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Sex, Celebrity and the Internet
Luke is a charismatic leader? I bet he just loves you. Women are so gullible. You throw a few compliments in their direction and pretty soon you have them tied around your little finger. So what exactly did Luke say to you to get you to fall so completely under his spell?
I love this paragraph, especially the bit about "six best male friends." Surely Luke has one best male friend, plus five other men he is stringing along? Apparently Luke's charm works on (some) men, too. Luke has his own "team" of men? So that is what they are calling it these days? You know, there is a name for team players like these. Let's see, it has three letters g - y - a, but not necessarily in that order.
The Jewish Week Interview
I chat by phone with Gary Rosenblatt, editor of The Jewish Week, Thursday morning, June 24, 2004.
"How happy are you with your job?"
"I love it."
"How happy are you with your paper and which parts if any most need to be improved?"
"I'm happy with the paper overall. We could stand improvement across the board. We're always trying to reach more readers, particularly younger readers, more people outside the organized Jewish community."
"Would you describe The Jewish Week as a compelling read?"
"I don't want to tout our paper. That's certainly our goal."
"Would you describe it as the best Jewish newspaper?"
"I'd have to give the same answer."
"What do you think are the obstacles to good Jewish journalism?"
"I sometime describe our ongoing dilemma this way -- a Jewish journalist works with two competing mandates. The first commandment for journalists is to probe, explore and uncover and all the things people expect when they pick up their daily paper. On the other hand, one of the commandments in the organized Jewish community is the opposite, to cover-up and create a unified front, and not present any negative impression to the outside world. The Yiddish expression, shander fer de goyim (scandal for the goyim). You're always walking that tightrope -- doing the job of a journalist and being a responsible part of the Jewish community."
"How much status does a journalist for a Jewish paper have in Jewish life?"
"We're like the Rodney Dangerfields of Jewish life. We don't get any respect. On the other hand, it is incremental in building respect. I think it can be there. It depends on the paper and the individual. It is too easy to hide behind the notion that there is some inherent part of our job that makes us not respected by the community. If you do a good job, you are respected by the community."
"What do you love and what do you hate about your job?"
"I write about and deal with issues that are meaningful to me. One of my first jobs was with TV Guide (sports editor from 1970-72). If you get a high from writing for a big audience, that was great. Now I get to combine my love of journalism with Jewish life. The downside is the same. Sometimes it can be dispiriting when you see the pettiness of the community you really care about. People you admire until you meet them. See their egos and the things that motivate them. Sometimes you wish you had just known them from a distance."
"How do you deal with threats, such as threats to the financial survivability of the paper if you publish something that a powerful person does not want?"
"It is part of the nature of the job. I remember in Baltimore, we did a story about Israel bonds. We were told that if that story appeared, it would not only hurt that local bonds drive, but the state of Israel was going to suffer. They both survived.
"That doesn't mean I'm dismissive of what you'd call a threat, which is a pretty strong word. A cautionary message. I try to take them all seriously and not be so cavalier as to not think about the consequences of things we write. My experience has born out that the sun will still come up the next day. I have yet to see the kind of article that would be so destructive. There are threats of boycotting the paper and boycotting our advertisers but it hasn't gone anywhere."
"Your paper was famous for its investigation of [Rabbi] Baruch Lanner and the abuse situation. Many people think that have you information about other rabbis who were similarly abusive. You even wrote a column about information pouring in to you. But you didn't seem to go on to investigate other rabbis with the same zest you applied to Lanner?"
"I don't think that's accurate. I have a lot of files. One rabbi in particular I've been trailing for over three years. I've talked to many dozen people. I have to apply the same standards as I would for the Lanner story. We have done stories about other rabbis and other cases of abuse. Until it meets that bar, I have continued to pursue some of these stories.
"I think the Lanner stories have had a corrective element. I've written that I don't think that the newspaper should be the mechanism for dealing with these issues. There should be communal mechanisms. The reason people come to us is that they have struck out everywhere else in the community. They come to us out of frustration and desperation. There was a rabbi [Willig] who was on the Beit Din on the Lanner case who I wrote about last year. He did a public mea culpa about his role."
"How would you rate the quality of Jewish journalism done on the Federations?"
"It depends on city to city, newspaper to newspaper, issue to issue. If I pick up a Jewish newspaper from different parts of the country, I sometimes wouldn't know what community I was reading about if I covered up the masthead. It's a lot easier to run a JTA story about what is going on in Israel than to send a reporter to cover a conflict in your own neighborhood. It's cheaper and safer to the run the JTA."
"Are there any individuals in the Jewish Establishment who you would regard as the greatest threats to Jewish journalism because they're bullies?"
"Yeah. I wouldn't name them. I've met some national Jewish leaders who've told me, not in a bullying way, that they believe that the role of Jewish newspapers is to promote Israel and the Jewish community and to unify the community and not to write critical articles about the community. I differ with that. The best way to educate, enlighten and involve people in the Jewish community is to tell them what is really going on. If we tell them we are one, all we do is lose our credibility. I don't think we are one is a goal."
"How often do you encounter bullying?"
"There are varying degrees of it, from canceling subscriptions to stopping advertising to getting my friends to do those things."
"What's the biggest hit you've taken for publishing a story?"
"It's hard to measure. When the Lanner story first broke, we were threatened with institutions pulling their advertising. We didn't see it happen."
"What are the joys and tribulations of being a Federation paper?"
"We do not consider ourselves a Federation paper. We have no formal ties with the UJA Federation. There was a time when the UJA were ex-officio members of the board of The Jewish Week but that stopped about eight years ago. They buy subscriptions for people who give $50 or more to UJA."
"Does that make them the dominant force behind the paper?"
"Yeah, in that sense, sure. Then we have close to 30,000 subscribe directly."
"How many papers does the Federation buy?"
"It depends from year to year."
"If they are buying about twice the number of papers than subscribers, could not the paper be fairly called a Federation paper?"
"I don't think so. We have no formal ties. They don't have any say in editorial or financial matters. It's their choice. They think it serves them well to supply their donors with a Jewish newspaper.
"Some of the pressure I got in Baltimore, where we were an independent paper, was just as strong as the pressure I get here. From the Federation and the Establishment community."
"If you wrote a memoir, would you have a pile of stories you weren't able to work into the Jewish papers you've worked on?"
"I have a file I keep called, 'My Last Issue.' Not necessarily a tell-all memoir, I'd just like to deal with some of these issues."
"There isn't a market for hard-hitting muckraking Jewish journalism for a Jewish audience?"
"Jewish readers tend to be very bright, well-read, sophisticated people, and if you present them good journalism, I think they will want to read it."
"What did your father the rabbi think of your going into journalism?"
"He was proud of me. He used to tease me that if I stayed away from the rabbinate because I saw you live in a glass house, he'd say he only had his congregants giving him a hard time while I had everybody giving me a hard time. But they don't pay my salary directly."
"What's your relationship to Judaism?"
"I consider myself an active observant Jew."
