Is There An Ethical Obligation Not To Allow Idiots To Have Decision-Making Power In State Governments? The Case Of Flipper’s Privacy…


A dolphin died in New Jersey’s South River last year, so a blogger sought to discover what killed it. She duly filed a public record request to the NJ Department of Agriculture for the results of the dolphin’s autopsy.The Department turned down her request, on the grounds that it violated the amended Public Records Act, which includes an exception for HIPAA information, including diagnosis and autopsies:

Dolphin privacydolphin privacy 2That’s right: New Jersey wants to protect the dolphin’s privacy. No, there is no dolphin autopsy exception to New Jersey’s law, and no cetacean privacy inclusion in HIPAA. On the off-chance that it isn’t obvious, Louis Bruni is an idiot.

This should be funny, I guess, but my patience with fools and dolts making life more difficult, expensive, inefficient and frustrating has about run out. My rapidly developing theory on crazy people starting to shoot other, thus-far less crazy people is that constant contact with the Louis Brunis of the world drive them to it, when combined with hopelessly bewildering technology and outrageously complicated rules, laws, regulations and procedures and the brazen dishonesty and corruption of so many of the “public servants” who are pledged to care about our welfare.

One day a delicate soul, their sanity on the ragged edge, makes a simple request, not even in an important matter, and are foiled by someone who thinks Dead Flipper has privacy rights, and who nonetheless has his salary paid by taxpayers. Out of the millions and millions of Americans who cope with this crap every day, day after day, an infinitesimal percentage of the public can’t handle that one extra insult to logic and common sense. and snaps like a dry twig in the wind. Like Sweeney Todd, their now damaged mind concludes that there are two groups of human beings, those who make everyone else miserable because they are evil, stupid, or both, and those who are the first group’s helpless victims. “Kill them all!” the now deranged victims of our Brunis conclude: killing the miscreants is just, and killing their suffering victims is merciful.

And off they go.

Now imagine layer and layer of Brunis, up and down all levels of government, sometimes reaching executive levels with access to real power. You know, like Joe Biden. John Kerry. Michele Bachmann. No, don’t. We have enough crazy people all ready.

Here…this will calm you:

UPDATE: Here we discover that Mr. Bruni previously was fined for lying about attending….required ethics classes! [Pointer: Phil Alperson]


Pointer: Fred, one of his best.


46 thoughts on “Is There An Ethical Obligation Not To Allow Idiots To Have Decision-Making Power In State Governments? The Case Of Flipper’s Privacy…

  1. The best pet about federalism and leaving most power decentralized (unlike mainstream leftist desire to coagulate as much incompetence and malice at the national level as possible) is that when legislators are completely stupid or bad, it only affects one state or locale. With the hope that the affected locale will learn from others that don’t make mistakes.

        • I did too. It really worked.

          That said, the nastiest — and funniest, if your humor is so inclined — infection of bureaucracy (literally “government by desks” – a sardonic joke to begin with) into everyday life does not arise from government officials. It comes from commerce at all levels. And it is an almost daily annoyance. Or horror. It ranges from a little boy in tears after a stern lecture from his bus driver about transit regulations concerning the dangers of accepting food from passengers who might be terrorists or poisoners: the child was trying to hand a sealed lollipop to one of his “nice ‘trangers” for a Christmas present. (His mom, a co-worker of mine, showed around the letter she had received from the transit company which consisted solely of a copy of the regulation saying exactly that) . . . to trying to return to AT&T, via UPS, equipment that you never ordered in the first place, and then get the charges removed from your bill: ten months, six letters, a countless number of phone calls with hours “on hold”, and dentist payments for a bad case of TMJ.

          Ms. Sitrin should have known better.

      • I go back and forth on this. I actually think most people are idiots. Assuming that’s true, do we want our idiots concentrated in one place where it is easier to hold them accountable, OR, do we do want to spread out our idiots where they are harder to find and hope that we win the no-idiot lottery in our local state?

        • For example, is anybody following what’s going on in Flint, MI? This is not far from where I grew up. The Governor has been poisoning residents with lead for a few years — even though he was informed that the local water supply was polluted.

