Unimpressed.

I was curious about this book until I saw this little gem by the author on Jewcy:

Whatever we say about women and men being equal now and tomorrow – I have three daughters who I want to see beat the world – throughout the whole human past, including the Jewish past, men and women have had different rules, different roles, different thoughts, and different lives.

Biology and common sense both tell us sex is something women have and men want. We can try as hard as we want to talk our way around this, but we can’t make it any less true–for the Jews or any other people.

But I’m sure your book is very smart. Jewish men? You guys have got a long way to go. (That goes for all you Gentile fellas, too.)

PS – So, when I feel aroused, is that really just the need to unload myself of all that pesky sex? Or maybe Judith Butler has just brainwashed me into imagining that I enjoy it.

Dang, think of the poor lesbians – so much sex and nowhere to put it.

UPDATE: The author has responded to a comment I left on the Jewcy post, defending what he wrote as “an exaggeration, but a useful one.”

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

Edu-Dump

From the New York Times:

Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.

“Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark,” Professor Grossman said. “Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before.”

He attributes those complaints to his students’ sense of entitlement.

“I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,” he said. “That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A.”

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.

James Hogge, associate dean of the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University, said: “Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work. There is a mentality in students that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade.’ “

In line with Dean Hogge’s observation are Professor Greenberger’s test results. Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said that if they explained to a professor that they were trying hard, that should be taken into account in their grade.

Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

What else is there really than the effort you put in? Well… you know, there’s the finished product. The one thing that I, the educator, actually see? But that’s inconsequential, right?

Here’s the bad news – I originally wrote a pretty detailed response to this article, including both my outraged reaction as an adjunct who has experienced this sort of behavior, and a more thoughtful response on how race and gender play into student entitlement. But I found I couldn’t write it without divulging details about past jobs. So no commentary for you!

Instead, here’s an education-themed tab dump (it’s been a fertile week at NYT):

The humanities continue to have to justify their existence to college administrators. The best justification, in my opinion: the humanities explore what it means to be a human being. It’s true that you don’t need to go to college to do that, but college would be a pretty barren place without it.

18 students have been suspended from NYU following a sit-in. The students were demanding, among other things, an annual reporting of the university’s operating budget and the right of TAs to organize. Oh, the horror.

Speaking of university labor and operating budgets, coaches, star faculty members, and administrators can make millions of dollars a year while adjuncts and TAs – you know, the people doing the actual teaching? – subsist on salaries as low as $4,000. (That last part’s not in the article – it’s the salary I received my first year as a TA, after tuition was deducted.)

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

Shpil, Balalayke

While the feminist blogosphere devours its own innards, how about a little Yiddish folk music to take us into Shabbes? (Maybe at some point I’ll post my thoughts on the valid points and faulty logic in the Professor What If essay, but not today, my friends.)

I’m in a noisy coffee shop right now so I can’t attest to the quality of this version, but from what I can make out it seems pretty good. Legible lyrics and translation below the jump.


Continue reading

Q: What happens when a Jewish blogger doesn’t read Ha’aretz every day?

A: It takes her over a week to see this story:

A recent survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League found that anti-Semitic attitudes in seven European countries have worsened due to the global financial crisis and Israel’s military actions against the Palestinians.

Some 31 percent of adults polled blame Jews in the financial industry for the economic meltdown, while 58 percent of respondents admitted that their opinion of Jews has worsened due to their criticism of Israel.

The ADL, a Jewish-American organization polled 3,500 adults – 500 each in Austria, France, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom – between December 1, 2008 and January 13, 2009.

According to the survey, 40 percent of polled Europeans believe that Jews have an over-abundance of power in the business world. More than half of the respondents in Hungary, Spain and Poland agreed with this statement. These numbers were 7 percent higher in Hungary, 6 percent higher in Poland and 5 percent higher in France than those recorded in the ADL’s 2007 survey.

How much can we trust a survey put out by the ADL? Is this organization at all interested in documenting and challenging anti-Semitism? How much has it dissolved into a right-wing propaganda machine?

