Tag Archives: initiative

Ethics Tales: How Julia Sand Saved A President And Changed The Nation

open book on concrete background

In my recent overview of the U.S. presidency (the four parts are now combined on a single page under “Rule Book” above), I noted that our 21st President, Chester A. Arthur, was one of my personal favorites and an Ethics Hero. He confounded all predictions and his previous undistinguished background, not to mention a career marked  by political hackery and toadying to corrupt Republican power broker Roscoe Conkling, to rise to the challenge of the office and to effectively fight the corrupt practices that had elevated him to power. Most significantly, he established the Civil Service system, which crippled the spoils and patronage practices that made the Federal government both incompetent and a breeding ground for scandal.

I did not mention, because I did not then know, the unlikely catalyst for his conversion. Recently a good friend, knowing of my interest in Arthur, his tragic predecessor, James Garfield, and presidential assassinations sent me a copy of Destiny of the Republic, the acclaimed history of the Garfield assassination and its aftermath by Candace Millard. It’s a wonderful book, and while I knew much of the history already, I definitely did not know about Julia Sand. Her tale is amazing, and it gives me hope. If you do not know about Julia and Chester, and it is not a well-known episode, you should.

Allow me to tell it to you?

James Garfield, an Ohio Congressman, had been the dark horse nominee of the Republican Party in 1880, foiling the ambitions of many powerful politicians, the most powerful among them being Sen. Roscoe Conkling of New York. In order to cement New York’s electoral votes, the convention gave the Vice Presidential nomination to Conkling’s lackey, the dignified-looking but otherwise unimpressive Chester A. Arthur, who may have been the least qualified individual ever to run for that office. The highest position he had ever held was Collector of Customs of the Port of New York, which had been handed to him by Conkling, and he was later removed from that post for incompetence and corruption.  He’d never been elected to significant office or been any kind of executive. Arthur’s career before becoming Vice President makes Sarah Palin look like Winston Churchill.

After the election, Arthur got to work being a disloyal Vice-President, acting as Conklin’s agent in the White House. (Arthur, a widower, even lived as a guest in Conkling’s Washington mansion.) He actively undermined Garfield’s efforts at government reform, at one point going so far as signing a petition supporting Conkling when Garfield refused to appoint only Cabinet members with the Conkling stamp of approval. Then,  on July 2, 1881, less than six months after taking office, the impressive Garfield was shot in Washington D.C.’s Union Station by Charles Guiteau, easily the craziest of the various crazies who have taken a shot at our leaders. (He was also the only lawyer in that group.)

Everybody was horrified, initially at the crime, but also at the prospect of Arthur becoming President. Some even suspected him of being complicit in the act; Guiteau didn’t help by writing Arthur a letter prior to his attack telling him what he needed to do as President.  Most, however, were just aghast at the prospect of the brilliant, courageous, skilled and honorable Garfield being replaced by this utter non-entity under Conkling’s thumb.

None were more aghast than Chester A. Arthur. He may have been a hack, but he was no fool, and he knew he wasn’t up to the job. It was reported that when he learned of Garfield’s shooting, Arthur began weeping like a child. During the nearly three months it took the hardy Garfield to die—he was killed by sepsis induced by the unsanitary prodding of his doctors as they searched for Guiteau’s bullet: the wound itself was probably survivable—Arthur descended into panic, shock, and depression.  For nearly two months, he stayed at home with the blinds drawn, fearing his own assassination. So invisible was he that there were  rumors that Arthur had poisoned himself.

Then Arthur received a letter, dated August 27, 1881, from a woman he did not know, Julia Sands. It immediately got his attention, for she addressed him in a manner he had never been spoken or written to before. The remarkable letter said in part… Continue reading

17 Comments

Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, History, Leadership

Anderson Cooper’s Reflections on Inheritance: Not Unethical, Perhaps; Just Ignorant, Self-Serving and Presumptuous

I was going to let this go, but it kept gnawing at me, and nobody in the news media called out Anderson Cooper on his outrageous misrepresentation of history and human character. I guess it’s up to me.

gloria-vanderbilt-anderson-cooper

“Thanks for nothing, Mom!”

Cooper is the son of fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, and thus an heir to one of the most storied of American family fortunes. Apparently Cooper has known for some time that he’s getting none of his mother’s estimated 200 million dollar estate, and he told Howard Stern recently that he was fine about it, an had no bitterness or regrets.

“I don’t believe in inheriting money, ” he told Stern. “That’s a total fantasy … I think it’s an initiative-sucker, I think it’s a curse. Who’s inherited a lot of money who’s gone on to do things in their own life? If I felt that there was some pot of gold waiting for me, I don’t know that I would have been so motivated.”

