Category Archives: Literature

Esquire’s Ridiculous Book List Smear

esquire-book-list

To paraphrase Michael Corleone, every time I think I’ve gotten away from having to comment on the extraordinary unethical performance of the national media toward the President, they puuuull me back in.

What is the correct and fair reaction to the latest media cheap shot on the President of the United States? This one would have been contemptible to inflict on a candidate before the election; now, almost three months after it, the feature is something to behold. Godwin’s Law is invoked far too often, but in this case, it tells the tale.

Esquire’s embarrassing article is called “20 Essential Books to Prepare You for What’s Next: A handy reading list featuring not-so-speculative dystopian fiction, political memoirs, and cautionary tales from Nazi Germany.” The point being made, of course, though already hackneyed, dishonest and thoroughly debunked, is that the President is Hitler. This contention requires ignorance of the United States culture and institutions, Germany, world history, Hitler and the President, but never mind: hate and fear is all the article is intended to generate, not perception or understanding. Taking it seriously requires blocking out the fact that it is the President’s opponents who are flirting with totalitarian methods, using violence to stifle dissent, trying to overthrow lawful elections, calling for coups, and co-opting the news media. The list is an insult without substantiation or justification; Esquire might just as well have published a full page reading: “The President of the United States is a Poopy-Face, and We Hate Him!” There is no substantive difference.

For anyone who has read the books and is not deranged regarding the President to the point of delusion, Esquire’s book list is kind of hilarious. “1984,” for example, is a vision of Soviet-style totalitarianism, with a news media that distorts facts  to support a political party similar to the way our current news media manipulates it against the current administration, but previously did to bolster the Obama. Indeed, Esquire’s book list itself is Orwellian, using mass communication to control public opinion with deception, emotion and fear.

Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here” was considered hysterical when it was written in the Thirties. Including “The Handmaiden’s Tale” as a guide to “what happens next” is about as silly an example of fearmongering as one could imagine: Continue reading

44 Comments

Filed under Citizenship, Environment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Literature, Popular Culture

From The “Illiteracy And Incompetence Are Unethical” Files: Moby Dick Restaurant Loses Its Lease

moby

I love this story! Just when I was despairing over the widespead ignorance in the U.S., Canada steps up.

In Vancouver, Mengfa International owns  a commercial building, and in May 2015,  agreed to lease it to Moby Dick Restaurant, a fish-and-chip franchise. The building council won’t allow it, though. They feel that the restaurant’s name is offensive, and its offensive sign would lower property values.

Asks Drew Curtis’s Fark: “What’s so offensive about “Moby”?

This is a Niggardly Principle classic.

Mengfa is suing.

41 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Literature

Holiday Encore: “Christmas: the Ethical Holiday”

darth-vader-christmas

I googled “Christmas ethics” yesterday, and guess what came up first. This Ethics Alarms post, from December 25, 2010.

I fix a couple of things, but it is basically the same. If I were writing it anew, I might not use the loaded term “war on Christmas,” which those who are trying to shove Christmas out of the national culture indignantly deny. It isn’t a war, exactly, just a relentless, narrow-minded and destructive effort to take something that has been enduring, healthy, unifying and good, and re-define it as archaic, offensive, divisive, and wrong. Call it the suffocation of Christmas, or perhaps the assassination of Christmas. Whatever one calls it, the process has progressed since 2010.

We’ve discussed on various comment threads quite a bit about how Christmas music has almost vanished from radio. It has also been effectively banned from public schools, who are terrified of law suits in era when parents might sue over their child being warped by learning “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” “Here Comes Santa Claus!”, another one of Gene Autry’s liveliest Christmas hits, one he wrote himself(unlike “Rudolph”), has been declared musica non grata everywhere but on nostalgia satellite radio. It is such an up-beat song; Bing Crosby sings it with the Andrews Sisters on his iconic “Merry Christmas!” album. Why is it unwelcome today? It is unwelcome because the lyrics say we are “all God’s children,” and ends with “Let’s give thanks for the Lord above.” Can’t have that.

