Saturday, October 31, 2009

Local adventures

Just now, after croissants and a mostly-failed trip to the by-then-picked-over Tribeca farmers' market, Jo and I came upon a massive book sale to benefit the Stuyvesant robotics team. They had these amazing shirts that said 'Stuyvesant Robotics', but the books were more promising still. I had my choice between not one but two books on Flemish painting, and ended up with one on the Ghent altarpiece, along with one on German-Jewish history, one on Vienna, some novel, who knows what else between the two of us, but one of the tote bags destined for Whole Foods ended up fully out of commission.

My old drafting ("CAD" for those in the know) teacher was among those helping the not at all geeky team-members sell the books. I took advantage of the fact that I went to an enormous high school where I looked like just about all the other non-East Asian girls and so did not acknowledge this when interacting with him. But it was really Jo who had the interaction - the teacher overheard him saying something about a physics book and got very excited, urging him to buy a set of Physics I and II. I feared where this might go if Jo revealed anything about his profession, but luckily he did as well, so that was that.

It was soon after that point that we came upon a rather odd choice for a school book fair, particularly in a cultural climate where Halloween costumes deemed too scary are prohibited: Mein Kampf, in English, but with the title left in its recognizable form. Hmm. I wondered what might compel someone to decide, you know what, today's the day I'm going to donate my copy of Mein Kampf to charity, and what better charity than the Stuyvesant robotics team? Did an intellectual Upper West Side parent decide enough was enough and that he needed more room for his Roth? (Or not. There was also, unsurprisingly, a Portnoy's Complaint.) Did an alum leave it to the robotics team in his will? Someone's name was carefully written in the front, but it seemed like a not-so-recent original purchase. I was all set to just place the book next to a copy of some book about the Third Reich, but we sort of decided maybe the people selling the books should know this was one in the pile, not to demand that they censor, but to leave it up to the people selling the books to decide if this was one they wanted. Jo mentioned it to a teacher I did not, thankfully, recognize, and he moved it back into a box. I'm 80% sure he knew why we were pointing this book out to him, but my memory of social studies classes made me think we'd be better off with someone old enough to possibly remember World War II than with a student.

Something about the combination of high school teachers and my adult life, of the robotics team, the Greenmarket, and Mein Kampf, made the whole thing feel very much like an odd dream I could very well have had. Only our now-overstuffed bookcases bear witness to its reality.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Against 'holistic'

Ah, the holistic assessment of college applicants has made it to public colleges. Why? From the NYT: "Merely pushing average grades and test scores ever higher won’t necessarily yield the most vibrant student body." Vibrant. Obviously "vibrant" is code for something - otherwise we'd have to assume rather extreme vagueness - but what? "A holistic evaluation, admissions officials say, allows the luxury of thoughtfully knitting together a multitalented student body as well as a diverse one." The language remains coded, although "thoughtfully knitting" offers a warm-and-fuzzy, grandma-sitting-by-the-fireplace image of what happens when an admissions committee gathers to decide who doesn't get to go to a certain school.

As it happens, my sense from this article is that "holistic" is not code for race- and class-based affirmative action, because if that was all that was desired, public colleges could just take the top whichever percent of each high school. No, holistic just means making it so that if you get rejected by a college, you feel as though you as a person were thoroughly examined and deemed unfit. For some reason, colleges imagine students will see this as fair, and convince themselves that referring to whatever criteria they come up with as capable of assessing someone's entire humanity will leave the schools themselves more effective at accomplishing whatever it is their missions might be.

So my anti-holistic views are already familiar here, and I won't rehash now. All I'll add is where the holistic approach screws things up once kids get to school. There is a rather widespread idea amongst college students - and I remember this from college myself - that a good grade on even an undeniably quantitative assignment means 'the teacher likes me', whereas a bad grade is assumed the result of a teacher extracting cathartic revenge on a student who parts her hair on the wrong side or has otherwise unintentionally offended her instructor. Now having done a bit of grading at this point, I'm well aware how very untrue this assumption is - grading is necessary for providing feedback and all that, but is the least interesting aspect of teaching, falling well behind lesson-planning and giving a class. Objectivity in grading is not only the right thing to do, but the default. The power games the student imagines are, a few nutty teachers aside, absent from the grading process. No teacher lingers over the marked-up assignments, savoring the experience. And... I do sort of think the student imagines the teacher grades on the basis of overall feeling about him as a person because he is under the impression that he was admitted to the college on the basis of what he's like as a person. It's not the student's fault that he takes these things personally, because that's just what he's been told to do.