As for his mother, who inherited many millions and who still made a name for herself by launching a  line of designer jeans, Cooper told Stern, “I think that’s an anomaly.”

Cooper is free to adopt whatever myths and rationalizations that help him get over the fact that his mother is cutting him off. He is not free to misinform the historically ignorant that a tendency exists which may describe his own mental state but which is far from the presumptive norm with others throughout the centuries. “Who’s inherited a lot of money who’s gone on to do things in their own life?” The answer to that question is “Too many to mention, Anderson. Are you kidding? Do you know anything about history?”

Just counting U.S. Presidents, which I think even in this period of reduced stature among White House occupants, would still qualify as “doing something with your life,” we have Washington, Madison and Monroe, all of whom inherited substantial property and assets from their families, as did William Henry Harrison and his grandson, Benjamin Harrison. Both Roosevelts inherited substantial wealth; so did William Howard Taft, whose family was (and is) one of the richest in the U.S. Both Bush’s managed not to let the curse of inherited wealth undermine their wills to succeed. Continue reading

15 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Family, Finance, Journalism & Media, U.S. Society

Ethics Hero: “Ludo,” Under-Employed Law Grad Blogger

True Grit - Reminds me of me

As Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) says of plucky Maddy Ross (Kim Darby) in the original, and best, film version of “True Grit,” Ludo “reminds me of me.”

Naturally, I admire him.

Ludo is, in his own words, ” a recent law school graduate and aspiring writer from Southern California. He is currently overeducated and underemployed, working two jobs and keeping sane only by writing down the stories of the crazy stuff happening to him.  He is currently working on his first book, a collection of stories from his days driving a taxi in Orange County….” He is beginning to get some publicity thanks to his blog, Law Grad Working Retail, which provides sometimes hilarious accounts of his current existence as an over-educated, presumed automatic admittee to America’s powerful and elite presumably thrust into life the way most of America lives it.

Do not lump Ludo with “Nando” and the other bitter, unemployed or under-employed recent law grads who have had their ire aroused by my observations about them on Ethics Alarms   (also here). He is doing exactly what he should be doing, using his unique talents to open up new opportunities while presenting himself to the world of law and elsewhere as a likely asset. As he writes in a recent post rebutting criticism of his blog… Continue reading

8 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Education, Ethics Heroes, Law & Law Enforcement, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Professions, The Internet, Workplace

Unethical Website of the Month: Third Tier Reality

Mr. Furious, of the Mystery Men

Third Tier Reality is one of many blogs recently founded by disappointed law graduates who somehow labored under the misconception that a law school degree guaranteed that they would get 6 figure offers from big law firms and then live the life of Denny Crane until they could retire to a Caribbean island at the age of 55. A depressing number of these deluded souls managed to get themselves in hock up to their eyeballs, and when the recession hit and law firms cut back, felt first, like fools, second, angry and desperate, and third, that it was everyone else’s fault. Thus was born the “law school scam” conspiracy theory. Third Tier Reality, like the others of its breed, maintains that law schools intentionally misled scores of trusting students to pay their obscenely high tuitions,  knowing that they were pumping out more lawyers than the legal market would bear.

To the extent that the site tries to educate would-be law students that there is no guaranteed gravy-train at the end of three years of law school, the website is, at worst, harmless. “My goal is to inform potential law school students and applicants of the ugly realities of attending law school,” he writes. His message: Do not seek a law degree unless…

“(1) YOU GET INTO A TOP 8 LAW SCHOOL; (2) YOU GET A FULL-TUITION SCHOLARSHIP TO ATTEND; (3) YOU HAVE EMPLOYMENT AS AN ATTORNEY SECURED THROUGH A RELATIVE OR CLOSE FRIEND; OR (4) YOU ARE FULLY AWARE BEFOREHAND THAT YOUR HUGE INVESTMENT IN TIME, ENERGY, AND MONEY DOES NOT, IN ANY WAY, GUARANTEE A JOB AS AN ATTORNEY OR IN THE LEGAL INDUSTRY.”

That’s all good advice, though it presumes that more people get law degrees under the delusion alluded to in (4) than I believe is true. Nobody ever told me that a law degree guaranteed a high-paying job as an attorney, and if we understood that decades ago when law was booming, I don’t see where the confusion set in. I worked in the administration of Georgetown Law Center, and that school never made such a representation. In addition, Third Tier Reality goes further, as its brethren blogs do, to insist that a law degree from less than a “First Tier” school is actually an impediment in the job market. I hate to kick this particular hornets nest again, but this is a self-serving rationalization for failure. Continue reading

118 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, The Internet, U.S. Society, Unethical Websites, Workplace

Comment of the Day on “Young, Gullible, Lazy, Unimaginative and Unbelievable: I Wonder Why This Lawyer Has Trouble Finding A Job?”

