Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hipsters, dachshunds, New Years, buses, and purity

-Make it stop! Gawker has a post about how what a crime it is when ostentatious (read: non-hipster) rich people move to NYC. Bo-ring, except that it culminates in an amusing tale revolving around two NYU ladies with the same name, one of whom is the glamorous daughter of a rock star and the other of whom is simply glamorous. Is it any wonder I find myself getting fashion inspiration from the undergrads?

-Jealous! Well, still jealous, to be precise. OMG dachshund! In fact, I think I might know that dachshund. Not personally, but there's a black-dapple smooth-coat miniature dachshund I see sometimes around NYU that looks a great deal like this one, whose dog-walker is friendly and allowed me to ooh and ahh over her charge. The presence of MUD coffee suggests Agyness & beau can't be too far off.

-It's New Years already? My cold was supposed to be gone in time for this. I'm now torn between going out as planned (an excuse to wear a dress! and to have the DIY haircut photographed!) and staying home to try out milkshakes on the new blender... Decisions, decisions. As for resolutions... study for orals? Gym-going, along with masochistically banning stupid purchases (coffee out, fancy cheese, shiny nail polish, Uniqlo everything), can wait.

-Why DC and not California? A question easily answered.

-And, in recent Ladybloggery, I spend far too many words denouncing 'purity pledges.' Surprisingly, no one has yet commented with a pro-pledge stance. We'll see how long that lasts.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Plans for the new year

-I will be in DC from January 8-11, because being from NYC and at NYU, there is no 'home for the holidays,' and getting out of New York occasionally is for the best. DC bloggers/readers I know, let me know if you'll be around.

-What I would do to write like this.

-Lower on my list of desires, but still substantial and just as futile: these, these, and these.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Further culinary adventures

Much of my love of cooking is inspired by a frustration with pointless spending. The same impulse reminding me to make my own iced coffee and not pay $2.25 outside has encouraged me to conquer, one by one, each indulgence. This also explains the DIY haircut-- a success, I should note, but the photo will have to wait until the post-cold pallor subsides, and I return to my usual shade of ridiculously pale. Meanwhile, some things, like Uniqlo pencil skirts, must be purchased. Jenny Humphrey I am not.

So, fed up with spending $3 on one brownie, I decided to give these a shot, abandoning brownies altogether not being an option. In five to ten minutes the verdict will be in. If it goes well, I may have to get moving on my cooking-blog idea, the No-Dishwasher Recipe Adaptation, in which I make dishes that call for using five different bowls, four saucepans, and the like, and put it all together with a less daunting number of appliances. "In a separate bowl," I think not.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Consumerist bliss

Of all New York's many stores, my favorite might be Bowery Kitchen Supply, in Chelsea Market. Following a delicious, $8-a-head splurge at Chelsea Thai, Jo and I headed over to the cooking goods, and went wild (spatula, brownie pan, grater, and Swiss vegetable peeler). This is, as you may have guessed, part of my plan to make latkes, taking an altogether unintended inspiration from Tara Parker-Pope's anti-grease manifesto. I see the word "latke" and, even if the text surrounding it is about how bad for you they are, or perhaps especially, I get all excited about frying up a batch.

Ever since leaving roommate arrangements, I've found cooking to be a great deal of fun. Like Belle, I attempt to cook within the confines of a grad-student budget, with extravagances when I absolutely must have a certain piece of cheese. After trying out endless grocery options, I've come to the conclusion that the best option of all is... Whole Foods.

How is this possible, some will ask? There's a short answer and a long one. The short? 99-cent bags of non-organic, store-brand, better-than-Barilla pasta. If those serve as the basis for most of your dinners, you are not spending a lot on groceries. Combining high-quality vegetables, meat, cheese, or some mix from elsewhere in the store with the above-mentioned super-food, and you can eat quite well. Assuming, that is, you don't tire of pasta. If I did, I'd probably not enjoy grad school as much as I do.

The long involves explaining the process of elimination that brought my household to this embarrassing but decisive conclusion:

1) Key Food, the Brooklyn supermarket chain: Some branches are worse than others, but from the ones I've seen, you have to stick with soda and paper towels. You can, if desperate, spend above-WF prices (this not including the higher-than-WF probability of being rung up incorrectly and thus overcharged) on rotten vegetables, and $4 a box on De Cecco pasta. And, special today, some tasty-looking hot dogs that expired on Dec 11, 2008. The only advantages are a) convenience, and b) being able to say that one is unpretentious and shops at a normal supermarket, rather than some fancy gourmet store. The latter should not be discounted. A Key Food bag, whatever the cost of its contents, confers street cred. Switch the Key to Whole and pluralize the Food, and you might as well have a paper bag from Versace, for the looks you get on the subway home.

2) The Greenmarkets: A wonderful choice, until November or so, when options are limited to potatoes, onions, delicious ice cream, sad-looking apples, moldy garlic, and more leeks than I'd ever know what to do with. As even Mark Bittman admits, eating local has its limits in freezing locales. There's supposed to be a certain charm in eating seasonally, but how much can be done under such constraints? It's not even about what could be grown in this climate, but what is not only grown nearby but schlepped to the outer-borough markets. They're still useful to supplement other shopping, but when not on vacation, one-stop has its advantages.

3) The Food Co-op: Yes, I live in Park Slope, but, for so many reasons, no thanks.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Reports from the mushy brain (3,000th post!)

-Does this movie look amazing, or am I missing something?

-Today I rediscovered how delicious hot dogs can be. Yum! This can't be good.

-I also rediscovered that the Astor Place Starbucks is not the most uplifting place ever, although it's certainly cleaner than I pictured it. (Low expectations.) Returning to Anna Karenina (vacation reading put aside during height of head-cold brain-mush period) works better when not overhearing women who look like a certain coffee-selling Wasillan, but far more makeup and hand-tatooage, discussing the difficulties of getting one's self, one's husband, one's baby-daddy, and one's baby through heroin detox. Levin's agricultural pursuits did not stand a chance.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pope versus Chanukah

Jesus has punished me for being a Jew who does not believe in fun, so the lack of blogging the last few days is due to a cold that has permitted me only to watch old TV shows conducive to thrice-daily naps ("Bob Newhart Show", anyone?). Hulu is the new, improved Tylenol.

I'm now well enough to blog about the silly things I read online between episodes and naps. Prime example: Tara Parker-Pope on how to make non-greasy latkes. In that latkes are supposed to be greasy, for traditional/religious reasons, there was a baseline problem with her urging us to consider a 'lite' latke. (See also: TPP's outraged commenters, correct but over-the-top, and her defensive responses.)

But that wasn't what got to me so much that as the broader question of why anyone would think to bake a food whose entire culinary purpose is to be fried. (Case in point: falafel.) Eaten properly, as either special-occasion foods (latkes) or as a small part of an otherwise raw-vegetable meal (falafel), fried foods are not unhealthy. The greater danger is eating a disgusting, baked, also-caloric version of the real thing, then telling yourself, 'I was so healthy at lunch, now I can eat an M&M-topped large-size Tasti-d-lite.'

And I'm not entirely sure that fat-the-ingredient is what makes Americans fat. The amazing concept of fries being part of a falafel sandwich is popular in Israel (and elsewhere in the region?) but unheard-of in the States.

Cogent blogging will probably have to wait a few more days.

Monday, December 22, 2008

'What, me? I don't watch television.'

Inspired somewhat by Amber's discussion of male beauty, my latest post at the Ladyblog compares Charlotte York-Harry Goldenblatt with Eleanor Waldorf-Cyrus Rose and, after examining the supporting evidence, finds the two couples identical.

How to not spend any money, ever. Installment 1: 'Maintenance'

As we all now know, rich women are celebrating the recession (sort of like 'celebrating' Yom Kippur) by cutting back on beautification procedures. Articles on such themes never fail to focus on this one woman they found who spends a trillion dollars a year on pedicures, thereby eliciting comments from women who will not have such decadence, who 'only' get the occasional facial/mani-pedi/lipo and who therefore get to declare themselves relatively low-maintenance.

