Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hipsters, dachshunds, New Years, buses, and purity

-Make it stop! Gawker has a post about how what a crime it is when ostentatious (read: non-hipster) rich people move to NYC. Bo-ring, except that it culminates in an amusing tale revolving around two NYU ladies with the same name, one of whom is the glamorous daughter of a rock star and the other of whom is simply glamorous. Is it any wonder I find myself getting fashion inspiration from the undergrads?

-Jealous! Well, still jealous, to be precise. OMG dachshund! In fact, I think I might know that dachshund. Not personally, but there's a black-dapple smooth-coat miniature dachshund I see sometimes around NYU that looks a great deal like this one, whose dog-walker is friendly and allowed me to ooh and ahh over her charge. The presence of MUD coffee suggests Agyness & beau can't be too far off.

-It's New Years already? My cold was supposed to be gone in time for this. I'm now torn between going out as planned (an excuse to wear a dress! and to have the DIY haircut photographed!) and staying home to try out milkshakes on the new blender... Decisions, decisions. As for resolutions... study for orals? Gym-going, along with masochistically banning stupid purchases (coffee out, fancy cheese, shiny nail polish, Uniqlo everything), can wait.

-Why DC and not California? A question easily answered.

-And, in recent Ladybloggery, I spend far too many words denouncing 'purity pledges.' Surprisingly, no one has yet commented with a pro-pledge stance. We'll see how long that lasts.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Plans for the new year

-I will be in DC from January 8-11, because being from NYC and at NYU, there is no 'home for the holidays,' and getting out of New York occasionally is for the best. DC bloggers/readers I know, let me know if you'll be around.

-What I would do to write like this.

-Lower on my list of desires, but still substantial and just as futile: these, these, and these.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Further culinary adventures

Much of my love of cooking is inspired by a frustration with pointless spending. The same impulse reminding me to make my own iced coffee and not pay $2.25 outside has encouraged me to conquer, one by one, each indulgence. This also explains the DIY haircut-- a success, I should note, but the photo will have to wait until the post-cold pallor subsides, and I return to my usual shade of ridiculously pale. Meanwhile, some things, like Uniqlo pencil skirts, must be purchased. Jenny Humphrey I am not.

So, fed up with spending $3 on one brownie, I decided to give these a shot, abandoning brownies altogether not being an option. In five to ten minutes the verdict will be in. If it goes well, I may have to get moving on my cooking-blog idea, the No-Dishwasher Recipe Adaptation, in which I make dishes that call for using five different bowls, four saucepans, and the like, and put it all together with a less daunting number of appliances. "In a separate bowl," I think not.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Consumerist bliss

Of all New York's many stores, my favorite might be Bowery Kitchen Supply, in Chelsea Market. Following a delicious, $8-a-head splurge at Chelsea Thai, Jo and I headed over to the cooking goods, and went wild (spatula, brownie pan, grater, and Swiss vegetable peeler). This is, as you may have guessed, part of my plan to make latkes, taking an altogether unintended inspiration from Tara Parker-Pope's anti-grease manifesto. I see the word "latke" and, even if the text surrounding it is about how bad for you they are, or perhaps especially, I get all excited about frying up a batch.

Ever since leaving roommate arrangements, I've found cooking to be a great deal of fun. Like Belle, I attempt to cook within the confines of a grad-student budget, with extravagances when I absolutely must have a certain piece of cheese. After trying out endless grocery options, I've come to the conclusion that the best option of all is... Whole Foods.

How is this possible, some will ask? There's a short answer and a long one. The short? 99-cent bags of non-organic, store-brand, better-than-Barilla pasta. If those serve as the basis for most of your dinners, you are not spending a lot on groceries. Combining high-quality vegetables, meat, cheese, or some mix from elsewhere in the store with the above-mentioned super-food, and you can eat quite well. Assuming, that is, you don't tire of pasta. If I did, I'd probably not enjoy grad school as much as I do.

