Sunday, June 28, 2009

Moving day(s)

After two years in Park Slope and another two in an adjacent area only realtors refer to as such, I'm ready for a change. After some very glamorous time abroad, my boyfriend and I will move to Manhattan, where, thanks to the recession, the Police Building - the whole of it - will be available to rent at less than the price we'd paid per month to live in an alleged one-bedroom located far, far too close to the Food Co-op. Or, failing that, we'll move to a studio within walking distance of NYU. Or failing that, Queens, Wyoming... whatever.

Here are some of the things I've learned while moving, that could potentially be of use to others.


-Pack what you actually use first. Clothes you never wear and extra wine glasses for that dinner party you'd always meant to host (when at the only party you actually hosted, dinner was not served and plastic cups were the order of the day) should not be boxed before the coffee maker, muffin tin, rain boots...

-Pack everything before the movers arrive, accepting that their combined strength and truck-ownership beats your strength plus the Brooklyn public bus. On our post-movers 'one last thing' trips on the bus, we had the same driver four times. He seemed amused.

-Do get rid of as much as you possibly can before shoving all that you plan to keep, first meticulously and, 12 hours later, haphazardly, into boxes. In my own case, this would have been easier if the neighborhood thrift store hadn't just closed, but luckily most of what needed getting rid of was more a question of whether it went in the trash bin or the recycling.

-If your move takes you anywhere near Brooklyn Heights (ours barely did, but I was determined), be sure to stop at Tazza somewhere along the way, and to splurge on an iced cappuccino (which I reserve for such occasions) and an Italian jelly-donut-type pastry whose name I've since forgotten. I've already decided that, if by some miracle we do live within walking distance of school next year, I will nevertheless return to Brooklyn for the occasional Tazza-Sahadi's run.

-A final Do: Do try to put a positive spin on everything horrible about moving day, including its inability to really just be a one-day event. The best way to do this is to think of the whole thing as one giant trip to the gym. If you live on the top floor of a walk-up and find yourself taking the stairs, with heavy items, more or less continuously for hours on end, this is particularly straightforward: If female, pretend that this is an innovative cellulite cure - perhaps it is just that. And if male, think about how huge your arms will be by the end of it.


-When exhausted at the very thought of the packing to come, or perhaps from having returned full-backpack-plus-bursting-tote-bag loads of library books via the subway, do not attempt to send emails in languages that are not your own. Accustomed to sending emails in French mainly to my adviser, who is female, I was about to send an email to another professor, who is male, beginning with Chere, rather than Cher. Caught it just in time. Argh.

-Not sure if this counts as a 'don't', but bear in mind: very cheap storage is that way for a reason. Booking a 10x10 storage space does not actually allot you a 10x10 space, or anything close. The only way to get something closer is to ask to see all the allegedly 10X10 spaces, and to get known as The Bitch by the entire storage-space staff (because apparently not everyone complains when "10x10" is actually 6x6 with a column in the middle). Or maybe it's just this storage space - one of the place's rules is that you can't live in your box, but it's clear enough when you visit the building that those not living in their boxes are in the minority.

-Do not stay up till 5am packing when your movers are scheduled for 8:30am, particularly when you've hired these movers before, and you thus know that their 8:30 is closer to 7:45.

-Moving requires food, and home-cooked meals are not an option when the dishes must be packed. Still, when you read on the Health Department website that your otherwise fine local Chinese restaurant has an insect problem, don't figure, you're tired, it's nearby, all buildings in NY have bugs, whatever, if you don't want to risk a live (non-flying-type) one emerging from the dish when you're midway through, swimming through the grease that makes vegetarian beef with broccoli so palatable. (That insect is to be distinguished from the many buzzing around our meals - these are a fact of life and not to be complained about.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Is Your Ab Workout Hurting Your Back?"

I can't explain why, but this headline cracks me up. I'm sure it's a serious issue and everything, but... yeah. If it weren't for various DIY moving extravaganzas, my back would be in fine shape indeed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Beyond French Jews

Modern European Jewish history is German Jewish history, it seems, and to a lesser extent, given books available in New York, at least, American, but for whatever reason, I'm only now catching up where non-French Jewish histories are concerned. While I'm fairly confident that my professors have done their best to make sure I know about Frenchmen other than Jews (and I'm getting there, although I'm still shaky on the Protestants), learning about Jews other than the French sort is something I'm piecing together more on my own - with the help of professors, of course, but for a change this time I get to tell myself not to be so parochial. The problem with fighting the parochialism within is that it could go all over the place. Everything's really interesting, particularly things that deal with populations neither French nor Jewish. The Uighurs, for instance, what's their story? And indigenous Scandinavians? Aren't nearly all Scandinavians supposed to be indigenous to Scandinavia? I am so confused.

