Friday, August 31, 2007

Proof that they are, in fact, equivalent publications:

One of the stories in the Style section has already been covered by The Onion.

Bratwurst demands lederhosen

David Brooks has Belgium all wrong. But he has a point about Germany--I've never seen this, but have heard unpleasant stories about trying to go to a park in that country and seeing... what he describes.

Headscarves and sagging jeans

The controversy in the US over "sagging jeans" is the opposite of and same as the "headscarf ban" in French schools. Whether the argument is that too much or too little skin (or undergarment) is showing, the point is the same. Authorities and experts are reading a political message into a style of dress. Objecting to that political message--one the style is only conveying some of the time, at most--authorities decide to crack down not on the 'root causes' they are certain lie beneath the clothes, but on the clothes themselves. But when is a scarf too big, or pants too low? Problems arise.

The problem in both of these situations is politicizing behavior that was initially no more or less political than anyone else's style of dress. Is a French woman with a carefully arranged scarf draped over her shoulders is making a political statement about pride in Frenchness? Is a white American in a pastel polo arguing that we maintain the status quo? From the government's perspective, treating clothing like clothing, unless it's half the town marching around in Nazi uniforms, might be a better idea.

One expert consulted in the Times piece about sagging pants says, "'The focus should be on cleaning up the social conditions that the sagging pants comes out of [...] That they wear their pants the way they do is a statement of the reality that they’re struggling with on a day-to-day basis.'"

Or, "they" are wearing their pants the way they do because that's how they like to wear their pants. Must we ask why? Is that really a fair way to approach social tensions?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"In my country there is problem"*

David Remnick writes that "Mearsheimer and Walt are 'realists.' In their view, diplomatic decisions should be made on the basis of national interest." I thought it was that realists believe diplomatic decisions ARE made on the basis of national interest. Or someone told me this--Bernadette Soubirous?--who knows, but clarification would be helpful.

As with just about everyone else timidly approaching this topic, before adding the inevitable "But," Remnick gives a lengthy explanation of how he is a good liberal who would not do anything so crass and whiny as accuse someone well-educated of anti-Semitism:

Mearsheimer and Walt are not anti-Semites or racists. They are serious scholars, and there is no reason to doubt their sincerity. They are right to describe the moral violation in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. (In this, most Israelis and most American Jews agree with them.) They were also right about Iraq. The strategic questions they raise now, particularly about Israel’s privileged relationship with the United States, are worth debating––just as it is worth debating whether it is a good idea to be selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

There is no reason to doubt their sincerity? There are so many reasons doubt the sincerity of publicity-seekers, no matter what their profession. (Except for Britney Spears, who is always 100% sincere). They are not anti-Semites? Again, I would not say that with such confidence, even if plenty of bona fide Jews have come forward and declared Walt and Mearsheimer to be super friendly. Seems beside the point.

Remnick offers a tepid defense of Israel, along the lines of, if you're going to point out Israeli misconduct, you must do the same regarding that of the Palestinians. Um, agreed?

It’s a narrative that recounts every lurid report of Israeli cruelty as indisputable fact but leaves out the rise of Fatah and Palestinian terrorism before 1967; the Munich Olympics; Black September; myriad cases of suicide bombings; and other spectaculars. The narrative rightly points out the destructiveness of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and America’s reluctance to do much to curtail them, but there is scant mention of Palestinian violence or diplomatic bungling [...].

Tack on a 'why can't we all just get along' and that was the most articulate eighth-grade essay ever.

The scary part is the New Yorker article's conclusion. According to Remnick, we are living in miserable times that lead Americans to demand a solution:

The duplicitous and manipulative arguments for invading Iraq put forward by the Bush Administration, the general inability of the press to upend those duplicities, the triumphalist illusions, the miserable performance of the military strategists, the arrogance of the Pentagon, the stifling of dissent within the military and the government, the moral disaster of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the rise of an intractable civil war, and now an incapacity to deal with the singular winner of the war, Iran—all of this has left Americans furious and demanding explanations.

And for Walt and Mearsheimer, Remnick reveals, the key to why the world is a horrible place is "the Israel lobby." For someone who does not seem to be in agreement that an Israel lobby is behind all evil, Remnick is awfully relaxed about the extremity of this argument, and completely blind to the massive historical significance of such a line of reasoning. When things in the world seem amiss in a myriad of unrelated and even contradictory ways, Jews are often singled out as the catch-all culprit. Communism and capitalism got you down? Jews are surely responsible for both! Behind every big "anti-Semitic moment" (Pierre Birnbaum on 1898 in France) there is a simplification of all society's woes as having specifically to do with Jews, even those problems that affect those who have never met a Jew in their lives. By claiming that Jews, as a bloc, control the national government or the world economy, anti-Semites have for centuries directed attention away from whatever far more complex problems were actually present.

*New title; more to the point.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Knowledge acquisition

Among so much else, the rest of which was actually important (i.e. how to teach), today I learned the following:

1) "Combien de temps a-t-elle à vivre?" sounds EXACTLY like "Combien de temps à Tel Aviv?" Not exactly, but the first time I heard this sentence in a video I watched for teacher-training I thought the sad faces were about terrorism or some such, which seemed out of context. The thing is that I secretly imagine the rest of the world is obsessed with all things French-Israeli. Yet the evidence otherwise keeps growing.

