Tag Archives: ethics

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets

Good Morning!

1 Oh no! Not my permanent record! My wife gave a small contribution to Mitt  Romney’s campaign, and has been hounded by RNC robocalls and mailings ever since. GOP fundraising started getting really slimy under the indefensible Michael Steele’s leadership, and continued to use unethical methods after Steele went on to job at a bait shop or something. Last week my wife got an envelope in the mail with a block red DELINQUENCY NOTICE! printed on it. A lie, straight up: there was no delinquency, just a my wife’s decision that she would rather burn a C-note than give it to the fools and knaves running the Republican Party. She registered an official complaint with the RNC, and received this response from Dana Klein, NRCC Deputy Finance Director:

“My job as the Deputy Finance Director is to communicate with supporters to let them know the status of their NRCC Sustaining Membership. Unfortunately, I have bad news for you. As of right now, you have a delinquency mark on your record for your failure to renew your membership. But, I have some good news. You can remove this delinquency mark if you renew by the FEC deadline on Wednesday.”

Both my wife and I were professional fundraisers for many years. This is deceptive and coercive fundraising, and anyone who voluntarily supports an organization that uses such tactics is a victim or an idiot.

Or, I suppose, a Republican.

2. Another one…This is another one of the statements that I am pledged to expose every time I read or hear it: a Maryland legislator, enthusing over the likelihood that a ballot initiative will result in legalizing pot in the state, ran off the usual invalid, disingenuous and foolish rationalizations for supporting measure. (Don’t worry, pot-lovers: I’m resigned to this happening, not just in Maryland, but nation wide. As with the state lotteries, our elected officials will trade the public health and welfare for easy revenue every time. Minorities and the poor will be the most hurt, and the brie and pot set couldn’t care less.) Only one of his familiar bad arguments triggered my mandatory response pledge: ” to legalize a drug that is less harmful than alcohol.”

This is the bottom of the rationalization barrel, “it’s not the worst thing.” Alcohol is a scourge of society, killing thousands upon thousands every year, ruining families and lives, wrecking businesses, costing the economy millions of dollars. Just yesterday there was a report that fetal alcohol syndrome was far more common that previously believed. There is no question, none, that U.S. society would be healthier and safer without this poison accepted in the culture: unfortunately, it was too deeply embedded before serious efforts were made to remove it. Now pot advocates want to inflict another damaging recreational drug on society, using the argument that it’s not as terrible as the ones we’re already stuck with. Stipulated: it’s not as harmful as alcohol. It’s not as harmful as Russian Roulette or eating Tidepods either. I have a bias against taking seriously advocates who use arguments like this; it means they re either liars, and know their logic is absurd, or idiots, and don’t.

3. Riddle me this: What do you get when you cross casting ethics, weak and lazy school administrators, political-correctness bullies-in-training with “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”?

Answer: a cancelled high school musical, and per se racism supported by the school.

New York’s Ithaca High School was beginning production of the Disney film-based musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” but made the unforgivable error, in the eyes of student activists,  of casting of a white student as a Romani heroine Esmeralda, played in the classic film by that gypsy wench, Maureen O’Hara, and in the Disney version by a Toon.  Several students quit the show in protest,  and formed an activist group to reverse the decision. It sent a letter calling the casting “cultural appropriation” and “whitewashing,” calling the student the “epitome of whiteness.” The letter admitted that she was also “a stellar actor, singer and dancer” that any stage would be “lucky to have,” but what is the talent, skill and competence required for a role compared to what really matters, her skin color? The students demanded that the school either choose a different show or recast Esmeralda a black and brown actress. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Race, Rights, Sports, U.S. Society

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/30/18: The State Of The Union Stinks Edition

Good Morning, everyone!

1 Well, it’s good to know you have kept an open mind…New York Times Trump-Hater Michelle Goldberg, who has written for just about every left and far left website and publication imaginable,  on today’s Times editorial page:

“No matter how well Trump delivers the lines in his State of the Union — announced theme: “Building a safe, strong and proud America” — he will not become presidential. There will be no turning of corners or uniting the country. At best, Trump will succeed in impersonating a minimally competent leader for roughly the length of an episode of “The Apprentice.”

Has any major newspaper, prior to a President’s first State of the Union message, given prominence to such an unfair and disrespectful bit of hate-punditry? I doubt it very much.

