From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “The Forgotten Meaning of Labor Day”

The 1894 Pullman strike

It may be hard for Americans to get inspired to celebrate Labor Day for what it is supposed to honor, especially with teachers unions working to keep America locked down and students barely educated in pursuit of a partisan political agenda, and pro athlete unions bullying sports leagues into ruining their product by turning them into political propaganda vehicles, and the postal workers union partisan bias eroding trust in the upcoming election. Nonetheless, there is a good reason to celebrate Labor Day.

This Ethics Alarms post from 2012 explains what that reason is.

Labor Day commemorates one of the great ethical victories of American society, and not one in a hundred Americans know it. Labor Day marks the end of summer, and a time for retail store sales, and the last chance to get away to Disney World, but few of us think about the real meaning of the word “labor” in the name, and how it is meant to honor brave, dedicated men and women who fought, sometimes literally, the forces of greed, political influence, wealth and privilege in this country to ensure a measure of safety, consideration, fairness and justice for the hardest working among us.

Today labor unions are controversial, and with good reason. Many of them have been run as criminal enterprises, with deep connections to organized crime; many operate in a blatantly coercive and undemocratic fashion. Union demands and strong-arm tactics, while providing security and good wages to members, have crippled some American industries, and limited jobs as well. Today the unions  get publicity when one of them tries to protect a member who should be punished, as when the baseball players’ union fights suspensions for player insubordination or even drug use, or when school districts are afraid to fire incompetent teachers because of union power, or when the members of public unions protest cutbacks in benefits that their private sector counterparts would be grateful for. It is true that today’s unions often embody longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer’s observation that  “Every great cause begins as a movement, degenerates into a business and ends up as a racket.” *

That not what Labor Day honors, however. It is celebrating the original labor movement that began at the end of the 19th century, and that eventually rescued the United States from an industrial and manufacturing system that was cruel, exploitive, deadly and feudal. Why the elementary schools teach nothing about this inspiring and important movement, I do not know. I suspect that the story of the American labor movement was deemed politically dangerous to teach during the various Red Scares, and fell out of the curriculum, never to return. Whatever the reason, it is disgraceful, for the achievements of the labor movement are every bit as important and inspiring as those of the civil rights movement and the achievements of our armed forces in the protection of liberty abroad. Continue reading

Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up And Sunday Left-Overs, 9/10/18: Values Under Fire

Good Morning.

1. A plug. The computer rescue service GuruAid is why I couldn’t get a Warm-Up post up yesterday: about four different technicians spend from 6:30 am to 3:00 pm helping me fix a serious malfunction in my old Dell PC, so I wouldn’t have to lose Windows 7 forever. It wreaked havoc with my day and schedule, but the computer finally starts immediately without black-outs, red screens, blue screens, warning, check points, sudden freezes and other distractions.

2. Yeah, why waste time on all of this “values” stuff? The Texas Board of Education will decide in the coming months whether to accept the recommendations of a working group to end state requirements that the heroism of the Alamo’s defenders be taught to seventh graders in a required history course, as as study of  William Barrett Travis’s iconic letter written before the final Mexican siege that killed all of the approximately 200 defenders, including Travis. The letter ends, “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.”

The group of educators and historians, tasked with streamlining social-studies standards, felt that teaching about “heroic” acts at the Alamo was “value-loaded,” and eliminating them from the curriculum, along with the significance of such Alamo figures as Davy Crockett and James Bowie would save 90 minutes.

You know, I don’t think I’m even going to bother explaining what’s wrong and alarming about this, except to note that if you wonder why our rising generations don’t understand what has been great about America, or why being a nation founded on values and ideals is important, this episode ought to enlighten you.

3. Beach ethics. Here is an interesting article about how to maximize ethical conduct at the beach. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/4/17: Labor Day, Google Being Evil, Antifa, And Hollywood

Good Morning!

1.Happy Labor Day! My dry cleaner has a sign out that reads, “Happy Labor Day! Support Our Troops!” Now, any day is a good day to support our troops, but I strongly suspect that this is an unfortunate example of our increasing cultural and historical ignorance (ignorance that the war on statues and memorials will exacerbate, and that’s the intention). No holiday is more misunderstood than Labor Day, and the news media barely makes an effort to remedy the problem.

