Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

March 27, 2007

Off to Chicago…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 8:03 am

…leaving this a.m.to begin a Vare Fellowship on non-fiction writing at the U. of Chicago, an institution I have great respect for since so many graduates I’ve met are so smart and well read. Title of my once a week seminar : “Never Too Soon: Getting Started on Your First Non Fiction Book”. Thesis being that the age of great creativity in long form magazine articles that I was lucky enough to benefit from is over and the real, smart innovative non fiction is being done in short books often by young non fictiion writers. Often extended cultural essays under 200 pages. Example: Laura Kipnis’s Against Love a brilliant funny rueful work which, although falling in love again has changed my attitude toward love, hasn’t diminished my admiration for the contrarian witty argument of that book.

Meanwhile I’m finishing up re reading Bellow’s Ravelstein. Am told the univeristy is putting me up in a restored apartment building across the street from where Bellow lived “with his third wife” (out of five). (is this an argument for or against love?).

Will next be blogging from there. I’ll miss my cat Bruno whose got a lot of cat care girls who love to make a fuss over him (Bye, Bruno!). I’ll miss my girlfriend T. although we’ve arranged many assignations (Love you, darling!). I hope readers willl suggest blogworthy events, plays, parties etc to this stranger in town thru the comments.

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March 25, 2007

A Moral Order in the Universe? With Special Reference to King Lear and Ron Jeremy

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 3:51 pm

So late Sunday, after my Saturday “BAM Dialogue” (referenced in the post below) I saw the King Lear at the Public Theater directed by the gifted James Lapine. (I still treasure the memory of his Midsummer Night’s Dream back in the 80s). And starring Kevin Kline as the mad (or suddenly sane) King. It left me shaken.

Afterward, I had to ask myself, why does this play do this thing to me. My seat was near that of Barry Edelstein whose Shakespeare verse speaking class at the Classical Stage Company figures importantly in my examination of the controversy over Peter Hall iambic “pause”. He said something at the intermission which was undeniable-I’m paraphrasing–but it was kind of genuine profound bewilderment at how the patched-together element of the play somehow cohere and get to you.

And without being reductive, and with no disrespect to the Gloucester plot, it always comes down to the ending to the moment of pure suffering as Lear comes on stage howling with grief at the death of his daughter Cordelia, whose lifeless body he holds in his octogenarian hands. (Everybody tells this anecdote, but let that not stop me: When John Gielgud was asked for his advice on playing Lear, he said “Most important of all is to cast a very light Cordelia.)

Anyway I was glad I saw the Lapine, KlineLear for its own transcendent sake I was also glad because I was scheduled to lead a discussion group about Lear at the reading group organized by my friend David Samuels and Rabbi Weintraub at the Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn. I had spoken there twice before and found the group smart and intellectually stimulating.

And yes I’d done a whole chapter focussed on the scholarly debate over the two versions of Lear’s dying words and the thematic and esthetic impact of them both.

But it’s always good to get reacquainted with the power of the play, a power which I believe has less to do with whether Lear was more sinned against than sinner, but with the power of that suffering.

That suffering that has no cause. (suffering that has no effect even, in the redemptive framework in which that most religions try to place it.)

“No cause. No cause.” Cordelia’s unforgettable words of forgiveness to her father. But no cause, no cause to the suffering of the innocent, even of the partly guilty as we all are.

No cause, no cause. We live in a universe of cause and effect. We live in a universe of suffering and…recompense? Redemption, meaning, learning? Or suffering that means nothing but itself, cannot be displaced or transcended.

The argument about suffering has long begin conducted within a Christian or anti-Christian (either pagan or Machiavellian/naturalistic/about Edmund-like framework): suffering yield s redemption. We will be rewarded for the hells we go through.

Or suffering means nothing. It can not be made to mean more than the pain it is by imagining positive meanings for it, the goal of almost all religions.

And it occurred to me the morning I made my way to Kane Street synagogue, it was a play that could apply to Jewish suffering. But was the Jewish attitude toward suffering different from the Christian altogether? Do we expect redemption for suffering. Or are we supposed to?

