Friday, February 28, 2014


Looks like Natasha at sylvides (via), and I agree about the not-so-liberating aspects of anti-fashion fashion.

But it's always going to be a conundrum. The natural/comfortable look gives an advantage to the naturally what-society-deems-beautiful, in a way that more outrageous looks do not. But if the world is going to tell me that a decade-old fleece is Fashion, I'm also kind of OK with that.

Ellen Page (still) won't date you

Brain is mush from the inevitable cold-weather-doesn't-cause-colds-or-does-it cold, so I will leave you with a post I'd thought up back when my brain was somewhat less mushy, but have written in the full-on-mush state:

It's often said that gay actors and actresses can't come out because of the legions of mostly-hetero crush-bearing fans. And whenever this comes up, I wonder the same thing: why? Do fans imagine they actually have a chance with celebrities? If Harry Styles turns out to be gay (and I have no opinion on the matter), does that make him significantly less available to the girls and women 12-42 with crushes on him? Does the fact that Ellen Page is an out lesbian mean that you, shlub, no longer stand a chance with her, considering that the presumed-straight-until-stated-otherwise Page also wouldn't have given you a second look?

I understand there's a parallel phenomenon of every good-looking male actor being told to come out already by a portion of his gay male fan base, when this, too, may be wishful thinking... or maybe he's been spotted at whichever clubs and this is known in some circles, circles that don't include my bit of suburban Central NJ. Perhaps this isn't such a thing with good-looking actresses (or does one now say female actors?), what with the female-sexuality-is-fluid presumption. There's always the chance that men would be titillated by an actress coming out; when actors do, their screaming female fans, what, go into mourning?

I suppose what makes me wonder why this is a thing is that my own preferred male celebrities tend to be multilevel unattainable - like, gay or dead, gay and dead, or probably alive and probably straight but not what they were in 1980 or whatever, or Keanu Reeves, or possibly attainable but I've seen them walking around Park Slope and when not onscreen, they're nothing special. (Not naming names, but this could probably be inferred.) Part of this is that I'm married and thus not looking to date anybody, famous or otherwise, but even when single, the list would have been more or less the same. I didn't and don't stand a chance with celebrities, and that's just fine. (Exception: the 1990s B-list sitcom actor, now dating a famous model, who shot me an admiring glance once in Los Angeles. But he was never one of my favorites. This is merely an exception-that-proves-the-rule humblebrag.)

Never-gonna-happen is part of the fun of the celebrity crush, and basically defines it. The leap necessary to imagine that Mila Kunis would drop Ashton for you is so huge that it can't possibly matter what Kunis's sexual orientation is. Once you're using your imagination, you can imagine whatever you please. As long as you're leaving the people in question alone, you can imagine them at whichever age, with whichever taste, that you like.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Random food-themed keeping-track-of-links roundup

-I do like David Lebovitz's disclaimer to his recipe for an impressive-looking red wine poached pear tart: "For those who don’t drink wine, there’s no swap out for it in this dessert I’m afraid." You can just see him anticipating the commenters who, despite objecting to wine as an ingredient, see this recipe where wine is clearly an essential ingredient - the first named in the recipe title! - and then insist on asking how they, too, can partake.

-Before I make that, however, I plan to make the Cooking With Dog custard pudding a second time. It came out great the first, but had to sit in the fridge for a couple days before it set. It also had to steam for maybe twice as long as directed, but that may have been that the heat was on too low. Whatever the case, it seems vaguely miraculous to make crème caramel from scratch. Technically I ate these as puddings, but if all goes according to plan, this time I'll actually overturn the ramekins for full effect.

-Mark Bittman's essay about a very down-to-earth jaunt through France and Italy supports or really is the hypothesis of Alison Pearlman's Smart Casual.

-Former food critic Frank Bruni takes a brave stand against pickitarianism. As a commenter points out, Bruni might have mentioned that other food critic's book on the same topic.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Inadvertent cheapness triumph

I give up. I fail at shopping. I may be a heterosexual woman who grew up in New York, who studied French, who in stereotyped principle ought to be all about this, but at the end of the day, nope. I'm terrible at it.

I had spent the entire winter admiring a particular pair of Alpine brown leather hiking boots. They kept fluctuating in price from around $240 to around $310. I could imagine paying the former (as the previous such pair was one I wore from freshman year of high school until college), but not quite the latter. I'd been trying to find this kind of shoe for years, but kept wavering. $240 is still too much! Or is it? Yes! Or is it? Gah!

Finally, I realized that my lack of proper boots was causing, like, day-to-day inconvenience (the ice!), and when the boots dipped down once more to their lowest price, I hit "purchase." And then was like, maybe that was a mistake? So much money! But you can't cancel things so easily on Amazon once you've ordered them (I wouldn't think you could at all, but they offer this as a pseudo-option), so I figured, maybe forces greater than myself thought I should get the boots.

And then, lo and behold, the boots! So beautiful! So... enormous. For some reason, this company considers a 40 a U.S. women's 8. I'm a 7.5/8, which is more like a 38-39, which means these were not any kind of improvement over my existing footwear which, if nothing else, mostly fits. These basically slid off as I walked in them. So I put them back in the box, and sulked over to the mailroom with the return label and the boots.

Well, the return shipping label. Because I almost never shop online, and when I do, generally keep what I've bought because the process is so daunting, I'd forgotten to include the label that goes into the box. Much panic, much apologizing, and much humiliating myself before the mailroom staff on my second visit, I think I got the package right, and that the boots will be returned. Will I be ordering them in a smaller size? I think not.

Monday, February 24, 2014


I've written again about unpaid internships. The point I was most eager to make was about the transformation of the "arts" job. It used to be that starving artists were artists, whereas now, any office work that's remotely "arts" is unpaid. No one is forced to buy your novel or painting. But if you're doing administrative work that has some tangential relationship to art, you're still doing tasks you wouldn't otherwise, for an entity other than yourself, and that's work in the usual sense. Yet we've normalized the idea that any "arts" job is a dream job that need not pay. This is particularly frustrating for artists, whose connections and interests - and thus plausible day jobs - will be in the arts-broadly-defined.

But the point that probably most needed making was that "prepared" is subjective, and changes according to the supply of applicants with unpaid experience. Consider this comment to the piece:

I think it depends on the industry. In my profession, experience is everything. Every intern I have seen at our office would be woefully inadequate as either an entry level Legal Secretary or a Paralegal. I don't think we would ever hire anyone who hadn't interned somewhere and at least had not only the school background but some experience as well.
This commenter unfortunately doesn't spell out where the purported inadequacies lie. Is it that these are silly youth who show up late or in flip-flops, and who continue to do so even once advised against? Or is it that they've never worked at a law firm before (I'd think graduates who'd never worked at all would be unusual!) and thus require some on-the-job training? I suspect the latter.

If there weren't applicants with internship experience - if internships weren't a thing - surely this firm would hire people without that experience, would show them how to merge spreadsheets or whatever the issue is, and would, as they say, deal. That's how it went when I worked in an office before grad school, back in 2005-2006, when a college degree sufficed.* I mean, which is more likely - that something has radically changed in the skills required of legal secretaries, or that employers now have the option of hiring entry-level applicants who've already done what used to be entry-level jobs, for free?

