Friday, January 30, 2009

Allegedly lascivious Lolitas

Paging Philippe Aries: you are being misrepresented (and not like that time I spelled your name wrong on all my grad school apps--oops!).

Let us examine this argument:
In the case of the allegedly lascivious Lolitas, Kefalas sees this flight from reality very clearly: “People don’t want to hear about the economic context, the social context” to young teen sexual activity and teen pregnancy, she told me. “For a 14-year-old to be having sex it’s usually a symptom of a kid who’s really broken and really hurt. Those who are having sex without contraception are a distinct set: they’re poor, from single-parent households, doing poorly in school, have low self-esteem. Teen pregnancy is so high in America compared to other places not just because of access to contraception but because we have a lot of poverty. But Americans don’t want to see themselves as a poor society. They want to make a moral argument: if only teens had better values.”...

Luthar is right: we – the adults in this society – are “a mess.” I think it’s time to stop projecting our dysfunction onto our children.
So, childhood innocence is a myth which we invent to chastise children for not being innocent when in fact it is we who are not innocent and projecting our sins onto innocent children.

Pretty sure that pretzel is not what Aries had in mind.

If childhood innocence were really a myth, it would totally be Lolita's own fault for being a junior slut, and that would be the end of the controversy. On the other hand, since we do believe in childhood innocence, we hold that Lolita is not at fault, but the skeezy men who prey on her, or the corrupt culture that exposes her to sex. (Ok, I have never even read Lolita. This analogy has to end.) Why would adults even attempt school reform if we thought that poor kids were just unavoidably dumb criminals in the making? So it is in fact the myth of childhood innocence that prevents children from being held morally (and legally) culpable for their bad behavior, which is, I think, what Judith Warner wants, but doesn't want.

What this has to do with "projecting our sins" onto children, I am not sure. Does she mean to suggest that not only should we not blame children for their misbehavior, but that this misbehavior doesn't even happen? Children are actually angels, and it's adults who are getting pregnant at 15 and dropping out of school and joining gangs or whatever?


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Elsewhere on teh interwebs

Culture11 dies, and not because, as I assumed might happen, it was so badly proofread that grammar itself revolted and quit. But still, sad news for conservative hipsters in particular, and conservative journalism in general.

Monday, January 26, 2009

On mobility and modernity

Apropos of the 5402 thread on wandering to which I will contribute very soon I promise, a story:

Sebastian, whose disaster roommates make my disaster roommate look like Martha Stewart, moved recently. In the interest of background, he had a rotating cast of three roommates in the old house who may well have been the models for Kay Hymowitz's description of the modern single male. The house was a complete pigsty. The stove was crusty. There were two of each kitchen appliance, but nothing in usable condition. One of the roommates was addicted to video games and slept on the living room couch so he could get more gaming time in. One appeared because he decided to quit his construction job in Utah or something one day and move across the country for no reason. He forged a resume and became a waiter, and brought in the other roommate, who was the manager at his restaurant. This guy was about 40, worked about 20 different jobs in two months, and had his tax return docked because he was behind on his child support. He also stole from the other roommates. And so on.

So when the one sort of decent guy announced he was moving out, and the 40-year-old delinquent child support guy announced he was moving upstairs next to Sebastian, Sebastian decided to move out. (At this point, delinquent child support guy conveniently met a girl at a club and decided to move in with her the next week, so he left too.)

Sebastian found a room in another house where he'd only have one roommate, whom the landlord promised to find, so that seemed like a better bet. When he got back from Chicago with me and started to move, he discovered that his other two roommates had apparently fled (without paying rent) and, moreover, left all of their stuff behind--stereo, espresso machine, kitchen appliances, dining room set, everything. So Sebastian and his remaining roommate sold some of it and appropriated the rest. In the process, I got a sweet free espresso maker. True, I had to dig it out of a coffee and sour milk-encrusted skin three inches thick, and I'm still not sure if it works (haven't tried), but it could be a great thing.

