Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Francophilic anti-gentrification

I'm confused. I want to know what the man (an Aron who goes by A-Ron, unless this was a typo) profiled in the linked, endlessly fascinating T Magazine blog post means when he explains that he's called his show at Paris 'concept' store Colette "Off, Off Bowery" as a result of the following inspiration: "The way things happen in NYC, the Bowery is so gentrified. That’s living in the city, that’s reality. But me and my friends are more like, off-Bowery."

What am I missing? He and his friends find the Bowery gentrified. Agreed, it is. So this inspires him not to flee to the exurbs or to the developing world, but to open an exhibition in an upscale Parisian shop that offers the likes of Marc Jacobs, Puma, Swarovski, and other brands unknown to gentrified New York. I'm not understanding how he got from point A to point B, but again, I can't look away.

This much I understand: in the tradition of those too posh for gentrified (blandified?) New York, this gentleman is off to Europe, where, as we all know, there's nary a McDonalds. "Paris is an amusing city. I just came over from Milan. That’s cool, but it’s special here. The people here have a good bloodline. They’re very pretty. And I love the cafes. You sit and talk about love and life, and you take some time."

OK, my confusion has just grown beyond what I'd thought possible. Fleeing gentrification, this man has gone from Milan to Paris, and I'm assuming he does not mean the banlieues. As for the "good bloodline" that makes French people so lovely, maybe it's them, but maybe it's just some really great shampoo. As for Paris having nice cafés, I mean, again, agreed, but one would think this fact has already been remarked upon enough that the bar for further such comments would be rather high.

In seriousness: I can't tell in cases like this whether the 'ugh' an interview elicits in me should be directed towards the interviewee, or towards the interviewer. I don't want to be unfair to A-Ron, who may have been misrepresented, nor to his interviewer, who may have portrayed the man with utmost accuracy. At any rate, it's more of a bemused 'ugh' than the ones much of the real news produces, so no harm done.

Be Kind to the Florida Jews

Contrary to popular belief, the Jewish vote is all but irrelevant to the election on the whole, but it's of endless fascination to Jews themselves. Following New York Magazine's lead, assuming that everyone wants to read about things Jewish even if these things are sort of, who cares, I present the following:

Both the Republican and Democrat sides of the population ('community' being a stretch) are convinced that the other side has been brainwashed into voting against its interests, into voting for some form or another of the next Hitler. It's either that Obama would invite Iranian leaders in to serve as guest presidents, or that McCain would die in office, leaving Palin as some kind of Protestant pope. Which is to say, fears on both sides are of the paranoid sort one would expect from a group of people with a legitimately heightened sense of awareness.

Things are tougher, without a doubt, for Jews on the right, for those who stand apart from the Jewish tradition of voting Dem no matter what. Jews on the left see their counterparts as dupes, racists, or a combination thereof. Jews who lean Republican because of Jewish-specific concerns are, paradoxically, understood by other Jews to be traitors to the people. Real Jews are universalists. We're a funny minority group in that respect. For some Jews, coreligionists who take Israel or 'the Jews' into account are an embarrassment, to be dismissed as insular and--worse--of another time. Plus, since Jews are well-represented in liberal geographic and professional enclaves, right-wing Jews face social pressure from the 'mainstream' as well.

And no one has it worse than Floridian Jewish voters, who are blamed for handing the election to Bush, and whose imagined ineptitude-slash-conservatism will be blamed--again, unfairly--for Obama's loss if McCain wins this election. 'The Great Schlep,' a project Sarah Silverman's promoting, is no less than a cutesy attempt at disenfranchising older Jewish voters in that state. In keeping with other efforts during this campaign to portray anyone Jewish not voting for Obama as a racist square, Silverman asks young, hip (in their own minds, at least) Jews to go down to Florida to demand that their grandparents vote for Obama. Since Silverman's a comedian, we're not supposed to take her seriously enough to criticize, but we're still supposed to get the message and think less of those Jews who have the audacity to vote as anything other than undifferentiated, enlightened, guilt-ridden white folk. That, and the facebook group for the cause boasts nearly 8,000 members, which is a whole lot of people when you consider that there are something like 9,000 Jews in the world.

While Sarah Silverman is today referred to as a "white comedian," when Bubbe was Silverman's age, there's a good chance she wasn't considered white. Even if you grew up feeling white as white can be, with all the privileges that entails, your grandparents (unless your family has the Bristol generation gap going on) did not. Their views, like those of groups we today think of as 'of color' or 'minority,' are informed by having experienced honest-to-goodness prejudice. To self-righteously reach out to older Jewish voters in Florida with a preemptive set of "talking points" to prepare yourself for when the voter in question starts up on the schvartzes is, well, the height of self-righteous idiocy. Silverman is basically asking her elders to own up to their (dubious, and relatively recent) privilege, all the while fully ignoring her own.

Attacks on American Jewish right-wingers--'The Great Schlep' and beyond--tend to talk past these voters' genuine concerns. A quick glance at the reading material of conservative (small-c) Jews will reveal plenty of arguments as well-thought-out as those coming from the left, and far less racism than one finds in Silverman's tongue-in-cheek plea. When Jews on the left tell their right-wing counterparts to stop being racists, they get nowhere, because racism is not what's turning Jews away from the left. Nor is traditionalism, since traditionally, Jews are on the left. So what is going on?

From the anti-Rothschild socialist polemicists of 1840s France to anti-Israel activists worldwide today, the worst anti-Semitism has often come from the left. As Emily Yoffe points out, while she found plenty of conservative critics of Ahmadinejad's recent UN speech, "I looked for a liberal commentator who might mention how chilling it is that a leader of a country seeking to become a nuclear power would so boldly speak of his desires for the elimination of a sovereign state and a people, but couldn’t find one." Bigotry on the right tends to be of the more open, 'we don't like your kind' variant, whereas on the left, it disguises itself as support for the underdog. It's easy to see which would be more difficult to challenge.

The above only explains why a Jew, as a Jew, might vote Republican. One must also remember that 'Nana and Bubbe' are not merely clichés but also human beings, American citizens, and perhaps concerned about issues that have nothing particular to do with being Jewish or elderly. If Gran is anti-abortion or pro-gun, let her vote on that basis.

So why, after making such a fine case for letting Jews vote Republican, after being turned off to no end by the Jewish left, will I be voting for Obama? Leaving aside the reasons that have nothing particular to do with my being Jewish, I'll focus on those that do:

For one, the Republican party is the party of Christianity, and the Democratic party that of secularism. There are certainly exceptions, but atheists and non-Christians will feel a bit ill at ease on the right, as will evangelical Christians on the left. To what extent a Palin presidency would be a Christian theocracy can't yet be known, but the threat is there in a way it is not with Obama. The danger for Jews-as-Jews is not that abortion rights or gay rights are under attack, but that they're under attack in the name of Christianity. So it's partly that Jews are often secular and liberal making Jews vote Dem, but it's also that even socially conservative Jews fear a state that uses Christianity for the basis of its laws.

Relatedly, many Jews who move from left to right (see: neoconservatism) are far more familiar with the nasty elements on the left than with those on the right. After spending time almost exclusively with other liberals, these contrarian Jews grow tired of self-righteous monologues about the Palestinians; they will not have the chance to hear anyone's feelings about 'damn ferners.' This gives a false sense of the appeal of the right. Republican rhetoric praising 'small-town America' as real America is off-putting to secular and observant Jews alike, given our disproportionate presence in cities and suburbs. The Upper West Side may not be representative, but that's no reason to consider it foreign. Anti-cosmopolitanism and anti-Semitism are close cousins indeed.

