Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I am so old!

Turning 24 means I am no longer 'college age.' It means I could have a kid (not that I'm about to!) without any chance of them turning my story into a cautionary Lifetime movie. And it appears there is no longer hope of me being a gymnast, ballerina, or math prodigy, or of ever exceeding 5'2" by more than a 1/4-inch margin of error. I am now too old for many clubs in NYC that I've probably never even seen. The final days of 23 witnessed a sudden increase in the number of people calling me "ma'am;" it will only get worse.

But before the Jewish Anti-Deprecation League intervenes, I should add that this past year was pretty fantastic.

Monday, July 30, 2007

France as stopover?

The flight from Paris included husband and wife Moise and Louise Bettan; he is 96 and she is 91. They made aliyah in their wheelchairs.

“We have been dreaming of this moment since 1948,” said Moise.

Both were born in Algeria; now they will live in Netanya, where one of their sons has a home.

Lucid and articulate, Moise said, “I guess we are proof that it is never too late to make aliyah.”

I wonder what percentage of the new French olim are of North African origin, or if this is even knowable, since France doesn't count such things. The counting of people is outside of any research I'm likely to be doing, but if anyone knows the answer to this, I'd be interested.

Life's great mysteries... still not really solved.

Over at Jewlicious I have an add-on post about why it is that it feels like so many more Jewish men marry non-Jewish women than vice versa, even though statistics point to no great difference. In the comments there, someone has called my post "scholarly" and I would like to make clear that it is anything but.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bad press for UChicago

Via Rita, here is Rick Perlstein's treatise on how miserable it is these days at the University of Chicago. The NYT is asking American college students to respond to this article in order to enter an essay contest. It is unclear how reacting to this piece will lead to responses that shed light on the proposed question, "Is the college experience less critical to the nation than it was a generation ago?" Perlstein makes the bizarre choice to extrapolate from the thoughts of a few undergrads at the U of C disappointing truths about the entire contemporary American college experience. "Is their diagnosis a function of college itself today, or just this particular college? [College student] Hamilton Morris told me stories that suggest the former." And how would Hamilton Morris imply that?

He visited his guidance counselor and described his frustrations with the university. Her response: "You're not meant for college. You should really drop out." He struck up a conversation with a student on his floor "who as far as I can tell doesn't have any friends at all and nobody talks to him. He has no desire to transfer - even though he's unhappy. I feel like a lot of people are like that as well. You know: 'College sucks anyway, so I might as well stay here.'"

The silent-kid-on-your-floor is as Chicago as it gets. Most floors have more than one. Everything I've learned from non-UChicago friends, both during and after college, has led me to believe that the Chicago way is far from typical. Everything from my lack of an academic gender-studies background to the fact that a number of friends my year are engaged to the vivid memory of people reading books, alone, at parties, hints that there might be something a bit different about Chicago than, say, Wesleyan or Sarah Lawrence. That the Times thinks college students will interpret this story as anything other than confirmation that they were wise not to go to Chicago is hard to imagine.

Rita makes some good points about Perlstein's piece:

[...] I think Perlstein is exaggerating the unrestrained joys of the college experience of yore, and assuming a little too much by suggesting that a period of experimentation with radicalism of some kind is, you know, an integral developmental phase in every well-lived life. Isn't it a little absurd to instruct people to become Maoists in order to eventually reject Maoism, and call the charade "growing up"? Also, it's not that college students today lack the courage or curiosity to invite Ralph Ellison to speak in their dorm lounges--it's that the Ralph Ellisons of the world tend not to be easily reachable by phone, and they charge $30,000 honoraria when you do get to them, so unless Mr. Perlstein would like to personally subsidize the courage and curiosity of present-day college students, it's looking like a no-go.

She also writes, "I don't feel compelled anymore to defend Chicago against accusations that it's a killjoy kind of place." Agreed. Then what is Chicago, exactly?

"If you want an intellectually rigorous, urban campus, the University of Chicago may be a fallback for the University of Pennsylvania." So says Michelle Slatalla, in an article in the Education Life section on "safety schools." An accompanying discussion with college counselors on the "new fallback campuses" provides this information:

University of Chicago (40 percent [admit rate])

Forget Northwestern, which "is on everybody's radar," says Michele Hernandez, a private consultant. "Chicago is much easier to get into than Harvard but is one of the top-rated schools in the world." Caveat: Mr. Dix credits the high admittance rate to applicant self-selection. "They have crazy essays you have to write, and that turns away some applicants," he says.

So there you have it, a second-rate University of Pennsylvania where the students are miserable. At least the weather's good.

Fellow U of Cers, happy or not with your time in glorious Hyde Park, speak up!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

White and nerdy?

Is nerdiness just an extreme form of whiteness? In the Times magazine, Benjamin Nugent cites a study by Mary Bucholtz which shows that nerds in the U.S. are merely high-schoolers who refuse to adopt African-American culture. Jo reminded me of the Weird Al song, "White and Nerdy," which suggests there may be something to this. And it's fair to say that European teenagers, even the ones who are coolest back home, tend to look geeky by American high school standards, if fashionable by SoHo or NoLIta ones.

