Sunday, November 29, 2009

No, it's not the espresso makers

I thought I'd located the ultimate first-world problem, but no, here it is: having a first name that starts with the letter "A" and so having to be presented first at a Paris debutante ball, for which one has been fitted for Chanel haute couture. "[D]oesn't having a last name that begins with 'A' suck?" Yes, I bet it does.

Still, even knowing that this blogger owns approximately $1,000,000,000,000 worth of shoes, I'm a bit sad that she has to return the dress. The demand seems bad publicity for Chanel... unless a subsequent post will announce that, yay, she was allowed to keep it after all.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Against 'slow'

It's not slow-food. It's slow-everything. I'm suspicious every time anyone asks us, as a society, to slow down. It is my suspicion that those who ask for 'slow' are simply out to get New York - perhaps Jews specifically, perhaps gays specifically, but at any rate, something along the lines of the first quote on this page. So am I surprised that Mike Huckabee has not only written a book on Christmas but one that apparently asks us to slow down its observance? No, not so much.

(Are there non-bigots who simply fantasize about living in a cobblestoned past? Sure, but if they don't specifically acknowledge the parts of that past that were not charmingly dedicated to finding new uses for kale, then they're part of the problem. Or, what Travis Boyer says.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ways to improve the food movement

Focus on what matters:

-Health: Obesity-related illness is not a myth. Exercise is unlikely to be the key to fixing this, so public-health-wise, concern regarding diet does make sense. If this can be fixed ala Pollan via switching from corn subsidies to no subsidies or efficient ones, so be it, but I know nothing about agriculture and so will stop before my local, organic foot makes its way to my mouth.

-Taste: Taste is relative. Kind of. But if the idea is to eat more fruits and vegetables (and, depending which week, seafood), the fact is that produce can be anything from delicious to inedible depending what condition it's in - unlike, say, cake, which ranges from very good to good. The Alice Waters method for vegetables works great, but only works if the vegetables themselves are non-disgusting. The way to get everyone eating better is to get better-tasting healthy food into stores.

-Price and availability: If you're rich and live in Berkeley, seems getting good food isn't a problem. If you're anyone else living in this country, chances are it is. The issues of class and region, then, are key. (I'd also like to declare a moratorium on self-righteous lectures in the national press on 'eating local' from journalists in the Bay Area. Have they seen the markets here? Do they understand that we're lucky these days to find kale? And this is Manhattan...)

-Sustainability: Local or organic? Veganism or meat raised right? Whichever it is, someone should figure this out, so those wishing to eat in a way that's environmentally sound can do so rationally, as opposed to the 'ooh, it's like organic, yum' line of thought.

And not on what doesn't:

-Slowing things down: Some people enjoy spending five hours at the dinner table, cooking slowly, savoring each bite. Others don't. It's not immediately clear to me why the second group needs to adopt the habits of the first. Sure, eating too quickly might correlate with eating fast food which might mean obesity and so forth. But the non-savorers might also be those who simply don't care about food as much as the savorers, who'd rather spend their time doing something else than sucking on a lentil. For some, busyness translates to fast food and so on; others point to the busiest times in their lives as the slimmest. In other words, if we should all be eating less, it's not clear that slowing down our food consumption and attempting to derive a greater proportion of our pleasure from eating than from other activities will necessarily help the cause. (Also, to Maira Kalman - what's wrong with "fast walking"? Of all the facets of modern life, isn't this one we ought to encourage?)

-Knowing the ins and outs of farm life: We are asked to know where our food comes from. This is a different matter from knowing whether our food is produced ethically, sustainably, etc. It is now considered particularly honorable to know what goes into growing vegetables, to know not only if animals were raised and (if for meat) killed humanely but exactly how they are butchered, milked, etc. It's all quaint and charming, but really, why does it matter? If the point is that farmers work hard, the same could be said for so many other jobs that benefit us all but whose inner workings no one asks us to contemplate. (My building, for instance, has 10,000 floors. Someone had to have built it, and this was surely more strenuous than grading a stack of 18 French essays.) While it helps to have consumer representatives on the case, we don't each of us, individually, need to know where our food came from. (And, for David Lebovitz - the woman haggling over cilantro while "holding a very expensive Louis Vuitton handbag" could well have been wearing a fake. The presence of the letters L and V on a purse do not necessarily imply thousands spent. No one can tell the difference, or at least, I can't, but my purse is unadorned and from H&M circa 2004, so I might not be the best example. A good test in this case would be whether she went on to put her purchases in the bag, using it like a canvas tote.)

