Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The need for "gayborhoods"

The one angle I haven't heard mentioned in the discussion of the loss of gay neighborhoods is, if gays stay in the small towns where they grew up, where will they find people to date or settle down with? Is the density issue offset by the fact that in this enlightened age more people are coming out, so even in the smallest of villages there will be a reasonable pool of options? That seems unlikely. Aside from safety, community, and acceptance, isn't it possible that gays move to gay areas because there will be more possible partners to choose from?

This might be the obvious angle that everyone's avoiding because it could sound like it implies that being gay is only about sex. But that's not it at all. Jews wishing to marry other Jews do the same thing, moving to areas likely to have larger Jewish populations and greater densities of Jews in specific neighborhoods. And few would argue that Judaism is only about sex. If familiar with NYC, consider West 96th Street and Chelsea. There's something similar going on in those two areas. Wanting a choice of partners conflicts with a religious requirement or sexual orientation that immediately eliminates the vast majority of people one meets at random in America. What some are calling ghettoization is in part just a way of getting around that contradiction.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The French control the shoes

If it is the role of tenured professors to "speak truth to power," where does that leave graduate students? We know more than some but less than others, and are known to be a sensible and well-rested bunch. What is to be our role in shaping public opinion? Are we (at least the Jews among us) supposed to control the media before or after grading homeworks; before or after writing term papers; before, after, or during our commutes to campus? I have no idea. What I do know is that our (at least the women among us) primary responsibility beyond the ivory tower is providing useful information about the latest fashions in footwear to the general public. So on that note, I will point out that two women I saw yesterday at my university had the boots, the perfect black ones with just the right heel, pointiness, etc. Both of these women are French, and it's no secret that the French control the shoes, leaving us Americans with the sale shelf at Aldo and nothing more. There's totally a cabal and everything.

What I'd really like to find are the Camper ones from what I'm guessing was a few seasons ago; they no longer exist, and seem to have been replaced this season with a version that is not only twice the price but significantly less chic. This is for me a source of endless frustration and despair.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Book news

I absolutely must track down this book. The journal issue on which the book is based looks beyond fascinating, and I am at this very moment giving thanks to the NYU proxy gods that allow me to see it.

Someone recalled the Israel Lobby from the Bobst. This is the first time a book I took out has been recalled when I haven't thought, whoa, someone else is also reading about this topic? Here it's not so surprising. Not only is the book super-trendy, but it has a large potential readership of people who for symbolic or principled reasons would rather not buy it.

Relatedly, a man on one of those nutty right-wing news shows just now had on a man arguing for Vermont to secede from the U.S. The man's reasoning had something to do with the "Israeli lobby" and its control of America. The problem with such a man being on this show was of course that relative to the Bill O'Reilly-type cutting him off mid-sentence, he seemed almost sensible. Further confirmation that any television beyond "Seinfeld" reruns and "Gossip Girl" will cause me to want to secede, or as it is called when an individual does this, emigrate.

Out of your League

A while back, I read the following and was sort of like, huh?* From Oxblog's David Adesnik:

The simple case for Walt and Mearsheimer runs as follows:

Two distinguished Harvard professors believe that the US alliance with Israel damages US security by provoking terrorists to attack us. The terrorists' anger is a result of Israel's horrific abuses of Palestinian human rights.

If that's all that most people remember about this small episode, then it is a victory for Walt and Mearsheimer. (Especially for Mearsheimer, who actually teaches at Chicago.)

Ooh, touché! Is everyone associated with the University of Chicago, or anywhere other than Harvard, for that matter, crying himself to sleep each night? (She types, wiping away the tears.) Megan McArdle discusses the state school-Ivy asymmetrical rivalry. There, at least the non-Ivy Leaguers can pride themselves in down-to-earth, up-by-bootstraps, of-the-people qualities possessed only by those who've attended public schools all the way through; those who teach at them can in turn be seen as supporting social mobility. But what of graduates of and teachers at private non-Ivies? Is it really as tragic as Adesnik makes it out to be?

