Maybe The Best Reason To Remember April 15…Number 42

jackie-robinson

A lot has happened on April 15.

Leonardo De Vinci was born…Abraham Lincoln died…Apollo 13 had the accident that almost destroyed it, but that triggered one of the great triumphs of the space program…Lee surrendered, ending the Civil WarThe Beatles disbanded…I didn’t get my taxes in on time….

I would argue however, and will, that as culturally important as any of these events was that sixty-eight years ago, in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play major league baseball in the modern era. This represented a cultural change that allowed the United States to take a giant step forward toward healing the self-inflicted and almost fatal wound of slavery, and it took a man of surpassing courage and character to do it. (Two men, really: the other was Dodgers GM Branch Rickey.)

Today all MLB players will wear Robinson’s number 42 to honor him. If you haven’t seen the movie “42, or if your children haven’t seen it, this is a good day to get a sense of what Jackie went through as he broke the color line.  You can check out Robinson’s baseball stats here,  and learn about the civil rights work he did after his playing career, in the too-short life that was left to him here. He’s in the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor, of course, and his entry there has more about his life as well as some good links.

The main thing is, remember him.

Many years ago, I had a conversation with a close friend—smart, accomplished, engaged, educated, about 26 years old at the time. She had no idea who Jackie Robinson was. Nobody, then, now or ever, should reach adulthood in the United States without knowing and understanding what Robinson did, and our nation’s debt to him. There is an ethical  duty to remember, and to respect.

Thank you, Mr. Robinson.

Thank you.

 

Michael Sam Flunks Trailblazer Ethics, And Many Will Suffer Because Of It

Sam kiss

The most charitable explanation for Michael Sam’s disastrous performance in the wake of the NFL draft is that he’s a young man who got terrible advice. A less charitable theory is that he’s an idiot. The worst theory of all is that Michael Sam is less interested in being the first openly gay pro-football player who blazes a clear path for those who follow him, and more concerned about becoming a gay icon, or worse, a martyr. Whatever the reason, Sam accepted the massive responsibility of being a cultural trailblazer, and fumbled the ball.

Sam wasn’t the best player in the NFL draft, but everyone knew, including Sam, that he would be the most closely watched. He had “come out” as gay soon after the college football season, and in light of his prominence and recognition as a stand-out athlete, his honesty and openness about his sexual orientation was hailed as a cultural turning point, an advance for gay Americans, and a test for the macho NFL. Would he be drafted? If he wasn’t (or was?), would it be because he was gay? ESPN’s cameras were in the Missouri defensive end’s home Saturday as the drafts neared its final stages with Sam name still uncalled. When St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher called Sam at his agent’s house in San Diego to tell the former University of Missouri defensive lineman that they had selected him in the seventh and last round of the draft, it was instant drama.

There was more drama, in fact, than ESPN and viewers probably expected. Sam burst into tears while receiving the call, and then received an emotional, mouth-t0-mouth kiss from his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Actually, there is; several, in fact. To begin with, Sam had violated the Second Niggardly Principle, which states,

“When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”

A clearer example of the SNP would be hard to find. No doubt about it, most heterosexual Americans, which means most of the public, are not used to seeing adult men kissing each other on the lips. There is no question that Sam knows this: of course he does. Even now, popular culture uses the image for shock value; it was only the 90’s when an impulsive lip-lock from Kramer on Jerry drove the studio audience to screams of laughter. No, there’s nothing “wrong” with two men kissing each other, but an awful lot of people were raised to think it is unnatural, and it is wrong to intentionally or negligently offend or upset them gratuitously. It is the flip side of tolerance: consideration and etiquette. Causing discomfort just because you can, or because your targets “deserve” or “need” to feel uncomfortable is just trouble-making for the hell of it. “Deal with it!” is confrontational and aimed at creating rancor, not comity. Continue reading

The Cruelest Month And The Duty To Remember

sultana-ablaze

If we have the education, curiosity, perspective and respect for our origins and those who have gone before us, the calendar is a source of constant reminders of what matters in life, and how we can be better citizens and human beings. It is a common belief among Millennials, and a lot of older Americans too, that history is irrelevant to their lives, and this is both a fallacy and a self-inflicted handicap. Not that keeping history in mind is easy: in this month, which T.S. Elliot dubbed “the cruelest,” paying appropriate respect by remembering is especially difficult.

