Tag Archives: sacrifice

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/6/ 2018: “Remember the Alamo” Edition

1 Remember the Alamo! On this date in 1836, before dawn, the Alamo fell. From the official Alamo website:

While the Alamo was under siege, the provisional Texas government organized at Washington-on-the-Brazos. On March 2, the convention declared independence and the Republic of Texas was born, at least on paper. The Alamo’s garrison showed its support for independence from Mexico by sending its own delegates to the convention.While they were unaware that Texas had declared independence, the roughly 200 Alamo defenders stayed at their post waiting on help from the settlements. Among them were lawyers, doctors, farmers and a former congressman and famous frontiersman from Tennessee named David Crockett. While the youngest was 16 and the oldest defender was Gordon C. Jennings, age 56, most defenders were in their twenties. Most were Anglo, but there were a handful of native Tejano defenders as well. Legendary knife fighter and land speculator James Bowie was in command before falling ill and sharing duties with Travis. Several women and children were inside the Alamo, including 15-month-old Angelina Dickinson. Just before the final battle, Travis placed his ring around her neck, knowing she would likely be spared. One of the last messages from the Alamo was a note from Travis asking friends to take care of his young son Charles.

The final attack came before dawn on March 6, 1836. As Mexican troops charged toward the Alamo in the pre-dawn darkness, defenders rushed to the walls and fired into the darkness. Travis raced to the north wall but was soon killed. Bowie was most likely killed in his bed, while reports differ as to Crockett’s death. Many believe Crockett survived the initial attack but was put to death by Mexican soldiers soon afterward.

Mexican soldiers breached the north wall and flooded into the compound. The fierce battle centered on the old church, where defenders made a last stand.

The battle lasted about 90 minutes.

From the San Antonio Express News:

BEXAR, Texas, March 6, 1836 — Alas, alas! Forever more, the name of the Alamo shall stand alongside that of Thermopylae in the annals of history as a tale of unmatched bravery to be handed down from generation to generation.

The bastion of Texas Liberty has fallen, and to a man, Lt. Col. William Travis and his fellow defenders — like the immortal 300 Spartans — have been martyred.

After withstanding an unrelenting siege of twelve days’ duration by one of the mightiest armies ever assembled on this continent, the walls of the old mission that had housed Travis (a man as brave as the fabled King Leonidas), Col. James Bowie, the Hon. David Crockett and some 200 other defenders were breached before the sun rose to-day.

Savagery was unleashed therein as a juggernaut orchestrated by the modern-day Xerxes, Mexican Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, swept over the Alamo….

Since I was a small boy, this episode in American history moved me more than any other. It still does.  I first learned about the Alamo when I watched Fess Parker as Davy Crocket, swinging his rifle like a baseball bat at Mexiacn skulls, the last man standing as behind him we could see more of Santa Anna’s soldiers pouring over the wall. We never saw Davy fall—my dad explained that this was appropriate, since nobody is sure how or when he died, unlike Travis and Bowie, and the last verse of the Ballad of Davy Crocket played…

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!

The politics and complexities of the Texas war of independence don’t alter the essential facts: a group of men of different backgrounds, under the command of three prototypical American figures—the pioneer (Crocket), the settler (Bowie), and the law-maker (Travis), all of whom were trying to recover from dark periods in their lives—chose to make the ultimate sacrifice for a cause they believed in fervently enough to die for, in the company of others who felt the same. It was, after all, the perfect ethical dilemma, the choice between an ethical act for the benefit of  society and a non-ethical consideration, the most basic one of all: staying alive. They all had the same choice, and rejected life for a principle.

That’s what I remember about the Alamo.

2. There is hope. Once again, I gave a 90 minute presentation to a Boy Scout troop and parents last night, and challenged them this time with several hypotheticals that Ethics Alarms readers would recognize, such as this one, the plight of Ryan Seacrest and those who snubbed him on the red carpet,  the “Mrs. Miniver” flower show, and this one, from personal experience, which set off the most lively debate of all:

The Option

Your professional theater company has limited funds, so it offers its actors an option. They may choose a flat fee for their roles, or get a percentage of the show’s profits, if there are any, on top of a much smaller base fee.