-Europhilic locavorism/terroirism: It is entirely possible to eat well - ethically, taste-wise, health-wise - without having any nostalgia whatsoever for small-town life or a particular village in Tuscany. (Do I repeat myself?) If the very thought of a fantasy version of Provence is what motivates you personally to put down the Fritos, go for it, but the same notion is a turn-off to others who might otherwise get on board.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Disorganized thoughts coming out of the Nock post and discussion

-Jews and whiteness: Rather than just asking, are Jews white, we should also ask if this is really the question that tells you most about what it means to be Jewish in a given context. So if the context is one of heightened racial tensions, where 'race' means 'black' or 'white' only, then yes, this is of utmost importance. But if we're talking about one of very few Jews in a sea of Lilly Pulitzer'd WASPness, Jews 'whiteness' is really the least important thing about their experience. It's a bit like asking whether gay white people are 'really' white - yes, they're white, and yes, that matters, but no, that's not necessarily what you want to hone in on if trying to examine their experience. Meaning, it's hard to say that in America, any divide has mattered as much, elicited as much violence, as black-white (and if it has, it would be male-female and not Jewish-gentile, but as male-female is not a divide most wish wouldn't exist, it's a bit of a different story). There needs to be some way of understanding that the privilege inherent in being non-black does not necessarily translate into the carefree, unselfconscious, undifferentiated-American existence the word 'white' implies.

-Jews as 'Orientals': Rather than just asking whether early Zionists were historically accurate in their claims that modern-day European Jews had hereditary roots in Palestine, we should also ask what about the idea might have seemed non-nonsensical to European Jews at the time. Meaning, casual discussions of Zionism, if they refer to the influence of non-Jewish Europeans at all, mention of European anti-Semitism, but rarely give a central role to the commonly-accepted (or so it seems from much I've read about France) view among European Christians that Jews, yes, even the modern-day ones, had an original homeland and that this homeland was Palestine. Because we can argue today that, aha!, the Zionists were wrong, the Jews were not, after all, an unchanging people of non-mingled blood. But if they were wrong according to our own myth-shattering ideals today, they were simply agreeing with what was common knowledge at the time. There was no great danger, for European gentiles up until the advent of modern political Zionism, in referring to the Jews as 'from Palestine' - it had no implications for the current residents of Palestine, and only served to reinforce the idea that the Jews living in Europe were fundamentally non-European. For Jews to be foreign, they had to be 'from elsewhere.' Elsewhere was sometimes Germany, Poland, etc., but ultimately came down to one spot: Palestine. I get that it takes away almighty Agency from the early Zionists to point this out.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On being that guy: Or, on inflicting First World Problems on others

Dear fellow residents of my building,

Yes, I'm the one who lives on the third floor, and yet insists on taking the elevator, thus substantially increasing the time it takes you to get to 34, 41, for all I know 503, this building is huge. My apartment is just two flights up, and there's a staircase right there. I know. My legs work just fine, and I've been known to exercise them intentionally on occasion, jogging on the waterfront outside.

Do I take the elevator out of spite, jealous of your superior views and the fact that you probably don't get awakened each morning by the construction? No - views I could take or leave, and something might as well get me up on time. (The Saturday drilling I could live without.)

No, I take the elevator because until September, I lived on the top floor of a walk-up. This did not merely mean lots of walking up ('a free workout', yes, but a miserable one after a full day of classes, teaching, grocery shopping, subway commuting), but also various DIY furniture-moving experiments that taught me that whatever it is I might have to offer the world, arm strength - or who am I kidding, physical strength, period - will not be involved.

So basically, I take the elevator because I can. Once the novelty wears off, I'll reconsider the stairs. But it's only November, people. Give it time.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

An account of the few weekend hours I spent awake

Yay! What felt like a bad cold on Tuesday, then definitively swinish (fevers, aches, the whole deal) by Thursday morning, has disappeared into nothing worse than a tendency to have a coughing fit every time I'm about to laugh. Once this subsides, it's vaccination time. But so far, recuperation activities have included:

-Reading Simone de Beauvoir's postwar take on America. Her main complaints were that there wasn't enough good shopping, that orange juice was hard to come by, that hamburgers were unheard-of, and that the Americans were too darn intellectual.

