Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/4/19: Fake News, Twin Ethics, Bonnie And Clyde, And A Deadly Date

Good morning!

I would give you all a big hug, a squeeze, and maybe a sniff, but that’s not me...

1. This is fake news, you know. Today’s headline on the Times front page: “Barr Understated Mueller Findings, Some on Team Say.” Naturally, “some” are never identified. All this headline means is that some involved with the Mueller investigation wouldn’t have summarized the report as the AG did,  and some had a different opinion, and, presumably, some disagreed with them. Who didn’t assume this? This isn’t news. This is just pot-stirring and innuendo in service of a political agenda. Now if the Times’ sources went on the record and explained what findings they are referring to and why, that would be news. This isn’t.

2. Maybe just Ick, not ethics, but still, ICK! Kendall Jenner, who is famous exclusively because her half-sister sister bared all in a sex video that launched the Kardashian reality show empire, made $26.5 million for just 53 sponsored Instagram posts, according to Captiv8, a marketing firm that connects brands to “social media influencers.” Let’s see: is there anything wrong with Jenner letting companies pay her to send out social media hype? As long as she isn’t lying in her posts, I guess not...but if she becomes part of a fraud without doing her due diligence,  its not just unethical, it’s illegal. Is there anything unethical about paying a narcissistic waste of space who would lose a game of Scrabble to a sea sponge millions to promote a company’s product or event? No, if it works. Is there anything unethical about trusting a barely-educated celebrity because of her looks? Unethical, no…stupid, but not unethical.

3. On the suspension of ethics during wartime. Freddie Oversteegen, who died September in her native Netherlands, was just 14 when she joined the Dutch resistanceTogether with her older sister Truus and their friend Hannie Schaft, she murdered as many Nazis as she could, using a firearm hidden in the basket of her bike. The women had a  method: first approach a Naz in bars, seduce them, ask if they wanted to “go for a stroll” in the forest (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) and then, shoot the bastards, or as Freddie  put it, “liquidate” them.

 “It was a necessary evil, killing those who betrayed the good people,” she told one interviewer. When she was asked how many people she had killed or helped kill, she demurred: “One should not ask a soldier any of that.”

Freddie also blew up bridges and smuggled Jews out of concentration camps, so she was more than a black widow assassin. Is she justly regarded as a hero?

4. “The Highwaymen” My wife and I watched this new Netflix release starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as the real life aging Texas Rangers who were handed the assignment of “stopping” Bonnie and Clyde’s deadly rampage through Texas in 1934. We liked it a lot, but then it’s an ethics movie, raising and debating the question—see #3 above—of how far one can ethically go to fight evil. Bonnie  and Clyde were evil despite their folk hero status at the time, and despite the sick glamorizing they received in the 1967 film starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, which made them the romantic rebels fighting a corrupt establishment—you know, like the arrogant creeps who shut down my college a year later.

The Highwaymen barely shows the two psychotic love-birds until they are being riddled with bullets, focusing on the real heroes of the saga, the law enforcement officials who hunted them down.

The two ex-Rangers break quite a few laws in the pursuit of the greater good, and it is odd that there seems to be a resurgence in sympathy in the entertainment media for brutal police methods. In Dick Wolf’s “Chicago PD,” for example, Sergeant Hank Voigt (Jason Beghe) regularly threatens, extorts and beats people up to solve crimes–and he’s the moral center of the show. Is law enforcement more like war than we like to admit, where the ethical rules can be, are, and maybe need to be suspended?

Best line in “The Highwaymen”: Kathy Bates, as Texas Governor “Ma” Ferguson—I’ll tell her weird ethics story tomorrow—tells reporters that she is making sure that Bonny and Clyde are hunted down, and one of them references their image as Robin Hood figures. “Did Robin Hood ever shoot a gas station attendant in the head for four dollars and a tank of gas?” she asks.

