Wednesday, September 6, 2006

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Author - Producer Laurie Gwen Shapiro

She replies to my interview request: "Having written novel with Matzo heirs and sex and directed a doc with a gay Jewish cannibal -- nothing startles. Wait, the online chat I did last week online for the Colin Firth fanclub startled me. It quickly disintegrated into women talking about what position they would do it with Colin. It was supposed to be focused on The Anglophile."

What position would you do it with Colin Firth?

"With all due respect to my husband - any position. But then I would have to give him a Gabriella Sabatini f*** pass."

Mad Mel: My One Man Show

Dave Deutsch emails:

Luke, I think it's time for you to break back into showbiz--you will be to Mel Gibson what Hal Holbrooke was to Mark Twain in "Mad Mel: A One Man Show." Think about it, it's a perfect opportunity, the son of the Australian religious schismatic who took him to America playing the son of the American religious schismatic who who took him to Australia. You start with him in the Mad Max role, playing a traffic cop confronting out of control deviates, go through the ups and downs of his life and career and assorted interviews, and end with him as the out of control deviate being confronted by the traffic cop. And here's the showstopper: Curtain drops, raises again, to find Mel on his knees, begging Jesus for guidance and forgiveness, and Jesus comes down and brokers a tearful meeting with Abe Foxman where all is forgiven, and, through the miracle of holographic projection, you're playing all three parts. Tell me that isn't dynamite box office, you gorgeous bastard.

Allison Margolin - L.A.'s Dopest Attorney

I call her Wednesday night, September 6, 2006.

She speaks rapidly. Audio. (Her YouTube.com video.)

Luke: "What have you loved and hated about all the media attention you've received over the past few weeks?"

Allison: "I love that my friends and acquaintances who I told about my practice and they didn't take it seriously, it was rewarding. 'I told you I was going to be in the L.A. Times.' I like to spread my messages even though the [LA Times] article didn't talk about my philosophy, a lot of people read my blog.

"What I hated: Since I started being a lawyer, I've found this frustrating -- that I'm a whore who wears low-cut outfits to court. One blog said I dressed like Pamela Anderson.

"I dress my age. I'm 28. I'm not hanging out with my chest exposed.

"The reason that the article was like that was the writer -- Maura Dolan. She's really cool. She's a court reporter. She writes about court hearings and rulings. This was an erotic thrill for her. She was really into it.

"The other thing that I didn't like about the article was that I'm money hungry. In a sense I'm happy, because many times a week people come into my office trying to get me to take their cases for free. People try to take advantage of me."

Luke: "How did you deal with all the attention to your sexiness?"

Allison: "Before I became a lawyer, I went to Harvard (1999) and Columbia (2002) and I was a nerd. But since I became a lawyer, because of how I look and how I dress, they assume I'm stupid. I use that to my advantage.

"During my second year of law school, I worked for a civil litigation firm in Century City. I was doing great. I had my mid-summer review. The only negative thing was that some of the female attorneys said my skirts were too short and they were offended.

"My mom's [Elyse Margolin] a lawyer. She inspired me to be myself in the courtroom and out.

"Devastated [by the criticism], I bought this long skirt. I put it on to go to work. My mom said, 'Allison, that's not you.' I took it off.

"It's not that I try to be provocative. It's who I am. To be anything different would be fake.

"The courtroom is where I feel comfortable. I feel more comfortable in a courtroom than in a bar. That's my scene."

Luke: "Do you notice people checking you out in court?"

Allison: "I don't notice. I'm not focused on that. I'm in my zone."

Luke: "How would you know if you were dressing inappropriately?"

Allison: "I don't even know what that means. How would I know? I guess my mom or my stepdad. I know a lot of lawyers who would say something to me.

"If I go to jury trial and I win... I'd know if people were offended by me. When I go to jury trial, I tone it down and try to be extra conscious.

"The most inappropriate thing I do is that I change into sweats after court."

"I never watched Ally McBeal. My mom is the original Ally McBeal."

From the LA Times Aug. 22:

Her self-promotions have raised eyebrows in a profession in which many lawyers still frown upon advertising as ambulance chasing.

Until not quite 30 years ago, lawyer advertising was banned altogether. "Need warrant recalled?" her radio, movie and newspaper ads ask. "Want to smoke pot on probation? All criminal defense, from drugs to murder. Harvard Law, affordable."

She is the daughter of Bruce Margolin, the widely known defense lawyer who has championed efforts to decriminalize marijuana and once ran for governor on that platform.

...Her parents divorced when she was 2, and both are on their third marriages. Margolin has three stepsisters, two half sisters and one half brother, ranging in age from 6 months to 15 years.

Allison Margolin blogs:

My parents raised me without putting restrictions on what I could see. My mother and I shamelessly strolled the house naked together. My father, too, was a nudist in his own right. He swam trunk-less and even had friends who participated in public consummations at their wedding ceremonies. But it wasn't until I was eight-years-old when I knew I wanted to be in Playboy. I was at my mother's hairdresser flipping through magazines, when suddenly the page I flipped felt hairy. I looked down and saw a beautiful naked woman with real hair glued to her pubic area. I laughed at the way the hairdressers had tried to bring the Playboy Centerfold to life, but what captured me was the image of the naked woman.

In Playboy, I had found a forum that accepted the same thing my parents had silently promulgated to me: nudity and sexuality were things to be celebrated, not punished.

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

Allison: "I was always struggling between writer and lawyer."

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

Allison: "I went to Beverly Hills High School. I was an outcast. I was with the AP kids. I was taking 7:30 a.m. P.E. because I had six honors classes. I always felt uncomfortable there. People would always make fun of me. Now for me it's like Revenge of the Nerds. I see these same women going out... My husband was one of the cooler people in highschool. I didn't know him at the time. Now I'm successful, it's fun for me."

Luke: "What do you love and hate about your work?"

Allison: "I love going to court and fighting for what I believe in. I hate the pressure. I hate going to bed and thinking about my work. I'm trying to start these other careers. I'm trying to be a commentator. I'm pitching a scripted show about my law practice. I don't want to deal with this pressure every day. I'd like to have two tracks to my career, not five cases on calendar and being stressed about it.

"I loathe having to promote myself to clients."

Luke: "Some people will laugh. You are great at self-promotion."

Allison: "The ad was the only thing I did. The Daily Journal called me. The LA Times called me. I don't mind sharing my thing but I don't want it to do it myself, say I'm so great..."

Luke: "When you look back on your life, how much free choice have you had or were just fated to become what you've become?"

Allison: "Can there even be free choice if something is fated? I'm a fatalistic person. I think this is my calling. I had these ideas in highschool, but I was very straight. I didn't smoke pot. I didn't drink alcohol.

"My views have never been popular, except for when I went to Columbia, where everyone was pretty much like me."

Luke: Your upbringing sounds crazy and libidinous.

Allison: "My mom kept me away from some of my dad's crazier friends. My mom and my grandmother kept me on a straight path. I was embarrassed by my dad when I was little."

Luke: "What role has Judaism played in your life?"

Allison: "My mom's side of the family was killed in the Holocaust. My maternal grandmother, grandfather and great grandmother were survivors. That's left an emotional mark.

"I feel uncomfortable in a temple or with any religious custom. During my wedding, I ended up running away during the Hava Nagilla.

"All religions feel strange to me.

"I can't say I don't feel like a Jew. Obviously the Holocaust presence in my life, I feel like a Jew.

"I feel bad. I wish I did relate to it more or felt one with any organized religion but I don't. I appreciate the ritual aspects, the Sabbath and the idea of not working on Saturday, which I don't do. I appreciate the balance that it speaks of. But when I go to temple and everyone's singing those songs, I don't know those songs. I don't even want to be there. Unfortunately."

Luke: "Would you really pose for Playboy and what's in it for you?"

Allison: "Maybe not at this stage in my career. I would like to but all these people in prison seeing my pictures..."

Rabbi Caught In TV Sex Sting Convicted

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A Maryland rabbi caught in a nationally televised sex sting was convicted Wednesday of traveling to Virginia for a sex with what he believed to be a 13-year-old boy he met over the Internet.

A federal judge found David A. Kaye, 56, of Rockville, Md., guilty of coercing and enticing a minor and of traveling across state lines for illegal sexual contact.

During a bench trial last month, prosecutors presented evidence of sexually graphic chats between Kaye and adults from an Internet watchdog group called Perverted Justice who were pretending to be minors.

The group was working with the NBC newsmagazine "Dateline," which paid the watchdog group to create a pedophile sting. Kaye was one of several men who showed up at a Herndon, Va., home and were confronted on camera by correspondent Chris Hansen.

'I Need Your Help Badly'

A former interview subject writes:

Listen, I wouldn't ask you to do this if it weren't incredibly important to me, but could you amend the interview I gave you? Two issues have arisen. [My wife] just came upon it, and was upset by my discussion of premarital sex with my ex. Another big issue is with my new job...

If you could delete this stuff, it would do wonders for my shalom bayis, and also give me an incredible peace of mind regarding my parnossa--I'm terrified that some kid will find this, and some parent will object, and my job is gone, and my kids go hungry...

...Thanks so much; I'm glad the threat to my marital bliss and my children's continued eating was sufficient to move you, and I didn't have to break out the memory of the Six Million ("Really, Luke, by not editing this, you're giving Hitler a posthumous victory).

