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”
Two things strike me about this:
1. The problem is, we put too much on Obama’s shoulders. We (collectively) asked him to change the culture of Washington in return for our vote. Failing to do that was inevitable, and our seeing is as his personal failure is more a reflection of our own incompetence as voters (we are the only ones who can change Washington) and the imputation of superhuman status to an iconic (i.e. “post-racial” president) than Obama’s.
2. There is a heck of a gap between failure and excellence. The problem is, Obama’s hubris, which is at the root of all his problems, has produced in his presidency exactly what it usually produces in other walks of life: Misjudgment, tone-deaf partisanship, arrogant dissimulation, and a complete failure to lead. This is objectively where he went wrong, rather than merely running afoul of unfairly elevated expectations and partisan infighting.
We asked Obama to do what we are charged with doing. That was our failure. President Obama failed to execute his office with even minimal competence, and then blamed everyone but himself. Not only that, the American people invested so much in the idea of “change” that his allies felt could not afford even a semblance of disagreement.
So collectively, they did what people almost always do in that situation — circled the wagons and acted like the failure was success in hopes of convincing as many people as possible. They are still certain (because they think they can’t afford not to be) that Obama’s presidency is fully dressed, despite the evidence of their own eyes.
It’s always bad for us when our leaders fail, and schadenfreude is an inevitable, if unfortunate reaction. The irony of celebrating failure and the concomitant lessening of our country is tragic comedy worthy of Shakespeare.
“Miss me? I’m baaaack!!!”
“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.
“Who would have guessed that he would look so bad in that interview?”
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
“Bobby, do you think there’s anything wrong with mild pedophilia?”
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.
What’s next for Joseph Radofsky? Maybe he’ll run for President….
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
O”Brian and Hargitay
Heroes on the screen, but more importantly, off it.
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