I am late to this, but Frank Bruni’s editorial is well worth your time, especially since it shows that more and more Democrats are opposing the current tenure system in public schools. About the only shortcoming of the editorial is that it doesn’t make the point that the current deleterious tenure system that prevails in so many public schools helps make the case for school choice. Increasing competition for students between schools will force public schools to abandon failed policies like the teacher tenure regime, thus giving students and their parents a significantly better deal from their respective public school systems.
Laws prohibiting same-sex marriage deserve to get “shredded” in court, and Judge Posner did a masterful job of doing the shredding. I suppose that he was helped by the fact that counsel arguing on behalf of the Indiana and Wisconsin laws also did a masterful job of allowing themselves to be shredded by the judge. Amazingly enough–or, perhaps not–the lawyers were not even prepared to lend anything resembling substantive support to their claims that same-sex marriage somehow “devalue” heterosexual marriage, or that children of a same-sex couple would not be better off if their parents could marry, or what “harmful consequences” might arise from permitting same-sex marriage to be legal. Professor Dale Carpenter, whose blog post I linked to, sums up the situation nicely with the following:
In many ways, the oral argument encapsulated the 25-year debate over same-sex marriage, in which opponents have failed to come up with any harm that same-sex marriage might reasonably be expected to cause. Moreover, as in the larger debate over same-sex marriage, the lawyers for the states seemed not to have given any thought to the harm inflicted by bans on same-sex marriage because they had given little or no thought to the needs of families headed by same-sex couples.
Gay-marriage opponents have been backed into a vanishingly small empirical, logical, and legal corner in which they have no room to challenge the basic premises of gay equality, no ability to distinguish morally between homosexuality and heterosexuality and, in order to justify continuing to fence out gay couples, they must defend an understanding of the purpose of marriage that is so “artificially narrow” (Judge Hamilton’s phrase) and anemic it would be unrecognizable to the vast majority of Americans living in this or any other century.
Despite this complete oral argument rout of opponents of same-sex marriage, I imagine that more mental energy and brain cells will continue to be wasted arguing that legalizing same-sex marriage is somehow “bad for us,” even though opponents of same-sex marriage–including even erudite, educated and intelligent lawyers–can’t quite explain why allowing same-sex couples to marry would be bad in any way. Just imagine how much good could be done if we could take the mental energy being expended on arguing an indefensible position on the same-sex marriage debate, and use it to, say, grow the economy, innovate education policy, or come up with something resembling a credible foreign policy.
I am a lifelong Democrat, a political liberal, a Reform rabbi, and for four decades, until last week, a New York Times subscriber. What drove me away was the paper’s incessant denigration of Israel, a torrent of articles, photographs, and op-ed columns that consistently present the Jewish State in the worst possible light.
This phenomenon is not new. Knowledgeable observers have long assailed the Times lack of objectivity and absence of journalistic integrity in reporting on Israel. My chronic irritation finally morphed into alienation and then to visceral disgust this summer, after Hamas renewed its terrorist assaults upon Israel and the Times launched what can only be described as a campaign to delegitimize the Jewish State.
The Middle East conflict is complex, but the root cause of Israel’s confrontation with Hamas is not. Committed by its charter to “obliterate” Israel and kill all Jews everywhere, Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S., Britain, and the European Union, a designation substantiated by its raining rockets down on Israel’s civilians and tunneling under its border to kill and kidnap, indisputable war crimes.
Renowned Israeli novelist, leftist, and self-declared “Israeli peacenik” Amos Oz captured the essence of the conflict in two questions he posed to a German radio audience. “What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery? What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?”
The answers are self-evident to everyone except the New York Times. Its obsessive focus is on Palestinian civilian casualties, especially children, publishing photos of their corpses and little else, as if they tell the whole story. The deaths of innocents in wartime are tragic and heartbreaking; they diminish us all. But a newspaper committed to balance and fairness would provide context and perspective. It would show traumatized Israeli children running to shelters, cowering, wetting their beds, and suffering nightmares. It would publish photos and accounts of militants launching rockets from the roofs of mosques, a church, and a media hotel, alongside schools, refugee shelters, clinics and hospitals, and of weapons concealed by Hamas in UN facilities. It would substantiate casualty figures from Hamas, which is known to have falsified them in the past, before reporting them as fact. It would highlight Hamas’ use of civilians as human shields, its urging civilians to ignore Israel’s advance warnings to depart, so that Gazans would be killed and inflict PR damage on Israel. Such a paper would cover the threats of death that inhibited reporters and photojournalists from telling the true, full story. But the Times did not.
