Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/4/2019: “Is We Getting Dummer?”* Edition.

The old Simon and Garfunkle song accurately describes when I woke up this morning…

1. I think that settles it. I’m going to flush myself down the toilet...Yesterday, an educated, adult woman of my acquaintance told her Facebook friends about her terrible treatment by Alamo Rental Cars. When a FBF responded with a refeence to Santa Anna, she replied, “???” Yes, she had no idea what “Alamo” referred to. This speaks to a catastrophic failure of the American education system.

On the bright side,  ignorant citizens are the target audience of many of the highest polling Democratic candidates for President.

2. Ethics Hero: Whoopi Goldberg? On ABC’s “The View,” a show that relentlessly lowers the IQ of anyone who watches it for more than 5 minutes, co-host Whoopi Goldberg began the first show of the new season to condemn efforts in actors in Hollywood to  blacklist conservatives and Trump supporters, a practice encouraged by tweets from   “Will and Grace”  stars  Debra Messing and  Eric McCormack over the weekend. After some back and forth with the assorted idiots who share the panel with her, Whoopi said,

Listen, last time people did this, people ended up killing themselves. This is not a good idea, okay? Your idea of who you don’t want to work with is your personal business. Do not encourage people to print out lists because the next list that comes out, your name will be on and then people will be coming after you. No one — nobody — we had something called a blacklist and a lot of really good people were accused of stuff. Nobody cared whether it was true or not. They were accused. And they lost their right to work. You don’t have the right in this country. People can vote for who they want to. That is one of the great rights of this country. You don’t have to like it, but we don’t — we don’t go after people because we don’t like who they voted for. We don’t go after them that way. We can talk about issues and stuff but we don’t print out lists, and I’m sure you guys misspoke when you said that because you — it sounded like a good idea. Think about it. Read about it. Remember what the blacklist actually meant to people, and don’t encourage anyone, anyone to do it!

I wonder how many people who don’t know about the Alamo know about the blacklist? Continue reading

I’m Remembering The Alamo.

(This was last year’s post, slightly edited and expanded, but it says what needs to be said.)

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 only 90 minutes.

From the San Antonio Express News: Continue reading

Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up And Sunday Left-Overs, 9/10/18: Values Under Fire

Good Morning.

1. A plug. The computer rescue service GuruAid is why I couldn’t get a Warm-Up post up yesterday: about four different technicians spend from 6:30 am to 3:00 pm helping me fix a serious malfunction in my old Dell PC, so I wouldn’t have to lose Windows 7 forever. It wreaked havoc with my day and schedule, but the computer finally starts immediately without black-outs, red screens, blue screens, warning, check points, sudden freezes and other distractions.

2. Yeah, why waste time on all of this “values” stuff? The Texas Board of Education will decide in the coming months whether to accept the recommendations of a working group to end state requirements that the heroism of the Alamo’s defenders be taught to seventh graders in a required history course, as as study of  William Barrett Travis’s iconic letter written before the final Mexican siege that killed all of the approximately 200 defenders, including Travis. The letter ends, “I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country — Victory or Death.”

The group of educators and historians, tasked with streamlining social-studies standards, felt that teaching about “heroic” acts at the Alamo was “value-loaded,” and eliminating them from the curriculum, along with the significance of such Alamo figures as Davy Crockett and James Bowie would save 90 minutes.

You know, I don’t think I’m even going to bother explaining what’s wrong and alarming about this, except to note that if you wonder why our rising generations don’t understand what has been great about America, or why being a nation founded on values and ideals is important, this episode ought to enlighten you.

3. Beach ethics. Here is an interesting article about how to maximize ethical conduct at the beach. Continue reading

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

Ethics Dunce: Me. I Forgot The Alamo

It is now April, and though I vowed at the end of February to finally post a thorough essay on the significance of the Alamo to U.S. culture, ethics, traditions and ideals at some point during the dates corresponding to the fort’s siege and fall on March 6, 1836.

I never did.

I thought I had posted an earlier essay about the Alamo. No, I haven’t. This is as inexplicable as it is inexcusable. The Alamo is by far my favorite historical landmark, and one of the events in American history that most inspires and fascinates me, beginning from when I looked on in horror as Fess Parker, as Davy Crockett, desperately clubbed Mexican soldiers as the last Alamo defender standing, and hundreds more charged toward him, as I heard on the soundtrack,

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!

