Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2021: To Boldly Go…

Shatner in space

1. William Shatner didn’t die. It doesn’t matter. People really don’t get moral luck, do they? Of course, only a tiny percentage of the public reads Ethics Alarms. 90-year-old William Shatner flew into space yesterday aboard a ship built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company. The former “James T. Kirk” and three fellow passengers boldly went to an altitude of 66.5 miles over the West Texas desert in the fully automated capsule, then safely parachuted back to Earth. The flight lasted just over 10 minutes. I had previously and correctly pointed out that Bezos had violated basic Kantian ethics, the Categorical Imperative, by exploiting Shatner and placing the old egomaniac at risk in order to promote Blue Origin. “But Shatner consented!” Bezos apologists kept telling me. So if someone consents to being used as a means to an end, that makes using a human being as a means to an end ethical?

Well, sometimes—Kant was an absolutist, and there are no absolutes. However, Shatner’s exploitation doesn’t qualify as an exception. What if the stress of the flight had killed him? Then many would be questioning Bezos’s motives, but the ethical problem is the same whether Shatner survived or not. That the flight didn’t end up looking like an elaborate grand suicide for an iconic actor who knew his time had almost run out anyway was pure moral luck.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/2/2021: Remembering The Epic Second Day Of The Battle Of Gettysburg

Little Round Top

On July 2, 1863, during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg with the fate of the Union and the United States hanging in the balance, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia tried to break through the line of General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac at Cemetery Ridge, Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top. More than once that day, only luck and chaos prevented July 2 from marking the end of the nation as we know it, and from preserving slavery at least a little longer.

All accounts of the battle on July 2 are full of the word “confusion.” Robert E. Lee ordered Lieutenant General James Longstreet to attack by moving his troops up the Federal left flank while General A.P. Hill’s corps threatened the center of the Union line. If coordinated properly, General George Gordon Meade wouldn’t be able to move his troops to reinforce the Union left, where Lee instructed Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell to make diversionary attacks and launch an all-out assault if possible. Lee’s plan, if successful, would force the Union army to surrender the positions it held on the high ground south of Gettysburg after the first day of the battle, and the entire Civil War might have been won by the South in a day.

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Ethics Heroes: “Critical Race Theory” Victims William And Gabrielle Clark

Clarke

Gee, we seem to be having a lot of race-bullying and race-based indoctrination stories here of late. Well, don’t blame me. Blame those perpetrating it for the advancement of their political and cultural power, and the cowards and weenies who are making it easy.

Today we have an episode from Democracy Prep, a public charter school in Las Vegas, Nevada. William Clarke attends the school. He lives with his mother, Gabrielle (above), who is biracial. She works at a local fast food restaurant. All Democracy Prep seniors are required to take what is clearly a Critical Race Theory and intersectionality-based class called Sociology of Change. In that “re-education” class, William and all the other students, were told to openly declare their race, gender, religious, and sexual identities. The next step was to attach negative labels to those identities, after which students were instructed to “undo and unlearn” their “beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that stem from oppression.”  

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Ethics Quote Of The Month: Colonel William Travis

Victory or Death

“”To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World—Fellow Citizens & compatriots— I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna — I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man — The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken — I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch — The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country —Victory or Death.

Col. William Barrett Travis, Commander of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, on February 24, 1836, as his make-shift fort with its couple hundred volunteers were surrounded by the army of General Santa Ana, and a siege was inevitable.

Travis sent out several appeals for assistance and reinforcement that day, but this one has been enshrined as one of the iconic letters in American history. When the Texas revolution began in 1835, Travis, a failed lawyer, businessman and husband—he had abandoned his wife and unborn child in Alabama to escape his debts and start a new life in the Mexican territory—had became a lieutenant-colonel in the revolutionary army and was given command of troops in the recently captured city of San Antonio de Bexar (now San Antonio). On February 23, 1836, a large Mexican force commanded by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana arrived in the town. Travis and his troops barricaded themselves in an abandoned mission repurposed as a fort, the Alamo, where they were  joined by a volunteer force led by Texas land speculator and adventurer Jim Bowie. Later, another, smaller group of volunteers organized by former Congressman and self-made legend Davy Crockett joined them.