Because if almost a third of non-Jewish Europeans believe that Jews are controlling the world’s money, I’d kind of like to know that. But the ADL has rendered itself so irrelevant to actual Jewish concerns that I simply don’t know what to do with this information. What questions were on their survey? Whom exactly did they poll? What do they plan on doing with the results?

I do think Moshe Kantor has a point, though: the rise in anti-Semitism almost certainly has more to do with the financial situation than with the attack on Gaza. Most people in countries with significant Jewish populations don’t actually care about what happens in Palestine. (If they did, they’d spend more time trying to end the occupation and less time vandalizing synagogues.) It’s just easier to set up a binary – They Are Nothing Like Us! – when you point to the Jews with the guns.

What to do when you’re jobless

From Day to Day:

“Make really nice breakfasts. I mean, breakfast is one of the most underappreciated meals in the world…. So the first day you wake up after you’ve been laid off, go to the market, get nice fresh ingredients, and make yourself just the biggest, banginest breakfast you could ever imagine. Get a real paper, read it, and enjoy yourself, you know, because the reality is you can send a cover letter at 10 p.m. the same way you can at 10 a.m. So you might as well enjoy it.”

- John Henion, co-creator of unemploymentality.com

I know few jobs give you the severance package necessary for “the biggest, banginest breakfast you could ever imagine,” but I like the sentiment behind the advice. Check in with yourself. Make sure you’re all right. Your job shouldn’t be your identity.

UPDATE: Looking at what I wrote in this post, I feel like I still didn’t quite get at the privilege in the quote. I know this advice is probably only relevant to people with class privilege. I’ll leave it at that.

A banner day for Venezuela

Four days ago, a constitutional amendment passed by referendum eliminating term limits for Venezuelan politicians – specifically, the President, governors, mayors and deputy mayors. According to some news sources, as much as 20% of the Jewish community in Venezuela has already emigrated, and this was while term limits did at least exist. Now, since such limits have been removed and it looks very little like Chavez has real opposition, this might mean that there will be one more centuries-old Diaspora community diminished and depleted, another victim of scapegoating from a dictator looking to consolidate power, and the world of Jewish culture will be lesser for its loss. You could call this a premature requiem, I suppose, but it seems a little more like the writing is on the wall, since we’ve seen this so many times before.

“What is bad for the Jews is better for Zionism.”

This review originally appeared at Feministe. It’s taken me forever to haul it over here, as usual.

The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From its Ashes by Avraham Burg
(Palgrave Macmillan)

When liberals and radicals discuss the occupation of Palestine, two soundbites tend to emerge: “How can Jews persecute Arabs when they themselves were persecuted? They know better!” and “It’s like when an abused child grows up to abuse their own children. It’s just something that happens.” There are elements of truth to both assertions, but each one shaves off so much of the complexity behind Israeli aggression that neither one is very useful in understanding how to end it. Auschwitz survivor Ruth Kluger, in her memoir Still Alive, addresses the idea that “Jews should know better” in a scene where she takes a group of university students to task for comparing Israel to the Nazis. “Auschwitz was no instructional institution,” she scolds them. “You learned nothing there, and least of all humanity and tolerance.” And it’s true. When you experience violence, you learn violence. The idea that genocide turns people into enlightened beings is preposterous.

However, the opposite assertion – that Israel is like an abused child – can be shallow and insulting. A human being operates on emotion and impulse just as much as logic and rationality; we forgive individuals for acting without thinking. A government, on the other hand, must be held to a higher standard. To say that Israel is just an abuser and that’s all there is to it is to give up on Israel’s capacity for good, and to give up on that is to dismiss the possibility of a Palestinian state and peace in the region.

Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, doesn’t flinch from the complex web of trauma, pride, anger, sadness, and paranoia that has led Israeli citizens to condone the slaughter of Palestinians. The Holocaust is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes doesn’t address the manipulation of Holocaust remembrance by Israeli and American politicians, the Christian Zionist movement, global anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiment, or the other external factors that fuel Israel’s various military endeavors; instead, his half-memoir, half-polemic dissects the psychology behind Israel’s preference for violence over diplomacy, and makes the case for why Israel cannot achieve peace and stability until it stops seeing every threat as a potential Shoah. Continue reading

Has anyone heard of this…?

Birkat Hachamah? Far out. From the Forward:

Jewish Groups Prepare for Rare Blessing of the Sun

As sunrise broke over New York City on the morning of April 8, 1981, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi — at the time he was known just as Zalman Schachter — stood on the observation deck of the Empire State Building and sounded the shofar.

For more than two hours after, Shachter-Shalomi led some 300 mostly young adults in an obscure Jewish ritual known as Birkat Hachamah, or blessing over the sun, a prayer recited once every 28 years when, the Talmud says, the sun reaches the same spot in the firmament as when it was created.

According to an account of the service in The New York Times, participants raised their hands in prayer, asked for healing for individuals and the earth, and released 70 balloons. At the conclusion, some worshipers joined in the singing of a Hebrew version of “Let the Sun Shine In” from the rock musical “Hair.”

The rite, Shachter-Shalomi told the Times, “helps us renew our relationship with the solar system and increase our awareness of the sun as a source of energy.”

Twenty-eight years later, Jews across the denominational spectrum are gearing up again for the observance with a range of planned celebrations, many of them environmentally focused. The sun prayer will be said, as it will several times in the 21st century, on April 8, which this year falls on the eve of Passover.

I kind of wish I could be in Safed for this:

In the northern Israeli city of Safed, an eight-day festival is planned featuring several environmentally and kabbalistically inspired events, including the ceremonial burning of leavened bread on the morning before Passover by concentrating the sun’s rays through an optic lens.

“Over the last 28-year cycle, we have suffered from pollution and the depletion of natural resources,” said the festival founder, U.S.-based artist Eva Ariela Lindberg, in a news release. “Let us use this extraordinary opportunity to co-create the next cycle by seeking alternative solar energies and a purer environment, recharging ourselves and learning how to honor the earth, our neighbors and ourselves. This is a time to renew, and bring fresh blossoms to our world for the next 28-year cycle.”

See also Blessthesun.org.

Oh! And before I forget, there’s a Yiddish musical in L.A. tonight called Our Zeydes and Bubbes as Children. See the California Yiddish Institute’s website for details.

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Knit a Sweater!

Okay, hear me out. I know you think knitting is just for privileged hipsters who want to show off how alternative they are by dropping a hundred bucks on silk/wool blends and then pulling it out on the bus. I know you think that any knitted garment that actually looks good probably takes a thousand years, not to mention superhuman talent and dexterity, to make. I know you guys think knitting is just for women. I know you think knitting is too expensive, too time-consuming, too hard on your carpal tunnel to be worth the trouble.

Well, the carpal tunnel I can’t help you with, but knitting doesn’t have to be expensive and time-consuming.

Here’s the deal with the sweater you bought at the mall. Each of its components – the fiber, the yarn into which the fiber has been spun, the pieces of fabric, the stitches that hold them together, the buttons, the tag – has most likely been produced by sweatshop workers. Sweatshops have become a fact of American existence. Virtually every item we wear is made by laborers somewhere on the spectrum of exploitation, whether they’re living in near-prison conditions in another country or being sexually harassed and prevented from organizing at the American Apparel building in L.A. Sweatshops don’t go away every time some celebrity launches a PR campaign against them; they’re too ingrained in the American economy, too invisible for most people to care about.

Not that the yarn and notions (buttons, zippers, needles, etc.) you buy to knit with are reliably better, unless you’re paying twenty dollars a skein for yarn spun and dyed by the sheep farmer who sold it to the yarn store. But see how many steps you slice off the chain of exploitation when you buy the garment at an earlier stage in its development? No, you won’t have the sweater as quickly as you would if you bought it finished, but you’ll know that the person who put the most work into it – you – was treated fairly.

