency. This strikes me as absurd--it is precisely because Senator Clinton's husband was president that she has the name recognition to be in the running herself. Some may hold Bill's reputation against her, but if there were no Bill, who'd have heard of Hillary in the first place?

UPDATE

Via Gawker, I see that a potentially far superior candidate might soon hit the political scene. I mean, sure, Mr. Sheffield would pull some strings, but her style and flair deserve most of the credit for any future successes.

Another WWPD contest

Let us say there was an apartment. And directly above this apartment, there was another apartment. And let's say that, in the downstairs apartment, at all hours, sounds would emanate from the upstairs one. Sounds of stomping, banging, and moving furniture. Morning through the night. Continuous noise of the sort just mentioned, and heard in all rooms of the downstairs apartment at any given time. What's going on upstairs?

1) An orphanage: Katherine's theory is consistent with the fact that there are children we suspect may live in this apartment, and with the moving furniture sounds, which may well be the movement of so many small beds across a floor.

2) A horse: Also Katherine's theory, consistent with the louder-than-human stomping and the fact that an iTunes playlist in this building is "horsemusic" or something like that.

3) A petting zoo: Consistent with the varied sounds, the continuous noise, and the fact that there seem to be both children and animals.

4) A chest of drawers filled, ala Seinfeld, with either cigar-making Dominicans or Japanese tourists (theory of anonymous "friend of WWPD"): Thus the moving furniture, and the many, many footsteps.

5) Something else, i.e., fill in the blank. Here's the blank: ____________

The winner of this contest receives a horse, an orphan, a baby goat, or a foreign national.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Unpaid internships: a (long, repetitive) response to the responses

Much of the response to my Gothamist post about unpaid internships has been that the system is unfair to those whose parents are not well-off. This is undeniable, but was not the point of my post. It's also unfair that organizations, even for-profit ones, can now get people to do their offices' scut work for free, but again, not my point.

The problem with unpaid, post-college, full-time-work "internships" is that they warp the entire idea of what work is supposed to be, and alter the expectations of not just super-wealthy graduates, but also those whose parents allow them to live at home indefinitely while pursuing an unpaid career in their hometown (doable in any major city and for all I know some smaller towns as well). It used to be that only the very wealthiest college students imagined a post-college life of earning absolutely nothing; the advent of the respectable and seemingly inevitable unpaid internship has made it so that payment, even a minimum wage, begins to look like too much to ask for.

While in a way these internships could, indirectly, lead to a sort of social justice--wealthier families will become less so once parents' funds diminish from having to support their unpaid, file-clerk offspring--that's hardly the case. These internships are prerequisites to many forms of paid work, but moreover, this system turns much of the upper middle class of my generation into a caste of non-workers, of people who look upon with scorn any tasks done for the sake of getting paid.

Even those who have or seek paying jobs see those listings for often interesting-sounding positions which assure a fabulous job with one small caveat: no pay. I saw plenty such listings when looking for work after graduation, and while I sought out--and eventually got--paying work, I'd have to admit, after seeing enough listings for unpaid this or that, it starts to look normal. The fact that a job pays absolutely zilch becomes yet another minor setback, like "some administrative tasks." You're forced to remind yourself, "But wait, how will I ever move out of my parents' house/pay back loans/buy my own socks?" The job listings themselves cannot be relied upon to reveal just how absurd unpaid work really is--they just slip it in there, as though it's the most normal thing in the world for a job to pay nothing at all.

Commentor Jacob (for those potentially interested, no idea which Jacob) writes:

Nicely said. I'd only add that that there's something very sector-specific about this. I-banking doesn't run on this basis. But the newspaper, magazine, and book businesses do, as does most of Washington. (I'll bet that much of Hollywood does, too.)


This makes finance, like law, a possible route of real social mobility, while preserving, say, publishing, and much public service work, for those whose parents can afford to subsidize post-college years.

This is true, but what strikes me as bizarre isn't that some sectors pay more (and thus allow for more social mobility) than others, but that some sectors these days pay absolutely nothing to many of their adult, college-educated workers. Even parents who can afford to subsidize their childen's entire 20s, 30s, and so on might not wish to do so, nor do all but the most well-off young adults expect their families to support them well into adulthood. More glamorous industries outside of finance--journalism, publishing, or politics--are bound to pay less than i-banking, and on a more general level, the market will make it so that some work is valued more than other work, but even a low-paid job allows the worker a certain degree of independence; even a job paying below minimum wage gives a worker, if not enough to live on, still a sense that the work being done is worth something. That it's now perfectly normal for adults to work, unpaid, at various non-charity, non-student positions, that's a sign that something's amiss. That rich kids have it easier than poor kids ought to be addressed as well, but the freakishness of the unpaid internship phenomenon goes beyond its status as an example of social injustice, and thus needs to be looked at as more than yet another instance of the rich having it so good.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Human Blah

No way Anthony Hopkins is black. And Nicole Kidman as a janitor? Not buying it. And how did Coleman Silk end up Jewish, not just white? Shouldn't that be explained? And what about Professor Roux, the woman out to get the protagonist, wasn't there all sorts of intrigue there? And finally, Gary Sinise, young, robust, jogging up a storm, is Nathan Zuckerman in the late 1990s? No, no no.

Of course, a Philip Roth movie in which the viewer is forced to suspend disbelief and agree that a Nicole Kidman and an Anthony Hopkins make a fine couple indeed does, once and for all, establish the Woody Allen-Philip Roth connection that lies at the center of the known universe.

Read it and weep

I have a post up at Gothamist about unpaid internships.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Write what you know

To my Googling, evidently follicle-obsessed, readers:

I know nothing about Puerto Rican hairstyles; or how to get the messiah to arrive; or what Japanese hair straightening will do to black hair. My guesses: check out the Spanish language women's magazines; pray; and it'll screw it up just as it apparently does everyone's hair.

