Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winning isn't the only thing, not at Texas Tech

It’s always noteworthy when a University that places high value on its football program opts for good behavior even at the possible cost of a game (or more). That’s why this column made such a fuss over Oregon Ducks football coach Chip Kelly when he suspended his star running back for sucker punching an opposing player who was taunting him after a Ducks loss in their season opener.
Now we want to give three cheers for Texas Tech, who suspended football coach Mike Leach on the eve of Saturday’s big Alamo Bowl Game against Michigan State. Leach is accused of punishing a player who suffered a concussion in practice.
 A source close to the player’s family told ESPN that he sustained a concussion on Dec. 16, was examined on Dec. 17 and told not to practice because of the concussion and an elevated heart rate. The source said Coach Leach called a trainer and directed him to move James "to the darkest place, to clean out the equipment and to make sure that he could not sit or lean. He was confined for three hours." According to the source, Leach told the trainer, two days later, to "put [James] in the darkest, tightest spot. It was in an electrical closet, again, with a guard posted outside."
The suspension will surely be litigated, and we’re not sure yet what all the facts are. What’s clear and indisputable, however, is that Texas Tech, occasionally maligned as a football factory, places player safety and ethical behavior above winning. Here’s hoping their first reward is a win over the Spartans Saturday in the Alamo Bowl.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Heckuva job, Janet

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano just gave Americans the best reason to distrust their government since Bush’s “Heckuva job, Brownie.” Jack Marshall has an excellent analysis of her egregious misstatement about the attempted destruction of the Northwest airliner (“The system worked.”)  on his EthicsAlarms blog, at http://ethicsalarms.com/2009/12/28/napolitano-ethics-heck-of-a-job-janet/comment-page-1/#comment-602
Napolitano later, when correcting herself, said that she had been quoted out of context. Marshall’s article demonstrates that this is another untruth.
It’s the depths of unethical behavior to lie from a position of trust. It’ll take a lot to get people to trust Napolitano again. Worse, her egregious misstatement will confirm for millions their justification for distrusting all government.

A lesson in shame from the Indianapolis Colts

Ethics in sports means trying your best to win while behaving with integrity. Sometimes winning and integrity are at odds, and people have to choose. They can choose honorably, as tennis player Andy Roddick famously did in the 2005 Rome Masters tournament when he corrected an umpire’s wrong call to his own disadvantage and it wound up costing him the match. Or they can choose dishonorably, as gymnast Paul Hamm did in the 2004 Olympics when he kept a gold medal that had been awarded to him on a scorer’s error.
Coach Jim Caldwell chose dishonorably yesterday when he chose to keep his best players healthy as the playoffs approached. His Indianapolis Colts were two wins away from an undefeated 16-0 season, playing a game that was meaningless for them (they already had clinched top seed in the playoffs), but that meant a great deal to their opponents, the New York Jets, who were battling seven other teams for the last two playoff berths in the American Football Conference. It also—presumably—meant something to the Colts’ fans who shelled out big money to see them play.
Caldwell pulled his starters early in the second half, leading 15-10. He replaced all-pro quarterback Peyton Manning with Curtis Painter, a rookie who had never played a down in the NFL. Painter promptly fumbled in his own end zone, handing a touchdown to the Jets, who went on to win, 29-15.
The Colts are now 14-1, their fans are disappointed, and the Jets have an unearned edge in the race for the last playoff spot.
Sport is said to teach us about character. Yesterday it taught us about shame.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Santa Claus, Build-a-Bear, and global warming

