Category Archives: History

The Beatles And Plagiarism

Chuck BerryI knew that Brian Wilson had ripped off Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” to write “Surfin’ USA,” resulting in Berry owning the copyright to the Beach Boys hit. I knew that George Harrison had stolen the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” for his first solo hit “My Sweet Lord,” ultimately resulting in Harrison being found guilty of “subconscious plagiarism” (suuuuuure) and paying $1,599,987 of the earnings from “My Sweet Lord” to Bright Tunes, since songwriter Ronnie Mack had died in 1963, shortly after “He’s So Fine” was released. ( George did not cover himself in glory, telling an interviewer, “As far as I’m concerned, the effect the song has had far exceeds any bitching between copyright people and their greed and jealousy.” You stole the song, George.)

I did not know until this morning, when I had a chance to listen closely to Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” on my car radio, that The Beatles had plagiarized it for the opening cut on “Abbey Road,” “Come Together (Over Me.)”

First it was the lyrics that got my attention. I heard Chuck sing..

“I was rollin’ slowly ’cause of drizzlin’ showers
Here come a flat-top, he was movin’ up with me..”

Sounds familiar…where have I heard that before? Oh yeah!

“Here come old flattop, he come grooving up slowly…”

Then there was the melody, which was essentially identical, just differently arranged. Compare:

Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, History, Popular Culture

Boehner, Leadership And The Consequentialism Exception

At the end of John Beohner’s press conference responding to his sudden resignation, there was this exchange:

QUESTION: Can you talk about what you think your legacy is as you’re leaving? What are your most important accomplishments, and what are you going to do on November 1st? Are you moving to Florida?

BOEHNER: I was never in the legacy business. You all heard me say it, I’m a regular guy with a big job. And I never thought I’d be in Congress much less I’d ever be speaker. But people know me as being fair, being honest, being straightforward and trying to do the right thing every day on behalf of the country. I don’t need any more on that.

I will frequently inveigh here against the fallacy of consequentialism, the mistake of believing that whether conduct is ethical or not can be judged by its results. This leads inexorably to an “ends justifies the means” orientation and a misunderstanding of ethics. The ethical nature of an act can only be weighed according to how it was arrived at, its intent, and whether the conduct itself meets the tests of one or more ethical systems. Then moral luck takes over: an ethical decision can have catastrophic consequences and still be ethical, and the most unethical conduct can have wonderful results.

In life, however, and especially in some fields, ethics isn’t enough, and we all know it, or should. This is why consequentialism can’t be snuffed out of our thinking. There are fields of endeavor in which results are the primary standard by which we can—and should— judge whether someone was competent in the role he or she took on for themselves when others could have done the job better. In these fields being ethical isn’t enough, and often is grossly inadequate.  If one is a leader, for example, it cannot be right to lead those behind you to disaster, indeed to fail. In a field that is defined by the successful completion of a task that affects others, failure and ethics are incompatible. A failed leader is a bad leader. The objective in leadership is not just to “do the right thing,” but to succeed at ethical objectives in the right way. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Government & Politics, History, Leadership

“Kill The Messenger” And The CIA Crack Story Ethics Train Wreck

I finally saw the 2014 docudrama “Kill the Messenger,” which completed—I hope—the passenger list for a 30-year-old Ethics Train Wreck.

The film purports to be the true story of Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News reporter who wrote the sensational “Dark Alliance” series of investigative reports in 1996. The series attributed the inner city crack cocaine explosion in part to Nicaraguan anti-government Contra rebels in  the 1980s funding their efforts by drug smuggling and sales, all with the knowledge and assistance of the  CIA. The agency, the series claimed, was acting to support the Contras despite Congress rejecting the Reagan administration’s request for aid. Like most Hollywood accounts of anything, the film distorts and misrepresents facts to make a better story. Unfortunately, Webb’s story is made more dramatic by making him out to be a tragic hero and victim of a sinister alliance between the mainstream media and the U.S. Government. That’s not exactly true, fair or accurate, and in this matter, affirmatively harmful.

The fastest way to survey this particular Ethics Train Wreck is to list the distinguished passengers, more or less in order of boarding: Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement

Entry For “Unethical Headline Of The Year”: Mother Jones


The real “Mother Jones”

A headline is a declarative statement, and ethical headlines are factual—not teases, not bait and switches, not lies, not deceit, but factual. Misleading headlines have become increasingly common on the web (click-bait, you know), and if this one from Mother Jones is any indication, the election season is going to be ugly as well as confusing.

