I Forgot George Washington’s Birthday! In Penance…


If there is any American whose birthday none of us should fail to note and celebrate, it is George Washington. In my case, he is in good company, since I have had difficulty my whole life remembering birthdays of close family members and friends, with the exception of my son’s, once the Boston Red Sox finally won their first World Series in 86 years on the same date, and my own, which I have been trying to forget ever since finding my dad dead in his chair on that date eight years ago. Nonetheless, my failure to salute the first and indispensable President is especially disgraceful for an ethics blog, and I apologize both to George and to all of you.

Time flies: I hadn’t issued a post specifically devoted to George’s remarkable character since 2011. (Something has gone seriously wrong when one has 287 posts on Donald Trump and only six about Washington.) In penance, allow me to atone with my favorite entry’s on the list of ethical habits some historians believe made him the remarkably trustworthy and ethical man he was, ultimately leading his fellow Founders to choose him, and not one the many  more brilliant, learned and accomplished among them, to take on the crucial challenge of creating the American Presidency.

Directed to do so by his father, young Washington had copied out by hand and committed to memory a list called “110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation”  It was  based on a document  composed by French Jesuits in 1595; neither the author nor the English translator and adapter are known today. The elder Washington was following the teachings of Aristotle, who held that principles and values began as being externally imposed by authority (morals) and eventually became internalized as character.

The theory certainly worked with George Washington. Those ethics alarms installed by his father stayed in working order throughout his life. It was said that Washington was known to quote the rules when appropriate, and never forgot them. They did not teach him to be a gifted leader, but they helped to make him a trustworthy one.

The list has been available at a link here (under Rule Book, to your left), almost from the beginning of Ethics Alarms. Would that readers would access it more often. Here are my 20 favorite highlights from the list that helped make George George, and also helped George make America America: Continue reading

“Ghosting” Is Unethical

I don't care if you are dead, Marley; when you leave my party, say good-bye.

I don’t care if you are dead, Marley; when you leave my party, say good-bye.

Slate contributor Seth Stevenson has an interesting justification for being rude: good manners are too much trouble.

This is the way the world ends, as T.S. Elliot would say.

Stevenson argues that instead of saying goodbye and thank-you to one’s host at a party, the best way to exit is “the Irish good-bye,” or in its non-ethnic stereotype form (Irish guests are presumed too drunk to say good-bye, you see), “ghosting.” “Yes, I know,” he writes. “You’re going to tell me it’s rude to leave without saying goodbye. This moral judgment is implicit in the culturally derogatory nicknames ghosting has been burdened with over the centuries.” That sentence is signature significance for me: Stevenson is an unethical jerk. I get comments and e-mails all the time accusing Ethics Alarms of “moralizing” or being “sanctimonious” when I write that obviously unethical conduct is obviously unethical. That’s because unethical people who do unethical things feel much better about themselves if nobody calls them on it, so they can maintain, as one recent commenter did here who was, I’m proud to say, chased away by the rest of you (and me) with torches and pitchforks, that ethics is “100% subjective”—Translation: “If I want to do it, it’s ethical.”

That’s essentially Stevenson’s reasoning, too.  “Is it really so bad to bounce without fanfare?,” he asks. Continue reading

Now THIS Is Incivility!

DormRoom1950sThe Delta Gamma sorority chapter at the University of Maryland has received some unwelcome publicity as a result of a leaked e-mail from one of the sorority’s executive board members, reprimanding the Gammas’ for not sufficiently participating in Greek Week activities with their “matchup” fraternity, Sigma Nu. The admonition was delivered in a vulgar, threatening and verbally violent rant containing, among its over 800 words, 4 stupids, 3 variations of ass–, as in “ass-wipe” and “ass-hat,” 5 shits, 2 cocks, 2 sucks, 3 goddamns, and no less than 42 variations of fuck. Gawker, which received the text of the rant, mercifully did not release the young woman’s name when it posted the thing, which is as it should be. No reason to destroy her reputation now. The odds are she’ll do it herself eventually.