Still, respecting history is our duty. It won’t be remembered, perhaps, but in April, 2012, a 23-year-old drunken fool named Daniel Athens was arrested for climbing over a barrier to urinate on a wall at the Alamo. Monday, a Texas judge threw the book at him, sentencing him to 18 months in state prison for vandalizing a National Monument and a shrine. The sentence seems extreme, and is a good example of how the law is a blunt weapon with which to enforce ethics. The Alamo has near religious significance in Texas, brave men died there, and the ruins serve as a symbol of critical virtues like loyalty, sacrifice, dedication, courage and patriotism. Athens, himself a Texan, defiled the memory of the fallen and symbolically rejected the values and heritage of his community and fellow citizens. Unfortunately, the harshness of the sentence will create sympathy for him: 18 months for peeing? But how else does a culture reinforce the importance of respect for the past? I don’t have an answer. Perhaps I would have sentenced him to take an exam on the lives of Travis, Crockett, Bowie, Seguin and the rest, as well as the siege itself, and imposed the jail term only if he flunked.

Yesterday, Major League Baseball celebrated the heroism and transformative life of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947 by becoming baseball’s first black player, setting in motion powerful forces that propelled the cause of civil rights. Every player wore Robinson’s now retired uniform number 42, and there were commemorative ceremonies in the ball parks where it wasn’t too cold and wet to play ball. This remembrance had a difficult time competing with tax day, as history usually does when our immediate life concerns beckon.

Other important historical events deserving reflection, however, were more or less ignored entirely, for April 15 is a historically awful day: Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Reubin Askew ( 1928-2014)

Askew

In a better United States where only character, demonstrated skill, experience and leadership ability were necessary to become President, Reubin Askew would have been one. Unfortunately looks, luck, money and timing are important too. Askew had the looks, all right; he just missed the other three.

Never mind. Reubin Askew, who died yesterday, did all right.

His father was an alcoholic, and soon his mother had divorced him and was supporting Reubin and his five siblings as a single mother in Pensacola, Florida. She worked as a waitress, seamstress and hotel maid, while Reubin shined shoes, bagged groceries, delivered newspapers and sold his mother’s homemade pies door to door to do his part to support the family. After graduating from high school in Pensacola,  Askew served two years in the Army and, thanks to the G.I. Bill, graduated from Florida State in Tallahassee, where he was elected student body president. He was an Air Force officer during the Korean War, and in 1956 graduated from the University of Florida law school. That same year he joined a Pensacola law firm, and married Donna Lou Harper, who remained his wife for 57 years, until he died.

Askew ran for Florida’s House of Representatives in 1958, and won. After four years in the House, and eight more as a state senator, he ran for governor.  He was already nicknamed  “Reubin the Good,” and his opponent, Republican Claude Kirk, ridiculed the well-publicized fact that Askew, a devout Christian, never drank, smoked or used curse words by referring to him as a “mama’s boy,” not tough enough for high office. Askew’s rebuttal: “I love my mama.”  He won easily. Continue reading

Gotcha, NPR! Liberal Bigotry About Bigotry Exposed

"Wah, my conSTITuants in the great Southan state of Mawntana just don't wanna see any coloreds get away with shootin' owa  law enforcement officahs, that's all!"

“Wah, my conSTITuants in the great Southan state of Mawntana just don’t wanna see any coloreds get away with shootin’ owa law enforcement officahs, that’s all!”

