Friday, December 30, 2005

Latkes and UChicago (but no hamentashen)

Latkes are a remarkable food. Thanks to my mother's deliciously farfel-patty-like latkes, I ate somewhere in the Ariel Sharon range of latke portion (though I understand he's more a fan of protein than of starch) this evening, and a miracle most certainly happened here. I consumed not one but two drinks and did not feel even the least bit intoxicated. OK, maybe a tiny bit, but far less than I normally would. Is it the potato (a staple in Irish and Eastern European cuisine) or the matzo meal-and-egg paste which holds the thing together? I'm going to have to go with both.

Somewhat less miraculous, but still potentially neat, it seems there's a new UChicago publication, "The Midway Review." What niche, I wonder, does this publication fill? Has "Criterion" finally kicked the bucket? Or is this more of a "Free Press"-"Criterion" mix? What about the "Chicago Scholarly Review"? "Chicago Literary Review"? Whatever happened to the "Chicago Quill"? According to Sam, there was some "Criterion" precursor called "Midway" something or other, which may well be what this is. Anyone with information, comment away.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Saw it

Katherine, Davyde and I (alas, no Sam) saw The Gay Cowboy Movie. And liked it. More or less. My comments:

1) Jake Gyllenhaal makes a more convincing UChicago math grad student than cowboy.
2) Heath Ledger is not so much my taste. I think I actually preferred Gyllenhaal with Gwyneth Paltrow. Alas.
3) Indeed, this movie is Yossi and Jagger II: Lost in the Wild West.

About that last bit: Jose, who says most of what needs to be said about these two movies, mentions the line "ze lo fucking seret amerikai," which is sort of a theme in "Yossi and Jagger"--at the end of the movie, when "the pretty one" aka Jagger is about to die on the battlefield, and Yossi finally declares his love, Jagger confirms that in fact his experience is just like an American movie, after all. And, I would add, the point being, from the viewers' perspective, that while Yossi and Jagger the characters may feel greater depths of emotion than even, say, Steven Spielberg would be capable of summoning, "Yossi and Jagger" the movie is the least American thing ever. Low-budget without feeling artsy, about ordinary Israeli soldiers doing ordinary things, with homosexuality but no overt raciness or politics, there's really no reason that a movie of it's kind would be made in America. And yet, here it is. It doesn't matter if "Yossi and Jagger"'s kmoh seret americai, now, thanks to Ang Lee, it's been turned into one.

And so, where "Yossi and Jagger" was subtle, with neither good guys nor bad, "Brokeback Mountain" is over the top. Yossi struggles with his own homosexuality not because of any overt homophobia in his army unit--in fact, there's little indication anyone would mind--but because he's young, confused, weak, conservative, whatever, and--and this would be an issue even if he were involved with a woman--because his leadership role forces him to maintain a certain stoicism and distance. Part of what makes "Yossi and Jagger" so interesting is that societal homophobia is never really seen, just Yossi's denial. So there's some implicit societal homophobia--why else does Yossi mind people knowing he's gay?--but it's his internal conflict that matters.

Ennis, on the other hand, witnessed the lynching of a gay man when he was a little boy, and, as if that weren't enough, attends a church that, as churches often do, frowns on "sin." You are to believe that, had he lived in a more open society, his attitude towards Jack's suggestion that they run off together would have been more positive. Society's to blame, and all that.

Then, there's that final family scene, in which the dead pretty-boy's parents greet the still-living less-pretty (though Ohad Knoller's still awful pretty) one. Conveniently, Jack's mother knows, as apparently only a mother can know, about her son's relationship, and despite living in the backwoods at a time well before "Will and Grace," not only understands but is fully accepting of her son-in-law-in-retrospect. How does she know, and why is she so understanding? Because it adds a certain tear-jerk element to the film. Jagger's oblivious though distraught mother, who believes unquestioningly that her son had a girlfriend when this (false, of course) information is brought to her attention, is far more believable. More importantly, there's never any sense of how she, as a character, would react if she knew that her son had had a boyfriend. Again, Yossi's fear presumably says something about society in general, but where his own cowardice or personality or devotion to his role in the army end and societal homophobia begins is never articulated. This intentional (I'm guessing) lack of clarity is, aside from the many gorgeous actors and, I suppose, actresses, what makes "Yossi and Jagger" so special. That, and the fact that the snow/bunny scene is far more tender and beautiful than anything in "Brokeback Mountain."

Finally, what does it mean that this movie has, it seems, been made twice? Are "gay movies" now just "movies," and thus bound to repeat themselves, year after year, the way that "straight" romantic dramas have been for so many years? Perhaps, but I second Jose in asking a) that the pretty one not have to die, and b) that Jack and Jagger, in gay-tragedy heaven, make a movie of this genre in which both uh, live.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Travel plans

I'm so there. I mean, how wonderful! And you don't even have to leave the continental U.S.!

So, my travel to-do list, in order of least to most realistic:

1) Minnesotan dog-sledding
2) French Birthright-Israel trip
3) Tokyo (for food, sake, urban crowds, and teen-fashion inspiration)
5) Sahadi's
6) "Brokeback Mountain" with Katherine (& co.?)
7) My room (from the living room couch)

Monday, December 26, 2005

They eat horses, don't they?

So Kazakh nomads eat horse. (And so the article and accompanying photos have made me a vegetarian, at least for a week or two, as was surely the author's intention.) But you know where else you can get horse meat without too much difficulty? France. Not especially exotic. And you know which other detailed descriptions and photographs of the slaughtering of animals would be disturbing and disgusting? All would.

It's not entirely clear to me what about the Kazakh case is supposed to be so disturbing. Go to a market right in the center of Paris and you can see dead but still furry rabbits hanging upside down. Go to a butcher shop in NYC to see large cow carcasses. Meat is, when you think about it, really awful. But killing an animal is not the same thing as killing a human, eating meat is not necessarily wrong, and so on, or so I tell myself if an especially tasty-looking hamburger appears before me. So please, let the Kazakhs, the French, and the Maltzian occasional consumers of lamb chops be.

Big tubs of olives

Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn is a lot like Chicago's Division Street. Both extend over too many neighborhoods to be classified, yet despite being huge and hard to miss, contain the sort of off-the-beaten-path shops, restaurants, and street life typical of side streets. Atlantic Avenue, however, has the benefit of big tubs of olives. Along with hookahs, chain drugstores, hipster bars, antique shops, a notary-type storefront offering "Middle Eastern Services," and a prison, there are stores which sell more Middle Eastern food than I would know what to do with, and I don't think I'm especially flummoxed by Middle Eastern food. But how does one serve, say, "Sultan's Paste"? Or dried flowers?

While Sahadi's was closed, Katherine and I found another, far smaller but perhaps more overwhelming store across the street, where I got smoked almonds, dried apricots, and black-purple olives, all about the best I've ever tasted. We were given samples of just-roasted cashews, and, while neither of us are big fans of cashews, we were both nevertheless big fans of these particular cashews. Not a good store for those with severe nut allergies, or those who mind buying olives from large white buckets so low to the ground that there's sure to be some mingling of whatever's on the bottom of shoes with whatever's in the tubs.

The back of the store was filled with so much baklava and similar that, had I not been occupied with the aforementioned cashews, there would be a tray of it in my apartment right now. And then there was the zatar bread, again, had there not been the cashews...

To do, eventually

1. Brokeback Mountain
2. Chhhelebrate Chhhanukkah
3. Purchase wallet that actually holds, rather than forcibly emits, credit/metro/cappuccino cards
4. Now that food-poisoned house guest has recovered and left, cook lunch
5. Re-dye hair with remaining Manic Panic
6. Finish The History of Zionism and move onto something more along the lines of the "Monty Python" or "French and Saunders" DVDs miraculously available at the local video store

The Holidays thus far

Runs through Park Slope in the rain: 1
Beers: 2 1/2
French New Wave movies: 1/2
Russian New Years trees: 1
Mid-20th century Brooklyn "Chinese" meals, ending in canned pineapple: 1
House guests: 2
House guests with food poisoning: 1
(Failed) attempts to find open post offices/Kinkos: 3
Chabad hipster events attended: 0

Sunday, December 25, 2005

And now...

Pasta, with a side order of Bernard Lazare.

Shiba inus! Chabad! Brooklyn bars will never be the same!

Chabad is throwing a Chanukkah party at my local (hipster) bar. I sort of have to see what this will entail, but then again don't know quite what I'd be getting myself into.

One and a half beers remains beyond my tolerance limit. If I were as intolerant as my liver, I would have a really successful stand-up act ala Sarah Silverman, in which I portrayed a "character" with "JAPPY"-racist inclinations, but alas this is not the case.

It's the one-year anniversary of the hat picture that used to be on this blog. Once again, I celebrated Christ's birth with Katherine, in a bar. Well, two bars. There was a man in bar #1 (bar #2 is the one which will soon be Chabad-ed out) with not one but TWO shiba inus. One orange and fully-grown and one black and a puppy. I need to remember never to wear short skirts to bars (even if I have leggings underneath; not just if it's to Chabad events) because sometimes I want to say hello to dogs but not to their somewhat attentive owners. Regardless, I for sure need to get a shiba inu one day, along with the array of dachshunds and gigantic poufy dogs. Oh yes.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Seasons Greetings from WWPD

Comrades, we've got ourselves an elka! Thanks to Katherine and her father. Neither Christmas nor Chanukkah nor Kwanzaa for our living room. That is, until Sam brings over the spare menorah, at which point I will proceed to NOT set the apartment on fire.

