Friday, October 31, 2008

Addiction confirmed

Just tried to see if I could do laundry/run other errands pre-coffee, with coffee as the reward. Turns out I will now need to take a bus to a nearby coffee shop. Attempting to make coffee would save $1.75 but would probably, at this rate, lead to me breaking the coffee maker.

Secret racists

In every past election, it was tacitly assumed that, for a small but significant set of voters, the choice ultimately came down to which candidate they 'liked the look of,' for reasons they couldn't explain. Such voters were, in past elections, thought ignorant but benign, an inevitable aspect of a democratic process in which you need not prove you're informed in order to vote. (I should note, by 'look' I mean in part physical appearance, but also just the general idea of the candidate, anything but issues, imagined impact on America's image abroad, or anything else substantive).

In this election, the 'I like the look of him' voters are all assumed to be making choices based on subconscious feelings about race and (to a lesser extent) gender. Which brings up the question: are there any voters who simply like the look of McCain, without being secret racists? Or who like the look of Obama, without caring about the racial-justice angle of electing the first non-white president?

I ask this because there's a certain assumption going around--especially about elderly Florida Jews and Appalachian residents, but about others as well--that behind each anti-Obama vote is a racist, conscious or subconscious. For some Obama supporters, it's inconceivable that a rational being would not support their candidate; if only we could remove the factor of race, he'd have a unanimous win. This of course ignores the votes Obama will get, from voters of all races, because he's black. But more importantly, there are reasons having nothing to do with race why some will vote for McCain: 1) belief that abortion is murder, 2) belief that the older the president, the better, 3) belief that McCain's about to keel over, and that we need a female president, 4) fear that if Obama wins, political comedy will lose, 5) loyalty to the Republican party, and so on. Whether these reasons are good is not the point. They are reasons, and they've got nothing to do with race.

But what of voters with no reasons, who simply prefer McCain to Obama, because that's how they feel, because they prefer the word 'maverick' to the word 'hope'? They're mediocre citizens, fine, but are they racists? Some surely are, but all?

As an Obama supporter myself, I'm not sure what great help it's been to the Obama campaign that so many of its fans are looking for ways to show the racist side of all political opponents. This is precisely what will give the pro-Obama side false confidence.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Don't make 'em like they used to

Just passed a new, sort of hopeless-looking vintage shop on the tackier stretch of Bleecker Street. Outside, there was a rack with old, washed-out-looking sweatshirts, and a sign saying, "One for $20, two for $30." For those without an intuitive sense of what clothing costs, this is like advertising, as if it were a good thing, "cup of coffee, $15." Going Out Of Business in 5, 4, 3...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama-Poodle '08!

The above image is the best thing that's ever been on Gawker. A poodle would never threaten that an international catastrophe was imminent. A poodle would never plagiarize. And (opening this up a bit) a poodle might want to spend $150,000 on new clothes, but it would probably settle for a few hundreds' worth of grooming costs. And, as anyone who's ever taken German at the CUNY grad center knows, der Pudel can keep people entertained for three-hour grammar sessions--why not four-to-eight years?

"But who am I?"

Today I searched three NYC libraries for evidence of The Complicated Frenchman, that is, the 19th-century gentleman I'm studying at the moment. I know all about his litigious escapades, stretching across that century. I know all about his religion-related neuroses, his grandiosity, and his family ties to all kinds of other Complicated Frenchmen. What I don't know is a) who his parents were, b) who he married, and c) if all the books he's claimed to have written ever came out. Oh, and d) which works that seem to be by him might be in fact be by one of his 10,000,000,000 similarly-named relatives.

Clearly, the time has come to, if not actually go to France, then to at least start mailing people at the archives...

Also learned the hard way:

1) The quickest way from Columbia to the NYPL is not, definitively not, the M104 bus.

2) The NYPL copy card does not work in the Columbia microfilm machine. I'm not going to examine how many times I tried the one blue card before switching to the right one.

3) The Columbia microfilm situation allows you to scan the document and save it on a memory stick or similar. Did I know this before going? Did I happen to have mine with me? Take a guess.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Oh the irony

Let's figure out what's wrong with the latest of the dreaded "Modern Love" columns, about a man's wavering about whether he should honor his girlfriend with that highest of life accomplishments that would be being his wife. Because the proposal, in these most Modern of times, has to come from the man.

But wait. Didn't the proposal, in this case, already come from the woman? Why, if a woman asks for marriage, is it an "ultimatum," and if a man asks, pure romance? Here's the story:

Last May, my girlfriend, Jen, told me that if I didn’t propose by Labor Day she would leave. At that point we had been dating for two years and had been living together for several months. And while I couldn’t fault her for the tactic, given that she was 35 and wanted kids, I had never read a love poem that included the word “ultimatum.”

