I have a dog in this hunt, in a way. I began my school career being lectured by the Catholic teachers of Arlington, Massachusetts that I was mistaken about my name being “Jack.” No, I was told, that’s just what your parents call you, dear. Your name is JOHN. There is no such name as “Jack.” Being ornery pretty much out of the womb, I refused to answer to “John” in class leading to several contentious meetings between my father (who was also named “Jack,” not “John”) and successive grade teachers. He always brought my birth certificate and a stern lecture about not making unwarranted presumptions that were none of their damn business, and I had to endure several weeks of dirty looks until my natural charm won over my teachers’ disdain.
As in the case of my teachers, the idiot who wrote Ms. Rea was both presumptuous and wrong. She had written,
Why thank you! Now shut the hell up! Continue reading
I have managed to post twice about the name game, and the ridiculous effort to find some way to justify not identifying the Wuhan virus by its place of origin, a campaign led by, naturally enough, its place of origin. The first post focused on the idea that calling a Chinese virus a Chinese virus was “racist,” a concept so devoid of reason and logic that it made my brain hurt.
The fact that the concept was enthusiastically embraced by such proven blights on the political scene as Rep. Omar was one major clue that dastardly motives were involved. This was a pretty much flat out resort to Big Lie #4 in the “resistance” Big Lie tool box, that one being “Trump is a racist/ white supremacist.” It was a short post, because there was no legitimate argument to rebut. Continue reading
With about 80% or more of all news stories somehow involving the Wuhan virus and its effects (World War II must have been like this), finding non -pandemic stories and ethics issues has become an irritating and challenging job.
Fortunately, Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “The Ethicist” column” this week saw two interesting issues arise, both of which he answered correctly. (There are other questions in the column too.) One inquirer asked, “It has become clear to me, however, that individual senators and other elected officials outside my state do indeed have a powerful effect on the entire country. Is it appropriate for me to donate to candidates in elections in which I cannot vote?”
Of course it is. Appiah wrote essentially what I would: “As you recognize, the effects politicians have aren’t confined to their immediate constituencies. On the contrary, the prospects for our country depend on who holds elective offices at every level. For one thing, representatives from each of the states in the U.S. House and Senate vote on national legislation. For another, policies in one state affect what happens in others….We are one nation; if we’re to aim at liberty and justice for all, we need to do it together.”
The second question was interesting because it is amazing that anyone would have the gall to make such an outrageous request, and fascinating that anyone would be so puzzled about how to respond that they would seek advice from a third party: Continue reading
Let’s start with the name, shall we? Until further notice, Ethics Alarms will call this thing the Wuhan virus, in part out of sheer orneriness, but also because…
- It’s better than the “Whaeveryoucallit Virus”
- There’s no Wuhan beer that will unfairly lose money because people are so stupid.
- Covid-19 is a terrible name for anything, even the 19th covid, whoever he is
- Chinese coronavirus and Chinese virus are just OK, but the first is too long, and the second is too generic. Like I prefer to use destinations like Sichuan and Mandarin when talking about Chinese food, even bad Chinese food. I’m sure that’s racist too.
- The people strenuously objecting to the name are almost without exception utter jerks. Such as…
Omar’s logic here is so self-evidently contrived that if someone can’t immediately explain why, I’m not going to waste my time explaining it to them.
…but mostly because the virus still appears to have largely emanated from the Wuhan Province in China, and I’ll be damned if the hypocritical race-baiting efforts by the news media and political correctness addicts are going to dictate how I communicate. Continue reading
P.M.Lawrence, who comments from Australia, often flagging what he views as American biases and misconceptions, jumps ahead in the line of waiting Comments of the Day with this brief note. It raises an issue that I have thought about often in the past, and argued about with friends and others. What is the ethical obligation of Americans to use foreign spellings of proper names when writing about places and things for domestic readers? The particular example at hand was my using “Labor Party” to label the British organization which calls itself “the Labour Party.”
I’ll have a rebuttal after P.M.s Comment on the post, Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/30/2018: A Petition, A Career-Killing Joke, And Priestley’s Play , and am very interested in what others think.
A minor point: the original spelling of proper names should be used out of respect, even if that is different from your own usage of the words involved. Just as it would be wrong to write “National Inquirer”, so also it is wrong to write “Labor” when writing of the (British) “Labour Party” – even though it is right to write “Australian Labor Party”, for the very same reasons. It gets trickier with groups like our Australian DLP (“Democratic Labour Party”) that have chopped and changed over time; I incline towards using whichever spelling was in place at the time of the reference being cited.
This is all part of the Rectification of Names.
Rebecca Brass, who who works with victims of sexual assault, was stunned to see an alcoholic beverage called “The Willie Pickton” on the drink menu of a British Columbia restaurant called “Surrey Wings.” It wasn’t the drink itself, which contains blue curacao, blackberry, melon, orange juice and cranberry and sounds yummy, that troubled her, but the fact that the name honored local serial killer Robert “Willie” Pickton, currently serving a life sentence at Kent Institution in the Fraser Valley.
