Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chickpeas, H&M sweaters, and mediocrity

-What does one do with partially-soaked chickpeas? I went a bit crazy (like, 30 cents worth of crazy) at the bulk section of Whole Foods, and am trying to decide if this recipe would make going out in 20-degree weather for parsley and mint worthwhile. But I have trouble coming up with recipes that don't end in, '... and then you put it on top of pasta.'

-If this is one of them designer-collaboration extravaganzas, how is it possible that I used to own one of the very same sweaters, or one remarkably similar, from H&M, I think one in Chicago, until the $6-ish garment turned into thrift-store material?

-Why, Philip, why? OK, so beyond the fact that I was not wild about this book, there's the limitation of the autobiography and semi-autobiographical novel that I suppose could be called the A-Student Limitation. (See also.) So often, we get to hear about the life of the student who always felt different from everyone else (up to this point, all can identify with the sentiment) on account of he was simply more brilliant than everyone else, a fact recognized by his performance on exams, and questioned only by ill-intentioned if not bigoted teachers and school administrators. The genre of good-little-boy autobiography is interesting, I guess, insofar as it allows us to see limitations present at various times and places, keeping the excellent from reaching their full potential and all that. But the internal angst of the student who's never so much as seen an A-, whose exam came second only to Sartre, it gets old. But so, too, does the look-how-far-I-fell memoir, of getting kicked out of school, of near-fatal overdoses, and so forth. Just as it does not make people dull that they've excelled in school, failure does not imply a fascinating life story - often just a boring old refusal to hand in homework on time. What would be fun would be an autobiographical novel or, why not, autobiography of mediocrity, of the A-/B+ student.

Should newspapers have comments sections?

"i love garlic and can make a mean mashed potato w/ roasted garlic. however, as i've gotten older i began to have tons of stomach cramps and flatuence after eating garlic...has anyone else experienced this?"

Jul light the menorah

Somehow, the post I wrote about Jews paired off with non-Jews who are also not real-Americans turned into a discussion of Jewish men and Asian women - a topic that's been covered far more extensively elsewhere than the one I was hoping to address.

So, another attempt: here's fashion-blogger/child-prodigy Tavi describing her family's wintertime traditions: "Our family is Jewish, but my mom is from Norway, so we celebrate Jul. It is basically Scandinavian Christmas only instead of a jolly fat guy we Norsemen get an angry little gnome that beats people with sticks."

(This is probably the first - and last - time anyone will approach the Tavi phenomenon from a Jewish-Studies angle, but bear with me.)

What Tavi describes is a family that's embracing Judaism (other posts are about her bat mitzvah), but that allows for Christian traditions only insofar as they're elements of one parent's particular background. Gnomes and j's that must be pronounced like y's are not part of the Christmas, the one that many Jews understand as representative of homogenizing Mainstream Society. Had Tavi written, 'We're Jewish, but my mother's family is Episcopalian so we gather around the tree and sing carols,' she would - and this is just a guess - stand accused of coming from a family that wasn't quite Jewish. But if it's Jul that's at stake, that's another story, because Jul, whatever it is, is not about blending unnoticed into the majority culture. Note here that Tavi's mother is Norwegian - not 'minority' in the usual sense, but in this context, yes, it counts.

(One for the files of why we can't all just get along: Some of these white-but-minority-in-the-U.S. wintertime traditions stray particularly far from mainstream American culture.)

When a Jewish family celebrates Christmas, it's assimilation. But what if it's Jul, or assimilating-Chinese-American-secular-Christmas? A Soviet New Year's tree? Or, moving beyond the not-so-timely question of a holiday season that's ending, how should Jews approach intermarriage in cases in which neither spouse's traditions much align with those of mainstream America? The expectation that the non-Jewish partner should defer to the Jewish one on these matters on account of Jews are this teensy minority that needs all the numbers it can get stops making so much sense when that partner has odd-sounding traditions of his own.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A festive roundup

-Worst fashion suggestion yet: Advising regular women to dress like models do on their time off. Bad advice why? Models are women a) who, if successful, have a stash of free designer clothes, and b) look good in everything, as looking good in everything is their job. The look that's apparently so-very-now, from the description and the photos, seems like what was once referred to as 'chic'; my disapproval is only of the purported inspiration.

