Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Doglemma of the millennium

All dog toys bear labels warning you to supervise your dog while playing with this or any toy. Yet the point of toys (barring the few toys marketed as "interactive") is to keep your dog busy while unattended. Why is this reminding me of the proverbial stay-at-home-mom who hires a nanny? (Yes, CW, dogs bring out parenting discourse, however much or little one thinks of one's dog as a human child.) Meaning, I guess the idea could be that you're home but not actively playing with your dog, so (because what else could you possibly be doing with your time?) you are watching the dog with your full attention as it entertains itself. Or it could be (and I suspect it is) a liability issue, a cousin of the phenomenon of vendors with bongs on display "for tobacco use only." As in, it's a given that the point of a (rhyme unintended) Kong is to give your dog something to do when you go out, but they don't want to get sued if your dog manages to find a hazardous use for the thing. Whatever the case, it bothers me that there's obviously some answer to how to keep a dog busy when it's alone for, say, three hours, something to provide a dog so that it doesn't sit there all depressed, but also doesn't snake-like manage to down some enormous object left with it intentionally for its own amusement.

Jewish-Jewish intermarriage under attack

Jeffrey Goldberg has brought our attention (and Helen Rosner, via Facebook, my attention) to an ad campaign, sponsored by the Israeli government but being shown in the States, urging Israelis to... divorce their American spouses, Jewish or otherwise, and return home? Presumably asking them not to marry Americans and settle in America in the first place, but then there's the fact that they're being aired here, not there.

Analyzing these ads properly would mean writing (yet another) dissertation on the question of Jews and intermarriage, but I'm thinking one, for me, is enough. So you're getting this in blog-post form, complete with tangential musings.

-Anti-intermarriage arguments - including ones against international but same-faith marriage - are doomed to failure because intermarriage is a symptom (or, in more neutral terms, a result), not a cause, of whichever feared demographic or cultural shift. In this case, Israelis are living in the U.S. anyway, because this is where they've found work in hummus, New York real estate, theoretical physics, or something else entirely. Once here, they meet Americans, often American Jews. Often, Israelis arrive here already married to other Israelis, in part because of the IDF, so if they're arriving for grad school or a postdoc (sorry, my anecdotal evidence tilts towards academia), they're a good bit older than the rest of the cohort. But if they do marry Americans, it's because they were already in America for reasons other than the theoretical allure of theoretical American spouses. Individual and structural forces unrelated to marriage were at work. But it's easier, simpler, and more emotion-tugging to discuss complex issues in terms of marriage and family, so that's how we get to these commercials, and anti-intermarriage discourse more generally.

-Herzl's notion that Israel's existence would normalize Jews, making them a people like any other, may have failed in international-relations-and-perceptions terms (Israel as the Jew of the world, and all that), but it did succeed in one area, which is in how American Jews perceive of Israeli Jews. Israeli women are somehow immune to negative stereotypes about (American, but potentially also British, French...) Jewish women. It's not precisely that they're "shiksas" (although, Bar Refaeli), but more that the salient thing about them is that they're foreign. That, and because of the different ethnic mix, while they certainly look Jewish, they often don't look Jewish in American terms, which is looking Ashkenazi. Israeli men, meanwhile, are imagined to be physically stronger and less intellectual/neurotic than their American Jewish equivalents. Again, it's related to a much older (and also socially constructed, etc., etc.) Sephardic-Ashkenazi divide, but it's also something relatively new.

And my understanding from the approximately ten trillion Israel-American Jews (varying degrees of each identity) I know is that it cuts both ways, but especially in terms of American Jewish women having not the best reputation among Israelis, the "JAP" stereotype being if anything greater among this set than among American Jews.

-The ads themselves are despicable, or would be if they weren't so ridiculous. The "Christmas" ad - and I say this as someone who periodically holds forth on why Christmas shouldn't be a national holiday in the U.S., and who's long tried to explain to the mystified why non-celebration of Christmas is such a big deal for some Jews, and as someone who's a big ol' Zionist who periodically threatens to up and move to Tel Aviv - makes Israel look a whole lot less appealing as a destination. If this is my takeaway, what would others' be? Its message is ostensibly that America is the dangerous land of assimilation, but it ends up reading as, Israel is a dying country, Judaism a dying faith, and the vibrant future requires Jews to stop worrying and learn to love Christmas. I mean, is the ad targeted at the nostalgic elderly, and if so, why show it in the States if it's aimed at Israeli grandparents?

And, it's a bit like when the grandfatherly Israeli man who led my Birthright Israel brigade ordered the young men assembled to note how attractive the young Jewish women around them were. In that it immediately makes one think the reverse, or else why would this need to be so painstakingly pointed out? That there need to be ads telling Israeli expats/emigrants to get misty suggests that Israelis are on the contrary delighted to be living abroad.

-It's maybe kind of refreshing - and I say this as someone who's incredibly against natalism, that is, government policies that interfere with individuals' childbirth decisions in order to increase, decrease, or alter the nation's demographics - that Israel isn't taking the straightforward "Jewish babies" approach, and is specifically concerned with the production of Israeli babies. But, as Goldberg notes, the idea is obviously that American-Jewish babies are as good as Episcopalian anyway.

-Everyone loves a good story of Jews opposing sweeping categories of Jewish-Jewish marriage. Like with the Syrian Jews, who apparently consider other Jews unacceptable marriage partners. Why does everyone love this kind of story? Because there's something in it for everyone. Think Jews are insular? These stories tell you nothing you didn't know. Think Jews get lumped into one box too often, and that the immense diversity of "Jews" needs more attention? These stories show that Jews are not one unified bloc after all.

-But are these ads even about the dangers of intermarriage? It seems like they could just as easily be about the threat of emigration, period. After all, an Israeli couple that moves to the States will send its kids to American schools, where those children will hear about Santa Claus, whether the parents like it or not.

-I know that the proper, politically-correct response here would be to say that there is of course vibrant Diaspora Jewish life, and that Israel needs to respect the existence of non-Israeli Jews. My own thoughts are... this, but not entirely. It seems possible - probable? - that over the course of who knows how many generations, the only Jews left will be ultra-orthodox or in Israel. If this bothers you, do something about it, but that something shouldn't be telling those already in committed relationships with non-Jews - or in milieus in which the default is a non-Jewish spouse - to marry in. If nothing else (and I could think of some other good reasons), because this approach is futile.

-While my overall stance re: Zionism - which I was reminded of by David Schraub - hasn't much changed since I first began thinking about this issue, my understanding of Israel has somewhat. No, not in terms of realizing that the Israeli government does icky things, or that religious extremists over there have too much power. This much I've long since understood, so I never had some kind of idealized vision of Israel. Rather, I've become increasingly aware through my own daily life of how thrilled so many Israelis - even ostensibly rah-rah-Israel Israelis - are to get out. To move to New York, to be academics in America, etc. They want out, but who wants in? I keep thinking that Israel would work just fine if those who believed in it (including yours truly, blogging from the Whole Foods, where the shuttle has dropped me for two hours, time I might have spent tilling the kibbutz fields) actually lived there. But it takes a big catalyst to up and move there, so if those whose default is to live there are moving here? For Israel to work, Jews don't merely have to live there. They - we - have to want to live there, and follow through.

-What with having stolen away a man from a foreign country myself (and never mind that he'd in all likelihood be living in the States regardless), I'm trying to picture a Belgian ad warning young Belgians of the dangers of moving to America and marrying an American. I could totally create this ad. It would show a Belgian at an American supermarket, looking at the sad bread selection, then going on Skype and watching his or her family tuck into a fresh loaf from the bakery. That's all you'd need.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rich Jews refuse gaudy attire, confuse Simon Doonan UPDATED

I think the gist of Simon Doonan's latest at Slate is that he doesn't like it when Jews dress WASPy. (Surprised?) Or something, with a forced "99%," OWS tie-in. It's obviously not new that "new money" tries to dress "old," nor that "old money" in fashion terms is about subtlety and nondescript clothes whose details only give the full story. ("Old" and "new" being, of course, constructs, as you can learn from Edith Wharton novels or common sense.) The comments about Ruth Madoff, her accent, her "shekels," and the great crime that is a woman of that background has the audacity to wear preppy outfits and is not going around dressed as "a long-nailed, tarty Long Island arriviste" make it clear enough how Doonan, at least, is defining "new money."

We're presumably meant to insert our own 'it's tongue in cheek' disclaimer, because Doonan refers to himself, a Slate columnist but more to the point a big-shot at Barneys whose memoir is on or will be adapted for BBC television, part of a famous fashion couple and general fashion-world-and-a-bit-beyond celeb, in lil' ol' me terms. But forget being offended. (Or, be offended. Because he comes from a working-class non-Jewish British background, he's forever the underdog, whereas American Jews with their unpleasant-to-his-ears working-class accents who make it big are gauche? A Slate commenter comments, "There was probably a way to write this without the subtle undertones of anti-semitism." But was there? Isn't anti-Semitism - and not all that subtle - integral to what he's saying?) Where's the originality? What new phenomenon is he pointing us toward? (OK, I could be blamed for the same - anti-Semitism is many things, but "new" isn't one of them.)

