I Blogged All Night To Get To You

8:05 a.m. April 30, 2006. I leave hovel. I fill up with gas and inflate my tires. I park on Westwood Blvd at 8:35 a.m. for free. I walk a mile to line up for tickets at The Los Angeles Times Book Festival. There are about 400 people in front of me.

The ticket booth opens at 9 a.m. and moves quickly. I get tickets to all four events I want.

I walk the campus. My book publisher Prometheus has no booth.

I get into Royce at 10 a.m. for "No Boundaries: Media and the Freedom of Ideas" with Arianna Huffington, Cathy Seipp, Jules Witcover and moderator Karen Grigsby Bates.

The panel starts at 10:36 a.m. Out of the four panelists, Cathy is the only one wearing a skirt -- the same green outfit she wore to our April 18th Wednesday Morning Club lunch. Sheesh, Cathy, I want you in something fresh every time I see you. I know I don't, but I'm a man and it doesn't matter as much.

Cathy says American newspapers should've published those Danish cartoons poking fun of Mohammed and Islam to better explain what the Islamic riots were about (that killed over 100 people) two months ago. The other three panelists agreed.

Arianna and Jules trotted out worn soundbytes about the American news media (particularly Judy Miller and The New York Times) falling down on the job of examining the Bush administration's justifications for the invasion of Iraq (prior to the invasion).

Then Cathy uttered the one provocative thought of the panel -- that the Christian Science Monitor, with its minuscule circulation of 70,000, should not have had a freelancer in Baghdad if they could not afford her a bodyguard.

When freelancer Jill Carroll was kidnapped, her interpreter was murdered. Maybe that "girl" shouldn't have been there, said Cathy. She doesn't speak Arabic. She doesn't have any expertise. Feeling a passion for a story may not be reason enough.

The audience hisses Cathy until Bates brings them under control.

Rodger Jacobs writes: "Wow. Cathy needs to get her basic facts straight. Carroll was a freelancer for the CSM. They did not send her to the Middle East. And she spent three months in Kuwait upon arrival learning to speak Arabic."

Cathy said that in the 1950s the Monitor mattered. It doesn't any more.

(When I came to America in 1977, my father said the Monitor was the best and least biased of American newspapers. It's quite anti-Israel.)

The other panelists waxed passionate in support of Jill Carroll being in Iraq.

"Can anyone name anything she reported?" Cathy asks.

Nobody can.

I leave at 11:15 to catch the 11:30 "To the Point: Short Stories" panel featuring Gary Amdahl, Aimee Bender, Dana Johnson, Eric Puchner and moderator Scott Timberg.

Gary loves Anton Chekhov because of the compassion he displays for all his characters, even the evil ones. "I'm contemptuous of my characters rather than compassionate, and my stories suffer for it."

Eric has yet to see an "overly-crafted" short story from one of his students. Most of them lack craft. He'd love to say, "De-craft this."

Aimee does get overly-crafted stories with no life.

An elementary school teacher confesses: "I feel like I am killing future writers by teaching them adverbs."

The panelists say that's bosh.

Questioner: "What percentage of your writing sees the light of day?"

Eric: "I think I can speak for everyone [on the panel] that it's 15.6%."

I have a nice chat with David Ehrenstein while waiting in life for the 1 p.m. Kevin Roderick interview of Los Angeles Times Editor Dean Baquet (pronounced BACK-ay and he's not African-America, his family hails from the Caribbean).

Cathy stops by briefly but as a member of the elite with that elite media pass and green wristband she waltzes in ahead with her dad Harvey and his friend David Crawley.

Ten minutes later I'm where I belong -- beside Cathy and magic fills the air. Or maybe it's just the presence of the kindly Kevin Roderick.

I want to ask him why the LA Times or USC journalism school hasn't brought his blog LA Observed.com in-house.

Cathy says Kevin makes piles of money through his ads.

I wager he'd make a pile more at the Times or USC.

Cathy, David and Kevin chat about former Times columnist Michael Hiltzhik.

Kevin and Dean have children who are juniors at Santa Monica High School.

This event is supposedly sold out but only 20% of the seats are occupied.

Audio of the Roderick - Baquet dialogue.

