From The Archives: “Ethics Quote of the Week: Moses (Charlton Heston) in ‘The Ten Commandments'”

Seven years ago, while  watching the annual showing of “The Ten Commandments ” on ABC, I realized how advanced its civil rights message was for its time, and what an interesting and instructive ethics movie the epic was. This post was the result. I’ve edited it a bit.

The movie hasn’t been shown yet in 2020 ; it’s scheduled for the weekend before Easter, which is late this year.  I never miss it, and if you watch the film with your ethics alarms primed, you might see it in a whole new dimension.

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“That evil that men should turn their brothers into beasts of burden, to be stripped of spirit, and hope, and strength – only because they are of another race, another creed. If there is a god, he did not mean this to be so!”

—-Moses, as played by Charlton Heston and scripted by seven writers, in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” answering the Pharoah Seti’s question, “Then why are you forcing me to destroy you? What evil has done this to you?”

“The Ten Commandments” is so extravagantly fun and entertaining that, I must confess, I never watched it as an ethics film until tonight, as ABC once again broadcast the Biblical epic on an Easter weekend. This quote especially struck me as remarkable for a film made by an infamously rigid conservative, DeMille, in 1956.

Less that a year earlier, on Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus. The next twelve months were tense, difficult days in which the entire U.S. population was undergoing a wrenching cultural debate regarding human rights.  On Dec. 6, 1955, the civil rights boycott of Montgomery city buses, led by Rev. Martin Luther King , began. January 1956 saw Autherine Lucy, a black woman, accepted for classes at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the first African-American ever allowed to enroll.  On Jan. 30, the Montgomery home of Martin Luther King, Jr. was bombed. February 4 saw rioting and violence on the campus of the University of Alabama and in the streets of Tuscaloosa. Lucy had to flee the campus, and the university’s Board of Trustees barred her from returning. On the 22nd of that month, warrants were  issued for the arrest of the 115 leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott. A week later, courts ordered Lucy readmitted, but the school expelled her. Continue reading

The Alabama U.S. Senate Republican Run-Off: The Worst Choice Ever [UPDATED]

And you thought having to choose between Hillary and Donald Trump was bad!

The upcoming Republican run-off for the special election to choose a successor to Alabama previous GOP Senator Jeff Sessions, now U.S. Attorney General, is as bad as it gets. Whoever wins is certain to be elected in super-red Alabama over Democrat Doug Jones, but one GOP candidate is corrupt and absurd, and the other is absurd, a fanatic and a habitual scofflaw. Both can be counted upon to immediately lower the ethical and intellectual level of the U.S. Senate, and normally I would assume that only electing a horseshoe crab or some other lower species could do the latter, while nothing short of sending Hillary Clinton back there could accomplish the former. That Alabama voters would allow their state’s seat in the U.S. Senate to depend on a run-off between these two examples of the worst of the U.S. politics bestiary doesn’t merely show that the state is backwards, it shows that its voters deserve one of these jerks. The rest of us, however, do not.

Let’s look at the two contestants, shall we? First current Senator Luther Strange, whose best feature is his name. Allow me to save you a click by re-posting a substantial section from February’s post about him:

When the Senate confirmed Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General in hearings that may be best remembered as the time Elizabeth Warren earned the fawning admiration of feminists by behaving like a mean-spirited jerk, it meant that Alabama’s Republican governor got to appoint his successor. There wasn’t much discussion in the news media about who this might be, because it’s hard for journalists to inform the public properly when it is concentrating on bringing down the President, per the orders of their Eldritch Progressive Masters—sorry, I’ve got Dr. Strange stuff rattling around in my brain now—but there was some interesting speculation in Alabama.

You see,  Republican Governor Robert Bentley is fighting to avoid  impeachment as the result of a sex scandal, and one that called his honesty into question as well.