The ascendant attitude toward Christmas is both anti-religious and non-ethical. In my neighborhood, there are far more Star Wars Christmas figures, including Yule Darth Vader ( though thankfully not the 18-ft. Hammacher-Schlemmer version pictured above) and Christmas Storm Troopers, than any suggestion of peace, good will or love. Even these non-sectarian displays are too much for the Diversity Fascists, like this guy:

diversity-tweet

Such people believe that a healthy national culture embracing love, charity, generosity and kindness is disrespectful, and their society-rotting ideology is as much of a threat to our nation as terrorism. I don’t know how to reverse the damage already inflicted on our society, but I do know that we have to try. Reinvigorating Christmas and the ethical values it stands for would be a good start.

Merry Christmas, everyone—and I do mean everyone.

Finally, here’s the post..

Continue reading

13 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Character, Literature, Love, U.S. Society

At Least They’re Keeping An Open Mind…

new-yorker-best

Ann Althouse, who flagged this, wrote, “Oh, New Yorker!”

She’s right: what a relentlessly negative and divisive way to welcome a new President. The New Yorker is supposed to be the flagship publication for sophisticates and intellectuals. The better term for the audience appears to be “bitter snots.”  The flagship is playing to the mob, Althouse suggests. Is that all the media has become? Clickbait purveyors and the reinforcement of pre-existing biases, fears and prejudices?

I’ve been around a long time. I have never seen those on the losing side of any election behave so nastily, defiantly and unfairly. It reflects poorly on the nation, its politics, and its journalism, but it really reflects badly on Democrats and liberals. I’m embarrassed for them.

Ann tags this “Trump derangement syndrome.” That is too kind.

35 Comments

Filed under Citizenship, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Literature, U.S. Society

The 2016 Election And Ethics Zugswang

scylla-and-charybdis

In a July post I introduced the concept of ethics zugswang, described in the Ethics Alarms glossary as

From the chess term “zugzwang,” describing a board where the player with the next move worsens his position regardless of which move he chooses. Ethics Zugswang occurs when all the opportunity to choose ethical options has passed. Any course of action will have unethical consequences.

I often talk about ethics zugswang in my ethics seminars as well. It is a situation where  no ethical decision is possible, because of poor choices and a failure to play competent ethics chess, not thinking ahead, not anticipating worst case scenarios, and thereby creating a situation where  ethical options are unavailable. All that is left are options that do tangible harm. The idea is to avoid such messes by not blundering through life being governed by non-ethical considerations, emotions, rationalizations, recklessness and ignorance. Sometimes, however, despite all of one’s best efforts, ethics zugswang arrives anyway.

Such is the plight of the American citizen on Election Day, 2016. For months, thoughtful voters who care about democracy and want to participate in choosing their President responsibly have been trying to decide which of several unethical decisions is the best—the most ethical, or rather least unethical– of the available options. Being angry or indignant, or holding one’s breath until one turns blue, will not do. A decision has to be made, and refusing to make a decision is still a decision. (In chess, the most common response to ethics zugswang is to resign, to quit. But one cannot quit being a citizen in a democracy.)

In past posts, mostly in the comments, I and others have exchanged proposed analogies to describe the choice between choosing Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to lead the country. Arguing that it was a binary choice that could best be compared to having one’s commercial airline flown by an untrustworthy pilot of questionable skill, motivations and objectives or, in the alternative, a seven-year old, a monkey or a spaniel, my position was that one choice was terrible and the other was infinitely worse, but the terrible one as at least survivable, with luck. Classical literature provides another useful analogy: the myth of Scylla and Charibdis.

