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Some Useful Links

List of My Blogs – quick links to:

Search Tools

Media & Blogs

Other Tools

Shopping

Archive

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This list supplements the websites I normally access by typing a few URL characters, or from other links. Sites present to mind and easy to find (e.g., Google Scholar) are not listed here.

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Being Contrarian

I often tell people I have a contrarian streak. This post explains a bit about that.

For those who don’t know, being contrarian is not the same as being contrary. Being contrary means being difficult, being hard to get along with, or behaving in unwanted ways. Being contrarian has a more specific meaning: it means having the tendency to take up the opposing viewpoint.

Why would anyone want to be contrarian? I don’t know that they do. In other words, I disagree with the premise. That’s what it’s like to be contrarian: you hear what the other person is saying, and you propose something that does not support the other person’s perspective. This behavior mostly gets noticed when you oppose the majority view on an important topic, or when you make a habit of going against the mainstream.

Let it be noted at the outset that I am not alone in this. There is that adage, attributed in various forms to Winston Churchill, Henry Ford, and probably others, that essentially says, “If two people agree, one of them is unnecessary.” There is Mark Twain’s suggestion, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).” The idea behind those quotes seems to be that there are almost always alternate viewpoints, and it is usually wise at least to be aware of them — or, better yet, to develop and test them.

Being contrarian it’s not something that a person would necessarily choose. It’s sort of like asking why anyone would want to be detail-oriented, curious, or optimistic. They might have their reasons, but to some extent it’s just who they happen to be. It could be hard to talk them out of it. Possibly the best you can do is to try to cope with, understand, maybe even appreciate it.

It can be a challenge to talk with someone who is strongly contrarian. A person doesn’t necessarily want everything s/he says to be picked apart and disagreed with. One can hope that most contrarians know how to manage their tendencies – to challenge, when a challenge is important, but otherwise to go along and be agreeable, especially when someone else is just trying to make conversation.

Unfortunately, even a moderate contrarian tendency can drive people away. People typically want to be affirmed in what they say and think. They tend to like the person who shares their views and priorities. Especially when the topic in question seems compelling, or when the speaker has a strong opinion or a powerful emotional commitment, the contrarian individual can seem like an opponent.

Being contrarian does not necessarily mean being outspoken or being a dissident. You can sit there and quietly think to yourself that the other person’s words are complete nonsense. You can have a tendency to do that with almost everyone. You can go through your life rarely letting others know just how strongly you reject most of what you hear.

I think I came to a contrarian tendency in childhood: I think I observed others being fake about their true feelings, day after day, and decided I did not want to be like that. There were a couple of reasons. There was the extensive dishonesty of perpetually deceiving close friends or family members; there was also the impression that completely sucking up to loudmouths and bullies would only encourage them, while teaching oneself to act and feel like a worm.

In addition – for me, at least – some of what I am calling contrarian behavior may be simple awareness. Even as a child, it seemed to me that people would often grab onto just one part of a complex situation, strangely ignoring or perhaps not understanding other parts of the story. I don’t know whether I would tend to take contrarian positions if other people were ordinarily inclined to fairly present conflicting perspectives on an issue, instead of just favoring one view and leaving out important information that was not convenient for their purposes.

That often seems to be the situation in adult life. People seem to be in a big rush to prove one side of an argument, even when it is obvious that the people on the other side are not simply stupid or crazy. Sometimes that may just be fear of the unknown. Sometimes, I think, it is pure selfishness, where the person can see that being fair would mean they would have to give up something that they want to keep, or admit that they’ve said or done something wrong.

If you do tend to be contrarian or simply honest, I think you may see yourself as courageous. In some cases that self-perception may be accurate; in others, people may consider you foolish for opening your mouth. Sometimes, I think, that difference in perceptions comes down to a disagreement on whether the individual is morally obliged to speak up — but that’s a subject for another day.

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My Singles Ad

Singles ads. Well, they usually start with photos.

 

Montage - Recent Photos of Me

 

Of those six images, five are from 2013-2016; one is ten years earlier. Not that pictures necessarily capture a person: I, myself, would be more interested in videos. Like these:

 

 

The pics and videos say that I am poor, skinny, intelligent, fun-loving, and not ugly. This is not highly informative; you could say as much about millions of people. So let’s narrow it down a bit:

UM Diploma_Page_1 CU Diploma

 

So, OK: poor, skinny, fun, presentable, JD, MSW. Now we’re getting somewhere. But where? An Ivy League lawyer, driving a car like that?

I guess you could say I have atypical priorities. In a nutshell, for many years now, I have been prioritizing writing and other self-expression. Like in this poem:

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Or in this article about my other brother’s death, or this video about my mom.

