Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Jane Brody was constipated

She said it first, not me:

"I remember all too well the agony of postsurgical starvation: nearly five days elapsed after my Caesarean section when the hospital refused to give me anything but ice chips. All the while I was trying to nurse two big babies with nothing but an intravenous glucose solution to sustain me. But the nurses held firm. I had not yet passed gas or had a bowel movement," writes Brody, clearly incapable of discussing her proported subject--the dubious need for fasting before and after surgery--without giving a detailed, very detailed, account of her own, um, experiences.

(As usual with Brody, there's the oh-so-enlightening quote from a doctor: "'Medicine has changed substantially in the last 15 years,' Dr. Michael L. Pearl, a gynecological oncologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, said.")

I understand that the Times wishes to cover "Personal Health," but this is a bit too personal. There has to be some way to cover health topics that falls between the New England Journal of Medicine and South Park.

"Behavior that could be considered normal"

The Health section of the NYT has branched off from Jane Brody and her finger-wagging and has a piece on a diagnosis called "eating disorder not otherwise specified." This disorder--which encompasses any unusual eating habits, from binging to purging to just one or just the other, as well as not-quite-anorexia levels of eating very little, as well as extreme pickiness--sounds horribly unpleasant, but is a diagnosis that could probably be accurately given to about 90% of women and girls on the Upper East Side.

"Experts working on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual panels must ask how close the condition is to behavior that could be considered normal. For binge eating disorder, for instance, they must ask: When is such behavior a true psychiatric condition, and when is it the kind of thing that almost everyone engages in every Thanksgiving?"

But what of the semi-starvation that so many NYC women, Times readers surely among them, undergo year in and year out, simply to distiguish themselves from, I don't know, tourists? Those they consider lower class? Their husband's previous wives? Who can say. But the enviroment in certain parts of the city encourages not just being slender but being as close to emaciated as one can get and still produce offspring to dress in Baby Ralph Lauren and send to the hot nursery school of the moment. In other words, on the Upper East Side, the bizarre eating habits that hover on the edge of true eating disorders, that sometimes place a well-pedicured toe over that line, are most definitely examples of "behavior that could be considered normal."

So what is to be done? Should psychiatrists come to the neighborhood in droves, making diagnoses left and right? Well, that already happens, no doubt. But until the women of the neighborhood cease to look upon as overweight any woman who exceeds a size 0, there's really not much to look for in the way of progress.

Monday, November 29, 2004

The person behind the blogger

There's an interesting post at Crescat about what blogs do and don't tell you about the blogger's actual life. Will refutes an accusation that he spends all his time drinking and calling out to the internet for board-game buddies, noting that he also reads, drinks tea with a friend, listens to classical music, and talks to his girlfriend. Essentially, Will is saying that he is busier, more socially capable, and, perhaps most importantly, more sober, than some had inferred after reading his last few posts.

(A reader of this blog might deduce that I spend an inordinate amount of time combing the streets of NYC and Chicago for dogs to photograph, that I think a lot about France, Jews, and French Jews, and that I have a crush on the actor Peter Sarsgaard. All true.)

The thing with these political-law-academic blogs is that they don't promise to tell anything about the blogger's personal life. In other words, just because there's no mention of a spouse or significant other doesn't mean that none exists, no mention of a job doesn't mean that the blogger is unemployed, and no mention of specific professors doesn't mean that a student is uninterested in his or her classes.

The lack of information provided by blogs thus forces the (bored, procrastinating) reader to make some inferences about the life of the blogger. Since all but the most self-deprecating of bloggers neglect to post about, say, having spent the past few hours moping or watching a crappy t.v. show, this part of the blogger's life is almost always left out, making the blog-person sound more productive than the real-person. But, at the same time, we know, by definition, that the blogger is, well, blogging, so any assertions by a blogger that he or she is in fact a jet-setting socialite without a minute to spare ought not to be taken too seriously.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Cheese Stands Alone

That's the name of a cheese shop in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood, an area I've been meaning to check out, but will now definitely have to visit. Getting to this place from Hyde Park without a car will surely be a day-long commitment, but I'm thinking it could be worth it.

Meatpacking district Posted by Hello

In my natural habitat Posted by Hello

Dog spa Posted by Hello

Sidling up to the bar Posted by Hello

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Reflections on post-Thanksgiving shopping

Why does American Apparel sell "organic" thongs, and who's the intended audience? ("Girls Gone Wild," the New England liberal arts school edition?)

Why do all pictures accompanying news stories of post-Thanksgiving shoppers show only the most grotesque and disheveled of the bargain-hunters? Sure, a horde of people entering a mall at 5 in the morning in search of bargains are unlikely to all be clones of Nan Kempner, but I seriously think a special effort is taken by photographers to shoot only those who not only are bolting into a mall early in the morning, but look like they're the sort of people who'd do that.

What was so wrong with the pair of hot pink stretch-cords I tried on at Find Outlet? I was informed by my two trusty (and stylish) shopping companions that they were horribly unflattering, that they pulled in all the wrong places, but to me they looked fabulous. Could it have been skinny mirrors?

Friday, November 26, 2004

Faith and bat-bites

"Jeanna, of Fond du Lac, was bitten by a bat at a church service on Sept. 12. She did not visit a doctor and so was not vaccinated, as is standard medical practice for such an exposure....Her father, John Giese, said he was grateful to the doctors and their novel treatment, but added that prayer had made the crucial difference."

Of course, if Jeanna hadn't been praying in the first place, the bat wouldn't have bitten her.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Natalie Portman: The biggest...Judaica collection of any Elle cover model

Damn, I was totally going to post on that, but Molly beat me to it.

The Elle profile of Natalie Portman doesn't shy away from the actress's Judaism, and Molly has the scoop:

"Portman invited the writer to her house, where he notes he begins by noticing her large book collection 'neatly arranged by subject - poetry, theater, pyschology, Judaica and so on.' As if, everyone has a collection of Judaica literature. Hello, I went to Jewish school for twelve years and I don't even have a Judaica section. I also don't have a library or even bookshelves, but that's not really the point."

Free association Thanksgiving

I'm thankful, at a most basic level, that my plane finally got in, and that, earlier in the day, I fully (hopefully) completed a confusing (for me, at least) phy-sci lab report.

I'm also excited to see that my post is up at the University of Chicago Magazine's blog, on the Latke-Hamentach debate. Best part of the debate: Prof. Harold Pollack asserting that Philip Roth, though a U of C alum, is banned from the campus ever since he wrote an erotic novel in which Golda Meir and Allan Bloom have an affair.

The best way to pass time on an endlessly delayed flight, I've discovered, is bringing along two things to read, one serious and one less so, and saving the serious reading for the stable middle part of the flight and the silly reading for the nervewrecking takeoff and landing. (My picks for the evening were Bernard Lazare's Le Fumier de Job and a copy of Elle.)

And finally, why does tomato juice seem so appetizing on airplanes but not under other circumstances?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A University of Chicagoan Empire?

In the latest Maroon, Ashley White-Stern informs the University of Chicago community "that we live in a distrustful, colonial social order. Our colonial status is ensured by the distrust between temporary settlers (that’s us, the students) as a precious set of imported individuals, and the native “other” (often called community members), the dark peoples, savage and unknown."

White-Stern puts the U of C into a no-win situation: If the University is situated in the South Side of Chicago, and it reaches out to the community, then it's just trying to compensate for social inequalities, and is thus a colonial entity of the worst kind. But if the U of C decided, fine, compensation is no good, screw the community, let's just build a wall and be done with it, would that be preferable? Or perhaps, in the interests of not constantly forcing the otherwise vibrant South Side to confront the privileged brats of the U of C, maybe the school should pick up and move out to rural Minnesota or Vermont and let the South Side remain untainted. Since of course there's nothing remotely offensive or colonialist about a bunch of rich kids, never forced to meet anyone unlike themselves, spending four years learning how to be good liberals.

White-Stern continues: "In order to finally begin to amend the terrible racist legacies of the exclusion, criminalization, and marginalization of the black folks who live around the University, we must know that part of living in the warm folds of privilege entails the very ability to turn a blind eye to hypocrisy and segregation."

This is so glaringly false, I'm not sure how to respond, but I'll try. The University of Chicago's location makes its students--liberal and conservative alike--far more aware of the racial and economic divisions of this country than are students at small-town liberal arts schools, where students can explore their sexuality and various substances in peace. But just because the U of C finds itself near the site of social injustice or evidence thereof doesn't mean that it's the University itself that's the cause. I'd be the first to agree that Chicago is a frighteningly segregated city, but why, exactly, should an institution that brings diversity to the South Side, that puts a great deal of effort into its own community's racial diversity, be considered part of the problem? As an artificially-created diverse community, the U of C may be about as close to large-scale integration as can be found in the city of Chicago.