Anyhow, for the time being, I need to know who the 19th century German and American Jews were, in order to figure out what did, or didn't, make the French ones unique. What makes figuring out the specificities of each case all the more confusing is that scholars of each group - often, not always - begin their books by explaining how French/German/American Jews were the most assimilated/integrated/fascinating/ahead-of-their-time of all Jews the world over. I tended to believe the French case 'won' when reading almost exclusively about that community, and there's a point to be made - the French Revolution emancipated French Jews and shook things up for Jews worldwide. But there were like five French Jews, ever, with the exception of the present day. German Jewish culture was obviously somewhat more influential - reading about German Jewry I'm often struck by how much the German-Jewish 'way' influenced my own upbringing, amongst indirectly-German-influenced New York Jews of Eastern European origin. And beyond the personal, there's Freud, Marx, Einstein, and so on, and so on. But then there are American Jews, who never had to go through the whole emancipation process in quite the same way, and who, because they were never the U.S.'s favorite minority group to oppress, had a chance to be a whole lot closer to 'just a religion' than in other countries (ahem, France) that are in fact less historically friendly to multiculturalism. (I just spent the day reading about slave-owning Southern Jews, which really drives the point home.)

So I still don't know what made Bildung (education; or, the ideology embraced by, among others, German Jews, that through cultivation, learning, and self-improvement, anyone of any birth could become a real German) any different from regeneration (rebirth; or, the ideology embraced by, among others, French Jews, that through cultivation, learning, and self-improvement, anyone of any birth could become a real Frenchman), or what made either of these, in the Jewish context, so terribly different from American liberalism or anti-nativism.

Long story short, I need to read a bit more comparative Jewish history, beyond the few books I've read in the last couple weeks, and the few others I'd read before starting grad school. Recommendations? (I'd also love to read something that settled the Bildung-regeneration question once and for all, or else I'll have to go and write that myself, and I doubt if my German reading skills are up to the task.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

That was close!

In the course of readings, I just found what I thought was my dissertation, already written. If the book were at the NYU library, I'd have long since had this panic, but of course it's not, so this required further investigation. Turns out, although the book will be useful, it's about something else entirely. Woohoo!

In less delightful library news, if you have to whisper aloud to yourself to read, or study, or whatever it is this girl sitting near me is doing, perhaps libraries are not for you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Back to the farm

The Well running blog makes me want to start my own running blog, but seeing as I blog more than I run as it is, probably not the way to go. But I did go running yesterday, setting out to go twice around the Prospect Park 3.4-ish mile loop... but then, somewhere towards the end of the massive hill by the exit, I decided that I felt physically capable of going seven miles, but not mentally prepared to see the leafy scenery of the park once more. While I get that this will infuriate running purists (who are intense, by the way - note the comments telling the Bittman father-daughter pair, both experienced runners, how to hold their arms when they jog), my ideal run is through the city (yes, on asphalt), with a podcast (Dan Savage preferred; NPR will do) for background entertainment, and is preceded by an iced coffee. I'm convinced that once I find a sufficiently interesting and not too car-heavy route, I could reach my one-time distance limit of eight or nine miles, and if I were not in the midst of a packing-and-moving extravaganza, I just might give it a go.

For whatever reason, it's assumed that exercise implies a love of nature, that the only alternative is to suffer in a gym (but what part of watching cable while you work out is suffering?). Real exercise, good exercise, takes place in, if not the wild, than in some urban approximation thereof. But as someone whose running career got going alongside the West Side Highway, during high school track practice, and who still seems to be breathing OK, I just can't fully embrace that ideal. Sure, this means the occasional whiff of car exhaust, but there are enough dangers in life that working out under sub-optimal conditions (assuming you're not running down the West Side Highway) seems a risk worth taking.

If the health-and-nature assumption hits runners hard, it's still more dramatic when it comes to the local-sustainable food movement. It's not enough to care about both health (your own, your family's, and that of the general public) and the environment. You have to be moved by pastoral scenes, to feel personally enriched by all contact with farmers, from whom you can get a vicarious taste of the land. OK, it's not that you have to do this, but that's how local-sustainable is marketed. Knowing where your food comes from - the Alice Waters mantra - means not only knowing cows were not tortured in the process, but also taking the time to get a sense of what food production looks like, the idea being that the problem with how we eat today is not merely that we eat crap, but also that we've been in cities and suburbs too long and have forgotten where vegetables come from.

This view goes beyond thinking kids should learn Biology 101. It's an aesthetic preference, a belief that food will honest-to-goodness taste better if it came with a bit of dirt on it, and perhaps a few bugs nesting in it, often regardless of whether the food in question has, in fact, just been plucked.