The company just completed an extremely profitable production, the biggest hit your theater has ever had. Nine of the show’s ten cast members chose the percentage of profits option, a gamble, because most of the shows lose money. One, the star, who you know could not afford to gamble, took the flat fee for the role. After the accounting for the production is complete, you realize that every member of the cast will make $1000 more than the star, because of the show’s profits.

Question 1: What do you do?

  1. Give him the extra $1000. It’s only fair.
  2. Pay him the flat fee. A deal’s a deal.

You can weigh in:

Question 2: You remount the production, and the exact same thing happens. The actor chooses the flat fee, the show is again a huge money-maker,,and the rest of the cast will make much more than him because they chose the percentage. Do you give him the extra amount again?

  1. No. Now he’s taking advantage of me.
  2. Yes. Nothing has changed.

As before, the approximately 50 11- and 12-year old boys were astute, serious, thoughtful, and gutsy, and their ethical instincts were superb. Continue reading


Filed under U.S. Society

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/26/18: Spin! Hypocrisy! Heresy! Demagoguery! Idiocy! And Weren’t Those Sex Slaves Cheering For North Korea Adorable?

Good Morning!

Of course it’s a good morning…the 2018 Winter Olympics ended last night!

1 The Schiff Memo. The Democrat’s alleged rebuttal to the Devon Nunes memo regarding how Carter Page came to be the object of secret surveillance that extended into the Trump campaign should have been the big story of the weekend, along with the fact that government systems repeatedly failed to protect the students in Parkland from an unbalanced young man who had been repeatedly identified as a risk for exactly the kind of mad act he ultimately engaged in. But the left-biased news media downplayed it after trying to spin it, because the hyped memo did not rebut the key allegations in the previous Republican House document. The FISA court was not informed that the Russian dossier was created and funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. The dubious dossier  was a key component of the evidence that led a secret court to remove the Constitutional rights of a citizen, while interfering with a Presidential campaign.

Amusingly, the Schiff memo spins that the Obama Justice Department application was “transparent,” and then describes transparency as a FISA warrant application that said that Christopher Steele, referred to as “Source #1,” was “approached by” Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, referred to as “an identified U.S. person,” who

indicated to Source #1 that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. Person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s [i.e., Trump’s] ties to Russia. (The identified U.S. Person and Source #1 have a longstanding business relationship.) The identified U.S. Person hired Source #1 to conduct this research. The identified U.S. Person never advised Source #1 as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. Person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.

Andrew McCarthy, in the National Review, concludes that the Schiff memo does the Democratic narrative more harm than good. I agree: it looks like a desperate spin attempt to me, so desperate that the news media abandoned the story as quickly as it could.

2. Segue Alert! And speaking of transparency…From the Boston Herald: Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Marketing and Advertising, Professions, Rights, Sports

It’s Thanksgiving, And Time For The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide [Updated And With A New Introduction For 2017 ]


Last year (to the day) when I posted the Ethics Alarms ethics guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,” one of the great ethics movies of all time, as this blog’s official welcome to the holiday season, I wrote, “I suspect we need it more in 2016 than usual.”  As it turned out, we need it even more in 2017.

Multiple forces have been hard at work for a full year now, roiling the nation, painting the future as dire and the present as unbearable, trying to divide us and even to encourage discord and conflict during this special time when we are supposed to remember what is most important in life. In case you have been infected, it’s not politics and not partisan agendas, but love, family, community, kindness, and friends. The simple message of Frank Capra’s masterpiece—it has aged far better than his other films, including, and maybe especially, “Mister Smith Goes To Washington”—that no one is a failure who has friends, is vital to recall when so many are rejecting friends because they don’t conform to some ideological talking point. This is madness, and watching and heeding “It’s A Wonderful Life” is a better remedy than Thorazine.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer actually told his Twitter followers this week to bring a chart prepared by a  think tank to attack the Republican tax plan during Thanksgiving dinner. This is part of the effort to politicize everything in our lives, by zealots who value power over humanity, country, and spirituality. They belong with Mr. Potter, not George and Clarence.

