November 20, 2018

The Phenomenon of Left and Right

I have said some things on podcasts and on Twitter that have raised questions. I am hoping to answer those questions so people will understand the framework I am working from and why I have arrived at the perspective I have. 

I hear many people talking as if the terms liberal, progressive and leftist refer to different factions, and that one might partner with one and reject another.

I have been on the left my entire adult life. I never have seen clean distinctions drawn between these things. There was a time when the term liberal had been so thoroughly demonized by those on the right that I remember consciously choosing to call myself a progressive in order to evade the stigma. But there was no change in my perspective that accompanied it.

There may be slight distinctions in how people use those terms, but in general, I think they are synonyms and should be treated as such.

I also have said I am a liberal who wishes to live in a world so good I could be a conservative. That may sound paradoxical at first, or strange. But I think it makes a great deal of sense because the core of liberalism is a desire for change. If one’s desire for change is an earnest desire to see things improve, then surely there is a state in which things have been improved to the point where you would hope to conserve a structure rather than alter it.

I also have said I am a liberal who wishes to live in a world so good I could be a conservative.

At that point, you become a conservative.

I don’t expect to reach that place in my lifetime, but if we did, the honest thing to do would be for me to shift positions and say, “This system is so functional that we would be foolish to change.”

The essence of liberalism is a desire for change. And change can be about a number of things. In general for those of us on the left, it comes from a recognition that the system, as we find it, is unfair to some people. To the extent it is unfair, and that the unfairness is distributed in some way that is predictable, that certain populations face obstacles that others don’t, we could correct that problem. And I believe we have a moral obligation to do so. 

I also believe that we are on a trajectory, technologically and in the ways that the population of the planet is growing, that puts us in grave danger in the near term. Both of those things suggest a need for a comparatively radical degree of change. 

Those on the right are correctly pointing out that there is other evidence that says our system as it exists is highly functional. Harvard psychology professor and author Steven Pinker famously points to a decrease in random violence and warfare. I believe he has a real point. But I don’t think it predicts where we will end up in the long term. 

What it is the result of, effectively, is the fact we have created a kind of artificial growth that goes on decade after decade and gives people a lot to lose for engaging in random violence. But because it is predicated on the fiction it can go on forever, ultimately it is going to leave us holding the bag.

So, yes, I am a progressive, I’m a liberal, and I would like to see those of us on the left who have a rational perspective that is grounded in science and logic retake the left, take control of it from people who are using it as a weapon, and restore a rational dialogue of progressivism to the landscape.

I also believe that those on the right who are interested in seeing the best possible system and believe we are closer to it than I do should be rooting for a vibrant left because it is only the tension between these two entities that leaves us with reasonable governance. 

In other words, liberals tend to be overly enthusiastic about the idea of change. They tend to not fully appreciate the unintended consequences of attempting to fix problems that are identified. 

Conservatives tend to be very skeptical of change. When something could be improved, they often get in the way of those improvements because they fear the unintended consequence perhaps more than they should. 

It is the tension between these two things, where liberals can fill in the blind spots of conservatives and conservatives can fill in the blind spots of liberals, that is the magic that makes our system function well. 

It leaves us with change — enough to make things better over time — but not such wild enthusiasm for change that we take a good system and destroy it in the pursuit of a perfect one.

Bret Weinstein is an evolutionary biologist who spent most of his career at Evergreen State College in Washington state before resigning last year after a political dispute.

Poll: Center-left bloc could tie Netanyahu-led bloc at 46 seats

Israel could see a left-wing coalition to match the right-wing bloc’s 46 projected seats, according to the last poll before Jan. 22 elections.

The poll, based on a survey of 1,000 adults, predicts 32 seats for the united Likud-Beiteinu ticket, 14 seats for Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, and two seats for Otzma Le’Israel, an ultra-rightist party.

This constellation could be matched by the left-wing’s predicted 46 seats through a union of Labor’s predicted 17 seats,  Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party's 13, and 16 seats combined for Hatnua, Meretz and Kadima.

But this alliance is not assured. Unlike Livni and Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, Lapid has not ruled out joining a coalition led by Netanyahu.

Shas and Torah Judaism , both haredi Orthodox parties, garnered a total of 17 seats in the poll, which was published by Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday, the last day before elections in which media are permitted by law to publish polling results.

A total of eleven seats went to Israel’s two Arab parties, Balad and Ra’am Ta’al, and to the leftist Hadash party.

The poll had an error margin of 0.9 seats for a two-seat party and up to 3.2 seats in the case of Likud-Beiteinu.

How Hollywood’s biggest politicos leaned right, not left

Ronald Reagan, Shirley Temple, Sony Bono, George Murphy and Arnold Schwarzenegger are all entertainers who launched their political careers in California, and they are all Republicans. Indeed, aside from Al Franken, no prominent Democratic officeholder on the scene today started out in the entertainment industry. Yet, ironically, a myth that began in the McCarthy era — and persists today — holds that Hollywood celebrities on the left play a powerful role in American politics.

“Quite candidly, when Hollywood speaks, the world listens,” Sen. Arlen Specter once observed. “Sometimes when Washington speaks, the world snoozes.”

The myth is misbegotten, or so argues film historian and USC professor Steven J. Ross in “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics” (Oxford University Press, $29.95), a benchmark study of the role that Hollywood stars and moguls have played in American politics. Like Neal Gabler’s classic “An Empire of Their Own,” Ross’ book allows us look behind the curtain and to glimpse the inner workings of the entertainment industry.