The long involves explaining the process of elimination that brought my household to this embarrassing but decisive conclusion:

1) Key Food, the Brooklyn supermarket chain: Some branches are worse than others, but from the ones I've seen, you have to stick with soda and paper towels. You can, if desperate, spend above-WF prices (this not including the higher-than-WF probability of being rung up incorrectly and thus overcharged) on rotten vegetables, and $4 a box on De Cecco pasta. And, special today, some tasty-looking hot dogs that expired on Dec 11, 2008. The only advantages are a) convenience, and b) being able to say that one is unpretentious and shops at a normal supermarket, rather than some fancy gourmet store. The latter should not be discounted. A Key Food bag, whatever the cost of its contents, confers street cred. Switch the Key to Whole and pluralize the Food, and you might as well have a paper bag from Versace, for the looks you get on the subway home.

2) The Greenmarkets: A wonderful choice, until November or so, when options are limited to potatoes, onions, delicious ice cream, sad-looking apples, moldy garlic, and more leeks than I'd ever know what to do with. As even Mark Bittman admits, eating local has its limits in freezing locales. There's supposed to be a certain charm in eating seasonally, but how much can be done under such constraints? It's not even about what could be grown in this climate, but what is not only grown nearby but schlepped to the outer-borough markets. They're still useful to supplement other shopping, but when not on vacation, one-stop has its advantages.

3) The Food Co-op: Yes, I live in Park Slope, but, for so many reasons, no thanks.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Reports from the mushy brain (3,000th post!)

-Does this movie look amazing, or am I missing something?

-Today I rediscovered how delicious hot dogs can be. Yum! This can't be good.

-I also rediscovered that the Astor Place Starbucks is not the most uplifting place ever, although it's certainly cleaner than I pictured it. (Low expectations.) Returning to Anna Karenina (vacation reading put aside during height of head-cold brain-mush period) works better when not overhearing women who look like a certain coffee-selling Wasillan, but far more makeup and hand-tatooage, discussing the difficulties of getting one's self, one's husband, one's baby-daddy, and one's baby through heroin detox. Levin's agricultural pursuits did not stand a chance.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pope versus Chanukah

Jesus has punished me for being a Jew who does not believe in fun, so the lack of blogging the last few days is due to a cold that has permitted me only to watch old TV shows conducive to thrice-daily naps ("Bob Newhart Show", anyone?). Hulu is the new, improved Tylenol.

I'm now well enough to blog about the silly things I read online between episodes and naps. Prime example: Tara Parker-Pope on how to make non-greasy latkes. In that latkes are supposed to be greasy, for traditional/religious reasons, there was a baseline problem with her urging us to consider a 'lite' latke. (See also: TPP's outraged commenters, correct but over-the-top, and her defensive responses.)

But that wasn't what got to me so much that as the broader question of why anyone would think to bake a food whose entire culinary purpose is to be fried. (Case in point: falafel.) Eaten properly, as either special-occasion foods (latkes) or as a small part of an otherwise raw-vegetable meal (falafel), fried foods are not unhealthy. The greater danger is eating a disgusting, baked, also-caloric version of the real thing, then telling yourself, 'I was so healthy at lunch, now I can eat an M&M-topped large-size Tasti-d-lite.'

And I'm not entirely sure that fat-the-ingredient is what makes Americans fat. The amazing concept of fries being part of a falafel sandwich is popular in Israel (and elsewhere in the region?) but unheard-of in the States.

Cogent blogging will probably have to wait a few more days.

Monday, December 22, 2008

'What, me? I don't watch television.'

Inspired somewhat by Amber's discussion of male beauty, my latest post at the Ladyblog compares Charlotte York-Harry Goldenblatt with Eleanor Waldorf-Cyrus Rose and, after examining the supporting evidence, finds the two couples identical.

