Category Archives: Ethics Scoreboard classics

Moonwalk Ethics: One Small Word

Neil-Armstrong-on-the-Moon-in-1969July 20 will be the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, a day of achievement, hope and pride for Americans that seems very long ago and far away in the bleak cynicism of 2014. As I was pondering how to note the landmark in an ethics context, I remembered a section of a post on the Ethics Scoreboard that dealt with the controversy surrounding Armstrong’s famous quote upon placing his foot on the moon’s surface. Here it is, my earliest foray into what has become a frequent theme on Ethics Alarms, “print the legend”  ethics:

“When the legend becomes truth, print the legend.”

This cynical endorsement of our culture’s preference for soothing fantasy over harsh historical truth was the intentionally disturbing message of John Ford’s film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.” But rejecting Ford’s grizzled old newspaper editor’s warped ethic does not justify the equally objectionable modern practice of using spurious logic to substitute one dubious historical account for another. Even more ethically suspect is the common practice of replacing an accepted, well-supported version of an historical event with a “new improved” version that exists less because of its accuracy than because of its advocates’ biases….

An Australian computer programmer says he has discovered that Neil Armstrong’s first words after he stepped onto the moon in 1969, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” were misquoted by NASA, misheard by millions of listeners around the world, and printed incorrectly in the history books. For decades, wags have criticized Armstrong for botching his iconic moment, since “man” and “mankind” mean the same thing, so the literal meaning of his famous words would be “One small step for man, one giant leap for man.” Armstrong has sometimes grudgingly acknowledged his gaffe and at other times maintained that he thought he included the elusive “a.” He hasn’t fought the consensus verdict very vigorously, as represented by NASA’a transcript:

109:24:48 Armstrong: That’s one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind. (Long Pause)… Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Scoreboard classics, History, Journalism & Media, Quotes

Betrayal: Robert Gates Gets Even

dutygates

When General George Marshall, World War Two military leader, former Secretary of State, and architect of the Marshall plan, was offered a million dollars to write his memoirs in the 1950s, he demurred, saying that there was no way he could write a truthful memoir without undermining people still at work in the government and military.

And then there was David Stockman…Paul O’Neill

…and Robert Gates.

Bottom line: these people betray their colleagues for money, and often, as is Robert Gates’s case, out of spite. Former Defense Secretary Gates, like the others, was given an opportunity to serve his country in a high executive branch position. He was privy to policy discussions and the inner workings of the administration. He was trusted. To reveal details of his tenure while the administration he worked for is still in office, done in a way designed to provoke criticism and embarrass his former associates and boss, is the height of disloyalty, and a breach of implicit confidentiality.

The honorable and ethical way to write such a book would be to wait until it could not actively interfere with the work of the Executive Branch. The people may have a right to know, but they do not have a right to know everything immediately. People in high policy-making positions must be able to be themselves, express opinions, and have productive meetings with the confidence that those they work with are not collecting notes for a future Book-of-the-Month sellout. Books like Gates’s undermine that trust, make it more difficult to get candid and controversial opinions and ideas into the decision-making process, and ultimately hurt all of us. The former  Secretary and those who appreciate the additional ammunition for administration-bashing can assemble a lot of rationalizations for the  book, but they all boil down to “Everybody Does It,” the most threadbare and cowardly rationalization of all.

The ethical thing would have been for Gates to write the book in a few years, or not to write it at all. The ethical conduct for the reading public is to discourage betrayals, no matter who is the one betrayed, by sending such books to the remainders bin.

I suppose I should mention that except for the substitution of Robert Gates’ name for that of Paul O’Neill, and replacing “Treasury” with “Defense,” every word above was written in 2004, when I condemned the sell-out of fired Bush Treasury Secretary O’Neill, who had just provided the information used in a Bush-bashing tell-all called “The Price of Loyalty: The Education of Paul O’Neill.” (Yes, the old Ethics Scoreboard is coming in handy today.) Every word applies with equal force to the new memoir by Gates, who was President Obama’s Secretary of Defense and whose current tell-all attack has set Washington buzzing, except that Gates’s conduct is ethically far worse. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Professions, War and the Military

Michael De Beyer, Like Don Bedwell, An Exemplary Ethics Hero To Inspire Us

Mathis and hero

Writing about my favorite Ethics Hero of all time, Don Bedwell, in 2005, I began, “There are special and rare people whose ethical instincts are so pure and keen that they can make the rest of us feel inadequate.” Like Don Bedwell, Micheal De Beyer is such an individual.

Brittany Mathis, 19, works for De Beyer at his  Kaiserhof Restaurant and Biergarten in Montgomery, Texas, . Her mom and older sister work at the restaurant as well, so she would describe her boss as a family friend. In December, Brittany learned that she has a 1.5 inch brain tumor  She can’t afford to find out whether the tumor is benign or malignant, but her father died from a similar tumor years ago, so her situation is dire. She doesn’t have health insurance.