Hollywood began to figure in politics as early as 1918, when federal agents reported that movie stars were playing “an active part in the Red movement.” But, from the start and throughout its history, activists on the left have always been less successful than those on the right. “It was the Republican Party, not the Democratic Party, that established the first political beachhead in Hollywood,” Ross explains. “The Hollywood left has the political glitz, but the Hollywood right sought, won, and exercised electoral power.”

Ross surveys nearly a century of Hollywood history through the lens of politics. Of necessity, he drills down into the nuance and detail of corporate and union politics in the movie business. But he also comes into tight focus on a few of the more famous faces. Charlie Chaplin, for example, is singled out as the first star to strike a political stance — an explicitly anti-fascist stance. “No silent star,” Ross writes, “brought political messages to the mass public more effectively than the man millions of moviegoers affectionately called ‘Charlie.’ ”

But Ross also reminds us that Chaplin was hounded by right-wing activists, both in Hollywood and in federal law enforcement, throughout his long career, and he was ultimately driven into exile as much for his politics as for his supposed promiscuity. “You are the one artist of the theatre,” observed the writer Lion Feuchtwanger, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, “who will go down in American history as having aroused the political antagonism of a whole nation.”

By contrast, studio mogul Louis B. Mayer, one of the founders of MGM, is singled out as the archetype of Hollywood Republicanism. He was hailed by Rabbi Edgar Magnin as “an ardent enemy of pseudo-liberals, Reds, and pinks,” and Ross himself credits Mayer with teaching the Republican Party “how to use radio, film, and movie stars to sell candidates and ideas to a mass public.” At a time when Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor and George Jessel were campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith, for example, Mayer served as executive director of the Southern California campaign committee for Herbert Hoover.

“Hollywood Right and Left” does not overlook the McCarthy era, although it is only one episode in a much grander saga. But Ross approaches the subject from a new and illuminating angle by focusing on the plight of Edward G. Robinson, an early and committed anti-fascist at a time when Irving Thalberg was comforting his boss, Louis B. Mayer, with a rosy report from Nazi Germany: “Hitler and Hitlerism will pass,” Thalberg said. “[T]he Jews will still be there.” Robinson, by contrast, worked with other stars to organize a boycott of Nazi Germany in 1938, an effort that was not popular among isolationists in America.

“[The] movie colony may root for the Jews all they wish, but don’t think that the people of the United States are going to fall in with your plans,” one estranged movie fan wrote. “Those of us who know World History and the Bible know that the Jews have always been in trouble up to their ears.”

Robinson, who was condemned as “Yiddish riff raff” by another letter writer, was repaid for his activism with surveillance by the FBI during the war, a place on the blacklist, and repeated appearances before the House Un-American Activities Committee when it targeted Hollywood in the late 1940s and early 1950s. “Outraged by the smear campaign against him,” Ross writes, “Robinson spent the next three years of his life, and over $100,000 of his own money, trying to clear his name and resume his career.” Ultimately, he was reduced to abasing himself as “an unsuspecting agent of the Communist conspiracy,” although he refused to name names. Ironically, he was “restored to semi-respectability” only when Cecil B. DeMille, “one of Hollywood’s most prominent anti-communists,” cast Robinson in “The Ten Commandments” in 1956.

The excesses of the McCarthy era eventually subsided, but Ross makes the point that the balance of power in Hollywood remained on the right as Murphy and Reagan used the denunciation of supposed “Red Menace” in Hollywood to launch their own political careers. Reagan, of course, has been credited with nothing less than a revolution in American politics, while Jane Fonda, an activist on the left in the same era, crashed and burned. Her counterpart on the right, at least in terms of the visibility and intensity of his role in politics, is Charlton Heston, whom Ross describes as “the first prominent practitioner of image politics,” if only because Heston played not only Moses, but also “three saints, three presidents, and two geniuses.”

Fonda “demonstrated that celebrities could use their star power to draw attention to controversial political issues,” Ross explains. “Her subsequent vilification revealed how the public often view such activism, especially left activism, with suspicion and cynicism.” The woman who came to be known as “Hanoi Jane,” Ross points out, “paid a high price for her activism.”

The bottom line, according to Ross, is that one wing of the entertainment industry seems to have connected with the hearts and minds of the American electorate, and the other has not. “From Louis B. Mayer to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Hollywood right has told a simple but compelling story of American triumphalism: America is the greatest nation in the world. What else do you need to know?” The Hollywood left, by contrast, has been undercut by its willingness to look behind the façade. “Few citizens want to hear a Jane Fonda, Warren Beatty, or Sean Penn point out what is wrong with the United States.” In that sense, Ross’s even-handed but eye-opening book serves as a corrective to some very famous entertainers who simply failed to understand how they come across to their audience.

Rightward swing in Hungarian elections

A far right party, Jobbik, won 26 seats in Hungarian parliamentary elections Sunday, to the dismany of Hungarian and European Jewish leaders.

The winner in Sunday’s election was the conservative Fidesz party and its ally the Christian People’s Party, which together took 206 seats in the 386-seat Parliament. Fidesz now has until June to form a government.

The ruling Socialists suffered a humiliating defeat, with only 28 seats left in Parliament. Jobbik’s success shows that “acceptable” anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism are still alive and well in parts of Europe, a statement issued by the European Jewish Congress said.

