Do All Immigrants Love the Suburbs?

What is it with people trying to generalize and ascribe their own (quite freaky, I might add) experiences to others. Look at this individual who thinks he can speak in the name of all European immigrants:

“The suburban dream house is the idealization of every immigrant’s Dream — the vassal’s dream of his own castle,” wrote Italian-born immigrant Edgardo Contini. “Europeans who come here are delighted by our suburbs. Not to live in an apartment! It is a universal aspiration to own your own home.”

I’m a European who came here and I’m horrified with the suburbs. It’s all just empty streets, huge garages with tiny houses attached to them, and sprinklers watering the asphalt where nobody ever walks. The only entertainment is going to the mall and to the movie theater that only shows crappy comedies and weird cartoons. You can’t get anywhere without a car, everybody is dressed horribly, the food is really unhealthy. For people who want to raise children, suburban America is a nightmare.

Oh, what wouldn’t this immigrant give to live in an apartment in one of the great American cities! Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, maybe Seattle. That’s where life is. Culture, civilization, opera, people who read, travel, and debate. Hell, maybe even good coffee if one is very lucky.

I have no doubt that this Contini individual indeed dreams of being stuck in a suburb and good for him. However, there are many Europeans who find the suburban lifestyle to be intolerable.


I Will Now Be Boycotting American Apparel

I don’t know how many of you have been following the contest for larger-sized models that American Apparel has been conducting. I was very vaguely aware of it and of the controversy surrounding it. Apparently, the company decided to disregard the popular vote that gave the win in the contest to a woman called Nancy Upton because she had made statements criticizing the company. Of course, it’s their contest, so they can do whatever they want with it.

What really shocked me, however, was a letter the company’s creative director sent to the winning contestant. I’m not going to expose you to this badly written rant in its entirety (you can check it out here if you wish) but here is a small excerpt from it:

Oh – and regarding winning the contest, while you were clearly the popular choice, we have decided to award the prizes to other contestants that we feel truly exemplify the idea of beauty inside and out, and whom we will be proud to have representing our company.

I don’t know about you, but I, for one, will not buy anything ever again from a company that employs such condescending, rude and unintelligent individuals who express themselves in the style of characters from the movie Mean Girls. I used to be a customer, but after this, I won’t be any longer.

Which Banned Book Should I Read From?

We will be conducting a Banned Books Week at my university. During the celebrations, members of the university community will go to our bookstore and read from our favorite banned or challenged book for up to 2 minutes as the bookstore workers videotape the reading. Here is the website of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) which is a founding sponsor of Banned Books Week.

I’m extremely excited about the event (and I’m not alone in my excitement), but I can’t decide which book I should read from.

Here are some possibilities but feel free to add your own suggestions:

1. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath would make a lot of sense because it has been banned very close to where I am right now: Burned by the East St. Louis, IL Public Library (1939) and barred from the Buffalo, NY Public Library (1939) on the grounds that “vulgar words” were used. Banned in Kansas City,  MO (1939).

2. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. This is simply a brilliant book that is a joy to read publicly in any context. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you about the history of the attempts to ban it.

3. John Knowles’s A Separate Peace again makes sense on geographic grounds. Look at the totally cute reasons our local prudes tried to ban it: “Challenged in Vernon-Verona-Sherill, NY School District (1980) as a “filthy, trashy sex novel.” Challenged at the Fannett-Metal High School in Shippensburg, PA (1985) because of its allegedly offensive language. Challenged as appropriate for high school reading lists in the Shelby County, TN school system (1989) because the novel contains “offensive language.”  Challenged, but retained in the Champaign, IL high school English classes (1991) despite claims that “unsuitable language” makes it inappropriate.  Challenged by the parent of a high school student in Troy, IL (1991) citing profanity and negative attitudes.”

Negative attitudes, how cute is that?

4. Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, my absolutely favorite American novel ever. “Banned in Boston, MA (1927) and burned by the Nazis in Germany (1933) because it “deals with low love affairs.”

Any other suggestions? I don’t want to read from either D.H. Lawrence or William Burroughs because their writing bores me (I don’t think they should be banned on those grounds, though.)


Harvard’s Kindness Pledge

I just found out about Harvard’s silly attempt to make its freshmen sign a “kindness pledge” and I haven’t been able to stop laughing ever since. The text of the pledge was going to be posted at the entrance to each dorm. It was supposed to contain the names of the students living in that particular section of the dorm and offer a space for each student’s signature. This, of course, means that the people who didn’t feel like participating in this exercise in inanity would be easily identifiable.

