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Q&A with Joel Stein: The Los Angeles Times is ‘not a happy place’

by Danielle Berrin

November 7, 2008 | 3:15 am

Joel Stein, Los Angeles Times Op-Ed columnist and former writer for Time magazine, will appear Sunday at the Celebration of Jewish Books at American Jewish University. He talks here about his aversion to the Bible, misogynistic tendencies and how a phone call with Monica Lewinsky convinced him never to vote for a Clinton.

Jewish Journal: So what are you doing at AJU's book fest? Have you even written a book?
Joel Stein: No. I want to have written a book. Writing a book sounds hard.

JJ: How does it feel to write for The L.A. Times when they're so publicly crumbling?
JS:It's not a happy place. It's no Jewish Journal.

JJ: You seem happy.
JS: Well, I don't go in; I write from home. For me the L.A. Times is a better place than it was 10 years ago, 'cause they're on the Web. Ten or 15 years ago, no one outside of L.A. would see my stuff. It's still better to write for the L.A. Times than, like, whatever.com, like Huffington Post. You get the credit of being at a real institution.

JJ: What's Jewish about you?
JS: My name, my face.... I've gotten so much Jewier since moving to L.A. This is the Jewiest place compared to New York.

JJ: Do you ever go to temple?
JS: No, I never go to temple. My life is short. I don't want to spend it being bored so I can feel like a better person for something I don't believe in. I'm a strong atheist. I don't go to temple 'cause they talk about the Bible, and I just don't get anything out of that.
JJ: So you're not a fan of the Bible?
JS: I just think it's really kind of violent and mean and selfish and tribal.

JJ: Maybe you're not reading it with the right lenses.
JS: Dude, I could read 'Mein Kampf' with the right lenses on and find something nice about it. You shouldn't have to bend over backwards to find something nice about a text. I understand the context: You turn around and pity a people being killed, and, like, you turn to salt; God kills your first-born baby; God asks you to kill your child? I know you could come up with counter examples, but there's enough slavery and murder in that thing ... I'd rather read 'Finnegan's Wake.'

JJ: What's your dream?
JS: Mostly posters and T-shirts is my big plan. I've become a lot less ambitious than I was in my 20s. I got what I wanted, which is awesome, 'cause it's like not being hungry anymore. But then I realized that having my career ambitions satiated didn't provide me with complete happiness.

JJ: Are you afraid of having a mid-life crisis?
JS: I think there's a choice you make that either you're going to have a mid-life crisis and do the things that a nerdy guy didn't do in his 20s -- which sounds pretty awesome to me -- or you're going to have a family and move back from that and watch something else. It's the biggest decision I can think of making. I'm only 37, but in a certain limited way that I probably can't explain, I feel kind of done with my life. I know who I'm going to have sex with for the rest of my life.

JJ: What does that feel like?
JS: It's a lot to process.

JJ: What do you do when you're not working?
JS: The only things I'm interested in are food, TV and sex.

JJ: You sound like the typical American male.
JS: Except I don't like sports as much as the rest of them.

JJ: I saw on the Feministe Web site ...
JS: Oh, they got mad at me.

JJ: Yeah, they think you're the biggest misogynist that ever lived.
JS: The only reason I can figure out for that is that I hate women. But other than that, it just bedevils me.

JJ: No idea at all?
JS: I wrote this piece, kind of ill-conceived, about why the [presidential] nominees should pick a female vice president -- and I mentioned Palin. I got in trouble for where I wrote about how Palin was hot -- about whether it's OK from a feminist perspective to comment on a candidate's attractiveness. I think it's dangerous to separate attractiveness from capability or intelligence, because I think that instills the thought that those things can't coexist. If you can't talk about your boss's hotness, then you're saying that hot people can't be your boss. I have misogynistic issues that I wrestle with.

JJ: You have strong opinions on this election. Do you want to say anything about that?
JS: Is this my opportunity? 'Cause I've been waiting. Thank you. No, I don't care.

JJ: I'm from Florida, so I loved your columns about visiting your grandmother there and trying to persuade her to vote for Obama. Except my grandmother is cool and progressive and she's been excited about Obama from day one.
JS: Oh, come on, she was into Hillary!

JJ: Well, yeah.
JS: Jews liked Hillary. I don't like them Clintons. I've never voted for a Clinton.

JJ: I just don't get how they've engendered such a vicious tenor of criticism.
JS: You know what really creeps me out? No, I can't believe we're talking about this. This is so lame. I will not talk about Monica Lewinsky. It's 2008! Actually, she was really great to me once: I used to do these things for Time every Thanksgiving, where people traced their hand and drew a turkey on it -- like in kindergarten -- and she did one for me that was really beautiful; she sewed it. And then she called me to thank me for writing like 'designer' instead of 'scandalmonger' underneath.

JJ: How did that turn you off to the Clintons?
JS: So she left me this message, and she was thanking me, and she was being really sweet, and she said 'Hold on, I have to take my retainer out,' and I'm like 'Ohmigod! Our President slept with an intern!' He's an old man; that's creepy!
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