Snow Job: The Terrible Ethics of Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer
Rankin/Bass’s classic Christmas TV special Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer has its fiftieth anniversary broadcast tonight on CBS. That means it’s also the tenth anniversary of this essay, possibly the most popular thing I’ve ever written. It originally appeared December 4, 2004 on my defunct ethics site TheDo-Gooder.com.

Hermey and RudolphWednesday night marked the fortieth annual broadcast of the “classic” holiday television show, Rankin/Bass Production’s Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I tuned in for probably the twenty-fifth time (but the first in many years) expecting to find a rudimentary moral lesson tucked amongst all the holly-jolliness and evil-looking puppets. Instead I had the frightening realization that, for forty years, RtR-NR has been cramming several sleighloads of bad ethics down our chimneys. In this holiday nightmare, nearly every character demonstrates a distinct lack of moral integrity bordering on turpitude, and none other than Santa himself comes away as the worst of the bunch. Here’s an ethical play-by-play.

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My Favorite Romantic Poem, In Memory of Mark Strand

Poet Mark Strand died on Saturday at age 80. During his 40+ year career he earned nearly every accolade an American poet could hope for: a Fulbright grant in the early Sixties, a MacArthur fellowship in 1987, a stint as poet laureate in 1990, and a Pulitzer prize in 1999. He published over 15 books of poetry, but I’ll always remember him for a single poem, my first and very late encounter with his work. “Black Sea” appeared in the March 31, 2003 issue of The New Yorker and immediately dug itself a small den in my mind and has lived there since. Anyone who has ever loved someone, or who has missed someone, who fails to be settled into silence by the last line of this poem should immediately be subjected to the Voight-Kampff test.

"Black Sea" by Mark Strand

“Black Sea” can be found in Mark Strand’s 2008 book Man and Camel.

NODDDing Off
The outrage over the Ferguson grand jury decision and its coinciding with Black Friday have renewed calls of “#NotOneDime,” asking people to forego shopping as a means of protest. It reminded me of the same campaign at the time of George W. Bush’s second inauguration and this essay I wrote explaining why it’s not an ethical means of dissent. Replace the references to the Bush administration with references to institutionalized racism, and it still holds up. This originally appeared on my defunct ethics site The Do-Gooder on January 19, 2005.

When George W. Bush takes to the steps tomorrow to be sworn in as president yet again 1Why exactly do we re-inaugurate sitting presidents? It seems to be redundant and pointless grandstanding. Can’t we just send John Kerry’s quartered body to the four corners of the empire and be done with it? and his supporters revel in giant, smelly balls so torturously boring that the Gitmoites are forced to mix drinks, many left-leaning types will be sulking and/or protesting the administration by participating in Not One Damn Dime Day. NODDD is an attempt by progressives to show disdain for the president by encouraging millions of their ilk not to spend any money or engage in any cash transactions on inauguration day. That means no rides on mass transit, no Natural American Spirits, not even any Mongolian barbecue for lunch. 2I checked, and free one-day passes to Salon are still okay. The hope, NODDD spokesperson Jesse Gordon says, is that, because Bush usually ignores protesters, “maybe he’ll listen to money instead.” It’s yet to be seen whether NODDD will be effective, but the intent of its organizers is certainly noble—changing the world for the better (in their opinion) through mass, peaceful action. Too bad their method for achieving their goals is less than ethical.
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1. Why exactly do we re-inaugurate sitting presidents? It seems to be redundant and pointless grandstanding. Can’t we just send John Kerry’s quartered body to the four corners of the empire and be done with it?
2. I checked, and free one-day passes to Salon are still okay.
The Peanuts 3D Movie Should be Allowed to Exist (For Now)

There’s little in my life that more influential to me or beloved by me than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts (see here, here, or here), so the news of a new 3D-styled (and 3D-projected) Peanuts movie had my finger hovering over the trigger of the doomsday device. Thanks only to my restraint, the first trailer debuted today, and it’s… not bad!