–Rabbi Richard A. Block. Read the whole thing. And of course, it’s worth remembering that unprofessional and inaccurate coverage of the war between Israel and Hamas is not solely the province of the New York Times.
And no one should be surprised, of course; ever since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, the worry that Russia might invade has never been far from the minds of serious observers. The Ukrainian military is hardly well-equipped to make life miserable for Russian forces now fighting in its territory (alas), which means that Ukrainian sovereignty has suffered yet another grievous blow. As I (and others) have mentioned before, other than imposing (relatively ineffectual) sanctions, the West will do little to nothing to try to counteract the Russian incursion. However serious the crisis may be–and let there be no doubt that the crisis is serious–Ukraine is not worth a war, as far as the West is concerned.
He never should have been, of course, but never mind that for a moment. Focus instead on the fact that Warren Buffett just made life very inconvenient for a White House that professed to venerate his every word, thought, gesture and action:
The White House might need a new poster child for its “tax fairness” campaign.
Famed billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who President Barack Obama has lauded and named a signature proposal after, is helping finance a deal that would allow Burger King Worldwide to reincorporate in Canada and potentially reduce its U.S. tax bill through a so-called inversion, the Journal reported late Monday.
One of the White House’s top economic priorities this fall is to deter companies from pursuing inversions, and Treasury Department officials are designing plans that would remove some of the incentives for these deals.
Mr. Obama and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew have spoken disparagingly about companies that use inversions. Mr. Obama in July called inversions an “unpatriotic tax loophole” and said “my attitude is I don’t care if it’s legal, it’s wrong.”
It even published a blog post titled “what are inversions and why should you care.”
Now that Mr. Buffett’s involvement in a possible inversion has been made public, will Mr. Obama and other Democrats take him to task? That might be awkward, given how the Obama administration has named one of their top tax proposals after the “Oracle of Omaha” himself.
Stephen Bainbridge has fun with this entire issue. And well he should:
What can we infer from this? I must admit at the outset that I’m no fan of Buffett’s professed politics (or somewhat odd personal life), so I’m biased and I’d be interested to know what a Buffett fan like Larry Cunningham thinks, but here’s my take:
- Like a lot of (all?) limousine liberals, Buffett is happy to support tax increases because he knows they won’t really affect him. Billionaires can hire as many $1000/hour tax lawyers as they need to run tax avoidance devices–like corporate tax inversions–that are simply unavailable to the middle class. We can’t afford their high priced lawyers or their complex strategies, so we get screwed while they get a free pass. Leona Helmsley was right: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Buffett’s too smart to say so, but ….
- Politics is one thing but profit is another. Buffett was perfectly willing to throw both Obama and Buffett’s own tax blathering under the bus when it suited him.
- Obama’s going to need a new favorite billionaire until such time as Buffett makes nice by helping to finance Obama’s presidential library.
And a question: Will the Occupy Wall Street types calling for a Burger King boycott now try to boycott Berkshire Hathaway? I doubt it, mainly because I doubt whether they’re capable of figuring out what Berkshire Hathaway does.
Pass the popcorn.
Is there anything left to say about Israel and Gaza? Newspapers this summer have been full of little else. Television viewers see heaps of rubble and plumes of smoke in their sleep. A representative article from a recent issue of The New Yorker described the summer’s events by dedicating one sentence each to the horrors in Nigeria and Ukraine, four sentences to the crazed génocidaires of ISIS, and the rest of the article—30 sentences—to Israel and Gaza.
When the hysteria abates, I believe the events in Gaza will not be remembered by the world as particularly important. People were killed, most of them Palestinians, including many unarmed innocents. I wish I could say the tragedy of their deaths, or the deaths of Israel’s soldiers, will change something, that they mark a turning point. But they don’t. This round was not the first in the Arab wars with Israel and will not be the last. The Israeli campaign was little different in its execution from any other waged by a Western army against a similar enemy in recent years, except for the more immediate nature of the threat to a country’s own population, and the greater exertions, however futile, to avoid civilian deaths.