However, having studied nerds (or as Gawker would put it, The Nerds) for eight years, I'm going to have to disagree. The two ethnic groups most associated with nerdery in America are (East) Asians and (Ashkenazi) Jews. Not black, but not white, either. From the little I've learned of American high schools that are not largely Jewish and Asian, the students mocked as nerds sound more stereotypically Jewish or Asian (socially awkward, good at math and/or music, short and/or skinny, etc.) than stereotypically white, regardless of their ethnicity. Nugent's article mentions neither Asians nor Jews, which cannot be because of a politically-correct fear of mentioning race, in that the article is all about race.

If you're going to ascribe an ethnic quality to nerdiness, you might as well be precise. Want to see hyperwhite? Take a look at this. The region of America I'm from, the Northeast, has at least one thriving Caucasian-American culture that's not at all nerdy, and that has not, to say the least, embraced African-American style. Socialites, 'it-girls,' and country-club tennis champs, along with their i-banking, pink-shirted husbands, possess an aesthetic that sells. And not because its consumers are assumed to use Latinate words.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

What do Egypt, Senegal, and Israel have in common?

It's promising news that Sarkozy wants to bring Israel into the monde francophone. Given the rates of French Jewish emigration, someone's bound to write a super-important Israeli novel in French, one worthy of lengthy discussion on one of those intellectual TV shows for which France is renowned. If such a book already exists, by all means let me know.

This, along with Sarkozy's involvement in the case of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whose French citizenship was up till now considered a minor detail, is a sign that the new administration is willing to acknowledge a new, if ambiguous, French-Israeli identity, rather than forcing France's Jews to choose either-or. That one could be both French and Israeli, not just according to paperwork but also culturally and linguistically, challenges what it means to be either in some interesting ways. French, because of France's aversion to hyphenation, and Israeli, because what does it mean for the Zionist idea of aliyah if you can spend half the year in Paris?

From the European Jewish Press:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy assured Richard Prasquier, head of CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish organizations, that he would continue to strive to enter Israel into the International Organization of French-speaking countries.

Prasquier had a meeting with the president earlier this week at the Elysée palace.

The Paris-based 63-member Organization of Francophone Countries, or Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, is headed by Senegal’s former President Abdou Diouf since 2002.

After serving as a politician in his native country for more than 40 years, the 71-yar-old Diouf replaced Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt.

The next summit meeting of the organization will be held in Quebec, Canada in 2008.

Most of the organization’s members are former French colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, though it has expanded in recent years to countries in Eastern Europe that have traditional or cultural ties to France, like Romania, Bulagria and Macedonia.

Some 400,000 French-speaking live in Israel.

Sarkozy also confirmed that he has invited Israeli President Shimon Peres to Paris in March 2008 in the framework of the opening of the 28th book fair. Israel will be the guest of honour at this annual event.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bli gvinah!

Limited internet means limited blogging. So, in brief:

Clementine just sent me this news brief from Liberation:

-Immigration record de Juifs français vers Israël
Quelque 3000 Juifs français ont émigré en Israël en 2007, selon des estimations de l’Agence juive publiées hier à Jérusalem. Un taux annuel sans précédent depuis 1972, quand 2 350 Juifs avaient quitté la France. Et, pour 2007, la tendance devrait se poursuivre puisque l’immigration en provenance de France aurait augmenté de 10 % depuis le début de l’année par rapport à 2006.

For the non-francophone of my two to three readers, this means that a record number of French Jews have abandoned ship and headed for the Old-New-Land. I don't blame them, even the French food is better in Israel than France. Not always, but sometimes.

-On that note, Amber Taylor discusses one of the pressing issues of our time, and I am not being sarcastic: air travel avec fromage (or eem gvinah, if you prefer). Been there, oh yes. What's the point of going to France, or Israel, or Belgium, or French Canada, or apparently, California, if you can't return with a duffel full of cheese? I inevitably wimp out and do not import anything more exciting than heaps of books about French Jews.

-Last but most important: Happy birthday Jo!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Thinking vs. doing

This weekend two remarkable things happened. 1) I was without internet for a 24-hour period, and 2) Jo and I carried a bookcase upstairs that's much taller than I am and a good bit shorter than he is. Now that I have internet at my disposal, I can nevertheless barely type. My arm! That was a heck of a bookcase, a mere $15 at a Park Slope stoop sale, and it fits almost all of our books.

While I was unable to move or blog, Jo read me part of a Times article aloud, about how the Sarkozy administration is asking the French to be less pensive and more active. My new favorite thing ever is the line, "'How absurd to say we should think less!' said Alain Finkielkraut [...]." It doesn't get better than that.

All on my own, pre-bookcase, I read BHL on Sarkozy. Levy mentions four of the authors whose works are on the MA reading list, not to mention synthesized much of recent French history, so I take it BHL would find this exam somewhat less of a challenge than most.

