Monday, February 28, 2005

Those Silly French

Interesting musings from today's news (13h) on France 2:

-The French parliament met consider constitutional reforms necessary for the approval of the new EU constitution, and some environmental bill I can't really seem to get my head around. Subject matter aside, why they chose to meet at Versailles confuses me. I guess they really like the Hall of Mirrors, but it's going to prove disappointing to some American tourists. In any case, the pictures of the parlementaires riding buses to Versailles mean that they're imitating the tourists in more ways than one, today.

-The French are in a tizzy because of the terribly cold weather that's sweeping the nation. These record cold temperatures: the low tonight in Paris is -7 celsius. A quick trip to Google Calculator says that's 20 degrees fahrenheit....cold, yes. But worthy of some huge alert in a city where people already own winter clothing? I think not.

-French politicians debate by simply talking over each other at the same time, in a conversation resembling that found in a Woody Allen film. Which, I guess, is better than the way American politicians debate--spouting focus-group-tested sound bites at each other. Though, I must say, it's only marginally more interesting.

The Basics

A basic staple of any grocery store should be an ample supply of low-fat milk in half-gallon form. Manager of Mr. G's Co-op (officially the "Co-Op Express," 53rd and Kimbark), please take note.

(Also a basic staple: Snickers Bars)

(My roommates demand that I add: Diet Coke)

Feminists fail to amuse

"His accusers were relentless and, as always with feminists, humorless."--Harvey Mansfield, on Summers vs. Harvard feminists.

Writing in that well-known Onion rival, the Weekly Standard, the anti-PC professor Harvey Mansfield declares feminists--all feminists--"humorless." I'm wondering, then, which political subgroup Mansfield finds more amusing. And no, unintentionally amusing doesn't count.

Phoebe would order wrong

In the same way that some people always get caught, I always order wrong. At Adobo Grill, where everything looked incredible (and where the guacamole was just that) I managed to order sub-par chicken tamales. And today, at the fine dining establishment that is the University of Chicago Bookstore Starbucks, I noticed a new addition to the usual array of baked goods: the apricot bar. I like apricots, and I like spending less than $5 total on lunch, so I figured, why not? Well, it was vile. I got a second opinion from physci classmate and freelance fashion critic Hung, who agreed that the thing wasn't so hot. What made it so awful? Fake fruit taste combined with real fruit texture, for one. Then these sort of crumble-shaped lumps on top that served only to make the thing look rustic, but didn't, as far as I could tell, have a taste of their own. Then was the crust itself, which was really the worst that can be done with crappy shortening. Why couldn't I have just gone for a lowfat apple muffin or one of the cafe's other, eh but reliable offerings? It's weird, right as I said, "...and an apricot bar," I knew I'd made a mistake...

Waddling patriotism

Waddling Thunder asks, "if America were to declare war against your ethnic homeland, and draft you to fight, would you go? The answer? He'd go.

According to Reihan Salam, there are many Americans without an ethnic homeland abroad. These Americans, according to Reihan, are American-Americans, or American volk, meaning that their ethnic homeland is, in fact, America. While I don't see things quite as Reihan does on this issue, I do think there's a continuum in America between those whose non-American (or Native American) ethnic roots are all but forgotton and those who maintain strong ties that go beyond ethnicity with some other nation. WT gives examples of Japanese- and Iraqi-Americans going to war against their respective ethnic homelands--I'd imagine a far larger number of German-Americans fought with the Allies in World War II, but I could be wrong. Regardless, German-Americans would have likely fallen under what Reihan deems American-American, which might explain why WT didn't think to mention them when offering examples.

So many things factor into one's loyalty to an ethnic homeland--the reasons for leaving, whether it's a country in which you grew up or one whose residents you vaguely physically resemble, etc. If you fled a country because it was oppressive and horrible, and then the U.S. decided to fight that country, you might well be delighted, whereas if your parents' jobs just happened to get transferred to the U.S., you might be less enthusiastic about going to war against your former home. And then comes the question of, how frequently is an ethnic homeland that neatly drawn as corresponding to current political boundaries? Is my "ethnic homeland" Russia? Poland? Israel? I can only trace ancestors back to the Pale of Settlement, and I can't imagine the U.S. will be fighting that no-longer-existing entity any time soon. And whatever affinity I may have for Israel, none of my recent ancestors lived there. The same could have been said for someone of German ancestry, if the U.S. were fighting East or West Germany, or someone who's generically Anglo, but whose ancestors are both English and Irish. In other words, ethnicity and nation-state are not perfectly overlapping categories.

But as for the question itself--let's say you're 100% sure you're Armenian-American, and America drafts you to go to Armenia. Let's say you yourself grew up in Armenia, and think fondly of your old home. And then you get drafted by the U.S. military. Should you go? Yes. Here, WT is right, and in his rightness, a weakness of the more-American/less-American hypothesis is exposed. Levels of Americanness really do (or ought to) come down to loyalty. The German Jews who fought in WWI on the side of Germany always struck me as the most tragic victims of the Holocaust, if such an assessment can be made. The difference between a liberal state and an illiberal one is that, in a liberal state, loyalty trumps ethnicity when it comes to determining national identity. In fact, in a liberal state, ethnicity plays no official role whatsoever, except in the case of remedying discrimination. If intellectuals accept that other factors determine nationality, if the fact that WT would be a bit more upset about fighting Armenia than would someone of non-Armenian ancestry is seen as making WT sub-American, then there's no reason to believe that the government wouldn't eventually follow suit.

More on this later, perhaps.

Photoblogging Test

I must say, Phoebe's been far ahead of me in this whole photoblogging thing. But with some hard work now that I've got the spare time, I've finally figured it out. In any case, the below is a picture of the radio telescopes from the movie Contact, taken last summer.

Might I say that with Picasa, Hello, Blogger, Gmail, and its upcoming collaboration with Firefox that everyone is waiting for, Google is really giving Microsoft a run for its money...

The Very Large Array - Outside Socorro, NM (2004) Posted by Hello

Wine vs. whiny sitcoms

Via Matthew Yglesias, I've just learned that television is the secret to happiness. Given Mr. Yglesias's impeccable taste, not to mention my own sense of the joys television can bring, I will have to agree.

I've never understood why a glass of wine with dinner is wise and sophisticated, while a Nanny rerun or two when getting back from school/work is considered pathetic and cretinous. Frankly, I find this disparity to be classist, not to mention biased against those who are female, don't weigh a lot, and are of not-so-heavily-drinking ancestry (i.e. sexist, sizeist, and anti-Semitic). After a half-hour sitcom I'm pleasantly sedated; after a glass of wine on an empty stomach, I'm...somewhat more sedated, and a whole lot more silly. So, all things being equal, and productivity later in the evening being the goal, television wins hands down.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

French rabbis in the Rush St. Starbucks

While waiting for the bus today, I saw a tall, middle-aged man walk by in a yellow baseball cap, slide-on sandals, and a full-length fur coat. Once reaching the whole Magnificent Mile area, and the sea of North Face fleece-track pants-sneakers, I could (almost) see the appeal of Hyde Park...

...But yeah, the whole Rush Street area is filled with people who are all dressed identically to one another. This is not a new discovery, and yet it surprises me every time. A seemingly infinite variety of clothing, at every price level, is available in downtown Chicago, and yet everyone's wearing the exact same thing. I had the brilliant idea to do B.A. reading in a downtown Starbucks rather than at the Reg (and I'm not being sarcastic when I call the idea "brilliant"--it's amazing what I accomplish with my laptop several miles away) and noticed that the brand-philic tend to be so on many levels. Starbucks cups, iPods, Apple laptops, North Face jackets. I looked down at my own black fake-leather jacket, purchased at a thrift store on East 23rd St. in NYC, and felt at once very with-it and very out of place. The fashion-contemplation was brief, however, since trying to figure out, rabbi by rabbi, what the Grand Rabbins of France thought about Zionism during the late 19th century, when the accounts of this are in what appears to be French, took most of my concentration. Luckily, a tall nonfat cappuccino was by my side every step of the way.

Not all Israelis look like Ariel Sharon.

Picture a movie with the message "war is bad, and so is homophobia," where you only realize in retrospect that the film had a message. Picture the two hottest men, like, ever, kissing in the snow, only to be interrupted by a bunny rabbit passing by. So frequently one is reminded that not all Israelis agree with their prime minister. Well, not all Israelis resemble him, either, as Yossi and Jagger proves beyond a doubt.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

I saw Hitchens and blogged about it.

The post is here. The picture, alas, does not come from my camera, though I have a whole bunch of grainy photos of Christopher Hitchens (and of the backs of the heads of audience members) on my computer, which I can, I suppose, show my grandchildren one day.

Fluffy Kerfuffle: Baguettes vs. Bagels

So I went to a really neat lunch/talk yesterday, on the state of Jewish studies in France, and on the Alliance Israelite Universelle in particular. I couldn't help but notice that, despite all women in attendence (myself included, bien sur) being on the small side, the only woman not to dip into the schmear was the super-chic French woman giving the talk. Now, despite having just eaten a muffin, I couldn't help but notice the spread of better-than-C-Shop bagels, clearly imported from some superior establishment, and the one I took "for later" ended up being very much "for now." Washed it down with a crisp and delightful diet Coke.

