Category Archives: Literature

Ethics Observations On The Great “2015 Best American Poetry” Scandal

William Wordsworth (April 7, 1770-April 23, 1850)

William Wordsworth (April 7, 1770-April 23, 1850)

Sherman Alexie is the editor of the 2015 edition of Best American Poetry, an annual anthology that came out this week. One of his choices for inclusion was “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” by Yi-Fen Chou.

After being informed by Alexie that his short poem, previously published in a small journal, had been honored with selection,  Yi-Fen Chou contacted Alexie to reveal that he wasn’t Yi-Fen Chou, but boring, white, privileged  Michael Derrick Hudson of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Hudson explained to Alexie, and in his bio for the anthology, that he had posed as an obscure Asian poet rather than as an obscure WASP poet after his poem was rejected by 40 different journals when it was submitted under his real name. He decided to test his theory that the poem would suddenly seem better to editors if it had a little pro-diversity, cultural bias behind it. He was right. Now two editors had favored it.

Alexie left the poem in the collection, with the poet’s real name, and has been attacked for doing so, from all sorts of angles. Hudson has received criticism as well. Alexie wrote a heartfelt, thoughtful, and self-contradictory explanation of why he thought he did the right thing. Read it, if you can stand it. Also worth reading is Jesse Singal’s essay, inspired by this rhyme-crime, in New York Magazine about bias.  His most useful statement—“It can feel threatening to acknowledge that we are all susceptible to bias. The reality is that it’s simply a part of being human”—is wise. Otherwise, he is far too kind to Alexie simply because he was transparent and thoughtful in analyzing his conduct. Transparent and thoughtful Alexie is. He is also wrong.

Observations: Continue reading


Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Literature, U.S. Society

JFK’s Death, Hanlon’s Razor, And How Truth Gets Buried Forever

JFK Hickey

I am a student of Presidential assassinations (as you might guess by the posts on McKinley and Garfield), and have been most of my life, ever since I saw a TV special called “Web of Conspiracy” when I was 10, about the Lincoln murder. That led me to read the  best-selling book the special was based on, an 800 page, sensational analysis of the mysteries behind Lincoln’s death, by mystery writer Theodore Roscoe, who dabbled in history. The book’s theories and insinuating style are more convincing to a ten-year-old than an adult (I read the book many years later, and it drove me crazy), but the book still has a lot of fascinating tales and theories in it. I was hooked.

Oddly, the one Presidential assassination that has interested me least in recent years is the one I lived through, the assassination of President Kennedy. Blame Oliver Stone, Kevin Costner and Jim Garrison: “JFK” was the most dishonest movie I had ever watched (still is) and I walked out of it when its lies and distortions got too much for me about a third of the way through. Even before Stone’s brilliantly directed piece of crap. I was sick of the conspiracy theories, though Stone manufacturing a link to Lyndon Johnson was the final straw. Yes, the bitter Vietnam veteran really got back at LBJ; I hope it made him feel better. I, however, was soured on the whole topic.

I should have been paying more attention. Netflix is showing a documentary with the generic conspiracy theory title of “JFK: The Smoking Gun,” which was shown on cable two years ago. I missed it; if I had been aware of the film, the title and the subject matter—Oh, who’s behind it now? The Mafia? Nixon? Woody Harrelson’s father?—would have kept me away. But while I was on the road for a couple days doing ethics seminars for VACLE, my wife watched the documentary, and when I returned, sleep deprived, weak and submissive, she made me watch it.

Fascinating. And troubling. Continue reading


Filed under Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Literature, Research and Scholarship

Ethics Quiz: The Duchess of York’s Website And The Duke of Plazatoro

The category is Celebrity Ethics, Royal Ethics or Marketing Ethics, depending on your point of view. Unfortunately for ethical clarity, how you answer today’s Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz may depend on which category you choose.

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, is embarrassing the Royal Family again, only this time it isn’t by throwing snowballs at photographers or by not being as demure and lovely as the late Princess Diana. This time, the self-exiled and divorced Fergie is trading on her title to make a living as an internet huckster. She has a website that peddles a juicer for weight loss and “The Perfecter Ultra”:

The Perfecter Ultra Heated Styling Brush combines innovative ionic technology with pure black tourmaline heating plates for ultimate convenience in achieving salon quality hairstyles at home. Create silky straight styles or beautiful bouncing curls, reduce frizzies or add volume to thinning hair, the Perfecter Ultra is the remarkable styling tool that does it all.

The Duchess has also been appearing on QVC, the cable shopping network where shopping addicts, lonely recluses and easy marks hang out. Among the Royals, with whom she is already on the outs, this is considered…unseemly. Concludes Tom Sykes at the Daily Beast:

“Her website majors in its attempts to cast her shill as public service, saying, “One of my missions in life now is to help people fight their weight challenges so they can live longer, healthier and happier lives. Take it from me: you can do it!”  But the truth is, Fergie is selling her title, and getting paid a no-doubt healthy fee for her promotional activities.”

There’s little doubt that “selling her title” is a fair description.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

As Duchess of York, does Sarah Ferguson have an ethical obligation to behave like the symbol of the British Commonwealth that she and the rest of the Royal Family is, or can she ethically use her title as she chooses, including to sell junk on the internet?

Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Family, History, Humor and Satire, Literature, Marketing and Advertising, The Internet

Ethics Quiz: The Looney Tunes Cartoon Disclaimer

Warner Brothers Warning

Above is the disclaimer shown at the beginning of each DVD in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4, Volume 5, and Volume 6 sets, as well as the Daffy Duck and Foghorn Leghorn Looney Tunes Super Stars sets and the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection:

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is the warning that introduces the Warner Brothers classic cartoon videos fair and responsible?

Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Humor and Satire, Literature, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Race, Religion and Philosophy

New York City And The Mayor: Case Study In The Simpson Principle


The Simpson Principle does not refer to Homer but Alan, the now-retired Republican Wyoming Senator who once sat next to me at a press conference announcing the Reagan administration amnesty for illegal immigrants. Conservatives hated amnesty back then, too, and Simpson was regarded as a conservative. When I found myself seated next to him at lunch (my Foundation for the Chamber had done a study on immigration reform), I took the opportunity to quiz him on why he took the lead in this issue. (Those Chamber events were fun: another time, I ended up alone at a table with Gene McCarthy.)

Simpson said, as I remember it, “Well, ideology is great, but eventually you have to use real measures to solve real problems. If you keep flogging ideology when you know it won’t work, you’re a fool. It’s dumb, it’s irresponsible, and it’s wrong.”

You will note that 1) Simpson’s plan didn’t work either, though it wasn’t the plan’s fault, 2) Conservatives still oppose what they call amnesty, and yet haven’t a single rational, practical recommendation for how to handle the 13 million illegal immigrants who have slipped into the country since that Eighties luncheon chat, and 3) both liberals and conservatives have been meeting Simpson’s definition of fool lately.

[Aside: I ran into Simpson at LaGuardia last year, introduced myself and thanked him for that wisdom. He remembered me, amazingly, but didn’t remember that comment. “I said that?” he said. “Wow. I was smart that day. Thanks for reminding me of it. I wish I had run into you a few years ago.”]

One of the primary fools who is running amuck these days is Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is determined to again try the lassez faire, look the other way, “compassionate,” kinder, gentler law enforcement policies of his former boss, the infamous Mayor David Dinkins. In the 1980ss, Dinkins continued the transformation of  New York City into a declining, filthy, crime-riddled hell, and only the long, painful, much-criticized introduction of the so-called “broken window” theory into the city’s management by Rudy Giuliani turned the crisis and the city’s fate around.

As chronicled by Myron Magnet on one of my favorite blogs, City Journal, de Blasio is determined to relive the Dinkins experiment, because it would be nice if that way of running a big city works. Already, the completely predictable results are in evidence.

He writes: Continue reading


Filed under Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Law & Law Enforcement, Literature

One Class, 114 Valedictorians….W.S. Gilbert Warned Us About This

Apparently this has been going on at Arlington, Virginia’s Washington and Lee High School, from which my niece graduated, for years.  The school calls about a third of its graduating classes “valedictorians,” so 1) the school can put it on their college applications and deceive those who haven’t connected the dots; 3) make certain the school can claim a female valedictorian, a black valedictorian, an Asian-American valedictorian, a trans valedictorian…you know, because everyone is above average, like in Lake Woebegon, and 3) the official rationalization, to eliminate competitiveness for honors among students, because life isn’t competitive.

Back when I wrote about this in June, 2010, the news was that…

In many high schools around the country, as many as fifty graduating seniors were designated “valedictorians…

Now honor inflation ins some schools is  more than double that, so this atrocious practice is obviously catching on. Integrity is such a chore. Excellence, superiority, achievement…they are all chores too.  As for the genuinely superior students, they are out of luck: this is the high school equivalent of all the gladiators standing up and crying “I’m Spartacus!,” except now it’s “I’m the smartest one in the class!” This Maoist denial of the fact that some of us earn more success than others and that there is nothing wrong with doing so is all the rage, and you can expect to hear more such ideas as the various candidates to lead the nation, one founded on the principle of personal self-determination based on ambition and enterprise, argue about how to deal with “income inequality.” Income inequality is but a subset of talent, industry, risk-taking and ability inequality…and good fortune inequality too. Might high schools sending graduates out into the world with the cuckoo concept that everyone should be regarded as equally accomplished whether they really are or not also contribute to income inequality?

Why yes, I think so. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Humor and Satire, Literature, Quotes, U.S. Society

Of Atticus Finch, “Go Set A Watchman,” And Icon Ethics

AtticusToday Harper Lee’s “sequel” to “To Kill A Mockingbird” is officially released, though reviews have already been published. The big story is that the new novel’s now grown “Scout” discovers during the civil rights upheavals of the 1950s that her father and hero Atticus Finch is a racist, had attended a Klan meeting, and is prone to saying things like …

“Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”

The new Atticus is providing ammunition to those who enjoy tearing down American heroes and icons. Finch is perhaps the most revered fictional lawyer in American culture, admired by the public as well as the legal profession. The American Bar Association named its award for fictional portrayals of lawyers in films and literature after Finch, whose pro bono defense of a wrongly accused black man in a bigoted Alabama town forms the central conflict of Lee’s classic. Burnishing Atticus’s reputation further was the beloved portrayal of the character, reputedly based on the author’s father, by Gregory Peck in the Academy Award winning film adaptation. Peck received the Award for Best Actor as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and as a civil-rights activist often stated that he admired Finch over all his other roles. In 2003, American Film Institute voted Finch as the greatest hero in American film.Wrote Entertainment Weekly, “[Finch] transforms quiet decency, legal acumen, and great parenting into the most heroic qualities a man can have.”

Atticus, however, has had his detractors through the years, notable among them the late Monroe Freedman, a  habitual iconoclast and contrarian who wrote two law review articles declaring that Finch was neither hero nor a particularly admirable lawyer. He wrote in part: Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Law & Law Enforcement, Literature, Popular Culture, Professions