And I don't think you win any points in this contest if you're in favor of dressing like Sylvia Fine and you're from England. He doesn't have anything to prove in this area. He doesn't have any reason to dress up like an authentic British person because he is one.


What, short of a 10,000-page manifesto written in clear terms about how much you despise Jews, all Jews, even anti-Zionist ones, counts as anti-Semitism these days? A Slate commenter presents what I'd like to call the worst denial of anti-Semitism of all time, except that it's so typical. It goes:

I'm Jewish and leave Simon the heck alone. He's written an article on how grateful he is to Jewish people and how he hates anti-semitism. And I'm not sure if it's his husband or not legally, but his partner of many many years is Jewish. [...] Jews know better than anyone who runs the schmatta industry. If Simon was anti-semitic, he'd have been cast out just like Galliano was.
So if you're Jewish, or your partner is (and yes, Doonan's husband is Jewish), you can't possibly have written something anti-Semitic? It gets a bit meta, with the commenter defending Doonan while claiming himself (it's not herself, I suspect) to be immune to anti-Semitism on account of being Jewish, while claiming that the Jews "run" an industry. Doonan's piece is thoroughly anti-Semitic, but not in the Galliano, expressing-love-for-Hitler, beat-you-over-the-head-with-its-obviousness sense. I can't understand denying this, unless you are in fact Doonan or Doonan's husband. Or a Jew who thinks it shows you're enlightened and such if you nobly refuse to call out anti-Semitism.

Peter Pan (ducks head)

I need to add another fashion personality. It's one I'm ashamed of, because it doesn't say anything original or creative about my approach to dress. If anything, it implies that I am a slave to fashion, or at least overly suggestible. So I hereby announce Fashion Personality # I've lost track: Alexa Chung.

I came to this realization when I found myself craving, desperately, a Peter Pan collar. But not one of the big round ones that were on the hideous blouses of my youth. No, a refined one, more like a regular collar, but rounded. I used to hate rounded edges on clothing, especially collars. This was a constant across my multiple fashion personalities. But I couldn't help myself. Pointed collars started to seem blah, if not outright wrong. So much so that I went to two Uniqlos to track down the shirt, and bought a size too big because they still had (but now discounted to an acceptable $30 - $50 had seemed steep for a dress shirt for someone who works at home or in libraries) the +J platonic ideal.

And I began connecting the dots: ombré hair? Not currently happening, but it did happen, so, check. Breton-striped shirt paired with army-green whatever and rain boots? Check. Shrunken fisherman sweater? Check. Shorts with tights underneath? And so on. While I can't say for sure that Chung herself has worn each of the things I've bought with this fashion personality in mind, nor can I rule out all other influences (shorts and tights having been very much the thing when I was last studying in Paris) there is, more often than I'd like to admit, a subconscious WWACW decision process taking place.

Aside from the embarrassing fact that I am buying things because a "fashion icon" or "it girl" or whatever is wearing them, making me the worst kind of consumer of all (even if I'm not precisely buying more than I would otherwise - it's that this is guiding purchases I'd make either way; I'm if anything buying less than usual for the simple reason that I live in the woods and don't do much online shopping), what bothers me about this is that the Alexa Chung thing is precisely what I'm always advising against, namely taking fashion inspiration from people who'd look good in whatever they wore. E.g. the "off-duty model" trend in style blogs.

Alexa Chung is, in part, a model, but that's the least of it. She looks like the prettiest girl in my high school class, but elongated to runway model height. I... found out at my annual checkup that I'd gained three pounds and half an inch of height, and left beaming because this makes me 5'2" and a half. The main social component of my life in the woods is going to a 3pm coffee hour for academics. (And I'm not knocking the coffee hour! It's just not a very "it girl" activity.) No matter how ombréd, no matter how daintily rounded my collars, I will never be confused with Alexa Chung. But some part of my shopping-and-styling-that-which-I-already-own brain can hope.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dog ownership: you're doing it wrong

Bisou celebrated getting her post-spaying stitches out (and more to the point, not having to wear a cone, and being allowed to move around beyond the kitchen) with a bath, which was for the best because we had people over for Thanksgiving and, after her first long walk in two weeks, she was in her sleepy-cuddly mood with our guests. She appears to have enjoyed her long weekend - more exercise than usual, and the odd piece of croissant. Fine, so being around so many people on Saturday in NY got her in that weird mood when she prances around on her hind legs (a spectacle on crowded Nassau St., but hardly less so in Manhattan), but at least she met some other dogs. Or was nearby some other dogs. I don't know what it takes to let Bisou know that she is a dog, and meant to socialize with her kind, and had hoped this could just be done by introducing her to her fellow canines. We've trained her on our own (housebreaking and basic commands, and the gradual-ish process of phasing out the crate), so obedience school had started to seem not so pressing. I'm starting to think we will, however, have to fork over money to some entity that does for dogs whatever it is regular school is said to have over homeschooling. Given that even the closest dog run has an entry fee, this starts to seem inevitable.

Oh, and I wish I didn't know (but I now do, thanks to Gawker commenters) that the dog run we took Bisou to in NY is a place where dogs pick up parasites. I'm not too worried, given that Bisou spent most of her time at the "run" sitting under our bench, not eating or drinking anything on the ground, but this does point to the eternal doggy dilemma of the animal's mental and physical health being mutually exclusive.


I'd never thought about it this way, but I'd agree that "the bulldog’s aesthetic opposite [is] the poodle." I've always liked (and, if possible, gone out of my way to say hello to) basically all cats (but, severe-ish allergies) and dogs, big and small, with the exception of dogs in the pug-bulldog-pit bull-boxer-bull terrier family. So the exposés about how these dogs (or some of them) are unhealthy under the best of circumstances have made me relieved, I suppose, that my aesthetic preference matches up with what's best for dogs. (Not so with my favorite large-dog breed, the Bernese Mountain Dog, that couldn't be cuter or sweeter but apparently only lives for five to six minutes.)

The response to the article, predictably enough, brings out the my-opinion-on-matters-canine-is-the-only-correct-one-and-if-you-think-something-slightly-different-you're-evil-incarnate contingent.* As a newish dog owner and newspaper-comment aficionado, I can, unfortunately, report back. 

-There's the usual Rescue Culture intervention. If you purchase any dog - bulldog or not, breeder or pet store - you are a dog murderer. This makes reading comments to anything about dogs like reading those to anything about the Middle East - the set who pick up on key words, present their template rant, then (if ambitious) quickly attempt to connect their rant to the specific issue at hand. So sure, one could read as the broader message of the article that purebred dogs are part of a corrupt system, and that's just one more reason to go with a mutt (or save an abandoned fancy dog). I'm not sure that was the point, but hey, the article did not make the "responsible breeder" sound so fabulous.

-Many think it's wrong to care what a dog looks like. Lookist, or something. While I agree that it's sinister that bulldogs are being bred to look a way that is inherently bad for the dogs, I'm not sure what the crime is in choosing a dog you think looks cute. And the anti-lookism comes from all sides - those who think if you won't take the saddest dog at the pound, you don't deserve a pet, as well as those who think you need to have extensively researched breed temperament before making the decision of a lifetime. When it's like, when it comes down to it, dogs are dogs. They by and large need to be taken out for bathroom-time and exercise, they like to chew on your slippers, and (god willing) when they're older than puppies they calm down a bit. Having a dog is, especially at first, a lot of work, so you might as well start out with one of a sort that, if you weren't constantly monitoring its bowel movement schedule, you'd be squealing with delight every time you looked at it. 

-Many think this "breed" thing is unnatural. Fair enough, if we're defining anything that comes from human intervention as unnatural, as is the usual definition, but is a mutt "natural"? Human interference brought you your scraggily unclassifiable fluffballs, too. Note that they do not resemble wolves. Consider how this may have come to be. Do you think some wolves up and decided to get perms, bleach their fur, and become Bichon-mixes?

-Many think preferring one "breed" to another is akin to being a racist eugenicist. Now, given that anyone who cares about dogs advocates sterilizing most of them, and anyone with a dog is feeding it meat products, and that dogs get "put to sleep" in a way that people, ideally, don't, it shouldn't but does require noting that non-human animals aren't people. (Except for Bisou, who walks around on her hind legs to drive the point home.) As far as I'm concerned, if humanity can channel its interest in purity and the color and texture of hair onto non-human animals and keep it there, that's for the best. So, while I find it creepy that in this day and age, there's a profession called "model" in which humans are judged entirely on the basis of their looks (although I'm sure Tyra would say there's more to it), I don't find it at all unsettling that there's such a thing as the Westminster Dog Show. I'd rather people make a fuss about perpetuating Golden Retrievers than going on all Norwegian-murderer-like about how the world would end if blondness in humans disappeared as a trait.

-One commenter (and I hope just the one) thinks he or she "rescued" her dog from a pet store... by purchasing it from a pet store. And then, to make things worse, notes that this does fund the problem, but the dog looked so pathetic. This is upsetting in part because it's so idiotic if the person really believes this, and bad for dogs if this view is generally shared, but also because it suggests "rescue" perhaps is now considered the reason to own a dog, however the dog was acquired. Speaking of...

