An Ethics Quiz Returns With A New Context And An Ancient Conundrum, And The Answer, My Friends, Is Still Blowin’ In The Wind…

The Ethics Quiz from 2013, “Peter’s Problem,” that I have re-posted in its entirety below has come circling around like boomerang, in a different context. Then, singer activist Peter Yarrow of Peter,Paul and Mary fame was being attacked by the political Right, which argued that his participation in a political campaign event for a Democratic Congressional candidate was proof of that candidate’s poor judgment. Yarrow, as we were told by PBS when it raised fund by showing Peter,Paul and Mary concerts, had answered a knock on his hotel room door naked when  two teenage sisters, 14 and 17, stopped by in 1969 to seek an autograph. The 14-year old got a lot more than his signature. Yarrow was eventually charged with taking indecent liberties with a minor, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three months in jail. President Jimmy Carter pardoned him in 1981.

Lat week, Yarrow’ s past (he was 31 then; he’s 81 now)  caused one of his appearances to be cancelled, but this time it wasn’t those Puritanical conservatives complaining about Yarrow’s “if it feels good, do it” sexual misconduct (which most of Yarrow’s younger fans in the Peace and Love Era didn’t think was misconduct at all), but the Left’s #MeToo furies.

Yes, Peter Yarrow and his critics have boarded the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck.

Since that rollicking night in 1969 , Peter Yarrow has solidified his folk singing and progressive activist status without further public blemishes, and having him associated with an event has usually been regarded as a positive, not a negative, feature when progressives and their causes are involved. John Kerry had him sing at his wedding. Bill Clinton featured him at an Inauguration. He has collected lifetime achievement awards like little Jackie Paper collected painted wings and giant rings.

Last week, however, the Colorscape Chenango Arts Festival, which had  had described Yarrow in its advance publicity for his participation in its annual  September festival as  one of “America’s longtime favorite musicians and performers,”  canceled his appearance, saying in a statement…

“Some members of our community expressed concern, and after further investigation and careful consideration the decision was made to remove Yarrow from the music schedule.”

In the 2013 post, , I criticized Yarrow’s apologetic statement at the time, which was tainted by rationalizations. His statement last week was much better: Continue reading

The Forgiveness Of Victoria Ruvolo

I’m not great on forgiveness; it’s not one of my virtues. I especially don’t forgive betrayal, but there are other kinds of behavior that I don’t forgive. There are three local theater companies in the D.C. area that I will go out of my way to undermine and if possible, destroy, for the disgusting culture they revealed to me when I had the misfortune to work with them. When my son was four, a local T.G.I.F. that we often frequented treated our family like bugs, then using the excuse that they were short-staffed (their problem, not mine) and offering me a coupon to entice me to come to their crappy restaurant again when it had just given us a humiliating experience. I told the manager to keep his sop, and that we would never set foot in his restaurant again, and we never have. My son is now 24. My problem with  unearned forgiveness is that it diminishes the appreciation of accountability. The fact that when you behave unethically people resent it and no longer trust you is a powerful motivation to be better.

Victoria Ruvolo, who died last week at the age of 59, disagreed. Here is her own description of what happened to her. Her journey began when on November 12, 2004, when six teenagers in Ronkonkoma, New York bought a 20 pound turkey with a stolen credit card. 18 year-old Ryan Cushing threw the frozen-solid bird out of a back seat window, and it crashed through the windshield of the car driven by  Victoria Ruvolo’s and crushed her face.  Her passenger managed to steer the car to the side of the road. Ruvolo awoke in a hospital several weeks later with no knowledge of what had happened. The missile  had broken the bones in her cheeks and jaw, fractured her left eye socket, collapsed her esophagus and left her with a closed-head brain injury.

Later, she wrote, Continue reading

More Amazing Tales Of “The King’s Pass”: The Megan Barry Saga

You can’t make this stuff up. Well, you could, but nobody would believe you. That’s not quite right: I would believe you, but then I’ve seen this story.

Maybe you’ve seen some of it. There are interesting posts on Nashville’s disgraced and jettisoned mayor here, here, and here. 