Um, dude, she proposed. Or you should have taken it as such. You should have had the decency to recognize that she is 35 and wants kids, and, if you were not super thrilled to marry her, or so much as willing to do so, you should have done the honorable thing and given her a chance to find someone else who could be the father of her children while time still remained.

But beyond the somewhat futile exercise of judging the author of this column for asinine (if classically male) behavior towards someone he is apparently now planning to marry (Jen, enjoy!), the question that interests me here is why this woman, clearly beyond the stage in life when a proposal could come as a flattering gesture or pleasant surprise, who had verbalized her desire to marry a particular man, not some point in the future, but ASAP, comes across as a nag. She's a romantic! She loves her boyfriend and wants to have his babies! Does this double-standard serve any purpose?

$4 latte, $3 tip?

'If you've ever worked in food service, you'll be a good tipper for life.'

The above is one of the most-repeated mantras of our society. It's a bit baffling--all teachers are former students, yet we do not expect any particular kindness from them on that basis. Other, often-crummy, jobs one has when young are not expected to elicit any particular behavior later on in life. It's only food service where there's any expectation that past experience in the field, however long ago and however brief, produces a lifelong generosity.

This is the lead-up to my question: what, if anything, is one expected to tip in coffee bars, that is, in places where workers are paid at least minimum wage? This is not an issue in restaurants, where it's well-known* that in most cases workers get well below minimum wage, with an assumption that income will come from the customers' self-determined additions to the bill, and where, if you don't tip reasonably, you are indeed a Bad Person.

But in coffee shops with tip-cups, what's the rule? Clearly, if you ask someone who works in one, they'll tell you you're an ass if you don't throw in an extra dollar for each cup of tea. When I worked in such an establishment, I of course appreciated Park Slopers' immense liberal guilt, paying $4 for a latte and adding another $3 for good measure. But a part of me understood the customers who did not do this. After all, I'd worked other jobs at similar pay rates that did not include tips (ahem, book-shelving), so it seemed arbitrary that only one such job would require sympathy-payments, even from those needing a pick-me-up on their way to or from some just-as-low-paid work.

The above-and-beyond tip is, ultimately, about intentional redistribution of wealth, about the lawyer feeling bad for the 19-year-old who can barely make rent. For those who a) are so inclined, and b) have wealth to redistribute, handing a dollar to each panhandler holding open the door of the bank, and per drink to each barista, plus whatever the 'a minute for Greenpeace?' folks are asking, is just fine. But for those without the inclination, the spare income, or either, a choice must be made. That other mantra, 'If you can afford X, you can afford X plus $1' is simply false. Paying up each time someone urges you to do so could, depending on your income, put you solidly in debt. Being poorly-paid yourself is no excuse for not tipping in a restaurant, but in a coffee bar...

Coffee-bar tipping is, again, a different universe from restaurant-tipping. The coffee-bar customer feels guiltier than the restaurant patron, and often tips a much greater percentage of the cost of the item purchased. Why is this the case? For one, the frivolity inherent in saying, 'I'll have a skim cappuccino,' makes the customer self-conscious, ergo, tip. Ordering anything but black coffee is, let's face it, embarrassing. 'I'll have the pizza margherita' doesn't seem to have the same effect. You need to eat, and are more likely to resent a $17 personal pie (ahem) than a $3 latte.

The culture of the independent coffee shop is unlike that of other parts of the food-service industry. Whereas the waiter's dislike of the customer is tacitly understood, while he pretends to have kind feelings for each table, in coffee bars whatever resentment there is is played up. Baristas are thus expected to dress in hipster-or-homeless rags, and if they don't openly speak ill of the customers, the patron is meant to feel guilty for ordering that decaf latte with soy, for making the barista go out of his way, even though the coffee bar itself urges customers to specify the level of caffeine and type of milk. Again, even though the barista arguably has an easier job than the waiter and almost definitely gets paid around twice the waiter's hourly rate.**

* The problem of the tip is, of course, that the customer cannot always know what the employee earns per hour. In restaurants it's common knowledge that the employees depend on tips; in coffee bars, it's common knowledge that, technically, they don't. But in hotels (thus the Seinfeld "what do you tip a chambermaid" dilemma)? At salons (where I tend to overtip, I've been told)? Furniture movers? If you're super-wealthy, by all means everyone gets at least 20%, but if you're not, you must make a choice, tipping more to those who otherwise get paid less.