This, however, is... something:

And as Scott Schuman, creator of the Sartorialist, the photo blog about street fashion, observed: “It’s the models’ authenticity that makes them so sexy and appealing. People want a look that’s real.”

-Worst advice ever: Is TPP really endorsing a site "recommending that women become 'holiday divas,' indulging in luxury and pampering rather than food"? It goes on: "Among the suggestions are Champagne bubble baths, spa treatments like facials and pedicures and bold, high-gloss red lipstick." Pedicures replace the need to eat how?

-Since I prefer eating food to bathing in expensive wine, I've been trying, post-orals, to come up with new ideas of things to cook. Winter recipes frustrate me for two reasons. One, I'm not entirely convinced I can get excited about kale, and the latest in winter recipes are all about making the most of one's CSA or the half-stand worth of farmers' market. Two, every recipe has the word "comforting" in it. I like some foods, not others, but find exactly none of any particular comfort, except insofar as it's comforting to know you're not about to starve. Is "comforting" a euphemism for "warm"? "Bland"? Because the recipes tend to be both of those. Clearly, the arrabiata-stirfry cycle shall continue uninterrupted.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A brief guide to promoting diversity in fashion

-Celebrate the pale, delicate-featured, nine-foot-tall, emaciated model with one tiny, barely-visible bit of non-white heritage. Sure, she's one flat-iron treatment away from a 'white' appearance, but this model represents change.

-Pity the nine-foot-tall, shockingly gorgeous, perfect-breasted, professionally-successful size four Dutch model because sometimes people give her a hard time about not being a size two. Denounce the oppression face by women of this model's physical appearance in our society.

-Bring color to the pages of Vogue by painting said Dutch model brown.

Interfaith romance and assimilation

In Jewish discussions of intermarriage, interfaith dating, and the like, the non-Jewish partner is implicitly assumed to have one of two identities: that of a universal, non-hyphenated member of the majority culture (i.e. the women Portnoy screwed so as to screw, in both senses, America), or that of a mainstream elite - a member of the New England WASP upper class, say, or the Parisian aristocracy. In both of these cases, the Jewish desire to resist total assimilation, to insist upon raising theoretical and real-life children 'as Jews', and thus to reject the culture and religious traditions of the non-Jewish partner, is understandable. In neither case would choosing Judaism/Jewishness over the other route put the particularities of the other partner's culture in danger of disappearance.

But what about the (frequent) case of a Jew partnering off with a member of another 'particular'? I ask because I found myself wondering whether Prudie would have responded the same way had a Chinese-American woman complained not about her Jewish boyfriend's refusal to embrace the secularized Christmas her own family adores, but instead about his failure to accept specifically Chinese aspects of her heritage, say, if she had told him the Theoretical Children could attend Hebrew school only if they also went to Chinese school, and he'd said no? What if the issue had been Greek Orthodox Christmas up against Chanukah? And so on.

There's a certain degree of assimilation inherent in considering out-group dating acceptable. But it seems the discussions of theoretical children disappearing into the majority are less appropriate when neither partner is the 'real American.' In such cases, an insistence that a child be raised in only one parent's culture strikes me unfair.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

An investment piece

On Friday, one thing led to another and I ended up scoring a pair of APC jeans (see attempt at photograph above) for $5, or $150 less than what seems to be the cheapest pair at the store. Used, obviously, thanks to Housing Works Tribeca's jeans extravaganza. The imperceptible weight fluctuations of (to paraphrase Gossip Girl) Manhattan's elite mean new upmarket jeans for all.

