Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Your own beeswax

I was on the train just now, doing a close reading of Celine's Voyage au bout de la nuit to the sound of Israeli hip-hop. I'd just gotten on the train from outside, and so had not adjusted the volume to the lower, subway-appropriate level. The woman sitting next to me, in the midst of studying something about Federal Law from one of those large law school books, started speaking to me. I removed a headphone, and she began telling me that a study in the UK has shown that iPod headphones do not work very well. At which point I was thinking, do I care? At which point she continued, telling me that this British study showed that the likes of me will be deaf in two years. I asked her if the volume of my headphones was bothering her. No, it wasn't, she's just worried about my hearing. I asked her how she's enjoying law school, and upon hearing that she's having a good time, returned the headphones, then moved my seat.

The libertarian impulse in me says that if the volume bothers her, she can make a fuss, but that, as a complete and utter stranger, she'd be best off letting me be if it does not. And the librarian impulse in me says that if she wants to read her law book in complete silence, she'd better try somewhere other than the MTA. How was she to know that my day began reading about Vichy and the Holocaust at an ungodly hour in the morning and only just ended, nearly 12 hours later, with a discussion of how (alas!) American hegemony may not last. Gar! You know? And, by intruding on what had been a rather relaxing moment of bizarrely-juxtaposed-art consumption, she caused me to completely lose my place in the book, and thus lose a good 10 minutes of productivity, while she, of course, remained calmly focused on The Law. Some people are just meant for small-town life, and should, along with those carrying suspicious packages, be forbidden from riding the subway.

Furthermore, much like the discussion a while back on Amber Taylor's blog and elsewhere about women being asked to smile, I'd imagine that, had I been, say, a 6'6", 300 pound man, the aforementioned discussion would never have happened.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Free stuff

This afternoon, my department was giving away books. I arrived when what I'm assuming were slim pickings remained (I was a bit late to get there) but ended up with two books I'd wanted: Sylvie Strudel's Votes Juifs and Jean-Denis Bredin's The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus. Hurray!

Had I bothered to look at my university's home page yesterday, I wouldn't have missed a chance to add a pair or two of new jeans from the "Great Jeans Giveaway!" to my pile of free stuff. As part of NYU's "Eating Disorders Awareness Week," earlier today you could "[d]onate clean jeans, grab another pair that fits, and feel good NOW!" I like how they specify "clean"--are your too-tight jeans a bit ketchup stained, by any chance? As the owner of many pairs of ill-fitting jeans--too large, small, and just plain ugh--I could have come away with such fabulousness. Alas...

It somehow seems appropriate that a college whose uniform is leggings-as-pants would have a week to raise awareness of the bizarre and potentially tragic things people do to fit into said leggings. The University of Chicago would never have something like this. Why a week to prevent bulimia when you could have a day off to prevent yourself from doing yourself in?


Studying France's darker moments has, in turn, caused me to see the whole world as somehow related to them. Watching "Goodbye Columbus," the movie based on Philip Roth's novella, while reading Vichy France and the Jews, made me see the whole "JAP" phenomenon in a new light--why might a German-Jewish-American father (evidenced by Mr. Potemkin's odd capitalization of nouns), in the late 1950s-early 1960s, want to spoil his children rotten? Why might a wedding in this culture involved obsessive food intake? These are just things to think about.

Also worth noting--while demands that women be thin and beautiful regularly draw critiques from progressive types, how about the apparent popularity, even in 2007, of racial exclusion affecting women and men in campus social clubs? From DePauw sororities to Princeton eating clubs, the idea that the best people really are of a certain race remains acceptable, or at least is accepted. Institutions such as minority dorms or campus centers always struck me as problematic because they necessarily lead to the creation of white dorms and white campus centers, racializing campus institutions that otherwise wouldn't be thus affected. But how can schools best respond to racist clubs, if not creating other clubs for each race?

I don't know, but it's time to finish two different collaboration-themed books, so I'll let other people figure this out for the time being.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Word of the day:

Struikrover, or "highway robber." One day soon, I will pronounce it correctly. Oh yes!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bags by square inch

Indicating that perhaps the New York Times is aware of the discussion Amber Taylor started on how a handbags and houses rate in terms of worthwhile purchases, there's a Style article (and accompanying multimedia spread) on renting designer garb, and a display of handbags, each described with an apartment-listing-style blurb and with a square-inch cost.

