Sunday, April 16, 2006

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I'll Be On VH1's Hollywood Blackmail Special Monday 9pm

In our celebrity-obsessed culture, people will do anything to infiltrate the world of the Hollywood elite. But for some, getting inside that sacred circle isn't just about seeking autographs and snapshots of their favorite stars. They're searching for a shakedown.

In VH1 News Presents: Hollywood Blackmail, VH1 News goes inside the shadow world of extortionists and con-men who prey on the rich and famous. And we show what celebs are doing to protect themselves from being victimized.

How do potential blackmailers infiltrate the celebrity world? How can a trusted employee become a celebrity's worst nightmare? How does a sexual dalliance turn into the ultimate "dangerous liason"?

Celebs ranging from Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis, celebutante Paris Hilton, singer Celine Dion & husband Rene Angelil, and Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley have all been targeted by greedy predators looking to score a buck.

The Nero Prediction

Tuesday (March 21, 2006).

Author Humphry Knipe, 64, phones me back at 11:09 a.m.

Luke: "When did you begin work on this book?"

Humphry: "The early 80s. I started on a Mac Plus computer. I've had other projects in between. I finished it last year."

Luke: "What prompted you to join MySpace?"

Humphry: "Just a joke. The kids in the office, you catch 'em on MySpace. Hmm, obviously you have lots of spare time. Maybe I should find you something to do. The younger girls spend a lot of time on MySpace. I don't have the foggiest idea how to respond to anybody. I have the weirdest people wanting to be my friend."

Luke: "They are my readers. I linked to your MySpace profile."

Humphry: "I'm getting bombarded by the oddest people with not the faintest connection with what I'm about.

"If they are your readers, I will look at them with more respect."

Luke: "You write on Amazon.com that you grew up in a medieval environment in South Africa."

Humphry: "Serfs and so on. You had a whole class of people that belonged to a different caste and it was as though they had different feelings. You couldn't exploit them if you didn't think that. That was the white mentality."

Luke: "Do you think things are better in South Africa today?"

Humphry: "Hell yes. I went back last October. My mother, God bless her, is still alive at 87. The mayor of the little town where she lives is a black lady. We are happy with the political situation. It is so much better than Zimbabwe, which is a horrible dictatorship."

Luke: "Isn't crime and rape out of control in South Africa?"

Humphry: "In large cities in particular. Many of the perpetrators aren't even South African. They come flowing down from the north, from Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, Angola. In South Africa there's work."

Luke: "What was so puritanical and Calvinist about your background?"

Humphry: "My mother was brought up in the Dutch Reform Church, which is a Calvinistic sect. The whole period I was in South Africa [until 1966], television was banned. I didn't see television until I went to England at age 25."

Luke: "Was that a bad thing?"

Humphry: "It was awful. We really felt deprived. It was thought to be dangerous because it introduced foreign influences. The Afrikaaner apartheid regime wanted the modern world to stay away.

"I imagine that my early interest in porn was that we were never allowed to see anything like that in South Africa. The most risque thing you could see were bikinis.

"Then getting to swinging London in 1966 where you had Page Three topless girls, nude modeling agencies, that was a huge cultural shock."

Luke: "Did you have much sex in South Africa?"

Humphry: "Yes, at university, I managed to get it in a little bit. I worked there for a couple of years as a teacher after graduating. The girls were pretty hot.

"I wasn't into the swinging parties until London."

Luke: "You write: 'Nero seemed to the most 60s of the Roman emperors and, looking back, I probably wanted to recreate that magical time in a historical setting.' What was so magical about the swinging 60s in London?"

Humphry: "There was the feeling that the world was going to change, which of course it didn't. Not much, anyway. There was this feeling of infinite possibility. There was this curious mixture of gangsters, musicians, hipsters, aristocrats, moderns... Everyone was turning on together and you had this feeling of novelty and revelation.

"Are you familiar with Donald Cammell? He directed the 1970 film Performance starring Mick Jagger. Donald was avante garde. He was buddies with Kenneth Anger."

Luke: "Cammell committed suicide in 1996."

Humphry: "I'm going to work him as a character into a new novel.

"There's a new book coming out called Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side. My order has been in on Amazon for months.

"I was just watching a [1998] BBC documentary entitled Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance.

"He was one of the most interesting people I've ever met. He was a naughty boy.

"London in the 60s was libertinism to the point of license. Acid, grass, booze, girls, rock 'n' roll, wild parties, taken to the extreme with the swinging parties. They were some of the funniest and most interesting experiences I've been through.

"I was introduced to it in 1971 with the Wet Dream Festival in Amsterdam. Germaine Greer was there."

Luke: "But it was all a delusion."

Humphry: "It wasn't a delusion. It was experimental and didn't work. Once the yobs started emptying out of the pubs and started busting these psychadelic gatherings, it ruined the whole thing. It only lasted three or four months. I remember being in a club where Pink Floyd was playing in the corner in 1966."

Luke: "This idea that the world was going to change was a delusion."

Humphry: "Yes. It didn't turn out that way. Part of it was the turbulence from the Vietnam War. It was the rock 'n' roll era and peace and love and all that stuff."

Luke: "Why would you want to recreate a magical time that was based upon delusional beliefs?"

Humphry: "It was an awful lot of fun. I know you're asking me about Nero.

"Nero was the first person in history, certainly the first leader, to use soft power. The whole Roman modus operandi was hard power. He was the first guy to use soft power as a diplomatic force.

"What we had was rock 'n' roll. It sped around the globe. I picked it up in South Africa. It was tremendously influential in introducing American values. It was an extremely successful use of soft power. That's what Nero was going for. That was the climax of the Roman empire during that [first] century.

"Nero had this brilliant flash that he could [govern] through converting people to the cause of art and music. We now think of it as delusionary. It was. It was a brilliant flash-forward to what is happening now.

"American culture is a huge force in the Third World. It's only a matter of time before it imposes the other aspects of democracy on the Third World. The music and the culture and the art are the stalking horse."

Luke: "Where do you identify with and admire Nero?"

Humphry: "In his use of soft power. He wasn't a homicidial lunatic as people claim. It was a time of enormous turbulence. You had to kill off your rivals if you were going to survive. He killed off fewer people than his predecessors Claudius and Tiberius.

"Why did certain people rebel at certain times? This comes back to the self-fulfilling prophecy. The stars say that Nero is in a dire situation on April 18, 65 AD when Epaphroditus (my narrator) foils the great conspiracy of Piso.

"When Halley's Comet appeared in 66, Nero was warned by his astrologer that he had to do something to placate the comet. The comet was thought to predict the death of a king. You'd know that at that time your enemies were putting their heads together to knock you off."

Luke: "Do you believe our lives are affected by the stars?"

Humphry: "Absolutely not."

Luke: "Why would you spend ten years of your life studying something you believe to be nonsense?"

Humphry: "It gives you a key that's almost never been used aside from Michael R. Molnar, who wrote 1999's The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi. He and I correspond.

"It's a historical tool. You can do an anthropological study of voodoo without believing in voodoo."

Luke: "Why not spend that time studying something you believe in?"

Humphry: "I just studied astrology to the degree that that proved to be a useful tool. I wondered why certain things in Nero's life happened at that time. Why did he kill his mother? Why did his mother try to kill him?

"The chronological scale is the vertebra of history. You can work out what the astrologer would've been whispering into his client's ear 2,000 years ago. Astrology exceeded every other religion in power and influence. Astrology is an intoxicating mixture of science and religion."

Luke: "Do you see anything good in religion?"

Humphry: "Solace. It cheers people up. It gives them hope."

Luke: "But you don't need that solace?"

Humphry: "Sure I do. Everybody does. It's just an impossibility, something for which absolutely no proof exists."

Luke: "Ultimately, is there objective meaning to life?"

Humphry: "Absolutely. Propagation."

Luke: "What's the point?"

Humphry: "So you live forever, or until the comet comes."

Luke: "So there isn't any ultimate meaning."

Humphry: "By having children, or relatives who have children, you do continue. You are billions of years of old. There's an unbroken stream of life from the beginning to you."

Luke: "Do you see yourself living on in your children?"

Humphry: "Notably, the poor bastards. They'll be carrying some of my strengths and a lot of my weaknesses."

Luke: "Is it fair to say that you hate religion?"

Humphry: "Absolutely not. I don't, for example, hate astrology. I find it interesting that people have these irrational convictions."

Luke: "You love Sam Harris's book The End of Faith. That book is bathed in hatred of religion."

Humphry: "He doesn't like religions that are jihadistic, that are aggressive. To have nuclear weapons in the hands of people who believe that the world has to be destroyed to save it is dangerous."

Luke: "How could you not hate religion when every organized religion of which I am aware says that the industry we work in is evil."

Humphry: "I don't know if you are correct in saying that every religion does so. Do the Hindus believe that? The Buddhists?"

Luke: "We know that the three monotheistic religions do."

Humphry: "Those are just our little religions. There are lots of others. I don't know if the Chinese, isn't that Shintoism? I don't know if they have the same attitude.

