No way around it: today we are taking down the Christmas tree. It took over eight hours to decorate it, but that’s not why I always hate this annual task. Taking down the tree has always seemed to me like a symbolic rejection of all the ethical instincts and interactions of the season that the tree symbolizes. It is easier, somehow, to keep those ethics alarms tuned when this big, garish, lighted thing is dominating the living room, and shining out through the window into the street. One year, I managed to delay the Great Un-Christmasing until mid-February. There is something especially wrong and disrespectful about leaving this symbol of love, family, peace, generosity, continuity, community, kindness and more lying on its side, by the outgoing trash. This years Frasier Fir was a good tree that did it’s job well, and deserves better. Another year, I hated the idea of leaving our tree by the curb so much that I threw it down the bamboo-covered hill behind our home.
I wish I had the courage and resolve of the woman profiled in the Charlotte Observer on December 26, 1999. I adapted it in 2008 for the original script of “An American Century Christmas,” a musical revue recalling old-style TV Christmas specials as well as songs Christmas literature and movies. Continue reading →
“The movie opens on low boil with Mildred behind the wheel of her station wagon near three derelict billboards…she uses the billboards to announce her crusade … a way to get things jumping (the investigators, the tale) and splash some foreboding on an outwardly pacific scene. Much of the story involves the ripples of outrage, confusion and buffoonery that the billboards inspire and that soon envelop almost everyone Mildred knows. Months after her daughter’s death, grief has walled her in; isolating and seemingly impenetrable, it is inscribed in the hardness of her gaze and in her grim new identity as a mother of a dead girl. The billboards turn that grief into a weapon, a means of taking on the law and assorted men — a threatening stranger, a vigilante dentist and an abusive ex (John Hawkes) — who collectively suggest another wall that has closed Mildred in….”
None of which addresses what is remarkable about the film, which is that it shows what causes our ethics alarms not to ring—Frances McDormand as Mildred and Sam Rockwell as Dixon, a racist and vicious deputy, in particular demonstrate what it is like to be driven by non-ethical considerations of the darkest and most passionate sort—and more important, what causes them to start ringing again. Most reviewers described this as a dark and depressing film. The ethics alarms are mostly off again as the film ends, and that is ominous, but its main ethics message is uplifting in many ways. “Three Billboards” teaches us that even broken, ignorant, alienated human beings have the capacity to access their innate instincts for compassion, justice, forgiveness, selflessness and kindness, and even when our ethical selves seem permanently overcome and decisively defeated, they can burst out again, in control, salvaging what’s best about the species.
There is a moment early in “Three Billboards” that signals that it is not only going to show us what monsters anger and grief can transform us into, but also that what George Washington’s list of 110 Rules called “that little spark of celestial fire called conscience” is remarkably resilient. A sheriff—the ethics compass of the story, played by Woody Harrelson— visits Mildred after her billboard messages embarrass him and roil the town. She is hard and cold as marble as he tries to explain his failure to find her daughter’s rapist/killer, even after he reminds her that he is dying of cancer. Suddenly the sheriff has a violent spasm: he coughs up blood on himself and Mildred. And we see her fury evaporate in an instant. The compassionate and caring mother she once was emerges, if only for a few moments. ( McDormand is such a superb actress that she pulls off the sudden transition convincingly and movingly: you believe it, though it is like watching Mr. Hyde turn into Dr. Jekyll in the snap of a finger.) Later, when again her fury has been aroused, we see the same woman firebomb the police station and watch implacably as her nemesis deputy burns. A warning: just because the ethics alarms can ring doesn’t mean they are working well enough.
Sam Rockwell’s character also reveals surprisingly that his ethics spark has not been entirely extinguished, again thanks to a catalyst supplied by the sheriff. This transformation caused considerable criticism of the film among critics and artists in Hollywood, and some attribute the film’s failure to win the Best Picture Oscar to the fact that a racist is redeemed and revealed to have an ethical core. But except for the sociopaths and psychopaths among us, admittedly a disturbingly large group, we all have that ethical core. We have the ethics alarms too, ready to be re-activated, even if they aren’t in perfect working order. Yes, this is even true of racists. So much of our current political discourse is driven by the false construct that a single belief or a single lapse of reason marks an individual as irredeemable. Its easier to marginalize and demonize them that way. But it isn’t true.