I raised these questions in the course of a spirited discussion with the congregation’s book club members. And then at a certain point I asked Rabbi Weintraub what Jewish tradition has to say on the matter.

“You talk about the whether there’s ‘a moral order of the Universe’?” the rabbi said to me. [I’m paraphrasing him now], but in Judaism there is no moral order of the universe.

Wait, I said. No moral order? What about the Ten Commandments? I asked.

It turns out he was making an important distinction. When he said Judaism didn’t believe in a moral order, he was saying Judaism didn’t believe in a moral hierarchy? He wasn’t being relativistic. There was Good and Bad and better and infinite degrees in between, but there was a basis for making distinctions between them.

But that’ s not the same as a moral order. Judaism didn’t guarantee a moral outcome, I think one can extrapolate from what he was saying.

An important distinction I’d say. A real take away.

And oh yes, the Ron Jeremy reference. The porn-star is quoted in today’s Page Six column in the New York Post as saying, apropos his family’s attitude toward his profession: “We’re Jews and we Jews are liberal. We don’t go for that , ‘You’re going to burn in Hell’, good and evil stuff.”

Well, he may not be theologically correct–we don’t believe in a burning Hell, but we do go for “that Good and Evil stuff”. but at least he thinking about the right question, the question raised by Lear: a moral order in the universe? It’s the most urgent question of them all.

Takeaways, Part 2: Masculine/Feminine

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:47 am

First let me make clear I kind of hate the word “takeaway”, as in “what’s the takeaway here”? It reeks of power-point biz-buzz-speak. And yet….there’s something seductive about the word, the concept, something that cuts to the chase. Separates what you thought knew before an experience from what additional truth, if not the whole truth, you know afterward. So I’m giving in to it, I’m using it as shorthand for these reports from my encounter with life outside my apartment.

This one in particular was one of the most thrilling encounters in my intellectual life: a “BAM Dialogue” (BAM being New York’s celebrated Brooklyn Academy of Music) with Edward Hall the director of what will be remembered as one of this era’s great innovative Shakespearean production companies, “The Propeller Theatre”.

BAM is currently running two Propeller productions, Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew and, as they have in the past, they were offering enthusiasts a chance to hear the director talk about his vision. (There is a funny emblematic episode in my book, %%AMAZON=0375503390 The Shakespeare Wars%%, that takes place during a BAM Dialogue with Peter Brook, during which, as an audience member, I disrupted the proceedings. Very embarrasing. It was particularly satisfying thus to be asked to be a Dialogue principle).

Particularly with Edward Hall. He is, in addition to being known for his own stunningly original work, known as well as the son of Sir Peter Hall, the profoundly influential co-founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company. I devote a chapter in my book to Sir Peter’s heated views about the correct and incorrect way to pronounce the poetic rhythms of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter line. And he is, by the way, the brother of Rebecca Hall whose brilliant work as Rosalind, the heroine of As You Like It transformed my vision of that play.

I’m not going to go into the many matters we covered in the course of our 45 minute dialogue (with the participation of a well-versed audience), nor our pre- Dialogue dialogue. Rather I’m just going to focus on one thing Edward Hall said that still has me thinking about it. Something about masculinity and femininity.

The Propeller Theater is known for it’s adherence to the discipline of all-male casts. I say discipline because it’s an esthetic strategy unrelated to gender preference on the part of the director of the company. I say discipline because it’s not merely a throwback to an “originalist” version of Shakespeare, whose female roles were originally acted–because of religious based, culturally normative prudishness–by young boys with high or unbroken voices.

What makes Propeller different, what makes a Propeller production an intellectually challenging, rather than merely sexually different, in an antiquarian way, is that it doesn’t cast young boys but grown men in the women’s parts.

