Category Archives: History

Monetary Affirmative Action: “Women On 20s”

Patsy Mink, almost certainly one of the 100,000 most significant Americans in our history.

Patsy Mink, almost certainly one of the 100,000 most significant Americans in our history.

Barbara Ortiz Howard was interviewed on CBS this morning, talking about her effort to put a female face on our money. The thrust of her argument distills down into simple math: there are a lot of women, so the money should reflect that. We are now in the realm of affirmative action, and this was a sitting duck for the effort. There is no criteria for being on currency, just death. It’s an honor, of course, and as an honor, should be taken seriously, though its hard to argue that the current slate of faces reflects any objective evaluation. Salmon P. Chase? Kennedy’s undistinguished three years in office didn’t earn him his place on the 5o cent piece; getting shot did.

I can’t work up much indignation over the campaign being played out on Howard’s website, Women on 20’s. Like all efforts to impose quotas and encourage group identification, the effort is devisive, and the site’s candidates to replace Andrew Jackson could serve as a primer on how affirmative action can have the perverse effect of diminishing the credibility and integrity of an accomplishment. Whatever one thinks about Jackson, he had a tremendous impact on the nation and its political culture, was a transformative national leader, and a historical figure of great significance. Quick: name the major legislative accomplishments of Patsy Mink, Shirley Chisolm and Barbara Jordan for example. Jackson towers over them in importance to the nation’s growth and long-term success. That doesn’t mean he has to be on a bill, but nobody will be able to argue again that being so honored means anything more than that a powerful constituency caught an accommodating Democratic President when he needed to bump a poll number. Continue reading

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Filed under Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, History

Musings On The “You Can’t Even Spell” On-Line Debate Tactic

dooleyIn a debate on a live thread here between two esteemed commentators, one of the contestants expressed vivid annoyance when the other derided the quality of his text in a retort. I’ve witnessed this many times online, as have you, I’m sure: someone registers an opinion while making a blatant typo, a bad misspelling, a misuse of a word, or a grammar gaffe and the opponent immediately focuses on it. What is this, exactly, and is it always wrong?

1. What is it? As I mentioned on the thread in question, it’s pretty close to an  ad hominem attack once removed, right? The sense of such a comment is, “Why should I respect your opinion? You can’t even spell “inaugural!” which in turn suggests that the individual is an ignoramus rather than a worthy adversary. It needs a name though. Is there one?

2. Is the tactic ever justified? Clearly it is not fair and indeed an unethical deflection if the issue is a typo or two. Or, in my case, or six. Anyone who visits here often knows that I have a serious typo problem, paired with an even worse proof-reading problem. I have dinged job applicants for resumes and job letters that contain “your” for “you’re” and “recieve” for “receive”? Indeed I have. Is there a difference? I think so: if someone wants to make a good impression and still makes these mistakes, I am justified in concluding that this is really the best that applicant can do, or, in the alternative, that he or she doesn’t care very much.

I wasn’t blogging 2000 words a day then, however.

3. Mentioning a gaffe seems to be mandatory if the comment or text containing it was complaining about carelessness, illiteracy or stupidity generally. Again, though, what does this mean? Is it essentially another variation of an ad hominem attack: “Hey, you’re so dumb you make the same kind of error you’re bitching about! Your argument must be dumb too!”? I think it is, but it also falls in the category of “Boy, I asked for that!” In “Twelve Angry Men,” the bigoted Juror 10 derides the character of a witness, saying, “He’s an ignorant slob! He don’t even speak good English!” Whereupon the heavily-accented naturalized citizen in the group corrects him, saying, “He doesn’t even speak good English,” humiliating his fellow juror. Ethical? In that setting perhaps; generally, however, I would think that the Golden Rule should apply, but most of us can’t resist the hanging curve over the center of the plate. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Etiquette and manners, History, U.S. Society

Unethical Quote Of The Month (and most idiotic, too!): Two Unnamed American Tourists

“We did not imagine it was something so serious!”

-–One of two young California women, ages 21 and 25 , after being arrested by Roman authorities for carving their initials “J” and “N” about four inches high into a wall of the Colosseum.

Get this guy a ticket to Rome. I've got a little job for him....

Get this guy a ticket to Rome. I’ve got a little job for him….

Naturally, as is the current practice among morons everywhere, they posed for a selfie with their “artwork.”

