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Ask The Ethicist

Chaim Amalek, my moral guide to modern life and rabbinical judaism (and a man's man of an ethicist himself), suggests (herewith) that I start a feature on practical ethics. He provides me with my first question of the day, drawn from his life as a poor man living in a rich man's world:

"Luke, my local deli is still selling cottage cheese that I know was sitting in its refrigerators when the lights went out on August 15 for 14 hours. According to the city Dept. of Public Health, all dairy that went for over two hours without refrigeration likely went bad and should be discarded. I mentioned this to the cold asiatic at the cash register, but she merely told me that if anyone actually tried to buy it, she would advise them not to, and that they were keeping this bad product on the shelf just so they could get a refund from their supplier as unsold stock. (Apparently the suppliers don't reimburse for spoilage, but they do for unsold stock.) This stuff is still sitting on the shelf. What more should I do?"

Khunrum writes: May I put my two baht in. Of course the wily Asian grocer is selling bad stock. I am surprised you imagined she wouldn't . You are a long nose and therefore not worthy of consideration. You are less important to her than the fleas on a street hound. Here is where you stand in the pecking order:

1 Money
2 Gold
3 Food
4 Child/children
5 Grandparents mother/father
6 Asian husband or boyfriend
7 Siblings or other family members
8 Asian friends
9 Every other Korean person in the world down to the lowliest Pusan begger
10 Pet dog, cat or rat
11 The fleas on dog, cat or rat
12 You, the customer

My advice...Eat canned goods for a few more weeks.

Is There Any Hope For The Rest Of Us?

Sometimes, when I hear the stories of child geniuses like Eugene Volokh (graduated UCLA at age 15) and Dayton (licensed manicurist at age 19), I feel discouraged.

Luke: "When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

Dayton: "A zoologist."

Luke: "What did your family and friends expect you to become?"

Dayton: "I was a daycare teacher, licensed manicurist and licensed cosmetologist. I had done all of that before the time I was 19. I was expected to be one of those three. I had done all of that by the time I was 19."

Daycare teacher, manicurist and cosmetologist all by age 19. It makes me regret my misspent youth reading books and pulling weeds.

Mutt writes: Yes the child prodigy Dayton. "To those to whom much is given, much is expected." It must not have been easy growing up for Dayton with so much pressure and so many expectations on her shoulders. Carl Sagan was also a cosmetologist. I wonder if she had a chance to meet him before he passed on.

A Day In Life Of The Luke Ford Home

Luke comes in, beat from a hard day at the office.

Girlfriend: "Hi honey, how was your day? Would you like a martini?"

Luke: "Some of that lemonade on the rocks would be great, sweetie. You look so nice in that new dress.

"I've spent every waking moment the past twelve hours fighting the permisiveness that libertarians promote."

GF, handing Luke his cold drink: "That's good, dear. So what does that mean exactly?"

Luke: "It means that I made a lot of nasty personal attacks on my website against Virginia Postrel, Nick Gillespie, Jacob Sullum and Matt Welch."

GF: "If you are not rewarded in this life for your good deeds, honey, you will be rewarded in the world to come with at least 70 tasty virgins who look like Vivid girls."

Luke: "I just don't know what our society is coming to with all the rockn'roll, rap music, illegal immigration, miscegenation, and hardcore pornography."

GF: "Ain't it awful? Could you redo the flower patch for me? Something bright and colorful? And bathe the kids, diaper them and put them to bed? I have a yoga class and appointments with my therapist and manicurist. Maybe later we can work through a few more pages of Hamlet. I so enjoy your novel interpretations.

"Then a couple of sayings from Ethics of the Fathers and off to bed we go. You know what that means. I just got back from the mickveh."

Cathy Seipp Interviews Virginia Postrel

I met the former editor of Reason, Virginia Postrel, and her husband, at an LA Press Club party in Silver Lake, April, 2002. I obviously didn't make much of an impression on her.

Cathy Seipp writes:

Viriginia knows most L.A. bloggers but not Luke Ford, who she asked about because he'd displeased her with his rude comments about Reason contributor Jacob Sullum and Sullum's new book, "Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use." Luke wrote in May that he spends "every waking moment fighting the permisiveness" libertarians promote -- which is sort of true, except when he doesn't. He also said:

Jacob is not at Cathy's party tonight because he's an observant Conservative Jew and the Sabbath doesn't end until 9PM. Nick [Gillespie] came back to their hotel room Friday night and found an inebriated Sullum making the Sabbath holy with two bottles of wine while lying on the couch watching TV. Sullum claimed it was ok to watch TV so long as it was turned on before the Sabbath began and you didn't change the channel.

Sullum is married to a female Conservative rabbi. Female rabbis by definition violate Jewish Law. Sullum is a modernity-appeasing compromiser of the Jewish tradition. He doesn't fool me by staying in his hotel room while I party hearty with Cathy. I'm still the Torah-true stud. I don't hold with women rabbis, women cantors or women doing anything historically reserved by the Torah tradition for men.

And I don't hold with smoking dope like pot-head Sullum. And to think his wife is a rabbi and he's out peddling dope to kids, well, ok, I just made up that last accusation but with libertarians you can never know...

I explained -- as I often find myself explaining -- that Luke Ford the person is not the same as his sometimes obnoxious online persona, who often pushes the envelope for comic effect.

But I don't think my defense was really helped when Cecile piped up thoughtfully, "There's a picture of him in my photo gallery and he looks like he's thinking about killing someone."

Luke says: I suspect that Virginia's displeasure with me has much less to do with my remarks on Sullum (who turns out to be a good friend of friends of mine from my religious community) than these remarks on her:

From my 5/20/03 Cathy Seipp party report:

"Virginia [Postrel] used to go around saying Nick [Gillespie] was her hand-picked successor, to prove the point that she wasn't tossed out of her job. Nick then called himself her hen-pecked successor."

From my interview with Amy Alkon:

"I like Virginia Postrel's site [dynamist.com]. She used the word mitzvah to mean taboo. So I wrote to her that it is a "Do and Do Not" list. I took the trouble to copy out of the Encyclopedia Judaica what actual Jewish scholar's idea of mitzvot are. And she said, 'Oh no, I meant it in a secular way.'"

Virginia Postrel writes: "Several readers have objected to my use of the term mitzvot in the post below, so let me unpack my argument. It is true that mitzvah (the singular form) means "commandment," not "taboo." Jews colloquially use the term to mean "good deed," and a lot of people think that's the definition. But many mitzvot are negative commandments, not positive actions. ("Thou shalt not murder" is a mitzvah, and so is "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.") Most of those negative commandments are what we would call taboos if they were not in a Western context. Much of Jewish law--including such famous provisions as the observance of the Sabbath and the keeping of the dietary laws--is concerned with separation, the clean/unclean distinction, and holiness. Those laws function as taboos, not guides for spiritual practices or behavior toward other people. Hence my loose application of the term below."

Amy: "I was really surprised. If I'm wrong and somebody points it out to me, I will say, OK, thank you. [But Virginia rejected all correction.] I even told her, 'You can call my mother.' My mother has every Jewish book."

Luke: "Mitzvot has nothing to do with taboo. It means commandment."

Dave Deutsch, the world's worst Jewish comedian, writes:

I found your discussion of mitzva and taboo to be interesting. Strictly speaking, of course, "mitzva" is a commandment. There are two kinds, positive and negative. The colloquial use of "mitzva" as "good deed," is generally used to refer to the positive commandments. Doing a mitzva implies that you are doing a positive thing, helping somebody out, being a mensch, etc. But arguably, one could say that "good deed" is acceptable even when you are talking about a negative commandment. The act of not eating treyf is a good deed. The act of not killing is a good deed. It is obviously not as manifest as a positive commandment, and generally isn't used as such, but the case could be made.