Also-relevant fashion information: the silver lame (lah-MEY, don't feel like switching to French keyboard) leggings that both Clementine and I own but never wear are featured in a photo by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, also in the NYT Style magazine. See image above. And finally, my long-awaited Canadian dress has arrived. A return to the world of running (or perhaps of paper-induced stress) may be in order for it to fit properly, but lord knows nothing too extreme.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Mai 68 it was not

The evening news alerted me to an upcoming "Find the Illegal Immigrant" event at none other than NYU, the latest attempt by our College Republicans at alerting the outside world that a) NYU exists, and b) it has its share of Republicans. While NYU does seem to exist, the College Republicans are like so many fantomes in Celine's roman. Jo, Thomas and I went out in search of the alleged offenders of all that is PC, but they were not to be found. A rather meager counter-protest, placard-holders walking in a small circle, was taking place, and one of the protesters assured us that there were Republicans not far off, engaged in an "eloquent" (his word) debate with those to their left. "Where are they?" I asked him several times, and he kept telling us, "On the other side," or something, and didn't seem to hear when I asked what street specifically.

We did a bit of searching in the direction he pointed, but no Republican stunts--or obvious Republicans--were to be found. Many news crews showed up, hoping for a glimpse at newly-right-wing NYC, perhaps, or at the vibrant tradition of college protest. What they got instead was a group of graduate students not that much smaller than that of the protesters, just kind of standing there, laughing at the whole thing. One, a classmate from Chicago who's now here, expressed his sympathy for the Republicans as the evident underdog. Underdog, though, implies the existence of a dog, and aside from several dachshunds and labradors, can't say I saw too many. One of the placards demanded that the College Republicans be deported. It seems they were.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Conclusive proof that I took the right courses this semester:

In my class this evening, we learned about, among other things, the Flemish-Walloon kerfuffle and the motivations of political Zionists. This got me thinking, so I Googled Belgique and Sionisme. Interesting tidbit: Belgian Zionist youth have their own "youth movements," meaning that such organizations are not just for those of Catholic origin.

I'm now newly re-fascinated by francophone Belgian Jews--perhaps the Dutch-speaking Jews of Belgium are more interesting still, but it'll be a while before I can understand anything they say. Either way, studying them would mean frites up the wazoo. Whether Belgium is francophonic enough to count for any academic pursuits in a French program remains to be seen, but I can always make a busman's holiday of reading a book or two on French-speaking Jews outside of France.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rationalization of a minor purchase

Today, I decided that going straight from class on Celine to finishing his novel would be too much Celine in a row, and for fear of turning into a morbid, scatologically-oriented protagonist myself, I took a break between school and homework to go to H&M, where I found a pair of silver ballet flats for a shocking $12.90. Yes, $12.90. And while it's true that I'm unlikely to wear them for years (as I already admitted to Jo when he asked), if they make it a week, it's still impeccable value.

Monday, February 19, 2007

And now, against the left:

This new used bookstore near me has two books displayed next to each other, one a biography of Reagan, next a book on "Anal Health and Pleasure." While it's true that I sometimes like that sort of thing, this one was a bit too obvious.

Also almost but not quite right: I was just invited, via Facebook, to a debate entitled, "Is Israel an apartheid state?" Free exchange of ideas should be encouraged and all, but this has about as much to do with reality as debating if Israel is in fact Nazi Germany all over again, or if Jews really do have horns. The idea that Israel is like South Africa, that Israel is imperialist, that the motivations of the Zionists were in any way (other than era-specific language) related to those of European colonialists, is so clearly off that holding a debate on the matter is giving such notions far too much credit. Unless, by "debate," what's meant is a basic explanation of the region's history.

How not to be offended

On The American Scene, Ross Douthat has a post on "Anti-Semitism in the Arts," about fictitious characters who are Jewish stereotypes. Predictably enough, in that the blog is on the right, this sort of thing is declared not fabulous yet praiseworthy for being anti-PC. Of course, political correctness has done far more good than most on the left or right would give it credit for--more "astonishing" than the existence of offensive characters on television is the idea that Western conservatives would even think of seeing racism as a problem. Reading about the right in late 19th-early 20th century France provides ample opportunities to see that racist views used to be discussed openly and unapologetically. While some say that racism is worse when covert or private, they are, well, wrong. Covert and private racism is far less likely to get written into law.

