Category Archives: Ethics Heroes

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Irena Sendler (1910-2008)

Sendler

I missed learning about the death of Irena Sendler (Irena Sendlerowa) in 2008, and this occurred because the mass news media barely took note of it. Lots of celebrities died that year whose passing prompted extended mourning in the press and examinations of their legacies: Paul Newman, Heath Ledger, Sir Edmund Hillary (a member of the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor), Charlton Heston, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and many others. There was no room for a final appreciation of the life of Irena Sendler, apparently. Today, the website Bio.com doesn’t list her among the notable deaths of that year, though it finds room for Fifties stunt singer Yma Sumac—remember her? She had a four octave range! And Arthur Showcross: he murdered 11 women from 1988 to 1990 in upstate New York, earning the nickname “The Genessee River Killer.”

All Irena Sendler did was save 2500 children from the Treblinka death camp. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, History, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, War and the Military

Ethics Hero: Montgomery County, Md. Police Chief Tom Manger

"Cops": Chaz Pando as the doomed perp; Nello DeBlasio as the hostage.

“Cops”: Chaz Pando as the doomed perp; Nello DeBlasio as the hostage.

My theater company is performing the 1976 Terry Curtis Fox drama “Cops” as we wind down this season after 20 years. I chose the show, and its companion piece in an evening called “Crime and Punishment in America,” William Saroyan’s classic one-act “Hello Out There,” in direct response to Ferguson, the growing controversy over police violence, the increased racial divide in the U.S. and the gun control debate. Both dramas, as cast, involve African American victims of violence in a law enforcement setting. “Cops,” in particular, features openly biased Chicago police (at least based on their choice of words) and the police execution of a disarmed and surrendering cop-shooter. As the lights fade, the police are discussing what their cover story should be.

I invited the Chief of Police in Montgomery County, Maryland, Tom Manger, to come to the production and field questions from the audience regarding its relevance to current controversies in Ferguson, New York City and across the nation. [Full disclosure: I have known Chief Manger and his wife for many years, and consider them friends] You might recognize him: he was a major figure in the apprehension of the D.C. Snipers, and has been seen and interviewed on the national news and on issue talk shows several times, most recently on CNN’s “State of the Nation” with Candy Crowley. Not only did Tom agree to come, but he let me schedule him twice, said the sessions could be videotaped, and that no question would be off limits.

The first of the talkbacks took place last week (I am moderating another this Sunday), and Tom was as good as his word—candid, blunt, open, and frank.  He was quizzed, hard, by our diverse, astute and always combative audience members about police training, police force diversity, bad cops, police who lie and cover-up misconduct, and racism in the ranks, as well as the details of specific shootings including the local one I have referred to here more than once, in which an unarmed white man, John Geer, was shot and killed by police as he stood in his doorway negotiating with them over a domestic dispute.

Since the episode in Ferguson, Chief Manger said, he has been meeting with community groups two or three evenings a week, doing everything he can to bolster community trust. Among his comments in response to questions: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Heroes, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Race, U.S. Society

A Rare Ethics Hero-Ethics Dunce: Maine Attorney General Janet Mills

I looked everywhere to find a picture of a combination Hero-Dunce. This was the best I could locate: the Maine Atty. Gen.

I looked everywhere to find a picture of a combination Hero-Dunce. This was the best I could locate: the Maine Atty. Gen.

If one’s only point of reference were Eric Holder, one might get the impression that the job of an attorney general is to use the influence and power of the office to pursue the executive’s political and policy objectives. That is not what an attorney general is supposed to do, however, because the top lawyer of a city, a state or the U.S. is pledged to represent all the people, not just those who patronize a particular party, and the top lawyer’s client is not the executive, but the entire government entity. If that entity becomes corrupt, then the client becomes the public that is being betrayed.

Maine’s Attorney General Janet Mills illustrated how the job should be done and can be, if the lawyer holding it is ethical and not merely a serving as a political yes-man. Governor Paul LePage, a Republican, wanted to appeal the federal government’s  denial of his request to remove about 6,000 low-income young adults, 19- and 20-year olds,  from Maine’s Medicaid program. Normally the Attorney General would handle the litigation, but Mills refused, insisting that it was  a case that could not be won, and would waste state resources. Excellent. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Dunces, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Professions

News From The “Pay It Forward” Front: Neal Shytles

Neal-Shytles-buys-goodies

At the beginning of this month, Ethics Alarms honored Ashley McLemore of Norfolk, Virginia, who answered the ad placed by a homeless man, Neal Shytles who wanted to spend Thanksgiving with a family. He spent the day with hers, and for Christmas, Shytles devised a way to help others like himself in need of holiday kindness.

