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I write the biweekly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and also report for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere. I have four daughters and two dogs.

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Do Jews have dirtier mouths and minds?


That is sort of the question being posed by a book I very much hope to read soon, Josh Lambert’s Unclean Lips. A review by the erudite Stephen Whitfield just went up at the LA Review of Books. An excerpt:

Have Jewish writers shown a proclivity for transgressions of good taste, for violating community standards of decency? Consider the roll call.

Henry Roth leads the short list that literary scholars have compiled of the major Jewish novelists of the interwar period. Josh Lambert devotes nearly twenty pages to examining how Roth’s first novel, Call It Sleep (1934), pushed the envelope of profanity and expletives, only a year after the ban on Ulysses had been lifted, making permissible description of sexuality such as the soliloquy of Molly Bloom. Call It Sleep was too technically advanced to be popular, and both it and the author vanished for three decades. But Ludwig Lewisohn, whom Lambert considers “by far the most prominent Jewish writer in interwar America,” generated controversy by affiliating himself as well as his fiction with the theme of the primacy of desire over the norms of propriety. The notoriety of Ben Hecht’s second novel, Fantazius Mallare (1922), was assured — even though it was sold only to subscribers — because Hecht was prosecuted, convicted, and fined $1,000 for a work deemed “lewd, obscene and lascivious.” When Norman Mailer published his first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), his cousin, an attorney named Charles Rembar, suggested “fug” as an alternative for a word Mailer could not print, though soldiers commonly used it while fighting the Good War.  “Fug” in fact “was phonetically closer than was the classic spelling to the prevailing G.I. gutturals,” Rembar noted. Mailer’s third novel, The Deer Park, was rejected by seven publishers, who feared that it would run afoul of the statutes prohibiting obscenity. The Deer Park nevertheless appeared in 1955.

Few novels in postwar America have run more afoul of censors than J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951). An entire monograph — Pamela Hunt Steinle’s In Cold Fear (2000) — has examined the phenomenon, with school librarians and teachers suppressing a work that happens to record teenage lingo rather faithfully. In a way, The Catcher in the Rye promotes an ideal of decency, because Holden Caulfield, a champion of the integrity of innocence, wants to erase a “Fuck you” sign on a staircase. He nevertheless comes to realize how befouled the world already is: “If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world.”

Though Salinger’s own connection to Judaism was severed after his bar mitzvah ceremony, he nonetheless joined Lambert’s queue of novelists of Jewish origin who have managed to incite charges of obscenity. Or take Portnoy’s Complaint.

How many choco-milk pics does NYTimes have?


Well, at least two. One for my pro-chocolate-milk parenting piece of a couple weeks ago, and another (above) for Motherlode-blog blogger KJ Dell'Antonia, who weighed in here, saying, in part:

Specifically on the question of chocolate milk, my colleague [c’est moi] has a point. He makes an excellent larger point as well. When we constrain our children’s choices too tightly, we limit their ability to make their own choices — and in this case, we lose sight of the goal. Youngsters who could choose chocolate milk drank more milk over all, and they apparently found the other school lunch options more appealing when accompanied by the chocolate stuff, as they chose to buy lunch more often. “In all sorts of ways,” Mr. Oppenheimer writes, “skim milk may be bad for the student body’s nutrition.”


The new, NEW Calvinism


If you can identify the man in the picture above, you don’t need my talk. But if you can’t, come here me speak at CUNY this Friday. Details here. (What else are you doing with your lunch hour?) I wrote about the topic in the Times here.


Get ’em started young . . .


My wife has been working very hard to expand state-funded pre-K education here in Connecticut. You can read her op-ed about it here — it begins with the kind of lede I’d have been proud to write:

Prior to the start of school this past fall, a friend’s second grade daughter told her younger sister, who was about to enter kindergarten, what to expect: “Some kids won’t know the alphabet. You see, not everyone went to a good preschool like we did.”

My friend’s daughter was right.

The picture above features a kindergartner. That is its only relevance.



How dirty is this dawg?


Did I screw the pooch on this one, by not noting that the pooch was screwing around? On Saturday, I wrote in the Times about the late, exercise-obsessed Bangladeshi guru Sri Chinmoy (above), whose followers like to run vegetarian restaurants (and running-shoe stores).

I have since received four emails from irate readers who said that I gave free publicity to the posthumous cult of a sex pervert. Here is one such email, reproduced with the writer’s permission:


Dear Mark, 

I think you should know that there is another side to the Sri Chinmoy Centre / Legacy. It is a much darker side than anyone still remaining in the centre would ever like to be told. 
I was a follower of Sri Chinmoy for 22 years. I loved my spiritual life and I love my teacher. To me Sri Chinmoy was God. Chinmoy claimed to be an Avatar of the highest order and most of his disciples believed him, Myself being one of them. I joined the centre in December 1986 at age 18 and I left the centre on February 14, 2009.
The philosophy was great. Live in the sunlit path of the heart, be humble, be a good person. However the realiy was Sri Chinmoy did not practice what he preached. 
The centre is a cult. It took me a few years to realize that after I left. When you join it does not seem that it is because everything you hear and see seems so good. However when I look back at my life with Sri Chinmoy I can see how he clearly manipulated his disciples to get what he wanted from them.
In the end, I left because one day in December 2006, on one of our annual Christmas Trips, Sri Chinmoy decided I was ready to be given a special privilege because I had served him devotedly for twenty years and because God-The Supreme had special love for me.  We were in Antalya, Turkey. Sri Chinmoy asked me to come up to his hotel room to have sex with another woman while he watched. 
Needless to say, I was horrified. Up to that point I truly believed in Sri Chinmoy. He was my God, he was my life, my All. That night changed everything. I was shattered. At first I was in shock, then I was afraid, then sad and finally angry. Everything he was teaching was a lie. We were supposed to be living a life of celibacy. No sex with anyone. Not with a man or a woman.
There is more to my story but it is too much to write right now. 
My story is not the only one out there. There are plenty of former disciples to tell you the real story about Sri Chinmoy. 
Please stop writting articles that promote this cult as real spirituality. It is a centre based in lies and most of the leaders if not all of them know the truth.  


I have no idea if these charges, or others like it, are true. And Chinmoy is dead, which makes it hard to investigate this matter conclusively, or fairly. My column was really about followers who run vegetarian restaurants, far less about the man himself. Nevertheless, I print the letter so buyers can beware.


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