Saturday, March 31, 2007

La meme chose?

What makes German- and French-Jewish history different? The great thing about studying French Jews from within a French-French Studies program is that I now know a ton (but have, of course, an infinite way to go) about France generally, and thus have a better idea about where Jews, and minority groups generally, fit into French society at different points in that nation's history. However, my sense of what made and makes French Jews specifically French, what makes the French case different from others, is a bit blurry. Comparing the French and American cases is easiest, as I'm as aware as anyone about what it means to be an American Jew, and so when I learn about France, I can see what's the same and what's far from. But within Europe, things get confusing. I'm reading Amos Elon's The Pity of it All, about German Jews from Moses Mendelssohn's arrival in Berlin up to the rise of Nazism. Much that Elon says about the uniqueness of Germany, of the special ties Jews felt to Germany, of the whole "new Jerusalem"-type attitude about their new home, about a German-Jewish "symbiosis," real or imagined, could as easily be said about France. Do scholars with a particular interest in France or Germany, with reading abilities in French or German, simply conclude that their own case is the special one? Seems I have a ways to go in language/knowledge acquisition before I have even the slightest sense of what makes France different.

And that's just in the 18th and 19th centuries. How about the 20th? The more historians find about just how Nazi-like the Vichy regime really was, and just how similar French and German feelings were about Jews, the harder it is to see what, if anything, was fundamentally different.

And how about now? There's France, with its unique anti-Americanism. What could be more French? And yet, it sounds much the same in Germany.

So yeah, no real point to this post, other than to make clear that I do not have a clue.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The "new right"

From what I understand (or tried to, for a recent paper) the French have something like neoconservatism. It's quite a bit like the US variety, except that its proponents are more likely to be referred to as "philosophes" than "warmongerers;" proponents of both get called racist. Something else they have in common: according to this Haaretz story by Yair Sheleg (last name="snow"--I SO know Hebrew!), "A year ago, the weekly Nouvelle Observateur described him as one of the five outstanding intellectuals representing 'the new right' (three of them are Jews: Finkielkraut, Bernard-Henri Levy and Andre Glucksmann), the French parallel to the American neo-conservatives." Three out of five, huh.

It's struck me recently (as I'm sure it's struck others since these terms first appeared) that the terms "left" and "right" are as good as meaningless, at least outside the realm of economics, but perhaps even there. Left and right say nothing about how much government control of domestic life is sought or how much foreign intervention is acceptable. What political slant is a person who believes strongly in "Enlightenment/Western" values, is concerned with liberty and equality, and in favor of a race-blind society? "Classic-liberal-aka-neocon"? Or simply "Jew"?

Sheleg precedes a quote from a talk Finkielkraut gave in Tel Aviv by pointing out, "What he said may sound familiar to Israelis." The gist of this paper I not long ago handed in was that what Finkielkraut says, more generally, sounds awfully familiar to Americans, and would not raise eyebrows here.

I found this bit interesting:

Although he is a republican zealously devoted to the French national identity, Finkielkraut has been broadcasting a weekly program on the "sectarian" Jewish radio station "because it is hard to share concern for Israel with non-Jews. Israel, after all, is considered a regional power, and people don't understand this concern."

Here's where I get to the point of this post. The responses I get to what I write on Jewish subjects from Jewish readers claiming to speak for the "Jewish community" often strike me as knee-jerk and closed-minded. I sometimes wonder why bother? I disagree with people of this mindset on just about everything other than the need to defend Israel and Jews generally from a world that's less than enthused by our existence. I like plenty of things that fall under the category of "Jewish"--Israeli music, fashion, and actors; UChicago-inspired American Jewish fiction; French Jewish literature and history--but do not feel "among family" when at campus Jewish events, do not believe that I can truly connect better to Jews than non-Jews, and do not feel guilty when I realize that a High Holiday has come and gone and I had no idea. I do not believe that my less-than-orthodoxy would somehow save me should a new wave of anti-Semitism turn violent. Opinions aren't what are being attacked in such a context, anyhow.

