Monday, February 28, 2011


John Galliano's apparently something of an anti-Semite. However, because he was only anti-Semitic when drunk (that we know of), and because he designs pretty dresses (of which a bunch are on display at the Bon Marché, exhibit complete with security guard), we really shouldn't call him an anti-Semite, because that would be unfair. (Example # who even knows of it being socially unacceptable to call anyone currently living an anti-Semite. Although in this case, the truly reticent seem to be fashion's great victims...) Following the lead of His Sartorialistness, the commenter-worshippers over there now accept that someone who professes an admiration for Hitler after a kir too many is maybe not the best fit at Dior, but seem to agree with their thought-director that the video "shows a sad man willing to say anything to hurt others as a desperate cry for help. I hope he is relieved of his duties and that he seeks out the professional help he obviously needs." The commenters, who have correctly read between the lines of the post, and who understand why "Sart" is being so lenient, see Galliano as a tortured genius, one even referring to "a fine line between genius and insanity."

A few things. One, Galliano is not a "genius." I often argue from a pro-fashion perspective, but seriously. I would think, for someone in fashion to count as such, they would at the very least need to have created some kind of major innovation in how people dress (Chanel? Dior himself?), or clothes of a beauty or brilliance universally recognized as highly unusual even among high-fashion designers. No doubt he can design clothes better than the average person with access to a sewing machine. But "genius" is a kind of silly term to use for any eccentric who's made his name in the fashion industry. Of course, if "Absolutely Fabulous" is anything to go by, the term is used loosely in such circles. Even if he were a genius in some stricter definition of the term, it wouldn't be so easy to sympathize with him. But his contribution to mankind is really not something even fashion-lovers should honor in this way.

Next, there are racists, there are alcoholics, and there those who say dumb things after one too many. Not to rehash the Affaire Gibson, but the people who start holding forth about 'those people' once they've had a few might be alcoholics, or might not, but are definitely racists. Drinking to the point of disinhibition, but remaining plenty coherent, is not grounds for rehab, for concern from strangers, for any kind of sympathy. It's grounds for having the courage to hit on a friend one has been crushing on, perhaps to mingle with ease in a informal-networking-type setting. Going on the anecdotal evidence of someone who attended college in the United States and who is currently in a French department, the amount of alcohol it takes to speak more freely is not what is scientifically referred to as sloppy-drunk, but is in fact a normal and mostly positive aspect of life for many adults in many countries. It is a level of tipsiness that does not indicate that one has a problem with alcohol. Now, if you know yourself and know that your otherwise hidden views about 'those people' have a tendency to seem appropriate to you once you've had a beer, it is a problem for you to have alcohol even in amounts that would not damage your liver; having the beer anyway indicates poor judgment, not (necessarily) addiction. In vino veritas is not typically anything along the lines of a "cry for help."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fashion über alles

Not terribly surprisingly, the Sartorialist, who's often under fire for his commitment to show how fashionable it is to smoke cigarettes and generally to weigh three pounds, and who inevitably tosses in a few comments about how pro-healthy-lifestyle he is before reverting to business as usual, is miffed that John Galliano's fashion career may (momentarily, obvs, as these things always go) suffer for having allegedly aimed anti-Semitic remarks at a (non-Jewish, but allegedly ugly-bag-carrying) stranger at a café in the gay-and-Jewish Marais neighborhood of Paris.

There are two points here - the principle of innocent until proven guilty, which our international legal expert the Sartorialist explains is valid in Paris as well (although isn't this more about a company's PR, which is and ought to be more stringent than the law? and seems he wasn't even fired, just suspended!), and the question of whether Art (in this case Fashion) should be so revered that one of its princes should be allowed to do whatever he damn well pleases. Roman Polanski territory.

The Sartorialist does not explicitly state the latter, but this is so clearly the perspective from which he's coming at the question. I mean, ugh. If the man was an expert at some rare kind of brain surgery, we might think the loss was too great for even a few days. But he's scheduled to design Kate Moss's wedding dress. This can wait.

One commenter sees it otherwise:

This is so stupid, everyone loooves John Galliano and there is no Dior imaginable without him...:-(

This would be a tragedy.

Another speculates:
This may sound crass but when it comes to businesses, appearances are all the more important. Dior is likely thinking of their Semetic customers, right along with having no tolerance for anti-Semetic remarks for purely moral reasons.
Speaking as a Semetic sort, I promise that this event has in no way changed the amount of Dior I purchase.

Mr. Toledano (Sephardic Jewish) has suspended Galliano for "zero-tolerence for anti-semitic remarks".Each draw their own conclusions.
The nerve! Imagine insulting the minority group one's boss comes from and this being a problem for one's job! Life is so unfair! 

And here's a doozy:
I am with you Scott, also all the way behind John. In sports, suspension is agreed upon before the 'game' starts. Dior's reaction: disproportionate, haste, absurd and harmful comes as a slap in the hand to the couturier that injected new blood to the House. If Galliano is a gentleman, he will right this wrong and maybe reconsider working for LVMH which is NOT but only OWNS Dior. Shameful behaivour of the money always. Talent will prevail, and Galliano will be Galliano at any measure."
Money handlers!

My favorite comment, however, is an explanation of the French legal process that begins, "europeans don't live in trees anymore," leaving me desperately curious to know when, precisely, Europeans stopped doing so.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Comfortable shoes be damned UPDATED

So if the Galliano arrest was the news item most obviously destined for WWPD, this week's Vows column is as WWPD as a Vows column can get. We have: the novels of Philip Roth. A cameo by Philip Roth. A French Jew from Strasbourg. A classic interaction between a Western European man and an American woman: "He found her to be elegant, but, he said, 'She had the ugliest shoes I had ever seen — huge square heels, like a poor crippled kid in ‘Oliver Twist.''"

This I do find baffling: "In Mr. Roth, [the groom] said, he discovered that 'there was something I could be linked with that was not Woody Allen or the Marx Brothers or Goldman Sachs.'" How Roth could be an alternative to Allen, that is, but maybe it's different for the French.


Forgot to mention the glaringly obvious connection between this and L'Affaire Galliano - part of Galliano's outburst was allegedly telling the woman he thought was Jewish (but apparently was not, and the "Asian" reference was apparently to an Asian man she was with) that her bag was ugly.

Research, write, pamper, repeat

Now that the soldes are just about over, study breaks must be of the non-sartorial variety. What with the euro, full-priced is not so much an option, plus how many Petit Bateau t-shirts should one person with free laundry down the hall own?

So, after a heck of a week of BNF, with a whole series of beautiful Jewesses living in an anachronistic amalgam of biblical times, medieval Spain, and nineteenth century France all blending into one, I decided that I would take some time off today to have a pain au chocolat and read (another 19th C Juive, alas, but not far enough into the novel yet to learn if she's belle) in the most amazing place in the world, then to buy groceries, and to meander around some shrines to Frenchwoman skincare. In reverse order...

Unable to get myself to follow Glowing Gwyneth's lead and buy a skincare product whose purpose I could not ascertain, but intrigued and at any rate looking for something less cakey to deal with the undereye circles that come from having to contend with heaping stacks of interchangeable belle-Juive tales, and looking for a fun way to incorporate sunscreen into my routine in the season when the sun isn't reminder enough to take heed of the fact that pallor and skin cancer both run in my family, I ended up with La Roche-Posay sunscreen/foundation gunk, in a color that the pharmacist assured me would be paler than pale. (I was embarrassed to ask this of someone dealing with The Medical, but this is the only way you can see the tester, and the place was not exactly overrun.) And, at least in the so-so light of my dorm room, this stuff is kind of amazing, airbrushing in real life.

Groceries! I went to the touristy Rue Cler, because it happens to be near the bakery to end all bakeries, and because tourist demand is what keeps fromageries thriving. Bethmale vache, Chabichou de Poitou, and there's a slight chance I'll eat 9 euros worth of (not even that expensive) cheese in the course of the day, but whatever it takes to get this chapter done...

OK, so, the best place in the world. This would be the Boulanger des Invalides Jocteur. I would continue to return there even if it were overrun by Jew-baiting fashion designers, but fortunately, that's not so much the clientele. They are, instead, a mix of beautiful Frenchwomen of all ages one cannot look away from; their scarf-arrangement-champion boyfriends or husbands; tourists who've accidentally stumbled upon what they think will be on every street-corner but no such luck; and these tiny, adorable, impeccably-behaved children, who don't know how lucky they are. (When I was your age, little child wrapped up in a scarf like a present, my after-school treat was a NutRageous.) All are served by a staff of strapping young men whose combination of hunkiness and ability to produce the most stellar baked goods in all of Paris if not the world makes them not detract from the overall atmosphere. Au Bonheur des Dames, indeed.

