Sunday, May 7, 2006
Audio: Panel discussion of the book The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt (April 30, 2006)
I Came Home To A Fire
I leave my hovel at 11:45 a.m. and meet a couple for lunch at Milk 'n Honey on Pico Blvd.
Afterwards, I get them to give me a ride home.
As we turn on to my street, we see two big fire trucks blocking the street.
I tell the couple to park anywhere. They do.
They then follow me to my hovel. As we get closer, it appears that the fire is at my house.
I smell the smoke. I see firemen walking in and out of where I live. There's been a fire.
I run to my hovel. All my stuff is OK.
I return to the couple: "This isn't a good time for me. I'll talk to you later."
I stand outside with the firemen and the neighbors.
It takes a fire to raise my village.
The owners of the house return to their home. There's little damage. It turned out the woman of the house left food cooking on the stove and when it started to burn, the smoke alarm went off and the fire department came.
Bill Gates Kicked Out Of Harvard?
I understand that Bill Gates did not drop out of Harvard. I believe he was asked to leave because he was reported to have re-programed university computers to give him more access to them while robbing fellow students of their use of the computers. I suspect that Mr. Gates was asked to leave.
Then Microsoft took off, and there was no reason for him to come back, even if he would've been allowed to return.
I bet Harvard never awarded Gates an honorary Ph.D because such an award would bring this stuff to light.
Bill Gates' autobiography fudges the matter so no lie is told.
Islam Is The Religion Of Peace
7:45 p.m. May 3. I pull off on a side street from 11461 Sunset Blvd and meld right in behind a row of Mexicans in gardening vehicles. Free parking. Yay!
I run across six lanes of traffic to the Luxe. I hold the door open for three women, one of whom thanks me so genuinely that I flush.
I see an overcrowded gathering of the Jewish Symphony. I see lots of youngies at other happy gatherings while I'm headed for a grim discussion of Islamic terror.
Sometimes the burdens of being a moral leader are too much and I yearn to lose myself in a woman, yet my strict religious practices prevent me.
Tonight's program is billed (but not publicly advertised, only emailed to those of us in the know): "Dr. Wafa Sultan is a Syrian-American psychologist who has written essays on Islam, debated Muslim leaders and been interviewed on numerous television and radio programs. Tammy Bruce is the best-selling author and host of a nationally syndicated radio talk show. Dr. Sultan feels compelled to speak out about Islam and has been both hailed as a courageous reformer and threatened as a blasphemer of Islam."
When I contemplate the courageous work of people such as Wafa Sultan and Michael Finch (executive director of the Wednesday Morning Club) I feel keenly the iniquity of my life and I seek the sturdy chastisement of a strong lesbian such as Tammy Bruce. I feel embarrassed by my maleness. I feel embarrassed by my objectifying gaze. I feel embarrassed by the way men such as myself have held women down over the millennia and treated them like whores.
I seek solace in the company of a male friend who is similarly tormented by patriarchal instincts.
Tall Sabra-looking Jewish Journal correspondent Orit Arfa steps into the room and we gasp. She's tall and strong and gorgeous. She has thick black hair. If she shook her head at me, her every hair would be a whip punishing my bad thoughts.
I see Orit in an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) uniform, carrying a big gun, and punishing me for not making aliyah (moving to Israel).
I hope to Moses she doesn't know about the shameful way I ignored Israeli Independence Day on my blog so lost was I in the soul-destroying search to pay my bills (that stuff squashes my artistic yearnings).
She used to be the secretary to Rabbi Danny Gordis.
Why must I wax lyrical about beautiful women when I have the Torah?
Confused by the intensity of my desires, I seek solace in four helpings of desert. Frankly, I didn't much want the fourth, but Janet Levy ordered us to our seats and so I took my final two portions and I felt guilty about not cleaning my plate (I thought the raisin-nut cookie was chocolate chip but ate it anyway).
I believe we perfect faith that everything's kosher.
I know the fruit is but I don't eat any.
I engaged in an intense conversation with my friend Cathy (not Seipp) and slowly scrunched my fruit-custard thingy until it threatened to collapse all over us. Turning away, I stuffed it in my mouth.
There's only one word I want to hear from Cathy yet it is the single thing she denies me all night -- "Behave!"
Rap music plays next door. It makes me very excited.
Orit sits in front of me. Her presence makes me yearn to leave the material world and surrender myself to the divine all by drinking Kabballah Centre water.
Orit (circa 25) is the youngest person in the room. She once sat precisely where I sit now, in front of my computer, on Tishu B'Av 2001.
So much time has gone by, so many opportunities missed, but one thing stays constant -- my chastity, poverty and humility.
"Where's Michael Finch?" I asked David Horowitz's assistant Elizabeth. "He must be getting a facial peal."
"And a manicure," she says. "Put that on your blog."
I see Michael as the perfect apostle to the Hebrews next door, converting them from their stiff-necked liberalism.
Why must Jews (particularly young hot female ones) party for the symphony when we have a global struggle against Islamic terror?
I tell my friend: "You're my mini-me. You don't have the courage to be me."
Friend: "Good thing."
He asks me why Elizabeth's husband never comes to these events.
I answer that he does the videotaping at these events.
Janet Levy begins the evening on a fiery note. She says Islam is not like other religions, because if you leave it, you're liable to get killed.
"Our guest has done the unthinkable. She condemned Islam and she did it on Arab television.
"She felt paranoid [in Syria]. She felt that the walls had ears. Her only confidant was her husband.
"She published her first article criticizing Islam in the Beirut Times [after moving to LA in 1989]. She started writing for an Islamic reform website. One of her articles was noticed by Al Jazeera...
"She plans to start a foundation to reform Islam.
"Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world."
The room is jammed -- about 100 persons.
We watch a three-minute clip of Dr. Wafa Sultan (raised by Muslim parents) on Al Jazeera.
My friend vigorously applauds Dr. Wafa Sultan, digging his elbow into my side.
"I can't applaud," I explain. "I'm a journalist. I'm disinterested."
Note to the ignorant: "Disinterested" means impartial.