This is all relevant right now because I'm reading a book by Celine (not Dion, not the store on Madison) for one of my classes. While I have yet to see if the novel contains any overt calls of "Mort aux juifs," word is, his pamphlets are the problem, not the novels. Today Clementine and I were discussing what, if anything, one should make of certain artists having been gigantic anti-Semites. Should we make a point to judge them, or just say, art for art's sake? My view on this is quite simple: the idea that it's bad to be an anti-Semite is a new one, historically, one which came about in the second half of the 1940s, and which may well be on its way out. So judge one, judge them all, and you're left with not so many works of art. Some by Jews, remember, will also have to go.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The depths, the very depths!

I was watching "The OC" and noticed a California plate on one of the cars. "Huh, I didn't realize this show was set in California," I thought to myself, then felt this sudden wave of shame. I am not so bright, it seems.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The persecution of WWPD:

1) Clementine would not go to Sephora with me this afternoon, despite seeming quite interested in doing so, because she was worried I'd blog about it. Ha!

2) Jo thinks people will stop hanging out with me because I'm always blogging about it. "People will stop talking to you!", he said just now. Well!

3) Other people make the points I want to make so much better than I ever could.


One of my classmates just told me that she used to be obsessed with learning Dutch, and has all sorts of grammar books and flashcards that she's going to have her mother send her from home so that we can study Dutch together. This is super. If only I could pronounce just one word of it correctly...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

How, what, and why

How do you walk a dachshund when there's this much snow? I was wondering, and so was especially alert to dachshund-owners on the street today. First, I saw two smooth-coat animals, in coats, walking through the snow as if they were huskies. Then I saw a longhaired one, getting carried up University Place by a careful owner. So which is it?

What is acceptable to eat during class? I was self-conscious about an especially crumbly muffin this morning, but determined that the class being at 8:30 am means breakfast, within reason, should be fine. Then in an afternoon class, a girl took out a large tupperware full of pasta and just dug in. Just as George Costanza would drape himself in velvet if it were socially acceptable, I would eat large amounts of pasta continuously if it weren't frowned upon. At the same time, it's a bit disgusting when people eat certain things during class, and depending on the sauce, pasta can be one of those things. So where should the line be drawn? Just coffee? Not even coffee? Argh!


Welcome to academia

When the alarm went off this morning for my 8:30 class, it interrupted a dream I was having, in which I was at a museum tour/lecture, given by someone who said he'd been a student of Pierre Birnbaum's, on representations of Jews in 18th century French painting. Is this actually a field of academic study? Who knows, but at 7:29 this morning it sure was. Then again, the "museum" was in fact a Spence lower school classroom, possibly my first grade classroom or one on the same floor.

Monday, February 12, 2007


I'm writing a paper on Proust, in a computer lab. Deja vu. Except this time around, none of my classmates are encouraging me to join their conservative journals, and the computer lab is, well, it's no USITE. Sure, it's within walking distance of every pair of shoes a person could ever want to buy, and sure, I have more post-paper beverage options (it's looking like a mocha) than was ever the case in Chicago. But I miss the loud hum of Harper, the sterility of Crerar.

But was it meat or potato?

Jesus Christ appeared on a pirogi. No divinity or would-be divinity has yet to appear in my Proust paper. Grr.

Enough with the keffiyehs

In an ideal world, we could all accessorize as we see fit, no meanings attached. We do not live in this world. Keffiyehs, when worn by people not remotely Arab themselves, manage to combine the attitudes of, "ooh, aren't foreign, Arab things weird and cool," with a self-righteous, one-sided take on a conflict involving the brutal murder of civilians on both sides.

In a NYT piece on the assholish trend, anthropologist Ted Swedenberg seems to have it all figured out:

"Dr. Swedenburg said he thinks that the exotic element of the scarf becomes more important, and the political aspect less so, as it becomes mainstream. 'It’s chic because it’s different,' he said. 'It’s Eastern.'" Orientalism, much?

