Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Applying Godwin to Hitler

It's been my suspicion for a while now that nothing, absolutely nothing, not to mention no one, can be referred to uncontroversially as anti-Semitic. As a result, contrary to rumors about everyone who says even the tiniest thing about not liking, say, the falafel in Israel getting accused of anti-Semitism, we as a society - Jews included - vastly understimate the amount of Jew-hatred around. Anything that can be classified however tangentially as a protest against Israel gets a free pass, including white supremacists who go after Muslims as well, but remember to toss in a line about "Israel's policy."

But even those who make no claims of solidarity with the Palestinian cause, who are themselves white as white can be, who identify as neo-Nazis, who identify with actual WWII Nazis, well, they don't count, either. Because surely they're joking around ala Mel Brooks or too stupid to be given the time of day. Because any reference to something called 'anti-Semitism' existing in the post-1945 world is seen as inherently hyperbolic and hysterical. Sure, white supremacists don't especially like Jews, and sure, many articles and blog entries not even about Jews end up with comments sections devoted to the topic of how Jews are the most horrible people to ever live, but none of this is anti-Semitism, per se. Let's not jump to conclusions or anything. What I'm getting at is, instances of that-which-could-not-possibly-be-described-in-other-terms are in fact described in other terms.

Which makes me wonder how we even view pre-1945. How many people, today, would be comfortable agreeing with the following sentence: 'Adolf Hitler was an anti-Semite.'? To how many people would that sentence seem a bit paranoid, a bit blowing things out of proportion, a bit Judeo-centric, because after all, Hitler had other things on his mind as well and can't be put into a box? I'm just asking.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Babbling elsewhere

I have Cheapness Studies-blogged.

Dos Toros

There is finally a good, cheap lunch place near where I teach. I'll admit that I have just about no sense of what Mexican food is supposed to taste like, let alone San Francisco-style burritos, but, authentic or not, $7.50 for a delicious lunch that left me almost too full to stand during class makes this a winner, as far as I'm concerned.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring cleaning, the messy-grad-student edition

-Fix master list of all dissertation-related sources, primary and secondary, I ever have used or plan to use. This is the sort of thing I should have had all along, but it's now spread over a few different word docs, not to mention in need of some general updating. It all needs to be in one place! And it all is now. Almost.

-Look under pile of newspapers on 'dining room' table for books. Sort according to library or owned. Shelve accordingly.

-Swiffer extravaganza.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Today in self-deprecation

After teaching the last class of the week, I was feeling a bit more wiped-out than usual, perhaps because of the two-week-long cold I'd taken with me to Montreal, or perhaps because I'm not 100% convinced I conveyed the difference between "que" and "qui" when used as relative pronouns. In any event, I hopped on the train to the only store where I ever shop, where this was nowhere to be found, nor this, but this did the trick - a better version of a dress I'd admired in a shop in Montreal, but that had cost about four times as much.

But it seemed that what I really needed was a snack, and after a bit of looking around SoHo, I ended up with a massive and massively messy chocolate chip cookie from here. It was only hours later, once I got home, that I realized just how much chocolate was all over my face. But as I was attempting to eat the cookie without crumbling any of it into the bag containing my new dress, I overheard a man ask the model whose hand he was holding as they walked down the street when her posters were going to go up.

Running is hot

While jogging, running, whatever you want to call it ostensibly makes you look better in chic clothes, or permits you to fit into them in the first place, I'd always taken it as a given that while running, you sort of have to look awful. Sure, you can try to get a sleek outfit going, but the shoes always ruin it. It's as though there's only so much beauty a person's allowed within a lifetime, and it has to average out.

Or not. It has come to my attention, via Dan Savage, that to some men, running sneakers are hotter than stilettos. (Such men should not, it goes without saying, move to France.)

Less disturbingly, fashion blog Refinery 29 shows us what space-age-inspired designer Katie Gallagher wears to go running on cold days. The way she styles them, the running sneakers look futuristic and almost robot-like. Of course, inspirational as this is, I have no intention of abandoning my own running uniform of stuff that's lying around, paired with the no-really-I'm-not-pregnant fleece if it's cold out. But still, good to know.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

You kids today don't know how good you have it

The super-obscure book that this paper's about, that I so painstakingly read on microfilm at the NYPL, that I paid to print bits of, a couple years back? Now very much on Google Books, and a boring old PDF.