How to not spend any money, ever. Installment 1: 'Maintenance'

As we all now know, rich women are celebrating the recession (sort of like 'celebrating' Yom Kippur) by cutting back on beautification procedures. Articles on such themes never fail to focus on this one woman they found who spends a trillion dollars a year on pedicures, thereby eliciting comments from women who will not have such decadence, who 'only' get the occasional facial/mani-pedi/lipo and who therefore get to declare themselves relatively low-maintenance.

I do not fault women (or men) for wanting to look good. We all do, and not all of us are lucky enough to be in some subculture where looking good means no grooming whatsoever. So, how to cut back:

1) If you haven't tried it, don't. This goes for facials, waxing, professional nail care, and, of course, cosmetic surgery. Just assume a wide range of 'upgrades' might make you look better, but might not. Drawing the line with where you're already at, maintenance-wide, is a good starting point.

2) Do not assume any procedure (beyond bathing and tooth-brushing, of course!) is necessary, on account of 'society'. I used to think you had to get a professional haircut, that DIY was for a) bald men, b) families of 20, or c) self-destructive lunatics. So a few times a year, I'd pay up, because that's what's done. But then I realized that if I know exactly how I want my hair, there's no good reason to pay someone else $70 to make it not quite right, or $30 to screw it up beyond repair. (Photographic evidence of DIY success to follow.) That's money better spent on superior hair products/equipment. Which leads me to...

3) If a procedure/product strikes you as essential for you personally, and doesn't cost that much, you will make yourself miserable giving it up just for the sake of it. I could, as a matter of principle, give up hair goop and the accompanying flat-iron. If I did, the left side of my hair would be wavy and the right side stick-straight. Or vice versa, depending how I sleep. This would make teaching, and leaving the house generally, less pleasant.

4) Do not buy tons of different shades of nail polish, justifying it to yourself as, at least one bottle is cheaper than one manicure, and lasts much longer. You will still end up spending far too much on nonsense. (I have yet to learn this lesson.)

5) Tangentially related, this image is amazing. That is all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Statistics and bloggery

Elsewhere, I investigate why some Jews have mixed feelings about December 25th. In short, it's because Judaism is, for many, centered around the non-celebration of Christmas.

Which brings up another, unrelated, problem: "many," I wrote, but how many? Which is the same question as arose during the fantastic discussion at Amber's blog about men's chest hair or lack thereof. If chest hair is "back," it must have gone somewhere. But how many men not a) appearing in movies, b) swimming in the Olympics, or c) looking for other men on 8th Avenue ever removed their chest hair to begin with? What can we say about chest hair without this knowledge???

I've occasionally gotten comments here along the lines of, 'You haven't proven that! Where are your numbers? I need more supporting evidence.' It always strikes me as pointless--this is a silly blog I write when taking a break from accumulating 'supporting evidence.' If there's something worth following through on, I will, or someone else should, but it won't be for every post. So, consider this a disclaimer.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hipster-on-hipster violence

I get that there are no self-proclaimed hipsters. But Gawker--a site for and by hipsters if there ever was one--takes it to a new level, mocking some girl for being... a family-money having hipster living in a Williamsburg loft. Who exactly is Gawker's target audience? From what Nebraskan exurb (or, for that matter, strenuous job) are they commenting on Gawker all day long?

Of course, the commenters have the whole 'I'm not a hipster' hipster act down perfectly, including one who claims to have lived in Williamsburg before it was cool; one hipster-hating hipster; one who lives in Williamsburg so as to make fun of (other) hipsters; and, because such a comment is always needed, one who faults the hipster-target for thinking she's hardcore.

From the dept. of What is Wrong With People

Who names their child Adolf Hitler? I'm thinking if you do do this, that's the moment you give up the right to complain about anyone else's "intolerance."

Warning: unsubstantiated generalization follows UPDATED

The comment Amber quotes, about a Jewish man who dates "shiksas" but will only marry a Jew, reminded me of the converse side to that phenomenon: the neurosis that can accompany in-group dating. It's often suggested (by parents, say) that staying with one's own kind is simpler. I'm not entirely sure that's the case.