The garment's two main flaws - too small, at least post-latkes, and the sailor-pants-esque flare - could be overlooked both because the flaws have upsides (a reminder that latke consumption should be finite, and that skinny jeans really aren't the most flattering, respectively), and because, well, $5. That, and the fashionable men of the French department rave about this brand, and since they tend not to look quite a schleppy as I do on a typical day, I should probably heed their advice. (It would mean a trip to Williamsburg, but yes, but I am intrigued.) The material of these particular jeans reminded me why denim ever caused such a fuss in the first place - they're dark blue, no streaks of any kind, and this thick material that makes other jeans seem like leggings.

I have a whole nautical outfit in mind, one that will involve these plus a striped white-and-navy H&M shirt, perhaps, post-snowstorm, paired with these:

But beyond the one outfit, I'm not sure quite what to do with these pants. Any ideas?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"You know you're not in high finance, considering second-hand underpants."*

I'm not sure if I'm ABD now, or if this status only comes after defending the dissertation proposal, but in any case I've been a humanities ABD, if I am one, for just over a week. Still, it's never too soon to read a scary tale about 20th-year grad students and the general bad life choice that is going to humanities grad school. Why the D bit is the most problematic confuses me - isn't the dissertation why people want to be in grad school in the first place? Or is it just that, life-cycle-wise, it so often coincides with interruptions?

Anyway, in the spirit of the tag to this post, the myths in the linked article, and my own repeating-myself-probably response to them.

Myth 1: The humanities grad student chose humanities grad school over a more lucrative option.

Because this is what's implied whenever anyone points out the low pay typical of grad school. But who's to say Mr. Poetics had a choice between management consulting, launching a successful company, and poetry, and somehow chose poetry? More likely, Mr. Poetics would have found himself graduating from college into a tough job market and, if lucky enough to find a position, working some unexciting, poorly-paid job that perhaps didn't even require a college diploma. (Mr. Poetics may have chosen a prestigious English program over Starbucks.) Now, if Mr. Poetics happened to graduate from Stanford with a dual major in silliness and math, fine, he had choices. But if he's just your regular old A student from wherever without any highly lucrative potential, getting paid to study poetry, even if the pay isn't fantastic, is not the worst idea ever. Would we prefer him 'finding himself' at a mediocre law school, then finding himself in debt?

Myth 2: Humanities grad school "virtually disqualifie[s]" you from doing anything else with your life.

Disqualification should be distinguished from non-qualification. That is, a humanities degree, grad or undergrad, does not qualify you to work as a plumber, engineer, barber, banker... But nor does it prevent you from picking anything up once you're done. If you start at 21 and finish at 45, then yes, it's more difficult, but there are always the options of a) not taking decades to get your degree, and b) leaving if it looks like it'll take decades. Plus, unless I'm missing something, I was under the impression that a PhD, even if it doesn't lead to a desired teaching job at a college, can help, not hurt, with getting one at a high school. If this does not strike you as tragedy of tragedies, then yes, you have backup. If you think a PhD, any PhD, guarantees tenure, a wood-paneled office, and busty-brilliant student acolytes out of a dated novel, good luck, but no one I know who is in fact a grad student thinks like this. Even the most ambitious grad students have Plan Bs, or at least reasonable expectations regarding Plan A. As for those Plan Bs, there are no doubt certain jobs for which you'd want to play down a PhD, but conflating it with something akin to a criminal record seems excessive.

Myth 3: Humanities grad school is an echo chamber of 'postmodern' this, 'Foucault' that, and of no relevance to conservatives, sensible people.

Not quite, as I've babbled about before. Much that goes on in academia sounds lefty, ridiculous, or both to those who never bothered to find out what it is. If you're already set on rolling your eyes every time "gender" is mentioned, you are not a serious conservative critic of the academy, you're just a knee-jerk people-pleaser who knows insulting the ivory tower ups your populist credentials.