Example, from Frank Bruni's review of Braeburn, a Manhattan restaurant where, according to the review, entrees are "$18 to $32":

Restaurants that have opened in downtown Manhattan over the last decade tend to fall into one of two categories. There are those that worship in the Church of Carrie Bradshaw. And those that honor Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Braeburn, named for an apple, is Rebecca almost all the way, with maybe half of a heel of a Manolo thrown in. You’re going to be stunned to hear this, but along some walls are horizontal panels of what looks like reclaimed barn wood, the genre’s inevitable rustic flourish. (It’s actually — even better! — from a tobacco shed.) Many servers dress in checked or plaid shirts: corn-pone chic. And what defines the otherwise plain main dining room is a painting of a white house with a red barn and fleecy sheep, the livestock color-coordinated with the domicile. Apparently all of us who make ruinous housing payments to be a part of Warhol’s city really dream of Wyeth’s world, at least when dinnertime rolls around. We want not only farm-fresh ingredients but also farm-evocative décor.
While I haven't seen this Braeburn (again, note the entree prices), I can affirm that even less formal establishments - groceries and cafés - now go this route.

What I'd like to see, then, is a separating-out of what's rustic and what's needed for public health, for the environment, and, in terms of taste, for food to be fresh. It's not that it's necessarily racist or nativist to appreciate rustic and artisanal - historically, there's some overlap, but today's flannel-clad urbanites are typically another matter - but instead that it shouldn't be necessary to care emotionally about nature or farm life (not that farm life is 'nature', but the two are plenty linked in the urban mind) in order to be a card-carrying food-movement participant. There are enough highly-convincing, rational arguments for moving away from our current food system that irrational nostalgia for The Land need not enter into it. While granted this nostalgia helps push some in the right direction, the potential for this line of thought to be embraced for all the wrong reasons suggests we'd be better off just going with the health-environment-taste reasoning.

Recalling his own farm childhood, Nicholas Kristof writes, "Over the years, though, I’ve become nostalgic for an occasional bug in my salad, for an apple that feels as if it were designed by God rather than by a committee." My point is, that's fine that that works for Kristof, but it's important to remember that you can be a committee person more than a God person and still think Americans eat crap, and that something should be done about it. Some people will always find some or (in my own case) all politicized appeals to Nature off-putting, and there should be room for such people in the food movement.

(I've never read anything by Isaiah Berlin, but having learned that Berlin "went so far as to declare a positive dislike of nature, suggesting that love of sublime landscapes was linked with reactionary romanticism," that puts him right at the top of my post-orals reading list.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"[Michael Pollan's] chief criticism of Chicken McNuggets is that they are insufficiently delicious. (Has he tried them with the hot-mustard sauce?)"


In the course of orals readings today, I came upon an article that proves, proves, my BA thesis was way off. French Jews at the time of the Dreyfus Affair were not, in fact... I promise if you're not one of three people working on this, you don't care, and even if you are, you've got better things to do, so I'll stop while I'm ahead.

That failure makes me all the more delighted that another theory I'd been tossing around for some time has, if not been proven right, turned up in infinitely-better-expressed-than-I-could-do-it form in the New Yorker.

For a while now, I've been suggesting that there's some connection between the new, artisanal-food, back-to-the-farm movement and the sort of nativism that got Maurice Barrès-types all worked up, back in the good old days of shamelessly racist European nationalism. Let me be clear: it's not that Waters/Pollan/etc. are racists or nativists, but that rejecting the foreign - which is what any pro-local movement does - lends itself to, well, rejecting the foreign, rejecting modernity, etc., etc. Sarah Palin's Real America might dig in at Denny's, but suspicion of cities and of the way things are done in far-off lands brings the ickier aspects of the right together with aspects of the left that, if silly-sounding, have the potential (if not taken over-the-top) to save both lives and the environment.

Anyhow. In the latest New Yorker, Kelefa Sanneh explains how the artisanal-food and "very small business" movements have the potential to get a bit... iffy, in the way that rejections of modernity often do. Women, for instance, don't come out so great, nor does, in a larger sense, the feminine:

For [PhD turned motorcycle repairman] Crawford, offices are profoundly feminized places. Reading a study about the sneaky ways in which managers assert their authority, he compares office life to "being part of a clique of girls," with a brutal hierarchy hidden beneath "the forms and manners of sisterhood."
And then of course there's the question of ferners:
An antipathy, however mild, to foreignness is indispensable to the creed of localism, which seeks to make our economic worlds more intelligible by shrinking them. When Pollan visited some of the industrial-scale organic farms that Gene Kahn works with, the first surprise was the workers: he confessed that he hadn’t expected to see “migrant labor crews” on an organic farm.
Hmm. Why might someone who's studied (perhaps more than one should - at least I now know what really went on during the Dreyfus Affair) late 19th and early 20th century European rejections of modernity find anything off-putting about where this might lead?
Part of the appeal of the localist-artisanal creed, for certain liberals and conservatives alike, is precisely that it’s anti-cosmopolitan, anti-corporate, anti-progress—an alternative to the creative destruction of capitalism. It tugs against the shared assumptions of most Democrats and Republicans: that America’s future is bright; that change is good.
But let me back up a moment in his story. Without entering into the European tradition of land-worship (aside from mentioning Slow Food's Italian roots) Sanneh brings up the question that should be on all of our minds - why are mass-produced cheeseburgers assumed to the food of conservatism, and garden-fresh arugula for liberals alone?
Agrarianism, like environmentalism, hasn’t always been considered a progressive cause, and there’s nothing inherently liberal about artisanal cheese, or artisanal bikes—and, just as important, nothing inherently conservative about multinational corporations. Rod Dreher, a National Review contributor and the author of “Crunchy Cons,” is ardently pro-organic and ardently anti-gay marriage. Victor Davis Hanson, the author of “Fields Without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea,” is also the author of “Mexifornia,” about the dangers posed by immigration.
As I see it, what holds back the food movement from going down xenophobia road is that it is primarily a product of the left - that there's a PC insistence upon caring about local/seasonal but also about what's consumed in the inner city, that cosmopolitan types (i.e. city-dwellers, PhDs, Francophiles, Jews) loom large in the movement's ranks, these things really do owe something to the cause starting, at least, as a liberal one. It's not that conservatism is always racist and liberalism never that way. It's just that the scary bits tend to come from the most progressive types on the left, and the most anti-progress ones on the right, so it's probably for the best that the pro-farmer sorts making the news are also the ones the least likely to hold forth on what they really think about Mexicans. Of course local/seasonal could be conservatism, we - even most conservatives among us - should just be glad that it's not.

