Friday, November 30, 2012

"Positively Amish"

Is it "positively Amish" to get married at 25? How Amish was I, getting married at 27? Reform Amish, or Conservative?

Anyway, I thought it had long been established that same-sex marriage doesn't mean gay couples now must make things official, only that they might do so. That a man has the option of "my husband" if that's who his partner is, same as a woman does. Yes, we may bring out the tiny violins for the gay adults whose families now pressure them to tie the knot, but at least now (ideally) the pressure is to marry someone of one's own desired sex, not to enter a union bound to make everyone miserable. Yes, I understand that there's a contingent nostalgic for the time when "gay" meant "not bourgeois," but you still can be gay and not bourgeois. Anyway indeed.

But I do wonder - with June Thomas here, with Dan Savage elsewhere - what precisely we're supposed to make of female fertility. Social construction is, the woman does the cooking and cleaning. Biology is, if you're 45, no matter what your sexual orientation, it's gonna be kind of tough to bear a child. It's not terribly radical to point out that adoption and IVF are more complicated than the usual way, and that artificial insemination is bound to work better the more fertile the mother. Of course not all women want children, not all are physically capable of having them even at 25. But if we're talking societal norms, why should we want to get to a place where it's controversial to marry before 35?


Breaking with a long policy of I-don't-bring-food-to-class, I, yes, brought food to class. But nothing I, like, baked. It was for vaguely pedagogical reasons (on mange du fromage, mais on aime le fromage - a point I'd been droning on about for a while, and I figured maybe some actual fromage would drive the point home) but the main issue with it was that boy oh boy did it stink. I chose a camembert very quickly at Murray's on the way to class, thinking it was a classic French cheese, one I knew was good, and one students might not have tried (i.e. not brie). I teach in a basement classroom. I am an idiot. I rarely let class out even a few minutes early, but it had to be done.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The day thus far UPDATED

-Car and train trouble, both likely weather-related, but somehow made it to class on time.

-Not just in time, but with time enough to inhale a chocolate croissant from the convenient bakery. The very Old New York (pre-tip-jar, pre-hipsters-make-your-food, pre-good-coffee) one, which appears to cater mostly to elderly gay men who've had this routine since forever. The Margot Patisserie of the Christopher Street area. I like the idea of it, although the pastries themselves are borderline utilitarian.

-It had been a while since I'd taught, and the class-presentation visuals these days are higher-tech than I'd remembered. I allotted 15 mins for each 8-10 minute presentation. Had to hold over one presentation till tomorrow. Hate doing that. On the plus side, my students now know the conditional.

-Bought - finally - a winter hat without pom-poms. I somehow always end up with pom-poms, always spend the winter walking around feeling ridiculous, always find bits of pom-pom on the floor, poodle-related or otherwise. The new acquisition: an intentionally nondescript piece of cloth from American Apparel, because that's what's between where I teach and where my office is, and is exactly how much I could be bothered.

-Contemplated future wanty: A red (cashmere? non-itchy?) scarf, like the ones French men wear. One of those illuminating undereye concealers that make you look awake. It's the point in the semester when I might be awake (thank you, Oren's) but definitely don't look it. Does it need to be the $40 YSL one? Should I compromise and go with a $20-ish one from one of the lesser Sephora brands? Or at that point is it drugstore time? Is it 9 hours sleep or is it Maybelline? Also sought: a professional haircut.


After quite the marathon of grading, I spent a while (20 minutes? an eternity?) browsing Sephora in search of under-eye illumination. The thing with skin-color makeup, which I'd noticed before, is that it only comes in a series of shades that range from somewhat tanned white person to very tanned white person.  Useless if you're dark-skinned, but also, without the political implications, for the very pale. I kind of think a product I don't want to use as concealer is one that would, on me, be a bronzer. I remain not remotely luminous, which, for a weekend in the woods, is just fine.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Serge Gainsbourg is not my style icon

Day 1 of 2 of oral exams. Most are today. Stamina so far so good, to be improved with (more) caffeine. Happier than usual not to be a Mormon. Below, the extent of my non-oral-exam-centric brain currently functioning:

-Hadley Freeman on curve-flaunting. Spot-on: "curves" can mean a woman is (well, stands accused of being) fat, that an individual is not-a-girl-not-yet-a-woman, or that a human is of the female post-pubescent variety and simply existing. As in, I flaunt my curves when I walk my dog in sweatpants, sweatshirt, and overcoat.

-Into The Gloss shakes things up, interviews a Frenchwoman whose approach to beauty is to wear no makeup, smoke a lot, and use fancy moisturizer. I cringed when I got to the part about her style icons being Jane Birkin and Serge friggin' Gainsbourg. Enough with this predictable performance of Frenchness for an American audience. A baguette-and-beret routine would, at this point, seem fresh and exciting. But my specific beef with Isabel Marant is those 90-euro white cotton t-shirts.

-Exceeding ITG in predictability is NJ Transit, which as of this month has decided not to grant my request for a monthly student pass. I may be ancient (clinging to my 20s by a thread), I may teach rather than take a class, but according to the registrar and other powers-that-be, I am a full-time student, and thus have damn well earned my right to a $344 (still kinda pricey!) monthly train fare. The reasons given: 1) My ID says "student," not "graduate student," rendering my claim of being a graduate student suspect. Never mind that I've never heard of a special graduate student ID at my university. 2) NJ Transit is having issues with "NYU graduate arts" students who according to the registrar count as full-time, but according to NJ Transit do not,  so [insert incomprehensible bureaucratic jargon here]. 3) NJ Transit translates "full-time equivalency" to mean 'random commuter sneakily trying for a discount on our precious and not-at-all-crappy trains.' Sorry I can't tell them how many hours a week I'm in class. That's not what my student status refers to. 4) I was taken to task for not having the "letter" one is apparently supposed to have to get this pass, a letter I didn't have when getting a pass in September, October, or November, and that's apparently not the same thing as the form I had stamped at the registrar.

After - yes - speaking with the manager, I left the Penn Station window empty-handed, convinced that there's some kind of larger and more profound beef between NJ Transit and either NYU in general or liberal-arts grad students in particular. I had been noticing, lately, that every time the conductors would check my ticket, I'd get this kind of skeptical look. Which I'd assumed was because I'm a bit haggard for "student," but I now realize is because NJ Transit is under the impression that student-commuting is an elaborate scam.

Given that I only teach for half of December anyway (and not at all in the spring), and wasn't entirely sure that pass made sense (the NJ Transit website seems to have gotten rid of the place where one can check how much regular weekly passes cost, because having that up there would be far too convenient), this is likely a case of the principle of the thing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How dare movies acknowledge the female gaze!

Max Read of Gawker brings our attention to (and nicely tears apart) a painfully misogynistic op-ed by Richard Cohen. Cohen doesn't like that the new James Bond is ripped, and prefers a "sexual meritocracy," which apparently means that male appearance doesn't matter when it comes to getting the girl. It's "game" all over again: the foolish, self-defeating belief that any man can snag any woman if he just behaves a certain way. Reverse the genders and it's clear why this is ridiculous: when looking for a partner/whatever people look at other people-of-the-sex-they-find-attractive and make snap maybe-no decisions. Sometimes yes-no, but generally more like maybe-no. A certain bar needs to be crossed, or else "romantic" isn't a possibility. (Once possibility is established, plenty of other factors can - generally will - lead to a no. Unless someone is, I don't know, Natalie Portman-level attractive, in which case maybe not.) Cohen's point, in other words, is that the male gaze is a given; the problem is that nowadays, movies cater to the female one as well.

Oh, but a point could be made that "ripped" isn't the be-all and end-all of male beauty. It's not what individual women (or gay men, I suppose, but this being a post about an op-ed about hetero dynamics...) generally want, and it wasn't always (still isn't?) what male heartthrobs need to look like. I mean, I've never been a huge fan of Cary Grant, but my understanding is that he was thought to be quite good-looking. He certainly wasn't cast despite what he looked like, even well into middle age. Much like the women who believe their lives would be entirely different if they lost five pounds, there are, apparently, certain men who think intense, time-consuming workouts plausibly increase their appeal to the opposite sex in something like proportion to the effort put in. Not likely!