It's weird. I don't think the individual factors that make up 'holistic' assessments are a problem, so much as the idea of as-a-person judgments being made. 'Multiple factors' sounds much better to me than 'holistic,' even if the process behind them is identical.

Au marché

I'm attempting to put together a lesson plan unlike any other I've done: I've asked my students if they're up for this, and they are. 'This' is class held at the Union Square Greenmarket. The idea occurred to me as soon as I learned I was teaching Elementary this semester, a course with all kinds of vegetable vocabulary. It seemed silly to just sit in the classroom talking about Parisian markets some may never see and that quite frankly aren't necessarily that amazing (one key exception being this one market in the 7th arrondissement that had a mini-petting zoo with baby animals of the same species as one could also buy, slightly older and dead, for dinner) when one of the country's best markets is in prime NYU territory.

The difficulty, though, is in the specifics. There are 19 students, so going around as a group - what I'd initially pictured before knowing how many students I'd have this semester - is not practical, given how crowded the market is already. So I'll be putting them in groups. That they'll be unsupervised is fine, considering that they're in college, but who will make them speak French during this time? Hmm. I accept the possibility that some might take 'field trip' to mean 'leave early', but want a) an interesting activity for the majority of students who won't go this route, and b) some kind of assignment preventing the stragglers from getting credit for a class they haven't attended. Also, I'm trying to find a way for the students to use zee French without having to, say, humiliate themselves by asking the guys at the fish stand for du poisson. My plan so far is to put them in groups, each with a dish they need to 'prepare', asking them market-specific questions of what they can and can't find at the market, and some other questions that will make it so that they can all leave early, but that they'll have an assignment to turn in that will make up for that time. (Because the class is 75 minutes, and it's already getting cold!)

So, will this exercise work? Or am I a naive Francophile for even thinking of it? Also, any suggestions from teachers would be much appreciated.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The pretty-man debate continues

Let me get this straight. A woman married to a man who is both physically attractive and president of the United States is advising single women as follows: "Cute’s good. But cute only lasts for so long, and then it’s, Who are you as a person? Don’t look at the bankbook or the title. Look at the heart. Look at the soul..."

Now I know nothing firsthand about Barack Obama's heart and soul - no doubt both are lovely - but if any man is up for awards in both cuteness and title-holding-ness, he'd be the one. Granted he was not president when they met - at most he seemed like someone destined for great things - but as she said herself, cuteness fades, and as photos show, cute as he is now, he was a whole lot cuter then.

Setting aside the question of why Michelle Obama is offering dating tips in Glamour, I find it interesting that she assumes women today overvalue men's looks. I can't remember the last time I've read Glamour, so maybe that is something of a trope in that magazine, but I was under the impression that stock advice to women was to care about what's on the inside, yes, but in terms of loving men without much professional drive (see: "Knocked Up"), not in terms of accepting Seth Rogan looks over James Franco ones.

However, because Michelle Obama knows what she's doing, she's chosen her words well. Yes, "cute" fades in men - the cuter the 18-year-old, the less ruggedly handsome he'll look by 40, not saying which Beatle comes to mind... - but sexy, good-looking, etc. don't have to. Which is why I almost think the cuteness advice is meant not for grown women but for teenage girls - the only set of females commonly known to pick inappropriate male partners on the basis of looks alone - while the comments about male status are directed at women 22 and up. This would, I'd imagine, cover a broader set of Glamour readers than dealing with just girls or just women.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

This history of our civilization, in a nutshell

LIMELIGHT: This former church and club will open in the spring as a marketplace with several food vendors, including an organic grocery. - NYT Dining section

Protestant church turned notorious drug-filled nightspot turned organic food shop. Wonder what will come next!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yeah, I cringed

Patronizing defined? Or just evidence that fashion blogs work best as purdy purdy pictures and that forays into social commentary can only end in embarrassment?

On getting out of bed for less than $10,000 a day

Finally, someone interviewed in the NYMag series that asks (minor) celebrities "Would you still live here on a $35,000 salary?" offers the perfect answer: "I think I may already."


