There is more to discuss, a lot more, regarding what I will now call “The Klosterman Apology,” because it sounds like a Robert Ludlum novel. For now, however, since it is fresh in my jet-lagged mind, I’d like to focus on the inevitable result of declaring certain words and phrases so objectionable, hurtful, uncivil or politically incorrect that extraordinary means are employed to eliminate them. In the case of The Klosterman Apology, the words were “retard” and “retard,” and a Mom with a blog threatened “The Ethicist” from the New York Times magazine with an onslaught of political correctness bullies if he didn’t immediately express his abject contrition for having used these words in a harsh way a decade ago, in another job that didn’t directly involve ethics. Chuck capitulated, gracefully and well. As I will discuss in another post, I don’t think he had much choice. Still, word-banning is an ugly, and ultimately unethical business. Continue reading
Category Archives: Literature
Another day, another annoying Washington Post TV review from Hank Stuever. When I last checked in on Hank as he was practicing his craft, he was ridiculing the concept of young parents committing to the care of an unplanned baby without considering abortion. Today, he’s just trying to make his readers as ignorant as he is.
I suppose there no requirement that a TV critic be conversant in literature…but there should be. All drama and entertainment is constrcted on the foundation of the stories and traditions that came before them, and while one can critique popular culture while being ignorant of everything between Beowulf and All in the Family, one cannot do so competently or professionally, both of which, as the TV critic for a major newspaper, Stuever is obigated to do. This is especially true when he presumes to critique a new TV show based on literature, however lightly, as ABC’s new “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” is.
Right off the bat, Hank lets us know that he knows diddly about Lewis Carroll’s strange and wonderful classic, getting “Alice in Wonderland” confused with its (equally brilliant) sequel “Through the Looking Glass.” Hank speaks of “Lewis Carroll’s 1865 story of Alice, the girl who stepped through the Looking Glass and saw all those freaky things — rabbits, Mad Hatters, worms, Cheshire cats, etc.” But Alice never saw any of those things when she stepped through the looking-glass, for that is a different book. “Rabbits, Mad Hatters, worms, Cheshire cats, etc.” were encountered by Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole, one the few things the Disney animated version got right. (By “worms” I’m guessing Hank ie referencing the hookah-smoking caterpillar, which is not a worm. Does Stuever know? Is he just showing contempt for the book and its characters? As Hank would undoubtedly say, “Whatever.”) Continue reading
I know, I know.
Tell me about how the English language is dynamic. Next, “irregardless” will be in the dictionary—heck, maybe it is already; I’m afraid to look. Baloney. The fact that “everybody does it,” defined as “people in high places, like Joe Biden, who should know better but don’t,” does not justify treating inarticulate, lazy, careless, embarrassingly stupid language as acceptable. If “literally” means figuratively, then nothing means literally. When someone says that “her marriage was literally destroyed,” thanks to Google and the rest, the only way we know whether her marriage was destroyed or not is if we can find out whether or not the speaker is literate, and maybe not even then.
Call me a stickler, call me a crank, but making the public dumber and communication harder by declaring that those who are poor speakers and lazy thinkers are right and those who champion expressive and accurate language are wrong is not ethical. It is literally irresponsible.
“Goodbye to clocks ticking — and my butternut tree! And Mama’s sunflowers — and food and coffee — and new-ironed dresses and hot baths — and sleeping and waking up! Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?”
—- Emily Webb, the heroine of Thornton Wilder’s 1938 drama “Our Town,” in her climactic speech in Act 3, cutting short the one day in her life she has been permitted to relive after dying in childbirth.
It’s a gorgeous spring Sunday in Northern Virginia, and by happenstance Garrison Keillor chose today’s installment of his “Prairie Home Companion” to allude to Emily’s famous, heart-breaking speech at the end of “Our Town.” The speech is so familiar to many of us that we tend to forget how perfect and right it is, one of those remarkable, inexplicable times when a writer manages to express the important thought that is beyond expression.
Emily’s speech reminds us that the ultimate unethical act is wasting the remarkable opportunity that is a human life, and, at the same time, failing to appreciate the wonder that passes by our senses in the process. The answer to Emily’s question is, of course, no—nobody, not poets, not geniuses, not heroes nor saints—realize life every minute. Wilder’s, and Emily’s immortal words, however, spur us to try.
On this beautiful day, in this beautiful country, Emily’s speech is an excellent catalyst for calm, resolve, perspective, and hope.
News Item (ABA Journal):
“After Monday’s fatal bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the Internal Revenue Service has announce that the April 15 income tax filing deadline will be extended by three months for those affected by the crime…”
Oh! Does this mean that the Internal Revenue Service has a new policy that grants penalty-free extensions to taxpayers who experienced a personal tragedy on or about April 15? Well, no, it doesn’t. Does it mean that all the other victims of crimes and tragedies across the nation will get similar compassionate treatment? No, it doesn’t mean this either. What it means is that someone—I wonder who?—is using a Federal Agency to make political hay and get positive publicity from journalists who are incapable of thought.
