Saturday, January 31, 2009

La nausée

Driving Lesson 2. It turns out you can make yourself carsick.

Friday, January 30, 2009

In which I announce, ashamed, gaps in my knowledge

“Comme un Juif en France” portrays a country that, despite having the largest Jewish population of any country in Western Europe, has been, and continues to be, little short of catastrophic for Jews. Yet there may be surprising reasons for hope, in the form of French-Jewish comedians who are vastly more popular and influential than Dieudonné. -Benjamin Ivry, The Forward.

Ivry's is a very interesting article, but "little short of catastrophic" sounds... I still have to see the new documentary Ivry refers to, but what he's describing sounds like the now-classic American take on life for Jews in France, one French Jews might not agree with (although for all I know, Ivry is French), and one that ignores the existence of anti-Semitism in the States, largely inspired by various readings of a 'political science' book that shall not be named. (Not going to have the discussion again--if you want my take on why the book's anti-Semitic, you can see previous posts or the Doublethink article.) Also, I'm never sure what to make of reports of anti-Semitism as 'worse' in France than elsewhere in Europe. There may be more anti-Semitic incidents, but how would a yarmulke-wearer fare walking down the street in a mid-size town in France versus one in any other European country? At this point, having been lost somewhere in the nineteenth century for a while, I don't know how to answer any of this, so, Bad Francophilic Zionist! I'd better get on that...

Insert Beyonce Reference Here

Facebook wants to make women (and for all I know men) neurotic about their relationships, because as everyone knows, change in relationship status is what makes people click on profiles, leading to hours spent staring into the abyss. I'm assuming Facebook tends to make more money the more time its users spend on it. (There ends my grand theory of economics.)

On my Facebook sidebar, distracting from all that pertinent information about which of my Facebook friends are newly single or engaged, there's always an ad either for a) reliably hideous engagement rings or b) "Is He Distant?", with a photo indicating a man who's Just Not That Into the woman he's with. It is always one or the other. Because relationships (well, In a Relationships) can, Facebook will have you believe, take one of two paths: imminent and diamond-encrusted marriage-and-kids, or so-overdom. Either He, the Boy, has bought you a $1 (?) Vellagio (Bellagio? Villagio?) Engagement Ring, or he's staring off into the distance... perhaps at one of your Friends who is Now Single.

While Facebook is correct that relationships do typically either end or get more serious, these are subliminal messages telling you to add drama to your life, ASAP, because if your relationship status flat-lines, your profile is effectively dead to all but the most procrastinatory of Facebook users. The point of them is to push users faster than they'd go otherwise in one or the other direction, so that their Facebook friends can get all OMG about the bouleversement of the day. Sneaky, sneaky Facebook.

(Presumably not mentioning relationship status at all leads to ads that play no less cleverly on the probable neuroses of the single and/or discreet. There is no way out!)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Template for a run-out-of-ideas blog post:

Did you ever hear about Group X? They have First World Problem Y. The told the New York Times allll about it. Have they no shame? Surely the author of the article accurately represented Group X, because come on, these are horrible people. Aren't they so spoiled? Can you believe people like Group X exist? It's disgusting. My friends and I are nothing like the members of Group X. Wait, let me look up details about the various members of Group X, because obviously what will upset the Group Xers and show them their place is more publicity.

Or, why Rita has the right idea. Of course, if everyone eliminated re-mocking people mocked in the NYT from their bloggings, there'd be a whole lot of empty space on the Internet.

Weak-willed women too Sephora'd-out for physics

Why are there not more female physicists? Should we care? As a member of DAPA in good standing,* I'm totally qualified to address this. By "this" I mean, of course, Heather MacDonald's article (via). Nothing about dark matter or anything.

She's going somewhere right with the piece, but there's still something missing. On the one hand, the notion that diversity must mean not just equal opportunity, but that every work setting everywhere must be an exact reflection of the population ignores the fact that different groups gravitating to different fields is sometimes a neutral phenomenon. Even distributions resulting from discrimination (obvious examples: Jews in finance, blacks in certain sports, women and gay men in the fashion industry) can end up empowering otherwise marginalized groups, although it's easy to see where success in a stereotypical field can backfire. But just because turning every field into a perfect gender-and-racially-balanced microcosm of society has its drawbacks doesn't mean we should just shrug our shoulders and say 'that's how it is and always will be' when we see imbalance, or that we shouldn't be looking to knock down barriers, visible and less-visible, to participation where they exist.

On that front, MacDonald misses a couple things. One, culture matters, and cannot be reduced to some TV show that's been on for about five minutes. She writes that "the fertility clock and women’s greater involvement with their babies are not chauvinist plots; they are biological realities." Fertility clocks, yes, baby-craziness, no. With breast-feeding the obvious caveat, there's no biological reason a man and a woman can't spend equal amounts of time with their children.

Moreover, women "attending to preposterous wrinkle-cream ads in women’s magazines" are acting rationally in a society in which looking haggard hurts a woman's chances in both personal and professional settings. There's an aspect of appearance-consciousness that is about putting together outfits because it's enjoyable and what-not, and that is often miscategorized as superficiality, but there's a less uplifting side to self-expression-through-appearance, which is the sense - based on an accurate understanding of how the world works - that certain 'flaws' must be corrected. It's not necessarily a sign of female 'weakness' or even vanity that women of a certain age - or weight - worry in ways that their male equivalents do not. (Not to mention the question of hair and race, or how for profession women with 'messy' hair, being taken seriously means time spent styling, whereas men have the option of cutting it all off without offending any sexual norms.)

