Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/14/17: Too Much Liberty, Too Much Precision, Too Much Success, Too Much Posturing, And More

Good Morning!

1 Today I’m going to have to waste several hours responding to a vexatious and retaliatory lawsuit by an Ethics Alarms commenter. It’s remarkable I’ve been able to avoid this annoyance for so long, I suppose, but annoyance it is. I’ve been threatened with a few lawsuits, and served once before, in that case by a lawyer who was angry that I described his ridiculous law suit against a Hollywood film as ridiculous.

The misuse of the legal system to harass and extort is an expensive price we all pay for living in a democracy that agrees with Clarence Darrow that in order to have enough liberty it is necessary to have too much. Our prices are higher, our medical expenses are inflated, and other rights, like freedom of expression, are constrained by the nation’s commitment to let common people, and often common people with unethical motives, have easy access to the courts to address their grievances, real, imagined or manufactured. I support this without reservation, , but it is no fun being the victim of it.

2.  It is a common refrain in resistance circles and the social media echo chambers that President Trump “isn’t doing anything.” That is hardly the case, and like a lot of anti-Trump rhetoric, is intentional disinformation. Since the anti-Trump collective spends all of its time trying to devise ways to somehow un-elect him—the 25th Amendment nonsense in back in the news—-while focusing on his tweets, his boorishness,  his feuds, and what he hasn’t done, they ignore the fact that Trump’s administration has been remarkably productive in addressing the issues that helped elect him. The U.S. is no longer wink-winking about illegal immigration. It is undoing the Obama policy of issuing restrictive energy regulations to signal concern over climate change that won’t have any measurable effect on climate change. The disastrous “Dear Colleague” please start assuming all male college students accused of sexual assault are guilty letter is gone and unlamented. We are not being bullied by little North Korea any more. Regulations of all kinds are being cut back. He is remaking the judiciary, pointing it away from judicial activism. Consumer confidence is high, and the stock market is soaring.

All of this has taken place in less than a year. The wisdom of many of these measures can be debated, and progressives hate all of it, but that’s irrelevant. There is much to criticize President Trump for, and much to deplore about his long and short-term effects on his office and the culture. Not accomplishing his stated goals, however, is not one of his flaws.

3. The Washington Nationals, who have morphed into the post 1986 Boston Red Sox as the team that always finds a way to miss winning the World Series, were eliminated in the National League Division Series with the assistance of many flukey plays that went against them. Particularly galling was when an 8th inning Nats rally was cut short in the fifth and decisive game against the Chicago Cubs because Washington’s second-string catcher was picked off first base with the potential game-tying run in scoring position. Jose Lobaton—now a name that will live in D.C. infamy–looked safe on TV and was called safe by the umpire when a snap throw to first by Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras caught him taking too big a lead. A slow motion review of the instant replay, however, showed that Lobaton’s  foot came off the first base bag for a nanosecond while Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo still had the tag on him. The naked eye would never have caught it. Still, if a runner is tagged while not on a base, he’s out.

On the NBC Sports website, blogger Bill Baer argued that this was a misuse of instant replay, writing in part,

“I]t feels unfair to use replay review in this manner. Both teams’ success or failure hinged on Lobaton’s foot coming off of the bag for one-sixteenth of a second. It’s a technicality, like coming back to your car at 10:01 only to see the meter maid walking away and a ticket on your windshield.

The spirit of replay review wasn’t about microscopic technicalities, it was about getting certain calls right: home run/not a home run, fair/foul, safe/out (in other areas, obviously, given this argument). Major League Baseball should greatly consider amending the rules to make it so that a player simply returning to the bag is grounds to be called safe, ending the pedantry of these types of reviews.”

This reminds me to add “It’s just a technicality” to the rationalizations I haven’t gotten around to adding to the Ethics Alarms list. (This makes four.)  It may feel unfair to enforce the rules, just like it feels unfair when you flunk the written test to get a license by one question, or get a ticket when you were driving just a little over the speed limit, or win the popular vote and still don’t get to be President because of the Electoral College. The “spirit of replay review” was to get calls right based on what really happens, not based on what the umpire saw or what he thought happened. Not “certain calls”: there’s no virtue in a wrong call that was just a little wrong. The difference between safe and out isn’t small or technical in baseball. It is everything. Lobaton was out, and it isn’t anything but a benefit to the integrity of baseball that he was finally called out.