Later in the piece, Swedenberg is quoted as saying, "'I think to associate it directly with terrorism is to tar all Palestinians with the brush of terrorism,' he said. 'That’s a mischaracterization.'"

Uh, but this is the intention of those who wear the thing in the West, aside from those too ignorant to know that the "Middle East" doesn't refer to Murray Hill. From elsewhere in the Times article: "The scarves became a fashion statement in the United States at the start of the first intifada in 1987." From basic, common sense: There's a conflict in Israel between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Whether you believe such a thing as "Israeli" or "Palestinian" really exists, you'd have to admit that people on both sides have had it rough. The keffiyeh is cool because Jews have never been cool, but are seen as those annoying know-it-alls, nouveaux riche, and so on, whether actual Jews correspond to this description or not. And, in both America and Europe, "solidarity with the Palestinians" means caring about at least some of the world's suffering, sure, but it also means not having to feel quite so bad about exterminating the Jews (in Europe's case) or refusing entry to those attempting to escape extermination (America's), although it's doubtful that every last American hipster has that much of a clue.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

From Slate's "Dear Prudence:"

Dear Prudence,
My son is 21, a junior in college, and seriously dating an 18-year-old freshman. He brought her to our house for Thanksgiving, and she is attractive and charming. The problem is that we are Jewish and have mandated to our three sons that they must marry a Jewish woman. We are heartbroken that he is dating a non-Jewish woman. We are not sure if we should forbid him from dating her or if we should leave them alone and hope that they break up and he finds a nice Jewish woman to marry. Please don't tell me that I should get over this and accept whoever he wants to marry. My wife and I cannot accept a daughter-in-law of a different faith. I don't want to over- or underreact, and don't know what to do.

Dear Heartbroken,
How's that going to work, your mandating that they marry Jewish women—will they be banished from the shtetl if they don't? You must secretly want gentile daughters-in-law, because if you continue with your current approach (how do you forbid a grown man from dating someone?), you are on track to get three. Since you are observant Jews, perhaps you've run across an account of the temptation of forbidden fruit? Constant harangues about non-Jewish women will only increase their allure. I truly understand your desire to have your sons marry Jews and raise Jewish children. Surely over the years, you have expressed to them in positive terms the joys of having a Jewish family and your hopes about Jewish continuity. Now, the best thing you can do is make your home as appealing as possible. And if any of your sons decide to marry non-Jews, your best chance for having these women embrace Judaism is to be embraced by their loving, Jewish family.

(Discuss amongst yourselves.)

This weekend

I always dread being asked what I did over the weekend. I rarely remember, not from debauchery, but because of a lot of sitting around, staring at a wall, television, or, in the case of this weekend, Israeli novel that unfortunately has nothing to do with any paper I'm likely to write this semester. But this one was an exception. A lot happened over the weekend:

1) Early Saturday morning a cop was shot quite near where I live. A whole block was taped off, NBC and ABC sent in news vans with giant antennae, and all of a sudden, the recent hold-up of the local Dunkin Donuts is no longer what I must reference to counter people's claims that I live in a yuppie neighborhood. Also, time to consider a smaller room in a neighborhood whose gentrification level is not subject to debate.

2) The IFS women made a pilgrimage to land of the hipsters, the Misshapes party at Don Hill's. It's possible but unlikely that there will be embarrassing photos of us on Gawker this Friday. "Hipsters" these days are apparently gay 18-year-old boys (or, not to make assumptions, they may have been 19 and especially affectionate but hetero) with intentionally greasy hair. And "hipster" music was neither obscure nor 80s, but instead a mix of the greatest hits of 5th and 6th grade, for those of us in the 23 range. Which means, of course, that 18-year-old hipsters are listening to Ace of Base ironically. Such disrespect!

3) The time spent at Bobst! OK, this was just so there'd be three items; nothing remarkable about spending time at the library.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Material girls

I just got a confirmation email: the dress I tried on at Denis Gagnon in Montreal last summer, could not afford at the time, could afford but not track down later in the year, a photo of which eventually made it to the designer's website, leading me to contact the store, only to find out that they were out of this dress till the end of January, is at last on its way. The dress is in the range of 300 Canadian dollars. That strikes me as a lot, but it's also the best dress ever, best-fitting, best style, fantastic, I will be thrilled to finally get it. I don't know Denis Gagnon from Adam, but his boutique in Montreal is an aesthetic mix of minimalist and fabulous that I cannot describe, the sort of place that would convince you a t-shirt it sold was the best ever made. But the dress was something else. I like it so much that I can think of no better way to rationalize this purchase than to say that I wanted it enough to pay what I consider a sort of embarassing amount for it.

