Thursday, September 30, 2004

It's official

Just watched the debates, and I am definitely voting for Kerry.

The original WWPD? lives on

That is, I'm still writing my column this year in the Maroon. If/when the paper's online edition gets updated, I'll make a note of it here.

Kristol should be the new Brooks

The NYT's conservative columnist, David Brooks, is engaging and pleasant enough to be palatable even to liberal readers. His recent op-eds include a discussion of the "cult of death" that is behind terrorism (only a slightly stronger stance than that of mainstream or moderate American liberals, who might not say "cult of death," but who are still committed to fighting terrorism) and a cutesy division of red-state and blue-state people into spreadsheet people and paragraph people, respectively. Having a palatably conservative columnist strikes me as a waste of space. Wouldn't it be better if the paper's conservative voice were a bit more confidently conservative and better reflected the sorts of op-eds people who don't rely on the Times are getting their views from? Not a polemical, abrasive conservative, but one who will not sugar-coat his conservatism to make it less revolting to the Times's readers. Someone like, say, William Kristol, who today made a brief, albeit confidently conservative, appearance on the op-ed pages.

I enjoyed Bobos in Paradise, and do not wish to imply that Brooks is incapable of writing good op-eds (his piece defending gay marriage, to name one, was absolutely brilliant). It's just that even--especially--if the paper wants to maintain its liberal slant, it would do well to show its readers current conservative thought as it is presented to actual conservatives.

No pigment for Paris

Paris Hilton is, after all, anti-pigment, and you heard it here first. Now, according to Gawker, Ms. Hilton used the N-word unironically during her latest digitally recorded sexcapades. Which leaves one wondering what Paris thinks of her best friend Nicole Ritchie, who claims to be black but has given herself the Paris Hilton treatment and now looks not just white but sort of like a parody of a rich white girl. One is also left wondering whether an "ironic" use of the N-word would have been much better, and whether Paris Hilton herself is such an ironic concept that anything she says, by definition, can't be taken literally.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Gained in translation

My mother and I are both currently taking introductory language classes--she in German and I in Hebrew. It's amazing what you can learn about a culture (or, more accurately, how language-book-writers perceive a culture) by seeing what words and phrases are considered necessary for the beginner. My mother's German book tells you how to say "The man kicks the dog," while the mini-dictionary in the back of my sefer (that's book, right?) offers translations for "hummus," "yogurt," "Nazi," and "Jewish mother."

My own Jewish mother has correctly pointed out that, between the two of us, we'll soon know Yiddish. I'd like to add that we will not only know Yiddish, but we'll know how to say, in Yiddish, that the man kicked the dog for running away with his hummus. Probably not a common problem in most shtetls...

Socialite info here

Many bloggers let their readers know of funny things they learned, via sitemeter or similar, about who's been looking at their site and which search words brought them to it. Well, until now, nothing that far-out could be found on my sitemeter, other than that I probably spend a bit too much time reading my own blog. Yet today, all this has changed: Someone at the NYT apparently spent 0 seconds on the site, which they'd arrived at by googling the name of socialite Muffy Potter Aston. Ms. (presumably Mrs.) Aston has what has to be the most socialitey name of all the socialites. I do hope the Times succeeds in finding the M.P.A. information it seeks, and feel terrible if my blog was of no use.

Claustrophobia trumps physicsphobia

You learn something new about yourself every day. Today I learned that I am claustrophobic.

My greatest fear, when it came to my physical science requirement, was that calculations would prove too confusing, that velocities and masses would all form a fuzzy cloud in by head. But today's lab, which required climbing the tower of Rockefeller Chapel and, with the help of a protractor, estimating the distance to the Sears Tower, made the more mathematical aspects of the class seem, well, trivial. By the time my lab partner and I had reached what felt like the 100th set of dark, narrow, spiral staircases, I was in a cold sweat, nearly shaking, my heart racing--what was remarkable was that none of this had anything to do with physics-phobia. When we finally arrived at the top of the Chapel's tower, we got to appreciate the view for a moment, then do the necessary, lab-related calculations. It's amazing how, in what feels (irrationally, of course) like a life-or-death situation, messing around with 2-pi-r, 360 degrees, and assorted variables starts to look ridiculously easy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

NYU can have its Olson twins

A U of C professor-blogger makes it to the big time.

Debate and cheerleading, together at last

I've remarked many times to Will (Murray, of the rarely-updated More Dancing Angels) that debate teams ought to have cheerleaders, and that, should the Amherst team ever play Chicago (or whatever they call it--"play" can't be right) I would happily seek out some pom poms and do what must be done. So it was to my delight that Wonkette has noted the obvious association between debate and cheerleading.

Number six in Wonkette's presidential debate drinking game: "A Republican operative cites Kerry's prep school debate team experience: Try on a cheerleader outfit."