'The Truth about Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel'

Adam Harison emails:

At the risk of being naïve, I’ll assume for a moment that the bloggers who are revealing information about alleged sex offenders mean leshem Shamayim, to protect the community, and want to know the true facts. This assumption may be challenged by the fact that even when someone who really knows sends in corrections, the blogger does not erase the rumor that was previously posted, no matter how damaging or ridiculous it might be, but leaves it there and just adds the correction. This is in spite of the fact that the blogger wants to be believed and considered credible.

A typical case at hand is this. Although someone, who knows Rabbi Sobel personally, wrote that he never learned in Baltimore nor did he ever have any ties with Mattis Weinberg, the headline of the blog remains “Here is another shady character from Baltimore…he had ties ….”

Bearing this in mind, I hesitate to take so much time to “set the record straight” regarding Rabbi Sobel, if all my efforts are going to be futile because the bloggers’ attitude is, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I’ve already made up my mind!”

However, since we are dealing with the most serious offenses in the Torah, embarrassing a Jew publicly - which under certain conditions applies also to a sinner too – I feel that I am obligated to try my best and hope and pray that my words are not falling on deaf ears, or, in this case, eyes.

However, I am sending you this information on condition that you print all of it (it took me a long time to write it – your readers can take the time to read it) and that you delete all wrong and mistaken information others wrote based on things they heard, think they heard, and/or fabricated.

First of all, in dealing with blogs, one should always remember the Gemara (Bava Metzia 59a; Sanhedrin 107a) which tells us that after King Dovid’s incident with Bas Sheva, there were those who were probably concerned about the Halachic implications of his act and the Chilul Hashem, and if it was legitimized by him etc. and therefore they would ask King Dovid publicly: “One who has relations with a married woman, how should he be killed?” To which King Dovid replied, “He should be killed by choking but he has a part in the World-to-Come; however, one who embarrasses someone in public, has no part in the World-to-Come!”

Another important halachah. When someone sees a rodef – someone who is pursuing someone else in an attempt to kill (or otherwise harm) him, he is obligated to save the victim at all costs; even if he must kill the rodef in order to do so. However, if he could have saved the victim by merely wounding the rodef, yet he chose to kill him, he is considered a murderer and is responsible for the blood of the rodef which he spilt unnecessarily.

Therefore, even if we assume that the blogs are permissible in order to protect victims from harm, and, of course, that is our primary concern, nevertheless, at the same time we are obligated by the Torah to take into consideration the perpetrator too. If we can protect the innocent victim by merely “wounding” the perpetrator we must do so. If we do more than we have to, then we have sinned and may be worse than the person we are attacking.

CERTAINLY WHEN THE PERSON WE ARE ATTACKING POSES NO THREAT TO ANYONE, THERE IS NO HETER (PERMISSION) IN THE WORLD TO DISGRACE HIM PUBLICLY OR EVEN PRIVATELY, FOR THAT MATTER. There is a specific Torah prohibition to say (even privately) to a ba’al teshuvah (a penitent), “Remember your previous acts.”

I am, once again, risking being naïve by assuming that I am addressing Orthodox, observant, Jewish people to whom the mitzvahs of the Torah have meaning and value, and, with the best of intentions, do not want to violate any prohibitions, certainly not Torah ones. If the blogs are just being run and participated in by a bunch of slanderers and gossipers who couldn’t care less about what is permissible and what is prohibited then I really am wasting my time.

Finally, whenever the Chofetz Chaim teaches a rare situation when it is permissible to spread lashon hara, he always lists the conditions. One major condition is always that the one who is speaking has no personal gain and no ulterior motive. He is not the person’s enemy who regales at the opportunity to take “kosher” revenge at the person being attacked. Furthermore, he may never exaggerate or add any more detail to the story than is absolutely true.

One last word. Whereas the Torah commands us not to believe nor relate harmful information unless it has been proven true by at least two kosher witnesses in Beis Din, some bloggers are not ashamed to admit that they will add any rumor ever whispered to their site. That is really a strange way to conduct business when the business involves people’s lives and the lives of their families.

After this rather lengthy introduction, let us deal with the case at hand: Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel.

First of all, I am probably one of the most reliable authorities on him. I have known him for many, many years and I know his attributes as well as his faults. I have thoroughly researched the unfortunate incidents of his very colorful life and I know what is true and what is not. If anyone has unanswered questions about him after reading what I write, you may ask me by e-mail. My address is: Hamashgiach@yahoo.com and I will be glad to respond privately; not in a public forum.

To set the record straight, let us begin at the end. Rabbi Sobel currently resides and works in an office in Jerusalem. It is the office of Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman shlita, Chief Rabbi of Migdal Ha’Emek, Founder and Dean of Migdal Ohr, which campus is situated in Migdal Ha’Emek, almost a hundred miles away from Jerusalem. Rabbi Sobel’s job is strictly administrative; PR and fund raising. He is not involved in the chinuch of Migdal Ohr IN ANY MANNER, neither directly or indirectly. He has absolutely no contact with the students or campers or even the staff, for that matter. He has nothing to do with the schools. He works with his computer and his telephone to solicit donors. That’s it! He has been working in this position for over 15 years and nothing has changed.

The very documents which apparently made some people nervous and which appear on blogs bear witness to what I just wrote. The articles in the various newspapers clearly identify him as Rabbi Grossman’s assistant who runs his office in Jerusalem. He discusses the camps, solely in an attempt to raise funds for them. In the picture with Pastor Hagee, we see him receiving a check on Migdal Ohr’s behalf. That is his job - and he seems to doing a very good job, baruch Hashem – finito!

Much ado about nothing.

He is not involved in chinuch and has not been since he left Neveh Zion in 1985. As some other, apparently knowledgeable, person wrote, he did not return to chinuch even when given permission to do so (as we will soon discuss). Therefore, he is absolutely no threat to anyone, and parents in Israel do not have to be warned about him.

Rabbi Grossman always says: “When someone has a very bad disease, the doctor can take the easy way out and just kill him on the operating table. Does that mean that he cured him of his illness? Of course not. On the other hand, the learned professor will try to cut away the bad part and save the good so that the sick man can recover and continue to live and function properly without the negative component.

Rabbi Grossman is a very big tzaddik but he is also no fool. His life’s mission is rehabilitating people who fell; but he will never do that by putting someone else at risk. He checked very carefully into Rabbi Sobel’s situation before he took him to work for him 6 years after he had left Neveh Zion. He checked with the doctor who had treated him and was convinced that he is “clean” (more about this later). And after all that, he gave him an office job in Jerusalem, far away from the campus, with nothing to do with chinuch.

Someone claimed that Rabbi Sobel never “fessed up” like someone else did. This, like most of the things written about him, is not true. He always acknowledged and dealt with his unfortunate problem and fully cooperated with the authorities when he was approached by them (more details soon). He did not make a public apology over the internet since that is not called for. He apologized to those victims he was able to approach and accepted full responsibility. Whenever attacked by zealots, his response was always filled with deep humility and remorse (there are many documents to prove this). Recently, his typical reaction when he was told that he is being scandalized on blogs was: “I deserve any and all abuse I may get. I desecrated Hashem’s Holy Name internationally, and, in return, my name is similarly being disgraced. Halevai that it be enough penance for my grave sins. I only feel bad that my wonderful, innocent family must suffer disgrace due to my big mistakes!”


Let’s discuss now the size of Rabbi Sobel’s sin, before we get to the sin itself. People on the blogs are debating whether or not he is the greatest predator or not. People have claimed that he hurt hundreds of students etc. That he is a pedophile.

Let’s get the record straight. The amount of boys Rabbi Sobel “got involved” with is less than 10 – I know them personally. I AM IN NO WAY UNDERESTIMATING THE SEVERITY OF HURTING EVEN ONE STUDENT – but we must keep things in proper proportion. There is a big difference between a murderer and a serial killer.

None of the boys were minors (he is not a pedophile as someone suggested nor a “serial sodomizer of minors”). Nor were they “troubled kids” as some have written. Neveh Yehoshua and Neveh Zion were not created for “troubled kids” who may not be responsible for their actions. On the contrary, whenever Rabbi Sobel met with the parents of potential students, he told them that if their son has a problem and needs professional help, then Neveh is not the place for him. It was geared to boys who lacked motivation in learning and commitment to Judaism. Today there are many yeshivas for high school boys who were not successful in their yeshivas and were even, perhaps, turned off to learning and often to being religious. Rabbi Sobel is the father of all of these yeshivas. Until he came along, these guys were considered “lost cases” as far as Yiddishkeit was concerned. He designed a learning program and a method of chinuch which successfully turned hundreds of these rebels into religious, G-d fearing people. Many of them even became educators themselves and are to be found all around the world teaching their students.

All of the students he got involved with were capable of making their own decisions. It is true, of course, that he misused the trust they had in him as their Rebby whom they highly respected, and that is very unfortunate. But none of them learned from him to do the same to others (so much for fear about the Torah Ohr “link”). (There is a very good reason for this which I don’t want to get in to since it is too complicated for this post.)

Someone argued that every predator who gets caught says that he’s going into therapy. That may or may not be true but in the case of Rabbi Sobel, he didn’t just say it – he did it – and there are doctor’s records to prove it. He spent thousands of dollars on therapy for half a year and not until three years later – after testing him unknowingly several times – the doctor signed a letter for the Bidatz proclaiming him cured and able to return to chinuch, which, as I’ve already written, he chose not to do, even when the Bidatz, and other prominent Rabbis subsequently signed documents giving him permission to. (By the way, Harav Shach never claimed that he may never teach again. The opposite is true.)