Because I am a humongous dork, I just took a break from reading criticism of Proust in preparation for the upcoming paper-writing extravaganza, not to strut around Bobst in leggings, but to read some blogs I hadn't looked at in a while. On Crescat Sententia, Raffi Melkonian defends Amber Taylor's decision to spend over $1,000 on a bag, because quality matters. Both Amber and Raffi admit that they are rationalizing indulgence.

Rationalizing indulgence is, after drinking and complaining, the official sport of graduate school. No one has any money, yet as NYU students, we are amidst beautiful things in the boutiques of Nolita and Tribeca, the high-end chains of Soho, the little temptations of Sephora, the cheezy shoe stores of 8th Street... The most common phrase uttered to rationalize indulgence is, "It was on sale, so..." When we all know that means nothing, everything in this city is "on sale," year-round, obscuring what anything might "really" be worth. I've rationalized in this way, but more recently, upon buying a pair of winter boots at Camper (which were, incidentally, on sale), I told my boyfriend that I will surely wear these boots for years. He found this quite amusing--apparently this is a classic thing women say about shoes we buy. So a few weeks later, when I tried on a pair of overpriced, impractical vintage shoes, Missoni or Moschino or something, shiny, high-heeled, the right size but ill-fitting, Jo made reference to how I would, of course, wear them for years. Point taken. I didn't get the shoes, but this was mainly because I'm still waiting for the dress, and nothing else could possibly be as good.

As women, we need to stand behind our silly purchases, since, as Amber noted, men buy silly things unapologetically. It would also be a better world if, as part of our own rationalization, we did not judge others' comparable indulgences. Amber attributes her feeling that it's OK to buy a $1,000+ bag but not a $100,000 car to having grown up without much money. It doesn't quite add up--if the car could have been a house, couldn't the bag have been 500 meals? (Where I grew up--and still live-- houses are far more than $100,000, but a car, any car, is seen as a needless luxury, so I'll have to plead ignorance of all that relates to American car culture. Houses, as in, one-family buildings, are luxuries beyond comprehension in Manhattan. It's just a different world.) The part of adulthood during which you do not have to support anyone but yourself, that first moment when you do not have to ask anyone's permission to buy anything, is perhaps the moment not to rationalize, but, with a reasonable amount of consideration of what you can actually afford, get yourself something nice.

"The Truth About Beauty"

Criticizing Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign, Virginia Postrel tells us that some women are just prettier than others. Considering the difference that can be made by replacing running shoes with heels, fleece jackets with... just about anything else, not to mention the miracle product that is eyeliner, I'm going to have to agree with Postrel, but only up to a point. Here, though, is where she loses me:

"Whether you prefer Nicole Kidman to Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez to Halle Berry, or Queen Latifah to Kate Moss may be a matter of taste, but rare is the beholder who would declare Holly Hunter or Whoopi Goldberg—neither of whom is homely—more beautiful than any of these women."

A more PC list there couldn't be (but wait, where is Lucy Liu?). Postrel will go as far as to say that some women are just born better-looking than others, but doesn't dare associate this "natural" beauty with either race or weight. No matter how much symmetry and hip-waist ratio matter, in Western society and a good part of Eastern, the more "Aryan" a person looks, the more attractive she is considered. While there are certainly, for example, black and Jewish women society deems acceptable, they tend to be straight-haired and small-nosed, respectively. Such individuals are celebrated as examples of how open today's beauty standards have become, when they better reveal that racially-based beauty standards outlive systematic and legal racial discrimination.