She also misrepresents the time commitment it takes the typical woman to get going in the morning. Yes, women are more interested in clothes, and are under more cultural pressure to 'fix' this or that. But men who spend three hours a day at the gym (not uncommon, even among male scientists) are devoting far more time to personal upkeep than women who draw on eyeliner on their way out of the house. I'm not saying women shouldn't spend three hours a day on makeup/shopping/fussing, but that my sense is, few do. Until we measure hours spent lifting weights versus shopping, the dearth of female physicists cannot be blamed on the allure of Sephora.

And finally, The Question: "Which is it? Are women 'strong'? Or can they be crushed by fears of a permanent bad hair day and inspired by something as superficial as Hollywood fashion?"

All variants of 'what do women want?' are frustrating because the question implicitly leaves out the possibility that one woman might be more than one thing, or that different women want different things. There are geeky-genius women who've never heard of Paris Hilton despite growing up near her in New York or LA. There are female intellectual-types who love love love books and shoes. There are unstylish ladies whose shabbiness is not accompanied by great academic potential or achievement, or even extracurricular brilliance. (See also: in either sex, social ineptitude does not equal genius.)

* Are there meetings? Of course! I go to them every week, after the ones with the Jewish cabal.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bonobos in Paradise*

Uh oh. Now men finally know the secret, that during sex, women are thinking not about them, not about George Clooney, not about Carla Bruni, but about our evolutionary predecessors. (Or whatever monkeys are. If bonobos are even monkeys. Forgive me, I'm in the humanities.)

I realize that's not at all what the most-discussed article of the moment is about. As it happens, I have nothing worthwhile to say about the article, other than that this post title needed a post to go with it.

*Apologies to David Brooks, and Jo, whose phrasing it is, although he came up with it in a different context entirely.

My priviledge, let me show you it

I just defended caring about clothes, and judging other people by their dress, all in the name of my warped understanding of feminism. To borrow from Kei, I ask that all interested in doing so, bring it. Once done bringing it, I ask that you be permitted to eat cake.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Slow food, fast food, and fancy kitchen equipment

Vindication! I am not the only person who chooses steel-cut oatmeal over the efficient varieties on the market. At the store recently, Jo gestured to some "quick oats" with a "hint hint" and I'd have to agree, he has a point. But if prepared correctly, cooked in milk and some (read a good amount of) maple syrup, the result is as close to rice pudding for breakfast as you can get without eating rice pudding for breakfast. Which also works. What doesn't work: getting the pot totally clean after a weeks-long oatmeal-as-pudding kick. Dreams of my dishwasher, indeed.

In other culinary news, Chelsea Thai has the absolute best food I have ever eaten, ever. I don't understand it. There's something in the Pad Gra Prow that makes going from Park Slope to the Meatpacking district for lunch seem reasonable. I believe I was even talking about this Thai food in DC, frustrated that even with the Megabus, it was not an option. I want someone more knowledgeable about Thai food than I am (trained as I was on Hyde Park's finest) to taste the dish and tell me what ingredient is making it so much better than all other food, so that I can pour it on everything. Except maybe the oatmeal. Chelsea Thai sells a wide range of Thai-food sauces, but going through them one by one seems inefficient.

And, in the final culinary news of the day, suggestible viewer of NYT Video that I am, I insisted we pick up, at the kitchen-goods store in Chelsea Market, a ketchup-type squirt bottle to store salad dressing in. Was it worth the dollar? Only time will tell. We saw, but did not buy, although it was tempting, little glass bowls like the ones Mark Bittman (see Item 1) uses in his Minimalist cooking videos. (This reminds me, to finish up the post, that for dinner I once again made salade nicoise, and this time, thanks to Jill Santopietro's dressing method, the results not only tasted good, but did not look like they'd been vomited on.) Making a meal by tossing in pre-chopped ingredients from little glass bowls into larger glass bowls looks like it would be fun to do at home, to pretend one had one's own cooking show, but this, like everything, will have to wait for The Dishwasher.

False populism

The thing that makes "first-world problems," "Stuff White People Like," and similar avenues of mockery viable is for those doing the mocking to have some degree of self-awareness. The (upper-) middle-class participants, when mocking the rich, are also mocking aspects of themselves. Making fun of Alex Kuczynski, Emily Brill, or that woman with an espresso maker on every floor of her townhouse is not an activity one engages in to raise awareness about the less fortunate, to make us turn away from materialism and towards what really matters in life. The point is to feel salt-of-the-earth one's self. Most of the mockery comes from those with the leisure and Internet connection that permits keeping up with the Sunday Styles. I'm guessing, at any rate, that few of these commenters took breaks after 16-hour shifts of manual labor, took the bus to their local public library, and had their say. In short, we're looking at the privileged insulting the very privileged.

A subset of the Internet mock-commentariat (mocktariat?) is made up of those whose mockery of the rich (real or imagined) is not accompanied by any kind of self-awareness. So enamored these blog-goers are of flinging the phrase, 'Your privilege is showing,' and its variants at anyone whose words can be twisted to fit the bill that they forget that their own is just as visible. They feign a heart-rendering sensitivity to the underprivileged, all while doing what everyone does on the Internet, namely making fun of those who come across as clueless, simply because doing so makes for some good procrastination. Do these bloggers/commenters also work for social justice? I'm sure some do and some don't. My point is that the posts themselves haven't got a thing to do with helping anyone other than some Internet-friends of theirs also bored at the office.

