Encore: On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

[As promised, here is the Ethics Alarms Christmas package, lightly revised, last posted three years ago]

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington association threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal.

Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart. What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it is well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, Christmas Eve 2017: I TRIED To Find Upbeat, Inspirational Items Today, Santa, I Really Did…

Goooood MORNING!

1  I believe the correct term is “rude”...Social norms are necessary to maintain ethical standards, and they need to move quickly when conduct begins to resemble the “broken windows” that trigger urban decay. Years ago there was much complaining about solo diners talking on cell phones in restaurants, a gripe based on “ick” and not ethics. A diner’s table is his or her domain, and if one chooses to talk to a friend who is physically present or one who is elsewhere, that’s no other diner’s business unless the conversation breaks the sound barrier. However, walking around a store while having a loud, endless conversation via earpiece and phone is obnoxious in the extreme. That’s a public place, and the market is an important traditional locus for social interaction and community bonding. Technology is creating toxic social habits that are creating isolation and the deterioration in social skills, including basic respect for the human beings with whom we share existence. I almost confronted a young woman at the CVS last night who was cruising the aisles, laughing and dishing with a friend over her phone,  sometimes bumping into other shoppers in the process.

I wish I had. Next time.

2. I hadn’t thought of this, but it’s obviously a problem of longstanding. Local school boards are traditional gateways to public service and politics, but the previously typical citizens who become involved often have no experience or understanding regarding the basic ethics principle of public office. In San Antonio, for example, a jury acquitted San Antonio Independent School District trustee Olga Hernandez of conspiracy to commit honest service wire fraud and conspiracy to solicit and accept bribes, the result was dictated by her utter cluelessness rather than any doubts about what she did. Testimony revealed an inner-city school district where vendors and board members developed relationships that created conflicts of interest and compromised judgment. The vendors knew what was going on, but the school board members may not have.

Hernandez, for example, testified that she considered the plane tickets, complimentary hotel stays, jewelry, meals and campaign contributions she received from those connected with a local insurance brokerage firm doing business with the school district as favors and gifts from friends. Coincidentally, none of them had been her friends before she was in a position to help them make money.

The beginning of careers in public service is when ethics training is most crucial, not later. How many school board members are required to attend a basic ethics seminar regarding government ethics? I would love to know. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Neglectful Mom

An upstate New York mother allowed her 10-year-old child to shop alone at the LEGO store as she shopped at a different store in the same mall. It appears that the LEGO store’s personnel called the mall’s security, and the child’s mother was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child. The store does have a sign that states that children under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Arresting the mother is obviously absurd over-kill. Obviously also, the LEGO store has a right to have whatever policy it chooses regarding unaccompanied children. However the question remains, and is the Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day

Is it irresponsible for a mother to allow her 10-year-old to shop alone if the mother is shopping in the same mall?

Related questions as you ponder: Continue reading

My Ethics Hero: Some Guy In The Harris Teeter Meat Section

I was doing some quick shopping yesterday at a large Harris Teeter supermarket in Alexandria, Virginia. My list from my wife included an option—always a doorway to a shopping confidence crisis—between a whole chicken, a small marinated chicken, or two large chicken breasts. I had decided on the marinated bird, but couldn’t find them where they usually were, and was more or less frozen, like the “hosts” in “Westworld” get when Anthony Hopkins wants them quiet, staring where I expected them to be.

“I’m going to buy one of them, the question is, which one?” a jaunty, relaxed voice close behind me said. At that moment I realized I had been staring at turkeys (I wasn’t there to buy one), and I turned around, not startled but curious, to face a broadly smiling, handsome, bearded African-American man about my age, probably a little younger.

“Isn’t it a little early?” I asked, smiling back. Being habitually disorganized, I am typically shopping  for everything the day before Thanksgiving.

“Oh, no, not for me!” he said, laughing. And he told me that he was going to cook up one or more turkeys for his church on Sunday. We talked about the ways he cooked his turkeys; he preferred to smoke them. He was also a grilling specialist. He took out his phone and showed me pictures of his specialty, ribs. We talked about his favorite recipes, and his church, his family, and its Thanksgiving plans, as I told him about mine. I mentioned that my wife was our traditional Thanksgiving chef, and that got the discussion turned around to marriage. We both have been married a long time, and he took me by the shoulders and talked intensely about commitment in relationships.

