Morning Ethics Warm-Up, June 4, 2019: The All-Jerk Edition

You may notice that it’s no longer morning. This was begun at 7 am. Can it ever be a good morning that begins with a dentist appointment a likely root canal? Never mind that: my car broke down—transmission failure, and had just had the thing repaired—right in front of the dentist’s office, and after the appointment, I had to wait another hour to be towed home.

1. The end of the spelling bee. It seems clear that sick parental obsession with success has killed the spelling,  or should, as soon as possible. Just after midnight last week, the Scripps National Spelling Bee crowned eight contestants  co-champions after the competition ran out of challenging words. Why did these kids successfully spell auslaut, erysipelas, bougainvillea, and aiguillette, while previous winners had triumphed by spelling word like  croissant in 1970, incisor in 1975, and luge in 1984 ?

The primary reason is SpellPundit, a coaching company started last year by two former competitive spellers. For an annual subscription of $600, SpellPundit sends a huge list of words ,  sorted by difficulty level, for potential spelling champions to study. The company guarantees that it includes all words used in the spelling competitions.

Thirty-eight  of  this year’s top fifty spellers were provided the service by their proud parents. One of the this years champions, Sohum Sukhatankar, 13, of Dallas said he had spent about 30 hours a week studying the 120,000 words SpellPundit had selected from the 472,000 words in the dictionary.

Yechh. What a wonderful use of a 13-year-old’s time. When he’s on his deathbed, he’ll wihs he had those hours back.

So now the spelling bee stands for a combination of child abuse, unhealthy obsession, parental interference and rich, hyper-competitive  families buying an edge that normal families either can’t or have the sense not to. Such fun. In case you are in doubt, the jerks here are the parents.

As for the once fun and innocent national spelling bee: Kill it.

2. Soviet-style society creeps ever closer, thanks to political correctness. Dr Sandra Thomas, an associate medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Decatur, was moved to make a spontaneous joke while performing an autopsy. Thomas asked another doctor at the GBI’s morgue if she knew how to do a ‘Muslim autopsy’, and then lifted the neck of the dead woman and made the unique sound known as an ululation, which is commonly used in Islamic cultures at weddings and funerals.


Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Eisenstat reported the incident to internal affairs, and Thomas was suspended for two weeks. Of course, she apologized profusely. The deceased person was not a Muslim.

The beshamed doctor said that she had heard the joke while working as a resident in Richmond, Virginia, that it popped into her head during the autopsy,  and that it wasn’t meant to disparage Muslims.

One colleague interviewed during the internal investigation  speculated that the joke  was a way of dealing with stress at the busy morgue. Ya think? Are jokes really forbidden during autopsies? Someone should have told the writers for “CSI.” Obviously there have to be professional standards, or this kind of thing could get out of hand. Still, the chief medical examiner should have privately admonished Thomas rather than setting out to get her punished.

Who was harmed by that joke? I would have laughed.

This kind of thing is out of control, and will eventually make America joyless, fearful, and dull, as well as in thrall to the whims and virtue-signaling of jerks like Dr. Eisenstat.

3. A silver cloud to being stuck reading magazines in the dentist’s office: I was reminded of the Constance Wu story, which fell off the Ethics Alarms radar. The star of “Fresh Off The Boat” learned in May that the hit series was renewed by ABC for another season. For most actors—like, say, less secure her cast mates—being informed that you have steady and lucrative work for another year is good news, but not Constance. She had other, apparently hotter irons in the fire, so when the news of the re-up was announced, she tweeted to her followers that she was “so upset” that the show had been renewed, and tweeted further, “I’m literally crying. Ugh. Fuck” and “Fucking Hell.”

In response to a fan who tweeted to her that the renewal was “great news,” she tweeted back, “No, it’s not.”

After considerable backlash over her comments, the star of “Crazy Asians” as well as  the sitcom was obviously instructed by her publicist that she better back -track and deny that what she wrote was what she meant, when it obviously was, and issue this obvious and desperate spin:

The woman is clearly a narcissistic jerk—hardly rare in Hollywood, but even most narcissistic jerks have the sense not to slap a metaphorical label on her forehead that says “I AM A NARCISSISTIC JERK!” in block letters. A normal, self-aware, nice person who cares about others would realize that even if she was personally disappointed, announcing her disappointment to the world in such emphatic and angry terms would make it clear that she really doesn’t give a damn about her colleagues and co-workers.

But I suspect they knew that already.

4. In the Jerk Universe, though, Constance is an amateur compared to THIS guy.

Michael Trichilo Sr., of Throop, Pennsylvania, was  arraigned last week on 18 felony counts, including identity theft and fraud. Those counts all involved illegally using the identity and the credit of his son. Lackawanna County detectives say Trichilo Sr. used his son’s Social Security number to rack up $120,000 in debt. Michael Jr. initially refused to file charges, but Dad’s persistence left him  no choice.