And to those looking to WWPD for hairy Jewish men (Andrew Sullivan, that you?) getting warm (pun intended!), but still not a subject about to be discussed on this blog. A line has to be drawn somewhere, and I've chosen to draw it at shwarma-induced food poisoning. If anything, this line might need to take a few steps back.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Back to the all-pasta diet

I'm not a hundred percent sure it was the shwarma, but two out of the three of us who ate at Yummy Shawarmy on Tuesday are not feeling so hot this week. Possibly three out of three, but I'd have to check. It may also have been oddly fishy-smelling fish from the Union Square Whole Foods. Another word to the wise: covering bad fish with zatar only means that you eat more of the bad fish because zatar makes absolutely everything taste wonderful. It's the MSG of the Middle East.

In other, equally politically-irrelevant news, I learned via the Gawker Stalker that today I was a few hours and a couple blocks away from a sighting of "Designing Women" cast member Jean Smart, aka "Charlene." Charlene, as if you don't already know, was the one from the Ozarks whose family was poor and backwards but gosh darn it such nice people, and was thus the butt of many a snobbish joke made by Delta Burke, aka "Suzanne Sugarbaker." Poplar Bluff. That was the town in the Ozarks. But who was Suzanne to talk--she had a pet pig!

In other news, bad meat products can, apparently, fry a person's brain, causing retention of only the most useless of all possible memories. (I'm just a bad burger away from remembering that Julia Sugarbaker was always my least favorite, so self-righteous and not nearly as classy as the show's creators want you to believe.)

A long attempt at a follow-up

Since there was some debate on the subject, I'll make clear once and for all that I am not under the impression that Matthew Yglesias is Israeli. Nor, much as I appreciate the culture, the language, the food, and the actors (especially the actors!), can I claim to be Israeli. In Haaretz, Bradley Burston gives a good explanation as to how Israel might serve as a homeland of sorts for American Jews, coming to a similar conclusion as I do but for different reasons. But the question here, more specifically, is what makes Israel the center of the Jewish nation:

To assume the Jewish national center to refer to wherever your most immediate non-American ancestors happened to come from, or to wherever the most Jews live at any given time, is to ignore history. Jews and non-Jews, anti-Semites and philo-Semites, have long considered Palestine/Jerusalem the "home" of the Jews, no matter how few Jews lived there or how many generations a given Jewish family or community had been in whichever non-Middle Eastern nation. This notion pre-existed modern ideas of the nation. As for why Israel and not, say Belarus, this is not even up for debate--Israel is the only actual, political state claiming to be the Jewish national center. Zabars, Dalton, and Bloomingdales are perhaps Jewish cultural centers, synagogues and temples worldwide are Jewish religious centers, but for a Jewish political (ie official national) center, there's only Israel. It's certainly possible to be a purely culturally-identified Jew, I just happen to consider that a foolish decision.

Katherine's argument is somewhat more complicated--what can the place of Israel possibly be in the identity of Diaspora Jews who know little of it, who feel ties (as is natural) to their immediate surroundings and background and not to a country that just happens to be filled with people of the same general background? I suppose I come at this from an odd angle--I was in Israel for two weeks when I'd just turned eight, went t a lot of water parks, ate a lot of falafel, and remember little else of the trip. I'm planning to go sometime soon, but at this point my experience is limited to a good amount of reading and movie-watching, along with an equally good amount of time spent among the Israeli expat community in various hummus-selling establishments in New York. So I have no firsthand knowledge of what it's like to live in Israel, and thus cannot comment on what it feels like to live in the country Herzl imagined. While it's entirely possible that, a minute into the trip, I will feel myself to be extremely American, I've felt out of place in enough parts of America to realize that my particular brand of provincialism makes me feel out of place in all but a few stretches of Manhattan and Brooklyn along with the University of Chicago campus. So a personal feeling of being at home in, say, Tel Aviv, strikes me as unimportant and unrealistic. In a sense, then, it does require a leap from realizing that Israel is the political center of the Jewish nation to feeling the same sort of national ties one might feel to a state with which one is more familiar. But the first and most important understanding to have is that Jewish nationality exists; that it has asserted itself as a modern nation-state can thus hardly be ignored, but as I see it (and, strangely, I see it the way Bernard Lazare did, well before the state of Israel), comfortably accepting that a Jewish nationality is neither an absurdity nor a figment of anti-Semites' imagination must precede--and need not lead to--any interest in Zionism in particular.

To put it in the most basic terms possible, I am interested in reality. Enough Jews, in America and elsewhere, feel themselves to be Jewish no matter how little they attend synagogue, how few bagels they consume, or how stereotypically non-Jewish they may happen to look. While it has religious, cultural, and genetic components, Jews are united in a way that transcends these divisions, and that way is nationality. If all Jews felt Judaism to be just a religion, than gosh darn it, it would be one. Even Jews with the most minimal understanding of Israel's history and purpose realize that the state is a creation of people like themselves--not people who also order turkey instead of ham, but people with a shared history and, if nothing else, a sense that they are all one people; some Jews feel neutral about the state's existence and others vehemently reject the idea of political Judaism, but all would have to acknowledge Israel as an example--the only example in modern times--of Jewish nationality expressing itself in a typically national, ie state-based, manner. This need not be off-putting to Diaspora Jews--those with no interest in asserting or maintaining a Jewish nationality may identify as well as being of American nationality, just as someone Spanish-American may consider himself to be nationally both Spanish and American.

The confusion over what's "Israeli" and what's "of Jewish nationality" can be addressed in the following way--anyone Jewish, in any country, may understand their national identity to be partially Jewish, partially that of the state they live in. To have "Israeli" nationality is to have decided that one's Jewish nationality is the more important one and thus the one that one wishes to identify with politically; or, that one happens to have grown up in Israel. Now that the state of Israel exists, it seems ridiculous to describe one's self as a non-Zionist Jewish nationalist--if you care enough about your Jewish nationality, in this day and age, why not be in Israel?--but it's perfectly logical to understand yourself to be of Jewish nationality, perhaps among multiple nationalities, and not have enough of the "-ist" to hop on the next available El Al flight. It is, however, illogical to understand Jewish nationality as a real thing and not have a sense that Israel is where that nationality has its geographical base.