While there may be as many beautiful women of each race in the world, and while individual preferences thankfully need not correspond to this particular racial scheme, the distribution of just whom society would deem attractive is far from evenly distributed. Once you're discussing "truth," it is worth mentioning.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

New York may ban daydreaming while crossing the street

Well, not quite. But close: Jo just showed this article about a new law proposed in New York that would ban cellphone and iPod use while crossing the street. If that happens, I guarantee every New Yorker will walk around the street while simultaneously eating Tasti-d-Lite, drinking coffee, and reading a book. Point is--it's very, very boring to walk around the city, if it's a route you take every day, especially if that route happens to include, say, Midtown. Yes, being distracted while walking around leads occasionally to people getting hit by cars, but imagine actually paying full attention to your surroundings! You have to strike a balance, and the libertarian in me is not pleased by this development in the least.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mad scientist!

Or space cadet. Or whatever you want to call it--this story is amazing:

The police in Orlando, Fla., filed attempted murder charges today against Capt. Lisa Marie Nowak, a NASA astronaut who the authorities say attacked a rival for another astronaut’s affection at Orlando International Airport on Monday after driving more than 900 miles from Houston to meet her flight....Captain Nowak, 43, was wearing a trench coat and wig when she was arrested early Monday morning. She told the police she had worn diapers on the journey so that she would not have to stop to use the restroom so she could arrive in time to meet Captain Shipman’s flight at the airport.

I know they say all the drama's in academia, but no one in my department ever does anything nearly so ridiculous.


1) Finish presentation on the nation--the concept, not the left-wing magazine. Part of this involves finding a passage I found and then lost track of in this book by Suzanne Citron, which compares the way French history was taught in French schools through the 1980s to "Gruyere." To haphazardly quote "Fawlty Towers":

Basil: (on women). They have minds like Swiss cheese.
Major: What, you mean hard?
Basil: No, full of holes.

You'd better believe there will be a picture of cheese on the handout my partner and I give to our class.

2) Read the many books from Bobst on subjects French and Zionistic currently on my bookshelf, first the ones recommended by profs, then the ones I picked up because they happened to be next to those ones and also looked interesting.

3) Sleep, for about 15 hours straight.

4) Language acquisition: Hebrew, Dutch, German, Yiddish.

5) Change the way my brain works entirely and become both interested in and successful at, say, banking. Then buy a lot of shoes.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Dinesh D'Souza, King of the Idiots

My take on the whole spreading-freedom-in-the-Middle-East program can be summed up thusly: A good idea in theory, assuming it doesn't lead to things like this, and assuming the country spreading the good word isn't itself preoccupied with, uh, spreading the good word. That is, it's great to rid the world of gun-crazed theocracy, but is a gun-crazed theocracy the best sort of nation for the job?

Via Arts and Letters Daily, I just read Andrew Stuttaford's review, in the New York Sun, of Dinesh D'Souza's latest book, The Enemy at Home. It seems unfair to bash a book I haven't read, but if the argument is, as Stuttaford claims, "that America should somehow attempt to keep 'traditional' Muslims out of the extremist camp by doing what it can to stress this country's own more socially conservative side," then this is not a book worth reading. Lately I feel as if maybe half of what I read consists of books I know I'm likely to disagree with politically, but expect nevertheless to learn from, and have. But the D'Souza argument sounds like the very worst of the left and the right, all mixed up together in a bucket.

Far more bizarre, still, is a comment a reader has made in response to Stuttaford's review:

Why assume sexual decadence is the only target of their hate? What about the kind of materialism that requires us to have 150 kinds of fruit juice available to choose from at each corner gas station? What about a spiritual vacuity that extends from shallow born again christian conservatives to kooky new age liberals? What about an enormous ignorance of history, including a total lack of concern about about the importance of history, even our own? What about our ridiculous media obssessions with so many things that matter very little to a life: celebrity, tv sports, fashion, gadgetry, consumption, status? I think we are decadent beyond our ability to see it anymore--as this article demonstrates. It can only contribute to why a man would strap a bomb to his stomach in a futile gesture to stop us.

We are also free, and have the right to defend ourselves. But abandoning clear vision of of who we are is not the way to engage the enemy.

Ah yes, the decadence of having too many grocery options. Think of the Borat "cheese" sketch, in which Borat asks a man at an American supermarket what a whole aisle of items are, all of which are, it turns out, cheese. So we have different options, is that the end of the world? As for "our ridiculous media obsessions with so many things that matter to a life," shall our media switch focus to things like air, food, and water? Oh dear.

Not a fan...

...of the weather.

...of the 1 train.