-Making a potato-leek soup that involves no blending. (I only found recipes that required blending, but I didn't think that sounded as good as non-blended.) What it involved was cooking a leek in some olive oil, pouring chicken broth on top of that, and eventually tossing in some cubed (or as best as I could approximate) potatoes. It turned out to be more than edible.

-Overanalyzing the Sunday New York Times. This was particularly fun this week because the Modern Love author is a former (professional) acquaintance, because I know exactly which French café in Brooklyn reacts in a disturbingly nonchalant way towards the three-inch waterbugs in the dining area, and, on a less personal-coincidence level, because of this clever point-counterpoint.

But seriously. This "Complaint Box" section had so much potential, but is not impressing. The complaints need to be general enough to cover a problem others might have noticed as well (i.e. 'this one employee at this one bank this one time had opinions about my personal life and I took it way too personally' does not count), but not so general as to be cliché (i.e. 'people with their cellphones can be so rude!').

The latest, however, is a new low. In what way is telling your host you're a vegan similar to telling her exactly which dish each member of your family is to be served, and how you'd like it prepared? If your guests are on low-carb diets for vanity reasons, how could this possibly be more work on your part? Doesn't this mean you can serve absolutely anything, they'll just eat less of it? And did this woman really lump "kosher" into the category of new dietary trends - ala low-carb and selective vegetarianism - that make throwing a dinner party these days such a challenge? Should the fact that her last name is Goldberg make her immune to the criticism such an error might otherwise inspire? Or are we to presume she's recently wed a Mr. Goldberg, which is why she's only just now had to deal with dinner guests not keen on pig-on-a-spit? Of course, if these guests are so strictly kosher, they're not eating off Ms. Goldberg's plates to begin with, which is another matter.

Anyway. People serve alcohol at events where Muslims, Mormons, and AA-members will be present, but provide an alternative as well. Hosts, good grief, if you must serve a meal, cook up a bowl of green lentils, toss with chopped red onion, dijon mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and for next to no effort and 50 cents, you've fed everyone something elegant and vaguely French.

Oh, one of these days...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Today, pros and cons

Of course, the day of my teaching observation would coincide with Day 2 of an achy cold. But! Right after class, who should I see on the street but Rufus Wainwright! Walking down lower Broadway like a mere mortal. No lederhosen, but you can't have everything.

"No one could help doing that"

So what to make of this:

When I was a young man of twenty-five or so, I was once marooned for eight days on one of society's most arid islands, in company with a Jewish girl of twenty-three. There being virtually no one else to talk with, we were pretty strictly limited to each other's society, and became very intimate. She was the only girl I ever saw who seemed to me the acme of everything desirable, with no offset that I could discover - everything in nature and disposition, education, beauty and charm, cosmopolitan culture and manners. Such I have always imagined Fanny Mendelssohn must have been or perhaps rather Henriette Herz, at the time when the mighty Schleiermacher was making up to her and the great Wilhelm von Humboldt was writing her his charming and whimsical love letters. What especially interested me was my complete certainty that with the best will in the world on both sides I should know her no better at the end of a hundred years of close companionship than I did at the end of those eight days. I never saw or heard of her afterwards, nor tried to do either. I have often thought, however, of what would happen if some rash and personable young Occidental fell in love with her—no one could help doing that—and married her. If he were sensitive, how distressed and dissatisfied he would be as he became aware of the vast areas of her consciousness from which he was perforce shut out forever; and on the other hand, if he were too insensitive to feel that he was shut out from them, how intolerable her life with him would be.
Turns out that even in 1941, in the US, Jews were considered - by some, at least - "Orientals," even Jews whose families had been in the West since they could remember.