Sitting this one out, too

-Because I can't make sense of another round of wecantspeakthetruthaboutisraelorwellbecalledantisemitesbutwaitnoonescallinganyonethatbutitsureseemsliketheymightandohabefoxmanasversusrogercohenwhoisaprophetandwhyifdarfurandrwandaarethisandthatisisraelsignaledoutitsamericanfinancialsupportandwhatdidthepalestiniansdotohavetopayforthegermanssinsandwhycantwejustrelocateisraeltosomeotherplacebecauseitsnotasiftheresalreadyacountrythereoranythingisntitjustanideabandiedaboutinopeds?

-Because, even if I'm very near the only non-right-wing American Jew under 30 who identifies as a Zionist, I fail to see what contribution I could possibly have to the discussion, let alone one that would alleviate suffering for either side or get anything resolved.

-Because my paper still isn't 100%.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

If ... then... Part II

So I recently taught my students, and a class I subbed for, the "si..." construction with the futur simple, which is to say, "if... then..." And now, trying to revise a paper I've been working on for seriously most of my grad-school career, I am unable to think up sentences that don't begin with "If..." As in, "If the obscure guy my paper is about is so obscure that even I am starting to forget why he's So Important in the first place, then maybe more chocolate would help?"

I should mention, I suppose, that I'm sitting here writing about conversion from Judaism in 19th century France while eating (beyond delicious) Belgian Easter chocolates. (Not all of them, Jo, I promise.) Ideally, this is the very food that will make me understand the topic on a whole new level. Realistically, it will just make a dilemma like the one described by Miss Self-Important ever more pressing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

If... then...

If I finish this week's epic to-do list, then I will go to lower Broadway and do the H&M-Uniqlo-Crosby St. loop guilt-free, and might even check out some vegan handbags on the Lower East Side. Since if-not isn't really a possibility, looks like I'm going shopping.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

PC: not so terrible, after all

There have been times, on blog and off, when I've lamented the fact that academia today is not the drama-filled world promised by novels and movies, and wished, not so much for myself, but for the general principle of the thing, that there were more tweedy affairs going on. Never mind. (via.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring break, woohoo! Part II:

Just got back from an impromptu spring-break trip to Montreal - 24 hours of Amtrak but well worth it. (Update: now with captions.)

Highlights:

-Used bookstores. French books! For cheap! I only bought three, but was kicking myself for not having made a pre-orals trip up there, because they have everything.

-Art Java. Excellent cappuccinos.

-Arugula-garlic pizza at Pizza Mia in the Atwater Market.

-The Contemporary Art museum.

-Pastry place on Rue Bernard.

-Speaking French and having the other person not switch to English. In France, I've found, there's this idea that if someone's French is fully comprehensible but reveals non-nativeness, their use of the language is seen as harmful to its purity, and English is returned, even by those whose English is rusty at best. While teaching, my students often enough respond to my French with English, for altogether different reasons. But in French Canada, French is nearly always returned with more of the same, presumably for the same political reasons as cause all the signs and menus to be in French, even in what soon reveal themselves to be anglophone establishments. If all this extra practice has made my accent in French more interesting, so be it.

-The opportunity to discuss, at great length, the differences and similarities between Belgian and Canadian language politics. Has anything been written on this? I must know!

-Having a break from the permaconstruction site outside our apartment in NY.

-Most surprisingly, the train ride. Not only, what with it being a train and a discount fare, was it the more frugal option. It was as scenic as promised, what with the Hudson Valley and the Adirondacks. Plus, none of the hassle of airports, and a more comfortable spot to sleep in. And to catch up on non-French literature in.

Not as fabulous as hoped:

-The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. If there was ever a time I'd have found this book interesting, it would have been while traveling to and staying in where it's set. But... no. Back to Bobst he goes. I can't tell yet if the return-trip novel, The Group, is amazing, or if it's just by comparison.

-The hotel. As much as I approve in principle of hotels allowing dogs, when said dogs pee all over the carpet on the stairs and all floors, that's kind of a negative. And, if you're going to have literature in the room encouraging people to order champagne buckets at the like for a "romantic" time (do people really do this?), maybe make sure that the room's bathroom door actually closes.