Levy's main point is the following:

And finally we discover — as will Americans — the first of our presidents for whom our relationship with the rest of the world is so clearly inspired by the best result of the antitotalitarian movements of the ’70s and ’80s, namely a fidelity to Israel that will no longer waver in the face of “ups and downs in our interests in Arab societies”; a sensitivity to genocide and in particular to the Holocaust, that “stain on the 20th century and all of human history”; a refusal of that “cultural relativism” that would allow us to look at the Chechen drama or the fate of Chinese political prisoners differently from events happening in Europe; a true concern that human rights be respected in relationships between states, between democracies and dictatorships; and last but not least, his view of America, for which, beginning in his preface, he declares an outright and unfeigned admiration if not love, contrasting sharply with the stubborn antiAmericanism that for decades has been part of the platform of much of the French political class.

So in light of all that, why did I not vote for him?

His response: "I will explain elsewhere, in another way, when it is time." He mentions a few things about national identity and Algeria, about an inability to comprehend the truth of the car-burning riots. Levy is not entirely pessimistic about Sarkozy now that the latter is in office, but with a caveat:

I am only saying that there is in Sarkozy a relationship to memory that troubles and worries me. Men usually have a memory. It can be complex, contradictory, paradoxical, confused. But it is their own. It has a great deal to do with the basis of who they are and the identities they choose for themselves.

The review was translated, so of course the question is whether he meant that the universal, gender-neutral "men" have a capacity for memory, or whether women have trouble keeping details about historical events in their minds. In which case all of us joint French-French Studies students are in a bad spot indeed.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Most-emailed merguez

One of the fictitious books mentioned in the Monty Python "Bookshop" sketch* is 101 Ways to Start a Fight. Mark Bittman's most-emailed article, "Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less," should be the exact opposite, a way for you and your household to minimize time discussing what to have for dinner, as well as time preparing dinner, the two biggest sources of conflict among First World residents who do not live alone.

The problem with Bittman's 101 is that so many of them amount to the same thing: buy an expensive type of meat or fish, cook it in a 'simple' manner, and serve. Steak, lamb chops, and salmon are all indeed quick to prepare, but are, at least in NYC, no cheaper than eating in a restaurant. And by 'restaurant' I mean any place you can sit in where food is prepared for you and you do not have to do the dishes, not necessarily a place with a Michelin star. Once you're spending above $10 a person, not to mention waiting on line at a supermarket, you might as well order in.

Then there's the slight problem of many of the more creative dishes sounding inedible. "Grill or sauté Italian sausage and serve over store-bought hummus, with lemon wedges." I can imagine going to a talk and afterwards at the reception eating an Italian sausage despite the fact that it had encountered hummus, or vice versa. I cannot imagine doing this intentionally. Bittman must really have it in for Italian sausage because his other worst suggestion is, "Cut up Italian sausage into chunks and brown in a little olive oil until just about done. Dump in a lot of seedless grapes and, if you like, a little slivered garlic and chopped rosemary. Cook, stirring, until the grapes are hot. Serve with bread." Or better yet, end the recipe at the word "dump."

But still, I like the idea. "Not-quite merguez" sounds not quite awful, and it never hurts to be reminded, when seeking variety, that on pasta you can either cook the tomatoes or just cut them up raw. More like 10 simple meals, but it's something.

*I saw a 'tween' girl on the subway today, with her parents, wearing a shirt that said, "Satan is a dork." Never do I feel so Satanic as when I blog about Monty Python.

Democrats and Republicains

Without insinuating that I believe 'it feels like 1939,' which I don't, is it possible to point out that there's something similar about the (Bill) Clinton years and the French Third Republic? The whole PC phenomenon could have been right out of the Third Republic's attempts to 'civilize' rural France. Also, both, despite their liberal reputations, maintained social conservatism whenever politically convenient--"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and no vote for women, respectively. Both were far more officially secular than times just before or just after. Both were good for the Jews. I know there are more similarities; as far as differences, I don't think Clinton colonized Tunisia, nor does the Lewinsky Affair have much in common with the Dreyfus one, origine juive notwithstanding.


Tangentially related, but I'm going to agree with Matthew Yglesias that Hillary Clinton is by no means too far to the left to be president of France. Sarkozy, in turn, would probably count as a Democrat.

Domestic violence

The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians may represent infinite things to endless people, but it is nevertheless about a relatively small number of people disputing a small amount of territory. Small-scale does not of course mean simple to resolve, as Bob Herbert's two recent columns about school violence in Chicago also reveal. Herbert is responding, as someone must, to the news that "there was nothing particularly unusual about schoolchildren getting blown away in Chicago’s black and Latino neighborhoods. Since September, when the last school year started, dozens of this city’s public school students have been murdered, most of them shot to death. As of last week, the toll of public schoolchildren slain in Chicago since the opening of the school year had reached 34, including two killed since the schools closed for summer vacation."

In one column, he notes, "Chicago is hardly alone when it comes to the slaughter of youngsters who are living in conditions that can fairly be compared to combat."

And, in the other, "This should be a major national story, of course, and it would be if the slain children had come from more privileged backgrounds. But these are the kids that most of America cares nothing about — black, Latin and poor."

