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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 18, 2011


I like to believe that I believe in second chances. 

Four stories this week -- one personal, three highly publicized in the media -- have given me some opportunity to think about how much I *really* believe in second chances.  Are there errors so gross that such an opportunity should never be allowed? 

I'll start with the personal.  Two days ago, I discovered that people are selling their notes of my lectures online.  I feel this is deeply unethical, since I do not post ANY of my lectures online myself.  I actually EXPECT students to come to class and take their own damn notes.  I don't mind if they want to study with each other or share their notes (didn't we all do that?!) but they should not make money by doing so and should not feel entitled to post MY intellectual property online.  

I've certainly known for some time that such things happen.  Still, somebody is making money (albeit not very much) from doing this.  Should I "prosecute"?  I'm not sure.  If I do (and there is no indication as I write this that I'm going to, no matter how offended I am), what kind of second chance do I believe the student(s) deserve?  If it's a first offense, I'm sure I would say "a full second chance," a clean slate. 

But what if I discover that the student(s) do this for many classes, thus interfering with many professors' intellectual property and thus making (arguably) some good money from doing so?  What would be appropriate then?  I'm not sure.  Jail time seems probably too harsh, but getting kicked out of school, from my perspective, does not. 

I may be wrong.  In any case, the *time* needed to go after these jokers is probably more than I'm willing to expend.  How sad, because it means they'll probably continue in their unethical ways.  The longer they continue, the less of a second chance I'd be willing to give them. 

It's an inverse relationship, kids.

I'm hoping, frankly, that their behavior catches up with them and they get hung by their own proverbial petard.  (BTW, it's not at all clear from the grading of the exams that such "cheating" is making that big a difference.  Is that my only solace?)

So, posting intellectual property without the consent of the owner is one type of "crime".

Animal abuse is far more offensive.

The second story that made me think of second chances is that of Michael Vick.  Vick, in case you've been living under a rock, is a professional football player who was found guilty of heinous animal abuse (dog fighting) back in 2007 and served 21 months in jail for it.  If you want to read all about it, see this article in the New York Times or this one from the Washington Post.  The second article is more vivid, describing in more detail what Vick did to the dogs.  It's hard to stomach and I cannot imagine who would NOT agree that he deserved severe punishment for what he did (read:  dogs suffered greatly and many died).

Many, particularly vegans and animal rights activists, feel Vick has not suffered enough, that a mere 21 months in jail is not enough punishment; some go online saying that he should be hung and dragged and tortured the same way those dogs were.  Even the Humane Society (which vegans and animal rights activists frequently criticize) went on record as saying that the punishment should have been stiffer (see the quote in the Washington Post article).

But now, Vick is out of jail and back to playing football.  In my opinion, he has served his time -- paid his debt, at least legally, to society -- and deserves a chance at being a better person.  Saying that much does not make me his "fan" and I remain skeptical of how much he can change.  But until he proves definitively that he cannot, I believe he deserves the chance to prove us all wrong.

Vick chose, this past week, to cancel his scheduled appearance on Oprah, citing "personal reasons".  While it may indeed be the case that he simply doesn't want to discuss his dog fighting past and his time in prison -- and while it might even be understandable to call him a "coward" for that -- it doesn't follow, at least in my mind, that he is undeserving of being given the chance to put this all behind him.

Yet some of the animal rights and vegan people I follow on Facebook and Twitter feel that all he is is a "fucking loser piece of shit pussy" and that I, by suggesting that one could talk of Michael Vick without resorting to such vulgar language, must be his fan and must not care about animals.  And that he does not deserve that second chance.

1. I'm not his fan.
2. I do care deeply about animals (and I would never let him have a pet).
3. I still believe he's owed a second chance, which means an opportunity to put this behind him.
4. I'm able to talk about all this without sounding like a petulant, uneducated teen.

The third and fourth stories are related to each other and have been even more widely talked about than Vick's Oprah cancellation.

Lara Logan is the CBS news correspondent who, on Feb 11, endured some type of heinous sexual attack and beating by a mob of Egyptian men during what was, ironically, the celebration of Mubarak's resignation.

Nir Rosen is the former NYU fellow and journalist who resigned from his NYU post following his clearly offensive tweets about Lara Logan's attack.

There are two types of possible stories of redemption in these two interrelated stories, one which I could easily defend and one which, I find, I don't think I ever could.

I'll start with Mr. Rosen:  I happened to be on Twitter the day the Lara Logan story broke and I almost immediately tweeted "My thoughts and prayers are with Lara Logan".  Off and on during the day, I checked back to see what others were saying, which is how I stumbled, quite literally, onto Mr. Rosen's tweets.  I noticed three things:  a) the tweets were wildly offensive and cruel, b) many called him out for it, and c) he apologized rather quickly and seemed genuinely sorry and chagrined for his behavior.

But apologies were apparently not enough, because the next day he resigned from his prestigious post at NYU.

And his apologies continued, including his going public with Anderson Cooper on CNN (compare that to Vick cancelling on Oprah!) and a thoughtful, analytical and deeply apologetic piece he wrote in Salon. 

Today, I stumbled across this article, the main point of which is this:  though Rosen's Twitter behavior was wrong and offensive and deserved punishment, the body of his work shows that he is a thoughtful journalist -- even one who writes regularly about women's rights -- and that he should not be reduced to his worst moment.

