Category Archives: History

Willful Amnesia And The Great Cat And Dog Massacre

Did you know that animal-loving British families killed an estimated 400,000 household pets—cats and dogs—in the first week after Great Britain declared war on Germany in September, 1939? Neither did I, and now a new book by Hilda Kean, “The Great Dog and Cat Massacre,” sets out to remind us of that ugly episode.

As the New York Times review of the book notes and Kean explains, the mass euthanasia was “publicly lamented at the time,” but has since been erased from memory.  But why has it been erased from memory, and how? This is a disturbing cultural phenomenon that Ethics Alarms has covered before, notably in the post about dance marathons in the U.S. during the Depression. One of the definitions of culture is what we choose to remember and what we choose to forget. Forgetting, however, while often psychically soothing and an easy way to avoid guilt and accountability, is a pre-unethical condition. That which has been forgotten can no longer teach us, and a society that collectively decides to pretend something cruel, horrible or traumatic didn’t happen risks allowing it to happen again.

This, of course, is one more reason why the recent progressive mania for historical airbrushing is dangerous, irresponsible and unethical. Keep that statue of “Joe Pa” on the Penn State campus. Leave  King Andy on the twenty dollar bill.  Don’t take down that bust of Bill Cosby in the TV Hall of Fame. All civilizations have fallen heroes, moments of panic, times when they forget their values and betray their aspirations. Of course it is painful and embarrassing to remember these things, but also essential if human ethics are going to progress instead of stagnating, or even going backwards. We associate the elimination of cultural memories with totalitarian regimes, and for good reason, for they are blatant and shameless about it.

No nation is immune from the process’s appeal, however. When I was going to grade school and studying the Presidents of the United States, Jackson and Woodrow Wilson were routinely hailed by (mostly Democratic) historians as among the greatest of the great. The first Jackson biography I read barely mentioned the Trail of Tears. I read four well-regarded biographies of Wilson that ignored his support for Jim Crow, and the degree to which he deliberated reversed advances in civil rights, being an unapologetic white supremacist. The influenza epidemic that killed millions was excised from my school’s history books. Thomas Jefferson’s concubine, Sally Hemmings? Who? Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Around the World, Education, History, Race

On Unions, Abusive Flight Attendants, Golf Balls In My Hash Browns, And Res Ipsa Loquitur

By now you have heard the latest example of Outrage in the Air, the American Airlines flight attendant running amuck. A video of  part of the incident was posted by a passenger, Surain Adyanthaya, who uploaded it to Facebook. Adyanthaya wrote about what she witnessed on Flight 591  from San Francisco International Airport to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, saying,

“OMG! AA Flight attendant violently took a stroller from a lady with her baby on my flight, hitting her and just missing the baby. Then he tried to fight a passenger who stood up for her.”

The basic facts of the episode have been confirmed by multiple passengers, and the altercation has been reported across the news media. Then there is the video. It  does not show the stroller incident that Adyanthaya described, but it does show a female passenger standing at the front of the plane, sobbing uncontrollably as she holds her baby, as she says, “You can’t use violence with a baby.Just give me back my stroller, please.”

A male passenger seated near the front of the plane suddenly comes to the woman’s aid, saying,  “No, I’m not going to sit here and watch this stuff.” He then stands up and demands to know the male flight attendant’s name. The flight attendant who grabbed the stroller appears, prompting the male passenger to warn him.

“Hey, bud, you do that to me, and I’ll knock you flat,” he says. “Hey, you stay out of this!” the flight attendant shouts back at him, pointing his finger at the passenger. He then steps forward, challenging the passenger. “Hit me,” the flight attendant says, motioning with his hands. “Come on, hit me! You don’t know what the story is!”

“I don’t care what the story is,” the defiant male passenger replies. “You almost hurt a baby.”