2) At least two of my classmates claim they read this blog, who up till now I had no idea read it. Making a mental note not to repeat anecdotes to these two that I may have put on the blog, so as not to make the same (fascinating, always) observations twice.

3) The Italian House at NYU has a chef. And amazing food. Oh yes. I think I may have just discovered an interest in Italian culture, and will have to go to a lot of talks at the Casa Italiana...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Not naming names

Today for the first time ever, I ordered an iced Americano. A large. It was that or sleep, and I am indeed still awake, which midway through a week of teacher-training and exam-cramming is not half bad. The drink is maybe four shots of espresso in iced water. It does the trick, and is fully drinkable, perhaps even addictive. But then, while waiting for this movie-soda-sized beverage, I noticed a sign, "free coffee." It turned out to be the top of an ad for a job opening at this coffee bar. They are looking for a "student" (is that even legal?) to wash dishes and mop floors part-time at a rate of $8/hour. No tips. This is significantly worse than another NYC barista job I can think of, which pays the same but with substantial tips, and where the (extensive) cleaning-up duties are at least mixed in with making drinks, so that if you end up earning more that coffee-bar wages one day, you can make your own yuppie drinks if you so choose.

As much as I think it's a good idea to work during college, how far can eight dollars an hour get you in this city, working part-time, and spending much of the week in school? Not to get too technical, but this is less than the jobs I had at UChicago paid, and I was in no way attempting to cover my rent or support a family with the money I earned as an undergrad. And this was Hyde Park. What are NYU or New School students supposed to do with the cash from a job like this? And without tips? This would be $3/hour in Hyde Park, or so my non-economist estimate goes. Are students in the area being exploited? Are enough of them simply so well-off that they take jobs like this because it sounds glamorous to work in a (celebrity-frequented) coffee bar in the Village?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Protesting "Israel's policy"

One day I hope to be able to pronounce names like "Guusje ter Horst" correctly, but until then I can just read articles, in not-Dutch, about the Netherlands. The AP reports that "The Dutch government will spend $38 million over the next four years to prevent both the growth of Islamic fundamentalism and right-wing nationalism." As if fighting 'Islamist terrorism' weren't vague and amorphous enough, fighting "extremism" of all stripes is the most bizarre political project ever.

Meanwhile, Cnaan Liphshiz of Haaretz focuses on the "right-wing violence." The difference between right-wing and other attacks is that the former are committed by white Christians (or non-Muslims/non-Jews) and target both Jews and Muslims, while the latter involved Muslims attacking Jews. This is an area where the left-right spectrum seems all but irrelevant, and "extremism" really is the best way of putting it. But that's not what confuses me most in the Haaretz story:

I understand how ideologically one can draw a difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. It's often a lot of bunk, but it is possible to hate the state of Israel and believe the world, Jews included, would be better off without it. Idiotic but conceivable. In a less extreme scenario an 'anti-Zionist' is merely against settlements, Netanyahu, and agressive aliyah recruitment; 'anti-Zionism' can mean a number of things depending on context. But what does not make sense is how violence against Jews, outside of Israel, on the basis of their being Jews, could possibly be divided into categories of "anti-Semitic" and "anti-Zionist," as is done in the Netherlands. Should there also be a different legal response to attacks on Jews motivated by economic anti-Semitism versus those motivated by a belief that the Jews killed Christ? Isn't the point of hate crime legislation to punish more harshly attacks on people because of which group they are (perceived to be) a part of, regardless of the reasons for the attacker's bigotry? It's the same as the Ilan Halimi murder, where the gang who killed Halimi were apparently innocent of anti-Semitism because they killed a Jew not because they hated Jews but because they believed Jews had money.

This quote, from a Dutch researcher who found a surge in extremist violence, is baffling on so many levels. "'[O]ne group of extreme-right youths, who were found guilty of torching both a synagogue and an Muslim school, claimed they had set the synagogue on fire to protest Israel's policy.'" Asking which policy would not begin to address the problem with that sentence.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Maltz's Complaint(s)

Photo credit: Clementine. Note the expression: I am not pleased with the water-to-air ratio.

1) The humidity: This is the reason why a) my hair has an unintentional but dramatic early '60s flip, and b) why the city's roach problem is worse than usual. First, across the table at dinner at an otherwise nice restaurant with my boyfriend's family. Welcome to New York! Then, spotted by Katherine, at an otherwise spectacular Belgian cafe in Brooklyn. Does this mean I can never go back?

2) The index cards: I may need to rent storage space for them once they are complete.

3) A brownie I had earlier had an unidentified object in it. Unclear what it was (redundant, sorry), but waa!

4) In a (non-Belgian) Brooklyn coffee shop earlier, with brownie, index cards, and Katherine, a woman at the next table who looked about our age inquired as to the Sears Tower-esque pile of papers in front of me. I explained that it was about French history, for an exam, and she asked me if I know French. So far no surprises. Then Katherine asked her what she was up to. She was, alas, taking a moment away from her husband (!) and baby (!!!) to get some work done. And she was our age, more or less, and was not a teen mother. Confirmed, I'm ancient.

