Tag Archives: courage

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 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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Ethics Audit: Write Your Own Obituary

The late, brave James Rebhorn

The late, brave James Rebhorn

It makes little sense, as I am backed up by about 30 rich ethics stories with more arising every hour, it seems, to publish this now, as it has languished forgotten in my files for almost a year. Yet I was watching “My Cousin Vinnie”—if it’s on TV, I’ll watch it every time—and I remembered that this was there, so I went to my computer files and read it again.

James Rebhorn was in the movie, you see. He was a good, solid, successful, working actor,  one of those familar and anonymous performers like Whit Bissell, whose face you recognize from hundreds of movies and TV shows playing fathers, doctors, bureaucrats, Congressmen, never in roles very large or central to the plot, always credible and well. In “Vinnie,” he played the prosecution’s expert witness on cars and tires before Marrissa Tomei stolethe movie. He’s the slimy Secretary of Defense who gets fired in “Independence Day;” he was Claire Danes’ father on “Homeland,” until he died last year.

James Rebhorn was a year older than I am today when he lost his 20 year battle with melanoma. Before he died, Rebhorn wrote his own obituary. It’s not a confessional or a stunt: it’s a genuine obituary, though it slights most of the career achievements that appeared in his obituaries published online and in various newspapers. I wonder, though, what he learned from the exercise. Having to write your own obituary must be terrifying, but perhaps only slightly more terrifying than writing it at all. What has your life amounted to? Who has made a difference in your life?  What are you proud of, and what really mattered in your life? What have you learned, and what do you regret?

And what will you never, never write down for all to read, because it’s just too painful to read yourself? Continue reading

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A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 4 and Final): The Wild, Wild Ride From FDR to W.

smiling-presidents

All of the Presidents (except FDR) in this last section were alive and kicking while I was, and so to me they are both more real and less fascinating to some extent. Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, a tendency not to idealize. These leaders are no more flawed than their predecessors, they just seem that way thanks to mass media.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Roosevelt

Three terms plus, a World War, a Depression, a transformative Presidency and an epic life spent in public service: FDR is another President who can’t be summed up in an anecdote, one book, or a hundred. He accomplished enough great things to be a deserving icon; he committed enough wrongs to be judged a villain. (He was pretty clearly a sociopath, but a lot of great leaders are, including a fair proportion of ours, including some of the best.) The only completely unfair verdict on this Roosevelt is not to acknowledge the importance and complexity of his life. Here are some of my favorite items about him:

  • FDR wrote down a plan when he was still in school outlining the best way for him to become President. The plan was essentially to follow his distant cousin Theodore’s career steps: Harvard, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, Vice-Presidential candidate, and President. (He skipped “Rough Rider.”) Amazingly, he followed it, and it worked.
  • Conventional wisdom holds that FDR’s polio transformed his character, and that without that crisis and challenge he would have been content to be a rich dilettante. I doubt it, but there is no question that he fits the Presidential survivor template, and that his ordeal made him stronger, more formidable and more determined.
  • Many Presidents had strong mothers, especially, for some reason, many of our Chief Executives from Roosevelt to Obama. Franklin’s mom, however, wins the prize. It’s amazing Eleanor didn’t murder her. But Mrs. Roosevelt is why Eleanor was there in the first place: all of our Presidents raised by strong mothers married very strong wives.
  • If a computer program were designed to create the perfect American leader, it would give us FDR. He was the complete package; his charisma, charm and power radiate from recordings and films that are 90 years old. That smile! That chin! That head! That voice! He is one of the very few Presidents who would be just as  popular and effective today as the era in which he lived.
  • And just as dangerous. FDR is also a template for an American dictator, which, I believe, he would have been perfectly willing to be. It’s no coincidence that Franklin was the only President to break Washington’s wise tradition of leaving office after two terms.
  • Political and philosophical arguments aside, at least four of Roosevelt actions as President were horrific, and would sink the reputation of most leaders: 1) Imprisoning Japanese-Americans (and German-Americans, too); 2) Ignoring the plight of European Jews as long as he did, when it should have been clear what was going on; 3) Handing over Eastern Europe to Stalin, and 4) Knowing how sick he was, giving little thought or care to who his running mate was in 1944.
  • Balancing all that, indeed outweighing it, is the fact that the United States of America and quite possibly the free world might not exist today if this unique and gifted leader were not on the scene. Three times in our history, the nation’s existence depended on not just good leadership, but extraordinary leadership, and all three times, the leader we needed emerged: Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin. I wouldn’t count on us being that lucky again.

