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


 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.

Ethical Judge of the Year

Frank Barbaro (actually a former judge), who took the courageous and remarkable step of announcing, under oath, that he had been biased years ago when he decided that Donald Kagan was guilty of murder. It was an unusual bias to admit, too: Barbaro testified that he was such a knee-jerk libertal at the time that he was eager to bleive that the white defendant had shot and killed the black victim, even though the evidence was insufficient.

Most Ethical Pundit

Ron Fournier. The columnist who was formerly Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press  has managed to betray no crippling biases, and has consistently called out unethical behavior and irresponsible conduct by both Democrats and Republicans. Naturally, you seldom see him on TV cable news.

Most Ethical National Broadcast Media Figure

CNN’s Jake Tapper, who has been in the running for  this category before. Already in 2015 he has proved his trustworthiness by flagging the failure of the U.S. to join in the parade of world leaders against terrorism and for free speech following the Charlie Hebdo murders, just when it appeared that the news media was prepared, as usual, to give the Administration a pass.   He performed similarly when his fellow journalists tried (with some success) to pretend that Jonathan Gruber’s revelations were meaningless. [ Last year’s winner, Don Lemon, did not have a good year, and he’s not off to a great start in 2015, either.]

The Kipling Award

(Given to the individual who most exemplifies the values of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If )

Former President George W. Bush. Bush 43 earns the prize for the second straight year. Jimmy Carter may be the most productive former President and Bill Clinton the most popular, but the one who is serving as a role model for all future ex-POTUSes is W, who refuses to snipe of Obama from the sidelines,  explaining that he knows how hard the job is, and would never try to make it any more difficult. Bush has been the target of a lot of anti-Christian bigotry for his faith, but he’s got the Golden Rule down to an art.

    Ethics TV Series of the Year

Blue Bloods

“Blue Bloods” on CBS.

The Clarence Darrow Award


(presented to outstanding conduct on behalf of the weak and powerless)

The Foundation for Individual Rights In Education (The FIRE)  The Another repeat award. The Fire has been, in addition to its usual fine work forcing universities to back off speech codes and political correctness persecution, on the front lines of opposing the sudden outbreak of sexual assault hysteria provoked by the the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter, and the attempt to punish male students accused of rape without basic due process and fairness.

Best Ethics Takedown of 2014

belly dancing

Modesty prohibits my giving this one to myself, but Prof. Eugene Volokh would have probably received this anyway. Responding to a ridiculous rant in Salon condemning white women for “appropriating” another culture by engaging in bellydancing, the Constitutional law scholar went medieval on her idiocy, beginning with a burst of appropriate sarcasm, and writing in part,

Appropriation — the horror! People treating artistic genres as if they were great ideas that are part of the common stock of humanity, available for all humanity to use, rather than the exclusive property of some particular race or ethnic group. What atrocity will the culturally insensitive appropriators think of next? East Asian cellists? Swedish chess players? The Japanese putting on Shakespeare? Jews playing Christians’ Christian music, such as Mozart’s masses? Arriviste Jewish physicists using work done for centuries by Christians? Russian Jews writing about Anglo-American law? Indians writing computer programs, using languages and concepts pioneered by Americans and Europeans? Japanese companies selling the most delicious custard cream puffs? Shame, shame, shame.But, wait: Maybe — and I know this is a radical thought — artists, whether high or low, should be able to work in whatever artistic fields they want to work in. Maybe they should even be able to work in those fields regardless of their skin color or the place from which their ancestors came....

Ethics Website of the Year

The Ethics Sage. Professor Steven Mintz is a careful writer, a measured thinker, and a thorough researcher.

Ethics Blogger

Jonathan Turley. Last year’s Ethics Alarms Story Source of the Year moved up to Ethics Blogger of the Year (his is not an ethics blog, however), thanks to scintillating commentary only occasionally marred by an obsessive mildness when mildness wasn’t called for, but rather righteous fury. This may be why he is still a law professor (at George Washington University) and I’m not. Yes, he still turns over his blog to too many mouth-foaming ideologues on weekends–rather than be annoyed, I skip the blog on weekends. The Professor, however, does a consistently excellent job, and an even-handed one. He got extra points this year for  consistently criticizing the Obama Administration’s unconstitutional over-reach, especially in Obama’s executive orders.

