‘Tis The Morning Before Christmas Ethics Warm-Up, 12/24/18!

Merry Christmas!

1 Christmas gift ethics. What’s your opinion of a relative who says that the only thing she wants for Christmas is for family members to donate to her favorite leftist candidate for City Council? I don’t recall the Christmas tradition being “Make people do whatever you would do” Day, do you? Let’s have a Christmas Eve poll!

2. Change: I now believe “the wall” is necessary and the President’s resolve is ethical. My change of heart comes after watching all Democrats and many Republicans simultaneously say they want secure borders and then continue to encourage illegal immigration with their rhetoric and votes. The wall is necessary to send an unequivocal message, which has been Trump’s message since he announced his candidacy: “Come here legally, or don’t come. If you get here by breaking our laws, you are not welcome and will never be welcome, no matter what you do.”


Anti-Trump GOP Senator Bob Corker claims that the showdown over authorization of funding for the Wall is a “made-up fight, so the president can look like he’s fighting, but even if he wins, our borders are going to be insecure.” It’s not a “made-up” fight at all. Republicans have been afraid to upset Hispanic-Americans and Democrats want nice, reliable, left-voting poor folks to swell the voting rolls, so they have sent deliberately mixed messages, particularly regarding the “Dreamers.” If a wall did nothing other than stop “migrant caravans,” it would be worth it.

Trump also promised a wall. Breaking promises is not the same as a lie, unless the promise was a lie when it was made, but Trump, who we have been told lies incessantly, has also been far more determined to fulfill campaign promises than any President within memory. (Obama promised to address the national debt. He promised to have the most transparent administration in history. He promised  that lthe use of chemical weapons by Syria would be the “red line.” He promised to be President of all the people, not just Democratic base demographic groups. He promised that if you like your heath care plan…well, you know the rest.)

It is the Democratic position on the wall that is a sham, because the money involved is a relative pittance. They are grandstanding, and the President is not.

3.  Slot machine ethics. How did I miss this? Three Las Vegas visitors who hit multi-million dollar jackpots playing slot machines are fighting the casinos’ efforts to void the pay-offs on the grounds that the machines “malfunctioned.” The episodes all occurred earlier this year. Unless there is a prominent notice on or around the slots pointing out that there is a limit to the payoff in any single play and specifying what the limit is, I think the casinos are obligated to live with losing whatever one of their evil, manipulative, Skinnerian machines cough up.

This isn’t like a malfunctioning ATM machine. Players are led to believe that whatever comes out when they pull the lever or push the button is theirs. If casinos can say that their machines malfunctioned and they are not responsible for the result, then gamblers should have the same option: “I’m sorry, but my limit on gambling losses was just $500. I shouldn’t be responsible for the additional $10,000 I lost on blackjack, because I malfunctioned.”

4. KABOOM! Well, it will be Christmas without the top of my head, I guess: From the university where I once taught ethics to law students, American University in D.C.:

Grading Ain’t Just Grading: Rethinking Writing Assessment—Ecologies Towards Antiracist Ends

Asao B. Inoue
February 1st, 2019


MGC 3-5 Open to all faculty who preregister. This plenary will argue against the use of conventional standards in college courses that grade student writing by single standards. Inoue will discuss the ways that White language supremacy is perpetuated in college classrooms despite the better intentions of faculty, particularly through the practices of grading writing.


11:20AM – 12:35PM
MGC 3-5

(Note: We believe this workshop will be most helpful to Writing Studies faculty, but others are also invited to sign up.)

This interactive workshop will focus on redesigning writing courses’ assessment ecologies in ways that reduce the negative effects of a single standard of writing used in conventional grading practices. It will offer an alternative to such grading practices, labor-based grading contracts, and a comprehensive theory of assessment that may lead participants to other ways of redesigning their courses’ assessments.

 Wow. Teaching students to express themselves clearly and competently, and rewquiring them to master speaking and writing in standard English is racist, apparently.

