Veteran Ethics Alarms commenter Glenn Logan scores his fourth Comment of the Day, but his first in two years. (He’s been busy.) Here are Glenn’s observations on the recent post regarding a poll showing widespread public disappointment in President Obama’s performance, and the conservative gloating about it in some quarters. The post was Nobody Should Be Cheering The Poll Showing President Obama As Regarded As “The Worst President Since World War II”
Tag Archives: hubris
Comment of the Day: “Nobody Should Be Cheering The Poll Showing President Obama As Regarded As ‘The Worst President Since World War II’”
“The scientists doing this work are so immersed in their own self-aggrandizement, they have become completely blind to the irresponsibility of their acts.”
-–Robert Kolter, professor of microbiology at Harvard Medical School, condemning the work of Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his research team, which managed to recreate the Spanish Flu virus that killed an estimated 50 million people in 1918.
The reincarnated 1918 virus was recreated from eight genes found in avian flu viruses isolated from populations of wild ducks. Using a technique known as “reverse genetics,” Kawaoka’s team rebuilt the entire virus so that it was 97 % identical to the 1918 strain, identified from viruses recovered from frozen 1918 corpses. Said Kawaoka: “The point of the study was to assess the risk of avian viruses currently circulating in nature. We found genes in avian influenza viruses quite closely related to the 1918 virus and, to evaluate the pandemic potential should such a 1918-like virus emerge, identified changes that enabled it to transmit in ferrets.”
And, in order to assess that risk, the research created a completely unnecessary one that if mankind proves fallible again, could, as various Stephen King and Michael Crichton novels and movies have shown, kill us all.
Eventually, one of these hubris-warped and ethics-free fools might just eradicate humanity…all in the interest of scientific inquiry, of course.
If a Republican affiliate has to force its chairman to resign after he proves to the nation that he is 1) so racially insensitive that he might dress up in blackface, tell the AP that Steppin Fetchit was ‘hilarious,’ and call President Obama a “jigaboo”on “Meet the Press” and he 2) doesn’t see what the fuss is, such an affiliate is not responding swiftly to newly revealed crisis. Such an affiliate has a much bigger problem. It has a surfeit of racists, incompetents and idiots. True, Don Yelton, the recently sacked two-term chair of the Buncombe County Republican Party in North Carolina, didn’t quite go that far in his jaw-dropping interview on Comedy Central, but he still spouted enough offensive comments for Match.com to pair him with Michael Richards. Watching the interview, which one can see here, the first impulse might be to ask, “What was he thinking?” Upon reflection, however, the proper question is “Is this man capable of thought?” Continue reading
When you are a public intellectual and your primary mission is using reason and scholarship to enlighten the public, you have an obligation to guard scrupulously against making careless, irresponsible or easily misunderstood statements that will be accepted as inspired wisdom by the less analytically able. Or to be more direct, if you are Richard Dawkins and because of some serious neural malfunction you really think that there is such a thing as “mild pedophilia,” you want to ever to be taken seriously again, shut up about it.
Dawkins, for reasons only known to himself, used a wide-ranging interview to airily wax on about what he regards as his contact with a harmless child-molester. Reminiscing about his days at a boarding school, he recounted how one of his schoolmasters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts.” Noting that other children in his school peer group had been molested by the same teacher, he concluded: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”
The world’s most famous atheist explained, “I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”
What (in the name of Holy Hell) is “mild pedophilia”? Dawkins went on to say that the most notorious cases of pedophilia involve rape and even murder and should not be bracketed with what he called “just mild touching up.”
“Mild pedophilia”? “Just mild touching up’? This from one of the most respected minds in the cosmos? Continue reading
“If you practice as a lawyer, you owe it to your clients only to do the things you are competent to do. Embarking on the defense of a man accused of murder as your first trial is a moral and ethical outrage. Regrettably, the profession is barraged with eager voices telling us that attracting clients with puffery and keywords and Twitter accounts is the way to build a practice. Nobody’s reminding us that you have an obligation to know what you’re doing before you accept the client. Somebody should.”
