Morning Ethics Warm-Up. 11/27/18: Unethical Perry Mason, Icky Science, Race Card-Playing Democrats, Intrusive Bosses And Slanted History

Good morning…

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.


37 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up. 11/27/18: Unethical Perry Mason, Icky Science, Race Card-Playing Democrats, Intrusive Bosses And Slanted History

  1. 5) It’s worse than that Texas Democrats on the BoE wanted to completely REMOVE everything BUT slavery as the cause of the Civil War. Texas Republicans wanted to keep the curriculum unchanged on that topic.

    They “compromised” by keeping the 3 causes of the Civil War, but emphasizing the ‘centrality’ of Slavery. In essence, nothing changed…but Leftists got to grandstand in an effort to look like they accomplished some grand change to “fix” some sort of egregious omission in Texas education…as all the headlines coming out the Democrat’s propaganda ministry were all variations on the line “Texas to start teaching that Slavery was major cause of Civil War” as though Texas hadn’t been teaching that all along.

    Have I mentioned how asinine Leftists are lately?

    • It is puzzling. Why would Democrats want to highlight the fact that the cause of the Civil War was that they insisted on enslaving people and they were going to fight to the death rather than let Republicans free blacks?

          • OK, I don’t know what’s going on here…. The video link I selected goes to the correct page when pasted into a browser, but puts the wrong video in place when pasted into reply here. One more try, & I give up:

            If this doesn’t work, please just delete all, Jack. Sorry.

      • I think the side purpose of all this historic airbrushing is, by neurotically hanging the “Confederacy” on modern conservatives, and wielding such as a cudgel in all policy debates, the Democrats can simultaneously purge themselves of the sin that is absolutely tied with the political origin story – The Democrat Party came into existence with one purpose and one purpose only – to forestall via political means the inevitable political solution to slavery. Every single one of their presidential candidacies was designed around electing a pro-slave candidate by cynically appealing to all regions on a variety of topics.

        Though support for slavery was decisively defeated and could never be a policy goal of any party again (though the lying Left desperately casts rightwingers as pro-slavery boogey men), the genetic trait of the Democrat party has been to kick major national problems down the road to avoid solving them, because the solutions are often majorly painful for some interested parties.

        We don’t truly pursue welfare reform. We don’t truly pursue excessive government spending. We will never truly pursue immigration reform. We will never truly pursue the necessary cultural changes to truly get the African American community out of its slump.

        Can kicking. The genetic marker of the DNC since the 1830s.

  2. :”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.”

    I don’t even think that’s the primary reason. I think that’s a side battle that arose from ignorant youths who latched on to a “cause”. The primary reason for teaching a completely un-nuanced view of American history is to more easily smear anyone who tries to analyze history in a nuanced way as “racist”. Primarily, as it is increasingly the case, only conservatives seem to appreciate our American Heritage and American political Values, so inevitably it is only conservatives who can see American History as a nuanced stream of thought and conflict and can accept America’s greatness in spite of it’s sins. Leftists, who hate American heritage and political values, need to erase everything but America’s sins so they can smear those of us who love it’s values as evil monsters.

    That’s the primary reason for the Left wanting to teach dishonest history in American schools.

  3. Let’s correct the ICE director.
    “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?

    (corrected): To keep them from voting Republican.

  4. 2) Until we are 100% confident of exactly what each gene does and what results from minute code changes then the likelihood of increasing the modified individual’s suffering is present. Therefore, any such changes without 100% certainty of “improvement” (whatever that means) are inherently unethical as they are a likely source of *human caused* suffering.

      • Is it?

        When we’re modifying ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL human being *against their will*, I would expect a nearly absolute standard.

        It isn’t unreasonable, and if so, then it’s a perfect argument against genetically modifying the unborn.

        • We’ll fix a cleft palate or a deformed face, a withered leg will get amputated, a hear will bet fixed, but there is always risk. If the modification is objectively an improvement, then I see no distinction. The Down Syndrome case is the line: is it unethical to alter the genes of a DS fetus to eliminate the problems and give the child average or superior intellect? If the alternative is abortion?

          If my male-pattern baldness could have been nipped in the bud, is it really necessary to get my consent?

              • Well, the topic is the ethics of China’s claim…is it not?

                As long as we’re in the realm of hypothetical futures, my standard is still reasonable. Until we are certain we know what gene modifications will ACTUALLY result in, then modifying those genes carry a very likely negative result, and therefore are unethical to do so.

                And it IS a distinct situation from the “mechanical” fixes you describe relating to cleft palates and amputating deformed limbs, etc. Changes to “hardware” are far more predictable than changes to “software”.

                  • I get it.

                    And if you can be certain your genetic modifications do not carry risk of programming in harm into the non-consenting unborn, then sure. I’m not confident that IF can reasonably be met, certainly no time soon.

