Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/18/2018: Moral Luck, Non-Hypocrisy, Hypocrisy, Thomas Jefferson And WKRP

Good morning, Monticello, everyone…

1 The Inspector General’s Report and Tales of Moral Luck:  Stop me if you’ve heard this one: FBI staffer Peter Strzok, working on both the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russian collusion investigation, received a text from Lisa Page, Strzok’s co-worker and adulterous lover, that read, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok replied, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

 September of 2016, the FBI discovered that Clinton’s illicit emails had somehow ended up on the laptop of disgraced former Congressman. Anthony Weiner, who is married to Hillary’s top aide and confidante, Huma Abedin.  Strzok, we learn in Michael Horowitz’s report, was instrumental in  the decision not to pursue the lead, arguing that the Russia investigation was a “higher priority” at the time.”We found this explanation unpersuasive and concerning,” the report concluded. The laptop was available from September 29 until October 27, when “people outside the FBI” finally forced  the FBI to act on the evidence. “The FBI had all the information it needed on September 29 to obtain the search warrant that it did not seek until more than a month later,” the IG report stated. “The FBI’s neglect had potentially far-reaching consequences.”

“Comey told the OIG that, had he known about the laptop in the beginning of October and thought the email review could have been completed before the election, it may have affected his decision to notify Congress,” the IG report says, and also states,

“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over follow up on the [Clinton] investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.”

Got that? The IG believes that anti-Trump, pro-Hillary bias led Strzok to delay the Weiner laptop investigation, and it may have backfired, helping Trump and hurting Clinton rather than the reverse. But the fact that moral luck took a hand and foiled his intent doesn’t change the fact that this is strong evidence that partisan bias DID infect the Clinton investigation, and probably the Russian inquiry as well. This makes the media’s spin that the IG report dispels accusations of bias even more unconscionable.

That Strzok’s biased and unethical tactics to help Hillary intimately failed spectacularly doesn’t change or mitigate the fact that a prime FBI staff member was intentionally trying yo manipulate the investigation for partisan reasons.

2. The Web thinks you’re an awful person.  A tease from a “sponsored site” in the margins of my NBC Sports baseball feed  says, “Jan Smithers starred in hit sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Try not to smile when you see what she looks like now!” Wait…what’s that’s supposed to mean? Is she a circus clown? No, these and similar come-ons apparently assume that normal people love mocking formerly beautiful young stars when they no longer look young. “Heh, heh..well, Jan Smithers, I guess you’re not so hot now, are you? What kind of person takes pleasure in the physical decay of others just because they were once gorgeous?

Actually, the photo of Jan Smithers did make me smile, because unlike, say, Jane Fonda,

…who at 80 has allowed plastic surgeons to make her look like one of the fragile immortal female ghouls who shatter into pieces at the end of “Death Becomes Her,” Smithers (who is younger than me and a decade and a half younger than Hanoi Jane) has allowed herself to age naturally, and by my admittedly biased lights, is lovely still:

This interview with Jan also made me smile, because she sounds like a normal, modest, grounded, sane and extremely nice human being who has her values and priorities straight—unlike the vast majority of Hollywood actors—and who seems happy and without regrets despite no longer looking like the teen covergirl she was in 1966.

3. Red Sox manager Alex Cora doesn’t get the hypocrisy thing.  In baseball, runners seeing that the play at firts is going to be close will sometimes dive for the base, sliding on their belly to make a hand tag. It’s exciting, and it’s stupid. Studies have shown conclusively that running at top speed will always get the player to first faster than diving: it is a delusion to think otherwise. It is also dangerous to dive, as injuries to hands and fingers can and do occur.

Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts dived at the base again in yesterday’s game, and just as when he did it earlier last week, he was out, and might have been safe if he had just kept running. Asked about whether Bogaerts need to be forced to change his bad habit—say, a large fine, or a benching, every time he dives, his manager, former player Alex Cora, said,

“Yeah, but the manager used to do itI had a lot of people throughout my career telling me the same thing and I was diving, I kept diving…We might have to bring that video up and show it to Xander, but it’s a tough one. It’s a tough one, because I went through it. People would tell me. I just kept diving and paid the price.”

