From The Ethics Alarms Archives: Remembering The Amazing Elfego Baca

The previous post was discussing the topic of great Americans, and commenter valkygrrl asked about the statuary in the Capitol, where each state is allotted two statues to honor its past notables. This, in turn reminded me of my favorite New Mexican historical figure (who is not honored in the Capitol) and one of my favorite figures of the Old West, Elfego Baca (February 10, 1865 – August 27, 1945). There’s a post about him (with 11,621 and counting, there’s a post here about just about everything), and I decided that this was a good time to re-visit it, and him.

Baca is not only a Mexican-American, it could be argued that he’d be a more worthy member of the President’s Garden than a number of the “heroes” currently on the list…more fun, definitely.

Here’s the lightly edited post from 2013…Meet Elfego!

As frequent readers of Ethics Alarms know, I fervently believe that history is important, and that we all have a duty to remember and honor the remarkable Americans who have gone before us, their exploits, triumphs, struggles and achievements, both for our sake—for we can learn much from them—and theirs. I am constantly discouraged by the inspirational stories and fascinating historical figures who have nearly been forgotten. The schools don’t teach our children about them, and popular culture ignores them. This weakens the flavor and the power of our shared culture: it is wrong, that’s all.

I want to do my part to help keep alive the name and the story of a Mexican-American who may have faded from memory because the events of his life seem more fictional than real. Indeed, for most of my life, until a couple of years ago, I thought Elfego Baca was a creation of Walt Disney’s creative staff, who wrote a ten episode mini-series  called “The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca” for the “Disneyland” show (“Now…from Frontierland!”) in 1958. I loved that series, but it never occurred to me that the tales of a gunslinging, lawyer-sheriff in Old New Mexico could possibly have any connection to reality.

But they did. The real Elfego Baca was, if anything, even more improbable than his fictionalized counterpart, portrayed by a very young and athletic Robert Loggia, who is best known as the toy magnate who plays “Chopsticks” on the giant keyboard with Tom Hanks in “Big.” Loggia was one of my favorite character actors; he was also the drug lord killed by Tony Montana in “Scarface,” and the tough general in “Independence Day,” among many other memorable roles in a long career

Elfego Baca was born in Socorro, New Mexico in 1865. Elfego’s father was a gunfighter, and he wanted to be one too, though on the side of the law, so he would be less likely to go to jail, like his father did, for winning gunfights. The New Mexico territory was soon in the middle of a silver rush, bringing many outsiders into the region, a lot of them pretty wild. Baca acquired a sheriff’s badge through a mail-order house, and also bought two six-guns, which he taught himself to use with deadly precision.

A cowboy named Charley McCarty got drunk in the town where Baca was working as a store clerk, and did all the things you remember from old Westerns: whooping it up, shooting in the air, breaking windows, harassing townspeople, and bullying Mexicans by making them “dance” as he shot at their boots. Elfego Baca, then 19 years old, deputized himself by pinning on his fake badge and by the authority invested in himself, by himself, arrested McCarty at gunpoint. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Grab Bag: 6/18/20: Absolutism, DACA, Cancel Culture And Pancakes” [Item #4]

The poll on #4 among yesterday’s “ethics grab bag” is running strongly in favor of leaving up statues of Juan de Oñate, a particularly nasty Spanish conquistador who established the colony of New Mexico for Spain. [Aside: I was going to link to the article on the Britannica site, but as soon as I whitelisted it, I was bombarded with pop-up ads, drop-in ads, slide-over ads and more that shifted the text and  made it nearly impossible to read. They are morons, and screw them, to be blunt. I’ll allow a site’s ads if the site is smart and considerate enough to format them so that they don’t make using the site  infuriating. I will not be visiting again.]  Only 11% of voters so far think that there needs to be some limit on how horrible a historical figure can be to have a community decide that they don’t want to be reminded of him and her every day. Voting is still open:

Here is johnburger2013’s Comment of the Day on Item 4 in the post, “Ethics Grab Bag: 6/18/20: Absolutism, DACA, Cancel Culture And Pancakes”:

In general, I am not one calling for removing art from the public square. That smacks too much of Soviet Russia, Chairman Mao, and the Taliban. Perhaps a more complete history can be shown on the monument discussing the controversies.

