Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cutest poodle in NY?

I'd say so definitively, except that two very similar ones live in my building - one slightly more gray and one jet-black - and those are magnificent as well. 

Note the size - not teacup-tiny, probably not toy, but still small. Miniature? Puppy standard? What do I know?

My mother gets the credit for taking this close-up. If this isn't poodle perfection, I don't know what is.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Jezebel, source of endless mid-paperwork entertainment

-I thought it was supposed to be a good thing that people - even those who aren't poor or hipsters - buy used clothes. What with landfills, "fast fashion," etc. I'm confused.

-Am I the only one who interprets "eaten one sugar plum too many" as being... gastrointestinal? Apparently it's a way for a ballet critic to insinuate that a dancer's put on a few pounds. I'd have thought it was something about how the dancer managed to propel herself that high in the air.

-Ah yes, the jilted-by-a-JILF anti-Semite, always a classic. On a Savage Lovecast recently, Dan was trying to explain, re: a non-Mexican woman hot for Mexican men, the difference between fetishizing a race and having a preference that goes in a particular racial direction. I offer: it's fetishization if, when rejected by a partner of the preferred group, the dude's first thought is to bash them. Racist, annoying, whatever you want to call it, it tells you how front-and-central that quality was to him all along. Anyway, like some of the commenters, I'm surprised to learn there's someone out there whose stereotype about Jewish women is that we are insufficiently curvy.

I will wear these pajama pants for years

Continuing the eternal-paperwork theme, my goal for the day is to have organized my materials in order to get to Frahnce. A notary will, it seems, be involved. As will an official translator of official documents. Where's my homework helper?

In the mean time, allow me a brief OMG-no-more about the "investment piece," a favorite complaint of mine, if not in life, then on this blog. Refinery29 is one of my favorite sites for outfit inspiration (says she whose work for the day will not require changing out of a $5 pair of Old Navy polar bear-patterned fleece pajama pants), which is why I cringed when I came across this post: "The Hot Holiday Handbag You'll Own Forever." Oxywhat?

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but we're of the opinion that a classic, durable leather bag comes in a pretty close second—it's an investment piece that lasts forever. And Be & D's cruise '11 handbag collection is chock full of totes, clutches, and hobos perfect for tossing all your essentials into and passing on to the next generation.
The next what? If you're even halfway aware of such a thing as a "cruise collection," you've bought into a system in which there will also be a fall '12 collection, a spring '12 collection, a cruise '13 collection, and so on. Depending your closet space, you may well keep every handbag you ever buy. But the chances that this year will be the year you buy the eternal handbag - the one you don't get sick of, that doesn't start to look dated, and that will remove any and all temptation to buy a pricey handbag next season as well - are slim. If you opt to spend $1,000-ish on a bag intended for the 2010-2011 holiday season, you'll probably "need" another such purse by the time the Christmas music stops playing in the shops.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The triumph of the too-brilliant-to-bathes

How timely! Schools are now moving away from grading on the basis of folder organization, assessing students instead on the basis of test scores. The move "would allow teachers to recognize academic strengths where they often are not discovered — among minority students, or students from poorer families, or boys — subgroups whose members may be unable or unwilling to fit in easily to the culture of school." Which is to say, boys. This is, I suspect, about the male-female achievement gap, because I've never heard of a switch to a greater emphasis on test scores as a way of helping poor or minority students, at least not in recent years.

From the perspective of a student - specifically, of the student I was through early high school - this move sounds fantastic. I was always better at content than at coming across as a delightful little girl, in awe of the teacher. I had - and still have - messy "boy" handwriting. I wasn't rowdy or disruptive, I came to class and handed stuff in on time, but I had a strict and largely counterproductive anti-sucking-up stance.

From that of a teacher, yeesh. The student-teacher relationship demands a certain degree of equilibrium - students hand things in on time, teachers hand them back promptly. Competence on both sides is the bare minimum for the class to run smoothly. While it would be great to see the "A for effort" abandoned - teaching showed me that, at least at the college level, "effort" is virtually impossible for a teacher to assess - it's overall a good thing that students who might not be naturally talented at a subject can still get a passing grade for competence. What's wrong with keeping the As for students who are talented and hard-working, leaving Bs and Cs for those who are either-or?

The basic problem here is that behavior-work and content-learning-work are intertwined, in elementary school and beyond. However brilliant an assignment is, if it hasn't been handed in, there's no way to evaluate it. A great deal of informal networking and attention to self-presentation comes before any adult even has the chance to prove himself at a job. 90% of life is showing up and all that. The seemingly arbitrary requirements of school - use pencil not pen, or vice versa - are designed to mimic and thus prepare students for a world in which they won't even have the opportunity to be assessed if they don't have their acts together. Since virtually everybody has the opportunity to attend middle school, the best schools can do to prepare students for a future where their innate brilliance alone counts for zilch is to demand sharpened pencils or whatever. These requirements may also contribute to the class proceeding efficiently - and to the teacher not having to grade a semester's worth of assignments the final day of the semester - but they are not without use for the students themselves.