My interests are sometimes so passionate that my knees go weak and my morals fly out the door, yet I never lose my steely objectivity.
"I'm a humble servant of the truth," I tell my friend. "I'm impartial. I'm only partial to hot chix."
Dr. Sultan steps out.
The audience gives her a standing ovation. On his way up, my friend smashes into me. "Would you get out of my way?" he says.
"I can't," I reply. "I'm your conscience."
Dr. Sultan stands behind the microphone. "I'm shaking," she says, "not because I am scared, but because I am calm.
"This is my first English speech. Please excuse my heavy accent and be patient.
"...In 1979, I was a medical student at the University of Aleppo in Syria. The Muslim Brotherhood committed ugly and violent crimes against innocent Syrian people. Professor Yusef Al-Yusef had nothing to do with the government. They filled his body with hundreds of bullets before my eyes while screaming 'Allah is great.'
"At that moment, I lost faith in our God and started to question His teaching. This was the turningpoint of my life. I wanted the freedom to express my ideas.
"Since emigrating to the United States in 1989, I have been trying to analyze Islam scientifically."
Much of the audience feels compelled to welcome Wafa as though she arrived yesterday.
Dr. Sultan's husband and sister sit in the front row. She has three kids. She receives numerous death threats. She's working on her third book, tentatively scheduled to be published by Random House (first two books were self-published).
Dr. Sultan says she became an atheist. "When you worship a monster, you will become that monster."
She says a Moroccan mullah whose holy book was the Koran emailed her that his new holy book is her book.
"Hate has no place in my heart but I do feel pain for my people who lack the freedom of thinking and the freedom to criticize their own teaching[s].
"I have lost hope for Islam. It is the duty of all freethinkers to be blunt and straightforward in an effort to enlighten Muslims.
"The United Nations should have a major part in monitoring the educational curriculum in Islamic countries.
"My mission...is to bridge the gap between Islam and the rest of the world."
She closes her ten minute talk with an Islamic anecdote about Jotha. He's told there's a fire yet he keeps walking calmly. "As long as it is not in my neighborhood," he says.
"It is in your neighborhood," he's told yet he keeps walking.
"As long as it is not in my house," he says.
"It is in your house," he's told yet he keeps walking.
"As long as it is not in my underwear."
Dr. Sultan implies that Islam is about to light our underwear on fire.
I meditate upon her teachings and feel a fire in my loins.
Telegenic Tammy Bruce takes the stage. She speaks with grace and assurance.
She has great hair.
I'd join The New American Revolution but I'm too passive.
"She's smiling at you," says my friend.
Tammy gets more applause than a lesbian atheist has a right to.
Tammy castigates feminists. "It's an honor to do anything for the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, David Horowitz, Janet Levy...
"Feminists believe...that women around the world are not worth advocating for as long as there's a Republican administration. While it was profitable to advocate for Afghani women while Bill Clinton was president, now they've grown silent..."
She's so strong. I want to lean on her.
"You're more than welcome to," Tammy replies a few hours later. "Thanks for coming tonight. I just got home and noticed some traffic from your site."
On Wafa's first Al Jazeera appearance, she was bulldozed by this mullah until she told him to shut up and let her speak. She still gets emails applauding that outspokenness.
"There is no moderate Islam," says Dr. Sultan. "Islam is different from any other religion. Muslims believe the Koran is the word of God."
Fundamentalist Jews and Christians, by definition, believe their Bible comes from God. We just don't think it instructs us to blow ourselves up and take as many infidels with us as possible.
"I don't know how serious the free world is about changing Islam. America is the world leader. It is your responsibility to change Islam. America is like Jotha. 'As long as the fire is not in my underwear.'
"It takes a terrorist only 20 hours to come from Jordan to the U.S. to blow himself up."
Wafa says that in much of the Arab-Islamic world, everything bad, including AIDS, is blamed on the Jews. "The Jews send prostitutes to infect Arab men with AIDS," she says as an example of this warped thinking."
Tammy: "I'm surprised that Al Jazeera gave you that time. There's no American network that can reach so many Arabs."
Wafa: "They probably had me on to ruin my reputation and it turned against them.
"My writing was flying all over the Arab world. They said, 'We have somehow to stop her.' That's why called me.
"I had never watched this program before. I don't like TV. I don't watch TV much. They asked me to come on the show the next day. They didn't give me time to look at the show and see what type of show.
"When I talk to Americans about Islam, I get so upset because they don't know anything.
"...We need not only Donald Rumsfeld, but Dr. Phil and Oprah [to spread the truth about Islam]. We need books, not just tanks."
After almost twenty minutes, Tammy opens up to questions from the audience.
The first questioner, a woman, says: "Because of our democractic culture, in America we can't label a religion as the enemy. So everybody watches what they say. How can we break the barrier? How can we say that Islam is an ideology not a religion? An ideology of hate, of violence."
Dr. Sultan repeats that Islam is not a religion. It's a program for world conquest. "Go to a mosque and have the imam open the Koran and read it and answer your questions about his teachings."
If we can have army bases in Saudi Arabia, we can also offer schools, says Dr. Sultan.
She disagrees with President Bush's position that "Islam is the religion of peace."
Most of the audience applauds Tammy's desire that Wafa is more widely listened to than the president on this.
Dr. Sultan says the native European birthrate is 1.2 percent while the birthrate of Muslims in Europe is over four percent.
An audience member says Islam declared war on the rest of the world in 622 CE.
Dr. Sultan says the Koran has never been translated accurately into English. Translations often use the word "fight" when the Koran means "kill."
About a decade ago, Wafa said to her husband, "The internet is the beginning of the end of Islam."
"You'd be surprised by how many people in Syria believe as I do. Behind the scenes, they support me.
"It's often said there are 1.3 billion Muslims. Well, give them the freedom to choose and then tell me how many Muslims there are."
How do we replace Islam? With scientific knowledge.
The problems between Israel and its neighbors are religious, not political and geographical. "Our Messenger told us that the Jews are not human and they are to be killed."