The Oñate statue is one of those monuments that maybe should not have been dedicated, even if he founded or claimed the region for the Spanish crown over 400 years ago. Apparently, the statue’s foot amputation was in response to Juan de Oñate’s brutal repression of the Acoma Puebla after the Acoma rebelled in October, 1598, because the Acoma refused to pay a food tax to the Spanish crown, which had been implemented by Oñate. Oñate had claimed the region for Spain in March 1598, and instituted a food tax, which hacked the Acoma off – why wouldn’t it? – so they rebelled. The Acoma killing 11 Spaniards/Mexicans, including Oñate’s nephew, In response, Oñate ordered the burning of the town and the slaughter of almost the entirety of the 2,000 Acoma, leaving some 200 alive, including children. Oñate had his troops amputate a foot of each of the surviving males of fighting age and sent the children to “missions” in Mexico. The revolt has been referred to as the Acoma Massacre. Not sure that is something Spain is proud of. Continue reading

Ethics Grab Bag: 6/18/20: Absolutism, DACA, Cancel Culture And Pancakes

1. Oh, I’m sure that will help a lot. Quaker announced yesterday that the Aunt Jemima brand would be rebranded and renamed “to make progress toward racial equality.” Yeah, I’m sure the pancake box design and hearing that demon name “Jemima” has retarded the progress of racial justice for decades.  I couldn’t care less what pancake mix is called and I doubt that anyone else does, but  if any portion of the market claims to find the logo offensive, that’s a good reason to ditch it, which I assume means that Uncle Ben’s Rice will be called “U.B.R.” soon. Nonetheless, Quaker’s move isn’t substantive. It’s virtue signaling, and at this point, more historical airbrushing. Getting rid of Aunt Jemima will cost Quaker millions of dollars, and probably raise the price of the product. It won’t affect racial equality one iota.

Meanwhile, cultural context and history is lost. The R. T. Davis Milling Company hired former slave Nancy Green as a spokesperson for the Aunt Jemima pancake mix in 1890, and she continued in that role  until her death in 1923. Green appeared as Jemima beside the “world’s largest flour barrel” while operating a pancake-cooking display at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. After the Expo, Green was given a lifetime contract to  promote the pancake mix. Aunt Jemima was Nancy Green’s one link to immortality.

2. Today’s SCOTUS decision on DACA. Here’s how NPR put it: “A narrowly divided U.S. Supreme Court extended a life-support line to some 650,000 so-called DREAMers on Thursday, allowing them to remain safe from deportation for now, while the Trump administration jumps through the administrative hoops that the court said are required before ending the program.”

The President called this a political decision in his inimitable, meat-axe way:

This is an especially stupid tweet. Every time SCOTUS doesn’t back the administration isn’t a political decision, and lumping apples and kumquats together, which is what generalizing about decisions as diverse as the gay discrimination decision and this one is, just shows that the President doesn’t read the opinions he’s complaining about, and only cares about the results. (Of course, in this he is like most Americans, sad to say.)

After wading through as much of the assorted opinions in the case as I can stand (Great thanks, once again, to valkygrrl for sending me the link), I think that’s unfair.

Chief Justice Roberts, again the swing man, joined with the four liberal Justices and authored the majority opinion. This sentence says it all: “The dispute before the Court is not whether DHS may rescind DACA. All parties agree that it may. The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so.” That means that the decision isn’t about substance or policy, but rather process. Process decisions are not, or shouldn’t be, political. This note also undermines the idea that the Justices were just acting in partisan lockstep:

ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part IV. GINSBURG, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined that opinion in full, and SOTOMAYOR, J., joined as to all but Part IV. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, concurring in the judgment in part, and dissenting in part. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part anddissenting in part, in which ALITO and GORSUCH, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., and KAVANAUGH, J., filed opinions concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.

If the President paid attention, he would see that a majority of the Court found that his actions regarding DACA were not motivated by “animus,” thus denying Big Lie #4.

I am unalterably opposed to DACA, for reasons stated frequently here. The short version: it is incompetent and irresponsible law-making to provide an incentive for people to break the law. DACA is fueled by emotion and sentimentality (“Think if the children!”) and is an incremental step toward open borders. However, other than some dicta among the concurrences and dissents, there is no reason to see the decision as either favoring or disfavoring the law. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/7/18: Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest

Good morning.

…And a good morning to remember a very bad morning in Hawaii 77 years ago today.

1. Oscar’s latest fiasco. The Academy Awards, which like all awards shows has descended into nasty political advocacy, undermining its mission and alienating its audience, decided to pick famously non-partisan black comedian Kevin Hart, who is also a successful movie actor, to host. His gig lasted just a few day. People looking to discredit him went digging into  his social media posts, and some tweets from eight years ago–you know, before Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had flipped on gay marriage?—were judged as “homophobic.” In a post on Instagram at about 11 p.m. last night, Hart said he got a call from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was asked to apologize for his prior tweets, or step down as host. He chose to withdraw, and tweeted this:

“I have made the choice to step down from hosting this year’s Oscar’s….this is because I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists. I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past. ‘m sorry that I hurt people.. I am evolving and want to continue to do so. My goal is to bring people together not tear us apart. Much love & appreciation to the Academy. I hope we can meet again.”

The conservative media is calling Hart another example of political correctness run amuck. That’s ignorant and wrong. To be successful, an MC has to be liked and trusted by his audience, which is, for the Oscars, the people inside the theater above all. A huge percentage, even a half or more, of the Oscar audience is gay. No one can host the Oscars while it is known that he once said, even eight years ago, that he was terrified that his son might grow up to be gay. It doesn’t matter that he may have “evolved.”  Hollywood is a substantially gay community, and the host of its biggest party of the year should neither be nor be suspected of being homophobic,

Why the Academy’s vetters and Hart himself couldn’t figure this out is a different issue: gross incompetence. Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Month: New Mexico Congressional Candidate Pat Davis (Guess What Party!)

“Fuck the NRA!

—-Albuquerque City Council member Pat Davis, in a TV ad promoting his candidacy for Congress in the upcoming Democratic Party primary.

Nice.

That’s what we really need more of in the government: more incivility, vulgarity, cretinous rhetoric, and hate-mongering. Go Pat!

I suppose Davis is taking his cues from potty mouth DNC chair Tom Perez and putative Presidential candidate and California Senator Kamala Harris, both of whom have decided to jettison dignity and professionalism in pursuit of the rapidly devolving progressive base. These people are all ethics corrupters. I don’t care who they say to fuck, or what. If this their idea of leadership, they are a disgrace to the nation and whatever office they seek.

Of course Davis’s message is idiotic, regardless of his terminology. He says that the NRA’s ” pro-gun policies have resulted in dead children, dead mothers and dead fathers.”  If politicians like Davis want to repeal the right of citizens to own guns, then let them have the honesty and integrity to say so. Blaming the organization that is an advocate for the Second Amendment for crimes committed by those who abuse the right is intentionally dishonest as well as cowardly,  like blaming the ACLU for the proliferation of lowest common denominator demagogues who think “Fuck the NRA” is responsible political discourse and not merely the equivalent of a primal scream.

Ethics Quiz: Does “Black Olives Matter” Matter?

Black Olives matter shirtI almost made this controversy an ethics quiz in July, but decided it was a fleeting jest. Wrong, Ethics-breath! Now the story has heated up again.

Paisano’s, an Italian restaurant  in Albuquerque, New Mexico is selling ‘black olives matter” T- shirts and caps following the uproar over the phrase last month, when the restaurant placed it on a marquee outside the restaurant in July:

Black Lives Matter sign

Then, owner Rick Camuglia said he came up with the play on words to sell a new tuna dish with black olive tapenade. When Camuglia posted pictures of the dish and the sign on Facebook, he drew angry complaints that he was being insensitive and “trivializing a movement aimed at trying to stop police shootings of black residents.”

Even if they are resisting lawful arrest, threatening the officer or holding a gun. But I digress…

Camuglia protested that he was only trying to sell food. Now, after receiving unexpected support, even internationally, and with business booming, the entrepreneur has reacted to requests for souvenirs from the restaurant with his new product line.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day: 

Are the slogan, T-shirts and hats inherently disrespectful and divisive at a racially troubled time, and thus socially irresponsible, or is it a harmless play on words?

Continue reading

So It Has Come To This: Criminalizing Burps In Middle School

At  Cleveland Middle School in Albuquerque, a persistent class clown, age 13, kept burping in class, followed by the usual titters from his classmates.

I was in class with one of these characters in the 8th grade, and I must admit, his burp was something: loud, long, low, and seemingly inexhaustible. He was yanked out of class, he was sent to detention, his parents were called, he was suspended, and eventually, without too much conflict, he learned to cut it out. (They never caught the guy who shouted “HOG!” in a raucous voice during study hall.) Apparently this method was beyond the abilities of the  Cleveland Middle School staff to execute.

