Category Archives: Literature

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/4/2018: 500 Days Edition

Good Morning!

1.  In one respect, it is his fault. The most infuriating defenses of the Samantha Bee cunt-fest may be the rationalizations who pronounce her blameless (and thus Turner/TBS) because President Trump made her do it. (Well, maybe the second most infuriating: CNN fake-ethics commentator Brian Stelter actually referred to the episode in a tweet as the “feckless” controversy. You see, Brian, when your field is journalism ethics, you can’t play deceit games like that, because…oh, why do I bother?). To be fair, however, while Bee and the other potty mouthed resistance members and DNC leaders should be held responsible for their own ugly conduct, electing Donald Trump did give a cultural green light to incivility and assholery.

Since nobody else gives me credit and public recognition when I’m right before most of the chattering class (Ethicists Don’t Matter), I have to do it myself. Here is what I wrote in part on September 10, 2015:

We have elected Presidents without experience, who were narcissists, sociopaths or psychopaths, who were not too bright, who were unjustifiably cocky, who spouted policy nonsense, who had only style without substance, who acted tough, who were the product of marketing rather than talent. Some of them turned out to be pretty good; some of them surprised everyone and changed their ways. None of them wrecked the nation. I am confident that even at this difficult time in our nation’s history, reeling from the serial incompetence of  the Bush and Obama administrations, the United States could survive a Trump Presidency as a nation.

We could not, however, survive it as a culture.

Placing a man with Trump’s personality and his rejection of the basic features of civilized conduct and discourse to an extent that only the obscenely rich or the resolutely misanthropic can get away with would ensure that American culture would deteriorate into a gross, rude, selfish, assault muck in which no rational human being would want to live…

Even if Trump was a policy whiz, a political magician and a foreign policy master who balanced the budget and restored American’s primacy in the world, it would not be worth what would be lost: dignity, fairness, civility, caring, respect.

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Farewell To The Boy Scouts

I’m leading off the day with this topic. My Dad, who would have turned 98 yesterday had he survived that long, would have wanted me to, I think.

The Boy Scouts, he made clear, taught him much of what he learned about being a man, an American, and an honorable citizen. The organization gave a young, physically unimpressive, lonely kid whose father had abandoned him and whose mother was moving between jobs and apartments during the Depression a place to meet the life-long friends who supported each other for more than 70 years, and most of all, to learn basic ethical values. Dad was certain that he might have ended up in jail without the Scouts: he was suspicious of authority, headstrong, and kept his own counsel. He definitely would not have had a family, as he was bitter about his own father’s betrayal. Thanks in great part to scouting, Jack A. Marshall, Sr. was a war hero, a Harvard grad, a lawyer, but most important of all to himself and to me, a loving, supportive, dedicated father.

So, in a way, I owe my life to the Boy Scouts as well. I joined the organization for a while, but outside of having the Boy Scout Law [“A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.”] engraved on my brain for life, it wasn’t my thing. My son never wanted to get involved at all. Yet through my father, scouting was massively influential on the course of my life, and the development of my character.

As you may have heard by now, the Boy Scouts of America is striking “boys” from the name of its flagship program for 11-to 17-year-olds, and beginning in February 2019, will accept girls into its troops. This was the dropping of the other shoe following last year’s announcement that girls could join the younger Cub Scout units. Now young women will be eligible to reach the Eagle Scout rank, the highest achievement of the organization.

Mike Surbaugh, Chief Scout Executive, told the AP, “[W]e’re trying to find the right way to say we’re here for both young men and young women.” Translation: “We’re trying to survive.” The ethical problem such a strategy involves is that when an organization abandons its mission just to stay in business, it has lost its integrity, and should probably just dissolve.  The mission of the Boy Scouts since it was founded in 1910 has been to prepare boys “to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.” Preparing boys to be men and girls to be women are both worthy missions, but they are not the same mission, much as radical feminists and cultural revolutionaries would have us believe. Where does a young boy like my father go now to find a male peer group and the guidance of responsible male role models? Your guess is as good as mine, but the answer isn’t the Scouts.
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Instagram Busts A Lawyer’s Lie

New York-based lawyer Lina Franco had missed a November 23, 2016 filing deadline for a motion for class certification in a wage-and-hour law suit. Missing deadlines is a lawyer n0-no, and can get you sanctioned, sued, fired, or worse.  Luckily, Franco had an excuse, or so she thought.  She filed for an extension 16 days past the deadline, claiming that she had been forced to leave the country for the family emergency. She even submitted a flight itinerary showing she had flown from New York City to Mexico City on Thursday, November 21, and had remained there until December 8.

Let’s call this particular social media gaffe Ferris Bueller’s Mistake.  For Instagram photos from Franco’s public account indicated that she was in New York City and later Miami during that period. You know, like when Ferris turned up on TV at a ball game when he was supposedly sick in bed? Like that.  There was another teeny problem: November 21, 2016 was a Monday, not a Thursday, as the judge sanctioning Franco $10,000 pointed out in his ruling.