Happy Holidays from WWPD

And various nonsense:

Which night am I supposed to eat Chinese food and watch movies? Sam says tomorrow night, but I say it's tonight. Erev Christmas, right? I am so confused....

The Union Square Christmas/Holiday/Whateva' Market was so awesome. Israeli men selling stuff from Nepal (one even offered me a piece of his tangerine!), a stand selling falafel and soup, more scarves than the girls of Paris would know what to do with, much fabulousness of all varieties, including a certain flamboyant minor TV personality whose name escapes me... so maybe not a Bill O'Reilly-endorsed sort of thing, but still, relatively tame for that part of town...

In the past few days, I have wished Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Christmas, Merry Chanukkah, and probably others. Mostly, though, I've nodded in recognition or simply ignored. Holidays or not, this is NYC.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

An (almost) non-dairy post

French Jews have made it to the Dining section. They apparently have a way with chopped liver. I wouldn't touch any kind of pâté OR chopped liver, or liver of any kind, but it seems like the sort of thing Dreyfus may have eaten, so it gets a mention.

Also worth mentioning: "Before the stroke, Sharon reportedly had a meal with family and friends that included hamburgers, steak, lamb chops, shish kebab and chocolate cake. After leaving the hospital, he ate Chinese noodles."

I don't know the portion size we're talking about here, but replace "shish kebab" with "falafel" and "chocolate cake" with "chocolate" and you have something awfully close to my own diet.

Another report claims: "A day before his stroke, Mr. Sharon enjoyed a typical meal with a close circle of family and friends: hamburgers, steak in chimichurri sauce, lamb chops, shish kebab and an array of salads, the Maariv daily newspaper reported."

"An array of salads," eh? This is a bit more well-balanced, unless we're talking tuna salad, chicken salad, French Jewish pâté salad, or similar. Still, lamb chops and salad, preferably with goat cheese in the salad, very tasty. Lamb chops, steak, and hamburgers all in one meal is probably overkill (certainly from the animals' perspective), but again, if these were really tiny hamburgers...

Strike that

One thing I should have pointed out with the ConservaChristmas posts: Sullivan and Douthat are beacons of nuance and sensitivity compared to the far more influential Bill O'Reilly. I just saw a bit of his pro-Christmas, err, shtick, and it's kind of frightening. He is, however, much funnier than his own spoof, Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert. (Staying at my parents' in Manhattan due to the strike means a return to the all-consuming world of television.)

But, moving on to weightier issues, Kei points out that Chicago's public transit system is ordering wider bus seats. Why? Because Chicagoans like their seats roomy. Meanwhile, the NYC transit strike has turned this city into one big exercise machine. New Yorkers are walking, running, biking, and rollerblading all over the place. Those who rely most on public transporation (ie those commuting in from outer boroughs rather than walking lap dogs around the block) are, as Kei notes in reference to Chicago, where this is all the more true, typically less well-off and statistically more likely to be overweight; it is this demographic which, during the strike, is presumably forced to walk the most. So maybe this is all a plot on the part of President Bush, who should be a contender for the NYT "Personal Health" column should Jane Brody ever lose interest. Bush apparently advised Ariel Sharon to eat less and exercise. Look, the man's 77, very overweight, has a bit of a stressful job, and yet is healthy, you know, except for the stroke. If I were Bush or Sharon, I'd be far more worried about asassination than death by natural causes.

(Almost) totally unrelated: there are all these rules in NYC about making sure there are four people per car going from one zone to another or some such. I wonder how many people are pulling that "teenager-sneaking-out-window-on-sitcom" trick, propping up a pillow to make it look like a person. I can't imagine it would be that difficult. The police should check not only for all the usual things they look for, but also for oddly shedding feathers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

ConservaChristmas II

It's a shame that Andrew Sullivan is gay. Not for the same reason it's a shame that Rufus Wainwright's gay, but because otherwise Sullivan would be such a consistent social conservative. Abortion is murder, those who prefer "happy holidays" to "merry Christmas" are PC bores, but don't you dare say anything bad about gay marriage, let alone "Brokeback Mountain!"

Sullivan writes, in the British (not NY) Times:

And so we have our new Scrooges, and they are much worse than the original. They're whiny, sensitive pedants who feel that their civil rights have been infringed if a town council puts up a manger scene in the shopping mall. In America, where political correctness was born, these kinds of events are now an annual ritual of a sort.

And how about those whiny, sensitive gays, then? So whiny and sensitive. No, wait a second, I think it's Jews who are supposed to be whiny and gays who are supposed to be sensitive, gotta get those stereotypes right...

At the same time most of the Jews I know have no problem with Christmas at all. Ditto Muslims. And most of them find the PC cant as annoying as the rest of us.

This "problem with Christmas" nonsense, ugh. It would be very hard to find Jews or Muslims in America who have a problem with the fact that Christians celebrate Christmas, have Christmas trees, take the day off from school or work on December 25, and so on. It's not having a problem with a religious holiday to not want it to have federal endorsement. It's not "PC cant" to want a country with no state religion to maintain a certain official neutrality towards all religious holidays.

As with his oh-so-enlightened take on a woman's right to choose(doesn't apply to him, so abortion is murder, even if logisitcally it kinda still has to be legal), Sullivan's nuanced, dare I say sensitive take on gay issues doesn't carry over to how it might feel if you live in a country with no official religion yet which nevertheless officially embraces the majority's biggest religious holiday. I know what it's like to be both to not celebrate Christmas and to know that my gender and sexual orientation put me at risk for pregnancy. I don't, however, know what it's like to be a gay man. Yet I believe in gay rights, I believe gay marriage should be legal, out of the same "PC" principles that lead me to believe the needs of minority religions and women ought not to be scoffed at. It's not that I demand that people be fully on the left or fully on the right. Hardly. But it would be far more consistent if Sullivan had a bit of the nuance he has when discussing issues that affect him personally when discussing equally personal issues he does not himself have to deal with.

He ends his column in the following way:

"Merry Christmas. There. I said it."


Think about it. Male-female romantic relationships work for most of us, so why be all PC and pay any mind to those few couples who'd rather go the same-sex route? Hmm? Now do you see why non-Christians might be annoyed?

One thing that confuses me: Sullivan writes, of having Jewish friends: "And if a friend of mine is Jewish, I tend to shy away a little from wishing him “Happy Christmas”. I’ve learnt to say “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Holidays”. What if one of these Jewish friends (or just any non-Christian, Jewish or otherwise, Sullivan's acquaintance or otherwise) happens to be among the readers of this article. Why, then, the triumphant "Merry Christmas"?

ConservaChristmas I

Ross Douthat writes that, "while there isn't a war against Christmas, there is a significant chunk of this country - the most educated chunk, the chunk that runs the high-minded magazines and writes for the big newspapers and makes most of the movies (the sudden interest in the Christian market notwithstanding) and teaches at the major universities and generally controls the commanding heights of the culture - that doesn't much care for Christianity, at least if it's practiced seriously and its basic dogmas are left intact."

Educated, control the print media and movie industry, cluster in universities... even leaving off the "doesn't care much for Christianity" bit, it's quite clear what Douthat is getting at. This fits quite well with an age-old stereotype of a group of people known as... let's just say they can, if stereotypes are to be relied upon fully, get that for you wholesale. It's just too obvious for words.

"This reality is what drives the siege mentality among many Christians, and the popularity of O'Reilly-style conspiracy theorizing - the awareness that our majority-Christian country is saddled, for some reason, with an elite that approaches religious belief with a mix of bemusement, ignorance, and fear."

"[O]ur majority-Christian country." Blech. Yes, the country is majority-Christian, but it's our country, Christian or not. You know the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which Terry Jones, playing a surprisingly politically astute medieval peasant woman, declares, "You don't vote for kings"? Similarly, in America, you don't vote on a state religion. Not similarly, however, while Arthur got to be king, Christianity doesn't get to be anything other than the religion most Americans are, and one of an endless number of religions Americans are free to practice. I like that "for some reason"--it's all just too ridiculous. Why must this country's Christian majority adopt a "siege mentality" if a group of well-educated types who edit magazines and teach at universities (a group which, Douthat kindly admits, does not, in fact, control the government, and which "feels under siege as well"--but that's not the same as having a "siege mentality") would prefer Happy Holidays to Merry Christmas?

What Douthat seems to want is religion-and-culture-by-vote. The majority of the country's Christian? Well, let's scrap that gender studies class at Oberlin, out of respect for our nation's majority. And the menorah next to the Christmas tree in apartment building lobbies and stores all over NYC? Scrap that as well. Thankfully, America is not run this way, and the majority is not owed reverance by magazine editors, bloggers, and so forth.

But that's not the point. The point is that Douthat is writing some classic anti-Semitic slurs and seemingly getting away with it. And justifying any sort of "siege mentality" on the part of an unjustly embittered, anti-intellectual majority is always bad news.

This needed to be said. Now, onto ConservaChristmas II...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Another technical question

Aside from tried-and-true Manic Panic, is there any way to get fading red hair bright red again, but more permanently than Manic Panic, but without further lightening/bleaching the hair? While $10 seems like not so much for hairdye, I go through the stuff so quickly that it should be sold in vials in shady alleyways, not in tubs at Ricky's.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

It all comes together!