But what "ripped" is, in movies, is a stand-in for physical-attractiveness-to-women, or to-a-certain-woman. A male character with abs, one who is relatively young or as the awful saying goes (and I'm picturing Rob Lowe of late) well-preserved, is one we are to assume the female lead finds physically desirable. There's really no other universal way of conveying this, with the possible exception of casting Jon Hamm. ("30 Rock" viewers did not need this spelled out.) If you want to show, in a movie, that women, like men, rule out great numbers of potential romantic partners on account of, just-doesn't-do-it-for-me, abs will help get the point across. We have similar cues for female attractiveness. But we assume men will only consider as romantic possibilities women who meet whichever standard. Maybe we-as-a-society are starting to assume this about women as well. This should be celebrated, and in no way requires that ordinary men spend three hours a day in the gym.

On those who died for your $4.95 tank tops

Earlier, I sat in my office, a half-block or so away from the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and read about the modern-day equivalent. Too horrible to contemplate. I'm not sure what can be done, and can only make naive, obvious points about the need for Western companies to check up on the factories they use abroad.

Maybe - and PG, this one's for you - this is a case where raising consumer awareness could be helpful. But not so much in the sense of shopping with one's dollars at off-the-beaten-path, high-end all-ethical clothing stores as, if it's clear that consumers object to this sort of thing, companies that make a point of checking up on their factories will do better than those that do not. Realistically, this is about reforming how clothing gets produced in the countries currently producing it, not switching to all-Made-in-the-West. There's only so much (US-made) Hanky Panky underwear to go around, and I believe that sample sale has ended.

What this doesn't need to be about is a) the specific greed of the American consumer, or b) the unwillingness of said consumer to pay a fair price. Re: the first, it appears that this factory was partially (primarily?) producing clothes for the European market. Yes, that special, artisanal, can't-get-it-at-home sweater you bought on vacation or study-abroad (and boy do I include myself in this) probably just comes from a chain we don't have in the States, but with the same labor conditions, the same quality construction/material, etc. This isn't about where suburban American Walmart shoppers get their clothes. It's where everyone gets their clothes. It's like I said re: food, but more so: it's not as if there's some significant caste of American or Europeans whose clothes - as in, all of 'em - come from ethically-sound sources. Me personally, I have this one super-artisanal (and not even that expensive!) made-in-France handbag, and a few this-and-that made in the States, and some thrift (a ton if you count hand-me-down) but otherwise? Like the bulk of what I own? Who knows.

Re: the second, I know I repeat myself for a change, but we need to be clear how consumer demand works. In the aggregate, we demand $5 tank tops. But as individual consumers, we have, in our minds, from previous shopping experience, a sense of what's normal for which items to cost. As in, that a cheap tank top is $5, an average one $10-20, and anything above $30, say, had better be special for some reason. We don't know what the true cost of a tank top would be, and more to the point, we have no reason to think that if we opt for the $40 one, the difference goes to labor conditionsas opposed to better-quality materials, better designs, snootier store ambiance. We can't just reveal our willingness to generously pay a bit more, and expect conditions in factories to magically improve.

Oh, and we need to get past the idea that all consumers are hyper-fashion-conscious and getting to Zara ASAP so as not to seem so-five-minutes-ago. What happens is, clothing costs less so we don't care for it as well, plus it may be not-as-well-made, so it falls apart more easily... so we buy more of it. I really doubt if trendiness accounts for all that much waste. More likely - and I back this up with no concrete evidence whatsoever - trendy young girls/women make for an obvious scapegoat.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gute times UPDATED

The moment to read Robert Coleman's account of Berlin debauchery is probably not on one's way out the door to make an early commuter train. The essay makes (kind of beats you over the head with) the following argument: an artsy, bohemian environment can, alas, make it harder to create art. Because you're too busy having fun. And so much fun! Hanging out with other "artists," the beautiful and glamorous (or so I, on my way to NJ Transit, assume), all Weimar nostalgia and Uslu Airlines nail polish. All Rufus Wainwright's husband. All "Walk on Water," complete with the Lior Ashkenazi, but maybe minus the aging Nazi war criminal. Parties so much cooler than anything you may have gone to in Brooklyn as a recent college grad, and I lived in Prospect Heights before it was Park Slope.

An argument as old as time, as a little blurb affixed to the print essay, about Paris back in the day, attests. Better to have a day job. (UPDATE.) This is also, I suppose, the Dissertator's Paradox - on fellowship years, one expects to get so much more done than on teaching years, yet without that structure... more still gets done, but not as much more as one imagines.

But it's certainly true - productivity and interesting 4am conversations are not as compatible as we might want them to be, or as fiction about various milieus would have it, or as was maybe once the case in a less competitive age. Academia, for instance, has a lot of people who'd no doubt be fascinating to converse with at 4am, but they're exhausted from all the work they've been doing, or are in fact still working. Often the people with the most interesting things to say are unavailable for chit-chat.

But the new here - or perhaps not new, just now there's a word for it - is humblebrag. I mean, it must be so awful to have so much fun. Life as a constant party, but with engaging friends and no responsibilities. And more to the point, this is how the piece ends:

But the trip wasn’t a total loss. I learned how to roll a joint properly, cut hair, drink whiskey straight without gagging. And of course, I came back with the start of a novel: 13,000 unpublishable words about an Australian musician who went to Berlin, took too many drugs, had a psychotic episode and ended up in a German mental hospital. That last part is fiction, thankfully — what I imagine might have happened if I hadn’t managed to escape my artistic paradise.
It ends, in other words, with a little 'by the way, while having all this fun, I not only emerged unscathed but also wrote a novel, part of which has been excerpted in the NYT Magazine, i.e. what you just read.'

Friday, November 23, 2012

Brands of nonsense

Black Friday. You wouldn't join a stampede for a flat-screen TV, right? If you're reading this, if you're someone I know on-blog or in-life or both, it's a fair bet, and I think Charles Murray might have something to say about this. Personally, I spent the day doing a mix of laundry, test-writing, and parallel-parking-practice (getting there, but my three-point turns are exquisite). No malls.

Yes, Black Friday is gross. It evidently sucks for retail workers (see also: the Walmart picket line), and makes for some unfortunate visuals - this is the season of thankfulness (one that started early, with Sandy), and look, all these fools who can't just be happy with what they've already got. Even if the horde is buying gifts - you know, giving - it looks awfully greedy. And isn't the problem the American consumer's sense of entitlement? It's not like we even need any of this crap. After all, as the great storm showed, we're all slaves to our refrigerators.

But what's also meh - and yes, I'm repeating myself - is anti-Black-Friday smug indignation. Before you stare down your nose at the hordes, figure out what it is, exactly, that bothers you. If it's the unnecessary danger, the minimum-wage workers called in for nonsense on the one day a year all Americans are meant to spend with their families, fair enough. If it's consumer debt, I don't know, maybe remember that some of this is stuff people would buy anyway, but now they're doing so on sale? But if you shudder at all the materialism, while not minding a good sale one bit if it's on the higher-end stuff that interests you, that's something else. A flat-screen TV does nothing for me, but when that special Berlin nail polish was going for $9 a bottle, I was all over it. When I stumbled upon a sample sale in Chelsea Market featuring the best (and US-made, if you're into that) underwear brand, it's entirely possible that I took advantage. I can be smug about not having stomped on anyone in pursuit of my own brand(s) of nonsense, but that's about it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What your great-grandmother recognized as de-frizzing serum UPDATED

-A Frenchwoman lectures an American audience on chic, which she humbly implies she was born with. A Frenchwoman in a track-suit. But she's French, so it's OK. And to the commenters who apparently agree with this lady's notions that buying Greenmarket produce cancels out smoking and evidently copious sunning (no French Paradox for wrinkles), let me say my piece on this: if she were to take a real live-and-let-live stance, to say, look, I'm a Fashion person, a professional Frenchwoman-in-NYC, this is how I choose to be, I'd say go for it. And those who tan are under no obligation to smoke, those who smoke under no obligation to eat junk food. What bothers me is that these nutty ideas work their way into popular notions of what's healthy, and "health" becomes conflated with "what thin people do," or "what rich people do." Or maybe what bothers me is the outfit, the woman, and what it means that the two are being celebrated together. If this woman weren't thin, white, (rich, French), and were otherwise dressed the same, gold chains, gold hoops and everything, I kind of think she wouldn't have this platform.