*There's one line of thought - which I've addressed before - that says, the problem isn't unpaid internships, but rather the insistence on higher education. This might make sense - and not just be changing the topic to an also-important but separate issue - if unpaid internships weren't virtually always in conjunction with higher education. Sometimes you're even paying tuition to complete the internship. If there were some unpaid-internship track, with actual training, this would be a potentially worthwhile conversation. Instead, it's that you go to college and find that the unpaid internships you did as a student qualify you for unpaid postgraduate internships.

Cluttered thoughts about "holistic" and campus assault

Rape on campus is in the news again, because, presumably, of the prestige of the campus where the rapes in question happened. Whenever the topic of violence along these lines comes up, at whichever school, I always want to say the same thing: skip the school, call the cops. This is true whether or not fraternities are involved. (For more on the Flanagan article, see Miss Self-Important.)

My advice, then, to any college students reading this: If something goes wrong, you'd be better off thinking of yourself as an 18-19-year-old who just happens to live in whichever jurisdiction than as a member of your campus community. At least at first. Once things have been sorted out, you can then bring up issues relating to the culture of the campus, or the student status of the young man in question.

So why don't young women in such situations just call 911? Why is the first thought to go to the school? Maybe it's something idealistic about wanting to change a misogynistic culture at whichever institution, or maybe it's the disillusion over the fact that a school that offers however many courses in gender studies somehow allowed this to happen. Maybe it's that some such instances are sufficiently ambiguous (i.e. tremendous amounts of alcohol were involved all around) that a young woman is correct in thinking her claim wouldn't stand up in court, but does point to a problem with how campus social life is organized. 

Maybe this, maybe that, but ultimately, there are plenty of clear-cut cases - not just of rape, but of other forms of legally-defined abuse - that go to the school rather than the cops simply because, if you're barely out of high school, and have been fed a certain myth about what college is all about. College isn't just the place you take classes. It's your all-encompassing, holistic community. It's your gym, your dining hall, your social life, your movies and musical performances.

That warm and fuzzy community, for which everyone's been - if we're talking an even slightly selective school - hand-plucked for their impeccable character, well, that community includes whichever man gave or is giving you criminally-actionable problems, if he's also a student. He won't merely be innocent until proven guilty as in a court of law. He may end up never really charged, just charged with breaking school policy, which at the end of the day doesn't mean anything. The school might agree that an incident occurred, but simply not do anything about it.

"Holistic" has, in a sense, replaced in loco parentis. By definition, nothing terrible could happen at college, among students, because of the impossibly high bar set to be a student at whichever institution. Once every student is officially of upstanding character, as vs. merely someone who met whichever academic requirements, it becomes that much more complicated to make sense of how students can be criminally terrible to one another.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On discovering that one's boyfriend used to date Ms. Soda Stream

-Lena Dunham's boyfriend used to date Scarlett Johansson. Why is this fascinating? Oh, but it is. It asks us all to wonder how we'd feel if we learned that our significant others used to date noted heartthrobs. Or, I suppose, how we'd feel if our high school significant others went on to date super-successful writer-actor-etc. sorts, but honestly, there's no way I could identify with Johansson rather than Dunham in this scenario. So would it be a badge of honor, or a source of anxiety?

-Parental overshare isn't going anywhere. This is, meanwhile, a writer who once held forth on a popular podcast about how one of her sons is better-looking than the other(s?). Why, people, why?

-Curious what Rachel Hills thinks of this article. Me personally? It made me think that attempts to figure out Female Desire - or, for that matter, male - stumble when people want to believe that their experience is universal, and that those who don't experience the same are in denial. Like when gay men from places without much openness about that topic sometimes apparently assume that all men experience same-sex attraction, but generally repress it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

"Model Ana is 5'9" and wearing a small" UPDATED

Not sure what to think about Free People using its own customers as models. On the one hand, modeling is such a weird profession - a job where the point is to be judged almost exclusively on your appearance, where you'll be referred to as a "girl" either if you are one (in which case, why have you been hired to model women's clothes?) or because that's just how it is. Regular people (not that models are irregular, sigh, lest the Beautiful Woman Anti-Defamation League arrive) may do a better job of showing how clothes actually look.

I mean, consider my recent t-shirt dilemma. "Model Ana is 5'9" and wearing a small," they say, leaving me with no idea what size would be appropriate at 5'2", not even to get into other ways in which I differ physically from the Ana in question. So it's not just the body-image concerns that models being so uniformly tall and thin can contribute to. It's also just frustrating, for those of us without particularly strong spatial reasoning, to translate in our minds from how stuff looks on a model to how it could possibly look on us.

On the other, the whole thing kind of reeks of corporate sleaze. As Dhani Mau puts it:

[I]t’s a whole lot less expensive than hiring Karlie Kloss — the chosen customers will be alerted to their new model status, but not compensated. In fact, since the subjects bought the clothes they’re wearing, it’s almost like they paid Free People to be models.
Indeed. If you're modeling, you should be paid, whether or not you resemble Ms. Kloss. Meanwhile, if you go to the Free People site and look at the actual execution, you find what, exactly? A bunch of women who look like models, but without any indication of their heights or measurements. And then if you click on the image, you're brought to a photo of... a regular model in the same garment, informing you that the model is 5'10" and wearing - you guessed it! - a size small.


And it only now occurs to me how neatly the new campaign goes with the brand's name!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lactose intolerance

There's another round of milk-cow debate. Women are giving it away for free! "It" being the sex that feminists pretend women enjoy, but as everyone knows deep down, it's merely something women put up with in exchange for being able to say "my husband" one day. What, that has not been your experience? That means you're an aberration or - better yet - that you're lying to yourself to make a feminist point, feminist. (Must I provide a sarcasm hashtag for theoretical new readers not aware that I consider myself a feminist?)

Anyway, what I always wonder whenever Ross Douthat or someone else goes down this road is, let's say it's true. Let's say the cows are giving away the milk for free, and that all these elite-milieu marriages that began with what would be derisively termed "hook-ups" are not in fact the stable marriages we imagine, or actually began with Hasidic courtship rituals. Sure, there was less divorce when divorce wasn't a viable possibility. But were there perhaps some drawbacks to the old order? Terrible marriages that couldn't be escaped? Unplanned pregnancies that couldn't be ended, or, for that matter, contracepted? At best, there are pros and cons to both orders. It so often seems as if the Golden Age arguments imagine that when there were fewer options, no one thought to want otherwise. What about Emma Bovary? She thought otherwise, and it probably wasn't because of anything Gloria Steinem said.


Is this meta enough for you? I wrote a dissertation largely about discussions of intermarriage in 19th century French-Jewish newspapers. And now I've written about intermarriage in 19th century France in an American-Jewish newspaper. Go read it!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The snake-oil paradox

I keep hearing that shampoo creates the need to shampoo, moisturizer the need to moisturize, and now, chapstick the need to use chapstick. What does it all mean?