5) Why can't I settle down with a nice Jewish girl? Oops, not my complaint.

Selling records

Caroline Weber reviews the book that got Julie Fredrickson talking about sample sales and non-industry label-crazed women: Dana Thomas's Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. From Weber's review:

For Thomas, a cultural and fashion writer for Newsweek in Paris and the Paris correspondent for the Australian Harper’s Bazaar, the luxury industry is a sham because its offerings in no way merit the high price tags they command. Yet once upon a time, they most certainly did. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, when many of luxury’s founding fathers first set up shop, paying more money meant getting something truly exceptional. Dresses from Christian Dior, luggage from Louis Vuitton, jewelry from Cartier: in the golden period of luxury, these items carried prestige because of their superior craftsmanship and design. True, only the very privileged could afford them, but it was this exclusivity that gave them their cachet. Although they may have “cared about making a profit,” the merchants who served this pampered class aimed chiefly “to produce the finest products possible.”

That's a stretch. Emile Zola's 1883 The Ladies' Paradise describes a mid-19th century Parisian department store, complete with a profiteering boss and customers willing to go broke in order to own the next big thing. The small shop owners who criticize the new, mass-produced, crass world of the department store are in fact no less sleazy and profit-minded than Ladies' Paradise owner Mouret. Capitalism did not begin with the craze for designer logos, and it certainly did not start with Louis Vuitton's latest merger. Every store offering 'organic,' 'free trade,' or 'high quality' is, as Rufus Wainwright said honestly and admirably of his performance in Central Park, "just trying to sell records." There's no shame in hoping your innovations bring about profit. The art of disguising that motivation is what leads to some goods being presented as virtuous or long-lasting and others--designer logo sunglasses, manicures, tobacco and alcohol products--as entirely unnecessary but there if you want them, the assumption being that enough people do and which variety they pick is the only question.

But back to clothing. If in the golden age of luxury, well-made products were for the wealthy and no one else, why was this a good thing? Shouldn't long-lasting, high-quality clothes be for those who cannot afford new ones every five minutes? And conversely, if you intend to buy new dresses each season, unless you are Nan Kempner (which I can safely say you are not), what do you care if the old ones last forever?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Controversies for everyone else to contemplate while I am offline

-Do professors have a constitutional right to date students? Dinesh D'Souza, missing the point, claims, "If professors had a constitutional 'right to romance,' then a student's refusal to sleep with them would constitute a violation of their rights." Lawsuits demanding the "right" to date Brad Pitt shall soon follow.

-Should there be Hebrew-themed public schools? Arabic-themed? Llama ken or low?

-Discuss amongst yourselves.

Narcissistic blog post (redundant?)

Clementine had a copy of the NY Observer, so I got to read all about... my life thus far. There's a story about "Gossip Girl," the new New York version of "The O.C.," about the lives of those who attend single-sex schools in Manhattan. Then there's a book review about Stuyvesant, with a picture of the school and everything. It's strangely calming to read about how once I passed a test that few others do, especially when I'm about to take a big exam and maybe just a tiny bit scared out of my mind. And finally, there's an advice column called, "Ask a Theoretical Physicist." I can really relate to this publication.

Wirehaired wisdom

Dachshunds are so talented! Via Gothamist; the second link mainly to link once again to this amazing creature.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"2 Days in Paris"

What happens when a quintessential New York Jew meets the family of his non-Jewish girlfriend? I have no idea, it's not as if any movies have been made about such a situation. So it's a good thing Julie Delpy had the courage to cover this uncharted territory. Still, it is a good movie, and here's why. In other words, spoilers below.

"2 Days in Paris" has been compared with "Annie Hall," which is inevitable. It is an adult love story, not in the racy sense but in that the protagonists have romantic baggage. Heaps of it. Marion's many (well, not that many) exes are a constant reminder not so much that she 'slept around,' as Jack would have it, but that she is 35. At 35, a boyfriend of two years can more reasonably be referred to as a "new boyfriend," as Jack is by another character. The specificity is an interesting choice, since romantic comedies generally come in three ages, high school, marriage-age, and cutesy elderly, without much acknowledgment of the differences between 21 and 40. Plus, the man and woman are the same age, which is not the case in, say, "Lost in Translation." In other twists, the 'Jew' is not actually Jewish, nor is the actor portraying him, whose name (Adam Goldberg) and persona might throw you off. The movie deals with the confusion of a Jewish-looking American in Paris quite well, with one of Marion's exes cheerily telling Jack at a party that it's not as if Hitler would have spared him, and then later on, when he gets accidentally arrested by the Paris police after a blonde Frenchwoman tells them that he is the Arab who stole her purse. The movie shows how xenophobia runs in all directions--Jack detests fat, Bush-supporting American tourists; Marion's father is convinced that Jack, as an American, is surely illiterate; and it is never clear if we are supposed to sympathize more with Marion for having to deal with Jack's Francophobia or with Jack who is confronted with a country where, as Marion explains in possible jest, there are no plumbers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hitler wuz mean

Sometimes the flashcard marathon must stop for a moment, for a chance to catch up with the blogosphere while eating Reece's Pieces and chasing an Orens coffee with a diet Coke.