2. ‘Where have you gone, Pres’dent Gerald Ford, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you…woowoowooThe only President to begin his State of the Union negatively was President Gerald Ford, in 1975: I must say to you that the state of the Union is not good.” He was right, and courageous, to do so, and President Trump would be right and courageous to do so now, though for different reasons. Ford was speaking of the economy, but economies get better. The State of the Union is also not good when it is being torn apart by hyper-partisan warfare, and both parties are attempting to increase the divisions among citizens while exploiting them. Of course, the current President, who has some useful skills Gerald Ford lacked, but not a flea’s nose’s portion of his character, would never dream of using his time in the national spotlight for anything less than an orgy of self-congratulation. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/20/2018: Government Shutdown Edition

Good Morning.

1 Just how stupid is the public? Charades like the latest government shut-downs provide an excellent opportunity to find out. As regular readers here know, I am particularly annoyed when elected officials and journalists set out to make the public more ignorant or devoid of critical-thinking skills than they already are by making dumb arguments using logical fallacies, rationalizations or deceit. Both parties benefit from civically ignorant citizens, but the nation suffers. This time, it’s the Democrats who are banking on the public being too gullible and stupid to function. Here was the message I received from the Democratic National Committee—which, I will add, keeps sending me this crap despite my repeated efforts to unsubscribe from their daily dishonest shilling .It’s illegal to do this, but as the Democratic Party is proving with this latest drama, law-breaking is of minimal consequence to them when it suits their agenda:

It’s official — Republicans have shut down the federal government. They control the White House and both chambers of Congress, and under their watch, they haven’t been able to govern and keep the lights on. If they’re not capable of doing the job they were elected to do, we know plenty of Democrats running across the country who are up to the task.

How stupid, biased and dishonest to you have to be to swallow this lie? The shutdown was, beyond argument, engineered by Democrats, who have been threatening it for a long time. The argument is also dumb, indeed backwards. The government shut down because the Republicans couldn’t pass a spending bill without Democratic votes: they need a total of 60 “yeas” in the Senate. All but five Democrats, including Bernie, voted for shutting down the government. All but three Republicans, the trio of iconoclasts Graham, Flake and Paul, voted to keep it open, and the DNC calls that the Republicans shutting down the government.

Aren’t even Democrats offended at that degree of dishonesty and cynicism? Isn’t that classic Orwell: “War is Peace,” and “The Measure Republicans Voted For Is the Measure Republicans Opposed“? How can anyone trust a party that issues official communications like this? That is a party that will lie to your face, or assume that you have been so corrupted that you will lie on its behalf.

Moreover, the statement above might as well be written by the Republican National Committee, with the message being, “Since Democrats won’t cooperate to keep the government running and will sacrifice the welfare of citizens for non-citizens, we obviously need more Republicans in the Senate.” That message is factual. Continue reading


Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Kaboom!, Law & Law Enforcement, The Internet, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President, U.S. Society

Introducing Rationalizations #25B, and #25C: “I’m Just Doing My Job,” and “It’s Policy!”

Here are two  more rationalizations for the list, bringing the grand total to 89.

#25B  The Nuremberg Rationalization, or “I’m Just Doing My Job!”

Amazing: 87 previous rationalizations described, and the word “Nuremberg” did not appear once.

Rationalization # 25. The Coercion Myth, covers the excuse for unethical conduct that the actor “had no choice,” and # 25A. Frederick’s Compulsion or “It’s My Duty!” posits that duty excuses wrongdoing. #25 B follows the theme of denying free will by using the fact of employment to justify or excuse unethical conduct. It embodies the defense of the Nazi officers at the Nuremberg Trials that because they followed the orders of others, they were simply agents, and their horrible crimes against humanity should not bring them punishment…after all, they had no choice. It was their duty to follow orders, because that was their job.

We all need jobs, but we all have a choice whether to remain in a job or not. Sometimes it’s not a very attractive choice, and even a frightening one, in which choosing the ethical course requires personal sacrifice. Nonetheless, when a job requires one to commit unethical acts, the choice is this: quit the job and refuse to perform the unethical act, or commit the unethical act, following orders but accepting the responsibility, accountability and consequences of doing so.