Admitting a certain amount of bias here, I'd have to say, no, it is not tragic in the least. First off, and to please fellow UChicago folk, I should note that some non-Ivies do better than some Ivies in some much-obsessed-over-rankings. But more to the point, sometimes people really do care about whatever it is they're doing at a college or university enough that they are not obsessed with how people will react to the name on the alma mater sweatshirt they wear when they jog through Park Slope. Not that there aren't moments when it would be nice to have a one-word way to convey to strangers that one is brilliant,** but it would be a pointless thing to obsess about.

*Because that is the extent to which a non-Ivy education permits me to express myself articulately.

**If I get desperate, I can always mention my high school, but that's contingent on not leaving the NYC area. Proud as I am of having attended, it is the result of a score on a test I took 11 years ago, and so as accomplishments go is at this point mostly irrelevant.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Call me 'P'

This has been one strange week. First I'm trapped in a stairwell with someone who is possibly the actress who plays "Blair Waldorf" on a show I just revealed to my unimpressed classmates that I have, err, seen on occasion. Then today, spotted near Union Square, D! This one was for sure. I got a good look from several angles, including one that revealed a small logo on his bag, "CW." As in, the channel that brings us "Gossip Girl" in all its addictive superficiality. He was dressed early-mid 1990s, something plaid and flannelly-for the show? Could be. Taller than I imagined, and further evidence that what counts as the sensitive loner look on TV would be the popular guy at any high school. Not that he looked remotely high school age. He looks like he might have had a deschnozification procedure, but so do all celebrities, whether or not they have. But they all have.

On the other end of the Old-New New York spectrum, Audrey and I randomly ended up at what turned out to be the Yippie Museum Café. They had a sign out front promising 50 cent coffee, which I had not seen since Cobb Coffee Shop in that UChicago building's charming basement. The coffee was not bad, and there was even the requisite lanky coffee-shop employee assuring us that it was organic and fair trade. The building itself is pretty amazing, if indescribable. Loftlike, hippie-like, lots of propaganda in favor of legalizing pot. The bad news is that the café is getting an espresso maker--now there is one option for coffee drinks: coffee-- and a menu beyond the current vegan cupcake selection, and prices are set to go up. Not very Yippie of them. Or is it? I have no idea.

Geopolitical innovation at its finest

The Belgians stubbornly refuse to speak Belgian and insist on using either French or Dutch to communicate. This is part of what's causing the politico-socio-cultural split in that country. Now some are implying they should give up and speak English. My Hebrew teacher seems to find it amusing that countries in Northwestern Europe have internal political conflicts, and claims that the divide is based on the fact that the Flemish drink cappuccinos and the Walloons espressos, or vice versa. As in, isn't it cute when people in calm countries where nothing ever happens pretend to have problems? True, no one's blowing anyone else up over which unpronounceable language the country should speak, but there's still something going on over there. Perhaps the Israelis can come in as the neutral moderators, and Dutch and French alike can be scrapped for the far more practical Hebrew. I expect this suggestion will go over extremely well with all parties.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I'm late to the Tipex/Teapacks story, and have, most upsettingly, missed the group's NYC show. Last winter the IDF soldiers on the Birthright trip I went on made us pale Diaspora Jews a mix CD of the best pop music of their land. I was unable to find out what all but a couple of the songs were or who they were by, which didn't stop me from memorizing the catchier among them in that way people do when they're not sure quite what they're hearing. But thanks to my fantastic Hebrew teacher, I now know that the best of the mix is a song by a band once called Tipex but due to copyright issues now known as Teapacks. I doubt the change mattered except in transliteration, but nevertheless. It turns out they are not known for the beyond-wonderful פרח השכונות (here in one of several You Tube karaoke incarnations) but instead for a too-hot-for-Eurovision song about nuclear Iran called "Push the Button."

Apparently it's frowned upon to enter cheesy European song contests as an Israeli band with a song about nuclear war. But the song is hilarious, and not only that, but has bits in English and then French prior to launching into the Hebrew-rap portion. Listening to the song is an odd experience, as I have to progressively pay more and more attention to the words I'm hearing, from understanding it all in my sleep to understanding it all awake to catching maybe every third word.

Also amazing, but unembeddable: The French-language coverage of the controversy surrounding the song.