Franco now admits that she had gone to Mexico City earlier in November than she said, but that her mother’s medical diagnosis sent her “into a tailspin” causing her to miss the deadline and to submit the  false itinerary.

Now watch Instagram posts show up from Franco’s mother, with photos of her winning a seniors kickboxing tournament. Continue reading

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Wait…Al Gore Is From Ancient India?

Okay, okay, I know Al has been riddled with cheap shots over this and never claimed to be the inventor of the Internet. However, that apocryphal claim makes more sense than this one, recently made by Biplab Deb, the chief minister of the Indian state of Tripura. He insists that the Internet was invented thousands of years ago by ancient Indians.

And you thought President Trump saying that Andrew Jackson could have prevented the Civil War was bad!

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s

Biplab!

“Narrow minded people find it tough to believe this. They want to belittle their own nation and think highly of other countries. Believe the truth. Don’t get confused and confuse others . . India has been using internet since ages. In Mahabharata, Sanjay was blind but he narrated what was happening in the battlefield to Dhritarashtra anyway. This was due to internet and technology. Satellite also existed during that period . . . Some European countries and the US claim that the modern communication system were their invention, but we had all these technologies in ancient times.”

Just in case you think he was misunderstood. or mistranslated, Minister Deb doubled down, elaborating in a scholarly fashion, almost as if he weren’t certifiably off his rocker and so technologically ignorant that he makes Hillary Clinton look like Steve Jobs, in a more recent interview when asked about his earlier jaw-dropping comments:

Whether Mahabharat, Ramayana or Upanishad, these are the empirical texts of our culture. If a person sitting in a palace can narrate what is happening in a battlefield 50 km away, there must have been some technique. Ordinary eyes do not have the facility to see such things. This was a particular technology, in the name of Sanjaya, which is akin to the Internet of today. Now if some of my friends raise questions on proof, then I would say that the proof lies in the Internet technology of today. Those who cannot understand, and feel that to oppose they must run down Indian culture and civilisation and aggrandise Western culture, they are provoked by my statements.

For example, how did the Wright Brothers think up of aeroplanes? They watched birds fly and conceived of a technology that could make a plane that flew. Thus Sanjaya’s use of a technology that could see events far away proves the superiority of Indian civilisation. Those who do not believe in Rama will question his existence. In the time of Rama, there was the Sarayu river, now too it is there. I am born of my mother, why do I believe that, because my mother told me so.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/24/18: Ethics Musings While Not Marching [UPDATED]

A Good Saturday Morning To All!

[If you had a speech impediment and lisped your “s’s”, would you choose this song as your only solo among the repertoire of your singing group? Why didn’t Karen tell her bother? This has mystified me for decades…]

1  It’s irrational and pointless fury day in D.C. Today hundreds of thousands of intellectually dishonest, ignorant or purely emotional citizens will be doing the equivalent of screaming at the sky to call for “something” to be done about gun violence., because “think of the children.” Yes, I think that’s a fair characterization.

Given the chance to suggest actual measures that would stop the equivalent of the Parkland shooting, one of my usually rational but currently virtue-signalling-to beat-the-band friends really made this pathetic argument in response to a Facebook post that was a shorter, gentler version of what I just posted on Ethics Alarms: ‘Where is your empathy? Would you feel this way if your son had been killed in the Parkland shooting?”

Can you believe that? “How would you feel if you were so emotionally ruined, angry and despairing that you couldn’t think straight?” Why, I believe that I would be so emotionally ruined, angry and despairing that I couldn’t think straight—and thus useless to any serious and objective public policy discussion. As I told my friend, when “Why can’t you be irrationally and emotionally biased like the rest of us?” is your reflex rebuttal, you’ve got nothin.

2. Related: YouTube is banning gun instructional videos. This a part of a growing trend in the online platform world to attempt to constrict information and discourse according to ideology and partisan preferences. There is no more justification for banning how-to videos about guns than there is for banning how-to videos for chain-saws. The social media companies are going to have to be regulated as common carriers, or the right of free speech and access to information will be slowly strangled by these left-wing, high-tech, useful idiots.

3. From the ” Tragic Misunderstandings of the Cognitive Dissonance Scale” files. Lindsay Lohan is the new spokesperson for Lawyer.com. What, O.J. wasn’t available? Continue reading

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Salon Declares That God Is A Bad Writer

Morons.

Valerie Tarico, psychologist and writer who runs a gimmicky ethics blog,  and her editors at Salon decided that it would be clever and smart to launch a frontal attack on the Bible, and by extension most devout Christians, by arguing that because the book is full of, according to her, “mixed messages, repetition, bad fact-checking, awkward constructions, inconsistent voice, weak character development, boring tangents, contradictions, passages where nobody can tell what the heck the writer meant to convey,”  it isn’t authentic:

“Millions of evangelicals and other Christian fundamentalists believe that the Bible was dictated by God to men who acted essentially as human transcriptionists. If that were the case, one would have to conclude that God is a terrible writer. Many passages in the Bible would get kicked back by any competent editor or writing professor, kicked back with a lot of red ink—often more red than black…This doesn’t sound like a book that was dictated by a deity.”