        • 1) As government can do *real* harm, yes, I’d rather potential harm be isolated to occasional pockets of our society that can probably rectified or mitigated, as opposed to potential harm affecting the entire nation, as would (and does) happen with our increasingly centralized system.

          2) If you really think accountability increases the more distant our government gets from the citizens (as it would in your “idiots concentrated in one place” plan achieve), then I have ocean-front property in Arizona to sell you you have a considerable amount of work to do explaining that one to me.

          • We have a limited press corps, which has been declining in quality for years. Yes, I think it easier to watch a few hundred individuals as compared to many thousands.

            • I don’t think actual reality and your vision of reality exactly match up to each other. Do we really want to pretend that the gargantuan beast we call the “Federal Government” is easy to watch? Do we really? When we have loose cannon Secretaries of State going rogue with their own email servers and with potentially unusual ties with foreign donors. When we have wannabe strong man presidents’ lower administration cowing opposition groups into submission…?

              Come now. Time and again, history proves that, though not perfect, DECENTRALIZED systems are more accountable as they are closer to the people they are in charge of. Though hiccups occur in all systems, they occur less so, and more importantly, with less resulting harm, when power is dissolved to states and locales.

              A “declining press corps”? Why precisely would a press corps decline from a healthy and almost rabid fixation with rooting out corruption? Probably because their employers are finding life far more comfortable when in bed with the very centralizing powers of which you sing the virtues.

                • Certainly is in places like Chicago, Detroit, NYC, DC, Dallas…that list gives me the blues.

                  As I acknowledged however, still less bad for the nation overall than to maintain a behemoth and untouchable monster which can harm the entire nation with little to no recourse.

                  • Ha, my entire life has been spent just outside Detroit or in the DC area! And people wonder why I am so cynical when it comes to local and national politics.

                  • Your list is WAY underdeveloped. What about Rowan county Kentucky – where a bonafide clerk thinks that her religious views trump the Supreme Court? Or the Chief Justice of Alabama who thinks the same way? What about the attempts in Texas to infect nationwide school text books with reformist history which ignores the atrocities committed against anyone who isn’t white? What about Arizona, where a governor invents stories about headless immigrant bodies littering the desert and then uses that as an excuse to pass legislation which makes it a crime for a legal immigrant not to have their proof of status on them at all times? Hell look at Alaska – you’ve got the Bridge to Nowhere, Troopergate, the ‘The Corrupt Bastard’s Club’. And those are literally just the tip of the iceberg.

                    I mean, there’s actually a rating system in place for the most corrupt states in the nation.

                    The notion that you end up with “isolated pockets” of idiocy and corruption – mostly in the big cities – is completely opposite to the nightly news, let alone the history books. And too often federal oversight is the key to stemming such local-level idiocy. The truth is that the checks and balances system applies as much to the relationship between federal and local governments, as it does to the dynamic of the federal government itself. And as often as not, when the federal government exerts their power it’s in the best interests of the people and the nation. There will ALWAYS be a tug between those who want the state to have more control and those who want the fed to have more – and usually it’s based on whose policies you support on that particular subject.

              • In large part, the declining press corps has to do completely with financial reasons. I do think we have reached the end of that downward spiral. News agencies are starting to figure out how to utilize the net and the marketing that goes with it. Hopefully, that will translate into hiring more (and better) journalists.

                • Beth – we also have to allow for the ways in which journalism is moving away from traditional news agency relationships. People used to act like having ‘blog’ and calling yourself a journalist was a joke – like calling yourself an actor when your paychecks all come from waiting tables. But bloggers are quickly becoming a serious force in investigative journalism, particularly in matters of corruption and government overreach. Even Jack’s site is an example of that new trend in information dissemination.

                  The press corp isn’t irrelevant, and the lack of quality investigative journalism is hurting our nation. But I think we also need to stop thinking of them as the solution to the problem of transparency, and acknowledge that private citizens have both an obligation and an ability to contribute to that oversight.

          • Actually, it is pretty well-known what happens when you lack centralized power:

            You end up with an unmitigated disaster.

            The Articles of Confederation were a disaster. The Confederacy was a disaster.

            Every single time people have tried this, it hasn’t worked.

            Every single time.

