Harry Truman liked to say “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” That applies in a lot of fields, but perhaps nowhere more than in the field of humor and satire in these days where would-be censors and race-baiters slither across the landscape. If you are going to venture into these dangerous environs (what they endanger is free speech, expression, and freedom itself), you better have the courage of conviction and willingness to fight the adventure requires. If not, you will make things worse. You will become part of the problem, and it is a big problem.
Gene Weingarten is a longtime columnist for the Washington Post, I’ve written about one of his serious pieces here (also here) and had debates with him via email on occasion. He often writes humorous columns, and it was one of those that unjustly made him the target of the social media mobs.
I assume Gene was a little stuck for a topic, because his theme, foods he won’t eat, is a pretty hoary one. I have read very similar joke essays by other writers, going back to Robert Benchley. Clarence Darrow used to riff on foods he didn’t like: he once said, “I don’t like spinach, and I’m glad I don’t, because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I’d just hate it.“ Another of Darrow’s was “I don’t like turnips, and I don’t like anyone who does.”
So Weingarten whipped off a lazy column joking about all the foods he says he hates; remember, actually hating them isn’t an ethical requirement. The idea is just a platform to justify snarkiness and to make silly comments like ” Balsamic vinegar likely broke up the Beatles.” Among his targets: Old Bay seasoning (hate it), hazelnut (I agree), anchovies (it depends), blue cheese (yecchh), pizza with more than two toppings (I think that’s about right), “garbage sushi,” meaning junk like California rolls (not worth hating) and sweet pickles (absolutely). It should be obvious to a spaniel that all of his laments are tongue in cheek, but that spaniel might object to “Drowning good food in wildly disparate other tastes is — I do not mean to exaggerate — like drowning puppies in a toilet.”
Almost two years ago, I wrote about Washington Post feature writer Gene Weingarten’s provocative and sensitive 2009 exploration of the tragic cases in which a distracted parent leaves a small child in an over-heated car. The issue, now as then, is how society should treat such parents, who are without exception crushed with remorse and guilt, their lives and psyches permanently scarred. Weingarten’s original piece, which won him a 2010 Pulitzer, did not take a position on how such parents should be treated by the criminal justice system. In today’s Washington Post, he does.
“The parents are a continuing danger to no one, nor could anybody sanely argue that fear of prison is even a minuscule factor in preventing this. So we are left with the nebulous notion of punishing, for punishment’s sake alone, an act of accidental negligence that by its nature subjects the doer to a lifetime of agony so profound that it is unfathomable to anyone who has not lived it. Prosecution is not, in my view, warranted.”
Weingarten is thoughtful, analytical, reasonable, compassionate and fair. He is also, in this case, dead wrong. Continue reading
Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten received a Pultitzer Prize for his feature, “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?” Focusing on the grief of parents who caused the deaths of their own children by negligently leaving them locked in over-heated cars, Weingarten, to his credit, doesn’t advocate a position in his article, although it would be impossible to read it without feeling compassion and empathy for his subjects, both those who have been prosecuted and those who have not.
The article squarely raises a classic ethical conflict, as well as the question of the role of punishment in society. As always with ethical standards, the issue ultimately encompasses how we decide what is in the best interests of society. Weingarten points out that there is no consensus on whether parents who inadvertently kill their children in this way should be brought to court: some prosecutors bring charges, others do not. Which is right?
I don’t like my answer much, but I think it is inescapable, once the emotion is left behind. Continue reading
Gene Weingarten, the Washington Post columnist, wrote about his recent experience as a juror. It was a trial of a man accused of selling $10 of heroin to an undercover officer. Weingarten professed to be annoyed that such a small amount would justify an arrest and trial; he’s just wrong about that. Dealing a dangerous prohibited drug is still dealing, no matter what the amount. I know this is the kind of case that gets the legalize-drugs-so-we don’t-put-so-many-people-in-jail crowd all self-righteous, but “a smidgen of heroin dealing” still supports a destructive social problem, and law abiding citizens don’t deal even a little smack.
That’s not really the issue here, however.
Weingarten was convinced that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He was also convinced that the police were lying. Continue reading