Category Archives: War and the Military

John Paul Stevens’ Gilbertian Nonsense

 

The Lord Chancellor-Stevens

A rather long preface is in order. Bear with me, please…

In the great, underperformed Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “Iolanthe,” W.S. Gilbert, a lawyer by training, devised a satirical judicial solution to a dire turn in the plot. Iolanthe, a fairy, violated Fairy Law by marrying a mortal, who happened to be the Lord Chancellor of England (he never noticed her wings, apparently.) The transgression commands the death penalty, but Iolanthe received a pardon on the condition that she allow her husband to think her dead, which she does for a couple of decades, much of which she spends doing penance at the bottom of a froggy stream, on her head.…but I digress.

When she learns, however, that her husband of yore is about to marry the sweetheart of her half-fairy son, who, though the Lord Chancellor doesn’t know it, is also his son, Iolanthe reveals herself and the paternity to the Lord Chancellor, who is duly stunned. This again triggers the death penalty and just minutes away from the finale, it looks like Iolanthe is going to end up like Carlo in “The Godfather,” as the fairy equivalent of Clemenza waddles on to the stage. (That’s how I would stage it, anyway.) Then this happens: Continue reading

19 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Citizenship, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Law & Law Enforcement, Literature, War and the Military

Worst Loving Parents Of The Year…I Hope

The Sailing Kaufmans. Make that the Sinking Kaufmans. The Stupid Kaufmans?

The Sailing Kaufmans. Make that the Sinking Kaufmans. The Stupid Kaufmans?

Last month, I wrote about the burglar who brought his infant offspring along with him on a job, which is to say, a burglary. It is fair to say, and thus I am saying, that San Diego parents Eric and Charlotte Kaufman, presumably known as “The Sailing Kaufmans” in honor of “The Biking Vogels,” make that burglar look like the Huxtables from “The Cosby Show.”

Oh, they are loving parents I’m sure, just like the doting professionals played by Bill Cosby and Felcia Rashad in the iconic sitcom. The problem is that they don’t have the sense bestowed by nature on the average adult lemur. Mom and Dad Kaufman brought their their 1-year-old daughter Lyra and her 3-year-old sister, Cora along with them as they embarked in March on the great adventure of sailing across the Pacific as the first leg of a planned circumnavigation of the globe.

In a 36-foot sailboat.

Alone.

With a toddler.

And an infant.

Morons.

Continue reading

25 Comments

Filed under Character, Family, Health and Medicine, U.S. Society, War and the Military

Self-Promotion Alert: Army Magazine on Candor and Honesty

COVER_March2014Rick Maze, a reporter for Army Magazine, was kind enough to quote me extensively in his article, “Candor: Can the Army Handle the Truth?” which is available here. He also includes an extensive reference to the Rationalizations List.

8 Comments

Filed under Character, Journalism & Media, Leadership, War and the Military, Workplace

Comment Of The Day: “It’s Time To Play The Exciting New Broadcast Media Ethics Game…”

pop-gun

Steve-O-in NJ, commenting on the post about President Obama’s weak response to the invasion of the Ukraine by an emboldened Russia. raises the broader ethical point of America’s duty to be militarily strong, one of the persistent areas of disagreement between liberals and conservatives, and one area where the right has it right, and the left is out in left field. It should be noted, however, that this problem is a direct consequence of the even greater one hanging over us: the relentlessly expanding National Debt, and the irresponsible lack of political courage and resolve to do anything about it other than let it get worse. This was most recently demonstrated by what we have learned about the President’s new budget proposal, which raised the ethical question, “Did Obama ever mean what he said about entitlement reform and serious debt reduction?”

Wrote Washington Post editorial chief Fred Hiatt—a liberal Democrat, like virtually all of his colleagues— last week:

It’s a relatively small thing, really, a fix to the calculation of cost-of-living benefits that would have helped save Social Security. But President Obama’s decision to drop the reform from his proposed budget hints at a bigger question: What does he believe in enough to really fight for?

To hear him in 2009, you would have thought that safeguarding Social Security was one such goal. “To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security,” he said. In 2010, he was even more determined: “Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we’ll still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. . . . I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.” Now the winds have shifted — his party wants to woo older voters by promising richer benefits, not reform — and Obama has moved on, too. Someone else will have to fix Social Security.

His turnabout on foreign policy has been even more dizzying. Three years ago, he was promising to support democracy movements throughout the Middle East and protect their advocates from government violence.

Hiatt, whom I generally respect, seems to be uncharacteristically slow on the uptake here. Many of us figured out way back in 2008 that Obama was a politician who would use whatever soaring rhetoric he thought would please the maximum number of voters, and that he had no idea how or whether to make his words reality….and does not yet.  Meanwhile, the Post’s fairest and most astute conservative pundit, Robert Samuelson, explained why Obama’s inaction on entitlements guarantees weakness in the world:

We are spending more and getting less, and — unless present trends are reversed — this will continue for years. It threatens the end of government as we know it.

