The newish mosaic in Humboldt Park, on the site of the house, long demolished, where L. Frank Baum lived with his family, when he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and published it, in 1900.
One sentence you do not want to hear, halfway through a 6,200-word speech:
And on that I’m going to ask people serve lunch, because I’ve got a lot to get through here. I’ve got a lot to share. So bring on the lunch: enjoy. …
(Other sentences you don’t want to hear: “Finally, I think I’ve done well to get this far in a speech as long as this, and for you all to still be in the room!” And, “So thank you all for your great patience in listening this afternoon.”)
And yet that’s exactly what Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said earlier this month to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia, in Perth.
Prime Minister, please trust me when I tell you: Speeches are not comprehensive communications. They are not omnibus opportunities for policy pontification. They are not the internet.
They are personal expressions. They are a chance for you to share your essential idea and show the core of who you are, to an audience that mostly wants reassurance that you have an essential idea, and that there is core of who you are.
And there is no call, in this fleeting earthly life of ours, to deliver a 45-minute speech. Even if you do feel compelled to orally justify everything your government ever did that vaguely affected the western half of Oz in hopes of shutting up those woopwoop-dwelling sandgropers for good and never, ever receiving an invitation to return.
That won’t work, either.
One of the reasons I still take a newspaper every Sunday is that it’s a regular test of my curiosity. Do I care to read that story about how the CDC came to the decision to suspend the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? Or am I willing to continue my pattern of being pretty ignorant about the science of COVID, and secure in my feelings about it?
Unlike the Internet, the newspaper does that: It gives you a sense of how much there is to know, and forces you to physically turn the page without reading it, thus admitting to yourself and your God: There is a great deal of objectively important shit I don’t know anything about, and am too lazy or otherwise preoccupied to read up on. (The entire war in Syria, for instance.) That’s a good thing to remember about yourself. Keeps you humble.
The New York Times is the Sunday paper I read. Some weeks I read a lot of it, and it takes hours to get through; other weeks I have fewer shits to give. But every single Sunday, the very easiest section to skip past is the regular ethics column, in the NYT Magazine. That, too, seemed like a lack of curiosity on my part, until I realized the reason I didn’t want to know the answers that “The Ethicist” had to offer was that the questions are so dumb!
Those questions are either blithely answered through the haze of a Bloody Mary buzz “yes,” “no” or “who gives a fuck?”—or they’re as impossible to answer as the much larger, more troubling question: “What sort of propeller-head, on the horns of a dilemma, thinks to write a letter to The New York Times?!”
I was inspired to ask some more difficult questions I’ve faced in recent years, days, and minutes—bravely, on my own!—that I’d like to see “The Ethicist” try to answer:
• If I think an extended family member or family friend’s very young child is butt-ass ugly inside and out, should I refrain from saying so to my wife, thus legitimizing a shameful private thought into a social reality? Or should I share it with her, to avoid creating or perpetuating a pattern of love-strangling Victorian propriety between me and my beloved?
• If I post a super cute picture on Facebook about my dog, shouldn’t I include a line admitting that I’m not even going to bother noticing who “likes” it—and specifying that I’m only in it for the numbers?
• If I run across a searing feminist post like this McSweeney’s masterpiece titled, “Alternatives to Resting Bitch Face,” am I obligated to forward it to feminist friends and family members, knowing full well that they will love the piece but surely forget I was the one who sent it, and then use it to sharpen their knives against my partriarchy-representing ass?
I had a boss once who said that some people prefer an ethical question to a real one.
Not me, boy.