You Know, Every Piece Of Sentimental Inspiration Doesn’t Have To Be Debunked: Of Dogs, Death, And “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”

There was a nice, heartwarming photo yesterday of George H.W. Bush’s service dog lying by his casket.  This was accorded the usual sniffling interpretation, which is fine: the image is moving. Nonetheless, Slate felt it necessary to publish “Don’t Spend Your Emotional Energy on Sully H.W. Bush/He’s a service dog who had been with the president for six months, not his lifelong companion.”

“It’s wonderful for Bush that he had a trained service animal like Sully available to him [for 6] months. It’s a good thing that the dog is moving on to another gig where he can be helpful to other people (rather than becoming another Bush family pet). But it’s a bit demented to project soul-wrenching grief onto a dog’s decision to lie down in front of a casket. Is Sully “heroic” for learning to obey the human beings who taught him to perform certain tasks? Does the photo say anything special about this dog’s particular loyalty or judgment, or is he just … there? Also, if dogs are subject to praise for obeying their masters, what do we do about the pets who eat their owners’ dead (or even just passed-out) bodies?…”

Oh, thank you, thank you SO much for that lovely image.

Of course the dog doesn’t understand that Bush is dead, or that he’s in the casket, or anything. So what? Anyone who knows anything about dogs can figure that out. Why was this snark necessary? Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, “Happy Birthday George Washington!” Edition

Good Morning!

1 The Indispensable Man...This is George Washington’s birthday, and every American alive and dead owes him an unmatched debt of gratitude. A useful assessment of why this is true can be found here.

Not only was Washington indispensable as the military leader who won the Revolution, he was also, it seems likely, the only human being who could have navigated the impossibly difficult job of being the first President of a new nation attempting an unprecedented experiment in democracy. The precedents he set by his remarkable judgment, presence, wisdom, character and restraint continue to be a force today. Washington was also perhaps the most ethical man who has ever been President. The principles that guided him from his youth and that resulted in his being the only man trusted by the brilliant but often ruthless Founders who chose him to lead their new country can be reviewed here, but two of them tell us what we need to know about Washington’s ideals…the first,

Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

…and the last,

 Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

Revoltingly, the average American is largely ignorant regarding the great man whose face adorns the one dollar bill. For example,  a recent YouGov survey asked respondents who was the best President in U.S. history. 16% of Americans selected Ronald Reagan, and 16% selected Barack Obama. Abraham Lincoln took third place with 15%. Washington finished fourth,but only 10% of those surveyed named him as the best President,  14 percent of Republicans, and only six percent of Democrats. I assume that Reagan, and I hope even Obama, would find these results ridiculous. They tell us that citizens can not distinguish politics from virtue. They tell us that the schools teach neither history nor critical thought effectively. They tell us that Democrats regard the fact that Washington was a slaveholder more notable than the fact that he made the United States possible. They tell us that the nation is losing a connection to its origins, heroes and values. It tells us that most of the public is ignorant of things that competent citizens must know.

It tells me that when an advocate cites a poll that says, “Americans want this,” the proper response is “Why should anyone trust their judgment? They think Regan and Obama were better Presidents than George Washington.”

2. Children’s Crusade update: Both CNN and HLN are flogging the high school student protests virtually to the exclusion of any thing else. The total commitment to aggressive and emotional advocacy on the part of the mainstream news media was disgraceful after the Sandy Hook school shooting, but this is worse; just when I think our journalism has hit the bottom, it finds a way to go lower.

This morning on HLN, I was greeted by an extremely articulate Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivor who said,  confidently and radiating certitude, “These episodes are completely preventable.” Putting such nonsense on the air, even when spoken by an attractive, sympathetic, youthful idealist who perhaps cannot be blamed for not knowing what the hell she’s talking about,is irresponsible and incompetent. It is no different from saying “The Holocaust never happened,” Barack Obama was born in Kenya” or “The world is ruled by the Illuminati.” “These episodes are completely preventable” is, from the mouth of anyone qualified to be on television talking about gun policy, a lie, and from someone like this young woman, as naive as professing a belief in Santa Claus. Such statements should not be presented in a news forum as a substantive or serious position. A news organization has an ethical obligation either to correct the misinformation, or not to broadcast it without context, like “Here is the kind of arguments these child activists are making, making serious and coherent debate impossible.”