As appealing as it is, from a Cheapness-Studies perspective, to believe this, or in more Gwyneth-compatible terms, as intriguing as it is from a toxin-avoiding standpoint, I do wonder. It makes sense that companies would want to get you hooked on something, to create a need for a something useless. See also: skim milk makes you fat! (Meanwhile, anything but skim tastes disgusting on cereal.) See also, also: hair-ironing. Gives you shiny hair, but also split ends, such that if you then don't flat-iron, you get more frizz than you would otherwise.

I tend to think there's enough truth to this that unless you can locate an actual, identifiable problem, you shouldn't introduce a product. Meaning, if your face isn't giving you any specific concern (other than not looking 16 anymore, yet producing the occasional zit just to spite you), you don't need to 'take care of your skin,' apart from, I don't know, soap and, if relevant, sunscreen. You don't need to apply random creams in the hope of it looking in some unclassifiable way better (i.e. younger), and indeed, doing so has an excellent chance of making it look worse (i.e. the possibilities are endless).

But, like, chapped lips! Which some of us may have had until splurging on that French beeswax product in the little tub! Which may return, in this weather, if we stop using this product! Such a chicken-and-egg problem, this. Sometimes there will be an identifiable problem that predates the snake-oil purchase, so it's not entirely in our head. For those without the funds or leisure time to spend half the week at the dermatologist (and do they even address frizz?), some medically-questionable products seem more or less inevitable.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Belated New Years Resolutions

-Pitch an article every morning, work on mysterious and exciting writing projects every afternoon.

-Do said afternoon work somewhere other than the apartment, which is full of distractions:

-Learn how to parallel park. Like how to actually do it, not just for a road test, or with someone walking me through it.

In defense of posting photos of your food

Setting aside the question of why photographing one's food would be a "food selfie," here's what I want to know: why is it such a thing to denounce the taking and sharing of photos of food? Some Guardian commenters liken it to posting photos of the scatological result of food consumption, but even those less viscerally repulsed seem to object for a great many reasons. If you photograph your food, you're apparently doing so rather than eating it. (Not sure I follow the logic - assuming a smartphone, chances are, your food hasn't gotten cold. There seems to be a mistaken belief that once someone takes the photo, they must immediately go onto whichever social media site to post the photo and browse others.) If it's interesting food you're photographing, you're a braggart and a snob; if it's just the usual, it's 'who cares?', so basically you can't win.

I'm afraid I don't see the problem with taking pictures of your food and posting those pictures on social media. Of all the things one can post, it strikes me as among the least offensive. You're not sharing secrets, or whining. You're not letting all who weren't invited to whichever party know what they'd missed out on. You're sharing an experience - solitary, as far as everyone else is concerned, if it's just a photo of the food. You're recommending a recipe idea or establishment - you're providing a service!

Smartphones and the like have introduced so many frightening things - the family that opted to watch "Mean Girls" without headphones on NJ Transit being just one; the impossibility of being a teenager at a party outside the potential view of your parents and future employers being another. Is "food porn" really such a concern?

The only ways I could see food-posting going wrong are a) if the food photos are truly nauseating, like some kind of stew that may taste great but looks like vomit, b)  if they're accompanied by 'my life is so wonderful' text, or c) if the photos are only of upscale establishments in exotic locales, for months on end, with text about how such places are overrated. And yet it's rarely along those lines. You ate an excellent croissant? By all means, post a picture - the worst that happens is I'll be inspired to seek out a croissant.

Maybe, then, the objection is fundamentally to phones, camera-having or otherwise, being out in restaurants. That much I could understand. The whole dynamic of a phone out changes a dinner. It gives the impression that the person whose phone is out would rather be somewhere else, or is so important that headquarters will summon them at any time. If you're the one whose phone is stowed away (or - but I've gotten better about this! - forgotten at home), it seems as if you're more invested in the dinner than your companion. If someone else's phone is out, I tend to feel (or used to - I think I stopped caring about this) that mine should be as well.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The sisterhood of ma'am

At a certain point in my life, I went from miss to ma'am. Because I was living in France at the time, it went by the more charming name of "madame," but the gist was the same. The world started to see me as a woman, not a girl. While I could selectively interpret the world's reaction, focusing on the rare recent instances (OK, instance, singular) of being mistaken for a high school student, it is what it is.

Ever since this transition, I find that I'm approached all the time by women of a certain age. What age? Older than I am, but not elderly. These women tend to be (as much as I can tell) of my own heritage, but not always - yesterday the woman was (as much as I can tell) East Asian. On the street in a city (New York or Philadelphia), in grocery stores. They make all manner of small talk with me, as if we're neighbors in some shtetl of yore.

I know we must allow for all possibilities, but I'm quite certain that these women are not hitting on me. They're not nervously or aggressively approaching me, just letting me know, if I happen to be standing near them, how disappointed they are that the doughnut place has run out of their preferred flavor, but that the flavor that's left is too rich.

And I don't think I'm doing anything to invite their attention. I'm not someone who's generally big on small talk with strangers - some combination of my personality and the training one gets if one begins taking public transportation to school alone at age 10. I don't emit 'friendly' to all, just to this one narrow demographic of middle-aged women, who will just kind of sidle up to me and start chatting. It didn't used to happen, but now that I'm a ma'am, it does.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's cheer

-Jews and anti-Semites in love. Whodathunk? OK, I'dathunk, given that one of the novels I discussed at (such) length in my dissertation was about a couple whose love is actually based on one being an anti-Semite, the other a Jew.

-If Valentine's Day wasn't already making you feel terrible, what with the consumerism and the heteronormativity and the exclusion of the not-coupled, Mark Bittman provides one more reason: underpaid waitstaff. In one sense, fair enough - the system's a mess, given that not everyone always knows (nor is it always even the case) that servers are paid extremely low hourly wages and almost fully rely on tips. And yet, why pick the day that, as Bittman points out, "is the second busiest restaurant day of the year" to inspire feelings of customer guilt? What that second-busiest business tells us is that a lot of people who don't normally eat in restaurants - likely because they can't afford it - are doing so today. The scenario Bittman evokes - the exploited waitress who has to serve you, you ungrateful rich person to whom it wouldn't have occurred to treat a waitress as human were it not for Bittman's op-ed - seems especially not relevant on this day.

-The "Princeton Mom" is at it again, with special Valentine's Day 2014 observations about cows and free milk. The wrong in the op-ed is so abundant that it drowns out the right. (By "wrong" I also mean, "You should be spending far more time planning for your husband than for your career," and yes, at least every other sentence.) Hyperbole sells, as does anything that reminds women over 25 of their objective repulsiveness to men (ahem!), which is unfortunate, because buried underneath the retro and sexist link-bait are some valid points. Both that there's nothing wrong with settling down (relatively) young if that's when you meet the right person, and that it's really difficult to meet someone when you're no longer in school. Whether you're a man, a woman, or any of the other 56 Facebook-recognized possibilities.

