Thoughts on Dennis Prager
By Luke Ford
It was a cold and rainy night as I thrust myself through a heaving throng to attend the Dennis Prager book signing.
Sprung erect out of nowhere, a huge pulsating crowd forced its way into the steaming nether regions surrounding the sweaty intersection of Westwood and Pico Boulevards. Thrusting, driving pushing its way into the usually receptive Barnes and Noble book store, the excited throng, now grown to five times its original size rammed itself again and again and again into the quivering, perspiring musty darkness, fluctuating between eager anticipation and trembling revulsion.
Now suddenly the tumescent crowd and the irresistible Prager were one heaving, alternately melting and thawing turgid entity, ascending to heights heretofore inexperienced. Then with a gigantic, soul-searching heart-stopping series of autograph eruptions, it was over. Afterwards, the crowd had a cigarette and went home. (Adaptated from a Saturday Night Live skit)
In other words, for two hours tonight, Dennis Prager autographed copies of his latest book HAPPINESS IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM at Barnes and Noble on Pico Blvd in West Los Angeles.
I attended for two chief reasons: Being around Prager makes me a finer person. I love to learn from his example. And two, I wanted to see what type of people would show up. They were almost all over 30 years of age, and mainly male, which corresponds to my understanding of Prager's primary audience. They were quiet and well behaved.
Dennis appeared happy as usual, sprawled on a chair behind a small table, shaking hands, chatting amiably, laughing, and autographing books with a favorite fountain pen. He wore a white dress shirt, yellow tie, slacks and glasses. His hair is completely grey. He looked like the picture of him on the inside jacket of his new book.
Incidentally, release of HAPPINESS was delayed by the initially goofy cover which sported a big goofy picture of DP's smiling face. The new cover is subdued - black and gold type on a white background. The pic is relegated to the inside jacket.
Prager's latest book is brief and densely textured. He sums up in a sentence what many of us would take paragraphs to explain.
Prager's son David stood nearby. Fifteen years of age, he attends a modern orthodox Jewish day school. He wants to become a movie director.
Over 6' tall with dimples like his dad, he attracted the attention of several sighing, heaving females. "Oh, that's Dennis's son? He's so cute..."
Prager's stressed-out blonde assistant Laurie Zimmett blew in and out. She plans to work on Prager's web site tomorrow (www.dennisprager.com).
In person, Dennis tends to be jovial, smiling and goofy. He introduced me as someone "who makes porn films." He wrote in my copy of his book, "For Luke Ford, no comment but warm wishes..."
Now, what does that mean?
I suspect that he is gently pointing out that friends should sometimes not 'comment' on each other in public. Or, as my friend Chris points out, isn't "no comment" a phrase used with unfriendly media?
I found the dust jacket on Prager's latest book, Happiness Is A Serious Problem, to be a serious problem. It symbolizes what keeps Dennis from reaching a wider audience with his values. Dennis doesn't "sell well," and either doesn't get or doesn't take good advice in packaging.
While the contents of his radio show far outshine all others, the presentation of his program is fuzzy. Likewise with his personal newsletter.
Around 1985, he started a quarterly journal of thought Ultimate Issues. Charging stiff prices for his writings ($5-$8 per 16-page issue) and lectures on tape ($10 each), he limited his audience and unwittingly encouraged unauthorized copying, a form of theft. He could've distributed his ideas much more effectively, such as through fax or the internet. At the end of January 1998, <www.dennisprager.com> is still "under construction."
As Prager is neither a skilled marketer nor businessman, he relies on others in these areas and they've given him mediocre advice. The dust jacket for Prager's excellent book on happiness exemplifies this.
First, there are the obligatory blurbs - pats on the back from friends, for whom the author must reciprocate. I do not sympathize, for instance, with Prager's recommendations of the books of atheist 'Rabbi' Harold Kushner.
There are the old reliables here on the back of HAPPINESS - Harold Kushner, Robert Jastrow and Stephen S. Marmer.
Then there is the indecipherable prose - such as Robert Jastrow's blurb - "Dennis Prager understands more about the human mind that science can tell us." What the hell does that mean? Does that mean that science cannot tell us how much Dennis understands the human mind, or that Prager understands the mind more than "science?"
Harold Kushner: "There is perhaps no more important task for a person than the search for happiness, and no more reliable guide in that quest than Dennis Prager." Huh? I can think of many things more important for a person than seeking happiness: such as the pursuit of goodness or depth. Now, Prager and his book are wonderful, but is there "no more reliable guide?" What about Torah or the Bible, or the Talmud, or The Path of the Righteous or Man's Search For Meaning or some of humanity's other thinking and thinkers over the past three thousand years?