I'm reading Walter Laqueur's "A History of Zionism." A real page-turner. I'm not being sarcastic--the blog subhead doesn't lie. But check this out:

"This was [late 19th-century father of political Zionism, Theodor] Herzl's first visit to the Holy Land but he was not overwhelmed. The landing at Jaffa was uncomfortable. He was struck by the confusion in the streets and in the hotel - poverty, heat and 'misery in gay colours'."

Laqueur goes on to describe Herzl's underwhelmedness, but then there's this:

"Herzl was favourably impressed, on the other hand, by the cavalcade of twenty young and daring Jewish horsemen who, singing Hebrew songs, welcomed him in Rehovot. They reminded him of cowboys of the American west: 'I had tears in my eyes...'. It showed into what the young trouser-salesmen could be transformed."

Zionist cowboys! Gay colors! (OK, not that kind of gay, but still).

Levi and Knoller and Gyllenhaal and Ledger, oh my!

Gnocchi-fueled procrastination (I am supposed to be getting various things accomplished, which is why I did not just go out to see "Brokeback Mountain" with the roommates) has led to the discovery of a blog post by a former classmate of mine,* comparing "Yossi and Jagger" with the aformentioned festival of gay cowboyness that, alas, I have yet to see. Jose writes:

This movie reminded me so much of Yossi and Jagger, it would have been parody if it weren’t so real. Both movie’s take a national icon/hero in Israeli society, the Soldier, in American, the Cowboy. In fact each of these movies takes two of them and has them fall in love in a setting where they are somehow isolated from teh consequences of their love.

Apparently "Brokeback Mountain," like "Yossi and Jagger," has, well, a Yossi and a Jagger, a more "out" pretty-boy and a more closeted, macho love interest. I would add that all movies of this genre have, at the very least, a character certain he is gay encountering one who is either in denial or uncertain. But Jose has far more to say than I did about these movies, so check it out. Of course, part of it is that I don't see these films as necessarily political--they are about beauty, and pushing for anything more thoughtful would require too much, well, thought. That "Yossi and Jagger" can both reveal that Israeli soldiers do things other than intimidate Palestinians, and that it's OK to be gay, is quite impressive for a film that would have been enough had it just been an hour-long celebration of Yehuda Levi and Ohad Knoller's gorgeousness. (Of course, I get annoyed every time a new entry into the "Jewish boy meets non-Jewish girl, how lucky he is!" genre reaches the theaters, so I'm not one to judge.)

*...from whom, incidentally, I was once supposed to borrow the "Yossi and Jagger" DVD, but the logistics never quite came together; I am now happy to say that I own a copy.

My neighborhood's up and coming. Flaming trashcans and all.

I live in Prospect Heights, which has apparently "come[s] into its own."* Oh has it? Then why does everything from going to the bank to buying groceries to the rare trip to a drycleaner or upscale-for-Brooklyn restaurant (al di la, home of the best possible reason not to be a vegetarian) require crossing Flatbush into Park Slope? Why was I recently informed, by a Brooklynite co-worker, when explaining which streets I live near, that I live in Mill Basin? Why, when a pair of elderly women attempted to descend the snow-and-ice-covered steps to the local subway station, did one tell the other that this showed her how much better it is to live in Manhattan? As lame and clunky as this acronym is, "ToPoSlo (Too Poor to live in the Slope)" sounds about right.

"For all its proximity to hot real estate markets in Fort Greene and Park Slope, the prices in Prospect Heights can at times seem suspiciously low."

Indeed. Which explains how my roommates and I were initially lured into our incredible deal in "Park Slope." But we live as close to Park Slope's main streets as do many who officially live in the Slope, so it's not so bad. Really it's not. It's not as though I'd like to live in a several-story townhouse, facing the park, with several gigantic, fluffy dogs. No, I much prefer living on a sidestreet where people who walk their cats on leashes save my roommates and me from death-by-flaming-trashcan...

"As for grocery shopping, there are a few supermarkets on Washington Avenue, but as of now, no Whole Foods or Fairway stores have been announced for the neighborhood. Still, a bustling farmer's market operates in Grand Army Plaza every Saturday year-round, attracting a dedicated base of shoppers."

A year-round farmers' market is wonderful, assuming you don't mind shopping only for local and seasonal products, and only on Saturday mornings. Often I don't mind this, but a Whole Foods, or better yet a Fairway, wouldn't hurt.

But low rents, pretty streets, and a short commute to Manhattan (along with that one most desired post-college amenity: local hipster bars) are not things to complain about. So I keep my complaining to a minimum.

*Hat tip: my mother.

French Birthright?

Apparently there's a Birthright Israel trip for French Jews. Think they'd let me go on that one and not the American one? I've never gone on one of these trips, and I'm the right age and so forth, so I technically qualify. It might cause me to further confuse French and Hebrew, but it would be pretty awesome.

P without the WW&D

My second-ever Opinionist piece is up at Gothamist.

My first-ever piece has finally appeared in the Philip Roth Society's newsletter. Seems you have to be a dues-paying member of the society, or have something printed in it, to receive the newsletter, and it doesn't appear to be online, but I'm excited about it, so I'm blogging about all the same.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas, clarified

So, below, if you click on the tiny images, then click on that orange square thingy with arrows that enlarges them, you can read my 2002 Criterion Christmas piece. I wrote this before completing Chicago's notoriously rigorous Core Curriculum, so if it makes no sense, that excuse is as good as any. Regardless, I need to add the following:

Certain categories need to be made clear. First, there are two separate conservative pro-Christmas arguments. There's the more general argument that calling what's really Christmas "the holidays" is lame, PC, and so forth. The other, more radical argument is that, in calling Christmas "the holidays" stores, schools, and similar are insulting Christianity and disrespecting the holiday. One would think that this second group of conservatives would thus want all those evil, secular-type megastores, with their "happy holiday" greetings, to just leave December 25th alone, and to go about business as usual without bothering Christians. Not so. The problem for them is apparently that these stores are not including Christ in their commerce.

Related to the "telling it like it is" argument is the (neither left nor right) Jewish one: "let's not make a fuss." For whatever reason, American Jews so often feel the need to at least appreciate what a beautiful and wonderful holiday Christmas is, and to make clear how grateful they are to be tolerated by a Christian country.

Thing is, America is a majority-Christian country, not an officially Christian one. The difference being that Jews are not being "tolerated" by Christians, but rather America tolerates Christianity, Judaism, and all other persuasions or lacks thereof. Jews--and all other non-Christians--are perfectly justified in asking that Christmas, if it is to remain a religious holiday, be taken off the list of national holidays. This does not mean Jews "hate" Christmas any more than Christians "hate" any Jewish holiday. I have no numbers on this (and can't imagine such numbers could exist) but I would bet that more American Jews worry about making a fuss and being too outspoken than actually are. Complaining that Duane Reade is selling Easter-tinged candy, or that a non-Jewish employee wants off for a Christian holiday, or that President Bush makes no secret of celebrating Christmas, these things would be examples of making too much of a fuss. To choose to live in a predominantly Christian country while arguing that it is terrible that most Americans celebrate Christmas both in public and in private, that, too, would be going overboard. But to complain about federal recognition of a religious holiday is not only reasonable but also the duty of all religious minorities and non-believers.

Also needing clarification: What is this "War on Christmas" and what do the warriors demand? Depends on which warriors. Matthew Yglesias wants Christmas left as "Christmas," because "the holidays" makes it seem as though everyone fun-loving and decent must take part. I don't so much care whether it's "the holidays" or "Christmas," but do think one or the other must, sooner or later, be chosen. If December 25, perhaps even with the name "Christmas" affixed to it, morphs into something all about red and green and candy canes, with the "Christ" part remembered only by a dwindling pious few, the roots of the December 25 no more important than those of Halloween or Thanksgiving, or than of the January 1 New Year, then fine, keep Christmas, and only those who truly dislike holidays, or who care deeply about a holiday's roots, shall abstain. Such a "Christmas" exists for many in this country. (Is it disingenous to refer to a December gift between to non-Christans of $200 jeans, a subscription to Maxim, or a vibrator as a "holiday gift"?) But if Christmas is to remain Christ-centric, a religious moment even for otherwise secular Christians, then it is still a religious holiday, and objections are fair game. But objections to what, exactly? I don't object to Christmas music in stores any more than I object to stores carrying sizes that aren't my own, or styles I'd never want to wear. But I do object to the assumption on the part of too many Americans that Christmas is somehow both an areligious holiday for all to celebrate and a sacred day whose religious significance must not be forgotten. Pick one or the other. Because if it's a religious holiday that all must celebrate, that's where you run into trouble.

Until the pro-Christmas camp begins to argue that Christmas should be saved as a Thanksgiving-type day, whose original meaning is lost and which can thus be celebrated by all, as long as Christmas's would-be saviors want to save Christmas precisely from such a fate, it's simple: to give conservative pro-Christmas advocates what they want is to take December 25 off the list of national holidays.

It's tiny, but it's the best I've come up with

Friday, December 16, 2005

Technical question

I wrote this essay on the Christmas debate my second year of college. It appeared in the Chicago Criterion, which is not, ahem, online, or at least no recent (and several years old includes recent) issues are online. My point was that Christmas, to remain Christmas and not "the holidays," cannot be a national holiday in the U.S., and that conservatives are mistaken in their efforts to "save" Christmas, when making it a holiday for all Americans means that either a) Americans all become Christians, or b) Christmas becomes a generic, areligious holiday. While conservatives might want "a" to happen, they can't exactly say so, which means that their argument leads nowhere. And so forth. But the problem I have at the moment has nothing to do with who calls which tree what kind of Chanukkah bush, but rather how to get an article I only have a scanned copy of, in Microsoft Word, online. Comments more than welcome.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Vote for WWPD! Please?