I learned all about Davy, of course, the real Davy, America’s first pop culture celebrity who created a legend about himself and by fate, irony or justice, inadvertently placed himself in a situation where he had to live up to his own hype—and by all accounts,did. Then there was Jim Bowie. I had seen several dramatized versions of his famous last stand, fighting off soldiers from his cot, finally dispatching one last attacker with his Bowie knife. It is one of the great examples of a scene so good it should have been true, though it wasn’t: Bowie was dead or unconscious by the time the Mexican burst into his sick room. Never mind: that’s how an American hero goes down, fighting. “Print the legend.” Later I learned how Bowie really was one tough, brave SOB, the perfect man for the Alamo, if he hadn’t been dying of cholera.

My impression of William Barrett Travis was biased by Lawrence Harvey’s portrayal of him as a martinet (with a British accent that supplanted his Southern one after the first scene) in the John Wayne film “The Alamo”, my favorite movie as a kid. The real Travis was a pefect example of someone who had failed in everything, including as a father and a husband, but redeemed himself magnificently at the end. His final letter to the world is one of the great proclamations of defiance, dedication and courage in all of history.

I will never forget my first visit to the Alamo, and seeing Texans weeping, openly, proudly, as they read the plaque with Travis’s words engraved on it:

Commandancy of the Alamo
Bejar, Feby. 24, 1836

To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World

Fellow citizens & compatriots

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country VICTORY OR DEATH.

William Barret Travis.

The story of the Alamo isn’t taught in schools outside of Texas. It wasn’t taught in my school, either: like most American history, I learned about the event though a thick mixture of pop culture, reading (Walter Lord’s “A Time To Stand” was a birthday present in 1961) and ongoing research. I recently completed “Texas Rising,” which was also just broadcast on cable as a mini-series starring the late Bill Paxton as Sam Houston. Historian Stephen Moore is a plodding writer, but he nicely puts to rest the currently popular politically correct slander that the defenders of the Alamo and the Texas rebels were fighting to keep their slaves, and trying to steal Mexico’s land. The Texians were opposing a dictator who had changed the terms under which they had come to the territory, and anyone familiar with the American character could have predicted what would happen when a despot demanded that they submit to unelected authority. The Alamo was a fight for liberty and democracy, and its martyrs exemplified sacrifice for principle and country.

I let them down. The story of the Alamo should be told and retold, with its ethics lessons made clear and bright. Next year, on March 6. 2018, Ethics Alarms will honor Davy, Bowie, Travis, Bonham, Almaron Dickinson and the rest of the 220 or so heroes who died that day, and do it the right way, not as an afterthought.

Don’t let me forget.

 

Ten Movies For Independence Day Weekend

fireworks

I wasn’t going to do this until I ran across a few lists of “Most Patriotic  Films” that made me fear for the taste and the values of my fellow citizens. “Independence Day” ? “Armageddon”? “Rocky IV”?  When did “patriotic” start meaning “crappy”? “Born on the Fourth of July”? If Oliver Stone is your idea of patriotic fare, you and I are going to have a problem.

Here is my very personal list of ten favorite films that bring a patriotic lump to my throat and a remind me of how lucky I am to be born and raised in the U.S.A. Don’t mind the order: it was hard enough narrowing the list down to ten.

1. Apollo 13  (1995)

The only one of the movies on my list that I saw on the others today. Like many of the films here, it makes me wistful for American boldness and confidence that seem to be in retreat today. When the  Apollo re-emerges from radio silence, and Tom Hanks says, with perfect inflection, “Hello, Houston. This is Odyssey. It’s good to see you again,” I lose it, every time.

2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Yes, this is Capra-corn at its corniest, but from Harry Carey Sr.’s sage and heroic Vice -President, to the power of the people triumphing, to the press trying to expose corruption rather than abet it,  this film reminds us of the best ideals of our government. When we get too cynical to enjoy Jefferson Smith’s struggle to make Washington work the way its supposed to, it will be time to pack it in.

3. The Longest Day (1962)

Longest Helm

Yes, it’s not just about Americans, but it is a great film about one of our country’s  finest achievements, all true, and inspiring without a lot of flag waving and sentiment. Best war movie ever—and my Dad’s favorite. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The 9-11 Memorial Museum Restaurant

" So...who's hungry?"

” So…who’s hungry?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today…

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

Continue reading

The Cruelest Month And The Duty To Remember

sultana-ablaze

If we have the education, curiosity, perspective and respect for our origins and those who have gone before us, the calendar is a source of constant reminders of what matters in life, and how we can be better citizens and human beings. It is a common belief among Millennials, and a lot of older Americans too, that history is irrelevant to their lives, and this is both a fallacy and a self-inflicted handicap. Not that keeping history in mind is easy: in this month, which T.S. Elliot dubbed “the cruelest,” paying appropriate respect by remembering is especially difficult.