Now, let’s go back to the beginning and refute the vast majority of what people have written about him. Many of the descriptions seem to be written by people with perverted minds who apparently have read many exciting pornographic novels and are trying to write one of their own, using Rabbi Sobel as the main character of their insidious plot. However, most of their “facts” are total fabrications and those few who know the truth defended him. It is not the defenders who should be embarrassed but those who believe every rumor they hear or think they heard.

First of all, get it straight – Rabbi Sobel has absolutely nothing to do with Baltimore except that many of his best students went on to learn there. That reference should immediately be removed from the blogs because it is meant to add shame to the yeshiva and to him and it is totally not true.

He learned in RJJ (and has absolutely no connection to Ner Yisroel Baltimore or to Mattis Weinberg whom he hardly ever met) and was one of the best students in his era. Even as a bachur he was teaching other bachurim and many of them are the finest educators today, thanks to him.

After he was married, he lived in Monsey. He never owned a house and never sold it – as some misinformed person wrote on a blog. There were no major sex scandals about him in the States except for one boy whose family admitted that he is not well adjusted and falsely accused many others before.

In 1977, he moved to Israel. He didn’t run away from the USA. He was offered a prestigious job as a mashgiach of the Americans in Itri – Chadera. He didn’t convince anyone to make a school for him for troubled students in a remote place so that he could molest them. When the hanhala of ITRI noticed how successful he was with American students, they approached him and asked him to establish a school strictly for Americans on a campus they had purchased in Bet Yehoshua, Netanya. This was subsequently called Neveh Yehoshua. After four years, due to Itri’s financial problems, Rabbi Sobel became independent and moved the yeshiva to Telz-Stone and renamed it Neveh Zion.

Rabbi Sobel was always extremely highly respected by Gedolim, Roshei Yeshiva, parents and students alike for his sacrificial dedication to his students and his success with them. Klal Yisroel owes him a lot. His students are scattered around the globe and many of them – whether educators or askanim – are having a very positive effect on the Jewish People. Many called him “The greatest Rosh Yeshiva of the generation.”

Now comes the bad – sad – part. Many wondered how Rabbi Sobel was able to succeed with students with whom so many before him had failed. One of the answers is: with genuine love. He loved each student as if he were his own son and he cared for him as if he were his father. Unfortunately, since Rabbi Sobel had a serious problem (which he was apparently born with) this genuine love sometimes crossed boundaries that are taboo and led him to inappropriate behavior with several students over the years (not hundreds as I’ve already explained – and never with minors – and no one committed suicide because of him nor was anyone institutionalized because of him).

The “fabulous and well known story of how he got caught” (either in California or with his driver) is all total hogwash – as is his “method” of telling boys to lie down on the couch and tell him their problems. These were all apparently fabricated by people who find this kind of writing and reading titillating. That was not his “method.” And he was never “caught” at all. What happened was that one of his students told Rabbi Elya Svei what he had experienced with Rabbi Sobel (sorry if it’s not exciting enough for your warped imagination).

Now we come to another interesting point. Rabbi Sobel was always aware of his problem and recognized it. He tried therapy several times but, unfortunately, it did not help. On his own, he felt that perhaps he should leave chinuch. However, when he asked advice from prominent people they told him not to do so. It’s very possible that at that time (over two decades ago) they did not yet understand the severity of the problem and knew, on the other hand, how much good Rabbi Sobel was doing for the community. So they insisted that he stay.

He, however, decided that he must limit his direct contact with the students on an individual basis, and only deliver his famous, inspiring sichot to a public audience. Therefore he hired a mashgiach and eventually a menahel to do the work that he really was best cut out to do; in order to distance himself from the students. He let himself get more and more involved with fund raising and less and less in chinuch.

When he was finally told by Reb Elya Svei to leave chinuch, he immediately agreed and left quietly and with no battle a few weeks later. He then contacted a professional therapist he had met (by Hashgachah a few weeks earlier) and he proved to be the shaliach who could successfully heal him (as he had healed others before him) after many months of therapy. Rabbi Sobel was not given a clean bill of health overnight. Only three years later, the therapist was totally convinced that his patient was healed and could be trusted to return to chinuch and issued a formal letter to the Bidatz of the Edah Hachareidis who also did not rush to give Rabbi Sobel permission to return to chinuch. When they finally did, Rabbi Sobel decided on his own that he would not rush to return to formal chinuch.

Over twenty years have passed since then and Rabbi Sobel has been watched like hawks by his neighbors and acquaintances. If he had done anything wrong since then, it would be known. But, although he has had many opportunities (some of which were deliberately set up in order to test him), he passed every test. He has earned for himself the honorable status of a sincere ba’al teshuvah and he should be honored and admired, not disgraced. He should be used as an example of what a person who, unfortunately, fell should do. Psychologists say that only a small per cent of people with his problem are sincere and strong enough to straighten out and he is one of them. This is a proven fact – not like all of the other rumors collected by and from irresponsible people who have no idea of the truth. He is no danger to anyone and it is absolutely forbidden to cause his family any more anguish by publicizing what happened over two decades ago.

And, by the way, a note about teshuvah – which some bloggers seem to think is a light matter. Teshuvah is a very difficult process, if done properly. Indeed, when the Rabbeinu Yonah suggests that one who has sinned should do teshuvah as soon as possible, he writes (in Sha’arei Teshuvah, Chapter One, Os Daled) one of the reasons as being that if the yetzer hara tries to tempt him again, “He will remember how the cup of bitterness passed before him and he will not drink of it again.” We see by the fact that he calls it a “cup of bitterness” that teshuvah is no simple matter – certainly no cup of tea.

I am not aware of the particulars of Rabbi Sobel’s teshuvah, but I know that he consulted many Tzaddikim and Mekubalim about it. They prescribed many difficult things which include fasting and other means of suffering which he has been doing for the past twenty years and continues to do so.

Someone wrote how happy he is that justice may finally be served. My dear misguided friend; justice was done over twenty years ago. There isn’t a judge in the world who would not agree that Rabbi Sobel paid for his crime – big time. He was one of the most prominent Roshei Yeshiva in the world and lost it all to public, international disgrace. He fell from grace and lost the empire he had built with his own hands. Today he is a humble office worker (not a “holy rabbi” image), struggling to make a living and marry off his children (the big check was for Migdal Ohr, not for him). We should all just let him be. He has suffered enough.

Since he is a brilliant talmid chacham, many have sought ways that he may continue to teach with no danger involved. Some suggested he write his Torah and you, too, may benefit from his marvelous thoughts on the weekly parashah which are praised and recommended all over the internet. He is invited from time to time to speak for various groups and these are the ads that sometimes appear. But he is not involved in chinuch - and certainly not in Migdal Ohr.

A famous blogger wrote in a letter of June 16, 2004: “At the same time, if you or anyone else wants to provide us with documentations that prove that …(or any other of the alleged or convicted offenders on the site) took steps to not only take responsibility for wrongdoings, asked forgiveness of victims, had entered and completed treatment with a psychotherapist who has recognized experience with treating sexual offenders and who is willing to give a written letter that they are no longer posing a risk to others--we would not only be thrilled for the steps to healing taken by members of our community, but will seriously consider taking the case off the site, or moving it to a link for offenders who made “teshuvah” (not only between them and G-d but also between Adam-Lechavero) and can be models to others who erred.”

All of this applies fully to Rabbi Sobel!

In conclusion, it is Halachically and morally wrong to persecute someone who has paid for his crime and is now living an exemplary life with no danger to anyone. I implore all bloggers to place my FACTUAL report on their blogs, to set the record straight, and immediately remove all of the false rumors they have accumulated. After a while, my report too should be removed and Rabbi Sobel’s name should not be mentioned at all on any blogs. As I mentioned before, the Torah says that it is strictly forbidden to say to a baal teshuvah, “Remember your previous acts.”

Kesivah vechasimah tovah.

A source responds:

Hey, I was at Neveh Yehoshuah from the very opening Elul (fortunately, escaped early to a real yeshiva), and what this guy is saying isn’t true. The story with the driver was not only well known, but I know the individual personally. In fact, after the story broke in California, Neveh Yehoshua put out ads in all the Jewish papers stating that Sobel had been removed, it was the talk of Boro Park, etc, and they relocated to Jerusalem to become Neveh Zion. Furthermore, what “lacked motivation” meant was in fact, kids who had a troubled time in high school, I remember one of the kids in that first cohort had a drug problem, and was close to Rabbi Sobel, who used to hang out with him in the swimming pool. I saw it myself, daily. (I ended up at that nightmare place through a different process, as Rabbi Riskin initially wanted to use the program for his twelfth grade half year in Israel program, and managed to dissuade him from sending most of the group there; in fact, one of the people Sobel attempted to hit on was from that group; he then left to Diaspora Yeshiva, all messed up, trying to convince people of what Sobel was doing, and was only believed in retrospect). We had all heard that he taught for some time at Ner Yisrael, not that he was a student there, and had to leave under similar circumstances. As one can see, that information came from multiple sources (I only first mentioned this issue to you recently), and I heard it from the Itri people. I had been asked by Rabbi Elefant to make an appeal for the school, from his personal telephone in Jerusalem, to Rabbi Riskin to send the rest of the class there, so I was provided with the full background of the founding of the yeshiva, initiated by Rabbi Sobel, etc. It is also worth noting that the revelation about Sobel occurred several years after the founding of the yeshiva, so this business about him hiring others and how the story broke is false, and again, he traveled routinely until the last day of his time at the yeshiva, with his “driver”. Hard to call public announcements in all the Jewish media of the time “leaving quietly”, as stated by your correspondent. As for the boys not being minors, well, we were all seventeen. And I think the fact that so many different respondents confirm these stories should say something. The fact is, what Sobel does or doesn’t do is less the issue than how the community covered for him at the time, which was rather than press charges, etc, they quickly got him a job at Feldheim, since after all, “he was a rosh yeshiva”. There never was a public apology or even an admission that this happened there. As far as having light views of teshuva, I think real teshuva is a very serious manner, but the lighthearted expedient use of the concept politically by some elements is what was being critiqued.

