Morning Ethics Warm-Up, October 10, 2018: Incompetence Special

Good morning, and I mean it this time…!

1. My only Red Sox-related note: One reason I know that the news media can’t be trusted is that when I have first hand knowledge of a topic or event reported in the paper, I often find the reporting lazily, inexplicably, factually wrong. Here’s a trivial but illustrative example: this amazing play (It’s at 1:04 on the video) ended last night’s decisive Boston 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series:

Here’s how the Times described it:

“Kimbrel then got Gleyber Torres to hit a dribbler to third. Eduardo Nunez, a former Yankee, gathered it and threw slightly wide of first base, but another former Yankee, Steve Pearce, stretched to glove it an instant before Torres touched the bag.”

What? “Slightly wide”? A millimeter wider and the ball would have been in the dugout! If journalists can’t get little things right, why should be trust them to convey the important stuff?

2. Institutional incompetence  The historical airbrushing continues. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Washington and Lee University has decided to make changes to the names of some campus buildings after concerns from students and faculty.

On Tuesday, the Board of Trustees announced that it will rename Robinson Hall as Chavis Hall, in honor of John Chavis, the first African-American to receive a college education in the United States. He graduated from Washington Academy, the predecessor of W&L, in 1799. Also, Lee-Jackson House will be renamed Simpson Hall in honor of Pamela Hemenway Simpson, who served as an associate dean of the college and helped move to a co-ed environment in the 1980s.

The board also announced that effective immediately, it will replace portraits of Robert E. Lee and George Washington in military uniforms inside Lee Chapel with portraits of the two men in civilian clothing.

An educational institution that thinks it is appropriate to airbrush its own history can’t be trusted to teach anyone. Robinson Hall is named after the man who established the college, John Robinson. Yup, he was a slaveholder, but he established the school, and deserves prominent recognition for that. The decision to strip Washington and Lee of their uniforms is particularly ominous, hinting of several obnoxious biases. Soldiers are taboo now? Or is this a strike against “toxic masculinity”?  If the idea is to pretend that Robert E. Lee  is only notable for his post-military career as president of the university, that’s absurd and dishonest: if Lee had never worn the Confederate uniform, he would never have led the school, and nobody would know who he was today. Washington’s military brilliance  supersedes  his civilian achievements in significance and historical impact, for without General Washington there would be no United States of America.

My position is that it is negligent for parents to entrust their children’s minds to stupid people and incompetent schools. Washington and Lee and its administrators now qualify for that category.

3. Political incompetence and the rapid pig crisis.  After he voted against confirming Brett Kavanaugh, Montana Senator Jon Tester found himself downs graded to a”D” by the National Rifle Association. Matt Rosenberg, his Republican opponent, tweeted the news, so Chris Meagher, Tester’s crack communications director, tweeted out this rejoinder:

I’d say Tester has to fire the guy fast, and will lose votes for each minute he hesitates. Both the NRA and Rosenberg supporters are flooding societal media with “Jon Tester, cow assassin” memes and jokes. What in the world was Meagher thinking? (Pointer: Twitchy)

4.#MeToo incompetence. We have discussed this before: the creation of a sick system in which woman possess the power to destroy men in the workplace and elsewhere with accusations of sexual misconduct that “must be believed” risks creating an environment where women will not be trusted, and men will be wary of routine workplace interactions. The Society of Human Resource Management (Disclosure: I did an ethics program for them) reports that one year after the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck left the station, it sees “executives going as far as to not invite female colleagues on trips, to evening networking events or into their inner circles to avoid any situation that could be perceived incorrectly, thus reducing the opportunity for women.”  Of course that’s a common reaction, and I don’t blame them.

Good job, everybody!

5. I can’t let THIS pass…I’ve been meaning for several days to register an ethics retch regarding Senator Murkowski’s official statement regarding her “no” vote on Kavanaugh. Here it is:

 I did not come to a decision on this until walking onto the floor this morning. I have been wrestling to really try to know what is fair and what is right, and the truth is, that none of this has been fair.

This hasn’t been fair to the judge, but I also recognize that we need to have institutions that are viewed as fair and if people who are victims, people who feel that there is no fairness in our system of government, particularly in our courts, then you’ve gone down a path that is not good and right for this country. And so I have been wrestling with whether or not this was about qualifications of a good man or is this bigger than the nomination.

