Friday, November 30, 2007

The dangerous lives of dachshunds

It turns out the late Brooke Astor's possibly abusive son was also possibly an enemy of The Dachshunds, and wanted her (creatively named) pets Boysie and Girlsie dead! Strange, given that he himself is a dachshund owner, although as someone mentions in the comment to the post on Gothamist, "one of these adorable dachshunds once bit off a part of Mrs. Astor's finger."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Quote of the millennium UPDATED

"Home to the Earth's entire population of 62.7 million people, every single one of the planet's 427 cities, and all of its history, culture, and beauty, France is the only country in the world." -The Onion's atlas


Also relevant: A hint at something language instructors could use when in graduate-student union negotiations.

What if anything is the difference between this and this?

Algeria and Jews: Qu'est-ce qui se passe?

Clementine forwarded me another article about Algeria and Jews, this time only accessible to those who can read French. For those without that highly marketable skill, the gist of the article is not so different from the one in Haaretz, but the end adds a new twist. The problem for the Algerian minister is not just with Sarkozy and his slight Jewiness, but with another potential visitor, Algerian-Jewish singer Enrico Macias: "Enfin, il déclare que la «venue d’Enrico Macias est une provocation»," but why? Why would the visit of this singer cause such a fuss? Because it would pose problems. But why? Via Wikipedia, I found this link to an article explaining that the singer's pro-Israel views are the issue, along with some past actions of his brother-in law (?). Basically Enrico Macias, born in Algeria, now living in France, is considered a representative of Israel.

What's going on?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Algerian minister: Sarkozy in power thanks to Jewish lobby"

No, the above quote is not the result of the WWPD blog-post generator, but is in fact a headline in the English version of Haaretz.

Mohamed Cherif Abbas, Algeria's minister for veterans, was quoted Monday in the daily El Khabar as saying that Sarkozy was brought to power by a "Jewish lobby that has a monopoly on French industry." Abbas also mentioned Sarkozy's "roots," an apparent reference to the French president's maternal grandfather, who was Jewish.

It has that universal sound of Jewish-conspiracy theories. Then this: "In the original interview, Abbas also demanded that France repent for its past actions in Algeria."

By this he could mean colonial violence in the sense in which that's usually understood, or he could mean something else more specifically. Benjamin Stora explains it better than I ever will, but to sum up a very complicated history that is still somewhat over my head, one of France's strangest acts as Algeria's colonizer was deciding in 1870 that, what do you know, Algerian Jews are French. Algerian Muslims, not so much. Pourquoi? Pourquoi pas.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The old switcharoo

Somewhere in our now-epic-length discussions of law, religion, babies and anti-baby precautionary measures, Rita mentioned something about how women still seek out marriage more than men do. This I don't doubt. But it's also clear that women actively seek out birth control and premarital sexual involvement, at times even in cases where there's no chance of or hope for marriage down the line. And it's not that some women are Version A and others Version B; the same women experience both these desires. What exactly is going on?

While the Planned Parenthood and social-conservative ideologies do not overlap, and will never be argued for together in the same op-ed, they enjoy a lively coexistence in the hearts and minds of American women. Almost all of us receive both messages. It's the rare woman whose entire family, friend group, and media consumption point her towards just one value system or just the other. So on some level, we believe both. Both that we should have the same opportunities career-wise as men, which in many professions means not starting our own families at 18. We believe women should be able to have sex without facing risks any greater than do men. We also believe we should get married. We want two contradictory lifestyles, those advocated by two opposing advocacy groups.

To find out how the 'best' among us, the most envied, at any rate, reconcile this contradiction, look to the NYT Weddings pages, as so many have done before us. One would guess that all these successful, super-educated women marrying at 30 were not virgin brides, and that the grooms would for the most part be unnerved if this were the case. Yet they are indeed marrying. It's not that these upper-middle-class, mostly-NY-area (and thus liberal) success stories have rejected old ideals, or that they consider babies equivalent to disease. Believe me as a Park Slope resident, they adore babies. Rather, there's a conventional approach to each age range. It's still frowned upon to be unmarried at 35 (at which point women's chances are seen as quite slim), but the catch is that it's also considered bad news, low class, who knows, for women to be married at 25. The dilemma is not how to 'have it all,' but how to make the switch at the right time.

