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what, exactly, is a good thing?
examining the ethics of society
by tracey l. kelley (@TraceyLKelley)

Hey! There's Martha Stewart with her designer ankle bracelets and a new TV show! It's a good thing!

Lookie there! Kenneth Lay is dancing a soft shoe on 60 Minutes with an Alfred E. Newman-esque “What? Me Take Responsibility?” hand jive!

Hoo-boy! Michael Jackson still can't find anything wrong with sleeping with non-family member pubescent boys because he wasn't in Cub Scouts when he was a youngster!

Whoa nellie! America's Game has become America's Seedy Drug Den!

Some days, it just seems better to slink back under the covers and put a pillow over your head, while you whisper “la la la” and pretend you're a three-year-old, with so much to look forward to: Sesame Street. Grape jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Naptime. La la la.

In fact, I was concerned that no matter how much I moisturized, my cynical skin was getting tougher and scalier. What's happening in the world? So often I try to view society through rose-colored glasses, yet blood drawn from the thorns is smeared on the lenses. Companies forcing good workers out to raise the bottom line for the elite top. Journalists trading integrity for the promise of a sensational headline, no matter how imaginary. Reality shows capitalizing on a tiger vs. gladiator voyeur culture. Isn't anything, or anyone, good anymore?

In my quest to understand and come to terms with it all, I consulted Samuel V. Bruton, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern Mississippi. I posed a few scenarios to him and said, “What does this mean? Is society on the edge? Is everything going to hell?”

“Well,” he replied, “I'm not exactly a glass half-empty kind of guy.”

I was intrigued.

“I think it's hard to generalize that moral values are in decline; it's the high-profile cases that seem to capture our attention. Every 15-20 years in the business world, there's an ethical meltdown. But then new laws are written and the ship is righted - it's the only way we make progress. So events like Enron, WorldCom, Tyco…circumstances are tragic, certainly, but still serve a purpose.”

Are all big companies evil?

“I do think it's easier for a small company to be ethical than a big company, but it's harder for it to survive. Nearly impossible. What's going to change that is a massive legal intervention. However, something to consider is that we as consumers act just as greedy as the behavior we see of Walmart - we want what we want, as cheap and as quickly as we can get it. So unless we're really prepared and willing to pay a couple of extra dollars at the corner drug store, companies like Walmart will continue to thrive.”

So this is our fault?

“As consumers of product and information, we have to exercise some responsibility ourselves. We can't act like children and expect the media or the company to shoulder it all. We have to be willing to turn off the TV, stop shopping at places with practices we don't appreciate for things we don't need. We have to look for the good in other areas of life, the more meaningful areas of life. People's relationships with each other matter most, and that's where you'll see the true definition of morality. It's easy to say these 'Well, these journalists, these corporations…' when in reality, the responsibility falls on us as individuals.”

We're capable of this?

“I think most people are basically good: people don't think hard enough, but their basic instincts are usually right."

Then why, at the level of plenty most in our nation enjoy, do these types of greed and ethical disregard still persist?

“Well, there's the phenomenon of feeling under pressure, as one thought. Almost without exception, for if someone sees themselves failing in some way, they'll often cheat. That comes as no surprise. So apply this to a CFO or a journalist trying to advance a career, or, as the case may be in today's economy, secure one. However, one thing that does surprise is there used to be journalistic integrity, the imperial fourth estate. Now, news organizations that used to see themselves as a watchdog are corporations, and more market driven. The MBAs are looking more at the bottom line than the headline, and that's changed everything.”

Do celebrities seem to always get off so easily?

“Well, maybe. The Martha Stewart case, for example, fascinated me. The common reaction is that she was just a scapegoat, which I don't understand, because obstruction of justice is wrong. The problem isn't that it happened to Martha Stewart; the problem is that insider trading is a very hard crime to prosecute, and it -should- happen to anyone else who does it. The good thing, if you will, is that she did do her time.”

Does society give celebrities the slip simply because of who they are?

“It's hard to classify achievement in some morally loaded sense. We tend to think of achievement in crassly materialistic terms: 'Oh, look at the millionaire!' But we don't ask that follow-up question: how did he make that million? What did he actually do of value to attain that level? People fixated with celebrities and fascinated with everything that happens to them is the fallout of our brand image and capitalistic society. We're paralyzed, because we worship success, but we also want to hold on to our moral values. Any society that is so focused on material accomplishments seems likely to spin off in this sort of direction, at least periodically.”

So morally, we know it's bad, but stuff ourselves with it anyway?

“Well, we find it titillating and entertaining, but one part of being a moral person is to not be fascinated by someone else's dirty laundry. We have this really passive attitude that we just want to be entertained, because it's a way to pass the time, and therefore harmless. But at some point, you just have to say 'no' and 'I don't want to watch this' and with any luck, the less attention paid to it, the less important it becomes.”

So society isn't really disintegrating?

“Oh no. But do shut off the TV. Go play in the yard with your kids. Take a walk in the woods. Have dinner with friends. That way, it's easier to keep it all in perspective.”


Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou

more about tracey l. kelley


i guess i’m going to hell
having a gay old time in school
by tracey l. kelley
topic: news
published: 9.27.06

the natural order of things
acting like boobs over boobies
by tracey l. kelley
topic: news
published: 8.30.04


juli mccarthy
3.30.05 @ 8:59a

"I think most people are basically good: people don't think hard enough, but their basic instincts are usually right."

I think it's more than that - people ARE basically good and they DON'T think hard enough - but we've also developed some weird societal sense of entitlement. We feel that we're entitled to get what we want, whether it's cheap consumer goods or private information on other people. I'm not sure where the whole entitlement thing came from, but I see it more and more. The irony is that we often explain it away by claiming a higher moral sense - we have a "right" to know what Michael Jackson does in his bedroom, what corporations do with their money, whatever, and we use that information to congratulate ourselves on our own moral high-horses.

I honestly think that's why reality TV is so huge. It gives us an opportunity to see other people make asses of themselves, so that we can feel morally superior.

tracey kelley
3.30.05 @ 9:52a

Sense of entitlement. That's a great point. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs doesn't seem to apply to modern society.

I watched a documentary on the paparazzi, in which the photogs said that anybody who puts themselves in the public spotlight deserves to be crucified, whether they are in the spotlight for good or bad reasons. While I like lively dinner discussion, I don't think it should go that far.

dave lentell
3.30.05 @ 10:15a

As I read this, and reflect on what seems to be going on in our society, I can't help but focus on the media's role in shaping our current attitudes. It's the media (mainstream, celebrity, the Internet, etc.) that bombard us with the messages, images and stories of a world on the brink of ethical collapse. The focus always seems to be (to me anyway) on the negative.

My question is (and I have no answer) is the media simply reacting to the public's desires by focusing on the negative? Are all we get off on these days things like Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, etc? Or is the media partially responsible for giving us a negative attitude by focusing almost exclusively on these types of stories?

Either way, it seems to me that just about all we see and hear these days is negative, and if all you see and hear is negative, you can't help but become somewhat cynical and negative yourself. Are we at heart, cynical and negative? Or are we being steered towards it?

Sure, you can turn off the TV, turn off the Internet, put that copy of People Magazine down... but then how are you supposed to stay informed in this, the "Information Age?" It's all so frustrating to try and keep the world in perspective these days. For those the even bother to try that is.


juli mccarthy
3.30.05 @ 10:18a

Re: Maslow's Heirarchy - I think it totally applies. For most of us here in American, the most basic needs - physiological - are adequately met. 9/11 and the media's coverage of violence, disease and natural disasters fuck with #2, the safety. Love as it's defined by Maslow is dwindling as we become more and more PC and therefore more separate. Your column COMPLETELY addresses the esteem issue - I think that's what it's all about. As for self-actualization, well, I think because we feel that our other needs are NOT being met (from #2 on) we're deluding ourselves into believing that we can fill those previous, more basic needs, by "looking out for number one." Our personal success takes precedence over our responsibilities to one another - because it's a need we feel we can meet without them.

tracey kelley
3.30.05 @ 10:33a

Or is the media partially responsible for giving us a negative attitude by focusing almost exclusively on these types of stories?

Ding-ding-ding. No news is good news, good news is bad news and bad news is good news.

But I battled this when I was in radio: spoon-feed the public crap, and eventually, they'll put salt and pepper on it.

But stretch the expectations to the good, even just a little, and they -will- respond. Everyone likes to read about the wallet returned with all the money intact, or the little girl who collects luggage for foster children who carry their belongings in a paper bag...you know, the Reader's Digest stories. They are real "awwwwwwww" moments.