The atmosphere is one that, though pretty, is not precious, stuffy, or otherwise off-putting, the way salons-de-thé tend to be. Because it isn't really a salon-de-thé, but more of a regular bakery that happens to have tables. Accordingly, the prices are dangerously reasonable. Slightly higher to-stay than to-go, one could nevertheless, on a grad student budget, spend an entire afternoon there, chain-eating berry tarts, eclairs, pains au chocolat...

While I will admit to having gone yesterday as well - to show the place to a fellow female and fruit-tart-appreciating grad student after we'd put in some serious hours at the BNF - I kind of had to return today, because yesterday's strawberry-raspberry tart and Mariage Frères earl gray tea, though impeccable, had me craving my "usual" - a croissant or pain au chocolat and a café crème. The place was packed, and where I was sitting was sort of hidden by the line of to-go customers. By the time I was served, there was some kind of problem with the coffee set-up, so tea it was. It was still an exquisite experience. After my pain au chocolat, I had to decide what would come next. I opted for "next" to be bread and a dessert for later. "Bread," such a pedestrian word, so inadequate to describe the pain au figues, shaped like a fig, that I purchased (and, having just tried it, will purchase again - sort of like a dream version of a cinnamon-raisin bagel). Dessert will be a lemon tart. (Is it dessert hour yet?) So fine, I live in a cell of sorts, but I will probably never eat this well again in my life and I intend to enjoy that aspect of Paris to the fullest.

Friday, February 25, 2011

In the fine tradition of Coco Chanel

In what is both the most bizarre and most appropriate news story ever to make it to WWPD, Dior fashion designer John Galliano was arrested, in Paris, in the Marais, for anti-Semitic verbal assault. Well, gosh. Next time someone asks me what it's like to be Jewish in France these days, I'll be sure to mention the possibility that one might be attacked by an especially flamboyant haute coutourier. (What will Mme Millepied, new face/torso of a Dior scent, make of this?)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pot, kettle

Charlie Sheen apparently accused Chuck Lorre of being "Haim Levine." Lorre did indeed change his name from Levine - I read it in the New Yorker between episodes of "Two and a Half Men" - but who knows where Haim is coming from. The more pressing question is why Carlos Irwin Estevez is getting himself tangled up in this nonsense.

Je m'en microfiche

On the one hand, it's great that a genre I half-guessed existed when deciding to base a dissertation chapter around it does, in fact, exist. On the other, there are only so many microfiches about a young Jewish girl's romance with a Catholic nobleman that I can take before Léa, Rachel, Noémie, Dina, Déborah, and so forth all blend into one.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Of Brooklyns old, new, and international

Ah, Brooklyn. The borough whose newish residents can't help but sneer at the even newer arrivals. Ha! one will say, I moved here back in 2005, when Williamsburg was only a little bit extremely popular and unaffordable.

The bizarre misconception underlying this painful rant about a NYT "36 Hours" travel feature on the borough is that the Times is some kind of coherent entity, whose readers and journalists are all cut from the same cloth, all inhabiting the same stodgy patch of the Upper East or West Side. When in all likelihood the writers for the paper who are under 40 - and many over as well - live in Brooklyn. But, when writing what is, after all, a travel feature, they assume that the person they're writing for isn't a prissy Manhattanite daring to dip his pinky toe into the L train, but rather a visitor who lives outside NY if not the US entirely, and who doesn't want to waste what limited time he has in the city on what one not especially NY-specific subculture - hipsters, if we're still calling them that - thinks is most important.

There's enough to do in NYC that it's not a given any tourist would visit Brooklyn at all; someone looking to see a side of the city not represented in Manhattan would do well to consider, for example, Queens, rather than spending 45 minutes on the train for what are essentially extensions of the Lower East and Upper West Sides. These are writers who know Brooklyn just fine, who no doubt have their own favorite spots, but who are describing it for a broad and middle-aged audience - broader and more middle-aged still in the case of a travel story. It's not that they're getting it wrong, but that to describe what would appeal to a particular sort of 23-year-old would be an odd choice, even if, granted, New Brooklyn caters largely to a particular sort of 23-year-old.

The response is incoherent in the way that defenses of Brooklyn can often get. On the one hand, we're meant to Celebrate Diversity, or, more accurately, to celebrate a kind of socializing among other college-educated white people that reveals courage in the face of having perhaps walked through two streets of a black neighborhood to get to the bar: "Is the New York Times trying to tell us that only bars full of upper-middle class people are safe? If that’s what you think, go to Connecticut or something. They have nice quiet white bread bars there, too." On the other, god forbid anyone imagine Brooklyn to be so uncivilized a place as not to have all the frou-frou amenities of Manhattan: "[C]ontrary to the Times' gentle suggestions to the contrary, there are tons of cabs on Court Street, especially in the dinner hours. It’s still a major street, even though it’s in Brooklyn." Which is it? Is Brooklyn so hardcore that those who can't take it must be exiled to New Canaan? Or are those who dare doubt that Brooklyn is, in fact, as nice a lily-white suburb as the best of 'em the problem?

Meanwhile, there were some valid complaints to be made about the "36 Hours," most notably the fact that much of New Brooklyn is inaccessible to much of the rest of New Brooklyn, such that anywhere in the Park Slope realm and anything any realtor has ever called "Williamsburg" are in fact far more difficult to get back and forth from than is either destination from Manhattan. Contrary to contrary to contrary to, even gentrified areas of Brooklyn are low on cabs, so even those willing to pay for what on the map looks like it should be a short trip may well end up on that delightful combination of Q, L, and whatever else if they decided to do all of New Brooklyn in one go.

One could also point out that the "36 Hours" feature is a guide not to Brooklyn, but to New Brooklyn, and as such ignores, with the exception of Sunset Park, the neighborhoods where Stumptown coffee does not already flow from a spout in every kitchen. This, if anything, would be the authenticity critique. The rant's author "imagine[s] that certain parts of the article could be a little obnoxious to Brooklyn natives," the cites as an example of this that the article had the gall to suggest... the wrong New Brooklyn rock clubs. Huh?

I suppose, though, that my objection here is less to the response as a Defense of Brooklyn, than its place in the ever-growing canon of travel advice not exactly aimed at hipsters, but that conflates 'where the hipsters are' with 'where one finds local color.' The old-as-time popularity of telling people how to find 'off the beaten path' restaurants, of how to (as is written, preposterously, on the side of tourist vans near Battery Park City) "Come a tourist, leave a local," has morphed into a kind of parallel tourist industry, in which there's an assumption that everyone's looking for pretty much the same thing around the world, namely the equivalent of Williamsburg or Wicker Park of whichever locale they may find themselves in. This is the real-life travel equivalent to the street-style blogs depicting identically-quirkily dressed 20-and-30-somethings, whose locales one can only discern from their ethnicity. (Naturally platinum blond and in the '70s-inspired uniform-of-the-moment? Helsinki. Dark hair and a rockin' post-army bod in the same outfit? Tel Aviv.)

It's precisely this approach that sends tourists in Paris - Paris! - to the Canal St. Martin area, which is good and well but... the 6th and 7th Arrondissements! The Seine! One doesn't go to Paris for hipsters who happen to speak French and own a bit more striped stuff. One goes for the beautiful everything, for the 60-ish women who look like a young Catherine Deneuve, for the bichons frises with their own chairs in a café. As I thought in 2004 and continue to think in 2011, it's all about the poodles-and-pearls. Or if you're interested in a particular immigrant community and how it and Paris have mixed - the Queenses of Paris - that's also something Paris-specific worth checking out. But hipsters? The globalization that leads to that international subculture of like-minded sorts certainly facilitates friendships and relationships across borders, but if you're going somewhere different on account of it's different, why go that route?

An unlikely moment of consensus

Via Ned Resnikoff, and David Schraub, Glenn Beck thinks Reformed Judaism is too political. I'd call it Reform,* and am not sure how radical Islam enters into it, and will admit that I've read the text but not watched the video because I don't feel like Beck at the moment... but the politicization of that branch of Judaism was one of my own greatest pet peeves back in the days of Hebrew school. Beck may be as anti-Semitic as the next right-wing populist demagogue, but on this, he and yours truly are in something along the lines of agreement.

I mean, Reform Judaism as I experienced it - and I'm talking personal experience from a long while ago, as opposed to systematic research done recently - was, at this one rather large Upper West Side temple, at least, more about politics than religion, but with politics taking the moral place of religion. It was assumed that Good meant a very specific list of left-wing positions that had nothing specific to do with Judaism, Reform, Reformed, or otherwise. We worshipped a Donkey god, from the left.

It made quite an impression, in particular a lobbying trip they had us take to DC when we were 13 or so, to be this cute but old-enough-to-seem-informed presence. I don't remember for which audience or on what topics, only that I agreed with, if I remember correctly, only one of the several stances we were there to promote, and I never went through any phase of being a social conservative.