(Meanwhile, this post caught my eye because there are some Cerfs in my dissertation. Is she or is she not related to the great Cerf Berr, leader of the Alsatian Jews during the Revolution?)

-Why I'm evasive when people ask me where I'm from, and, deeming "New York" too vague, keep pressing. I will not name the neighborhood. That alone, if you know enough about the city to be digging, should be your answer.

-Complete and utter cheapness fail: I spent about $20 on a container of 100% tsubaki oil. Cheapness justifications: allegedly a little goes a long way, and my understanding is that with this product, I get the essential ingredient of the newly-discovered Shiseido hair products, but without paying extra for ingredients like water and whichever fragrances or unexciting chemicals that are in all shampoo-and-conditioner. And, I suppose, without whichever chemicals, but honestly, I don't know anything about either this oil or what's in regular shampoo, and don't buy into this notion that because something has a high-tech name, it's worse for you/your hair/your soul than whatever your great-grandmother would have recognized as de-frizzing serum.


Tsubaki hair oil proves everything I hoped it would be and more. If I could only relive my frizzy middle- and high school years knowing about this product.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Man oh man UPDATED

A woman writes in to Prudence, insists that she's super duper tolerant, then confesses that she's not sure if she should stay with her husband, now that he's announced he's transgender and in the process of making his body match his identity. Prudie's right that this woman has a good reason to leave, but not about why:

"People would not expect you to stay (and you probably wouldn't) if he said he realized he was gay, or he wanted to enter into a polygamous relationship."

OK, so there are people who think women should remain married to gay men, that women should enter marriages with out but pious gay men, but overall, yes, point taken. But these are all different issues. "Gay," especially if this is a new piece of information, means he has in effect left her. The wife may still be interested, but it's over, and he ended it. "Polygamous" means dude thinks he can have a bunch of wives, but is not extending the same openness offer to his original wife. He may still be attracted to his wife, and she to him, but the terms have changed. What he's asking for constitutes infidelity under the original arrangement, and will be interpreted as, I'm looking for greener pastures, but by all means keep cleaning the house/raising the kids. Polygamy is also, you know, illegal.

The seemingly obvious difference with the letter-writer's concern is that if she is a heterosexual woman, she isn't sexually or romantically attracted to women. That she respects but isn't sexually into her husband-now-wife ought to be the confirmation she desires that she isn't transphobic. She now views her spouse (was this ever a good time for "spouse"!) as a woman, which is how her spouse identifies, and the proof that she does is that this very same person, now a different gender, isn't doing it for her.

This letter, as well as Prudie's response, really do show the problem with our society's discussions of female desire. It's presented as if it's all about emotion, nothing about the fact that a straight woman desires men. We somehow have to talk around this, like it would be too crude, or too demanding, to broach the subject. To act as though any woman could like any person with a good personality. If a straight man's wife made the equivalent announcement, it would be simple: he's into women, not men, and unless he discovers a bi side, or is content with a companionate/appearances-sake marriage, game over. Women, though, we assume, never desired their partners, or anyone for that matter, in the first place, so no big deal - oh, other than the deception - if a husband becomes a wife.


In the comments, Jacob expresses a certain degree of Prudie-phobia. In deference to that stance, a similarly-themed debate in the Guardian. "Is there a gay gene?" A lesbian argues that there is not, a gay man that there is. This from the yes-there-is:

Maybe it's different for women. I've met lesbians who say that their sexuality is a choice – a political rejection of heterosexual norms. I've yet to meet a gay man who put his politics before his penis. For them, gay desire came first. Gay politics came later – if at all.
To which I must respond articulately: meh. Some of dude's "earliest memories are of crushes on other boys"? Well, remove that "other" and heterosexual women can, I suspect, say the same. (Just because gay kids may pretend to have crushes on opposite-sex classmates, doesn't mean all crushes are feigned for social approval. Just ask anyone straight who had crushes on opposite-sex but for whatever reason - geeky, etc. - socially-unacceptable classmates.) While there are no doubt more girls/women than boys/men declaring homosexuality or bisexuality for political reasons (although contrary to dude, I have heard claims of bisexuality from what I believe may have been straight men trying to seem interesting/progressive), do these women, you know, live their lives, or any significant portion of their lives, as lesbians?

On the one hand, it's nice for women that there's less pressure to be 100% straight. On the other, we seem convinced as a society that female heterosexuality - something experienced, I also suspect, very much like male homosexuality - doesn't exist. Women want boyfriends, husbands, children, but not, shudder, men. When it's like, no, straight women are socialized to present their interest in men in this framework.

Monday, November 19, 2012

OK, so I'll blog about Israel

First off, before proceeding, let me insist upon my lack of expertise when it comes to the play-by-play appropriateness of individual Israeli and Palestinian leadership decisions. Is Israel using disproportionate force, and if so, what would proportionate consist of? Do I have the miracle answer re: borders, meter by meter? There are, I promise, others writing about this.

But I do have thoughts on some of the bigger-picture issues. Specifically, the way this conversation tends to go within the Jewish community. I find that there are two stances, both born of a certain kind of parochialism (and for what I wish were the last time, everyone's parochial, not just/particularly Jews), that dominate. 

The first is the better-known - the think-of-the-Israelis stance. This is not - contrary to popular opinion - a belief that Israel can do no wrong, that Likud's the answer to anything. But these would be the Jews who, upon reading the latest Mideast news, think immediately of the Israelis under attack. Some then go on to think about the conflict in bigger terms - coming to any number of conclusions - and some not. It's totally parochial, and totally normal. As long as it's accompanied by an understanding that all life has value, which it almost invariably is, it's just the way of the world. If you're Italian-American and something horrible goes down in Italy, you're more shaken up than if the same had happened in Poland. That's just how it goes.

The second is the stance sometimes mistakenly referred to as Jewish self-hatred. These are the Jews who first feel responsibility or shame as Jews for what goes on. Their thoughts immediately turn to sorting out just what Israel's done wrong now. To Ending the Occupation. They see this in terms of a moral imperative to condemn injustices committed by/committed in the name of Jews.

Both 'sides,' as it were, tend to want give or take the same resolution to the crisis: two states. Neither tends to be pro-settlements. That's not where the difference lies. I have friends in both categories, and don't I know it these days from Facebook. (There are also nutty far-right and far-left Jews, who want Greater Israel or, conversely, an end to the Jewish state. These are fringe positions.)

Anyway. The second group-of-reasonables brings in a critical eye, which can't but be praised, but argues as if this debate is solely an internal Jewish one, as if their central opposition consists of Jews more rah-rah-Israel than they are. That may be who they're encountering in their day to day lives, so they see this as what they're up against. They have a tendency to forget the scale of this debate, and the extent to which many with no personal connection to Israel are utterly obsessed with this conflict, and generally not so sympathetic to Israel - to the Israeli government, or to Israelis, or to the very idea of Israel.

It's not, in other words, that they have it in for Israel, or are these traitors to their people. It's that they somewhat naively assume that everyone talking about the conflict is doing so in good faith, forgetting how much of the energy surrounding the topic comes from - to put it bluntly - anti-Semitism. Yes, there's plenty to criticize about Israeli policy, wrt Arabs and all the religious-Jewish stuff I'm not going to touch in this post. But if you're some random dude or dudette in Sweden or Vermont or whatever, not especially plugged into current events, neither Jewish nor Arab nor Muslim, and this is your cause, how exactly did that come to be? There's a heck of a lot going on in the world. Why this?