Kevin and Dean keep clearing their throats and the session gets off to a tedious start. Then Dean's lively personality takes over at about the 20-minute mark.

Dean: "I've never lived in a place where people have such an inferiority complex about their newspaper."

He says The Times, like many newspaper, is better at covering governments than people.

Dean's not as much a fan of objectivity as fairness. He wants his newspaper to take more chances and to be more fun. "We've very serious. We have to get funnier."

Cathy says to me: "Good news for you!"

Dean: "Blogs are important to the newspaper and to all newspapers. We're struggling with them. It's a hard medium to master.

"Newspaper editors are so nervous about change. We're conservative.

"A classic example of [what would've been a great blog]. We were one of only three newspapers that had reporters in Baghdad (along with the NYT and WP). This was an amazing historic event. We were on the phone every day with our Baghdad bureau chief and he was telling us amazing stuff. He talked about what he'd seen. If I had been smarter then about the power of the internet, I would've said, 'Let's have him write a blog.'

"We weren't smart enough and fast enough about the Internet Sometimes we're clumsy. Sometimes we seem like middle-aged people trying to sing hip-hop.

"We had a screw-up in the past couple of weeks. We'll screw up again on the Internet"

Dean: "It was a tragedy. Some of what happened with Mike had nothing to do with the Internet You can't lie if you want to work for The LA Times. I was not swayed by the argument that he had gone into a world where people do this kind of thing. That's like saying that people who cover Hollywood for The Times cover people who lie, therefore it is OK for the people covering Hollywood to lie.

"What Mike [Hiltzhik] did was a grave sin. He lied.

"I was sitting at home one morning reading about Enro. I pick up the paper and I read the account of Ken Lay [testimony]. I'm thinking, 'If I was a business columnist, I'd have fun with this one. Ken Lay blames everyone else but himself.'

"I only have one business columnist. I asked myself, 'Could Mike write that column?' It hit me that Mike could not write that column and that he should not be a columnist. He lost his credibility to beat up business executives who obfuscate or lie.

"I still think it's a tragedy because Mike was a good columnist and in many ways he's a fine journalist and he's written many important stories for the paper.

"It was an easy decision to make [to remove Mike's blog and column]."

LA Times journalists are not unionized so it would've been easy for Dean to fire Mike.

Hiltzhik was a rare member of the Times to push back against Times critics. Dean says the Times should push back. He's not sure that such pushback should only be online. "Newspapers don't know how to respond to critics."

Dean says only 20 readers wrote in to the Times's reader representative about Hiltzhik.

Cathy Seipp goes for the microphone when Roderick opens up for questions. He introduces her by name.

Dean gives her a smile and a wave, which makes her feel good.

I ask the third question. Kevin calls on me by name, which makes me feel good.

I ask Dean why he doesn't have a gossip column.

Baquet says he wants one. That when he came to town (about six years ago), The Times started one (City of Angles column?) and it was a failure.

"It's hard to do well. Look at the New York Post. I'd like to have one that covers Hollywood and the local political scene.

"We're a very serious paper. We could put pictures of people in Bermuda shorts on a sunny day on our front page and nobody could say we're not a serious newspaper. We cover the Iraq war better than any paper in America. We're a very serious newspaper and that gives us more latitude than we've taken advantage of so far.

"We live in a city where gossip is an important traffic. As long as you keep the other stuff, the war coverage, Washington coverage, there's room for a gossip column.

"I want The LA Times to be provocative. I want you to get pissed off when you read it. I want you to get angry at something in the war coverage. But then I want you to have a gossip column that's fun."

Dean does not know where he'd put it. "The ideal place is Calendar but it goes to bed at 3 p.m. If I found the right person, I'd figure out where to put it."

A black woman complains about the lack of black authors at the festival.

Dean explains that there's a wall between the newsroom and the other branches of the paper such as that which sponsors the festival.

Baquet repeatedly says that The LA Times is one of only four American newspapers (along with The NYT, WP, and WSJ) aiming for greatness.

2:05 p.m. Cathy gives me David Crawley's media pass and green wristband (which I quickly lose) and gets me into the greenroom with the good eats. I have a few helpings of dessert and look enviously at Kevin Roderick who's surrounded by five hot chix.