"During Greek and Roman culture, you had pornographic drawings in public bathhouses. It's not true to say that every religion hates erotica. Some of those Indian religions have the Kama Sutra and elaborate drawings of erotica."

Luke: "How do you feel about the people who dedicate much of their lives to wanting to put pornographers such as you in jail?"

Humphry says that free speech has always had its enemies, and that pornography is without a doubt a form of free speech. "Even a cartoon can cause a ripple that runs around the world and causes over 100 deaths."

Luke: "There was a time when you pulled Holly aside when she was eight and said, 'Mommy and daddy might be going to jail.'"

Humphry: "That was the Traci Lords thing. Now I'm afraid that our stuff is too vanilla."

Luke: "Would you elaborate on this sentence you wrote: 'I know that Nero would have approved that my wife Suze Randall has gone on to become the world's most successful erotic photographer.'"

Humphry: "Because erotic vignettes were a part of Roman dinner parties, even during the Republican period before Nero. It was usual for the more risque members of the aristocractic society to have a porno show as a highpoint of a dinner party. You bring on the actors and they do their scene and they get applause and some coins thrown at them. This is during Julius Caesar's time long before we get into 'decadent' Nero and Caligula.

"These are the roots of our civilization. We're trying to get there. They had a much more liberal attitude towards sexuality and erotica than we have."

Luke: "How would you feel if a daughter of yours became a porn actress?"

Humphry pauses for five seconds. "Obviously there would be nothing I would try to do to prevent her. I'd prefer to have her at the books studying. It's a short shelf-life. As a result, I wouldn't recommend it to anybody who has any alternative."

Luke: "Would you not be filled with horror?"

Humphry: "I don't think so, otherwise I couldn't be associated with it at all.

"There would be some shock, initially, I'd imagine, if it was suddenly jumped on me, surprise. I would definitely not forbid it. I haven't forbidden anything."

Luke: "How would you feel about one or all of your offspring working in the family business behind the scenes?"

Humphry: "I don't mind at all."

Luke: "What wishes do you have for your kids aside from being happy?"

Humphry: "I can't think of anything better than happiness. Happiness requires a lot of components."

Luke: "Is happiness achievable as a direct objective or is it only achievable as a byproduct of higher pursuits?"

Humphry: "Happiness has so many components..."

Luke: "What price have you paid for your association with pornography? Has it made your life as a writer more difficult?"

Humphry: "Just the opposite. It's given me the free time to write because we've made money. It's been a boon for the writing."

Luke: "Have you encountered a lot of people who take you less seriously because of your association with porn?"

Humphry: "No. They're fascinated by the odd combination of high-grade intellectual pursuits and [porn]. They're confused. They expect pornographers to have gold necklaces and to be sleazy greasy dimwits. They come across a guy who used to be a teacher, whose father was a teacher, whose wife's father was a teacher, a straight background, dabbling in this business."

Luke: "Are there parts of your book you are most happy with and parts you are least happy with?"

Humphry: "I was happy with the whole thing because I was able to rewrite it so many times. A lot of people find it hard to get it. They think it is a book by an astrologer. They don't understand that it is an anti-astrology book, that it shows it up as a false science. It's part of my general religious skepticism. It is preposterous to imbue these planets with human personalities."

Luke: "I saw in the book a metaphor for your own journey. The slave is you."

When I brought this up to Holly, she said her father would hate this theory.

Humphry: "That's certainly insightful. I do identify with Epaphroditus, coming from nowhere and ending up in Hefner's jacuzzi."

Luke: "Many of these porn potentates, such as Hefner and Larry Flynt, remind me of these Roman emperors."

Humphry: "The sybaritic lifestyle. These caesars were military dictators."

Luke: "They also had a court that paid them obeisance. If you betrayed them once, you were out."

Humphry: "They had to do that. There was no secure line of kingship.

"Larry Flynt never set up a court on the scale of Hefner. Hefner was the king. Flynt lives in a small house. We used to go five times a week to Hefner's mansion. There was an open bar 24-hours a day, superb meals served when you want them, the parties, and the famous jacuzzi where things happened. There were Bunnies living on the premises."

Luke: "Do you regret writing the book Suze, which cost you your relationship with Hefner and his mansion?"

Humphry chuckles. "I suppose so."

On New Year's Eve (I guess it was after a few drinks), Humphry and Suze told me that they did not regret the book.

Humphry: "Suze was moving on with her career. The problem with working for Playboy was that they owned everything. We would not be in the financial position we are in now if we had stayed with Playboy.

"Hef's mansion was the most magical party center in America."

Many of the things Holly told me about her parents they contradicted. Either she isn't seeing them clearly or they are not telling me the truth. Holly believed her parents would be appalled by my memoir. I don't think that would be true.

Holly often tells me that her mother could not accomplish a photo shoot without her. Somehow Suze was doing it for more than 20 years without Holly's help.

Holly doesn't believe her parents business would run without her help. She feels it is her fate to run it. I say she should create her own life separate from her parents and their business.

The happiest time of her life was when she lived in Santa Barbara (prior to 1997) a couple of hours drive from her family and away from their business.

Holly writes me: "I wasn't aware my grandmother was a member of a Calvinist sect! Ridiculous how I have to find out from Luke about my family!"

HollyRandall: i liked your interview
HollyRandall: I KNOW my mom can finish a photoshoot w/out me, she's done it many times
HollyRandall: i'm just good at dealing with her when she's stressed
HollyRandall: and i don't think my father would be horrified by your memoir at all
Luke: you wanted to hide it from your parents
HollyRandall: but my mom might be a bit dismayed at parts that involved her friends
HollyRandall: i'll let my dad read it
Luke: how's your ankle?
HollyRandall: i don't think my mom would anyhow-- just because she isn't interested in reading much on the business, she prefers books that offer escapism, i suppose
HollyRandall: very swollen
HollyRandall: so did you like talking to my dad?
Luke: yes, he's easy to talk to
HollyRandall: he's awesome
Luke: it's like talking to you
HollyRandall: when i was a little girl, guys used to make fun of me all the time and tell me i was ugly
HollyRandall: this one guy in particular used to always say to me, "Holly, no offense, but you're ugly"
Luke: wow, men haven't done that to you in a long time.
HollyRandall: and on Valentines Day at school i never got any cards or anything
HollyRandall: so my dad used to always reassure me that when i grew up there would be "A line of men around the street and I'll have to beat them off with a stick"
Luke: you became a sexual vixen
HollyRandall: lol not that's not my story
Luke: except they've formed a virtual line in cyberspace
Luke: I want you to beat me off with a stick.
HollyRandall: on Valentine's day, every year my dad would write me a Valentine's day card, drive across town, and mail it from there
HollyRandall: he wrote lovely things about what a beautiful, smart girl i was
HollyRandall: and signed them "your secret admirer"
HollyRandall: until i one year, when I was nine, figured out it was him Luke: when? HollyRandall: i suddenly recognized the writing was his
Luke: That's awfully young to receive romantic gestures.
HollyRandall: they weren't pervy romantic
HollyRandall: they were Valentines day cards for kids, you know?
HollyRandall: YOU didn't do Valentine's cards at that age?
HollyRandall: anyhow the point was that my dad was thoughtful enough to do something to make me feel loved and special
Luke: No, that stuff was discouraged in my communities.
HollyRandall: and that was better than actually having a "secret admirer"

Amalek writes me: "You've had better. No sparks. And you failed to ask my questions. Your love for Holly's eggs blunted your style."

Publicist/agent Daniel Metcalf writes:

I greatly enjoyed the interview with Humphry, especially his views on Donald Cammell, one of my favorite directors. I did want to address the issue of organized religion's relationship to sex/porn as the two of you discussed it. While the West's three "mainstream" monotheistic religions are certainly sex-repressive (today, at least), there have been Christian sects throughout the centuries that have encouraged their members to indulge their sexuality in a myriad of forms. The Aegopy practiced free love when Christianity first began, and if research is to be believed, the Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit both enjoyed "free love" well into the 1400s.

The U.S. has many religious groups (some Christian-based, some not) that practice open sex. The Oneida Company of New York, which makes gorgeous, highly sought-after silver, follows an interesting "perfectionist" doctrine in which adherents are free (and encouraged) to make love to one another, and have a multitude of partners. The Brotherhood of the New Life, follows similar teachings.

A true product of the 60s/70s, Eckankar simply refrains from passing judgment on matters of sexual morality, leaving all such matters up to the individual (in my opinion, a stance all organizations, religious AND secular, should adopt). The Raelians, as famously publicized, are porn positive to the point of encouraging adherents to hook up for cybersex on the religion's official website (at least this was the case throughout the 90s).

That's The Way I Like It

Vilnia writes:

You are not dating Holly, yet you are talking of marrying her?

I did not like your Dara Horn Interview. I am neutral on the Humphry interview.

You do best in interviews where the subject turns the tables and forces you to confront yourself. It was great why DC forced you to admit to being: "...someone who does not live up to his ideals."

Leslie writes: "I would guess the average luke... reader doesn't give a damn about reading an interview with your future father-in-law but it would be a total different story if it was with your future mother-in-law though. I guess Suze would decline, it wouldn't be good for her business if you'd ask her the good questions."

