Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hey there Upper East Siders

The blog of frequent Gawker target* Emily Brill is kind of amazing. It is the day-to-day life of a 'real Upper East Sider' precisely as one would imagine such a life after watching 'Gossip Girl' from one's home in Papua New Guinea. Which is to say, it seems this young woman has created herself in the image of what by all accounts she actually is, assuming she went to the schools she mentioned and so forth. The point of this post? I find it baffling. Why would someone actually of this world make a site dedicated to glorifying it? No one who actually grows up in Manhattan announces, 'Now I'm going to get my nails done on the posh and fabulous Madison Avenue,' just as no one living in the suburbs would say, 'Now I'm hitting the shops at the extremely important mall in the next town.' Which is to say, this world, like every other, seems normal to those living in it. It is strange for someone living on the Upper East Side not to go to restaurants and boutiques on the Upper East Side. If Brill were anything like the person she's claiming to be, her blog would not say, oh, look at my glamorous life, going to the Hamptons and all the hot clubs, but would from time to time express sympathy for the peons forced to, say, shop at Old Navy or attend public school. For the super-rich, they're the middle class (or, if pressed, upper-middle) and it's everyone else who's poor.

*A useless way to identify someone, I realize. By 2025 everyone, famous or not, who has so much as visited New York will have been thoroughly mocked by that site.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Coffee and mascara

The coffee shop where I edited The Final Paper this morning is, I realized maybe an hour in, a gay pick-up joint. Two hours in, I realized this is not so surprising, seeing as it's on Gay Street, as in, that is the street's official name. Never have I felt so slow on the uptake. In one corner was a couple indistinguishable from Yossi and Jagger (although only the Jagger one was actually Israeli). Then the guy from Hedwig stopped in to use the bathroom... alone, I should note, given the cruisiness of the establishment. (Not sure if he got a drink though, tsk tsk). Aside from these more noteworthy sightings, there were a whole lot of men at tables pretending to read something but just staring at the other men. In a way, this is really the perfect setting for me to be in when revising a paper. It's like I was invisible! The skeevy coffee shop men sufficed for one another, for once, and left the female patrons alone.

New topic: that article about 20-something non-bankers living in NYC. I found it refreshing, but everyone else, including people I don't know, hated it. The consensus is a great big, boo hoo, not helped by the fact that one of the 'struggling' city kids owns a whopping 18 boxes worth of clothing. (No doubt all New York Jewish-type ladies breathed a sigh of relief to see that this was not one of our own.)

After my initial endorsement, I thought of a few gripes, among which is the obvious: they're all white. This, too, must have contributed to the 'oh, the poor babies' sarcastic responses, but I didn't comb through the Jezebel comments enough to see if anyone mentioned their pallor. Plus, there's the fact (mentioned, I did notice, in the Jezebel comments) that every grad student ever is better at budgeting than the people profiled. Dinner cooked at home can cost so much less than $6. That, and none of the people profiled seemed to have kids, be married, or be in a live-in relationship. I guess this was to confirm everyone's suspicious that 'kids these days stay kids till 35,' but really, we don't, the subjects of this article don't necessarily represent anything.

But I still think there was something potentially worthwhile about, if not the article as it exists, then what it might have been. Some frustratingly selective editing of the audio portion of the piece made a big deal about this one woman spending a lot on mascara. When everyone knows that there is no good or bad mascara, there is just mascara, so generic's the way to go. But everyone's spending seems unjustifiable when looked at under a microscope. Which is to say, I spent a bit over $300 on boots. Months ago. And have worn them every day since, weather permitting. And it's still completely ridiculous.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tortured genius

How many times to I have to type the word "proselytizing" before spelling it correctly? Apparently this moment will never come, which I'm interpreting as proof of my superior defense system, at the ready if ever confronted with zealous missionaries. When all it is, really, is proof that I am not, contrary to what I wish while writing a final paper, a tortured genius.

Which brings us to the next question: what to make of Aspergers' pride. Any disorder whose tell-tale signs are reputed to be brilliance and the feeling of being just a bit different from everyone else is bound to attract hordes of, 'Hey, sounds like me!'-type remarks. Quotes such as, "The Web, [autism advocate] Singer said, 'is a prosthetic device for people who can’t socialize without it,'" will only encourage matters. Plenty of people not suffering from anything other than garden-variety geekiness find themselves in just the same situation. I guess the thing is, I, humanities student that I am, am having trouble wrapping my head around what it means for something to be a "spectrum disorder." Clearly in extreme cases we're talking about a severe illness, but is everyone somewhere on the spectrum, aside from this one especially perky cheerleader somewhere in Connecticut? Maybe when I finish this paper, which is to say, never, I'll finish the NYMag article and find out.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

"My body will not tolerate it"

An old Woody Allen monologue covers the subject of how Allen is incapable of drinking or using drugs because his body, he explains, will not tolerate it. This of course fits with his nebbishy persona, but it turns out that "There is a biochemical basis for Jewish abstinence. Many Jews—fifty per cent, in one estimate—carry a variant gene for alcohol dehydrogenase. Therefore, they, like the East Asians, have a low tolerance for alcohol." This explains so much. I've been known to drink one beer and wake up with a headache. The way around this is usually to combine that one drink my body can (barely) tolerate with some kind of food, typically cheese, as photos on the NYU French Department website will confirm. Low tolerance doesn't, in my case, equal none at all. But now it turns out fromage is out as well: another article, about an amazing-sounding place in Israel called Himmelfarb Goat Farm (any relation?), notes, "We may all be lactose-intolerant Heebs, yet dairy has remained king in the land of milk and honey." This is not something I'd ever heard before, that Jews get ill from dairy, but unlike the New Yorker revelation, this one does not ring true.

Considering the suburbs

The most disgusting thing that has ever happened to me on NYC (or any) public transportation just occurred. Do not read on if easily disgusted:

Jo and I noticed two seats available at the back of the bus. One of the people sitting next to these seats was a man who looked a bit filthy but nothing special. So we sat down, with me taking the seat next to this man. Right as we sat down, which was also right as the bus started up again, the man leaped out of his seat. It wasn't clear what the rush was, since we were still a ways from the next stop, but between his leaping and the bus suddenly moving, it was all too much, and he fell backwards into my lap. I felt something damp on my knee, and looked up and... it was the man. It did not rain today. Which was why I was wearing a dress in the first place. I will never, ever feel clean again.