Now that's my idea of dessert.

Gay Talese walks in wearing his funny hat.

Cathy's daughter Maia tells me about celebrating her 17th birthday Saturday.

I tell Cathy and Maia that I am into dating 19yo girls because that was the average age of the US combat soldier in Vietnam and by making sweet tender love (not in the physical sense but in the courtly sense) to these girls I honor in my own way the memory of our veterans who gave so much to this country so that I can be free to date shiksas.

We each should honor veterans in our own way and not just fall in with the crowd in rote obeisance.

Monday (until nightfall) is Erev Yom Ha Zikaron for the fallen soldiers and terror victims in Israel.

My way of honoring this solemn occasion will be to spend time with a young hottie (of legal age of course).

I walk off to Franz lecture hall 1718 at 2:45 and sit next to an edgy novelist (Diana Wagman) I met a year ago at a Mediabistro party. "The Outsiders: Independent Film Today" boasts panelist-authors Peter Biskind, Marshall Fine, David Kipen, Kenneth Turan and moderator Rocky Lang.

(On Saturday, Wagman moderated "Fiction: Pushing the Envelope" with Susie Bright, Dennis Cooper, Craig Ferguson and Karen Finley. Karen takes herself and her work enormously seriously and non-confrontational Wagman had her limits tested keeping Ferguson and Finley from breaking out into a fist fight or rough sex or some intensely physical interaction forbidden by our holy Torah.).

Kipen has the appalling manners to eat a complete meal while serving on the panel. He stuffs his face with several different dishes, but pauses at times to wipe his face and weigh in with his opinions.

I've seen a hundred or so panels in my life, and even witnessed the painful spectacle of panelists chewing gum while pouring out their views, but I've never seen anybody eat while on a panel. Who raised David Kipen? Wolves? Aborigines?

Turan has the bad luck to sit next to Kipen and watches him appalled.

Kenneth becomes real to me for the first time. He's eloquent and passionate. He says Capote, Brokeback Mountain and the other Oscar nominees for Best Picture are not studio films (even if they are distributed by studios). Studios are only making popcorn films. Capote and company are truly challenging difficult independent films.

Biskind's making great progress on his forthcoming biography of Warren Beatty.

He says that the nineties generation is far more complacent than their sixties and seventies counterparts, which may account for why they have not made as many great movies.

I leave at 3:40 p.m. for Hillel's first People of the Book festival then wait around for 20 minutes for the late-starting panel discussion (theoretically between Ruth Ellenson, Aimee Bender, Lori Gottlieb, and Amy Klein) on the great new book The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt.

Moderator Tobin Belzer, author and sociologist, sets the tone for the discussion by confessing she feared that this book would "perpetuate negative stereotypes of Jewish women" and she was relieved that it instead "reclaimed [gobbledygook I could not understand]."

I want to jump up and sing like Michael Jackson: "One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch, girl."

I can tell you've been hurt by that look on your face girl.
Someone brought safety to your happy world.
You need love but you're afraid that if you give in,
Someone else will come along and sock it to ya again.

Amy Klein talks about victimhood vs empowerment.

I'm not sure of the fitting pop lyric accompaniment.

Ruth Ellenson does 60% of the talking on the panel and everything she says sounds like she's said it 75 times before, which is not fresh and exciting for me.

I know that I'm not always fresh and exciting but I can wish, can't I?

Lori Gottlieb says 84 words over the totality of the panel, which is about 972 fewer than I wanted to hear from her.

For the first time in her adult life, she's joining a temple so she can provide her five-month-old boy a community.

She has a book coming out from St. Martins (not the one in the fields) on dating.

Oh, the books I could inspire her to if she'd only give me a chance.

Lori bought sperm on the Internet to get pregnant. Her mom asked her if the sperm was Jewish.

Ruth suggests that being Jewish is not Aimee's top priority, but rather number eight.

Aimee's taken aback. She says it is about number four.

Ruth implies that this is the first generation of Jewish women with freedom.

A woman around 50 in the audience suggests that it was the seventies generation (when the first women were ordained rabbis).

Lori says the "cohesive being of all the essays in the book is ambivalence."

