A response to Jessa Crispin's Shlomo Sand interview



I have read with dismay Jessa Crispin’s interview with Shlomo Sand, the anti-Jewish Jew (he renounced his religion in his book How I Stopped Being a Jew) and the anti-Israel Israeli (as he details in this interview). The animus he bears toward Judaism and Israel vies with that of non-Jewish anti-Semites who seek to deny Israel as a homeland for the Jews. Although Crispin did not intend it this way, the “fever” and “fractured sense of self” she speaks of in her introduction accurately capture the conundrum of Shlomo Sand. Sand’s own roots (renounced or not) do not give him license to make blanket generalizations, outright false accusations, and other specious arguments. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to this piece. More… “On the Question of Shlomo Sand”

Discussing Israel's identity with Shlomo Sand



In his book Varieties of Religious Experience, William James wrote about the power the irrational holds over the rational:

If you have intuitions at all, they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which rationalism inhabits. Your whole subconscious life, your impulses, your faiths, your needs, your divinations, have prepared the premises, of which your consciousness now feels the weight of the result; and something in you absolutely knows that that result must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it.

So what do you do as a rational, intellectual person who is fighting a group that is in the grips of their intuition? How do you combat the power that holds? It doesn’t make sense to right the irrational with the rational. You can explain to, say, a Trump supporter very coolly that his economic policy would have disastrous ramifications, or that his foreign policy approach could very well lead us into decades of conflict, but if he’s caught up in a nationalistic fever, especially one that is being used to shore up a fractured sense of self, you will only antagonize and never sway. More… “The Shlomo Sand (Inter)view”

William Kentridge’s graffiti and its history in Rome



On a humid day in early October, I walked from the Ponte Sisto to the Ponte Mazzini. The river was flowing on my right and the progress of Western European culture, from a Roman point of view, was turning into illustrations on my left. I had been in Rome for three weeks and had briefly seen the illustrations, a range of military and cultural imagery, including generals, a recurring angel, victims and perpetrators of violence, mythological agents, and occasionally the general populace. But now I was set to walk the half-kilometer extent of William Kentridge’s monumental set of drawings and parse as best as I could what these 80 figures spelled out. The title, Triumphs and Laments, gave a broad context, and for an admirer of Kentridge’s work, this was a veritable feast. Along with such admiration, there were bound to be questions of technique, archival recovery, historical meanings, and artistic daring. More… “The Gravity of Graffiti”

How science fiction fails us



The future isn’t what it used to be. We need new futures.

Science fiction traditionally has had the task of providing us with alternative visions of the future. For the most part, it has done a terrible job. The main reason for its failure is that it assumes global uniformity.

In optimistic visions of the future, there is a liberal and democratic world government, or perhaps an interplanetary federation. In dystopias, there is a single global tyranny. In post-apocalyptic novels and movies set in the aftermath of a nuclear war, nuclear bombs seem to off gone off everywhere in the world, even in places remote from the homelands and allies of the major combatants. More… “The Future of the Future”

Bob Dylan writes amazing songs, but they are not literature.


One Man Band

For the first time ever, the jury has given the Nobel Prize in literature to a writer who cannot be appreciated by the deaf. In their citation, the jury lauded Bob Dylan’s “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” But can song lyrics be rightly esteemed on the page, or do they need a tune and a voice?

Dylan’s lyrics — absent the memory of the chords that fed them life — read like dead fish. But they swim in sounds like nothing else. I remember they do, but deaf, I can’t hear them now. And just as color cannot be helpfully explained to a blind museum patron, so the lilt of a voice cannot be helpfully explained to one who’s deaf. The Nobel Prize in literature has gone to someone I’m no longer able to “read.” More… “Poetry, Approximately”

Past and present parallels of radicals.



Late one evening in Paris, a young man was scouring the elegant cafes and bistros of the Avenue de l’Opera. He settled on the Cafe Terminus. It was a February night, the 12th to be exact, and the man in question was a bearded 21-year-old student who was dressed in an overcoat and tie. Upon entering the cafe, he ordered two beers and a cigar and sat down. The orchestra began playing 30 minutes later, and the Cafe Terminus soon filled with some 350 people. At 9:01 pm, as the orchestra commenced the fifth piece, the man rose from his table, went to the door, and from under his overcoat he produced a bomb. Lighting the fuse with the cigar he had just purchased, he threw the explosive into the crowded cafe. Within seconds, an eruption rocked the room, shattering the windows and charring the tables. 20 bodies lay wounded amid the acrid odor of smoke and blood. One person was dead. This act of indiscriminate terror, so familiar to us now, took place not in 2014 but 1894, and its perpetrator, whose name was Emile Henry, was not an Islamist but an anarchist. More… “To Defeat Jihadists, Remember the Anarchists”

A family history told through my father’s drink recipes



The 1920s in Shanghai enjoyed a period exactly like the hedonistic ’20s in the United States, or so I understand. I wasn’t around at the time, though my mother told me all about it. A Chinese woman with bound feet, she and my Italian-Dutch-Indonesian father foxtrotted and stomped on the Palace Hotel’s fabled floor, a structure braced on springs that tilted this way and that with its cargo, and drank champagne and other imported wines. Actually, all wines had to be imported. And today, despite their industrious bent to beat the West, the Chinese have begun growing grapes for distillation but fail to achieve any kind of quality. My parents’ circle of friends was multinational, typical of Shanghai then. My father, an importer-exporter who owned a freighter, had a lively hobby, a kennel of greyhounds that he raced on the Shanghai Greyhound Race Track. In Macau, the Portuguese territory, he built a dog track. More… “Drinks to Shine the Moon”

Growing up at Del Taco



We’ll go to Del Taco,
And order something macho.
And when your lips go down to take a bite,
Your face is covered in food but it’s alright,
You know it’s gonna be good, you and me tonight.
─ Hunx and His Punx “Good Kisser”

The day my friend Rich bought a Del Taco T-shirt from an employee was the day I realized that my fixation with the fast food Mexican chain was about more than beans. Back then, in 1993, I was an 18-year-old Arizonan obsessed with California beach culture. I owned a boogie board that I used one week a year. I wore vintage Hang Ten and Hobie surf tees that I found at Phoenix thrift stores. I favored Van’s and cutoffs, and I rode a late ’60s red and white Schwinn beach cruiser whose sleek beauty and tall white walls had strangers yelling “Hey, Pee Wee Herman!” at me on the street. If the southern California coast was the center of my landlocked universe, then Del Taco was a bright star in my sky. What did I know? Fresh out of high school and uncertain about the future, I was searching for an identity. All I knew for certain was that I wanted to live on the beach. More… “Cheddar Suns over Lettuce Mountains”

Two vocations and a personal journey



A softly-sung tune signals the beginning of the High Holiday service; the plaintive melody aims to imbue each individual with a feeling that their spiritual presence, rather than the physical surroundings, create the sacred space necessary to pray as a congregation. At this very moment, I am transported to a new dimension, away from the daily and the decanal, into the realm of music at the service of the soul.

More… “Allegro ma non Troppo”

Remembering the High Holy Days with Rabbi Z. David Levy



Although I consider myself an atheist, my lack of faith always wavers around the High Holy Days. These are the sacred days of the Jewish calendar that extend from Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. During this period of about a week, as the joyous holiday leads into the somber one (“on Rosh Hashana it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed”), I am always visited by a memories of my childhood rabbi, an iconic figure, who embodies, for me, religion at its most beautifully contradictory.
More… “The Rabbi Sang”