So WWPD has been nominated (not, I should note, by myself or by one of my co-bloggers) in the category of "best humor blog." I really don't understand how this voting works, technically, but for those with more patience than I, please vote for this blog. If you do, then that might just lead to a hipster t-shirt empire, which, it seems, is where all young Jewish blog-projects must lead.

I will also take suggestions for t-shirts, on the off-chance that this happens. There's already Sam's idea, "I'm Shomer Negiah, Beeatch." I've always been partial to the far less clever, "I'm Not A Princess, I'm The Queen," perhaps with Elizabeth I's image in puff-paint somehow involved.

Midtown Manhattan pampering

This evening I felt like treating myself to something lavish, so I went to a Jean Louis David near work and got a $23 electric razor haircut. While it is by far one of the more flattering and even haircuts I've ever received, I did get to hear multiple times that I "look tired" and that the by no means youthful hairdresser had "never done this before."

"Comparative survey" produces shocking results:

From Haaretz:

The Israeli driver is more concerned about road accidents than his European counterpart, worries more when his family members are on the road, and drinks less alcohol.

But the Israeli driver also admits that he shows less respect for others, and gives pedestrians the right of way less often than European drivers. He also admits that he speaks more on his cellular phone and gets angry more often.

These are among the findings of a comparative survey, the first of its kind conducted in Israel that was released at a Tel Aviv news conference yesterday by Or Yarok (Green Light), a nonprofit organization that promotes road safety.

Dr. Tzipi Lotan, the chief researcher, said the survey was similar to one carried out in 23 European countries. It encompassed 1,000 Israeli drivers from all sectors of the population who were asked the identical in-depth questions as their European counterparts....

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Vote for WWPD!

WWPD is apparently worthy of being nominated for the 2005 Jewish and Israeli Blog awards. At least according to one other blogger, but as this other blogger is a) not someone I'd heard of until seeing from my sitemeter that people had gotten here via her blog, and, relatedly, b) not a member of my immediate family, this should be taken seriously. Nominate away!

If I'm bringing Jewish news to these fair internets, I should offer up one bit of information that I had not known until today: according to the new book on UChicago's Latke-Hamentach debate, Chicago did, in fact, have quotas for Jews, in the 1930s. The word on the street/quad/whatever was always that Chicago never had quotas of any kind, but according to the book, Chicago's quotas weren't as severe as those at other top schools. I guess this is sort of like learning that grade inflation exists, albeit to a more limited extent, at Chicago just as it does elsewhere. Learning things like this is as close as I will ever come to the experience of learning that there's no Santa Claus.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Writing this as I eat Chimay cheese on a bagel...

I've been fascinated for some time now by Antwerp's Jewish community, which in seemingly every article about it is referred to as "the last shtetl in Europe." The latest piece, in Jewish Week,. is no exception. Once again, American Jews have noticed that our European counterparts are headed to the right. American Jews have to choose between allegedly "good for the Jews," tough foreign policy along with the occasional ode to Jesus from the right; and a less agressive (and, to some, less desireable) foreign policy, and Jesse Jackson, from the left. Think that's tough? Try being a Belgian Jew, with a choice between an anti-Israel, pro-Arab left and a right that seems superficially pro-Jewish (both pro-Israel and pro-defense of Jews within Belgium) but is rooted in all sorts of neo-Nazism. If one is to simultaneously believe the negative rhetoric of both sides, it's a choice between the Nazis and the terrorists. Between siding with those who would rule Europe by Islamic law, or with those who are just biding their time until they can (once again) rule Europe with racist, xenophobic laws. A rock and a hard place indeed.

I do not know nearly enough as I would like to about just how awful (or wonderful) either the left or the right in Antwerp may be, but what's worth remembering is that these are not Democrats and Republicans. As Matthew Yglesias pointed out during another discussion of European Jews' rightward movement, what's "left" and what's "right" varies from place to place. Furthermore, Antwerp Jews are not New York Jews--abortion rights and various other social justice measures that appeal to folks in Zabars are probably of less interest to a largely ultra-orthodox community, who may not share the "natural" place on the left that many Americans expect Jews to take. This is not just American provincialism--Jews have been well-represented on the left worldwide for centuries--but the left in America has never failed Jews to the extent that it has elsewhere, making the Belgian Jewish situation perhaps harder to understand from an American or American Jewish perspective.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sun rise, sun set

How exactly am I supposed to go running if it is now 4:36 and dark out? By the time I would reach Prospect Park, it would be prime say-goodbye-to-your-iPod (or worse) time. I suppose I could run around the neighborhood, never entering the park, but I could also remain on the couch...

How exactly is it determined that a crucifix chastity ring should cost $155.22? What happens if you go to 47th Street looking for one of those? Now that would be a better field trip/better reason to get off the couch.

Sam had an idea for a t-shirt: "I'm shomer negiah, beeatch," which, while perhaps seen as making light of religion, has some fantastic internal rhyming, and is quite useful, in that this belief system cannot necessarily be determined by whether or not an individual is dressed in a traditionally Orthodox manner (long skirts, yarmulkes, etc.). How else can non-shomer-negiah folks know which people of the opposite sex are straight and single yet off-limits?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sex and scallops

Everyone knows the only way to keep high school students "pure" is to make sure they have no social skills whatsoever, and that they go around carrying bookbags filled with so many math and science books that they cannot stand up straight, no matter how hard they try. But not everyone can go to Stuyvesant, so for the rest of American teens, who would otherwise be gettin' some, there are purity rings, sort of like chastity belts for the finger, except that they aren't only supposed to regulate the actions of one's fingers. Seems these rings are being marketed as either Christian or secular jewelry, the idea being that even the most godless individuals have good reason to save themselves for marriage.

What's always confused me about abstinence-only education is that its goal is not just to prevent teen sex--a reasonable if not entirely wise aim--but to prevent all premarital sex, even among adults. This now apparently includes preventing "a physical relationship that causes you to be 'turned on' sexually." While this is all well and good if you get married the day after prom, what if you don't? How weird would it be to reach 20, 30, 40... and still... nothing. Not even a moment at first base, just because you didn't meet anyone you wanted to marry, or because it was too confusing whether someone was a good candidate for marriage or just for other things. I have no idea, in the American Christian context, which behaviors that lead to being "turned on" are off-limits, as even looking at a person in a certain way might have that effect, so this all seems far too involved...

For religion, people do all sorts of crazy things, repress all sorts of urges, etc. Religion gives a reason beyond disease and pregnancy to keep people from having sex. That pregnancy can easily be prevented with the simultaneous use of two near-perfect birth control methods is irrelevant if you think God will strike you down for premarital hand-holding. That abstinence prevents certain negative (as well as positive) physical and emotional outcomes is true for all, religious and secular; that it keeps you "pure" is something only understood by those with certain religious convictions.

Somewhat tangentially, this is where I disagree with the (rest of) the left: I believe that there are individuals, gay and straight, who are actually happier abstinent than sexually active, because it would be so upsetting to them to indulge that it would cancel out any pleasure sex would bring them. I don't think sexual desires are somehow inherently stronger than religious fervor, so if a desire for "purity" exceeds one for sex, that's the desire that wins out. Of course, I say this from the perspective of someone who is completely secular, so perhaps I'm wrong, but I think many secular, liberal types like myself make the mistake of thinking that everyone who doesn't have many sexual experiences, preferably with both sexes, is somehow miserable. I say this not out of some all-encompassing idea of moral equivalence--I do not believe that if someone's religion dictates female genital mutilation, beating women, etc., that that's fine, too--but out of a sense that different people want different things for different reasons, and to assume a healthy, fulfilling sex life is everyone's first priority is unfair.

Which brings me to the ever-fascinating concept of "shomer negiah," a concept which apparently, I realize upon Googling it, has its own blog. I suspect the (anonymous) blog may be somewhat fictional, but regardless, people like the "shomer negiah" blogger probably exist, so it makes for an interesting, if unreliable, read. I don't know anyone personally (well, obviously not "personally") who observes this rule, so I'm not sure how it works on a day to day basis, how often it's broken, whether hand-holding is as sinful as a cheeseburger, etc., but it seems to fit quite well with what the "purity ring" contingent expects of unmarried Christians. It's a way of going above and beyond plain old "abstinence," in part so as to make extra-certain that abstinence is the result, but also in part to show yourself to be an extra-hardcore believer, even beyond what most would think the religion in question demands. It's sort of like saying that not only is shrimp non-kosher, but so is romaine lettuce that might contain bugs (hat tip: Sam), or even tap water that may contain non-kosher microorganisms. Of course, sexual restrictions are typically more fraught than dietary ones--while there are surely more opportunities, during a typical day for a typical person, to eat non-kosher food than to engage in premarital sex, a happy life can be led wihtout eating any number of foods, whether for religious, health, or squeamishness reasons, whereas a sex-free life, while perhaps the best or even only option for the super-religious and single, is going to be a bit more problematic.