You see where this is heading. Yes, the Affaire J.Crew continues.

Attempting to display how out-of-touch I am, living it up as I do on my hedge-fund-esque TA-ship and non-existent but somehow massive trust fund, Kriston Capps writes, "Let's note that J. Crew is well out of the price range of a great many Americans whom the Obamas represent." Americans about whom Capps is so concerned, I take it, that he wrote this post. To help the poorest Americans, not to show blog-readers his amazing class sensitivity.

Let's be honest. Are there items at J.Crew only the rich could afford? Yes. Are there those for whom a $30 sweater is too much? Yes and no. It depends how often you shop. No one assumes someone who goes to bars or smokes cigarettes, or goes to the movies, or otherwise spends money on things other than lentils and peanut butter, is filthy rich. If you are not starvation-level poor, I'm afraid that yes, you can (get it?) afford a $30 sweater, maybe even a $30 skirt as well a few months later. For those of us with jobs that don't pay well but require a professional look, J.Crew sales are a reasonable place to shop. And, for the last time, J.Crew is not outrageously expensive, and all this oversensitivity to those who find the store's prices out-of-reach strikes me as nothing more than false populism. Yes, there are people in this country too poor to buy a shirt. No, you are not helping them by being an asshole on the Internet.

So, before yet another blog with far more traffic than this one misses the point, and because the DCist does not seem to accept comments without registering...

-I fully stand by the post that inspired the pile-on, one which, oddly enough, I'd originally written because I'd tired of the vitriol on both sides following my posts about actual political issues, and was about ready for some fluff no one would find offensive. Little did I know...

-Whatever the Obamas wore to the Inauguration was bound to be interpreted as symbolic, political, meant to make a statement to the country and world, and thus quite unrelated to what people, wealthy or not, wear in normal situations. The outfits, aside from looking appropriate and attractive, needed to send two messages. One, this is a very important day, and two, we are not the Palins, so we are not wearing the entire contents of several Neiman Marcuses. Hanna Rosin thought the more important message was that they are not out-of-touch elites. I thought the more important message was that the day was a big deal. If there was ever a moment that called for over-the-top, this was it. The Obama girls are, after all, well-off private-school girls, part of a milieu where J.Crew is not considered shockingly expensive. It would be rubbing it in the rest of the country's faces if the Obama girls showed up in those woven pink Chanel suits meant for ladies-who-lunch, but it struck me as disingenuous that we all had to pretend that off-the-rack J.Crew would be these girls' most-special-occasion-ever clothing, and that the Obamas were not making a political calculation in choosing to put their kids in something many (no, not all, but many) American kids might wear.

-I updated my post, well before any of these sans-culottes started commenting on my hoity-toity ways, to say that on second thought, J.Crew clothes are rather expensive for kids. I suppose it would have hurt Capps' point about my cluelessness re: life in Real America if he'd mentioned this, so he did not.

-As I learned after writing the post, the clothing was special-made for the girls, and is not off-the-rack J.Crew. So the Obamas did, in fact, hit both the regular-people and super-important-day marks. They did not think chain store clothing, even of the fancy sort, was special enough for the occasion. I find this perfectly reasonable.

-When clothing is so purely a political message, it's impossible not to mention brands. The Obamas knew full well that people would want to know where their clothing came from, and intentionally sent a message with their choice. To discuss the outfits' politics is to discuss, in part, the brand. How all these people got from my post that "Phoebe can't see people without evaluating prices of what they wear first" is beyond me. One simply does not lead to the other. And it's not even true. Call me obsessed with male beauty, fine. But label-obsessed, I will not have it.

Highbrow, lowbrow

-John Cleese, oh dear. (via.) When a man is old enough not to notice his 27-year-old ladyfriend is actually 45, he is too old for that midlife crisis. Then again, a Python, like a Beatle, is eternal, and can have whomever he damn well pleases, and his girl is whomever he thinks she is. That's just how it works.

-If you liked "Designing Women," but felt there weren't enough lingering shots of actresses staring blankly, edited into scenes for no apparent reason other than to fill time, you will love "The City." Aside from the usual reality-TV conundrums (How can a show about people organically entering and exiting one another's personal and professional lives have a "cast"? How can a man's interest in dating the main character be disconnected from the fact that if he "loves" her, he gets to be on TV, and if he doesn't, he's just another wannabe actor/model/rockstar?) this show is actually kind of excellent, in its complete embrace of its own stupidity. It doesn't pretend to be a show for 'serious' people by dropping the name "Yale" around (ahem, "Gilmore Girls," "Gossip Girl") sporadically, whenever viewers who think of themselves as serious people start to suspect they're watching a teen soap. (Silly TV that's also intellectual began and ended with our friend Mr. Cleese's contributions to the medium.) It's as if "The City" announces at regular intervals, "You are watching junk." And the show does do this, flashing the name of each main character every time he or she reenters the episode, in case your attention span is that hopeless. Which, if it wasn't already, it will be after 10 minutes of this show.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Broome Broome

Yesterday was my first driving lesson. I can now drive around a block, on loop, which I wouldn't have thought possible the day before, so I consider Lesson 1 a success.

The toughest part was, as predicted, the fact that the lessons are in Chinatown. No one in that part of the city, neither the tourists nor the locals, considers the street a place where cars might be, or looks to see if there might be a moving car near them, or makes any distinction between the crosswalk and the rest of the street. I knew all this, having been a pedestrian myself on these streets, but... wow. On one block, tiny, very elderly women kept darting out from between parked cars, utterly oblivious to the moving vehicles. Like Mr. Hyacinth Bucket, I now know how to "mind the pedestrians."