"I am not a Muslim but my heritage is Islam. If a patient becomes cancer-free, he can still fight cancer. I still fight Islam. I have every right to talk about my experience."
She grew up in a relatively liberal city (Banias) in Syria.
At the end of the night, she says, "God bless you. God bless America."
Michael Finch receives the rapturous applause normally reserved for Air Supply concerts to Ivy League universities. He talks about the CSPC's new Jihad project.
Moved by Wafa's words, my friend and I look around the room.
"I love women in sweaters," he says, checking out Elizabeth. "The sweater was created to embrace the woman's upper torso."
I tell Michael I'll write a Jihadist approach to dating.
I believe I once told my friend, "Go yellow, young man."
So as we walk out, we pass this network marketing meeting for burnlounge.com. It has a better demographic than our friend. My friend spots an Asian chick and asks for a cigarette as a way of starting a tawdry connection that may well lead to behaviors prohibited by the Torah.
Inside I spot a friend who introduces me to his teenage son as the most religious member of my profession.
He asks what have I been doing lately to piss off my father?
As I walk out of the hotel, I notice the Jewish Symphony event has flamed out. But while it burned, it burned brightly. To have tasted such wild ecstasy...
This could be my last night alive (if there's a terrorist attack or something) and what am I doing with it? Blogging.
Blogging is for losers.
Chaim Amalek writes: "Do you have public lectures in LA on topics at which invariably all the crazy white people show up to espouse their pet theories?"
Yes, I just went to one.
Great chick flick.
I never told anyone that before.
Don't say anything, OK?
For Muslim Who Says Violence Destroys Islam, Violent Threats
Which Hollywood Publicist Is A Date Rapist?
This slimy creepy likes to throw his dates against a wall or a car door and bite them till he draws blood. If the woman complains, he'll say, "You know you want it."
He's fond of hiring beautiful interns and he usually has a beautiful date when he goes to Hollywood parties.
He gives tips to Page Six and other gossip columns and knows how to wield a poison pen.
Think Sweet Smell of Success.
Why My Wall Of Silence On Israeli Independence Day?
A woman emails me:
My silence flows from my guilt that the Palestinians were dispossessed from their land and kicked out of their shul, so to speak. I'm a Palestinian of the soul.
Publicist and manager Jay Bernstein dead in LA at 69
Jay came to my August 19, 2004 LA Press Club book party for The Producers: Profiles in Frustration and XXX-Communicated: A Rebel Without a Shul. He bought eight copies of my book that night (and took ten).
I had ten pages on him in the book.
He used it to try to get a publishing deal for his memoir. He did not succeed (to the best of my knowledge).
At my book party, I introduced him to two possible writers for his memoir -- Nelson Handel and Jeffrey Wells.
Jay called me a few days before the party. He was disturbed by the press
release for my party. He had only known me as a nice young man. But all
this talk about: “a
bottom feeder” (Village Voice), “He has elevated moral and spiritual schizophrenia
to surreal proportions” (Salon)…
The day after my party, Jay called me. "The women could've been prettier,"
From day one, Jay struck me as an unhappy lonely man. We bonded quickly, helped by our common conservative politics and my interest in his life.
He once took me to lunch at Spago's. While we were sitting in his sports car afterwards, he showed me his gun. He said he had a license to carry (only about 200 of those are granted in LA to civilians).
It seemed like he spent most of his time watching television. He wasn't a reader.
On September 9, 2004, I emailed Jay a link to the LA Press Club's newsletter coverage of the book party.
He replied: "You look like a superstar! congratulations on the coverage. you friend, jay bernstein."
I last saw Jay March 7, 2005. I dropped off about 15 copies (I accidentally left an extra copy) of my producer book around 11 a.m. to his home in Beverly Hills (off Coldwater Canyon).
Jay was still in bed. His maid (of about 15 years) roused him. He wrote me a check for $480 (my cost for the books).
He had me sit in a massage chair for a few minutes and turned it on. It felt good.
He went through various DVDs and asked me which ones I wanted. I took about six.
I told him I was sorry, but I had to run off to a medical apppointment.
We shook hands and said goodbye.
Some scattered thoughts:
* Almost all of the world's biggest bloggers are in the US. Colorful writers are more likely to get newspaper columns in the UK. American newspapers are more sanitized and less receptive to characters, who instead thrive on the web. (Point taken from Mark Steyn)
* There's a symbiosis between bloggers and MSM (mainstream media). Bloggers mock the MSM but are desperate for its attention, recognition and respect and usually quote it prominently on their blogs (I do). Many bloggers whine after an MSM article comes out that does not mention them (or not at sufficient length).
* This blog pushed the Rabbi Aron Tendler story forward (along with those of other accused rabbi-predators), while the MSM ignored it for about 15-months.
* I believe that only Drudge and myself (and Harry Knowles and maybe two other Gentiles) have made our primary living from blogging for almost a decade.
* Dr. Jonathan Sarna says the story of American Jewish newspapers is one of decline. By contrast, blogs are the rise of a type of Jewish writing.
* Internet Judaism has always been a dominantly Orthodox thing (when I seek to listen to Torah lectures on the web, most of the available ones are Orthodox, and when I search for information on Judaic topics, Google usually sends me to an Orthodox presentation) and my perception is the most important bloggers on Judaism have at least one foot in Orthodox Judaism (Steven I. Weiss, Protocols, and co).
* I find non-Orthodox Judaism far less interesting and passionate than Orthodox Judaism (this is no judgment about truth, only a perception of the commitments of the adherents of the various streams), and thus it is not surprising that most interesting Jewish writing these days (particularly fiction) has a foot in Orthodoxy.
* If I were Jewish and I wanted to become the best writer I could be, and all other considerations were equal, I'd go Orthodox, because it will challenge and provoke your writing more than any other Jewish alternative (but to live your life in an Orthodox ghetto will usually weaken your writing and perceptions as well as humanity).
* There's no must-read Jewish blog. No Jewish equivalent of Matt Drudge or Jim Romenesko or Kevin Roderick (sites that consistently break stories and link to breaking stories elsewhere, updated many times a day). I sometimes yearn to shoot for this, to earn my living from breaking Jewish stories, but frankly, breaking stories about goyim is just as exciting to me, and usually more profitable, not to mention less hazardous to my Jewish communal health.
