Monday, February 27, 2006

a diamond in the rough

Trawling my old college newspaper always turns up idiocy of one stripe or another. Usually I view the idiocy in a fond, nostalgic light, but in the case of this badly argued piece, I found myself lacking patience.

The author raises this point: The fundamental questions in the rioters’ collective mind are these: How can public media outlets in secular, minority-protecting societies promote language that debases a major world religion? Why is there no condemnation of this prejudice by governments that protect these societies? The misunderstanding of the publications is ironic, because it is based in an understanding that “free dissemination of ideas and culture” characterizes the mainstream newspapers that chose to print the cartoons. How could they be so pre-ironic?

First off, I object to the use of "ironic" in one sentence followed by "pre-ironic" in the next. Aside from the irritatingly bad writing, it makes me demand, well, which is it? Ironic or pre-ironic?

Secondly, the objectionable material was not "language," it was a series of cartoons. The visuals are what sent people over the edge.

Thirdly, "collective mind"? What? If such a thing existed, why would this author of all people be elected to decode it? And why would the collective mind get its collective panties in a twist about the debasement of a major world religion when such debasement HAPPENS ALL THE TIME, to ALL religions, and is indicative of, you know, Enlightenment doing its thing?

This leads into the whiny author's next attempt to rationalize the rioting: according to him (and the top notch, totally with it president of Iran), Islam is treated with contempt in the Western press while Judaism is protected. His proof? That an Austrian was recently given a jail sentence for Holocaust denial -- or, as he piously puts it, for challenging Europe's "dominant narrative." What's the submissive narrative, friend? An alien invasion took over the earth between the years of 1939 and 1945, planted phony evidence, abducted 10 million people, and altered our memories so that we only think a genocide and a war took place?

Granted, the sentencing of that fool is straight out of the Dumbassery Textbook for Overreaching (possibly Well-Meaning) Dumbasses. But Austria is one country. Its dumbass decisions belong to it alone and are hardly representative of a Western press where Israel is frequently criticized and religions -- again, ALL of them -- come up for their fair share of ridicule. Even what the author claims is a sacred cow, the Holocaust, has been pilloried in that Holocaust cartoon contest. Those caricatures have been published already, and to what outcry? Art Spiegelman demonstrated his total lack of care by publishing his own in the New Yorker, although sadly they're not visible online.

The author finishes up with the repetition of his rhetorical question, "Whose history and culture are protected from criticism?" Cuz he's a real Perry Mason, this guy. But in trying to pass the buck to the Jews, he abandons his initial point, which was that he was disappointed that violence broke out in a city he loved. A valid and sad comment ridden off the rails by his need to place the blame for that violence somewhere, anywhere, other than on the shoulders of the perpetrators.

Luckily there's this to boost your spirits. My friend little Adam has donned a cloak once worn by Emily Post -- probably obtained over eBay -- and become Mr. Manners. His column is a gem and I promise never, not once, uses the phrase "dominant narrative."

Sunday, February 26, 2006

one has to ask

Does a modern world with a postmodern attention span require both a Keira Knightley and a Natalie Portman? Both appear on magazine covers, their brown eyes staring at us from under butch haircuts. You can tell that editors have put the screws to their diminutive, skinny boy-bodies to make them exude sex appeal. In result, there's a faint whiff of it in the air, but perhaps that's coming from that Grey's Anatomy cover in the Entertainment section.

There seems to be enough talent between these two waifs to power one star. Which should it be? Let's break it down.

20 years old, British. Definitely has the accent going for her. Recently impressed hardened Jane Austen fans with her turn as Eliza Bennett. However, had to work hard to impress them after pathetic performance in Pirates of the Carribean, where Johnny Depp out-sexed her by a mile and a half. Established some "girl next door" cred in Bend it like Beckham, squandered it in King Arthur.

24 years old, Israeli-American. Faked an accent for Closer, where she was thoroughly out-sexed by Clive Owen. Established "girl next door" cred in Garden State (and pedophile's dream cred in Beautiful Girls.) Sucked the life out of every Star Wars scene she was in, but let's be charitable and blame the script.

A tricky question? Hardly. The fact that Portman was utterly unconvincing as a stripper gives the edge to Knightley. These days pole skills in our young talented actresses are a must: Lohan, for example, practices three days a week! Plus, Knightley really did make a lovely Eliza. Sorry, Portman. See you on Naboo.
(A tip of the hat to the pros at Fametracker, of course.)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

as long as I'm being bitter

I think Justice Alito would find this perfectly acceptable.
hang your head in shame

The terrorists have won because the American press refused to publish the Danish caricatures. Think about THAT over your breakfast cereal. Actually, spit out your breakfast cereal, what's the matter with you, you heartless oaf! The terrorists have won! Go get your sackcloth and ashes out of the closet and clear some room on the floor.