I left the bulk of reflection about the character and leadership style of Theodore Roosevelt to one of Teddy’s own speeches to embody, and I’ll do the same for his protege.

On September 23, 1932, New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech at Manhattan’s Commonwealth Club. (Everyone, conservative, liberal or moderate, should read it….here.) It was a defining statement of progressive principles and modern liberalism, redefining core American values according to the perceived needs of a changing nation and culture.  It is a radical speech, and would be regarded as radical by many today, even after much of what Roosevelt argued was reflected in the policies of the New Deal.

After sketching the origins and progress of the nation to the present, he flatly stated that the Founders’ assumptions no longer applied:

A glance at the situation today only too clearly indicates that equality of opportunity as we have know it no longer exists. Our industrial plant is built; the problem just now is whether under existing conditions it is not overbuilt. Our last frontier has long since been reached, and there is practically no more free land. More than half of our people do not live on the farms or on lands and cannot derive a living by cultivating their own property. There is no safety valve in the form of a Western prairie to which those thrown out of work by the Eastern economic machines can go for a new start. We are not able to invite the immigration from Europe to share our endless plenty. We are now providing a drab living for our own people….

Just as freedom to farm has ceased, so also the opportunity in business has narrowed. It still is true that men can start small enterprises, trusting to native shrewdness and ability to keep abreast of competitors; but area after area has been preempted altogether by the great corporations, and even in the fields which still have no great concerns, the small man starts with a handicap. The unfeeling statistics of the past three decades show that the independent business man is running a losing race. Perhaps he is forced to the wall; perhaps he cannot command credit; perhaps he is “squeezed out,” in Mr. Wilson’s words, by highly organized corporate competitors, as your corner grocery man can tell you.

Recently a careful study was made of the concentration of business in the United States. It showed that our economic life was dominated by some six hundred odd corporations who controlled two-thirds of American industry. Ten million small business men divided the other third. More striking still, it appeared that if the process of concentration goes on at the same rate, at the end of another century we shall have all American industry controlled by a dozen corporations, and run by perhaps a hundred men. Put plainly, we are steering a steady course toward economic oligarchy, if we are not there already.

Clearly, all this calls for a re-appraisal of values.

So Franklin Roosevelt re-appraised them: Continue reading

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A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 1): I Love These Guys, I Really Do. Yes, Every One Of Them.

Hall of the Presidents

I have a lifetime love affair with the Presidents of the United States.

I love these guys, every one of them. The best of them are among the most skilled and courageous leaders in world history; the least of them took more risks and sacrificed more for their country than any of us ever can or will, including me. Every one of our Presidents, whatever their blunders, flaws and bad choices, was a remarkable and an accomplished human being, and exemplified the people he led in important ways. Every one of them accepted not only the burden of leadership, but the almost unbearable burden of leading the most dynamic, ambitious, confusing, cantankerous and often unappreciative nation that has ever existed. I respect that and honor it.

I have been a President junkie since I was eight years old. It’s Robert Ripley’s fault. My father bought an old, dog-eared paperback in the “Believe it or Not!” series and gave it to me. It was published in 1948. One of Ripley’s entries was about the “Presidents Curse”: every U.S. President elected in a year ending with a zero since 1840 (William Henry Harrison) had died in office, and only one President who had dies in office, Zachary Taylor, hadn’t been elected in such a year. The cartoon featured a creep chart—I still have it—listing the names of the dead Presidents, the years they were elected, and the year 1960 with ???? next to it. When Jack Kennedy, the youngest President ever elected, won the office in 1960, my Dad, who by that time was sick of me reminding him of the uncanny pattern, said, “Well, son, so much for Ripley’s curse!”