But let's back-track a moment. Speaking of fairly secular, Western heterosexuals generally, there's a certain assumption that women want to marry and men don't. While I have not found this to be the case with actual humans, there are certainly men who think it necessary to preface a relationship with a 'Hey, hey, nothing serious going on here,' even if they end up pleading for marriage and more.

So take that as a given. Now, whatever tendencies men have of thinking Woman wants a ring, and a big shiny one at that, regardless of what a particular woman desires, Jewish* men are far more likely to assume this of Jewish women. Both because of preconceived ideas about their female counterparts being JAPs, and for another, less offensive but also presumptuous reason: they assume Jewish women not only, as women, want marriage, but, as Jewish women, seek a Jewish husband. These men assume that a Jewish woman would only get involved with a Jewish man with intent to marry. These same men may or may not only date Jewish women, but either way, it doesn't matter. They know that for every reasonable-seeming Jewish man, there are 10,000,000,000 Jewish women in the Tri-State Area alone desperate to marry him. How do they know this? Pop culture, things their mothers told them to flatter them, who knows.

So where does all this lead? What it does is bring to the foreground of the relationship a question in the background of most: is this person the one for me? There's almost an implied engagement from the first date on. The stakes this high, things must either head towards marriage or collapse into a heap of neurosis. Or both.

* Maybe all this is true of other minorities in the West. Maybe not. Readers, decide for yourselves, but my anecdotal evidence lies where it does.


David Schraub points me to the interracial-dating discussion that continues at the Atlantic, between Coates and Jeffrey Goldberg. Reading it makes me all the more glad that this discussion is also taking place among female bloggers, and that I posted what I did above. Goldberg and Coates's take on the matter is very... male. In particular Goldberg's remark that he "felt sorry for the Jewish women who intermarried, because I sensed that they tried, and failed, to convince Jewish men that they weren't, in fact, their mothers, that they were intelligent and sexy and all the rest."

Goldberg should rest assured that plenty of Jewish women a) had their first relationships with non-Jewish guys, because that's who happened to be cute and around, yes, even in places like New York, and b) have been able to 'get' Jewish men (and even -- imagine -- reject them. Jewish women dumping perfectly good Jewish men, for the same reasons anyone ends a relationship with anyone else! Yes, it happens.), but for whatever reason the man they end up with turns out not to be Jewish.

Once we're on the subject of how black women and Jewish women are totally the same, how about black and Jewish men, both groups (or at least their representatives at the Atlantic) convinced that the women of their cohort fantasize about being their wives, while they, adventurous and worldly, dream of the exotic? Where oh where might such cultural beliefs come from, we shall never know.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Can a blog have a navel?

So on the one hand I'm super excited that I noticed this connection/contradiction first.

On the other, I'm baffled by what went on today over at the Ladyblog, but am glad things seem to be cleared up, and that the post taken down has been returned. (I will once again plead ignorance on the subject of 'the hook-up culture' and of the broader one, 'young people today', because, well...)

In terms of what I took from the controversy (that is, when not turning in grades or rewarding myself with a cappuccino and scarf on sale at Uniqlo, which, by the way, should totally sponsor this blog for the amount I mention it; I did not, it seems, devote the entire day to blogging and thinking about bloggery) is as follows: I think it's important a) to acknowledge that publications have political slants, b) for there to be dissenting views within the pages of those sources, to avoid echo-chamberism and whatnot, and c) for the 'token' dissenters to be respectful of the overall stance of the publication. By respectful I don't just mean not throwing slurs, but it helps to have a certain amount of sympathy for at least some views on the other side. Case in point. Which is kind of how I see myself at the Ladyblog, and how I see myself when writing in a liberal context, too. Being a political moderate, or a political all-over-the-place (but no, not like this!), that's pretty much the way to go.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tights and suggestibility