Kara Swisher Interview

During the online boom, Swisher was known as the number one reporter on that beat.

She calls me Wednesday morning, Sept. 6, 2006.

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

Kara: "A lawyer. I didn't think about marriage. I knew I was gay since I was four. I was superior, as though I didn't have to worry about all that crap. I always knew I'd have kids."

Luke: "You felt superior to what?"

Kara: "To everybody. I didn't have to worry about if boys liked me..."

Swisher grew up in New York and Princeton. "My dad was an anesthesiologist. He died at 34 of a cerebral hemorrhage when I was five. My mom was a homemaker and did a lot of stuff in fashion. I'm second in the birth order. I have two brothers. My oldest brother is an anesthesiologist. My youngest brother is a lawyer."

Luke: "What's your opinion on the nature vs. nurture debate regarding your sexual identity?"

Kara: "Nature. Totally. It just seems obvious to me that people are the way they are when they are born."

Luke: "When you look back on your life, how much freedom of choice have you had?"

Kara: "I've had complete freedom of choice. By nature, I'm bold. You have to be if you're gay."

Luke: "What did your mother want from you?"

Kara: "A huge wedding with flowers and a big beautiful dress and the whole nine yards. It's been her biggest tragedy that she can't put me in kitten heels."

Luke: "What do you have against kitten heels?"

Kara: "I'm not a kitten heels per se but lately I've been dressing up more. She's beside herself as she enters her seventies. It's been her greatest dream to get me dolled up constantly."

Luke: "How did you dress as a kid?"

Kara: "Preppy. I still have Izod shirts and Fair Isle sweaters and clogs. Not a lot of make-up. I don't look gross. I'm not a typical dyke.

"I still have a lot of the clothes I wore in eighth grade. I'm the same size."

Luke: "Were you a happy kid?"

Kara: "I had a great childhood except for my dad dying, which set the tone for my entire life. I have a do-it-now personality."

Raised Catholic, Kara was confirmed at age 13 and hasn't been inside a church since. Kara has a vague belief in God.

Luke: "Do you hate the Catholic church?"

Kara: "No. They hate me. It's hard. They're attacking my family. I understand why all those religions do that... I am not angry at them for their beliefs but some of their beliefs are ridiculous."

Swisher graduated from Princeton Day School in 1980.

Luke: "When did you start telling people you were a lesbian?"

Kara: "After college. I told my mother in a spectacular way over the phone on my birthday. She said she wouldn't speak to me again and then wouldn't stop speaking to me for the rest of my life.

"I went to Georgetown, one of the more homophobic universities. It's a Catholic university. They were doing a lawsuit against the gay people while I was there."

Luke: "What's a 'lawsuit against the gay people'?"

Kara: "That they didn't have to give them a meeting hall and $25, meanwhile priests..."

Kara got her BA in Comparative Regional Studies in June 1984. "I had been mildly interested in being in the foreign service except for the diplomacy part. I'm not very diplomatic and I love telling secrets. And there was the gay issue. They were like, 'You could be blackmailed.' If I'm out, how could I be blackmailed? They said, 'You could be blackmailed.'"

Luke: "Can you pinpoint the time when you changed from a girl to a woman?"

Kara jokes: "The first time I slept with a man.

"I went back to my 25th highschool reunion and some of the guys told me that I was the best girlfriend because I wasn't clingy and I would sleep with them. Apparently lesbians make great girlfriends for straight men.

"I was an adult from an early age. My mom was lovely but teenage in her outlook. Having your dad die makes you grow up quickly. I never felt young. I was highly competent and highly functional, which is a hallmark of people whose parents die at a young age.

"My grandparents left some money to us. We were always in charge of our own money. I paid for college."

Luke: "What was it like to sleep with a man?"

Kara: "I love it. I just don't like it as much. I've always liked men. I've always found them attractive. I think that's a big canard about lesbians. I love the old Roseanne Barr joke -- why would lesbians hate men? They don't have to sleep with them."

Luke: "Is there a husband and wife in your marriage?"

Kara: "No. There's not a husband and wife in anyone's marriage anymore. I live in San Francisco where often the husbands are wives and wives husbands. Megan is more maternal than I am. I had Louis first. Then she had Alex. We used the same donor. I hated breast feeding. I do most of the housework and logistics. She does the laundry."

Luke: "How much anti-lesbian discrimination have you faced?"

Kara: "Less than you might think. It's subtle.

"One of my southern relatives says, 'Kara, 60% of people don't believe in gay marriage.' I say, 'How did you lose that 40% so quickly? It used to be 100%. Soon it will be 50% then 40% and 30% and you'll be some crazy old crank like the people who insult Jews and blacks.'

"Everywhere I go, somebody will stand up and say, 'I don't know what I think about gay sex.' Then don't have any.

"My profession doesn't care. I write about an industry that doesn't care. Here in San Francisco, we got into preschool because we're gay."

Kara worked for her highschool and college newspapers. She began freelancing at the Washington Post during college. "I called up the editor to tell him that a story was done badly. He invited me to come down and tell him that to his face. I did and he hired me as a stringer.

"I went to Columbia Journalism school which was a gigantic waste of time. They didn't even have computers. You don't need school to go into journalism. That's ridiculous."

"I worked for John McClaughlin and testified against him in a sexual harassment suit. He wasn't a very creative sexual harasser. That old run-around-the-desk crap.

"He settled and continues on. The father of modern screamfest on cable tv.

"He was funny. A guy wrote an article about the whole thing and nobody would put their name to it and so I did. He came up to me at a party and said, 'Everyone else stabbed me in the back and you stabbed me in the front. Thanks.'

"I thought, 'Anytime, you pig.'"

Around 1990, Swisher began covering technology and AOL, which was headquartered in Virginia."

Luke: "Which of your personality traits have helped you succeed in journalism?"

Kara: "I've always spoken my mind. My family is not always honest but we're always forthright. My mother loves the media. She was always taking us to the theater and exposing us to TV and newspapers."

"[Circa 1990:] I was covering a famous retail family in Washington, the Hafts. They owned Crown Books. They got in a big fight. It was like King Lear. I got well known in Washington for writing about this family. I got really sick of them. Dysfunctional families are fun to cover for a while and then they start calling you at home and want to be in the news. It's horrifying.

"I went off to Russia to visit a friend. I was contacted by my editor, David Ignatius. He's like, there's this internet thing happening and there's little company AOL and nobody's been covering it well. Would you come back and do this?

"AOL became the most important company of the decade.

"I'd initially been contacted by publishers to write a book about the Hafts. My editor guided me to focus on AOL. As they grew, my reputation grew. I got to meet everybody in the Internet space early on because they were all interfacing with AOL.

"The parties were great [during the Internet boom] and the public got this amazing communications medium for free, paid for by speculation."

Kara says the Treo is the best relationship in her life.

Luke: "How important was the pornography industry in the development of the Internet business?"

Kara: "Critical. I love the pornography industry. There was Danni Ashe, the most downloaded woman on the Internet, I love her. She was so smart. She came to the South-by-Southwest conference and was on a panel. People snickered at her. She was one of the smartest people I ever met early on in the Internet. She understood the power of interactive media better than anyone else. She did interesting innovative things that consumers wanted. You may not like what they're selling, but they've been really good at figuring out what people want and delivering the goods. People should stop snickering about them.

"They have their show at the same time as CES. Technology people have their uniform -- khakis, Oxford shirts, and sneakers. Porn people have their uniform too -- silky shirts, little beards, same haircuts, same boots. I brought my baby to the conference and I was bored and I sat there looking at them. They're always mixing in the halls.

"I should have written about them more but the Journal wasn't interested in pornography.

"[Porners] were the first to sell subscriptions well. They had early payment systems. We should sic the spam people on Al Qaeda. They're really smart.

"There was this M2M4sex.com -- a gay men's hookup. You could write that you were in the Castro and looking for sex dressed up in fur at four o'clock. You put it in and it would find someone. Some say, 'Oh, that's gross.' No, that's why the internet's great.

"MySpace, EBay are about finding what you want when you want it."

Luke: "How did the moguls talk about the porn industry?"

Kara: "I was always like, 'Look at this [porn] site.' They'd go yuck. I'd say, look at how efficient this is. Think about how you could use it for your own business. They never talk about it. Obviously porn was a big deal for AOL. At one point, they thought about starting a separate porn business. Planetout.com paid the rent by porn advertising."

Luke: "I remember how Yahoo had handpicked listings for the best bestiality sites."

"Do your kids suffer because you are not married to a man?"