*Song lyric from Flight of the Conchords

Reading material

The man who wrote the book letting Americans known that Europe has a Muslim problem is now telling Americans about Belgium's Walloon problem. (via)

19th C French Jews and American Jewish francophiles, and I only just found this? (via)

Tipping is a mystery both to visiting foreigners and to those just reaching the age where situations requiring tips become relevant. No one tells you these things! How are you supposed to know? A dollar per drink at a bar, doubling the tax at a restaurant, these become clear early on, but the rest? So when Prudence mentioned she tips newspaper delivery people $75 each, I was torn between appreciating that someone finally addressed what's appropriate in these situations, and thinking that perhaps this is a bit above and beyond. (Also, the first letter of this set has to be a joke played by someone against letting gay couples adopt.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Testing, testing

Fellow teachers,

What do you do if, ten minutes past the time a (non-standardized) test ought to end, you still have students who won't hand the thing in? My creative approach was to insist a student stop writing and simply remove the exam from that student's desk, then to do the same with the next one. (Most had already handed it in, but not all.) Is there a better way? I've tried the 'I'm leaving with or without your tests' line in previous semesters, but students know I'm not going to actually leave without their tests. Is the answer to follow through and leave? But I don't want to give out zeroes on a final exam! Bah! Something like saying you'll take a point off for each minute has potential, but requires staring at the clock as each student finishes, i.e. makes the whole process worse for student and teacher alike.

Part of why this challenges me is that I was always the kid who'd hand the test in first, whether or not it was a class I was doing well in, so I don't have a whole lot of experience seeing what happens in those final classroom test-taking moments.

So, advice much appreciated.

What is "exercise"?

Just went on my first post-exam run. It turns out that preparing for qualifying exams can in fact reverse years' worth of on-and-off running. If it were not for Dan Savage's miraculous podcast, I'd have never made it to Houston and back. And if it were not for my students' exam, who knows when I'd get off the couch. Geez.

Monday, December 14, 2009


For a vaguely NSFW and, frankly, odd discussion of the alleged rise of the sultry Jewess, see here, here, and here.

What would be absolutely fantastic is if, rather than declaring Jewish women 'hot', the media could admit that Jewish women exist beyond the role of would-be love-interests for Jewish men who looked elsewhere. (For the most recent example, see #3 of this "Shouts and Murmurs" list.)

A conversion tale

It was only a matter of time.

(Yes, this is about online shoe-shopping.)

Why did it take so long? For starters, living in a walk-up, I was never confident that packages would reach me, and was too ashamed to have the giant Zappos logo arrive at my department. But it was more than that. It was in part the fear that one online purchase would lead to an avalanche thereof. But most of all, it was my sense that living in New York, there's no excuse, because there's a shoe store on every corner.

But that's the thing: there's a shoe store on every corner. This makes it tough to decide where to even begin. The massive, bad-nightclub-like ones, such as Shoemania and David Z? Tiny, off-the-beaten-path boutiques with tiny selections and an aversion to sales? Stores with a very distinctive aesthetic, such as Camper or Irregular Choice? Department stores, where the selection is inevitably less impressive than one might imagine? Nine West, Aldo, and the like? There used to be Tootsie Plohound, with its permasale, but that seems to no longer exist, perhaps on account of its tendency to sell steeply discounted shoes in loft-like shops in posh neighborhoods. While I have no trouble if asked remembering where it is I buy pasta or laundry detergent, or even clothes, with shoes there's just about no pattern. They just sort of... arrive.