This, in my semi-informed opinion, is really important for liberal-leaning Jewish Zionists to work through. One must speak out if the state of Israel's doing something wrong, but one must be wary of the dangers of affiliating with Team Aha-Israel's-At-It-Again-Those-Bloodthirsty-You-Know-Whats. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

In defense of: bus riders

Am I missing something? Or wouldn't it seem that people who take the bus because they don't have/drive a car are overall travelling around less than those with cars? And that this might mitigate buses' relative inefficiency ride per ride? Because it's, you know, a lot easier and more pleasant to go places by car than by bus. So one way, you're restricting yourself to essentials - a weekly grocery trip, a commute - whereas the other, it's 11pm and you could go for a jumbo pint of Haagen Daaz...

A serious post about the world today

-OK, so poodles like to prance around on their hind legs. It's not (as some commenters appeared to believe) some Chinese conspiracy making them do so, nor is this dogs not being dogs. If you want to blame Man, blame whoever came up with the idea of poodles. (Do not ask how a poodle would survive in nature. The very concept, poodle-in-nature, is illogical, gets the timeline wrong.) The tutu may be a bit much, but the biped thing, that happens even without leash-pulling. It's just their thing.

-Rufus Wainwright is taken, guys. (Gals gave up a while ago.) Along the same lines, the New Yorker of all places has a kind of spot-on take on being an 11-year-old girl with a crush on a gay male celebrity. But if you're going to get your humor from that source, you really want to start with this.

-Personal consumption updates: I'm going to have to give a shout-out to the tailor at Aphrodite French Cleaners in the Village, who resuscitated the sweater for a mere $40. I can wear it and stuff! And another to the Lower East Side boutique Honey in the Rough, which a week or so ago had this bucket-full of Uslu Airlines nail polish for $9 a bottle, maybe still does. Yes, the best nail polish of them all - doesn't chip, yet comes off easily with remover. The one I paid 19 euros for in Heidelberg, and thought was unavailable in the States, unavailable except at a handful of concept stores in Europe, where I most definitely am not. Until a moment of Googling revealed a website that solves exactly that sort of problem. Useful, of course, not only if you live in a major city, but also if you want to order something from at least the same country, in the right currency. Technically one can by this nail polish from the company and have it shipped to the States, but it comes to just over $66. In any case, at $9 a bottle, i.e. more like OPI or Essie prices, I confess I ended up buying two - an exquisite clear (why do those generally peel right off?) and another bottle of the same sheer bubblegum pink as I'd bought in Heidelberg. I somehow managed to resist the red, turquoise, and sparkly blue - the thrill of a good deal confronted the reality of which colors go on my nails these days.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Of folk-singers and lactation consultants

Sarah Maslin Nir's somewhat controversial story about privilege and post-Sandy volunteering illustrates exactly where YPIS goes wrong. We have a situation where outrage is in order - certain parts of NYC have been forgotten. I use passive voice deliberately, to now ask by whom? Well, by lots of people but the people who matter are the government workers who ought to be assigned to tasks like these. Obviously yuppies who come in to help aren't going to be well-trained in the various nuances of aid work, and are going to be mediocre at best at whichever tasks, and will say the wrong thing. There can be outrage (depending your politics) at a taxation situation that permits some to own Lexuses (Lexi?) while others live in squalor a few miles away.

But it's ambiguous what the criticism is - is it that yuppie volunteers are there at all, or that they don't plan to 'occupy' the Rockaways and volunteer on a more long-term basis? Meanwhile, if you're someone who's never had it easy and who's currently in a genuine disaster-mess following the storm, how gracious are you expected to be - to yuppie interlopers, or to your own friends and family? Does no one ever have a right to be cranky? If I'm owed mild crankiness for the 4-plus hours a day I spend commuting (and the days of a guaranteed seat are over), I should think those who've been without power for weeks in the projects are owed as much crankiness as they care to claim.

So it's not YPIS, to be clear, if you yourself are being i-Photographed while on line for disaster relief, or are ordered to breastfeed by a Williamsburg folk-singing yummy mummy (how do they find these people), or if your children are being treated like "Save the Children" orphans and you're standing right there, if this is you, to be furious.

But what should the takeaway be for those reading this article from the comfort of their not-washed-away homes or white-collar offices? It shouldn't be that these volunteers' privilege was showing. (One also wonders whether this journalist may have looked for examples of outrage-at-cluelessness, although I don't doubt that this outrage exists.) What is YPIS is an accusation made by those who are themselves privileged, who miss the forest for the trees and act as though the worst sin of them all is failing to capture the right tone in every situation. If whichever entity ought to be sorting this out isn't, then what can be done but accept the presence of volunteers many of whom, yes, feel more of a connection to the people they'll share accounts of this time with on Facebook than to the Them they'd gone to help.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

WWPD reads the news (on her phone, while half-asleep on NJ Transit)

Just because it's not on WWPD doesn't mean I'm not following it. I too am watching the Middle East fall apart, and am not sure whether the Zionist stance - my Zionist stance - is to support Israel in defending itself or to wonder, big-picture, whether the current situation helps or hurts the goal of a two-state plan. Knowledgable people I respect are saying very different things on this. (Ideological diversity, a change from the recent days of "X and two more friends 'like' Mitt Romney.") I have no answers, and have come to the conclusion that this tragic mess isn't going to be solved on this blog, or likely any.

And yes, of course, the Real Housewives of Tampa. Here I'll weigh in from two angles, one silly and one serious.

The silly:

-Following L'Affaire Petraeus from the perspective of a grad student: I especially like the Daily Mail approach - that Broadwell's real sin was being a crummy grad student, and having not (yet?) finished her PhD. This might be reassuring to those of us who run a 30 minute mile, never served in the military, have not raised two kids while a student, but who, at least, are kind of OK at grad school.

-That's the thing with 19th century dissertation topics, right? On the one hand, I'll never be on the "Daily Show" talking about my research. On the other, it is physically impossible for me to have an affair with any of my subjects.

The serious:

-The Dan Savage argument, which as far as I know he has yet to make, but others are making it, but anyway, is as follows: 37, 38 years of marriage and one indiscretion, big deal. That's a monogamous marriage succeeding. Monogamish, meanwhile, assumes one of two scenarios: a young, hot couple both of whom have seemingly infinite romantic possibilities, or an older straight couple where it can be safely assumed the woman is no longer interested in sex. But then there's "furious would be an understatement," whose crime, as far as we know, was being 59 years old and not taking reality-TV-star pains to hide it. Regardless of what was going on inside their marriage, it seems obvious, viscerally, that she's been wronged. This is also, I suppose, what I find off-putting about the periodically-floated marriage-as-renewable-contract idea. Isn't part of the appeal of the institution that one can feel relatively confident that one has tenure, as it were, in one's relationship? Not that it's 100% guaranteed to last, vows kept, but that there would have to be an awfully good reason for that not to happen?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Howdy, partner

Miss Self-Important has a humorous response to my post below. It's clever, but the point she's making seems very slippery-slope CCOA (conservative critiques of academia). Academia, as MSI presents it, is a veritable anything-goes libertine paradise. That's certainly academia as imagined in much of the right's discussion of academia, but I'm not seeing the world of academia I've experienced.

The personal, the political: I met my husband in grad school, and thus have been single, coupled, and married during my course of study thus far. I'm not in a particularly right-wing region or field - quite the contrary. And my friends and acquaintances tend to be in the same region and/or field. It's never once been my sense that there's some kind of widespread knowledge of or earnest respect for the kind of arrangements MSI tongue-in-cheek describes. If your partner (singular) is someone you can legally marry - and if you live in NY, that's the case - your relationship will be treated differently if you are married or not.

The status quo would seem freewheeling, I imagine, from the perspective of someone who views same-sex relationships as inherently decadent. But that's all that's changed, all that's been introduced, in this oh-so-radical new age. It would not be done to bring three dates to a bring-your-life-partner event, or a different date to each one. There's no feeling that this is but the first step of many, and that at next year's holiday party, an incoming first-year may bring a harem. It comes back - alas - to the Charles Murray argument - there's a certain amount of anything-goes-in-theory, but grad students are not living their lives in as interesting ways as all that. There's a difference between what might be discussed in a seminar (not that these are seminars I've been in, given my field) and how things would be treated in life.