            Why do people think it is ever going to work?

            • Nice strawman.

              That’s all in going to say, because so far, all I’ve read of you is strawmen.

              Kindly go back, reread, and elucidate precisely where I said to get rid of central power.

              You won’t be able to.

              • I banned this creep, Tex. I was willing to give him a pass, despite his hiiting an astounding number of left talking points and myths in less than 24 hours, despite his misrepresenting my positions like he misrepresented yours, and despite telling me that I don’t understand concepts that he was warping. Wrote well, might, as you say, fill a niche. But he never gave me his name, and then I found a snotty attack on the rationalizations list by him on another weird site, in which he alluded to having other “objections” to me personally that others there were aware of. The hell with that. He misrepresented himself, had an agenda and was out for some kind of personal vendetta without revealing his identify, the coward. I e-mailed him, and told him he was banned with extreme prejudice.

  2. The executive order clause in question refers to “individuals,” without further distinction. Elsewhere in the executive order, the governor referred to “individual citizens.” Under these circumstances, and absent other instruction, the bureaucrat cannot independently limit “individuals” to mean the same thing as “individual citizens,” “individual humans,” or individual whatever. Thus, the bureaucrat has got it right.

      • Speaking of individuals, this has got me quite worried being a fisherman (tongue firmly in cheek). I guess if I was to perform an autopsy on a fish before cooking it, in New Jersey I would be in violation of some sort of HIPAA law. This must drive Chris Christy nuts.

        • Whew… now I feel better. ‘Course, that might not do any good you see nobody’s autopsied a fish. It’s a dolphin that’s been autopsied. The bottlenose dolphin, or Tursiops truncates, has an elongated beak, round cone shaped teeth and a serrated dorsal appendage, and is most definitely, not a fish. Not to be confused with, the common harbor porpoise, which has an abrupt snout, pointed teeth and a triangular thoracic fin, but which is also, most definitely, not a fish. But I’m sure you already knew that. That’s what turns me on about ya, your attention to detail.

  3. Listening to the “Flipper” theme song made me more depressed than the rest of this post. It brought me back to being a kid and hearing that song (best rhyme or repetition in lieu of a rhyme: “lying there under, under the sea.”) during a time long ago when adults seemed to be in charge of things (and some of them wrote hilarious theme songs and jingles for a living) and TV shows had adults and kids in them who were reasonably admirable human beings doing things to which we kids might aspire. As much as I like “The Simpsons” in general and Bart and Homer and Marge and Lisa, the incessant attacks by television producers on adults and families since “All in the Family” and “Married with Children” have resulted in a great deal of real ethical corruption.

        • I think we can gauge the cultural values of a society where churchgoing is almost completely banished from popular culture. Religious morality is not communicated or endorsed by the popular culture at all, and that is both a symptom and a cause. If places a huge burden on ethics, which unfortunately requires more skill at critical though than at least 50% of the population is able to muster.

          • I’m not following your logic Jack. Are you saying that, because half our population is incapable of understanding ethics without religion, our society’s cultural values would appear more positive if we intentionally kept church-going ingrained in our popular culture?

            Also wllm’s statement, while witty, isn’t really accurate. After all, there are TV families who definitely attend church. Such at The Duggars.

            But more seriously – we are only a few years removed from fictional families where church played a key factor in the storyline – like Big Love and 7th Heaven. Also the Gaffigan show is semi-autobiographical and their Catholicism is part of the show, as is the case with Blue Bloods I believe. In fact, if one looks at research numbers from groups like Pew, one could easily surmise that the decline in church-going being part of mainstream entertainment, has been roughly inline with the decline in church-going in the nation.

            It’s like the argument that the use of “bad” language or sexual permissiveness is a product of the media, when more likely, the media is reflecting changing views and attitudes.

            • No, I’m saying because half our population is incapable of understanding ethics, without religion, our society’s cultural values are less positive and will get worse. Many people need morality because it is codified ethics rules with real or imagined enforcement mechanisms. Organized religion keeps these people from the dark side—without it, they are chaotic, ruled by emotion, non ethical considerations and rationalizations. The less popular culture represents church as normal and desirable, the less power morality has, and that’s 50% of the public who begin tilting the whole culture in more unethical directions.