This is an ethics foul, a significant one, and I would think an obvious one as well. The government’s tax-collecting agency must display absolute integrity and consistency at all times, and must not be influenced or driven by politics or public relations. There are citizens across our land who had family members raped on April 15, or who were raped themselves; who had children or parents die, who were in horrible accidents, whose home or business burned down, who lost their jobs, or who were diagnosed with dread diseases that will change their lives forever. Why are the Boston victims receiving compassionate treatment,while these citizens are not? You know why: because this was a high-profile tragedy, to which I say, so what? What is the ethical principle being articulated here that is worth sacrificing the IRS’s integrity? That high-profile victims deserve more compassion than other victims? No, the principle is that a government gets better PR brownie points by making beneficent gestures to well-publicized victims who are on TV than it does, say, to a tax-paying father whose kid was gunned down in a drive-by on tax day.
Well, it’s a cynical, sloppy, incoherent, irresponsible ad hoc principle that operates on a double standard, and is inherently unfair and unjust. It also necessarily raises the questions, how else does the IRS play favorites? What other political activities does the IRS perform for its masters?
That’s how trust in the government erodes, and the IRS is asking for it.
Pointer and Facts: ABA Journal
It never seems to work out this way, and thus it is interesting to speculate why the office lottery pool at Keller Williams Partner Realty in Plantation, Florida treated a dilemma so differently, and so much more ethically, than the key participants here, or here.
Jennifer Maldonado had only been working as an administrative assistant at the company for two weeks, and because she hadn’t received her first pay check, she decided not to join the office Powerball pool when she was approached. The organizer even offered to loan her the money: nope, insisted Maldonado. Not this time; maybe next. Naturally, the pool not only won that week, but won big: a million dollars to be divided among the 12 person staff…except Maldonado, of course.When Maldonado showed up for work and saw everyone screaming, crying and celebrating, she thought they were playing a practical joke in her to teach her a lesson. “I knew I was the only one who hadn’t put in the money, so I thought they were pranking me and going out of their way to make me feel something,” she recalled, that “something” presumably being “rotten.”
Jennifer obviously didn’t know her co-workers yet. Not only weren’t they trying to make her feel badly, they had held a meeting and decided to give her a cut of the winnings even though she hadn’t opted in to the enterprise—not a full share, but a significant amount. Jennifer didn’t expect anything, wasn’t going to sue them or hold a grudge, and yet they made her part of the group’s good fortune anyway. This is the Golden Rule exemplified. It is also exemplary ethics: generosity, kindness, empathy, and inclusiveness. The staff”s gesture said, and eloquently, “Welcome to the family! You can trust us. We care about you. We look out for each other, and we handle each other’s mistakes.”
Perfect. Continue reading
Responding to criticism that the character of Satan in The History Channel’s popular Bible series looks a bit like President Obama—which it does—executive producer Roma Downey said, absurdly, in support of her fellow producers who pronounced the claim as “utter nonsense”:
“Both Mark and I have nothing but respect and love our President, who is a fellow Christian. False statements such as these are just designed as a foolish distraction to try and discredit the beauty of the story of The Bible.”
The essence of a Jumbo, the occasional award given here, is a brassily dishonest statement that evokes the memory of Jimmy Durante in the musical “Jumbo,” caught in the act of trying to steal the largest elephant in the world, and asking the sheriff innocently, “Elephant? What elephant?” as the huge pachyderm looked over his shoulder. Continue reading
The sun did not shine.
Inaugurations are gray.
So reporters sat mocking the people that day.
Senator Claire McCaskill tweeted just what they said.
“Why does Justice Scalia have THAT on his head?”
“It’s a beret on steroids!” one journalist claimed.
“It’s so floppy! It’s silly! He should be ashamed!”
But the mockers just showed what they’d proven before:
They are dim wits, for the hat honored Sir Thomas More.
It is seen on his portrait, sitting right on his hair,
And Scalia had chosen his fashion with care.
Brave Sir Thomas fought power abused by a king,
And he died fighting tyranny, beheaded one spring.
For Scalia to emulate More on this day
Meant his hat was a message, and not just some beret.
He was telling this President, as More might have said it,
“Keep abusing your powers, and you will regret it.
Obamacare skated when Roberts’ mind quit,
But we’ll fight for the Founders, don’t you doubt it one bit!”
It was clever of Nino, and audacious, and tough
To choose this event to declare, “That’s enough!”
And in such a sly way that he certainly knew
Would go over the heads of all but a few.
Still I’m sorry to say, but I’d say to his face,
“Mister Justice, that symbol was just out of place.
The swearing in isn’t the place for defiance;
You were bound to show loyalty, just not compliance.”
So as much as I honor More’s ethics and fight,
For Scalia to wear his hat then…
The Curmie votes are in. This is Rick Jones’ annual prize awarded to educators who embarrass their (and his ) profession. Go to his blog, Curmudgeon Central, to see the winner and the vote totals. I don’t want to spoil the suspense. Check out the nominations here if you haven’t already. A couple of observations, though: Continue reading