But mostly I’m not trying to produce art. Mostly I’m trying to present what it’s like to be me, in this world. Like this excerpt from my log of a ten-week camping trip in 2013, when I had left one city and had not yet chosen a residence in another:

September 18. Let me try to sum up what this has been like. I decided that the best word for my camping experience at Lake Meredith National Recreation Area is “wonderful.” I decided it’s not “fantastic” – it doesn’t have every pleasure known to mankind, and in some regards it’s a bit challenging – but it is really wonderful. The people have been nice. . . . And the outdoors living experience – well, that part of it really is fantastic. I spend a lot of time smiling. I never did entirely stop singing in the bathroom. I look around at the sunrise, sunset, and even just midday, with the susurrant wind bending this tall grass, and I just laugh out loud. It happens every day. I cannot believe how pretty everything is. The days last so long – we see long sunrises and sunsets. There is time for everything. I am grateful for my orange juice and all this other stuff that tastes so good. I am writing these words at a laptop under a full moon that’s bright enough to read by. . . . The song that keeps coming to mind:

This must be just like living in Paradise
Paradise! Paradise!
And I don’t wanna go home
I ain’t never goin’ home

And, you know, it has just occurred to me that that may have been the issue with Sterling. It may not have been that Sterling was an especially bad place. It may have been just that I came back into contact with civilization, to a greater degree than I had been during the several preceding weeks, and various things about it surprised and hurt me. I have been away from people, or perhaps from excesses of people, or perhaps from people who have become too complacent. Maybe I have just been away from whatever it is that Sterling represents, that I would find in a thousand other communities around the country; maybe there was just a bit of reentry shock.

Unfortunately, most of life is not a campspace at Lake Meredith. Most of life is — well, for me, it’s like I wrote in another piece: I don’t fit well in this country, to the extent that it isn’t very friendly, honest, intelligent, kind, thoughtful, or fun. It could be so much better. I am writing to explain how it could, and why it should. I don’t know that I’ll have much impact. But I might, and anyway I think I should try. It sure seems like a better use of my time than some of the goofy jobs I’ve had — including practicing corporate law on Wall Street.

So now I think I have narrowed the focus considerably. There are not millions of people like me. I’m not even sure there are thousands. You’re welcome to review my other materials to learn more about what I mean, when I say that I am trying to express what it is like to be me in this world. But for now, I am going to turn to the other side of the question: what am I looking for?

Much of what I’m looking for is what I’ve already described: someone fun, honest, friendly, intelligent.

I think I’ll show you a few images, and then ask some questions:

vladimir1

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Actually, as I think about it, I’m not sure any questions are necessary. I was going to ask things like “Who is Vladimir?” and “Do any of these pictures show the Dolly Llama?” But now I think that, if you got through those images without being completely offended, that’s a fair start.

So let me review and clarify. I am intelligent, fun-loving, skinny, and poor. I am poor because I chose not to be a corporate lawyer or, more precisely, because the things that made me a misfit in corporate law (e.g., trying to be honest) have made me a misfit in much of today’s America.

But then, there are different ways and places to be a misfit. I guess one must choose. Where I tend *not* to be a misfit is in relationships. This subject is complex, but let me offer a few observations:

  1. In a relationship with someone new in your fifties, sixties, or beyond, there will be arguments. We have spent all these years developing our uniqueness, in countless ways large and small. It can take a long time, and a lot of work, to accept and appreciate this new person, and all the ways in which s/he is different. It can be very rewarding to have him/her as an established part of your life. But getting there probably won’t be easy.
  2. If your previous relationship(s) had no arguments, that’s probably because one or both of you was holding back on your real feelings. Holding back may be advisable in specific areas of established incompatibility. But, in my experience, holding back as a general strategy is dysfunctional. It is really best to be honest with your partner, and to believe that s/he is honest with you.
  3. Good argument requires a desire and an ability to fight fair. If your style involves throwing every verbal weapon at your partner, as soon as your feelings are ruffled, then you are probably not going to have a good relationship. You and your partner should tend to emerge from an argument with a renewed belief in yourself and in each other.

I guess I’ll leave it at that, for now. If you support writers, or are looking for a long and happy relationship with one, please drop me a line (or respond via an anonymous link). Don’t be shy, and don’t let geography stop you.

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Samples of My Work

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This page provides a list of links to some of my written works, drawn from my full set of blogs. The list includes the links that I am especially likely to share with others, and some of my most-read blog posts. (In the case of the computer blogs, I have selected just a few representative posts; there are quite a few that have had numerous readers.)

I doubt anyone will love everything that I’ve written. Dissenters and supporters alike are encouraged to present relevant thoughts at the bottom of any post, in any of my blogs.

Some Blog Posts

Eliminate “Free Speech”

How Often Should a Person Take a Shower?

Why Higher Education Might Discourage a Sense of Humor

Things to Do Before Killing Yourself

Abuses and Mysteries at ASWB

Understanding the Complete Blood Count (CBC)

Using a Car Battery to Recharge a Laptop

The Accusation of Anti-Semitism

Real and Faux Diversity-Mindedness

Poem: Flyover

Advice to Obama: Heads Must Roll (2009)

The Luxury of Having a Parent

Why I am an Agnostic Polytheistic Fundamentalist

Iraq: What Happens When They Neglect the Peace Corps (2008)

Treadmill Desks, Exercise Ball Seats, and Other Ways to Avoid Dying from Sitting

The Loss and Gain of Skills in Long-Term Unemployment

If I Were Vladimir Putin (2008)

The Tax We Needed (2008)

Needed: Jokebot

Running and Blood Donation

Poem: Petroleum

Proposed: Jesse Ventura as Interim President of Libya

Advice to Obama: Endorse a Constitutional Convention

Proposed: Stop Emphasizing Math and Science Scores

A Visit to the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) of Arkansas

Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs

A Few Reflections on “10 Things I Hate About Asians”

2120 Hindsight: The Barren Years

Advice to China: Experiment with Qualified Voting

Best Videos Ever

How to Prepare for the LCSW Exam

“Never Forget” the Holocaust – But That’s Not How It Works

Installing Windows 7 on an Acer Aspire V3-772G-9829 Laptop

Videos

My YouTube Playlists

What Is a Disability Awareness Workshop? (2010)

Chunyun Discovers Ice Fishing (2007)

Washing the Toyota at Wade’s (1990)

My Video Application for “Survivor” TV Show (1999)

A Year of Sleeping Outdoors (2004-2005)

A Bit About Laura Woodcock (2009)

Biking in Rural Indiana (2011)

Book-Length Works

Take the Bar and Beat Me: An irreverent look at law school and career choices for prelaws, law students, advanced paralegals — and the people who once loved them (Career Press, 1991). Reviews.