Holly writes me:

I loved your interview with my dad, though I admit you could have taken it further, but didn't because I asked you to be nice and complementary. I would have loved to hear his reaction to our relationship. I think people are just disappointed because he's a really smart guy and one can't make him look stupid, no matter what the editing. I love my dad, I couldn't ask for a better one. I found it really interesting and I've forwarded it to all my friends.

A journalist writes me:

I thought your interview with Holly's dad was great.

I love this part that Holly sent:

HollyRandall: on Valentine's day, every year my dad would write me a Valentine's day card, drive across town, and mail it from there.

I think that belongs in a movie, tell Holly I'm putting that in a script!

Seriously that's one of the most touching things I've read, I hope her dad REALLY did do that. Whatever faults her parents have, that's a pretty cool thing to do for a young girl who is getting stiffed on Valentines. My parents never would have done that for me, not in a million years.


HollyRandall: i fixed up my dad's myspace page for him
Luke: I have exhaustively researched your father and I am well-prepared.
Luke: Why don't you use the topless photo of your dad? They've disappeared from his website.
HollyRandall: he probably got teased for it too much
Luke: Why did you change your dad's status from single to married?
HollyRandall: it was by default that way when he set it up i guess, he didn't know how to edit all that info
Luke: yeah, yeah, if you need to believe that...
Luke: Does your dad ever hit on your female friends?
HollyRandall: nah, he's not creepy
Luke: damn

Chaim Amalek: Ask Hump if the Jewish lobby is insufficiently powerful in Washington.
Chaim Amalek: Ask Hump if Negroes are as good at science as Koreans.
Chaim Amalek: Ask Hump if, surrounded as he is by hot young white women, he dreams of ditching his wife for one of them or at least f--king them.
Chaim Amalek: Ask Hump if porn is good for a marriage.
Chaim Amalek: Ask Hump if people take him less seriously because he is married to a porner.
Chaim Amalek: Ask Hump how often he and Suze have sex (ask this for Holly's sake).
Chaim Amalek: Ask Hump how he'd feel about having a Negro for a son in law.
Chaim Amalek: Ask Hump if he likes George Bush.
Chaim Amalek: Ask Hump if he ever uses illegal drugs.
Chaim Amalek: Ask Hump how much he drinks.
Chaim Amalek: Ask Hump how often he writes.
Chaim Amalek: And try to keep it friendly.
Chaim Amalek: You might want to address him as "Dad."

The New Girl

Amalek writes: "Once again, somewhere a Jewish woman is shedding tears for the eggs Jewish men like Luke Ford choose to ignore."

Khunrum writes: "Those tears would no doubt dry up rather quickly if she took a quick spin around The Hovel Luke will be moving her into after the, ahhhhh! lucky gal says "I Do." She'd be out the door and back to the Jewish Professional Singles Mixers (Heeb Hops) in no time flat."

Groping For Intimacy

I need a title for my forthcoming book on Jewish novelists.

In my interviews, I have little interest in exploring literary techniques or meanings or the other things that people ask novelists. I want to grope for intimacy with these strangers.

Dara Horn put it best. She felt like she was on a "bad first date."

* Abraham's Complaint: Jews and the Making of Literature from Portnoy to [you fill in the blank]

Novelist Rebecca Goldstein - The Mind-Body Problem

I spent 90-minutes over the phone with her Tuesday afternoon, April 11, 2006.

Luke: "I've read all your interviews. I'm going to try to not repeat anything.

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

Rebecca thinks for about ten seconds. "I don't know that I really thought about it. I didn't want to be my mother. Probably a scientist from about age six. I liked rocks and stars. I read science books."

Luke: "At what age did you begin to have an erotic interest in boys?"

Rebecca: "Oh gosh. My first love affair was in second grade."

Luke: "Was there an erotic component?"

Rebecca: "No. I just fell madly in love. It was requited. We were quite the item. All we did was blush furiously."

Luke: "What about as a teenager? Were you falling in love then?"

Rebecca laughs. "You really aren't asking me any questions I've gotten before.

"I was always in love with someone or over. I met the man I married when I was 15. We married when I was 19. We're now divorced. We've been separated for seven years."

Luke: "You guys became a couple when you were 15?"

Rebecca: "I was quite Orthodox at the time but for what passes as coupling..."

Luke: "When did you get divorced?"

Rebecca: "Recently."

Luke: "Tell me about you and God."

Rebecca: "I lived Orthodox for a long time. My husband was Orthodox. Because I didn't want to be hypocritical with our kids, I kept everything.

"I was torn like a character in a Russian novel. It lasted through college. I remember leaving a class on mysticism in tears because I had forsaken God. That was probably my last burst of religious passion. Then it went away and I was a happy little atheist."

Luke: "You haven't had flirtations with God since then?"

Rebecca: "No. My agonized conflicts have been focused on why should I care so much about the Jewish people. Why do I have such a strong residual attachment to this particular people? But no, God has not entered the picture."

Luke: "What was it like being married to an Orthodox Jew? You went along with the observance but you didn't believe in it."

Rebecca: "Since I was brought up in it, it was natural to me, but it is intrusive and makes life complicated, especially since I was a professor and needed to take all these holidays.

"I don't enjoy, nor did my husband enjoy, the Jewish community.

"We were living in suburban New Jersey in a claustrophobic Jewish community. Our kids went to the day school.

"It seemed to be a wholesome warm environment to raise a kid."

Rebecca laughs ruefully. "My kids don't think so nowadays. They don't thank me at all.

"My older daughter, Yael is about to publish her first novel (in January 2007). She has warmer feelings.

[The novel is called Overture. "It is about a mother-daughter relationship written from the mother's point of view. They are in the same field -- music. I read every draft and I think it is wonderful."]

"My younger daughter is in her junior year at Brown. I don't think she sees anything positive in the [Orthodox] experience.

[Both daughters majored in Philosophy.]

"I tell myself there was a warm and intimacy to the [Orthodox] community. At least for the kids."

Luke: "Were you integrated into your [Highland Park] Orthodox Jewish community [where her husband Sheldon Goldstein still lives]?"

Rebecca: "I was peripheral even though I really did walk the walk. I didn't talk the talk but I did do everything.

"People were suspicious.

"When I'd bring up to my youngest daughter, Danielle, that it was a nice warm community, she'd say, quite the contrary. Sometimes teachers would get angry at her and say, 'You think you can do anything you want just because your mother is famous.'

"They did not regard us as part of the community, which was sad.

"I thought whatever sacrifices I was making, the kids were coming out good because of this embracing community."

Luke: "Did your husband believe in what he was doing? God and Torah?"

Rebecca: "My former husband, Sheldon Goldstein, is first a profound physicist. He doesn't talk about his religious beliefs. They don't seem to really fit in with his general outlook. I don't know. He is observant."

Luke: "He never spoke to you about the Hakadosh Baruch Hu (God) once?"

Rebecca: "Oh gosh no."

Luke: "HaShem (God)?"

Rebecca: "No. Oh Lord. No. Nor does he seem to particularly enjoy life in a Jewish community. It could be just plain old stubbornness [sticking to Orthodoxy]. I don't know what it is. I lived with him for all those years and I still can't figure it out."

Luke: "How did you talk to your children about God?"

Rebecca: "They were going to [Orthodox] school. When they asked me questions, I would respect what they were learning and where they were at. My younger daughter was always very skeptical. She'd say, 'This doesn't make sense,' and we'd talk about it.

"Yael liked it. She's more gregarious. Wherever she is, she finds things to like.

"In fifth grade, Yael said to me about some story or explanation her teacher had given, 'This doesn't make any sense. What do you think?'

"I looked at her and said, 'Do you really want to know what I think about all this?' There was this long pause. We looked into each other's eyes and she said, 'Not yet.'

"So, on some level, I guess she knew.

"I wasn't trying to cause dissonances."

Luke: "What about disciplining? Would you say, 'God doesn't want you to do this'?"

Rebecca: "Never."

Luke: "God says, 'Respect your parents.'"

Rebecca: "I should've used that one a little more.

"I tried to reason with them. Or, 'This is the way we're doing it in the family.'

"They never questioned too much the laws. All their friends were doing it. It was a social thing. We're completely indifferent to food in the family. Kashrut never bothered us. For a long time, the girls and I were vegetarian. On Shabbos, they were off with their friends.

"Yael remained Orthodox until she left for college. Danielle left it much earlier. I had no quarrel with her leaving it."

Luke: "From Yael's essay [published about three years ago], she does not believe in God."

Rebecca: "No? I think she did in highschool. We wrote something together -- The Ashes of the Akedah. She was taking an Orthodox line there."

Luke: "Are you an agonized atheist?"

Rebecca: "No. The universe is fine the way it is.

"I never liked the idea of an afterlife. Everlasting consciousness is not for me. Let's just get it over.

"I have lost a lot of people I love, including my sister. I find myself thinking, 'How could such a huge thing as that spirit disappear?' I find myself puzzling over it.

"I adored my father. I believe he was a believer."

Luke: "How much of The Mind-Body Problem is autobiographical?"