De Beyer has decided to sell his restaurant, which he opened more than 15 years ago and has an estimated worth of $2 million, to pay for whatever medical treatments are necessary to save Brittany’s life. “I’m not able to just sit by and let it happen,” De Beyer told a local paper. “I couldn’t live with myself; I would never be happy just earning money from my restaurant knowing that she needs help.” Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Heroes, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Health and Medicine, Love, U.S. Society, Workplace

Better Never Than Late: Steve Bartman’s False Exoneration

ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game TwoMy mind is much on the baseball play-offs today, an unavoidable hangover from last night’s amazing and exhilerating Red Sox-Tigers game, in which Boston went from hitless, five runs down and doomed in the 6th inning to miraculously victorious in the 9th thanks to a storybook grand slam by David Ortiz (you can see the immortal end result of that mighty blow in the photo to the left). It is 10 years to the day from when another remarkable play-off game occurred, infamous in Chicago, in which a fly ball foul that wasn’t caught by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou led to a furious rally by the Florida Marlins that resulted in the hapless Cubs being denied a trip to the World Series—the team’s first since 1935— that their fans thought was in the bag. The reason Alou missed the ball, or so the legend goes, was that a clueless Cubs fan wearing earphones reached out and deflected the ball. That fan, Steve Bartman, was awarded instant villain status. It was accompanied by media attacks and death threats, and poor Bartman left the city and may well have joined the witness protection program or jumped into a volcano. Nobody has heard from him in many years.

There is an ethics lesson in what happened to Bartman: one is never truly a bystander, and you have a duty to pay attention to your surroundings and to be ready to act. If you are present, you can make a difference, and might be needed, even it it is only to get out of the way. Call it the Duty of Life Competence.

The following post, however, is not about Bartman as much as it what happened to him, and how someone who could have come to his aid waited five years—too long—to do it. It was first posted on The Ethics Scoreboard in 2008:

Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Humor and Satire, Sports

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Washington Post Columnist Michael Gerson

casino_large

“Most theorists of self-government have maintained that certain modest virtues are necessary to democracy and free markets: deferred gratification, diligence, a prudent concern for the future. There is an ongoing American debate about the degree to which government can or should promote such virtues. But here is an extraordinary case of government actively undermining the moral underpinnings of market capitalism for its own benefit. It holds out the promise of sudden wealth without work or productive investment, engaging in a purposeful and profitable deception. A corrupting fantasy becomes a revenue stream, dependent on persuading new generations to embrace it. Perhaps we have given up on government as a source of moral improvement. Does this mean we must accept a government that profits by undermining public virtues? Nearly 20 years ago, William Galston and David Wasserman wrote, “While history indicates that gambling is too ubiquitous to suppress, moral considerations suggest that it is too harmful to encourage. The most appropriate state stance toward gambling is not encouragement, but rather containment.”’

——- Washington Post op-ed columnist Michael Gerson, on the implications of a new report by the Institute For American Values titled, “Why Casinos Matter.” Continue reading

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Cher’s Ethics Tweets

Lan 159

Earlier this week, Cher used her interview with USA to take some well-aimed pot-shots at Miley Cyrus’s universally loathed “twerking” antics on the MTV Awards show. She said of Cyrus

“”I’m not old fashioned. She could have come out naked, and if she’d just rocked the house, I would have said, ‘You go, girl.’ She could have come out naked, and if she’d just rocked the house, I would have said, ‘You go, girl.’ It just wasn’t done well. She can’t dance, her body looked like hell, the song wasn’t great, one cheek was hanging out. And, chick, don’t stick out your tongue if it’s coated. If you’re going to go that far, then think about it before you do it.

These are wise words from a veteran and proven performing star to a young one on the way up, or heading for a crash. Essentially, Cher is stating the principles of professionalism: whatever you do, do it right, do it well, and respect your constituency. Cher has the bona fides to offer such an opinion since she has stretched the lines of sexual propriety on stage more than once, but it was always used as an additional enhancement on the way to her “rocking the house.”

The legendary pop diva was apparently surprised that her comments became a one-day sensation on the gossip websites and cable entertainment shows, and  had second thoughts about them, which she communicated in a couple of tweets to the Twitterverse. In Cher-ese, they are all about ethics:

Chers Tweets

Translation: Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Gender and Sex, Popular Culture, Professions, The Internet

Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: New York State Senator Greg Ball (R)

Trust me, guys, you really don't want to vote for Greg Ball again...he's embarrassing your district.

Trust me, guys, you really don’t want to vote for Greg Ball again…he’s embarrassing your district.

Every now and then, a public official says something so brain-meltingly ridiculous that I wish I had a traditional blog and could write, “What an idiot!” and leave it at that.  This is one of those times.

