Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/5/2019: Knaves, Idiots, And Fools

Good Morning!

1. Stupid lawsuit update. The bitter ex-Ethics Alarms commenter now appealing the obvious ruling by a Massachusetts judge that his vindictive defamation suit against me continued his abuse of process by filing a spurious motion accusing me of contempt of court and perjury, and calling for sanctions.. It’s 100% baloney, but I still have to file an answer, thus wasting more of my time, which is the point. I’m debating whether to note in my opposition to the motion that the man is an asshole.

2. What an idiot, #1: You have been signed to a ridiculous contract by the Philadelphia Phillies, 13 years for $330 million dollars. You waited four months to do so, jamming up the careers and lives of dozens of lesser players because you really didn’t want to play there, and were determined to get a record setting amount. You know the city’s fans are dubious about your loyalty and commitment, though you have stated that you took such a long contract to demonstrate that commitment. Now you are being introduced to your new team, city and fan base after spending all of your career playing for one of their rival in the National League East, the Washington Nationals. Do you carefully plan out what you will say, when you have your turn at the microphone, knowing that one has only one chance to make a good first impression?

Not if you are Bryce Harper. Yesterday, at his press conference, he said that he wanted to bring a World Series title to Washington D.C.

It’s going to be a long 13 years. For everyone.

3.  What an idiot, #2: Special counsel Robert Mueller notified federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson that Roger Stone had sent  an Instagram post which containing a photo of Mueller under the words “Who framed Roger Stone,” despite Stone being under Jackson’s gag order barring him from speaking in public about Mueller’s team and its investigation.

4. Fake headlines department.  This is outrageous, but typical, mainstream news media deceit. The ABC News headline is “Former Trump White House lawyer calls Mueller ‘American hero,’ says probe is no witch hunt.”  This naturally piqued my interest because a) I’m a legal ethicist, and a former White House lawyer who implied that Mueller was a hero because that lawyer was aware of illegality for his client would be treading very near to to a confidentiality violation b) the lawyer in question, Ty Cobb, is a classmate and a friend.

The story, however does not support the message the headline is designed to convey. Ty says that he does not believe that Mueller is politically motivated, and is basically doing what he was asked to do. He calls him an American hero because “he walked into a firefight in Vietnam to pull out one of his injured colleagues and was appropriately honored for that.” Nothing Cobb says about Mueller, the investigation or the President undermines or impugns President Trump in any way. He does say, however, of the Congressional investigations,

“But it’s never going to be over. I mean, this is going to go through 2020. And if the president is reelected, it’ll go beyond that…All these people are hell bent on issuing a lot of subpoenas to get to the administration and perpetuate this investigation.”

5. On the plus side, the offending students can run for Governor of Virginia.  The University of Tennessee students connected with this Snapchat message

..are going to be disciplined by the university, but just how is a problem. It has admitted that the students can’t be expelled because of that silly old First Amendment thing.

Apparently the university, indeed the entire U.S. education system, the news media, parents and society have failed to convey that seemingly simple principle of American democracy to its students, however. During a long meeting between administrators and concerned students, freshman Jerica Parks criticized administrators out for not expelling the perpetrators.

“Don’t treat them like victims when they have done this to us,” she said. “We are the victims. Protect us.”

First Amendment, Jerica. Where in the young woman’s education and acculturation was the concept lost that the government cannot “protect” people from the content of speech? Senior George Johnson revealed similar ignorance. “You failed if you believe that the First Amendment is the equivalent of protecting someone from blackfacing,” he said. No, George, the First Amendment is an expression of a basic civil right, and “blackfacing” is just another variety of protected political speech.

“Johnson added that it will be tough moving forward from this incident of racism and the university’s response as he graduates in May from a school that he says he doesn’t feel he can take pride in,” reports the Knoxvill News.

“I can’t take pride in the University of Tennessee because the University of Tennessee didn’t see pride in me,” he said. Phooey. I was hoping he was going to say that he can’t take pride in a school that graduates students who have no understanding of the Bill of Rights.

6. Religious tolerance? Hello? Beuller? A group of atheists actually sued to remove  a 93-year-old cross placed as a memorial to 49 fallen W.W. I soldiers from Maryland’s Prince George’s County, claiming that it constituted a state endorsement of a religion. The law suit won in lower courts, but based on last week’s oral argument in the Supreme Court, it seems that SCOTUS is inclined to let the 40 foot concrete stand, and hold that it did not run afoul of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion by sending a message of favoritism to Christianity.