However, I distinctly remember an "oh, so worldly" magazine editor from NYC (BARBARA JONES, I"M TALKING TO YOU), stating, when Reader's Digest was discussed in a workshop "Oh, people still read that? Well, I can tell you no one in New York does." Go to hell. You're part of the problem as far as I'm concerned.


juli mccarthy
3.30.05 @ 11:13a

It's a vicious circle, though, Tracey. They keep putting it out, we keep buying it. We keep buying it, they keep putting it out.

mike julianelle
3.30.05 @ 11:14a

It's the chicken and the egg.

russ carr
3.30.05 @ 11:42a

I have my own dirty laundry to preoccupied with, thanks -- why should I feel obligated to pick up someone else's? To live vicariously through the angst of the glitterati?

I know way too much about cases like Martha or Ken or Michael, et al, because it's all but impossible to escape them. Popping up a website like CNN, or even, tragically, the BBC, plasters this needless information across my line of sight because some irresponsible media nanny decided her charges could live on journalistic Pixy Stix laced with heroin.

The problem with using "reality TV" (which includes the news, these days) as a means to make us feel morally superior is that the bar has been plummeting in recent years, meaning the audience doesn't have to work very hard to reach that "at least I'm not THEM" level.

joel verdon
3.30.05 @ 11:49a

Your essay is a perfect example of how every generation believes life to be the "best of times and the worst of times." Surprisingly we somehow manage, individually and societally, to get to the next chapter. Turning off the TV just makes the reading (day to day life) that much more interesting...

matt kelley
3.30.05 @ 1:34p

I worked as a TV news reporter for several years and eventually got the hell out, screaming. That end of the media is too often heavily focused on the extremes, the gore, the controversy and the wild video with little emphasis on journalism or ethics.

Radio news still manages to focus on the "who, what, when, where, why and how" with little embellishment. Still, our broadcast vanguard is vanishing, due to the rise of mega-communications corporations focused only on profit, not a paltry exploit like providing the public information.

Violence and sex, however, sell and the people continue buying, big, from Survivor/Vanuatu to Viagra to Victoria’s Secret. Want to stop it? You can’t. Remember “Max Headroom” back in the early 80s? That world is, in many ways, already here.

russ carr
3.30.05 @ 2:05p

An additional side effect of all of this is the continued creative deterioration of our culture.

The boom in reality TV, whether it's programs like "Survivor" or programs like "Dateline," exploded as the networks' reaction to (and hedge against another) writers' strike. They determined it was cheaper to pay journalism-level wages, or skip the script altogether, than to pay screenwriters. What's more, the public -- grown bored of recycled sitcoms and police dramas -- ate it up. Particularly successful was unscripted conflict -- Survivor or Big Brother -- which is why those "game shows" lasted, while more traditional game shows (Millionaire, Weakest Link) sputtered out.

Now, several years later, those conflict-centered game shows persist, each year seeming to up the ante by dropping the moral threshold (although the worst of Fox's offerings have been canceled). Writers -- creative writers -- take a backseat to show runners who can just toss a new grenade into the midst of the assembled cast of pretty amateur celebs and film the resulting carnage. Even among those scripted shows that remain, there's a distinct lack of originality. Witness 3 CSIs and 4 Law & Orders.

At this rate, are we're going to reach a point where no one's going to bother to write clever new TV shows (we're already feeling the crunch on the big screen, too)? A lack of creativity begets entertainment with a lack of moral keel, which begets an audience unstimulated to be creative (or moral) themselves, and perpetuating the demand for more crap. And unlike the business world, as suggested by Prof. Bruton, the entertainment world simply doesn't have the same kind of reset switch.

jael mchenry
3.30.05 @ 3:06p

And yet... new shows that are very popular include those that break the mold, like Desperate Housewives or Lost. The scripted form is certainly not dead, and the clever is rewarded as much as it ever was -- I'm not saying TV is a hotbed of true, original creativity, but I'm saying that it is not getting worse than it has been for, say, 10 years now.

Also, creativity is being displayed in spades on HBO -- why won't this have a ripple effect back onto network?

russ carr
3.30.05 @ 3:14p

Would Desperate Housewives be as popular sans all the sexy?

I'm not saying there aren't oases, just that they're few and far between. Not everyone's got cable, and of those that do, not everyone's gonna pony up for HBO. Against the numbers posted by broadcast TV, cable outlets are still a fraction.

And some would argue that the presentations on cable -- with no regard to the creative writing -- are only as successful as they are because they can offer what the networks, for now, cannot: stronger profanity, more nudity, more violence... jacking up the intensity meter for a public no longer stimulated by the networks' tepid offerings. A high titillation factor is everything.

tracey kelley
3.30.05 @ 3:20p

Well, take a show like West Wing, which made politics sexy and fun and, more importantly, accessible. In the good years, the dialogue was crisp, the issues a mirror of real-life issues (made all the more attractive because solutions seemed so readily available within the 47 minute drama timeframe) and yet it was still entertainment.

However, not everyone is attracted to that type of "thinking" entertainment - more entertainment is designed for escapism, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that.

At the core, however, is something Juli touched on earlier: would the need for such blatent moralistically unstable entertainment be necessary if individuals found more personal satisifaction within themselves? The musician who composes, the artist who creates, the photographer who capture. It's like Prof. Bruton said - someone who sees themselves as failing in some way will cheat to remedy that situation. Let's expand that: Could we not be cheating ourselves when we are merely bystanders to life, and thus, these grandstanded issues presented to us by the media take on a level of "importance" moreso than they would when we actually engage in life?

mike julianelle
3.30.05 @ 3:23p

I don't honestly think this stuff affects people on any kind of organic level.

Increased attention to sexuality and indecency and all that crap are nothing more than the growing pains of an evolving culture.

Things like tabloid journalism and gossip and reality TV don't really strike me as moral issues. They are incidental. People look for titillation wherever they can get it, whether it be in the form of rich people falling on their faces, or poor people debasing themselves, or people getting naked, whatever. That crap is more of a question of class and character than real morality.

The problem is that society is more and more bottom-line oriented. Everyone loses their morals for the right price, and the way TV networks ply their trade is nothing more than a reflection of that greed. If it didn't sell, it wouldn't be sold.

I see the lack of so-called morals as less a danger than an increasingly offensive crackdown on indecency and immorality by the government.

Ever since Breastgate, the FCC has gone nuts, and their new guy promises to take on HBO, the very place showcasing the best creativity TV has to offer. Politicians grandstand about the Schiavo case just to up their image and get some votes, everyone's constantly up in arms about indecency. The issue here is people deciding what is and isn't moral and then enforcing that crap on everyone else.

I think we'll get through all this and emerge from it more enlightened than anything else, so long as the Gestapo Government doesn't continue to strangle our freedom of expression. Eventually all the shit will get churned away. It's just a matter of time.

russ carr
3.30.05 @ 3:28p

Increased attention to sexuality and indecency and all that crap are nothing more than the growing pains of an evolving culture.

I'm sure had you asked Nero, he'd've said the same thing.

tracey kelley
3.30.05 @ 3:30p

It's a smokescreen, basically. A rallying cry for an empty issue.

How is the morality play actually dictated, anyway? A very good point raised in the movie Kinsey.
How are morals and ethics established? Through religion? Can a person with a non-religious upbringing still be a "good" person? And how can you teach someone personal accountability if there's not a benchmark established?

The problem is that society is more and more bottom-line oriented. Everyone loses their morals for the right price, and the way TV networks ply their trade is nothing more than a reflection of that greed. If it didn't sell, it wouldn't be sold.

That goes back to what Juli said about looking out for number one, which, ironically, in a different discussion today, a co-worker said the exact same thing, just in different context.


russ carr
3.30.05 @ 3:33p

Could we not be cheating ourselves when we are merely bystanders to life, and thus, these grandstanded issues presented to us by the media take on a level of "importance" moreso than they would when we actually engage in life?

Well, exactly! Why else are these shows billed as "The Real World," or "The Simple Life," when in (dare I use the word) reality, they're nothing of the kind? It's television for those too lazy to engage themselves. Why fix up your own house when you can watch Ty and the gang do someone else's? Why get off your own fat ass when you can chuckle at "The Biggest Loser"? Why bother going out and meeting a partner when you can just ogle the latest Bachelor or Bachelorette? It's life for those too lazy to live.

juli mccarthy
3.30.05 @ 3:39p

In the end, it's all a little bit of schadenfreude. We don't get off our collective butts and do anything, but we thoroughly enjoy watching those who do fall on theirs.

russ carr
3.30.05 @ 3:43p

Morality cannot exist without an absolute. The absolute is a gauge, a benchmark. For most, that absolute comes in the form of a spiritual authority, a deity that exists outside the limited ability of humanity, and who is not constrained to the fallibility of human nature.

Take away the absolute, and all you have is moral relativism, which is an oxymoron. If everything is relative, then there's no need for morality, because everyone is entitled to his or her own perspective.

