Monthly Archives: March 2012

Sexual Predator Teachers: 1) Not Funny 2) Epidemic 3) Now What?

Child rapist teachers! LOL!

Two nights ago, Tonight Show host Jay Leno included in his monologue a joke about Christine McCallum, the Brockton, Mass. teacher convicted of having sex with a 13-year-old boy over 300 times. Jay can make jokes about whatever he wants, but the fact that we are laughing about this kind of conduct by teachers rather than asking hard questions and insisting on some accountability for the schools shows how tolerant our society is of a supposedly essential institution and a once respectable profession that have both fallen into rot and ruin.

In 1996, when Mary Kay LeTourneau was revealed to have made an undereage student her lover and fathered a child by him, it was national news. For me, it was the first I had ever heard of a teacher abusing her power and profession to that extent. This month alone, March 2012, I have counted thirteen such cases making the local news across the country, including McCallum, and I’m sure I missed some. I’m also reasonably sure that for every one of these cases that get prosecuted, many more are covered up or never discovered at all. Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society

It’s You, Keith.

The news that The Angry Man of the Self-Righteous Left, Keith Olbermann, was fired by Al Gore’s Current TV was hardly news at all, since most of us had entered a pool on when Olbermann would get jettisoned from his latest gig. The predictable episode does have an ethics lesson for all of us, however, that involves the virtues of accountability, humility, honesty and contrition.

Olbermann, true to form, attacked his former employers and blamed them for his exit, writing  via Twitter…

“…I’d like to apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV. Editorially, Countdown had never been better. But for more than a year I have been imploring Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues internally, while I’ve been not publicizing my complaints, and keeping the show alive for the sake of its loyal viewers and even more loyal staff. Nevertheless, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, instead of abiding by their promises and obligations and investing in a quality news program, finally thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract. It goes almost without saying that the claims against me in Current’s statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently. To understand Mr. Hyatt’s “values of respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty,” I encourage you to read of a previous occasion Mr. Hyatt found himself in court for having unjustly fired an employee. That employee’s name was Clarence B. Cain. In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out. For now, it is important only to again acknowledge that joining them was a sincere and well-intentioned gesture on my part, but in retrospect a foolish one. That lack of judgment is mine and mine alone, and I apologize again for it.”

This, of course, is not really an apology. It’s not an apology when your message is, “I’m sorry my employers are unethical slobs who didn’t appreciate the excellent job I was doing.

Keith Olbermann has either been fired or quit under acrimonious circumstances in engagements with, count them, five broadcast organizations: ESPN, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and now Current TV. This, despite being obviously talented and often getting excellent ratings. Olbermann is a smart guy, and yet even now, his reaction seems to be, “Why, oh, why, do people keep treating me so badly?”

It’s you, Keith! Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Journalism & Media, Professions

The Principal Who Helped Gaby Rodriguez Fake Her Pregnancy Just Won “Principal of the Year.” The Frightening Thing Is, He Might Have Deserved It.

Note that it says "Principal." It doesn't say anything about "principles."

I received this news from Ethics Hero Harris Meyer, the journalist who has been trying to preserve some semblance of integrity in his profession by reminding it what ethical investigative journalism is not, through his efforts to rebut the praise for Gaby Rodriguez, the high school student who deceived her family and classmates by pretending to be pregnant as her senior project. The news: Trevor Greene, the principal who helped devise Gaby’s unethical stunt and assisted her in lying to the rest of the school, has been named the state’s top high school principal by the Association of Washington School Principals.

He received this  honor, the release says, by virtue of his organizing a system of student-teacher mentorships, and guiding the school’s effort to expand and improve its science, technology, engineering and math curriculum. The fact that he also mentored a student in a blatantly unethical exercise that was, as I wrote in my original post about Gaby’s scam, Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Education, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Professions, Research and Scholarship

Ethics Flashback: A Letter From Kurt Vonnegut

Mr. Vonnegut

[From the lovely website Letters of Note comes the memory  of this, a letter sent on November 16, 1973 to the Chairman of the Drake, North Dakota, School Board by the late author Kurt Vonnegut. The Chairman, Charles McCarthy, (a name evoking, appropriately, both the rights-flattening Senator of "Have you no decency?"  fame and the dummy) had been outraged that a teacher at the high school had used Vonnegut's classic novel, "Slaughter-House Five," in class, and with the support of his board, saw that all the copies of the book purchased were burned in the school's furnace, followed by others that he deemed "obscene." Vonnegut, whose novels teem with ethical themes, especially the importance of kindness, learned about the book-burning from news reports, and wrote the following correspondence.

