Letters to the Ethical Spectacle

I am re-reading Lord Jim. In college, I adored Joseph Conrad, and thought he was the greatest English language novelist. Today, I find his work slow-moving, didactic, almost impossibly wordy; his narrator, Marlow, is more a minor god than a human character, rather pompous and self-satisfied as he describes his interventions in the life of others. However, the writing, though immobile, is beautiful; I wish I had one-tenth of his power of description of skies, oceans and islands. Here is a quote from Lord Jim that is a fitting epigraph on human aspirations and disappointments, including my own:

Of course, as with belief, thought, love, hate, conviction, or even the visual aspect of material things, there are as many shipwrecks as there are men....

Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Dear Jonathan:

Please consider the following gripes and observations:

1. Thank you, Jonathan for the forum to speak of all things American. I have been reading your site off and on for the past three years, and this is the second venture of writing you a letter. I appriciate the wide spectrum of viewpoints, stories, and critisisms. I thank all the authors for contributing. If I agree or not, it's always a great read.

2. After seeing more campaign adds tonight, I finally realized that we are no longer a democracy. National elections appear to be national auctions. Both parties are so insanely guilty of so much b@#$sh^%. We need to eliminate all campaign finance. Not just reform, elimination. Individuals and organizations should give all the money to a slush fund, and money handed out EQUALLY to each candidate. A couple rounds of preliminary type elections would be held to get rid of the un popular candidates, and when only a couple people remain, the bigger money would be handed out. Candidates would then be FORCED to deal with issues at hand, instead of out bidding the other. If they didn't have a good position on an issue, they would not have the easy out of buying a slanderous advertisement to draw away the attention. On second thought, who in their right mind would donate to a fund to be split equally between candidates. I sure wouldn't contribute if I knew that I WASN"T purchasing any influence over the candidate. ;)

3. One can no longer trust the parties of holding any standards at all. I live in the Chicago area and the Republicans have brought in an out of state candidate, Alan Keyes, (some guy from back east near you folks) to run against Barak O'bama, a popular Democrat, for some senate spot (I think) instead of a local candidate. The first Republican withdrew from the race after some kind of sex scandal. Alan Keyes was a huge critic of Hillary Clinton when she ran for New York senate. Monkey see, monkey do.

4. One of the campaign adds was bemoaning John Kerrys voting record on tax increases after he has said during this race that he will not raise taxes on the middle class. VOTERS OF THE UNITED STATES, LISTEN CLOSELY, from what I remember and was told as a child and what I have experienced as a working adult, under Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and now W, TAXES HAVE ALWAYS GONE UP. EVERY POLITICIAN WILL RAISE TAXES ON ANYTHING THEY CAN NO MATTER WHO IS IN OFFICE. If either side claims moral superiority on the issue of taxes, DISREGARD THE COMMENT. I don't know why they even try to get away with using that tax stuff. I guess that they depend on our nation's education system to keep people on their toes about that type of stuff. ;)

5. One of the campaign adds was bemoaning Ws record on the economy. The United States will continue to lose manufacturing jobs to third world contries, NO MATTER WHO IS IN OFFICE!!!!! Stopping our slow slide into second class nation status is going to take some serious steps, and many people in our nation are unable or unwilling to do it. Are we willing to pay 10-25% more for consumer products? Are we willing to accept only 5-10% return on our stocks and mutual funds instead of 20-30% that we make when the company we invest in moves offshore and the profits roll in from the lower labor costs? Are we finally going to accept that service industry jobs are ENTIRELY dependant on MANUFACTURING JOBS? Are we going to become a nation whose economy is based only on intangible consulting, counseling, and conjuring? The jobs that have been promised to replace manufacturing positions were supposed to come in the form of high-tech, pharmacuetical, and service industry jobs? What happened? NAFTA was supposed to be some kind of wonderful boom to our economy. What happened? As long as people who are more interested in their personal power and wealth than in the wealth of our nation are the ones who make the big decisions, we will continue to slide.

6. When are we going to realize that many Islamic peoples of this world view the occupation of Iraq, the occupation of Afganistan, the occupation of Palestine (which would probably not be possible without US support of Isreal), and the general attitude of American Westerners toward Islamic people in general as a outrageous insult. (I see these occupations as generally good. I'm sure that if there were Iraqis controlling my street, however, I would not like it either) While I in NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM accept or support the way they go about their terror methods, I see how our arrogance and greedy policies can frustrate peoples of this world who do not worship the god of capitalism. Neither political party has come up with a solution to what many in the world see as American imperialism.

Thanks for letting me vent and have a great remainder of the summer.

Bram Ponivas

johnathan, do you think bush had karla executed because he was running for president that year ? also do you think larry king, northern or non texan hurt her case ?

also could have clinton inter acted and stopped the execution ?