Writes Steven Hayward at Powerline: “Memo to American University alumni pondering year-end donation appeals: Not. One. Dime.”


4. Ethics Quote Of The Week: Senator Rand Paul. I’m not and have never been a fan of Rand or his father, but the Senator deserves a salute for directly challenging the bias and hypocrisy of many critics of the President’s troop withdrawal decisions. On Twitter, Paul announced as part of his annual Festivus “declaration of grievances” (if this confuses you, you need to brush up on your “Seinfeld.” Cultural literacy alert!):

“The entire foreign policy establishment of Washington, DC, who two years ago were swearing Trump was going to start multiple nuclear wars. Now they’re mad because he is stopping two wars. How about you just admit you hate the President, love war and have been wrong for the last twenty years on every part of foreign policy?”

Paul elaborated on “Face the Nation.”

5. P.M. Forni. Professor Forni deserves a separate post, but I can’t be sure I’ll get to it, and I don’t want to neglect him. From his obituary in the Times:

P. M. Forni, a professor of early Italian literature who became a leading exponent of civility in our own discourteous times, died on Dec. 1 in Towson, Md. He was 67….

Dr. Forni was a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore when, in 1997, he became the principal founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, which not only examined the importance of civility in human society but also encouraged the practice of it on campuses and in communities through campaigns with bumper stickers, buttons and speaking programs.

Dr. Forni, who directed the project (now known as the Civility Initiative) for many years, also wrote two books on the topic, “Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct,” published in 2002, and “The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude” (2010)…

Dr. Forni would remind people that “we have been struggling with these issues for 2,000 years,” Mr. Buccino said by email. “He would also remind us that while there is much civility work still to be done, it was important to note how much progress we have made over the centuries.”

Many things make his death feel personal. I have his book, “Choosing Civility,” and read it. He was right. He  I served on a panel about civility with him. We had a long conversation. He was very friendly and supportive, but then one would expect that from a civility advocate. He was younger than I am, and he died on my birthday, December 1.

6. And Michael Daigneault, who is still kicking: Michael was the lawyer who first got me involved with ethics as a profession. He consulted with me on the use of non-traditional legal ethics teaching techniques, and when his revolutionary ethics training and consulting company caused him to be recruited hired to run a large international ethics institute, he generously turned over his company and clients to me. Michael is now running Quantum Governance, and as ethical as ever. A recent post during the holidays:

75 thoughts on “‘Tis The Morning Before Christmas Ethics Warm-Up, 12/24/18!

  1. “thanks for the suggestion, but I’ll be giving you a gift of my own choosing.”

    Give a contribution to your own favorite candidate, since her pupose is clearly to foster civic engagement.

    to explain to her that the request is obnoxious, and why.

    All of those are appropriate, and received my vote.

    The NRA option, though satisfying, is spiteful.

    Giving in is equal folly but on a grander scale.

  2. “Teaching students to express themselves clearly and competently, and rewquiring them to master speaking and writing in standard English is racist, apparently.”

    Some typos ARE funny.

  3. 4)

    We are still occupying Germany, getting close to 1 century after defeating them. Under the direct purpose of “opposing Russia”, but the indirect purpose of making sure a centralizing military hegemony of Europe doesn’t develop with expansionist and commerce-stifling designs.

    We are still occupying Korea after an unfinished war not quite as long ago.

    Just because the occupations of the middle east and Afghanistan face much greater combat pressure doesn’t inherently mean the *duration* of the occupation is automatically wrong from a foreign policy standpoint.

    • Yes, we have a military presence in Europe (not simply Germany) and South Korea. I would take issue with the term ‘occupying’. Yes, we did occupy West Germany for a period of time, but converted that presence to a military alliance. We had and have troops in Great Britain, but I don’t believe anyone has ever termed that an occupation.

