Tag Archives: ethics

Ethical Dilemmas and the Saturday Morning Breakfast Serial: A 1,001 Movies Update

Since the last hectic round of film-watching, I’ve slowed down the pace of my 1,001 movies project a bit.  I crunched the numbers and figured out that I didn’t have to watch a film every single night to meet my goal, as long as I committed to watching multiple movies on weekends and during vacations.  Thank goodness, too, because the whole point of the project is to have fun and learn about film, not stress myself out to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore.  As a friend pointed out, “The title of the book clearly states ‘BEFORE you die.’ Don’t kill yourself watching them.”

Fine.  So I still have some work to do taming my inner overachiever. At least there are no moral or ethical dilemmas inherent in my project.  Alas, the same cannot be said for the subjects of the films I’m watching. This particular crop of films plunges its protagonists head-on into uncomfortable, unjust situations against their will, and records their responses (or lack thereof).

Tono Brtko, the nominal “hero” of The Shop on Main Street, decidedly falls into the category of “lack thereof.”  Paralyzed by fear and doubt, Tono–whose brother-in-law becomes the local fuehrer in their tiny Czech town–doesn’t know what to do in the face of increasing anti-Semitism.  It doesn’t help that said brother-in-law gives the hapless carpenter a job as the overseer of a button shop, run by an elderly Jewish widow.  Confused and frightened, Tono pretends he’s helping the widow, Mrs. Lautman, run the store out of the goodness of his heart.

This isn’t entirely untrue, but Tono doesn’t have the courage to tell Mrs. Lautman why he’s really there, or that her rights are slipping away from her day by day as the Nazi regime inches closer to its final solution. This tense, horrifying film vividly illustrates the worst fears of good people: we’d all like to believe that, in the face of great evil, we would behave nobly and bravely.  But what if we didn’t? What if we retreated into drink and denial, hid our heads in the sand like ostriches? As the film lurched towards its inevitable, unhappy conclusion, I found myself agreeing with Edmund Burke, who wrote that “[w]hen bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”*

By contrast, the heroine of The Official Story challenges her government’s injustice at great personal cost to herself. Alicia Marmet, a history teacher, was unable to have biological children. Her adopted daughter, Gaby, is the light of her life and the treasure of her heart.  However, when Alicia learns that Gaby may very well have been stolen, and not adopted, from her biological mother, she sets out to find the truth…even if it means ultimately losing Gaby. Alicia’s story, which mirrors the all too true tales of children stolen during the Dirty War, broke my heart even as it raised my consciousness, and drove me back to the catalog to learn more about a grave injustice that is only now beginning to be corrected.

While grappling with heavy themes and weighty thoughts, I was also pondering a time-management dilemma.  One of the movies on the list, Louis Feuillade’s Les Vampires, turned out to be a 440-minute-long serial; when on earth was I going to be able to make time for that? And then, with a blinding flash of the obvious, I realized: I could watch the film the same way Parisian audiences would’ve watched it in the theaters, one episode at time.

original movie poster

Wikipedia makes a good case for fair use of this image. If you're the copyright holder, let's talk.

With the help of Wikipedia and YouTube I was able to identify and watch each episode.  It took me ten weeks to finish, and I’m happy to report that while I didn’t have popcorn and a big screen, the experience was just as enjoyable while noshing on breakfast cereal, wearing comfy pajamas, and sitting in front of my computer.

The film relates the adventures of Philippe Guèrande, a journalist who’s been reporting on the mysterious Vampires gang.  I was a little disappointed to learn that  Guèrande and his sidekick, Mazamette, were hunting ordinary thieves instead of bloodthirsty undead hoardes, but my disappointment passed with each diabolical robbery, kidnapping, or other crime the villains managed to pull off.  Satanas, the head of the gang, is so resolutely evil that he keeps a cannon in his apartment and fires it at people who cross him (!), while Venomous specializes in poisons, and nearly brings about the death of an entire wedding party with tainted champagne.  It was fun having something to look foward to on Saturday mornings, and I found myself wondering all week just what kind of terror, excitement, and strange costumes would be in the next episode.  It was nice to take a break from more ponderous fare and immerse myself in a world where the good guys lived with their mothers (it’s true!), the bad guys always got punished (eventually), and shooting a cannon at your enemies was always wrong, regardless of the circumstances.

Here’s the list of this round’s movies:

  1. Intolerance
  2. The Official Story
  3. Queen Christina
  4. Way Down East**
  5. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover
  6. The Shop on Main Street
  7. Within Our Gates
  8. Earth
  9. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  10. Les Vampires***

This brings my project tally to 230 movies. Hm.  Perhaps it’s time to schedule a nice, long vacation..?

–Leigh Anne

who is also treating herself to some light reading with I Want My MTV

*Burke is commonly given credit for the phrase, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” and if you care about proper quotation attribution as much as I do, you just might enjoy reading this essay on the matter.

**Available on YouTube, but, for some reason, not linking properly.  Hm.

***All ten episodes are available on YouTube.  Wikipedia helpfully lists the chapters by French and English title in the correct viewing order.

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For Love and Science: Korean Barbecue

I’m no Iron Chef, but I’m no slouch in the kitchen either.  So when D., my boyfriend, challenged me to replicate the Korean barbecue he’d eaten at Green Pepper, I rose to the occasion.  The fact that I hadn’t cooked meat in seven years (and wouldn’t be eating any of it myself) didn’t faze me for a second; cooking is an art, to be sure, but it’s also a science.  If you follow instructions closely, you will usually get a recipe right the first time.  Then you can start playing with it, tweaking spices and ingredients, etc.  Easy peasy.

[I’ll spare you the long, internal ethical debate I had with myself, as well as the guilt I felt about cooking meat, even after sincerely blessing the spirit of the cow that died for D.’s dinner.  The things we do for love and science, eh?]

In a perfect world, I would’ve been able to take a class, or hang out in an experienced cook’s kitchen to learn first-hand.  But with a deadline of one week, I would have to rely on my reference librarian skills and prior kitchen experience, and hope for the best.  Luckily, copious searching of both catalog and web turned up a wealth of information that was tons of fun to winnow through in search of the perfect galbi recipe.*  And by “perfect” I mean, of course, something from a source as close to authentic as I could find without actually boarding a plane to Seoul.

Eating KoreanRequesting items from other libraries would take more time than I had, so just this once I decided to stick close to home.** There were fourteen Korean cookbooks on the shelf, and I flipped through all of them, comparing and contrasting ingredients and techniques.  The one I eventually took home, however, was Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee’s Eating Korean. I chose it because it contains just as many essays as recipes, making it more of a cooking memoir than a conventional cookbook. Reading about Lee’s childhood and culinary adventures in Korea gave me a context I would never have been able to acquire simply by looking at a recipe;  her stories about making kimchi, learning to fish, picnicking in the park, and other adventures both simple and ceremonial helped me understand and appreciate the richness and complexity of Korean culture.

The most disturbing and fascinating story for me was the tale of the day Lee first killed a chicken, which concludes like this:

Our meal was a simple country one with a few side dishes, rice, and the starting main course of chicken.  I was as proud as a hunter who’d bagged a bear that morning, acting as if I had made the whole meal, while everyone raved about the delicious meat. As I enjoyed lunch, I almost forgot the insurmountable fear in my being as I faced the brown bird and the feeling of deep sadness as I watched the life leaving its body. I now had a deeper respect for the animals that had given their lives so that we could enjoy a wonderful meal. (174)

A conscious omnivore with a simple galbi recipe that called for ingredients I could easily find at both conventional and Korean grocers? Here was a cookbook I could definitely learn from.  Besides the sections on beef, chicken and fish, there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options in the side dishes, or mit banchan, such as roasted seaweed sheets, simmered tofu, soy-seasoned potatoes, and seasoned black beans. If you’re looking to expand your culinary repetoire, you’ll find many dishes here to please all palates.

The verdict?  Aside from using more soy sauce than the restaurant did, my galbi efforts were pronounced successful.  Thanks Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee!  As for me, I ate Gardein beefless tips, and loved them. While I won’t be apologizing to cows or killing chickens anytime soon, I had a blast learning about Korean cuisine and culture and actively exploring my own beliefs and limits.  And, as ever, I enjoyed preparing food for somebody I care about and want to please.  Because, at the end of the day, whatever we decide to cook and eat, we all hunger for the same thing:  love.

Leigh Anne

(who is still up for that cooking lesson, if anybody’s offering)

*Galbi, sometimes transliterated kalbi, is different from bulgogi, another flame-broiled Korean specialty.

** Expanding your search countywide gives you more options, which I plan to explore ASAP.

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Of Stage, Page, and Other Doorways: Les Misérables

A friend who works at CLP East Liberty is rereading all of Victor Hugo’s novels this year. Her praise for Julie Rose’s 2008 translation of Les Misérables moved me to track down a copy, and it is a formidable translation indeed:  1300 pages, and thicker than bricks.

A book that size demands your complete attention. You can’t really read it comfortably at the dinner table, or on the bus (at least, not if the seat next to you is occupied).  Oh no:  the size and heft, as well as the small font that delivers the content, demand your undistracted gaze, from the first lines of the introduction to the final footnote.

On the bright side, walking around with 1300 pages of French literature tucked under your arm is, apparently, better than a firearm when it comes to warding off unwanted attention; I’m not sure if people worry I’ll hit them with it or start quoting from it, but either way, all but the most literarily obsessed give a wide berth when Julie Rose and I walk by.  Especially if my nose is buried in the text, and I’m not looking where I’m going.

Why reread a classic when there are so many new and exciting works of literature waiting to be devoured?  I’d like to be able to say that, like our intern Shannon, I have a penchant for serious books.  The truth of the matter, though, is that Hugo bored me to tears when I was fifteen, reading him for the first time in French class (sorry Madame Soubre – il n étais pas votre faute).  I didn’t fall in love with Les Misérables until my college chamber choir tackled excerpts from Boublil and Schönberg’s musical score ; one rehearsal of “The Confrontation” and I fled for the library to take another stab at what I had so clearly missed in the novel the first time.

Ideally, textual interpretations feed into each other.  Music can lead you to books, perhaps by way of a graphic novel detour.  While the experience of reading a text is very different from watching a film, say, or listening to an audiobook narrated by Orson Welles (mmmm), the ideas themselves do not change.  Though the packaging may alter to accommodate different learning styles, the substance of Hugo’s moral and philosophical inquiries remains constant.

And what grand concerns they are.  As Jean Valjean struggles to overcome his criminal past, he is confronted at every turn with issues that are as troubling to a twenty-first century American as they might have been to a nineteenth-century French citizen.  What is social justice?  Is the ultimate goal of law to punish or rehabilitate?  What can / should be done to ameliorate class warfare?  What do we mean when we speak of ethics, honor, patriotism, faith, love?  And, perhaps most importantly, is there an absolute morality, as represented by Inspector Javert?  Or can we be redeemed by grace and mercy, as embodied by the Bishop of Digne?

I suppose the Javerts of the literary world might take me to task for coming to the book in a roundabout fashion, instead of appreciating it for what it was from the start.  As for me, I prefer the idea that there are many doorways into a text, and that it is no insult to the great books if we are not ready for them just yet.  They will remain, quietly shining on the shelves in their greatness, waiting patiently for us to stumble across the path, or through the doorway, that will ultimately lead us to the eternal lessons they have to teach.

Leigh Anne
(who would like to thank her teachers for not giving up on her during her “sit in the back of the class reading Stephen King” phase)

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If you can’t trust a librarian, who can you trust?

Most librarians I know feel very strongly about equal access to library resources and services, the strict confidentiality of your library records, the importance of intellectual freedom, and a resistance to censorship. But wait, there’s more!

Here is the American Library Association’s Code of Ethics taken from ala.org:
I. We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.
II. We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.
III. We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.
IV. We respect intellectual property rights and advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.
V. We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.
VI. We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.
VII. We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.
VIII. We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession.

Also, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has its own privacy policy that promises that any information gathered from you, for example your name, address, phone number, email address, etc. will never be shared with outside parties. In addition, safeguards have been put in place on the data to ensure its security.

So rest assured–we are looking out for you!

–Bonnie

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