On the other hand, my lack of Jewish attachments make it easy for me to break stories about almost anybody, even those in my community, because my community would as soon invite Larry Flynt into their home for Shabbos and invite him to date their daughters...
According to this Times article, a rabbi wrote a letter in 1959 with that line about Philip Roth. Which rabbi?
Joe Schick writes: "Roth wrote in a 1963 Commentary Magazine article that a rabbi had written to the ADL demanding to know "What Is Being Done To Silence This Man?" I don't think he identified the rabbi, and the subsequent quotes appear to be taken from this Commentary piece."
I Blogged All Night To Get To You
8:05 a.m. April 30. I leave hovel. I fill up with gas and inflate my tires. I park on Westwood Blvd at 8:35 a.m. for free. I walk a mile to line up for tickets at The Los Angeles Times Book Festival. There are about 400 people in front of me.
The ticket booth opens at 9 a.m. and moves quickly. I get tickets to all four events I want.
I walk the campus. My book publisher Prometheus has no booth.
I get into Royce at 10 a.m. for "No Boundaries: Media and the Freedom of Ideas" with Arianna Huffington, Cathy Seipp, Jules Witcover and moderator Karen Grigsby Bates.
The panel starts at 10:36 a.m. Out of the four panelists, Cathy is the only one wearing a skirt -- the same green outfit she wore to our April 18th Wednesday Morning Club lunch. Sheesh, Cathy, I want you in something fresh every time I see you. I know I don't, but I'm a man and it doesn't matter as much.
Cathy says American newspapers should've published those Danish cartoons poking fun of Mohammed and Islam to better explain what the Islamic riots were about (that killed over 100 people) two months ago. The other three panelists agreed.
Arianna and Jules trotted out worn soundbytes about the American news media (particularly Judy Miller and The New York Times) falling down on the job of examining the Bush administration's justifications for the invasion of Iraq (prior to the invasion).
Then Cathy uttered the one provocative thought of the panel -- that the Christian Science Monitor, with its minuscule circulation of 70,000, should not have had a freelancer in Baghdad if they could not afford her a bodyguard.
When freelancer Jill Carroll was kidnapped, her interpreter was murdered. Maybe that "girl" shouldn't have been there, said Cathy. She doesn't speak Arabic. She doesn't have any expertise. Feeling a passion for a story may not be reason enough.
The audience hisses Cathy until Bates brings them under control.
Rodger Jacobs writes: "Wow. Cathy needs to get her basic facts straight. Carroll was a freelancer for the CSM. They did not send her to the Middle East. And she spent three months in Kuwait upon arrival learning to speak Arabic."
Cathy said that in the 1950s the Monitor mattered. It doesn't any more.
(When I came to America in 1977, my father said the Monitor was the best and least biased of American newspapers. It's quite anti-Israel.)
The other panelists waxed passionate in support of Jill Carroll being in Iraq.
"Can anyone name anything she reported?" Cathy asks.
I leave at 11:15 to catch the 11:30 "To the Point: Short Stories" panel featuring Gary Amdahl, Aimee Bender, Dana Johnson, Eric Puchner and moderator Scott Timberg.
Gary loves Anton Chekhov because of the compassion he displays for all his characters, even the evil ones. "I'm contemptuous of my characters rather than compassionate, and my stories suffer for it."
Eric has yet to see an "overly-crafted" short story from one of his students. Most of them lack craft. He'd love to say, "De-craft this."
Aimee does get overly-crafted stories with no life.
An elementary school teacher confesses: "I feel like I am killing future writers by teaching them adverbs."
The panelists say that's bosh.
Questioner: "What percentage of your writing sees the light of day?"
Eric: "I think I can speak for everyone [on the panel] that it's 15.6%."
I have a nice chat with David Ehrenstein while waiting in life for the 1 p.m. Kevin Roderick interview of Los Angeles Times Editor Dean Baquet (pronounced BACK-ay and he's not African-America, his family hails from the Caribbean).
Cathy stops by briefly but as a member of the elite with that elite media pass and green wristband she waltzes in ahead with her dad Harvey and his friend David Crawley.
Ten minutes later I'm where I belong -- beside Cathy and magic fills the air. Or maybe it's just the presence of the kindly Kevin Roderick.
I want to ask him why the LA Times or USC journalism school hasn't brought his blog LA Observed.com in-house.
Cathy says Kevin makes piles of money through his ads.
I wager he'd make a pile more at the Times or USC.
Cathy, David and Kevin chat about former Times columnist Michael Hiltzhik.
Kevin and Dean have children who are juniors at Santa Monica High School.
This event is supposedly sold out but only 20% of the seats are occupied.
Kevin and Dean keep clearing their throats and the session gets off to a tedious start. Then Dean's lively personality takes over at about the 20-minute mark.
Dean: "I've never lived in a place where people have such an inferiority complex about their newspaper."
He says The Times, like many newspaper, is better at covering governments than people.
Dean's not as much a fan of objectivity as fairness. He wants his newspaper to take more chances and to be more fun. "We've very serious. We have to get funnier."
Cathy says to me: "Good news for you!"
Dean: "Blogs are important to the newspaper and to all newspapers. We're struggling with them. It's a hard medium to master.
"Newspaper editors are so nervous about change. We're conservative.
"A classic example of [what would've been a great blog]. We were one of only three newspapers that had reporters in Baghdad (along with the NYT and WP). This was an amazing historic event. We were on the phone every day with our Baghdad bureau chief and he was telling us amazing stuff. He talked about what he'd seen. If I had been smarter then about the power of the internet, I would've said, 'Let's have him write a blog.'
"We weren't smart enough and fast enough about the Internet Sometimes we're clumsy. Sometimes we seem like middle-aged people trying to sing hip-hop.
