Ethics Dunce And Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month (Yes, Even More Than Virginia’s Gov. Northam!): Dearborn, Michigan Mayor Jack O’Reilly

Henry Ford was an important industrialist, innovator and inventor, and a towering figure in automotive history. Nobody, however, mistook him for nice guy. In addition to many ruthless tendencies, Ford was well documented anti-Semite, even by the ugly standards of his time, when that particular form of bigotry was generally considered reasonable. However, when the city-funded Dearborn Historian included a article documenting Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism, the city’s mayor, Jack O’Reilly, killed the issue, ordering the museum that produces the magazine not to mail it out.

Dearborn is where Ford was born, where his estate is, and where he built his flagship motorcar factory. For some reason that apparently means to O’Reilly that the folks who live there should know less about their town’s most famous and accomplished resident that everyone else. Ford’s hatred of Jews is, after all, hardly news: he was open about it when he was alive; there are books about it; and his family has been trying to live down the shame of that part of his legacy for decades.

Oh, never mind all that: the false lesson being pushed on our society in recent years is that inconvenient history disappears if you erase the record of it. This is the message of all the screeching and crunching metal sounds from The Confederate Statuary Ethics Train Wreck, and all the other attempts to airbrush the bad stuff from industrial, local, national and personal histories. O’Reilly is a true believer that Henry Ford’s not-exactly-good name will be cleansed by making sure as few citizens as possible know what a creep he was when he wasn’t revolutionizing American industry and changing lives of Americans for the better. He is, in other words, a censorious fool. Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 12/12/18: Silent Sam, Nasty Nancy, Tendentious TIME

Happy pre-Christmas panic days!

Once we’re under the two week mark, it’s all anxiety, regrets, list-making, fatigue, nostalgia, and tree needles under the nails. This is what Andy called “the most wonderful time of the year.

1. The theory: political correctness and historical airbrushing is a higher priority than education. The University of North Carolina \Board of Trustees’ approved of a proposal to build erect a $5 million history center that would, among other things, house “Silent Sam,” a statue dedicated to fallen UNC grads who fought for the Confederacy. The statue stood on campus until protesters tore it down in August. Now some faculty members and graduate assistants are threatening to go on a “grade strike,” withholding grades on papers and exams to force the school to abandon “Silent Sam” for all time. They are also trying to encourage students to support their protest.

Wrote the UNC administration in response:

“This afternoon it came to my attention that some instructors have used their roles in the classroom to ask students to take a stand on the strike,” Blouin said in the email, a copy of which Campus Reform obtained. “The University has received student and parent complaints. Such actions have been interpreted as coercion and an exploitation of the teacher-student relationship and in fact are a violation of students’ First Amendment rights as well as federal law….Our students are entitled to receive their grades in a timely manner. It is especially critical for the students preparing to graduate next Sunday, as well as the thousands of students whose scholarships, grants, loans, visa status, school transfers, job opportunities, and military commissions may be imperiled because lack of grades threaten[s] their eligibility,” the provost stated. “The proposed strike exposes the University and individuals who withhold grades to legal claims for the harm they cause to students…“Failure to meet [the faculty and GA’s] responsibilities to their students, including timely submission of final grades, will result in serious consequences.”

Firing, I hope.

2. Boy, that Trump is such an uncivil boor! House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, setting a civility example for us all while describing her meeting with the President on “the wall’: “It’s like a manhood thing for him, as if manhood could ever be associated with him….It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

Nice.

Imagine the howls of indignation if the President described a foreign leader in such terms. Or the mass condemnation from both parties and the news media if any prior President had been insulted that way by a member of Congress.

3. “A person, a group, an idea, or an object that “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year.” I would applaud TIME’s choice of journalists as the fading magazine’s “Person of the year” if it had the integrity to point out that this is an example of “the worse.” Indeed, journalists have deliberately warped and sabotaged public debate and discourse, withheld or buried information the public needs to know, divided the nation, defied their profession’s ethical standards, undermined their own institution and with it the health of American democracy, relentlessly worked to destabilize the Trump administration and undo the election, and have engaged in repeated incompetence, bias, dishonesty and conflicts of interest. The harm journalists have done is incalculable, and probably irreversible.

Quipped “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams: “Fake News is TIME’s “Person of the Year.”

Bingo. Continue reading

Fire Lisa Mars

I usually hesitate to call for anyone to be fired, though there have been exceptions. In this case, however, the call is mandatory on ethical grounds. It is unethical for a school dedicated to the arts to hand oversight to an gross incompetent who doesn’t comprehend the arts she is supposedly responsible for teaching; it is unethical for someone to take on this responsibility who is wildly unqualified for the job; and it is unethical for that individual to act in a way that undermines the mission of the school she heads.