Mitzva is, as Luke pointed out, never a taboo. The commandment is always an act of righteousness--you are enjoined to act in the proper way. What Ms. Postrel is thinking of is not the positive act enjoined by a mitzva, but "aveira," (transgression) the negative act which is the mitzva's opposite. She makes the mistake of thinking that eating a cheeseburger is a negative mitzva, and it isn't. It is an aveira. Put simply:

You should not eat milk and meat together: That is a mitzva, a commandment to not perform a taboo. Eating milk and meat together: That is an aveira, and it is taboo.

The mitzva in a negative commandment is not the taboo, it is the injunction to not violate the taboo.

And I actually wanted to give you a yasher koach on your comments re Dennis Prager and Arianna Huffington; pundits are a decidedly non-introspective lot, and spend most of their time making predictions and pronouncements, many of which prove to be wrong. Very rarely do they discuss their own fallibility, since, of course, if they are so inexpert, why publish them? Perhaps one day a blogger will make it his job to make a tally of all the mistakes prominent pundits make. Hopefully, you've set somebody a positive example.

Luke's MMPI

Mr. Ford completed the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2). This is a well researched psychometric instrument that is designed to assess current psychopathology and personality functioning....

...Mr. Ford endorsed items which resulted in elevations on three of the clinical scales... He endorsed items suggesting that he views his home situation as unpleasant and lacking in love, support and understanding. Individuals who endorse such items tend to complain that their family are critical and controlling. He did not, however, endorse items suggesting that he feels particularly alienated from his family. He endorsed items suggesting that he appraises himself unrealistically and individuals who endorsee such items tend to be prone to grandiose thinking and they are usually resentful of the demands made by others. He also endorsed some items relating to overactive thought processes, and individuals who endorse such items tend to be restless and excited. They often commplain of being bored and they tend to seek out excitement. He endorsed items relating to unusual thoughts, but he did not endorse items relating to bizarre perceptual disturbance. He endorsed items suggesting that he has, in may respects, conventional attitudes to antisocial behavior, although he may seek to shock others. He did not endorse items relating to marked anger or irritability, anxiety, fears or phobias, or depression. He endorsed items, however, suggesting that he may be prone to some self-deprecatory thinking. He endorsed positive attitudes towards treatment and work. He did not endorse items relating to alcohol or drug use.

Overall, his pattern of responding indicated that he was not reporting marked psychological distress and that he regards himself as having some resources to deal with any problems that he does encounter. This pattern of responding was reasonably consistent with his presentation at interview.

George Will Flattered By Little Ol' Me

Dear Mr. Ford:

Thank you for your email sent to Mr. Will through the Washington Post website regarding your invitation to interview Mr. Will.

Mr. Will has just signed up for a new book project and his research and writing are already monopolizing his schedule. He regrets very much that he must decline this opportunity.

Mr. Will is very flattered that you thought of him and wishes you best wishes for continued success with your website.

Thank you again for being a devoted reader. Mr. Will always appreciates hearing from his audience.

Best wishes
Office of George F. Will

Ryan Interview

Ryan is blonde bubbly buxom professor of rocket science at Cal Tech in Pasadena. Earlier this week, we spoke in her office.

Luke: "So when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

Ryan laughs: "Wow. When I was really young, I wanted to be an actress. And of course, every little girl wants to be a ballerina too. I never got to take ballerina classes. I grew up in a very Jehovah Witness family. When I grew up, I just wanted to be free of Jehovah Witnesses."

Luke: "What did your family and community want for you? That you be a good Jehovah Witness, get married and have kids?"

Ryan: "Pretty much. The only people I knew were Jehovah Witnesses. I married at Jehovah Witness at 18. I was a virgin. I was married for two horrible years. I learned about things once. I tried giving him one and he declined it. You didn't know that guys like that existed?"

Luke: "How could you leave a man who was such a fine Christian gentleman?"

Ryan: "For that very reason."

Luke: "How many times have you been married?"

Ryan: "Luke, you're treading in dangerous territory. This is my fifth marriage."

Luke leans back and falls of his chair. "Fifth?" he says as he picks himself off the ground and tries to resume the interview.

Luke: "What do you love and what do you hate about the industry?"

Ryan: "I believe that people emit pheromones that attract others. Some have just the right mix that it attracts a general population to them. Other people have something off in their chemical makeup so they only attract certain people. I happen to be someone who has that general pheromone mix. A lot of people like me. Oddly enough, certain times of the month, I attract people more. I can literally tell. I'm walking down the street. I've just come out of the gym. I look like hell. And five guys come up to me."

"Like other high profile industries, ours is riddled with drugs. You get a lot of dramatic people."

Luke: "What do you love and hate about living in Los Angeles?"

Ryan groans. "I hate LA. Too many people. Too much traffic. I hate the smog. I like the weather. It's not expensive as far as food...but as far as living quarters, it's expensive."

Luke: "Have computers affected your self esteem?"

Ryan: "I feel great. I have a different view of myself. When I danced, it was all physical. My self esteem depended upon my physique. Now I know more people. I've met a lot of my fans. They think I'm awesome. That I have a great personality. I look good too. It makes me feel content with who I am. I got a booty. I've got some legs on me. I'm what the industry calls a healthy girl. I'm ok with that now. That word 'healthy' used to be an insult. Now I think I am healthy, a lot more healthy than many of those skinny girls. I've been think and f---ed up on drugs. I wouldn't want to be there."

Luke: "What would you like to look like?"

Ryan: "Barbie. I'd like to be 18 again. I'd like to look thin and have no dimples anywhere and be firm and confident. I'm getting there. I've just had a lot happen this last year. My attention to my body got diverted to my husband."

Luke: "How is it for your daughter to be raised by a mother who is a star?"

Ryan: "My daughter has a lot of the same tendencies that I do. I see a lot of myself in her. She looks exactly like my pictures when I was a little girl.

"She's still at an age where she doesn't really know what I do. A few days ago, we were watching Nothing To Lose with Martin Lawrence and Tim Robbins. She happened to sit in for the last bit of the movie. A strip bar scene came in. There was nothing. They weren't even showing breasts or anything. She saw that and said, 'Ohmigod,' covering her eyes. 'She's going to dance for him and get naked.' She was acting like that was a bad thing. I said, That's not a bad thing necessarily. I used to do that. She thought about that for a while. The next day, she asked me how much I made when I danced. And then after that, she asked what did I want her to be when she grew up?"

Luke: "How are parent-teacher conferences, PTA meetings, and the like?"

Ryan: "I have a corporation as a consulting firm for the Internet industry. I don't have a problem explaining that. As a consultant, I travel a lot. We work at home. It's all feasible. We have done it. We have consulted people for websites."

Luke: "You haven't felt a lot of stigmatizing?"

Ryan: "I had a little oops a while back. A guy I was living with hurt my daughter. When that happened, my relationship with my family went south. They blamed me. They blamed the industry. They said I was on drugs. They were trying to get my daughter away from him. It was ugly. A lot of money was spent. It was a big court battle. Mainly it was me defending myself in court against the District Attorney. They claimed it was negligence on my part. I come out of it saying, accidents happen. It wasn't my fault. I couldn't be there 24 hours a day.

"My relationship with my family now is good. They know what I do. I don't have to lie about. Aside from my family, I don't have too much contact with the outside world.

"My husband's family is so supportive of what I do. My father-in-law is just tickled pink that his son is with someone responsible. That we're both in love, happy, and taking care of each other.

"I'm cautious about anything having to do with my daughter. I don't really have contact with other people.

"If you're talking with someone else and you're ashamed of what you do, they are likely to have the same opinion. I think my demeanor commands respect."

Trashing Arianna Huffington

I hear a large number of (largely conservative) pundits trashing Arianna Huffington. I have not heard one pundit yet question himself - why did I get suckered in by this woman years ago? Why am I so shallow in my perceptions that I'll go to bat for any smooth talker who seems to share my views?