Which brings me to this, which I found via Gawker. I don't quite know what to make of it, other than the fact that this Andrew Krucoff fellow's expression is... exactly what you'd expect of a man watching otherwise modest young girls going wild. The whole Catholic schoolgirl thing apparently works even when the girls are Jewish; all the better if they observe a law forbidding them even the slightest physical contact with men, and yet for some reason are taking part in a wet-t-shirt (well, wet-skirt, too) contest.

Is there a point to all this? Surprisingly, yes: While it's perfectly legitimate to abstain from premarital sex if you feel this goes against your own (almost always religious) principles, if you are just some random teenager or single adult, there's no reason you should be inundated with this rhetoric of "purity." The concept of "purity" is not only inherently religious, but it must be specific to a particular faith one adheres to, rather than to a generic Judeo-Christian idea that premarital sex is wrong. So a "secular purity ring" is not, in fact, possible.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

My new favorite website

While WWPD is without a doubt the best Francophilic Zionism in the blogosphere, it is not as good as it gets on all the internets. No, that would be European Jewish Press's "France" page, and EU-Israel Affairs page, both which I only just found today. It doesn't seem to be updated very often, but it's as close as I've seen to a French-Jewish version of Arts and Letters Daily, so I'm impressed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

For hair so shiny it shines

Today at Duane Reade (the evil empire, that is) I got a jar-type-thing of my usual "Frizz-Ease" conditioner. I'd never looked too carefully at the container, but today I noticed that it is called "Miraculous Recovery." Yes, my hair will make it, after all! Why, it was on life support for years, and there it went, running the marathon in under two hours! Why, look, my hair just won the Tour de France! Take that, Lance Armstrong.

In all seriousness, what is this obsession women have with "healthy" hair? I can kind of understand caring about healthy teeth or nails, as unhealthy teeth or nails could be painful. But hair can be bleached out of commission, ends split, bangs frizzy, and so on, and yet give it a few months and it's back to it's natural state. Have a bad experience with a curling or straightening iron? Take a shower, and you're back to baseline. While "healthy" hair may be seen as denoting a healthy individual, no one assumes illness when they see that a person with obviously dyed or otherwise chemically altered hair does not have Pantene-ad-shiny locks.

And finally, the cultural-criticism you've grown to expect from WWPD: the concept of "healthy hair" is, if not racist, then at the very least racial, or, if not racial, then certainly genetic. Hair that is really shiny is typically somewhere between wavy and straight. Ads for products promising "healthy" hair sometimes show a black woman (or a naturally-frizzy-haired non-black woman) with straightened hair whose long hair flows oh so "healthily" and "naturally." While very thin hair may be a sign of illness, it isn't necessarily, but regardless, thick versus thin is rarely the issue. Pantene urges women to seek out "hair so healthy it shines." Well, guess what, millions of women all over the world could give up every possible unhealthy habit, follow every bit of advice ever given by "Personal Health" columnist Jane Brody, and still have hair that is not especially shiny.

There is nothing wrong with trying to have shiny hair. It is, for whatever reasons, valued by society, and can be acheived through all sorts of non-permanent, inexpensive, non-life-threatening, non-surgical methods. I confess, I like my hair better on the days it looks shinier, and am somewhat wistful whenever I dye my hair and trade a bit of natural shine for a more excitingly unnatural color. Not wistful enough to keep my hair its natural color, but wistful all the same. But this is not a matter of life or death. Hair products, unlike birth control pills, are never truly used for health reasons. There is no need to make women feel justified in spending a few dollars on a bottle of conditioner, as though it were as necessary as neosporin or advil. On the other hand, maybe there is a need to convince women of this in order to sell conditioner, but I do not work in advertizing, so I wouldn't know.

Some expletives with your coffee?

Today I was about to get into the train at Astor Place, when I saw a truck selling coffee. Not a cart, but a big, brightly-colored hippie truck. It was really, really cold out, so cold that whatever was sold by the hippies in the truck was sure to be fabulous.

"Do you know what the only thing is cooler than a mohawk?," asked the barista.

"What?" -me.

"Two mohawks."

Sure enough, there was a not-teenaged man standing behind me--this was near the cube, although to be honest, I don't even remember if they put it back, I always just picture it being there--wearing his hair in two parallel mohawks. With him was another, also middle-aged, punk, with no punk look but plenty of attitude. Punk #2 chastized hippie barista #1 (there was only one, and, to his credit, he didn't appear to be that much of a hippie) for being on his turf and for selling "asshole coffee." I told the barista that I was "looking forward to my asshole coffee." Given that it was freezing, windy, whatever, I had to explain, loudly, what this was in reference to. And, at well under $3 for a cappuccino, it was one of the more reasonably priced "asshole coffees" I've ever encountered. And it was most delicious.

But seriously, two grievances: 1) I am too old to be a punk, so these men surely were way too old to be punks. If you are too old, no, old enough for John Derbyshire to find you attractive when nude, then you are too old to be a punk. And 2) While "asshole coffee" is, admittedly, a clever name for "cappuccinos," "macchiatos," and the like, if you're going to protest its existence, why pick on some schlumpy hippie truck that charges well under the "asshole coffee" norm? Why not head over to Prince or University and yell at Dean and Deluca, where coffee and a muffin have been in the $6 range at least since I was in high school (which, given that I am too old to be a punk, was a while ago at this point).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Not-Bernard Lazare on anti-Semitism

Daniel Lazare (any relation to Bernard?) writes in The Nation:

In The Jewish Century... Yuri Slezkine, a Russian-Jewish historian now ensconced at Berkeley, mounts an elaborate counterargument. Jews are not unique, he maintains in his fascinating new study, and it is only European provincialism that makes them seem that way. Otherwise, they are of a type that is very common the world over: border crossers, ethnic transgressors and other nomadic and seminomadic elements who enter into complicated relations with host nations that are complementary and symbiotic.

Interesting argument. But is it only "provicialism" that makes Marilyn Monroe the ultimate sex icon, or the Beatles the ultimate band? Or Hitler the ultimate criminal? Sometimes entities are unique, even if they have parallels in other cultures or even within their own. But what makes Jews unique is that, even in remote places where there are no Jews, places far from the universal center that is the Upper West Side, there are opinions about "the Jews." Lazare, however, seems to understand this. As I have not (yet) read Slezkine's book, I should only comment on Lazare's review itself:

But while he regards the Soviet experiment as a failure, [Slezkine] believes "the Jewish century" presented the Jews with a series of choices, none of them completely satisfactory. They could lose themselves in the Mercurian transformation of imperial Russia. They could immigrate to the United States, a country founded by Protestant Mercurians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and take their place alongside all the other Mercurianized immigrant groups as part of a general celebration of American "diversity" and "ethnicity" (however bogus those terms may be). Or they could turn Zionist, move to Palestine and become tillers of the soil, Apollonian peasant warriors in a world struggling to leave all that behind.

The first choice led to a dead end when Stalin's neo-Apollonian Russification policy led to a resurgence of anti-Semitism. The second has led to Bush, while the third has led to permanent warfare in an ethno-chauvinist state that Slezkine describes as "the sole Western survivor (along with Turkey, perhaps) of the integral nationalism of interwar Europe." The very concept of a Jewish state, he adds, is the contemporary equivalent "of such politically illegitimate concepts as 'Germany for the Germans' and 'Greater Serbia,'" while "the rhetoric of ethnic homogeneity and ethnic deportations, tabooed elsewhere in the West, is a routine element of Israeli political life." American and Israeli Jews should not automatically assume that their choice was the right one.

And then:

If Jews benefited from the good will shown toward Israel before the 1967 war, the question is whether they will suffer from growing revulsion felt for it afterward. Anti-Semitism is the anti-Zionism of fools, but there are a lot of fools in the world, and all too many of them are falling into it already. It is morally catastrophic that a people who once allied with the most advanced, democratic currents in the world should now find themselves in bed with the most backward, e.g., all those "Christian Zionists" running around in Bush's America. Remarkably, the Jewish question is no closer to resolution at the start of the twenty-first century than it was at the start of the twentieth.

In other words, who are those crazy Jews, those Zionists and Israelis, who would give up being special and progressive and avant-garde intellectuals/peddlers/moneylenders in favor of being just another racist, nationalistic, ordinary country? Why not embrace your membership in the people to end all peoples, or, if not that, then in one of the many peoples whose uniqueness will lead us to the future and beyond?

Lazare, it seems, misses the appeal of Israel. Or at least what I find appealing about Israel. While everywhere else, Jews are and have for millenia been identified as "special," in Israel, Jews can be boring, or, if interesting, they are interesting merely as individuals, or, at the very least, for some reason other than being Jewish. While people will always be put into boxes no matter where they live, there's something admirable about a drive to move in the opposite direction, about a desire to be recognized (and liked or disliked) as yourself, rather than for mere facts of your birth. This, as I have said before, is the same reason that I am in favor of same-sex marriage, or more specifically, why I am against the left-wing critique of same-sex marriage, which is that gays are interesting/subversive/"special" and marriage will ruin all that. My feeling is, let marriage ruin all that, and let those gays who actually are creative/artistic/"special" prove that by doing something more interesting than expressing their sexual and companionship preferences. Why should anyone be born with a duty to be interesting? So maybe Israel had to take a step back (i.e. be more ethnocentric than other "Western" countries) to take a step forward. I happen to believe Lazare exaggerates the extent to which Israel stepped backward, but that's for another post. But for "Jewish" to become no more "special" than "French" or "German" or "American," and thus to allow Jews to be impressive as individuals if they happen to be impressive individuals, and to lead quiet, mundane lives if not, Israel's existence is a step in the right direction.