Boy, from now on, I’m flying United. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Etiquette and manners, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Quotes, Workplace

Addendum: The Dishonest Tax Day Anti-Trump Protests (And The Misleading Defenses Of Them)

How quickly we forget…

I wasn’t going to post any more on this topic, but in 2012 CBS helpfully provided some historical perspective on the supposed “tradition” of candidates releasing tax returns. Some revelations:

1. Donald Trump was not the “first candidate since Nixon” to refuse to release his returns.

Who else didn’t? Why H. Ross Perot, the third party candidate who cost George H.W. Bush re-election in 1992! And what a coincidence: Perot was also a billionaire with complex finances and conflicts! Had he been elected, and that was not beyond the realm of possibility, he, not Trump, would have been the first President since George Washington without elected office experience or experience in military command.  Perot got almost 20 million votes  from Americans who presumable cared about other issues more than Perot’s tax returns, or his refusal to release them.

So Trump was following tradition and practice: the tradition and practice of all billionaires running for President to refuse to release their taxes. The tradition even extends to some half-billionaires: Steve Forbes, another businessman who made a strong run at the GOP nomination in 1996, also refused to release his returns.

(By the way, Perot’s returns were not a major issue in the election, nor did the mainstream media harp on it. But there was some semblance of fair journalism then.)

2. When tax returns are released by candidates, the opposition will still find reasons to object, raise suspicions, and claim that they are not enough. Mitt Romney released two years of returns, and Democrats said he was hiding something nefarious.

In 2008, Barack Obama released seven years of tax returns, then accused Hillary, his opposition for the nomination, of hiding something. “Senator [Hillary] Clinton can’t claim to be vetted until she allows the public the opportunity to see her finances — particularly with respect to any investment in tax shelters,” Obama’s spokesperson Robert Gibbs said. Continue reading

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Filed under Finance, Government & Politics, History

From The “Saint’s Excuse” Files:The Catholic Church, Penn State, and Now Choate…What Have We Learned?

Protect the hive. Always protect the hive…

The renowned private boarding school school Choate Rosemary Hall, alma mater of such luminaries as John Dos Passos, Edward Albee, Glenn Close, multiple Kennedys and dozens more of the rich, famous and powerful, , just revealed that at least twelve former teachers had sexually molested, and in one case, raped, students without the crimes being reported to police. The pattern continued over decades. In some cases, teachers were allowed to resign after being confronted with evidence of abuse, and administrators wrote still letters of recommendations for them after they were fired. The predators then went to other schools, sometimes in positions of power and authority.

After the similar institutional conduct revealed by the Catholic Church and Penn State, does anyone believe that this is a rare occurrence in institution, including the most prestigious—and virtuous!—ones? The lesson is that established, powerful, iconic institutions are programmed to protect themselves above others, and regard their own missions and continued vitality more precious than any single individual, even a child.

Revisiting one of the most important of the Ethics Alarms’ 92 rationalizations:

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

This rationalization has probably caused more death and human suffering than any other. The words “it’s for a good cause” have been used to justify all sorts of lies, scams and mayhem. It is the downfall of the zealot, the true believer, and the passionate advocate that almost any action that supports “the Cause,’ whether it be liberty, religion, charity, or curing a plague, is seen as being justified by the inherent rightness of the ultimate goal. Thus Catholic Bishops protected child-molesting priests to protect the Church, and the American Red Cross used deceptive promotions to swell its blood supplies after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Saint’s Excuse  allows charities to strong-arm contributors, and advocacy groups to use lies and innuendo to savage ideological opponents. The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else.

Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Childhood and children, Education, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Philanthropy, Non-Profits and Charity, Religion and Philosophy

Arrgh! They Made Me Defend Sean Spicer!

Yes, he’s an idiot. Still...

The latest Sean Spicer controversy was so, so stupid that I swore—swore I tell you!—that I would not lower myself to write about it.

The Trump Administration spokesman, making the dumb assertion that Assad is even worse than Hitler because Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” was absurdly—gleefully?— attacked as a Holocaust denier.ThnkProgress, which I am going to have to place on my “never trust these hacks” list, wrote that Spicer “argued that the Nazis never used chemical weapons during the Holocaust,” which is a lie, flat out. Spicer didn’t mention the Holocaust at all. Then The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect released a statement saying,

“On Passover no less, Sean Spicer has engaged in Holocaust denial, the most offensive form of fake news imaginable, by denying Hitler gassed millions of Jews to death.”