I've realized what's going on. Commenters to my posts and I are talking past each other. I care about Israel and Jews generally because I am interested in liberty and, as a Jew, this particular form of liberty, the freedom to be Jewish, is one I have more of an understanding of than, say, the freedom to be gay. These commenters care about liberty because it's important to them to be Jews. I want those Jews who, through choice, outside definition, or both, "count," not to get persecuted on account of their Jewishness. They want more Jews, and more observant Jews. I believe in the right to be Jewish; they believe in Judaism.

These are two completely different worldviews. I will not go so far as to say that one way of seeing things is no better than the other--if I thought as much, I'd be undecided or indifferent--but without their position, one like mine would not exist, as there'd be no reason for it.

And I may be overstating my position a bit. I perfectly understand being concerned when it appears that an entire civilization is under attack. But, as Alain Finkielkraut pointed out in his Le Juif imaginaire, the damage on that front is done. Asking all who Hitler would have murdered to sacrifice their own freedom today in order to repair the damage (as if this were possible) is not necessarily a good thing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Jewlicious, the other blog I write for, has a natalist streak which I periodically speak out against, only to receive strings of comments to my posts along the lines of, "But we need more Jewish babies." I must, as we say in academia, problematize this demand. Natalism--the belief that a given group must increase its population, not through immigration or conversion, but through reproduction--is hardly a Jew-specific phenomenon. Fears that there aren't enough Americans, or non-Muslim Europeans, or who knows which other groups, are also plenty popular, and my response works for all of these:

1) Reality: women are still far more responsible for child-rearing than are men. Asking for more babies of any given race or nationality is asking men and women of that group to pair off with fellow members; it is asking the women, above all, to take the time and make the physical committment to producing and raising these children. Earnest concerns about "our numbers" have historically led to restrictions on female reproductive rights.

2) Natalism dismisses as insignificant all contributions to society, other than that of babies, of women between the ages of, say, 18 to 40. The implication is that women do more for the good of (in this case) the Jewish people by making more Jewish people than by studying Jewish subjects, serving in the Israeli army or government, working in Jewish journalism, and so on. While women may certainly have careers and children, a philosophy of "the more, the better" leaves little time for much else. Would the Jewish people be better off with more of us but with half of us left back in the home?

3) Natalism is a creepy and unpleasant alternative to other methods of what is the quite reasonable goal of spreading ideas and practices you believe in to increasing numbers of people. Better conversion and immigration policies could "make" more Jews and Americans, respectively. If we look at Europe's divides as being about ideas, not some ridiculous notion of inborn tendencies to be progressive or backwards, then education and tolerance, not "more white babies," is the answer.

4) Any discussion of natalism has a way of getting personal. Commenters on Jewlicious have a) suggested I marry someone calling himself "Nathan," who'd left an earlier comment (this commenter asks if Nathan is single; my relationship status is apparently irrelevant), and b) referred to how young Jewish women do not want to have babies. Nowhere did I say that I am available to be married off to this Nathan, nor that I intend to remain childless. It's entirely consistent to be anti-natalist AND to have or hope to have children. Natalism isn't about having babies, but about having babies of a certain type, for a certain cause.

5) Asking that more of a certain type of baby be produced is wrong, but not nearly as wrong as asking that those of other groups be eliminated through sterilization or murder. Obviously. Thinking in terms of racial or national groups is necessary to a certain extent, insofar as one has a sense of reality, and insofar as people are often oppressed as members of racial or national groups by those on the outside, but such thinking should be kept to a minimum. More on that later--French-related duties await...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Call me clueless"

Shmuley Boteach's article in the Jerusalem Post, "What are universities for?," is the silliest rendition of "kids today aren't like they used to be" that I've ever seen. It's the usual rant about how today's college students have too much fun and don't learn anything. Despite having been written by a rabbi and appearing in the JPost, there's nothing specifically Jewish about this most classic of conservative complaints:

"Thousands of young college students - all in their late teens and early 20s - were lounging on the sand. It was a sobering sight. The female students' beach attire was close to non-existent. Time was when the bikini was considered revealing. Today it is only for prudes and the modestly attired."

