Category Archives: Etiquette and manners

I Forgot George Washington’s Birthday! In Penance…

portrait_of_george_washington

If there is any American whose birthday none of us should fail to note and celebrate, it is George Washington. In my case, he is in good company, since I have had difficulty my whole life remembering birthdays of close family members and friends, with the exception of my son’s, once the Boston Red Six finally won their first World Series in 86 years on the same date, and my own, which I have been trying to forget ever since finding my dad dead in his chair on that date eight years ago. Nonetheless, my failure to salute the first and indispensable President is especially disgraceful for an ethics blog, and I apologize both to George and to all of you.

Time flies: I hadn’t issued a post specifically devoted to George’s remarkable character since 2011. (Something has gone seriously wrong when one has 287 posts on Donald Trump and only six about Washington.) In penance, allow me to atone with my favorite entry’s on the list of ethical habits some historians believe made him the remarkably trustworthy and ethical man he was, ultimately leading his fellow Founders to choose him, and not one the many  more brilliant, learned and accomplished among them, to take on the crucial challenge of creating the American Presidency.

Directed to do so by his father, young Washington had copied out by hand and committed to memory a list called “110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation”  It was  based on a document  composed by French Jesuits in 1595; neither the author nor the English translator and adapter are known today. The elder Washington was following the teachings of Aristotle, who held that principles and values began as being externally imposed by authority (morals) and eventually became internalized as character.

The theory certainly worked with George Washington. Those ethics alarms installed by his father stayed in working order throughout his life. It was said that Washington was known to quote the rules when appropriate, and never forgot them. They did not teach him to be a gifted leader, but they helped to make him a trustworthy one.

The list has been available at a link here (under Rule Book, to your left), almost from the beginning of Ethics Alarms. Would that readers would access it more often. Here are my 20 favorite highlights from the list that helped make George George, and also helped George make America America: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Education, Ethics Heroes, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Leadership, Religion and Philosophy

From The Ethics Alarms “What You Say Or Think In Private Is None Of Your Employer’s Business, Until It Isn’t Private Any More” Files: The Teachers’ Bar Game

teachers-at-a-bar

Akin to the Naked Teacher Principle is what this fiasco illustrates. If you allow conversations to make their way to the web and they insult or denigrate individuals who have to trust you or work with you in your employment, you cannot complain when your name is mud and your job is toast.

Some teachers and and staff employed by the Bangor Public Schools were relaxing at a local bar, and started playing a game  called “Fuck, Marry, or Kill.” The game challenges the players to name three celebrities they would marry, have intimate relations with or kill, but the educators decided to substitute students and other teachers for the celebrities.Some the students named as desired murder victims or sex partners were special needs students. What fun!

No ethics alarms sounded. Someone made a video, nobody grabbed the phone and stomped on , and the video ended up on YouTube.

Parents were not pleased. Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Education, Etiquette and manners, Professions

The Sudden Fall Of Milo Yiannopoulos: An Ethics Cautionary Tale

milo-y

Wow.

Frank Sinatra would have recognized this tale…

That’s life (that’s life) that’s what people say
You’re riding high in April
Shot down in May

But will Milo Yiannopoulos, the deliberately offensive Breitbart editor,  alt-right cheer-leader, misogynist and professional  troll be able to emulate Ol’ Blue Eyes and be back on top, back on top in June?

Uh, no.

Good.

In case you missed it, Milo had this very month soared higher than any vile, bigoted, uncivil loudmouth without any talent other than being vile, bigoted, and uncivil—are those really talents?—had soared before. Thanks to the fact that his threatened presence as an invited campus speaker had exposed the deep, anti-speech, totalitarian strain in U.S. higher education, and that the currently super-charged Leftist hypocrites who were already playing Brown shirts in response to the Presidential election smoothly transitioned to rioting at Berkeley because of the alleged threat posed by this silly, self-important jerk, Milo had become a genuine celebrity, thus ruining the name of Milo, maybe forever, which had previously evoked…

milo-oshea

…late Irish character actor Milo O’Shea

milo-m

…”Catch 22″ con man Milo Minderbinder (Jon Voight played him in the film), and…

milo-and-otis

…nauseating Japanese puppy and kitten-pal flick “Milo and Otis” (that’s Milo on the right).

But I digress.

Milo’s infamy  had snagged a book deal that would guarantee him millions. He scored a high profile interview on HBO with fellow troll, misogynist and jerk-in-arms Bill Maher, who is as much of an asshole as Milo but never gets shouted down when he appears on college campuses because he aims his vile words at conservative values, icons and figures, and most conservatives believe in free speech. Best of all, CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, debased itself by inviting him to speak, on the theory that the enemy of their enemies is their friend, or something like that.

Milo had hit the celebrity jackpot! Rich! Famous! Influential!

…Shunned. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, language, Popular Culture, Race, U.S. Society

Now THIS Is An Unethical IRS Employee…Howard Stern Too, But We Knew HE Was Unethical

[There is supposed to be a photo of Howard Stern here, but WordPress keeps refusing to embed it, thus showing the software’s admirable good taste.]

In May of 2015, Judith Barrigas of Sandwich, Massachusetts called the IRS service center  with a question about her tax refund. She reached IRS agent Jimmy Forsythe, who was goofing off on the job, on hold after a call to Howard Stern’s radio show on satellite radio. Forsythe, still on hold (or so he thought) took the taxpayer’s call, and when the Stern show took reconnected, Stern’s listeners somehow heard Forsythe’s conversation with Barrigas.  Stern and paid sycophant Robin Quivers then joked about the call, which concerned Barrigas’s payment plan: the IRS had applied Barrigas’s tax refund to pay her outstanding debts from 2011 and 2012, even though she complained she already had a repayment plan set up with the  IRS. Her call, which she assumed was private, should have assumed was private and was guranteed by federal law to BE private, was on the airwaves for nearly an hour.

