Tag Archives: cultural literacy

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

This Is An Ethics Story. More Than That, It’s Hard To Say…

Read this story, please.

Then consider the 10 questions below.

A summary of the main points…

  • Luke Gibbs’ wife, Rachel, mother of two,  was rendered permanently vegetative after a go-kart accident at a Michigan amusement park, the Family Fun Center, near Grand Rapids.  A long scarf she was wearing got caught in one of the go-kart’s axles, snapping her windpipe.

  • She is now in a long-term care center southwest of London. Her husband is certain that this would never have occurred in England, because the country has more regulations. “There’s no agency in the United States that can say to my children, who are American citizens, this is the way in which we worked to protect your mother and keep her safe,” he said. “I’m confident that accident would not have happened here, part because I think we have more stringent regulation,” he added.

  • Parks are exempted from federal regulation, leaving supervision to the vagaries of the states, and six have no oversight: Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah. In the early 1980s, park operators successfully lobbied to shield amusement parks from federal oversight by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Starting in 1999,  Senator Edward J. Markey sought to mandate federal oversight, but Disney successfully lobbied against it, along with its competitors.

They argued that the federal regulation was not necessary.  Industry studies say there is only a one in 17 million chance of injury at fixed-site parks. The safety commission estimates there were 29,400 amusement ride injuries requiring emergency treatment last year at all types of parks, including  inflatable attractions and even coin-operated rides at shopping malls.

Mobile parks with rides that can be moved, like carnivals and state fairs, are not exempted from federal regulation.

  • When Rachel Gibbs wife was injured, the park appeared unprepared for an emergency. The ride’s operators panicked, and momentarily couldn’t recall the park’s address so emergency vehicles could be called, and could not provide the injured woman with a defibrillator

A 2007 internal memorandum from the park admonished employees to “never admit fault for accidents,” adding, “our common phrase is ‘AJ’s is an at your own risk Fun Park.’” Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement

Saturday Afternoon Ethics Stimulus, 5/26/2018: The Sad Part Is That None Of This Is A Surprise

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

1.  From the “Bias makes you UNBELIEVABLY stupid, especially, apparently, if you’re a journalist” files: Ann Althouse posted this screen shot of memeorandum, an excellent  news aggregator page:

I wrote earlier about how many of the anti-Trump mob, in the news media and out of it, appeared to be actively rooting for the President’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea to fail, and how his Negotiation 101 move of symbolically walking away from the planned summit would probably be misunderstood and misinterpreted because of the current toxic combination of bias and ignorance, but this is ridiculous. Writes Althouse—who despite multiple polite requests refuses to put Ethics Alarms in her links despite its covering a lot of parallel territory, despite the many frivolous or largely inactive blogs she does link to, and despite the multiple plugs and links I give her, but hey, I’m not bitterContinue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Rights, The Internet

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/13/2018: A Strange Philanthropist, A Redeeming Cadet, A Good Idea, And An Obvious Observation

Good Morning!

(This was definitely the oddest LP in my Dad’s Jimmy Durante collection….And good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are…)

1. Ethics Hero, I guess. A sad one…The Henry Street Settlement , a community charity, was shocked to receive $6.24 million donation, the largest single gift from an individual in its 125-year history, from the estate of the late Sylvia Bloom, a legal secretary from Brooklyn worked for the same law firm for 67 years until she retired at age 96 and died  in 2016. When one of the wealthy lawyers she worked for bought a stock as she made the transaction for him (or her; I don’t know), she bought the same stock for herself, in a smaller amount. The woman amassed all this money, which she could have used while she was still breathing to assert some beneficial influence over society, help others, or just to expand her own experiences and life opportunities, but instead delegated the responsibility to a non-profit organization to handle after her death. She spent a lifetime in thrall to a law firm, and never could take the initiative to be free.

I view this story as a strong argument for feminism.

2.  Progress: For the first time in The Citadel’s 175-year history,  the Corps of Cadets command was awarded to a female cadet, Class of 2019 Regimental Commander Sarah Zorn. This was no affirmative action or gratuitous diversity moment, but an honor well-earned. In addition to her academic record and demonstrated leadership abilities, Zorn can do 70 pushups in two minutes (I’ve done 7 push-ups in two decades) and has three martial arts black belts. This triumph finally eradicates the humiliating beginnings of the South Carolina military academy’s gender integration, when Shannon Faulkner won a lawsuit against the school’s strict male-only admissions policy, became the first female cadet admitted, then showed up out of shape and irresolute, washing out after five days, four of which were spent in the infirmary. I have always regarded Faulkner as the anti-Jackie Robinson, the perfect example of how a trailblazer without sufficient character can make the trail worse than it was before.