The headline is “Republicans Hate Planned Parenthood but Want to Put One of Its Backers on the $10 Bill,” and it is quite an achievement: almost every word is a lie or intentionally misleading.

Let’s begin with “Republicans,” who, according to the headline, both “hate” Planned Parenthood and “want” to put a Planned Parenthood “backer” on the ten. “Republicans” implies all Republicans. Do all Republicans “hate” Planned Parenthood? Gee, I am married to a Republican who served on the board of the local  organization affiliate. There are many Republicans who oppose one of Planned Parenthood’s signature activities, abortion, but that does not mean all Republicans hate Planned Parenthood. Many headline writers, including the one that wrote this one, are lying, manipulative partisan hacks, but a headline that said, “Headline Writers Are Lying, Manipulative Partisan Hacks” would be unfair and misleading.

As for the second part of the sentence, which states Republicans want to put one of Planned Parenthood’s “backers” on the ten dollar bill, it is even more inaccurate regarding Republicans. The article under the headline refers only to the CNN candidate’s debate, and only to three of the eleven Republicans on the stage. Since eight of the Republicans did NOT choose to place the “backer’s” face on the ten, using the article’s own deceitful employment of the term “Republicans,” the article could also be titled “Republicans Hate Planned Parenthood And Don’t Want to Put One of Its Backers on the $10 Bill.” That, of course, wouldn’t convey the impression that Republicans have no integrity, are hypocritical and ignorant, which was really the purpose of the headline and the article. A headline, however, that is less accurate than the opposite of the headline is a really misleading headline. Res ipsa loquitor! Fairer and more honest still would have been a version of the headline that read “Three Republicans Want to Put One of Planned Parenthood’s Backers On The $10 Bill,” but even that would be misleading.

Oh, I’ve just gotten started, for this is some terrible headline. Continue reading


Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media

Unethical Quote of the Week: Donald Trump’s 2nd Amendment Position Paper


“The Second Amendment to our Constitution is clear. The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed upon. Period.”

—The first sentence of “Protecting Our Second Amendment Rights Will Make America Great Again ...Donald J. Trump on the Right to Keep and Bear Arms,” released today.

You can debate the various policy ideas in this typically simplistic approach to a complicated problem; that’s not my purpose. My purpose is to point out that a position paper on the Second Amendment that begins by misstating that amendment while saying the amendment is “clear” cannot and should not be taken seriously. Nor should its author.

Is he stupid, and not know that it is ludicrous to state what is not the text of the amendment with the emphatic “Period” ? Is he ignorant, and unaware of the wording of actual amendment that he proceeds to say “is America’s first freedom”? Or is he lying, using a false version of the Second Amendment to mislead his many followers who either haven’t read the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, or can’t read at all?

The Second Amendment may be many things, but clear is one thing nobody with any knowledge of the subject believes it is. It is not clear. It is, by far, the least clear of all the amendments, and that is why it is still controversial after centuries. The fake Second Amendment that Trump’s position paper uses is clear; too bad that’s not the real one. If the Second Amendment read “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed upon,” it would be clear, and opponents of gun ownership wouldn’t have any argument except to insist that we repeal  it.  The real Amendment, however, reads,

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

That could mean the same thing, or it might not. It would seem it was intended to mean something else, otherwise why wasn’t it worded as in the Trump version? The seas of ink that have been spilled over the interpretation of that strangely constructed sentence could flood Texas, and educated, thoughtful people who are honest, erudite and not simpleminded (unlike Trump) have written provocatively on the subject, often disagreeing, as in.. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Citizenship, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership

A Final Post Debate Observation: Cognitive Dissonance And The Welch Effect

Rand Paul23I’m literally the only one writing about this—which is to say that everyone else is wrong— so I might as well wrap it up.

You will recall that I predicted (and hoped) that one of the candidates in the CNN debate on Wednesday would have the wit, historical perspective and guts to prepare a Joseph Welch take-down of Donald Trump, as it is an excellent way of shining harsh light on a bully and ethics miscreant. This is how lawyer Joseph Welch ended the reign of terror of Sen. Joe McCarthy on live TV in the medium’s “Golden Age,” and McCarthy was bigger and more deadly game than The Donald.