I'd always sort of assumed the Belle Juive - and this description is as Belle-Juive as it gets - had relevance in 1840s France, but WWII-era America? Count me surprised. But not that surprised - this does tend to back up what I'd assumed, which is that when non-Jewish men (such as this author) were the ones mainly responsible for creating stereotypes about Jewish women, the stereotypes were far more flattering - if, of course, offensive in their own way, as stereotypes kind of have to be - than are the ones we currently know (ahem, Roth-Allen two-headed monster), ones that come from Jewish men. I doubt if Jewish women today look radically different from Jewish women in 1840 or 1940. So it's strange to think that "Jewish" as a physical descriptor is today seen almost universally as unflattering (and no, the existence of Rachel Weisz proves nothing - an exception that proves a rule), whereas it was once if not the ideal, an ideal.

Ultimately, although this subject no doubt interests me as a, well, Juive, I'm not sure whether it would in any way have benefited me personally to live at a time when The Jewess was exoticized, thought "Oriental," and imagined to be something along the lines of a beautiful alien from outer space. All things equal, it's probably better not to be a fetish object on account of your ethnic background.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

So it was crabs...

... and not lobsters.

My unquestioning faith in the NYT is hereby restored.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On the inevitable descent into grad-student madness

Did you know:

-that a grading marathon is actually much easier to focus on if combined with singing aloud to Israeli rock music? (Yes, I am working from home.)

-that English muffins (Whole Foods' generic, not Thomas - not sure if that makes them more or less durable) can totally be eaten past the expiration date?

-that academic-related anxiety makes the following alternatives, in no particular order, seem reasonable: air-conditioner-repairman-school, the IDF, writing a semiautobiographical novel with a focus on the theme of mediocrity, writing a blog post on the alleged phenomenon inspired by Blake "Serena" Lively's lively hair?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Excuses excuses UPDATED

A good deal of my studying at the moment appears to be about reaching the level of a French high school student. I may know more than most about the obscure nonsense I study, and some tangentially related obscure nonsense as well, but Victor Hugo, for instance, I've only met just recently, and am apparently somewhat far behind. When a sentence begins (in French), "Every not-too-ignorant high school student knows [...]", and ends in something about Hugo's poetry that was news to me, it all does start to look rather futile.

Of course, if the Hugo editions I needed weren't reserve books located in an ostensibly silent part of the library that has for whatever reason been appropriated by those who'd rather chat at full volume than read or check Facebook or whatever, things might go more smoothly.


Also not helpful: according to the Introduction, the collection of poetry whose significance I'm attempting to understand for an exam is best understood as "profondément ambigu."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

1898, 2009

It is popular these days to compare the status of Jews Then to that of other minorities - particularly Muslims. Now, I tend to be skeptical not of the comparisons themselves, which can be quite useful, but of drawing too many parallels. So I have found myself making a comparison along these lines this past week, to the Dreyfus Affair. A high-up member of the military, from a much-despised minority religion, is accused of a serious crime, and the nation was already looking about set to split into two opposing ideological camps. I've been trying, then, to see if thinking about the Affair in any way clarifies anything that's happening now. The best I can come up with is, yes and no. Because this is more me thinking to myself than any kind of argument, in categories:

-The nature of the crime: Dreyfus was accused of espionage during peacetime, not murder during wartime. We now know - have known for over a century - that Dreyfus was innocent. Even many anti-Dreyfusards accepted that Dreyfus was not the man they were looking for, but felt that the status of the army was too precarious to allow for admitting this - a point for justice meant a point against the safety of the nation. Meanwhile, there appears to be no doubt that Hasan massacred members of his own army; the only questions relate to why he did so and whether he acted alone. It's quite striking, then, that the NYT immediately took to discussing the stress of war - suggesting that any among us might have snapped, that the massacre was in some inadvertent way a legitimate protest against unjust American military actions - and thus implying a certain moral innocence in a case of a crime whose basic facts no one doubted, when we compare this to the near-universal immediate condemnation of Dreyfus, where the facts were iffy from the start, and where no in-your-face tragedy had occurred.

-The nature of the war: The Dreyfus Affair took place between the Franco-Prussian War and WWI. Germany was in a sense 'the enemy', but France was not at that moment at war with Germany. Dreyfus, meanwhile, was accused of spying on behalf of Germany, and was - like the vast majority of French Jews who originated from Alsace-Lorraine - seen as somehow German, but was attacked primarily as a Jew, not a German. Rioters in the streets demanded Death to the Jews, not a new attack on Germany. And France was in no way, shape, or form at war with the Jews or even some Jews, let alone a Jewish state. Jews never once knocked over the Eiffel Tower, killing thousands. The US, meanwhile, is engaged in a war against proponents of a politicized version of Islam, both in particular countries and internationally. There are reasons to suspect an international-relations significance here that would have been absent there.