I suppose I could look at this as an 'if you can drive here, you can drive anywhere' situation, but my plan at this point is to take enough lessons so I can get the license before my permit expires, then express my undying love to the MTA, smelly and permanently off-schedule as it is, for keeping me from needing to drive.

Friday, January 23, 2009


To all the haters recently arrived from this thread, unwilling to believe that self-supporting grad students can afford J.Crew, I'll have you know there's a J.Crew sample sale going on at this very minute. Knock yourselves out!

Or, if you are above caring about labels, enjoy your afternoon of thrift-store-clad profundity, spent anonymously bashing people you don't know, who are not celebrities, on the Internet.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Poodles, pudge, and the French Paradox

Maybe it's the pain au chocolat I just ate, or the Intermediate II class I taught pre-pastry, but today's post will be about all things French.

First, there is this amazing story about, yes, a violent, "clinically depressed" French poodle attacking its owner, Jacques Chirac. Never has a certain one of this blog's tags been more appropriate.

Then (via Clementine) there's the controversy at Jezebel and elsewhere over what to do about the fact that French women live off wine, lardons, tobacco and (surprisingly) beer, yet all (goes the myth) live to be 100 and die looking better than health-conscious American women do at 18. Can it be?

The French paradox is much-covered territory here at WWPD. On the one hand, as an American, I want to believe the myth about Frenchwomen comes from the fact that Americans associate France with Paris, whereas for whatever reason the French don't associate the US with New York, and that, outside these two cities, we're looking at two overweight countries. On the other hand, a) every French person, noble or paysan has, what with the Euro, visited New York, helped to empty out a branch of Shoemania, and, in the process, noticed that even in New York, Americans are overweight, and b) cellulite 'cures' are to Western Europe what weight-loss techniques are to the States. And cellulite is, when it comes down to it, a thin woman's concern.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

At least they didn't wear khakis UPDATED

When I learned that the Obama girls wore J.Crew to the inauguration, I found it a bit depressing. Yes, they looked adorable, as always, but this was the Most Important Day Ever, for America, the world, and, in all likelihood, the two of them. J.Crew is hardly Kmart, but it's a cheap enough store for, say, those on grad student budgets to shop in from time to time. I'm not saying they had to go all Sarah Palin-$150,000 on us, but the move struck me as over-the-top tasteful.

Hanna Rosin would disagree. She points out that "those jackets (beautiful, sherbet-y, perfect) that [Michelle Obama] bought her girls cost close to $200, which is quite a lot for a kid's coat." It is, yes, but it's what girls in the Obama's milieu wear to family weddings, graduations, and other small-scale big-deal events. It's not much to spend for an event along the lines of Oh My God My Father's the First Black President, Ever, Starting Now.

That said, Rosin's dead-on re: J.Crew being symbolically off given its "high WASP" connotations. The catalog ranges from 'look, we hired a model who vaguely looks of-color from certain angles, to balance out the many identical blondes' to downright offensive.


How could I blog about children's jackets without mentioning the one I currently covet? Alas, it seems either that my sweater was too bulky or that I am finally too big for a children's XXL. (Probably not the sweater, since the main problem was that it was, amazingly, too short on me.) Still, that this superchic jacket goes for $34.50 puts the J.Crew ones in perspective, and makes me more inclined than before to agree with Rosin's first point.

Now tell us what you really think

Read any mainstream thread on Gaza, and sooner or later you'll find a comment about how, in the US, one is not allowed to say anything bad about Israel, for fear of being seen as anti-Semitic. The same commenter, or one with the same politics, will then go on to criticize Israel (with a mix of valid and out-there critiques; exact ratio will vary) as well as the Jewish-controlled media that has brainwashed all Americans into siding with Israel, the Hitlerian regime that runs the Jewish state, and so on. (The comments to this piece are as good a place to start as any.)

Point being, you are allowed to say what you think about Israel, and about the Jews, so long as you first offer a disclaimer, 'This is about Israel.' As I've argued before, and as others seem to concur, the consensus that anti-Semitism refers only to Nazism makes it impossible to accurately label anything nowadays as anti-Semitic. One constantly hears the line, 'You can't criticize Israeli policy without being accused of anti-Semitism,' yet even Walt and Mearsheimer's most fervent critics by and large chose not to refer to "The Israel Lobby" (the book or the article) as anti-Semitic. Which both works plainly are. Are they examples of Nazism? No. Anti-Semitism? Absolutely. (To those who haven't read the book and think it's just a critique of US policy that's got nothing to do with Jews per se, I suggest reading the thing, but not, of course, purchasing it.) Frank Furedi, meanwhile, outlines the latest in European anti-Semitism, including Danish schools excluding Jewish students, because of course Jew=Israel=controversy.