The taboos that govern dating among non-students are immense, so cross that with the reduced opportunities to meet people generally, and indeed, options are slim. But it's mostly the issue of taboos. You will meet people outside of school, but, as Princeton Mom says, it's complicated: "You'll no doubt meet some eligible guys in your workplace, but it's hazardous to get romantically involved with co-workers." Co-workers are generally out, as of course are bosses and employees, but so, too, are friends, because it's creepy, in the world of non-students, to hit on one's friends. It gives the impression that the friendship was all along a front for a longterm plan of seduction. Meanwhile, strangers are off-limits, because they're just trying to ride the subway/drink their beverage/walk down the street in peace. Sure, they might turn out to like you back, but if they don't, you've made them feel uncomfortable.

There are good reasons for each of these rules individually. But the net result, with so many spaces safe from romance, is that there's virtually no spontaneous way to meet someone outside of a school environment. It's not impossible to meet someone - there's online dating, there are friends-of-friends - and it's very much worth remembering that some of those who don't meet that special someone in school are actually happier single. But if you're actively avoiding settling down too young, while at the same time knowing you want to settle down on the very cusp of old-enough, then sure, maybe it makes sense to consider it un-tragic to meet your spouse in school.


Facebook now has 58 gender options. How this is better than the two expected choices plus a write-in option (or the option of not providing any) may not be immediately obvious, but presumably the idea is, male or female will no longer be the default. And it will become known to many not educated in these matters (who may well be questioning such things about themselves without quite knowing what they're asking) that other possibilities are out there.

Once there are 58 options, there will be criticisms. It's simultaneously too many and too few. I've already seen, on Facebook, an objection to the absence of "butch" and "femme." Which led me, in turn, to wonder: are those gender identities in the same way as female and male? As in, wouldn't someone who identifies as one of those generally identify as a woman, and that's just gendered description above and beyond? No one's entirely feminine or masculine. There's not a name for the exact breakdown of every individual, but if someone identifies as a woman and goes by female pronouns, wouldn't "female" suffice? Wouldn't anything else, in most contexts, be potentially offensive? (As in, let's say you meet a new person, and you're recalling this event to another friend. Would you say, "I met this really cool femme woman the other day"?)

Meanwhile, it looks like there are some gratuitous repeats. Are "Cis" and "Cisgender" different? How is a "Cisgender Female" different from a "Cisgender Woman"? Is this about underage users? I take it there's justification - if an obscure one - for "trans" both with and without the asterisk, but again, how is a "Transgender Male" different from a "Transgender Man"?

And will these categories also apply for the "interested in"?

And finally, is it or is it not the proper etiquette for those of us whose gender matches what we were assigned at birth to now switch over to "Cisgender" in one form or another? On the one hand, it normalizes the possibility that one wouldn't necessarily be that, and thus avoids situations like where someone might say "a man" to mean "a white man" but "a black man" to mean "a black man," if that makes sense. Just putting "female" makes it seem, maybe, like you think there's just one authentic way to be female.

On the other, it's my understanding (in part from a commenter here, but no way to search the comments that I'm aware of) that some trans men and trans women simply identify as men and women, respectively, and aren't particularly thrilled to have a distinction made between the men and women who were assigned their genders at birth and those who were not. Meanwhile, I don't see it as particularly relevant, in most situations, that I was assigned "female" at birth. What's relevant, gender-identification-wise, is that I'm a woman.

'It's not about you' is the obvious - and perhaps appropriate - answer to this last question, but it kind of is about all of us, given the 58 options, and that if you have the option of being more or less polite, you may as well go with 'more'.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The longest winter

I'm as ready for this latest snowy End Times as I'll ever be, if a whole lot more prepared for End Times with refrigeration. Assuming the power doesn't go out, we're set for some time. I've gotten into the rhythm of an impending storm. Groceries, yes, but this time I'm psychologically prepared for this latest round of not leaving the apartment (with the exception of walking the dog). Having seen firsthand that it's just as cold and miserable in Brooklyn, I'm somehow less bitter about my own New Jersey hermit situation.

I have made peace with the situation, and am currently braising an enormous short rib, one that I brought home on NJ Transit earlier this week, as one does. It seemed the right thing for the weather. Every recipe for this seems to call for a Dutch oven, which I neither have nor have the space for, so this is full-on stovetop improvisation. It's stew, basically, but without flour. I first browned the rib in butter, which seemed very professional. I don't have tomato paste, celery, or - potentially more problematic - any broth of any kind, homemade or otherwise. I am, as the Slate cooking series would say, Doing It Wrong. But my impression is that slow-cooking beef in beer or wine, with whichever likely-candidate vegetables are at hand (in this case, carrots, an onion, garlic, and some fridge-dried thyme), can't lead to disappointment. One can always add more salt. How bad can it be?

I think we have, here, the title for the future WWPD cookbook: How Bad Can It Be?

'Embrace your natural' whatever

There are now clip-on bangs one can use to try out the various options. Amazing, really, that there'd be a market for this, in an era of ubiquitous tattoos. Are bangs really such a commitment? True, there can be awkward moments when growing them out, but nothing a carefully placed bobby pin or a new part or something can't fix. Yes, after cutting my own bangs in 7th grade, I grew them out with the help of really unfortunate-looking toddler hair clips (as was the trend, but not for as long as I wore them), but that approach is avoidable.

I went ahead and got bangs earlier this week, without the aid of clip-on trial bangs, although I did browse through old photos of myself with every possible variation of bangs, which is probably as effective. The real danger, with any hairstyle, is in relying exclusively on photos of beautiful people with the style you're considering. Anna Karina with bangs? Fabulous. Me with bangs? Still not Anna Karina. So any approach that involves considering how you'd look is always going to be better.

Or is it? What is "better"? Who ends up looking better - the woman who goes for an aesthetic that appeals to her, but doesn't really work on her, or the one who consults objective outside observers (Stacy London, someone at the department store makeover counter) or matches her features to charts in magazines to figure out the correct way to make the most of what she's got? Even if you're going for a relatively conventional look, what the world sees as prettiest on you is rarely going to match up precisely with what you see as prettiest on yourself.

Which brings me, once again, to 'natural' beauty. To 'embrace your natural' whatever it is - build, hair texture, etc. - often ends up amounting to still more rigid style rules. Is a woman with an hourglass shape who goes for gamine rather than "Mad Men" exhibiting voluptuousness-self-hatred, or merely rebelling against the rule that says a big chest means one must wear restrictive, mid-century-inspired garments? It's the same with hair - one can easily overshoot the mark, in a quest for self-hatred-avoidance, and end up choosing 'natural' (which, in turn, often ends up being lots of work) over some form of artifice that's not about conformity or self-hatred or who knows, but rather conforming to one's own personal style. I can't say for sure if wearing a cat-eye with black liquid liner, say, is what best enhances what I've got, but I like it, so on it quite often goes.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On wine whining UPDATED

Wine. Some tastes better than other. If a friend brings or serves a wine that's especially good, I'll probably end up with a photo of its label on my phone, although I'll almost certainly not do anything about it. Meanwhile there's one type of red wine - I wish I knew what this taste was called in wine lingo - that, even when tasting as it's meant to, strikes me as absolutely foul. Mostly, though, it's good enough. I like the idea of wine with dinner, and sometimes actually follow through and have some. I've heard all the usual contrarian-ness about how even experts can't so much as tell red from white in a blind tasting, or about how it's all in the experience anyway, the setting, so the wine you thought was spectacular on some vacation is nothing special when you have it at home. These are, more or less, my thoughts on the beverage.

