Category Archives: Daily Life

Comment of the Day: “KABOOM! The School System ‘Applauds The Efforts Of Students Who Act In Good Faith…'”

This is an appropriate illustration for this Comment of the Day.  You'll see...

This is an appropriate illustration for this Comment of the Day. You’ll see…

The post about the middle-schooler suspended for rushing to the aid of a stricken classmate inspired a wide range of fascinating commentary, and also generated a tangential thread, as essays here often do. This one involved some commenters challenging my assertion that the ungrammatical quote from the young hero spoke to a school system that was better at no-tolerance discipline than it was at education, and that students not conditioned to view double negatives as poor communication were being handicapped by incompetent teaching. Into the fray jumped the always provocative Extradimensional Cephalopod, who walloped the debate with one of his trademark, long-form expositions on linguistic matters.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “KABOOM! The School System “Applauds The Efforts Of Students Who Act In Good Faith To Assist Others In Times Of Need” And Is Therefore Exacting Punishment So They Know Never To Do It Again.”

I agree that not all languages are created equal. Effective communication requires a few subordinate skills based on semantics (navigating within a paradigm) and empathy (shifting between paradigms). One such skill is translation, the ability to convey a set of ideas to someone who has an unfamiliar paradigm and to understand ideas they express in that paradigm. Another is background, the ability to recognize semantic cues (e.g. grammar and etiquette) and use them to create a desired impression on someone else, which is necessary to smoothly blend in with one’s surroundings, putting others at ease by appearing to be similar to them. People need to develop the power of communication in order to interact with others, and therefore regardless of how they prefer to speak, they need to be able to shift to different methods of speaking depending on the context in which they find themselves. That is the virtue of linguistic descriptivism: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Or, as my grandfather likes to say, “…as the Romanians do.”

That said, linguistic prescriptivism has virtues of its own, when correctly employed, which is rare. Language is important because it is based on semantics, which is the simplification of interactions and which usually brings with it the concept of designating anything as “proper”. Labels and names are not hard limits for thought, but they shape it by making some thoughts easier than others. Any concept for which we have a word becomes easier to think of, because we can call that concept and associated ones readily to mind instead of retrieving each concept individually. It’s the difference between using the word “bird” and describing the animal’s characteristics anew each time you want to talk about it. The latter is possible, but people might have trouble thinking about birds and what they are like.

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Filed under Comment of the Day, Daily Life, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee

Ethics Musings While Sitting In Line At The Gas Station

My future, if I don't figure this out...

My future, if I don’t figure this out…

In the middle of a 20 minute errand that became a 90 minute ordeal today, I found myself sitting in an unexpected long line at the gas station I usually patronize.  Maybe it was because people wanted to top off tanks before the blizzard hits tomorrow, but I was really almost out of gas, and the second I moved into the “tank on the right” line, I was socked in. Finally I had only  one car ahead of me, and an absurdly long line of automobiles behind.

The lady in the car ahead, however, was unbelievable. She wasn’t elderly, but she was obese, had something wrong with one leg, and apparently had never filled a gas tank before in her life. She dithered, she paused, she disappeared and returned. She punched in so many characters at the pump that her Debit card password must have been a chapter of “Martin Chuzzlewit.”

Finally she replaced the pump, after pausing and contemplating it like it was Yorick’s skull, walked around to the driver-side door, then decided to walk back—S-L-O-W-L-Y— and make sure she had replaced the gas tank cap, then again s-l-o-w-l-y  limped and waddled back to the door. She opened the it, stared, then decided to unzip her coat, started to take it off, changed her mind, paused again. The line of cars behind me now reached to Falls Church.

I was just a smidgen of impulse control away from getting out of my car, which was turned off, and walking up to her, whereupon I would have said, not especially nicely: Continue reading


Filed under Character, Citizenship, Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, U.S. Society

Comment of the Day: “In Which We Visit The Daily Caller To See….”

Businessmen fighting

Inspired by one of my periodic visits to the ethical, verbal and analytical wasteland of the comment section of major web news aggregators and political commentary sites, longtime Ethics Alarms participant and curmudgeonly philospher luckyesteeyoreman was moved to write a digression on what he calls the 5-la culture, a topic my dad was referring to when he said, “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts.”

Confirmation bias is human problem, not a partisan one, but it is disturbing to see that partisan warfare has produced a dominent mindset where confirmation bias is regarded as an asset rather than a weakness. It is a weakness, you know.

Here is luckyesteeyoreman‘s Comment of the Day on the post, In Which We Visit The Daily Caller To See How Civil Discourse Is Proceeding On The Conservative Website…

It seems clear that large parts of public discourse in American society have been largely hijacked by diverse cults of non-thinking – but committed – self-righteously indulgent exhibitionists of what I call a culture of la-la-la-la-la, or “5-la culture.”