I was initially skeptical of this but when I saw Propeller’s hilarious Midsummer Night’s Dream a couple of years ago. I was completely won over. I have rarely laughed so hard in my life as I did in the 4th act when the mixed and mismatched couples wake up to Puck’s mischief and some bald unshaven middle aged guy played youthful ingenue Hermia’s outrage at the “plot” against her.

But it was more than funny it was intellectually challenging. While almost all Shakespeare’s plays raise questions about masculinity and femininity–how much of each quality is what you might call “hard wired” in the sociobiological-based irreconcilable differences–and how much is gender an act, a performance, a role one can inhabit or choose to step outside.

No play of Shakespeare asks this question with such dizzying comic ingenuity than Twelfth Night in which the heroine, Viola was, in Shakespeare’s time, a young boy imitating a woman imitating a young man. Now Propeller had a grown man imitating a young woman imitating a young man, with echoes of the original boy acting the woman that Shakespeare wrote for never absent either.

The day before the BAM dialogue I saw Propeller’s Twelfth Night and it was dazzling in raising the level of questions about sex and love to a dizzying new level.

I wish I could post the transcript of the Dialogue. But one “takeaway” that’s stayed with me is this. I asked Edward Hall if doing Shakespeare this way had affected his notion of Shakespeare and gender, his sense of Shakespeare’s sense of masculinity and femininity.

He didn’t offer any abstract answer. What he said was that in his work with the men paying both men and women in his productions he didn’t tell them to play women as more feminine or men as more masculine. In fact don’t focus on that . at all. First focus on the character. Play the character not the gender.

Does character precede gender? Are there irreducibly gender-related character aspects that precede characer as a whole? (no pun intendeded). How much of our bad character, and our better nature is related to, or in defiance of gender?

You didn’t expect me to have any answers to these questions did you? Nonetheless the questioning was the takeaway for me.

Takeaways, Part 1:"Something New Under the Sun"

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 6:38 am

As I noted in a recent post below I’ve been overwhelmed with various speaking commitments and it’s interfered with regular blogging so I’m going to begin to try to catch up with brief reports on some of those encounters, trying to limit myself to a single emblematic moment that has stayed with me.

Let me begin with my talk at the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, an ongoing weekly seminar organized by the energetic Professor Charles Small, designed to approach the ancient subject from as many modern perspectives as possible.

As I mentioned before the official title of my talk was “Thinking the Unthinkable: Rhetorical Strategies of the Holocaust Deniers and the Prospect of a Second Holocaust”. But what I really spoke about, what I really was asking about, seeking input from the mixed audience of professors, students, and Jewish community activists was the question of “The Day After”.

The day After a “second Holocaust’. The Day After the no-longer unimaginable destruction of the Jewish state and the people who live in it by a nuclear armed state or terrorist group.

Assuming as most do that even after such destruction, Israeli retaliatory capacity will survive, as it must for the credibility of deterrence. Who to hit, with how much, for what purpose? What if the nuclear device, the most likely means of carrying out radical Islamist exterminationist aims, has no “home address”. If it can’t be known whether a state smuggled it in or just a small front group whose identity is shrouded in mystery?

Much of the discussion focussed on these terrible, difficult questions.

But one hand was raised and one student asked an almost shocking question. What is the point of retaliation? The damage will have been done. Millions will die from an act that will have only symbolic value, he suggested.

Others argued against that and proposed several practical reasons for retaliation, or for not discussing no-retaliation, arguments that involved maintaining the credibility of deterrence to protect against such an attack before it cold happen, others that involved the protection of the remaining Jews of the world, after it happened. Nut these are strategic, game theory questions however grave the consequences. But that’s another question.

The question the student asked was, wouldn’t the renunciation of retaliation at that point enable Jews to establish a moral standard for ages to come? A moral standard?

My immediate somewhat glib response was to say this is in effect is asking Jews to “turn the other cheek” and that for centuries Christians had preached “turn the other cheek” but Jews and had been the ones to do so and look where it’s gotten us.