For humanists (those who don't acknowledge a spiritual power) they find their absolute in the law -- though even our existing law takes its roots from the spiritual tenets of our forbears. But even then, the law isn't absolute. We pay attorneys to find the loopholes, pay stripmall lawyers to barter tickets down, buy politicians to propose or repeal existing laws as we see fit... and so the law loses its authority, and with it, its moral absolute.

mike julianelle
3.30.05 @ 3:59p

How are morals and ethics established? Through religion? Can a person with a non-religious upbringing still be a "good" person? And how can you teach someone personal accountability if there's not a benchmark established?

Just to nitpick one point here, you can be brought up correctly, with moral benchmarks that were informed by religion or whatever, without being in a religious household. As Russ said, it all gets traced back to spiritual tenets from back in the day anyways, regardless of what it's couched in in each particular home.

At the same time, someone like Elaine Pagels could argue that the so-called spiritual tenets our forbears established were nothing more than convenient devices through which political agendas were accelerated.

For example, homosexuality wasn't such a big deal until the people in charge decided it was and then draped it in sin in order to give their laws more weight. It just so happens that today's current religions have carried that particular belief all the way down the line, and it has become ingrained in so many minds that it's a sin that it's deemed immoral. In reality, it wasn't immoral until someone decided it was because they wanted it to be.

tracey kelley
3.30.05 @ 4:04p

That's precisely my point: what is the defintion of morality? If morals are based on principles of right and wrong, then it's like Russ said - without a benchmark, it's all relative. So how is the benchmark established? And by whom?

mike julianelle
3.30.05 @ 4:13p

If you believe in God, or something like that, a conscience maybe (which is God, as C.S. Lewis said), then He's the sounding board for moral decisions, He is the benchmark. The conscience, which Lewis said was the independent voice inside that chimed in to let you know when something was right or wrong, is proof of God, proof of a benchmark existing.

If you don't believe that, then it has to come down to nothing more than social compacts, adn those ARE relative, I suppose. They are malleable with time. Certain morals in our country are different than in other places, due to culture, and experience, and etc. But they can't come down to individual decisions, on a case by case basis. Or can they? Who knows. That'd be anarchy, tho. Where's Gonzo? He'd love this.

russ carr
3.30.05 @ 4:14p

Well, that's the irony. If you could somehow detach yourself from reality and observe omnisciently, you would see that the world is morally relativistic, like it or not. Short of having God appear simultaneously to all people everywhere, there will never be an absolute upon which all people can agree. All the different religions -- even denominations within those religions -- will have their own interpretations. There may be significant overlap: it's generally agreed that theft, and murder and adultery, etc., are immoral, for instance, but invariably there will be points of divergence. And as history has shown, those points of divergence, though seemingly trivial from a global perspective, can be enough to incite persecution, war, and other substantial social changes.

Societies will form where there is a moral consensus. Where there is moral divergence, there will be schisms. This is why there's an Eastern Orthodox church, why there are Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, why the Pilgrims fled Europe, why Ireland is divided, etc. Like will find like, and where one group comes into contact with another, there will always be friction.

joel verdon
3.30.05 @ 10:43p

Ah, Russ, but as a planet we are converging into a similar moralistic paradigm ... consumerism; born in the 19th century blossomed post-WWII and has yet to crest. Add the internet during the past 15 years and it seems obvious that we now live in a world WITHOUT borders where "separatism" is the exception and not the norm. Consumerism, the very focal point (although subdued) in Tracy's essay, is the good of mankind and, conversely, what some would call the downfall.

russ carr
3.31.05 @ 12:40a

What then is the absolute? The marketing agent?

joel verdon
3.31.05 @ 3:00a

You are correct. There will always be friction, er, difference of opinion on what constitutes a moral or unmoral action. Trying to find the absolute concept of such then takes us back to the definition of what is moral - or a moral - is it a majority decision? A court precedent handed down? A faith in some higher deity that determines the "law of the land?"

What is moral is defined by the current attitudes and feelings of society. Sounds vague, eh? Morals change as we travel from family unit, to neighborhood, to city, etc. Likewise morals change as we travel from 9\11 to Janet Jackson's tit to yesterday.

So you are correct on several accounts; there will always be friction AND, for the time being, the marketing agent will be driving us to conceive of - and accept - societal morals. For the best living example of this google NY Times articles regarding China over the past year.

I hope, in my next life (and I'm still not convinced there will be another), that I come back as a big lug black labrador without the slightest inclination to discuss these wondrous/preplexing esoteric questions. Maybe we should all just stick our head back into the pillow once in a while...way to go Tracy!


matt kelley
3.31.05 @ 7:19a

Last week, a ten-year-old Iowa girl was abducted, raped and killed. A twice-convicted sex offender is charged in the crimes.

Yesterday, the Iowa House passed a bill to force sex offenders, upon release from prison, to wear electronic bracelets to track their movements. Said one representative: "Gosh, if we can do it for Martha Stewart, I would sure think we could do it for somebody that's gonna' come after our kids."

Is it "moral" to indefinitely track someone who's served his or her time? Is the legislation too little, too late – or too much? Is Martha getting enough lemons now?

roger striffler
3.31.05 @ 9:41a

Seems to me that if offenders are serving their time then going on to commit more crimes, then either the punishment is not severe enough to deter them, or their is no/insufficient rehabilitation going on.

It may be that there are some crimes for which it's not possible to simply serve your time...some crimes or actions may actually result in a person never being trusted by society again.

mike julianelle
3.31.05 @ 9:58a


russ carr
3.31.05 @ 10:05a


tracey kelley
3.31.05 @ 10:26a


My thoughts are this: if someone believes that the illness of pedophilia/combined with psychotic behavior is easily rehabilitated, then let that child molester move next door to YOU and YOUR children.

We'll check on your attitude in about 6 months.

Joel! I want to be a pampered Persian cat in my next life.

What I've always found interesting is the basic foundation of almost every religion holds the same principles: don't hurt anyone, be nice, be reverent, yet still there is such strife.

I like what Mike mentioned, quoting CS Lewis, that our conscience is God talking to us.

russ carr
3.31.05 @ 11:30a

CNN is dutifully making a mountain out of a molehill with the the physical death of Terri Schiavo. Now they've scheduled a three-hour "national conversation" about the issue on Larry ("I look like I've been dead for years, myself") King tonight. And, according to CNN's writers, the nation has been polarized.

roger striffler
3.31.05 @ 12:15p

OH, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I think that pedophilia can be rehabilitated, what I'm saying is that by assigning a certain fixed sentence and then releasing the offender implies that the offender is then fit to be returned freely to society. We really need to put some thought into whether or not that's really the case.

If we honestly don't think that the sentence given will correct the behavior, then the sentence isn't sufficient. At that point the bracelet/anklet seems a lot more reasonable.

tracey kelley
3.31.05 @ 12:41p

The nation has been polarized?




Roger, you're absolutely right. "Justice" as it stands now, means we throw people in a big building and call that good enough. More criminals? Bigger jails!


joel verdon
3.31.05 @ 1:55p

Wow! What a great discussion - it just keeps evolving so wonderfully!

I'm completely in support of the ankle bracelet scenario, but it needs to be implemented so as NOT to interfere with civil rights. Perhaps the reason, as a nation, we have reached a point where these tools are necessary is because we always apply law indiscriminantly, i.e. we think all three strikes (as federally mandated) are equal when I venture to assume they are not. A pedophile, a rapist, and Martha Stewart - as a null hypothesis - do not possess the same socio-psycho traits and therefore SHOULD NOT even be compared to each other. Instead of bigger jails how about more respect (money) for the frontline social workers that might be able to run interference - or as Roger suggested, adjust the punishment by the actually assessing each case separately. Hell, the companies we work for pay HUGE gobs of money to actuaries who then statistically analyze each of us for potential death and dismemberment costs associated with our employment; are we so cheap that we can't spend a little more to look at our justice system?

Persian cats give good attitude.

tracey kelley
3.31.05 @ 3:08p

I give good attitude AND good phone. Sez so, right in my bio.

In Iowa, it costs $4.00 a day to band a criminal with ankle bracelets. I honestly don't know if that's relatively expensive or inexpensive, compared to the statistics of rehousing a repeat offender.

russ carr
3.31.05 @ 3:57p

How about a subcutaneous transmitter? Can't be removed. Small and unobtrusive.

Better still, a subcutaneous transmitter with a small explosive charge. If they violate the terms of their parole, their testes explode.

jael mchenry
4.1.05 @ 9:17a

Russ, you watch too much Alias.

mike julianelle
4.1.05 @ 9:32a

And 24.

dan gonzalez
4.1.05 @ 11:47a

Oh, man, so many questions, comments, and conundrums. What a great discussion. I'll start with one of the few moral absolutes I believe in:

I'm completely in support of the ankle bracelet scenario, but it needs to be implemented so as NOT to interfere with civil rights.