On an unrelated note, my friend Kate and I are perplexed: Why do sorority girls wear sweatpants in public so much more frequently than the unaffiliated? On this campus, sweatpants almost always seem to be paired with a bag proclaiming membership in Kappa Alpha Theta, Delta Gamma or AOPi. This is not an attempt to provoke a sorority vs. non-sorority showdown. I, for one, am just curious to know why this might be the case.

Now, the time has come to write the B.A.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Zabars is looking shiny these days

Thank you, thank you, Michelle Cottle. I cannot remember the last time I agreed so fully with an article. And this has to be the coolest sentence I've read in a long time:

"If the president of Duke or UCLA or Rice or even Stanford had made such a gaffe, The New York Times would have yawned twice and gone back to reporting on Christo's plans to wrap Zabar's in orange cellophane."

So for that sentence alone, I am eternally grateful.

But Cottle's point about the Summers balagan is also right on. Journalists and pundits, not necessarily their readers, care what's going on at Harvard down to the most minute detail. Part of the problem is that the larger audience a paper serves, the more likely it'll be staffed by Harvard grads or otherwise Harvard-obsessed types, thus forcing, say, the entire NYT audience to get a play-by-play of everything Summers has consumed and excreted since The Incident. (I was a bit let down when I began noticing signs around campus for an event responding to Summers' remarks, followed today by a Maroon news article and unsigned editorial on the matter. Nothing short of UChicago spontaneously imploding would cause Harvard to respond in a similar fashion to anything going on here.)

Cottle writes:

Some will argue that the Summers story deserves prominent, extended play because the underlying subjects he touched on--gender discrimination, achievement gaps, work-family balance--are vibrant, vital points of debate. Horsefeathers. If the underlying issues were the real point, the media wouldn't spend so much energy boring readers to tears with blow-by-blow accounts of every meeting, vote, protest, and internecine squabble taking place in Cambridge. At this point, I know nearly as much about the various warring factions at Harvard as I do about those in Iraq.

The New York Times, I suppose, could argue that its readership, much like its staff, is heavy on Ivy Leaguers who simply cannot get enough news about Harvard's internal politics. Maybe. Then again, the Times is the country's paper of record, ostensibly with a responsibility to focus its resources on stories of national or international import. By no stretch of the imagination does the Summers episode rise to that standard.

Indeed. This is why we have the New York Sun, which is always chock full of news stories about the Ivy League, not to mention Manhattan's private and elite public schools. Did something racy happen at Brearley? Did someone hiccup at Columbia? The Sun is on the case. The NYT usually keeps more of a distance from these matters.

Now, of course, comes the problem: We've got the urban (some would say "Euro-American") elite in one corner, and the "real Americans" in the other. Or do we? Many, many people who'd qualify as elite don't especially care about Harvard, or simply tire of hearing about it all the time. Sure, those associated with other top universities will take more of an interest than others ("it could kinda-sorta happen here!"), but the gazillions of important types who went to Yale and Princeton (and even, yes, Chicago) have probably had enough at this point.

My own theory, re: Summers, is that he said what he said in order to take attention away from the Columbia-Mideast Studies balagan. How dare a sub-Harvard Ivy hold the spotlight for so long! Better remind the country which school really matters.


UChicago email will be down for the weekend. Which is like saying, at other schools, that the school's going dry for the weekend, or that someone took that kid's huge stash, depending on the school. In any case, this will put a damper on things for those of us planning frequent procrastination trips to the Reg's computers. So if anyone has anything super-important (or, hey, entertaining) to tell me over the weekend, send it to my gmail account. If gmail for some reason also went down (perhaps from overuse coming from the 60637 zip code)...oh, I don't even want to think about it, it's too painful.

Mixing business and pleasure

Just got back from the Pub, where I successfully surveyed some U of Cers for an article I'm writing for the alumni magazine. I also made the (re-) discovery that $2.50 wine tastes like just that. And this weekend, I'm going to write my B.A. paper. Yes, all of it. Yes, in French. No, there is not that much coffee in all of the world, or at least in all of Bonjour Bakery, where I plan on having my pre-B.A.-writing coffee and pain au chocolat. Given that this alleged "B.A." will have a French-Jewish kinda focus, perhaps I will have to find time to go to Fox and Obel for authentic (dare I say echt?) bagels as an antidote (cultural, not dietary) to the pain au chocolat. At this rate, I don't see any paper-writing happening, so unless I master the fine art of having coffee, watching other people drinking their coffee, and writing in a foreign language, all at the same time, I'm thinking I'll be at the Reg, kmoh d'habitude. And yes, that was a sleepy bit of Frebrew/Hrench, which suggests it's time to go to sleep.

...but I didn't want to know!

"Don't ask, don't tell" has been causing quite a stir in the British press lately, with BBC News reporting on a new GAO study that says that the policy is costing the military dearly, in both money and manpower.

But I think the op-ed in this week's issue of The Economist might have gone too far. To wit:

In 2000, when the queen's army jumped out of its closet (so to speak), many senior officers were aghast. Their arguments then were similar to American fears now: sooner or later, showers and bars of soap were mentioned. Four years later, recruitment has not suffered; most new recruits are unfazed about meeting gay comrades. And with gays subject to the same rules governing appropriate behaviour as heterosexuals, the showers need hold no fears for happily-married men. Come on, Rummy, what are you afraid of?

(Emphases added.) Yes, that's right, they went there (the showers), even though no one asked them to. Though I doubt it'll persuade many of these "happily-married men," I appreciate the sentiment. All I'm saying is, wasn't there some way to discuss this without pandering to the stereotypes...and bad taste?!

(Related: Schism in the Anglican church over gay bishop)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Things that have amused me recently

A commenter on Matthew Yglesias's site referring to me as "this Phoebe guy."

The very existence of a course entitled "Color of Queer: Race/Sexuality." I am almost certain that this was placed on the time schedules by a sneaky conservative wishing to prove a point.

"Kerfuffle." Is this a word that exists outside of the blogosphere? Lest I receive accusations of semi-literacy, I should point out that, being a French major, I have only a high school-level education in English literature. I might also point out the amount of time I spent during high school watching the Designing of certain Women, transfixed and pleasantly sedated by the drawls and the shoulder pads, but I also might not.

In Other News...

...some short commentary on recent headlines:

New iPods

Apple's released new iPods; they got rid of the 40G, changed the iPod Photo to 30G and 60G, and created a new 6G iPod mini, reducing the price of a 4G and extending the battery life considerably. Perhaps unfortunately for Ms. Maltz, they've dicontinued the gold iPod mini. She'll have to hope that some other color matches her moon boots.

HP returns my computer

Is it fixed!? Time will tell. What this really means: barring unforeseen circumstances, the much-vaunted WWPD redesign is no more than a week away!

Bush says he doesn't want to "kick gays"

...but he did it anyway. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the whole "flip flop" thing essentially about how Kerry had no principles and just wanted to win? Somone please explain to me how the Federal Marriage Amendment is different?

Bush calls out Russia on democracy

Hmm, a bit late for that one. Note to future presidents: undoing in your second term what you let happen in your first is NOT good policy. The Economist rightly observed long ago that the democracy ship had sailed...

Snow Flurries in Chicago!


More substantive blogging later...

...but first, a shoe-related post: I noticed, while having lunch at the new GSB (which, incidentally, is not the place to order anything with black bean sauce), that women wear very chic but not-so-comfortable-looking shoes. Black shoes with high heels, worn with narrow jeans, seemed to be the look many were going for. Now, always one to look at interconnections between form and function, I can't help but notice that it's easy to get to the new GSB building wearing impractical shoes, whereas the cobblestone walk to Classics/Wieboldt is all but impossible in anything spiked or pointy. I know this first-hand, having walked, in impractical but chic shoes, to both buildings today. Everything's paved and smooth on the way to the GSB; my Classics mocha nearly spilled all over the cobblestones as I made my way the like five feet from Classics to my office this morning. Oh well.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Where'd the Maroon go? [UPDATED]

I have an op-ed in today's Maroon. I'd link to it, but it appears the website has been hacked into or something. Yikes!


It's back. Here's the article.


In an unnamed campus coffee shop, at an unnamed hour, a dude (American, as far as I could tell) was holding forth on the lameness of American culture, specifically something to do with what parents feed their children. It appeared that he was holding forth in this manner in order to impress a young woman. I was somewhat preoccupied with learning all the different words Israelis used to use for "tomato," so I cannot say whether the girl was impressed by this guy's superior knowledge of American inferiority.... Now that would be a fun conversation to overhear: "Did you know that Israelis once found the current word for tomato to be offensive, because it had sexual connotations derived from its Biblical meaning?" But alas, conversations here more often begin with, "Americans do this, this, and this, don't they know better?"

Respectfully Submitted...