Kara: "Not in San Francisco. My brothers are an important part of my life. There are a lot of men in my life. I grew up without a father. It was not good.

"My kids have two loving parents. They're the luckiest kids on earth. They have this beautiful house in San Francisco. They get whatever they want."

Luke: "Were there any blacks at the forefront of the Internet revolution?"

Kara: "Not enough. There aren't enough women. It's a white geeky guy world. But the industry's trying to diversify."

A Hezbollah apologist wins an award for tolerance

Steven Emerson writes:

In October 2000, Maher Hathout attended a rally in Lafayette Park across from the White House. His speech was captured on video for posterity by the Investigative Project on Terrorism. He told the assembled crowd that he was not surprised by what he called the "atrocities committed by the apartheid brutal state of Israel." After all, he reasoned, "butchers do what butchers do, and ... what is expected from a racist apartheid [state] is what is happening now."

Fast forward six years. The Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations announced last Tuesday that Hathout, president of the Islamic Center of Southern California and a senior adviser to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (mpac), would receive its prestigious John Allen Buggs Award in luncheon ceremonies on October 5. The award is given annually for what the commission describes as "outstanding human relations work."

A man who called Israel a nation of butchers (he didn't stop there; he has also accused the United States of committing state terrorism) is about to be honored with a major award for effective practices in human relations work. Is this any different than giving, say, David Duke an award for healing racial relations?

Is Novelist Ian McEwan Perfect?

If there's a flaw in his books, I haven't noticed it.

Poker mags put their foot down on David Williams "foot fetish" controversy

He may love feet, old swinging married broads and waving his wand where some of us wouldn't dare tread. But magician and professional poker player David Williams 15 minutes of fame in the world of "foot fetish" porn hasn't gone unnoticed by those web sites that specialize in reporting on that particular field.

ESPN reports:

Is there a career as an adult film actor in Williams' past? "No,'' he said, "but I would if I could. If I wasn't in a role-model position like now, I wouldn't care. Porn is porn. I like chicks. I've been seen around with some hot chicks. But I'm in the public eye. A lot of people have kids coming up to me. I don't have the option to do those kind of things. I would if I wasn't in kind of a role-model position. "They say it was me. And if it was me, I'm not shy. All my friends who know me say, 'If that was Dave, he would've said it was him.'''

David Williams signed with Bodog.com whose owner, Calvin Ayers, appeared on the cover of Forbes, and was arrested in Costa Rica. (Bodog just signed Jamie Gold, winner of the World Series of Poker Main Event 2006.)

I've never heard about David Williams (until I was emailed this information) and I had no idea that poker players could be celebrities. I know nothing about their world and nothing about the World Series of Poker.

Berel emails me: "Has there been a study done on the consumption of porn by yeshiva bachurs? How many have had their spiritual life destroyed by excessive guilt about masturbation? I'm very curious and somewhere lurking in the back of my mind, I must admit, I think somehow by emailing you I will come closer to the mysterious gnosis that is hidden within porn."

I'm afraid I don't have any answers. I know people who are addicted to porn and to alcohol and it devastates their lives.

Texas Guy emails me 9/5/06:

Brian Micon is a poker pro who is appearing on ESPN tonight (Sept. 5), defeating Jamie Gold in a hand of poker. Micon is well known in poker. He has a myspace page.

Williams is a famous poker pro, and ESPN did an interview last week and denied that he did a video called "College Cock 8" with Janet Mason. When the story broke in poker news back in April 2006, somebody bought the master and allegedly paid Janet Mason off not to talk.

Bryan Micon Of NeverWinPoker.com

I call Bryan Tuesday morning, Sep 5, 2006.

Luke: "You got a few minutes."

Bryan: "Yeah, no problem. It's my favorite subject to talk about."

Luke: "What does David Williams do on that video College Cock 8?"

Bryan: "It is a fetish video produced in 7/28/03 by Janet Mason. Part one is a foot job. Part two is him licking her ass for 15 straight minutes.

"That woman could not have sold that many of these. I got the last one before Dave Williams bought the master. I have four extremely secure copies. I bet there are 100 mobile homes in America with this DVD sitting on top of the DVD player and they have no clue who it is."

Luke: "What is David Williams best known for? The World Series of Poker?"

Bryan: "He came second in 2004 to Greg Raymer and won $3.5 million. The video was shot almost to the day one year before that.

"The big question among my friends was whether he did it because he's a member of the site or whether he was paid."

Luke: "He wasn't paid."

"Is poker regarded in the general community as a vice like pornography?"

Bryan: "Not anymore. I guess you really have not seen much poker. With all the ESPN coverage starting in 2003, it's turned into something special. They're regarded more as athletes, maybe degenerate athletes, than pornographers. Greg Raymer does nothing but sign autographs when he walks out in the hall. David Williams is one of the kings of Las Vegas. In any city, he can walk into a room, into a random sports bar, and a lot of people will know who he is. The chicks dig it because they know he has infinite money."

Luke: "Is this going to hurt his poker career?"

Bryan: "I don't believe so. I tried to get this story in every poker magazine ever. The major poker media refused to run the story. 'We don't want to piss off any pro poker players so they won't talk to us.' No publicity is bad publicity.

"It will hurt his credibility because he has told so many real media that it wasn't him. Because it's embarrassing."

Luke: "How would other poker players feel about this?"

Bryan: "This breed really don't care. What are they going to do? Not deal him in."

Luke: "Would they bust his balls?"

Bryan: "For sure. One hundred percent. But that's it."

Luke: "Would he lose friends over this?"

Bryan: "I doubt it. I know a lot of his friends. He was involved in the game Magic the Gathering. It's a super nerd game, a strategy game. His magic friends are his old school friends. Most of them knew about this porno way before he entered the World Series."

Luke: "Is he self-destructive?"

Bryan: "He said that he didn't want his mom to know about it. That was his main reason for all the denials."

Luke: "Don't hookers and poker go together like meat and milk?"

Bryan: "They do. You can find degenerates in any sport but you are obviously pre-qualified playing in a $10,000 tournament. You have no respect for your money."

Luke: "Have you known great poker players who've ruined their talents by pursuing hookers?"

Bryan: "Hookers are usually the least of their problems. Usually their lives are destroyed between the craps table, the blackjack table and the drugs."

"There are a lot of professional poker players who do have gambling problems. Sometimes it is more of a gambling solution so long as they stick to poker. Poker has certainly destroyed way more lives than it has helped. Most of the pros restrain themselves to playing the poker."

Luke: "Would you say that a higher proportion of pro poker players have drug problems when compared to the general public?"

Bryan: "Yes."

Luke: "Could you give me a psychological portrait of pro poker players?"

Bryan: "ADD. Everyone's report card said, 'Smart but talked during class.' Class clown. Always had a problem with authority. It all leads to poker. Never wanted to work for the man. Always thought you were smarter than everyone else. Usually had a small gambling problem at some point which led to the pokr table, a gambling solution."

"I run the number one poker website -- neverwinpoker.com. I guess poker is my profession. I won a few hundred thousand dollars at the World Series this year. I list my profession as 'professional degenerate.'"

"I've been devoted to poker for about eight years. I was trading stocks in college. I made a ton of money. I thought I knew everything [and then came the crash of 2000 and 2001]. I tried to start a business teaching other people how to make money in the stock market but that was not the place to be in 2001."

I ask Bryan about his photo on his website.

Bryan: "The white visor and the velour sweatsuit are our thing at neverwinpoker. The velour sweatsuit is the smoothest thing you can ever wear. Most casinos are cold. It keeps you warm."

Luke: "Why do you hide your face?"

Bryan: "You really are a poker novice. You always hide your face because it is a reduction of tells to other players. But let's not kid ourselves. You look cool. People take your picture. You look cool for the camera. There is a whole big thing with image that I won't get into, but the image that you project is how other people play you.

"Look at me. I look like the punk kid. You don't want to get rolled by me because then you're just embarrassed. I talk a lot at the table. I use that. But tricks only work on the weaker players."

Luke: "Why do you call yourself a degenerate?"

Bryan: "Some words just crept into my speech. If you read my website, there are a handful of words that get pounded over and over. It's half a joke. Poker, yeah, it is a degenerate's sport in some people's eyes."

Luke: "Do you party a lot?"

Bryan: "No. I have a wife and a dog and a house."

Luke: "How does your wife like you calling yourself a degenerate?"

Bryan: "Remember, I work from the house and make a lot of money. I can spend a lot of time with her. She does not complain. She thinks it's cool what I do. Her whole family thinks it's cool.

"You're Jewish, too? Her family are business owners and lawyers and doctors. It's not a source of conflict partially because I've been very successful for a while."

Luke: "How do your parents feel about you constantly calling yourself a degenerate?"

Bryan: "I don't talk to my parents that much but when I won a place at the final table of the World Series, I got a call, 'Why is everybody calling me? Where are you?' 'I'm in Vegas, mom. I've been here for a month.'"

Luke: "Do they say, 'We're so proud that you're a degenerate.'"

Bryan: "No. They're very much not proud. If they ever tell you they are, they're lying."

Luke: "I can't imagine any parents being proud that their son calls himself a degenerate. It doesn't give them nachas."

Bryan: "I got a phone call. Our rabbi is a good friend. He asked me to speak to his [Reform or Reconstructionist] synagogue. Poker is huge now."

"I've been getting ready for this ESPN coverage tonight. I want to make sure the servers don't crash."