, via.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Food politics roundup


Mr. Obama ostentatiously treats himself to fries and burgers to beef up his average-Joe image (even though he’s anything but). Yet maybe when Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer come next week to broadcast a special on health care from inside the White House, the president should forgo the photo-op of the grease-stained bovine bag and take the TV stars out for what he really wants and America really needs: some steamed fish with a side of snap peas.


In fact, and sadly, the list of fish that I don’t eat is much longer than the list of fish that I do. One could argue, as I sometimes do (mostly to myself), that one shouldn’t eat fish at all, fearing that if fish lovers begin consuming those few remaining species that are not in trouble — sardines, mackerel, squid — we might just make quick work of them, too. But though that may be the easiest argument to phrase, it isn’t likely to be popular, nor will it help the cods and flounders.

Good grief:

Both parents left feeling they were being pushed out of P.S. 9, which they perceive as exhausted by Ms. Roth’s intense lobbying for, among other things, permission slips for any food not on the official lunch menu. It would not be the first time: The Roths previously lived in Millburn, N.J., where, after Ms. Roth waged war on the bagels and Pringles meal served to kids at lunch, received e-mail from one member of the P.T.A. that said, “Please, consider moving.” That was in 2006, and P.S. 9 has been hearing about its transgressions against healthy eating pretty much ever since.

(See also.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Stars, studs, and more

Blogging's been pathetic here lately, because I've been preoccupied by a not-that-long-looming oral exam, and a very imminent second driving test. But, in the interests of not letting WWPD completely slide...

-What is going on in Wallonia? The (highly implausible) story of a lost-in-translation encounter with a tattoo artist reminds me why I stopped going to an otherwise fine hairdresser with whom I shared no language - sometimes communication is key. Not that the haircut I gave myself is so spectacular, and language barriers were clearly not the problem.

-These have made me reconsider my aversion to crafts. Want!

-Highly recommended.

-Story of my life.

-Highly depressing. For some reason the piece's subhead - "The author is ending her marriage. Isn’t it time you did the same?" - reminds me of Tara Parker-Pope's announcement that not only is she going to go from couch-potato to marathon-runner, but you should, too! Not that a marathon is a divorce, but both are (or so I've heard, having experienced neither first-hand) painful but necessary for some, painful and unnecessary for others, and not the sort of thing that should be encouraged, even in jest, for all. If the piece is depressing, it could be because of bits like this: "Some of us stay married because along with fancy schools, tae kwan do lessons, and home-cooked organic food, the two-parent marriage is another impressive—and rare—attainment to bestow on our fragile, gifted children." Does this mythical demographic not spend enough time gazing into its navel and spinning whatever it finds in there into tales for the national press? Or is the piece a let-down because it already existed in the form of a TV show and movie that famously made arranged marriage look like the way to go - four forty-ish women get together and speak of nothing but men, all the while alienating the actual men in their lives, after which one of the four writes an article about it. Perhaps this is the influence of anti-monogamy advice columnist Dan Savage talking, but I can't help think how much better it would have been for the author's kids if she and her husband would have arranged a (discreet) open marriage, stayed together officially, and (most importantly) given her no reason to spill all to a major publication. But I shouldn't say this, because that would be judging her, and the number one rule of the overshare is that no one's allowed to judge - the appropriate response is to praise the author for her (and alas, it is typically her) honesty.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The what?

Approximately every ten minutes, a broker comes by to show the apartment. This has made me regret my plans to work at home, where all my books are, and where I can make lunch without having to leave and go fetch it, blah blah. It's necessary but yes, kind of annoying - while I'm happy to answer questions along the lines of if there've been any major problems, just because I happen to be home doesn't mean I've prepared a 15-minute monologue about my emotions towards this apartment over the past two years. Is the place small for two people? Um, yes, obviously, but the place we'll head to next will in all likelihood be smaller. Is the fire escape a balcony? This could certainly give brokers ideas, but no, it's not. And yes, the bathroom is huge in proportion to the rest of the apartment, but I've never figured out whether that's supposed to be a selling point. In what's either good news in terms of our fall apartment search or just plain evil, the visitors have informed us just how much lower the rent they'll have to pay is than what we'd spent the last year, even the previous one. Gar.

