Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Thoughts on Genocide Remembrance Day, 2021

April 24, 2021
Map of the 1921 Allies proposal to dismember Anatolia: Ermenistan is the Turkish word for Armenia

April 24 is an Armenian holiday: Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. President Biden today gave official certification that the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 was a genocide. I wrote my thoughts about the issue many years ago. I wouldn’t change much today. Perhaps someday–when the history of Jim Crow, the war with Mexico, the occupation of the Philippines, the abandonment of European Jewry to extermination, the Chinese Exclusion Act, are honestly taught in American schools–perhaps then will we have the moral standing to pronounce which side, the Armenians or the Turks, have the better assessment of the horrors of 1915. Until then it would have better for Biden to stay out of the argument.

Here’s what I wrote ten or twenty years ago on the subject:

Memo to Congress: Leave the Turks and Armenians alone to bury old enmities

Old hatreds die hard. Many Serbs still burn with hate for Muslims over the lost battle of Blackbird’s Field in Kosovo on June 15, 1389. In Great Britain there remains mutual hatred between Catholics and Protestants dating from atrocities of the 17th century. And many Armenian Americans still burn over the massacres and other deaths of 1,500,000 Armenians by the forces of the collapsing Ottoman Empire—the predecessor to modern Turkey–in 1915. Turks dispute the number, claiming that 300,000 Armenians were killed and at least as many Turks, as the empire descended into chaos and war.

It seems that civilization depends on our ability to put such horrors aside, to consign them to the ash heap of history. That ability is what allows black and white Americans to coexist—even love each other—a mere 140 years after the end of brutal slavery in the U.S. It allows many Jews and Muslims, Japanese and Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis to live and let live. Even Turkey and Armenia are on the verge of normal relations and an open border, with their presidents even attending football (soccer) games between the respective national teams in each other’s country.

Enter the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, which just passed, 23-22, a non-binding resolution calling on US policy and President Barack Obama to refer formally refer to the World War I mass killings as a “genocide.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi must now decide whether the bill passed by the committee will be sent to a floor vote in the House.

All the members knew that this was a matter of national pride for Turkey, an issue that could blow up relations between the US and our close ally. It has. Turkey—the Muslim world’s oldest democracy—has just withdrawn its ambassador from Washington in protest.

“We condemn this resolution accusing Turkey of a crime that it had not committed,” the Turkish Prime Minister’s office said in a written statement. “Our Ambassador to Washington Namik Tan was recalled tonight to Ankara for consultations after the development,” the statement said.

The mind boggles at the House action. Several questions worry an ethicist:

1) Was it genocide? This Fourth Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary defines genocide as “the systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group.” Armenian-Americans say yes, passionately. Some Turks agree, although the Turkish government’s position rejects just about every word of the definition: not systematic, not planned, not extermination, and not entire.

2) Is the US doing good or harm by raising the issue? Armenian-Americans are pleased, although Armenians are likely to be big losers if the budding normalization with their Turkish neighbors is wrecked.

3) Who are we to cast a stone at the Turks. Perhaps we should first come to terms with the sins of our own forebears before we accuse others of –what? Descent from sinners? Aren’t we all?

Secret Police in Portland!

July 20, 2020

It’s hard to decide what’s the worst, the most unethical, the most unconstitutional thing of the Trump administration. In my naivete at first I thought it was the bald faced lie about the crowd size at his inauguration. But that was only his first day in office.

The bad things came fast. The attempts to stop the FBI from investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. The sabotage of health care for the poor. I’ve long thought that grabbing infants from their mothers’ breasts at our southern border was the cruelest, the most awful thing.

And then…Portland. While the Courts have long ruled that the President has broad authority over our borders, the Constitution clearly denies local law enforcement powers to the federal government.

But to heck with the Constitution. Over the strong and unambiguous objections of Oregon’s Governor and Portland’s mayor, our Leader has dispatched national troops, their identity secret, to Portland to show his manliness by crushing protests. The secret National police snatch people, some violent, some peaceful, and haul them off in unmarked vans with no process of law whatsoever.

What to call the secret national police? Maybe an acronym; SEcretNAtionalPOlice, the acronym is SENAPO. Maybe it’s more euphonious in another language. Let’s try German: Geheim Staats Polizei. Yes, that sounds right. That’s where our Leader seems headed.

Oh, for the simpler days when he was only snatching babies from their mothers.

What about my statues? Not Caesar Rodney!

July 6, 2020

I’ve found that the most powerful ethics tool is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes: “How would I feel if that were me in that situation?”

So, I thought, how would I feel if I were Richmond born and raised, about giving up the Confederate flag and the statues that I would have driven past every day—the same statues that Black residents saw as a symbol of all the ills of their world. I would have agreed with removing them, I thought, not by the mob, but by the orders of legitimate authority. The statues and symbols of betrayal should never have been erected or honored.

