Archive | October, 2013

Normal Mailer: Now there was a writer

25 Oct

Mailer-young

Growing up and trying to write, I admired Norman Mailer. Oh, he had his bad points, but I thought he was fantastic. His fame as a character/celebrity was a self-creation but as a writer he was genuine.

 

There is a new biography out on him. It is “Norman Mailer: A Double Life,” by J. Michael Lennon. I haven’t read it, but I did read a review of it in the New York Times by Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair.

 

Carter does a wonderful job of describing Mailer:

 

It could be said that Norman Mailer was a man and a writer halfway between fame and infamy and yet with little in the way of middle ground. He was, in varying combinations, a world-class drinker, feuder, provocateur, self-mythologizer and anti-feminist. He was a war protester, a mayoral candidate, a co-founder of The Village Voice, as well as a wife stabber, a serial husband (of six wives), and a father (of nine). He was a boxer, an actor, a filmmaker, a poet and a playwright. He was also a journalist and a novelist of enormous and singular narrative inventiveness and thrust, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and one of the least boring and most tireless and tiresome public figures of the last half of the 20th century.

 

Mailer-bookI heard Mailer speak at the University of Missouri during the ‘70s. Always the showman looking to shock, he opened with a dirty joke.  It was a good joke. The most interesting thing about the joke was it knocked him down a peg or two on the masculinity chart. This is unusual for a he-man self-inflator.

 

Here is the joke, which I clearly remember after all these years.

 

“I ran into one of my ex-wives recently. She had gotten herself a young new lover and so I asked, ‘How does your boyfriend like that old, worn-out pussy of yours?’  She answered, ‘He likes it just fine . . . once he gets past the worn-out part.”

 

One thing about this great mind, who loved verbal combat: Sometime he tried too hard and flopped. He’d come off like an ass. This happened on the old “Dick Cavett Show” when he went up against both Cavett and his mortal enemy, writer Gore Vidal.

 

I had watched the original show and was so disappointed in him. A clip of the performance has been posted on Youtube and I’d like to share it with you. Your thoughts on Mailer and this video would be greatly appreciated. I would guess Mailer had many more enemies than fans. Which are you?

By Lanny Morgnanesi

 

Advertisements

A Sephardic Jew: Why discriminate against this person?

19 Oct

emmanuelle chriqui

The man whom I will call the Martin Luther King of Israel has died at 93.

He was Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a leader in politics and religion.

It is doubtful anyone else has compared him to the American civil rights leader, but that’s how I see it. Just as there is black and white in America, in Israel there is Sephardic and Ashkenazi. The Sephardim are the underdogs. Rabbi Yosef was their advocate and protector.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

Most Americans think of Israeli Jews as homogenous. This is because most American Jews are of European descent, which makes them Ashkenazi. Overlooked and mostly out of sight in the U.S. are the Sephardim, who are Jews from the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. This group has more in common with Arab culture than with European culture, hence the dichotomy and the basis for discrimination.

It is dangerous for a non-Jew, such as myself, to write about the social fabric of Judaism, especially when the writer has never been to Israel and never witnessed the relationship between Sephardim and Ashkenazim.  So let it be known that I write with interest rather than authority.

It is of little consequence here, but a casual friend is a Sephardic American. He has never mentioned the word in my presence, nor has he ever discussed any difference between himself and any other Jew. His ancestors are from Morocco. His mother lives in France, is very refined, quite fashionable and appears wealthy. She reminds me of Jackie Kennedy. These things are all counter to the negative stereotype of the Sephardim, which I learned of only through television.

Jerry Seinfeld: Sephardic Jew

Jerry Seinfeld: Sephardic Jew

I wish I could remember the name of the film, or on which channel it appeared. I would link to it to see if you found it as shocking as I. It was shot in Israel and documented the perception of the Sephardim by the Ashkenazim. Some of the dialogue could have been overlaid on a film about white and black Americans.

For example, many Ashkenazi, in a nod to tolerance, said the Sephardim are hip and cool and fun; that they set trends and styles. Some said they have friends who are Sephardic. Still, in subsequent conversations, they said Sephardic Jews are mostly poor, crude, criminal and not so intelligent.

Clearly, social barriers have been set. This was confirmed for me when I read Rabbi Yosef obituary.