The lasting importance of this summer’s war, I believe, doesn’t lie in the war itself. It lies instead in the way the war has been described and responded to abroad, and the way this has laid bare the resurgence of an old, twisted pattern of thought and its migration from the margins to the mainstream of Western discourse—namely, a hostile obsession with Jews. The key to understanding this resurgence is not to be found among jihadi webmasters, basement conspiracy theorists, or radical activists. It is instead to be found first among the educated and respectable people who populate the international news industry; decent people, many of them, and some of them my former colleagues.
–Matti Friedman, brilliantly revealing how the international media is determined to get wrong the story of the war between Israel and Hamas–to Israel’s detriment, of course.
On the one hand, it is completely unsurprising that Europe has become a swamp of anti-Jewish hostility. It is, after all, Europe. Anti-Jewish hostility has been its metier for centuries. (Yes, the locus of much anti-Jewish activity today is within Europe’s large Muslim-immigrant population; but the young men who threaten their Jewish neighbors draw on the language and traditions of European anti-Semitism as much as they do on Muslim modes of anti-Semitic thought.)
On the other hand, the intensity, and velocity, of anti-Jewish invective — and actual anti-Jewish thuggery — has surprised even Eurocynics such as myself. “Jews to the gas,” a chant heard at rallies in Germany, still has the capacity to shock. So do images of besieged synagogues and looted stores. And testimony from harassed rabbis and frightened Jewish children.
But I find myself most bothered by what seems to have been, on the surface, a relatively minor incident. The episode took place last weekend at a Sainsbury’s supermarket in central London. Protesters assembled outside the store to call for a boycott of Israeli-made goods. Quickly, the manager ordered employees to empty the kosher food section. One account suggests that a staff member, when asked about the empty shelves, said “We support Free Gaza.” Other reports suggest that the manager believed that demonstrators might invade the store and trash it. (There is precedent to justify his worry.)
After a good deal of publicity following the incident, Sainsbury’s apologized to its Jewish customers. “This will not happen again,” its corporate affairs director, Trevor Datsun, said, according to the Jewish Chronicle. “Managers will be told not to move kosher food because of some perceived threat.”
To the extent that it suggests that Israel and Judaism have been thoroughly conflated in the minds of many Europeans, the Sainsbury’s kosher controversy is similar to other recent incidents. Kosher products — in the case of the Sainsbury’s branch in question, some apparently from the U.K. and Poland — were intuitively understood to be stand-ins for Israel itself, just as French Jewish males wearing kippot were understood by their attackers to be stand-ins for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Be sure to bear the last paragraph of Goldberg’s excerpt in mind when reading this:
To the Editor:
Deborah E. Lipstadt makes far too little of the relationship between Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond.
The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.
As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.
(Rev.) BRUCE M. SHIPMAN
Groton, Conn., Aug. 21, 2014
The writer is the Episcopal chaplain at Yale.
So, there you have it. According to “the Episcopal chaplain at Yale,” the reason why we have “growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond” is because “the trend” of anti-Semitism “parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.” For “the trend” to subside, then, “Israel’s patrons abroad” have to pressure the government of the only Jewish state in the world to behave. Reverend Shipman doesn’t see fit to denounce anti-Semitism as a vile, despicable form of bigotry. He doesn’t see fit to state that there is no excuse whatsoever for anti-Semitism. He doesn’t even note that Hamas has committed–and continues to commit–acts of terrorism against Israelis. No; he is content to state that the reason why we have increased anti-Semitism is because the only Jewish state in the world has gotten uppity and bears responsibility for the persecution of Jews in other countries. The mind reels.
It is truly appalling, of course, that a man of God could think to state such sentiments–and in the “Letters” section of the New York Times, no less. But that’s where we are. Episcopalians should be ashamed. Yale should be ashamed. Reverend Shipman should be ashamed, but I’m not sure that he possesses the requisite wit or honor to so much as feel shame in moments like this one.
And despite all of the data points to the contrary, some people think that “anti-Semitism scarcely exists in the West.” Feh.
Apparently, you can’t be a little Floridian kid with a lemonade stand without some “grownup” reporting you to state government officials. You’d think that people would have better things to do than to hassle children, but alas, that just doesn’t seem to be the case.
The good news is that “[s]heriff’s deputies have declined” to shut down the offending lemonade stand in question. The bad news is that in doing so, Florida state law enforcement officials have proven themselves to be the exception, and not the rule.