Moshe Kantor, president of the EJC, called the results a real blow for tolerance in Europe. “This is an example of the political fragility of certain societies in Europe,” Kantor said. “As a result of the economic crisis, certain extreme parties are able to deliver a scapegoat upon which to blame all their ills.

“This growing popularity of racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic parties in Europe pose a grave danger to the fabric of Europe and could drag us back to the dark days of the past. We must act now,” Kantor said.

Radical right resents judges and juries

The right-wing effort to defeat independent-minded judges has reached the usually peaceful second floor of the Ronald Reagan State Building in downtown Los Angeles, home of the
2nd District Court of Appeal.

The justices’ office suite is a quiet place, insulated from the noise of Spring Street. When I was at the Times just down the street, the justices used to invite me over occasionally to give them tips on dealing with the press. Not that they needed it. Reporters seldom came calling to inquire about their heavily legalistic and usually non-controversial decisions.

But these days no judge is safe from the assault of the religious right, anti-government crusaders and law and order zealots. And, as a result of the reach and speed of the Internet, the most obscure fringe group can spread its message as if it were a fast moving virus, penetrating even the second floor of the Reagan building.

The Terry Schiavo Case, prayer, gay relationships and abortion decisions have prompted vicious attacks on the courts. On each of these issues, the radical right have gone after the courts and judges, rather than the legal reasoning behind the decisions.

These assaults from the conservative evangelical Christian bloc — the Republicans’ much heralded base — has prompted retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Republican appointed by President Reagan, to warn that the independence of judges, and the rights of all Americans, are threatened by such attacks, as is the freedom of us all. It was an unusually forthright speech, given earlier this year and reported by the only journalist present, Nina Totenberg, NPR’s legal affairs correspondent.

I didn’t pay much attention until I received a call from one of the appellate justices. He told me that there was much concern in the legal community because of far-right slates urging a no vote on some of the justices. The governor appoints the justices, and whenever they seek another term, they are on the ballot to be confirmed or rejected by the voters with a yes or no vote. Judges are on Tuesday’s ballot. Judges are non-partisan, and governors, from Arnold Schwarzenegger back to his predecessors, have appointed Republicans and Democrats to the bench.

At first, I wasn’t especially interested. Why pay attention to fringe groups? But the appellate judge kept after me. Then I got a call from a lawyer who said the situation was of special importance to the Jewish community. Her point: We’re people of the law. And in this country, the law, a Constitution that separates religion from the state, has protected our beliefs.

Searching through the web, I came to the site of California also known as

Exercise your right to read — without censorship

The last week of September is Banned Books Week.

Ever read a book from the “Harry Potter” series or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”? Then you’ve read a banned book — a book taken off of shelves in a classroom or library at one time because people complained about it.

Sometimes, people who want to ban a book get so mad they actually burn copies of it (like in “Pleasantville” and “Footloose”).

The American Library Association got more than 400 requests to ban books last year. But most of those requests were unsuccessful, because of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other people who make sure books stay on shelves.

Use this week to support your right to read. Here are some banned books to consider reading this week:

  • “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank, which someone wanted to ban because it was “a real downer.”

  • “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume
  • “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier
  • The “Goosebumps” series by R.L. Stine
  • The “Captain Underpants” series by Dav Pilkey
  • “James and the Giant Peach” by Roald Dahl
  • “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss
  • “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson
  • …. And don’t forget the Torah and the Talmud

For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”> with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Why Are We Jews?

“Biblical stories are in our present — in the cheder we cried when we learned of the sale of Joseph — and we rejoiced in his ascendancy to power. There was a freshness, a vigor, a nearness, which we felt in that drama.” — Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik

Oh to be a fly on the wall of that great and dramatic confrontation between Judah and Joseph. The scene: Twenty-two years after being sold, Joseph, unbeknownst to his brothers, has ascended to become Egyptian viceroy. Joseph frames his brothers by placing a royal goblet in Benjamin’s sack. Joseph “graciously” offers to exonerate all the brothers — barring Benjamin. Floating between feisty and fearful, Judah, the engineer of Joseph’s sale, walks into the palace to confront a mercurial viceroy and delivers a poignant message climaxing with a plea to free Benjamin:

“For how can I go up to my father if the youth [Benjamin] is not with me lest I see the evil that will befall my father?” (44:34)

In the face of such courage, it is Joseph who crumbles — breaking down into tears and ultimately divulging his identity. How deliciously ironic that this man of control, a teenager in a foreign land who is able to withstand Potiphar’s wife’s temptations and strong enough to remain hidden for more than 22 years, capitulates to Judah.

Wherein lies the power of the Judah personality? Is this the same Judah who initiates the sale of his brother and whose conduct in the Tamar episode raises troubling questions? Equally remarkable is the haunting silence of Judah’s siblings. Why is it Judah alone who stands tall in the face of the hostile viceroy who wants to seize Benjamin? Are they not all certain of the consequent early demise of their father Jacob?

Our sages portray the development of the Judah personality. A picture of transformation emerges. After initiating his brother’s sale, Judah begins to contemplate the enormity of his actions and their effect on Jacob. Shortly thereafter, he is thrust into crisis with his former daughter-in-law, Tamar, who is pregnant with illegitimate twins.

Unlike his role in the Joseph saga, in this epic, Judah does not hold all the cards. He is, after all, the unwitting father (if this story seems puzzling — you might want to read it in its original). Tamar knows, but refuses to vocally pinpoint Judah as the father of her children. Instead she opts to merely present Judah with the evidence and ultimately forces him to make a momentous decision. In the presence of his father and grandfather, comments the Midrash, Judah is confronted with a massive internal crisis. Shall he remain passive or admit that he sired the children? Will Judah choose ephemeral ease over eternal excellence?