But the thing in my department is to in some way mark the passing of the orals. In previous years, one classmate went with a tattoo, another with a pedicure. For me, the equivalent seemed a gratuitous pair of shiny ballet flats. OK, it had seemed a not-totally-gratuitous Uniqlo purchase, but the much-reduced thick-cashmere +J line turtleneck sweaters were sold out in my size. Anyway, because I'm neither 15 nor visiting for just the one week from Western Europe, the thought of combing the above-mentioned shoe stores did not appeal to me in the least. Which led me here, and they could not fit better. So fine, online shoe-shopping, kind of fantastic.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pastry woes

On the one hand, I'm not at all surprised to learn that the place Jo and I had been going once a week for croissants - the place with the best croissants, to my knowledge, in the city, at least since Payard closed - is in trouble with the health department. On the other, I was startled to notice "croissants" mentioned specifically in the PDF report.

In defense of studying abroad in Paris

The desire on the part of some educators to include 'roughing it' and 'character building' in curricula is as old as time. Once, an education would not have been complete without cold showers and beatings on the sports field. Today, the travesty is that school does not include farming, or, apparently, living amongst the world's destitute. Nicholas Kristof finds it "appalling how many people go through college and graduate school without ever spending time in a village in the developing world." Fellow French Studies students, take note.

To drive the point home, Kristof includes a jab at students who choose Paris over Rwanda. He writes that studying abroad in Paris "doesn’t count." But count as what? Nobody thinks - despite the state of the Chatelet train station - that France is a developing country. No one goes there to fulfill humanitarian and/or Orientalist urges. The point of going to Paris, in other words, is not to leave the West, but rather to better understand the West. It's thus pointless to compare the dangers of Western European study-abroad - where you'll at most get insulted by some croissant-salespeople and sit on a commuter train under a graffiti message urging the death of those of what happens to be your own ethno-religious heritage - with the sort of trips where one might interview a warlord.

Yes, I studied abroad in Paris. The UChicago program I took was a Western Civilization sequence with a focus on France, but the whole experience was an introduction to aspects of that civilization that staying in the States would not have let me in on. Attitudes towards cheese, shoes, and Jews that had not occurred to me as existing all of a sudden became the everyday norm. Some of it I admired, whereas enough aspects did not impress that I was saved from being one of those people who returns from study abroad pronouncing France as "Frahnce" and draped in more (secular) scarves than even a Chicago winter demands. What I got academically out of those three months is a good part of why I ended up in grad school. It made me curious about a place that both is and is not familiar and ultimately, with those 19th century French Jews, about a community that is and is not like one I know well. It's not saving the world one brothel at a time ala Kristof, but nor did the experience translate into a passive interest in this season's Chanel.

Clearly, not every American student abroad makes much of the experience. While some of the fault lies with the "comfort"-seeking American youth, there are structural reasons for some of the drawbacks. There's the fact that our drinking age is 21, while college juniors are often 20 - students who will behave perfectly normally after a couple drinks at 24 are not yet socialized to handle alcohol, and thus look ridiculous even when drinking in moderation. Then there's the tendency of programs to keep Americans with Americans - we were housed in an American dorm, so even adventurous attempts to mingle beyond the UChicago circle meant chit-chat in English.

But the fact that an experience is enjoyable does not negate the possibility that a student will get something out of it. I've heard critics of study-abroad cite alcohol consumption and shopping as evidence that American students should just stay put. But there's time enough for everything, and it's hard to say that a glass of wine and a glance at the tiny, beautiful, out-of-virtually-any-student's-budget boutiques that line the Marais detract from one's understanding of France. I did more schoolwork in those three months than in any other in college, perhaps because sitting in a café amongst the Parisian haute bourgeoisie with 400 pages of readings was more pleasant than doing the same in the basement of the Reg.

The trips Nicholas Kristof describes having taken as a youth,* and that he asks today's college students to consider, were clearly motivated by a mix of curiosity about the world; humanitarian desire to locate problems and find ways to solve them; and a massive sense of adventure. In other words, there was something in it for him. For him, comfort, it seems, makes an experience less fun. To be clear, I don't doubt that humanitarian trips, if done right, are more, well, humanitarian than trips to Paris, however educational. But I'm not convinced that simply looking up-close at thatched huts is Education, while time spent in Paris by definition is not.