A less glamorous version of "Sex and the City" is what results when women buy into what we tell one another at age 20, that we value our freedom and want many different experiences, only to reach an age at which the rules have changed, the relationship equivalent of holding onto the belief that peers with good jobs are sell-outs into one's 40s.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

No animals were harmed

Vegetarian Chinese food sounds like a terrible idea. When eating at such an establishment was suggested to me a few years ago I was hesitant, but after tasting the delights of fake meat in fried dough, I came around. Then tonight, I came to my senses. I rationalized ignoring the empty-restaurant rule on account of it being late-ish on a Sunday night on a holiday weekend. I rationalized Jo's lack of enthusiasm on account of his being a sensible person and thus resistant to the idea of a vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown. Then my food arrived. Then his arrived. Either it's end-of-semester stress that's destroyed my appetite, which is quite possible, or fake meat plus fried dough is not that great, actually.

As you may notice, I now have a new tag, "back to pasta," which I will use for future posts about disappointing meals on the outside. "Haute cuisine" just seems wrong.

What the heck is social conservatism?

After reading Amber's response to my last post, it hit me why social conservatism is so confusing. While it might seem like the answer to the (rhetorical) question about when the National Review thinks it's OK for anyone to have sex would be, when they're in a married, man-woman couple and looking to have children, things are clearly not that straightforward.

The fuzziness comes from the gap between social conservatism--its American incarnation a mishmash of Judeo-Christianity, 1950s-nostalgia, and pandering populism--and adherence to the tenets of a religious faith. For a Catholic, from what I understand, the sin is premarital sex, no matter how monogamous, not promiscuity or early sexual activity. For many Jews, marriage and children are nothing to celebrate if the union brings together a Jew and a gentile. Protestantism... is different depending which sect, and confuses me regardless, but I'd imagine no one variant matches up exactly with the Republican way.

Meanwhile, for a social conservative, there's a difference in outrage when responding to promiscuity and monogamy among the unmarried, along with a different attitude towards the sexual activity of youth (loosely defined) and that of indisputable adults, assuming of course that these adults are straight. Good, respectable choices according to social conservatism (also, as Amber notes, fiscal conservatism) include an eye towards productivity and a strong work ethic. To a certain extent, as long as a 23-year-old made it that far without getting pregnant or openly putting anyone else in that state, how this came to pass is irrelevant, whether from the perspective of social policy or socially conservative family members, who will look the other way unless something actually happens.

For social conservatives, the question is avoiding what they consider to be social ills--promiscuity, teen pregnancy, abortion, sometimes but not always homosexuality--and these 'problems' do not line up exactly with any one religion's understanding of morality. Yet they feel religious, and social conservatives often borrow from religion in ways that themselves end up contradicting social conservatism. Protesting cheap or free birth control for adult students is a perfect example of this. The social conservative, unlike the Catholic or the Hasid, not only wants to see large families but wants to see them start once both the man and the woman have completed their educations and once the man, at least, has a good, respectable job. Pragmatically this means birth control from (to give a conservative estimate) ages 18-23.

"Student Activity Fee"

It's no surprise that the National Review comes out against discounted birth control for college women. Even though a reduction in birth control means an increase in abortions and out-of-wedlock births, it's the knee-jerk conservative impulse to have this stance on the issue, with all the key words--"college," "sex," "young women,"--pointing in one direction. "Student Activity Fee," eh? Clever!

I don't see why the Congressman quoted in favor of discounted birth control bothers qualifying his opinion, noting, "We’re not promoting promiscuity, but..." Even college students in committed relationships, even married college students, one might even say especially such students are the ones who need this. The question is how to differentiate between the acceptability of telling 14-year-olds not to consummate every flirtation with the unacceptability of asking for abstinence from monogamous 22-year-olds.

Abstinence certainly can be the answer... in the case of the above-mentioned 14-year-olds. One could ask it as well of the 22-year-olds, of the married-but-still-in-school, but does that make doing so a good idea? At what age, if ever, is a person old enough to have sex without the National Review declaring this evidence of a social ill?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving highlights

I learned that cheese in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, hovers over $40 a pound. I am thankful not to live in Williamsburg.

At a physicist Thanksgiving dinner, I met yet another Stuyvesant grad, further confirming that we are everywhere. I am thankful that I went to this high school, so that I have something to mention in conversation that implies that I am not entirely idiotic, when my level of comprehension when it comes to pendulums and particles suggests that I am, in fact, idiotic.