Another way to look at it - a simpler one, perhaps - is that three qualities are being assessed: competence, talent, and attitude. The new approach conflates attitude and competence - seeming endearing to a teacher and coming to class with the right notebook for that subject are not one and the same. Yes, teachers consider it evidence of poor attitude if students come to class unprepared, but that's not the main issue. Meanwhile, there is no such thing as academic talent independent of at least a minimum of organizational skills, aka competence. How is this elusive genius to be assessed in its unadulterated form, without giving an edge to students who, for example, have it together enough to show up on time the day of the test? A student whose true talent shines through, but only if parents, indulgent teachers, and homework helpers take care of the heaping pile of paperwork that is real life, doesn't have a special quality that schools should be honing in on and rewarding him for. Basing grades entirely on how often students forget their pencils may be extreme, but talent alone as good as doesn't exist.

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Meticulously organizing her nail polish bottles"

To get this out of the way: parents should not go around writing about their children on the Internet. This is not going to be the point of this post, but it bears repeating.

"I don't care if anybody thinks I am hyper-parenting or helicopter parenting or wasting my money. I really could not care less what anybody thinks," explains Liza Mundy, (who cares so little what others think of her choices that she's putting them on display in a post in a widely-read publication with a comments section, and) whose son is getting one of those homework helpers. The boy, let's be clear, is an academic rockstar, or would be if he wasn't held back by nasty teachers with their sneaky attempts to teach students their own damn organizational skills through what not-so-perceptive parents perceive as busy work. "He's got a great and truly sophisticated mind, but he's 12, for God's sake, and his organizational skills are nascent." And I'm sure, when he was a baby, he was the cutest baby of them all. Again, parents should not go around writing about their children on the Internet. But I digress - not what I'm getting at here.

The school assignments might seem over-the-top to Mundy, but they are obviously doable. For her daughter - and now it will become clear why this post is tagged "gender studies" - "maintaining a tidy binder is as easy as meticulously organizing her nail polish bottles." Mundy then spells this out, referring, it seems, to anecdotal evidence culled from other blog posts and the NYT fake-trend article that started the discussion: "what is the commonality of the children who sometimes lose track of test and homework due dates? The commonality is that they are boys."

No! The "commonality" we're looking at here is that girls are expected to be organized and tidy. (See also: the capacity of girls with Aspergers or just run-of-the-mill social awkwardness to compensate from a young age and appear friendly and social regardless of what's going on in their brains. See also: too-brilliant-to-bathe.) There's no 'she's a genius who can't manage to put worksheets into a folder' out for upper-middle-class girls, but there sure is for their male equivalents. It is not natural for girls to keep binders organized. Girls - even messy, scatterbrained ones - keep track of when assignments are due because there's no chance they will get labeled brilliant but constrained by middle-school expectations.

But boys! "The problem is not the homework helpers; the problem is the homework itself, and a system that requires young children to master complex, if banal and often pointlessly difficult, systems, at an age where they should be out in the yard playing with sticks or watching birds migrate." A commenter responds, "Why do so many in the less-homework movement perpetuate this outrageously naive notion of childhood activity? Try playing video games and trolling the internet." Yes, that.

But back to Mundy: "I wonder why boys are dropping out of high school and failing to attend college at the rate of girls? When they are young men, I have no doubt, they will master systems of an intricacy we can't imagine. At this age, they need a break." Who are "we"? This being Slate's women's blog, are "we" women? Is the idea that today's educational system encourages aptitude at being organized and nice (the best a girl can aspire to), while if boys suck at contemporary childhood, men are made for better things? While girls who excelled at arranging nail polish bottles grow up to get big-girl manicures, boys who couldn't be bothered to use a three-whole punch are waging war, staying late at Goldman Sachs, or otherwise being awesome.

Honestly, I'm not sure any one article has ever hurled me as far towards the cultural left as this not-even-ostensibly-conservative one managed to do.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Clearly a trajectory I never managed

I feel so blogospherically uninspired. (Want to hear about my afternoon rereading a novella I read for a class in college and remembered as being relevant to my dissertation, but whose relevance took a long time to make itself known?) So here's the best I have: someone from Princeton University got to this ol' blog searching for, no quotes, "from nerd to socialite, college." Readers, any suggestions?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rich white woman hair

Women! Between the $250 million-per-year hair-extension industry in the US and "[t]he $1.8 billion business of superfluous hair removal," how very, very vain is our sex. Don't you know that money could be given to charity?