While the usual contrarian reaction to Hebrew school is to become, for a time at least, a self-hating Jew, my response couldn't be that, because Hebrew school wasn't all that Jewy. So in high school and early college, I rebelled against the all-good-people-are-liberals message by being the token right-of-center sort, flirting with libertarianism and neoconservatism (OK, not so "token" at UChicago); later in college I got into Francophilic Zionism, and the Jewish nationalism of Bernard Lazare - and let's not forget dear Herzl - struck me as a much more appealing way to be a non-observant Jew than being a Semitically-themed left-leaning Democrat. I can't say I've given American Reform Judaism much thought lately, but whenever the prospect of reconnecting with Judaism from a religious and not just scholarly angle comes up, I think back to this experience, and am not sure the only branch of Judaism that would have an atheist with a non-Jewish boyfriend is for me. (Yes, there's Reconstructionism, but I'm not entirely sure what that entails, and until grad school thought it was something like Jews for Jesus.)

So, readers who've had/are now having positive experiences with Reform Judaism, and who aren't liberal Democrats, comment away.

*The relevant Woody Allen joke.

Quote of the day

"Car, voyez-vous Monsieur Strauss-Kahn, il ne suffit pas seulement de posséder un quelconque passeport français stipulant que vous êtes plus ou moins de nationalité française pour que Français vous le soyez. Ce serait là tâche trop aisée. La France, ça se mérite. La France, ça se respire. Ça se hume. Un Français devant le postérieur d’une vache, ça pleure toutes les larmes de son cul." - Laurent Sagalovitsch.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Steakation photos are up

Not in any particular order, though, so the curious will have to guess which photos were taken in Belgium, which in Paris.

Shopping for slobs and others

-Yves Klein blue is, it seems, so hot right now. The color's been so-very-now here at WWPD for so-very-long. Unfortunately, the Petit Bateau t-shirt I got in that color last summer promptly turned not-so-Yves-Klein-blue, almost tie-dye-ish purple, really, in the armpits, something I'd never seen happen to a shirt, and something that reaffirmed by belief that, as a general rule, t-shirts and tank tops come in gray, white, or black.

-Wimmin and their shopaholic ways, in the WSJ, via Isabel Archer. Just as articles about extreme cosmetic surgery bring out the smug in women who 'only' wear hundreds of dollars worth of makeup and face creams and maybe do a little Botox, a one about $74,000 shopping binges is sure to elicit folksy responses:

Wow...and here I was feeling all posh and "extravagant" because I recently spent $220 at my local Dress Barn store where I got one shift dress at full price, a suit jacket for 60% off, several sweaters for varying percentages off, and a pair of pants at full price. I was proud of the fact I saved nearly $115 on my clothes. For sure, I can't imagine spending $74K on one single outfit, designer or otherwise. [....]
Obviously, just about no one can imagine spending tens of thousands of dollars on a single outfit, thus why you will not find articles about how there are these women, you see, who own some clothing from the Gap, maybe a few pieces from Banana Republic. No less obviously, a non-designer outfit at that price point would require a lot of layering.

The comment is kind of interesting, though, insofar as it illustrates not only the way articles about the extreme extravagance of the few serve to vindicate smaller extravagances of the many, but also the extent to which some (many? all?) of us fall victim to the notion that it, whatever it is, once cost more than we're paying for it. Does our Dress Barn shopper know for sure that these items ever went for their ostensible original prices? Doubtful, but even if they did, sales can make the unaffordable affordable, but the delight at that 'extra' $115 is unwarranted - $220 were spent, not $115 earned. Would Ms. $74,000 be more socially acceptable if it, whatever it was, was reduced from $200,000?

-The coat on the left (see it again) is mine, and I couldn't be more pleased with it. I was ostensibly looking for this, but ended up preferring the less poufy variety, which conveniently enough was the one that had not entirely vanished from the various Comptoirs des Cotonniers. (I'd glanced at the label of the coat a woman took off in a café, thus avoiding an awkward discussion with the woman about where she'd gotten her amazing coat.) A major improvement over the Uniqlo one from last year which will now be for snowstorms only, and about the same price - thanks to the sales, I suppose, but I don't know what the original price was, that is, what I 'saved' with my good timing. In any case, I can now go out in sub-50-degree weather without looking like a slob.

The experience, however, reminded me why I'm partial to the more anonymous shopping experiences - fast-fashion or thrift, etc. The boutique atmosphere is just, ugh, even on the rare occasions when the stuff is discounted to the point that I might actually buy anything. Clothes - dresses especially - have this way of glowing in boutique windows, especially in Paris, but small clothes-shops are, 99% of the time, better for window-shopping. Sorry, small-shop owners, that's just how it is.*

I don't begrudge the salespeople of this particular chain from doing their job, but pushy does not begin to describe it. In one branch, which did not have the coat, it was this constant barrage of how beau some other coat or sweater was that I was trying on, so when I asked Jo what he thought, trying to sidestep the sales pitch and get the opinion of the person I'd actually come in with, rather than stepping aside for a moment, she just switched to a breathy "it's beautiful, it's beautiful," on and on until we'd left the store with nothing. At the one that did have the coat, as I was approaching the register, a saleswoman came by with this armful of scarves, as though once I was paying for one thing, I was obviously prepared to buy all manner of random crap. Perhaps the thinking was, I'd believe anything a Frenchwoman told me about scarves, but even 'merican ol' me knew that these did not in any which way go with the coat, and would in fact detract from its minimalist neutral-toned splendor.

*But are the shops really all that small? Boutique chains, stores that look one-of-a-kind but that in fact have branches in every hip and often not-so-hip neighborhood, plus areas within each department store. (More examples: Sandro, Zadig et Voltaire, Maje...) I suspect that a good many tourists leave Paris thinking they found a one-of-a-kind item from a shop tucked away on the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, when in fact...

A failure as a Parisian

During my sortie temporaire from the library, I managed to:

-Eat two (Passendale!) sandwiches - the lunch I'd packed - one on a bench, one while walking down the street.
-Drink a café de la semaine (aka drip coffee) from Starbucks, also while walking down the street, although not at the same time as eating the sandwich.
-Purchase John Frieda anti-frizz conditioner, as opposed to something medicinal-sounding from the pharmacy.
-Not use even close to the entire two hours allotted for a sortie temporaire for my lunch.

Off to a good start UPDATED

Got to the BNF before 9. Coffee not available, turns out, till 10. First book of the day was not the history of the Jews I'd requested, but the Book of Psalms, whose code was one number off.


Slight improvement - the right book was in fact possible to locate, located, and not useless. The café opened. The woman who prepares the coffee employs the cough-directly-onto-hand method of blocking the spread of germs, meaning the afternoon coffee may come from elsewhere, but things seem to be heading in the right direction.

Monday, February 21, 2011


I just got back from vacation, first a week with Jo in the five-star Parisian hotel known as the dorm, then a weekend trip to visit his family in the country with no government but seriously amazing bread. Bread so delicious that Jo's mother packed me some to bring back to Paris. Yes, it's that good.

If you like food, I highly suggest finding a significant other from or a job in Belgium. Family gatherings center around pie and, of course, chocolate. No kitchen is complete without a deep fryer. Coffee comes with at least a chocolate if not also a cookie. And, when you walk into a supermarket at 11:30am, you're greeted with Leffe and Maredsous representatives offering tastes of their beers. This following a week of steak (more on that for another post) and I'm starting to see the appeal of those celebrity detox juice diets. Or more accurately, I now see the months of bread and cheese, pasta and bags of Florette arugula before me as refreshing, not dreary and repetitive. This is, I think, the best result of a culinary vacation, the sense of joy at having eaten well, paired with the sense of relief one's stomach feels at a return to the basics.

My favorite food in Belgium, as everyone seems to find amusing, is a cheese called Passendale. The name sounds Welsh to me, but is apparently a town with significance in Belgian history. And with its very own cheese museum. (Slight NSFWness on one of the cheese museum pages, because European websites can have random topless women, even websites for cheese museums, apparently.) Passendale can be purchased from an actual kaaswinkel, but I'm (more than) content with the sliced, packaged kaas, and see no need to cultivate fancier or schmancier tastes. What is Passendale? It's a bland yet delicious, rubbery in a good way kind of cheese with small holes, but not quite like Swiss cheese, either. It seems to be completely unavailable in Paris; my one attempt at getting a cheese that at least looked like it ended, as cheese purchases rarely do for me, with my throwing it out. Wikipedia, however, claims France is positively swimming in the stuff. (I'm now curious about Tilsit - I always go for the weirder cheeses, and need to move on to exploring the less moldy varieties.) And the website of a nearby upscale cheese shop seems, if not to have Passendale, to at least acknowledge its existence. Sacrilege or not, my quest for non-French cheese in France shall continue.