I'm respectfully submitting to our faithful readers a question of etiquette.

The sister of a certain blogger is soon to be asked an important question involving a ring, which commits both her and her boyfriend to rather absurd levels of spending on a certain future date. Said blogger does not know the groom-to-be especially well, but can confirm that this person is an acceptable mate for his sister.

However, said blogger was taken aback when he was notified by his roommates and close acquaintances that tradition holds that he should in fact participate in the a groomsman! Since said blogger does not know the groom-to-be very well, is currently legally excluded from having such a wedding himself, and is especially wary of attending any possible bachelor party that may arise as a result of this commitment, he is exceptionally hesitant to perform said function. Though he would be more than happy to attend said wedding, he is simply wary of attending as part of the company.

So, dear readers, do tell: What is the obligation of our trusty blogger?

Ample space to pontificate provided in the comment space...

The New American Exceptionalism

If there's one lesson of the last election, it's that Americans are okay with exceptionalism. As developed nations go, we're certainly among the most fiscally conservative, the least trusting of international institutions, and we're definitely the winner of the "spends most on its military" award.

None of which is inherently problematic. I think there's a huge gulf in the view of the world between the US and Europe; even many people in the blue states recognize that the United States cannot abandon realpolitik and fail to see war as a threat to its security in the same way that Europe has (thanks largely to an unsung but immense US military presence). I especially don't have a problem with the world's only superpower deciding that it needs to spend a lot on defense, and that its defense requires a robust economy and scepticism in its participation in international institutions.

But I do have a problem with what I perceive as a new American exceptionalism: an increasingly poor human rights record. We speak proudly about how freedom won the Cold War. Of how our founding fathers fled Britain in favor of religious freedom. Now, Britain (though, let's face it, doesn't Blair's "special relationship" sound a bit gay to you?) has not only legalized civil unions but is actively recruiting homosexuals into its military. Canada and Europe recognize homosexuals as people--why can't we? Do I really have to move to a socialist country just to get married?

We seem to have abandoned altogether the discourses of freedom for ones of security. As I've written before, the value of open borders has been eliminated for fear of terrorism, as we make it more difficult for foreigners to legitimately enter our country every day. We're increasinly becoming a pariah amongs developed nations in our drug policy, our policy towards homosexuals, and other matters of human rights. What room is there for abandonment the Geneva Convention, secret military tribunals, and widespread use of torture in the "land of the free"? And though Europe, too, has not been immune to the language of security with respect to immigration, Europe never claimed it valued individuals over the prevailing state interest.

My grandparents--six kids in tow--weren't drawn to Europe in search of opportunity and an escape from racial discrimination in the post-colonial world; they looked for those things in the United States. There was a time when, in relation to other countries, the US really did live up to that hopeful phrase in our national anthem. With little in the area of sound logic, we seem to have assumed that one aspect of our exceptionalism--a robust defense as the lone superpower--justifies abandonment of our original exceptionalism as the land of the free. Shame.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Girls girls girls

Girls (sorry, women) aren't scientists. We aren't pundits. And evidently, these days, we aren't public intellectuals, either. I felt I had to read this LA Times piece because, when I described my career plans to my friend Katherine, she laughed and said that what I want to be when I grow up is a public intellectual.

So is it really true, as Charlotte Allen claims, that "The vast majority of women who might otherwise qualify as public intellectuals would rather recite the feminist catechism or articulate some new twists and refinements on it than carve out a place for themselves in the larger public world"?

It depends on how broadly one defines "feminist"--if any female intellectual who ever discusses and/or sticks up for women gets lumped into this category, then sure, many do count as such. I write about some women-related things, many non-gender-specific ones, but my being female and my decision not to completely avoid letting that influence my writing would, by some accounts, make me a feminist writer, or, to less enlightened minds, a "girl blogger." But part of the reason things have changed since Arendt et al is that there's now this huge workforce of female professionals, so brilliant women who might have once gone into public-intellectualizing are now investment bankers, lawyers, etc. So the women who remain are the ones who don't just need to channel intellect, but who really do just want to get paid to write about whatever happens to be on their minds. Well, Andrew Sullivan makes it known that he's gay, Cornel West, rumor has it, is black, so if we take them as they are, do we really need to fault Barbara Ehrenreich for focusing on female workers?

Part of why it looks like there aren't so many female public intellectuals/pundits is that women are dismissed not just for discussing, well, women, but for taking on any subject in a feminine manner. There's a certain way that men write, with a self-assured swagger, confident that they and they alone know how to fix the economy or the Middle East. Women tend not to write this way. While I apparently write like a man, I just don't have that urge to say that I don't think but know what must be done in Iraq. This may well have more to do with being moderate or indecisive than with being female, but anyway....To be a serious public intellectual these days, you can't just muse about culture and books, you need the voice of an over-confident high school debater. Most women don't sound this, even when writing strongly about dry or serious issues....

Would continue the thought, but I need to learn the Hebrew words for different types of vegetables by 9 am tomorrow, so the public intellectualizing may have to wait.

Via The American Scene.

Bitter but toned American women, meet thin but flabby Frenchwomen

It turns out Americans and the French alike are responsible for keeping us from that Jane Brodyesque paradise in which no one consumes anything unhealthy and all get an hour of exercise a day, and then act smug about it in the intervening 23 hours. Seems we bring the bagels, and they the cigarettes, to the international table of decadence.

One thing that doesn't make sense in Jessica Seigel's op-ed: If we're supposed to take note of the fact that well-off French people smoke more than their American counterparts though the overall rates in the two countries are quite similar, and that this is somehow relevant in looking at the two nations' relative obesity problems, then what of the fact that well-off Americans are significantly thinner than poorer ones? "So those chic upper-crust French women trotting around not getting fat smoke far more than their American counterparts." Walk around comparable upscale areas of Paris and NYC (such torture that would be!) and you will see skinny women. Skinny women carrying Longchamp bags, accompanied by tiny dogs, which may or may not be carried in those bags. (In Paris, lap-dog-carrying is a workout; in NYC the dog is an accessory and the workout involves lifting things the size of Newfoundlands.) Basically, if poorer Americans are both the smokers and the ones more likely to be obese, then the Seigel hypothesis doesn't make too much sense.

What is really at stake, though, is that the French, for all their talk of slow meals, go more for immediate enjoyment, and Americans more for the abstract enjoyment that comes from knowing that you've had just the right about of vegetables and spent just enough time on the elliptical machine. A thin American woman will have a better body than a thin Frenchwoman, but will probably be a bit more, well, bitter.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Europe's Jews looking rightward

The NYT discovers the large-scale selling out of European Jews. What, not all Jews are on the left? How can this be? The short answer is that the European left is getting at least as anti-Semitic as the European right. European Jews are not selling out, but have basically been driven out of the current European left.

Much of European Jewry considered the left its natural home in the 19th century and the early 20th century. The left supported Jewish emancipation and more liberal immigration policies in Western Europe, and Social Democrats and Communists opposed Russia's czars, who sponsored anti-Semitic pogroms, and Hitler.

Yes and no. Political anti-Semitism came from left and right alike. Socialist anti-Semitism was the rule, not the exception, in Europe. The populist, racist ideas surfacing in France in the 19th century weren't specifically left- or rightwing. The left was where the dreyfusards came from, but the left was not itself dreyfusard. (If Europe's Jews had always aligned themselves with things that sounded lefty, most Jews would have been National Socialists in 1930s Germany.)

In Antwerp, according to one study, at least 65 percent of those who were registered as Jews during World War II died during the Holocaust. According to another study, based on exit polls, at least 5 percent of the Jewish population there voted for Vlaams Belang last June, in the most recent elections.

Yes, and? It is equally absurd for Jews to be on the far left as on the far right. Not "these days" but since the 19th century. The far left has always been either anti-Semitic in the sense of associating Jews with all that's wrong with capitalism, or merely thinking (as Marx thought) that Judaism would be rendered irrelevant after the revolution. This is nothing new.

Henri Rosenberg, an Orthodox Jew whose Polish parents survived Hitler's camps, is unapologetic about his support. "Orthodox Jews are thinking in the same ways that non-Jews are thinking, that Vlaams Belang can protect them," he said. "Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews had to compromise with the societies in which they lived and this made it much easier for Orthodox Jews to go with the standard, 'Is it good for Jews or bad for Jews?' " he said. "Today, it seems it is good for Jews."

And Rosenberg is exactly right. And there's nothing wrong with Jews thinking this way, going back and forth between the "left" and the "right" depending on which side is welcoming to them. Liberal ideals, which tend to be "good for the Jews," are not necessarily going to be found on the left. That a few European Jews have gone to the far-right seems much less important than that many are moving to the center. That 5% of Antwerp's Jewish population (which is largely Orthodox and thus inherently conservative) voted for a formerly anti-Semitic party can hardly be called, as it is in the NYT, "extreme." I just don't understand how, when what "left" and "right" mean, not to mention what individual political parties mean, is continually changing, one can speak of a shocking move to the right on the part of European Jewry. Different groups are on the left or the right for different reasons. If things shift (i.e. as in this case, if the left becomes less favorable to Jews) then in time the voters will as well. This does not mean, let me repeat, that Europe's Jews have up and abandoned liberal ideals. This also does not mean that the time has come for American Jews to abandon the Democratic party. Different countries, different issues.

