Ethics Catch-Up, 7/23/2020: Waiting For Baseball Edition [Corrected]

This moment in “Field of Dreams” was how I started off my baseball and culture presentation this week. Ironically, the speech has always irritated me, because of its stagey blocking, and because it is a speech that sounds like a  speech, and is essentially right out of the book the film was based on. In the novel, “Shoeless Joe,”,the “Terrence Mann” character played by James Earl Jones was real life (and then, still living) recluse author J.D. Salinger. I dislike the speech, but the scene always moves me, for a personal reason.

As Terrance Mann stands, giving his speech, the ghostly players of the past silently assemble behind him in Ray Kinsella’s (Kevin Costner, of course) magic corn field. One of the players behind him has been identified in the film as Smokey Joe Wood, a 30 game winner with the World Champion 1912 Boston Red Sox. Just a few years before the film was made, I had been in the Fenway Park grandstands as  Smoky Joe, feeble, in his mid-nineties and in a wheel chair shortly before his death, barely threw out—more like dropped—the first pitch at a Red Sox Old Timer’s game, to a standing ovation.  And here he was, in that  corn field, but young and vital again.

Gets me every time….

1. Ethics query: is it ethical to perform “Piggies”? I just caught an old concert clip in which George Harrison and Eric Clapton performed the obnoxious pseudo-Marxist ditty “Piggies” (from the White Album) to thunderous applause.

[Notice of correction: I originally wrote that “Piggies” was a Lennon composition. All these years I assumed it was, heavy-handed and juvenile politics that it was. I am stunned that the song was George Harrison’s doing; I thought better of him.]

This was well after the Manson murders: I had never heard anyone perform the song in decades. Admittedly, it is just moral luck that a madman seized upon the White Album Beatles songs as his inspiration to mastermind the slaughters of  Sharon Tate, her unborn child, and her house guests, as well as supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary the following night. However, “Piggies” was the one song referenced directly in both murders. It is not inconceivable that if the White Album had omitted that song—no great loss, either–at least the LaBianca murders might not have taken place. I know I can’t hear the song without picturing carnage, and it seems to me singing the song is like a celebration of Manson’s work. I wouldn’t ban it; I don’t believe in banning anything.  I just think it’s bad taste to play it or perform it.

Is that inconsistent with my objection to “canceling”  “Dixie,” “My Mammy,” “Rockabye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Oh Susanna!” and other songs that are redolent of the Old South? I would argue that those songs have the virtue of being great tunes and important cultural touchpoints…in other words, works of musical art that justify themselves. “Piggies,” in contrast, is musical junk, like about 20% of the White Album filler.

2. I missed Trader Joe’s pathetic grovel,  prompted by the New York Times. Two weeks ago, some “woke” political correctness bully posted a petition accusing the  grocery chain Trader Joe’s of romanticizing imperialism,  fetishizing native cultures, and casually misappropriating cultures. You see, the store tweaks its own brand by labeling Chinese frozen dishes with “Trader Ming’s”,  putting “Trader Joe San” on its Japanese dishes, and ‘Trader Giotto,” on it’s cannolis.

Nobody normal is offended by these little gags, or finds them offensive. Demanding this kind of lock-step with extreme “diversity” cant is one more example of the Left’s increasingly totalitarian tilt. And indeed, nobody cares about what the labels on Trader Joe’s products say; the petition was a flop.

Then the New York Times decided over the weekend  that bringing Trader Joe’s to its metaphorical knees was its solemn duty to the George Floyd Freakout, and put the batty petition’s complaint  on its  front page.

This will clearly be costly, so someone will suffer. Hey, but if that unsafe “Trader Ming’s” monicker is sent to hell, its worth it.

As Jonah Gottschalk correctly points out at The Federalist, “the incident serves as an excellent case study for a new form of journalistic malpractice’:

By writing about petitions, journalists can claim to be simply reporting on a widespread groundswell of outrage, even when their position is only held by a tiny fraction of people, concentrated in Twitter activist circles.

Weak, lazy, appeasers in corporate board rooms then enable and encourage the practice by immediately  apologizing, thus weakening our rights while empowering social dictators. This might stop when the public sends the clear message that it will punish groveling companies rather than political incorrect ones.

I’m considering a petition…

3. Again, let us say a silent prayer of thanks to The FIRE, or better yet, a check. After Princeton professor Jonathan Katz  publicly criticized  faculty demands for preferential treatment of nonwhite scholars, Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber condemned the remarks and threatened  to investigate the classics professor. 

Then the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education galloped to the rescue,  denouncing the administration for this “ominous” statement. It wrote, “the mere threat of an investigation can create a chilling effect that’s at odds with the free exchange of ideas.” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff insisted  that university presidents should defend student and faculty free speech rights “loudly, clearly, and early,”while  Eisgruber had done the opposite.

So Eisgruber, who obviously blows with whatever winds are prevalent at the moment—maybe Trader Joe’s will hire him—-backed down.