Where are the ethical boundaries in videos aimed at children? Is it OK to show a video about Santa and his helpers? We know (shhh) there’s not really a Santa Claus; is it OK to pretend there is to entertain (and mislead) children?
So OK, Santa is a fiction, but writing fiction is ethical. Fiction deals with real life and real issues—life and death, war and peace, love and hate, duty and temptation, and so on. Fiction for children, especially children of an age to want cuddly teddy bears, is more likely to deal with more age-appropriate issues—telling the truth, being a friend, obeying parents.
The Build-a-Bear Company is in the business of selling build-it-yourself bears to children, and along the way, to teach children something about citizenship and helping others. Their website until a couple of days ago had—along with interactive games designed for the 3-5 yr old set—three videos about Santa’s helpers, a penguin, and two cuddly polar bear cubs, all of whom were worrying about global warming and the ongoing melting of the polar icecap. One of the videos had a gross exaggeration—that the polar icecap would disappear before Christmas (i.e., today).
It’s arguable how great a sin it is to exaggerate the degree of icecap melting in a video about Santa. Build-a-Bear should have been more accurate. But apparently the greater sin is to deal with global warming at all. In response to expressions of outrage from global-warming deniers and threats of boycott, Maxine Clark, founder and Chief Executive Bear of Build-a-Bear, apologized and withdrew the offending videos from the Bear website.
             Rather than police what their children do on the computer, some people prefer to shut down the voice of Build-a-Bear, so that nobody can hear it. And shamefully, Build-a-Bear knuckled under to the pressure and gave up on their effort to teach a few children a little about global warming.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The ethics argument for health care reform

The health care debate is too much for any individual to understand completely. That’s why reading a bill on the Senate floor doesn’t contribute to the debate, other than to slow it down. There are persuasive arguments on all sides: doesn’t go far enough, goes too far, costs too much, gives too much to the insurance companies, is unfair to the insurance companies, and on and on.
I only know two things for sure about it, one ethical, one historical.
First, the ethical argument: What kind of society do we want to be a part of? Remember Lincoln asking if we wanted to be part of a nation that was half slave, half free? Remember John Kennedy asking if we wanted to be part of a wealthy nation with millions suffering from hunger. It’s time for Americans to ask ourselves whether we want to be a part of a society that provides its political leaders and most everybody else with health care, but leaves fifty million—one of every six Americans—uninsured, with additional millions worried sick that they’ll lose their insurance.
An ethical person must reject this status quo as unacceptable, a violation of the Golden Rule and of the principles of virtue ethics. So the system needs to be changed.
Now the thing I know about history: Theodore Roosevelt first proposed health care reform in 1912, then Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton. All failed. If the current attempt fails we’ll likely go many years before reform is even attempted in the Congress.
So an ethical person must work to pass reform now—not necessarily the House bill, not necessarily the Senate bill, but SOME bill. The ethical person doesn’t want his country to take care of five-sixths and leave the rest to fickle fortune

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Distortions about Senator Whitehouse in the WSJ and Washington Times

                              --and slurs across the political spectrum.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. gave a tough thoughtful speech on the Senate floor Sunday, blasting Republican obstructionism over, not only the health care bill but even against the defense appropriation bill. He asked,
“Why all this discord and discourtesy, all this unprecedented destructive action? All to break the momentum of our new young president. They are desperate to break this president. They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama. The birthers, the fanatics, the people running around in right-wing militia and Aryan support groups, it is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist.
“That is one powerful reason, it is not the only one. The insurance industry one of the most powerful bodies in politics, is another reason.”
It’s perfectly clear that Whitehouse was blasting the unanimous Republican senators. There is no way, however, to construe his remarks like this headline on the Washington Times website does:
Sen. Whitehouse: Foes of health care bill are birthers, right-wing militias, aryan groups
The headline was picked up verbatim by the Wall Street Journal’s website too, and the sense of it was repeated even on the middle-of-the-road Morning Joe show on MSNBC.
Whitehouse clearly did NOT say—or mean—what the headline said. He said that the Republicans had ardent supporters who…etc. But so few Republicans  distance themselves from the fanatics, and so many embrace their bile, that it’s almost tempting to accuse Whitehouse of understatement.
But the WSJ and the Washington Times got his remarks very wrong. Too bad for all of us if their slander goes uncorrected.
The video of the entire 12-1/2 min Whitehouse speech is at http://drblues.wordpress.com/2009/12/22/senator-whitehouse-calls-out-the-paranoid-republicans/. Worth watching and make up your own mind.

Monday, December 21, 2009

So's John McCain

     Thanks to Rachel Maddow for ferreting this out after McCain said he'd never in his twenty years in the Senate seen a senator denied an extra  minute or two to finish his remarks. On October 10, 2002, McCain reacted to the anti-war speech of then-Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN) by objecting to Dayton's request for unanimous consent to speak for an extra minute or two.
      Shame on McCain for his hypocrisy, which exacerbated the Franken-Lieberman brouhaha. You're dragging the Senate down, Senator.