“Tzadkah mimeni” (“She is more righteous than I”), Judah declares. (38:26) Two words, no ambiguity and an uncompromising sense of truth. Precisely here, our sages majestically declare, does Judah earn his messianic stripes. Judah has made mistakes in the past, but he is now willing to accept responsibility. The metamorphosis is almost done. For if Judah is able to admit responsibility it is only natural that when the crisis of Benjamin strikes that Judah plays the lead role and proclaims: “Anochi e’ervenu” (“I will be his guarantor.”) (43:9)

It is striking that Judah’s sense of responsibility now transcends his own self and creates a sense of obligation to the other. Ultimately, this proactive responsibility has a profound curative effect, as the brothers are reunited and the family healed.

Often parents in their role as mediators in great sibling struggles are privileged to hear various restatements of “it all started when he hit me back” — an argument of impeccable logic. It is not all right for our children to shirk blame. Sacred duty requires that we invest them with a sense of accountability, however unpleasant or frightening that might be. In our efforts to provide our children with everything, we may deprive them of the great gift of responsibility, engendering in its stead a sense of entitlement.

For the past 2,000 years, our people have been called Yehudim — or Jews — a derivative of the word Judah. We are not Yissachars, Dans, nor are we even Josephs. Perhaps it is because God demands of us to take responsibility for our flaws. Even as we do not control our circumstances, we surely control the way we respond to them. This essential understanding forms the basis of real spirituality. Once we acknowledge that we are accountable for ourselves and indeed for our fellow human beings, we become emboldened to unlock the grand potential stored within.

This Torah Portion originally appeared on Jan. 2, 2004.

Rabbi Asher Brander is the rabbi of Westwood Kehilla, founder of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and long-time teacher at YULA.



The Fight for Freedom

In last week’s Torah Portion, the Israelites sat back and watched as God brought seven plagues upon the Egyptians. This week, in Parshat Bo, we read of the last three plagues. All of a sudden, the Israelites are told that they must help God in the last plague by smearing the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their houses. This was so that God will know not to strike those houses with the plague of the first-born and would “pass over” those houses. But didn’t God know which homes were Jewish?

God decides it is now time for the Israelites to become a nation, and to do that they must take action and learn about right and wrong. So God says: you must participate in your release from slavery. You will become free – and with freedom comes responsibility.

All About Egypt

This is the last week the Israelites will spend in Egypt. Have you ever been to Egypt? Do you know where it is? Unscramble the words to discover what continent it is on and which countries border







Beyond Left and Right in Israel

When it comes to politics in Israel, left and right rarely agree. In a country where even sports teams are aligned with political parties, there is

one issue that should unite Israelis and their American supporters from across the political spectrum: the need to foster opportunity and equality for Israel’s 1.2 million Arab citizens.

At a time when Israel faces profound external and internal challenges, some may question whether this issue belongs at the forefront of the nation’s agenda. For a growing number of Israeli leaders on both sides of the political divide, however, Jewish-Arab coexistence and equality is beginning to get the attention it deserves. Improving living conditions in the Arab sector and reversing the growing alienation between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens are necessary steps towards building a more cohesive and stable society.

Although living standards for Arab Israelis have increased steadily over the past 15 years, disturbing socio-economic gaps still exist between the Jewish and Arab communities. By all measures, Arab Israelis lag far behind their Jewish peers. Infant mortality, for example, is twice as high for Arab citizens, while average wages are 40 percent lower. When it comes to education, Arabs also fare poorly, with larger classes and fewer resources. Although Arabs comprise 18 percent of the population, only 5 percent of Israeli college graduates are Arab. The picture is equally grim in terms of housing; since 1975, Israel’s government has built nearly 340,000 public housing units for Jews and only 1,000 for Arabs.

Conditions like these, coupled with a string of broken promises from governments on both the left and the right, are fueling alienation and anger within the Arab community. In October 2000, sparked by the resurgence of the Palestinian intifada, violence between Israeli Arabs and the police erupted in the Galilee. When it was over, 13 Israeli citizens — 12 Arabs and one Jew — were dead. The riots, along with the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism in Israel and the involvement of a small number of Arab Israelis in terrorist acts, have created a new level of fear, mistrust and anxiety among Israeli Jews. On the other side, provocative public rhetoric and calls by some Jewish political figures for the transfer of Arab citizens from Israel have added to the tension.

As the government’s Or Commission noted in its report investigating the riots, the status of the Arab sector “is the most sensitive and important domestic issue facing Israel today.”

Israelis and their American friends must tackle these issues head-on to halt the further fragmentation of Israeli society and build a culture of co-existence based on the values of mutual respect, equality and shared citizenship.

Education will play a major role in achieving these objectives. Israel’s few experimental bilingual schools have been a success among students and parents. So successful, in fact, that a large group of Jewish and Arab parents in the often-contentious Wadi Ara area, eager to create stronger bonds between their communities, are preparing to open a bicultural school in the Arab town of Kafr Kara.

Next January, an important pilot project in Haifa will mandate the study of conversational Arabic and Arab culture in 25 percent of the city’s Jewish elementary schools. This breakthrough program will give Jewish children a window into their neighbor’s culture and will send a much-needed signal of respect and inclusion to Arab Israelis throughout the country.