Jo and I got a table! It can also function as a desk! I am beyond thankful that I will now be able to do grading without a subway ride to campus or a coffee-shop purchase. The couch-coffee table method has its limits. The thanks really go to Jo for carrying the table up all those stairs.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A win for natalism

Wouldn't it be great if the wealthier and/or more intelligent portion of America's young women started baby-making in their late teens or early twenties? It's time to get excited! Now that the price of birth control pills has skyrocketed on college campuses, Park Slope might lose out to some college town as the stroller-pushing capital of the Northeast.

Most annoying part of the article:

Not everyone is troubled by the price increases. Some people said they wondered why college students, many of whom manage to afford daily doses of coffee from Starbucks and downloads from iTunes, should have been given such discounted birth control to begin with [...]

So college students in America... drink coffee and spend 99 cents on a song every so often. Seeing as they are going nuts and buying everything in sight, they do not deserve to have any control over their wombs at a time in their lives when they have neither the time nor the income (nor, arguably, the wisdom) to raise children. Oh, and of course it's only women whose frivolous spending is really being discussed, since unless one is married and splitting all costs, it's typically the uterus-having individuals making the purchases on their own. And thanks to biology, it's always the woman who faces the physical consequences, whether abortion or childbirth. But to be fair, if these silly girls will spend $10 on lip gloss, they are old enough to face the responsibilities of motherhood.


As readers of this blog know well enough, I have two main interests: French Jews and shoes. They rhyme, which is something. So I'm pointing readers more up for reading about the latter to Julie Fredrickson's new shoe blog, Almost Heeled. This post is especially fun for the maybe three people who both went to UChicago and care about shoes. I can't tell if the comparison Julie makes between the shoe and the sculpture is serious, but it's pretty amazing either way.

Our shared values

Anyone with even the most remote familiarity with the right or center-right press has heard the argument that Jews, Israel, and the West are on one side, while the enemies of all of the above are on the other. The latest installment. Israel's enemies don't just hate the Jews, goes the argument, they hate Judeo-Christian values, our values, the values shared by all Americans and Western Europeans save a few far-left extremists. Which would certainly be convenient, but it does not ring true.

Whenever I see references to 'Israel and the West' I wonder how 'the West' is being defined. The West has arguably caused Jews more problems than the East in the last century. Without going back decades, it's clear that much of 'the West' today is not so thrilled with Israel or Jews. The problem is that well-meaning people, Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and Americans-- keep asserting a connection between Israel and the West that does not exist outside of high politics and common enemies, or more precisely, of Israel being closer to the West than to the East, which is different from 'of the West.' So much of the European (and American!) Left and Right sees Israel as a problem, not a partner.

Simply put, when political Zionism got started, European colonialism was a fact of life, not something studied critically by progressive academics. When Zionism's founders offered Israel as a way of bringing the 'enlightened' West to the East, this was in part because these same Zionists were (very much despite themselves) of the West, but largely because it was up to Europe who 'got' Palestine, and a case had to be made.

That Israel today is a modernized, technologically-advanced country does not make it part of 'the West' any more than it makes Japan the same. The point is not that Israel is in fact Eastern, but that, as a Jewish state, it just doesn't fit into either category. Since Israel has elements of the West and the East, a case can be made for either, but the difficult truth is, neither. Jews as people or communities can be one or the other, but a Jewish state itself is by definition a third category altogether.

Somehow, the contingent in the West fighting for Western values, the Western canon and so on is now associated with Israel. Yet almost everything that makes Israel unique is that it is not a warmer-climate Switzerland. So then, since Israel is 'the West,' whenever it shocks by not being sufficiently Western, there is explaining to do. As in, gosh, Israelis are rude, this is nothing like my last trip to Sweden!

And ultimately it's not clear whether being 'of the West' helps Israel make its own case. Israel's founding had nothing to do with the European imperial projects of the 19th century, although its history, like that of Arab nationalism, is by necessity intertwined with whatever Europe was up to. Israel was not representing some already-existing nation-state in Europe, but setting out to create a new one. But since Israel equals West, there's no strong argument against the states' founding being European colonialism, other than denying colonization, which is absurd. There was colonization, but not colonialism in the sense of, say, France conquering Algeria.