              • So you’re saying that 50% of the population are dangerous sociopaths, incapable of knowing right from wrong without a book to tell it to them? I can’t see evidence for that, even if you take it as a slight exaggeration of reality. Just because half the population still attends church, doesn’t mean their get their entire moral guidance from religion. Especially when that half only reports attending church a few times a year, and only about 1/3 of Americans say they attend church weekly.

                To me, your “half our population” comment is like saying half the population are idiots, just because by definition nearly half the population must have a less than average IQ.

                Also is there a reason you keep using the word morality in place of the word religion, as if they are synonyms? After all, there is no form of morality that is “codified” in any way. Religion is codified, laws are codified, but not a subjective term like morality.

                • Ethics is hard, that’s all. Morality is relatively easy. Those of below average intelligence are not sociopaths, but a conscience has to come from something. Children are sociopaths. Maybe an adult with a 98 IQ learns from experience to follow the equivalent of the Golden Rule, and maybe not. If I have to choose, I’ll take the 98 who’s been taught that if he doesn’t, he goes to hell.
                  Can ethical decision-making be taught to those of less than sterling reasoning ability? I don’t know. I do know that it proves a challenge for those of above average intelligence.

                  Read the definition of the terms as used here. A moral code is a behavioral mandate made and enforced by an authority. All moral Codes aren’t religious, but all religions have moral codes.

                  • I wasn’t saying that people of below average intelligence are sociopaths – I was saying that by your definition 50% of people are. A person who cannot tell right from wrong on their own, is by definition a sociopath. A sociopath or a psychopath has a damaged ability to process the fight or flight response, empathetic responses, remorse and other similar neurological reactions in the ‘normal’ human brain. They might know what society deems as right and wrong, but they have no internal compass for such notions. There is strong evidence that this is due to a communication impediment between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex.There is little evidence than an ability to distinguish right from wrong is tied to intelligence – though there is clearer indications it is tied to education.

                    And psychologically speaking no, children are not sociopaths – there’s actually an Onion headline making that claim. If all children were sociopaths, there wouldn’t be such a thing as an actual sociopathic child – and there is such a thing. Just because a child has a underdeveloped ability to distinguish right from wrong, doesn’t mean they have none. In fact that’s kind of the argument for “original sin.”

                    The golden rule isn’t really relevant. Empathy, sympathy and understanding social contracts begins at a very early age in human psychological development. Conscience comes from a combination of those and other natural instincts to create societal bonds. It goes way past “treating others as you’d like to be treated.” Forming those bonds is literally coded into our DNA, and operates based on neurological receptors in the brain – we feel positive neurochemical emotional responses to our positive social interactions. Which is also how reinforced bad behavior, which damages those relationships, can start to degrade normal brain function.

                    Also you’re kind of defining morals by a single piece of the overall definition, “Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion, or culture, or it can derive from a standard that a person believes should be universal.” Morality does not require a predetermine set of codes that are enforced by an authority. That’s simply how some people choose to define them – generally deists. Plenty of people define morals without any codified set of rules – in particular atheists, agnostics and others who are religiously unaffiliated.

                    And I would disagree that ethics are the hard one – given that ethics are more about codes of conduct within a society while morals are more ambiguous definitions of what is right and wrong; even within religions people can agree on what is and isn’t moral. One could argue that going along with ethnic cleansing in a society which supports it is ethical, because the society is what defines the appropriate code of conduct, but whether it’s moral is a whole other story. But those kinds of examples are why people disagree on whether morals and ethics are really interchangeable terms.

                    • You’re using a lot of dubious definitions.

                      1. First: My blog, my definition of morality. If a person is his or her own authority for a moral code, that’s circular…he or she is unlikely to apply it absolutely, and it can be altered at will. The definition here is used by other ethicists, and it clarifies a constant confusion between ethics and morals. Moral Codes are made and enforced by a superior authority.

                      2. A sociopath shows antisocial attitudes and behavior, and a lack of conscience. That has nothing to do with not knowing what is right; it has to do with not caring. Sociopaths pass the legal test of knowing right from wrong—they just don’t care. Many psychologists argue that you can’t diagnose a child as a sociopath—but a psychopath, an extreme sociopath who has no remorse, empathy or capacity for caring, can be a child, and so diagnosed.