Amber has me convinced that these thigh-high tights are amazing. And I'd order them... if my suggestibility in the area of hosiery hadn't already meant that, after reading a certain girdle article, I learned of such a thing as "Spanx," and found a pair very much discounted, but not quite enough to go buy another pair of tights just yet. I have yet to try these 'tights' on, and am, frankly, sort of frightened. It's hard to picture that a garment could a) be comfortable, and b) make pencil skirts and turtleneck dresses more flattering. We shall see.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

'When I was her age...' UPDATED

The following article is set up to get a class war on, and it has. Commenters are going nuts mocking a girl who (unlike a certain Kuczynski) sounds perfectly reasonable, and who reacted to a downturn in her family's wealth by working herself, and even lends her mother money, but who is guilty of the crime of growing up upper-middle class, and that of allowing the Times to write about her, although the latter, too, is probably her parents' fault. (Those who describe the girl's lifestyle pre-downturn as filthy-rich are off, unless there's something left out of the article that they know and I don't--$100 a week for a teen is a lot, but hardly puts her in 'Gossip Girl' territory, as Jezebel implies. I remember girls--no, would-be class warriors, not me--at my very 'Gossip Girl'-esque middle school getting more than that just for a Saturday's-worth of shopping. It could be better. Or worse.) The girl profiled does not seem to feel sorry for herself, not even a little bit, and yet the way the article's set up, readers seem convinced she does, making a point to say they don't pity these kids. They are not asking to be pitied. Good grief.

The piece provoked scores of comments--solicited by a request from the Times to answer "What did you get out of working in high school?"--about crappy jobs held, nearly all of which are of a tone that implies, 'Unlike those rich assholes, I had to work.' Aside from the standard 'With all the suffering in the world, how dare a newspaper run an article not about abject poverty/genocide/terrorism'-themed ones, most comments boils down to some variant of the following: 'Rich kids are intrinsically bad people. I paid my way from age 14, no!, 13, but I'm glad, because that way I didn't turn into an ass, like everyone who did not. I'm raising my children frugally, and they won't have anything handed to them, no siree. It's good these rich kids are now having to do an honest day's work. That'll teach them.'

OK, one does say,

I believe the children of the "well-to-do families" should stay out of the work force and leave the jobs for other folks who may have lost their jobs & need to pay their mortgages. Doesn't that seem fair? I mean, it's their parents who ran the economy into the ground in the first place.

Sweet vengeance!

More typical, though, is one explaining, "Even if they don't economically need to work, work never hurt any one."

We've been down this road before. The question remains: are rich kids assholes for a) choosing not to work and to do fancy-schmancy internships and volunteer positions, thus maintaining the caste system; b) working and thus taking jobs away from those who need them, or c) having been born, regardless of their behavior?


Slate's joined the bandwagon. Argh. The real question is why anyone allows the Times to interview them.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Just spent the last several hours writing (finishing! aside from a final proofread) a paper. Forgot to eat lunch. This evening is a department party, and I vowed that this one I would not spend (exclusively) stuffing my face with cheese. Alas, maybe in the Spring...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Maltz's Complaints

I whine about price-upon-request baked goods here. Had I noticed it sooner, I'd have also added my objections to sit-down coffee bars without bathrooms. I mean, coffee? No bathroom? Not wise. How New York Magazine dares list "bathroom" as a take-it-or-leave-it amenity akin to wireless internet I'll never understand.

Immense fame of diva-esque proportions

So after giving my students their last exam and meeting with a professor, I took my glamorous self out for a nice lunch, a $9.75, foot-and-a-half-long, delicious Italian sandwich that will also be dinner assuming it survives an afternoon (wrapped, of course) in my backpack. As I was getting up to go (I'd imagine, given the precedent, with food--quite possibly and embarrassingly arugula--all over my face) wielding a backpack of my own weight, a man waiting on line to order his sandwich asked me if I was Phoebe, and if I have a blog.