Andrew Sullivan is amused/annoyed at the "We All Have AIDS" campaign, which seems to entail presumably non-AIDS-patient celebrities such as Will Smith and Rosie O'Donnell declaring that they, in fact, have AIDS. This campaign is an obvious rip-off of the Anti-Defamation League's recent "Anti-Semitism is Anti-Me" campaign, in which we all learned that anti-Semitism is bad because... it is upsetting to Naomi Campbell. Julia Gorin pretty much says what needs to be said about that campaign. Because no one cares when anti-Semitism affects Jews, or even when it affects, say, Shalom Harlow (who may or may not actually be Jewish, I have no idea, but her name is Shalom so why not?), but it's when Naomi Campbell's feathers are ruffled that we must protest this most dire of problems.

The logic behind these campaigns is more or less sound--we live in a just society, ergo any sort of injustice makes the society as a whole unjust, ergo it affects us all. And yet, it doesn't. The problem is that, as a just society, we ought to understand that it's enough that AIDS affects those with the disease and that anti-Semitism is a problem for Jews. Who cares if Paris Hilton feels personally insulted at anti-Asian slurs, or if Brad Pitt is especially bothered by anti-black racism, or if I, Phoebe of WWPD semi-fame, take it personally every time an effeminate middle-school boy is called a "faggot." This reminds me of a pin I've seen around, with which the wearer declares himself an "ally" of the gays. Which is, in effect, saying, "I'm liberal, but I'm straight, I tell you, straight!" Which is a bit disturbing, because I cannot think of any other pin with which one could make clear that one supported a cause but was explicitly not a part of the group victimized by whichever wrong was being protested. I say, go with the rainbow flag, no explanations, I've known straight people who have, and it didn't seem to cut into their social life.

What this all amounts to is the following: It's better, in a way, to leave things ambiguous. For all anyone knows, Naomi Campbell is Jewish. (Naomi is a Jewish enough name, no?) Anti-semitism may not be anti-Naomi Campbell, but it is anti-Gwyneth Paltrow, anti-Natalie Portman, (not to mention anti-Lior Ashkenazi and anti-Yehuda Levi, and given that those two are the best-looking actors, nay, life forms, in the galaxy, we must, I mean must, take note). So, lame as the "anti-everybody" ad campaigns may be, they remind the public that, "It's just a problem for those people over there" is not acceptable. When there are ads from Planned Parenthood, featuring gay male couples, with the caption, "I demand access to birth control and abortion," we will be able to rest easy, knowing that we live in an utterly ridiculous, and yet strangely wonderful, society.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Are down coats the new Botox?

This evening, some construction workers tried to strike up a conversation with me, or something like that, perhaps disproving John Derbyshire's theory that women cease to be attractive after age 20, making me a full two years past my prime. But of course Derbyshire referred specifically to how women look naked, and I was wearing a puffy winter coat; surely had I disrobed, these men would have lost interest entirely.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Dachshundwatch: the blond edition

Trying to get some work done, but needed a break, and what better break than blogging about a dachshund I met today?

On Park Avenue (where else?) I saw a very slim lady, carrying a Louis Vuitton dog carrier. In this carrier was (what else?) a blond longhaired dachshund. Just as blonds were considered fascinating at Stuyvesant, where there were very few of them, blond dachshunds are hard to come by, even on Park, and it's thus especially interesting to see one. I told this woman (herself blonde) that her dog was amazing, at which point the dog really lost it, began barking insanely, and seemed as if it was about to pounce out of the carrier and bite my head off. The woman told me that her dog agreed that s/he (can't remember what she said) was amazing. Dachshunds (of all colors) can be a bit psycho at times, but they're so silly, you have to forgive.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Life in Brooklyn

Nothing like coming home, thinking your building is on fire, realizing that, no, it was just a garbage can in front of your building that with the fire, which your roommate has already put out using a fire extinguisher, but which gets extra-extinguished by firemen, only to learn that perhaps the building would have burned down had it not been for your neighbor from down the street, who identified herself as the one with "the cat. On the leash." Leash-wearing cats are perhaps not so uncommon in the city, but I'm almost certain there's just one on my block.

I'm over the hill!

Via Andrew Sullivan, I've found this moment of wit by John Derbyshire:

Did I buy, or browse, a copy of the November 17 GQ, in order to get a look at Jennifer Aniston's bristols?** No, I didn't. While I have no doubt that Ms. Aniston is a paragon of charm, wit, and intelligence, she is also 36 years old. Even with the strenuous body-hardening exercise routines now compulsory for movie stars, at age 36 the forces of nature have won out over the view-worthiness of the unsupported female bust.

It is, in fact, a sad truth about human life that beyond our salad days, very few of us are interesting to look at in the buff. Added to that sadness is the very unfair truth that a woman's salad days are shorter than a man's — really, in this precise context, only from about 15 to 20. The Nautilus and the treadmill can add a half decade or so, but by 36 the bloom is definitely off the rose. Very few of us, however, can face up to this fact honestly, and I am sure this diary item will generate more angry e-mails of protest than everything else I have written this month.

I would be offended, disgusted, whatever (he speaks with authority on the subject, but what is Derbyshire doing looking at 15-17-year-olds "in the buff"?!), but he is simply wrong. While models may peak at 14, the rest of female humanity does not. Ever seen a high school yearbook? No one looks good at 17, give or take a few years. Every single one of my female friends looks a whole lot hotter now than then. No, I have not seen them "in the buff," but good-looking is good-looking, and it doesn't happen till you've finished the gym requirements, completed your detention sessions, and moved out of your parents' home.

While it's possible Derbyshire's just a run-of-the-mill pervert, what seems more likely, in that he sees his view as a politically conservative one, is that he's attracted to virginity. A 15-year-old is more likely to be a virgin than a 25-year-old, simply because she's had 10 fewer years to get it on. Derbyshire's attracted to virginity the way that Alvy Singer in "Annie Hall" is attracted to "shiksa"-ness. Whether or not a woman's attractive is irrelevant to men in love not with a person, not even with an especially nice set of breasts, but with an idea.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The right to be an idiot in private

Dan Savage thinks a right to privacy should be written into the Constitution. He makes a good point. While it should not be put into law, people also ought to have the right to be annoying in the privacy of their own homes/celebrations. From hippie-poseurs to nouveau riche walking-Jewish-stereotypes, everyone should be allowed to be a fool in private without getting judged too harshly by the outside world. Well, it's not so much that it should be a right--anyone has the right to have an opinion on anything anyone else does, public or private--but that grand, sweeping declarations of how wrong or disgusting it is to, say, be a college-educated white person living in Bushwick, or hire 50 Cent to perform at a bat mitzvah, seem a bit misguided.

The Bushwick artist-house and the rapper-led bat mitzvah are objectionable for the same reason--they involve socioeconomic and racial mixing going on in potentially but not outright offensive ways. While the Bushwick pseudo-hippies are hardly flaunting their privileged position in society, they are guilty of having (or appearing to have) more than those around them, both materially and through their race or level of education. While a super-successful black rapper and a super-successful Jewish businessman are both, well, super-successful, there's something crude and stereotype-fulfilling about the latter hiring the former to sing at a party. Even at lesser bar/bat mitzvahs, where the hired entertainment is just some random dancers, when the singing/dancing help is black and those funding it are white and Jewish, some will inevitably cringe.

No one's putting on a minstrel show (or, for that matter, a thug-themed party), no one's strutting around Bushwick in sorority sweatsuits and Longchamp bags (or so one hopes), yet any time diversity arises naturally, any time racial/socioeconomic differences are salient, people start to wonder if something's amiss. Yet in neither of these cases (Bushwick and bat mitzvah) is anything morally reprehensible going on. Should whites really not move into Bushwick because their presence--even if they themselves live in semi-squalor--might eventually lead to gentrification? Should crass, bat-mitzvah-throwing parents go out of their way to be tasteful at their own private events? Somehow it's OK to be rich and white if you are classy and restrained and don't try to move out of whichever rich, white enclave you live in, but once you embrace diversity ("gentrification") or buy goods and services and thus boost the economy while lessening your own bank account ("ostentatious"), you're out of luck.

And finally, enough with the flashy bar mitzvah exposes, already. These events are a real boon for those middle-schoolers lucky enough to know someone who knows someone who's having one. One of my happiest childhood memories is of attending a bar mitzvah at the Pierre, of a boy I'm not sure I ever met, where I not only could eat as much parmesan cheese as I wanted, from a great big wheel of it, but got asked to dance by a boy a grade older than me, bestowing infinite status on my sixth-grade self. Unlimited cheese and positive social interaction, all in a lavish setting, are about as good as it gets in junior high. Don't take that away!

The inevitable

This has happened before. Hair dyed vibrantly red turns orange. And looks dreadful. My hair is now coated in red Manic Panic. I'm not so much worried about how the dye will look (the guy at Ricky's, not especially interested in making a sale, advised against) as how or where to wash it out without destroying any surfaces in my apartment...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The arrival of modernity

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And God said, let there be stay-at-home moms

Ross Douthat is back with more "telling it like it is" social conservatism, this time critiquing Linda Hirshman's piece in the Prospect:

I'm not going to argue with [Hirshman], since in general I think she's fighting a losing battle, and because her prescriptions - encouraging women to opt out of the less-than-lucrative liberal arts majors in favor of higher-salaried tracks like economics; suggesting that women start marrying down, or younger or older, so that their hubbies will be more amenable to sacrificing their own careers to help out on the home front; proposing a nationwide natalism strike, in which women refuse to have more than one child - are interesting without being even faintly realistic. (She also writes that "conservatives justified the unequal family in two modes: 'God ordained it' and 'biology is destiny'" - and since I believe in 1) God and 2) biological differences between the sexes, which make women more likely than men to choose children over a full-time career, I guess I have to plead guilty on both counts. But I think I'm right.)

