Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Kinky Law Professor Principle: “It’s No Shame To Be Kinky, But It Still Might Be Newsworthy”

We haven’t had a “Naked Teacher Principle” story to mull over for a while, and this isn’t one. It raises some parallel issues, though.

I saw the story about the Drexel Law professor who who accidentally sent her students a link to a pornographic video about anal beads. I didn’t find it worthy of a post, though I thought it was funny. It is funny. But we had covered a similar issue here, in the ethics quiz about the hapless teaching assistant at the University of Iowa who somehow managed to send her class not merely sexually provocative photos of herself, not merely nude photos of herself, but something much more kinky. Attached to a message that read “Hi Class, I attach the solutions for number 76 and 78 in this email” were a series of images showing the young woman sans clothes and sans inhibitions having a lively cyber-sexting chat with a partner in which the two were pleasuring themselves in front of video equipment while streaming to each other.

That was funnier. She was “reassigned”—a not unreasonable result of presumed reduced respect from the class.  The Naked Teacher Principle doesn’t strictly apply when the students are adults, and Lisa McElroy, the professor at Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law who is apparently an anal bead fan–the video she sent by accident was called called “She Loves Her Anal Beads”—wasn’t naked. There is no “Kinky Law Professor Principle.”

However, Prof. McElroy was mightily offended that her cyber-goof was picked up by the professional publications and websites, and that she was embarrassed as a result. She even posted a Streisand Principle-defying op-ed in the Washington Post, blaming everybody—students, bloggers, and Drexel, which briefly suspended the professor pending an investigation on the basis of possible sexual harassment—but herself. She argued that she should not have been publicly shamed, because, she wrote,

“…there was nothing newsworthy about it. What happened was, in the grand scheme, pretty trivial. My students are adults. The link was quickly removed. There was nothing illegal in the video. The post occurred in the same two-month period when the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” grossed almost $570 million worldwide. Yet, because it was porn and I’m a law professor, news organizations spread the story around the world.”

Yup. Because it was funny. I understand that the Professor doesn’t see the humor of a law professor—especially her—inadvertently sending her private porn film about anal beads, which themselves are kind of amusing, to a staid law school class. It’s still funny. Trivial? Of course. But trivial can still be funny. Would it be kind for all of us to scrupulously refuse to communicate the hilarious tales of when we do dumb things or embarrass ourselves? Yes. But society as a whole benefits from being reminded that we are all equally fallible human beings—especially the elite and privileged. A lot of people think laughing at slapstick is cruel too.

I pity them. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, The Internet

Unethical Quote Of The Week: Hillary Clinton

black-men-jail

“There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes.”

—Hillary Clinton, in an address, to the David N. Dinkins Leadership & Public Policy Forum decrying “mass incarceration.”

So few words, so much deceit.

We are going to hear a lot of this theme, apparently, unless or maybe even if Democrats get responsible and choose a candidate other than the ethically compromised (and compromisable) Mrs. Clinton. “Mass incarceration” itself is a loaded term that sounds as if random citizens are rounded up and locked up by the government just for the hell of it. It is redolent of the political arrests of totalitarian regimes, and as such, misleading and irresponsible.

Likewise, the Unethical Quote of the Week that Hillary just authored suggests that black men are imprisoned without their doing anything untoward to justify it. A third of all black men don’t face the prospect of prison unless at least a third have broken laws or are anticipating breaking laws that require prison as the penalty. 100% of non-criminal black men—what we call “good citizens”— don’t “face” imprisonment at all. “Face” means that the fate is looming over their heads, ready to fall at any time. That’s nonsense, and a classic use of statistics to deceive. Prison is not a “prospect” for anyone who does not set out to commit a crime. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Quotes, Law & Law Enforcement, Race, U.S. Society

The Freddie Gray Ethics Train Wreck: If Protesters Really Want Justice, Then They Have To Stop Making Justice Impossible

Maybe it's all the same train wreck after all....

Maybe it’s all the same train wreck after all….