3. An ethics inspiration from Europe. 15,000 European 18-year-olds will be able to travel free of charge in Europe this summer, using special free travel passes valid for 30 days. The European Parliament initiative was passed “to enhance a sense of European identity and European values.” . The cost will be about $14.2 million dollars in American currency.

Great idea, and better, in fact, for the United States to try than Europe, since the United States actually has a national culture and one that a majority of young people are neither learning about nor understand. The U.S. version should include tickets to a baseball game, of course.

4. Duh. Imagine my surprise when, after opening the Sunday New York Times Sunday Review section, I found leading off the insert that has been dominated by anti-Trump hate and hysteria since last November an essay that dovetails nicely with this Ethics Alarms post from yesterday.  Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think” by Gerard Alexander, professor of political science at the University of Virginia, was given the front page of the section to make a point, a full year and a half into President Trump’s administration, that has been a theme on Ethics Alarms for all of that time, and should have been screamingly obvious to anyone whose own ethics alarms still had functioning clappers. Alexander writes in part, Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Ethics Heroes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Philanthropy, Non-Profits and Charity, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President, U.S. Society, War and the Military

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, April 11, 2018: Caesar’s Wife At The EPA, Idiots On The Air, And Dreamers Demanding Discounts [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

1. Forgetting to heed the “Caesar’s wife” Principle. Whatever one may think about EPA head Scott Pruitt’s controversial policy directions as head of the environmental agency, all ought to be able to agree on this: he’s an idiot.

Here is a cultural literacy test: How many Americans under the age of—what, 45? 60? 104?—know what the term “like Caesar’s wife” means? When you have a target painted on your back because you are taking positions that are guaranteed to be anathema to powerful critics, like the news media, you are “like Caesar’s wife.” This should communicate something to you. In 63 BC, Julius Caesar, a man on the rise, was elected to the position of the Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of the Roman state religion. The next year, his wife Pompeia hosted the festival of the Bona Dea (“Good Goddess”) in which no man was allowed to participate, at Caesar’s official residence. Publius Clodius Pulcher, a  rash young patrician, snuck into the celebration disguised as a woman, allegedly to seduce Pompeia. He was caught, prosecuted ( not for trying to shag Caesar’s wife but for the crime of sacrilege), and ultimately  acquitted. Nevertheless, Caesar divorced Pompeia, saying, “My wife ought not even to be under suspicion.”  Thus was born the saying, once well-known to educated individuals, that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”

Either Pruitt doesn’t know the reference, or doesn’t understand it. He has made himself vulnerable and a political liability to the Trump administration by the kind of grubby ethics violations so many of the administration’s recruits from the corporate world have engaged in. (And what does this tell us about that culture?)

David J. Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, sent  a letter this week to Kevin Minoli, the EPA’s  top ethics official,  asking the agency to take “appropriate actions to address any violations.”

Among the issues raised were Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental  of a Capitol Hill condominium from the wife of an energy lobbyist (This may not have been market value, the letter speculates, raising the question of whether it was a gift, aka “bribe.” Ya think? You can’t rent a decent garden tool shed for 50 bucks a night…), Pruitt taking an excessive number government-funded flights home to Oklahoma and back (He’s about the 78th Trump official to be caught doing this kind of thing—do these guys read the newspapers?), and worst of all, reports that agency staff members who raised concerns about these and other actions creating “the appearance of impropriety”  found themselves transferred or demoted.

“The success of our government depends on maintaining the trust of the people we serve,”wrote Apol. “The American public needs to have confidence that ethics violations, as well as the appearance of ethics violations, are investigated and appropriately addressed.”

Why yes! And anyone who holds high government office is supposed to know that. Anyone holding high government office in this administration, which is in the position of the thug sprung from police lock-up on a technicality to which an angry detective says before he strolls out the door, “If you so much as spit on the sidewalk, I’ll be there to pick you up,” should know that especially. When they are gunning for you, you have to be like Caesar’s wife.