Senior started the fraud when Junior was just 14. The son learned of the fraud in 2016 when he tried to buy his first car and couldn’t get a loan. A credit check revealed thousands of dollars’ worth of loans and credit card bills. Even after Dad  filed for bankruptcy in 2015, he  kept using his son’s identity. Of course, he swore to his son that he would pay it all back. He didn’t pay any of it back, and  finally, the family reported the crimes to police.

This should be an interesting Father’s Day at the Trichilo home.

5. American jerks. I have been reading Facebook feeds by alleged Americans taking delight that Londoners are protesting our President’s presence in the city to commemorate D-Day. Any citizen of Great Britain who would insult the U.S. on this anniversary is a jerk by definition. (If the  association principle is unclear here, the President in his ceremonial capacity represents his office and the nation, and by extension, all the American servicemen who died and sacrificed to ensure that England, France and the rest were not German slave states by 1950.) Any American who would take glee in the ugly display by the London protesters is a far bigger jerk than any of them are, and a toxic influence on our culture as well.

I take insults to President Trump, in this role, in this matter, as insults to my late father, who was one of those GIs who made massive sacrifices to liberate Europe. I take them this way because that’s what they are.

30 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, June 4, 2019: The All-Jerk Edition

  1. 5.. Here’s the wiki article about the list compiled by the NAZIs of prominent individuals in England who were to be “arrested” (Hah! That’s a good one!) once England was invaded and annexed into the Third Reich:

    The partial list of the names is sobering. Lots of really dangerous people like Ignaz Paderewski, Virginia Woolf, H.G. Wells, and so forth.

    • The Nazis were good at grabbing VIPs in countries they invaded to be used as hostages to ensure cooperation from the population. Those folks may or may not have dangerous to Nazi ideology, but they certainly would have been effective tools to control the English.

      • I didn’t know that. Thanks A.M. Surprising “The Hun” wasn’t used more in WWII and not just WWI. They must have made ISIS look like pikers when it came to inflicting terror on the local populace.

        • They also made good prisoner exchange material. Mayor La Guardia’s sister was living in Europe during the war and was held as a VIP prisoner in the Ravensbruck concentration camp. They also had a woman whose last name was Churchill and who was perfectly happy to pretend to be a relative of the PM in order to get slightly better treatment than the run-of-the-mill inmates.

  2. 5. It’s almost criminal. They either don’t understand the ceremonial role of the President, they hate Trump so much that they don’t care or are so blinded by the educational malfeasance they endured growing up that World War II, to them, is the conflict where we propped up that racist Imperialist Winston Churchill while the Soviet Union single-handedly beat the Nazis.

      • And here I thought I was making a funny joke…

        But, I suppose, in a mixed-up Bizarro World where Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, the broken eggs that represented the starved and murdered land-owning Kulaks, the religious and political oppression and that oft-overlooked non-aggression pact in 1939 between Hitler and Stalin that divided up Poland was a small price to pay when you look at the grand paradise Omelette the USSR created where education and healthcare was free, abortion was on demand and housing was guaranteed.

    • These days in primary education WW2 gets one paragraph about the mistreatment of Japanese Americans, one paragraph about segregation in the armed forces, one about the atomic bombs and the damage they caused, and one more about everything else. Pearl Harbor, Midway, D-Day, THE HOLOCAUST, etc., are just mentions, anything less, like Operation Torch or the Coral Sea or Guadalcanal is nonexistent. If you’re reading a world history rather than an American history book maybe they throw something in about the Dresden raid. European education is probably worse.

      I’m friends with a young woman who grew up in the European system, and she’s absolutely convinced that the whole thing was just staged to benefit the wealthy in the west, and that if Europe would have just ignored Hitler, eventually his conquests would have collapsed in on themselves.

      • You’re right about that. Students are taught that the western powers (the U.S.) provoked the Japanese in the Pacific, ignored Hitler’s excesses in the ’30s, focused on America First (the isolationist movement), deliberately discriminated against fleeing Jews, that the use of incendiary bombs on German and Japanese cities (yes, especially the destruction of Dresden) were war crimes and that the remarkable courage of England standing alone in the face of the German onslaught is outweighed by its imperialist Empire. In addition to the internment of Japanese Americans and maybe some diversity discussions of women in the factories and Navajo code talkers.

        And, yet, somehow, they still manage to communicate that Hitler was the bad guy.

        I can’t even imagine how they teach WWII and its build-up in the context of the so-called Age of Trump.

  3. I’m really sorry to hear your car failed in such a terrible way. Transmission failure is pricey. I don’t know the age of your vehicle, but I do hope you can get warranty work done on it. I know some Fords (Focus with the dual clutch automatic transmission) have such tranny failures, that there is a class action lawsuit going on. If a Nissan, they just have bad automatic transmissions wholesale. Since this problem is recurring, you might want to consider getting a different car, I’m speculating this could be a design flaw.