And, one final note, before I dive head-first into astro homework. This needs to be looked at: Why exactly might Jews in Antwerp or Paris care about Israel? They've got their lives in Western Europe, what do they care what's going on in Tel Aviv? Here's my guess: With the European left no longer looking appealing, and the European right having such a recent Nazi-sympathizing past, what's a Jew to do? The "compromise" Rosenberg speaks of starts to seem impossible, and leaving begins to look like the only option. Israel (or its friend America) start to look awfully appealing.

My Saturday

It began with oatmeal. It also included: the shocking event that was Kate and me, like, exercising; a dab of Hebrew homework (I can finally say "cheese" in Hebrew! Though I would still pick a fromage over a gvinah any day...); a failed attempt at dinner without a reservation at Adobo Grill; a semi-successful* attempt at dinner at the Old Town branch of Kamehachi; a fully successful late-evening trip to Whole Foods**; and a party in the apartment that was apparently where none other than Will Baude lived last year (one roommate from the previous year still lives there).

*Why only semi-successful? When at a more conventional/generic/Western restaurant, if the place isn't that busy and the food isn't arriving, you can always assume things are slow in the kitchen. At a not-so-busy sushi place, when you see that your table's dishes are ready, and see them sitting at the sushi bar for a really, really long time, what's the protocol? Is it OK to just go up and get them? I didn't, but I'm thinking that might have been the way to go.

**Where I purchased some fab camembert. Since I do not have a Great Pyrennees, the cheese is all mine.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Why don't French women get fat?

Because their huge, fluffy dogs take all the camembert.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Why I'm going to Canada

I just can't take it after the election, man!

Nah, that's not it. I'm going to Canada* to see the snow dogs! This is the only vacation the NYT has ever featured that has totally had me convinced. Sure, my two attempts at skiing were less than impressive, but any trip involving great dogs, a chance to speak French, and "freshly baked croissants" can't be all bad.

*In theory. I haven't, like, planned any actual trip to Canada. But mark my words...

Would Phoebe Get an iPod?

Everyone has them, and with good reason. They are supercool, shiny, tiny, and wonderful. They are also $249-$399. That's a lot of cappuccinos/fine cheeses/organic granny smith apples/impulse H&M purchases. Is it worth it? Is it really that difficult to keep carrying around the discman? Decision iPod 2005 has yet to be made.

In other, totally unrelated news, I interviewed and photographed the anti-circumcision protestor who stands over by the Bookstore for the U of C Magazine's blog, so check it out.

Like Sullivan, I make exceptions...

Via Gawker, just read this demand, from Details, for men to stop wearing ironic slogan t-shirts. I second it entirely. Well, almost entirely. I once saw a guy on the Upper West Side with a shirt that had on it, "They said there wasn't going to be any math." Now that's an awesome thing to have written across your shirt.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Pluto Turns 75

Perhaps that's a bit of a stretch--Pluto's in fact probably about 5ish billion years old like the rest of the planets--but it was on February 18, 1930 that Clyde Tombaugh discovered it. 75 years later--and how much has happened! We've sent probes to all of the planets--some of which have almost reached the heliopause--landed probes on Mars and Titan, put a man on the moon, and even designed stylish moon boots! (Not to mention five series of Star Trek.)

But for all of that, we still haven't decided what Pluto is--is it a planet? A "Kuiper belt body"? (I think the latter.) And it's not as if we have any close-up photo of Pluto. I, for one, think it's about time that this happens, so I would like to go on the record in support of NASA'S New Horizons project, a probe which would travel to Pluto and its moon, Charon, by 2015.

In the meantime, let's take a moment to commemorate 75 years of "MVEMJSUNP." After all, it did play a crucial role in that episode of Saved by the Bell...

More thoughts on "Everyone Says I Love You"

Having recently seen Closer, it was weird seeing another Portman-Roberts pairing. Also weird, given that Everyone Says I Love You is a Woody Allen movie, is that the then-30-ish Roberts, not the then- (and now-) prepubescent-looking Portman, was the main Allen-character love interest.

Exceptions to the Sullivanian Rule

What's frustrating about reading Andrew Sullivan is his awesome sensitivity and nuance when it comes to issues that affect him personally and his striking indifference to the complexity of those that don't. Gay marriage is a pressing need; a woman's right to choose is sort of eh.

Sullivan also makes an exception for his own kind when it comes to his usual belief that people and communities should be permitted to self-destruct at will:

As many of you know, I'm a libertarian when it comes to recreational drug use (and what consenting adults do in private). But I draw the line at this drug. It's evil, potent beyond belief, it's destroying people's minds, careers, lives and souls. If we don't get a grip on it, it may undo all the progress we have made against HIV in the gay world.

So if crack, heroin, or any other drug happens to be destroying another community, the Sullivan line doesn't get drawn? Meth is hardly the first drug to contribute to the spread of AIDS, so that can't possibly be Sullivan's reasoning. It's not clear if he'd like to see meth and meth alone criminalized, but that's not even the point. There's just this unresolvable divide between the way Sullivan treats what he cares about personally and what he doesn't. While it's perfectly reasonable to write more about issues of personal concern, it's not right to say that these issues are objectively more pressing than others.

Girls in uniform

"Everyone Says I Love You" is a cool, cool movie, the only funny Woody Allen film in recent memory. And, on a personal level, it mostly takes place on the Upper East Side, right where I lived when the movie was made, complete with girls in uniforms (played by Gaby Hoffman and, as those who arrived here via Google will want to know, a young Natalie Portman) sitting in front of an all-girls school on Madison in the 90s, squealing about boys.* It's fun seeing all this playfully mocked. Strange, though, to see it all now, in a building at Chicago. Kind of like seeing a shockingly well-made home movie years later on the big screen.

*When the audience first meets him, the boy that Portman and Hoffman's characters can't get enough of walks down 92nd Street on a school day and is not wearing a uniform. Where, then, does he go to school? Dalton? Hunter? He had the look of a Hunter kid in the first scene, but then the more you find out about him, the more ambiguous it becomes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Stuyvesant debate*

Over at The American Scene, fellow member of the greater Stuyvesantian community Reihan Salam discusses our email conversation about Americanness. I'd be happy to post my own emails on the matter if anyone's curious, but he sums up the discussion well, so read what he says, and you'll have a good sense of the debate.

*Not that I'm the world's greatest debater in print, but face to face, my debating skills are sort of pathetic. That's why, despite my love of a good argument, I was on the track team, not the debate team, way back when. As anyone who follows this link and has any familiarity with what these times mean will realize, I couldn't outrun you then, and, having not run regularly since 12th grade, I most definitely couldn't outrun you now...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A trans-fat-free night at the Reg

I'm suggestible more than I am health conscious, so I am now avoiding trans fats. This is problematic, however, as I have a physci problem set due tomorrow, and, as red wine goes with steak and white wine with seafood, Twix goes with astrophysics. But now that I know that what keeps Twix solid over hours and days and maybe even years, down in stuffy Ex Libris, is a special type of weird, harmful fat, I just can't get myself to buy one. But diet Coke alone is just depressing, so I needed some kind of trans-fat-free treat. Since Ex Libris does not serve pastries of the quality that Mireille Giuliano or I would demand (well-aged scone, anyone?), I went with Sour Patch Kids. In retrospect, these will probably harm my teeth more than the occasional Twix would my arteries, but that's really beside the point. Upon opening the bag, I remembered that I only like the yellow and orange ones, but now I've got all these red and green ones....It's a hard life. Expect further updates on equally profound matters around 4 am, when I reach the problem set's halfway mark...

Shout-out to Physci 120

As my desire for self-promotion apparently knows no bounds, now yet another one of my classes has been informed of this blog's existence. Physci lab was cut short due to bad weather (can't look at the sky using fancy machinery when it's raining) so, to substitute one geeky activity for another, my lab partner Kei and I took to looking at our respective blogs. Whether he wanted them or not, Erwin, our T.A., now has both of our blog addresses.

You can't be a little be pregnant...

...but apparently you can be extra-married. Will Baude thinks covenant marriage is legally OK but that there's something icky about it, and, while I have no legal expertise, I'd have to say I agree with him. But what I don't totally understand (from a social, not legal, perspective) is how covenant marriage can exist without making regular marriage start to seem flaky, to say nothing of civil unions, which, under the new framework, start to look a bit like agreements to be dates to a junior high school dance. Ideally, if marriage has to be written into law at all, there'd be just one thing, called marriage, and couples could define it as they see fit, and take it as seriously as they'd like within the bounds of the contract. If covenant marriage takes off, heterosexual couples who choose marriage over covenant marriage will start to seem unsure about the commitment they're making. Also, if one partner wants a marriage and the other would prefer a covenant, that could potentially be a large but otherwise avoidable source of conflict.