I need this movie more in 2017 than usual for other reasons. It has been a year in which I have lost many peers and cherished friends, and listened to too many of the living bemoan the passage of time and looming mortality.  I don’t think like that—a lifetime gift from my brave and fatalist father—but I can’t pretend that the game clock isn’t running out, or not face the fact that I have not sunk anywhere near the baskets I could have and should have. Fortunately, what I wrote in an earlier year introducing this post still resonates…

Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

Have a terrific Thanksgiving, everyone.

And here we go:

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. The framing of the tale seems to advance the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

Yet in the end, it is an ethics movie, not a religious one. George lives an ethical live, not out of any religious conviction, but because step by step, crisis after crisis, he chooses to place the welfare of others, especially his community and family, above his own needs and desires. No reward is promised to him, and he momentarily forgets why we act ethically, until he is reminded. Living ethically is its own reward.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. One has to wonder about people like George, who resort to prayer as a last resort, but they don’t seem to hold it against him in Heaven. The heavenly authorities assign an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to handle the case..He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than Heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there— perhaps because George has not been “a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck

George’s first ethical act is saving his brother, Harry, from drowning, an early exhibition of courage, caring and sacrifice. The sacrifice part is that the childhood episode costs George the hearing in one ear. He doesn’t really deserve extra credit for this, as it was not a conscious trade of his hearing for Harry’s young life, but he gets it anyway, just as soldiers who are wounded in battle receive more admiration and accolades than those who are not. Yet this is only moral luck. A wounded hero is no more heroic than a unwounded one, and may be less competent as well as less lucky.

3.  The Confusing Drug Store Incident

George Bailey’s next ethical act is when he saves the life of another child by not delivering a bottle of pills that had been inadvertently poisoned by his boss, the druggist, Mr. Gower. This is nothing to get too excited over, really—if George had knowingly delivered poisoned pills, he would have been more guilty than the druggist, who was only careless. What do we call someone who intentionally delivers poison that he knows will be mistaken for medication? A murderer, that’s what.  We’re supposed to admire George for not committing murder.

Mr. Gower, at worst, would be guilty of negligent homicide. George saves him from that fate when he saves the child, but if he really wanted to show exemplary ethics, he should have reported the incident to authorities. Mr. Gower is not a trustworthy pharmacist—he was also the beneficiary of moral luck. He poisoned a child’s pills through inattentiveness. If his customers knew that, would they keep getting their drugs from him? Should they? A professional whose errors are potentially deadly must not dare the fates by working when his or her faculties are impaired by illness, sleeplessness or, in Gower’s case, grief and alcohol.

4. The Uncle Billy Problem

As George grows up, we see that he is loyal and respectful to his father. That’s admirable. What is not admirable is that George’s father, who has fiduciary duties as the head of a Building and Loan, has placed his brother Billy in a position of responsibility. As we soon learn, Billy is a souse, a fool and an incompetent. This is a breach of fiscal and business ethics by the elder Bailey, and one that George engages in as well, to his eventual sorrow.

5. George’s Speech

Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Daily Life, Family, Government & Politics, Love, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Comment Of The Day: “Weeping And Screaming At The Sky: Dear Democrats…”

Well, I stand corrected!  The anti-Trump response of  “screaming helplessly at the sky” wasn’t as worthless as I opined. At least the prospect of it inspired this Comment of the Day by Ryan Harkins in which he postulates the infantilization of America.

Here it is, on the post, Weeping And Screaming At The Sky: Dear Democrats, Progressives, And “The Resistance,” Are You Embarrassed Yet? Why Not?:

What came to mind when I read this is the notion of the “infantilization of America”, which actually came up second in the Google search by the time I typed in “infanti”.

When I stop and question, not necessarily the ethics of the “aaargh!!!” resistance, but the motivation and the appeal to such tactics, I admit that my conclusions might be a bit biases. But when my 3-year-old wants something and doesn’t get it, she throws a tantrum. Sometimes she throws the tantrum before I say no, in anticipation of that very event. Other than the profanity, the “aaargh!!!” event very closely resembles my daughter’s tantrums.

I am looking forward to the day, hopefully not far off, when my daughter and I might have a conversation like this:

“Dad, may I have a cookie?”

“No, it is past 4 o’clock, and the rules are no snacks after 4.”