The Weekend Times gets it right

At last, a counterpart to that article from a while back about how it's hard to live in NYC, but hey, the young bankers are doing just fine.

And, some reassurance that my 'tribe' is not alone in sending the youth off to the homeland in order to reproduce endogamistically. There's something amusing about the 'hook-up culture' much denounced by social conservatives getting usurped into a tool for what is essentially the modern-day equivalent of arranged marriage.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Two down, one to go

I have nearly 50 pages of research paper that I've come to think of as 50 pages of complete garbage. OK, not garbage exactly, but nothing more than a massive pile of sentences and citations in need of reshuffling and (massive) editing before anything resembling a 30-40-page paper emerges. There are about 100 ways I might have approached the texts I'm writing about that would all be better, I'm always convinced, than whichever approach I'm currently working with. Picking any one and going with it seems to require background reading I have not done, which makes me wonder whether there's some way to make better use of the enormous mountain of background reading I have done. And the more I think about it, the more I'm at a loss for what, in simple or not-so-simple terms, the paper is about.

Which is to say, there's a very good reason it's not my narcissistic blogging that's made it to the front page of the NYT mag.

Friday, May 23, 2008


If I hear once more that anyone who fails to vote for Obama is a racist; that everyone who is Jewish only cares about Israel; that anyone Jewish who cares about Israel is a racist who will not vote for Obama, even though Absolute Truth has it that Obama is the next Herzl; I will, I swear, hang the biggest "McCain" sign you've ever seen from my window in Park Slope, thereby setting forth a chain of events leading to the first-ever excommunication from the neighborhood.

And I say this even though, for the foreseeable future, I might well be stuck voting Democrat for the following reasons. My mind and heart may be with Jewish nationalism, but my reproductive system--and my categorically-imperative solidarity for those with the same--requires other inclinations.

How's that for an official WWPD endorsement?

"A huge waste of space"

There are now a trillion comments, a third of which are unintentionally hilarious ("I must say though 90% of the young people today are a huge waste of space"--uh, thanks?), to Emily Gould's blogger confessions. But what mostly bulks up the comments page are remarks about how the article is a waste of space. But doesn't commenting on the thing, bringing the number of comments into the stratosphere, give the piece legitimacy?

I'm going to go with, no, it does not. It's about context. If the piece were an obscure article or blog entry, that is, the place for writing not claiming to be on the most important subject for the whole country for an entire week, then yes, commenting would mean condoning it. But what people are commenting on here is how out-of-place the article is for the cover of the NYT magazine. If the cover story were ten pages about what breakfast cereal some journalist's child prefers (please, no one get any ideas), or just any random bloggery, you can bet there would be pages of complaints. These in part come from the conviction among readers--correct, after all--that it could have been any of us whose mundane thoughts and standard-issue heterosexual break-ups were deemed cover-story material, assuming we had a sufficient lack of concern for those close to us. But I think this is mostly about readers' genuine desire for escapism, for an end to reality entertainment. Because the Gould piece is reality brought to its frighteningly banal extreme, a person no better or worse looking, no more or less interesting, than the rest of us, just kind of being, albeit in written form, for a captive audience.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Many Florida Jews Express Doubts on Young Bloggery

Yes, I read it. A first-person article about narcissism wins every time anyone looks at it, so a response of, 'it's a stupid article' is pointless now that it's there in the Times. Clearly someone didn't think it was dumb! Some complaints about the piece seem to be that instead of writing about her love life, Emily Gould could have been saving the world. Well, that goes for nearly all of us.

My question is, where are the people with even slightly interesting problems in their love-lives? First there's Philip Weiss revealing that middle-aged men like hot young women. Now there's Gould letting us know that 20-something hetero hipsters break up and reshuffle partners from time to time. It seems that if you're going to reinvent the wheel, and not even attempt to come up with an original argument, the writing had better be amazing. And if it isn't, please have something different going on in your personal life. If there were some subtext, if Gould were the tattooed dreamboat Weiss had been after all along, then that would at least be something. I'd almost prefer it if Henry the Gould ex took up with Weiss's jilted wife, but it's really their call.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Good to know

If you're old, Jewish, and not voting for Obama, you're a racist and an idiot! This useful NYT story will (parenthetical remark by parenthetical remark) explain how old Jews and their bigoted stupidity will ruin the election for everybody else. Which is good because this way, when McCain wins, we'll know who to turn on.

Skim cappuccinos, farmed salmon, and other crimes against humanity

As I know from having been on both sides of the espresso-drink process, coffee bars have in their possession a variety of types of milk, and it's up to the customer which will go in each drink. Part of the coffee bar experience is the eye-rolling you get from the barista when you specify which type of milk you'd prefer, but the fact of the matter is, the whole enterprise of the modern coffee shop asks that you be choosy. The options are there, or else the place wouldn't stock all the possibilities. And while there's almost nothing you can order in a Starbucks, say, and not sound obnoxious, ordering 'just' black coffee as proof that you are low maintenance is... still spending $2 on coffee, the result being that we as a society must get over ourselves.

That said, I sympathize with fellow (former, in their case) NYUers the Olsen twins, whose Starbucks barista intentionally put whole milk in drinks they'd ordered skim. Ordering coffee drinks from crowded shops, there's a certain amount of human error you just have to accept. What is unacceptable is for the person making your drink to add in commentary on your body type. I've had this happen, that I've ordered a drink with skim milk and been told that I'm too thin to do so. Well, I didn't feel like getting into a long discussion with the barista in question about how I actually eat quite a lot, but prefer the taste of skim, and, since I'm not malnourished, there's really no need for me to go out of my way to have the higher-calorie choice, again, given that I don't even prefer it. Now another way to look at this is that the barista was trying to pay me a compliment, which was probably the case, since I'm a good three Olsens in width, and do not look a whole-milk mocha away from collapsing. If that's the case, he made a mistake, because just as no woman wants to be told she looks fat, none of us want our bodies commented on by random strangers. But more importantly, neither men nor women like it when our small luxuries are brought into question.