And I believe we’re dealing with issues right now that are bigger than the nominee and how we ensure fairness and how our legislative and judicial branch can continue to be respected. This is what I have been wrestling with, and so I made the — took the very difficult vote that I did.

I believe Brett Kavanaugh’s a good man. It just may be that in my view he’s not the right man for the court at this time. So I have taken my vote here this morning, I’m going to go back to my office and write a floor statement that is more fulsome and have the opportunity to have that.

But this has truly been the most difficult evaluation of a decision that I have ever had to make, and I’ve made some interesting ones in my career. But I value and respect where my colleagues have come down from in their support for the judge, and I think we’re at a place where we need to begin thinking about the credibility and integrity of our institutions.

My reactions:

  • If you can’t make an important decision on a matter that has been going on for months, then you are incapable of competent decision-making, and shouldn’t be a Senator.  The translation of her opening could be, “I flipped a coin.”
  • This hasn’t been fair to the judge, but I also recognize that we need to have institutions that are viewed as fair and if people who are victims, people who feel that there is no fairness in our system of government, particularly in our courts, then you’ve gone down a path that is not good and right for this country.” Authentic Frontier Gibberish! How is an institution going to be viewed as fair by being unfair, unless the viewers don’t know what fair is? When people “feel” the government is unfair, that means we have gone down the wrong path, even if their feeling is illogical and unjustified? People feel it is unfair that blacks haven’t been paid trillions in reparations. People feel it is unfair that the popular vote didn’t make Hillary President. So what? How did anyone this inarticulate and lame-brained get to be a Senator anyway? Oh, right! Her father appointed her!
  • “I believe Brett Kavanaugh’s a good man. It just may be that in my view he’s not the right man for the court at this time.” Huh? What does THAT mean? If he’s a good man and nobody doubts he is qualified, then he should be confirmed. Democrats claimed that he was not a good man, indeed either a sexual predator, or an unstable man filled with rage. If you don’t believe that, why are you voting against him, Senator?
  • “It was a difficult decision” is always a cowardly way to announce anything. It is an attempt to pre-emptively establish a defense to claims that a decision was wrong, as if that’s a mitigation. “But the decision was so hard!” I don’t care, you’re still accountable.

Today I will add “Murkowski’s Lament” to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List.

22 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Sports, Workplace

22 responses to “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, October 10, 2018: Incompetence Special

  1. People have argued that false rape accusations are only two percent?

    and yet, many of these same people who push this meme oppose the death penalty on the basis that innocent people might be executed i(event though that is much rarer than false rape accusations.)

    These people also want to ban assault weapons to stop mass shootings, even though mass shootings are far less than two percent of criminal homicides.

    We have discussed this before: the creation of a sick system in which woman possess the power to destroy men in the workplace and elsewhere with accusations of sexual misconduct that “must be believed” risks creating an environment where women will not be trusted, and men will be wary of routine workplace interactions. The Society of Human Resource Management (Disclosure: I did an ethics program for them) reports that one year after the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck left the station, it sees “executives going as far as to not invite female colleagues on trips, to evening networking events or into their inner circles to avoid any situation that could be perceived incorrectly, thus reducing the opportunity for women.” Of course that’s a common reaction, and I don’t blame them.

    Was this how Weinstein himself was treated?

    About Harvey Weinstein….

    http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-weinstein-charge-in-jeopardy-20181004-story.html

    • About Harvey Weinstein….

      Another page from Dan Rather’s ‘inaccurate but true’ files.

    • The FBI reports it at 4%, plus or minus. That’s the number of proven false accusations, not unprovably false accusations, accusations that we’re recanted, or accusations that never made it to the police. The number, whatever it is, is probably higher than 4%.

      Even if it is only 4%, hell, even if it’s only 2%, that is still twice the rate of false reporting as the next most commonly falsely reported crimes, theft and property damage, where people are attempting insurance fraud.

  2. A.M. Golden

    “for without General Washington there would be no United States of America.”

    Do you ever get the idea that they rather wish we’d never existed? After all, if we’d remained a British colony, we might very well have ended up like Canada and New Zealand, nice social democracies with limits on speech people don’t like and so-called common gun laws. And free health care! Don’t forget about free health care.