British Politics Roundup

There will likely be an election in the UK in May 5th (they're not quite sure of the date yet--ah, Parliamentary systems...). An interesting topic in the election has been the status of asylum-seekers; the Conservative/Tory party, led by Michael Howard, seems to be very happy to run on a "xenophobe" ticket, anti-EU, anti-Euro, and now anti-immigration.

But not only does Howard oppose immigration, he now also wants a "health check-up" for immigrants. This sounds reasonable enough, except that when one gets to the details, one finds something much more sinister:

The proposed medical examination would include an overall health check-up, chest X-rays for TB (except for children and pregnant women) and tests for hepatitis and HIV (for those over 16 years old). Only TB will automatically preclude the grant of a visa. All other conditions will be dealt with on a case by case basis to consider what costs if any they will impose on the NHS. (Source: Conservative Party Website)

So, there you have it. What he really wants is an HIV test. Why HIV-positive people should be prohibited from entering the country is far beyond me. And why, all of the sudden, it's become popular around the world to tighten controls on immigration--as some sort of "valid" response to terrorism--is also far beyond me.

Lest one think this is a strictly European phenomenon, it's not. The International AIDS Conference will never be held in the United States, because the US government denies entry to people with HIV/AIDS (and may in fact remove foreign nationals who contract HIV during their stay here). There are also new guidelines going through Congress (already passed by the House) that would deny judicial review of DOJ adjudication of asylum claims. At least the Europeans have the lame excuse of having an ethnically uniform population to "protect." What's ours?

The Ties that Break

Maya Keyes, the daugther of Former US Senate candidate Alan Keyes, is a lesbian. This has been well known around the blogosphere since at least October, and though the media hinted at this (one reporter in fact asked Keyes if he'd dealt with issues of sexuality in his family during a "town hall" forum where students asked Keyes and Obama questions), they decided not go public.

But now, Keyes the elder has thrown his daughter out of the house, terminated her employment with his organization, and she's on the street, and the media is covering the story. Keyes seems a bright enough young girl; I'm sure things are going to be difficult for her, but she's been clever enough to use this media attention to secure funds so that she can pick up her studies at Brown. Given time, I'm sure she'll be a passionate and effective advocate for change.

Her story, though, is a common-enough example of the immense difficulties faced by gays and lesbians in American society. There is, unfortunately, a large part of this population that views sexuality not just as a question of different, not as a question of rights, but as a question of right and wrong--an inherently moral question, which they feel entitles them to legislate the issue. Erasing this moral dimension from sexuality may take decades (erasing this moral dimension from our conception of law--well, that will take even longer).

Lest anyone--from Andrew Sullivan to that turncoat Bill Clinton--forget what's really at stake in these debates, I'd like to copy--à la Maureen Dowd--a snippet of an email that my uncle recently sent me, when I pushed the issue of gay marriage:

Here are my thoughts on the gay movement...I have a problem with their constant SHOVING OF THEIR AGENDA IN MY FACE AND THERE CONSTANT ATTEMPTS AT GAINING ACCESS TO OUR KIDS...

I believe the end game or eventual goal of the gay agenda is social acceptance of adult-child sexual relationships. Thinks this is far fetched? Has your uncle gone off the deep end? Do a google search on "Nambla."

Anyone who really thinks the rift between red and blue isn't fundamental clearly hasn't been paying attention.

Is she or isn't she?

Amber of Bamber posts about "women's blogs" that turn out to be written by men. This would be a good time for me to announce that, contrary to popular belief....Nah, just kidding, far too many of my readers have met me in person for such a stunt to have worked, though I must confess I'm somewhat tempted to start a blog as Phoebus Maltz and see how it's received...

Monday, February 14, 2005

Oops, I left my bagels on the bus

I bought several apples and two bagels at Fox & Obel, and have a receipt (and a witness) to prove that this is not entirely in my imagination. By the time I got back to my room, I had only apples, and had not consumed any bagels en route. This sucks, man. Where did they go?

Found at a Northside Restaurant....

...that a friend and I strolled into, called Cafe Bordeaux, with something approximating French cuisine:

"Special Crepe: for Gays, Birthdays, and Love -- $10"

(emphasis added) Now, I know Boystown isn't that far, but even my good knowledge of French can't explain this crepe. Someone else care to explain? Or actually try it?

(2932 N Broadway St., just North of Diversey; BYOB and beware the decor)

Welcome, libertarian friends

Here from Reason blog "Hit & Run"? Yeah, you are. By all means, check out the whole site!

Conservatism in America

The Economist reports the results of a new poll showing that, despite the fact that more Americans consider themselves conservative, opinions on cultural issues are in fact swinging towards the liberal side. The Economist seems flummoxed by this occurance.

The simple answer to their conundrum is that Americans are challenging what it means to be conservative, and are becoming, on the whole, more socially liberal, while simultaneously shifting towards economic conservatism--as The Economist's poll results on declining support for labor unions would seem to indicate. The terms "conservative" and "liberal" then, fail to take on meaning.

Or maybe that's just the wishful thinking of a libertarian. Interesting article, anyway.

Kaught up in Kotkin

I think I mostly see what he's getting at, but there are a couple things in Reihan Salam's defense of Joel Kotkin that I'm still not following. First, even if the housing situation in certain American cities resembles that in certain European ones, that hardly outweighs the differences between Europeans and Americans, even urban Americans. Major American cities (and their finer educational institutions) are largely populated by people who either immigrated from Europe or elsewhere, or whose parents or grandparents did. Given my familiarity with the two cities and my relative lack of familiarity with others, I'll stick to NYC and Paris. While a lucky few inherit West Village townhouses or Tribeca lofts, no one is born into an "important" New York family in the way that people are born into "important" Parisian families. New York does not have New Yorkers and foreigners, it has New Yorkers and tourists, whereas Paris has Parisians, foreigners, and tourists. New Yorkers either are or strongly identify with immigrants (xenophobes tend to move away) while Parisians often despise both non-Parisians and the non-French in general. And New Yorkers (and, as far as I can tell, Chicagoans) are a no-nonsense bunch, and work a whole lot harder to stay in the city than do Parisians. Before I stray further into value judgments...basically, what I'm getting at is, similarities in real estate do not make Americans, any Americans, "Euro", with the exception being those dudes rolling their own cigarettes in front of Classics. They can be "Euro-Americans" if they'd like, and they might even be flattered.

By using the term "Euro-American" as he does, Kotkin just serves to further polarize the country, and to suggest that all New Yorkers, Chicagoans, and Bostonians are by definition anti-American. It's lame to dismiss huge stretches of the country, as if there's no national pride or even sense of national identity once you leave the Red States. The 9/11 terrorists didn't see NYC as Europe, and that is the one and only point on which I could have agreed with them.

Next, I'm confused by how keeping out "those with different skill sets" will mean that cities like NYC and LA will lose their draw to "bright young things." "Different" abilities do not create institutions like Conde Nast, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center, Columbia University, or the fashion industry. Nope, regular old success, that special, timeless, winner-takes-all success, the sort of people who are stunning and brilliant and good at everything they set their mind on, who don't fear asking too much from life, are the people who make cities great. Whatever happened to the (American) conservative love of meritocracy, of people with skill sets that are not different or special but just plain impressive?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Why I'm staying in "Euro-America"

Three good reasons. Enough of this, "but Middle America is where the real Americans are, where people are happy and safe, where everyone's grounded and values-driven," nonsense. There are messes everywhere, so please, let urbanites be.

What makes "Vita" edgy

Our somewhat new sex magazine here at UChicago, in its second issue, notes that readers of the first issue may have have been provoked, offended, whatever, by its first issue. Now, nudity itself is provocative, more to some than to others, but nudity itself isn't what makes "Vita" an "oh my!" publication. What makes it scandalous is that this isn't just any old nudity, it's, "oh look, that's the girl from my polisci class last year going down on the boy from Core Bio!" It's "who knew that the kid I've been giving a nod hello to since we had math together first year is uncircumcised?" Even if one tries to read Vita "for the articles" (which include a self-righteous missive about how "sex" doesn't have to involve a man), one inevitably finds the breast or the penis of a friend or acquaintance. It's not such a big school...

Now, is it any more "wrong" to print pornographic or semi-pornographic photos of people who are easily identifiable to their own classmates, professors, and possibly even parents, than to print such photos more anonymously, as mainstream (i.e. non-academic) porn? It's hard to say--it's pretty clear that "Vita" isn't forcing anyone to do anything they don't want to, so from the models' perspective, things should be legit. But what of the weirdness for professors and classmates, who see a girl raising her hand to ask a question and immediately picture her breasts, regardless of whether they find the girl attractive, simply because they know, to a pixel, what those breasts look like?

Metaphor gone wrong

Via Arts & Letters Daily, Cristina Nehring writes in the NYT book review section:

What with safe sex, prenuptial agreements and emotional air cushions of every stripe, we have almost managed to riskproof our relationships. The notion that passion might comprise not only joy but pain, not only self-realization but self-abandonment, seems archaic....And yet there's a grandeur to high-stakes romance, to self-sacrifice, that's missing from our latex-love culture -- and it's a grandeur we perhaps crave to recover.

