Moral fiber

中国日报网 2012-09-07 10:53



Moral fiber

Reader question:

Please explain “moral fiber” in this sentence: There’s absolutely no moral fiber in politics.

My comments:

Current politics? Here or somewhere else?

Anyways, to paraphrase: Politicians have no morals.

In other words, they have no moral character, no moral values and are probably all corrupt.

OK, let’s be clear here. I’m only helping you better understand a sentence. All of the above statements are not mine. I do not make them.

I do not even agree with them.

I think the person who makes that kind of statement – that there’s ABSOLUTELY no moral fiber in politics is just griping. He/she is venting rather than making an objective judgment.

To be perfectly objective, I think it is safer to say that not all politicians are bad. There have to be moral politicians around, right? There must be.

I once said as much to a friend when we talked about current affairs.

“There must be,” he retorted, “Easy for you to say. Where are they? Name one.”

I could not.

I cannot.

I won’t even try to.

You see, whenever the topic gets controversial, I don’t want to get involved. So, I sidestepped, saying: “I cannot name names, for lack of evidence, I freely admit. But it’s just how I look at things in general. There are tall people and there are short people. Some are fat and female models are usually rake thin (some, unusually, I must say). Some folks are pale-skinned, some are black and others are somewhere in between. So it must be the case, too, with politics. There are corrupt officials and there must be honest ones and politicians and bureaucrats of every other ilk in between.”

It is a week argument, I freely concede. But it is a good point, don’t you think? Anyhow, it remains how I feel about everything, even though I freely admit, too, that politics is a depressing topic.

At any rate, it becomes a depressing topic when people begin to think that there is no moral fiber in politics. No, nothing, not an ounce of it.

Well then, why don’t leave the subject and talk about something more uplifting, by returning to linguistics. Let me say a few words more about moral fiber, the phrase.

Fiber, or fibre in British spelling, is the thin thread-like thing we see in vegetables. Fibers are hard to chew but they are what make vegetables and trees stand up, tall and strong. Similarly we talk of muscle fiber or fiber glass. It’s the fiber that makes muscle and glass strong.

Figuratively speaking, therefore whenever we say someone has moral fiber, we mean to say that they have strength of character, that they have a strong sense of right and wrong, that they are expected to do the right thing no matter the circumstances.

Conversely if someone has no moral fiber, we cannot expect him to do the right thing. Among politicians, those with low moral fiber are, for example, railway officials who receive hundreds of millions of yuan in kickbacks in handing out high-speed rail projects.

Again, I’m not naming names because I don’t need bad names to make a good point. I’m just saying, in normal circumstances they might be nice and regular people. But when the stakes are high, they cannot help but to help themselves, i.e. they do not have the emotional strength to resist the temptations. Hence these people have low or no moral fiber.

In plain words, morally, they’re weak.

I’m sorry. I must say politics is a depressing topic, the more we dwell on it, the more it feels so.

So let’s stop right here and move on to media examples (I hope you can find something more uplifting there):

1. To hear John Delaney tell it, his success in the financial world is a key reason that voters should send him to Capitol Hill, as he “wants to bring the perspective of an entrepreneur to a gridlocked Congress.”

To state Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (Montgomery), his chief opponent in the April 3 Democratic primary, Delaney’s business record is precisely why he shouldn’t be handed the party’s nod in Maryland’s 6th District to fight for the seat held by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R).

Delaney’s money — he is worth at least $50 million, according to his personal financial-disclosure form — helped gain him entree into the elite circles of Democratic politics. He has solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars for the party’s candidates and causes. Delaney raised more than $800,000 for then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. This month, he won Bill Clinton’s endorsement.

And Delaney’s success has helped make him competitive against the more-established Garagiola, allowing him to pour nearly $1.4 million of his own money into campaign coffers, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed Thursday.

Before stepping onto the public stage as a candidate, Delaney made a name for himself in the financial arena as the founder of CapitalSource, a multibillion-dollar commercial finance firm. The Chevy Chase outfit provides loans of up to $100 million to small and mid-size businesses.

Delaney, who lives in Potomac, is a father of four who has portrayed himself as a political outsider whose experience in the business world would make him an effective leader. In addition to his companies, he founded Blueprint Maryland, a nonprofit group that aims to create jobs in the state. If elected, Delaney said his first priority would be “jobs and our economy.”

“I understand how to create jobs and the needs of small businesses — and it’s small businesses that are the job creation engine,” Delaney said in a statement announcing his candidacy.

Because Delaney, 48, is new to the political world, Garagiola has focused his attacks almost exclusively on Delaney’s business record.

Industry experts said that CapitalSource has traveled an usual path, from commercial lender to real estate investment trust to bank, in its 12 years in business. But those moves kept the company afloat during the downturn, when borrowers struggled to repay loans and real estate values plummeted, said analyst Henry Coffey of Sterne Agee.

“Delaney has built up a successful business and proven himself to be nimble in tough financial environments,” Coffey said.

Garagiola, 39, accuses CapitalSource of loaning money to unscrupulous companies and gouging businesses with exorbitant interest rates — charges officials at the firm say are unfounded.