In Greek mythology, they were two immortal and deadly monsters who lived on opposite sides the narrow waters in the Strait of Messina, between Italy and Sicily. Odysseus, trying to return home after the Trojan War,  faced the dilemma posed by having to choose between them in Homer’s Odyssey, Book XII. Scylla had been a lovely a sea nymph who was loved by the sea god Poseidon, but Poseidon’s jealous wife Aphrodite treacherously cursed the waters in which Scylla bathed. The god-poisoned water turned Scylla into huge and vicious monster with twelve legs, six heads on long, snaky necks, with each head having a triple row of shark-like teeth. The transformed Scylla’s loins were also covered by the heads of baying dogs. (Note to self: don’t mess with Aphrodite!) When ships passed close to her, Scylla’s six heads would each snatch one sailor, then devour them in her cave.

Charybdis was also once a nymph, a daughter of Poseidon, who angered Zeus, Poseidon’s brother. Zeus turned her into an even worse monster than Scylla. The transformed nymph lurked under a fig tree on the opposite shore from Scylla’s rock, drinking down and belching out  the sea three times a day, causing  fatal whirlpools no ship could survive. Odysseus managed to get the worst of this dual  monster dilemma, sailing close enough to Scylla to doom six of his sailors (who he never warned about the threat) and still seeing his chip wrecked by Charybdis, with him being the only survivor. The shipwrecked Odysseus barely escaped her clutches by clinging to a tree until the improvised raft that she swallowed floated to the surface again after many hours.  To be “between Scylla and Charybdis” means to be caught between two equally horrible alternatives.

As today loomed and this metaphor appeared more and more accurate, I sought wisdom from various versions of the story, only to gradually realize that I was not as certain as I once had been which candidate was which monster. Continue reading

209 Comments

Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Literature, Rights, U.S. Society

Ethics Dunce: Bob Dylan

As everyone knows by now, the Nobel folks awarded iconic folk/rock troubadour Bob Dylan its prize for literature, setting off an international debate and also cementing Dylan’s status as a cultural giant, whatever you decide to call him.

Dylan, however, has not deigned to respond to the committee, or to acknowledge the honor in any way other than a brief reference on his website (“Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature”) that he  removed once it was noted in news reports.

What a jerk.

Dylan fans are making excuses for him—he’s shy, he’s always been strange, he doesn’t like honors, it’s a mark of integrity, and so on—-but there is no excuse for such rude and gratuitously arrogant behavior. All they really want to  do, Bob, is be friends with you.

You could say “thank you.”

7 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Literature, Popular Culture

Note To The Over-Forty Crowd: The Obligation To Be Culturally Literate Has No Age Limit, And The Duty To Be Aware Is Forever

ignoranceIn the Washington Post’s weekly crank section “Free For All,” a reader chastised the paper for not quoting more extensively from Bob Dylan’s works in its piece about his Nobel Prize, writing:

“It may come as a shock to the young people who now write and edit the paper, but there are many of us who are not familiar with the lyrics of “popular” music.”

Granted, in respect to Dylan, the complaint makes no sense. “Blowin’ in the Wind” was written in 1963; I’d expect “young people” to be more unfamiliar with Dylan than seniors. How old IS this guy? Still, the letter raised a crucial ethics point related to life competence, an ethical obligation for all of us. Being willfully ignorant of current popular culture is as much of an ethical lapse, and as great a threat to societal cohesion, as young people not bothering to learn about “Moby-Dick,” minstrel shows, Will Rogers, Stephen Foster, Babe Ruth, Charlie Chaplin, Fred Astaire or Lee Harvey Oswald.

In 1987, University of Virginia English professor  E.D. Hirsch wrote “Cultural Literacy,” making the argument that nations require common cultural reference points for generations to communicate with each other. He argued—correctly— that teaching this cultural vocabulary was a primary duty of the schools, in part because cultural literacy is an inextricable element of individual autonomy and power. Since then, the problem of the fracturing of society and the breakdown in communications between segments of the population has worsened considerably, its deterioration propelled by the loss of common information sources and the rise of the internet. Continue reading

61 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Citizenship, Education, History, Literature, Popular Culture, The Internet, U.S. Society