Yes, the mysterious death of Freddie Gray from injuries he sustained while in the custody of the Baltimore police has now become a certified Ethics Alarms Ethics Train Wreck. That honor was guaranteed once Baltimore’s mayor started stumbling over her words and meaning and then blaming others; when looters and rioters began burning down stores and a seniors home; when the finger-pointing began and when shameless Republicans started politicizing the riots, notably Texas Congressman Bill Flores (R-TX) who somehow reasoned that the Baltimore riots prove the dangers of gay marriage.

Most of all, a train wreck rating was guaranteed once the African-American activist response to Gray’s murder, inflamed by incompetent handling of the incident by the Baltimore police department, exactly followed the script of the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck. Gray’s death was pronounced a murder and the police response a racist cover-up before all the facts were known or even knowable. Never mind: “Black Lives Matter” signs were paraded on the streets, and columnists and news reporters began telling the story as if Gray was—not might have been, not probably was, but was—just another in the long line of young black men murdered by the police. After all, we had the recent Walter Scott shooting, captured on video, to justify a presumption of racism and murder.

But a presumption of racism and murder, absent proof, is never justified. It isn’t allowed in court, and it isn’t ethical out of court. Never mind: that’s where we now are with Freddie Gray and Baltimore. Maybe this isn’t a new Ethics Train Wreck. Maybe it’s just the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck, just rolling on.

As with Mike Brown (and Trayvon Martin’s death) , the underlying narrative of the protests over Freddie Gray’s death appears to be less certain than it originally appeared. The Washington Post reports that a prisoner who was in the police van with Freddie Gray says he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle, suggesting that Gray  “was intentionally trying to injure himself.” The prisoner’s statement is contained in an affidavit that’s part of an application by the police for search warrant seeking the seizure of the uniform worn by one of the officers involved in Gray’s arrest. If that account has any credibility at all, it could result in a prosecutor’s legitimate refusal to indict any officers. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Race, U.S. Society

Death Throes Of The Death Penalty: Dumb Expert, Dumb Advocates, Dumb Debate

“Next!”

As I recently concluded, the death penalty is beyond saving, not because it can’t be defended ethically and morally, but because the issues are tangled beyond repair.

The controversy over the legality of the so-called drug cocktails that somehow became our execution method of choice is a perfect example. The battles over capital punishment trapped policy-makers into this kinder, gentler, ridiculously complicated method of execution that has suffered snafus ranging from unavailable drugs to ugly extended deaths. The problem is the floating definition of “cruel and unusual punishment,” prohibited by the Constitution, but almost entirely subjective. Many judges think killing a killer is itself cruel by definition, and the more reluctant Western Europe becomes to execute the worst of the worst, the easier it is to make the argument that the death penalty is also unusual.

I don’t get it. I never have. India once executed condemned criminals by having the subject place his head on a stump under the raised foot of  trained elephant, which on a command would smash the head like a grape. Quick, painless–messy!—but virtually fool-proof. A pile-driver would be an acceptable equivalent.  Ah, but ick! In this stupid, stupid, intellectually dishonest debate, ick always equals “cruel and unusual,” because to opponents of the death penalty, killing people, even horrible, dangerous people, is inherently icky.

(Oddly, ripping unborn babies out of the womb is not, but I digress.)

I’ve admitted it, and I will again. (This lost Ethics Alarms Luke G., one of its best commenters the last time.*) It is obviously wrong to intentionally prolong an execution or deliberately cause pain, but if the occasional execution is botched and the condemned suffers, that should be cause for great rending of garments, nor should it be used to discredit capital punishment. As I wrote here about Clayton Lockett’s execution in Oklahoma

“There was no question of Lockett’s guilt, and his crime was inhuman. Such wanton cruelty and disregard for innocent life warrants society’s most emphatic rebuke, and the most emphatic rebuke is death. It is essential that any healthy society make it clear to all that some crimes forfeit the continued right to not just liberty, but also life. Anyone who weeps because this sadistic murderer experienced a few extra minutes of agony in the process of being sent to his just rewards has seriously misaligned values. No method of execution will work every time, and to make perfection the standard is a dishonest way to rig the debate. If the death penalty is justified, and it is, then we should expect and accept the rare “botch.” Meanwhile, if the concern really is efficiency, reliability, speed of death and minimal pain, there are literally dozens, maybe hundreds of methods of swift execution that would accomplish this. They just won’t pass the standards of death penalty opponents, because no method will.”

Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the question of whether Oklahoma’s use of the common surgical sedative midazolam did not reliably make prisoners unconscious during lethal injections, thus violating the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.” It’s a ridiculous case, which arises out of the botched April 2014 execution of Lockett that sparked the post I just quoted. It is a ridiculous case because the method of execution isn’t worth arguing over. Elephant. Head. Problem solved. Why is Oklahoma fighting about which cocktail to use? This is the anti-capital punishment team’s game, and sooner or later, the result is preordained.  Continue reading

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Filed under Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

The AWOL Walter Fauntroy, Flawed Black Martyrs And The Duty Of Outrage

Walter Fauntroy, D.C. icon, civil rights hero, fugitive, coward, crook...but still a hero. Somehow.

Walter Fauntroy, D.C. icon, civil rights hero, fugitive, coward, crook…but still a hero. Somehow.

As I was composing this post in my head, I stumbled upon—and I mean that, because I normally avoid her columns like cheap Chinese food—Kathleen Parker’s latest column. Parker is the sort-of conservative, sort-of op-ed pundit who has mastered the art of compassionate equivocation, meaning that her opinions on public affairs usually consist of one long sigh. She was at it again here, except that the topic she was sighing about confounds me, he who does not shrink from assigning blame, almost as much as it does she who usually spreads blame so evenly that its ethical impact is nil.

Parker wrote…

At the same time that people avoid too-sensitive subjects, they seem to fear stating the obvious lest their thoughts be interpreted as an act of betrayal to “the group.” Politicians are the most risk-averse of all. Few are the Democratic women who will find (or express) fault with Clinton. It is the rare African American who finds fault with Obama. When Rawlings-Blake also said that she “gave those who wished to destroy space to do that,” her Democratic colleagues spoke only of her “poor choice of words.” Not poor thinking? Not lousy leadership? Republicans don’t get a pass. Heaven forbid they should call out someone who wants to inject biblical end-times into political debate.”

Ah, how it makes my chest fill with pride that I have flagged all three of the ethical breaches Parker mentions within the few daysHillary Clinton’s brazenly suspicious conduct and the disgraceful refusal of her cheering section to either acknowledge or question it…Rawlings-Blake’s “lousy leadership”… and Republicans who use religiosity as a prop. Parker being Parker, she had earlier used an example of missing outrage that sets my teeth on edge because, while correct, it calls to mind another area of missing outrage and societally-damaging martyrdom that I can’t quite figure out how to talk about.

Where is the outrage beyond the African American community about police brutality and the deaths of young black males? Where are members of Congress other than those belonging to the black caucus? My God, the list of those killed is staggering,” she writes, “yet this is not a new phenomenon. Baltimore’s Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old who suffered spinal injuries while in police custody and died, is but the most recent. Yet you see only the usual black activists speaking up.”

True. The missing paragraph, however,  is this: “Where are the African-American activists asking why so many young black men are constantly in positions that place them in conflict with the police? When protesters chant the names and carry photos of police victims like Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, yes, and Mike Brown, they are presenting in honored terms African-Americans who weren’t credits to their communities or examples for the next generation to emulate. Indeed this ritual sanctifies lives and backgrounds that are part of the same urban pathology as the police attitudes that killed them.”

Freddie Gray was only 25-years-old, and yet he already had a staggering 18 previous arrests since he turned 18-years-old. His mother was a heroin addict; he had no father in his life. Why was someone like this even out of jail, in a position to become yet another victim of police anger and contempt against the endless wave of young, irresponsible, law-defying young men who undermine the vitality of their own communities and the nation?

The fact that Gray’s death was undeniably the greater outrage shouldn’t allow the outrage of lives like his to be ignored. Black crime and police dysfunction are part of the same pathology. If only the Bill O’Reillys are going to ask the hard questions about black communities policing their young and changing their deadly culture—and are they really hard for O’Reilly, whose audience is inclined to look for ways to side with the police even when they commit murder?—then those questions and their equally hard answers, involving, among other things, avoidance of responsibility and accountability, can be and will be largely ignored.