The University of Chicago has had a historically difficult relationship with its neighbors, but the U of C is also one of the few top universities in the nation never to have racially discriminated in its own admissions policies, so, when schools like Princeton took on affirmative action, it was to remedy its own past discriminatory practices, whereas when Chicago took on affirmative action policies, it was to remedy societal, not University-rooted, prejudice. Striving to make Chicago and the South Side more tolerant (and, ideally, less bleak) is a continual process, and one that the University does its part in contributing to.

It would have been great if White-Stern had thought to provide some ways in which the University could do more. But she set out simply to make a silly accusation that the U of C is a colony of the South Side and to make it clear that, whatever the school does, it won't be good enough. Of course, she's right that nothing the University does will "fix" Chicago. But there has to be a way of stating that without calling the institution itself a racist and imperialistic endeavor.


How did they have the time to do all this? What were they not doing? Sleeping? Watching t.v.? Drinking? Staring at walls in their bedrooms for hours on end? I know one of the U of C's newest Rhodes Scholars, Andy Kim, and he's always seemed like a really cool guy, not just cool as in a nice person, but cool as in hip. Sort of depressing that a person could be that successful, that impressive, and yet not even come across as geeky.

Reading the descriptions of what the latest Rhodes Scholars have accomplished in their 20-odd years forces the reader of about the same age to evaluate what he or she has accomplished in his or her own. This impulse ought to be avoided, or at least I plan on avoiding it, at least until I finish this physical sciences lab.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Not the whole story

I wish to join David Adesnik of OxBlog in congratulating City College for its sudden success at producing Rhodes Scholars. Adesnik notes that his own father went to City College; my grandfather went there, and my father went to Brooklyn College, so I am somewhat familiar with the history of the NYC public colleges.

Which is why something seemed off to me about the way Adesnik describes the role that City College has played in this nation's history:

"For my father, as well as for countless other children of working-class immigrants from Eastern Europe, City College occupies a mythic place in American life. The College is an institution that opened its doors to those didn't have the financial resources or social connections necessary for admission to the Ivy League. Nonetheless, the intellectual standards for admission to the College were almost impossibly high because there was so much talent waiting to be discovered among the new Americans of New York, Eastern European or otherwise. As a result, City College became known as 'The Harvard of the Proletariat'."

All true, but with a key detail missing. In referring to "children of working-class immigrants from Eastern Europe" and to those who "didn't have the financial resources or social connections necessary for admission to the Ivy League," Adesnik makes the City College story a generic one of class struggle, the American Dream, or what have you, when the reason those of Adesnik's father's generation and the one before it were going to City and not Harvard had something to do with money and class, but also something to do with quotas. There were quotas keeping the number of Jews low at many top universities (not at Chicago, though). City College's place in Jewish-American history was recently noted in the recent NYT article about current, non-Jewish City College students' interest in Jewish studies. So, in a sense, City College was made great as an indirect result of other schools' discriminatory policies.

I can't quite figure out why Adesnik made this omission. Would mentioning that so many of the striving working-class students in question happened to be Jewish have been too controversial, would it have otherwise ruined a charming tale of wholesome meritocracy? Would it have implied that Adesnik was attributing the success of City College to the fact that so many of its students were Jewish? I'm not suggesting Adesnik should have written a post brimming with Jewish-American pride, but explaining the reputation of City College and leaving that fact out is like telling someone the history of Howard University and never mentioning that it's a traditionally black university. It strikes me as weirder to leave out such a detail than to include it, at any rate.

Fewer Pills will mean more abortions, or, Pro-lifers' inability to choose their battles

Andrew Sullivan's been posting letters about the latest hot topic in the world of social conservatism: making it legal for a pro-life doctor or phamacist not to distribute the birth control pill.

Here's what I don't understand: it's the person who's refusing to provide the pill, not necessarily the woman demanding it, who's pro-life, so seemingly many women refused the pill will go on to get pregnant and will then have abortions. Wouldn't it be better, from a pro-life perspective (or from any perspective, really) for women to take the pill than to have more abortions? Any woman reluctant or unwilling to have an abortion but not ready to start a family should think twice before relying on just condoms or--oh dear--Natural Family Planning, to prevent pregnancy. And any pro-lifer who is also personally against birth control might want to think about whether there is, from a pro-life perspective, a lesser of two evils.

Sullivan makes a misguided remark about how, had his mother been on the pill, he would never have been born: "I have a particular fondness for Natural Family Planning, since I am one its unintended consequences. My mother read the calendar the wrong way and - voila! Or as my mom put it to me: 'You[r] sister was an accident; but you were a mistake.' Awww."

I don't think it would be too reassuring to a pregnant 19-year-old who'd been refused the pill, and who'd used the oh-so-reliable rhythm method instead, that her baby just might grow up to be an esteemed political commentator.

(So is the answer, in Sullivan's view, to only have sex when one is at a point in one's life at which sex could reasonably, happily lead to the birth of a child? If that's how he sees things, then where does that leave him and his boyfriend?)

Parental Advisory: Excessive Whining

For reasons I can't quite figure out, the latest Rufus Wainwright album comes with a "Parental Advisory: Explicit Content" warning. Sure, there's some gender-bending (Rufus sings of having been just a girl, and the album cover depicts Rufus as some kind of fairytale heroine), some themes that might offend the religious (a "gay messiah" makes an appearance), but, as far as bad words, I only noticed one "cum" and one "fuck," both of which are nearly obscured by the increased whininess of Rufus's voice, compared with how he sounded on earlier albums.

Is Rufus himself, by virtue of being gay and flamboyantly so, the reason for the warning? I spent a lot of time listening to Rufus's first album during 10th grade, and I can safely say that listening to Rufus in no way led to any high school debauchery, as far as I was concerned.

The main problem with the album is that his whininess, which once seemed to convey heartbreak and despair, now feels overly dramatic and forced. Or maybe Rufus hasn't gotten worse, but my music taste has changed since I was 15.

Sunday, November 21, 2004


Read my latest Maroon column, "Roth book misused to mourn election."

In it, I argue that the Bush administration isn't fascist, and, furthermore, that Philip Roth did not imply as much in The Plot Against America.

The meat-and-curry metaphor was, in my opinion, a poorly-chosen one

It appears that the NYT values diversity in theory, but aesthetically is still stuck on Northern Europe as the ideal.

In the "City" section this Sunday, there's a special focus on immigrants in NYC, accompanied (online, at least) by a picture of a multiracial, lesbian, Jamaican immigrant with a large Afro. The entire section celebrates the continual cycles of the struggles and joys of immigration to the city, and makes a point in including immigrants of a wide range of races and nationalities.

Then, moving along to this Sunday's "Sophisticated Traveler", one learns where one can go if one wishes to escape the wonderful but apparently less-than-beautiful diversity of New York: Copenhagen.

"Style in clothing reminds me of the original impulse behind adding curry to food: you only need to do it if the meat isn't good. And Copenhageners really don't need style at all. They'd look good if they were dressed like baseball infields during rain delays," writes Ken Chowder, adding, "But, of course, Copenhageners do have style."

What exactly is Chowder getting at here? In what part of the world are people stylish because they are naturally ugly? I don't want to read too much into this, but it appears that Chowder is asserting that Danes are naturally (read: racially) beautiful. (The meat-and-curry metaphor was, in my opinion, a poorly-chosen one.) Chowder also refers to "cool beauty" as being one of "the classical Nordic virtues" and seems to be referring to people as much as to architecture or landscape.

I'm sure that plenty of Danes are beautiful, and I do not wish to disparage those whose last names contain two consecutive "A"s. But no race or nation has a monopoly on beauty, and, while individuals are free to have aesthetic preferences based on whatever happens to turn them on, be it blondness, dark eyes, or tribal scar-patterns, a diversity-loving paper like the Times really shouldn't be printing pieces that embrace the idea of an objective, aesthetic, racial beauty ideal, and one that happens to evoke less-than-enlightened times.

Bagel blogging

Yay! Posted by Hello

For the curious, this is the reason I trek* out to Fox and Obel: an almost New York bagel.

*I believe any trip made for the purposes of procuring a New York-style bagel, or really any bagel, for that matter, is technically a "shlep."

Not terrorism, just Chicago's annual November fireworks display

I headed downtown for the usual weekend Fox and Obel trip with a couple friends this evening, and, much to our surprise, all of Michigan Avenue, right below Wacker and further north on Michigan, was packed with families, all just sort of generally congregated, we had no clue why. There didn't appear to be a parade, and there were far too many people for them to have just been stragglers hanging around after an earlier parade. Our bus had been a bit rerouted, not going as far north as usual, which ought to have tipped us off that something was up, but, absentminded U of C students all, we didn't worry about it too much.