"Do you believe in God?"
"Yep. I think it is a misinterpreted word. I don't think it means chosen to be better than everybody else. It means simply to be responsible."
"You're happy to believe that the Jews are God's Chosen People?"
"I don't have a choice."
"Some Jews reject it."
"I don't reject it."
"How do you think the Internet and blogging is affecting Jewish journalism?"
"That's a good question. It's very hard to say. I always wonder who has the time to read a lot of these blogs. I don't get the impression that those audiences are wide but I guess they're pretty deep. It does give me a lot of pause because I think it has the potential to reach as many people as standard journalism but it doesn't have the checks and balances and an editing process that more normative journalism has. That's something to worry about."
"You think that's more of a downer than a good sign?"
"It's certainly worrisome. People can come home late at night and write anything off the top of their head and send it out and it's out there."
"Is that scary?"
"It can be."
"Do you think we have too many checks and balances in Establishment Jewish journalism?"
"No. They are the same checks and balances you have in any professional journalistic enterprise, maybe with an added element of sensitivity, which I don't think is a bad thing. I don't think it is a question of whether or not you do a story but how you do a story. I don't see any stories that are absolutely verboten, but it depends on how you treat it."
"You should be sensitive to save people's feelings?"
"You should be aware of feelings. At times it is inevitable you will hurt people's feelings, say a rabbi who's losing a job. You have to weigh that against what you owe the readers in the larger community. Those are tough calls. I don't think there are clear definitions. They are ad hoc and made as much from your kishkes as from your brains."
"Did you read the book The New Rabbi?"
"What did you think of it?"
"Well, you know, there was a lot that I admired and I think he went a little too far sometimes in exposing people, specifically embarrassing them in ways that he could've handled a little more indirectly and gotten the same message across and not be as hurtful."
Lukeford Needs A Loving Home
A Fly on the Wall writes: "Here is a cute dog named Lukeford who needs a home (see the third dog down)."
2004-06-22: Lukeford is a 4 yr old beautiful chocolate male. He is muscular with a blocky head. He weighs about 71 pounds but needs to gain a couple of pounds. He likes to run and jump after a tennis ball, is not afraid of the water, is good with strangers, other dogs and cats, is house trained and has been exposed to the crate. Lukeford is not an excessive puller on leash and takes treats very nicely. Commands he knows: Sit, Down, Stay, Come heel, Leave It and Off. Tricks he knows: Stand up on hind legs and Paw. His only faults I've seen are that he will bark when first left alone for about 5 min. and even though he does it fairly gently, he will sometimes jump up on you with his paws. I think his previous owner let him stand up on him for affection and had him bark before he threw the ball for him. I think Lukeford would do best with a family that takes him out for walks, throws the ball for him, allows him inside the house alot, with another dog and/or a cat and children over 10 yrs old., although I think he would get along well in any situation. He's a dominant dog, but low grade, so needs owners that make sure he knows what good manners are expected of him. Lukeford is very anxious for his new home. His previous owner had to give him up because he is termanilly ill in the hospital.
Rabbi Gadol of West End Avenue writes Cathy Seipp:
A man of God who spends his free time in the study of the sacred texts has no time to spare caring for a dog. Perhaps if Reb Ford had a wife who could attend to the running of the Luke Ford household things would be different, but until that happy day beneath the chupah arrives, no dog for Luke Ford. PS I will pay a dollar to anyone who names their dog "Mohammed" and calls out after him in public.
Sparky Barkwell writes:
Rabbi Gadol, I disagree. This could be a subtle but very important sign from the Almighty. I think Luke Ford should adopt Lukeford, then start a dog food company. He could call his product Kosher Kibbles. Then he could put pictures of Lukeford, the orthodox dog, on bags of Kosher Kibbles. And, of course, Luke Ford and Lukeford would do all sorts of promotional events.
Luke Ford and Lukeford could also appear in the Kosher Kibble advertising campaign. Imagine what an orthodox babe magnet this would make Luke Ford -- rich, handsome, successful, and with a cute dog, too. If those fat slobs Ben and Jerry could have supermodels running after them just because of some ice cream, imagine the potential for Luke Ford, Lukeford, and Kosher Kibbles. I think the Almighty might be saying something here, and you people aren't paying any attention. This might be the answer to Luke Ford's prayers.
As Rabbi Gershom says, when G-D wants your attention, he doesn't send an email.
XXX-Communicated : A Rebel Without A Shul Published
You can buy my memoir here.
JR writes: Are you sure you could not have thought of a more nonsensical and meaningless title that says even less to average reader about what the book is about?
Luke, Speaking of rebels without a shul . . . did you know that a bunch of refugees from Ohr HaTorah have started their own congregation, called "IKAR"? I'm on their email list; here's what they sent me this week:
Dear IKAR Friends: "The Sabbath is not a date, it is an atmosphere... It is one of life's highest rewards, a source of strength and inspiration to endure tribulation, to live nobly. The work on weekdays and the rest on the seventh day are correlated. The Sabbath is the inspirer, the other days the inspired." -Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath
Our first official IKAR Kabbalat Shabbat was an amazing and moving experience that we were thrilled to be able to share with so many in our rapidly growing community. It was a wonderful evening of picnicking, dancing, davening, singing, drumming and learning for all ages. The sense of passion, community and warmth in the room was palpable. Despite the large crowd (over 200 people we were told), we know that many of you were not able to make it last Friday. However, your next chance to be part of an IKAR service is rapidly approaching. We were informed yesterday that Roxbury is not available for Friday June 25 -- but nothing can stop IKAR from celebrating Shabbat together.
So... the Westside JCC has graciously opened its doors to IKAR for Friday, June 25. We encourage you to bring a picnic dinner and join us as we eat together, sing together and get ready to welcome Shabbat. There will be an Oneg following services - please bring a dessert to share if you are so inclined. When: Friday, June 25, 2004 6:00 p.m. Picnic and Shabbat music for all ages (with former rock star Daniel Sokatch) 7:00 p.m. (PROMPTLY) Services 8:30 p.m. Oneg w/ dessert Where: Westside Jewish Community Center 5870 West Olympic Boulevard (East of Fairfax) Los Angeles, CA, 90036
We will be back at Roxbury Park on July 9, so mark your calendars and check our website http://ikar-la.org/ for updates.
Things For Which I Have No Patience
Asking for handouts when you can provide for yourself. That category includes:
* Asking authors for free books. A big foupe. Do not try it with me.
* Asking me for information I have just given you (either via email or in speech).
* Asking me to explain a person with a distinctive name who you can easily Google.
* Asking me to email someone to set you up with a Sunday evening date.
Folks, do not ever ask me to do something for you that you can do for yourself. I wouldn't ask that of you. Have some pride.
* I dislike strangers addressing me as "Luke," unless they are my peer (say, a fellow author) or my social superior. I don't take emails from strangers seriously if they are misspelled and ungrammatical.
* I dislike strangers being chummy with me until they've earned that right.