      • Unfortunately, seriously expensive repair is a recognized synonym of used BMW (also used Mercedes, used Range Rover…). Car repairs seem like a minor problem, but they really steamroll into major inconvenience.

      • Unfortunate. My old bimmer, despite being pretty old, still has fairly expensive parts. Luckily, I don’t need special, exotic fluids. So it’s a small comfort.

  4. I disagree with your take on the autopsy story. I’d like to propose something akin to the “Naked Teacher Principle:”

    If you decide to make a joke with the punchline “other religions do stuff that’s weird and talk funny” using human remains as your joke puppet, and someone takes it badly, you can’t really complain at that point if they report you.

    Call it the “live action Jeff Dunham principle.”

    • You can’t complain if your colleague rats you out just to rat you out? I refuse to believe that black humor and jokes aren’t routine in autopsies and in operating rooms. If they don’t interfere with the job or constitute breaches of medical ethics, then the offense is minor, one-off, with no further consequences, potential or otherwise, in the future.(Unlike having a nude 7th grade teacher’s nay-nays online for juveniles’s to gawk at. Autopsies involve moving the body–lifting the head slightly is hardly puppeteering. And ululating is objectively funny to American ears, just like certain accents, mannerisms and speech patterns. Yes, his joke crossed the line, but all that needed to be done was to remind her where the line is.

      • Well, and in all fairness, the practice of law has similar risks.

        One of my favorite jokes is that “I specialize in Frivolous Litigation.” As Jack will likely agree, such a statement is unethical, unless your advertisement of such “specialty” identifies the body certifying such specialization. (Serious aside: I shake my head whenever a lawyer says they “specialize” in something that is not a certified “specialty.” That’s the generalist in me.)

        But, lawyers often see the worst in people and humor helps deal with it. One lawyer friend of mine once told me that sin, greed, and corruption was his stock in trade. I stole that line, without attribution.

        And, when a DWI client says they “only had 2 beers,” I nod my head. No one ever drinks more than that.

        If a baggie of cocaine falls out of someone’s anus, I already know that it’s his friends cocaine.

        It’s funny.

        It’s why so many lawyers drink (it’s probably not; the real reason is probably because we willingly take on the burdens of other people when we have our own shit to deal with as well; we deal with people with problems and that gives us a skewed view of the world; our clients corrupt us (an occupational hazard for many different fields).

        Autopsies suck and I give people a pass for doing that. As a lawyer, I also understand to make light of certain forms of human misery.


      • If you know your colleague doesn’t like you, no, you can’t complain. If someone wants to shoot you then you are a fool if you give them the bullet. It’s like being in school and knowing some of your classmates hate you. Don’t let them see you misbehaving, or they’ll run right to the teacher to get you in trouble, not so much that they give a damn about the misbehavior, they give a very big damn about nailing you.

  5. Re: No. 4; Deadbeat Dad of the Century.

    Alright, I am confused. How did this happen? How did loving papí manage to wrack up over $120k in debts in his minor son’s name? Didn’t these creditors figure out that the social security number belonged to a minor because the date of birth clearly did not coincide with the father’s age?

    • It’s surprisingly common. It’s often done by getting a credit card tied to a joint account. The parent opens an account on behalf of the child, with both their names on it, to put birthday gift money and such in. They have full access to the child’s SSN. The child finds out they’re in debt the first time they try to buy a car or rent an apartment and are denied. They aren’t responsible for debts racked up when they were minors, but as a police report is often needed to get them off the hook, they suck it up. I’ve seen figures of 8-10% as estimates of the number of children affected, but researchers say it’s may be higher, as nearly half of all victims interviewed won’t go to the police because ‘ they couldn’t do that to family’.

  6. I don’t find the joke funny and I even find it a bit tasteless but I wouldn’t report someone for their fucking sense of humor.

  7. I suspect that most of the resistance protesters have no clue about what D-Day was about: They’re probably more busy playing with their X-boxes than taking the time to watch the History Channel marathon. They could care less about the 1000s of men who died in the Normandy Invasion.

  8. #2: “Gallows humor” is indeed a coping mechanism for many high-stress occupations. Police officers at crime scenes often make famously un-PC comments to each other to dull the horrors with which they deal. Here’s an example. At a particularly gruesome outdoor shooting scene in mid-December, a veteran detective commented to his rookie partner, “You can tell its nearly Christmas!” The rookie replies, “How’s that?” The veteran points to a nearby branch, “There’s a cartilage in a bare tree!”
    In the case of the autopsy, had I been present, even if I hadn’t found the comment funny I wouldn’t have complained about it. Give a colleague the benefit of the doubt!
    #4: A similar thing happened to a police colleague of mine twenty years ago. His father had scammed a number of people he knew in addition to incurring massive debt in the son’s name, then skipped out to Brazil about two steps ahead of a grand jury. The dad eventually was returned to the U.S. and did time. It took years for my colleague to restore his credit. I can’t imagine the sense of betrayal he felt.

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