Ethics Alarms explained the history behind the holiday in a 2012 post that began,

Labor Day commemorates one of the great ethical victories of American society, and not one in a hundred Americans know it. Labor Day marks the end of summer, and a time for retail store sales, and the last chance to get away to Disney World, but few of us think about the real meaning of the word “labor” in the name, and how it is meant to honor brave, dedicated men and women who fought, sometimes literally, the forces of greed, political influence, wealth and privilege in this country to ensure a measure of safety, consideration, fairness and justice for the hardest working among us.

The post is here.

2. This is traditionally a big movie weekend, but it has already been declared a dud. Hollywood is having its worse summer in more than two decades.  Conservative commentators have speculated that one reason is that Hollywood’s loudly and obnoxiously proclaimed contempt for about half of its potential audience—you know, The Deplorables–has alienated a significant segment of the market. That would be nice, since Hollywood has traditionally been a unifying cultural force rather than a divisive one, and this might shock Tinsel Town into getting off its high, blind horse and doing its job. I doubt it, though.

Astoundingly, the public is not yet sick of super hero movies, one of the few genres that continues to do well at the domestic box office.  I wonder when the public will figure out this is partially political indoctrination by the Hollywood Left too: super heroes don’t use those evil guns. They just kill people with their innate powers, or, as in the not-bad NetFlix/Marvel series “The Defenders,” in ridiculously long, drawn-out martial arts combat sequences that resemble ugly dancing more than real fighting. Some of the heroes are bullet proof, however.

The flaw in this anti-Second Amendment propaganda is that real people do not have super powers, and there aren’t any super heroes running around protecting them. Continue reading

The Unappreciated Home Depot Hero

It’s more exciting than you think!

Ethics Alarms has dealt with this issue multiple times: an employee violates policy by intervening to prevent a crime or serious injury, and is fired for it.  In 2009, a bank teller named Jim Nicholson turned Batman and foiled a bank robbery, then was fired.. A would-be robber had pushed a black backpack across the bank counter to Nicholson and demanded money. The teller threw the bag to the floor, lunged toward the man and demanded to see a weapon. The robber sprinted for the door with Nicholson in pursuit. Eventually Bat-Teller  knocked the man  to the ground and held him until the police arrived.

The bank had to fire him. The episode could have gone wrong many ways, some resulting in bank customers and employees being injured or killed. Law enforcement repeatedly cautions against such conduct, and the bank’s policies were clear.

In other cases, no-tolerance makes no sense, as no-tolerance often does. In 2012, Ryan Young, then working in the meat department of a Safeway grocery store in Del Rey Oaks, California, witnessed a man beating a pregnant woman, apparently his girlfriend. Young told the man to stop, but when he continued with his assault, shoving and kicking her, Young jumped over his counter, pushed the thug away, and ended the attack.

Safeway fired him. So what would it have had Young do, stand there and wag his finger? This crossed into duty to rescue territory. Young did the right thing, and rather than blindly following a policy that didn’t fit the facts, Safeway should have realized that an exception was called for.. (Eventually public opinion and bad publicity forced Safeway to re-hire the hero). A similar scenario involved a lifeguard who violated his employer’s policy by saving a drowning man off a beach adjacent to the property where he was stationed. Jeff Ellis Management, an Orlando, Florida-based company, fired  21-year-old Tomas Lopez for daring to save a life pro bono, and was similarly pilloried by public opinion. Two lifeguards quit in support of Lopez, and he was also eventually offered his job back. Lopez told Jeff Ellis Management to get bent, or words to that effect. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Zero Sum Ethics Encore: When An Unfair Firing Is Still The Most Ethical Course”

 my hero

The dilemma posed in the recent post about the radio host fired because of the danger posed by her threatening, stalker ex-husband sparked some unexpected reactions, as many readers expressed frustration that Nancy Lane’s employer left her to her own resources in her peril. One of the more provocative alternatives proposed is Steven’s endorsement of what he calls the chivalristic response.

Here is his Comment of the Day, to the post Zero Sum Ethics Encore: When An Unfair Firing Is Still The Most Ethical Course.