I actually wasn't sure which was more ridiculous, this article or another from the NYT about Sasha Cohen, gold medal hopeful, which began a graph by saying, "Though short in stature," it was quite possible she'd be able to fulfill her dreams. Because we all know Napoleon never accomplished shit.

Frankly, I think Alan Dershowitz and William Bennett are trying to bully me. They're trying to tell me, the same way the Bush admin. does, that if I don't agree with his methods in dealing with the middle east, I'm giving aid and comfort to the enemy. You'll notice he doesn't call out for criticism Karen Hughes who ALSO condemned the cartoons, or Bush himself for being mealymouthed on the issue. No, he goes straight to the liberals and their media for being faint of heart, because WE'RE EASIER TO PUSH AROUND. We feel guilty, we second-guess ourselves.

Alan, Will, on behalf of a press I have nothing to do with, I sincerely apologize. You're right. Discretion, tact, and wisdom had no place in this particular situation. We should have added more fuel to the fire (a fire that killed over 60 people, the last time I checked, and was raging fine without us). Although Alan, I gotta say, no offense, but are you sure you're not lashing out at the libs cuz you're upset your friend Larry decided to step down?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

black history month

You know, when I was in lower skool, Black History Month was a thing. There were bulletin boards, there were projects, there were movies shown and weighty topics discussed. For example, I remember in fifth grade, my really incredible teacher Mrs. Zagone -- and now I have to pause to explain that Mrs. Zagone was awesome in part because she took us, her students, seriously. As human beings. When we had a question, she answered it. One answer stuck with me like a sunburn: someone asked, What does an orgasm feel like? And Mrs. Zagone said, It's like when you really really really want to sneeze, and then you do.

God bless that woman. But we were talking about race. Mrs. Zagone led us ten year olds in exercises that February imagining we were enslaved. She made us put ourselves in that position and then write essays about how we felt. Would we try to stick it out? Would we try to escape? When I pointed out that there was no way we could know, that of course we'd like to think we'd be braver than brave, but we didn't grow up in that world, beaten down from day one, she made me read my essay to the class.

The popular kids, by the way, never gave me shit for being "smart." I was never made fun of, not once, and believe me, loquaciousness aside, if you saw pictures of my crazy hair, my sweaters and leggings, you'd know they had just cause. Mrs. Zagone also fostered an atmosphere where being smart was good, where people wanted to be smart.

But we were talking about race! My point, initially, was there aren't bulletin boards anymore. February, I'm allowed to forget it's Black History Month, and so are you, unless you're still in lower school (in which case, what the hell are you doing reading this? And, if you have questions about orgasms, feel free to email.) I've read Angry Black Bitch on occasion and found her direct and intelligent. But I haven't put her on the blogroll til now. Why?

She's not going on the blogroll because of Black History Month, except to the degree that Black History Month finally and incidentally kicked my ass into gear. (And SHE isn't really the point here, anyway, which I trust you understand.) I'm tired of feeling scared of black people. It's exhausting. At college, I took a class from a brilliant black powerhouse of a professor. I attended, I did the reading, I wrote the papers, I talked with her outside of class, I got a good grade, I liked her and she liked me, and I was still scared to death of her!

I assistant-directed a production of For Colored Girls Who Have Committed Suicide .... I was the only white girl involved and my method of blending in consisted, largely, of being as small and unobtrusive presence as possible. The cast gradually did forget I was there, or that I was an outsider, or something: more and more, they talked freely, at a couple points making of people I knew, even making fun of Jews. I said nothing. At the time it felt like an important growth sort of thing, and it was, but in the long run, it didn't really help.

I've learned enough history and media history to know this is a deep-rooted societal problem. But how do you frikkin fix it? Even my leftiest lefty friends (all caucasian) don't have close black friends, or if they do, those friends are queer. I don't know a single black-white interracial couple. Is it progress enough for both groups to simply respect each other, interact sometimes and generally leave each other alone? What if that's just a mask for the deep-rooted fear we don't want to deal with?

Clearly, I don't have any answers. I just thought, for the sake of Black History Month, I should bring it up. Face up to it, and say, you know, that I am afraid that an average black person would dislike or resent me, and that makes me defensive as well as more afraid. And it's not good for anyone.

Monday, February 20, 2006

ready for kindergarten

Mr. Ben and I turned five on friday. It's a little hard to believe, but, since we could use the situation to justify spending outsized amounts of money on a meal in a fancy Manhattan restaurant, we decided to take it on faith.

The restaurant we picked, after much deliberation, was Annisa. It's feminist! (True!) The incredible three page wine list includes wine only from vineyards owned and operated by women; the owner of the restaurant is a woman, and so is the star chef. Mr. Ben and I got to sit side by side and order an appetizer to share and a glass of wine each in addition to our entrees and generally we felt like Hiltons. It was awfully nice.