                • Let’s not forget it has implications beyond just the individual being modified, too. Since it’s a change in genetic code, it’s something that can potentially affect their offspring, in unknown ways. The ripples from throwing a stone into the genetic modification pond can carry quite a distance. For that reason, and the reasons you specify, I would say a very, very high standard is appropriate. Right now, that standard isn’t even close to being met, as it’s largely an ego-driven race to be first.

                  Additionally, if you’re going to experiment on unborn humans, why not start with some relatively benign and obvious trait, like changing eye color? Mucking about with the immune systems of these girls seems like something that has a lot of potential pitfalls (and can’t really be tested for effectiveness unless you purposely expose them to HIV).

          • If my male-pattern baldness could have been nipped in the bud, is it really necessary to get my consent?

            It could have been nipped in the bud by sufficiently early castration. If that was a rhetorical question, the same could be said of castration. Before you rebut by pointing out “that’s different”, I am only presenting it to help us see in what any differences consist. You know, Socratic enquiry and that. That is, don’t just say “that’s different”, show how – and then see how, in which situations, etc., similar issues could get entrained in the genetic stuff, too.

          • If it’s the gene sequence I think it is, it’s the delta 32 mutation of the CCR5 gene.

            This mutation is rare in humanity as a whole, but is up to 30% in a few populations. It provides protection from all haemmoragic fevers such as Marburg, West Nile, and Ebola as well as HiV and the various forms of Plague.

            Given its benefits, it’s odd that it doesn’t appear to have a downside. It may give decreased immunity to some forms of mosquito borne encephalitis, but the evidence for this is poor. It appears to be novel in the human species, even younger than the 20,000 yr old mutation that results in blue eyed adults.

            I haven’t been tested, but both my parents came from one of the groups with a 30% mutation rate. A consequence of ancestors self quarantining during the 1660s outbreak of bubonic and pneumonic plague. Basically anyone without natural immunity in that geographic area was exposed and died, which acted as a concentrator.


            Derbyshire is one of the few places on Earth other than mountaintops that has basically no iodine in the environment, so the inhabitants at the time were already genetically most unusual.

            Regarding Down syndrome, it’s caused by an extra copy or partial copy of chromosome 21. Karyotype is thus 47,XX,+21 for females and 47,XY,+21 for males, or rarely, 46XY,t(14q21q) or 46XX,t(14q21q) for partial copies.

            About 2% of live births have some form of trisomy. The most common types of trisomy are:
            trisomy 13, or Patau syndrome
            trisomy 18, or Edwards syndrome
            trisomy 21, or Down syndrome
            Plus trisomy Y and trisomy X, resulting in 48,XYY or 48,XXY karyotypes.

            The anomaly can happen at conception, or can appear later in embryonic development due to cell division issues. Just one of those things that sometimes happens.

    • The requirement of 100% certainty is a good way of making sure that nothing changes, and everything remains the same and that is just another way downward into cultural and economic bankruptcy. Risk and uncertainty are a part of everything and that Includes doing nothing!

      • Zoom your scope down to the object of what we’re discussing: an unborn baby. An individual human being who cannot consent to the modifications being proposed. This isn’t whether or not the Wright Brothers should take the risks they took or whether or not Christopher Columbus and his flotilla should take the risks they took.

        We’re talking about one distinct human being who cannot consent to the risks foisted on him or her.

        That’s why it’s reasonable to have as a high a standard as I describe.

  5. 3. Kamala Harris is not a disadvantaged person. From her wiki page:

    Harris was born on October 20, 1964, in Oakland, California, to a Tamil Indian mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris (1938–2009) and Jamaican father, Donald Harris. Her mother was a breast cancer researcher, who emigrated from Madras, Tamil Nadu, India, in 1960, and her father a Stanford University economics professor who emigrated from Jamaica in 1961 for graduate study in economics at University of California, Berkeley. Her name, Kamala, comes from the Sanskrit word for lotus. She was extremely close to her maternal grandfather, P. V. Gopalan, an Indian diplomat, and as a child, she frequently visited her family in Besant Nagar, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. She has one younger sister, Maya.

    The family lived in Berkeley, California, where both of Harris’ parents attended graduate school. Harris’ parents divorced when she was 7 and her mother was granted custody of the children by court-ordered settlement. After the divorce, her mother moved with the children to Montreal, Québec, Canada, where Shyamala took a position doing research at the Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill University.

    After graduating from Montreal’s Westmount High School in Quebec, Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she majored in political science and economics. At Howard, Harris was elected to the liberal arts student council as freshman class representative, was a member of the debate team, and joined the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

    Harris then returned to California, earning her Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, in 1989. She was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1990.