* I don't approach writers who are more accomplished than me as though they are my equal, and thus I don't like writers who are less accomplished than me approaching me as though they are my equal on that particular playing field. I don't approach rabbis as though I know as much about Torah as they do.
* I don't take views on journalism seriously unless the person is equal or greater in relevant accomplishment than I am.
* A blogger does not usually measure up to an author, though in some cases, bloggers are more accomplished than authors.
* I dislike hearing people opine on things of which they know nothing.
A Chat With A Hot Girl About Health Insurance
"In my contract, I worked out a deal where I get health insurance. Before this, I did not have health insurance. I had to have a couple of surgeries. I have a lot of female problems. Cervical cancer and..."
"You've had cervical cancer?"
"I've had it several times. I just spent the last year paying off all my medical bills. I am 100% debt free now."
"What's your prognosis?"
"I'm fine. I've had a couple of surgeries. It's come back a couple of times.
"I know that it is not that serious of a cancer. I know that 90% of the time they can catch it and you're fine. If a girl doesn't have the coverage to get an annual pap smear, they might not check it as early. If a girl was to get cervical cancer and it got out of control, that could affect the way she works.
"The first time I was diagnosed with it, I was twelve."
My Two Books For Sale
The Producers: Profiles in Frustration and A Rebel Without a Shul will be available for sale in a week on IUniverse.com. I should have the first copies in my hands in two weeks. They will be on Amazon.com etc in six weeks.
My friends Cathy and Amy are throwing a book party for me in early August.
What's happened to Hasidic Rebel? Why no updates? I think he's a fake.
Joe Schick writes:
Where have you been - the guy's been away since September. He denied being outed. My guess is that he was wasting too much time blogging and decided he had to quit.
Anyway it's your gain - now you're the leading Orthodox blogger.
I Figured It Out writes:
Luke likes to seem normal for a few days. Its like fishing when you let out alot of line so that the fish thinks he's not attached anymore. Just when the fish starts swimming away, thats when you YANK. Well, Luke, do I LOOK like a fish to you?
Luke Is Our Misfortune
I've met Orthodox Jews who like to give their 13 year old boys a copy of Penthouse and some vaseline as a Bar Mitzvah present. As I am new to the faith, I'm wondering if this is normative?
I haven't yet seen it from the bima (pulpit) where the rabbi congratulates the bar mitzvah with a tallit, copy of the Mishan Brura (19th Century work of Jewish Law) and a copy of Penthouse with a tub of Vaseline.
Luke, you are disgracing all of us, and Judaism when you make up and type such garbage. Shock jock aside, just when you are on the edge of seeming normal, your demon pops its ugly head up. When you are very bored - go outside, take a walk, play some music, call home - but keep your stupid fingers off your keyboard!!!! We don't need to read every crazy flash that goes through your head. This isn't group therapy.
More wit and wisdom from that zany Rabbi Zalman Shacter-Shalomi
"How I wish that people would begin to create films with a couple caring, nurturing each other, preparing for lovemaking. I wish they would produce films that would show a young person how loving happens, because I fail my children when I cannot take them into our bedroom and show them how it’s done."
Let God Into Your Masturbation
Rabbis Carlebach & Schachter-Shalomi ... and The Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Me writes on Protocols:
You should read the article Sacred Sex by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and his wife Eve Ilsen:
I ask my Bar Mitzvah boys, “Do you masturbate?” And first they are a little sheepish about it and then they say, “Yes,” and I say, “You know what? It is a good thing to do on the Sabbath! Take your time, put on some music, and explore your body and what feels good for you, and most important, let God in.”
The Renewal Movement protected Carlebach at the expense of his victims for years. They have learned nothing from the experience and are currently closing ranks around Rabbi Mordechai Gafni/Marc Winiarz.
see: Sex, Power and Our Rabbis Lilith.
New York: Jun 30, 1998. Vol. 23, Iss. 2; pg. 12
Letter: A Call to Action
Thank you for having the courage to break the silence in print about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Author Sarah Blustain and Lilith Magazine deserve the community's respect and gratitude for prioritizing the need to speak the truth and support the victims and survivors of Rabbi Carlebach's abusive behavior instead of giving in to community pressure to protect the memory of an idolized leader.
In spite of the excellence of the article, it left me concerned about key issues: the potential misrepresentation of what good practice by other rabbis might be; the pressure to forgive and forget quickly; and the need for Jewish communal responsibility in dealing with issues of sexual misconduct.
Certainly, victims can't take comfort from the fact that rabbis such as Jeff Roth and Daniel Siegel never translated the underpinnings of Elat Chayyim and ALEPH's code of ethics into direct action regarding Shlomo Carlebach's abusive behavior, even though he wasn't on their staff. It was not good enough that Roth intended to "have a serious discussion about innuendoes" or that Siegel "stopped inviting Shlomo, though I never told him why."
It is all the more alarming that ALEPH's primary response to the issues raised in the article is Arthur Waskow's disturbing treatise that, incredibly, mistakes chesed rather than Carlebach's unchecked power as the cause of his abusive behavior, and rationalizes Carlebach's actions as being about "overflowing energy."
It was also clear from the article that the pressure to forgive and forget is already on. The pressure on Lilith not to print this article points to the Jewish community's deep denial, fear, and pain regarding issues of sexual and domestic violence, especially when religious leaders are the perpetrators. Women who feel they were hurt by Carlebach need the community's support, not prescriptive recommendations about forgiveness, right now. They are the ones who should determine the pace of forgiveness.
Freedom from sexual and domestic violence will not come from silencing or discrediting the voices of victims and survivors, but only from building communities of justice that do not ignore, rationalize or excuse these abuses of power. We must educate our religious leaders and communities about these issues, develop cooperative relationships with professionals who can work with victims and abusers, hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, and engage Jewish community members of all ages in active prevention initiatives. Let the article in Lilith serve as a call to action so that we can transform the Jewish community into a safe and nurturing space, where attitudes and behaviors that contribute to an atmosphere of violence against women are never tolerated.
This email from Arthur Waskow (see last post) was circulated recently through the Jewish Renewal movement. I would note that all his assertions of Gafni/Winiarz's innocence are garbage. But it shows once again the Jewish Renewal movement will protect a predator at the expense of women and children. And they count on the silence of other rabbonim and community leaders to do it. Unfortunately, it seems that they may be able to get away with it yet again.
Arthur Waskow - Friday, March 19, 2004
Dear Mr. Plone almoni,
Since I also received your original memo, Rabbi Isenberg has shared with me his response to you and your rejoinder. There are three aspects of this question that I want to make you aware of:
1) If Rabbi Riskin were in fact in possession of any actual facts, rather than rumors, it would be incumbent on him to say so clearly to the people you have written and the broader public; and knowing his commitment to both ethics and halakha, I am sure he would have done so. In the absence of such a message directly from him, with facts rather than "I have been told," there is no evidence of the "independent corroboration" that you claim. The Jewish Week also had nothing but rumors, as its editor made clear -- and although in other cases that paper named names because it had evidence, in this case it only mentioned rumors about an unnamed person, precisely because it had no evidence.