The obvious intent of the Tarico and Salon was to mock the Bible, not engage in a serious examination of its origins, and ridicule Christians who revere it. There is no benign justification for this mission; it is just gratuitously nasty, disrespectful, and anti-Christian. Ethics Alarms no longer has a vocal, militant atheist among its regular commenters—Where have you gone, tgt? The blog turns its lonely eyes to you!-–but I suspect even he would find this essay irresponsible. It is especially so since the essay begins with an ignorant proposition which so many commenters flagged that Salon pulled down the post. Nobody claims that God dictated the Bible. Then there are the related matters of multiple translations, translations of translations, and the undisputed fact that different authors (including, many scholars believe, William Shakespeare) from different periods wrote separate parts of the book in their own words. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “I Worry About Cary Grant”

Today’s Comment of the Day was spawned by the post about the fading of cultural memories of important film artists. texaggo4 has his doubts about my concerns, and whether the phenomenon is worth worrying about, or even a problem at all.

I admit, this topic is an unusually intense and personal one for me. It was the reason why I devoted a large portion of my life and creative energy for twenty years to the quixotic challenge of creating and trying to maintain a professional theater company in the Washington, D.C. area devoted to producing American stage works of quality and historical importance that were in danger of falling out of the American stage repertoire entirely, if they were not already forgotten. We proved that many shows thought hopelessly dated or politically incorrect still worked (“The Boys in the Band,” “The Seven Year Itch,” “Native Son,” “The Cradle Will Rock”…), found genuine masterpieces that almost nobody knew existed (“Moby Dick Rehearsed,” “Machinal,’ “Marathon 33″…), and lost a fortune on artistic gambles that didn’t pan out, for a wide variety of reasons, including bad management, bad luck, or the unpredictability of show biz. Notable disasters that still give me nightmares include ” “Home of the Brave,'” Mr Roberts,” “A Flag is Born,” “Dear World, and “The Pirate.” We had a devoted and loyal following, and I think we proved our point, but basically didn’t make a ripple despite all that work. (Except perhaps in this case, and maybe that was enough…) Heck, our theater was in a school building, and we couldn’t get any teachers to bring their classes to our shows, even for free.

But then, most of my life has been devoted to futile pursuits. After all, I’m an ethicist…

Here is tex’s Comment of the Day on the post,I Worry About Cary Grant:

What exactly are we asking for here? Facial recognition of the actor and an ability to recollect every great movie ever produced? What’s the goal of Cultural Memory? It cannot be the rote memorization of EVERY SINGLE great artist, producer and creator of art & culture. 1, we’d never have time to get around to memorizing ALL of it, 2, we’d never have time to get around to viewing all of it, 3, we’d never have any time to get around producing new examples of it, 4, we’d never have any time to get around doing anything else that life calls us to do.

The great conversation, as it is called, which is the ongoing “dialogue” between artists of the present with their contemporaries as well as with their predecessors. Artists take the concepts that are explored in the past, the debates had between opposing concepts in the past, and rework them in the present, either shedding light on new angles or re-engaging the old arguments, or bolstering new arguments. This long process of cultural production has produced MILLIONS of individual works and, without a doubt, TENS of thousands of artists. Of those countless producers & performers, we can assume there are many many thousands of individual works that could be called “culturally iconic” or “unique” or “ground breaking” and thousands of artists.

Feeling less well read that I ought to, I compiled a list of what several thinkers considered to be the “Western Canon”: a list of essential books that captured the literary and written philosophy component of this “Great Conversation”, with the goal of plodding through them over my lifetime.

930 books. Just the books.

The authors, as I read their names, certainly had recognizable names and I could probably guess relatively accurately the eras they wrote in. Could I reasonably hold a discussion or even mention some prominent idea found in them? Maybe 10% of that list. With any level of deeper understanding? Less than that.

But what I could do, without those books, is hold a relatively well thought out conversation about the ideas that most of those books were also exploring. Why? Because that is what cultural memory does for us, without being able to hold an in depth idea about a particular work of art, we can still be able to hold in depth ideas about the particular notion that a work of art was exploring. Because cultural memory goes a great way towards preserving, through the Great Conversation, all those ideas and philosophies and beauties and art, without me having to memorize in rote detail the specifics of each work.

930 books, considered essential to grasp the great conversation of *just* Western Culture. How many paintings & painters? How many concertos and composers? How many sculptures? How many plays and playwrights and stage actors? How many buildings and architects? How many movies and directors and actors and screenwriters?

The interesting thing of course, is how the growth of culture has accelerated due to population, communication and technology. Whereas one generation in the 1000s may have produced a half dozen *iconic* culture producers, one generation in the 1500s produced several dozen *iconic* culture producers. One generation in the 1700s, maybe 100. A generation of the 1900s, easily several hundred.

Producers. Multiply that by 10 for iconic works. And I think I’m underestimating. Continue reading

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