Category Archives: Literature

A Sudden Impulse Poll On Cultural Literacy

I am increasingly depressed by the widespread cultural illiteracy of the public, and not just the younger generations. I do believe it is an ethics issue, because, as Prof Hersch wrote decades ago, a lack of historical and cultural perspective makes competent citizenship, critical thinking and effective participation in society difficult if not impossible. It is a life skill that we all are ethically obligated to acquire, and that society is obligated to help us acquire for its own health and survival.

In a comment today, slickwilly wrote,

You are both mad.

“Oh, you can’t help that. We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

It suddenly occurred to me, with horror, that a majority of the public probably can’t identify the origin of those quotes. I wonder how many Ethics Alarms readers can. Here’s a couple of surveys/poll. No cheating, now. You’re on an ethics blog.

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Education, Literature

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/27/2018: Petards, Conflicts, And Bullshit Edition

Good Morning!

1. Oh no! Hoisted by my own petard! I’m pretty certain that Clinton fixer Lanny Davis has an unwaivable conflict of interest in his representation of Trump fixer Michael Cohen. The legal ethics establishment is soft-peddling the issue because most legal ethicists apparently hate President Trump more than they like ethical lawyering, but I’ve been wrestling over whether to file a disciplinary complaint. The problem is that any complaint that has even a tinge of political motivation won’t be touched by the Bar (if prior performance is any indicator), so a complaint by me would be the proverbial lonely tree falling in the forest. The remedy would be to issue a publicity release about the complaint, but I’ve criticized that tactic as unethical right here, on more than one occasion. Rats.

It might be just as well. After the mere hint that I was defending Donald Trump (I was not) on NPR appears to have gotten me blackballed there after many years as an ethics commentator, I probably should not criticize the lawyer for the most popular sleaze in D.C. these days.

2. Neil Simon Ethics. In an alternate universe, my still operating professional theater company, dedicated to keeping unfairly buried, forgotten or unfashionable American theater works of the past in front of audiences who deserve a chance to see them, is looking at a lot of Neil Simon productions. The works of the —by far—most successful writer of comedies in Broadway history are already sneered at as sexist and “outdated,” and I can vouch for the fact that all it takes is one militant female board member with a checkbook and a chip on her shoulder to kill a production. Remember S.N Behrman? Seen any Philip Barry plays lately? How about Kaufman and Hart? Simon just died, and he’s already heading to obscurity along with those guys, and most of their plays are still funny too.

3. Here’s another topic it’s dangerous to get intoFrom CBS:

A pregnant Washington state woman said she was fired via text message from a sub shop where worked, with a store manager telling her “it’s not a good time to have somebody who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyway.” Kameisha Denton told CBS Seattle affiliate KIRO-TV that she had told the manager she was pregnant and due in December, asking for maternity leave.

Denton said she realized that she hadn’t been assigned shifts at Jersey Mike’s sub shop in Marysville, Washington, so she sent a text to her manager inquiring about the hours. The response she says she received was shocking.

When Denton asked for her “updated schedule” she received something a bit different. The store manager named only as “Marcos” in Denton’s phone responded, “I am sorry to inform you but it’s not going to work out with Jersey Mikes. It’s not a good time to have somebody who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyways. You also failed to tell me this during your interview.”

Denton posted the exchange on Facebook in a post that had garnered over 1,000 shares in just two days.  

Denton told KIRO-TV,  “I was just like in shock, it took me a minute to face reality — I was like this is really happening.”

Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Humor and Satire, language, Law & Law Enforcement, Literature, Professions, U.S. Society, Workplace

On Boycotts, Vendettas, Grudges And Principles: The Unethical Theater Group And Me

Over the weekend I attended a local theater production at the behest of an old friend who was involved in it. I did so with great hesitation. You see, several decades ago, I directed a show for this company, an old and popular community institution. Not only was I treated as miserably as I have ever been treated by an organization in my life; my cast and staff were abused as well. I encountered perpetual arrogance, nastiness, pettiness and hostility, all of which is common in the theater world and especially the amateur end of it, but not on this level.

I would enjoy itemizing the particulars of my indictment against this organization, but it would be an indulgence, and would necessarily lengthen the post. I’ll just note that the fact that an African-American member of my cast and her family were harassed more than once by the venomous seniors running the company like their own private East Germany was not an indispensable part of my conclusion that the company was  a special gift from Hell. I would have come to the same conclusion even if the group hadn’t been racist as well as venal, exploitive, dictatorial, mean, incompetent, vindictive, and stupid.