This is part of the loyalty to “the group” phenomenon that cripples the African-American community and warps its values. It is especially powerful when prominent leaders, those African-Americans who should be leading the way away from self-destructive conduct and who have the power, visibility, and credibility to do so, demonstrate an atrocious lack of ethics themselves. Where are the black voices—those not belonging to black women he sexually assaulted, that is—condemning Bill Cosby? Or Al Sharpton? Charles Rangel?

Washington, D.C.’s overwhelmingly black population was conditioned to accept black leadership outrages by the late Marion Barry. I was not quite aware of the extent of this cultural purging of the ability to hold prominent African-Americans to ethical standards until I read a jaw-dropping Washington Post feature about the wife of local civil rights legend Walter E. Fauntroy, who helped Martin Luther King plan the 1963 March on Washington, and who served as the District’s congressional delegate for two decades. The tone of the article is enough to make a reader think he or she is going mad. The loving 80-year-old wife, Dorothy Fauntroy, speaks about her husband in glowing terms that nothing in the article suggests is inappropriate. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Race

Ethics Hero: Toya Graham, The Baltimore Riot’s “Mom of the Year”

It is odd that the now-anointed “mom of the year” is a woman videotaped beating her son, and rather violently at that. That’s the Ethics Incompleteness Principle for you: even conduct that is “always” unethical may be made ethical by unusual circumstances. Seeing your grown son participating in looting and rioting that are destroying your neighborhood changes the rules, or perhaps makes them inapplicable.

Here is what the unidentified woman (UPDATE: Her name is Toya Graham) was doing that is an ethical duty: she was fixing the problem to the extent she could. Utilitarian? Yup. Would Kant approve? Well, if every mother of those rioters intervened, they would have had more success than the Baltimore police did.

As for the Golden Rule, her conduct passes that test as well. If I were getting pulled into violent, mindless mob violence like that kid, I would want my caring parents to stop me by any means short of shooting me. If it were my son wearing that hood, I’d be tackling him.

I don’t know if she’s really “Mom of the Year”—I’d like to think that a really exemplary mother won’t raise a rioter.  She’s an Ethics Hero, though, beyond question.

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Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Family, Law & Law Enforcement

Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Baltimore riots

Being the mayor of any city in the throes of a race riot is a losing proposition; being an African-American mayor when the rioters are all black and the riot was sparked by the mysterious death of a black man in police custody is a hopeless proposition. Last night’s riot in Baltimore actually justified the kind of para-military response that got Ferguson, Missouri condemned by Eric Holder’s Justice Department, but that approach was politically impossible. I don’t know what I would have done in Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s hot seat, except hope against hope that President Obama didn’t come out with a statement that Freddie Gray could have been his son. So this is not the time to second-guess the mayor’s actions.

For the record, my assessment is that the volatile combination of acculturated black community contempt for policy authority and long-incubating and neglected racist inclinations in police departments was activated nationwide by seven years of cynical exploitation of racial divisions and distrust by President Obama, Eric Holder and the Democratic Party for electoral gain. Race riots were the predictable  consequence, and I say that with confidence because I predicted it in 2012, when Trayvon Martin’s death was elevated to a national issue just in time for the President Obama’s re-election push. Rawlings-Blake may have been part of that effort; I haven’t investigated that. She certainly inherited its results.

My verdict of incompetence in her case focuses less on her failure to prevent or contain the riots than on her inept communications skills. Leaders have to communicate clearly. If they can’t, they have a duty to learn: the skill can be taught. (I’m looking at you, W.) If they can’t communicate, their leadership ability is intrinsically crippled. Leaders who have to constantly “clarify” what they said, or “walk back” comments, or claim that they were “quoted out of context” when they were just quoted lose the public’s trust, and deserve to.  Public officials have to be careful  what they say, and how they say it, and this is a crucial, indispensable skill in their chosen field.

Rawlings-Blake held a press conference as the riots in her city were unfolding, and said this:

“And I’ve made it very clear that I worked with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech. It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars, and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wish to destroy, space to do that as well. And we work very hard to keep that balance, and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate and that’s what you saw.”

Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Leadership, Race