This is like the parent with a drug-abusing child saying that he can’t admonish his kid for using drugs because he did at the same age. It’s not hypocrisy to stop conduct that you know is unwise and wrong. If your job or current role in a family requires you to guide others, it is unethical not to insist that those you supervise do not continue with dangerous or foolish conduct.

4. Sally Hemings comes to Monticello. At Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Charlottesville, Virginia home and long the center of Jefferson admiration and tourism, a new exhibit has opened dedicated to slavery on Jefferson’s plantation and focusing on the ethically troubling  relationship between the Founder, President and author of the Declaration of Independence and Sally Hemings, his dead wife’s half-sister, who had a sexual relationship with Jefferson nearly over four decades, and bore his children.

The newly-opened exhibit also opens up all sorts of controversies, and crashes into the statue-toppling mania that has threatened lasting honors to many of the Founders as well as dovetailing with #MeToo debates.  Was Sally the victim of rape, for example? A lot of Jefferson supporters argue that she was not, because they claim is evidence that Jefferson “had feelings for her” (she may have looked like his beloved wife) and that she reciprocated her affections.

Ugh. Are we really arguing that a slave can meaningfully consent to the sexual demands of her master, who owns her? I have argued that a Presidential intern can’t meaningfully consent to sexual activity with the President, and the worst he could do is fire her!  Jefferson could legally whip Sally Hemings, or sell her to Simon Legree. Yes, he raped her, by current definitions of the word. It was legal rape, but still rape. Thomas Jefferson was a rapist as well as a hypocrite, condemning slavery in his writings, but continuing to practice it himself.

The harder question is whether historical monuments to national heroes with serious flaws must focus on those flaws. I know that I gagged when I visited the Kennedy Museum in Boston, with its walls sporting inspiring quotes from Jack and Bobby, and no hint anywhere of the two men’s ruthless character, especially when women were involved.

I am unsure if there is a general rule about this issue, or whether there should be. I am certain that Jefferson is a special case. Like it or not, Thomas Jefferson is as responsible as any historical figure for our national ideals and our existence as a nation. We have to come to terms with his contradictions and betrayals of his own philosophy, even if he never did. We will honor what he meant to our nation better if we do it without contrived ignorance.


Sources: Tyler O’Neill


25 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/18/2018: Moral Luck, Non-Hypocrisy, Hypocrisy, Thomas Jefferson And WKRP

    • Trump wants to arm teachers who are familiar and responsible with guns. Likely the people who already have them.

      I believe the stat on more school shootings then combat deaths was disproved.

      What is an assault-style weapon?

      Assuming a shooter is using a AR-15 and can aim somewhat well, he should be able to easily hit a target at 100 meters. If he is good 300-400. The weapon itself has a range much higher.

      A can of mace has a range of 10 feet but some can go as high as 20. If you can see him, he can see you and he is likely to be faster with the weapon.

      Props for taking mace to the face to prove his point. But I can only imagine a blind shooter becomes a reckless shooter. It doesn’t stop him, it just hurts his ability to be more accurate. Perhaps it could be a good thing.

      Props for trying to come up with a solution. I’m a fan of those door jam ideas.

  1. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched or played baseball, but can’t you run past first?

    Also, this isn’t just hurting the team, it has got to hurt his own career. Who wants a player that continues to make easily correctable mistakes in a highly competitive market.

    • Sure—that’s the idea. You can run past first, and that’s the fasted way to get there. Cora argues that it’s instinctual to dive, but that’s no excuse. These guys are professionals. It’s also instinctual to duck away from a curve ball that looks like it’s coming at your head, but you learn.

    • We should just set up a pepper spray sprinkler system, alongside the fire suppressions systems.

      Call them ‘Shooter Incapacitation Systems’

      When the gun fire starts, everyone gets pepper spray. No muss, no fuss.

      Of course, gas masks would allow the shooter to avoid the worst effects, so scratch that idea…

  2. Jack wrote, “We will honor what he meant to our nation better if we do it without contrived ignorance.”

    So many prominent leaders are a product of their time and Thomas Jefferson was no exception to that. What was considered to be socially “acceptable” in one period of time is easily considered absolutely heinous in another time. Times change.