When the crawl across the bottom of my screen added another argument from one of the activist students—has there ever been a time when the policy analysis of people lacking high school diplomas has ever been given so much media attention and credibility?—that read, “Student protester: “People are buying guns who don’t need them,” I switched to the Cartoon Network

Right, kid, let’s pass laws that prohibit citizens from buying what the government decides they don’t need.

Continue reading

Random Ethics Thoughts On The Death Of Jose Fernandez


Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, at 24 one of the rising stars in baseball and a remarkable, charismatic young man as well, died when his boat hit a jetty at high speeds in the early morning hours last Sunday. He had escaped to the U.S. from Cuba at 15 after failing twice and being imprisoned by the Castro regime as punishment. How good a pitcher was he? At this point in his career, as good as any pitcher in the history of the game. What might he have accomplished? The possibilities were limitless.

Two of his friends were also killed in the accident, and he left a pregnant girlfriend behind. Baseball stars have died tragically mid-career before—Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson, Harry Agganis, Ken Hubbs, Lymon Bostock…Lou Gehrig, of course…but seldom has a death in the sport caused such an widespread outpouring of grief.

Some random thoughts:

  • I have a gut reaction to such deaths, when a young man or women of infinite promise and special talent dies due to his or her own recklessness and foolishness. This was the case with Fernandez; there is no denying it. His boat was speeding, going much too fast for the conditions. It was dark, and he may have been drinking: he had just left a bar. My reaction is anger. I can’t help it; I know he’s dead, and that he didn’t want that. Still, part of ethics is the belief that all human beings have an obligation to do what they can to be a productive part of society and join in the effort to make existence better for everyone. To those who have special abilities and talents, more should be expected, and they have a duty to recognize that their life is more than just their own, but part of the collective wealth that everyone shares as long as they live. Amazing people who throw their young lives away, and with it all they might have given to the rest of us–joy, thrills, inspiration, memories—make me especially furious. (I am merely routinely furious with ordinary people who throw their lives away.)

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Ethics Quiz: Honoring The Dead and Deadly Team Mate


When they take the field in Spring Training and for the rest of the 2015 baseball season, the St. Louis Cardinals will be wearing a memorial patch reading “OT” in honor of outfielder Oscar Taveras, the 22-year-old budding star outfielder who died in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic last October. Such mourning patches have become common since 1972, when the Pittsburgh Pirates moved beyond the traditional black armband to a personalized patch following the tragic death of the team’s Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente in a plane crash, as he was flying humanitarian aid to Nicaragua.

Taveras, however, unlike Clemente, died in an act of reckless stupidity that took not only his own life but that of his 18-year-old girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, as well. Toxicology tests showed that his blood alcohol level was five times the legal limit before the crash. situation is more complex because toxicology tests showed that his blood alcohol level at the time of his death was five times the legal limit. Moreover, Taveras’, also was killed in the crash. If Taveras had lived and Arvelo alone had died, he would have been prosecuted for manslaughter.

And thus your first Ethics Alarms Baseball Ethics Quiz of 2015 is this:

Is it ethical for the Cardinals to publicly honor Taveras with a uniform patch?

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Comment of the Day: “’Bang The Drum Slowly,’ My Old Friend, and Me”

Gus Grave

Extradimensional Cephalopod was kind enough to post this wise and evocative reflection prompted by my recent post following the sudden, but really not so sudden, death of an old friend over the weekend. His thoughts helped me a great deal, and I am grateful: here, without further comment, is EC’s Comment of the Day on the post, “’Bang The Drum Slowly,’ My Old Friend, and Me”: Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The 9-11 Memorial Museum Restaurant

" So...who's hungry?"

” So…who’s hungry?”

I’m sure this will come as a shock to some, but there are ethics controversies that I do not have strong opinions on, because I think both sides have strong ethical arguments. The dispute over whether the planned restaurant at the recently opened memorial and museum on the site of the Twin Towers bombing is one of them.

Con is  stated succinctly by New York Post columnist Steve Cuozzo, who wrote, “A bar and grill by any name on top of burnt fire trucks and human ashes is just plain gross.” Also being criticized is a black-tie party held at the museum to celebrate the opening. Said a family member of a firefighter who died that day: “This is the final insult and desecration of these 9/11 remains.”

