Friday, November 03, 2006

Headline Brews

This Table Talk is sponsored by a generous donation from Dr. Robert Kane in honor of Nellie and Joseph Blackman.

Any idea what the word “Hebrew” means?

It’s actually a secret. But it shouldn’t be.

To explain, I would like to ask you a different question: What’s wrong with the following picture?

Yesterday’s BBC website featured the following two headlines juxtaposed:

'Only 50 years left' for sea-fish
There will be virtually nothing left to fish from the seas by the middle of the century if current trends continue, according to a major scientific study.
"The way we use the oceans is that we hope and assume there will always be another species to exploit after we've completely gone through the last one," said research leader Boris Worm, from Dalhousie University in Canada.
Steve Palumbi, from Stanford University in California, one of the other scientists on the project, added: "Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean species together, as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood."

Pollock work 'earns record price'
A work by Jackson Pollock has become the most expensive painting sold, at a price of about $140,000,000, according to the New York Times. (Here’s the link to the original NYT article.)

Here's a photo of the most expensive painting in history:

That’s a lot of spare change.

Enough money to put 400,000 Tutsi children refugees through 18 years of school. (The Congolese I met in 1993 told me that they can typically afford to send one child to school at a time, and the average family had four or five children.)

Does this Malthusian picture of fiddling while the world is being destroyed bother you?

It doesn’t bother me.

Yes, of course we all care about the oceans yada yada yada. Let’s elect some people next week who will do something about it.

But if someone wants to spend a fortune on a painting, that’s his business. I’m not judging that. Au contraire, maybe the seller will use the cash to do some good. It could turn out to be a very positive transfer of assets.

What is disturbing is the next paragraph of the latter article:

The experts spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they did not want to be perceived as betraying the confidence of the seller or the buyer of the Pollock, “No. 5, 1948,” or jeopardize future business.

Um, what was that again? The experts wanted to betray the confidence of the buyer and seller without being perceived as betraying the confidence of buyer and seller? And the reporter aided and abetted this betrayal without compunction.

Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Am I the only one bothered by this public betrayal? In case you missed it, what the article is saying is that the “art experts” violated the confidence of the buyer and seller of this painting, but they didn’t want the Times to print their names so as not to sully their own reputations. Never mind their clients’ reputations and privacy.

To their credit, our media have good intentions. Today’s Ted Haggard sex-scandal was initially treated with caution. But that’s because the rules of journalism don’t let you report a scandal based on one man’s testimony, especially so close to an election. The problem is that there are no rules against betrayal of confidence.

If this casual disregard for ethics doesn’t outrage you, what does?

You can ask your table: Does something outrage you but you feel too outnumbered to do anything about it? “Can’t fight City Hall” syndrome?

If so, it’s time to be a Hebrew. “Hebrew” comes from “Ivri” which means “one who is willing to cross over to the other side of the line and oppose the entire world on an ethical point”.

Easy for me to say? Maybe you can find a way to teach that definition to everyone at your table, and get them to figure out how to become better Hebrews. Then please let me know, and I’ll share your wisdom with others.

Are you scratching your proverbial head thinking, “I don’t see the outrage here”? Then what does outrage you?

Shabbat Shalom.

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