Why even conservatives should sign up for the aforementioned French class

Reading the Weekly Standard now requires familiarity with Proust's vahhhst oeuvre. Or something like that.

The NYT gets it right

The NYT comes out in favor of making it easier for college students to vote. As Will Murray noted in his comments on my post about the college prof who made voting a course requirement, what stops people from voting is that it's a pain in the neck, so a rule that makes not voting more of a pain than voting has to be good. Along the same lines, anything that makes voting less of a pain to begin with has to be a step in the right direction. So while I may not agree with the Times when it makes a point of informing its readership that, yes, 13-year-olds can safely get nose jobs, the paper's not all bad.

Endangered classes

U of C francophile-types, listen up: A very cool class, France and the Dreyfus Affair, only has two people in it. If no one else registers for it, it may not take place. So please, if you know French, and are looking to add a fourth class or switch out of something you expected to be good, but wasn't, please, please go to and sign yourself up. I mean, we're gonna read Proust! And if you're a francophile-type, that's something you should get around to doing one of these days anyway.

Ironic decorations, cool location, but no hipsters here

What is it with bars and Ms. Pac-man? The Village Voice profiles a new bar in Brooklyn that they assure the reader is not too hipster-oriented, and provides a picture of a man playing on (with?) the bar's very own Ms. Pac-man. But if the bar profiled by the Voice is anything like this place in the East Village, then it might be just a bit hipster after all. I mean, are we expected to believe that a person whose job it is to review bars in the coolest neighborhoods in NYC, for the Village Voice, no less, can really tell hipster from non-hipster? Wouldn't such a person never even encounter anything less than hip?

Monday, September 27, 2004

Today's youth: The Nasal Generation

The folks back east (yes, I am now in the Midwest), over at the NYT, are asking the question we all want answered in an article entitled "How Young Is Too Young to Have a Nose Job and Breast Implants?" At 21, I'm apparently well past the age people are when they decide to get their noses cracked open and fidgeted with by plastic surgeons. I also managed to go through high school without snorting Xanax, which, according to NY Magazine, has replaced being a prep school gangster among today's youth, at least on some especially relevant stretches of the Upper West Side.

What have I learned in reading about the current crop of teens? What it comes down to, for these young'uns, is that it's all about the nose, either making it smaller and more upturned or putting crushed prescription drugs up it. Some people just have too much time on their hands.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

(Rhetorical) questions and (illogical) answers

Is it possible to take multiple classes that meet at the same time? (Answer: sure.)

Should I be ashamed or relieved that, when a sheet of paper was passed around at my house's "mandatory" first meeting, asking people to write down which intramural sports they'd be interested in playing, nearly everyone handed the sheet over to the person next to them without a second thought? (Answer: relieved.)

If, every Tuesday, I take an intro Hebrew language class, a course on the history of fascism, and another on the Dreyfus Affair, all while reading Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America," will that unique type of Rothian paranoia become mine as well? (Answer: most likely, but the fascism class appears to be full, so not to worry, or at least not to worry in Rothian proportions. Hope some spaces open up, though, since it does sound interesting...).

How much diet Coke will fit in my mini-fridge? Relatedly (in that I have no spatial sense whatsoever), will I survive physical science? Also relatedly (in that I will want something a bit more substantial to wash down with said diet Coke, and the dining hall has not proven itself to be any better this year than last), is it worthwhile to go all the way downtown just to buy groceries? Does combining a trip to Fox & Obel with a stop by H&M make the trip more or less productive? (Answers: maybe 20 cans; probably; definitely; less.)

Triumphant return

As some of my more astute readers may have noticed, I am back in Chicago. The pictures below were taken from the right side window of the cab I took back from Midway Airport.

First day back: Midway Airport to the University of Chicago via 55th St.

Promontary Point, Hyde Park, Chicago, looking north Posted by Hello

Back from Midway Airport: Ivy and collegiate-gothic at the University of Chicago Posted by Hello

Cash, ATM, groceries Posted by Hello

Car wash Posted by Hello

Garfield Posted by Hello

55th Street, between Midway Airport and the University of Chicago Posted by Hello

Cleaners Posted by Hello

California Posted by Hello

Saturday, September 25, 2004

NYC animals

NYC wildlife, 1 Posted by Hello

NYC wildlife, 2 Posted by Hello

Roth and flimsy skirts: Not what it sounds like

Will read this if the packing ever ends, but my mini-breaks keep getting longer, so by the time I get to Frank Rich's take on the book I still have yet to read, I'll probably be in Chicago.

A side note: The problem with packing for fall in Chicago is that I always forget how quickly it gets cold and end up with all sorts of flimsy skirts and tank tops taking up the space that ought to be filled with arctic trekking gear. But my pale pink, asymmetrical, multitextured sample sale skirt is too cool to leave home, as is my Barneys Warehouse Sale lime-green sheer, two-layer tank top. And my planet dress may be entirely useless there, but then again...