In an op-ed in The Daily Princetonian this week,  Eisgruber waa suddenly in favor of free expression and academic freedom. “Katz’s freedom to say what he did” under Princeton policies, “can be answered but not censored or sanctioned,” the president affirmed:

In the days since I objected to Katz’s comments about the Black Justice League, several people have written to me to say that other portions of his essay contain important arguments worth considering. I agree. …

We need to build a public space where disagreement does not automatically paint someone as an enemy. That type of space, so crucial to learning and research, is harder to maintain today than it has ever been. Modern communication tools make it all too easy to attack when we should be engaging and to shout when we should be listening. Rigorous, respectful debate is not a barrier to change — it will make our ideas stronger and their impact more lasting.

Right, except his initial reaction is signature significance. If he believed his latest statement, he wouldn’t have made his initial one. FIRE pointedly wondered why it was so hard to reach the right and ethical conclusion…

Free speech is a founding principle of higher education, eloquently enshrined in Princeton’s own regulations with such forceful statements as, “[I]t is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive[.]” …

As Princeton tries to fix its reputation as a university where ideas can be challenged, debated — and, yes, encouraged — FIRE reminds university leaders that taking a strong stand for free speech should not be controversial for college presidents. In fact, it’s their duty. Taking this duty seriously, by promoting a culture of free expression and clearly rejecting expectations of censorship, better equips community members to engage and critique opinions they disagree with, to the long-term betterment of the institution.

Bingo. But as The FIRE knows better than anyone, most of our institutions of higher education don’t believe that, and aren’t teaching it to their students either.


Item #3 pointer and facts: College Fix

25 thoughts on “Ethics Catch-Up, 7/23/2020: Waiting For Baseball Edition [Corrected]

  1. I always found the hippie writer subplot and the forced school book banning scene annoying.

    From the Department of “That’s Gratitude For You”, the Sierra Club has decided to disavow its own founder due to him not being a 21st Century Woke Progressive:

    Perhaps I’m more irritated by this today than any other ridiculous virtue signaling because I just finished Ken Burns, “The National Parks:America’s Best Idea” the other day. There would be no National Parks without John Muir.

  2. 2. Writing about these petitions is about the same as writing about the open letters where 500 members of some group pretend that they represent the thousands of members of the group who did not choose to sign the letter.

  3. RE #1: “Piggies” was actually written by George Harrison, not John Lennon His inspiration was George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” which wasn’t exactly in praise of socialistic forms of government.

    That said, it was assuredly not one of Harrison’s better compositions. And it was, in fact, moral luck that Manson seized upon it. As he did with McCartney’s “Helter Skelter,” which was actually about an amusement park ride (and not one of Macca’s better songs).

    • “Piggies” is not great. I tend to prefer Harrison’s work to Lennon and McCartney. Whoa. Did I just commit Beatles heresy? Maybe. That’s find. If you want sheer brilliance in lyrics, check out “Taxman” or “Something”, or “If I Needed Someone.” I would have hated to be the person “If I Needed Someone” providing Harrison’s inspiration for that lyric:

      If I needed someone to love
      You’re the one that I’d be thinking of
      If I needed someone

      If I had some more time to spend
      Then I guess I’d be with you, my friend
      If I needed someone

      Had you come some other day
      Then it might not have been like this
      But you see now I’m too much in love

      Carve your number on my wall
      And maybe you will get a call from me
      If I needed someone

      Yikes. His compositions were more challenging and intricate, too. Yes. I wrote that, too, and I stand by it.

      As for “Helter Skelter,” Is that the first truly heavy metal song ever recorded? I have tried to find something more quintessentially heavy metal before it but I can’t. There are plenty after it, and Black Sabbath is considered the first “heavy metal” band.

      Thoughts? Discuss.


      • In later life, Lennon claimed that (his song, naturally) “Ticket to Ride” was the first heavy metal song. True, the distortion devices that came in with Rubber Soul were still in development, but if you compare it to some of the other stuff of that era you can see his point. The Yardbirds’ “Heart full of Soul” and The Who’s “My Generation” were far heavier, but Ticket to Ride was recorded and released before any of them.

        • It was another classic where Paul and John argued about who was the main writer. It’s a good thing…and amazing…that they made that early deal to give joint credit for very song.

          • Early on, they truly were co-writing. Mid-phase, they were passing fragments back and forth – some 90% formed – for the other to finish.

            Things really started getting interesting around the time of Rubber Soul; many of the songs started as fragments and were finished in the studio. Here’s where the Lennon-McCartney songwriting “partnership” starts getting a little weird. You could tell the primary writer even before that by who sang lead on it, but by Rubber Soul so much of the song creation was collaborative that Harrison and Starr sort of started getting short-shrift. They may not have contributed to lyrics or melody, but their contributions to the arrangements that made the songs successful should NOT be overlooked.