Anyhow. A broker just came by and told a potential renter about the dishwasher in the kitchen. The dishwasher. In the kitchen. So I was like, the what? Apparently the apartment downstairs is identical in every way, except that it has a dishwasher under the sink, so the broker had just assumed... (No news on whether one's being installed, but we're moving either way, and if they do decide to install one, I don't want to know.) Armed with that information, the woman looking at the apartment quickly apologized for interrupting my lunch and ducked out, allowing me to do the dishes from lunch in some semblance of peace.

In racism today

-Is there seriously a discussion going on about whether the Democrats or the Republicans are the real racists? Hasn't it long since been settled that evils specific to modernity come from the worst bits of the left and the right? And, more to the point, isn't the important thing that neither major political party is eager to claim credit for racist violence?

-"[T]here’s a racial component, which I’m not sure I understand," writes Timothy Egan about the Amanda Knox trial, which he's been covering from a thinly-veiled pro-Knox angle. Something about these two posts about the now-notorious Italian murder case just seems... off. I guess I'm confused. Is Egan trying to claim that an all-American (read: white, delicate-featured, blonde-and-blue-eyed, athletic, not-too-worldly, middle-class, college-partier) young woman is incapable of murder? He denies this in the second post, but it's not hard to see how people read this in the first, in which he brushes aside all the legitimate reasons Knox is on trial, in favor of a portrait of her wholesome naivete. Or is it just that he happens to be from the same city as the accused, and to have a daughter who's on paper much like her? If so, couldn't he have made that clear, and not held forth on her sportive Christian background as though this proved anything one way or the other? Is there something sinister about the fact that Egan's daughter used the pretext of this gruesome murder case (and, one guesses, nepotism, although that alone is expected and, if annoying, not sinister) to get an op-ed in the Times, complaining about how being from the same town as the accused is making her own study-abroad experience less delightful than it otherwise might have been?

But back to the father. Isn't it a bit odd that he claims to come to the case with neutrality ("I have no agenda. I came to this story cold."), after writing earlier: "In Seattle, where I live, I see a familiar kind of Northwestern girl in Amanda Knox [...]" How "cold" is that? During the Dreyfus Affair, French Jews famously made a point to not assume, on account of shared background, that their coreligionist was innocent, at least until this became too obvious to deny. But I suppose this is a sense of restraint specific to members of minority groups, if not turn-of-the-century French Jews. At least Egan does not seem any less loyal an American for sticking up for Knox, because for better or worse, Knox is being presented - by Egan and by her detractors - as pure Americana.

And this, from his own self-defense, in the second post. Argh:

I’d like to comment on some of the general points made by readers to the post. First, the headline: “An Innocent Abroad.” Many people took this to mean that I believe she is innocent. I’m not sure what happened to Kercher, but I do know there so many holes in the prosecutor’s case as to raise reasonable doubt, at the least. The headline was supposed to be vague in a literary way — an allusion to Mark Twain’s book, “Innocents Abroad.” Maybe I should stay away from literary allusions, particularly when they can get lost in translation.

Ah, so it's all about a failure to pick up on literary allusions (particularly, he seems to imply, on the part of foreigners, presumably, given who was commenting, Italians), and not that Egan argued - in the post title and the post itself - not only that the accused should be assumed innocent unless proven otherwise, but that this much was certain. As if, if Italians only improved their English and read Twain, they'd get the ambiguities Egan intended. Is he serious?

From what I've read, it seems ample evidence, including DNA, suggests Knox should at least be tried. But I agree with Egan, and with all reasonable people, that it's tragic when people are jailed for crimes they didn't commit, and do not assume that someone who's shown evidence of fairly extreme racism, anti-Semitism, and general coldness towards her roommate's death is necessarily guilty of murder - one can be unpleasant and not a murderer... or for all I know, reading this from thousands of miles away, she's actually a lovely person. But I don't think it should matter - the trial will, I'd imagine/hope, be about whether Knox killed someone, not whether she'd be fun to spend time with otherwise. The issue here is Egan's piece, not Knox.

So I disagree both with those who think that her white privilege is such that arresting her somehow makes things 'even' for people of color/people with less deer-in-headlights mugshots who were/are in prison unfairly - better all should get the pretty-blonde treatment than the other way around - as well as with Egan, when he suggests that this young woman being spacey and athletic and not-so-worldly somehow proves her innocence. And the fact that she worked to save up for her study-abroad experience? I've never heard of any college student not working to save up for studying abroad. It's hardly a sign of great financial hardship. Nor is it clear to me why it matters, for the purposes of this case, whether Knox was a scholarship student or a trustifarian - the murder did not, it sounds like, have anything to do with money. But I digress.