And I can't say I'm tempted to become more expert, having read Eric Asimov's article about the near-impossibility of tracking down the wines he himself recommends in the NYT. Readers, he explains, complain that they can't find the wines he mentions. And they're right - they can't. Asimov goes on to explain the logistical reasons for this: NYT readers are everywhere, so no article can promise a product available to all readers. And small producers are better, because artisanal, or something, so basically anything you can reliably find isn't worthy of a recommendation in the paper.

As always, with such matters, the answer is a research project. First step, Internet searches. When that fails, as it will, because any wine worth drinking is too obscure: "What can a consumer do when these tools don’t work? Plenty. It begins with finding and establishing a relationship with a good wine shop." But when? One is already meant to have a relationship with a trusted butcher, fishmonger, cheesemonger, and with farmers responsible for every produce item one consumes. But why stop there? "While most consumers are understandably interested in immediate gratification, it’s important to think in the long term as well. Be demanding. Continue to ask good merchants for the wines you want. And remember that what’s true today may not be true in a couple of months."

I can see how this would be the case with wine, and why if there's a particular one you want to try, it's not exactly urgent. But this seems more or less how it goes with the entire dining section. One is often being advised to get some product only available at the fabulous market next door to where the writer happens to live. Or to try a recipe that showcases an ingredient only available in France, or at any rate not in the States. It's reasonable enough that recommendations won't always be for dishes made with pantry items available at the Target nearest each of us, and that a New York-based paper would at times assume readers live in New York, but there's specific and then there's specific. Once it's a level of specificity where even living in the city wouldn't be adequate, I start to have my doubts.


The comments are pretty great. Many point out that this doesn't need to be about universal availability - if Asimov bought a wine somewhere in Manhattan, he might name the store, so that those who live or work in the city could at least potentially find it. But then there's this, now my favorite NYT comment of all time:

"One of the main reasons I choose to live in TriBeCa is strolling distance to Chambers Street and Frankly Wines."

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

WWPD, ahead of the curve

The great dream of wandering around Williamsburg was finally realized. It only happened because I picked the only plausible day to go within a span of X weeks and made a haircut appointment for that day, namely today. But this non-spontaneity meant going a) when it was leggings-under-jeans-level freezing out, and b) while still recovering from some variant of the seasonal ailment seemingly affecting everyone lately. I'd recommend going in a more robust state, and in better weather, but still! So much excitement!

What you, oh jaded New Yorkers, see as a so-last-season condo-filled mall, I - someone whose usual options are actual malls - see as the epicenter of cool. What, the epicenter shifted, and is now in Bushwick? (I suppose it had while I was still living in the city.) Somewhere cooler than Bushwick? Perhaps so, if you want the best parties or galleries. But Google Maps-level planning suggested that for a day of urban leisure, for glamor before 11am, the L to Bedford (but straying off Bedford itself) would do.

First there was a flat white, this special Australian cappuccino-type thing with denser foam, from a suitably New Williamsburg establishment, Toby's Estate.

Then there was a haircut at Commune Salon and Gift, whose website seems to be down. It's in any case a super-chic Japanese hair salon, where I got a super-chic Japanese haircut.

Then it was time for lunch. My initial thought had been that of course I'd get the hamburger from Diner, but with Samurai Mama, a much-recommended Japanese "tavern," right next door, that became the obvious answer. I got the yakko (cold, custard-like tofu) with seaweed tsukudani, a condiment (?) I'd never had before, but that was delicious and can now go onto the list of Japanese dishes to try to recreate at home. Then I had the vegetable gyoza, which come in the small frying pan they were (presumably) cooked in, with some kind of batter connecting all the dumplings into one pancake. This came with an amazing dipping sauce, as well as a spicy chutney (?). Fabulous, and I can already say, impossible to recreate at home. I mean, the gyoza I could manage, but who knows what the webbing between them was made out of. It was too early in the day for tavern beverages (a novelty - NJ's very BYOB, not that I can even bring any B, what with the driving needed to get anywhere), but I hope to be back and try some of those - and basically all the other dishes - as well. No idea if my Princeton friends will read this, but if you do, let it be known you will be dragged there the moment it's not this cold out.

Then came some more Williamsburg wandering around, being generally freezing and blah, navigating icy streets, noting that the beard trend (so very absent in my part of NJ) lives on. I tried on nail polish at the Woodley and Bunny "Apothecary," but didn't buy any. (The royal blue Uslu Airlines was tempting, but then I remembered I have that color from the Rite Aid in the shopping center.) I noted that the some of the shoes in a "curated" store off Bedford were a brand with a store on the main street in Princeton. As always happens, I start to see the area again through jaded-New-Yorker eyes, and start wondering if maybe I should have just gone to Zabars and been done with it. Except no - that whole bit on Grand Street was probably worth the trip.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Beware the messenger

Is it terrible that when I saw that Lori Gottlieb had a long conversation-starter article about hetero relationship dynamics, I immediately thought of her misreading of Madame Bovary? And that my next thought, upon glancing at it, was disbelief that the author of the "settle" article (and book!) is now a couples therapist? Maybe it is terrible, because if nothing else, it's a long-form, researched-seeming article. She's just, like, reporting on the latest findings! Science and all that.

It did lose me earlyish on, though, with the stuff about how women - of all sexual orientations - do not "prioritize the erotic" when initially choosing a partner, although I guess it's possible (sad but possible) that women are so thoroughly socialized not to do so that many end up married to people they weren't sexually attracted to in the first place. Which... was what Gottlieb advised re: settling, so it all kind of makes sense. If women are drawn to things like a man not vacuuming (???) and not to a man being, for example, hot, then sure, any man will do.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

In which I predict that Philip Roth will come out of retirement to fictionalize Woody Allen's latest troubles

Woody Allen weighs in. One commenter notes the line that jumped out at me as well: "After all, I was a 56-year-old man who had never before (or after) been accused of child molestation." Not accused, not the same as never did it, hmm? But then there's the small matter of context. Two sentences before: "I naïvely thought the accusation would be dismissed out of hand because of course, I hadn’t molested Dylan and any rational person would see the ploy for what it was." But he doesn't exactly deny ever molesting a child - he more denies ever having been caught. Except he's only accused of this one incident - must he also deny having ever (linking to the requisite Woody film clip, nothing worse!) fondled a sheep? Except child abuse is about patterns, so it's kind of relevant, after all.

So what is it? Is he a Roth protagonist, the target of a witch hunt, a modern-day Dreyfus whose Jewishness, like that of the original, is not incidental? Or - as I suspect, even if it wouldn't make for as good a novel - a molester who knows there's no way at this point he could be convicted of the crime in question, and who may as well protect his name and livelihood? Whether or not he did it, he's going to say he didn't. He's also one of the best writers of our time, certainly better than the op-ed page usual, so he's bound to do so persuasively, to make the narrator sympathetic.