Neal resolved to make goodie bags for the hundreds of men who always assemble for dinner at his local mission, creating a Facebook page to collect Walmart gift cards to purchase socks, gloves, hand warmers and candy. His efforts raised more than a thousand dollars that was matched by the local TV station that first broadcast the story of Ashley McLemore’s kindness.   Then WTKR took Neal to Walmart, where he filled four carts, and its staff helped him  assemble the gifts  into dozens of brown paper bags.

Thanks, Neal. I needed this story.

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Filed under Character, Charity, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes

Ethics Hero, Ghost Of Christmas Past Edition: Dwight Gooden

Dwight-Gooden

For me, Christmas triggers not only memories fond and bittersweet, but also regrets, realizations, and discovered clarity about where I have been and how I got where I am. This was really what Charles Dickens was expressing in “A Christmas Carol, and why it resonates even with the kinds of people who would be tempted to put a zombie Nativity on their front lawn.

Last week, former New York Mets pitching ace Dwight Gooden, known in his prime as “Doctor K” (a “K” is a strikeout, and if you didn’t know that—wow) and eventually just “Doc,”penned a brave and inspiring piece for The Player’s Tribune, in which he addressed his younger self, warning the young, cocky kid with the world seemingly begging to be his playground and cheering section in 1984 about the traps and landmines lying in his path.

Gooden, for those of you who face life every day without the accumulated wisdom bestowed by the love of baseball, and who somehow live through cruel winter without the promise of Spring Training warming your nights, looked like he might become the greatest, coolest, most unhittable pitcher in baseball history when he arrived on the big league scene in ’84, winning 17 games with a deadly curve and a 98 mile per hour fastball at the tender age of 19. He became the youngest player ever to pitch in an All-Star Game that year (he struck out the side), and the next season, at 20, he won 24 games, lost only four, and led the National League with a miniscule 1.53 earned run average.

And he was never that good again. He began losing speed on his fastball the next year, and steadily declined thereafter. Eventually there were drug problems, alcoholism  and other embarrassments, and Doc Gooden, instead of being the lock for the Hall of Fame that he seemed at 20, was washed-up at 35, and an unofficial member of the Pantheon of Disappointing and Fallen Sports Heroes.

Today, as the former pitcher nears 50, Gooden is a dedicated father and grandfather to  his children and grandchildren. He is the president of Best of the Best Sports Management, where he works with his oldest son, Dwight Jr. and is also a spokesman for PinkTie.org , a Long Island-based charity dedicated to fighting breast cancer.

In his essay, titled, “Letter to my Younger Self,” Gooden is frank, uncompromising, wistful, self-critical, funny, and never indulges in self-pity. He ends it this way:

Drugs and alcohol are only a false sense of security. Neither thing will fill the void you feel. Unfortunately it might take you a few missed Christmas Days with your family to learn this.

You will want to try to fix your issues on your own. This is how you think a man handles his problems. It isn’t. Being a man is about reaching out for help when you need it. If your curveball isn’t working, you’ll know how to fix that. If the control on your pitches is off, you’ll know how to fix that. But you will face a lot of hardship because of your inability to realize that you can’t fix yourself.

Finally, please know this: I love you. It’s going to take you a long time and a lot of pain to realize this, but accepting it will go a long way towards healing. The journey will be trying, but it ends in a good place.

Keep getting those Ks,

You’re a hero after all, Doc.

Merry Christmas.

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Filed under Character, Ethics Heroes, Sports

Ethics Dunces: Bitter, Spoilsport, Fuddy-Duddy Republicans and Conservatives

Nope, no Republicans there...

Nope, no Republicans here…

A grand welter of celebrities ranging from Pussy Riot and Paul Krugman to Willie Nelson and Big Bird joined comic Stephen Colbert in his farewell to Comedy Central, as he prepares to step into David Letterman’s shoes and hopes to do a Jimmy Fallon as Dave’s (overdue) replacement, rather than a Conan O’Brien. Obviously the producers and Colbert sought a ridiculously diverse group symbolizing U.S. culture and whimsy, and sent out invitations far and wide. Instead, the got an overwhelmingly liberal and progressive group that may make up half of MSNBC’s total viewership, a group that would almost all have been at home on the floor of the Democratic National Convention.

Don’t blame Colbert. It was clear that ideological animus with Colbert’s almost entirely anti-conservative schtick was no bar to the option of participation. Republicans and conservatives, however, almost unanimously decided to sulk, stay home, and boycott the party. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Citizenship, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, U.S. Society

Ethics Hero: Sen. John McCain

waterboard1

While other Republicans are attacking the Senate report on torture as a political hit piece by Democrats—which, in part, it is, but that doesn’t diminish its significance—the one Senator who has experienced torture is supporting the report’s conclusions and criticism, saying…

I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good. Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguished us from our enemies.”

Exactly.

My position on this topic is unchanged from what I wrote in 2006, which you can read here.

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Filed under Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, Leadership, U.S. Society, War and the Military