Thursday, April 27, 2006

How the American Dream and wearing Prada are (not) connected

Before I started college, I had it in my head that the average student became accustomed to a modest living. I had visited my Dad's alma mater and seen his hole-in-the-wall apartment, and I had heard about the high tuition bills that would come with attending a reputable university. College did not seem a time to make luxury purchases. Imagine my surprise then, when I arrived on campus and saw students with pricy Longchamp bags, designer jeans, and sizable shoe collections. This, I thought, is college? Not that I deny my own love for clothes and shopping, but I had never imagined Prada to be part of the college student's wardrobe.

Yesterday a friend pointed me to an article that explicates what many of us have thought true for a long time: that the American Dream that one can succeed through hard work and ingenuity in this country, no matter how destitute he may be at the beginning of his life, is now mostly a myth. This article spotlights a study of 4,000 children whose parents' income had been monitored first in 1968 and whose own incomes were then examined approximately 30-years later. Furthermore, the likelihood of someone born into a poor family making it into the top 5 percent is much less here than in other countries. For those born into wealth, their chances of getting rich are considerably higher: they are 20 percent more likely to make it into the top 5 percent than their poor counterparts.

How better to cap off this finding than with an article featured in a special pullout section on college education in the New York Times? This article, called "What they're Wearing at..." features several Columbia University students. One woman is shown wearing "vintage boots and a Ferragamo bag found in Paris and a Valentino scarf bought on a deep discount in Lower Manhattan," a man is shown wearing a jacket "bought with an assist from a personal shopper." As he puts it: "My mother told me to go to Bloomingdale's and treat myself." Another fashionably dressed young man "exchanged a gift from his 'well-intentioned' sister for his Prada sunglasses." Columbia's style editor at the campus paper is quoted as saying that the university" is a "place where privilege and experience meet." She's at least right about the former.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Manifesto of what I don't want to hear while I'm eating

Today my friend made the apt point that women can often be their own worst enemies. I wouold add a corollary to this: some women are everyone's enemy at the dinner table. This is something I have come to realize especially in college, and was illuminated to me again last night when someone told me it actually can be a chore to eat with certain girls because of how dull and annoying their conversation is while they are eating. Not all girls, mind you, but many, and thus, I present you a manifesto of what I don't want to hear while eating with you. Bascially, anything related to dieting, exercise, calories, is incredibly annoying!

  1. "I've eaten so much today."
  2. "I didn't go to the gym today. With what I'm eating now, I better go tomorrow."
  3. Any general account of one's gym schedule (I don't care!)
  4. How the no fat salad dressing really isn't that bad (pshaw)
  5. "I just can't eat [fill in the blank]" referring to something that I am eating (usually something "adventerous" or not particularly healthy). Guess what, no one's making you eat it, so let me eat it in peace!
  6. An oral food diary (again, I don't care what you ate today!)
  7. "I need to lose weight"
  8. "[Fill in the blank] is so skinny." or "[Fill in the blank] has so much self-control."

This list could of course go on and on, but my fundamental issue is that I want to eat in peace. Women are socilialized in our society to think it is bad to eat, and that is truly unhealthy. Women of America, unite against this conventional wisdom, and let yourself eat to enjoy food rather than to fear it. Or at least don't drag me into your sprial of food obsession!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Daily article

Check out my article in the Daily Northwestern. It is basically a rendition of this post from earlier, so I won't post it again, but feel free to give it a read!

Go U

Just overheard the quintessential Northwestern student conversation on the shuttle, complete with
-reference to high school smarts: "took 3 AP science classes," "multivariable calculus," "only got 4s on two of the APs"
-boast of not studying: "in senior year i just jacked off and copied off of other people"
-put down of person smarter than self: "she took like linear algebra sophomore year...but was socially retarded"
-anticipation of arrival at the Keg: "dude we got on the wrong shuttle" "no, this one goes to the keg"

...see why NU students annoy me sometimes?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

I've had it with these snakes!