Before Travis’s fevered and desperate letter-writing, the Mexican dictator had demanded the fort’s unconditional surrender, promising no quarter if the defenders refused. As his letter said, Travis answered with a cannon shot.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

This is an especially important time for Americans to remember the Alamo.


Ethics Hero: Jodi Shaw

Jody Shaw

Instead of apologizing, instead of prostrating herself and her principles to remains in good graces within an oppressive culture, Jodi Shaw sounded an alarm instead. Now she needs our support, but more than that, she must be seen as a role model for anyone else, of any political stripe or ideological tilt, who believes in the values the United States was founded to nurture.

Shaw has courage. Courage is what is desperately needed, and as has been written here too often already, it is what has so far been lacking.

I first wrote about Shaw, then a Smith College administrator, last December. Shaw, had criticized the college’s critical race theory-based “sensitivity training” required of all staff members and posted her own YouTube videos on the issue. The president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, issued a formal statement against Shaw that said in part:

This past week, an employee of the college posted a personal video to express their concerns about the college’s programming to promote racial justice….This employee does not speak for the college or any part of the college. Further, we believe the video mischaracterizes the college’s important, ongoing efforts to build a more equitable and inclusive living, learning and working environment.

You should know that the employee has not violated any college policies by sharing their personal views on a personal channel. The National Labor Relations Act protects employees who engage in concerted activities, including speech, with respect to workplace conditions. All members of any workplace, including Smith College, have the freedom to criticize the policies and practices of their employer.

Nevertheless, I am writing to affirm that the President’s Cabinet and I believe we have a moral responsibility to promote racial justice, equity and inclusion at Smith College. To the people of color in our community, please know our commitment is steadfast. And especially to our students of color, please know we are here for you always.

I learned about the latest chapter in Shaw’s ordeal from another Ethics Hero, Bari Weiss. who resigned as the staff editor for the opinion section of the The New York Times with a searing letter revealing the cultural oppression faced by anyone on that staff who did not conform to the mandatory progressive cant. I wrote at the time, in July of last year, “Maybe Weiss’s bold and unquestionably true letter is the metaphorical slap in the face of the mainstream media that will make journalists realize that they have squandered their credibility.” Boy, I’m a gullible Pollyanna sometimes! The Times has, if anything, gotten worse, and the Left’s institutions have become, if anything, more brazen in their efforts to punish and crush dissenters. But Weiss, like other refugees from the ideological purges like Glenn Greenwald, now has a platform at substack, where you can subscribe to support the rebels. I think of it as the metaphorical hills of Greece, where my relatives waged guerilla war on the invading Nazis in WWII while trying to protect the cradle of Western thought and philosophy.

Weiss introduces Jodi and her moment of truth by writing in part,

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Ethics Quote Of The Month: Novelist Raymond Chandler ( 1888-1959)

Chandler

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”

—-Novelist and detective story master Raymond Chandler, in his essay, “The Simple Art Of Murder,

The quote continues,

He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him.”

My father, Jack A. Marshall Sr., was not much for revenge, but otherwise Chandler’s quote, which he liked very much, was descriptive of Dad as well.

There has been a lot of discussion of courage here of late, both because I see it lacking at a crucial and defining time in our history, and because it must be found, as this nation has always managed to find it before, sometimes at the last moment before it was too late.Women should not feel snubbed by Chandler’s quote, which just wouldn’t read as well using two genders, or “they.” He was a typical male sexist of his time (though a complicated one), but today he would concede that his description of courage knows no gender limitations. In my immediate family, it describes with equal accuracy my grandmother, my mother, my sister, my late mother-in-law, and especially my wife. Cross her at your peril.

I had forgotten Chandler’s quote until I was reacquainted with it in an episode of “Blue Bloods,” when police commissioner Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) used it to describe his late son.

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Glenn Greenwald

A republic

“Unleash this monster and one day it will come for you. And you’ll have no principle to credibly invoke in protest when it does. You’ll be left with nothing more than lame and craven pleading that your friends do not deserve the same treatment as your enemies. Force, not principle, will be the sole factor deciding the outcome. If you’re lucky enough to have important and famous media friends…you have a chance to survive it. Absent that, you have none.”