The problem I have with situations such as here with Nancy Lane is there is no reason for this situation to result in an ethical dilemma or “Zero Sum”. I, as well as few others here recommend what can only be labeled as a chivalristic response. Now we are not talking the aristocratic, medieval ethos but more of a modernization of the gentlemanly behavior exhibited of those of the greatest generation without the bigotry or homophobia. With the feminization of our society it is incredibly hard to find the line between “modern” chivalry and misogyny, or at least feminism’s liberal application of the term. Continue reading

“How Not To Be A Hero” by Edward Snowden

“If his motives are as he has represented them-–“I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant,” he wrote in a note accompanying his first set of leaked documents—-then he acted courageously and selflessly.”

—- Ethics Alarms, June 10, 2013, referring to the conduct and statements of Edward Snowden, NSA “whistleblower.”

That's outrageous! They are collecting our phone records and our...hey, "The Fugitive!" I LOVED that show!!

That’s outrageous! They are collecting our phone records and our…hey, “The Fugitive!” I LOVED that show!!

Now we know that his motives are not as he represented them. From his statement that I quoted, I assumed that Snowden’s intent was to make himself available to U.S. authorities, and to prompt debate regarding the government’s widespread intrusions into the private communications of presumed-to-be-innocent citizens, as well as to ensure that the issue did not get drowned out, superseded and swept aside by distractions, as so many vital issues are. This was an indispensable second step, though I did not begrudge him some time to prepare for it. It would be the action of a one engaged in classic civil disobedience; it would demonstrate sincerity, public-mindedness and courage, and it would avoid his exploitation by the many around the world, and domestically, who wish the U.S. ill.

Instead, Snowden decided to run. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Charles Durning, 1923-2012

Charles DurningWorld War II veterans are dying by the thousands every year now; “the Greatest Generation” is running out of members. When one of the survivors of World War II combat who became famous in subsequent pursuits leaves us, it is important to remember that their brave service to their country was probably the most important thing they did in their lives, and was their invaluable gift to all of us. In most cases, that is how the veterans looked at it too. I know my late father did.

I can’t be sure about the great character actor Charles Durning in this regard, because he generally refused to talk about his World War II experiences, which resulted in his being honored by a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts. This too is admirable. His military service was his duty, but having to kill other human beings, no matter who they are, is something that throw most ethical people into a searing conflict of values and emotions. Durning, who died today at the age of 89, preferred to discuss his acting.

He was as talented and brave at entertaining us as he was in combat. Never a leading man, Charles Durning could play drama and comedy with equal deftness, and given the chance to be in a musical, the (awful) film version of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” he proved that he could sing and dance well too. He was outstanding in such classic films as “The Sting,” “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Tootsie,” an actor who seemed incapable of seeming false or inauthentic  while never playing the same kind of character twice. Perhaps the performance that was closest to the real Charles Durning was in his Emmy-winning role on “NCIS” in the episode “Call of Silence,” in which he played an elderly Marine veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who is tortured by the belief that he had been responsible for the death of his best friend in combat.

Durning’s own military service would have made an exciting movie on its own.  His highest rank was Private First Class, and like many others, he did the most dangerous and dirtiest work of the war. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, and was among the first troops to arrive at Omaha Beach in Normandy, after overshooting  his landing zone and having to fight his way to the beach.  He was severely wounded by a German “S” Mine on June 15, 1944 at Les Mare des Mares, France, but despite suffering from the effects of shrapnel in the left and right thighs, the right hand, his head, and his chest, he declared himself fit to return to the lines, which he did just in time for the Battle of the Bulge. During that battle he was wounded again, captured, and survived the German massacre of American prisoners at Malmedy, one of the most heinous war crimes perpetrated in the field.

We should honor the memory of Charles Durning as a wonderful actor who contributed a great deal to films and popular culture, entertaining millions in the process. We should also honor him as a patriot, a soldier, a citizen, a World War II veteran and a hero, not because he was unique, but because he was not, and when we salute him as he passes from this world, we also honor all the anonymous and forgotten fighting men like him who never became famous, saved the United States and the human race, and who, like Charles Durning, refused to boast about it.

 

Tales From The Moral Luck Files: The Truck, The Ice, and the Hero

"I'm a hero!"

“Woo-Hoo! I’m a hero!”

A story from Manitoba, Canada raises the question, “Should someone get full credit for being a hero when he rescues the victim of his own poor judgment?”