Some of you may have heard of the movie Snakes on a Plane starring Samuel L. Jackson, set to be released in August of this year. I would detail the plot, but is it really that important? All I care about is the fact that there are snakes on a plane and Samuel L. Jackson is going to show them who's boss. For a long time, Snakes on a Plane was the reject of New Line Cinema, constantly two snips away from the cutting room floor.

It was shot with little fanfare, and I think I can safely say that five years ago or so, Snakes on a Plane would have lived out this dreadful fate. In 2006, however, with the wonders of the world wide web and all of its communication powers, Snakes on a Plane has become an internet legend, eagerly anticipated by all who understand the sheer beauty of what it represents as a film that carries out perfectly the equation for formulaic Hollywood movie: cramped space+terrorist threat+swearing mofo actor+funny fat guy who is really scared (played by Keenan Thompson)=summer movie, but with the ridiculous twist of the insidious enemy being snakes. Yes, snakes!

I've had it with these snakes!

Samuel L. Jackson's attitude towards the movie has been just delightful and can be summed up with these choice quotes:
That's the only reason I took the job: I read the title.

-on the unthinkable near-change of the film's official title
So people who have a fear of flying and people who have a fear of snakes are going to have a double whammy.

It's kind of going to be great.

If you want more info, check out

Friday, April 14, 2006

the Provacateur
(52% dark, 34% spontaneous, 42% vulgar)
your humor style:

You'll crack on anything, and you're often witty, even caustic, about it.

Therefore, your sense of humor is polarizing. You're transgressive, and you've got a seriously sharp 'edge'--maybe too much for some folks. If they get you, people think you're one of the funniest (and smartest) people in the world. If they don't, they think you're an ass. Whatever, right? While some might question your judgement, your comic intellect is unquestionably respected.

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Chris Rock - Lenny Bruce - George Carlin

The 3-Variable Funny Test!

- it rules -

If you're interested, try my latest:
The Terrorism Test

My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 55% on darkness
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 15% on spontaneity
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 60% on vulgarity
Link: The 3 Variable Funny Test written by jason_bateman on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Politics of a Commencement Speaker

Today most Northwestern students that I know in the Class of 2006 (by no means a representative sampling) were pleasantly suprised to learn that U.S. Senator Barack Obama will be our commencement speaker. People from the class of 2005 with whom I spoke were also jealous. John McCain, the speaker from last year, I learned, had done a bad job. He was "too political." People hoped that Obama wouldn't be as political. "I hope he'll say something inspirational," was one sentiment. What, though, does it mean to be inspirational? I hope it doesn't mean to be contrived or maudlin or too praiseworthy, and I hope that students from a university as good as this one want more than just cheap inspiration, want more than an oral version of those trite posters with captions that say "Teamwork" or "Challenge." If that's all we can stomach, then maybe Obama isn't our guy. After all, he told this to the Class of 2005 at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois as their commencement speaker last year:

Instead of doing nothing or simply defending 20th century solutions, let’s imagine together what we could do to give every American a fighting chance in the 21st century.

What if we prepared every child in America with the education and skills they need to compete in the new economy? If we made sure that college was affordable for everyone who wanted to go? If we walked up to those Maytag workers and we said “Your old job is not coming back, but a new job will be there because we’re going to seriously retrain you and there’s life-long education that’s waiting for you—the sorts of opportunities that Knox has created with the Strong Futures scholarship program.

What if no matter where you worked or how many times you switched jobs, you had health care and a pension that stayed with you always, so you all had the flexibility to move to a better job or start a new business? What if instead of cutting budgets for research and development and science, we fueled the genius and the innovation that will lead to the new jobs and new industries of the future?

I'm presuming that when people say they don't want to hear about the political in a commencement address, they in part are speaking of not wanting to hear about the outside world and all of its problems. We students have been insulated enough from that world for the past four years that it shouldn't hurt us to be challenged for 30 minutes.