Sure you do. Of course, the facts show that Obamacare remains very much a campaign issue–the unsubstantiated claims of Greg Sargent and Paul Krugman notwithstanding–and now, via InstaPundit, we have an indication that if anything, not enough is being made about the deleterious effects of health care “reform”:
Institutions say complying with the Affordable Care Act has caused them to pass on some costs to employees, according to a new survey from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.
Since the act began to take effect, some 20 percent of institutions have made changes to benefits in an effort to control associated costs, the survey says. About the same percentage of colleges are considering making changes, or making further changes, in the year ahead. Of those institutions that have made changes so far, 41 percent have increased employees’ share of premium costs. Some 27 percent have increased out-of-pocket limits, while about one-quarter increased in-network deductibles or dependent coverage costs, or both. Some 20 percent increased employees’ share of prescription drug costs.
No one is actually going to claim that we should be happy with this state of affairs. Right?
The “moral outrage over tax inversions” is feigned outrage. It is ginned up, fake, astroturfed outrage that will go away as soon as the midterm elections are over. It currently commands (too much) attention because President Obama and the Democratic party are worried that they might lose the Senate in the midterms, because they have no genuine issues with which to limit their possible impending electoral defeat, and because the only tool left to them in the upcoming campaigns is the tool of populist demagoguery. Populist demagoguery is needed to scare people, to make them angry, and to distract them from the fact that their economic situations have not gotten better under this administration. It is also needed to distract people from the fact that the president’s second term has been a disaster, and that he is phoning it in.
And of course, I know that Professor Bainbridge knows all of this, just as he surely must know that the Obama administration’s stance on corporate inversions is entirely hypocritical. But it’s good to repeat all of these points from time to time.
Let’s look at the Hamas “Covenant,” the founding document published in 1988 and unchanged since. It’s fascinating how central this document is—or should be—to the Gaza conflict, and yet how absent it is in most discourse. It was published a quarter century ago in 1988. It’s been available in translation for as long as I can remember, now easily accessible online in a Yale Law School Library translation.
What it represents is Hamas’ own self-definition. Its articulation of its sacred mission. I’d urge you to read the whole thing. The anti-Semitic rhetoric lifted fromThe Protocols of the Elders of Zion is instructive about the mindset of the Hamas founding fathers, but really just window dressing. For the purposes of current discussion there are two passages that demand attention. The first is one sentence in the second paragraph, which reads:
Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it (The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory).
There is no equivocation. There is just “obliteration.” Not explicitly genocidal, it could be argued that it’s just metaphorical—that the destruction of Israel will somehow not involve any harm to the vast majority of 5 million Jews there, just the state of Israel. This was the dodge Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used when he spoke of wiping Israel off the map.
OK, let’s concede that metaphoric possibility. But then we must contend with the truly sensational and horrific—and explicitly genocidal—element of the Hamas Covenant: Article 7. The article that is an explicit call for the extermination of all Jews. An explicit call for genocide.
Here is how it reads in English:
… [T]he Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] aspires to the realization of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:
“The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree … would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.
Somehow I think Jews shouldn’t rely on the Gharkad tree. The language calls for the mission of Hamas to be to seek out and find every Jew wherever they may be hiding and kill him or her. No Day of Judgment until that is done.
It continues to shock me that a group with an overtly genocidal mission written into its covenant for a quarter century now, is somehow treated as a legitimate participant in the world’s diplomatic processes. A potential “partner for peace.” Talk about a flawed moral equivalence.
The quotation is from what is known as a “hadith,” a non-Quranic saying of the Prophet, and according to scholars I’ve emailed with (both Islamic and Jewish) it’s important to remember that some hadith are more directly connected to the Prophet than others. What the scholars point out is that Hamas has deliberately chosen a hadith with an explicit anti-Jewish message for its very reason for existence. And it’s important to emphasize that the “kill the Jews” message of the hadith does not represent the viewpoint of mainstream Islam. Still it’s scandalous to me that those who write about the Gaza conflict do not make clear that this is not incidental to Hamas but the entire purpose of its being. Its sacred mission.
You want to talk about Hitler analogies: Even Hitler never became that specific in Mein Kampf. Many scholars believe that Hitler gave the wartime extermination order orally, although in a 1939 pre-war speech, he pledged himself to the “destruction of World Jewry”—a speech that was not taken literally by most of the world. Compared to Hamas, Hitler was cautious, politic. Of course he wanted to exterminate the Jews, but he didn’t write it into the constitution of the Third Reich.