Rebecca: "The most autobiographical part is my father. I wrote it right after he died. His dying had a great deal to do with my turning to writing fiction.

"Renee Feuer was not me. She was not even me philosophically. I was a heavy graduate student. I did the sort of philosophy Renee didn't do and hated."

Luke: "Were you married to a genius [as Renee was]?"

Rebecca: "He's awfully smart. I was never asked what's it like to be married to a genius. He wasn't a public genius. It's only in his old age that he's become more prominent. After that book was published, he was teased. People asked him what it was like to be married to a genius."

The first line of The Mind-Body Problem is: "I'm often asked what it's like to be married to a genius."

Rebecca: "He's definitely not Noam Himmel.

"Renee is frivolous and narcissistic. I wrote that book after I had a child. I was a serious devoted professor and mother and not running around as she was. Renee had more fun than I ever did.

"When Shelly [her ex] first read the book, he said, 'Renee's so funny. Why can't you be more like her?' I'm more solemn."

Luke: "Did you have any second thoughts about taking your husband's name?"

Rebecca: "Funny you should ask. I didn't want to take my husband's name. He asked me to. I was touched by his asking me to and I did it and always regretted it. I don't like the name Goldstein. It never felt like mine [her maiden name was Newberger]. It's a cliché.

"My latest book [Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity] I wanted to publish under Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. I had visited my father's ancestral schtettle this past autumn and I discovered that Newbergers had lived in the area back to Napoleon.

"Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is on the back cover. They won't put it on the front cover.

"I just got a Guggenheim prize. The Times had the list of people who had it and it's listed as Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. That's my first public appearance under that name."

Luke: "Are you a feminist?"

Rebecca: "I don't know. What does that mean?"

Luke: "Whatever it means to you."

Rebecca: "What do I believe? This is complicated."

Luke: "You don't believe in God, feminism..."

Rebecca: "There are statistical differences between men and women including in our emotional make-up. We shouldn't be surprised. We play different reproductive roles and evolution is very sensitive to reproductive matters. Still, if individuals don't fit the statistical profile they shouldn't be forced to. I don't believe we should be circumscribed by our gender.

"I've always been in classes and places where I'm the only woman. I feel like I belong there because my interests lead me there. Maybe there are some statistical differences but we shouldn't judge the individual by those differences."

Luke: "Do you think Judaism is any more rational than any other religion?"

Rebecca: "It certainly puts a high premium on thinking, at least for men. Notice the slight bitterness. Talmudic thinking is rational and logical. Obviously you're not questioning [the premises]. Whether the rational basis [for Judaism] is any more rational [than for another religion], I don't think so.

"I admire its view of the good life, that it doesn't ask you to renounce anything good in life but to go with the conflicts. We're not asked to renounce sensual joys but to make them kosher. It asks us to wrestle with the contradictions in our nature."

Luke: "Do you find more to love [in the Jewish tradition] than to hate?"

Rebecca: "Yes, especially when I'm not living in a Jewish community."

Luke: "Do you have any close friends who are Orthodox?"

Rebecca: "My sister. Do I have any Orthodox friends remaining? Probably not."

Luke: "Were there any Orthodox Jews in the departments where you taught?"

Rebecca: "No."

Her brother is an Orthodox rabbi serving a traditional congregation.

Luke: "Do you discuss philosophical issues with him?"

Rebecca: "No. He only calls to remind me we have a yartzheit [memorializing the death of a family member]."

Luke: "How have your looks affected your work? If you were even more beautiful, would you have done so much work?"

Rebecca: "I don't think it's affected me. I'm interested in the phenomenon of beauty. A lot of my characters are beautiful. I've been criticized for that. I had the very ugly one in The Dark Sister. It's interesting to me the power that beauty has over other people and the opportunities it opens up."

Luke: "Has your body bothered you?"

Rebecca: "My body?"

Luke: "Were you obsessed or unhappy with it?"

Rebecca: "I've been lucky with my body. I'm very fit."

Luke: "You've never been obsessed with your appearance?"

Rebecca: "I don't think so. I've been accused of being vain by my daughters. I love physical exercise."

Luke: "Most of your characters are either brilliant or beautiful or both. Surely that's more fun."

Rebecca: "It is more fun."

Luke: "It's certainly more fun to read."

Rebecca: "I'm interested in the inner life and brilliant characters have more inner life. There are more ideas and more conflicts. There's no way I can be interested enough to write about a character who doesn't have a tremendous inner life going on. That's all that really interests me in my writing."

Luke: "Is there anything you want from your kids aside from their happiness?"

Rebecca: "I want them to be good people. It would upset me if they were unkind or selfish. They're not. They're lovely. I want them to be productive. My greatest happiness in life comes from my work."

Luke: "What's number one? That they be happy? Good? Jewish?"

Rebecca: "Jewish is not on there. That's their choice. At one point, I said, 'As long as you are conflicted about it, that's all I care.' Happiness and kindness [are her twin priorities]."

Luke: "Did any of your philosophical training help you raise happy mentchy kids?"

Rebecca: "Yes. I believe in objectivity, in trying to see one's own life as objectively as possible, and not give too much weight that you happen to be yourself and want the things you want, but to be trying out different points of view and seeing how things look to different people."

Rebecca recommends Thomas Nagel's book The Possibility of Altruism. "Nagel may be the preeminent philosopher of his generation.

"At whatever level the [children] were at, I would share more of my ethical outlook. I never mentioned where it came from.

"When Yael was in her sophomore year at college, she took a tutorial that was exclusively on Nagel's moral theory. She called me up one day and said, 'Did you raise me according to that book?' I had to confess I did.

"When I told Tom Nagel, he didn't seem all that pleased. Perhaps, he didn't want anyone to take his moral philosophy that seriously.

"Her intuition was so in line that she could always guess the next move, better than the guy who was teaching it."

Luke: "I was amazed that you almost gave up writing after Mazel got mixed reviews."

From the Nov 8, 2000 Princeton Alumni Weekly: "I had decided to give up writing. I was very demoralized by the reaction of some critics. To me they just felt malicious and cruel. I felt so exposed to ill-will, which is something I avoid like the plague in my life."

Rebecca: "I said that after [2001's] Properties of Light too. I haven't written a novel since then. I felt that this is not a rational thing to keep doing, to keep writing these novels. Since then, I've written two nonfiction books: Incompleteness: the proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel, published last year, and the forthcoming Betraying Spinoza.

"I do keep having ideas for novels. Some day.

"The novels I was interested in writing were getting more and more complicated.

"People have talked about adapting Properties of Light for the stage or the movies.

"You are so exposed [when you write novels]. It's excruciating. It gets worse and worse. I get more and more sensitive."

Luke: "You've seen a bit of Jewish life around the world and around the United States."

Rebecca: "I've even been a scholar in residence at various synagogues."

We laugh.

Rebecca: "I always feel like a terrible fraud."

Luke: "Judaism's in trouble.

"What fills you with optimism and what fills you with pessimism when you see Jewish life firsthand?"

Rebecca: "Things seem to be getting better for women. Some of the best new Biblical criticism comes from women. There's also a move towards fundamentalism. I don't like to see Jews not wrestling with faith. I don't like to see them withdrawing from the world. The minimizing of conflict is a bad sign. As much as one believes, it's always a bad thing to lose the ability to imagine what the world is like for someone who does not share your belief."

Luke: "When you say that you wished Jews wrestled more with their religion, you are wishing that they'd be more like you. Only intellectuals struggle with these things."

Rebecca: "Maybe. Jews have an intellectual religion."

Luke: "Only a minority of intellectuals will want to struggle about their religion."

Rebecca: "To the extent that you don't struggle with your religion, that's not a good thing. There's an absolute statement. When it just becomes a set of answers... Certainty doesn't belong in religion except for the moral laws between man and man. Frankly, I don't think we need religion for that. We need the possibility of altruism."

Luke: "Very few people want to lead lives filled with conflict."

Rebecca: "True. That does sadden me. Any attempts against ghettoization make me happy. It may not increase our comfort but rather our humanity."

Luke: "Only intellectuals are going to go for that."

Rebecca: "I have a high estimation of people's abilities. People need encouragement. Marching to the beat pounded out by our leaders...this absence of all questioning is having a bad effect."

Luke: "You think people are not questioning because George Bush and our political leaders don't question much?"

Rebecca: "It's reciprocal. They need one another.

"It's a scary time.

"Twenty years ago, when I was teaching philosophy, the cultural outlook was different. Now in my philosophy classes I have to take the changed political and social climate into account when addressing my students.

"There seems to be a retreat away from large questions. It particularly upsets me when it comes from Jews, chauvinistically more. I'm still a chauvinist when it comes to Jews."

Luke: "How much of your life have you been happy?"

Rebecca: "For most of my life, I was fairly miserable. I was only happy when I was deeply involved in a book or in work. I'm a workaholic. When my children were young, that made me very happy.

"I'm very happy now. I feel like I'm living an honest life now. Even though I could tell myself I was doing [Orthodox Judaism] for high-minded reasons, I was living a tremendous lie and not able to say it because it would embarrass people I loved. I finally feel like a complete grown-up. I'm making my own choices.

