October 2005 "Easy Calls"
  • When one has robbed and killed someone, it is usually unnecessary to point out that he is, in addition to being a violent lawbreaker, unethical. But this is a special case. Betty Blair, 77, of Pasadena, Texas took three New Orleans evacuees into her home after Hurricane Katrina. They flourished, got back on their feet, and returned home. So when Hurricane Rita devastated Beaumont, Texas, Betty Blair was ready with her generosity again. She decided to help out a young couple, Jimmy Hoang Le, 18, and Stephanie Jacobo, 18, who lost everything in the storm, as well as an older evacuee named Roosevelt Smith. She gave them spending money, clothes and furniture, and she paid them to do yard work and odd jobs so they could accumulate enough money to make a new start. But Smith, Le and Jacobo had another idea: they killed Betty Blair and took her car after filling it with her possessions. They will be punished severely, of course, but their penalty won't include any consideration of the excuses they have handed to all of us who feel embarrassed by the ethical instincts of people like Betty Blair, and are fervently looking for ways to justify the fact that we are not willing to do what she did. Now we can say, with certitude, "Bring people I don't know into my house, onto my property, into my life? That's ridiculous! Look what happened to that woman in Texas!" Indeed. The instinct for charity, kindness, and sacrifice is easily extinguished by the need for security, safety, personal comfort and avoidance of risk. Smith, Le and Jacobo killed one generous American, but they probably helped prevent the emergence of thousands more. In the hierarchy of terrible human conduct, repaying charity with robbery and murder has to be very near the top. (10/31/2005; Updated 1/2/06)

  • The easiest of calls is that the United States of America, a democracy whose mission statement trumpets a reverence for the rights of humanity, should not and cannot engage in state sanctioned torture. And that prohibition must be absolute and unequivocal, not blurred by euphemisms or legalistic maneuvering, such as sending those the government would like to torture to nations that have no such philosophical problems with the infliction of pain on prisoners "for the national good." It has been revealed that Vice-President Cheney has proposed to Senator John McCain and others that Congress give the president the power to allow government agencies outside the Defense Department, such as the C.I.A., the power to mistreat and torture prisoners for intelligence gathering purposes as long as that behavior was part of "counterterrorism operations conducted abroad" and they were not American citizens. The proposed policy is unconscionable; a rejection of American values and core ethical principles that are universal. It is alarming, because it demonstrates that there is support for torture at the highest reaches of our government, and that support will and has filtered down the chain of command. Anyone who persists, as Abu Ghraib apologists like conservative talk show host Sean Hannity has, in maintaining that the mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere by U.S. personnel is the result of a few aberrational "bad apples" is dim, deluded, or dishonest. Finally, it is unacceptable for American citizens who do attempt to live by the ethical principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution to have their leaders encourage atrocities to be committed in their names. (10/26/2005)

  • NBC reporter Michelle Kosinski was paddling a canoe through the streets of flooded Wayne, New Jersey during a live feed to the "Today" show when two men walked between her and the camera, making it obvious that the supposedly raging floodwaters were similar to what most homeowners have experienced in their basements after a heavy shower. "Today" hosts Matt Lauer and Katie Couric quickly made jokes about the gaffe, and an NBC News spokeswoman later claimed that no deception had been intended, although Kosinsky, oddly enough, hadn't mentioned that the canoe was unnecessary until the intruders appeared. There are two types of people these days: those who believe TV journalists and those who think television reporters have forfeited all credibility by their repeated ethical outrages. After the hysteria-mongering that followed Katrina, with reporters credulously reporting rumors of horrific violence and catastrophic body counts without any confirmation or evidence whatsoever, the Scoreboard proudly puts itself in the "Never trust these folks!" group. There is no legitimate reason for a TV reporter to appear on the air while paddling a canoe in six inches of water unless the intent is to deceive viewers and make conditions appear worse than they are. This is excrable journalistic ethics, but all too typical of television news today. (10/16/2005)

  • Yoko Ono, in her 72 years, apparently never absorbed one of the most basic rules of civility and ethics, to wit: "If you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all." This conclusion became unavoidable when John Lennon's widow and soul mate decided to use the occasion of a Q Magazine posthumous award honoring the late Beatle to belittle Lennon's long-time collaborator Paul McCartney, currently on tour in the U.S. and saying a lot of gracious things about Lennon in the process. Yoko accepted the award on Lennon's behalf, which means that it was inappropriate to do or say anything he wouldn't. But what she chose to say was this: "I'll tell you a story about John. He often used to wake up in the middle of the night and ask me, "Why do people cover Paul's songs so much, but never mine?" I used to tell him, "It's because you are a talented songwriter. You don't just rhyme June with spoon. And you are a very good singer - lots of people would be too afraid to cover one of your songs." Leaving aside the obvious observations that her comments have no connection to reality, and that if Lennon truly "often" woke up worrying about how many people were recording Paul McCartney's songs he was a sicker puppy than any of us suspected, to issue gratuitous and unprovoked insults at a public event is the height of rudeness. And to abuse an invitation to help honor her deceased husband by using it to advance a personal feud is mean-spirited and petty. It is fair to say that there are few fans of either John Lennon or Paul McCartney (that is, few people in the English-speaking world) who ever enjoyed the occasional sniping between the two that was an unfortunate occasional bi-product of a long, complex, close and sometimes competitive creative and personal relationship. Yoko's remarks dishonored John, insulted Paul, and pointlessly upset anyone who had to listen to or read them simply to satisfy her own well-documented supply of bile. We've heard examples of Yoko's songwriting skills through the years, and heard her attempts at singing. Her public utterances about the artistic skills of Paul McCartney ought to reflect nothing but admiration, respect, and awe. Or she should say nothing at all. (10/12/2005)

  • And now Loius Freeh, President Clinton's F.B.I. Director, has written yet another sensational tell-all book, which in Washington D.C. means that it is also a pay-back book. Entitled My FBI : Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton, and Fighting the War on Terror, Freeh's tome is reported to be especially tough on the former president who appointed him, and will doubtlessly give much needed warmth to the legions of Clinton-haters, who have been taking it in the chops lately from the equally passionate legions of Bush-haters. Perhaps the government needs to give high level government officials a special stipend of a couple million dollars for not writing books until all the major characters that might appear in them are dead, forgotten, or past caring. This trend, which appears to be unstoppable rooted as it is in those popular triplets Vanity, Vengeance and Venality, is both damaging and deplorable…and, in case you haven't guessed, unethical. Those engaged in the service of our country, Republican, Democrat or None-of-the-Above, need to be able to do so with certainty that private conversations and confidences are not going to become scoops on E! the second a colleague retires to private life. Honor? Discretion? Trust? Loyalty? Respect? Not in this government. It's "Show me the money!" and "What are my royalties?" People wonder why President Bush likes to appoint friends and those whom he has reason to believe won't sell him out for the most pieces of silver to high offices. This, the Louis Freeh-Richard Clark-Paul O'Neill version of professionalism in government, is a big part of the reason.

    Of course, former presidents who rush to publish their memoirs for big bucks may be said to be just begging for annoyed staffers to set the record straight, or at least their own version of straight. That's a problem, but not a justification. What is desperately needed in Washington D.C. is a sense of dignity, restraint, and class, rather than an obsession with ego, revenge, and greed. [10/7/2005]

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