To sum up: I'm not asking all Jews to move to Israel. I'd just like to destigmatize the idea of Jewish nationality, and to point out that, for those who consider themseves Jewish but are not keen on shomers Shabbat and Negiah, cultural Judaism is in many ways more problematic and unappealing than the national variety.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

French-Jewish Friendster

I have found the perfect website, one which manages to combine three of my interests--France, Jews, and Facebook--into one. Tsarfatit is like Facebook or Friendster but for the French-Jewish or those, like myself, with French-Jewish inclinations. It's not the most userfriendly thing I've ever seen, but where else do you get a serious discussion of all things French and Jewish, along with profiles of French Jews the world over looking to do everything from make business connections to finding the perfect French-Jewish date. This is about as niche as it gets, and as the official blogger of Francophilic Zionism, I give it a thumbs up.

Welcome back, misogyny! Part II

Here's the follow-up to my post from Monday. It was going to be a further response to novelist Gary Shteyngart's interview, along with a longer response to Katherine's comment, but I'm going to respond now to Shteyngart because of the obvious pairing with the post below.

Much like John Derbyshire, Shteyngart conceives of himself as something of a nostalgic rebel. In his latest novel, Shteyngart uses the word "Jewess" a whole bunch. It is, of course, a literary device, something the character who is the narrator would say, not necessarily something the author would. And, one could even go as far as to say that the narrator's use of this word is a sign that the author stands in brave opposition to current trends in political correctness. More power to him. But it is, as it turns out also something the author would say--and does say in the Forward interview--so the whole "don't confuse the author with the narrator" escape doesn't work here. Putting "Jewess" into a novel set in the 21st century is interesting and provocative; using the word "Jewess" in the 21st century is reactionary and gratuitously offensive (not unlike writing articles about how hot girls are at age 14). Why does Shteyngart use this outdated word?

There's a certain charm in days past. The reason a young man in a tweed blazer seems more intellectual than one in an Adidas track jacket, that a beat-up used book gives someone a more impressive aura on the subway than a new, paperback copy filled with the exact same text. And, among contemporary hipster Jews, there's this ironic embrace of the Woody Allen aspects of the past, of Jewish neuroses as experienced back when those cool shoes in that store on Rivington Street were first in fashion. There's also a danger in getting to excited about the past--the days before processed foods and Google were also the days before gay rights and integration. While an aging conservative can be expected to smile blindly at the past, assuming current evils to be worse than those of his youth, I'd expect a bit more from a young and liberal-minded writer.

"Jewess," like "Negress," is offensive largely because it recalls a time when the group being referred to was treated awfully by those using the word, even though the word in question wasn't originally used in a derogatory way. Relatedly, the words are troublesome because, in using them today, one is implicitly expressing a wish for the group being referred to to reliquish all autonomy acheived since becoming "Jewish women," "black women," or "African-American women." A "Jewish woman" is a woman who is Jewish; a "Jewess" is the passive recipient or non-recipient of a) a Talmud-scholar husband, b) the affection of a more cosmopolitan Jew who has yet to discover the exciting world beyond Jewesses, or c) the attention of a non-Jewish man, thus causing controversy. I realize this is far more explanation than is necessary; the point is that, by using "Jewess," Shteyngart only confirms that he sees Jewish women as the sad end result for Jewish men without a thirst for exploration. A passive and unpleasant role indeed, and one contemporary Jewish women might not take to too kindly. (And, to put it in the most obvious way possible: imagine the black female reaction if a black novelist, in an interview in an African-American publication, discussed at length why he does not have "Negress" girlfriends.)

Shteyngart has a remarkably outdated notion of rebellion and originality. (And this is even if he intends his words in the interview to be humorous; it's an old joke he's telling). That, by dating exclusively non-Jews, he is really pushing things, not to mention showing himself to be an open-minded, universalist type, rather than a provincial bore. Now, the idea of freaking out one's parents by bringing home someone of a different group has, to a large extent, lessened since gays took that particular joy away from everyone else. Bring home someone of the opposite sex, and even the stuffiest parents will be relieved. But also, is there necessarily anything stuffy and conservative about dating fellow Jews? I can understand how, with the immensely uncool forces of college Hillels, parents, and online dating services pushing Jews to date one another, dating a non-Jew may still feel, if not like rebellion, than at least proof of openmindedness. But whatever happened to the openminded if unoriginal notion of just going for whoever you happen to find attractive? This would, of course, leave open the possibility of dating people with backgrounds both different from and similar to your own, and thus wouldn't do much in the way of proving a point or modeling one's self after a time-honored, "Annie Hall"-celebrated type.

The appeal of the "shiksa" (as opposed to the appeal of an actual, living-and-breathing woman who happens not to be Jewish) for an Allen, Roth, or Shteyngart is the same as the appeal of an adolescent girl for a Derbyshire--naivete, innocence, and an easy way for a man to feel all-powerful and brilliant in a world where it's no longer popular for men to have such a role in couples.

And finally, anyone interested in seeing an example of a heterosexual union between two Jews causing more familial strife than could even the most flagrant of same-sex, interracial couplings should check out "Late Marriage."

Welcome back, misogyny! Part I

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that John Derbyshire is at it again:

Some of the most vituperative emails I have ever got came in after I made an offhand remark, in one of my monthly NRO diaries, to the effect that very few of us are physically appealing after our salad days, which in the case of women I pegged at ages 15-20. While the storm was raging, biologist Razib Khan over at Gene Expression (forget philosophers, theologians, and even novelists: the only people with interesting things to say about human nature nowadays are the scientists) decided to look up some actual numbers. Reasoning that a rapist is inspired to his passion mainly by the physical attractiveness of his victim, Razib went for rape statistics.

He found a 1992 report (Rape in America: A Report to the Nation) from the National Victim Center showing the age distribution of female rape victims. Sixty percent of the women who reported having been raped were aged 17 or less, divided about equally between women aged 11 to 17 (32 percent) and those under eleven (29 percent). Only six percent were older than 29. When a woman gets past her mid twenties, in fact, her probability of being raped drops off like a continental shelf. If you histogram the figures, you get a peak around ages 12-14… which is precisely the age Lolita was at the time of her affair with Humbert Humbert. As Razib noted, my own “15-20” estimate was slightly off. An upper limit of 24 would be more reasonable. The lower limit really doesn’t bear thinking about. (I have a 13-year-old daughter.)

Emphasis mine.