Apparently he received no reply.]

“Dear Mr. McCarthy:

I am writing to you in your capacity as chairman of the Drake School Board. I am among those American writers whose books have been destroyed in the now famous furnace of your school.

Certain members of your community have suggested that my work is evil. This is extraordinarily insulting to me. The news from Drake indicates to me that books and writers are very unreal to you people. I am writing this letter to let you know how real I am. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Education, Literature

The Curse of Michael Steele: The Republican National Committee’s Shameful, Outrageous Supreme Court Lie

Michael Steele, when he was its Chair, brought Republican National Committee operations to a new ethical low that might have been favored by Michael Corleone. He never did anything this despicable, however, perhaps because he was replaced just as he was getting warmed up. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because even Steele knew that some political tactics were just too despicable to engage in.

In a web ad circulated this week designed to attack the health care reform law, the Republican National Committee excerpts the opening seconds of the March 27 presentation to the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, defending the law’s constitutionality. In the ad, he is heard struggling for words and twice stopping to drink water. “Obamacare,” the ad concludes, in words shown against a photograph of the high court. “It’s a tough sell.”

The transcript and recordings, however, give a different impression. Verrilli took a sip of water just once, paused for a much briefer period and completed his thought — rather than stuttering and trailing off as heard in the ad. In short, the tape was edited by the RNC to misrepresent what occurred inside the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is a lie, and a particularly heinous one, even by political ad standards, which are a cut below Shamwow and the Fishin’ Magician. Even by Michael Steele standards—he who twice approved fundraising appeals disguised to look like U.S. Census documents. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement

Ethics Quote of the Day: The Editorial Board of the Washington Post

“Sadly, even before the sessions on health-care reform had ended, some liberals were preemptively trying to delegitimize a potential defeat at the court. If the justices strike down the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, they said, they will prove themselves partisan, activist and, essentially, intellectually corrupt. We share in the disappointment that the justices on both sides of their ideological divide are, for the most part, so predictable. That’s not, in the ideal world, how judging is supposed to work. But we also think there’s a kind of cynicism, or at least intellectual laziness, in asserting that this is an easy or obvious call — that no justice could possibly strike down the mandate out of honest, reasoned conviction.”

The Editors of the Washington Post in this morning’s superb, balanced and fair editorial entitled “Civics Lesson From

the Supreme Court.”  The Post leaves no question that it supports the individual mandate as necessary—at least now, after the fact of

"Biased political hacks!! The ones who disagree with us, that is..."

Obamacare’s passage into law—because “no American should go without health care, and that society as a whole should be willing to pitch in toward that end.”  But the editors also properly chastise the cynical and cowardly political calculations by the bill’s supporters that placed the constitutionally-dubious mandate in the position to jeopardize the whole law, as well as criticize the unethical phenomenon that Ethics Alarms discussed here-–the preemptive effort by Democrats and their pundit allies to blame the rejection of Obamacare, if it occurs, on “judicial activism” and political bias by the conservative justices. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement

What A Race! It’s A Thrill A Minute With Roseanne Barr Lapping Spike Lee As The Biggest Celebrity Dunce in The Trayvon Martin Ethics Train Wreck!

An earlier classy career high for Roseanne...mocking the National Anthem.

And you thought Spike Lee had established an unapproachable low point in celebrity, self-indulgent, arrogant irresponsibility by trying to tweet George Zimmerman’s address (all the better to get him killed), and inadvertently siccing the sickos on an elderly Florida couple who were minding their own business? How charmingly naive of you! For remember, no matter how ignorant and unethical a celebrity may be, there are always, always, bigger, more ethically clueless jerks and fools with an entry in Wikipedia and an itch to get back in the limelight.

A celebrity like…Roseanne Barr! She lapped Spike’s mean-spirited Twitter idiocy in his own chosen medium by… Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Race, The Internet

A Facebook Suicide and the Duty To Rescue

One takeaway from Claire Lin's death: it's a good idea to have Facebook friends with character.