I heard Dennnis Prager saying Arianna was a very sad woman because of her shift from right to left. No introspection, however, on Prager's part, for his vigorous support for her when her husband ran for US Senate. I remember how he decried newspaper articles that portrayed her as a nut. Dennis said she had been treated most cruelly by the news media.

It's similar to when I left Christianity and converted to Judaism. Many of my Christian friends wanted nothing to do with me. People become uncomfortable around those who change. We're only comfortable around those who are like us.

Dave Deutsch writes: "The funny thing about this view that Huffington is either a flake or a scoundrel for changing her views is that the same standard is never applied when a liberal becomes a neocon. Then, it's because he/she is a towering intellect who finally saw the light after a lifetime of serious thought on the issues. I mean, when she was a darling of the conservative movement, they couldn’t get enough of her wit and sophistication--why, she was brilliant! (wasn't she captain of the Oxford Debating Club or some such thing?). Suddenly, however, she's shallow and unstable because her thinking has changed (I would say evolved, but I'm willing to be gracious). I guess she should be thrown in the same asylum as Irving Kristol, David Horowitz, Norman Podhoretz, etc. etc."

Gawking At Elizabeth Spiers

Lorna Bowen writes:

Dear Mr Ford,

I have no idea who you are or what you do for a living - ditto for most of the commentators included in your 'Gawking at Elizabeth Spiers' section,with the exception of Ms Richard, who I was pleased to meet. Doubtless my ignorance earmarks me as some sort of cross-eyed, gonad chomping anti-intellectual, lacking the mental inquisitiveness and general anarchistic balls to have had myself fired from a useful job so I could spend decades gazing at my own navel and mistaking my bowel movements for literary happenings.

Well you would probably be right on all counts. I have had very little involvement with your people except for my acquaintance with Elizabeth and Gawker, and the odd pleasurable hour of surfing my daily visits to Gawker lead me to. As a recently ex-NY resident, I prize Gawker for keeping me in touch with the ludicrous, fatuous vibes of NY that made my four years there such a complete laugh. I also miss hanging out with Elizabeth and our mutual mates.

Having just been made aware of your nasty little tract, I feel compelled to yawningly go where I have never gone before and 'write you' (isn't there a word missing in that expression?) even though the very fact of this e-mail goes against all my screaming incredulity that someone, anyone, can take this crap so seriously.

As one of Elizabeth's LA travelling companions, I would like to make the following comments:

a) Yes, Elizabeth was invited to a dinner party on Friday night by you 'writers'. Notwithstanding having been up since 4 am NYT, missing a flight(because the New Jersey shuttle broke down with her in it) and spending 12 hours in uncomfortable transit to get to LA, she refused all strenuous inducements to join us ladies for post-transit chill-out cocktails, hopped in an overpriced cab, and, I believe, was not late;

b) Her 'girlfriends' did not attend the dinner. We arrived when it was over, and everybody was, like, leaving;

c) It was partly my fault she was late for Saturday brunch as I made her and our driving galpal come back and pick me up when I missed them at our hotel, but mainly she was late because we got lost, unintentionally, non-maliciously, not-impolitely, lost. It happens;

d) I've dealt with the 'tardy', I'm skipping 'ungracious', 'moody'and 'ungrateful' as the observations of (i) a delusional crack addict or (ii) someone who has never met a quiet person before (don't they have these in LA);

e) 'Temperamental'????? Did she throw something? I missed the crockery shards;

f) You like Gawker, you get Gawker, read it, you don't like Gawker, you don't get Gawker, don't read it, nobody gives a shit. Whatever Gawker's raison d'etre, one can't say it exists to take personal pot shots at those without press agents or great wodges of cash to ease the pain. lukeford.net on the other hand obviously revels in encouraging the humourless, resentful, underemployed cretins of the west coast cyberworld to seek validation of their own uninspiring existences at the expense of the personal reputation of a colleague - you must be very proud;

g) Marc W.? A truly witless vicious person too bashful to include a vowel in an expletive. So deeply p*th@t#c I think I may have dated him in a past life; and

h) I'm Irish, I live in London. People take the piss out of me and the old country all the time (viz - oi, Pad, what do you call a lump on an Irish man's arse? A brain tumour). If one couldn't have taken the heat, one wouldn't have hopped on the spud boat from Dublin - and in your case, one shouldn't have logged on to a site with an obvious non-Manhattan-phobic schtick.

In conclusion, usually I'm quite a mellow person, almost L.A.-like in zeness, and am not generally given to creating mountains out of mole hills. But in case you're thinking of accusing me of that, surely that is what your sad little site did. Takes the brief, tongue-in-cheek generalisations of an acknowledged Manhattan obsessive about a CITY and its POPULATION and uses them as a platform to collate and publish some lengthy, non-tongue in cheek barbes about a PERSON.

I don't know how upset Elizabeth is about this. Having had this brief glimpse at the dark side that is the world of 'web journalism', I am sure she has developed a thick skin in these situations or soon will do. I am not of your ilk however and so this all gets on my tits. Hence the mail. I feel some relief from irritation and for that I thank you. It would be nice if you posted some type of apology to Elizabeth, but don't worry, nobody is actually expecting you to.

Lloyd writes on LAObserved.com: "Luke, you are insufferable, irritating as all get out, and a genuinely politically incorrect pain in the ass. Please don't ever change."

Cathy Seipp writes Luke:

Why is it that people who can't write, write really l-o-n-g letters? That girl's screed on your site today re Gawker is embarassing. She seemed like a nice girl too. But I'm afraid Eliz. et al are a little clueless.

Meanwhile, I see that the anti-Luke-fest down in the comments section of the LAT TV critic post on LA Observed has devolved into a couple of snipes at yours truly. What is the world coming to? Freddy vs. Jason, Moxie vs. Gawker, Luke vs. the Daves (Ehrenstein and Robb)....Who'd win?

P.S. I still disagree with you about the trades. Yes, they have some hacks. They also have a lot of good reporters.

A Review of 'Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe'

June 17th – September 7th, 2003 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Robert Light writes:

People with even a passing interest in the culture of the late Middle Ages should hurry to see, before its closing on September 7,th a wondrous exhibition sponsored by the J. Paul Getty Museum. Several years in the making and a joint effort of the Getty, the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and The British Library, this exhibition witnesses its only American debut here in Los Angeles before moving on to London. It covers one of the high-points of European representational art, in fact one of the high-points of art of any time: Manuscript painting (“illumination ”) during its greatest ascendancy, 1470-1560 in Flanders, in what is today Belgium and northern France. On display are works of near unimaginable beauty: Hand-bound sumptuous books whose pages capture one of the West’s greatest triumphs: Art striving for a universal standpoint, wholly integrating in polished form the best of all that is of Antiquity and Humanism. To be sure, this isn’t Donald Rumsfeld’s “Old Europe.”

Although painting on the pages of books had existed for centuries dating to Antiquity, by the late 15th Century Flemish illuminators brought this art form to unparalleled levels of perfection never again to be seen. They brought dazzling light, depth, subtlety, and immense color to bear on parchment.

The first practitioners of the Flemish school took as their ideal the accomplishments of master Renaissance painters Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. These two perfected oil painting on wood panels. Van Eyck, van der Weyden and Petrus Christus – also a panel painter and one of van Eyck’s protégés – each made the transition from panel to parchment in composing only a small, limited number of illuminations in the two decades prior to 1470.

The exhibit is noteworthy for boasting the only known illuminations by van der Weyden (the magnificent Presentation Scene for the Duke of Burgundy) and by Petrus Christus (The Trinity from The Hours of Paul van Overtvelt). It is further remarkable for being a collection overwhelmingly drawn from myriad museums and libraries across Europe, this despite the Getty itself boasting a fulsome array of illuminated manuscripts. The Getty manuscripts, however, are not entirely drawn from this superb period. As such, it is all the more striking given this panoply of Flemish works all arrayed under one roof.