A father on an ice fishing trip with his daughter drove his pick-up truck onto the ice of frozen Lake Manitoba, misestimating just how frozen it was. The truck broke through the ice, and he reportedly had to dive deep into the freezing water to rescue his daughter from an icy death. Is it heroism to repair the results of a near tragedy you caused yourself?

Let’s consider at a range of possible frozen ice scenarios:

1. You see someone else’s truck break through the ice, and rescue the occupants from drowning at great personal risk.

2.  You tell a driver that its safe to drive his truck onto the ice, and it breaks through because you were wrong. You rescue his daughter.

3.  You watch several trucks drive on the frozen lake without incident. You follow them, and your truck falls through the ice. You have to rescue your daughter.

4. You drive onto the ice without proper precautions, and after your truck falls through, you rescue your daughter.

5. A local citizen warns you about driving your truck on the ice, which he says is too thin. You do it anyway, and have to save your daughter.

6. The Homer Simpson scenario: You see a truck fall through the ice, and yet drive yours onto the ice anyway. You rescue Lisa. Continue reading

The Forgotten Meaning of Labor Day

Do you know who this is? You should! It’s Labor Day, dammit!

Labor Day commemorates one of the great ethical victories of American society, and not one in a hundred Americans know it. Labor Day marks the end of summer, and a time for retail store sales, and the last chance to get away to Disney World, but few of us think about the real meaning of the word “labor” in the name, and how it is meant to honor brave, dedicated men and women who fought, sometimes literally, the forces of greed, political influence, wealth and privilege in this country to ensure a measure of safety, consideration, fairness and justice for the hardest working among us.

Today labor unions are controversial, and with good reason. Many of them have been run as criminal enterprises, with deep connections to organized crime; many operate in a blatantly coercive and undemocratic fashion. Union demands and strong-arm tactics, while providing security and good wages to members, have crippled some American industries, and limited jobs as well. Today the unions  get publicity when one of them tries to protect a member who should be punished, as when the baseball players’ union fights suspensions for player insubordination or even drug use, or when school districts are afraid to fire incompetent teachers because of union power, or when the members of public unions protest cutbacks in benefits that their private sector counterparts would be grateful for. It is true that today’s unions often embody longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer’s observation that  “Every great cause begins as a movement, degenerates into a business and ends up as a racket.” *

That not what Labor Day honors, however. It is celebrating the original labor movement that began at the end of the 19th century, and that eventually rescued the United States from an industrial and manufacturing system that was cruel, exploitive, deadly and feudal. Why the elementary schools teach nothing about this inspiring and important movement, I do not know. I suspect that the story of the American labor movement was deemed politically dangerous to teach during the various Red Scares, and fell out of the curriculum, never to return. Whatever the reason, it is disgraceful, for the achievements of the labor movement are every bit as important and inspiring as those of the civil rights movement and the achievements of our armed forces in the protection of liberty abroad. Continue reading

Memorial Day Ethics Dunce: MSNBC Host Chris Hayes

My hero.

Yesterday, the day before Memorial Day, MSNBC host Chris Hayes said this:

“Thinking today and observing Memorial Day, that’ll be happening tomorrow.  Just talked with Lt. Col. Steve Burke , who was a casualty officer with the Marines and had to tell people [inaudible].  Um, I, I, ah, back sorry, um, I think it’s interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words “heroes.” Um, and, ah, ah, why do I feel so comfortable  about the word “hero”?  I feel comfortable, ah, uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.”

   Well, yes, Chris, you’re wrong about quite a lot.

Chris was wrong, for example—as well as disingenuous—to say that “you don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen” and then come out with this insulting and fatuous gibberish that disrespect the memories of the fallen. And to do it on the very weekend when millions of families across the nation are honoring their fallen, or, in the case of my family, a father who braved combat in World War II, was wounded, decorated, and regarded his service in defense of his country the greatest achievement of his life.

Hayes was also wrong, as well as incompetent and unprofessional, to utter such a half-baked and incoherent opinion without having the respect to think it through carefully, express it articulately, and in general without meeting his obligations as a broadcaster to be worth listening to. If a commentator is going to make a statement that he knows will offend and upset grieving families, he should at least know what he wants to say and have the skill and courage to say it clearly. As it was, all he managed to do was to make a gratuitous slur against patriots who put their lives at risk because their nation asked them to, instead of taking morally craven positions from the security of a TV studio that only exists because of the sacrifices such heroes made. Continue reading