Tear Down the Statues

August 17, 2017

Caesar_Rodney_square.jpg

I like history. I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, where the main square of the city, Rodney Square, was dominated by the equestrian statue of Caesar Rodney above), who rode seventy miles through a thunderstorm from Dover to Philadelphia on the night of July 1-2, 1776, to cast Delaware’s vote for Independence. I read Hamilton before it was cool. I still stop along country roads to read historical markers.

So I like statues and monuments that remind us of history. Even unpleasant history. I admire the German decision to preserve the remnants of Gestapo headquarters in Berlin, with plaques describing the horrors perpetrated by the Gestapo. And the preservation of the concentration camp of Dachau, just as it was in the 1930s and 1940s.

I didn’t like the current movement to remove statues of Confederate generals, even the one of the slave trader/Ku Klux Klan founder, Nathaniel Bedford Forrest. I thought these statues were just history, although some of them were erected in the 1960s, as a sort of f-you response to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The trouble with the statues as history is that, to many African-Americans, and to a not-insignificant number of whites, they’ve come to idealize the “good old days” of white supremacy. So when the statues cease to represent history it’s time for them to come down.

 

Will Trump’s Outrages ever Break the Camel’s Back?

August 16, 2017

camel straw Flickr The.Rohit_.jpg
I commented yesterday that criticism of Trump’s softness toward white supremacists and Nazis by key Republicans was an encouraging sign of America’s health.

I’ve gotten pushback, pointing out that many of these same Republicans blasted Trump for denigrating John McCain’s war record. “This time Trump went too far,” optimists on the Left pronounced. But Trump thrived.

Then Republicans blasted him for claiming that Federal Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel could not judge fairly because he “happens to be, we believe, Mexican.” (Curiel was born in Indiana.) “This time, etc”, we said. But Trump continued to thrive.

The last straw was when he belittled Gold Star parents Khizr and Gazala Khan. Now, we said, “now he’s really crossed the line.” Many Republicans agreed. Trump thrived.
Then Republicans jumped all over him for the Access Hollywood tapes, in which he told Billy Bush, “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” Now Republican criticism boiled over, with Republican women especially furious over his casual admission of repeated sexual assaults. Trump continued to thrive.

And then came the really, no fooling, last straw. In the final debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump refused to say he’d accept the result of the imminent election. Days later he clarified his position: “I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win.”

That outraged people of every political stripe, challenging, as it did, the very foundation of the American experiment. “He’s finished now,” we all thought. Read the rest of this entry »

Bad AND GOOD from Charlottesville

August 15, 2017

Swastika Charlottesville.jpg

What is one to make of the events at Charlottesville last week and of Trumps reactions, different as they were on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday? The sights of the night march with torches and the Nazi Flags should have shocked any American with any sense of history. But the sight of Nazi flags and torches weren’t what shocked our President. On Saturday he condemned “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

He followed with words about American values and unity, mixed in with talk about how well the economy is doing under his leadership. But his denunciation of “many sides, many sides” drew all the attention. And deservedly so.

Trumps denouncement of “many sides” on Saturday provoked extremely strong reactions not only from the left but more importantly from all over the right, Senators Hatch, Cruz, Rubio, Grassley, Gardner, Scott, and others.

Uncharacteristically, in the face of this criticism Trump changed his position Monday, denouncing racism and standing up for American values as strongly as Presidents should.

Then on Tuesday he flipped back to his equivocating position of Saturday, insisting that many of those who marched along with the torches, and Nazi and Confederate flags were good people who only wanted to keep the statue of Robert E. Lee in the park.

So what does all this mean about our President and what does it mean about America?

Trump’s first reaction was designed to avoid offending his racist supporters, although on the evidence available it’s probably unfair to call Read the rest of this entry »

You’ll like Walks in Europe

February 23, 2017

I’ve written often about my experiences exploring Turkey with “Walksinistanbul.com,” aka Arzu Altinay, as my guide. Now she’s opened http://www.walksineurope.com, a successful walking tour company for Rome, Venice, Florence, Athens, Jerusalem, Dubrovnik, Tallinn, Wroclaw, and Amsterdam. I recommend her service to anyone who wants to experience, not just see, any of those cities.

A Black Day for Ethics: DeAndre Jordan and the LA Clippers

July 10, 2015

This is a black day for ethics. A popular basketball star went back on his word, and leading sports journalists argued that it was just fine, he broke no written contract, it was his right to do what’s best for himself. Fans of the Los Angeles Clippers swallowed their ethical principles and cheered. Youngsters all over America—and beyond—got a wrong-way lesson in ethics: your commitments aren’t binding.

The star big man for the Los Angeles Clippers, DeAndre Jordan, became a free agent on July 1, 2015. On July 3 he agreed to sign an $80 million four year contract to play for the Dallas Mavericks for. On July 9 he signed an $87 million, four year contract to stay with the Clippers.

On my favorite TV sports show, “Around the Horn,” respected commentators were unanimous: Jordan had done what was best for him and he was perfectly within his rights to do so.

Not by me, he wasn’t. Shame on him for breaking his word. He caused serious damage to the Mavericks’ prospects, because they had factored his commitment into other personnel actions they made. And shame on the Clippers for mounting a campaign to get Jordan to break his word.

I rooted for the Clippers last year, but no more.

These heroes saved the Union 150 years ago today

July 2, 2013

little round top summitAn important responsibility of citizenship it to understand our history and acknowledge our debts to the people who came before us. My friend, Jack Marshall  (ethicsalarms.com) reminds us that today, July 2, is the 150th anniversary of the second day of the battle of Gettysburg.