-Joe Beef. As with virtually every restaurant listed in our guide - which is to say, just about every known restaurant in Montreal, because other Googling didn't come up with much more - the place was 'reservations essential.' Having already learned that, at least on weeknights, this was advice to ignore, we walked from the Metro down some deserted streets to the place, where we would be told it would just be a couple minutes, but that what we should do was make a reservation for half an hour later. This was slightly confusing, but we went along with it, and ended up killing time at a Montreal equivalent of Duane Reade. I like that sort of thing, so so far, so good.

The meal began with us having to stand and read the menu up on the board - something that could easily be eliminated either with printed menus or at the very least putting a second board up so that both sides of the table can read the thing sitting down, but maybe the daily menu means to food is super-fresh?

To put things into perspective, this was our second and I want to say last time ever spending that much on dinner for two. Accustomed to knowing ahead of time from menupages what a meal will cost, we realized this was a bit of a gamble. But it sounded so promising! And think of the money we saved by going to Montreal by train!

Still. Wine by the glass started at $11 (red at $12), which our waiter was very defensive about, perhaps reading our faces, or our wavering, explaining that we also had the option of bottles, which started at $50, or beer, an option which was not elaborated on price-wise. Hmm. The couple next to us, who seemed marginally less grad-studenty than we did, got the same defensive response when asking whether the entrees (some in the $50 range) came with anything on the side. It was almost as though the waitstaff realized the whole place was something of a gimmick. A gimmick designed to make patrons feel bourgeois for expecting a menu or a list of wines by the glass, as though there's some non-bourgeois way to eat in a nice restaurant that's been written up in all the conventional places.

As for the food... The menu was very Blue-Ribbon-esque, which is to say, haute comfort food, all-over-the-place, no-particular-cuisine, everything costing three times what one might imagine that dish could possibly, possibly cost. Anyhow. Prior to the meal, we received a 'from the chef' (excitement for a couple of pasta-at-home grad students!) of... deep-fried smelt. The dish is not for everyone, but the main problem was that the fries I ordered had clearly been fried in the same oil as the smelt, and were smeltier than ideal. That, combined with the (poutine-inspired?) cheese on top, ruined what would have otherwise been some stellar fries. I also got an artichoke dish that, at $16, was a much worse version of the equivalent and non-bank-breaking dish at NY restaurants like Bianca, Celeste, or Quartino. Jo got chicken that tasted like chicken.

What made this experience all the more frustrating was that lunch had been truly amazing pizza that came to something like $8 for two, with a bottle of water. The contrast made me rethink including a trip to an upscale restaurant as a vacation splurge. I should just accept that aside from this one not-even-that-expensive Japanese place in Tribeca, restaurants are something I could give or take.

-Whatever happened to Matt & Nat, or Denis Gagnon? Yes, I just complained about a meal costing far too much, and now I'm complaining about not having the opportunity to waste money on vegan handbags and avant-garde dresses. The former, it seems, are more readily available in NY. At any rate, if the 'likes' part of this post makes me sound like a pretentious humanities grad student, rest assured that if I didn't buy any clothes or accessories, it wasn't for lack of trying.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sans fards

The student health center used to be one of my love-hate relationships. The latter, because they often seem ill-equipped to handle problems other than depression and substance-abuse issues. As it happens, I have no idea how they are on those counts - I just have to assume these are their strengths, because whatever it is you go in for, these are, as a rule, at the center of the discussion. Got a fever? Are you also feeling sad? Sprained your ankle? So which illegal drugs do you use? Legal? Drinks-per-week? Given that it's NYU, the depression-screening makes sense, and that it's college, same goes for the debauchery-screening. But for your everyday grad student past the age of fun, yet overall cheerful, yet with strep-like symptoms, the place can be a pain.

As delighted as I was to find out that whatever's going on and making me come to campus in a paler-than-usual sick-and-makeup-free state, it isn't strep, I do rather wish I'd just waited the extra hour for the other cold symptoms to start, rather than pay $5 for the walk-in. That there's a fee at all for this for students is new, as of August, it seems. No love.

In other news-that-isn't-at-all-surprising, and in keeping with the mixed-couples theme, there's an organization (via) set on removing especially hot Jewish women from relationships with The Goyim. (Your everyday makeup-free Jewish grad students still reeling at having had to pay $5 for 'you have a cold' are, however, free to date as they please.)