Uniqlo is, I'm starting to think, leading an organized effort to drain my bank account. I went today to pick up the (sensible! practical!) black corduroy pants I got last week and that had been hemmed, and had to imagine that I was in the store with blinders on. Today I noticed these, in black, which are currently going for $10 off the price this link lists. Tempting, but too close to harem pants to be justified as something I'd wear for more than five minutes. But then there were black leggings with white stars on them, and tank tops with the same pattern. Space-age! But no. I'm also starting to think that the main advantage of getting an $85 haircut is my subsequent shame at even the thought of any other non-grocery purchases for a while to come.


School anxiety dreams never end. I'm auditing a class this semester, but officially finished with coursework, and yet still, I find a way. In the latest incarnation, the course I teach started at 3:15pm, but I was still in my office, still waiting to print out my lesson plan, at 3:26 (yes, this precise)... only to discover that I had no idea what floor of the building my classroom was on. Only as I begun to wake up did I realize I teach in a different building than my office is in; it took being fully awake to realize that a) my office is not located in my freshman-year dorm, nor in my first-grade classroom, b) that I do not teach at 3:15; and c) most importantly, that I have not in fact forgotten to teach a class, not now, not ever. Of course, in the dream, the class was the one I teach in real life, with the same students, lesson plan, material, and so forth, so even once I awoke, I was vaguely concerned I'd left a classroom full of students waiting. Did I show up extra early today? You bet I did.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Umlauts, humidity, and the subway

Internet has, I believe definitively, arrived in my apartment, but not without the usual last-minute surprise-maybe-you-won't-be-getting-Internet-after-all-because-your-apartment-is-in-fact-cursed near-misses. But so far, so good. I went fashion-blog crazy for surprisingly not that long (although I remain star-struck from having glimpsed one of my favorite fashion bloggers in, of all places, the basement of Uniqlo - I of course was too much of a coward/blasé New Yorker to say anything), before I tired of my old-new toy and went back to Madame de Staël and her umlaut, Simone de Beauvoir and her particule. Ça continue...


The first day of the new haircut has proven that even the best of haircuts do not stand up to the tests of unseasonably warm and humid weather. What had yesterday resembled the style Natalie Portman had in the ads for "Closer" looked, after a trip to the by-then picked-over Tribeca Greenmarket, more like a particularly windswept Christiane Amanpour.


Alert the presses: I have come up with yet another complaint about New York life:

People who take the subway with a friend/relative/co-worker but refuse to sit next to that person, even when two seats next to each other are available. Such individuals insist upon chit-chat with their companions, but seem to fear that if their thighs were adjacent, they would somehow be overcome with a sexual-orientation-, incest-taboo-, or office-romance-policy-violating case of lust. Their phobias translate to a lack of adjacent empty seats for those lacking that particular neurosis, who indeed do want to sit with the person they're traveling with. But they also make it so that solo travelers have to sit in the middle of a conversation that will, like all conversations on the subway, be either in a language no one else in the car understands; about something of no possible interest to someone who does not work in that particular office/attend that particular high school; or both. Obviously the fact that these anti-socials do not refuse to sit next to strangers suggests that their fear is not touching somebody - and, say, contracting a cold or flu - but touching somebody they know. They will often even sit especially close to the stranger sitting next to them, so as to better hear what their companion is saying. Basically, this behavior has to stop.

Friday, October 23, 2009

$85 and well worth it

My only grievance is with my own hair. Every haircut I've ever had, ever, has been 10% cutting of hair and 90% devolumization. In cold weather, my hair is straight-ish, especially when blown dry quickly, with or without a brush, but straight as in straight in all directions, not as in falling flat. Forming this into anything akin to a hairstyle requires magic with scissors that I don't understand, along with magic with a hair iron that I do. One can 'celebrate' curly and straight hair, Afros and ringlets, but poufy, to my knowledge, has not been celebrated, at least not in the region where I live, since approximately 1993. Hipsters have revived every look but The 'Nanny Fine.' I'm waiting...


