Tag Archives: inspiration

Morning Ethics Warm-up: 8/16/17

GOOD MORNING!

1. I’m heading to Boston and Fenway Park in a few hours to meet with two of my high school classmates and together pay our respects to the 1967 Boston Red Sox, the spiritual beginning of Red Sox Nation, and a group of men, then barely more than boys, who had as profound an effect on my life and view of it as anything I have ever experienced.

It’s the 50th Anniversary of that amazing team and the heart-stopping pennant race it won against all odds, in a four team race that came down to the final game of the regular season. I mean heart-stopping literally: the team wasn’t called “The Cardiac Kids” for nothing. TWO of my father’s colleagues at the Boston Five Savings Bank died of heart attacks while attending Red Sox games, during one of the 9th inning desperation rallies for which the team was famous. The only reason I didn’t perish in like fashion is because I was just 16 years old.

Why was this team, and that summer 50 years ago, so important to me? I don’t have time or space to answer that question well, and you’d probably wonder what I was babbling on about anyway. A 2017 film by Major League Baseball called “The Impossible Dream” does a fair job of explaining it, but it’s too short to do the job right.

I had listened to, watched or attended every Boston Red Sox game for five years, as the team lost and lost. From those bad teams, followed weakly by the city in those days, in a crumbling old park that seemed destined to be abandoned and torn down, I learned that winning wasn’t everything, that loyalty wasn’t easy, that Hemingway was right, and that baseball was about courage, humility, perseverance, doing your job every day, sacrifice, and hope, as well as usually losing at the end. That summer of 1967 taught me that hope is worth the effort even though hope is usually dashed by the ice water of reality, that you should never give up, that miracles do happen, and that nothing is as wonderful as when a community is united in a single, inspirational goal, no matter what that goal might be…and that you should never be afraid to give everything you have in pursuit of a mission, even when it is likely that you will fail.

I learned difficult, discouraging lessons, too. When an errant pitch hit Red Sox right-fielder Tony Conigliaro in the face on August 18, 1967, it was the beginning of a lesson that revealed its tragic last chapter 23 years later. That one taught me that life is horribly, frightening unpredictable, and that we envy others at our peril. It taught me that we need to do what we can to accomplish as much good as we can as quickly as we can, because we may lose our chance forever at any moment.

Tony C, as he was and is known as, was a beautiful, charismatic, local kid, the idol of Boston’s huge Italian-American community,  in his fourth season with his home town team at the age of 22. He dated movie stars; he recorded pop songs; he had a natural flair of the dramatic, and was destined for the Hall of Fame. One pitch took it all away. Although he had two comebacks and played two full seasons facing major league fastballs with a hole in his retina and his field of vision, Tony was never the same. After his final attempt to keep playing failed at the age of 30, he became a broadcaster, and at 37 was seemingly on the way to stardom again in 1982 when he suffered a massive, inexplicable heart attack—Tony  did not smoke, and had no family history of heart problems– that left him brain damaged until his death in 1990.

As Henry Wiggin, the star pitcher protagonist of the novel, play and movie “Bang the Drum Slowly” observes as he  reflects on the death of his catcher and roommate, everyone is dying, and we have to remember to be good to each other. But it’s so hard. Ethics is hard. The ethics alarms ring faintly when we are about the task of living, or not at all…

At the end of the story, the narrator, the best friend of the catcher (but not really that close a friend) recalls how quickly everyone on the baseball team went back to their selfish ways after their teammate went home to die Even the narrator, who was the leader of the effort to make the catcher feel loved and appreciated in his last days, ruefully recalls his own failing. The catcher had asked him a favor, just to send him a World Series program (the team won the pennant after he had become too ill to play), and he had forgotten to mail it until it was too late. How hard would it have been, the narrator rebukes himself, to just put it in an envelope and mail it? Why are we like that, he wonders?

1967 was the beginning of my exploration of that mystery too.

So I am going to Boston for the 30 minute ceremony. I can’t even stay for the game; I have a seminar to teach tomorrow morning, and the last flight out of Logan is at 9 PM. There will probably be just a small contingent from the Cardiac Kids: most of them are dead now, or too infirm even to walk onto the field. But Yaz will be there, and Gentleman Jim Lonborg; Rico Petrocelli, Mike Andrews, and maybe even Hawk Harrelson  and Reggie Smith. I will be there to say thank-you, that’s all.