We Americans are taught that Abraham Lincoln saved the Union. Yes, he did, but it was about to be lost on July 2, 1863, until the Twentieth Maine Volunteers, commanded by Col. Joshua Chamberlain, defeated a major Confederate attempt to turn the Union’s flank at Little Round Top. Many historians believe the desperate counterattack by the Maine unit is what really saved the Union. Read about Little Round Top here.

 

In today’s Ethics Alarms column Jack Marshall describes how the credit really needs to be shared with the heroic First Minnesota. Read and marvel at what we owe to the unquestioning valor and sacrifice of these American citizen soldiers.

The NY Times “Ethicist” says stealing is OK if it’s only “technical” stealing. Well, not 100 per cent OK, but 96 per cent.

June 30, 2013

stealing plantsChuck Klosterman, who the Times labels “The Ethicist,” absolved a couple who took several cuttings from plants in a shopping center to transplant on their patio. He explains that since the owner of the plants was not damaged, then no harm, no foul:

“So here is my analysis: you technically stole, you technically committed vandalism and you should have asked the shopping center’s permission before trying this unethical act… But if I were to place unethical acts on an ascending continuum of 1 to 100, I’d give you and your wife a 4. Maybe a 3.”

The Ethicist is sliding down a slippery slope. Is an act that rates 4/100 on an unethics scale OK? How about a five? Perhaps he would settle for an unethics score of 49/100 as acceptable: that would say it’s OK to steal (or lie or cheat?) if the offense isn’t more than halfway to total lack of integrity.

Slippery slopes are hard to negotiate. Clarity of principles makes for easier decision making. When it comes to stealing I’d recommend my formula over The Ethicist’s. It’s one of my unenforceables:

What’s not mine is not mine.

Simple, huh? I think The Ethicist would give it a perfect unethics score of zero.

 

Is it ethical to eat Chick-fil-A?

June 29, 2013

Dan-Cathy-Chick-Fil-A-DOMA-Tweet-520x400The other night I attended the grand opening of Westwood Village’s newest restaurant, a Chick-fil-A. C.R., the young owner (all, or most of the brand’s restaurants are privately owned), welcomed us with warmth and excitement at starting his own business in a friendly new—to him—city.

After speeches and music we were treated to a sampler of all the wares, from three kinds of chicken sandwiches to salads, yogurt parfaits, and finally the richest chocolate chunk (not measly chip) cookies to send us on our way.

But when I told my daughter Lisa about the event she scowled and proclaimed that she wouldn’t patronize a homophobic business like Chick-fil-A.

I protested that the views were those of the company president, Dan Cathy, not of the corporation, and I’d be shocked if individual store owners like C.R. harbored anti-gay sentiments.

But now I wonder, is it ethical to patronize a business whose owner promotes views that are abhorrent to me?

Cathy was brought up in the Bible belt with biblical warnings about the evil Read the rest of this entry »

What in the world is going on in Turkey?

June 24, 2013

Turkey demosFour weeks ago a small group of environmentally-minded Turks staged a demonstration, or an occupation, of tiny Gezi park in Istanbul, where the government had stated its intent to build a replica of an Ottoman-era barracks to house a shopping mall.

The government responded by attacking the protesters violently with water cannon and tear gas. The disproportionate attack on the peaceful protesters crystallized widespread hostility to the government of Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdoğan (pronounced ER-duh-wan). The protests grew and spread all over Turkey, and everywhere the protesters were met by violent police action. So far five have died, and the protests have died down.

Erdoğan blames the trouble on outsiders, including CNN and the “interest lobby,” and has called out his supporters into massive counter demonstrations.

Erdoğan was first elected to head the government in 2002, with 34% of the vote. He was reelected in 2007 with 46%, and again in 2011 with just under 50% of the votes cast. He is a practicing Muslim—rare for a Turkish leader—and has steadily moved to make Turkish society more congenial to pious Muslims. He wants to amend the Constitution to allow women to wear headscarves in public buildings (now forbidden), and has had laws passed that allow early religious instruction in elementary school, limit the sale of alcohol, and has proposed bans on abortion and even on kissing in public.

Some fear Erdoğan’s goal is to introduce Sharia law, a la Iran or Saudi Arabia, while others (including The Economist) call him a “moderate Islamist” and believe his intent is simply to Read the rest of this entry »

Ethics, Religion, and Father Greg Boyle, SJ

April 15, 2013

SolidarityBusiness ethics students often ask me what’s the connection between ethics and religion, and I stumble to answer, something like all religions share the Golden Rule, which is the heart of ethics. As Hillel said in the 1st century, “All else is commentary.”

And at the heart of the Golden Rule is the ability to see others as like you, not as “other.” Father Greg Boyle, SJ, must be the world champion at seeing others this way. And he does this in the unlikeliest of environments: the Latino gangland of South Los Angeles, where he ministers to/saves/employs/buries—and most of all, loves—gang members and ex-gang members, most of them covered in tattoos and recently released from incarceration. He created Homeboy Industries, which has given thousands on gang members a path to employment and responsibility.

I first heard Greg Boyle (“G-dog” to his “homies”) being interviewed by Krista Tippett on her “On Being” radio show. He’s such a compelling person that I immediately ordered and read his memoir, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. He’s (obviously) religious and I am not, but his steadfast belief that we are all the same before God is an attitude all of us, believers and not, could strive for. He calls his God “not the ‘one false move’ God but the ‘no matter what’ God.”

The book is heartwarming, funny, heartbreaking, and page-turning. Father Boyle is a man of unbelievable courage, love, compassion, and faith. And a heckuva storyteller.