Finally, and this is key: the Democratic party is not 'the left.' It's to the left of the Republican party, but it does not speak for every keffiyeh-wrapped hipster radical. Whether from political pressure or the bottom of their hearts (and in politics, this is always an unknown), Obama and Biden both support Israel. The choice is not between McCain and Alphonse Toussenel. We can vote Democratic without affixing our stamp of approval on all manner of conspiracy theories. Or so I'm willing to assume.

Monday, September 29, 2008

From the dept. of Still Here

Various duties--grading exams, doing laundry, figuring out what sort of Francophilic Zionism might be my dissertation--have gotten in the way of bloggery. I suppose I've been busy, since I was also surprised to learn that the economy's in bad shape, and that some Alaskan woman who looks like Tina Fey (note: I've also been told I look like Tina Fey--I took it to mean, 'You're a pale-skinned brunette, and so you don't look like any other famous person.') is going to be queen in a few months time. OK, not the latter, but the upsetting thing about having so much to do is that I haven't been able to follow the Palinmania. For instance, did Bristol ever marry Cohen, or was it Levi, he of the Old Testament name and willingness to break with Christian morals? There are Major Questions of our Age I've not had time to address. The world surely suffers.

Still, I did make time to read (well, skim) an article that is asking me, pleading with me, to take a look. It's New York Magazine addressing 'the New York Jew,' and it name-drops the high school I went to, the ones my parents went to, Philip Roth, 'Seinfeld,' and just about every possible word, phrase, or expression that will get, oh, anyone who already checks nymag.com to click and see what follows. Look, this is about you, Jew! The magazine also has an interview with Woody Allen, who addresses assimilation, Yale, and other 'look, look' topics. Happy New Year, y'all.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Greek salad

As Rita explains, we've recently learned that Greek children are now obese, and it's America's fault. Not the fault of an ingrained human preference for the deep-fried over the steamed, but the good ol' U. S. of A. I agree 100% with everything Rita writes on the matter. All I'll add is that there's something I find (and, it seems have found) confusing in this and other recent 'eat your vegetables' manifestos. On the one hand, it's supposed to be scientific fact that unhealthy foods inspire the 'nom nom noms' of enthusiasm. On the other hand, we're meant to believe that locally-grown greens are preferable to our current diet (of over-processed, genetically-modified lard) in part because they're healthy, sustainable, and look so great poking out of green canvas totes, but also because they taste amazing. Once you get used to eating only kale, goes the argument, you will start thinking fries sound disgusting. A nice idea, but it's never happened. You can develop a taste for vegetables, but doing so does not knock all non-vegetable items out of your list of favorites. Clearly, fresh salad (dare I say arugula) tastes better than wilted iceberg. But the movement to return to the undressed salads of our ancestors needs to stop presenting itself as a food-appreciation movement. Food-appreciation is about appreciating whatever foods you happen to enjoy, not rejecting all but recently-plucked plants as non-food items....

Moving on from food to clothes (and leaving Major Questions of Our Age to the professionals), Kei, who flatters me so, not only seems to own the same makeup and accessories as I do, but also finds herself in the same Lucy-and-Ricky predicament as I do, oh so often. Even in this dual-income age, the men in our lives keep young women's (i.e. mine, and apparently Kei's) endless desire for silly purchases in check. But it's a good kind of in check, one over which modern women have, of course, full veto power. Kei, however, has made an excellent chart of her "wanty" items. I'm tempted to follow suit: Top of the list would be the $9 sunglasses, which, if I remember them right, are somewhere between hipster and glamorous. Well, a dachshund would come before the sunglasses, but I'm assuming "wanty" implies a degree of practicality, however slight. I too have some Minnetonka wanty items, all of which seem to be available at vast discounts at every store in NYC in every size but my own. The rest of the list (omitting books, which would lend this list an unwanted level of seriousness) would be basically everything in the women's section of Uniqlo, except the workout clothes. And that is all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The mechanics of the thing

(This post will not, I repeat, not, garner 24 comments.)

After college, I spent a couple days as an unofficial intern for a PR firm in Manhattan, the inevitable result of combing Craigslist and similar for all writing-related entry-level work. The job (or internship; they were iffy about which it was and when payment would occur, thus why I stayed for a mere two days) entailed inserting information about the firm's would-be socialite clients into articles in the NYC press, getting the clients into photos in socialite magazines, and other such world-saving tasks.

The job--meant to be if nothing else a way to make some money before grad school--sounded at once terrible and kind of fascinating. In those two pseudo-workdays, the great mystery of why certain people who've done nothing and look average but have neither budgets nor shame are profiled and photographed. It's not that wealth lets you go to a certain type of well-documented party, or that people automatically write about you if you're a small dress size and went to an Upper East Side private school (hey, if that were the case...), but that you have to literally pay a firm to get people to write about you. This came as a surprise; jaded commenters who frequent speakeasies, feel free to point out what a fool I was not to have realized this sooner.

There's a part of me that wishes Gawker found my bloggings worth blogging about. It's a part that's greatly overshadowed by the parts that want to fully understand French Jewish history; to wear really great shoes; and to eat copious amounts of cheese, but it's a part that exists, I think, in all of us. So it's some comfort that those who are in the spotlight have, in a pretty direct way, in at least some cases, paid to be there.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hey there Lower East Siders

Looks like someone's told all the exurban moms nationwide about one of your hot-spots.


For the second time, I tried, and failed, to sell some old clothes to Beacon's Closet. The clothes will now, according to the woman I spoke with, be given to charity. That, or secretly sold all the same by Beacon's Closet, as soon as I'm not in eyeshot... but I'll stop this conspiracy theory before it gets any further. I have no reason to believe the place is anything other than a legitimate consignment shop.

Still, rejection stings. I'd made a deal with myself that if so much as one item was accepted, I'd take the discount, not the cash, and get myself the $9 sunglasses that I've been eying. But $9 would be too much, so without the discount, no sunglasses. So I was disappointed to learn that not one of the things I'd brought--two pairs of shoes and of pants--was worthy of being sold to the hipsters of my borough. My god, can't these people wear my unstylish old clothes ironically?

I was so let down that I asked the woman who delivered the rejection why my castoffs were deemed uncool. This is like asking why you weren't hired for a job, or why someone is dumping you--you probably know the reason, but it seems like something you're supposed to ask, for future reference. And indeed, the problems with the items were precisely the same reasons as I'd had for getting rid of the stuff in the first place. The jeans, a pair of Diesels by way of Filene's, have tacky, albeit intentional, bleach streaks. Apparently that doesn't sell. (Clearly it didn't several years ago in Chicago, either, or else they'd have been in Diesel and not Filene's). The sneakers looked worn-out, and apparently "Puma" isn't sufficiently designer to cancel this out. The non-jean pants... let's just say I'm better off without them. It was a case of me unintentionally buying the low-rise style, then trying to get my money's worth by wearing them time and again with very long shirts. That gets old.

Our only difference of opinion, mine and the rag-vetoer, was over the boots. She thought they wouldn't sell because of a square-ish toe. I thought the narrow, four-plus-inch heels posed more of a problem, but I'm not really up on the toe-shape of this season. Either way, I'm better off without them.