Al Franken is a big fat idiot

Senator Al Franken (D-MN) burnished his reputation as a comedian and made a bundle of money with his 1999 book, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot, which  The New York Times review called “dreadfully foul.” After he won win a Senate seat a year ago many hoped his manners would be nicer than his book.
So far not so much.
Franken was presiding over the Senate last Thursday when Senator Lieberman was giving a ten-minute speech on health care. Franken interrupted, saying Lieberman’s ten minutes were up. When Lieberman requested unanimous consent for “an additional moment” to finish his speech, Franken refused.
John McCain rose to say that he'd never in his twenty years in the Senate seen a senator denied an extra  minute or two to finish his remarks. saying it. “I don’t know what’s happening here in this body, but I think it’s wrong. It harms the comity of the senate.”
Franken’s rude behavior was matched Sunday by Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) who blocked a similar request by Senator John Cornyn, (R-TX). When Cornyn protested, “I’m looking around — I don’t see any other senator waiting to speak,” Begich relented.
Franken isn’t the only guilty one, nor is all the rudeness Democratic—the Republicans have been giving about as good—or as bad—as they’ve been getting. But the bad behavior on both sides has already shattered the Senate’s reputation as the world’s greatest deliberative body, and is well on the way to ending its ability to do the people’s business.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Who do you trust—the L.A. Times or Pete Carroll?

The Los Angeles Times reports that Joe McKnight, star running back for the USC Trojans, has been driving an SUV belonging to a Trojan booster, Scott Schenter. This would be a violation of NCAA rules that would require McKnight’s disqualification, if true.
The USC athletic program is already under scrutiny by the NCAA for possible illicit payments to Heisman trophy footballer Reggie Bush and to basketball star O. J. Mayo. A scandal involving McKnight would seriously damage what’s left of USC’s reputation for athletic integrity.
The Times article said that Mr. Schenter “has not responded to multiple requests for answers.” Mr Schenter has since written that the car really belongs to McKnight’s girl friend, who works for Schenter—“ I am the owner of the Land Rover because [the girl friend’s] parents couldn't qualify for the loan. It is her car. She makes the payments and she is responsible for insurance.”
The Times has leveled serious charges of corruption at McKnight and USC, apparently without trying very hard to confirm the story. If Mr. Schenter is telling the truth the Times itself is guilty of corruption. If not, then USC has a lot to answer for. Either way, it’s a sad day for ethics in the Southland.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fire poor teachers? It’s unethical NOT to

     Teachers in Los Angeles serve a two-year probationary period, during which they are "at-will" employees who can easily be fired. At the end of the probationary period they automatically get tenure and are, for all practical purposes, impossible to fire.
     An investigation by the Los Angeles Times  has shown that teachers in LA  are routinely given tenure at the end of the two years, without any meaningful evaluation of their performance. Ramon Cortines, the LA superintendent, told the L. A. Times, “This is about to change. We do not owe poor performers a job.”
     Cortines is on solid ethical grounds; it’s not a close call. The Golden Rule requires us to look after the weaker members of our society. Who weaker than schoolchildren? And the responsibility falls especially heavily on people who are paid to look after the weak.
     So why are so many education bigwigs fighting Cortines? A. J. Duffy, head of the teachers union, objects thus: “Administrators are not properly trained to evaluate teachers.” Julie Slayton, a teacher at USC and former head of research and planning for the school district, blasts Cortines for a knee-jerk reaction to outside pressure.
     While we’re sacrificing our children’s futures to poor teaching, too many education professionals are more interested in protecting their turf than in education. This is an ethical failure of the highest order.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ethical affirmative action in the NFL