“Yes, Dad, I respect that. However, you admitted that dinner is going to be late, and the reason behind the 4 o’clock rule is so that I don’t spoil my appetite for dinner. I am, admittedly, very hungry, and think one cookie now, with two hours yet until dinner, won’t impact my capacity to eat my entire meal.”

“That is very good reasoning, but spoiling your appetite is not the only reason not to have a snack at this point. Another reason is discipline, and training your capacity to resist indulging every desire the moment it appears. A little hunger is not going to hurt you, and your ability to withstand a little hunger now will help you withstand other temptations as you go through life.”

“Wow, Dad, I hadn’t thought of that. So, can I have a stalk of celery instead, since it isn’t very filling?”

“All right, you can have a stalk of celery. Hey, wait, why are you getting out the peanut butter?!?”

“Dad, you can’t have celery without peanut butter, and you said I could have a stalk of celery.”

“…grumble, grumble…

I think anyone who is a parent will quickly assure me that such a conversation is pure fantasy. However, who wouldn’t want to deal with his children in such a fashion? Who wouldn’t want to deal with other adults in such a reasonable fashion? Why then are we getting the “aaargh!!!” treatment? I think it is because we have, as a culture, infantilized ourselves. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, U.S. Society

The 87th And 88th Rationalizations: The Reverse 15 And The Psychic Historian

Translation: “I got nuthin’!'”

I haven’t been in tip-top shape the last several days, making new posts more of an ordeal than they should be. Luckily this motivates me to catch up on updating the Rationalizations List, which has several waiting additions, including these:

Rationalization #15 A. The Reverse 15, or “If I don’t do it ( and I don’t want to) somebody else will.”

The Reverse 15 uses exactly the same excuse as #15. The Futility Illusion:  “If I don’t do it, somebody else will,” but for the opposite purpose. In #15, the rationalizer wants to avoid the consequences of doing something unethical by arguing that his or her refusal to follow orders would have no practical effect: someone else would just step in and do what was demanded anyway. How, asks the fictionalized version of Confederate Captain Henry Wirz in “The Andersonville Trial,” can a post-Civil War military tribunal fairly hold him responsible for cruelly mistreating the Union prisoners in the Georgia prison camp as he was ordered to, when if he refused he would have been shot, and his successor would have abused them anyway?

In 15A, the argument is the opposite. The rationalizer refuses to perform a necessary ethical act out of apathy, callousness or fear, but this was reasonable because he or she was certain that someone else would do the right thing instead. The Reverse 15 could also be called “The Kitty Genovese Rationalization,” recalling that the many people who heard the murdered woman’s screams chose not to “get involves” while convincing themselves that someone would come to her aid. All of the Mount Everest climbers who left a stricken colleague behind to die protested later that they were certain the next climber behind them (or the next, perhaps) would stop to help the man. We pass a stopped car in distress on the highway at night, reasoning that someone else will stop to help, sparing us the trouble.

Sometimes someone does. Sometimes not. This abdication of an ethical duty is accomplished by casting one’s lot, and gambling with the fate of another, while relying on the unpredictable quirks of moral luck. The only ethical decision is to take action. You must do what you know is the ethical act yourself, and not ignore your obligation because you can pass the buck and then argue, disingenuously, “How could I know that everyone else would be as unethical as I am?”

Rationalization #1B. The Psychic Historian, or “I’m On The Right Side Of History”

Continue reading


Filed under Government & Politics, History, U.S. Society

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/11/2017: Words, Debt, And Costumes

Good morning from Richmond, Va.!

1 Passengers keep piling onto the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck:

  • Fashion designer Donna Karan, questioned about Weinstein at an event, said in part:

“I also think how do we display ourselves? How do we present ourselves as women,” Karan said to the Daily Mail. “What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?”

Then she pointed to Weinstein’s achievements, and said Weinstein and his wife were “wonderful people.”

(Note to the designer: men who use their power to harass and assault women are not wonderful people by definition.)

After the predictable response to these idiotic comments, Karan protested that her quote was taken out of context, as if the context wasn’t Harvey Weinstein, and issued a low level apology that could only mean, “I’m deeply sorry I said something in public that reveals the miserable level of my values.”