Here is the text of the pledge for your reading pleasure:

“At Commencement, the Dean of Harvard College announces to the President, Fellows, and Overseers that ‘each degree candidate stands ready to advance knowledge, to promote understanding, and to serve society.’ That message serves as a kind of moral compass for the education Harvard College imparts. In the classroom, in extracurricular endeavors, and in the Yard and Houses, students are expected to act with integrity, respect, and industry, and to sustain a community characterized by inclusiveness and civility.

“As we begin at Harvard, we commit to upholding the values of the College and to making the entryway and Yard a place where all can thrive and where the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.”

The problem with this attempt to bully students into exercising kindness (aside from the incredibly constipated language) is that will make them even less likely to engage in any kind of more or less vigorous debate than they are already. As it is, they had to grow up in a culture where tolerance for any kind of opinion, even one that is completely baseless, ridiculous and offensive, is mandated:

Meanwhile, to their peers, Harvard students may, if anything, be a little too nice. Some veteran faculty members tell me that the students’ drive to succeed manifests itself in a surprising way. A social norm has emerged, they report, in which students avoid saying anything that might make others look bad in class, even if that restraint means stifling discussion.

“I note in the current generation of undergraduates a tendency to hold back on disagreement or criticism of other students in class,” says Jeffry Frieden, a political scientist. “They’re much more respectful of each other — much more than when I was an undergraduate. If someone states an opinion, even if absurd, they take it in stride.”

Vigorous debate, disagreement and forcefully expressed opinions scare university administrators so much that soon we will be left with intellectually castrated universities where intellectual activity will be substituted with kindness pledges and celebrations of difference for the sake of difference.

Do You Like San Francisco?

If you do, chances are you are a fan of writer John Lescroart who has created a series consisting of really great courtroom dramas set in this great city. One of the many cool things about Lescroart’s novels is that somebody is always cooking something delicious in them. Now the writer has his own blog and is publishing some of the recipes that have appeared in his novels.

Today, I decided to use Lescroart’s recipe called Mickey’s Rice-A-Roni, and here is how the end result looks:

Here is the recipe from Lescroart’s site:

1/4 stick butter
2 TBS EV Olive Oil
1 shallot
2 or more cloves garlic (to taste)
1 tbs dried thyme
1 tbs dried rosemary
2 tbs allspice
1 cup Arborio rice (but any rice will do)
1/2 cup orzo (or linguini broken up into small pieces)
3 cups chicken stock

Combine first seven ingredients over medium heat until shallot and garlic soften. Pour in rice and orzo and stir until thoroughly mixed with the oil and spice mixture. Turn heat to high and add chicken stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down to low and cover. Cook twenty minutes, or until rice is cooked and all the liquid has been absorbed. Makes four cups cooked, serving four to eight.

I changed it a little bit, of course. I skipped the shallots (I don’t eat them), used Arborio rice with sun-dried tomatoes because I really like some acidity in my rise and cooked it as a regular risotto. I also added some white wine (what’s a risotto without wine?) and some turmeric because I love it.

If you like both courtroom dramas and San Francisco, you need to check out this writer. All of his novels are great but The Second Chair and Guilt are my favorites.

Why Hate the Uninsured and the Unemployed?

All of those people who scream “Yeah, let the uninsured die” or who lash in anger against the unemployed are simply terrified of finding themselves in the same situation. They dump on the uninsured and the unemployed in a sad attempt to pretend that distancing themselves verbally from such people will somehow help them escape from the danger of finding themselves in the same place.

“I’m not like them!” they are trying to tell the world. “I’m not one of those lazy, irresponsible layabouts. Please, please, don’t let these bad things happen to me.”

This is why it makes no sense to talk about the current American fascination with Libertarianism in political or economic terms. This phenomenon is purely psychological in nature.

Don’t Speak English to Me!

What I find especially cute is how students who Major in our program really resent it when you try to speak English to them outside of the classroom.

When you say hi to them, they give you this churlish look that seems to say, “What are you doing, you weird weird adult person? Don’t you know that I can speak Spanish?”

Then, they start speaking Spanish to you in a very pointed way.

It is very rewarding to see how they come to us with absolutely no knowledge of the language and then end up developing this Spanish-speaking persona that becomes an integral part of their identities.

I just love my job.