Pre-Memorial Day Weekend Ethics Warm-Up, 5/23/2019: Here, There, And Everywhere, With Hugs

Good morning…

Reflections: In D.C., today is being treated like a Friday, as it is assumed that everyone is taking off tomorrow for an extended 4-day weekend. It is irrelevant to ProEthics since we don’t take vacations, and ethics never sleeps, but impactful to Ethics Alarms, which means that I will be blogging for a handful of stalwarts—thank you all—and otherwise talking to myself.

This has me already thinking about Memorial Day, which in turn causes me to think about my father, who will be spending the holiday, now and forever, with my mother at Arlington National Cemetery. Being a World War II veteran was second only to being a father and husband in my father’s view of his life’s priorities. In his final years, he often drove down to the Mall and the World War II Memorial, wearing his vest with his medals, and served as kind of a volunteer exhibit himself, a real, live Word War II veteran for visitors, especially students and your tourist, to take photos with and interview. Many of his encounters that began with, “Excuse me, are you a real soldier from the war?” ended with him being hugged and even getting gifts. Now I regret I never accompanied him in some of those weekly excursions into old memories and personal pride. I only found out about them after his death in 2009.

A about a week after my dad died, I was at my parent’s condo with my mother. A knock on the door brought another resident of Fairlington South ( an Arlington, VA development converted from Army barracks during World War II) into the room. He was an active Vietnam vet, about my age, who had engaged my father to speak to his veterans’ group a few times, and who obviously admired Dad a great deal. He entered cheerily and asked, “Where’s Jack?” When I told him that Dad had died, the expression on his face melted into abject shock and grief so quickly and vividly that the image haunts me to this day.

I don’t think I fully appreciated how much my father was respected and loved by even casual acquaintances who knew about his service and character until that moment.

1. Theory: If you can’t win under the rules, change the rules. Nevada has joined the states attempting to by-pass the Constitution with the scheme of directing its electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote regardless of which candidate the state’s residents favored. I think that means 15 states, all with Democratric Party-dominated legislatures, are trying this stunt so far in frustration over Al Gore and Hillary Clinton joining Andrew Jackson, Samuel Tilden and Grover Cleveland on the list of Presidential candidates defeated by the Electoral College.

This is grandstanding: the device is unconstitutional on its face, and sinister mischief: the idea is to pander to civic ignorance (“Of course the popular vote winner should become President!” is an easy call if you don’t know anything about history or why the Electoral College was installed) and almost guarantees a Constitutional crisis and maybe violence in the streets the next time a Democrat loses despite a popular vote edge. Continue reading

My Involuntary Evolution On “Never Apologize…It’s A Sign Of Weakness!”

“Never apologize…It’s a sign of weakness!” is one of John Wayne’s many famous quotes from the characters he portrayed on film, though no one ever wrote a song about it like Buddy Holly did after he watched “The Searchers” and couldn’t get “That’ll be the day!” out of his head.

The line was given renewed life when NCIS leader Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) repeatedly cited it to his team of investigators on the apparently immortal CBS procedural “NCIS,” as he taught them about life, their duties, and ethics. “Never  say you’re sorry…It’s a sign of weakness!” is #8 (on some lists, #6) among  36 “Gibbs’ Rules” that include “If it seems like someone is out to get you, they are” (#30) and “Never date a co-worker” (#14).

Once, not very long ago, I regularly referenced #8 in ethics seminars as one of Gibbs’ worst rules when I discussed “Dr. Z’s Rules,” social scientist Philip Zimbardo’s tips for girding oneself against corruption in the workplace. One of the points on that list is,

“Be willing to say “I was wrong,” “I made a mistake,” and “I’ve changed my mind.” Don’t fear honesty, or to accept the consequences of what is already done.

I would tell my students that Gibbs and the Duke were wrong, that apologizing for wrongdoing is a sign of strength and integrity, signalling to all that you have the courage and humility to admit when you were wrong, and to move forward.

Then came the advent of social media bullying and Twitter lynch mobs, and I saw how I had underestimated the noodle-content of the  spines of politicians, celebrities, CEOs, and others… Continue reading

And Harvard’s Ethics Death Spiral Continues: The Lampoon’s Ann Frank “Gag”

Talk about ethics alarms malfunctioning.

Fortunately, I had already disavowed my Harvard degree before this surfaced, so I am only mortified rather than trying to figure out how to flush myself down the toilet.

