Tag Archives: courage

The Cruelest Month And The Duty To Remember

sultana-ablaze

If we have the education, curiosity, perspective and respect for our origins and those who have gone before us, the calendar is a source of constant reminders of what matters in life, and how we can be better citizens and human beings. It is a common belief among Millennials, and a lot of older Americans too, that history is irrelevant to their lives, and this is both a fallacy and a self-inflicted handicap. Not that keeping history in mind is easy: in this month, which T.S. Elliot dubbed “the cruelest,” paying appropriate respect by remembering is especially difficult.

Still, respecting history is our duty. It won’t be remembered, perhaps, but in April, 2012, a 23-year-old drunken fool named Daniel Athens was arrested for climbing over a barrier to urinate on a wall at the Alamo. Monday, a Texas judge threw the book at him, sentencing him to 18 months in state prison for vandalizing a National Monument and a shrine. The sentence seems extreme, and is a good example of how the law is a blunt weapon with which to enforce ethics. The Alamo has near religious significance in Texas, brave men died there, and the ruins serve as a symbol of critical virtues like loyalty, sacrifice, dedication, courage and patriotism. Athens, himself a Texan, defiled the memory of the fallen and symbolically rejected the values and heritage of his community and fellow citizens. Unfortunately, the harshness of the sentence will create sympathy for him: 18 months for peeing? But how else does a culture reinforce the importance of respect for the past? I don’t have an answer. Perhaps I would have sentenced him to take an exam on the lives of Travis, Crockett, Bowie, Seguin and the rest, as well as the siege itself, and imposed the jail term only if he flunked.

Yesterday, Major League Baseball celebrated the heroism and transformative life of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947 by becoming baseball’s first black player, setting in motion powerful forces that propelled the cause of civil rights. Every player wore Robinson’s now retired uniform number 42, and there were commemorative ceremonies in the ball parks where it wasn’t too cold and wet to play ball. This remembrance had a difficult time competing with tax day, as history usually does when our immediate life concerns beckon.

Other important historical events deserving reflection, however, were more or less ignored entirely, for April 15 is a historically awful day: Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Education, History

Ethics Quiz: The “You Stink” Farewell Retirement Party Speech

retirement-pocket-watch

As reported by Bloomberg and Above the Law, James Kidney, an SEC enforcement lawyer who had worked at the agency since 1986 (with a four year hiatus in the private sector) favored his retirement party with a fiery speech telling his colleagues what a lousy job they do.

The SEC has become “an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors,” Kidney said“On the rare occasions when enforcement does go to the penthouse, good manners are paramount. Tough enforcement, risky enforcement, is subject to extensive negotiation and weakening.”

Kidney accused SEC manager of being  focused on getting high-paying jobs after their government service rather than on bringing difficult cases. “I have had bosses, and bosses of my bosses, whose names we all know, who made little secret that they were here to punch their ticket,” Kidney said. “They mouthed serious regard for the mission of the commission, but their actions were tentative and fearful in many instances.”

He accused his soon-to-be former employers of having little interest in “afflicting the comfortable and powerful,”and condemned the agency for massaging  statistics to burnish its reputation. There was more. We only know of Kidney’s comments from notes; there was no video or formal transcript.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today:

Was Kidney’s farewell speech ethical?

Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Professions, Workplace

Second KABOOM! of the Day: The Worst Example of “No-Tolerance” Ever

Not again!!!!

Not again!!!!

Sometimes it seems as if there is a team of fiction writers concocting absurd school no-tolerance scenarios just to see what idiocy the news media will believe. Unfortunately, the topic defies parody, and now, just as I cleaned my office up after the cranial detonation earlier today, there is this:

At Bayside Middle School, in Virginia Beach,* Virginia, sixth grader Adrionna Harris saw a classmate cutting his arm with a razor blade. She took the blade from the student, threw it away and persuaded him that what he was doing dangerous and wrong. Then she told the school’s administration about the incident. Because saving the boy from serious harm required her handling a dangerous weapon on school grounds, Adrionna received  a 10 day suspension with recommendation for expulsion.

KABOOM!

In an example of the news media’s  remarkable facility for misunderstanding just about anything, a local TV station reporting on this story asked, “Was the school’s zero tolerance policy taken too far?” Yes, for all you idiots and teachers out there, was this the right thing to do?  What a stupid, stupid, question. Of course it wasn’t. Of course the school’s zero tolerance policy was taken too far. Any no-tolerance policy is by definition “taken too far” because it eliminates common sense and discretion (assuming that school personnel are capable of either) and leads to fiascos like this. That is not the question raised by the episode. Note to our sad and incompetent journalists: if you can’t do better than that, just report the news and shut up. You aren’t helping.