But was this the best he could come up with? It speaks quite poorly of him and his judgment that he doesn't appear to get why dating Soon-Yi would have been so controversial. "[A judge] thought of me as an older man exploiting a much younger woman, which outraged Mia as improper despite the fact she had dated a much older Frank Sinatra when she was 19." Gah! It's not about an older man with some younger woman. This was her daughter!

As The Onion so aptly pointed out, "anyone who says that [Allen's innocent] is bound to sound like kind of an asshole, right?" But maybe with good reason? Lots and lots and lots and lots of children are molested. Because it's a crime whose victim, if they even speak up, is never thought credible (what with being a child), as well as the one generally considered the most heinous, it's kept tremendously secret, all the more so if the accused has a big-deal reputation to protect. We need to consider that Mia was furious at Woody at the time, but this could be what motivated her to finally speak out about something she'd known for longer. I mean, anti-Catholicism is a thing, but that doesn't mean the priest molestation scandals are the mere invention of Protestants and lapsed Catholics. No, we'll never know for sure, but this essay, clever as it is, didn't help his case.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Long-form CCOA

Pardon the "Seinfeld" reference: Elaine turns some work in to her boss at a clothing catalogue, Mr. Peterman. His response: "That looks like a lot of words." Which is how I'd respond to this dissertation-length take-down of a liberal-arts college in Maine, one Miss Self-Important pointed me to in the comments to her post about conservative critics/critiques (which did I want this to be?) of education, or CCOAs. My complaint was/is that these critics tend to take the things that rile them (or, more to the point, that rile their readerships outside academia) out of context, giving the false impression that Dildo Studies seminars have replaced Shakespeare. So MSI pointed me to the thorough version. Which I did my best to get through.

It's not an easy read, in part because of minutiae about when students choose an advisor, or which sports are offered, and the fact that it's incredibly repetitive* (just how many times do we need to learn about that cancelled "Queer Gardens" course? or "Modern Western Prostitutes"?), and because why exactly are the presidents of Bowdoin introduced by their religions (a tragic downward spiral leading to the first Jew, one who promotes "diversity"!), but mostly because of bits like this:

“Global citizen” and its family of related terms such as “citizen of the world” are, it should be noted, metaphoric phrases. No one can be, literally, a “citizen of the world,” as the “world” is not a polity. “World citizenship” has no defined or agreed upon rights or responsibilities and, despite such institutions as the World Court, no binding law.
Or this:
Relations between Protestants and Catholics at Bowdoin seem placid.
Or my favorite:
If this sample group accurately reflects the Bowdoin student body as whole, then approximately 462 Bowdoin students had sex on that one Saturday.
One imagines them all in one heap!

Anyway. The document is a somewhat quantitative accounting of things we kind of all already knew existed at liberal-arts colleges - interdisciplinary humanities classes, bins of free condoms, a hippie-dippie social environment that's not for everyone, and programs for LGBT and minority students.

But there's virtually no engagement with the case for, say, gender studies. Or with what it even is. Like, the whole gender-is-a-construct thing. This doesn't mean there aren't biological sexes. It means, well, in part it means that transgender people exist, but it also means that gender is performed. That it isn't biology putting women in dresses and men in pants. It means that when one notes a difference between the behavior or status of men and women, boys and girls, one doesn't automatically assume it's rooted in biology, but first considers social pressures.

Meanwhile, all courses of study that look at the non-Western world are treated as political propaganda and not, you know, courses on the history, literature, or politics of various parts of the world.

And student social life is a decadent orgy, even if it's not.

Point being, while the document is indeed lengthy, and within its length there's more context, the same CCOA problems arise. The same buzzwords inspire panic, rather than inquiry. Specific examples below, by heading from the document itself:

"'Studies' Programs"

-These "were founded to advance political goals." Do these courses consist of political indoctrination, or is it "political" enough that black or gay people were deemed worthy of being studied? Like, would some other framework for studying these groups, within pre-existing disciplines, be acceptable? Unclear.

"Hooking Up at Bowdoin"

-Starts sensibly enough: "The term 'hooking up' is a bit ambiguous, as it can refer to sexual interaction on the spectrum from kissing to sexual intercourse." Indeed - people "hooked up" on dates in the 1950s. Then we get the usual discussion of sexual promiscuity, which is apparently what kissing more than one person before getting married amounts to.

-"Sometimes students who hook up do form a relationship in the sense of becoming frequent sexual partners—though without the expectation of sexual exclusivity or personal commitment." I know nothing of Bowdoin specifically, but in the world of young people generally, hookups, or whatever we're calling this, is very often the start of a long-term monogamous relationship or even a marriage. Other stats cited give the impression that students in serious relationships, or not involved with anyone, abound. Once you factor in the number of hookups that don't include anything plausibly defined as sex, things start to look a bit less libertine. 

"Queer Bowdoin"

-Bowdoin is accepting of gay people, less so of anti-gay people. That the school makes LGBT students feel comfortable is, apparently, a political agenda.

"Identity and Race: Being Different":

-Bowdoin not only has affirmative action, but goes out of its way to recruit minority students and make them comfortable once on campus. 

-Perhaps being so celebrated is awkward for minority students. 

-Belgian-inspired stew was served at a diversity workshop.

"What Students Study":

-Some vague reference to there being more non-canonical than canonical English and History classes, but no ratio. We get a list of "conspicuously nontraditional courses with fairly strong ideological overtones," although I'm having trouble ascertaining the overtones. What's the message behind "Entering Modernity: European Jewry"? That European Jews should or should not have done so? Or of "Comparative Slavery and Emancipation" - I'd imagine the prof thinks slavery's bad, but is that really ideological? And most bafflingly, "Colonial Latin America" - why is a world-history course controversial? We also hear yet again about the cancelled "Queer Gardens" course.

"Faculty Research and Publications":

-Professors sometimes teach courses related to their dissertation topics. The problem being... that students hear about a topic from an expert, along with whichever broader courses? Are any PhDs not trained in teaching fields unrelated to their topic? From the offerings shown, it seems as if there's a mix of general and specific - why is this bad? I'm not sure what the problem is, other than that some dissertations deal with gender, which is squicky, or race and gender, which is doubly squicky. The tone makes clear that we should find the sample partial CVs damning, but why?


-So Bowdoin doesn't teach a single "course on Edmund Spenser." Does every dead white male who could be included in a syllabus merit a single-author course?

-Does Bowdoin really not teach "wisdom" or "culture"? What does that even mean? How could that have been demonstrated, even with over a thousand footnotes?

-I am very nearly asleep. Not entirely the fault of that document.

*"The report as originally written was much longer," we learn. There's additional material on some website. I can't.