Then we had to go ruin the mood by taking in a showing of the new What If the Confederacy had Won the Civil War? movie C.S.A. at the IFC. Theoretically a Q&A followed the main event but the charismatic young director made it through only two questions before the theater had to usher in the next batch of ticketholders. The IFC must have made a fortune that evening. Three showings to packed houses at $10.75 a pop -- they probably took in as much as the movie was made for.

The movie itself was interesting and I encourage you to see it, if it ever comes to a theater near you, which it won't, or a cable channel, which is more likely, or a college classroom, which is more likely still. It sparks good discussion, for one thing. I didn't agree with all of the decisions the director made about the way history would have unfolded. For one thing, he seemed determined to hit all the same 20th century high notes: WWII (although he never mentioned WWI,) the Bomb, the Great Depression, the Moon Landing. Many of the same people, in his revision, ran for president. A lot of it's illogical and/or feels shoehorned in.

But while it may have been less creative to show a 20th century eerily parallel to the one we lived through, it does force the viewer to confront the similarities. A lot of what he does well is highlight those same uncomfortable modern issues Spike Lee did in Bamboozled, another ambitious, flawed film. Except that one I saw on a really bad date.

Happy Presidents Day, everyone. (Where does the apostrope belong there? President's or Presidents'?) Ugh. Who cares. Can you believe February's almost over? Soon, friends, it'll be spring.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dear Mr. Cohen ...

So we all know this is unethical. But HOW unethical is it, on a scale of 1 to Jack Abramoff? Is it worth the minor purgatorial singe you might suffer in the next world, or would it forever compromise your academic integrity?

Needy Grad with Bucketloads of Useless College Research Papers, Most of Them About Gender

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

anyone want some old bras?

I confronted a demon today. A big, bosomy, beige demon with a Brooklyn accent. My excessively sweet and accomodating friend Claire and I were wandering around Soho / the Lower East Side when I realized I was in the neighborhood of my demon and I should just face the damn thing and be done with it. I didn't know its address, of course, but after a while, we found it: right on Orchard Street, where it's supposed to be.

The store has a serious reputation for women with serious endowments, and my friends, I am endowed like Harvard University. Like Harvard and Yale PUT TOGETHER and there's nothing I can do about it, except find undergarments that fit right. I have a drawer full of old standards that don't quite do it, so I figured it was about time to square my shoulders, narrow my eyes, and get fitted by the experts.

Naturally, as soon as the expert approached me, eying the figure I keep well-hidden under my coat, I shrieked, "I know what size I am!" They keep tranquilizers on hand for just such occasions. The expert, an ageless Jewish lady watching soaps on a small TV, cooed to me, "Don't worry, sweetheart. No one grows in this store." I've been waiting for those words my whole life.

From a wall of floor-to-ceiling boxes she selected one marked with the measurements and the brand I gave her (Wacoal, baby, for which tip I must credit La Bitch) and displayed its contents. "This one's the best," she said. "This one?" I asked, holding up another. "No," she said firmly. "This one."

I am a sucker for experts. Dutifully, I took the bra she recommended and followed her down the narrow middle aisle past a heavy Hasidic man and a dark-skinned woman in a turban. She stopped at no place in particular and pulled a curtain to separate us from the store. Once she'd coaxed me out of my shirt, she nodded and smiled. "Mamaleh," she said, "you're wearing the wrong size."

"No!" I cried. It was my worst fear come true. But she hasn't been a bra saleslady for 21 years for nothing. She spun my new measurements to mean that I was thinner than I thought, and what could be wrong with that? Besides, the proof would be in the pudding. She brought me a different bra, which I slipped on, and -- well, wow. I looked smaller, smoother. My back felt different. She pronounced me perfect, then insisted we go out and show Claire.

Claire, who is a trooper, nodded excitedly at my chest and tried to say supportive but not creepy things about what was displayed there. The saleslady beamed. The bras were on sale for half off, and the decision was made. The key takeaway? I'm thinner that I thought.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


The first three days of this week:

Day 1) Job interview. Sit across from very nice young woman, roughly my age, who looks me over and seems to approve. We bond about the importance of your office being "a good fit." (Perhaps she too was "let go" right before the pre-Christmas office party while carrying a huge black garbage bag in each hand.) We chat some more, and we are nicely situated on the same wavelength.

Then she drops the bomb: salary $20K/year. I fantasize about all the things I'd like to do with $20K/year and I realize the most important thing I'd like to do with it is PUT IT IN THE BANK while I live on the other $10K/year that I earn. Sheesh!