-The broader ideological divide: One side is pro-army, pro-order, pro-majority-religion. The other is suspicious of nationalism, pro-tolerance, universalist, progressive. In neither case is the question really about religious minorities - Dreyfusards were more interested in anti-clericalism and, in some ways, anti-militarism than they were in the specific question of anti-Semitism, while the left today in the US is more preoccupied by rejecting the Bush foreign-policy legacy than with anything particular to Muslim-Americans. Jews were a symbol of that which the Church and reactionaries dislike, just as today, Muslims remind the left of all the terrible things the US has done, domestically but especially abroad. Political correctness, however, was not much of a thing in fin-de-siecle France - it was quite OK to say that one disliked Jews but loved Justice, and so declare one's self a Dreyfusard. Whereas today, only fringe-types would even think to suggest that disliking Muslims is an acceptable attitude to hold. The center-right debate is over how PC we should be (see: David Brooks), not over whether or not we should abandon religious tolerance altogether.

-The status of members of minority religions: It's hard to argue that France had as much of a grievance against Judaism in 1898 as the US does against Islam in 2009. Jews presented a symbolic threat to those who wished to define French nationhood on racial and religious grounds, which, compared with 9/11, makes it seem as though anti-Islam comes from a place less patently absurd than anti-Semitism. But because there are good reasons to fear certain Muslims, things could potentially get much worse for the rest of the Muslims living in the US, who are not, obviously, guilty of anything. In the immediate aftermath of the Dreyfus Affair, French Jews felt reassured that their country accepted them - which, to be fair, it did, until 1940, even as anti-Dreyfusards plotted their revenge. Whereas however many times we invoke PTSD and wrongheaded US foreign policy decisions, there's no way this battle will end in a pronouncement of innocence.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A banal, gender-specific, New York-specific anecdote

After a rough few days of reading as fast and carefully as I can, of putting a massive mess of papers in my apartment into working order, and, of course, of returning more library books than I can carry comfortably in exchange for an even bigger heap, I was ready for a treat. I was all set for that treat to be one of these, but I was feeling lazy. (Call it the 'Lack Initiative to Make Cake' diet.) So a pile of books and I headed to Uniqlo, where these - still $10-off! - became mine. It's tough from the image to see what they look like on, so I'll have to post a picture at some point, but they're more pantaloons than harem pants - in fact, they're not harem pants at all, because they lack the dreaded and comical dropped-crotch. Nor do they much look like any of these - more like a $19 version of these. Still, they are definitively silly and trendy. Which was very much the point - the molten chocolate cake of clothing.

Like I'd imagine most adult women, sometimes I think I look good; sometimes pants that are supposed to fit are too small, hair that was supposed to be one way is another, and I'm not pleased; but most of the time, I'm thinking about something else (current preoccupation: contemporary relevance or lack thereof of the Dreyfus Affair - thinking about it but not sure re: posting on it). I was not feeling especially glamorous this afternoon - I'd paired a GAP black nightgown-dress with a pale pink ballet-type long-sleeved wrap shirt; a tan trench coat; black leggings; and black oxfords, all which was well and good before the backpack and tote bag entered the picture. But the pants fit surprisingly well, and I thought, huh, not bad!

I then got on line to pay, with a mixture of delight at getting something fun and guilt at spending an unnecessary near-$20. Then I turned around. Behind me were not one, not two, but three models, and not the tall-and-thin-so-they-can-do-the-runways-but-nothing-special-in-person type of models, but the sort that do to all women around them what Uma Thurman did to Janeane Garofalo in that terrible movie that time. One was in the Estonian 16-year-old ballerina mold, another the fresh-faced all-American blonde closer to my own age and thus probably towards the end of her career, the third a dark-featured (Brazilian? Portuguese?) cross between a model and a movie star. I should mention that they were each approximately eight feet tall. The momentary high from finding a pair of flattering pants? Gone, just like that.