I’ll post the whole message at the end, to spare your having to go to Gawker, but here are some brief observations: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “And The Solution To This Phenomenon Is Simply Ethics. Why Is That So Hard?”

Sir Galahad

Sir Galahad

Reader Aaron Paschall was on a roll today, and his two-part comment on the thread regarding a woman’s lament about the sexual harassment she faces every day constitutes one of the best and most eloquent Comments of the Day Ethics Alarms has ever recognized with the honor. Here is Aaron’s perspective on the post “And The Solution To This Phenomenon Is Simply Ethics: Why Is That So Hard?”:

“Certainly it’s a sad state of affairs when a woman (or man) has to keep to the well-lit areas in order to avoid the dangers lurking in the dark. If Emily’s post is a lamentation that it would be wonderful if people needn’t fear the darkness, then I agree wholeheartedly. If Emily’s post is intended as a screed about how unfair it is that she can’t go walking down dark alleys as she would like because of all the nasty, brutish men lurking in the shadows, I can only laugh and say that I can’t walk down those alleys, either. Nor would I wish to, because I’m wiser than that. Continue reading

And The Solution To This Phenomenon Is Simply Ethics. Why Is That So Hard?

construction_workers_at_voi_bigWith her “Letter to the Guy Who Harassed Me Outside the Bar” , Emily Heist Moss makes me briefly wonder, not for the first time, why all men haven’t been murdered in their beds by an organized feminist vigilante posse. The conduct she describes is disgusting and infuriating just to read about, and I don’t even have to experience it.

The amazing thing is that this kind of ritual harassment would vanish with some slight behavioral additions to our culture, many of which once were the norm, habits of good conduct like etiquette,  manners, consideration, civility, fairness, kindness, respect, and the Golden Rule. They could become cultural norms again, and rather easily, I would think, with an increase in responsible parenting, a responsible popular culture, and the development of role models with integrity. Not featuring serial and unapologetic sexual harassers as stars of sitcoms (Charlie Sheen) and political conventions (William Jefferson Clinton) would help; so would a serious effort by Hollywood not to trivialize workplace harassment as cute or amusing, as in the long-running “Cheers,” or in current TV  dramas like “Criminal Minds” and “NCIS.”

Moss writes, Continue reading

Holiday Ethics Quiz: The Family Stuffing Dilemma

Families can fight about anything.

Further proof that families can fight about anything.

In the category of the kind of ethics controversy only families can devise comes this one, from an old friend from high school, who just e-mailed me for advice:

She is having her sister and her sister’s family, all adults, over for Christmas dinner. She is cooking all of it, turkey, stuffing, chestnuts roasting on a open fire, Andy Williams on a spit—the works. Today her sister tells her that her daughter will be bringing her own turkey stuffing, because she likes her recipe best. My friend said, “Fine,” and hung up. Now she is quietly fuming. She asks, “What kind of behavior is that? I’m inviting them to dinner. Who brings their own private courses because it’s their personal preference?” (She adds that nobody has ever complained about her stuffing. I can personally vouch for that: I’ve eaten it in past years, and it’s excellent.)

My friend thinks the whole idea is an insult and bad manners, and wants to call up her sister to say, oh, lots of possible things, like “You know Christmas Eve when we’re coming over to your house for dinner? Well, my daughter will be bringing hamburgers, because she thinks the food you serve is crap,” or, Tell Phyllis she’s welcome to make her own stuffing and get her ass over here at 6 AM to stuff it in our bird, or she can live with what I’m serving,” or “Why don’t you all just bring your favorite damn dishes and we can just have pot luck?”

So it’s a two-part Christmas Ethics Quiz for the Ethics Alarms faithful:

1. Is the daughter’s conduct inexcusably rude?

2. Should my friend say anything about it? Continue reading

Oh! THAT’S What Manners Were For!