Back to packing. Blogging, I suppose, can wait.

"Make that a double-shot iced cappuccino!" Or, my final act of NYC summer decadence. Posted by Hello

Pain Quotidien, near Union Square, has good pastries. Posted by Hello

Fall apples have arrived at the Union Square Greenmarket. Posted by Hello

"Oh Philip, you incomprehensible, dirty man."

Just went to the Strand in search of the new Roth book, half expecting it to be sold out. Yet there they were, a whole pile of Plot Against Americas. As I approached the pile, I heard a young woman say, "Oh Philip, you incomprehensible, dirty man." True enough, but that didn't strike me as a sufficient reason not to read the thing.

Pre-packing procrastination: What Would Phoebe Name a Dachshund, Should the Opportunity One Day Arise?

For a while now I've been dead set on getting a dachshund. I've narrowed it down to miniature longhaired, with either a speckled ("dapple") or chocolate-colored coat. One question remains: What to name him/her? The best I've come up with so far is "Gertrude Himmelfarb," after the godmother of neoconservatism, wife of Irving Kristol and mother of William. For some reason, her name seems like it would be appropriate for a dachshund, assuming, of course, the dachshund is female. I would call her "Gertie." The problem with this, though, is it's a bit, well, weird to name one's dachshund Gertrude Himmelfarb, and, should I ever meet Ms. Himmelfarb while walking Gertie, and should she ask for the name of my charming pet (no doubt, my dachshund will be charming), that would be just the kind of awkward situation I strive to avoid. Since it'll probably be at few years before the aforementioned dachshund is mine, there's still plenty of time to come up with a better, less politically charged, and less already-taken, name.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Thumbs down for the new West Side Barneys [UPDATED]

The new Barneys Co-op finally opened on the Upper West Side, near the notoriously hectic Fairway supermarket, in an area traditionally dominated by food and bookstores. Rather than lament the demise of the "old" Upper West Side--once apartments start going for $1 million or more, it's hard to claim that any subsequent developments are examples of gentrification--I decided to embrace the idea of Barneys's arrival to the neighborhood. While I had some doubts about whether the soon-to-open store would have much of a fan base in an area where shapeless, natural-fiber clothes and Birkenstocks are the norm, I wished Barneys luck. If the Upper West Side is going to be a wealthy area, it might as well be a fashionable one.

Well, I didn't know the thing had actually opened until I noticed a less-than-glamorous man wearing sandwich boards advertising the store standing near the 72nd Street and Broadway subway station. (Where was my camera when I needed it?) So I walked up a couple blocks to what had, until just now, been a messy construction site. And there it was--and by "it" I mean a whole lot of nothing. The clothing, though the usual Barneys prices, was all laid out as if in a mall store with a target audience consisting of especially unsophisticated 14-year-olds. Sort of a Wet Seal look. Or maybe a Diesel store, minus the clever-ironic motifs. The whole thing looked as if it were made out of cardboard, not unlike the Hyde Park Borders, and was so shabbily put together that it made the nearby Urban Outfitters seem elegant. Worst, perhaps, were a bunch of very ugly felt hats just kind of sitting there, not arranged in any particular way, and with trim that looked like any second it would peel off. I looked at the price tag: $236. At the other Barneys stores, the clothing is at least presented in such a way that $236 for a hat doesn't seem outrageous, but here it seemed like the hats had been removed from a bargain bin at H&M.

The question is not if this store will fold but when.


The NYT reviews the new store, and is under the impression that the store is just what the neighborhood needed: "The new Barneys Co-op, the third in Manhattan, has not been shy about asserting its presence. In contrast to the other Manhattan Co-ops, which have adopted an ultraminimalist guerrilla approach to retailing and look as if they might pull up stakes at any moment, the new store feels designed to stay put, an identifiable anchor in the neighborhood."

Money quote, so to speak: "Howard Socol, the chairman and chief executive of Barneys, expects the new store to turn a profit soon. 'We think it is going to be one of the most productive Co-op stores that we have,' he said."

A creature of the neighborhood

I'm savoring my last couple days in New York. So far today:

  • Got severely ripped off buying school supplies. Should a regular, three-subject Mead notebook really be over $8? I contemplated this for a while, considering the alternatives, which were choosing other, more glamorous, and much more expensive notebooks at the same store, or scouring the entire Upper East Side for cheaper ones. Sheer boredom led me to get the Mead one.
  • Made one last trip to Dean & Deluca, where I got a tasty lunch of sushi and iced coffee--cheaper than the notebook, go figure.
  • Made a mental list of all the things I'd meant to do this summer, but hadn't. The only thing that came to mind was visiting Williamsburg, land of the hipsters. Then, upon reflection, I realized that this would probably have been a waste of time, as I saw plenty of hipsters right here in Manhattan, and hipster-watching is hardly worth a longer subway trip.
  • Faced facts and realized that I am, after all, a creature of the neighborhood. Saw a girl, Upper East Sider all the way, slim, with straight dark brown hair and silver ballet flats, and stopped myself before rolling my eyes, realizing that, had I made a different shoe choice that morning (I, too, have silver ballet flats) and had I not dyed my hair this odd shade of reddish-brown, that could, in fact, be me. That, and I had sushi and iced coffee (with skim milk) for lunch, at Dean & Deluca, for god's sake. I mean, my cell phone rang both at the stationary store and at Dean & Deluca, so what I lacked in put-togetherness I made up for by being one of those people talking on a cell phone.

7th Heaven: The liberals stop the damn Bible-banning

Not only does French secularism apparently lead to anti-Semitism but it seems that, according to the Republican Party, liberals right here in the good old U. S. of A. want to ban the Bible. Not the Bible! What will they think of next?

What I don't understand is why advocating for separation of church and state is seen by conservatives as a denunciation of religion. As much as the sect of Generic Christianity practiced by the Reverend Camden appeals to some, it is not the official religion of this country, or any country, for that matter, and it is separation of church and state that permits real religions, not necessarily ones invented by the WB, to flourish.

NYC, Summer '04

Iced tea and a surprisingly good muffin at Once Upon a Tart. Posted by Hello

Korean barbeque on 32nd St. Posted by Hello

The West Side, off Riverside Drive. Yet another place I hope to live when I grow up. Posted by Hello

86th Street, looking east. Posted by Hello

Bagels, stars, and stripes at the H&H on the East Side. Posted by Hello

Pleasant nightlife in unexpected places--a bar in the East 80s. Posted by Hello

Open late Posted by Hello

Thursday, September 23, 2004

National Review Online disses laicite

Is it really true, as Joseph Loconte claims, that "it's no coincidence that the most religious nation in the West is also the friendliest state to Jews outside of Israel"?

NRO has picked up the fact that France--and Western Europe in general--separates church and state more than America does, and that anti-Semitism is, it is fair to say, more of a problem over there than it is over here. So the obvious conclusion, using NRO's extra-special logic, is that Christianity, though it has been behind anti-Semitism at about a gazillion points in history, is, on the whole, a much-needed force against hatred of Jews.

Loconte writes: "Jacques Chirac's recent speech condemning anti-Semitism, delivered in the southern village of Le Chambon, typifies the problem. The French leader praised the bravery of the Chambonnais, who sheltered more than 5,000 Jews during the Nazi occupation, even as the Vichy government actively collaborated with Germany to deport thousands to concentration camps. Chirac called the inhabitants of Le Chambon the embodiment of the nation's conscience, but then cited France's "humanist" principles — tolerance, solidarity, and fraternity — as their inspiration. He went on to extol the nation's commitment to "laicite" (secularity) as the best guarantee of preserving French values. No incident during the Second World War, however, illustrates more powerfully the moral vigor of Christian ideals than what occurred at Le Chambon."

While Loconte is technically correct that both bigotry and tolerance have fallen under the massive umbrella that is Christianity, he is way off if he thinks that Christian tolerance has, historically, been a far more significant force than has Christian intolerance. But, at NRO, Christianity and "Judeo-Christianity" are considered absolute goods, and those Europeans are all nasty leftwingers, anyway, so why not just assume that laicite is somehow responsible for anti-Semitic incidents in France?

Here's why not: just as the members of religious right may be pro-Israel but are not necessarily American Jews' best allies (especially those American Jews, myself included, who like all the God- and Christ-talk kept out of political speech), Europeans may have helped Jews on the basis of Christian principles at various moments in history, but an all-out Christian revival in Europe just doesn't strike me as "good for the Jews."

More on this later, but "Blackadder" is on BBC America. I will now virtually return to Christian Europe, saving contemporary Europe the trouble...

Rothmania at Arts & Letters Daily

The folks over at Arts & Letters Daily link to these two Roth-centric articles.

The Politics of Fashion

Both the NYT and the Village Voice note that NYC's Fashion Week, falling, as it did, at the not-so-stilettoed heels of the Republican convention, was surprisingly lacking in left-wing accessories and liberal lapels. Or something.

The Voice's Lynn Yaeger writes: "It would have been reasonable to assume, what with Fashion Week arriving on the heels of massive anti-RNC demos, and with so many young designers vocal in their opposition to the current administration, and with the windows of Marc Jacobs's shop on Bleecker Street showcasing undies with lewd anti-Bush slogans, that this time around the catwalks would be crowded with irreverent, defiant, rebellious clothing. Unfortunately, subversive sartorial statements were far from the rule. Instead, designers seemed hell-bent on clothing women for lives that revolve around home (a big mansion), hearth (straight out of Architectural Digest), and country club (with restrictive admission policies)." She adds, "The power of this lily-white (and the runways were for the most part an Aryan pipe dream of pale skin and blue eyes), members-only Republican reverie could be measured by the ascendance of Bermuda shorts..."