5. Now THIS is weird…Twin ethics! In Brazil, when identical male twins  refused to say which one of them had fathered the child (DNA test proved inconclusive because they their were identical twins)  assuming they would then be able to escape having to pay, a judge ordered that they both had to pay child support. Each twin was ordered to pay 230 reais; ($60; £45) a month, or 30% of the minimum salary in Brazil. Judge Filipe Luís Perucaalso ruled that the names of both men would be on the girl’s birth certificate.

The twins had used their resemblance to impersonate each other and date as many women as possible, and then defend themselves from allegations they were cheating on girlfriends. Ah, memories! I see a reboot coming!

But they’re irresponsible illegitimate fathers!

Identical illegitimate fathers, and you’ll find

The look alike, deny alike, they go in court and lie alike!

You could lose your mind

When irresponsible illegitimate fathers

Are two of a kind!

25 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/4/19: Fake News, Twin Ethics, Bonnie And Clyde, And A Deadly Date

  1. 4. Hero? She was fighting the occupiers of her country. To them, she’s a hero. She was saving innocent people from unjust persecution at the risk of her own life. To me, that’s definitely a hero.

    However, the soldiers were Germans, not necessarily Nazis. Only 1 in 8 Germans were Nazis. Germany introduced mandatory conscription in 1935. A large number of those Germans that were killed in the forest or blown up on bridges were not volunteers and were probably not Nazis either.

    In the grand scheme of things, does it matter? Probably not. Nazi or not, they did support an aggressive totalitarian regime. But, for those tempted to think of Freddie’s victims as Nazis, it may alter the playing field a little bit in deciding if Freddie was a hero.

    5. I’m not going to be able to get that song out of my head now.

    • I’d say in this context, with those she killed all being German soldiers occupying a conquered country during a war of aggression and expansion, the distinction between “Nazi” and “German” is largely immaterial. It’s not as though it was only members-in-good-standing of the Nazi party who were doing all that plundering and raping as the Wehrmacht steamrolled across Europe.

      If someone breaks into my home, I’m not going to be too concerned about whether they are being coerced into it, I’m going to do whatever I can to stop the threat. Their motivation for the attack is of no concern as long as they are a danger to me and mine.

      I agree, Freddie most definitely earned the title of “hero”. Not many fourteen-year-old girls would have the courage to do what she did.

      • Counterpoint: We require war combatants to identify themselves and protect them from unjustified torture and murder. Since they were not identified as such, should they be treated as terrorists, guerrillas or pirates? (i.e. subject to summary execution) If that is the case, should they be heroes?

        • Yes on both questions. Both the Allied and Axis powers executed guerrilla combatants. They are heroes because they knew that would be the outcome if captured and they went into combat anyways.

          • They are heroes because they knew that would be the outcome if captured and they went into combat anyways.

            Agreed.

            It is not like the Germans could not have killed anyone they wished on any or no pretext. There was no rule of law… only terror. Girls that age were being raped and worse by common German soldiers as a matter of course.

            Notice the Germans wanted sex with a minor and were willing to follow her into the woods to get it. Tells you something about the expectations of the time.

            Hero? Maybe. Patriot? Likely. Survivor? Definitely, doing what she could in the face of likely death every day.

      • And I agree with you wholeheartedly. But the term Nazi has become a bugaboo these days and the history of the Third Reich is far more complex than the overall assumption that every person in Germany bought into Nazi ideology hook, line and sinker and that the German Army was entirely made up of black-suited SS members hyped up on Pervitin.

        • Plenty of German soldiers have become US citizens. If anyone is discovered as a Nazi participant, they can be stripped of citizenship, whether civilian or military. In spite of the war being over for 74 years, it’s still happening.

  2. I’m shocked that the House has not moved to subpoena this dissenting report by the “some”.

    There is a reason it is called the Mueller Report because only one person is responsible. I wonder how many people put stock it reports like #1?