Can I be your gastroenterologist? UPDATED

At a time when the best-known political figures on the left and right are the wife and son, respectively, of the two previous U.S. presidents, it is hard to see why the passing of the reins over at Commentary is causing any kind of stir. Sure, Podhoretz II is a journalist "in his own right," but so are a gazillion other people. It is for whatever reason good form for nepotism's beneficiaries to deny it as a factor, but is anyone going to claim that the second Podhoretz was selected from the pool of all journalists interested in editing that magazine? On some level he probably does know more about Commentary than any reader could, or at least things they would not know. Isn't a lifetime's worth of exposure to intellectuals a qualification of its own? This is a different question than whether it should be considered a qualification.

Nepotism, glamorous as it sounds, is also what gets many people service-sector or manual-labor-related jobs, as teens or later on. If not nepotism, connections. If we accept such unfairness throughout the rest of the economy, at what level do we expect things to suddenly become fair? Professional schools help a bit--the child of a surgeon cannot operate on you without an M.D. of his own--but even then, among the qualified or qualified-ish, a choice must be made.

Sort of related, in the category of life's unfairness: Slate now has a woman-blog. By women, but about politics, not "women's issues." Why, in 2007, is this necessary? I could see if it were about issues women might be expected to have a personal stake in, but for mainstream political commentary?


The above mention of girl-blogging brings up the altogether pressing issue of why men can blog about sports (which are boring) and still be taken seriously, while one mention of shoes (which are fascinating to no end) defines a woman as silly.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spotted: B!

The way some people feel about Toni Morrison replacing Shakespeare on syllabi, I feel about leggings replacing pants. It signals the end of our civilization as we know it. But sometimes, a person has to go to the gym, and the thought of the extra schlepping another outfit would entail sounds not so appealing.

Of course I had to pick as my yearly trip to the gym the day when they have some kind of pseudo-fire drill. No one knew if it was a drill, but everyone had to stop working out and wait in the staircase until further notice. This is blog-worthy only because one of the other gym-goers waiting in the stairway either was or looked exactly like Blair from "Gossip Girl." I Googled "'Leighton Meester' NYU" but got nothing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What's the 'fus?

Loyal readers will be shocked, shocked to learn that I decided to check out "Alfred Dreyfus: The Fight for Justice," an exhibit now at the Yeshiva University Museum, a variant of the Dreyfus exhibit recently at Paris's Jewish museum.

The show's angle is Dreyfus, the man. Most accounts of the Affair, even during it, tended to push the victim himself aside in favor of the larger issues--French Republicanism, nationalism, Catholicism, anti-Semitism, the military, at so on. Dreyfus has indeed been left out of his own story, but how unfair is this omission? Is the story of one man's courageous and patriotic struggle despite all odds as compelling as the Affair's impact on, among other movements, proto-Fascism and Zionism? Perhaps, but I'm undecided.

Items in the show such as Dreyfus's monocle and the ribbons torn from his uniform during his degradation are touching in much the same way as personal items displayed in Holocaust museums. Once a tragedy is humanized--and even though he was ultimately released, Dreyfus's long-term imprisonment and deprivation along with massive-scale public humiliation for a crime one did not commit ought to count as tragic--it becomes that much more real and that much more depressing. But again, is the message of the Dreyfus Affair the undeniable personal tragedy? A message, yes, but the one for people with no outside knowledge of the Affair to come away with. Of course, it could be that such individuals are not the ones going to this exhibit.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Beyond the douche

Directing a workweek's worth of hostility at the white, male, hetero, pink-collared-shirt-wearing, misogynistic banker crowd, aka "douches," is a well-established pastime, and not without its merits. But there are other segments of society with enviable-yet-dignity-free lives that are just as deserving of our fury:

1) Fourteen-year-old Latvian models: Beautiful women may come in all ages, shapes, and races, but models are taller, blonder, thinner, and younger than everyone else. Thanks to these recent arrivals from Europe North and East, I get to experience "frumpy" at the ripe old age of 24. No matter how comfortable we may be in our appearance, we are in a worse mood on days when we see more than five examples of this type. It is best to avoid the Union Square area, as well as SoHo and Nolita, if not the entire U.S. Northeast.