And yes, Obama was political in his Knox College address, at least insofar as he expressed a point-of-view that may be disagreable to some:

Like so much of the American story, once again, we face a choice. Once again, there are those who believe that there isn’t much we can do about this as a nation. That the best idea is to give everyone one big refund on their government—divvy it up by individual portions, in the form of tax breaks, hand it out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own child care, their own education, and so on.

In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it—Social Darwinism—every man or woman for him or herself.

John McCain was also political in his commencement address at Northwestern last year. What made McCain's commencement address less palatable than Obama's was not so much that it was "political" but that it did not represent a call to the new graduates to act, as Obama's did. Instead, it represented a defense of the Bush Administration foreign policy. Yes, McCain did tell students that "the world is about to become your responsibility," but he did not mount a challenge to them as Obama did. He spoke of the immorality of genocide, but who disagrees with that? What I want to know is what I can do about it, and not just from McCain's call to "support action," especially if all military action is lumped under spreading freedom of which the administration which McCain so strong supports is guilty. Obama went much further, putting this challenge to the Knox students:

Now, no one can force you to meet these challenges. If you want, it will be pretty easy for you to leave here today and not give another thought to towns like Galesburg and the challenges they face. There is no community service requirement in the real world; no one is forcing you to care. You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and go chasing after the big house, and the nice suits, and all the other things that our money culture says that you should want, that you should aspire to, that you can buy.

But I hope you don’t walk away from the challenge. Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. You need to take up the challenges that we face as a nation and make them your own. Not because you have a debt to those who helped you get here, although you do have that debt. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate than you, although I do think you do have that obligation. It’s primarily because you have an obligation to yourself. Because individual salvation has always depended on collective salvation. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.

Yes, I don't want to hear a McCain-style foreign policy explication on graduation day, but I also don't want to hear an effusively trite speech. That's why I'm glad Obama is our speaker.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

'The Way of the Tuna'

I was dismayed to learn today from a Chicago Tribune article that the American seafood industry is owned in large part by Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the head of the Unification Church, who claims that he is the Messiah, who conducts mass weddings in Madison Square Garden, and who owns the right-wing Washington Times. According to the Tribune he also owns a lot of raw fish:
Adhering to a plan Moon spelled out more than three decades ago in a series of sermons, members of his movement managed to integrate virtually every facet of the highly competitive seafood industry. The Moon followers' seafood operation is driven by a commercial powerhouse, known as True World Group. It builds fleets of boats, runs dozens of distribution centers and, each day, supplies most of the nation's estimated 9,000 sushi restaurants.

Some of this is admittedly quite funny, however, like Moon's manifesto to take over the world--one sushi restaurant at a time:
"I have the entire system worked out, starting with boat building," Moon said in "The Way of Tuna," a speech given in 1980. "After we build the boats, we catch the fish and process them for the market, and then have a distribution network. This is not just on the drawing board; I have already done it."

In the same speech, he called himself "king of the ocean."
Between detailing gay sex practices and outlining sushi takeovers, sermons have really changed since the days when people would just talk about, say, Bible verses.
And yes, some of the profits from Moon's seafood business, True World Foods, does make its way to the Unification Church. Even though True Foods is known for reliably delivering high quality sushi, they have received some food santiation citations:
Last year, after repeated FDA inspections found "gross unsanitary conditions" at True World's suburban Detroit plant, the facility manager tried to bar inspectors from production areas and refused to provide records, according to an FDA report. The plant manager told the inspectors that his True World supervisor was "a great man, that he was a part of a new religion, and that if we took advantage of him, then `God help you!'."

Later, according to that FDA report, an employee wearing a ski mask approached one female inspector, put his thumb and forefinger in the shape of a gun, pointed at her and said: "You're out of uniform. Pow!"