I wish I had a better response. I’d like to hear from readers of this blog what they think the response should be. Before my talk I’d asked three faculty members of New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary for some citations from past Jewish wisdom, commentary, midrash on questions of retaliation, justice and recompense for suffering in the context of Israeli nuclear deterrence. And that all three had run from the question.

None of them was frank enough to say they were afraid of it, afraid of thinking about it having their names attached to any such speculation (even though I offered them anonymity). One at least admitted that “the question you’ve asked is one that truly could be called ‘something new under the sun'”.

But isn’t this why the Jewish community supports institutions such as the Jewish Theological Seminary. To consider that which is “new under the sun” in the light of what has gone before and been thought before? The Israeli Security Cabinet has surely discussed such questions as the proportionality of retaliation.

What is the value of supporting Theological Seminaries full of Jewish sages who fear to bring their intellect and knowledge to bear on such questions? I don’t necessarily agree with the premises of the student’s question but admire his courage in asking it, and deplore the cowardice of the tenured “sages” who don’t turn the other cheek, but turn away and run from facing that which is “new under the sun”.

The response of those at the Yale Seminar was quiite the opposite, unafraid to discuss such questions. Let’s hear from some more untenured sages on a question we all have a stake in.

March 19, 2007

Cathy Seipp? Noooo!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:27 pm

I didn’t really know her. But I recognized her as a real writer, a real wit, a incisive intelligence who, in her first gig (anyway the first one I noticed) as pseudonymous media critic for long deceased Buzzmagazine, took the stuff of dreary media criticism and made it into a delight to read. Each month an Austen-like aspect of the human comedy in the newsroom–even though it was the LA Times even though you rarely the faintest idea whose the inflated egos she was puncturing really were, and what gave them the idea they were big shots. but she always went after the big shots, the idiot publishers and editors not the hardworking reporters she respected.

I finally got to meet her when I was out there during the prelims to the LA Democratic convention in 2000 and she came to the book party her great friend Amy Alkon (The Advice Goddess) gave for me, and I remember Cathy drove me around Korea-town running errands in her battered sedan, talking trash, original, delightful insightful, life affirming trash about everyone in LA.
We laughed a lot, she had a fantastic sense of humor.

And she was courageous too, never backing down from a fight with Conventional Wisdom LA variety, but skewering the nobs with such razor sharp wit you had a feeling they didn’t know what happened to them.

Cathy happened to them. She happened to a lot of other people in a lot of other ways I know. Personally and through her work which kept getting stronger. Every once in while I’d read an allusion to her lung cancer in her blog and somehow I couldn’t believe it. Refused to believe it wouldn’t go away. She was so strong, her prose was so full of life, it couldn’t be real.

But I guess it’s real. I read the post from her daughter today, by her bedside saying goodbye for us.

I personally refuse to believe it. Don’t tell me about it. I don’t want to know. I want Cathy to go on being Cathy. And for many of her fans she will.

March 15, 2007

I Don't Know How Personal…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 12:02 pm

…a blog should be. Issues/opinions or diary observations? Or both? Pajamas asked me to do “the kind of thing you’ve been doing” which, alas, is a lot of things, too many things ,a crippling, paralyzing impossible number of things. I should be more focussed.

Don’t know if I should focus on politics the way most Pajamas bloggers do (but I think they wanted me for my non fixed political focus). So I’ve tended to focus on culture the way I’ve done in my columns for The New York Observer and now Slate. (Did I mention that I’ve accepted an offer from the online magazine Slate (www.slate.com) to do a culture column every other week, somewhat like, but not the same as the one I did for 12 year for the Observer. (It doesn’t mean I’m still not fond of the Observer or the people there, it was a sad but amicable–and not total–parting).

But back to my confusion about what I should be blogging about. I think the most successful bloggers are the ones that focus in laser-like way on one subject, build a constituency and become a blogosphere focus for it. Non-focussed Diary like responses to life compel less linkage, but I feel my lack of focus is an aspect of my life. I’m all over the map.

Maybe it will help by contextualizing the strange variety of my life. None more various than last week or so.