Perhaps there needs to be a theory of just colonization, along the lines of what exists for war, since in this case it's clear enough that a) there was colonization, and b) although at times violent, it was overall just.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Back from the Panopticon

Jury duty, which I was called for this morning, was sort of a false alarm. The courts agreed that my having not lived in Manhattan for years disqualified me from serving in Manhattan. It did not end up disqualifying me from first watching a short film about what it means to be a juror. The gist of it was how lucky we are to live in America where there is trial by jury. The movie begins with examples (reenactments, even) of medieval justice in action, trial-by-drowning, etc. The point being, thank god that's over with. Of course it turns out my jury duty was on the same day as the class where we're discussing Foucault's Discipline and Punish, which also begins with a description of 'barbaric' pre-modern punishment... only to conclude that today's 'kind' punishments are in fact more cruel. I was all set to explain this to anyone who'd listen so that I could leave the courts and teach my class tomorrow, but thankfully I cannot afford to live in Manhattan, which took care of everything.

Another highlight of this movie was the part about the dark side of ancient Roman justice, which was demonstrated by an image of Christ himself in a crown of thorns. I mean, the good news is they didn't blame the Jews for killing Christ, but the bad news is, how exactly is Jesus's death at all relevant to anyone's jury duty?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

In Humanities

Reading about early 19th century French and Algerian Jews and how Jews were thought to have an innate usuriousness about them makes me wonder by what strange circumstances I ended up with the inclinations, interests, and (on a good day) abilities that led me to French grad school, rather than, say, investment banking. If Jews no matter what the circumstances know how to get a good deal, shouldn't I be at the very least a conniving peddler? All I have behind me is one unsuccessful attempt at selling old clothes to vintage shop Beacon's Closet. Am I the exception that proves the rule, or was one of my ancestors just raped and pillaged by an especially humanities-oriented Cossack?

The above is a segue not into a(nother) discussion about French Jews, but rather one about law school and the humanities major. Paul Gowder, a lawyer-turned-doctoral student, has a post on a blog called Law and Letters (via Amber Taylor) advising Medieval-poetry majors not to sign up for those LSAT courses as a way out. One of the themes running through the comments to that post is that prospective humanities majors ought to consider something a bit more lucrative for their undergrad degrees. But since talents in the humanities paired with ineptitude in the sciences tend to push students in the 'fluffy' direction, it often seems worth sticking with an area where one feels comfortable, for the sake of a decent undergrad experience, not to mention GPA.

Gowder makes a strong case against law school, but his concluding thought is a bit of a cop-out: "What to do instead? Something you love. Something that makes you happy. Something that you value for more than money or status or perceived glamour." Such as? Many fields a humanities grad might seek out instead of going to law school--PR, journalism, fashion--involve hard work, are appealing because of status or perceived glamour, and do not even have high pay as a reward.

Arguments like Gowder's are made quite often about grad school of all kinds. PhD programs are supposed to require a calling. MA programs can mean tuition or loans with no promise of higher-paid work at the end, and as such do not always have the best name. If school is to be discouraged, what should be encouraged?

The missing piece in all of this is what a tough spot humanities graduates without a particular grad program in mind end up with after college. Most of the alternatives to school are variants of the classic 'find yourself,' leading to either a dip into a trust fund or a reconsideration of law school, after all. Assuming a good number of humanities majors are indeed talented and not just incapable of finding the derivative, how about a reinstated patronage system? Cultivating an elegant appearance and marrying the very wealthy? Otherwise, no ideas.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Based on a true story

-At a bar in the East Village last night, a man having a drink with a female companion turned to Jo and me, said he'd been listening in on our conversation, and wanted to hear more about the Belfast Declaration. It took a moment to realize this but it turned out he meant Balfour. Then he announced that Herzl was famous for having written the book, Zionism. Closer by a long shot. Also, apparently Dreyfus was known for being a Zionist. Hmm. It continued along these lines, but the high point was when he announced that he was brought up in a Zionist household. He seemed genuinely curious, but if that's the case it's odd given his background that he didn't know some of this already. Of course, this is precisely why it's good for grad students to leave the library from time to time, to keep the general public informed about such pressing matters. Or maybe it's best we stay put.