This is perhaps not quite a lie, since the combination of confirmation bias and paranoia could make this organization see Holocaust denial behind every rock, but it is no less ridiculous, inflammatory and unfair. Then some of my 2016 election-deranged friends—I now picture them wrapped in tin foil, wearing Groucho glasses and spreading DDT around as they sit cross-legged in a teepee with a flaming penguin on their heads—began citing the Anne Frank Center slander with approval, and garnishing likes from a lot of people who I usually like and who once had brains larger than marbles.

So now I have to defend Sean Spicer. Yecchh.

Observations:

1. Everyone is calling for Trump to fire Spicer. Of course he should fire Spicer. He should have fired Spicer  months ago. Sean Spicer is incompetent, bumbling, inarticulate and gaffe prone. He is even more incompetent, bumbling, inarticulate and gaffe prone than Robert Gibbs, who was the most incompetent, bumbling, inarticulate and gaffe prone press secretary I ever had the pain of watching. (Obama’s subsequent press secretaries were just liars.). Spicer is much worse than Gibbs, though he doesn’t say uh-uh-un-um-um-um as much. I wish he would: they would be an improvement over what he does say. Spicer looks stupid and sounds stupid, so he represents the President and his entire administration as stupid WHICH THEY MIGHT BE, but his job is to place both in the best light possible. He does the opposite. This Hitler botch was just the most recent example.

2. Trump promised to appoint and hire “the best people,” so having one of the worst people imaginable representing his Presidency to the news media and the public leaves “incompetent” in the dust as “suicidal” takes over. This is especially true since the President knows that the news media is actively hostile to his leadership and is actively allied with the Democrats to bring him down and cancel out that damned election by any means possible. Trump’s situation screams out for a spokesman with the credibility, suave and wit of the late Tony Snow or the fierce intellect and articulateness of the very much alive Laura Ingraham. The fact that Trump can’t see that, and that his advisors haven’t threatened to walk out and join an anti-Trump rally if he refused to fire this clod and send him back to the Budget car rental desk or wherever he came from is really ominous. If “best people” means people like Spicer…well, I don’t like to think about it. And if the “You’re fired!” executive won’t fire someone who performs as horribly as him, who will he fire?

3. The Hitler statement was, no question, idiotic. At best, it was the most egregiously warped use of Rationalization # 32. The Unethical Role Model imaginable: Spicer was really saying, “why couldn’t Assad be more like Hitler?”! At worst, it  was like walking into the buzz-saw of the Trump-hate narrative that the President and his team are virtual Nazis and secret anti-Semites. It was so dumb that the fact that Spicer didn’t physically try to stuff the words back into his mouth as they started coming out is signature significance that the man belongs in a home. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, War and the Military, Workplace

Dead President Ethics: The Post Mortem Odyssey Of James K. Polk

James K. Polk is one of my favorite Presidents, in part because he has never received his due for being spectacularly effective, if unwavering ruthless in achieving his goals. By the standards of fulfilling his own stated objectives, a President can’t be more successful than Polk. He pledged to expand U.S. territory to the West, Southwest and North, and did so, then served only one term, as he had promised. Polk also wrote a fascinating diary, essentially an autobiography.

His relative obscurity arises in part because he was a one term President, but primarily because he existed in the shadow of his fellow Tennessean, Andrew Jackson, who was more flamboyant, more influential on more political fronts, and had far more than four years in the spotlight. He was also much taller. Poor Polk lived just three months after leaving office, dying of cholera in 1849, in Nashville. Tennessee. The laws of the time held that those who died of that dread disease be buried within 24 hours to prevent epidemics, so the former President of the United States was  laid to rest in a mass grave less than a year after leaving the White House.