To make matters worse, shortly after this encounter, I saw a woman of modelesque proportions in the very same pants I'd just purchased.

Granted, I still got the pants, and am still thrilled with them. I'm convinced that I would be altogether undisturbed by my non-resemblance to models if I lived somewhere where there weren't quite so many of them, particularly in places where I shop for clothes. Le H&M Chicago me manque.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Quiz: which Great Thinker could this not refer to?

"His prose is so dense that some scholars have said it could be interpreted to mean anything, while others have dismissed it altogether as gibberish. He is nonetheless widely considered to be one of the century’s greatest and most influential thinkers." - Patricia Cohen, NYT.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

You only think you like it

An ever-increasing range of behaviors - shopping at outlet malls, eating fried foods - are constantly being classified alongside the usual canon (alcohol, tobacco, and the hard drugs) as not just 'enjoyable to certain people', but as something far more serious: they are responsible for stimulating the pleasure centers in your brain. Neurotransmitters are, it seems, involved. This is serious.

Wholesome undertakings - exercise, helping old ladies cross the street - are also periodically declared to not only be good, but to stimulate the bits of the brain that make us happy. But when the act in question is one we ought not to like, the brain chemistry is presented as somehow sinister. There is on the one hand what we actually like, and on the other what our brains are tricking us into thinking we do. As though on some fundamental level, we would all prefer a lifestyle of locavore Mormonism, if only some mix of peer pressure and sneaky neuron behavior did not fool us into believing otherwise. As if there were a more authentic form of enjoyment beyond what's known or will soon enough be known about brain chemistry.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Strangest library woe to date

On the binding, the book is the one I need about Albert Memmi. Inside, it is what I'm guessing is a totally unrelated book, in Turkish, seemingly about the late Middle Ages. I'm almost surprised things like this don't happen more often.

Clearly, you just don't care

Pet peeve: when not consuming/liking/taking seriously a particular movie/book/article about a Major Problem of our Age is seen as akin to not caring about that problem, or to having the wrong attitude towards it. The buzz around the new movie, "Precious," suggests this will be one of those phenomena. In her review of the film on Slate, Dana Stevens apologizes for her lack of enthusiasm for it, which gives some sense of the aura around the work. Failure to go see the movie, or if you have seen it, to both take it seriously and admire it for its fundamental truths about the hard life, is to be conflated with either an inability to understand the film on account of your own privilege, or worse yet, with cold-hearted indifference to the questions of race, poverty, obesity, rape, AIDS, child abuse, illiteracy, and... I haven't even seen this movie, perhaps I'm missing a few.

I'm not terribly keen on seeing "Precious", both because after seeing "A Serious Man" - which I liked! - a few weeks ago, I realized that $12.50 is really too much under even the best of circumstances, and because I've already seen "Precious" compared to "An Inconvenient Truth" - another film you are morally obligated to see and love as evidence of your non-indifference to a Major Problem. This sort of hype awakens all my contrarian impulses, and gives me the sense that however well-made the movie may be, I will be inclined not to like it, because I will sense that Society is forcing me to like it as a way of showing that I feel sufficiently guilty about having never for once moment been black, poor (broke, yes, but not poor), abused, etc. What I object to, then, is not being forced to acknowledge privilege, but being coerced into to seeing and liking a particular movie as a way of proving this. Also frustrating: many who go to the movie because It Is Important will no doubt leave thinking they've shown they care in some profound way, leading to horrible horrible Smug.

All of this is perhaps unfair to the movie's makers - it's the hype, not the movie itself, that's putting me off.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Holistic models

Our ambivalence towards judgment leads to the so-called holistic assessments in college admissions - we find it too cruel that a few crude factors could determine who's in and who's out, and so we tell ourselves that a fair decision comes from looking at every facet of a person's being.

It occurred to me earlier, listening to a predictably predictable podcast discussion of plus-size models aren't they amazing, that this is the very same thing that goes on in, if not the actual fashion/beauty industry, the way the industry presents itself. No one is willing to admit that certain identifiable characteristics, few of which are terribly PC, define what models look like, and that even if those change, even if we make courageous strides like allowing size-six buxom blondes ('plus-size models') and fine-featured, emaciated, pale-skinned black teens with straight hair ('diversity') into the fold, something like 99.99% of women and girls will still be excluded from whatever new ideal might arise.