2. Having heard the rumors long ago, ALEPH and Elat Chayyim did their own assessment of the situation and not only found no evidence of wrongdoing that anyone was able to make available, but took steps to make sure that its strong and explicit and publicly and repeatedly announced policy of preventing any sexual harrassment or abuse was carried out in all cases.
3. You assert that "Rabbi Gafni/Winiarz has a history of serious abusive behavior with women and children." What is your evidence (not rumors but evidence) that this is so? You also mention "the ongoing danger he resents." What is your evidence (not rumors but evidence) that this is so? In the absence of such evidence, the passages of Torah you quote are irrelevant. and in the absence of such evidence, I would join in Rabbi Isenberg's question: What distinguishes your allegations from lashon hara? I would also ask what distinguishes your accusation that "It is a failure of community leaders in the Orthodox community that his name is not mentioned"(www.shalomctr.org) from lashon hara against a long list of Orthodox community leaders?
It seems far more likely that their refusal to name the specific name that you are so insistent on naming stems from their own sense of ethical behavior in a case where rumors are not substantiated by evidence. Shalom, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director The Shalom Center
J. writes: I can't imagine why Schachter-Shalomi is on like his 6th marriage.
I pray that I will be this strong
I've been asking Jewish journalists if they've been offered bribes of the flesh to influence their writing. One writes me:
In Tunis, the Tunisian female aide to Abu Iyad, the mastermind of the Munich Olympics massacre, came to my hotel one night while I was writing my story and offered herself to me. I have no idea if this was to influence my writing, or because she liked me, or because she saw me as a ticket out of Tunis.
Nothing happened. I was on deadline and didn't have the time. But the next day, she and her girlfriend drove me on a tour of the Tunisian coast. She later called me in Washington from Tunis a couple of times.
I think I was a tad too cheeky when I wrote nothing happened because I was on deadline and didn't have the time. There were much more important and overriding reasons; the main one being I'm not stupid. At the least, I had read my share of spy novels, and this seemed like a bad one whose plot was well known.
It may dent the romantic allure of your book, but it's also relevant to note that she had a serious weight problem and was a simple and unsophisticated Tunisian woman. She had zero apparent interest in the Palestinian cause beyond its offering her a job by virture of the exiles' presence in Tunis. She had a keen interest in coming to America. The night she came, it was to declare that she had seen me in Abu Iyad's office and, then and there, decided she wanted me; by which, it turned out, she meant she wanted to be with me romantically, not sleep with me. Or, at least, not just sleep with me. I'm not sure, because we never explored that avenue. She wanted me to take her away. As I said, she called me at home a couple of times long distance from Tunis afterward.
We should also talk some more about Abu Iyad. He became a long distance source on PLO matters after our interviews---until his murder by an agent of Abu Nidal on the eve of the first Gulf War, probably for his pushing the PLO internally to side with the Americans rather than w/ Saddam, as Arafat chose.
All this highlights something broader about Washington Jewish Week during the 1980s and 1990s. By virtue of its geographic location and the quality of its staff then, it was an extraordinarily influential paper; much more so than the Forward today. Alongside the usual Jewish journalism awards, It received for "Laurels" from Columbia Journalism Review in four years in the late '80s and early '90s and regularly broke stories picked up by the mainstream press.
This is Burning Man
Reason magazine associate editor Brian Doherty drives up at 12:30PM June 22, 2004, in a white Subaru. It looks like a pigsty inside. Books, magazines, newspapers, wrappers, dental floss, pillows, child pornography...
Just kidding about the last entry.
Brian jumps out. He's short, grey-haired, and bookish.
We sit down for lunch and discuss his first published book.
"Why did you write it?"
"I began going to the event in 1995. There were 4,000 people there.
"We're building a temporary city in the Black Rock Desert, in the lake bed, every year, Black Rock City, in the middle of the desert, 70 miles outside of Reno. I found the people interesting. How fun and funny and lively and dangerous they were to be around. It struck me from the beginning as a writer's dream. It had an underground feel to it. It felt like it would be a betrayal of that community to talk about it to outsiders.
"Last year, there were 30,000 people there. Somewhere in the middle, I realized it was not meant to be an underground secret. That was an affectation that I picked up from other people.
"I wrote a political piece about it for the February 2000 issue of Reason, a political magazine. How is it that this danger and illegality-filled event come to a reapproachment with the federal government, who owns the land (Bureau of Land Management) on which the event is held.
"I've been working at Reason since the summer of 1994.
"My first draft of the story was 12,000 words, more than twice as long as the version that ran. I realized I was sitting on top of a book's worth of material.
"Getting a book deal took three years. It took two agents and dozens of rejections. For nine months, it was my fulltime task finishing the book."
"How does being at Burning Man make you feel, as opposed to your ordinary life?"
"I didn't make myself the star of the book. But I sit at a desk all day. I'm a writer. I'm a reader. I rarely do anything that interacts with the physical world. Burning Man makes me confront the physical world in a vivid way.
"There is no life in the Black Rock Desert. It's hot. If you don't go with an RV, it's just you and the blank world and the temperature. It wipes away everything that is habitual about my life for two weeks. Then I go back to my normal life, where I read eight to ten hours a day. Most of my work involves reading. Most of my leisure involves reading. I'm constantly listening to music. When I'm at home, there's a record playing in my house. When I'm out there, I don't get to listen to any music of my choice and I don't read anything. I never drink caffeine out there. Here, I never go half a day without caffeine.
"It's an interesting lesson in your own malleability. People are very big at adopting fake identities out there. I don't do that explicitly. I don't dress funny.
"Most important, every time I'm out there, I apprentice myself to some large art project. I get to be a part of a team, something which has always been important to me. I like groups more than one-on-one relationships. I like to be part of gangs pursuing goals of interest to me. Out there I get to weld, drill, dig. I learn skills and to interact with the physical world. That's an opportunity I never get to pursue anywhere else but there.
"The event lasts a week. I usually go a week early and leave a week late. It's exhilirating, life-affirming, fascinating for me to do these things and be surrounded by thousands of interesting people. The default assumption is that you are all buddies out there."
"What do your parents think about Burning Man?"
"I don't know. They haven't read my book. I wouldn't be surprised if my dad started reading the book. I wouldn't be surprised if my mother didn't. If they do read it, I would imagine that at the end of it they would not think that Burning Man was something that they would enjoy going to and probably not something that they would approve of.
"My wife has been to Burning Man three times. She doesn't like it. She thought she might like it. After three years, she's indulged me enough. She doesn't like the kind of person you find there. That hippy dippiness aggravates her. She has more of a punk harsh face to the world. She hates the physical environment. She's not into consuming lots of food and water.
"I ended up making the book more character driven than idea driven. When I went in, I thought it would be 50/50. It ended up 95% character driven."