I do not fault women (or men) for wanting to look good. We all do, and not all of us are lucky enough to be in some subculture where looking good means no grooming whatsoever. So, how to cut back:

1) If you haven't tried it, don't. This goes for facials, waxing, professional nail care, and, of course, cosmetic surgery. Just assume a wide range of 'upgrades' might make you look better, but might not. Drawing the line with where you're already at, maintenance-wide, is a good starting point.

2) Do not assume any procedure (beyond bathing and tooth-brushing, of course!) is necessary, on account of 'society'. I used to think you had to get a professional haircut, that DIY was for a) bald men, b) families of 20, or c) self-destructive lunatics. So a few times a year, I'd pay up, because that's what's done. But then I realized that if I know exactly how I want my hair, there's no good reason to pay someone else $70 to make it not quite right, or $30 to screw it up beyond repair. (Photographic evidence of DIY success to follow.) That's money better spent on superior hair products/equipment. Which leads me to...

3) If a procedure/product strikes you as essential for you personally, and doesn't cost that much, you will make yourself miserable giving it up just for the sake of it. I could, as a matter of principle, give up hair goop and the accompanying flat-iron. If I did, the left side of my hair would be wavy and the right side stick-straight. Or vice versa, depending how I sleep. This would make teaching, and leaving the house generally, less pleasant.

4) Do not buy tons of different shades of nail polish, justifying it to yourself as, at least one bottle is cheaper than one manicure, and lasts much longer. You will still end up spending far too much on nonsense. (I have yet to learn this lesson.)

5) Tangentially related, this image is amazing. That is all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Statistics and bloggery

Elsewhere, I investigate why some Jews have mixed feelings about December 25th. In short, it's because Judaism is, for many, centered around the non-celebration of Christmas.

Which brings up another, unrelated, problem: "many," I wrote, but how many? Which is the same question as arose during the fantastic discussion at Amber's blog about men's chest hair or lack thereof. If chest hair is "back," it must have gone somewhere. But how many men not a) appearing in movies, b) swimming in the Olympics, or c) looking for other men on 8th Avenue ever removed their chest hair to begin with? What can we say about chest hair without this knowledge???

I've occasionally gotten comments here along the lines of, 'You haven't proven that! Where are your numbers? I need more supporting evidence.' It always strikes me as pointless--this is a silly blog I write when taking a break from accumulating 'supporting evidence.' If there's something worth following through on, I will, or someone else should, but it won't be for every post. So, consider this a disclaimer.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hipster-on-hipster violence

I get that there are no self-proclaimed hipsters. But Gawker--a site for and by hipsters if there ever was one--takes it to a new level, mocking some girl for being... a family-money having hipster living in a Williamsburg loft. Who exactly is Gawker's target audience? From what Nebraskan exurb (or, for that matter, strenuous job) are they commenting on Gawker all day long?

Of course, the commenters have the whole 'I'm not a hipster' hipster act down perfectly, including one who claims to have lived in Williamsburg before it was cool; one hipster-hating hipster; one who lives in Williamsburg so as to make fun of (other) hipsters; and, because such a comment is always needed, one who faults the hipster-target for thinking she's hardcore.

From the dept. of What is Wrong With People

Who names their child Adolf Hitler? I'm thinking if you do do this, that's the moment you give up the right to complain about anyone else's "intolerance."

Warning: unsubstantiated generalization follows UPDATED

The comment Amber quotes, about a Jewish man who dates "shiksas" but will only marry a Jew, reminded me of the converse side to that phenomenon: the neurosis that can accompany in-group dating. It's often suggested (by parents, say) that staying with one's own kind is simpler. I'm not entirely sure that's the case.

But let's back-track a moment. Speaking of fairly secular, Western heterosexuals generally, there's a certain assumption that women want to marry and men don't. While I have not found this to be the case with actual humans, there are certainly men who think it necessary to preface a relationship with a 'Hey, hey, nothing serious going on here,' even if they end up pleading for marriage and more.

So take that as a given. Now, whatever tendencies men have of thinking Woman wants a ring, and a big shiny one at that, regardless of what a particular woman desires, Jewish* men are far more likely to assume this of Jewish women. Both because of preconceived ideas about their female counterparts being JAPs, and for another, less offensive but also presumptuous reason: they assume Jewish women not only, as women, want marriage, but, as Jewish women, seek a Jewish husband. These men assume that a Jewish woman would only get involved with a Jewish man with intent to marry. These same men may or may not only date Jewish women, but either way, it doesn't matter. They know that for every reasonable-seeming Jewish man, there are 10,000,000,000 Jewish women in the Tri-State Area alone desperate to marry him. How do they know this? Pop culture, things their mothers told them to flatter them, who knows.

So where does all this lead? What it does is bring to the foreground of the relationship a question in the background of most: is this person the one for me? There's almost an implied engagement from the first date on. The stakes this high, things must either head towards marriage or collapse into a heap of neurosis. Or both.

* Maybe all this is true of other minorities in the West. Maybe not. Readers, decide for yourselves, but my anecdotal evidence lies where it does.


David Schraub points me to the interracial-dating discussion that continues at the Atlantic, between Coates and Jeffrey Goldberg. Reading it makes me all the more glad that this discussion is also taking place among female bloggers, and that I posted what I did above. Goldberg and Coates's take on the matter is very... male. In particular Goldberg's remark that he "felt sorry for the Jewish women who intermarried, because I sensed that they tried, and failed, to convince Jewish men that they weren't, in fact, their mothers, that they were intelligent and sexy and all the rest."

Goldberg should rest assured that plenty of Jewish women a) had their first relationships with non-Jewish guys, because that's who happened to be cute and around, yes, even in places like New York, and b) have been able to 'get' Jewish men (and even -- imagine -- reject them. Jewish women dumping perfectly good Jewish men, for the same reasons anyone ends a relationship with anyone else! Yes, it happens.), but for whatever reason the man they end up with turns out not to be Jewish.

Once we're on the subject of how black women and Jewish women are totally the same, how about black and Jewish men, both groups (or at least their representatives at the Atlantic) convinced that the women of their cohort fantasize about being their wives, while they, adventurous and worldly, dream of the exotic? Where oh where might such cultural beliefs come from, we shall never know.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Can a blog have a navel?

So on the one hand I'm super excited that I noticed this connection/contradiction first.

On the other, I'm baffled by what went on today over at the Ladyblog, but am glad things seem to be cleared up, and that the post taken down has been returned. (I will once again plead ignorance on the subject of 'the hook-up culture' and of the broader one, 'young people today', because, well...)

In terms of what I took from the controversy (that is, when not turning in grades or rewarding myself with a cappuccino and scarf on sale at Uniqlo, which, by the way, should totally sponsor this blog for the amount I mention it; I did not, it seems, devote the entire day to blogging and thinking about bloggery) is as follows: I think it's important a) to acknowledge that publications have political slants, b) for there to be dissenting views within the pages of those sources, to avoid echo-chamberism and whatnot, and c) for the 'token' dissenters to be respectful of the overall stance of the publication. By respectful I don't just mean not throwing slurs, but it helps to have a certain amount of sympathy for at least some views on the other side. Case in point. Which is kind of how I see myself at the Ladyblog, and how I see myself when writing in a liberal context, too. Being a political moderate, or a political all-over-the-place (but no, not like this!), that's pretty much the way to go.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tights and suggestibility

Amber has me convinced that these thigh-high tights are amazing. And I'd order them... if my suggestibility in the area of hosiery hadn't already meant that, after reading a certain girdle article, I learned of such a thing as "Spanx," and found a pair very much discounted, but not quite enough to go buy another pair of tights just yet. I have yet to try these 'tights' on, and am, frankly, sort of frightened. It's hard to picture that a garment could a) be comfortable, and b) make pencil skirts and turtleneck dresses more flattering. We shall see.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

'When I was her age...' UPDATED

The following article is set up to get a class war on, and it has. Commenters are going nuts mocking a girl who (unlike a certain Kuczynski) sounds perfectly reasonable, and who reacted to a downturn in her family's wealth by working herself, and even lends her mother money, but who is guilty of the crime of growing up upper-middle class, and that of allowing the Times to write about her, although the latter, too, is probably her parents' fault. (Those who describe the girl's lifestyle pre-downturn as filthy-rich are off, unless there's something left out of the article that they know and I don't--$100 a week for a teen is a lot, but hardly puts her in 'Gossip Girl' territory, as Jezebel implies. I remember girls--no, would-be class warriors, not me--at my very 'Gossip Girl'-esque middle school getting more than that just for a Saturday's-worth of shopping. It could be better. Or worse.) The girl profiled does not seem to feel sorry for herself, not even a little bit, and yet the way the article's set up, readers seem convinced she does, making a point to say they don't pity these kids. They are not asking to be pitied. Good grief.