** Another consideration: independent coffee-bar employees tend to seem like they come from the same racial and social groups as their patrons. The customer thus may see the barista as a man like himself, albeit with a 'fight the system' attitude, and perhaps an artistic bent. The Saigon Grill deliveryman will not elicit this same thought process.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

S.P.'s "wanty" list

Thank you, S.P., for making me feel less guilty about overshooting my haircut budget by $10. $150,000 of RNC funds for the V.P. nominee's "wanty" items? Do you know how much arugula (again, $1.29 a bunch) could be purchased for that amount? You could pay to have Coco Chanel herself brought back to life, and for her to then weave you a suit made out of the stuff.

But, in all seriousness, if you were given a month and $150k, and not allowed to save this money, put it towards a house, or otherwise be reasonable, where would it go? Reflecting on my current "wanty" list, I don't think I could do it:

-One non-high-school-looking backpack: $50

-One Opi nail polish: $8.

-One browse-and-buy at Uniqlo: could be as much as $100.

-Overpriced J. Crew earmuffs: about $50.

My "wanty" list is, it seems, insufficient. Even if I count small dogs as 'accessories' (not that I would think of them as such!), it doesn't make the grade:

-Two dachshunds: could be $1600.

-Dachshund-related costs: $2000 (high vet bills?)

No, still not there. Maybe if I ordered all the books I wanted from Amazon France? It would have to be first-edition territory before anything of S.P. proportions took place.

I get that she's being filmed constantly. But she is meant to represent the plain folk! Not to represent them, but to be of them! If this was how she dressed before, now would be the moment for her to hit the Old Navy, and fast.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hello navel

Googling myself before returning to a 600-plus page tome about the experiences of (you guessed it) a 19th century French Jew, I discovered two surprising things. One, a blog post I wrote in response to an article in PresenTense was reprinted in full in a following issue as a "Letter to the Editor." I don't remember ever sending anyone a letter, so Ariel, if you're reading this, ma zeh? Isn't the usual practice that you have to actually direct the comments to the publication? In any case, the blog post is credited, and the attention paid to my bloggings is flattering, so my confusion is basically in how the word "letter" entered the picture.

In less flattering fame, I should probably consider moving away from Park Slope, as my unfavorable words for the Food Co-op apparently reached the arugula-eating hordes. (I just purchased some Citarella arugula myself--$1.29, pas cher!--and brought it back via subway, just to make a point.) In a piece aptly titled, "Googling Ourselves," a Co-op member asks, of guess who, "Has this woman actually seen the Coop?" A strange question when one considers that among my many grievances with the institution, mentioned in the post she responds to, was that the Coop folk would not allow me to look inside. Ultimately, accompanied by a friend who was then a member, I did get a good look, but mocking someone for never having seen the inside of a supermarket that doesn't allow non-members to enter except under special circumstances strikes me as plenty amusing.

And, one last moment of narcissism: haircut=done!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Red state, blue state

-My defense of Heathen America is up at Culture11. Disclaimer: no, I do not think the "Red-Blue" divide fully describes life in this country. But, as with most 'constructions,' it gets at something not entirely untrue.

-In some universe, $27 for a main course counts as a "recession special."

-Alert the presses! I actually agree with a post at Phi Beta Cons.

-In light of William Kristol's hearty praise of Joe the Plumber, I hereby suggest we remove the column from Kristol (ahem) and give it to a regular Joe. We don't need Kristol's fancy Harvard-tainted musings anymore!

-Audrey's back. Or is she? Blogroll reinstatement depends on contribution to my procrastination, that is, on further posting. Those are the rules...

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Here's the problem: I know exactly how I want my hair. (Yes, bad movie, with this one exception.) Last time I got a haircut, the hairdresser I went to told me I would be furious if she cut my hair that short; I was disappointed, but not furious, that she left it too long. As is the usual situation, with time, the chicness situation has deteriorated. Given my tendency to wait many months between haircuts, I now have the standard high-school-girl hair. It's just-below-shoulder-length and a backpack away from someone asking me if I'm considering applying to NYU for college next time I enter a campus building. It's that conservative length, not politically conservative, but 'if I wear my hair like this no one at school will make fun of me.' Bullying is not a major concern of mine at this point of my education (nor was it ever; the conserva-haircut might be to thank), so bobs away!