Schools are only one institution in Israel that must undergo fundamental change.

More than three years after the Galilee riots, relations between Arab Israelis and the police remain strained. Problems in Arab neighborhoods and villages are often improperly handled or unaddressed. Many Jewish police officers lack sufficient knowledge to serve Arab or ethnically mixed communities effectively.

To counter this, the Israel Police and The Abraham Fund Initiatives, with the support of the UJA-Federation of New York, have implemented a project to transform relations between Arab Israelis and the police. Through education and training, the recruitment of Arab Israeli officers and volunteers, and improved communication, the project is raising awareness among police working in the region and reducing the chance of violence.

Major institutional changes such as these must be accompanied by tangible government efforts to improve infrastructure, close spending gaps and expand opportunities for Arab Israelis in education and employment.

The goal of creating a more just and equitable society is a Jewish value that transcends traditional notions of left and right. That is why former President Yitzhak Navon and other leaders from all of Israel’s major political parties are advocating for change. They recognize that social security is as important as physical security, and that Israel’s future will rest in part on a more complete integration of the Arab minority into the economic, social and cultural mainstream of Israeli life. Although they may differ on many other issues, securing Israel’s future is one objective on which all should agree.

Ami Nahshon is president and CEO of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, a New York- and Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing coexistence and equality among Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens.

Heart to Heart With ‘South Beach’ Doc


Carbohydrate-filled days are over. Almost everyone is on the Atkins or Zone Diet. That is unless they’ve deserted them for The South Beach Diet, which proposes eating the “right carbs” and the “right fats” along with protein, giving dieters the best of both worlds.

This extremely popular diet doesn’t count calories or severely restrict the kinds of foods you can eat. The name brings to mind buff, bikini-clad bodies parading Miami’s hip beach. But South Beach Diet developer Dr. Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist and pioneer in noninvasive coronary artery imaging, was aiming at offering a palatable, safe diet to his chronically overweight heart patients.

“My concern was not with my patients’ appearance,” he said. “I wanted to find a diet that would help prevent or reverse the myriad heart and vascular problems that stem from obesity,”

He never found such a diet, so he developed one himself and, in doing so, he also created an overnight sensation among South Beach’s body-conscious beach-goers. Why? Agatston’s plan claims to help you shed pounds fast — right from the waistline and belly. His scientifically based program promises immediate results, helping dieters shed 10 to 30 pounds while radically changing their blood chemistry, reversing pre-diabetes, lowering cholesterol and averting a range of chronic illnesses and conditions.

“Our thesis is really that the processing of food in America has caused the epidemic of obesity and diabetes,” Agatston said.

The South Beach Diet advocates eating as few processed foods, such as white bread, white pasta and commercial baked goods, as possible. Agatston’s quarrel with most carbs we consume today is that they have been overly processed and stripped of almost all healthy fiber.

The plan allows you to eat meat, fish, cheese, healthy fats such as canola, sesame and olive oils, nuts, fruits, vegetables and the right carbohydrates.

“Another basic principle of the diet, even if you have no weight to lose, is to consume all the good oils rather than trans fats, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables,” Agatston said. “That’s what we were meant to eat.”

Since the doctor knows that nothing undermines a weight-loss plan more than the distressing sensation that you need more food, the South Beach Diet is based on eating three balanced meals a day. To keep dieters from feeling deprived, it also suggests several snacks and dessert after dinner.

The doctor’s message is clear: you can count calories or omit an entire food group for a while, but you can’t turn it into a lifestyle.

Surprisingly, Agatston’s diet does not require exercise to shed pounds. It does require, however, a long-term commitment.

“We started the diet to prevent heart attacks and strokes. The diet takes a few months to alter blood chemistry enough to be effective, so you need to be on the diet for the long haul,” Agatston said.

And with the long haul in mind, there are no absolute restrictions on the diet except during the first phase, which spans only a couple of weeks.

The doctor explained that the South Beach Diet also prevents cancer by incorporating ample vegetables and fruits into the regimen. He points out, for example, that the lycopene in tomatoes is known to thwart prostate cancer.

“There are so many phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables, and we thought we could isolate them into a few vitamins and give supplements, but that hasn’t worked. You need the natural stuff,” he said.

That is the diet in its essence: returning to natural, whole foods — the kinds our primitive ancestors would have eaten.

Besides trading white flour for its whole-grain counterpart, looking to the sea for sustenance is another place to start. Agatston calls Omega-3 oils, largely found in seafood, “the missing ingredient in the Western diet.” Another problem of our Western diet, he said, is that farm-fed animals, including fish, do not have as much Omega-3s as free-range.

“Omega-3 oils, which we emphasize, have been shown to be helpful for depression, arthritis and colitis. I think Omega-3s are helpful for a lot of conditions,” he said, adding, “When I talk about Omega-3s, I feel like a snake oil salesman!”

Another tenet of the South Beach Diet: It’s not just what you eat; it’s how you eat it.

“The faster the sugars and starches you eat are processed and absorbed into your bloodstream, the fatter you get,” Agatston said. “Therefore, anything that speeds the process by which your body digests carbohydrates is bad for your diet, and anything that slows it down is good.”

In short, the more food is processed, the more fattening it will be.

