Credit Ethics: New Ethics Alarms Policy

The sound of my palm belatedly smacking my expansive forehead

What will heretofore be referred to as “The Mary Frances Prevost Affair” has its silver lining. Watching another blogger incorporate the main body of my blog post into her own by-lined essay without credit or attribution has caused me to do a lot of thinking about the inadequacy of credit and attribution in the blogosphere  generally, with a relatively  few exceptions. Most of these are blogs written by academics who hold to the standards of their profession rather than the much looser practices of the internet. It also caused me to wake up to the inadequacy of my own attribution practices on Ethics Alarms. I have never taken an entire post from another source and represented it as my own, but I have frequently taken a factual account of a story from another website that itself was essentially  republishing, for example, an AP story, put the facts in my own words, sometimes with a stray phrase remaining, and not credited either source. I have often derived information in a post from multiple news sources but only linked to the one that I felt related the event the most thoroughly and clearly. Another writer’s work has sometimes sparked an idea for a post that was substantially different, and I have not credited the source of that spark.

All of this is common practice in blogging, but it is still wrong, and sloppiness is always a slippery slope. In the wake of “The Mary Frances Prevost Affair,” a colleague alerted me that I had included one complete sentence and part of another in an Ethics Alarms post that were identical to the post of another writer on the same subject. I didn’t even recall using the source, but upon going over my notes, I found that the earlier post had supplied me with the bulk of the facts I relied upon, though not the analysis of them. . I immediately contacted the author to apologize, and he was gracious and understanding. Nonetheless, this should never happen, especially on an ethics blog.

Therefore, as of today, Ethics Alarms will maintain a strict policy of crediting all sources that go into the inspiration, research and writing of the posts here. Links in the body of the text will be either be for informational purposes only, such as when I make a gratuitous cultural reference that nobody under the age of 50 is likely to recognize, or to back up direct quotes. At the end of each post, there will be credits and/or links listed, when appropriate, in some or all of the following categories: Continue reading

A Worm In The Culture: Warped Competition Ethics

I'm sorry, Serena, but you're just too good to be on the tennis team. We've decided that you should be on the chess team.

It is difficult for me to comprehend the kind of thought processes that Southampton (New York) High School to ban student Keeling Pilaro, the only boy on  the school’s field hockey team, from playing this season because he is too good at the game, which he learned as a child in Ireland.  I do know their logic is unethical, un-American, and unfair, at least as unfair ought to be defined in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

“They told me I wasn’t allowed to play because I had advanced skills that I learned in Ireland,” Keeling told  local TV reporters. “They told me because I have an ‘adverse effect,’ but they didn’t even explain what the adverse effect was, so that’s what I’m kind of confused about.”
The executive director of the Suffolk County field hockey organization told the local Fox affiliate that the boy was being banned because field hockey “is a girl’s sport.” “When a boy plays,” he explained, “it leads the way for other male players to come in and take over. “[Keeling is] having a significant adverse effect on some of his opposing female players. The rules state he would be allowed to play if he wasn’t the dominant player.”

“Adverse effect,” in field hockey-speak, apparently means an unfair physical advantage, danger to opponents,  keeping a girl from getting more playing time or taking away from a female’s ability to garner postseason awards.

Ah. So we’re talking about discrimination, then, are we? Just so we have our terms straight.

If the woman’s movement has integrity, and it often doesn’t, we would see women protesting this indefensible treatment of the sole male player on a female team. The only field hockey team in the school is the girl’s team: Keeling, by the same principles of fairness and equal opportunity that have been enforced to allow girls to try out for boy’s wrestling, football and baseball teams in high schools and colleges around the country if they have the skills to make the team, should have every right to play on the only field hockey team there is, and not be penalized for his superior skills. Have authorities ever kicked a girl off a field because she was too fast, too strong, too skilled, too good? Would they? I certainly hope not.

Imagine if Ted Williams, LeBron James, Joe Montana, Bobby Orr and Serena Williams had been kicked off their high school teams because they dominated. What kind of Maoist, mediocrity-rewarding, excellence-stifling values is Southampton High trying to infect the nation with by penalizing high performance and achievement? Apparently they don’t understand the nature of competition, which is a serious handicap for a school, and a malady that should not be passed on to a single student. The outstanding competitors make every other player better, unless a player doesn’t want to make the effort, doesn’t have the character to accept that one doesn’t have to win to achieve something important in a contest, or is playing for the wrong reasons. I remember that I was once admonished by a stage director of an amateur production that I was too skilful and experienced for the rest of the cast, and was making them look bad. I was aghast then, and that conversation makes me angry even now, decades later. “Tell them how to be better, then, ” I told her. “Because I’m sure not going to try to do any less than my best.”

We have to decide if we’re really serious about gender equality or not. Keeling is not bigger than the girls on his team, and he doesn’t have a beard and 18 inch biceps. There are two things different about him, and two things only: he is really good, and he has male genitals. I thought the lesson of the women’s movement was that one’s genitals shouldn’t matter, that what mattered was whether you could do the job. Or does that rule only apply to female genitals?

I can certainly understand, if not the logic that is stopping Keeling Pilaro from playing the sport he loves, where the seeds of such illogical logic come from. The seeds come from the bizarre regulations that allow women to be firefighters with upper body strength that would disqualify male recruits, and female soldiers to be certified as combat ready without having to meet the same requirements as a male soldier. They come from affirmative action. When equality doesn’t mean equality in our nation’s increasingly warped, discrimination-is-fairness culture created by regulators, activists and bureaucrats, “Through the Looking Glass” decisions like this one, telling a player he’s too good to be eligible for the team, can begin to make sense.