I read your article on the missile shield recently.

Since today is the third anniversary in which the U.S. got attacked by planes it now seems possible that in the near future the mainland could get attacked by nuclear missiles.

I see this happening in the next ten years if not sooner.

Your article does stress some strong arguments against the use of the missile shield that will be built if Bush gets re-elected. How do we know for sure that North Korea has these weapons of mass destruction?

In Canada we will not assist in building any missile shield. My gut feeling is because I live on the Pacific Coast of Vancouver we could be nuked also.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading your article and please update me if there are any changes you can think of.

Steven Arcand

Mr. Wallace,

I found your site very interesting and learned so much from it. I am a freshman at Eastern Illinois University and I am giving a speech on Auschwitz. I am using your sight as a source and reference. I was wondering when this site was last updated?

Thank You, Molly

Dear Mr. Wallace:

If "describing things well" had been called original truth-telling instead, there would've been a lot less lying in history and currently.

The truth is like PI (3.14). On the issue of white lying, it's like that science fact where only a two degree difference in trajectory spread over a thousand miles ends up a big deal. It's about thinking in certain directions, like the college that has a discussion about the rightness of stealing medicine for an ailing friend instead of an intellectual discussion about stopping thoughtless profit in the medical industry. It's also the problem of the guy who acts like telling a white lie about not being at his desk is the greatest accomplishment ever. Again, it's about thinking in certain directions.

Walker Hayes

Hello, I just read your piece for the ethical spectacle on the internet bubble and found it highly interesting and somewhat amusing. I think its speaks volumes about human nature that similar bubbles can be formed time and again and people ALWAYS fall for it.

I believe that theres a similar situation now with the housing market and wondered if this sounds like a bubble to you - it sure does to me! (I speak about the UK market although I know that theres been a great boom in other countries). The traditional "fuel" of the market, the first time buyers, have been usurped by a huge number of speculators buying a second property with the sole purpose of letting it to rent and therby making money whilst the properties value rises - the rent pays the mortgage and thereby affords the investor with the chance to make money for nothing. First time buyers cannot now afford to get onto the housing ladder at the lowest rung. As the market rocketed a plethora of other short term investors have emerged to further fuel the madness.

This "buy to let" situation has been largely fuelled by banks now making second mortgages for this purpose widely available, and most disturbingly, allowing a hitherto uneard of mortgage, the "self assessment mortgage". In this the person wanting to borrow money merely fills in the form themselves and claims to be earning whatever slalry they need to borrow enough money to purchase the property - no checks are carried out by the bank, and independent advisors actively encourage borrowers to lie about their income! It also doesn't help that banks now lend >4 times annual earnings, when previously its been 3 times maximum for an individual.

Anyway, the house prices have risen crazily - my friend bought one for 45K and had it valued at 120K 18 months later! Now the situation is that there are too many houses for rent and not enough renters, the rent prices are falling, the interest rates are rising, and the housing market is slowing. Personally I don't see how this growth can be sustained and I've been saying for 18 months that the market would crash (I sold my house at a 50% profit 12 months ago and now I rent in anticipation), but everyone thinks that I'm mad - "house prices never go down" - this despite the crash in the late 80's!

Surely the next thing to happen will be speculative "buy to let" and other short term investment punters panicking and trying to sell up, other people trying to cash in and get out at the top of the market, and therefore supply far exceeding demand, and so prices surely must fall? But how far - it would have to be to a level where first time buyers can afford to buy again, which would require a 40 - 50% fall.

Irritatingly, and despite the clear(?) evidence, the industry, bankers, etc all claim that either the market will "level off", or will "fall slowly" by a few percent over 3 or 4 years. Don't bubbles always burst? My own prediction is a slow fall of a few percent over 2 - 4 months, then a huge fall of 25 -35% within 18 months. It'll be interesting to see what happens.

Comparing this scenario with your own understanding of bubbles do you think I'm mad, or is this going to be the housing bubble scandal of 2004/5? I'd be very interested and grateful for your own view on this crazy, crazy situation.

Thanks and Kind Regards, Dave Shuttleworth

Dear Jonathan:

Ahalan from Ireland.

Just found your website while looking for stuff on 'the commons' and how it might relate to health (it's for a lit review & article I'm working on).

Your site is really interesting, and I will return to it when I have more time. I laughed out loud reading The Republicans and the Tragedy of the Commons (which is where I came in) especially the bit where "Mr. Gingrich reaches deep into his sack and, as he so often does, produces a little rubber mouse of an idea".

In the meantime, may I make a suggestion? I think it may be unwise to post your email address, naked, on your website. It's the sort of thing spammers ruthlessly exploit. Perhaps you are not plagued by spam, but in general it's best to disguise an email address by turning it into a button or coding it in some way that can be easily deciphered by humans but not by spammers' evil software robots.