This is his main point; while he quotes Barack Obama, who noted, "Over the past school year [...] the number of public school students killed in Chicago was higher than the number of soldiers from the entire state of Illinois who were killed in Iraq during that period," Herbert is primarily bothered by the fact that while the nation mourned Virginia Tech, it ignored ongoing, not-random violence also happening in American schools.

Another point should be made about under- and over-representation in the media. Even though it's happening far away, Israeli-Palestinian violence is a constant in the news to the extent that it is probably more surprising to most Americans that children are being killed in Chicago than that the same is happening in the Middle East. Along the lines of Ilya Somin's post, it's worth examining if violence at home gets as much attention as violence abroad in which Americans are not directly involved.

The counterargument to complaints about over-representation of Israel in the American news is that America sends our tax dollars (from the comments, one would think all of them) to Israel, so gosh darn it we have a right to make sure they behave. How about the tax dollars that stay in America? Are campus progressives across the nation as horrified by America as they are by Israel? About the Iraq War, perhaps, but about violence close by, not so much. Anecdotal evidence: most acquaintances know that I went to college in Chicago and that I am interested in France and Jews. Everyone wants to know what I think should be done about Israel, but no one expects me to have the solution to the cycles of violence that were practically (at times, literally) at my doorstep.

So the question is, why? For one, any problem close to home is more complex than one far away. It's much easier to say that the Middle East needs a peace plan than to say that Chicago needs one. Then there is the question of agency. Violence in the Middle East is perceived of as all being for a Cause, preferably one with ancient or anti-colonialist roots. 14-year-olds participating in this conflict are doing so not because this is considered the acceptable route to channel their aggression, but because they believe. Violence in Chicago, on the other hand, is seen as inevitable. Some people will always be poor, some poor people will always be killing each other, sometimes there are tornadoes, sometimes there are earthquakes, etc. Since violence against or among poor American schoolkids is self-contained, not aimed at representatives of the US government or wealthy parts of town, it is not read as political. But in a sense, all violence is political, if only in that it demands an answer which will in some way, eventually, lead to peace.


Fixed a sentence that made no sense. See the comments.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Brick, exposed

When NYC brokers run out of "great" and "exciting" items to put into their listings, they always mention that an apartment has "exposed brick." Or, better yet, a "decorative fireplace." The new place, though not lacking in other ways, is blessed with a decorative fireplace constructed entirely of exposed brick. See above.

I can understand the appeal of "lots of light," "spacious," or "near the train." But escapes me why all of this brick is supposed to be a good thing. Nor, for that matter, do I see the point of having a non-functional fireplace, other than for the preparation of decorative s'mores.

Some decorative fireplaces serve as mantles, for Christmas slippers, pictures of the grandkids, and other essentials. Ours, however, extends flat up to the ceiling in brick, and thus is not only not functional as a fireplace, but not functional, period. As you can see, I'm at a loss when it comes to interior design, especially on such a difficult surface. Our brick is now slightly less exposed, covered with part of a Flemish Primitive Madonna and child, one postcard from Flanders, and one from Israel. Better than nothing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Thanks, Nick.

And, also worthwhile:

There might be a connection between these two videos.

A minute for gay rights

Do you have a minute for gay rights? How about the environment? The ACLU? My new apartment is at the intersection of Food-Coop-Vest-Wearers' Street and Pushy-Yet-Earnest Activist Road. Panhandling is by no means rare in New York, but Park Slope is where limousine meets liberal on the graph of panhandling success, so the panhandler:pedestrian ratio is something remarkable, especially in front of banks, because after seeing the fabulosity that is your account balance, your first thought is how little other people have.

That is all. Depending what impact this all has, I will either be a hippie or a paleoconservative by the year's end.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

News in brief

-Sarkozy, but not France, calls Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Sort of. Good for the Juifs? You decide, I'm still in the early-mid 20th century this week.

-The R train at night: bad idea. After the Bryant Park movie, Jo and I opted not to wait for the Q or any of the other infinitely more useful trains, and hopped on what was there, the R. It slowly made its way to Canal Street, then slowly headed a few yards further, and then... nothing. After a long stretch of this nothingness, an MTA worker came through to our car and asked us if we hadn't heard the announcement. Um, no. Turns out the last stop was Canal, then onto Queens. Nothing against Queens, but being there makes it almost impossible to get to Brooklyn. Thankfully we were allowed to exit at Canal Street, or else I'd be just waking up about now.

-My friends from high school, college, and grad school are now all friends with one another, and this is partly my responsibility, partly just how it is. Part of me thinks this is awesome, but part of me is frightened that my newer friends will learn incriminating things about me from the older ones, such as the exact number of Dave Matthews Band concerts I have attended. Which, come to think of it, is the most embarrassing thing they could find out. Luckily (?) at some point I lost count.