Bureaucrat: Service with a Smile (1998).

The People’s Republic: Plato’s Classic Republic, Edited and Restated in Plain English (1998).

Inside the Mind of a Judge: An Interpretation of Posner’s Problems of Jurisprudence (2000).

A Year in a School of Social Work (2010).

A Camping Trip (2013).

Articles & Other Manuscripts for Publication

Abuses and Mysteries at the Association of Social Work Boards (Research on Social Work Practice, 2015) (invited by the journal’s editor).

Burden of Proof, Undue Hardship, and Other Arguments for the Student Debtor under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8)(B) (Journal of College and University Law, 1998, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 377-464).

City Slickers: Let the Cattle Speak for Themselves (Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 2006, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 3-10).

Preamble, Purpose, and Ethical Principles Sections of the NASW Code of Ethics: A Preliminary Analysis (Families in Society, 2008, vol. 89, no. 4, pp. 578-586) (DOI) (FIS abstract page) (Google search) (condensed version).

The Definition, Mission, and Purpose of Social Work (2011).

Prospects for Clinical Social Work Education (2010).

Ethical Standards in the NASW Code of Ethics: The Explicit Legal Model, and Beyond (Families in Society, 2011, vol. 92, no. 1, pp. 21-27) (DOI) (FIS abstract page) (Google search) (condensed version).

Disqualification: Qualifying-Phase Attrition within a Social Work PhD Program (2011).

Knowing Where You Stand: Neoliberal and Other Foundations for Social Work (Journal of Comparative Social Welfare, 2012, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 1-15) (DOI) (journal abstract page) (Google search).

Miscellany

Letters to the Editor of The American Conservative

A Million-Day Calendar (PDF) with Day-by-Day Julian-Gregorian-ISO Comparisons and Century Bookmarks

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My Blogs and Websites

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This list contains one or two entries for each blog.  The main entry takes you to the blog’s home page.  The archives link, when available, takes you to the list of items posted in that blog. Note: the Samples link (above) leads to a list of my best, most-read, and/or most-referred posts.

Sociopolitical Issues

Leisure – The Purpose of Life
Treating life like it’s not supposed to be a constant grind

The American System and Its Discontents
Comments on law, economics, business, and government

Social Work Education & Practice

A Social Work Education
Experiences while training to be a social worker

On Behalf of Men
Contrarian perspectives on the sexes

Social Work Interventions
Materials related to social work practice

Education Generally

Improving Higher Education
From my years as a PhD student

My Nontraditional PhD at Indiana University
Weird experiences in a mixed-up place

Science & Technology

Ray Woodcock’s Latest
Many detailed posts on computers and other tech issues

Ray Woodcock’s Latest (2007-2012) (archives)
Earlier computer-related posts, before switching to WordPress

Ray Woodcock’s Clippings (archives)
Excerpts (mostly from science articles) that caught my eye

Other Topics

God, Spirituality, the Supernatural, and All That
Attempts to think about big questions

Grief, Pain, and Fear Never Killed Anybody
(not true)

Ideas, Predictions, and Advice
Includes poems and other creative miscellany

Running Blog
Notes from an aging runner

General-Purpose Autobiography

About Ray Woodcock (this blog)
Various links and pieces of biographical information

YouTube
Assorted videos on personal and public topics and experiences

Scribd
A bunch of my published manuscripts and other papers

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My Résumé

 

Education

Goal of First Career: corporate position on Wall Street

  • Columbia University (New York): School of Law (JD, 1982); Graduate School of Business (MBA, 1983); College (B.A., Political Science, 1979)
  • Prior undergraduate study in humanities (1973-1977)

Goal of Second Career: position as college professor

  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor): School of Social Work (MSW, 2010)
  • Indiana University: PhD studies, double major in social work (Indianapolis) and parks & recreation (Bloomington)
  • University of Arkansas: PhD studies, educational statistics and research methods

Experience

First Career: Paths Taken

  • Corporate Attorney: Gaston Snow Beekman & Bogue (14 Wall Street, NYC) and McCarter & English (Newark, NJ) (1982-1985)
  • Financial Analyst & Firm Management Consultant: Bachelder Law Offices (780 Third Ave., NYC) (1987-1989)

Second Career: Paths Taken

  • Instructor: University of Arkansas (2012): statistics in nursing
  • Writer: peer-reviewed academic journal articles in social work, recreation, and law; published and unpublished books
  • Group leader: University of Missouri ropes course (2003-2004)

Other Credentials

  • Admitted to practice law in New York and New Jersey
  • GRE (2011): 99th percentile (170) verbal; 82nd percentile (159) math. (In the previous try, under the old grading system, I studied harder on the math and got a 780 out of 800.)
  • Won competitive elections to Columbia Law Student Senate each year
  • Have organized many other social and civic groups and activities
  • Experienced in outdoor activities and wilderness camping

For further elaboration, please see my list of sample writings and my mini-autobiography.