"We had a screw-up in the past couple of weeks. We'll screw up again on the Internet"
Dean: "It was a tragedy. Some of what happened with Mike had nothing to do with the Internet You can't lie if you want to work for The LA Times. I was not swayed by the argument that he had gone into a world where people do this kind of thing. That's like saying that people who cover Hollywood for The Times cover people who lie, therefore it is OK for the people covering Hollywood to lie.
"What Mike [Hiltzhik] did was a grave sin. He lied.
"I was sitting at home one morning reading about Enro. I pick up the paper and I read the account of Ken Lay [testimony]. I'm thinking, 'If I was a business columnist, I'd have fun with this one. Ken Lay blames everyone else but himself.'
"I only have one business columnist. I asked myself, 'Could Mike write that column?' It hit me that Mike could not write that column and that he should not be a columnist. He lost his credibility to beat up business executives who obfuscate or lie.
"I still think it's a tragedy because Mike was a good columnist and in many ways he's a fine journalist and he's written many important stories for the paper.
"It was an easy decision to make [to remove Mike's blog and column]."
LA Times journalists are not unionized so it would've been easy for Dean to fire Mike.
Hiltzhik was a rare member of the Times to push back against Times critics. Dean says the Times should push back. He's not sure that such pushback should only be online. "Newspapers don't know how to respond to critics."
Dean says only 20 readers wrote in to the Times's reader representative about Hiltzhik.
Cathy Seipp goes for the microphone when Roderick opens up for questions. He introduces her by name.
Dean gives her a smile and a wave, which makes her feel good.
I ask the third question. Kevin calls on me by name, which makes me feel good.
I ask Dean why he doesn't have a gossip column.
Baquet says he wants one. That when he came to town (about six years ago), The Times started one (City of Angles column?) and it was a failure.
"It's hard to do well. Look at the New York Post. I'd like to have one that covers Hollywood and the local political scene.
"We're a very serious paper. We could put pictures of people in Bermuda shorts on a sunny day on our front page and nobody could say we're not a serious newspaper. We cover the Iraq war better than any paper in America. We're a very serious newspaper and that gives us more latitude than we've taken advantage of so far.
"We live in a city where gossip is an important traffic. As long as you keep the other stuff, the war coverage, Washington coverage, there's room for a gossip column.
"I want The LA Times to be provocative. I want you to get pissed off when you read it. I want you to get angry at something in the war coverage. But then I want you to have a gossip column that's fun."
Dean does not know where he'd put it. "The ideal place is Calendar but it goes to bed at 3 p.m. If I found the right person, I'd figure out where to put it."
A black woman complains about the lack of black authors at the festival.
Dean explains that there's a wall between the newsroom and the other branches of the paper such as that which sponsors the festival.
Baquet repeatedly says that The LA Times is one of only four American newspapers (along with The NYT, WP, and WSJ) aiming for greatness.
2:05 p.m. Cathy gives me David Crawley's media pass and green wristband (which I quickly lose) and gets me into the greenroom with the good eats. I have a few helpings of dessert and look enviously at Kevin Roderick who's surrounded by five hot chix.
Now that's my idea of dessert.
Gay Talese walks in wearing his funny hat.
I tell Cathy and Maia that I am into dating 19yo girls because that was the average age of the US combat soldier in Vietnam and by making sweet tender love (not in the physical sense but in the courtly sense) to these girls I honor in my own way the memory of our veterans who gave so much to this country so that I can be free to date shiksas.
We each should honor veterans in our own way and not just fall in with the crowd in rote obeisance.
Monday (until nightfall) is Erev Yom Ha Zikaron for the fallen soldiers and terror victims in Israel.
My way of honoring this solemn occasion will be to spend time with a young hottie (of legal age of course).
I walk off to Franz lecture hall 1718 at 2:45 and sit next to an edgy novelist (Diana Wagman) I met a year ago at a Mediabistro party. "The Outsiders: Independent Film Today" boasts panelist-authors Peter Biskind, Marshall Fine, David Kipen, Kenneth Turan and moderator Rocky Lang.
(On Saturday, Wagman moderated "Fiction: Pushing the Envelope" with Susie Bright, Dennis Cooper, Craig Ferguson and Karen Finley. Karen takes herself and her work enormously seriously and non-confrontational Wagman had her limits tested keeping Ferguson and Finley from breaking out into a fist fight or rough sex or some intensely physical interaction forbidden by our holy Torah.).
Kipen has the appalling manners to eat a complete meal while serving on the panel. He stuffs his face with several different dishes, but pauses at times to wipe his face and weigh in with his opinions.
I've seen a hundred or so panels in my life, and even witnessed the painful spectacle of panelists chewing gum while pouring out their views, but I've never seen anybody eat while on a panel. Who raised David Kipen? Wolves? Aborigines?
Turan has the bad luck to sit next to Kipen and watches him appalled.
Kenneth becomes real to me for the first time. He's eloquent and passionate. He says Capote, Brokeback Mountain and the other Oscar nominees for Best Picture are not studio films (even if they are distributed by studios). Studios are only making popcorn films. Capote and company are truly challenging difficult independent films.
Biskind's making great progress on his forthcoming biography of Warren Beatty.
He says that the nineties generation is far more complacent than their sixties and seventies counterparts, which may account for why they have not made as many great movies.
I leave at 3:40 p.m. for Hillel's first People of the Book festival then wait around for 20 minutes for the late-starting panel discussion (theoretically between Ruth Ellenson, Aimee Bender, Lori Gottlieb, and Amy Klein) on the great new book The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt.
Moderator Tobin Belzer, author and sociologist, sets the tone for the discussion by confessing she feared that this book would "perpetuate negative stereotypes of Jewish women" and she was relieved that it instead "reclaimed [gobbledygook I could not understand]."
I want to jump up and sing like Michael Jackson: "One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch, girl."
Amy Klein talks about victimhood vs empowerment.
I'm not sure of the fitting pop lyric accompaniment.
Ruth Ellenson does 60% of the talking on the panel and everything she says sounds like she's said it 75 times before, which is not fresh and exciting for me.
I know that I'm not always fresh and exciting but I can wish, can't I?