-A sign of impending (?) insanity: I became convinced that a man sitting near me in a coffee shop near NYU was a famous blogger--he looked familiar, and looked like a blogger--but did not know which one. Which distracted me slightly (just slightly) from Villiers' "Weird Science"-esque novel. Part of the insanity was due to the barista at this fine establishment accidentally making me a large mocha when I'd ordered a small one. To quote Woody Allen: "my body will not tolerate it." The barista, who was on the punkier side of hipster, had on a necklace that said "Filthy," which is not a quality one looks for in those in the food-preparation careers. Fingers crossed that this was ironic, or that it referred to activities in non-working hours.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

“We are returning to Israel with more hope, thanks to the French”

From the JTA, startling news that Noam Shalit, father of kidnapped Israeli soldier and French dual citizen Gilat Shalit, thinks France is doing a better job than Israel in working to bring back his son and the other captives. This is a step beyond the main point of the article, which is that (surprise!) Sarkozy may well turn out to be more Israeli-friendly than his predecessor. But is France better for Israel than Israel itself?

"This is the third time I have come to France seeking help for the release of my son, Gilad, and I can tell you, a new wind is blowing in Paris," said Noam Shalit, father of the 19-year-old Israeli corporal seized in June 2006 by Palestinian infiltrators from the Gaza Strip. “The Sarkozy government is trying hard to obtain the release of Gilad, and also the two boys in Lebanon.”

French Jewish officials see the attention given to the issue of the captive soldiers, and Sarkozy’s strong language on the issue, as a sign of significant change in France’s attitude toward the Jewish state. [....]

While Shalit hailed Sarkozy’s efforts, he had less praise for his own government, which he says has done little to bring his son home.

“We are returning to Israel with more hope, thanks to the French,” he said. “France is now the international center of activity for the release of our boys.”


I thought of Rita's post about the usually-irrelevant New York Times "Style" section when I read the following description of a shoe that Clementine and I initially assumed carried a Freemasonry symbol. No such luck:

All spring, it was virtually impossible to walk a city block without treading on a pair of Reva Ballerina flats from Tory Burch: rubber-soled, whisper-light leather flats with comfy elastic backs. If they sported double T logos instead of double Cs, well, they cost less than $200 a pair, so you could compensate by buying them in every color.

Translated into English: You are immensely wealthy, but not so much so that you will instinctively buy ballet flats from Chanel. This puts you into a deep depression, from which you attempt to emerge by purchasing many pairs of ballet flats from a less renowned designer. Tragedy with a silver lining.

What would phobia do?

That's it, I'm moving north. Where north? As far as I can run. There was just a giant, giant waterbug in our indisputably clean apartment. Jo gallantly disposed of it, but neither of us were too pleased. So we've got to move somewhere very, very cold. I hear Finland is "a far second to Belgium when going abroad." Jo said Belgium doesn't have these bugs, so that's also a possibility, but doesn't seem quite cold enough. Iceland, ice sounds about right.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Home decor at its finest.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What's Left?

Last night I went to Dissent's launch party at Book Court in Brooklyn, in part because I have fond memories of my internship at Dissent during college, and in part because, as a graduate student, I get masochistic joy out of being in a store filled with full-price books. The main event was Paul Berman moderating a discussion with Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow and Charles Taylor (no, not that one), two writers from the summer issue. Berman asked how to critique the left "from the left," and more specifically, how the left can take a moral stand of its own, rather than simply opposing restrictions enacted or proposed by the right. But the crux of the discussion was how you can hold opinions unpopular on the left without losing your leftist credentials. Or, in particular, to reassure those on the left who have doubts about unlimited abortion rights, or who want to stop the spread of radical Islamism, that they are still more Upper West than Upper East, no matter what anyone may say.

As the talk was coming to an end, it hit me that the better question would be why bother calling yourself 'on the left' when you disagree with much of what the left as it actually exists has to say, and agree with at least as much (or on the issues you find most important) with the right as with the left. In the Q&A session, I asked Berman, Tuhus-Dubrow, and Taylor if and why, at a time when many on the right, especially the more libertarian right, are unhappy with the Bush administration (and so "right" does not mean "supports Bush," nor does the opposite imply "left"), and when much of the left stands for things they assert they do not like (turning a blind eye to human-rights violations in Islamic countries in the name of cultural and religious autonomy), do they persist in identifying themselves as 'of the left'?

Taylor--who began his portion of the talk discussing how much of a relief it was, on September 13, 2001, to see a Times Square billboard of Britney Spears flashing a thong, something only a democracy would allow-- said he wasn't so sure he considered himself on the left, after being called a "commie" for his more left-wing sentiments, then a neocon for his desire for America to bring democracy to the Middle East, as well as his belief that democracy is unquestionably better than theocracy. At various points earlier in the talk, Berman had noted that he (Berman) uses 'right,' as in 'correct,' to mean 'politically on the left.' He also repeated that, if you write for Dissent, you are defining yourself as on the left but critical of the left; so much for Taylor.Then came Tuhus-Dubrow. The first reason she listed for being on the left was that she was raised by hippie parents. If politics are hereditary, then why bother trying to convince anyone of anything? It seemed a poor reason to identify one or another way politically, but then she said she wasn't sure what to make of all the labels, but that overall she still considers herself to be on the left. She didn't seem altogether convinced.