This "scientific proof" that young girls are more attractive than women is not only disturbing, but also illogical. A rapist's "passion" is only a small part of the equation--perceived weakness of the intended victim also plays a role. There's a reason parents worry about their 12-year-olds walking around alone and not their 30-year-olds doing so: as people get older, they get progressively more street-smart, and thus less likely to get into situations that could potentially lead to getting hurt physically. While there are savvy 12-year-olds and naive 30-year-olds, on average, it's got to be easier to lure a junior high school student than a PR exec. In other words, it's not that 12-14-year-olds look better naked (since when are rapists such discriminating aesthetes, put off by a little cellulite?) but that children are easier to convince, via non-violent means, to do idiotic things that, among adults, would amount to knowingly putting themselves into potentially dangerous situations.

Now, take a moment to be nauseated by the following: Derbyshire mentions, in one breath, his oneness with pedophile rapists and the fact that he himself is the father of a 13-year-old girl.

Done shuddering? Good. And, because this is National Review, Derbyshire is required to explain how whatever nonsense he's got on his mind, it all relates to the overarching, all-encompassing conservative fact that things used to be much better in the good old days, in this case, the days when girls' first experience with sanitary napkins coincided with their first donning of a wedding gown, a beautiful thing made obsolete by the evil forces of political correctness and liberalism:

It is all too much for our prim, sissified, feminized, swooning, emoting, mealy mouthed, litigation-whipped, “diversity”-terrorized, race-and-“gender”-panicked society. We shudder and turn away, or write an angry email. The America of 1958, with all its shortcomings, was saltier, wiser, closer to the flesh and the bone and the wet earth, less fearful of itself...

Here you see one of the paradoxes of our strange times. Our women dress like sluts; our kids are taught about buggery in elementary school; “wardrobe malfunctions” expose to prime-time TV viewers body parts customarily covered in public since “the lamented end of the Ancient World B.C.” (Humbert); our colleges have coed bathrooms; songs about pimps rise to the top of the pop music charts; yet so far as anything to do with the actual reality of actual human nature is concerned, we are as prim and shockable as a bunch of Quaker schoolmarms. After 40 years of lying to ourselves, we are now terrified of the truth.


Oh poor, poor Derbyshire. Forced to live in a world where women can wear whatever we feel like and yet not be forced to offer ourselves at our most innocent and nubile to middle-aged men waiting for us with engagement rings outside the local junior high school.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Word to the wise

Do not be lured by the name: "Yummy Shawarmy," the new place on 7th and Bleecker, is anything but. In both senses. Given that the "shwarma" was bits of just-warmer-than-cold, greasy, tasteless chicken, there's no way it could have been at all "yummy." This was my first time having shwarma, but my two shwarma-experienced dining companions (if this can be called dining) assured me that that's not at all how it's supposed to taste. I ate very little of the chicken part of the sandwich, so I'll still be around tomorrow most likely. And the follow-up consumption of almost an entire beer, a Magnolia cupcake, and a salad have somewhat dulled the memory of this most disgusting of filled pitas.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A long attempt at an explanation

Agreed. Take a look. A.B. Yehoshua puts things better than I ever could, and while I'm with him perhaps 98%, I'm going to give an explanation to something more personal--why do I care? Or, as I'm asked by those who've known me for a long time, what's with all the Jewish stuff all of a sudden (i.e. the last few years)? I'll try to explain:

Transformed by the Dreyfus Affair into Jewish nationalists and Zionists, assimilated fin-de-siecle Western and Central European Jewish intellectuals turned to the shtetl or the ghetto, to the "backwards," traditional, pious Jews of Eastern Europe, the very Jews with whom these men most wanted to disassociate themselves with in their previous, pre-Zionist political incarnations. (Oversimplification, I realize.) Yesterday, in Midwood, Brooklyn, among long-skirted, wig-wearing women, very large families, and men with covered heads, I, a non-religious Jew originally from Manhattan, thought of that hundred-year-old experience, the decision to look for a more authentic Judaism in the pre-assimilation (or acculturation or integration or what have you), pre-emancipation-style community.

I'm a fan of wearing pants and various other things not compatible with an Orthodox lifestyle, but do not see how this is incompatible with a more nationalistic Jewish identity. (Living in America as opposed to Israel might be, but that's another matter entirely.) But I understand the impulse to idealize the more religious types, within the context of America, because "cultural" Judaism--though it produces some great art--is about the least appealing identity I could think of.

Much of a-religious, or cultural, American Judaism consists of reassuring non-Jews that one is not "one of them," not kosher, not expected in synagogue Saturday morning, not looking only to date co-religionists, and so on. It's a sense of being different, but it's a difference based on negativity. The only positive things embraced by cultural Judaism--Judaism without religion or nationality--are works such as "Portnoy's Complaint" or "Annie Hall," which most amusingly portray the tension between sensing one's self to be a part of something larger yet wanting nothing more than to be identified with anything but.

Gary Shteyngart is a hilarious, ridiculously talented writer. "Absurdistan" made me think immediately of "Portnoy's Complaint." And this was before reading the interview with Shteyngart in the Forward, in which Shteyngart expresses--and explains--a preference for "shiksas." Such a notion strikes me as outdated--while plenty of American Jewish men and women date primarily non-Jews (it is, after all, a mainly non-Jewish country), few seem to intellectualize it in quite that way. Shteyngart's Jewish identity owes something--as he acknowledges--to his being Russian, or more recently Russian than many other American Jews. This puts him a couple generations behind other American Jews in terms of knowing the power of anti-Semitism. In other words, the identity of Russian-Jewish Americans today in some ways like that of the Roth-Allen generation. Yet in many ways Shteyngart's experience is no different from that of multi-generational American Jews--an unpleasant Hebrew School experience, a typically liberal if outdated-liberal preference for diversity over group-identification (multiculturalism has, for others, replaced much of this notion). Shteyngart's explanation for his preferences in women explains why, as a Jewish woman, I'm perhaps more put off by American cultural Judaism than a Jewish man might be, although I don't think it requires being female to find this off-putting:

Q: Has there ever been a Jewess [among your girlfriends]?

A: Never a Jewess. I kissed one once — she tasted like me. I couldn't take it.