Glenn Greenwald, in his post on the attempted “canceling” of writer Will Wilkenson over a facetious tweet.

The “monster” Greenwald is referring to is mob anger and indignation, magnified by social media, and enabled by self-preservation and cowardice. His essay, titled “The Moronic Firing of Will Wilkinson Illustrates Why Fear and Bad Faith Mob Demands Reign Supreme,” was triggered by the recent firing of an intellectual I never heard of by a think tank I never heard of, as well as his looming dismissal by the New York Times. His “crime” was this tweet…

Willkerson tweet

…which a hoard of online cretins and power-hungry wastrels pounced upon, falsely calling it a call to do violence to the ex-Vice-President and thus mandating his public humiliation and rejection.

As Greenwald correctly concludes, no reasonably intelligent reader could think the tweet, posted the night of Joe Biden’s inauguration, was anything but a pointed joke. Extreme Trump supporters were furious with Pence for not taking action to reject the 2020 election results. Anti-Trump extremists wanted Pence to remove President Trump using the inapplicable 25th Amendment ploy, which he correctly refused to do (and could do constitutionally anyway.) Thus lunatics on both sides of the U.S. ideological divide could be unified in their anger and hatred toward Mike Pence, ironically making his mistreatment a potentially unifying act. Wilkinson rueful point was valid (if clumsily made), and he wasn’t personally advocating violence against Pence. But a wealthy hedge fund manager and large-money GOP donor, Gabe Hoffman, condemned the tweet which he claimed “call[ed] for former Vice President Mike Pence to be lynched.” Hoffman asked the New York Times, which employs Wilkinson as an opinion writer, to comment on its ” ‘contributing opinion writer’ calling for violence against a public official,” then tweeted to Wilkinson’s other employers, the Niskanen Center, a moderate public policy think tank, to pressure them as well. The Center quickly fired Wilkinson, while his fate with the Times hangs in the balance. A spokesperson for the paper told Fox News: “Advocating violence of any form, even in jest, is unacceptable and against the standards of The New York Times. We’re reassessing our relationship with Will Wilkinson.”

Naturally, as happens in 99% of these increasingly common episodes, the victim of the deliberate misunderstanding resorted to a grovelling apology, saying in part,

“Last night I made an error of judgment and tweeted this. It was sharp sarcasm, but looked like a call for violence. That’s always wrong, even as a joke. It was especially wrong at a moment when unity and peace are so critical. I’m deeply sorry and vow not to repeat the mistake. . . . [T]here was no excuse for putting the point the way I did. It was wrong, period.”

No, actually it didn’t look like a call for violence, and apologizing for something it wasn’t but was deliberately misrepresented as being for malicious purposes is far worse than the tweet itself.

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“You Have No Enemies” By Charles Mackay (1814-1889)

Let’s start the week with some poetic inspiration.

The excellent Netflix series “The Crown” launched its fourth season yesterday, with Scully herself, Gillian Anderson, delivering a brilliant portrayal of “the Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher. At one point, Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Coleman) warns the Prime Minister that she is making enemies, and she responds by reciting from memory this poem, which I had never heard or read before.

One more thing: Since I posted the poem, it has been the most visited post of the more than 12,000 on Ethics Alarms. If you came for the poem, why not stay for the ethics? Look around, read the comment policies, check out the categories (to your right.) This isn’t the only enlightening post you’ll find here, or even the most enlightening.

You Have No Enemies

You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.

Mackay is not well-known in the U.S., and he was a marginal literary figure in England. But in 2019, a confidante of Thatcher’s revealed that she turned to the writings of Mackay for solace and inspiration, particularly “Enemies,” which she kept in her scrapbook.

I’d describe the poem as a simpler, more direct predecessor of Theodore’s Roosevelt’s famous “The Man in the Arena” speech. (Teddy did go on.) Mackay’s poem has the advantage of being suitable for children, who need to be taught, as do almost all of our current politicians, that popularity isn’t everything.

[Note to first time Ethics Alarms visitors: You came for the poem; why not stay for the ethics and the lively discussions? You can find out more about the blog here. Welcome!]