I had a twenty-minute conversation with this delightful stranger, just standing by the meat section. Finally, I announced  that I had to finish my assignment, and wished him wonderful holidays. I offered him my hand and introduced myself; he shook it firmly, and gave his name in return. Then we spontaneously hugged each other, which I never do, being from Boston and trained to be reticent in such intimacies, he flashed that terrific smile, and we parted.

My encounter with this exuberant gentleman suddenly made me feel good about life, my community, the country and the human race as I had not for a very long time. I think we’ll be all right. All that had happened was that a stranger just reached out and began a conversation about something two people shared, showing openness, kindness, human interest and trust, and a connection was made. That’s all it takes.

I start conversations with strangers a lot; it was something my father did. He was better at it than I am, and my friend in the Harris Teeter meat section is obviously a grandmaster. But as the holidays approach, and I keep reading these essays about families boycotting each other because of Trump-Clinton divides, it is so obvious that my dad and my turkey buddy are the wise ones.  We’re all just human beings together on a short and unpredictable trip: we should  just focus on that, and reach out.  Why is it so hard? Continue reading

On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

christmas-hero-H

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington foundation threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal. Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart, What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it us well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said…

Christmas just feels half-hearted, uncertain, unenthusiastic now. Forced. Dying.

It was a season culminating in a day in which a whole culture, or most of it, engaged in loving deeds, celebrated ethical values, thought the best of their neighbors and species, and tried to make each other happy and hopeful, and perhaps reverent and whimsical too.  I think it was a healthy phenomenon, and I think we will be the worse for its demise. All of us…even those who have worked so diligently and self-righteously to bring it to this diminished state.

Resuscitating and revitalizing Christmas in our nation’s heart will take more than three ghosts, and will require overcoming political correctness maniacs, victim-mongers and cultural bullies; a timid and dim-witted media, and spineless management everywhere. It is still worth fighting for.

More than five years ago, Ethics Alarms laid out a battle plan to resist the anti-Christmas crush, which this year is already underway. Nobody was reading the blog then; more are now. Here is the post: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “What Michelle Obama Calls Racism…Today, Anyway”

The First Lady at Target, whose skin color obviously led a shopper at Target to ignore the blouse, cart, shopping cart, purse and sunglasses and assume that she was a minimum wage target employee who just wasn't wearing her red shirt today, because whites are such racists. It's amazing she wasn't shot, when you come to think of it. No really. Amazing.

The First Lady at Target, whose skin color obviously led a white shopper at Target to ignore the blouse, cart, shopping cart, Target bags, purse and sunglasses and assume that she was a minimum wage Target employee who just wasn’t wearing her red shirt that day, because whites are such racists. It’s amazing Michelle wasn’t shot, when you come to think of it. No really. Amazing.

I suppose it should be no surprise that my bias toward “Comment of the Day” candidates tilts toward comments that save me a post. This couldn’t be more true than in the case of this edition, a comment by johnbuger2013 (and I can’t wait to see what johnbuger2014 has to add!). The effort by Michelle Obama to paint normal , harmless, benign and trusting interactions between black and white citizens as racist profiling is really horrible, and the degree that the news media (“oh, there go those tea-bagging right-wing media again, picking on the Obamas for nothing!”) is ignoring the implication of what she did is not merely horrible but terrifying. Essentially, it is a declaration that the media will accept false accounts as truth as long as it furthers the narrative that all blacks—even the Obamas!—are constant victims of thinly disguised bias and racism.