I think it's safe to assume that, while medieval lovers had to face the dangers of unwanted pregnancy and religiously-motivated punishment, AIDS was not really on their radars. Using "latex" as a metaphor for romantic reticence just doesn't make any sense. People with AIDS are unlikely to look upon their disease as a charming reminder of their "self-abandonment" several years before, and do not always know which lover gave them the disease, which means that, if this even needs to be emphasized, there's nothing romantic about it in the least. You can put yourself out there emotionally and let yourself get hurt while still being responsible to both yourself and your lover, not to mention the world.

As for Nehring's broader argument, I don't exactly see what she means by "emotional air cushions of every stripe." There has never been a moment in history when romance has been simple, or when people have been uninterested in its pursuit. We have not yet reached the age of the orgasmatron, and we never will.

How far we've come... four years!

Our President, on January 29, 2002:

"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger...All nations should know: America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security."

Our President, on January 28, 2003:

"The dictator of Iraq is not disarming... Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction... With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies.
We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him. (Applause.)"

The harsh reality, two years later--Steve Chapman, in today's Chicago Tribune:

"But ultimately, there may be no way to divert [Iran and North Korea] from the nuclear path. In that case, we need to focus on what is truly vital. After all, we can live with hostile nuclear states--as we've done in the past with the Soviet Union and China. What makes North Korea scary is that it might sell nukes to any willing buyer; what makes Iran scary is that it might smuggle them to terrorist groups.

So both need to get a blunt message: Should a nuclear attack take place that we trace back to them--no matter who carries it out--they will face annihilation. Nuclear deterrence kept the peace during the Cold War, and we may have no choice but to make it serve the same purpose again."

Do you feel safer yet?

News flash: People pay for sex

In this week's installment of "Look what nonsense rich New Yorkers throw away their money on," the NYT Magazine offers up a portrait of "The New Arranged Marriage." Expect letters to pour in with, "Isn't it pathetic! Back in (insert good ol' Red State town here) we just get hitched to our high school sweethearts." Or, more likely, given the Times's readership, "Such matchmaking services are superficial and undignified. We live in crude times, in which everything, including choosing a partner, is commodified. Love cannot be bought. [Insert NAME, Upper West Side (or perhaps Brooklyn Heights), here.]"

From the natalist perspective, such businesses probably qualify as a good thing--sure, it's rich urbanites and their "goodies," but the goodies are being channelled, albeit indirectly, towards reproduction.

From the Kristofian perspective, one has to note that this is an instance of paying for sex that falls somewhere between prostitution and the guy paying on a date with the intent of getting something in return. But also from a Kristofian perspective, no one involved is even close to underage, all exploitation is voluntary and self-inflicted, and the chances of getting a serious disease while listening to some dull date you paid several hundred dollars for tell you a charming yachting anecdote from his youth are slim to none.

"Rodentia Road"

55th Street was so deemed a few minutes ago by Jenn, after she, Kate, and I saw a (live) rat and (dead) mouse in short succession, while on our way back from Hyde Park bar Jimmy's. I pointed out to Jenn that one of her roommates happens to be a rabbit, which makes three...

At Jimmy's, the couple next to us (two men, 85% sure it was romantic) were discussing sine and cosine, thoughtlessly leaving out tangent...

When exactly is Nite and Day, a 55th Street convenience store, Hyde Park's finest purveyor of girls' pantyhose, television monitors, discounted cigarettes, and, more importantly, diet Coke, actually open? It has to be like some two-hour window that most certainly does not fall within what counts as "Nite," at least not in this time zone...

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Inadvertent criminal activity

As a 21-year-old with no interest in substances that are illegal to me, and who doesn't drive and thus cannot be caught speeding or illegally parked, I would describe myself as an exceptionally law-abiding citizen. But today, had the Reg been located in Virginia, I would have broken the law. You see, I have these Diesel (or possibly "Diesel") jeans from Filenes that are not the best-cut pair of pants in the world. They are not the worst-cut, either, or I wouldn't wear them. But it's that time of the laundry cycle and, while reading about the late 19th century in France, I all of a sudden realized that someone behind me could, in theory, see London, see France, get the picture. Nothing that some careful shirt-and-jacket adjustment couldn't fix, though.

Reality's not in the competition

Laura Kipnis, via Ross Douthat: "But if reality can't compete with porn, isn't it reality that should be doing the apologizing?"

Kipnis writes:

Pornography's capacity to reimagine the world and the quotient of sexual gratification it contains is obviously what most irks its critics, and what its fans can't get enough of. The usual impediments to acquiring sex don't exist in pornutopia: Forget social convention, sexual repression, your partner's personality foibles. Porn is a world where personality simply doesn't matter: what a refreshing vacation from the daily reality of coupledom in which one partner's personality tics and the other's inability to deal with them is surely the leading cause of couple dissolution, not to mention the sexual anesthesia (or antipathy) that generally precedes it.

How is porn's role as an escape something at all unique to porn, or, as Kipnis suggests, to porn and sci-fi? Everything from the Gilmore Girls to the biography of Bernard Lazare I'm currently reading takes you out of the daily concerns of what's the deal with the opposite/same sex, what to eat for dinner, gee, isn't it warm out today, and so on. And then again, things like dating, eating out, or appreciating the weather are in themselves escapes from, I don't know, the angst that develops if you sit in your room and stare at a wall for too long....What I'm getting at, I suppose, is that reality never enters the competition, and that society would stagnate if all we did was watch television or read about Bernard Lazare or watch pornos. (Insert comment about masturbatory nature of academic pursuit here.) But reality and escape are highly intertwined, and one can never win out over the other....

But what confuses me is how Kipnis can go on and on about whether Deep Throat is feminist or anti-feminist--when I saw that movie at DOC last year, even with my Chicago-trained critical eye, saw only huge, big-screen blow-ups of genitalia, which seemed alternately silly and revolting. If porn is to be looked at by an educated, enlightened, Kipnisian audience as an escape, how can it also be looked at as something to pick apart for academic purposes, unless the escape is the academic pursuit itself?

More thoughts on this later, perhaps, but it is quite nice out here today, so I'm gonna go frolic outside the Reg.

on Faith

Nicholas Kristof's most recent NYTimes Op-Ed lauds the many advantages of believing in God. Says he: "A propensity to faith in some form appears to be embedded within us as a profound part of human existence, as inextricable and perhaps inexplicable as the way we love and laugh."

This is, well, a laughable conclusion. Based solely on the many positive effects that believing in God may have, and some scant evidence that faith might be "embedded in our genes," he claims that faith is an important, essential part of the human experience.

But Mr. Kristof completely denies the large implication of science and sceintific reality: they've made us face the fact that man is not at the center of the universe. We get a certain number of years--signifying nothing--and that's it. There is no more to us than DNA. There is no gene for the human spirit (as the movie Gattaca claimed) because there is no human spirit absent the bag of chemicals and electricity in our brain.

And, that sucks. It's depressing. So sure, people can make themselves feel better about it by turning to faith. But let's not put faith on a pedestal and call it some profound part of the human existence. While faith may be around for a very long time, let us recognize for what it is: a cop-out, a system that denies the hard truths of the human condition, and not a celebration of--instead a complete nullification of--the realities human existence.

"You will soon be involved in many social events."

So read the fortune cookie I opened (but did not eat, ick) at the divey Hyde Park Chinese restaurant-cocktail lounge that my friends and I somehow ended up at tonight. Uncanny how the cookie predicted my upcoming debutante ball...

Friday, February 11, 2005

The NYT makes me miss NYC:

"Some 7,500 vinyl arches have been set in place along 23 miles of Central Park pedestrian walkways. The installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude will open to the public on Saturday." Posted by Hello

Preppy and protected

Parents are now moving out to towns where the boarding schools they're sending their kids to are located. The photos accompanying this article will, if you didn't already have a stereotype of what boarding school kids and parents look like etched in your mind, provide you with one. As will the quotes from the parents. Is the NYT mocking them? It's unclear.

"My life was in my Volvo. Now I walk everywhere."

"Even as newlyweds we tucked away in our minds that it would be so perfect if they would go to [the Milbrook School]."

"I'm a mom," Ms. Edwards explained. "I need to stay plugged in. This world has gotten scary crazy and drug-infested. I'm trying to stay on top of my teenage children."

I thought boarding schools (and, to a lesser extent, high schools in general) had always been crazy and drug-infested. It's great that this mother thinks "this world" and these times in particular are to blame. Hasn't she seen "The Ice Storm" or even, who knows, experienced the 1970s firsthand?

"...whole wheat and oats naturally have more fiber than brown rice"

Marian Burros continues to defend oats.