-Many of the commenters rail against those who own a dog for the wrong reasons, and no this isn't an unfortunate call to Dan Savage. The wrong reasons are wanting a dog that's like a teddy bear, or that flatters one's vanity, or something, I don't quite get this gripe. My only guess is that it hints at the idea that the only correct reason to own a dog is to preserve an already-existing life, to do one's small part to keep dogs from suffering. And as noble as it is to help already-existing dogs, it seems wrong, or at least unnecessary, to make that the point of dog ownership. The point of dog ownership is that it's fun to spend more time with a dog than you get just seeing them pass by on the street, and to have a dog with whom you and your family in particular have bonded. It's selfish, yes, but in principle at least, the much-beloved creature is well-treated and gets something out of it as well. Of course owning a dog is about responsibility, about not deciding a year or ten in that you're bored with having a dog, about (in the more immediate moment) getting up to walk the dog at all hours and in all weather. But these are things you do in order to have a dog, not for their own sake.

*This is true at Gawker as well. Somewhere in that thread, there's a heated debate about whether Great Danes (Whitney, this one's for you) are apartment dogs. One commenter holds forth smugly about how it's basically dog abuse to only give your dog one or two long walks a day, because this breed needs to run free daily for hours. Then someone who actually owns this kind of dog explains that they take their dog to a place to run around and the dog just sits there and isn't interested in that, and is thus a perfectly fine dog to have in an apartment. Others chime in to point out that people have a tendency to overexercise these dogs. In other words, you can rest assured that if you own a dog, whatever your approach, you're doing it wrong.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


My ten-year high school reunion is coming up, and my apathy towards this means that if I were to opt in, I'd now have to pay the non-early-bird fee of $75 (or even $100) to attend. Plus the usual $33-plus-Metrocard-fare to get into the city. On the one hand, I suppose I'm well-enough-situated to go to this sort of thing, in that I am married, near the end of a PhD program, and not substantially worse-looking than I was at 17. Movies and sitcoms tell me that I ought to go to my high school reunion given those conditions. (Although I suppose being single would be an extra reason to go, in that you might meet an old flame. Especially with a math-and-science high school, I can't imagine anyone would go to a reunion to show off "accomplishments" like marriage or kids. Of course, not too many had high school sweethearts, either...)

I have not gone on to make a lot of money (to put it mildly), so there's that. But I'm a Stuyvesant success story by association, what with my husband's astrophysicist-ness. (That I've gone on to a grad program in the humanities probably owes something to my delight at a version of school that doesn't involve back-to-back periods of science.) Point being, I could go with my head held relatively high, and the normal reason not to go to reunions is a sense that you're not where you thought you'd be/imagine others would be at whichever age.

But the main reason not to go is that the main reasons to go are absent. I only just now left my hometown, so unlike the five-year reunion, which was fun because most had been away for college, this time around I've had years to keep in touch with, see at parties, or awkwardly run into, my classmates. NY is funny like that. Most of the class - those who made a go of some career and those in the proverbial parental basement alike - probably lives there.

But more to the point, there's Facebook. Not only has Facebook told me, over the years, everything I've wanted to know and more (thank you, "hide" function) about said classmates. I can see, on the event page on Facebook, who's attending. I can see what each of those people have been up to, what they now look like. And this is a high school whose grads (and, no doubt, current students) are all on the site. One of my classmates is even employed there and in Zuckerberg's inner circle, which I know thanks to guess which site. On account of Facebook, there are no surprises.

So, readers who have faced the reunion-in-the-age-of-Facebook dilemma. Is it still fun to go to one of these things when there are no surprises? Or are there surprises, because online everyone's putting their best selves forward? I have until Friday to decide.

Do gay men love women?

There's a burgeoning genre possibly worth paying attention to: advice (at times explicit) to straight women on etiquette in their friendships and interactions with gay men. And it amounts to the following:

-There is, evidently, a substantial subset of hetero women doing things like having bachelorette parties at gay bars, imagining that gay men exist to fulfill "Sex and the City" shoe-shopping fantasies right there at the local DSW, etc. Or, there are gay men who imagine that such women exist in great numbers, and the very idea of this horrifies them. As well it should. But I'm still not convinced that very many women who are not characters on sitcoms are giving gay men the "my gay" treatment, like so many handbag chihuahuas. Whereas the handbag chihuahua trend is apparently legit. So I'm not sure if gay men have beef with media representations (and I'm A-OK with having beef with media representations, not equating that with imaginary problems) or with real-life women.

-There are some women convinced that if they so much as leave their homes in anything less than a burqa, they will be hooted-and-hollered at continuously. Or, the women who love love love going to gay bars because it's such a relief not to be objectified are in fact insecure (a trait easily confused with too-secure) and actually prefer gay bars because at such establishments, there isn't a question of female sex appeal, of one girlfriend getting hit on more than the others. If a gay guy isn't into you, you can rest assured it's because he's gay. I think it's indisputable that this phenomenon exists, both from anecdotal evidence and from the Jezebel commenters who express this sentiment.

-It is inherently offensive to gay men if we, straight women, attempt to set them up on dates. Doesn't matter if for whichever regional/professional reasons most of the men we know are gay (ahem). It sends a message that we think "gay" means "sex" and that we can't conceive of gay friends except as gays (never mind that single-and-looking friends tend to bring up this status themselves, regardless of gender, of sexual orientation) or there's some implication that women are in fact always just setting up the only two gay men they know (again, SATC is at fault - never did see it, but heard the last/most recent SATC movie opens with the two "my gays" marrying). Whatever the case, even if in an ideal world, friends would just be friends, blind dates just blind dates, in the world we live in, this hits a nerve, and gets interpreted as, "You and Jim are both gay, you'll have so much in common!"

-As gay men (as represented by those giving this kind of advice) see it, straight women see them as accessories. From the latest installment: "Fawning over couples as being 'soooo cute' comes off as condescension at best and overcompensation at worst." Gay men - unsurprisingly, insofar as they are men - thus imagine that straight women do not have this thing called "sexuality," or rather that their sexuality consists of fending off advances from menacing hetero dudes. What if, crazy I know, women at the gay bar are the chasers and not the chased, and just as straight men find the idea of two women... hehe... you know, straight women experience the equivalent? What else was the point, on SNL, of Paul Rudd just showing up and gratuitously smooching Jason Segel?

So the appeal of the gay bar to the straight women to whom it appeals isn't necessarily that it's hillarious or trendy or "I'm a Carrie" or teacup-chihuahua-in-Louboutins to see men with men. Ideally straight women are not into gay men who are their friends, and are not at a gay bar looking for men to have relationships. And it's totally reasonable if gay men would be as skeeved out/annoyed by the presence of straight women who think "two men" is hot as are lesbians by straight men who same idea. But it would be nice if, in their analysis of straight women-gay men interactions, gay men interested in this issue would remember that straight women are not mere "breeders" devoid of hormones.

-This genre is meant to be about gay men sticking up for themselves, defending their rights as marginalized Others. And it has elements of that. But it's also straight-up (sorry) misogyny. While there's this cliché (as has been established at this point) of gay men as preferring to be around women for all situations other than sexual ones, there are also going to be some gay men without much interest in or exposure to women outside their family (work being, often, a gender-segregated environment), without many female friends. Why would we expect such men, who've been exposed to the same anti-woman stereotypes as the rest of society, but lack the potentially mitigating factor of a sexual orientation that compels them to get involved with real-life women, to be especially progressive in their idea of women, to think of women as anything other than handbag-chihuahua-collecting shoe-shoppers? My point is not that there's anything inherently misogynistic about gay men - of course there isn't - but that there isn't something magical about gay men that makes them immune to misogyny.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"'Seasonal fruits'"

"At midcentury [18th] a bailiff commented that the Jews in his district lived 'quite badly' and that 'a large number' ate no more each day than 'a piece of bread or some apples, pears and other seasonal fruits.'" - from (if not especially representative of the main arguments of) the brilliant book Obstinate Hebrews.

Seasonal! Vegetarian! Small portions! What my great-great-great-great-grandmother would have recognized as food, even if my own family came from a different stretch of Ashkenazville than the Alsatians in question.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Things I'd rather be tested on than NJ driving regulations

-Important and not-so-important dates in French-Jewish history.
-Which foods are and are not poisonous to dogs.
-The most frequently cited reasons not to get a PhD in the humanities.
-How to make pizza from scratch.
-How to get from Point A to Point B via MTA.
-What Dan Savage or Emily "Prudie" Yoffe would advise re: a given situation.
-Anything. Anything at all.

Yet after much studying (including memorizing rules specific to the under-17, under-18, and under-21, which can indeed appear on the test even if you're ancient), I am now permitted to drive supervised in NJ with the appropriate real driver next to me. (Longtime readers may recall that I failed to make the most of this permission when I had it in NY.)