4. Readers always get upset when Ethics Alarms condemns the public school system, but I must ask them how any system that permits something like this is anything but untrustworthy and disgraceful.

From the New York Times:

Francis Blake has not held a permanent position in a New York City public school in at least five years. At his last job, in a Bronx elementary school, records show he was disciplined for incompetence, insubordination and neglect of duties — he had been caught sleeping in a classroom when he was supposed to be helping with dismissal.

Felicia Alterescu, a special-education teacher, has been without a permanent post since 2010, despite high demand for special education teachers. According to records, in addition to getting a string of unsatisfactory ratings, she was disciplined for calling in sick when she actually went to a family reunion. She also did not tell the Education Department that she had been arrested on harassment charges.

This month, Mr. Blake, Ms. Alterescu and hundreds of other teachers who are part of a pool known as the Absent Teacher Reserve could be permanently back in classrooms, as the city’s Education Department places them in jobs at city schools.

The reserve is essentially a parking lot for staff members who have lost their positions,…but cannot be fired. It grew significantly as a result of a 2005 deal between the Bloomberg administration, which wanted to give principals control over hiring, and the teachers’ union. Since then, the union has fiercely protected the jobs of teachers in the reserve, resisting attempts to put a time limit on how long a teacher can remain there. Until now, the teachers in the reserve have rotated through schools for a month at a time, serving as substitutes or, in some cases, sitting in the teachers’ lounge.

And being paid the whole time.

Wonderful system.

Great profession.


5. Want a silver lining to the Harvey Weinstein cloud?  It is raining on a lot of phony Hollywood “good guys” who are being caught in the act of hypocrisy and virtue-signalling. We already discussed Ben Affleck. Now George Clooney has been caught in the downpour. After Clooney intoned that what Weinstein had done was “indefensible,” but of course he knew nothing about it. This prompted Vanessa Marquez, an actress who played a nurse on ER for three years to tweet,

“Clooney helped blacklist me when I spoke up abt harassment on ER.’women who dont play the game lose career’I did”

She accused actor Eriq La Salle and a crew member of being “pussy grabbers” and said  abuse regarding  her Mexican heritage came from “Anthony,Noah,Julianna,” referring to cast members Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle, and Julianna Margulies. Clooney responded. 

“I had no idea Vanessa was blacklisted. I take her at her word. I was not a writer or a producer or a director on that show. I had nothing to do with casting. I was an actor and only an actor. If she was told I was involved in any decision about her career then she was lied to. The fact that I couldn’t affect her career is only surpassed by the fact that I wouldn’t. “

In “All The President’s Men,” this was called a “non-denial denial.” What Marquez was saying is that sexual harassment was rampant on the set of Clooney’s TV show, and he did nothing about it, despite being the star.


23 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/14/17: Too Much Liberty, Too Much Precision, Too Much Success, Too Much Posturing, And More

  1. On point 5, I think we need to be careful assuming anything about anyone.

    None of us know if Clooney participated in or ignored anything nor is there a preponderance of evidence that supports this actress’ accusation.

    The height of sexism is to extend presumptive virtue to an indvidual based on gender. Accusations such as these should be adjudicated in courts. There should be an initial inquiry to assess whether or not there is sufficient basis to procede to civil litigation. Furthermore, such initial procedings should be not be open to the public to protect the interests of both sides.

    I want victims of crimes made whole to the greatest extent possible, but I see a system that is fast becoming similar to that which we seek to end – the ability of one gender to destroy another based solely on the community’s desire to believe anything they say without question.

    • Absolutely true.

      She may have an axe to grind. She may be lying. She may be bitter.
      The odds are, however, that Clooney, like every other successful Hollywood actor, has been in dozens of environments where women were victimized, and if he wasn’t actively participating, enabled the culture.

      • Jack,
        I think we are all enablers to some extent in a variety of issues. The question is to what extent do we have moral responsibility to be the champion of another when they fail to act on their own. I have tried to convince people to take action when they come to me with a story about abuse. Far too often my advice is met with ” you are right. . .but…

        • Yes. And when we have turned a blind eye to conduct in the past, we had better be willing and ready to admit that when we later call the same conduct “indefensible” in public.
          I give Jane Fonda credit: at least she had the guts to say “I knew about this, and didn’t act, and I am ashamed.”

