Jewish World Review March 24, 2006 / 24 Adar, 5766

Paul Greenberg

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Reply all | Dear Friend,

It was wholly a pleasure to have you join the debate over whether I should be using all those big words in this column   —   a habit I've caught some flak over of late. It's proving hard to break. Maybe what I need is a 12-step program.

Then again, big words have their legitimate uses, just as 18-wheelers and C-130s do. But they should be used only when nothing else will do as well. You don't want to wheel 'em out there for the smallest errands and wind up blocking traffic all the time.

I haven't seen a fairer summation of the whole question than your contribution to the discussion:

"Some use big words to mask the size of small thoughts. Some use big words to match big thoughts. Some want us all to be small."

The basic question isn't whether the words are big, but whether their meaning is.


Dear Speller,

It was wholly a pleasure to get your phone call about my misspelling of McAlister Hall at the University of Central Arkansas. According to the phone message you left, you'd never seen it misspelled so badly. At least I've distinguished myself in your eyes.

Happily, I can correct my error, and hasten to do so. Unlike the poor cub reporter in the story who was told by the grizzled old city editor: "Son, you done misspelled Cincinnati so bad, there ain't no way to correct it!"


Dear Mass E-mailer,

It was wholly a pleasure to read your diametrically opposite views from my own about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Your long exposition took me back   —   to all the panel discussions I used to participate in years ago. The usual setup was to have a Jewish American and an Arab American face off over the head of some nice moderator who was so moderate he was clueless.

The drill was always the same: Fact and counter-fact, history and counter-history, myth and counter-myth, would be exchanged point-by-point for an hour or so, and by the time the bashfest was over, nothing had really changed. Except the atmosphere was even more embittered. I don't do those discussions anymore. Nobody wins.

Who would win if we did these things right?

The speaker who could speak in terms of mutual tragedy and even mutual hope rather than We Are the Victims, You Are the Aggressor.

Thanks, also, for the article from Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, expressing sympathy for the Palestinians' plight and outrage at their unjust treatment.

Would you now be so kind as to forward a comparable article from an Arab newspaper expressing as much sympathy for Israeli suffering, and as much outrage at the bloodthirsty cries for Israel's destruction emanating from Hamas, the Palestinians' new ruling party? And from the usual broad assortment of haters in that dangerous part of the world, now led by Iran's nutcase of a president.

Then I'd be much more optimistic about the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

Ever hopefully,

Dear Critic,

It was wholly a pleasure to receive your encouraging word. Be assured, I have no intention of settling for less than the best word I can find to express a particular thought. The commentator who condescends to his readers is doing them no service.

As for your doubtless well-intentioned advice that I strive to be more balanced in my views, what would you recommend   —   that I steer an exact, middle course between right and wrong?

The commentator who pulls his punches out of a misguided devotion to an artificial "balance" isn't doing his readers any service. For self-censorship can be even more damaging than the state-decreed kind.

At the least, the writer owes his reader candor. A habit of speaking frankly enhances his sound views and exposes the unsound ones.

I'd much rather read an honestly mistaken opinion   —   wouldn't you?   —   than one of those mush-mouthed pieces that in the end takes no position at all. It's more interesting, more revealing, and it gives the reader some intellectual exercise. Even if it's only the minimum amount required to see through it.

The way to achieve fairness on an editorial page is to publish strong opinion opposed to the newspaper's. That's how real balance is achieved, not by hedging our own. As a publisher who knew his business once told me, "When you're sure you're right, forget caution."

Most papers invite letters to the editor. Feel free to write one. Come on in, the water's fine   —   if a bit choppy from time to time.

Yours for an unfettered market in ideas as well as goods,
Inky Wretch

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