How could it 'interfere'? For that matter, what civil rights are you talking about, the actual ones given by a state and guided by the constitution, or some ACLU-spun version of them? Because in the former case, they are quite irrelevant, being subject to revocation upon conviction.

Pedophiles are the lowest, most expendable piece-of-shit criminal assholes in society. Kids barely have any rights of their own and that's why pedophiles get away with it so easily. The message needs to be sent that if you mess with a kid, you do whatever time but that you're on probation for the rest of your life since YOU ROBBED THAT KID OF THE REST OF HIS OR HER REGULAR LIFE.

Wear the bracelet for life is a very practical punishment. Don't wanna wear it because it conflicts with one's personal definition of civil rights? Then stay in jail.

That's right, I support choice for Pedophiles. Who's with me?

russ carr
4.1.05 @ 12:30p

From our "extreme life-support measures approved" department, the media has administered an adrenalin shot to the heart of the Terri Schiavo story by now digging into the rancor between Schiavo's husband and her parents. CNN's website trumpets "Family feud boils after Schiavo's death," while our own local Post-Dispatch cites AP's report that "Schiavo's family plans separate funerals."

She's DEAD. But as long as the media can milk a few more inches, they'll keep her story alive by tube-feeding the public with sweet, sweet acrimony.

dan gonzalez
4.1.05 @ 1:25p

That Schiavo thing is amazing, because who really gives a crap? Most of us couldn't care less what happened to her, we didn't know her and random people drop dead every minute. Total non-story: She's on life-support but didn't have a living will and there was a court battle which obviously couldn't be justly decided according to her last wishes. No shit!

The only way I can tie this into anything of national significance is that it is definitive evidense that human beings are in the midst of a morally retarded phase of special development. I'd like to think it's a passing phase of evolution, and not devolution, but how does one know for sure?

dathan wood
4.1.05 @ 2:05p

Yeah, in the SF paper today there were all sorts of quotes from religious and political fuckwads hoping “no one will ever have to go through this again”. Someone gets yanked off life support every day! I still don’t get the driving force behind this enormous waste of time story. Why is this particular case such a big deal? If I end up brain dead my family damn well better pull the plug on me and let me die with dignity.

tracey kelley
4.1.05 @ 2:06p

I'll say this about the Schiavo situation: if it gets people - specifically partners and families - talking to one another about things they'd rather not, like death, life support, all the "what ifs" long before those circumstances need to be addressed, then perhaps her life would have been worth more than the admission price to the media circus.

And what a beautiful thing that would be: to be remembered for creating positive change, even though she might not have ever realized what was happening. Maybe she does now.

This case touches on so many aspects that have been discussed with the column: the intrusiveness of the media, the voyeuristic prying into one another's lives, the push for power by people who have none - it's all there. So I can't say that hearing about Terry Schiavo bothered me - as another human being, I'm very touched and thankful that I wasn't in her position - or that of her husband or family, for that matter. So did we need to know? Maybe not. But now that we do, how does it change things?

Dan, you said something on the boards that I thought was interesting: that you had also been renumerating on the state of morals and society of late and how interesting it was that I would come up with a column at the same time. I don't think it's a coinkadink - I think many people are stopping to look around, breathe, and take it all in.

juli mccarthy
4.1.05 @ 4:10p

I'm old enough to remember going through this whole media circus with Karen Ann Quinlan, too. You think her case made a lasting impression?

Thinking back, I'm trying to remember when the public started started thinking it had any say-so in this kind of thing, and I keep circling back to the OJ Simpson trial. It seems like that was some kind of turning point when people started believing they had a vote in what happens in other people's private lives.

dan gonzalez
4.1.05 @ 6:02p

It seems like that was some kind of turning point

Good call on OJ. EVERYBODY who had a tv had a verdict.

You think it would be a sign that the total immersion in TV has some negative effects when half the country becomes convinced they were actually sitting on that jury.

I think the problem in that case, as well as with the current schism amongst religions, humanists, and even atheists, is moral authoritarianism. You gotta be an audacious mother to try to force your dogmatic, faith-based beliefs on others. And don't get me wrong, I'm not just knocking relisions: atheists and particularly humanists are some of the most prejudiced bullies around, and all they have is personal faith as well, no matter how they rationalize it or what they call it.

joel verdon
4.1.05 @ 8:24p

...by interfering with civil rights, Dan, I neglected to elaborate that I lean toward the belief that, historically, too much power in the hands of government is rarely a good thing. In the case of ankle bracelets (or subcutaneous detection devices) there is far too great of a chance for misguided use unless we have people in place to monitor the monitors who monitor the computer programmers who monitor the manufacturers, ad infinitum. Does anyone remember "1984" or the film "Brazil?" Are we prepared, as Americans or human beings, to open the door to those kinds of government?

I am far from a libertarian, but I'll take my chances with a few creeps on the street rather than live a life where someone, or some people, try to make life perfectly safe at the expense of keeping life absolutely FREE.

dan gonzalez
4.1.05 @ 9:29p

I neglected to elaborate that I lean toward the belief that, historically, too much power in the hands of government is rarely a good thing.

I'm right there with ya on that point bro. That's why I hate the democrats so much lately! I'm all for personal responsibility and self-government.

but I'll take my chances with a few creeps on the street

And I'll take that chance just like you will, although I don't really believe that anything, much less life, is 'absolutely FREE.'

But we don't matter, because we are adults who have the right to make that type of elective choice. Children are defenseless and lack the resources to govern themselves. What right does any adult have to take such a chance with a kid's burgeoning life as the stakes? Why should a pedophile, who has already egregiously blown their chance (by abusing the helpless) get a second or third chance which was denied to their victim?

joel verdon
4.2.05 @ 3:26a

We agree. For the most part anyway. Pedophiles are scum. Hands down. Same with kidnappers. Terrorist-cowards. Rapists. Patriarchal Ivy league politicians - oops. Anyway, children are defenseless (except for the ones who own guns, commit crimes of their own accord against others, and those children that, for reasons beyond comprehension, are just plain mean)...no person, child or adult has the right to rape, pillage, kill, etc. But there will be exceptions to the rule - an addict, a normally sane person that suddenly goes bonkers, a "Bernard Goetz" (from the 80's), someone who goes postal, a nation at war, and any person that has a treatable illness...should we treat all people who commit a similar crime identically without regard to the conditions that may or may not provide discretionary relevance in creating appropriate punishment? Afterall, not ALL criminals are released, and not ALL released criminals repeat their offenses. Oh yeah, almost forgot, molestation victims are most often raped by a member of their own family (American Academy of Pediatrics) So should they all be treated the same?

These are tough questions that I'm fairly certain communities have been grappling with for millenia. More importantly, do you think Tracey is tickled pink with having created the longest discussion in months?


lisa r
4.2.05 @ 2:03p

As a result of my new job, I've started looking at a lot of things in terms of cognitive function, and I would think morals certainly fit.

In a nutshell, the frontal lobe of the brain is our "executive function". It tells us what to remember, what information should be ignored, and figures out how to interpret new information based on what's already in long-term memory.

However, it doesn't start to develop until between the ages of 16 and 25 (which explains why teenagers are capable of making really dumb decisions at times). Morality is quintessentially an executive function. Until our own kicks in it is our teachers, parents, clergy, and other adult influences that serve as our executive function. They give us our benchmark of what is right and wrong.

That being said, some people are just genetically programmed to be bad apples morally. Which is not all that bizarre a statement, if you take into consideration that genes govern the development of the brain. If there's an error in the genetic material, there can be a defect in the centers that are involved in moral thoughts and decisions.

tim lockwood
4.3.05 @ 3:52a

For all you cynical folks, it's apropos to mention that Pope John Paul II just passed away. After all, he was perhaps the last known world leader to not only have a moral compass, but to consistently live by it. Now that he's gone, we're left with ... well, not much, unless you count the televangelists like Robertson and Falwell.

Perhaps I'm an optimist, but I think this is one of those rare cases where the media hype can actually have a positive effect. People may understand, once they hear his biography repeated ad nauseam, just what the Catholic Church (or any church) ought to stand for - standing up for those too weak or powerless to stand up for themselves; and being unafraid to call the wrong things wrong, even if the wrong thing is really popular at the moment, and even if that wrong thing involves the corporate bottom line.

Shifting gears to the Terri Schiavo subject: It was indeed a non-story, and radio was not immune to discussing it endlessly. To hear them talk, Michael Schiavo was little more than an adultering wife-beating murderer who constantly wished for his wife's death. These nutcase radio-talkers took bits of juicy gossip and second-hand innuendo and wove it all into a very tabloidesque tapestry.