OK, he has a point. I remember college well, as it was quite recent for me, and it's true that at the University of Chicago, a bikini was considered far, far too modest.

"The simple fact is that the American campus is not a very healthy place and belies its description as a place of 'higher' education."

Can't argue with simple facts. But, since this college doesn't much resemble Chicago, I'm curious, which college in particular? Oh, I see, the one in I am Charlotte Simmons:

"Readers of [Charlotte Simmons] would scarcely believe the description of the American campus as a giant orgy filled with misogynistic men who harbor indescribable contempt for women and arrive on campus with the stated intention of bedding as many as possible. Less so would they believe the complicity with which women have joined in their own degradation."

What sort of reader of fiction would be so foolish as not to believe every last description in a novel as a fact about the real world setting on which it was based? Idiots.

Then, he explains that college seniors did worse--worse!--on a test than did college freshmen. Undeniable proof that college in fact makes you dumb! What was being tested? Boteach doesn't say. As one commenter points out, the test is probably on skills one uses in high school and not much later in life.

The end of the article is most informative:

"I now believe that parents should be looking at single-sex and religiously-inclined alternatives to the mainstream universities for their sons and daughters, schools that truly are about maturing, being educated and preparing for the mastery of both the professional and personal sectors.

I attended rabbinical college. There were no women. We were there to study, not socialize. When people ask me today how young rabbis have so much information, I tell them it has less to do with any kind of genius and more to do with the absence of socializing with the opposite sex."

Because of course it's either-or. Of all the doctoral students I know, not one engaged in college debauchery, nor had premarital sex. All follow strict, religion-based codes of ethics--acquired no doubt at single-sex religious undergrad schools--in their sexual behavior, and none would so much as consider getting drunk. That's how we, much like young rabbis, are able to "have so much information."

But my real reason for responding to this article, one which makes similar rants in places like National Review look brilliant, is this response, from the comments on Boteach's piece:

I'm not clueless
Sara Roth - USA
03/19/2007 22:56

Call me clueless but I'm still with the guy I hooked up with on Birthright. Only thing, he's not really Jewish so my parents are unhappy. But he's great. Birthright was the best thing I ever did. That guy said he won't send his daughter. Her loss. It's a safe nice environment to meet people and when you are a college kid, sex is part of it.

I have nothing to add.

James and the Giant Creek

I don't know quite how we got to talking about "Dawson's Creek" last night, but we did. I asked Jo what James Van Der Beek's (aka "Dawson") last name means. Van is from, der is the, so what's beek? Turns out beek is creek! So the star of "Dawson's Creek" is himself from the creek. Lama? Kacha.

Monday, March 19, 2007

First day "back"

Spring break is officially over, and the jetlag is unbearable. Spring break was sort of like the rest of the semester, but with more work, and with the chance to keep the hours I'm most happy with, i.e. getting up after noon. Well after noon.

Class this morning was at 9:45. Not once but twice, I skidded smoothly into the very same computer lab, whose slippery floors my not-so-well-heeled boots didn't quite know what to do with. Slid, but didn't fall. Might have waved my arms around a bit to keep my balance. I'd say I embarrassed myself immensely, but NYU is huge, and I didn't recognize anyone who was there either time, so not so much, now that I think of it.

Remarkably enough, I didn't crash until evening, when the normally loud and well-lit Think coffee bar became progressively dimmer. At night, Think becomes a wine and cheese bar, and thus requires a romantic atmosphere for the two couples on dates amidst maybe 40 other people there doing homework. My reading was going quite well until things got a bit more "romantic" and I had trouble keeping my eyes open, even with coffee and a brownie at the ready.