It still seems odd to me that there are fewer restrictions on my driving at 28 than on the early driving of a teen, someone who probably spent lots of time in cars, growing up where they're needed, and hasn't yet settled into slow-learning old age. No one at the place could believe I wasn't being sneaky and already in possession of a license from some other locale. Meanwhile, if they'd taken me to the road test area, I could have shown them. Oh yes. It's find-a-huge-lot-to-practice-in time for me, the key element that was missing when I brilliantly opted to take lesson's in Manhattan's Chinatown.

The only things that will possibly save me on the road test is the ample recent experience biking on the road and, also biking-related, the thought of the two huge hills I need to go up in order to do anything whatsoever. I picture that agony - and if it got easier after the first few times, it never got easy - and all of a sudden I feel something akin to what the 16-year-old does: must. drive. now. As opposed to in NY, where it was kind of like, yeah, driving would be a good skill to have, and licenses are neato. I'm now something akin to qualifying-exam-level motivated to get this done.

The more complicated procedure was undoubtedly my husband's switch from fern driver to ferner with 'merican driving creds. And he, unlike me, can drive, eliminating what one would imagine would be the major obstacle. Whatever the case, we're now both well on our way to getting the most out of country living. Or driving to Philadelphia or something. That works too.

Friday, November 18, 2011

True passions

"Baked goods, not books, are where Farrier’s true passions lie." - best line from a profile of a literature PhD who, despite finishing her dissertation at one of the few universities that reliably gets people tenure-track jobs these days, went with macarons. I like the wording, as if a change in career means this woman who has a doctorate in literature was never really all that into books to begin with.

I don't know what the larger message here is, but what literature grad student doesn't periodically think of dropping everything and selling the pastries she's perfected while on study breaks/procrastination from the diss. The only surprising thing is that this Princeton grad student lived in Manhattan at the time, where a) there are lots of good places to buy pastries, and b) a million fine ways to procrastinate that don't involve staying home and trying one's hand at from-scratch croissants, as might, for example, an NYU grad student living in Princeton. Theoretically speaking.

Moving from big city to smallish town, I'd expected to have to go without certain cuisines, ingredients, and so forth. To stock up every so often, to dine out on trips to NY, to expand my cooking repertoire to include things I used to have the luxury of getting on the outside, etc. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that within biking distance loosely defined, there are Chinese restaurants, sushi places, an Italian grocery, a quasi-Greek grocery, etc., etc. It's not that I didn't think such places existed outside of big cities, that I thought as soon as you leave the five boroughs it's all thatched huts and Wonder Bread. I just didn't know which would exist here, didn't have a real sense of how big the town was before moving, and so on.

What I hadn't considered was that in a big city, one can get into the habit of becoming a regular, only to cease going somewhere abruptly. Sometimes because it's not what it used to be, but often - most often - for a pest- or upset-stomach-related reason. And I have a pretty high tolerance for this kind of thing, and have gone back to places with known problems in both of those categories because sometimes pad gra prow really is that good. But I will eventually draw an admittedly arbitrary line.

And you can't really do this in a smaller town. If you want X, you either return to the place with X or go without. This no doubt contributes to the... problems one finds so often in these parts. What incentive will a place that stocks otherwise unavailable X have to clean up its act? (Every place, even the most problematic, has a certificate bearing the word, "Satisfactory.") One by one, the places I was so excited to discover a month or two ago become the place where the woman handling food had a terrible cold and that doesn't believe in using gloves to handle the food. The place where we opened the bag of flour from there and it was very much alive.  The place where one employee sneezed into her hand and then my new all-time favorite soup had a bug floating in it.

The list keeps getting shorter. And the only consistently good places are run under the "Soup Nazi" model - they know they provide something above and beyond, so they make a point in making the brief interaction one must have to get X as unpleasant as possible. Not in the sense of hipsters-make-your-food, where you want to be seen as cool by the staff. More like you could very well never have X again if you don't follow their rules.

I'm of course not naming names, because I will of course return to each of these places repeatedly.

Quote of the day

"And though ancient at 28, she may still have some of her own teeth." - Philip Galanes, from a Social Q's in which a mother is horrified that her 23-year-old baby met an older woman in grad school. 

(But mom still shouldn't have to figure out tempeh for them last-minute. Let the vegans cook it themselves or have one meal without as much protein as usual, they'll survive.)

On "heritage": or, don't wear anything your grandfather wouldn't have recognized as clothing

Fashion is always about a mix of old and new. But heritage-chic combines old and new in a different way than we've seen before. I will begin by explaining what "heritage" is not, then move on to what it might be...

Retro: Fashion is cyclical. And sometimes - typically - it cycles back to eras less PC than our own. Sometimes much less. But is buying the "Mad Men" line from Banana Republic, or putting together a more time-intensive early-1960s look, a way of saying that you wish to return to a time when (apologies to Archie Bunker) goils were goils and men were men? Not really. Everything you're wearing was in fashion 30 years ago. Everything you wore 10 years ago was in 50 years ago. Etc. The only ones fooling themselves are those who think what's worn today is something other than the patched-together combination of that which was worn in the past. And does anyone even think this? We can analyze why we're now dressing like it's 1979, or 1994, but we're going to have to pick something, and what we pick will generally be a look from the 20th century and no earlier.

Preppy: Retro can mean looking back to any time, any subculture. "Preppy," however, is about how prep school kids used to dress, still dress, and will dress for all eternity. This seems exclusive, but it's not terribly. Reappropriation is almost inherent to this style. Its patron saint, after all, is Ralph Lauren-né-Lifshitz. And the "urban" or "hip-hop" spins on preppy are now so mainstream that they are preppy as much as the WASPy variety is. Preppy isn't about what people wear at prep school. It's about the outsider looking on enviously. See Isabel Archer. See, maybe, this novel I've never read. William Arthur Philip Muffington III can pop the collar of his pale-pink polo, but so can anyone. It's always about playing with the idea of authenticity. Maybe it wasn't always, fine, but it has been for ages.

Heritage: "Heritage," to the uninitiated, is by now something of a cliché. It's old-timey Americana-wear, leather and natural fibers, things like this, this, and this. This blog is devoted to the look.

"Heritage" is, to borrow Michael Pollan's endlessly-repeated advice about food, about not wearing anything your great-grandfather wouldn't have recognized as clothing. It's not about the revival of an old look. It's about "timeless."

Never mind that "heritage" is by and large produced no differently than flashy garb from Forever 21. (My L.L. Bean fisherman sweaters are half-acrylic and, I believe, 100% made in China.) Furthermore, remember that "timeless" will look dated soon. It's a trend, and that's how it goes with trends.

Why "heritage," why now? The economy, presumably - people want durable and classic, and they're aesthetically drawn to the idea of made in America, if not enough so to boycott goods made elsewhere. (My neon t-shirt from American Apparel may have been made in America, but it's not "heritage.")

But there's also a nativist edge to it. I mean, whose "heritage" is dressing like you're about to go fishing at your family's estate in the Adirondacks? Just as not everyone's grandmother had the dietary good fortune to live on the Mediterranean, not everyone's heritage was, aesthetically-speaking, much related to "heritage." It's white people, white people with a connection to the land, but not poor farmers. Gentleman farmers.

"Heritage" may one day arrive at where "preppy" now hovers, but as it stands, it's about moving on from preppy because preppy is now readily available to all. "Heritage" is about moving to Williamsburg or Greenpoint after college, congregating exclusively with other white non-ethnics from towns and suburbs far from New York but taking pride in Brooklyn's "diversity," and quasi-ironically embracing farm-to-table. Maybe growing a beard, maybe producing something artisanal.

And it's about not just white landowners, but also male ones in particular. Unlike most trends, "heritage" is principally about menswear. It's in part about giving men an excuse to play dress-up, to primp, but in the name of something very masculine and of course not at all implicating homosexuality. One is dressing so as to insist that one is a lumberjack and that one is OK.


This is why, even though I like some "heritage" items, and think most men's wardrobes could only be improved by a shift in this direction, the look makes me uneasy.

Socialite economics

On one end of the philanthropic spectrum, there's voluntarily living like a grad student. On the other, there's Muffie Potter Aston. The money she spends on handbags alone - or, I should say, the handbags she mentions wearing in one week - could [insert charitable goal here].

And I normally don't go in for that kind of argument. If the delightfully-named socialite is helping legitimate causes, why shouldn't she have some fun? Isn't it better for her to put money back into the (French luxury handbag) economy than to just direct it towards keeping future generations of Astons in the upper class? And maybe this is like a business expense, maybe to do good, to get rich friends to contribute, she needs to maintain her image, and that means head-to-toe ostrich-leather. And I don't think that people (men, typically*) who never much liked "stuff" to begin with get extra good-person points for staying away from the mall, which they'd do whether they were generous to causes or not.

But this woman is wearing the GDP of several first-world countries every day of the week. Is the problem that she's doing so while also claiming to be a philanthropist? The entire "charity circuit" concept, in which however much goes to whichever causes, some no doubt greater amount is going to the galas and the primping for said galas?