The choice we don't have to make

Imagine if, in the upcoming election, socially-liberal, mostly-secular American Jews will be forced to choose between the following two candidates: One says he will keep church and state separate at home, that he will protect reproductive rights and fight for gay marriage, but also subscribes to the Zionism=racism ideology, demanding that Israel adopt a one-state solution, allowing all Palestinians a right of return. This candidate, to the applause of Walt, Mearsheimer, and their charming acolytes, delivers speeches to packed, keffiyeh-filled stadiums about how the 'Israel lobby'--and not the Bush administration-- ruined America over the last few years. The other candidate maybe mentions his religious faith (Christian) a bit too often in his speeches, is less enthusiastic about social liberalism, but is firmly committed to Israel's welfare.

In such an election, it would be understandable if otherwise arugula American Jews voted for the conservative. However, that's not the situation in the race between Obama and McCain. Which is why I find Caroline's article, "Your abortions or your lives!," a bit puzzling. Neither candidate is calling for Israel's destruction; the two just have different ideas of how to best protect the Jewish state. If some of the loonier Union Square protesters had gotten themselves nominated by the Democratic party, I'd be concerned. But that's not quite the case.

But onto the real problems here:

1) Abortion is not a lifestyle issue. It is not 'should we tax cheesburgers' or 'how important is music education.' It is an issue of life-and-death importance, since the goal of the pro-choice movement is not more abortions, but an end to what used to be a huge number of women dying from having abortions illegally. In this sense pro-choicers are indisputably pro-life.

Here, there will of course be disagreement. Some think abortion is murder, others think making it illegal amounts to murder. Which brings us to the second point, which should be easier to agree on.

2) Keeping America from turning into a Christian theocracy is not a lifestyle issue. It's not about wanting this or that particular liberty (again, some Jews don't want abortion to be legal, frown on contraception and gay marriage, that is, are socially conservative), but rather about wanting America to remain as neutral to any one faith as possible. Even observant Jews should want a religion-neutral society, rather than an officially Christian one, even if some tenets of Christianity happen to match up with some of Judaism.

And finally, the obvious:

3) American Jews for the most part live in America. This means that we are more upset when a neighbor dies from an unsafe abortion than when a woman the same age dies in a suicide bombing in Israel. American Jews who 'care about Israel' generally, I'd imagine, care how the U.S. government treats the issue because it is a reflection on how the state regards its own Jewish citizens. Ultimately the question is whether all domestic concerns on the part of American Jews can be interpreted as fluff. Indeed, we "care about keeping Christianity and God out of the public sphere." But who, if not American citizens, should have a say about how things go down in America? It's clear from a (certain, rather extreme) Zionist perspective that if things get too Christian in America, that's in fact good for Israel, because it means more Americans might feel uncomfortable and make aliyah. But from a moderate Zionist perspective, a secular America ought to be seen as a good thing.

Basically, the point of this now-too-long post is that presenting a zero-sum choice between fancy-schmancy reproductive rights at home and averting genocide abroad would be valid if such a zero-sum situation were before us. It's not. We can continue to defend birth control and legal abortion as things that make the West the West, as basic rights, as whatever we see fit, without being "ashamed."

Monday, September 22, 2008

The glamorous life of the grad student

Kei asked me to describe what's in my bag: suffice it to say my bag is also silver and shiny, and also contains a mix of makeup--at the moment, Make Up For Ever lipstick (#409, for the curious/very bored) and Serious Readings (my readings for class, which are too many to count, and an excellent book my prof recommended on name-changes in France). Also somewhere in there are my students' just-handed-in essays; an intermediate French textbook; a wallet with however much cash I had in the morning, minus what a falafel and iced coffee cost, which hopefully adds up to enough for the same tomorrow; a cellphone and iPod (which is to say, my phone is of the ancient variety that does not also function as an iPod); a notebook from my favorite store in the world; a pencil case (also shiny, silver-colored) from the same; a planner from the same; and receipts for more sub-$5 purchases than I care to think about. Oh, and, I hope, my keys.

I suppose at this point I realize that she and I have somewhat similar personal style, but I was still surprised to notice that Kei also relied for ages on "Hard Candy's Galaxy eyeliner." The stuff is amazing, although I'll have to confess that I, like Kei, have gone from using only that plus mascara to purchasing such assorted items as blush and foundation (which greatly improve how I look, but which I often forget I own, probably because I don't know how either is meant to be applied) to powder (which I've worn just once or twice--I remember it making me sneeze) to concealer (which is extremely important for those of us who are very pale and don't like being asked if we got enough sleep). Silver, turquoise, and liquid eyeliner all seemed like good ideas at the time. The official best beauty product ever is of course one of those things that neither Duane Reade nor Sephora nor any other convenient (i.e. non-Belgian) store seems to offer, namely this Biguine eyeliner that's between a pen and a pencil, that's twisted rather than sharpened, and that is maybe a bit too long-lasting. Still, if anyone is reading this and still awake, and was wondering what eyeliner to get, and happens to live in Europe, the stuff's highly recommended.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Think of the frat boys

This weekend, anyone teaching anything at any university in the U.S. is probably reading this. There's a story in the NYT Magazine about how weak course evaluations can ruin your life, and it's frightening.

Well, to a point. It seems clear enough where some of the profs profiled went wrong. For one, bringing politics up in class is sometimes inevitable; bringing up your own politics is completely avoidable. When the subject comes up, you can always offer some on the one hand, on the other hand, so that it's clear that your own leanings (even if students could Google or guess what they'd be) are not obvious.

But the real problem seemed to be the professors' distaste for a certain type of student, the ones who seemed too white, male, privileged, or sports-oriented to care about the class. I honestly can't imagine entering a classroom and assessing which of the students I would or would not be friends with, or consider 'my kind of person,' on the outside. In a classroom setting, this should be irrelevant. There's no conceivable reason to give preference to those who appear to be members of whatever clan you were in in high school (prep, goth, geek, etc.), or to penalize those your high school self would not have gotten along with. It could be that the white-hat-wearing white boys disliked their prof because the prof treated them as members of a rival tribe, forgetting that the instructor is outside the world of the cliques. Or maybe the individual guys in question were genuinely unpleasant, there's no way to know.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"The place is cheap:" Restaurant review, Freemans

I've mentioned this before, but the thing about being a grad student, or frugal, or a frugal grad student, is that your swanky night on the town is someone else's slumming it. It's a bit of a let-down, but there it is.

That said, Freemans is fantastic. Tucked away at the end of an alley, and decorated with more taxidermy than the Palins would know what to do with, the place is not for vegetarians, or for those who want to forget where meat comes from before tucking in. Jo had steak and I had lamb stew with a potato dumpling; the two women sitting next to us had ordered the same. "La meme chose," they noted; like everyone else in New York, these women spoke French. It helps make my field of study seem vaguely practical... Anyway, we are all four of us very wise, because the meat was clearly the way to go--the woman next to me on the other side ordered the fish-corn-lobster main course, and I hope it tasted better than it looked.

For dessert, the Frenchwomen, Jo, and I all opted for the warm brownie with ice cream, which was, I mean, take a guess. How could that not be amazing? I've never understood the trend of restaurant critics faulting a place for serving warm chocolate cake. 'So cliché,' they say. I say, it's food, not fashion, and heating chocolate so that it's just so will never stop being a good idea. Perhaps not as good an idea as making meat into stew and serving it with a dumpling/spaetzle dish of some kind, but a good one all the same.