My question is how much of a jerk one has to be to mount such a contrived attack on a war memorial, and an old one, from a time that crosses were considered the standard symbol to memorialize the dead. Simple Golden Rule analysis…oh, wait, I forgot: atheists are offended by the Golden Rule. From the Times report:

Justice Gorsuch suggested that courts should not be called upon to resolve disputes over religious symbols. “We accept that people have to sometimes live in a world in which other people’s speech offends them,” he said. “We have to tolerate one another.” He pointed to a frieze in the courtroom. “We have a Ten Commandments display just above you, which may be too loud for many,” he said to Monica L. Miller, a lawyer for the American Humanist Society, which is challenging the Bladensburg memorial. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the court’s intervention could lead to divisiveness. “This sort of thing is being handled today in a pluralistic society in which ordinary people get along pretty well and are not at each other’s throats about religious divisions,” he said.

Justice Ginsberg seemed to be the sole justice convinced that the memorial was unconstitutional, although Justice Sotomayor might vote with her. The American Humanist Association and several area residents sued to remove the cross in 2014, saying they were offended by what they said was its endorsement of Christianity.

If you are truly offended by 93-year old memorials, statues, and artwork, something is the matter with you. It’s called history.

24 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/5/2019: Knaves, Idiots, And Fools

  1. If I understand the history of the memorial it was privately funded and built on private land. As the county grew it needed tbe land near the memorial for roadway rights of way so the land was acquired through eminant domain.

    Therefore, if the court rules that the memorial is unconstitutional it must first rule that the taking of the land upon which it sits unconstitutional and vacate the initial transaction making the land once again private and not subject to Constitutional challenges.

    Had the state informed the private owners at the time of the taking that the memorial would have to be razed the property value would have dramatically increased to recover the rebuilding of the monument elsewhere. The state said it would take over the care and maintenance as part of the deal.

    • This is far too reasonable and logical to ever wind up in a Supreme Court ruling. It lacks the necessary opaque, convoluted “reasoning” which has become the hallmark of all too many recent Supreme Court rulings.

      Perhaps the absence of Justice Kennedy will change all that. One can hope.

  2. This isn’t the first one of these cross lawsuits, as has been discussed here a few times, and it sure as the devil won’t be the last. The problem isn’t really even with atheism, at least as the title for those who never have believed or choose not to believe in any god or gods. The First Amendment’s about as clear as any law can be that no one here can be forced to believe or disbelieve anything. America is still over 70% religious, and those religious Americans are overwhelmingly Christian, though how strongly so is up for discussion. Those who belong to no particular religion vary almost as much as those who do, from people raised in whatever faith who just drifted away at some point in life and never went back, to those raised without any faith who just never bothered with it, to agnostics, who think the presence of God is beyond knowing, to those who think religion’s all a bunch of hooey and choose to have nothing to do with it. It’s a minority of non-believers who are actively hostile to religion, but, unfortunately, those are the ones that get all the press.

    As someone who is at least nominally a Catholic, and as someone who strongly dislikes one particular faith (Islam) I will venture a guess that those who dislike religion generally feel and think about it the way I do about that one particular faith I dislike. We can also both marshal some arguments that sound compelling. I can say that Islamic thought is incompatible with the Western way of doing things, that their history is checkered and shows an unhealthy propensity to impose itself by violence, and that a lot of their holy scriptures are downright scary. However, those opposed to religion generally can also say that ancient religion generally isn’t compatible with a world of the internet and surgery and science, that religion doesn’t have the greatest history generally, and that most holy scriptures are problematic, including the Bible, which, at least in the Old Testament, got the most basic moral question, slavery, wrong. Of course all these arguments are simplistic as phrased, and aren’t so absolute when you look at them in more detail, but that takes time and thought. The difference is, though, if I speak out against Islam, (which I have) I have to tread carefully lest I be deemed a hater, while those who speak out against all religion are not deemed haters.

    The problem is that this minority who are hostile to religion are treated differently than those who speak out against one particular religion (though at least in the US, their hostility is overwhelmingly anti-Christian). This is despite the fact that a lot of their rhetoric, especially away from carefully phrased stuff like “an atheist believes a deed must be done rather than a prayer said, and that a hospital should be built instead of a church,” is just as insulting as that directed against particular religions. Yet for whatever reason, an atheist who talks about someone else’s “Sky Fairy” or “Imaginary Friend” isn’t viewed the same way as I would be if I referred to “their moon god (due to the Islamic use of the crescent)” or “Mohammed the pedophile bandit (Mohammed did do some raiding and one of his wives was a girl who’d be considered a child today).” I don’t see why the former insults are any less slurs than the latter, which a lot of people would be all over me if I actually uttered them.