Gratuitous overly-abstract post

Over time, the definition of "human" has expanded. By which I mean, the default experience, the normal one, the one projected onto all, has come to include more categories of person. Like when Zola wrote about members of the French working class - that was a big deal at the time, because imagine that, a novel not about rich people or the bourgeoisie! Or, to step back, when the French Revolution opted to include rich but untitled sorts as full citizens. Or, to step forward, when we realized that Man includes women. When we thought to remark on it if some sphere included only men. And so it goes - same deal with race (we start to see the problem of saying 'a woman' to mean 'a white woman'), sexuality, gender identity, and so forth. It's not to say that everything improves over the years - one can think of certain obvious setbacks even to this (say, the 1930s), but that, at least, seems to be the trend. This expansion of who counts.

The question I have is, (how) can this proceed without clunkiness? Without cringe-inducing jargon, political correctness, etc.? Should we perhaps accept, even celebrate, the clunkiness, while having a sense of humor about it to the extent possible?

Consider the latest front in this battle: transgender rights. My impression from social media and such is that certain people who accept that it's possible to be assigned the wrong gender at birth based on sex, who are accepting of any trans people they happen to meet, who, in other words, are not what one would think of as transphobic, will still wince at the word "cisgender," or, more broadly, at the idea that one can no longer assume a man has one set of biological qualities, a woman another. It seems, to such people, like overkill. After all, virtually all of the time, biological sex and gender identity are as one would expect.

And yet! Most people aren't gay, but we've learned to assume that a "partner" or "spouse" could be of either gender. Even in situations where most people are Christian, "happy holidays" is often heard. We know, even if we're talking about someone in a predominately male profession, not to assume that air-conditioner-repair-person will be a man. There's some right-wing backlash to such things, but the consensus appears to be that these are small ways of showing respect. That the harm done to gay couples if the likely answer (i.e. that a woman's partner is a man) is rigidly assumed exceeds whatever minor inconvenience to straight couples who may end up spelling out what used to be the default assumption.

I could go on (and on and on), but will leave that to you, my three readers.

Is fiction better?

As readers of the 'fiction is better' tag here know well, I see fiction as kind of magical. OK, not magical, but the place where the personal writing it can be tempting to do about yourself or your loved ones - tempting, that is, both because of the market for confessional writing, and because it takes less creativity - can be channeled. I tend to think it's impossible to ruin someone's reputation with fiction, because of the giant umbrella over it saying it's made up. You can certainly offend your relatives with fiction - either because they think they see themselves in it, or even just because, horrors, they now know that you know about whichever seedy situations, or it's humiliating to be in any way associated with someone whose mind came up with that.

There's sometimes some iffiness when the "fiction" is very amateur, and where it's not clear the person writing it has a sophisticated enough conception of genre to even intend for the document to be fictional - the obvious example being when a high school student's creative-writing assignments are all about shooting everyone in the class, and the teacher alerts authorities. But in general, at least with published work, we at least try to believe fiction is not fact.

Well! There's now a burgeoning movement to declare Woody Allen guilty (which, to repeat myself, I suspect he is, in part for the reasons Ann Friedman does) on the basis of his movies and writing. This kind of relates to the other movement - to announce that you never liked his work anyway - insofar as that's about making it clear that you are in no way tainted by any of this. (As if, if you liked "Annie Hall," it's because the movie contained subliminal pro-molestation messages you approved of, and not because it's an excellent romantic comedy about adults.) And it also subverts the whole you-can-like-the-art-but-not-the-artist conversation - is there any ethical way to like art depicting something horrible, created by someone very plausibly accused of the horribleness in question?

And... what to do with this? Some of what's 'revealed' is that, if we're blurring fiction and fact, Allen finds 18-year-old women attractive. It's my understanding that most men do - not to the exclusion of somewhat older women, and not as exclusively as some would have us believe (as the attention most women well over 18 get attests). But yes, if a really good-looking late-teens, post-pubescent woman walks by, many men appear aware of this. Such men are not pedophiles. What stops most middle-aged men from getting involved with them is a mix of their lack of interest in men their age who aren't rich and famous; the great likelihood that any 18-year-olds a man actually interacts with would be taboo for some other reason (students, children's friends, etc.); and the fact that they'd have nothing in common.

But other writing dug up (via) does seem to point to an interest in... things far closer to Dylan Farrow's accusation. What do we do with this? A strict 'fiction doesn't count' approach is highly sophisticated, but somewhat devoid of common sense. And yet you don't want a witch-hunt situation, where anyone who's written about something skeevy or illegal can then credibly be accused of the act in question, because it came up in their art. But then the idea that if someone's self-expression is Art, they get a pass, has its own messy implications - those who qualify as Artists (generally rich/old/white/male etc.) can discuss whatever, through their Art, whereas everyone else is held to a different standard. Point being, I have many questions here, but no answers.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Hermit fail

New Jersey - among other locales, it seems - is in for another round of snow-and-frozen-rain-pocalypse. The local news is providing regular updates on just how panicked we should be; the answer is, as always, very panicked. The town and the housing I live in are also keeping in excellent touch with reminders - rarely does a minute go by when everything doesn't ring or buzz in some capacity to announce that it's snowy and only getting worse. So many dangers! This road-skidding business is no joke, and makes 12 mph as scary as it was when I was first learning. And the falling wires and branches (and whole trees) one is meant to watch out for! But watch out how? Driving can be avoided - everything's closed anyway - but until this poodle learns to use the facilities... And then there are the little things, like how the trash bin outside has frozen shut.

There are also the even littler things - a certain completely inessential haircut trip to Williamsburg-and-environs that was meant to happen after I turned something in, which I've... turned in. (Although it's been so long since I've had a haircut that I keep getting comments on my 'new haircut' so maybe I should just go with it.) Also ever-so-slightly-smaller dream of driving to H-Mart in Edison, a dream duly replaced by the hope that the power doesn't go out (as it has elsewhere in town) and destroy whichever non-Korean groceries I already have.

Because my husband's away for this round of Weather, the main thing is not to go full-on hermit. So far this time I've found ways to avoid that, but give it time. Everyone who thinks they'd want to be alone in a pseudo-cabin in the woods indefinitely, reading and writing, with occasional breaks to walk a fluffy dog, I can attest that even for the relatively introverted, that eventually gets old. It's conducive to productivity, but it has its problems. I've had experiences like, my dreams will be populated by sitcom characters and people I only know/only see regularly on social media. Leaving the house has its advantages.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Questions of the morning

-How do you separate art from artist if the artist is still living? I mean this in a very pragmatic sense. If the artist's dead, it's simple enough. But won't a living artist, to go on producing that wonderful art that the world so appreciates, need to keep whichever lifestyle to which they (no one specific in mind, ahem) have grown accustomed? As in, there won't be any more art from this person if we don't keep supporting them. And if we liked their old stuff more anyway, we're still supporting the living person by demanding more, say, DVDs of "Annie Hall."