This brings us to the broader and gender-neutral question of being told what foods we are and are not supposed to think taste good. I was struck by the following passage from Bee Wilson's New Yorker article about the food industry, largely because it denounces what I eat for dinner about once a week:

The great mystery of the world’s insatiable appetite for farmed salmon is that it doesn’t taste good. Grescoe, a Canadian who was reared on “well-muscled” chinook, gives a lurid description of the farmed variety, with its “herring-bone-pattern flesh, barely held together by creamy, saliva-gooey fat.” A flabby farmed-salmon dinner—no matter how much you dress it up with teriyaki or ginger—cannot compare with the pleasures of canned sardines spread on hot buttered toast or a delicate white-pollock fillet, spritzed with lemon. Pollock is cheaper than salmon, too. [...] Given that the current food economy is so strongly driven by appetite, it does seem odd that so much of the desire is for such squalid and unsatisfying things.

The thought of "canned sardines on hot buttered toast" is just... ugh, no. The smell of butter alone makes me queasy, so I can't imagine adding sardines into the mix would help. If this is about which foods are "sustainable" and which are not, then fine, some are and some aren't. But the argument that we can divide food into that which tastes good and is organic/local/smug and that which is tastes bad and is none of those things is one that simply holds no ground. Taste is a matter of, well, taste, and no one, even at the New Yorker, can tell anyone else what, objectively, tastes good. I now realize this is basically the same as my point about crushes, but also goes for every guilty pleasure--just because you like what you shouldn't like doesn't mean you don't really like it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Walt-Mearsheimer, trademark

When I noticed that Jeffrey Goldberg, in his op-ed on "America's 'Israel Problem'", mentioned the Walt-Mearsheimer book, my first thought was, argh, here we go. Now every time anyone offers up any take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the left of Benjamin Netanyahu, they're going to be seen as followers of "The Israel Lobby." Even Goldberg, who explicitly points out that he does not agree with the authors, has to argue against what many would presume, that his argument is theirs. Walt and Mearsheimer apparently want their book to be the go-to name for when one refers to any criticism AIPAC whatsoever. Because, if you are an American Jew don't see the advantage to a Greater Israel, if you have disagreements with decisions made by the organized American-Jewish community (and even I, your rabid Zionist, would fall in this category), you "clearly agree[s] with this part of our argument."

This is bad news. While sensible critiques of AIPAC are part of their book, they are not even remotely the overall substance of it. As for what the book is about, I promise that I have read it and not merely about it, but I wrote an article in which I explain the whole thing in a bit more detail than I can here, so I'll add a link when one's available. But for now, let us remember that just as not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism, not all criticism of US policy towards Israel is an endorsement of this one particular bigoted book.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pet peeve:

Why is it acceptable to state what everybody thinks and present it as though it is not merely original, but also provocative? Are you a hipster who is also pro-Palestinian? Yes, this must be lonely. Or, again, the supposedly revolutionary fact that a tall, blonde, conventionally-attractive woman, really, the definition of conventionally-attractive, won a modeling contest. A victory for the everywoman indeed. The prize, however, goes to Philip Weiss for declaring, contrary to popular opinion, that middle-aged husbands have sexual thoughts about other/younger women. Weiss's ground-breaking discovery includes some equally courageous comments about how in Europe men can have mistresses and it's like fine and everything. Weiss gets extra points for making his a crossover piece that not only states the obvious but humiliates at least one member of his immediate family in the process.

"They're feet don't even touch the ground!"

The presenter of the latest exposé on the fetal facial, aka preteens getting spa treatments, is aghast that girls whose feet do not touch the ground at the hair salon get their hair done. There's even a shot of some girl's feet not touching the ground. Watching this clip made me think a) there are a trillion better things I could have done with that time, and b) my feet don't touch the ground when I get my hair cut! Does this make me too young for professional haircuts? It's supposed to be this amazing gain for womankind that someone plus-sized won America's Next Top Model. Where's the recognition that "real women" can be short?

A slippery Slope

It's official: I prefer another year in Park Slope to another month spent on Craigslist. Sheer proximity to the Food Co-op is going to push all my political opinions further and further to the right, until the Vlaams Belang starts to look, from my vantage point, like one giant kibbutz. I have only so much energy to be directed towards research, and would rather it go towards ye olde French-Jewish newspapers at the New York Public Library than to the quest for a probably non-existent dishwasher apartment in a less self-righteous neighborhood. (Note to the less inert: Astoria seems lovely. Oh well.)

Or who knows. Perhaps, in a year's time, I'll be wearing Crocs and a canvas tote covered in slogans about how much I care about not using plastic bags, pushing a stroller filled with triplets, each of whom sports a shirt declaring her or his support for a different Democratic politician.

Purity Balzac

[Disclaimer: WWPD is actually written by a 12-year-old boy.]

I'm convinced that the reason the northeastern liberal elite is fascinated by "purity balls"--events to which fathers escort their daughters and all, once assembled, declare that the girls will stay virgins until marriage--can be summed up in one word: "balls." Hear me out. The subject lends itself to turns of phrase like this:

“The culture says you’re free to sleep with as many people as you want to,” said Khrystian Wilson, 20, one of the Wilsons’ seven children, including five girls. “What does that get you but complete chaos?”

For the Wilsons and the growing number of people who have come to their balls, [...]

OK, that was it. Now back to the usual programming.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The 'real' vacation

The American Jewish paradox is well enough understood: we want universalism and equality at home, but expect Israel to remain this pristine Jewish state, for refugees, for our own tourist visits, for just a vague, comforting idea in our heads. Wanting America one way and Israel another isn't necessarily contradictory. It makes perfect sense in many ways, but it is also representative of a larger trend among Americans to pride ourselves in diversity at home but expect vacations abroad to reveal a world in which every village is filled with its original inhabitants. Dan Barry's article about deciding not to search for the 'real' Ireland is a fine example. As accepting as Barry is of the 'new' Ireland, of its Eastern European and Brazilian immigrants, it is clear enough what he is arguing against--as he makes clear, what even in himself he has to argue against. Reactionary travel-writing is a common enough genre. Demands for ethnic or cultural purity that would never be expressed openly by reasonable people in the US about the US become borderline acceptable when talking about what you hope to find on your week out of the country.