Something about these two articles - on poor Russian women selling their Slavic locks, and on better-off American women giving bikini waxes for a year so as to write about it for Slate - didn't sit right. These particular beauty procedures are ones I know little about - I've got my share of beauty complaints, but excess body hair and insufficient head-hair are not among them.  (Over-sufficient head-hair, according to the hairdressers I've had to instruct not to "thin it out.") And I'm sufficiently weirded out by other people doing beauty-stuff for me that I don't even like getting haircuts, let alone manicures, let alone anything more personal.

At-home is another story. I recently spent $30 each on jumbo bottles of the only shampoo and conditioner that allows me to let my hair air-dry. What do I mean by "allows"? Surely the fashion police wouldn't arrest me if I went the wash-and-go route with Pantene. What I'm getting at, I suppose, is that the line between self-hatred and narcissism isn't so clear. Aside from women vilifying those whose routines are one notch more high-maintenance than their own - and a tiny subset of hippies who use one vegan soap as shampoo, body wash, laundry detergent, and tofu marinade - there's no real discussion of what constitutes "too much." High-maintenance is what she does, not what I do.

In other words, yes, if you add up the total spent on hair - body or otherwise, by a population or by yourself - you might feel ashamed and skip a weekly trip to Sephora. If you know what really went into making your moisturizer or peek-toe booties, you'd cringe. (Or your veggie burger, or your iPod, etc.) But we're left at the same place - faulting women for vanity, rather than society for expecting women to make an effort with their appearances, or society for considering it inherently dumb to care about physical appearance above and beyond the effort put in by the average hetero man, his level of concern being the standard by which others must be measured.

That is, at any rate, part of it. The waxing article, which had potential, falls victim to what accounts of a set amount of time spent dabbling in a service industry, with the end goal being to write a book about that period, typically do: It's hard to sort out which aspects of the job are objectively objectionable, and which are only problematic for someone whose real job is being a writer (one who mentions having a second home in her bio, at that), and who finds the very fact of serving for pay humiliating. I don't doubt that waxing body hair for a living has its challenges, but when Virginia Sole-Smith laments that she had to hear about clients' personal lives without offering up tales of her own - "We were taught to avoid sharing personal information about ourselves whenever possible" - I'm hearing nothing that anyone in any number of industries doesn't already know. (Teachers, for instance, know that while students can sometimes claim personal reasons for lateness or poor performance on an exam, the teacher doesn't have the option of coming in 15 minutes past the start time because he's so stressed about whatever it is he has to do later in the day.) She doesn't like the one-sided conversation, yet finds it "exploitative" when the waxing session reaches "the moment when your client shuts off from you, closing her eyes to 'relax.'" She's surprised that not everyone tips 20%. I mean, I'm not exactly The Hardened Worker here, and I was blown away by the naivete.

The Russian-blondes story, meanwhile, has something of a missing-white-girl aspect to it - yes, it's bad to be so poor that you have to sell your hair, but most desperately poor women in the world aren't blonde and don't even have the option of catering to Paris Hilton wannabes. But there's something particularly moving about women whose only possession is their golden hair having to part with that, the very symbol of their purity and innocence. That, and the market for these particular hair extensions isn't black women, whose relationship to the hair industry is typically understood as more complicated than a mere matter of vanity (except on this one NPR show this one time, when the guest verbally rolled her eyes at the fact that young black girls are reluctant to learn how to swim because it would mess up their hair), but white women. Rich white women, incapable of producing full heads of blond hair on their own, who have to pay Ukrainian maidens for the braids off their backs. Cue "Sex and the City"-inspired urbanites, dressed too young for their age. Rich, white, and unsympathetic. If only they'd learn to accept their flat hair, the women of the former USSR could twirl away into eternity.

It will at any rate come as no surprise to anyone who follows the fashion industry that the parts of the world where poverty and pallor intersect are especially sought-after. For the women whose hair says model but whose face or body don't, hair-selling is apparently a way to capitalize on the fact that the coloring valued by the Nazis continues to be in style.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Following up

-Remember the discussion a while back about whether fashion is or is not about women dressing to please men, or whether these are two different spheres entirely? The very existence of the "Mr. Newton" street-style blog (see especially posts including the word "cutie") suggests men with an interest in women's... spheres are, if not the intended audience for trendy outfits, fully capable of appreciating the so-very-now. Dressing hot and dressing this-season are not, apparently, mutually exclusive pursuits.

-And the one about how long it takes to cook? How cooking professionals underestimate the amount of time it takes to prepare a meal when a) that isn't your day job and b) you don't have all the ingredients already chopped and laid out for you in a series of polished glass bowls? Slate agrees.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Today in hints of anti-Semitism

-A man has his first real job, the one that teaches a young person that working often sucks and it's not a bad idea to go back to school and get work that's more fulfilling, at American Apparel. (Seriously - read the email and tell me that this wasn't the guy's first job beyond at most a paper route.) Blames American Apparel for, essentially, being a retail work environment. And his bosses were "Stupid spoiled jewish men." This information is presented in very much a fight-the-man manner. Jewish=capitalist. Welcome to 1840.