      We aren’t occupying Korea — we have no troops that I am aware of in North Korea, which would be an occupation. South Korea is an ally and has been since its creation. The troops we have stationed there since 1953 have served as a tripwire against Communist China resuming the war — and that has worked. It’s allowed South Korea the security and time to develop into much more of a democracy and an economic power. To me, that part of the Korean War has been an unqualified success.

      I think they still serve as a tripwire against North Korea resuming the war. They cannot believe — as they did in 1950 — that the U.S. would not be involved in another war.

      • I used “occupation” semi-hyperbolically. But it was an occupation that became an alliance. But we can’t pretend we were still there as a guarantor of peace from *any* belligerent. We had no idea how long it would take to bring Germany “back” from Naziism. That they did so rapidly can probably be attributed to the Judeo-Christian culture they ultimately derived from and shared with the victors. And of course is the prime reason our Middle East occupations seem to bear little to no fruit. So sure, it’s hard to guess how long we would have willingly stayed in Germany if we’d faced a similar insurgency.

        And your point is fair about total victory and what that would look like in a middle eastern nation. But I still think it’s fair to observe that we do maintain a heavy military presence in previously “conquered”, “liberated”, “secured”, (whatever term seems best) nations that once were our ideological opposites.

        • We actually have somewhat of an example from our own history. We were willing to pay any price to win the Civil War. Winning the peace afterwards, we were not so willing, even though the price was not measured so much in lives lost. Within 10 years, the North exhausted its willingness to occupy the South to try and ensure black suffrage and other civil rights.

          It’s not precise comparison, but I think it’s an indicator of how democracies tend to behave after winning a long and costly war.

    • I’ve heard a really interesting assessment of Western relations with China that is intriguing. Not necessarily a guaranteed outcome, but an interesting take nonetheless. Worth considering as some of history is cyclical and that the latest “cycle” facing China and the West began with Nixon’s opening of relations with China and is beginning to see the end of the cycle only NOW.

      The cycle described (and I’m not convinced) is that China opens itself to provide what it can to the world market, as money/silver/whatevercurrency flows IN. Currently (since Nixon) China offered super-cheap labor to the world, and the world (mostly the US) poured MONEY into China.

      The previous two cycles this occurred, one of which ended in the “Opium” War, did not end well, as you see. China opened up to Europe’s demand for Oriental products and Europe obliged by dumping it’s silver into China. Well, once that occurred, Europe wanted it’s silver back as China looked inward to develop itself and use the silver for internal commerce.

      But Europe wanted its silver back. So it forced China to buy stuff back (including highly demanded Opium). Well, the rest is history.

      Modern China, built on providing the world with cheap labor, now has stockpiles of wealth to look inward. What will the world (and the United States) do?

  4. 1) if you’re going to choose a gift rather than donate as requested, just do it- handing her the package will send your message perfectly clearly, and commenting on why you’re doing it seems needlessly provocative rather than in the spirit of the season.

    As another option, what about “hey, it’s great that you want to give up gifts for a good cause, but I’m not really a supporter of candidate X- I know you volunteer at the food kitchen, Ute about I donate there in your honor instead?” (Or “do you have any non-political causes I could donate to?”)

    It’s Christmas. Seek out opportunities to accommodate and avoid arguments and strife.

  5. A well built wall will decrease the number of people tear gassed at the border because it will be harder to do things like rush the border and throw rocks at agents.

    Of course the Democrats don’t want that, they like seeing people tear gassed so they have something to rally people around.

  6. For #1, I would send a traditional Christmas present and never address the “charitable” request.

    In a couple weeks, when Facebook asks me to use my my birthday to raise funds for a cause I care about, I am going to dedicate my “special day” to ME, because not everything has to be about politics….

  7. 1. I’m torn. I would probably just say, “ Oh gosh, I got you a present already”. It’s tempting to explain to them why their choice is rude, but the type of person who is willing to use Christmas to get donations for a candidate won’t like discussing it. I hate arguments at Christmas.