A year later, Polk was removed from the mass grave and buried on the grounds of his Nashville home, Polk Place, in accordance with the will he drew up five months before his death. Polk, a lawyer, stipulated that his body and that of his wife be buried there, and that after his death and his wife’s, the property should be held in trust by the state, which would be bound allow a blood relative to live there. Unfortunately for the dead Polks, the ex-President made a tyro’s drafting gaffe. After Polk’s widow Sarah died in 1891, a court voided the terms of the will because it violated the common-law Rule Against Perpetuities: a property owner can’t bequeath property to unborn future generations. So Polk Place was sold to private interests, eventually razed, and today there is a boutique hotel on the property. On Sept. 19, 1893, Polk’s body and Sarah’s were moved again, to the Nashville grounds of the Capitol.

On a small patch of grass within a stone’s thrwo of the Capitol, the Polks’ grave is lies in a modest but attractive classical monument framed by Greek columns, with an inscription declaring  that Polk “planted the laws of the American union on the shores of the Pacific.” It was designed by William Strickland, the architect who also designed the Capitol itself and George Washington’s sarcophagus at Mount Vernon in Virginia. But Polk’s Jackson problem continues: his gravesite is dwarfed by a nearby equestrian statue of Old Hickory, and tourists virtually ignore it. And while Jackson’s grave at the Hermitage, his family plantation, is a major tourist draw in Nashville, Polk remains—that is Polk’s remains remain—an afterthought. When President Trump visited Nashville last month, he laid a wreath on Jackson’s tomb, and saluted him in a speech. As for the perpetually dissed 11th President, the campaign jeer of the Whig Party running against the first Dark Horse candidate in 1844 apparently remains appropriate: “Who is Polk?”
Continue reading

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Filed under Etiquette and manners, Family, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement

Reflections On My Final Visit To “The Greatest Show On Earth”

The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus will bring down its metaphorical Big Top for the final time in May. Its business model simply does not work any more, as an executive of the arena entertainment company that owns it said recently—especially since the circus capitulated to animal rights activists and fired its performing elephants. (Ticket sales dropped by almost a third.) This was an iconic cultural institution vanishing, so I had to say farewell, and did so last weekend, when the circus came to Washington, D.C. for the final time.

Observations:

1. It is still an entertaining show, even though  the Ringling brothers would never have recognized it as a circus. Several of the acts were worth the ticket price (in our cases, about 75 bucks) all by themselves.

2. The Verizon Center was about a third filled for the final show of the legendary Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. The Center itself was sparsely staffed; it took 20 minutes in line to buy popcorn. Americans, as a group, don’t care about history, culture and significant changes in it landscape any more. The circus and its components gave us imagery, lore, metaphors—“walking a tight rope,” “three ring circus,” (this one is now a two-and-a half ring circus at best), “ringmaster,” “dog and pony show,” “the big tent,” “side-shows,” “clown act,” —and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.” The nation is a little poorer and less colorful without it.

3. The public also increasingly sees little value in the mass audience experience. Live entertainment, especially family friendly varieties, were traditionally seen as an important and natural way to strengthen community ties, by bonding disparate members of society through a shared experience involving witnessing something transforming and memorable.

4. Assisting in the death of this experience is the trend of making sure all arena and stadium events  are filled with loud, never-ending, pounding electronic music that would make Phil Specter grab ear plugs. Once,  the circus’s dramatic  music consisted of drum rolls, bands and soft calliopes. If you watch the Cecil B. DeMille movie “The Greatest Show On Earth,” you will see spectators talking to each other during the acts, or shouting out to performers. Either is virtually impossible now. Conversation consists of screaming a few words repeatedly until your companion nods. This continues the cultural trend of making meaningful interaction with fellow human beings passe. How can this possibly be a healthy development for society?

I did see a lot of people texting….maybe to those sitting next to them.

5. Almost no venders were walking among the seated. A single snow cone from one of these cost $12.00.

6. This is how unintended cultural pollution takes place. The conglomerate that owns the circus also owns various ice shows, like Disney on Ice. To cut costs, it decided to employ performers from the ice shows in the circus too, meaning that instead of a sawdust path around the rings, the track around the performing areas are ice. Everyone is on skates half the time. It isn’t a bad effect: it’s faster than the old-style parades. But now the circus is an ice show. Continue reading

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