Surely you read them. No? I forgive you—after all, Facebook deems the output of this blog not fit for human eyes, so why should anyone bother reading, especially when Ethics Alarms persists in pointing out the astounding double standards being fought for in the media and by progressive warriors? Here, let be provide some quick bullet points as a review, kind of like those Netflix shows do in their second seasons to recap the previous season…

  • “Nashville’s first term mayor Megan Barry admitted yesterday that she had an extramarital affair with the police officer in charge of her security detail. She apologized “for the harm I’ve done to the people I love and the people who counted on me” but said she won’t be resigning. In a news conference, she said nothing illegal happened and no policies were violated.” The Nashville Mayor’s Affair, 2/1/18
  • (Same source as above): “This is sexual harassment. The officer was a subordinate, and she was his boss, with the power to fire him or worse. There can be no genuine consent in such situations….the conservative media constantly points out that when Republicans are involved in scandals, the news media always places their party affiliation in the first paragraph, but when the miscreant is a Democrat, it is buried or not mentioned at all. Let’s use this story as a test:1. NOLA (local), below: No mention of the Mayor’s party at all.2. The Tennessean (local), below: Third paragraph.3. USA Today: 22nd paragraph!

    4. NPR: Nope!

    5. NBC: Nope!

    6. ABC: Nope!”

  • And this just in! Nashville’s main newspaper, the Tenneseean, reports that Rob Forrest, the Mayor’s married lover, earned substantially more overtime than the other bodyguards on Barry’s secuirty detail, $173,843.13  between July 2015 and January 2017, which was nearly $53,000 more than the other four bodyguards received combined. But, as several internet wags have noted, let’s be fair: Rob was doing more for the mayor than those other bodyguards..How Many Rationalizations Can You Spot In This Op-Ed? (2/20/18)
  • “The statement is a whitewash, a delusion, and a lie. It is the upbeat farewell of a successful leader, not what it should be, the humble request for forgiveness from a terrible one, acknowledging wrongdoing and promising to be better. The statement shows no contrition, no remorse, no accountability, no courage, and no conscience. Based on these words, I think Megan Barry is a sociopath.” Unethical Quote Of The Week: Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s Resignation Statement, 3/7/18
  • Same source: “… after various revelations that suggested illicit and excessive compensation somehow made their way to her huggy-bug, both Barry and paramour Robert Forrest had to plead guilty to theft of property over $10,000 — a Class C Felony. She will pay $11,000 to the city in restitution and serve three years’ probation, as will Forest, though he will have to pay back $45,000 to the city.”

Continue reading

Encore: On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

[As promised, here is the Ethics Alarms Christmas package, lightly revised, last posted three years ago]

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington association threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal.

Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart. What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it is well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said… Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/8/18: Last Weekend Before I Have To Decorate The %^&$! Christmas Tree Edition

Good morning!

1. How can this be? Based on the same documents, the President crowed that Mueller had nothin,’ and the mainstream Trump-hating media crowed that the walls were closing in. It’s a confirmation bias orgy! Charges aren’t evidence, and attempted contacts with a foreign power isn’t “collusion,” and we’ve already talked about the theory that paying off a floozy not to kiss and tell, which is 100% legal at all other times, is a stretch to call and election law violation when the rake is running for President. No such case has ever been brought; it’s dubious whether one would prevail; even if it did, this is a fining offense at most. [ For the record, this is the “resistance’s” Impeachment Plan K, in my view, one of the lamest.]

Both sides are jumping the gun. In the media’s case, it’s more fake new, future news and hype.

2. Stare decisis vs. the prohibition on double jeopardy. In Gamble v. US, just argued before the Supreme Court, the question is whether the federal government can try a citizen for the same crime a state court acquitted him of committing. I’ve always hated the rule that it can (the cops in the Rodney King case were jailed that way), because it seems clear to me that the Constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy (that’s the Fifth Amendment) was intended to prevent such trials. Still,  previous Supreme Court decisions have upheld the convictions.  In the current case, it appears from oral argument that a majority of the current justices agree with me, but are hesitant to so rule because of the doctrine of stare decisis,  which means respecting long-standing SCOTUS precedent.