After the two writers answered my question, a man in the audience spoke up and pointed out that Berman had not yet done so. I was most curious to see what Berman thought, since I remember finding his 2004 article on why he, as a leftist, favored the Iraq war fascinating. He answered, in what has to have been the most surreal of any experience I've had in a long time, with a lengthy discussion of the Dreyfus Affair, presumably intended for those who know nothing about it. His point was that there are two lefts, one that actually exists, another that exists in an ideal world; he is aligned with the latter. He used the Dreyfus Affair to show that while initially the French socialists were on the "wrong," anti-Dreyfus side, they eventually came around, thanks to Jaures. He explained that while those on the left are in practice almost always wrong, and while those on the right occasional say things like "the sun rises in the East," (his example), the left stands for what's good, or something like that. He also failed to make a clear distinction between 'left' and 'intellectual,' implying that the latter was nothing more than a subset of the former. He also failed to mention that not only were these fin-de-siecle French socialists initially wrong about Dreyfus, but the beast that was to become modern French anti-Semitism was if anything more a product of the left (because Jews were/are supposed to be rich) than of the right, where the anti-Semitism was more of a pre-modern, Christian variant. Nor did he include the the 'correct about Dreyfus' camp thinkers like Theodor Herzl, undoubtedly an intellectual and more an aristocrat-lover than a 'commie.'

And so, after all that, I still do not understand why it's worth being of-but-critical-of the left, rather than going right or finding a third path, when you disagree with almost everything said on the left. I can understand being critical of a side you almost always find yourself on, but there's a moment when internal criticism begins to look like criticism from the outside. (I am picturing a man I just saw in a "Jews for Jesus" t-shirt). Why, if as seems to be the case for Berman, your position is to support whichever answer to a political question is morally correct, must you pick one side or the other? (And, more importantly, did Alvy Singer's magazine-merge prediction come true?)

This to me is the appeal of political labels that are not left-right specific. Political labels should be invoked if they have explanatory power, which in this case 'left' certainly did not. Personally, I am enthusiastic about neither the left nor the right, the Democrats nor the Republicans; for whatever reason, descriptions like "Zionist" or "libertarian" seem to be getting at something more tangible, and while I do not agree with every view classified as Zionist or as libertarian--nor are the two necessarily consistent, especially when it comes to US policy--they go a bit further in explaining how I see the world than do classifications derived from an intuitive sense that left is 'good' and right 'bad' or vice versa.

Rehov Herzl

Katherine just emailed me an apartment listing from Craigslist. Which seemed odd, because she just visited my new place; it will be a long while before I want to go through the moving process again. Then I looked at the listing itself: a two-bedroom apartment, in New York City... on Herzl Street! Turns out Brooklyn has a Herzl Street! And to think I went all that way...

No link, though, since the apartment listing has since been "flagged for removal"--an anti-Zionist conspiracy if there ever was one.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More thoughts on Deresiewicz

It occurred to me why academia is not as sex-crazed these days as it is in Roth and Bellow novels, and in movies. Academia may once have been a world of affair-having eccentrics, but today's incoming classes of graduate students all went through the college process. We wouldn't have gotten as far as our selective colleges had we not proven ourselves to be efficient, balanced, even athletic individuals. Even grad students in the most obscure fields, looking to research this one Persian vase they find especially fascinating, would not be there if they hadn't proven themselves in the same meritocracy-ish system as have future investment bankers. Which leads to my point, which is that grad students these days probably treat grad school as something pragmatic and professional. Even in the humanities, networking has replaced seducing. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The movies are just lagging behind, holding on to an obsolete phenomenon for its obviously superior entertainment value.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"I knew I liked Nicolas Sarkozy, even though he is so French."

This and more from Jennifer Graham in the National Review. This is easily my favorite right-wing American anti-France article ever. Some other fine moments:

"The sedentary French — and that would be most of ‘em [...]"

"It leads me to wonder if the old jibe about teachers is really more about the French: Those who can, do. Those who can’t… are French."

"It’s far easier to sniff in disdain from one’s Louis XIV armchair than to slog 5, 10 or 20 miles in the rain."

"Le irony, eez delicious."

"They need fewer snails, more Krispy Kremes."

"Hey, Serg, maybe your wine wouldn’t be in crisis if you guys would lose the attitude regarding Americans, those millions of health-conscious consumers who can afford to buy your wine, but won’t, as long as you so energetically disdain us."

I have to stop. I can't stop laughing.

Who's meaner, France or Israel?

Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy asks, "Why does Israel get so much more left-wing criticism than France?" He makes some interesting points, showing how, from treatment of Muslim minorities to occupation of foreign lands, contemporary France has Israel beat on many counts. The question usually asked is why Israel gets so much left-wing criticism from France, which leaves out the question of what's going on in France itself and keeps the focus on Israel to the exclusion of all else. Somin answers his own question as follows:

Is anti-Semitism the only cause of the disproportion between left-wing criticism of Israel and those of France? Almost certainly not. Perhaps it is not even the most important cause. But the other likely causes - bias against a nation perceived as more of a US ally than France, sympathy for France's (pre-Sarkozy) anti-American rhetorical stance, an implicit belief that Jews should be held to "higher standards," etc. - are only marginally more defensible.