This dust jacket feels like the cheap promotion of a used car salesman.
The short bio of Dennis exemplifies garbled writing. "Dennis Prager is the author of four books, including the critically acclaimed Think a Second Time and The Prager Perspective..." Excuse me, but The Prager Perspective is not a book.
"...He has been called [Prager has been called many things] "an amazingly gifted man and moralist" by the Los Angeles Times and "one of the 10 most powerful people in Los Angeles" by L.A.'s influential Buzz magazine." Well, someone at the LA Times once wrote an article, and either called Prager.... or quoted someone as calling Prager....blah, blah blah... And who thinks of BUZZ magazine as influential? 'Yeah, Luke, I read the latest issue of Buzz, and it transformed the way I see the world.'
"As a world-class lecturer and theologian, he is regularly invited to speak throughout the United States and abroad." Well, by definition, Prager as a "world-class lecturer," would be invited to speak across the US and abroad.
On the front flap, a heading screams: "Here's the Repair Manual We Should Have Been Handed at Birth." If everyone were handed Prager's book at birth, it would make little difference. "For when the student is ready, the teacher will appear." Our chief problem in this regard is not a lack of available wisdom, but the will to pursue it. Also, most things that we are handed at birth, so to speak, are taken for granted.
There are so many examples of poor writing on the jacket, that I do not have the time to list more than a few:
* The sentence that begins "However..." The word "however" means "yet" EXCEPT at the beginning of the sentence, when it means "in whichever way," which is not the way the word is used (misused) on this jacket.
* Then there are the sloppy phrases like "in order to be happy." Why not just say, "To be happy?"
* Then there is the phrase "make you personally happy..." Why do we need the word "personally?" We don't.
By contrast to the jacket, Dennis Prager's writing is the triumph of substance over style. Through his use of the passive voice and numerous modifiers, he violates many of the canons of good writing in his pursuit of ideas. But it works.
Then there's the backcover of the paperback edition of his previous book Think A Second Time: Doesn't anyone proof this stuff?
Do you think you have the answers?...Think a second time.
Dennis Prager, theologian and philosopher turned talk-show host, is one of the most brilliant and compelling voices in America today. His extraordinarily popular radio show with the signature sign-off, "Think a second time," coupled with his own biweekly newsletter, has firmly established him as a fixture in intellectual communities nationwide. In Think A Second Time, Prager blends a rigorous and scholarly education with utterly original thinking on current events. From the dangers of idealism to the roots of extremism to his thoughts on God and an afterlife, Prager offers challenging answers to up-to-the-minute questions...
Ok, Mr. PR Guy, do you think you have the answers? Think a second time.
* If Prager's show is "extraordinarily popular," then what would you call those of Dr. Laura and Rush Limbaugh? Extraordinarily, extraordinarily, extraordinarily popular?
* "...one of the most..." A feeble formula.
* "...with the signature sign-off, "Think a second time..." Prager has never had a signature sign-off.
* "...with his own biweekly newsletter..." Try bimonthly (at best).
* "...a fixture in intellectual communities nationwide." Like faucets?
* "...Prager blends a rigorous and scholarly education..." Excuse me, are we talking about the guy who graduated high school near the bottom of his class, then attended the prestigious Brooklyn College, where he would've flunked Geology if the instructor wasn't so eager to get rid of him?
* "...with utterly original thinking on current events." Dennis often says that he is not an original thinker. He is a superb synthesist.
* "up-to-the-minute-questions" Huh?
A friend writes to me:
Aha! You have discovered the pablum coating and it tastes like nutrasweet. Congratulations on discernment!
The publishing industry and packaging "self help books".
Dennis' star is on the rise. Whether he will expand his market is a question. Will he be packaged enough? Get picked up by a famous person? Will he learn to simplify and repeat enough?
While "nice" bunkum is found in flattering dedications...the adulation, meaningless public mumblings and helful nods from famous "peers" and, in private, pats on the back from devoted and sincere hangers-on and those who learn everything from the teacher except discernment, are dangerous.
>I have decided to write a biography of >Dennis Prager... I must be on the right >track because my friends so passionately >oppose the idea... I do not know yet what Prager thinks...
Ouch! What qualifications? Authorized or unauthorized? The result is bound to be conflicted. Best to suffer in silence and learn what fame and success does, not to Dennis, but to discourse.