Times fashion writer Cathy Horyn remarks: "You would never know from the spring collections that there was a bitter presidential campaign going on. Remember George W. Bush and John Kerry? Oh yeah, those dudes. And what about the demonstrations, protest T-shirts and hollering about Iraq and oil money that filled New York barely a week before the shows? Fashion is supposed to reflect the times. But instead of reflecting a complex, divisive period in American history, American fashion was at the beach. No one realistically expects a designer to build an entire collection around a political slogan, but neither did one expect to see such a uniformly simple view of American life — one that turned out to be free not only of outrage but also, on the whole, of ethnic and cultural distinctions."

Not surprisingly, since the Voice is a very liberal New York weekly while the Times is a somewhat liberal national paper with a focus on New York, the papers have different takes on what it meant that Fashion Week ignored what was going on in the city right before it happened. The Voice suggests that high fashion has become all-out conservative--not such a strange notion, in that any industry catering to the same people as Bush's tax cuts might have a tendency to do this--while the Times implies that Fashion Week was remarkably apolitical, absent not only from the protest scene, but also from the mainstream political one.

While Fashion Week and the convention were both presumably planned well in advance, with the fashionistas well aware that they were arriving right after the delegates, would it have been reasonable to expect designers to base their entire collections on an event that happened to be being held in New York just before their shows? Without making some bold statement about fashion designers being artists, and claiming that they are moved by creativity alone, or that they are, like Jane Brody's villainous health-food businessmen, just in it for the money, it would be fair to say that designers look to create clothing that fits their creative visions and that will, at least in some segments of the population, sell. Either goal is unlikely to be met by designers who use half a year's worth of outfits as a reaction to a political scene that, by November, will already seem so last year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Vote or fail [UPDATED]

A literature professor has made voting (or at least entering the booth) in the upcoming presidential election a class requirement (yes, only for the U.S. citizens). As the professor rightly points out, this is better than using class time to voice her own political views. Universities exist in a large part to help students improve themselves. Libertarian principles do not apply on a university scale. A student enters a university and voluntarily gives up freedoms--the freedom to spend the evening somewhere other than a library, for example--in exchange for the opportunity to be turned into the sort of person they'd like to be. Universities, though, are more like ready-to-wear than couture, meaning that you don't get custom-ordered results. So, when signing up for this professor's literature class, you end up getting a bit more than you bargained for in terms of self-improvement. I say combine science classes with going to the gym three times a week and history classes with flossing.


U of C's Dean Susan Art, in her usual pre-schoolyear email to the College, has urged all students who can to vote in the upcoming election, and has provided instructions on how one goes about doing so in Illinois (instructions, I might add, that will probably lead to a lot of absentminded Chicago students voting who otherwise wouldn't have figured out how). And no, you won't be penalized for staying undecided. But I like that Susan Art did this, and I intend to follow her instructions for registering in Illinois (better than an absentee ballot, coming from NY).

Is Drew Carey The Next Charleton Heston or Am I Just Getting Carried Away Here?

Just finished watching "The AMC Project: A profile of prominent conservatives in Hollywood" where one producer in Hollywood described the general attitude towards conservatives there as "They're conservatives in Hollywood? Really?" It reminded me of that time that I passed by Tower Records in THE WEST VILLAGE (!) and saw that on a poster of Barbra Streisand somebody had scribbled the words LIBERAL WHORE in huge black premanent marker. I was like, is that really possible? Did that really happen? I mean, even now, do you believe me? I used to have a pictures of that Babs incident but then my hard drive's a sad story. As you can see, tons of SUPER IMPORTANT stuff was lost.

So conservatives in it too good to be true? Is it true at all? Is it good at all?

Well, Drew Carey is a libertarian. I know...isn't he a Canadian or something? Doesn't that totally go against everybody's Canada = Best Country Ever attitude. Hm, all those people who think they are safe because they own a Canada pin that they wear all the time better watch out. Anyway Drew Carey owns a lot of surprise there. His definition of libertarianism falls a tad short of the right wing: "Libertarians are conservataives who still get high," ie. conservatives saved from the wrath of the catty Kitty Kelly (who looked awful in the Home and Garden section of the NY Times). I misted up a bit when he said "I've always felt outside the world...I now feel that [politically]."

After Carey there weren't too many surprise Republicans revealed in the program unless you think it's surprising that Vincent Gallo is a Republican which is sort of surprising but isn't actually a surprise since he talks about it all the time and in fact, any of you whatwouldphoebedo readers who've seen The Brown Bunny (and see it you should!) would realize how deeply conservative messages are embedded in his filmaking. The last five minutes are genuine After School Special material. Very very touching. The best part of the documentary comes from the people, like Gallo, who seemed to like being conservatives in Hollywood because hey, it's boring to be a liberal in Hollywood.