So I attended the show, which was not bad at all, though I felt like Jeff Goldblum making a visit to Jurassic Park. (The tickets were comped: it I had to pay a cent for them, I would not have gone.) My last time in that building—the group owns its theater facilities–I vowed not only that I would never return, but that I would take every opportunity to undermine the company’s strength, viability, reputation and existence. I had, too, until I attended the show. I take pride in the fact that I have warned many previously naive artists away from getting involved in the group, and I have kept many theater-goers away as well. It is my theatrical Moby Dick, I suppose: to the last I’ll grapple with it; from hell’s heart I’ll stab at it; for hate’s sake I’ll spit my last breath at it.

During the performance, which had its boring and annoying features, I found myself reflecting on this state of mind. Is it ethical to hold a grudge that long and that strong?

It certainly can be, to be sure. In cases like this, however, I believe that staying the course is a matter of integrity. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Daily Life, Literature

Where Have You Gone, Ernest Hemingway? Of Baseball, Tanking, Winning, Trying, And Life…

This essay is only incidentally about baseball, but like so many things that sieve through my brain, it was sparked by a conversation about baseball. On the satellite radio MLB channel, one of the interchangeable hosts—I really have trouble telling them apart: some are ex-general managers who nobody will hire, some are ex-players, and a few are sportswriters, but they all seem to say the same things, though one says them with a bilateral lisp—was interviewing a New York sportswriter. That alone would normally prompt me to switch to the Beatles Channel (or the weather), but as I reached for the dial I caught one of the writer’s comments. He was talking about the fact that the New York Yankees’ opponent at the time, the Tampa Bay Rays, were almost a .500 team, and were competing despite a tiny payroll, unlike many other teams this year, which have adopted the controversial strategy of fielding cheap and crummy teams (called “tanking’) in the hopes of getting high draft choices as a reward for  miserable won-lost records.

“I guess you have to admire the Rays,” he said, “though in this day and age, it makes no sense to try to be a .500 team.”

What a nauseating, unethical position, and how characteristic of the downward trend in American values and spirituality!  It makes no sense to try be a .500 team? This sentiment warps so much in American life today. It translates into the envy, resentment and anger that typical, normal, healthy Americans lug around on their souls all day because they aren’t rich like the people they see on TV, or the neighbor down the street who had wealthy parents and left him a bundle.

It makes sense for the Rays to try to be a .500 team because it means the team is doing the best it can, despite limitations beyond its control, to give its fans something to cheer and care about. It makes sense to try to be a .500 team for the same reason it makes sense to aspire to be the kind of steady, honest, hard-working middle class American who raises happy and well-adjusted children in a stable home but will never win any major awards or be the subject of features in their local newspapers. It makes sense to try to be a .500 team for the same reason it is right to work hard and well no matter what your salary, or whether you are being paid at all.

Ambition is a great motivator, as long as one understands that achieving one’s goals is often as dependent on chance and chaos as it is on industry and talent, and if you prepare yourself to be bitter about that, bitter is how you are likely to wind up.

I learned to love baseball passionately following a .500 baseball team–indeed a sub-.500 baseball team— that seemed like it would never be anything but. This was in an era where the New York Yankees literally won the pennant every year, with a rare exception now and then. The system was rigged to favor them, and had been for decades. The Boston Red Sox began every season knowing that getting to the World Series was a pipe dream, and their fans knew it too. Nevertheless, they tried. As an almost good team, they had a chance to win every game—not a great chance, when they were playing the Yankees, but a chance. Often the Sox made a good fight of it while going down: our hopes were raised, and there was that wonderful-horrible moment that is the beating heart of baseball where anything can happen from a miracle to a tragedy as the ball is hurtling toward the plate and fate’s resolution. Life is like that, and the sooner you realize and accept it, the better off you are.

The best hitters make outs 60% of the time, and the best teams still lose at least 35% of their games. The typical players and teams do worse than that, just like the typical American, indeed human being, loses a lot more often than he or she wins. The important thing, the thing that undergirds ethics, and integrity, and responsibility, and honor, is that you do the best you can, and pick yourself up when you fail, and try again. It’s not a bromide. It’s the only way to live without going crazy, becoming a serial killer, or surrendering to despair. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Daily Life, Ethics Heroes, Literature, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: The Little House On The Cultural Divide”

There has been a paucity of Comments of the Day lately; it’s probably my fault. This one is by a first time COTD awardee, and involves the rare Ethics Alarms topic of children’s literature, in response to the Ethics Quiz about the justness of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name being stripped from the award created in her honor. Apparently her “Little House” books were not sufficiently prescient regarding modern sensibilities and 21st Century hindsight.

And no, I didn’t pick this comment because it includes a compliment to “The Wind in the Willows,” perhaps my favorite book of all time.

