Neil Armstrong’s Disputed Words: “The Ethics of Changing History”

Pop Quiz: What does Neil Armstrong and this classic Western have in common?

[The death of mo0n-walking astronaut Neil Armstrong  ate the age of 82 reminded me of a 2006 essay about Armstrong’s famous quote that I wrote in 2006 on The Ethics Scoreboard. The AP just revisited the issue, and you can read the full text of my 2006 piece, The Ethics of Changing History: Of Crockett, the Titanic and “One Small Step” on the Scoreboard archive site. Here is the relevant portion of that article:] Continue reading

Romney’s Birther “Joke”: Foul

Oh, Mitt, you’re such a cut-up!

As I was fulminating about Mitt Romney’s Ethics Dunce-worthy below-the-belt swipe at President Obama in Michigan (  “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place where both of us were born and raised.”), a friend protested, ” You can’t blame Romney for that! He’s got to be furious, with the Obama campaign calling him a felon and Harry Reid saying he’s a tax cheat. He has a right to fight back.”

I sure can blame him, and do. The “joke”—I suppose it is legitimate to call it a joke, since the anti-Obama crowd laughed; it’s an “Oooooooo!” joke…) brought the whole idiotic, racist, “Obama’s not really one of us” birth certificate canard back into the campaign, when it should have been buried with Donald Trump’s hair long ago. This is, as my friend suggests, “tit for tat,” which in this campaign means that it dragged the election, the Presidency, the people and the country even deeper into the gutter. At this rate, Obama’s campaign manager Stephanie Cutter will soon be making “jokes” about Romney’s “magic underwear,” and Romney will respond by pointedly calling the President “Barack Hussein Obama” at every appearance. Can “Up yours!” and “Fuck you!” be far behind?

I’m sure Romney’s ticked off.  The Obama team accused him of being a felon, and responded to his objections by saying he was “whining.” Harry Reid stated unequivocally that Mitt was a tax cheat, and the White House said, “Hey, we don’t speak for Harry!” ( but we’re happy to have him do our dirt work for us!) A pro-Obama PAC produced a scurrilous ad suggesting that Romney was responsible for the death of a man’s wife, and Obama hit-man David Axelrod defended it.  None of that justifies stooping to a call-out to the birthers, who are even lower than Stephanie Cutter. We’re supposed to be electing an adult to the highest office in the land, and trustworthy adults to not use being ticked off as an excuse to lash out. I’ll concede is was a clever way to be unethical, uncivil and unfair: after all, Obama made a similar joke about the birther flap at one of the mirth-filled press dinners, and the form of the statement gives Romney a plausible defense: “Hey! The President DID have to produce his birth certificate! Why is it unfair to mention it in jest?” My colleague Ethics Bob Stone has the answer. Bob writes, “How do you encourage the right-wing idiocy that Obama was born in Kenya and thus an illegitimate President, while not getting the tar of hate on yourself? Why, by making a little “joke” about it…” Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: If the Casino Makes It Too Easy To Win, Are You Obligated Not To?

The mini-baccarat game at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City became awfully profitable one night in April, because the company that was contractually obligated to supply the casino with decks of pre-shuffled cards inexplicably did not. Once the alert gamblers noticed that they were being dealt the same sequence of cards repeatedly from unshuffled decks, they started raising their bets.  After forty-one consecutive winning hands, fourteen players had won more than $1.5 million. Puzzled but dim casino security had been watching them to see how they were cheating, but couldn’t figure it out.

No surprise: the casino is suing the card supplier. That’s not all, however: it is also suing the gamblers for their winnings, citing New Jersey regulations that require  all casino games to offer “fair odds to both sides.”  The casino’s lawsuit claims that once the gamblers realized that the unshuffled cards tilted the odds in their favor, they were obligated by law to stop playing and winning.

Your Ethics Quiz for today: Is that a fair position? Was it unethical for the gamblers to take advantage of the casino’s card problem? Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Rick Warren

Sorry, no civility this year…

Rick Warren, Saddleback Church’s popular and nationally famous conservative pastor, has announced that his church’s civil forum planned with President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney at the church this week has been canceled as a result of the relentlessly negative, mean-spirited and uncivil campaigns being waged by both parties.

The forum was to have been two hours long, with each candidate speaking with Warren for 50 minutes. Warren hosted the first presidential campaign forum in 2008 between Obama and his Republican opponent Sen. John McCain. Despite that forum’s success and the notoriety it brought him and the church, Warren decided that to host a “civil forum” with such uncivil candidates would be hypocritical, saying, Continue reading

The Last of Lance

The Lance Armstrong Fan Club writes to the US Anti-Doping Agency to protest its witch hunt.

Lance Armstrong has announced that he will no longer fight doping allegations, meaning that the Anti-US Doping Agency will effectively ban him from cycling and strip him of his titles. “If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and — once and for all — put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance,” Armstrong said in a statement. “But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair.”

It’s a shrewd move. Now Armstrong fans and admirers who refuse to acknowledge what is overwhelmingly likely bordering on certain—that he is a cheat, a liar and a fraud—can argue that poor Lance is a victim, and never was “proven guilty.” Of course, poor Lance has made millions of dollars and lived the life of a celebrity and hero for more than a decade, and he not going to forfeit any of that, or his freedom, no matter what rational people think of him. Like Barry Bonds, baseball’s most successful steroid cheat, he pulled it off, exploiting his sport, deceiving the public and taking advantage of a “look the other way” culture that corrupted bicycle racing even more thoroughly than steroids corrupted baseball. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Month: Rev. Pat Robertson

“I’ve got a dear friend [who has]an adopted son, a little kid from an orphanage down in Columbia. Child had brain damage, grew up weird. And you just never know what’s been done to a child before you get that child. What kind of sexual abuse [there] has been, what kind of cruelty, what kind of food deprivation, etc. etc. You don’t have to take on somebody else’s problems. You really don’t.”