So, the question: is $60 (give or take) a reasonable amount to pay for this? The alleged 'free' haircuts are always at odd times, or sound like something other than the cut I want. I'd be fine with the DIY approach if it were not the pesky problem of not being able to deal with the back of my head. What is the whole thing supposed to cost, and where am I supposed to go? A lifetime in NYC has not made this any clearer. What I'm looking for, let me just come out and say it: that article about supersecret Parisian salons got me wondering. Is there an underground network of hair awesomeness that I've yet to be let in on? That, and not the nonsense about $60, is my real question. So, snarky comments will be tolerated as usual, but the comments I actually want will direct me to hairdressers I could only dream of. (The underground networks of pedicurists, acupuncturists, and so forth I can live without.)

Truth to power

-Rita gets it right about the HP.

-Vindication! Someone arrived at this very blog by Googling (no-quotes): "cinematography in rachel's wedding nauseated me."

-The NYT Style "T Magazine" made the courageous choice to focus its latest issue on Paris, a city apparently known for its fashion. Highlights include a piece about how hard it is to find a good pedicurist (and hairstylist, and boutique, and chiropractor, and acupuncturist, and masseuse, and personal wiper--OK, not that last one) in the French capital. Before someone says, "First World Problem du Jour," let me just say that I have a theory about articles like this. They are designed to make even the wealthiest, most pampered readers feel like Joe Six-Pack the Plumber. If you've ever had a problem more dire than 'accidentally' paying $600 for a haircut, or if you don't require "a team of people" including "an acupuncturist, a masseuse, a trainer, a shrink, [and] a facialist" to get through the day, then you're down-to-earth. Relative, at least, to (the journalistic persona of) Janine Di Giovanni, the woman who wrote this article.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Semi-live debate-blogging, the "Joe the Plumber" edition

-The moderator is the only living man older than McCain. This can't hurt the Republican.

-Maybe McCain doesn't want to keep mentioning elderly, ill members of the political establishment (Ted Kennedy, now Nancy Reagan).

-Did Obama dye part of his hair gray? If so, it's super convincing.

-Yes! An anecdote about a plumber named Joe! Six-pack alert! Whee! "Joe the plumber." Awesome.

-Obama also calls him "Joe the plumber." If I were Joe I'd be maybe a little miffed.

-OMG more "Joe the plumber," now from McCain. ARGH.

-"During the Depression era" is not how McCain should begin a sentence. It's not ageism. It's Palinphobia.

-Nodded off there for a bit. (Me, not McCain.)

-Hmm, never a good idea to defend far-right mobs-gone-wild. Defending Republicans, that's reasonable. Defending what might well be the lead up to a political assassination, less so.

-OK, this Ayers stuff can't continue without bringing up Palin's ties to Alaskan-independence loonies. Anything, or is Obama too classy?

-So far, too classy.

-So very classy. I would not have been able to remain composed during McCain calling Palin a "bref of thresh" air.

-Nononono Obama, don't be too classy to take down Palin!

-I want in on this Canadian oil. I thought they only did syrup. Have I mentioned I'm in the humanities?

-Is this him? (Sorry, got distracted.)

-Uh oh, what if Obama just overestimated how old some working-class women he shook hands with were? 50-something, or just not as Botoxed as the coastal elites he's used to?

-Mmm, interesting. In other news, I think McCain just advocated gym class.

-NOOOOO say it ain't so, Joe the Plumber! Is he like the only person whose vote counts in this election? So much for the Florida elderly.

-Too cute! I might have to become a vegetarian. Not that I've ever eaten goat, but still. In other news, I'd rather not have my health care benefits taxed.

-Let Joe be! This is just too much responsibility for one man, being Mr. Folksy America all on his own.

-I think Senator Government might want Obama to Jew the job. But I wasn't totally listening. McCain may have saved each of these syllables in time.

-Hmm, smashmortion time.

-Does "ideology," pronounced "idiology," mean that McCain thinks Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not that bright?

-"We have to change the culture of America." Because the last eight years, the president of this country was a Democrat, right?

-There's a "pro-abortion movement"? Really?

-Now, edumacation. Our math and science education is not up to par? Is that why there's a damn ferner scientist sitting right next to me at this very moment?

-Obama, pro-college elitist. The nerve.

-Obama just told parents to "turn off the television." Is this a sign that the X-rated portion of the debate is about to commence?

-Uhoh, McCain is also pro-college. What about plumbing school? Joe will not be pleased.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Research gripes

-Books I should have found earlier, written over a decade ago. Something new to cite, and something interesting to read, but still.

-Books available only at Harvard, only in the Netherlands, or otherwise only in places where I am not.

-The NYPL emailing to let me know a book from Offsite I requested is now available... only to not have the book just yet when I come to pick it up.