So, a shout-out to Andrew. Meanwhile, I now await the remaining 14 minutes and 30 seconds of my fame.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Split personality

My university just emailed me asking for money. Sob-story given: Even the funded PhD students are suffering these days. I'm one of those students! Why would I donate to myself?

This is all because anyone with an MA, even a non-terminal one that's just part of a PhD program, is technically an alum. It's like the time a few months back when I was offered a discounted gym membership... to the same gyms I can now go to for free. And that I might be at right now, if I weren't spending the day writing a paper, eating chocolates (but leaving some, Jo, I promise!) and being awestruck by the level of interest the 'shiksa' question can still summon. (Ta-Nehisi Coates, if you Google yourself again and arrive here, thanks for the link!)

That said, to all the real alums receiving the email solicitation, the Graduate Student Dishwasher Fund (GSDF) is accepting donations.

A lesser kind of white

Amber's post just led me to Ta-Nehisi Coates's take on interracial dating. It's got plenty to think about, much of which Amber explores, but here's the part of his post that struck me, surprise surprise:

"Black women who oppose interacial dating have different reasons than most. I think it's closer to the manner in which some Jewish women must hate the idea of a Shiksa. But even that doesn't quite get it. The opposition comes out of a specific, and yet broad, historical experience of never being held up as anyone's flower of virtuosity, but instead as un-feminine and oversexed."

I'd have to disagree with Coates and say that his comparison does "get it." Jewish women can look to a "specific, and yet broad historical experience" that's unpleasant from all angles. Jewish women have been stereotyped as whores (by 19th century European Christian men) and as prudes (by 20th century American Jewish men). Historically, oppression of Jews has led to rape of Jewish women, as has oppression of blacks led to the equivalent situation. And of course, as Coates implies, things look better for exogamy-friendly black and Jewish men than for their female counterparts.

However, here's one difference: to say that a woman appears to be black is not in and of itself an insult. To say a woman 'looks Jewish' is. Here's why:

In America, since (Ashkenazi, i.e. most American) Jews have been defined (and defined themselves) as white, it's considered racist to say that one can 'look Jewish,' the implication being that it's racist to say Jews do not look like undifferentiated white people. Which we often enough do. (Yes, there are black Jews, Asian Jews, and so on, but exceedingly few in the States. What's meant when an American says, 'there's no such thing as looking Jewish' is you can't tell a Swede from a shtetl descendent. Often you can. Except for me--I lack Jewdar--but I've heard I'm unusual in this regard.) Instead, we end up getting classified as white but on average less likely to be conventionally good-looking. We're a group of white folks among whom blondness, manageable-hairedness, and delicate-featuredness are underrepresented. We could look at this as, no problem, we're not exactly white-- members of all other non-white groups share this tendency not to fit white beauty ideals, and find ways to cope with this. Instead we're stuck with being a lesser kind of white.

What this means is that, while saying a woman is black is not an insult, it's definitive. You can see she isn't white, so there's no need to specify that she 'looks black'--in nearly all cases, she just is. Whereas a woman can be 100% ethnically Jewish but not 'look' so, which I'd imagine I join 99% of Jewish women for having heard in reference to myself, in that few among us are universally identifiable.

Monday, December 08, 2008

WWPD: the women's mag edition

Is it better for women to:

1) Wear girdles,
2) Diet themselves into the shape a girdle provides, or
3) Think of something better to worry about?

Daphne Merkin's ability to stretch (pun intended-ish, given the topic) the above possibilities, minus possibility #3 which apparently does not exist in her universe, into a lively, readable article for me to consume along with an almond croissant is, let me just say, impressive.