The end of an era

Today was the last tennis class. I set my alarm for 8:15, somehow still slept till about 9, and by some 171-bus-related miracle, made it to class in the general neighborhood of 9:30. And...we were told to just fill out course evaluation forms and then leave, unless we wanted to play. I like playing "tennis" (what I play is not tennis) as much as the next person, but I had Hebrew verbs to put into the past tense, and coffee to find, so I was out of there in no time. Susanna requested that I make note of the last tennis class in my blog, so I'm trying to think if anything worth noting happened. Doug called the last class "anticlimactic" and he was right on. The only "climax" was that a man happened to be running around the indoor track shirtless, which was somewhat less exciting than it sounds. Shirtless (nice-looking) men=good; shirtless men running=weird. I don't know why, that's just how it is.

Po' Leo...

Say "polio" to a child today, and he might look at you with a quizzical stare. Say "polio" to your grandmother, and you might get a look of horror. An entire generation of Americans grew up never being able to play in the summer, for fear of a disease that could leave them crippled or dead. Polio is a thankfully forgotten scourge of the Western World, largely eliminated through the use of vaccines.

If you go to the UN in New York, you'll see a clock which counts down to the date at which the world, it was hoped, would be certified Polio-free. The WHO had hoped that, like smallpox, polio could be eliminated. And what a triumph of human achievement that would have been!

Except that in Nigeria, some Muslim clerics decided that vaccination was the work of demon-countries (read: Westerners), and would cause AIDS--and they told this to their followers. And so Polio continues in Africa. But, like most diseases, it spreads easily.

And this year, someone carried it with them to the Hajj in Mecca. The elimination of polio may face a final, fatal blow.

To anyone who, like those clerics, says that science is an inherently "Western" epistomology, I say to them: yes, that may be true, but so what? The fruits of science are neither Western nor Eastern, Judeo-Christian or Muslim. They apply, ignorantly and slendidly, to all mankind. So in our tirades about the Western demons and the ills of developed nations, let us never forget that there is immense human suffering that no longer occurs, because of a group of dedicated scientists.

The Much-Needed, All-Encompassing Law

1: No individual below the age of 18 (16 if they look especially mature) or above the age of 25 shall wear low-slung pants.

2: No individual employed by a university is to have sex, ever.

2a: Exceptions made to the above only for lecherous male professors over the age of 65 who have achieved a certain degree of fame within intellectual circles.

3: No person not enrolled in a university may wear low-slung pants, unless such attire is required for religious or ceremonial reasons.

4: If an individual employed by a university but also a student at that same university is wearing low-slung pants, he or she will be forced to remove them immediately.

Read this article

"This article" being Nick Gillespie's Reason piece, Live Free and Die of Boredom: Is “economic freedom” just another word for nothing left to do?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Weighing in on Kotkin

While Joel Kotkin's piece in the Weekly Standard on "Euro-Americans" has already been well-analyzed elsewhere, I'm just going to add a short, somewhat tangential note. As someone who, by virtue of my NYC/Chicago residence, Kotkin would classify as virtually European (but who owes her existence to her ancestors fleeing Europe) I'm a bit confused as to why a list of similarities between major American cities and Europe is supposed to make Europeans out of urban Americans. The differences between the two groups are immense. But rather than go for that angle, I'm (still) wondering why we can't strive for understanding and unity between the cosmopolitan urbanites and the heartland:

Kotkin writes:

The very low birth rates in both Europe and Euro-America exacerbate this "wealth effect." Seattle today has roughly the same population it did in 1960, but barely half as many children. Childlessness, in the short term, often translates into higher per-capita wealth, since it means parents don't have to share their goodies with any troublesome little tykes.

And continues:

Urban sophisticates' longstanding disdain toward the suburbs and sunbelt cities is developing into an aggressive hostility.

Now what is Kotkin's remark about "parents" not having to "share goodies with any troublesome little tykes" if not a fine example of "aggressive hostility"? (And how exactly can any parents, even Blue-State parents, be, as Kotkin seems to be claiming, childless?) To argue that Americans should have more kids is one thing (and is one thing I'm not so sure I agree with, but anyway...). To argue that those who don't have children, or who have just one or two, are intentionally hoarding "goodies" is just disgusting and false. Many of the nods such arguments will get will come from anti-cosmopolitan anti-Semites, from those who get off on assuming that people live in cities so that they can be Jewish money-grubbing, gay-loving, Europe-loving bad guys. This will be the case whether that's Kotkin's intended audience or not.

Women in science

The Onion, on pursuing a physics grad student:

He (English grad student) asks: Do you want the stars? I will roam the universe for all eternity, gathering up the twinkling points of light in the night sky. I will string the glittering stars into a latticework of jewelry to tuck into your hair, to adorn your neck, and to string around your pretty ankles. Say the word and I will do it.

She (physics grad student) answers: ....let's consider what would happen if you gave me the stars in the night sky. There are 8,479 objects visible to the naked eye in the night sky under ideal viewing conditions. (Of course, many of these objects are not stars at all, but galaxies so distant that we perceive their billions of separate stars as single points of light. But I won't quibble.) Were you to gather, in one place at one time, just the stars that are visible to us, the result would be an implosion that would rend the very fabric of space-time. Regardless of where I tucked them, the massive implosion caused by the ultra-high-density matter collapsing under its own weight would form a black hole larger even than the supermassive black hole at the center of our own galactic spiral.

North Korea has Nuclear Weapons

Yes, people, it's true. There are now nine nuclear powers in the world.

I, for one, have not given up hope in the Bush administration's foreign policy. I think that if we can get the North Koreans to call them "nucular" weapons, as the President does, he'll have scored an immense victory for the free world.

Age of Consent

Will Baude and I have, in the past, gone back and forth a bit on what exactly turning 18 means (specifically on whether one could be tried as an adult before 18--I say no), but the law that Phoebe cited below seems to me to be part of a distrubing trend of taking over-18s, stripping them of rights, and making them a protected class.

18-year-olds may make stupid decisions, but it's not the job of law or society to protect them from their decisions.

I say this specifically because I feel that such a position informs the case of the 18-20 year man old who, 15 years ago, had an affair with a much-older minister, now known to UChicago's Catholic community as "Father Mike." Father Mike resigned Tuesday, saying his appointment to a college was, in fact, inappropriate, even though he'd received counseling and had remained celibate for 15 years.

Why, exactly was his assignment to the University especially inappropriate!? Father Mike's crime, if he committed one at all, was misusing his position of authority. But he paid for that, and moved on. Perhaps he should not have been put in a position of authority--but that's not a university setting in general, that's a priestly position in general.

We've taken this assumption that child molesters cannot be healed and somehow applied it to all cases of inappropriate sexual behavior. Father Mike had a relationship with someone else OF LEGAL AGE. Why he should be forever barred from interacting with college students--something for which I hear he has an extraordinary talent--is far beyond me.

Fashion Police

Amber Taylor links to this story about a new law in Virginia banning low-slung pants. Rather than seeing this law as a libertarian's nightmare, why not look at it as a refreshing precedent in the world of fashion law? Low-slung pants are tacky 99% of the time, so Virginians might be onto something. Maybe next, NYC could ban Uggs (why not put the "sooo over" into law?) while Chicago could ban this particular layered-and-permed look that doesn't do anyone any favors. Oh, and as a courtesy to Nick, why not throw in a city-wide cargo pants ban while we're at it?

"An almost puritanical reverence for the past"

The NYT is in favor of the Whitney Museum of American Art's planned expansion. The Whitney is located in what's apparently "the Upper East Side Historic District, a landmark neighborhood," or, as I think of it, back home. There's plenty of history in my old bedroom, even, what with my stubborn refusal to spend vacations going through old stacks of AP English papers ("Why did I get an A- on that one?!"), old physics tests ("Wow, I was lucky to escape with a C") and the like...

But in a more universal sense, the UES is certainly pretty--if you're not into done-up women and lap dogs, you will still find beauty in the buildings themselves--and is a whole lot less sterile and boxy than Chicago's equivalent neighborhood, the ostentatiously named Gold Coast. But it's the Whitney expanding, not the Ralph Lauren store(s)...oh wait, they're both expanding, and are likely to one day have a territory dispute, with blameless 73rd Street being up for grabs. You heard it here first. But yeah, the Whitney is just going to make the area classier, and if you were the UES and you heard about a new overhaul that would make you classier, you'd go for it.

Concluding, the NYT editors write:

Critics often charge the preservation movement with an almost puritanical reverence for the past, and preservationists often charge proponents of contemporary architecture with willfully disregarding it. The Whitney Museum's expansion seems like the best of both worlds: a much-needed expansion that is deeply respectful of history.

The UES itself is all about "an almost puritanical reverence for the past." You can see it in the men and women who, regardless of ethnic or racial heritage, have the blond hair, driving shoes, and, for men, pink button-down shirts of the old-time WASPs. You can see it in the schoolgirls, in this post-Britney age, still heading off to school in plaid. And you can see it in the hipster-free zones that comprise the slightly shabbier areas around the neighborhood itself--go east to post-fraternity/girls' night out bars, go west to Central Park, south to business-oriented Midtown, and north to Carnegie Hill, an area you are not technically allowed to enter unless you have at least heard of Groton, but where size zero J. Crew, not Prada, is the norm. The wealthier areas of Chicago, with their white sneakers-track pants-North Face fleece uniform, seem positively futuristic in comparison.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Sex to be outlawed for Oklahoma's student workers

Eugene Volokh has posted about a problematic law proposed in Oklahoma defining one type of rape as sex occuring:

Where the victim is an undergraduate student under twenty-one (21) years of age attending any college or university in this state or the victim is attending any public or private secondary school in this state, regardless of the person's age, and engages in sexual intercourse with a person who is an employee of the same college, university or school system unless the two persons were legally married prior to enrollment or employment in such college, university or school. . . . .