I'm not sure if the battle Douthat is fighting is a winning or losing one, but either way, it merits a response, because it makes no sense whatsoever and yet is being passed off as a serious discussion of a serious issue. Obviously a person could, like Douthat, believe in God, and, unlike Douthat and the conservatives Hirshman mentions, not use this belief to justify a woman staying in the kitchen and so forth. Hirshman is not saying that anyone God-fearing is a conservative, but that conservatives are (mis)using faith to support their own political goals.

Also, Douthat says he believes in "biological differences between the sexes, which make women more likely than men to choose children over a full-time career." Fair enough. But to him this means that "biology is destiny." That's a bit of a leap, isn't it? Conservatives want individuals to fight their "biological" inclinations in all sorts of ways--why shouldn't women, who are "biologically inclined" to throw tupperware parties, use the same willpower used by ex-gays, monogamists, etc., and become businesswomen?

But it's the "I think I'm right" that really does it. Isn't it a given that people who write down their opinions--online or off--think that they're right? Isn't the point to actually be right, or at least to argue convincingly that one is right, rather than to merely assert this?

Still, Hirshman's argument isn't entirely sound, but not for the reasons Douthat provides:

What better sample, I thought, than the brilliantly educated and accomplished brides of the “Sunday Styles,” circa 1996? At marriage, they included a vice president of client communication, a gastroenterologist, a lawyer, an editor, and a marketing executive. In 2003 and 2004, I tracked them down and called them. I interviewed about 80 percent of the 41 women who announced their weddings over three Sundays in 1996. Around 40 years old, college graduates with careers: Who was more likely than they to be reaping feminism’s promise of opportunity? Imagine my shock when I found almost all the brides from the first Sunday at home with their children. Statistical anomaly? Nope. Same result for the next Sunday. And the one after that.

There's a problem with this sample--the Times brides are not merely educated women, but educated women who want their weddings written up in the Times. Only a certain (perhaps traditional?) sort of person would want this. While, as David Brooks points out in Bobos in Paradise, changes in the NYT Weddings pages reflect changes in society, as long as the weddings are not selected at random, they're bound to be skewed towards those newlyweds who go in for not just marriage but also the whole mystique of the wedding itself. Hirshman gives other evidence as well, but she keeps mentioning the the NYT-bride example throughout the article, as though it were especially convincing. It's not. Otherwise, though, her overall point--that the glass ceiling is at home--makes a great deal of sense, and her other examples seem to support it.

Capitalism is the new religion

I will eat falafel from any venue. It's not the sort of food you expect to have been prepared in the most pristine conditions, I suppose. I'm very particular about where I get sushi, muffins, and bagels, somewhat picky with pizza and coffee, but any falafel will do. In Paris, I had falafel at a restaurant with a truly filthy outhouse. Yes, a restaurant. Yes, an outhouse. Well, sort of a bathroom-outhouse fusion, but very much BYOTP. (Think about it.) Today, when Molly mentioned good falafel in a loading dock, I readily agreed. Which was a good thing, as this falafel was not half bad. Nor, for that matter, is my Hebrew, because just hearing someone say the word "lishtot" reminded me to grab a diet Coke.

In keeping with the Parisian theme of today's lunch hour, Molly and I hit up the Petit Bateau sample sale. In the interest of completely eliminating any relevance whatsoever this blog may have, I'll let you know that I got two white tank tops, a pink long-sleeved v-neck, and a black longsleeved crewneck. The sale itself was held in a church, which amused me because, in "The Ladies' Paradise" the new, big department store is referred to many times as being church-like. (Am tempted to make a remark about how a sample sale in a church is a bit like a bar in a synagogue--a sneaky way to attract converts--but should probably just send it along to Sarah Silverman, who has the monopoly on ethnic/"JAP" jokes these days).

Double insanity

One thing led to another, and I sang "Oops... I did it again" at a karaoke bar in Chinatown this evening. "One thing led to another" meaning that my friend Masha turned 22, and I consumed most of a beer. It's a great song, "Oops...," but Masha's roommates, who are from states redder than this one, performed a country song about a girl named "Fancy" who becomes a successful prostitute, at the behest of her own mother. This song is far superior to anything Britney, but its lyrics do seem somewhat applicable to situations in which parents push their kids to become underage popstar sex symbols, so it all relates. Kind of. In any case, karaoke at a friend's birthday beats walking down the street, trying to prevent myself from singing along to music coming out of headphones, only to realize that I would look doubly insane if I were to really belt out one of the songs I was listening to, because the lyrics are in Hebrew and I'd mispronounce (or entirely miss) a number of the words. I think singing as Britney got the urge out of my system, and I will no longer be tempted to sing along with Ivri Lider while walking to and from the subway.

Buy stuff!!!

In Zola's "The Ladies' Paradise," there's much discussion of how department stores managed (as they do today) to fool the public, attracting crowds by selling items at or below cost price, then allowing more expensive items they never knew they'd wanted to catch their eye. That technique is, err, old hat. The latest innovation those sneaky shopkeepers have come up with is the unintimidating high-end experience. Stores like Scoop or Intermix probably led the way here, with the entire concept of high-end jeans or sneakers moving things along as well. Basically, the typical consumer will deem stores (or restaurants, or neighborhoods) "too expensive" on the basis of how they look, before ever actually looking at prices. If you pass a boutique that's super-intimidating, filled with clothing that could only be worn to occasions unlikely to arise in most people's lives, then you might not think of entering. But if you ("you"="I" for our purposes; it could refer to you as well) pass a boutique that appears to cater to teenagers, with jeans and shiny things in the windows, you think, hey, that's a store I could shop at. While the prices remain absurdly high, the new designer clothing experience is no more intimidating than a trip to the GAP. You can leave and think, I just got jeans and a t-shirt, no big deal, but have spent enough to have bought a new suit. So, rather than shockingly cheap high-end merchandise, we now have shockingly overpriced (though many are now accustomed to it) low-end attire.

That's my profound thought for the night.

Let the hippies be

After I came out against the Park Slope Food Co-op, readers might expect me to be equally negative about the pseudo-hippie artistic types who've set up a commune in Bushwick. And indeed, I once wrote a somewhat critical piece about these sorts of living arrangements. But while they're not for me (even if the Bushwick commune bears a superficial--though not economic--resemblance to the apartment I live in), I can't say I'm opposed. People have a right to be insufferable--or rebellious, depending how you see things--within the privacy of their own homes. Setting up an exclusive, interview-only community, where residents take pride in how different their pursuits are from typical American ones while owning iPods (see the slideshow), attending graduate school, having boyfriends, and getting clothes dry-cleaned, is just one of an infinite number of ways to set up one's living arrangement. True, to live in such an situation you'd probably have to be unmarried, but not necessarily, and presumably many members will eventually marry and leave, given their ages, so it seems unlikely that this set-up is a permanent one for most who are involved. The residents are not suggesting that anyone who doesn't pick up and move to a Bushwick commune is yuppie scum, they just like having a lot of roommates who share their creative/pretentious preferences, roll their own cigarettes, and so forth. They do not claim to be saving the world, are not exactly gentrifiers--ten people with two bathrooms will not attract a Starbucks, even if many of the ten are white--but just decided to live in a setting in which they'll feel comfortable.

But, as a Gawker commenter points out (albeit far more elegantly), $800 a month is a bit steep for co-operative living in a dangerous neighborhood. Non-hippie living arrangements in the city can be found for less, and in more gentrified areas. And what a good thing that is.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The enduring sketchiness of Duane Reade

Molly's onto something. I already knew my local Duane Reade was sketch city--a group of guys were once cheerfully (I want to think jokingly) discussing--with one of the (female) cashiers--the possibility of gang-raping a woman or disposing of her body--but the options are limited enough that Monsieur Reade got my vote when deciding what I'll choose as my local pharmacy. While there just now, I heard one of the pharmacists/assistants conversing with a voice on speakerphone--a woman giving her date of birth, her last name, the spelling of her last name... and then the pharmacist/assistant asked the woman if she needed anything other than birth control. Um, a little privacy, maybe? Is that what happens when you call things into Duane Reade? Couldn't the pharmacist have at least used the technical name for whichever method the woman on the other end needed? I don't think birth control is anything to be embarassed about, wish it were available more cheaply and with less hassle to all, but does "Ms. X" really need to be put in a situation where she unwittingly announces to all of Duane Reade that she's on the Pill or similar?

Relatedly, this ethical conundrum's been on my mind for a while now, and it relates, so here goes:

Let's say a woman walks into a pharmacy to fill her prescription for the Pill. Turns out she gets one of those social-conservative pharmacists who won't give it to her. This is their conversation:

Woman: I'd like to fill this prescription.
Pharmacist: Sorry, that goes against my religion, I cannot provide it.
Woman: But I need it for health reasons.
Pharmacist: That's what they all say.
Woman: Seriously, health reasons only.
Pharmacist: How could I possibly believe that?
Woman: I'm a lesbian.