The Indianapolis Colts beat Denver, 28-16 to bring the Colts’ record to a perfect 13-0. The Colts are coached by Jim Caldwell, in his first year replacing Tony Dungy, who stepped down after seven successful seasons, including a Super Bowl win.
It was worth remarking that none of the announcers thought it worth remarking that Caldwell, like Dungy, is African-American. This all results from the Rooney rule—arguably the most successful affirmative action policy in American sports—perhaps in America, period.
The Rooney rule requires all NFL teams with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one minority candidate. They can hire who they like, but they must interview a minority candidate.
The rule was adopted in 2003 when the NFL owners, prodded by black attorney Johnnie Cochran, looked hard at themselves and didn’t like what they saw. In a league with 70% black players, there were only two black head coaches—six percent of the league’s teams.
They asked themselves the central questions of ethics: “What kind of a person do I want to be?” And “What kind of group do I want to be a part of?” They didn’t want to be a part of a league where nearly all the head coaches were white and nearly all the players were black. So they adopted the Rooney rule.
Today there are, unremarkably, seven black coaches in the 32-team league. Black coaches have reached the pinnacle, winning two Super Bowls, and the depths, being fired from jobs at Kansas City and Cleveland. The most ethical of affirmative action efforts has been successful.
Dan Rooney, the Pittsburgh Steeler owner who chaired an owners committee that came up with the Rooney rule, said he is pleased with the rule, but, "I really feel and hope that we will not need a Rooney Rule very long."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What kind of people are they on Wall Street?

The beginning of ethical behavior is asking yourself, “What kind of a person do I want to be?” Next comes “What kind of group (or company or town or society) do I want to be a part of?”
Lincoln asked if we wanted to be part of a nation that was half slave, half free. John Kennedy asked if we wanted to be part of a wealthy nation with millions suffering from hunger. It’s time for Wall Street leaders to ask themselves whether they want to be part of a society that pays top earners thousands of times as much as it pays ordinary hard workers, and enables the top people to live in 18,000 square foot homes while some ordinary workers live in their cars.
These questions have been posed before—by Spartacus, by Nat Turner, by Marx, by Mao. When the questions came as demands from people on the bottom they always had terrible results—think slave revolt or the “Great Leap Forward.”. But when they were posed by leaders of society they often led to constructive change—think Social Security or the Marshall Plan.
It’s time for Wall Street leaders to lead, or risk provoking our political system into a “cure” that will likely be far worse than the disease.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Notre Dame's new coach a winner both ways

Notre Dame has a winner in just-announced new head football coach Brian Kelly.  Kelly coached the Cincinnati Bearcats to a 12-0 record and an unprecedented (for the Bearcats) #3 ranking among BCS (i.e., major football) schools. His teams at Cincinnati are 34-6 over his three-year tenure.
As impressive as his teams’ won-lost record is the academic record of his players:  a 75 percent NCAA graduation rate, the highest in the BCS top 10. That was undoubtedly as attractive to Notre dame as his won-loss record, because Notre Dame athletes have long had one of the highest rates of graduation of any university in America.
It’s worth reminding people of Notre Dame’s emphasis on academics, especially in light of its reported $18 million-$24 million paid to buyout coach Charlie Weis for the six years remaining on his contract. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dick Cheney, hate monger

U.S. Constitution, Article 3, Section 3. “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Dick Cheney, on last night’s Hannity show on Fox: “I think it [trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York] will give aid and comfort to the enemy.”

Who is Cheney accusing of treason? President Obama? Attorney General Holder? Mayor Bloomberg? What earthly reason could he have for using such language?

Ethics,global warming, and Al Gore

First, do no harm.

Ethically that’s a good place to start. We—you, me, everybody—are doing lots of harm to the earth by our consumption of carbon-based fuels. Al Gore has made it his life cause to combat this damage. His interview with Lloyd Grove of the Daily Beast is well worth reading and absorbing.

We all need to be part of the anti-global warming movement.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Baucus affair is an unethical mess

  What’s so bad about Max Baucus recommending his girlfriend for a U. S. Attorney job? Nothing, according to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who said that Max Baucus is “a good friend and outstanding senator, and he has my full support.”
Even Washington watchdog Melanie Sloan, former prosecutor and head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington defends Baucus.
“Obviously, he showed bad judgment.” Sloan told the New York Daily News. “It certainly tarnishes his image, but I can’t think of what rule he violated.”
Sloan and Reid and other Baucus defenders should think about ethics. As Jack Marshall, who does think about ethics points out, Baucus violated several provisions of the code of ethics for U.S. government employees:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Et tu, Max? Bye bye, Max

Senator Max Baucus (R-MT) is the President’s lead man on health care reform in the Senate. Politico is reporting that he recommended that Obama nominate his girlfriend to be a United States Attorney.