The exhibit is divided into four basic parts: 1) the early stages (van Eyck, van der Weyden), 2) The Spirit of Naturalism, 3) Illuminating the Past, and 4) Illumination under the Habsburgs (the royal family of the Holy Roman Empire which later acquired Flanders). The major artists from the early period are Simon Marmion and, most especially, “The Vienna Master of Mary of Burgundy” (just as we know almost nothing about the architects of the gothic cathedrals, so we know not the real names and biographies of many of these artists). What pervades the section “Spirit of Naturalism” is the incredible emphasis placed on the border of the manuscript – the region of the page surrounding the scene depicted, or miniature – embellished with lavish flora, fauna, and at times charming little bees and ladybugs. One wouldn’t be mistaken in thinking that the spirit of Romanticism had not already arrived a good three hundred years before Rousseau, with idealized scenes of verdant meadows, forests and cascading mountains rendered in meticulous detail, replete with a proper sense of spatial depth, all set in background, at times glimpsed through gothic portals and hallways.

Though some miniatures are beautifully laden with religious themes – many of these books are devotional books (the most popular type being called a livre d’heures, a “Book of Hours” – a small book to be used throughout the day for personal prayer and reflection) -- others are of a more secular nature, capturing themes of antiquity. In the section “Illuminating the Past,” we learn that major patrons of more secular-themed illuminations were Duke Philip the Good of Burdundy, (ruled 1419-67) and his son Charles the Bold (ruled 1467-77). Here, Alexander the Great figures prominently as an extolled figure, as does the singular importance of Charlemagne (“Karl der Grosse”). One is perhaps reminded of what the great Alsace-German historian E. R. Curtius made central to his magnum opus, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. This region of northern Europe, the confluence of Germania and France, imbued by lasting effects of Charlemagne’s empire and by the universal aspirations of Latinity, obtained a mirific alchemy that was the high-point of European culture.

As the exhibit turns to “Illumination under the Habsburgs” one notices the level of precision and depth of Flemish illumination had really come into its own. By comparison, the earlier works in the exhibit look somewhat more primitive, or at least more playful and explorative in form.

By the time of the Habsburg domination of Flanders, the demand for illuminated manuscripts grew wildly apace across Europe. Here, the most impressive works feature two artists, Gerard David and “The Master of James IV of Scotland” -- in fact, they created, along with Simon Bening, the standout works of the entire exhibit, at least from the standpoint of this reviewer’s humble awe. Also of signal beauty are miniatures, individually framed and mounted in seriatim along a single wall, the Leaves from the Hours of Bona Sforza by one Gerard Horenbout. These, as the museum tells us, are among the most beautiful examples of Flemish illumination from the 1500s – but this much is evident without any imprimatur. These are the only firmly documented manuscript illuminations by Horenbout, the book of hours commissioned by Bona Sforza, Lukehess of Milan, featuring such remarkable gems as “Christ’s Entering into Jerusalem” and “Saint Mark in His Study.”

At the close of the exhibit one must not miss several enormous illuminations, The Genealogical Tree of the Kings of Aragon by Simon Bening and Antonio de Hollanda, on loan from the British Library, London. What a superb finale! Last but not least, the audio guide is very helpful. The cost is a meager three dollars at the main entrance to the Getty. The audio I found not to be so exhaustive as to make for a too deliberative Kultur Vulture a visit. Rather, it is done just right, offering colorful and lambent interpretive formulations by art historians.

Leisure is the basis of culture, as the theologian Josef Pieper wrote in a seminal book by the same title. These artists – as well as the thinkers of the era and centuries preceding – were moved in their free time not merely to earn a living for the sake of receiving remuneration (an end all too often preponderant in this day and age). They strived with all their hearts and souls to create works of lasting visual beauty and intellectual depth such as we late moderns can only hope to approximate. All the more reason to hasten thus to the Getty Museum, and partake in a rare delight called, Illuminating the Renaissance….

The Assault On Masculinity

Lionel Tiger writes in today's WSJ:

The charade feeds on an enthusiastic glee in confronting what I call the "male original sin," which is that all men and boys are in urgent need of remedy from their natures and must rapidly liberate "their feminine side" (the front? the back?). It is all remarkably condescending and peculiarly rancorous, but also nationally fashionable. It has little to do with homosexual rights and everything to do with antipathy to maleness and confusion about what it is. It stems from the post-modernist ideology that sex is a social construct somehow promoted by a "patriarchal culture," whatever in fact that is supposed to mean.

But hope is at the manicurists'. If men read the right magazines, listen raptly to sensitivity trainers, eschew the competitive games that boys enjoy and aren't allowed pick-up trucks with big tires, they'll be fortunate enough to become more like females. (Meanwhile, even among other primates, males choose toys rather like the ones human boys do -- and hit and bite each other -- while females ape their human sisters.) But the toxic net-effect of all the earnest sexual upgrading and male undermining is that boys do less well all through the feminized school system. They are now only 44% of the college population. By 2010, men are expected to receive only one-third of bachelors' degrees.

The New York Times On The Bombings

Dennis Prager says: The New York Times believes that its purpose of publishing is to influence policy, not to report the news. Yesterday there were two major bombings - on the UN building in Baghdad (killing 17) and a suicide bombing of a bus in Jerusalem killing 18.

While most major papers gave equal attention to the two bombings, the NY Times emphasized, with four columns, the Baghdad bombing because the NYT hated the Iraq intervention. The NYT wants to emphasize road map to peace and thus wants to play down Palestinian murder of Jewish innocents. Thus only one column to this latest Jerusalem bombing.

Hamas and the Palestinians love death. Israelis love life, as a Hamas official famously said.

TV news takes its cues from the NYT not the Washington Post, LA Times, etc...

The San Diego Tribune covered yesterday's events in a similar way to the NY Times.

Luke says: The Tribune is a famously right-wing paper that employed many of Nixon's disgraced aides.

Dave Deutsch writes: "While the Times is certainly not unbiased in its coverage of Israel, I think that one may find some other reasons for covering the bombing of the UN compound more fully than the bus bombing. While there were 5 american citizens killed in Jerusalem, the US is currently fighting a war in Iraq, not in Israel. We have 139,000 troops in Iraq, not Israel. The groups that killed the Americans in Jerusalem did so because they were Jews, not Americans; the groups that bombed the UN did so, in all likelihood, because they associate them with Americans. So while personally, I care more about the dead in Jerusalem, it doesn't seem unreasonable that an American paper would devote more attention to a bombing in a city which is currently being occupied and administered by the American military, and conLuketed by a group which is fighting an insurgency against the American military, than to a bombing where the US involvement, and hence risk, is considerably less."

Brian Lowry Quits LA Times For Variety

LA Observed reports: "Brian Lowry is jumping to Variety as a columnist and critic. Lowry gave his notice this morning after not getting the Rosenberg job. The move leaves the L.A. Times Calendar section thin on television knowledge."

XXX writes: "Brian Lowry and his pal Howard Rosenberg shouldn't be allowed to review TV. They hate TV. Lowry because he always wanted to grow up and be a grizzled journo and Rosenberg, the corrupt hitman for the Velvet Mafia (he'd write about things he didnt see-- and time the hits for when theyd hurt most). Howard wanted all American TV to be like the BBC news and you could always get a good review from him if you were an animal lover."

Could someone please explain to me how any self-respecting journalist could go to work for a trade publication? You've become a prostitute. You are only allowed to write on stuff that the industry permits to you. You've handed over your manhood at the door and you don't get it back until you leave. Trade papers are all whores. Those who work for them are whores. Trades never do any serious investigation of their industries. They cheerlead. They don't investigate news.

Well, the LAT's should be a good preparation for working in the trades because the LAT's entertainment coverage is essentially trade journalism. It's journalism on bended knee before the Dillers, Geffens, of Hollywood.