  3. Glenn Logan

    Today I will add “Murkowski’s Lament” to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List.

    Except I can’t figure out what the rationalization actually is. Is it that fairness to one person must be sacrificed on the altar of fairness (actually an unfair, inaccurate perception of fairness) to another group? That’s the best I can come up with.

    What does:

    And so I have been wrestling with whether or not this was about qualifications of a good man or is this bigger than the nomination.

    mean, exactly? What is so important that a qualified person must be treated unfairly in order to… I don’t know, right a wrong? Send a message? Set an example?

    I believe she wanted to turn the Kavanaugh debacle into an allegory for rape victims, and although I profoundly disagree, I can at least understand that impulse. What I don’t get is how the intervening 36 years and total lack of even the least substantiation of the charge doesn’t make such a process untenable, not just from the standpoint of fairness, which is certainly important, but from the standpoint of justice. It’s straightforwardly unjust to hold a person responsible for an unprovable allegation that old, and it’s unjust in any setting — judicial, legal, or even a “job interview.” It’s unethical to sacrifice justice for someone on the altar of perception and some vague suggestion of “fairness” to some nebulous group of victims. How such a situation can possibly deliver that fairness is so far beyond my ken, it might as well be written in Sanskrit.

    So how is all this “bigger than the nomination?” How is does manifest injustice create justice? How can unfairness create fairness? How can evil become good? These are all diametrically opposed positions which can never create the other. It’s profoundly insane to think otherwise.

  4. Cynical John

    I wonder what Washington & Lee will ultimately rename itself. Perhaps it can adopt Al Capp’s “Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything.” [Full disclosure: I’m a VMI alumnus; the VMI post adjoins the W&L campus and there is something of a rivalry between the two student bodies–or at least, there used to be.].

  5. Andrew

    As a native Richmonder, I have to point out that the Richmond Times ceased to be a thing about 115 years ago when it merged with the Richmond Dispatch. You should have credited the Richmond Times-Dispatch in point 2.

    Unless your intent was to demonstrate how ridiculous historical revisionism can be, in which case I applaud your point.

  6. Kyjo

    W&L’s decision was motivated in large part by the wreckage of Charlottesville (disclosure: I’m an alum of the former and a former resident of the latter), but this controversy has been brewing for some time, and there were a number of students and faculty during my years there who expressed their distaste particularly for Lee’s prominence. When the university announced a commission to review its history, I had some concern they might actually move to expunge Lee’s name altogether, but they have at least recognized that his presidency saved the institution and set it on the course of becoming one of the top liberal arts universities in the nation, as it is today. Still, the decision to rename Robinson Hall (the building in which probably the majority of my classes were held) makes little sense; there are plenty of other buildings that could be named for Chavis, and indeed, a residential house and board room already are. (Incidentally, Robinson was not a founder, but a trustee and major benefactor.) And the decision to take down the portraits of the university’s namesakes in military uniform really isn’t justified. The majority of alumni I think are outraged. I’m weighing whether to continue my habit of donating to the school’s annual fund; I received a good education there, on a generous scholarship, so I feel some obligation. But the steps the university is taking to “atone” for the past, while thankfully not as radical as I feared, make me wary of what’s in store for the future of my alma mater.

  7. 3) the original tweet demonstrates the danger of twitter and the responses the genius of it.

  8. Bad Bob

    Good Mr. Marshall,

    I certainly have disagreed with you on occasion, but in this instance, sir, I tell you my umbrage is without limit.

    Regarding #1, I am deeply aggrieved at the following statement:
    “If journalists can’t get little things right, why should be trust them to convey the important stuff?”

    Baseball, may I remind you, sir, is as important as it gets.

    As an ethics professional, I can only conclude that you suffered some sort of momentary lapse of reason.

    It is of course unethical, dare I say immoral, to state that baseball is a “little thing”.

    I trust you will remedy this lapse forthwith.

    Good day, sir.

    • Indeed, I agree with you whole-heartedly. That was a case, as William Jennings Bryan said of the Lord regarding some of the scientific issues in the Bible, of writing in terms that could be understood by readers according to their own meager knowledge.

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