    3. I agree. Unless it’s clearly stated that there’s a maximum payout, they should pay them. That they’re pleading incompetence to get out of paying is just low.

    5. I added Choosing Civility to a book order I made on Amazon today. I look forward to reading it over the Christmas break.

  8. 1) Confrontation is just an icky thing that I wouldn’t want for Christmas. I try to come up with my own gifts for people rather than ask what they want anyways. And I have a strong tendency to give books — I’m a bookseller, what can I say?

    2)The only way the borders could be ‘absolutely secure’ would be to have some sort of automatic and lethal barrier covering every mile of the border. Walls, even with guards and machine guns, are not 100% effective — they weren’t for the Eastern Bloc who were more than willing to shoot people trying to cross. But a wall could be an effective deterrent, even if it only stopped 95% or so. It’s the old straw man argument of objecting to something because it is merely effective and not perfect.

    4 (first #4) My eyes glazed over once I read ‘writing assessment ecologies’. What utter blather.

    • I favor command controlled minefields… with a secret schedule of when any one area is ‘live.’ This should be backed up with cameras, and the video posted on the Internet to discourage drug runners and other criminals from making the attempt.

  9. Here is a summary of #2:

    They are mad Trump is fighting for a wall, even though he promised it.

    If he gives up on the wall, they will complain that he broke a promise.

    If he gets the wall, they will complain if We pay for it, instead of Mexico.

    If he fights to make Mexico pay for it (through tariffs or fees tacked onto money transfers to Mexico), they will complain).

    This is “damned if you do”-squared.

    If Trump were to create a flow chart, all choices lead to complaints; if those are the choices, why should their opinion even be considered by him.


  10. Jack said:
    “Wow. Teaching students to express themselves clearly and competently, and requiring them to master speaking and writing in standard English is racist, apparently.”

    Next time you go to the local 7-11 to buy a deck of smokes, ask for them is Swahili. See what you get. Watu waddi.

  11. 1- No way would I give any political group money at the holidays. Cash is for charities making the world better right now, and I doubt many politicians qualify. I would get her whatever gift I thought she would like/find useful, just like I take wedding registries with a grain of salt. Miss Manners and her ilk do not approve of forced gifts. If she was young enough to listen to a comment, I might mention about Miss Manners and forced wedding gifts. If she’s just a brat, I’d say something like, “Oh, the budget’s tight this year, do you prefer a homemade secular candle or something not seasonal?” I’d just say ‘Okay, got it,” just to avoid her selling points. She does not direct my spending, I give something homemade to most, so this would not be a shock…

    2) I still don’t see a point in an extensive wall, they seem to have had limited success at national levels. I do see it as a useful card to play in trying to force some real change in the horrible state of immigration control. The left has not come even vaguely to the bargaining table about the big issues, they keep doubling down again and again, so this Trump card keeps being reincluded in the hand.

    3) The casinos’ lack of planning should not constitute an emergency for the winners. They already have a huge advantage in peeling money away, if there was no cheating (and no dawdling for months in payout to ‘verify’) they should be stuck in it. A big winner will lure more in any way… Pay your debts, or the winners should be owed extra for extra costs and anguish.

    I’m surprised only one other noted you have two #4s in your list, Jack. You need some more sleep. Thanks for rolling along.

    4A) Grading. Arrant silliness, that even “Auntie Mame” mocked early last century. This is where more responsible schools or collegiate associations, that still have standards could nip this nutjob (it’s not clear if the speaker has influence at the host school) in the bud. Your grades from the school will not be considered as having any validity towards other schools and degrees. So forget anyone with any ambitions of further degrees. The value of a degree will slip and continue slipping and probably drop to match the actual value of online degrees.