-The NYPL being filled with a) the filthy and insane, and b) photo-taking, Euro-having tourists, who will forever remember New York, via their pictures, as filled with the filthy and insane.

-This flash that there are precisely two possibilities for my research plans: a) it's been done, and b) it hasn't been done, for a reason.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Take that, Ms. P.

The Skirt, the one I've been looking for all this time, finally reappeared in Uniqlo, in black, in my size. To the fool who returned it (the only way sold-out/so-last-season items seem to reappear), many thanks. Now, off to accessorize it with items from obscure French and Belgian designers, ala Gwyneth, who is clearly paid by the Japanese chain to urge the impressionable to go to Spring Street and go nuts.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The movie-going experience

Given the ratio, movie tickets: TA stipend, movie-going ought to be a luxury I appreciate. As I ease into middle age, movies do start to seem more appealing than new bars on the Lower East Side or newly hipsterized neighborhoods in Brooklyn, especially when these neighborhoods are ones I lived in three years ago, before it was cool, and back when I was a bit more so.

But, confession: I don't like going to the movies. OK, I like going to the movies, but I find the movie-going experience horribly unpleasant.

Above all, this is about an aversion to the smell of artificial butter. I have no principled objection to artificial food, but something about this smell makes me feel ill; dinner and a movie for me requires a waiting period post-movie to get the smell out of my head.

Almost up there with the popcorn issue is that of cost. If a movie ticket is $11 or $12, I try to force myself to like whatever's onscreen as much as I'd like two falafel sandwiches, one pair of semi-cheap sunglasses, or 11 or 12 booksale books. In other words, I'm easily disappointed. Fridays at MOMA, where the movies are free and no food is served, are basically my only option. Tragic? No, but inconvenient.

Next is the fact that a big screen doesn't quite make up for the sheer proximity to other people, something I already get enough of in overcrowded NYC (and at overcrowded NYU--try finding a seat at the library). Last night at the movies, a woman sitting in front of us got out of her seat... and her low-rise pants did not join her. She was not wearing anything under said pants, bringing an otherwise R-rated movie to the X-range.

While being a matter of inches from a stranger's bare behind is an admittedly unusual experience when attending a mainstream film screening, disgusting habits and foul-smelling concession-stand choices, popcorn and otherwise, abound. But the worst of it, last night, was that we ended up sitting at a very odd angle to the screen. This, combined with the artsy cinematography, led me to briefly leave the theater midway through. (Perhaps I missed the one moment when a black character was given importance to the plot, although Jo assures me this was not the case.) In the BAM lobby, I encountered a crowd of women who'd also had to leave because the movie was, quite literally, making them nauseated. I was not alone, but that was not enough to make the seasickness go away. Whether it was the popcorn, the nudity, or the angle, it's possible that the strengths of "Rachel Getting Married" were unfairly ignored in my previous post.

Some of her best friends are black

In "Rachel Getting Married," Anne Hathaway plays the Gwyneth Paltrow character from "The Royal Tenenbaums." Sulky, chain-smoking, with fabulous haircut and just a touch too much eyeliner, Hathaway's Kym is a brunette Margot. Which makes sense, because the two movies take place in the same over-aestheticized, surface-only multicultural world.

"Rachel" also has an element of a more recent Wes Anderson film, "The Darjeeling Limited." Both movies are of what could be called the Dave Matthews Band school of interracial harmony. We can all just get along, so long as the camera focuses on the non-threatening white person, the one whose story gets to be told. Recovering drug addict and reviver of heroin chic Kym sits at the movie's center, with her sensible sister Rachel and their parents the supporting actors. Rachel's best friend Emma, a stock preppy and unsympathetic blonde, jarringly out-of-place in what appears to be for the most part a family of artistic types, is icy and predictable but at least gets to speak.

Though her stepmother, Rachel's husband, and countless bit parts are played by black actors, it's clear that none of these characters matter in the least to the film's plot. They are presented as purely decorative, often musical, adding, quite literally, color to the proceedings. You end up hearing about as much out of the black characters as you do from the exquisite (and also, alas, black) family poodle. If the point of the film's treatment of race were that it simply didn't matter in the context of the story, as A.O. Scott suggests, then it's unlikely the silent characters would have also turned out to be the ones with dark skin. How reviewers could interpret this film as progressive in how it deals with race is fully beyond me.

A sort of pan-exoticizing, Orientalist stance sits either in contrast to--or in surprising harmony with--Kym's bourgeois white girl blues. From the little we know of Kym's family, they grew up in a big suburban house, had youthful escapades on 96th Street in Manhattan, and have enough money to send their daughter to one stint in a fancy rehab clinic after the next. That Rachel is getting her doctorate gives us a sense of where Kym would be, in socioeconomic terms, had she not gotten involved in hard drugs.