Cops were directing people to turn away from Michigan, by the Chicago River, so we started obediently walking east by the river, when suddenly we heard these horrible, loud, explosion-like sounds coming from very nearby. Crowds, a major American city, and loud explosions--bad news, I thought, so I covered my ears with my hands and started walking quickly, at times running. Then I looked over to the river and saw that, from some kind of platform in the water, a whole bunch of fireworks were being set off. Why fireworks, on November 20, and why so scarily close to where people walk around? (Clearly this is my punishment for reading the NYT and not the Chicago Tribune--if I read the local paper, then I might have known more what we'd be in for this evening.)

Turns out many Chicagoans view these loud fireworks in the middle of November as a positive, uplifting event, one worthy of staying out late for with dogs and small children, and are apparently not all convinced, as I was, that any loud, unexpected explosions in the middle of crowds in the middle of a city are to be avoided.

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

And then there was light. And it was noisy as hell. Posted by Hello

Didn't we study this in astrophysics? Posted by Hello

Something was glowing above the Chicago River Posted by Hello

Construction project gone awry or fireworks? Posted by Hello

The fireworks were overwhelming for this sweater-wearing dog Posted by Hello

A dog dressed as a reindeer turns away from the action Posted by Hello

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Humility and humidity

The "Style" section is always filled with descriptions of the extravagant and unnecessary purchases of the very rich, to which the sort-of-rich Sunday Times readers are supposed to respond with feelings of disgust at the way their college classmates who became bankers instead of professors, movie producers instead of writers, spend their money.

So this week, there's an article about the $800 (gasp!) haircut, with quotes as well from purveyors of the $500 haircut, even the lowly $250 cut. And all I can think is, I could really use a good haircut, one that does not involve borrowing Kate's scissors and trying to even out my bangs without this being the result. Am I horrified by the excesses of the very-well-groomed? I was this summer when surrounded by such women, but after a week of very humid Chicago weather, I can see where people who hand over $800 and say "do something about this" are coming from.

We are (almost) all "pro-civilian"

Via Shawn Macomber, I found this article in Reason, in which Jesse Walker leads with: "In the endless, turgid dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians, I take a third position: I'm pro-civilian."

That has a nice ring to it, "pro-civilian,"... but who exactly are the anti-civilians? In theory, with the exception of the most extreme on both sides, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the end goal, it's just not agreed upon how that peace is to be achieved. So it's ridiculous to imply, as Walker does, that your average person who's pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian is against the civilians on the other side, that "pro-civilian" is a third position, rather than a constant among right-thinking people on both sides of the conflict.

Needless to say, Walker's "third position" isn't as neutral as all that:

"Indeed, [Arafat's] misrule helped create the conditions that left many critics questioning whether Palestinian nationhood was such a great idea after all. In the last few years, figures from Tony Judt to the late Edward Said have revived the idea of a "one-state" solution to the conflict. This would not mean one big Israel cleansed of Arabs, nor one big Palestine whose Jews have been driven into the sea, but one binational country with federal self-government, equality before the law, and separation of church and state. This is of course anathema to those who are more interested in invoking God as a land-use planner than in achieving equal rights for Palestinians or physical security for either side. But from the pro-civilian position, it seems like the best possible outcome."

A one-state solution that would effectively mean an end to Israel as a Jewish state ought not to be described as "pro-civilian," or as the sort of thing only religious nuts would think to oppose. How is fighting for a two-state solution, one that provides both sides with land and self-government, an anti-civilian one? When two nations--in this case the Israelis and the Palestinians--are in conflict, it makes no sense to suggest they merge, and that the larger population "democratically" take over the smaller. Both need autonomy, both need land, and neither should have to be under the rule of the other, fine, but the Jewish people (secular and observant alike) not only need a nation but have one, and a one-state solution is a clever way of saying it ought to be taken away.

All Walker offers in the way of neutrality is that, while arguing for what amounts to Israel's elimination, he also expresses distaste for Arafat. Some third position that is.

But what really gets to me is the assertion of the need for American-style "separation of church and state" among people who are not Americans, and who need peace but do not need the U.S. Constitution. Arguing that there should be one Israel-Palestine with separation of church and state is like arguing that observant Jews and Muslims alike ought to start eating ham because that's how things are done in America. There's a good chance it's the same Americans asking for separation of church and state in the Middle East as complaining about the secularity laws in France, which go, in the opposite direction, beyond anything America would ever want to enact. All countries should be tolerant, none should persecute those with different beliefs, but not every nation needs to strike the exact same balance as has the U.S. Some, like France, desire more secularity, while others, like Israel and like any eventual Palestinian state, will by necessity have certain religious leanings.

The Seinfeldian wisdom of Marcel Proust

"Dire que j'ai gâché des années de ma vie, que j'ai voulu mourir, que j'ai eu mon plus grand amour, pour une femme qui ne me plaisait pas, qui n'était pas mon genre!"--Marcel Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu, the last sentence of "Un amour de Swann."

(Which means, roughly, "I wasted so many years, wanted to die, had my greatest love, for a woman I didn't even like, who wasn't even my type!")

Most people think Proust and think of an effeminate French man from another time, eating a madeleine and thinking about his childhood, then writing on and on about it in order to create a gratuitously unfinishable novel. And there's a bit of truth to all that. But scattered among lengthy descriptions of a social hierarchy that was nearly obsolete by the time the book first came out are some moments of pure, almost Seinfeldian, wisdom about basic human interactions.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Nothing like a shtetl

Andrew Sullivan links to this article in the Jerusalem Post, reporting on the shooting death of a Jewish man in Antwerp.

Awful, but not surprising. Antwerp's Jewish community, considered by some the modern world's only real shtetl, is unlike any other I know of. (I stayed at a hostel in Antwerp's Jewish neighborhood during September 2002, and still cannot forget this one Hasidic man I saw, smoking a cigarette while riding a motor-scooter. Europe...) While guide books warn against speaking French in Antwerp, a Flemish (Dutch?)-speaking part of Belgium, French, Yiddish, and I suppose some Flemish and Hebrew, are spoken by the Orthodox Jews who live there. Signs have Hebrew letters, restaurants are kosher, and synagogues are heavily guarded. Unlike Paris's Marais neighborhood, the Jewish part of Antwerp is no center of trendy boutiques and cafes; if anything, it felt most like Orthodox Jewish parts of Brooklyn. I even saw a woman, presumably an Antwerper, carrying a Daffy's bag.

But unlike, say, Midwood, the Jewish part of Antwerp seems aware of its status as a ghetto in the original sense of the term, situated not only right in the middle of where Jews didn't fare so well in the early and middle 20th century, to put it mildly, but also in a city which has in recently favored a far-right political party, and which seems to be under the impression that its Jews are likely to be attacked--the whole neighborhood appeared to be under some sort of national guard-like patrol during the High Holidays.

There's something reassuring in the continued existence of traditional European Jewish communities, despite all the efforts over the years of Europe to kick them out. But if I were going to live somewhere to make a point, I think I'd choose falafel over french fries, if you know what I mean.

Abolition is not gay marriage

Eugene Volokh writes: "I keep hearing evangelical Christian leaders criticized for "trying to impose their religious dogma on the legal system," for instance by trying to change the law to ban abortion, or by trying to keep the law from allowing gay marriage. I've blogged about this before, but I think it's worth mentioning again. I like to ask these critics: What do you think about the abolitionist movement of the 1800s? As I understand it, many -- perhaps most or nearly all -- of its members were deeply religious people, who were trying to impose their religious dogma of liberty on the legal system that at the time legally protected slavery."

I don't believe evangelical Christian leaders are being criticized for trying to impose their religious dogma on the legal system, so much as they are being criticized for trying to impose legislation that only makes sense according to the laws of their religion, and has no possible non-religious basis for being enacted. There are some awfully strong non-religious arguments for abolition, civil rights, pacifism, and even abortion, whereas there's no decent non-religious argument against gay marriage. In a privately religious yet officially secular country, it's to be expected that individual law-makers will be guided by their personal belief systems, religious or otherwise, but they should only attempt to pass laws that seem reasonable to the religious and the non-religious alike.

Forget Rufus

I just saw DOC's sneak preview of "Kinsey," a rare movie with some gratuitous full frontal male nudity. The nude in question is the actor Peter Sarsgaard, who's also the man pictured, fully clothed, below.

I have nothing more to add.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I Want Two...

The god-like singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright released the second half of his third album, called Want Two, yesterday.