Fine, so perhaps now I'm thinking, 'back to pasta,' financially, but the undeniable fact is, grad students and others who make some but not much money can eat in restaurants. Not every day, but often enough. How? It's quite simple: by not ordering drinks. This is easy enough if one happens to be in a French department, because you can always have wine at one event or another before dinner, but another option is to enjoy, as we did, and as those sitting around us did, a bit of chateau de la pompe. Considering a drink is in the $12 range at restaurants where dishes are not much more, a grad-student couple who orders drinks is basically taking an invisible third and fourth person out for a meal. Easily avoided. That way, you too can dine well, and even spot, as we did, a minor celebrity.

Achievement vs. Potential

I have Ladyblogged once more; as usual, after posting anywhere, it occurs to me what I really meant to say, so here goes: the problem with an elitism that favors only the top minuscule percent is not only that there's no clear-cut way to measure who is 'best,' from birth to the end of one's career, across all fields. It's also that overemphasis on an uncategorized 'best' amounts to an emphasis on potential over achievement. In a sense, all achievements one has while still a student (the SAT, Harvard alumni status) are about potential, whereas all postgraduate accomplishments fall under the category of achievement. It seems silly to me to consider standardized tests about 'potential' and grades about 'achievement,' since both are ultimately about assessing what one will accomplish in a situation that is neither a test, nor a classroom.

Which, like everything else under the sun, brings us back to La Palin. The problem is not that she failed to exhibit potential at various points along the way, say, by earning a Rhodes Scholarship or what have you, but that she failed to achieve anything VP-worthy in her post-education life. Doubtless those who show the most potential tend to do the best later on, but clearly the most successful are not, in all cases, the same as the valedictorians. But there should be options open to prove one's self along the way. If Palin had, no one would care about her time spent at who knows how many colleges for however many years. But she is not the exception to the rule, so indeed, even those of us who could not in a million years, on the basis of our high school records, have made it to Harvard, kind of wish she had. Or at least that she'd performed accordingly.

That was a whole load of nonsense. What will follow, assuming I have time, is an explanation of why, grace a notre amie Palin, Jews are going to be voting for Obama with so much enthusiasm, I can't even begin to explain.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Contrary to popular opinion, there is fast food in Europe

Did you know that French women don't get fat? The French Paradox has just been discovered, simultaneously and independently, by a good amount of the American newspaper-reading public. Goodness! Responding to an article about how it's healthier to eat for pleasure than to drown your sorrows in five boxes of cardboard-like fat-free cookies, commenters recount their experiences in la France, where everyone is a size zero (or its damn ferner equivalent), despite eating nothing but lard rolled in powdered sugar and fried in gravy. So now, a sampling--dare I say some amuse-bouches--of the comments:

One commenter had the original idea to eat as the French do while in France, so as to fit into their teeny-tiny clothing:

"I watched and emulated how my French friends ate -- no snacks at all, no sodas or sweet drinks, no pre-meal munchies, small portions (less than half of what Americans want to see on their plates), and tiny dessert portions which were often fresh fruit. I lost 22 pounds, half of which I have gained back."

And another:

"As an American now living in France, it is clear to me that one can eat well without becoming obese. The lessons I've learned here do not translate well to America, however, because Americans don't have the cultural underpinnings required to support relaxed mealtimes, community dining and quality ingredients."

And another:

"I just returned from Paris, where I indulged in wonderful cheeses, pastry, baguette, ham, chocolate, pastry and wine for a week. Not only did I not gain a pound, I may have actually lost some weight, as evidenced by the fact that I don't have as much of a 'muffin top' spilling out over the top of my skinny jeans now.[....] Aside from that, I should note that I never saw one thing in Paris containing high fructose corn syrup or trans fats - not one soda, not one baked good. I think it's absolutely criminal that those two things have entered our food supply here."

And another.

Italy and the Netherlands are apparently also filled with those who lose weight on the pastry diet, but it seems that everywhere other than America wins this contest: "In Budapest I ate foie gras almost every day - it is so divine there -- and again lost weight."

Comme toujours
, no one considers the possibility that Europe is filled with fast food, diet products, ads for diet products, dieting cookbooks, and (horrors!) some actual, honest-to-goodness overweight people. No one considers that perhaps European (relative!) slenderness has something to do with cigarettes, or with national cuisines that are, relative to the variety one finds in many parts of America, somewhat on the bland side (no offense to spaetzls). Also missing is much discussion of the fact that any self-conscious change in one's diet can be taken too far; apparently Twix-avoidance is, in its extreme form, an eating disorder.

If the whole FWDGF trend rubs me the wrong way, perhaps it's because I'm the only person in the history of the world to have actually gained weight when leaving Chicago for Paris. It's hard to imagine why, but that's what happened. It wasn't much, but enough to convince me that perhaps a deep-dish pizza paradox book was in order. So it's that, but it's also that there has to be a way to convince Americans to eat well that does not involve incessantly insulting all that is American.


Rationalizations: My flats from last spring are kaput. I need practical-but-grown-up-but-chic shoes to teach in. These were $50 down from $100. I could not not get them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Restaurant review: Pita Joe

When in Rome, you order schnitzel. OK, not Rome, but a new fast-food place known for its schnitzel. Why, as I broke my years-long rule of not eating anything that comes from 14th Street (Whole Foods excepted) did I order the falafel? Could it be because I think schnitzel looks sort of nauseating, even under the best of circumstances? In any case, even with the student discount, this was a falafel sandwich for $6.50, which is to say, my expectations were high. Did it deliver? Kenvelo. It was far better than the unfortunately far more convenient and aesthetically indistinguishable Maoz, but not as good as the out-of-the-way but still walkable Taim. Although I can't quite judge, given that I remember thinking, as I entered the place, that I was really not at all up for a hummus-based meal of any kind.

Is it navel-gazing if others gazed first?

I'm being discussed, which is bizarre enough in itself that I'll respond.

First, indeed, those who comment here tend to disagree with me, which certainly does have something to do with my being at once pro-Israel (and thus, to many online and off, a default Republican) and socially liberal (and thus anti-Palin, and thus to many a default Democrat). This combination of views was--and is!--far from unusual among those of my demographic (i.e. New York Jews), but is seen as inconsistent in contemporary politics. I seem like I might be drawn to either side, thus the anti-Zionist comments to any post on Israel, and the pro-Republican comments to posts on the upcoming elections. So it is.

As for those who comment and feel they've been treated unfairly, what can I say? Responding to these disagreements (some of which are substantive, others of which could be addressed if the commenter simply read the post before responding, still others of which seem to demand that I cite supporting evidence for what are only meant to be off-the-cuff remarks) can get tiring. My job (which is not this blog) is also largely about constructing arguments and having them critiqued. If my responses here at times seem abrupt, it might be because I found a comment troll-ish, but it might also be because I'm overwhelmed by the even more demanding world of 19th century French Jews, not to mention the world in which I indeed do my best to respond to criticism with research and nuance. But another thing to keep in mind is that to be female and young and writing about things other than shoes and clothes and boys is to attract a certain... tone. This is true online and off. Before the phrase 'gender card' appears, let's just say I can't imagine anyone wishing to 'help' Matthew Yglesias or Andrew Sullivan with his blogging. Those who are male and/or older will expect that someone younger and female will be not so confident in her views; responding with confidence means one is defensive, but the other option is basically losing each battle. And again, the optimal third option--responding with a researched, sufficiently-nuanced answer--is rarely doable.

