Tag Archives: courage

Ethics Quiz: Second Thoughts About An Ethics Hero Emeritus

challenger-shuttle-disaster-crew

I periodically read random posts here from years ago, to check and see if I would make a different analysis today, and why. It almost never happens, which is good: though I may not trace all of the steps in every post, the systems, methods, models, values and priorities I use to assess various events and scenarios are established and consistent. I also check older posts when I am uncertain about a new version of an issue I have addressed before. Again, I am almost always struck by how closely my thinking then matches my approach now. I am also often struck by the fact that I don’t recall writing the earlier post at all. There are over 6000 of them, so I don’t feel too senile.

Today, however, I read this NPR story, about a previously unnamed engineer at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol who had been interviewed, with a promise of not being named, by NPR after the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded, 30 years ago. Now Bob Ebeling has finally come forward publicly, and allowed his name to be attached to his tragic story.The night before the launch, he and four other engineers had tried to stop it, because the weather was too cold—it was the coldest launch ever— and their research told them that that the rubber seals on the shuttle’s booster rockets wouldn’t function properly in the extreme temperatures. They begged for the launch to be postponed, but their supervisors and NASA overruled them.

That night, Ebeling told his wife, Darlene, “It’s going to blow up.” It did.

“I was one of the few that was really close to the situation,” Ebeling told NPR. “Had they listened to me and wait[ed] for a weather change, it might have been a completely different outcome…NASA ruled the launch. They had their mind set on going up and proving to the world they were right and they knew what they were doing. But they didn’t.”

Thirty years ago, when Ebeling didn’t want his name used or his voice recorded,  he said he feared losing his job but that,”I think the truth has to come out.” After the interview, the investigations, and the law suits, he left the company and suffered from depression and guilt that has lasted to this day. He told NPR that in 1986, as he watched that horrible video again on TV, he thought, “I could have done more. I should have done more.”

Reading and listening to the NPR story, I agreed with him. He should have done more. I was about to write a post from that perspective, when I realized I had not only written about another engineer who had tried to delay the launch, but inducted him into the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor. His name was Roger Boisjoly, and of him I wrote in part…

Six months before the Challenger disaster, he wrote a memo to his bosses at Thiokol predicting”a catastrophe of the highest order” involving “loss of human life.” He had identified a flaw in the elastic seals at the joints of the multi-stage booster rockets: they tended to stiffen and unseal in cold weather.  NASA’s shuttle launch schedule included winter lift-offs, and Boisjoly  warned his company that send the Shuttle into space at low temperatures was too risky. On January 27, 1986, the day before the scheduled launch of the Challenger, Boisjoly and his colleague Allan J. McDonald argued for hours with NASA officials to persuade NASA to delay the launch, only to be over-ruled, first by NASA, then by Thiokol, which deferred to its client.

And the next day, on a clear and beautiful morning, the Shuttle’s rocket exploded after take-off, killing the crew of seven and mortally wounding the space program.

My ethics verdict then? This:

“Can we accurately call Roger Boisjoly an Ethics Hero, even though he didn’t stop the launch? I usually don’t like to call people heroes for doing their jobs. If Thiokol and NASA had behaved ethically, competently and rationally, we would not know anything about his memo or him. He did the right things, as his duties demanded. He alerted management to a deadly problem in plenty of time to address it. When they went forward, he argued and protested, until the decision was final. Afterwards, he told the truth to investigators, so the decision-making problems could be addressed. In his world, in that bureaucracy, this—doing his duty, doing the right thing—took courage. He knew, I am certain, that his career would suffer as a result of his actions. Yes, that makes Roger Boisjoly an ethics hero.”

If Boisjoly was a hero, then so is Ebeling, though Boisjoly spent the rest of his professional life lecturing at engineering schools around the world on ethical decision-making, trying to prevent future disasters.

So please help me resolve a Present Jack vs. Past Jack conflict, by considering this Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

Are Bob Ebeling and Roger Boisjoly really heroes?