It's blissfully beautiful, lyrical, and just an amazing collection of music. The album is ruch, but not in the lush, expansive way its predecessor was--Bolero isn't going in the background--this is a more stripped-down Rufus (which Pheobe and I will tell you is always good). Plus, if you can decipher them, the lyrics are of course immensely clever.

As the Washington Times, that publication knonwn for its appreciation of somewhat obscure homosexual singer-songwriters (evidenced by the ad in its review that implored me to keep Arlen Specter out of the Senate Judiciary Committee), puts it:

"One gets the feeling that Mr. Wainwright would be happier if there were more Rufus Wainwrights in the world, which would evidently be bad news for firefighters in the singer's native Montreal.

But it would be good news for those looking for more smarts and musicianship in their pop music."

I'll take that.

A giant gym, gender-neutral bathrooms, but still geeky after all these years

Pejman Yousefzadeh and Will Baude disagree over whether, as Stanley Kurtz claims, the University of Chicago is yet another bastion of evil PC-dom, no different from dreadful places like Stanford and Yale (the horror, the horror!).

It seems, though, that two different but somewhat overlapping issues are at stake: First, is the U of C turning into a generic elite university? And second, is the atmosphere at the U of C an unfriendly one for conservative or libertarian students?

If it's taken as a given that part of being a generic elite university is providing students with a fully PC experience, whatever that means (minority lounges? gender studies? coed bathrooms? a more lax Core Curriculum? what's the National Review crowd's greatest pet peeve these days?), then, if Chicago is in fact turning itself into such a university, it would follow that the school would become more PC than it had been previously. I agree that Chicago strives to attract the best high school students, and that it is trying to strike a balance between presenting itself as unique (read: mopey, studious, and, if not conservative, at least tolerant of conservatism) and appearing to be a cookie-cutter-pseudo-Ivy. And sometimes, Chicago feels a bit more generically elite than singularly eccentric. Sometimes, but not always.

But the move to make Chicago more like Harvard (or maybe more like Cornell?) is felt most not in its attempts to make the transgendered feel welcome or in professors declaring their hatred for President Bush during class but in additions like the new gym, the many-option (but still nasty) Bartlett dining hall, the Starbucks in the bookstore, and the U of C flip-flops sold in that bookstore.

Since Hyde Park itself lacks amenities, the school is under extra pressure--beyond that of schools in upbeat urban areas or college towns--to make the four years of college appear liveable to prospective students. While institutions like Shake Day ($1 milkshakes on Wednesdays), the Pub (beer, for the of-age or sneaky), and the 24-hour study space at the library are more "Chicago" than is a giant gym that looks like some sort of inflated yacht (I've heard good things about the gym from those who've actually worked out in it...), the school needs to look the part to get the smart kids. Part of looking the part is being PC; most of looking the part is having a cappuccino machine in the dining hall to use after a hard day spent on an elliptical machine.

So that answers the first question. Onto the second: Is Chicago really so terrible for conservative kids?

No, it is not. The Maroon is filled with rants on the left, right, and in between; the faculty, yes, even in the French department, are generally open different sorts of ideas, and, perhaps most importantly, socializing occurs across the red-blue barrier in a way it couldn't possibly at most elite schools in the Northeast. Much of what makes Chicago unique is the combination of its location and its reputation, which automatically means it draws students both from the middle of the country and from the coasts; unless Chicago either moves or drops in prestige, this will be the case, giant-boat-gyms and gender-neutral bathrooms not withstanding.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Good news and bad news

Eugene Volokh has referred to the Maroon as a newspaper.

However, he prefaces his post in which he cites the paper with this disclaimer, in parentheses:

"Note: This entire post relies on the accuracy of the press account, from the Chicago Maroon, the University of Chicago student newspaper. If this account is incorrect, then neither in the post, in which case I'd just quote Bugs Bunny and say 'What a bunch of maroons.'"

Dual loyalties

Two events are taking place at the same time and in the same building tomorrow. There's the "Hebrew Circle," which for this week is "A Celebration of Hebrew Poetry." Just as this is set to begin, William Kristol will be speaking on the subject of the 2004 election. I'm gonna go with the Hebrew Circle, having already seen Kristol, and having been highly encouraged to attend the Circle by my Hebrew professor. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at all conflicted when making this decision.

"A world of unprecedented ambiguity"--David Brooks on modern college life [UPDATED]

In response to Tom Wolfe's latest novel, David Brooks writes:

"Highly educated young people are tutored, taught and monitored in all aspects of their lives, except the most important, which is character building. When it comes to this, most universities leave them alone. And they find themselves in a world of unprecedented ambiguity, where it's not clear if you're going out with the person you're having sex with, where it's not clear if anything can be said to be absolutely true."

While the truly superior among the nation's "highly educated young people" may turn to law and political blogs for advice about dating and kissing etiquette, it's fair to say that universities do not exist to teach such lessons. But to describe the ambiguity inherent in all romantic interactions as something "unprecedented" is a bit of a stretch. There was never a moment in the history of mankind at which it was, in a broader sense, "clear if you're going out with the person you're having sex with."

(Alright, someone will surely counter that today's more lenient--or nonexistent--morals have made ambiguity the norm. But isn't it the case, where absolute monogamy is expected by society, where marriages are arranged, etc., that plenty of ambiguous relationships form outside the officially sanctioned structure?)


Will Baude and Daniel Moore have responded.

Monday, November 15, 2004

French En-"lite"-enment

At this point we've all heard about how French people (esp. French women) eat lots of meat and pastries, drink lots of wine and yet are all nonetheless thin and beautiful, while Americans (esp. American women) eat box after box of fat-free Snackwells and, predictably, are often overweight. Turns out the British also wonder about the French paradox:

"True, the French women I know tend not to get too hung up on 'dieting'; I have never witnessed a Parisienne performing the calorie or carbo calculus that bedevils so many British meals," writes Mimi Spencer in the UK Observer.

As with most explorations of the French paradox by Americans, this British investigation takes a look at the best French cuisine has to offer and ignores the ubiquitousness in France of the McDonalds-like "Quick" chain. Spencer also notes the emphasis of quality over quantity, the whole idea that the French savor their food, that French women care more about their appearances than do Brits or Americans, the usual.

(Part of what makes the thinness of the French such a source of fascination to Americans and Brits is that, when in France, Brits and Americans are likely to gain weight. But a French person who's had access to some fabulous corner pastry place her whole life is less likely to eat three a day.)

But, while none of the oft-repeated theories behind the French paradox are especially enlightening, the mini-interviews with "real" French women, asking them what keeps them slim, are funny as hell and are what save the article:

"Chloe Doutre-Roussel, 38, chocolate buyer at Fortnum and Mason. Lives in London.
When I first arrived here I was very puzzled by tinned food - I still don't understand spaghetti on toast, or why you use so much vinegar. And to me something like steak and kidney pie looks like it has been cooked using leftovers.I go to a local swimming pool here. All the women are plump, which you would never see in France. Here there is no discipline: no one listens when their body says 'stop'."

"Stephanie Giraud, 39, music producer, mother of two. Lives in Paris
If I want to lose weight I eat less cheese. I don't like your cheese but I love French cheese. I only drink water and a little red wine. Of course French men, like all men, prefer women to be slim."

And, best of all:

"Juliette Marrannes, 28, headhunter. Lives in London
British people seem to love fried things. In Britain, I often see girls who are chubby and whose hair and skin is in bad condition. In central France, you might see this in agricultural communities among the men, but you wouldn't see it in general. None of my French girlfriends look this bad. There seems to be less of a pride in oneself in the UK. This can be seen not only in your approach to diet, but also in alcohol consumption. In France, there's no culture of going out to get drunk. I drink a lot, but never to the point where I would vomit or fall over. It is ugly and vulgar to end up in a drunken mess. The one thing that does contradict my healthy lifestyle is the fact that I smoke 20 cigarettes a day."

How nice, a wake-up service

From an email just sent out to residents of my dorm:

"Barring any major weather emergencies (such as a blizzard) the roof work will continue until November 19, this Friday. Most of the work will entail the installation of the metal flashing--which means periodic drilling that ought to be moderate in noise level. This work will take place until Wednesday on the small (courtyard) roof, and until Friday on the main building roof. Noisy work will not begin on the small roof (because it is so near students' rooms) until 9:00 AM each day."

Sunday, November 14, 2004

A free society means freedom for the bold and the meek

On the other end of the sexual adventurous spectrum from the Rachel Bussels of the world...there's a discussion going on over at the Class Maledictorian, Crescat, and some other blogs about whether a guy ought to kiss a girl on the first date, assuming he wishes to convey romantic interest.