"I have very few close relationships but the ones I do are very intense. But most of all work [as a source of happiness]."

Luke: "What are the qualities of your closest friends?"

Rebecca: "They have vastly different intellectual attainments. They're all funny. I prize a sense of humor ridiculously high. They don't take themselves seriously. They take other things seriously. I like a little bit of earnestness.

"I'm earnest. I'm not postmodern.

"I have a partner. He's very funny. He doesn't take himself seriously even though he has every reason to. His lack of self-aggrandizement is all the more laudable. He's very kind."

Luke: "Why do you ask so much of your reader?"

Rebecca: "I love novels that are always giving you more each time you read them. I'm only interested in novels that I would want to reread. It is my great hope to produce novels of that sort. There's a great moral quality to paying attention to something that is not yourself. Art ought to demand great outputs of attention."

Luke: "You're really demanding."

Rebecca: "I'm not going to apologize for that."

Luke: "I want an apology."

Rebecca: "Sometimes a piece of art takes a tremendous amount of attention and it's not worth it. I hope that is not the case with my work. Maybe that's why I stopped writing novels.

"I stopped reading a lot of novels when I started writing them.

"I love and hate what writing novels does for me. You're magnificent when you're writing one and a petty little creep when you publish one."

Luke: "The Mind-Body Problem was linear, but then you became increasingly nonlinear."

Rebecca: "I don't know why the stories took that form. I've always been interested in time. When I was interested in the philosophy of physics, that was one of my major preoccupations -- time, linear time, relativistic time and the emotional aspects of time. Perhaps that's why so many of my novels have become nonlinear."

Luke: "Were you cognizant of how much more difficult that made it to read your books?"

Rebecca: "Sorry."

She laughs. "Now I really am apologizing."

Luke: "I could sail through The Mind-Body Problem. All the others, I'm pulling my hair out."

Rebecca: "When I wrote The Mind-Body Problem, I was primarily a philosopher and I just took this fling and wrote this novel and tossed it off. I wrote it in eight weeks."

Luke: "It was so fun. That's my favorite of your books."

Rebecca: "Thank you. Oh God, that doesn't make me feel good."

Luke: "It was linear."

Rebecca: "Then I wanted to do more and more [experimentation]. I didn't want to write philosophy in the way I had been trained to write it but hoped that I could do something philosophically interesting by writing novels. That I could bring some of my philosophical passions to bear. My novels became more and more reflective of the philosophical ideas that I am interested in. Maybe that is why they became more and more..."

Luke: "Difficult?"

Rebecca laughs. "Now I'm trying to bring what I learned about novels to writing about philosophy, meaning I write heavy novels and light philosophy."

Luke: "I have a friend in academia who argues that the Holocaust has made linear narrative impossible. Has the Holocaust changed literary structure?"

Rebecca: "I don't think the Holocaust is reflected in everything that everybody writes, not even everything that Jewish-minded Jewish writers write, though it weighs heavily.

"When I wrote Mazel and a few short stories that refer to the Holocaust, I was influenced by Aharon Applefeld who never writes about the Holocaust, only before and after. Also, Ida Fink.

"It's too enormous to deal with directly."

Luke: "Did you get dissed by your philosopher peers for being a novelist?"

Rebecca: "Yes. I had a promising philosophical, but when I wrote The Mind-Body Problem, I couldn't be taken seriously. I'm not sorry that it prevented me from having a linear academic career."

Luke: "Did you get tenure?"

Rebecca: "I did not. I believe the novel had much to do with that."

Luke: "Thank you so much."

Rebecca: "You didn't ask any questions..."

Luke: "That had already been done."

Luke: Rebecca's a famous philosopher and novelist
Amalek: Why these interviews with boring Jewish women?
Amalek: Nobody cares what they say. Their day is over.
Amalek: I want to hear what the novelists and thinkers of the ethnic groups of tomorrow have to say: the Mexicans, the Palestinians.
Amalek: Not Jewesses.
Amalek: Ask her how a Jewess can be relevant.
Amalek: When she possesses neither pulchritude nor genes that other men covet.
Amalek: How old is this woman? How many children has she birthed?
Amalek: That is all I need to know.
Amalek: The rest is nonsense.
Luke: 56yo, two kids
Amalek: Why would you want to talk to her? Is this just to impress Monica?
Luke: she's a good writer
Amalek: But who cares what writers have to say?
Luke: tell me that is not a good story
Luke: to understand literature is to understand ourselves
Amalek: "The page cannot be found"
Amalek: So no, that's not a good story
Amalek: She has a really good rack.
Amalek: I've concluded that the only way for a woman to grow old with dignity is to have a really good and natural rack.
Amalek: I'd do her.
Amalek: Has she got a daughter for you to date?
Amalek: Be sure to tell her that Amalek likes her rack.
Amalek: I've always envied academics. At least those with tenure.

One Sentence Is All You Need To Know About Los Angeles Magazine Press Critic R.J. Smith

"L.A. has seen little solid press criticism in the time I've been out here, since 1990."

Smith is delusional. Here are two LA people who did more than just "solid" press criticism:

* The late David Shaw of The LA Times is the most important and influential press critic of the past 30 years.

* My friend Cathy Seipp is the most entertaining press critic of which I am aware.

Here's another ludicrous statement from R.J. Smith: "[Kit Rachlis is] a great editor, and his excitement about the city is palpable."

On what basis could one argue that Rachlis is a great editor? With few exceptions, he did nothing special with Los Angeles magazine and the LA Weekly.

Cathy Seipp writes:

Your blog today reminded me about a comment a writer who'd recently moved here from NY said at a party. She was still adjusting to the low quality of so much L.A. writing, and said: "That Kit Rachlis must be an awfully nice person. Because people keep telling me what a genius he is, and I can never see any evidence of it in his magazine."

Full disclosure: R.J. Smith has taken a numerous shots (sometimes they're cheap shots) at me and my friends in his Los Angeles magazine media column.

Whatever Smith's shortcomings, he's a good read.

Immigrant Rallies

Rob writes: "Luke, will you as an immigrant from Australia, rally with your Hispanic counterparts in LA this week? Solidarity, my brother, solidarity!"

Khunrum writes: "Is Luke merely taking a job that Americans won't do. Will Mexicans sneak into this country to end up living at the hovel?"

'Whatever Tickles Your Pickle Is Where You Go'

A mother complains to her ex-boyfriend (the father of her child).

Everything You Need To Know About NYT Public Editor Byron Calame & Editor & Publisher Senior Editor Joe Strupp

Frequently one sentence tells you everything you need to know about a particular writer.

Today I have two examples.

Strupp writes about Page Six fiascos: "One was the blind item hinting that famed Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax had agreed to cooperate with a biography on his life if the author kept out the hidden fact that he was gay – ultimately not true."

I email Strupp: "How do you know that is not true? How would you know that Koufax is straight? Because the man and the author say so? Why would you believe them?"

Strupp does not respond.

Calame writes about The NYT's cautious approach to staff blogging: "That cautious approach hasn't bothered me, given my conviction that serious journalism starts with the authentication and verification of information."

I email Calame: "What is the difference between 'authentication' and 'verification' of information? If there is no meaningful difference, why do you use both words? Clumbsy writing, no?"

Calame does not respond.

Bad writing is not just bad writing. It reveals bad thinking which is inextricably linked with bad behavior. Can you imagine being stuck in an elevator with a purportedly great journalist who talked about the "authentication and verification of information"? Can you imagine carrying on a conversation with someone like Joe Strupp who believes that if three different sources tell the same story, then it must be true?

Novelist Binnie Kirshenbaum

She calls me back Monday morning, April 10, 2006.

Amalek: Why did you interview her?
Luke: Because I like her writing
Amalek: She's a woman writer.
Luke: And so would you
Amalek: Fag
Amalek: Why won't she set me up with one of her students?
Amalek: I could test drive her for you.
Amalek: See how much she can tolerate.

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

Binnie: "Nothing. No job at all.

"There was one point when I was six that I wanted to be a doctor because I thought I got to see as many naked people as possible. Then I realized there were other responsibilities attached to that.

"I wanted to be a writer by the time I was ten."

Luke: "What were you expected to become aside from mother?"

Binnie: "I wasn't expected to become a mother. They didn't think I'd be good at that either. A teacher or a lawyer."

Luke: "Because your mother was [an English] teacher."

Binnie: "I was a smart kid. I did well in school. I was good with language. I could argue well."

Binnie grew up in Westchester, an affluent suburb outside of New York City. She has an older brother and a younger brother.

Luke: "Were you the overshadowed child?"

Binnie: "You could put it that way."

Luke: "Are there any similarities in the feedback you've received from childhood to today?"

Binnie: "Weird. I'm actually not weird. I'm perfectly sane and bourgeois. Some of my friends still say I'm weird."

Luke: "In what respect do they say you are weird?"