Via Rita, a fantastically ridiculous Weekly Standard article suggesting we scrap public education entirely. And via Gawker, an equally absurd New York Observer piece that leaves one thinking private schools should be banished from our land.

As much as I love that the head of New York's posh Lycee Francais was called "Little Napoleon" in an angry anonymous letter, I will focus instead on David Gelertner's oh-so-original rant about public schools and all the lefty crap they teach the kids these days. As with all such whines, there's a glimmer of truth--I attended school in this country in the height of the PC 1990s--and a whole lot of nostalgic cliche. The angle he takes is that we should get rid of public schools altogether because they lean too much to the left. How brilliant and, dare I say, practical! I am at this very moment holding my breath.

You might argue that the solution is to have two varieties of public school, roughly "moderate left" and "moderate right," each with its own curriculum, textbooks, and standards, and its own version of a worldview or moral framework to teach children. Every neighborhood or local region would vote on left versus right local schools. In many areas such elections would be extraordinarily hard-fought and bitter--yet the solution might work, except that the school establishment's bias is so consistently left (and not moderate left either) that it seems unlikely we could trust it to operate "moderate right" schools--or even "neutral" schools, if there were such a thing.

That's the only problem he can forsee, that the remaining schools would still teach Things Fall Apart and Heather Has Two Mommies? The better question: do five-year-olds have politics? Do high schoolers necessarily share the politics of their parents? Isn't the point of public school that whatever nonsense your parents teach you, you will learn a new and contradictory form of nonsense from your teachers and a third one from your peers, thus forcing you, the individual, to make decisions on your own?

Many urban schools were overcrowded, especially as more and more immigrants piled in. Segregated schools for blacks were often miserable. Yet throughout America--rich and poor, black and white, urban and rural--schools in general and teachers in particular were regarded with respect. And America's various creeds and colors agreed on the fundamental skills and principles with which a child should be equipped.

As with all arguments that begin with, 'Segregation was bad, but...', this one fails to inspire the wistful mood the author intends. For Gelernter, parents willing to go to jail to defend their child's right to grow up homophobic are demonstrating "courage and persistence." And yes, teaching schoolchildren that their classmates' same-sex parents are sinners is homophobic. Are the faithful not asked to find sin frightening? And then, because discussion of Jewish matters must always be put in parentheses, so as not to force the reader to hear too much about those whiny Jews, the following:

(A related dispute arises when schools insist on teaching young children about the Holocaust in all its revolting evil. Sensitive children get nightmares, are scared of going to bed--I've seen this happen in my own family. Yes, American children must be taught about the Holocaust--but intelligently, dammit, with some regard for the child's own well-being. Children are not mere adults in miniature. We are supposed to have outgrown that primitive idiocy sometime in the 19th century. But it has returned to plague us in America's dim-witted schools establishment. Evidently common sense is another divisive issue in modern America.)

Oh the poor babies! Let's try, "The Nazis were Germans who did not celebrate Chanukah," and leave it at that. I don't remember a time before I knew about the Holocaust "in all its revolting evil" (although most of the Vichy historiography I had to wait for grad school for; thanks a lot, kindergarten!) and yes, I did get nightmares. And that's exactly the reaction you have to learning about the Holocaust if you are, in fact, learning about it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bonjour la classe

I'm about to start teaching French. This is scary and exciting. Other than speaking loudly and slowly, writing on the board clearly, and wearing clothes that can withstand a certain amount of chalk, any suggestions?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bigotry and inquiry

Suppose there is a valid case that an "Israel Lobby" dictates US policy. Some say yes, some say no, and as someone who is not a political scientist, I cannot give a political-science critique of the Walt-Mearsheimer argument. But once this case becomes a subject of popular discussion, not a paper only read by a few academics, who, other than its author, is responsible for things like this comment to a post on Matthew Yglesias's site?

The wealth and power of Jews, as expressed through AIPAC, transformed the infrastructure transition costs of the Sinai giveback agreed to at Camp David - expected to be a few billion over two years - into a permanent welfare check of 5 billion a year over 28 years. 140 billion.

Jews. Not a group of people, some of whom are Jewish, with money and political power and certain opinions regarding Israel, but Jews, plain and simple. All the precision in the world, all the insistence on "Israel lobby," will not stop responses that blur the line and then just cross it altogether.

Whether it was their intention or not, Walt and Mearsheimer have given a respectable voice to the idea that 'the Jews,' generally, control the world. This brings up a broader question that goes beyond the 'are Jews sacred?' angle of the Walt-Mearsheimer debate. If your research just 'happens' to confirm that Jews control the world, or that gays rape little boys, or that Africans are not as smart as Asians, or anything else that bigots have 'always known' to be true, do you have any responsibility for the outcome of your research? Should such 'discoveries' just be praised as flouting PC and as 'telling it like it is'? That is the irritating, and insufficient, answer many are giving to Walt-Mearsheimer. Should researchers who present such ideas be held to a higher standard than those doing less touchy research and only get published if what they find is beyond a doubt true? Should such papers come with a disclaimer--'While the vast majority of gays are not pedophiles, gays are overrepresented among pedophiles'--to remind bigots that they are still in the wrong? The answer cannot be that research should only be presented if it is politically correct. However, the fact that a certain number of stereotypes do exist and are floating around is bound to impact which questions researchers even think to ask. How much of a place should confirmation (or negation) of racist or homophobic views have in determining the direction of inquiry?