The piece provoked scores of comments--solicited by a request from the Times to answer "What did you get out of working in high school?"--about crappy jobs held, nearly all of which are of a tone that implies, 'Unlike those rich assholes, I had to work.' Aside from the standard 'With all the suffering in the world, how dare a newspaper run an article not about abject poverty/genocide/terrorism'-themed ones, most comments boils down to some variant of the following: 'Rich kids are intrinsically bad people. I paid my way from age 14, no!, 13, but I'm glad, because that way I didn't turn into an ass, like everyone who did not. I'm raising my children frugally, and they won't have anything handed to them, no siree. It's good these rich kids are now having to do an honest day's work. That'll teach them.'

OK, one does say,

I believe the children of the "well-to-do families" should stay out of the work force and leave the jobs for other folks who may have lost their jobs & need to pay their mortgages. Doesn't that seem fair? I mean, it's their parents who ran the economy into the ground in the first place.

Sweet vengeance!

More typical, though, is one explaining, "Even if they don't economically need to work, work never hurt any one."

We've been down this road before. The question remains: are rich kids assholes for a) choosing not to work and to do fancy-schmancy internships and volunteer positions, thus maintaining the caste system; b) working and thus taking jobs away from those who need them, or c) having been born, regardless of their behavior?


Slate's joined the bandwagon. Argh. The real question is why anyone allows the Times to interview them.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Just spent the last several hours writing (finishing! aside from a final proofread) a paper. Forgot to eat lunch. This evening is a department party, and I vowed that this one I would not spend (exclusively) stuffing my face with cheese. Alas, maybe in the Spring...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Maltz's Complaints

I whine about price-upon-request baked goods here. Had I noticed it sooner, I'd have also added my objections to sit-down coffee bars without bathrooms. I mean, coffee? No bathroom? Not wise. How New York Magazine dares list "bathroom" as a take-it-or-leave-it amenity akin to wireless internet I'll never understand.

Immense fame of diva-esque proportions

So after giving my students their last exam and meeting with a professor, I took my glamorous self out for a nice lunch, a $9.75, foot-and-a-half-long, delicious Italian sandwich that will also be dinner assuming it survives an afternoon (wrapped, of course) in my backpack. As I was getting up to go (I'd imagine, given the precedent, with food--quite possibly and embarrassingly arugula--all over my face) wielding a backpack of my own weight, a man waiting on line to order his sandwich asked me if I was Phoebe, and if I have a blog.

So, a shout-out to Andrew. Meanwhile, I now await the remaining 14 minutes and 30 seconds of my fame.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Split personality

My university just emailed me asking for money. Sob-story given: Even the funded PhD students are suffering these days. I'm one of those students! Why would I donate to myself?

This is all because anyone with an MA, even a non-terminal one that's just part of a PhD program, is technically an alum. It's like the time a few months back when I was offered a discounted gym membership... to the same gyms I can now go to for free. And that I might be at right now, if I weren't spending the day writing a paper, eating chocolates (but leaving some, Jo, I promise!) and being awestruck by the level of interest the 'shiksa' question can still summon. (Ta-Nehisi Coates, if you Google yourself again and arrive here, thanks for the link!)

That said, to all the real alums receiving the email solicitation, the Graduate Student Dishwasher Fund (GSDF) is accepting donations.

A lesser kind of white

Amber's post just led me to Ta-Nehisi Coates's take on interracial dating. It's got plenty to think about, much of which Amber explores, but here's the part of his post that struck me, surprise surprise:

"Black women who oppose interacial dating have different reasons than most. I think it's closer to the manner in which some Jewish women must hate the idea of a Shiksa. But even that doesn't quite get it. The opposition comes out of a specific, and yet broad, historical experience of never being held up as anyone's flower of virtuosity, but instead as un-feminine and oversexed."

I'd have to disagree with Coates and say that his comparison does "get it." Jewish women can look to a "specific, and yet broad historical experience" that's unpleasant from all angles. Jewish women have been stereotyped as whores (by 19th century European Christian men) and as prudes (by 20th century American Jewish men). Historically, oppression of Jews has led to rape of Jewish women, as has oppression of blacks led to the equivalent situation. And of course, as Coates implies, things look better for exogamy-friendly black and Jewish men than for their female counterparts.

However, here's one difference: to say that a woman appears to be black is not in and of itself an insult. To say a woman 'looks Jewish' is. Here's why:

In America, since (Ashkenazi, i.e. most American) Jews have been defined (and defined themselves) as white, it's considered racist to say that one can 'look Jewish,' the implication being that it's racist to say Jews do not look like undifferentiated white people. Which we often enough do. (Yes, there are black Jews, Asian Jews, and so on, but exceedingly few in the States. What's meant when an American says, 'there's no such thing as looking Jewish' is you can't tell a Swede from a shtetl descendent. Often you can. Except for me--I lack Jewdar--but I've heard I'm unusual in this regard.) Instead, we end up getting classified as white but on average less likely to be conventionally good-looking. We're a group of white folks among whom blondness, manageable-hairedness, and delicate-featuredness are underrepresented. We could look at this as, no problem, we're not exactly white-- members of all other non-white groups share this tendency not to fit white beauty ideals, and find ways to cope with this. Instead we're stuck with being a lesser kind of white.

What this means is that, while saying a woman is black is not an insult, it's definitive. You can see she isn't white, so there's no need to specify that she 'looks black'--in nearly all cases, she just is. Whereas a woman can be 100% ethnically Jewish but not 'look' so, which I'd imagine I join 99% of Jewish women for having heard in reference to myself, in that few among us are universally identifiable.

Monday, December 08, 2008

WWPD: the women's mag edition

Is it better for women to:

1) Wear girdles,
2) Diet themselves into the shape a girdle provides, or
3) Think of something better to worry about?

Daphne Merkin's ability to stretch (pun intended-ish, given the topic) the above possibilities, minus possibility #3 which apparently does not exist in her universe, into a lively, readable article for me to consume along with an almond croissant is, let me just say, impressive.

That said, Merkin (indirectly) called me zaftig, and while I'm a firm (pun intended-ish) believer in #3, I will not have it. She explains, "[...] the era of zaftig was over, except in the subordinate boroughs." From the joggers in Park Slope to the chain-smokers of Williamsburg, the 'new Brooklyn' is hardly pro-zaftig; the 'real' outer boroughs neither. Merkin's "subordinate boroughs" apparently consist of communities unchanged since the 1940s, in which Old Country mothers urge their daughters to down an extra helping of schmaltz. (If zaftig's not italicized, does schmaltz need to be? Discuss.)

Merkin lost me with the following: "[...] I’ve since passed the smaller of the two [girdles] on to my 19-year-old daughter, who had been eyeing it for its erotic potential." I can't decide if it's worse a) that this happened, or b) that the NYT readership gets to hear about it.


