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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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Tuesday
May062014

Does one “thound gay”?

 

 

 

I actually do have some thoughts on this topic — is there such thing as a “gay voice”? — but I don’t have the time to write them up just now. So for the time being just enjoy this thread, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan.

Sunday
May042014

Jacuzzis and “natural childbirth”

 

In The New Republic, for my Fatherland column, I review a new collection of essays about labor and delivery, co-edited by the great novelist Eleanor Henderson. I don’t love the book, although I love many of the essays therein. One choice paragraph or two, from my review:

But the co-editors, Henderson and her friend, novelist Anna Solomon, have drawn their contributors almost entirely from the pool of MFA-credentialed women who, for reasons of genuine conviction, cultural indoctrination, or weakness under pressure presume that “natural” birthing is better than unnatural birthing; that doulas and midwives are better than doctors; and that the birth experience is supposed to be profound. As a result, many of them end up in alternative birthing centers, or ABCs, instead of in traditional maternity wards. And in those birthing centersif these essays are to be believedthe women can relax in Jacuzzis instead of mere showers or hotel-style tubs.

Because, as Ina May Gaskin and indigenous midwives from throughout the Third World can tell you, the electric whirlpool bath has for millennia been integral to the authentic, woman-centered birthing experience. It just took the Italian-American Jacuzzi brothers to market the idea to post-war America.

Wednesday
Apr302014

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.
Wednesday
Apr302014

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.”

Tuesday
Apr292014

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.

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