Morning Ethics Warm-Up, July 1, 2019: Movies, Cultural Literacy, “A Nation Of Assholes,” And The Mystery Of The Fake Public Defender

Good Morning!

1. Any ideas about what was going on here? I’m stumped. This is New Orleans public defender—that is, former  New Orleans public defender—Ashley Crawford:

She began working for the Orleans Public Defenders last October, and since that time apparently handled over a hundred cases without having ever acquired a license to practice law. The Orleans Public Defenders said the bar certificate of good standing she presented to the office last fall when she was employed had been falsified, and Ashley used the bar number of another attorney. She’s fired now, and facing charges.

Crawford  graduated from  the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in 2016, then  clerked for a New Orleans judge beginning that fall. Judicial clerks are not required to pass the bar exam, though many do.

Why would she—would anyone—do this? Now she is facing criminal penalties, and will never be able to practice law legally. It should be far easier to pass the bar exam and be admitted properly than to fake having a law license. She also has caused havoc for the judicial system: any defendant convicted while being represented by Crawford has an automatic right to a new trial.

There’s a lesson, a tragedy, a made-for-TV movie here; I just wish I knew what the lesson is.

2. More on cultural literacy...In the video project I worked on last week, the producer was giving me good-natured crap about using so many cultural references from decades past in my seminars because “most people have no idea what you’re referring to.” She, for example—I’m guessing she’s in her forties, but she looks younger—had never heard of the film “Nashville,” just the pot-boiler TV show of the same name. I told her that just as I knew all about “Stagecoach” and “Citizen Kane,” which were made long before I was born, in my teens,  educated and literate people today need to be familiar with movies like “Nashville” to be able to understand their own culture and communicate about it intelligently.

Just today I saw a reference in a book review to a “Zelig-like” historical figure. “Zelig” was a strange Woody Allen faux-documentary/comedy  from 1983 that added a word and a concept to public discourse. Zelig, played by Allen, was a mental patient who was a human chameleon, blending into any group or situation, losing his identity, and somehow managing to be present, and virtually invisible, at historically significant moments. Is there any other word for someone who keeps turning up at key historical moments without being essential to them? Would my producer friend have understood the reference?

A lack of cultural literacy—let’s just consider movies for now—is a serious handicap in understanding what’s been going on in politics and the Presidency since mid-2015, and accounts for much of the general hysteria and lack of perspective among the public, in social media, and the news media. The following movies are among those that are essential viewing, by my analysis, for anyone seeking to make sense out of the Post 2016 Election Ethics Train Wreck and why it happened—that is, is happening.

3. Related to the list above: Here is an essay about the moral and ethical thrust of the late Herman Wouk’s novels. I recommend it.

4. Beloved Rugby’s sudden demise leads my mind to unexpected places…

  • I watched “Toy Story 3” again last night with my wife. The story is ultimately about growing up, and the wrenching moment when you realize you are leaving the innocence of childhood behind forever, and there’s no going back. Suddenly I realized that this was exactly what my son was experiencing as he comforted his dog in Rugby’s last moments. Grant had always had him as his loyal companion and playmate since my son was 9 years old. Now he is 24, and the last link to his childhood was fading away before his eyes. This major life transition was right in front of me while it was happening, and I missed it.

And if I hadn’t watched “Toy Story 3,” I doubt that I would have realized what had happened at all.

  • There was another story last week about a Connecticut man who killed his terminally ill wife. He shot her, and quickly confessed to police.He’s been charged with manslaughter.  California, Vermont, Oregon, and the District of Columbia, have  aid-in-dying laws. Connecticut, like those an extremely liberal state (Has abortion pulled the Left away from sufficient reverence for life, and toward such measures as euthanasia and the withholding of medical care from the elderly in the interests of reducing health care costs? I think so…) has so far failed to pass a law  to allow terminally ill patients to die under certain conditions.

I’m certain this episode will be used to turn the tide in Connecticut, as the maxim “hard cases make bad law” will once again be borne out. I take the same position as the various disability advocacy groups that oppose such laws.   Cathy Ludlum,  of the disability advocacy group Second Thoughts Connecticut,  said:

“What people have to keep in mind is that if you legally and medically redefine death as a treatment option, that changes a whole paradigm. For those of us who live with chronic and progressive disabilities, we oppose it because we see how medical treatment could be curtailed. At what point does society start making decisions like, ‘You’ve lived long enough?’”

Society is already perilously close to that point now.

Yet I had no qualms deciding that our dog should be euthanized to spare him an ordeal that was imminent and unavoidable, and our family considered it to be a compassionate and responsible decision.