  2. 3. There is a very near precedent in baseball, in that a runner to first base doesn’t have to stop right at the base. He’s allowed to run as quickly as he can right through the base, and can only be put out if he makes some overt move in the direction of second base. Baseball wants daring runners to take maximum leads off bases, it wants them to try to take extra bases, not to calculate if they slow can down enough to stop right on top of a base without a bounce. There’s no reason why they can’t allow a little bounce on a tag in the same way they allow an overrun at first.

    I admire Joe Maddon as a manager. I suspect that he’s added the possibility of a bounce into his calculus of when to call for a pickoff throw. If so, that means that he’s decided to appeal the play before the play occurs. I think it’s best to get ahead of the curve on stuff like that, to keep the game out on the field as much as possible.

    • But that’s over-running first, as with home plate, very specific rules because those bases always involve a full out charge. Yet a player who slides past home with his hand never touching the plate will still be called out, and rightly so. Once a runner has reached first safely, or turned toward second, that doesn’t apply, and shouldn’t. Replay has created the tactic of holding the glove or ball on a sliding baserunner in case he momentarily is off the bag. On the bag and off the bag is clear—“bounce” becomes a judgment call. How long and high is a bounce? The kind of “allowance” you advocate leads to stuff like the so-called phantom double play, or “neighborhood” play, where umpires for decades called runners at second out when the fielder either tagged second base before he caught the ball, or was “in the neighborhood” but never tagged it at all. Basketball is full of garbage like this, which is one reason I don’t follow basketball.

  3. Jack, I’d really like your take on the article in the Washington Post about the alleged non-call on the Nats’ catcher being hit on his helmet by the Cubs batter’s bat on a third strike passed ball. Should that have ended the inning? The Nats’ continued playoff futility seems to me to be driving some people nuts.

    • It was a blown call.

      Rule 6.03(a):
      “If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire’s judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.”

      Dead ball, batter out, ind of inning. Nats win.

      How quickly they forget: the play was very reminiscent of Larry Barnett’s infamous botch in the 1975 Series, Game three. With the game tied in extra innings, Ed Armbrister tried to lay down a bunt to advance the runner on first. Carlton Fisk pounced on it, but Armbrister got in his way. Fisk then threw the ball wildly to second, putting runners on first and third. The Red Sox argued that Armbrister interfered:

      Fisk, known as one of the quickest catchers in baseball, flung the mask and was in front of the plate in an instant–so fast in fact that Armbrister had not taken a complete step. They were both looking up at the ball and Armbrister, semicrouched, had barely taken a step with his left foot when they collided.

      Fisk reached up and barehanded the ball, then shoved Armbrister away with his left forearm, took a short step to his right and fired to second. The throw had a tail on it, sailed high, glanced off the leaping shortstop Rick Burleson’s glove and continued into centerfield. Geronimo popped up out of his slide and scampered to third ahead of Fred Lynn’s throw.

      Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson immediately charged out of the dugout and he and Fisk confronted home plate umpire Larry Barnett, demanding an interference call. The 30-year-old Barnett, a veteran of six major league seasons, refused to budge. Johnson and Fisk walked up the line and pleaded their case with the first base umpire who, not surprisingly, backed up Barnett.
      In the television booth, the announcers clearly sided with the Red Sox. After viewing the slow motion replay, Tony Kubek said, “Armbrister is right in his way. I’ve got to say, right there, he interfered with him.”

      “Boy is Fisk hot,” Curt Gowdy said as they watched the argument.

      Kubek: “I don’t blame him.” Another slow motion replay once again showed the collision.

      Kubek: “Armbrister is definitely in his way.”
      Not surprisingly, the umpires were not swayed by the Red Sox’ pleas for justice. The call stood. Fisk was given an error on the throw and the Reds were given an excellent chance to put the game away. With men on second and third and no outs, Boston’s options were limited. Pete Rose was intentionally walked. Johnson brought in lefty Roger Moret, which prompted Sparky Anderson to pinchhit righty Merv Rettenmund for Ken Griffey. Rettenmund struck out. Joe Morgan then hit the ball past the drawn-in outfield and the game was over.