Other comments didn’t parallel the black-white struggle in America, like the disgust shown for the Sephardim who watch Arab movies.

Basically, the documentary illustrates how the one group considers the other inferior and beneath them. Overall, the impression was that the Sephardim were just too much like Arabs.

The irony here is that so were Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.

Indeed, recent genetic testing has shown that the Ashkenazim may be far off the Hebrew bloodline. It was originally thought that the Jewish communities in Europe originated with men and women from the Near East.  Now it has been shown genetically that the ancestral roots of the Ashkenazim are in the union of non-Jewish European women and traveling Jewish traders.

Although the comparison between blacks and whites in America is somewhat accurate – an Israeli court, for example, had to force the integration of Sephardic and Ashkenazi school children — this intra-Jewish problem has additional layers of complexity. Unlike in America, differences in religious practices also keep the Jewish groups apart.

I referred to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as the Martin Luther King of Israel, but, unlike King, he was for school segregation in the court case I mentioned. Religion, it seems, was taught at the school in question, and Rabbi Yosef wanted only pure and accepted Sephardic doctrine taught to the children of his followers, not a diluted, blended brand taught in a mixed school.

Religion aside, the life and work of Rabbi Ovadia – like those of Dr. King — indicate the pervasive need of Homo sapiens to form tight groups of very like people, to preach group superiority and to categorize others – even those who could easily be accepted into the group – as inferior and unworthy of advancement. It shows the incredible need to hold back rather than lift up.

What is the basis for this need?

Limited resources? Limited positions of power? Intrinsic insecurity? General nastiness? The necessity to have enemies as a motivating force for survival and civilization building?

Because of their differences, and because of our shortcomings as a species, it seems almost understandable that there is tension between blacks and whites, Jews and Arabs (even thought they are both Semitic people), liberals and conservatives. But why does each group draw circles within their circles to set even more people apart?

How can we solve global conflict when the people on the north side of Chicago distrust those on the south side?

The Jews possess a unique place in history as one of the first cultures – perhaps the first – to take stock of itself and say, “We are barbarians. This is unacceptable.”

For now and always, the People of The Book have documented their epic struggle for the perfect, enlightened society. Through darkness and light, catastrophe and near destruction, triumph, dire warnings, dire consequences and rebirth, they have never ceased to strive with God and themselves.

One would think that by now such a people could get along with themselves; that such a people might actually be the ones to bring peace to the entire Earth.

Who better?

While we wait for a new prophet, I would hope that all will soon dispense with finding disgust over another person simply because of his taste in movies.

Rest in peace, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

 

 

Best Buy to customer: Did you just walk down the street and turn left?

6 Oct

 

Companies that monitor our cell phone, tablet and computer use are growing more and more sophisticated.

Many of us are aware that we are tracked –stalked, actually – by algorithms when we use our cell phone. Our phones are capable of telling advertisers – and I guess the government – when we get up, when we go to bed, the places we visit, what we buy, what we search for, even what we are thinking and certainly what we are saying. Now, according to an article in today’s New York Times, statistical modeling is being used to connect our cell phone use with our table use and the use of our work and home computers.

PrivacyThese devices may have absolutely no connection to each other, but heavy monitoring of digital networks, coupled with some pretty fancy math, links them and us to advertisers.

So while at work you may use your desktop to search for a Paris hotel.  Later that night, on your cell phone, you could receive an ad for the InterContinental Paris Le Grand.

As I have said before in other posts, digital communications – the Internet, apps, etc. – represent wonderful technology but also serve as the biggest con since Ponzi. The con amounts to this: Give us everything we need to effectively and dramatically market you and we will tell you who won the 1976 World Series, the best way to make waffles and the number of Academy Awards won by Robert Di Niro.

This gross invasion of privacy is both offensive and frightening, at least for me.

Maybe not so much for the guy who needs a room in Paris.

Still, there are flaws in the process.

I recently went on-line in search of a digital SLR camera. I found what I wanted and bought it. Since then, my devices have been serving up ads for digital cameras. Made me feel for sorry for the retailers who paid good money to target likely customers. The algorithms are smart, but not smart enough to know that I am among the least likely of customers.

In a way, that was quite satisfying.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

%d bloggers like this: