Both Oars In Goodbye, at least for now

Last week, Maureen Dowd, a celebrated columnist for the New York Times, waded into the debate on whether or not the statue of Joe Paterno should be removed from Beaver Stadium.

By the time Ms. Dowd’s column published on Sunday, July 22, Penn State had already made the wise and compassionate decision to take down the statue. In fact, it was unceremoniously shrouded and carried away that very morning.

What compelled Ms. Dowd to add her two cents to the debate at the last minute? I believe her motivation, besides the need to file a column regularly, can be found in this sentence from the eleventh paragraph of her column:

“It’s the story of ‘Faust,’ a morality play that unspools daily in politics, banking, sports and the Catholic Church.”

It would seem that Ms. Dowd wrote the column, at least in part, in order to take a shot at her usual targets.

Are there really only four institutions that are plagued with human sin? Since all institutions are comprised of humans, isn’t it likely that there are a lot more to list? Is it fair to end that sentence with a simple period? How about something a bit more open ended and realistic, like all other institutions populated by humans? Ms. Dowd’s litany of where human behavior spirals downward reveals a lot more about her than it does about the world.

On the specific question of the sexual abuse of children, 30 to 40 per cent of abuse is perpetrated by family members. Up to 75 per cent of abuse occurs in either the victim’s home or the home of the abuser. Therefore, it is likely that the majority of sexual abuse occurs in a place even more shocking than the gym showers of a well-respected university, namely in our own homes.

Shouldn’t this obligate Ms. Dowd to include families in her list? This neither excuses nor diminishes the gravity of the mistakes made by those in institutional leadership positions who either passively or actively contribute to the harm of children. It is just the fact—a fact whose greatest value is keeping all of our eyes open.

Ms. Dowd is correct that politics and sports do seem to cultivate a dangerous form of pride, but why leave Hollywood off the list? When it comes to hubris, don’t actors—Tom Cruise comes to mind—deserve special mention?

However, I would just as quickly point out that “playing god” is not limited to politicians, athletes and actors. How about the legalization of physician assisted suicide in Oregon by over a half of a million everyday citizens?   

Ms. Dowd cannot seriously believe that theft and financial malfeasance is more common among bankers than others. Just Google “casinos” and “embezzlement” and peruse the numerous stories of grandmothers turned to crime to feed their new-found gambling addictions. One article reports that Ledyard, Conn. experienced a 400 per cent increase in embezzlement when Foxwoods Resort Casino opened. Unfortunately, one of the predictable side effects of gambling coming to town is increased crime and fraud. Apparently, a lot more of us would steal if we lived in Las Vegas.

How about columnists? Shouldn’t we be on the list of those prone to play god given our tendency to appoint ourselves judge and jury? If not playing god, isn’t that at least immodest self-aggrandizement? How about going out of the way to pick topics just to be able to skewer the same targets over and over? Doesn’t that make us vainly vengeful? What about the hypocrisy of putting others under the microscope when we would never want the tables to be turned?

Having discovered Ms. Dowd’s list, I have come to realize that I, too, have my own. While I am proud that I have thrown Mr. Clinton under the bus with abandon and taken every opportunity to shed light on China’s aggressive search for raw materials to feed its fated economy, it gives me pause to think that being a columnist comes with, over time, the professional hazard of being myopic. So, it’s Goodbye, at least for now.

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