All is well in the world, because the book the library claimed I'd lost, that I knew but of course could not prove I'd returned (apparently 'I haven't even thought about the French-Algerian War for two years' wasn't good enough), was, at long last, found. I thought this day would never come! I am taking this as a good omen for the Internet we're getting (fingers crossed) tomorrow.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An attempt at reviving the male-beauty and female-lust discussion, just for the heck of it

There are, I think, three kinds of beautiful. First is the subjective, the people you find physically attractive - to be clear, this is not about 'good personalities' or 'stable incomes' or what have you, but about looks. These people tend to fall within normal limits, but for all kinds of subjective and subconscious reasons, their looks strike you as exceptional. Next are those you realize would generally be recognized as beautiful - the symmetric, the chiseled, the blond-and-tanned, the George Clooneys, the Harrison Fords - who do nothing for you personally. You will nevertheless react to differently to the objectively beautiful because of the confidence this beauty inspires in them (in reality or in your imagination), but your changed behavior will not be due to any physical desire. Then, finally, are the hot-to-you-and-others. These are the people whose subjective beauty to you matches up with a beauty you recognize would be agreed-upon by all.

My sense: women and men are equally drawn to physical beauty, but men are more likely than women to fall for Category 3 beauty, whereas women tend to go for Category 1. Because women men find attractive are more likely to be those whom other women could recognize as being objectively beautiful, and because men women lust after do not share one physical trait (except, to a limited extent, height), we've come to assume that men care more than women do about the physical appearance of their partners. That men are more likely to agree with society on hotness is what allows pornography to exist for men in a way it never could for women. But what matters is not just that men agree more than women do, but that the women men tend to agree on tend to be the ones whose beauty-power extends beyond even those men in whom their looks elicit desire, and indeed beyond men - that is, they tend to be objectively beautiful.

All of this is pretty much bad news for men - a man will have much less luck getting an objectively beautiful woman to whom he's also subjectively attracted than a woman will getting a man whose beauty exists only - give or take - in her eyes. Men are thus lucky, in a sense, that society honestly recognizes their physical desire for beauty, but end up losing out, because once society recognizes that you care, your caring becomes impacted by societal beauty standards in ways that women's standards are not.

True? False? Discuss amongst yourselves while I lesson-plan.

A girl can dream

There are hopes that my apartment will be equipped for something called "the Internet" starting this Saturday. This might push my love-hate relationship with it over towards pure adoration. After all, we've already got a dishwasher.

There are pros and cons to living on Mars. The pros are the waterfront, the proximity to Tribeca, and the fact that to compensate for the Mars-like quality, buildings put laundry machines practically at your doorstep. The latest con, meanwhile, was the fact that a couple nights ago Jo and I arrived nearly home, late, with groceries, including frozen goods, but could not actually get to our apartment for quite some time because the entire city's police force and what looked to be the national guard was preventing everyone from crossing the West Side Highway. Reason given: "the President." As suspected, where I go, Obama goes too. For some reason, his passing through had to make it impossible for the population of these towers - equivalent to that of a medium-sized town - to start cooking dinner before 9pm. We kept getting shepherded to various locales that were not our apartment or close, before I started announcing plans to vote Republican. I've been unable to get home due to visiting dignitaries before - once in high school, the Pope blocked off the Upper East Side - but living on what is essentially the wrong side of a highway (although again, the waterfront's lovely) has its downside.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Carrots and sticks

I will get an $80-85 haircut at a posh-punk salon on Bond Street. This much I know. I once got a truly fabulous haircut that cost $75 at the time at a different branch of Mudhoney; the $40 Biguine haircut has finally almost grown out, and I'm ready for an improvement beyond what the DIY results have produced.

However, when I get the haircut is intricately tied to my academics. I keep telling myself that once X is finished, I will reward myself with this haircut. But once X finishes, Y seems like it could be done in no time, so I should really wait until I've finished Y... at which point it starts to look like my next haircut will come when I'm long since retired and my hair reaches Guinness World Record lengths. First it was that as soon as the prospectus was in full sentences the whole way through, it was time. Then it was after some read-throughs. Now it's all about final edits (of the first draft, that is), and making sure the bibliography at least roughly conforms to the style Chicago mandates. All of this will be done either this evening or in 1,000 years, but in any case it doesn't look like I need to worry about what time the salon closes today.

I have mixed feelings about tying fun things to getting stuff done. My parents never went in for the homework-rewards, grade-rewards, etc., but I do inflict this on myself from time to time. I will appreciate the pampering so much more if the articles are cited properly. But once again, I do worry that this will all end in a scraggly, mid-back-length mess, and that haircuts and academics should maybe exist in parallel realms, and not be one dependent on the other.

And, back to business.