I can't remember when I've pointed this out most clearly, but I know I've mentioned it before, but alas, it seems I need to spell it out: I know that being right-wing for Park Slope or for academia is not necessarily to be right-wing under other circumstances. And I know, as well as anyone else who follows American politics, that Giuliani and Bloomberg are considered not 'real' conservatives by many elsewhere in this country. For several reasons, I do have a bit more experience with the beyond-New-York America (and I don't mean New Jersey) than your typical native New Yorker, but I've never claimed to be anyone other than who I am. I've left for long enough to know how different New York really is. I point this out not to be defensive, but to defend myself from what I believe is an unfair accusation, namely that I think my experience of American politics is representative. How could I think such a thing? I live in Park Slope, where organic arugula sprouts from the crevices between the stones of each brownstone.

What I object to is this wave of discussing New York and academia (my two homes at the moment) as not merely unrepresentative of the rest of the country, but as foreign entities that should have no voice in American politics. That's what gets to me, not so much in blog-comments as in the national discourse on the whole, at least as much of it as I have access to in my unrepresentative grad-student hovel.

There were no houses available in Tuscany

David Brooks on why the "liberal elite" despises Sarah Palin:

"People who’ve never been in a Wal-Mart* think she is parochial because she has never summered in Tuscany."

My last post, which I'm going to repost in part, because I think it's relevant, and because, this being my blog, I can do this if I feel like it:

"I don't believe anyone's asking that Sarah Palin identify all the lettuces available at the Union Square Greenmarket, or to reflect on how accurately "Gossip Girl" depicts the lives of Manhattan private-school juniors. What's off-putting is the deification of ignorance, ignorance of material that would be central to her job if elected. It's not so much that she hasn't met foreign heads of state as that she lacks the sort of passionate knowledge of who those leaders are that you'll find among high school debaters across the country."

While you can always dig up some especially vulgar Democrat who thinks the problem with Palin is that she's never played tennis at the club in Connecticut with Muffy and the gang, or that she was never editor of the Harvard Crimson, or a sound byte from a gender-studies professor who should maybe spend a bit of time amongst people who are not in gender-studies before formulating sound bytes for the nationwide press... the fact is that if you're assessing overall what liberals mind (and I feel I'm being addressed, even though I don't tend to consider myself a liberal), it's the same thing as what Brooks and the sensible conservatives he mentions object to: Sarah Palin is unqualified to be president. She was picked because what she symbolizes and how she looks would 'excite the base,' but the stakes in this election are too high to intentionally elect a figurehead or an unknown.

An additional problem for some, on the left and right, is the fear that populism can, as it tends to do, switch from a good-faith effort to make life better for the bulk of Americans into an all-out denunciation of anyone suspected of not putting America first, from "elites" (Jews, gays, anyone who's been to college) to "community organizers" (blacks) to "cosmopolitans" (gays), and so on. Some are already hearing this sort of coded language. Others think those who hear something other than the candidate's exact words are paranoid. So be it, but again, consider the initial question, that of qualification, knowledge, or if you'd prefer, experience.

*I will have a post later, though maybe not later today, about what it means to have "never been in a Walmart," and why that's a flawed way to judge elitism. But more on that another time.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Oral exams

My next big hurdle in grad school will be--you guessed it--orals. This won't be happening for nearly another year, but it's already looming large. So in true blogger-narcissist form, I was reminded of my own plight when I saw Sarah Palin struggle to come up with words to convey that the term "Bush Doctrine" rang a bell. I could imagine being nervous enough that someone would throw out, "Dreyfus Affair," and I'd say, "I've got nothing."

William Kristol (Harvard undergrad and grad alum, established journalist, and son of one of the fathers of neoconservatism) has a lot of nerve railing on about "establishments" and how thrilled he is to see them shaken up. If he's so enamored of all that is "refreshing," perhaps he'd like to offer his slot at the New York Times to one of the more promising staff members of a high school newspaper? Why should we ask less of our (vice) presidents than of our columnists?

But anyway, Kristol objected to "ABC’s Charlie Gibson, one of the most civil of the media bigwigs, unable to help himself from condescending to Palin as if he were a senior professor forced to waste time administering a Ph.D. exam to a particularly unpromising graduate student." While I of course agree with Kristol that the interview had the feel of an oral exam, the thought of what I'll soon be expected to know, versus how much Palin had to summon in order to satisfy her fans, was equally striking. And the fate of the world does not depend on how well I can explain the Damascus Affair, the 1905 French secularism law, or the works of Balzac. It does, however, rest on Palin's knowledge of the difference between the part of her body on which she sits and her elbow.

I was struck, when reading Kristol's pointless jibes at "the academic-feminist establishment," "feminist comp lit professors," and "[t]he politically correct wing of the academic establishment," by the fact that these apparent archenemies all had to pass rigorous exams, and that it can be jarring, if you're expected to know tons (about an academic topic, but also about whatever it is you do for a living, white collar or blue), to see the public conflating a demand that a job occupant have knowledge with 'elitism.' Knowledge--book-learnt or otherwise--is now presented as in and of itself a failing. (Even if Palin was unfairly depicted as ignorant, it remains frightening how many viewers of the video as it aired considered her responses satisfactory.)

I don't believe anyone's asking that Sarah Palin identify all the lettuces available at the Union Square Greenmarket, or to reflect on how accurately "Gossip Girl" depicts the lives of Manhattan private-school juniors. What's off-putting is the deification of ignorance, ignorance of material that would be central to her job if elected. It's not so much that she hasn't met foreign heads of state as that she lacks the sort of passionate knowledge of who those leaders are that you'll find among high school debaters across the country.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

If it were only that simple

Do I care what le BHL has to say about the SP? Perhaps, but the above image from New York Magazine is amazing on so many levels, I wouldn't know where to begin.

The high-lower

I have a problem, and that problem is Uniqlo.

The shop, a chain from Japan, is basically affordable Agnes B. Which is to say, I like the clothes so much that going into the store is starting to seem like not such an affordable option. Two shirts and two pairs of pants were supposed to be my new clothes for the season, and by 'season' I of course mean until finishing grad school. But no! I remembered seeing a skirt at Uniqlo not entirely like this Guess one, a garment the liberal elite media deemed cheap but that I'd be inclined not to purchase on account of it being so expensive. (According to the NYT "Moment" fashion blog, the $79 pencil skirt in question is "the perfect foundation for an 'investment' piece — like a chunky knit or a sweatshirt a la Balenciaga." To be clear, the point the paper of record is making is that the skirt is basically a rag, but you can dress it up. Items like that make us all feel salt-of-the-earth...)

So anyway, when trying on pants a couple weeks ago, I also tried on a skirt that differed from the Guess one in that it a) lacked a belt (and I'm not a fan of the belt) and b) was $40 less. I didn't buy it, which a) was the sensible move, and b) I came to regret instantly. On a subsequent trip to the shop (which is, I should note, practically on NYU's campus), I learned that they were sold out of the pencil skirt, but might be getting more. How could I live with the uncertainty?