That said, Merkin (indirectly) called me zaftig, and while I'm a firm (pun intended-ish) believer in #3, I will not have it. She explains, "[...] the era of zaftig was over, except in the subordinate boroughs." From the joggers in Park Slope to the chain-smokers of Williamsburg, the 'new Brooklyn' is hardly pro-zaftig; the 'real' outer boroughs neither. Merkin's "subordinate boroughs" apparently consist of communities unchanged since the 1940s, in which Old Country mothers urge their daughters to down an extra helping of schmaltz. (If zaftig's not italicized, does schmaltz need to be? Discuss.)

Merkin lost me with the following: "[...] I’ve since passed the smaller of the two [girdles] on to my 19-year-old daughter, who had been eyeing it for its erotic potential." I can't decide if it's worse a) that this happened, or b) that the NYT readership gets to hear about it.


In other girly news, via Arts & Letters Daily, here's a fun piece about the "Toxic Wife," a lady with her banker man only until the market crashes. Actually, the article's kind of bizarre--what author Tara Winter Wilson calls a "toxic wife" is what's traditionally referred to as a "trophy wife." Certain men want to parlay their financial success into well-maintained women, which works out because certain women enjoy spending lots of time at salons. The agreement is such that if the woman lets herself go, or the man loses his kesef, party's over. The term "toxic" is Wilson's way of taking male agency out of the equation. Well, not entirely: "Men, it seems, have got wise to the potential Toxic Wife and don't want to end up with someone who is going to bolt the moment they experience some financial bad luck." Yet these same men, when finances were good, declared themselves worthy of a league they'd otherwise not have a shot at. There are no trophies "for richer or poorer." That's kind of the point. Again, a strange article indeed.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The case for studying the nineteenth century

I'm now working on a paper on various twentieth-century authors, of about my parents' generation. Looking for biographical information for one, I stumbled upon his Myspace page, complete with a photo he took of himself and information about his relationship status (Available, ladies! And attractive, in a BHL kind of way). Now this could be like how Hannah Arendt, Allan Bloom, and others have Facebook 'accounts' that aren't, but I'm thinking not.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Marx on capitalism

Patricia Marx wrote an entertaining piece for the New Yorker on shoes a few months ago, so I was curious to see her take (full view subscribers only) on Century 21, Loehmann's, and the like. Her conclusion? We (first-world women) buy crap we don't like/want/need because it's 60% off. While no doubt the owners of the handbag stores across New York with year-round "60% off" signs subscribe to this philosophy, I'm not sure it's the best way to understand the psychology of sales. It's not so much that we buy worse stuff when it's discounted--at most of the stores I go to, such as Uniqlo, the Old Navy-Gap-Banana Republic trifecta, clothes are full-price for about ten minutes before becoming lowly 'sale' items-- as that, when we pay full price, we feel a) guilt, and consequently b) conviction that we had to have the item in question, and so we a) take good care of it (i.e. keep it away from the ever-growing pile of sweatshirts and leggings and corduroys that is the couch) and, b) though careful not to over-wear it, wear it enough to feel the cost-per-wear is forgivable. As I've mentioned before, in Europe (OK, Belgium, from which I'm overdrawing conclusions) clothing is not necessarily higher quality than at equivalent stores in the US. It's just that Europeans pay more for their own average-quality attire, and so do not leave it in one big heap on the couch.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

It was bound to happen

In high school, I had a chemistry teacher 'of a certain age' who was a mutterer, a shirt-button-misser, and, crucially for this story, a donut eater. A tiny woman with what must have been an amazing metabolism. Or perhaps she kept her figure because a good part of the donuts she ate before/during class--at least the powder--ended up all over her mouth. It was hilarious.

This morning, I got a glazed donut before I taught. You can see where this is heading. Class was almost over when I realized that a bit of the glaze was still with me.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Reading is hard

I have many love-hate relationships. The Roth-Allen monster. Duane Reade. High heels. But the one that takes the cake is the New York Public Library. On the one hand, all the books I need! Almost. But close! And old French-Jewish newspapers! In a beautiful old building, near many bus and subway lines! With cheap (OK, not anymore, thanks to rising food prices) Japanese fast food right next door!