Indeed Ethics Alarms often declares certain conduct and words as signature significance, proving that an individual is unethical because such actions and thoughts are alien to ethical human beings. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” reminded me that people may be unethical–Mildred and Dixon, the deputy, could never be called ethical, for ethical people don’t set police stations on fire or throw young men out of second story windows, as Dixon does—but that even unethical individuals can find their ethics if you give them a chance.
And if they can find their ethics, so can all of us, and so can society. There is hope.
Addendum: I cannot leave “Three Billboards” without a salute to one of its most powerful scenes, when Mildred tells a priest why she doesn’t care what he has to say when he comes to her home to admonish her for the messages on the billboards:
1 On the other hand, “Bite me!” I find myself feeling bad about a Facebook retort yesterday laying out an old friend, also a former Democratic official’s staff member, for taking a snide shot at my “bias” after my answer to a query about anti-Trump legal ethicist Richard Painter. Painter has been on the “remove Trump by any means possible” bandwagon since the 2016 election, and because he was an ethics advisor to the Bush White House, he has been a favorite go-to source for CNN and MSNBC while authoring bizarre op-eds that distort the Constitution. My response about Painter was that he has apparently been driven mad by the whole Trump experience, and is now in the process of wrecking a very fine reputation as his colleagues in the field, like me, roll their eyes and weep. (Painter is a Bush family loyalist, and the guessing is that he is following the lead of the two Georges, who hate Trump to pieces.) Yes, Richard was among the first to advocate Plan E, removing Trump because he is “unable” to do the job, so he’s especially hot right now.
I feel bad because I’m a nice guy, but I’ll be damned if I will put up with being called “biased” for correctly pointing out what is dishonest and wrong about the various plots to circumvent the election. It’s not a “bias” to believe that an entire party attempting to undermine an elected President is wrong, and that lawyers and ethicists who pander to that mob have slipped a professional cog. I sent my friend to this website to find any evidence that I am a Trump fan, other than being the apparently rare critic who will give the President credit when he deserves it, and who will defend him against fake news and dishonest accusations. I’m a passionate supporter of U.S. values, the system, our institutions, the Presidency itself and elections. That’s not bias. That’s called being an ethical citizen.
2. Signature significance for a weasel. Five days after his reported quotes in “Fire and Fury” including one accusing Don Jr. of “treason” caused President Trump to slam him on Twitter, former White House aide and Breitbart power Steve Bannon sent an “apology” to Axios, of all places. This is known as ” crawling back.” Bannon, while at the White House, leaked to reporters and played both ends against the middle to further his own agenda, and betrayed the President’s trust and confidence by aiding and abetting sleazy political gossip-monger Michael Wolff. Now, after Bannon’s split with Trump has obviously cost him support, influence and credibility, the man who chomped on the hand that fed him wants a do-over. Only the worst species of unethical and unprincipled weasel would try something like this. If he genuinely regretted the quotes, he would have immediately said that they misrepresent him, and repudiated them. Waiting five days makes it clear that Bannon was waiting to see how the episode was playing in the media and public to decide whether to stand by his own words or not. The short version of this is: “Integrity? What’s that?”
Moreover, the text of the “apology” shows that Bannon isn’t very bright. Why bother looking pathetic and weak if you aren’t even going to do it effectively? He doesn’t even apologize: he says that he regrets his “delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”
An insincere and dishonest apology designed to allow the wrongdoer to escape accountability cheaply, and to deceive his or her victims into forgiveness and trust, so they are vulnerable to future wrongdoing.