What was he thinking? His office says she was nominated because of her qualifications, not because she was sleeping with the senator. Yeah, sure. Ever hear of conflict of interest, senator?

It’s behavior like this that’s sparking the rabid anti-government movement in America. Time for the Dems to do the right thing: expel Baucus from the Senate.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oregon Ducks to win tonight’s “Civil War”

Here’s hoping the Oregon Ducks win tonight’s football game with Oregon State, the traditional season-ender known as the “Civil War.”

It would give Oregon its first Pac 10 Championship since 2001, but more important ethically, it would give the nation reason to pay attention to Chip Kelly, Oregon’s young coach and an exemplar of ethical coaching.

Back in September the Ducks lost their opener to powerful Boise State, and at the end of the game Oregon’s top player, star running back Legarrette Blount sucker punched a Boise State player. Kelly wasted no time suspending his star for the rest of the season. (By comparison, Florida Gator coach Urban Meyer suspended his top defender for one half for attempting to gouge out the eye of an opponent.)

Adding to Kelly’s ethical résumé, he allowed Blount to keep his scholarship, thus preventing Kelly from recruiting a replacement. Kelly reasoned that Blount’s penalty should be losing his place on the team, not his education.

After weeks of good behavior by Blount, and after his substitute, freshman LaMichael James, had unexpectedly performed like a super star, Kelly allowed Blount to rejoin the team.

Sadly America mostly subscribes to Leo Durocher’s dictum, “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.” An Oregon win tonight will let America get to know a nice guy who finished first.

Nativity scene at the Courthouse

Let’s go back to allowing a Nativity scene in front of the courthouse, as we did for nearly 200 years. It made Christians feel good and reminded them what Christmas was about. The Right is exorcised about a “war on Christmas,” and they have a point.

The Bill of Rights says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”Allowing Christians to put up a Nativity scene is not establishment of religion, but denying them is interfering with, if not prohibiting, the “free exercise thereof.”

Nativity scenes were on public property in every town until an organization called Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or POAU, was formed in the late 1940’s and began campaigning against any recognition (let alone, "establishment") of religion by any governmental entity, including the public schools. Thus was the war on Christmas born, although, like World War 1, it didn’t get its current name until years later. Bill O’Reilly named it in 2005 and began to fume about it.

Hard for a liberal to admit, but O’Reilly was right. Denying religious groups (Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims) the use of public property is interfering with the free exercise of religion. When we interfere with strongly held beliefs people get angry, and bad things happen. Better to return to the words and meaning of the Bill of Rights.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Happy Holidays…er…

Ah, the holiday season is upon us. Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men. Merry Christmas. Or Happy Holidays. But be VERY careful what you wish people. Some people will respond angrily if you get it wrong.

Let’s see. It’s always ok to say Merry Christmas to a Christian. It’s ok to say Happy Chanukah to a Jew. It’s ok to say Happy Kwanzaa to an African-American, but not if he’s an evangelical Christian. And wish your Muslim friends a Happy Muharram and Hindus a Happy Diwali. And if you’re not sure of the person’s religious beliefs, Happy Holidays covers all. Or Holiday Cheer.

That’s what retailer The Gap thought when it called its campaign Holiday Cheer. But the American Family Association has called for a boycott of Gap, along with Old Navy and Banana Republic for similar sacrileges. It turns out that in our land of religious freedom, you’ve got to watch your mouth.

And your step. Want to put up Christmas decorations? If you’d like to use the village green, or the nice lawn in front of City Hall you’ll risk a law suit from Church-State separation fanatics. And if you’re the music teacher make sure the December choral concert is multi-denominational. Or non-denominational. The only safe route is to hibernate all December. Oops, that’ll get you in trouble with the American Family Association.

What would an ethicist say about all this seasonal Bad Will Toward Men? All religions and secular ethicists teach us to treat others as we’d want to be treated. They all (now) teach tolerance toward people of other beliefs. Let Christians have their mangers and Christmas trees. Let Jews have their menorahs and eight days of presents. Let Muslims have their quiet reflection on the coming year. And let the lawyers take the month off.

As Rodney King asked, “Can we all get along?”