The state senator maintains that Delaney showed little moral fiber in choosing who his company would do business with, decisions that reflect poorly on his ability to lead.

- John Delaney’s business record key to his congressional campaign — and his opponent’s criticism,, March 22, 2012.

2. SINCE “The Parent ’Hood” debuted in 1995, executive producer and series star Robert Townsend has tried to include some sort of message in every episode.

I kind of like that little moral fiber at the end of the story,” Townsend recently told The News. “Even if it’s a simple message, I think it’s good.”

Townsend & Co. rachet up the message delivery on Sunday’s episode (WPIX/Ch. 11, 8 p.m.), when the show deals with the issue of sexual harassment that may or may not be fueled by what someone is wearing.

The idea came from series star Reagan Gomez-Preston, who plays Zaria, Townsend’s onscreen daughter. Instead of simply passing the idea along, the actress wrote a sample script. While her script wasn’t used, the producers were impressed.

“I wanted [the producers] to see the whole issue,” she said. “I thought if I explained it to them I might forget something.”

In the episode, Zaria wears a revealing dress to a dance, against her parents’ wishes. Her boyfriend also objects to the way she's dressed and refuses to go with her. At the event, she attracts a young man who misjudges her character because of her clothes. When she rejects his advances, he gets angry with her for dressing in a way to mislead him.

Ultimately, Zaria realizes that she’s judged by the way she dresses.

“It’s an issue that affects teenage girls and women today,” Gomez-Preston said. “Fortunately, I myself have not been in that situation. But you don’t have to go up to the experience to know what it's like.”

According to Townsend, it’s messages like the one in Sunday’s epsidoe that make the show different. “When I heard about the idea, I was excited,” he said. “I want the show to be timely.”

As for the reaction of network executives, Townsend said they, too, were behind the show.

“The censors really embraced [the concept],” he said. “I’ve seen [the episode] and it’s disturbing on a level because we really push it. You know something is going to happen on a deep level.”

Said Townsend: “I think it’s important to understand that you can be very funny and say something as well.”

- Clothes Encounter With Harassment,, October 17, 1996.

3. In early 1952 many Johnson Citians were probably less than pleased to learn that Look Magazine had named the city as one of the “Hot Spots for Vice in the U.S.” It was not the kind of distinction favored by the Chamber of Commerce.

On Feb. 16, Press-Chronicle writer Benny C. Sands waded into the issue, posing the question: “Is Johnson City as vice-ridden as it has been pictured?”

“Our big problem in Johnson City is not commercialized prostitution, bootlegging and gambling,” answered Police Chief Tom Howell to Sands’ question. “Our big problem is the streetwalkers, transients and youngsters who hang out at a few shady beer taverns and end up breaking into homes and robbing people.”

Howell said over the years the police had had little trouble from “established” bootleggers, prostitutes and gamblers.

He said the conscientious bootleggers avoided sales to drunks, juveniles and “persons of questionable character” since such sales might lead to police attention. Bootleggers preferred dealing with “the better class of people.”

One bootlegger was quoted as saying, “You’d be surprised to know I’ve sold liquor to preachers here.”

The police said before they established a vice squad the previous November they had known of about 25 prostitutes doing business in the city. Now, they said, only one or two remained.

But the prostitutes had never been involved in much mayhem or larceny, the police believed. “Like the cautious bootlegger, the professional prostitute guards against being caught … and concentrates on her monetary goal. Accordingly, she doesn’t have time to walk streets, meet male companions at shady taverns, drink beer and liquor for several hours during the night. It’s too much time to waste on one person, and she depends on the quick turnover ….”

The police believed professional gamblers were similarly discriminating about their clientele.

Sands wrote that the police felt that many of the customers of bootleggers and gamblers were moderate participants and that their commerce hardly rose to the level of “vice.”

However, “Police contend that when persons assume a low moral standard they are apt to indulge in break-ins, burglary, robberies, murder and other crimes. That’s what causes crime, say police.”

“Crime after crime,” Howell maintained, “begins in the shady tavern, where women and men of low moral fiber congregate, drink beer, consume fuzzy pills or other substances. Crime starts from the hip pocket of pocket bootleggers peddling low grade white liquor (moonshine) on the streets to low-classed individuals who have little or no moral character.”

So the problem was not the professional gamblers, prostitutes and bootleggers, police reasoned. “The problem is with the streetwalker, the girl who never lights long enough to be caught. The problem arises when the streetwalker, out for a good time, comes in contact with the over-indulger in a shady tavern, and they drink again and again and plot a robbery or break-in.”

Sands also ruminated on the role of errant teenagers in supporting frowned-upon activities. He mentioned teenager “Pete Jones” who had recently written a provocative letter to the editor.

Jones “admitted he deliberately went to hotel for feminine pleasure, and bought liquor from a cab driver and then blames police because he was able to do so.”

- Mean streets? 1952 ‘Look’ article gave downtown Johnson City a bad rap,, November 14, 2011.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Always on the outside looking in?

Rubbing it in

Proven track record?

Go to the 'piggy bank'?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



















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