    I know some will attack me for this but since I wasn’t there to be a witness of the acts, I choose not to condemn all the people in our history that owned slaves; I choose to condemn the heinous institution of slavery itself. I’m glad it’s gone and I’ll never willing allow such things to take place in the United States as long as I have the fighting ability to help stop it.

    Our past history of slavery casts a dark shadow on the beginnings of the United States but it doesn’t wash away the solid foundation that was created by our founding fathers whether they owned slaves or not. The United States has had some serious growing pains but in the long run I’d like to think that the vast majority of our population has grown well beyond the kind of thinking that justified slavery.

  3. Jan Smithers looks just a bit like my (now deceased) Aunt, who at 95 was, to me, just as beautiful as she was at 30. She (my Aunt) was also what I refer to as a class act…gracious, well-mannered and kind (unlike arrogant, self-righteous and self-absorbed Hanoi Jane) and I bet Ms. Smithers is just as much of a class act.

  4. Forgive my baseball illiteracy, but is Bogaertes a star on the team? I’ve seen the King’s Pass come into play in situations like this as well- a lesser player gets no leniency if they play wrong, while with a top performer the attitude seems to be somewhere between indulgent (Oh, he’s so good we can let him get away with that weird thing he does) and superstitious (Dear God, he’s performing so well let’s not change anything about how he plays!)

    I still smile fondly at the memory of a certain University of Michigan Quarterback who played with his shoes untied- the video of him getting tackled clean out of those shoes should have been proof enough for anyone to tell him to knock it off.

  5. Number 1. Nothing to see here. I can’t help but recall all the contortions Sparan went through to establish that what HRC had and hadn’t done with her computer was just standard operating procedure and not significant.

    • That’s not quite fair, though. What SS said was that technological ignorance, malpractice and incompetence was epidemic across the Federal government. She didn’t excuse it, but she said that it was hard to lower the boom on Clinton when her conduct (not the private server) was so widespread….as the fact that Comey and others were using personal accounts demonstrates.

      • Everyone does it. Comey and Strozek and Lynch should use that defense if they’re disciplined or prosecuted for ignoring policies. The President used a pseudonym via a home brew server via a non governmental email address to communicate with the Sec of State whileshe was in Russia? RUSSIA? You know, the source of all evil in the world and the master of Donald Trump? That’s pathetic. These are bright people with important jobs? Arrogant fools, more precisely.

  6. More lies because scandal sells. The same source for the Hemings story, a disgruntled office seeker, also claims Sally was a “slut common as the pavement,” who was “romping with half a dozen black fellows,” and had serviced “fifteen or thirty gallants of all colors.” Funny how that doesn’t get as much play.

  7. (1.) The logical part of my brain cannot accept the idea that Clinton set up the private server just for convenience. Anyone at that level of the government has any number of minions scurrying about to make everything convenient.
    The evil part of my brain can conjure up some other reasons, the least troubling of which is that there was some overlap between official business and Clinton Foundation business, and that overlap, if revealed, would be embarrassing to the Secretary and to the U.S.
    If there were something even more nefarious going on, it might very well be in the interest of the United States to conceal that from the public for a good long time. Then, an investigation might not follow standard practices (testimony under oath, separate questioning of persons of interest, confiscation of devices, etc.).
    The IG report says the private server very likely was compromised by hostile actors, and that’s when the really evil part of my brain issues an alert, asking, well, was there just incompetence, carelessness, or stupidity? Or, something else entirely?
    And then the logical part kicks in and says, “Forget it. You’re never going to know. Just like some things about the Kennedy assassination more than five decades later, there are things far too sensitive for any ordinary citizen like you.”

    • I’m one of those dreaded middle managers in IT and am responsible for IT infrastructure at my organization (servers, storage, networks, telecommunications). The worst thing in my department is managing the email system. No one in their right mind would set up an manage an email sever “for convenience,” especially if you can use one provided by someone else. The only reason I can think of is you don’t want that someone else to have access to emails you send and receive.

  8. Yes, we are arguing whether a slave can meaningfully consent to demands from a master.

    That is a stupid question. The question is whether Hemings could consent to advances from Jefferson. Factually, yes. Legally, maybe not But, you are substituting legality for reality. The law negates consent. But, that is a legal construct. It says next to nothing about real people

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