1. They are showing “Perry Mason” reruns again on cable TV. That was the show that made my generation want to be lawyers, under the delusion that a defense attorney could regularly prove a criminal defendant innocent. (Pssst! They are almost all guilty.) The show holds up, but boy, Perry was sleazy. In an episode I watched while I was sick, he had his investigator tell the hapless prosecutor, Hamilton Burger (Ham Burger to his friends) that he had found an incriminating piece of evidence that proved someone other than Perry’s client had committed murder. Ham relied on the information and got the killer to confess once he was faced with the production of the “smoking gun.” But Perry’s investigator hadn’t really found anything.
Having one’s agent lie to the state prosecutor is a serious ethics breach. Perry also caused the DA to tell a falsehood to get the confession, though Burger wasn’t lying, since he believed Perry’s contrivance. Prosecutors are no more allowed to lie than other lawyers, but when they do lie “in the public interest,” they seldom get more than a slap on the wrist from courts and bar ethics committees, if that. Burger didn’t seem very upset that Perry conned him, because the real killer was caught. The ends justifies the means, or did in “Perry Mason.”
2. Ick or ethics? A Chinese scientist claims that he had successfully employed embryonic gene editing to help protect twin baby girls from infection with HIV. We are told that bioethicists in China and elsewhere are reacting with “horror.” Writes the Times,
“Ever since scientists created the powerful gene editing technique Crispr, they have braced apprehensively for the day when it would be used to create a genetically altered human being. Many nations banned such work, fearing it could be misused to alter everything from eye color to I.Q….If human embryos can be routinely edited, many scientists, ethicists and policymakers fear a slippery slope to a future in which babies are genetically engineered for traits — like athletic or intellectual prowess — that have nothing to do with preventing devastating medical conditions.”
As with cloning, my view on this controversy is that a new technology does not become unethical because of how it might be used. That unethical use will be unethical, and that is what needs to be addressed when and if the problem arises. (Airplanes could be used to drop atom bombs!) The fear of “designer babies” also seems to be an example of “ick”—it’s strange and creepy!—being mistaken for unethical. Making stronger, smarter, more talented and healthier human beings is not in itself unethical, even if it is the stuff of science fiction horror novels and Josef Mengele’s dreams.
3. Being a Democrat 101: When you got nothin’, play the race card.If Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith wins the Mississippi runoff election today , the makeup of the Senate Judiciary Committee will flip one more seat to Republicans, meaning that current Democrat member will have to go. By tradition, that would usually mean the junior Democratic member, which is California’s Sen. Kamala Harris. Democrats, however, are already framing that eventuality as more Republican racism. possible expulsion from the Senate Judiciary Committee by highlighting she is a black woman.
“Not only would it be unconscionable to remove the only African American woman from the committee, but Senator Harris also is the most skilled questioner on the entire panel,” Brian Fallon, the former press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, said according to The Washington Post. “Whatever options they need to consider, removing Harris should not be one of them.” Fallon added that “the backlash would be so intense” if Harris is removed.
Let me translate. It means 1) Harris should be treated differently than a white Senator. 2) If she is not extended special privileges because of her color, it means that Republicans are biased against her because of her color. 3) The GOP should fear a “backlash” even if it is based on neither fairness, tradition, or equity.
As for the claim that she’s the “best questioner”—boy, I sure hope not. Here she was in an exchange with the nominate ICE director a bit more than a week ago:
Vitiello: The Klan was what we could call today a domestic terrorist group.
Harris: Why? Why would we call them a domestic terrorist group?
Vitiello: Because they tried to use fear and force to change the political environment.
Harris: And what was the motivation for the use of fear and force?
Vitiello: It was based on race and ethnicity.
Harris: Right. And are you aware of the perception of many about how the power and discretion at ICE is being used to enforce the law and do you see any parallels?”
Harris is a race-baiting hack, and her loss in the Judiciary Committee would be a gain for all involved.
“She’s a real lawyer, she is the real deal, she’s a pro, and she also happens to be an African American woman,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said according to the Post. “She belongs on that committee … she is an ideal member.”
Here’s a solution: why doesn’t Blumenthal or one of the other white Democrats on the Committee graciously volunteer to leave so Harris can stay? You know why: they don’t really care about Harris; they just want to keep flogging the Big Lie that Republicans are racists.
4. “The Workologist” The Sunday Times column-–yes, this is one of the reasons I continue to read the Times, despite its deterioration on the news and editorial side into an agent of one political party against the other—is a reliable source of interesting workplace ethics problems. In a recent column, Rob Walker (the columnist) was asked about the dilemma faced by an employee who had received a “friend” request on Facebook from a superior. Walker’s advice: 1) See if ignoring it works and 2) fix your Facebook settings.
It is unethical for a manager, boss or superior to “friend” a subordinate, and I would argue that doing so could, in some circumstances, constitute sexual harassment.
5. Ugh. THIS again. The Smithsonian is cheering the Texas Board of Education decision to change to the state’s social studies standards to emphasize that slavery was the main cause of the American Civil War, and not, as previous standards had dictated, states’ rights and sectionalism. This is a political issue, not a historical one. The slavery/states rights debate is as close to a chicken and egg argument as there is. Progressives want to make the war about slavery and only slavery so as to definitively vilify the South, Southerners and the Confederacy, thus allowing them to consign important American military and political figures to History Hell, justifying their erasure from cultural honors and memory. On the other side, it is true that Southern states prefer to emphasize the states rights roots of the war, in part because there the Confederacy was on strong legal and Constitutional ground.
States rights and slavery were equally the causes of the Civil War. If there had been no slavery, it is unlikely that any state would have wanted to exercise its right to leave the union. If there had been no Constitutional acknowledgment of the states’ rights to substantial self-government, slavery would have vanished long before any civil war loomed. It’s not so hard to understand. Covering both causes fairly and equally is the wisest course both culturally and educationally; among other benefits, it opens up the ethical conundrums. What should happen if there is a legal right to do the wrong thing? When does moral certitude justify ignoring the law? If Lincoln’s decision was illegal, is it still ethical?
Sigh. Historians have allowed history to become propaganda, and politicians and educators WANT it to be propaganda.
Bonus: Today’s cultural literacy note! We are accustomed to referring to Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton et al. as “The Founders,” but that term was not used until the Twenties, when it was first introduced in a speech by President Warren G. Harding.