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Heroes, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Government & Politics, History, Science & Technology, Workplace

KABOOM! The School System “Applauds The Efforts Of Students Who Act In Good Faith To Assist Others In Times Of Need” And Is Therefore Exacting Punishment So They Know Never To Do It Again

HeadExplode3

I swear, I didn’t believe I heard this right. There was an earlier story about a student who was punished for letting an asthmatic classmate use her inhaler, and I thought this was the same one. But no. Now my head is all over the place, and I am once again rejoicing at our decision to pull our son out of those dens of incompetence, abuse, indoctrination and confusion known as “the public schools.”

Anthony Ruelas, an eighth-grade student at Gateway Middle School in Killeen, Texas, watched as a classmate announced that she was having trouble breathing, gasped for about three minutes, and fell to the floor. The teacher emailed the school nurse, which is apparently the policy now. At least she didn’t sent a fax. Or a carrier pigeon.

Be still, my ticking head…

She ordered students to remain calm and stay in their seats, as they watched the girl struggle to breath like a goldfish out of its bowl.

Anthony, however, decided that his classmate needed immediate help, so he picked her up and carried her to the nurse’s office.

And was suspended from school for two days.  School district superintendent John Craft did say in a statement that the district “applauds the efforts of students who act in good faith to assist others in times of need.” Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Kaboom!

The Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2015, Part II

DavisHand

The Awards continue (Part I is here)….

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:

The US Supreme Court’s Decision in  Obergefell v. Hodges in which the Supreme Court considered whether states had to recognize a right to same-sex marriages, and narrowly decided that they must. The prejudice against homosexuality is ancient, deep, and complex, mixed up in confounding ways with morality and religion, and deeply divisive. Nonetheless, I felt that the opinion should have been unanimous; it’s a shame that it was not, but in the end, this will not matter. The result was preordained from the moment gays began coming out of the shadows and asserting their humanity and human rights. Since the Stonewall riot, the nation and the culture has learned a great deal about the number of talented and productive gay men and women in our society and our history, the pain, ostracizing, discrimination and mistreatment they have suffered, and the falseness of the myths and fears that lead to this suffering.  In the end, as Clarence Darrow said about blacks, it is human beings, not law, that will make gays equal. No topic immediately causes such emotional and intense debate, on this blog or in society, as this one, but the Supreme Court’s decision is a major step toward changing the ethical culture, by asserting  that gay men and women have the same rights,  in the eyes of the state, to marry those they love and want to build a life with, and by implication, that the beliefs of any religion regarding them or their marriages cannot eliminate that right.

Outstanding Ethical Leadership

Senator Rand Paul.   I am neither a Rand Paul supporter, nor an admirer, nor a fan.  However, his June filibuster-like Senate speech against National Security Agency counter-terrorism surveillance was a brave, principled,  important act, and a great public service. The point Paul made needs to be made again, and again, and again:  there is no reason to trust the NSA, and no reason to trust the current federal government either. The fact that on security matters we have no real choice is frightening and disheartening, but nevertheless, no American should be comfortable with his or her private communications, activities and other personal matters being tracked by the NSA, which has proven itself incompetent, dishonest, an untrustworthy.

 

Parent of the Year

Tonya Graham

Toya Graham, the Baltimore mother caught on video as she berated and beat on her son in the street for participating in the Freddie Gray rioting and looting. Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce: Petula Dvorak (And Introducing The New Ethics Alarms Term, “Dvorak”

Congratualtions, Petula! Now you're a word---I mean, in addition to "Idiot"...

Congratulations, Petula! Now you’re a word—I mean, in addition to “Idiot”

Washington Post Metro columnist Petula Dvorak just modeled hypocrisy, stupidity and willful complicity with irresponsible public policy and exploitation. Her sole justification is “everybody’s doing it.” She apparently thinks this is funny. It’s not. It’s typical human conduct, but there’s nothing funny about it. It’s tragic.

In a column yesterday titled, “I despise lotteries, but I bought four Powerball tickets anyway,” Dvorak, who has been justly scorned on Ethics Alarms for ethics idiocy before, goes to great length to describe what is wrong with state lotteries–they are corrupt, they prey on the poor, they are regressive taxes that substitute for real taxes that would require political courage, they promote gambling addictions—even going so far as to call them “evil.” Then she cheerily tells us that she couldn’t help participating in the current lottery craze, because just think of all the things she could buy if she won a gizzillion dollars!