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers: “Cult Programming In Seattle,” And the Duty To Confront

This—the George Floyd Freakout, the indoctrination in schools and colleges, the submissive endorsement of the irredeemably dishonest, racist and Marxist Black Lives Matter and its fellow travelers, the Red Scare-reminiscent punishing and shunning of dissenters, the political and partisan enforcement of laws as journalists remain silently complicit—you know, this, has  begun to make me think I’m in another remake of “Invasion of the Body-Snatchers.” What never made any sense in any of the versions (the original, with Keven McCarthy and directed by Don Siegel of “Dirty Harry” fame was the best) is that aliens could take over the minds and bodies of millions of Americans across the country without anyone figuring it out, and without the news media warning the world with front page headlines and “how to stop the pod people” features. It  also seemed absurd that only McCarthy and his friends (or in the much grosser but less creepy re-make, Donald Sutherland and his friends) were the only humans who appeared to have the will and the gumption to try to resist the invasion.

I also have found myself pondering the end of “Three Days of the Condor,” when Robert Redford tells a horrified CIA official that he has passed on evidence of the agency’s lawless and murderous ways to the New York Times. Who or what can be trusted today to blow the whistles when it is the increasingly totalitarian Left moving to take over minds and destroy democracy? Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms Archives: Remembering The Amazing Elfego Baca

The previous post was discussing the topic of great Americans, and commenter valkygrrl asked about the statuary in the Capitol, where each state is allotted two statues to honor its past notables. This, in turn reminded me of my favorite New Mexican historical figure (who is not honored in the Capitol) and one of my favorite figures of the Old West, Elfego Baca (February 10, 1865 – August 27, 1945). There’s a post about him (with 11,621 and counting, there’s a post here about just about everything), and I decided that this was a good time to re-visit it, and him.

Baca is not only a Mexican-American, it could be argued that he’d be a more worthy member of the President’s Garden than a number of the “heroes” currently on the list…more fun, definitely.

Here’s the lightly edited post from 2013…Meet Elfego!

As frequent readers of Ethics Alarms know, I fervently believe that history is important, and that we all have a duty to remember and honor the remarkable Americans who have gone before us, their exploits, triumphs, struggles and achievements, both for our sake—for we can learn much from them—and theirs. I am constantly discouraged by the inspirational stories and fascinating historical figures who have nearly been forgotten. The schools don’t teach our children about them, and popular culture ignores them. This weakens the flavor and the power of our shared culture: it is wrong, that’s all.

I want to do my part to help keep alive the name and the story of a Mexican-American who may have faded from memory because the events of his life seem more fictional than real. Indeed, for most of my life, until a couple of years ago, I thought Elfego Baca was a creation of Walt Disney’s creative staff, who wrote a ten episode mini-series  called “The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca” for the “Disneyland” show (“Now…from Frontierland!”) in 1958. I loved that series, but it never occurred to me that the tales of a gunslinging, lawyer-sheriff in Old New Mexico could possibly have any connection to reality.

But they did. The real Elfego Baca was, if anything, even more improbable than his fictionalized counterpart, portrayed by a very young and athletic Robert Loggia, who is best known as the toy magnate who plays “Chopsticks” on the giant keyboard with Tom Hanks in “Big.” Loggia was one of my favorite character actors; he was also the drug lord killed by Tony Montana in “Scarface,” and the tough general in “Independence Day,” among many other memorable roles in a long career

Elfego Baca was born in Socorro, New Mexico in 1865. Elfego’s father was a gunfighter, and he wanted to be one too, though on the side of the law, so he would be less likely to go to jail, like his father did, for winning gunfights. The New Mexico territory was soon in the middle of a silver rush, bringing many outsiders into the region, a lot of them pretty wild. Baca acquired a sheriff’s badge through a mail-order house, and also bought two six-guns, which he taught himself to use with deadly precision.

A cowboy named Charley McCarty got drunk in the town where Baca was working as a store clerk, and did all the things you remember from old Westerns: whooping it up, shooting in the air, breaking windows, harassing townspeople, and bullying Mexicans by making them “dance” as he shot at their boots. Elfego Baca, then 19 years old, deputized himself by pinning on his fake badge and by the authority invested in himself, by himself, arrested McCarty at gunpoint. Continue reading