It would be wrong to reduce American Zionism to travel writing. But there is an element of Zionism that's about Jews wanting a country we can think of as where we come from, whether we visit it or not, whether we concern ourselves with its politics or not.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Another NYC real-estate post

Question: If first-year NYU doctoral student housing is $X a month, this is, one imagines, the amount the school believes we should be spending on our rent. It seemed high but doable; most first-years take NYU up on the one-year subsidized-housing offer. Yet in New York, both in and out of Manhattan, no one will rent an $X-a-month apartment to someone making what an NYU doctoral student makes. Which isn't even that little, considering, and, again, is well enough to pay the $X it seems is necessary to rent anywhere. In New York, in order to be permitted to rent a place, you need to prove that you make a zillion trillion times the monthly rent, not that you can pay and have paid this amount in rent on your current salary. NYU offers to act as a guarantor, but realtors, one after the next, explain that no landlord wants to deal with NYU. One realtor last year told Jo and me what we could realistically expect to rent in Manhattan, and it was a reasonable enough amount to pay... in Hyde Park, Chicago. The amount he calculated for us would have meant, in New York, either public housing or sharing one small room, perhaps with another couple, in an apartment with several roommates. Ick.

So, my question is, what does the school suggest for those who wish to have an under-four-hour commute to campus, as in, to actually show up to teach/take classes? Mixers with the business school? I ask not to insult the university, but because I feel there's something I'm missing, some obvious answer to this paradox. I guess one might be that the advice we were given during the open house--'be open to the outer boroughs'--made sense a few years back, but now that you need a guarantor or a banker's salary to rent a shoebox in the South Bronx, not so much. My guess is that things have changed quickly, real-estate-wise, and those in charge of figuring out where grad students might live do not realize that it's basically a fluke that any of us are able to get to Washington Square in a reasonable amount of time.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Grad school on five meals a day

If you're in law school, and someone asks you what you plan on doing after you graduate, if you answer that you want to be a lawyer, you will be thought a sensible person. If you're in a doctoral program and asked the same question, if you say you plan to be a professor, you are showing a certain degree of over-confidence, if not outright arrogance. It's professional school, but if you enter 100% sure of the professional outcome, you might be in for a disappointment. Any sentence beginning, 'When I have my degree,' is already pushing it. However, if you're open to various possibilities, all of which are helped along by your (eventual) degree, you're probably fine (she says, with her fingers crossed, all the while knocking on wood).

I think it would be pretty great to be a professor. It would also be quite fabulous, I bet, to work at the New York Public Library's Jewish Division. This is my new favorite place in the city. OK, so checking stuff before entering is always a drag, but I've found that getting a chocolate croissant at the Pain Quotidien on 40th before a visit and getting sushi and brown rice tea at Chiyoda on 41st after makes the whole thing go more smoothly, and makes me not even wish I could bring, say, a coffee and a Twix into the reading room.

One slight problem with Chiyoda: it's also a bar. This can happen. A coffee shop I like near NYU, Think, becomes a bar at some point in the evening. Right when I'm getting into some work, the lights go dim and the wine glasses appear. Nothing gets loud, but I do feel like I might be interrupting someone's date with my typing. Chiyoda's bar is just part of its take-out area, which is a bit odd. All of a sudden, in the late afternoon, four young-professional-types arrived, talking loudly about how drunk they planned on getting. They spent a good 10 minutes explaining to the bartender what a "sake bomb" is and how to make one--I could be wrong, but I suspect this is not an authentic Japanese cocktail. Then it was "bombs away," and I overheard part of what was probably a more interesting conversation for the tipsy people involved, about someone liking some rapper's early stuff only. My workday wasn't over then, isn't over now, and isn't likely to end until I've read everything everyone French has ever had to say about les mariages mixtes.

Digression aside, my love-hate relationship with the NYPL is all love. Everyone who works there is extremely helpful, and, if you avoid the main reading room, the never-showered set is easily ignored. If only I could make it so that it didn't rain every single time I go to that library...

Obama =/= Herzl

Obama is many things, some quite positive, but one of those is not Theodor Herzl. 'Herzlian' is not a term to denote someone who from time to time says something nice about Israel. Nor is it even the right word to use for a passionate pro-Israel advocate today. A visionary, a prophet, and at times an open anti-Semite, out to save the Jews from themselves, Herzl (if biographers are to be believed) was as far removed as you can get from your everyday likeable presidential candidate, or, for that matter, your everyday likeable campus Zionist.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Next stop, paper plates

You can learn a lot about different neighborhoods from what realtors tell you about why you should not bother looking for a dishwasher. Because they all say it's hopeless--and I get it, it is--but for a wide range of reasons. In the Village, and in Manhattan generally, realtors will explain that there are dishwashers, but (insert sneer) not in that price range. If you have to ask, and all that. In Queens (still not totally clear on the borders of neighborhoods), you will hear again that there are no dishwashers, but that a good woman doesn't complain about having to do the dishes. One realtor, his wife cooks for a large family, what am I doing complaining about doing the dishes for two? It was apparently a given that I do my boyfriend's dishes. I cook, he does the dishes (remember, two incomes, thus how we are capable of paying rent). But I decided not to explain this and just to agree that dishwashers are totally useless appliances. Because demanding a dishwasher is the very height of princessy uppitiness. Well, I don't go in for rhinoplasty or Manolos, door-manned buildings or hardwood floors, but I'm not afraid to admit this one materialistic dream.

After some investigation, I've learned that there do seem to be some apartments with dishwashers in the sad little price range that is ours. These apartments are all in the middle of highways, half-hour bus rides from subways, or in neighborhoods where getting shot veers from possible to probable. Turns out my old place had a dishwasher because although my rent was low and the block had only a moderate number of shootings, I shared with two roommates, putting the total price of the apartment in the big-numbers range at which dishwashers begin to appear.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Disclaimers and other profundity

-Amber asks, "Is there anything more pathetic than a stupid nerd?" This is, I believe, an overlooked major question of our age. Growing up, I remember that the strange or funny-looking kid in class was always commonly assumed to be brilliant, even if no one had any evidence of this, even if the kid got bad grades and never said anything sharp in or out of class. It's hard to accept that beauty and brains are not distributed equally by a fair-minded higher power; the number of ex-models roaming around PhD programs is but one example of life being unfair. But parents and teachers want children to respect their classmates, and so they imply that there's always an inside balancing out whatever is not going so great on the outside. This would all be well and good, except that it causes the attractive and intelligent (or moderately well-put-together and intelligent) not to be taken seriously. I suppose this stops a bit in adulthood, but in lower and middle school, I remember finding the dichotomy annoying. Not because I was much to look at at 12, but because it was so obvious that the kids declared geniuses were called this to help their self-esteem, while any actual intelligence (second disclaimer: not my intelligence, I was no prodigy) was interpreted as uppitiness by the teachers.