I don't know. It's all very reminiscent of the death of Rachel Corrie, another photogenic young blonde from Washington State (where I've never been, but which if the press is to be believed is where Real America intersects with Well-Meaning Liberal America) whose behavior abroad was frequently interpreted as naive for reasons that, I tend to think, have more to do with continued societal notions of blondness-as-purity than with any particular ignorance on the part of either the pro-Palestinian activist or the woman now on trial in Italy.

Even in this day and age, hair color (when assumed to be natural) has such significance, it's kind of insane. In this, although Italians are typically both white and Christian, the racial angle to the case that Egan claims not to understand is not only about how Knox falsely accused a black man of the murder for which she's on trial, or that the woman who was killed was of mixed race, but is also about the ancient North-South Europe divide. Because we in America are so used to seeing racism as about blacks and whites, because that's typically how it manifests itself in our country, it can be easy to miss this other variant, especially when Americans are the ones engaging in it.

In the interests of universalism, I'd like to think this frustrates me both as someone who's never, not even as a child, been blonde, and, even more so, as someone against bigotry who also happens to have dark brown or black hair, depending the light I'm standing in.

Anyhow. In the interests of not making this post even longer, I'll leave it at that.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Bobst Dining Commons

I could have a whole separate blog on disgusting behaviors of my fellow library-goers, but because Cheapness Studies is already underway, and because I'm neglecting WWPD in favor of such things as the Franco-Prussian War and running long distances ending at pastry shops, this may have to wait. But, ugh. While I've yet to witness at NYU the horrors of the NYPL, let alone the UChicago all-time best (nail-clipping under a table in a reading room), there are still some good ones.

Eating in the library... I understand why people do this. Leaving is a pain, and options very close to the library, for people not on the Subway bandwagon, are limited. But if you are a scrawny post-adolescent boy who absolutely must have a steady stream of calories all day, maybe pick an artificial-cheese-based snack that doesn't make a heard-across-the-whole-floor crunchy sound? The crunching makes it hard for those near you to concentrate about the Franco-Prussian War. Or, if you're that set on having a caramel-centered candy bar, maybe check every so often that a three-inch-long string of what is either caramel or spittle is not hanging from your mouth? And (last gripe, for now) if you do bring a pungent lunch, and finish the pungent lunch, do you really have to get up from where you're sitting and take the bag with the garbage left by your pungent lunch and place it right there in the (uncovered) trash can where an innocent fellow library patron is trying to take notes on what exactly Zola thought about women?

Yes, I have become that grad student. But I'm hoping continued breaks centered around running and pastry will mellow me out before it gets worse, or at least make me too tired/content to care.

Sunday, June 07, 2009


An article sure to rile up every last hipster and 'look-I'm-poor (but-really-I'm-not)' poseur, about how Williamsburg's 20-something residents can no longer look to their parents for help with rent, is based on a mistaken premise: the article's title, "Parents Pulling the Plugs on Williamsburg Trust-Funders", gives a clue as to what that mistake might be. Aren't young adults with trust funds people who don't rely on their parents' whim past 18, whose 'family money' is their own? Now, these people may also be 'suffering' during the recession, but it's because their stocks aren't worth what they used to be, not because their parents have cut them off. Those relying on their parents might be the children of the rich, or they might be the offspring of the manipulative middle classes - parents with some money but not tons, who use whatever they can afford of their kids' rent money as a way to make sure their kids behave, into adulthood, according to their nutty rules, ala the notorious ex-Stanford mom.

But whatever. Screw those trustafarians! Keep it real! Yeah! Anyway. I am super impressed that the NYT reporter managed to get members of the Williamsbourgeoisie to admit that they are or were supported by their parents - I thought the first rule of living in that neighborhood was that you had to deny having family money, while living in such a way that you pretty much have to have some.

Note: This post almost made it to Cheapness Studies, but I'd rather wait and have a full post on faux-poverty chic up there another time.

Jews, wooers, and shoes

-A commenter to Nicholas Kristof's latest column asks, "Why should real Americans be like Asians or Jews?" I didn't realize there was still unselfconscious use of the adjective "real" in reference to some Americans and not others, but we have, perhaps, the anonymity of the Internet to thank. (And since when do "real Americans" know how to play ice hockey? Doesn't the commenter mean real Canadians?)

-Goodness. The featured NYT wedding this week resulted from the woman proposing to the man. Alert the presses! (Although I guess technically, the presses have been alerted.) How did it all happen?

"She said she thought that it was undignified to drop hints to get him to propose, and she doubted that he would volunteer to be legally bridled. So she decided it was time for some rule-breaking of her own, and it was Ms. Emerson who got down on one knee as they hiked in the Catskills last April."

Hmm. On the one hand, good for her. On the other, it's worth pointing out that even here, the assumption is first that the man will propose, and only once that's ruled out as a possibility does the woman take the initiative, as a last resort.

