Category Archives: History

The Progressive Clown vs. The Apoplectic Conservative Radio Host On Gaza: Jon Stewart, Funny But Irresponsible…Mark Levin, Uncivil But Right

Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” riff on the Gaza conflict was praised to the skies by anti-Israel pundits, like MSNBC’s Cenk Uyger and the Daily Beast’s Dean Obeidallah as providing some kind of much needed moral clarity. In truth it was exactly the opposite, with the Obeidallah column unintentionally showing exactly what’s wrong with Jon Stewart.

Knowing that a disturbing number of Millennials (and an even more disturbing number of ignorant, impressionable older viewers who should know better) see the comedian as a truth-teller, Stewart makes no allowances in his comic routines for that fact. He intentionally encourages the idea that he is a legitimate pundit, then retreats to the convenient bunker of “Come on! I’m a comedian! Don’t take me so seriously!” when he is called out for lazy, misleading and biased—but funny! commentary. (Stewart criticizes Democrats with approximately the frequency of a lunar eclipse, which would be just fine for a comedian who didn’t pose as an objective critic of American politics.) Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, War and the Military

Flunking Responsibility, Honesty, Common Sense and Ethics: Gov. Deval Patrick, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Daily Kos, and Anyone Else Who Repeats This Idiotic Analogy

Deval Patrick

I thought I might run an ethics quiz asking whether this current and mind-bogglingly stupid argument that keeps popping up from my sentiment-addled Facebook friends is more unethical than the pro-Hamas hashtags being appended to twitter comments by the “Think of the children!” saps led by celebrities like Jon Stewart, Selena Gomez, and John Cusack. Pondering on it, however, I realized that as ethically misguided as Stewart at al. are, the above quote and its ilk are worse….especially since state governors and U.S. Senators have more credibility than comedians and Disney pop tarts. Not that they should, mind you.

If I really have to make a detailed argument explaining why Deval’s quote and  Leahy’s ( “Think of all those Jews that went to the ovens because we forgot our principles. Let’s not turn our backs now.”) are unforgivably irresponsible, we are just as dim-witted as those demagogues (or, more likely, as dim-witted as they hope and think we are.) The statements are no more nor less than an invitation to every parent of every child in every poor, war-torn, politically foul, culturally poisoned, dangerous, corrupt nation in the world to somehow get them to the U.S. border, paying shady and often treacherous agents to do so, because the United States will not “turn its back,” and turn them back. The question isn’t whether this is a legitimate, responsible or sane position worthy of debate and serious consideration: of course it isn’t. The question is how anyone can think it is. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Childhood and children, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Quotes, The Internet

Deconstructing The Unethical “It’s Impossible To Be President Today!” Excuse For President Obama

Presidents since WW II

Chris Cilizza’s latest of several attempts to relieve President Obama of responsibility for his spectacularly incompetent and disastrous presidency is too full of falsities, fallacies, rationalizations and illogical assertions to let pass, as I would dearly love to. Duty calls, however, so here we go. I’m not going to comment on the quoted “terrific” Ron Brownstein piece, which is not essential. Cilizza is in bold, my comments are not….

“Being president is the most powerful job in the world. At which you will almost certainly fail.”

  • First, I must ask, fail at what? Fail at solving problems? Fail at being popular? Fail by leaving the country in worse shape than when the President took office? Fail at leadership, at management, at foreign policy, at vision? Fail at handling crises? Fail by not dealing with long-term problems? By not bothering to define the central concept of his thesis, Cilizza just betrays his ignorance and laziness. If he won’t define his terms, he can’t be challenged.
  • Let me give Mr. Cilizza, who is really, absurdly arguing that succeeding as President is harder now than it has ever been, a brief history lesson focusing on how difficult this job has proved to be for others. George Washington, numero uno, had by far the most difficult job, being President of an unstable, new, confused nation with no precedents for his office, all while being second guessed by some of the most brilliant minds the nation ever produced, who were fighting among themselves to steer the country’s culture and government in radically different directions. He did a superb job, because Washington was a natural leader, perfectly suited for his grand moment in history. The next three Presidents were not, and had a terrible time of it (Jefferson’s reputation was saved by having the Louisiana Territory fall into his lap, but he was no leader, and call me a stickler, but any time a foreign power burns down the White House, I’m calling that President–James Madison—a flop), but James Monroe got the job down, beginning with having Cabinet members–like Daniel Webster–who were smarter than he was and properly delegating and managing them. The job defeated John Quincy Adams, but the next natural leader, gutsy, crazy Andrew Jackson, managed to keep the nation from dissolving over regional differences, and solved potentially disastrous  financial problems, in part because he was able to project strong leadership. Being a killer will do that….