Or is it (also) that if I had that kind of clothing budget, there would be closets-full of galaxy dresses, custom-made Yves Klein blue Repetto Zizis (because this Jil Sander version is close but not quite), and each of the fluourescent satchels (except for the orange one)? Her clothing budget appeals (although I suspect my wanties wouldn't make a dent); her selections not so much.

*I showed my husband the article and had to explain that "Birkins" are not related to Birkenstocks or burqas. Although there's no doubt some woman, somewhere, sporting all three.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fertility and the window of opportunity

Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes:

We generally think it’s a good thing that women start having children a little later, and portray young moms as foolish. But then suddenly—it’s too late. It’s like there’s a magic window between—what, 26 and 34?—during which all women are supposed to have all children. Before that, you’re irresponsible or unrealistic; wait until after that period, and you’re clueless and vain. In some socioeconomic classes, the window of acceptable baby-making time is even smaller: When I got pregnant last year, at 28, a significant portion of my peers acted like I was nuts for considering having the baby at my age (I ended up miscarrying). But if I give it three or four more years, I’ll likely be hearing lectures left and right about my ticking biological clock. Realize this, Gen Y ladies: You’ve got a window of about five to 10 years (at most) during which you should be ready, financially and otherwise, to have all the children you want to have, and in a stable relationship within which to do so, or society is going to frown on you hardcore.
What she's describing is the fertility-specific angle of the Window of Opportunity problem. (See also the tag.) While the exact age varies subculture by subculture, women go from being too young to settle down to too old within a matter of minutes. I mean, the way it actually operates is, most family and friends are saying "too young," and gradually the shift tilts to "too old." What's important is that there's never a case of it being just fine to do what makes sense for you, in your life as you're leading it. A woman who's met the right person and settled into her career at 24 is still a child bride. A woman who's 44 and not even interested in marrying or having kids has missed her chance.

Still, I think the window of opportunity issue and the fertility angle shouldn't be conflated. The latter has more of a rationale than the former. Fertility really does decline; pretending that this decline is a conspiracy invented by misogynistic evolutionary-psychology popularizers gets us nowhere. (But I agree with Elizabeth that women know fertility declines, and that when women fail to reproduce by 35, it's not to be all "I'm a Carrie" but because very real factors like the need for a career/a partner got in the way.) And women who (not unwisely) wish to reproduce only once partnered have that many years on the earlier end of the available biological window to contend with.

Cultural construction only enters into it insofar as young women are discouraged from considering the men they date potential serious boyfriends until whichever key age, at which point every unattached man must be considered for husband potential. The window of opportunity thus only enters into it insofar as women who are ready to have kids in their early 20s - who've fully settled into their adult lives, or fully enough - are under social pressure, not only not to have kids, but not to make serious commitments to a partner just yet, because 22 is so young.

Meanwhile, the window of opportunity more generally is about commitment to a partner. Specifically, a male partner. Women go almost instantaneously from too young for a serious boyfriend to too old to find a husband. But where are these husbands supposed to come from, if they are not the serious boyfriends of yesterday? And biology is not as central as all that - a woman might, at 22, be 100% ready to commit to a particular man, but not ready to have kids. And, if by 45 a woman is unlikely to be able to get pregnant with ease, she does not suddenly lose her capacity to partner with a man. Not everyone wants (more) kids, and not all kid-acquiring is biological.

So, in sum, we can on the one hand not deny such factors as, fertility declines, and all things equal it's for the best to have kids only once partnered. And on the other, not conflate women with female reproductive organs.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Jewish" as privilege

Your regular programming (you were to be getting a post on personal-style blogging) is interrupted to bring your attention to this pile of whoa. I think this guy might be someone who lived in my dorm freshman year (sweatshirt logo suggests yes), but he kind of looks like a lot of people, so maybe, maybe not. That is not our concern. What is our concern is that this 1%er who stands with the 99% writes:

I have always had many advantages. I am: 
1) White 
2) Male 
3) Jewish 
4) Son of Wall Street bankers who never had to worry where his next meal was coming from or how to pay rent. 
And I have a trust fund valued at over $1 Million.
WTF, WTF, WTF re: "advantage" #3. Emphasis mine, but really, this ought to have leapt out at you even without the font-fussing.

This... relates to my mulling, I suppose, about how trustafarian self-hatred and Jewish self-hatred (sorry, commenter Dan O. who hates the term) are intertwined. But do not bog yourself down with my links back to related discussions here at WWPD. I want to know what it means that dude here is listing his being Jewish as an advantage. How that is not redonkulously anti-Semitic?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In tepid defense of "fashion"

-Hello from the great outside world, namely the closest big city by train, where I ran errands and ate a burrito as per usual, and am biding some time before more NYU, again, just to shake things up. I also bought a neon-yellow t-shirt at American Apparel, to partially satisfy an unmeetable wanty (Kei, your term remains useful as ever), and was reminded that clothes-shopping is not so great actually. Fine, maybe it's especially not-great at the establishment I chose (chosen on the basis of, where else sells t-shirts in fluorescent shades?), which requires an ID for the credit-card purchase of a t-shirt, and where there are gratuitous pictures of butts on the wall.

But even under the best of circumstances, blech. The dressing room, the taking off and putting on and taking off and putting on of layers, does anyone enjoy this? If I "like shopping," it's that I like walking around a busy area, and those tend to be commercial areas, and I do enjoy some window-shopping, occasionally walking quickly through a store, etc. Actually shopping for clothes, with intent to purchase, is tedious. And there's not much point in doing so in person, now that there are no stores unique to specific locales, and everything can be purchased (and returned) online. I will remind myself of this the next time I express anything less than full enthusiasm for living in the woods.

-Refinery29 does its fashiony best and pleads with college women to stop the North Face, Uggs, and (evidently - what happened to Vera Bradley and Hervé Chapelier?) Longchamp combo. Fine. But this! "A college wardrobe must be classic — funds are limited, so long-lasting pieces reign supreme for a smart shopper."

One bit of that statement only - the "funds are limited" one - I agree with. But if you're not going to experiment with dress (or, wear weird stuff) in college, when else? You're not going to an office, your choices can't be (as easily) vetoed by your parents, and you're more likely to still be the build that wacky clothes are designed for. You can dye your hair and paint your nails however you'd like. You couldn't before, and soon, you once again won't be able to. You may or may not one day have a job in the corporate law environment whose strict dress code PG sometimes pops in to describe, but you probably will have responsibilities - to a family, to a demanding poodle - and fun trips to H&M will stop being such a central part of your existence.

And whatever you may think, however fast your metabolism, you will be fatter when you're older than you were at 19, so remember especially to steer clear of any "investment pieces" with a waistband.

-Hadley Freeman of Ask Hadley fame responds to a man who wants to know, no offense or anything, what the point of fashion is. And here, readers, we have an example of a cousin of the Mansplanation. Dude does not want Freeman to explain fashion to him. He is telling her, in the form of a question, that he thinks it's dumb to care about fashion. Nothing she can possibly come up with will convince him otherwise.

Freeman's response is the classic and WWPD-approved sports comparison. Scrapped of nuance, said argument goes: men, you like this dull thing called "sports," so you have no place telling us that we're silly for finding shoes compelling. I've tried this, to limited success. Because one aspect of fashion - a rather large aspect of it, if we're using "fashion" to mean "high fashion" and not using the term to also encompass "style," "street fashion," and "self-expression-through-dress," as colloquially everyone does - involves the rich and thin showing off for one another and being judgey, "fashion" gets a bad reputation. Think - again, regular readers - of how Quinn on "Daria" is part of the "Fashion Club," which isn't about avant-garde Antwerp designers or creative arrangement of thrift-store finds so much as being a small dress size at the snootiest store at the mall. Think Anna Wintour. Someone with no body fat and a limitless bank account is laughing at you behind your back. To care about clothes beyond neatness and appropriateness is to sympathize with the bullies. Meanwhile, "fashion" is as hated as it is largely because it's a world/concern associated with the feminine, with women and gay men. Hmm.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What the what?

If America's best croissants are indeed a mere two big uphills on the bike away, how is it I have yet to try one? OK, it could be that when we went in, they'd run out, croissants being a morning thing. Some morning soon, this will happen, and I will most definitely report back.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Utmost discretion

Every night since the spaying, Bisou gets a special treat: a painkiller "dumpling," which involves the half-pill the vet prescribed her hidden in a piece of cheddar. It does not appear that Bisou is in any more pain, and she's back to her usual hyper self... only to become a sedate, affectionate lap dog after the cheddar-drug combo. It does start to become clear why they say that young children are over-prescribed anti-hyperactivity drugs. I hope that when we may finally bring Bisou to socialization classes, now that she's all vaccinated and once the stitches are out, we learn some opiate-free methods of getting her to something approximating this state.


So a big part of having a dog is that which can only be alluded to discreetly. That for which we are forever accumulating baggies - the purpose-specific ones we purchased, but that we're trying not to run through, along with newspaper bags, produce bags, and the like. Anyway, just before Bisou's operation, despite having just gone near our apartment, we'd arrived at the office early and we did what people with a puppy do before entering a building if time allows, which is we took her to a nearby patch of grass. And sure enough.