Just don't call the trades journalism. They are an arm of public relations. They have no devotion to the story. They are devoted to telling the stories their advertisers permit them to tell.

The trades consist of barely rewritten press releases about trivial matters while criminality and venality abound all around them unreported. No self-respecting reporter would ever work for a trade except out of desperation, financial necessity or to make contacts.

Prostitutes never like being called prostitutes. Porn stars don't like to be called prostitutes, but whether they like it or not, they are prostitutes. Trade journalists are hos whether they embrace that definition or not.

Everybody likes to ride a white horse and think himself a great person. Trade journalists work for the equivalent of Pravda.

To trades' defenders, please tell me all the damaging stories about the industry the trades have broken lately? I stand ready to be corrected by the facts. Please tell me about damaging pieces published by any trade publication? Pieces that get people thrown in jail, bankrupt companies, that sort of thing. I'm waiting.

Remember the George Christy scandal in Spring 2001 at The Hollywood Reporter? This type of behavior has long been par for the course at the trades.

New Times LA columnist Rick Barrs writes: "A former top editor at one of the trades marveled at The Finger's naïveté about the Hollywood Reporter. "It's a fucking trade paper, and a trade paper's a whorehouse. What did David Robb expect? He knew he was working for whores. "I like Anita Busch, and I think she wants to do the right thing, but the Hollywood Reporter ain't the goddamned New York Times. Whether she likes it or not, an industry ass-kisser like George Christy's more what the Reporter's about than David Robb. Hos are damn sure going to protect their own."" (New Times LA, 5/3/01)

I base my opinions on the two Hollywood trade papers Variety and Hollywood Reporter on Cathy Seipp's article on the trades for Buzz magazine, on Dave Robb's two resignations from the Hollywood Reporter because the publisher killed unfriendly stories, on Dave Robb's LA Weekly cover story on Peter Bart (editor of Variety), on Amy Wallace's devastating portrayal of Peter Bart in Los Angeles magazine, on the book Hit and Run's portrayal of Variety, and on David Shaw's LAT's article on the trades in February 2001.

It seems that most of the material in the trades is about various players leaning towards signing deals for movies and TV shows that never get made. Such fluff only fluffs those written about and is of no use to the reader.

Tuesday morning I had a dozen examples of hard-hitting Variety reporting forwarded to me by a Variety editor.

Mike from Variety writes:

Variety, for example, broke the story that Viacom was purchasing CBS. The paper also uncovered the fact that some film studios were putting their own employees in TV ads, as if they were normal audience members. When most of the press was still going ga-ga over ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," Variety was reporting about how the show was losing viewers and headed toward a collapse. And it recently wrote about how writers are getting screwed by the new economics of TV.

As a whole, the trades covered the rise and fall of Mike Ovitz's empire. The debates over deregulation at the FCC and in Congress. How and why networks were demanding ownership stakes in TV series, as well as how and why the independent TV studios disappeared. The awkward relationship between News Corp. and Viacom regarding UPN. Our ratings reporter at Variety slices and dices the numbers better than anyone, and is beholden to no one. The list goes on.

Ron writes LA Observed: I would like to draw a parallel between this rant and the recent threads here about Gawker/Elizabeth Speier's in-passing L.A. commentaries. Namely, that while Luke Ford is a real person, lukeford.net - in the proud Aussie tradition of Steve Dunleavy, Peter Brennan and Kerry Packer - is in my humble opinion something of a cultivated online persona. Loud, extreme, exaggerated. Stirs the drink whenever it comes to negative opinion expressing. If only to keep the amount of unique blog visitors high.

Rabbi Adlerstein is a black hat?

Dennis Prager cited what he called an ultra-orthodox black hat rabbi, Yitzhok Adlerstein, who said he'd rather non-Jews believed in the Virgin Birth etc than have the values of French men.

I do not believe that Rabbi Adlerstein is a black hat. I've seen him on a hundred occasions and I've never seen him wearing a black hat. He's a right of center Orthodox rabbi and a member of Agudah Yisrael. Rabbi A. specializes in outreach to secular Jews. He works at Project Next Step. Rabbi A. is probably Orthodoxy's premier spokesman in Los Angeles and has deeply touched my life.

Rabbi Adlerstein and Prager have been friends for a long time though years have gone by, at times, when they did not see each other.

Evy writes: You betcha I've seen Rabbi Adlerstein several times in a black hat, and I will swear to you that it is blacker than most.

Dave Deutsch writes: Being a member of Agudas Yisroel is pretty much synonymous with being a black hat, it being the primary black hat organization in the US. Whether or not he wears one is perhaps irrelevant; what matters is not being a black hat of the flesh, but a black hat of the heart.

Nicholas Kristof writes in the NY Times:

Yet despite the lack of scientific or historical evidence, and despite the doubts of Biblical scholars, America is so pious that not only do 91 percent of Christians say they believe in the Virgin Birth, but so do an astonishing 47 percent of U.S. non-Christians.

I'm not denigrating anyone's beliefs. And I don't pretend to know why America is so much more infused with religious faith than the rest of the world. But I do think that we're in the middle of another religious Great Awakening, and that while this may bring spiritual comfort to many, it will also mean a growing polarization within our society. But mostly, I'm troubled by the way the great intellectual traditions of Catholic and Protestant churches alike are withering, leaving the scholarly and religious worlds increasingly antagonistic.

I worry partly because of the time I've spent with self-satisfied and unquestioning mullahs and imams, for the Islamic world is in crisis today in large part because of a similar drift away from a rich intellectual tradition and toward the mystical. The heart is a wonderful organ, but so is the brain.


Dave Deutsch writes: It reminds me of the old joke: A Jew applies for a job as a DJ at a radio station. He gets home and his roommate asks him if he got the job. He shakes his head sadly. "Why not?" Asks the roommate? "Antisssssssssssemitism."

As for the poll cited by Kristof, I'm always a little leery of such shocking results. Some years back, one of the Jewish watchdog groups published the shocking result that some 19% of Americans believed it was possible that the Holocaust never happened. The problem? The question was something like "Do you believe it is possible or impossible that the Holocaust never happened?" When it comes to polls, the questions are at least as important as the answers, so I'd want to know how the question about the Virgin Birth was phrased.

Luke Ford Offends the Proletariate

Chaim Amalek writes:

So you "don't like being around areas in LA with subways because it allows scum to flow more freely than [you] like", eh? Well, it so happens that the scum of LA has its own transport, generally nicer than your rusty old van. They don't need the subways to torment you, no sir. The subways are for working class people like me, who lead ecologically sound lives by riding subways instead of burning gasoline in automobiles. You owe the working class of Los Angeles an apology.

While visiting LA last year, I toured the subway system from downtown (near that new cathedral) up to the Valley, and found it good. You should set aside your phobia of dusky third world peoples and try it sometime.

A Sunday To Remember

I will look back on Sunday, August 17, as the good ol' days.

It was a day spent in the shade in Brentwood, with good friends, sipping cold drinks, talking about the most intimate, important and amusing matters.

I met a friend at the Coffee Bean on San Vicente and Barrington at noon. I ordered a maple cake, a mint chocolate cookie and a large Sunrise (icy orange juice pepped up with vanilla) topped with whipped cream.

I enjoyed my goodies and looked out at a pile of my friends from temple, undressed in the sun.

I learn about metrosexuals - straight men who indulge in what is generally regarded as homosexual male behavior - wearing fine clothes like linen shirts, purchasing gourmet coffees and teas, using fine soap. These men enjoy shopping. It's mind blowing to me. I never go into a grocery or clothing store for pleasure, though I love bookstores.

One guy gave me a bar of Kirk's Original Coca Castile soap. He says it makes your skin feel great. It's kosher.

At 1PM, I stopped by Duttons and sat in the shade. I talked with friends. I introLukeed myself to author Lewis Perdue. We've spoken many times by phone and via email but this is the first time we've met in person.