    To some degree this is because those hostile to religion portray themselves as Spock-like logical intellectuals who are the smartest people in the room and who don’t believe precisely because they are so much smarter than everyone else. The media lets them get away with this because a lot of the left-leaners there are hostile to religion too.

    I honestly don’t know what moves people like the American Humanist Association in this case, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which I believe would be more accurately titled the Hatred Of Religion Foundation, to search this country for individuals claiming offence at cross-shaped memorials and public meetings that open with invocations, then send letters or bring suits on their behalf to attempt to get the prayer to which anyone is free not to say “amen” stopped or the offending cross removed.

    I believe it is significant that they often target smaller towns and public entities, since those are more likely to roll over without a fight to save scarce public money. I believe it is also significant that these organizations have essentially built a fairly lucrative way of generating legal fees by seeking out and, in some cases, stoking division and the feeling of being offended. Honestly, I don’t see who benefits from a lawsuit over a Celtic cross in the park honoring an Irish regiment in the Civil War or the non-sectarian Fireman’s Prayer engraved on a monument to fallen firemen by City Hall other than the lawyers.

    I might add, I believe that if there were a monument to victims of the Holocaust with a Star of David on the grounds of a courthouse (as there is near me) or a monument to the mistreated Japanese in WWII on public land that had a Torii (gateway that marks the entrance to a Japanese shrine) on it (though that’s probably more on the West Coast), or a “peace garden” in a public park that had the Hindu “om” symbol somewhere on it, no one would touch any of these things, although technically they would be the same issue. Their main problem is with crosses, especially those erected to honor those icky veterans who fought for oppression or the emergency services who include the police who target young black men. If it’s a cross to the victims of the potato famine or slavery, or the Armenian genocide (I’ve seen all of these) they won’t touch it, because the publicity they’d get would be a net negative.

    However, in this case, it’s a grave marker style cross, put up to honor fallen soldiers from a war there are now no living veterans of (the last WWI vet in the US died in 2015), and it’s very prominent. Apparently a few of these non-believers are triggered by driving past it, and we can’t have that, otherwise there’s Christian privilege and we’re being unsuitably inclusive. Never mind the fact that it was originally built with private funds on private land, and only taken over by the government because a road was built through the area, public land is public land. Never mind the fact that it is clearly marked with the symbol of the American Legion and bears not one religious word on it, a cross is a cross is a cross. Never mind the fact that it has never been used for a religious ceremony, it can’t be separated from the religious element. Never mind the fact that it’s been there for 93 years and no one’s said a word, someone’s saying something now, and an old wrong is still a wrong.

    It all goes back to the idea of the left wanting a monopoly on honor, and being able to tell everyone else who they can honor, when they can honor them, and how they can honor them. The taking down of one more traditional symbol of honor to traditional heroes is a victory for them, that they can point to and say “See, this is one more victory for us. We took down your symbol, and there’s nothing you can do about it, so you better get with the program.”

    • In my opinion, allowing a sentiment to be expressed is not an edorsement nor is it the government promoting a religion.

      I am interested in how the litigants reconcile the last line of the 1st amendment which unequivocally states that nothing shall be passed that infringes on the free exercise of a persons religion. If humanists have no religion then no one is interferring in their free exercise of belief. I have yet to hear a reasonable argument that makes the case that religious artifacts must be stripped completely frim our culture to satisfy humanists, for if we do we are establishing Humanisim as a defacto national religion. If government is to embrace diversity it must embrace religious diversty as well.

    • … the Bible, which, at least in the Old Testament, got the most basic moral question, slavery, wrong…

      Ah, no, thus:-

      – It’s clearly not “the most basic moral question”, not by a long chalk.

      – Taken in context, it’s actually spot on. It’s actually close to a life boat ethics/”these laws were given for your hardness of heart” sort of thing, a necessary evil. In a world close to the edge of survival, what do you do with captives, particularly prisoners of war? If you kill them out of hand, it’s worse than a crime, it’s a mistake because they will fight to the bitter end. If you release them once the war is over, not only do you have to go short to feed them until then, they might do as the Romans did after their defeat at the Caudine Forks and resume hostilities and maybe even win. The usual alternative was human sacrifice, like that of the Aztecs or the Grand Custom of Dahomey, because at least that way you get something you value for the price of fighting to the end. Slavery was actually least worst on that scale. (Oh, and freeing those born slaves or long enslaved, who were no longer a threat? Along with that feebleness, they couldn’t support themselves. There were even slave rebellions against emancipation out of fear of this.)