All of us reading here are probably very familiar with this – but where it started and how it became so popular, I don’t know. Picture: a person with their mind closed on a matter (usually, presumably), intent on blocking-out the entire world, firmly pressing the palms of his hands against his ears, elbows jutting out to their respective sides, rejecting any and all external input while making “counter-noise,” namely: “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!!”

That little “5-la” gesture says so much with so little. It is such a convenient crutch for worshiping irrationality and anarchy, and so lazily. Ethically, it perpetrates, proliferates, and perpetuates much harm most insidiously.

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Filed under Character, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, The Internet, U.S. Society

Ethics Hero: The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)

Meet the Press sisters.

Meet the Press sisters!

About a week ago, The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)  issued an unexpectedly tough report calling for Russia to be banned from international athletics at all levels for flagrant doping violations and a “deeply rooted culture of cheating at all levels” within Russian athletics. WADA also urged the International Association of Athletics Federations to ban five Russian athletes and five coaches for life. Why the Draconian measures?

The verdict was doubtless bolstered by considering the repeated examples of Russian cheating going back to the bad old Soviet Union days, when the gargantuan Press sisters were winning gold medals over female athletes half their size and East German female swimmers had shoulders as wide as Volkswagon buses, often because they had been dosed with testosterone without their knowledge. More recently, WADA found that Russia “intentionally and maliciously” destroyed 1,400 urine and blood samples of its athletes and, WADA says, the Russian government was directly involved.

WADA President Dick Pound’s report conceded that “corruption and bribery practices at the highest levels of international athletics” were rampant, but that Russia was in a league of its own. “For the 2016 Olympics our recommendation is that the Russian Federation is suspended. One of our hopes is that they will volunteer that so they can undertake the remedial work needed.”

Then he told another funny joke about a horse, a rabbi and an octopus walking into a bar. Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Character, Daily Life, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, Sports

Comment of the Day: “Unethical Quote Of The Week: My Progressive, Rational, Educated and Gay Facebook Friend”


Unlike most Comments of the Day, this one by Penn/Same Penn, who has two aliases here due to WordPress’s inexplicable habit of eating his posts, requires some back-reading to fully appreciate…but it is worth the effort.

The original post is about a Facebook friend’s mass condemnation of the Lone star State as a frightening, bigoted and  violent place where he would never set foot, in part because of his anger over Houston’s rejection last week of a bill that would expand LGBT civil rights in the city. My post noted that painting Texas with such a broad and harsh brush is itself bigotry—a position that cannot be rebutted, I believe—and reader Neil protested that the anti-Texas and Texans sentiment was just.

This inspired P/SP to one of the most eloquent and thoughtful posts Ethics Alarms has ever received, on any topic, and his is complex here, far ranging from its inspiration.

Here is Penn’s Comment of the Day on the post, Unethical Quote Of The Week: My Progressive, Rational, Educated and Gay Facebook Friend: Continue reading


Filed under Comment of the Day, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Facebook, Journalism & Media, U.S. Society

Ethics Alarms Reminder: Don’t Forget About The Links…

Homemade-Sausage-Recipes jpg

Those links to other websites on the left are seldom accessed, I suppose because most blogs accumulate them on a quid pro quo basis: link to me, and I’ll link to you. Ethics Alarms doesn’t do that. If the link is there, it’s because I use the site to identify ethics issues or as an information resource. I don’t remove links because a site has removed mine or refuses to link to this one; I don’t take revenge on bloggers who write nasty things about me, either.

This isn’t personal, it’s just ethics.

I’ve been meaning to highlight some of the links for a long time, so readers might be moved to check them out. I assume you are familiar with the news aggregation sites, right, left and center, that I use the most: Mediaite, Politico, Drudge, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Google News, Think Progress, memeorandum, and Fark (great for teacher scandals!), as well as the ones that I don’t use, because they are either too biased to trust or have proved untrustworthy, like Breitbart, Buzzfeed, Gawker and The Daily Kos. (I am close to abandoning the Daily Caller as well.) Here are eleven links you should explore; I’ll have other lists of links for you now and then: Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Daily Life, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Rights, U.S. Society

Ethics Reflections On The Sudden Death Of Wonderful Human Being


I returned from a legal ethics teaching tour to the horrible news that a friend of mine had died in a freak accident at his home. I had just seen him for the first time in many months when he showed up unexpectedly on the final weekend of my theater company, and the production I directed for it as a final bow. When I spotted him in the theater lobby that day two months ago, I shouted his name and gave him a long hug. He was one of those amazing people who just made you feel better about the world knowing that people like him were still in it.

Now, just like that, he’s gone. An e-mail from him that arrived right before my trip sits unanswered in my in-box. I didn’t rush to return it—what was the rush? Life, of course, is the rush, and this has happened to me before. Why don’t I learn? Continue reading


Filed under Character, Daily Life, Facebook, Love, Rights