This discussion brings us back to a book discussed (and dissed) by Molly here on this blog, namely He's Just Not That Into You: "Maybe he's shy" is what female friends tell one another re: guys who are obviously not interested. However, this blog being a fair and balanced source of procrastination, I should add that sometimes a guy really is shy, and his failure to act interested is not due to a lack of interest.

What this all adds up to, though, is that the oh-so-complex rules of heterosexual dating etiquette are, if not obsolete, pretty much up for debate, and quickly evolving. So, while Will and Amber disagree over whether or not a first date means a kiss, Rachel Bussel's straight female friends are doing all sorts of things not covered by Miss Manners. This is how things should be: a free society is one in which bisexual women who are convinced that there are no straight women can happily coexist with straight folks who won't kiss someone till they're good and ready.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

"So when I like a new girl and someone says to me, 'Oh, but she's straight,' I never let that faze me."--Rachel Bussel, bisexual wishful thinker

Imagine an article in the downtown, left-wing weekly, the Village Voice, declaring that, deep down, many gay men have at least some curiosity about what sleeping with a woman might be like. Couldn't happen--it's assumed that gay men, by definition, don't want anything to do with women in that way, and that those who've experimented with women but who currently identify as gay did so in the past out of peer pressure. A paper like the Voice would never ask, say Michael Musto, to confess his secret desire for, say, Pamela Anderson.

But the Voice has nevertheless printed a piece in which Rachel Kramer Bussel declares: "deep down, many straight women have at least some curiosity about what sleeping with another woman might be like." And she's not talking about closeted lesbians or bisexuals, either, nor about those women who make out with other women to impress men, but about the many, many straight women who, according to Bussel, are also attracted to women. She wishes. I'm afraid that there are many, many straight women who, like gay men, are just plain uninterested in--bordering on revolted by--the idea of sex with another woman.

But the Voice, ever critical of heterocentric society, is endorsing an argument that suggests that straight women as such do not exist. This may well be the definition of PC absurdity: if the paper accepts that men exist who are 100% gay, why can it not accept that, more often than not, in liberal pockets of the US, a woman who claims to be straight is just that, and her refusal to "admit" to her homosexual urges has a whole lot to do with those urges not being there to begin with.

"Almost every 'straight' girl I know has at least made out with another woman; often they've done more, and most of them are far from ashamed or embarrassed about their same-sex dalliances," writes Bussel. There are certainly social settings where dalliances of all kinds are encouraged, so it's entirely possible that Bussel's friends have all dallied in every way imaginable, and I thus cannot take issue with her here. I take issue, though, with her suggestion that straight women are all just dying to be lesbians.

She claims that "straight women often walk away from their same-sex encounters feeling empowered on several levels." Empowered? Give me a break. Either a woman would walk away from such an encounter and realize that she is gay or bi, or she'd realize, ugh, that's really not her thing.

Bussel--a self-proclaimed bisexual--announcing that all straight women actually like other women is like me saying that Rufus Wainwright, deep down, is looking for a nice girl to settle down with. She writes: "So when I like a new girl and someone says to me, 'Oh, but she's straight,' I never let that faze me."

Using that logic, Rufus is mine.

"Self" magazine meets Jung: America's collective jeans get a bit tighter in the hips

Bush was reelected, Arafat was laid to rest...and somehow we were all missing the real news story, which is that mannequins have bigger asses than they used to.

I suppose the only real news-like tidbit in the piece in the Style section is that women (presumably in the US) now weigh on average 155 pounds, which is apparently more than they (we?) used to, and that this collective weight has been gained mostly in their (our?) collective hips. I've heard of collective unconscious, but collective weight gain, not to mention collective problem areas? "Self" magazine meets Jung, or something...But this is really where statistics start to be problematic. Sure, we all want to know if being against gay marriage was really what won Bush the election...but do we absolutely need to know that not only are the nation's women fatter, but where on women's bodies this excess weight was most likely to be distributed?

Friday, November 12, 2004

WWPD debates the Middle East. (Remember when this blog used to be all about Tasti-d-lite?...)

Jochen has added an interesting and informative comment to my post about French kaffiyeh-wearing:

"On the Palestinian Scarves so popular in Paris, one might say that they became, probably since the 1970s, a general (fashion) symbol for the left, and then even lost their direct political character for many. I doubt that wearing such a scarve is a conscious political statement for most people, though pro-Palestinian sentiments are certainely strong in France.

In defense of France: There were huge solidarity demonstrations in France after fire-bombings against Jewish institutions like schools, assumably committed by Islamic terrorists. It's true, there is a huge anti-Semitism in France, especially among Arabic immigrants, but at the same time, there is a strong tradition of anti-antisemtism as well."

My response, which I'm posting because it became too long for a comment:

It's certainly possible that kaffiyehs have lost any direct significance in France with respect to the Palestinian cause, which is itself a testament to the enduring trendiness of siding with the Palestinians (rather than with Israel, but also rather than siding a bit with both and seeing peace as the only worthy goal). Even on campuses in the US, siding with the Palestinians suggests a tough but sensitive, left-in-the-sense-of-pro-underdog personality, while anyone who openly expresses pro-Israeli sentiment is accused of either whining about non-existing anti-Semitism or of just going the obvious route because they're Jewish (if they are; if not, they're assumed to be Christian fundamentalist loonies).

But back to France: While the French do, at times, admirably fight anti-Semitism at home, the refusal to acknowledge why so many Jews are not in France but are rather in Israel is really at the root of the problem--if French Jews had all sat around at waited for France to defend them during WWII, they'd been out of luck(not to mention during the Dreyfus Affair...which I know more about than I ever thought I would!) , and the same is frequently the case, but obviously to a much lesser extent, today.

Israel came out of Jews not wanting to rely on the whims of Europe, which might or might not permit them to live in any given country at any given moment, and to form a self-defending state. Theodor Herzl's interest in founding the state of Israel came out of his having covered the Dreyfus Affair and having thus witnessed French (not German, not Russian, etc.) anti-Semitism.

I very much admire the French attempts at having a secular state. France's secularity, in theory, would benefit French Protestants, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, and others, and would--still talking in theory--make France a much more hospitable place for those of different religions, not to mention the non-religious, than is the US. And I am reassured every time I hear about a French leader speaking out against anti-Semitism. But despite the French insistence on defending their own Jews, the country's utter infatuation with the cause of a people whose goal is, more often than not, to eliminate the state that was established precisely as a reaction to French anti-Semitism--that I do find unsettling, to say the least.

Look to the Netherlands

My cousin Caroline Glick, in the Jerusalem Post (registration required, I think) on the murder of controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by a Muslim extremist. Van Gogh had made a movie about the oppression of Muslim women--for more information, see what Andrew Sullivan has to say. Forget France and the foulard--the Netherlands seems to be the current site of significant West vs. East clashes. Something to keep an eye on, at any rate.

One random and completely tangential note: For some reason, Caroline's article is accompanied by a Google-placed ad for "Palestinian singles." Oh Google, you are blind...But I suppose Suha's available these days--wonder if she's got a profile up yet.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Kushner in Khicago

Tony Kushner, author of the acclaimed play-then-HBO miniseries Angels in America visited the Windy City last night, with a rather intellectual conversation for what I'm sure was a somewhat baffled audience in the lovely Winter Garden of the Harold Washington Library. The event was sponsored by Nextbook, which is dedicated to promoting Jewish culture to the public, and the mediator was a professor of Yiddish at Columbia, but Kushner did his best to focus his conversation not just on Judaism but also on how he as an agnostic (!) feels about America and American secularism.

I think his efforts slightly dispelled the nachus that was originally projected his way, but not as much as one might expect, which says a lot for the crowd. There was no small amount of Bush-bashing, I need hardly add.

In any case, Kushner had some interesting comments on his work, on writing, and politics, and he went out of his way to have a conversation with everyone in the bookline. He's a really nice guy.

"Being Jewish taught me how to be gay" he said in response to my question about his comfort making parallels between the Jews as a minority and homosexuals as a minority. And he turned a Marxist corner that I hadn't expected, but should have, talking about how the "oppressed must stand together."

And, he confided later, he tried to get into the U of C, but he got rejected. So there you have it. A brilliant man, with brilliant works that ooze with the play of ideas and politics, and we didn't let him come play in our intellectual sandbox. Shame.

Still, if you have the time, read one of his plays, or better, check out Angels in America on DVD. It is, after all, a gay fantasia!

"He slept and ate little, took no vacations and neither drank nor smoked." Jane Brody wouldn't have had a bone to pick with old Yasir

Judith Miller's Arafat obit makes you feel all warm and fuzzy about the man. Which is fine for most obits, but in this case is nauseating.

"No other individual so embodied the Palestinians' plight: their dispersal, their statelessness, their hunger for a return to a homeland lost to Israel."