Callers to the program kept asking these two fashion editors about different types of women - the short, the athletic-but-not-overweight, the old, the disabled - and why they weren't being included on the runways and such. Interestingly, only the 5'2" woman got the response that, let's face it, all might as well get: it is what it is. So long as certain women are being singled out for their looks, there will be exclusion that feels unfair. And you know what? I would find it all the more unflattering to not make the (theoretical) cut if I thought 5'2" Jewish-looking 26-year-olds were just as likely to get modeling contracts as were 5'10" Slavo-Nordic adolescents. (Do I repeat myself?)

Point being, sometimes it's better to get rejected - in reality, as with college, or by assumption, which is the only way a modeling agency will ever get to reject most of us - according to generally agreed-upon criteria, than to learn you lack that undefinable quality that divides the beautiful or brilliant from mere mortals.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The market, assessed

So the field trip was a semi-success.

What went well: my students seemed to get into the activity, coming up with ingredients for dishes they were going to mock-prepare, and using French. One even had a whole conversation with a woman working at the market who was French, and the woman thought he was French! This was an unexpected surprise.

What didn't go well: the French woman in question was annoyed that my student was only mock-looking to buy however many pounds of meat, and wanted to know why I'd told my students to speak French to the farmers, that is, why I'd assumed farmers in New York would speak French. I then explained to her, in French, that I had not expected any of the farmers to necessarily be/speak French, and that the conversation they had had just sort of happened (someone at another stand had alerted my students to the presence of a real-life French person at that stand), but was not part of the exercise, which was essentially about looking at what the stands sold and speaking French to one another. I may never be allowed to buy from that stand in the future, although it's not one I usually go to, so oh well.

And... the time change! It was nearly dark out for this, which it wasn't supposed to be, but I forgot about the time change and I teach at 5. That made the whole market-day aesthetic somewhat lacking, even though the market was still quite active.

But the main thing was that I gave my students a good amount of work, but not enough to do actually at the market, so while I expected students might leave early, 40 minutes early is far earlier than I'd hoped. Notes for next time...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Pizza Paradox

Let me get this straight: a substantial snack between lunch and dinner - some pizza, say - is "a nice custom"? Isn't that how we Americans got so fat in the first place? Obviously, we should be more like Europeans, who, as we all know, don't snack between meals.

Oh wait. It's chic Northern Italians doing the snacking. It is Traditional. Now it all makes sense.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Why Larry David needs to leave Woody Allen alone and take on grad-student daily life

Most of my petty grievances stem from one part of my day-to-day life: the part when I have to show a library worker the stamp in each and every one of some tower of library books, to prove that I have borrowed them legitimately. (See earlier rant for background.)

Today, it reached a new low. I arrived prepared at the examining area with all six of my books already opened, in a pile, so that the person whose job it is to check the stamps had to make the least effort possible. But! Behind me there was a man in full businessman-on-the-go regalia, a foot taller and a couple decades older than myself, with either a backpack or a small piece of luggage on wheels. He had two books he needed inspected. Well! The student (a guess) inspector announced that the man should go ahead of me in line, because he'd be out quicker. Perhaps so, and this might have been reasonable had I been there with a duffel bag full of books and had he had just the one, but six versus two? Were those five seconds of that man's time so much more valuable than the four seconds of mine? I am convinced that the man's age, dress, demeanor, and perhaps even gender played into his being rushed in front of me. A grad student with a backpack surely isn't in any kind of hurry. As he proudly marched in front of me, the man offered a gruff 'Thanks' behind him, either to me or to the woman who'd encouraged him to cut the line, but in either case, I offered no 'you're welcome.'

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Whatever Fails Miserably

Woody Allen's "Whatever Works" is, no doubt, the worst movie ever made - a terrible movie regardless, but reaching 'worst' status because of the viewer's prior assumption of competence, if not excellence. Just... no.

This brings up the question of whether it's a good thing when movies represent places and situations we more or less know. This movie had everything 'going for it' in terms of my identifying with it - Uniqlo, physicists, particular streets I know oh so well, cynical New York Jews - and... no. My sense is familiarity makes good movies seem slightly better and bad ones seem endlessly worse.