Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ethics with Calvin and Hobbes

excerpted from Open Questions: Readings for Critical Thinking and Writing edited by Chris Anderson and Lex Runciman, copyright 2005, pages 413-414:

‘Today at school, I tried to decide whether to cheat on my test or not.’

“The creator of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, Bill Watterson (b. 1958) refused to merchandise his characters. Calvin and Hobbes appeared in more than 2,300 newspapers around the world, and ran from November 1985 through December 1995.

“Calvin: Today at school, I tried to decide whether to cheat on my test or not.
Calvin: I wondered, is it better to do the right thing and fail...or is it better to do the wrong thing and succeed?
Calvin: On the one hand, undeserved success gives no satisfaction. … But on the other hand, well-deserved failure gives no satisfaction either.
Calvin: Of course, most everybody cheats some time or other. People always bend the rules if they think they can get away with it. … Then again, that doesn't justify my cheating.
Calvin: Then I thought, look, cheating on one little test isn't such a big deal. It doesn't hurt anyone. … But then I wondered if I was just rationalizing my unwillingness to accept the consequence of not studying.
Calvin: Still, in the real world, people care about success, not principles. … Then again, maybe that's why the world is in such a mess. What a dilemma!
Hobbes: So what did you decide?
Calvin: Nothing. I ran out of time and I had to turn in a blank paper.
Hobbes: Anymore, simply acknowledging the issue is a moral victory.
Calvin: Well, it just seemed wrong to cheat on an ethics test.

“What does it say?
1. There are two figures in this comic strip, Calvin and his tiger, Hobbes. Track what each one says. Calvin obviously does most of the talking. What does Hobbes say and when does he say it? What is your reaction to Hobbes's final statement? How does Hobbes's body language—his facial expressions, his gestures—contribute to your understanding of what he says?
2. It doesn't take long to read a comic strip like this, and first reactions are usually quick, too. Describe yours. As soon as you stop reading, jot down a quick four sentence response. Did you laugh? Why? What made this funny? If you didn't laugh, what was your reaction and why?

“What do you think?
3. Bill Watterson, the cartoonist, doesn't come out and say what he wants this comic to mean. He is neither Calvin nor Hobbes. What do you think Watterson is getting at? Write a brief essay that presents your understanding of the thesis statement of this cartoon, and explain the evidence that supports your analysis.
4. Though Watterson is neither Calvin nor Hobbes, one of these characters may serve as his spokesperson. Which do you think does? Which of these characters comes closest to representing Watterson's own views, and how do you know? What details in the comic lead to this conclusion? Or do you think that neither character represents Watterson?
5. People often send their friends and families copies of cartoons they like. Who would you send this cartoon to, and why?
6. Hobbes says that ‘Anymore, simply acknowledging the issue is a moral victory.’ Write an essay agreeing or disagreeing with that statement, explaining your position.

“What would they say?
7. Read Lawrence Hinman's ‘Virtual Virtues: Reflections on Academic Integrity in the Age of the Internet.’ How would Watterson have to adapt this particular cartoon to reflect Hinman's analysis of ethical behavior and the Internet? Would the cartoon have to be any different? Is there something about cyberspace that changes the ethical dilemma that Calvin is describing?
8. Based on your reading of Hinman's ‘Virtual Virtues: Reflections on Academic Integrity in the Age of the Internet,’ do you think he would put a copy of this cartoon on his office door or on his syllabus for one of his courses? (Hinman is an ethicist who teaches courses in ethics and ethical reasoning.) Explain why or why not.
9. Write an essay explaining how you think Stephen L. Carter, in ‘The Best Student Ever,’ and Donald McCabe and Linda Klebe Trevino, in ‘Honesty and Honor Codes,’ would respond to this cartoon. What would they say? Would they agree with its premise? Why or why not?
10. Out of all the essays you've read in this book, which writer comes closest to embodying Calvin's position in this comic? Which writer comes closest to embodying Hobbes's position? Explain.”

Saturday, July 25, 2009

*John Dies at the End* by David Wong

"It’s a drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. On the street they call it Soy Sauce, and users can drift across time and dimensions. But some who come back are no longer human.

"Suddenly a silent, otherworldly invasion is underway, and mankind needs a hero. What it gets instead is John and David, a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs.

"Can these two stop the oncoming horror in time to save humanity?

"No. No, they can’t.

"John Dies at the End is coming to book stores and everywhere else September 29th, 2009 from St. Martin’s Press."

The website includes a characteristically entertaining and lucid explanation by Wong of pareidolia:

"Everything you need to know about the universe, you can learn from this picture of Captain Kirk holding a rock shaped like a boner."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Delaying not, hurrying not, low and delicious

O give me the clew! (it lurks in the night here somewhere);
Oh, if I am to have so much, let me have more!

A word then (for I will conquer it),
The word final, superior to all,
Subtle, sent up--what is it?--I listen;
Are you whispering it, and have been all the time, you sea-waves?
Is that it from your liquid rims and wet sands?

Whereto answering, the sea,
Delaying not, hurrying not,
Whispered me through the night, and very plainly before daybreak,
Lisped to me the low and delicious word death,
And again death, death, death, death,
Hissing melodious, neither like the bird nor like my aroused child's heart,
But edging near as privately for me rustling at my feet,
Creeping thence steadily up to my ears and laving me softly all over,
Death, death, death, death, death.

--Walt Whitman, "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," Leaves of Grass

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Mongolia: Surviving the Winter" by Richard Wainwright

"Under the streets of Ulaan Baatar, the coldest capital city in the world, many children struggle to survive the bitter winter.... Munkhbat (15) & Altangeret (15) have lived down this manhole in Unur district of Ulaan Baatar for over 3 years."
Mongolian Buddhist Information and Education Network

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Dharma Bums V

"Sociability is just a big smile and a big smile is nothing but teeth."

--Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums, 1958

Saturday, July 04, 2009

are ambiguous

"Real moral dilemmas are ambiguous, and many of us hike right through them, unaware that they exist. When, usually after the fact, someone makes an issue of them, we tend to resent his or her bringing it up."

--Bowen H. McCoy, "The Parable of the Sadhu," Harvard Business Review, 1983 September/October

Happy Independence Day

propaganda poster
Harald Damsleth
1906-1971 Norwegian

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Cat in the Rain

"Hemingway has succeeded in rendering an immensely poignant human experience with all the poetry that pure prose can achieve. The simple language and brittle style simultaneously conceal and reveal a powerful emotional situation without the least trace of sentimentality. The delicacy and accuracy of the achievement are magnificent."

--John V. Hagopian, "Symmetry in 'Cat in the Rain,'" College English, 1962 December