This statement makes very little sense in the context of what Miller later implies in her obit, which is that the state of Israel preceded the idea of a Palestinian homeland, meaning that such a homeland could not possibly have been "lost to Israel."

"Mr. Arafat assumed many poses. But the image that endures - and the one he clearly relished - was that of the Arab fighter, the grizzled, scruffy-bearded guerrilla in olive-green military fatigues and his trademark checkered head scarf, carefully folded in the elongated diamond shape of what was once Palestine."

"Grizzled." What an understatement, try "physically revolting, even to Suha." I suppose that makes Michael Phelps or Rufus Wainwright "passable."

"Mr. Arafat leaves an ambiguous legacy. He succeeded in creating not only a coherent national movement, led by the Palestine Liberation Organization, but also the very consciousness that made it possible. A master of public relations, he made the world aware of Palestine as a distinct entity. And he helped persuade Palestinians, who now number five million to six million, to think of themselves as a people with a right to sovereignty."

"He slept and ate little, took no vacations and neither drank nor smoked." No wonder he was driven to terrorism.

"Many Palestinians compared him to David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founder and first leader, seeing Mr. Arafat as an Arab pioneer who struggled to lead his people back to their promised land. Many Israelis, by contrast, regarded him as an archterrorist, an opportunist who endorsed peace merely as a tactic to destroy Israel - 'a beast on two legs,' as the late Israeli leader Menachem Begin once called him."

That's a good one the one hand, on the other hand. The Times won't take any side.

"Over the years, 'old man' became apt. His once-taut stomach gave way with age to paunch despite his frequent walks and the treadmill behind his office. What remained of his hair, almost always hidden by his trademark head scarf, turned gray. The face, with its three-day stubble, became visibly lined, his eyes weary."

It is really a waste of space in an obit to describe the physical aging of the deceased. It's sort of assumed, right?

"That same year, he also began wearing his trademark kaffiyeh, which impressed both Arabs and Westerners when he first traveled to Europe in a Palestinian student delegation."

Those scarves are awfully popular in Paris, even (especially?) among non-Arabs. Can't say I saw too many Jewish star necklaces worn in solidarity by non-Jewish French people. Arafat picked the right place to die.

"Successive Palestinian crackdowns on Hamas and other militants invariably gave way to deals, pledges of forgiveness and rounds of kisses."

Feeling queasy yet?

"The White House's hostility to the Palestinian leader hardened over time as American intelligence officials informed the White House that he was lying about his opposition to violence against Israelis. Officials said Mr. Bush came increasingly to equate Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians with militant Islamic attacks on Americans."

Wonder why Bush might associate the two. I mean, it's not as if Islamic militants ever associate Americans and Israelis, not to mention use "Jew" and "Israeli" interchangeably. And those conspiracy theorists who assume Israel was responsible for 9/11? Yeah, it's got to be Bush who's confused.

"Despite deteriorating political and economic conditions, many Palestinians blamed Israel and not their leader for their plight. For many, until the end, Mr. Arafat remained the symbol of Palestinian aspiration to a state, the only man who could have sold the painful compromises for peace to his people had he chosen to do so."

What can we conclude from this, that Palestinians are out of it? That Arafat was, in fact, the grizzled, admirable man Miller suggests she thinks he was? Who the hell knows. I like the Times, they write awful good over there, but sometimes...

Judith Miller offers this in the way of balance: "Palestinians in many Arab countries, including Syria and Lebanon, were restricted to camps and denied citizenship, while their host governments spoke in heartfelt tones of the Palestinian cause."

Uh, yeah, how about that? That strikes me as huge.

Entre la vie et la mort no more

The bucket has been kicked.

Coq au ugh

I followed the link from Crescat over to this dish, suggested by busty British chef Nigella Lawson. The photo in the Times of "coq au riesling" so resembles vomit (Kate concurs: "It looks like somebody threw up mushrooms") that I fail to see what Will Baude is getting at when he says, "Both [coq au riesling] recipes look good." I suppose that they might, by some stretch of the imagination, taste good, but my inner three-year-old (or is it my familiarity with dining hall cuisine?) prevents me from eating foods with such a striking resemblance to the, err, pre-eaten. Will notes, however, that, "if I had a bottle of Riesling and some chicken sitting around, I doubt I could do anything other than roast the latter while drinking the former." I'm a bit disturbed by the idea of anyone having a chicken "sitting around," but I agree with him that wine and roast chicken, drunk and eaten respectively, are a better bet than the dish suggested by Nigella Lawson, which would, in turn, be only slightly better than roasting the former while drinking the latter.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Possible Chicago sales tax increase

Looks like I'd better hurry up and buy those moon boots.

A higher calling for Bartlett

A discussion of "God: Fact or Fiction?" will be held in the Bartlett dining hall's trophy room. Hope they sort that one out once and for all. (Because if it ever does get resolved, Bartlett, home of the cheddar blend pizza and the vegan mush station, is certainly the place one would imagine such an epiphany would occur.)

Monday, November 08, 2004

Rent, the Movie: It's real irony, Alanis...

Yes, friends, it's true, they're making a movie out of Rent. Whatever's left of Jonathan Larson's soul must be atwitter with rage.

I think every person of my age (late teens, early 20s) much have gone through a period of intense Rent-listening. At least, everyone I know seems to have caught this bug; I myself caught it late, during the last two years of my college career. I still gleefully listen to the soundtrack with my roommates.

Though Rent contains a good message of social justice, I'm in no small measure dismayed at the number of these people who no longer understand Rent's unique context, set in the early-nineties fight against AIDS which was politicized to an extent that few of our age seem to recall. How many of us actually know what ACT-UP is anymore? Or, for that matter, what the high holidays are? -- unlike ACT-UP, at least that institution still exists outside France...

But more saliently, Rent has always existed on the edge of contradiction, milking its popular success to the profit of whoever ran it, while at the same time condemning capitalism and its ruthless amoralism, epitomized in Reaganism and turn-of-the-century neoliberalism ("When you're living in America/You're what you own"). The theater operators consoled themselves by giving away front-row seats for "cheap" on the day of the show, but there's nothing quite like the irony of sluttily-dressed tween tourists in the Big Apple, reeking of perfume and aglow with glittery clothes, feeling anti-establishment and rebellious for not only seeing the play, but for sticking it to the man by seeing it cheap.

Now, of course, Rent will have sold out not only its message and whatever vestiges of anti-establishmentism it had left, but also excellent musical stylings and staging, as it enters the most mainstream of mediums: film.

lest you think the production is being produced by some great art-house, it's not. It's being produced by Miramax, which has some arthouse creds, yes, but also brought us Chicago. Director Chris Columbus, who made the first two Harry Potter flicks and Home Alone doesn't exactly fall in the genre of an indie film-maker.

At least the cast looks good: Taye Diggs, Rosario Dawson...if nothing else, they're making sure that even if the characters don't want to make money, that the movie will.

What a headline:

"La manifestation antiraciste ne mobilise pas."--Le Figaro.

Read on, if you know French, to hear more about how a protest against racism and anti-Semitism, scheduled for yesterday and to be held in Paris and elsewhere in France, never quite got off the ground. But the headline's all you need, really.

say it ain't so, michael!

Michael Phelps, sex god of the Athens 2004 Olympics, was arrested for Driving While Intoxicated...DWI, says Yahoo! News.

Looks like Phoebe and I will have to find another Adonis to adore. At least Matt Damon keeps out of legal trouble...

Kibbutzcest, Part 1: Seret lo tov [UPDATED]

Molly and I just saw an Israeli film called "No Longer 17." The title of the film suggested a cast filled with strapping 18-year-old Israeli guys, but no such luck. The movie began promisingly enough, telling the story of a kibbutz that decided to kick out all members over 65 in order to save money, and thus save the less than financially sound kibbutz. But the elderly folks were also the ones who founded the kibbutz, not to mention the state of Israel itself, so they do not take well to being told to leave the premises. That all happens in the first minute or so--then comes the disasterous, near-incestuous romantic entanglements of the elderly kibbutzniks, each of whom seems to have had a child out of wedlock who, in turn, produced another out-of-wedlock child, in what appeared to be intervals of 15 years, such that the sexy 50-ish grandmother ought to have been the mother of the sullen 20-year-old, and yet a third woman was supposed to be the child of one and the mother of the other. Everyone had slept with everyone, and my brain does not do logic games well enough to figure out whether any actual incest was involved. (When Reuven was sleeping with Noa, who exactly was Reuven to Noa, given that Noa's mother was something of a kibbutz ho, whose boyfriend, an old man with massive eyebrows, has, in turn, had essentially two wives, the official one being the mother of Reuven's dead wife, whom he, Reuven, may or may not have killed? Confused yet?)