If Kym's story hasn't been told, a million like it have. I wanted to know who Sydney, Rachel's husband, was, and what (other than his movie-star good looks) brought him into the film. The extended family was so clearly more interesting than the poor-little-rich-girl cliché on whose pug nose and pale skin the camera remained so stubbornly focused. I wanted to know what was going on with any of the characters who the movie permitted only to dance.

The couple whose wedding we attend is meant to usher in a moment of hope; allusions to Obama abound, from the bride and groom's more than passing resemblance to the Democratic nominee's parents to the couple's choice to move to Hawaii following the ceremony. One can only wish that once in Hawaii, perhaps a child will be born to this couple who will lead the country into better times.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Not that uniqlo after all

Via Jezebel, I just found out what evil person bought the last Uniqlo black pencil skirt in my size. I like the dark gray one and all, but it would have been nice to have a choice.

As the Jezebel poster notes, the Uniqlo skirt is the one you pick if you have to pick which one of Gwyneth Paltrow's fashion suggestions is not like the others.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Fidel, but to what?

Why do I keep seeing young men everywhere in Fidel Castro hat-and-beard combinations? Is this a political statement? Is it a way for observant Jewish men to look hip without breaking the hat regulation (which surely has a more precise, Talmudic name)? Is it a way to be a hipster while rejecting the ironing hours necessary for hipster-hair? In any case, not a fan.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Against gender noms

Frank Bruni addresses the continuing difference between how men and women are treated in restaurants. This got me thinking about how today, food itself is divided according to what men versus women consume.

The whole concept of gendered dishes (think sushi for women, steak for men) is probably quite new. Presumably, man-food vs. woman-food only became a possibility a) once the scarcity issue was (in some parts of the world, at least) conquered, and b) once meals stopped being family affairs. Pairing white wine with 'just a salad' implies a situation where women dine out with one another or alone. As restaurant service has gotten somewhat more gender-neutral, foods have become gender-specific, from the very obvious (see Sarah Haskins on yogurt ads) to the customary. Customary, as in, when have you last met a female friend for steak?

Being smaller, women have always, I'd imagine, eaten less than men. Today, with thinness in, women try to eat still less than would naturally be the case. To do this, women watch what they eat not so much via portion control as via cuisine. If we (Americans) had a more entrenched national cuisine, perhaps we would not have gendered foods; do the paradoxical French eat by gender? Isn't the point that they all eat all kinds of saturated fat? But, at least in the States, certain types of restaurants (Japanese, vegetarian, 'organic') seem as though they serve light food; actual calorie counts are irrelevant. Couldn't a man just eat a bit more salad, a woman a little less steak? Do completely different meals make life better? How much is innate gender-based food preference, and how much is marketing? My guess: 99.9% marketing, if only because there's just so much of it.

So, time has come for a stance. Gendered food is, I think, bad news. It complicates dating. It complicates any social interaction between the sexes. It will, if it hasn't already, make most family dinners impossible.

Or maybe the age of girl-vs-boy cuisine will end given the economy--for pasta-eating grad students and former brothers of Lehman, it's already something of a non-issue.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Gripe of the day

Researching some not-at-all-racy French-Jewish stuff, I find that every search having to do with Jews leads to ads, in one form or another, for beautiful Jewish women, Jewish dating services, Jewish matchmaking, etc., etc. What if you're looking for an academic article about Jews, but not a spouse, even a lovely one from the former Soviet Union? Is that so inconceivable? Or is this just a reminder that one cannot do any form of Jewish Studies without taking the role of matchmaking in Jewish life into account.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Enough with the volksiness

A Slate writer refers to herself as "one of those average folks in Middle America to whom Palin is speaking." It's unclear to me how the simple fact of living in Ohio would negate the seemingly more important quality of this writer, namely that she is a writer; that it's for Slate and not a folksy local paper doesn't help. In the parlance of the season, she ain't average.

Rachael Larimore goes on to ask, rhetorically, "what does Sarah Palin have to gain from reaching out to East Coast elites [...]?" Well, Florida, for one. Politicians speak in coded language; many Jews hear 'small-town values' and interpret that anti-cosmopolitanism to mean anti-Semitism, just as many gays will interpret the same language as homophobia. This doesn't mean declaring Palin an anti-Semite or a homophobe (her "tolerance" of gays notwithstanding), but it means a shift towards the Dems for anyone attuned to the 'Volk' in 'folksiness.' Think of it like this: our Florida voter might be 30% convinced Sarah "we love Israel" Palin hates Jews. That's not enough to call her an anti-Semite, but it's enough to be pushed towards voting for Obama.