John Milius, director of Red Dawn said of himself "culturally I am uncool." Which made me think of how one can be cool other than culturally because to the best of my knowledge, coolness is cultural construct. Nevertheless he hasn't made a film in like forever (liberal conspiracy? ha) so I'm going to call him John "Cool" Milius whenever I refer to him from now on....which is all the time. Sort of. ( Incidentaly Milius was the co-screenwriter for "Apocolpyse Now" which is not just fairly anti-war but also...a very cool film).*

Perhaps he should take more cues from Gallo who is still sort of cool inspite of everything annoying he does and who is hard to believe when he says "I don't want the Republican party to be more like me...I want to be more like the Republican party" but is much easier to believe when he says "I'm an extremeley conservative radical." Which is in his case, sort of makes sense.

Sometimes it seems like that's the only kind of real radical left.

*I am now obsessed with Milius. He really is the coolest person ever. Maybe I will post about it later. Do yourself a favor and check his profile out at This is the man who wrote the best scene in one of the best movies ever, Jaws. He also was the inspiration for Walter in The Big Lebowski. He wrote for Miami Vice!!! I have to go rent Conan the Barbarian or something.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Going both ways

"'The Plot Against America' is a novel that can be read, in the current Bush era, as either a warning about the dangers of isolationism or a warning about the dangers of the Patriot Act and the threat to civil liberties."--Michiko Kakutani, NYT book review section.

Any wonder, then, that there are so many undecided voters?


Canadian blogger Alex Bellefleur seeks Montreal bagels in Toronto. I was on a similar quest in Chicago, for New York bagels. The happy ending? Fox & Obel. Relatedly, I should note that those in Chicago seeking something d-liteful should try Treats--sort of a Coca Cola Light to Tasti's Diet Coke, not quite the same, but when a craving strikes, it'll do.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Someone who read the book had the same take on it

“Many of the things Roth imagines happening to the Jews under Lindbergh [in The Plot Against America] have in fact happened in this country—to blacks.”--Keith Gessen, New York magazine.


Chicago cracks down on the pressing social ills of "wandering" and "lingering"

Chicago, never a great walking city, is now an even worse place to be a pedestrian:

"Sophisticated new computer programs will immediately alert the police whenever anyone viewed by any of the cameras placed at buildings and other structures considered terrorist targets wanders aimlessly in circles, lingers outside a public building, pulls a car onto the shoulder of a highway, or leaves a package and walks away from it. Images of those people will be highlighted in color at the city's central monitoring station, allowing dispatchers to send police officers to the scene immediately."

OK, the package thing makes a bit of sense, but do the police need to be alerted every time someone "wanders aimlessly in circles" or "lingers outside a public building"? So now, anyone who wants to sit in front of the Art Institute or walk up Michigan Ave., check out a side street or two, then return, is considered suspicious? If you can't walk around or linger, what exactly can you do in downtown Chicago? Shop? Panhandle? But those amount to walking and lingering, respectively, when you think about it.

Jane Brody discovers capitalism

"You may think that a genuine interest in consumer health prompts food companies to market products that claim to reduce the risk of heart disease or cancer or help people lose weight. Think again. Many food companies are interested in one thing - the most efficient route to extra sales."

Jane Brody has moved beyond stating the obvious on "personal health"-related issues and is now focusing on the world of economics. You may have thought that for-profit businesses care about your well-being, but it turns out they're just in it for the money. Next thing you know, she'll be saying that every diet trend happens twice, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce.

One day, I will live in that dome. A beautiful building just above Canal Street. Posted by Hello

The Ansonia: a pretty building on the West Side, one of the many buildings in New York that have been known to induce drooling. Posted by Hello

The life of the Upper West Side "flaneur": an almost-finished skim cappuccino, a few remaining pastry crumbs, and a test prep book. Posted by Hello

When white people try to look even more white

Paris Hilton's transformation from WASPy socialite to...cartoon WASPy socialite is available for all to see at Awful Plastic Surgery.

Le Monde: Vote Kerry, it'll please Woody

Le Monde establishes what really matters in the upcoming American presidential election. It seems that it will be a tragedy, for Woody Allen, if Bush is reelected. (Tragic in a different way, one assumes, than having your longterm boyfriend leave you for your own daughter.) Such a shame that Woody Allen's influence, political and otherwise, is probably somewhat greater in France than in the U.S.

The article in Le Monde has in its favor, though, that it mentions what is perhaps the funniest situation in any of Allen's later films:

"Dans le plus récent, Tout le monde dit I love you (1996), un militant républicain redevenait démocrate après une opération du cerveau."