Amidst it all, they seemed very certain what they would have done in Michael Schiavo's situation. Having been in a very similar situation when my mother was gravely ill with liver cancer, I can say with an absolute certainty that all the radio and TV commentators are full of unmitigated horseshit. I was in the situation where I had to make the decision on how to handle the end of Mom's life; and the only thing that spared me the very public agony of the Schindler-Schiavo feud is the fact that there were no close relatives involved.

I knew what Mom wanted; she had told me several times over the years in no uncertain terms, having seen the situations discussed on the evening news and dramatized in her favorite shows, that she did not want her body lingering on a machine doing nothing but jacking up the hospital bill. She believed not just that there was no dignity in that type of death, but that it demeaned the memory of who a person was. She did not want to be remembered as the withering husk that lay in a hospital bed for years; she wanted to be remembered as my mom.

But there was no living will involved; there was only me and my wife Christy in a little office at the eight-bed hospice, and the very nice director asking us specific questions about how we wished them to proceed with her care. I thank God that there was no distant cousin or crazy uncle to second-guess me in that hour, because there would have been no niceties of a legal battle. My emotions at that time were such that I would have pounded the crap out of them on the spot.

(continued ...)


tim lockwood
4.3.05 @ 3:53a

The media had no business in the Schiavo situation, and Congress certainly didn't. The fact that both interposed themselves where they weren't needed or welcome just goes to show what kind of grandstanding idiots we allow to run our lives and tell us what's good and what isn't.

Holy Father, you will be missed. Godspeed.

daniel givin
4.3.05 @ 10:17a

Love God and your fellow human beings with all your heart and life will be better here and now. This is the essence of the teachings of Jesus. Unfortunately, this is not what the Christian collection of churches (how many different flavors are there now?) focus on. For the most part, they worship an entity known as "The Lord Jesus Christ", who you must accept as your personal saviour or you are going to hell. They are very focused on the afterlife and really do not care that much what happens here on this Earth. How can you love your fellow human beings when you are engaged in a daily competition for money? When the so-called spiritual leaders are spiritually bankrupt, it is very difficult to have a moral compass for society. I think that the main disease we are suffering from in this world is "hypocrisy overload". It is wrong to allow a person to die whose life is essentially over, but it is OK to kill innocent children in the pursuit of capital gain. It is OK to drive a living person to despair through neglect, but it is not OK to prevent them from being born. I think we are all just overwhelmed and confused. We desperately need to simplify. The problem is, simplification would ruin the economy that we are all so desperately dependent upon. We are caught in a culture of death, currently lacking the courage to stop the progression of our death spiral. Hopefully someday we will summon the necessary courage to stop the madness.

lisa r
4.3.05 @ 10:30a

If Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are the best the world can do in terms of a moral compass, we're all in trouble.

I, too, have been in the position to have to make a decision abouta feeding tube. My grandfather died of pancreatic cancer. Mom and I both were in agreement that having one inserted would only prolong the inevitable, and possibly make it even more painful than it already was for him. Fortunately, my grandmother chose to let us make the decision. It was hard enough to watch him die as it was--having it prolonged would have served none of us well. It was an awful decision to have to make, but in my heart I know we did the right thing by my grandfather.

I'm of the opinion that feeding tubes and other life support only qualify as life support if there is actually a life to support. What I mean by that is there has to be brain activity beyond that of the automatic functions of the brain stem and amygdala. Otherwise, it's just existence, and it becomes a case of relatives not being able to let go and let someone die with dignity.

While recent research is showing that a person's brain can form new neural networks to compensate for damaged areas in the brain, that only holds true if there is tissue available in which they can form. I saw an MRI of Terri Schiavo's brain. I know what a normal brain looks like in an MRI(we have an MRI magnet at work and I've been in it several times for research), and it does not have a huge black hole in the center of it--when the news pundits said her brain was liquefied, they were not (for once) exaggerating.

For the record, my colleagues assure me that my brain is anatomically normal. They do not, however, make any claims to my mental state. :)


daniel givin
4.3.05 @ 12:30p

Jerry Falwell and the culture of life. "Blow them away in the name of the lord". What hypocrisy!

dan gonzalez
4.3.05 @ 1:59p

They do not, however, make any claims to my mental state. :)

Well I can say from an IM p.o.v. that you are very sane and incorrigibly (sometimes painfully) reasonable. We're still waiting for you to get a little nuts around here!

As such, your pointing out of the MRI is significant:

Most of the world (by that, Jews, Christians, and Muslims) don't actually believe that life and mental state are synonymous since their faiths prescribe the tripartite metaphysics of mind, body, and soul. Therefore, they are confronted by this case because her condition by definition must have left her soul in some kind of purgatorial void.

Dan mentioned hypocrisy above, and that is true and very obvious in the case he pointed out. But it's also true in the case of the humanists and atheists that supported euthanasia: What faith they have that there is no God (or whatever one chooses to call the highest form of good)! Not to get too trippy here, but what an audacious conclusion to leap to, that all meaning comes from whatever slivers of phenomena we can observe and categorize in the cross-section of space-time in which we are currently lodged. That humans alone provide meaning to the universe, and as such can determine our fate in terms of what is good and what is not.

I think we are all just overwhelmed and confused. We desperately need to simplify.

Truly confused, but how to simplify? The universe is nothing if not irrational, and how can we base an absolute morality on weak and fraudulent metahpysics? If the measurements of our scientists are accurate, and thus space and time are two aspects of one phenomena, none of the foundations of morality - God, Buddhist Nirvana, the Happy Hunting Grounds, or even No God and the seculuar common good of mankind, could ever be defined, much less proven or unproven, until life somehow transcends that continuum. Apparantly life cannot, being bounded on all sides the very finite juxtaposition of space/time in the here and now.

So morality remains an issue of faith for us all and as such all are rendered hypocrites. The only thing I can glean from it is that no one is truly to blame for this confusion, and the only ethical thing to do is tolerate that flaw and not condemn another for any shortcoming, all the while hoping we continue to evolve and not devolve.

This is a fine day-to-day position, a kind of moral Switzerland, unless of course something very real like the Schiavo case pops up to expose how unprepared I am for a serious moral challenge.


lisa r
4.3.05 @ 6:11p

Well I can say from an IM p.o.v. that you are very sane and incorrigibly (sometimes painfully) reasonable. We're still waiting for you to get a little nuts around here!

I'm sure Tracey will vouch for the fact that I can, indeed, be nutty on occasion.

Therefore, they are confronted by this case because her condition by definition must have left her soul in some kind of purgatorial void.

Here's where I, looking at it from a spiritual and scientific p.o.v., feel compelled to point out that (IMO, at least) her soul went on to a better place long ago. I sincerely doubt it was lingering in purgatory. Her mortal remains continued to function only because of human intervention.

I'm all in favor of heroic measures to save someone's life--but I would dearly love to see that at the end of those measures the person actually had a life worth living. Otherwise, what's the point? I, personally, don't want to live out my days as a life-size cell culture.

tracey kelley
4.3.05 @ 6:50p

Lisa is a wild woman, no doubt about it.

That being said, some people are just genetically programmed to be bad apples morally. Which is not all that bizarre a statement, if you take into consideration that genes govern the development of the brain. If there's an error in the genetic material, there can be a defect in the centers that are involved in moral thoughts and decisions.

So, truly, science has a bit of a hand into morality?

dan gonzalez
4.3.05 @ 7:26p

So, truly, science has a bit of a hand into morality?

I think Lisa could address this better. I can't quite see it to the end. Science has a hand in behavior, to be certain, but only humans make moral judgements. Genetic evolution certainly contributes to our behavioral need to moralize. But that's about it.

Killing is not immoral when animals do it, because animals are amoral. But we consider a human that murders to be immoral, despite the fact that the act of killing itself cannot be convincingly proven to be 'wrong' or 'bad'.

daniel givin
4.3.05 @ 9:18p

If the measurements of our scientists are accurate, and thus space and time are two aspects of one phenomena, none of the foundations of morality - God, Buddhist Nirvana, the Happy Hunting Grounds, or even No God and the seculuar common good of mankind, could ever be defined, much less proven or unproven, until life somehow transcends that continuum. Apparantly life cannot, being bounded on all sides the very finite juxtaposition of space/time in the here and now. How can we be sure this is true? Perhaps we are just spiritual infants who are not yet mature enough to be made aware of other realities. We can remember the past and we can project into the future. Are we as bounded as we think we are?

dan gonzalez
4.3.05 @ 9:48p

We can remember the past and we can project into the future. Are we as bounded as we think we are?

Now that is a question, perhaps THE question, no? Perhaps we not are as firmly bounded as we seem to be, but I can't say for sure.

We do remember, albeit imperfectly, but can we ever go back, or do we just rewrite it via rationalization? And we do look forward, and indeed plan for the future, but do we really see? The boundary of the future seems to be anxiety - either in the form of hope or despair - but certainty appears elusive. And the boundary of the past seems to be our rationalization of it, rather than knowledge. Again, certainty seems beyond our reach.