Given his long list of accomplishments (he was the faculty advisor to the UCLA Daily Bruin from 1979-83), I expected a doddering old man. Instead he is a vigorous marathoner. He stands about 5'10 and weighs about 160 pounds. He has far more vitality than I do. And he has almost no lines on his face.

He gave a talk about his new book: ""Slatewiper" is a thriller, based on scientific facts, of how gene therapies could be turned into devastating bioweapons. In Slatewiper, entrepreneur Lara Blackwood finds that her gene-engineering company has been acquired by a Japanese pharmacuetical company which wants her technology to build a series of weapons that can target specific ethnic groups."

Lewis: "I wrote this book in 1985. Nobody believed it could happen and nobody wanted to publish it.

"In 1995, I was two years into this adventure...the World Wide Web. I was selling a wine newsletter by 1994. I put the book on the web. From what I can tell, Slatewiper is the first e-book ever sold. We sold about 250-300 copies. What people bought for $30 is a manuscript out of Kinkos.

"In 2000, St. Martins Press published Daughter of God. You may have read in Newsweek or AP that Dan Brown, who wrote the Da Vinci Code, managed to rip off most of the plot points in Daughter of God as well as an earlier book of mine called The DaVinci Legacy. One of the reasons we [Lewis and his ten-year old son, his wife and daughter remain home in the Napa Valley] are interviewing attorneys for the literary armagheddon.

"In 1994-95, nobody thought this [Slatewiper events] could happen. It's fueled by religious and racial hatreds.

"After 9/11, things changed and St. Martins decided to publish it.

"I try to tell a page-turner, and put something underneath it."

Lewis is in Los Angeles looking for lawyers willing to take on Dan Brown, author of the DaVinci Code, for plagiarizing Perdue's works, including his book Daughter of God. Lewis says Brown stole many of his plot points.

Perdue began as Daily Bruin adviser the year after Cathy left UCLA. Her former roommate was editor during Perdue's first year on the job and the two fought constantly.

In 1969, Perdue was kicked out of Ol' Miss for leading a civil rights march. He moved out of the state and his life took off. His father, a loyal Mississippian, would not forgive Lewis for leaving the state and did not talk to him for ten years. They reconciled three months before the death of Lewis's father.

I sit through Perdue's talk with my new friend Robert Light, a graduate student in political philosophy at Claremont. Near the end, I walk over to Cathy Seipp and her old friend Debbie Gendel. Debbie says Robert and I look like a great gay couple who should adopt kids.

Debbie and Cathy grade some of the men in the crowd as grumpy, dumpy, lump and f---ing insane. I'm the one they think is loony.

Cathy and Debbie are hilariously wickedly good at disecting people. (I'm like the protagonist in the John Fowles novel The Collector, except that instead of butterflies, I collect profiles of female journalists and stick pins into them.)

Their daughters play together in and around the bookstore. I tell them not to talk to boys. Cecile fancies a fella from temple named Porkchop.

Lewis introduces two of his friends to me. One is a big fan and owns my book. He gets my autograph. I haven't signed many of those and was so nervous I sent my signature flying off the page.

After the program, we walk over to my favorite place - Jamba Juice - and I buy everyone smoothies (Cathy get lemonade, Debbie nothing).

We sit in the shade and exchange outrageous stories and observations that would burn your eyes to read.

Cathy wants me to spend more time with David Poland and write more about him. She says he's a good influence on me.

Debbie says Cathy is a good influence on me. Debbie says I had an epiphany at Thursday night's Press Club party that you don't write bad things about your friends if you want to keep them.

We all think it is wonderful that in an age of divorce and adultery, that Matt Welch and Emmanuelle Richard, and Ken Layne and Laura, all appear deeply in love.

Debbie says that none of her friends from temple have divorced. Robert, a lapsed Episcopalian , attributed that largely to the religious influence of temple.

Robert, 32, named a couple of good Episcopalian churches for picking up liberal women.

Robert is asked if grad school is a place to meet women. He say no. Most of women are undergraduates. I suggest he graduate them personally.

Robert's brain, good looks and good manners charm Debbie and Cathy.

We discuss journalism's wilder days. Debbie remembers when the staff from the Los Angeles Daily News would gather at a strip club for lunch.

We remember the 1970s when secular urban women felt obliged to give it up if she'd gone on a few dates with a guy.

I'd love to host a talkshow with Cathy Seipp where we'd interview our guests with humor. Cathy is an easy target to tease and she'd be a good check on my more inappropriate impulses.

Cathy says I have this unique gift but of what exactly, she is not sure. Somehow, I can interrupt a conversation at any point, start off with what seems like an appropriate story, and end it in lurid style, but in such a way that nobody has the strength to slap me. I guess I have a dirty mind.

5:45PM: I change out of my shorts and T-shirt into black pants and a long blue dress shirt. I drive off to the University of Judaism for the third and final concert in the Mulholland Nights series. Tonight's performers - Elan and Divahn.

Divahn is a four-woman group from Austin, Texas, that plays Middle Eastern music.

Why must I find women performing music so erotic? There's something about beautiful young women on stage performing, be it dance or music or prayers or a sermon or a play, that I find intensely arousing.

I'm sitting here watching four chaste young ladies sing praises to God and I feel like I am at a strip show.

How do you change someone who hates you and continues to do things that hurt you? You nicely ask the person to desist. If that doesn't work, DO NOT GO TO LAWYERS. I never forgive anyone who threatens me with lawyers. I vow to myself that I will haunt such persons for the rest of their lives.

I have often been touched by a human and empathic and polite appeal to do something, remove something from my site.

If that doesn't work, you should work on a person's friends. I have dozens of people who are significant to me and if they appealed to me to remove something or perform an action, I would take that seriously. If that does not work, contact more of the person's friends. Eventually, social pressure will force virtually anyone to do something.

I see countless people make asses of themselves trying to get me to change something. They usually threaten me with lawyers or death. It's stupid. It does not work. It blows up a situation. It is far more effective to lobby my friends.

Dr Laura Leaves Judaism

Dave Deutsch writes:

I think it's hilarious that Dr. Laura left Judaism because she found it to be "argumentative" and "angry." I have only listened to her show a handful of times (always, it seems, at times when I was in a car during sephira or the three weeks), but I found her to be a distinctly indecent person. One episode in particular stands out: A young woman calls her, and tells her that she trusts Dr. Laura, and will do anything she says. Then she tells the good doctor that her fiance, who has a job, and is good to her, goes out with his friends and drinks "too much." Dr. Laura's response? Dump him. She doesn't find out how much is "too much." She simply tells this woman, who has placed her life in her hands, to dump the guy.

Now, I have to say, I am a good husband, and a good father. But I enjoy drinking as well, though I generally don't drink to get drunk, or to the point of drunkenness. Still, being over 200 pounds, over six feet tall, and a reasonably seasoned drinker, I can put it away. So one Friday night when Aliza and I were going out or engaged, and I'm at her parents, I drink most of a bottle of wine, a level of consumption with which, let us simply say, her parents were unfamiliar, and they spoke to her about it.

Now, they felt I drank too much, not because I drank a lot, or drank frequently, but because I drank. Dr. Laura didn't ask for any more details, and didn't want to discuss it; she simply told her to break her engagement. Now you may argue that this is show biz, and that makes for better radio, and that would be fine, except she doesn't present herself as an entertainment personally, but as a moral authority.

And aside from this episode, she simply doesn't speak to people in a decent way. She is the antithesis of menschlichkeit, and, quite frankly, while I would prefer that she simply do teshuva, I found her behavior to be a real chillul hashem. I've said it before, but I find it funny that people like her talk about how sex in the movies degrades our society, but meanwhile, she degrades the very foundations of society, the ability of people to be civil to one another. She is helping to teach generations of people that when you disagree with someone, the way to deal with them is through abuse, rudeness, and dehumanization. And if that doesn't degrade America, I don't know what does.