Back in October of 2011, I wrote a post in reaction to the sign reproduced left, held by an Occupy Wall Street protester who either was an unemployed law graduate or who plays one on TV.   Many are the ethical matters and controversies that have spilled on these pages since, and copious is the water that has flowed under the bridge, but because not very many people, comparatively speaking, read ethics websites in general and this one in particular, it took the better part of a year for that post to reach the laptop of  disgruntled law grad with access to a website for disgruntled law grads. Thus suddenly my name has been taken in vain in several fora where underemployed, student loan-burdened JDs hang out. Some, gratefully, have been kind enough to alert me with comments to Ethics Alarms, expressing their unhappiness with my insensitivity. This, the Comment of the Day, is such a post, by lawyer (presumably) Bobby Wilberger.

I must say at the outset that Bobby is lucky to have this posted, and I must say that because I don’t want another lawyer citing it as precedent. Bobby, who by definition if his post is to be taken seriously, had legal training, apparently didn’t absorb the part about following rules, being honest and truthful and reading documents relating to your work carefully. The posting requirements for Comments, clearly indicated at the top of this page, require a valid e-mail address. Bobby did not supply me with such an address, instead giving me a fake address with the clever suffix of “fake.com”.  This would pretty much ding Bobby if I were hiring, and is consistent with my over-all thesis that if you are an un- or underemployed law grad the first thing you need to do to get to the bottom of your problems is to look in the mirror.

I’ll have more to say after Bobby’s post. Here it is, the Comment of the Day, on Young, Gullible, Lazy, Unimaginative and Unbelievable: I Wonder Why This Lawyer Has Trouble Finding A Job?: Continue reading

59 Comments

Filed under Character, Education, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

Pay Attention, Children! Doing the Right Thing Isn’t Right If It Violates A Stupid Rule!

Then, after this relaxing break, he returned to his supervisor position in Wayne County…

It appears that no-tolerance policies in the schools may not be alienating students after all. Some of them, at least in Michigan, are learning the no-tolerance way and applying it in the workplace.

Not John Chevilott, though: he just doesn’t get it, probably because when he went to school, they didn’t have no-tolerance policies. A veteran public-works employee in Wayne County, Michigan, he was mowing grass in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood when he found a loaded revolver. He called the police and waited for them to  pick up the gun, but they didn’t appear. Chevilott finished the job and took the weapon to the police after work. The gun had been stolen in 2005, records showed, and police told him that he had handled the situation well.

Wayne County, however, has a no-tolerance policy forbidding employees from possessing  weapons on work property. After all, there’s no reason for a worker to have a gun, except in the extraordinary situation where one is just hanging around, loaded, and the worker picks it up. But how often would that happen? It’s no wonder nothing about that situation was written into the rule, and rules, as they say in the schools—the schools where kids chew their pizzas into the shape of pistols and get suspended, the schools where kids disarm fellow students of knives and are expelled, and the schools where four-year-old boys kiss girls and get arrested for sexual assault—“rules are rules!”

John Chevilott, who had been on the job 23 years and scheduled to retire in two days, was fired for violating the policy, even though his supervisors understood that the gun wasn’t his, that he had turned it into police, that it was loaded, that it was as much a threat to public safety lying in the grass as any weapon brought to work by an employee, and that he had “possessed it” only to get it into the hands of law enforcement officials.  To be fair, they also suspended Chevilott’s foreman, who knew about the incident, for not reporting the infraction. Continue reading

12 Comments

Filed under Education, Government & Politics, Leadership

Young, Gullible, Lazy, Unimaginative and Unbelievable: I Wonder Why This Lawyer Has Trouble Finding A Job?

Well, clearly “sign-maker” isn’t an option…

I have some observations regarding this unemployed lawyer’s lament as he Occupies Wall Street.

It is true that many law schools have been exposed lately for inflating their employment statistics. The American Bar Association announced last month that it was drafting a rule including sanctions for law schools that intentionally falsify jobs data, possibly including monetary fines or the loss of accreditation. That is as it should be.

Nonetheless, I am dubious about the sign’s 99.9% claim, especially in the absence of a named institution. Promising 100% employment to any group seems excessive, and a person of normal intelligence would, or certainly should be skeptical. Thus, after only the first line, I am dubious about the candor and/or judgment of the sign-holder.

I am also dubious about his account of his conversation with the Dean. Do you know what the unemployment rate was for lawyers in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Labor? Continue reading

135 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, U.S. Society