The thing that bothered me most about the movie--aside from the two obvious things, which were that I'd been hoping it would involve hot young Israeli men, and that all the "dialogue" consisted of each character providing a brief plot summary of the movie itself, things like "the kibbutz is kicking off the old people, and I'm not in love with my husband,"--was that the youngest character, a 20 year old girl whose name escapes me at the moment, arrives back in Israel after backbacking across India, and shows up with a hippie boyfriend, who appears briefly when the two accidentally walk in on this girl's grandmother (the aforementioned kibbutz ho) and quickly scramble out. When the girl returns, she's left the boyfriend on the stoop; he is never once mentioned, nor does he once again appear, for the rest of this long, long movie, and one could only guess that he's still, to this day, standing on that stoop. Since he was the closest the movie had to an attractive young man, I was especially sensitive to the illogical disappearance of his character from the film.

Have you ever been up really late and turned on PBS and watched some obscure movie that solved whatever problems with insomnia you may have had? Imagine such a movie, only much more so. This one dirt road on the kibbutz was shown about 500 times, to the point that I was as bored by the route across the kibbutz as I am by my own route to campus, which has been mostly unchanged for almost 3 years.

Since the (implied, never close to graphic) sexual escapades of the elderly kibbutzniks were yawn-enducing and predictable, the only real drama was when the spurned wife (played by a woman I only hope looks better in real life) attempts suicide. Of course her death would be far too interesting a twist, so she lives, leaving the only death scene in the movie to a man who looks about 95 who dies peacefully of old age on the back of a pickup truck.

My final word on the matter before going to sleep: Seret lo tov.


Molly's "Part II" is now up.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Reading material

The Maroon has gotten its act together and is putting stuff online with shocking rapidity. From Friday's issue, here's Molly's piece on anti-Zionism at Columbia, and here's mine about New York anti-Americanism and American anti-New York-ism.

Showdown: Undergrads vs. grad students [UPDATED]

By the time most college students at Chicago reach their third or fourth years, they've had classes (if not other things) with grad students. And, from what I've heard from various sources, and have confirmed with my own observations, undergrads at Chicago seem more like the school's grad students, or like grad students in general, than is the case at other universities, sharing cross-listed classes and eccentricities, not to mention a tendency to wear far too much tweed. So my friend and fellow 4th year Kate and I were shocked--shocked!--when we overheard a man telling the woman he was sitting with at a cafe this afternoon that U of C undergrads (presumably in comparison to U of C grad students) are incapable of reading and writing English.

("Like, hi!" I said quietly to Kate, twirling a strand of my hair. We then returned to our homework.)

It was later confirmed that this man was, as suspected, a grad student: as he was leaving, I told Kate how one of our friends, the previous evening, had drunkenly told me that grad students are bad news and are not to be socialized with. "That's terrible advice!" cried the man in the bakery, who'd apparently been eavesdropping on us just as we'd been eavesdropping on him.


Veritable grad student Daniel Moore has responded, in defense of both U of C undergrads and grad students in general.

City College, from Irvings Howe and Kristol to Jewish studies

I would consider myself a traitor to my own blog if I didn't discuss this article about the surge in interest in Jewish studies among gentiles, which apparently, as I suspected, extends beyond a certain blonde Irishwoman:

"[One non-Jewish student's] exploration typifies a striking trend at City College and in Jewish studies nationally - its appeal to gentiles. Of the 250 students enrolled in Jewish studies classes at City College, 26 of them majoring and 160 minoring in the field, some 95 percent are not Jewish."

The article attributes the sudden interest in Jewish studies among gentiles in part to a desire to know how Jews "made it," which is a little unsettling, but not that unsettling, I don't know. Interest also apparently arises from curiousity about the roots of Christianity, as well as from a desire to gain a perspective on Jews other than one gained through hearing anti-Semitic slurs. How nice. Well, hope it works.

"The recent fascination of gentiles with Jewish studies, then, arrived as a pleasant, and wholly unexpected, shock. Nowhere does this phenomenon carry greater historical resonance than at City College, an institution deeply intertwined with the history of American Jewry. In the decades before World War II, when many elite universities held quotas on Jewish students, City became known as "the poor man's Harvard," the launching pad for intellectuals like Irving Howe and Irving Kristol. By the 1980's, with Jews now flocking to the colleges that formerly had barred them and City College a predominantly nonwhite school, it suffered national notoriety for the anti-Semitic diatribes of Leonard Jeffries, a tenured professor of black studies. The success of Professor Mittelman's program represents a third wave, part of the overall resurgence of City College. While the Jewish studies courses do attract a few Jews, most of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union, they overwhelmingly draw those self-described explorers like Shivani Subryan."

I'd have to say that part of what first interested me about Irving Howe and Irving Kristol is that my own grandfather went to City College about the same time that they did. (No, for the record, my grandfather was not responsible for neoconservatism, nor, for that matter, for democratic socialism.) My interest only increased after seeing "Arguing the World" and interning at Dissent magazine, which was co-founded by Howe. City College must have been a pretty intense place, sort of like what Stuyvesant would be if people weren't flipping out all the time about having enough extracurriculars to get into a top college.

I wonder if City College, aside from teaching its diverse student body about the history of the Jews in general, teaches much about the history of the school itself. Such a course could be taught under Jewish studies, I suppose, but also under American or NYC history.

The "American religion" is what allows gay marriage bans

I've always said that there's no real non-religious argument against gay marriage, while there are obvious non-religious arguments against murder, and even abortion. I brought this up with some Republican relatives, and they said that a non-religious argument against gay marriage does exist...and then failed to provide anything too substantial.

Now, Amber writes: "Could one argue that same-sex marriage bans based on religious, traditional views of marriage (as opposed to some measurable social harm) might violate O'Connor's endorsement test and thus the First Amendment? Defining marriage to be only what conservative sects of some religions say it is seems to convey "a message that religion is 'favored,' 'preferred,' or 'promoted' over other beliefs." Allegheny County v. ACLU."

It's always nice when something I've always felt is clarified in legal jargon. This makes perfect sense: If gay marriage is only wrong on the basis of there being religious objections to it, then laws preventing gay marriage have to be unconstitutional.

The problem, though, is that gay marriage is not wrong according to a specific religion but according to the generic American Christianity, the one that puts "God" on our money and into every last political speech, by Democrats and Republicans alike. I'd love it if generic American Christianity (a dubious entity as a religion, but nevertheless a politically useful one when it comes to manipulating potential voters...) were treated as any other, more specific, more real religion and were kept separate from state, but America seems to have decided, across the political spectrum, that generic American Christianity is the state, and that separation of church and state refers only to keeping any one smaller religion from either being banned or gaining too much influence.

So banning gay marriage on the basis of generic American Christianity (as opposed to banning it on the basis of, say, Catholicism) may well be, or at least feel, unconstitutional, but it's absolutely consistent with the way things are done in this country, with the strange way in which separation of church and state has come to be interpreted.

Friday, November 05, 2004

A very special issue of the Maroon

Huh, it turns out that I do control the media, after all, and with more than a little help from my friends. I picked up a copy of the Maroon today and was reminded that Molly and I both have op-eds in it, and both of our bios direct readers to this blog, which, as many of you may have noticed, bears the same name as my Maroon column.

So, welcome to all new readers who came here via paper copies of the Maroon (there are no bios in the online edition, and the latest issue has yet to go online). And, for those readers who came to the blog first, check out the latest Maroon--Molly dicusses anti-Zionism at Columbia, and I come out as an "anti-anti-American New Yorker," to quote from the headline the folks at the paper gave my article.

Arafat: Not quite dead

Palestinian envoy to France Leila Shahid was quoted in the Times as saying that "Yasir Arafat, in his state of health and at his age, is at a critical juncture between life and death."

Leaving aside the implications of Arafat's death*, once that happens...what exactly is this mystical state between life and death currently occupied by the Palestinian leader, who is, as Le Monde would have it, "entre la vie et la mort" ?

"Il y a été admis pour une "anomalie sanguine", reports Le Monde, which, though it just means he had blood abnormalities, sounds to Anglophone ears as though something larger and more mysterious were amiss.

Something about Arafat's hospitalization happening in France and being described in French gives it a surreal feeling, as if Arafat were a demi-god of some sort, hovering between life and death, and not just an old demi-terrorist leader on his way out. Is this the result of quirks of the French language, of the French obsession with siding with the Palestinians, or of both?

* "La disparition de Yasser Arafat risque de produire en Israël des résultats contrastés." No, really?

Now that the election is over, Salon.com is slightly less annoying

This comic, "Did You Know? Ashlee Simpson" is totally worth watching the ad to access. "Did you know? Much of Ashlee's image is carefuly manufactered. She's actually a 42-year old Filipino man!"