The scenario MSI refers to - "in which someone got a spousal hire for a person to whom it turned out she was not (yet?) married" - is probably a case of, these people were engaged, whether in the shiny-ring-as-Facebook-photo sense or in the they-informed-all-relevant-parties-of-their-intentions one. Unless these were two friends, in which case everyone involved would be, I'd imagine, not thrilled. What's weird with the case I linked to before is not simply that the two aren't married, but also that there's no reason to believe they're future-oriented as a couple. The clearest way to indicate that is to, you know, get engaged/married, but there would be other ways of doing so if you can't get married in your locale, if you have principled objections, snowflake objections, etc.

But what about that "'my partner,'" an expression which, according to MSI, "is sufficiently ambiguous and politically-charged that it makes people anxious about looming discrimination claims"? I can speak from personal experience that if you refer to a partner or a spouse, different situations are assumed, and one can remain gender-neutral these days through the use of "spouse." But "partner" is there to acknowledge the existence of grown-up romantic relationships. If you refer to a "boyfriend," and you're post-college, at an age where people can perfectly well be full-on married, you're referring to the guy you've been kinda seeing lately. (There is a gender difference, such that a grown man referring to a "girlfriend" may be understood as not a bachelor, not gay, as having committed and acknowledged a commitment to a woman, and thus be viewed by those with whichever outlook as reassuringly traditional. It doesn't cut both ways, and probably stops applying if the man is over, say, 35.)

"Partner," in my experience, is used as an umbrella term, with most of what's under said umbrella consisting of... marriages, the rest being long-term presumed-monogamous cohabitations that are either on the cusp of becoming marriages or that for the reasons I've mentioned above (legal, principled, snowflake) are sticking around but not spousal. Once same-sex marriage is legal throughout the country, I suspect that "partner" will cease to be an option. Those now prevented from marrying same-sex partners would do so, the big principled objection would be gone, and what would remain would be esoteric principled objections and snowflakiness.

But for the time being, those who could be legally married but are not have a way of describing their situation. On the one hand, it's worth remembering that marriages are treated differently, and that if you want your relationship to get the respect of a marriage, you might want to think of getting married if that's an option for you, or vocalizing your desire to do so if it were. On the other, it's useful, in professional situations, that there's an efficient, generally-recognized way to describe serious relationships that differentiates them from three-month or three-date this-and-that. And while it's fair, I think, to treat relationships differently on the basis of whether a couple that could marry has gone and done so, it's not fair to treat individuals differently on the basis of marital status. The ambiguity of "partner" isn't necessarily a knock against it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gettin' philosophical

One of my favorite college instructors, philosophy professor Eric Schliesser, posted the following dilemma:

Let's imagine a "friend," a professor in a PhD granting department, who has to write letters of recommendation for her talented PhD students on the market. (No, it's not autobiography. My own students are a few years removed from the market.) Unlike most of her peers she really likes writing detailed letters; she enjoys helping her students and has come to believe that detailed letters are helpful to hiring departments. Now my friends happens to know that two of "her" students are in a serious relationship. Her initial strategy is to keep such personal matters quiet. (Unlike me she dislikes gossiping.) But it occurs to her that hiring departments might find such information useful; the information might, of course, be used to disqualify her students from short-lists, but she reasons that mentioning the (existence and academic virtues of the) other partner also might make her students more interesting as a package to some departments; these might, say, be able to use one search to fill a lot of needs at once (an argument that worked nicely with their ambitious, but cost-sensitive Dean in discussions of her own department's most recent search). Recruitment is expensive, of course, and couples do tend to stay around.

But my friend is also sensitive to the fact that one of her coupled students is really the philosophically weaker of the couple {let's call this mate, "the upwardly mobile mater"}; so mention of the relationship might help the upwardly mobile mater, but maybe hurt the upwardly mobile mater's mate. (To complicate matters the couple has just submitted their joint paper to a journal.) Even leaving aside privacy considerations, would it be ethical to help the career of the upwardly moble mater, and hinder the career of the mate of the upwardly mobile mater? Should any of this information be revealed in a letter of recommendation? Ethics aside, would it be legal to do so in all jurisdictions?
Well. As background, I’m a grad student married to a postdoc at a different institution, in a very different field. Neither of us are in philosophy. While I’m not entirely new to recommendation-letter-writing, I can’t exactly claim to have been there. But I’m left wondering the following:

1) Does the recommender know how serious or stable this relationship is? Whether this couple would maybe be fine with long-distance? (That there even is a romantic relationship?) Not every grad-student couple (or any couple, period) is committed enough to a future together to want to both get tenure at the same place. I quote the great Dan Savage: "Every relationship fails until one doesn't." It can be easy, if you are yourself settled down, to assume "couple" means that person, when in fact people these days - esp the sort who end up in grad school - tend to have relationships with people who are not that person. Plenty of serious couples would not be thrilled if, on shaky terms already, they’re then forced to live out the rest of their professional lives in not only the same locale or even institution, but department. It would be a bit different if either this was a married/engaged couple or an otherwise generally-publicly-recognized one. But from the phrasing, it sounds like speculation, or at the very least some potential rounding-up, on the recommender's part. 

2) Basically, it would seem that the burden is on the couple to make their plans for the future known. Which can be difficult – grad students (and I’ll get to the gender dimension in a moment) are often reluctant to make reference to having a personal life of any kind. So I suppose it's nice that this professor is acknowledging that her students are multidimensional human beings. But the recommender here is making, it seems, too many assumptions. Couldn’t she just somehow demonstrate her receptiveness to hearing what it is her students want for the future, personally (broad outlines) and professionally?

3) What’s the gender breakdown here? Is this a gay or straight couple? If gay, two men or two women? If straight, is the man or the woman the weaker candidate who’d be coming with? I understand that academic philosophy has some… issues when it comes to the atmosphere for and representation of women. As in, is there some part of this that's about bringing more women into the field? If it's a man and a woman and the woman is the stronger of the two, a perk that might make her take a job would be that her dude could come with, although it would seem more the feminist approach (if the recommender has one - my theory changes if it's the reverse) to get that woman the most prestigious job she can land. If she's the weaker, she, you know, comes with. If it's two women, that's... two more women in the field. Two men, and then there's no real gender angle.

Monday, November 12, 2012


We have already discussed at great length, here at WWPD, the overlap between Hurricane Sandy and YPIS. More specifically, the almost instinctive response of right-thinking people inconvenienced (in some cases arguably more than inconvenienced) by the storm, to express gratitude. Otherwise, particularly if your woe involves an Apple product not functioning, you come across as clueless. If you're alive, if your loved ones are alive, and if there's a roof over your head, it could be worse. Whether this is supposed to make you feel better when commuting using trains whose "schedule" changes day-to-day, that stop existing entirely, that connect to shuttle-buses still on a schedule assuming the pre-Sandy train schedule, is another story. (Maybe slightly? I do feel lucky to be on the Northeast Corridor line. If you commute in from somewhere in NJ not on the way to Trenton, you've been pretty much screwed.)

The latest mini-controversy related to complaining and the storm relates to the recent cancellation of the Princeton Half-Marathon. Now, if anything would seem to merit "first-world problems," it would be something like "the Princeton Half-Marathon was cancelled." And the most I've ever run consecutively in my life was maybe nine miles, and that was in college, so this did not, needless to say, impact me personally. When I first saw that this event had been cancelled, I believe it was before the NYC Marathon had been, and I thought, well done, Princeton Half-Marathon, in acknowledging that our region's a big ol' mess.

But then there's this little detail: “'As the 2012 event was cancelled due to conditions beyond our control, registration fees will not be refunded and will be treated as tax-deductible contributions to support HiTOPS’ vital programs and services for youth and their families.'” This from what Planet Princeton reports was the email sent to the would-be runners.