The problem today is thus not overuse of the term 'anti-Semitism', but its under-use. The 'Jew-who cries anti-Semitism' is such a cliche that one rarely hears a Jew under 50 make reference to the ideology except as something from a faraway past. Since those of my generation are accustomed to thinking of a marginalized group as one that's stereotyped as not accomplished in the economic and educational spheres (i.e. why it was racist for Biden to call Obama "articulate"), we're not sure what to make of the fact that we're assumed all-powerful. How can we be insulted? But more importantly, all mobilization to fight back against anti-Semitism, if successful, is interpreted as yet another display of Jewish power. If one could only fight the ideology by offering up a movement of mediocre American Jews, with mediocre (if any) degrees and overpowering addictions to 'US Weekly', North Face jackets, and pot, things would be much, much simpler.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Joy of Muggings

I could be wrong, but I'd thought the market on essays about how New York Isn't What It Once Was, on how the city is now one big Chase Bank, Duane Reade, and Starbucks-filled mall, had long since been saturated. But no. Kevin Baker's vaguely Obama-themed piece in the Times yesterday was a fine example of an article that's been written so, so many times since the Clinton years, if not earlier, that it reads as parody. Particularly lines like, "I fell in love with an artist who lived at the Salvation Army’s Evangeline residence for women, and we walked the slate-blue paving stones around Gramercy Park for hours, talking about art." Is this for real?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Vroom vroom!

Today I passed my "pre-licensing test," which was a quiz given after a class, and by "class" I mean a series of videos from the 1970s about, among other things, not leaving the disco after too many pineapple cocktails and then getting behind the wheel. According to these informative tapes, a good number of women reach 50 without learning that yes, you can get drunk even if all you have are 'girly-drinks,' and that men as old as 40 think drinking coffee after alcohol cancels things out. That the examples given were of drivers who were on the older end of the spectrum (at least for behavior associated with reckless youth, not to mention ignorance about alcohol that most get past by 22 at the oldest) made me feel better about learning to drive at age 110.

Upon arrival, I didn't quite notice when the first driving video came on, replacing a Chinese variety show, because I was thinking an instructor was about to show, and the documentary about 1970s truck drivers was on in the mean time. There was no instructor. But there were a lot of interesting references in the videos to drivers as male, not in the gender-neutral, grammatical 'he'-as-he-or-she sense of male, but as in, learning how to fix your car will help get you chicks. Chicks with whom you can grow old and order pineapple cocktails for, but if you do so, you'd better not let them drive. I can't imagine driving, let alone drinking beforehand (the videos were clearly not addressing the Askenazically-toleranced among us), but I did enjoy the background disco music and the side-parted, slicked-down, or afro'd '70s hair.

The final tape brought us up to what appeared to be the 1980s, but a 'woman mechanic' mentioned something about a '90s woman knowing how to fix her own car, so I'm assuming this was either 1990 or the later '90s in an impressively fashion-backwards part of the country. One of the mechanics looked exactly like one of my distant relatives. Assuming the people in this video were not professional models (they didn't seem to be) I was struck by how much thinner 'ordinary' people were in 1990 (?) America than today. Long story short, I started to zone out when what could go wrong with every last thing under the hood (?) of a car was explained, as though the listener had some preexisting knowledge of what's inside a car. I mean, stuff? As I told Jo after the class, I needed a diagram, like what you get in high school biology before you dissect a frog. Looks like I'll do some learning on my own. But if the online reviews are correct, you go to this driving school for the lessons and despite the class. I'll be driving around a snowy Chinatown in no time!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Evil, evil bobcat

Why must the NYU library site be down, in various ways, for days on end, right as the semester's about to start? And why must they announce the "New BobCat," when there is in fact no BobCat whatsoever? I need, like, a lot of books. This is not helping.

Oh fine, let me whine away, while as usual, Nicholas Kristof-not-ol highlights problems beyond the First World. One comment to his latest article made me feel extra-awful about myself: for complaining about an admittedly problematic library website; for complaining earlier in the evening about how Whole Foods hot dog buns are never as fresh-tasting as the regular supermarket kind (but the hot dogs themselves are delightful); for being infuriated yesterday at a coffee shop when a man thought he was being oh so cute telling me that I would strain my eyes reading tiny print, thereby distracting me from the tiny print I was reading, not that he himself was distracting, which he wasn't, but it reminded me just how tiny the print really was; and for my disappointment at discovering that the shoes I want are all over NYC at a steep discount in all sizes except my own:

I started working at the age of five, in Hong Kong, and never stopped. I still remember those days when getting enough rice, and nothing else, for two meals a day (not three) was a struggle for my mom. Sending me to school took everything we had, including me working after school. At the age of 54, I am an accomplished scientist with a Ph.D. degree now. I would never have gotten where I am without child labor. Thank god for child labor!

Never mind then. BobCat, take your time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More asymmetry: 'Game', or why male looks *must* matter to feminists

The notion of 'game', that certain techniques allow men to get women* they couldn't otherwise, is well-known to be off-putting to feminists. Aside from the fact that sleazy men in bars who rate women on a scale of 1 to 10 are feminism's most natural enemies, it's not necessarily obvious why feminists would object to what ultimately amounts to the encouragement of casual sex. If both parties are willing to play out some convoluted seduction scenario, what's the problem?

Here's what: 'Game' rests on the assumption that women do not, like men, immediately rule out the vast majority of potential partners on the basis of looks, regardless of how witty these men are in their approach, and only consider such factors as intelligence, kindness, and sense of humor among the men they would, on the basis of looks, consider having a romantic relationship with. (I've pointed this out before, but to preempt comments along the lines of how tough it is for men who don't look like Abercrombie models: for looks to matter does not mean that all women consider as possibilities men with one particular look. I don't use the word 'type' to denote personal preference, because these restrictions do not always manifest themselves as 'must be redheaded and between 5'10" and 6'-style parameters.)

Since women do, like men, scan parties and cafés involuntarily for the people they find most attractive, 'game' is about telling women not to believe themselves worthy of taking this most basic standard into account. It's about men convincing women that there's a man shortage, such that a good-looking, intelligent woman must settle, no, be grateful for, at best, an unattractive but clever man, as a one-night stand or a husband. (He bathes, doesn't steal your money, and doesn't beat you? How lucky you must be!)