5.  “A Nation Of Assholes,” National Parks edition. I was not aware that people trashing  National Parks was a rising phenomenon, or that it was becoming common to hear hikers blasting music  on trails, using the rationalization that they were “hiking their own hike.” This article (Pointer: Althouse) appears to blame social media, and the idiotic impulse to take selfies while doing something destructive and stupid. One of the commenters on the article channeled my 2015 post, “A Nation of Assholes: The Ultimate, Undeniable And Crucial Reason Donald Trump Must Never Be President”:

“It seems as if some people have decided that acting like Trump is the thing to do… Rules? What rules? They are for other people and NOT for self entitled, arrogant, super special people. Get caught? Flip out, lie or pretend to be the “real” victim while seeking sympathy. Sorry, but I’m SICK of people misbehaving and not taking any responsibility for their own mistakes.”

I stand by that old post, but this is Trump Derangement. Leaders and politicians breaking rules and avoiding accountability is not only not a phenomenon unique to President Trump, he’s not even the most flagrant practitioner. Indeed, I think it’s pretty clear that the conduct of other recent leaders and politicians and the hypocrisy it represents is one reason Donald Trump was elected. The Clintons, Joe Biden, Justin Fairfax, Elizabeth Warren, Eric Schneiderman, all of the media harassers, cheating athletes—-you can add to the list as well as I can. The ethics corrupters around us are legion.

The  parks phenomenon  seems particularly unrelated to Trump’s obnoxious ways. If I had to find a related factor, it might be the progressive acceptance of illegal immigration, which sends the message that breaking rules and appropriating assets intended for the benefit and enjoyment of others is no big deal. Another theory: in a society that increasingly attempts to constrain personal liberty and free expression, some are tempted to use the apparent freedom of the wilderness to express their pent up frustration by misbehaving.

Ann’s reader comments on this topic are fascinating.

41 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, July 1, 2019: Movies, Cultural Literacy, “A Nation Of Assholes,” And The Mystery Of The Fake Public Defender

  1. 1. “There’s a lesson, a tragedy, a made-for-TV movie here; I just wish I knew what the lesson is.”

    Don’t practice law without a license unless your defending yourself. Even, then it isn’t a good idea.

    2. A very good list, though I have only seen 4 of them. I will take a look at the others. Another movie I thought was good example of the post Trump era was Quiz Show (1994).

  2. 1. I’d say the lesson here is that there are consequences for taking the easy way out. A bunch of new trials and never being able to practice law legally are huge prices to pay for not bothering to do it right.
    2. I’d also add “The Candidate” starring Robert Redford to your list.
    3. Thanks for the link there. I read Wouk’s books when I was a teenager. Pug Henry was a zelig if there ever was one. And the book captures the attitudes of many Americans in the pre-Holocaust years. Wouk wasn’t going to have his characters all know that European Jewry was doomed when most people never dreamed the Nazis would go as far as they did, even in 1938.
    4. Have you seen the new one? I didn’t think it was necessary and found myself annoyed more than once. Otherwise, it was cute in places.
    5. I think that people just do what they want to do and are increasingly unwilling to be mindful of others. What they want is what they want and, if it impedes what someone else wants to do, who cares? It’s the same mentality that has them helicoptering their kids through adulthood. Nobody tells their kids what to do…not even the person signing their paychecks.
    So what does a fence or a few barriers mean to them? But, certainly, the increased deaths are due, in part, to the selfie phenomenon that results in lack of attention to one’s surroundings.
    But, yes, you are correct. Trump has nothing to do with it.

    • 2. I might add the original Manchurian Candidate, so people know exactly what they’re talking about/how crazy they sound/call Trump a Manchurian Candidate. (I’m thoroughly disappointed that last meme has not gained much traction really).

  3. #1 is obvious. The bar exam is racist and therefore unjust to require for some.

    #4 requires a change of perspective. I have decided to remain a child in some aspects of my life and to cultivate perpetuating childhood in it. If I don’t do this I’m afraid I’ll have little or no pure joy in my life. Some examples would be insisting approaching Christmas from the day after Thanksgiving on as if I was 9 years old…giving gifts all over the place and celebrating all 12 days of the actual holiday (this can mean as much as a 44 day Christmas season); also I swim in Lake Michigan as soon as it is warm enough until the end of summer for as much time as possible every weekend (no phones, no interruptions, period). It was over 3 hours of being immersed this past weekend in 64 degree water. My now grown, moved away children and wife get it and revel in my childishness. It is the best part of me.

  4. 5. It seems that mob anarchy is a platform position for the usual suspects. I’ve found internet whisperings about a recent assault on a Quillette journalist Andy Ngo by the antifas which has been receiving very little mainstream media attention. One might say “suspiciously” little, if he hadn’t been conditioned by now to expect that sort of thing.

    His topic du jour has been covering antifa violence which goes unreported and unpoliced on the West coast. Now he has a brain hemorrhage.