You know what happened. (John Hinckley almost kept the curse going, but Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, finally broke it.) That year I became obsessed with Presidential history, devising a lecture that gave an overview of the men and their significance in order. My teacher allowed me to inflict it on my classmates.  Much later, Presidential leadership and character was the topic of my honors thesis in college. When I finally got a chance to go to Disneyland, the first place I went was the Hall of Presidents. When the recorded announcer said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Presidents of the United States!” and the red curtain parted to show the audio-animatrons of all of them together, it was one of the biggest thrills of my life.

Today I will honor our past Presidents with some of my favorite facts about each of them, trying hard not to get carried away. Is it ethics? It’s leadership, which has always been the dominant sub-topic here, but yes, it’s ethics.  I know I’m hard on our Presidents, as I think we all should be: supportive, loyal, but demanding and critical. I am also, however, cognizant of how much they give to the country and their shared determination to do what they think, rightly or wrongly, is in the country’s best long-term interests. File this post under respect, fairness, gratitude, and especially citizenship. And now…

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Presidents of the United States!

Continue reading

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The Sixth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2014

abstract door grand jury room

The Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics 2014—sorry for the tardiness— are about 30% of the length of the Worst. Does this mean that the nation and the culture, not to mention the world, are doomed?

Not necessarily. I am well aware that most of the country is ethical, substantially fair and honest, diligent, and embodies ethical values in their every day dealings with you and me, and the world. We primarily hear, and to some extent, take note of, the corrupt, the irresponsible, the manipulative, the untrustworthy and the foolish. The Best Ethics list is smaller in part because only exemplary ethics gets publicity. I also should note that calling attention to unethical conduct and discussing it often does more to advance the mission of Ethics Alarms than confirming that right is right, though I sure wish there was more exemplary ethics to celebrate. Maybe the dearth of award winners here is my fault, and the result of my biases.

Boy, I hope so.

Here are the 2014 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:

The Ferguson grand jury resisted public and media pressure to deliver a verdict of no indictment against police officer Darren Wilson, upholding the integrity of the justice system despite the injection of emotion, politics and race into a tragic incident where none of these belonged. Though the available evidence could never have supported a guilty verdict, it would have been easy and popular for the grand jury to make Wilson stand trial anyway, just as George Zimmerman did. Their reward has been to be attacked as fools and racists, but they did the right thing, when the wrong thing must have seemed very attractive.

Outstanding Ethical Leadership

The New York Yankees. (Bear with me now.) The Yankees are the most famous team in professional sports in the biggest sports market in the world. They make money without even trying. Yet when the team had a bad year and missed the play-offs in 2013, it committed nearly a billion dollars to re-building the team, a move that only makes sense in the quest to win games, not to maximize profit. Thus they prominently chose loyalty, mission and sportsmanship over greed. (The Yankees still missed the play-offs in 2014, too.) Then all year long the team placed a spotlight on Derek Jeter, their retiring hero, whose career and character single-handedly refutes the cynicism of sports critics fed up with the lack of character displayed by the Armstrongs, the Rices, the ARods, the Belichicks, the Winstons, the Paternos, and so many, many others. Finally, when two New York City police officers were assassinated after Al Sharpton, and the “Hands Up!” protestors, with the city’s own mayor’s support, had vilified the profession as violent, racist and untrustworthy, who will pay for the fallen officers’ children to go to college? The New York Yankees’ Silver Shield Foundation.  Add charity, compassion, civic duty and gratitude to the list of ethics values the New Your baseball club modeled for us. I know it seems odd and even trivial to follow up last year’s winner in this category—the Pope— with a sports franchise, but to paraphrase Babe Ruth’s famous rejoinder when the Yankees balked at his salary demands in 1930, saying he wanted to be paid more than then-President Herbert Hoover (“I had a better year that Hoover!”), the Yankees has a better year than the Pope.