Friday, February 18, 2011


On vacation, first in Paris (a tourist, at last!), now in Belgium. Will return with photos and anecdotes.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Culinary integration

In France, there have long been rival views of the nation. According to one, the only real French are descendants of the Gauls, or at least white Catholics whose itty bitty bits of Italian heritage don't reveal themselves in a last name. For the other, if you're French above all else identity-wise, if you shun the headscarf, hyphenated identities, and so on, you're in. The latter view is not liberal by American standards, but that is (or at least has been, unless it's changed recently?) where people stand who are more left than right.

In a speech that has a prominent role in the chapter I'm working on, Ernest Renan explains that the Jews of France are, in fact, at least a good number of them, descendants of the Gauls. Not bloody likely, I thought when reading this, but an understandable argument to make at a time (the 1880s) when racial anti-Semitism was just taking hold, when the first of the two views, which would really solidify during the Dreyfus Affair, was stepping into its own. 

Of course, if French Jews are not part of the original terre and sang of Western Europe, what was all of this matzo doing in the 'traditional rustic crackers and cookies' section of the Carrefour?

The medicalization of everything

In Paris, the divide between beauty products and medicines can be ambiguous. Yes, in NY, lipstick is sold at Duane Reade, and yes, Kiehls looks like an old pharmacy, but in general, no one's confusing Sephora for a health clinic. But in Paris, the establishment where one gets a pedicure is also a podiatrist's office. Beauty products not only make health claims - for sensitive, delicate skin, etc. - but are packaged and marketed in a way that suggests all these seemingly indistinguishable bottles of clear liquid are medical necessities. Brands like La Roche-Posay - which makes a mean nail polish - sell a seemingly endless array of products that go beyond the kind of creams that gosh darn get things done (sunscreens, antibiotic or anti-fungal ointments, cortisol creams, moisturizers, acne washes), liquid makeup (foundation, concealer), or even that classic cream-that-does-nothing, the anti-aging cream. There's this whole array of products to be applied before, after, or in lieu of makeup that, even understanding the words on the label, I cannot figure out. Soap is frowned upon, but there are 1,001 products sold in Paris, I'm sure of it, just to remove eye makeup. All that's missing is, pardon the "Seinfeld" reference, a Julliard-trained dermatologist to prescribe the stuff.

All of this, I should explain, exists separately, and is sold apart from, what we Americans refer to as "makeup." Monoprix will sell makeup in one area, regular shampoo, conditioner, and soap in the other, but then in this special area, called a "parapharmacie," exists the world of tonics, washes, gels, creams, lotions, and balms, through which women presumably sort to find the one product that truly expresses the particularities of their skin. (Gwyneth Paltrow, on the aptly-named GOOP, does a thorough round-up.) Where the US is holistic with college admissions, France seems to be with women's skincare products.

There are also free-standing parapharmacies, which are a great place to get overwhelmed. I popped into one today - the spectacular one on Monge that seems like a discount store but isn't all that cheap - and it was just aisle after aisle of products that are neither medicine nor makeup nor soap, yet obviously incredibly necessary for being the kind of woman who has a rockin' sex life at 80. I wouldn't know where to begin with these products, what complaints I'm supposed to have about my skin that wouldn't be fixable with makeup or soap, or serious enough to require actual medicine. All I could think was that it would be easy to drop hundreds of euros on products that look nice in a cabinet but do absolutely nothing.

What, then, does it all mean? Is it that I'm just so American in my thinking that a real dermatologist, as opposed to a tonic in a minimalist container, should deal with issues having to do with the skin that are significant enough to spend money on, and that if you're going to buy something non-medical, how about eyeliner? Am I too suspicious of not-quite-as-Western medicine? It's not that I'm inherently suspicious of beauty products - I will pay more for the better shampoo and conditioner, and I only know they're better from having tried a whole bunch at different price points. But here, there are things that are put into hair that I can't begin to fathom, products meant to be left in the hair, virtually all of which are intended for a European hair type that, unlike mine, could be wash-and-go without startling people, and does not even have frizz to contend with.


Oh the Well blog. First we learned how the holiday season stresses out youngsters. The new-old stressor in their lives is slumber parties. A part of me almost agrees - it was at such a party that I saw, as a 10-year-old, "The Silence of the Lambs." Big mistake, and I'm still scared of moths. But is this really something pediatricians need to get involved with, advising children to take "a prophylactic nap" beforehand? Yes, sleepovers mean losing sleep, yes one friend's mother showed us all a sex book or movie, I forget, far too young, and yes, I got to see how it goes in a family where the parents do have enzymes for copious alcohol consumption. (We, however, may have even eaten some simple carbohydrates and trans-fats.)

Yes, also, Kids Can Be So Cruel. But if they weren't a little cruel, we'd all have the annoying tendencies that sleepovers and the like socialized us out of, making it harder for us to behave at cocktail parties, dates, job interviews, and so forth. I was a pretty odd kid; I owe the fact that I'm only a mildly odd adult to my parents having allowed me to go on sleepovers and such. What does it mean to call the sleepover "a step toward mock independence and at the same time an intense exposure to peer standards and pressures"? It's a step toward real independence, which involves navigating the world of people outside your immediate family.


What I was trying to convey in the post below, but what may have gotten lost in my babbling, is that I don't believe the question of "silencing" is relevant to the conversation about Israel these days, at least among those of my generation. I bring this up now, here, on the blog, not because I have anything new to add about the Middle East, but because it relates to the earlier posts on Your Privilege is Showing, which I do think constitutes silencing.

Why is YPIS "silencing"? Because it stops conversations. Why does it stop conversations? Because the recipients of a YPIS retreat into their little corners, ashamed of having let their privilege show. Then, once huddled in these corners, they start thinking, hey, that accusation was kind of unfair/silly/mean-spirited, at which point they stop even considering reentering the conversation. They're not silenced as in First Amendment violation. But they are banished from discussions. This has the effect of silencing various ideas. To give an admittedly tame example, the food movement conversation has been so shamed into a YPIS corner that health-oriented recipe-writers don't dare include ingredients that can't be purchased for 20 cents at bulk stores nationwide - nothing too gourmet or yuppie or obscure - leading to abominations such as a bean-and-kale casserole. But mostly, people, not ideas, are silenced, and those who remain will be more excited about YPIS than whatever the ostensible cause may have been.

I see how an accusation of anti-Semitism would seem like the kind of thing that would be silencing. In other times, among older individuals, sure, but not so much lately. I should note, as an aside, that when I did think about such matters more, I found that the extent to which the term "anti-Semitism" was used in reference to criticism of Israel was exaggerated by those critics. But it can happen, and the accusation Conor just received is kind of borderline, I suppose, given the post title. Someone who criticizes Israel and does, in fact, get called an anti-Semite - and this isn't necessarily overt, as with 'I see echos of the 1930s' accusations - has the right to be annoyed, upset, to defend himself, and so forth, but to claim he's been silenced?

Here I'm not so sure. It's taboo to express overt anti-Semitism, but it's also taboo to call anyone an anti-Semite, in a way that it's not taboo to call someone a racist, sexist, or homophobe. To utter the term "anti-Semitism" is to seem of another era, paranoid, hyperbolic (because we as a society have no conception of what anti-Semitism might mean if not OMG Nazis), in short, outside the bounds of polite conversation. Someone called an anti-Semite not only has the right to keep writing, but isn't silenced because all sensible people will agree that the accusation is ridiculous. They if anything find that their status has been raised within the conversation, because they appear to be martyrs for the truth about the Middle East. Meanwhile, there hasn't been any particular backlash against YPIS, meaning that someone who receives that accusation has been effectively told to shut up.

As for generational shifts, I tend not to buy such arguments on issues like legalizing pot or SSM, because these are the kinds of issues where youthful live-and-let-live may shift into fuddy-duddiness with age. As a supporter of SSM, I'm not all that reassured by the fact that the fresh-faced offspring of the stuffiest of Republicans are in favor. But thoughts regarding US Israel policy? This to me seems like something without any necessary relationship to youth as youth.

Monday, February 07, 2011

A lack of heated I-P debate online? If only...

Do "bloggers avoid writing about Israel"? I agree with Conor that as a general principle, it's not a topic you want to start with if you're looking to avoid a heated response, but bloggers tend to like such back-and-forths. If this is the blogosphere avoiding Israel as a topic, I'd hate to see what it would look like if people started to take an interest. I mean, there's a Facebook group about (tongue-in-cheek, if this isn't obvious) solving the I-P conflict by arguing about it on Facebook for a reason.

But yeah. I, for one, don't blog very much about Israel these days. This is for so many reasons. Too wrapped up in the nineteenth century, too much upsetting stuff happening closer to home to want to be upset by news I can do nothing substantial about, too busy stuffing my face with as many pastries as I can find in the hours that me being awake and the boulangeries being open overlap.