Binnie: "I'm not quite sure. When I was younger, it was because I did not always want to do what my friends wanted to do. The girls I grew up with, if they were not beautiful by nature, they were beautiful by the knife. Their whole lives revolved around boys. They didn't have any interests of their own. All they wanted to do was watch the boys play basketball or hang out while the boys played football. I thought it was absurd that the boys did things and we watched them do things. I'd have ideas about going places they thought were strange. They would want to go to Florida on Spring Break and I'd want to go to Romania.

"I love to travel but I don't go where people would normally think of as vacation spots. I don't like those things. I pick places at random. That strikes people as odd.

"The way I dress. I wear what I like, not necessarily what's fashionable. I dress up a lot. I'm not casual. I just bought my first pair of jeans in 25 years.

"I copy Sophia Loren. I wear really high heels. I call it 'Italian slutwear.'

"Sometimes we get attached to things we see at a certain point in our lives and this registers what is beautiful. I remember seeing those Italian films [in Binnie's early teens] with Sophia Loren or movies with Elizabeth Taylor and thinking they were absolutely gorgeous."

Luke: "What kind of crowd did you hang out with in highschool?"

Binnie: "Yech. My friends were popular, though I wasn't. A lot of my friends were cheerleaders. They were all popular with the boys. They were all [white] princesses, though not all Jewish. Everybody had lots of clothes and their own cars. I never learned how to drive. I still don't know how to drive.

"They were my friends but I was always aware of not liking them all that much and not having their values. I wanted to get away from them.

"They all had boyfriends and I didn't. I did their homework for them.

"I was in a [highschool] sorority -- Zeta Phi. I was even president. I didn't belong to a sorority in college.

"I wasn't a well-behaved teenager. I didn't become a junkie or go to jail but I was a fairly bad kid.

"My parents went away for the weekend. I asked if I could throw a party. They said no. I thought, 'They won't know.' There were something like 500 kids in my house. It was completely destroyed.

"I got suspended from school for mouthing off to teachers and cutting classes and letting people cheat off me."

Luke: "Do you stay in touch with anyone from highschool? Did anyone you knew in highschool become famous?"

Binnie: "There's one woman who I speak to once a year or so, but that was after lots of years of no contact, but then she came to a reading I gave and we picked up a little. The guy who started Priceline.com went to my highschool, but I think that's the whole of it."

Luke: "Were you cute in highschool?"

Binnie: "I don't know."

Luke: "At what age did boys start finding you hot?"

Binnie: "College. I looked the same but something changed."

Luke: "Maybe you don't see yourself as men do."

Binnie: "I never thought I was attractive. I thought I had an interesting face that it took people who were older to appreciate that it was interesting."

Luke: "At what age did you become erotically attracted to boys?"

Binnie: "Nine. That they didn't like me didn't mean that I didn't like them."

Luke: "Did you transfer those unrequited feelings to writing?"

Binnie: "I didn't begin writing anything sexually graphic until I was in my twenties. When I was younger, I was embarrassed by it."

Luke: "At what age did you lose your virginity?"

Binnie: "Eighteen. It was boring. I was in Europe."

Luke: "What gave you the courage to start writing frankly about sex?"

Binnie: "People often think that I write more graphically about sex than I do. I'm never terribly explicit. Any sex scenes I do write tend to be brief.

"I read Henry Miller for the first time [circa age 22], who I don't think is a great writer, but I found him liberating. I thought, 'You really can say anything.'

"I had a conversation with a friend about the same time about masturbation. We were laughing ourselves sick about it. I thought, 'Nobody ever writes about [female masturbation].'

"We realized that neither one of us had had that discussion before. That women don't talk about it the same way men did.

"That's changed.

"I thought I wanted to write a story about that, all the components, whether it is the joy of it or the loneliness of it. There's a whole compendium that is attached to it.

"After I wrote a story about it, I felt like I could write about blowjobs."

Luke: "Many of the blurbs for your writing stress that you are a writer on sex."

Norman Mailer wrote: "Not many young female novelists can deal with sex, the appetite for it, and the loss of such appetite, with such candor, lack of self-protection, and humor as Binnie Kirshenbaum."

Binnie: "I don't object that people say it, but I don't like when people can't get beyond it.

"My sex scenes are brief. They're never erotic. They're always either pathetic or funny. If they are meant to be the least bit erotic, they never get more than a sentence or so. I worry that people don't see beyond that.

"I use sex as metaphor. Sex is just one more way we communicate. Instead of talking, sex will say what I want the characters to say.

"That I'm an erotic writer or that I write about sex, that that's the main theme of what I write about, is just wrong and probably insulting."

Luke: "Sex is so powerful that people aren't going to see the metaphor in it."

Binnie: "I don't see how they couldn't. That's what it is. It's powerful in the moment but what it represents and why we do it and the range of emotions that go into it, both proceeding and following it, are just as strong... There's nothing sadder than sad sex. There's nothing more degrading than having sex that you don't want. There's nothing more comical than when sex goes wrong. It does stand in for all these other emotions. It all boils down to sex but that doesn't mean its only sex."

Luke: "I'm wagering that only professional writers and intellectuals are going to see the metaphors in sex and your average reader is just going to see the sex."

Binnie: "Sure. In the later books, less so. There's less sex. I hope that readers are better readers but I can't control the way people read. I would hope they could get more from it than just that. If you're reading just for sex and you're choosing my books, that's pathetic. There's better sex out there than mine."

Luke: "Do you ever get dissed for being too much fun to read?"

Binnie: "Yeah. That's a sore point. I'm starting to see this as a gender issue. Across the board, women writers are not taken as seriously as men writers. We don't have the same gravitas. That men write about war and women write about children.

"Often people have said to me, 'Are we supposed to take your book seriously or not? Are they comic novels?' I'll say, 'They're dark comedy.' Then I'll get a quizzical look. I don't necessarily liken myself to Philip Roth, but if I do, I'll [explaint that] he's funny but he's serious.

"They can make that leap if I push them there.

"The better critics see it right off.

"Some read me and just see the humor. I don't think there's anything in the world that's funny that isn't sadder than it is funny. All humor is tragedy but we don't want to go there because humor is a more comfortable place to be. If we explore what causes us to laugh, we'll see it is quite tragic."

Luke: "Are female writers and critics any different in their reaction to your work?"

Binnie: "No.

"I'm down on chick lit. It's not that one shouldn't read for pleasure. I'm happy to pick up a mystery or thriller. Women especially (this comes from Oprah and the talkshows) have come to read looking for self-help and identification in the comfortable way, not in the examined life way. They're looking for inspiration. I think any book where the hero or heroine triumphs is by nature not a good book. They look for identification that is cosmetic. 'Oh, she gets depressed and eats a quart of icecream and so do I. She makes me feel better.'

"That's a dangerous way to read because it shuts us off from the true purpose of literature."

Luke: "Which is?"

Binnie: "To expand our world. To inspect the world and to find sympathy, empathy and compassion...

"This [Oprah approach] closes off the world. We want nothing but ourselves reflected back in the best light possible.

"The ghettoizing of literature has done the same thing."

Luke: "Do you want your books to be perceived as serious literature?"

Binnie: "Yes. I think I write serious literature. There are lots of great books that are funny. Nabokov was a riot. There is a ton of serious literature that is funny. I hope I fall into that camp.

"I write about alienation and loneliness and a loss of a sense of place in the world and things that are ultimately serious."

Luke: "How much of what you write about is a working out of your own personal themes?"

Binnie: "Everything one writes is a working out of personal themes. I rarely have autobiographical components. Making things up is one of the real joys of fiction. I'd be more inhibited if I used my own life. I don't think my own life is as interesting as the lives I've given my characters.

"Many people assume that all fiction is autobiographical. I don't care that people think that."

Luke: "What are the biggest prices you've had to pay for your writing?"

Binnie: "I'm not rich.

"I don't know that I've had to pay any prices. I love what I do and I like my life. I don't have any children and I don't care."

Luke: "Have you had any lovers get furious with you because you used some part of your experience with them?"

Binnie: "No.

"If I do use people, they either really like it, no matter how they are portrayed, or I've had people think they're in there when they're not... My mother got mad at me over a short story I wrote about a greedy family fighting over a will. I said to her, 'That's not our family.' She said, 'You and I know that but nobody else is going to know that.' She was right but there was nothing I could do about that."

Luke: "What are the biggest surprises you get when people read your work?"

Binnie: "With An Almost Perfect Moment, many people thought it was about a Jewish girl who wanted to be Catholic. It amazed me how many people did not know that the Virgin Mary was Jewish. Or that they did not understand the end and thought she had gone into a convent.

"In Hester Among the Ruins, too many people did not understand her anger towards Germany and they saw the final exchange as her being vindictive. I saw it as a justifiable vindictiveness. People saw him as somebody who tried hard to make amends for the way and she wouldn't let it go."

Luke: "These would have to be non-Jewish reactions?"

Binnie: "Yes. There were Jewish reactions -- how could she do this at all? How could she go to Germany?

"Some people just saw A Disturbance in One Place as a sex book, just a woman who had all these affairs..."

Luke: "Have you had the humbling experience of encountering people who understood what you wrote better than you did?"

Binnie: "Yes. I once did a book club that was all shrinks. They were insightful. There have been times when I've taken what other people told me and then when I was asked about my book, I used it.