Outstanding Sportsmanship

Jose Altuve, Houston Astros secondbaseman and American League batting champ….the right way. He began the final day of the 2014 season hitting .340, three points ahead of the Tigers’ Victor Martinez. If Altuve didn’t play in Houston’s meaningless last game, Martinez would have to go 3-for-3 to pass him, giving the DH a narrow .3407 average compared with Altuve’s .3399. By playing, Altuve risked lowering his average, providing Martinez with a better chance of winning the batting championship. Many players in the past have sat out their final game or games to “back in” to the prize, rather than give the fans a chance to watch a head to head battle injecting some much-needed drama into the expiring season.  Altuve, however, gave Martinez his shot. He played the whole game, had two hits in his four at-bats, and won the American League batting title on the field, not on the bench, as Martinez went hitless. The conduct, simple as it was, embodied fairness, integrity, courage, respect for an opponent, and most of all, respect for the game.

Best Apology

JESSICA_URBINA

 The Level #1 apology, according to the Ethics Alarms Apology scale, issued by Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco.The school had cruelly and needless embarrassed graduating senior Jessica Urbina (above), rejecting her inclusion in the yearbook because she chose to be photographed in a tuxedo rather than a dress, as the school’s dress code, which had not been previously made clear, demanded. I wrote…

“The rule is sexist, archaic, unthinking, prejudicial, arbitrary, cruel and wrong. The best way to change a rule that is sexist, archaic, unthinking, prejudicial, arbitrary, cruel and wrong is to break it, and see if those in charge have the sense and compassion to do the right thing. The administrators of Sacred Heart Cathedral High School flunked. I doubt that Jessica was even trying to provoke a confrontation: like any normal student, she wanted her image in the most important piece of memorabilia of her high school years to accurately portray her as she was, not as some alien ideal dictated by the Catholic Church. There was nothing to be achieved by banning the photo.”

The school reversed itself with grace and compassion. The apology is long, but a more humble or complete one would be unachievable. It achieved an ethical end to an ugly episode. You can read it here. Runner up: Writer Henry Rollins lovely and wrenching apology for his initial reaction to Robin Williams’ suicide.

Hero of the Year

Michael DeBeyer.  De Beyer has decided to sell his restaurant, which he opened more than 15 years ago and is worth an estimated  $2 million, to pay for whatever medical treatments are necessary to save the life of Brittany Mathis, 19. Brittany works for De Beyer at his Kaiserhof Restaurant and Biergarten in Montgomery, Texas, and  learned, in December 2013, that she has a 1.5 inch brain tumor.  She couldn’t afford the operation to find out whether the tumor was benign or malignant, and didn’t have health insurance. “I couldn’t live with myself; I would never be happy just earning money from my restaurant knowing that she needs help,” Michael told local reporters.

That’s what makes ethics heroes; really, really loud ethics alarms, combined with courage and caring.

Parent of the Year

NBA Star Kevin Durant’s Mom.

Most Ethical Celebrity

Matthew McConaughey. In a field notably sparse on exemplary ethics by celebrities, the 2013 Oscar winner for Best Actor stands out for a speech that was inspirational, thoughtful, and rife with ethics wisdom. It is worth recalling. Here it is:

Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to the Academy for this—all 6,000 members. Thank you to the other nominees. All these performances were impeccable in my opinion. I didn’t see a false note anywhere. I want to thank Jean-Marc Vallée, our director. Want to thank Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, who I worked with daily.

There’s a few things, about three things to my account that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase. Now, first off, I want to thank God. ‘Cause that’s who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, “When you’ve got God, you got a friend. And that friend is you.”

