Friday, May 18, 2007

He Did It for the Children

Yesterday, Steve Rubenstein recalled those days of yesteryear when Humphrey the humpback whale was lost in the Bay and didn't know where to turn.

(We now have two humpbacks lost in the Bay. A responsible newspaper provides historical context.)

Rubenstein -- in all things he is redundant: the reporter's reporter; the butt-scratcher's butt-scratcher -- naturally tracked down Birney Jarvis (Friend of the Blog) who covered the terror and the whimsy of Humphrey's wandering, and his final triumphal exit from the Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge, lured by a tape of whale sounds.

Remembering, Birney dropped the dime on himself.

For a time, Humphrey didn't have a name -- until the Chronicle reporter assigned to the story christened him.

Birney Jarvis, who covered the whale for its entire 26-day visit, recalled that everyone he talked to wanted to know the whale's name, and that it was taking up interviewing time.

"So I decided to name him," Jarvis said. "I said to myself, 'Humpback ... Humphrey.' It just seemed to fit." Jarvis said he credited the name to a Rio Vista restaurateur he was interviewing, who didn't mind accepting the honor.

Just as well the semester here is over. I'd hate to have to stand up in front of my journalism ethics class and point out Jarvis' lie and tell a lie of my own by saying what he did was wrong.

John Stuart Mill talks about the Greatest Good for the Greatest Number and Immanuel Kant talks about the Categorical Imperative, the notion that everything you do is permission for others to do the same.

Letting the name of a little lost whale *seem* to bubble up from the masses as an indication of general concern and affection brought pleasure and did no harm.

(Except anthropomorphizing animals *might* do harm. In general. In the long term. But not for that particular whale. Meet me in the seminar room in 15 minutes.)

It's a cold world now, and the little lost whales (mama and baby) live -- and may die -- mute, inglorious, nameless.
Maybe there's some cynicism in what Birney did, but I can't find it.