- From Ye Daily Mail:

They are three of the most prominent, and richest, Jewish stars in the Entertainment Industry.
And Jerry Seinfeld, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler came together Saturday night to celebrate their ancestry, with 2,000 other extremely wealthy people, at the opening of the new Philadelphia Jewish History museum.
The celebrities did what they do best when they took to the stage throughout the night, entertaining the crowd of big-donors and politicians who had all paid between $1,500 - $5,000 each for the sit down dinner.
No doubt this event took place, no doubt Seinfeld has harbeh kesef. The lede does not make any claims about Jews being wealthy, or controlling the entertainment industry. What's the issue? Wording. This is quite possibly the first time I've seen a gala event of this nature covered with the words "richest," "extremely wealthy," "big-donors" [sic], and the price of the tickets all worked into the intro. I mean, maybe if the point was that a particular politician was corrupt and the event had something to do with a scandal? In the Daily Mail's tepid defense, there's a possibility that the money motif is because these are American Jews raising money for an American Jewish museum.

Riding breeches verdict:

The most chic Spanx $17.50 can buy. I suppose compared with getting into them, riding a horse would be a piece of cake. Cake that I wouldn't be able to eat while in these pants, a strike against the pants, as far as I'm concerned. Note to those considering wearing riding gear as Fashion: the reverse is true of riding pants as of L.L. Bean kids' sweaters. Whatever size would fit comfortably at, say, Levi's will barely, but barely, close in these.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A dream come true

The sound is mostly traffic, so this is best watched on mute. The takeaway: four of the five dachshunds belong to one man. He's the luckiest guy on the Upper East Side.

Or, let the headband be a message to those considering cutting bangs. 

This I support

Why I can't wait to see "Belle du Seigneur":

-Natalia Vodianova is the only model whose beauty I can look at as art, rather than as evidence that some people happen not to have much in the way of thighs. I'm not going to say Most Beautiful Woman Alive, because I stand by the idea that these proclamations ignore the likelihood that the best-looking of both sexes happen not to be employed in the fashion or entertainment industries, but she's without a doubt the most stunning woman paid for her looks.

-Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

-Equestrian fashion is my newish obsession. A pair of $17.50 (including shipping) eBay riding pants are on their way.

-Jews and intermarriage in French literature... in movie form! Hints of hope that my dissertation will not put people to sleep. Or that if it starred Rhys Meyers and Vodianova, people would pay attention.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Something for everyone

For Britta: The gray sweater for a medium-sized child fisherman has arrived. I tried it on, and while my boyfriend's response was a glance that says, so this is what it means to have an American girlfriend, I'm quite pleased.

For Amber, Isabel Archer: I promise more free-association on abs and the too-brilliant-to-bathe set will come soon.

For anyone with doubts about the chicness of grad students: One of my classmates is profiled on Fashionista.

For anyone who reads this blog for the celebrity sightings: Last night I was sitting across from Stockard Channing at a Japanese restaurant in Tribeca.  Not one of them fancy schmancy ones, either, which was what made this all the more surprising. Since I was dining with two ferners, I had to be excited about seeing Rizzo all by myself.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A question for squeamishness vegans

A common argument made about eating meat - and to a lesser extent all animal products - is that if you wouldn't be comfortable slaughtering (or butchering, or even just cooking) the animal yourself, you have no business turning a blind eye while others do the dirty work and digging in at the barbecue. It occurred to me that if nearly all of us would be too squeamish to take apart a delicious mammal, a similarly large proportion of the population would be grossed out by performing surgery. Yet no one, to my knowledge, argues that the squeamishness of the general population is an argument against performing surgery - necessary or elective. There is obviously a moral difference between cutting into flesh to save a life and doing so to make dinner extra tasty (as well as a difference between human and non-human life, one I won't sidetrack over to here). But the argument isn't typically that it would be sad to kill a cow, but that skinning it or whatever would be gross.