For inspiration, we need look no further than the first admittee to the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor, the amazing Henri Salmide.

From the Ethics Alarms post:

In 1944, Salmide was a German officer in the 159th Infantry Division of the German army occupying the French city of Bordeaux, the largest seaport on the west coast. It was August 19, and Allied Forces were spreading out from the beaches at Normandy and taking control of the war. An order came from Berlin calling on the Division to destroy the entire seven miles of port infrastructure before abandoning the city. The port’s destruction was scheduled to occur within a week.

“It fell to me,” Salmide recounted in an interview, because, as head of the bomb disposal unity, he had expertise with explosives. “I couldn’t do it. I knew the war was lost. What was the point of this, I asked myself. People would die and suffer, and the war would still be lost by Germany.”

On  August 22, he filled a bunker at the docks with detonators, plungers, timers and other hardware needed for the planned demolition. But instead of using them to destroy Bordeaux, Salmide blew them up with dynamite, in a terrifying explosion. “It was all I could do,” he said later.

French historians estimate he saved 3,500 lives by refusing to carry out his orders. About fifty Nazi soldiers died in the blast instead. “I could not accept that the port of Bordeaux be wantonly destroyed when the war was clearly lost,” he explained in an interview. “I acted according to my Christian conscience.”

Salmide deserted, and was hunted by both the Gestapo and the French authorities. He hid with the French Resistance for the remainder of the war. Then Salmide adopted a French name, married a local woman, became citizen of France, and raised his family in the very city his conscience had rescued. The Germans regarded him as a traitor, and even the French were reluctant to give him the recognition he deserved, according to his wife.

“No one wanted to admit that he had done it,” Mrs. Salmide told the New York Times. “If he had been French, it would have been easier for him.”  It was not until 2000 that the French government finally awarded him the French Legion of Honor,* and the Bordeaux City Hall said this week that it wants to erect a memorial to Salmide.

His best and most lasting memorial, however, would be for his story to be known around the world, and taught in every school, of every nation. For when any of us finds ourselves being required to act under authority to accomplish unjust and cruel ends—to blindly do our job, knowing that the results would harm others unjustly, and we wonder if it is fair for us to be accountable for our actions when, in reality, we seem to have no choice, we should recall Henri Salmide. His moment of courage should remind us that we are always accountable, and we always have a choice, provided we also have the ethics and courage to take it.

Continue reading


Filed under History

It’s Thanksgiving, And Time For The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide [Updated And With A New Introduction For 2017 ]


Last year (to the day) when I posted the Ethics Alarms ethics guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,” one of the great ethics movies of all time, as this blog’s official welcome to the holiday season, I wrote, “I suspect we need it more in 2016 than usual.”  As it turned out, we need it even more in 2017.

Multiple forces have been hard at work for a full year now, roiling the nation, painting the future as dire and the present as unbearable, trying to divide us and even to encourage discord and conflict during this special time when we are supposed to remember what is most important in life. In case you have been infected, it’s not politics and not partisan agendas, but love, family, community, kindness, and friends. The simple message of Frank Capra’s masterpiece—it has aged far better than his other films, including, and maybe especially, “Mister Smith Goes To Washington”—that no one is a failure who has friends, is vital to recall when so many are rejecting friends because they don’t conform to some ideological talking point. This is madness, and watching and heeding “It’s A Wonderful Life” is a better remedy than Thorazine.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer actually told his Twitter followers this week to bring a chart prepared by a  think tank to attack the Republican tax plan during Thanksgiving dinner. This is part of the effort to politicize everything in our lives, by zealots who value power over humanity, country, and spirituality. They belong with Mr. Potter, not George and Clarence.

I need this movie more in 2017 than usual for other reasons. It has been a year in which I have lost many peers and cherished friends, and listened to too many of the living bemoan the passage of time and looming mortality.  I don’t think like that—a lifetime gift from my brave and fatalist father—but I can’t pretend that the game clock isn’t running out, or not face the fact that I have not sunk anywhere near the baskets I could have and should have. Fortunately, what I wrote in an earlier year introducing this post still resonates…

Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

Have a terrific Thanksgiving, everyone.