      Writers scurried to the Red Sox clubhouse for quotes. They got good quotes all right, but the censors had to bleep out the best parts before they could be printed in family newspapers. Boston writer Ray Fitzgerald called it “the angriest losing locker room I have ever seen.”

      Some of the printed comments included:

      “We should have had a double play on that ball but the umpires are too gutless under pressure.”

      “We asked [first base umpire] Dick Stelllo at first to rule on it, too, and he backed up his fellow thief.”

      “Barnett is the most gutless slob who ever umpired a baseball game.”

      “This is a game that would have given us the edge and now we’re just bleeped.”

      “Bleep the umpires.”

      “That bleeping slob of a plate umpire, Larry Barnett, has been bleeping the Red Sox all season long.”

      When all the niceties were out of the way, noted philosopher and cosmic lefthander Bill Lee added his perspective, stating that if you watched the NFL all season you wouldn’t see a better body block by an offensive lineman. He called it the worst bleeping miscarriage of justice since he was in Little League. He said that he would have bitten the umpires’ ear off it he had been close. “I would have Van Gohed him,” he said, adding a new verb to the lexicon. “The Series is now even: one for us, one for the Reds, and one for the umps.”

      Over in the Reds’ clubhouse, Armbrister said, “The ball bounced high and I stood there for a moment watching it. As I broke for first base, Fisk reached over my head for the ball before I could continue on. I stood there because he hit me in the back and I couldn’t move.”

      All parties agreed that a collision had taken place. And it had taken place in fair territory. In the opinion of Dick Stello, who was umpiring at first, “The batter has as much right to go to first base as the fielder has to go for the ball.”

      When questioned later by reporters, umpire Barnett defended his decision, “I ruled that it was simply a collision. It is interference only when the batter intentionally gets in the way of the fielder.” When looked up, the rules that covered this, numbers 6.06 and 7.08, say nothing of intent, however.

      Darrell Johnson said that, in his argument with Barnett, the umpire never mentioned intent, but said only that it was a judgement call. A judgement call can not be protested, but an interpretation of the rule can be. The protest would have needed to be made before the next pitch, however, and so, at that point, the poor bleeping Red Sox were indeed bleeped.

      When one Zapruders video of the play [what the heck–if Bill Lee can invent verbs so can I] it appears that Armbrister started to run but was stopped by the collision when he was rear-ended by Fisk. The collision did not interfere with the throw, as Fisk was set before throwing. A good throw by Fisk would have eliminated the controversy. With Geronimo’s speed, it would have been a close play at second for the force. The relay to first would have easily gotten Armbrister, due to his late start. There was not time to tag Armbrister and then throw to second for a tag play on Geronimo. Fisk took a gamble by going for the double play instead of the easy out and it cost him.

      The most damaging factor to Fisk and the Red Sox was the unusual quickness of Carlton Fisk in getting out of his crouch to make a play. Most catchers would have gotten there slower than Fisk, would not have collided with Armbrister, and would have been forced to take the easy out at first.

      Lost in the confusion, but clearly shown on the video, was the end of the play which backed Red Sox third baseman Rico Petrocelli’s later claim that Geronimo’s legs overslid third base and he ended sitting on his butt, a few inches off the base. Petrocelli applied the tag before Geronimo could reach back with his hand, but the umpire apparently didn’t see it, possibly because of all the commotion brewing back at home plate.

      …The call would be debated throughout the winter. In February, 1976, NBC ran highlights of the World Series and had Kubek, Garagiola and some of the participants in the studio to rehash the Series for more than two hours. While reviewing new camera angles and footage, Kubek continued to argue for the interference call. He and Barnett took turns reading the rule book, each offering support for his interpretation. A view from the first base side was shown in which Barnett was removing his mask just as the collision appeared to be finishing—raising the possibility that he was unable to see the crucial step.