I have just fairly described Lisa Mars, currently the principal at the Fiorello LaGuardia High School, the high school “of music, arts the performing arts” made famous in the movie and TV show, “Fame.”

On opening night of a school production of “The Sound of Music,” she ordered all Nazi-themed props and set pieces struck. They are offensive, you see. Never mind that the show is set during Germany’s take-over of Austria as the Third Reich was expanding. Never mind that Nazi Germany and its officers are major elements in the plot, or that the plot is based on the real-life escape of the singing Von Trapp family from the Nazis. Never mind that theater is a representational art form. Stage deaths are not real killings, stage rape isn’t really rape, stage racism isn’t really racism, and stage representations of Nazi symbols do not promote fascism. Most grade-school actors can grasp this basic principle, but not the head of a school for the performing arts.

“This is a very liberal school, we’re all against Nazis,” one sophomore said. “But to take out the symbol is to try to erase history.” Yes, that too. “Obviously the symbols are offensive,” he added. “But in context, they are supposed to be.”

Make him principal. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Kwame Anthony Appiah, a.k.a. “The Ethicist”

In the past, I mostly visited the New York Times Magazine “The Ethicist” column to take issue with the succession of ethics amateurs and ethicist wannabes the Times employed as its ethics advice columnist. Once Kwame Anthony Appiah took over, this wasn’t as much fun, and I admit I don’t even check the column that often. Appiah is a real ethicist, and knows what he’s doing. I sometimes disagree with his conclusions, but he reaches them using valid ethical analysis, and seldom employs bias or rationalizations.

A recent column, however, deserves special praise. The inquirer asked what the ethical course would be to handle historical artifacts that reflected racist attitudes and artwork, like the card pictured above. The writer concluded her question…

I offered it to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. I never heard from them, so it moved with us. My husband thinks I should throw it away, but that feels wrong. I feel it is history that we should acknowledge, however painful and wrong. Your thoughts?

“The Ethicist’s” response is note-perfect, even with my intentional omission of its best and most surprising section. I’m doing this so you will hit the link and read the full column. Appiah wrote in part,

I am not a fan of the intentional destruction of historical artifacts….It’s a familiar thought that we need to understand our past, not least in order to help us avoid repeating the worst aspects of it. So your impulse to offer this souvenir card to a museum seems right. Of course, the sort of document you describe is well represented in collections already, and this may be why you didn’t hear back. But who knows whether there isn’t something about it that a historian might find useful in unpacking some detail of the history of American racial attitudes?

So if you think this card does have historical value, and you can’t readily find an interested archive or scholar, you could just put it up for sale on eBay, say, where it will join a large assemblage of racist artifacts. You can’t guarantee that you’ll approve of the motives of the buyer, but someone who is willing to pay for it is most likely to preserve it.

Given that your motives are honorable, I don’t share your worry about profiting from the sale. Selling an image isn’t endorsing its message. And my guess is that most contemporary collectors of such items aren’t motivated by racism. Still, if you want to avoid profiting, there’s an easy solution. Just send the proceeds to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. That’s an offer they won’t turn down. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/11/2018: Baseball! Football! Idiots!

Good Morning!

1. Important stuff first: All-Star Game ethics. The final slot for the two All-Star teams is being determined today, and everyone should want to remedy the egregious injustice of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Jesus Aguilar being left off the National League squad so far. You can vote for him here, and as many times as you want: the polling will be closed at 4 pm EST.

Aguilar is the victim of parochial fan voting and the rule that requires at least one player from every one of the 30 teams. Still, his omission would be a travesty.  As of today, he leads the National League in home runs, slugging, and OPS (on-base pct. plus slugging) and is a leading candidate for MVP, especially if the surprising Brewers win the NL Central, where they currently lead with the best record in the league. His 2018 performance so far dwarfs that of, for example, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, voted onto the NL starting line-up by clueless fans.

2. These are your opinion-makers, America! On “The View,” Loudmouth Ignoramus Joy Behar was discussing the Merrick Garland episode with slumming legal expert and Martha’s Vineyard pariah Alan Dershowitz, who will next be appearing on “Family Feud,” I suppose.

“[The Republicans] stole the first member of the Supreme Court,” opined Dershowitz. “Absolute theft. Unconstitutional. I’m a little critical of President Obama, for whom I voted. He should have nominated Merrick Garland and should have sworn him in. The Constitution says advise and consent. It doesn’t say delay and postpone.”