"I didn't know why I had the ending of 'A Full Life of a Different Nature' about masturbation. Somebody talked to me about the end and I remember saying, 'Thank you. I didn't understand what it was about.'

"There's a degree of idiot savantism in writing."

Luke: "What infuriates you about some of the books these days getting rave reviews?"

Binnie: "It drives me crazy that the characters have to be likeable [and the protagonists triumphant]. If we held up this standard, there would be no literature until the 1980s. People can accept that MacBeth was not a nice couple but in contemporary literature they want to read about nice couples.

"I don't want to read about people I want to be friends with. I have friends. I want to read about people who are going to show me something I don't know.

"When comparisons are made and it's said that this is the next Dostoevsky and you read it and it is a good book but The Brothers Karamazov it isn't. That hyperbole will bother me."

Luke: "What about these complex novels that only an academic can love that get rave reviews?"

Binnie: "I try to be open-minded. With all experimental fiction, no it is not necessarily a good yarn and you can't get lost in it easily. Most experiments fail.

"There should be some degree of difficulty in reading. This should come from pondering the characters and the dilemmas and the moral questions questions posed, not just from getting through it. I'm looking to morally and emotionally connect the dots. Other people are looking to cerebrally connect the dots."

Luke: "Do you want to call out any authors whose work you think is crap even though they are acclaimed?"

Binnie: "No. I don't review books. As much as I will privately say things, I feel that everybody has worked hard, even if the person is a jack-ass. It's always painful to see that about oneself and I don't like causing pain to others."

Dennis Prager: 'If you're not ready to see United 93, you are weak'

Dennis: We are a weakened people. This is why civilizations collapse -- because they won't confront evil.

"When I saw the film, I felt like I had seen the actual events."

Jared Paul Stern's Gossip Meltdown

In the summer of 1999, I was publishing on lukeford.com about the corruption of New York's gossip game, in particular the New York Post's Page Six, Richard Johnson and Jared Paul Stern.

Here's a January 24, 2000 article by Iain Bruce in the Scottish Daily Record which followed up on what I was publishing (chiefly the work of my friend Mark Kramer):

Headline: "Celebrity Cover-up: How the American showbiz establishment closed ranks after the body of a pretty 19-year old was found in a New York hotel room."

IT is a mystery that has hung over New York for five years, another unresolved tragedy in the city of a million heartbreaks.
The naked body of pretty Leigh Zurmuhlen, an aspiring 19-year-old actress, was found dead of an apparent drugs overdose in room 1610 of New York's Mayflower Hotel on October 27, 1995.
She had checked into the room in the early hours of the 25th with a mysterious Hollywood television producer - signed in as Dean Sche- - who slipped away from the hotel two days before her corpse was discovered by security guards arriving to tell the couple that their lease had expired.
Showbusiness insiders racked their brains as to who this mystery man might be, and newspapers across the city had no luck in locating him.
Despite enquiries across the California TV industry, no trace of anyone called Dean Sche- could be found.
But there is new evidence the phantom producer was the hotshot Darren Star, creator of Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place and Sex In The City, which starred Sarah Jessica Parker.
Star was in New York at the time of the death working on another TV series -- Central Park West -- which was being filmed only a few blocks from the hotel.
Now investigative writer Mark Kramer has alleged that Sche- is, in fact, Star's original name, and he was the man who sneaked out of the Mayflower.
That fateful night, Leigh had gone to the trendy celebrity hangout, the Bowery Bar, where Darren Star had hosted his 33rd birthday party a few months earlier.
She called her mother at 4 a.m. to say she would be staying with a friend, then travelled to the hotel room where she would die.
Now Kramer has alleged that a group of glittering stars blackened the memory of a dead teenager to save one of their own.
"A dead blonde used to mean something in this town, but the Leigh Zurmuhlen overdose made clear that New York's gossip junta exhibited a contempt for their readership that would have been comprehension were it not so transparent," he says.
Changing your name for the sake of fame is not unusual in Hollywood, particularly if having the name Sche- identified you as the son of disgraced funeral director Dean Sche- Sr, who had mistakenly removed a living woman from a nursing home instead of her deceased roommate in 1988.
Star has been profiled in top magazine Vogue by Sex in the City co-writer Candace Bushnell. But now it is believed that most of it is fictitious.
When Star fled the scene for his Los Angeles home, his lawyer acted as intermediary with the New York Police Department.
Star -- described by the police, who referred to him as Mr. Sheu, as a "friendly witness" -- was interviewed by telephone shortly before he sped off to Hawaii on holiday.
The producer had told the police that Leigh had been asleep when he left the room, and that he had gone because she had been "acting irrationally." They decided that no action against the Hollywood power player was required.
But Leigh's mother Kathleen said: "If she was acting irrationally, why didn't he dial 9-1-1? He didn't call an ambulance, he didn't offer her a cab home, he didn't try to call her mother -- he only thought of himself."
But Star was worried about the impact the death would have on his career.
Although reports appeared on newswires and in the Zurmuhlen's local newspaper, mentions of Star were scarce in the city newspapers. A wall of silence was thrown up around the incident.
But Baird Jones, an assistant on the New York Daily News gossip desk at the time, claimed his bosses -- celebrity columnists George Rush and Joanna Molloy -- covered up for Star.
He said: "I remember the week the Star thing went down. George and Joanna were going crazy on the story -- not trying to report it, but trying to bury it."
Molloy did finally report the story, but not until over a fortnight later, when, unaccountably, she removed all mention of Star's name.
On the New York Post, it was a similar story.
Columnist Richard Johnson, who writes about the "handsome Darren Star" and "sexy scribe Candance Bushnell" is married to publicist Nadine Johnson who was Press consultant for Star's favorite haunt, the Bowery Bar.
"There is no doubt in my mind that these people conspired to completely remove any reference to Darren Star by any name from the story of Leigh's death," said Kramer.
"They knew exactly who that man in the hotel room was, but chose to ignore this because, as a constant source of celebrity gossip, he was worth more to them than a dead teenager."
Leigh's parents then had to live with the shame of having their daughter's name blacked in the Press.
An article in the New York Press by Jared Paul Stern alleged: "Leigh Zurmuhlen was a celebrity hunter whose stalking ground was the Bowery Bar's maining dining room."
He printed claims from the publicist of Star's friend and novelist Brett Easton Ellis that Leigh was "an extremely obsessive fan."
He said Leigh had harassed him at a book signing weeks before her death, begging that he took her telephone number so that they could meet. Leigh's family was outraged. Her uncle, Kurt Zurmuhlen, said: "Eight months before she died, Leigh was just another decent, bright young girl living in Saratoga Falls. Nobody who knew her believes that her character could have changed that drastically."
Her father, Edward, was horrified. But having lost another child -- Leigh's elder sister -- in a traffic accident shortly before, he was too distressed to take action.
Edward Zermuhlen died within a year of his daughter, but not before presenting what he saw as the truth to local newspaper, the Saratogian.
This was a very different picture, one of an active intelligent young woman who excelled in her school swimming team and shone academically.
He said: "Leigh was a very confident young woman. She had a good social life, lots of friends, and made the school honour roll every year."
Kramer agrees: "Leigh Zurmuhlen was a Nineties American Pie, and the day they found her corpse at the Mayflower Hotel was the day the music died, dead of Darren Star-related causes.
Daily News gossip columnist Molloy refuses to talk about her involvement in the cover-up.
Jeane MacIntosh, a former report on the daily Post, said suggestions of a cover-up are "hysterical." She said Stern was acting in good faith when he failed to link Star to the death.
"I don't think Jared knew it was Star, because I asked him and he was genuinely clueless," she said.
Star's brother Marc, a California pornography journalist, physically attacked publisher Luke Ford when he refused to remove details of the case until the producer had proved his innocence.
Neither Darren Star nor his agent Nancy Josephson would comment, staff saying that the pair were "unreachable."
But lawyers for Star have since said that all allegations against him are "completely false."
Star's career and social life have carried on regardless. He was seen at Brett Easton Ellis's annual festive party together with Jared Stern.
And as Sex in the City basked in the publicity generated by its loose moral stance, Star celebrated by hosting a party in which himself, Sarah Jessica Parker and Easton Ellis were spanked by a dominatrix hired for a joke.
But Leigh's relatives are not going to forget what became of their daughter.
They still want to know why the last man to see her alive was allowed to escape virtually unquestioned.
A few days after Leigh's funeral, a letter arrived at her mother's house from the State University of New York -- where she had applied to study acting and writing.
"It was a letter of acceptance," Mrs. Zermuhlen said emotionally. "It just came too late for her to read it."

'Done With Me'

She drives down Doheny Blvd in her BMW. She turns up her CD player.

"You're going to be sick of Van Morrison by the time," she says to me and then pauses for a few seconds before finishing, "you're done with me."

Going Agape

A black Gentile woman in her forties read about my Passover search and put in some effort and found me Schwartzie's community seder (Chai Center, 310-391-7995).

In exchange, I agreed to go to to the Agape International Spiritual Center ("trans-denominational") Sunday 8 a.m.

