Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/6/2018: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Gooooood Morning!

1. From the Moral Luck files:

What you just saw is a bald eagle landing on Seattle Mariners starter James Paxton’s shoulder during the National Anthem before yesterday’s Mariners-Twins game.  Here’s a closer look…

The eagle got confused: it is supposed to go to his trainer, in one of the more spectacular Anthem displays that has ever been devised: I’ve seen this performance several times.  After the game, Paxton was asked why he didn’t try to escape. His answer:

“I’m not gonna outrun an eagle, so just thought, we’ll see what happens.”

Heck, he had already endured the horror of Dessa’s incredibly off-key rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” what’s a mere bald eagle attack? Seriously, Paxton’s quote is an ethics guide: Don’t panic, don’t act on emotion, assess the situation, see what happens, and act accordingly. Of course, the fact that this strategy worked out well helps: if the eagle had ripped his eyes out, everyone would be saying Paxton was an idiot not to run.

How I would have loved to see this happen to Colin Kaepernick!

2. How the President gets himself into ethics trouble. I just watched a clip of Trump speaking yesterday about California’s sanctuary cities. “The thing is that these cities are protecting bad people,” he said, with emphasis. Naturally, this will be characterized as racism. It’s not racism, however. The statement is just overly simplistic, and exacerbated in its inflammatory elements by the President’s rudimentary vocabulary, in which the only operable adjectives appear to be great, bad, horrible, wonderful, terrible, sad, and a few more. It is impossible to communicate about complex issues competently and fairly with such meager tools. Illegal immigrants have broken our laws and willfully so. That is not good, but it does not make all of them bad people….though many are.

3. How the news media gets itself into ethics trouble. In a front page New York Times story yesterday that began,

“Facebook on Wednesday said that the data of up to 87 million users may have been improperly shared with a political consulting firm connected to President Trump during the 2016 election — a figure far higher than the estimate of 50 million that had been widely cited since the leak was reported last month”

…the story went on to say, two paragraphs later, that,

“Facebook had not previously disclosed how many accounts had been harvested by Cambridge Analytica, the firm connected to the Trump campaign. It has also been reluctant to disclose how it was used by Russian-backed actors to influence the 2016 presidential election.”


  • The “linked to/connected to” trick is often misleading and unethical, as here. While Cambridge Analytica had been hired by the Trump campaign, the evidence so far is that whatever it harvested was not in fact used to benefit Trump.

The same device has been a staple in the reporting of the Mueller investigation, where “linked to Russian nationals” is used to imply sinister activities in the absence of any evidence of such.

  • “how it was used by Russian-backed actors to influence the 2016 presidential election,” is fake news. The statement implies, indeed states as fact, that Russian-backed actors did influence the 2016 presidential election, also known as Hillary’s Fantasy. There is no evidence of that at all. None has been presented, none has been found. The argument in this theory’s favor is pure “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” a logical fallacy: Trump won, he shouldn’t have won, he won after Russian efforts to undermine Hillary, ergo he won because of them.

Such false assumptions do not belong on the front page of the New York Times. It is fake news, misleading, and in my opinion, deliberately so. The Times has passed the point where Hanlon’s Razor is a defense. Editors exist to fix this kind of sloppy reporting.

4. Good charity, bad founder, hence bad charity. (Well, that’s how the President would describe it.) Many foundations and charities founded or funded by individuals who have since been revealed as, or accused of being, sexual harassers or abusers are losing contributions and facing ruin. Along with their sacrifices on the altar of #MeToo will be much collateral damage of the innocent and needy.

The Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation  helped pay for art and dance classes for thousands of children and gave young black artists of color a chance to to showcase their work. It’s  co-founder, however,  hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, has been accused of multiple rapes.  He has denied the allegations, but his charity seems to be doomed. This is cognitive dissonance in its purest form.  Even though the foundation does important and important work, the name of its benefactor is so low on the scale that potential contributors feel their own prestige and reputation will be reduced by supporting a cause connected to such infamy. The same fate has befallen the Kevin Spacey Foundation, which mentored and trained young performers.   At the end of February, the charity announced it was shutting down after trustees deemed it “no longer viable” because Spacey’s reputation is no longer viable.

From a logical and ethical perspective, this makes no sense. It is also a standard that has seldom been applied before. The Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundations and Carnegie Foundation, among others, all were established with “dirty money” by robber baron founders who did a lot worse things than harass women, though they almost certainly did that too, since sexual harassment was the rule, not the exception. Then there is the Kennedy Center Honors, named after, and partially funded by, a family that made a fetish and a hobby out of sexual harassment. So far, no one has turned down such an “honor.”