The Gay Messiah

Photo credit: Nick or me, who knows.

Confirmed, Rufus is God. There should be no separation between Rufus and state. Praying to Rufus should be mandatory in public schools. I can't confirm that there is no other God than Rufus, but it's some stiff competition. There should be shrines to Rufus in the temples of all major and minor Eastern religions that have shrines. And there should be shrines to him, period. He is divine, and I mean this literally. "Fabulous," as he is often described, is too much of a nondescript term used about (and allegedly by) gay men to explain someone of such universal appeal and importance.

Aside from pointing out that his singing sounds at least as good in concert as on the albums, all the way through a very long set, I can't convey much about the music itself. Amazing music, but I can't describe it, you'd be better off just listening. But the costumes! First there was the striped suit (or, in Rufus-lyric terms, "pants-suit-sort-of-thing;" see above) with shiny brooches on the leg. No shirt beneath. Then there were the lederhosen, which are as spectacular as one would expect from custom-fitted lederhosen. He paired these with a rhinestone (?) necklace and bracelet. Then he reappeared in a white fluffy terry-cloth robe (no photo, probably the rainstorm was picking up during those songs). A few songs later, he added to the robe a pair of high heels (worn, it was clear, over seamed stockings), red lipstick, and very shiny (rhinestone?) earrings. He then whipped off the robe to reveal... a just-long-enough tuxedo jacket.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mon dieu!

In a matter of hours Nick and I will be seeing God himself, yes, that's Rufus Wainwright, performing in Central Park. As you can see, I have high hopes for this concert.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


We had some time to kill tonight before dinner in Chelsea, so Jo and I popped into the Barneys Warehouse Sale men's section, which, much like the women's section, was not so worthwhile. As we left the sale a few minutes later, on 18th Street, a woman from a men's fashion magazine (yes, a real one) came up to us and asked if she could interview and photograph Jo for the next issue. She did, and it was really something. Assuming this appears, which will be a week from Monday, the world will be graced with the first-ever physicist-male model. And there will most definitely be a link.

The thousandth-best Francophilic Zionism

Every time I think, yes, this is what I want to research, I begin doing the readings and journal searches, only to find that it has been done, and done well. In the process I am learning a whole lot more about my subject (broadly speaking, French Jews) but given much of the world's fascination with France and with Jews--and given that both the French and the Jews are known for writing books and articles--it's not so surprising that French Jews are already a much-examined bunch. From what I can tell, to do new work is either to find a not-so-examined person or event to research; to have a totally new angle on pre-existing research and then bring in your own; or to read today's paper and write about it, because there's no way someone wrote about that in 1990.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Roundup of a full day

-Julie Fredrickson's description of what it's like to go to a warehouse sale filled with "non-industry women" brings sartorial elitism to levels not reached since the reign of Louis XIV. Disclaimer: I was at that sale yesterday, briefly, and the fact that it's a waste of time as opposed to a trip to H&M, which is saying something, was obvious even to my amateur self.

-Andrew Krucoff (he of the Cossacks remark) outdoes me in the historical jokes department, this time with a remark about Balfour marking the end of Jewish humor.

-Staples makes a heck of an index card. Just bought 500 of them, retail, on which I have begun writing all the really important names and events of France, 1789-present. Luckily nothing much happened, so shouldn't take long.


Jenna Bush is engaged! This is really exciting. OK, time to go get some notebooks and accordion folders at Staples...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Heightened Awareness

What do a couple of important political scientists and New York gossip bloggers have in common? They all have noticed that shouting classic anti-Semitic accusations from the rooftops, even if you call the complaints academic analysis or post-PC humor, will get Jews all whiny. Who but complete Jews would think to worry about a scholarly work (balanced and accurate, or at least worthwhile, by definition) or a silly joke? The strange thing about Jews is that despite being blessed throughout history with a peaceful and under-the-radar existence, they have this paranoid notion that the rest of the world--along with many in their own ranks--wants them gone. Every time we pass a nearby Jewish center, my mother points out all the cement barricades and mentions how this is because everyone hates the Jews. She's right, but does pointing this out help? Do cement barricades help? Is it better to just accept that we are all mortal, Jews and non-Jews alike, and enjoy our time on this horribly anti-Semitic planet we call our own?

Jo will be relieved:

"'It’s definitely time to put on a polo shirt,' said Michael Macko, the men’s fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue."

The plaid shorts that are supposed to accompany these 'it' polos may be a harder sell.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Is it true about women and shoes?

As I've mentioned before, Jo is amused by my apparently classic female declaration, upon purchasing new and not entirely necessary shoes, that I will "wear them for years;" for this reason I no longer make any such pronouncements. I wanted to cry sexism, but I have in fact been to shoe stores, and no matter what's being offered, gender-wise, the men are sitting, bored, and the women are going nuts. So I, in turn, was amused when I read UChicago classmate Julie Fredrickson's proclamation regarding a pair of "$575 [...] Christian Louboutin Simple Leather Pumps in Nude." She writes, "I will get years of wear out of these shoes." Then again, she works in fashion, and probably does not have the option of wearing flats from Filenes or sneakers from freshman year of college. On the page Julie links to about the shoes themselves, an "Editor's Note" explains, "A cute style in a classic shade - a style you will wear season after season." So it is.