None of this, of course, applies to the ethical or environmental arguments for lentils over lamb. (It did, however, occur to me after preparing a dinner of lentils and lamb, lentils picked both to recreate an amazing meal at a restaurant in Frahnce, and because the cost of lamb chops necessitates a side dish that comes to well under a dollar for two. I rarely eat meat, but when I do, I like it $19.99 a pound and marinated in garlic and rosemary. I am, however, drawn to squeamishness veganism, because if I stop and think of what goat cheese, for example, is, it stops seeming appealing. This does not, however, put me off of croissants.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

On abs

Amber's right, I like this essay. Especially the point about how men shouldn't view looking hot as something that takes away their intellectual cred, or whatever other cred they've been cultivating. But just the general idea that straight men should do what they can, within reason, to look good, this I support. Stamp of approval. With a few caveats:

-The heart's in the right place - yes, women assess male looks, yes, this fact of life is underreported - but the answer isn't to exactly transcribe male sexuality onto women. The scenario where the woman who looks normal enough to other women walks by, and men one after the next turn their heads to get a better look at her ass (something that we've all seen happen on the street, but also, memorably, something I saw in one of my high school classes, whenever this one girl would stand up. Teachers, do not do this.) Women's heads turn when hot guys walk by, but it's not typically so anatomical. Whenever you've seen images ("I'm a Samantha!") of women doing this, of women hooting, hollering, and leering at the backsides of men, what you're witnessing is a point being made, that women can be just as visual as men. But it's about making a point - women who are being visual don't typically show it in the same way as men.

-The women are born with it, men must work out for it argument: Here, I think, too much of a distinction is being made between men and women. Faces are hugely important for both sexes, and unless all you need is the removal of a harmless but enormous mole, any attempts to make major structural changes will only make you look odd. (Or so tell me the moments I've caught of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.") Then comes the importance of male physique beyond abs or no abs - a slender, broad-shouldered man is not going to "need" to work out the same way as a heavyset, round-all-around one will. And yeah, the height thing - women who don't notice short men won't start noticing them if they start working out. The women who already do notice short men have already proven they're not noticing men on account of those men's conventional attractiveness, and are unlikely to be swayed by a bicep.

-Meanwhile, female beauty is natural? I will disabuse all of that notion with one word: weight. Women who are naturally slim - as in, who don't need to agonize or diet or work out to maintain physiques that would not in a million years be called "fat", are already few and far between. But even such women were once girls, and girls - all girls - are taught how not to become fat. It's virtually impossible to be a woman in our society who doesn't associate food with unwanted weight gain. Women's relationship to food is just fundamentally different from that of men, such that whereas some men worry about their weight for aesthetic reasons, all women do. Even women who couldn't get fat if that were the desirable build and they ate cheesecakes every night in the hopes of piling on the pounds. The big breasts-flat chests distinction the author makes is one that, assuming we're talking about What Men Want, is only being applied to women who are already thin. Thinness is assumed. Not the same thinness as one finds on the runways, but still many sizes down from what most women in America fit into.

But even if there were some class of woman aged up-to-23 (at which point we all degenerate into hags - "23" is coming, let me be clear, from the post, not from four years past-it me) who could effortlessly seduce all men by parading by in bikinis, what good are a lot of naturally beautiful coeds? For all the talk of 40-year-old men who "only" date women under 25, the fact is that there aren't a whole lot of very young women in the grown-up dating pool. Even the rare non-rich, non-famous man who finds himself a 24-year-old girlfriend will, if things go well, soon enough have a 28-year-old on his hands. Point being, the Naturally Beautiful Woman for all intents and purposes doesn't exist.

-Yes, people should take care of themselves. But is working out really the behavior that women demand? Women notice looks, but not necessarily in predictable, "the more he looks like Brad Pitt, the better," ways. Given how men's clothing works, as the poster remarks, women don't know, in a classroom, party, or workplace setting, which guys have abs, unless they really are big-time bodybuilders. Height, face, hair, general body-shape (some physical activity helps, but it doesn't need to be at the level of regular gym-going - it might help some obese men lose weight, or some sickly-looking men look more hearty, but for a man of average build?), these are the factors according to which looks-judgements are made; barring any major surprises underneath clothing, looks are no longer an issue. Frankly, I don't think heterosexual women, certainly not past junior year of high school, expect abs. Unless the guy's a professional athlete, it would, to many women, seem strange if a man took off his striped button-down and underneath were abs like the ones comically painted onto aprons. For a grown man to have "abs" is equivalent to a grown woman having no cellulite whatsoever -  it's a trait far more likely to be advantageous in a career as a model for exercise-equipment ads than a deciding factor in gaining attention from opposite-sex partners.

Those were the minor quibbles. The major one: Yes, whether she wants to be a poet or an astronaut, a woman still knows she has to put on lipstick. But there's a tradeoff: the fact that women pay attention to our physical appearances is viewed as making us less serious than men in the same fields. Oh, women can be serious (think Cuddy vs. House, women in Apatow flicks...), but we don't have the option of being too-brilliant-to-bathe. In fact, not caring adds to the appeal of some men in some fields - the rock star, poet, professor, artist, editor end of things, not, say, law, medicine, or finance. By not caring, a man might signal that he's so talented that it would lower him to the rank of mere mortals if he cleaned up nice. Or, long story short, it's assumed (incorrectly, which is another story) that men strive for career success in part for glory and in part to get women, making their drive greater than that of women, whose professional achievements if anything detract from their sex appeal. For a man who ought to be able to "get girls" from professional success alone, any obvious effort when it comes to self-presentation or even just social ease is viewed as a flaw.