5. And speaking of the Kennedys...”Chappaquiddick” is out, eight full years after Ted Kennedy’s death, and more than 50 years after Mary-Jo Kopechne was allowed to die in a submerged car by a U.S. Senator because his name was Kennedy. That it took this long for Hollywood to make a movie about this made-for-cinema mystery/crime/ sex scandal is all the evidence anyone should need to prove how the film industry is in thrall to the Democratic Party and progressive agendas. The good news is that the film finally being released seems to show that the Kennedy family’s power to protect the “Camelot” myth is waning. As a kid, I watched Ted’s outrageous live explanation of the accident while my father alternately hooted and shouted at the TV.  I confess: I never recovered from the disgust of seeing the liberal/progressive/Democratic Party hypocrisy in such full bloom, nor forgot how my humanist, Harvard community, Adlai Stevenson-idolizing, Richard Nixon-hating neighbors were able to ignore the fact that their junior Senator had killed a young woman and allowed his wealthy family to cover it up, and then continued to vote for him.


Pointer and Facts (#4): New York Times


34 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/6/2018: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

    • Only in the abstract. No, “this” meant the eagle episode as it occurred to Paxton. I knew the sentence was ambiguous, but I also knew no one would think that I, an ethicist, would wish physical harm on anyone.

      • Wellll, I bet you wouldn’t be too sorry to see Krappernick get some well-deserved physical pain, although you wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

  1. 4- “Chappaquiddick” opening at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival: moral luck or brilliant marketing?

    And seeing the History Channel and FX have cancelled their Clinton programming, will it be another 30 odd years before that hits the big/small screen?

  2. 5. In this case, I give the movie-makers a pass. Even if they deliberately waited till 8 years after the Kennedy’s death to release anything about Chappaquiddick because they are intent in a conspiratorial way to sanitize, as much as possible, people’s memories of the flawed Democrat senator.

    I met Ted Kennedy. I gave a briefing to Ted Kennedy, and answered his questions. He wanted me to say something classified out loud with who-knows standing there with him – but I dodged that deftly. So a few years later, I end up working in the State Department…[chuckling sardonically again].

    I used to drink (but not drive) like Ted Kennedy. I’m no Ted Kennedy.
    (Thank you again, Senator Bentsen!)

  3. 5. My own Teddy story. In the early 1970s, we flew into Hyannis airport and went to a lounge nearby – I believe it was called the Nemo Lounge. Rather upscale and I didn’t have a suit jacket or tie which they supplied. Was about four sizes too large. Anyway, after an appetizer and two drinks are served in comes a loud, obnoxious, and probably intoxicated Teddy with his posse. None have jackets or ties. I call over the maitre D’ and ask why the exclusion? “Why that is Senator Kennedy!” I hand the Maitre D’ his jacket and tie and tell him to give it along with my check to the Senator and walked out. No one stopped us.

    That people in Massachusetts (and the nation) bought this load of manure on the incident speaks volumes. Child molester Studds was granted his own free pass ten years later. Two reasons why I didn’t walk away but ran away from the Democratic Party.

    • Well I hope you have run away from all political parties then, because they all have their fair share of criminals and ethics violators.

      • It is like a smorgasbord. I go individual such as Charlie Baker (R) and Steven Lynch (D) for two Massachusetts examples. Both do have a history of party independence especially Baker. Problem is I end up on mailing lists that go from far right to far left.

        • Tremendous story, Rick. Good for you.

          I think this might be the appropriate time and forum for me to tell the joke of all Kennedy/Camelot jokes, first told me by my to become best friend but now deceased but then freshman college roommate in the fall of 1969, which he’d been told by his Dad who worked in factoring in the garment industry in NYC, the spawning ground of all good jokes:

          Just shot by Sirhan Sirhan (unbeknownst to us, our first Islamic terrorist?), Robert Kennedy is on the floor of the kitchen of the hotel in Los Angeles. Obviously mortally wounded, he manages to instruct Rosie Greer to find Teddy and bring him to him. Rosie runs off. A few frantic minutes later, he finds Teddy. “Teddy,” Rosie gasps, “Bobby’s been shot! He wants to talk to you!” They run off together through the bowels of the hotel to where Bobby is. Dropping to his knees, Teddy shouts, “Bobby, Bobby, it’s me, Teddy. I’m here!”

          No longer able to see and barely able to speak, Bobby grabs the lapels of Teddy’s Jacket and pulls him down to within range of his now faint voice. With his dying breath, Bobby whispers, haltingly, “Mary Jo Kopeckne puts out.”

  4. Only four times have I posted on social media that I was glad someone was dead. One was after Seal Team Six sent Osama bin Laden to Hell of a lead overdose. The second was when someone who had personally bullied me died of cancer, and I hope he suffered. The third was when Charlie Manson finally give up the ghost, the least deserving beneficiary of the SCOTUS suspension of the death penalty. The last was after Ted went down for a long-overdue dirt nap and became the Democratic Senator from Hell. I hated him while he was alive and I hated him when he was dead. The man should have been expelled from Harvard for cheating, but was allowed back in, and he should have gone to jail for manslaughter. Never mind his conduct in the Senate, which was none of it good for this country, and never mind his messy personal life.

    He got away with things you and I would never get away with and got things handed to him that no one deserves to have handed to him, because his father was a disgraced ambassador and his brothers were who they were. What’s more, he knew damn well he was a son of privilege and he openly abused the privilege, knowing damn well he was abusing it. The world is a better place without him in it, and it’s time the legend was exposed for what it is, a lie.