In other girly news, via Arts & Letters Daily, here's a fun piece about the "Toxic Wife," a lady with her banker man only until the market crashes. Actually, the article's kind of bizarre--what author Tara Winter Wilson calls a "toxic wife" is what's traditionally referred to as a "trophy wife." Certain men want to parlay their financial success into well-maintained women, which works out because certain women enjoy spending lots of time at salons. The agreement is such that if the woman lets herself go, or the man loses his kesef, party's over. The term "toxic" is Wilson's way of taking male agency out of the equation. Well, not entirely: "Men, it seems, have got wise to the potential Toxic Wife and don't want to end up with someone who is going to bolt the moment they experience some financial bad luck." Yet these same men, when finances were good, declared themselves worthy of a league they'd otherwise not have a shot at. There are no trophies "for richer or poorer." That's kind of the point. Again, a strange article indeed.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The case for studying the nineteenth century

I'm now working on a paper on various twentieth-century authors, of about my parents' generation. Looking for biographical information for one, I stumbled upon his Myspace page, complete with a photo he took of himself and information about his relationship status (Available, ladies! And attractive, in a BHL kind of way). Now this could be like how Hannah Arendt, Allan Bloom, and others have Facebook 'accounts' that aren't, but I'm thinking not.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Marx on capitalism

Patricia Marx wrote an entertaining piece for the New Yorker on shoes a few months ago, so I was curious to see her take (full view subscribers only) on Century 21, Loehmann's, and the like. Her conclusion? We (first-world women) buy crap we don't like/want/need because it's 60% off. While no doubt the owners of the handbag stores across New York with year-round "60% off" signs subscribe to this philosophy, I'm not sure it's the best way to understand the psychology of sales. It's not so much that we buy worse stuff when it's discounted--at most of the stores I go to, such as Uniqlo, the Old Navy-Gap-Banana Republic trifecta, clothes are full-price for about ten minutes before becoming lowly 'sale' items-- as that, when we pay full price, we feel a) guilt, and consequently b) conviction that we had to have the item in question, and so we a) take good care of it (i.e. keep it away from the ever-growing pile of sweatshirts and leggings and corduroys that is the couch) and, b) though careful not to over-wear it, wear it enough to feel the cost-per-wear is forgivable. As I've mentioned before, in Europe (OK, Belgium, from which I'm overdrawing conclusions) clothing is not necessarily higher quality than at equivalent stores in the US. It's just that Europeans pay more for their own average-quality attire, and so do not leave it in one big heap on the couch.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

It was bound to happen

In high school, I had a chemistry teacher 'of a certain age' who was a mutterer, a shirt-button-misser, and, crucially for this story, a donut eater. A tiny woman with what must have been an amazing metabolism. Or perhaps she kept her figure because a good part of the donuts she ate before/during class--at least the powder--ended up all over her mouth. It was hilarious.

This morning, I got a glazed donut before I taught. You can see where this is heading. Class was almost over when I realized that a bit of the glaze was still with me.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Reading is hard

I have many love-hate relationships. The Roth-Allen monster. Duane Reade. High heels. But the one that takes the cake is the New York Public Library. On the one hand, all the books I need! Almost. But close! And old French-Jewish newspapers! In a beautiful old building, near many bus and subway lines! With cheap (OK, not anymore, thanks to rising food prices) Japanese fast food right next door!

But. While some go for the books, others go for the freedom to rant, digest (ahem), and lecture as loudly as they possibly can, and in an unshowered way as possible. One man, with fine, reddish hair in amazing clumps, likes to play with those clumps, twisting them around to form not so much dreadlocks as... greasy clumps. Another man seems truly proud of his admittedly impressive gas. Then there are those whose torso-exclusive skin diseases could be their little secret if they wore shirts that reached all the way down to their pants. Then there are those at the library to research government conspiracies of their own imagining; these folks can be recognized by the amazing amount of research materials they keep in plastic grocery bags.

This cohort is on the one hand distracting, but on the other hand unfortunate, either homeless, paranoid, or both. The set of people whose behavior is less forgivable is the flash-camera-having, the 'Oh, look, what a pretty library!' announcing, research-room-entrance blocking ('wouldn't a picture right here look great') tourists. My theory, given the library's prime Fifth Avenue location, is that tourists make a pit stop there for its free toilets, yes, but also so that they can say they did something cultural, that they didn't go to NYC just to shop.

So, while providing a safe space for the homeless, paranoid, or both is a worthy goal, and while there's nothing inherently wrong with tourists visiting the occasional monument between H&M and Zara, is there any reason the same room has to serve these two purposes and house all the city's books? Couldn't there be some kind of division of space, a room for each?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

While it's still technically the day... official WWPD happy two-years to Jo!

More than an accessory

In a future life, I could imagine worse than to come back as Agyness Deyn. Amazing hair, a glamorous career, but most of all...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Neurotic bloggery

-The case for high heels.

-Something about the fact that this amazingly adorable baby tiger is in Germany makes this photo... off.

-On the 10,000 hours I spent on the subway today (9,000 of which involved a horse-and-buggy pulling a W train from Union Square to 42nd) I had a chance to hear Alice Waters interviewed on Times Talks. Her pro-tasty-food agenda would have my full support if she did not attribute all our nation's woes to our failure to emulate the French. Waters explains that she goes to France every year (insert carbon-footprint remark here), and that the French taught her how great food can be. This much I can accept. Harder to take is her belief that the French value their culture, unlike us crude Americans, and that their defense of their cuisine is a part of this. She presents the French appreciation of land and soil as this uncomplicated good, when in fact the history of French preservation-of-culture-via-agriculture is anything but. While self-aware enough to realize this is merely a sign I've been in too much graduate school, I couldn't help but think, as Waters was explaining how "beautiful" it is when public-school students work the land, the great 19th (and 20th!) century obsession with turning Jews into farmers. Of course, I know she's not endorsing the shadier aspects of French nativism when she holds forth on locally-grown lettuce (I save my paranoia for baby-tiger photos), but it wouldn't hurt if she made a point of showing awareness that France is not (just) some lettuce-filled paradise, and if she were willing to admit the existence of more positive aspects of American culture. Plus, getting the whole country on board for local/organic whatnot will be easier if it does not seem to entail having cultivated a personal appreciation for the south of France.

-As for American culture... Should we outlaw Black Friday or embrace it? How much of the anti-consumerist indignation (see photos and comments) is coming from people who themselves enjoy shopping, but who are aesthetically put off by Walmart, flat-screens, and big crowds of the less-than-chic? Where does consumerism end and Sartorialism begin? Why do we insist debt-inducing materialism is unique to the contemporary US, when nineteenth-century Frenchwomen partook? How much is a visceral distaste for mass-produced items and those who revel in getting them half price (says she who just spent $4.75 on an Old Navy hat, albeit not on the day), and how much is a not-at-all-classist and fully understandable reaction to the fact that a man died so that people could get their discounts. Elizabeth is right that "No matter how many times someone says it or writes it, it doesn’t sound any less horrifying."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's called a dachshund

The latest contender in the quest to win First World Problem of the Year is of course Alex Kuczynski's choice, announced on the cover of the Times' Sunday Magazine, to hobble around in Louboutins (note the hint of a red sole on the heels she wears on the cover) between yoga classes, while some woman out there in Real America, already struggling with her own real children, has the author's baby. The author's husband, a "very successful investor" of 120 years, with 1,000 children from 1,000,000,000 previous marriages, is despite his years still able to put genetic material into a cup, which is about all we learn about him in his wife's NYT Mag cover story. Although the article itself is only indirectly about race, as in, who but a silly rich white woman..., an accompanying photo reminds readers--who, by the way, are pissed-- that Kuczynski benefits from class and race privilege.

So, the moral of the story? Here's what it isn't: Those (few) who ask that we not judge the author, who note that infertility is serious business and those without personal experience of it shouldn't talk, may have a point, but clearly missed the rules of the game. If Kuczynski didn't want hundreds of total strangers commenting on the most intimate details of her life, she'd have chosen a different venue (say, coffee with friends) to share them. Those who suggest she ought to have gone with "a pedigree puppy" have my sympathy, but clearly missed the recent controversy over the mere possibility that the Obamas would not get their daughters a rescue dog. Had Kuczynski in an unrelated article mentioned a purebred pup, the angry comment mob would have been pissed.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thought for the day

"Avoid reading the comments on any newspaper site. The anonymity allows the rats to come out of the woodwork." Commenting anonymously on blogs, however...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Mid-morning bloody television"

The above quote comes from either Patsy or Edina, when, in the hospital for plastic surgery, they're forced to watch sub-prime-time TV. The same thing happens to me, minus the liposuction, every time I go to the gym. Since gym trips remain few and far between, I don't worry too much about brain rot from shows a step below what I'd willingly watch, say, on an airplane. But perhaps I should. This time the treadmill I picked offered MTV's "Next", a dating show where contestants have mini-dates, with the person all are competing to 'get' shouting "Next!" when he or she has had enough. The show is terrible in so many ways, I almost forgot I was running! Let me count them...