*I'm leaving aside the question of how easy it would be for a woman to have done the same, and whether the chest-beating 'I slept in caves in Algeria' as versus soft and effeminate Paris is not a gendered assessment of what is and is not a valuable use of time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Your Questions Answered: Installment I

For a while now, I've had an idea for a new feature on this blog, in which once a week (or a day, a month...) I'll attempt to answer a Googled question that led somebody to this blog. As always, there are some good ones. Someone wants to find a straight female gym teacher. Then there are the usual suspects looking for obscene combinations of words that in less titillating ways appear in this site, who should really learn to put search terms in quotes, so as to avoid disappointment. (Still not sure what 'blow my sandwich' means, or why this person in Sweden would be confident enough that others share his - and it's clearly his - interest that he would imagine a no-quotes search would lead to anything but these words at random places in someone's blog.) But the pick today is the following query: "why french women don't get far."

Why, then, don't French women get far? It's a fair question, considering that French women only got the right to vote in 1944, so we need not be thrown off by the fact that whoever typed this went one letter off with the "r" in "far," and really wants to know about how to eat flan every day, not exercise, and yet maintain Audrey Tautou-esque proportions. But who cares what was sought, the question is what it is. If French women don't get far, it could be the Louboutins that they no doubt all wear for their morning strolls to the market. Otherwise, I have no idea.

On the slow, post-exam return to humanity

This week, I've experienced grad school at its most and least stressful. Most, the moments I had to stand outside the room during my exam, and least, when during the class I've been auditing, all the students still taking coursework were asking about the due date for their final papers and I was all, what's a paper? (A dissertation, fine, but my term-paper days are over.)

For reasons it would take a professional to sort out, I'd been convinced that my failure of not one but two road tests last spring was a bad omen for my qualifying exam. It turns out that driving around a block in Red Hook is simply more difficult than finding semi-coherent things to say about modern France.

Now, I'm in this odd phase of having adjust to actually returning email that's not super-urgent, to reminding myself that I can go to social engagements, to the presence on my bookshelves (and god knows at the library) of books not about my lists that I can read guilt-free...

So aside from the requisite catharsis over drinks with the others who just went through this, my post-exam plan, the immediate-ish one for after I teach tomorrow, is to take an entire afternoon off. Totally off! I'm not sure what one does with an afternoon off, but I'm thinking it will involve maybe some Uniqlo, some peeking into a store that had intriguing-looking ballet flats, some taking the fancy salon up on its alleged 'free in-between-haircut bang trim,' and if I'm feeling ambitious, some sitting in a coffee shop and reading something slowly. Yes, this is my one concession to the pro-slow. After reading many books in not so much time, and taking notes on (not in, thank you very much, fellow Bobst patrons, particularly those who write "Yes!" in the margins) each one, reading without the "Overall" blurb I intend to type up in mind might not be half bad.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Race and neurosis

Eugene Robinson doesn't seem too worried about Tiger Woods' affairs. His main concern is that Woods goes for the "Barbie" type, meaning that his mistresses are uniformly blond, thin, and busty. Is Robinson put off by Woods's failure to be attracted to something a bit unusual (say, his failure to find himself a Lewinsky)? Does he not understand why a man would bother cheating with women who resemble both one another and his own wife? Or is the issue more that Woods seems to prefer white women to women of color? I tend to think it's that last one, which means that I agree, it seems, with some folks at the National Review. (Good to know, by the way, that the author of Liberal Fascism likes 'em Aryan. And by the way, if you go for "crazy-hot Swedish swimsuit models," that makes your tastes conventional, not "bourgeois" - bourgeois leanings or lack thereof don't enter into it.)

Anyway. Who knows whether Woods goes for this type (assuming that's even true - I haven't really been following this story) out of self-hatred, or if he enjoys the prestige that being able to score such partners implies, or if he found something special about each of these women individually who each just happened to look a certain way, or if, boringly enough, he's seen the same ads and billboards as everyone else and his tastes were shaped accordingly. It seems clear enough, though, that Robinson projects neurosis onto Woods without a whole lot of evidence.

