Monday, May 26, 2008

Ethics and the Subway

It's a useful reminder for somebody writing and teaching about ethics: watch out for pickpockets. I tend to forget that not everybody plays by the rules. I guess that's why, when I was being pushed onto a crowded train in the St Petersburg Metro I figured that the burly stranger was just trying to board before the doors closed.

Wrong! He (or a confederate) was extracting my wallet from the lowest pants-leg pocket of my cargo pants, where I had complacently believed it was safe. Within a half hour over $8000 had been fraudulently paid from my checking account for "purchases." The bank assures me that they will make me whole. And I relearned a lesson.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

In Moscow

Roxane and I have been in Moscow for four days. Tomorrow to St. Petersburg, then home a week from Monday. Tonight was a dream--seeing the ballet "Golden Age" at the Bolshoi. Yesterday the Museum of the Great Patrotic War, i.e., WW II. Lots of displays about heroism, not anything about the unimaginable savagery on both sides. The Soviet NKVD "backup" units killed over 250,000 of their own soldiers--shot down if they retreated, or even looked like they were thinking about it. An ethicist could get tied in knots trying to sort out the good from the bad, or the horrible from the beyond-horrible. A topic for another time, perhaps.

We've had internet in our apartment here, but won't in St. Petersburg, so ruminating about the US political scene will also have to wait. Dos V'danya.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thank me for my integrity? I resent that.

Funny, just two days after my blog about how the baseball cheaters bring everyone under suspicion, the LA Times runs a front page article about Thomas Fingar, who is leading the intelligence community’s battle back to credibility (“Political clashes underline limits to intelligence reform,” LA Times, May 15, p.1)

Fingar ia a real hero of the civil service: he headed off the Administration’s seeming rush toward war with Iran by his fiercely independent intelligence conclusion that Iran has stopped their development of nuclear weapons. He gets no praise from hard-liners, but has repeatedly been thanked for his integrity by members of Congressional committees he has testified to.

His reaction? “I began to resent this. Treating integrity and professionalism as if it is an unusual and courageous act. I frankly was dismayed."

Just as in baseball, cheaters and liars in government have brought the honest people under a cloud. It’ll take a serious dose of ethics by the new Administration to remove the cloud.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why I'm Not A Conservative Anymore

Michael Gerson's column in this morning's Washington Post reminds me why I stopped being a conservative. I was a conservative because I believed in the founding principles of America, in a strong national defense, and in the free market as the best mechanism ever invented for the distribution of wealth. I trusted the private sector over the public sector, in spite of my many years of service in the federal government,

Gerson's column today describes how seven pro-life senators have prevented Senate action on the President's emergency plan for HIV-AIDS relief, which he wrote would help 3 million infected people. Gerson, himself a staunch conservative, concludes, " For all of conservatism's evident virtues, it can have one furtive, seedy vice: A justified suspicion of government can degenerate into an anti-government ideology -- rigid, stingy and indifferent to human suffering."

That indifference finally got to me in 1993, after seeing government indifference to the rioting in Los Angeles, and flipped me. I still hold to conservative principles of constitutional government, strong defense, and mostly-free markets, but I guess I’m not a conservative any more. So you’ll have to label me a liberal.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Separating the baseball cheats from the clean players

You can't think about ethics very long before you're faced with the issue of cheating. Do cheaters get ahead? Do they get caught? Do honest folks get tarred? And so on. The issue is huge for baseball fans. Baseball, more than any other sport, is a game of statistics. Babe Ruth 60, Ty Cobb .367, Hack Wilson 190, Cy Young 511, and most of all, Hank Aaron 755.

But then came the cheating. Barry Bonds 762. Roger Clemens 354. Obviously steroid-inflated, and therefore phony. But what about all the other marks? can we believe anything?

Thomas Boswell figured out part of the answer in his May 10 Washington Post piece, "A Three-Way Argument for Game's Integrity." He analyzed the records of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz, who formed the heart of the Atlanta Braves' pitching staff for eleven years, winning 862 games among them. He discovered that each of them had a decliniing performance starting in their mid-30s. By contrast, Bonds and Clemens got better--unlike ordinary humans not on steroids, whose performance declines as they age.

So Boswell pronounces the threesome clean, and we can admire their records without suspicion. Good for the ethical players!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ethics and the Ninth Grade

Daughter Lisa volunteered me to lecture to the ninth grade class at the school in Los Angeles that granddaughter Alexandra attends. It'll be an interesting challenge, different from working with senior executives. Now, in addition to my regular customers--government or corporate managers--I'm scheduled with ninth graders and another gig with the superintendent and principals of the Evergreen Elementary School District (San Jose).

I'll have to think about whether ethics looks different to fourteen-year olds than to forty- or fifty-year olds.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Reactions to ethics articles and workshops

Now that I've got a new website I'll try new blog. There've been a lot of interesting and surprising reactions to my articles and workshops on ethics. I hope people will post here so lots of people can take part in the conversation.