At that point I met up with Jo for our very own romantic date. Leaving both of our departments behind for a moment, we went to a talk hosted by the philosophy types, by Harry Frankfurt, Princeton philosopher and author of the book Bullshit. Intriguing! [Actually, it's On Bullshit--Thanks, Jo!]

His talk may not have been for real. He argued that the meaning of life is that we all want to live, and that no one seeks out death or harm for its own sake, that even the suicidal would rather live, but cannot because their will to avoid misery has taken over. Or something. Of course, the value of preserving human life above all else is one specific to certain times and places (cultures such as ours that value health and trans-fat-avoidance over honor won in many a duel; religions that put a premium on preservation of life and ones that are a bit more lax), but there was no question and answer session, despite the microphones, so who can say. There was, however, a good amount of wine and cheese, although I must say, the French department outdoes the Philosophy Department when it comes to fromage, as well it should.

After falling into a wine-and-cheese-based stupor (and on that little sleep, this was a very modest amount of wine and cheese) it was time to call it a night.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

False alarm

No, I am not done with my work for this vacation. Sure, I thought I'd finished both papers, as well as work for Monday, some for Tuesday, and as for Wednesday, well... But then it hit me, while reading Patrick Modiano's La place de l'etoile as part of my busman's holiday, that Celine's first name was Louis-Ferdinand, and I could swear I'd put Jean-Ferdinand in a paper. Why Jean, when I knew perfectly well it was Louis? Because when four out of four classes you take each semester are about France, things French have a way of blurring together. Upon making the inevitable correction, it occurred to me that tons more needed to change in the paper, nothing so urgent as that, but much needed (needs!) to be added, and... yeah. Good thing there's too much snow on the ground to do anything spring-break-ish anyway.

In other news, Labyrinth Books is pretty great. Is it embarrassing that I'm only now discovering this, given that I grew up not far from it but had never been? Yes. The answer is yes.

But I now have the above-mentioned Modiano book, something by Pierre (is it Pierre?!) Vidal-Naquet about Jews (both of these books, oddly enough, feature yellow stars on their covers--gar!), and, last but not least, a star-free book on learning colloquial Dutch.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Romantic tourism

Shock of all shocks, I've finished my work for spring break, and am now trying to plan a "vacation" for the five minutes remaining. Somehow I began looking into trips to places where the Amish live. You can tour all sorts of places in Pennsylvania Dutch country, suggesting that the Amish, unlike the Hasids, know how to market the silliness, to the unfamiliar, of a culture with mandatory black hats.

One of the places the Amish offer tours of is the Intercourse Canning Company. Along with the tour, there is an "Optional 'Tasting Party' with a Bigger Spread. $7 Per Person (By Reservation)."

Yes, I am ten.

Regardless, looks hard to get to without a car. Perhaps Borough Park would be easier. Then again, I spent the afternoon reading about "romantic" (i.e. Orientalist, i.e. racist) French tourism to Algiers, so perhaps a day of watching "News 12 Brooklyn, 'As local as local news gets'" is in order.

"Is criticism of Israel anti-Semitism?"

This question is discussed at length in the comments to Stanley Fish's article, "Is it Good for the Jews?" It's about the silliest question imaginable for several reasons. First, no one--neither Israel's defenders nor its detractors--can decide whether "criticism of Israel" is criticism of specific acts done by the Israeli government or an all-out attack on Israel's right to exist. The easy answer would be that the former is not anti-Semitic but the latter often is. But it's not so straightforward. Of all the conflicts going on in the world, why do so many people in the U.S. and Europe, people with no particular connection to Arabs or Jews, care so much about the one between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Does anyone have an opinion about specific things done by the Indian government or the French government? How about all the governments of South America and Africa? Sure, we all have the right to criticize each of these states' actions, but few seem interested in doing so. Among those who believe that Jews a) control the world and b) do so in an organized and systematic manner, i.e. don't just happen to gravitate towards certain fields valued by society in 2007, and c) do so specifically to cause harm to everyone else, of course it's more worthwhile to learn about Israeli policy than any other policy on the planet.