Continue reading

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Filed under Character, History, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Leadership

Ethics Quote Of The Week (Crystal Ball Division): Prof. Glenn Reynolds

“Expect this to play out in thumbsucker columns on whether America is ‘ungovernable.’”

-Professor Glenn Reynolds, the conservative “Instapundit,” in 2009 commenting on a blog post by Ed Morrissey about growing evidence of President Obama’s deficits in leadership skills and management competence.

I mean, who can do this? It's impos---oh. Right.

I mean, who can do this? It’s impos—oh. Right.

Sure enough, here comes a the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, with an offensive, unethical and false column in the Washington Post titled “It’s virtually impossible to be a successful modern president.”

This is a continuation of the six year strategy of the White House and Democrats to argue the ethical value of accountability out of existence. After all, if a job is impossible, you can’t be blamed for failing at it.

If there is any analyst ill-prepared to make such an analysis, it is a journalist, who in most cases, and definitely in the case of Cilliza, have never led or managed anything. Leadership and management challenges always look overwhelming when an amateur is overwhelmed by them.

I have to rush off to a seminar, so I will let you all dissect Cillizza’s pitiable excuses for the President, and return to the topic when I get back.

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Filed under Government & Politics, History, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Leadership

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

A Proposed Guide To Spoiler Ethics

"It SINKS??? You spoiled the ending!!!"

“It SINKS??? You spoiled the ending!!!”

I was just admonished on Facebook by a friend (a real friend, not just the Facebook variety), for referencing the end of the last episode of Season One of “Orange is the New Black.”  He hadn’t finished viewing the season yet, and this was a breach of spoiler ethics. Or was it?

Ever since I encountered for real someone who was angry with me for “spoiling” the end of “Thirteen Days,” ( “Yes, World War III started and everybody died”), I have been dubious about spoiler etiquette. The advent of DVDs and Netflix has made this all the more annoying. If I’m in a group of five, and one individual hasn’t kept up with “House of Cards,” are the rest of us obligated to censor our discussion? As a devotee and fanatic devourer of popular culture, I admit that my first instinct is to say, “Keep up, get literate, or pay the price.” If I actually live by that rule, however, I will be a walking, talking, writing, spoiler machine.

Chuck Klosterman, “The Ethicist” in the world of the New York Times, recently pronounced himself an anti-spoiler absolutist:

“I’m an anti-spoiler fascist. I don’t believe that any conversation, review or sardonic tweet about a given TV show is more valuable than protecting an individual’s opportunity to experience the episode itself (and to watch it within the context for which it was designed). I’ve never heard a pro-spoiler argument that wasn’t fundamentally absurd.”

Even Klosterman, however, excepted sporting events (the question posed involved mentioning World Cup scores to a friend who was annoyed that the game had been “spoiled” for him) from his fascism, writing, reasonably:

“I must concede that live, unrehearsed events are not subject to “spoiler” embargoes A live event is a form of breaking news. It’s not just entertainment; it’s the first imprint of living history. …Because this guy is your buddy, you might want to avoid discussing the games’ outcomes out of common courtesy — but not out of any moral obligation. It’s his own responsibility to keep himself in the dark about current events.”

For once I agree with Chuck. But what are reasonable ethics rules for dealing with the other kind of spoiler, involving literature and entertainment?