-One of the classes I'm taking this semester deals with how historians can (or, do) use novels when writing about 19th century France. The question constantly at the back of my mind is, if 19th century novels tell us something about 19th century reality, can the same be said for contemporary works? What about Philip Roth, who argues that he can write a book with a protagonist just like himself, one often named "Philip Roth," and yet no one should take the book to be in any way about Philip Roth the man? Of course that doesn't mean one couldn't use the book to understand an era without upsetting Roth. But how much of where to draw the line depends on whether an author is still living? (This is addressed in the otherwise eh Exit Ghost.) How much, for that matter, on whether the book is terribly written and obviously semi-autobiographical (think high school poetry), or whether it is brilliantly written and thus deserves to be taken seriously as literature? When can someone be dumped/shunned/fired for writing fiction?

-Quote of the weekend about the other New Yorkers that explains why NYU grad students rarely live anywhere near school: "They were willing to spend $7,000 a month, at the very most, for a two-bedroom rental in the West Village."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Montesquieu and leggings-as-pants

Who knew?

Montesquieu and fashion are both worthwhile subjects, so I like the idea behind this article. Not sure what to make of this, though:

Many Americans do feel threatened [...] by young men, especially black young men under voluminous folds of denim, whether their underwear is showing or not. It seems to me that our fundamental objection is not the occasional exposure, but the impression of concealment. The uniform of the streets has a burka-like quality. In an era when women barely cover themselves, why are young men awash in fabric from head to toe? What are they hiding? Perhaps drugs or guns—or maybe just themselves. It is a costume of alienation, and seeing these slouching, shrouded figures alienates us in turn, while at the same time seeming to embody a kind of accusation. We respond with law and order: at least we can make you pull your pants up and look like you fit in.

The subtle switch from the feelings of many Americans to those of the author, Diana Schaub, is a disturbing example of what the post-PC era has brought us. It is now acceptable to announce that one assumes a young black man in baggy clothing has drugs and guns on his person. We can also assume that Jews' pockets are filled with sacks of gold pieces gotten through usury or the Israel lobby; that professors' tweedy pockets and worn-leather satchels are filled with Marxist gender-studies journals; that Asian kids with backpacks are carrying violin music and Multivariate Calculus textbooks, that...

Later in the article:

"When nothing else works, try tweaking the offenders’ masculinity."

By "offenders" she means those who wear sagging pants, but the double-meaning is clear. The pants imply crime, so rather than fighting crime, we must fight... pants. Perhaps a clever rap song can be written encouraging young black men to make the same switch young women of all races have made in NYC of late: leggings! The thing about leggings is that they conceal nothing.

The beautiful people

I saw this model on a bike the other day. I've stopped listing celebrities I see on the street near NYU because that is clearly the project for a blog in itself. Not an original thought, I realize, but people are really, really good-looking in this city. This can be an argument for or against being a graduate student in these parts.

There's no going back

Does it make sense to consider one's self 'on the left' because one identifies politically with various founding fathers of the left, various leftists from another time? Mitchell Cohen, after criticizing some recent attitudes on the left, writes:

But let me be clear: I am “left.” I still have no problem when someone describes me with the “s” word—socialist—although I don’t much care if you call me a social democrat, left-liberal, or some other proximate term. My “leftism” comes from a commitment to—and an ethos of—democratic humanism and social egalitarianism.

What I care about is the reinvention of the best values of the historical left—legacies of British Labour, of the Swedish Social Democrats, of Jean Jaurès and Léon Blum in France, of Eduard Bernstein and Willy Brandt in Germany, of what has always been the relatively small (alas!) tribe in the U.S. associated like Eugene V. Debs, Norman Thomas, Michael Harrington, and Irving Howe.

This is all well and good until you consider that the left is by definition about a belief in progress, in revolution, in scrapping the old in favor of the new. By contemporary standards of any 'left,' the left that preceded it was racist, pro-capitalist, or otherwise acted in ways that would, in this later period, be considered right-wing. Imagine how, once upon a time, you could be on the left but not believe in women's right to vote! Or, you could be liberal and pro-colonialism! And even not that long ago, the pro-Israel segment of American society, aka Jews and Co., were inevitably associated with the left. Amazing!

It's entirely reasonable, by leftist standards, to seek reform of the left itself. But to seek a reform that is a return to original principles, i.e. a reform that is by its very nature reactionary, might well contradict a good part of what it means to be on the left.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

This will go on your transcript

Rita's comments on the post below are quite interesting, but I can't decide if I'm convinced: do we really give too much credit to the transformative power of education? In terms of 19th century France, education (plus military service) were apparently what taught those across metropolitan France the French language. In terms of my own, 20th-21st century experience, school is simply where kids are for most waking hours. Except, as Rita herself has mentioned, on teen-oriented TV shows, teenagers' lives revolve around school. So from that alone, there's the temptation to believe that whatever takes place at school could have some kind of an impact on society.