    It seems like social unrest is just the goal.

  5. 5, We have a weekend house on a golf course. In that last few years, golfers (macho guys, of course) have begun placing boom boxes (or phones?) in their golf carts and blasting music for their enjoyment while they play. What’s more pastoral than golf? Can’t have that. Need a sound track for everything.


  6. Re: No. 4; Toy Story 3:

    While I agree with your sentiments on Toy Story 3 (grappling with growing up and leaving youth behind), that movie is diabolical. It is marketed to young kids, based on the success of the first and second installments – which were very well done. The characters (boys and girls) are cruel and destructive to their toys – and, yes, I get that kids bash toys together and break them . The incinerator scene, though, is unconscionable – young kids are impressionable and easily upset, especially when a 6 year old bear loving boy sees his favorite character about to be burned alive in what is clearly an animated representation of Hell. That was a vicious movie. I refuse to watch it.


    • I agree that it is a vicious movie for young kids. I think the Toy Story movies are a bit like the Harry Potter books, though, with each intended for the older audience that enjoyed the original as younger tykes. 3 came out 15 years after #1. I think it’s a movie for high school and above.

      I felt the fate of Lotso was especially sadistic.

      • My grand kids are out of the compulsive cartoon watching phase as they have all entered double figures now, but when they watched cartoons I was absolutely aghast at how snotty and snarky and almost savage today’s Saturday morning cartoons have become. Toy Story 1, the only one I’ve seen parts of, was terrific.

        Re: kids growing up- one of the great lyrics in folk music from the ’60s: “Dragons live forever, but not so little boys.”

  7. #1. “Stupid is as stupid does.”
    #2. I have seen them all multiple times and will re-watch them anytime I see they are on. (I have a mild TCM addiction.) And “The Conspirator” was excellent.
    #5. Trump is a symptom, not a cause, or at most a reference to “the way things used to be;” i.e., it was primarily the rich and privileged who felt comfortable in ignoring social convention and either(a) “living life to their own standards”, and/or (b) imposing their standards at will on us common folk. At the other end of the spectrum were those bohemians and scofflaws who rejected the notion of “society” putting limits on their behavior. Those of us in the middle who were raised with manners and respect for others were the critical mass that upheld standards of decorum and deportment that were generally accepted as “normal” behavior, particularly conduct in public places. The coarse ends have met in the middle it seems.
    I occasionally walk on a local greenway linear park that is frequented by people of all ages. Also using this facility are bike riders of every stripe and more than a few who ride as though it is the duty of all the rest of us to stay out of their way. I try to avoid having too many “Get off my lawn!” moments but I find myself more frequently calling folks attention to their public indiscretions like reckless conduct that makes public spaces unsafe for others.
    Concerning noise on hiking trails, I used to hike a lot in black bear country and I would either count cadence or whistle a tune softly as I hiked. Bears have excellent hearing and don’t need to hear a loud cacophony of sound to know people are in the area. In all those years I never encountered a bear except at mutually acceptable distances.

  8. #1 The lesson that should be learned is that when anyone hiring anyone for any position needs to do their due diligence to properly check on the claims the potential employees are making both written and verbal.

    I wouldn’t hire anyone that lies in their application, resume or verbally. If a person is willing to lie to a potential employer for any reason to get hired they are untrustworthy. I’m not talking about blowing sunshine with self promoting resumes, I’m talking about verifiable lies. Even if a person is lying about themself on social media, like claiming to be a United States Marine when they’ve have never been a United States Marine (yes I’ve seen that from an applicant), I’d flag them as untrustworthy.


  9. #5 Not too long ago Brad Werntz of Madison Wisconsin blamed the recent shutdown for damage done to national parks in his answer to the March 2109 issue of InBusiness Magazine Political Posturing question Are government shutdowns ever a good idea?, Werntz wrote…

    “This current shutdown caused damage to Joshua Tree National Park alone that will take an estimated 300 years to repair.”

    People like Werntz have no use for facts.

    My response to that comment that I wrote in my blog, because I’m not allowed to comment on Political Posturing columns where I submitted the published Conservative opinion, was in part…

    “In context… [that] statement is directly implying that Republicans are to blame for the vandalism in Joshua Tree National Park. This is such a blatant misrepresentation of facts that I consider it to be an outright lie. No Mr. Werntz, the shut down did not “cause damage” to Joshua Tree National Park, irresponsible vandals did! Put the responsibility where it belongs, on the disrespectful assholes that actually vandalized the park! Mr. Werntz’s statement is an unethical and false partisan smear, it’s propaganda bull shit for hive minded Democrats and irrational anti-Trumpers.