Above is an allegedly  humorous gag from Harvard’s student-run humor magazine, which once gave us Robert Benchley, Al Franken, and “Animal House.”  [Full disclosure: I was rejected by the Lampoon when I competed to join the staff as a student. ] The magazine has often championed sophomoric humor as well as bad taste, but there are limits to everything. I’d say using the image and memory of a brave and iconic Jewish girl who died in a Nazi concentration camp for a cheap, spectacularly unfunny photoshop gag is over the line, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t just about anyone with an atom of common sense and decency?

Fortunately, some Harvard students erupted in anger over the photo of Frank’s head grafted on the body of a pumped-up busty bikini girl and the “ Add this to the list of  reasons the Holocaust  sucked” punch line. So did the New England branch of the Anti-Defamation League,  which condemned  the cartoon as a “vulgar, offensive & sexualized” meme that “denigrates [Ann Frank’s] memory & millions of Holocaust victims….Trivializing genocide plays into the hands of #antisemites & Holocaust deniers.” Continue reading

DC’s “Ethics Subway Train Wreck,” A Tragedy In Six Acts

…or, “A Streetcar Named Stupid”…

This is a Nation’s Capital, drama my friends…an ugly ethics mess, in

ACT I

Eating on a Metro train is a criminal violation in Washington, D.C., but the transit authority seems to think that enforcing laws is icky, or something, so Metro Transit Police Chief Ron Pavlik sent out an order on May 8, telling officers to “cease and desist from issuing criminal citations in the District of Columbia for fare evasion;  eating; drinking; spitting, and playing musical instruments without headphones until further advised.”

Telling officers not to enforce laws is per se incompetent and irresponsible. If you want to repeal the law, fine. An unenforced law, however, is an invitation to chaos. If the directive to ignore it is secret, then the public that sees scofflaws unimpeded assumes that law enforcement isn’t doing its job. If the public knows that the law won’t be enforced as a policy, then it will begin engaging in the conduct the law was made to prevent.

This is idiotic.

ACT II

Local author Natasha Tynes saw a Metro employee eating on a train,  and reported the woman to transit officials by tweeting a photo of the woman, in uniform, eating on the Red Line. She also tweeted that when she confronted the woman for breaking Metro rules, the woman replied, “Worry about yourself.” “When you’re on your morning commute & see @wmata employee in UNIFORM eating on the train,” Tynes tweeted. “I thought we were not allowed to eat on the train. This is unacceptable.”

She’s right. It’s unacceptable. Telling Metro officials that they should not ticket violators of the law does not mean that Metro employees are free to violate the law. This is a predictable result of Pavlik’s unethical order. Tynes, however, was engaging in responsible citizenship.

ACT III

In response to the tweet, the head of the MTA workers’ union stated that the employee had “done nothing wrong.”

This is ethics ignorance. There is a law against what the worker did, and the fact that violations (stupidly) weren’t being enforced doesn’t alter the wrongness of the conduct one iota. This is Ethics 101. Teach ethics in school!

Morons. Continue reading

Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/11/2019: No Laughing Matters

You know, Saturdays  were a lot more fun when I watched cartoons in the morning …

1. More on the divisive Red Sox visit to the White House, as all the blacks and Hispanic-Americans—but one—boycotted the honor.  Kyle Smith at the National Review has some spot-on observations. Some samples:

Naturally the media blamed the target of this calculated mass protest. “Did Donald Trump honor the Red Sox or the ‘White’ Sox?” asks columnist Edward Montini in the Arizona Republic, adding, “Trying to pretend that President Donald Trump has not caused a widening racial and ethnic divide means not believing what you can hear with your own ears and see — clearly — with your own eyes.” MSNBC guest and former Joe Biden chief of staff Ron Klain said, “I bet [Trump] was happy today that he was able to say that the white players were here and players of color weren’t. That’s the kind of division he fosters deliberately.”