As for Rita's other point, responding to complaints about the quality of teaching: "But who needs the most talented people in America to teach remedial English to 14-year-olds? Better that those people become rocket scientists and poets, and leave the remedial English teaching to their personable, sympathetic, and literate but not necessarily brilliant peers."

This brings up another question, which is what assessment in education is even about in the first place. Grades are, as Rita correctly points out, not arbitrary, but what they measure, at least before college, is hard work and a determination to get good grades, not brilliance. The "most talented" in this context generally refers to students who have excelled in school, not necessarily rocket scientists (who, for the record, do plenty of teaching) and in all likelihood not poets. An 'A' only goes from meaning 'good boy' or 'good girl' to meaning 'genius' in contexts where the coursework and the fellow students are already at a very high level.

How does this all relate? The skills needed to be socially mobile (or to not regress to the mean) have to do with taking work seriously, but knowing when to cut corners, basically, prioritizing. Many brilliant people do not have these skills, and many who have them are not brilliant. But enough are in both categories to allow at least some mobility, sometimes. Or something.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Socially mobile

There is a connection to be made between these two posts, but I have lots to read and grade this afternoon and so will leave it at that, except...

Should private school be scrapped altogether? Boarding schools are a tough call, because sometimes there really is no good school for hundreds of miles. Same with religious schools, for other reasons. But in a city like New York, what do private, secular day schools add? They alleviate the burden of extra students in the public school system without decreasing the taxes paid by the wealthy to the city schools. But they also a) do much to keep the wealthy wealthy, regardless of talent or hard work and b) create social environments in which almost all the students are either (white) Blair Waldorfs or, in fewer cases, (non-white) students on scholarship. Everyone knows which students are which, and without the ambiguity brought by a middle class presence, two very separate worlds form; the few who belong in neither tend to transfer out.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Waffles in SoHo

I have yet to check it out, but there is indeed a Belgian waffle cart on lower Broadway, claiming to be from something called "the Belgian Ministry of Culinary Affairs."

Lucy and the hats

I bought a pair of boots at Camper. For those who are fortunate enough not to be obsessed with shoes, what this means is that I bought a pair of boots that are not quite designer but not quite L.L. Bean, either. It means months if not years of no more impulse Sephora or H&M purchases, unless I consider a very different line of work, which seems unlikely. It means getting the less complicated coffee drinks (i.e. black coffee, preferably made at home) until the guilt subsides.

What it does not mean, I hope, is that I am part of the "New Girl Order," as described by possible relative Kay Hymowitz. I would like to think that I do not model my life after "Sex and the City," especially not after the watered-down version those of us without cable get to see on TBS. Granted, the X amount of dollars I just spent on boots would go to children if I had children, but luckily I don't, the second year of grad school is busy enough as it is.

According to Hymowitz, Sephora is a prime example of the post-Carrie universe. Although it's nothing new for women to buy makeup, it's fair to say the chain does for mascara what Starbucks did for coffee. It creates a whole activity around what used to just sort of happen on the way between home and work, work and home (ladies, Sephora after class?).

Again, I think the main check on excessive girly consumption is men. It's not because women dress to please men that single women go nuts at Zara. It's because boyfriends and husbands do not see the subtle differences between one pair of black shoes and another, and, on some level, they have a point.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Paradoxymoronic quote of the day

"I came into a small inheritance from Grandma Eva, enough to buy an apartment."

From a New York Times article about "reluctantly" living on the Upper East Side in one's 20s.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Brussels and Jerusalem

While all those crazy nationalists fight it out, it looks like the world will be stuck (or blessed?) with a series of international cities. These urban spaces will not just draw those bored or oppressed by rural or suburban life, but those who find the very concept of identifying with a specific country overly provincial. Don't want to be an Israeli or a Palestinian? Move to Jerusalem! Hate America but don't want to cross an ocean? Try New York!

In related news, it's good to see at least some Belgian politicians are not picking sides in two conflicting-nationalist disputes. Amazingly no mention is made in this European Jewish Press article about an Israeli-friendly Belgian of whether this "Belgian Liberal MEP Frédérique Ries" is a Fleming or a Walloon.