And here we go:

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. The framing of the tale seems to advance the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

Yet in the end, it is an ethics movie, not a religious one. George lives an ethical live, not out of any religious conviction, but because step by step, crisis after crisis, he chooses to place the welfare of others, especially his community and family, above his own needs and desires. No reward is promised to him, and he momentarily forgets why we act ethically, until he is reminded. Living ethically is its own reward.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. One has to wonder about people like George, who resort to prayer as a last resort, but they don’t seem to hold it against him in Heaven. The heavenly authorities assign an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to handle the case..He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than Heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there— perhaps because George has not been “a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck

George’s first ethical act is saving his brother, Harry, from drowning, an early exhibition of courage, caring and sacrifice. The sacrifice part is that the childhood episode costs George the hearing in one ear. He doesn’t really deserve extra credit for this, as it was not a conscious trade of his hearing for Harry’s young life, but he gets it anyway, just as soldiers who are wounded in battle receive more admiration and accolades than those who are not. Yet this is only moral luck. A wounded hero is no more heroic than a unwounded one, and may be less competent as well as less lucky.

3.  The Confusing Drug Store Incident

George Bailey’s next ethical act is when he saves the life of another child by not delivering a bottle of pills that had been inadvertently poisoned by his boss, the druggist, Mr. Gower. This is nothing to get too excited over, really—if George had knowingly delivered poisoned pills, he would have been more guilty than the druggist, who was only careless. What do we call someone who intentionally delivers poison that he knows will be mistaken for medication? A murderer, that’s what.  We’re supposed to admire George for not committing murder.

Mr. Gower, at worst, would be guilty of negligent homicide. George saves him from that fate when he saves the child, but if he really wanted to show exemplary ethics, he should have reported the incident to authorities. Mr. Gower is not a trustworthy pharmacist—he was also the beneficiary of moral luck. He poisoned a child’s pills through inattentiveness. If his customers knew that, would they keep getting their drugs from him? Should they? A professional whose errors are potentially deadly must not dare the fates by working when his or her faculties are impaired by illness, sleeplessness or, in Gower’s case, grief and alcohol.

4. The Uncle Billy Problem

As George grows up, we see that he is loyal and respectful to his father. That’s admirable. What is not admirable is that George’s father, who has fiduciary duties as the head of a Building and Loan, has placed his brother Billy in a position of responsibility. As we soon learn, Billy is a souse, a fool and an incompetent. This is a breach of fiscal and business ethics by the elder Bailey, and one that George engages in as well, to his eventual sorrow.

5. George’s Speech

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Daily Life, Family, Government & Politics, Love, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Revised Ethics Alarms Comments Policies


Ethics Alarms has now been active for seven full years, and there have been more than 160,000 comments on the 7000+ posts here. It is time—past time, really— to revise the Comment Policies based on what I have learned, and based on what the blog has become and what I want it to accomplish.

This site exists to encourage an ongoing, rigorous and engaging inquiry about ethics, from the perspective of events large and small, in the United States and the world. Ethics evolves as societal standards and norms evolve. We accomplish that evolution, usually in enlightened directions, through advocacy, disagreement and debate, using logic, values, principles, systems and facts. The comment section has evolved as moderated colloquy among intelligent, articulate and open-minded readers, and me, as the author/ ethicist/host and moderator. I have learned a great deal from the site’s readers, and hope to continue to do so.

Ethics Alarms offers the following 20 guidelines and rules to advance this mission:

1. Before you comment for the first time, check the terms and concepts page if you can. It will avoid misunderstandings

2. I prefer full names attached to comments.. If you want to use a screen name, I have to know who you are. You can e-mail me your name at jamproethics@verizon.net, and it will not be divulged. You must enter an e-mail address, and it must be real. If you use a fake e-mail address, your comment will be deleted. No comment signed “anonymous” will be posted. Ever. (Well, hardly ever) If you use a URL as your screen name, I will treat the comment as spam no matter how trenchant your observations are.

3. I have to approve every first time commenter, and as with bar associations and Harvard College, the standards used to screen applicants are tougher than the standards applied once you pass. If your initial foray here is gratuitously disrespectful, nasty, snotty, disparaging,  obnoxious, or just plain stupid, your comment won’t make it out of  moderation. Similarly, non-substantive comments expressing approval or disapproval without more are worthless, and I’ll reject them.  Initiating your relationship on Ethics Alarms with snark, sarcasm, nastiness or ridicule is a bad strategy–as I noted above, you have to earn the privilege of talking to me like that. You may not get a second chance.