In other, Englishier words, a militant Republican returns to being a Democrat after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor. The ex-Republican in question is a young son of a very liberal Upper West Side family, so all are relieved when not only the tumor but also the objectionable politics disappear. I took that scenario to be both a criticism of the Young Republican (comparing, as it did, his opinions with symptoms of a disease) and a send-up of what Adam Bellow calls the Zabar's Left, the sort of folks who would look upon conservatism as an illness and upon a transformation from Republican to Democrat as recovery.

In any case, Woody Allen admits to being apolitical, so he's allowed to skewer Upper West Side liberals and Republicans alike. And everyone else, in turn, is allowed to skewer Woody Allen, for being a talented, yes, but silly, silly man with a family life that, even by sophisticated French standards, is stinkier than long-forgotten camembert.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

In other news

Since my last two posts--late-night ramblings about Philip Roth and a photo of an elegant armored statuette--seem to have elicited absolutely no response, here are some more catchy things to ponder:

It got cold! Which means I can now wear my new trenchcoat (and no, despite my origins, not the trenchcoat mafia kind, but the classic beige variety). Not one but two women on the Upper East Side today have mistaken me for some friend of theirs, which suggests that there are benefits to this colder weather, in that it forces me to wear more sophisticated clothing...

Will Baude wins, and womankind (well, one woman, not counting some anonymous writer to "Miss Manners" and some of her equally anonymous, and possibly fictitious, makeup-hating friends) gives up makeup...

Daniel Moore is reading The Closing of the American Mind. I read Bloom's book (which, for the uninitiated, is a cross between Bridget Jones' Diary and Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed) last summer, and, though many of his arguments are today just the typical conservative problems with higher education, it is useful to see these ideas laid out. Moore, however, has little to worry about, as he is a recipient of a Chicago education and thus has presumably been exposed to the books and ideas that, according to Bloom, keep the American mind open...

And finally, in utterly uninteresting news, the Facebook has now ugraded itself and has a new "groups" function. You can join anything from "I Live at the Reg" to "I Heart Penis"--neither of which I have joined, as it so happens. Nevertheless, I am the proud founder of the "Jeremy Irons Appreciation Association," which I have listed, of course, as a sport. I invite all fellow Chicago Facebook procrastinators to join me, and the group's three distinguished other members, in appreciating Mr. Irons.

Portnoy, stop your complaining

As promised, my reaction to Philip Roth on Philip Roth. I have not yet read "The Plot Against America"--will do so when it arrives at Amazon--but I have read the New Yorker review of the book and, now, his own explanation, in which he states:

"Why it [European-level anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 1940s] didn't happen is another book, one about how lucky we Americans are. I can only repeat that in the 30's there were many of the seeds for its happening here, but it didn't. And the Jews here became what they became because it didn't. All the things that tormented them in Europe never approached European proportions here. Nor is my point that this can happen and will happen; rather, it's that at the moment when it should have happened, it did not happen."

In the New Yorker, Joan Acocella suggests that, in writing "The Plot Against America," Roth is atoning for his having written "Portnoy's Complaint"--in which he offended, to put it mildly, both his own ancestors and Jews in general--because in his latest book, Roth argues that his parents were right all along in being worried that pogroms would come to the States. "Did Sophie Portnoy and her husband, Jack, live their lives “in continual anticipation of total catastrophe”? Well, Q.E.D.," writes Acocella. She then refutes this interpretation, claiming that the book is, in fact, a satire, and that Roth is not repenting, after all.

Roth is not repenting. He has also not simply written a satire; he has written a fantasy in which America is really as polarized between Jews and non-Jews as he imagines it to be.

In Europe at the time World War II broke out (as well as today), there were "Germans" and "Jews in Germany," "Frenchmen and Jews" in France, etc. Where America had its categories of black and white (or, today, black, white, Asian-Pacific Islander, etc.), Europe (not unlike the rest of the world, barring the U.S.) divides its people into more subtle characterizations, meaning that plenty of ethnic conflicts break out among people who would all fall into just one of America's broad racial categories. In other words, while there has certainly been anti-Semitism in America, the U.S. is generally not divided, at least by people who are not Philip Roth, into just two categories, Jewish and Gentile. In some neighborhoods at some moments in history, Americans have obviously divided themselves into those particular groupings, but no one could say, objectively, that America was or is thus polarized.

And yet, from a Rothian, not-at-all-objective perspective, America is Jews and Gentiles. In "Portnoy's Complaint," Roth's narrator (and alter ego) Alex Portnoy mentions that no "shiksa" had ever been over to his family's house, except for the housekeeper, but that she didn't count because she was black. In Rothland--and I say this even after reading his fascinating novel about race in America, "The Human Stain"--the salient difference in America, the one that really matters, is the difference between white Jews and white non-Jews.