2) People who stand flush up against the pole on the subway for better balance: This social group might not seem enviable at first glance. They tend not to be our city's wealthiest, as they are, of course, on the subway. But they have the whole pole to themselves, leaving other riders to either grasp at the unreachable (to those of us a foot shorter than #1) poles above, to squeeze our fingers between the person's torso and the pole, or to do our own version of urban surfing, falling inevitably into the newspaper of someone sitting down.

3) Every last person in Park Slope: Some of my best friends live in Park Slope. It appears I live here too. So does the sometime-heartthrob Peter Sarsgaard. But that said, it looks like Park Slope was collectively sent on an especially successful Birthright Israel trip, as everyone around has a baby or ten. Some parents have the brilliant idea to walk down the street with their stroller-having friend, for companionship that only another mother can provide, thus entirely blocking the sidewalk for those who are not ready for such a life step just yet. Others have the even more brilliant idea to purchase every possible wheel-having gadget for their children, so that between wheelie shoes, scooters, and bikes with training wheels, the street is safe only for pedestrians whose track-and-field event was hurdles. Mine was not. I have no feeling either way about the children themselves.

Nebbishim Ashkenazim

Has anything changed since Woody Allen's artistic peak? Does 'Jewish man' still mean pale, skinny, and intellectual? (Is there anything wrong with pale, skinny, and intellectual?) Do Jewish men still sit around in book-lined Upper West Side apartments complaining about politics and minor physical ailments? Apparently. From Garance Franke-Ruta, via Matthew Yglesias:

[...] I wonder sometimes if I am not watching American Jewish men seeking to share in the “normal” masculinity of their Israeli counterparts by identifying with the most militaristic and hawkish aspects of that society.

Since she bases this on anecdotal evidence, I'll reject it with an anecdotal counterargument. Often those American Jewish men who identify with the Roth-Allen tradition, who self-deprecatingly note their ineptitude at athletics and implied ineptitude in other areas, are the ones most put off by Zionism, and quickest to distance themselves from the neoconservative movement, connected as it is to rural American Christian fundamentalism, the natural enemy of New York Jewry. The American Jewish men who embrace Zionism are often the same as the ones who join Jewish fraternities. Members of this set are a fallen yarmulke away from the all-American mainstream. At UChicago at least, they sometimes join the military after college. I cannot speak for their inner lives, but they were less self-consciously intellectual than average, at a school where ostentatious intellectualism is the norm.

That, and the 'pale intellectual' stereotype of the Jewish man is a generalization regarding Ashkenazim but altogether irrelevant when discussing Sephardim (remember the anti-intellectual Syrians?). Part of what makes Israeli men non-Woody Allen-esque is the fact that they are from a different cultural and ethnic pool than American Jewish men such as Woody Allen. Even Jerry Seinfeld, whom we recently learned is half-Syrian, does not fit the bookish nebbish mode.

And finally, from Matthew's ever-amusing comments section:

"Like TheGarance, lots of Jewish women want to settle down with a nice Jewish boy, but they want to go out with some hot studly goyishe bad boy."

I think someone watched this '80s-movie classic a few too many times.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

GG, B, & S

Not naming names, but the individual with whom I watched 'Gossip Girl' deserves credit for pointing out the weirdness of the fact that three of the show's couples come from a total of two families. There's the Brooklyn dad and the socialite mom, her daughter and his son, and now her son and his daughter. This has the sound of a question on a Genetics exam, and being in the humanities I can't vouch for the answer. But it is, as the scientists say, super sketch.

Credit goes to the same person as above for noticing that, for a suicidal boy, Serena's little brother seems awfully upbeat.

My only original contribution to this analysis is to point out that "Little J" has one amazing liver. A few sips of a martini the size of one of the many this supposedly high school freshman drinks throughout the episode would be quite the night of partying for this former Upper East Sider a full decade (!) older than the character. No cheap date, that J.


More fuss over conversion from Sephardic quarters. Converts to Orthodox Judaism in the U.S. are not being permitted to marry in Israel. This seems a bit odd--is Israel really beating off potential immigrants from America with a stick? I understand, but don't agree with, not allowing more lenient types of conversion to count, but I'd imagine converts to Orthodoxy mean business. Is a large Jewish population less important to Israel than one raised entirely by Jewish mothers?