4. Regular commenters have special privileges. They can engage in tough rhetoric bordering on insult, as well as brief comments that would not pass muster with a first-timer. But always remember that you are a guest here. Guests are obligated to prove their trustworthiness and good will before they are extended special privileges, and even those privileges have their limits.

5. Political rants are not welcome.  In addition, efforts to muddle genuine objective ethical analysis by pressing ideological talking points and bombarding me with links are not appreciated, and won’t be tolerated for long, if at all..

6. Keep comments as civil as possible. Ethics Alarms does, at its discretion, permit vulgarity and profanity for style and emphasis. I will show limited tolerance for rude and abusive comments and commenters, depending on the combatants. At my sole discretion, I may extend special dispensation for regular, substantive commenters here who have accumulated good will and trust, even when they cross lines that I would not permit to be crossed by a less-credentialed visitor [See below]. While a verdict of “you are an idiot,” may occasionally be justified, I may ding comments that include gross personal attacks, subject to the exceptions noted above, unless it has an extremely impressive substantive argument accompanying it. In the heat of debate, Ethics Alarms will tolerate the  occasional insult  If commenters become overly nasty and personal in their exchanges with each other or habitually so, I will intervene.

7. Ethics Alarms discourages text jargon and abbreviations. “LOL”,  in particular, is guaranteed to annoy me. Also disfavored are popular slang words designed to denigrate a belief, an individual or political groups, like “Repugs,” or juvenile name-calling like “The New York Slimes” or “The Washington Compost.”

8. I’m very likely to respond to your comments. Don’t try hit-and-run tactics here, and don’t think you can get away with an unsupported, badly-reasoned or purely emotional argument and not get called on it. On the other hand, if I don’t respond, don’t take it personally.

9. Re Links: Relevant links are appreciated. Irrelevant links will cause a comment to be deleted as spam.( Remember that if you include more than one link, your comment gets automatically stalled in moderation.)Links to your related blog posts must be supported by a substantive comment on the topic as well: this isn’t your bulletin board. Similarly, the URL of your blog is not going to make it into the comment, and if you persist in trying to slip it through, I will start marking the comments as spam. I am happy to plug, including a link to  your blog, if you write me first and explain why it is relevant and useful to Ethics Alarms readers, and I concur. Your comment, however, is not a vehicle for spreading your blog information around the web…not here, anyway.

10. Typos: I regret that WordPress has yet to install a good editing function for comments. Please proof yours. I will endeavor to fix obvious typos, and if you e-mail me a request to delete or otherwise repair a mis-typed section of a legitimate comment, I will try to reply. I will respect style choices like eccentric punctuation, capitalization, syntax or spelling, but comments that are careless and difficult to read or understand risk being rejected.

11. Me: I reserve the right to sharply express my annoyance with comments that I regard as careless, poorly argued, based on partisan hackery, stupid, unethical  or ignorant. I am prone to be testy at comments that fall into any of the following categories:

1) Those that say I should be writing about “more important things.” I do. But I don’t have to write every post about the earth-shattering, and trivial incidents can still teach important lessons.

2) Comments that include “lighten up,” “calm down,” “get a life,” or anything similar. Please don’t presume to gauge my emotional state or dictate it.

3) Comments that accuse me of ignoring topics or not making arguments when in fact other posts on the site covered those topics and did make those arguments. I don’t require that you read everything, but do not make allegations when a simple key word search on the site would disprove them.

4) Putting words in my mouth, or ascribing  opinions to me that I have not stated. I hate that.

5) Being snotty about typos. I make mistakes, and appreciate being told about them. Nicely.

6) Mockery without substance.

7) Racist, misogynist and otherwise bigoted rants.

12. On occasion my annoyance may cause my reply to seem excessively severe. In such cases, please point this out, and I may well apologize. I may not, too. If a comment is especially ignorant or dumb, I have been known to bluntly describe it as such. I will continue to do so. This is part of my effort to elevate the discussion through negative reinforcement. This is not a site where you can just dash off a barely considered shot and get away with it. Continue reading


Filed under The Internet

Holiday Encore: “Christmas: the Ethical Holiday”


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:


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..

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