Luckily, this is not new territory, though it is evolving territory. The underlying ethical principles include fairness, trust, consideration, compassion, and empathy, which means that the Golden Rule is also involved.

Back in 2010, an erudite blogger calling himself The Reading Ape proposed a draft “Guide to Responsible Spoiling.” That blog is defunct; the promised successor is not around, and so far, I haven’t been able to discover who the Ape is. Whoever he is (Oh Aaaaape! Come back, Ape!) , he did a very good job, though some tweeks might  improve his work, especially in light of the emergence of Netflix.  (I have edited it slightly, not substantively…I hope he doesn’t mind, or if he does, that he’s not a big ape.) His approach is to frame the problem as an ethical conflict, in which two competing ethics principles must be balanced. I think that’s right.

Here is his “draft”—what do you think?

“A Brief Guide to Responsible Spoiling”

by The Reading Ape (2010)

The objective is to balance two ethical principles:

I. The Right to Surprise: The inherent right of any viewer or reader to experience the pleasure of not knowing what’s
going to happen next.

II. The Right to Debate: The inherent right of any viewer or reader to engage in public discourse about the content of
a given work of narrative art.

Part 1: When Spoiling is Fair Game

In the following circumstances, one can discuss crucial plot details and reveal endings with a clear conscience. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Daily Life, History, Literature, Popular Culture, Rights, Science & Technology, Sports, The Internet

Ethics Hero Emeritus (Independence Day Division): John Dickinson (1732-1808)

Villainous, singing version on the left; heroic, real life version on the right.

Villainous, singing version on the left; heroic, real life version on the right.

It is the American patriot John Dickinson’s curse that the very strength of character that caused him to stand out among the other Founders and that led them to respect him as much or more than any other also made him the black sheep in the inspiring tale of American independence. This led to relative obscurity. Although Dickinson is honored (along with his wife) by Dickinson College, Dickinson School of Law of the Pennsylvania State University, and University of Delaware’s Dickinson Complex, he is largely unknown to most Americans. He would be even less known, had Peter Stone not chosen to make him the villain of his 1969Tony-winning musical “1776,” where he was portrayed as a conservative loyalist who almost single-handedly foils the efforts of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin to declare independence from Great Britain. Whatever that choice’s dramatic virtues, it was unfair to Dickinson in every way.

Raised a Quaker, educated as a lawyer and a farmer by trade, Dickinson began public life in 1760 when he was elected to the Delaware legislature. During the next fifteen years he served both in that body and in the Pennsylvania legislature, a rare dual service made possible because he owned property in both colonies.

When the British Parliament instituted measures in the Colonies to raise revenue and provide for the quartering of British troops, Dickinson was one of the most eloquent and persuasive critics of the Crown, always with the intention of finding a satisfactory negotiated accord that did not involve the threat of armed rebellion. He urged Americans to rely primarily on economic pressure to oppose the hated Stamp Act, and he enlisted the influence of British merchants on the colonists’ behalf. His diplomatic orientation seemed like a prudent antidote to the firebrands calling for revolution in Boston, so the Pennsylvania legislature appointed him to represent that colony at the Stamp Act Congress of 1765. There he advocated the proposition that reconciliation was possible if the King and Parliament would only realize that colonial opposition was in the grand tradition English principles of political liberty. Dickinson set his reasoning to paper in his “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,” a series of deft essays that brought Dickinson international fame as a man of reason and principle. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, History, Leadership, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, War and the Military

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Bill Bigelow

FireworksHistory5

“The pretend war of celebratory fireworks thus becomes part of a propaganda campaign that inures us—especially the children among us—to current and future wars half a world away.”