Given my tolerance for heels, it's fair to say I would get approximately three seconds of wear out of a pair like that. Which would be the opposite cost-per-wear of the famous sub-$13 silver ballet flats, which despite a destructive stint as Tel Aviv beach shoes, are still 100% wearable by graduate student standards.

Blaming the youth

Rita got there before I had a chance: Kay Hymowitz (a relative?) does indeed feel nostalgic for a time when teenagers had normal, wholesome, all-American summer jobs, rather than unpaid, resume-boosting, class-dividing internships. Since I've already discussed my take on unpaid internships-as Rita also argues, if something is a job, it should pay in something more than just experience- so this post will have to be about the poorly-paid traditional summer jobs. I agree with Hymowitz that globalization has something to do with their demise, but not for the reasons she gives. She explains:

There's little question that the demise of the summer job is due in part to globalization. For one thing, with millions of low-skilled immigrants around, service industries don't need to rely on kid labor the way they used to. Lawn-care companies and fast-food restaurants can now employ a more permanent adult staff. And, according to Neil Howe, an expert on age cohorts, kids are so used to seeing immigrants doing that sort of work that they assume "I don't have to mess with food or cleaning stuff up." Ironically, the same kids whose parents are paying $4,000 for them to go to Oaxaca to build houses for the poor can't imagine working for money next to Mexican immigrants at the local Dunkin' Donuts.

More important, globalization means competition. In this respect, kids are little different from auto companies: They're vying with their peers in Asia and Europe, as well as those here at home. Many school reformers bemoan the measly American requirement of 180 days of school and point ominously to the competition in Japan, where classes are in session 250 days a year. Mr. Howe says that in just about every school he visits, the principal is walking around with a copy of Thomas Friedman's "The World Is Flat" under his or her arm. According to Mr. Howe, everyone is asking: "Why should kids be dressing hamburgers and filling tacos when they could learn to get better SAT scores or lay building blocks for an education over the long term?"

Hymowitz glosses over her first point, that the places that used to hire middle-class teens no longer need to do so. She then places the burden on these teens themselves for snobbishly avoiding food-service work. I don't doubt that snooty teenagers exist, but the important issue is that these jobs wouldn't be available even to a high-schooler interested in taking one. I know, in part because I was once that teenager, turned down for a whole series of paid/character-building/etc. jobs because I was judged, correctly, as being college-bound. Especially in a place like Manhattan, where food service jobs are divided between those taken by newly-arrived models and those occupied by less uniformly glamorous immigrants looking for long-term work, the competition for what sounds like a traditional summer job is in all likelihood greater than that for an internship, if you're in the demographic that's expected to do an internship. Even if you don't fill out your Starbucks application in a Lilly Pulitzer sun-dress, employers make a judgment, and if they figure you neither need the job to feed your family nor intend to stay on for years nor have a contract with Ford Models, you will not get the job. Presumably that last qualification is not an issue outside of Manhattan. The point is that the competition for high-powered and high-paying jobs has increased, but it may be that the competition for less exciting-sounding jobs has gone up even more.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It's their thing

Jacob Levy would like there to be a blog that was "a consistent source of conservative commentary on higher education, written by people who can distinguish between good and bad research, and who are invested in and knowledgeable about higher education." He points out that the National Review's blog, "Phi Beta Cons," does not meet that goal. This is fair--the blog is not so much commentary on research as a repetitive preach to the converted, pointing out again and again that political correctness, you know, exists. It's Phi Beta Conservative, but also Phi Beta Cons, as in, the standards of academia are morally bankrupt and are tricking students into studying things like Same-Sex Relationships in Post-Colonial Communities of Color, when it should be Plato, football, or nothing at all.

But could a better conservative academia blog exist? Of course there are conservatives in academia, and not just in law or economics. Some of my best friends and all that. But the mainstream, lowest-common-denominator take on academia in the conservative press is that it, along with "gender," "Islam," and "France," is a keyword that signals a rant. Sometimes a rant containing bits thoughtful and much-needed criticism, but a rant all the same. What Allan Bloom started, they intend to finish, embellish, and overdo. Sometimes this manifests itself as anti-intellectual populism (those know-it-all lovers of Hilary Clinton!) and other times as a plea for more conservative voices within academia. But mainly academia means young men and women together in dorms, it means knee-jerk hatred of all that is holy, and every possible strain of decadence with no good, hard work, like trucking and marrying five women. College is destroying our youth, and academics are the people in charge of--and who succeeded in--college.

Insulting academia is a fundamental part of the discourse (to use an academic word) of the right, so it's only natural that an account of academia on a blog of a not-especially-subtle right-wing magazine would be filled with little of any use to those actually in academia. And then it all becomes self-fulfilling--since conservatives as an interest group don't want in on academia (although plenty of individuals with conservative opinions do), academia itself becomes a relaxed--occasionally too relaxed--place for those on the left, where common assumptions of how "we" feel about this or that issue dominate conversations. And then neither those on the left in academia nor those on the right who write for publications like National Review are familiar with the more convincing elements of one another's arguments.