Ethics Alarms Story Source of the Year

A 2014 hat tip to the ABA Journal, which along with Turley, Althouse, Volokh, The Daily Beast, Instapundit, Legal Ethics Forum, Drudge, Mediaite, Popehat, Windypundit, and, of course,the indoispensible Fark, added to what was coming across the news wires and kept me swamped. And depressed.

Ethics Alarms Tipsters of the Year

A duel award to Fred and Alexander Cheezem, who provide me with ideas almost daily, and who have pretty much eliminated any fear on my part that there will be a day with ethics controversies on Ethics Alarms. Thank you so much, and also everyone else who drops me a link.

The Forgotten Hero Award


Reubin Askew ( 1928-2014) 

Ethics Alarms Comment of the Year

A tie! Steven Mark Pilling and dragin_dragon combined on a rare double Comment of the Day on the topic of police militarization, in what was an excellent example of the long form comments at which so many visitors here excel. You can find dragon’s here, and Steven’s response here.

 Ethics Alarms Commenter of the Year

texagg04. Last year’s Commenter of the Year led the field again, both in quantity, quality, and enthusiasm. Runner up: Chris Marschner, but really, there were too many to mention. The commenters make Ethics Alarms what it is, and to the twenty or so regulars and the more than two hundred plus who dropped by less frequently, thank you, thank you, thank you. (And good night, Alblative Meatshield, where ever you are!)

My Favorite Ethics Alarms Post of the Year

It was a bad year for my friends: five of them died this year. I discovered the death of one of them; with another, I spend his last day on Earth laughing with him on a sunny porch. One of the last things he said to me was a request to send him my post about yet another friend who died this year, Greg Davidson. It’s far from the most significant post to appear here, nor was it the most laborious to write. But it touched my friend Mitch Dale at a time when he needed it. That’s good enough for me. Here it is again—for Mitch, for Bill Karukas, for Liz Byrne,  Ed Bishop, and Greg:

stand by me

My Friend Greg

I’m not sure exactly what this post has to do with ethics. Obligation, perhaps. Still, I have to write it.

Yesterday, I learned that Greg Davidson had died. The news thrust me into the heart of some intense and strange hybrid of “Stand By Me,” “Animal House,” “Mister Roberts,” and “The Sandlot.” I hadn’t seen or talked to Greg for 41 years, since the day he sold me my first car, a red Nova that I paid for with cash, using my bank account started for me by my Dad when I was a baby. Wiped it out, too. But that’s not why Greg Davidson was important in my life.

I met Greg in the 7th Grade, when we were both 12. He was the first un-self-consciously cool kid I ever met, and one of the few people I have known who had this distinction. (I will embarrass him by saying this, but my son is one of them too.) If you can picture the character of Chris (River Phoenix) in “Stand by Me,” that was Greg—athletic, physically graceful, blond, with a buzz cut, relatively quiet, and a natural leader. He was, essentially, a man in attitude and conduct long before the rest of us (some of us are still working at it). He won the affections of my 6th grade crush, Margie, and formed a famous, much admired steady couple with her that lasted well into high school.

He was smart, but defiant in a puckish and courageous way: this was the early Sixties, and we all regarded the regimentation of school as an insult. Greg undermined that insult, regularly, and at considerable personal cost, by waging clever, chaotic war against authority that he considered an affront to human dignity—the equivalent of Mr.Roberts throwing the Captain’s palm tree into the drink. One of my favorites was when he tweaked a pompous high school English teacher who chafed under the nick-name Greg had devised for him—“Tweety Bird”—because it caught on, and because it was so dead-on accurate. Greg went to the trouble of making stationery with a small picture of the Warner Brothers avian in the corner, distributed it, and that week poor Mr. Hendrickson received an assigned essay from every student on Tweety paper. Greg denied that he had anything to do with the plot, but accompanied his denials with Otter’s iconic wink to Dean Wormer, so he left no doubt who Mr. H’s true tormenter was, not there was any doubt.