One big one, though, is that I was constantly arguing, alone, against those who claimed to be speaking for the underdog, not only as in Palestinians-as-underdogs, but as though, among intelligent, well-educated, politically-reasonable 20-and-30-somethings, the usual position is to identify as a Zionist. This was certainly once the dominant view, at least among American Jews, but that tide shifted ages ago. I grew tired of the claims on the part of the not-so-pro-Israel-side-loosely-defined that they're being silenced, that they're this voice that one never ever hears because powers that be won't allow it. And yet one hears from them constantly. How many liberal, moderate, or libertarian bloggers - including Jewish ones - are rah-rah Israel these days?

In reference to the point at hand - Conor says that Pejman Yousefzadeh employed a "rhetorical intimidation tactic" by making what is in effect a blanket statement about opposing discussion of US aid to Israel, and by framing the question in terms of anti-Semitism. (More on the second part in a moment.) But what does it mean to use an "intimidation tactic" if in mainstream circles it's become more socially acceptable to be the person questioning US aid to Israel than to be identified as in any way pro-Israel? (Might I mention how many times I've had to specify that I'm not an evil racist who hates Palestinians and favors a Greater Israel and fawns over Palin because Israel First, just because I do, as the blog says, identify as a Zionist and care about the continued existence of a Jewish state in give or take its current location? That I have to disclaimerize to even begin making any point on this topic? That this has something to do with why I've moved on, for the time being at least, to blogging about other ones?)

In terms of silencing, think of it like this: It's like if someone threw a 'your privilege is showing' at Prince Harry and William's bon vivant friend, the one who attended "a finishing school of sorts for the landed gentry that focuses its studies more on horses and the fields they are ridden in (a typical degree: equine management) than the liberal arts one might pursue at Oxford or Cambridge." (A school that, by the way, sounds amazing.) Yes, Yousefzadeh's post is out of line, but in the broader context, the balance of power on this issue, among young and young-ish educated types, journalists, sane-seeming bloggers, etc., favors the ostensibly silenced more than it does the would-be silencers. To repeat what I've said here many times, no one, but no one, and with the exception of Abe Foxman precisely no one takes accusations of anti-Semitism seriously these days unless they're directed at Hitler himself. (OK, I do, David Schraub does, but we're the only ones under 60 and to the left of Palin.) So if Yousefzadeh had used this term to describe Conor or something he'd written, it would have been wrong, offensive, etc., but would have mostly just made himself look the fool.

But regardless, I read the post, and Yousefzadeh says a mix of odd and sensible things, but does not accuse Conor or his post of anti-Semitism. The post title suggests he may go that route, which is probably how it got picked up by some right-wing blog or other, but, unless I'm missing a sentence from having spent too much of the day reading PDFs on this same computer screen, and I did go through the post to check, he does not.

Yousefzadeh (if we filter out the bits of his post that I don't follow) accuses Conor of being insufficiently attentive to the ways in which arguments presenting themselves as even-handed, rational discussions of US Israel policy veer off into anti-Semitic paranoia. Which, well, they do. Often enough, when someone decides that Israel is their 'thing,' and their attitude towards Israel is that it is at the root of every single thing going wrong in America and beyond, that someone isn't fantastic for the Jews; often enough, the people one finds milling about online with thoughts on aid to Israel fall into precisely that demographic. Even without knowing who this particular dude who once wrote in to the alumni magazine I would one day work at (how exciting to see it mentioned!), it is not a bad idea to Google the people who make this their 'thing,' if you're worried about guilt-by-association accusations. Conor's right in terms of the bloggy etiquette - it's not, as a rule, expected that one will dig into the archives of all link-recipients. But for those of us with a heightened sense of awareness, as it were, about such matters, unfortunately even just bringing up the topic elicits suspicion.

Let me be clear. In the abstract, it would be great to have this conversation about American aid to Israel. I, big ol' Zionist, do not have firm opinions on the matter. But the impediment to this conversation is the tendency of genuine Jew-haters to use it as a pretext for their rants, along the tendency of those rants to dominate the existing 'conversation,' making those of us said rants are directed against understandably wary. The problem is not the wariness itself. That's not to say the discussion shouldn't happen. It should, but with attentiveness to the way it's been discussed thus far.

Anyway, I'm not sure what Yousefzadeh's particular beef with the Atlantic is, whether it's just on this issue or part of some other context I'm not aware of, and part of the confusion seems to stem from him thinking Conor and Andrew Sullivan are not merely bloggers on a site that bears the latter's name, but also, in fact, the same person with precisely the same mind and memory for names of obscure bloggers. From what I can tell, Yousefzadeh doesn't accuse either Atlantic blogger of anti-Semitism. But more to the point, even if he had, he would not have silenced them or anyone else on this topic.

Another dissertation post. (Expect more of the same.)

While it may seem that I drone on and on here effortlessly - and while I do indeed do just that - writing something book-length, serious, and (PG, you'd better believe it) supported by actual evidence (my anecdata for the nineteenth century being somewhat lacking), is not the most effortless thing in the world. I did get great advice from one of my professors - to view the dissertation as a series of term papers - but was having trouble figuring how to divide what I had conceived of originally as one term paper into six or so distinct parts. Because it's all one thing, I had to put it all in one document for a while, to figure out which division made the most sense. 

What's difficult isn't so much the length - I could make this post go on for 10,000 words - but figuring out how to organize the thing. What goes in which chapter? Finally setting on a chronological arrangement simplified this to the point where I can now at least hazard a guess, but when does one "era" end and the next begin? Going by regimes works to a degree, but not 100%. Even with that sorted out, each chapter needs to be organized in terms of themes as well as who was saying what - politicians, novelists, journalists, Jews, Catholics, free-thinkers, converts from Judaism... It's not the mess it sounds like, but it was until very recently. And every choice has to be justified. Am I discussing converts-from-Judaism separately from other Catholics? If so, why? (Figured it out this morning!) Then, once the whole thing is organized, I have to go back to many if not all of my sources to make sure the notes I took on them highlight the parts that matter for the arguments I now realize I'm making. I came to the conclusions I have from these sources, but didn't necessarily write down the parts I now realize are important. For example, in many of my sources, virtually the same sentence appears on the first page. This is important? Yup! I noticed it without thinking of how this repetition actually kind of is one of my arguments, and so now have to go back and make sure I've caught all of them from the sources I've already looked at. And for good measure, I've reserved every possibly relevant source at the library, for some more combing-through.

So... I get it now, how these things can, if you let them, take years, and how, unlike with a blog post or term paper, getting it into full-sentence comprehensibility is often the last step, not the way the writing works out from the get-go. I'm hoping that the maniacal organization stage (for this chapter, at least) will end soon, and I'll be able to switch to full sentences full-time. But before that, time to leave the library, where of course the man next to me is muttering obscenities to himself, and get more coffee...

Dra. Ma.

There seems to be a whole lotta drama involving the dorm kitchen. As with any shared space, everyone wants to use it all at once, and for a different purpose. Last night, the guy who makes 12-course haute-cuisine-ish meals for his friends was really annoyed that those who'd been in there previously had not cleaned up after themselves. I felt as though, as he was telling this to his friend, I was guilty until proven innocent, in that I was also using his kitchen, but I know in my own heart of hearts that the one and only time I splattered anything in there I cleaned it up. The fact that it's in a state of permagrossness over the weekend doesn't much bother me, because I'm not so ambitious in what I'm using a dorm kitchen for. If I were doing a blanquette de veau as one of several courses, as opposed to getting pasta to just the point of edible done-ness, straining it carefully in the sink, then retreating back mouse-like to my room, perhaps I'd share his concern. The fact that the kitchen is fine during the week might have something to do with the fact that a janitor comes by and cleans it. Bizarrely, the chef did not realize that this was the case - did he think some good soul among the French college students - or, imagine, the foreign grad students - woke up early and gosh darn got that done?

Then this morning, a girl who looked about 12 but who is, I think, in college, or maybe French college which is middle school, was having a discussion with the janitor about the state of the kitchen. I missed the beginning of the conversation, but it ended with her profusely thanking the janitor for cleaning the kitchen, telling her that for doing so she was "très gentille." It seemed as though what had come before was this girl really berating the janitor for the state of the kitchen, as opposed to this having been one of those free-floating moments of awkwardness when those of us not accustomed to having "help" have to figure out how to respond when, for example, a janitor comes by and empties the trash bin from our basement offices.

Next came some passive-agressive notes. Loooong passive-agressive notes, taking up several sheets of paper, with lots of all-caps. I saw my neighbor and told her to check out the passive-agressive notes. She then showed me a picture she'd taken of the state of the kitchen that morning. Now it made a bit more sense - some kids from outside the hall if not the dorm had, it seems, come through and basically eaten what they wanted from the communal fridges (making me very glad to have a mini one in my room - no one's stealing my one-euro camembert!) and what they didn't want, thrown all across the floor. This was not about the chef needing his perfect workspace. I'm still not sure whether the janitor was chastising the girl who so was not responsible for rowdiness, or whether the problem was that the janitor had not made a dent in the mess until the girl came by and made some demands. It could be that all the kids are having finals now, and this being a high-pressure school, going slightly insane.

