The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide [UPDATED]

 Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life” is one of the great ethics movies of all time, perhaps the ethics movie of all time. In 2011 I prepared a guide through its complex ethics thicket. The post was divided into three separate posts, and I eventually combined them s0 readers can have the pleasure, if one can call it that, of watching the film like I do: having ethics arguments the whole way through. And now, here is your guide. Additions are welcome and encouraged.

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. Nevertheless, the framing of the tale advances the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. He’s going to get it, too, or at least the heavenly authorities will make the effort. They are assigning an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to the job. He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there—then again, George says he’s “not a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck Continue reading

Lindsay Stone Scores A Jumbo: The “I Didn’t Intend To Do What I Did When I Intentionally Did What I Did” Excuse

I have to give Lindsay Stone credit. You will seldom see as pure an example of an outrageous denial of the undeniable in a public apology as the one she just authored. Brava! And good luck with the job hunt.

Stone, who is an idiot, and her friend, who is an idiot whose name has yet to be tracked down by the media, collaborated on a photo showing Stone giving an upturned middle finger to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, while yelling something by the sign there that says “Silence and Respect.” The photograph was posted on Stone’s Facebook page and naturally went viral. Thousands of protesters bombarded the website of their employer, Living Independently Forever, with demands that the two be fired. Today, they were.

Before the inevitable axe fell (more on that in a bit), Stone posted this remarkable explanation:

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Judge Norman’s Dilemma Becomes The ALCU’s Problem

Cruel and unusual punishment? Guess again…

You’re a judge. You have power, in your sentencing, to make various miscreants suffer all sorts of creative punishments, as long as they fall well short of the rack and wheel. For example, a judge in Cleveland recently sentenced a woman (who had driven her car up the side-walk to get around a stopped school bus carrying special-needs children) to carry a sign proclaiming herself an idiot. You are faced with a troubled young man who appears to have received almost no instruction, in his 17 years, in the particulars of right and wrong. You see no productive purpose in locking him up and throwing away the key, for what he needs is a transfusion of ethics. What do you do?

In the throes of this very dilemma, Oklahoma district judge Mike Norman was sentencing Tyler Alred  for DUI manslaughter. Alred was driving his Chevrolet pickup drunk in  2011 when he hit a tree, ending the life of his passenger and friend, 16-year old John Dum. The judge gave Tyler a deferred prison sentence provided that he attend church every Sunday for the next ten years, as well as graduate from high school and welding school. Both Alred’s attorney and the victim’s family agreed to the terms of the sentence. Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: ABC 7 (Bangor, Maine) News Anchors Cindy Michaels And Tony Consiglio

[ To those who wonder why I am posting at Ethics Alarms when it’s 4:37 on Thanksgiving morning, I can only note that when you’re staying in a hotel in Baltimore and hacking your guts out with the world’s slowest moving chest cold, and your wife is asleep and your Jack Russell makes it clear it is either walk him or face the consequences—and with that breed, the consequences can mean anything from an unpleasant deposit in your suitcase or ground glass in your next meal, you’re going to be up for a while. A surprising number of prostitutes out around Fayette Street this time of night….and they were all more interested in Rugby than they were in me.]

When it comes to quitting on the job, there is the Steven Slater method, and then there is this.

Embroiled in various disputes with station management, the news team for ABC’s affiliate in Bangor, Maine (WVFX), Cindy Michaels and Tony Consiglio, decided to resign on the air, at the conclusion of the nightly news broadcast, without informing their soon-to-be ex-bosses. Normally I would frown at such a stunt as unprofessional, and I expected the pair’s performance to have a “take this job and shove it” flair. It did not. Their tone and execution was note perfect, saying good-bye and thank-you to their audience, community and staff, and barely hinting at any discord behind their departure at all, though one would have had to be a low-information voter not to surmise it. Michaels said afterward that the two had “figured if we had tendered our resignations off the air, we would not have been allowed to say goodbye to the community on the air and that was really important for us to do that.” Here was their farewell Wednesday night:

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Unethical Quote of the Month: Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH)

“It is a shame that anytime something goes wrong, they pick on women and minorities..All of the things they have disliked about things that have gone on in the administration, they have never called a male unqualified, not bright, not trustworthy. There is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments being made by unfortunately Sen. [John] McCain and others . . . How do you say that a person with Susan Rice’s background is not qualified? I wonder what your qualifications are for your job. Where did you finish in your class? You know, I know one of them finished in the bottom of their class. Susan Rice was a Rhodes scholar. How do you say a person like Susan Rice is not qualified?…I mean, Susan Rice’s comments didn’t send us to Iraq and Afghanistan. Somebody else’s did. But you’re not angry with them.”