One progressive lie I hear and read repeatedly from Democrats and their news media lackeys is that the Supreme Court “gutted” the Votingl Rights Act of 1965 by decreeing that it was unconstitutional for the Justice Department to use decades old data to presume racial bias in legislative measures and policies adopted by Southern states. This was holding in the case of Shelby v. Holder. The Court justly ruled that Congress had to develop current, accurate criteria. Progressives and the Obama Administration screamed and are still screaming, because pretending it was still Jim Crow, Bull Connor and Mississippi burning in the South gave the federal government a way to over-ride legitimate and non-racist laws (like voter ID requirements), based on bias: if it’s a southern state, it must be racist.

Yesterday, National Public Radio inadvertently demonstrated how this bias operates. I have already written about what is wrong with conservative opposition to Debo Adegbile, President Obama’s choice to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division. Essentially, he is being condemned for trying to protect an individual’s civil rights. But the police unions are determined to punish him because that particular individual was a cop killer, and our law enforcement officials don’t think such people have rights. They are wrong, Adegbile was right.

This is not truly a racial issue, but because Adegbile is black, because he worked for the NAACP, because the cop killer is black, because Obama is black and because Democrats have spent the Obama years making everything about race to serve their cynical political needs,  the controversy has been reported as a racial justice issue. It is really a stupidity issue, as I pointed out in my earlier post. It is stupid, ignorant and destructive to treat criminal lawyers as if they support the crimes of their clients.

The police lobby was strong enough, sadly, to defeat Adegbile’s nomination in the Senate, as sufficient Democrats from conservative states decided to cater to ignorance as enthusiastically as their Republican colleagues. Here are the Democratic Senators who voted “nay”:

Chris Coons (Del.)
Bob Casey (Pa.)
Mark Pryor (Ark.)
Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.)
Joe Manchin (W.V.)
Joe Donnelly (Ind.) 
John Walsh (Mont.)

Plus Harry Reid (Nev.), who switched his vote for tactical purposes.

Here is how NPR described them on NPR’s Morning Edition :

“A handful of southern Democrats joined Republicans yesterday to defeat president Obama’s choice to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division.” Continue reading

And Here’s Why The Supreme Court Majority Was Right In Shelby v. Holder…

Ok, if you don't buy the theory that they hurt the public schools, how about this: they're racist!

Ok, if you don’t buy the theory that they hurt the public schools, how about this: they’re racist!

In its much maligned decision in Shelby v. Holder, the Supreme Court declared that the Justice Department could not interfere with state legislative decisions affecting voting rights based on 60 year old data about racist practices prior to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Federal government should not be able to over-ride the will of the people and its elected legislatures without a compelling and overwhelming interest, and allowing the large list of states designated as subject to the Act invited abuse of power. What kind of abuse? This kind:

The U.S. Justice Department has filed a lawsuit to stop the Louisiana from distributing school vouchers to poor black families in any district that remains under a desegregation court order. Over 600 public schools are affected. The argument of Holder’s Justice Department  is just as ridiculous as it reads: it is that “many of those vouchers impeded the desegregation process.” You see, if black children are able to go to better, private schools thanks to the vouchers, the percentage of whites to blacks in failing but desegregated public schools will go up, “impeding” desegregation. Can’t have that! What citizens would want politicized, absurd bureaucrats who reason like this second-guessing their legislature?

As the Washington Post noted in an incredulous editorial it called, pulling no punches, Justice Department bids to trap poor, black children in ineffective schools: Continue reading

Today is Jackie Robinson’s birthday. He would be 94, but he lived only slightly more than half that long. He was one of our greatest ethics heroes, and I’d like to honor Mr. Robinson by reblogging a post from April 16 of last year.

Ethics Alarms

Yesterday, the media, history buffs and Kate Winslet fans were obsessed with remembering the Titanic, sometimes even with proper reverence to the 1500 men, women and children who lost their lives in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912. A strong argument could be made, however, that the most significant event that occurred on April 15 took place in 1947, in Brooklyn, New York. For that was the day that Jackie Robinson ran out to his position at first base as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and became the first African- American to play baseball in the Major Leagues since the earliest years of the game.

With that act, and his epic heroism for the rest of the season, Robinson changed baseball, sports, American society and history. It was a cultural watershed in a nation that had been virtually apartheid since the end of the Civil War, a catalytic…

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