Amy says that "the struggle of the modern American Jew is to find meaning."

Ruth got the idea for the book while sitting in her grandmother's church and feeling mixed up.

She knew that "in the wrong hands, [this topic] would perpetuate a stereotype."

Yes, these people really do talk this way and think this way. I'm not caricaturing.

Ruth is asked what she edited out of the book. She said she wondered about including Ayelet Waldman's ambivalence towards Israel in a Jewish book. In the end, she included it.

Sheesh, that she even gave the matter a second thought disturbs me. In such a book, your sole agenda has to be be truth, not public relations and "not perpetuating stereotypes."

The book is being translated into Hebrew for sale in Israel. I expect many there (who risk their lives daily to be Jewish) will find significant sections of it shallow.

Ruth is asked why no men were included in the book. She says that Philip Roth wrote Portnoy's Complaint. "I don't think it gets much better than that."

I doubt there'll ever be a male anthology over Jewish guilt because men complain less and feel less comfortable being so vulnerable.

Aimee Bender says "some of the guilt needs to lift for this book to exist."

That led to my question: "Did you write about the things you feel most guilty about, and if not, why not?"

There's nervous laughter from the panelists.

Tobin Belzer says that would be too much information. Such matters are private.

Amy says she doubts people would be interested in reading what she ate that day.

Ruth (whose father Rabbi David Ellenson runs America's Reform movement through its Hebrew Union College seminary and knows more Torah and halacah (Jewish law) than his counterparts at Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University while Ruth's mother, or mother's mother, belongs to the Daughters of the American Revolution) relates that Rebecca Goldstein told her that she feels most guilty that her sister died while she lives.

Ruth asked her: "Does that affect your Jewish identity?"


What's most interesting in these type of confessional books (whether they are posed as fiction or nonfiction) are the slivers of light they shed into the writer's real story, not the story they are peddling for public consumption.

I love the book but many of the essays feel too easy rather than painfully honest.

Ruth, in one of her practiced soundbytes, says that Jews in America are simply white, in the same way that Italians and the Irish are now regarded as white. That Catholics have followed a similar path to the Jews from marginalization to mainstream. "Catholics are more screwed up about sex."

Ruth says the most interesting responses to her book (which made it to The Los Angeles Times Best Seller list) have come from black women.

Women in the audience spontaneously share their feelings and the panel degenerates into a female support group.

A blonde from Israel goes on and on and on. "I'm having such a wonderful time. Thank you for the gift."

Another woman: "I wish I was at a party with all the writers."

Do these audience yakkers give any consideration to the interest level of the rest of the audience in their feelings? Mine is infinitesimal.

The audience is about 70% male.

I want a good fight to break out among the panelists. I'd like mud wrestling, but I'd settle for Amy breaking into tears.

Klein came to the painful realization "that the perfect husband doesn't necessarily want his equal. Maybe he wants a ditzy girl."

I'm not sure which will arrive first -- my sense of compassion, the Messiah or Amy Klein's book on JDate.

Amy looks great. Her face is fresh and sunburned. Leaving the managing editor position at the Jewish Journal is good for her. Fewer kvetchy Jews to deal with and more opportunities to do what she loves -- read Lukeford.net, write and pursue an MFA (masters degree in Fine Arts).

I remind myself that it is a condition of my parole to give Amy at least 20 feet at all times but my stalker instincts overcome my superego and we engage in a few seconds of conversation before she flees with her panelist girlfriends (Ruthie Ellenson and co).

After the panel, Hillel serves a complimentary kosher dinner (falafel, fresh fruit, cookies) and there's nothing I love better than a free meal when I'm hungry (except for something I can't mention on this family-oriented website).

While I scan the chix in the room, I take a big bite out of my falafel and spill humus all over my crotch.

I take to vigorously wiping and scrubbing down there to little effect. Where's my levitra when I need it?

Guys tell me they saw me in the LA Weekly (The Xxxorcist) but no hot chix say the same thing so what's the point?

Roxanne, you don't have to put on your red light.

6:30 p.m. Amy Wilentz and Kenneth Turan wander in. They're beat. They want to be left alone until their 7 p.m. panel. Then, with Dr. David Myers, they put on a dazzling display of literary erudition.