If we believe in second chances, we should allow Mr. Rosen, who does appear genuinely deeply humiliated and sorry, to have one.  (I retweeted his apologies, by the way.)

Does that mean his going back to NYU?  I don't know.  But I sincerely hope his career can recover.  He seems better, overall, than his worst behaviors.

But what about the men who attacked Lara Logan?

I cannot forgive them; I cannot say (if they're ever caught) that I think they would deserve a second chance at freedom.  Am I wrong?  I don't know. 

That's what's so hard about saying you "generally" believe in something:  there are times when, it turns out, you do not.


  1. I'm of a split mind...

    First, I used to sell copies of my lecture notes to people who missed classes. Yes, sell. It wasn't specifically TO make money, but it happened someone I didn't really like much asked me for a copy. I said 'Sure, got $20?' He paid, and now I was in business. Never made more than a couple hundred a term, but it kept me in Pizza and Beer, as it were.

    Doing it online, though is ... interesting.

    I would (for next semester) say 'Anyone caught selling lecture notes will be docked a grade.' Though I'd ask your boss about it. Don't punish the people buying, punish the sellers. Cut 'em off there ;)

    I'm more ethical than entrepreneurial at the end of the day, though. Had my professors said 'Don't do that. Share or don't, but sell? Really?' I would have said "Okay." and left the guy high and dry to ask a friend. I'm also mean to people I don't like.

  2. Perhaps it would be worth it to engage in a little creative deception to make a point to your students: announce that you've taped all the class discussions and also made a transcript of everything each student said, and you're selling these to interested parties. You could also mention that you make copies of all student papers and sell those as well - after all, you have access to it and there's no shortage of people willing to buy such things so why shouldn't you be able to profit from the free market? Then ask if they feel that's a violation of their privacy and rights. I suspect that many of them would agree. Maybe that could lead into a useful discussion of why selling/posting your lecture notes is unethical and a violation, and there are serious potential consequences for doing so. Then if the idiots responsible don't stop, turn them in your student judicial affairs office - if they are going to keep doing it to you, it's a fair bet they're doing it with all their professors.

    As for Nir Rosen, I'm totally on board with the second chance. He made extremely callous statements without a thought to what he was actually saying or who he was hurting. All of us are guilty of doing so at times, maybe not to the same degree, but we're all fallible and we've all been there. However, I do think he should have stopped at recognizing that he made a grave error and providing an unconditional apology. I don't really care for the extended explanation of his thought process because, as heartfelt as it may be, it has the odor of justification to it...and there just is no justification for his words. None. As far as I'm concerned, this incident doesn't negate all of the good and powerful journalism he's done, and will no doubt continue to do. But he needs to stop trying to explain it away, especially with the explanation that he didn't realize at first how serious it was (which I don't think most people are buying, e.g. the news link he posted in the first tweet made it very clear that she suffered a brutal sexual assault).

    On the matter of second chances in general, I'm a firm believer that everyone should get to redeem, or at least try to redeem, themselves from past behavior. Everyone, even Michael Vick and the people who committed the horrific violations against Ms. Logan (although I suspect there's virtually no chance that those responsible will actually come forward or be caught). BUT at no point does that mean anyone should get to erase prior actions as if they never happened. I don't think that should mean being socially punished forever, as in via employment or housing, etc, but part of the "redemption/second chance" concept means learning from those errors and mistakes - admitting them, correcting them, owning them. Being accountable to yourself and others, in whatever form that needs to take. If you can't do that, then you don't deserve the opportunity for a second chance, imho.

  3. Angela -- I very much agree that if people cannot change and learn from their errors, they don't deserve the second chance. Problem is, we often don't know until we give them the chance....

    In case I didn't make it clear enough: I share the rage of so many over the callousness of Rosen, the viciousness of Vick, and the deceitfulness of my students. It goes without saying that I am beyond-the-beyond upset about the violence and mob mentality of the men who attacked Logan. Like you, I doubt we'll ever know who participated in that attack. I cannot think of a word that adequately describes how I feel, that adequately describes my anger and horror, that adequately expresses how completely inhumane I find their behavior. When I reach the point where I can no longer put into words my disgust at their behavior, I know I've reached a point where trying to contemplate second chances is impossible.

  4. If all of us were to be "reduced down to our worst moment", then quite frankly none of us would be up to par- I know I certainly wouldn't, I've had more than a few "worst moments", for sure. I believe in second chances as well, even when giving them is hard.

    As a side note, can I just say how frustrating it is that sexism is so well tolerated within the animal rights movement- as evidenced by the fact that Michael Vick is so incredibly terrible that he is a "pussy". Likewise, the book, "Meat is for Pussies" got rave reviews all over the vegan boards and blogs, with most being written by *women*. I just don't understand how people don't see the hypocrisy
    : / That word is a part of my vocabulary, so it's not about the word itself, but the way that it is so cavalierly thrown out as being just about the worst insult you can give someone that rankles me.

  5. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/02/the-america-bashing-pro-taliban-tweets-of-nir-rosen/71378/ To be fair -- if I had seen this article about Nir Rosen BEFORE I went to write this post, I may have been less forgiving of him. I should have done more research. And I'm admitting that up front...


Politeness is always appreciated.