But. While some go for the books, others go for the freedom to rant, digest (ahem), and lecture as loudly as they possibly can, and in an unshowered way as possible. One man, with fine, reddish hair in amazing clumps, likes to play with those clumps, twisting them around to form not so much dreadlocks as... greasy clumps. Another man seems truly proud of his admittedly impressive gas. Then there are those whose torso-exclusive skin diseases could be their little secret if they wore shirts that reached all the way down to their pants. Then there are those at the library to research government conspiracies of their own imagining; these folks can be recognized by the amazing amount of research materials they keep in plastic grocery bags.

This cohort is on the one hand distracting, but on the other hand unfortunate, either homeless, paranoid, or both. The set of people whose behavior is less forgivable is the flash-camera-having, the 'Oh, look, what a pretty library!' announcing, research-room-entrance blocking ('wouldn't a picture right here look great') tourists. My theory, given the library's prime Fifth Avenue location, is that tourists make a pit stop there for its free toilets, yes, but also so that they can say they did something cultural, that they didn't go to NYC just to shop.

So, while providing a safe space for the homeless, paranoid, or both is a worthy goal, and while there's nothing inherently wrong with tourists visiting the occasional monument between H&M and Zara, is there any reason the same room has to serve these two purposes and house all the city's books? Couldn't there be some kind of division of space, a room for each?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

While it's still technically the day... official WWPD happy two-years to Jo!

More than an accessory

In a future life, I could imagine worse than to come back as Agyness Deyn. Amazing hair, a glamorous career, but most of all...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Neurotic bloggery

-The case for high heels.

-Something about the fact that this amazingly adorable baby tiger is in Germany makes this photo... off.

-On the 10,000 hours I spent on the subway today (9,000 of which involved a horse-and-buggy pulling a W train from Union Square to 42nd) I had a chance to hear Alice Waters interviewed on Times Talks. Her pro-tasty-food agenda would have my full support if she did not attribute all our nation's woes to our failure to emulate the French. Waters explains that she goes to France every year (insert carbon-footprint remark here), and that the French taught her how great food can be. This much I can accept. Harder to take is her belief that the French value their culture, unlike us crude Americans, and that their defense of their cuisine is a part of this. She presents the French appreciation of land and soil as this uncomplicated good, when in fact the history of French preservation-of-culture-via-agriculture is anything but. While self-aware enough to realize this is merely a sign I've been in too much graduate school, I couldn't help but think, as Waters was explaining how "beautiful" it is when public-school students work the land, the great 19th (and 20th!) century obsession with turning Jews into farmers. Of course, I know she's not endorsing the shadier aspects of French nativism when she holds forth on locally-grown lettuce (I save my paranoia for baby-tiger photos), but it wouldn't hurt if she made a point of showing awareness that France is not (just) some lettuce-filled paradise, and if she were willing to admit the existence of more positive aspects of American culture. Plus, getting the whole country on board for local/organic whatnot will be easier if it does not seem to entail having cultivated a personal appreciation for the south of France.

-As for American culture... Should we outlaw Black Friday or embrace it? How much of the anti-consumerist indignation (see photos and comments) is coming from people who themselves enjoy shopping, but who are aesthetically put off by Walmart, flat-screens, and big crowds of the less-than-chic? Where does consumerism end and Sartorialism begin? Why do we insist debt-inducing materialism is unique to the contemporary US, when nineteenth-century Frenchwomen partook? How much is a visceral distaste for mass-produced items and those who revel in getting them half price (says she who just spent $4.75 on an Old Navy hat, albeit not on the day), and how much is a not-at-all-classist and fully understandable reaction to the fact that a man died so that people could get their discounts. Elizabeth is right that "No matter how many times someone says it or writes it, it doesn’t sound any less horrifying."