Sunday, February 01, 2004

An alternative evening with a groundhog

While 1 billion (world-wide, though I assure you, NOT in Poland) watch the Super Bowl, I'm here picking up tidbits about Groundhog Day folklore. By the time everyone is ready to turn off the set and give a sigh of satisfaction ("how about those Patriots!...") I will have compiled the following data:
- In the past 117 winters, Phil of Punxsutawney PA has seen his shadow 93 times. So Spring has been late more often than not. Charming.
- People come from as far away as England to watch the Phil phenomenon. This makes no sense, since weather is a very local thing.
- The official Groundhog Day website is frightening: the crowds sound like they're ready to lynch the poor animal.
- Jimmy, the Wisconsin groundhog from Sun Prairie, has moved to a new farm. This has caused him much consternation and anguish. Still, you can go to the community senior center for a 6:15 a.m. breakfast tomorrow and be there at sunrise an hour later to check things out for yourself. If you want more info, check this Jimmy site. I was the 2,129th person to visit it this year (the other 2,128 must have done so before the Super Bowl). We should elevate those numbers a bit or we'll lose our status as the 6th most important groundhog watching place in the nation.

Does the Ethicist blog?

I had a question for him, and though it’s too late to hope for a paper reply, maybe I could post it and eventually somehow, through the world of blog-degrees-of-separation, I could get my answer.

Here’s what happened: I googled the Super Bowl, because, in spite of the tone of a January 30th post (below), I do not want to go out today and align myslef with the odd assortment of anti-competitive-sport, or anti-technology-or-TV people who take the principled position of refusing to ever participate in watching something as "mindless" as the Super Bowl. Therefore I wanted to figure out who is playing tonight so I could throw around such comments at the grocery check-out as “Yeah, how do you like those Patriots…” You never really have to have any substantial knowledge of the game to talk sports in our society.

I came across the site where you can vote for favorite Super Bowl ads. That sounded exciting and fun and so I was wondering, is it unethical to by-pass the game and tune in only to the commercial messages? And can I vote, even though I am not really in the spirit of the game and my mindset may be somewhat warped and out of the norm? (I also will not have had 2 sick-packs under my belt and so my idea of what’s funny may be out of kilter). It seems wrong to just look forward to this year’s Bud or FedEx ad, but I’m thinking that if a company spends 2.25 million on a 30 second spot, the content must be worth un-muting your TV for.

Pointing with a nose

Recently, a pop-up appeared telling me that the message pointer that I am using is really boring. It proposed that I consider a FREE pointer, and it displays several intriguing alternatives: a face with a very long nose, a doggie, a candy cane, that kind of thing. I feel properly humiliated with my boring arrow, but I just want to respectfully suggest that if you want to appeal to my inner exciting person, you'll do better than propose that I track the Net with a hot dog, or a caricature of a guy with a deformed nose.

A week in (serious) review

This week, in my Comparative Family Law seminar, we discussed legislative change in the context of increasing cultural pluralism. I brought in the example of Australia, where both indigenous populations (a “hefty” 1% of the total pop these days) and new immigrant groups (almost entirely from South East Asia) adhere to traditions that Western law considers “repugnant” to modern society. Of course, we can also look to Utah, where last week the courts considered a challenge (based on the Lawrence decision) to the long-standing ban on polygamy. Predictably, the couple +one, sought to argue issues of privacy and religious freedom.

Today, the NYT writes about a doctor in Italy who wants to introduce a medically-safe, somewhat benign procedure for women who come from countries such as Somalia and wish to continue their observance of the traditional genital cutting. This has raised angry protest, on both sides of the issue: on the one hand, the modern thought is that no recognition should be given to a tradition that is, after all “repugnant” to our belief in equality and human dignity, on the other hand, it has been said that a tamer procedure would help a great number of girls that are otherwise going to be exposed to the unsafe, horrendously barbaric ritual.

If you scribble down a list of common familial practices and rituals that we would deem illegal in the States, you can make, at the very least, the following observation:
- some are mildly repugnant
- some are moderately repugnant
- some are totally repugnant

This classification is super sophisticated and completely exhaustive and promises to revolutionize the way we think about the world.

It seems to me that arguing in favor of respect for the totally repugnant is a wasted effort. Multiculturalism ought not embrace respect for practices and rituals that run counter to our understanding of what it means to be a social human being. Banning is an option, finding acceptable substitutions is another.

Of course, one person’s repugnant (note the Salvation Army on smoking below) is another’s pleasure. But we needn’t ask ourselves what the hot picks are for total repugnancy. We have, thank heavens, a viable, if severely undermined at the moment, international forum where this discussion can be conducted. Indeed we have such instruments as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that actually address these issues. You can’t escape it. Indiana billboards notwithstanding (“Get us out of the U.N. now!”), we need international organizations to help us toddle along in a civilized manner.

Sunday family topics AGAIN.

So that tidy little sum of $1.5 billion that Kroc left to the Salvation Army (the single largest philanthropic donation to an organization ever)? It's going to the building of new community centers that'll dispense not so much the food and shelter thing (how déclassé!), but advice on how to sustain a marriage (GW, your message is on a roll!), how to enjoy family life, and how to build character and cultivate spirit. When the Commissioner of the Salvation Army was asked how poor people would be able to attend to their souls and their families without food or shelter, he answered that in addition to programs on nutrition (there's a bit of an irony in using of McDonald's fortunes for this), they'll teach poor people how to sit down as a family and enjoy "the fellowship of just being able to sit together." Though without sinning or anything. The Commissioner himself admitted that he had sinned when he was a teen: he was drawn to experimentation and actually had a couple of cigarettes. But that was then.