And to show that I remember. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Lindsey Bittorf

I regard people who contribute kidneys to near strangers as residing in a special category of Ethics Hero, in the exemplary ethics category….maybe the exemplary exemplary ethics category.  Considering Don Bedwell, the first individual I learned about who  engaged in this extraordinary act of sacrifice, kindness, and compassion,  I began my 2005 post, “There are special and rare people whose ethical instincts are so pure and keen that they can make the rest of us feel inadequate.”  Bedwell, a traveling businessman, donated his kidney to a waitress who often served him at his favorite Cleveland restaurant when he was passing through the city on business. The second altruistic organ donor was East Haven, Connecticut  Mayor April Capone Almon, who gifted one of her kidneys  to a desperate constituent she barely knew.

Wisconsin police officer Lindsey Bittorf is the most recent example of this special breed of ethics hero.  She saw a Facebook post from a local mother pleading for someone to rescue might  her  8-year-old son, Jackson Arneson, who needed a kidney. The boy’s family and friends had been tested and none were a match. Bittorf didn’t know the child or the family, but got herself tested on a whim. Doctors told her she was an unusually good match,considering that she was not related to the boy.

Last week, Bittorf  rang the doorbell at Jackson’s home to surprise his family with the good news,  ABC News reported. Jackson could have one of her healthy kidneys.The police officer told Jackson’s mom, Kristi Goll, that it was an “early Mother’s Day gift.”  That’s a bit better than flowers, you’ll have to admit. Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce: Me. I Forgot The Alamo

It is now April, and though I vowed at the end of February to finally post a thorough essay on the significance of the Alamo to U.S. culture, ethics, traditions and ideals at some point during the dates corresponding to the fort’s siege and fall on March 6, 1836.

I never did.

I thought I had posted an earlier essay about the Alamo. No, I haven’t. This is as inexplicable as it is inexcusable. The Alamo is by far my favorite historical landmark, and one of the events in American history that most inspires and fascinates me, beginning from when I looked on in horror as Fess Parker, as Davy Crockett, desperately clubbed Mexican soldiers as the last Alamo defender standing, and hundreds more charged toward him, as I heard on the soundtrack,

His land is biggest an’ his land is best, from grassy plains to the mountain crest

He’s ahead of us all meetin’ the test, followin’ his legend into the West

Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!

I learned all about Davy, of course, the real Davy, America’s first pop culture celebrity who created a legend about himself and by fate, irony or justice, inadvertently placed himself in a situation where he had to live up to his own hype—and by all accounts,did. Then there was Jim Bowie. I had seen several dramatized versions of his famous last stand, fighting off soldiers from his cot, finally dispatching one last attacker with his Bowie knife. It is one of the great examples of a scene so good it should have been true, though it wasn’t: Bowie was dead or unconscious by the time the Mexican burst into his sick room. Never mind: that’s how an American hero goes down, fighting. “Print the legend.” Later I learned how Bowie really was one tough, brave SOB, the perfect man for the Alamo, if he hadn’t been dying of cholera.

My impression of William Barrett Travis was biased by Lawrence Harvey’s portrayal of him as a martinet (with a British accent that supplanted his Southern one after the first scene) in the John Wayne film “The Alamo”, my favorite movie as a kid. The real Travis was a pefect example of someone who had failed in everything, including as a father and a husband, but redeemed himself magnificently at the end. His final letter to the world is one of the great proclamations of defiance, dedication and courage in all of history.

I will never forget my first visit to the Alamo, and seeing Texans weeping, openly, proudly, as they read the plaque with Travis’s words engraved on it:

Commandancy of the Alamo
Bejar, Feby. 24, 1836

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 and 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, and 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 and 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 and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country VICTORY OR DEATH.

William Barret Travis.

The story of the Alamo isn’t taught in schools outside of Texas. It wasn’t taught in my school, either: like most American history, I learned about the event though a thick mixture of pop culture, reading (Walter Lord’s “A Time To Stand” was a birthday present in 1961) and ongoing research. I recently completed “Texas Rising,” which was also just broadcast on cable as a mini-series starring the late Bill Paxton as Sam Houston. Historian Stephen Moore is a plodding writer, but he nicely puts to rest the currently popular politically correct slander that the defenders of the Alamo and the Texas rebels were fighting to keep their slaves, and trying to steal Mexico’s land. The Texians were opposing a dictator who had changed the terms under which they had come to the territory, and anyone familiar with the American character could have predicted what would happen when a despot demanded that they submit to unelected authority. The Alamo was a fight for liberty and democracy, and its martyrs exemplified sacrifice for principle and country.