There are only two markets for celebrity bios. Adulatory and uncritical. And debunking or heterodox. Your friends are absolutely sure you can't do the first sufficiently well.
I know exactly what you mean about the dustcover and its absurd quotes. All my cynic alarms turn red and clang with klaxon cruelty. Covering my screaming ears I flee to the wilderness hermitage.
My friends despise my plan to chronicle the life and thought of Dennis Prager. Perhaps my best friend Chris Donald writes sarcastically on the email Prager List:
In a message dated 1/19/98 8:05:46 AM, Luke wrote:
>I found the dust jacket on Prager's latest book, Happiness Is A Serious Problem, to be a serious problem.
>First, there are the obligatory blurbs
I think Dennis stinks. I think his book-jacket stinks. So do his boring old friends that still somehow like him and his work after all these years. And his pets, too. Also his distant relatives and his postperson TOTALLY suck.
In addition, Dennis is old and tired. So is his show. And his car. And his ties. Come to think of it, he just bums me out completely.
I believe this so much so that I plan to devote some good portion of my adult life to tearing him down further, perhaps by writing an unwanted book about him. And about his books. Yes. And his tie. Well, maybe not the tie so much....but those socks he sometimes wears ARE hideous. I'm definitely including a chapter on them.
I hope people will want to read my book half as much as they want to read HIS.
But then why wouldn't they? MINE will definitely have a snazzy dust-jacket!
John writes: "Any type of recognition or reply to Mr. Luzdedos' writings only serves to encourage him to write additional rantings. In fact, just this response alone probably brings about a shifty, pornographic smile to his face."
Dennis Prager's show on KABC opened with a practical joke by Brian Rumbah (sp?), the show's engineer - a theme of driving hard rock music. Prager cracked up.
Then Dennis invited his audience to "ruminate" with him about Martin Luther King Day (MLKD). Has it become a black holiday?
Prager thought so. He mentioned how President Clinton observed the day by visiting a black school. So has MLKD become the equivalent of Xmas for Christians and Chanukkah for Jews? You honor the Christian holiday by visiting a Christian school, MLKD by visiting a black school, etc...
I attended Placer School with Eric Schulzke, who last I knew, served as press secretary to conservative Northern California Congressman John Doolittle. During the 1983 school year, Eric caused controversy by questioning in the school newspaper whether we should have a MLKD as King mainly devoted his life to the rights of one group, as opposed to the nation.
Prager asked if MLK has become a prism through which Americans see issues of color.
Dennis then fielded a powerful first call from a man who said King was not worthy of such national celebration. The caller said that MLKD was a black holiday. The caller questioned King's character, noting his numerous affairs and his extensive plagiarism (in King's Ph.D. thesis).
Prager has questioned in the past if King was a leftist. The late communist Michael Harrington, who spent hours chatting with Kng, says he was. MLK chose to not reveal his leftism publicly to avoid taking away from his campaign for black equality.
After a commercial break, Dennis took another challenging call over his practice of affirmative action in his private life. Dennis says that if he had to choose between two equally qualified potential employees, he'd probably choose the black. The caller then reminded Dennis of his stand that race doesn't matter. DP replied that he didn't live in theory. Frustrated with the caller, Prager cut him off after a couple of minutes and moved on.
Near the end of the first hour, Prager made one of his many dubious assertions: That the private lives of public figures do not interest him.
On other occasions, Dennis has more accurately explained that while he does at times feel interest in the private lives of public figures (i.e. Marv Albert), he believes that public discussion of these intimate matters reduces us.
Prager says that we generally should not consider a politician's sex life, when deciding on how to vote.
Prager's assertion of no interest in the private lives of public figures does not ring true as do such other questionable statements by Dennis such as:
* I always give the caller the last word.
* I have never encountered antisemitism or heard someone in my personal life use the word "nigger."
* I never hang up on callers.
* I don't understand how people can believe X, Y or Z...
At times, Prager confuses what he believes is right for what is true. For instance, while Prager bends over backwards to take opposing opinions, and he gives them twice as much time, he does not always give callers the last word. As a slogan, "I always give the caller the last word," is admirable. As a statement of truth, it is false. Talk radio does not permit Dennis such luxuries (as always giving the caller the last word).
My friend writes about me on the Prager List.
I need to make a statement.
This forum is one designed to promote the free expressions of ideas, specifically in a debative fashion. While that "rule" has been unwritten, it is clear. This forum was created in honor of the clarity of thinking and elevated topics DP is well known for, and we've expected each other to try to maintain that tradition.
