Tag Archives: inspiration

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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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

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