Lori Gottlieb says 84 words over the totality of the panel, which is about 972 fewer than I wanted to hear from her.
For the first time in her adult life, she's joining a temple so she can provide her five-month-old boy a community.
She has a book coming out from St. Martins (not the one in the fields) on dating.
Oh, the books I could inspire her to if she'd only give me a chance.
Lori bought sperm on the Internet to get pregnant. Her mom asked her if the sperm was Jewish.
Ruth suggests that being Jewish is not Aimee's top priority, but rather number eight.
Aimee's taken aback. She says it is about number four.
Ruth implies that this is the first generation of Jewish women with freedom.
A woman around 50 in the audience suggests that it was the seventies generation (when the first women were ordained rabbis).
Lori says the "cohesive being of all the essays in the book is ambivalence."
Amy says that "the struggle of the modern American Jew is to find meaning."
Ruth got the idea for the book while sitting in her grandmother's church and feeling mixed up.
She knew that "in the wrong hands, [this topic] would perpetuate a stereotype."
Yes, these people really do talk this way and think this way. I'm not caricaturing.
Ruth is asked what she edited out of the book. She said she wondered about including Ayelet Waldman's ambivalence towards Israel in a Jewish book. In the end, she included it.
Sheesh, that she even gave the matter a second thought disturbs me. In such a book, your sole agenda has to be be truth, not public relations and "not perpetuating stereotypes."
The book is being translated into Hebrew for sale in Israel. I expect many there (who risk their lives daily to be Jewish) will find significant sections of it shallow.
Ruth is asked why no men were included in the book. She says that Philip Roth wrote Portnoy's Complaint. "I don't think it gets much better than that."
I doubt there'll ever be a male anthology over Jewish guilt because men complain less and feel less comfortable being so vulnerable.
Aimee Bender says "some of the guilt needs to lift for this book to exist."
That led to my question: "Did you write about the things you feel most guilty about, and if not, why not?"
There's nervous laughter from the panelists.
Tobin Belzer says that would be too much information. Such matters are private.
Amy says she doubts people would be interested in reading what she ate that day.
Ruth (whose father Rabbi David Ellenson runs America's Reform movement through its Hebrew Union College seminary and knows more Torah and halacah (Jewish law) than his counterparts at Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University while Ruth's mother, or mother's mother, belongs to the Daughters of the American Revolution) relates that Rebecca Goldstein told her that she feels most guilty that her sister died while she lives.
Ruth asked her: "Does that affect your Jewish identity?"
What's most interesting in these type of confessional books (whether they are posed as fiction or nonfiction) are the slivers of light they shed into the writer's real story, not the story they are peddling for public consumption.
I love the book but many of the essays feel too easy rather than painfully honest.
Ruth, in one of her practiced soundbytes, says that Jews in America are simply white, in the same way that Italians and the Irish are now regarded as white. That Catholics have followed a similar path to the Jews from marginalization to mainstream. "Catholics are more screwed up about sex."
Ruth says the most interesting responses to her book (which made it to The Los Angeles Times Best Seller list) have come from black women.
Women in the audience spontaneously share their feelings and the panel degenerates into a female support group.
A blonde from Israel goes on and on and on. "I'm having such a wonderful time. Thank you for the gift."
Another woman: "I wish I was at a party with all the writers."
Do these audience yakkers give any consideration to the interest level of the rest of the audience in their feelings? Mine is infinitesimal.
The audience is about 70% male.
I want a good fight to break out among the panelists. I'd like mud wrestling, but I'd settle for Amy breaking into tears.
Klein came to the painful realization "that the perfect husband doesn't necessarily want his equal. Maybe he wants a ditzy girl."
I'm not sure which will arrive first -- my sense of compassion, the Messiah or Amy Klein's book on JDate.
Amy looks great. Her face is fresh and sunburned. Leaving the managing editor position at the Jewish Journal is good for her. Fewer kvetchy Jews to deal with and more opportunities to do what she loves -- read Lukeford.net, write and pursue an MFA (masters degree in Fine Arts).
I remind myself that it is a condition of my parole to give Amy at least 20 feet at all times but my stalker instincts overcome my superego and we engage in a few seconds of conversation before she flees with her panelist girlfriends (Ruthie Ellenson and co).
After the panel, Hillel serves a complimentary kosher dinner (falafel, fresh fruit, cookies) and there's nothing I love better than a free meal when I'm hungry (except for something I can't mention on this family-oriented website).
While I scan the chix in the room, I take a big bite out of my falafel and spill humus all over my crotch.
I take to vigorously wiping and scrubbing down there to little effect. Where's my levitra when I need it?
Guys tell me they saw me in the LA Weekly (The Xxxorcist) but no hot chix say the same thing so what's the point?
6:30 p.m. Amy Wilentz and Kenneth Turan wander in. They're beat. They want to be left alone until their 7 p.m. panel. Then, with Dr. David Myers, they put on a dazzling display of literary erudition.
At the beginning, an audience member tells Turan, "We're so excited."
He replies, "That won't last."
Dr. Myers gives a provocative opening talk. He wonders if Jews are no longer people of the book but people of the buck.
Amy: "John Updike could've been the premiere American writer except for Jews such as Philip Roth (and Saul Bellow)." She says Updike followed in Roth's footsteps and engaged in Rothian themes.
Updike wrote a series of books about Henry Bech, a Jewish novelist.
Amy wonders why the dominant American Jewish writers used to be men but now they're mainly women.
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller says that women are still outsiders.
Myers talks about the post-assimilation generation grappling to reclaim Jewish tradition from books.
Amy says that for her to feel whole and empowered is not to feel so Jewish.
She's sometimes called a "self-hating Jew." She describes herself as a "Palestinian sympathizer."
She says Proust was an outsider in two ways - he was Jewish and he was a homosexual. Therefore he's a Jewish writer and Remembrance of Things Past is a Jewish book.
David Ehrenstein writes me:
A hot brunette Hillel director (who introduces and concludes the panel) sits close to scholar J. Shawn Landres. Some guys have all the luck.
Shawn asks about non-American, non-Israel Jewish literature.