-Everyone involved looks interchangeable with everyone else--the same tan, bleached-blond, 19-year-old seemed to have replicated himself (then, when it switched over to girls competing over a guy, herself). As a consequence of my schooling, I have trouble telling tanned, blond, athletic types apart. That I was on a treadmill didn't help.

-In that all involved are identical, league-wise, type-wise, and so forth, it's unclear what makes the one girl worthy of these five guys' competition. Who but a girl like this would they go out with? Shouldn't there be at least a pretense of a prize larger than being picked winner of a reality show?

-When each 'date' emerges from the bus (why a bus?), the dreamboat can immediately say, "Next," revealing that the person in question is, as they say, "busted." Since all the show's witticisms and one-liners are almost painfully scripted, I'm hoping this bit is as well. Since all the contestants appear to put a premium on physical appearance, and to go to the gym more often than once every two (err, three) weeks, this sort of rejection could be truly upsetting.

Monday, November 24, 2008

All about the dishwasher

As a grad student, it would seem that the new trend in cutting back would suit me perfectly. At last, five nights of home-cooked pasta is in! There is now pride in wearing headphones till they're merely decorative! But... no. To participate in the cutting-back trend, one has to sacrifice, to make a change from the lifestyle to which they've grown accustomed to one 'times like these' demand. I could certainly stand to spend less (starting with seven nights a week of pasta, hmm) but to be part of the frugal-chic movement, you have to come down from on high, to switch not from buying two GAP t-shirts to one, but from haute couture to overindulging at J.Crew.

Praising those who 'make do with less' can be a bit much when the less is, well, more. At the NYT 'Well' blog, Tara Parker-Pope and her commenters just can't get over how noble food writer Mark Bittman is to stick with his "bad kitchen." Now, I don't begrudge someone who's both in the culinary field and a Real Grown-Up a kitchen better than my own--for him to work with one like mine would be a shame.

But what, precisely, is supposed to make Bittman's kitchen "bad"? Have a look. First, he's got a huge window next to the cooking area. (I'd settle for a vent above the stove.) Then there's the build-in microwave. Then there's Bittman's complaint that makes me less pro-Bittman than I was going into this: "I bump my shins on the dishwasher." Who cares if "[i]t’s a terrible dishwasher." (You know what's an even less efficient dishwasher? The kind that worked all day and, at 11 PM, notices dishes and puts on the gloves.) Knowing full well that my own kitchen problems are first-world, I'm finding it truly difficult to see what about Bittman's kitchen, save the lack of uniformed butler, reveals his willingness to lead a humble life.

And, a commenter makes a good point:

Obviously, as betrayed by the comment “I don’t have a food processor in Manhattan”, Bittman does have one in another kitchen elsewhere. I would bet with his level of success and true to his type, he owns a country house–upstate or the Hamptons most likely–with a huge, wonderfully appointed kitchen that he visits and cooks in on most weekends. He’s pretending to slum it in his Manhattan pied a terre.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wanty wanty

This dress. Which I am deluding myself into thinking would look even better on someone (ahem) 5'2" than on the model, on whom it looks a bit too much like a shirt. That said, asking a model about the environment? Maybe not the best idea: "[I]n a way, high fashion could be considered sustainable. Buying a piece from Chanel is an investment: you’re going to have it in your closet forever, and it’s not like it’s made from low-quality fabrics." Argh. Buy Chanel because you can and want to. Not to assuage "An Inconvenient Truth"-inspired guilt.

Since clearly the dress is $10,000 and by request only (the designer's website claims his stuff is sold at Barneys; the Barneys site claims otherwise, as if it mattered), my latest wardrobe addition is this jacket (loosely defined). I was wary, because the plaid looked... familiar, but the fit is surprisingly equestrian chic. That is, for a fleece under $30. If the MTA started having horses, I'd be all set.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

'That's nice!', or, 'That's patronizing!'

Is the following community service program at the Obama girls' future school, well, nice or patronizing?

Lower School has established a relationship with Brightwood Elementary School, a public school in Northwest Washington. Over 20 Lower School parents serve as lap readers, visiting the school weekly to provide one-on-one reading with children in eight classrooms, pre-k through first grade. These parents are encouraged to bring their children to share in the reading at least once per semester, with teacher approval.

On the one hand, yay books, yay reading, and yay taking note of one's own privilege and helping the less fortunate. (I know next to nothing about D.C., but am assuming prospects at this Brightwood are less than bright.) On the other... there's something that doesn't sit right about what amounts to rich-mommy-for-a-day, showing underprivileged kids what a good parent does, implicitly telling/reminding kids that their own parents don't read to them, whether because they have too much work, they're in prison/on drugs, or they can't read, English or generally. It's something about the age of the kids, and that it's "lap reading," so maternal... So, better than doing nothing at all, or a method of volunteering too wrought with socioeconomic and potentially racial condescension?

(I'm tempted to do my whole anti-private-school rant. Not that the Obama's don't have good reason to go this route, as parents and as likely targets of all sorts of crazies. They're making the right choice, as if what I think matters. But the tendency of upscale private schools to tell their students that those at public schools, even 'just like private school' ones, are by definition tragic, along with their tendency--the one I did K-8 at, at any rate--to place the very few and rarely-integrated students of color in every photo in every brochure, making a misleading point about the wonderful "diversity," when day after day one sees rows of towheaded children in uniform... but I'm not sure what my own anecdotes about situations like the above add to the question regarding this particular D.C. school.)

Fine dining

Amber's lentil soup sounds much more promising that the one I'd already gotten going upon reading her post. (This is what Elaine Benes would deem a "small coincidence.") Mine consists of, in completely unmeasured amounts: lentils (Canadian ones, which look, as one might guess, like a cross between French and regular ol' American lentils), olive oil, not-fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, yellow onion, garlic (some burnt, some not burnt to compensate), dashes of supermarket-balsamic and gourmet-store-white-wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. And water. And, I'm a bit concerned, pink nail polish, having just noticed that I've chipped two nails, although I think this preceded the soup production.

In other culinary news, while I had a great time catching up with a friend (who will go unnamed, on the off-chance her feelings about the place were more positive), the restaurant we went to, "Les Enfants Terribles," was... what everyone said it would be. It was not so much a case of bad service as of usury-meets-food-service.

(Cultural note: The restaurant is not quite French in terms of cuisine, but it is by-and-for French people. After noticing the NYMag reader reviews, I was hoping being with someone French would make me more welcome, but... no. As my friend pointed out, this was a place where a waiter was wearing a beret-like hat to remind us of his Frenchness. If you enter not under the impression that French waiters are rude--Francophile that I am, I did not--you will be left thinking either this, or that every other French waiter you've encountered has been positively dripping with politeness. Rudeness is, clearly, part of the show at this establishment, at a place where the waitstaff do shots between serving dishes, and where, if you are sitting on the outside chair, as I was, they yell 'excuse me' furiously every time you sit up straight in your seat. Tiny though I am, I felt very much the gigantic American.*)

So, back to the story. First, I ordered a dish that was $15.50. The waiter asked if I was sure I didn't want the special, also something involving beef. I asked (how gauche!) how much the special was, whether it was the same amount as the one I'd picked. Oh, it's $24. Hmm. I attribute the waiter's sneakiness to the fact that I'd ordered a drink, which perhaps signaled that I was willing to spend anything. Alas, a few sips of one drink, even by someone as Ashkenazi as I am, did not take away my other, also stereotypically Ashkenaz willingness to risk unsuaveness to avoid being overcharged.

The lesser beef was not bad, and the fries were fries, always a positive experience. I was even spontaneously brought ketchup, which I attribute to my being a feathered-haired, fanny-pack-and-white-sneakers-wearing, 6'6" and 300 pound American. I like ketchup, so all was well, except when a waiter wished to pass by, and I was not crouching obligingly.