Since last time...

As promised, blogging is more sparse, due to studying and panicking. Some excitement, though, from the last few days:

1) In almost one sitting (but the NYPL closes so early!) I read Michael Sebban's Lehaim. It's fascinating as a portrayal of contemporary French Jewish life, of what happens (or doesn't) when Zionism and Republicanism both fail, and of how amazing North African cuisine must be. It's also a bit of the Sartre-La Nausee school of I am profound and intellectual and no one else will ever understand me and so I will intentionally seek out dull, conventional types against whom to compare myself. Protagonist Eli S.'s romantic interest for much of the book, Chloe, is a less-interesting version of Brenda Potemkin from Goodbye Columbus. A rich, spoiled, beautiful Jewish princess who exists mainly to make the author-alter-ego narrator look good.

2) Jo and I took a day trip to Southampton, just to make ourselves look good. Some things you see there that you don't see elsewhere include massive houses with their own "service entrance," coffee shops that have, along with the usual flavored options, a "Private House Blend," book stores with volumes in the window listing however many places to sail "before you die," and much, much more. Most of which we probably didn't see, because without a car you see Main Street and Job's Lane; presumably the dining and nightlife Hamptons one hears so much about is less accessible to grad student tourists. But still, it was a fun day and a chance to remember what life is like outside of the vacation community of Park Slope.

3) I learned that the 42nd Street library is never open when you imagine it would be, and that looking it up beforehand, rather than using your imagination, is the way to go.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I am a famous Jew!

What do you know? I should note that this is the only photograph ever in which Jo and I appear to be the same height. Must be the shoes.


It's not going to kill you, but it is under attack all the same. The thinking man's drug of choice--there is even, it seems, a Facebook group devoted to Jacob Levy's caffeine consumption--is universally consumed but not universally accepted.

Coffee shops--free of alcohol, tobacco, and--thanks to the iPod and the lack of alcohol--conversation, are the new thing, if new means not all that new at this point. But I'm not ancient, and I remember a time when New York didn't have Starbucksim, when Barnes and Noble was just another bookstore. When you could go to your corner diner and drink a cup of Sanka served by a gruff and world-beaten waitress who deep-down cares about your problems, or at least your milk and sugar.

Since all other vices have modern medicine working against them, someone was bound to turn on the one vice I cannot (would rather not?) live without. The anti-latte crusade--multiple articles asserting that lattes are destroying our ability to save money--is an example of the extreme Jane Brodification of our society. If something is enjoyable, it must be bad. If it isn't bad for you, it must be bad for the workers. Wait, there's a version of the product that's produced ethically? Then the only thing left is that the product in question costs money. As most products do. Each time you buy a fancy coffee drink, you're losing what could (assuming you get one every day, versus never, ever getting one, since those are of course the two options) save enough to buy everything that really matters in life--say, a townhouse in the West Village? If you consider the accused lattes to be a replacement for the three martinis our generation is not having at lunch, and the two packs of cigarettes our generation is not having throughout the day, it looks a bit different.

And yes, you can make your own coffee. (Making your own diet Coke would be a bit more complicated.) I do make my own coffee. And buy my own coffee. Sometimes I am outside and $2-plus seems more worth it than a trip home and back. Sometimes I have an exam coming up and am a bit, uh, argh. The blogging will stop, or at the very least become nonsensical, at least until Project Overcaffeinated Flashcards comes to an end.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Is it possible to go to the Hamptons, and see anything other than the train station, without a car? Can you just rent a bike and see what's there? Which Hampton is the most worth seeing, for a one-day trip?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Oh, and another thing...

1) I've commented on this before, but in passing: why are all Jewish events for those 20-40 called 'young professionals' gatherings? Why 'professional'? Why 'young' seems self-explanatory.

2) Blogger Mobius from Jewschool remarked at last night's panel that he thinks right-wing Zionist Jews are to blame for the new wave of anti-Semitism. This is fair--in earlier eras, when Jews were largely on the left (think of Bund, Third Republic France) there was no anti-Semitism whatsoever. Obviously.


At the end of the 92nd Street Y's panel on new Jewish media, someone from the Y announced that while the Cossacks weren't coming, the Y guards would be, since the event had run over its time. This--in reference to a mention earlier in the talk of how happily Cossack-free we are in contemporary America--was unfortunately one of the more clever pronouncements of the evening, most of which involved a discussion of whether blogs are the future of Jewish journalism. A couple thoughts:

1) It is still unclear how the blog versus newspaper discussion is in any way different in a Jewish context than a secular one. My sense is, it's not. I would have much preferred if, once assembled, these 'new' journalists had been able to discuss various contentious issues affecting Jews today--Zionism, intermarriage, which vegetables are, it turns out, not kosher, etc.

2) This is now the second talk I've been to recently where the male panelists dominated the show. It's like everything experts say when advocating all-girls schooling. The men on the panel spoke with utter and perhaps exaggerated confidence about their importance to the wide world of New York-based Jewish journalism, while the women, all of whom represent respected and interesting publications, were mostly silent. Blame society! And, time for a panel of Jewish women bloggers, hint hint...