An official fired by Bentley alleged that the Governor had engaged in an extramarital affair with his senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. An audio recording surfaced in which Bentley told a woman named “Rebekah” that he “worr[ied] about loving you so much” and that “[w]hen I stand behind you, and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts […] and just pull you real close. I love that, too.” At a press conference, Bentley apologized for the comments but denied having an affair and stated that his relationship with Mason was purely platonic.

Sure.

Bentley invaded the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List, saying that  he “had made a mistake” by saying “inappropriate things” to his aide, and apologized to Mason , her family and to the people of Alabama. On April 5, 2016, an impeachment resolution against Bentley was filed in the State Legislature, which appointed a special counsel to lead an investigation into the impeachment charges. Then, in November, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange asked that the investigation be halted pending “related work” by his office. This was widely interpreted to mean that Strange, also a Republican but not an ally of Bentley’s, was overseeing his own investigation of whether charges should be brought against Bentley.

Trump was elected President on November 8, and ten days later he announced his intention to nominate Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. On December 6, 2016, Strange announced that he was a candidate for the soon to be vacant seat, meaning that he would run in the 2018 election, if he wasn’t appointed to fill the vacancy by Bentley.

With the wolves gathering at  his door, however, that’s exactly what Gov. Bentley did. He appointed the man who was overseeing his current impeachment investigation to the U.S. Senate, thus creating a vacancy in the Attorney General’s post. Then he appointed a new AG named Steve Marshall (no relation), who many doubt will vigorously pursue an indictment against the governor.

Can you say, “Appearance of impropriety”?

I can’t imagine a better example of how the law can’t anticipate everything, making ethics indispensable.   There is an Alabama law prohibiting a governor from appointing himself to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy, but nobody foresaw a situation where a governor facing impeachment would interfere with the investigation by appointing a political adversary and the Attorney General overseeing the investigation to fill the slot. This is entirely legal, and spectacularly unethical.

Some in the state wonder if Strange’s request to the legislature wasn’t part of a deal with the Governor, in anticipation of a Sessions departure.  “He definitely slowed down the impeachment process, which put the governor in a place to actually appoint him. That’s the problem we have,” said Ed Henry, the legislator who brought the original  impeachment motion to a vote.  “He stopped an impeachment process and then in turn accepted the nomination to the Senate. I believe the damage is already done.”

For this to have been a pre-arranged  quid pro quo would have required that Strange and Bentley both believe that Trump would win, however. Hmmmm. Maybe they were in league with the Russians too…?

Yet it requires no conspiracy theory to conclude that for Strange to accept Bentley’s appointment makes him complicit in a sequence of events  that appears corrupt. It is too redolent of the Roland Burris affair, when now jailed former Illinois governor Rod Blagojavich was caught selling a Senate appointment. Burris swore in an affidavit  that he had no contact with the governor prior to his appointment to a Senate seat he had no qualifications for, and then as soon as he was safely on office, suddenly remembered that he had met with “Blago.”

The newly minted Senator Strange, had he been an ethics hero—and shouldn’t we be able to expect our elected officials to be ethics heroes?—could have foiled Bentley, inspired Alabamans, and proved that he would be a worthy Senator when he ran in 2018, if he had simply turned down the appointment, saying,

‘I am grateful and honored that Governor Bentley felt that I was qualified to represent the citizen of Alabama in the U.S. Senate. However, I feel I would betray the trust of those same citizens if I were to accept the post under these circumstances. As the lawyer for the people, I am obligated to undertake and oversee a fair and objective investigation of serious allegations against the Governor, and this raised a conflict of interest for me, pitting my personal political ambition against my duties in my current position. Moreover, should I accept the Governor’s offer, it would raise doubts regarding the functioning of the legal system as well as my personal integrity. Therefore I must decline the appointment.’

Nah.

Now, however, the Senator has proven himself unworthy of his new job by accepting it.

Strange!