Consider, after finishing my last Observer piece and my first official Slate piece (posted March 7–on Hitler, sex and Norman Mailer), I had to get ready to speak on Thursday March 8 at the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism in New Haven, on the question of a “second Holocaust” (“spine chilling” was one e mail response to my talk).

Then when I got back I spent the first part of the last weekend drafting my second Slate column. Then Saturday my girlfriend, up from D.C.. took me tp an engagement party for some journalist friends she knew who had all met in Baghdad covering the war.

Many of the attendees had based their war reporting from the same beyond-the-green-zone rented house in Baghdad and many of them shared a friendship with a woman named Marla Ruzicka who had been murdered while doing humanitarian work in Iraq and whose story has been told in a recent book The Sweet Relief by Jennifer Abrahamson.

I’d never met Marla, heard a lot about her from my girlfriend and her evident charisma was still apparent at the party which, while supposedly celebrating an engagement had a bit of a feeling of a wake or at least a sense of a which united those who knew Marla in life. I felt like an outsider, but I liked the people there and the spirit of the occasion and they made me feel welcome.

Then when my girlfriend left on Sunday, I finished up the Slate piece, worked on my new book (subject still secret) and my overdue screenplay and started selecting the students for the writing seminar I’d be teaching over the next couple months at the University of Chicago. Fascinating how many talented applicants there were and how difficult the choice was. My goal is to get them to make the transition from memoir-oriented “creative non fiction” to getting publishable first books under way.

Then I had to prepare for my Brooklyn Academy of Music “BAM dialogue” with British Shakespearean director Edward Hall, son of Sir Peter Hall (founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company) and himself (Edward). founder of the brilliant Propeller Theater Company which does all-male cast productions of Shakespeare (whose original casts included no women) and whose Midsummer Night’s Dream I’d seen at BAM a couple years ago and thought was hilarious. (If you’re in the BAM nabe, the “dialogue” is at 1-2 pm this Saturday the 17th).

To prepare I’m seeing a 10:30 a.m. Friday rehearsal performance of Twelfth Night, then after the Saturday dialogue I’m seeing their version of The Taming of the Shrew

Then on Sunday morning a phone interview with Norman Mailer (assignment) and on Sunday afternoon I see genius director James Lapine’s production of King Lear starring Kevin Kline.

Monday, back to my new book and my screenplay at last. And preparing for my once a week Chicago seminar. And blogging about all sots of things. Okay it’s crazy and could I have turned down any of these opportunities. Well maybe all but the chance to spend time with my girlfriend.

But I’m freakin’ dizzy. (If you know anyone who wants to be my assistant to sort my life out, let me know. Some perks like performance tickets, screenings. This is a cry for help.)

And you see my dilemma: I could blog about anything I don’t choose to write a formal essay about for Slate. I could blog about my life. Does anyone care? I could have done a more focussed post on the Marla party and the bittersweet quality of it. And I’ll do that kind of thing in the future. But I wanted to try one of those diary-type, this-is-my-life blog entries. This is all thinking out loud, but I guess I’ve learned something from it: I need to focus.

March 13, 2007

The Single Stupidest Thing on The O'Reilly Factor. No: On All of TV

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 8:39 pm

Look I don’t want to be accused of shooting fish in a barrel., as they say. There are a lot of stupid things said on the show, and not just by the host whom I can’t feel a lot of animus for, however much I may disagree with him, because I’ve never considered him a serious political analyst. (does anyone, even those who agree with his politics?). The ginned-up fake populism grates, but every once in a while he takes off on a legitimate crusade. Even then he’s a showman at best, a clown at worst posing as a political analyst.

But please…..The “body language expert”. I’m stunned that even O’Reilly isn’t embarrassed by showcasing this pseudo science, a combination of the obvious and the meaningless. Have you seen it? Shouldn’t somebody take Bill aside and say that it undermines whatever credibility his political views might have, for him to take this seriously. I think it’s a sign that he’s over, reaching out for a gimmick like this.