-For some reason, probably the corrupting influence of fashion blogs, I've become fixated on the idea of 'nude'-colored shoes. These, for instance. Yes? No?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Cheapness, studied

Miss Self-Important beat me to it, but consider this the second official announcement of the Cheapness Studies Blog.

Obama and schwarma

Am I the only one who found the headline, "Obama Calls for Alliances With Muslims", if technically true, somewhat misleading? The headline suggests that Obama has unilaterally decided to change where America stands in the great East and West divide (such as it is). It will also suggest, to whatever loony-right elements remain and read the NYT, that OMG Obama is a Muslim, after all! From reading the article (and as much of his speech as I could, until the call to pizza grew too strong), one learns this is not the case at all, but rather that he's trying to get peace in the Middle East. Is he less pro-Israel than this particular Zionist blogger? Sure. But I don't think his suggestions sounded outrageous. If he were calling for a one-state 'solution' with a Palestinian right-of-return, then there'd be cause for concern, and perhaps a sudden drop in enrollment in French departments, and increased enrollment in the IDF. Jerusalem... will be tough. I'm not Israeli, and perhaps because of this am not sure if turning the city into something like the Vatican but for whichever religions want in would be such a disaster. But NOTHING BETTER HAPPEN TO TEL AVIV. It must remain the mecca (er, so to speak) for top-notch falafel, beautiful gay men, blended iced coffee, and tanned-and-toned non-self-hating Jewry of Muscle it is today.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Cleaning the apartment, one page at a time

Now that jury duty and the semester are over, my days are spent going through the great mass of library books I've managed to accumulate over the months, years... nearly all of which are or might be on my orals lists, and every last one of which will, sniff sniff, have to go back to Bobst within the month, before I leave the city, at which point presumably someone with the exact same interests as I have (because these people are everywhere) would, if I hadn't returned them, recall them all in one go.

So I've been reading more, as the post below indicates, about The Jewess and whatnot, and it occurred to me that in a recent post, in which I laid the blame for the negative media image of Jewish women on hostile Jewish men (not all Jewish men, just the Roth-Allen sort), I totally missed the point. OK, not totally, but I did miss a big part of what's going on, one I really should have picked up on.

As we all learned in intro college classes or elsewhere, way back when, in the great Then revered by social conservatives and at which social liberals stand aghast, sexuality was divided into that which society recognized but that had not been freely chosen, and that which society didn't sanction, but could often be done, in today's parlance, on the down-low. There was no 'coming out' as gay, there was no introducing the family to a partner, of either sex, you just happened to meet at a bar, whose cultural and religious heritage was radically different from your own. There also wasn't any assumption that the official Spouse was also the person you found most sexually desirable at all times, if ever. (Oversimplification I realize, and some counterarguments have already come to mind, but bear with me.)

Anyway. It was back during Then that all sorts of non-blonde women came to be considered the hottest of hot in parts of the West where there was a good chance any given man would have a blonde wife, sister, mother... Call it Orientalization, or better yet, call it exoticization, so as to include non-'Oriental' women who also fell into this category. Whatever. The point is, the times white European men got all hot and bothered en masse by the dark-complexioned Other coincided with the first time they had the chance to meet or at least learn about that Other, but before the historical union of Madonna and Whore, before the expectation that the passionate-sex mistress and the mother-of-your-children, meet-the-parents wife would come all rolled up in the same woman.

Today, the wife is also, ideally, the lover. One is expected to find hot the same person that one deems appropriate. This has some pretty fantastic benefits in terms of female sexuality - thanks to this development plus the Pill, a woman need not choose one or the other category - but it has (and I believe Foucault has something to say about this - also on The List) to some extent stifled sexuality overall. Thus the left's anti-gay-marriage argument: once gay marriage is legal, gays will be pushed into the same conventional channels as straights, and will be chastised for not marrying and moving to the suburbs.

So when it comes to The Jewess, or any other once-exoticized woman, there is no longer a need to look beyond the appropriate, socially-sanctioned partner for the fantasy. OK, there may be a need in some cases, but not to the degree there once was, or at any rate, the assumption is you also happen to be attracted to the appropriate partner, and that it shouldn't be any great torture to repress whatever other attractions, to the inappropriate, may occur. While there still men out there (and women, I suppose) who seek out the exotic, the phenomenon isn't what it used to be. And in many cases thus classified - Jewish man with WASP woman, WASP man with Asian-American woman, etc. - the 'exotic' element may, when it comes down to it, be exceedingly slight. There may be a bit of, 'ooh, she sure doesn't look like my mother!', but all told, you're often looking at two people with equivalent levels of education, or at any rate, at a couple that can, without worrying what the parents will think, take the other person home to visit.

So, PG, other people I rely on to keep me (relatively) sharp: any of this make sense?