According to the doctor, a baked potato will be less fattening topped with a dollop of low-fat cheese or sour cream than eaten plain. The calorie count will be slightly higher, but the fat contained in the cheese or sour cream will slow down the digestive process, thereby lessening the amount of insulin that potato prompts your body to make. Surprisingly, he points out that even french fries are better than baked potatoes, because the fat they are cooked in slows down the digestive process. Don’t be misled: none of these are good choices for someone on the South Beach Diet — Agatston uses the examples to explaining how blood chemistry and insulin production (and overproduction) affects weight gain or loss.

Will the American Heart Association change its dietary guidelines, best known for the high carbohydrate content on the bottom of its food pyramid? Agatston thinks so, but says change will be slow to come.

To help dieters learn the tricks of the trade, namely glycemic indexes and discerning the good carbs and fats from the bad, Rodale Books (the “South Beach Diet” publisher) recently published a companion reference book titled “Good Fats, Good Carbs Guide.”

As a complement to his New York Times best-seller, Agatston offers more than 200 recipes in “The South Beach Diet Cookbook.”

While pleased with the success of his books, they are not Agatston’s foremost accomplishment.

“My most rewarding experience was watching the expansion of the heart scan, which I believed in and developed in 1988,” he said.

Several years later, at an international meeting of physicians, everyone started referring to it as The Agatston Score. Embarrassed at the time, today the cardiologist is proud of the acceptance of his methodology and its ability to detect early heart disease before the first heart attack.

When not practicing medicine or counseling on nutritional matters (and writing books), Agatston enjoys sports with his wife, Sari, and their two teenage sons. The Agatston family supports an array of philanthropies.

And in Miami, the busy physician continues caring for his cardiac patients.

“I am very much keeping my day job,” Agatston said with a warm smile.


From the Mouths of Babes

How Do You Decide Whom to Marry?


•You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming. — Alan, age 10


•No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with. — Kirsten, age 10

What Do You Think Your Mom and Dad Have in Common?


•Both don’t want any more kids. — Lori, age 8

What Is the Right Age to Get Married?


•Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person forever by then. — Camille, age 10


•No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married. — Freddie, age 6

How Can a Stranger Tell if Two People Are Married?


•You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids. — Derrick,

age 8

What Do Most People Do on a Date?


•Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough. — Lynnette,

age 8


•On the first date, they just tell each other lies and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date. — Martin, age 10

What Would You Do on a First Date That Was Turning Sour?


• I’d run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns. — Craig, age 9

When Is It OK to Kiss Someone?


•When they’re rich. — Pam,

age 7


•The law says you have to be 18, so I wouldn’t want to mess with that. — Curt, age 7


•The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It’s the right thing to do. — Howard, age 8

Is It Better to Be Single or Married?


•It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them. — Anita, age 9

How Would You Make a Marriage Work?


•Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a truck. — Ricky, age 10


Faster than a benching rabbi. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall bachelors in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s SuperFlirt.

That’s right, I’m spending three days in San Diego at Comic-Con, the world’s largest comic book convention. Before you crack a kryptonite joke or ask me to beam you up, let me say that I’m a proud Con regular. I read graphic novels. I own Wonder Woman Underoos. I’ve got a Super Shin baby tee.

Many of the women at The Con are actually here with their husbands and boyfriends. I saw Neo and Trinity holding hands at the "Courtney Crumrin" booth, Legolas and Goth Chick macking down in the "Revenge of the Sith" shirt line and Batgirl and Chewbacca sharing churros at the food cart. (Wait, that might not be Chewie, just a hairy convention dude.)

I start to crack a joke about the star-crossed lovers, when it hits me: Who am I to poke fun? At least they’re in a relationship. They get to share their big day with someone else who, well, thinks of a Carrie Fisher autograph signing as a big day. Somehow in this crazy world, two people who can speak Klingon in the bedroom actually found each other. And I think that’s beautiful.

This goes to my Disneyland theory. When I’m standing in line at Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, it’s undoubtedly behind two sweaty, overweight people pulling the old "hand in the other’s back pocket" move. Even if these classy folks weren’t wearing matching Waffle House tank tops, I’d know they were meant to be together. This guy with his stone-washed cutoffs is not for me, but he’s perfect for his girlfriend, who he’s been kissing since we passed the "20 minutes from here sign" 30 minutes ago. They’re beshert, and not afraid to let everyone from Fantasyland to Tom Sawyer’s Island to the guy who sells the giant turkey legs know it. My Disneyland dictum? If these two Mousketeers somehow found each other, then I’m certainly going to find someone. Somewhere out there is a match for everyone. So rather than think I’ll never meet my man, I just wonder when I’ll meet my man.

No time like the present. I cruise the convention floor searching for cool comics and cute guys. And let me say to my fellow single chicks — this is where the boys are. Forget the bars. Ditch JDate. Those social scenes have nothing on The Con. It’s a whole convention hall packed with single guys.

The ratio of men to women here is about a zillion to one. Of course the ratio of men to Spider-Men is about 10 to one. But that’s part of the fun. Men in tights. Who cares if these single guys are dressed as Hobbits and Jedis — you should see their lightsabers.

I coast The Con with an open mind. My match could be here. I can picture it now: we’ll talk publishers, exchange a little ink and paint, then — Zam! — Wonder Twin powers activate! (I’m kidding — duh — everyone knows Zan and Jayna are siblings, not a couple. And that the Wonder Twins are from the planet Exxor, not Earth.)

I’m in line for the Warner Bros. panel when a built guy with a great smile and a Mariners hat asks, "Can I join you?"