Isn’t Klein’s statement obviously the blathering of an asshole? How far gone do you have to be to buy that? More from Kyle…

[L] et’s call this what it is: Top athletes, especially top athletes of color, are insulting the President of the United States. They have every right to do this, but let’s at least get the direction of the animosity right. Trump doesn’t invite just white athletes to the White House. The racial resentment in these ceremonies is being flung at him, not by him. The athletes, not the president, are racializing these ceremonies….These feel-good photo-ops for jocks are nonpartisan. Everyone used to understand this. Participating in a White House ceremony does not constitute an endorsement of a president, much less agreement with all of his policies. Before the Trump era, only a handful of athletes had ever been conspicuous no-shows at White House events to honor them, and most of them hastened to clarify that they had non-political reasons for missing the events. These days everything must be scrutinized for political content. Dave Zirin of The Nation is assailing Tiger Woods for accepting a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump, saying it amounted to “to kiss[ing] Trump’s ring.

Read it all, but really: who’s being an asshole here? It isn’t Trump.

2. Let’s give credit to conservative pundit Ben Shapiro for openly admitting that he behaved like jerk, but he really did behave like a jerk. Shapiro was a guest on  the BBC to discuss his new book, New York Times best-seller “The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great,.” Apparently he was expecting the kind of soft-ball, pandering interview from host Andrew Neil that he criticizes U.S. journalists for serving up to progressives and Democrats. Uh, no.

After greeting one another (the interview was conducted from London via satellite) Neil asked Shapiro whether he believed Georgia’s new abortion law was a return to the “dark ages.”

Rather than answering the question, Shapiro attacked the  questioner, saying, “OK, a couple of things. Are you [an] objective journalist or an opinion journalist?”

Neil’s response: “I’m a journalist who asks questions.” Continue reading

More Ethics Notes On The New York Times Anti-Semitic Cartoon

  • The main lesson of this episode (which was discussed here in the fourth item) is that the New York Times culture is so ideologically and politically biased and one-sided that even an obvious breach of taste, decency and ethics like this cartoon can slip by the deadened ethics alarms.

The American Jewish Committee said in response to The Times’s editors’ note after pulling the drawing,. “What does this say about your processes or your decision makers? How are you fixing it?”

The Times can’t fix it.

  • One Times columnist, the politically schizophrenic Bret Stephens, wrote that “in another age, might have been published in the pages of Der Stürmer,” the infamous anti-Semitic tabloid published during Germany’s Nazi regime. “The problem with the cartoon isn’t that its publication was a willful act of anti-Semitism. It wasn’t.” Stephens continued.

“The problem is that its publication was an astonishing act of ignorance of anti-Semitism …. at a publication that is otherwise hyper-alert to nearly every conceivable expression of prejudice, from mansplaining to racial microaggressions to transphobia.” Continue reading

Greek Easter Ethics Warm-Up: Authority, Causation, Credibility And Dead Ethics Alarms

Christos Anesti!

…as my Greek-American mother used to greet us every Greek Easter morn. You were supposed to respond in kind, but my father’s Greek pronunciation was always so  hilarious that I don’t recall that he ever did.

1. Anthony Napolitano and the appeal to authority. Fox analyst “Judge” Napolitano (you’re not supposed to call yourself “judge” after you stop being a judge, but never mind) is suddenly being hailed as a definitive legal authority because he has “broken ranks” (as the liberal websites put it) to argue that President Trump obstructed justice based on the Mueller report. Virtually nothing Napolitano said or opined on prior to this was ever treated by these same sudden fans as anything but the meanderings of a crank, but “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” as someone once said in Sanskrit.

I would never appeal to Napolitano’s authority, though he is far from a crank. He was indeed a lower court judge in New Jersey, he has taught at a law school, and he has written many books. He is not a conservative or a Republican but a libertarian. Like Ron Paul and his son Senator Rand, Napolitano’s ideology is such that he arrives at positions that make it impossible for me to trust his reasoning processes. Notably, he doesn’t think Abraham Lincoln should have fought the Civil War or abolished slavery, saying that it would have been better to allow slavery to peter out peacefully without government intervention. I wonder how the slaves would have felt about that?

He also believes that human life should have full legal rights at conception, and that abortion ought to be outlawed completely. Well, both of those positions—he has others equally extreme—mean to me that as smart as he may be, I don’t know what kind of extremist bats are flying around in the man’s belfry, so while I believe his arguments  on obstruction should be judged on their objective merits, that fact that he’s the one making them do not and should not enhance their persuasiveness.

2. Trump Tweets segue...in a tweet, the President claimed that Napolitano asked him to appoint the “Judge” to the Supreme Court, and that his much-publicized obstruction claim is Napolitano’s revenge for the President refusing. Continue reading