The real reason for the link, however, is that I find it hard to believe there's really a "Rabbi Basil Herring," and that this isn't the work of a Britcom-crazed copy editor at Haaretz, but it turns out there is a rabbi with this name.

Under the influence

New York Magazine profiles the 283 best women's shoes available for purchase in our fine city. As it happens, one of the pairs they recommend are the flats I just got at Banana Republic, which at the time had 30% off on flats and boots, so get 'em while they're hot.

One benefit to male-female cohabitation I've never heard mentioned is that it makes one* inhibited in terms of how much one purchases in the way of Sephora products, shoes that one "will wear for years," and so forth. Partly this is just a matter of sharing a limited amount of closet/cabinet space, but it is also that I (one, one!) would feel silly coming home with a slightly different shade of nail polish from the one I currently use, or a liquid eyeliner when the pencil has not quite run out. If I buy a book and it doesn't have the phrase "French Jews" in the title, it can be for both of us. A dress from H&M is tricky.

I know I'm part of Generation 'Friends,' but this does, I realize, have an 'I Love Lucy' ring to it. That said, it's not that Jo cares either way, it's just that coming home to a female roommate, there's a whole discussion of 'ooh, what a cute new whatever,' but except on rare occasions, straight men** will be at best bored and at worst, 'Lucy, not another hat.'

*To borrow from Rita, by one I mean, of course, me.

**I'm sure I have an inhibitory impact as well when it comes to electronics, as I am so bored by the prospect of entering the Circuit City near campus that I keep not buying new headphones, although mine have been broken for ages, because it sounds just that dull. If this is all too stereotypical for you, and by you I mean on the off-chance anyone reads this blog, I assure you that I have some non-girly interests as well. When was the last time a girl-student edited the 'Viewpoints' section of UChicago's school paper? I thought as much.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Open secretz

Is being a conservative in academia a bit like being gay somewhere conservative? Is the academic right-wing really a world of coded, "sotto voce" speech, of those "in the closet" attempting to "pass"?

My own, highly subjective take, as someone who is not conservative enough to 'count' but who still feels to the right of most everyone much of the time? Kenvelo. But which is worse in academia, outspokenness-wise, openly voting Republican or having two X chromosomes? Says Verlyn Klinkenborg, via Rita:

I’ve often noticed a habit of polite self-negation among my female students, a self-deprecatory way of talking that is meant, I suppose, to help create a sense of shared space, a shared social connection. It sounds like the language of constant apology, and the form I often hear is the sentence that begins, “My problem is ...”

My problem is that I do this. I try not to, but it happens, and I am so, so sorry. For whatever reason, the ranks of the over-confident are almost entirely male. If I'm quiet when I should be loud, hesitant when I should be aggressive, it's 99.9% because I'm female and 0.1% because I have an idea I have reasons to believe is politically unpopular.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Daphne Merkin's response to a trip to Southampton:

I began to feel very Jewish and very vulnerable. (Although the Hamptons abound in affluent Jews, the only Hebrew I knew who lived on Gin Lane was an ex-felon whose Israeli-born wife eschews all tribal indices.) I looked at my daughter’s T-shirt, which read “Just Do It: Israel.” In an instant, Gin Lane had turned me into a self-conscious “Hawaiian” — a term the young heiress in “Fierce People,” the recent film about the rich and savage, says is “code for people of the Jewish persuasion.”

My response to the same.

Roth and dachshunds

The dachshunds frolic through Washington Square Park twice a year. The latest installment...

Exit Ghost. The problem is not that Nathan Zuckerman is a cranky old man. The problem is that the words Roth (not Zuckerman) puts into younger characters' mouths show no evidence of an old man reconnecting with the young-adult world, but are exactly what someone gone for 11 years would incorrectly imagine. Fear of Communism is still strong, as is the great WASP-Jew divide (other races do not exist in New York, much like gays in Iran). A character from a wealthy but by no means fundamentalist Protestant family is ostracized by her father for marrying a Jew. By all accounts, in 2004 when the book is set, if a shit is given in either direction, it would of course be the other way around.