Q: You found it narcissistic.

A: Incredibly! I said, "You know what? I'm just going to go home, make out by myself. I don't need to pay for this dinner." I've never conjugated with a Hebraio American. Anything could happen, but it would be very unlikely.

Q: Why?

A: I grew up in a very particular kind of environment, much different from most American Jews, who, I think, grew up in a kind of freedom.... The Hebrew school experience was so awful that it left no doubt in my mind that although I would have many Jewish friends — I live in New York, I'm a writer, I mean what the hell — I wanted to branch out in terms of relationships. And also, I do think it's very interesting to have, if I was ever to breed, a child that has more than one culture....There are probably 30 different reasons. I don't specifically go out there and say I won't date one, but it never clicks the way it does with other groups.

I have never met Shteyngart, have no romantic feelings towards him, and so do not take it personally that he would not, in theory, go for me. Nor do I ask individuals not to have specific romantic preferences, even if these preferences would be fairly considered offensive in all other arenas. But the idea of Jews tasting one way when you kiss them and non-Jews another is rather frightening, and--as if I had to point this out--entirely false. (Shteyngart and his Jewish date must have just shared an especially pungent dinner.) It's one thing to be attracted to certain traits or even races more than others, but to have a theory behind the whole thing strikes me as a bit odd and, given his preferences, a bit unoriginal. An American Jewish man with a preference for non-Jewish, especially Asian-American, women... it does fit a certain mold. Would a Shteyngart who was happily married to a Jewish woman be able to write as brilliantly as he does? Perhaps, but in the vein of Roth and Allen? Hard to imagine.

What I look for in novelists is not what I look for in politics or identity (or, thankfully, in men). I find the situations presented by an Allen, a Roth, or a Shteyngart amusing--especially amusing, because I come from that same, liminarily Jewish background and thus get the references--but I find it politically and in a certain sense aesthetically revolting. Judaism does not have to be a choice between self-hatred and Hasidism. This is the appeal of Jewish nationalism, which I understand to mean a sense that there is a Jewish people, not a uni-racial Jewish people, but a Jewish people all the same, and that this people has its national center in the state of Israel. While those with a strong sense of Jewish nationalism have good reason to live in Israel, a sense of being of Jewish nationality can also exist in those who do not. Dual loyalties--no more or less so than someone Belgian-American who identifies as most truly a Belgian but is, for all political and civic purposes, part of the United States. While Jewish citizens of nations other than Israel should not be considered political representatives of the country, they may be identified with it the same way that Spanish-Americans, Spanish-identified citizens of France, and so on, may be identified with Spain. While some of Jewish nationality will end up blending into their respective countries, the continued existence of the state of Israel as the Jewish national center ensures that Jewish continuity is not up to Gary Shteyngart's sudden discovery that, gosh, Jewish women are great. Ideally, with Judaism as a nationality, Jews living in the Diaspora would not feel the need to express their identity primarily by marrying other Jews, but would, like members of all other nations, be free to go off with whoever strikes their fancy where they are living, or to move to Israel if their identity was something they cared enough about.

While few American or other Diaspora Jews have actual, ancestral roots in the modern state of Israel, all have such roots in a Jewish nation as perceived by those of earlier generations. I've written about this before, but to reiterate: even if your grandparents lived in Eastern Europe and wouldn't have known what to make of zatar or tehina, the nation they were a part of is now based in a specific geographic locale, and that is Israel.

Which brings me to what I was initially addressing, which is why do I care? Certainly, I am reacting to post-9/11 anti-Semitism the world over, glamorization of the Palestinian cause, nose jobs all over Manhattan, but perhaps most of all, the repulsiveness of self-hatred. I would remain neutral--and in a sense, I am neutral, and do not believe in being proud or ashamed of facts of one's birth--but apathy doesn't strike me as an option.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Wow, and wow again

Yesterday I biked over the Brooklyn Bridge. This was in part to get my bike from my parents' apartment to my own, but in part because biking over the Brooklyn Bridge is awesome. You're above the cars! I'm sure I'm the last New Yorker to realize this--anyone who's walked over the bridge was quite aware--but...wow.

Also deserving of a wow: Gary Shteyngart's latest book, Absurdistan. I didn't want to like it--wasn't crazy about his last book, and I'd always lumped him in with Jonathan Safran Foer and all the other young, overachieving but hardly amazing literary types--but this one seems like the next Portnoy's Complaint. And by a Stuyvesant grad, no less. Once I finish it, I may have more to say, but for now, I leave you with the following: "tsimmes tov, mazel tov." If you're intrigued, by all means read the thing.

And relatedly, Tricia Romano of the Village Voice sure misses the point:

"They say Jews and Italians are basically the same, but with different food. I think it's really Russians and Italians who are the same—or rather, one Russian in particular, writer Gary Shteyngart."

Read like five minutes worth of Absurdistan and you'll realize this is a Jewish author. While Shteyngart is immensely talented, this would be like Portnoy having been written by a Gentile. Possible, but unlikely, and as it happens, untrue.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The coolest job ever (that doesn't involve hummus)

I have a general sense of where I want my life to go, career-wise, although occasionally I think, what if? Jobs such as "Israeli hummus exporter" have a certain appeal, although being neither Israeli nor trained in business, all I could bring to such a position is a potential Israeli citizenship, a knowledge of Hebrew best described as "ktzat," and of course experience in hummus consumption. Oh, and AP Microeconomics. So really, not the most far-fetched idea ever, but still unlikely. But getting to the point... The job posting below, from the Economist, is evidence that whatever it is you're doing, someone out there is about to be hired to do something much, much cooler:

Build Britain's reputation at the ends of the earth.

Head of Polar Regions Unit

£54,788 to £115,616

Thanks to the efforts of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Britain's reputation extends to the ends of the earth - we are among the most influential States within the Antarctic Treaty System. It is vital that the internationally acclaimed excellence of the British Antarctic Survey is matched by the highest levels of international diplomacy if we are to maintain pole position, giving you an exceptionally influential role to play.