But what do you then do with this? A vet, you'd think, might have a well-marked receptacle, but no. Then the office opened, and we asked the very nice tech - discreetly, of course - what to... well... here... bag... And he seemed happy to take care of it, but asked us a bizarre question: "Is this from yesterday?" And we were thinking, gee, yes, because we keep weeks' worth of the stuff with us, then load it into a rented (yes, dog permitted in carrier) vehicle just 'cause? We were tired, nervous for Bisou, and I mumbled something about how it was from just now, apologized, I think, explained that Bisou had gone before we'd headed out but these things... yeah.

Turns out we'd been too discreet. At her checkup, a different tech told us cheerily that Bisou's sample had been negative. What sample? Normally with the vet, if a "sample" is required, this is a whole procedure pre-arranged. As in, they ask for one for a particular reason, and provide a container. Neither of these conditions had been met.

It was suddenly clear - well, less unclear - why the first tech had asked that question about the, uh, vintage. But do people just spontaneously provide unsolicited "samples"? I mean, "negative" is what you want to hear, but this wasn't a test she needed. And given that dog ownership is already kind of expensive, especially the week of the spaying, especially the month of the spaying and grooming, we were not looking for add-ons.

At any rate, the vet's office, to their credit, paid us back without any fuss. I mean, I think they may have been slightly annoyed, as if there's some small chance that we in fact run an elaborate scheme to have our dog's waste tested, then not pay for it, then find out the results and go ha!, or more likely they were just embarrassed, or miffed that they'd wasted their time and resources. A miscommunication that could have been entirely avoided if I'd been like, "There is a huge turd in this plastic bag, comically so I realize given the tininess of the dog. Where's the trash?"

Friday, November 11, 2011

The little things

If your only access to the outside world is by bike, the key to your bike lock is a not-so-great thing to lose, especially after locking your bike. Luckily it was a false alarm (key was in a different pocket than I'd thought), but I'm now inclined to go to a locksmith and get one copy for every pocket I have.

Assorted distractions

-Saw a car with three stickers and three only: Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Seems like this would be a faux pas, like you'd need some more humble sticker to counteract this. Meanwhile, if we had a car, we could, thanks to my husband, put something possibly still more oh-la-la on it. Problem is, we're not oh-la-la enough to have a car.

-It turns out that if you need a garbage for what your dog produced outside just before getting spayed, your dog that you had indeed walked to completion prior to heading to the vet, but that sometimes needs to go twice in the mornings, the vet may assume you are, unsolicited, dropping off a stool sample. No, we did not specify "garbage," because we'd thought that was implied, what with it being not shall we say sample-size, and in a plastic bag, as opposed to a vial from the vet's office. We did find it odd when the tech asked, "Is this from today?," like we carry bags of Bisou's poop from various points in the past week or so around with us at all times, but then it was like, surprise, the reason the spaying cost not merely a ton, but a ton plus, was that there had been this additional test. The people at the office were, for the most part, mildly amused, and to their credit they paid us back.

-I feel as though I must have read the abbé Grégoire's essay on the "regeneration" of the Jews, the famous one from just before the French Revolution. I perfectly well remember reading Alyssa Sepinwall's wonderful book on Grégoire, and looking at the text itself, but if there aren't notes on it anywhere, I as good as haven't read it, so I'm on the case. And it turns out the "essay" (French for 200-plus-page book, complete with s-as-f, a-as-o, and other delights that I wouldn't have had to contend with if I'd stuck with the Dreyfus Affair) is far more relevant to my dissertation than I'd thought. I am once again sidetracked by my own dissertation. I know this doesn't sound possible, but trust me, it is.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"[T]hey turn thrift into a guilt trip"

Felix Salmon is, once againonto something:

I blame farmers' markets in general, and the Union Square farmers' market in particular, for the way in which this phenomenon [ingredient origins on upscale menus] is reaching endemic levels in New York. When you see a farm named on a menu, you might never have heard of the supplier in question. But any name next to a listed ingredient is meant to bring to mind those piles of super-expensive veggies, and tales of organic farmers struggling mightily to make ends meet. 
The genius of farmers' markets is that they turn thrift into a guilt trip: Anybody looking to pay less money for a pound of carrots must also want to cut the income of hardworking farmers! And when menus name their suppliers, even unto the purveyors of broccoli or scallions, they're effectively trying to make their diners as price-insensitive in the restaurant as they are in the farmers' market.
He adds that even if restaurants are indeed doing what they claim and paying a lot for, say, an especially carefully-farmed turnip, it's still a turnip and not a steak, so they still profit from this trend.

Salmon's writing about food is basically what I wish mine were, and what mine would be if I had more of a brain for economics, and more of a capacity to summon contrarianism without counterarguments that may add nuance but also weaken the argument.

If I were writing this, I'd have pointed out that there are real differences between, say, a summer strawberry and a foamy giant winter one at the supermarket. That "taste" is complicated, such that some people really will experience more pleasure from consuming a turnip they know to be farmed nearby, either because this fits with their ethics or because they're full-of-it yuppies or because faux-scarcity makes food taste better, it doesn't matter, the point is, the objective physical difference between supermarket and Sustainable Farms turnips isn't the only thing we're considering. Diners are not overpaying if one turnip is really worth that much more to them than another. And yeah, maybe it isn't such a terrible thing, for health as well as the environment, if we-as-a-society decide to get excited about turnips and to treat them like steak. I was kind of surprised Salmon didn't mention Alice Waters when describing the food trend that he sums up as: "Take inexpensive ingredients, do very little to them, and sell them as premium products worth savoring in their simple purity," but I suppose he's looking at the trend as it currently exists, and not aiming to trace its origins.

What Salmon correctly picks up on is the irritating conflation of thrift (yay, an opportunity for the much-neglected Cheapness Studies tag) with... for lack of a better term, assholishness, the corollary of enlightened consumption as the path to righteousness. Even absent any knowledge of how whichever product is produced, the consumer is blamed for "demanding" low prices. You may have no reason to think the more expensive t-shirt or tomato was produced more ethically, but the mere act of choosing the cheaper one is a way of announcing one's utter indifference to the hard work it takes to produce whatever it is. Think of the farmers! Don't dare think of your own family's need to pay bills or have money for emergencies. If you can't afford the expensive tomato, maybe you shouldn't be buying tomatoes in the first place.

This particular brand of hypocrisy reaches its height with the phenomenon "farm-to-table" tourism, something I've mentioned here before, but that seems to be going strong. Given that "local-sustainable" is about taste, yes, but also about it being tragedy of all tragedies for a truck-full (plane-full? am I supposed to keep track of this?) of asparagus to makes its way up from Peru, how exactly is it more efficient or eco-friendly or admirable or brag-to-the-neighbors-ish for individual travelers to fly in commercial airlines packed tightly, but not asparagus-tightly, just to get a taste of the asparagus in its natural habitat?

Sad, cone-wearing Bisou

While getting Bisou spayed was the right thing for dog-kind in a broader sense, and is certainly the way to go for us personally - two novice dog-owners in a one-pet-only apartment, Bisou is not super thrilled with having had her internal organs yanked out yesterday. Her attempts at bypassing the cone and biting at her stitches looked to us like a limp last night and this morning, so we called the vet, so we went to the vet, so we spent yet more money at (and of course on getting to) the vet. (You are allowed to complain about how expensive it is to own a dog even if you knew in advance that it would be expensive, and even if you think it's worth it, right? Thought so.)

Bisou, whose specialties are marching around on her hind legs, sprinting across the back of the couch, begging for cheese, and medical false alarms, is just fine. Her legs are still in good strutting-around order. But she is now giving us the sad-dog look, her head poking out of her cone as if to ask why we had for so long pretended to be nice, then done this to her. Sorry Bisou! Just under two weeks of not being your naughty self. You can do it!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Finger-painting with Derrida

For your perusal, the CCOA of the Day, a Conservative Critique of Academia that scores well on the test I have for 'em. But because I study something with "studies" in the name, I can't tell you what percentage we're talking. Math is hard! Anyway, it's about how the tweed-and-elbow-patch set have arrived at Occupy Wall Street, and how this is bad because the overeducated, underemployed humanities-types protesting should really be angry, not at banks, but at the profs themselves, who are evidently responsible for tricking wide-eyed undergraduates into majoring in things that aren't practical, or the Classics, because majors need to be practical or else what's the point, but also conservatives like Great Books so let's throw that in there without really justifying it. I mean, it's not as if even a single example is given of a professor visiting OWS.

Early in the piece, the author, Chris Tessone, inspires confidence when he reveals confusion re: who college professors these days are:

Professors and wannabe academics have flocked to the protest sites, welcomed with open arms by the poor, downtrodden BAs-turned-baristas and out of work MFAs at the movement’s core. Yet no one bears more responsibility for the dashed hopes and dreams of these overeducated, underemployed youths than America’s professorial class.
First off, who are "wannabe academics"? Is this some caste we're supposed to recognize? More likely these academic-types who are not in fact professors but want to be that are, oh, adjunct instructors and advanced grad students, or alums of grad programs now filing stuff while yearning for what might have been. Yes, the system's screwed up. Tessone gives us no reason to think anyone "academic" participating in OWS is even on the tenure track, if we are to give him the benefit of the doubt re: the presence of academic-types there. (And, thanks to Facebook and not Tessone, I know that plenty of grad students are indeed involved.)