Then came still more passive-agressive notes, accompanied by photos of the state of the kitchen that morning. The dorm is on the cusp of dividing between cuisinards and anti-cuisinards. Between that and the construction, it's a fair bet that once my laundry's done, today will be a library day.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Reflections on seeing "Annie Hall" for the millionth time

Last weekend I passed a movie theater with a flyer up about a Woody Allen festival, and figured, when in Rome. (When in Rome without TV or Hulu, all the more so!) I opted for the best of the bunch - "Annie Hall." Each time I see it, it's a totally different movie. The narrative structure works so that you really need to see it maybe two million times to remember what scene's about to come next, which helps.

-Subtitles! It starts to become clear how seemingly impossible to convey cultural references are summarized in just a few words. The opening joke, about women in the Catskills complaining that the food is terrible and there's not enough of it, is, for French audiences, about two mères juives. The Upper West Side is the quartier intellectuel. I didn't notice a whole lot of direct translation, and kept getting distracted by the way expressions were translated to convey a movie with a whole lot of (to paraphrase) reduction to a cultural stereotype to an audience unlikely to catch 99.99% of the references.

-It's not the "shiksa" fantasy I remembered it as being. It's not at all of a piece with Portnoy's Complaint, and I was wrong to speak of a Roth-Allen two-headed monster. Throughout the movie, it's never clear whether Alvy is more excited to be with someone from a world that would not (to paraphrase) have someone like him as a member, or annoyed by what he views as Annie's lack of intensity, her place somewhere at the middle of the spectrum between his "reduced to a cultural stereotype" intellectual ex-wives and the bimbos he tries to forget Annie with after the fact. It's actually a kind of poignant take on what happens when, in a city like NY, people of all different backgrounds can on the one hand seem to have everything in common, but on the other being so thoroughly the products of those backgrounds.

-The role of New York in the movie, the way it's discussed, ought to seem dated, given the difference between 1970s NY and the bankers' playground it's allegedly and not-so-allegedly turned into, but it doesn't. Maybe I was distracted by the fact that "Annie Hall" fashion is currently seeing a revival of sorts, making the clothes (Annie's, at least) seem current, but I don't think that's it. It's more that, with the delightful Mrs. Palin, we've in the midst of a revival of the idea that Real America can be distinguished from inherently suspect NY. Of course the fact that Alvy sees this as anti-Semitic, while his friend thinks he's paranoid, only confirmed for me that, though this is a classic of man-woman romance, I identify 110% with the man.

-The best scene is when Christopher Walken as Annie's brother explains his car-crash fantasy, then they're all of a sudden in a car with him. Best, because it's all just so exactly as he'd pictured it would be - pretty house, pretty mother, Jew-hating grammy - and then there is this WTF moment. Not merely that the family's 'not perfect after all,' but it's just so unexpected.

-The Halls struck me as more New England WASP than Midwestern. Which works in a way, because they're this kind of amalgam of Other from the perspective of someone who grew up in an argumentative-to-put-it-mildly Jewish family living under a roller coaster in Coney Island. While I've never been to Wisconsin, the Americana depicted seemed not of that region. The friend I went with is from more or less that region, however, and said that this family was, in fact, regionally plausible. So what do I know?

Friday, February 04, 2011

That Guy, That Girl

There was an Onion Magazine cover recently which struck me as both spot-on (as they always are) and... off: "The World's 10 Most Powerful Women: We Make Them Discuss Fashion And Lindsay Lohan." On the one hand, it's insulting to female politicians and CEOs to ask them what shade of pink they prefer. On the other, who are the world's most powerful women, and how did they make their names? Oprah Winfrey? Discussing one's feelings. Martha Stewart? Domesticity. The most frightening female onscreen boss in recent memory would have to be Meryl Streep's turn as a pseudo-Anna Wintour (the editor of American Vogue, which is a fashion magazine, for those who don't keep track of such frivolity) in "The Devil Wears Prada."


There's another installment in the age-old debate about why women still aren't writing for the serious magazines in great numbers. Meghan O'Rourke asks "whether what editors consider 'important' is itself affected by gender," and I would say the answer is, yes, although editors are maintaining a status quo that extends beyond magazines.

There are, I suspect, many more men than women who will confidently hold forth on what they make of, for example, the events in Egypt. (Imagine a deep voice saying, 'Well, you see, what all this means is...') And what comes of Egypt is a bigger question than who designs Kate Middleton's gown. End of story?

Are women not reading and closely interpreting the front page of newspapers? Women (not with the initials S.P.) are doing this, but there just aren't so many women who believe that their take is so important that gosh darn it everyone must hear it. Same as the That Guy in a college seminar hasn't done any more of the readings than his quieter classmates.

If we grant that some issues matter more than others, it's still not clear that this means if you want to discuss Important, you're looking for a male interlocutor. There are 'women's topics' that are Big Questions - contraception and abortion, childcare, food policy. And 'men's topics' that kind of aren't: lengthy discussions of who's going to win a minor Congressional race, say, or anything whatsoever to do with sports or picking up women. And of course, there are men interested in shoes and birth control, women named Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that there are far more men with thoughts they wish to write up about Egypt, and that one would find a few women interested in writing that story, but a whole lot prepared to write about, for example, women's window of romantic opportunity. (This does not strike me as a sexist assumption, given the role of socialization in all of this, and the extent to which boys, even not-all-that-bright ones, are rewarded for being know-it-alls, while know-it-all female Dreyfus Affair buffs are socialized into knowing things like which shades of nail polish are in this season.) Would we rather our serious magazines contain 10 articles mostly by men, on serious topics, of which two say something new and useful, or see a mix of the best serious articles and the best cultural commentary, where women and David Brookses could share the stage? Is the way to show that important topics are important to print exclusively on those topics, even if readers would (I suspect, given that this blog has some arguably serious people among its readers) prefer a mix?

(Alas, Flavia. Guilty.)

Obviously a magazine does not cease to be serious upon the inclusion of non-NYT-front-page material. There are ways of discussing relationships, fashion, etc. that go deeper than Clooney vs. Pitt, or than what we think of the future Mme Millepied's maternity wear. Take Jessica Grose's series in Slate on how newly-married couples split their expenses. It's girly - based on personal experience, complete with a cute photo of author and husband, an "overshare" if a not-so-racy one, and an invitation for the reader to speculate on the dynamics of her marriage, something female writers often enough face without in any way eliciting it - but gets at something that does affect people's lives, and that is difficult to discuss socially. I like that Grose didn't apologize for starting from (but moving beyond) personal experience, or for writing about a topic a man would probably not pick.

Point being, I don't believe it's necessary to wait for the Golden Age of there being an equal number of women as men wanting to write about international relations or Senate elections for these numbers to even out. I'm somewhat torn, because in ancient times when I edited a college paper's opinion section I was forever frustrated by the fact that the only other woman who wanted to contribute wished to write about what it was like to date a frat guy, but hey. She did, no harm done.

An alternative to sanctibullying

Britta writes:

What makes me sad is I AM a 20-something, leftist, politically aware woman in academia who I identifies as a feminist--I ought to be squarely in the main demographic of "young feminism" today, but instead I and every single other woman like me I know is completely alienated/disengaged from mainstream feminism, precisely because of the ridiculous sanctibullying.
Often enough, sanctibullying takes place within the context of a discussion about a legitimate issue. Some sanctibullying does not even pretend to be about any particular issue, but even your-privilege-is-showing for the sake of YPIS is ostensibly about income inequality, educational inequality, and so forth. As a rule, as I think has been established, sanctibullying is not what happens when have-nots hate the haves rather than the system. If someone who actually grew up poor is riled by the out-of-touch-ness of preppy college classmates, that's a different scenario than a preppy kid who's just taken a class on inequality getting all excited about how he can now tell others that their privilege is showing. The goal here is not to prevent underdogs from expressing frustration. It's about preventing the haves from posing as pseudo-have-nots in place of actually helping fix whatever problem they're ostensibly so concerned about.

Sanctibullying could be scrapped, or at least considerably lessened, if sites where it occurs took the same self-monitoring approach they already do on other matters (as with "body-snarking" and "triggering" on Jezebel) and ask that readers consider whether their goal is making yuppies blush in shame, or furthering discussion, maybe even action, on a given issue. The manifesto could go something like this:

Out-of-touch-ness in and of itself needs to stop being the primary target. We need to look beyond conversational aloofness and try to address the root of problems. The game needs to stop being about pointing out privilege not owned up to, and to start being about positive change. It needs to stop being about pointing out where specific individuals are ignorant, and to start making it a general rule to inform. Ignorance, then, will be indirectly combatted without making it personal.