3. Is expressing “regret” the same as an apology? Let’s look closely at which mainstream media outlets call Bannon’s statement an “apology.” Axios does. When President Obama was making his so-called “apology tour,” as it was dubbed by the Right, journalists rushed to his defense, arguing that saying in multiple nations that he “regretted” the policies of his predecessors and the past actions of the United States was not the same as apologizing for them.
4. Somewhere, Dan Rather is smiling...I’m putting this in the Warm-Up because, as you may have noticed, yesterday’s posts were dominated by “the resistance’s” Plan E and the news media’s dutiful assist by hyping “Fire and Fury.” Incredibly—yes, I’m an idiot: the degree to which the news media will abandon core journalism ethics if it means bringing Trump down still surprises me–there was little effort on the news shows yesterday to hide the fact that much of Wolff’s book is unreliable, and that the author admits it. Nonetheless, they reported on the salacious quotes and accounts, debated in panels whether it “proved” the President is disabled, and generally presented the book to the public as fact, not fiction.
How can journalists possibly justify this? It can’t be justified, but the news media’s anti-Trump bias has made them stupid and incompetent.
For example, CNN MEDIA ETHICIST—I have to place both hands over my head to prevent an explosion when I type that, which means I have to type with my nose—Brian Stelter tweeted,
Big picture point: Wolff’s errors are sloppy, but many Trump experts say the book “rings true” overall.
The hypocritical Left is discrediting itself for the foreseeable future by contriving ways to pretend that what Al Franken was credibly accused of doing to a fellow performer during a 2006 USO tour wasn’t so bad, and what about Roy Moore and Donald Trump? As Ed Driscoll wrote today,
The media’s ability to pivot on a dime in the same week from throwing a dissipated Bill Clinton overboard and attacking Roy Moore to granting Franken a very ‘90s-era one free grope rule is amazing to watch. Decades of these sort of power politics by the left (see also: supporters of Kennedy, Ted) explain why many continue to circle the wagons around Moore. Or as Sean Trende of Real Clear Politicstweeted on Tuesday, “I don’t think you can underestimate the degree to which many conservatives have this attitude: (a) we fought a battle over whether character counts, and got our asses handed to us and (b) liberal leaders always circle the wagons around their guys, and ours always cave.”
Franken was in a position to make such embarrassments unnecessary, and to show how responsible elected officials expected to be role models should conduct themselves when accountability knocks. Instead, he made not one but two unethical apologies, the second worse than the first. The fact that his enablers in his party and the media rushed to accept them doesn’t make either less awful. As I explained, in his ultimate apology he 1) never specifically apologized to Ms Tweeden, lumping her into a mass apology to thousands 2) simultaneously said that women should be believed when they accuse men of sexual misconduct, and undermined Tweeden’s account by saying that he didn’t recall it as she described, and 3) said there was no excuse for his conduct while excusing it as just another joke that misfired, an occupational hazard of being a comedian—remember folks, I was a comedian then!
At the risk of repeating myself, I designated Franken Apology Take Two as a #10 on the Apology Scale, and I am convinced that was fair. (The final straw? Asking for a Senate ethics investigation that could only prove Tweeden’s account unsupported, or simply confirm what we were already told. Why couldn’t Franken just accept the account of his accuser? The reason is that he wants to discredit her without appearing “not to believe the victim of sexual misconduct.” Yechhh.) This is the description of a #10, the bottom of the barrel:
10. An insincere and dishonest apology designed to allow the wrongdoer to escape accountability cheaply, and to deceive his or her victims into forgiveness and trust, so they are vulnerable to future wrongdoing.