The check appeared suddenly while we were still eating, but I didn't take offense, because the same happened to the Latvian model and her date sitting next to us. (That this was a beautiful-people place is both the restaurant's saving grace and its downfall.) Problems arose, however, when our waiter, the same man who'd tried to sneak the special, chased us as we left the restaurant, explaining, now in English, that you have to leave a 20% tip, and ours was not 20%. I've never before felt true nativist rage, not even when, last summer, the whole of Europe arrived to remind Americans just how useless our currency had become. I kept thinking, I'm from here! That's not how it works! I didn't go into the whole 'I'm from here' bit, which was, I think, obvious. But I did point out that there's no mandatory tip--if this particular restaurant had one (which would not be surprising in that they seem keen on ripping off those too beautiful and drunk to care) they hadn't exactly alerted us to it.

Which about brings us to the lentil soup.

* My "I am not French" tag has never been put to such good use!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tales of the unlikely

I've also been considering a blog hiatus, in which I replace blogging with going (gasp) to the gym. (I can hear Jo laughing, even though he's not here.) Both are obvious time-wasters, yet both have self-improvement potential (constructing an argument vs. being able to reach my walk-up apartment without any noticeable difficulty). Considering how much I have to write and exercise (argh, those stairs) regardless, perhaps a different pre-existing hobby, perhaps muffin-making, should be taken to new heights. (I can imagine Jo nodding approvingly.)

Onto the next paper...

We'll always have Paris

Do we want an America in which each side of the culture wars (real Americans/"Jesus police" on the one side; fake Americans, godless gays, and heathen Jews on the other) 'gets' its own parts of the country? To summarize the discussion thus far:


The beauty of our situation is that if you feel so strongly about gay marriage, you can move to Connecticut or Massachusetts. If you feel strongly about keeping the Jewish Sabbath you can move to certain section of New York City or Miami Beach. We avoid religious tyranny by the majority through states being able to make their own laws.


There is no beauty in ghettoizing gays, Jews or any other minority. Any migration forced by social stigma should not be acceptable in the U.S., or anywhere.


I think I’m less concerned than you are about just embracing the self-segregation discussed in the comments to your ladyblog post and saying “let the Jesus police run Kansas, and we’ll keep California and New York.” Part of that is probably my — dare I say it? — gentile privilege, or something like that. That is, I don’t feel the same sense of menace that it sometimes seems you feel (am I right?) about being ostracized by middle-America, because I don’t have the same kind of historical context that you do for it. Instead, my urge is generally to say “let them stew: we have everything worth having in this country, as well as almost the whole economy, on the coasts anyway.”

Here's my take, but I'd be happy to see others' in the comments.

The impulse to want everyone to fit into a box of 'normal real American' or 'different urban American' has something in common with Helen Rittelmeyer's suggestion to modern-day singles, "If you want to be a nice girl, commit to being one. If you are hanging out in a bar, you are a hussy and should commit to that." (Note before I continue: I have no idea what Rittelmeyer thinks about gays/Jews/cities, and am referring only to the way the "hussies" argument resembles the way the urban-rural one has been constructed, that if you want to be gay or Jewish, that's fine, but don't expect to do it in the heartland.) 'Nice' Americans can live anywhere they'd like, whereas marginal types should know their place, and their place is New York, Connecticut, San Francisco...

As I see it, this view stems from misunderstanding. We (we-society, not we-royal) are convinced that gays and Jews are especially creative and eccentric, that they all gravitate to cities because they're where they can fulfill their grand ambitions, that they think small towns would pin them in. For some it's true, but for most, not even a little bit.

Regarding gays, it's simple. Gay people do not magically spring up in places where they're wanted. Instead, a certain portion of the population is born (or 'turns out' if you prefer) gay, in each and every town, worldwide. Not all gays are meant to be brilliant Barneys window-dressers; why can't the non-fashionable majority of gays stay put and lead dull, married lives in their hometowns? How is this not better for both the majority of gays themselves, and the majority of Americans wanting as many people as possible leading conventional/conservative lives? (See also this, via.)

Jews, on the other hand, tend to be born into Jewish families and communities, often in or near major cities. If your priority is maintaining a strict observance of Shabbat, marrying your kids off to other Jews, finding kosher food, etc., you really do need to live around many other Jews. While Jewish communities that permit this lifestyle do exist in the US, you'd have good reason to consider Israel, where that life would--even taking into account Israeli secularism--come more easily.

But! Not all Jews have those priorities. Just as not all gays require a short subway ride to 8th and 23rd, not all Jews require a proximity to Zabars. One can be unobservant but still Jewish enough to be 'different,' be it culturally, physically, religiously... A number of us are essentially not-Christians. What if we get a job (ahem, academia) or spouse out in 'real America'? We don't mind the absence of a kosher butcher, we don't need an eruv. Why must huge portions of the country be no-go zones for us in terms of settling down? How would it not be better for both non-observant Jews and the rest of America to allow for internal migration at will?

So, my take: Jillian's on the right track, but misses where preserving the "beauty" of cultural diversity can turn into outright exclusion on those who want to lead unhyphenated lives, but who, due to facts of birth, are prevented from doing so. Paul makes a good case, but underestimates both the interest in gays/Jews in living outside of cities, and the interest of the "Jesus police" in policing... larger jurisdictions. And E.H. makes a good point, with more elegance than I could have done, which I say not only because she's my mother.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

For those who need convincing

Opponents of same-sex marriage insist (see comments) that the pro-SSM side is all protests and cries of bigotry, but no substance. For many anti-SSMers, they feel they've provided well-constructed arguments about what marriage is and why, and what do they get? They get called homophobes. They see this as unfair.

Obviously, with any contentious issue, there's a good amount of yelling on both sides. (Abortion: Murderer! Misogynist!) That screaming is, of course, preaching to the choir. That said, anyone who thinks proponents of gay marriage have nothing more to say than that their opponents are bad people is mistaken. (I've tried giving nuanced arguments on this issue, but later in the thread I linked to I learned that all the pro-SSM side offers up are "ad hominem arguments".)

So yes, there are arguments, although it could be they're convincing no one who doesn't already see gay-marriage bans as self-evidently unfair.

Part of any battle for civil rights is yelling from the rooftops that the injustice must end. It's not the whole battle, but it's a fully justified element. One of the pro-SSM arguments is that denying equal rights is bigotry. One does not have to construct elaborate arguments to prove that this qualifies as bigotry, one merely has to point out the injustice. This is true of any civil rights issue. Do opponents of SSM think, in retrospect, that proponents of legalizing interracial marriage should have not bothered calling opponents bigots, and should have instead restricted themselves to peer-reviewed, footnoted papers arguing that black people are indeed enough like white people to marry them?

Even if the cases are different (which they are, but not very) the principle here is the same. The notion of human equality as "self-evident" implies that one need not prove anything to ask to be treated with respect.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Recent enjoyment

-Seeing a celebrity famous for playing a man who sidles up to glamorous women in his chauffeured car on the subway. Looking very 'one of us.' Aside from some dreadlocked Scandinavian tourists, no one else seemed that interested.

-Finally moving a paper from five different 'section' docs into one. I can now call it a 'rough draft.'

-Getting fancy high-maintenance hair conditioner at Ricky's for 20% off. Say what? It's pointless now, since cold weather is natural Japanese hair-straightening for my extremely season-sensitive hair, but a sale's a sale. Speaking of which, be sure to check out Rita & co.'s series of posts on cheapness.

Discuss amongst yourselves

Should we (the US) make Sunday a de facto sabbath? Would this violate separation of church and state (in principle, if not in law, since I believe what's been suggested is a change in the culture), or would it merely recognize that this is a Christian country? My answer's here, but I'd like to know what others (especially certain no-longer-hiatusing others) think.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pickavore's dilemma

In the spirit of acknowledging the Internet's role as one big support group for lunatics, allow me to point out how pleased I am that I'm not the only picky eater especially afraid of okra. Along with "mayo, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese."

And, back to the paper...

A theory of the JAP

Every American Jewish woman not literally in rags begging for gruel has, at one point or another, been called a JAP. Frustrating as this is to those of us who do not spend our days chatting with the girls over manicures about how to find a lawyah or bankah to marry--and alas, most Jewish women do not fit this stereotype--like all stereotypes, it has some basis in reality.

