Ethics by Numbers

Ethics by numbers:  We might imagine that numbers can resolve an ethical dilemma.  Faced with two inescapable ethical choices, A and B: A will cause two deaths and B will cause one.  B seems the obvious ethical choice.  In the real world, ethical choices are rarely so straightforward.  In fact, even in the hypothetical world the choice isn't so clear.

Ethics 101When I was a student in Ethics 101, Professor Glass presented us with this standard thought experiment. You are on a boat cast adrift at sea with six other passengers. You have supplies enough for six people to survive. There is no hope of rescue. If you do nothing all seven people will die. What do you do?  How do you decide the ethical or moral course of action?  The scenario allows only four options:
Do nothing.Save yourself.Sacrifice yourself"The greatest good for the greatest number of people."I used this scenario in a number of classes for varying reasons: sometimes as a “values clarification” exercise;…

The Grapes of Wrath

Number 10 on the list of top 100 novels John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath is number 10 on the Modern Library's list of the 100 Top Novels of the 20th Century.  After a couple of years trying to convince my students of the virtues of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (#6 on the list), I gave up and substituted the more accessible, single-third-person narrative, not-stream-of-consciousness Steinbeck novel.  In the process of teaching it, my admiration for the novel grew.  But what does "Grapes of Wrath" mean?

The title was suggested by Carol SteinbeckIt is widely reported that the title was suggested by Faulkner's first wife, Carol Henning Steinbeck. The expression “Grapes of Wrath” comes from the Bible: Revelation 14:19–20 (New Testament) and Isaiah 63 (Old Testament). The expression was re-used in the lyrics of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” written during the American Civil War.
"Wrath" means anger  In the simplest of terms, "grap…

How the World Ends

"This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper."                                            T. S. Eliot  "The Hollow Men"

Asteroids and cometsThe world will end.  The only questions are how and when.  On average, the earth is struck by an asteroid big enough to reshape if not devastate the planet every 100 million years.  The last major impact was 66 million years ago.  You might want to keep an eye on the sky for the next 34 million years or so.  Sudbury was hit nearly 2 billion years ago, so maybe we in Ontario, Canada, will be spared next time.

The Grapes of WrathEven if you are one of those people who believe that the speck of space dust we all live on, and everything else, was created by a fair-skinned old man with a long beard who made us "in his image and likeness" (though vice versa seems more likely to me), you must still accept that his Angel of Death will eventually cut us down with his sickle and cast us into "the winep…

Why Is the Coronavirus Getting So Much Attention?

Coronavirus disease versus the fluAccording to the Johns Hopkins Medicine web site, as of February 6, 2020, the Coronavirus disease has caused 2, 810 deaths worldwide.  In comparison, the flu kills between 291,000 and 646,00 people every year.  Why has the Coronavirus gotten so much attention?  According to Dr. Bonnie Henry, a BC Health Inspector, the objective is to contain the virus.  In theory, once it has nowhere to spread, it will be restricted to the animal population from which it first emerged.

"The Truth about PHEICs" (Public Health Emergency of International Concern)Containment is a nice idea, but it has become obvious that containment and quarantine haven't been working and generally don't work.  In an opinion piece on the Ebola crisis, entitled "The Truth about PHEICs," Professor Emeritus Johan Giesecke, writing on behalf of the WHO [World Health Organization] Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Infectious Hazards, observes that the &quo…

Do the Money Men Really Run the World?

Can't have a war without moneyIn Johnson's Life of London: The People Who Made the City that Made the World, Boris Johnson writes that NM Rothchild's "role in financing governments was so crucial that it was said that a war could not be begun without the consent of the Rothschilds."  It is an obvious fact of our time that the world runs on money.  No war can be declared, no university inaugurated, no church established, no hospital or bridge or building or monument built without money.  Nothing can be imported or exported, bought or sold without money.  Charities, volunteer organizations, political parties, families and individuals require money.  The health of your offspring and the attractiveness of your spouse will be affected by money.  It has never been more true than it is today:  if you want to understand the world, "follow the money."

Just because it's a conspiracy theory  . . .The pursuit of this question led me to Henry Makow who, as it h…

Understanding Time . . . and the River

MayfliesWhen I was a kid, every spring there would be a massive invasion that looked like a snowstorm of big floppy-winged snowflakes.  We euphemistically called them "Mayflies."  When I was told that these flocks of shadflies only lived for 24 hours, I remember thinking "why bother?"  If you are only going to live for 24 hours, why bother living at all?

Other "Creatures of a day"Fast forward a couple of decades, and I'm reading Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound.  Prometheus is being tortured for giving fire to mankind (bound to a mountainside, an eagle comes to eat his liver every day).  The gods ask him, "Why did you give this property of the gods to creatures of a day?" Wait a minute!  "Creatures of a day"--that's us; we human mortals.

CosmosAnother couple of decades later, I'm watching the television series Cosmos:  A Spacetime Oddessy and Neil deGrasse Tyson is explaining that the history of our planet is barely a blin…

Who Needs English Grammar? Part II

English Grammar and Social Class The unspoken subtext of English grammar is its connection with social class.  Traditionally, "proper English" meant whatever was used in the golden triangle formed by London, Cambridge and Oxford. As Tiger Webb explains, "in socially-stratified and newly literate Georgian England, any guide to 'proper language' would have sold like hotcakes"--which is exactly what happened with Robert Lowth's Short Introduction to English Grammar.  With the democratization of the language, a number of dialects, sociolects, idiolects and sublects emerged (there are a lot of lects out there--each with its own slight adjustments to the grammar).  David Crystal suggests that every Anglophone needs to know at least two Englishs:  one that is spoken locally and a second that is understood and accepted globally (or, at least, more widely).  (The local, more colourful version of English is the one more likely to be used in poetry and literature,…