—-Televangelist Pat Robertson weighing in against international adoption on his syndicated TV show, “The 700 Club.” He was responding to a letter from a woman who had adopted three children from other countries, and whose social life had suffered as a result.

Worse than weird

No, of course you don’t “have” to take on anyone’s problems, especially those of helpless orphans in poor countries. You can ignore them completely. You can concentrate on helping people here, and that’s admirable, or you can just help yourself and fulfill your minimal societal obligations without hurting anyone. It is certainly strange, however, to hear a Christian minister discourage the sacrifice and courage of parents who choose to rescue international orphans, and express such callousness in the process.

A fellow minister, Russell Moore, properly put Robertson in his place: Continue reading

World’s Smallest Ethics Trainwreck: The OIHO ‘Gotcha!’

“You say OIHO, and I say OHIO…Let’s call the whole thing off!”

This is, even now, but a mini-train wreck, not even an H-O size train wreck, but more like a wreck involving those wooden Thomas the Tank Engine models, maybe between Percy and Duncan. Still, it’s depressing, and shows how far our political system and the media have sunk.

President Obama was campaigning in Ohio, and got conned into being part of a cheerleading-style array spelling out OHIO, except that he was in the wrong position, and ended up as the H in “OIHO.” This may have been legitimate fodder for Jon Stewart on a slow day, but otherwise was completely meaningless, and not worth the time it took to write or talk about it. Never mind, though: the conservative blogs and talk show mockers were out in force, pointing out that while the liberal media ridiculed Dan Quayle for misspelling “potato” and Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin for any number of ridiculous statements, they readily excused Mr. Perfect because in their eyes he can do no wrong. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Political Scientist Ross Baker

“Traditionally, there was a kind of courtesy extended to the party having the convention — the [other] party would basically stay out of the public eye.” 

—- Rutgers University political scientist Ross Baker, commenting on the Obama campaign breaking with tradition to schedule the President and Vice-president Biden in high-profile campaign appearances during GOP Convention week, in which they will be “assaulting” the Romney-Ryan ticket.

No, President Nixon didn’t give campaign speeches while Democrats were nominating McGovern in 1972. On the other hand, he DID have the DNC offices burglarized…

Such traditions build and preserve comity, collegiality, civility and cooperation between the two parties, which, of course, greatly facilitates responsive and responsible government. It also creates trust. In an environment where neither party trusts the other, however (“If we don’t bash them during their convention, they’ll still bash us during ours!”…which is almost certainly true, by the way…), and where neither party–neither party—possesses leadership with the skills, integrity, courage or statesmanship to broker a mutual agreement to preserve such a useful symbolic gesture of respect and courtesy, such traditions are doomed.

Don’t think we are not the worse for the abandonment of these traditions, because we are, and will be until a commitment to cooperation and mutual respect regenerates, if it ever does. Responsible leadership would help.

Yes, Candidate Obama promised an end to “politics as usual.” Funny…I never though that would mean that politics would get even nastier.


Facts: Commentary

Graphic: Where’s My Fucking Money?

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

Total Bias At Last

There is only one honest way to interpret the results of the recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finding that Mitt Romney has 0% support among African-American voters, and it is neither good news for the country, nor complimentary to African-American culture, nor anything Barack Obama should be proud of. This is proof of total racial bias on one side of the racial divide, the result of intentional, shameless and apparently successful race-baiting by the Obama Administration, and the rationalization of racial bias among blacks, allowing black racism to not only thrive, but to be treated as acceptable. Continue reading

Ungrateful Consumer of the Year

“Don’t smile at me, you inconsiderate fool! Do you know what time it is? Why should I accept your wares before they were scheduled to arrive? I need my sleep, not that blue-collar peasant like you could comprehend that! Mark my words, your employer will hear of this outrage; now get back into your pathetic truck and only return when it is convenient for me!”

We don’t see this kind of unethical conduct that often, so it is worthy of note.

A consumer named Richard wrote to Consumerist to complain that his order from Amazon, which he ordered on a Friday and was scheduled for three-day delivery, arrived in only one day, on Saturday morning.  Naturally, he was outraged:

“Imagine my surprise to be woken up out of a sound sleep at 8am by the incessant ringing of my door bell .. probably 10 times. I’m thinking something bad happened. I jump up go to answer the door and find out it’s just OnTrac delivering my $23 package from Amazon! As much as I might appreciate getting something 2 days early, I (and my neighbors) appreciate our sleep even more. I called Amazon and the CSR was sympathetic but could do nothing but leave “feedback” with OnTrac. So fair warning… unless you need an early morning wake up call, don’t order from Amazon… because just because the order says Monday, doesn’t mean you won’t get someone leaning on your door buzzer until you give in and answer it, no matter the time of day.”

Not to leave you in suspense, Richard is what an old poker-playing buddy used to call a “jerkola.” I wonder what other examples of efficient service aggravate him. Does he get angry when repair men arrive at the start of the day, rather than making you wait all day at home wondering if they’ll arrive at all? Does he complain when airplanes arrive at their destination early? When Verizon doesn’t make you wait forever to talk to a real person after negotiating your way through phone-tree hell? How about the Department of Motor vehicles—does Richard get ticked off when they call his number before he need another shave? Continue reading