So today, at long last, I returned, and saw a woman who worked in the store looking in vain for where some... pencil skirts! belonged. Clearly these items were in fact sold out, but either someone had returned a couple of them or they'd been misplaced or who knows, but I had a choice between the one I initially wanted, one size too big, and the same one but in dark gray in my size. Figuring that a) clothing should fit, and b) I already have a black skirt not entirely un-pencil-ish, I am now $39 poorer but at least, at least, $79 more elegant.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Not talking about S**** P****

It's been a busy few days, which might explain how I made the brilliant move of leaving one washer-full of clothes (out of the nearly 1,000 washers I was taking up) at the laundromat. Overnight. There may have once been a time when absentmindedness made one a more authentic and thus superior academic, but all it did was distract me from my studies--had I lost all of my t-shirts? How was I going to fix this on a grad-student budget? Seems I panicked for no reason--the clothing was all still there, if damp, this morning. It was even a bit less damp, so I ended up saving maybe fifty cents on the drying cycle. But still, ugh! Guess I won't be a mother of five with a full-time job running the country any time soon...

In other news, I'm mystified--mystified!--by this article. "Europeans are slower to spend," they say? Enter any store in lower Manhattan and you will not hear American English. One Euro is worth ten million $US (says this student of the humanities). Then again, the article points out that "consumers in much of Europe are buying less than they did a year earlier." This is not surprising. I'm sure while at home, Europeans aren't shopping because they have already bought every last item for sale in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and for all I know Wasilla, AK.

In the same news, it appears I am, like everyone else, disproportionately preoccupied with a woman whose initials are S.P. In order to explain my "visceral revulsion," I should point out that the visceral is tough to explain, and impossible to explain in a rational way, so as to convince the unconvinced. (I should also point out that the comments section here is indeed getting troll-ish, but this is in part my own fault for having more visceral posts than I normally would, which is the fault of my response to none other than... guess who!) I guess the best way I can explain the revulsion to the Republican Party at this point in time is that I am revolted (but for somewhat logical reasons) by the extreme-left and the extreme-right. I am typically more put off by the extreme-left. But, in this election, only one extreme appears to have a shot at winning, and here's a hint, it's not the left. I'm put off by those on the left who argue that it's racist for Israel, whatever its borders, to be a Jewish state. (That's now much of a nutty Zionist I am, I believe there should be a two-state solution, with one of the states being a Jewish one. Albeit with how the state defines "Jewish" tweaked, since the status quo is, to put it mildly, a bit narrow. Gosh, I'm such an extremist!) But the Democratic Party is not the mouthpiece for the more radical of the Union Square perma-protesters. The sense I've gotten from the RNC and its aftermath is that the less appetizing aspects of the right now have a very good shot at winning once and for all.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I'd imagine someone's probably already thought of this, but here goes: the way Israelis feel about American Jews worrying about (and intervening in) their fight against terrorism has a lot in common with the way New Yorkers (of all faiths) feel about 'real American' concern with terrorism following the 9/11 attacks. On the one hand, when terrorists strike Israel, they mean to attack all Jews, and when terrorists struck New York, they were aiming at America. So American Jews and heartlandian Americans, respectively, were/are not exactly fighting someone else's battle. They are, in a sense, under attack. However, when you're the person whose home happens to be the same locale as the one terrorists (and others!) assume to be the symbol of Judaism or America, respectively, when you are quite literally in the line of fire (or in New York's case, potential fire; cops are now swabbing our backpacks for bomb-powder or something in the subways, always a good sign) you are bound to feel a bit ambivalent towards those who think you don't know how to defend yourselves, that you're not taking threats seriously enough, that you're too worried about nonsense like peace and social justice to notice what's going on around you. It can be hard to hear people who think where you live sounds dreadful, good only for occasional visits, thinking they're your home's true ideological defenders.

(Before the onslaught of 'you're wrong' begins, I'm not saying how anyone should feel, nor have I consulted surveys of the attitudes of the populations mentioned above. Nor do I claim the situations are identical--NYC does not, as of yet, have compulsory military service. It's just my impression, take it for what it's worth.)


I'm scared of Sarah Palin. That is all.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


As I've already mentioned, he who praises the honest country folk insults Jews, whether he means to or not, thanks to a long tradition of praising the one group being used as code for insulting the other. This tradition can be traced to Jews' historical non-ownership of land in Christendom--those who can't work the land, however wealthy, lack the privilege of being salt-of-the-earth, 'just a small-town girl,' or however you want to phrase it. Does this make all paeans to village life virtual Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Not at all. But what's worth considering is that there are two major cultural (that is, not directly wealth-based) hierarchies in the States. One is the Bourdieusian (to use a very blue-state term) hierarchy, atop which sit the arugula-eating Vassar grads. The other is the hierarchy of authenticity, of family values (because obviously no one in a city has any values), of loving the good ol' U S of A (because again, no one from an urban area ever, say, enlists in the military), and of being American and nothing but. The more one is a 'coastal elite,' the less one is an elite of the other kind. Both of these categories are elite in their own ways, and indeed, New Yorkers feel insulted when other Americans imply that we don't count, and yes, especially around this time of year.

Fine. So my question is, how do we reconcile the idea of Jew-as-cosmopolitan with the oh-so-common accusation of Jew-as-parochial?

Jewish parochialism has not a thing to do with Jewish life in rural America, or rural anywhere, for that matter. To point out, as some have, that there are Jews living in small-town U.S.A. is like reminding us of the existence of black Jews, Chinese Jews, and so on. They exist, and their stories are worth telling, but they have a fairly small impact on what's recognized--by Jews or gentiles--as Jewish culture. No, parochial Judaism is a phenomenon specific to city life, or at any rate to places with enough Jews to make being parochial a possibility. And, though I think 'parochial' is an insult best avoided, you will find among Jews, especially in large cities, something remarkably like small-town values. How is condemning intermarriage any less 'family values' than condemning condom usage? How is clinging to pastrami and one religion different from clinging to guns and a different one? (Pastrami will kill us all, but more slowly.) The only reason 'parochial' is an insult when it's about a Jew but a compliment when directed at Sarah Palin (I mean, at the name I dare not speak) is that for some reason, there are those (ahem, W-M) who think particularist Jewish interests are anti-American, but particularist Alaskan (?) interests are purest red-white-and-blue.

It's because of this phenomenon, parochial Judaism that we should see a difference between a New Yorker (of any faith, Jewish included) who fled small-town life in order to find more interesting/better-paid work or tolerance of his lifestyle, and someone who lives in his community of origin and socializes primarily with those of similar background and values, but whose 'hometown' happens to be the Upper West Side. As with all other groups, there are Jews who feel uncomfortable with small-town values (that is, with many aspects of Jewish communal life) and look elsewhere; the difference is that they (alas, we) can explore the world, as it were, without leaving home. But that doesn't change the existence of Jewish communities with their own version of small-town values. Not every Jew is Portnoy.

So, back to what was originally supposed to be the point: in politics, anti-cosmopolitanism is crass but fair game, so long as it targets only cosmopolitans-by-choice. It's acceptable for those who stayed in a small town to resent (out of pride or jealousy) those who left, and the values that caused them to leave. And, often enough, those who left return the favor. Anti-cosmopolitan that consists of blanket condemnation of city-dwellers, that condemns those who have never been to a Walmart not because they're snobs but because the store does not exist where they live and they don't have cars, is the anti-cosmopolitanism that segues into potentially offensive territory.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Unacceptable subway behaviors

Coastal elites have been in the news so much lately that it's easy to forget that we are not all lounging about in organic splendor, gazing at the sea from our coastal ivory (as versus Ivory Coast) towers. Part of living in fancy-schmancy New York is taking the subway, which never ceases to be a horrible experience, even if it's one you grew up with. The following behaviors should be banned, if they aren't already:

1) Reading something dull: The woman next to me this morning, on a train I thought too crowded for reading, managed to have her reading materials out at the ready. Since she was, miracle of miracles, shorter than me, what she'd picked was at over-the-shoulder reading level for me. Her choice? The Chronicle of Philanthropy. OMG why? There are subway ads more riveting than the article she had open, one perhaps relevant to her work, which might well be interesting work otherwise, but wow. I much prefer the pseudopornographic 'urban fiction' when in the must-read-what-the-person-next-to-me-brought situation.