I have many defenses up against Agape's New Age talk when I walk in but I soon learn to recognize my filters against reality, let them go during the opening 30-minute meditation and embrace Agape's Purpose Statement:

As a spiritual community our purpose is to be an environment for each individual to realize that they are a unique emanation of God, the Love-Intelligence governing the Universe. We embody not only a theoretical understanding of our oneness with God, we consciously practice this truth in our everyday lives. Through the New Thought-Ancient Widsdom teachings and the energy of unconditional love, we are committed to individual transformation and to being a beneficial presence on the planet. SIMPLY - WE ARE HERE FOR GOD.

I look around and see a bunch of hotties I'd love to give unconditional love.

But are these shiksas worthy of my right tzitzit? I'm not so sure.

During the Agape songs, I surrender my wicked thoughts:

I release and let go
I let the Spirit run my life

The affirmations are cool: "Today I look up, get up, and rise up to my true greatness!"

My favorite part of the announcements was for the two types of bereavement classes -- one for those mourning humans and one for those mourning pets.

Towards the end of services, we meditated about North Korea and sent love and good vibrations to the People's Republic.

Afterwards, I browsed the book store and made fun of everything until I was shushed by my friend. I saw they had many books from the Kabbalah Centre as well as their own Agape bottled water.

America is a great country.

As I walk out, I pass a long line of people waiting to get into the next service.

Julie Fax writes:

Like a growing number of Jews in Los Angeles who feel disenfranchised from organized Judaism, Benveniste found what she craved at this Culver City ecumenical spiritual center. Thousands attend Agape's three services every week to be inspired by the rich music, straight-to-the-heart sermonizing and a meticulously orchestrated emotional and spiritual high.

Among these are an estimated 3,000 Jewish Angelenos, ranging from those with no connection to their faith to active synagogue members, from former Orthodox Jews and temple vice presidents and day school teachers to New Age searchers.

Shalhevet Faces $2 Million Deficit

About seven teachers (mainly in Judaic studies, many of them part-time) were fired this past week.

Shalhevet ran up the deficit starting an elementary school.

Moshe ben Averham says:

Real nice Jews... Firing 7 teachers Erev Pesach! I bet this may put a dent in their Seder Plate...Don't you think? Perhaps the royal couple of Shalhevet - Zar and Zarina Friedman will send them some crumbs as Maot Chitim. There should be a law against Wana be Mach'ers who are playing with other people lives and livelihood. Oh! There is a law against it? IT IS TIME TO REINFORCE IT!

Another disgusting scheme in our Jewish community. How many years is Shalhevet going to be used? Have you ever seen their lavish, lavish home? He is using the school as his office, deducts it as charity and switches the staff like socks... Both of them sit at every committee they can shnor from at the Jewish Federation. Yet, "There is never enough money for the teachers!"

It's time to say Dayenu - enough is enough. It's time to clean up the Chametz from Shalhevet too - just as YULA.

February Book Sales

XXX-Communicated: 3
The Producers: 1
Royalties: $8:30

'I will scream your name when I make love to her for the first time'

When I email Jewish authors looking for an interview, I tell them the truth -- that I'm trying to impress a girl at grad school.

When one author responded, "Sure, anything to help you impress...", I promised:

This Is Why the Second Temple Fell

The Rabbenim agree that the Second Temple fell because Jews were just not very Christian towards one another, but which I mean that they just were too aloof and unfriendly for God's taste. Jews of Los Angeles, don't make this same mistake again. Show some charity to Poor Luke Ford, a man so poor that he cannot afford to mount a Passover seder on his own - not even for one lonely old bachelor. Luke desperately needs to be invited into the warm and loving home of some Jews in the Pico-Robertson area (or further afield, if you would be willing to house Luke for the first few days of Passover). Please, look into your heart and find the love with which to make this lonely Jew's Passover a special time.

Otherwise, it might lead to the fall of the Third Temple because God hates Jews without charity in their heart.

I've got my first seder set-up. Now I just need a place for the second seder.

Chaim Amalek writes: How about this for a pitch: "Not inviting Luke Ford into your home for Passover is like giving a posthumous victory to Adolf Hitler."

There Goes $125 A Week

Michael Sonnenschein has left MediaBistro LA.

P.S. I hear his salary may have been thrice that.

Another Tendler Steps Down

Amy Klein writes:

The longtime principal of one of Los Angeles’ largest Jewish high schools is leaving to start a new school. Rabbi Sholom Tendler resigned last week as Hebrew principal of Yeshiva of Los Angeles (YULA) and as rabbi of Young Israel of North Beverly Hills. He said he plans to open a new yeshiva boys’ high school elsewhere in Los Angeles.

Tendler’s resignation comes shortly after his nephew, Rabbi Aron Tendler, resigned under pressure as rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village. Meanwhile, Tendler’s other nephew, Rabbi Mordechai Tendler was suspended this year by the board of his New York City-area synagogue as a result of longstanding allegations about alleged sexual misconduct.

Sholom Tendler, 61, says his departure is a matter only of his desire to start a new high school.

Some Passover Thoughts from Chaim Amalek

He writes me:

When I first heard of the "Indigo Child" movement, I wanted to believe that you could be one of them simply because I liked the word and because I was bored with whole Asperger's Syndrome trope of Lancunean thought (to use a few words that really don't make sense in this context, and which I don't understand anyway but heck, Monica might be reading this). But the more I read about this exciting new phenomenom, the more convinced I am that you are the Anti-Indigo, the man who would stand in the way of the forward progress of the human race and who thus is destined to be trampled.

As are all Jews who believe in the Judaism of the Rabbinate. Just consider this list of Indigo traits that their official web site (http://www.indigochild.com/ ) provides:

As a summary, here are the ten attributes that best describe this new kind of child, the Indigo Child (named by those who predicted it).

They come into the world with a feeling of royalty (and often act like it).
They have a feeling of "deserving to be here," and are surprised when others don't share that.
Self-worth is not a big issue. They often tell the parents "who they are."
They have difficulty with absolute authority (authority without explanation or choice).
They simply will not do certain things; for example, waiting in line is difficult for them.
They get frustrated with systems that are ritually oriented and don't require creative thought.
They often see better ways of doing things, both at home and in school, which makes them seem like "system busters" (nonconforming to any system).
They seem antisocial unless they are with their own kind. If there are no others of like consciousness around them, they often turn inward, feeling like no other human understands them.
School is often extremely difficult for them socially.
They will not respond to "guilt" discipline ("Wait till your father gets home and finds out what you did").
They are not shy in letting you know what they need.

This just isn't you. And neither is it any proper Torah Jew. I'm afraid that the rise of the Indigo Children signals an era in which the Luke Fords of the world are fated to become increasingly irrelevant, and in which antisemtism again is on the march. The bottom line? Indigo Children are bad for the Jews.

Jews, Please Take Pity on Lonely Luke

Word has gotten out that I've as yet no invitations for sharing a meal with my fellow Jews on Passover, and like jackals circling their prey, the Jews for Jesus have been bombarding me with offers of companionship all week long. "Luke, we would be honored to have you as a guest, and not only that, but there are a few young women we'd like to introduce you to." I know that J4J are more about the Nicean creed than they are about the Oral Law, but even so, there is only so much loneliness that a man can take.

I feel like a solitary piece of coal, growing cold, while not a few yards away is a warm roaring fire of Torah and Yiddishkeit that I just know I could contribute to -- if they would but have me. Jews of Los Angeles (and I don't mean you transgendered Jews who think I'm an easy mark - Luke doesn't care for those back door shenanigans), it would mean so much to me if you invited me to your seder, especially if you live within walking distance of Pico Robertson. Don't push me into the arms of the Christians or the Muslims or the haters. Please, please PUHLEEEEEEZE, ON MY KNEES, invite me into your home for Passover.

In other news, I'm proud to say that I've hired a Life Coach. His name is Chaim Amalek.

Amalek writes me: "If you don't get an invite, where will you be for your seders? I predict that you will be inside.... And that's not a bad place for a man to be. Damn Negro, you cut and paste fast."

I want a nice comfy seder with hot chicks and a spiritual ambiance. Not too expensive.

A fan writes: "Luke, you attention-thirsty weirdo. You're an embarrassment to all us ex-SDA PKs [preacher's kids]! You’ve traded one piece of horse---- for another. (Don’t you know that nobody likes overbearing, eager-beaver converts? Didn’t you learn anything growing up? Oh, wait, you never grew up. I forgot.) Btw, wtf have you been smoking? None of what you write makes any sense."

I'm Accepting Passover Invitations

I can sing and dance, play with the kids and teach Torah. I don't eat much. All my Passover meals are open, including the two seders on the evenings of April 12 and 13.

If I don't get what I seek, I'm relaunching PityPoorLuke.blogspot.com.

Of late, it seems I've been losing more friends than I've been gaining through my relentless pursuit of truth.

Stand up for the truth. Stand up for the Almighty. Invite Luke to your seder.

(It would need to be within walking distance of Pico/Robertson Blvds).

Amalek writes: "Which would you rather have, sex with a 19 year old shiksa, or invitations to a seder?"

A seder of course.