The neurosis, though understandable, is that of the author, not Woods. It's a bit like how part of my ambivalence towards this personal-style blog comes from my awareness that if its author was an unabashed, unambiguous Jew, as opposed to a delicate-featured Texan belle, she would, let's face it, be called a nouveau-riche 'JAP' at every turn, in that her blog largely consists of photographs of designer shoes and clothes purchased, it appears, with her parents' money. Simply put, while Jewish girls can and do blog about fashion, a Jewish girl could not have this blog, because it would fit the stereotype too perfectly. So when I look at the blog, I'm bothered not only, as everyone else is, by the obscene display of privilege, but also by the specifically Gentile privilege that's evidenced by the blogger's free-and-easy announcements of consumption. Now I realize both that I can't prove what I just feel I know in this case, but also that on some level that I'm projecting my own anxieties onto a blog that has nothing to do with Jews. Which is sort of how I see the Woods situation. Mistresses or not, blonde or not, whatever's going on with Woods, it's unclear why his racial identity would be relevant here - if race enters into it at all, it's only insofar as beauty standards in our society favor not so much white women as a subset of white women who resemble that particular doll.

Herzl also parachutes

MSI is to Hannah Arendt what I am to Theodor Herzl. Sort of. In the sense that Herzl (pre- and post-conversion to Zionism) has a tendency to show up unannounced in papers that don't immediately seem to call out for his presence. But then I find evidence that Herzl is not altogether irrelevant to the study of French literature, and end up feeling like maybe I don't need to edit him out 80% of the time after all.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Popular culture, meet the "shaygetz"

This week's NYT Mag cover story was shocking, shocking! Apparently, sometimes intermarriages between Jews and Gentiles involve no "shiksa" whatsoever. Contrary to popular belief, Jewish women are not all home alone watching episodes of "Rhoda," gorging themselves on latkes, and bemoaning the fact that all the nice Jewish guys have, by some fluke, paired off with clones of Claudia Schiffer.

Of course, the opener (confession - I have not yet read far into this article, and may never do so) - "Last spring he cut apart a frozen pig’s head with his compound miter saw in our basement. He needed the head to fit into a pot so that he could make pork stock." - reads like a parody of what a Jew might fear would happen pairing off outside the faith/tribe/whatever. 'The goyim, they don't just love pork, they hack apart pigs' heads whenever they get the chance!'

Sunday, December 06, 2009

On effort, visible and hidden

Paul Gowder asks: "What is 'trying too hard'"? I answered, "Trying too hard, in any context, is when the effort is visible." While I like how I phrased this, I'm not sure if I agree with myself on this one.

Paul is right that visible effort can, in some cases, contribute to, rather than detract from, results. There's truth to the adage that 90% of life is showing up. Most everyday and workplace conflicts are best resolved by showing that you're taking a task at hand seriously, and indeed by taking the task seriously, whatever the results. Students will often ask - implicitly or explicitly - for an improved grade by pointing out how hard they worked on an assignment, in the hopes of that elusive 'A for effort'. Futile, one might think. But a classmate of mine in college issued this complaint and got her grade raised, thereby leading me to lose confidence - temporarily! - in the educational system.

In fact, visible effort often serves people well in situations one would expect it to do the opposite. A situation fellow UChicago alums know all too well: the kid who declares, whenever tangentially relevant, that he is an Intellectual. He might even wear a Blazer. (For whatever reason, women do not go in for this.) One would expect those who announce their braininess to fail academically, yet often enough, they succeed. Such men are not lying about credentials or inclinations, but are merely discussing them openly, whereas some people might be more inclined to discuss their plans for a new pair of ballet flats than their dissertation topic unless otherwise prompted. Insert gender analysis here, but not all intellectually-inclined men are of this type, so gender isn't everything.