                      3. Nice reverse “appeal to authority.” The fact a satirical publication asserts something doesn’t make it untrue. Untaught, unable to internalize the externally enforced values by authority figures, children will have the essential ethical instincts of animals. Socialization makes them progressively less sociopathic. You “DNA” conscience is very rudimentary. It will not convey the Golden Rule, which is basic ethics, the sense that one other than yourself deserves fair, caring and respectful conduct. This has to be taught and learned.

                      4. Ethics is the study of right and wrong and how to distinguish them as well as how to develop useful tools for that purpose. So-called “codes of ethics” are compliance documents, and thus enforced moral codes. I’m an ethicist, this is my living and profession, and the definitions in the glossary HERE are how I operate. Yours aren’t wrong–I’ve encountered them in many places and from legit authorities. I studied them. They are fine definitions. It is one reason ethicists are generally irrelevant: they don’t agree on what ethics means. The traditional Greek definitions of ethics and morals are overly abstract. I don’t use them. They will confuse the issue here, so you can’t use them, not here. Simple as that. Morals and morals codes are formal, written rules and laws that require compliance and no internal values at all, just a desire not to be sanctioned. Ethics is the study of how to tell right from wrong, and it is made up of values and multiple methods of prioritizing them. Following a set of Rules is easy; figuring out ethics is hard. Example: Same sex marriage is immoral in many religions; it is perfectly ethical, though. But reaching the latter conclusion requires some critical thought.

                      The above is not open to debate. I’m not going to argue terminology.

                      All that settled, I summarize our exchange this way: If you really deny the social control value of religion-dictated moral Codes over the uneducated, unread, poor, unsophisticated, busy, needy, very young or not very bright, you have an awful lot of human experience, history and common sense on the opposing side. Religion is fiction, but its values can be very useful for those who can’t manage complex ethical analysis….at least half the population. That doesn’t make them unethical. They may want to do the right thing. They just are terrible at figuring out what it is.

                    • Well I have read it all, and obviously I disagree on several points. But if your position is that in this space only your definitions apply, there’s obviously no point in having a conversation about the complexities or distinctions of morality or ethics in any capacity. Good night.

                    • Glad that’s settled. Those straightforward concepts are perfectly sufficient for what we’re trying to accomplish. Ethics and philosophy generally has rendered itself useless for practical applications by the obsession with hypothetical distinctions. Nighty night, and thanks for playing!

              • If this was true, we would expect more religious people and more religious states to behave more ethically.

                This appears to be the opposite of true; the most highly religious regions of the world (the various Islamic states of the world) are the least ethical places in the world. The most religious portion of the US is the South. It has the highest crime rates, the greatest poverty, and has a long history of racism, sexism, lynching, extralegal behavior, and general awfulness. The Northeast and the West Coast are the least religious parts of the US, and they are the most moral, with significantly lower crime rates.

                Religiosity and ethical behavior do not appear to correlate on a societal level.

                I think that the idea that most people are incapable of being ethical without religion is outright wrong and is very dangerous, not to mention patronizing.

                There’s no evidence to suggest that religion makes people behave more ethically.

                This makes sense if you think about it; stupider people are less likely to behave morally, and more likely to be religious. And in any case, if people are incapable of understanding ethics, why would they be any more capable of understanding religion? Ethics based on religion are oftentimes themselves created in a very convoluted and unintuitive fashion.

                Articulating basic rules – don’t kill people, be nice to other people, ect. is quite easy to do.

                • You’re entire premise is a non-sequitur. Nothing Jack stated requires the test you posit. Nor does the test you posit guarantee the results you claim.

                  Is your primary function on this blog to create diversion from substance?

        • The bottom line is you can’t use a TV show period as a moral example. They are all pretty much morality wastelands. However, how would you propose one gauge the morality of a TV family without any standard to compare it? The law?

  4. I think its time for a “Falling Down” remake. That movie best encapsulates how a marginally functioning person degenerates into a violent lunatic through relatively routine interactions. Michael Douglas nailed it.

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