But I’m not Richmond born and bred—I was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, where the town center has a majestic square—Rodney Square, dominated by a gorgeous (to me) equestrian statue of Caesar Rodney. Rodney is remembered, and little children learn this, for rising from his near-death bed to ride overnight through a thunderstorm, eighty miles from Dover to Philadelphia to cast a tie-breaking vote to adopt the Declaration of Independence. He’s the figure on the Delaware quarter.

Rodney was a lawyer who went on to command the Delaware militia in the Revolutionary War, then to be President of Delaware until adoption of the Constitution. But nobody knows that—we Delawareans know and honor Rodney for that ride. And nobody knows—or rather, knew, that he owned a plantation farmed by 200 slaves.

Rodney-the-hero to me was Rodney-the-slave owner to the Black Delawareans. And so last month he came down.

And I felt like I suspect old Richmonders felt—punched in the gut when I saw my childhood totem erased. So I’ll spare a spot of sympathy for Richmonders, who have to learn to live without proud thoughts of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. And I’ll mourn Caesar Rodney.

Celebrate July 2

July 2, 2020
On July 2, 1776, the 2nd Continental Congress Formerly Adopts ...

Before we get to July 4, we should commemorate an equally (or maybe more) important anniversary–that of the events in Philadelphia on July 2, 1776, as well as the events of July 2 four score and seven years later at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

You should know about momentous July Seconds. Let my ethics friend Jack Marshall refresh your memory at And try to ignore his knock against Dems who don’t condemn quickly enough or strongly enough the far leftists who denigrate our history.

What to do on July 4 and 5

June 30, 2020

For 90 years the New York Times has published a full-page facsimile of the original Declaration of Independence every fourth of July. I always considered it a rite of Americanism to read it, and I read it every July 4. I used to read the Times’s facsimile of the original, on paper; now I read it here: Here’s the Times’s reprint. It reminds me what America stands for, and however imperfect he was, what Jefferson’s vision of America is–today as in 1776.

But not every American’s vision. My friend, Michael Schroeder, history professor at Lebanon (Penna.) Valley College, taught me that I should read something else the next day, July 5. It’s Frederic Douglas’s speech, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? It’s painful to read, but I think every American should read it.

It’s a part of our National heritage along with the Declaration of Independence and the Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Every American should read each, over and over. I recommend reading the Declaration every July 4; the Douglas speech every July 5 (he gave if July 5, 1852–thirteen years before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves of the Confederacy). And read King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail every Martin Luther King Day.

Statues, Black lives matter, mobs, and patriotism

June 26, 2020
It wasn't a mistake to pull down the statue of Ulysses S Grant ...

It often gets my blood flowing, and my mind thinking, when I read opinions and analyses I disagree with. Often I disagree with my friend Jack Marshall, whose blog,, I’ve learned a lot from.

I eagerly look for columns of his where I could say, “Perfect. I wouldn’t change a word.” His piece today about mobs, statues, Black lives matter, and patriotism comes pretty close. If you’re a liberal like me look it over here.

It won’t hurt you.

Like Jack, I’m against all mob actions, in fact against all mobs, period. But two reservations about this column:

1. I believe “Black lives matter” is a slogan, value, cause, movement. To me it’s a reminder that in our society black lives are often, by some people, some government officials, treated as not mattering as much as white. So I’m happy to give people who write, talk, or march peaceably in protest, my ear. I believe, however, the movement is often invaded by criminals and anarchists, and the unorganized movement has no organized way to stop them. But this doesn’t invalidate the cause.

2. I abhor all mobs, and to the point, all the tearing down of statues. I also agree about the historical value of many statues (Grant, Key, etc). I do know, however, that some statues are (small?) humiliations to many people. Think about a Black in Nashville having to walk by a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest twice a day.

What to do? It’s not up to any mob, not even to BLM believers. In our still-democratic system it’s up to the local authorities. I hope they follow the example set by the Memphis City council, who voted three years ago to remove their Bedford statue.

Death Toll from the Tulsa Rally

June 19, 2020

Anyone attempting to spread COVID-19 intentionally may face ...

How many deaths will result from the Trump rally in Tulsa? The formula is simple:

(# of attendees in arena plus overflow) x (Fraction of attendees already infected) x (Average transmission rate) x (mortality rate of Covid-19) = deaths

Let’s call (# of attendees in arena plus overflow) = N

(Fraction of attendees already infected) = F

(Average transmission rate) = R

(mortality rate of Covid-19) = M

So, Deaths = N x F x R x M

Nobody can dispute this equation; it’s true by definition. The uncertainty is what values to assign to the variables N, F, R, and M.

Here are my guesses:

N = 30,000 (19,000 in arena plus 11,000 outside and in the overflow area (more…)

The NEW Purpose of a Corporation

August 24, 2019

Image result for business roundtable

Shareholder Value Is No Longer Everything, Top C.E.O.s Say,” read the headline on the New York Times business page.  Most readers probably just skimmed by, without taking much notice. It reminded me of the long-ago Times of London contest – to see who could write the dullest headline. The winner was, “Small Earthquake in Chile. Not many dead.”