Taking control of the policy-making Polar Regions Unit, you will lead the UK delegation to both the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings and the Antarctic Fisheries Commission Meeting, whilst attending a number of other high profile international summits. At the same time, you will impact upon Arctic diplomacy and on relations within the sub-Antarctic, including the Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Falklands/Patagonian Shelf fisheries, so your remit will be wide-ranging and your challenge immense.

You will join us with a proven track record in policy making at senior government level, backed by extensive experience of multilateral negotiations. A background in environmental science or fisheries management would be a major advantage, as would previous exposure to the Polar Regions, but it is your network of contacts, strong interpersonal and influencing skills and innate ability to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion that will count above all.

While I cannot think of a position for which I would be less qualified, I am nevertheless intrigued by a job which would require skills in both high-level diplomacy and "fisheries management." And who doesn't want a hand in helping to "maintain pole position," whatever that's all about. But perhaps not all is lost-- if you read to the end of the post, you'll see that what they care most about is that the candidate know people (I know people, though possibly not the relevant people), be able to influence said people (Katherine confessed that she gets inspired to cook various dishes after seeing me make them), and have an "innate ability to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion" (no points there--Nora and I both asked the waitstaff at a Japanese place in the East Village if they could turn the beyond-danceclub-decibel music down, we received understanding nods, and the music proceeded to get just the slightest bit louder). OK, so perhaps this shouldn't be looked at as a possible job for me, but if any of my readers happen to have this rather specified set of overlapping abilities--and it might not hurt to be British--I'd be happy to do the job vicariously. Although it's not specifically mentioned in the job posting, I have a sense that one's co-workers would include very cute and fluffy arctic dogs, such as the one I saw not long ago in Tribeca. And now, a gratuitous picture of that dog, which was, for the record, about three times the size it looks like it would be from that picture:

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Funky monkey

With all due respect to multiculturalism, after seeing a picture of a boy eating an eerily human-looking roast monkey head as if it were an apple, and another of a whole roast monkey (same deal re: human-like appearance) the question is whether I am now a vegan or whether I will never eat again, period. Those Granny Smiths I bought today will for sure not look good for a couple days. Meat is meat, and if presented, unidentified, in a stir-fry presumably monkey meat would be no less horrifying than any other. But that's not what's going on here. Time to shudder, once more...

For what it's worth, my mother and I both suspect that the whole story--wild, monkey-eating natives show up in society for no apparent reason, pose for the camera eating monkey heads like apples, are shocked to learn of airplanes, money, and property--might be a fake. If that turns out to be the case, you heard it here first.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Abba Eban wouldn't have spent nearly as much time on Facebook

My father suggested I read Abba Eban's autobiography, since there's a gap in my knowledge of Israel and Zionism extending from maybe 1910 to 2004. As in, I know (or knew) all about the rival types of Zionism, the different events that led to modern Zionism, but not much about what actually came of all of it. So I'm taking a break from French-only reading to check this out.

Eban's autobiography is indeed filled with information on mid-20th-century happenings, but it is also the story of how this man, about whom I knew virtually nothing before opening the book, is pretty much better than everyone else. Which I suppose is fair--if you're writing the story of the years you lived from your own perspective, you might as well make yourself look good. But all the anecdotes about how he knew a trillion languages by age three, how the highest score was a double but he got a triple, how by age four he was being recruited to serve in top posts in a zillion different governments and universities, how some military position allowed him to score with many a local girl in England--despite having spent all the weekends of his youth studying Hebrew and weekdays studying the Classics--when did this man develop the social skills necessary for picking up all these women, uniform or no uniform?--all of this maybe could have been put a bit less boastfully.

While it's fascinating to read about what was happening in Palestine during World War II, the relationship between the British and the pre-IDF Jewish army there, I can't help but think of how Eban probably never thought things like, awesome, the vegetable store in Chelsea Market has a special on artichokes! Or, as a 12-year-old, do the cool kids like me? Would they like me more if I wore different sneakers? Or, as a 22-year-old, how would I look with long-ish bangs? It seemed to all be super-serious study for Eban, then matters of state when he got a little bit older, like, when I reached the age when I realized that maybe blue eyeshadow wasn't the way to go. Seems Eban dealt exclusively with questions of grave import, such as how to maintain friendly relations with the British, the Arabs, and the Jews of Palestine. Not pausing for a few minutes to determine which pair of jeans on his floor were more flattering with a new pair of sandals. He surely never experienced, as I did today, feelings of intense jealousy upon seeing a maybe eight-year-old boy reading a Hebrew translation of Harry Potter with ease. (I was relieved to hear his mother and brother speaking Hebrew--at least he was Israeli and not just much smarter than I am.) And I am certain Eban never, ever, put the television on at 20-after only to discover, much to his chagrin, that he'd missed 20 minutes of "The Nanny."

Two current front-page NYT headlines:

"Putin Offers Plan to Increase Russian Births"

"Two Parts Vodka, a Twist of Science"

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A serious post about the Middle East


Well done, IDF! And thanks, Haaretz, for Limor Edrey's most attractive journalistic photography. Seth of the blog Judenstadt wrote, of the emotionally-charged yet joyous new soldier induction ceremony, "If you were ever considering joining the Israeli army before, then going to this will certainly push you over the brink." I would say that sentence applies here as well, but for a totally different reason.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Flickr

My photos are now online. I'll be adding more as I take more. There's now a link to "My Photos" on the sidebar.

A Viewpoints blog (but aren't they all?)

My successors over at Viewpoints sure are keeping busy. As it happens, this blog, like the new "Editors Blog," is an outgrowth of the Chicago Maroon's opinion section, where I was editor before George Anesi. Two years ago, when Will Baude suggested to me that I turn my column in the paper into a blog, I didn't consider marketing it as newspaper-related, although that might not have been a bad idea. In any case, I'm happy to see Viewpoints and UChicago launching into the serious-opinion blogosphere, so check it out!

But please, guys, get another female editor in there sometime in the next decade, k?

The etymology of "baby-daddy"

Like you didn't always want to know.