Dvorak apparently believes that by acting irrationally and irresponsibly and thus supporting what she claims to revile, she can make a more powerful point about how seductive lotteries can be. Or she’s an idiot. Wait–the two are not mutually exclusive.

It’s not complicated, Petula, not at all. When you identify a system,  an enterprise or a movement that is harmful and corrupt, don’t support it, participate in it or strengthen it. That’s all. Every ethical system dictates that result. If you think, indeed, as your column proves, you know, that state lotteries are corrupting, cowardly scams, don’t play them. If you know that pro football makes billions by inducing healthy young men to destroy their brains, don’t watch pro football. If you know that illegal drugs ravage the poor, destroy livesm businesses and families don’t use illegal drugs.  If you know that American politics are corrupt, stop supporting corrupt politicians.

There are so many societal evils that could be eradicated or significantly weakened if those who understand what is wrong about them just had the integrity, personal responsibility, courage and determination to reject them unequivocally, and show others with less certitude and resolve that it is possible and right. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, U.S. Society

Ethics Perspective: All Leaders Do Awful Things, And Many Are Awful People: All We Can Do Is Identify Leaders Who We Can Trust To Try Be Ethical, While Having The Ability To Lead

Roosevelts

Case Study I: Theodore Roosevelt.

Teddy’s easily my favorite President, both as a personality, a leader, and a human being. Almost all of his flaws, and he had plenty—the excessive animal-killing, the imperialism, the love of war, his sexism and intrinsic belief in white supremacy—are directly attributable to his times and class. He learned, because he was brilliant and intellectually curious. Like George Washington, TR was capable of evolving. He wanted to do good, and like all of us, was on a lifetime journey to find out what good was. Like most leaders who are capable of leading, he thought he had a pretty good idea of what was right, and one that was better than those of almost everyone else.

In at least one instance, however, Roosevelt personality and leadership style led to a terrible injustice.

On August 13, 1906, there was a race-related fight in Brownsville,Texas. It got out of control, turned into a full-scale riot, and one white police officer was wounded while another man, a bartender, was killed. The town blamed the black soldiers of the 25th Infantry stationed at nearby Fort Brown; tensions between the soldiers and the all-white town had been growing since the blacks arrived.  The town produced spent shells from army rifles as evidence of the soldiers’ guilt, and investigators accepted them as incriminating, though they probably were planted.

All the soldiers protested that they were innocent. Their white officers backed up their claims that the soldiers had been in their barracks at the time of the melee.  No military trial was ever held, but a Texas court cleared the black soldiers of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, President Roosevelt discharged  the entire regiment without honor anyway: 167 men, but only the blacks; the white officers were not disciplined.  The alleged cause for the harsh punishment was that the blacks had engaged in a “conspiracy of silence” to protect the guilty member of their regiment. Some of the men dismissed had over twenty years of  honorable service; one had fought alongside Roosevelt during the Spanish American War. Many were only a short time away from retirement and vested  pensions. The 168 lost their careers, reputations, and retirement income. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, History, Leadership, Race

The Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2015, Part I

Sweet Briar montage

Welcome to the Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards, our blog’s retrospective of the best and worst in ethics over the past year, 2015.

It was a rotten year in ethics again, it’s fair to say, and Ethics Alarms, which by its nature and mission must concentrate on episodes that have lessons to convey and cautionary tales to consider probably made it seem even more rotten that it was. Even with that admission, I didn’t come close to covering the field. My scouts, who I will honor anon, sent me many more wonderfully disturbing news stories than I could post on, and there were many more beyond them. I did not write about the drug company CEO, for example, who suddenly raised the price of an anti-AIDS drug to obscene levels, in part, it seems, to keep an investment fraud scheme afloat. (He’ll get his prize anyway.)

What was really best about 2o15 on Ethics Alarms was the commentary. I always envisioned the site as a cyber-symposium where interested, articulate and analytical readers could discuss current events and issues in an ethics context. Every year since the blog was launched has brought us closer to that goal. Commenters come and go, unfortunately (I take it personally when they go, which is silly), but the quality of commentary continues to be outstanding. It is also gratifying to check posts from 2010 and see such stalwarts who check in still, like Tim Levier, Neil Dorr, Julian Hung, Michael R, and King Kool.  There are a few blogs that have as consistently substantive, passionate and informative commenters as Ethics Alarms, but not many. Very frequently the comments materially enhance and expand on the original post. That was my hope and objective. Thank you.