But dull headline aside, this is undoubtedly the big economic news of the year. It will—gradually—change the way business operates. The Times’s “Top C.E.O.s” make up the Business Roundtable, comprising the heads of America’s leading companies. It’s the most powerful and prestigious group of business leaders in America. For decades its statement of corporate principles held that corporations exist principally to serve shareholders.

Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and the guru of corporate America, put it this way, in a 1970 article that formed the bedrock of every argument about corporate purpose,

“There is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it … engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”

Friedman’s dictum has for decades loomed over every business conversation about what the corporation owed society. Purists said, “Friedman says profits first and only.” Discussions of worker benefits, charity, environmentalism, relations with suppliers, all were overshadowed by Friedman.

No longer, according to America’s top business leaders. They announce that the corporation purpose has changed from serving shareholders to serving stakeholders, that is, customers, suppliers, workers, and communities, as well as shareholders.

Do they mean it? Undoubtedly they are influenced by the current anti-business rhetoric and animus showed by today’s talking heads and Democratic Presidential candidates. (more…)

To Impeach or not to Impeach?

April 22, 2019


Tearing the Constitution.jpeg

I’ve not been a fan of impeaching the President. While I want Trump to leave office, I’ve bought into the conventional wisdom that impeachment is a dead end because there’s no chance of getting roughly one-third of the Republicans in the Senate to vote to convict. And an impeachment that failed to convict will appear to the public like just another political battle, and what’s new?

Absent impeachment, I think the Democrats have a much better than even chance of defeating Trump next year in next year’s election. If they impeach him and the Senate votes to acquit, I think their chances of winning the election are diminished. That’s why until now Speaker Pelosi and many others have opposed any efforts to impeach.

But the Mueller report challenges this view. While many Democrats in the House of Representatives act as if they were sent to Washington to facilitate the election of a Democratic president, that’s not what they took an oath to do. It was to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

The President also swore an oath: to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and … to the best of [his] ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”.

The Mueller report shows the president has done two things that violate his oath and challenge the members of Congress to remove him:

  • He has repeatedly interfered with, and attempted to stop, the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and
  • He has repeatedly—and criminally— obstructed justice.

Rather than defending the Constitution against Russian subversion, he has undermined it. And in criminally obstructing justice he has placed himself above the law.

The Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power to impeach, and gives the Senate the power, upon impeachment, to remove the President from office. Members of both Houses of Congress took oaths to preserve our constitutional government. Regardless of the political calculations, the Congress has an ethical duty to pursue impeachment, wherever it might lead.


From The Ethics Alarms Lost Files: The Ballet Dancer, The Man On The Tracks, And The Duty To Rescue

September 29, 2017

I don’t usually copy other people’s columns, but I couldn’t resist copying this one from my friend Jack Marshall’s


[This story is several months old, but I missed it.  Luckily my friend, long-time Ethics Alarms reader and commenter Ethics Bob did not, and sent it to me. Then I missed his e-mail. Until today.]

Ethics Alarms often writes about the duty to rescue, but has also often discussed the reasonable limitations on that duty. You are ethically required to do what you can to prevent a tragedy if you have the power to do so, and instant presence of mind to do so. There is no ethical duty to act like Batman, unless, of course, you are Batman.

Gray Davis is Batman.

Well, that’s not quite right.

Let’s call him “Ballet Man,”

In June, a 58-year-old homeless man fell or was pushed onto the subway tracks at the 72nd Street Broadway-Seventh Avenue station in Manhattan. People began screaming and shouting for someone to help. Davis, 31, told reporters that “At first I waited for somebody else to jump down there…. But nobody jumped down. So I jumped down.” Actually he leaped down. Davis is a ballet  dancer with the American Ballet Theater. He had not performed that night, a Saturday, because he was recovering from a herniated disk. He had just watched his wife, soloist Cassandra Trenary, dance in both the matinee and the evening performances of “The Golden Cockerel.”

After Gray’s graceful assemblé from the platform onto the tracks, he lifted up the man, following a temps leve, although the carry itself was not standard and had several technical flaws by ABT standards, forgivable because ballerinas are not typically dead weight, and unconscious homeless men are not typically ballerinas. Gray deposited his temporary partner on the platform, where he was immediately attended to by others.

Then the dancer heard a train in the distance, and for the first time realized how high it was to the platform from the tracks. “Luckily, I’m a ballet dancer,” he said. Luckily for everyone. Lifting his let up over his head is a breeze.

Ballet dancers are much-maligned, and increasingly unappreciated as artists despite the fact that they are among the most skilled athletes in the world. Batman would have to have ballet training; Daredevil too. Unfortunately, they aren’t real. Graey Davis, Ballet Man, is real, and when a life was at stake and everyone else was calling for someone else to he a hero, he was one, because he knew he had the skills to pull it off.