The teacher, Ms. Mines-Hornbeck, called the police, who arrested and eventually cuffed the boy. Principal Susan LaBarge and Assistant Principal Ann Holmes  not only suspended him for the rest of the school year, but allowed the criminal justice process to proceed, with the boy being processed for the charge of  violating a New Mexico statute, N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-20-13(D), that reads…

No person shall willfully interfere with the educational process of any public or private school by committing, threatening to commit or inciting others to commit any act which would disrupt, impair, interfere with or obstruct the lawful mission, processes, procedures or functions of a public or private school.

That’s right: arrest and criminal prosecution for burping in class.

None of the staff at the school, apparently, had an ethics alarm go off that induced them to point out that the year long suspension was an unethically harsh punishment, and the criminal charge was tantamount to child abuse. I remember that in the fourth grade at Parmenter School in Arlington, Mass, my friend Timmy Russell was moved to leap to his feet during a math lesson and do a ten second imitation of Elvis singing “Hound Dog.” Everyone laughed, including the teacher. Then, that burst of childish energy over, she went on with the lesson, because she was a confident professional.

In New Mexico, 2016, Timmy would have broken the law. Continue reading

OK, Which Do We Require Background Checks For: Microwaves, “The Walking Dead,” Electric Guitars, Or Netflix?

Microwaves don't kill people, people kill semi-zombies with microwaves...

Microwaves don’t kill people, people kill semi-zombies with microwaves…

Can’t ban stupidity, unfortunately…

The Associated Press reports that in Grants, New Mexico, 23-year-old Damon Perry beat his friend,  23-year-old Christopher Paquin, to death with “his hands, feet, an electric guitar and a microwave.”

Perry claimed he and Paquin had been drinking, but that his drinking buddy began “to change into a zombie” and tried to bite him. Naturally, he defended himself with gusto.

Perry also mentioned  that he’d been binge-watching The Walking Dead on Netflix prior to the incident.

Ethics Quiz: Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Laws

heroinoverdoseI know how this one will break down, but it’s an interesting issue nonetheless. And it doesn’t involve Hillary, Donald Trump of Bill Cosby!

Many states have addressed drug-related deaths by allowing junkies using illegal drugs to call 911 for a fellow shooter or snorter in life-threatening distress and be immune from prosecution.   New Mexico passed a “Good Samaritan law” in 2007 that granted limited immunity from prosecution on simple possession charges for people who used 911 to report a drug overdose going on in front of them. The Drug Policy Alliance reports that 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws differing in exact provisions but providing limited freedom from prosecution in exchange for saving lives.

There is an explosion of heroin use nationwide, and therefore heroin deaths, right now. (The government abandoning its vital statements via law that drug use is wrong has a lot to do with causing this, but that is for another day.) As always, the first proposals to address a drug crisis involve loosening enforcement. Slate writes,

“In the end, of course, it doesn’t much matter how or why states pass these laws, as long as they pass them. A University of Washington study evaluating the initial results of Washington state’s Good Samaritan policy found in a survey that drug users who were aware of the law were 88 percent more likely to call 911 in the event of an overdose than before. “Despite lingering concerns about possible negative consequences of the new law, such as prosecutions being impeded, no evidence of negative consequences has been found to date,” the study concluded. Good Samaritan laws are humane and sensible. There are no compelling reasons to oppose them.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Are there really “no compelling” ethical reasons to oppose such laws?

Continue reading

Now THIS Is An Unethical Lawsuit!

chuck.chuck_

A New Mexico appeals court has refused to overturn the summary judgment dismissal  of Arthur Firstenburg’s five-year-old lawsuit against his neighbor Raphaela Monribot, whom he had accused of causing him excruciating pain and discomfort by using her iPhone, a Wi-Fi connection, dimmer switches, and other electronic devices in her own home. Firstenburg says that he suffers from electromagnetic sensitivity, or EMS, an acute sensitivity to electronic radiation that doctors and and scientists almost unanimously (but not quite) believe doesn’t exist.

Because Monribot had the misfortune to live next door to this guy, she had to defend against a $1.43 million lawsuit that has racked up court costs of over $85,000, and heaven knows what in legal fees. Firstenburg is not paying for any of it because he is broke; his lawyer, Lindsay Lovejoy, had taken the case on a contingent fee basis. She decided the appeal was a lost cause: the plaintiff handled it himself.

This case will, I assume, become the new poster child for those favoring a “loser pays” system, a bad idea that would be godsend in abuses of the system like this one. Continue reading