The cause is no mystery. An aging population and higher health spending automatically increase budget outlays, which induce the president and Congress to curb spending on almost everything else, from defense to food stamps. Over the next decade, all the government’s projected program growth stems from Social Security and health care, including the Affordable Care Act. By 2024, everything else will represent only 7.4 percent of national income (gross domestic product), the lowest share since at least 1940, says Douglas Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget Office.

This is the central budget story, and it’s largely missed — or ignored — by political leaders, the media, political scientists and the public. The welfare state is taking over government. It’s strangling government’s ability to respond to other national problems and priorities, because the constituencies for welfare benefits, led by Social Security’s 57 million, are more numerous and powerful than their competitors for federal support. Politicians of both parties are loath to challenge these large, expectant and generally sympathetic groups.

With this as the depressing backdrop, here is Steve O’s excellent Comment of the Day on the post, It’s Time To Play The Exciting New Broadcast Media Ethics Game, “Biased, Lazy, or Incompetent!”: Continue reading

10 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Government & Politics, History, Leadership, U.S. Society, War and the Military

Unethical Quote Of The Week: President Barack Obama

mars3

“The government should know that if it crosses the line, there will be consequences.”

President Obama, in Mexico, in the course of  extemporaneous remarks condemning the Ukrianian government’s harsh and violent response to protesters.

Oh, god.

I am embarrassed; our country is embarrassed; I hope you’re embarrassed—why isn’t the President embarrassed to use this rhetoric, which has been proven again and again to be absolutely meaningless when it issues from his lips? This sham is worse than “the check is in the mail” or “I’ll still love you in the morning,” as Syrian casualties rise and the United States’ credibility as a nation that really gives a damn about anything but its own entitlements has crumbled into dust. Remember the Syrian “red line”? Here are two recent columns from the right and the left on how well Obama’s empty threats of “consequences” have worked in Syria, but nobody needs persuading at this point, do they? President Obama is willing to give insincere lip service to the tradition of the United States still being the champion of democracy and the foe of oppression, but people under attack from their own governments can’t defend themselves with his lips. In Afghanistan, in Iran, in Egypt, in Syria, President Obama has made it abundantly clear that he is under the mistaken impression that Teddy Roosevelt said “Speak incessantly but never actually do what your words imply you’re going to do.”

That’s not exactly what Roosevelt said. Continue reading

22 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Character, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, Leadership, War and the Military

Pete Seeger Was No Hero, But That’s OK

“Was Pete political? Of course,” wrote singer Tom Paxton in a featured Washington Post salute to folk legend Pete Seeger, who died this week at the age of 94.“He was political as Walt Whitman was political, as Clarence Darrow and Woody Guthrie were political; as, for that matter, all of us should be political. He felt that ordinary people deserved protection from bullies of all stripes and his was the gift of being able to express this belief in music and in the way he lived his life.”

Reading Paxton’s dewy-eyed remembrance and the formal obituaries and tributes from most of the news media, one would never suspect that Pete’s belief in protection against all bullies didn’t stop him from being a fervent supporter of and an apologist for one of the worst bullies in human history, Josef Stalin, and not just momentarily, but for most of Seeger’s life. The fact that supposed news organizations nearly unanimously decided to gloss over that element of Seeger’s legacy tells us a lot about the Left, our journalists, bias….but not a lot about Pete Seeger.

If I followed my heart and my tapping foot but not my brain (and if all I knew about Pete was what I read in the newspapers and read from my theater colleagues on Facebook—And only in our Orwellian reality would someone of such incomparable achievement, one who displayed such overwhelming humanity, have been held in contempt of congress. An inspiring life,” wrote one, who should know better), I would have made Seeger an Ethics Hero Emeritus. He had some notable heroic moments, as when he stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee, refusing to take the Fifth Amendment while defying the Committee in defense of the First, and getting himself cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted as a result. I was thrilled and proud of him in 1968, when fresh off the blacklist he appeared on the Smothers Brothers show and sang his “Big Muddy” song (which you can watch above) with anger and passion, condemning the Vietnam war in metaphor and calling LBJ a fool on national television at a time when such a direct insult against the President was taboo. I didn’t even completely agree with Seeger at the time, but this was brave protest art at its finest and most effective.

If only the hypocrisy of continuing to support a system of government and a regime that tolerated no freedom of speech and that would have squashed a protester like Seeger as if he were a maggot had occurred to the folk singer while he was doing these things. But it did not. Folk singers tend to be like that, and Pete Seeger, one of the greatest folk singers, was more like that than any of them. Continue reading

45 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society, War and the Military

What A Great Title!

bradley_manning

The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure!

Published by the Defense Department, it doesn’t actually include all ethical failures (you can imagine what keeping that publication up to date would be like), but it is fascinating, illuminating and depressing reading nonetheless.

And, since it was published in 2012, it needs updating too. 2013 was not a good year.

 

15 Comments

Filed under Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, War and the Military

Unethical Website Of The Month: Ranker

"One of these things is not like the others..."