To my family, that who and what I look forward to. To my father who, I know he’s up there right now with a big pot of gumbo. He’s got a lemon meringue pie over there. He’s probably in his underwear. And he’s got a cold can of Miller Lite and he’s dancing right now. To you, Dad, you taught me what it means to be a man. To my mother who’s here tonight, who taught me and my two older brothers… demanded that we respect ourselves. And what we in turn learned was that we were then better able to respect others. Thank you for that, Mama. To my wife, Camila, and my kids Levi, Vida and Mr. Stone, the courage and significance you give me every day I go out the door is unparalleled. You are the four people in my life that I want to make the most proud of me. Thank you.

And to my hero. That’s who I chase. Now when I was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come to me and say “who’s your hero?” And I said, “I don’t know, I gotta think about that. Give me a couple of weeks.” I come back two weeks later, this person comes up and says “who’s your hero?” I said, “I thought about it. You know who it is? It’s me in 10 years.” So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, “So, are you a hero?” And I was like, “not even close. No, no, no.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because my hero’s me at 35.” So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away. I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.

So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasing, to that I say, “Amen.” To that I say, “Alright, alright, alright.” To that I say “just keep living.” Thank you.

Most Principled Politician

Thomas Menino

The late Thomas Menino, Boston’s beloved Democratic mayor for two decades (the longest in tenure in the city’s history), who retired last January and  died of cancer nine months later. Somehow I missed giving him the ethics send-off he deserved. Amazingly, he was the first Italian-American mayor in Boston’s history: the job has always been won by the city’s Irish machine. While mayors around the nation were embroiled in scandals and embarrassments, Menino undeniably improved the city, led it admirably in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and left office with the admiration of conservatives as well as liberals despite being an aggressive agent of progressive policies.  His passion caused him to make some ethical missteps, such as joining other liberal mayors in telling Chick-Fil-A that it “wasn’t welcome” in Boston because of its owner’s anti-gay marriage sentiments. He joined Michael Bloomberg in creating Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and must share responsibility for some of the dubious tactics and misrepresentations of that organization. He also had a scandal or two involving political favors, but in 20 years, by my count, he had fewer than most Boston mayors had every year. In 2012, polls found that he had an approval rating over 80%, and left his position more popular than he entered it.  Boston is liberal, but it isn’t that liberal.

Most Ethical Company

Don’t ever let me do that again.

I just reviewed over a hundred posts about businesses and corporations from last year, and not one of them celebrated ethical conduct. The closest was, believe it or not, the Washington Redskins, for having the guts, orneriness and principles to stand against the forces of censorship and political correctness to refuse to change the name of their team and organization. It has been targeted as a symbolic scalp that race-baiters, grievance-hucksters and progressive bullies are determined to have hanging from their belts; the opponents of the team have recruited the U.S. government, and the pressure is tremendous. It would be so easy to change the name now, when support for the perpetually rotten team is at low ebb in Washington, D.C., but the principle is worth the battle. However, my gag reflex will not allow me to give this award to an NFL team, since by definition it must be engaged in so much else that is wrong.

So for a second straight year I’m going to send you to Ethisphere’s list of the most ethical companies in the world. Their criteria isn’t mine, but there’s got to be a genuinely ethical company of two on there somewhere. Let me know if you find it. Continue reading

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Some Final, Hard Words Before Kick-off

cteliving

I made this comment to the main post on the Super Bowl, and decided that the point is important enough to elaborate on a bit and post here.

I’ve  become depressed talking to people on Facebook and elsewhere about the post. They don’t even pretend to have a real argument. Some fall back on the same rationalizations I explored in the post: one guy on Facebook’s rejoinder consisted of writing, “why worry about this when Congress and the White House are full of liars.” And people “liked” that response, which makes no sense at all.  The rest of the determined Super Bowl fans say, “Yeah, you’re right, but I like football and don’t want to think about it.”  That just is not a rational, ethical response to learning that your support is perpetuating a corrupt system that is exploiting and hurting people. It isn’t.