Here are some of the more heartening things commentors had to say:

"I have found that it is unwise to engage American Jews on the subject of Israel. Even if they are kindly, humane, and liberal on other topics, they often defend political behavior on the part of Israel that to my mind is indefensible."

"Stanley Fish has chosen to ignore a fundamental truth about persecution of the Jews, a precept that most of Europe understands but that the U.S. cannot: American’s ongoing and unstinting support of Israel has angered Arabs the world over. America’s media, largely controlled by Jews, has stifled open and honest debate on this sensitive subject and thus, Amercians remain largely ignorant and willfully naive about the attacks that occured on 9/11."

"It would not be wrong to say “the Israelis are out-nazing the nazis.
One of the reasons given for going to war in Iraq was Iraq had or were building nuclear weapons which would destabilize the region. Israel has nuclear weapons yet the U.S. doesn’t condemn Israel and even provides materials for these weapons. I do not consider myself an anti-semite but this country has a primary obligation to it’s citizens not sending billions of dollars to Israel at the expense of U.S. citizens."

"as i get older, i have come to realize that zionism was a useful political position for the 19th and 20th century jews–it is no longer viable since it involves oppression of a whole group of people."

"Actually, I don’t even consider Israel as a Jewish State; it’s just another political entity wrapped up in it’s own survival and self-interests, no different than any other modern state. I consider Israel to be a very small subset of Jews who brook extreme nationalism, religious fanaticism, and outright imperialism all in the name of some delusional idea that God gave the early Jews a deed to certain properties in the Middle East."

And of course, the best is left for last:

"Okay, despite all, the big money of dual-citizen Jews, even though they are only two percent, gives them incredible sway in media, politics and Hollywood. Their Neo-Cons own President Bush and his cartel, and not one Jew loses a life in war in Iraq. The tail of USA seems, indeed, to be wagging by the powerful sons of Israel, who now want war with Iran, in which, again, no Jew would lose a life. That is the source of my disdain."

I don't have an answer. Comments like these make me want to give up worrying about any of this.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

So close but yet so far

The term paper due Monday (!) is well within the page range the professor asked us for (yay!) but still has many an [ADD] or [CITE] remaining (waah!). The problem with writing about France, as an American, from one's living room in America is that I don't, of course, have any idea what I'm talking about. Books help, as does Clementine, but when it comes down to it, I don't have a clue. This might require some time in France doing research (eating cheese) somewhere down the line...

Daarbuiten ist kou!

Tis hier warm.

At this language-acquisition rate, in approximately 50,000 years, this blog will be entirely in Dutch.

The Brooklyn Nativists

I just finished Alain Finkielkraut's fabulous Le Juif imaginaire, and so am thinking about authenticity. (I also cannot stop sneezing, but I think I might have allergies, and at any rate, it's totally irrelevant here.) Erin Geld's article in the Cornell Daily Sun about post-college life in Brooklyn has led to a backlash against the hipsters. Although it's not quite the hipsters, but really anyone who graduated from any American college within the last however many years who lives in Brooklyn but did not (alas!) grow up here. Gawker even posted Facebook photos of a party hosted by the particular group Geld referred to in her story. The photos look like typical party pics of early 20-something urbanites--two of those photographed appear to be wearing white t-shirts and jeans of no especially hipsteresque tightness--and yet Gawker commentors are up in arms. Why? Because Geld made the tragic mistake of calling East Williamsburg "West Bushwick." Why, it's like calling the Upper East Side "Southwest Yorkville," it's simply not done.

My question: What's the big deal? In turning all groups of unwanted arrivals as colonialsts/imperialists, the post-hipster Left hopes to mock people out of their perfectly legitimate residences. Why do people move to Brooklyn after college? Because many entry-level jobs (or, uh, graduate programs) pay less than many yearly rents in Manhattan, yet are interesting and necessary enough career-wise to take on. For all the fuss about the "rich kids" taking over Brooklyn, what of the fact that many would happily trade outer-Williamsburg or not-quite-Park-Slope for a charming West Village townhouse with "WBF" if they (um, I) could. A lifetime Brooklyn resident making 20k a year at 40 is likely in a very different life situation than a just-passing-through making the same amount at 21, but neither can afford Murray Hill.