...of the impending attempt at grocery shopping and Q-train navigation.

...of moments when I completely forget everything I've ever read or thought about seriously, moments which occur primarily at meetings with important magazines or professors, during which all I can say is, "That's really interesting."

...of the crash that follows mocha consumption, thus partially explaining the above, as well as the overall negativity of this post.

Foxes, geese, and nudniks

Fellow UChicago alum Rachel emailed me this quiz from Slate, "Are you a liberal anti-Semite?" Turns out I'm not an anti-Semite, but am nevertheless a liberal. I'd have guessed the other way around, at least on that second bit, which leads me to suspect this quiz was slanted, like those ones in YM or Seventeen about if the guy you like is into you. In other words, had Slate's Joe Lanzmann asked questions like, "Did you ever have a bad run-in with your local synagogue/community center/federation," or, "Have you ever read anything in the Nation that made you almost physically ill," there might have been different results...

Friday night (known as "Shabbat" in some circles), I co-hosted a "Yossi and Jagger" party, which involved watching the super-depressing Israeli movie after eating Hummus Place hummus. Jessica predicted the end of the movie midway through; Uri enlightened all of us on what the word "nudnik" means ("nag," not "idiot," as I had thought); Dejan didn't much like the movie; Jo doesn't much like hummus; and Clementine has found what might be something of a sequel, the latest film by Eytan Fox. See below. Unrelated, she needs to know about foie gras. If you know anything about the fatty livers in question, send her an email.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Dual loyalties

I just got an email informing me that the University of Chicago's basketball team is playing NYU this Sunday. Go, uh, whoever.


Last night the IFSers went to see "Indigenes" at the Alliance Francaise. The movie is about soldiers from French colonies in Morocco and Algeria who fought to liberate France from German occupation in World War II. The gist of it is, France was not entirely accepting of those who were dying to defend it. While in some instances, the soldiers receive acceptance and support, in others they're treated much as blacks were in the American South under Jim Crow laws, i.e. not so well.

The main point of "Indigenes" is that while Vichy was seen as the racist side, things were not so clear cut. The very soldiers brought in to fight racism were in fact subject to plenty of it themselves. This phenomenon is quite common, to say the least. Think of the American North scorning the South for being racist while keeping its universities and country clubs restricted--the relative equality up north may have had as much to do with Northerners openmindedness as with an economy that didn't demand slavery, or consider America bringing freedom to the Middle East while attempting Christian theocracy at home. But it's still upsetting.

The other, implied message is about France today and where the population of immigrants from North Africa and their descendants stands. This movie makes the point that they a) come from heroism, and moreover, heroism in the name of France, and b) that no matter how much the French will try to deny it, those colonized by France were quite thoroughly screwed over. I've never heard much about North African soldiers fighting for France before, but I see no reason to challenge this assessment. That the North African characters are portrayed as unqualified good guys (religious but in a moving and never fanatical way, patriotic even when France gives them nothing, fighting racism while never themselves appearing to be racist, and wishing to marry a one-night stand) doesn't take that much away from the movie.

While Jews are never mentioned in "Indigenes," anyone French or with a knowledge of French history should realize that, as these North African soldiers were fighting a war as second-class citizens, Jews (first immigrants, later native French Jews) were being deported from France and taken to concentration camps. By not mentioning this, the movie is better able to implicitly equate these two instances of French nastiness. Indigenes thus brings the two principal French minority stories together, showing that both Muslims and Jews were victims of French policy during WWII.

Why does this matter in terms of today? The common perception in France and perhaps elsewhere in Europe that Jews are treated better than Muslims because Europe feels guilty about the Holocaust, whereas horrible things were done to Muslims, too, has some role in why (to generalize a ton) Muslims in Europe are sometimes resentful of their Jewish neighbors. While I'm not sure if these two situations are all that equivalent, there's a decent point to be made that the situation of Jews and Muslims in France has something crucial in common, namely that both groups received mixed messages, to say the least, about whether they were French. Maybe if all French Jews saw this movie, and all French Muslims saw "The Sorrow and the Pity," everyone would get along. That, or the Muslims and Jews would turn on the ethnic French, thus gaining the immediate respect of a whole array of other countries worldwide.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. UPDATED