Brian got into punk rock in 1984 while in 11th grade in Jacksonville, Florida. A year later, he embraced the punk club scene and started playing bass guitar in various bands from 1986-95 (Misfits Trend, Target Practice, Touch N' Go Bullethead, The Jeffersons, Turbo Satan, The Sawdust Seizures, Satellite). I ran a record label from 1993-99, The Cherry Smashers.
"I never adopted the look."
"What do you think of the Australian punk band Air Supply?"
"I've enjoyed some performances of the Australian punk band Air Supply. I have a big tent vision of punk. It became in the '90s as a way of life. Short, aggressive, fast-paced songs with lyrics barked out by angry bald guys."
"What's your favorite Air Supply song?"
"The One That You Love. I once did karaoke to Making Love Out of Nothing At All."
"What's your favorite Barry Manilow song?"
"His version of Ships. 'We're two ships that pass in the night.'"
"What's your favorite John Denver song?"
"The first record I ever bought with my own money was John Denver's Greatest Hits. I still like Rocky Mountain High.
"One of the principles I try to live by is staying true to my life. I'm big on continuity but I must confess I have not maintained an enthusiasm for John Denver."
"Why don't you bring a Sony Walkman to Burning Man so you can listen to music?"
"I tend to be lazy in my preparations. For three weeks, I eat nothing but room-temperature prepared food of the canned vegetables, beef jerky variety. The same with music. I've gotten used to that it is a break from my habitual obsession to listening to music at all times. I know that I am listening to more music and enjoying it less. I am an obsessive record collector. I have about 5,000 records and 2,000 CDs. I began collecting in the mid '80s. I will buy any given thing depending on how I find it cheapest.
"Are you really a fan of Australian pop?"
"My favorite group is Air Supply. It takes me back to when I was 13 and my emotions were most honest and vivid."
"Go to Burning Man. Vivid is the word we use to describe what it is like."
"I hear there is video of you participating in a public orgy at Burning Man."
"I do not believe so. Public orgies, no? We are getting into territory here, Luke, where I will have to, due to the sensitivities of my wife who will probably read this, decline from speaking."
"Burning Man does not sound like a nice place for sex."
"It is not a comfortable place for sex. Once we break the surface of the Black Rock Playa, it becomes this fine omnipresent black rock power that has a grit to it. Most people there will be dirty and dusty and probably smelly. You are not showering as much as normal. But Burning Man does have a sensual atmosphere. I have never witnessed an orgy. I have witnessed one-on-one sex acts."
"What's the ratio of men to women?"
"I guess about 60/40 men to women. Medium age? I'd guess 25-40. Most people under 25 are not going to be able to afford it. It also happens the first week before Labor Day, the first week of my college's semesters.
"They sell tickets on a sliding scale from $145-250. They stop selling tickets at the door on Thursday night. Certain people in the community thought that the wrong element was coming out on the weekend. The man burns Saturday night. Half the city tends to leave on Sunday, and half on Monday. We're all leaving down one dirt road which leads to one two-lane highway which is 70 miles back to Reno.
"People find themselves behaving in a different way at Burning Man. They're nice. It's a communal feeling."
"What's the racial make-up?"
"Almost entirely Caucasian."
"Do you think that that accounts for the general feeling of niceness?"
Brian chuckles. "Well, that's a very interesting question.
"I believe that the self-selecting nature of Burning Man would and could cut through racial divides. That said, we haven't tested it yet. In an average year there, I probably see about ten black people.
"One year, one of the people on my work team was black. For a couple of days, he and I and some other people were digging a giant hole. Just for amusement, we began chaining ourselves together. I don't think we were thinking about the racialness of it."
"How do white people keep the word of it away from black people?"
"Word of it is spread through a nexis of a certain kind of community. Channels that are not intentionally white-only but are white-only. Hipsters who are in touch with these underground currents of culture. Hippies, punks and gearheads."
"Do you take any illegal drugs at Burning Man?"
"How many people at Burning Man do you think are active in an organized religion?"
"Very few. The religious vibe out there is gooey modern syncretistic pagan. There are Christian ministers, some who shout fire and brimstone. Some are ecumenical happy loving Christians. There are a lot of people doing energy stuff. I've never knowingly met an Orthodox Jew there."
"Do you believe in God?"
"I think of Burning Man as a secular reach for community and the transcendent."
"I think that is exactly correct. Community is one of the buzz words of the Burning Man world. I tend to be a shy and insular person. I don't interact with strangers."
Brian burps in the middle of the last word.
"Strippers?" I ask.
"I interact a lot with strippers out there. Not so much with strangers. People form small camps out there. I don't feel comfortable with more than 150 people."
"Do you find it aesthetically pleasing for one man to place his penis in the buttocks of another man?"
"I've read a lot of your interviews. Do you make it a habit to ask uncomfortable questions of race and homosexuality at every interview?"
"I have little memory of the writing process of this book. I was on ephedra. I was sleeping three hours a night for seven weeks. I was listening to an oldies station constantly. It all became a blur.
"I've never desired a huge amount of give-and-take with readers. Reason.com's comment section is very disturbing to me. I don't want to read them but I find myself reading them. That level of laying yourself out there, I'm not completely comfortable with.
"I tend to go out of town every weekend.
"I don't vote. I'm not registered with any political party."
Moshiach is ready, are you?
Los Angeles Times has a long article: "Chabad-Lubavitch is a successful, inviting branch of the faith with worldwide reach. But the issue of a Messiah is no small matter."
Rabbi Kelama writes:
"Moshiach is ready, are you?" Were I as maniacal as some of the people quoted in this article, I think I'd use this line on "dates." As for what the movement needs, clearly it is a living man who can direct its energies away from its recent Christian trajectory, what with its faith in a resurrected messiah. And I have a candidate in mind. Like Rabbi Schneerson, he has brought many a jew back into the fold and like the Rebbe, he lives a life of piety and poverty. His name? Luke Ford. The next Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The Mote In Ellison's Eye
Sheldon Teitelbaum responds to my inquiry on his relationship with Harlan Ellison, the science fiction writer:
Apropos Ellison, this letter to Aharon Hauptman, former editor of the Israeli SF magazine Fantazia 2000, now with Tel Aviv University, in response to Ellison's mention of me in his just published I Robot adaptation, and Aharon's query as to what was going on c/o the Israeli SF Association web site. If you run it, say it is reprinted from the Israeli site.
''Wryly, teeth grinding with the desire to insert a railroad spike at least an inch deep into the left eyeball of such critic-manqu'e as the woefully bitter, jealous and untalented Gregory Feeley or Sheldon Teitelbaum, who regularly kvetch that I am no-price because I don't write novels...''
Harlan Ellison Intro,
I Robot -- a Screenplay
I was not previously aware of the above, having determined never to line Harlan's pockets with my hard-earned shekels.
To the extent that Ellison can now engender any sentiment in me save pity, it saddens me that a so-called giant of Ellison's stature would sully his own book -- and Reb Yitzhak's memory, Z''L -- with such puerile invective. But that is Ellison for you -- as cowering, anal, mean-spirited, and otherwise contemptible a toadeater as has ever infested the stagnant pond he lords over. Apparently this ''shrying'' Svengali of Sherman Oaks continues to swing headless chickens about his pointed head while cursing my name in French fanzines and in prologues to failed screenplays.