Reverend Moon says that Jesus asked him back in the 1950s to save humanity. I wonder if Jesus also asked Rev. Moon to supply sushi restaurants, because he would do better to re-focus his attentions on saving humanity.

Thesis Abstract

I just thought I would post my thesis abstract up here because, well I made one, and it's due in three weeks I think, and I don't feel like writing something new. So here it is in all of its glory (not really):

Une Nouvelle Littérature Américaine:

French Readings of American Literature in the Interwar Years

Between the early 1920s and the mid-1930s, articles appeared in French journals heralding the arrival of a new American literature. Written by prominent French intellectuals, these commentaries almost uniformly concluded that certain works of the American realist school of literature by authors including Willa Cather, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, and Sinclair Lewis, provided a window into the soul of American life. They simultaneously insisted that American culture was on a decline because of its captivity to mass preferences. As a result, these French intellectuals concluded that many of the best American authors expatriated to Europe where they could take advantage of an atmosphere of individualism of which they were deprived living in the United States. Such analysis evoked—whether inadvertently or not—dissatisfaction among French intellectuals over their political relations with America and worry about its seemingly unmitigated postwar industrial expansion and financial hegemony. At the same time, a number of books on the subject of Franco-American relations which expressed the same concerns over American prosperity and greed, Puritanism, philistinism, and conformity, were published. The French intellectual commentary on American literature fit right into this larger dialogue. In identifying American literature’s pessimism about the country’s future, interpreting the novels as a true representation of American life, and linking the creation of American literature to the setting of France and French literary traditions, French engagement with American literature reflected an effort to assert France’s cultural dominance at a time of growing anxiety over American political and economic dominance.

The thing is, I don't think I've figured out anything new, except maybe incorporating the French American literature into the larger Franco-American relationship of the interwar years. Oh well, it's been a good experience.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

An historical moment: the rise of political blogs

I am thoroughly enjoying Bill McKibben's review of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics by bloggers Jerome Armstrong (of My DD) and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (of the Daily Kos). McKibben's review provides an historic overview of the internet's affect on politics in the United States, which must by any measures be understood as monumental. Take as an example the Democratic Senatorial primary challenge in Connecticut that is being waged by Ned Lamont. Not only have blogs like The Daily Kos consistently drummed up support and financial contributions for Lamont (I myself made a small donation to the campaign), but these blogs also began the drumbeat for change in Connecticut in view of current-Senator Joseph Lieberman's unbelievable unwillingness to challenge George W. Bush or to change his position on supporting Bush's Iraq War.

According to McKibben, such blogger-driven influence emerged when the Presidential campaign of Vermont governor Howard Dean coincided with and picked up on the voices of regular Americans in 2003, a movement that, as McKibben says, "rose in the shadows of the Bush ascendancy in the years following September 11, when very few people—certainly not presidential candidates with an eye to getting elected—were willing to challenge the White House directly." These voices were coming especially from the web, where Americans were logging on to connect with their fellow citizens who shared similar sentiments but were scattered across the country. The internet bridged this geographic divide and therefore created a new, people-powered movement. As McKibben says:
the Dean campaign also launched the Internet era in American politics. Previously, even if people became excited about a candidate in the primaries, there wasn't all that much they could do to help. They might find a mailing address and send a check, or wait for the primary campaign to reach their state so they could take part in the campaign and then vote. But Dean's young campaign staff opened a new channel through their Web site, which featured the then still fresh idea of a blog.
...Most important of all, they pioneered on-line money-raising. Every time something unusual happened (when some pundit would disparage the "kiddie corps" running the Dean show, say) the Web site staffers would "put up a bat" on the home page—a picture of a baseball bat, empty like a United Way thermometer in front of a town hall, which they would fill with red as the contributions would come in from people taking a few minutes to read the blog from their home or office computers. The supporters of the Dean campaign easily raised more money than their opponents in the early primaries and caucuses, and for the first time in recent political history, they did it largely with $20 and $50 and $75 contributions from across a large base of his ardent fans.