Monday, October 19, 2009

500 words of fury

There is a feature in the Times’s new Metropolitan section where you can send in a 500-word rant about something that bothers you, and, if you’re as lucky as this week’s French-teacher winner, they publish it for all to see. I’m obviously sending something in, but am having trouble narrowing it down. Leave your vote – or suggestion! – in the comments. (I will at some point Google those blog-quiz things and put one of those in too, I hope.)

-The near-impossibility of renting an apartment within your price range if you do not work in finance. This would be a painful rant involving questions of guarantors, realtors, and surely other ‘tors as well.

-The inescapable presence of The Hott. Yesterday, for instance, I’m on the subway platform with Jo, and we see this man with a very small bulldog on a leash apologize to a woman and leave the station, rather than, say, waiting for the train like a normal person. But the man seemed, aside from the MTA-violating lap-dog-on-leash, quite normal. At which point another person remarked to us, bemused, “That was strange.” Apparently – as I had, I’ll be honest, suspected – the man had followed this woman into the station to ask her out, and been rebuffed. The woman was just your usual 20-year-old Slavic model with no thigh bulge – or, I almost want to say, no thighs, except that technically her calves attached to something – whatsoever. She did not seem at all surprised that a man who did not seem like a lunatic had spent $2.25 (or not, if he had an Unlimited Metrocard, as Jo and I of course discussed) to ask her out. If this happened to me… I can’t even say what I would do, because it’s unimaginable. Basically I don’t think I’d be pleased, but, moot point.

-French tourists. This would address all overly-elegant foreigners here for one reason and one reason only: sneakers that go for 80 euros cost $30 here. Crips aren’t the only ones who go wild for athletic footwear. The Europeans might look sophisticated to us, what with their scarves and fluency in languages other than English, but don’t be fooled: 99% of the time, they’re here for the Nike pas cher.

-The sardine-tin arrangement this city expects us to refer to as “restaurant tables.” This one’s no good, because it’s just one complaint: restaurant tables are too close together to make dining out a pleasant experience. And the answer’s too easy: if you can’t afford the top 1% where this is not the case, don’t eat out. And, for the most part, I don’t. Problem solved.

-The influence of “Sex and the City” on women’s self-presentation and, alas, self-conception. This includes tourists and locals alike. Any time you see a group of three or more overly-made-up adult women walking in a row, with some proximity to cupcakes, this is what you’re witnessing. That said, because I’m pro-cupcake, I fear this rant would lack the necessary vitriol.

Friday, October 16, 2009

An unoriginal grad-student lament

I have had the horrible realization that while I can write a paper of up to 20 pages, in French or English, with a week's notice, anything longer or more involved requires more than the amount more the pages would imply. The reward for finishing the 30-page prospectus (not so much in pages, more in the fact that it's a plan for a much-longer document whose academic name shall not be mentioned), or at least getting it to the point where all that's left is the bibliography, is a professional haircut, so I have open in one window during this photos of the look I covet. I feel getting the document to this point could happen any minute now, if it were not for the human body's insistence on being fed at regular intervals, and for me being the one person who studies at the NYU library without a smelly takeout container at the ready.

Oh, I could go on...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Feeding the children

This morning pretty much sucked - attempt # 1,200,000 to get Internet failed miserably, then a book I need somewhat desperately was not in the stacks as the online catalogue claimed, and all sorts of other minor annoyances added up to blech. So I decided the only way to improve matters would be to head out in the rain and get a giant piece of lemon layer cake for lunch. When at a Bleecker Street bakery with my wholesome meal, I overheard a conversation between two mothers of toddlers, chatting about, among other things, not keeping bread at home and ooh the food in France. (Contradiction much?) One was particularly adamant about nutrition in her discussions with her own child, who I'd place at at oldest 3, who was of normal size but wearing a seasonally-premature snowsuit. First, the mom held forth on how "just one" roll was enough with soup, and what exactly was her child thinking, wanting a second one? Then I zoned out for a while, but when I zoned back in, she was explaining to her child that "cake is only for special occasions, like birthdays," and I thought that this was verbatim from one of those NYT-online Health threads, where those who practice especially depressing-sounding extremes of "moderation" preach to the converted.