  3. It is not even a summary of his report, it was a summary of the findings. The propagandists (ie.. reporters) know this. This is epitome of fake news.

  4. #3 – It’s a great example where war makes for icky ethics.

    In “gentlemanly” war we give people the opportunity to surrender before we kill them. She denied them that opportunity. But that’s not without plenty of parallel examples.

    The US dehumanized the Japanese and it’s been widely accepted that it was common for US soldiers to summarily execute surrendering Japanese soldiers. It’s not without reason because surrender perfidy was common along with the severe brutalization that the Japanese exercised against opposing soldiers and civilians alike. During the war and in the close aftermath, there was plenty of hatred on both sides. Now that’s dissipated and there is a great friendliness between the two nations.

    The British loved to criticise German submarine warfare and is one of the proximate causes of the entry of the United States into WWI. It was considered barbaric because the Germans never gave the chance for the ship to surrender first. It was also hypocritical of the British for two reasons: first, the British had warships disguised as merchant ships as a trick, and the indiscriminate mining of German waters by the British. A mine doesn’t give you the chance to surrender either. After WWII the British wanted to prosecute German U-Boat crews, but the US intervened as the US practiced far more severe tactics in the war, particularly against the Empire of Japan. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laconia_incident for a good example, the German’s NEVER did that!) If not for the entry of the US into both wars, German submarine warfare likely would have defeated England. It is widely accepted that the US submarine warfare in the Pacific most definitely altered the course of the war into the Allied favor. To answer the question you asked with this example: Are WWII US sub mariners heros? In the US, I think that’s how they are viewed. If they are, then Freddie Oversteegen would be.

    Unrestricted strategic bombing was widespread in WWII and killed a significant fraction of the total dead in the war. It was indiscriminate, killing mostly non-combatants from the newborn to infirm elderly. In hindsight, strategic bombing is considered unethical if it were to be practiced today. It hasn’t go so far as to taint our view of Allied bomber crews for most, but wouldn’t be tolerated today. I do question if our aversion to strategic bombing is actually unethical though – the major militaries have the incredible capacity to reduce an entire country into rubble in short order. War is unethical, but if it is going to proceed regardless of cause, the least unethical path is to vanquish the enemy as fast as possible and end hostilities. Israel has effectively been at war its entire existence. They did achieve peace with Egypt and Jordan by destroying their militaries. I’ve often wondered if a similar peace with all of their neighbors would occur if Israel considered ANY terrorist attack as a hostile act of the sponsoring territory (which is accepted) and responding by strategically pounding the sponsor (which is not accepted). Make it clear that either true surrender with peace or annihilation are equally acceptable outcomes and the annihilation option will become more likely with every attack. Isn’t that what the US did to Japan – and now we’re best friends. Had that been done decades ago by Israel, we wouldn’t have the present situation in Israel. There would be plenty of tisk-tisking at the time from all over the world, BUT by now it would be ancient history and we’d have moved on.

    You can make parallels to the United States in Vietnam, and more recently in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. We widely use the term “avoiding collateral damage” which I think makes people feel better but lengthens wars. For example, how much resistance would have been left if the United States responded to the attacks in Basra by leveling the city and killing every person in it? Make it clear that during the course of the war, gatherings of people chanting “death to America” is met with death. Would the wars have ended sooner with less fatalities?

    It’s an icky topic that has no good answers.

    • And Hitler’s would-be successor Grand Admiral Doenitz was originally going to be charged with submarine warfare practices until Allied military officials objected on the grounds that their naval forces had generally done the same thing. It probably spared Doenitz the noose; he got off with a mere ten years.

  5. The Patty Duke Show? Now that looks sort of interesting. I’ll have to look into it to further grasp Americana.

    No wonder you-all are so strange: you grew up watching this stuff! 🙂

    (I was not allowed TeeVee, and see how I turned out).