    Also: Harris is married to California attorney Douglas Emhoff, who was at one time partner-in-charge at Venable LLP’s Los Angeles office.

    She also dated Willie Brown, a man of color thirty years her senior, for a few important years. Per American Greatness:

    As speaker of the California State Assembly from 1980 to 1995, Willie Brown was by far the Golden State’s most powerful shot-caller. In 1994 Brown, 60, met Kamala Harris, a full 30 years his junior, and she became “the Speaker’s new steady,” Brown’s “girlfriend” and “frequent companion.” The two-year relationship worked out well for Harris.

    Willie Brown appointed Harris to the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, which paid $97,088 a year. She served six months and Brown then appointed her to the California Medical Assistance Commission, which met only once a month but paid Harris $72,000. Call it “poontronage,” a politician’s appointment of his steady girlfriend, frequent companion, and main squeeze to a lucrative government position requiring little work.

    She’s also very physically attractive: Per Barack Obama: She is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough,” said the president of the United States in 2013. “She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general in the country.” (Can you imagine the outrage if Trump ever said anything similar?)

    This woman has been riding a gravy train with biscuit wheels all her life. When were people from India ever enslaved in the U.S? Am I the only one who’s noticed children of parents with advanced degrees and teach at universities are sought after by high powered universities? See, eg. Barack Obama. How many non-Indian ER docs are there in the United States? Her grandfather was a diplomat! Exactly how is she a victim of anything?

  6. “Kamala Harris has suffered in ways that no white child of Appalachia could possibly know!”

    Mercifully my Dear Maternal Grandfather (who left an enviably upscale existence in Bushtown-Mercer County, KY at 14 so his widowed Mother would get more help from neighbors) died two years before she was born.

    Learning of her hardships may have been too much to bear.

  7. Re: genetic meddling, my biology is decades old, but the idea that each part of our DNA influences multiple characteristics was standard. For example: change the resistance to HIV, lower the resistance to cancer, possibly. 100% certainty is certainly a pipe dream, but we don’t have the ability to truly see the changes we introduce. The ethics is even worse, you are not just correcting an individual physical deformity, but the off spring that will result from the change.

      • Sure, but meddling around with the genetic code of the most complex creature in the known world with the limited understanding and primitive techniques we have now isn’t a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon, it’s an elephant stampeding down Fifth Avenue…

        I’m not necessarily opposed to genetic modification per se, but I think we are far short of the knowledge and wisdom needed to ethically use it on humans at this point in time. This technology has only been used on primates a handful of times (the first surviving GMO monkey was only four years ago), and we’re jumping straight to humans? Why not see what the long-term effects are on some lemurs or capuchins first?

        It’s one of those “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” things.

        • All true, but the fact that something is potentially unethical doesn’t make it unethical. Playing with fire ignorantly or recklessly: yes, irresponsible and incompetent. The point was and is that none of that makes genetic editing for special improvement unethical in the abstract, yet that is how it is being represented, because of fear, “ick,” and other non-ethical considerations.

          “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” is a good thing to keep in mind regarding all sorts of conduct. It’s most famous use in pop culture, “Jurassic Park,” is a bad match here, though. It’s hard to see how making dinosaurs has any positive elements other than “Gee, we can do this, how cool, let’s try it!” The benefits of smarter, hardier, stronger or more talented human beings are far more evident.

          • If it’s the gene I think it is, we already have a 2000 yr old record of people with that gene, and good records for 300 years of small populations where 30% or more have that gene.

            Nothing is completely safe, but this one is about as safe as we can get. I personally wouldn’t make the change universal, but only because genetic diversity is desirable from an evolutionary viewpoint. If everyone is too similar genetically, a superbug or other environmental change could cause species extinction. This is much less likely with the kind of genetic diversity H.Sap has.

  8. #2
    ‘Gattaca’ anyone, or the Asgardians from ‘Stargate SG1’ who got so far down the genetic engineering/cloning road that the couldn’t get back? Now there are two places you could find ethics topics for a lifetime Jack!

    I’m not opposed to genetic engineering at all, but the risks are ginormous, not just medically but socially and ethically. I’m not convinced that even changing an eye colour won’t have unexpected consequences. I’m in electronics and IT not GE, but as far as I have read the Genome appears to extremely intertwined and individual genes may impact on multiple characteristics. Hell, software companies issue patches almost daily and no piece of software comes close to the complexity of any Genome.

    If you want to work in this area I am good with the idea of experimenting on volunteers who have serious and debilitating medical conditions and who can no longer reproduce. The unborn, infants or those who are likely to have children should be a definite no-no until we have much more knowledge.

    Pattern Baldness would be pretty far down my list Jack; even though I am increasingly demonstrating the condition. Remember: “God made very few perfect heads, the rest he covered with hair”.

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