But not all men are tortured geniuses, let alone in fields where posing as one would be tolerated. Even so, women who don't just wear chic clothes but think about clothes have pretty much thrown in the towel. There's an element to female concern about our own looks that isn't about pleasing the opposite sex, or even about conforming to gendered social norms. It is enjoyable for many women to dress up. If the mere facts of having long hair or wearing lipstick are viewed as suspect, any interest taken above and beyond what's necessary to attract men or look reasonable in professional settings is... you might as well start twirling your hair and greeting people with a chipper, "Like, hi!" Because an interest in fashion is mistakenly conflated with an interest in looking at one's self in the mirror and grinning smugly (see Quinn on "Daria" - Vice President of the Fashion Club), an interest in self-presentation is confused with vanity, vanity with idiocy and superficiality, and so on. Or, in less rambling terms, it's possible to dress up "for one's self" and inadvertently please the opposite sex, but because dressing up for fun is something associated with women (and, fine, gay men), the only kind of attention men are allowed to take is... abs. Where oh where are these straight women rejecting otherwise viable men on account of their abs?

Why "timeless" is nonsense: Exhibit A

A man whose main professional interest is the promotion of timeless luxury goods that will last forever and ever gives an interview about a few of his favorite things. An excerpt:

If you were a handbag, what would it look like?
My bag would be sleek, modern and timeless. It would move seamlessly and effortlessly from business boardroom to designer studio to fashion event. Over time, its patina would reflect my way of life, getting better and better with age. But more important than external aesthetics would be my bag’s functionality on the inside. It would be like an “office-on-the-go,” enabling me to carry all of the things I need from morning to evening, safely and stylishly. It would have secure, protected pockets for my iPad and iPhone, room for gym clothes, my notebook, and whatever other things I might gather over the course of a busy day.
Note, need this be spelled out, that the "timeless" handbag has special pockets for 2010's "it" gadgets. But read the whole thing - you'll be off to your local Old Navy to clear your head in no time.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Quality control

Hello (again!) readers of Andrew Sullivan. Nothing like a link from a big one to make me notice an error in the rare post people outside my immediate family are actually reading. That error is: the post I refer to as coming from the NYT blog Motherlode is in fact from The Choice, another NYT blog, but I'd found it via Motherlode (which I was reading why? back to work, Phoebe! that's not even fun procrastination) and got confused.

A helping hand

If grad students had any money, I suspect there'd be a huge market for dissertation helpers. (As it stands, it's more likely that we find ourselves employed as homework helpers.) And how true, Gawker commenter, there's no way to read "homework helper" as anything but "hamburger helper."

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Let them eat Chabichou

I love that a commenter refers to the U.S. government's plan to promote cheese as "Reminiscent of the worst excesses of the French Revolution."

Saturday, November 06, 2010


The likelihood of (sometimes literally) running into runway models in Manhattan below 23rd Street is always high, but quadruples if you happen to be eating a pastry on the street.

Friday, November 05, 2010

All in a day's work

-The "our friend is coming" excuse does not give you and your friend who really is there access to another whole two-person table at a coffee shop during prime coffee-shop hours. Not when you're clearly using it as a stand for fashion mags and a small camera. After an hour or so, it's clear that you're less concerned with your friend having a place to sit than with annexing an acre around you for your outerwear, and just generally with not having to sit near strangers. I was genuinely shocked when their friend eventually showed up.

-I always want to tell people who complain about coffee shops as imperfect workstations that there's such a thing as a library. And yet, above, what am I doing? My local library is not only mostly a baby play-area, but now seems to host a social hour for middle-schoolers, specifically eighth-grade boys. Eating fake-butter popcorn. Options are limited.

-Blah blah blah "Chicago" blah blah blah "Stuyvesant." I should probably have something meaningful to say about this epic, but what can I add? I got into Chicago back when you just needed to prove you were odd, with an essay about llamas. I guess it's a good thing that later in life, when people can't exactly place my age, they might think I went to a super-selective college for the socially-adept, because that's what Chicago has become as of 2006. On a more general note, the more I read about how college students are selected, the more I wish all high school seniors could just be given a test, with a lower cut-off for the unequivocally disadvantaged, and with not another peep about sports prowess, family connections, or holistically-assessed well-roundedness. Or that random 18-year-olds would be picked out of a hat - a jaunty fedora? - and those would be the one's who'd get liberal-arts degrees.