Republican New York State Senator Greg Ball must represent the troglodyte section of New York—you know, that famous district heavily populated with prehistoric cave-dwellers who were discovered frozen in 1989, thawed out alive, and became politically active?—based on his unapologetic,nail-spitting, un-American tweet regarding the younger, surviving terrorist brother who engineered the Boston Marathon bombing:

Ball

What an idiot.

No, no, I can’t say that.

This is an unethical tweet. It’s an irresponsible tweet. Supporting torture “to save more lives” explicitly rejects the principles of the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitutional requirements of Due Process and the Bill of Rights prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and compelled testimony against self-interest. The “anything to save more lives” illogic, though recently adopted, to his shame and disgrace, by the presumably less idiotic President Obama in his quest for more gun regulations, is, of course, the open door to martial law and the permanent trade of liberty for security. I wrote about this at some length in the wake of the Abu Ghraib fiasco; reading “The Ethics of American Torture” again now, I would hold the same today, as would, I hope, most of you. (Don’t bother to read this, Senator Ball; it’s more than 140 characters, and you wouldn’t understand it anyway.) I wrote in part, Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Rights, U.S. Society

Ethics Hero: Joan Rivers

Bear with me, now.

Fight for "Springtime for Hitler," Joan!

Fight for “Springtime for Hitler,” Joan!

Joan Rivers, who took the baton from Phyllis Diller after Diller had proven that women could be funny stand-up comics, and then proved in her own act that women could be funny, gross, and tasteless stand-up comics, is refusing to apologize for her 7, 678, 423rd tasteless joke, uttered on Monday’s episode of E!’s “Fashion Police” regarding the Julien Macdonald that dress model Heidi Klum wore at Elton John’s AIDS Foundation Academy Awards party:

“The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens,” is how Rivers described the German-born supermodel.

Sure enough, the joke, and Rivers, who is Jewish, are being condemned by Jewish groups and Holocaust survivors as being insensitive.The Anti-Defamation League’s director, Abraham H. Foxman, called the joke “vulgar and offensive to Jews and Holocaust survivors.” Rivers is standing her ground. The 70-something comic told The Hollywood Reporter, “My husband lost the majority of his family at Auschwitz, and I can assure you that I have always made it a point to remind people of the Holocaust through humor.”

In the wake of Seth MacFarlane’s various controversies at the Oscars (yes, I thought the John Wilkes Booth joke was funny, especially with the planned comeback, “Too soon?”) and the Onion getting too outrageous in its misconceived tweet using a 9-year-old girl as the prop for a joke about something else entirely,  this is as good a time as ever to seek a consensus on where some ethical lines should be drawn regarding jokes and satire. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Heroes, Ethics Scoreboard classics, History, Humor and Satire, Professions, Religion and Philosophy

Another Faked “Live Performance” At An Obama Inauguration

Beyonce, moving her mouth convincingly for the President

Beyonce, moving her mouth convincingly for the President

At this point, I am resigned to being one of the last people on earth who still believes that when a live performance is advertised, we should get a live performance. Clearly nobody in the Obama Administration believes it, because for the second straight inauguration ceremony, a featured musical presentation introduced as a live performance was actually an elaborate fake. I was initially impressed that Beyoncé could sing The National Anthem so well live and in the open air—not quite Whitney, but still excellent. I’m not so impressed that she could do it in a studio, with sound balancing, multiple takes and editing. It does make a difference, you know.

I also assume I’m one of the last citizens who finds the beginning of new Presidential term being launched with a lie both symbolic and disappointing. Everybody does it, who is hurt, it’s trivial, things have changed…I know. Lots of rationalizations fit. I don’t care. Some things should be genuine and trustworthy, and the President’s inauguration is one of them.

Thus here again, slightly edited, is my protest against this deception in 2009, after the first time the American public was faked out. Looking back on what I wrote, and what the Obama Administration turned out to be, it really was symbolic after all. So it is this time around. It’s just not as much of a surprise.

“Why are there American citizens who stubbornly maintain that Neil Armstrong’s moon landing was faked? Why is cynicism becoming a crippling national malady? Look no further for the answer than the inaugural ceremonies of Barack Obama, where a U.S. Senator and a quartet of great musicians couldn’t bring themselves to avoid artifice and deception on the day America displays its democracy to the world. Continue reading

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Calorie Deceit

We really shouldn’t tolerate this kind of thing:

Potato chips????

Potato chips????

I know what people will say: it’s up to you to read the label carefully. And sure it is, but when I have 25 minutes to run to the local Harris Teeter and throw enough food into the cart to keep the family and the dog from starving over the coming four days, reading the fine print on intentionally misleading labels and doing quick mathematical calculations based on what I read really isn’t an option—-and obviously the food companies know it. Thus I just discovered that the tasty, vegetarian frozen burritos I bought on sale because they looked healthy as well as good had twice the calories that I thought they did. Continue reading

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