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

Bryan: "I only knew that I didn't want to get dressed up every day. My mother told me on a few occasions that I'd have to be a trash man."

Bryan estimates that the median age for pro poker players is about 22. "The more you investigate poker, every Stein, Rosenthal, Bloom, they're all in poker. All the Jews are saying this is the easiest money to get now. I don't even go to synagogue any more but something in my brain told me to do it too."

Luke: "How do you think your choice of profession has affected you?"

Bryan: "I have a nice BMW and a $10,000 watch."

"There are action junkies all over the poker world. You're always trying to get your poker high back."

Luke: "I can't imagine that you'd make good decisions if you're high on cocaine."

Bryan: "Cocaine, unfortunately, works very well on poker. If you need to stay up for two days... Cocaine has claimed the lives of a lot of poker champions including Steve Unger. He led the most degenerative life ever."

"It sounds like you need to play a poker tournament."

Luke: "No. I was a gambling addict in highschool and had to go cold turkey on any form of gambling."

Nancy Rubin Stuart Interview II

Nancy wrote such books as The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox, American Empress: The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post, Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen, The Mother Mirror: How A Generation of Women Is Changing Motherhood in America, and The New Suburban Woman: Beyond Myth and Motherhood.

* What your choice of subjects says about you? For instance, what do all your protagonists have in common? For instance, they all sought power and attention and the limelight?

Your question implies that since I write about powerful and prominent women I must long to be one. I understand that's a common assumption among those who interview writers.

Before embracing that assumption, though, consider the question that all publishers ask before agreeing to give a writer a contract. Who is your audience? How interested would your readers be in the life of an ordinary person, someone who simply lives, loves and dies, who, in other words, leads a perfectly normal life? Does anyone really care? On the contrary, readers like to be excited and intrigued, to hear about those people who have lived such special lives that they deserve to have an entire book devoted to them.

I think you understand my point. Biographies are written about extraordinary people, those who are unusually good, bad, talented or powerful enough to make a difference.

Does that mean since I write about those subjects, I must be like them too? Or does it simply mean that I'm a creative person who is fascinated by those who have made a difference?

* "Free woman power"? That's a bit bold? Do you believe that life/marriage is tougher on women than men? Surely there's no free lunch in love or elsewhere?

No, I do not believe that marriage is necessarily tougher on men than women. Men, after all, are still supposed to be major breadwinners as well as be more involved as fathers than were earlier generations. The second set of expectations add stress for men who already work long hours and hope to rise in their careers.

The context of The New Suburban Woman, however, is the late 1970s and early 1980s when most women were not gainfully employed outside the home and when they made 69 cents for every dollar collected by a male worker.

At the time that I wrote that book, the marriage contract that expected women to be full-time homemakers and child-rearers was still operative. As subsequent divorce statistics indicated, many of those homemakers were later displaced and having dropped out of the work force for ten or twenty years, found themselves financially straightened in after divorce. Local, state and charitable organizations even sprang up to help the "displaced homemakers" of the 1970s and 1980s.

Today, it is far more acceptable for women with young children to work outside the home. Many women do so, not only to help pay the mortgage, but as a "hedge" against a sudden loss of income through divorce. New day care centers for the middle class have appeared around the country and so have after-school programs - both practically unheard of in the 1970s and early 1980s. Meanwhile, volunteer organizations, once staffed almost exclusively by at-home mothers, have more difficulty filling their ranks as do many daytime PTA associations. Even today, suburban mothers who remain at home with their children often claim they do more than their share for the children of working mothers either by hosting more play dates or doing "favors" for working mothers.

Increasingly "free womanpower" as I defined it in The New Suburban Woman, has become a vanishing commodity.

* American Empress: "That book depicts the life of a beautiful woman whose vast wealth, pluck, and brains enabled her to live far more independently than other women would or could for another fifty years." A bit bold? If that statement is true, who's Marjorie's first successor 50 years later? Is living independently good? An island never cries.

At the risk of labeling anyone, I would just like to point out that thousands of less well known women have become "Marjorie's successors" for decades, certainly since the late 1970s or early 1980s. A comparison of the Who's Who directories today with those a generation ago indicates just how many more women are independent today than they were a generation or two ago - including many who were not born to wealth or privilege.

You ask if independent living is good. I believe that is a highly personal question. Historically, the American Revolution "proved" that people want to decide their own fates and think for themselves. So did the suffrage and feminist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Just how independently a woman decides to live is her choice. Some women are perfectly happy to be traditionally dependent on men. Others chose to remain independent career women. I have friends in both camps. You probably do as well.

* Why is it irresponsible to out someone as gay (as long as it is true)? Why is that more or less irresponsible than outing something else (of equivalent punch) about a person?

Is it not irresponsible to "out" anyone on the basis of their race, religion, culture, or sexual orientation or culture? Writers are supposed to examine all types of people, after all, and try to understand them and their lives.

* Would it be fair to characterize your approach to your protagonists as a sympathetic friend? You seem to want good things for them?

To write engagingly about a character requires some empathy for them, I suppose, but disapproval is also inevitable. One of the most fascinating aspects of writing a biography is knowing that the protagonist will make certain poor decisions and/or mistakes in his life. Yet the writer can do nothing about it! The upshot is that all a writer can hope to do is reflect the lives of their characters as accurately as possible and that includes the " bad things" they do as well as the good.

* Do you believe there are important lessons to be learned from your protagonists? Yet you do not spell these lessons out?

Readers are smart. They don't need the writer to hammer home the " lessons" learned from reading about a life. If a book is well written, the reader will inevitably come to his own conclusions. That, at least, is my goal when writing non- biographies.

Tendler Family Tree

Jewish Whistleblower writes:

On August 24, 2006, there was a meeting of prominent rabbis, several of whom are acused sexual predators. Their families came together for the union of their children in marriage.

Known to have attended:

Rabbi Ephraim Bryks - open police investigation in Canada (father of the bride)
Rabbi Lewis (Yom Tov Lipa) Brenner - convicted pedophile (grandfather of the bride)
Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz, father of the groom - 1st cousin of Rabbi Mordecai Tendler's wife Michelle. Faskowitz resigned publicly from the RCA condemning them in the Jewish Press in an open letter for their treatment of Tendler. A week later the Jewish Press clarified that Faskowitz was a relative of Tendler.

Unconfirmed, but believed to have attended:
Rabbi Mordecai Tendler - removed from RCA over serious allegations of sexual misconduct (his wife Michelle is 1st cousins with the groom's father).

Rabbi Ephraim Boruch Bryks' daughter XXXXXXXXX married the son of Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz, ******* on Thursday, August 24, 2006 at Ateres Avrohom Hall at 6:15 @ 75 Ross St. Brooklyn, NY, Chupa at 7:30.

Parents: Rabbi Ephraim Boruch Halevy & Yocheved Shoshana Bryks Rabbi Moshe Aaron & Fayge Tzivia Faskowitz.

Grandparents: Cantor Yaakov and Eidel Lefkowitz Rabbi Yom Tov Lipa Hacohen & Gittel Devora Brenner Rebbetzin Reizel Faskowitz wife of Chaim Boruch Faskowitz Rabbi Aharon Tzvi and Menucha Nechama Eisenberg. Aliyah took place at Torah Center of Hillcrest.

Zipi writes to Jewish Whistleblower: "This is inappropriate. True the parents and the grandfather did what shouldn't be done, but the bride and groom are innocent and should not be embarrassed."

JWB responds: "Firstly, I did not use the names of the bride or groom and specifically asked Mr.Ford not to do so. Secondly, I held my tounge for several months til after the sheva brachot. Thirdly, it is an outrage that child molesters are given any public kavod from their rabbinical colleagues and particularly when they are allowed to publicly use the title rav. Such an outrage must be publicized regardless of everything else."

Allegra Goodman is Back

I loved some of the short stories she wrote in her teens and early twenties. Then she wrote serious novels and my enjoyment of her work diminished. Now's she at the top of her game with Intuition, a crackling story about scientists.

For the first time, Judaism has largely fallen off her writing radar.

Yet, like another novel I couldn't put down -- Robert Siegel's All the Money in the World, the ending of Intuition did not satisfy me. There were no good guys and bad guys. There was not enough punishment for sin.

It was like Reform Judaism.

I not only enjoy sin as much as the next guy, I enjoy it more than most. I find it difficult to become aroused unless I feel like I am sinning.

I know this is wrong. That is precisely what makes it so much fun.

There's not enough indignation about sin in Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox Judaism and consequently I don't find them arousing (not that I last long in anything more rigorous than Modern Orthodoxy).

One thing I love about Orthodox Judaism is that it clearly delineates right and wrong. That makes it easy for me to sin riotously (without hurting anyone) and to consequently feel shame.

Yes, I know that most people are not definitively good or bad but some people are good and some people are bad. Some sins don't get punished in this world but many do.

It used to be that stories (on screen or in fiction) had clear endings. As embodied by 1970's Five Easy Pieces, we've lately had more non-definitive endings. Neither is inherently right or wrong, but punishment should fit the crime (or what's a heaven for?).

Jason Rhoades, 41; Artist Combined Humor, Poignancy

He graduated a year ahead of me at Placer High School and is its most famous alumnus after all-star baseball player Jeff Blauser (who graduated with me in 1984).

From the Aug. 3 LA Times:

Los Angeles artist Jason Rhoades, who became more celebrated in Europe than in the United States for elaborate installations that broke down conventional walls between performance and conventional art, died Tuesday.