A young woman posted a harrowing and depressing personal account on the web, describing the  gauntlet of daily sexual harassment attractive females must endure just going through life. “I decided it was important,” she writes, “because in my own way, I can (unfortunately) point out exactly what is wrong with men when they don’t realize how hard it is to be a woman.  How we do not have equal opportunities and freedoms in everyday life.  How most men, even good caring men, have no clue what we go through on a daily basis just trying to live our lives.”

What follows should make every man angry and every woman angrier, a sickening story of a subway ride that became a nightmare, simply because too many young men think of pretty women as quarry, rather than human beings.

She writes, Continue reading


When we can’t even figure out what ethical conduct is, it’s hopeless.

Mitt Romney’s appearance before the NAACP this week gives us a classic and depressing example of how the collision of confirmation bias, an unprofessional news media, impenetrable partisanship and political cynicism not only obscure the truth, but make it literally—and I mean literally literally, not as Joe Biden uses the term, which is to mean figuratively—impossible.


  • The media, in almost every case, highlighted the fact that Mitt Romney was booed by the NAACP audience when he swore to abolish “Obamacare.” Did you know that at one point in his speech, when Romney mentioned defending traditional—as in same sex—marriage, the audience applauded, and some stood? If you do, you only found out by digging into so-called “conservative media sources.” Why isn’t this more of a story than the booing? Why wasn’t at least part of the story? Isn’t that useful information? Why does the media want to show nothing but enmity between African-Americans and the Republican nominee? Why wouldn’t the fact that the audience was listening to the substance of his remarks and responding positively in some cases be significant?
  • The NAACP has criticized prominent Republicans for not accepting it invitations to speak, maintaining the fiction that this wholly owned  subsidiary of the Democratic Party is “bi-partisan,” as its charter falsely claims. Then when one of them accepts such an invitation, these gracious hosts boos him. Booing is bad manners at a baseball game; in this circumstance, it is infinitely worse. If Romney had advocated a return to Jim Crow or used a racial epithet, then maybe booing would be justified. He did not. He merely stated a policy position, repealing the Affordable Care Act, that audience members did not like. They boo him, and this indignity becomes the story, thanks to the media’s tunnel vision. Why would any Republican accept such an invitation? The NAACP has proved itself to be an unethical and abusive host. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: LGTB White House Guests

“While the White House does not control the conduct of guests at receptions, we certainly expect that all attendees conduct themselves in a respectful manner. Most all do. These individuals clearly did not. Behavior like this doesn’t belong anywhere, least of all in the White House.”

Thus did a White House spokesman properly rebuke the crude LGTB activists who reciprocated the hospitality of the President in inviting them to a LGTB pride reception at his home by taking photos of themselves flipping their middle finger to the portrait of Ronald Reagan and posting them on Facebook with such clever captions as “FUCK YOU!”

This is one more marker in the continuing degradation of American manners, etiquette and respect for institutions, but it also displays such a void of gratitude and common sense that one is led to despair. “These photographs have hurt our community and make advocating for inclusion and equality more difficult. The participants should be ashamed,” the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay GOP supporters, said in their response. Correct on both counts. It is hard to see anything positive that could come from such a juvenile display of raw vulgarity and self-indulgence, either for the activists’ social agenda or anyone else. They embarrassed the White House, breached basic standards of guest conduct, displayed wonton incivility and rudeness, showed disrespect for an American landmark and the institution of the Presidency, insulted the memory of a past leader, and crowed about it on Facebook like the ill-bred teenagers.

How proud of them the Lesbian Gay Transgendered Bi-sexual community must be!

Actually, I doubt it. There isn’t a single person in the country, not one, beginning with the President, through Nancy Reagan, to every patriotic American and every member of the LBTB community that these boors don’t owe an apology to.



Graphic: The Blaze

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.