And it works, so long as many women refuse to demand that whatever effort they make with their own looks, men do the equivalent. Or, when it comes to 'natural' beauty, that even women who aren't spending hours and thousands on their looks should understand that looks are indeed part of what they have to offer, and that by dating a man far worse-looking (by her standards), they are setting themselves up to wonder what he has that makes up for the disparity. In cases where there isn't a clear answer (money or power), the woman is left thinking she's not as smart or interesting or otherwise impressive as her guy, and it's in the man's interest to encourage this line of thought.

One would think the feminist objection to 'game' would be that it objectifies women. Instead, it should be that it refuses the possibility of women objectifying men.

*Clearly, 'get women' means different things in different contexts. If the point is to figure out what will get someone beer-goggled and desperate to come home with you, there may well be techniques, although they say that standing next to the person and saying hello will do the trick. The sober, the merely tipsy, and those interested in relationships lasting more than one evening, are another matter.

Becoming a real grown-up, Installment I: Driving

So my learner's permit's going to expire this summer, which means... time for driving lessons! Because I'm an idiot, I'm taking those lessons in Chinatown, known among drivers and pedestrians alike as perhaps the most difficult area to get around in the city. OK, it's because the lessons are cheap and come recommended by many Internet commenters, who may or may not work for the driving company, but who I'm choosing to think of as impartial. Given that my last attempt at driving lessons entailed a private instructor making many early-morning appointments and showing up for exactly none, I'm thinking this will be much, much better.

The real motivation may not, now that I think of it, be the imminently-expiring permit. It's more likely to be these commercials for car insurance, or at any rate something to do with cars, that feature pimply 16-year-olds getting their license photos taken at the DMV. It hit me then that I really had waited that long to get this out of the way.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The asymmetry question

The Jewish question, today at least, is one of asymmetries. Actual Jews' power versus that of 'the Jews,' an imagined entity. Actual Jews' interest in the continued existence of Israel versus actual Jews' (including Israelis') interest in living in Israel. If Jewish power equaled 'Jewish power', either in the sense of the world finally realizing that Jews do not control it, or in the sense of Jews actually controlling it, as imagined, things would be much simpler. And if interest in Israel equaled interest in living in Israel, same thing.

That's the question. No, I don't have an answer.

Monday, January 12, 2009

DC diary

Most '36 hours in...'-type city guides leave out the nitty-gritty, highlighting the, well, highlights, and leaving out the actual experience of travel. So I'll begin with the bus. All told, it was a super-efficient and cheap way to get to DC. But be warned: the person in the seat in front of you may not consider the possibility that the person in the seat behind not only can see their screen, but can't so much look anywhere else, line-of-vision being what it is. On the way to DC, a young man was writing a clearly semi-autobiographical novel (labeled "Novel.doc") about a 22-year-old man sleeping with a skanky but hot 15-year-old girl. On the way back, a young woman received instant messages from her boyfriend (?) about how he was getting his "peanut" (this was his preferred euphemism; unfortunate given that I'd brought peanuts to eat on the ride) ready for her visit. There was more detail, but she did eventually alert him to the possibility that someone could see whatever he planned to type. Or show. Video-chat plus wifi in public areas, indeed.

The trip overall was a success. Jo finally saw the US capital, I finally met some people I'd met through blogging (but not all the people I meant to! not having Internet while in DC might have been a mistake), and we both inadvertently preceded Obama on his pre-presidency tour of DC. If we'd only gone to the Lincoln Memorial at night as suggested, it could have been us, rather than a near-toothless, bored-seeming man, being interviewed on the news about a chance sighting of The Most Important Family Ever.

On that note, the whole city is Obama'd out, and it's bizarre. Every ad campaign (Coke and Pepsi, IKEA, etc.) incorporates either an Obama slogan ('Yes we can change, hope, etc.'), logo, idea, in one way or another. The Metro tickets have Obama's face on them, as do mugs and shot glasses at CVS. Every store, whatever it normally sells, also sells Obama gear. Yes, it is possible to be glad Obama won and to think the presidency is, all told, a job and not a messianic arrival. The constant reminders to worship Obama, combined with the book selection here, very nearly turned me into an honest-to-goodness Republican. Coincidentally, I am a Republican, but only because I wanted to vote against Huckabee in the primaries, and they only just now switched my registration. So it goes.

To end on a non-DC-specific note, every young woman in the city not in business dress opts for the North Face-Uggs combo, the official outfit of the the American bourgeoisie. I didn't realize this was still the thing, but it is.

I know, I know, I'm one to talk. And, in the look's defense, it's pro-woman, in a way, to have a style that requires no particular build, and that is if anything more comfortable than anything men would ever wear. And perhaps it's just that Georgetown undergrads and entry-level government workers off to brunch have more important things on the agenda than fashion, and are not as superficial as New York women. (I don't actually think caring how one dresses means being superficial, but I'm beginning with the counter-argument, so bear with me.)