Sephora the Cheapskate

According to turn-of-the-century Alsatian-Jewish critic Moses Debré, the most unflattering portrait of a 'Jewess' in all of 19th C French literature is of a woman whose father is Belgian-Catholic. The woman is, it seems, something of a cheapskate. It gets better. Her first name? Sephora. I don't know what this means, but it did just revive the guilt I felt at spending $18 (before tax) on concealer at that chain.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Nikes and lentils

The thread following Mark Bittman's post about how rice and beans is a cheaper meal than fast food hits the predictable points: Some commenters ask (in a reliably insensitive tone) why the poor are said not to be able to purchase good food, when they can afford beer/cigarettes/Nikes/babies/lottery tickets/acrylic nails. Others enter into an authenticity contest centered around what poverty really means, with an interest less in sorting out whether it's actually a problem that Americans are overweight and eat junk, and if so, what to do about it; than in declaring as many people as possible out-of-touch trust-fund brats.

The question of who 'counts' as poor for the purposes of the Great Food Debate is nevertheless worth having, even if the posturing it inevitably elicits is tiresome. 'Poor' in this context, some point out, is not about a temporary lack of funds - a college student who's 'broke' the day before his parents transfer him his allowance, a recent college grad with a low-paid but educational or do-gooder job, these are not The Poor. In a sort of intermediary category would be, say, over-educated adjuncts subsisting on poverty wages, living in crummy neighborhoods, without family money, but with class aspirations or what-have-you. As would be those recent immigrant families, however poor and however uneducated the parents, whose children are on a path towards middle-class status, and whose eating habits have not yet been Americanized, and whose children can thus skip relatively quickly from 'traditional' meals to Whole Foods, with maybe a brief period of McDonalds consumption during high school.

Then at last there are the 'real' poor, the unambiguous cases, and it's in discussing this set that the discussion heads towards either the patronizing, the offensive, or both. If the issue was simply, 'how does one eat well for not much money?', the answer would be easy enough: lots of pasta, lentils, oatmeal, etc., with much smaller amounts of more expensive, perhaps more difficult to acquire, foods - not caviar, but, say, $13/lb. cheese, fresh or frozen berries, etc., without which the bulk foods can start to feel a bit like they belong in a farm animal's trough.

But the question is clearly not whether it is possible to feed one's self on very little money, but what the Alice Waters-ite should do when she sees a 400-pound mother on the subway feeding her kids, who are also overweight, cans of Pringles and non-diet Coke. What's at stake has something to do with money, health, and the environment, but it's just as much about class, race, aesthetic preferences, and liberal guilt at judging Them.

Every generation since god knows when has had it's Poor People's Health and Hygiene dilemmas, in which poverty is conflated with unhealthiness. With real-versus-fast-foods as with previous incarnations of this discussion, part of what's going on has to do with actual health, as in, illness-prevention and lifespan-extension, or, for this generation, the health of the environment, but another, tough-to-separate part is about what happens to be trendy at any given time in the upper classes. Local-seasonal is now a trend. Thinness beyond what's necessary for health is now a trend. The visceral response of the Waters-ite to her fellow subway riders might be an altruistic concern for the obesity-related illnesses the mother and children might face and for the carbon footprint of Pringles production, or it could be an 'ick' reaction to rolls of fat and artificial ranch flavoring. But it's most likely a bit of both, although people do tend to fall into categories of tactless or patronizing, so it will be tough to find the same person admitting to both responses.

It can feel as if there's no way to address health (and environmental) concerns without risking the external, snobbish factors from at least seeming present. And there would certainly be no way for the Waters-ite to intervene at that moment, on the subway, without being an ass. It would help if the Waters-ites were to recognize that it's patronizing to say, 'Now, now, that's just what They eat, we shouldn't judge,' but that it's also patronizing to suggest that anyone who's spent money on any luxury (in Waters's own example, Nike sneakers) rather than local-seasonal-organic farmers-market produce is a fool.

On a similar note, while it would be insane to begrudge the Obamas a fancy night-on-the-town in New York, or a night off, period,I cringed when I read about their clearly-symbolic choice of a restaurant specializing in local-seasonal foods... after arriving in the city via an airplane and a helicopter. I get that there are huge security concerns, and that this is kind of an Al Gore-riding-airplanes-during-'An Inconvenient Truth' scenario - the positive of getting the word out could exceed the carbon footprint of doing so - but the evening's much-publicized itinerary risks reinforcing the belief that local-seasonal is something for the exceptionally privileged, that consuming food from local farms is somehow tied up with what would be, for anyone but the Obamas, extravagance.

So, after heaps of my locally-grown cynicism, I'll end on a positive note: Today I saw a group of schoolkids - racially diverse ('diverse' as in 'not all one race', not as a euphemism for every-last-one-was-black) - getting a tour of the Union Square Greenmarket, learning about what grows near New York, what's in season, etc. It looked like much more fun than any of my own school trips (with the exception of the 9th grade trip to a Hindu temple in Queens), was far more health-promoting than staying inside to watch some Lifetime-esque film about eating disorders, and was an introduction to a major NYC institution that probably some students already knew and others did not, and inasmuch was no more or less patronizing than a field trip to, say, the Met. So, uh, more stuff like that, please.