    Something to note; when I’ve visited family in Twentynine Palms area I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Joshua Tree National Park. I did some hiking and rock climbing and I can honestly say that the only park rangers I ever saw in the park were the ones at the park entrance, I never ever saw a park ranger within the park or in a vehicle within the park EVER! With the lack of rangers patrolling Joshua Tree National Park vandals can get away with damn near anything and never be caught, it doesn’t matter if the government is open or shutdown. Something else; Park Rangers do not actually prevent vandals from vandalizing, they just try to catch them if by chance they are stupid enough to vandalize in front of a Park Ranger or when responsible park visitors report the vandals.”

    This is not a problem related to Trump, this is a problem related to our shifting culture that is spiraling into oblivion and has been doing so for longer than Trump has been on the presidential political scene; the Trump Presidency is a direct result of the spiraling culture not the cause.

    When your a hammer, everything looks like a nail; when your an anti-Trumper everything is Trump’s, and by association also the Republicans, fault.

  10. #1- a case could be made that the BEST option for the defendant is a counterfeit lawyer. A conviction still gets an automatic second chance at a trial, but an acquittal presumably still stands. There’s got to be a way to do this systematically.

      • Even worse. I play tabletop RPGs I the vein of dungeons and dragons, so finding ways to apply the rules that nobody ever intended is my literal hobby >:)

          • The trick is to not do it often enough to be annoying. Busting out “TECHNICALLY the rules say I win either way” is a move that must be used with discretion.

            • Kind of attracts the sort of attention that can negate the strategy, right?

              Have the ability to KNOW you are holding a royal straight flush and still allow others to bid up the pot. Let the other side get emotionally invested and then challenge them to put up or shut down. If they fold, do NOT show the cards. Let them wonder.

              Good advice for poker and in life.

    • A fun as a thought experiment as that is, I think that no such system has yet risen is proof that it’s too high of a risk to pull off and is ultimately relegated to the ones and twos that are discovered.

      I mean, you have to find someone who is good enough to “fake it” in court but aren’t that quality of person to actually go to law school and do it the right way. I imagine that pool of individuals is already super small, and made smaller by the fact that most of those people already seek other ethical employment.

  11. 2: I managed to miss ‘Zelig-like’ as a term, being in college. However, I believe Forrest Gump shows the concept in a more widely seen story. I think Nashville and Zelig have fallen in that (un)sweet spot of older movies that are not recent enough for most people to been exposed to when they came out or valuable in resale market like DVDs, but not significant enough to be preserved on the various pay and movie channels.

    People a little older than I were more the target for both those movies, and I vaguely remember reviewers like Siskel and Ebert commenting on Nashville. but I would have rather done an extra research paper than see an Allen pic. My younger brother watches more movies than I, and I’d put money that he never heard of Zelig. Movies that are selected as culturally significant enough to be preserved are chosen by the mass of the people in the culture, not by you or me. Spaceballs will outlive both the other movies, even as a farce.

  12. #5 – I think it the beginning of the acceptance of lawless behavior goes back to Jimmy Carter and his completely unreasonable 55 MPH national speed limit. It was so ridiculous few would obey. Mass civil disobedience became the norm.

    How else do you explain a “nation of laws” where most ignore the speed limits with impunity?

    • That was not until Carter’s administration? Hmmmm…….thought it was earlier, but no matter.

      I view the 55 mph law as one of the signature moments for the ongoing encroachment of the federal government into every aspect of our lives. The government didn’t have the constitutional authority to pass a ‘national speed limit’, so it bullied the states into doing so. Legally any state could have chosen not to pass a 55 mph law — but how many states were willing to forego all the federal highway money they were addicted to?

      I understand the legal reasoning behind such laws, but I absolutely despise them, no matter how good an individual cause might be — the road to Hell, etc. I definitely believe we would be better off if the federal government had been firmly muzzled.i

  13. #1- I wonder…? The timing could work. Might she have been inspired by Grisham’s “The Rooster Bar” that was published in October 2017? After clerking for a while she probably saw enough day-to-day legal work to have an “…I don’t got to show you no stinking badges” moment. Maybe easier than that bar exam. Second choice: failed bar exam and powered on.

  14. What! No Annie Hall? C’mon man. “National Review? What, are you dating some kind of right-wing rock star?” (Roughly recalled dialogue.)

    For me Manhattan, Annie Hall and Zelig are among Allen’s best work.

    • I think of “Zelig” as more clever than good. “Manhattan” is creepy, with Woody having a sexual relationship with a virtual child….too close to real life for me. Can’t criticize “Annie Hall,” but my list along with that film would include the earlier, less pretentious comedies: “Bananas,” “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?,” “Sleeper,” “Take the Money and Run,” and “Play It Again, Sam.”

  15. 1) Law & Order did an episode based on a situation similar to that, except that it was an assistant DA and he worked for the DA’s office for years. Don’t remember all the details, but it might have been a posthumous discovery.

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