It doesn’t make sense. It’s not fair, it’s not healthy, and if one applies Kant’s Rule of Universality to it, we end up with a nation of gray, where, as the old Chinese proverb cautions, “the protruding nail will he hammered down.” No more Babe Ruths, no Dana Torreses; no David Beckhams, no Michael Jordans, no Carl Lewises, no Muhammad Alis, no Tiger Woods. And also, as this infection spreads, no Meryl Streeps, Thomas Jeffersons, Thomas Edisons, Eugene O’Neils, or Barbra Streisands. After all, we mustn’t make the less talented and accomplished look bad, feel bad, or make them have to aim higher and work harder to achieve their dreams. It’s wrong to excel. It has an “adverse effect” on those who can’t or won’t.

We all have a stake in whether Keeling Pilaro gets to play field hockey this fall.

For My Father

The better Jack Marshall

My father’s birthday is coming up; oddly, I remember the date now that he’s gone, when I never managed to so while he was alive. It is May 2, and by lucky happenstance, Eugene Volokh chose to post another of my father’s favorite Rudyard Kipling poems on his blog today. I had completely forgotten about it, so this is a gift to me, especially since it helps my dad’s memory burn even brighter, always a boon when I feel the walls closing in.  He loved Kipling’s poems, books and stories, and he was a man whom Rudyard would have admired. Like most Kipling, this poem is about ethics, as well many other things, some of which readers must figure out for themselves.

For you, Dad. And all of you, too:

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

By Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) Continue reading

The Perplexing Law and Ethics of Copyright Violations On The Web

For once I’m not going to try to summarize a useful article, but will just suggest that you read it. From the future (the article is mysteriously dated May 1, 2012), journalist Eriq Gardner tells of his experience with Righthaven, the organization that was created explicitly to sue bloggers and others for copyright violations on the web. He tells of how he came to believe that the defenders of copyright law, not those who would destroy it, had fairness, logic and ethics on their side.

The article is well-timed, given my current travails with an unapologetic plagiarist, and my own position on copyright, which is consistent with the author’s. It also features a guest appearance by attorney Marc Randazza, the First Amendment specialist who came to my aid when  I was threatened with a lawsuit over an opinion someone didn’t like.

The article, titled The Righthaven Experiment: A Journalist Wonders If a Copyright Troll Was Right to Sue Him, is well worth your time.

The Plagiarist Strikes Back!

Move along, Atticus. Nothing to see here, and I wouldn't want you to barf.

Well, some of you called it. I was a sap. I expected better.

Mary Frances Prevost, the California criminal law attorney who substantially expropriated an Ethics Alarms post and placed her name on it, responded to my request for an explanation, and failing that, an apology, a retraction, and proper credit, with this (on her Facebook page), in which she said, in part:

“I received a histrionic run-on-sentence email from someone named “Jack Marshall” today accusing me of committing crimes, threatening to report me to my bar association(s), the Inns of Court, and essentially spend your days and nights harassing me.” I have also viewed a a highly unethical rant published purportedly by you on a blog suggesting strongly that I have engaged in unethical conduct throughout the entire course of my career. I have counseled with one of the country’s premiere ethics attorneys. Here’s the result: 1) accusing me of a crime is defamation per se and unethical; 2) suggesting that my entire law practice has been based on unethical conduct is defamatory and unethical. I maintained copies both of your email and blog. It is clear that you are hell bent on engaging in systematic harassment and unethical conduct, the likes of which can, and most likely will, develop into a lawsuit unless rescinded forthwith. It is clear you have little to do in your life besides sent me emails accusing me of crimes, and writing poorly written blog posts accusing me of immoral behavior. Interesting how one making such claims, engages in most egregious conduct himself….But the sheer amount of energy really suggests something more: a lack of work; too much time; off your meds. I suggest you take a look inward and remove your defamatory and unethical blog post regarding me. Indeed, you should come clean on your blog. You’ve practiced law only two weeks before giving up. Yet, your resume suggests far more experience. I think you should rethink what you’ve done.”

Now how do you like that? Continue reading

Illegal Immigration Insanity

I wonder what HE thinks is the sensible way to handle illegal immigration. It can't be much crazier than almost everyone else's opinion.

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the legality of Arizona’s anti-immigration legislation, and in today’s Washington Post, columnist Dana Milbank, one of the Post’s house liberals who has the integrity to be up-front about it, presented us with a related column that reminded me how ideology can become indistinguishable from insanity.

Illegal immigration is perhaps the best (or worst) illustration of this phenomenon, a problem that requires essential and obvious measures to address, one of which—finding a route to allow current illegal immigrants to achieve legal status—is opposed “on principle” by the Right though there is  no feasible alternative, and the other—taking effective measures to block entry by future illegals and to eliminate the benefits of breaking immigration laws through tougher enforcement—is opposed by the Left on humanitarian grounds, though it is irresponsible, expensive, and dangerous. In the middle of this absurd impasse is the government, which refuses to aggressively enforce the laws on the books, either because of unholy alliances with business interests that want cheap and exploitive labor (the Republicans) or because of a cynical strategy to court a large and growing demographic group to ensure future political power (the Democrats).

In short, Nuts, Nuts, Corrupt and Corrupt. Continue reading