With as much dignity as I can muster, I get to my feet and say, "If you wanted to insult me, why didn't you just draw a cartoon of Anne Frank in bed with Hitler?"

Day 2) Job interview. Sit across from a very nice young woman, roughly my age, who approves eagerly of everything. We bond over movies, particularly Junebug. Again, we seem to be sharing space on the same wavelength.

Then a mouse runs across the floor in front of us. "Oh, a mouse," I say. "Oh, yeah!" she says, looking embarrassed. "He sort of lives here. I don't mind him so much." We debate climbing onto chairs to shriek and hop from one foot to the other and decide we don't have the energy.

Day 3) Reemployment Orientation. Sit in a crowded room the color of mucus. I am the only white girl present, and one of only 3 girls total, but everyone is too depressed by unemployment and the mucus-colored room to stare. The Labor employee who leads our session is being punished by the fashion gods for unknown reasons.

One by one, the Labor employee calls us to his desk and gives us a packet of paper, repeating the instructions to everyone and then telling us to sit back down and fill out a form. Then he takes us on a tour of a computer lab and brings us back to the mucus-colored room, where he shows us what he calls "a movie" and which is actually an elementary power point presentation projected onto a mucus-colored wall and accompanied by a recording that reads aloud every word we see.

Then, one by one, the Labor employee calls us back to his desk, takes our completed form and hands us a slip of paper. We take this slip of paper back to the computer lab, hand it to another employee and sign his register, and we are free to go. The process takes just over two hours.

Nobody makes a single Holocaust joke. I feel betrayed.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

the last thing i'll say about it

Here's the cartoon controversy from a cartoonist's point of view.

I don't know why this brouhaha has gotten under my skin the way it has. I haven't really been able to think deeply on any other topic for days. (While, it should be said, the major news outlets seemed to be simply hoping the story would go away, a strategy destined to last only until the story became really ugly and unavoidable.) Comments here, I've noticed, have been few, meaning that maybe I'm alone in my fixation.

But, man! So many absorbing questions. If momentum carries all this saber-rattling much farther, aren't you scared it's going to be the new bomb under the carriage? Or do you assume it'll flame out? How much freedom of the press is too much freedom of the press? Is it too much to expect, in a globalized but not equalized world, that everyone can fully appreciate each others' values (religious conviction in one case, secular liberty in the other)? What role does the UN play? Where should America be in this equation? It's been pretty silent so far, aside from a stultifying and mealy-mouthed state department press release.

Surely, surely you have an opinion.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

going for Brokeback

This short film/trailer "Brokeback to the Future," is definitely worth a viewing. Critics are calling it "Three times as funny as that cartoon of Muhammed with the turban bomb!" And that's really saying something.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

a very tired controversy, including SPOILERS

Ever since the the Oscar nominations have come out, the media has been turning itself blue hollering, "Culture wars! Culture wars!" Turns out Brokeback Mountain offends some of the Concerned Women of America because -- well, actually, I'm stumped as to why. Damned if Elizabeth Vargas, who has informed me of the issue TWICE now, mysteriously during "World News Tonight," has deigned to explain.

The thing is (SPOILERS!) I'm scratching my head over what even the most repressed and repressive would find objectionable in this film. The two men have a love affair, sure, but they both hate themselves for it and torture each other with their inabilities to commit to a taboo lifestyle. Instead they bow to social pressure and marry women, who they, of course, then inevitably make miserable.

They don't identify as "queer," they don't agitate for rights or acceptance -- in fact they're completely apolitical. I'd think they'd be the right's posterboys for good gays. Well, okay, maybe that's stretching it, but if the right were willing to tolerate homosexuality in America, don't you think this is how they'd want it to look? Cloaked in quiet suffering & self-denial?

On the other hand, I did come across this article from that I hope Ang Lee and Annie Proulx have also found, because it seems to indicate that they did their job perfectly.

Oh also: I can't post a frikking thing about Palestinians without thereafter feeling guilty about it. So let me add, to assuage my lefty conscience: I think it's criminally stupid that French and German papers are now reprinting the offensive cartoons, to the continued horror of the Muslim world. Thanks, guys. Well done. Way to show how advanced and mature you are as a civilization, shaking salt onto an open wound. Even Voltaire, seeing this, would ram his forehead through the nearest wall.

We in the west have grown accustomed to the ramifications of free speech. We weren't born with a thick skin; we've developed one over hundreds of years, and not without a rather a lot of bloodshed along the way. It's naive to expect that the Arab Muslim world, largely without a free press or a tradition of satire, would be able to react the same way we do. And anyway, even in the west protests pop up all the time over free speech issues. France doesn't allow large religious accessories in public schools, that's how much they value total free expression.

So tend to your own backyards, Western world, and stop making things worse.