A ruling to apply double jeopardy would be a ruling against stare decisis, meaning that Roe v. Wade might have less protection than many—including me–have thought. Stay tunes, and watch Justice Kavanaugh’s vote particularly.

3.  Is wanting to/needing to/ actually taking steps to changing one’s sex a mental disorder? There have been a lot of articles about this lately, especially in light of evidence that peer groups, the news media, LGBT advocacy and parents are making many young children want to change their sex before they even know what sex or gender is. The question is itself deceptive, because it pretends that “mental disorder” is anything but a label that can be used or removed with a change of attitude or political agendas. Vox writes,

Major medical organizations, like the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association, say being transgender is not a mental disorder. The APA explained this in explicit terms when it stopped using the term “gender identity disorder” in favor of “gender dysphoria”: “Part of removing stigma is about choosing the right words. Replacing ‘disorder’ with ‘dysphoria’ in the diagnostic label is not only more appropriate and consistent with familiar clinical sexology terminology, it also removes the connotation that the patient is ‘disordered.’”

Well, “removing a stigma” is hardly a valid criteria for deciding whether something is a malady or not. What being transgender “is” can’t be changed by what we call it. Recently narcissism was removed from the mental disorder list—that doesn’t change the fact that narcissists see the world and themselves in a way that most people do not, and that this perspective causes them and the people around them a lot of trouble during their lives. The process worked in reverse with alcoholism, where being officially labelled a disease removed a stigma.

I once directed the comedy/drama “Nuts,” which opines that “insanity” is just a view of reality not shared by the majority. It was on this basis that the Soviet Union sent dissidents to mental hospitals. I don’t care what various associations or professionals call these minority positions: we know that they are using bias and political agendas to devise the label. This is one area where a phrase I despise, “It is what it is,” may be appropriate. Continue reading

Ethics Review: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

I watched last year’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” twice, just to make sure it was the profound ethics movie I thought it was. It is. None of the reviews described it that way, of course. Here is the New York Times:

“The movie opens on low boil with Mildred behind the wheel of her station wagon near three derelict billboards…she uses the billboards to announce her crusade … a way to get things jumping (the investigators, the tale) and splash some foreboding on an outwardly pacific scene. Much of the story involves the ripples of outrage, confusion and buffoonery that the billboards inspire and that soon envelop almost everyone Mildred knows. Months after her daughter’s death, grief has walled her in; isolating and seemingly impenetrable, it is inscribed in the hardness of her gaze and in her grim new identity as a mother of a dead girl. The billboards turn that grief into a weapon, a means of taking on the law and assorted men — a threatening stranger, a vigilante dentist and an abusive ex (John Hawkes) — who collectively suggest another wall that has closed Mildred in….”

None of which addresses what is remarkable about the film, which is that it shows what causes our ethics alarms not to ring—Frances McDormand as Mildred and Sam Rockwell as Dixon, a racist and vicious deputy, in particular demonstrate  what it is like to be driven by non-ethical considerations of the darkest and most passionate sort—and more important, what causes them to start ringing again. Most reviewers described this as a dark and depressing film. The ethics alarms are mostly off again as the film ends, and that is ominous, but its main ethics message is uplifting in many ways. “Three Billboards” teaches us that even broken, ignorant, alienated human beings have the capacity to access their innate instincts for compassion, justice, forgiveness, selflessness and kindness, and even when our ethical selves seem permanently overcome and decisively defeated, they can burst out again, in control, salvaging what’s best about the species.

There is a moment early in “Three Billboards” that signals that it is not only going to show us what monsters anger and grief can transform us into, but also that what George Washington’s list of 110 Rules called “that little spark of celestial fire called conscience” is remarkably resilient.  A sheriff—the ethics compass of the story, played by Woody Harrelson— visits Mildred after her billboard messages embarrass him and roil the town. She is hard and cold as marble as he tries to explain his failure to find her daughter’s rapist/killer, even after he reminds her that he is dying of cancer. Suddenly the sheriff has a violent  spasm: he coughs up blood on himself and Mildred. And we see her fury evaporate in an instant. The compassionate and caring mother she once was emerges, if only for a few moments. ( McDormand is such a superb actress that she pulls off the sudden transition convincingly and movingly: you believe it, though it is like watching Mr. Hyde turn into Dr. Jekyll in the snap of a finger.) Later, when again her fury has been aroused, we see the same woman firebomb the police station and watch implacably as her nemesis deputy burns. A warning: just because the ethics alarms can ring doesn’t mean they are working well enough.

