Ethics Quiz: The Fake Inspirational Story

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Ethics Alarms touched on this area here, when I related the example of a defense lawyer who won over the jury in the sensational Richard Scrushy fraud case with a vivid but made-up anecdote:

My favorite ethics moment is when Scrushy’s main trial lawyer, Jim Parkman, is asked about his headline-making anecdote in his opening statement, in which he quoted his grandmother as always telling him”every pancake, no matter how thin, has two sides.” “Did your grandmother really say that?” Parkman’s asked on camera. “No,” he admits after a long pause. “But she could have!”

Lying to a jury would seem to be a serious ethical violation for a lawyer, and by the wording of the rules, it should be. But every lawyer I’ve discussed Parkman’s tactic with agrees that such non-substantive lies would never result in professional discipline. (I think they should be.)

But what about inspirational stories and anecdotes that aren’t true? Does the end justify the means? Brian Childers’ story about Tommy Lasorda reminded me of another Lasorda story. Managing in the minors before becoming the third-longest tenured manager with a single team in baseball history, the ever-ebullient leader of the Spokane AAA team was faced with a dispirited squad that has lost nine straight games. Tommy bucked them up by reminding the players that the 1927 Yankees of “Murderer’s Row” fame, then and now the consensus choice as the greatest baseball team of all-time, also lost nine games straight. His team was cheered, and not only broke out of their slump, but went on a winning streak.

Asked later if it was true that the team of the Babe, the “Iron Horse” and the rest ever lost nine in a row, Lasorda answered, “Hell, I don’t know. But it turned my team around when they thought so!!”

Continue reading

“You Have No Enemies” By Charles Mackay (1814-1889)

Let’s start the week with some poetic inspiration.

The excellent Netflix series “The Crown” launched its fourth season yesterday, with Scully herself, Gillian Anderson, delivering a brilliant portrayal of “the Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher. At one point, Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Coleman) warns the Prime Minister that she is making enemies, and she responds by reciting from memory this poem, which I had never heard or read before.

You Have No Enemies

You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.

Mackay is not well-known in the U.S., and he was a marginal literary figure in England. But in 2019, a confidante of Thatcher’s revealed that she turned to the writings of Mackay for solace and inspiration, particularly “Enemies,” which she kept in her scrapbook.

I’d describe the poem as a simpler, more direct predecessor of Theodore’s Roosevelt’s famous “The Man in the Arena” speech. (Teddy did go on.) Mackay’s poem has the advantage of being suitable for children, who need to be taught, as do almost all of our current politicians, that popularity isn’t everything.

Movies To Keep You Happy, Inspired And Optimistic, Part II

Another boring weekend approaches, so it’s time to finish this project.

Some further clarifications on this continuing list: it’s not a list of my favorite films by any means. The criteria is, as the title above would suggest, the emotions the film leaves you with, or that well up inside your earthly vessel during the film. One reader reacted to the first list by dissing “Rocky,” but here’s the point: when I first saw that film in a stuffed theater, and the movie reached the part in the climactic fight when, after seemingly being out-boxed and outclassed by the champion Apollo Creed, Rocky sees Creed lets his guard down for an instant and , dazed and bleeding, suddenly hits him with a series of the body blows we had seen him practicing on sides of beef . The crowd in a Philly bar goes bananas, and the audience in the theater went bananas too, only louder, cheering and applauding. I’ve seen a lot of movies, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve witnessed that kind of spontaneous eruption of excitement and elation from an audience.

I also have to explain why what anyone here knows are my four  favorite comedies don’t appear. They just don’t fit the theme, that’s all. They make me laugh, pretty much every time, but they can’t be called inspiring by any normal definition of the word.

Here’s the second half of the list:

Sea Biscuit (2003)

I’m not a horse enthusiast,nor a fan of the sport of kings, but this is a wonderful story, and mostly true.

Star Wars (1977)

Oh, all right..

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

And so much better than the stupid movie it evokes, “An Affair To Remember.”

Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

The only movie ever where a guy’s walk to the electric chair makes you smile..

Spartacus (1960)

Maybe my favorite story out of history ever, plus Cory Booker’s favorite scene…

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Obligatory.

To Sir With Love (1967)

The list needs an inspirational teacher movie (and only one) so I pick this one. Lulu’s song scene makes the difference.

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

Probably the least seen or appreciated film on the list. But Judy Holiday radiates the joy of performing and the genius of a comic pro here like few others, and attention must be paid. Forget that it was her last movie…

As Good As It Gets

One of the best romantic comedies ever, and one of the strangest. Plus an incredibly cute dog… Continue reading

Movies To Keep You Happy, Inspired And Optimistic , Part I

This is a very subjective and personal list. The main requirement was that they all must be, in the final analysis, upbeat. I also have seen all of them more than once.