At the beginning, an audience member tells Turan, "We're so excited."

He replies, "That won't last."

Not true.

Dr. Myers gives a provocative opening talk. He wonders if Jews are no longer people of the book but people of the buck.

Amy: "John Updike could've been the premiere American writer except for Jews such as Philip Roth (and Saul Bellow)." She says Updike followed in Roth's footsteps and engaged in Rothian themes.

Updike wrote a series of books about Henry Bech, a Jewish novelist.

Amy wonders why the dominant American Jewish writers used to be men but now they're mainly women.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller says that women are still outsiders.

Myers talks about the post-assimilation generation grappling to reclaim Jewish tradition from books.

Amy says that for her to feel whole and empowered is not to feel so Jewish.

She's sometimes called a "self-hating Jew." She describes herself as a "Palestinian sympathizer."

She says Proust was an outsider in two ways - he was Jewish and he was a homosexual. Therefore he's a Jewish writer and Remembrance of Things Past is a Jewish book.

David Ehrenstein writes me:

And not a gay book? Weird! I remember a button from the 60's (we had buttons instead of t-shirts then) that read "Marcel Proust was a Yenta!"

Proust's coverage of the Dreyfus case (he was in court almost every day), particularly in relation to the effect it had on French society (multafarious reactions from both the middle and upper classes) make it a historic document oif lasting significance for that reason alone.

As a social climber Proust was forced to deal with anti-semites all the time. What he discovered was that the Faubourg-St. Germain despised the vulgarity of obvious anti-semitism. Likewise gayness was allowed up to a certain point in that a "private life" was still possible in soicety at that time (manifestly no longer the case, and a good thing too, IMO.) Charlus amuses Proust in that he is both gay and an anti-semite.

I don't believe Proust "equates" anti-semitism with homophobia, as "homosexuality" wasn't named until shortly after the action of the book begins, and didn't become part of popular parlance until the late 1920's.

Amy can't quite get that the "accursed race" in Proust has two aspects.

A hot brunette Hillel director (who introduces and concludes the panel) sits close to scholar J. Shawn Landres. Some guys have all the luck.

Shawn asks about non-American, non-Israel Jewish literature.

"There isn't any," jokes Turan.

Amy: "If you are not dual, you are not going to write great fiction."

Amy says Allegra Goodman writes for a Jewish audience and therefore loses her. Older Jewish writers such as Roth and Bellow wrote for the world.

A friend writes:

Amy isn't taking into account that Roth and Bellow were writing assimilationist literature, trying to escape the embarassing Yiddishisms and obvious signs of Jewishness -- Jewish "escape artists," so to speak, as a close friend of mine says. Newer writers like Goodman and Abraham and others are not trying to escape Jewishness, and I don't agree that they write only for Jewish audiences. Or, if they do, perhaps it's in much the same way that Morrison writes for a black audience (which she says she does) -- that is, one group of people gets it in a way the other groups can't, but it is still meaningful to those other groups, albeit in a different way and for different reasons. I think Amy is semi-retarded. To "write for the world" doesn't just mean to write literature devoid of racial or ethnic sensibilities -- it means to get at universal truths and concerns, and I think often that is achieved more successfully through "ethnic" literatures.

It's mentioned that Israelis purchase more books per capita than anyone.

A friend calls me Sunday night: "Did you hit on any hot chicks at the festival today?"

Luke: "No. I struck out.

"No, I didn't even get to the plate."

Friend: "You're just hitting on the wrong women."

Luke: "I wasn't even hitting. I wasn't even in the ballgame."

I'm told I'd like Diana Wagman's book Spontaneous because "it's about incestuous lesbian sisters."

Aperpos of nothing: "We have too many absent fathers on earth to begin to even entertain the thought of having no Father in heaven." (Dennis Prager)

Into the Void

LA Times Book Editor David L. Ulin writes:

As to whether Roth really intends to outdo Shakespeare, "I'll leave that to people like you," he jokes, "to be foolish enough to judge." He laughs again, at ease with himself, playful in the face of eternity.

If I wanted a blowjob, I'd go out with a shiksa. I wouldn't turn to the august pages of The Times.