Show me the double blind clinical studies that prove there’s the slightest shred of validity to this “method of analysis”. What’s next, “The Factor Phrenologist”? He has this feature “most Ridiculous Item of the Day” and every day he has the “body language expert”, that segment wins hands down.

For someone who watches a lot of television, one sees a lot of stupidity. But this is so gratingly stupid it’s almost unbearable to watch, yet strangely irresistible too. Does Roger Ailes, a smart guy whatever you think of his politics know his franchise Fox product is making a fool of himself and the entire network?

Where is Colbert with his nutso “expert”? Can I volunteer to play one?

There I Was Inside a Bat Infested Dead Sea Cave…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 3:46 pm

This was about a dozen or so years ago, and I was doing a story about the Dead Sea Scroll controversy. At the time the Scrolls had been tightly and secretly held by a scholarly cabal who were using their exclusivity to advance their academic careers (surprise), and many Scrolls had only recently been liberated unto the purview of a wider circle of scholars by individuals such as Robert Eisenman and institutions such as California’s Huntington Library.

I got Vanity Fair to send me over to the Holy Land to talk with the various fiercely divisive Scroll factions (divisive because many of the Scrolls were in tiny jigsaw puzzle fragments, and the implications of how they were interpreted held enormous repercussions for how one viewed the origin of Christianity and its split from Judaism.) You can read the result of my investigations in my collection The Secret Parts of Fortune. (Did I neglect to mention that eminent Dead Sea Scroll scholar. Oxford’s Geza Vermes, said of my story that it was “a worthy successor to Edmund Wilson’s reportage.” Just thought you’d want to know).

In any case I managed to join up with an expedition to the Dead Sea cliff caves, located between the barren Judean desert, scene of innumerable prophetical Biblical visions and the lifeless Dead Sea, caves where the Scrolls had been found in the late ’40s near the abandoned monastic remains of a settlement called Qumran. It was an expedition led by University of North Carolina Professor James D. Tabor, and when when we got there it was 110 degrees in the shade, only there was no shade, so it was almost a welcome relief to push blindly into the cool of the caves despite the bats, which I later learned carried all sorts of vile diseases.

I found Tabor to be a totally fascinating character, extremely intelligent, a serious Biblical scholar with a touch of Indiana Jones, whose researches had taken him from fundamentalist Christianity back to the theology of the Ebionites, a sect that harked back to the very earliest Christianity, the Christianity of the time of Christ–before Paul’s Chrisitianity turned against Jesus’ Jewish roots. Tabor considered himself a “Jewish Christian”.

He’s recently written several books about early, early Christianity, including The Jesus Dynasty whjch, since I don’t speak ancient langauges, I haven’t felt qualifed to evaluate amidst the maelstrom of controversy over such matters, but which I suspect are important contributions to the debate.

Well, I just got the following e-mail commmunique from Tabor regarding the James Cameron “Jesus Tomb” documentary which I had thought must be bogus, but which Tabor believes has some value.

Here’s what he has to say:

(more…)

March 9, 2007

I Just Woke Up From a Strange Dream…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 5:21 am

It’s 5 in the morning New York, and I thought I’d share this dream I just woke up from with you. Maybe the context of the day before had something to do with it. I’d taken a train up to Yale where I’d been an undergraduate, and where I’d been asked to speak to a seminar in a series sponsored by the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism.

The title I’d given my talk was “Thinking About the Unthinkable: Rhetorical Strategies of the Holocaust Deniers and the Prospect of A Second Holocaust”. Cheerful stuff, I know. I met the seminar’s organizer, Prof. Charles Small, at one of my favorite places in New Haven, the Atticus Bookstore and he told me he’d asked me to speak after reading the anthology I edited %%AMAZON=0812972031 Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism%%. We proceeded to an old lecture hall I knew well, Linsley-Chittenden. Nobody showed up.