As a Gawker commenter points out, it's odd that the focus is on Jewish-woman-Gentile-man relationships, given a) that these are popularly assumed not to exist, and b) that the children resulting from said relationships 'count' as Jews, according to Jewish law. But maybe things are seen differently in Israel, where the group is based, and where the Jewish women look a touch less washed-out than, uh, some of their Diaspora counterparts.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On behalf of "the stay-a-beds"

What's the opposite of living off airplane food at home in the name of Ambition? Beginning each day with an hour-long exercise walk (i.e. not an hour-long walk to one's office), following that up with a swim, and perhaps some knitting or other "productive activity." Jane Brody's days sound delightful, but altogether incompatible with any life other than a lucky (financially and health-wise) retirement; a life as a soy-and-yoga-fueled Tribeca trophy wife; or a job that consists of being super-wholesome and once a week writing about it, in a smug tone, for the NYT. (Smug how? Brody refers to those not yet up-and-exercising by 6am as "the stay-a-beds.")

The problem with food-movement writing, personal-health writing, and associated genres is that those who define the field tend, by definition, to have unrealistic ideas of the changes someone not professionally devoted to whole grains is likely to make. It's not only that Pollan, Brody, and company represent The Yuppie Coastal Lifestyle. It's that even within that world, they're the extremes. This serves to set up the backlash, to make those who claim that 'real people' ('real' defined as those in exurbs, in inner-cities, or as busy-bee recent-college-grads in NY) have no time for anything but reclining with a plate of fried slop seem reasonable by comparison.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Of youth and old age

-Last night we got home well after three, in part due to the MTA neglecting to put up a sign about our train line not running. (In retrospect, this would have been the night to take a cab.) That this was the first time we got back and needed to press the special "after 1am" buzzer to get into the building makes this post ideal for the "old age" tag. Today, I'm exhausted. Note, not even hungover. Just exhausted. Had to happen eventually.

-In "Today's Generation," Phi Beta Cons addresses - what else? - the question of Young People Today. I mention this not because as blog-post titles go, this should win a predictability award, but because the post itself, in a roundabout way, blames the Amanda Knox murder on... Europe, and more specifically on government-supported university education. As though Knox were not American, and as though we didn't know about the Knox case precisely because cases like it are so unusual, in Europe or the US.

Anyway, it seems Europeans are just these decadents with no values whatsoever: "A society of languor — intellectual, moral, and financial — can be a breeding ground for evil, with dire consequences, as it was for the group of which Amanda Knox was a part." This, of all things, the message we should take from an American study-abroad participant turning violent. Sweet and innocent, a young American girl can simply turn into a murderess upon contact with those whose "higher education largely provided for free." Raise taxes, pay for college for all, and violent orgies will ensue. I mean, I'll accept that there are cases to be made for the US and European systems. But to say that one's a "breeding ground for evil," and that parents or loans covering $50k tuition somehow prevents nasty behavior, and that the mere fact of briefly studying abroad with those from the other system is enough to... Just, no.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Dreams of future croissants

This is good news!

Failings of the brain

-I forgot, in front of my class, how to say "square" in French. I could remember square as in Union Square, and as in conformist (which was, as it turns out, the definition my student wanted), but the shape? Hmm.

-I forgot, while speaking to Jo about I don't remember what, how to conjugate "to know" in English. I may have even gone with an "I not noes." I'm not kidding.

-Looking into possible nearby vacation destinations, I found a NYT story on the foodie delights of Ghent, NY. Mildly intrigued, I clicked on the link to "Ghent," and simply could not believe that a Little Belgium on this scale existed right in the Hudson Valley. Belgian restaurants and everything else Belgian galore! And then, not at all quickly enough, it became clear that this was a guide to Ghent in Belgium. I want to blame the misleading link, but no.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

"Did your parents cut your meat up until you were 16?"

Imagine writing a blog post about how you yourself are kind of awesome - you read Proust in your spare time, you're fit, you're quite the philanthropist - but how you're nevertheless curious about the stingy couch-potato set. You ask for commenters to offer their own tales about being stingy couch potatoes, since one never hears directly from the stingy couch-potatoes, only about them. It's time to let the stingy couch-potatoes speak!

And surprise surprise, the comments to your post are filled with accounts from other kind-of-awesome folks who, like you, have met stingy couch-potatoes and who, like you, have the anecdotes to prove it. Would you believe that practically no one will admit in a public forum to being a stingy couch-potato? It must be that stingy couch-potatoes are an urban legend.

Because that's how I see this post on (yes, again) DoubleX, in which Torie Bosch holds forth on what an independent person she is and was, and what spoiled brats other people she's met are in comparison, then solicits comments from the spoiled brats (sorry, "helicopter children") of the nation:

I’d like to hear from a teen or twentysomething who will 'fess up to being so coddled that she called home to find out what to do after she put the wrong soap in the dishwasher. Did your parents cut your meat up until you were 16? Did you ever ask them to let you try to do things on your own, or were you happy to have someone call up your academic adviser when things weren’t going well?
Believe it or not, what she gets are a bunch of tales from others who, like herself, never got help from anyone past 18 or 12 or whatever and yet turned out awesome. The coddled, with I think one exception, do not come forth.

I feel as though we've been down this road, or a similar one, before. No one, at least no American, wants to admit to privilege, to not being 100% self-made. Since most successful people come from backgrounds that are a mix of silver spoons and cracked plastic ones, it's easy enough to highlight the latter.

What's frustrating is that helicopter parenting does exist, and is, in its extreme forms, quite the opposite of privilege for its recipients.* But Bosch half-presents the phenomenon as hand-holding she's proud not to have received - as though people with parents like this have a choice - which misses the point.

*Disclaimer necessary, I suppose. I don't believe my own parents were/are 'helicopter', but don't think the world needs more examples of 'you wouldn't believe the people I've met in my upper-middle-class NYC circles.' And if I was offering concrete examples of people screwed up by parental over-involvement, they would have to be of that sort.

Spring break, woohoo!

Where's a good place to go that's near NYC, accessible by train, for a three or four day vacation? Hudson Valley? Somewhere else I'm not thinking of?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Who's Miss Choosy?

"Why aren't there more female pickup artists?," Jezebel wants to know. Why does no one ever identify the obvious? It's because we imagine that straight men, upon seeing a woman, have already made a yes-or-no decision based on appearance alone, and that nothing a woman does, however charming, can bring her from a 'no' to a 'yes.' Women, we moronically assume, don't do this, and are thus susceptible to silly hats, pseudo-insults. The pretext of "game" isn't just that confidence matters - which it does, to both sexes, and which is the kernel of reasonableness that tricks some into thinking "game" is sensible - but that women do not judge men using the initial-yes-or-no system. The idea that men care about looks while women don't is what's driving all this; the 'men are expected to be agressive, women passive' aspect is only the result of that initial assumption.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

"[T]hey have no need for a chateau"

Bloody fascists.

Les vaches suisses

In today's first Prudence letter, further evidence that Western European women care about being skinny at least as much as their American counterparts.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Excuses for not going running: a complete list

1) I just ate.
2) I ate hours ago and am hungry again.
3) The weather.
4) For weather reasons, I'll need to dry my hair after, which takes forever.
5) Like 4, but for vanity reasons.
6) I have to be on campus at noon, which means there's not enough time before.
7) The water will be shut off in the building during key shower hours.
8) Running is so American, and I need to represent France for my students.
9) The (ach, lovely) route is too boring.
10) Varying the route means getting lost in unpleasant-slash-frightening dead-ends such as the non-exits of Riverside Park and of the Manhattan Bridge.
11) I have yet to be told by a doctor that I need to lose weight or work out beyond the walking-around-everywhere I do anyway, so what's the point?
12) We all die anyway; better it should not be while trying to exit the Manhattan Bridge pedestrian path.
13) Running requires such commitment - if I run six miles one day, then no miles for the next three weeks, what's the point?
14) Time spent running is time that could be spent on Productive Work.
15) Fine, 14 is also true of the blog, but with running, one must also include the hour of post-run, post-shower couch-collapse.
16) I already walked a lot today, isn't that enough?
17) No good podcasts.
18) My sneakers are all the way over there.
19) Pre-coffee, all endeavors are hopeless.
20) Post-coffee usually means post-food, which brings us back to...

When they let the models speak...

"'I think that growing up in a cold climate sort of preserves the skin'". (Via.) There's a sensible point about sun damage in there, but still.