-En Belgique, things are a mess. Or are they? Either way, it's about time the Walloons parlayed their relative poverty and status as an oppressed-ish minority into a trendy global cause. Seeing as they're Francophone, they're well-positioned to adopt an official scarf, a Walloon keffiyeh of sorts, soon to be worn by hipsters in every fashion capital other than Antwerp.

-I asked why all the child stars are churchgoers, and New York Magazine... asked the same question, but nine days later... but with pictures and some concrete examples, so we're even.

-An inquiring mind wants to know why I'm a Francophilic Zionist. That's easy: cheese, shoes, Theodor Herzl, laicité, pastries, Bernard Lazare, national self-determination, and Agnes B. That, and I often find things to do with Jews more interesting if they also have to do with France, and vice versa. Necessary disclaimers: 1) I do not think "Zionism" is a viable term for anyone's political opinions in 2008. It makes no sense to think there should be a Jewish state in the land of Israel. There is one. But there's no catchy way of saying you're glad it's there, kinda want to live there, and at any rate want it to stay put. 2) I might be more of an Israelophilic France-ist, since there are things I like politically about France (secularism, not asking for race info. on official documents...) and others I like aesthetically about Israel (Hebrew, Israeli music, iced blended coffee, and of course there's Lior Ashkenazi). And I'm not sure how it all balances out. 3) Plus there's the not-insignificant matter of knowing French and only somewhat knowing Hebrew, which tilts my intellectual interests further to the Francophilic than Zionistic end of the spectrum.

-And finally, agreed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You are not alone

This Jezebel thread has a number of comments that go something like this: 'I am a good (gentile) liberal. Why do all my Jewish friends, who are right on all the other issues, get all red-state and wrongheaded on this one issue, Israel? How can I bring them around?' Imagine if, on Jezebel, a man asked how to bring women around, a white person about how to convince black and Asian people to behave themselves, and so on. Ah, but the analogy doesn't hold, because look at how infinitely powerful Jews are in the world today! Everyone always sides with the Jews!

What follows in the comment thread, thematically, are many comments from those who believe themselves each to be the only person in the Western world with pro-Palestinian sentiments. Do these people really feel so alone? Do they not see the keffiyehs? Do they not notice that everyone on the mainstream left (a few pesky Jews aside) feels as they do?

And... back comes the now-ancient problem for Jews who want to be on the left and pro-Israel. Really, no one cares if you're against the settlements and want Israel to return to its socialist roots, if you want to see 'Jewish' defined in new and non-hereditary terms, if you want the whole of Israel to be no larger than a "cozy" studio apartment on the Lower East Side. If you want Israel to remain a Jewish state, you're a big ol' Republican. This is what progressive pro-Israel groups like J Street are going to have to deal with. They make it abundantly clear where they differ from others who are pro-Israel, but they're going to have to face, sooner or later, that they're light-years away from other self-proclaimed progressives.

Meet the parents (but briefly)

As first-world problems go, a dental possible-emergency plus finals plus a possible apartment search,* all converging at once, is certainly up there. What was supposed to fix all this was an episode of "Gossip Girl," the one in which Serena was set to explain what she meant when at the end of the last episode she confessed to killing someone. Well of course she didn't kill anyone, which is extremely disappointing. The show is back to its illogical ways, with everything happening either too quickly or too slowly for you to care what's going on.

But the real issue here is addressed in the Gawker recap of the episode. Praising the actress who plays Mrs. Van Der Woodsen, Richard of Gawker writes, "You've almost made me care about the parents!" With teen shows, you never care about the parents. I remember finding the parents-related scenes of "My So-Called Life" excruciatingly dull. Same with the inferior but at times riveting "Dawson's Creek." At the time I thought it was an age thing. But now that I'm ancient, it seems just the same. Parent drama is simply no fun. If I had to guess why, it's because the 'teens' on these shows are played by 30-year-olds (while the parents look not a day over 40), and have all sorts of grown-up relationship mess. Real-life parents should be able to identify with the 'kids' just as much as their children do. So it's not clear which demographic the parent plot-lines are meant to entice. Another reason the parent-plot always stinks is that in its attempt at being the realistic angle that grounds the show, it is always very... realistic. The marital troubles of 40-year-olds, the whole 'will this marriage work?,' is just dull, dull, dull compared to first loves and hard drugs.

So what's the alternative? Leaving parents out altogether, as is done in noted teen dramedy "Sex and the City," is an understandable approach but ends up leaving too many unanswered questions, even when the teens themselves are actually 40-year-old women portraying the same. Can't there be some token nod to the parents' existence without delving into their predictable marital woes? Estelle Constanza aside, no TV parent has ever merited as much screen time as he or she's been allotted.

*The strangest thing on Craigslist, apartment-wise, has to be the listings that focus on the toilet. Either only showing a photo of the toilet, or advertising "porcelain toilet" as one of the place's key selling points. I get that in NYC, amenities that have long since become the norm for the US middle classes are rare for even the wealthy. But toilets?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Why we can't all just get along

"Isn’t it long past time for all countries to reject citizenship based on race or religion?"

This, needless to say, from a letter protesting Israel's continued existence as a Jewish state. Statements like the one above are quite similar to those that go, 'Shouldn't war be a thing of the past?' As in, if everyone worldwide could agree, it would work, but as long as it doesn't, the world's nations might want to consider holding onto their militaries. The great thing about this letter-writer's demand is that it can be countered with an equally utopian and over-simplistic remark: 'Hasn't the time come for all oppressed minority groups to gain (and maintain) national independence if they so choose?' Don't we also like national independence for groups that have been discriminated against on the basis of race or religion? If anyone can live in these newly independent nations, what's to prevent the white man from staying put? What do we do?