But... it's not the most attractive outfit. And I'm not clear adopting the look is taking a stand against superficiality. Fleeces and winter boots identical in every way to these brands, or even more attractive versions thereof, are readily available, and often less expensive. But it's not permitted to branch out in this way. A comparison could be made to leggings-as-pants, which have long been something of a uniform in parts of NYC. But at least you can rarely tell what brand the leggings are, or how much they cost, although you can guess they were indeed cheaper than real pants. (Not that this is defends not wearing pants.) The all-American pseudo-uniform is not about wearing a fleece and winter boots. It's about wearing these particular fleeces and winter boots, as though one had stock in the companies. DC has nearly all the same stores as New York, so it's not as though there's this one shop with only these two brands. There is clearly some unwritten law against an Old Navy fleece and Emu boots. Go with the wrong labels, and reveal your (or your parents') poverty. Go with a totally different outfit, and risk who knows what.

(Over-) Analysis Section: Seeing one young woman after the next in the same outfit made me wonder if there's a connection between the alleged 'hook-up culture' (there has to be a less grating way to put this) and the fact that every college woman wears the exact same outfit. Women caring how they dress and a culture of dating, monogamy, or even old-fashioned promiscuity might go hand in hand. Or not. But what one does notice is that when all women are dressed alike, there's no room for personal style to make up for a lack of conventional beauty. Tall, thin, blond women stand out. In subcultures with a bit more style flexibility, that's not always the case. Rather than making it so looks don't matter, the one-outfit rule makes looks matter more. It's true with mandatory uniforms as well as the one discussed above.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Atrocities and apologies

Thank you, Emily Yoffe.

It's amazing how many commentators, not just Christopher Hitchens, have used the latest Middle East conflict as a reason for why Israel ought not to have existed in the first place. This always makes me think of all the other countries founded on someone else's land (I'm sitting in one such country as we speak). What, other than our forebearers' successful all-but-elimination of the Native Americans, gives the US the right to exist? It makes me think of how Europe could kill off the Ashkenazi civilization, then say 'Oops, our bad,' and can now claim the moral high ground in international debates. So basically, had Israel just wiped out or expelled the Palestinians, then said, 'Oh, we're so sorry for the genocide, we'll never do it again, we promise,' the Jewish state would be in the clear. That this didn't happen, it seems, is why Israel's existence can still be questioned.

And yes, I now haz a sad.

"When a guy approaches you in a bar, regardless of your attraction for him, you: [...]"

Once Amber removed the link to a blog dedicated to men's 'game', I of course became curious. Unfortunately link-removal can have that effect.

The site struck me as more pathetic than evil, evoking a bad SNL sketch set at a disco-type nightclub. The blog's persona is that of a man who can't get a girlfriend or wife choosing to look at this inability as in fact a macho rejection of being 'whipped', a deliberate choice to be in bars insulting women rather than at home sleeping with one.

This Roissy's ignorance of women is remarkable, and at times entertaining. For example, he thinks there are women whose appearance is not improved by carefully-applied makeup. There aren't. He advises women to smile at strange men in bars, even if those men are unattractive; to go out of their way to praise anatomy that's better left not commented on; and to orgasm from whatever sexual act happens to please the man they're with, simply because women should be that giving. Again, it's an unintentionally (?) amusing read, more likely to hurt men, I think, than women. Some man without much going for him is probably at this very moment at a bar, asking a woman to buy him a drink, and failing miserably.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

More ways to improve the (first) world:

The people who want a minute for the environment, gay rights, and so on, and so on, and who have convinced me that wherever I live next year, it won't be Park Slope,

a) should not bother a person clearly rushing to or from the laundromat, and

b) should not take the fact that someone carrying detergent and clothes and stuff ignores them as an excuse to make snide comments on what the person in question is wearing to the laundromat. Fine, so maybe it is a Patagonia fleece, something worn every day in some late high school or early college past life, simultaneously preppy, out-of-style, and unfashionably worn-out. (Still waiting on that 1999-2002-era revival.) But it's laundry. The thing has pockets that zip. And whatever your cause, sir, you're not getting any of my many, many quarters.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Those were the days

Sometimes I worry that I'm stuck with a lifelong passion for "Seinfeld," Nirvana, and flannel shirts (hurray '90s revival!), not to mention occasional pangs of Clinton-nostalgia. Boyz II Men will forever evoke slow-dancing, and I refuse to believe that this woman is Courtney Love.

Turns out this is something worth worrying about it. Failure to leave the period of one's coming-of-age can result in monstrosities like Stanley Fish's top-ten list of the best American movies. Films that didn't appear a good three decades before Alvy Singer are, it seems, unworthy.

Unrelated items

-What was the difference between German Jews' Bildung and French Jews' régénération? Nineteenth century. This was my concern prior to break, and will be once again tomorrow, now that the Russian novel and gratuitous trips to Century 21 and Uniqlo are out of my system.

-Jo told me to read this NYT article about absinthe in NYC because it's especially well-written. It is! Thank you, Eric Konigsberg, for the following intro:

There are a number of bars in New York City these days that make cocktails with absinthe, mixing it with rum or tequila or gin to, um, complement the taste. A significant portion of them are on the Lower East Side and are the kind of bars that don’t have a sign or a listed phone number — although, once inside, you may well find yourself in the exclusive company of a bunch of drunk account executives.

That about sums up NYC nightlife, absinthe'd or otherwise. The unmarked-bar gimmick has gotten out of control. For the last time, an establishment that serves food and alcohol, both of which are legal, is not a speakeasy.

-And finally, yes, feminism does mean demanding prettiness from men. I've been going on about this for ages. In some circles, that 'looks matter' means tanning, waxing, and trips to the gym; in others it means carefully disheveled hair and thrift-store blazers. Either way, if men are asking women to fuss with their looks, women should expect the same of men. Or rather, we do expect the same, but should not be afraid to voice it.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Politics Barbie

I'd just gotten through pointing out the problem with assuming feminism implies solidarity with the Palestinians, when I found even more embarrassing girl-responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, over at Jezebel. The post itself is neither here nor there, a reminder that serious things happen on a blog that is not by its nature about hard news, which is fine.