Among the legitimate and urgent questions that are raised by what happened to Adrionna Harris are these: Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Health and Medicine, Kaboom!, Professions

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Reubin Askew ( 1928-2014)

Askew

In a better United States where only character, demonstrated skill, experience and leadership ability were necessary to become President, Reubin Askew would have been one. Unfortunately looks, luck, money and timing are important too. Askew had the looks, all right; he just missed the other three.

Never mind. Reubin Askew, who died yesterday, did all right.

His father was an alcoholic, and soon his mother had divorced him and was supporting Reubin and his five siblings as a single mother in Pensacola, Florida. She worked as a waitress, seamstress and hotel maid, while Reubin shined shoes, bagged groceries, delivered newspapers and sold his mother’s homemade pies door to door to do his part to support the family. After graduating from high school in Pensacola,  Askew served two years in the Army and, thanks to the G.I. Bill, graduated from Florida State in Tallahassee, where he was elected student body president. He was an Air Force officer during the Korean War, and in 1956 graduated from the University of Florida law school. That same year he joined a Pensacola law firm, and married Donna Lou Harper, who remained his wife for 57 years, until he died.

Askew ran for Florida’s House of Representatives in 1958, and won. After four years in the House, and eight more as a state senator, he ran for governor.  He was already nicknamed  “Reubin the Good,” and his opponent, Republican Claude Kirk, ridiculed the well-publicized fact that Askew, a devout Christian, never drank, smoked or used curse words by referring to him as a “mama’s boy,” not tough enough for high office. Askew’s rebuttal: “I love my mama.”  He won easily. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, History, Leadership, Race

When The Truth Hurts, But A Lie Will Hurt More

see_no_evil_hear_no_evil_speak_no_evil

In the early stages of the  Monica Lewinsky scandal, President Bill Clinton infamously asked his then advisor-polster Dick Morris to research whether a lie or the truth would best serve Clinton’s purposes.  (Morris’s recommendation based on his polling data: “Lie your head off.“) The attitude that truth is just a conduct option with no more or less to recommend in it than various versions of spin, deceit, obfuscation, misrepresentation, fabrication and denial is endemic to politics, which is not to say that it is necessary or healthy. Lies can be justifiable tools of the trade in the utilitarian world of politics and government, but if there isn’t an accepted recognition that they are inherently harmful, lazy, undermine trust and tend to become addicting (See: Dick Morris and Bill Clinton), then the cure becomes worse than the disease.

The Presidency of Barack Obama should be remembered as a stark lesson in the danger of avoiding unpleasant truths. What focused my attention on this was an interview that featured journalist Geraldo Rivera opining that describing President Obama’s performance in the wake of the Ukrainian incursion “weak” was “unhelpful,” “borderline patriotic” and “accomplishes absolutely nothing but scoring cheap political points in the near future.” At the same time, this morning’s Washington Post is filled with commentators struggling with the Democratic Party’s Obamacare problem, following the disheartening defeat of Alex Sink in a special Congressional election in Florida. Some of those commentators argue that beleaguered Democrats should aggressively make the case that the Affordable Care Act is a roaring success. Or as Dick Morris would put it, “Lie your head off.” Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media

50 Years After Kitty Genovese, Inhumans On A Bus

The title describes the public transit riders who watched this disturbing scene unfold on a Philadelphia bus, and did nothing:

2014 is the 50th anniversary of the infamous Kitty Genovese case, and dueling books on the incident either recount the accepted version that 38 people in an apartment building heard the 28 year-old woman’s screams as she was being stabbed to death but “didn’t want to be involved” and let her die, or adopt the revisionist theory that the apathy of bystanders was unfairly and inaccurately hyped by the news media. The incident on the Philadelphia bus tells me that the revisionists have a burden of proof that will be hard to meet. There was plenty of evidence already, like here, or here, or here, or here, or more recently here, that Kitty Genovese might not fare any better today. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, U.S. Society

Ethics Heroes: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Michael Robertson: pervert, creep, outrageous abuser of women who deserves to be shunned, despised and condemned by all decent people. But a criminal? Not yet...

Michael Robertson: pervert, creep, outrageous abuser of women who deserves to be shunned, despised and condemned by all decent people. But a criminal? Not yet…

The degree to which our media pundits fail to grasp the essential nature of the rule of law remains confounding, and this is another in a long line of examples. Worse, the lower court in this weird case failed to grasp it as well.