The Pro, or at least the “It’s no big deal” position, is laid out by Ann Althouse, who wrote:

“At some point the taking of offense itself becomes offensive. Maybe out of respect for the dead, no one who still walks the face of the earth should ever laugh or take pleasure in anything every again. More than 100 billion human beings have died, perhaps right where you are standing/sitting/reclining right now. How dare you ever do anything? Look out your window and visualize the ghosts of all the human beings who, over the course of history and prehistory, died within that view. Will you mourn for them… ceaselessly… until you are one of them?”

The ethics issue is obviously respect. What is enough, and what is disrespectful? The analysis involves finding the right analogy, perhaps. There is a gift shop and restaurant at the Gettysburg Battlefield Visitors Center, but not on the site of Pickett’s Charge. The Holocaust Museum has a gift shop and snack bar as part of the complex, but nobody was exterminated in Washington, D.C. There’s no gift shop or snack bar at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; you can’t buy a sandwich at the Alamo. Is the 9-11 restaurant like the one at the Pearl Harbor museum, or is it like having a fish and chips eatery over the SS Arizona? The Pennsylvania site where Flight 93 crashed is being treated as hallowed ground, while the section of the Pentagon where its victims perished on 9-11 is back to being a workplace.

Is this just the Ick Factor,  something that feels a little “off,” like watching musicals and comedies in Fords Theater with Lincoln’s empty, ghostly box looming over the stage, or something more?

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today…

Is placing a restaurant over the 9-11 Museum, on the site where 3000 people were murdered, disrespectful?

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Disaster Ethics: The D.C. Naval Yard Shooting

Twelve dead? This is great---we can make another push for gun control!!!"

“Twelve dead? This is great—we can make another push for gun control!!!”

About 10 minutes from where I live, unidentified gunmen have killed 12 people (one of the gunmen is also dead) in an unexplained rampage. The facts are still being sorted out, and at least one shooter is still at large as I write this, but already two predictable examples of unethical disaster and crisis response have been on display:

1.  Reflex anti-gun tragedy exploitation

Apparently from now until the Second Amendment is but a distant memory, some Democratic politicians and anti-gun zealots will use every gun-related tragedy as a springboard to lobby for more regulations, and the facts be damned. At this point, we have not been told why the attack took place, who the shooters were, whether it was a terrorist act or not, whether the killers were Americans, whether or not the weapons were obtained illegally and what kind of guns they were. Never mind: interviewed on the radio, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congress’s non-voting member, immediately pointed out that with all the guns that are available in this country, it should be no surprise to anyone that tragedies like this occur. I’m sure she would have liked to have been able to claim that global warming also played a part, except that it is a cool day in Washington. Continue reading

The Flag and Whitney Houston

If Ol' Blue Eyes was worthy, why not Whitney?

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie  ordered New Jersey’s flags flown at half-staff in official mourning for Whitney Houston, and a lot of people are outraged. The critics of the honor fall into two categories: those who believe that the honor should be reserved for military heroes and high government officials, and those who believe that Houston is especially unworthy because of her well-documented substance abuse problems.

For his part, Governor Christie defiantly declares that Houston, as a daughter of New Jersey, deserves the state honor because of her contributions to the culture.

Technically and officially, Christie is out of line. Federal law is very specific about the proper treatment of the flag, including when it can be flown at half-staff. Simply put, celebrities don’t qualify, no matter who they are. A state governor can proclaim that the flag be flown at half-staff in his or her state for fallen soldiers, but not for non-military individuals. But governors ignore the law routinely, and have for decades. Tennessee’s governor lowered the flag when Elvis died. Massachusetts did the same for Red Sox great Ted Williams, though he was also a war hero, so no one was going to object. The law, in terms of custom and enforcement, is a dead letter, and probably should be.

True, some governors have abused the spirit of the law, including Christie, when he lowered the flag for Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band—a great musician, but hardly a figure of transcendent national significance. If 4 USC Section 7 isn’t going to be followed or enforced, then we need some new standards, or before we know it they’ll be lowering the flag for Joan Rivers. Continue reading