Well, you have to sympathize with them: why would anyone get upset over a couple of letters  carved into a 2,085-year-old irreplaceable iconic architectural structure?

I find myself unable to discern the upbringing, education and cultural conditioning that would produce two adults from our nation capable of such a pointless, stupid, destructive act against history, art and civilization.

I am similarly incapable of arriving at an appropriate punishment that recognizes the enormity of their crime and their proven worthlessness to society that does not resemble the screenplay of “Saw.”

Would it be too cruel to pass a law that allows the U.S. to just revoke the citizenship of people like this?

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Quotes, Etiquette and manners, History

Ethics Observations On The Selma Celebration “Gotcha’s!”

Selma redux

1. The big controversy as of this morning involved the New York Times front page photo, which managed to be cropped exactly at the point where former President Bush could have been seen. Given the Times’ proclivities, conservative blogs and Fox News presumed the snub was intentional. If it had been intentional, that would have indeed been disrespectful and unethical photojournalism. The Times explanation, however, seems reasonable. It tells us something, though, that nobody at the Times saw this coming. I think it’s incompetence born of bias. “Where’s Bush?” “He was too far down the line, so the photo looks lousy if he’s included.” “Damn. Well, put a note in explaining that.” Bias makes us stupid, and the fact that no Times editor had this conversation is, in fact, stupid.

2. If the NAACP was setting the place cards, and I assume they were, then Bush should have been second row center, and not an MSNBC demagogue and race-hustler who owes the U.S. back taxes. Talk about biased and stupid. The NAACP claims it wants to be a unifying force in the country, but it doesn’t. It promotes divisiveness,and intentionally. It’s good for business.

3. A graceful, fair, respectful and competent President of the United States would have insisted that his immediate predecessor be in a position of prominence, as part of the message that this event was an important part of the history of America and all Americans. It would have been the right thing to do. Bush would have done the same for him. But we do not have a graceful, fair, respectful and competent President. We have an arrogant, petty, self-absorbed and divisive one.

4. …who can, on occasion, rise to give an excellent speech, which he did. Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Race

Why The Sweet Briar College Fight Matters

sweet-briar-collegeEthics Alarms has been besieged by interest in the threatened Sweet Briar College closing, with the recent post on the topic already the third most viewed essay in the history of the blog. I was surprised; I shouldn’t have been. From an ethics and societal perspective, what the controversy stands for is as important as any covered here. It is also central to the nation itself.

When a business fails, the casualties include ambitions, opportunities, dreams, financial resources, community assets, and jobs. That is serious and tragic. Non profit organizations, however, exist to turn ideas into reality, to strengthen them, bolster them, and prove that they deserve to survive and flourish. The death of Sweet Briar will also mean the loss of ambitions, opportunities, dreams, financial resources, community assets, and jobs. Far more important, however, is that it will mean the death of an idea, or at very least the serious wounding of one.

This is why non profit boards should not be, as they so frequently are, merely comfortable curriculum vitae-stuffers  and networking forums for prominent dilettantes. Non profit boards are stewards of ideas, and they must also be willing and able to be warriors in defense of those ideas, if an idea is imperiled. It is not a job for the faint of heart, and the consequences of failure, or, as in the case of Sweet Briar, fearful and premature capitulation, are catastrophic, not just for the organization, institution and its constituents, but the entire U.S. culture.

Sweet Briar exists to nurture a particularly vital idea, the mission of training young womenContinue reading

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Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, History, Leadership, U.S. Society

Ethics Tales: How Julia Sand Saved A President And Changed The Nation

open book on concrete background

In my recent overview of the U.S. presidency (the four parts are now combined on a single page under “Rule Book” above), I noted that our 21st President, Chester A. Arthur, was one of my personal favorites and an Ethics Hero. He confounded all predictions and his previous undistinguished background, not to mention a career marked  by political hackery and toadying to corrupt Republican power broker Roscoe Conkling, to rise to the challenge of the office and to effectively fight the corrupt practices that had elevated him to power. Most significantly, he established the Civil Service system, which crippled the spoils and patronage practices that made the Federal government both incompetent and a breeding ground for scandal.

I did not mention, because I did not then know, the unlikely catalyst for his conversion. Recently a good friend, knowing of my interest in Arthur, his tragic predecessor, James Garfield, and presidential assassinations sent me a copy of Destiny of the Republic, the acclaimed history of the Garfield assassination and its aftermath by Candace Millard. It’s a wonderful book, and while I knew much of the history already, I definitely did not know about Julia Sand. Her tale is amazing, and it gives me hope. If you do not know about Julia and Chester, and it is not a well-known episode, you should.