There, I said it. Now let me explain. Zionism used to mean the belief that a Jewish state should be created in Palestine, a land where some Jews already lived, as well as some non-Jews. Zionism's worth was debated, some Jews were against, some non-Jews were for, and so on. Long story short, those in favor won, as all other options once debated ceased to be feasible, and there is now, and has been for some time, a country called Israel. So what can "Zionism" possibly mean today? Today, oddly enough, Zionism means exactly what it has always meant, that is, the belief that there should be a Jewish state in Palestine. Critics and lovers of Israeli policy alike are thus Zionists. Israelis on the left and right are, by definition, Zionist. Anyone not advocating the destruction of Israel as it currently exists is a Zionist. It is absurd, if you think about it, that the term "Zionist" continues to be used by those who see Israel as a legitimate country, something that can be critiqued as a country--as can all countries--but not as a project.

Imagine a term, Frenchist. It's the belief that there should be a French state in Gaul. Some Frenchists want an entirely ethnically French state in all of Gaul, while others are OK with a multi-ethnic state within the current French borders, so long as Western values and the French language and culture remain dominant. Those of French heritage in other parts of the world have this horrible tendency to be Frenchist, to believe that France has a right to defend itself (whether or not such efforts are likely to make much difference, should France come under attack.) From Le Pen supporters to Communists, the Frenchists have a grip on France, as well as on Frenchmen worldwide.

Whether these Diaspora Frenchmen are extreme Frenchist or moderate, it hardly matters to the anti-Frenchists who want the French out of Gaul for good. They're fine with people speaking French or eating cheese in other parts of the world, or with people doing so in Gaul so long as they don't claim to be doing so as Frenchmen. They're not anti-French, they love the French, they just believe France is more a spiritual nation, one that doesn't need land, and one that, when it has had its own land, has been horribly murderous and oppressive to many people.

Counterargument: There didn't used to be an Israel, but there were Jews! Counter-counter-argument: Yes, and that went well, didn't it?


I should point out that this post is largely a response to Matthew Yglesias's posts--and comments to them--as well as to this controversy discussed in the NYT. Add to the mix this article, from NYU's "Washington Square News," which Clementine just forwarded me.

To reiterate--the problem is to a great extent one of rhetoric, and I deserve some of the blame for referring to this blog's content as "Francophilic Zionism." By keeping around "Zionism" as an ideology possible to adhere to in a world in which Israel exists as a Jewish state, we who support or accept its continued existence implicitly challenge it all the same. In doing so, we allow critics of Israel's existence to refer to what it is they are opposing as a movement or an idea and not as an actual country.

Torn between brilliant Frenchmen

The class I'm auditing at Columbia with visiting prof. Pierre Birnbaum overlaps with the one I'm taking at NYU with visiting prof. Pascal Ory. Both are famous professors, and justly so. Why do these two classes have to overlap? Or why can't there be some kind of express train from 116th to 8th, so that I don't have to walk out in the middle of one only to run from the station so as not to walk in during the middle of the next? I realize there are worse problems to have--and, heck, I have worse problems than this--but this is nevertheless a problem that's on my mind at the moment.

Another problem: a fellow auditor in the Birnbaum class asked me what my deal was, I said that I'm a graduate student at NYU, and he asked me if this was because I didn't get into Columbia. An explanation of the fact that Columbia didn't have any professors doing anything specifically about French Jews, and that NYU has an institute which focuses on 19th and 20th century France, and so I've in fact never applied to Columbia, for undergraduate or graduate school, did not seem to convince him of anything. I wish that saying "NYU" didn't still imply, "I'm rich, I come from Long Island, and I looove the bars on Bleecker Street!", but to those of a certain generation (say, my age and older) it does. It's changed in recent years, but there's always going to be a lag. Just like the University of Chicago will probably be thought of as nerdy well into its first decade in the 21st century of being a frat-and-football powerhouse. Oh well.

Columbia, not surprisingly, really reminded me of the U of C. I'd seen the campus before, heard and understood the comparisons, but taking a class there, I kept thinking I was in Cobb and could stop by Classics for a mocha and linger while watching the mating rituals of androgynous, blazer-wearing graduate students. The grad students at NYU are by and large really smart, but the whole fetish for academic attire doesn't seem to have made its way to the Village.