The President should fire Pruitt for these flagrant abuses. He won’t, because he literally doesn’t think ethics matter. I wonder if he thinks stupidity and unrestrained arrogance matter… Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Citizenship, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, language, Law & Law Enforcement, Sports

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/7/2018: “Ruggles Of Red Gap” And “Williamson No Longer Of The Atlantic'”

 

Good Morning…

(Do you remember when Saturday morning was fun? Stupid, but fun…)

1. Your cultural literacy note of the day. The Charles Laughton classic “Ruggles of Red Gap” was on Turner Movie Classics last night. The movie itself is wonderful—I recommended it in an Independence Day post here—but it is also a cultural literacy triumph.  In 1935, when the film was released, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was in the process of falling out of the public’s consciousness. The film’s most famous scene, however, revived it. In a saloon, reference is made to “what Lincoln said at Gettysburg,” and all the cowboys in Red Gap ask each other, “What did Lincoln say at Gettysburg?” Then, quietly, unexpectedly, Ruggles the English butler (Laughton) and the only foreign-born man in the room, recites the speech. TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, in his post showing observations, revealed that when the film was first shown, audiences frequently stood and applauded Laughton’s rendition, and the Address itself became more widely known and quoted.

This is how popular culture works when it is in sync with national values, and not attempting to undermine them.

Here is the scene…for some reason YouTube doesn’t have it, but does have the entire film. The saloon scene begins at about the 56:09 mark:

 

 

2. The Atlantic-Kevin Williamson controversy. Unless you routinely plumb the depths of pundit wars and cultural bloodletting, you might well be completely unaware of this skirmish, but it is ultimately an ethics story. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, History, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Rights, U.S. Society, Workplace

Comment Of The Day: “No Wonder We Can’t Communicate With Each Other Or Have Coherent Debates: We’re Culturally Illiterate”

[I’m using this morning to post some important, backlogged Comments of the Day. Today’s Warm-Up will be after noon, if all does according to plan.]

Keith Walker registered a fascinating reflection on his experiences as a teacher in response to the post regarding the decline of cultural literacy. I do take umbrage at his categorization of my commentary about public school’s ongoing failure as “ranting” and his implication that I have designated teachers as “useless.” If I have criticized teachers and administrators, it has always been based on specific conduct. In Alexandria, VA., I had to pull my son out of one public school, a Catholic school and two private ones upon observing exactly the kind of incompetence, bias and abuse I have written about over the past eight years.  Indoctrination, child abuse, incompetence and sexual predation in the schools are real, and teaching is still a “profession” without codified ethics standards. Dedicated, smart, competent teachers are heroic, but their existence does not make my criticism and analysis less valid or less urgent.

Here is Keith’s Comment of the Day on the post, “No Wonder We Can’t Communicate With Each Other Or Have Coherent Debates: We’re Culturally Illiterate”

As one of those useless public school teachers so often ranted about in this space, I want to rise to the occasion here and, if not defend our profession, at least offer my take on things over my 31 years in the business.

I was a fairly new teacher when Hirsch’s book came out. I thought then that it was a silly tome, written from the perspective of a grumpy old man. I still don’t hold much respect for it, though I have become a grumpy old man myself. Who gets to decide what’s important cultural literacy? (Yes, I am about to say something like “it’s always been old white guys…”) I wonder if someone else had written that book if it would have contained different things?

But since 1988 several things have happened to make teaching these important things virtually impossible, the internet and standardized testing being two major ones. Yes, I know that standardized testing has been around for many decades; I remember taking the MEAP (Michigan’s state test) when I was a small boy in the 70s. But in the 70s test scores were not blasted across the front pages of newspapers everywhere, and politicians were not decrying our “failing public schools” and telling everyone that privatization and profits would be a much better plan for education.

The pressure on schools, teachers, and students to “succeed” on these tests is ridiculous, and it has gotten to the point that if it can’t be measured, we don’t have time to teach it. And everything is measured. As a music teacher I am happy to have a job any more; much of my curriculum isn’t “measurable” to a certain extent, and it certainly isn’t required for success in life. But I digress… Believe me, if Cromwell was going to be on the ACT, SAT, or AP History exams, you can bet he’d be talked about in schools. It’s all about competition, and everyone is fearing for jobs, funding, and students as we move to a market-based system of educating our next generations, and the members of that generation all want to get a 7.0 GPA and get into Harvard (starting as freshmen with 75 credits due to all of their AP test scores), and the way to do it is to excel on those tests. It’s fairly terrifying. Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Citizenship, Comment of the Day, Education, Government & Politics, Professions, U.S. Society, Workplace