The Snoopy/Woodstock stuff is adorable, and the World War I flying ace sequence captures the right tone. 1Though it of course can’t compete with the classic scenes of Snoopy behind enemy lines in It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. The closing movie-theater bit wrongly turns Charlie Brown into a stereotypical buffoon — we can argue whether Chuck’s a schlemiel or a schlimazel (or their Lutheran equivalents), but he’s not a klutz. I’m hoping that sequence was a rush job to fill out the trailer in time for Christmas release. We have to wait until Christmas next year to find out.

 

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1. Though it of course can’t compete with the classic scenes of Snoopy behind enemy lines in It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.
Repeating Something Doesn’t Make it True (Or False)

This tweet from the very talented and funny TV writer Wendy Molyneux summed up a prevalent opinion today:

I replied with this:

That caught me some blowback, so I figured I should defend my argument. 1The following has nothing to do with whether or not Bill Cosby raped anyone. I have no opinion on his guilt or innocence.

From a formal logic standpoint, the number of times a statement is made doesn’t affect its truth or falsity. If a proposition p is true, one hundred people repeating p can’t make it false, just as one person asserting a false statement doesn’t make the statement true. Frequency of assertion and truth value don’t influence each other, just like how the size of a number doesn’t influence whether it’s divisible by 2. 2There are exceptions. One I can think of is the proposition “The proposition p has only been stated once,” but those don’t apply in this case.

But let’s ignore formal logic and examine this from a common-sense standpoint. It’s tempting to believe that as more folks make a credible assertion, the more credible the assertion becomes. Except that if the credibility of an assertion increases with the number of times it’s made, then:

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1. The following has nothing to do with whether or not Bill Cosby raped anyone. I have no opinion on his guilt or innocence.
2. There are exceptions. One I can think of is the proposition “The proposition p has only been stated once,” but those don’t apply in this case.
My Uncle Joe’s Garden – A Veterans Day Remembrance
Originally published November 11, 2011

Four Cut Sunflowers by Vincent Van GoghJoseph Papak was a carpenter, my great uncle, and the only natural-born gardener I ever met. A railroad track ran alongside the duplex he and my Aunt Sue shared with my dad’s family in Monongahela, Pa., and Uncle Joe claimed the strip of rocky soil across the track for his garden. Polio forced him to walk with a cane as long as I knew him, but he scaled the gravel rise along the tracks, “just threw seeds on the ground,” and raised everything without fail. Broccoli, strawberries, corn, massive sunflowers lighting the entrance to the driveway, all in the constant gray of southwestern Pennsylvania. He also took over every unused patch of ground around the house and yard, always growing something year round. Beautiful asparagus shot up randomly along the wooden fence, like they’d taken root in each of his footsteps. He was the first person I ever saw compost, when I was just a little kid. He’d dump table scraps into a perfectly dug hole in the garden, sides as smooth as a beer keg, and cover it with a garbage can lid.

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A Bunch of Good Songs About Being a Good Person
Update, 11/10/2014: I’m reposting this today because, for some reason or another, it continues to be one of the most popular posts on this site three years after I wrote it. More importantly, I’ve modified it to replace the Kirsty MacColl track at #5 with a much more appropriate song that I should’ve included originally. You can also now listen to this playlist without leaving the page.

Mr. Ted LeoJanuary 18, 2012 – Maybe it’s just been my spending a couple of years unemployed, but I’ve noticed a subtle, glacial shift in the assholism of our culture. It feels like sometime not too long ago we crossed an invisible line on this side of which it’s ever so slightly more probable that people will act like assholes than not.

We choose to just be a tiny bit lazier and not return that email. We decide to spend just a little bit more time on our own stuff instead of doing that thing we promised to do for someone else. We quickly jump on Twitter to badmouth other people instead of spending just one moment to stop and think about whether or not we should, let alone an additional moment to judge ourselves. And we all seem to have finally agreed that it’s probably okay to screw someone else over a little bit if it’s not personal, just business.

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