And then I was trying to figure out what about this was wrong, and maybe I was the problem, sitting in front of young, impressionable children, giving them the mistaken impression that one can eat cake for lunch and not be overweight. (What they couldn't see was that I was too angsty - not to mention too pressed for time - for anything more involved.) After all, in a typical day in NY, one sees all kinds of atrocious behavior of parents and guardians towards their children, everything from soda-and-Fritos being given to them at 7am to "spare the rod, spoil the child"-gone-unambiguously-too-far on a rush-hour subway. So what if this mother wants her child to only have one roll, and to eat cake no more than once in a blue moon? Childhood obesity is, they say, rampant. When I was a kid, I was the sort who had to be actively encouraged to eat, and while this is what I've observed with most young children at meal times, if Frank Bruni's message is to be learned, some kids are just born hungrier than others. Maybe this was one of them.

But at the same time, I remember kids growing up whose mothers couldn't just go on diets of their own, but had to project these diets onto kids who were themselves at most chubby-for-the-Upper-East-Side. And I thought about how, if you want your child not to constantly want cake, you might not want to take your child to a bakery that specializes in just that. How on earth do parents teach their kids good nutrition without coming across as walking Well Blogs? An argument in favor of dachshunds, perhaps.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sometimes there's an easy answer

Or in this case, a few:

"The Right Calls Obama Hitler. Why Aren’t Jewish Groups Making More Noise?"

-Because Bush was also compared to Hitler, as was Giuliani, as was everybody, so calling a politician one does not like Hitlerian is just the MO of people with a certain lack of nuance or sensitivity who think saying "I oppose his policies" fails to convey that they approve a leader's policies, and want to add more punch. Ideally no one would make facile comparisons to genocide, but you know what? That ship has sailed. A certain tone of criticism will always 'go there.'

-Because "Jewish groups" are accused of if anything making too much "noise" on matters even indirectly related to oversensitivity regarding the Holocaust, and might want to sit this one out.

-Because no one, ultimately, speaks for "the Jews" - we do not all get together at special meetings and elect representatives. Many individual Jews are appalled by the discourse on the right, but not so much as Jews as as Americans. If American Jews are concerned as Jews, it should be because xenophobia-tinged populism is scary stuff, not because of polemicists failing to obey Godwin's law.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Readers of this blog might notice that I label myself both a Francophile and a Zionist. This is about the latter. I consider myself a Zionist in the same way as I consider myself a feminist: defensively, dare I say conservatively, as in, I think there should continue to be a Jewish state in Palestine (which is not to say there shouldn't also be a Palestinian one - there should. Don't get all excited, everyone.), and I think that women should continue to have rights (an imprecise word I realize, but bear with me) where this is the case, or should be able to acquire them where it is not. I'm not, therefore, a Zionist in the sense in which the word is sometimes used, as in, I do not believe in a Greater Israel or in signing up 100% with U.S. conservative doctrine - contraception bans and all - because Israel Israel Israel, friends of my enemies are my friends, blah blah. Nor am I a feminist in the clichéd sense of rejecting cooking, eyeliner, heterosexuality, etc.

This is all relevant because as I've recently learned (or maybe it's relearned, but this time more definitively), in Jewish Studies, there's such a thing as Zionist historiography. In the context of this field, from what I understand, a "Zionist" is someone who, among other things, blames 19th and early-20th century Diaspora Jews for being so "assimilated", that is, for "fooling themselves" into thinking they were really French, German, etc. Had they only known they were and always would be Jews above all else in the eyes of others, and had perhaps gotten moving on setting up a state of their own, they could have - and it all comes down to this, doesn't it? - avoided the Holocaust.

Simply put, this is not at all how I understand modern French-Jewish history. French Jews were not under the mistaken impression that they were both Jewish and French, they were both of these things. "Assimilation" was not so much an ideology adopted at will, but a long-established reality. French Jews in 1940 were not "assimilated", as though having of their own accord, in their own lifetimes, abandoned some primordial Jewish state in order to get ahead or whatever. They just were French, plain and simple. The idea that assimilation was a path among others only emerged - and then barely - following the Dreyfus Affair. Prior to that, "assimilation" just meant that one was both Jewish and French.

That the Nazi and Vichy regimes decided to define as "the Jews" an arbitrarily-chosen set of people including those with a positive Jewish identity, those who didn't care either way, and even Christians of or presumed to be of Jewish heritage was in fact a part of these regimes' violence. How could anyone blame those with some Jewish grandparents, or with nothing but a vague sense of not being Christian, but no connection to Judaism, for not having preemptively abandoned their French identities for a Jewish one? The other-sense-of-the-word Zionist in me certainly sees how this would have been beneficial, but the part of me that's neck-deep in French-Jewish history cannot see how this would have been the case, and sees any expectations that it might have as anachronistic.