Understand the pathology here. Ellison states that I ''regularly kvetch'' about his failure to write novels. In fact -- and this can be demonstrated by a LexisNexis search -- I mentioned this all of once in the two decades and some we have been at odds. I have just run a search, and turned up all of two mentions of Ellison in the hundreds of articles I have published since leaving Israel in 1985 in the Los Angeles and New York Times, Wired, Time-Digital, The Jerusalem Report and The Jerusalem Post, in the Los Angeles Reader and L.A. Daily News, in the Montreal Gazette and Toronto Star, in Entertainment Weekly, Premiere and Cinefantastique, in Present Tense, Hadassah and Moment, in the L.A. Jewish Journal, in Foundation and Sci Fi Universe, in SF Eye and Midnight Graffiti, in Army Magazine, and more venues than I can list here.
Here are the references that have rendered Ellison helplessly (and wryly) gnashing his teeth for night after sleepless night, year after rage-filled year since 1993. (Not that I know precisely how one can “wryly” gnash one’s teeth, except to point out that Ellison misuses the adverb to protect him from potential charges of violent incitement. Conceivably, one of the thousands of lost souls who hang on to every trickle of blather that dribbles down his gibbering chin will not internalize that his dreams of torturing me are “wry,” and will dutifully show up on my doorstep with railroad spike in paw. Had the book been published in Israel, Ellison would be rotting in a cell in Abu Kabir now, literally gnashing his teeth.)
Copyright 1993 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times October 8, 1993, Friday, Home Edition SECTION: View; Part E; Page 10; Column 1; View Desk LENGTH: 789 words HEADLINE: CRAMMED WITH ENOUGH INFORMATION TO FILL THE UNIVERSE; LITERATURE: COMING IN AT 1.3 MILLION WORDS LONG, THE NEW EDITION OF ''ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION'' SEARCHES FOR ORDER IN AN UNWIELDY FIELD. BYLINE: By THE WOEFULLY JEALOUS, BITTER AND UNTALENTED SHELDON TEITELBAUM, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES “…Questions of editorial judgment remain. The entry on Harlan Ellison, for instance, is embarrassingly fawning, given his failure to contribute a single novel to a field largely shaped by novels. The entire continent of South America is reduced to a single entry…
Copyright 1990 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times April 19, 1990, Thursday, Home Edition NAME: MORDECAI RICHLER SECTION: View; Part E; Page 1; Column 3; View Desk LENGTH: 2339 words HEADLINE: MORDECAI RICHLER WAS HERE; AUTHOR: THE CANADIAN'S NEW NOVEL, 'SOLOMON GURSKY,' HAS WON CRITICAL ACCLAIM AND RACKED UP IMPRESSIVE SALES AT HOME. BYLINE: By THE WOEFULLY JEALOUS, BITTER AND UNTALENTED SHELDON TEITELBAUM, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES “…On his permafrost-ridden home turf, the prickly Richler is a caustic social critic who makes Southern California's curmudgeon, Harlan Ellison, seem like Mr. Rogers. If Richler inspires equal degrees of loathing in some circles, suggests Canadian chronicler John Robert Colombo, perhaps the country's ranking anthologist, it may be because he is too worldly, too openly Jewish, too urban and too outspoken to suit some super-patriots in Canada…”
This is it. This is what put this creature in a homicidal tizzy. This is what has generated 10 or 15 years of payback fantasies fueled by impotence, physical and psychological. In the above-mentioned French fanzine, for instance, Monsieur Le Gamad (Critic manqué” indeed – il parle Francais comme je parle Chinois, inal dinak!) attested that I envied him his career and talents. As if any of his readers on any continent have ever heard of me. I am hardly a household name, either in the SF world or in the world of letters. I have certainly -- and having known me for 25 years you can surely attest to this -- never aspired to write any kind of fiction. I have also never aspired to operate on a spleen, build a gazebo, or design radioactive waste canisters either. According to Mr. Ellison, though, I envy and begrudgethose who do these things as well as his own.
This is the response of a certified paranoid who cannot countenance any critique of his work or any accounting of his doings without succumbing to blood rage. What a maroon!
What this “gawad” does not and cannot fathom is that I do not object to his work so much as I do to his comportment as the Napoleonic scold of Coy Drive. He is a bully, he is a mountebank, he operates like a thief in the night, and he does so with impunity because his victims are either terrified of him or cannot be bothered to deal with him at all. If I begrudge him anything, it is his abysmal lack of ''menschlichtkeit,'' and his perennial posturing as a tough-guy (even as he hides behind a bad heart that, per his endless bleating, should have killed him years ago).
Most of all, I begrudge him his sanctimonious self-designation as a champion of First Amendment rights. Ellison will invariably fight for the right of authors, journalists and artists to express themselves as the please, unless, that is, they please to direct their pens in his direction. In which case, the call goes out from Ellison Wonderland to go to the mattresses. Errant editors are rousted from their sleep and threatened with unspeakable torments, writers pilloried, lawyers whipped into demented frenzies, and fanzines mustered in the cause. Almost inevitably (though not always, recalling musings on Ellison’s strong-arm tactics by Christopher Priest, John Shirley, Charles Platt and others), the offending reference disappears from the public domain.
Such is the abject terror of Harlan' s bilious existence that he feels compelled, periodically, to depict himself as the victim of a literary stalking, nay, a conspiracy, led if you will, by me, and undertaken by people I have never heard of (including this Feeley fellow).
Why? Maybe because he remains haunted by the possibility I may one day feel inclined to mention him yet again in passing in periodicals people actually read as a paranoid, puffed-up, mendacious, cowardly, mealy mouthed, needle-dicked poseur. Or maybe because having failed to take me to task in a publication read by as many people as the Times, he can only do so in a book whose sole purpose is not to showcase his failed screenplay so much as it is to use that screenplay as a prop in the latest episode of the endless serial looping in his loopy mind, the one you aptly dub ''Ellison Against the Known Universe.''
In retrospect, though, my comment about Ellison's failure to write novels was ill considered. Short-story-writing is an honorary and difficult craft, and I was remiss insulting those short storywriters whose elegant doorway Ellison has darkened. Had I composed the piece more recently, I might have opined, instead, that Ellison has consistently evinced an idiot savant’s ability to regurgitate Roget’s and use the resulting outpouring as a cudgel. That and a shameless genius for marketing such effluvia as wit to the ''terminal acne cases'' that comprise the mainstay of his readers.
But this wasn't the start of our contretemps by any means. Nor was the subsequent business of the so-called ''Enemies of Ellison.'' That lamentably christened organization was comprised of people who had in fact suffered attempts to shut them down in word, print or livelihood. Lamentably because these poor souls were not Enemies of Ellison in the sense they hoped, as Ellison's cronies insisted, to destroy him. Rather, they were victims of Ellison's endless and insatiable ire.