What the email apparently didn't say, but what does seem relevant, is that runners evidently signed some small-print about how if the event was cancelled for a reason such as this, they wouldn't get their money back. Which solves (?) the legal question, but perhaps not the ethical one. Those who sign up to run a race would presumably not do so if they altogether opposed the cause it benefitted, but it's a fair guess that most were interested in running 13.1 miles competitively, not in this particular charity. If they were simply choosing where to donate, it seems unlikely all or most would have gone with this. From what I can tell from the Planet Princeton Facebook coverage, runners don't especially want their money back, more to have that option. One, however, won't have it:

Amazing to me that any of you would complain about donating the money to this horrible catastrophe. Who cares whether it was done the right way or wrong way, just care that it is going to the right place. Complain about something else!!
OK, so this individual is a better person than everyone else, and has creatively opted to demonstrate this by being sanctimonious on the Internet. First off, I see nothing about the "donation" going to anything whatsoever to do with the hurricane. It appears to be something else entirely. Next, even if it did, one doesn't have to be all that cynical about charities to understand that not everyone agrees with how each allots funds. There's no such thing as giving "to this horrible catastrophe" end of story. (Thus the folks warning others not, under any circumstances, to give to the Red Cross.) Moreover, even if such a thing did exist, something's a bit off about compelling people to donate to charity. Even if, again, we know that these people a) had $X to spare, and b) didn't actively disapprove of the organization.

Why am I highlighting this one random comment on something that doesn't even have anything to do with me? Because I think it offers a very good sense of the mood of the moment - the way that YPIS-infused be-grateful is being used to stifle complaints that, if small, are still legitimate.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Poodles and cashmere UPDATED

Dear Bisou,

What was it that made you decide that pulling sweaters out of a drawer and shredding them is now your thing? Were you inspired by the fact that this particular sweater was new (as in, as of a couple days ago, worn once), cashmere, and, while discounted at Uniqlo, still $70 so not exactly cheap? A really gorgeous, well-fitting, wear-it-for-years-type, super-professional-looking camel crewneck. First-world-problems, fine, but this is enough of my budget that I'm not sure it's the best example. (I'm on a bit of a cheapness kick, if not lockdown, until I know exactly what it is I'll be doing after grad school. With exceptions for certain things that contribute to my polished-grown-woman-ness. See: another tub of the Japanese deep-conditioner, and some better-quality - but still $9 - clear nail polish. See: that damn sweater.) But yes, there are greater problems, I myself have greater things to contend with, so by all means, Bisou, have at it. (Like all dog owners, I've Googled "can dogs eat [every possible thing that humans can eat that's fallen on the floor, or that might have, and more]." So let's add cashmere to the list.)

But why, Bisou, why? Is the lesson you're trying to teach me that I need to be neater (i.e. no part of anything poking out of a drawer even a little bit, and anything of any value kept higher than even I can reach), that I should have been more the humble grad student and contented myself with the pilling, worn-out sweaters I already owned? Both, I think. Also confirmation of what I'm always saying, that paying more for better quality almost invariably means one ends up with these precious, delicate, snag-and-stain-ready materials. A sweatshirt, for example, would still be intact. I can't imagine this is a dog-training message, as this is not something you'd done before, and you're not exactly charging after any drawers and/or sweaters right now.



As feared/predicted, repairing this would cost more than the sweater itself. I think this is where I learn how to turn what's left of the sweater into a scarf, or poodle-toy, or who knows.


At NYC taco mini-chain Dos Toros, there's always this sign up about how you may only sit once you've gotten your food, i.e. no grabbing a seat upon entering. While I generally think lists of rules are HMYF (hipsters make your food) preciousness, in this case, it's a fine point. It's better for the establishment if people who have actually purchased something are the only ones sitting, and better for the people who've just bought a meal to be able to sit down to eat. So. After some of the usual haunts (Uniqlo, Housing Works bookstore), we stopped by a certain large-but-crowded Village coffee shop. No signs, alas, and all kinds of people sitting down while a friend went up to get the drinks. This is acceptable in a place with available seats, which wasn't the case.

But what's never acceptable is plopping down with your various Apple products (not plugged in, no wifi, so this wasn't post-Sandy recharging) and a glass of the gratis water from the establishment and no purchased anything, and no friend in line to get drinks. Dude had just parked himself, relying on the privilege inherent in looking like Ultimate Upscale Coffee-Shop Dude (whiteness, yes, but so much more) not to be asked to move aside.

So my husband and I had a little chat about Elaine and the eggroll dare in the Chinese restaurant "Seinfeld" and, in my attempt at becoming a more assertive person, I, beverage in tow, marched right up to dude and explained the situation. But his friend, he assured, was just two blocks away. Of course, as we all know, a friend who's said he's nearby is about to enter the subway in another borough, and we can safely assume that dude, in this situation, was exaggerating the proximity above and beyond whatever his friend had claimed, if there even was a friend. There was a bit more back-and-forth, and yeah, I soon gave up, as did a couple other women who appeared to be trying the same. On our way out, we saw that the friend had indeed arrived, and now it was the friend holding the table. Every man for himself.

Coffee shop breaches in etiquette, that I notice. And cute, fluffy dogs. Shortly after the aforementioned showdown, I was squealing at a couple when I noticed that these were not just any dogs but dogs being walked by Alec Baldwin and his new wife. Alec Baldwin in a really sharp suit. And yes, I watch "30 Rock." This is the second time in recent memory I've noticed a canine before the famous-person walking it. Not sure what to conclude from this.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Let them eat genetically-modified cake

So California won't be labeling its GMOs. I've been slightly following this, and it's a funny issue. On the one hand, those against the labeling come across as very Evil Corporation. On the other, there are some very good reasons not to label things with info that's arguably of no consequence.

Because it isn't just that there will be those who for some actual reason care and are happy things are labeled, and those who don't care and no-harm-done. There will also be others - perhaps the majority of consumers - who do uninformed risk-assessment, and who assume if a product is labeled "without X," surely some expert found conclusively that X is basically distilled ebola virus. Remember Ms. "Everything really needs to be paraben-free for me. I mean, because if I’m going to smoke cigarettes, then I need to be aware of all the other bullshit I’m putting into my body."? That's how actual people think. People assume scientists, bureaucrats, someone knows what what's what, and inasmuch as they know where their food (or moisturizer) comes from, they've outsourced this investigation to others.

As I've mentioned here before, I'm not crazy about efforts to put the responsibility for knowing what's dangerous on individual consumers. But it seems especially problematic for there to be state-mandated labeling. If it's voluntary, it's presumably only impacting some limited sector of the economy, where the consumers are kinda-sorta informed on whichever issue. (Only kinda-sorta - see the people who would prefer to get produce from farms big enough to pay for organic certification than from small local farms.) But if everyone's getting these labels, there will - I promise - be people who think no-GMO means low-fat, or high fiber, or makes your hair shiny, or who knows. (See: the people who think kosher is organic.)

Where the government could be involved, I suppose, is in a) standardizing what whichever voluntary labels mean, b) banning labels that are misleading or inaccurate, and c) investigating whether whichever thing (organic, GMO'd-ness) actually means anything, and if so, actually going and taking whichever problematic stuff off shelves.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Strictly professional: Further reflections on the grown-up Facebook

-I'm kinda liking it. What I like most about Facebook, what keeps me on it, is the rolodex aspect. I'm not saying that's all I use it for, but I on some level think that's all it's good for, and Linkedin pares it down to just that.

-Not sure about the suggested... contacts. (The impulse is to say "friends," yet the purpose is to avoid needing to do so.) I mean, I've exchanged nods with the famous mathematician who lives across the street, but never emails, and I'm quite certain our professional overlap is nil. And of course, as with Facebook, there are the usual let's-move-along-shall-we suggestions (former students, people one went on one date with 100 years ago). I see patterns, but can't figure out where the data come from. Or could but won't be bothered.

-Also massively confused about the etiquette. Because these are contacts and not friends, you don't have to/aren't supposed to add (back) people you know socially, but who aren't in the same field as you? Or is there some kind of character-reference angle, where it helps to show that X-hundred people can vouch for your reasonable-person-ness? I mean, I'm only adding people where there's some kind of professional overlap, and even then feeling altogether pushy, but you know.

-The photo aspect is odd - like a French CV. (So I went with a picture taken in a Brussels Pain Quotidien. Close enough.) As is the prompt to say what year you graduated from college. Is this courting age-based discrimination? (Along similar lines, a posting for a very interesting writing job - job, not internship - notes that medical benefits aren't part of the deal. Is this because up to 26, that's now often taken care of? Is it, in other words, a way of saying the elderly, i.e. late-20-somethings, need not apply? Or is this just, as PG once helpfully noted in the comments, verbal skills aren't all that marketable?)