3) "Are you blogging about a blogging event?" -Jo, who seems to find that amusing.

Shtetls of the unborn

Political correctness has its limits. It is considered an insult to call a person 'sick' because he is gay. This is not to say that the sick are less worthy than the gay, yet open-minded types can generally accept that it is offensive (not to mention inaccurate) to refer to homosexuality as an illness. Without unduly upsetting those with mental impairments and their families, it seems fair to say that Virginia Arbery's comparison of fetuses with Down Syndrome to children and adult Jews is so, so wrong:

I understand that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is offering women a safer method than amniocentesis to determine whether a child has Down syndrome. The College makes the argument that it is more responsible to inform parents of their options beforehand so that they can decide whether or not to let the baby live.

This argument shakes me to the core, for it bears all the marks of a pogrom – the license to be aggressive against the most benign population conceivable.

As a pro-choice anti-natalist, I do not believe that those yet to be born can belong to 'populations.' A Jewish woman who fails to produce Jewish babies is not 'killing off' the Jewish nation, nor is a woman who chooses to abort a fetus that (sorry, not 'who') tests positive for Down Syndrome being "aggressive." This, however, is as far as such a comparison can be taken. To refer to Jews, albeit indirectly, as "the most benign population conceivable," in the same way that those with low mental capacity are harmless, is so silly that it crosses over from offensive to outright absurd.

Via Cheryl Miller at the American Scene.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


I'm on a quest to find novelists who write on Francophilic-Zionistic themes, so I am now going to have to track down books by Michael Sebban. Sebban is quoted in a story on the Jewish Agency website, and he has a pragmatic, interesting, and depressing take on France and aliyah:

Michael Sebban, a philosophy teacher in a suburban high school north of Paris where most students are of North African Muslim origin, lived in Jerusalem for several years before returning to France.

"French Jews idolize Israel, much more than American Jews. They know Israel much better than American Jews," he said. But, he noted, "The real problem is finding work in Israel, because there isn't any work."

Sebban talked about many professionals and businesspeople who live "chetzi-chetzi" - half and half - in Israel and in France.

"Take the last flight to Ben Gurion before Shabbat and you'll see people working in Paris and joining their families for the weekend in Israel," he said. "People are taking the plane now the way they used to take the train. They cannot maintain the same lifestyle working in Israel."

He scoffed at Jewish Agency efforts to match up potential immigrants with Israelis working in their fields.

"Aside from finding occasional jobs for people, what can the agency do?" he said. "There aren't any jobs in Israel. And unemployment in France already is the highest in history."

But, Sebban added, "If there were jobs to be filled in Israel like there are in the States, the Jewish Agency would be swamped with candidates, because among young people in France everyone is talking about making aliyah. Many are fed up and afraid, and the agency knows it."

Saturday, August 04, 2007

'What did you do this weekend?'

I just went through two bags of papers, sorting them into that which needs to be typed up and that which needs to be recycled. Pile 1: Renan's "Qu'est-ce qu'une nation?" Pile 2: many, many receipts for one coffee or cappuccino at Aroma. This activity kills the two proverbial birds, since it counts as both cleaning the apartment and studying for the exam. Most of my notes were not in these bags, but if only for neatness purposes, this should have been dealt with ages ago. Then again, as much as it was now or never, this is still pretty lame, as Saturday nights go. Really, impressively pathetic. And so it merits a blog post.

The other evening's activity, as you might have noticed, is adding labels to blog posts. Maybe the late-afternoon iced coffee #2 wasn't the best idea.

Flat no more

Since the middle of college, weather for me has come in two varieties: ballet flat and non-ballet flat. In Chicago for the school year, there were few ballet-flat months, so I used the shoes as slippers, for everything from daily avoidance of filthy dorm carpet to moving book-filled boxes. Ballet flats do not have laces, straps, or heels. They can cost as little as $13. And yet, they are pure elegance.

And yet... thin-soled flats are often called "driving shoes" for a reason. City sidewalks destroy them. The cost-per-wear of the flats might be decent, but it's a pain having to track down new ones all the time, and can lead to making unintended purchases at places like H&M. Buying many pairs at once is not an option, because it's impossible to know which will end up fitting well, and by the time you do, the store will no longer carry them. And finally, for those as not-tall as I am, it's annoying to be on a rush hour subway and be at waist-level of the other passengers. It may not actually be harder to breath, but it feels like it.

So, after two paragraphs of justification (oh, and they were on sale!), this is why yesterday I got a pair of platform shoes. After staring enviously at Tel Avivian women's footwear, I finally caved. Their fabulousity is unrivaled; their comfort shall not be assessed until it ceases to be 1,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Friday, August 03, 2007

"'Honey, you're *screaming* French!'"

American tourists are accustomed to avoiding (or seeking out) the many places abroad where you hear more English than the language of the place you're visiting, where you are approached in English even if you are not wearing white sneakers. We are not alone. Blogger Miss Worldwide describes (in English) the perils of being French in Tel Aviv during "the French season."

Never mind then

After confidently asserting that academia, even the humanities, is squeaky-clean and drama-free, Gawker reminds us that there are exceptions. Ones which nevertheless prove the rule, and do not involve any student-teacher relations.