It was like a bad dream. Finally we realized we’d both deceived ourselves into thinking the seminar was being held at the site of the previous week’s seminar, and then raced up to Prospect Street to the actual site, where everyone had been awaiting us at a new building devoted to a new Yale Institute for Social Policy studies.

The attendees at the seminar were well informed. I said a lot of controversial things, some of which I’d written about here before, about the relationship between Holocaust denial’s new strategy for delegitimizing the State of Israel and the attempt by those in Iran trying to lay the groundwork for a second Holocaust. Very pessimistic. The discussion after my talk was thought-provoking, but if anything even more pessimistic, focussing on nuclear deterrent strategy. On the train back I’d was re-reading Saul Bellow’s %%AMAZON=0141001763 Ravelstein%%, my favorite one of his, and one I was reading trying to get into the mood for doing some upcoming teaching on a fellowship at the University of Chicago in the upcoming quarter. I was reading it when I got back as I was falling asleep and this is the dream or the part of it I remembered:

I was doing a public reading of something from Bellow (not sure if it was Ravelstein) and people were into it until someone in the back of the room relayed something he’d heard from outside the lecture hall about the Red Sox going ahead in an important game. Suddenly everyone stopped listening to me and began paying attention to the game. I think it was an optimistic dream, though. I’ve never been a Red Sox fan, but I can see that with their long struggle to get to the promised land they might represent the Jews of baseball. (Red Sox=Red Sea?)

Good news for the Jews? No need for further Bellovian pessimism from me? I’d be happy to trade the latter for the former. Unrealistic wish fulfillment? Well that’s what dreams are for.

Go Sox.

March 7, 2007

What is Life? (A Call From Governor Cuomo)

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 12:12 pm

If you’re interested I have an account in today’s New York Observer of a debate between Mario Cuomo and Newt Gingrich at New York City’s historic Cooper Union.

I’ll let you judge for yourself my opinion on who won the debate but I wanted to mention the aftermath, because I got a call from Governor Cuomo this morning in which he wanted to discuss the meaning of life.

I’m always up for a good discussion on this question, in this case prompted by Cuomo’s response to my response to Cuomo’s remarks at the debate on the stem cell research controversy.

He’d made what I think was an important. neglected point. That there wasn’t only one religious position on the stem cell matter. The key argument over using embryonic stem cells was whether they were “alive”. And the “religious position” has always been characterized as “life begins at conception”.

But Cuomo, who is well versed in the theology of this question, pointed out at Cooper Union that St. Thomas Aquinas believed that “life” didn’t begin until 30 days after conception, and St. Augustine put the number at 15 days.

Which to Cuomo means that the definition of “life” for the purposes of stem cell and abortion debates is based on varying religious definitions of life. He believes that in the case of abortions the approach should depend not on life” but on viability outside the womb and that such viability is a scientific matter and that the period after conception for viability is shrinking as the recent birth of a 22 week old baby demonstrated.

But what then do we consider an aggregate of cells less than 30 days or 15 days after conception. Not life? I asked Cuomo.

“Potential life” Cuomo said. He wants to uphold Roe v. Wade but make abortions less frequent by defining viability upward and spending money to convince women to bring the unborn to term and funding their viable adoptions.

I got the feeling that he knows that there are no easy answers to this problem and that defining the difference between something is that is alive only potentially, but alive viably is still a challenge.

We went on to discuss the question of how Chief Justice Roberts would approach Roe v. Wade. As a precedent he would not challenge even if his religious beliefs differed because it would violate the First Amendment’s guarantee against an establishment of religion.

Or would he reason his way to strike it down on grounds other than religious. Or would he regard it as a kind of “super-precedent” that shouldn’t be challenged at all because it has been so firmly established within our legal and political culture.

We ended the conversation agreeing here are no easy solutions to any of these questions which is why they remain unresolved. But the process of thinking things through with Cuomo is an exhilarating intellectual experience, and reminds you that it’s still possible that he should be, if not President, then the next Democratic President’s Supreme Court nominee.

He still has a lot to contribute.

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