Here is Bob’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Quiz: The Little House On The Cultural Divide:

“Is it fair and reasonable to remove Wilder’s’ name from the award, essentially taking away an honor despite no new information or evidence arising?”

No.

Bit of backstory: my husband and I were both inveterate readers when we were children. Oddly enough, neither of us read “children’s books” when we were kids … we went from Dick and Jane to fairly adult novels very early on.

However, when we hit our 40s-50s, we started a campaign of reading the great classics of kiddie lit. (Just a note — “Wind in the Willows” is a masterpiece, the first six [and only the first six] Oz books are spectacular, E. Nesbit rocks and the popularity of “Peter Pan” is a mystery we have never plumbed.)Among those books were the entire Little House corpus. They are quite terrific. (As with most series, some are better than others.) While the attitudes may be dated, there is nothing “hateful” about them. In order to be hateful, there should be some evidence of a clear animus against a particular group of people; Wilder has no agenda, and simply reflects the attitudes common of her era.

It is essential to note that these books are not virulent anti-Amerind screeds, but stories of the heroic pioneers who built our nation. Native Americans occasionally cross this landscape, but these books are neither about nor against them.

It does seem as if there is a concerted effort to erase (or … re-envision) American history to something more palatable to post 1960s sensibilities. This is mischievous and dangerous, and should be confronted whenever possible.

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Comment of the Day, History, Literature

Ethics Quiz: The Little House On The Cultural Divide

From the New York Times:

The American Library Association is dropping Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a prestigious children’s literature award in order to distance the honor from what it described as culturally insensitive portrayals in her books.

The decision was made out of a desire to reconcile the award with the organization’s values of “inclusiveness, integrity and respect,” representatives of the association said in a statement on Monday. The award is given out by its children’s division.

“Wilder’s books are a product of her life experiences and perspective as a settler in America’s 1800s,” the association’s president, Jim Neal, and the president of the children’s division, Nina Lindsay, said in the statement. “Her works reflect dated cultural attitudes toward Indigenous people and people of color that contradict modern acceptance, celebration, and understanding of diverse communities.”

…Despite their popularity, Ms. Wilder’s books contain jarringly prejudicial portrayals of Native Americans and African Americans. In the 1935 book “Little House on the Prairie,” for example, multiple characters espoused versions of the view that “the only good Indian was a dead Indian.” In one scene, a character describes Native Americans as “wild animals” undeserving of the land they lived on.

“Little Town on the Prairie,” published in 1941, included a description of a minstrel show with “five black-faced men in raggedy-taggedy uniforms” alongside a jolting illustration of the scene.

Hmmmm.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today:

Is it fair and reasonable to remove Wilder’s’ name from the award, essentially taking away an honor despite no new information or evidence arising? Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Education, Government & Politics, History, Literature, U.S. Society

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/4/2018: 500 Days Edition

Good Morning!

1.  In one respect, it is his fault. The most infuriating defenses of the Samantha Bee cunt-fest may be the rationalizations who pronounce her blameless (and thus Turner/TBS) because President Trump made her do it. (Well, maybe the second most infuriating: CNN fake-ethics commentator Brian Stelter actually referred to the episode in a tweet as the “feckless” controversy. You see, Brian, when your field is journalism ethics, you can’t play deceit games like that, because…oh, why do I bother?). To be fair, however, while Bee and the other potty mouthed resistance members and DNC leaders should be held responsible for their own ugly conduct, electing Donald Trump did give a cultural green light to incivility and assholery.

Since nobody else gives me credit and public recognition when I’m right before most of the chattering class (Ethicists Don’t Matter), I have to do it myself. Here is what I wrote in part on September 10, 2015:

We have elected Presidents without experience, who were narcissists, sociopaths or psychopaths, who were not too bright, who were unjustifiably cocky, who spouted policy nonsense, who had only style without substance, who acted tough, who were the product of marketing rather than talent. Some of them turned out to be pretty good; some of them surprised everyone and changed their ways. None of them wrecked the nation. I am confident that even at this difficult time in our nation’s history, reeling from the serial incompetence of  the Bush and Obama administrations, the United States could survive a Trump Presidency as a nation.

We could not, however, survive it as a culture.

Placing a man with Trump’s personality and his rejection of the basic features of civilized conduct and discourse to an extent that only the obscenely rich or the resolutely misanthropic can get away with would ensure that American culture would deteriorate into a gross, rude, selfish, assault muck in which no rational human being would want to live…

Even if Trump was a policy whiz, a political magician and a foreign policy master who balanced the budget and restored American’s primacy in the world, it would not be worth what would be lost: dignity, fairness, civility, caring, respect.

Continue reading

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