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Uncomfortable Oberlin Republicans?

Volokh conspirator Orin Kerr has posted a letter written by the president of Oberlin to its students, thanking them for their political activity, in which she wrote, "Many of you, I know, are deeply unhappy with the results of the 2004 presidential election. I sure know that I am. But political and social change often takes a much longer time to bring about than we think it should. Any group of people who can accomplish what you managed to bring off yesterday will certainly be able to make a real difference in this nation. Keep up the fight."

Kerr responds: "I think it's great that college students are playing an active role in politics, and it's commendable for a college president to congratulate students for their efforts. Plus, Oberlin has an established reputation as a liberal institution, so it's a fair bet that most of the e-mail's recipients appreciate the kind words after a tough loss. Still, might you not feel just a bit uncomfortable receiving this message if you are an Oberlin student who voted for Bush?"

At Chicago, no such letter was sent out, but it's definitely assumed, by fellow students and faculty alike, that just about everyone is disappointed that Bush was re-elected. While I do see his point, unlike Kerr, I'm not so sure that a Bush supporter ought to take offense at the Oberlin president's letter. It helps to figure out: why is student disappointment about the election outcome assumed?

1) Many students are actually disappointed, are genuinely upset, and make that known.
2) The disappointed ones probably feel more comfortable speaking up than do the Bush supporters. The day after the elections, there were a whole lot more people still in Kerry paraphernalia than in Bush gear, although I know plenty of people walking around the U of C are Bush supporters. So the disappointed are visible, while the Bush voters on campus, with few exceptions, are not.
3) Young people are supposed to be liberal, and people of the Oberlin president's generation see a few activist types milling about, see more than a few Kerry buttons, and don't even consider the possibility that today's college students aren't the same as the ones who, like the Oberlin president, graduated from a liberal college in 1969.
4) In the case of Oberlin, by choosing such a school, one signs on to a certain set of liberal values, and attending a place like Oberlin as a conservative is a bit like attending a religiously affiliated college as a student of a different religion. You might like certain things about the place, but you have to get used to the fact that you differ from the mainstream in some fundamental ways, and thus can't really take offense at things like the college president's letter. At Chicago, this is not the case, and I'm not expecting a letter from President Randel, consoling the student body, any time soon, nor am I hoping to receive one.

Election Thoughts: scones and buffalo wings

It sure sounds like fun across that Atlantic, at British blogger Oliver Kamm's house:

I can only say that the small corner of liberal Britain that is the Kamm household is as unflappable and cheery as ever.

Mmm...I bet they eat scones. You can actually things that look like this in the supermarkets over there. I really miss London!

On a far more trivial level, I can only imagine what Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Noam Chomsky and a clutch of British Tory grandees must be feeling now. And it makes me feel very good indeed.

Thanks to Kamm for reminding me that no matter how much the choices that we made in the voting booth divide the people of this country, I think it's just about as much as our love-hate relationship with celebrities unites us ( I think this hold true for England too, they are much worse about these things than us). What I mean to say is: Jessica Simpson (we all know she's a Republican) v. Hillary in 2008?

Call me Latoya Jackson

I recently wrote a mid-term paper predicting that Bush would get about 25% of the Jewish vote.
National Exit polls showed Bush gaining no ground in the Jewish vote from 2000. But by now, these exit polls are hardly taken seriously. CNN calculates that Bush got 24% of the vote, Kerry 76%. That's about a 5-6% gain for Bush from 2004.

Before anybody goes crazy, saying stuff like "Bush panders to the Jews with Israel" and such, I think it's important to remember that Bush did not set any Jewish voting records. Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan received votes in the middle and upper 30s. Also, as The Forward points out the only segment of the Jewish population that had more than one out of four Jews voting for Bush was the Orthodox population whose main interest in voting for Bush isn't because of his foriegn policy but because of general conservative domestic policies that allow religious schools and charities to recieve goverment funding. I would add that Soviet-American Jews probably had a majority voting for Bush, but most of that community is located in New York, where it would hardly make a difference.

So I think there will be a growing shift in Jewish support for the Republican party but that's only because Orthodox families have frighteningly large families(Orthodox Jews have up to three times as many children as non-Orthodox Jews). The paradox is that although Orthodox Jews view themselves as being outside the mainstream, they are actually extremely involved in politics, in as much as they can further what they see as best for their own communities.

Israeli Film Festival comes to Chicago

With these movies, playing at these times.

Let's see what happens

Inspired by the NY Times, for a change, I'm going to do some posting about film stuff(mostly Scandinavian movies and some early Jon Stewart films) over at Splendor In The Masses. I promise it won't be as pretentious as it sounds.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"A big-boned, cherubic blonde--a goy!"

So there's this woman, she's not Jewish, but she's into Yiddish. Not a big deal, right? Apparently it's a huge deal. The NYT can't get enough of this woman and her shocking shiksosity:

"Caraid O'Brien must rank among Yiddish culture's most ardent and least likely champions. An actress, playwright and translator, she is 29, Irish and Roman Catholic, a big-boned, cherubic blonde - a goy! - with a bachelor's degree in Yiddish literature who speaks English with a hint of lilting brogue and Yiddish with disarming fluency."

"'Everyone is interested in the idea of this strapping Irish girl with Yiddish coming out of her mouth,' Ms. O'Brien said with a smile."

Yeah, it's sooo interesting, isn't it, that someone might study a language and heritage not her own. I mean, I like to freak people out by speaking French--I am not remotely French, and yet I speak the language (or try to) and study French literature. Is what's fascinating that Yiddish is not a popular language for anyone to study, or that this particular woman happens to be large and blonde? Would there even be a story about her in the Times if she were small, dark-haired, and Irish or large, blonde, and Jewish?

It's good to be safe, and it's good to be able to marry whomever you'd like; why not both?

Bush won. This will not do wonders for America's P.R., and it has angered close to half of the country itself. Would a Kerry presidency have been disastrous for our national security? Would the U.S. have turned into a warmer-weather Canada? We'll never know, at least not in the next 4 years. On the bright side--which is where every American might as well look right now--at least we're dealing with a known quantity, one that has failed in many ways but one that, at various points, did seem to know what it was doing...

But here's the real problem. How exactly have 11 states voted to approve constitutional amendments banning gay marriage? As I've said before, there is absolutely no argument, other than one based on certain interpretations of certain religions, against gay marriage. Why is the concept of spreading freedom both abroad and at home so hard to implement?

No Palm Trees In Ohio

Well, it seems Kerry's called Bush to concede so it's really over. Ohio really isn't the new Florida. The provisional ballot isn't the new chad. Regularly scheduled TV will be regular. It's sort of a boring conclusion, actually.


"Election day just became election month." James Pinkerton, at about 2:00 am, Nov. 3.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

College students boring, don't want to have sex

Spencer Willing at the CNN "Campus Vibe Blog" says of the UPenn students, "They may have made history today. They may have registered and voted in unprecedented numbers. But now they have papers to write."

It turns out that even for those who don't have papers to write, there isn't much going on. a votergasm" party, for example, is scheduled to start shortly in the Quad, one of Penn's largest dorm complexes (for the uninitiated, these are meet-ups encouraged by the web site votergasm.com, whose participants have ostensibly taken the "votergasm pledge" either to have sex with voters or to deny sex to non-voters). Though this get together most recently seemed to consist solely of a few guys playing poker in front of a television in one of the dorm lounges, a scene not entirely out of the ordinary.

Are we there yet?

Well, who's it gonna be?

I was downtown reporting on the celebration for Obama, and I decided that, by the time the 6 bus got back to Hyde Park and I got upstairs, there'd be a president-elect. No such luck.

Bin Laden [heart] IKEA?

"Before I begin, I say to you that security is an indispensable pillar of human life and that free men do not forfeit their security, contrary to Bush's claim that we hate freedom. If so, then let him explain to us why we don't strike for example - Sweden? ..." -Bin Laden from the recently released video.

Sweden? It seems sort of random. After thinking long and hard, the only conclusion I can come to is that Bin Laden can't get enough of Ikea's cheap coffee tables(probably more so since IKEA founder, Ingvar Kamprad, was an Nazi sympathizer). It's a common fact that IKEA futons are a great addition to any cave dwelling. They are easily portable (great for running away from armies, angry people, etc.) and save space because they can often fold up into a couch (perfect for entertaining international guests). Conveniently for Bin Laden, Ikea also has several locations in the Middle East: Saudia Arabia, Dubai, and the always convenient, Kuwait. Interestingly (and obnoxiously so, I believe), the IKEA Israel, in Netanya, is closed on Shabbat.