Natives to any land are bound to feel a certain attachment to it. I was born and raised in the city, and so I cringe a little whenever someone tells me that the city's an awesome place to spend your early twenties, but one you have to leave before raising a family, as though there should be commercials, as there now are about the dangers of second-hand smoke, with innocent-looking toddlers discussing the perils of growing up near Zabars. But many of the just-visiting contingent are my friends, and regardless of where they raise their children, they have every bit the same right to live here as I do. That's what NYC is supposed to be about--if you're running away from one thing or towards another, you live here, no questions asked.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Get me to Tel Aviv!

A conference that I really must be at is happening on March 20-21 at the "Université de Tel Aviv," ie Tel Aviv University. First of, waah! I'm here writing about Alain Finkielkraut and French-Jewish national identity, when some of the greatest minds on this subject, including Finkielkraut himself, will be discussing these matters for two whole days. Not only all things French and Jewish, but they've even thrown in a panel on, "Y a–t-il une littérature juive de langue française?", which might, just might, be of interest to someone studying French Jews while in a French literature department. Yeah, might be maybe a little relevant. And it's all happening in Tel Aviv. I do my best keeping up with events at my own university and in NYC in general, but I'm now kicking myself for not noticing this until just now. Hope there are minutes or something...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


You know how lots of Upper West Side Jews adopted baby girls from China a while back? Well, it might be a lot--apparently there are no numbers, but doesn't it feel like a lot? Anyway, there's an article in the Times about how many Jewish girls adopted from China are having bat mitzvahs. Cecelia Nealon-Shapiro's took place, coincidentally, at the same synagogue as my own, yet, unlike mine, included "yin-and-yang yarmulkes, kiddush cups disguised as papier-mâché dragons, kosher lo mein and veal ribs at the buffet." This strikes me as cheesy and unnecessarily multicultural--would a bat mitzvah for a girl adopted from rural America have a country music theme?--but I don't have any adopted Chinese children, so I don't know how I'd approach such a situation if I did.

I cannot think of anything that says "Upper West Side" more than a young ethnically Chinese girl, the adopted daughter of a lesbian couple, who "would burst into the Passover standard 'Dayenu'" on (where else?) the crosstown bus. This has Metropolitan Diary written all over it.

Busman's Cancun

I'm now on spring break, and it's the most anticlimactic entrance into spring break ever. My hope is to get work done in time to spend at least a couple days on that busman's holiday I've been planning, taking a moment off from French Jews to learn about the Belgian variety. And, perhaps, to learn a wide array of Flemish dialects and idiomatic expressions. The learning never stops!

Getting this party started

I'm asking for comments. Here goes:

Israel is often accused of colonialism and imperialism. For those of you who hold these views, or who feel you understand them, please answer the following:

1) If Israel is a colony, what other country or countries is it a colony of? France, England, and so on did not cease to exist upon losing colonies because their colonies were aggressively pursued extensions of already-existing states. If Israel is a bunch of Westerners colonizing an Arab land, which Western states are they representing? Can't all the ones that either sought to exterminate their Jews or kept out those Jews about to be exterminated be by definition ruled out as places Israel could be imagined to represent?

2) If Israel is an empire, whose empire is it? If the answer is, "The Jews' empire, those warmongerers!," then doesn't this imply the legitimacy of a Jewish state as such, albeit one within more restricted borders?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

How to sell clothes

Both the Gap and Esprit are currently selling clothing to women described with the adjective "boyfriend." Gap has "boyfriend trousers," which seem to be unflatteringly baggy khakis, while Esprit has ribbed tank tops called "boyfriend tanks." J.Crew has a "boyfriend sweater": "We call it the boyfriend because it fits like your boyfriend's sweater."