All young people on the Upper West Side are, Zuckerman notes, horrified by the results of the 2004 election; voting for Bush 'for Israel' is something done only by cranky old men who live outside the city. The fantasy of a solidly-Democrat, good-Jewish-liberal Upper West Side is, again, something a trip back to the city in 2004 should set straight, not confirm. These are the politics of 1993. (And really, cellphones are the weirdest bit of technology in 2004 New York? If I were an alien from another planet or, say, Nathan Zuckerman back from the Berkshires, I might be a bit more confused by the white cords coming out of everyone's ears.)

My Complaint is not just the anachronism, but what it means for the book. We are not to take Zuckerman as a stand-in for Roth, but as an independent character in his own right. As the author, Roth should be able to give characters sentences to say that genuinely surprise Zuckerman. Instead, it is clear that the author is as clueless as the protagonist, and in exactly the same ways.

Other than that, the book did indeed come out of the Philip Roth Novel Generator. Literary name-dropping, University of Chicago, young non-Jewish temptresses, ever-fascinating male anatomy, it's all plugged into the machine (not a computer, god forbid, Luddite that ZuckerRoth is) and out pops another one. In other words, it's readable but predictable. So went my experiment reading something not about French or North African Jews.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Worlds collide

Why is Gawker writing about Bobst, Baudelaire, and Proust? Gossip websites are not supposed to remind me of the summer I just spent studying for the MA exam.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

America: kinda racist

A New Jersey Hasidic rabbi was physically assaulted on the street by a man yelling, "Jew, Jew." This is not being looked into as a hate crime. A black professor at Teachers' College finds a noose on her door. This is being prosecuted as a hate crime. Any ideas?

Tonight's episode of 'Gossip Girl' began with a dream sequence in which the black and Asian 'characters' (they are near-silent sidekicks) are literally the servants of one of the two WASPtastic protagonists. The moral of this scene is... that Blair, the brunette, feels that the blonde, Serena, has taken the spotlight that is rightfully hers.

Welcome to the post-PC era! See, isn't it better this way?

An Odyssey with Generation Q

I am 24 and a student, so I fall within the part of the Venn diagram where "the Odyssey years" overlap with "Generation Q." I never know what to make of such musings on 'young people today.' If based on statistics, we as young adults cannot disprove even the more silly-sounding pronouncements by pointing out that some op-ed doesn't fit with our own experience. What I know of my generation first-hand is what I know about second-year students in PhD programs in NYC and their friends/significant others. My knowledge of everything from hedge funds to itinerant farming and the youth engaged in either is thus limited.

All told, Brooks seems to have more of a point than Friedman, but I'm not sure if there is as much of a new life stage as he claims. Those in this age group who manage to avoid the years of wandering, who find productive, prestigious, or professional uses for their time relatively soon after college, who enter serious relationships, or who make gobs of money, or all of the above, are indeed scoffed at by their peers. But this is the scoff of jealousy, not one directed at bringing the seemingly accomplished in line with their more indecisive friends. A banker is a "douche" because saying this sounds better than announcing a regret that one did not have the foresight to major in economics. With every traditionally-adult-sounding benchmark a friend (or random person our age written up in New York Magazine or the NYT Weddings pages) arrives at, we must for some reason go through the motions of being horrified. But it's just that, going through motions. Nothing in this generation's value system has changed. Recent and recent-ish college grads are no less adult than we ever were.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A post about the Israel lobby... Not!

Via Matthew Yglesias I have learned, from Eric Alterman via M.J. Rosenberg, that "20-something Jews now coming up in the media are very different than their media elders and don't buy into their paranoid views." Go on, M.J.:

"We talked about Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Ari Berman, Max Blumenthal and one or two more (including the slightly older Josh Marshall). Not an Abe Rosenthal or William Safire among them. We don't need more of them. We do need more Eric Altermans and, in these guys, we have them. (Eric didn't include himself. I include him)."

Fine, so they're not rabid Zionists. Which is certainly a relief, but I for one am much more reassured to see that they are all men.

Monday, October 08, 2007

What is "academic freedom"?