"There isn't any," jokes Turan.
Amy: "If you are not dual, you are not going to write great fiction."
Amy says Allegra Goodman writes for a Jewish audience and therefore loses her. Older Jewish writers such as Roth and Bellow wrote for the world.
A friend writes:
It's mentioned that Israelis purchase more books per capita than anyone.
A friend calls me Sunday night: "Did you hit on any hot chicks at the festival today?"
Luke: "No. I struck out.
"No, I didn't even get to the plate."
Friend: "You're just hitting on the wrong women."
Luke: "I wasn't even hitting. I wasn't even in the ballgame."
I'm told I'd like Diana Wagman's book Spontaneous because "it's about incestuous lesbian sisters."
Aperpos of nothing: "We have too many absent fathers on earth to begin to even entertain the thought of having no Father in heaven." (Dennis Prager)
Into the Void
If I wanted a blowjob, I'd go out with a shiksa. I wouldn't turn to the august pages of The Times.
The Rav Finally Speaks To Me
None of his work moved me until I read Reflections of the Rav: Lessons in Jewish Thought.
"...Judaism will prevail over secularists and deviationists only if it results in a superior value system of ethical behavior. God may be worshipped only if we first make peace with our fellow man."
Sandee Brawarsky is the Worst Book Critic of Her Generation
She writes 4/28/06 for The Jewish Week about novelist Allegra Goodman: "She’s been applauded for her luminous style..."
What is a luminous style? What is "luminous" about Allegra's writing?
Can someone please provide an example of a Levinasian contribution? What exactly did he ever say that was original? When he isn't being incomprehensible, he's repeating ideas better expressed by those before him.
Chaim writes: "Wasn't Emmanuel Lewis that midget black child actor from the 80s? When did he become a philosopher, and has it helped him pick up chicks?"
I've known him since 1995. He's produced three movies (and directed two of those three, both documentaries).
I interview him by phone Friday morning, April 28, 2006.
Luke: "How did you come to make the [24-minute documentary] 180 Degrees to Jerusalem?"
Rob: "After I arrived in Israel [in 1999], I got approached by Guy Lieberman, a Jewish guy from South Africa who's spent a lot of time in India. Together we came up with this idea of making a spiritual tour of Israel.
"The vehicle that I then thought would be interesting was Brandi Barr, Roseanne Barr's [adopted] daughter. She'd come to Israel for a year and I'd follow her from time to time as she made her way through the country.
"Then she got scared and didn't want to come. She had a boyfriend.
"She finally came for two weeks for a whirlwind superficial tour. I got 40 hours of bad footage. Just shots of her going, 'Wow. Cool. That's great.'
"I had a lot of bad experiences with the Israeli film industry. This one Israeli producer (Zafrir Kochanovsky) tried to crucify me about it.
"I broke with him after a horrible legal fight and came up with this other idea of a film based on four pictures of Shimon, my wedding video and my family's 16mm films. I made a film that illustrated the same point. It was shorter than I expected. Instead of 60-80 minutes, it was 25-minutes for that slot on TV. Israel's Channel 2 jumped in with a bunch of money."
Luke: "Why didn't you interview Shimon Sade and follow him around with your camera?"
Rob: "To interview Shimon without telling him what the film was about would've been dishonest. I pushed to that line in the way I did it where I made a film about him without him participating or even knowing about it.
"He was dishonest with me. When I first came to Israel, he was in this little office outside the shuk in Jerusalem and he was doing commercials for United Torah Judaism, the Israeli religious party, and other little documentaries. He did this little promotional film they have in this tourist place outside the Wailing Wall. Kids from America watch this film before they go through the tunnels and learn about its history.
"A religious organization puts it out and it is basically testimonies from Jews who have some sort of spiritual catharsis at the Wall. He basically gave me a script. 'I want you to say this.' It was based on truth but was not truth. He wanted me to exaggerate. I had a friend who married a Christian girl and how upset I was by that, and how upset his parents were, and how we all learned a lesson from that.
"He manipulated. He said it was just for himself. He was going to cut that part out. We were rolling, unbeknownst to me, while we were having a conversation about something else.
"In the end, he used all that material for the promotional video."
Luke: "He would not have given you an interview if you had told him honestly what you were doing?"
Rob: "Probably not. I didn't want to open the can of worms. I just didn't want to talk to him about it. Once I told him what I was doing, whether or not he agreed to be in it, it would've been another problem I didn't want to deal with."
Luke: "How did Shimon like the video?"
Rob: "I heard he didn't like it. I haven't spoken to him about it. It was three months before I left Israel.
"I heard he was offended by it. For Shimon, not only did I put his picture on Channel 2 without his permission, but I put a picture of him when he was secular in funny positions."
Luke: "When did your friendship with Shimon end and what killed it?"
Rob: "It never really ended. After my wedding, we had a blowup on the phone. I told him that his behavior at my wedding was outrageous. As you see in the photos, he was really moping around and shaking his head 'No, no, no' in an inappropriate way. It kinda put a black cloud over the thing, though not really. We had a good time. Not everyone was paying attention.
"When we started to speak about it and I told him it was awful, he pulled back a layer of opaqueness about how direct he is in his proselytizing, and what he really thinks of secular people. He started to insult me. He said my wife was the best wife I could get outside of the religious. 'She's a good one in your world.' You can hear him saying it, right?"
I'm laughing. "Yeah."
Rob: "There's an image that religious people use that he used. That I'm really like a baby.
"I challenged him on halakhic [Jewish law] things, such as that a man is not supposed to hear a woman sing [because it arouses lustful thoughts]. But it's not black and white. Different [Orthodox] rabbis I went to gave me contrasting opinions. Some say it is a woman's voice alone without musical accompaniment, without a man's voice mixed in, depending on the situation...
"Shimon told me that anyone who gave me halakhic advice only gave it to me because they thought I was a moron and were just trying to chew the bananas so the baby could eat it."
Luke: "I love it."
Rob: "My answer was, 'Go f--- yourself. Don't talk to me like that.'"
Rob and Shimon can lose their temper in frightening ways.