Meta-review: my weekend [UPDATED]


Walking down West Broadway Friday night to get to a hottt (with three t's) Stuyvesant loft party in Tribeca, who did I spot mingling and posing in front of Cipriani's but Russell Simmons. While this hardly qualifies as a highlight of my weekend--it's NYC, he's famous, but he's no Scarlett Johansson--if this were a gossip page, his name would be in bold, and so I'm just going along with that standard. The party itself was exciting--no celebs, but plenty of people famous for such things as having been in the "T" homeroom, having also had Mr. Gern as an English teacher or Ms. Avigdor as a Calculus teacher. I promised Ling, the party's host, that his picture would appear on this blog, and as a testament to the fact that I do, in fact, remember this party, something those who witnessed my endless ramblings in French and surprisingly effective Hebrew might have doubted, see above. UPDATE See above right; now, with the photo Ling prefers. On the left is Hiro, who I had not seen since homeroom.

After learning of its existence maybe a few months ago, on Saturday I finally saw Red Hook. It seems I very nearly lived on the edge of it--an apartment I'd looked at in "Carroll Gardens" was, I now realize, in that vicinity--but couldn't quite place where it was. Basically you go to Carroll Gardens, follow the Park Slope-Red Hook bus route, pass through an area that looks a whole lot like the bleak expanse of projects and empty lots between Hyde Park and downtown in Chicago, and eventually get to White People Row, otherwise known as Van Brunt Street, where you can get brownies for $2.50 just like at the Dean and Deluca on 85th and Madison. As gentrification-hipsterfication goes, it'll be a while till Red Hook is the next Williamsburg, since there isn't a subway leading to the place, but it really does feel like another city. While both the done-up and Cabrini Green-esque parts of Red Hook were interesting, the waterfront was obviously the draw. The views are amazing. Speaking of amazing...

"Bruno's in Love," unlike the projector it was semi-shown on, is most excellent. It's your typical romantic comedy, except far more entertaining, and with Ohad Knoller in the "Hugh Grant" part. Boy meets girl and all that, yes, but how many romantic comedies include scenes of Japanese businessmen eating hummus and pita with chopsticks?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Now, that's Japanese!

Forget Italian, move along in that there alphabet... H, I, J, K... yes, Japanese. I like Japanese food, but I rarely visit the real deal, authentic Japanese as Americans were meant to eat it. Yes, Benihana, kids, where you can forget about Japan and visit Japanamerica. Shockingly, we (myself and my unnamed, imaginary, but endlessly sophisticated dining companions) found the cuisine to be lacking, yet nevertheless worthy of writing about because gosh darn it there's only so much food in this world and the dining section needs to come out every week, like a histrionic, theatrically-oriented high-school junior.

I learned it in Jewish studies, but that don't matter!

Just got back from a Stuyvesant party.* Apparently these still exist, so many years after the fact. Photographic evidence will phollow upon recovering from unprecedented debauchery.

*And yes, someone did at one point shout, "I learned it in my East Asian studies class." Which basically made the evening. And which led to a rediscovered high school buddy--one of many!--shouting "I learned it in AP Calc!" Which of course let to a discussion of AP Calc. Oh wow. If you went to Stuyvesant, you're still with me right now with this post, but if not, you're probably out with your buddies somewhere fantasmic, or if you went to a Jewish dayschool, you aren't (supposed to be!) reading this anyway until tomorrow.

Goodnight y'all.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sushi (and more!) on Flatbush

Lately I've gotten very enthusiastic about cooking. My new favorite thing to make is tofu-rice paper rolls. This involves pan-frying extra firm tofu (organic extra firm tofu if you live in or around Park Slope and cannot find the inorganic variety) in a bit of sesame oil, soy sauce, and hot sauce, the wrapping the tofu--along with mint, basil, lettuce, and a lime-salt-pepper dipping sauce--in that most amazing of all foods, rice paper. While I would not go so far as to say that what I'm cooking constitutes Vietnamese food, it's something along those lines. Unfortunately, despite an exterminator, steel gauze, and all that, the mouse is back, or maybe it's a new mouse, so that may be it for this newfound hobby.

In other, local news, but slightly less local in that it extends beyond my (lovely, I swear!) apartment, an American Apparel appears to have opened in a nearby movie theater. The arrival of the pornographically-marketed GAP would announce the arrival of gentrification, were it not for the already-present establishments selling $170 jeans, $9 crepes, and so much more. Brooklyn sure has changed, and while I personally have no recollection of it (or the Village, or SoHo) before this transformation, it still seems to amuse my Brooklyn-born family when I mention, say, the sushi restaurant on Flatbush.

Freedom of speech

If I were more awake, I'd respond to this, this, this, and (gag me) this. The Nation's Philip Weiss does not disappoint. But I'm most intrigued by this petition, set forth by one Juan Cole, entitled "Freedom of Speech on the Israel Lobby," demanding the following:

This petition calls on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to forthrightly condemn the castigation of Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as anti-Semites for their academic paper, "The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy."

Doesn't "freedom of speech on the Israel Lobby" mean that Walt and Mearsheimer are free to write whatever they want about Israel, and that those who found Walt and Mearsheimer's assertion that the Jews control the American government to be anti-Semitic are free to call Walt and Mearsheimer anti-Semites, and that Cole is free to say that no, Walt and Mearsheimer are not anti-Semites, or at least ought not to be castigated as such? Cole is free to create a petition telling people not to say this, that, or the other, because he is not the American government, and the presidents of major American Jewish organizations are free to agree with Cole and his supporters, to disagree with them, or to ignore them entirely.

The confusion here seems to be that calling the authors of a possibly (I would argue definitely) anti-Semitic document anti-Semites infringes upon these authors' freedom of speech. But how? There is freedom to claim that a Jewish/pro-Israel lobby is mysteriously and nefariously controlling US foreign policy, and there is also freedom to point out that this particular theory is merely an update of a centuries-old ideology, namely anti-Semitism. Which makes Walt and Mearsheimer anti-Semites. Perhaps not self-identified anti-Semites, but anti-Semites all the same. Since Walt and Mearsheimer do not refer to themselves as anti-Semites, it's up to the reader to decide whether or not their argument is anti-Semitic in nature.

When an author who sees himself as liberal writes an article in favor of banning abortion, bringing prayer to public schools, and lowering taxes, one would presumably call this author a conservative, as these were his most recent words, and not just refer to him as having written a piece that could potentially be seen as conservative. One would say this even if said author had prefaced each argument with, "but remember, I am a liberal."