Tessone, as per CCOA usual, mixes valid criticisms with knee-jerk and proudly ignorant attacks on academia. Does college cost too much? Yup. And maybe, as Tessone says, the "resort" aspect of some colleges is part of the problem.

But it's just a right-wing version of those coming after Joan Didion for her "privilege." He may be coming from a place of reasonable, but can't stay long, or he'd be expelled from the genre. Tessone has to be sure to gratuitously condemn "such disciplines as the performing arts, creative writing, and a myriad of 'studies' majors exploring narrow questions of ethnic, racial, and sexual identity." He has to, or else it's not a CCOA.

I am almost entirely certain Tessone has not even the slightest whiff of a clue what happens in a "studies" class. ("Decision Sciences," however...). Maybe if you make it abundantly clear you don't know what something is, you don't get to denounce it?

Anyway, as a triple offender - my dissertation is about Jews (particular!) and gender (fluffy!) and I'm in a joint program half of which includes the word "studies" (toenail-painting!) - I'm intrigued to know that what I do is "undemanding." Never mind the piles and piles of Great Books I read and was examined on to get to this point. Never mind that said Books of course inform my work. Never mind that whole doing research in a foreign language and contending with microform-induced nausea. Anything not entirely about white, Christian men, the only beings ever to walk this earth who represent The Universal, is by definition nonsense.

And it continues. Tessone informs concerned readers of "the cheapening of 'liberal arts' to mean 'any subject of study divorced from considerations of practicality or good taste.'" Kids these days! Not like in our day, when they'd all memorized all of Shakespeare, backwards, barefoot, and in the snow! "The liberal arts were once about studying how to live, informed by literary, philosophical, and historical accounts of how others conducted their lives. Students took a coherent set of core courses and immersed themselves in the Western canon.

OK, so coming from UChicago means my undergrad experiences don't count. But high school and grad school friends who went elsewhere somehow managed not to major in Silliness Studies, somehow managed to emerge having read a whole heck of a lot of "dead white males." Ah, but these were typically students at other good schools, public and private, big and small alike, fine, but not representative! Perhaps so, but where, precisely, are undergrads these days majoring in Nonsense Studies? At less-prestigious schools, undergrads may study something like "fashion merchandising" and thus not get much in the way of Great Books, but at what institution of higher ed are anyone but grad students and faculty devoting much of their work-time to the kinds of topics that inspire CCOAs? Is something like "fashion merchandising" CCOA-friendly, on account of it sure sounds vocational, or is this yet another example of college-as-fluff?

Tessone, no doubt under some kind of cosmic contractual obligation to make it over-abundantly clear how anti-"studies" he is, explains that his beef is with "programs catering to teenage sloth and narcissism, giving kids and their helicopter parents whatever they want for a buck, regardless of quality or rigor, reluctant to miss out on the student-loan-driven bubble now inflating." And if a program has "studies" in the name, it lacks quality, it lacks rigor, as rigorously demonstrated by Tessone. Oh wait, why would he waste time with that - CCOA audiences are long since converted! Does he go on? Yes, and where he goes is a place that's super-contrarian mixed with telling-it-like-it-is mixed with rah rah capitalism and banks and stuff crossed with anti-intellectualism. Well done!
The villain is not the lenders who played an incidental role in providing capital to creative writing majors, however. It’s the tenured bozos who gave them Derrida and finger painting in their formative undergraduate years instead of Plato and Aristotle (or a good course in computer-aided drafting).
Man oh man oh man. I graduated from college in 2005. I may be married and live in what may or may not count as the suburbs, but I'm in my 20s, a full-time student, and thus still "kids these days" loosely defined. And in my day, I've been assigned Plato, Aristotle, and - though it was utterly wasted on me, as it seemed to be on nearly everyone at the math and science high school where I took it, thus casting doubt, as far as I'm concerned, on its usefulness for the general population - drafting, one semester with computers, one without. No finger-painting and, more surprisingly given what I've been in school for for the past hundred years, no Derrida either.

I read the newspaper comments so you don't have to

-A woman who doesn't live in Park Slope, doesn't even live in NY or CA wakes at 3:30am, panicked, asking herself, "Am I green enough?'" Amazing.

Like I said, like I know others have said, like I wish more would say, the so-very-now ideal of buying only pure/clean/local/seasonal/sustainable/organic is a modern-day version of the expectation that surfaces require dusting. It's about giving women busy-work. If all the truly offensive crap were removed from the shelves, if lotions didn't need to be checked for parabens, if broccoli didn't have to be checked for place of origin (but also be sure to feed your family lots of fresh produce! no canned/frozen! remember that cans have BPA!) what would women do?

Oh, and because I do love online-newspaper comments, I will note that one commenter to the Mommy Insomnia story wins smug-of-the-year.

-Because I can't stay away from newspaper comments (even my dissertation is in part on the 19th C version thereof), dear Roger Cohen commenters: Wow, you [OK, there are more, but I'm tiring of the exercise] really are dreamers, you who ask why no one-state solution. If only everyone in the world were as tolerant and wonderful as you!

What you're missing, however, is that the problem isn't that there's so much hate in the region, or that The Jews are such a stubborn bunch. It's not because for all eternity, The Jews and The Arabs have been mortal enemies, and these two swarthiest of peoples fail to behave like Scandinavians and make nice. It's not that such a state couldn't function. It's that there's an awfully strong ethical case to be made for there to be a Jewish state in Palestine. There's not a particularly strong case to be made for it having any particular borders. And there's also, at this point, one heck of a case for there being a Palestinian state as well. I, from the relative comfort of the NJ woods, want there to keep on being a Jewish state, not because I think Israeli Jews should be spared the horror that would be living alongside an Other, not because I think both peoples are simply incapable of getting along, but because I find the case for Jewish national self-determination convincing.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Jews then, Jews now, Jews shopping

-Working on the "background" chapter of the diss. In other words, the not-so-much-in-the-way-of-original-research one. Also, the falls-well-outside-my-area-of-expertise-time-period-wise one. (The Bible? The Middle Ages?) But still, it's very important for framing the rest of my (I promise utterly page-turning) project. But there's something kind of relaxing about summing up that which has already been done, and it's great fun to learn about things I haven't been reading about and taking courses on since forever, but that are actually quite central to the bigger questions I've been trying to address all this time.

-OWS, a left-wing movement with the word "occupy" front-and-center, has, shock of all shocks, embraced the Palestinian cause. Everyone's been mulling over the Jewish angle to OWS basically since it started. Do the now-famous Yom Kippur, uh, festivities clear OWS of all possible charges of anti-Semitism? Not exactly - Jews have been members of not-so-Jew-friendly movements in the past, and hatred of Jews hasn't been about hatred of Jewish religious practice since approximately forever. But yes, the great enthusiasm of so many Jews for the movement suggests it is not, in fact, the new Nazism. If it were a thoroughly anti-Semitic movement, then no, there probably wouldn't be such a great big space for Jews in it.

My own mulling has consisted in part of making a mental note that a good number of the 1%ers standing with the 99% struck me as expressing a particularly Jewish (even though not all are Jewish! plenty, I think, but not all!) kind of rich-person self-hatred. The kind that comes from being the offspring of New Money, a sort of guilt that comes with comparing one's own zillionaire parents (who may seem stingy, not on account of being Jewish, but on account of having grown up poor, and having all their current status deriving from their bank accounts) with the more noblesse-oblige, philanthropic, charity-gala parents of one's prep-school classmates. The kind that comes from having a lot of money, but having never fully integrated into rich-people culture (such as the evidently all-white country clubs some of my non-Jewish private-school classmates seem to attend at each of their many vacation-home locales - thank you, Facebook, for keeping me posted!), and thus finding one's self socializing largely with those well outside the 1%. If you're a part of an of-course-we-own-all-this-crap-for-it-is-our-birthright landed aristocracy, it feels natural to you that you have the place in life you do.

Again, let me emphasize that Jews are far from the only group with this pattern, that if anything these days other groups experience it more, and - and this ought not need stating - plenty of Jews (ahem!) do not face the moral dilemma that comes with waking up one morning with a million-dollar trust fund. But this did strike me as being one rather salient Jewish angle, one that explains the involvement even of those who've experienced this dynamic, without coming from families that are, technically-speaking, anywhere close to the 1%.

And Israel kind of does enter into it, insofar as when experienced by Jews, this guilt manifests itself in part as feeling ashamed at the parents' generation for supporting the Jewish state - basically an ethnicity-specific version of the equivalent generation in any group cringing at its parents' voting Republican. Problem is, there are some very good lefty reasons to think that Jews ought to keep on having a state. But this is only a problem if there are terribly many young, lefty Jews who think that.