In a large measure thanks to our efforts in that direction, DP himself occassionally monitors this site. I am proud that he feels we warrant this attention. I happen to know that he is an EXTREMELY busy man with little time to read his own mail, let alone our intellectual bickerings.
Over recent months there have been series of posts that have been of a profoundly inappropriate nature. One author in particular has taken it upon himself to transform this list (when he can) into a personal advertisment for his porno web site and a clearinghouse for "porno" discussions and information.
This has apparently not proven exciting enough to satisfy the need to offend any longer- the responses perhaps too few and not negative enough - and so this author has decided now to dissect Dennis and his work, heaping insult after dress-down (with the occassional accalade presumably for "balance"). He has taken it upon himself to serve as DP's self appointed "critic journalist at large".
I find this innappropriate, irresponsible and ugly.
We live in a free country. That freedom includes the ability to write, as well as the ability to discriminate between the profane and the valuable.
I ask here that members avoid any voyeuristic impulses to read droning criticism and unsubstantiated claims about Dennis here draped in "bio" auspices (from a source as "credible" as a serial porn and attack poster), and simply delete these posts whenever you find them in your mailbox.
If you are not already doing so.
Sharon from Beaumont added:
Thanks Chris. Your suggestion to simply delete mail from jerks is well-taken. In particular, out of curiosity I read the beginning couple of paragraphs of that supposed "bio". In the first few paragraphs I noted several blatant errors (the one coming to mind immediately was that KABC was DP's first radio program). Then I looked at the who the writer was and said to myself, "Oh, no wonder!"
I have learned something though, from the writings of such people. For what it's worth, the little signature dittie I use at the end of email is something I concluded because of such "attacks". The thing of it is that it's the writer who looks jerkier and jerkier with every thinly guised "attack."
Sharon from Beaumont
+ Those who can, do.
+ Those who can't,
+ nitpick and whine,
+ moan and groan,
+ and generally make themselves
+ pains in the tooshes
+ to those that do.
I responded a few minutes later:
Sharon and Chris, this Luke Ford aka Luzdedos guy is an absolute jerk. You are so right. He is a disgrace to the Prager list. Surely the owner of this list can kick him off it?
I've known Luke for 31 years. He is hateful, vituperative, self-centered, vicious, mean, sadistic, masochistic, insecure, skinny, unhealthy, self-centered, whiny, gossipy, ugly, uncircumsized, self-centered, obnoxious, rude, uncouth, self-centered...
He's so vain, he probably thinks this post is about him.
All good people, all those who care about Dennis Prager and the values he espouses should not visit the following site which does nothing but dish the dirt on a good man.
BTW, can't we put this schmuck in "cherem?" [excommunication]
Let's talk seriously now. I posted this to the Prager List:
I believe that Dennis Prager is the greatest thinker on the human condition of the late 20th Century. I decided to create a web page dedicated to discussing Prager precisely because I believe that he is important.
Dennis changed my life for the good, and I've been profoundly influenced by his thinking over the past decade. For years while I was confined to bed by chronic illness, I dreamed of writing his biography. I dreamed of fighting for his values.
I met Dennis for the first time in January 1994, after years of correspondence. He told me that weekend, "If anything happens to me, you've got to carry on the fight In a sense, I could die happy now that I've met you."
Since recovering my health in 1994, I've allowed the opinions of others to dissuade me from the important task of taking his values to the world. For some reason, I have always felt blocked from discussing deeply Prager's ideas and values. Three years ago I plannd to set up something similar to this web site but allowed a friend of mine and Prager's to dissuade me. So instead I've written on entertainment.
One night in December 1997, I decided to write out some of my frustrations with Prager's radio show. After ten minutes, I sent them across this list under the headline "Is Prager's Show in Decline?"
Many of my friends and Prager's closest supporters were furious that I had criticized 'the master' in public. They verged on excommunicating me from their community.
For several weeks I pondered the furor until I finally saw clearly that something was very wrong. In blunt terms, Prager is surrounded by sycophancy.
To counter this, and provide sharp incisive analysis of Dennis Prager's public decisions, shows, writings, ideas, etc I am setting up <www.dennisprager.net.>
Unfortunately, many of those most devoted to Prager are not open to critical independent thinking. The idea of a forum out of their control frightens them. I am sorry, but the web site will go on, even if I have to leave many of my friends and Prager's closest supporters behind (for the moment). Good values and the pursuit of truth are more important than popularity. Excellence does not come from following the crowd.
As Dennis often says, nobody likes competition. But competition best produces excellence.