“One of these things is not like the others…”

Lists, especially stupid celebrity lists (Worst plastic surgery…Most overpaid…Actors with famous siblings…Actresses with high IQs) are a staple of the internet, and there are sites like Cracked (which does them well), Buzzfeed (which occasionally does) and Bleacher Report (which is sloppy unless it is doing lists of hot women, in which case it is just undiscriminating) that often appear to do little else. That’s fine; everything on the web doesn’t have to be edifying, profound or useful. Still, there are some basic rules of competence and responsibility even in list-making on the web. One is that as with any conduct involving the conveyance of information, do your homework and don’t mislead readers or  create misconceptions.

Another is that when you are dealing with individuals to whom you owe your nation’s very existence and who are as superior to you as a human being as you are to an anteater, show some damn respect.

Ranker, a second tier list site apparently operated by junior high school drop-outs (but whose lists are “recommended” by more respectable and heavily trafficked sites like Mediaite and The Daily Beast) failed these two essential principles with their offensive list, “33 Celebrities Who Have Killed People,” introduced with this:

“…Many celebrities were involved in tragic accidents that resulted in deaths, while others committed cold-blooded murder. Some celebs have served time in prison stemming from convictions, and others have gotten away with murder; sure, maybe they were wrongly accused, or maybe they just had great lawyers. Several famous people were involved in deadly car accidents. Former First Lady Laura Bush missed a stop sign and slammed her car into another vehicle, accidentally killing her friend who was driving the other car. She was in high school at the time of the accident. Other celebs who killed people in car accidents include Keith Moon, Ted Kennedy, and Rebecca Gayheart. What do you think about all the celebrities who have killed someone?” Continue reading

54 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Heroes, History, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, The Internet, Unethical Websites, War and the Military

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

44 Comments

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

Natasha Leggero’s Stand: Protecting The Jester’s Privilege

 

"Sing what you like, Fool. Just make sure I laugh."

“Sing what you like, Fool. Just make sure I laugh.”

In days of old when knights were bold, it is said, the King’s Fool was able to safely say outrageous, disrespectful things to the sovereign that might get anyone else drawn and quartered. This lucky exemption came to be known as the Jester’s Privilege, and it existed, and exists, for valid reasons. Humor, satire and all the other permutations of comedy are essential to societal sanity, and it makes sense to give the broadest discretion to practitioners of the craft in their efforts to provoke laughter—which is, as Reader’s Digest still reminds us monthly, “the best medicine.” That means that comics should not fear decapitation if their inspiration of the moment fails to provoke the desired mirth, or touches an audience member’s sensitive areas. In addition, the jester is sometimes able to expose a truth that will not be reached any other way.

It sounds like a good rule, and it is a good rule, but as with most ethics-related rules, applying it is difficult. Who gets the Jester’s Privilege…only professional comics, or does it apply to amateurs too? What about non-jesters just trying to be funny? “It was just a joke!” is a classic excuse invoked by insensitive and vicious people, including politicians, when they say something outrageous, as they try to use the privilege without a license, and in so doing, make it less effective for the humorists who really need its protection. Not everyone should assume that they have the full armor of the Jester’s Privilege. Mockery and ridicule are too often used as political weapons of targeted destruction.

Should some subjects be exempt from the Jester’s Privilege? The official position of comics, comedians, wags and wits has long been “No,” but even in Ye Olde Days, jesters sometimes went too far, and ended up with their heads on pikes. The problem any humorless king had after doing this, of course, was finding a jester willing to hazard a joke more edgy than “Why did the king cross the road?” For that reason, I think it’s vital that the Jester’s Privilege be strong and a near absolute. The sin that matters is not being funny, which means topics of unusual sensitivity take care of themselves.For centuries, for example, comics imitated and mocked those afflicted with speech impediments, especially stuttering, with big laughs guaranteed. Somewhere along the line, though, Porky Pig stopped being funny. The absence of laughs was enough to retire him; no heads had to roll.

On NBC’s New Year’s Eve show, the following exchange occurred between host Carson Daly, comic actress Jane Lynch and rising comedienne Natasha Leggero:

CARSON DALY: SpaghettiOs on Pearl Harbor Day, they sent out a tweet featuring their mascot holding an American flag asking people to quote “take a moment to remember #PearlHarbor with us.” It offended a lot of people, corporations glomming on to, you know, sentimental American historic traditions, seemingly looking for people in business. It wasn’t good. But you were offended for another reason.

JANE LYNCH: I’m offended because they were referring to SpaghettiOs as pasta.

NATASHA LEGGERO: I mean, it sucks that the only survivors of Pearl Harbor are being mocked by the only food they can still chew. It’s just sad.

Hilarity ensued, as the NBC gang laughed uproariously. Almost immediately, Leggero was getting flamed all over the social media and the wbs for denigrating the Greatest Generation. Steve Martin, I assume, would have humbled himself and apologized immediately, but not Leggero. Continue reading

20 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, History, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture, Professions, The Internet, U.S. Society, War and the Military