Asians are the new Jews: political edition

Bloomberg has the scoop:

Romney won among all voters making more than $100,000 a year by a margin of 54-44. Asian-Americans happen to be the highest-earning group in the U.S., out-earning whites, and they generally place enormous emphasis on family. A perfect fit for Republicans, no? 
No. Asians voted for Obama by 73-26; they were more Democratic than Hispanics.
Sounds familiar! How, then, do we explain it? Here's how Bloomberg does:
The GOP is overwhelmingly white and insistently, at times militantly, Christian. Democrats, by contrast, are multiracial with a laissez faire attitude toward religion and spirituality. If you were a black-haired Buddhist from Taipei or a brown-skinned Hindu from Bangalore, which party would instinctively seem more comfortable?
I, black-haired, white-skinned, and third-or-fourth generation American, hear that. But I think there's more to it. Which candidate represented meritocracy? Romney and his side talked the talk, whereas Obama & Co walk the walk. So there was the Obama talking about helping the unfortunate - the not-so-bootstrap words. But there was also the Obama existing as a living example of ascent via education. That's a narrative that'll resonate more than, say, what Romney had to offer by way of noblesse-oblige. And for the record (the vaunted WWPD record, whatever that is), no, not all Asian-Americans are meritocratic Amy Chuas. But the question here is really about why high-earning Asian-Americans voted as they did.

And this isn't even particularly about the fact that Obama looks ethnically ambiguous (or unambiguously non-white, depending who's asking), whereas Romney is probably the whitest-looking person since Ward Cleaver, spray-tan notwithstanding. It's not not about race, but it's more that the Obama narrative will seem familiar if aspirational, whereas the Romney one, not so much. Meanwhile, obviously most who voted for Romney can't identify with having a car elevator. But they maybe can identify with ending up in life more or less where their parents did.

WWPD Guides: complaining post-storm


-Your home was damaged, but not altogether swept away by the storm.

-Your subway/train (or a viable alternative) continues to run, but your commute now takes twice as long and is twice as crowded.

-You have not had power/heat/hot water/Internet for a week or more, or for at least two days with no message re: when it's being restored. Assuming you have perspective, you're allowed to complain even if the electricity being off doesn't mean some machine that literally keeps you alive will stop working. Nor do you need to engage in Luddite romanticism about how great it is to sit by candlelight, or - horrors - how refrigeration is overrated. If anything, refrigeration isn't given its proper due. (Says the person who optimistically bought replacement ricotta, despite living somewhere where three raindrops means the power will go out.)


-Complaining about a loss of power in your home to anyone who'll pick up, from your cellphone, on an extra-crowded rush-hour NJ Transit train. Yes, dude behind me this morning, I'm talking about you. A shame that you've been without power, but guess what - by virtue of their presence on this train, they either are or until very recently were in your situation, or maybe worse.

-A momentary blackout lowered your inhibitions, causing you to OMG eat carbs.

-Your hair is a millimeter longer than you like it, and OMG your salon doesn't have power.

-You had to relocate to the Upper East Side, from SoHo, and uptown people are so square. I know, it's a pain to have to go to the Sephora on 86th Street rather than the one on lower Broadway, to the Barneys flagship rather than the Barneys Co-ops downtown. Uptown and downtown have been near-identical upscale malls (but with really good food, admittedly mostly downtown) since forever. Complain about relocation, but if you've relocated from SoHo or Tribeca, edgy you ain't.

-Your complaint, whatever it is, has been featured in the NYT Styles pages.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

"Exotic" Jews and more

-Electricity returned, Obama won. Lights are now flickering again. Is Romney, too, planning a surprise return?

-A friend forwarded me Roy Greenslade's enthusiastic endorsement of (the eternally wonderful) Hadley Freeman's take-down of Stephanie Theobald's evidently bizarre (but behind-a-paywall) article about The Jews, an "exotic" people in Britain, it seems, not in the days of Walter Scott, but in good ol' 2012. There's evidently a reference in Theobald's story to "the attraction of the monetary rewards connected with being Jewish." As a seventh-year PhD student in the humanities, you see where I'm going with this.

But I'm not sure I'd put it as Freeman (sarcastically) did: "We Jews really are so very Other, what with spooky voodoo ways and our foreign accents." Because, like, yes, there's the Jews-these-days-are-undifferentiated-white-people (in the US or parts of it, at least - Freeman is, I believe, an American who lives/did live in the UK) argument. But non-Western religions and accents, these wouldn't merit an "exotic," either.

-A nice sentiment, or oddly trickle-down?

-I'm on, somewhat baffled by, Linkedin. (And hoping that via relatively passive means, I'll find places to publish my musings on YPIS and parents who write about their own children. Otherwise, assertiveness might god forbid be in order.) You can see who's viewed your profile? Given that upon getting on the site, I went and viewed the profiles of everyone I'd ever met, ever (or, everyone suggested or a friend-of-a-friend with whom I have even the faintest professional overlap), and only just now changed the settings, hmm. So, on the off-chance that whoever these individuals may be (and I can honestly say I've since forgotten), I promise that notification you got is in no way evidence of my having, you know, looked you up. But if you read this and are a writer/editor of some kind, whom I know however vaguely...

-Speaking of the parenting-memoir, some impressive dirty laundry was Fresh-Aired recently, and I got to listen while on the slow-motion commute. This was a tough one, though - I felt totally sympathetic to the parents of a gay 16-year-old son who, despite their acceptance of him, tried to commit suicide. You really get the sense that they want the best for their son, and for others in their situation. With maybe a hint of, they want to make it abundantly clear to the world that despite their son's difficulties, they've been thoroughly not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-that from the get-go. There's something about the interview where you keep thinking that the kid being described is either a) currently a young child, b) so mentally incapacitated as to be unlikely to find this memoir/podcast, or c) long since grown up, happy ending, proud of his parents for writing this book. And then you realize/remind yourself that this is a reasonably intelligent 16-year-old kid, who knows about the project and, according to his parents, consented to it. As much as any kid still at home can have a say in such a matter.

The interview got me thinking about just what it is that I find so unsettling about this genre. I suppose what it comes down to is, whose story is this to tell? If you were/are diagnosed with a mental illness, been put on anti-psychotic medication, if you've tried to kill yourself, these are things you might one day choose to disclose - to a close friend, a partner, maybe in a memoir if that's your thing. But these are not facts about yourself that you'd necessarily want others to know before meeting you. They'd impact all kinds of things - who will hire you, date you, etc. - but even assuming a world of perfect open-mindedness, maybe you just want to keep some stuff to yourself. (Setting aside the question of whether any teen, gay or otherwise, however out in day-to-day life or on Facebook or whatever, should have his sexuality discussed in a memoir, on NPR. And I really do mean straight kids also - at 16, I wouldn't have appreciated my own first-crush stories being shared by my parents on public radio.) Dude has a common-enough name, but not that common.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Until further notice

It was Monday, October 29th in my French class (and all students showed up!), is Halloween in New Jersey, and is evidently November 5th on the calendar.

The morning train, which I'd been dreading, could have been so much worse. I, like everyone, left earlier to arrive later, but this was to be expected. I also stood for most of it, ahem, being evidently alone on NJ Transit in thinking one is supposed to get up and let a woman who looks about to give birth sit down, a woman who once seated started iPad Googling, what else, nanny murder ny. And it was all very Louis C.K.'s monologue, minus the bit about the life lessons. Yeah, I paused, didn't leap up, but quickly remembered that this woman who was like twelve months pregnant had probably also not had power for days, and yet was commuting into work. And then I stood crowded-subway-style for five years as the weekend-schedule-with-delays train crawled into Penn Station. Yes, I'm a wonderful person. But if one of the many people my fellow passenger had already walked by had gotten up first, I think I'd have been OK with that.

