Moral turpitude

I am questioned by the custom’ s official. He will ascertain whether or not I am guilty of moral turpitude.

Have I ever been arrested? Yes. I tell him of two of the four times. I am not trying to hide—I simply forget. It’s not until later, when I go over those lost-but-not-to-be-missed years that I recall the other two times.

But he wants the details: I tell him of disorderly incidents, quite shy—to my eye—of being vile, base, iniquitous, nefarious.

But now I am curious of the term: of all the times crossing this border I’ve never been asked if I was guilty of moral turpitude. It sounds ominous, but comically ominous, perhaps like many legal terms.

So I ask what he means by moral turpitude. "Yes," he says, "I don’t know what you do in Canada, but we don’t want anyone guilty of moral turpitude down here in the States." Well, I’m wanting a definition, his definition, but he has evaded the question as though that is not what I had asked. I think to wait, ask it in another form. It flashes that I’m becoming bold in my dotage.

But now he motions and I need to move along this slip stream. He’s got other people to grill, catch and banish.

And now I’m in Pasadena, and I turn on the television in my room and catch some CNN and FOX, listen to Sean Hannity and Anderson Cooper dispense the wisdom of anchors: The election draweth nigh. Polls are big news. I view snippets, micro-moments, nano-comments, plumb their shallows.

And so I watch this burlesque, Obama/Romney, rivals in apoplectic throws of defining themselves as not-like-the-other; while in reality, like Dostoyevsky’s “doubles,” the greater the effort, the more alike they appear. And as I watch the ads and see this parody of democracy, the term moral turpitude comes back to my mind with much force.


  1. This is brilliant haha – you just put to words exactly what I’ve been thinking about this whole situation. 🙂 Welcome, sir!

  2. Just like the great program I watched last night on Romney and Obama’s political lives – on PBS of course!

    Great writing and perspective as usual Steve! thanks

  3. For a full description of moral turpitude, check Wickepedia. A sample: “The concept of moral turpitude escapes precise definition but has been described as an “act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.”

    You are sooo lucky they let you in:)!

    Your observations about the contenders … yeah.

  4. Haha!!!! Brilliant!!! Although I must admit a certain measure of jealousy… I’ve been looking for a way to use the word “turpitude” in a sentence for years now…

    But for real, this was awesome Dad..

  5. Hey thanks Michael! Very much appreciated. But yes, know what you mean, it’s taken me a number of decades to work “turpitude” into something that gratifies all the grammatical rules of a sentence.

  6. Yes you’ve helped define moral turpitude with reference to the “debates” where the contenders reassure of their moral uprightness by identifying each others non truth. Delightful humor in your observation.

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