Allow me to tell it to you.

James Garfield, an Ohio Congressman, had been the dark horse nominee of the Republican Party in 1880, foiling the ambitions of many powerful politicians, the most powerful among them being Sen. Roscoe Conkling of New York. In order to cement New York’s electoral votes, the convention gave the Vice Presidential nomination to Conkling’s lackey, the dignified-looking but otherwise unimpressive Chester A. Arthur, who may have been the least qualified individual ever to run for that office. The highest position he had ever held was Collector of Customs of the Port of New York, which had been handed to him by Conkling, and he was later removed from that post for incompetence and corruption.  He’d never been elected to significant office or been any kind of executive. Arthur’s career before becoming Vice President makes Sarah Palin look like Winston Churchill.

After the election, Arthur got to work being a disloyal Vice-President, acting as Conklin’s agent in the White House. (Arthur, a widower, even lived as a guest in Conkling’s Washington mansion.) He actively undermined Garfield’s efforts at government reform, at one point going so far as signing a petition supporting Conkling when Garfield refused to appoint only Cabinet members with the Conkling stamp of approval. Then,  on July 2, 1881, less than six months after taking office, the impressive Garfield was shot in Washington D.C.’s Union Station by Charles Guiteau, easily the craziest of the various crazies who have taken a shot at our leaders. (He was also the only lawyer in that group.)

Everybody was horrified, initially at the crime, but also at the prospect of Arthur becoming President. Some even suspected him of being complicit in the act; Guiteau didn’t help by writing Arthur a letter prior to his attack telling him what he needed to do as President.  Most, however, were just aghast at the prospect of the brilliant, courageous, skilled and honorable Garfield being replaced by this utter non-entity under Conkling’s thumb.

None were more aghast than Chester A. Arthur. He may have been a hack, but he was no fool, and he knew he wasn’t up to the job. It was reported that when he learned of Garfield’s shooting, Arthur began weeping like a child. During the nearly three months it took the hardy Garfield to die—he was killed by sepsis induced by the unsanitary prodding of his doctors as they searched for Guiteau’s bullet: the would itself was probably survivable—Arthur descended into panic, shock, and depression.  For nearly two months, he stayed at home with the blinds drawn, fearing his own assassination. So invisible was he that there were  rumors that Arthur had poisoned himself.

Then Arthur received a letter, dated August 27, 1881, from a woman he did not know, Julia Sands. It immediately got his attention, for she addressed him in a manner he had never been spoken or written to before. The remarkable letter said in part… Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, History, Leadership

Ethics Quote of the Week: Christiane Amanpour

“It was a very dark Strangelovian speech painting the picture of a dystopian world, raising the spectre of a genocidal nation, a genocidal regime spraying nuclear weapons to annihilate the whole world and the whole region. Now, obviously many people are very concerned about Iran and there is a deep lack of trust, but surely the same was said of the Soviet Union all those years ago.”

—-CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, commenting to Wolf Blizter on Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial address to Congress.

That's funny...he doesn't LOOK Jewish...

That’s funny…he doesn’t LOOK Jewish…

This is a propitious opportunity to clear up a question I have been asked a few times, namely, “What is the distinction between the Ethics Alarms “ethics quotes” as opposed to the unethical and ethical quotes of the week or month. Sometimes, it’s a close call, like now. An ethics quote either illustrates, in a positive or negative fashion, an ethics principle or raises an ethics issue. Unethical quotes are those that are themselves harmful, dishonest, or that promote ethics misconceptions and unethical conduct. Ethical quotes are those that display ethical values or accomplish something that is objectively good.

Amanpour’s quote is, not to be overly blunt, stupid, ignorant, and disturbingly lacking in historical perspective. It raises ethics issues, but does not rise to the level, quite, of an unethical quote. It does raise the ethics issues of incompetence in the media, political bias robbing us all of IQ points, irresponsible journalism, and what happens when one is incapable of placing oneself behind another individual’s eyeball.  She is trying to be descriptive, so I would not term the quote itself unethical, just shocking. She has long been respected as a reporter on international events, but this statement is so devoid of its proper context that I think her credentials need to be reconsidered. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media