2) Admiring one's razor blade: This happened a while ago. The man in question took a break from picking his nose and doing pull-ups to check out the possible weapon he'd brought on board. Yay 3 train! Luckily, I don't need that line for my usual commute.

3) Having one's domestic disputes at the portion of the sidewalk just atop of the stairs to the station entrance: Yes it does look like things aren't going to work out with you and your boy. I'm sure things will be better for both of you once 11th grade starts, but that doesn't make getting through the summer any less painful. But if both if you could just move maybe three feet in either direction, we'd all be much happier.

Last Palin post, unless something even sillier happens

It's starting to look like the Republicans have a shot at winning... by acting like Democrats. And not in the Douthat-Salam helping-families way, but in the politically-correct, who-am-I-to-judge one. As conservative writer Heather MacDonald had pointed out, the Palin pick was a diversity pick. But the Republican embrace of the worst of Democratic pandering extends beyond the obvious: since when are the Republicans the party of relative values, the one that sees a family of children with silly names, that sees teen fathers who take the time to get tattoos of the names of the girls they knock up but do not exactly rush to the altar, and that says, hey, who's to judge? To judge would not have to mean judging the individuals or to claim that one somehow holds the high ground. Everyone makes mistakes and all that. But no one's even permitted to judge the behavior, to say, it's not a bad idea to give your children real names, or to do everything you can to prevent your teen children from having babies. As MacDonald points out, Stanley Palin wouldn't have had a shot. Well, (and I know I'm not the first to suggest this, but...) if the Palin brood were black and urban rather than white and rural, it's hard to imagine the same levels of enthusiasm. Commentators would see Bristol as unmarried, not affianced. (I know they're busy and all, but there's always Vegas.) But once 'cleaned up' and in the boy's case de-mulletted, Levi and Bristol look convincingly like white kids from wealthy suburbs, so we're supposed to respect their decisions. I read all over the place about what a 'good family' the Palins are. It's one thing to say, we all have our problems, but since when does anything about this set merit 'good'?

For years, Republicans have not found it too elitist or too snobby to demand better behavior from inner-city blacks. The right direction for conservatism to take, to retain its core values while eschewing the racism of the movement's past, would have been to expect the best from working-class, rural whites as well, to hold everyone to a higher standard. But we're now in the politics of the lowest-common-denominator. The rural lower classes are free to judge the 'elites' (a group including not only the wealthy, but also anyone who's done to college, who lives in a city, and so on, so as to include all but the lowest of the low), but the urban and/or educated are forced--this time by the right--to withhold judgment. But of course, the 'coastal elites' are used to tolerating all lifestyles. What we're left with is a political scene in which the only intolerance we permit is of the educated and the sexually responsible.

"Excessive noise"

Just got back from seeing RUFUS WAINWRIGHT. For free, no less, thanks to Nick brilliantly getting us free tickets to the new Elvis Costello show. My pasta is still cooking, which gives me time to quote from what will surely become a classic "Personal Health" column. Here's Jane Brody, on the subject of alcohol abuse on American college campuses:

"Although Greek houses, which have the highest rates of binge drinking, are infamous for a free-flowing alcohol culture, studies have found that student athletes and sports fans are also among the heaviest drinkers, often gathering to drink to oblivion after an athletic event."

Did studies also reveal the black trenchcoat-clove cigarette connection? How about the Dave Matthews Band-beaded hemp necklace-weed trifecta? What's the word on graduate students and coffee? Looks like I was on the right track:

"Studies have shown that there is less drinking by students concerned about their grades, but also by those involved in volunteer work and other activities on and off campus."

Studies have shown that the phrase "studies have shown" is among the most abused in the English language.

But here's where things go awry. I know Brody means well, and I obviously agree with her that college students shouldn't drink themselves to death, but my gosh, the "What Parents Can Do" section...

"When visiting schools, parents should check out the quality of life in the dorms. If they detect problems suggestive of heavy drinking, like excessive noise or vomit in the bathrooms, 'they should demand that these issues be addressed,' [some expert] said." Ohhhh no. The very thought of someone's parents listening for "excessive noise" in a communal bathroom... I hope they don't try this at UChicago, where there is indeed underage drinking, but more significantly where the dining halls and campus coffee shops are often (or were, back in the day) shut down by the health department. Just imagine being in a stall and hearing someone's mother yelling to the kid's father out in the hall, "That's it, he's going to Northwestern!"

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Meet the blogger

I think this picture is the most coastal-elite one ever taken, of me if not of anyone. The intention was to look silly; I only noticed the political connotations upon uploading it.

Note the following:

-Non-blond, non-feathered hair.
-Black clothes.
-What looks like a black turtleneck (it's a dress, but knowing that takes away from its Sartre-esque quality).
-Small, ceramic coffee cup, rather than 40-ounce Coke.
-No tattoo of my significant other's name on any of my fingers! Clearly I have not made a proper commitment.
-In the background, you'll see a car and a shop; the café is inferred. I'm in what appears to be a densely-populated area.
-More on the background: indeed, as the damn-ferner-language sign indicates, the picture was taken in Europe.

Insult to injury

All of my babbling about how urbanites in general and Jews in particular are responding to the Republican convention in general and Palin in particular has, I now realize, missed the point. And the point is simple enough: when you're insulted, you respond by losing whatever kind feelings you may have once had towards the person or entity that has insulted you. And a whole lot of (or, I should say if I want to be heard, lotta) people were just insulted. Urbanites, Jews, anyone living on either coast, anyone whose career or proclivities mark them as an intellectual, anyone who'd take a salad over a fried squirrel, anyone who thinks 17 is too young to get married and have a kid, everyone who works at a newspaper or is otherwise involved with 'the media'--that is, an 'elite' that encompasses a huge but unmeasurable segment of the American population--all feel attacked by many of the speeches at the RNC. (See here--via--for a different but overlapping list.)

While the Republican speakers suggest that the groups they malign are so hoity-toity as to be immune to the insults of good ol' Americans like themselves, this is not the case. We, the insulted, heard you loud and clear. In a weird way, this massively broad definition of 'elitist,' intended to make those coastal snobs feel guilty for ignoring the Heartland, may end up flattering the many Americans on the margins of anything anyone would rightly call 'elite;' once flattered, will these Americans go for Obama or McCain? Whether the Republicans managed to insult their way to loss or to victory remains to be seen.

For me personally, what this means is I now find myself, if only for this election, just as 'left' as the rest of academia. How can I continue to advocate a rapprochement between the right-wing intelligentsia and the left-leaning academy, when we're supposed to offer some kind of 'character' award to every American untarnished by book-smarts? How will academia become a more friendly place for conservatives if we define 'conservative' as only respecting those who work with their hands (and nose, apparently)?