I let them down. The story of the Alamo should be told and retold, with its ethics lessons made clear and bright. Next year, on March 6. 2018, Ethics Alarms will honor Davy, Bowie, Travis, Bonham, Almaron Dickinson and the rest of the 220 or so heroes who died that day, and do it the right way, not as an afterthought.

Don’t let me forget.

 

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Fake News Update: Fake History, Santa’s Number One Elf, And The Ornery Irishman

maine

Consider this three-headed post an exploration of just how tangled and gray the Fake New Ethics Train Wreck really is.

Let’s start with…

1. The Irishman.

Last week the obituary of Chris Connors was viral on social media. The first part of it read,

Irishman Dies from Stubbornness, Whiskey

Chris Connors died, at age 67, after trying to box his bikini-clad hospice nurse just moments earlier. Ladies man, game slayer, and outlaw Connors told his last inappropriate joke on Friday, December 9, 2016, that which cannot be printed here. Anyone else fighting ALS and stage 4 pancreatic cancer would have gone quietly into the night, but Connors was stark naked drinking Veuve in a house full of friends and family as Al Green played from the speakers. The way he died is just like he lived: he wrote his own rules, he fought authority and he paved his own way. And if you said he couldn’t do it, he would make sure he could…

I instantly liked Chris, as did millions of others. This was published on the obituary site, Legacy.com. People like me sent the obituary  around to friends, thought about it, and talked about it, because it made us feel good. Now there’s someone who did not go gentle into that good night!

Do I have any idea if this obituary is 100% accurate, or accurate at all? No. How often are obituaries fact-checked, if they aren’t written by a reporter? For normal people, like Chris Connors, almost never. Do you care? Do you care in this case? I don’t I am pretty sure that the obituary gives a fair sense of the kind of man Chris Connors was, even if it is hyperbolic, as I assume it was. Nevertheless, the obituary made me feel good, as it was supposed to. Christmas is starting to depress me as the years mount up: too many memories, too many lost loved ones, the sense of time passing too, quickly , of time running out. Chris’s story, which may have been only partially true, was a great, bracing, much-needed slap in the face. He had the right idea, or if he didn’t, whoever wrote his obituary did. Is there any harm anyone can attach to this inspiring farewell? If it was fake news by Facebook’s new standards, does it matter?

2. Santa’s Number One Elf

Continue reading

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Holiday Ethics Assigment: Quick! Watch These 25 Great Old Ethics Movies Again Before You Go Bonkers Too!

movie-theater

I am compiling a new list of great ethics movies to help those troubled by the recently completed Presidential campaign, the election and its aftermath. I haven’t decided whether to reveal it piecemeal, or collectively as I have before, but I do need to begin by presenting the previous list of 25, actually the combination of several previous posts. Ethics films I have covered individually since those lists debuted, like Spotlight and Bridge of Spies, will eventually be added.

For now, here’s the top 25. Don’t pay attention to the order.

1Spartacus (196o)

The raw history is inspiring enough: an escaped gladiator led an army of slaves to multiple victories over the Roman legions in one of the greatest underdog triumphs ever recorded. Stanley Kubrick’s sword-and-sandal classic has many inspiring sequences, none more so than the moment when Spartacus’s defeated army chooses death rather than to allow him to identify himself to their Roman captors (“I am Spartacus!”)

Ethical issues highlighted: Liberty, slavery, sacrifice, trust, politics, courage, determination, the duty to resist abusive power, revolution, love, loyalty.

Favorite quote: “When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.” [Spartacus (Kirk Douglas)]

2.  Hoosiers (1986)

“Hoosiers” is loosely based on true story, but its strength is the way it combines classic sports movie clichés—the win-at-all-costs coach down on his luck, the remote superstar, over-achieving team—into a powerful lesson: it isn’t the final victory that matters most, but the journey to achieving it.

Ethical issues highlighted: Forgiveness, generosity, leadership, kindness, courage, loyalty, diligence, redemption.

Favorite quote: “If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.” [ Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman)]

3. Babe (1995)

A wonderful movie about the virtues of being nice, the greatest civility film of all time. Second place: “Harvey.”

