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Forum File

Saturday, November 17, 2012 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“Every parent has heard the f-word, fairness, intoned ad nauseam by their negotiating kids. My own son was an eloquent voice for egalitarianism, even before he could tie his shoes or tell time. Of course, it's not exactly universal equality that he and other kids are lobbying for, but something much more self-interested.

“Kids learn early on that an honest declaration of 'I'm not getting what I want' holds little persuasion for parents. So they quickly figure out how to mask their egocentric frustrations with the language of fairness. “… fairness, however, is not the be-all and end-all standard for justice, nor is it the best measure of our social lives. As a philosopher, I've noticed a tremendous amount of conceptual confusion in our use of fairness. And though we're hearing a lot of the language of fairness hurled around lately in political rhetoric, it often hinders real conversation and debate more than it helps. Most people, for example, assume that the opposite of fairness is selfishness, and since selfishness is manifestly terrible, no one but a hapless Ayn Rand devotee would be so foolish as to critique fairness. But the real opposite of fairness is favoritism … not egoistic selfishness. If that's true, then a lot of us … are unwitting daily sinners against fairness. And that's not a bad thing.”

– From “In defense of favoritism” at chronicle.com

A quiz

Which planet has a day almost the same as Earth's – 24 hours and 37 minutes?

Wisdom of the ages

“A committee is a group of the unprepared, appointed by the unwilling to do the unnecessary.” – Fred Allen

Current wisdom

“The president's campaign, if you will, focused on giving targeted groups a big gift. He made a big effort on small things.” – Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, telling top donors that President Obama won re-election because of the “gifts” he had already provided to blacks, Hispanics and young voters.

Quiz answer

Mars

Snob words

disbosom (dis-BOOZ-uhm), v. – to reveal; confess, as in: “The editorial writer could not bear to disbosom himself to the politician who looked like his crazy uncle Albert.” From the Indo-European bosom, which can mean “breast, womb, surface or ship's hold.”

Today in history

On this date in 1800, Congress held its first session in Washington, D.C.; hard to believe these days, but there were no reports of gridlock.

Now you know

There were 7.5 million Vietnam-era veterans in 2011, 5.1 million who served during the Gulf War (representing service from Aug. 2, 1990, to present), 1.8 million from World War II (1941-1945), 2.4 million from the Korean War (1950-1953) and 5.4 million who served in peacetime only.