Spiritual infants, indeed, and just maybe those other realities are too awe-inspiring for the mean of us to digest?

lisa r
4.3.05 @ 10:19p

I think Lisa could address this better. I can't quite see it to the end. Science has a hand in behavior, to be certain, but only humans make moral judgements. Genetic evolution certainly contributes to our behavioral need to moralize. But that's about it.

I'll try. If there is an error in the DNA that codes for the parts of the brain that regulates awareness of right and wrong and rational thought, then I believe it is possible that person could be genetically predisposed to be immoral. This of course could be taken to mean immoral as in Jeffrey Dahmer and Hitler, or some lesser extent of immoral. At any rate, the errors in brain programming could lead someone to believe that immoral behavior is perfectly acceptable or be unable to distinguish between right and wrong. There is actually a diagnosed brain disorder (the name escapes me) in which the sufferers literally develop no conscience whatsoever.

I think morals in general grew out of man's need to live together in harmony to survive. I suppose they could be considered to be an exaggerated version of the pecking order and pack behavior seen in animals that live in herds or packs that establish the members' places within their society. That, and the control that religous leaders exerted over people at one time. Maybe I'm wrong, but morals seem to be a combination of rules and beliefs as to what is appropriate and what is not appropriate.

dan gonzalez
4.3.05 @ 10:49p

See? Told ya Lisa would nail it. And she is dead on with that second paragraph, as far as I can see.

But those errors in the code. Those are the same mutations that allowed us to evolve positive traits as well, correct?

So Dahmer was immoral, but if you think about it, only because he knew what he was doing was wrong. And he knew that because civilized folk had all agreed on it. So he tried to hide it. Otherwise, he was just doing what he was wired to do.

Some anthropogists think cannibalism amongst primitive tribes may have been an unlikeable survival mechanism which was draped in hoodoo (consume an enemy to inherit his powers) to permit it. In the same vein, pork, which must have been tempting, was rendered taboo (immoral) although the rabbis had no idea what trichinosis was.

lisa r
4.4.05 @ 7:35a

But those errors in the code. Those are the same mutations that allowed us to evolve positive traits as well, correct?

Well, not the same mutations, but mutations, yes. Technically, a mutation is just a change. It can be either good or bad. All alleles of genes are mutations from the original gene. Whether or not the individual survives and is healthy is dependent upon the importance of the gene to those two factors.


daniel givin
4.4.05 @ 9:46a

Could it be that it is just a software problem. We were released before full testing. Maybe human beings just need a DNA patch download, version 3.0, a major revision. This release would contain a new feature, a larger purpose than self.

dan gonzalez
4.4.05 @ 3:17p

This release would contain a new feature, a larger purpose than self.

That does seem to be the flaw, doesn't it? I think that's why Marx was weak, his theory of human nature, as sparse and vague as it is, seemed to ignore the fact that our conscience is persistently self-aware, annoyingly self-aware.

This also may be why there has never been a single decent communist leader, they can never think of the people over their own ideas of what the perfect society is.

dathan wood
4.4.05 @ 5:38p

I think you’re getting a bit too large scale on this. I think the real problem is that there isn’t any accountability from our peers anymore. It used to be that if you got fired for drinking on the job or your 16 year old daughter got knocked up, you were the scandal in the neighborhood. Now, no one even knows their neighbors. People who live in tract houses open the garage door, drive inside and are never seen again until they pull out in the morning. They don’t have yards and literally no one sits on the front porch anymore. Air conditioning and TV have created an anonymity which has freed people up to do what they want in total privacy. Our need to judge one another is filled by calling out celebrities on embarrassingly stupid issues. Quite simply, we have a non-culture where our only common thread is TV. (By the way, when I say “our” and “we” I mean “them”.)

dan gonzalez
4.4.05 @ 6:58p

Well, we were kicking around what source, if any, morals can be founded on.

I think you're right about accountability, just can't see it making a big comeback in the land of no-fault divorce and liberal courts that let child molestors roam around free after serving 5-7.

stacy smith
4.5.05 @ 7:26a

Ethics seem to be a hard thing to come by these days. There could be countless reasons for it, but basically it's up to society to decide that they've had enough and stop pulling the wool over their eyes. The simple line of "Just say no!" should be exercised often.

Funny you mention Walmart Tracey.

In the process of getting work done around the house, it has also gotten me to thinking about where I spend my money. What it boiled down to is I can either buy a bunch of cheap crap or I can spend alittle more and get something that I will have for many years to come. It's more costly to buy a bunch of cheap crap. While there is no getting around the big box retailers, it doesn't mean I have to support them for everything. Mom and Pop businesses are becoming dinosaurs, but I make sure I do my part to support them as much as possible. Not only do they have better stuff, they also have better customer service and a greater understanding of what business ethics really are, unlike Walmart. Return something that may be broken, they stick it back on the shelf and keep selling the broken item over and over in the name of profit.

Dathan summed it up best. Until people start looking at themselves and the possible issues they may be contributing to, things will continue on their downward spiral to hell.


tracey kelley
4.5.05 @ 12:08p

Dathan, very good points indeed.

Stacy, you're right. We considered that when doing the home remodeling. There were most certainly a lot of trips to Home Depot, Menards and Lowe's, but there have also been major purchases from the best local plumbing supply store in the US (had we purchased the same sink at HD, it would have been $90 less) and a local carpet installer. The countertops, while ordered at HD, came from a local Iowa company. Our furniture that we had made came from a franchise, but the actual manufacturer is based in rural Indiana, and this franchise has an exclusive deal with them.

As much as I would have liked to have saved another $1,000-$1,500 on everything, there are certain items on which it really mattered where they came from, and that it be local.

dan gonzalez
4.5.05 @ 12:17p

That's true, but big box just works better in so many ways. They have more buying power, and once they shell out for distribution, they can deliver tons of stuff. We may not like it, but it's not all bad. Walmart employs a lot of people, and I know some guys who took jobs at Home Depot after their unemployment ran out for income and the discount. They do provide opportunities for a lot of people.

Mom and Pops have a lot of challenges. I know two small business owners who told me their biggest problem is the staff. They're always firing and hiring, the help steals stuff, gives stuff for free to their friends, skim the till, can't be relied on to show up, they can never find good managers and have to work 70 hours a week to keep it going.

Granted, those were not success stories, but just examples of all they're up against.

dathan wood
4.5.05 @ 1:20p

Good points Tracey and Dan. The average person today is just looking at the bottom line and not worrying about supporting local business. If you’re too busy saving a buck to see that you’re putting your next door neighbor out of business, your whole community ends up in the toilet. There’s the big picture of keeping the money in town and everyone wins but when you’re sending it all out of town to a big corporation, the best you can ever hope to be is the asst. manager at wal-mart. We are on the fast track to becoming a third world nation and the average schmoe has no idea it’s coming. Hell, in many ways it’s already here.

Dan, wal-mart may employ a lot of people but it’s for 30 hours a week and no benefits. That’s going a long way towards increasing the working poor in this country.

stacy smith
4.5.05 @ 1:50p

Yeah, sure Walmart may hire alot of people, but they don't play by the rules either. Didn't they just get busted recently for hiring illegal immigrants? Doesn't that rub you the wrong way, even just alittle Dan?

I've never been a small business owner. The business that I wanted to start was killed off when I was told "You start that kind of business, you lose your house." Those were some fine words said to by my insurance company. It was too risky having a small business making candles and such, thanks to all the idiots, morons and sue happy that live in this country. Instead I'm expected to buy crap from China. Now there's a trade off. I can make quality product here, or buy something from a 7 year old that has to work 14 hours a day and being paid pennies per hour. I'm so very sorry that these children have to live that way, but buying from Walmart and other big box store is just supporting this kind of behavior.

As for your friends Dan, they're hiring the wrong people apparently.

Then again, I'm past my days of settling just for the sake of doing so. There isn't anything I need that bad that I cannot wait for.

dan gonzalez
4.5.05 @ 2:52p

Doesn't that rub you the wrong way, even just alittle Dan?

Smack! (Hey tough girl!)

Yeah, it definitely does. But I thought their CEO handled it optimally. He came right out front, acknowledged it, provided accurate context to mitigate the hype, and set about fixing it.

There isn't anything I need that bad that I cannot wait for.

I'm with ya. I avoid the places like the plague. Not because I think they're evil, I just hate shopping at HD, Kroger, and particularly Walmart. Don't get me started on CVS. The hardware store where I used to go, though, is just small and much harder to get stuff. I order a lot from the net because I have decent records of all the fixtures around here and stuff. But when your snow shovel breaks in the dead of winter during a storm, where ya gonna go quick?