This is a problem for me because I identify as a Zionist, but, apparently, not as a Zionist, depending on the context. I'm definitely not an anti-Zionist, and given how unfashionable even my own not-exactly-Likudnik version of Zionism is these days, I would never want to give that impression. Nor, however, would I want anyone to think I embrace an understanding of history that's anachronistic. Help!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

'Yay, it's a gaping hole in the ground where thousands of innocents died!'

Why exactly do tourists pose for smiley tourist-photos in front of the construction site that is Ground Zero? This is not an occasional occurrence, but enough of a thing that walking to campus from Battery Park City requires dodging a horde of those doing so. I don't hold it against tourists that they, you know, tour, nor do I see anything wrong with shopping for discount designer goods at Century 21, on account of its unfortunate location just across the street from where it happened (and I take it shopping, not 9/11-commemoration, is the draw for some, particularly the Europeans). I do ask, of those ostensibly there to visit Ground Zero, who (if their interest in flag-adorned items is any indication) are visiting as patriots and not as al-Qaeda-sympathizers, why so cheery, given the location and the reason for its significance? Do tourists also pose grinning in front of former concentration-camp sites in Europe? Is this a sort of 'I was there' impulse that can't be turned off, along with a compulsion to smile in pictures? Any ideas?

Friday, October 09, 2009

"[...] plying her with Champagne and cigarettes and airy, high-minded talk."

I suppose this is where movies require suspension of disbelief, by I find it tough to see how Peter Sarsgaard-not-heavily-disguised would have to "ply" a heterosexual female with anything more than his being a clean-shaven Peter Sarsgaard. A full-bearded Sarsgaard might have to ply, but this one? I won't have it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Creme de la creme de la cellulite cream

Jezebel reveals what WWPD's been telling you all along: French women are not magically thin thanks to some Paradox, but in fact kvetch about their weight as good as the rest of 'em. (Shockingly, the post lists French diet-industry particularities but fails to mention cellulite cream.) Weight is, for what it's worth, the universal language of Western Womankind, allowing me to understand women's magazines even in otherwise incomprehensible Flemish. (Cellulijkt, anyone?)

Assimilation sandwich

One of the most challenging things about studying Jewish assimilation in nineteenth century France is the utter refusal of those writing on the topic to agree on the meaning of terms. Depending in part but not entirely on when, where, and from what standpoint with respect to Zionism a book was written, one author's 'integration' is another's 'assimilation', as in, the one's given definitions of one match up for the other's of the other. Reading each book, it becomes clear what an author is getting at, and where one agrees or disagrees with another, but the fact that some understand assimilation as speaking French, others as converting to Christianity, and still others as a word so offensive as not to be used at all... makes me worry that writing about the topic myself, I'll have to precede the substance of whatever I want to say with a book-length analysis of each term. Which I do find interesting, but don't want to be all I cover. Gar! Anyway.

Reading the paper this morning, I found such a bizarre misunderstanding of assimilation that things almost started to become clear to me on the subject. From a story on the fall and rise of the Jewish delicatessen:

"But delis are up against more than a bad economy. 'Jews are largely assimilated and don’t want to eat only Jewish food,' [deli expert] Mr. Sax said."

Interesting. What was this purely Jewish cuisine? What did it consist of? What did Jews eat back when they lived in a bubble? From earlier in the piece:

"When Eastern European Jews began immigrating to New York by the thousands in the late 19th century, they found delicatessens started by gentile German immigrants who had brought their pickled and smoked pork and beef to the United States. 'Jews made the deli their own and carved out a niche for themselves,' Mr. Sax said."

That Eastern European Jewish food by way of New York is not (alas for us Ashkenazim) the same as Moroccan Jewish food might suggest that even in the mystical Old Country, Jews interacted with non-Jews, and that even in the Golden Age of the first generation in America, still more interaction could be found, or else Jews would not have even given thought to German-run delis in the first place. Influence obviously went - and goes - back and forth, so it's not, as some would have it, that what we think of as Jewish food was 'actually', say, Polish. But to divide Jewish history - modern or otherwise - into eras of assimilation and lack thereof creates all kinds of misunderstandings. What sorts of interactions take place between Jews and non-Jews, this much has changed, but the changes a) didn't start from nothing, and b) definitely didn't start with a New Jersey Jew in 1980 choosing cereal over a bagel for breakfast.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Menswear Mondays

Inspired by recent Uniqlo-Sander purchases - a slightly baggy navy v-neck sweater, a lilac checked button-down shirt (this but not pink), and a coat that turns out to come from the men's department - I'm adding a new fashion persona to my ever-expanding collection: menswear minimalism. Oh yes.