Though Willie was convicted of killing only six women, the remains and DNA of 33 more were found on his farm. He also confessed that he had murdered 49 women total, many of them Vancouver prostitutes. Brass, in her role as a sexual assault counselor with Women Against Violence Against Women, personally knows people with family members murdered by Pickton. Continue reading
Today’s saga: this jaw-dropping query from Emily Yoffe’s “Dear Prudence” advice column in Slate:
“My husband and his first wife named their son Adam. Their Adam is 25 and lives across the country from us. Now we are having a son, and Adam is my late father’s name and grandfather’s name. I always wanted to name my son after my dad. My husband says I can’t do that because of his firstborn son, and he can’t have two sons named Adam. But mostly, because it would upset his ex-wife. I don’t think I should have to forgo naming my son after my dad because of this. We rarely see his older son, so I don’t see what the problem is. My husband got to pick the name for our daughter and it meant a lot to him. This means a lot to me. His son said it would be all right with him, but his ex is livid at the idea.”
Emily, in her response, states the obvious, which can be loosely translated as “What the hell is the matter with you?”, though I would be happier if she stated it in more ethical terms. The heck with the ex-wife, what about the older son? What about her son? Who wants to have the same name as a sibling, half- or not? Have the words “Golden Rule” never entered this silly, self-absorbed woman’s consciousness?
Come to think of it, “What the hell is the matter with you?” says it all.
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Giving one’s children ridiculous, bizarre or otherwise perverse names is the height of parental arrogance and narcissism, an abuse of power in which Golden Rule considerations evaporate in the desire to place a distinctive mark on the child of one’s creation, like a brand or a particularly garish tattoo.
There is some weak historical evidence that an oddball name can point a child to leadership or other kinds of singular achievements by isolating him or her from peers. A number of U.S. Presidents have had rare names, with four using their middle monickers to be more distinctive, and one, Lyndon Johnson, being specifically named by his mother so he “would look good on a ballot.” But there is also evidence that strange names are handicaps, and no doubt at all that they risk making children a lot more miserable than calling them Ed, Elizabeth or Frank.
Over at Deadspin, Drew Magary has harsh criticism for the apparently rising trend of wacko names, and all power to him. He combed through a Parents Magazine survey of the names favored by 13,000 people, and arrived at the horrifying conclusion that “Americans are somehow getting even worse at naming children, and they show no signs of correcting themselves.” Among his trenchant commentary on the names he discovered: Continue reading
"Be proud of your name, little Adolf! It has a nice ring to it--sounds like someone important! And tell your little friend Joe Mengele that HIS name is fine, too. What's that? Well, sure we can go to Poland for your Spring Break! What a novel idea!"
I couldn’t resist this one, since I needed a hammer to close my mouth after I read it, because my jaw locked. The opinion is ridiculous, of course, but the comment is still enlightening: this is what happens when essentially good and virtuous instincts blind logic and common sense. The number of unethical, or just plain stupid things that occur when this happens is one of the tragedies of life. Or, to take a more charitable view, such a comment is what happens when someone has an essentially ethical position but picks the most inappropriate platform for it imaginable, and in trying to squeeze an important sentiment where it doesn’t belong, ends up discrediting an otherwise valid point. (Don’t do that.)
Here is Allan’s Special Bonus Comment of the Day, on Naming Your Kid After Hitler: 100% Legal, 100% Child Abuse. Hold on to your jaw: Continue reading
Moon Unit Zappa: Only in America!
Site quotemaster and resident pedant Tom Fuller comes through with a rare comment of his containing no quotations whatsoever! (Tom is, among other things, a contributor and researcher for The Yale Book of Quotations.) He adds some useful perspective on the issue of naming children, in his Comment of the Day to yesterday’s post, “Naming Your Kid After Hitler: 100% Legal, 100% Child Abuse.” I must point out that “Choo Choo” was not the 1962 Mets catcher’s real name, any more than Red Sox pitcher Dennis Boyd was really named “Oil Can.”
Here it is Tom’s comment:
“This is a good illustration of how America’s concept of free speech is such an unusual legal and cultural norm. In many countries, including Germany, a child’s name must be legally approved in advance (in Germany, by the Standesamt — office of vital statistics).
“By German law, a child’s name has to meet two conditions: (1) it must reflect the sex of the child, and (2) it must not endanger the ‘well-being of the child.’ No “Moon Unit” Zappa, no “Choo Choo” Coleman, and — especially — no “Adolf” anybody, unless the local office says “OK”.
“According to wire service reports, hundreds of Algerians wanted to name their babies “Scud” during the 1991 Iraq war, but the local officials nixed the idea.
“My point? Only that Americans are often more likely than those in other countries to regulate speech and behavior in ways other than by prior legal restraint — like ethics, which is what this odd corner of the Web is all about. Sadly, as history has shown, when ethics fails, many people turn to the law to fix things. It doesn’t always work.”