Simon Comer


Re George Orwell Was Wrong:

I imagine you receive many e-mails in disagreement with something or other that you have written, and many also that agree with your views. At a short glance, I see that you write very well and hold many interesting opinions, so I intend to read more of your essays and think about them.

However, I must try and persuade you (though really I wish to persuade myself) that George Orwell's 1984 not only predicted a future that is yet to be, but subtly analysed a present that was and that still is.

There are a huge number of interpratations of 1984, many of them completely wrong and ridiculous, and for the rest it is hard to say. But I am quite convinced that Orwell was not infact making a political point in the specific sense of the word - he was not atacking socialism or communist Russia ot nationalism or totalitariansim, though he may allude to them frequently for the sake of example. Instead he is commenting on the very nature of society, and on what happens hen human beings join together under a common government. The result is oppression, no matter how benevolent and liberal the particular ruling group or individual.

What Orwell wanted us to do is to look at the citizens of Oceania, with all their ignorance and weakness, unable to live and think for themselves, possessing no unique emotions, and to think 'that is who we are; that is how we live'. You need not live in a state where books are burnt and people are killed for being too intelligent or outspoken; the only requirement is that you are a human who lives in a society, for then by definition you are not free. Or rather, your freedom depends upon your slavery. Your strength upon your ignorance. And your peace upon the conflict of constant, day-to-day war.

This is not something you can fight against. Winston represents the thinking man, like Orwell himself, who begins to see through the curtain of normality, to somehow sense that there is something unsatisfying about life. You cannot change this. There is no utopia in which this would not be the case. But it drives you mad inside unless you can somehow express it. Winston wrote a diary. Orwell wrote a book. I have written this e-mail. "What made it sit at the edge of the lonely wood and pour its music into nothingness?"

Yours aye, Doctor I

Hello: Iam a 50 year old woman with 4 kids and 10 grandkids. Even thou I know of the Holocaust I can not handle reading of the horrors. Thank you for a wonderful web site whick I will read more of when it isn't late and I can't have nightmares of it. Thank you for providing it to read.

Melody Lema

Dear JW -- I just found your website when I was looking up Kent State for my own benefit, and I saw that you were for Kerry, I saw the Year Zero article you have about 9/11, and so many other things that grabbed my interest from the git-go, and I LOVE YOUR SITE!!! I can't wait to visit again!! Thanks for making such a site that grabs my interest, and believe me, that takes a lot! Keep up the good work!!


New Fan

Dear Ethical Spectacle, I adore your site and have stayed up far into the hours of the morning reading. Devouring words.

Finally, I have discovered a slice of humanity that I can relate to. Sometimes it seems that the world is filled with aliens, with few surviving members of the human species. We have a president (I refuse to put title and name together) who, after humiliating himself and his position in the first debate, had a comeback in the second debate. According to the media. Actually, I, too, was amazed at the unbelievable disparity between the first two debates. But for me, the one thing that impressed me the most in the second debate was Bush's uttering the word "vociferous". I dropped my coffee cup and was speechless for thirty seconds. (Long for me!) A multisyllabic word had dribbled from his lips! I wondered if he'd stayed up all night trying to remember this new visitor to his vocabulary. No. Impossible. He still is working out how to tell the difference between a state and a country. Perhaps, I thought, he had some device in his ear, used to be fed "verbae" by Cheney. Now that was believable!

Sorry for the chatter. The point I should have brought up initially was that I wondered if there is a paper (periodical) version of The Ethical Spectacle for purchase. I prefer to read on the "go" and get at least two hours of sleep a night, as opposed to none. I'd also give anything to get my hands of every single page of every single bill passed by this despotic puppet (with strings pulled by big business) and his fellow brothers in the Congress. Do you know if that is at all possible?

I was getting worried tonight, though. When I was trying to find alternative political and philosophical sites to snack on, I found that only the conservative sites were up. All the moderate and liberal that I tried to access were "unavailable" . Either these sites had more reason to do daily updates in the middle of a Saturday night or they were all being silenced. When I saw the name of your sight, I realized that if the latter were true, they might not pick on your sight. "Ethical". Now that is a word that they probably don't understand. Or, perhaps, looking at the word makes them break out in hives.

THANKS, Rebecca Meise

hi there

it's too late for the July 1996 issue about government but I'll tell you my thought anyway:

"there will never be any viable (as in objective and efficient) government until a majority of human beings has learned self governing which is to say that they have gained control over their non social and destructive behaviour that they (we really) are so prone to display so spectacularly and so consistently"

I have just discovered your site and i am happy to see that i am not alone

carry on the good work and good luck to you if you live in what George appears to think is the land of freedom and democratie (that is if you agree with him I guess)



I was just surfing the web and found the article about God and am really unclear if you wrote it or if it was just a submission by someone to your website. I also have read Karen Armstrong's History of God and it is very well done.