What happens next? Would she get the prescription? Surely no matter how wrong a social conservative considers homosexuality, there's no moral reason to prevent a lesbian who is truly taking the Pill for health reasons from taking it, unless the pharmacist believes that a) the woman might get raped, and all life is sacred, ergo... or b) she may well have a change of heart and become ex-gay before the month is over.

"Jewry of Muscle"*

I go running almost exclusively on Jewish holidays, in part because I have those days off from work, and in part because I so enjoy being asked to pray with Hasidic 14-year-olds in Prospect Park. So I can't really come out against the 92nd Street Y's decision to keep its gym open on Shabbat, at least not from a self-righteous perspective. While part of me wants to say, ick, this is the final triumph of cultural/crass Judaism over the real deal, the cult of the body over monotheism, the other part of me thinks it's like Zabar's selling ham--things are as they are, and catering to a relatively small observant population as a formality, when there are options for those who care about such things, is unneccessary and phony.

New York Judaism is as much about being shomer everything as about mimicking Woody Allen in your neurosis and hangups. Which all goes back to Hannah Arendt's point about Judaism versus "Jewishness," the latter being what came out of emancipation and assimilation, an identity based not on religion or nationality but on certain identifying qualities, ethnic or behavioral, that forever marked Jews as different from those around them. It's a transition from, "Jews are those who believe the Messiah has yet to arrive, and who don't eat certain foods" to, "Jews are so funny and clever, a bit conniving, yes, but their men are supposed to make great husbands." It's all sort of, yuck, and makes me want to move to Israel, where perhaps things are a bit different than they are here. Or maybe Israel appeals to me for other reasons...

Also, the Manhattan JCC's on 70-something, not, as the NYT article says, 86th, as will be known by 112% of those reading it.

*Apologies to Max Nordau, who presumably didn't have elliptical machines in mind.

"I wanted to wear the blue vest, why'd you put me in the red one?!"

Hmm, so Kei has posted the absolute cutest picture ever known to the blogosphere, if not to mankind, and it doesn't even involve any pandas. The above picture is not the most flattering one ever taken of a dachshund, but I promised a picture of an especially agitated dachshund, so if I'm going to keep my blog-promises, not to mention keep up with Kei in the dachshund-blogging, I must post it all the same.

Battle of the Boroughs

Over the past few days, walking around the city, I've unintentionally come across both my senator and my mayor. Bloomberg was hovering around the West Side, where they were inflating the balloons for the parade, and was surrounded by all sorts of protective individuals, cars with tinted windows, and so forth. Schumer, on the other hand, was just at the Grand Army Plaza farmers' market with his daughter (who, I now remember, is, like Bloomberg's daughter, a former classmate of mine), looking laid-back and entirely ordinary for the neighborhood.

Which leads to the obvious question: Brooklyn or Manhattan? I spent most of this past week back in "the city," and would have to say I do miss it to some extent. People are everywhere, opportunities to buy random crap abound, and long subway trips can be avoided. But Brooklyn (OK, the part of Brooklyn I live in)... here, the babies are multiracial, the middle-aged lesbian couples affectionate, and the dogs poufy and gigantic, rather than tiny and overgroomed. I'll take Brooklyn. For now, at least, until this building becomes available.

Friday, November 25, 2005

"The international law expert declared hamantaschen a violation of the Geneva Conventions..."

The University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentasch debate, which I covered last year for the UChicago Magazine's blog, is the subject of a new book, and consequently was written up in the New York Times:

Here at Chicago, where 15 percent of the 4,500 undergraduates - and, Mr. [Ted] Cohen estimated, "112 percent" of the faculty - are Jewish, it overflows the largest auditorium, with devotees pinning "I {sheart} Hamentaschen" buttons on their T-shirts, including ones that proclaim U.C. the university "where fun goes to die." Despite its reputation, Mr. Cohen noted, Chicago is not only where the atom was first split but also where Second City, the improvisational comedy giant, was born - not that long after the latke-hamantasch debate.

Among the eminent Hyde Park humorists - and debaters - highlighted in the book are the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, who said the matter could be settled by the equation L=qH2/3; Hanna Holborn Gray, then the university's president, who explained that Machiavelli was not only Jewish but loved the latke; and Allan Bloom of the Committee on Social Thought, whose talk was titled, not surprisingly, "Restoring the Jewish Canon."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Wit or not?

My parents get TimesSelect, which has allowed me the joys of reading David Brooks's attempt at humor. If you find the show "Frasier" knee-slappingly delightful, then you will simply adore Brooks's charming references to Zagats, "mischevous" wine, TimesSelect, and getting a good table at a restaurant. Oh, how he understands us so!

Thanksgiving pandablogging

We should all be thankful for the existence of pandas, which are profoundly silly and fluffy animals. Not quite as nice as polar bears, but still worthy, and far more high-profile when it comes to blogs. So here's a roundup of pandablogging throughout the internets:

Let's start with the most disturbing. Once you've recovered, move along to this only-incidentally-panda-post. And now, you are ready for the ultimate in panda.

When two charged double-a batteries return to my camera, there will be a picture, not of a panda, but of an especially agitated dachshund.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A final subway anecdote for the evening

My roommate Katherine was on the train recently when she saw a couple of kids, looking suspiciously Stuyvesantian... with folded sheets of white paper, doing math homework. She told me this, and of course I understood immediately: They have Ms. Avigdor! Katherine and I were both in her calc class way back when, and we had to fold our homework just so. It was very old-school, very "I walked to school 30 miles barefoot in the snow," but it kept us on our (frostbitten) toes, which is what you need when taking second-term senior year calculus. Katherine asked the kids if they were in Avigdor's class, and they confirmed this. She reports that, as she was a stranger and of the opposite sex, the aforementioned Stuyvesantians did not look her in the eye. Sounds about right.

Hummus is the glue that holds my life together

I have eaten a great deal of hummus (Hummus Place, most recently with Molly, and Taim just now with Sam) lately, and while I like it enough, I've been eating it when not up for it, which is just no good. But I have other, more exciting, more bloggy news:

1) Gothamist/Garth has picked up my Metropolitan Diary-esque story of Orthodox Jewish girls on the subway who go get pierced. Now the following two things will happen, one causing the next: a) many people will read my post about Orthodox teen rebels, and b) those girls' parents will be pissed.

2) I met Matthew Yglesias, the most famous blogger I've ever met in real life, unless you count the time I sat next to someone who may or may not have been Andrew Sullivan at a Thai restaurant.

3) Molly's blogging again! With an awesome subway anecdote of her own.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Silver boots mean party

See below for evidence of the glimmer of social life in my otherwise highly productive weekend. Pictured below are my roommates, Katherine and Anna, as well as our honorary roommate Masha, whose housewarming party was most wonderful. I consumed two entire beers over several hours. Rock and roll, baby!

In other news, I finally tracked down Ivri Lider's CD, the one with the song from "Yossi and Jagger" on it, at Holyland Market in the East Village. I am going to (re?)teach myself Hebrew from this album. Or torture my roommates with "ch" sounds, which apparently not everyone appreciates as much as I do.

Masha's "castlewarming" party

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Grandest of all Army Plazas

Only in NY?

On the subway back from Manhattan this evening, I found myself in the middle (physically, not vocally) of a conversation about what to pierce next, at what point piercings look trashy, and which piercing salons were better than others. A typical subway conversation if there ever was one, second only to, "Move into the center of the car, and stop filming me with your camera phone while you're at it." But the discussion participants? A group of Orthodox Jewish girls, as was clear from the long skirts and the discussions of Shabbat. I would say "Only in NY" definitively, but there are probably other places in the world where such a scene might occur.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Shabbat shalom, from the Style section

Occasionally, an image comes along that is somewhat distressing to look at, yet one simply cannot look away. The photo of bat mitzvah girl Amber getting kissed on each cheek by her parents in Miami, wearing a $27,000 dress, with Ashanti and Ja Rule hired to perform at her party, is obviously meant to appear as grotesque to NYT-reading sophisticates. While the point of the article--big-name stars perform at private events for loads of cash--is not specifically about bar or bat mitzvahs, the notion Americans already have of a grotesque and crass party is associated more with these events than with, say, weddings or anniversary parties. Conspicuous consumption happens all over the place, in America and beyond, but if at the center of it all is a 13-year-old "JAP," it's all the better. Photographs from bar and bat mitzvah's are now all the rage, meant to be looked at ironically, to induce cringing, and so on.

The problem, of course, is that the image of Jews in America becomes that of an overly-dressed-up adolescent, looking simultanously awkward and spoiled, coming of age amidst the exploitation of not only hired singers and uniformed caterers, but also of their very own religion. Is nothing sacred to these people? Good grief!

Bar and bat mitzvahs are tacky not because they're Jewish parties, but because they're tailored to 13-year-olds. While adult parties can center around alcohol and children's parties around cake and fingerpainting, adolescents need something else. Dancing, shiny things, bright flashing lights, goodie-bags, one-upping one's friends, this is all quite normal for that age. But then once you start involving elderly relatives, and taking pictures of the proceedings, it begins to look as though everyone involved simply loved the macarena and the electric slide and those bracelets that glow for days if you keep them refrigerated, but which will inevitably leak all over your refrigerator. 13 is not the best age to pick for centering an event around, and for photographing. But as long as Judaism in America remains to many a culture with traces of a religion, the bar and bat mitzvah will continue to provide hipsters and sophisticates with more material than they know what to do with.