But at least I got on the train. That, these days, is no longer a given, and on the trip back (and I didn't even go at rush hour!), I very nearly did not. That leg of the journey confirmed that people used to the comforts of driving are very often useless on public transportation. Their idea of personal space is such that sardine-style is unacceptable. So there will clearly be room in a car, but it's very "I-can't-spare-a-square." Car after car was like, sorry, suckahs, until the last one had some reasonable people who let me (and some more) squeeze on. Then, not long after the first stop, I got a seat, using the time-honored NJ Transit method of not being afraid of sitting next to a black man.

It does not take much to feel like the gold standard for human decency on NJ Transit, I will say this much.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Class, politics, class

All is back to normal-ish in these parts. Tree limbs are looking a bit less precarious, and I've calmed down some from my maniacal cooking-and-baking-because-OMG-electricity extravaganza. The storm's truly minor inconveniences are now making themselves apparent, most notably that all this happened when I was on the cusp of getting a drivers license. Parallel parking for hours on end becomes kind of a silly use of fuel, given current limitations, not to mention that the streets are tough enough to navigate (branches, debris, lack of traffic lights) for experienced drivers. I'm now day-to-day focused on the various challenges, for myself and my students, of getting to class. (NJ Transit on a special schedule should be... interesting, but at least it's now running? And walking from Penn Station to NYU isn't so far, right?)

So, the election. Polling places have changed in Princeton and elsewhere due to the obvious, and unless you happen to have/pick up a land line and/or have with-it friends posting about this on Facebook, you will go to the wrong spot. This, along with the number of others on Facebook unsure if they are even registered to vote (and I'm thinking they may be thinking about this too late), is somewhat distressing, when one considers the larger-scale implications. It seems entirely possible in this day and age to seem politically aware, yet for one reason or another, not vote. Oh well. I'm not sure I seem anything-aware, post-storm, but unless NJ Transit screws up in some unanticipated way, I'm voting on Tuesday for sure.

Anyway, to my storm-addled mind, some of the storm news stories brought to mind the nanny-murder coverage, especially the one about the crane accident "at what is supposed to be the city’s tallest building with residences and which has become a trophy address for some of the world’s richest people." Although with $90 million apartments, and with the story being quite different (not about singling out individuals but rather a building itself, and no mommy wars), this I didn't find so controversial. But the location of the storm brings up "coastal-elites" anxieties. Was this a story about nature as the great equalizer? Or was it one about disasters being only disastrous for the poor?

The reality is, of course, a bit of both - there are many times when it helps to be rich (loss of a summer home =/= homelessness), or not-poor (the option of occasional meals/coffee out when electricity fails at home but not in town nearby), and others (the falling-tree-limb example comes to mind; as does the difficulty of fleeing from anywhere, upscale or not, if roads are closed, trains aren't running, and fuel's in short supply) when it does not. The SNL bit about white people in NYC being upset that they can't watch HBO started clever but ultimately in poor taste, not to mention inaccurate (Staten Island, ahem). I can see this mobilizing people over the 1%, or the 0.001%, but my guess is the Conversation to come out of this will be more about infrastructure and climate change. This storm showed that the butler-will-deal-with-it class contains not so many people, even in the coastal Northeast, after all.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Electricity, snooping

First, the lights came back on. Last night, just over four full days since they'd gone out. It was unreal. Then, a few hours later, the wireless returned. Heat and hot water must have happened overnight, so this morning was one of those post-camping-trip-type showers. Wonderful.

So, on a more traditional WWPD note, on the theme of parents sharing their kids' dirty laundry, the NYT (sorry, Sigivald) is quite literally inviting parents to do this. In what universe is it socially acceptable to go into a teenager's bedroom, photograph it, and send said photo to a national newspaper?

Friday, November 02, 2012

In defense of: complaining about inconvenience

With the storm, there's been this immense outpouring of gratitude. Everyone on Facebook (my main contact with the outside world) is incredibly grateful. Due to the particularities of modern technology, I can occasionally check email/Facebook, can get on wireless for snippets of the day, but I can't take a warm shower, wash dishes in hot water, turn on a light, plug anything in, keep anything refrigerated, cook anything in the oven, or be anything but freezing in the apartment. (On the bright side, this may eliminate the need for a refrigerator, at least for all-but-dairy.) Things like a dishwasher and wireless internet will be truly above-and-beyond if/when restored.

I too have expressed thankfulness, including online, and will go on doing so. I'm grateful for an intact roof, for running water, for a husband who knows how to set up a fireplace, for a warm, furry lap dog, and, of course, for the luck thus far wrt falling tree limbs. But I'm not sure about the hyper-gratitude approach. I know that people mean well, but I'm not sure it's any great comfort to those who are screwed over (seriously, or just seriously inconvenienced) by this storm to get onto Facebook and learn how grateful some friend-of-a-friend is that he only lost power for five minutes, and how it really made him think.

For the people who were made to think, and then went out and volunteered somewhere, and are telling others how to join, that's something else. But there's a great deal of... I'm not sure what the right term for this is. On the site I'm using to check local news, there are all these people (no one I know personally) patting themselves on the back for having been nice to their baristas or power-company workers, and it's like, by all means, be appreciative, don't throw a hissy fit, Serenity Now. People explaining that one must use this time to teach children to be grateful and not to complain. And yeah, whining is poor form.

But at the same time, there are times when complaining is kind of the natural human response. I haven't had power since Monday evening, and it's unclear when it'll be restored. While that's certainly not the worst thing to happen to anyone, or even to me personally, it pretty much sucks. Assuming that complaining is in proportion to the problem, that you keep a sense of perspective, is this really so terrible? And are there really people out there not complaining, or is non-complaining a behavior smugly referred to online, but almost never practiced in real life?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

With tiny-violin music playing on the waahmbulence radio


-NYC-centrism and the storm: On the one hand, commenter Sigivald has noted that I no longer live in NYC, and should thus stop getting my news from the NYTimes. On the other, that's where there is regional news. Or so it seemed until I began following the very useful Planet Princeton on Facebook. But I'm trying to figure out what's going on around NYU and where I live, not to mention the mess of trains and roads needed to get from Point A to Point B, so I do need to be following the NYC news as well. Of course, there's this thing where the city is kind of like, OK, that's done with, now let's move on with life, and I'm sitting at home (or escaped to a library) and reminiscing fondly about refrigeration, non-cold showers. It ain't over till it's over, everywhere, not just in places the subway goes. (Didn't love the Facebook post from someone I don't really know, about hehe the people who live with their parents in Jersey. Some of us just live in Jersey, and would arguably be a good bit better-off in the storm if we did still live at home with our parents. Don't judge!)

-And 3G makes it all the stranger - by virtue of having (some) Internet access, I feel somehow lumped in with the people who are thinking about those who were actually screwed over by this storm. While I'm certainly grateful for having not been hit by a falling tree (a form of gratitude one has all the time, if at lower levels, living where I do), I'm not quite prepared to put myself in the aren't-we-so-very-very-lucky camp. There are, like, busses to a local gym that's permitting the more cold-water-averse academics to shower. The device-recharging station was a zoo. Not having power loses its quaint charm (fireplace notwithstanding) after a while. "Hurricane comfort food"? Not under the conservation-of-matches and no-refrigeration regime. There are maybe five distinct reasons baking is impossible.

-Will NYU begin before NJ Transit does (likely), and which impossible combination of 4am busses will make getting to class on Monday possible?


-How to get through it: A storm is not the moment for Literature, at least not in the nouveau-roman sense of the term. I just sped through the first volume of "Tales of the City," picked up at a used-book sale a couple weeks ago. I'm in 1970s San Francisco, not quasi-rural NJ in a blackout. I'm thinking every last look-this-novel-I-might-one-day-want-to-read-is-just-a-dollar purchase is going to come in handy.

-DVDs. Remember those? Never mind that it's a bunch of Seinfeld and Nanny, and episodes I've seen a million times, because I never really got into buying DVDs, and that's what there is. Regardless, it helps to have that option.

-I got to stay home and cuddle a poodle for a whole week rather than wake up in the dark and commute on NJ Transit. I don't have the alcohol tolerance necessary for the more sophisticated, hard-liquor approach to a blackout, but this one isn't so bad.