"It's so tragic," said Paul Schimmel, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art. "He was one of the most significant artists of his generation.

"Both he and his art were known for their humor — one could almost say buffoonery — but there was more importantly a poignant, tragic quality throughout," Schimmel said by telephone from the Caribbean island of Bonaire, where he was vacationing. "He addressed social taboos; it's almost as if he were constructing sculpture with irony. He was an American artist not of the East Coast — he was a California artist with an interest in architecture, popular culture, county fairs, extremes of lifestyle, sports, entertainment, music."

Who Was Placer High School's Greatest Newspaper Editor?

Eric Schulzke (now a BYU poli sci prof) served over me in 1983. (His younger brother Matt was on the paper for a semester with me in 1984. Matt was kicked out BYU and committed suicide by jumping off the Foresthill Bridge circa 1986). Rob Stutzman (who was Governor Schwarzeneger's Communications Director) ran the paper for the two years after me.

Alice, the first girl who French kissed me (my junior year) became Auburn's mayor and now works for California's governor.

Eric writes on Yahoo: "Is this man the most esteemed PHS highschool newspaper editor: Luke Ford? His life would make a great movie."

L., a cutie two grades below me, replies: "[I] couldn't tolerate him then, and I am sure, if he is still writing about porn and his messed up life, I couldn't tolerate him now."

Eric writes:

I think you're being a little harsh. A guy who claims to be deeply religious and knows so much about Christian and Jewish literature but also knows a lot about porn is pretty interesting. Maybe he's messed up, I don't know him. I'm sure it's a challenge integrating all the parts of his personality, but he seems pretty honest about it. If you have an ethical or moral problem with what he does, that's fine, but on a purely human level, I find him interesting.

L. responds:

He is an interesting character. In hs I thought that he would write about religion, politics, something intellectual. I really don't have a problem with his creative approach to the subject of porn, but I think that he has become self-destructive in his life choices. Maybe he will turn things around. Have you run into him in L.A.? I remember in Underwood's [psychology instructor] class he always had a strong opinion and seemed very self-assured, but not very empathetic to others. I think that is why I had a hard time tolerating him. Very smart, but not a very good listener.

Karen writes: "I would buy a ticket to see this in any theatre, reminds me of DOMINO and her story. I think you could get Heath [Ledger] to play Luke. No worries about the accent as he actually grew up in Austrailia. You gotta read his bio."

British TV Movie Imagines Assassination of Bush

It seems shocking but then most movies are about imagined evil deeds performed out for our amusement.

Watching The Jewish Journal Blog Is Like Watching Your Parents Have Sex

When Hezbollah rained rockets on Northern Israel this summer, the Journal's Amy Klein and CAA agent Matt Altman flew from Los Angeles to the war and began to blog.

As Amy wrote in her final blog entry of Aug. 14: "Who knows what to think anymore?"

Now Amy's profiled Matt, and told the full excruciating story of his bravery: "Beverly Hills TV Agent Casts Himself in Reality Show: Lebanon War"

Get me rewrite.

Matt Altman with Tel Aviv Mayor Yona Yahav.

Anderson Cooper writes about his brother's suicide. More.

John Travolta Comes Out

Fighting Fire With Satire

Richard Greenberg of JTA writes:

Mocking every conceivable anti-Semitic stereotype, the book "reveals," for example, that the Jews poisoned the wells of Europe in order to create a market for bottled water, that a Berlin pharmacist actually fomented World War I and that psychoanalysis was invented as a way to hypnotize wealthy and powerful non-Jews.

As for Sept. 11 itself, the book discloses that Rabbi Chaim Schnitzelbaum of lower Manhattan orchestrated the whole thing because the World Trade Center was blocking his view of New Jersey.

Pain and Pleasure and Guilt, Oh My!

Rob Eshman writes:

Jeffrey Ross, a standard fixture at celebrity roasts and my favorite un-famous comic, got up and killed. He insulted the venue -- "I had to put on a tie for this s---hole?" -- insulted the organizers and insulted the audience.

When he called the cheeky Times columnist Joel Stein "just like Tom Wolfe, but without the talent," some in the audience gasped at the audacity, because Stein, like Jon Stewart, is Jewish hipster royalty -- the court jester with mainstream media exposure. Plus Stein was sitting in the front row. (No worries, he has a sense of humor.)

Novelist Ayelet Waldman - Daughter's Keeper, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

* Do you ever struggle with the constraints of monogamy? Do your happily married friends? Is monogamy a precondition for a happy marriage? Can one or both parties screw around and the marriage still be good? Even if one is honest, can one, married or single, screw around without wreaking damage? Is there a cosmic significance to intercourse?

No, I don't. I'm in love with my husband, he's in love with me, and neither of us has any interest in a relationship with anyone else. That's what works for us, I imagine any number of different rules might apply to other people's marriages.

* What were your keenest dreams for your life when you were a kid? How many of them have you fulfilled?

I wanted to be an actress. A Broadway star. I would say that that has not worked out at all.

* What crowd did you hang out with in highschool?

Mostly, I had no crowd. I was one of those girls huddled alone in the lunchroom picking spinach out of their braces. Then, once I reached a certain age, I got involved with the theater company, and found a home in that particular group of delightful misfits.

* Do you find your work therapeutic? If so, which part of your work?

When work is going well, it is the most exciting, fun thing in my life. It makes me happy. When it's not going well, but I still manage to get 1000 or 1500 words in a day, I feel a sense of accomplishment that eases my day. When I don't work, I'm a nightmare to be around.

* Do you ever feel keen jealousy of other writers, including your husband? If so, who? Why?

Of other writers, sure. Writers are a squirrely lot who generally endorse the Oscar Wilde prescription for happiness. It is not enough that I succeed, my friends must also fail. So sure, I get jealous when some hot new writer sells a million copies of a book or debuts on the front cover of the book review. I feel absolutely no jealousy toward my husband. It would be ludicrious to. He is one of the finest writers in the English language of the last hundred years. People will be reading Michael long after the rest of his contemporaries have moldered into dust on the shelves of the library of Congress. If I'm jealous of anything, it's only of his genious.

* What's the story of you and God? What role does Judaism play in your life? Do you believe yourself chosen by God for something? If so, what? What do you find inspiring/depressing about Jewish life?

I don't spend much time thinking about God.Judaism permeates my life, but not necessarily religiously, more because of family, tradition, etc. What depresses me? Opening the newspaper. Israel depresses me.

* Which is more important to you? Writing a great novel or having a great marriage? (Many of the single female writers I interviewed got angry at that question.)


* 'Literary' often seems to be a code word for the genre of despair. Are there forces that push our best writers to despair as their theme? Is it cool (among literary writers) to be alienated and despairing? If a despairing book contributes to somebody's suicide, is the author partially on the hook? Do you ever view books as moral or immoral (DeSade or Nabokov's Lolita)?

Sure a book can be immoral -- certainly not Lolita, and probably not DeSade ( haven't read him) -- but if a book, say, contains specific instructions on how to lure small children to their death, then it would be immoral. Despair is just another aspect of the human condition, and more importantly for writers, it's a hell of a lot more interesting than happiness. A book in which someone is perfectly content, there's no conflict, is a dull book indead. The story is always about conflict. Otherwise, what's there to write about?

* How have your social/political views changed since becoming a wife and mother?

Very little. I've always been a liberal with a strong libertarian bent. I feel the same way. I still, despite having children, believe, for example, that the use, possession and sale of drugs -- all drugs from marijuana to methamphetamine -- should be decriminalized.

* Have your boundaries changed about what you will reveal in an interview or a non-fiction piece since you gave up blogging?

I'm more circumspect since my piece in the New York Times. I'll always be candid about most things -- my bipolar disorder, my maternal ambivalence -- but there are intimate things I'm not interested in talking about.

The Anglophile By Laurie Gwen Shapiro

At a funeral for Aunt Dot's pet skunk, they begin with a kiddush.

Laurie's writing is so sharp, she transcends "chick lit" to pure literature (without losing an ounce of fun).

My favorite part of Shapiro's work is the size of her books -- they fit perfectly inside a prayer book so that while swaying and exclaiming a pious Jew can enjoy her fine writing while his fellows suffer with the siddur.

A Pornographer Seeks Grace

Luke: don't betray your race
Jane: omg, you are terrible
Jane: how are things?
Luke: I'm not sure, i went off all my meds
Jane: i just went on meds
Luke: what finally convinced you to try?
Luke: my example of sanity?
Jane: no i've just been so depressed lately it's ridiculous
Jane: the other week i didn't get out of bed until 5 PM
Jane: i NEVER do that
Jane: i have no direction, i have no spirituality
Jane: i have nothing to believe in
Luke: don't you believe in porn?
Jane: of course not, i'm not that stupid
Luke: you keep working hard, you'll get another hustler cover
Jane: i love my job, but it doesn't feed my soul
Luke: I see you on the cover of celebrity sleuth
Jane: oh stop it
Jane: i'm not going to "find God" cause that isn't my thing but i need something
Jane: i've been thinking about going on this spiritual retreat
Jane: i just can't believe in organized religion
Jane: it doesn't work for me
Luke: wherever the solution is, it lies with people outside of porn. not on your own.
Jane: my parents think i'm crazy, but i'm thinking of doing this spiritual retreat in Arizona
Jane: they have spiritual counseling, meditation classes, yoga, diet counseling
Luke: if you don't take on something that requires sacrifice, then it is cheap grace.
Jane: my friends are making an enormous amount of fun of me but i don't care
Jane: i need an anchor
Luke: you should do it, even if you hate, it would be hilarious material.
Jane: i said i could always write an article about it, like for Hustler, a pornographer trying to find spiritual grace
Jane: at least it makes for a good story

Mike Albo writes:

...[T]he posting of your IM session with "Jane" was priceless. But it could probably use a loose translation:

Luke: don't betray your race (Please, baby, please! Don't go out on a date with that black fellow)
Jane: omg, you are terrible (Jeez, you're a dope, Luke.)
Jane: how are things? (I want to twist the knife of jealousy into your soul, bi-atch.)
Luke: I'm not sure, i went off all my meds (I'm so confused and lost without you! Please feel sorry for me...and don't go out with that black guy.)
Jane: i just went on meds (Your girlish whining gives me such a headache!)
Luke: what finally convinced you to try?
Luke: my example of sanity? (I'm such a tortured individual...and it's all because of you, honey. Please don't date that black guy.)