      Barnett would later have his life threatened in a letter which demanded he return $10,000 the writer claimed to have lost on a wager due to the call. But all things have a silver lining. Barnett noted in the spring that he had made between ten and fifteen thousand dollars over the winter in speaking fees based on the call. “Tell me, when’s the last time you can remember anybody, I mean anybody, paying money to see or listen to an umpire?” He also was signed to do some commercials. He received hundreds of letters over the winter to his Prospect, Ohio home, which ran about 2 to 1 against him. One memorable letter was addressed to “Larry Barnett, Home Plate Umpire, Third Game, 1975 World Series, Prospect, Ohio.” It read, succinctly and eloquently, “You stink!”

      Like any good umpire, Barnett would never have any public doubts. Even today, almost 40 years later, he is satisfied with his decision. He also points out that Major League Baseball has always maintained that the call was correct and, in fact, video of the play was used for years to teach umpires the interference rules.

      Was the call correct? Everyone has an opinion and at this point it really doesn’t matter. Perhaps that’s one of the great things about the human element of baseball–it gives us stuff to talk about long after an event, and keeps us from ever running out of interesting topics.

      This is little consolation to Red Sox fans, all of whom still remember Barnett’s name, albeit often with the same middle name that Bucky Dent would later come to enjoy.

      So mucg happened after that moment that it was forgotten, except in Boston. Barnett umpired for another 24 years, was booed loudly every time he stepped on the field in Fenway. He deserved it, too.

      • Old Cricket joke

        Howzat?” the bowler appealed for LBW.
        “Not Out” said the home umpire.
        The batsman snicked the next ball and was caught by the keeper. “Howzat?” “Not out” was the reply.
        The third ball sent all three stumps and bails flying. The bowler turned to the umpire with satisfaction and exclaimed: “Bloody well nearly got him that time though.”

  4. Another car piles onto the Weinstein train wreck. Are they going to take back his Oscars? Do you suppose there are any statues of him that need to be taken down? So the casting couch is really cause for censure by Hollywood people? Funny. These people invented the entire concept and have kept it going for over a hundred years.

  5. Jack, we’ve had our disagreements. We seem to drift further apart on some issues the more time goes on. I tend not to comment unless I can really contribute to the discussion.

    Jack, this is my solemn and unbreakable promise. Unless commenting on this blog somehow renders me blind… I swear that I shall never sue you.

    I hope that once this silly legal battle is behind you, that you can tell us all about it in the beautiful, theatrical detail for which you shall always have my appreciation.

  6. 3) Well, Jack, we’re never going to agree on this, but this is exactly the sort of play I object to having replay overturn. Baseball players are not robots and I don’t think they need to be held to nanosecond or micro millimeter tolerances. Let’s reserve those for nuclear power plants and spacecraft.

    My take is much as it is on the Bill of Rights. I would much rather have the occasional spectacular blown call than endure the tyranny of microscopic replay reversals.

    Whether it meets ethical standards or not, this sort of thing reduces my enjoyment of the game.

    And still — Lobaton should never have put himself into a position of even being close to being picked off. In that sense he deserves to be thrown out.

  7. 4. Actually bothers me more than the rest. Not being able to fire incompetent employees with cause is insane, and highlights the reasons why public sector unions should not exist.

    Not only do public sector unions not make sense from a scope perspective (Whereas private sector unions negotiate for a bigger slice of profits, public sector unions negotiate to create a bigger expense and loss.), but they also do not make sense from the perspective of a good faith negotiation.

    Who is on each side of the bargaining table? On one side: The union. That side is easy… On the other side…. The government, ostensibly the representative of the people, but on one extreme you have a party where the Unions are major donors, and a huge voting block, and on the other side you have a party that (it says) isn’t in bed with the unions, but you could barely tell, because they come up with some GODAWFUL collective agreements.

    And why? Everyone is used to the process: The union demands wages, the government says no, the union asks for benefits the government says yes, because it makes the process end quickly, and they can tell their constituents that they kept wages low, and the unions can tell their members they actually got a good deal. Both of which are technically true.

    But the benefits creep is out of hand. Not being able to fire incompetents for cause is the obvious tip of the iceberg. Defined benefit pension plans are a blight on whichever organization offers them (and I’ve never seen them outside the public sector), “summer pay” is abominable, and their health plans are, generally, ridiculous (although Obamacare basically evened the feild.).

    I would gladly give every teacher in America a $5 an hour raise if I could flip their pensions to a healthy, matched, defined contribution plan and give administrators the ability to fire with cause.

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