Comment Of The Week #2: Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/11/2022: The Ethics Post To End All Ethics Posts Edition

My father, now in Arlington National Cemetery, would have really liked Steve-O-in NJ’s post. the second of this weekends’s Comment of the Week. The great irony of his life was, as he once mentioned, that he hated war, but had a natural aptitude for it. Jack Sr. never boasted about his many war exploits, forcing us to drag them (definitely not all, though) out of him over nearly 6 decades. Nevertheless, he was more proud of fighting the Nazis in Africa and Europe than of anything else in his life, except, perhaps, of being a good father, unlike his own father.

Dad used to imitate FDR’s famous “I …hate… war!” speech (“My wife Eleanor hates war…”) , which he felt was ponderous and insincere—The Roosevelts all liked war, he believed—and said more than once that anyone who didn’t hate war was a lunatic. (This was just one of the many reasons he detested General Patton). But my father never hesitated to display reminders of his participation in the victory over Hitler and his minions.

We had beautiful, brilliant red curtains separating our play room from the laundry area in our basement in Arlington, Mass.when my sister and I were kids; it wasn’t until long after I had moved to the Washington, D.C. area that I learned that my mother had cut them out of the giant Nazi flag my father had brought home as a trophy. He felt that using the red portion of the menacing flag as a cheerful decoration in the most humble part of his all-American home was a nice, final, private “Bite me!” to the evil losers.

Here are Steve-O’s reflections on Armistice Day, prompted by the introduction to this post…


103 years ago, the guns finally fell silent at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, ending the greatest conflict to date, known as the Great War in Europe, as World War One here. The war that was supposed to end by Christmas 1914 had dragged on for more than four years, shaken civilization to its core, and thrown down no fewer than four empires, leaving chaos in their place. It had also killed six million and badly damaged a generation.

The world thought another war like this must not, could not ever happen again. In memory of what had happened, the allied nations proclaimed Armistice Day a year later, including the red poppy as the symbol of the fallen, the two minutes silence, and the continued hope for world peace.

Here’s the dirty little secret, though, the allied nations, weary of war and afraid of another one, turned their back on the problems left unresolved at the end of World War One. They made a few half-hearted attempts to deal with them, like the poorly organized Allied intervention in Russia to stop Communism before it took root, which accomplished nothing. For the most part, however, they either just looked the other way or threw up their hands. Turkey mopped up what was left of the Armenians and forced Greece into a population exchange that destroyed thousands more lives, and the allies just nodded. The Soviets attempted to conquer Poland, but they found themselves thrown back by a nation not inclined to give up the freedom it had just won under the leadership of the military and political genius Josef Pilsudski. France and the UK didn’t do or say anything. Ireland erupted in violence, and the UK all too quickly concluded a peace that left it embarrassed and Ireland bankrupt. Let’s also not forget the abandonment of the Finns, the Ethiopians, and the Austrians to tyrannical aggression. The major nations were too busy trying to come up with lofty promises and ways to prevent there from ever being a war again: the Washington Naval Treaty, signed with a smile by the Japanese and promptly violated, the Locarno Treaties, which were quickly ignored, and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which supposedly outlawed war, and is still technically in effect, but which was ignored from its inception, and actually reads like a bad joke in hindsight.

Continue reading

Armistice Day Ethics Warm-Up, 11/11/18: Pettiness, Tit-For-Tat, And Fake All-Stars

Good Morning!

Why Nora Bayes? Let me tell you a story…

I learned about Nora Bayes (1880-1928) while mounting a production of a “lost” musical, George S. Kauffman’s Hollywood satire “Hollywood Pinafore,” which was essentially a parody of Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic, “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Nora was mentioned in a laugh line in the script, so the 1941 show assumed that the audience knew who she was. I had never heard of her, so I did some research. She was a fascinating character, and a huge vaudeville and Broadway singing and comedy star, household name huge. “Over There” was one of her biggest hits; another was “Shine on Harvest Moon,” which she wrote with her second husband (she ultimately had five), Jack Norwith. He also wrote “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” another Bayes standard. According to one online biography, Bayes Bayes “provided some flamboyant, indeed extreme, examples of the broad social changes happening in the United States in the early twentieth century, namely the questioning of traditional roles for women as well as the challenges to male political and economic power that marked the women’s movement of the time.”

