February 2010

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Letters to the Ethical Spectacle

Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. If you write to me about something you read in the Spectacle, I will assume the letter is for publication. If it is not, please tell me, and I will respect that. If you want the letter published, but without your name attached, I will do so. I will not include your email address unless you ask me to. This is in response to many of you who have expressed concern that spammers are finding your email address here. Flames are an exception. T hey will be published in full, with name and email address. I have actually had people follow up on a published flame by complaining that they thought they were insulting my ancestry privately. Nope, sorry.

Dear Jonathan:

I found your site most entertaining and interesting, and your article Ambition so parallel to my own that I've had a little trouble finishing it. We're exactly the same age, by the way. Your choices of subject matter are often eerily similar to my own.


Could you put some cliff notes with your "article" on ambition? Something like "My whole life I've been lonely and miserable, but baselessly entitled. I have failed in every imaginable avenue of life, so I advise everyone else to not desire more for themselves because, even if my utter worthlessness, I cannot see the point in being more successful than I am." I think it'll hit with your regular, target audience perfectly. Just don't count on a book deal.

Just kidding, don't take it personally LOL ;)


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Your assertion in the "Ambition" essay that "life is fourth grade" rang especially true yesterday when I saw the film, Where The Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak's book was loved by my children back in the 70's, and is my own all-time favorite kid's book. The movie is pretty dark, and not the usual children's flick by any means, but the characters are true to the book's incredible illustrations as well as its themes. Much of the violence, whether expressing anger/vengeance or good clean fun, reminded me of the mentality reflected in every evening newscast. And at the end of it we all need a Mom wise enough to overlook our immaturity and feed us a hot supper.

Whether she exists or not I suppose depends on one's theology, and luck. Thanks for the thoughtful essay.



As always your essays fascinate me, from your topics to their denouement. Your latest on 'Ambition' is no exception. I can't count the number of buttons you pushed, but for me this statement speaks the loudest: "In a world in which it is fashionable to tout the meaninglessness, I feel that my life has been very meaningful."

In my humble opinion, that's the ball game; pure and simple. If you have meaning, you really have it all. There's nothing else that replaces it and the proof is the empty consumer society we've built; littered with people who pursued everything except meaning and, as a result, have nothing to show for their pursuits but a craving they can't fill.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Apropos of the Microsoft and malware mention in Rags and Bones:

You ought to check out Ubuntu Linux. Its only limitation is that much software commercially available will not run on it. It does, however, offer a huge assortment of free software and can do anything Microsoft can do... better.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Only today did I come across your web site, thus read for the first time the observation: "I was born in 1954, and most of what I know about life I learned at the movies. . . ."

First I was shaken by the brazenness of this confession, but I soon wondered about its truth. Is it really true that an American born in 1954 gets more knowledge about life than from curricular teaching (principally history) or literature (Homer, Shakespeare, Beckett) or experience between ages 15 and 30 (college, military service, first employment, marriage etc.)? This is not a polemical debating point but an empirical question of fact, that in theory might be verified. I doubt that Frenchmen, Britons, Germans, or Indians born in 1939 would say they learned from movies more about life than they learned in school or from books or by direct experience.

(Ottawa, Canada)

Good day,

I have just read your writing Natural Rights Don´t Exist.

I have very much enjoyed your reasonig and your conclussion: contractual freedom as the mother of the laws. Good wish to implement in reality.


Badajoz, Spain


My name is Amy and I've been using your page: http://www.spectacle.org/1296/source.html to do research for a presentation I'm putting together. As a science education major, it was very helpful to me, thank you.

Sorry to interrupt you further, but I wanted to let you know of a link (http://www.chem.vt.edu/ethics/ethics.html) on the page above that doesn't work for me. And as a thank you, I thought I'd suggest a replacement/additional resource for you. I've been using this other page: http://www.yext.com/tvrepair/articles/ethics-in-science.html and it has a lot of informative resources on science ethics that might be useful.

Thanks Again,
Amy Marshall

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I read your article on military tribunals.

Are you aware of the history of the 9/11 plot and how it came to be? Ramzi Yousef was tried in a civilian court in the Southern District of New York after the bombing of the 1993 WTC bombing, TWA 800 occurred during his trial, RDX and PETN were found in rows adjacent to the center wing fuel tank on TWA 800 recovered wreckage, the same modus operandi for the bojinka plot, which is part of what Yousef was on trial for, and he tried to get a mistrial declared the day after TWA 800's center wing fuel tank exploded.

As for trying KSM, the man who continued Yousef's planes as missiles plot, in a civilian trial in New York, you realize the Obama administration is still using military tribunals for other detainees. KSM would not be released, even if acquitted, he would be held under the preventive detention principle. His trial is being held in civilian court for purely political purposes, and is the epitome of a show trial. That's what you really want? Especially considering how our purely law enforcement investigations and civilian trial convictions failed so miserably in the past to prevent 9/11?



Thank you for your thoughtful, well-researched article regarding military tribunals. I've had this sort of innate sense that we ought to extend to those who do not deserve them, the same constitutional protections that we enjoy as Americans, but I was unable to express it. Your quotations from Justices Murphy and Rutledge put words to my feelings.

Best wishes,


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I just read your article on pets, particularly cockatiels. It nearly brought me to tears. I've never read or heard anything that shows such feeling for their pets or any wild animals.