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Some Experiences with Jews

Background

This post provides relatively general and personal information on my experiences with Jewish people in the U.S. I provide this information partly to tell a story and partly to provide background information that some readers may find useful, if I proceed to write more political materials about Jews and/or Israel.

Another post discusses my own religious background. The gist of it is that I was raised as a rural Protestant with virtually no knowledge or beliefs about present-day Jews. A few anecdotes will illustrate:

  • Partway through college, working behind the grill at a McDonald’s in L.A., I was telling a co-worker about my attempt to sell an old VW Beetle. I said, “I was asking six-fifty, but the guy jewed me down to six hundred.” My co-worker dropped his spatula and exclaimed, “That’s an insult to my religion!” I had to stop to think what on earth religion he would be talking about. It was like thinking that the term “scot-free” might refer to Scots — to cite another idea that would not occur to me for some years thereafter. It was just the lingo I grew up with.
  • Before that, in a plan to continue my pre-ministerial studies at Indiana University, I had signed up for an introductory Hebrew course. I only attended a few sessions before dropping out of IU. But I do remember looking at all those exotic, dark-haired, dark-eyed females in that class and thinking, Wow, Indianapolis has some really pretty women. It did not occur to me that these women might hail from a specific heritage.
  • When I did finally get to New York, my first real girlfriend asked me, “Do you really not believe I have horns?” I had no idea what she was talking about.

To me, growing up, the Jews were the people in the Bible. I was a country boy. I had not paid much attention to political news. There may have been an attempt, somewhere in my high school education, to acquaint me with facts related to the existence of Israel. If there was, it must have gone in one ear and out the other. I had heard derogatory terms about blacks. I don’t believe I had heard any about Jews or, again, if I had, they didn’t register. I knew where Israel was, but evidently I didn’t have much knowledge of its post-Biblical history or peoples.

The Observant Types

The girlfriend just mentioned was a child of the Holocaust: both of her parents had been in concentration camps during World War II. She said both had Nazi identifying numbers tattooed into their forearms. We dated for about 20 months. It was tumultuous. I guess we were similar where we should have been different, and different where we should have been similar.

For present purposes, I think the key point is just that we came from such divergent cultures. For one thing, I don’t know whether her parents had entertained racist attitudes before their experiences in the war, but they did seem to have carried such attitudes with them to their new life in the New World.

They were not alone in that, of course. For instance, I knew a New York Jew who, circa 1988, was going to attend a conference in Budapest. Under the circumstances at the time, evidently she had to fly to somewhere in western Europe and drive or take a train through the Iron Curtain to Hungary. She was so hostile to Germany that, rather than fly to someplace in Germany or Austria, close to Hungary, she chose to fly to France and drive all the way around. I don’t think she was afraid of any adverse encounters in those countries. At that point, as my own contemporaneous experiences suggested, she would have little reason to be. It wasn’t about fear. She made her feelings clear: she was bitter, and would gladly punish today’s Germans, if she could, for a previous generation’s sins.

It wasn’t just Germany, by the way. While Germany was by far the most hated European nation among Jews of my acquaintance, it was also somewhat bemusing to attend a wedding in Brooklyn where the young men were dancing what seemed to be Russian wedding dances and singing about chasing the British out of Palestine. Except regarding the American Revolution of 1776 and the War of 1812, I was not generally in the habit of thinking of the British as the enemy. By that point, I had a vague impression, supported now with brief inquiry, that the Brits had actually tried to help bring about a Jewish homeland.

I had never before been associated with people who would hate me for my racial or ethnic background. My girlfriend was certain, however, that her parents would never tolerate her being involved with a Gentile, and especially not one who was half-German. What our plans should be in that case, we never quite nailed down. I was very attached to her. It’s hard to imagine that she stayed with me for nearly two years on a mere lark. I honestly don’t know what she was thinking.

I say that her parents hated me for who I was. “Hate” is, I think, the right word, or at least that’s what it felt like, during the one phone conversation I had with her sister: it consisted of her screaming at me. It was not the kind of meet-my-sister introduction I would have preferred. But it did give me a heads-up as to what I might expect if her mom and dad ever found out about me. She requested that, if my parents and I encountered her and her folks at graduation, we were to pretend we didn’t know her. The closest I ever got to meeting them was when, one time, she and I took a trip to Brooklyn. Once there, she told me where her father’s knish shop was. She told me to go in and order something. So at least I got to see him, without him having any idea of who I might be.

After we broke up, the girlfriend moved more toward religious extremism. She became involved with the Lubavitch strain of Hasidic (i.e., mystical Orthodox) Jewish thought. In our very infrequent conversations about her beliefs, I had much the feeling that I had gotten from conversations with adherents to Christian cults. It was basically a sense that these people are living in their own little world. This impression seems consistent with what I now see in the Lubavitch website: that, for example, Lubavitch “conveys the responsibility and love engendered by Chabad toward every single Jew” and “No Jew should be characterized as distant, for, in essence, we are one.” The impression is, us against the world.