  • Lindsay Lohan, currently in exile in Great Britain and Dubai, used social media to remind her fans in the US that she is, after all, a moron, writing on Instagram,

“I feel very bad for Harvey Weinstein right now. I don’t think it’s right what’s going on….He’s never harmed me or did anything to me – we’ve done several movies together.I think everyone needs to stop – I think it’s wrong. So stand up.”

One of the real benefits of social media is that it reveals the total lack of ethics comprehension, reasoning ability and life competence that inflict so much of the public, including celebrities. With clarity of thought like that, is there any mystery regarding how the once rising star managed to mangle her career despite beauty, talent, and early success?

  • NBC was presented with the Weinstein story before it was broken by the New York Times, says Ronan Farrow, the author of a new Weinstein investigative piece in The New Yorker. The network hasn’t said why. Does it have to? Weinstein was close to both the Clintons and the Obamas, and the scandal directly implicates the Democratic party and its core supporters….like NBC. It is fascinating to watch cable and network anchors and guests desperately try to analogize Weinstein to President Trump, but the Hollywood mogul was enabled by self-righteous liberals and was given the King’s Pass (with an assist from the Saint’s Excuse) because he gave to Planned Parenthood and Hillary, making him, in Donna Karan’s words, “wonderful” by definition. The analogy is Bill Clinton, of course, and any journalist who refuses to acknowledge that has confessed crippling partisan bias.

2. This brings us to a quote by blogger Ann Althouse:

“My hypothesis is that liberals — including nearly everyone in the entertainment business — suppressed concern about sexual harassment to help Bill Clinton. Giving him cover gave cover to other powerful men, and the cause of women’s equality in the workplace was set back 20 years.”

Her hypothesis is correct, and I said so when the liberals, feminists, abortion zealots, artistic community and others circled their wagons around Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal. This is one reason why Hillary’s campaign stance as standard-bearer for women’s rights and victims of sexual assault was so grotesque.

Here’s another quote from Althouse that I like:

“Who are the women who accepted the deal as offered by Harvey Weinstein? Will their names be kept out of the press? Should they?…

…So much silence facilitating so much harm! Should the women who took the bargain and got what they wanted out of it be regarded as victims and entitled to keep their names secret, or are they part of a system that hurt many others, and subject to outing.”

I’ve answered this question in various comments on previous posts, much to the unhappiness of readers who believe that victims who remains silent and thus allow evil to continue shouldn’t be criticized. The women are part of the system, and accountable. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Professions, Quotes, Social Media, U.S. Society, Workplace

Ethics Hero: World War II Veteran Marvin Strombo

Many Japanese soldiers during World War II went into battle carrying small “Rising sun” flags, the red sphere on the field of white, with the white field decorated by hundreds of classmates, family members and friends. The flags were for good luck, and to link soldiers to their loved ones while they fought for the Emperor.  I had never heard of this practice until today; my father served in the European theater, so he would not have known that many American soldiers took these personal talismans from the bodies of fallen Japanese soldiers as war trophies.

U.S. Marine Marvin Strombo was such a soldier. A member of  an elite sniper platoon during the bloody battle for the Pacific island of Saipan in 1944, he had taken a flag from a dead Japanese soldier lying on his left side—he remembered that the young man looked like he was  asleep—after he noticed something white sticking out from his jacket.

The flag with all the inscriptions on it hung behind glass in Strombo’s gun cabinet in his home in Montana for decades until 2012, when the son of his former commanding officer contacted him for assistance with a book he was writing about the exploits of his father’s platoon. (ARGHHH! I just remembered that I haven’t gotten back to a member of my Dad’s unit who wrote me a couple of months ago!) Working with the author,  Strombo learned about  the Obon Society, a nonprofit organization in Oregon that works to locate and return the personal Japanese flags to the families of the fallen soldiers who carried them. Researchers determined that the dead soldier Marvin’s flag had belonged to was named Yasue Sadao. What Strumbo thought was calligraphy were really the signatures of 180 friends and neighbors, including 42 relatives, who saw Yasue off to war from Higashi Shirakawa, a small village of about 2,400 people in the mountains roughly 200 miles west of Tokyo. Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Character, Ethics Heroes, Family, History, Philanthropy, Non-Profits and Charity, Research and Scholarship, War and the Military