  6. 5. I had quite the crush on Patty Duke, in those days of her show. I watched the show just to watch HER – playing two characters. Double cuties. Never met her. Never got over her, even after Blythe Danner came along. Still, it’s been a good life, especially after meeting a certain mother-in-law who could’ve been Patty’s doppelganger stand-in on TV. (That mother-in-law and her daughter are awfully cute, too, still.) The world is only too Lucky that I am not a twin, surviving or otherwise.

  7. 4) did the real life rangers break those laws in pursuit of the criminals? Or was that just a gritty and edgy add to the movie for conflict?

    Most pursuit of justice is not like war.

    the comparison becomes more apt as the criminal enterprises being pursued are more organized. Then it approaches lookin like war.

    And in some cases, such as truly egregious organized crime, I’m not sure why it isn’t pursued like an open rebellion against the nation’s laws.

    • I don’t know, MW, but this was the 30’s, long before Miranda and Escobedo, as well as the “Fruit of the poisonous tree” and the exclusionary rule. Police intimidation of witnesses and using force to get confessions was SOP in many places; if the police did an illegal search of your home but found incriminating evidence, they could use it…and the procedures had widespread public support. “Highwaymen” presented itself as historical fiction, but I would assume that if a couple of psychos were running across Texas pre-SCOTUS rules and there was political pressure to stop them, AND if Depression depressed citizens were treating them as heroes and interfering with the manhunt, using force to wring information out of reluctant informants would be a no-brainer. The ends would justify the means.

      • Stopping the mythos was an important in Texas as stopping the killing. It became… necessary to end the story, simply to prevent others from doing the same.

        Yes, laws were broken. Like war, what was seen as needed to be done was. Note that Texas Rangers had no authority to operate in Louisiana… another mere technicality among many. (This territorial violation was in response to the Gang crossing state lines to avoid pursuit: state law enforcement could not operate in another state. This was a major reason the FBI was created)

        As one who grew up around those who knew and were impacted personally by the Barrow Gang (so called) I remember that the mythos was less appealing to the north Texas victims than it was to urbanites and Hollywood: they were viewed as criminals, and nothing else. Many people known to my great and grandparents attended funerals for Barrow Gang victims. Anyone who was in the wrong place could die, and many did. My great-grandparents slept better at night when the rampage was stopped.

        • I know the romanticization was certainly not universal. I think you are correct that it was a disconnected and urban phenomenon. My grandparents (and their siblings) in rural Oklahoma during the time period, who subsequently were dirt poor, theoretically should have been the ones idolizing the Barrow Gang if we are to believe the notions that they were widely romanticized. But it’s not true, they thought the gang were an absolute evil in society.

          • My great-and-grandparents were dirt farmers as well, just in North Texas, at that time. We had many connections with Ft. Worth (relatives) and it was not urban enough to idolize the Barrow Gang either.

  8. 1. Fake news

    Yes, it is fake news and is identical to what we saw from the Times, WaPo and others during the pre-report Mueller frenzy — thinly sourced rumors presented as news.

    Mueller’s team was full of Democratic party partisans. Who could possibly be surprised to learn that some of them are convinced that the evidence is more damning than Barr, Rosenstein, or even Mueller think it is?

    Not me.

    2. Kendall Jenner

    Is there anything unethical about paying a narcissistic waste of space who would lose a game of Scrabble to a sea sponge millions to promote a company’s product or event? No, if it works.

    Exactly right. And this episode is just one more reason why Americans who trust celebrities’ opinions on anything other than their narrow area of competence are demonstrating the truth of the saying, “You can’t fix stupid.”

    3. Wartime ethics

    Freddie also blew up bridges and smuggled Jews out of concentration camps, so she was more than a black widow assassin. Is she justly regarded as a hero?

    This is such a complicated and difficult question.

    For me, this starts with the stakes people are fighting for. Here’s a thought experiment.

    Case 1: You are fighting for survival, not just for yourself, but for your family, friends, relatives and countrymen. The stakes in this conflict are survival or extinction.