I wrote:

Will the same tactic work on Trump? It should: it would have worked in the first debate. Now, it may not, because many Welches will not be as effective as a single one, and I would not be surprised if several of Trump’s competitors will have a Welchism rehearsed. It also won’t work if the wrong Welch jumps in first, or if he blows his delivery. (Welch was quite an actor.) We shall see. If someone doesn’t at least try it, none of these 15 non-Trumps are  smart enough to be President.

Well, the Welch moment came almost immediately, as the first candidate with an opening to deliver it took his shot: Sen. Rand Paul. As I wrote in my follow-up piece yesterday, it wasn’t completely Welch-worthy, but it stung:

The Joseph Welch moment that I predicted occurred, though it was a wan and, as I feared, an incompetent version.  The Welch-wannabe was Rand Paul, and he directly referenced Trump’s “sophomoric” personal attacks, saying…

“Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language to be negotiating with Putin? Do we want someone like that to be negotiating with Iran? I think really there is sophomoric a quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried. I’m very concerned about having him in charge of the nuclear weapons because I think his response, his real response to attack people on their appearance, short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that? Would we not all be worried to have someone like that in charge of the nuclear arsenal?”

…First, a Welch retort has to be delivered with withering contempt, not snotty combativeness. Second, the deliverer has to talk directly to the target; this is key. Not “he,” Senator. “YOU.” Third, whether or not the question was about the temperament of the man with his finger on the button, the danger of having a leader who behaves like Trump goes far beyond that….Still, Welch’s tactic worked a bit. Trump’s rejoinder, essentially “You’re ugly, too!”, got what sounded like awkward laughter, and Donald Trump, who is an entertainer, and who, like most experienced performers, can sense what an audience is feeling, was very subdued the rest of the debate.

What happened is that while the whole bucket of water didn’t land on the Wicked Trump, enough splashed on him to slow him down. When Fiorina delivered a mini-Welch later and Trump simpered his submissive “she’s got a beautiful face, and she’s a beautiful woman” line, he was still melting. She, more than anyone else, jumped in the vacuum left by Trump’s “shrinkage.” Continue reading


Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, History, Leadership, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

Your CNN Republican Presidential Candidate Debate Sneak Preview

Somebody is going to do this to Donald Trump tonight:

The only question is who, and perhaps how many. It worked before, and it could work again. It may be too late for this strategem, though.

If you don’t recognize the incident, one of the first live TV moments to enter history and have a major impact on national politics, here is the background:

It came at the height of the Cold War, and the fear of Communist Russia was as palpable as it was toxic. Being publicly associated with the Communist Party was a ticket to personal and professional destruction, and many politicians wielded the accusation as a weapon of mass destruction.  The Hollywood Blacklist was the archetype of many such lists that kept many Americans who were socialists or merely liberals virtually unemployable in the military, the State Department, police and businesses. Dark times.

Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy used red-baiting to become the most famous, polarizing, popular, controversial—and powerful— American politician not named Eisenhower.  In 1954, two commercial TV networks broadcast live the hearings investigating McCarthy’s allegations against Army officers, and the counter-allegations that McCarthy and his aide, Roy Cohn, had pressured the Army to give preferential treatment to a Cohn’s  friend, later revealed to be  his  gay lover. (See: “Angels in America”)  80 million Americans watched the first ever  broadcast of Congressional hearings, riveted.

Joseph Welch, a prominent Boston attorney, agreed to serve as the Army’s legal counsel in the hearings. He knew, as the GOP contenders should know, that the only effective way to shame and expose a bully and a miscreant is to do it directly to his face. Welch waited for days, playing the quiet, respectful professional as McCarthy ranted and grandstanded. Then he saw his chance.

On June 9,  1954,  McCarthy declared that Fred Fisher, a young lawyer from Welch’s own law firm, had once been a member of the National Lawyers Guild, a civil rights group that J. Edgar Hoover had called a communist front because its attorneys had represente suspected communists. Welch, choking with emotion, it seemed, indignantly defended his colleague while deriding McCarthy:

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

The chamber’s audience applauded. The public’s infatuation with McCarthy was shattered, and emboldened by the collapse of public support for him,  McCarthy’s colleagues in the Senate censured him for inappropriate conduct. McCarthy’s power evaporated, and the anti-Communist hysteria joined him in a shadowy corner of U.S. history. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Government & Politics, History