Ethical issues highlighted: Civility, kindness, reciprocity, loyalty, courage, love, friendship, bigotry, bias.

Favorite quote: “Fly decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that sheep were stupid, and there was nothing that could convince her otherwise…The sheep decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that wolves were ignorant, and there was nothing that could convince them otherwise”  The Narrator (Roscoe Lee Browne) Continue reading

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Post-Election Morning Ethics, Early Edition [UPDATED]

hillary-loses

Initial ethics observations following an amazing night in American history:

1. Give Trump a chance, and take note of those who will not.

He is now in the most difficult job in the nation at the age of 70, with less relevant experience and preparation than any previous occupant of the office. For once, it’s a good thing that he’s an egomaniac and a narcissist, because otherwise he might be perseverating in terror right now. One cannot say that he begins with the most daunting set of problems any POTUS has ever faced, but it’s close. Give him a chance. Nobody becomes President wanting to fail, and not wanting to do a good job for his country and his fellow citizens.  Begin with that, and let’s see what happens.

2. Those who are capable of being fair and objective should salute the shades of Mr. Madison, Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Adams, Mr. Hamilton and their colleagues. The Founders wanted a system that was capable of peaceful political upheaval when the public was dissatisfied and demanded change, and their unique creation was strutting its stuff last night. So much has taken place over the last year—the last eight years, really—that has undermined our democracy that it is refreshing to see its resilience and vitality. As before, I still believe that Trump is a cautionary tale about the danger when people who don’t understand leadership, ethics and government become the majority. On the other hand, it’s their country too, and the “elites” (how I detest that word) forgot that, repeatedly, shamelessly, and in many ways.

Jefferson would have reviled Donald Trump, but he would approve of the uprising.

3. Trump’s victory speech last night was widely reviewed as statesmanlike and gracious, which it was. It was also unusually coherent for him. Still, who can’t give a gracious victory speech? The effusive praise being lavished on this shows how low expectations are.

4. Hillary Clinton’s decision to not to appear in person at her headquarters and concede, also graciously, was a failure of character. On CNN, ex-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and ex-Obama flack Van Jones got in an argument over this, but for once in his life, Lewandowski  was right. Given the backdrop of Clinton and the media questioning whether Trump would “accept defeat,” the decision by Clinton was just plain wrong: unfair to Trump, unfair to her supporters, hypocritical. Continue reading

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The Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2015, Part II

DavisHand

The Awards continue (Part I is here)….

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:

The US Supreme Court’s Decision in  Obergefell v. Hodges in which the Supreme Court considered whether states had to recognize a right to same-sex marriages, and narrowly decided that they must. The prejudice against homosexuality is ancient, deep, and complex, mixed up in confounding ways with morality and religion, and deeply divisive. Nonetheless, I felt that the opinion should have been unanimous; it’s a shame that it was not, but in the end, this will not matter. The result was preordained from the moment gays began coming out of the shadows and asserting their humanity and human rights. Since the Stonewall riot, the nation and the culture has learned a great deal about the number of talented and productive gay men and women in our society and our history, the pain, ostracizing, discrimination and mistreatment they have suffered, and the falseness of the myths and fears that lead to this suffering.  In the end, as Clarence Darrow said about blacks, it is human beings, not law, that will make gays equal. No topic immediately causes such emotional and intense debate, on this blog or in society, as this one, but the Supreme Court’s decision is a major step toward changing the ethical culture, by asserting  that gay men and women have the same rights,  in the eyes of the state, to marry those they love and want to build a life with, and by implication, that the beliefs of any religion regarding them or their marriages cannot eliminate that right.

Outstanding Ethical Leadership

Senator Rand Paul.   I am neither a Rand Paul supporter, nor an admirer, nor a fan.  However, his June filibuster-like Senate speech against National Security Agency counter-terrorism surveillance was a brave, principled,  important act, and a great public service. The point Paul made needs to be made again, and again, and again:  there is no reason to trust the NSA, and no reason to trust the current federal government either. The fact that on security matters we have no real choice is frightening and disheartening, but nevertheless, no American should be comfortable with his or her private communications, activities and other personal matters being tracked by the NSA, which has proven itself incompetent, dishonest, an untrustworthy.

 

Parent of the Year

Tonya Graham

Toya Graham, the Baltimore mother caught on video as she berated and beat on her son in the street for participating in the Freddie Gray rioting and looting. Continue reading

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