His name’s Brian. He’s from Seattle, works in video games and is checking me out. Holy cow, Batman, this is it. My Comic-Con hookup. My potential beshert. Bring on the geek love, baby. He passes me a warm, unopened package of Red Vines.

"Can you hold these for a sec? You can have one if you want."

He shares; that’s good. I start to think of all the things Brian and I will share together — our favorite restaurants, our top five movies, our last name — when he starts wildly waving his now free hands to his buddies in the corner. They sprint toward us, jump in line and give each other lame high fives. I think I hear his short friend say, "Classic line jump, dude."

Armed with my Disney theory, I don’t get discouraged. It’s not that things will never work out with someone. It’s that Brian wasn’t that someone.

So look out beshert, there’s a new flirt in town.

Will Carin meet her mate at Comic-Con? Will she take to wearing a cape? Stay tuned for her next column. Same Jew time, same Jew paper.

Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at

Exit Strategy

After 10 extremely passionate months together, Amanda decided to end our relationship. She thought it through very carefully and took the steps she felt were necessary to break things off. There was just one small step she overlooked — telling me.

So here’s how I found out: Coming home after work one night, I noticed that the clothes Amanda usually kept hanging in my closet were gone; just the empty hangers remained. The stuff she kept in the bathroom — also gone. I was expecting her that night and she never appeared.

My phone message to her was not returned. No word from her for the next two days. Had she been kidnapped? Been in an accident? Spoken to one of my old girlfriends about me? I called her sister and left a message, but never heard back from her either.

Finally, after two days, there was a message from Amanda on my answering machine: “I’m out of town for a few days. I needed to get away to think about our relationship.”

Which, as it turns out, is woman-speak for: “You’ll see me naked again when Osama bin Laden becomes a rabbi.”

I finally reached her by phone. What followed was a half-hour conversation, in which Amanda told me she was leaving because, basically, she wanted a different kind of guy.

“But you seemed so happy with the guy you had during our 10 extremely passionate months together,” I reminded her. And I pointed out things she had said to me frequently; little things like, “I love you,” “You’re the man I’ve been waiting for all my life,” and “This is the most incredible relationship I’ve ever had.”

But none of that mattered now. Her mind was made up, her heart was closed down, the security systems were activated and that was the last time we communicated.

As psychiatrists are fond of saying, “And how did that make you feel?” Well, Dr. Melfi, I felt shocked, depressed, angry, abused, mislead, hurt and abandoned — which, incidentally, were the actual names of the Seven Dwarves before Disney started fiddling with them.

But then I got to wondering why Amanda chose to dump me in such a cold fashion when what preceded it was 10 months of passion. And the only thing I could come up with was that Amanda chose to take the easy way out — for her. She didn’t want a confrontation, an argument or the pain of raw, exposed emotion; she simply left — and left me holding the big, unopened Pandora’s box of sudden loss.

But painful experiences are invariably learning experiences, and what I learned from Amanda’s emotional cowardice is that there is an art, if you will, to breaking off a relationship. That is assuming, of course, that your intention is to behave like a human being, to honor the relationship and to be considerate and respectful of your partner’s feelings. Think of it as a farewell gift to your partner. Or think of it simply as the right thing to do.

For the love of God, don’t just suddenly vanish. Nor should you do it via phone, e-mail, letter or through a third-party intervention. All of those techniques are simply wimping out, hurtful and just plain wrong. You know it, I know it, Dr. Phil knows it.

The only way to end a relationship is face to face. Raise the issues. See if there’s a chance to work them out or get help to do so. If not, tell him or her the honest reasons, and acknowledge all the good in the relationship. If you sense there’s a mutual desire to stay friends, discuss that. If not, wish your partner happiness and good luck, give him or her a hug and leave.

Remember how kind and gentle, thoughtful and respectful you were going into the relationship? Well, your exit strategy should involve those identical qualities. But be forewarned — if you don’t use those qualities, I sincerely hope that the giant, angry Karma Monster tracks you down and torments you in the Extreme Punishment Room for all eternity. Oh, by the way, if you see Amanda there, give her my regards, won’t you?

Mark Miller is a comedy writer who has written for TV,
movies and many celebrities, been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times
Syndicate, contributed to numerous national publications and produced a weekly
comedic relationships feature for America Online. He can be reached at


Condemning the Vote

It’s bad for Jewish unity, but not as bad as the decision to recognize the children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers as Jews.

That’s how Orthodox and Conservative rabbis are viewing the Reform movement’s recent decision last week to affirm the right of its rabbis to officiate at gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies.

But even though the leaders of Judaism’s more traditional movements say the Reform rabbis’ decision is less divisive than the 1984 move on patrilineal descent, Orthodox leaders are harshly condemning the vote.

The criticism of Conservative leaders is more subdued.

Also, those active in promoting Reform Judaism in Israel insist that because the resolution recognizes the diversity of views on same-sex unions and does not use the words “marriage” or “wedding,” it will not pose a serious obstacle to attracting Israelis to the movement. The Israeli Reform movement has generally taken a more cautious approach to controversial issues because it does not want to give the Orthodox establishment ammunition.

Not surprisingly, leaders in the Reconstructionist movement — which recognizes patrilineal descent and in 1993 supported same-sex commitment ceremonies — backed the Reform decision.

Other movements, though, predict it will undermine Jewish unity.