Former teacher and current Howard Zinn disciple Bill Bigelow, in a jaw-dropping screed titled “Rethinking the Fourth of July”

Revolting and hateful right wing radio host Michale Savage authored an appropriately revolting and hateful book titled “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder.” That kind of marginalization of dissenting opinions apes the tactic of recent totalitarian regimes, which often subjected political enemies to forced hospitalization as “insane.” Extreme ideological zealotry that refuses to acknowledge either the good faith or the possible virtues of opposing views is anathema to a functioning democracy, and the fact that we have a toxic amount of such zealotry right now is one of the reason our government isn’t working very well.  Nonetheless, when I read a statement like the quote above, I cannot help but ponder how any rational individual reaches the point where he would think such a sentiment was worth publicizing. I think it is a form of ideology-sparked derangement. That doesn’t mean that liberalism is a mental disorder. It may mean that intense indoctrination in leftist (or conservative) cant leads to progressive derangement.

How does someone come to see the colorful spectacle of fireworks as “pretend war”? The invention of fireworks predated the use of bombs as weapons. They are an art form, and nothing more nor less. All right, they are also fun. (Can’t have that.) Seeing celebratory firework displays as indoctrination requires a paranoid view of one’s country and the world.  Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: Virginia’s Forced Vasectomy

"Well, they can't all be "shouting fire in a crowded theater," Oliver. So you had an off day....it happens.

“Well, they can’t all be “shouting fire in a crowded theater,” Oliver. So you had an off day….it happens.

One of the skeletons in the Old Dominion State’s closet is the 1924 “Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act,” a  law allowing the sterilization of citizens adjudged to be in a long line of mentally deficient idiots. The law was upheld in the infamous  1927 Supreme Court opinion in Buck v. Bell, in which the great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, to his undying shame, wrote,

“It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

So approved, Virginia’s eugenics law lasted into the 1970s, allowing the state to sterilize more than 7,000 people in mental institutions. The law was repealed in 1979, and victims are seeking reparations. Now the ghost of that law is hovering over the resolution of a current case.

The only thing Virginian Jessie Lee Herald has done on his 27 years more than get in trouble with the law is have children: so far he has had seven (with six mothers) and his current wife says she wants more. He recently fled the scene of a car crash with his injured 3-year-old son. Herald pleaded guilty to felony child endangerment, felony hit-and-run, and misdemeanor driving on a suspended license. Investigators who went to his home found his child to have been neglected, with, among other things, shards of glass in his diapers.

A Shenandoah County prosecutor, Illona White, proposed a plea deal that would reduce Herald’s prison sentence to just four years: he would have to agree to a vasectomy. He took the deal, which also requires him to pay for the operation.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

 Is it ethical for a state to make a convicted felon choose between prison time and sterilization?

Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Citizenship, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, History, Law & Law Enforcement

Ten Movies For Independence Day Weekend

fireworks

I wasn’t going to do this until I ran across a few lists of “Most Patriotic  Films” that made me fear for the taste and the values of my fellow citizens. “Independence Day” ? “Armageddon”? “Rocky IV”?  When did “patriotic” start meaning “crappy”? “Born on the Fourth of July”? If Oliver Stone is your idea of patriotic fare, you and I are going to have a problem.

Here is my very personal list of ten favorite films that bring a patriotic lump to my throat and a remind me of how lucky I am to be born and raised in the U.S.A. Don’t mind the order: it was hard enough narrowing the list down to ten.

1. Apollo 13  (1995)

The only one of the movies on my list that I saw on the others today. Like many of the films here, it makes me wistful for American boldness and confidence that seem to be in retreat today. When the  Apollo re-emerges from radio silence, and Tom Hanks says, with perfect inflection, “Hello, Houston. This is Odyssey. It’s good to see you again,” I lose it, every time.

2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Yes, this is Capra-corn at its corniest, but from Harry Carey Sr.’s sage and heroic Vice -President, to the power of the people triumphing, to the press trying to expose corruption rather than abet it,  this film reminds us of the best ideals of our government. When we get too cynical to enjoy Jefferson Smith’s struggle to make Washington work the way its supposed to, it will be time to pack it in.

3. The Longest Day (1962)

Longest Helm

Yes, it’s not just about Americans, but it is a great film about one of our country’s  finest achievements, all true, and inspiring without a lot of flag waving and sentiment. Best war movie ever—and my Dad’s favorite. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Citizenship, History, Humor and Satire, Literature, Popular Culture, U.S. Society, War and the Military