It was understandable that she would gravitate toward an organization offering that kind of acceptance. A Diaspora (i.e., a dispersion of the members of a race or other group, commonly used to refer especially to the dispersion of Jews outside of their ancient homeland in Palestine) could foster thoughts of a virtual, emotional, or spiritual community among its scattered people. This recalled someone’s remark that Jews had traditionally tended toward investments in jewelry rather than real estate: you need to be able to grab it and flee, when the time of persecution arrives.

I had never before encountered the idea that a citizen of the United States would view this country as a mere waystation, a stepping-stone or tool to be used for the benefit of another country. If you’re born here, as she was, you ordinarily think of this as your home; and if you’re naturalized as a U.S. citizen after being born elsewhere, you normally wouldn’t go to the trouble unless you planned to make your life here. For her, however, Israel was the only true homeland. Again, I can see how that sort of thinking would emerge from a heritage that says you can never trust Gentiles not to turn against you in a pinch; but as I discuss in another post, I can also see how such an attitude could create its own reality. I doubt most Americans would appreciate people who convey an attitude that says the U.S. has value only to the extent that it serves Israel.

That was the only really religious Jewish girlfriend I had. There were others I was interested in, and I think a few may have been interested in me too, but the barriers were firm, and those others were not as exploratory as the first girlfriend had been. I also had little interaction with religious Jewish guys. I would see them, some just wearing yarmulkas and some with payots (long hair growing from sideburns), long hair generally, big beards, and weird hats. I rarely if ever interacted with the more exotic types. Brooklyn seemed to be the place for them, and I was rarely there.

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There was a rabbi in my law school class. (Not the guy in the photo here; that’s just some random dude in his Jewish gear.) In three years, this rabbi never spoke a word to me. He was not a shy person. Having been in the City for a couple of years by that point, I expected that he would have no interest in talking to me. The religious Jews never did. If I were back there now, I might give it a try. But it generally felt like those guys had their own culture, and preferred it that way.

Here’s an example of how that worked in daily life. Columbia required law firms, visiting campus during interview season, to meet with any student who signed up for a preliminary interview. I signed up for some interviews with what my classmates called Jewish firms. The names of lawyers in those firms all looked Jewish. A classmate asked me why I bothered: he said those firms were only going to hire Jews. I guess he was right. None of them invited me to the firm for further interviews.

In one of those preliminary interviews, I remember, I told the interviewers that I’d had a class, in college, with a professor who announced his hope that he would convert us all to “practicing Marxists.” They thought that was funny. “Oh, at this firm, we’re all capitalists,” one of them said, laughing. I wasn’t sure, but it felt like he was laughing at me, like evidently I was not supposed to mention Marxism in the same room with a corporate attorney. Probably true, now that I think of it. In another interview, the woman and I had a great conversation. It was one of those interviews where you know you’ve hit a home run. She even said so. Still, no follow-up invitation. I’m not bitter about it. I don’t even remember which firm it might have been. It’s more like it was a learning experience, like they were all about as civil as New York lawyers can be, but it wasn’t going anywhere.

The Semi-Observant Types

I did, however, have extensive interactions with less religious Jews in Manhattan. I was in New York City and northeast New Jersey for a total of about twelve years. During my years in law school at Columbia, a large minority if not an actual majority of classmates were Jewish. Most seemed to be of the somewhat assimilated variety: they had been raised with some degree of religious training – some had lived at home with their parents during college – but now, like my ex-girlfriend, were experiencing pieces of the broader American culture. It was a mild shock, upon glancing over at a classmate (at one point in my two years as a transfer student at Columbia College), to see him writing these words: “Dear Daddy …” I just didn’t come from a place where young men in their early twenties would still call their dads Daddy. I also remember one first-year law school classmate asking another, “Have you discovered bacon?”

My ex-wife was an example of these semi- or vaguely observant types. She believed in celebrating the high holidays. But when it was just the two of us, without the guidance of more experienced hands, she was not too sure how to go about it. She would get partway through a Hebrew prayer and then start laughing because she didn’t remember the rest. She married me, so she couldn’t have been too observant. It was like what they say: at Columbia, the three major religions are equally represented: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. (By the way, like many of the observations presented here, that little joke comes from a Jewish acquaintance.)

Most Jews who have not become substantially assimilated into American culture would probably do a better job with the religious ceremonies. I think it’s much like being a loosely observant Christian: you have your beliefs, you raise your kids in them, you think they are important except when you choose to ignore them, but the idea of a religious war would sound medieval.

I seemed to get along pretty well with these nonreligious Jews. I mean, why not? Even without the bacon, we were not from such relatively incompatible cultures as the first girlfriend and I had been. They elected me to Columbia Law’s Student Senate three years in a row – twice defeating a female Jewish opponent.

In those last two years in the College, aside from the girlfriend, I had a few acquaintances – one Jewish, one half-black, half-Japanese, one a gay black ballet dancer – but I was studying most of the time. Later, my law and business school friends would be a less purely New Yorky group: I socialized sometimes with a group of mostly Anglo and Hispanic law students, sometimes with a mixed Jewish and Gentile group in the B-school.