But the comments are, for the most part, painful to read. No, I'm sorry, but "I haz a sad" is not an appropriate response to war. This is not a kitteh war, but one between, you know, people. Nor is "The world would be almost perfect if everyone just lived out every day simply NOT BEING AN ASSHOLE." That's one step away from, 'If women ruled the world, it would just be cupcakes and rose petals all day long!'

Nevertheless, an audience primed to side with all that's vulnerable and adorable and to embrace the least thought-out forms of progressive politics has, surprise, not so much sympathy with the Israelis. But beyond that, there's a truly impressive lack of insight across the ideological spectrum. From one commenter: "I do not object to Jews having a country. I do object in the taking of other people's land. There are many people on both side who want peace. But the ultimate truth is that you can't create countries where other people have lived for thousands of years." Luckily the following commenter points out the slight problem with this, but what ensues is a discussion of how, if Israel had been in Uganda and not Palestine, that would have been OK, because of course Africa does not contain people.

The pro-Israel side, meanwhile, gets some pathetic representation as well: a commenter intending (I think?) to make the (altogether reasonable) comment that perhaps if the US media is pro-Israel, the media in Europe is pro-Palestinian, i.e. it's not that the US is alone in not seeing The Truth About The Situation, but that every media source has a slant. Instead, this commenter helpfully explains that "Parisians are mostly comprised of Muslims."

Of course, this isn't even about women. It's about how all comment threads on a topic like this make one lose whatever hope for humanity one had after reading the news stories themselves. Like, did you know that Jews control the media? Or, recommended by 170 readers, that "What they [the Israelis] have done to the Palestenians [sic] since 1947 is far worse than anything they experienced during WW 2." I give up. I haz a frustrated.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Ways to make the (first) world a better place

-Recipes that bother with calorie counts should also include the calories burned preparing the dish. Sure, there's a stick of butter in these (purely theoretical) muffins, but smashing it up into bits must do something, right? Also worth including: calories spent hand-washing all relevant materials and cleaning all implicated surfaces. And, the as-yet-unstarted No Dishwasher Cookbook gets one new idea.

-There should be just one currency, at least in the US and EU. I'm sure this would have all kinds of economic (or is it financial?) implications my humanities-and-vacation-addled brain can't get around, but it would at least mean buying discounted CK, DKNY, and other acronymic underwear at Century 21 would not mean getting coughed on and/or trampled by the whole of Western Europe. I've found a kind I like, but am afraid to go back because Hans and Lars and Nicolas are all in the lingerie section accompanying their ladyfriends, who are just as excited as NYC women about cheap socks and bras, but who are only here for one week, and must buy them all at once.

-This one is NYU-specific: The library must find a way to allow you to leave with books you've taken out, without having to show each and every one to the student or guard whose job it is to make sure there's a stamp in each. Other schools seem to have figured this out. Why not NYU? It's all well and good if you've got this one book you took out this one time, and you can go daintily show it to the guard; retrieve it; place it in your ironic hipster mini-purse and go about your day. But if you're a grad student with a backpack full of 'em, you have to take each book out and, because the library's just that well-designed, return them to your bag one by one while standing in the way of the exit, because there's really nowhere else to do this. And all the while, as you're filling up the bag once more (less efficiently than you did in the stacks, because you're rushing because you're being trampled, this time by fellow students rather than European tourists), it occurs to you that you've renewed all your books online five times anyway, so the stamp the guard is allegedly 'checking' provides no relevant information. You could just be walking out with any book from the library, provided it had, at one point or another, been stamped. Can't something just beep if you've taken a book you weren't supposed to? Is there something I'm missing?


For whatever reason (cold weather? long subway rides? the fascination of adultery?), I did make it through Anna Karenina over break. I've also eaten unhealthily, not gone to the gym, and not finished revising a paper, so as resolution-ish things go, the Russian novel is it.

A book so long and Great surely cannot be discussed in a blog post, but that doesn't mean I won't discuss it anyway, without some long prelude explaining that the work is Important. So here goes:

-The Pill and modern obstetrics are to Anna Karenina what cellphones are to "Seinfeld."

-There is nothing interesting about farming. Once discussion begins of huge tracts of land (apologies to Michael Palin), I start to not care and want to hear more about waltzes, vodkas, and tuberculosis.

-Why is Anna so much more sympathetic than Emma Bovary? Is she just a better-written character? Or is it that Emma shops while Anna just goes around being tragic? Or, is it that I first read Madame Bovary in high school (translated, then more recently in zee French) and saw the book more from a child's perspective (i.e. what horrible parenting!) and, at the ancient age of 25, can imagine how awful it would be to have been forced to marry someone who seemed OK at the time but wasn't that great actually.

-Is the French untranslated in most editions? In my $2 one, there was a whole lot of untranslated French. But not everything followed by, 'she said in French,' was in French. Just how much happened in French was hard to figure out, but the part of me trained to find a France angle on everything became obsessed with learning about the role of the French language in the lives of aristocrats in nineteenth century Russia. Another part of me was really excited about how you can watch entire seasons of "30 Rock" on Netflix instant viewing, so no thoughts yet on that front.

-I had to Google to figure out why a man named Levin was a) a Russian aristocrat, and b) worried about his relationship with Christ. I'm an idiot.