—-Ken, the lead blogger/attorney/libertarian/ wit/ First Amendment champion at Popehat, summarizing the lessons of the Joseph Rakofsky saga. Rakofsky was a green D.C. lawyer ( he is still a lawyer, less green but sadder and wiser) who indeed did take a murder defense as his first trial, made an epic botch of it, and then launched a desperate defamation lawsuit at legal bloggers, like Ken, who had told his cautionary tale to the world with appropriate ire. The law suit was dismissed last week.
Competence is an ethical value, especially in the professions, but also in most pursuits. Taking on the responsibility of accomplishing a task creates a duty, and doing so without being justifiably certain that you will have the skills to do it is reckless and irresponsible.
Ken, an experienced and accomplished attorney whom I have consulted for his professional advice in the past, also knows that inexperience does have to be eradicated with experience, and a strict application of his statement in all cases would lead to a frustrating Catch 22. Every pilot has to take that first solo flight; every head surgeon has his first major operation; and Clarence Darrow had to take on that first murder trial before he could say with complete confidence that he knew exactly what to do. On a more basic level, any lawyer taking on a representation in a type of matter she has never handled before, such as drafting a will, will be, in a sense, accepting a client before she knows what she is doing, because she hasn’t done it before. That’s okay, however: the ethics rules, as expressed in the American Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct (in Rule 1.1) say its okay, as long as, by the time the task is underway, the lawyer is sufficiently competent: Continue reading
I have left the impression in more than one post that performers and celebrities too often use their fame and finances to garner wide dissemination for opinions that they are unqualified by experience, intellect, maturity and education to have taken more seriously than the rants of a typical 7th grade blogger. That is an accurate observation. Unfortunately, such public figures are taken seriously, so we must listen to Sean Penn sing hosannas to a South American dictator, see Kanye West pronounce a President guilty of wanting see blacks drown in New Orleans, and watch Ann Hathaway protest the existence of rich people with Occupy Wall Street (while collecting her million dollar fees.) Not all celebrities waste their influence and our time on dubious pursuits, however. There are others, and since they are interested in substantive issues and more concerned with accomplishing something than getting publicity, we often don’t know about their work.
George Clooney and Matt Damon are in this group, as is classic TV Western star Hugh O’Brian, better known as “Wyatt Earp.” Since 1958, O’Brian has been funding and building the Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation, which was founded to “inspire and develop our global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service and innovation” after a meeting between O’Brian and famous humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer. This large and thriving non-profit commonly goes by the name of “HOBY”; one has to search the fine print to find any mention of its once famous founder, now in his eighties.
And then there is Mariska Hargitay. Continue reading
Actually, his first mistake was probably revealing his secret identity, but that’s not today’s topic, which comes from the little explored realm of Ethics Alarms known as “Wacko Ethics.”
For there dwells Roger Hayhurst, also known as Knight Warrior, a self-proclaimed British superhero who began fighting minor crime and disturbances near his home in Swinton, Greater Manchester. Hayhurst wears a custom-made blue and black lycra costume and even had a sidekick, his 18-year-old fiancee Rebecca. She is called “Knight Maiden.” Now, however, Roger and Rebecca may be out of the superhero business, because some young toughs in Clifton beat the snot out him while he was “on patrol.”
“My face was all swollen,” Knight Warrior sniffed. Now he’s discouraged, and confesses, “I mainly dress up for charity appearances.” Rebecca, meanwhile, has turned in her tights. Continue reading
A third year law student decided it was appropriate to send an obscene, ranting letter to the entire student body of Yale Law School announcing that he hated “like 90%” of them, and also, in his words (after announcing that he is going to be a writer):
“…fuck you guys, you judgmental, uninformed pricks, patting yourselves on the back on top of your goddamn moral high horses. I realize I am killing my future political career. GOOD. If you’ve read The Republic, you know exactly what my opinion of politicians are. I realize I am burning bridges. EXCELLENT. If I succeed in my passions, I want to make damn sure it is without the help of any of you phony-ass shitdicks. I’ve ALREADY gotten compliments about how inspirational I am, and I haven’t even fucking started yet. That’s the biggest compliment I’ve ever received in my life. It’ll probably take you guys 10-20 years to get that even once, so good luck and keep up the good work!”