That seems fair, but both Somin and the Volokh commenters have missed a big reason why Israel gets picked on so much more than France. Israel is new, and France is old. France today (or as Somin discusses, France of the last 40 years) is more or less guilty of everything Somin claims, but France yesterday was unquestionably guilty of so much more. From the Terror to slavery in the colonies to collaboration with the Holocaust to torture in Algeria, there's a lot that's indefensible from France's past, so that the present ends up looking like evidence of progress. Israel today cannot possibly be better than Israel in the 19th century for the obvious reason. And if you compare Israel today with "the Jews" of the entire modern era, it becomes an unfair comparison between that which is a nation-state (with the accompanying dilemmas and military) and that which was not. Then there's the obvious fact that, for many people alive today, a world without Israel is conceivable because this was the world into which they were born. A world without France is harder to picture. To many arguing about Israel, deciding it was a mistake is an option, whereas we're pretty much stuck with France.

And finally, there's culture. French culture, which is rightly appreciated worldwide by those across the political spectrum, blinds the rest of the world to the economic and political aspects of that country. Francophilia has practically nothing to do with a love of French policy. Whereas Israel, to both its supporters and its opponents, is a political entity and not a cultural one. Something Zionistic types might want to change.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The sexiest career in the world

Oh is it ever sexy to be a French graduate student. Not only is academia inherently sexy, but French! Oh la la! A typical day involves at least ten torrid affairs with men (and women!) who smell like Gauloises, not to mention the consumption of several bottles of Cotes du Rhone.

And yet, no. Grad school is fantastic, but as Daniel Drezner notes, responding to William Deresiewicz's complaint about the inaccurate portrayal of university life in movies and books, academia is not the scandalous den of sin the media would have you believe. Seriously. I'm in a humanities program, and believe me when I point out that there was significantly more student-teacher scandal (consensual and otherwise) at my math-and-science high school when I was there than I've noticed at the graduate level. If it were otherwise, I'd keep quiet on this topic, but there's nothing scandalous, so speak up I must.

Inspired by Drezner, I'm going to offer a day in the life of a real-life grad student:

-Purchase 1 1/2 pounds of ground coffee.
-Read Popkin's history of Modern France in coffee shop--free A/C with the purchase of an iced coffee!
-Check Facebook for new gossip: no new gossip.
-Unsuccessful attempt to find frame for Herzl and other posters. Slightly embarrassing moment when Park Slope frame store worker unravels giant picture of Herzl.
-Decide to leave iPod home when running errands, also in Park Slope. Hear woman discuss how "all Blackberries (blackberries?) in the city should be run over."

The Case Against Straight Marriage

Longtime gay-marriage proponent (crucial hyphen) Andrew Sullivan links to a NYT wedding announcement of two especially flamboyant men and tongue-in-cheek calls his post, "The Case Against Gay Marriage." Sullivan directs readers to the announcement's accompanying slideshow, which depicts little girls dressed not unlike Marie Antoinette, not to mention the two grooms, neither of whom presumably has had to ward off female advances for a long, long time.

What Sullivan is exhibiting is a prime example of "Vat vill dem heteros say?"* Yes, this wedding makes gay men look very "gay," but is that a problem? If I ever succumb to societal pressure and all that, and happen to have a manor at my disposal, I'd be thrilled to have an event so, well, fabulous. The wedding looks like something out of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," minus the straight guy, but confirms the stereotype that gay men will come up with something better than hero sandwiches and a keg if asked to throw a party. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that we scrap straight marriage entirely until us heteros start making bridesmaids dress as though headed for the guillotine.

*Apologies to Woody Allen.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

New heights of Belgiophilia

Guylian chocolate. Something I'd never thought to buy, but now... I should not let Jo introduce me to any more Belgian foods, as they are each one tastier than the next, and I will no longer have time or energy to do anything other than stay home and eat everything chocolate or fried. The Belgiophilia will be out of control if we get a Tintin statue to sit in the decorative fireplace, as they have in Petite Abeille on 17th Street. But one thing at a time.

And in Francophilic Zionism news, I just came across Romain Gery's La vie devant soi, which so far involves French Jews and Muslims, and the intersecting histories of French colonialism and French anti-Semitism in Paris. This just might be the "literature" angle I've been looking for!

Friday, July 06, 2007


The Great Move (down the street) of 2007 is officially over. The place is just a Herzl poster (thanks, Dave!) and a dining room table away from perfection. Final thoughts, re: moving:

1) It costs twice as much to live in Park Slope as it does to live in Hyde Park. And it is well worth it. Sort of. At least for the groceries. But is double the rent worth it for better cheese? (Yes.)

2) The real estate process was... fun. There will be a detailed post on this at some point.

