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Playing moral

By Terry Joseph
July 23, 2004

Today confined to the Museum of Quaint Amusements, "moral," a schoolgirl game that, up to the late 20th century, enjoyed widespread popularity locally, had no virtuous pretext, contrarily forcing otherwise fine young ladies to spread their thighs when navigating double-jeopardy challenges.

As it turned out, the name of the game was much less contradictory than what has transpired since, if one considers the way in which 21st century adult players handle their hurdles, some lying on network television, others relying on it to rationalise wrongdoing.

The children's game required a precise combination of hop, step and jump techniques, its cerebral aspect testing logic and creativity by simultaneously engaging both hemispheres of the brain, while demanding balance from the body and great concentration at eye-level.

Contemporary adults involved in white-collar crime have cleverly adapted many of these skills, their game plan much less taxing physically, over-compensating with agility of mind and affordability of attorneys to restore integrity rather than energy after a bout of playing the new version of moral.

Take the case of billionaire Martha Stewart, a moral benchmark, diva and doyenne of domesticity if ever there was one, last week convicted of lying to US authorities about the chain of events leading to her dumping 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems mere hours before that stock plummeted.

Hundreds working in Martha's vineyard consequently lost their jobs and the patsies who, unlike her, had no prior knowledge that the US FDA was about to debunk ImClone's wonder-drug Erbitux, which the company hoped would bring it a fortune from suffering cancer patients, watched their investment collapse when the news became public. Stewart saved US$51,000 by her "timely" transaction.

Yet, at her conviction last week, Stewart not only appealed a pat-on-the-wrist jail sentence, equal time under house arrest and a US$30,000 fine, but had the temerity to compare her plight with that of freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, whose anti-apartheid stance got him 27 years at Robben Island prison, her cause entirely for self, his global, he a martyr, she a mogul.

After being favoured with the minimum sentence, stock in her own company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, shot up 37 per cent on the New York Exchange, making her US$90 million richer in a single afternoon and for doing nothing more than being found guilty in court. Martha is objecting to the outcome of what she glibly described as: "A small personal matter blown out of proportion."

Stewart remains the company's creative force and holds the title of founding editorial director. Still, Martha would have us believe she is the victim, saying defiantly to the cameras "I will be back," using the media opportunity to brazenly ask friends and fans to "continue to show your support" by subscribing to her magazines and buying her line of homemaking products.

As if she wasn't caught at skullduggery, defence lawyer Robert Morvillo asked Judge Cedarbaum for a sweetheart sentence, saying Stewart "has brought a measure of beauty to our everyday world with refined color schemes, floral arrangements, and culinary delights and she stood for the values of quality and making products as perfect as possible."

In defence of a rape charge, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, his wife Vanessa sitting beside him at a subsequent news conference, breezily admitted adultery, as if "the lesser count" was no more sinful than pinching candy from the family cupboard. President Bill Clinton survived his peccadilloes and, impeachment notwithstanding, went on to make millions from accounts of the dalliance.

Signals from the other side of the moral divide are equally confusing. Enron executives quashed the theory that only the bad guy wears dark suits. The Roman Catholic priesthood is still reeling from child-molestation scandals and right here at home, at last Sunday's church service to mark the 42nd anniversary of the regiment, Defence Force Chaplain Fr Allan Ventour asked soldiers to be forgiving and obey God.

Taken at easiest definition, Fr Ventour was suggesting the soldiers should uphold the Ten Commandments, the seventh of which says "Thou shalt not kill." Perhaps the goodly chaplain wants troops, trained to obey commands from only immediate superiors in the military, to now turn the other cheek in the face of a fusillade from the enemy.

Two days later, Pastor Elmore Anthony of the Daybreak Assembly called for murderers to be publicly hanged in Woodford Square, the most barbaric suggestion to date for dealing with the crime problem, delivered as grace to some 300-plus mourners at the funeral of a slain police officer.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning's sideswipe at Siparia MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar during recent debate on the police reform bills, are now being made out as morally comparable to her pronouncements on the protracted double-entendre on her knowledge of "pipe," as if two wrongs constitute an unassailable right.

Small wonder today's youth is so thoroughly confused, having internalised the "wrong and strong" concept so frequently practiced by parents where available or, alternatively, the kind of morals available from pulpit and Parliament, places where, some say, the new morals game is being played with greatest intensity.

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