I never seriously considered converting to Judaism, but not out of any antipathy to it; I just didn’t have much use for religion, and didn’t feel like going to all that trouble or feeling like a hypocrite. That said, over the years I did become somewhat oriented toward New York Jewish values. I developed a fairly well-informed sense of how my wife, girlfriends, and acquaintances would react to a given remark or event – what they would consider intelligent, funny, and otherwise acceptable.

After that volatile first relationship and a comparably ill-advised choice of wife and the ensuing divorce (in which I found myself the only Gentile in the courtroom), I did date several very fine Jewish women, spanning most of the 1980s. I deliberately sought them out: for the most part I found their thinking, their preferences, and their communication style agreeable. Two, in particular, would have married me. That might have been for the best. But I was not yet ready for another marriage.

The guy I hung out with most, during and after law school, was Jewish as well, a lawyer who surely should have been an engineer or physicist. Like all of my male Jewish acquaintances, he was not religious; he did not wear a yarmulka or other outward signs of belief. As people would often say about such individuals, he was Jewish by culture rather than religion. I rarely if ever talked about religious belief with these guys. This particular individual, I think, was probably an atheist.

Like many, he married a Gentile – a shiksa, in the Yiddish term. I, a non-Jew (that is, a goy, plural goyim), married to a female Jew, was a shaygetz. If I had been black, married or not, I would have been a shvartze. When we Gentiles behaved in ways that Jews would find unintelligible, we were demonstrating a goyishe kop – that is, a Gentile head (i.e., the stupidity of Gentiles). In these and other regards, the Jews of my acquaintance, mostly well-to-do, did have their disparaging terms for people unlike themselves. So, for example, the sister of one of my acquaintances, and her husband, started calling their son Pete because, they joked, there was no way that a boy so poorly behaved could be Jewish.

Those sorts of terms were not used often in my presence, and I rarely if ever felt that the people using them intended any insult toward me personally. There was a hint of potential antipathy in the question that my date’s friends asked her after we attended a party: “He seems nice. Is he German [i.e., German-American]?” But none of this was on a par with the racism exhibited by others outside my circle, such as the rabbi who said, “One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.” I do not think any of my acquaintances felt that way. To be sure, I rarely if ever saw any of them socializing with Arabs; then again, there did not seem to be many Arabs in the places in New York where I studied and worked. The lawyer-cum-physicist did seem rather rudely unable or unwilling to bother to learn how to pronounce the name of a business school classmate who, I think, hailed from the Middle East, but I am not sure whether that was racism or just general callousness. I had a Sri Lankan Muslim roommate for a couple of years, and everybody seemed friendly toward him.

Really, about the only time I interacted with religious Jews was when I went into various stores that sold computer and electronics equipment. These guys, often but not always having Israeli or Russian accents, were a mixed bag. I remember, for instance, a time when I took a camera to a store for repairs. I forget the details, but I remember thinking that they were going to try to cheat me. My girlfriend, the child of the Holocaust mentioned above, was confident they would never cheat a Jew, and I think we presented it as her camera. They did indeed try to cheat her. Forewarned is forearmed: we came out OK, and she got a lesson in how Jews can treat one another.

That, however, was an unusual experience. I felt that you had to watch yourself when doing business in any event, and that the New York area certainly had its share of con artists; but there were countless uneventful transactions as well. My sense of Jewish merchants in such settings was that they could be harsh and sometimes obnoxious, but not uniquely crooked.

Interactions with New York Jews

I said, above, that I appreciated the thinking, preferences, and communication style of New York Jewish women. I want to elaborate on that – to explain, in effect, why it made sense to me, some years ago, that a philanthropist (whose name I cannot now locate) would announce a goal of fostering secular Jewish values in the American population.

I say the concept made sense, but I have to qualify that. I cannot be sure that all of the values important to me would appear on his list. I had been shaped, not only by New York Jewish culture, but also by the larger culture of New York as a whole, by my childhood in Indiana, and by my immersion in the environment of Columbia University and in the legal profession. In some of those spheres, I had been getting exposure to the values of the upper classes. So what I construed as Jewish values may have been, in fact, my own idiosyncratic construction, drawn from a larger and very conflicted stew of Manhattan values.

Probably the thing that I found most striking about New York Jews, within the caveats just stated, was their expectation that I should try to make sense. This sounds obvious, but in practice it often is not. For instance, Americans are not generally in the habit of thinking that they should articulate why they have done something. People don’t ask; they don’t want to hear an analysis; and if you do launch forth into a detailed explication, they’ll likely be stuck in a belief that it’s weird to say such things (because nobody actually thinks about stuff), and thus they won’t be willing (or, perhaps, able) to keep up with what you are actually trying to tell them. When I think of goyishe kop, I think of this more than anything else, this seemingly idiotic (and yet accepted as normal) tendency, among ordinary Americans across the country, to just charge forth and do stuff — in their businesses, their relationships, whatever — and then wonder why it didn’t work, but rarely to talk about and analyze it before, during, or after their grand experiment.

A related discovery was that I was allowed to be smart. Although it took years, eventually, in New York, I came to understand that it might be OK to use big words. In my rural upbringing, a good vocabulary was a liability. When I used a word that the local farmers didn’t know, they acted like there was something wrong with me. School and learning were OK for kids, but not a serious part of adult life. It often seemed that the ideas I wanted to express would be dismissed as schoolboy nonsense. But in the big city, at least in some settings, I could just express myself. This, I saw, was how the Jews raised their own kids. They treated them like real people. When the little boy walked into the room and made a statement, adults listened. They expected that he, too, would try to make sense.