It's true that anti-Semitism holds more of a stigma than either liberalism or conservatism, so referring to someone as an anti-Semite is potentially more damaging. But let's put things in perspective. Anti-Semitism does not refer only to racial, pro-genocide anti-Semitism--those with no particular issues about noses and so forth may nevertheless believe that the Jews as a group--not a race, just a group--are in fact an evil cabal set to destroy all that is sacred. Just because Walt and Mearsheimer do not express a specific wish to rid the world of all with Ashkenazi or Sephardic blood does not mean that they are not anti-Semites. It's entirely possible to be an anti-Semite, to subscribe to time-worn theories of anti-Semitism, and to be horrified at the Holocaust and to be a firm believer in "never again." Do all homophobes wish to see genocide destroy the gay population? Certainly not. As long as they stay away from little boys, the priesthood, the institution of marriage, and all locales other than Chelsea, Provincetown, or the Castro--most homophobes would have it--the gays can stay.

The problem with being just a regular, run-of-the-mill anti-Semite these days is that anti-Semitism has been ruined. While most groups can take a bit of tug and pull, some insults here, some pride there, Jews were so recently almost wiped off the planet that the assertions Jews could toss aside in the 1880s, 1890s, and early 1900s no longer seem quite as innocent. Jew-hatred is still such a strong force around the world that inciting it cannot be taken lightly. Walt and Mearsheimer even seem to understand this, and are in a sense asking why the U.S. would align itself with such an unpopular table in the global middle school lunchroom. So maybe there ought to be a name for anti-Semitism that wishes to disassociate itself from genocide, thus freeing anti-Semites to refer to their ideology with more precision, and thus making charges of anti-Semitism less about being "charges" and more about being descriptive terms. Because that would sure solve everything.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Call for novels

As part of an Independence Day special, Haaretz has a story on the Dreyfus Affair, which apparently centered around a "document torn into six parts, 'le dorbereau.'" Bordereau, but close enough--Alon Hilu's article is worth taking a look at. Apparently if the bordereau hadn't set forth a whole series of events, things might be much better now for the Palestinians. The argument doesn't make too much sense, but Hilu's audience is not historians or others who take things literally but rather "writers, journalists and people with imagination." If Philip Roth feels like turning Hilu's counterfactual history into a novel, I'd be the first on line at the Strand....

"Yossi and Hummus"

I haven't seen it yet, but "Bruno's in Love" might just be the most amazing movie ever:

In his thirties Bruno's is rich, successful, intelligent and the owner of a Hummus company, successfully in exporting Hummus. He's surrounded by beautiful girls. But he's got a problem: He's not an expert in relations matters: his time divided between Anat, his present girlfriend or "half a girlfriend" as he defines her, who's desperately in love with him and eager to finally get the ring. And Rachel, a beautiful 23 of age Jewish American "flower girl", who suddenly enters into his very fixed life.

But now he's getting nervous –What if Rachel will get tired from life in Israel and she'll want to get back to the States? But more over he's afraid from something else – "Ok, so I fall in love with her, but how can I be sure that she's the one? Isn’t there another "right girl"? And maybe Anat is the one after all?

Till that moment he was always in full control, used his mind and logic, always thought carefully and was organized and concerned. His shrink almost lost hope and there he is out of control, starts feeling a new organ pumping his body; exciting confused and doesn't allow him to think at all, his heart.

I mean, who doesn't want a man who is "successfully in exporting Hummus"? Not to mention one played by Ohad Knoller, aka the butch one from "Yossi and Jagger." This is too perfect.

Not to mention that another movie in this same Israeli film festival includes a less-than-clothed (but, sadly, mulleted) Yehuda Levi, aka the pretty-boy from "Yossi and Jagger." OK, I'm mentioning it. How could I not?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Oh well

Called several driving schools in Brooklyn, and left messages with a bunch. Found one that's actually in my zip code. Called the number listed on the Citysearch page.

Man on the other end: Hello?
Me: I'd like to find out about taking driving lessons.
Man: (pauses) Nooo.
Me: No?
Man: (hangs up)

Phoebe would drive (if she knew how, had a car, and didn't live in NYC)

People find all sorts of things through blogging--roommates, significant others, book contracts--so what I seek is relatively simple: Driving lessons. In or around Prospect Heights. If anyone has any specific ideas--names of schools, instructors, whatever--please send them my way. Thanks!

Hoi An: three sheets of rice paper away from a four-star restaurant

Despite its bleak website, Hoi An, on West Broadway, is cheery and fantastic. They have the beef-rice paper-lettuce-herbs dish that, while simple, is so hard to come by in NYC Vietnamese restaurants, and serve it with an amazing sauce that's apparently just salt, pepper, and lime juice. In other words, you don't have to spend dinner wondering what, exactly, gives "fish sauce" its name and flavor.

Hoi An's gimmick is that it's "Vietnamese cooking in a Japanese kitchen," but the food does not seem to be in any way Japanese. Another gimmick, actually, is presenting massive menus that do not fold, followed by a dessert menu so large that the waitress carries it over to the table but doesn't even try to put it down, just presents it as if giving a lecture. When not being presented, the dessert menu is hung up on the non-sushi-bar sushi bar. I do not know what dessert at Hoi An is all about, but I can't imagine it could hold its own given the new Bouley Bakery across the street.

Hoi An's food itself is quite tasty, and my only complaint was that they skimp on the rice paper. Rice paper is just about the cheapest food known to man, so it was odd how little of it came with the dish. A request for additional rice paper ought to bring about more than two quarter-sheet pieces of the stuff. But the dishes, especially for Tribeca's main drag, couldn't really be less expensive, so I will just know to bring my own rice paper when I return. Or, more realistically, do what I did last night, which is head across the street to Petite Abeille for a side order of "frites de liberte." And so, my final thoughts on the matter:

Hoi An ***/****
Food: ****/****
Best dishes: those not dependent on rice paper
Price: $$/$$$$$
Location: convenient to many subways; not ideal if you are prone to neurotic flashbacks upon returning that close to Stuyvesant

And, on that note, a shout-out to the many "random Stuy people" who allegedly read this blog.