The NFL is not on the same scale of evil as slavery (yeah, I know, but we need the slaves to keep our lifestyle, so I don’t want to think about it) or the Holocaust (Yeah, but I don’t know any Jews, and the country’s doing well, so I don’t want to think about it) or a daughter-molesting husband (Yeah, but he’s a good provider, and I love him, so I don’t want to think about it). Sure, this is a game, but the process of self-delusion, corruption and passive acceptance of evil is exactly the same. Tell me how it isn’t.

And you know, it takes a lot less sacrifice to stop making it profitable for the NFL to lie and pay young men unto dementia and suicide than it did to reject slavery in the South, or Nazism in Germany, or even for an abused wife to report her husband for raping their daughter…because it is just a game. You can live a very happy life, a full life, a fun life, without the NFL being part of it. It’s corrupting American society and you. Don’t you they see that?

I guess slavery and the Holocaust didn’t have cool commercials, so that’s something…

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Watching The Super Bowl Is Unethical. You Know That, Right?

Super2015

I was going to call this post “Ten Reasons Why Watching The Super Bowl Is Unethical,” then “TOP Ten Reasons Why Watching The Super Bowl Is Unethical.” Ethical people should only need one good reason though, and while you can rationalize it away to slave your conscience and to avoid having to renege on that RSVP to tomorrow’s Super Bowl party, it is there, undeniable, and ugly.

So you don’t even have to argue that the fact that the most successful NFL team for more than a decade is also the one repeatedly caught cheating is irrelevant because “everybody does it,” or that the large number of felons, thugs and spouse abusers the teams employ (one ex-player—why, a Patriots’ ex player, in fact!—just went on trial for murder) doesn’t matter because the players aren’t really role models, or that the fact that the NFL corrupts and warps our universities by turning them into football’s minor leagues is overstated because such scandals as the University of North Carolina conspiring to let athletes take imaginary courses aren’t really the NFL’s fault. All you have to do is accept the fact that when you support the NFL, it’s TV ratings and the companies that profit from them, you are not merely killing people, you are cheering while you do it.

Disgusting.

What the hell’s the matter with you?

Yesterday I rewatched the 2013 PBS Frontline documentary, “League of Denial.” (That’s the link to the video; the transcript is here.) It was more horrifying the second time, especially in view of how the NFL has managed to stonewall, tap-dance and delay its way through another season without seriously admitting the extent of its head injury problem. One could even argue that the Ray Rice fiasco and other scandals helped the NFL by deflecting attention away from its biggest ethical deficit. Today, CNN, which is duly promoting the Super Bowl all weekend, reported on Roger Goodell’s “state of the NFL” press conference. It didn’t mention the concussion issue at all, just spousal abuse. It’s working, Roger!

As thoroughly and irrefutable shown by the documentary and the book it was based on, football causes dementia and death. The earlier you start playing it, the worse the effects are. The NFL has systematically waged a public relations war of denial and deception, taking carefully calculated half-measures that will not address the problem, relying on America’s love of the game to allow the industry to continue making billions by paying young men to maim themselves. In hearings before Congress, U.S. representatives compared the NFL to cigarette manufacturers denying that cigarettes were addictive and that they caused health problems. The comparison is fair, but once the truth was known about tobacco, the non-smoking public quickly realized that it shouldn’t be cheering lung cancer on. Cigarette ads on TV were banned; programs that children watched were pressured to avoid showing characters smoking. But then, nobody gets a visceral rush watching human beings slowly kill themselves by puffing away: is that the difference? As long as you get a kick out of the process of athletes turning themselves into future drug addicts, depressives, neglectful fathers, abusive husbands, drooling imbeciles and suicides, it’s okay to keep watching and cheering?

Keep telling yourself that. It’s intellectually lazy and ethical abdication, and that’s all it is. Watching the Super Bowl can’t be wrong because so many people do it, right? You know, since you’re here, what’s the matter with that argument.

You can also try the argument that the players are accepting the risk, so it’s OK for you to encourage them, in fact help pay them to liquify their brains for your amusement. That would be employing three more rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms Hit Parade: Continue reading

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