Now normally I would say that anyone—Kathy Griffin, Jimmy Kimmel, Dormammu—is a preferable U.S. Senate choice than this shameless, ambitious hack. Roy Moore, however, is a piece of work. The one-time kickboxer and full time fundamentalist Christian fanatic first warranted Ethics Alarms notice as an Incompetent Elected Official in 2014, and his recognition came that late only because I viewed his stand-off over displaying the Ten Commandments in his court room and trying to turn Alabama justice into a theocracy too ridiculous to write about (and Ethics Alarms didn’t exist then.) Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Moses (Charlton Heston) in “The Ten Commandments”

The evil that men should turn their brothers into beasts of burden, to be stripped of spirit, and hope, and strength – only because they are of another race, another creed. If there is a god, he did not mean this to be so.

—-Moses, as played by Charlton Heston and scripted by seven writers, in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.” answering to the Pharoah Seti’s question, “Then why are you forcing me to destroy you? What evil has done this to you?”

The Ten Commandments“The Ten Commandments” is so extravagantly fun and entertaining that, I must confess, I never watched it as an ethics film until tonight, as ABC once again broadcast the Biblical epic on an Easter weekend. This quote especially struck me as remarkable for a film made by an infamously rigid conservative, DeMille, in 1956.

On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus. The next twelve months were tense, difficult days in which the entire U.S. population was undergoing a wrenching cultural debate regarding human rights.  On Dec. 6, 1955, the civil rights boycott, led by Marin Luther King, of Montgomery city buses began. January 1956 saw Autherine Lucy, a black woman, accepted for classes at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the first African-American ever allowed to enroll.  On Jan. 30, the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. was bombed in Montgomery. February 4 saw rioting and violence on the campus of the University of Alabama and in the streets of Tuscaloosa. Lucy had to flee the campus, and the university’s Board of Trustees barred her from returning. On the 22nd of that month, warrants were  issued for the arrest of the 115 leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott. A week later, courts ordered Lucy readmitted, but the school expelled her. Continue reading

A Shocking Farewell Confession From “The Ethicist”

In Randy Cohen’s farewell column for “The Ethicist” today—he was sacked by the new editor of The New York Times despite providing an entertaining, well-written and provocative column for many years— he makes a statement that I find shocking, and one that challenges the core assumption of this blog and indeed my occupation.

Writing the column has not made me even slightly more virtuous. And I didn’t have to be: it was in my contract. O.K., it wasn’t. But it should have been. I wasn’t hired to personify virtue, to be a role model for the kids, but to write about virtue in a way readers might find engaging. Consider sports writers: not 2 in 20 can hit the curveball, and why should they? They’re meant to report on athletes, not be athletes. And that’s the self-serving rationalization I’d have clung to had the cops hauled me off in handcuffs.
What spending my workday thinking about ethics did do was make me acutely conscious of my own transgressions, of the times I fell short. It is deeply demoralizing.

Amazing. Randy, we hardly knew ye, and we sure didn’t understand ye, either. How can someone possibly spend one’s working day “thinking about ethics” and not become more virtuous in his daily conduct? Continue reading

Provocative Links for Ethical Weekend Reading

Here is a diverse selection of five ethics-related posts from cyberspace for your weekend reading pleasure:

  • Christopher Hitchens analyzes, critiques and updates the Ten Commandments—and does an excellent job of all three, here.
  • Finally, a former Bush Justice Department official takes aim at the Republican attacks on the so-called “Al Qaeda Seven,” a despicable moniker apparently invented by Mary Cheney. There really is no debate here: the suggestion that attorneys who previously represented accused terrorists cannot be trusted to work in Justice is legally, ethically and logically ignorant. Still, it is good to have a Republican lawyer say so.

Ben Franklin’s Ethics Alarms

Why do good people do bad things? Usually it’s because they aren’t thinking about good and bad at all. They are thinking about more immediate issues, like getting through the day, keeping a job, making a child happy, paying the bills, enduring a crisis. When good people—most of us, I believe–actually focus on doing the right thing, doing good, they tend to do it. The trick is  focusing, when emotions and basic human needs are so powerful. Continue reading