    My fifth post cheering on someone’s death will be when Jimmuh Cahtuh finally kicks the bucket.

  5. In my younger days, I wished that Ted would run for President. Then maybe we would be rid of that Generation of Kennedys. My grandmother would quote the bible ‘unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate me’ any time a Kennedy was mentioned. I’ve mellowed though.

  6. A few comments.

    1. Facebook. I am very careful about what I post on FB — and the reason is that I assume that my data is being mined in many ways. Indeed, I would rather FB not mine my data at all and just charge me a monthly subscription. I would happily pay $10/month to have FB. Further, I think anyone who thinks that their data on FB is “safe” is an idiot. That being said, this comment of yours is absurd.

    “The “linked to/connected to” trick is often misleading and unethical, as here. While Cambridge Analytica had been hired by the Trump campaign, the evidence so far is that whatever it harvested was not in fact used to benefit Trump.”

    What? Of course the group was hired to benefit Trump. Campaigns — as a general rule — only hire consultants because they believe that it would be to the candidate’s “benefit” to do so. Now, if you are saying that there is no evidence that Trump received additional votes because of this consultant is difficult to prove or disprove. It’s similar to a toxic tort case — did you get cancer because you smoked 1 pack a day or because you lived next to a chemical plant that leached cancer-causing toxins into your groundwater?

    2. Chappaquiddick. More liberal conspiracies Jack? I know about this incident, and the drowning happened well before I was born. In fact, I watched a documentary on it in college one night in my dorm and was riveted. Indeed, I think the material is far more appropriate for a documentary compared to a “film based on real events.”

    • May be a nit pick, may not be … Mary Jo apparently died of asphyxiation due to being left in the car long enough for all of the oxygen to be depleted. So there was plenty of time for her to be saved if rescue personnel had been called in immediately.

      • No nit pick, the drowning/asphyxiation (no autopsy) happened well after the accident,

        You couldn’t have put it better: “plenty of time for her to be saved if rescue personnel had been called in immediately.”

        Or if the scumbag extraordinaire had thought of anyone other than himself and tried to help her.

        The future “Lion Of The Senate” did not report it until the submerged vehicle had been discovered the following morning.

        Fun fact: Jason Clarke, the actor depicting Ted Kennedy, was born on 07/17/1969.

    • 1. The group was fired well before it used any of the data that was “scraped” in its nefarious (because they might have benefited a Republican) strategies. Got that? The company was hired by the campaign but never actually implemented the data on behalf of the campaign as far as any one can tell. If the complained about conduct didn’t benefit the Trump campaign, then the Trump campaign shouldn’t be primary in the reporting. It’s a smear. We saw conservative news outlets “link” some slimy operatives who have been indicted to the Clinton campaign because they raised money for her, but the crimes they have been indicted for didn’t relate to the campaign. Steve Wynn resigned because of sexual harassment issues, but the headlines were that he was the GOP fund chair, as if it was the party harassing by proxy. It’s bad journalism, and an abused partisan device.

      2. What makes a Senator with aspirations getting a girl killed while drunk and fooling around only documentary fodder? It was alluded to in several fictional movies, like “Blowout,” and even “Absolute Power.” There is no way you can look at all the other news events and scandals that were make into movies almost immediately—Amy Fisher? Watergate? 9-11?—and explain this juicy story, with sex, celebrity and politics, somehow being left alone for half a century.

      The Kennedy’s use of their money and power to squash such projects are a matter of record. I directed the first professional production of “The Titans” that made the case that Nikita, not JFK, was the hero of the Cuban Missile Crisis—20 years after the play was written for a Kennedy Center production, and later for the Pasadena Playhouse. Both of those versions were shut down by the Kennedy clan.

      • It may be the way I am wired. I also have not watched movies dramatizing Amy Fisher, Watergate, or 9-11. I also haven’t seen I, Tonya yet, and may not. I do think many important historical events should be featured in films — many war movies immediately leap to mind. But I do tend to get frustrated with the artistic license that is taken when it comes to sensational events. Many (most?) people learn about historical figures through movies and never seek out other source material, so they assume what they have seen is completely accurate. That’s incredibly dangerous — and most definitely annoying to us history geeks.

        • I agree and endorse every part of Spartan’s post… right down to the wiring comment she started with.

          Have not and will not see the movies in question, either.

          Hollywood annoys me when they do history.

  7. Jack, the Ukulele Orchestra made my Friday… Thanks!

    3. How you can trust the NYT with anything beyond a recipe for biscuits is beyond me. Their behavior speaks for itself.

    5. I heard a theory about the Chappaquiddick incident from a lefty that was interesting:

    The Kennedys, being great for America, were targeted by forces either within the Government (conservative ones, of course) or by the Russians. Mary-Jo was an agent sent to assassinate Ted, and was driving that night. She intentionally ran off the road and was to disappear after making sure he was dead. However, she died and Ted lived, so the coverup was instigated to protect… something. Things break down at that point, but it is a fun theory, in a tin foil hat sort of way.

    Maybe a movie plot down the line?

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