–Ron Rosenbaum, pointing out and emphasizing stubborn facts that too many people in the world seem eager to forget
The riots in Ferguson have brought to the forefront issues concerning race relations in the United States, police brutality, the possible over-militarization of police, crime, violence and the fragility of First Amendment rights of free expression.
And naturally, Hillary Clinton has absolutely nothing whatsoever to say about the entire matter.
Not that anyone should really be surprised anymore; Team Clinton apparently continues to believe that its candidate is the overwhelming favorite to become the next president of the United States (even if the rest of us are strongly entertaining doubts on that matter). As such, Team Clinton doubtless also believes that its candidate can continue to avoid taking courageous stances one way or another on the difficult topics of the day, and that indeed, to take courageous stances on difficult topics of the day might be counterproductive, because it might involve alienating potential supporters. I mean, God forbid that the potential next president of the United States should actually take leadership positions that might indicate that she actually is up to the job of being the next president of the United States. What kind of republic with democratic characteristics would we be if something as revolutionary as that were to happen?
At some point, Clinton supporters may wish to ask themselves whether this brand of vanilla leadership (emphasis on the word “vanilla;” I am not sure that we can refer to Clinton’s activities as constituting “leadership”) is really the best that we can possibly ask for. I know that there are a lot of people who are devoted to the idea of a Hillary Clinton presidency. But they should be devoted to the country first, and quite frankly, the country deserves better than this.
In the event that you are not a football fan, let me give you some background on the subject of this post: There is a football team called the Washington Redskins. They’ve been around for a while; the Wikipedia article states that the team began as the Boston Braves in 1932, and then eventually became the Washington Redskins in 1937. As a Chicago Bears fan, this is what I consider to be my favorite game involving the Washington Redskins.
Now, there are a lot of people who consider the name of the team to be offensive (to clarify, we are referring to the “Redskins” portion of the name, though one could be forgiven for thinking that we are referring to the “Washington” portion). The Washington Post has even gone so far as to state that it will no longer refer to its hometown team as “the Redskins.” But the Redskins front office–led by owner Daniel Snyder–is refusing to change the name.
Stephen Carter has come up with what I believe to be an excellent solution:
My suggestion — in all seriousness — is that the team be called the Washington Lumbee, after the North Carolina tribe of that name. Before I explain my reasons, let me note the advantages from the point of view of the team’s traditionalist supporters. The name fits easily into the team’s fight song. (“Hail to the Lumbee.”) The name honors an actual tribe, an important and accomplished one. A public association with the football team in the nation’s capital would provide a huge boost to the Lumbee’s cherished dream, so far denied, of official recognition by the federal government. And, for what it’s worth, an actual Lumbee Indian, Sean Locklear, started four games for Washington in 2011.
Now — who are the Lumbee? Why choose them as a model?
The Lumbee, located mostly in North Carolina, have long attracted controversy. Although tribe members insist that both archaeological and DNA evidence demonstrates their claim to American Indian ancestry, some contemporary observers — including many American Indians — disagree, insisting that the Lumbee are mostly a mixture of African and European blood.
The state of North Carolina, however, officially recognized the Lumbee tribe in 1885 and treated them as American Indians much earlier in its history. The Lumbee were considered neither black nor white. During the Jim Crow era, the heavily Lumbee county of Robeson maintained not two but three separate school systems — one for whites, one for blacks and one for American Indians.
The Lumbee, for their part, have never quite gotten the recognition they deserve for their role in what has been called the Battle of Hayes Pond, a shootout with the Ku Klux Klan that took place 56 years ago.
James Cole, self-proclaimed grand dragon of the Klan in the Carolinas, found the Lumbees irritating because of their long history of mixing with other races. In January 1958, Cole’s followers burned crosses on several Lumbee lawns to warn them against “mongrelization.” Cole then scheduled a Klan rally for the night of Jan. 18 in a field near the town of Maxton, in Robeson County.
Even in the 1950s, people often cowered when the Klan came calling. The Lumbee chose a different path. They decided to confront the Klan and protect their homes and their families. The sheriff even warned Cole that if he proceeded with the rally, his life might be in danger. But backing down at that point would have meant a serious loss of face. So the event went off as planned.