As long as Jews--whether defined as a race or a religion--cannot live openly in many countries, there is a necessity for Israel to define itself as a Jewish state, which, however defined, will be in terms that are off-putting to someone with politically-correct impulses, to those who feel you can look at Israel in isolation from the rest of the Middle East, expecting Park Slope niceties from one country and tolerating all manner of exclusion from the others. The way for Israel to be a Jewish state should not be as convoluted as it is in the current state of things (screwed-up marriage and conversion regulations), but there's a reason Israel's founders saw it necessary to define the nation based on those rejected by other nations, and that reason becomes clear in the letter that follows the 'why can't we all just get along?' one.


For my thoughts on major questions of our age (as opposed to major questions of the nineteenth century), see here and eventually one of the articles referenced here.

Can dachshunds do stairs?

This was a work-filled weekend indeed. I spent Saturday writing about fascism, and Sunday doing the same, after spending Friday, Thursday, and so on reading and taking notes on... the same. The 19th century is a whole lot more uplifting. The cheery moment of the weekend was running into a former classmate and her golden retriever puppy. Golden retriever puppy! The three happiest words in the English language. (No offense intended to my future dachshund, who will be no less adorable). Insert clichéd but true remark here about how there would be no wars if puppies ruled the land.

Another weekend low point, although not on the scale of fascism, was reading an real estate article about how fantastic it is to live in the top floor of a walk-up. As someone who does, I'm not going to claim I don't have fantasies about installing one of those chairs there used to be commercials for, meant for the elderly and infirm, that hook onto the banister and pull you up, flight by flight, at the rate of one flight every ten minutes.

But that's not all. One of the brokers mentioned in the article was the first I met with in my apartment search last year, back when I still saw living within walking distance of school as a possibility. This broker insisted upon speaking to "your mother," aka my mother. Had he met my mother? Did he even know for sure that I do not have two daddies? Clearly not relevant. I feel bad saying this so close to Mothers' Day, but let's face it, a good way to be demeaning is to ask to speak to someone's mother. It's not a question you ask unless your first-grade student failed his math test. I could harumph and say, well he didn't get my business, but then I remember that the whole problem stemmed from the fact that my "business" is so minor. Renting basement closets (not to be confused with Austrian dungeons) out to graduate students is not Manhattan realtors' primary interest. It is at this point that I remember that it could be worse. But (she says, dreaming of social democracy--not to be confused with national socialism) things could also be better.

Puppies, puppies! Better now.

Friday, May 09, 2008

If you can't say anything critical...

Yesterday, I was once again forced to submit to a loud rock concert... at the library. Not in the library, but in Washington Square Park right out front. That this latest blaring music came from an Israel Independence Day celebration and not from a generic blast of music did not make me feel any more kindly to it. There you have it, I am a friend of Israel but am fully capable of criticizing the pro-Israel side when it behaves badly. Because this is always an important point to make.

As has been especially clear during this 60th birthday of Israel, it really is impossible to say anything unqualified about the country. By this I mean, if you mention Israel's independence and don't mention all the mean, mean things the country does, then you are obviously some kind of extremist. Now, clearly if you're writing a long article analyzing Middle Eastern politics and you leave out the Palestinians, or the oppression of Jewish Israelis by certain Orthodox rabbis with far too much power, you've made a mistake. A serious article, while bound to have a slant, needs to show a situation in its complexity. But if you're writing a blog post about, oh, Israel turned 60, that makes me happy, if you fail to remind your readers that you, too, have criticisms of Israel, then you're clearly a fanatic.

It is, or should be, all about context. There should be a way of writing about Israel-the-country versus Israel-the-issue. One would imagine that on the pro-Israel side there would be discussion of Israel that transcended the debate over whether the country should or should not exist. But all you get is, "yes it should," not, "well, it does, so let's talk about it as though it were a normal country, thereby turning it into one."

The internal pro-Israel debate then gets defined in terms of those who are willing to criticize the country and those who believe the country can do no wrong. Where's the place for those who have no illusions about any nation being perfect, but don't think reminding everyone that you are aware of Israel's imperfections is necessary every time you mention Israel, no matter what the context?

As I see it, the need felt by self-proclaimed pro-Israel Jews to show (and show, and show) their willingness to criticize Israel, rather than to mention their criticisms only when appropriate, comes less from the need to counteract Israel's more rah-rah supporters than from a tradition, far older than the state of Israel, of Jews believing that the best way to defend yourself against anti-Semitism is to show that you are the exception. To show, in other words, that sure, Jews behave badly, but you have this special ability to step out of the parochial Jewish take on the world, and to look at things from a universal (i.e. generically non-Jewish) vantage point. Now as earlier, the number of Jews taking a universalist stance, afraid that any show of Jewish particularism is dangerous, is ginormous, not limited to a few "exception" individuals but, if anything, the norm among educated Jews.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Jo co-wrote a paper! And it is now online for all to read.

Wohl is me

My former classmate has singlehandedly brought back the headband. It's on celebrities along with random socialitic hipsters I see in-or-around NYU. The official WWPD verdict: indifference. Unlike certain other trends, this one neither shows bits of anatomy no one wants to see, nor declares one's trendy allegiance to a trendy cause about which one probably knows nothing about, nor costs so much money as to bankrupt your typical lower Manhattan student or non-profit worker. But I cannot imagine a situation in which the addition of a headband would add to, not detract from, an outfit.

A break from Twix

As I do each semester, yesterday I posed for the French Department cameras with a wee bit of Camembert. Scroll down for evidence. (Along with evidence, it seems, that I am three feet shorter than my boyfriend, which I promise is not the case.) I'll have you believe that the piece of cheese you see is all the cheese I consumed over the course of the evening...

The "end of the year" party is a bit of a misnomer, since nearly everyone in the pictures is either in the process of writing final papers or will, once they're turned in, be grading those same assignments. But a little bit of wine and cheese cannot possibly impede one's ability to understand French literature. Clearly the wine and cheese are integral.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"There are no houses available in Tuscany"

Last year, I asked an Israeli academic whether it was theoretically possible that I could, assuming completion of my program (i.e. 6-7 years from that day), have any chance of finding a job as a professor in Israel. She said no. Everything I've read about strikes in Israeli academia seemed to confirm that something in the field in that country was amiss. Plus Israelis are overrepresented in American academia, suggesting a worse-than-average case of brain drain. All of this looked like it would keep me torn between Herzl-inspired existence and... the sort of work that led me to read and read about Herzl in the first place. I kept picturing a choice between a job filing stuff in Israel versus researching French Jews and Jewish nationalism from America, and if lucky, France. Further attempts at boring Israeli and Israel-knowledgeable classmates have led me to believe my understanding of the situation might have been unfounded. It sounds like what I will need to do is figure out what research that I want to do needs to be done there, spend some time doing that along with (re)learning Hebrew, and not see everything as a choice between dropping it all and staying for the rest of my life within a certain set number of miles of Manhattan.