Oh, and what's your problem with comic books? Some are really brilliant, well written, provocative, funny, moving, with whatever qualities you would look for in a work of literature.. And while most may be narishkeyt, how does that make comics different from any medium?

Why Won't Men Commit?

Chaim Amalek writes:

Men won't commit because women won't make men commit during that small window of their lives when they have the power to make them. A woman who is at her sexual peak (by which I mean peak fertility and attractiveness, not in terms of how readily she can orgasm) can make men do things like propose marriage, if she plays her cards right. Unfortunately, the average urban-dwelling, television-watching, non-Church going American woman squanders these years going to school or - worse - climbing professional/vocational ladders designed for the life trajectory of men. By the time these women are ready to settle down, they are all screwed out. Their ability to get the sort of men they covet to "commit" to them has been substantially degraded by the passage of time, and they sit alone in their apartments with their cats, wondering why men are such shits.

The practical solution is for women to marry the way their grandmas did, when young (18 - 23). In societies where women do this (e.g. those of al Islam, Hindu India, and the fossil-people of rabbinical judaism), women do not bemoan the refusal of good men to "commit" to them. They are too busy raising their children and preparing for the future.

Pat Riley writes:

The only reason to even talk to a female is the anticipation of screwing her. Her real role is lying back with her legs apart like all females--either she's letting something in or as a result of a past letting-in is pumping something out. End of story.

Peter writes:

I have a Neo-Orthodox cousin. She was brought up in Connecticut listened to the Go Gos, wore hot pink nail polish and dated and f--ked various guys. Then she met and married a guy in LA where she moved to and she and her husband turned Orthodox together. Now she weighs more than a whale, has 4 kids and more on the way, wears a wig and long sleeves and long dresses every day and they f--k only for procreation although how he can get it up for her anymore I have no idea. If that's what you think will make you commit you're living in a self delusional fantasy. Don't balme women if you can't commit. Just accept that you are not attracted to women who want long term serious meaningful realtionships. If you were you'd look for those kind of women and there are millions of them and you'd commit and be married. You don't want that kind of woman, you want a kinky, hot, exciting slut but you would never commit to a slut. Don't blame you lack of ability to commit on women. Like I said, there are millions of sweet, average looking, old fashioned women out there dying to find a guy to settle down with but you're not looking for them and don't want them.

Khunrum writes:

While Chaim makes some valid points I don't believe there is a massive swing towards the non commitment side of male/female relationships.

There are still plenty of wolves out there willing to leave the forest for the security of a roof over their head and a daily can of Alpo. Woman act as enablers to these men. They dress them, feed them, tell them when they are drinking too much. They remind them not to pick their nose at cocktail parties and see that the dry cleaning is picked up for work on Monday. They polish up and round the edges so hubby is presentable enough to go out there and earn them some bucks. The single life is not for these men. They are a deer in the headlights without a woman telling them what to do. More often than not if these guys divorce they leave the old crone for a younger model, rarely to be on their own. If the wife dumps them they quickly remarry. They wouldn't know how to function by themselves.

So, while there may be more guys wising up the benefits of bachelorhood, there is still lot's of cannon fodder out there willing to charge the matrimonial trenches. Marriage won't become obsolete anytime soon. Fix bayonettes..Ok Boys CHHHHAAAARRRRGGGEEEE!

Lunch Friday With Cathy Seipp

Cathy Seipp writes on her blog:

Cecile and I saw "American Splendor" this afternoon, and it occured to me that maybe Luke Ford should consider finding an illustrator and doing his memoir as a graphic novel, as I think it would perfectly fit his deadpan tone. He said today at lunch that he had thought about that, actually -- his "friend" Chaim Amalek had suggested it -- and although I hate Chaim Amalek and know he is wrong about 99% of everything, he may be on to something here. Unfortunately, Luke is prejudiced against what he dismisses as "comic books" -- along with, oh, a mere 5,000 or so other pet peeves -- and in fact is the only person I know who's read "The Cross and the Switchblade" in its original non-comic-book, purist-pleasing form.

....Bill Higgins, Variety's amazingly well-informed party columnist. I was faintly alarmed when he mentioned that Dave Robb, the former H'wd Reporter labor writer who recently joined the long list of people who have threatened to kill Luke, also likes Kokomo and had just been there a few days before. But like most people, Robb sat on what Luke calls the "Third World shouk" side, not on the secluded side Luke likes, with the scenic view of Sav-On. So hopefully they'll never run into each other.

Gawking At Elizabeth Spiers

Elizabeth Spiers, the editor of Gawker.com, spent a few days in Los Angeles. She was invited to a couple of gatherings of writers and left behind perceptions of herself as ungracious, tardy, moody, temperamental, and ungrateful.

Spiers brought three civilian girls with her to both events, which did not thrill her media hosts (who had been looking forward to her visit for weeks).

Reporting for Gawker, Spiers trashed LA:

3. Media criticism isn't one big creative writing workshop. ("I think your stuff is, like, totally valid, but we'd all be a little more comfortable with what you're saying it if you, like, used more 'giving' language.") A friend's explanation of the impulse: "In LA, you can't really dissect people—even at that superficial level—because there's, like, nothing underneath."

4. Army Archerd's Variety column: fewer dead people, more living people.

5. I've only been here for five days and already I feel dumber. Why is that? Can it be prevented?

6. A friend's opinion on whether an LA version of Gawker would be viable: "I don't know. People here don't really read...stuff." Reading is good. There should be more reading.

Amy Alkon, at two events with Spiers, writes on LA Observed:

LA is actually the biggest book-selling market in the country. When I moved here from NYC, my friends made fun of me, and told me I'd have nobody to talk to. My smart friends knew differently. Last week, Elizabeth Spiers came to two LA writer gatherings -- some of the intellectual duds in attendance were: Mickey Kaus (Slate/Kausfiles.com), Cathy Seipp, Michael Isikof (of Newsweek), Gabriel Snyder, Emmanuelle Richard, Heather Macdonald (of City Journal), Scott Kaufer, Alan Mayer, Ned Zeman, Matt Welch, and Jill Stewart. I don't believe the word "tubular" was uttered once, but I'll have to check the C-Span transcript.

Emmanuelle Richard writes me:

Regardless of what Elizabeth Spiers writes (she's smarter than that and, in my view, shouldn't be stirring the same old soup of half-baked anti-LA criticism by smarty-pants East Coast people) I disagree with your account of her visit here. I'm very glad she came to these different events with people she knew online and it was exciting to have her. As simple as that! Her friends were very cool and they showed up late to breakfast, ok. My biggest regret is that we all had to go soon after they arrived and we couldn't talk properly. But how can hold a grudge against New Yorkers driving a rental in L.A.? Everybody gets lost in this town trying to look for places. At the beginning. But even New Yorker Gabriel Snyder is getting around town now like a charm now. It takes a few months and the gal pals were here for 4 days only!

Mark writes: "Spiers may have been a little rude, but what should we expect? When a team mascot visits the opposing team's campus during a road trip, he won't root for the opposition as well."

Matt Welch writes Laobserved.com:

At the risk of explaining the joke, Gawker's gimmick is to be 170% Manhattan-centric, and do unto non-Manhattan locations (especially San Francisco) what Jim Murray used to do opposing teams' cities. It's funny. And it's also one of the reasons why a Gawker West would have a tough time working here -- we're not insecure enough for that type of bravado, and rubbing other people's faces in their own poor geographical decisions would be poor sportsmanship.

Elizabeth Spiers writes:

A few things: First, Matt got it exactly right. There were things I liked about LA, but Gawker isn't the place for a "things I liked about LA" post. As for the accusations that I used tired old cliches, my LA friends came up with half of those lists--in particular, the bit about turning into an idiot as soon as you cross the city limits. Four different LA residents in completely separate instances told me that.

