There's been more and more of it at Princeton in recent years, but now a faculty committee proposes to eliminate it or at least rename it. What's the old name; what's the new?
Send your answer by noon ET Wednesday to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday's Question (No. 318)--"Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien":
"You won't hear any apologies from me," said Dr. Stephen Ostroff of the Centers for Disease Control. "Anyone who continues to maintain that there was some mistake here doesn't understand the way science proceeds." What isn't Ostroff apologizing for?
"Look, people, the whole point of the study was to see how well endangered condors could withstand the Ebola virus."--Greg Diamond
"Trying to pass off a few flasks of blue water and dry ice as a multimillion dollar cancer research project."--Floyd Elliot
"Biography, not biology. Sheesh."--Kyrie O'Connor
"Why can't you people understand that Cybill Sheperd would make an outstanding president of the United States?"--Steve Roche
"Random Hearts. 'As anybody with any understanding of the scientific process could tell you, the problem here lies with Sydney Pollack,' Dr. Ostroff noted. 'Although Harrison Ford surely shares some of the blame.' "--Tim Carvell
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To apologize convincingly takes exquisite timing. Do it too soon and you seem glib and insincere: "You're sorry? Well, 'sorry' won't make the dog's leg grow back!" Do it too late and you seem, actually it's glib and insincere again. "Oh, you're sorry about slavery? About what you did to that nice Galileo?" Too long deferred, your apology will be dismissed as self-aggrandizing. It wasn't you but the organization you lead that committed the misdeed. The apology shows what a sensitive person you are, while you needn't alter your behavior at all, unless your slaves are doing something unkind to Galileo or that gimpy dog of his. To have meaning, the apology must convey recently acquired insight into personal wrongdoing, something neither Dr. Stephen Ostroff nor the Fox TV network seems inclined to do. Sorry about that.
Ostroff is not sorry that it took so long to realize that what seemed like an encephalitis outbreak in New York City was really an infestation of the West Nile virus in Chicago. OK, they got the city right almost at once, but not a lot more. And don't expect him to say, "I apologize for all the confusion, like not bothering to get in touch with the scientist who first identified the disease."
It was Dr. Tracey McNamara of the Bronx Zoo who noticed there were a lot of dead crows in the neighborhood, but her emus were doing fine, and they're highly susceptible to encephalitis, so there had to be some other disease at work. Creepy detail: The birds were bleeding from the brain and had badly damaged hearts. "We had dead people and dead birds and I thought we needed to pursue this." But she couldn't get scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to seriously consider her suspicion that the bird disease and the people disease were the same.
McNamara is understanding about the chaos at CDC. Alan Zelicoff, a scientist at the Federal Center of National Security and Arms Control at Sandia National Laboratories, takes a harder line: "It is a sobering, not so reassuring demonstration of the inadequacies of the U.S. detection network for emerging diseases."
"If you're waiting around for me to say, 'Oooh, sorry your bird's brain is bleeding,' " Ostroff did not add, "you've got a long wait coming."
It's a Small, Small World Stinking of Death Where You Really Work up an Appetite Extra
War, earthquake, radiation leaks--in an age of swift transportation, one encounters death in many forms befalling people of many faiths. Can you navigate today's post-fatality formalities without committing an embarrassing faux pas?
Below, 10 denominations. After the funeral, will food be served or do you need to bring a sandwich?
(All facts from the delightful new, How To Be a Perfect Stranger: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People's Religious Ceremonies, Vol. 1 and 2.)
Q: Will Food Be Served?
3. Disciples of Christ
4. Christian Science
8. United Church of Canada
1. Possibly. Often, women in the local Islamic community prepare food for mourners and their guests. (While the men sit around mourning manfully, but in some larger and incomprehensible sense, equally. Forget it, Jake, it's religious tradition.)
2. Yes, but no alcoholic beverages. It would be considered impolite for a visitor not to eat. No grace or benediction will be recited before or after eating or drinking. (Use the time to contemplate how your fellow Baptists have been on the wrong side of every social policy from the civil-rights movement to gay rights with a stop-off to support the Vietnam War.)
3. Yes. Wait for grace to be said before eating. It would not be considered impolite not to eat. (It would, however, be considered impolite to take a bite out of a Baptist.)
4. Possibly. But no alcoholic beverages. (Note: even BYOB considered thoughtless, vulgar.)
5. Varies according to tradition. (But beware of con men: No Hindu tradition includes formal tie-in with Pizza Hut.)
6. Possibly. (Although snacking during actual service is discouraged.)
7. Possibly. Given the broad ethnic mixture of Catholicism, some Catholics may have a "wake" at which food (and often drink) is served. (Others may be pandered to by a mayor offended by snippy art shows. No food is served during the pandering.)
8. Often refreshments or a light meal will be served at a reception immediately following the memorial, funeral, or interment service. (And should you get a bad clam, an excellent system of universal health care is provided: Oh, Canada!)
9. Probably. Guests should not wait for a grace or benediction before eating. Guests will eat as they arrive, after expressing their condolences to the bereaved. (Etiquette note: Don't crowd the nova.)
10. Yes, but it won't be very good and the portions will be small. (I paraphrase.)
Ongoing Bail-Out Extra
"And now a reply from House Speaker Dennis Hast ..." Boom. That's where I dive for my remote control like a terrier down a rat hole--you know, if the terrier was digging really fast.
Participants are invited to submit other actual examples from any news source of what The New Yorker used to call "letters we never finished reading." (Or something like that.)
Best examples to run Thursday.
Terrifying flesh-eating virus; stupefying prime-time TV.