-Will it ever stop snowing? It's fine if the answer's no, but I may want to invest, as they say, in the appropriate gear. While not essential, it would be nice to sometimes leave the house.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

CCOAs, art-vs.-artists, and grocery-guilt

-Flavia, who I understand has a new book out (congrats!), also has a blog post that I, unsurprisingly, endorse in full, and not just because of the h/t at the end. (I do remain proud of that template.) She gets at two key points regarding conservative critiques of academia: 1) the CCOA-perpetuated myth that academics no longer know or care about canonical texts, and 2) well, let's just quote Flavia:

[A[s someone who works on an earlier period, I've long noticed that conservative critics who inveigh against the teaching of pop culture, ephemera, women and minority writers (and so on) do not take quite the same position when it comes to very minor writers who happen to be part of the establishment. So, early modern ballads, sermons, and the works of fifth-rate playwrights are so interesting and so worthwhile and even an important work of recovery (because: OUR HERITAGE!), but Mary Wroth and Margaret Cavendish--nevermind Toni Morrison, August Wilson or The Sopranos--aren't important enough or central enough to the culture.
-While I probably covered all I needed to and then some (it's upsetting, so I babble) re: the Woody Allen debacle in the post below, I will nevertheless add this: there are no Brownie points for having never really liked the work of someone who turns out to be/to do something despicable. Having never much liked Galliano's clothing designs or Michael Richards's Kramer doesn't make you some kind of amazing judge of character who just knew all along, from their art, that these people had terribleness inside just waiting to get out. This is in response to all the people chiming in, 'well I never liked his movies,' as if that's somehow relevant. If there's a moral quandary here, it's what to do if you do like the artist's work.

-Whole Foods, I know, I know. If you don't want the liberal-guilt shopping experience, why go? But it was on the way home, and there's kind of a car-oil situation, and it's Sunday, so this wasn't the moment to try anything geographically inessential like Wegmans or, where I really wanted to go, H-Mart in Edison. And this is what gets to me: they ask you at Whole Foods if you want to donate your bag refund, and ask this without specifying to what entity. Now I promise I'm not a terrible person. I went to my usual Sunday volunteering despite not knowing what that would mean for the oiliness or lack thereof of whichever internal parts of the car. And my grievance here is obviously with the company policy, not this particular cashier. But my default response to a super-vague request for a donation is always going to be no. (I could take this in a Feelings Essay direction, and hold forth on how disappointed in me this cashier surely was, how she's no doubt still thinking about this, but will leave it there.)

Do you know where your art comes from?

Should we continue to watch and enjoy (some) Woody Allen movies? Dylan Farrow and Nicholas Kristof say no, and Robert B. Weide says yes. This is a tricky art-vs.-artist question because the relevant parties are very much alive and very much continuing the conversation, in public, in forums where comments from the public are solicited. This isn't like such-and-such a writer having been a racist, but back when everyone was an open racist, and if we're going to read books from a long time ago, that's something we just have to confront. Woody's still making movies, and his estranged relatives are still - not unreasonably - complaining about him.

The best I can sort this out, using first names for clarity's sake:

-There seems to be a consensus that because Dylan's op-ed rings true to many, including some abuse survivors, Woody did what she claims. This seems potentially problematic, not because Woody is, as a Great Artist, above criticism, or because we must agree that a lack of a guilty verdict means, in the world of what actually happened, case closed. No, it's a problem because both child molestation and inaccurate accusations of child molestation are tragic, and there's a plausible case that he didn't do it. We may reasonably conclude that the former's worse than the latter, and that the balance of power makes it likely that the accused - especially when they're Woody-level famous - are getting away with something, as vs. unfairly accused. This is nevertheless different than the Roman Polanski case, where the only question, as I understand it, is whether in the 1970s, a 'mature' 13-year-old girl could consent to sex with an adult man (and not to even get into the drugs) - an evil, nonsense assertion from the get-go. Not whether he had sex with that child.

-Dylan's certainly the victim of something. One of two horrible things happened to her. Either she was abused by Woody, or she's repeating a horrible story she was encouraged to tell when she was seven. Either way, she's been through the ringer to the point that one can safely say she's been abused. (Ack, that family!) The appropriate response, regardless, isn't to blame her. In other words, there really isn't a choice between accusing Woody of molestation and accusing Dylan of lying. "Lying" implies an adult - or at least someone closer to the age of reason than seven - deciding to say something untrue. If this is something she's believed since childhood and is now repeating, that's something quite different from what false accusation normally implies.

-Mia was understandably angry and disgusted when her partner ran off with her daughter. She would have had a motive to make a story like this up. Such cases are not unheard-of, and remember that if we're talking about what people in power can get away with, Mia's not nobody. But even if we're giving Mia and Woody the benefit of the doubt, it's entirely possible that Mia would have been sufficiently shaken-up by her partner's sexual involvement with one of her children (!!!!!) that she'd start asking the others if he'd ever tried anything with them, and in doing so, might have accidentally planted the idea in their very young daughter's head.

-Weide's much-linked-to Daily Beast contrarian version has its problems as well. Most obviously, Weide retroactively rounds down the Mia-Woody relationship and the Mia-Soon-Yi one, when he emphasizes that a) Woody wasn't married to or living with Mia, and b) Soon-Yi isn't Mia's biological child. These things seem a bit beside the point. Woody and Mia were not just casually dating - Woody had adopted two of her other kids! - and an adopted daughter is still a daughter. And while I'd take Weide at his word that Woody didn't tell him to write this article, he clearly - by his own admission - has a career largely based on promoting Woody, and benefits from his good favor. And as a Jezebel commenter (!) correctly notes, there's a whole lot of "slut-shaming" of Mia, as if her cheating on Woody and getting involved with married men somehow matters to this case. If the Soon-Yi relationship can't be rounded up to the child molestation (Weide's argument), nor can dalliances between consenting adults be rounded up to making up a story of child molestation.

-Dylan opens and closes her op-ed with the provocative question, "What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?" Many of the comments are from people who proudly never watched/liked Woody's movies, because they always knew there was something up (one uses the word "deviant") about that guy. Which, eh. Unless they could spell out which of these stories they were reacting to (i.e. the abuse allegations, or at least the Soon-Yi episode), what are they going on? it seems as if what they're saying is, his sensibility was too New York Jew. I mean, one commenter even writes, "Let's be real about this; the *ONLY* reason Woody Allen is not in a jail cell it because he is Jewish." Another, responding to a comment about Allen's global appeal: "Elites 'celebrate' people like him. Those of us in fly over country never have."

Basically, I get suspicious when people's objections to Woody aren't to Woody-the-accused-child-molester (which is reasonable) but to Woody-the-purveyor-of-humor-that-never-did-anything-for-me-so-to-hell-with-him. And if much of the anti-Woody sentiment is coming from people's preexisting sense that Jews control the media, or are above the law, I'm inclined... not to be any less upset by the accusations, but to be less quick to assume he's guilty.

-Ultimately, I don't know what to think about this. I do on some level end up leaning towards thinking child molestation - among celebrities and non-celebrities alike - is more often covered up than made up. And because there's no likely ulterior motive for Dylan to have discussed this with the NYT now, because in all the intervening years, she continued to believe this happened, I'm inclined to believe it did. I'm not convinced it did, but if it did, the art-artist distinction would be awfully tough to make.