-If my life plans don't work out, I have a new list of potential alternative jobs:

Pumpkin-muffin baker: Recipe, loosely adapted from a recipe book, to follow. This is, I think, my greatest strength. My mother's now obsessed with these muffins, so it must be true.
Heritage-trend-boutique owner: I seem to have a knack for finding the so-called "heritage" items at costs far below the prices fashion-types think they have to pay. I've seen the boots I got in Arizona for about $20 for about $200 and $150, respectively. The L.L. Bean sweater I can't stop talking about was something like $40; the men's version, which looks identical, is $129! (I can't take credit for the idea of buying this sweater in Kids', but the idea of marketing the L and XL sizes to men, that's all mine.) I could put up a corrugated steel shack somewhere in Nolita to give the store quaint authenticity while saving on rent, and earn enough to buy an apartment in the dome.
Restaurant health inspector: With my perfect vision and squeamishness, I can spot pests a mile away. Or, as was the case at an "A"-graded East Village ramen shop a couple nights ago, on the condiment bottle next to my unfortunately sesame-seed-garnished soup. The waitress caught the creature in a napkin, then for some reason opened the napkin (almost directly over my food) to show me she'd caught it, thus allowing me to confirm my entomological classification.

Meritocracy, mediocrity

The story of meritocracy usually goes as follows: the brilliant but not especially well-born prove themselves in school and end up successful. They, in turn, meet spouses in the course of their elite educations, producing a new generation even higher-IQ, even more well-rounded, than the previous. Soon enough, there are only the few rare ascents - the elite has become self-perpetuating, "school" just a mask. The Charles Murray argument: "The New Elite marry each other, combining their large incomes and genius genes, and then produce offspring who get the benefit of both." And, more to the point: "An elite that passes only money to the next generation is evanescent [...] An elite that also passes on ability is more tenacious, and the chasm between it and the rest of society widens."

What Murray ignores is that regression to the mean applies plenty to an elite formed through education. In a meritocracy, even a not-fully-successful one such as ours, all the test-prep in the world doesn't guarantee results, even for a kid whose genes and history of being read to at bedtime ought to make him a Rhodes Scholar. This is something today's elites know full well anecdotally, but it's a shameful secret. Highly educated, socially-awkward parents often produce socially-adept but academically apathetic offspring. See this Motherlode post. See anything Michael Winerip has written about his twin sons. See also any reference to how it's "honorable" to have a particular blue-collar job. I mean, it is honorable to do anything productive, but when someone's going out of their way to call a particular job "honorable," it's a safe bet someone with a white-collar career is either being patronizing or, if referring to their own kid, wistful.

Because if you believe society is unjust, and you've been screwed over by fact of birth, that your own kids aren't clerking for the Supreme Court justice of your choice, or able to pull a B+ in pre-algebra, is just something to accept. But if you believe meritocracy is a fair system - and if you've benefitted from it, whatever you say about test-score bias or the system's various imperfections, you probably, on some level, do - the idea that your own children have failed at school is evidence that they have failed at life. Even if a particular beneficiary of meritocracy is extremely committed to fighting the system's flaws, the fact remains that their own children have had all the benefits a person can have in a meritocracy. Add to this the fact that "holistic" college admissions claim to judge students as people, rather than as applicants, and that Yale rejection leaves no room for doubt.

Meritocracy makes ascents extra-visible and descents too dreadful to admit. This is why those who have done no better or perhaps worse than their parents have to create revisionist histories of their own childhoods, to compare themselves to the slightly-more-privileged. But mostly, we just don't hear from the lighthearted, popular offspring of the super-serious. They're not writing introspective articles in the New York Times. They're not publishing novels. (The novel about mediocrity is inevitably written by someone whose bio lists awards, previous novels published. Sure, they never turned out to be the lawyer their parents had hoped for, but their "slacking" was of the sort that pays off.) The shame of their situation, combined with their lack of writing skills, keeps them from telling their story. We hear lots - as well we should - about the external factors preventing worthy students from making it to four-year colleges. But the fact that we don't hear about the set who've had every meritocratic advantage, yet who can't make it off the couch. (I distinguish this set from those who've had every financial advantage - if your family really is that wealthy, they'll buy the school a wing and you'll remain fancy and schmancy regardless.)

This interests me on some level because, despite having well-educated parents, I wasn't really a school person until 12th grade. Like the clichéd former awkward kid who never quite sees himself as the not-awkward adult he became, I do still see myself as kind of eh in the intellectual department, despite proven non-ineptitude in a literature PhD program. (Not an earth-shattering achievement, but the sort of thing that makes it tougher to claim utter academic hopelessness.) But mostly, I'm still harping on the Murray article. How can the "New Elite" be self-perpetuating if so many of its children can barely make it to college? Do I just happen to know of a lot of isolated cases of great ascents and descents, when 99.99999% of people are in precisely the same fields as their parents?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Indulging the curious

Someone got here by Googling...