I left out some obvious choices that I have already devoted full posts to on Ethics Alarms, like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas.” Some of the films on my ethics movies list appear here, but not for the same reasons. Obviously, I encourage you to see those movies too.

Below is approximately the first half of the list. The rest will be along eventually.

Rocky (1976)

It still holds up as one of the most exhilarating sports movies of all time.

The Natural (1984)

Great score and a happy ending, unlike the novelette it was based on.

True Grit (1969)

This is the John Wayne version, with two of the go-to scenes I’ll play when I want to feel better.

E.T. (1982)

Other than the unforgivable rainbow at the end, a near perfect feel-good film.

Stand By Me (1986)

One of two Stephen King movies on the list. Does anyone not love this film?

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

And the other King movie. has any suicide in a film been quite this satisfying?

Erin Brockavich (2000)

More or less a true story, which makes it especially inspiring.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

If Donald O’Connor walking up walls doesn’t get your heart pumping and your mouth smiling, nothing will. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “From The Ethics Alarms Archives: ‘Age and the Judge’…” And A Current Day Example.

Pretty late last night, an Ethics Alarms post about mandatory ages of retirement for judges moved JutGory to offer this remarkable Comment of the Day, a tribute to a role model in his life. Coincidentally, it now follows yesterday’s last post, about a failed role model, or perhaps someone who should have become a role model but who never did.

I’m hopping Jut’s comment over a couple of waiting COTDs because I think it’s good to start off the day with some inspiration when possible.

Here is JutGory’s Comment of the Day on the post, “From The Ethics Alarms Archives: ‘Age and the Judge,’ And A Current Day Example.”

Meet Floyd.

And, if nothing else, this is the perfect post in which to mention Floyd.

Floyd was at the top of his class at West Point.

Scwartzkopf was a plebe when Floyd graduated.

Floyd injured himself parachuting into Germany on a training exercise.

He became a lawyer and the consummate Southern Gentleman.

He told me about the time that he handled one of those big divorces and his firm submitted a one-page bill in the amount of over $500,000.00 “For Services Rendered.”

He told me about the time he was able to obtain a Writ of Ne Exeat (I had never heard of it either).

And, after a career of legal practice in Georgia, this principled conservative southern lawyer relocated to the State that Mondale Won.

He did it for two reasons: his wife and one of his kids needed a change of environment because of pollen counts, etc., and Dick.

Dick was looking for a legal partner and Floyd was looking to move north. Dick was Floyd’s exact opposite in every way. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 9/28/2019: The Search For Inspiration

I need inspiration today…

1. No, this isn’t it…The Idiot Air Traveler. At a certain point, extreme stupidity is unethical. In China, a Xiamen Airlines passenger opened the emergency exit door of the aircraft as the plane was preparing to take off because she  felt the cabin was “too stuffy” and wanted “a breath of fresh air.”  She was arrested, and the incident caused the flight to be delayed an hour. How stupid and ignorant does someone have to be to do this? Wouldn’t you say this is signature significance indicating idiocy? Would you hire someone who did this even once? Allow her to take care of your children? Trust her with sharp objects? Allow her to buy a ticket for another plane trip?

2. Nor this.. New York City intentionally violates the Constitution. It is now against the law in New York City to threaten to call  immigration authorities on someone or refer to them as an “illegal alien” when “motivated by hate.”  A 29-page directive released by City Hall’s Commission on Human Rights announces fines of up to $250,000 per offense for, among other things, “the use of certain language, including ‘illegal alien’ and ‘illegals,’ with the intent to demean, humiliate, or offend a person.”  Mocking people because of their accents or grasp of English is also a crime now in the Big Apple. So is threatening to call ICE.

“In the face of increasingly hostile national rhetoric, we will do everything in our power to make sure our treasured immigrant communities are able to live with dignity and respect, free of harassment and bias,” said Carmelyn Malalis, the agency’s commissioner.

Maybe the whole set of new regulations isn’t unconstitutional, but the ones focused on “hate speech” certainly are. The city is simply declaring its contempt for the First Amendment with this stunt.

3. I guess this is kind of inspiring...When it pays to be trans. The old Saturday Evening Post used to have a feature called “The Perfect Squelch,” regaling its readers with a witty comeback or rejoinder that left an adversary defeated and demoralized. It wouldn’t have printed this one, but I can’t imagine a better example of the genre. This is Faye Kinley… Continue reading

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

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

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.

 

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

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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