There seemed to be a shared view that life was complicated enough, without playing games with reality. Having spent several years in L.A., it was something of a shock to encounter people who would not necessarily tolerate vague or potentially nonsensical statements. There did not seem to be a lot of patience for bullshit. They could accept, to some extent, that you might not be serious about the things you thought and said; they would just not necessarily understand why you would want to be like that.

That said, people did vary in their tendency to drive toward hard facts. I experienced a relatively extreme case in a lawyer named Harry, with whom I shared an office for a while. In my understanding, Harry felt that it was not his job to get between me and reality. If he had a problem with something I was doing, he would just say so. It could be pretty blunt and abrupt. It wasn’t spooned out with honey, with any sense that this might be something we could both make adjustments for. It was just, bam, Ray, here’s what you’re doing that I don’t like, and that’s the simple reality, and now it was up to me to fix the problem.

Although I found Harry’s style rather unwelcoming, I did appreciate that something similar to it worked pretty well for New York’s Jewish mayor Ed Koch. I observed that “Hizzoner” had an interesting way of presenting the opposing interests that were coming to him, without making them his responsibility. Like, here’s what the teachers want, here’s what the parents want. Like he was just reporting on these conflicting interests. It was really up to these parties to negotiate their differences with each other. He didn’t want their stuff sticking to him.

I am not sure whether New York Jews are necessarily more truthful, or otherwise have better character, than other people. Maybe, maybe not. Among my clients as a corporate attorney, I met a variety. The least appealing of the lot was a Jew, but he had competition there at the bottom of the barrel.

For every Harry, there is probably a Jay. Jay was another Jewish lawyer with whom I shared an office for a while. Unlike Harry, Jay was a bald-faced liar. He would just stand right there and tell me things that were completely false. With Harry, you knew where you stood; with this weasel, you never did. The Jews in the law firms where I worked were not generally like that. It did not seem that Jay would go far in the established kinds of Wall Street legal practice, but I don’t know: maybe someone like him would succeed elsewhere — in, say, suburban real estate.

These examples may provide some sense of how Jewish lawyers, and the women I dated, would tend to talk about the various mensches and chazzers of their acquaintance.

A striking contrast emerged when our little firm was acquired as the New York office of a larger Boston firm, and we had to make space for several Boston lawyers. These people – thinking, in particular, of several Gentiles – were slime. It wasn’t just Harvard arrogance; it was equally bad with, for instance, a junior associate from an obscure Massachusetts law school. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but their arrival and behavior colored my view of the whole enterprise. Later, I would have comparable experiences with senior Gentile attorneys at other firms. I do wonder what my career would have been like if I had been able to continue working with the New York Jewish lawyers who had hired me for that first law job. Instead, I was disgusted; I left within the year. Some years later that whole firm self-destructed, starting with the Boston office.

Once I became acclimated to the sometimes abrasive style of New York Jews, I discovered a possibility of sensitivity and acceptance. Maybe these words from Jewish psychiatrist Irvin Yalom (1995, p. 25) will convey a flavor of it. In this quote, Yalom is discussing outbursts in his group counseling sessions:

The most common type of incident my patients report . . . involves a sudden expression of strong dislike or anger toward another member. In each instance, communication was maintained, the storm was weathered, and the patient experienced a sense of liberation from inner restraints as well as an enhanced ability to explore more deeply his or her interpersonal relationships.

The important characteristics of such critical incidents were:

1. The patient expressed strong negative affect.

2. This expression was a unique or novel experience for the patient.

3. The patient had always dreaded the expression of anger. Yet no catastrophe ensued: no one left or died; the roof did not collapse . . . .

In other words, in psychotherapeutic groups, Yalom found that sometimes people would explode; there would be a risk of blaming them for doing so; but instead, the group could be tough-minded, and keep its eye on the ball.  With the influence of someone like Yalom, group members might treat the outburst as just one more thing to talk about. Many New York Jews seemed to be accustomed to a world in which people said and did things that did not make sense. In response, these Jews’ attitude could feature a certain durability, a sense of coping. They had things they wanted to achieve, and if you could help them with that – with being a good boyfriend or lawyer or whatever the situation called for – then they would find a way through or around the weirdness and the other obstacles.

The reference to Yalom also provides a reminder that Jewish culture has produced people like Sigmund Freud and many other mental health workers – people, that is, who have tended to combine mental toughness or durability with a belief that, if you dig deep enough, you find that maybe things do make sense. If you have the patience and motivation to understand people, it turns out that even the strange ones are commonly trying to find solutions to problems as they see them. Same thing, in a very different sphere, with a Jew like Karl Marx: our day-to-day world is filled with chaos and pain, but there is a system, a mechanism underlying it, and we can grasp and alter that underlying mechanism to change the world for the better.

In my experience, Jews differ among themselves greatly, just like other kinds of people. They do not necessarily incorporate all variations of human thought, feeling, and behavior, but they do run a pretty wide spectrum, from Marx to the bankers he despised, and from the psychiatrist to his/her neurotic clients. There are those who would have neither the interest nor the ability to conduct an appropriately sensitive and thoughtful therapy session, but who do just fine arguing a case in court or running a corporation or a city; and then there are the Freuds and the Einsteins who have all the time it takes to get into the most arcane details of the smallest systems of natural or mental worlds.