Sam Rockwell’s character also reveals surprisingly that his ethics spark has not been entirely extinguished, again thanks to a catalyst supplied by the sheriff. This transformation caused considerable  criticism of the film among critics and artists in Hollywood, and some attribute the film’s failure to win the Best Picture Oscar to the fact that a racist is redeemed and revealed to have an ethical core. But except for the sociopaths and psychopaths among us, admittedly a disturbingly large group, we all have that ethical core. We have the ethics alarms too, ready to be re-activated, even if they aren’t in perfect working order. Yes, this is  even true of racists. So much of our current political discourse is driven by the false construct that a single belief or a single lapse of reason marks an individual as irredeemable. Its easier to marginalize and demonize them that way. But it isn’t true.

Indeed Ethics Alarms often declares certain conduct and words as signature significance, proving that an individual is unethical because such actions and thoughts are alien to ethical human beings. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” reminded me that people may be unethical–Mildred and Dixon, the deputy, could never be called ethical, for ethical people don’t set police stations on fire or throw young men out of second story windows, as Dixon does—but that even unethical individuals can find their ethics if you give them a chance.

And if they can find their ethics, so can all of us, and so can society. There is hope.

________________________

Addendum: I cannot leave “Three Billboards” without a salute to one of its most powerful scenes, when Mildred tells a priest why she doesn’t care what he has to say when he comes to her home to admonish her for the messages on the billboards:

Bingo.

Unethical Quote Of The Week: Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s Resignation Statement

Nice whitewashing job!

“While my time as your mayor concludes today, my unwavering love and sincere affection for this wonderful city and its great people shall never come to an end. No one is as excited about this city, and its bright and limitless future, than I am. Nashville, with its boundless energy, its infectious optimism, its never- encountered-an-obstacle-it-couldn’t-overcome attitude, will, in the years ahead, continue its steady march toward the very top of the list of great American cities. It’s a continued climb that I will watch, but I will watch as a private citizen, and I will be tremendously proud nonetheless.

While today is primarily about the smooth transition from my administration to that of Vice Mayor Briley, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge and thank the thousands and thousands of people who have reached out to me, written me, encouraged me, comforted me, worried endlessly about me, and most importantly prayed for me during these many difficult and trying months.In two and a half short years, we have made great strides and progress on affordable housing, transit, public education, youth opportunity, quality of life, and our economy.

None of this would have been possible without my incredible staff, our talented department heads, and all of the dedicated men and women of the Metropolitan Government who have worked hard to make the lives of Nashvillians a little better each day.They got up yesterday, they got up today, and they will get up again tomorrow devoted to making sure our city sings.

And I sincerely hope and believe that my own actions will not tarnish or otherwise detract from all of their great work. It has been the honor and it has been the privilege of my entire professional life to have had the blessing of this opportunity to be your mayor.Thank you in advance for the support that I am sure you will give to Mayor Briley in the days and weeks ahead.

God bless this wonderful city.

I love you, Nashville.”

Megan Barry, now ex-Mayor of Nashville, following her resignation after pleading guilty to theft of public funds.

Ethics Alarms has previously covered the exploits of Barry, who had a romantic relationship with the chief of her security detail, a married man, and who refused to resign when it came to light, saying that God would forgive her. Finally, after various revelations that suggested illicit and excessive compensation somehow made their way to her huggy-bug, both Barry and paramour Robert Forrest had to plead guilty to theft of property over $10,000 — a Class C Felony. She will pay $11,000 to the city in restitution and serve three years’ probation, as will Forest, though he will have to pay back $45,000 to the city. Continue reading