The teacher did not take it well.

Greg and I traveled in different company, for the most part—mine was a world of theater, the school newspapers, music, the chess team, submissive and compliant relationships with teachers and quiet weekends at home.  Greg, on the other hand was normal, like the kids who owned the cars in “American Graffiti.” But we shared a love of baseball, and Greg, for whatever reason, made it clear without expressing it that he liked and respected me, and joined me in organizing, approximately from the 7th grade through the end of high school, regular pick-up baseball games all summer long, mostly staffed by the academically obsessed, uncoordinated, socially backward, goofy, nerdy wise-asses that comprised my friends, and Greg.

We all, I think, held him in awe, both because he deigned to spend so much time with us, but also because he did so as a coach and leader without ever being oppressive or obnoxious about it. My summers growing up, and so many vivid stories, anecdotes and memories, were dominated by those crazy games on lazy summer days, and the quiet charisma of Greg Davidson. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that my self-esteem and sense of worth was bolstered by the simple fact that this boy I admired so much was willing to tolerate me.

Greg had some of the Gordy (the narrator in “Stand By Me”) character in him too. His older brother (ironically named Gordy) was all-everything at Arlington (Massachusetts) High, and Greg’s teachers tended to treat him as a poor copy–not quite as big, athletic, smart or successful. I always suspected his parents did the same, though I don’t know. Greg never mentioned it or complained: it was he who took over his father’s auto dealership and remained in Arlington for all these years. As I would have expected of him, he jumped into adulthood as soon as he could, marrying in college, had kids quickly, and was still married to his lovely and loving wife Cindy on the day he died. In 1962, that didn’t seem like such an accomplishment, but as we all know now, it sure as hell is.

I doubt that Greg knew that I admired him, or that he ever considered that he had an important place in my young life. For one thing, I was one of many whom he affected this way: Jay Sylva, my long-time friend who called me yesterday with the news, was one of them too. For another, Greg and I never had an explicit, serious conversation in all the years we spent time together. Guys didn’t do that then; still don’t, most of the time. Although I have regaled Grace with Greg-centered stories over the years, I didn’t realize how important Greg was to me, and how I had completely neglected to tell him, until the moment I knew he was gone. I wish I had told him. I wish I had just said, “Thanks for treating me like I mattered. It meant a lot.”

Three memorable lines from “Stand By Me” keep coming back since I learned about Greg’s death. The first: “It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of our lives, like busboys in a restaurant.”

The second, as the Writer reflects on the death of his friend Chris: “Although I hadn’t seen him in more than ten years, I know I’ll miss him forever.”

And finally, this, the last line in the Stephen King novella, and the last line of substance in the film, seen only as the Writer, the grown up Gordie (played by Richard Dreyfus) , types the words:

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

Bye, Greg. Thanks, buddy.

I owe you.

Most Encouraging Ethical Trend of the Year

The news media showed signs of actually reporting the news and not skewing it to protect President Obama’s bumbling administration.


9 thoughts on “The Sixth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2014

  1. I have to thank you. As I am sure you have noted, I am more given to short comments, sometimes pithy, sometimes not. That particular subject happened to hit me at a time that I was already angry about another issue, and I had to make it (the comment).

  2. Wait, did you say 1962? That he sold you your first car more than 40-some years ago?? Was that picture of you taken about 15-20 years ago?

    • Seconded. And it makes such a difference when it’s not just a list of names. In particular, I’m going to remember your friend Greg.

  3. I can understand why you turned over your business-and-corporation ethics job to Ethisphere. And I systematically reviewed their criteria — and re-reviewed it as I came across name after name of companies that while they may well have an internal ethical culture, I know are not terribly attached to ethics when dealing with their consumer/customers. But that was my personal take on difficulties dealing with, say, eBay on an end-user basis. Until I came across this one and decided to bring it to the attention of Ethics Alarms: the sole listed honoree under Telecommunications Services . . . the one that approved the Sarah Silverman and Kim Kardashian Superbowl ads you liked so much: T-Mobile.

    Of course, it’s always possible that the ads would disqualify them from the 2015 awards . . . .

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