The unbearable anachronism of Gossip Girl

The show makes no sense whatsoever. This much anyone who's seen it can agree with. But why? Gawker has a post on one of the main problems, that the show is shockingly racist, yet within the show this angle is never dealt with at all. Then there is the standard teen-show difficulty of the 'kids' and the 'parents' looking the same age. That, and kids never go to class, do homework, or otherwise exist in the world of actual teenagers, however wealthy. But who wants to experience precalculus in prime-time?

What makes the show odd beyond all else is the would-be engagement between Nate and Blair. Both families are pushing for it, but these are high school students in Manhattan. They are not Hasids or Christian fundamentalists. They do not live in the rural South or Midwest. Their parents, if this were in any way plausible, would be encouraging them to eventually marry someone appropriate, but not before college, networking, internships, and other respectable achievements. In the NYT Weddings pages, the women of this demographic were all "until last month" busy working in PR, as kindergarten teachers, something, before tying the knot with the inevitable i-banker. And the brides are certainly never under 23, let alone 17, and are often well over 30. Anonymous Fellow-GG-Watcher says that this bizarre part of the plot is meant to allow those all over the country to relate to the show. That's certainly part of it. But combined with the non-speaking minorities, what this ultimately adds up to is that the show is meant to be a fantasy version of another era. Whose fantasy is unclear--as is which era--but the show clearly does not take place in 2007. Or does it? Isn't the whole show centered around a blog that the mysterious Gossip Girl is updating via some kind of hand-held device? I, for one, expect more from a prime-time teen soap opera that I half-watch while cooking dinner.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

'Mom, Dad, I'm...'

Gawker has an interesting take on "coming out" as a conservative in a liberal academic setting.

More leggings-as-pants

According to long-awaited Atlantic lady-blogger Megan McArdle, I believe that my generation was the first to think up sex, drugs, rock'n'roll and, most upsettingly, leggings. Since I neither believe this nor said this, I feel I should respond.

Hipsters did not collectively split the atom. They are not innovative or original in some profound way that requires us all to stare awestruck at their amazingness. They, perhaps more than other youth (or youth-ish) subcultures, borrow extensively from the past, rejecting contemporary trappings such as North Face fleeces in favor of the shredded blazers of the 1940s, the legwarmers of the 1980s, and so on. Yet there is indeed an aesthetic/attitude one can ascribe specifically to those who can rightly be called hipsters, specifically in 2007 or thereabout. One can thus reasonably expect that this collectivity, like the mods and hippies before them, will reappear every few decades as a 'retro' look, but will in the short term lose way to some other look. I don't know what in my post suggested that I am too young to understand that fashion is always recycled, or that I believe my generation invented chain-smoking and appreciation of obscure bands. If she is wrong and my generation did in fact invent leggings-as-pants, I do of course apologize as a representative.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The elusive boot

The boot quest continues. A woman on the street in Park Slope (I know, right?) had the perfect pair, although the heels looked a half-inch taller than what I could comfortably manage. The boots also looked expensive, so I did not ask where they were from. I should just face facts and accept that with a massive Eastern Mountain Sports backpack (weighed down, needless to say, by the new Binder System), I will not look chic regardless and might as well wear white 'American tourist' sneakers and carry pens and such in a fanny pack.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

There are no "hipster statesmen."

Drezner might be 100% right about the phenomenon he describes, but the word "hipster" here is misused. A hipster lives in the world of irony, and as such hates sincerity, not global warming. Hipsters look with scorn upon student activists, politicians, and, of course, those bastard trust-fund-having, Williamsburg-colonizing hipsters. Al Gore's sanctimonious An Inconvenient Truth is quite possibly the least hipster cinematic production of all time. So much so that if pressed to define "hipster," I would point to that movie and say, "Something not like that."

That said--and this is the real point of this post--if "hipster" is being used in "Newsweek," maybe the phenomenon is finally over and the women of New York will at last trade the leggings in for the long-abandoned pants.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bourdieu UPDATED

How did it come to pass that my tastes in so many ways overlap with those of the French peasantry?