I'd long resisted any masculine garb, thinking that a woman of my height and proportions - which is to say, a woman who'd make a terrible man - can't pull this look off. (My fear is thus not that I'd look more masculine than I'd prefer, but rather that what are curves in girly clothes are unwanted bulge in more straight-up-and-down attire.) But I've grown tired of ballet flats - that practical alternative to heels - that won't do subway stairs, and of jersey-material dresses that all but disintegrate when worn with The Backpack. I've had it with t-shirts that fit in the store, then shrink to midriff-bearing horribleness in the wash, with jeans that look right standing up but don't quite extend to where they ought to extend sitting down. These last two problems are where clothes meant to accentuate the female body ultimately ignore it, fabric-wise. Feminine clothes, even in this post-corset age, remain impractical, and can easily veer over into tacky. I need some kind of chic-durable alternative.

Although I will never be an androgynous-gamine type, I've decided shoes that lace might have some advantages after all. So yesterday, I paired the button-down shirt with a black blazer, high-waisted (Uniqlo-pre-Sander) black pants, and a pair of black oxfords my mother may well want back. This will not replace my previous looks, but it will, I think, join the ranks.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

"She was a little lap dog and a cliché"

Sweet story, but how could anyone not want a dachshund and have to grudgingly come around?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Jewish men, baked Doritos, and more

*This is the inaugural I-have-Internet-at-home post.*

-Perhaps it's because I'm so keenly aware that his mother is the gender historian, but I was sort of shocked to see that A.O. Scott's essay on Jews and Jewish identity in the movies dealt only with Jewish men. But it's understandable - as movies would have it, Jews are Jewish men. And, really, in the Roth-Allen-led world of entertainment by and about Jews, men generally are Jewish men - it's sort of an all-Jewish-men, all-Gentile-women universe. Someone should be the Poet of the other way around, but I'm not volunteering.

-This I find upsetting: "The new policy [banning bakesales in NYC schools] also requires that vending machines, which generate millions of dollars for school sports, be supplied with snacks such as reduced-fat Baked Doritos and low-sugar granola bars." Not to get all Alice Waters' real-food-movement-ish on WWPD's readership, but wouldn't it be better to, I don't know, encourage baking from scratch (if not at home, than somewhere in the school) than to effectively ban doing so in favor of pushing the very sort of 'lite' foods people are known to gorge on thinking they're 'being good' and all that nonsense? I find it hard to believe that one moderately-sized butter-based pastry a day on top of a non-disastrous diet would do most teenagers (or, ahem, 20-somethings) any harm.

-After some butter-based pastry consumption, this is how I spent part of my afternoon:

"Moi, je préfère Camus."

"I could be wrong, but I believe I'm not the only one of my kind!"

"Would you believe what the humidity's done to my ear-fur?"

Friday, October 02, 2009

Uniqlo but more so

There will be more on privilege at some point, perhaps once my apartment is privileged with Internet access.

Meanwhile, if you are privileged enough to live in New York (a city with many negatives, it's true, but this positive cancels them out), and have time to stand on a line in SoHo (the line I was on yesterday took maybe 10-15 minutes, although some report hour-long waits), I highly recommend the Uniqlo +J Jil Sander line. Because I had no preexisting knowledge of Jil Sander or what this designer is supposed to represent, my best description of what's there is that there's a whole bunch of clothing that's Uniqlo but more so - more minimalist gray-black-or-navy, slightly more interesting cuts, and no price difference from regular Uniqlo, which is to say, prepare to spend less than you would at the Gap. Just about everything was... perfect. I had to remind myself what I already own (various black jackets, two pairs of gray pants...) so as not to go too crazy, but I still ended up with the winter coat to end all winter coats, along with a navy sweater that might not end all sweaters, but that was still chic and inexpensive enough that there's a good chance I'll return to get the same one in gray, that is, assuming I don't find these...

Daydream over, back to the prospectus...