It didn’t have to be this way. Senator Franken could and should have delivered a Level 1 apology, and would have been better served by it, as would our culture, political system and all of us:
1. An apology motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.
Yesterday I happened upon Lincoln Chafee on one of the Sunday shows, giving his elevator pitch for why he should be President. You may recall that Chafee, former Republican Senator and Governor of Rhode Island, turned independent after being defeated for re-election and now is following Bernie Sanders’ example, declaring himself a Democrat for the purpose of getting nominated. Chafee is another politician, like the Bush bothers and Hillary Clinton, who owes his initial political prominence to being related to a popular political figure rather than his own innate abilities. As he made obvious the more he spoke…
His two primary campaign positions were 1) “Wage peace”—whatever that means. This is right up there with John Lennon songs as serious policy discourse, though I’m sure ISIS is fascinated by the concept, and 2) Adopt the metric system. Chafee borrowed this from the idea machine known as the Andrew Johnson administration, as Andy was the first President to officially acknowledge the benefits of the U.S. adopting the less eccentric measurement system used by Europe. I’m sure we all can agree that this is one of the most pressing issues facing the country today.
However, Chafee really got my attention, and sparked this post, when he attempted to combine his two prime objectives, which is no mean trick. I tried to find a transcript, video or a news report to document this, but so far I have failed: maybe everyone is trying to be nice. I swear I am not making this up, though I wish I were.
Chafee argued that the United States should adopt the Metric system because it invaded Iraq and didn’t find the weapons of mass destruction.
The Washington Post echoed the consensus of the news media by reporting that the White House has apologized for not treating the anti-terrorism march in Paris with the respect and attention it deserved. “I think it’s fair to say that we should have sent someone with a higher profile,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
Oh, that’s an apology now?
Interesting, given that the word “apology” was notably absent from the statement. I will await, then, an admission from the horde of Obama defenders, like Paul Krugman of the New York Times and many others in the “We come to praise Obama, not to critique him” brigade that has guarded the Presidents flanks for going on seven years now, an admission that our President did indeed go on an “apology tour” around the world, regretting past U.S. policy of every sort. Over at the New York Times where Krugman reigns, the then-public editor Arthur Brisbane declared in 2012 that Mitt Romney was lying when he called Obama’s various mea culpas apologies, writing.
[P]erhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less: “The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”
Funny: if that’s the standard for what an apology is—actually using the word “apology”—then the White House hasn’t apologized for embarrassing the nation and insulting the world. You just can’t have it both ways. Continue reading →
I cannot agree that it takes heroic courage to raise a child as a teenager but I will agree that the child made the ethical choice to treat the developing fetus as a living human being. Upon birth the child could be given up for adoption. That too is a choice.
The fact is that the act of having a child without the personal resources to care for and raise the child imposes costs not only on the child but on society at large. I will admit there are no absolutes in describing the behavioral motivations of the young mother but much has been written on the subject such that many of these young girls are using the child as a surrogate for the unconditional love that they never received themselves. To that end the baby is merely an object to satisfy a need of the teenage mother. For these mothers keeping the child not heroic it is selfish. Glorifying the (poor) choice made reinforces the belief in others that having a baby as a teen is no big deal and may actually elevate their social status.
Who exactly is taking care of the child when the teenage mother is still in school? An extended family member? Maybe. What costs are being imposed on the family member that must now care for the child because you are in school? If paid daycare is the choice who pays for that? Who pays to clothe and feed the child? Not the young mother as she has no resources. Where is the father to pay for these costs? Oh I forgot we no longer have fathers we have “baby daddies” – those irresponsible young men that make their rounds inseminating as many girls as possible to prove their manhood because they never learned from a real father what it means to be a man.
Neither the pregnant teen nor the inseminating male have the resources to pay for the food shelter and medical care for themselves or their offspring as a result of their CHOICES, which is why our social services programs costs have exploded in the last 50 years. We cannot remind young people of the negative effects of a sexual choice if we eliminate the negative effects. We have no problem stigmatizing other behavioral choices. Smokers are social pariahs. The government banned us from seeing images of people using tobacco in publications so that children would not see smoking as a glamorous lifestyle and start the habit. We have a war on obesity in which we make the overweight person feel unattractive, unwanted and a blight on a healthy society. Why? Because the claim is that both of these behaviors impose third party health care costs. So, to all those not wanting to create a stigma for unwed teen moms do you feel as strongly about the stigma we attach to those behaviors or physical characteristics?