In Taiwan, a distraught young woman sent streaming photos* of her suicide attempt as she conversed with nine Facebook friends. Some urged her to stop, but none tried to contact police or rescue professionals as she asphyxiated herself with burning charcoal fumes. Yes, her attempt was successful. You can read the disturbing story of Claire Lin’s Facebook suicide here.

Would this happen in America? I wouldn’t be surprised. Sociologists are already weighing in with opinions about the isolation of social media and how the internet makes reality seem less real. I doubt that any of that was especially important in this incident. There have been so many other examples of people left to die with potential rescuers aplenty that were documented on Ethics Alarms and elsewhere, from the Mount Everest climbers who walked past their dying companion, to the more recent case of the Apple store employees who listened to a women get beaten to death in Maryland, that teach us that too many people have the natural inclination not to take affirmative action to help another in distress, and that the instinctive rescuers are the exception, not the rule.

Our culture should teach and reinforce the shared societal duty to come to the assistance of others in peril, but in fact it teaches the opposite. Most of us are told to mind our own business, to think of “Number One”, and  make reverse Golden Rule calculations to rationalize inaction (“He wouldn’t have lifted a finger to help me!”) We are taught to fear lawsuits, to wait for professionals (even if they aren’t coming), and to be fearful of making a bad situation worse. And, of course, we are conditioned to let the other person take the risk, so we can have our cake (not get involved) and eat it too ( see the situation resolved without anyone being harmed). And if we wait just a bit too long for that other person to do the right thing, we can always blame him (or her), saying, “I thought someone else would do it!” Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Citizenship, Family, The Internet, U.S. Society

Bear to the Rescue!

No, I don't think "Jurassic Park's" T-Rex felt sorry for Sam Neill...

Robert Biggs is a naturalist who often hikes in California’s Bean Soup Flat area.  He was hiking recently there when he came across a mother bear, a yearling and a newborn. Biggs had  seen the same bear and its older cub last spring and fall, and said that they developed something of a trusting relationship. “The cub stood up on its hind legs and put its paws up and I got to play patty-cake with it,” he said.  He said the mother bear watched the two play and her only reaction was to call the cub back.

Yes, Biggs is apparently insane. But never mind.

After watching his patty-caking bear family, Biggs continued on his hike up the trail. As he turned to go, a mountain lion lept on his back, knocking him to the ground.  “They usually grab hold of your head with all four paws, but my backpack was up above my head and the lion  grabbed it instead,” Biggs said. “It must have been stalking the little bear, but it was on me in seconds.”

He tried to fight off the predator, but it didn’t let go. Suddenly, Biggs’ pal the mother bear came from behind and attacked the lion, tearing its grip from the backpack. They fought as Biggs sought safety; the big cat finally retreated.  Biggs had bite marks, scratches and bruises to his arm, but was otherwise uninjured. Continue reading

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Ethics Quote of the Week: Earl Scruggs, Banjo-picker (1924-2012)

“If you don’t let things develop, it’s like keeping something in a bag and not letting it out to fly”

—-Bluegrass innovator and legend Earl Scruggs, who died yesterday, in an interview he gave in 2000. He was talking specifically about creating new sounds and kinds of music, but his larger point applies to everything in life, and is an ethical one.

Earl Scruggs almost single-handedly changed the banjo from an instrument associated with clowns and minstrel shows to a vital element in American music. His single-hand was his right hand, as he perfected a three-fingered playing style that gave the banjo as much range and depth as a guitar, cello or violin. With his long-time partner Lester Flatt, he injected bluegrass music into the American mainstream with his music for the film “Bonnie and Clyde,” and, of course, TV’s “The Beverley Hillbillies.”

What Earl Scruggs recognized was that just as the fact that “everybody does it” doesn’t make something right, the reverse is also true. The fact that “everybody” hasn’t been doing something, or even that it has never been done or even considered, doesn’t automatically make it wrong. Ethics doesn’t impose rules to freeze societal standards and values, but to give us systems to evaluate whether standards of conduct and values need adjustment or reconsideration. Often we hear the verdict “Now that’s just wrong!” to condemn something that may not be wrong at all, but just surprising, non-traditional and strange to those who never imagined such a thing. Too often that confusion of wrong and different inhibits creativity, innovation, and change for the better. That’s why innovation and condemnation are frequently linked, and why boldness and courage are prerequisites for positive change. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Quotes