Rob: "We got into it. Shimon really lost his temper. I can't ever remember him losing his temper.
"He was just hammering the point. I was hammering the point. We came to hard feelings.
"He said the rabbi deceived me. That the rabbi should be kicked out of the rabbinut.
"April 2005, was the last time I saw Shimon. I went to Jerusalem and sat in his office. He kinda apologized. He said he didn't remember saying those things.
"When you're with religious people like that who are trying to convert you, every personal encounter you have with them, every way they are is only a strategy. If they have to be soft and nice, they're soft and nice, but it's not a real relationship."
Luke: "How should Shimon have appropriately protested your wedding?"
Rob, after a long pause: "I guess he should not have called attention to himself at the chupa (wedding canopy). He should've acted cooler. It wasn't his day.
"Hang on a second. Someone's at the door.
"I'm with Luke Ford. The blogger.
"Second. Shimon and I have had years of religious debates. It's one of the foundations of our relationship. We could've discussed that too."
Luke: "In the final analysis, did you not really know Shimon because [it was obvious he was going to act this way]?"
Rob: "No. I do know him. He just acted badly. He's the same guy. Just give him an honest pill."
Luke: "Has religion made Shimon a finer, kinder person?"
Luke: "How did you meet Shimon?"
Rob: "Shimon was dating a friend of mine, a black woman, in 1993. She brought him over to my house."
Luke: "What was the basis of your friendship with him?"
Rob: "Shimon was an exciting and fun-loving guy. He wasn't playing by the same rules as everyone else was.
"One of the themes of the documentary is the rules we choose to live by in life. Shimon went by one set of rules while he was living in LA, rules I found attractive because of my background, to another set of rules, charedi (fervent) Judaism. How you get out of bed in the morning. Which arm you raise first.
"That's what the Aish guys say in their crazy idiotic way."
Luke: "What was your relationship to Aish HaTorah?"
Rob: "I had no relationship to Aish HaTorah. I davened (prayed) there maybe twice. I didn't really like it.
"In Israel, my friend Guy Lieberman, the hippy religious guy in Sfat, knew them. He knows everyone. They are so hungry to promote themselves. When they meet me and I'm so charming, letting me go in and film their classes, they just loved it."
Luke: "How did they react afterwards?"
Rob: "I heard through Guy that they didn't like it because it wasn't good for Aish.
"If I ran into [Rabbi] Yom Tov [Glaser] on the street, he'd be perfectly nice. He'd say he kinda liked things about it. Maybe he wouldn't.
"When I met Shimon, I started going to the Kabbalah Centre. I never got too religious. I read a lot. My wife and I are moderately traditional. She has 60 first cousins. One lives here and is charedi.
"I love the Kabbalah Centre. I love the people at the Kabbalah Centre. I was very good friends with the rabbi's two sons -- Michael and Yehuda. We played golf often.
"I felt like I was in a cult. It was embarrassing. I immediately cut any involvement."
Rob says he never wore the red string. He bought their expensive edition of the Zohar.
Luke: "Did you run your fingers over the Hebrew letters [to get good vibes]?"
Rob: "No. My basis is rational. I don't have a spiritual or belief basis."
Luke: "Are there any common threads between this and your first documentary (Choke)?"
Rob laughs. "My body of work, Luke...
"There's a theme about fairness and does might make right. I focused on the guy who is the best at [no-holds-barred] fighting and though he partakes in this mega-violence, he does it in a cool Zen-like ironic way. He's a super-amazing character, plus he's very handsome and has an amazing body. He fights in a very athletic cool way.
"It's about fear and might and rationalization. In a way, religion is about the same thing. It boils down to some kind of fear, of death, of the unknown. Rules. What rules do we choose? What rules are written in stone?
"The rules Shimon lives his life by are self-imposed rules that can be interpreted in different ways. He's made a choice, or, as it says in my movie, you can just jerk off forever."
Luke: "How did Shimon's becoming religious affect your friendship?"
Rob: "Negatively. We would've been better friends if he had not become religious. It was the beginning of the disintegration of the bond between us. We were friends and not just him trying to convince me of something. With his strong personality, he wouldn't take no for an answer. That's probably why he was successful with girls. He was there to win.
"It's like we wonder why Mike Tyson lives a crazy life and gets in fights in alleys. He just wants to hit people."
Luke: "How did Roseanne Barr and her daughter Brandi react?"
Rob: "I had no contact with Roseanne. The producer only wanted her in the film. She was the only reason he got involved.
"Once Brandi came to Israel, our relationship also disintegrated. It was boring and expensive. I saw that the film was going nowhere quickly. I came to resent her. She left unhappy. We've been in minimal contact since.
"I interviewed her family, all her sisters. It was meaningless, just dopey housetalk."
Luke: "Tell me about that scene where men and women run naked into the Mediterranean."
Rob: "Mordecai Gafni was giving a lecture to 75 people sitting cross-legged in the sand. It was on the beach. The lecture was about water. He talked about mikveh and he talked about going into the Mediterranean as a mikveh. They all marched out of the tent banging on drums and singing mayim, mayim, mayim.
"The men went straight and took off the clothes. The women went 20 yards down the beach, took off their clothes, most of them, and ran into the water and formed a circle and did immersions and said certain meditations.
"The waves started getting stronger. The Mediterranean is rough. The girls started going under. A rescue had to be made. The men had to run into the sea and drag these girls out and bang on their chests, put them on the sand, and take water out of their chests. If only I had gotten that on film, I would've made a long scene out of that, but the cameraman and I ran into the ocean to help rescue the women.
"Then Gafni gets up when the Sabbath comes in and sings and does the L'chai dodi and bounces around on stage."
Luke: "Did your work on the 180 Degrees documentary change you?"
Rob: "I came to a certain peace with my resentment of Shimon. Now I've said my piece and he saw it. I made a film through the Israeli system which is impossible. I had a lot of hard relationships along the way. It's a hard place to work.
"Many times my back was against the wall. There was no money, no footage, it was dead, it was going to suck, my career was over. In the end, the film worked."