While the Reform resolution means the movement will now develop and circulate ketubot — or Jewish marriage contracts — and liturgy for same-sex ceremonies to its 1,700 rabbis, the resolution does not require rabbis to officiate at same-sex unions. Many Reform rabbis had officiated at same-sex ceremonies even before the resolution was passed.

Rabbi Richard Hirsh, executive director of the 200-member Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, speculated that the resolution’s passage will encourage Reform rabbis who do not yet officiate at same-sex unions to consider doing so. He said his movement’s 1993 resolution “started what became a significant shift in Reconstructionist rabbis.”

Public discussion of the issue “made it less possible for individual rabbis to avoid the issue,” said Hirsh, who began officiating at gay and lesbian ceremonies after 1993.

“Having support of the rabbinic group makes it easier for you to make a stand in your own congregation,” he said.

The executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents 1,500 Conservative rabbis, said that while his movement supports civil rights for gays, it does not approve of its rabbis officiating at same-sex ceremonies.

Rabbi Joel Meyers acknowledged that despite this position, some Conservative rabbis officiate at same-sex ceremonies and — unlike Conservative rabbis who officiate at intermarriages — they are allowed to remain in the Rabbinical Assembly.

Meyers does not expect Reform’s move to strain Conservative-Reform relations, and he predicted it would have less of an impact than the patrilineal descent issue, which he said “goes to the heart of defining who’s Jewish and who’s not and that’s a more serious question.”

The Rabbinical Council of America, the organization representing 1,100 Orthodox rabbis, issued a statement that said, “Conferring legitimacy upon relationships which our Torah and tradition specifically prohibit is beyond the pale of acceptable Jewish teaching and practice.”

“It’s another step of fragmentation and disunification of the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Steven Dworken, the RCA’s executive vice president. “First they did it with patrilineal descent, and now this.”

Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for the fervently Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, was even more outspoken in his criticism, saying it should “convince all Jews that anything goes in Reform leadership.

“Even the prohibition against incest could go,” he said.

But Shafran did say that unlike the patrilineal descent issue, the new resolution would not “split the Jewish people in two.”

Meanwhile, Reform and Conservative leaders say they will continue to work together, despite their differences on the same-sex issue.

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, said he supported the resolution and was particularly happy about its compromise language.

“I imagine there’ll be some attacks from various quarters, mostly Orthodox, and I think it will be used from time to time by those who have an ax to grind against us,” he said.

However, he noted that he “could care less what the ultra-Orthodox say about us,” and is far more concerned about Reform’s image among its “target audience — all those people between Orthodox and nothing.”

The leader of Israel’s Conservative counterpart, Rabbi Ehud Bandel, said he does not agree with the resolution, which he thinks will undermine both movements’ efforts in Israel, but said it will not affect his willingness to work with the Reform movement in efforts to gain recognition for non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

“It will make our position hard — we’re always associated with Reform, and Israelis don’t always differentiate between Masorti and Reform. But I think it will create more understanding to the fact that these are distinct movements.”

Yolanda Potasinski, left, and her partner under the chuppah. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum officiated at the 1997 commitment ceremony.

A Step Forward

Gay Jews say Reform vote is

a step toward acceptance.

By Julie Wiener, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Steven Fruh, 56, grew up thinking homosexuality and religion were incompatible.

So, when he realized he was gay, he abandoned Judaism. But 11 years ago when he discovered Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, it was a “revelation” to him that one could be “observant and gay.”

The feeling of acceptance Fruh found upon discovering the world’s oldest and largest gay synagogue was experienced by other gay Jews last week when Reform rabbis overwhelmingly approved a resolution affirming that “the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual.”

In Los Angeles, the only city in the world with two synagogues serving primarily gay, lesbian, and bisexual Jews, Rabbi Lisa Edwards of Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) lauded the Reform movement for “taking a leading role” in the inclusion of gay and lesbian Jews. Some date Reform’s historic path toward the recent vote to 1972, when it formally accepted BCC as a member in the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood credited the Women’s Reform Network, the national organization of Reform women rabbis, with pushing the issue of gay marriage before the plenum. “We feel the vote of the Reform rabbis is in keeping with the views of the liberal Jews of California,” she said.

Back at Manhattan’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah — where the rabbis already officiate at gay and lesbian weddings — the bimah features two rainbow-colored gay liberation flags alongside the United States and Israeli flags. During a recent Hebrew class, Fruh and his classmates said the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ resolution was an important step toward greater acceptance for gays and lesbians.

“It’s important from a symbolic point of view,” said Fruh, who was seated next to his partner, Paul Marsolini. “The largest Jewish organization has said our relationships have just as much validity” as the relationships of heterosexual couples, he said.

The resolution, which does not use the words “marriage” or “wedding” and which was modified shortly before the vote to emphasize that not all Reform rabbis agree on same-sex unions, does not make as strong a statement as the Beth Simchat Torah students would have liked. Rachel Gartner, a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, who was teaching the Hebrew class that night. “I would’ve liked to see kiddushin,” she said, referring to the Hebrew word for marriage. “But as a general broad statement, it’s thrilling.”

Modifications or not, Marsolini said the resolution is still a “tremendous step forward.”

Another st
udent, Marsha Cohen, who introduced herself as the “straight mother of a gay son,” said she was excited about the resolution, which she called “a step.”

“It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good, and the more people get used to it, the better,” she said.

“Why shouldn’t my one son have the same rights and privileges as the other son?” Cohen added.

Class members said they hope the resolution would influence other religious movements.

“May the Conservative movement be next!” Fruh exclaimed.