Unfortunately, the two main problems with knitting – money and time, as I’ve mentioned – are formidable. This is because it’s still mainly considered a hobby. Stores only stock luxury yarn because, come on, you’re doing it for fun, right? And who cares if a pair of socks takes you three months – you’re only pulling it out when you feel like it! There are ways to get around these problems, though, and they both involve community. If you need 700 yards of a certain yarn to knit your sweater, but each of the 7 skeins you’ll need costs ten dollars retail, get together with a few people and try to buy a bag of it wholesale. Also, remember that more utilitarian yarns like acrylics do exist, even if the owner of your local yarn store wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole. (I was about to say “ten foot knitting needle.” See how much I care about you, that I refrain from the most painful jokes?) If time is a factor, consider buying a knitting machine. Again, community is key here. It doesn’t make sense for 10 people to each own a machine (or multiple machines – I think you have to buy a separate one for each weight of fabric you want to produce) when they could all easily share one. What if machines were housed in public spaces, so that people could rent out slots of time to work on them?

Notice that when we’re talking about the basic act of clothing ourselves, the gendering of knitting seems to fall away? You need to keep warm, right? So cover yourself. If you dudes still need convincing, check out menwhoknit.com or the patterns in Debbie Stoller’s Son of Stitch ‘N Bitch, a book dedicated to projects for men. (Unfortunately, the book is aimed at women who knit for men. This from the editor of a prominent feminist magazine.)

Now, the title of this post is “knit a sweater,” but if you’ve never knitted before, you probably want to start off with something easier. How about a potholder? This project will give you the chance to make what’s called a swatch, which is a square piece of knitted fabric that allows you to see how big your stitches are using a given pair of needles. Swatches are vital for larger projects like sweaters, where you need to match your gauge to the one stated on the pattern so that your garment comes out the right size.

To make a very simple potholder, you’ll need a pair of… let’s say size 10 needles, and a basic acrylic cotton yarn. The needle size doesn’t matter all that much, but 10s are big enough that you can clearly see what you’re doing.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel by teaching you to cast on, make a knit stitch, and bind off, because a million other people have done it already. Youtube has a wealth of instructional videos like this one; one Google search will give you tons more. The best book I’ve found to learn the basics (and the one that I still consult whenever I come across something unfamiliar in a pattern) is Debbie Stoller’s Stitch ‘N Bitch, also known as Mother of Son of Stitch ‘N Bitch. Many yarn stores offer classes, if you’d rather have a real person teach you.

To make your potholder, cast on 30 stitches. That very first row of stitches will be about half the width of the finished swatch. Knit 30 rows in garter stitch, bind off, and then use the yarn that’s hanging off the end to make a loop so you can hang your potholder up. The other end of the yarn can be woven into the fabric (see Stitch N’ Bitch or other instructions). That’s it! So easy! Now, every knitter’s gauge (the size of the stitches you produce) is different, so you may have produced a potholder that’s either way too big or way too small. Just knit it over again, adding or subtracting stitches beforehand to get the size that you want. It’s good practice. Now you know why you need to do this before you knit an entire sweater.

Next, learn the purl stitch. Then you can make a ribbed scarf. Ribbing means that you alternate between knits and purls to give your fabric an extra stretchy striped look. If you’re wearing a sweater right now, look at the cuffs of your sleeves. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, look at the collar of your T-shirt. See how there are columns of arrow-looking stitches between columns of bumpy-looking stitches? That’s ribbing.

After that comes the fun stuff like cables, lace, and color knitting like fair isle. I’ll tell you right now: it’s jaw-droppingly easy. All of it. You know that amazing shawl of your great aunt’s that had this sort of fern pattern sticking out of the fabric? That was easy. Most things require a few additional techniques like increasing and decreasing, but the only two stitches you’ll ever use are knits and purls.

But I digress – the sweater. My advice is to make a baby sweater first; that way you can learn how it’s constructed without worrying too much about how it’ll look on you or whether it’ll have been worth all that yarn you bought. Unload that sweater on an expecting friend, or save it for your young’un.

