"The Ethicist" is Randy Cohen's long-running advice column in the New York Times. Each week, Gabriel Delahaye's "The Unethicist" will answer the same questions as "The Ethicist," with obvious differences.
This week, the greatest moral question that mankind has ever faced continues to confound us, while a young journalism student gets depressingly excited about his new "online" (as opposed to "offline"?) blogging responsibilities.
At my son's Little League game, a foul ball sailed over the fence and shattered the window of a parked car. Signs at the ball field specify that the league is not responsible. One parent argued that the hitters family should replace the window. Our family thinks the player and his parents have no such obligation: foul balls are part of the game. Who is right? — Steve Fram, Palo Alto, Calif.
Dear Randy "The Ethicist" Cohen,
When I first began this column, back in 1943 (when my catch-phrase was "I have no problem with BUY WAR BONDS"), it was my intention to lampoon the predominately upper-middle-class, white readership of the New York Times, whose ethical questions tend to revolve around the trivial (is it so wrong to wear white after labor day?) and the mundane (is it so wrong to wear white before Memorial Day?). Week in and week out, you dip your hand into your mailbag and select what are ostensibly "the best" questions, i.e. those that are simultaneously the most accessible to your readers and the most fecund for spirited moral debate. I have no doubt that you select well, which is unsettling, considering the functional retardation of most of the questions you answer. But "chapeau," Mr. Cohen (I know how much you love to slip in coy foreign expressions to excite the classist narcissism of your readers! Consider it an "homage.") It cannot be easy to cater to the spiritual acid reflux of our nation's privileged, insipid elite without splattering your own Nantucket red all over the ceiling.
One of the reasons that I was so certain that your column would provide me with enough material for my column was because, although I was never a regular "The Ethicist" reader, one of the few times I did read it, a few years ago, the question was of such startling unimportance, and such raw upper-middle-class-whiteness, that it had stuck with me ever since. I did a little bit of research to find that old question:
While we were playing softball on a city-owned diamond, I hit a foul ball that sailed into the parking lot off third base and broke the back window of a friend's car. I offered to pay, but he intends to sue the city for $600 in damages because it hadn't posted signs warning of the danger or hung screens above the fence to deflect wayward balls. Who should pay — me, the city or my friend? Gregory Knapp, Tujunga, Calif.
Six years, one 9/11, two wars, one Katrina, and an Alberto Gonzales later, CAN WE PLEASE PUT TO REST THE AGE-OLD QUESTION OF FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY IN THE REALM OF STRAY FOUL BALLS? FUUUUUCK.
A journalism major at college, I was delighted to land an internship at a national magazine. My editor asked me to post comments on one of the magazine's online blogs, being sure not to mention my working for the magazine but to write in a style that suggests I'm a reader. That felt dirty to me. Advice? — Nick McCarvel, Seattle
I have no problem with BUY WAR BONDS.