It's not so much that Palin needs to reach out to elites, as that she loses as much as she gains by presenting the nation as split between real Americans and the rest, 'the rest' composing those who live on the coasts (of the continental U.S., presumably); anyone who works in media; anyone who works on Wall Street; anyone who wants to make lots of money; anyone who grew up in/lives in a big city... and it continues. In Palinland, there's a tiny coterie of insiders screwing over the wholesome folk. However, if you include everyone on a coast, in a city, and so on, you're looking at not just elderly Florida Jews, not just Harvard grads, but much of the U.S. population, not excluding swing voters, moderate Republicans-turned-swing voters, and so forth.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Assorted excitement

-IFSer Damien tagged me to answer the question, "Why blog?" He asked in French, but I'll answer in English. So, leaving aside the obvious (narcissism, procrastination, graphomania), I started this blog because a college classmate of mine told me to turn my column in the school paper into one. Why I currently blog is something else. As a grad student, one grows used to the idea that one's ideas count for little. This is as it should be, considering how relatively little I know. But writing here, I can try out different ideas without asking anyone to respect mah authoritah. Sometimes these thoughts go somewhere, but it's at any rate all at a different pace and for a different audience than grad-school papers. I put less into the blog, and get less out of it, but it still strikes me as worthwhile, if only because it helps to write and (on a good day) construct some semblance of an argument more than just a few times per semester.

-Speaking of not constructing much of an argument, I reacted to the VP debate.

-But the weekend highlight was the dachshunds. There were puppies. Not getting one was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, and I've objectively had to do things that are more difficult.

-Also a highlight: I left Park Slope and went to Williamsburg and Greenpoint with Clementine. Fun but, as I realized traveling back, far. Apparently the hipster dudes (one, anyway) like my years-old Banana Republic scarf. I excel at unintentionally ironic.

-Less successfully, today, Jo 'six-pack' and I went to a (the) Park Slope Belgian bakery, since it was on the way to the IKEA shuttle, only to discover that it (bakery, not IKEA) had been closed by the "Health and Mental Hygiene" folks. We were not shocked, but it meant no croissants till Red Hook, which defines first-world problems. To an extent: we considered brunch in Park Slope, until discovering that the place we were considering charged $4 for a bagel, with egg dishes priced accordingly. The realization that we cannot afford to dine out (not that we'd want to, having reexamined that food inspection site) led us to buy so much at the Fairway pre-IKEA that we could barely carry the stuff home. Which about brings us up to date.

For a need-based economy?

The questions my last post on unpaid internships brought up are as follows: a) What's unfair about unpaid internships if those who take them are rich kids anyway, and b) what does it matter who gets to go into low-paid fields like journalism? (There was also a comment calling me a "poor little rich girl," by someone who has not read the terms of my TA-ship, it appears. No, grad students aren't exactly 'poor,' but cultural capital won't buy you a dishwasher.) So, one at a time.

On the one hand, a college kid whose parents cover rent, food, and tuition does not seem deserving of payment. On the other, labor done is labor done. See: The Ethicist. In this sense, work is not need-based. Individual hiring decisions (see: bosses who hire immigrant labor over summer-job-seeking students, either out of altruism or out of an idea of who'll do the most work for the least pay for the longest time), work-study programs, scholarships, and so on are another matter. Once hired, he who completes a task that contributes to a firm's income receives compensation. The worker's possible outside sources of wealth don't enter into it.

If I seem biased, it could be because I worked during college, even though the money I made went straight to H&M and mochas. Perhaps I should have refrained from applying to work at the library and subsequent jobs, hoping someone more deserving would take my spot. But I felt I'd be embarrassed with myself to be an adult whose parents paid for absolutely everything, even while acknowledging that I was not financially independent. I just felt that if I was old enough to have a beer, I was old enough to work to pay for it. Did this make me a more or less objectionable rich-college-kid? Clearly, and understandably, to many who do/did pay their own way, all students getting help from their parents are inherently objectionable. But so long as their are families that can afford--in part or whole-- to send their kids to college, it's worth considering what's the more ethical option for those in that situation.

Post-college, as is the normal situation, I pay my own bills and rent. But I'm still someone who grew up in a posh part of Manhattan, and I benefit from the privilege that comes with being pale and from that locale. Yet no one calls me up at the end of each pay period to ask whether maybe, given the advantages I've had, we should send my entire paycheck to someone more unfortunate. I work, I get paid, end of story. Which is convenient, given that having the mannerisms and style of dress of a given class will not, on its own, pay my rent.