Anyway, I wasn't really defending them, I was just remarking that there is a reason they're successful.

As for small business, I'm all for it but it just seems hard. Nothing wrong with hard work. Good people are always hard to find. I can tell you this, none of the crappy jobs I ever worked had bennies and they all try to keep you under 40 hours. One of my first full-times was Toys-R-Us (now bankrupt) with really crappy bennies.

Bottom line, business owners are demanding, but so are American workers. Chinese workers, because they're commies, have no say so at all, and nothing really to work for other than to stay on the good side of the dictators so they can eat and stay out of Mongolia. So they make their stuff cheap, and Walmart is big enough to get a lot of it. Americans don't want to work like that, so China gets the jobs. Just like India and the tech jobs.


joel verdon
4.5.05 @ 3:16p

Well I have to add just two cents ... a book called "The Bank of China." It's a mid-90's book illustrating all of what we are now experiencing with respect to China - the Chinese are now the economic powerhouse of the globe. True, we in the U.S. are still the ultimate consumers, but demand in China is escalating costs for all products in their raw form - timber, oil, steel, and even concrete (bottled water will probably be added soon enough). As a nation with no outstanding debts , they now lend US money to pay our bills.

One other cent from a book written a quarter century ago called "Sustainability" - it earmarked the concept that peace would come when the wealth of nations existed without great disparity, meaning that wages would have to equalize around the globe. The concept the author proposed suggested that it would be impossible to RAISE world wages to meet U.S. earnings; however, it is possible (and currently happening) that OUR wages might be lowered (as the past 15 year trend inidicates) WHILE other national wages per capita are increasing (ever-so slightly I grant you). If it wasn't for the Chinese, GMAC and FORD probably wouldn't have the cash to get us into all those $28,000 SUVs. Gosh knows the Japanese are in the same position we are at the moment! :)

Anyway, just food for thought.


dan gonzalez
4.5.05 @ 11:29p

Those cents have sense. Don't be such a cheapskate!

This discussion has some notable breadth, Shiavo-Pedophiles -Walmart-China, but I think we're getting after it. I find it interesting that politics are never far behing moral discussions, if we consider big box retail and China to be political aspects.

So far, I think most agree that morality (and therefore immorality) can only be defined in the context of a group. By extension, morality or immorality only occur within the group. Not all people are immoral, but inductively speaking, the larger the group, the greater the chance for immorality, however it is defined. So corporations, which are groups, often contain immoral persons, but they need not be immoral in and of themselves. The same is true of governments, churches, and non-profit groups. All can have immoral constituents, but none are implicitly immoral.

To me, the most immoral group on the face of the planet is not the USA, even with its Walmarts and other problems. It's the government of China, which has all the flaws of any corporation, and the equivalent personal percentage of corruption, but it is enormous in size. It subjugates 20% of the world's population. They cheat on their money (The yen is fixed to around .78 USD to ensure that trade imbalance you talked about.) Like any heavily socialized country, and this will sound harsh, their system is flawed and inferior and cannot be maintained without fudging the numbers. They pollute as heavily as anybody, and they don't care. They do all this intentionally to keep the house cards standing, but there are no vestiges of that Utopian notion of some great, humanistic society promised by Marxists and humanists.

That was a mouthful, sorry, but I got some fusion goin' with China and all that.

joel verdon
4.6.05 @ 2:54a

Bravo - couldn't have said it any better!

Me thinks that if President Bush succeeds in one thing before retirement it will be to continue pressuring China to float the yen on world markets (I gather most Americans don't understand the importance of such as much as we do). Afterall, why should the Chinese share in all the wealth of free markets without any of the pitfalls (and the ensuing moral dilemmas that we face - intrepidly).

stacy smith
4.6.05 @ 8:17a

Sorry Guys..wasn't trying to make this into a debate about Walmart. I just happen to hate them with a royal passion, so it was an easy target. Then there is the fact that they are going to super size one that is less than 20 minutes away, and are building another one not even 15 minutes from here gets my knickers all in a twist.

This kind of "bad business" can be seen everywhere. A raise of hands of how many people have had doctors try to convince them they needed pills for an ailment they did not have? *raises hand*

Ever have a teacher tell you in not so many words that your child will never amount to anything because they think he's retarded. Their diagnoses comes from their old college books which states that children must act in this certain way for their age. If they don't, there is something wrong with them. My "retarded" son is 8 and entering 4th grade this summer.

Buy a house and find out there are some major problems with it. The town and state can possibly take away your house if you don't deal with these problems, however instead of getting after they contractor for not doing their job, they make you completely accountable. How the %$#@ does that work?

Protect the people that may be operating a bogus business, but make it impossible to allow people to run an honest business? That sounds about right.

As for China...a sad subject. I don't know of many countries that give countries they don't like favorite trade status, then to have nukes pointed in their general direction on top of that. These are the kinds of things that keep me awake at night. All I hear is the little voices asking "Why?" over and over again.

dan gonzalez
4.6.05 @ 12:07p

Stace - nonsense. Bring up whatever you want, that's what it's about. They're trying to put one about 5 miles south of here as well even though there's one 7 miles east. We're fighting it and winning so far.

As for the other stuff, the common thread to all you said is government. Everything you mentioned is either regulated by, or directly controlled by the government. Politics rears its head again.

I believe for various reasons, without going into it painfully, that our gov't is way more left than they admit, and the dems, of course, try to hide this, and that is the source of a lot of the problems. If we were honest, we have to admit that we are undermining ourselves by Marx's own prescription. I'll spare you all the babbling rhetoric, and pose it as a question:

If capitalism is bad, or leads to unethical consumerism and production, why won't the democrats support a consumption-based tax to promote ethics? Why won't they support any tax reform?

tracey kelley
4.7.05 @ 12:30a

Ya'll are beautiful. I'm very pleased at the intriguing discussion the humble column spawned.

joel verdon
4.7.05 @ 2:48a

Stacey - I agree, Wal Mart does suck. Check out NPR for the latest on a bill in Maryland that targets companies with over 10,000 employees who provide less than a 9% of employee salary towards health care for those employees...hard to explain, but the primary target is Wal Mart. There are other companies in Maryland with those employee figures, but only one company that fails to provide for its employees.

Dan - I can't argue or agree with your last hypothetical question, but I do know that historically consumption based taxes hurt (primarily) those individuals LEAST capable in our society (Bill Gates could give a rat's A if the gas tax goes to $5/gallon).

Why not begin teaching ethics (not right or wrong, per se), but just the subject of ethics beginning in the first grade? Maybe we could see some results in 22 to 35 years...right about the time Soc. Sec goes belly up and global climate goes up with it?

lisa r
4.7.05 @ 7:41a

I go to Wally World here only under duress--or when my Millstone coffee beans run out, which I suppose qualifies as being under duress (and a trip is in the very near future, unfortunately). There's one less than 5 minutes from my house. It has something like 38 manned (supposedly) checkout stands, 8 self-scanning stations, is always packed with customers--and never seems to have more than 2 express cashiers (if that many) or 4 regular cashiers on duty. The express cashiers always are the slowest ones on staff. Half the self-scanning stations never seem to be working.

I hate it. You save money there simply because they spend a bare minimum on customer service staff.

I'd be willing to pay a little more to be able to make a trip for a single item that doesn't take an hour and a half to complete. Complaints fall on deaf ears.

stacy smith
4.7.05 @ 9:22a

Why not begin teaching ethics (not right or wrong, per se), but just the subject of ethics beginning in the first grade? Maybe we could see some results in 22 to 35 years...right about the time Soc. Sec goes belly up and global climate goes up with it?

I agree with you Joel, but I'm going to take it a step further.

Children learn in "blocks." They have to crawl before they can walk. Before they crawl, they have to learn to coodinate movement which will eventually lead to crawling once they have the strength to support they body weight on all fours.

Teaching right from wrong, ect... are building blocks to ethics. And why wait until they reach first grade. Children shouldn't be bogged down with what the federal trade commision does, or try to take on all the worlds woes and issues, but they shouldn't be treated like little morons either. Kids are alot smarter than most adults give them credit for.

My son hated what the indians did to buffalo. He got really upset that they killed buffalo for food and their hides. I had an awful time trying to get him through this lessons, but I kept at it as miserable as it was, and he finally realised that the indians were not killing the buffalo for sport or to hang their heads on a wall. They used what they killed for many purposes.

Now that he is alittle older, he understands that killing just for sport is no a nice thing to do and there isn't any reason for it other than to extend one's ego.

Saying please may not always get him what he wants, but to say thank you to the cashier at the store who may otherwise look like they want to rip your head off can often soften the harsh lines on the persons face. Holding a door open for a person whether they are having a problem with it or not can also put alittle bounce in a persons step just because of a random act of kindess that didn't cost anything.