You see, there is conduct that is obviously wrong, which we call unethical. Some of that conduct is so wrong, so harmful, and so difficult to discourage with social opprobrium and informal enforcement alone that we pass laws against it, both to signal strong disapproval but also to add serious negative reinforcement, in the form of tangible punishment, to the mix. Then the wrongful conduct becomes both unethical and illegal. If we skip the essential intermediate step of writing and duly passing the law that designate the conduct as illegal, however, we have established a dangerous, indeed frightening precedent. Then we have created a society where one can be imprisoned or fined for conduct that is regarded as unethical without a law in place that empowers the state to take such actions against citizens who engage in it. Ethics, unlike law, especially on the margins, is never etched in stone. Once society starts imprisoning individuals based on ethics alone, none of us are safe.

Yet this morning I was subjected to the protests of one TV commentator after another who derided the absolutely correct decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to uphold this principle by throwing out the conviction of Michael Robertson, a sick sleaze-ball who was arrested in August 2010 by Boston transit police who had set up a sting after getting reports that he was using his cellphone to take photos and video up female riders’ skirts and dresses: Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Heroes, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Science & Technology

The Comfort Women Memorial Lawsuit: A “Disgusting” Legal Argument, Perhaps…Unethical, No

The Glendale Comfort Women Memorial

The Glendale Comfort Women Memorial

The large and respected law firm Mayer Brown has taken the ugly case of some Japanese-American clients who want the city of Glendale, California to remove a memorial to World War II “comfort women” from a public park. In doing so, and in the way it is proceeding, the firm has inspired harsh condemnation from two estimable legal commentators, both First Amendment champions: Marc Randazza, and Ken White. Their objections, which caused Randazza to call the firm “the least honorable law firm in the world,”and White to conclude, “This lawsuit is thoroughly contemptible. It should fail, and everyone involved should face severe social consequences,” are heartfelt, but, I think, misguided. Their argument, beside arguing that the lawsuit is frivolous, is best articulated by Randazza: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Rights

Ethics Hero: Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert

Laser Klan

Putting the jester’s privilege to great use, Comedy Central comic Stephen Colbert not only defied his corporate masters, communications giant Viacom, but mocked them in the process. He was officially warned of the corporation’s “concern” about “Laser Klan,” his planned animated riff involving the Klu Klux Klan during Black History Month. Colbert aired it anyway.

I have to wonder if he would have done the same if Viacom had been concerned about offending Muslims, rather than, hmmmm, let’s see, being worried that some racial victim-mongers would decide that making fun of the Klan, sworn enemies of blacks, Jews, and, oh, so many others, was somehow disrespectful to  blacks in February because only they could…oh, I don’t know what the complaint would be. I can’t blame the suits at Viacom…I bet someone at MSNBC and the NAACP are working up a political correctness offense theory right now, so Colbert will have to humble himself and beg for forgiveness.

Before that happens, though, let’s give Colbert his due. What he did takes principles and guts…and high ratings. Just be careful your numbers don’t fall off, Stephen.

And remember the Smothers Brothers.

___________________________

Graphic: YouTube

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Heroes, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Race

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Hero: Michael Sam”

Dave Kopay, an earlier NFL Ethics Hero who paid the price for honesty

Dave Kopay, an earlier NFL Ethics Hero who paid the price for honesty

The media and sports talk show uproar about NFL prospect Michael Sam announcing that he is gay prior to the upcoming NFL draft has subsided considerably (just wait until Draft Day, though), but the Ethics Alarms threads about Sam’s decision and the ethical dilemmas and choices it represents remain vigorous.

Here is Penn’s thoughtful and well-rendered comment from yesterday, the Comment of the Day, on the post, Ethics Hero: Michael Sam…

Interesting “damned if you do; damned if you don’t” discussion here. The only point I see is that Sam stepped up to the plate (dis gut NFL speak, no?), which took guts. In this, I am in full agreement with Jack’s first paragraph.

Whatever Sam’s motivations or goals, or the reactions (or non) of his chosen profession and its fan-atics, or the general public, I don’t see any value in arguing generalized outcomes (unless they are exercises in ethics, naturally). I can say as much sooth as anyone, based on both anecdotal and empirical evidence; rather, I am talking about a negative value in doing so. [... maybe, if it's up on the tote-board in Vegas.] Such debates just degenerate into … well, what Jack was interpolating into several exchanges: the writers’ biases, and the public’s bigotry (of course, the latter does not exist among EA commenters). Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Comment of the Day, Ethics Heroes, Gender and Sex, Sports, U.S. Society