So that was the Zionist fantasy, in honor of Israel's 60th, which is as we all know a moment to stop and discuss the challenges facing Israel's Arabs while not worrying too much about those facing Jews in that region looking to live anywhere other than Israel. Middle East, big mess, post comments below with your original takes on the matter, by all means. But first, have a look at my apolitical fantasy, which is to live in a house built out of a railroad station. I can't quite imagine how putting up shelves would work, practically speaking, so I can't even begin to picture putting a kitchen and bathrooms into what was once a train station. But once finished, it looks fantastic.

"Feels like an Arby's night"

When the NYT gave an ethnographic-condescending review of Victoria's Secret, I was on the case. End-of-semester craziness prevented me from getting to what's basically the same article, but by other people and about chain restaurants rather than mass-produced thongs. Other bloggers have already covered this ground--see this link for more links to such posts. I don't have much to add--the genre of NYT-covers-America-from-bemused-vantage-point-high-above is not doing anyone any favors.

That said, what is a native New Yorker to do? It's not as though coming from New York makes a person immune to parochialism or, more positively, warm-and-fuzzy thoughts of childhood. If your childhood memories are of Manhattan, then, through no fault of your own, they happen to coincide with that which is valued by American elitists generally. You can declare your openness to "real America" and come off as patronizing, or extol the virtues of arugula (a relatively inexpensive vegetable that for some reason symbolizes the elite) and come off as snobbish. All you can do is shed some light on the realities of life in the city. Just as not everyone from an exurb has corn-dogs for every meal, native New Yorkers (some of us, at any rate), eat far more Twix bars than tiny $4 squares of 77%-cocoa chocolat. Hey there, Upper East Siders, the vending machine's gone empty!

The food-snobbery question I've been meaning to write about, though, is not gourmet products but rather the question of cuisine and authenticity. Should we care if a restaurant is authentic? Clearly those homesick for a certain cuisine demand accuracy, but if you're trying the cuisine of a place you've never visited and may never have a chance to see, what does it matter if the food accurately replicates what one could get in that place? I've never been to Thailand and cannot foresee having any reason to go there. So I cannot assess how the Pad Pak at Chelsea Thai is or is not like the real thing, nor do I know if there is even a real thing called "Pad Pak." For all I know the phrase means "stupid food for Westerners." It's not that this is unknowable without visiting Thailand, but the point is, there's a good chance in NYC that one gets exposure to more cuisines than to cultures and languages in any other capacity.

So... part of me thinks, if the food tastes good, who cares? The only reason we expect "authentic" food to taste better is that natives of every other place try the Americanized version of their home cuisine and are disappointed... causing native-born Americans to believe the real thing is superior, when it's only "better" in that it is for some the cooking of one's homeland. But if cuisine is to be an educational experience, then I am missing out on something when my experience of Belgian cuisine is that of a skim cappuccino and a blueberry muffin at Pain Quotidien. This is clearly an important problem, so discuss amongst yourselves.

Long story short, if this post is rambling, I blame the wine and cheese (and more cheese) I consumed at the French Department's end-of-the-year party. It was authentic and delicious.

Monday, May 05, 2008


I was hoping this article might clear things up, but since it didn't, I'm going to have to ask: since when did teen idols (the girls, at least) need to be Christian in order to be successful? I don't mean Christian in the sense in which New York Jews generally use the term, i.e. to mean a person who is not a Jew, but rather a person who goes to church (Protestant is implied) and believes in Christ. Whenever Britney or the latest one, Miley, does something scandalous, the scandal is not that this is a child but that it's a Christian child we're talking about, from a Christian family. Is this about appealing to a wide audience in a predominately Christian country, made up of parents who would only buy stuff for their kids if the stuff is Jesus-approved? Or is it more that the term "Christian" adds something to these girls' (initially) virginal images, so that when these images shatter, it's all the more shocking, and thus titillating, to audiences of all religious persuasions?


Sarah Jessica Parker, the woman many hold responsible for all that is irritating about New York City today, will get a lot of flak for lamenting the "new," mall-like Manhattan. And rightly so.

And, from the are-Jews-white? department: Emily Nussbaum, in her New York Magazine profile of SJP, notes that both the actress and her husband are "half-Jewish," the other half being...? White, presumably, since it's not worth noting. We later learn "That Sarah Jessica was, despite her newcomer status, a very New York type: the ethnic girl nerd with crazy hair, a schnoz, big eighties glasses." As anyone who's ever dared to leave New York knows, "a very New York type" is code for "a humongous Jew."

It seems we are to believe that SJP's... unconventional beauty is the result of her Semitic blood. So, for the record: the look that the less polite among commentators have deemed "horse-faced" is not an "ethnic" look. There are women who look like this of all backgrounds. I'm sure you could go to tiny villages in Asia, Europe, and Africa and find at least one woman in each who has such features.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

I'm not picky

I would like to find an apartment with the following traits:

1) A dishwasher.
2) A dish washer (searching for both on Craigslist expands the set of possible apartments).
3) Near a train that might actually be of use (i.e. not the M or G).
4) Enough room for two people.
5) By #4 I mean nothing "cozy," nothing "perfect for a student," and most of all, nothing that involves "five young professionals looking for a roommate" who for whatever reason decide to list their available room on Craigslist as if it were a free-standing one bedroom. To those who list their $1200/month one-bedrooms in the West Village, you're not fooling anyone.
6) In a neighborhood where people tend not to get shot. My old block in Brooklyn had a shooting or two, and Hyde Park, where to begin? So, somewhere gentrified enough that shootings, say, are rare enough that they make it to the news.
7) The need to live near-ish to NYU eliminates the Bronx and Staten Island from the search; as #3 made clear, all of Brooklyn, Queens, and (as if) Manhattan are fair game, assuming train reasonableness.