Solving the worlds issues unfortunately cannot be resolved by a please or thank you, but it certainly helps lighten the mood with the people that we come in contact with.

We hear it all the time "Everything starts from the home." Have a kid with no manners, odds are as an adults he/she will have no manners. Have a kid that was given everything and not held accountable for anything, odds are that kid will expect the same thing as an adult. Just a drop in the bucket of examples, but you get the idea.

dan gonzalez
4.7.05 @ 9:41a

Attentive parents work on ethics from day one. But how can we formally teach ethics in school? We haven't, as a society, even come close to agreeing on a baseline for universal ethics.

Informally, one version of ethics is taught in public schools via a variety of bits of PC dogma injected into the curricullum by the NEA. The results have been to undermine students' learning of actual skills, while leaving them unprepared for the real world.

I have to say I'm against teaching ethics other than on a comparitive studies basis in public school. It's too politicized, teachers are not qualified, and it will be used to indoctrinate students to one of the two dogmatic nightmares that is presently dividing the country.


juli mccarthy
4.7.05 @ 10:25a

Don't get me started on the PC bullshit that they're cramming down kids' throats in the public schools. We are frighteningly close to Orwell's double ungood thinkspeak.

joel verdon
4.7.05 @ 11:58a

Very poignant examples (Stacey). And I'm giddy that someone can quote "1984" - which still gives me the heebie-jeebies everytime I use my cell phone and hear nothing on the other end of the line, or close my laptop and hear it make a few last gurgles 'n beeps, or see some advertisement that replaces a "c" with a "k" (i.e. kandycane, krispy kreme).

Oh, you're right again, Dan, there's no way to teach it in schools without polarization...but how, then, do they manage to teach ethics in Scandanavia?

tim lockwood
4.7.05 @ 1:09p

You can teach morals, but you can't teach ethics.

There is a reason. Ethics only teach you how to behave; morals teach you why you should behave that way. Without a moral foundation, there is no sound or sensible reason to behave ethically in the egocentric world of a child. As far as a child (or for that matter, the Bernie Ebbers and Kenneth Lays of the world) is concerned, if it benefits him and doesn't harm him in any perceivable way, why shouldn't he do it? Why should he consider how it affects anyone else?

Now, let's figure out the universal moral code and the ethics ought to follow naturally like night the day. Come on, get to crackin', people - we don't have all the time in the world. :-)

tracey kelley
4.7.05 @ 2:54p

On an aside, but directly relatable, does anyone remember reading "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy? Maybe in school?

Fascinating book about a gentleman in 1897, with all the trials and tribulations of that time period, who does a mysterious Rip Van Winkle and awakes in the year 2000, to see so many of society's and corporation's ills washed away, an Utopian existance, if you will.

Peculiar thing is, much of what Bellamy describes in 1897 is EXACTLY what we're experiencing on many levels now.

juli mccarthy
4.7.05 @ 3:28p

Never read that one, Tracey, but part of the reason could be because things really HAVEN'T changed so much in 100 years. Human nature is what it is, and I'm not convinced that we're any less moral now than we were then. Perspective is all. The difference is that we can now look more closely into one another's lives - indeed, in some cases we are practically FORCED to look into other people's lives (see: Shiavo.)

dan gonzalez
4.7.05 @ 8:00p

I'd like to check that out too. I'd say things have changed, but people, not so much. What is 100 years? A little over 2 generations? Gotta be a negligible amount of evolution in that space. Environmentally, it seems a lot has changed.

For one thing, back then, people weren't bombarded with images and monologs of random people they don't know on a daily basis. TV has has to represent a delta there. We were on the gold standard and relatively few people had direct access to Wall Street and you coudn't manage your own money. Now money is theoretical but, anyone can manage their own.

On the other hand, they still had town criers back then, there was a whole lot more personal industry, recycling and less disposable bric-a-brac, so money wasn't nearly as important. The universe certainly wasn't any more rational. We could actually be making some progress, perhaps that is why we seem to be facing so many puzzles and paradoxes?

tim lockwood
4.8.05 @ 1:16a

One other important thing was true 100 years ago which is not true today: there was no income tax. None. It wasn't enacted until 1913, if I remember my dates correctly. I could be wrong, but I think we earned our money as a nation from tariffs on imported goods, among other things.

There were also no effective medications for most diseases. The top three causes of death in 1900 were pneumonia/influenza, tuberculosis, and intestinal illnesses (i.e., diarrhea). Today, you can get a vaccine for the flu, take penicillin for the TB if you should even happen to encounter it (and when was the last time you even heard of anyone you know having TB?), and we all know now that a simple preventative cure for many intestinal illnesses is to cook the flippin' pork chop a little longer.

Also, there was no social welfare system in place, nor were there child labor laws. Labor unions were still nascent, and it was perfectly legal in most places to hire armed thugs to beat the workers down. It would not be uncommon for mom, dad, and the kiddies - right down to little eight-year-old Hannah - to work in the same textile mill. And if little Hannah got a bit careless around the high-speed loom at the end of her twelve-hour shift and lost a finger or two, why she'd just have to learn to be careful in the future, and hope the bloody stump didn't turn gangrenous in the meantime. Otherwise, the company would have to turn the whole family out of the company-owned house when they didn't meet their quota.

I'm sure there's plenty more where that came from, but the point is this: society and technology have evolved immensely in the last hundred years, sometimes for the better and sometimes not, but our ability to deal with the effects of those changes has not evolved. Those who plant their moral anchor early stand the best chance of coping. Those who don't get tossed like a rubber ducky in a tidal wave.

stacy smith
4.8.05 @ 8:53a

I'm going to play devils advocate here.

If ethics cannot be taught (I don't mean in a classroom setting) than how are they learned?

Let's take work ethics. You have people that work hard, don't have a luxury home with 2 new SUV's sitting in their driveway. They just want to be comfortable and work or improve what they have.

Then you have others, that only work 80 hours a week to pay for the luxury house, SUV's and other stuff, but they don't work nearly as hard because they have their lips planted on their bosses butts.

PETA is another fine example *heavy with the sarcasm* of fake or bad ethics. They claim to be all for the animals, but lie and have been busted on numerous occasions for giving the IRS bad numbers of money they hav taken in for a year. I won't even start about the garbage they spread as fact.

Then they contradict themselves. They say that people shouldn't have pets, but yet it's okay to adopt one. I wrote to somebody at PETA about this. The best they could tell me was it was okay to adopt, but not to buy one. Sorry, but a caged bird whether it's adopted or bought as a hand fed baby is still a pet that needs to be caged sometimes which they are completely against or so they say.

I know somebody that went to business school. I like the guy, and he works really hard, but he's a captialist. It's all about screwing somebody over to make a profit. Bad product is not put on the shelves, but still the ethics behind what he does and how he does it is comparable to that of a wolverine. On somedays that is an insult to the wolverine.

Whether he learned these tactics through school or just had it in him to begin with remains unknown, but he had to acquire these "skills" from somewhere.

tim lockwood
4.8.05 @ 11:01p

I'm not talking about work ethic or the ethical treatment of animals, although they kind of make my point for me - namely, that the ethics, or lack thereof, of a person or business is merely an outward expression of the morals instilled in them, or lack thereof.

You can teach children how they should behave, but they will never grasp it unless there is a moral backing - that is, a reason WHY they should behave that way. Without a moral code involved, ethics are only a shallow behavioral change that will go the way of the wind once a hard choice comes along. That's precisely why "Just Say No" didn't work. If someone who doesn't have a moral backing doesn't see an immediate personal downside to something (such as doing drugs, especially if all one's friends look like they're having a fine time doing them), there is no reason to "Just Say No".

stacy smith
4.9.05 @ 7:49a

Thanks for clearing that up. It makes perfect sense now.

I was using the expression "Just Say No" for shopping at Walmart. If everybody "Just said No" to WallyWorld, they might go away.

It'll never happen, but a girl can dream.

dan gonzalez
4.9.05 @ 11:05a

Nice synergy: Walmart, capitalism, and income tax in and ethical discusion. Tim is right, 1913 was the year. And not coincidentally, it was also the year the Federal Reserve was created. But they didn't bother to repeal the clauses of the unamended constitution that prohibit both acts: that itself is an ethical problem. Not to mention, one is presumed guilty without probable cause, and then legalalized search and seizure is used to force one to prove their innocence. It's all for the common good, to be sure. But if one considers the fact that Marx himself prescibed it as one of a handful of basic measures to undermine a capitalist system, and we are pondering the ethics and workability of our capitalism, it seems to bear some inquiry. It's also why I posed the consumption tax question above. It seems that such a tax would overwhelmingly reward ethical behavior, and negatively reinforce unethical behavior. The current one merely seems to punish the unethical, but doesn't really discourage them, because they have to be caught. NOTE: I'm just pondering, not trying to incite a revolution here.

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