    4B) SenatorPaul: I will admit I was very concerned about Mr. Trump being President. I saw his skeevy divesting of business interests and ability to run his own properties into the ground and through unethical SOPs to be very bad for a POTUS. But in some areas, he has surprised me. And internationally, he hasn’t done any worse His business instead of political orientation has let him slice through some intractable situations. Especially with HOW much internal opposition he’s gotten, he’s actually gotten some sympathy. Too bad he hasn’t garnered loyal opposition inside that is effective as in Lincoln’s years. He’s actually a little too slow to fire some.

    Hope everyone is enjoying their Christmas, and not chugging too many nogs or overdoing the warm cookies…

  12. Must admit I have experienced discomfort downgrading students who are clearly on top of the material, but can’t express it in writing to save their souls. Despite urging remediation through writing assistance, they just can’t quite communicate in writing as well as they think and learn as demonstrated in class. Have attempted to find a middle ground which rewards good thought and work in a more weighted fashion to reflect their learning and abilities. Despite trying to be supportive of these students, it still feels wrong.

  13. Inoue will discuss the ways that White language supremacy is perpetuated in college classrooms despite the better intentions of faculty, particularly through the practices of grading writing.

    Against whom is this supposed to be racist against?




  14. https://ethicsalarms.files.wordpress.com/2018/12/Daigneault.jpg?w=540&h=&zoom=2

    6) America is getting more and more divided, that is true, but in fact this is occurring all throughout the Occidental world. In order to be able to make a recommendation as to what is needed in the developing situation, one has to be able to accurately see what is going on and to be able to express it.

    No one sees and no one clearly expresses. The object though is to see and express.

    The solution offered by Michael Daigneault, for all its respectable and noble tone, is not really a solution, and likely because he has little interest in defining *the problem*. For this reason his kindness and civility project — and this is admirable — is based out of a position located in contingency. A contingent act is not an ineffectual act. It is simply not enough.

    In a large sense — in the largest sense — we are in a process of decline. Spiritually, intellectually, religiously, morally, ethically. The ultimate meaning, the ultimate result, is ultimately the decomposition of the mind and the intellect. At all levels there is advancing degeneration. Hyper-liberalism is eating the West like an acid. Some say it is the most severe crisis to afflict the Occident.

    And no one has any clear sense, or in any case they cannot state it directly and openly, of what is needed to reverse the trends. The trends have a causal history though and — technically — could be known.

    Unconditional Love, in the context of a process of degeneration which has been brought about by man’s failures, is not the right mode for confronting the problem. If it is not defined properly, it is a meaningless phrase. There is more to be gotten from getting clear that what is needed is not ‘unconditional love’ (a mushy phrase that could be written Unconditional Luv) but Rigorous Punishment. Starting at the level of the self. (That is the meaning of a religious seriousness and the core of Christian message).

    The loss of the Occident (if one would this term seriously) has come about through profound failure of responsibility. It starts at the level of the self (innerly) and extends outward to all things, all fields. In order to be able to describe the result of destructive processes, one has to be clear about what they have been historically.

    And some sort of mushy ‘luv’ is no cure at all, for what this means ‘luv’ is is not strong love in any spiritual sense but a sort of decadent indulgence in love’s pornographization for the Mindless Present.

    No difference at all will come to be if indulgent, uncomprehending ‘luv’ cannot and will not organize itself into a militant activism to confront destructive decadence. One must define Love and reserve one’s true love for those who can even understand its value & meaning.

    Here is an interesting declaration (the NYTs article on Forni):

    “One day, while I [P. M. Forni] lectured on the Divine Comedy, I looked at my students and realized that I wanted them to be kind human beings more than I wanted them to know about Dante,” he wrote. “I told them that if they knew everything about Dante and then they went out and treated an elderly lady on the bus unkindly, I’d feel that I had failed as a teacher.”