For example, the food-movement wars. In a thread, someone will say something about how everyone should eat organic kale from the farmers' market. Someone else will point out that farmers' markets are expensive. Another commenter will point out that these markets accept food stamps and sometimes encourage their use. Yet another commenter will chime in that we have it all wrong, it's about having the time and energy to get to a farmers' market. Original Commenter show up again and counter that the time and money are there, it's just a matter of not getting cable.

Then it will be, whoosh, Original Commenter's privilege is showing! Doesn't Original Commenter know that cheeseburgers and "Real Housewives" are the only pleasure in hard-working, honest, poor people's lives? That the kale-and-legume diet, if undeniably affordable, is all and well if you have time to prepare it and peers who reward you for eating like that, but kind of unappealing without the cultural framework telling us it's virtuous? Ugh, it will be decided, people like Original Commenter should just STFU.

On the one hand, food deserts, cultural factors, these are real issues that are left out of the conversation when Original Commenter explains how a summer spent at a villa in Tuscany with Liv Tyler showed him what vegetables are supposed to taste like. On the other, it's unclear if these issues are addressed productively by throwing virtual (mealy American) tomatoes at Original Commenter. In a sense, they are, because the YPIS accusers are showing solidarity with a theoretical offended food-stamp-holder. But this is itself problematic, because, as with Caitlin Flanagan's imaginary Mexican laborer, it's putting words into people's mouths (although sometimes guessing right), and because, for every otherwise apathetic thread-reader who might now realize for the first time how unfair our food system is, another will be put off by all the energy that's been directed at making Original Commenter feel horrible, and stop reading. Original Commenter himself will be too put off by all of this to care to think about it further. A missed opportunity.

The main problem, though, is that making Original Commenter think he's a bad person accomplishes none of the ostensible goals of the discussion: fixing the food system, getting ambivalents like Original Commenter on board, or even giving the screwed-over a chance to express their frustration (because, again, the YPIS accusers have all the kale they could dream of, but want us to consider that not everyone is so lucky).

So rather than the approach being, 'You, Original Commenter, clearly never had to work a day in your life, clearly grew up on organic kale and feed the same to your elite-kindergarden-going children,' a concerned commenter might simply point out why the belief that kale is universally available or desirable is inaccurate. This should be plenty to cause Original Commenter to rethink his views, to see where his own privilege may have entered into it, but it still leaves things open for Original Commenter to stay in the conversation and maybe, you know, help.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Those crazy kids UPDATED

In vino veritas is not terribly controversial. Assuming we're talking a couple drinks and not a coma, a suddenly-expressed desire to seduce someone of the same sex, or a friend of the opposite sex one would have sworn when sober one only liked as a friend, is a sign that, well, in wine, there's truth.

Tara Parker-Pope asks, "Why do otherwise good kids seem to make bad decisions when they are with their friends?" Those familiar with her writing, on topics such as why alcohol consumption by the underage will ruin their brains forever, may guess, peer pressure! Brain science confirming that teens succumb to peer pressure! "The findings [of some study] suggest that teenage peer pressure has a distinct effect on brain signals involving risk and reward, helping to explain why young people are more likely to misbehave and take risks when their friends are watching."

My knowledge of the brain comes only from "House" and having seen a brilliant student health center neurologist (and some scans of my own brain) on account of an obscure, inconsequential and at any rate apparently waning, headache disorder. But I have a theory! (I haz a theory, more like.) Maybe, when teenagers are around their friends, they do... wait for it... what they wanted to do anyway, but didn't have the courage/stupidity to try when not with their friends. 

This is not to say, rah rah teen impulsivity, but to point out that we misunderstand peer pressure. We misunderstand it because we view it from a parent's perspective. My little Timmy would never want to experiment with sex, drugs, rock and roll. It was his friends who turned him on to all that! Which is bizarre, because we acknowledge that adults seek out potentially risky behaviors in search of pleasure. We don't assume a 30-year-old orders wine with dinner because everyone else is doing it, even if indeed everyone else is doing it, and that entered somewhat into the decision. Nor do we assume adults have sex because they want to fit in with some perceived cultural norm. Why do we think that teenagers, who if they haven't experienced whichever pleasures yet personally at least already know which activities society deems pleasurable, engage in risky-yet-pleasurable behaviors because they want to fit in? But this is what the expression "peer pressure" implies, that the peers are pressuring kids to do things they otherwise wouldn't want to. 

This study, from what I understand of it, is a slight step in the right direction, in that the idea is that the peers who pressure are the "'very good kids,'" but that in a group, kids aren't so good, as opposed to the popular belief that bad kids coerce good ones into behaving badly. (I realize that that's not what this study's contribution is supposed to be, that the point is something about peer pressure working even when the peers are not in the room.) But it's still missing the point. We should (I hypothesize) think not of peer pressure, but of peer drunkenness. In horde of other 16-year-olds veritas.


This response to TPP gives a sense of how peer pressure looks from a parent's-eye lens.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


As I've mentioned before, I'm in favor of political correctness, at least of its overall influence on the culture. It's a good thing that it's no longer acceptable even for a tell-it-like-it-is conservative to ignore the shared humanity of blacks, gays, Jews, Latinos, etc., when speaking. PC is, in this context, a form of civility that makes it possible for everyone to join in on a conversation.

But the human urge to bully is strong. Where some opt for veiled racism, sexism, etc., others prefer to behave as PC police. This does not, as is commonly assumed, mean silencing those who hold unpopular/provocative right-wing ideas. The preferred targets are liberals, progressives, members of what is ostensibly their own side, because these are precisely the people in whom this kind of bullying will cause a sad. To use a contentious example loosely based on interactions I've had... if you tell someone who favors a Greater Israel and the expulsion of the Palestinians that their views are unfair to the Palestinians, he will answer, 'Fantastic!' But if you tell someone who acknowledges Palestinian nationhood, who favors a two-state solution and splitting Jerusalem, that he clearly hates brown people, well done! He might point out that Jewish Israelis themselves are plenty brown, that reasons X, Y, and Z show that he does in fact consider the plight of the Palestinians, but this will make it all the more enjoyable for the accuser to explain what a racist he is.

In the more refined corners of the Internet, populated by those with liberal-arts degrees under way or under their belts, the vast majority of bullying takes place in the name of a good cause. This is what "your privilege is showing" is about, but as I show with the I-P example, it can extend to virtually any issue.

It occurs to me that there is no term for this form of interaction. I'd heard of something called "concern trolling," but the definitions I found suggest that that's something else. The term I previously gave it, "scrappiness oneupmanship" (no hyphen, oops), doesn't work either, now that I think of it, because the bully rarely spells out his own place in the privilege hierarchy. It's merely implied, via his accusation, that he knows what whichever form of suffering is like, or that if he doesn't, he owns his privilege, just like he may own some properties in St. Tropez. So what do we call this? Sanctibullying?

If pressed on why he chooses to antagonize a fellow pro-tolerance sort, considering all the genuine racism, sexism, and homophobia, etc., that are out there, the sanctibully will explain that it's just that he thinks his interlocutor is someone who could plausibly be brought over to the side of Good. Someone who's already against homophobia is just a nudge away from not assuming in conversation that people come in only two genders. Someone already not for a Greater Israel may come around to seeing that the entire Zionist project was imperialism at its worst.

I find this implausible. For one thing, it's so obviously much more rewarding for the sanctibully to pick on someone who is not an unabashed bigot. But also, these discussions, whether in a dorm, at a party, or online, are not only, as Conor points out, by definition restricted to the privileged, but also not very action-focused. The point is rarely to actually help those lacking a particular form of privilege, typically to embarrass someone for having shown insensitivity towards members of a demographic unlikely to be present.

But who's going to argue against self-awareness? Don't we want rich people knowing that it's rude to assume everyone thinks a $100 dinner-for-two is cheap?

This brings us to another problem with sanctibullying: the fact that the bully is ostensibly trying to help some underdog or another, making it so that the bullied must, before standing up for himself, concede that the Palestinians are indeed suffering, or that gay white cisgender men do have it easier than lesbians of color, must apologize for every possible relevant form of privilege he personally has been accused of being insufficiently self-aware about. The bullied party has to give the bully the benefit of the doubt, to assume that the bully is acting out of good-will, and is simply so passionate in his defense of the downtrodden that he accidentally insulted someone who, after all, has it pretty good in life.

I think it's important to distinguish between sanctibullying and plain old left-wing consciousness-raising sanctimoniousness. The instance of the latter I think of most immediately comes from a poetry class I took as a teenager, in which I referred to the love object in this one girl's poem as "he." I did so, I have to say, because she was always going around all lovey-dovey with her boyfriend, and this being teenage poetry, I assumed her poem was straightforwardly autobiographical. I was, in my mind, picturing the dude. At which point another girl in the class corrected me - the love interest could be a he or a she. Point taken. No bullying. That was that.

They're back!