-Admiring, wavering. It comes down to whether or not we are, in fact, buying a car any time soon. If so, no frivolous purchases allowed. If not, it's not as if I do any spontaneous shopping, dining out, meeting friends for drinks, etc., etc., etc. now that I live in the woods, so I probably could afford these. But to wear... where? Walking Bisou? To a nearby library? What is this thing called "attention to dress," and how does it relate to my current life?

In which WWPD gives in and becomes a dog-blog

-Isabel Archer is back, with thoughts on, among other topics, Rescue Culture. And, um, such a reminder that Golden Retrievers are adorable!

-Googling around over breakfast (of two-day-old reheated pancakes) this morning, I learned that affordable (as well as not-so-affordable) hotels in Paris that allow dogs are clustered around Le Boulanger des Invalides Jocteur, which is to say, the center of the universe. There is a soft and affectionate gray dog that hangs out there for Bisou to be friends with, whose owner gives it a bit of bread from the place as a treat. There was also this gray fluffball-type in Jardin du Luxembourg. Such possibilities for socialization and pastry! The photographs below are of my dream life.

-Tomorrow, however, is a momentous day for little Bisou - the day she is rendered incapable of producing littler Bisous. I'm nervous, and I suspect on some level she is as well. The main thing with spaying, it seems, is for us to keep her from jumping for two weeks after the surgery. Well, Bisou's favorite thing in the entire world, after cheese, is jumping like a cat, to heights you wouldn't think she'd be capable of reaching. (Also doing this thing at the kitchen gate where she stands, looks over the gate, and lifts one paw straight up and out, all serious-like, as if to summon a sea of followers to do the same. Very fascistic.) So I took her on a 1.4 mile jog (was going to be 2.1, but she seemed beat), calculating that she sprints at least this each day in loops around the apartment on a typical, three-long-walk day. Surely jogging at my unimpressive pace would exhaust but not over-tire her. On past walks, when I've switched to a jog, she basically walks a tiny bit faster, seeming disappointed that I couldn't keep up with her own running pace. Well, exhausted she is, rehydrated but completely conked out on the kitchen floor. How to keep her in this state for more than half an hour remains to be seen.

Monday, November 07, 2011


Jacob Levy points me to a gold mine of YPISdom - YPIS being the acronym I use for "your privilege is showing," the preferred insult of a certain sort of (typically plenty privileged) person. (Banal example: you can tell someone who finds it sad that some must buy their pink polos at Banana Republic and not Lacoste that his privilege is showing.) Writer Joan Didion's privilege is, evidently, on show, and everyone - a Slate writer (David Haglund), Slate commenters, the pieces Haglund links to - is enjoying a good hurling-of-YPIS at the evidently oh-so-aloof author, who evidently responded, in her latest book, to those who've criticized her as being unaware of her privilege.

If I was reluctant to post about this at first, it's because of those "evidentlies." I have never read anything by Didion, and thus have no thoughts on whether or not she comes across as defensive about her privilege. (Didion is not among the authors on my pile of books about the history of the Jewish family I need to read for Chapter One. Sorry.) I had to Google her to see what the privilege in question was referring to, beyond that she's a writer with name-recognition.

But there is a whopping YPIS angle here, and one that has approximately zilch to do with Didion's writing.* What we can glean without knowing how much brilliant and/or snooty the relevant original texts convey:

1) Privilege-showing is now ranked among the offenses a writer may have committed such that you have to ask those difficult 'but does the Great Art mean we can still appreciate this evil person's writing?' questions, like you would of a Céline. As in, insufficiently-apologized-for socioeconomic privilege is now akin to having been a Nazi sympathizer. This is not entirely new - remember the stuff about "dead white males"? But what's at stake now isn't Didion's identity - rich, well-connected, white, and what the Daily Mail would enviously call "worryingly thin" - but rather her apparently failure, by the standards of some, to apologize for, at least, the wealth. An accusation she made the grave mistake of addressing. Why a mistake? Because it's no fun to hurl a YPIS unless it's going to sting, and evidently sting it did.

The problem here is that what's under attack isn't the unfairness inherent in privilege, but rather aloofness, as though aloofness itself should be our main concern. The alternative is rarely presented as, let's open up the field to writers of a more diverse set of backgrounds. Well, lip service is paid to that possibility, but instead, we get privileged sorts writing from a place of sensitivity. Privilege going acknowledged, accusations of aloofness preempted. As if it's fine to have writing be the wealthy taking on the wealthy, as long as privilege has been acknowledged. As if it's indeed more progressive to hear the privileged yammering on about their privilege than to not hear so much from them, period. (See, for example, this piece, linked from the Slate one.)

2) It makes sense, on a population level, to speak of certain categories of privilege and lack thereof. Not necessarily when it comes to individual cases. Some individual rich white men really do have worse than the average working-class Latina, even if these men would be in a still-more-problematic boat (yacht?) if they did not have the various privileges in their favor. In Didion's case, YPIS is being hurled at someone writing about her daughter getting sick and dying in her 30s, because (from the perspective of the hurlers) call the waahmbulance, break out the tiny violins, and remember how much worse it is to be young, ill and uninsured, and not the daughter of famous people. When it's like, fair enough, but think how much better it is for tragedy not to strike, and to live happily to 90 without ever experiencing Didion-level glamor or wealth. Think how much worse it would be to have whichever problems in the developing world. Think of this, think of that, or maybe just accept that what went on with Didion's daughter was indeed tragic, even if they could afford to pay their medical bills.

Basically, there are forms of Bad that are unequivocally worse than growing up without a lot of money (even if these forms, plus not having much money, are worse than these forms with). And these forms tend not to be obstacles as readily-acknowledged as socioeconomic status. While ideally, of course, no one would, some do feel shame at having grown up poor or working-class. But in a meritocracy, it can also be advantageous to remind others that your parents didn't go to college, that you've paid your own way since 15, that you didn't have everything handed to you, etc. Whereas non-socioeconomic forms of disadvantage - health, mental and physical; abuse; drug or severe emotional problems; that which is family-specific and unclassifiable; etc. - are less likely to be casually evoked. For this reason, I don't see the point in responding to tales of suffering not related to socioeconomic status with, 'ah, but think how much worse things are for those dealing with individual-case suffering and systematic suffering.' I think everyone gets that that's the case. But it doesn't follow that individual-case suffering in all cases is waambulence in comparison to a broader form of underprivilege. Or, phrased differently, sometimes "poor little rich girls" actually have it rough. Having gone to school for nine years with girls from families for the most part far wealthier than my own (solidly UMC) one, I'm going to have to say that some things some individual families went through would without a doubt qualify. Not rich-people-problems, just problems that being rich couldn't solve.

3) The Slate commenters coming to Didion's defense seem genuinely confused about YPIS, if they think claims that Didion is out-of-touch are coming from those jealous of Didion on account of being poorer/less famous than she is. It's not "class envy." It's coming from upper-middle-class sorts. It's always about sticking up for those who could, in theory, find such cluelessness offensive.

4) Anyone who's actually read anything by Didion, or anyone else for that matter, have any thoughts?

*There is no doubt, as Levy noted when passing this along, a writing-about-children angle here, Haglund alludes to at the end of his piece. But if the "child" in question was an adult and is, at the time of publication, deceased, I'm not sure the usual issues are at stake - and again, being as far from a Didion expert as I am, I have no idea whether Didion was ever writing about her daughter's SAT scores or first crushes or similar in real time. But for those focused on that sort of topic, this is probably of interest.

A comprehensive guide to used-clothes-shopping in Princeton

I'd been saving the best for last, or not quite the best for hardly the last: that is, I'd waited until November to look (again) at what is to my knowledge Princeton's only thrift shop. (There is also a "consignment" establishment, which on a past visit I decided was not worth the bother, but I'm willing to reconsider.) Somewhat depressingly, entirely predictably, it sells pilled (but much cheaper!) versions of what's available on Nassau St. I'd never been in a Talbots, but I now have a very good sense of what people buy there and then tire of. The strength of the shop - which is for the most part just clothing - seems to be cashmere, with a great range of sweaters in the $10 range. Not necessarily a better deal than the $50 ones new at Uniqlo, but once you factor in the extra $33 to get to Uniqlo, not bad.

Neither of the two items on my if-I-ever-do-in-fact-go-shopping-where-there-are-in-fact-stores-this-is-what-I'd-buy list - short, low-heeled, pull-on black or gray leather boots with buckles; gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses - were anywhere to be found, which is like saying that Nassau St. is not, in fact, lower Fifth Avenue or the Boulevard St. Germain. (There were, however, red-soled stilettos by Nine West - paging litigious Louboutin!) As in, I was not expecting to find either, but I needed to do something on my way to do work at Small World, because it's always just Small World, and I'm more than set for library books and Italian groceries. I thought I'd like the cast-offs of wealthy suburban women (and their taller/chubbier children), that this would go with at least one of my many fashion personalities. But I guess these ladies hang onto things like their navy quilted jackets, their camel capes, their equestrian-chic get-ups, and what they donate, they donate for a reason.