But when Sebastian arrived at his new house, he discovered that instead of a roommate, he would be sharing the house with some unexpected guests--namely, an Ethiopian family living in the basement. According to the landlord, they're only going to stay until the end of the month and then go back to Ethiopia, but it's not clear if that's true, and they haven't really explained their status. (At one point, they told him they were "on vacation"--in the basement.) Despite the obvious awkwardness of sharing a house with a family, especially since the family is in the basement and he's in the master bedroom, Seb has concluded that he prefers the family, who is at least orderly and clean and sometimes shares its meals with him, to his previous roommates. (The baby is also, amazingly, quieter than the video gamer, the "pew-pew-pew" of whose virtual guns could be heard at 3 am.) So he calls the new living situation a net gain.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Blogger's block

Sorry, I suck. But I haven't been able to write much since I submitted my applications. In fact, I haven't been able to do much other than slog through War and Peace, take walks, and refresh the results feed on the grad school message boards (and also the results on Law School Numbers, for Seb). Too much future uncertainty, it consumes all my neurons.

Ed reform much easier to implement than previously imagined

According to science, the achievement gap was never about school quality in the first place. This is great news. So when I go tutor my students on Tuesday, they're going to know calculus, right?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The downside of the absent-minded professor trope

I guess things are back to normal now and I can return to my epic but most likely fruitless quest to get my last letter of recommendation turned in.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


This morning has been crazy. I walked to work on the Whitehurst Freeway(!) from Rosslyn with a woman who is apparently my neighbor and who got smushed onto the same overflowing shuttle bus to Rosslyn with me, so now we are friends.

I didn't get anywhere near the Mall, as I was assigned, but the crowds have been pretty calm, and everyone has been extremely nice, especially given my nonexistent chatting up strangers skills. Reporting pretty much failed, but I had fun.

Now I have to figure out a way to get home. According to their website, Metro is running normally but anyone can look out the window and see that that is a huge, huge lie. Presumably I will be walking at least two of the four miles home. But my favorite part of all this ruckus is that downtown is almost completely empty of cars (and still people stay on the sidewalks--such rule-abiders!). I suppose I can walk home if I can have a day of car-free utopia for it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Ugh, what is this? I have never had allergies or such monstrous skin mutations before. Moreover, when I looked it up, I discovered I had been in recent contact with almost all the common triggers of hives--shellfish, nuts, cats, viruses, and antibiotics--so that did nothing to pinpoint the cause of this monstrosity. Maybe I have karma hives, like in horror movies?

This is ruining my inauguration weekend plans.

UPDATE: Allergic reaction to antibiotics, apparently. Saturday night plans ruined.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Notes of a literature hater

So now I'm toting War and Peace around just like the tools I always sneer at on the metro, and I am reminded of how much Tolstoy's rendering of high society resembles the NYT Styles section described below, plus tediousness, minus resentment. Close enough.

I give this project 100 pages before I get bored and move on, allowing Anna Karenina and "Three Deaths" (permanent contender for worst short story ever) to color my view of Tolstoy's oeuvre for the remainder of my adult life.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

First world problems deconstructed in one sentence

Let us take, for today's meditation, this single line from the Sunday Styles:
Don’t make me look like a jerk,” she told a reporter, “but I cannot bring myself to buy my children’s clothes at Wal-Mart.”
Perhaps you saw this line? Perhaps it made you pause too?

Here we have what appears to be an epic first world problem: pampered rich women who can't handle their husbands' coup de grace(s?). They ooze so much entitlement that they become puddles of self-pity under the slightest pressure--“My job was to run the household and the children’s lives. His job is to provide us with a nice lifestyle...I’m still doing my job.” Now the nice lifestyle is threatened, and the poor darlings cannot bring themselves to shop the discount chains along with the Great Unwashed, those benighted many who wear Jeans with Elastic Waistbands. This article, with its insinuations of divorce for money and marriage as a "risk-management strategy," even borders on the sordid. Aren't we so morally upright compared to such conceited, scheming twits? Down to earth, unprepossessing, middle-class readers of the NY Times who, ok, maybe don't exactly shop at Wal-Mart (because there isn't one in the city! seriously, that's why!), but we get a few things from Target now and then, unite!