—-Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), accusing GOP Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Kelly Ayotte (a woman) of sexism and racism for their harsh criticism of UN Ambassador Susan Rice for her repeated assertion on multiple news shows that the Benghazi attack that killed the American ambassador in Libya was a spontaneous demonstration over a YouTube video after the Obama Administration had been told otherwise.

It must be comforting to be able to rationalize all criticism arising from your own conduct and to attribute it to the biases of your critics. Crippling, but comforting. If one cannot regard criticism as legitimate, then one can never assess one’s own mistakes and weaknesses and work to improve.

Fudge is one of the habitual race-card players in Congress: earlier this year, she accused the bi-partisan House ethics committee of racism because a disproportionate number of the Congressional Black Caucus’s members were under investigation. (This was, of course, because a disproportionate number of  the Congressional Black Caucus’s members, like Fudge, have engaged in dubious practices that indicate a weak grasp of ethics.) This time, she had lots of company, including Rep. James Clyburn (D-NC), who later said that the word “incompetent” was racist code. Brilliant! This means that no black public official can ever be called incompetent! Sure to be added to the code book if this theory sticks: inept, ineffective, corrupt, careless, irresponsible, and unqualified. Fudge, Clyburn and their colleagues propose to make legitimate criticism of black and female officials—those who are Democrats, that is—impossible, one word at a time. Continue reading

The Assumption Church in Barnesville, Minn: Wrong On Belief, Right On Integrity

“Oh, what the hell. Sign him up.”

In Barnesville, Minnesota, the Catholic Church has denied the religious sacrament of confirmation to two students who posted their support for gay marriage on Facebook.


The Catholic Church has been barely holding on to a dwindling membership by adopting the strategy of becoming an organized religion for hypocrites. Being a member of any church should mean the full acceptance of its core teachings. The students involved publicly expressed their disagreement with the Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage, and the Church was right to deny them confirmation.

Is the Catholic Church dead wrong to oppose same sex marriage as a sin? Of course. The way to make the Church enter the 21st Century is for double-talkers like John Kerry, Joe Biden and Mario Cuomo to show some backbone and integrity, and reject the Church or their upbringing because it doesn’t accept same sex marriage and abortion, while they obviously do. Instead, these and other faux-Catholics absurdly claim in public that they support diametrically opposed positions simultaneously. All three have piously stated that as Catholics they believe that life begins at conception (ergo, abortion is the sinful taking of innocent human life), but that as elected officials they feel it is inappropriate to “impose their beliefs” on the public. Of course, what elected leaders do is to impose their beliefs on the public, wherever those beliefs come from. What Cuomo, Biden and Kerry, as well as many others, have done, is to aggressively and pro-actively support policies, like abortion-on-demand, that they and their Church say they believe are wrong. Liars or hypocrites, take your pick. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Day: Sesame Street

“Sesame Workshop’s mission is to harness the educational power of media to help all children the world over reach their highest potential. Kevin Clash has helped us achieve that mission for 28 years, and none of us, especially Kevin, want anything to divert our attention from our focus on serving as a leading educational organization. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us want, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job and has resigned from Sesame Street. This is a sad day for Sesame Street.”

—— The producers of “Sesame Street,” announcing Kevin Clash’s resignation and the end of his close association with Elmo. A second man just accused Clash of molesting him when he was underage, and Clash’s original accuser, Sheldon Stephens, recently recanted his recantation of  his allegations.

“Goodbye, my friend.”

This ending was pre-ordained from the beginning of the scandal, and Clash’s guilt or innocence was and is irrelevant. Sesame Street’s duty is to Elmo and his fans, not Kevin Clash. “Innocent until proven guilty” also has no application. Clash, if nothing else, is guilty of not being innocent enough to be the voice of the most innocent Muppet on Sesame Street.