In the past, carrying the stigma of being an unwed mother prevented both the births of children that suckle on the teat of society’s resources, and the desire for abortions because the child – I reinforce the word child – did not make the very bad choice to engage in sex until they were socially and economically responsible enough to raise the child.
I would never stigmatize the child for being born to any single person because they were not consulted beforehand. I can, however, choose to find irresponsible sexual behavior among teens to be blight on our society.
The most important thing a female can do to empower herself to achieve future success is to make good choices about her own sexual habits early on. This probably means telling her suitors to keep it in their own pants.
“Mesa yearbook photos of teen parents anger some”––wait, you mean everyone with half a brain isn’t horrified by this? At least The Arizona Republic was one of the “some,” writing in an editorial“that featuring pregnant teens in a two-page spread of photos glamorizing a life-altering mistake risks normalizing dysfunction.” Uh, yeah, I would think that would be obvious to more than “some.” News Flash!It isn’t.
“A representative for the district did suggest that parenting isn’t a valuable accomplishment for high schoolers,”writes ThinkProgress. He suggests it? Statistics tell us that those teen parents are more likely to drop school, more likely to be unemployed, and more likely to require government hand-outs to survive. Out-of-wedlock births increased from 7.7 percent in 1965 to more than 40 percent in 2012, including 72 percent of black babies, with teen pregnancies leading the way. The reason this has happened, and few can dispute this, is society’s elimination of all significant opprobrium or disapproval of the act of pre-marital sex, teen sex, and, therefore, teenage motherhood. Helping the social pathology take root, and it is one that has disproportionately crippled the prospects of minorities, are various toxic role models: TV characters, like Murphy Brown; movie stars, singers, TV kid show stars (Britney Spears little sister), even a proud, unmarried, pregnant Congresswoman, Rep. Linda Sanchez, who uttered this fatuous justification: “We’ve evolved as a society so much. The reality of single working moms is such a powerful reality!“
John Schindler is a former NSA officer, a professor at the Naval War College and a PhD who periodically holds forth on his various areas of expertise on the web. He also specializes in particularly obnoxious tweets in which he both insults anyone who questions or disagrees with him, and does so by referring to his own innate superiority as a scholar and an intellect. If he isn’t a complete jerk, he sure plays one convincingly.
Some wag noticed the trend, and created a website that contains nothing but Schindler’s most snotty tweets. Here is the puzzling part: Schindler, in yet another tweet, referred to it as “an ugly new defamation site against me.” Forget the complete lack of comprehension of what defamation is (Ken White at Popehat, an expert in that field of law, invoked Inigo Montoya of “The Princess Bride” in a tweet to the Professor saying “‘Defamation.’ You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”). My question is this: if Schindler thinks the website is ugly, and it contains only what he has written to others, why doesn’t that promote self-awareness, regret, remorse, and altered conduct? That is how it is supposed to work; I would think that is how it has to work. The idea behind the Golden Rule is to look at your conduct from another’s perspective, and if it strikes you as ugly and wrong, then you have learned something. So you change. Not this guy. Continue reading →
MANASSAS — A judge has sentenced a Manassas baby sitter to five years in prison for the murder of a toddler she had been watching, leaving the child’s family outraged by the light sentence.Twenty-two-year-old Jessica Fraraccio pleaded guilty last year to killing 23-month-old Elijah Nealey after he wouldn’t stop crying.Fraraccio had initially said Elijah slipped in the tub, but months later admitted pulling a chair out from under him and smothering him.
Why? 1) The murder was intentional. 2) Fraraccio was in a position of trust. 3) She, unlike Ethan Couch, the teenaged drunk driver in the “affluenza” vehicular homicide case, was an adult. 4) As bad as killing someone accidentally while driving drunk (and without a license, and speeding) is, killing a helpless infant intentionally is worse.
Worse also than the lenient judge’s rationale in the Ethan Couch case—she believes the boy can be rehabilitated—is the utterly indefensible theory of the judge who sentenced Fraraccio. From the Washington Post: Continue reading →