After an anonymous Belgian reader pointed out to me that this post didn't really make sense, I realized I should say outright what I was getting at. The most striking thing about (re)reading Bourdieu's Distinction as an American is how even the consumption patterns and food preferences of working-class and farming French folk sound upper-class and sophisticated. Bread, cheese, and wine are the classic end to academic talks--not just in the French Department--and are mainstays at highbrow events of all kinds. Any French restaurant is by definition posh; the more obscure, regional, and peasanty-sounding a dish, the more likely it is people will be willing to pay $23 for it at dinner at Le Somethingorother. Apparently what well-off French people eat--lean fish and meat, fresh fruits and vegetables--is a six-pack of Diet Coke away from wealthy Americans. (Meanwhile, if TV commercials are to be believed, the newest in lowbrow American cuisine, at several different fast-food chains, is some kind of sandwich or wrap containing meat, oozing cheese, and no vegetables whatsoever.)

Organized perfection

Some admire the rich, some the thin, some the brilliant. I, however, have undying and unrelenting admiration for anyone who puts all of his papers in binders. I tend to rationalize my shuffling through knee-deep pools of unsorted papers by telling myself that organizing them would be a waste of time, that the messy approach forces you to remember where things are and what you need them for, thus keeping your brain sharp. But I started to notice that at the beginning of class, my classmates with binders find the week's readings effortlessly, while I'm still digging through an overstuffed folder or, worse, a tote bag. It hit me that, unlike the cool designer jeans some parents buy their kids but some do not, binders are accessible to everyone with a few spare dollars and a willingness to brave the most boring store in the world. I'm now in the withdrawal process, going binder by binder from chaos to organized perfection.

In other organized-perfection news, Jo and I recently solved the TV stand problem, thanks to a minimalist-looking piece of furniture, painted black, with a piece of tape with "Take me, I'm gorgeous" written on it, on the street in Park Slope. It also solved part, but not all, of the book-overflow problem, it's just that fabulous. That's the Park Slope trade-off. You will be accosted by wheelie-shoe wearing small children at all times and will lose whatever inclinations you may have had to one day have kids of your own, but you can furnish your apartment for free.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The banal reality of youth

Why is it that attempts to preserve the innocence of today's youth (read, young women) inevitably end up sexualizing otherwise neutral situations and advocating for father-daughter discussions that sound downright creepy? In the latest installment, Jeff Zazlow is upset that his 16-year-old daughter and her friends agreed to go to a house party rather than a homecoming dance with the boys who were ostensibly their dates for the evening. He reads a connection between this situation and the hookup culture of today's teens and college students, in which kids "trade sex nonchalantly." When it should be obvious that the boys are skipping the homecoming dance in favor of staying home and watching sports games and stupid movies, playing video games and, if the night's especially racy, using some illegal-for-the-underage or illegal-except-in-the-Netherlands substances with their female friends. While it's possible that an orgy will ensue, in all likelihood it will not.

Zazlow makes the rather silly suggestion that "we [parents] should explain that it can be helpful for teens to start practicing relationships -- learning to listen, to trust, to consider someone's needs." Is this so that serial monogamy may begin at 14? How many serious relationships do people need to have pre-marriage? As upsetting as it allegedly is if the hookup doesn't call back, the emotional aftermath of a 'mature' relationship gone sour is far more disruptive. High school students should not be encouraged to enter into what will inevitably lead to a series of junior-level divorces. Or is the idea that in this reactionary fantasyland, you marry your freshman-year sweetheart and stay together forever? Perhaps, but if so, ick. But above all, shouldn't it be clear that the main obstacle to teen sex is not being in a relationship? Aside from the suave few with the social skills to have a frat-boy social life in high school, most only imagine what could be until a less intimidating opportunity presents itself.

It gets worse

When you are thinking of moving to Park Slope, someone should first warn you about Halloween. It turns out the holiday merits stopping traffic, and giving toddlers in silly outfits more sovereignty than is usually the case, something I wouldn't have thought possible. The costume-sporting children are cute if you can ignore the context, but less so when they and their unconditionally adoring and costume-wearing parents fill the streets to capacity during rush hour and lunge at you (technically at Jo) with brightly-lit swords that, it being Halloween, the kids are given permission to wield like maniacs. If you do not find such behavior delightful, you are obviously a nasty child-hater, is the implication.

Whereas getting around the strollers on the sidewalk usually requires a hurdle, last night it was more of a long-jump situation. I cannot jump at all, so I ended up making it from the train to the apartment, which is not so far block-wise, in approximately a hundred years. I can't imagine how those who actually dislike children would manage living here. I don't quite understand the concept of hating an entire age group of humanity, but if I live here long enough, perhaps I will.

Of course, Gawker's on the case.