- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

To quote H.L. Mencken, "The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught."
Who among us has not committed a "discreditable act," either deliberately or unwittingly? The "little white lie" to protect a friend's feelings, the undocumented deduction to "fudge" a tax return or the pithy phrase misplaced in a crucial term paper.
Honor has been on my mind lately. Maybe it was the April 15 tax deadline looming large or the D.C. inspector general's report on the unethical fund-raising practices of Mayor Anthony A. Williams' administration.
Then again, we all have people in our lives whose past indiscretions and betrayals continue to haunt and harm us. To forgive and forget is a tough task.
But what of our collective culture? Have we become "one nation under God" populated by people who cut corners whenever, wherever, to achieve their personal agendas? An acquaintance is fond of saying, "We don't get over in this life; we just get by and only for a while."
It appears that we have been sorely lacking in passing on the pathos that "honesty is the best policy" to our progeny. For one, we hold up questionable pop icons and politicos as role models to impressionable young people.
Speaking of public trust brings me to government coffers, and money brings me to this dreaded tax season.
Did you know that a recent report indicates that the Internal Revenue Service audits poor and working-class people at a higher rate than the wealthy, who have more opportunities to hide their holdings, and fiddle and fudge with their returns?
Congress must do something fast and furious to fix this economic inequity because the same report contends that as much as $64 billion is lost in revenue through unpaid taxes from unaudited partnerships alone.
Have we lost our moral compass? I like to believe that people are inherently good, and that good eventually outweighs evil, but sometimes I wonder and I worry.
The discreditable acts exhibited by some of late cause me to pause.
Take, for example, the cheating scandal at the University of Virginia, where at least 157 students have been investigated for playing fast and loose with their physics term papers. At least 39 were either justifiably expelled or rightly dropped out of school.
But what of those who were not caught? A growing number of college educators contend that they are plagued by plagiarism, especially with the easy Internet access that most students enjoy. From my own teaching experiences, I know it's hard enough to keep track of two dozen students; I can't imagine being in charge of one of those lecture courses with masses of students.
Students will be students, you say. Well, little pranks unchecked turn into big problems, as the University of Maryland has discovered. Have their students not learned to value and respect public and private property given what happened to the College Park business district after the men's basketball team won the national championship?
University officials must move swiftly and surely to ferret out those students who were involved in the melee and harshly sanction them even if it means expulsion, although it is believed that the majority of miscreants were not students.
It is the responsibility of adults to set the standard and make it crystal clear that dishonorable behaviors will not be tolerated.
Talk of toleration. How were those Catholic priests, even one in our area, allowed to get away with abusing their flocks? Certainly, these "holy" men are not members of an exclusive club because abuse comes in all forms, fashions and forums in American society. But this will not change until more honorable men and women force this issue to the forefront.
We cannot continue to blame the victim or sweep seedy acts like rape and incest under the rug until we trip over the hidden heap.
That's exactly what must have happened in Prince William County. Here a decorated state trooper, William A. "Buck" Carter, had made such a habit of preying on young, white women whom he solicited for sex in exchange for dropping dubious charges against them that he became a legend before the first case was ever filed against him.
Given his uneven rate of arresting women, his superiors had to be suspicious, and they, too, must share in his sanctions should he be found guilty. Others will bear the burden, as prosecutors had to dismiss the cases against nearly 40 women, some of whom are still possibly drinking and driving, and endangering other motorists.
It may sound silly, but I mourn for the civil days when one motorist actually yielded the right of way to another. Today, they cut you off and then flip you the finger. Or kill you.
And what manner of beast beat to death a Laurel man, Martin McWilliams, while his 4-year-old daughter and her young cousins trembled in terror? Mr. McWilliams was just doing the right Daddy thing when this senseless parking-lot crime occurred.
Is there an unspoken dishonor taking hold of the land: Do what ever you want just as long as you don't get caught?
It makes you wonder, as H.L. Mencken asked, how do these people live with themselves and their "discreditable acts."

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