And now, after much bloggy rambling, I will get to the point: the reason what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s couldn't have happened in the US is that the US, outside of Roth's admittedly interesting mind, was never primarily divided between Jews and non-Jews, and it seems like a bit of a stretch to say that anti-Semitism was ever, at least in the 20th century, the most prevalent type of bigotry in the country. Jews in Europe were (and, sadly, often are) traditional scapegoats, victims of pogroms, and were subjected to centuries of being kicked out of various parts of the continent. Jews in America suffered from much of the same intolerance that other minorities faced, and perhaps a bit more from those who felt that Jews were, as a group, "too" successful in various fields. Some individual American bigots or racist groups have, no doubt, chosen Jews as their primary targets, but some have also chosen blacks, some gays, some Latinos, etc. And, when you summon an image of "segregation" or "ghetto" in America, you probably do not immediately think of Jews and Gentiles, do you?

It appears that, in "The Plot Against America," Roth is able to imagine an America in which the polarization of Jewish and Gentile that exists in his head is mirrored perfectly by reality. Roth has altered the world to make his own neurotic, self-centered preoccupation seem reasonable. Nevertheless, he is a wonderful writer, and I look forward to seeing if his new novel is as twisted as I'm imagining it to be.

En garde

If you don't have a doorman, you may as well go for a foot-tall armored figurine. Or so thought some folks living in a maisonette on Riverside Drive. Posted by Hello

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Where was I...

...when this happened? Maybe I should have gone back to Chicago early.

My sometimes-favorite-author Philip Roth discusses his new book

And, after some sleep, I intend to read and comment on this.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

"Monday feels like a gay day."

What's fascinating about Facebook and Friendster isn't finding out which indie bands your kindergarten best friend is currently listening to. It isn't finding out who your friends are friends with--the lists of "friends" tend to include actual friends as well as people who were, well, kindergarten best friends, people you met once and will never see again, etc. No, what's fascinating is the day-by-day change of sexual orientation many people seem to go through. Aside from the surprisingly large number of people claiming bisexuality (did they mean to click that they wanted friends of either sex?), what's interesting to watch is how many people change their minds about their gayness, straightness, or bi-ness with an alarming frequency. I've seen people switch in all directions, with gay to bi to straight being perhaps the oddest.

I'm sure that people have always changed their minds about these things on a week-by-week, or even day-by-day, basis, and that coming out, or in some cases, coming in, is a slow process with many moments of confusion. But now, with these online networking/dating/what have you services, you can know what gender a person's in the mood for at any given minute, only to check later in the day to see if it's changed. Too much information, at times, but nevertheless a compelling way to waste time on the internet.

The Plight of the Undecided

This is not a good week to be unsure of whom you'll be voting for in November. Both the NYT and the New Yorker have printed tirades against the undecided, by "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Larry David and Patricia Marx, respectively. Larry David claims that the undecideds, well, aren't, that they're just saying they don't know in order to get attention, and that real indecision is David's own inability to decide what to order in a restaurant. Patricia Marx mocks the undecided voters who feel they don't know enough about Kerry to make the decision, suggesting that the sorts of things the undecideds wish to know are, "Why has John Kerry remained silent on the issue of men wearing sandals with socks?" and "While on the campaign trail, do John Kerry and John Edwards share hair products?"

While both clever writers, Larry David and Patricia Marx ignore the legitimate reasons a person might, to this day, not know which candidate to pick. Suppose someone agrees with part of Bush's platform and part of Kerry's platform, and that this person knows a great deal about both. Let's say he does not have any one, overriding issue he cares about that would make it possible for him to choose a candidate by looking at his stance on that one issue. So he tries to decide which candidate he agrees with on more issues, but then realizes that he does not care equally about each issue. So he's left with two options: assign points to each issue and tally things up, or just go with which candidate is more likeable. Actually, a third option would be to remain undecided until something one of the candidates does makes it obvious whom to pick. So, to conclude, it is entirely reasonable to be undecided, even if it means facing the derision of witty writers.

what would Safire do!?

I was web-surfing on the eMachines website, listening to music on iTunes (which I transfer to my beloved iPod), and looking at ads that included the following:

Windows xp
intel inside

I find this immensely trendy, if interesting linguistically.

I also find it hugely vindicating, for I've been much-derided in other places for my occasionally unconventional capitalization efforts. Clearly Apple and eMachines has a trend here...HP now advertises as "hp" and MSN has always really been "msn."

so, all you Untrendy Capitalization Fascists, stop persecuting me. my alternative capitalization choices are valid forms of expression. and cummings would be so proud....


P.S. iWill admit that even I am perplexed when faced with the necessity of starting a sentence with the word "iPod" or "iTunes." let's hope the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Ed. includes a section on this...

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

From the Onion's "In The News"

"Tiny dog suffocates In Louis Vuitton bag"--The Onion Posted by Hello