It's great that a gathering of the high-brow anti-Zionist crowd is being called, "In Defense of Academic Freedom." I guess that sells more non-partisan Diasporic knishes than, "Damn, We Hate Israel," but as far as specificity goes, they might as well have called the event, "Puppies, Kittens, and Cotton Candy." Who's going to protest an event defending academic freedom?

Both sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict are fighting in the name of academic freedom. Infringement on academic freedom was the reason many gave for their opposition to the British boycott of Israeli academics. As much as I'm sure many opposed to the boycott do care about free exchange of ideas, this was rarely the central concern with respect to the boycott.

Is there a definition of "academic freedom" that could be agreed upon across the ideological spectrum? And this is just one issue, one to which many academics in the US might well be indifferent. But how about the right-left spectrum? Are academics in the humanities any less 'free' if conservatives make up a mere 3.6% of our ranks? Or should we be shooting for 0% conservatives and thus freedom to invoke a "gender lens" (something, incidentally, that can make sense in some contexts even from a right-wing perspective) without a Lacoste-polo'd scoff emanating from the back of the room?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Is America a Christian nation?

I was enlightened, as it were, on this issue two different times in my life. Having grown up in a buah known as Manhattan, I did not realize until starting college in Chicago that many Americans, even some who consider themselves on the left politically, are positive that America is a Christian country. Not just majority-Christian, but Christian-Christian, as in, Christianity is our official religion. At the time, I was not so much offended as convinced that these individuals were flat-out in the wrong. What about the First Amendment? I was aware of the existence of official Christianity this country--Sunday and Christmas holidays, for example--as well as plenty of unofficial details stemming from the fact of a majority religion, but I figured all that was official was illegal, and eventually on its way out. A national Christmas holiday was nothing but a relic.

Then I read Albert Memmi's discussion of what it means for a Jew to live in a Christian country that calls itself secular. Many things that seem neutral or cultural if they are part of your own background seem all-out religious if they are not. For many non-Christians, it is as plain to see that America is Christian as that Algeria is Muslim or Israel Jewish. It would be impossible not to mention unfair for any country to rid itself of all of its 'relics,' to divide out what's religious and what's French, what's Italian, what's American. It's at best annoying to be a religious minority, which is why many consider leaving for places where their own background is the default. Even non-believers find a certain appeal in living in countries where the religion associated with their heritage is that of the majority. The sad fact seems to be that the best religious minorities can ever hope for is toleration, not true state neutrality. If there are exceptions to this, I'm curious to know.

But back to the original question. Is it dangerous or just honest for a politician to call a country that's effectively Christian, Christian? Is denying it just reinforcing the idea that all this Christianness surrounding us is in fact neutral Americana? As in, this is not a Christian nation, so come here, Ahmed and Moishe, help me decorate this tree! Or is declaring aloud what so many think in private in fact the first step to unapologetic Christian theocracy?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Better than fiction

I teach near what appears to be a very wealthy private school, one of those ones where, even though it's smack dab in the middle of NYC, the kids range in ethnicity from platinum to dirty blond. The cafe where I go on occasion for a pre-class coffee, pastry, and lesson plan review is also the one where mothers with it-bags come to gossip (or Gossip) after dropping their kids off at school and before playing tennis or otherwise working out. They are a fit bunch.

As I was thinking of ways to explain the difference in sound between "ton" and "temps," I inadvertently heard about an extremely messy divorce between Woman A and her husband. Woman B did not seem fascinated. To protect the innocent-ish, I will only note that the husband has parked the BMW he got the Other Woman at the country club's lot. Real Classy. Every time a Woman C or Woman D came into the coffee shop, they would notice Woman A and ask her, in this phonily concerned way, "How are you doing?" and she'd say, "Great, great!" with such stunningly fake enthusiasm, before continuing to pour her heart out to Woman B, who, soon after, had to get going. My lesson plans owe rather a lot to the invention of headphones.

The point is that what's actually going on in the world of which Serena may or may not be a part is far more juicy (or Juicy) than what happens on "Gossip Girl." Unless the folks behind the show pack in a bit more action, I may have to stop watching and start sitting in this coffee shop, headphone-free, on the days I don't teach.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Looking for realism in all the wrong places

Is "Ivy Week" supposed to correspond with anything that exists in real life?