“I’m learning so much,” said Stern at the time, before he finally cut off the surreptitious eavesdropping. “I feel like I’m in math class and I’m flunking because I don’t know one thing he’s saying. I think I’m going to bail on this guy. By the way, this is the most boring job ever. I’d rather live in my parent’s basement if I had to do that. I’d give out all the wrong information. All right, dude, later!”

Barrigas  has just sued  the IRS, the Howard Stern Production Company, and Stern individually for violations of the Federal Tort Claims Act,  unlawful disclosure of tax returns and personal information, and just the for the Stern side,  negligence, invasion of privacy, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Ethics Observations: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Workplace

Bias Makes The News Media Stupid, But It Makes Politicians Untrustworthy Jerks

Dad warned me about people like you, Al...

Dad warned me about people like you, Al…

The Stupid: Journalists

Let me begin by saying how happy I am that the mainstream news medias “fake news” gambit, where it attempted to blame President Trump’s election on ridiculous hoax stories spread on social media to distract from its own biased, dishonest and incompetent reporting, has blown up in its metaphorical face like those Acme booby traps do to Wile E. Coyote.

Here’s a new and especially stupid example of the biased, dishonest and incompetent reporting, although “dishonest” wasn’t in play.

The website Pop Suger posted an extremely inept and confusing story concerning U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who made history in the 2016 Olympics as the first female Muslim American to medal for the United States and the first American to compete in the Games wearing a hijab. The site and the reporter signal their untrustworthiness and Bias Makes You Stupid (BMYS) credentials by writing of the controversial immigration halt Executive Order,

“The executive order blocked thousands of refugees, immigrants, and visitors from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States before it was struck down by a judge many days later.”

No, you ignorant dolts, the order was not and has not been “struck down.” It has been subject to a temporary restraining order, which is absolutely not the same as being struck down, as any second year law student intern could have told you if you cared more about accurate reporting  than bashing the President.

The story described Muhammad’s statements when she took the stage at a conference last week  and answered a question about the “travel ban” by saying that she had been personally “held at Customs for two hours just a few weeks ago.”  The athlete is not as adept at time sense as she is at her sport, because she eventually had to clarify that “just a few weeks ago” meant “in December.”   The website followed  with an update, but never mind. TIME saw her statement, didn’t check the time frame or notice the update, and tweeted yesterday (remember, the story was clarified two days before, and was wrong to begin with) the headline in TIME’s “Motto.”

“Olympic athlete Ibtihaj Muhammad was detained because of President Trump’s travel ban”

The U.K.’s Independent went with a story titled, “US Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad says she was detained by Customs after Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim ban.’

The Hill published an article whose opening paragraph read, “A Muslim-American Olympic medalist says she was detained by Customs for nearly two hours without explanation after President Trump’s travel ban was instituted a few weeks ago.”

Sports Illustrated and ESPN also published stories implying that Muhammad’s Customs detention was triggered by Trump’s immigration order,  and other journalists and pundits expressed indignation on social media.

Remember,  Muhammad was detained in December of 2016. Barack Obama was President. Trump’s Executive Order was just a twinkle in his eye. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Family, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President

From The “It’s No Fun Being An Ethicist” Files: I Offend Some Seminar Attendees…

mao

I facilitated a professional ethics seminar a while ago for a scholarly institution, (The locale, names and client have been changed to protect the guilty.) The discussion came around to rationalizations and my favorite on the list, #22:

22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

If “Everybody does it” is the Golden Rationalization, this is the bottom of the barrel. Yet amazingly, this excuse is popular in high places: witness the “Abu Ghraib was bad, but our soldiers would never cut off Nick Berg’s head” argument that was common during the height of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. It is true that for most ethical misconduct, there are indeed “worse things.” Lying to your boss in order to goof off at the golf course isn’t as bad as stealing a ham, and stealing a ham is nothing compared selling military secrets to North Korea. So what? We judge human conduct against ideals of good behavior that we aspire to, not by the bad behavior of others. One’s objective is to be the best human being that we can be, not to just avoid being the worst rotter anyone has ever met.

Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

In this case I did a sarcastic riff that is usually well received, about the common example of #22, “It’s not like he killed somebody”:

“Well, you can’t argue with that logic, can you? And if he did kill somebody, it’s not like he killed two people. And even then, that’s not as bad as being, say, a serial killer, like Son of Sam, who, when you think about it, isn’t nearly as bad as a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden. But he’s not as bad as Hitler, and even Adolf isn’t as bad as Mao, who killed about ten times more people than Hitler did. And Mao’s no so bad when you compare him to Darth Vader, who blew up Princess Leia’s whole planet…”

It made the point, and the audience laughed. Then, quite a bit later, I received an e-mail from a participant, complaing about this section. Can you guess what the complaint was?

Think about it a bit…

Time’s up!

Do you have an answer? Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Professions, The Internet

Ugh. Well, I Guess That Answers The Question About Whether Being President Would Make Trump More Civil…

pocahontas-saves-smith-1870

Apparently during a meeting with Democratic Senators, President Trump repeatedly referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” the mocking nickname (which didn’t originate with him) often used by her detractors to refer to Warren’s unsubstantiated claims of Native American heritage. Warren once exploited what she later asserted was oral family lore to benefit from a university’s affirmative action hiring policy.

No, she was not at the meeting. From George Washington’s 11o rules of civility:

Rule 89: Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.

Ugh. To say that Presidents Trump’s mockery was uncivil and unpresidential is insufficient. Using playground name-calling to denigrate any elected official is boorish, juvenile and really, really stupid as well. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Leadership