Such influence was acknowledged in an April 2 article in the New York Times about the internet's influence on politics and campaigning. Most encouraging, perhaps is the threat that web use brings to the television campaign ad, what has morphed into one of the most deplorable and methods of vote-getting because of how wellthe television medium facilitates half-truths and fear-mongering:
Analysts say the campaign television advertisement, already diminishing in influence with the proliferation of cable stations, faces new challenges as campaigns experiment with technology that allows direct messaging to more specific audiences, and through unconventional means.

Of course, the internet has brought with it certain ills too, from shadowy kiddie porn rings to well shadowy bestiality rings, but the success of blogs like those of Jerome Armstrong's and Markos Moulitsas's is encouraging when one thinks back to the helpless and depressed state many of us were in six years ago after a bunch of cronies essentially decided the president of the United States instead of looking to the votes of the American people.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Yucking it up: traditional TV versus new media

I have a new hobby: watching "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" after "The Colbert Report." I watch it in disbelief that I relied on this show for laughs back in the day. Returning to the "Fresh Prince" is like, well going back to Disney World as an adult (which I did a few weeks ago). Yes, it's fun, but the thrill is gone. Basically, I have boiled the show down to six jokes:
  • Carlton is short.
  • Carlton is an "oreo." (black on the outside, white on the inside)
  • Uncle Phil is fat.
  • Will is not Bel-Air material.
  • Hillary is materialistic.
  • Geoffrey is a disgruntled, sarcastic butler.
What's so funny about the show watching it now is that it is so formulaic, as the dearth of origianl jokes evidences. As much as I think reality TV has needlessly overtaken THE WORLD, I have to say, with such contrived precursors as "Mad About You," "Full House," "Step by Step," and "The Fresh Prince," the old days weren't much better.

What I wonder is what I ever did for laughs without the internet. Here are some examples:
and a hilarious "Fresh Prince" chat board I found today with some choice quotes such as these:
When Daphne Maxwell Reid stepped in but also when the youngest daughters body began to develop. I don't know how old she was on the show but it's hard looking at girls on TV in a sexual manner when you remember them as pre-teens. That's sick. I couldn't watch after that.

when the original Aunt Viv. left due to pregnancy and that annoying replacement came to the show, the shorter heavy chick. i loved the original aunt viv and when she left thats when the show sold itself out.

Just because the show starred Fresh Prince didn't mean Janet Humbert had to have the "Prince" hair-do all the time.

There was an episode where Bel-Air High (or whatever) had a big basketball game, and Will single-handedly carried his squad to victory. The only thing is, the gym looked like the one from my preschool where the court was about half as long as normal and the rims were 8 feet off the ground. Jeez, I think Gary Coleman coulda slammed on that one. Speaking of basketball, was Carlton played by ESPN's current NBA analyst, David Aldridge?

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was one of the funniest shows ever put on television and I miss the hell out of it! Why are there no more shows about black families on TV anymore? Also, why are there no shows about rich families on TV anymore? Why are all television families white, dysfunctional, poor, and WHITE! TV sucks these days! They need more funny family sitcoms like the ones they had in the '80s and early '90s before the world got so cynical.

Some chat board posters also make some good points as well, such as this:
For me, FPofB jumped the shark when it started to become very popular and Will Smith began to develop a monster-sized ego, both on the show and off. I mean, every episode either had him scoring with women who found him so attractive or him putting someone down (Carleton, Phillip). No longer was the show about a Philly boy adapting to his new surroundings, it became about Will the comedian/stud It also became obvious, to me at least, that Will Smith, the actor, found himself to be the absolute be all and end all of TV comedy by the way he used to mug for the camera. It just got so that I couldn't stand him or his character. I mean how did Alfonso Ribiero and James Avery really feel about being the butt of this guys jokes every episode, week in and week out? I just found that his character became so unlikable, and when the show ended and since he has become a movie star, his ego has gotten out of control.