The historian Malinda Maynor Lowery, in her book “Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South,” picks up the tale: “Klansmen circled their cars in the center of the field and set up a small generator with a P.A. system and a light bulb. As Cole began to speak, he must have feared that the sheriff’s prediction would come true.” One of the Lumbee shot out the lightbulb. Another “wrestled a Klansman’s gun from his hands.” After that, “a deafening roar emanated from the Indian crowd; Indians began firing shots.”
The Klansmen were taken entirely by surprise. They were not prepared for resistance. “Cole took off running into the swamps,” Lowery writes. “His panicked followers dropped their guns, jumped in their cars and drove in all directions, some straight into the ditches that surrounded the field.”
As Carter goes on to mention, “with the marketing and financial might of the Washington football establishment behind them,” the Lumbee would be able to use the name change to achieve their long-desired goal of being recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which would entitle the Lumbee “to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their special relationship with the United States.”
So, what is Daniel Snyder waiting for? Take Carter’s suggestion and change the nickname of Washington’s football team to the Lumbee. It would be a huge public relations coup, it would silence the controversy, and it would pay homage to a group of people who routed and humiliated the Ku Klux Klan and revealed them for the cowards that they are. What’s not to love about this idea?
Behold the details. In related news, we learn–yet again–that Greg Sargent and Paul Krugman are allergic to doing their homework. Which might very well make them hacks.
David Bernstein explains. And the following is worth highlighting:
. . . the only feasible alternatives to Zionism are themselves illiberal–have a majority Arab state in which Jews are, at best, a suppressed minority, or force all six million Jews living in Israel to flee to whatever countries (if any) will accept them, or some combination of the two. The idea that giving up on “Zionism” makes you a “liberal” is false, unless creating yet another Arab dictatorship in what is now Israel at the cost of six million Jews’ lives and liberty, and of by far the most liberal state in their region, is somehow a “liberal” option.
Of course, for whatever reason, there are people who would not be the least bit upset by the elimination of Israel “at the cost of six million Jews’ lives and liberty,” and there are also people who are not the least bit bothered by the fact that there are people who would not be the least bit upset by the elimination of Israel “at the cost of six million Jews’ lives and liberty.”
Politeness buys you time. It leaves doors open. I’ve met so many people whom, if I had trusted my first impressions, I would never have wanted to meet again. And yet — many of them are now great friends. I have only very rarely touched their hair.
One of those people is my wife. On our first date, we went to a nice bar with blue tables and, in the regular course of conversation, she told me at length about the removal of a dermoid teratoma from her ovaries. This is a cyst with teeth (not a metaphor). I had gone in expecting to flirt but instead I learned about the surgical removal of a fist-sized mutant mass of hair and teeth from her sexual parts. This killed the chemistry. I walked her home, told her I had a great time, and went home and looked up cysts on the Internet, always a nice end to an evening. We talked a little after that. I kept everything pleasant and brief. A year later I ran into her on the train and we got another drink. Much later I learned that she’d been having a very bad day in a very bad year.
Sometimes I’ll get a call or email from someone five years after the last contact and I’ll think, oh right, I hated that person. But they would never have known, of course. Let’s see if I still hate them. Very often I find that I don’t. Or that I hated them for a dumb reason. Or that they were having a bad day. Or much more likely, that I had been having a bad day.
People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment. I know that doesn’t sound like liberation, because we live and work in an opinion-based economy. But it is. Not having an opinion means not having an obligation. And not being obligated is one of the sweetest of life’s riches.
There is one other aspect of my politeness that I am reluctant to mention. But I will. I am often consumed with a sense of overwhelming love and empathy. I look at the other person and am overwhelmed with joy. For all of my irony I really do want to know about the process of hanging jewelry from celebrities. What does the jewelry feel like in your hand? What do the celebrities feel like in your hand? Which one is more smooth?
This is not a world where you can simply express love for other people, where you can praise them. Perhaps it should be. But it’s not. I’ve found that people will fear your enthusiasm and warmth, and wait to hear the price. Which is fair. We’ve all been drawn into someone’s love only to find out that we couldn’t afford it. A little distance buys everyone time.
Last week my wife came back from the playground. She told me that my two-year-old, three-foot-tall son, Abraham, walked up to a woman in a hijab and asked “What’s your name?” The woman told him her name. Then he put out his little hand and said, “Nice to meet you!” Everyone laughed, and he smiled. He shared with her his firmest handshake, like I taught him.