Is it cynical or merely fatuous? We can't be certain. But we are sure of this: the mayor's sudden rush of interest in monitoring and instructing the people who govern the city on the subject of morality and public trust is fundamentally and irredeemably preposterous. The designation of the group formed last April to advise him on all this as the "Ethics Strike Force" fits right in with the ludicrousness of the enterprise. The "Ethics Strike Force" -- it sounds like the subject of a very promising skit on "Saturday Night Live."

This is barndoor-closing government, a little like the eleventh-hour indignation being expressed by officialdom in Maryland that failing grades and available drugs are so widespread among the state's young athletes. Where have they been? In a prehistoric cave? And where has the mayor been as his friends and associates pursued sustained courses of misconduct and corruption? Can he and his loonily named "Strike Force" really be serious in proposing a little wallet-size card with moral guidance for D.C. public servants? Proper conduct involves a thousand small daily decisions by people who understand what integrity is and who honor it. It is inspired and enforced by the people in the highest offices and by everyone's understanding what their values are. This is PR, pure and simple.

And whom do we find among the handpicked loyalists drafted for this ethics squad? You remember Joseph Yeldell, director of Mayor Barry's office of emergency preparedness. His experience with abuses of rank, money and privilege is certainly extensive: his earlier term as director of human resources during the Walter Washington administration was a model of ineptitude, financial favor and waste. When the General Accounting Office found that $8,470 in federal grants for maternity and child care had been used to lease two snazzy automobiles, one personally driven by Mr. Yeldell, his response was that he ought to have a car and that the charge that the money had been misused was "ridiculous."

So much for role models. The mayor's integrity troops have heavy election-year maneuvers ahead as city hall prepares for an invasion of still more ethics armies, including an ombudsman and a crack crew of ethics counselors for every city agency. What next -- government-issue halos for every employee who tests clean for a year? It's all too uplifting to absorb -- and too tardy to take seriously.