Still, respecting history is our duty. It won’t be remembered, perhaps, but in April, 2012, a 23-year-old drunken fool named Daniel Athens was arrested for climbing over a barrier to urinate on a wall at the Alamo. Monday, a Texas judge threw the book at him, sentencing him to 18 months in state prison for vandalizing a National Monument and a shrine. The sentence seems extreme, and is a good example of how the law is a blunt weapon with which to enforce ethics. The Alamo has near religious significance in Texas, brave men died there, and the ruins serve as a symbol of critical virtues like loyalty, sacrifice, dedication, courage and patriotism. Athens, himself a Texan, defiled the memory of the fallen and symbolically rejected the values and heritage of his community and fellow citizens. Unfortunately, the harshness of the sentence will create sympathy for him: 18 months for peeing? But how else does a culture reinforce the importance of respect for the past? I don’t have an answer. Perhaps I would have sentenced him to take an exam on the lives of Travis, Crockett, Bowie, Seguin and the rest, as well as the siege itself, and imposed the jail term only if he flunked.

Yesterday, Major League Baseball celebrated the heroism and transformative life of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947 by becoming baseball’s first black player, setting in motion powerful forces that propelled the cause of civil rights. Every player wore Robinson’s now retired uniform number 42, and there were commemorative ceremonies in the ball parks where it wasn’t too cold and wet to play ball. This remembrance had a difficult time competing with tax day, as history usually does when our immediate life concerns beckon.

Other important historical events deserving reflection, however, were more or less ignored entirely, for April 15 is a historically awful day: Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Aitziz Hasan (1997-2013)

aitzaz

Aitzaz Hasan, 15, was  standing with fellow students outside his school last week in Ibrahimzai, a region of Hangu in north-western Pakistan. They noticed a man approaching wearing a vest laden with explosives.  They knew what was about to happen. There were over 2000 children at the school,and Aitzaz told his friends that someone needed to stop the suicide bomber from getting close enough to harm them.

According to witnesses, Aitzaz approached the terrorist, confronted him, and tackled him to keep him from getting any closer.

The suicide bomber detonated his vest, killing himself and the brave boy.

This is by far the shortest biography of any of the Ethics Heroes enshrined here in the Ethics Alarms  Heroes Hall of Honor. It is far from the least impressive. This young man, whose life had barely begun, made the ultimate sacrifice to save the lives of others. No one of any age should have to face the choice Aitzaz had; no one  should ever have to grow up under conditions that would impose such an ethical challenge on anyone. Yet when the crisis arose, this young man had the  courage and values to do what all nations honor soldiers and other heroes for doing to preserve civilization and human life through the centuries: he faced the challenge, put the lives of others before his own, fixed the problem, ended the threat, and died. Continue reading

Print The Legend Ethics: The “War of the Worlds” Panic

OrsonWellesDailyNews

One of the worst results of an untrustworthy news media is that it becomes difficult, as time passes, to determine with any certainty what the truth is.

A classic example is on display today, in Slate, which celebrates the 75th anniversary of young, svelte, Orson Welles’ famous Halloween Eve broadcast of his radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds,” with no Tom Cruise or Dakota Fanning but a nice conceit that involved telling the story through fake news flashes and eye-witness interviews. (One reporter is fried on the air by the Martian invasion vehicles.) An new NPR program and a PBS documentary both tell the familiar story of how the realistic-sounding radio play caused widespread panic among radio listeners who missed the opening credits, leading them to think that Earth was really under attack. Newspapers of the day headlined mass panic, and gave accounts of citizens running for cover, huddling in the basement, and cringing in terror.  The episode made Orson Welles a national celebrity, and launched him on his meteoric, long and strange career.

According to Slate authors Jefferson Pooley and Michael Socolow, it never happened. Declaring the story of the “War of the Worlds” panic a myth, the authors state without equivocation that the newspaper accounts, headlines, commentary and interviews, were fabricated:

“Radio had siphoned off advertising revenue from print during the Depression, badly damaging the newspaper industry. So the papers seized the opportunity presented by Welles’ program to discredit radio as a source of news. The newspaper industry sensationalized the panic to prove to advertisers, and regulators, that radio management was irresponsible and not to be trusted. In an editorial titled “Terror by Radio,” the New York Times reproached “radio officials” for approving the interweaving of “blood-curdling fiction” with news flashes “offered in exactly the manner that real news would have been given.” Warned Editor and Publisher, the newspaper industry’s trade journal, “The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which has yet to prove … that it is competent to perform the news job.” Continue reading