What is the point of a marketing scheme that aims to sell heterosexual women men's clothing? As with "skinny jeans," it never hurts to use a word likely to appeal to a broad range of women. Who doesn't want "skinny" and "boyfriend"? "Awkward leggings" or "hairy tank tops" probably wouldn't sell that well. Then again, "Acne Jeans" exist, and presumably someone, somewhere, has probably bought a pair.

Monday, March 05, 2007

I go to school in New York

Naming the place you go to school rather than the school itself is the classic affectation of those who go to Harvard or Yale (with Princeton being located, well, in Princeton). But in my case, I really do feel that I go to school in New York far more than I have any sense of which school exactly I attend. Sure, I'm quite aware of both of my departments, not to mention the library, but I'm still not sure what makes NYU NYU. Aside from a special fondness for leggings as pants among the women and a thankful lack of preppiness overall, I don't yet have a real sense of the undergraduate population--presumably once I start teaching, this will change. But it's more than that--UChicago has an overarching, all-encompassing reputation for a certain way of thinking, acting, and dressing, which, for better or worse, extends from the most precocious 17-year-old first-year up to the senior members of the Committee on Social Thought. I'm sure part of my sense comes from being a grad student at NYU and thus missing something of the personality as seen by undergrads, but, I mean, who are the undergrads? They blend in so well with local high school seniors, tourists, and other college kids home for break that I have little sense which ones belong to the university and which do not.

From what I can tell, what holds NYU together is almost entirely its location. While the city itself is not the main draw for, say, the law school or many of the graduate programs, including the one I'm in, it's the most salient one for the university overall.

From what I understand, the idea that a university should have a personality, and better yet, one that, as the result of a delicate and arduous College Process, mirrors your own, is a very American one. Chicago and I may well be similar creatures, but I'm getting to like the NYU way of doing whatever it is you do without an implied approach or aesthetic.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Louis-Ferdinand Celine, on the University of Chicago:

In a 1947 letter to then-UChicago professor Milton Hindus, reprinted in The Cripped Giant, a book recommended to me by one of this blog's readers, Celine said the following:

"Pico della Mirandola (a Jew) held down a chair something like yours. He'd have been perfect for the University of Chicago since he 'knew everything there was to know and a few things besides.'"

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Gender and economics

From Jacob Levy, re: a Figaro piece on a new economics school in Paris:

« Si on ne fait rien, dans cinq ou dix ans, les seuls chercheurs qui viendront à Paris sont ceux qui auront une petite copine en France », plaisante Thomas Piketty.

"If we do nothing, in five or ten years, the only researchers who will come to Paris will be those who have a girlfriend in France," warned Thomas Picketty.

Apparently no economists have French boyfriends.

The implicit sexism--economists are assumed to be straight men--is probably what Picketty is expressing, but it's not the whole story. For whatever reason, among heterosexual Americans, not to generalize or anything, but different countries are alleged to have attractive men than are alleged to have attractive women. A French girlfriend has more cache than does a French boyfriend. Meanwhile, an Israeli boyfriend probably has a bit more than does an Israeli girlfriend, and same goes for an English boyfriend versus girlfriend. Meanwhile, a Swedish girlfriend elicits oohs and ahhs, whereas a Swedish boyfriend is just a boyfriend who happens to come from Sweden. This is leaving out the classic Asian girlfriend-not-boyfriend and black boyfriend-not-girlfriend biases in America itself.

My question: why? How do some countries and races come to be seen as masculine and some as feminine? Presumably this is what's behind the way things fall.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Thanks to my influence, today Jo had his first matzo ever, and his friend Thomas had his first bagel ever.

"This is so bland!" Such was the assessment of Jo re: plain matzo, and Thomas re: a plain bagel with nothing on it. After the initial let-down, Thomas asked for a "pastrami bagel," which the man at the bagel place interpreted to mean he wanted a bagel of that flavor, not a pastrami sandwich, and was instead given yet another bagel with nothing on it. Perhaps proselytizing isn't my thing after all.