And to explain another joke (*sigh*), the voice on gawker is an *alter ego.* i definitely have that side to my personality, but i'm not perpetually snarky, and i'm certainly not insecure about my geographic decisions. it's not like anything prevents me from moving to LA, if i so choose. i haven't done it, because at least for now, i *prefer* new york. (I know that may be hard for you to believe, but it's true.) also--"tubular" was uttered, just not at your writer's gathering. And judging from the landslide of "Dude, you're harshing on my city! ha ha!" emails I got, i think most LA Gawker readers actually *liked* the lists.

Ms. Nuyawker writes LAobserved.com:

Liz, there are several reasons why you are being rightfully scolded, but I'll point out what seems primary. I think everyone, east coast and west coast, is absolutely tired of "everybody" being snarky, or having biting wit wrapped in hipster contempt of all but one's personal cabal or the icon of the moment. I think you represent the embodiment of that tired cliché, that we are all tired of, and so you are getting the flame that is meant not just for you, but for many others. But what I think makes your transgression even more repugnant, is that you actually take off the mask and tell us, "hey guys, that's just my 'snarky' persona, I'm really a cool person." B-llsh-t. If you were really cool, you would realize that pretending to be an assh-le is a far greater crime than actually being one.

Chris Hitchens, who you seem to love to quote, is often a genuine insufferable ass who makes no apologies for being an ass. Often I don't like him, but I have a certain respect for his honesty when presenting his venomous positions. You, on the other hand, are a self-admitted poseur throwing rotten eggs at various icons, movements, etc. with a false 'edge' of candor and frankness.

I suspect, in fact, that your wide open Alabama backwoods eyes pretty much love/are fascinated by most of what you consume/are fed, but you pretend to be snarky because it's "cool." This is commonly known as "high school" behavior. You're an adult, so you don't get the Ghost World faux snark pass, people actually expect you to mean what you say and be a genuine person.

There's a difference between good old hyperbolic gossip writing (Musto), and flat out pretending to have a divergent opinion of popular culture (you). The fact that you're getting mainstream writing gigs in your snark 'persona' is just further evidence of the decline of U.S. media and that we can no longer believe 'anything' we read, no matter if it's positive, negative, left, right, center, mainstream, or even from a tiny blog. Now, even little upstarts like you no longer have any problem b-llsh-tting us anymore. THIS is why people, on both coasts, are flaming you. They want interesting, honestly written stories. Not acting.

I Love LA Press Club Parties

I want them to sit on my lap and snuggle with me beside the fire, and exchange drinks and stories, and finally go home together.

The problem with such intimacy is that you can't write savagely about those you adore.

Emmanuelle Richard's Pictures

Many members of the Press Club party list did not attend tonight's event because they were offended by the theme - Adam Parfrey's book It's A Man's World, about post-WWII men's pulps.

Bruce Jay Friedman writes about his years editing men's adventure mags (and this excerpt sent out by Cathy Seipp offended several women on the list):

Swank published new stories by William Saroyan and Graham Greene, and God alone knows who read them. Truss ads and all, the magazine attempted to be classy and risque. I assigned the late A.C. Spectorsky to do an article on girl pinching. He did one on girl bumping which I rejected. He did a second version on girl shoving; I sent it back. He countered with a third, on girl tickling. I returned it and paid him half his fee. Years later, he asked me to join him at Playboy.

"I am making this offer," he said, "because of your quite proper refusal to accept anything but girl pinching."

I left my hovel at 6:10PM and drove for 40 minutes to the party at Los Feliz. This area of town is no place for a white man, which accounts for the low turnout tonight. Though there are charming sections, I'd hate to think what the crime rate is like. The poor white man belongs in Beverly Hills and environs.

Cathy Seipp is fond of picking third world locales for these parties to sensitize us to different cultures and races. It's helped me develop my tolerance.

My favorite Cathy-hangout is the Tanzanian-style shuk aka the Farmers Market beside the Grove (near Fairfax Blvd). It's a great place for some senior citizen to come ploughing through because everybody, of all races, is jammed together and just a sitting target for a terrorist.

I arrived at the classy bar at 7PM. Nobody was in sight. Finally Martin Devon walks up and we chat for 15 minutes. I interviewed him about his life, his level of Jewish observance, his marriage, divorce and aftermath, his dating habits, what he likes to do in strange cities when he's all alone and has money in his pocket.

Michele Seipp, Cathy's sister, walks in at 7:20.

The whole gang - Cathy, Heather MacDonald, Emmanuelle Richard, Matt Welch and company - arrive at 7:30.

I spend most of the night chatting with Cathy and her college roommate Nancy Lilienthal, Donna the cartoonist, Luke Thompson (quoted in Newsweek last week on Gigli), Amy Alkon (who bought be a big bottle of seltzer).

Heather left early. She goes to bed early, rises early, walks around her neighborhood, and devotes herself to writing.

She had several media appearances canceled this week. She was set to debate Michael Kinsley on the new Slate/NPR show. The press had been going nuts over the charge that AG John Ashcroft was trying to "blacklist" judges who gave sentences below the prescribed amount set forth in this complicated matrix known as the Sentencing Guidelines. Heather's DOJ contacts showed her that what Ashcroft was doing was mandated by a law passed a few months ago in Congress, and that what he was doing was *less* intrusive on judicial independence than the law had set out. *None* of the press stories noted that fact. Immediately into the interview, she informed Kinsley that Ashcroft was merely obeying the will of Congress. As Heather had predicted, Kinsley had done no preparation on the issue beyond reading the press reports, so was understandably ignorant about the law. At that point, he changed the subject to whether criminal sentences are too long in this country, kind of in themselves, and also in comparison to Europe--a ridiculously broad topic, and one Heather was not prepared to discuss--the Sentencing Guidelines issue, with or without the added blip of the recent law, has to do with the advisability of constraining judicial sentencing discretion. She winged it anyway, speaking gibberish.

Finally the left-wing NPR/Slate show canned Heather's whole appearance. Teach her for outshining the host.

Maybe Heather, and Cathy, should be more deferential towards men?

Heather's other media appearances, including Fox News Thursday evening, was preempted by the power outage in the East.

Friendships are good. They not only stifle writing, they also inspire it.

Emmanuelle Richard seems to have a different hair style every time I see her. I mean that in a good way. She got a professional hair job yesterday and she looks particularly stunning.

Amy Alkon sports a huge hat. She brings her doctor friend Kevin.

Matt Drudge linked an article saying that Arnold S. thought Richard Riordan lacked focus, and that's why Arnold ran. Riordan lacks similar focus with his LA Examiner baby. The man loves to give interviews and talk grand. All his clippings on this should burn up because Riordan's doing nothing to get this paper off the ground. His assistant Tim DeRoche was at tonight's party. He says there are no new developments on the most hyped newspaper in the history of the planet that never published a real issue. Shame on Riordan for flirting and dilly dallying and just being one big tease. I've dated women like Dick.

Heather Havrilesky sat back outside and smoked cigarettes.

I tell Eugene Volokh that I've used my acquaintanceship with him to worm my way into the good graces of a brilliant former student of his.

Eugene gives Cathy and Amy thick volumes of his new book on First Amendment law.

I spend about 30 minutes of the evening discussing with most everyone around us Cathy's blonde hairdo. Hot? Dykey? I argued for both. She resented the lesbian inference and said I was hoping. She named off several people who said it was hot. When I got to them, they admitted it was hot and dykey (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Cathy drinks two martinis and goes home with Matt and Emmanuelle.

It's 11PM. Do you know where your mother is? Cecile du Bois does not.

Driving home, I see subway entrances. I don't like being around areas in LA with subways because it allows scum to flow more freely than I like.

I like making navigation somewhat difficult, so only those with relatively high IQs can do it easily. Keep raising the car tax, I say. Add a $1 a gallon tax to gasoline. Get the morons off the road, those with a low value for car travel. Free up the streets for those doing the Lord's work, like me.