Does anyone really care that much about his child going to Dartmouth?

How exactly does being an underemployed ex-grunge-rocker equate with having struggled and given one's all so that one's children can attend private high school? Aren't there surer routes to financial success?

Park Slope is for lovers, II

There was supposed to be a point to the post below, but it appears I fell asleep before making it. The point is/was that NYC, or even a certain socioeconomic slice of the city, is not following the cult of Baby, just a whole lot of people in Park Slope. There seem to be many more wealthy and often white people moving to the now-safe, now-wealthy city post-college, and of that group, only this one segment has put aside the Pill.

Why Park Slope? Probably because it's been filled with gentry for a long time. Visiting friends in the area during high school, I remember being somewhat jealous of these classmates who could claim to be hardcore (BrookLYN!), which was important at Stuyvesant, and yet lived on their own floor in massive houses on tree-and-cafe-lined streets. Those coming from far smaller abodes in posh parts of Manhattan had neither entire wings of the family manor, nor any claims on street cred. People worked with what they had. Coming from the West 80s or 90s, for some, was proof of toughness, but never as convincing as an outer borough address. This was the late 1990s, and these were among my wealthier classmates, so assuming these houses were not purchased the day I saw them, there has been an alternate-UWS going on for some time. I'd imagine some not-so-anecdotal evidence backs this up.

Those looking to babify are not necessarily looking to gentrify. If a few upscale shops and restaurants open to greet these new arrivals, so be it, but this is not a group set on opening the first independent coffee shop in 10 square miles.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Park Slope is for lovers

Rita wants to know why Park Slope is filled with babies. Since I trip over on average 15 strollers each day on the way to the train, I will make a guess.

Park Slope has many things. Between panhandlers, clipboard holders demanding "a minute for gay rights," and Hasids asking passersby if they are Jewish, roughly two-thirds of the people you see on the street here want something, but do not necessarily live in the neighborhood. But unless people come from far and wide to promenade with their strollers (a distinct possibility, now that I think of it), the babies and their parents do indeed live nearby.

What you rarely see in Park Slope, but do see in other areas referred to as yuppie or bourgeois, are packs of women in tube tops, designer jeans, and uncomfortable-looking shoes. Nor do you see the male equivalent, hordes of hopefuls in striped shirts and hair gel. There are not the bars to support an urban heterosexual singles' scene in this neighborhood; just as likely, there aren't single straight folk to support the would-be bars.

Park Slope does not strike me as a symbol of a greater NYC trend, baby-wise. Manhattan neighborhoods like Yorkville, stretches of the Upper West Side, and Murray Hill cater to the not-yet-coupled-off 'recent college grad,' which doesn't have to mean all that recent. Single parents do not appear to be a large element of this demographic. But Park Slope is an awkward place to be neither a baby nor a parent. It would also not be the best place to be single and at the age when one's peers have spouses and toddlers. Everyone walking around is married or otherwise spoken for. Nor would Murray Hill be the best place to be in a couple. Why pay more for a smaller space in a culturally barren location just to be in Manhattan and near a bunch of bars you won't be going to anyway?

The strange thing is that the singles' areas are deemed too stuffy and conservative by those in the baby-having nook, and not vice versa. Park Slope may have fewer random hook-ups, but it is still considered the laid-back and dare I say cool place to live. Cool? Yes, compared to 89th and 1st. The question is really how did having babies become cool?

Monday, October 01, 2007

The department of bad ideas

After a day of zee French grad school, I was shopping for groceries, and it occurred to me to buy a baguette at a shop near campus. Quelle mauvaise idée! It's one thing if you're a clichéd Frenchman with impeccable balance, a bike, and a basket. It's another if you're going to the sub-basement train at West 4th Street with a bread not designed to fit in the bag with the rest of your groceries. It almost tumbled out, but ultimately stayed put for the train ride, although the balancing act meant I did not have a hand free to read. All was well enough until my (lazy, unnecessary) bus ride from the train to my apartment. There was, thankfully, no bus-bread contact, but there might have been. That alone is upsetting, although I know it shouldn't be, given the life cycle of the unfinished bread basket in restaurants.