Rather than looking at the JAP as a slur, we should think of it as a subculture, one no more or less valid than hipsters, bears, or farm-obsessed urbanites. Like any other subculture, one's natural-born physical appearance and background play a part in membership, but it's mostly about performance, about choice of dress, hairstyle, lifestyle. And, if this needs pointing out, not all JAPs are Jewish or female, although the culture is rooted where it's rooted. (As with hipsters, JAPs are, of course, never self-proclaimed, and can be spotted a mile away.)

So, as promised, a theory: why is there a subculture of high-maintenance, materialistic Jewish women? Where do these 'princesses' come from? One possibility is that Jewish women overcompensate with artifice (eating disorders or fancy clothes) for a lack of 'conventional' (i.e. blonde-and-blue) beauty. That's probably part of it--one can make fun of the JAP for hair-straightening, but consider the likely reaction to the alternative. And it goes far in explaining the gender tilt of the subculture.

Here's another idea: Jews, as Jews, voluntarily deny ourselves full participation in mainstream American society. A world of Christmas and ham, Lilly Pulitzer and small-town childhoods, is distant to many of us. But, at the same time, we want in. So we overcompensate in the areas we don't see as threatening our Jewish identity. For a woman to focus on shopping and finding a man is plenty American; to obsess over both must be very American. The JAP is an especially enthusiastic consumer of and participant in the lowest-common-denominator American culture, hoping (subconsciously) that this will be enough to balance out the difference inherent to her non-Christian background.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Obama-Dachshund '08?

Nothing in the related article hints at a dachshund, but I'm sure if the soon-to-be First Family saw this picture, their problem would be solved!

You are having a more impressive Friday night

Staying in to write a paper on a totally unrelated subject (though now I'm seeing a connection...), I'm now distracted by a blog-war set forth almost entirely by my poor choice of post title. Now everyone's angry, and I'm not sure quite how to defend myself. I do think opposition to gay marriage is bad (a simplistic word, I realize, but it's late, and I've argued why here before, blogsearch away), and though the word "backwards" comes to mind, as it happens I don't favor recognizing gay marriage because it's The Future, but because it's the humane thing to do to recognize the status quo of many perfectly viable, loving (pardon the pun) families. I know I'm a coastal elite whose views don't count and all, but having grown up knowing families like that, I see this more as an issue of promoting a positive institution that already exists than of creating a new one out of thin air. In my own not-real-American framework, being for gay marriage is conservative.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Purity turnips

The people have spoken, and they insist that the Obama family's puppy be a rescue dog. Obama himself seems to agree, jokingly making reference to himself being a "mutt."

While this sounds impossible to criticize, a groundbreaking presidency all the way down to concern for fluffy animals, there's a good case for the First Dog being a purebred. (No, not just so it could be a dachshund.) For whatever reason, we humans have an urge to create and promote purity. It's up to us whether we channel this urge into eugenics or organics, to sexual mores or turnips, but it seems unlikely we as a species will kick the purity fixation anytime soon. Better we focus on chiens de race than on some human equivalent. Better we focus on the color of the First Dog than that of the First Family.

Black shows, white shows

I was listening to a podcast on my commute recently, and someone said something about how TV shows are segregated, and wondered whether Obama's election would either integrate sitcoms or push people to watch shows other than the ones of 'their kind.' I'm thinking Tyra more than Obama will integrate television, but we shall see.

While TV segregation is undeniable, especially regarding sitcoms, it always surprises me when "Seinfeld" is offered as the quintessential "white show." (Google "Seinfeld" and "white show" for examples, if you've never heard this argument). Gawker even calls Jerry Seinfeld, "The whitest man in America."

Clearly, "Seinfeld" is a Jewish show. Now before the avalanche of comments informing me that Jews (Ashkenazi at least) are white, let me explain. Yes, in America today, Jews see themselves as and are seen as white more than black. And a show can have actors who are Jewish and still be a 'white show.' "Friends," "The Daily Show," and so on fall into this category. But "Seinfeld" not only has Jews on its cast, but deals almost exclusively in Jewish themes, implicit (George as Woody Allen, parents in Florida) and explicit (rabbis, mohels, dubious "shiksas" and marble ryes). Just as speech intonation is different in black shows and white shows, "Seinfeld" is ambiguously Semitic New York English, if anything is. If black characters are rare on "Seinfeld," so are non-Jewish white ones, who tend to appear only as Jerry's one-line weekly love interests. They are the tokens from 'real America.'(The exception, of course, being Susan and her family, who, with their repression, drinking, and summer homes, are the definition of Gentile as Other.)

It's always something of a mystery to those of us who 'get' the show on a cultural level that it's had such a great success with those who, one imagines, do not. (Then again, I've watched enough "Designing Women" and "Everybody Hates Chris" to confirm one need not identify with a cultural situation to vegetate in front of it.) But the greater mystery still is how a show so gray could be understood as the whitest of them all.

Oh baby

You know that amazing Monty Python sketch, where Terry Jones plays John Cleese's mother, and the mom and her friend talk to the son in baby talk, even though he's like 6'5" and 35? "Oooh, can he talk, can he talk"? --"Of course I can talk, I'm the Minister for Overseas Development." Well, apparently this actually happens.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Popular wisdom has it that Jewish men prefer non-Jewish women. Certain artists have based their entire careers on that notion. Anecdotal evidence suggests the Roth-Allen two-headed beast speaks the truth.

So why does Marcus attribute my claim that Rahm Emanuel is beau to my being a "jewy jew"? Shouldn't this make me less likely to think the politician is attractive, or does it only work that way for men?

Returning to the all-important realm of the anecdotal, Jewish women (did I mention I'm Jewish? I'm worried someone on the Internet missed this) go both ways. We (the royal 'we', or more like the court-Jew 'we') can appreciate the beauty of both Lior Askhenazi the Mossad-agent-turned-pacifist and Knut Berger the Nazi's grandson-turned-beautiful-gay-man. Or, to give a more familiar example, both Obama and his new Chief of Staff.

If Jewish women are Semiti-neutral, the fact remains that outside of observant circles, a Jewish woman will attract more gentile than Jewish men. I remember, neurotic, Roth-reading, raised-on-Allen high school senior that I was, worrying that by going to college in the Midwest, I was not going to have any dates or boyfriends, because there would be so many girls who looked like this. (Needless to say, I had the University of Chicago all wrong.) What I hadn't taken into account was that to some, we are exotic. But Jew-fetishists aside (not that the Bamber comment is fetishistic, but anyway), no such concept as a "shiksa" exists for the man who grew up Protestant in Sweden or Kansas. That a woman is, say, a natural blond is not enough to make her attractive to men whose mothers and sisters are as well.

So, is there a lesson to be drawn from all this, other than that men, Jewish or Robert Redfordian, do the asking? Discuss amongst yourselves.

*There is a Yiddish word for a male 'shiksa,' but 'shikso' is, I think, more easily understood.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Weekend, reviewed

-Al di la: Sorry, 'al di là,' the 'perpetually packed,' lower-case and accent-shortcut-requiring 'local gem,' did once have a pretty amazing steak for $15.50, but when we passed by hoping to track down said steak Friday night, we learned that prices had all gone sky high, with the same steak dish an impressive $20. Boo. Pasta at home it was.

-Tanoreen: perfection. Really! Not cheap as alleged, unless $16 main courses strike you as such, but very much worth it. I ate my own weight in babaganoush before my lamb kebabs arrived, which I don't recommend doing, but which means I get to lave lamb again tonight! Sorry, little sheep! So is Tanoreen the best Palestinian restaurant in NYC? Having never been to another explicitly Palestinian restaurant, I couldn't say, but if I were picking sides in the Middle East conflict based entirely on cuisine (as represented in New York), Israel would not stand a chance.

-Fort Greene Flea Market: This being my second trip, proof that I never learn. Way too expensive for anything purporting to have fleas, and kind of a far walk from Park Slope just for a waffle (the best deal by far) that could have been purchased in Park Slope the day before.

-Target: Although they make me look like the sorority girl I never was, I may never take these off.

You just know

If it were not for the social pressure that comes from marriage--affecting both married couples and those with an expectation, however vague, that they'll one day wed--how much monogamy would we see from heterosexuals?