3) Seems I have a couple of books and magazines about French Jews. My apartment is in fact The Park Slope Center for French-Jewish Studies.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

In praise of the age of the iPod

A group of girls having a full-volume chat in the computer lab just left. Final line of their conversation: "I'm gonna go get a pedicure. My life will be better after."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Dangerous Book for Girls

Earlier today I saw a mother in Park Slope, on the sidewalk, teaching her daughter how to ride a bike. The girl had on a helmet... as well as elbow pads and shin guards. She was not the first child I've noticed recently with something between just a helmet and full body armor. This was classic, cliched Park Slope, the sort of parenting mocked on Gawker almost daily. It used to be helmets and no Lucky Charms; now it's pre-bike-ride mummification and organic shredded bran.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I entered a locksmith shop on Flatbush a few days ago and the "can I help you" came from a boy who could not have been older than nine. I thought he was joking around, but he meant business. He took the keys I needed copied, put on safety glasses, put on the machine, and voila, a new set of keys. There was a man behind the counter who was probably the boy's father. He seemed to approve.

There's a new book out, The Dangerous Book for Boys, that's being embraced by conservatives because it is (apparently; can't say I've read it) an affront to both the "nanny state" and the "war against boys." The book encourages boys to flaunt their boyishness, to play with matches, engage in rough-and-tumble athletics, explore an innate scientific curiosity, and otherwise show how very unlike girls they are. (If I were feeling more clever I'd make a Larry Summers reference here).

What information would be in The Dangerous Book for Girls?

-Latest techniques in bulimia.
-How to walk in stilettos.
-How to make creme brulee, with a torch, unsupervised.
-Advice on what reputation-shattering rumors to spread if you want to lead an exclusive 7th grade clique.
-Random household substances that can be used as hairdye when your parents unfairly refuse to let you go blonde.


A Google search reveals that I'm not the only one to consider what a female version of this book would look like.

J'espere que "oui."

I'm curious as to why is it that whenever someone asks me what I do and I say that I'm in a French PhD program, they ask me if I speak French, or if I read books in that language. I get asked this question all the time. Shouldn't this be the one thing about what I do that people immediately assume to be the case?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

An experiment

Not sure if the Francophilic (and surely Zionistic) dachshund pic will stay, but it just might. Thoughts?

Monday, July 02, 2007

"You don't care!"

A new apartment means a whole new set of cleaning supplies. Huzzah! This ranks up there with electronics (and as the exact opposite of Denis Gagnon) when it comes to dull shopping.

While in search of, among other things, a Swiffer, I saw some products with the brand name, "If You Care." These products not only are environmentally sound, but are judging you. If you cared, you wouldn't buy Reynolds Wrap, you'd buy "IF YOU CARE® 100% Recycled Aluminum Foil."

This is the kitchen-products equivalent of the recommendation, at the end of "An Inconvenient Truth," that one of the things you can do to stop global warming is to encourage as many people as possible to see the film.

Uggs were once summerwear...

This is Day 2 of my new life as a bag lady. It's a temporary switch, and I'll be back to carrying at most one tiny Chanel quilted purse in no time. But today was more moving stuff on Brooklyn buses from the old place to the new. When it came to shoes, I had the brilliant idea that it would be more efficient to wear ballet flats when picking them up, then put on boots when bringing them to the new place, so as to take up less space. First run was in cowboy boots. A bit silly, but not so bad. The next trip, I put on what looked the bulkiest, a certain pair of neon-green snow boots. A note to those who might find themselves with a week between the start of their new lease and the arrival of their movers: if you stand on a street corner in NYC in July carrying Duane Reade bags filled with shoes, wearing neon-green snow boots, you will, guaranteed, run into at least one former classmate.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

From the "All roads lead to Rome" department

I just spent a few years waiting for the bus, moving stuff from the old place to the new one, NYC-grad-student style. The other people waiting for the bus were a large group of people, two women, a few girls, and one little boy, the adults scolding the children in ways that suggested the ties must be familial. All the women were wearing long denim skirts. Being presumptuous, I figured that because the family was black, they were not Hasidic Jews. But then I noticed that the whole group, the women, girls, and boy, all had little tassels, two on each side, hanging from the bottom corners of their shirts. That, and one girl's "Shma Yisrael Picnic" t-shirt, suggesting something Hebraic. If that didn't confirm things, the kids were asking the adults what they were allowed to eat in a Dunkin' Donuts, and had a good laugh over the idea that coffee might contain pork. I couldn't help thinking of the time in Chicago when I spent only a couple of years waiting for the bus with a very blond Mennonite family, which I also found intriguing; I think before then I had no idea who the Mennonites were, and if you asked me today...

So of course I had to Google this, but what exactly is this? I've heard of Black Hebrews or Black Israelites, but am iffy on the details, and again, this may have been something else entirely. Maybe this group of people happens to like tassels and long denim skirts, but dislike pork. But in any case, what I found, in my three minutes of research, is a page explaining that some of those commonly thought to be Jews are not Jews, that Jews are never of European descent, that the real Jews "are today being ignorantly called: Hispanics, Indians, Blacks, Gypsies, Moors, Sephardim, and Aborigines." So there is a belief system under which I am a "shiksa," which is amusing enough in itself, but the reason for this post is that this web page beings with a discussion of, among others, Bernard Lazare. Which establishes once and for all the universality of "19th-20th Century French Jews" as a topic of study.