    I suggest that this is a *sentimentalist* approach. It is insidious because How could one argue against the declaration and not seem pedantic or mean? First, you cannot ‘want’ people to be kind and think that your wanting can achieve it. If people are not kind, the causes have to be located. If they are going to be kind, it will come about through a spiritual revolution inside themselves. And if they are going to confront the *unkind world* and have some effect in it, they will have to continue with inner processes. They will have to bring them into the world in some meaningful way.

    Dante is said to be one of the most magnificent and important authors and is on a level with Shakespeare. Perhaps I know more about Shakespeare than Dante, and Shakespeare is said to have ‘invented the human’. Dante described a metaphysical relationship to our world that has no parallel.

    So, let us abandon what is crucial and essential in our traditions and rush out to be ‘kind’ on public transport. What this insidious recommendation (though it is vague) likely results in is not a strengthening of the intellect of a person, but the strengthening of the sentimentality of the person. But to be *really kind* requires an a priori intellectual position — defined and meaningful — to which the will can dedicate itself. St Thomas wrote: ‘The will and the intellect must act reciprocally upon each other’.

    A ‘will to be kind’ is rarely a will that serves defined principles. A mere will to be kind will lead to unconditional luv but not to a transforming Love based on intellectually realized principles that take shape in the world and mold it.

  15. 1. I would take out my checkbook (provided at least one other family member is near to witness), write out a check, then stop and say, “of course, you’ll promise to write a check for the same amount for My candidate on my birthday, right?”

    2. Walls Don’t Work.

    3. If you’re going to gamble, take your money to the few places that have a choice of big casinos, places that can afford the big payouts and love the publicity that attracts more suckers, that have in-house machine checks daily (yes, they do), and cannot afford to be cheap-jacks: Reno, Atlantic City, Vegas, maybe Mississippi. And where faulty machines are not left around with signs on them; they’re taken off the floor, customer refunded his input and something nice in the way of tickets to a star-filled show, food and/or drink – none of which costs them much of anything. A place where when you get overexcited the first time you sit down at a casino poker table and think your regular home-y group were a tad beneath you these days, and you make dumb mistake after dumb mistake, and finally are about a silly millimeter away from laying down a pair of two’s (one of which I’d just been dealt) when the dealer and two of the other six players start yelling at you NO, TAKE ‘EM BACK and the others look at you like you are … never mind. They knew I -yeah, okay, I know I switched to first person – they knew I had another pair of twos in my hand because I’d won a hand with three of a kind the just before but I saw . Then the dealer says, “okay, ante up” as if nothing had happened while I sit there holding four of a kind that everybody knows I have. I ante up and the rest fold. This time the dealer nods okay so I lay down the four, collect the ante the dealer shoved over and get up to go. “You’ve got $500 coming. That’s today’s bonus ” Then he added, “you can split it seven ways, that’s the table and me, or ….” “Or?” “Or you can take the five hundred, walk out that door and know you just climbed one rung too high and fell off and broke your ass. Have a great dinner and treat yourself to a train home.” I’ve since heard similar stories, but never about a stand-alone.

    4. Teachers have been doing that for decades. They don’t even try to correct or even red-pencil the errors anymore. It’s not because they can “get the gist” of the composition or “essay” question anyway. It’s because they know they’ll just get a class-wasting argument that will take over the whole class for that day. The good students (there are always a few) come and ask for the full edit. A friend of mine tried adding a spelling bee to her school: it demoralized everyone after three tries and they all gave up. They couldn’t get past four rounds without everybody but two flaking out, and that was on vocabulary they had already studied, not esoterica. All it takes is one semi-literate parent to say “spelling” or paragraphs or punctuation doesn’t matter, and that’s the end of it.

    5. How about you just admit you haven’t heard a word the man said; you weren’t listening, and you never will.

    6. Are all civil, ethical men bald? Women too? Is Althouse wearing a wig?

    7. Or was that a picture of your former mentor (whose name I forgot to try to pronounce because that’s how I learn to spell names correctly)? He sounds a bit too sweet for this world. Does his head explode too?

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