I ask this because my (hardly original, fundamentally conservative) argument that gay marriage is 'good for the children' focuses not on the children of gay couples, who get oh-so-much attention, but on gay children themselves. The latter group, I'm guessing, is much larger, and is likely to remain so (barring some major developments in eugenics).

What do I mean by 'gay children'? As young as age 10, I had crushes on guys. On boys my own age, on older camp-counselors, on teachers, on actors, on lame singer-songwriters, etc, etc. The objects of these crushes were often on embarrassing, often too much so to reveal, so it would be a stretch to say that social pressure to be heterosexual pointed me in that direction. Before I was old enough to have physical relationships, before being old enough to even understand why anyone would want a physical relationship, I knew what I liked.

For gays, I'd imagine things work in much the same way. My reference to "[c]hildren who, upon adolescence, notice they like members of the same sex" was misleading. You can know what you like independent of any particular activity or individual. You can be seven or 12 or 20 and just know.

It's a mix of love and a sense of marriage as an implied end-point of relationships that pushes straight people towards monogamy. The implied end-point exists independent of any particular relationship, and in fact pre-exists one's first serious one. It just hovers in the background. When the time comes to channel romantic interest into actual interaction, there's a script to follow and, eventually, a legally-binding choice to be made.

If you turn out to be gay, and turn out not to live in one of the pockets of the world where same-sex-led families are commonplace and openly accepted, then you're likely grow up without the 'person you'll end up with' notion in the back of your mind. What happens, happens. Maybe you'll be monogamous, but maybe you won't; either way, you're equally 'wrong' according to most Californians, so the incentive to pair off must come from love alone. Which is a bit much to ask.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Things that would make research easier:

1) Being in France.

2) Working not in the library, but in that mysterious "Offsite," where all the books I need seem to be.

3) Not requiring food or caffeine to keep moving.

Yossi and Jagger II?

The ladies at Jezebel note "the subtle, but sexy, homo-eroticism" of a certain photograph of two pretty, albeit very hetero, politicians. Could a sequel be in order? Who'd be Yossi and who'd be Jagger? Barack would just have to be Barak, and to, well, speak Hebrew. He could be the half-Ethiopian free spirit, with Rahm the macho Sabra, tweaking their real biographies just enough to make the film work. Eytan Fox would, of course, direct. The result would be so beautiful that everyone would favor legal gay marriage, and all would be well in the world.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Last election post, 2008

Via John Schwenkler, Will Wilkinson on how it's possible to be pro-Obama, to be moved to tears by last night's victory, and yet to "hope never to see again streets thronging with people chanting the victorious leader’s name."

As I see it, the chanting-the-leader's-name issue is in part the problem Wilkinson mentions, that of failing to see the presidency as a government job and not a divine role of some kind. But it's also about missing that edge of dissent. Depending your environment, it's possible to feel, with the Obama win, that you're maybe some kind of Republican, not if you supported McCain (did people really do that?) if you're merely very happy Obama won and incredibly relieved that the other ticket lost.

Obama was so clearly the better candidate, and Palin so openly disdainful of such broad swaths of the population that when everyone around me just assumed I was for Obama, I didn't feel the same qualms as I did when, at other times, acquaintances have assumed I lean left. 'How could you not vote for Obama?' is at once unappealing as political discourse and, in this particular election, a fair point.

And the bad news

Paul Gowder is spot on about Prop 8:

It’s appalling how children were used in this campaign, from the shameful lies about the schools to the garbage appeals to non-science about the quality of gay parents to the fact that children were trotted out on street corners by both sides to wear signs. And as we know, that sort of shit is always a trigger for American voters — there’s no better way to get people to do idiotic things — live in the suburbs, support all kinds of censorship, deny basic civil and human rights to their fellow citizens — than to wave some kid in front of them and have it drop a single tear.

Seriously. Parents in this country just need to toughen up. Can you imagine a civilized country where all you have to do is say “think about the kids,” and the public will vote for whatever kind of fascism strikes your fancy?

All I'll add is that the 'think of the children' brigade seems incapable of thinking of the gay children. In all likelihood, there will always be more children turning out to be gay than kids raised by same-sex couples. Children who, upon adolescence, notice they like members of the same sex are far more likely to be depressed/sexually-reckless/what-have-you if they live in a society in which they cannot aspire to one day having a family of their own.

That One Won!

The WWPD response, incoherent as always:

1) What kind of puppy will the Obama girls get? You know my vote.

2) Please, please, idiot racists, do not assassinate Barack now that he's been elected. Thinking back on other cases of a member of a country's most-discriminated-against minority group getting to be head of state, the first one I thought of was Leon Blum. Clearly a Jew becoming prime minister of France signaled an end to that country's anti-Semitism. So, here's hoping things work out better this time around.

3) OMG I forgot to go to Starbucks. Or Ben and Jerry's. Oh well. Obama won! I wish I could say I saw it coming, but it's safe to say I absolutely did not.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting Obama in Park Slope

If I didn't, who would have?

All told, the voting experience was both exciting and a let-down. As a flexibly-scheduled grad student, I could go early, after teaching, which meant I got to see a bit of the other side of Park Slope, not the young professionals but the aging, over-educated hippies, of whom there were more than one. Frightening though it is, I can see myself one day heading in that direction.

There was this massive, round-the-block line, but apparently my proof-of-registration was enough to get me to the VIP line, that is, a line in a school gym so warm that it really did feel like school gym class. How wise I was to include a tank top among my many layers. Somehow the uncomfortable temperature made it all feel more democratic.

Everyone around me was reading something intellechul--academic papers, Renaissance thinkers--but I kept my own 19th-C-French-dude subway-reading in the bag, figuring surveying the crowd was more of a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and not wanting to be 'that guy' who just has to show his whole district he's literate.

So, the short wait was something of a let-down. As was the fact that I could not vote to explicitly support gay marriage. As was the fact that you just knew that the vote for Obama in the gym was going to be unanimous. As an Obama supporter, this pleases me, but ideological unanimity has its downside.

Now, the time's probably come to get some coffee. Me, along with every single grad student in the city, approximately 0.01% of whom are U.S. citizens. Whee!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Not to be cynical, but...

I believe (contrary to what they say about us Jews) that Obama is a Christian. And I find it fairly convincing that, as a consequence of his faith, he "believes that marriage is a sacred union, a blessing from God, and one that is intended for a man and a woman exclusively." Yet Obama's open, politically-expressed opposition to same-sex marriage strikes me as a very calculated political move, and I find it hard to imagine, given the number of virtually-married gay couples someone with his background and education has probably met, that this is actually how he sees the world. I find it much more likely that his stance on the marriage issue is an attempt to show Joe the Six-Plunger that he's not one of those godless liberal elites. Somehow it's easier to oppose gay marriage than to explain that to be for marriage rights is the opposite of being pro-libertine. But, whatever. It's clear that those who support same-sex marriage are better off with Obama than with McCain, but it's equally apparent that there's no need for the Dems to try to get the gay vote--it's theirs, whatever discriminatory beliefs its leaders profess.

The above is, I realize, nothing new. But it struck me, during the Obama infomercial, that for all the diversity of the struggling families shown, they had several things (apart from financial woes) in common. None lived in apartments (urban or otherwise). All were heterosexual. All were working-to-middle class.

This last one is understandable insofar as the it-bag-toting private-school mothers I see at the coffee shop near wear I teach do not seem to need the government's help, but what about the poor? Also, when introducing the first family, the one with many kids and not enough snacks (I do not mean this to sound sarcastic, snacks are key), we hear the candidate speak of how the family moved to the country or suburbs or whatever for good schools. He emphasizes the word "good." Then some political, I don't remember which, attributes Obama's "Midwestern" ability to "get things done" to his Kansas roots. On the coasts, needless to say, no one ever follows through on anything.

It's impossible for a national politician to expect votes without speaking of city life, with its crowded schools and streets, its tiny apartments, and its visible same-sex couples, as anything but suspect. The Republicans are the main offenders when it comes to dividing this country into the real and the rest. But the Obamercial, moving as it was, served as a reminder that the American Dream is to get out of the city--those who make so much or are so set on city life as to live in the city center have, effectively, overdreamt.