Am I or have I ever been a card-carrying member?
Be’chayeicha. Six or seven years ago, veteran SF critic Charles Platt created the group by publishing that deadliest of weapons in Harlan's sad, compacted little universe -- a fanzine. When I heard about this from a third party, I asked the L.A. Times Magazine if I might be permitted to cover this otherwise amusing ''affaire de lettre.'' The Times gave me a green light. However, I told my editor that Ellison and I had had a few minor run-ins over earlier articles. I explained that I was concerned that when I called upon him for an interview, he would become abusive, perhaps even violent. I certainly did not want to expose my children, who might answer the phone on my behalf if he called, to his tirades.
I did not recuse myself from the story, as ''Babylon 5'' creator Joe Straczynski later insisted I should (and who kept me off the set of his show when I didn't). Any animus between Ellison and me at that time was largely one-sided, flowing mostly from his direction. Indeed, I eventually concluded that if every individual Ellison purported to detest had to desist from writing about him, there'd be no one left to write about him or call him to account. Not that this would be a tragedy. But it is probably why Ellison invariably inflates his venom sacks in the presence of media. Not a bad scam if you can keep from poisoning yourself.
For my part, approving or disapproving of Ellison remained (and remains) immaterial. There is no such animal as journalistic objectivity. Never has been. Humans are incapable of objectivity, if by objectivity we mean complete neutrality. And no journalist is ever truly neutral. The craft does not require neutrality. It demands professionalism and fairness. The journalist is entirely free to despise the object of his attentions. He is also free to change his mind about his principals should the facts suggest they are more creditable or deserving than they had first thought. He is not, however, free to harass, to invent incident, to give vent to unsupported or insupportable malice, or to deny the person he is writing about a fair hearing and accurate representation. I very much wanted Ellison's response to this group and its contentions. And I wrote to him promising a fair and polite hearing if he wished to confer with me... and a thorough drubbing if he became abusive or violent.
Characteristically, Mr. Ellison concluded from my interview request that I had connived with Charles Platt to initiate the group and give it publicity. This was not true, although I like Platt and sympathized with those I learned Ellison had abused. I was particularly miffed when I learned that Ellison, the self-proclaimed street-fighting man, had punched Charles in the snoot at a convention for allegedly criticizing one of his cronies in a literary journal. Charles, you must understand, is a frail, wan British type, not a brawling Pars fan (except, maybe, in his columns). Ellison punched Platt because he knew Platt would not and could not ever punch back. And he punched him not because Platt had impugned a pal whose memory had been besmirched, but because Platt had once, Ellison reportedly suspected, put the moves on his wife while residing as a guest at his home.
Hell hath no fury like a cuckold, except, perhaps, one who is plainly cuckoo to begin with. Longtime Ellison confidante and horror editor Jesse Horsting suggested to me during an interview about witches that Harlan's blood rages derived from long-standing sexual impotence. But it wasn't enough to take a swing at Charles or, periodically, to defame him before standing-room audiences at science fiction conventions nationwide. Later, according to Platt, Ellison called him, attesting that some of his friends in the Mob had taken umbrage at Platt's writings, and that Ellison didn't think he could restrain them. In Ellison's fever dreams, revved up on mimeographed fanzines, the Bada Bing Gang would soon saddle up for a night ride intent on whacking Charles Platt. And so he gnashes his teeth while dreaming of penetrating his enemies with iron rods. Fortunately for Harlan, I am not a psychiatrist, another of my many failed professions.
But no, that wasn't the start of this danse macabre either. In 1990, I had been commissioned by the Times Magazine to do a lengthy investigative piece about Craig Strete. Strete was an SF writer and teacher at San Jose State University who had been accused by former collaborator Ron Montana of plagiarizing an entire novel, published under Strete's name alone as ''Death in the Spirit House.'' I had never met Strete before. But I could not imagine anyone trying to pull off anything as described, briefly, in Locus. And after interviewing the principals, I was left to conclude that matters were, as you might imagine, a great deal more complicated than depicted by Strete's supporters or detractors.
There was no shortage of blame to go around for what I concluded was a cascading series of mishaps reminiscent of those that sink submarines. One thing goes wrong, then another and a third and fourth. And before the first foul up can be addressed, the vessel, or in this case Strete's career and reputation, reaches crush depth and implodes. There was no villain in all this, except, I was astounded to discover, Ellison. Our deranged scold in the Wonderland Attic had insinuated himself in Montana's good graces, worked him into a froth, and put his own lawyer at Montana's disposal in a bid to sink Strete's ship once and for all.
The story floating about was that Montana had labored over a novel, and then awoke one day to discover it had been printed under a stranger's name, notably Craig Strete. No mention, of course, that Strete and Montana had collaborated on the novel. Or that, upon parting ways, the two had agreed to take their respective contributions and develop them on their own for individual publication. No mention either that the publisher -- this in a conversation with me -- had received the wrong manuscript from Strete, and then failed to substitute it with the correct one when Strete informed him of the switch.
And certainly no mention that Ellison, who had declared to any who would listen that Strete was a fraud, that his claims to have been a script doctor on major Hollywood features was baseless, that even his claim to partial Native American descent was bogus, had reasons apart from generosity or mentorship in egging Montana on in his tireless pursuit of Strete. Strete, you see, had incurred Ellison's wrath some time before by withdrawing of one of his stories from Ellison's still unpublished ''Last Dangerous Visions'' anthology. Ultimately, and quite appropriately as best I could determine, the initial version of ''Death in the Spirit House'' appeared anew under Montana's name alone. Strete, meanwhile, disappeared beneath the waves with nary a trace.
I myself incurred Ellison's wrath the moment I became involved in untangling the web of lies I didn't even know, at first, he had spun. When I became aware of his manipulations, I tried to reach Ellison for comment. Close to deadline, Ellison called me -- at 3 a.m. Still gnashing his teeth, he said, ''This is Harlan Ellison. I am going to talk and you are going to shut the fuck up and take down exactly what I say, and if you say one word, I am going to....'' So I hung up on him. My editor, Bret Israel, told me he took a call the next day from a raving Ellison who, after maligning me at length, threatened the Times with legal action if they ran the story with any mention of him. A few weeks later, the Times informed me it would not run the piece.
Why? Because I had demonstrated that what had been depicted as a breathtaking act of plagiarism proved instead to be a much more mundane publishing snafu. Did I believe Israel? Yes, certainly. The Times were always straight with me. Did Ellison's rant play a part in killing the story? You tell me.