This could, in essence, be the entire blog, if I choose to switch over to something even less effort-full than this blog's current incarnation. But yeah, someone searched for, no-quotes, "what are european men like." They are like fine wine and Camembert, dark beer and light... hair? I can't begin to guess what Googleable answer this person was hoping for. (OK, I can.) I mean, I'm pleased with the European man in my life, bringing this someone-got-here-by closer to the actual content of the blog than most, but somehow I doubt this Googler was looking for, "European men are good at math, surprisingly amenable to (or good at tuning out) 'Nanny' marathons."

In other news, at some point, when I've met the latest real-world deadline, I'll have a post up on meritocracy and mediocrity, which will be called, "'Nanny'-watchers of the world, unite!" So, start anticipating what I'll say and why it's wrong ahead of time, so you're ready with comments when the time comes.

Sprees real and imaginary

Dream shopping list:

-The Stella McCartney llama shirt. (Yes, Kids', but do they make llama shirts for grown-ups?)

-Knee-patch riding breeches, to wear as pants.

-A "bento box" apartment in Noho.

-A professional haircut. (It's been six months, and it shows.)

Real shopping list:

-Body wash and assorted still-less-exciting purchases, Duane Reade.

-Parmesan to replace what I used up in the Bittman-gnocchi marathon and assorted less-exciting groceries, Whole Foods.

-A second attempt at paying a bureaucratic fee, to see if this one's the charm and I get to go back to Frahnce.

-The llama shirt. If I finish what I need to get done today, this seems a not unreasonable reward. And having looked up the prices of salons in nearby neighborhoods, the shirt's about a third of the price it would cost to get an inch trimmed off the ends.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The dark side of the Internet

-I'm not sure where I stand on the question of kids'-clothes-as-vanity-sizing, as my self-contradiction might have shown. But, to my female readers - heck, to my male readers - if you want to feel tiny, I have one suggestion: the L.L. Bean Kids' Fisherman Sweater. The Large (14-16) is the equivalent of a Women's XXL at a store for especially tall women. My reaction to opening the package and discovering this might help illustrate the truth about this phenomenon: I was 90% annoyed that this would mean paying $6.50 for a return (plus a bogus $1 "drop-off fee" at my local UPS place) to exchange for a size that might be wrong as well, 5% relieved that the garment didn't make me look fat (which is, I suspect, the most disappointing quality a piece of clothing can have for a woman in the West, even an all-around small one), and another 5% reminded of my short stature and ashamed at being incapable of filling out something intended for the underage. Or make that 2.5% flattered and 2.5% wondering whether there's a population of enormous-in-both-directions children in Maine, whether this has something to do with the lobster, and whether maybe, just maybe, contrary to biological reality, I'm still growing. I think the greater message here is, people who live in cities where shopping in person is almost too easy have no business shopping online, unless the goods have a free roundtrip ticket.

-Online personas, when not altogether fictional, are typically idealized, best-foot-forward versions of the people behind them. This is true on blogs, as well as Facebook. Whatever unpleasant or tragic crap you're dealing with, a moment online will lead to what appears to be an avalanche of acquaintances who haven't a damn clue. They may be dealing with horribleness of their own, but you'll never know, because online, everyone using their real name is experiencing one success, one delight, after the next. Which is why this post is spot-on. (I speak in general terms - I have yet to have reason to consider whether or not I'm fertile, or to have more than a handful of Facebook friends with kids - the baby photos are, along with puppy photos, James Franco photos, etc., among the highlights of a visit to that site, as far as I'm concerned. In fact, now that I know how to Facebook-feed-filter, I'm tempted to remove anyone who doesn't post cute photos at least some of the time.)

-Organizations should not put their rejected applicants on their promotional email lists. That someone once, years ago, applied to work somewhere does not make them a "fan." Levels of bitterness towards or continued affection for such places vary from person to person, depending on the situation -someone who failed to get a job at Planned Parenthood, say, will not start protesting in front of abortion clinics, but someone not hired at a particular bakery might opt to go to an inferior bakery down the street for years to come. But if anything, the feelings will be fonder if there are no calls to donate to, Twitter-follow, or otherwise acknowledge the entity. (Again, general terms - it's 100 years since I've been on any  kind of real job market. But I will get the occasional reminder, in the form of one of these emails, of some place I applied to intern or something 150 years ago, and I suspect this happens to real-job applicants as well.)

Monday, November 01, 2010

In which I learn how to use a "computer"

I just figured out (with technical help from Jo and, randomly enough, a comment thread to Dear Prudence) how to block the Facebook news feeds of the few acquaintances who've accounted for 99% of the information I've gotten from that site over the past however many years there's been such a thing as a Facebook news feed. Thanks to having done so, I can now find useful info, such as the fact that a college friend who's also dating a physicist (yes, there's a club) is getting to go to a taping of The Big Bang Theory and going to meet Sheldon. See, this is valuable information.