I almost wrote about her in April. As regular readers here know, I believe it is the our duty to honor the memories, accomplishments and cultural influence of past figures in American history, because the more we remember, the more we learn, and the wiser and more ethical we are. Somehow Nora Bayes, famous as she one was, had been in an unmarked grave for 90 years.  On April 21, a group of Nora Bayes enthusiasts placed a granite headstone over her plot. The New York Times told the strange tale here.

Now I think of Nora Bayes every time I hear “Over There,” “Shine on Harvest Moon,” and “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” Maybe you will too.

1. Truth in labeling. Major League Baseball has sent a team to Japan to play a series of exhibition games against a Japanese All-Star team, reviving a long-time tradition that had been suspended for several years. As you may know, the U.S. was critical in introducing baseball to Japan, and sent several major stars there to help get the sport established. Playing in Japan is mostly a lark for the American players, but the games are taken very seriously by the Japanese. In the first two games, the MLB All-Stars have lost, greatly pleasing the locals.

I don’t begrudge the Japanese fans their David and Goliath fantasies, but calling the U.S. team “All-Stars” is misrepresentation. For example, one of the pitchers who got clobbered in the last game, a 9-6  contest that began with the Japanese team jumping out to a 9-0 lead, was a Red Sox pitcher named Brian Johnson. I like Johnson, a crafty swing-man who had some good moments last season, but he’s a lifetime 6-6 pitcher who was left off the Red Sox post-season roster, and will have to battle to stay in the majors next season. I know you can’t sell tickets if the U.S. team is called the “All the players we could talk into coming to Japan Team,” but that’s what it is.

2. Tit for Tat  may be funny, but it’s not ethical. Representative Dan Crenshaw, the veteran who was mocked last week on Saturday Night Live for his disfiguring war wound, appeared on the show last night to mock the appearance of his tormenter, Pete Davidson. Crenshaw was unusually poised for a pol on a comedy show, and the bit successfully got Davidson and SNL, which had been widely criticized for its nasty routine, off the hook. Clever. Successful. Funny. Still wrong, however. This represents an endorsement of Donald Trump ethics, as well as the endlessly repeated rationalization for the non-stop ad hominem attacks the President has inflicted on him daily by the news media and others. The President famously—infamously around here—has always said that if you attack him, he’ll attack you back harder. His haters argue, in turn, that their tactics are justified by his. This is how the culture got in the escalating spiral to Hell it is in. I don’t blame Crenshaw: if he hadn’t accepted the invitation to get funny revenge on Davidson, he would have looks like a petty jerk. Nonetheless, he has now officially become part of the problem, not just a victim of it.

3. Stop making me defend President Trump Dept.  You see, I am kicked around on Facebook for not just falling meekly into line and declaring that everything Donald Trump does is an outrage and proof that he should be impeached. I tell you, it’s tempting. The mass bullying campaign to herd everyone into the undemocratic effort to overthrow an elected President using relentless criticism and flagrant double standards has been effective in stifling others, and it also serves as a kind of mass cultural hypnosis. I don’t like defending Trump. He is doing serious damage to his office, as are his unhinged foes, who are apparently willing to destroy the nation, democracy, and the Constitution to “save” it from him. But I will not be intimidated out of pointing out the revolting pettiness, hypocrisy and unfairness of his critics. Two examples surfaced yesterday. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/13/17: Rushing In Panic Around My Boston Hotel Room Because I Didn’t Get My Wake-Up Call Edition

It’s not a good morning…

(Gotta start teaching the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct in an hour, so this has to be quick. Sorry!)

1 Apparently Breitbart, aka Steve Bannon, has sent two investigative reporters to Alabama to discredit the stories of the four women who say Roy Moore courted them when they were in braces and poodle skirts. See, ethical news sources would be doing what we call “finding out if there’s anything the Washington Post missed.” Breitbart is trying to dig up dirt on four women who just responded to the Washington Post reporters’ questions. How do we know this? Well, 1) the untrustworthy hard-right website has been defending Moore and attacking the Post since the story broke; 2) it is appealing to its core group, made up of alt-right creeps and, you know, morons, by saying this is what they are doing; 3) it has already filed a story claiming that the ex-14-year-old who says 32-year-old Moore fondled her was contradicted in some aspects of her story by her mother. Then there’s 4), which is that the site is so slimy it makes eels gag.