    Case 2: You are fighting another government to prevent being conquered by that government and forced to serve its interests. The stakes in this conflict are political and social.

    In Case 1, it is the law of the jungle — kill or be killed, because the stakes are the highest possible. Ethical systems such as treaties may be desirable, but in this scenario they become a form of unilateral disarmament that will likely lead to your defeat and subsequent extermination from the universe.

    In Case 2, it makes sense to have a formalized set of rules to protect your own people against the depredations of your enemy. You don’t want your captured soldiers tortured or killed, so you agree with your enemy on their mutual treatment. You don’t want to be nerve-gassed, so you agree with your enemy not to nerve gas each other, etcetera.

    These agreements are subject to change if one side or the other abrogates them, with the ultimate result being indistinguishable from Case 1. Case 2 can devolve into Case 1 if one side or the other decides that life under the enemy is not materially distinguishable from extermination.

    The closest we have come to a Case 1 conflict in modern history is the “War on Terrorism,” but that’s not really a war, since there is no enemy that meets the agreed definition. That’s a fight against international criminal guerrillas desiring to set up a formalized government, but without the ability or mandate to do so.

    So far, we have managed not to decide that extermination by killing every last adherent is the only way to successfully win, so we put up with occasional losses in order not to threaten the ethical systems we’ve put in place to prevent mutual mass murder in broader “real war” conflicts.

    So now, to your question. WWII was Case 2, so if she were part of the military, she would unquestionably be a war criminal. The facts are that the Germans invaded and obtained the formal surrender of the Netherlands. At that point, the citizens are obligated to consent to the new government, or be considered terrorist guerrillas and dealt with accordingly.

    But there is another angle to this — the Germans were carrying out an attempted genocide of the Jews, and rounded up Dutch Jews to be taken to concentration camps in Germany. It was this point that changed the equation, in my view. Genocide, even of a sub-group of citizens, changed the conflict between the Dutch people and Germany from Case 2 to Case 1.

    Therefore, I consider her a hero. Her actions were in opposition to evil so dire it has few analogues in human history. It is not materially different from being invaded by enemy aliens from another planet who want to exterminate all life on Earth so they can live here instead of the indigenous. And there was no reason to believe that at some point, the genocidal urge would expand to include anyone who tried to give aid and succor to any Jew.

    As I say, this is difficult. There are good reasons to condemn people, even during the extremes of war, who do random murder against either side in the name of resistance. Note that is not the same thing as preventing enemy troops from completing their objectives, after the manner of a military action — armed resistance against the invading army by people who reject the surrender is the right of every human, but at the cost of being considered a terrorist.

    Having said all that, I have considerable reservations about what she did.

    • None here.

      As is the case with use of enhanced interrogation techniques, I have an easier time making this call than I have deciding between Subway and McDonald’s for lunch.

      Nazi Germany had genocidal objectives (rounding up and exterminating Jews). So did al-Qaeda (their ultimate goal is to wipe out Israel, and to do so by pushing America out of the Middle East through mass attacks on civilians).

      Freddie, Truus, and Hannie were heroes. So were James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.

      • Totally agree, absolutely heroes. War against conquest by any totalitarian state is ALWAYS a “Case 1” scenario in my mind, because survival has to mean more than mere physical existence. Without liberty, “survival” has little charm for me. I would prefer, as the adage says, to die fighting as a free man than to live as a slave, or to see my family, friends and neighbors subject to slavery. I guess it depends on what your definition of “existence” is.

  9. 1. My initial reaction to this “story:” “So what?”

    I was in the car a lot yesterday (April 4) and this “story” was dutifully referred to by NPR repeatedly to explain and justify Gerry Nadler’s pressing for full and immediate release of the Meuller report to Congress. This is how these “stories” are used to build an extravagant and false narrative, bogus brick by bogus brick.

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