            This continued with Revolver (which, IMO, was probably their best album). Harrison wrote the album’s opening song – “Taxman” – but an uncredited Lennon contributed several of the couplets (and likely some of the better ones). McCartney wrote the bulk of “Yellow Submarine,” but an uncredited Donovan added the “Sky of Blue, Sea of Green” line. On McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby,” Lennon’s friend Pete Shotten was the spark that had Father McKenzie overseeing Eleanor’s funeral (whether he got paid for that is unknown). And on “Tomorrow Never Knows, it was McCartney’s idea to use the weird tape loops but the essential drum and tamboura parts were Starr and Harrison, respectively. Yet they’re all (except Taxman) Lennon-McCartney songs.

            Lennon and McCartney were songwriting geniuses, but the contributions of the entire band should not be overlooked. Indeed, Harrison knew he was getting short shrift. Someone already mentioned his “Only a Northern Song,” which was indeed dreadful. It was his way of complaining about the songwriting credits and how the money was allocated. He brought it in fairly late in the Sergeant Pepper recording process. The rest of the band hated it, which was why it was booted off that album and ended up on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack album. Larger point being: just as the Wrecking Crew (L.A.) and the Funk Brothers (Motown) aren’t properly respected or paid for their contributions to numerous hits, the Beatles were far more than Lennon/McCartney, no matter how brilliant, inspirational and important their songs were.

      • George was a great lyricist, an excellent vocalist (with limited range) and a fantastic instrumentalist; he was a repetitious composer, certainly lacking Paul’s range and Lennon’s innovations. There is a George cult, and I can understand that. But where he wrote maybe ten songs that were A list in both lyrics and music, L&M wrote more than a hundred. That said, While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is as good as anything the Beatles ever produced. I didn’t realize that until I heard the unplugged version. I didn’t realize what the song was about before that either.

          • That’s a hard case to make, because he only started the needle moving long after P&J had moved it several times and a long way. Please please me moved the needle. I Wanna Hold Your Hand did. We Can Work It Out. Rain. A Day in the Life. On Sgt. Pepper’s, George’s contribution was that sitar thing, which is a dead end. Then the Bbeatles needle moves again with “I Am the Walrus” and “Strawberry Fields.” Then “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” George didn’t hit his stride until the band was almost over. Once he was out from under J$P’s thumbs, he produced a lot of quality work—more than Lennon.

      • You could make a case for Blue Cheer’s version of Summertime Blues. It beat Helter Skelter by ten months and is recognizable as heavy metal, especially about halfway through, when a jam section discards the basic blues rock structure of the rest of the song.
        It’s nowhere near as good as Helter Skelter but has a stronger claim, IMO.

      • “Revolution” seemed like an early taste of heavy metal or “hard rock” music to me, more so than ” Helter Skelter,” back in those days of youth – because of the “fuzz guitar” and despite the song being in a major key and not really “blues-ey.” For that matter, ” Johnny B. Goode” had a hint of heavy or hard, I think.

  4. Actually it was the Beatles song “Helter Skelter” written by McCartney (from the White Album) that inspired Manson to start a race war between the blacks and the whites.

    • Well everybody knows THAT. But 1) it’s a decent song worth preserving (McCartney still does it) and 2) Nothing in the lyrics vaguely relates to the murders.
      Susan Atkins was nicknamed after “Sexy Sadie” too. Not relevant to the issue at hand.

  5. I know you’ll hate me for this … but I loathe baseball. When we were growing up, I had to take my kid brother to games because he was too young to go on the subway alone … and I dreaded it. Ack!

    BUT — it’s impossible for me to see Field of Dreams (and that bit in particular) and not weep like a tired child.

    • A lot of people hate the movie for THAT reason. “Hey…dad? Wanna have a catch?” always kills me.

      There’s a lot to like and a lot to mock in FOD. Drives me crazy, for example, that, Ray says, essentially, “Wait! Let’s let our daughter choke to death while we wait, on the chance that kid will magically turn into a dead doctor when he crosses the chalk lines!”

  6. 1. Whew. The White Album. “Piggies” took my right back to my senior year in high school. Time travel. It was essentially that year’s sound track, I suppose. 1968 wasn’t a particularly subtle time, unless one compares it to today.

    “Piggies” sure is more than a little over-produced, isn’t it? I’ve always thought of George Martin as the most important Beatle.

    • That’s one reason I couldn’t tell who was singing that one. It’s over-produced because there’s nothing there to work with, but a lot of the White Album songs are over-produced.

  7. Well, just watched the first home run of the season. They mentioned that, because of the protocols in effect, they expect to use double or more the number of baseballs each game. So maybe two or three hundred per game — wow!

    We’ll see if anyone hits .400 this year — the Astros web site pointed out that Altuve, for one, has done that over a 60 game stretch in the past. Just have to come out of the gate hot and keep going for two months.

    It’s going to be a weird season — the Astros and Rangers will only play teams from either the AL West or NL West. I think they’re using the DH in both leagues and, of course, that ridiculous extra innings rule — maybe they should just throw darts or something to decide extra innings games. Or have a home run contest. Either would make as much sense. One can only hope that the fans will see how disgusting the idea is and get the commissioner to back down. *sigh*

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