Oh…Ann Coulter tweeted yesterday that it doesn’t matter if Moore is a theocrat, it doesn’t matter if the man who calls gays sub-human perverts is, in fact, a pervert himself; it doesn’t matter that he was kicked  off the bench twice as a judge for ignoring the law….what matters is that he’ll vote for Trump’s wall in the Senate. Get help, Ann.

2. On the other end of the ideological divide where it is just as scary, Media Matters is promoting a sponsor boycott of Sean Hannity to drive the conservative pundit off the air as punishment for saying nice things about Moore.  It has already bullied coffee-machiine maker Keurig into pulling its ads, and that has prompted, in turn, a call by Hannity to boycott Keurig. Continue reading

Veterans Day Ethics

"So run a red light today! It's on us!"

“So run a red light today! It’s on us!”



From the ABA Journal:

The ABA is encouraging lawyers to honor veterans through pro bono assistance, according to a statement by ABA President James R. Silkenat.“America’s lawyers join the rest of the nation on Veterans Day in honoring those who have served for their crucial contributions to preserving our democratic rule of law,” Silkenat says in the statement on the American Bar Association website. The ABA has several military assistance programs. They include:

• The ABA Military Pro Bono Project, which accepts pro bono case referrals from military lawyers on behalf of junior-enlisted, active-duty military personnel and their families.

• The Veterans’ Claims Assistance Network, which helps wounded and disabled veterans complete claims packages for expedited review by the Veterans Administration.

ABA Home Front, a source of free publications and information on legal topics encountered by military families.

More information on ABA programs for veterans is available here.

Unethical (and stupid)…

Also from the Journal:

A New Jersey law firm is offering a free defense to military veterans charged with a traffic offense on Veterans Day.

“Whether it’s a serious matter, like a DWI, or a speeding ticket, we will take care of it for free,” attorney Al Mollo of the Mollo Law Firm told the Asbury Park Press.

He said his Red Bank firm started offering the free representation last year and this year is publicizing it. Mollo, who comes from a military family, says he also hopes to encourage other law firms to join in the effort or adopt similar programs.

An offer of free legal services is generous. Specifying a particular offense…

  • trivializes the offense,
  • suggests that veterans deserve some special leniency regarding the offense, and
  • implies that veterans are particularly likely to engage in the offense.

Imagine a similar offer to veterans for spousal abuse charges on Veterans Day, or illegal drug use, or PTSD rage assaults.




Ethics Heroes: The Mourners of Harold Jellicoe Percival

It’s a simple story.

Thanks Dad. Thanks, Harold. Oh, shut up. Justin!

Thanks Dad. Thanks, Harold. Oh, shut up. Justin!

From the Los Angeles Times:

When Harold Jellicoe Percival died last month, the British World War II veteran’s obituary mentioned that he had no close family to attend his funeral. But after the obituary went viral, hundreds of people showed up to honor him Monday. Percival, who served as a member of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command, died on Oct. 25 at the age of 99. His obituary requested that “any service personnel who can attend his funeral service would be appreciated.” It spread across social media brought it to the attention of service members and veterans organizations in Britain, They, in turn, rallied people to attend his funeral and honor his memory on Armistice Day.

There were reportedly 100 mourners in the church, and another 400 standing outside.

The ethical virtues demonstrated here are respect, gratitude, kindness, and citizenship. Somebody please explain this to Salon’s clueless, obnoxious, ungrateful and ethically, historically, logically and rhetorically-challenged writer Justin Doolittle, who argues that there is no reason to thank veterans for doing the dirty work of democracy and putting their lives on the line to protect his. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Censoring a First Grader’s Poem

No-GodThis is a different kind of ethics quiz, because the question is where the blame for an unethical result lies. The result is clearly wrong, but I am uncertain who or what should be blamed for it.

A first-grade student in North Carolina wrote a Veterans Day poem honoring her grandfather, a Vietnam veteran. She had been selected to read the poem at a November 8 Veterans Day ceremony.   One of the lines was, “He prayed to God for peace, he prayed to God for strength.”

The Horror.

The school forced her to remove the line. Continue reading

More Flag Ethics, More School Administrator Folly

In Del Rio, California, 13-year-old Cody Alicea rides with an American flag on the back of his bike. He does this, he says, to be patriotic and to honor veterans, like his grandfather. He’s been flying the flag on his bike for two months, but at the beginning of the week of Veteran’s Day was told by a school official at Denair Middle School that some students had been complaining about the flag and it was no longer allowed on school property. Continue reading