Behar then asked, because she is an idiot, “Well then how come Mitch McConnell is not in jail? That’s what I want to know.”

“You want to put everybody in jail,” Dershowitz responded.

“I want to put him in jail,” Behar said.

Said  Dershowitz, “I’m against putting people in jail unless they’ve actually committed crimes. I know that’s a radical position.”

“The View” is on ABC five days a week, and has been for more than a decade. I wonder how much it has lowered America’s collective civic literacy and IQ? I think I’m afraid of the answer.

3. The NFL Anthem Protest Ethics Train Wreck update. The NFL players union has filed a grievance over the league’s anti-National Anthem protest policy. (Even in the sympathetic news reports,, exactly what is being protested is left vague, as in Politico’s “racial and other injustice in America, particularly police brutality.” In related developments, former NFL cornerback Brandon Browner has been charged with four felonies, including attempted murder, and in a particularly revolting turn of events, former Portland Trail Blazers star Kermit Washington was sentenced this week to six years in federal prison for spending almost a million dollars in charity donations on vacations, shopping sprees and plastic surgery for his girlfriend.

You see, professional athletes are not paragons, especially good citizens, or valid role models, especially NFL and NBA athletes, among whom are too many drug abusers, felons and dead-beat dads to count. They have no good justification to hijack sporting events to be special platforms for their half-baked social policy nostrums, and they should not be indulged. Let them protest the same way other badly-educated, politically naive and biased citizens do: on their own time. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: The Little House On The Cultural Divide”

There has been a paucity of Comments of the Day lately; it’s probably my fault. This one is by a first time COTD awardee, and involves the rare Ethics Alarms topic of children’s literature, in response to the Ethics Quiz about the justness of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name being stripped from the award created in her honor. Apparently her “Little House” books were not sufficiently prescient regarding modern sensibilities and 21st Century hindsight.

And no, I didn’t pick this comment because it includes a compliment to “The Wind in the Willows,” perhaps my favorite book of all time.

Here is Bob’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Quiz: The Little House On The Cultural Divide:

“Is it fair and reasonable to remove Wilder’s’ name from the award, essentially taking away an honor despite no new information or evidence arising?”

No.

Bit of backstory: my husband and I were both inveterate readers when we were children. Oddly enough, neither of us read “children’s books” when we were kids … we went from Dick and Jane to fairly adult novels very early on.

However, when we hit our 40s-50s, we started a campaign of reading the great classics of kiddie lit. (Just a note — “Wind in the Willows” is a masterpiece, the first six [and only the first six] Oz books are spectacular, E. Nesbit rocks and the popularity of “Peter Pan” is a mystery we have never plumbed.)Among those books were the entire Little House corpus. They are quite terrific. (As with most series, some are better than others.) While the attitudes may be dated, there is nothing “hateful” about them. In order to be hateful, there should be some evidence of a clear animus against a particular group of people; Wilder has no agenda, and simply reflects the attitudes common of her era.

It is essential to note that these books are not virulent anti-Amerind screeds, but stories of the heroic pioneers who built our nation. Native Americans occasionally cross this landscape, but these books are neither about nor against them.

It does seem as if there is a concerted effort to erase (or … re-envision) American history to something more palatable to post 1960s sensibilities. This is mischievous and dangerous, and should be confronted whenever possible.

Ethics Quiz: The Little House On The Cultural Divide

From the New York Times:

The American Library Association is dropping Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a prestigious children’s literature award in order to distance the honor from what it described as culturally insensitive portrayals in her books.

The decision was made out of a desire to reconcile the award with the organization’s values of “inclusiveness, integrity and respect,” representatives of the association said in a statement on Monday. The award is given out by its children’s division.

“Wilder’s books are a product of her life experiences and perspective as a settler in America’s 1800s,” the association’s president, Jim Neal, and the president of the children’s division, Nina Lindsay, said in the statement. “Her works reflect dated cultural attitudes toward Indigenous people and people of color that contradict modern acceptance, celebration, and understanding of diverse communities.”

…Despite their popularity, Ms. Wilder’s books contain jarringly prejudicial portrayals of Native Americans and African Americans. In the 1935 book “Little House on the Prairie,” for example, multiple characters espoused versions of the view that “the only good Indian was a dead Indian.” In one scene, a character describes Native Americans as “wild animals” undeserving of the land they lived on.

“Little Town on the Prairie,” published in 1941, included a description of a minstrel show with “five black-faced men in raggedy-taggedy uniforms” alongside a jolting illustration of the scene.

Hmmmm.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today:

Is it fair and reasonable to remove Wilder’s’ name from the award, essentially taking away an honor despite no new information or evidence arising? Continue reading