In college, it would drive me nuts when classmates or profs assumed I hated Bush, was against the war in Iraq, and otherwise situated myself fully on the left. It's possible to be educated and conservative! Or, it was. When, during the upcoming semester, teachers across the country make, as they surely will, snide remarks about the G.O.P., who can blame them? They've been insulted for being who they are.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Keeping busy

I've expanded on some of the ideas in my previous post here. Expect my future posts there to be more ladylike and, more importantly, much shorter.

Now, off to track down some very elusive course readings--if they're not at the library or the NYU bookstore or the Strand or the bookstore formerly known as Labyrinth or available via JStor, where do I look? I must be missing something. Clearly my research skills are insufficient.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

'A small-town girl'

As this presidential campaign enters its sixth decade, I'm starting to wonder if I'm even qualified to vote come November. All the talk about small-town values make me wonder if someone who's never eaten fried squirrel or moose stew can be an American. And yet, it's unclear what I'd be if not American. I still live in my hometown, in fact attend school at the same university where I was born, which sounds wholesome enough, until I mention that I'm referring to NYU, to New York. And in this election, 'coastal elites' (that is, anyone from New York or San Francisco, regardless of income, who can identify arugula at the supermarket) are the enemy du jour. This comes mostly from the Republican side, but really, it's both. If you're 'more beer than wine,' whatever that means, then your voice gets to be heard. If not, you obviously already rule the show via your cabal, via 'Seinfeld' reruns, and so on, so you shouldn't complain.

Which brings up the question: if we're defining as 'real' those who live in small towns, those whose lives are not represented in sitcoms, where does that leave those of us who see movie stars at the local Starbucks, those of us who took the subway to high school, those of us for whom both the snooty-sounding or 'ethnic' foods and tiny apartments that mark city life (that is, outside of abject poverty) are the default? Am I less of a real American because churches and exurbs are not my own life experience, because I'm 25 and no one I know my age yet has a kid? I'm not running for any office, and so have no need to claim a life other than the one I've led. But is it elitist and un-American simply to be who I am, a New York Jew, an atheist, and (and this is starting to be embarrassing) incapable of driving a car? It's one thing to say my experiences are not representative, but must they be denounced as those of a foreigner?

In response to those who will say, boo hoo, it must be sooo hard to be one of those urbanites who think they're so great, I'll say this: anti-cosmopolitanism, aka populism, can go too far. It can be unnerving not just for those of a Woody Allen demographic (although Jews have historical good reason to be disturbed by populist fervor), but to anyone who wants to see an inclusive vision of America, one in which it's not necessary to pronounce the word 'family' with that flat, middle-American 'a' for people to believe you think you have 'family values.' What seems to be lost in all the discussions of American authenticity is the difference between being urban and being elite. I mean, there is an elitism of fancy cheese and fancy graduate degrees, but there's also a hierarchy of authenticity or appearance thereof, and that hierarchy is the order of the day, across the political spectrum. We like Obama even though he went to Harvard, and so forth.

Somewhere in the middle of the candidates' attempts to show how much they care about the 'forgotten' parts of our country-- a worthy goal-- they've crossed the line into implying that those who do not, say, identify with Sarah Palin's biography are somehow foreign and thus unworthy of representation. Although I see how it could be confusing, given the throngs of European tourists on shopping tours of major American cities, I promise that there are indeed Americans among the hordes on lower Broadway. That 'Friends' and 'Sex and the City' are ever-so-loosely based on our life experiences does not mean we think we're better than everyone else, at least any more than those from small towns think this about themselves. We're still Americans, and we do, says the mailing I received directing me to the local Brooklyn polling station, have a vote.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

In serious news

Spotted: the actor who plays Eric Van Der Woodsen, remarkably near my office. He looks convincingly like an NYU freshman. Perhaps he is one. Stranger things have happened.

In other, equally serious, news, I've finally gotten past what was until recently an overpowering frugality when it comes to buying clothes. And this is how: I keep imagining what, say, a pair of pants would cost in Europe, not to mention in Euros, and use this knowledge to propel what would otherwise be a much more tepid back-to-school shopping spree. This sounds decadent and irresponsible of a grad student, but the fact remains that I need to teach, and that I need to wear something not stained and not preteen-esque while doing so. Flared jeans from when that was in style (am I showing my age?) are out, as are the 'new' (but new no more) 'skinny' jeans that threaten to reveal that which I don't want revealed if I so much as drop a piece of chalk. (For a while it was impossible for women to find pants anywhere in NYC that did not have this problem. It must have been a boon for the 0.5% of women who want everyone to make out the phrase "Victoria's Secret" when sitting next to them in class, and a disaster for the rest of us.) So, rationalizing complete, after printing my lesson plan I made second trip in as many days to buy pants at Uniqlo. They shorten pants there for free! I couldn't afford not to get another pair!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

In response to those (David Brooks, Jezebel, etc.) who say the Palin grand-fetus is none of our business:

If you're going to make your own reproductive anatomy and the choices you've made with how to use it central to your candidacy, then you can't expect voters to think only of the issues. If you're going to make 'family values' central to your candidacy, then you are asking to be judged on that basis. I'd have been 100% delighted with a VP pick whose fertility and religious views never brought up. But once you ask us to think about both, we will, and it is totally, totally our right to be judgmental. It's clear enough why it would hurt Obama to condemn what's going on in the Palin family--fear of making a low blow--but there's nothing to stop anyone else from saying about the incident whatever they see fit.

And enough with the over-the-top populism. Having a kid at 17 might be 'real,' but so is failing math, living off Fritos, and drinking six beers too many. It's time to stop celebrating mediocrity. It's starting to be very clear why I, a conservative relative to those around me, am very much stuck with Obama.

Monday, September 01, 2008

"Because Education Matters"

At the Carrefour (something like a Walmart) in Tienen, Belgium, Jo and I spotted a boy, maybe thirteen, wearing a shirt that said "New York University." Such shirts are rarely seen even at NYU, so this was baffling: why would a boy so far from New York, in a town rarely visited by Americans, be wearing such an item?

One possibility is the exchange rate: everyone from Western Europe has, by now, made the rounds from Century 21 up to Union Square, so this could be a souvenir from his travels. But just as likely is, he bought the shirt right there in Tienen. For reasons I don't entirely understand, the main shopping streets of Belgium (and Cologne, so perhaps of Western Europe) are filled with shirts that say either "America" or some variant; bearing the name of an American sports team, real or imagined; or an expression in grammatical English (unlike what I've heard is the case of such shirts elsewhere in the world) that would nevertheless not surface anywhere Anglophone. An example of the last one: "Because Education Matters"--this on a new t-shirt in a department store, that is, not meant to be worn ironically. Brands claim Americanness even while serving only to make the wearer look all the more European.

The Americana-that-isn't extends beyond clothes. On the radio are songs by Belgian artists... in English. The lyrics... vary, but I shouldn't talk until I learn how to form a coherent sentence in Dutch. Also, one of the more popular foods in Belgium, one I didn't dare try, is a raw-meat based spread called "Filet Americain," which, as the blogger I link to notes, is something you'd never, ever see in America, much to Belgian expats' chagrin. France, the only other European country I've spent much time in, seems to make more of a commitment than Belgium to preserve its own culture, particularly from American influence. It could be, though, that everything designed to seem American seems extra-European simply because, in America, stores and food items (freedom fries, anyone?) claim to be European. Discuss amongst yourselves.