As for your own sweater, I’m not going to suggest a specific pattern for you, because you really need to knit something you like – otherwise you’ll never be excited enough about it to finish. A former roommate of mine made the Skully sweater from Stitch N’ Bitch (a loose, unisex sweater with skulls and crossbones on the sleeves). I myself am currently working on this cardigan from Knitty.com, with purple and blue stripes instead of green and blue. And you know what? I’m very tempted to try and make my own buttons to go with it.

The revolution will not be store-bought!

Yes, Hugo Chavez is Scapegoating Jews

A lot of people are quick to excuse Hugo Chavez’s stance on the widespread attacks on Jewish Venezuelans – his citizens may be writing “Jews get out” on synagogues, but he’s just protesting Israel’s attack on Gaza, and that’s kosher. Leaving aside the question of whether he would have expelled Israel’s ambassador if said ambassador wasn’t representing a Jewish country (I support the action in the abstract, but you can’t tell me that there’s no chance anti-Semitism played a role in it), I think it’s fair to ask why, if his beef is with Israelis and not Venezuelan Jews, he’s been so curiously lenient on all the attackers.

Anna sent me the Washington Post’s very salient take on it:

VENEZUELAN President Hugo Chávez, who says he intends to remain in office for decades to come, lost a referendum 14 months ago that would have removed the constitutional limit on his tenure. When he announced another referendum in December, the first polls showed him losing again by a wide margin. Yet, as Sunday’s vote approaches, his government is predicting victory — and some polls show him with a narrow advantage.

How did Latin America’s self-styled “Bolivarian revolutionary” turn his fortunes around? Not through rational argument, it is fair to say…. [T]here is the assault on Venezuela’s Jewish community — which seems to have replaced George W. Bush as Mr. Chávez’s favorite foil. After Israel’s offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip last month, the caudillo expelled Israel’s ambassador and described Israel’s actions in Gaza as “genocide.” Then Mr. Chávez turned on Venezuela’s Jews. “Let’s hope that the Venezuelan Jewish community will declare itself against this barbarity,” Mr. Chávez bellowed on a government-controlled television channel. “Don’t Jews repudiate the Holocaust? And this is precisely what we’re witnessing.”

Government media quickly took up the chorus. One television host close to Mr. Chávez blamed opposition demonstrations on two students he said had Jewish last names. On a pro-government Web site, another commentator demanded that citizens “publicly challenge every Jew that you find in the street, shopping center or park” and called for a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses, seizures of Jewish-owned property and a demonstration at Caracas’s largest synagogue.

Emphasis mine.

Hold the phone – a government official is using hatred of Jews to distract people from other, more pressing problems? Gee, we’ve never seen that before.

I’m sure I don’t need to explain why the quote in bold is offensive, but just in case you’re new at this: demanding that each and every Jew in a country make some sort of public statement condemning the actions of a far-off government that most likely doesn’t represent them, in a country that they may not even have any emotional or familial ties to, is just an updated version of the loyalty oaths that Jews have been forced to take throughout history. Notice that he’s not willing to give Jews the benefit of the doubt here? How, if he comes across a Jew, his assumption will be that the Jew supports the attack on Gaza until that Jew says otherwise? Hey, sort of reminds me how non-Arab, non-Muslim Americans assume that every Muslim or Arab we meet is a terrorist – and how, no matter how far that Muslim or Arab goes to prove otherwise, the suspicion never really goes away. See why this isn’t okay?

Also, what if a Jewish person does support the attack? What if he or she is ambivalent? Does he or she deserve to be harassed and attacked?

I could go on – there are plenty of tropes in Chavez’s actions and remarks that are worth unpacking. I think the writer of the editorial is exactly right; he’s using his country’s Jewish population as a smokescreen for issues that actually, you know, affect them. If he cares about Gaza so much, then what is he doing to help Gazans?

See also Brown Shoes’s post on the situation.

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