I Like The Taste Of Lithium

When I'm despairing, it's good to know that I'm only a few tablets away from feeling strong enough to wrestle with my demons.

Death, Despair and the Community

I just finished Samuel Heilman's excellent book When a Jew Dies. He concludes:

...[F]or Jews in death no less than in life, solitariness is raplced by solidarity. Jewish life and death are with people, and hence in the face of death no less than in life, the answer to Hillel's question is "You are not, cannot be only for yourself." In their traditions and customs, Jews reveal an understanding that for them death is not and never can be a purely personal matter. It strikes at the heart of collective existence, for the death of one can portend the death of all, and the response to death must therefore be both individual and collective.

I Interviewed Novelist Aimee Bender

I got to tell her: "You're freakin' gorgeous."

It was a great moment in literary history and a turning point in relations between the sexes.

If I had been blogging in 1992, there would never have been the L.A. Riots.

Let's go to the audiotape.

Noon. Aug 29. Aimee Bender phones me as scheduled.

Luke: "What are the qualities of the best and worst interview experiences you've had?"

Aimee: "In the best ones, I go with the flow as it happens and it deepens as it goes. It can be easy to have a quick answer and then jump to something else."

Luke: "Your writing is so surreal, you're a bit more of a challenge."

Aimee: "It's a challenge for me to know how to talk about it in a way that can connect to someone. Often I'll end up talking about my writing routine and how I sit down to write in the morning. The process of how stuff happens on the page is hard to pin down."

Luke: "How much do you have to do with your website www.flammableskirt.com?"

Aimee: "I set it up with my boyfriend of the time."

Luke: "I remember the moderator of your panel [on the Jewish Guilt book at the People of the Book Festival 2006] said that to Aimee being Jewish may be number ten on your list of priorities."

Aimee: "And I said, maybe it's number five.

"If I'm the only Jew in the room, I'm aware. That's a form of identity."

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

Aimee: "A writer at times, but I also wanted to be a singer and an actress."

Luke: "Are you a good singer and actress?"

Aimee: "I'm a bad actress and I'm not a good singer but I really like it."

Luke: "I've seen you on a few different panels and there's a vulnerability to you that wouldn't be there if you had become a lawyer."

Aimee: "I don't think I could've been a lawyer. A lawyer is a protector. What interests me in writing is vulnerability and pushing for something underneath the surface, exposing something."

Bender went to Pacific Palisades High School. "I was with the nerdy honors crowd. Then the drama group was the counterpoint. I was enamored with their enthusiasm for performance."

"I viewed writing as a hobby until graduate school when I began writing every day."

Aimee got her BA in Literature (with an emphasis on Creative Writing) in 1991 and her MFA from U.C. Irvine in 1997.

"In general, I'm an optimistic person. I'm friendly. I like people. The people who didn't know me well were surprised by the dark stuff in my writing. I have people who've known me since highschool who don't know where that stuff comes from."

Luke: "What do you do with your nervous energy?"

Aimee: "I don't smoke but I get the appeal. Walking is good. I can over-think things. I'll structure things. Make lists. On a good day, I can talk myself through it and see what's under it. Usually there's something complicated."

Luke: "Are you at peace with yourself?"

Aimee laughs. "No. There's tons of conflict."

Luke: "Where is being Jewish in your list of priorities?"

Aimee: "It's become more important. There are ways that I deal with my nervous energy that feel Jewish. The ways that I'm attracted to Hebrew."

Luke: "When did Aimee Bender become cool? You're on a good trajectory."

Aimee laughs. "In graduate school, I typed up that I want to be in a bookstore and I want loyal fans."

Luke: "When do you get the most animated? You seem not animated."

Aimee: "I feel animated. I'm pretty calm. I get that a lot. Interviews are a particular form where you try to articulate things that are often hard to articulate. My style in general is low-key."

Luke: "When you want to take charge of a room, what do you do? Do you speak louder?"

Aimee: "Does it feel like I'm speaking quietly?"

Luke: "I'm just curious."

Aimee: "I can't tell if you mean..."

Luke: "Your voice seems flat. I don't know if you are tired or if this is just your interview voice..."

Aimee: "It's hard for me to know.

"To command attention, it's not usually a problem."

"I don't usually dominate a discussion or a room."

Luke: "Do you enjoy performing at a reading?"

Aimee: "Yes, but it's not like I am going to take on a character's voice. What you may experience as flat, I think something else is going on. I want the words to convey it and to read it in a way that goes under the words."

Luke: "Can you do voices?"

Aimee: "Not really."

"This American Life reads things that can seem like a deadpan but I really like it.

"I'm feeling a little defensive of the word 'flat' but that is my manner."

Luke: "You've never done phone sex as a profession."

Aimee: "No, but even if I had, I wouldn't tell you."

"I'm often called 'calm,' which I prefer over 'flat.'"

Luke: "You're freakin' gorgeous. How has your body affected your writing?"

Aimee laughs. "I get a little insult. Now I get a little compliment.

"Thank you."

Luke: "It'd be hard to write your librarian story without the confidence that beauty brings."

Aimee: "It's about inhabiting that feeling of being attractive."

Luke: "Have you experienced not being taken seriously as a writer because you are cute?"

Aimee: "Some people don't take my stuff seriously because they think it's weird."

Aimee's published three essays.

Luke: "How do you like writing under the constraints of being factually true?"

Aimee: "I find it really hard."

Luke: "Do you fear that your muse will leave you?"

Aimee: "No, because I don't believe in the muse."

Luke: "Is Halloween still your favorite holiday?"

Aimee: "Yes, because it's about imagination and fantasy and going to an unconscious expression of something."

Luke: "That essay you read at the Heeb reading [in June 2005]..."

Aimee: "Have we met?"

Luke: "Yes. There. It was brief."

Aimee: "It hasn't shown up yet in Heeb. They haven't done something with those talks. I'm not sure I want to push it."

Luke: "You wrote about..."

Aimee: "A failed marriage."

Luke: "Anti-Semitism. Your husband defended the swastika."

Aimee laughs. "I like how that's boiled down."

Luke: "He said it was an ancient pagan symbol."

Aimee: "The reverse swastika was the Native American symbol at his family's house. I just wanted them to turn it around. It was about Jewishness and the end of the marriage and that's why being Jewish has felt more important to me over the past few years. I felt like it was going to drift away and then I got divorced and there was a resurgence of interest in me about valuing it."

Luke: "What does that mean behaviorally?"

Aimee: "Going to synagogue more..and being more aware of what is going on in Jewish LA in my age group. I went to this thing called Reboot, a bunch of Jews getting together and talking about their Judaism. I did the San Francisco Jewish Book Festival twice."

Luke: "What do you find inspiring and depressing about Jewish life?"

Aimee: "I find the questioning and depth of thought inspiring. I've always liked the symbols.

"Any religion can get depressing when things are taken in a closed way."

"Figuring out the relationship of American Jews to Israel is complicated. People shut down around that topic. That's a big problem because it should be a lively and engaging debate."

"I've never been to Israel."

Luke: "How do you feel about being a part of God's Chosen People?"

Aimee laughs. "I have some trouble with that."

Luke: "How would you like to be tattooed?"

Aimee: "I would not like it, but I like it when other people are tattooed. I like seeing what people pick."

Luke: "Why would you not want to be tattooed?"

Aimee: "I do feel a little thing about the Jewish cemetery thing [the myth that a Jew who has a tattoo can not be buried in a Jewish cemetery as Jewish law forbids getting a tattoo]. It would bother me if I couldn't be buried in a Jewish cemetery. But it's more about you make a choice and you having to stick with that choice and it feels too concrete a choice."

Luke: "How often is 'literary' writing just a code word for despair?"

Aimee: "What interests me about your question is that 'literary' is such a charged word. It can feel snooty. I hope that 'literary' means going into something with depth, and when you go into depth, you're going to find despair."

Luke: "Is there some force that pushes 'literary' people to write despair?"

Aimee: "Sometimes it is the honest place people go when they push themselves. When it is fake despair to join the club, that is even more despairing."

"One of the reasons people like Charles Bukowski is that he puts voice to these [despairing] feelings and it gives release and freedom."

CelebDrive writes: "It wasn't until I was halfway through the Aimee Bender piece that I realized it wasn't a posthumous interview with Laura Nyro."