Other people do care about the following. I do not:

1) Near a park.
2) Exposed brick.
3) Hardwood floors.
4) Good schools in the area.
5) On-site parking.
6) Exciting nightlife nearby.
7) A community of recent college grads. I'm fine with a community of recent immigrants, recent retirees, recent Chabad devotees, anything but recent purchasers of handguns or explosives. In terms of neighbors, almost anything goes.

Spinsters in stilettos

Precisely how did "Sex and the City" contribute to "easing [...] thousands of women from the shackling fears of spinsterhood"? If anything, that show gave women of my generation a fear of being 40 and single we would otherwise have never thought to develop. Women my age were not raised to believe we needed to marry to be happy, but one episode of SATC made the point better than a lifetime of nagging would have done.

Once you took away the shoes (which were never much to my liking) and the men (same thing), these women led pretty miserable lives. Their primary interest was talking about men, and this line of discussion is simply no more interesting when the people involved are 35 than when they are 14. One of the benefits of being in a relationship is the fact that you (ideally) spend less time talking about relationships, which, along with talking about weight, is inevitable but should never be the only thing female friends discuss. If the show depicted women who were single and capable of discussing, if even for one moment, something other than the men to whom they were not married... but that never happened. At least not in the episodes I've seen, and my apartment only gets TBS, not HBO. Perhaps in the "unsanitized" episodes Miranda discusses her law-firm work, Charlotte her taste in art, and so on.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

It's only waffle-thin!

Not bringing your date to an ethnic restaurant of his ethnicity is something you learn in Sensitivity 101. When a white guy meets an Indian girl, he will lose points if he directs her to the row of Indian restaurants on 6th Street in the East Village, or even to a classier version thereof. The exception to this rule is if your date is Belgian, in which case he will insist--and rightly so--that the food of his country is the best the world has to offer, so suggesting a Belgian spot is not just a safe bet, but really the only way to go. Which is why Jo and I ended up choosing Resto for one of our enough-pasta-already nights out.

The place is known for strange food ("crispy pig's-ear salad," anyone?) so we both went with what Frank Bruni called "treading some predictable ground" and what I call ordering food that won't lead to disappointment, followed by cooking pasta at home, which is to say, we ordered steak frites. And not only am I not about to boil water, but it's hard to imagine ever wanting a meal again. So aside from the steak frites, we each had a Belgian beer--a Duvel for Jo and a Rodenbach for me. Midway through the fries, I was feeling like Mr. Creosote, but the food had been awfully tasty, so we risked bursting to order the dessert waffle. I might prefer the Belgian waffles from the Belgian waffle truck, but it's not a fair comparison because a waffle, all things equal, tastes better when you haven't just eaten a steak. The Resto waffle is more oily than sweet (all Liege waffles are both, it's just a question of balance) so it reminded me a bit too much of the fries I'd just eagerly wolfed down. Probably best to keep waffles and dinner separate by a set number of hours...

But back to the pigs and their crispy, crispy ears. Strange food on a menu is supposed to be "authentic," but Jo, an authentic Belgian and by no means a vegan, had never heard of pig's-ear anything, let alone pig's-ear salad. Nor was he keen on learning what it was. Which led us to a discussion of how Belgian food in NYC either over- or under-does it in terms of authenticity. On the one hand there's the Pain Quotidien chain, which serves iced skim cappuccinos and muffins under the Belgian flag, and on the other, some pigs are now going earless so that New Yorkers can get what they understand to be a true taste of Flanders or Wallonia. And I say this with nothing against either establishment, and as a fan of both muffins and frites (although none right now, please, so... full...). I don't so much care if a restaurant strays from authenticity. However the homesick Belgian expat population demands a middle-ground.

There was one silly moment, culture-wise, when we got the receipt, and our waiter handed it to me, making some comment about how the woman was treating. The card had been Jo's. An honest mistake, but it took us a moment to remember the whole Belgian spelling versus English spelling thing. After we mentioned that this was actually a man's name, and a Belgian one at that, it occurred to us that this had never happened before (although to be fair, we don't dine out all that often), so there was something bizarre about this confusion occurring at a Belgian restaurant of all places.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Fashion don'ts

Who'd have thought it possible? Everything wrong with fashion today is captured in this single image of someone I'm assuming is a teen idol (my pop culture knowledge doesn't extend past the Lohan-Spears center to the periphery I'm assuming this young woman inhabits.) So, for the list of what's wrong with the outfit--which, by the way, is a fine example of how every young woman below 14th Street is dressed--see below:

1) Leggings-as-pants. From the back, this never looks good, but from this photo we just have to infer that Hilary Duff is no exception.

2) Keffiyeh (says, "I support the underdog") paired with "it" handbag (says, "I like to spend gobs of money on myself, in the most conspicuous way possible"). This is a combination I've noticed all around the city, this strange symbolic mix of an earnest concern for Gazans and a no less sincere attachment to Louis Vuitton.

3) Cheap-looking flats: I do this, but I'm a grad student (thus the "cheap-looking" part) and I have a decently long subway commute for which I typically have to stand, often carrying a heavy backpack (again, grad school). A movie star driving around Los Angeles (note the car keys in the picture) does not need practical shoes.

4) The baggy sweater-shirt: Seeing as every teen idol is pregnant with triplets until proven otherwise, this is not a wise move.

There's more, but I'm bored with the subject. Point is, we as a generation need to figure out some look better than this.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

It could be worse

I've finally figured out the point of the New Yorker, and no, I am not about to insinuate anything about bathroom reading material. No, the point of the New Yorker is that when you're feeling sorry for yourself about how you live in a trillionth-floor walk-up in Brooklyn and have just carried three weeks' worth of laundry to the laundromat, you can then sit and wait for the wash cycle to finish while reading about the Skid Row homeless and trafficked young girls from Moldova, both of which make you feel lucky to spend the day schlepping.

That said, the Austrian basement-incest case exists to remind those with even Third World Problems that they could have it worse. Not for those who have yet to eat lunch, an Australian news video (how's that for confusing the geographically-challenged) introduces the story with shots of the most depraved man alive in a Speedo. Europe may be "better in some ways," but male swimwear is not one of them.