No matter who you are, it seemed to me that, in New York, you can find people – often, and possibly at the core of it, Jewish people – who are accepting and supportive. New York was a place where very talented, bright, and/or strange individuals could achieve a degree of success – in their own lives, and sometimes on a larger stage – that might not have been available to them in most other places. It was odd to think of that city as a haven, with all its coldness and danger; and yet it could sometimes give off a certain protective warmth. No doubt Jewish people can be as spiteful and cruel as any others, but I experienced little of that among the Jews of my acquaintance in New York. The vastly more common experience was one of finding a way to work things out and move forward, at whatever level of analysis.

The Assimilated Types

New York seemed to be a shelter for Jews especially. One time, the first girlfriend and her husband tried to keep kosher during a drive across the country. She said there were some hungry times during that trip. There just weren’t many kosher places to eat: make the dash to Cleveland and stuff yourself; next stop Chicago, and after that you’re on your own.

I encountered something like that myself, one time in the late 1980s. I was in Portland, Oregon. I called directory assistance to get the number for the bagel shop down the street. I said, “Could I have the number for The Bagel Shop?” The operator said, “Bagel. How are you spelling that?”

SteinbergThere is a classic New Yorker cover, by Steinberg, that indicates how it can feel to contemplate leaving Manhattan for some other destination in the U.S. I experienced that feeling too. For some years in the later 1980s, I was making trips and conducting investigations, trying to find a place to call home. I missed the countryside that I had grown up in, and I was attempting to figure out how I could build a rewarding life in some place other than New York City. But the Big Apple is a hard act to follow. These investigations failed. Ultimately, in 1989, I just loaded my stuff on a trailer and headed west, to wind up wherever I wound up.

That departure brought mixed feelings about Jewish women. On one hand, as I say, I’d known some great ones in NYC, and in fact I continued a long-distance relationship with one for a year after I left. But on the other hand, I’d had some struggles during my two years with that first girlfriend; the divorce had been an ordeal, over a period of years, in which the ex-wife had tried and ultimately failed at multiple angles to get money from me; and in other instances the often driven and contentious Jewish culture had been too much. It seemed that the time might be ripe to meet someone with whom I would have more in common – someone more oriented toward the outdoors, a mellow blond from Kansas or something. So when I landed in Denver, I responded to some singles ads and was pleased to meet up with a divorced woman whose name was something like Eileen Smith. That definitely sounded like a Gentile. Met her, had a nice talk, discovered that Smith was her married name. Sometimes she went by the longer version: Eileen Cohen Smith. It was like magic. Evidently I had a kind of magnetism: I had found Denver’s Jew!

Eventually, she would leave me for a guy with more money. She was pretty frank about it. Those were her priorities. There had been others with a similar attitude, back in New York, probably including my ex-wife; it had seemed interesting that she left me just a few weeks before I finished putting her through business school. Be that as it may, of course, Judaism has no monopoly on golddiggers. There are guys of any description who are preoccupied with the size of a woman’s breasts, and there are women of any description who find fascination in the size of a man’s wallet. This pairing of values gives us prostitution, in a variety of forms and settings. Indeed, in the view of one well-known Jewish judge in Chicago, that’s what marriage is all about.

Accurately or not, it did seem that I encountered greater flakiness among Jews outside of New York. Some of that impression may have been due to a change in my own status. In New York, I dressed and acted like a person of education and sophistication. Out in the hinterlands, I was inclined to be my more relaxed, clueless self. As someone in Philly would later remark, people take the cues you give off. You can’t be surprised if they treat you poorly, if you portray yourself as a sorry ass. As for why I might conduct myself thus, my book about New York legal study and practice conveys some hints (regarding e.g., impostor syndrome); I won’t go into that here.

For whatever reason, it did seem that the relatively few Jews I met in Denver, L.A., and elsewhere were cultural counterparts of what I had heard about America’s Asian immigrants. First generation: small, skinny, no health problems. Second generation: a little bigger, a little sicker. Third generation: just as fat and sick as their white American neighbors. It seemed, in other words, that adoption of the assimilated, relatively rootless, non-communitarian model of American life had yielded a reduction in character, in these Jewish middle Americans who were several generations away from the old worlds of Europe and Brooklyn. It was sort of like what a Californian friend had told me. The difference between New York and L.A., according to him, was that in New York, they say, “I’m going to screw you!” and then they screw you. In L.A., they say, “I would never screw you! I love you like a brother!” and then they screw you.

Conclusion

There were things about New York, and about Jewish culture and values, that were and perhaps always will be alien to me. Ultimately, I did decide to leave: New York did not become my real home, and that is partly because of those alien elements. Nonetheless, my life is very much richer for the opportunities to have met and come to know Jewish people in the New York area. That remark includes my friends especially, but it is also true for the larger Jewish culture that has so extensively pervaded and shaped what New York City is.

There is much more I could say about Jewish people, and about my experiences with and reactions to them. Some of that will have to remain unsaid; some may see daylight in other posts. I may revise this one as other material comes to mind. But for now, that wraps it up.

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Postscript

My blog on the American system now contains posts on antisemitism, the standard Holocaust story, and Holocaust denial. Others may follow. Probably the most recent ones, appearing at the top of the list on the Archives page, will tend to offer more refined perspectives.

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