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WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THE NOT-SO-NEIGHBORLY?

Q: I live in a small community of 99 homes that unfortunately hosts an electronic bulletin board to which about half of our families subscribe.

When two neighbors got into a very public squabble about a cat, a third neighbor stepped into the fray, chose sides, declared one of the neighbors to be "irresponsible," and then posited that if this person were irresponsible in one aspect of their lives, it would likely carry over into other areas. He closed by saying, "I hope this person does not have children."

Of course, we all know all the people involved, and of course the person to whom this diatribe was directed does, indeed, have two beautiful children.

I recognize that if everyone had minded their own business, none of this would have happened, and I do not wish to emulate all off the bad behavior exhibited by those involved. However, my sense of moral indignation has been aroused, and I do not wish to permit intolerant and wrong-minded opinions to go uncorrected.

Do I confront this individual who publicly hurled hurtful comments on the off-hand chance that he will recognize and correct his behavior and possibly apologize, or do I continue to mind my own business?

A: That depends on whether you are hoping to be the subject of this person's next posting.

If, however, your desire is to live in a peaceful neighborhood, Miss Manners would take another approach. She suggests posting a "Dear Neighbors" letter, stating how much you enjoy the area, and regretting that minor squabbles sometimes result in people saying things they don't really mean. (Surely this includes not only the denouncer, but also the cat-fighters.) Then you close by proposing a clean slate, after which the bulletin board is to operate according to the neighborliness that all must surely want.

Some more worthy of hospitality than others?

Q: Unfortunately, I think I may have discovered a phenomenon that is even tackier than cash bars at wedding receptions.

Apparently, some restaurants have begun offering a service called a "half-open bar" to customers who wish to hold private parties. This means that the hosts are allowed to select a set number of "VIP" guests, designated with visible wristbands, who are allowed unlimited free drinks. The rest of the guests must pay for their beverages.

I'm not necessarily faulting the businesses that have made this service an option; they are hardly forcing anybody to participate. I am, however, trying hard to quash my uncharitable feelings about the hosts who would employ such a service. As for how this sort of thing reflects on the culture as a whole, I am completely at a loss for words.

You, however, rarely are. Thoughts? Can civilization put the kibosh on this nonsense? Are we too far gone?

A: Although she is not quite ready to give up on civilization, Miss Manners admits that what has happened to hospitality is an evil portent.

In secular society, as in many religions, the willingness to share sustenance freely, even if one has little, is a test. Those who turn others away are in trouble, even if the visitor does not turn out to be a deity in disguise.

However, Miss Manners does admire the modern efficiency. What you bring to her attention is a method of insulting guests by making them pay to be entertained, while at the same time making it clear that the insult is personal rather than general.

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