      The moral failing lay with those who took all that as a general moral principle, applying and endorsing it even when it was an unnecessary evil. Counter-intuitively, it was an error that the more moral were more prone to, to avoid the cognitive dissonance of admitting that what was once necessary was also evil; the same may be affecting Israeli thought today. As Roman thinkers knew, we hate those we hurt, not those who hurt us. But then it is hard to stop hurting – unless we can hurt dispassionately.

  3. You wrote: “I’m debating whether to note in my opposition to the motion that the man is an asshole.” Legitimate intellect and human emotion justifies your “I’m debating…”. But for your professionalism and gentlemanly nature, neither that asshole nor the judge will know from your opposition paper that that is what you wanted to pen in response. Ethics in honor. Great job, Jack !

    • Sometimes, stating the obvious is an insult to your audience. Jack probably has better sense (whew! Phone did not blow up by typing that.) than to tell the Court something that obvious.

  4. About #1
    I’m no lawyer but at some point in time does the bitter ex-Ethics Alarms commenters’ behavior rise to the level of intentional abuse of the legal system to literally harass and very intentionally defame Jack or is very intentional defamation using the legal system considered “acceptable”?

    I’m no judge but when a judge sees intentional defamation from a plaintiff, like my perception of the bitter ex-Ethics Alarms commenters’ statements both in writing and verbally in court, can the judge legally do something about it without a defamation law suit filed by Jack?

    I’m also not a licensed psychiatrist but, considering the ruling from the judge when this was last in court, does it appear to anyone else but me that the bitter ex-Ethics Alarms commenter is exhibiting obsessive behavior and really is out to get Jack?

    • Defamation? Almost certainly not. Very high bar (if not insurmountable-had a debate about this for my state recently) because, in theory, every lawsuit could get followed by a defamation case against the loser, along with a criminal perjury case (got one of those right now, too—ugh!).

      Frivolous Litigant status? Much easier, but I think he only has a couple so far. Probably need a handful more before that happens.

      Unfortunately, he has not posted his recent motion on his website.


    • Z, that would be my guess, but it is only a guess. Based on some of the language of his original filing, I do have some questions about him.

  5. 2. Does Sabremetrics have a fancy acronym for IQ? I’m guessing not. Hah. The Phillies got what they wanted.

    Besides, as Rogers Hornsby said, “When you’re a ball player, there ain’t much to bein’ a ballplayer.” The guy’s clearly a dope, but that’s irrelevant. It’s just way too much to expect guys who can play a difficult sport like baseball at the highest level to also be reasonably intelligent and personable. Bryce Harper is a freak in the gene pool. His intelligence or lack thereof is of no consequence. See ball, hit ball. See ball, catch ball.

  6. “from a time that crosses were considered the standard symbol to memorialize the dead”

    Bingo. At that point, the Cross is a distinct cultural artifact, not a religious declaration.

    • To this day on Wikipedia in articles about battles, when they list the commanders they put crosses next to their names if they perished in the battle.

  7. First Amendment, Jerica. Where in the young woman’s education and acculturation was the concept lost that the government cannot “protect” people from the content of speech?

    Furthermore, how is she a victim?

  8. Jeez, Jack, what makes you think all atheists give a damn about people’s religion?. I mean, good heavens, man, most of us enjoy the cultural variety and appreciate the aesthetics. God only knows how many mantras we have to repeat before y’all quit lumping us into negatives like Non-believers just because we don’t believe what you do. We may not follow the Ten Commandments or the 550 Laws of the Torah (a mite more specific) or walk the righteous path of the Shinto shrines or the B’ahá’í that teaches the essential worth of all religions (though a lot of us do go along with that Iranian-born faith in its insistence on the unity and equality of all people), or even listen to the interminable Unitarian lectures … and we do whirl around like dervishes when startled, but we don’t deny there are crazies among us. The only difference between Our crazies and Yours, in fact, is that ours tend to feel isolated sometimes and they join associations and federations to protect themselves from the hate of, oh, people in N.J. so they focus on the first icon they come across and make a schemozzle about it. They can get in your face; they can go to the The Law, they can out-shout a Gospel preacher, but they don’t burn your church down or desecrate your temple or try to punch the holy hell out of you (usually). Sing Hallelujah, Jack, most of us are just plain mostly ethics-loving Americans. Just like you.

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