What Michelle launched into the the public discourse, and “People” irresponsibly abetted, is yet another Big Lie, like the myth that Mike Brown was gunned down while surrendering with his hands up.  Though she was dressed at the time of the alleged incident like a shopper, with a cart and a giant purse, in sunglasses and wearing a Nike cap, Michelle absurdly told the magazine that a shorter fellow shopper, who was short but white—that’s the key, white—asked her if Michelle  could take down an item from a high shelf because the shopper assumed the first Lady was “the help’–because she is black.  The story is unbelievable on its face, and more than that, it exposes Obama as an anti-white bigot. Never mind: everywhere, her offensive characterization is being treated as fact. Fact—even though it is impossible, even though shoppers ask each other, regardless of race, for assistance all the time. Knee-jerk loyalists to the cause of race-baiting, victim-mongering, eternal grievances and Team Obama—including other commenters here— have twisted logic and fairness into grotesque shapes to justify this disgraceful story. The Big Lie, as we know, works.  From the Hollywood Reporter:

“During the show’s Hot Topics section, the co-hosts addressed Barack and Michelle Obama’s recent statements that they’ve been mistaken for the help.”

But Michelle wasn’t mistaken for the help. Michelle is so paranoid, bigoted and race-obsessed that she thought she was mistaken for the help with no justification whatsoever. Never mind: her story is now Truth. From US:

“The ladies [ of “The View”] got into a heated discussion when O’Donnell, co-host Rosie Perez, and Orange Is the New Black’s Laverne Cox agreed that it’s racist when African-Americans are profiled in stores.”

But Michelle wasn’t profiled in the store (and nobody on The View’s panel of ignoramuses had te wit or integrity to point out that the whole discussion was based on a falsehood). Someone foolishly mistook her for a normal, well-adjusted, non-white-hating human being who would happily assist a stranger without assuming the worst about her. This will teach her. next time, only ask white shoppers for help: they won’t hate you for it.

As you might be able to tell, I am upset about this story, and the trend it represents, and angry with anyone, regardless of race, who won’t view it objectively and condemn it for what it is. But this is not a politics blog, but an ethics blog, and even though ethics outrages just pour out of the Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck like the waters of Niagara, my mission is broader,  my target audience is broader still, and on a topic like this, where 90% of journalist are inclined to promote a lie, I can’t accomplish much by flogging the same issue day after day on Ethics Alarms, other than assuaging my own frustration.

I digress, however. Here is the Comment of the Day, by johnbuger2013, on the post, “What Michelle Obama Calls Racism…Today, Anyway”: Continue reading

What Michelle Obama Calls Racism…Today, Anyway

Target Michelle

The current People Magazine has a feature titled “The Obamas: How We Deal with Our Own Racist Experiences,” in which both Obama’s reflect on their personal experiences with a racist America. It begins like this…

“The protective bubble that comes with the presidency – the armored limo, the Secret Service detail, the White House – shields Barack and Michelle Obama from a lot of unpleasantness. But their encounters with racial prejudice aren’t as far in the past as one might expect. And they obviously still sting.”

Here is a relatively recent experience, the first one cited by Mrs. Obama in the article, that “stung”:

“I tell this story – I mean, even as the First Lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target [in 2012], not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn’t see me as the First Lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn’t anything new.” 

That’s right, Michelle feels—or says she feels—that this incident was proof of incipient racism, one of the “micro-aggressions” that white society inflicts on African Americans daily, sapping their self-esteem, confidence, and trust in society.

She’s right that it “happens in life” and isn’t new. In fact, it happened to me, in the local Target, coincidentally, just last month. A very short elderly Asian woman asked if I would take down a large container of laundry detergent from a high shelf. Obviously, she thought I worked at Target and was denigrating me, applying racial stereotypes to a large bald Greek-American man.

I can say with no hesitation whatsoever that what happened to Michelle at Target was not an incident of racial stereotyping. The photo above shows how Michelle was dressed on the fateful day, and anyone who would mistake her flowered blouse, Nike hat, shades and shopping cart as the uniform of a Target employee had recently escaped from a Home for the Bewildered. What wasn’t new about the encounter is that in a healthy, ethical community strangers should ask each other for kindly help and assistance, and normal, non-paranoid, non race-obsessed citizens—and especially their leaders, who are supposed to model responsible  behavior— ought not to be so warped by ideologically-dictated confirmation bias that their immediate reaction is, “Hmmmm…what did she mean by that?” Continue reading