As for trying too hard in the context of dating... Part - most - of what's understood as 'trying too hard' is when someone adopts the opposite of the clichéd expectation of what their gender is supposed to want from a relationship. Meaning, women who come on strong re: hopes for marriage and kids on the first date don't impress, nor do men who ask for sex immediately and with no segue or anything, even when the man wants to settle down and the woman wants some fun that evening, simply because tired insistence on scripts reads as dull. But! Women who offer sex 'too' soon (or who hint at this with an over-the-top sexy outfit, references to a complete lack of interest in 'a relationship', etc.), and men who announce an interest in commitment and things domestic before a 'reasonable' time (or who hint at abilities as a provider through discussions of how well their accounting firms are doing), are seen as trying too hard to please. Here, trying too hard is a problem because it's not directed at an individual, just at a script which the other person may find irrelevant. The turn-off is not so much the effort as the fact that the effort is designed to please A Man or A Woman, as opposed to a particular man or woman. The 'trying too hard' is an effort not to impress, but to be generically impressive. Visible efforts to impress a particular person, assuming that person is somewhat interested, have to go quite far to be deemed creepy; even the slightest visible efforts to impress generically tend to seem excessive.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

"It’s a story of Jewish irresistibleness"

Allow me to summarize: Jews, power, meritocracy, intermarriage is at 47% but "the daughters of political families do seem, possibly, more susceptible" because look here's a list of them and a brief list shows this how exactly? but who cares by the way Chelsea Clinton has (had?) poufy hair and a prominent schnozz so why not?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Acne and frizz

-What to make of acronyms from non-English-speaking countries that, while derived from English words, spell something ridiculous in English? See here and, especially (url potentially NSFW, website itself perfectly Rated G), here, and if you can think of others, that's what the comments are for.

-Race and hair: Oh the eternal question. To answer it, kind of: yes, it's different for a white person to have hair that does not fit conventional beauty standards than it is for a black person to be in the same situation. Curly-haired Irish-American =/= African-American with the same hair texture.

But! A couple things. One, racially-charged beauty standards do not stop being racially-charged when applied to non-blacks. The red-headed Irish person is fairly safe today in America from being thought non-white, but plenty of other 'ethnics' fuss about frizz for reasons very much tied to race. (Thus "Jewfro.") For ethnic groups with a history of oppression, in the US or elsewhere, on the basis in part of non-fine-hairedness - and that could be, oh, many formerly colonized nations - hair is a charged subject. Admitting this does not deny the specificity of racism against blacks in America, past and present, it just helps as a way to avoid conflating 'non-black-with-frizz' with 'racially-ignorant-white-person'.

Next, while there are certainly political advantages, there are also disadvantages, beauty-standards-wise, that come with your minority group being classified as 'white.' When Jews were thought racially distinct, Jewish women were judged as Jews, the same way one judges bagels (bear with me here) on the basis of how good they are as bagels, rather than on the basis of how good they are as baguettes. Overall preferences may have tilted towards baguettes, but there was still a place for bagels. But if we were to judge bagels on the basis of how well they approximate baguettes, we'd find most bagels quite disappointing. The same goes for Jewish women being judged as white women. Because let's remember that those who insist that 'Jews are not a race' typically mean by this that Jews are part of a race, but that that race, in most cases, should be called 'white' and not 'Jewish.' Those who say 'Jews don't look any different' mean, 99% of the time, to suggest that Jews do not look unlike other white people, and that to say otherwise is racist. Whereas Jewish women used to be the exotic alternative, we are now just a group of white women on average less likely to fit a fine-haired, blond ideal. Does any of this make being Jewish in America more difficult than being black in America? Clearly not. It's just something to think about when thinking about race and hair and whatnot.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

No Peddlers

I took a teensy study break to post home decor tips at Cheapness Studies.