His name was included on his post, just to make certain that it keeps him from finding gainful employment with any potential supervisor who doesn’t have a death wish.
A few observations: Continue reading
I know it’s only May, and I know that Rev. Jones is still out there somewhere, planning on burning a picture of Mohammad or making confetti out of the Quran or some other offensive stunt designed to attract the attention of Fox News and sell some tee shirts. I know Allan Grayson can surface at any time, and that Michael Moore is joining forces with Keith Olbermann, which is a good bet to make both of them more obnoxious. And I know Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Michele Bachman and some other GOP candidates for president can be counted on to say or tweet outrageous things in the coming weeks and months. Yes, and Harry Reid is still running amuck, and there are plenty of athletes, singers and actors who will be embarrassing themselves, their profession and their species before the year is out.
Never mind all that. I’m ready to declare Donald Trump the Jerk of the Year.
I’ll admit my bias up front: I think Trump has been a contender for Jerk of the Year every year for at least two decades. Even I, however, never thought he was a big enough jerk to use the developing 2012 campaign for President of the United States—at a critical juncture in the nation’s history, with literally life-and death crises in the nation’s economy, housing market, and job markets, with the Middle East erupting and America involved in three armed conflicts, with a leadership vacuum at the highest levels of the government and with American trust and hope for the future at a record low—for personal ego gratification and to promote his cheesy, freak-show reality program “The Celebrity Apprentice.” But that’s what he did, soiling the news and political discourse along the way by giving aid and support to the assortment of paranoids, wackos and racists who had been denying that Obama was a natural born citizen. Continue reading
I am not referring to unethical candidates for the job, for there have been too many of them to count. An unethical candidacy occurs when a candidate’s purpose for seeking the job, method of doing so, and/or the effect on the nation of his or her campaign is especially reckless, harmful, or irresponsible. Perhaps the first unethical candidacy was that of Aaron Burr, who attempted to exploit a flaw in the election process to steal the presidency from his position as a vice-presidential candidate. Rutherford B. Hayes allowed himself to be put in office by an undemocratic back-room deal when his opponent, Samuel Tilden should have won both the popular and electoral vote.
Teddy Roosevelt’s decision to oppose his old friend, President Taft, in 1912, splitting his party, breaking his word (he had earlier refused to run for what was in essence a third term, agreeing it was best to hold to George Washington’s tradition), and all-but-insuring Woodrow Wilson a victory, was an exercise in ego and hubris. Eight years later, Sen. Warren G. Harding, who privately expressed doubts about his ability to fill the highest post in the land, may have allowed himself to be manipulated and used by corrupt political operatives for their own purposes. Franklin Roosevelt recklessly ran for his fourth term knowing that he was seriously and perhaps terminally ill, and didn’t take care to ensure that he had a competent Vice-President. (He, and the U.S., were lucky in that regard.)
Gov. George Wallace’s third party presidential run in 1968 was explicitly racist. The beneficiary of that candidacy, President Richard Nixon infamously pursued re-election with a new low of unethical and even illegal tactics against the Democrats. There have been others.
Donald Trump’s revolting candidacy, as yet unannounced, cannot fairly be called the most unethical presidential candidacy, but it is early yet. It may well prove to be one of the most harmful. As the United States faces some of the most difficult challenges in its history, Trump has chosen to use the nation’s process of deciding on its leader for his own ego gratification and self-promotion, without preparation for the job, deference to fair campaign rhetoric, or acknowledgment of his own fatal flaws as a candidate. Continue reading