The story ran, shortly after, in the semi-prozine ''SF Eye.'' Ellison greeted its publication with the aplomb of an inquisition victim having his thumbnails snatched out. His proxies flooded the magazine with letters of outrage for several issues, until the editor grew sick of the entire business. There was some mention of this business in the Comics Journal, whose editor, Ellison would later opine, had it in for him. Eager for revenge, our dwarfish Van Helsing commissioned one of the parasite fish feeding the sour old man farts emanating from his rear to produce a hatchet job about me in another fanzines. You can find it on Ellison's site, or Google the title, ''Bugfuck.'' I believe it still appears as a highlighted feature on Ellison's website. The piece contains the damning revelation that I once knocked off a bottle of expensive Scotch Platt's companion had been saving for a special occasion. Duly ashamed at my perfidy, and for other transgressions, I apologized to her and to Charles.
But no, that wasn't the beginning either. At the risk of bringing to mind a low-rent version of Ridley Scott's ''Duelist,'' there was the time within a month of my arrival here in '85 I reckon -- I quoted Walter Koenig about his oft-voiced disdain for William Shatner. I culled this from an appearance on Ellison's late-night radio show, ''Hour 25.'' The quote appeared in Cinefantastique. Van Ellison responded with a demented, six-page diatribe, some of it personal vitriol, some of twisted testament from people unhappy with my reportage in CFQ, most of it warning me against writing about him or his friends again, lest I find myself unable to eat lunch in this town again. What I can't recall is whether he meant I'd get the Julia Phillips treatment or whether he'd have his minions knock my teeth out. I can tell you that while I rarely dined with the ''machers'' of Hollywood, Julia took me for lunch one day to Le Dome, where we tried the duck salad.
On reflection, though, maybe Ellison's midnight snuff film musings go back to my sojourn in Israel. You may recall, back in the good old days of Fantazia 2000, when Ellison weaseled out of his commitment to fly in as guest of honor at Jerucon. This was back in June or July '82, when Lebanon, Peltours and my own organizational ineptitude put the kibosh on our efforts. Alas, Ellison never bothered to inform us that he had pulled out. Eventually, though, he did bluster in the LA Weekly about Israel's inherent thuggishness, not just in Lebanon, but in general. I wouldn't argue with him about Lebanon. But I am left with the sense that, per his modus operandi, he trashed the entire Jewish homeland as a measure of his displeasure either for being held accountable for bailing, as I suspect, because Peltours had not sent him a first-class ticket to Tel Aviv.
I may have sent him a note composed at the UN School overlooking Beirut International objecting to his denunciation of the Zionist Entity, especially in lieu of his biographical posturing as a Jewish folk hero beating off the pogroms he faced as a child in the American Midwest. But I also accepted responsibility for this imbroglio, having pushed for Ellison's designation as GOH in place of the far more deserving, decent and talented Harry Harrison. For this idiocy, as for many other related transgressions, I will doubtless pay dearly, and willingly in the next life.
As for this life, can there be any doubt that once he reads this, Ellison will gnash anew while lathering up his pointed spike? Does one require a science fiction imagination to know for certain that in coming weeks and months he will denounce me repeatedly from the podium of science fiction conventions and in the pages of whatever rag will be thrilled to run anything he tenders, including the tissues soiled with his nightly discharges? Or that his minions will applaud his ruminations thunderously, not because they have ever or should have ever heard of me, but because they love it when cavorts like a demented monkey on a stick? Do you imagine that he will not direct his lawyer to pull out all the stops in removing this letter from the Web, or wherever else it may appear, goading him until he suffers an embolism? That he will not commission a private dick or three to delve into my private life so that he can do to me what he did to Strete and has done to others? Or that he will contemplate following his buddy Robert Blake's example, and look into the exigencies of hiring someone else to do his dirty work? No matter that I make harbor no pretensions either as a writer of fiction or as an SF critic, manqué or otherwise.
No matter that I remain amused by his various efforts to defame me, or that I make no pretenses as to my own purity of spirit and action, past and present. As we witnessed last week so tragically in Israel – and I hope you read this as everything else in this missive with appropriate wryness -- there is simply no calling off an Amstaff once its territory has been defiled. You can beat it bloody and it will keep on coming. That is, until a bullet to the head, preferably two, puts it out of its misery. For my part, I'm in the book. If Ellison wants to come a calling, ''ahalan wa'sahalan.'' I suffer thrice weekly from cluster headaches that center in my left eye, which experiences something akin to 40,000 volts pulsing through it every 40 seconds during six-hour attacks. Folks so afflicted don't gnash their teeth -- they poke their gums with dental picks as a distraction. A spike in the eye would be a welcome diversion. But only if wielded by Ellison. To alleviate his own toothless gnashing, there's a horsewhip in the umbrella stand and a P226 in the vestibule. Ya 'heah, Harlan? We'll leave the light on for ya.
Agoura Hills, California
My Former Boss Fired
Craig Knight aka Vasiloff was my boss (a good one) at FANtastic magazine from January 1999 to the end of March 2000.
Richard Botto is someone I've known and written about for years.
RAZOR publisher Richard Botto has fired editor in chief Craig Knight after the mag falsely claimed that a feature on embattled radio host Howard Stern included an "exclusive interview." Stern has refused all interviews ever since the FCC began targeting his show in its McCarthy-esque "indecency" witch hunt. This article, by Stern pal and former show regular A.J. Benza, was no exception, but it didn't stop Razor's publicists from touting the phony one-on-one. According to a source, "Botto was so fed up with Knight's antics and the recent controversy surrounding the A.J. Benza/Howard Stern flap, he told the staff to stay and told Knight to stay home." But Botto may be using Knight as a scapegoat. The publisher was made to look foolish when Stern claimed that Botto's people were using Stern's name in an attempt to get free loot for a party celebrating the issue. When Botto called Stern's show to deny the charge last week, Stern produced a note from a Razor employee to the owner of popular boutique Ricky's demanding free party favors. Knight could not be reached at his unlisted number.
When I'm Down
I've suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since 1988. For six years, I was basically bedridden. Now I largely lead a normal life, but every few months, when I exercise too much, I get attacks. I have an attack now and I'm repairing to bed. In moments such as these, I'm too sick to accomplish much. My headaches are too severe. In down times like these, I find great comfort in listening to shiurim on 613.org and shiur.net. I guess I believe there is a divine element to what I am listening to, and that provides me with solace.
My girlfriends usually prefer me when I am sick, because I am nicer.
Before I got into Judaism, I was into Marxism as the best way to make a good world. Then Dennis Prager convinced me that Judaism the best step-by-step system for making a better world. So I started studying Orthodox Judaism. For over a decade, I've been frustrated that 99% of the laws I'd study in OJ would seem to have no ethical upshot. In the past few years, I've realized (in part through Prager) that rituals protect ethics. It is difficult and not much use to make a frontal assault on ethics via specific laws. What you can do is train a person to get used to reining in his impulses for a higher cause. Rituals can make him more sensitive to preserving and cherishing life, family and community. Goodness requires many things such as:
* Community. Other people to let you know when you're falling off the derech.
* Family. Close ties.
* Reason to choose between the numerous demands your religion or system makes upon you.
* God to hold you accountable.
* Belief in eternal reward and punishment.
* A system with a code of behavior.
And even these things, many times, will not be enough. We all know people who have all of the above and are still disgusting.