Volokh points to the absurdity that is "infantilizing 20-year-olds" (something well taken care of already by drinking laws), to the right of professors to sleep with (of-age) students not taking their classes, and, briefly, to the fact that students are often also employees of their colleges. This last point strikes me as by far the most crucial--even if you don't buy any of that "consenting adults" argument (an argument I happen to buy, but regardless...), how exactly can otherwise legal sex be prohibited between members of two highly overlapping groups? I mean, where else are college students likely to work, other than at their own colleges? (Does this make a sketchy student worker at the Reg who sneaks off into the stacks with a porn magazine a self-rapist?)

Sigh, the French...

You think that all is well in the world on a snowy afternoon, and then you hear a story like this. Louis Vuitton (LV) has successfully sued Google because when people search for "Louis Vuitton," Google's AdSearch comes up with sponsored ads for LV's competitors, and "Sending Internet users to these other sites made it seem as if their products were Louis Vuitton, when in fact they were fakes."

The lawsuit is so absurd that I don't even know where to begin. First of all, no one expects that sponsored ads will be exactly what one is searching for--after all, the ad for Satellite Radio that came up when I just searched for Rufus Wainwright isn't Rufus Wainwright. And if they do expect that, the're naive.

Second, I know for a fact that France lets other, less prominent companies, do similar targeted advertising. In the US, if you buy Jif peanut butter, you might get a coupon for Skippy, through the Checkout Coupon program (the red and white coupons) run by Catalina Marketing Corp. This program exists in France--completely legally, I might add--and I have a feeling that the French gov't is just picking on Google.

Third, since when does LV get to determine what Google can or cannot do when people use its proprietary service? Why shouldn't Google be able to do whatever it wants when people search for "Louis Vuitton"? When people search Google, they may expect honest results, but Google isn't required to give them to them. Louis Vuitton doesn't own every use of those two words on the internet, and the US courts (thankfully) don't care what comes up on Google Ads in such a case. What type of warped system would think this is a violation of copyright?

The answer is, a system in which the concept of "freedom" is very different from ours. A perfect example of this: In France, the Church of Scientology sued because kiosks (the ubiquitous peddlers of magazines and newspapers) wouldn't sell its publications, saying that this "violated their freedom of speech." They almost won. That's right, in France, you violate freedom of speech when you don't sell someone else's works, whereas in the US you can choose to sell or not to sell any book or magazine you want.

This absurd government meddling in business--which, I know, I should expect from France--is infuriating for three reasons: 1) it's so clearly detrimental to any sense of a good business model and the revival of lagging European economies, 2) it's symptomatic of a huge difference in the conception of the relationship between individual and state that so few people understand, 3) it's given rise to specious new ways in which companies can supposedly "violate rights."

These heinous, poorly-conceived and anti-capitalist ideas inevitably spread to the United States, and, living in the People's Republic of Hyde Park, I inevitably have to hear about them and defend big business. This, in turn, makes me a Big Bad Republican in most eyes, something I'm trying very hard not to be these days (mostly because of the Big Bad Federal Marriage Amendment). So here's hoping that Google wins on appeal, because without France, I'll have nowhere to go once the FMA finally passes... Or if nothing else, can't we at least get a Libertarian Party that I wouldn't be ashamed to be a member of?

*Disclosures: The author loves France more than you know. The college education of this author was funded in part by stock options in Catalina Marketing Corp. Blogger and gmail, which the author uses extensively, and which are used to publish this blog, are both Google products. The author does not, however, have any strong feelings on Louis Vuitton.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

On Frenchwomen and petiteness

Mireille Giuliano and I are remarkably similar in size--her height and weight are given in this NYT profile, and I'd have to say I find it amusing that someone with whom I could easily share clothes (and gladly would, if she offered) is dispensing advice on precisely what one must eat to remain those dimensions. According to Giuliano, "Life is too short to drink bad wine and to eat bad food." According to similarly-proportioned Maltz, midterms week is too hectic to make the planned trip to Whole Foods, and wine is but a distant memory. So, in the interests in offering the time-pressed (or those with a distaste, politically-motivated or otherwise, for French cuisine) an alternative, here's what I've eaten so far today:

Part of a greasy cranberry muffin. By "part of" I mean the sugar-coated muffin-top only.
Black coffee.
Skim mocha.
1 slice cheese pizza from the new GSB cafeteria.
Part of one eh granny smith apple. By "part of" I mean until it started to taste "eh."
"Fred's Gluten"--a vegetarian stirfry at a mediocre Thai restaurant whose name shall not be mentioned--with rice.
1 Twix and 1 diet Coke, with a side order of physci cramming.

I might be forgetting something--there's sort of this haze that I'm guessing was somewhere between the midterm I took this morning and studying for the one I have tomorrow...Somehow I think the "Stressed-out Chicago Student Paradox" book wouldn't sell, which is sort of unfair, since it apparently has the exact same result.

On Straight Men and Cargo Pants

Can one wear cargo pants in public?

If you care enough to really seriously ask that question, then the answer is a most definite NO. Cargo pants are a juvenile, baggy, and completely unflattering waste of cotton. Get rid of them. Get a backpack or a messenger bag to hold your cellphone, and stop taxing your waist and your back with all the crap you stuff into those god-awful pockets.

There are however, two situations in which wearing cargo pants is especially egregious:

1) You are over 30 years old.

You're not young any more. Get over it. To all the thirty-year-olds still wearing cargo pants: I'd like to introduce you to a store known as Banana Republic. Get thee to one post haste. There, you can get a good wardrobe (which as a 30-something you should be able to afford), and get yourself some pants that don't indicate you still wish you were 20. They'll even extend you a line of credit to get pants (the Banana Republic Card)! Capitalism is sending you a message, fogeys. Listen.

2) You are wearing a shirt and tie.

I don't know what possessed the otherwise adorable young man I saw on the El this afternoon to wear this horrible combo of shirt, tie and cargo pants, but this method of ruining an otherwise beautiful and classic combination constitutes a fashion crime against humanity. We're convening the court, people...

That is all.

For the record: My computer has died (again), and is traveling to California for repairs tomorrow. Because of this and other factors, blogging may be light.

The Gilmore paradox

In the National Review, Catherine Seipp discusses the Gilmore Girls, a show that, she claims, "constantly pushes the envelope back and forth between wholesome and edgy." The National Review isn't an especially edgy or even pro-edgy publication, and yet Seipp is praising GG. So in this context, what, then, constitutes edgy? With nothing racy left, things that no one reasonable would ever give any thought to suddenly become controversial. A high school student drinking coffee, or a college student witnessing nudity? Next thing you know, women will be seen on TV shows with their heads unveiled. Things are not looking good.

Seipp appears to be arguing that the Gilmore Girls is a positive, family-friendly show, despite its racier elements, and reassures the reader that the only thing the show can be faulted for is that it is at times unrealistic. But why must TV shows depict exact replicas of ideal family life, down to a David Brooksian early marriage and a diet following current federal guidelines? Was this why Strangers with Candy went off the air? And is it really so unrealistic that Rory and her mother are skinny but eat greasy diner food? It's far more realistic that two women might have fast metabolisms than that, say, a man resembling Jerry Seinfeld, who's portraying not himself as a wealthy sitcom star but himself in his past life a moderately successful comedian, could be having sex with a new gorgeous girlfriend every weekend.

If TV shows are expected to depict only the realistic and the admirable (with attractive casts, no doubt), options will become limited indeed. We may all be forced to, like, read books or something.

Almost but not quite

A surprisingly funny Shouts & Murmurs takes on Masa in this week's New Yorker. It's all great, until the end: "We caught a cab and got three seats at the bar at Union Square Café" Uh, what? What made the whole thing amusing was the acknowledgment of the absurdity of fine dining in NYC in general. The piece begins, "Am I very rich? Since you ask, I will tell you. Yes, I am. I happen to be one of the more successful freelance poets in New York." The "Masa experience" as imagined by John Kenney is fabulous:

Thirty-five minutes later, we met our wait staff: nine people, including two Buddhist monks, whose job it is to supervise your meal, realign your chakras, and, if you wish, teach you to play the oboe. Introductions and small talk—as translated by Aki (which, we later learned, means “Autumn”)—lasted twenty minutes. I was then slapped again, though I’m not sure why.

A funny ending would have brought former Masa diners to, I don't know, EJ's Luncheonette, or, for a non-NYC audience, Starbucks, and not to yet another super-expensive Manhattan establishment. Sort of misses the point.