The Best of Ethics 2015 is going to be a bit more self-congratulatory this year, beginning with the very first category. Among other virtues, this approach has the advantage of closing the gap in volume between the Best and the Worst, which last year was depressing. I’m also going to post the awards in more installments, to help me get them out faster. With that said….

Here are the 2015 Ethics Alarms Awards

For the Best in Ethics:

Most Encouraging Sign That Enough People Pay Attention For Ethics Alarms To Occasionally Have Some Impact…

The Sweet Briar College Rescue. In March, I read the shocking story of how Sweet Briar College, a remarkable and storied all-women’s college in Virginia, had been closed by a craven and duplicitous board that never informed alums or students that such action was imminent. I responded with a tough post titled “The Sweet Briar Betrayal,” and some passionate alumnae determined to fight for the school’s survival used it to inform others about the issues involved and to build support. Through the ensuing months before the school’s ultimate reversal of the closing and the triumph of its supporters, I was honored to exchange many e-mails with Sweet Briar grads, and gratified by their insistence that Ethics Alarms played a significant role in turning the tide. You can follow the saga in my posts, here.

Ethics Heroes Of The Year

Dog Train

Eugene and Corky Bostick, Dog Train Proprietors. OK, maybe this is just my favorite Ethics Hero story of the year, about two retired seniors who decided to adopt old  dogs abandoned on their property to die, and came up with the wacky idea of giving them regular rides on a ‘dog train” of their own design.

Ethical Mayor Of The Year

Thomas F. Williams. When the Ferguson-driven attacks on police as racist killers was at its peak (though it’s not far from that peak now) the mayor of Norwood, Ohio, Thomas F. Williams, did exactly the opposite of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in response to activist attacks on the integrity of his police department. He released a letter supporting his police department without qualification. At the time, I criticized him for his simultaneously attacking activists as “race-baiters.” In the perspective of the year past, I hereby withdraw that criticism.

Most Ethical Celebrity

Actor Tom Selleck. In a terrible year for this category, Selleck wins for bravely pushing his TV show “Blue Bloods” into politically incorrect territory, examining issues like racial profiling and police shootings with surprising even-handedness. The show also has maintained its openly Catholic, pro-religion perspective. Yes, this is a redundant award, as “Blue Bloods” is also a winner, but the alternative in this horrific year when an unethical celebrity is threatening to be a major party’s nominee for the presidency is not to give the award at all.

Most Ethical Talk Show Host

Stephen Colbert, who, while maintaining most of his progressive bias from his previous Comedy Central show as the successor to David Letterman, set a high standard of fairness and civility, notably when he admonished his knee-jerk liberal audience for booing  Senator Ted Cruz

Sportsman of the Year

CC Sabathia

New York Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who courageously checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse just as baseball’s play-offs were beginning, saying in part,

“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.”

Runner-up: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who dismissed the ethically-addled arguments of Pete Rose fans to reject his appeal to be have his lifetime ban for gambling lifted.  For those who wonder why football never seems to figure in this category: You’ve got to be kidding.

Ethics Movie of the Year

SpotlightTIFF2015

“Spotlight”

Runner-up: “Concussion”

Most Ethical Corporation

Tesla Motors, the anti-GM, which recalled all of its models with a particular seatbelt because one belt had failed and they couldn’t determine why. Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: The Nazi Scientist

Scientist, genius, Nobel Prize winner, Nazi. Now what?

Scientist, genius, Nobel Prize winner, Nazi. Now what?

Konrad Lorenz, 1903-1989 ,  was an acclaimed Austrian zoologist regarded as the founder of modern ethology, which is the study of animal behavior. His research  explained how behavioral patterns may be traced to through evolution,  and he made major contributions to the study of aggression and its roots. Lorenz shared a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1973 with the animal behaviorists Karl von Frisch and Nikolaas Tinbergen.

It seems that documentation surfaced proving that Lorenz joined the Nazi Party in 1938, however, and for that, Austria’s Salzburg University last week posthumously stripped him of his honorary doctorate.

Your Day Before The Night Before Christmas Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is…

Is this the right thing to do?

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