In the article above there is an interesting comment about a line from the Passover Service that the author has once a year at his mother's and as I said I am unsure if you or someone else wrote this:

There is a moment in the service which moves me very much and has had a profound effect on my life: when we read the words "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone."

This verse from the Jewish Scriptures is quoted more than once in the New Testament and it is always used to point to poor Jesus who was so battered by the political and religious leaders of his day. If ever there was a tragic figure, a stone rejected, it was Jesus at least in the end with the Crucifixion. Yet somehow in a very paradoxical way hope blooms at Easter. Christianity is saying that God rolled up his sleeves and suffered the normal and the brutal here and is not at a distance at all. Emmanuel is translated God with us. So is this a "Personal" God? Certainly not in a childish anthropomorphic way. Infinite anything has trouble being limited to any finite concepts including "personal". Karen Armstrong certainly knows that and communicates it well in her books. Yet our life is personal and "God" is not distant. Yet God does not exist as other things exist. The acorn does not exist in the oak .and yet it does and there would be no oak without the acorn. It is all acorn in one way of thinking and yet not acorn at all. (Here we see the paradox of good religion and the oxymoronism of God/man). Perhaps we would be better off calling God Factor X and at least that way would would all agree we do not understand God at all in any normal meaning of the word understand.

God can not be understood by any idea as he is the source of all ideas and concepts and the origin of All life. One little concept just will not stretch that large. We can call this "abstract" and dispense with it but perhaps it is more REAL than our reality and has an EXISTENCE which makes existence pale. To speak of such demands metaphor, parable, and poem. The things lovers use to speak about that which is most meaningful and indeed most real and yet defies clear definition. Such stuff leaves lovers a little crazy with love and full of passion as well. One might argue that this is bad but the lovers remain unconvinced. They sing and dance and embrace. Love is indeed real.

Religion will always work with such things and speak to depths that biology class will continue endlessly searching to find.

Religion needs its own vocabulary. The word holy means strange, weird, alien, different and other. Is there any wonder that we have difficulty understanding God ?

What arrogance to think that we could control or manipulate him. Our children are enough of a challenge there(grin). Yet if all life were a dream in an infinite mind look as we might at the forms of the dream we could not see the form of the mind. If all we see was but forms in a mirror looking and defining all forms and giving them whatever names we might the mirror holding all would elude our grasp. Yet like the unseen acorn that died to yield the oak tree it remains and lives and influences all and yet it is clear to see that no acorn is there at all.

Hey, just a few thoughts to consider. The Mystics of all the words religions have pressed for more than the metaphor and poem and some just burst into song.and others dance. At the depths there is joy but not one that is unware of the tragic reality all about us.there can be no Easter without a cross. Both balance. Like love in its bitter-sweetness and estatic-suffering. Oxymoron all.

Here are words of Albert Einstein that might say something similar from another perspective. This can be found here: http://condor.stcloudstate.edu/~lesikar/einstein/relig1.html

Einstein Said:

But there is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this.

Well there you go from brother Relativity himself (grin). Can a stone which was rejected and cast away actually become the Chief cornerstone of all? Can the bitter death join as one with the sweet life and as such transform both to something new and good? Perhaps neither death nor life have the last word but something holy does.

Dr. James E. Claunch

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Well we visited Auschwitz as part of our Highlights of Eastern Europe tour with Insight [excellent tour by the way]. It was as horrible as expected...the standing rooms for torture...the piles of glasses, of suitcases, of shoes all made the horror more believable. I was interested in the number of young Israeli soldiers visiting . Our guide told us this was a regular part of their training....a good thing too- to remind them in case they needed it..

However it was when we stopped at Birkenau that I really sat back...to see the extent of that place and to realise the deaths that occurred there then I was really taken aback.

In Prague my husband and I left the Market Square and shop, shop, shop mentality to tour the Jewish Museums....we found that most interesting and think of it as one of our favourite days on the tour.

Unfortunately we were unable to see some of the other Jewish areas in other cities as the tour program was rather full...am hopeful of another trip one day.

Again thankyou for your thought-provoking site.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I am a long time progressive republican. I am fiscally conservative, and socially liberal.

I have voted for fewer and fewer rank and file republicans since 1980, and have voter against every republican presidential candidate since I could vote in 1972. The party has left me. This year I will vote straight party democratic in PA, as a protest. I fear the current party is more fascist than anything else. America cannot afford 4 more years of this administration, for all the reasons you articulated in your article this month and more.

Keep up the good work.

Jeffrey M. Gonzalez