Taking this away from the tedious realm of the personal, what we have to ask is, do we want the youth from better-off families working or not? Even if one can only really know 'the value of a dollar' if one is working to feed three kids, the experiences of work--responsibility, dealing with bosses, budgeting paychecks--still, to use a tired expression, build character. Keeping 'the rich' (again, broadly defined) in unpaid positions means 'saving' work for those who need it, but it also means creating an upper class extremely alienated from the rest of the country. One often hears people tell the idle rich to get a job; should we denigrate those who do with equal enthusiasm? Repeating 'your privilege is showing' or some such will not help breed a class of somewhat-less-obnoxious rich individuals; encouraging the rich to work just might.

Of course, nothing stops the truly wealthy from volunteering rather than working (and no, interning for free at Conde Nast is not 'volunteering'), or from donating their paycheck to charity. This is, however, a reasonable solution only for the select few --what of a college student whose parents pay for tuition, room and board, and nothing more? What about the recent college grad who'd have the option of moving back in with his parents and volunteering, but who chooses instead to work, so as to live in his own place? There's a wide range between money being no object and needing to work to survive. The question remains: should one have to demonstrate need to be paid for one's work, and how dire a need must there be?

Which brings us to b). Yes, it does matter if fields like journalism are restricted to the rich. Public-opinion makers should not come exclusively from one class of society. This, of course, leads to the question of the survival of print journalism, which I don't feel like addressing/feel qualified to address.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Pity the unpaid intern

Sometimes a news story appears that just screams of 'first world problems,' but that, upon further examination, reveals itself to be about a legitimate grievance, albeit one affecting people who do not live in Darfur. One was the issue of college students receiving low-cost birth control. Once you remove from your mind the image of a freshly-manicured sophomore who owns 300 pairs of Uggs but won't pay for the Pills her frathouse hookups require and replace it with an understanding of the many socioeconomic and romantic situations of college students, the terms of the debate start to shift.

The latest such first-world-problem-that-isn't is an ironic, mocking, clever-sounding but poorly-thought-out post on Gawker (Redundant? Not that I don't read Gawker...) poking fun at white media-interns who find it unfair that students of color get paid for the very same internships they do for free. If the 'boo hoo' tone weren't clear enough, the post is accompanied by what I believe is a still from a reality TV show of a superrich blonde intern shedding a single tear. (That I know this from blogs and not having seen the TV show itself makes my knowing this no less embarrassing.)

Well, allow me to make the archconservative suggestion that, assuming an internship is work and neither a class nor for charity, all interns require monetary compensation. Notice I make no argument as to how much race should be considered in hiring interns in the first place--that's another matter. (Notice also that I do not verify rumors of who gets paid what at fashion magazines--I have no idea, having never worked at one.) But that Moe at Gawker thinks an intern is whiny for demanding payment just goes to show how well the unpaid-internship cabal has got us hypnotized. It is not douchey or money-grubbing to demand that your work be compensated with kesef, even if said argent is for your beer or leggings-as-pants or whatever it is college kids today find exciting. That you 'learned valuable skills' from your internship does not negate the possibility that what you did was in fact work; on-the-job training is a very real phenomenon.

From the dept. of Quotidian Complaints

Why do people bring spilly items on the subway? Really, why? Coffees with loose tops are irritating but sort of understandable. Less so the businessman standing above me (I was lucky enough to have a seat) drinking some kind of neon-blue slushy, something I did not know one could buy in Manhattan, and making me wonder what I was thinking buying pale-gray corduroys. Also unnecessary: the woman with a small tupperware container of beans (?) in a very red sauce, spilling constantly on herself, leaving the person sitting next to her (guess who) fearing for some light-colored clothing item or another. Then there was the woman who I don't think even tried to affix the lid to her coffee, who spilled what remained of the cup right where a bunch of passengers were standing, then said, 'sorry,' as she hurried off the train. Like 'sorry' will buy five people new work clothes.

I see the following as possible solutions:

1) Fascism, or some sort of authoritarian regime that makes you not even think of getting on the train with a chilidog.

2) Adopting the all-black dress code of the 'real' New Yorker.

3) Sleeping in my office so as to avoid the trains.

4) Adopting some disgusting subway habit (nose/ear related?) that will keep passengers, beverage-bearing and otherwise, far enough away as to eliminate the problem.

5) Embracing stains as some perverse kind of street cred, like ripped jeans, and waiting for the Pollock-esque Marc Jacobs line that this will inevitably inspire.