For some time now, I have been telling anyone who will listen that the entire Styles section is a set-up. Not a conspiracy or anything, mind you, but a running gag for the reporters. My completely speculative history of the section goes as follows: Styles exists because the paper wasn't generating enough ad revenue from its traditional reporting, so it decided to add a luxury lifestyles component which seems to have worked for Conde Nast, who is keeping The New Yorker afloat by selling 80 bazillion copies of each issue of Glamour and Golf Digest. But while Conde Nast could afford to maintain a stable of writers as vapid as the people they write about (primarily by hiring disproportionately from among those people's offsping), the NY Times had to send their own reporters to write about the Great Espresso Machine Placement Crisis of 2007.

This presents a problem because the reporters themselves, who are merely decently affluent and extremely resentful but not extremely rich, cannot "relate" to the problems of the extremely rich on as personal a level as Conde Nast's writers, and so tend to find these people exasperating and ridiculous. But what to do? The paper's "real" reporting depends on the ad-generating fluff of the Styles section, so it becomes necessary to take one for the team, so to speak. But the tedium of such reporting is surely understandable, and so they came up with a game to make the time go by faster--corner the subjects into complaining about the most absurd possible thing on the record--the First World Problem--and then print it. The tactic made the extremely rich as ridiculous to the reader as the assignment was to the reporter, while flying just under the radar of the class it portrayed, who apparently saw in it only the sincere airing of their very serious grievances about the quality of the first grade art classes in Westchester County. And, let's admit it, it was pretty clever. One has to admire the social deftness required to extract such winning lines.

So the whole game of First World Problems hinges on the obliviousness of the whiner to the rest of the world's desire to have his problems--to which elite private school should I send my child?--instead of theirs--where can I get clean water today? Of course, it relies on some posturing on the part of the reporter and reader too, since they must pretend to "know" and care deeply about the suffering of starving Ugandans or persecuted Hmong fishermen or whomever in order to cast themselves against the oblivious rich. This is kind of hard, since they're mostly people like me--college-educated professionals who can afford to rent a nice house in Arlington and who are more centrally interested in staking a moral claim against the rich than in feeding Ugandans. But what if the havers of First World Problems actually are not oblivious to this game? What if they say, as this week's victim did, "Don't make me look like a jerk?" because they know that's what the Styles section is about--making the people we envy look like jerks so that we might pat ourselves on the back for being the salt of the earth? If they're just as knowing as us, and wealthier on top of it, what have we got left? Maybe we have to acknowledge that we no different from them and actually sympathize?

In short, doesn't this quote basically tear down the entire Styles section?

Friday, January 09, 2009

I had my wisdom teeth out today, so now my life has narrowed to napping and drinking cold liquids. In the meantime, in the wake of our dear governor's impeachment, I offer you Alpheus' tribute.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Winter post-holidays

I'm back in DC. Grad school applications are done. Now what? My high school guidance counselor called this the point when "the prayer service begins." But, since grad school is not college and I don't have to get in or die, the prayer service is less applicable (though, perhaps not uncoincidentally, there is a huge debate over whether there is a God raging on the grad school forums at this very moment). So I am spending my time formulating back-up plans, which essentially consists of figuring out the best and most efficient way to become a high school history teacher in or near Chicago without paying for a two-year MA in education. The (unnecessary) obstacles to this plan are actually quite impressive.

(Incidentally, when I interview high school seniors who are applying to the U of C, I ask them why they're going to college and what they'd do if they couldn't go to college for some reason. I think I ask this just to torment them, because I know very well that the real answer, at least for students applying to schools like Chicago, is that they're going to college because that is what they've been doing since they were born, and if they couldn't go to college, they're pretty sure they'd die. And that's fair enough, I guess. But of course, they all know better than to say that.)

Still, contingency planning is only a part-time activity. What to do with the rest of the winter? Start a Skokie-centric literature? Attempt to report something? Write an essay connecting Joan Didion's essays to Merle Haggard's music, a connection which exists primarily in the coincidental fact that I read one while listening to the other? Draw webcomics? Learn German?