I still don't quite know what Unfogged is, other than the blog where everyone decided a while back that I'm rich bitch of the millenium for having mentioned the existence, in the world, not in my closet, of clothing more expensive than J.Crew. (That pile-on having been my introduction to Unfogged, it didn't exactly invite me to read more.) It was my only personal experience with the kind of nasty, gratuitous online hatred that causes blood to boil.

Well, while I've been happy discussing a post below with X. Trapnel, who is someone I do know in real life, and am fine that he wants to bring the discussion elsewhere as well, when I saw the elsewhere he picked, I thought, here we go.

And here we go indeed. Since I saw it coming this time, the gratuitous "contempt," as one at least self-aware commenter puts it, which I still think is inexcusable and precisely how blogging gets a bad name, has not gotten to me personally. Also, it hasn't (yet) reached the burn-her-burn-the-witch heights of last time. ("Yet" because oh, they remember. "Is she the one who wrote the post complaining about Michelle Obama dressing her kids in J.Crew or whatever?" Ding ding ding! Not a public figure, not someone well-known who might tell Vogue when interviewed, "Dahling, I don't read my press," someone whose name you know, if at all, because this blog picked me for a pile-on once before.)

Part of me is tempted to use quotes from that thread to decorate this blog, where other bloggers put nice things that other blog-folk have said about them. The first especially:

"What is it about that Phoebe blog that is so annoying? I can never quite put my finger on it."

"Based on that post and comments she comes across as having an incredible sense of entitlement. But she doesn't come across as dumb, and that's something."

"A UChicago alum who's not intellectual? That can't be!" (Actually, I like this one as well.)

Then it stops being in the form of such quote-worthy quips:

"Well, I kind of suspect that the only reason her blog has any substantial readership is that it arose during a time when a lot of U of C undergrads who were at least loosely socially connected to each other were blogging." Another responds, "Ah. Got it. I guess that explains a few things."

Add this, then, to the borderline-sexist reasons trollish sorts give for why anyone would read or link to WWPD. I've gotten everything from preposterous claims that a famous blogger was romantically interested in me because why on earth else would he have linked here, to that Megan McArdle wants to support other female libertarians(!). But this, the idea that any readers I have (and for the curious, see the Sitemeter  - it's not that many, few enough indeed that visitors via Unfogged make a dent) are here because of some kind of conspiracy or great injustice does bother me more than the "annoying" and "entitled" comments. (Annoying is subjective. For "entitled" to make sense, I think it would have to have been me and not X. Trapnel confident in my upper-middle-class future, unless "entitled," too, was being used in the subjective, bet-this'll-sting sense.)

For what it's worth, how this blog came to be: In 2004, someone from Crescat did suggest I start this thing. (I certainly did not pay Crescat to "advertise" my blog, but that is a charming suggestion.) Someone I, in turn, had encouraged to get a column in the school paper, where I was the opinion editor and a columnist. We liked each other's writing and supported it. This blog was initially an extension of that opinion column [clarity update - "that opinion column" = WWPD the "Maroon" version, not the Crescat-blogger's one]. If in 2011, this blog has any readers, it might have something to do with people - again, not all that many people - wanting to read it. (The occasional link from the Atlantic that brings in thousands probably adds some regular readers, and I'm entirely certain Andrew Sullivan isn't trying to get into my pants.)

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Self-portrayal on the Internet, even before Facebook took over, has long been very best-foot-forward. We hear about professional and social successes, not unfortunate pimples or disinvitations, exclusions or rejections. We hear about a love of Proust, not the three pages of Proust read for every ten hours of "Two and a Half Men" watched. It's not that people don't behave this way in life, but failings are harder to hide in person, and self-deprecation is more complicated to convey in text, and so isn't bothered with so much online, or if it is, it's in a way that can't possibly be misconstrued as admitting to failures.

The capacity of Facebook to make everyone feel like an unaccomplished hermit has inspired academic research, which in turn inspired Slate to inspire its readers to spontaneously, using the Twitter function I don't entirely understand of pressing the pound key and thus tagging posts, "submit" times when Facebook ("#sadbook") made them sad. (Somehow it makes sense that Facebook would be worst offender here, given that part of its appeal originally was that everyone on it seemed to go to a more elite school than one's self.)

So it's funny to see that the examples Twitter-submitted in to Slate, or the ones they picked, are not only, as they admit, poor examples of the phenomenon ostensibly being discussed, but also examples of the senders making themselves look good. "It should be said that many of the #sadbooks have nothing to do with social networking comparisonitis; they’re commentaries on bad spelling, on the boneheaded ways people treat each other online, and on the pathos you can often glimpse in the cracks of our networked lives." Gar! People simply cannot portray themselves negatively or even neutrally online, even if the point of the exercise is to portray one's self negatively online.

Onto the list:

When your 70-year-old dad shows up as "someone you might know."

Yes, it's weird when Facebook and family meet, unsettling for the young that the not-so-young know how to use computers, amusing, but not upsetting, when it's suggested a parent is Someone You Might Know. A better "Someone You Might Know" complaint would have been the tendency of that feature to attempt to reintroduce exes, friends of exes, and acquaintances one has felt snubbed by socially or professionally. This example reveals smugness about one's relative youth, and that one finds one's father cute-in-a-spry-old-relative-way. If the issue was that he's estranged, that, and not his age, would be mentioned.

Not sending friend requests to people from high school who were popular just in case they still think they're too good for me.

Acceptable. Someone, somewhere, understood the exercise. Extra points for feeling bad about one's self in a way that harkens back to adolescent misery.

Photo albums consisting of nothing but selfshots taken in the bathroom.

Yes, it's long been socially unacceptable to take a bathroom-mirror (and yes, my own Twitter photo is in intentional disregard for this rule), whether because it implies one does not have anyone to take one's picture (although cameras can have timer functions) or because it's a cliché. Either way, the person made "sad" by seeing such an album is actually feeling smug that his own albums depict a life more social and/or original.

When the whole of the "friendship" is a repeated "Let's meet for coffee sometime."

This is a way that Facebook directly mimics off-line life - the "let's do lunch" acquaintances with whom it is mutually agreed one will never get lunch. Such encounters are if anything part of a vibrant social or professional life - both parties agree that they are too busy for the other. Slight caveat: the acquaintance/casual friend who gets in touch after a lag that was based on mutual apathy, who profusely apologizes for having been so busy, who offers a list of the fabulous ways in which he's been occupied, who promises to make it up, who feels so so bad, is maybe just playing a variant of let's-do-lunch played among those close enough, but just, to occasionally get lunch, but is mostly just setting things up, #sadbook-style, as though the other party has been waiting by the phone the whole time. So perhaps "let's do lunch" on Facebook, under certain conditions, can be insulting, but in general, it's if anything a sign that one's socializing and/or networking is normal as can be.

Noticing that one person in a group photo isn't tagged makes me sad. Who are they? Why won't anyone tag them?

Also smug (because who but an always-tagged who's interpreting having been tagged as some kind of social affirmation would object?) but mostly just odd. Maybe the person untagged himself? Maybe you, the viewer, are not among the set selected by the "untagged" individual to view his photos? Indeed, this might have been spun as an excellent #sadbook if the viewer wondered neurotically why he didn't make it past this acquaintance's privacy filter.

An entire generation is going to grow up totally unaware that an ellipsis is only 3 periods ... not 16.

Where curmudgeonly meets smug.

People who announce their divorce by changing their relationship status to "single."

Not even sure what this one means. Maybe someone told those close to them that their marriage wasn't working out years prior, but you the casual acquaintance are only finding out now? Maybe people who are single wish to make that fact known to potential dates, and the only thing weird about it is that they're coming out of a marriage and not a three-week-long fling, which for those of us who got to know Facebook as college students might seem like a misuse of the site. At any rate, this particular complaint reads as though it comes from someone Bridget Jones would call a "smug married," or at the very least someone smug in whatever relationship status they have in life and, if they put one, on Facebook................ or perhaps just smug in having not been so crass as to put that information on the site.

The song that my close friend has referenced in his status update is by Nickelback.

Not a band I'd ever heard of, but I'm assuming from the context that this falls under the category of smug ('I have musical taste') with a hint of made-for-the-Internet self-deprecation ('can you believe I'm friends with someone like that?')

This is such a missed opportunity. Keeping the examples to those relevant to my own milieu and age group, the possibilities are endless. Grad students gaze longingly at the lives of Real Job-havers, while those with real jobs get to hear about grad students' semesters spent dunking croissants (does one dunk croissants?) in Paris. Or a romantic-issues example - one of my Facebook friends just posted something about how the ads she gets on the site are for wedding caterers, because she is after all a grown woman In a Relationship with a man. So true! Meanwhile, those who are getting married or have recently can (as Flavia pointed out) look at all the fun singles are having. Or they can just feel bad about themselves by looking at the wedding albums of friends of friends, whose loving families, rich or good-looking new spouses, or 500 adoring best friends will play into whichever insecurities fit. But no. This would require copping to insecurity online, which is unacceptable.