Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 1/12/2020: Broken Ethics Alarms, An Ethics Conflict, And “Who Are You Going To Believe, Me Or Your Own Eyes?”

Well, Hel-LO!

“Seinfeld” fans remember Jerry’s Uncle Leo, whose trademark was an over-enthusiastic, “Hel-LO!” The recurring character was played by the late Len Lesser, an obscure Hollywood bit player until the “Seinfeld” gig made him a familiar face. Well, I was watching “Bells Are Ringing, the 1960 film version of the hit Broadway musical known for the standards “Just in Time” and “The Party’s Over” (one of my Mom’s favorite songs), on TCM. The film is a reminder of just how luminous Judy Holliday was; she had won the Tony for playing the musical’s starring role on Broadway, and attention should be paid. Tragically, his was her last movie—during filming she was fighting the cancer that eventually killed her —-and I don’t know if there has ever been a female musical comedy star of greater range and presence. Anyway, there’s a number in the film where Judy tells Dean Martin that New York’s grim mass of humanity during rush hours will thaw if strangers only say “hello” to each other. Dean is skeptical, but he tries it on a dour-looking man waiting in the mob, whose face instantly breaks into a brilliant smile at the greeting. “Hel-LO!” the man responds to a surprised Dino, and soon everyone is happily saying hello to each other. You guessed it: the dour-looking man was played by “Uncle Leo” himself, Len Lesser. His catch phrase in “Seinfeld” was a deliberate reference to that bit, one of the very few memorable moments in the elderly actor’s career.

This is really a long introduction to a different point: I get a lot of ethics ideas from watching old movies. For example, I watched 1967’s “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, one of schlockmeister Roger Corman’s few films with an A-list cast and a big budget. The film’s solemn narrator is uncredited, but he is obviously meant to make the casual audience member think it’s Orson Welles. It wasn’t Welles, however: it was master vocal artist Paul Frees, who had a great, and often used, Welles impression. I assume he was uncredited so no one would realize that the narrator wasn’t the weighty Welles, but the voice of Boris Badinov from “Rocky and Bullwinkle.”

I don’t know how Corman got away with this.

1. Ah, the accurate, trustworthy news media. Reuters reports, “A South African military plane crash-landed on Thursday at the Goma airport in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a U.N. spokesman said….two sources at the airport, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there did not appear to be major damage to the plane.”

Here’s the plane:

2. Apparently the Democratic Party’s strategy regarding the economy is to just flagrantly lie about it. “The U.S. economy is working just fine for people like me. But it is badly broken for the vast majority of Americans,” Mike Bloomberg said this week. That counter-factual statement echoes Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders…pretty much the Democratic field, and it is demonstrably false.

The Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank’s monthly Wage Growth Tracker shows that Americans in the lower wage brackets are making more money, and at a better rate than they have for a very long time. Here’s a graph:

Bloomberg and the rest have access to this data; I’m sure they know about it. They are flat out lying, and hoping it works. Of course, in far left ideology, incomes are immorally unequal if anyone makes a lot more in total than anyone else: this is the central fallacy of Communism, and it has proven useful at provoking division and revolution. The increasingly totalitarian-tilting Democratic Party is wagering that the public is so ignorant and gullible that it will fall for this ploy. But any candidate who engages in this dishonesty should be estopped from ranting about President Trump’s “lies.”

3. When ethics alarms are seriously warped.…In California, investigators say Corey Curnutt, 25, and Savannah Grillot, 29, were furious over being victimized by car break-ins. Their remedy: they left unattended bikes in front of their home, waited for thieves to try to steal them, and ran out of the house swinging aluminum baseball bats. At least four would-be bicycle thieves  were beaten but there could be more: not all of the vigilante duo’s attacks were posted by the couple on YouTube.

4. More missing Ethics Alarms: The parents of four African American high school students in the Longwood School District in Long Island have filed a federal complaint against teacher Edward Heinrichs. The science teacher posed the students with their hands on each other’s heads during a field trip to the Bronx Zoo. The picture was then included in a slideshow shown to the class, accompanied by the caption, “Monkey Do.” The next slide was a picture of a gorilla.  The parents of the teenagers argue that this was racist.

Ya think?

5. Now here’s an ethics conflict: Should  public defenders be immune from legal malpractice suits? The New Jersey Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Nieves v. Office of the Public Defender in which the Court is asked to decide whether the Office of the Public Defender should be covered by the state’s Torts Claims Act.

The plaintiff had been in prison for twelve years on charges of  first-degree aggravated sexual assault when the charges against him were dismissed. He then filed a legal malpractice suit against the public defender’s office and the public defender who handled his case. The suit was eventually thrown out after the appeals court ruled that the office of the public defender is a public entity, and thus public defenders are public employees who come within the Tort Claims Act’s immunities and defenses.  Short version of the ruling: they can’t be sued. It’s a public policy ruling; as the NJ bar Association argues in support of the public defenders (lawyers don’t like malpractice suits),

“[C]ompetent criminal defense lawyers should not be deterred from public service by the prospect of ruinous awards and defense costs. Without the defense and indemnification assured by the Tort Claims Act the interests of both PDs and those with just claims against them are ill served.”

That’s one side. The counter-argument is: “How can we be sure that public defenders do a competent, zealous and diligent job if there are no consequences when they screw up and an innocent defendant goes to prison?


10 thoughts on “Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 1/12/2020: Broken Ethics Alarms, An Ethics Conflict, And “Who Are You Going To Believe, Me Or Your Own Eyes?”

  1. One of the great fictions of economics lies in how data is portrayed. Growth rates are one of my favorite methods of telling lies. The wage growth rate above requires a bit of basic math and economics understanding to fully capture its relevance.

    The lowest quartile or quintile will have substantially higher rates of growth even if all incomes rise at exactly the same amount. For example if someone making the highest limit of the lowest quartile (say $25,000) gets a $5000 raise that earners wage growth is 20%. As we move up the line, if the highest limit of the second quartile is $50,000 that $5,000 raise, that rate of increase is a mere 10%. As we move up the ladder the basis or denominator gets progressively larger and if the numerator – the raise – remains constant the rate of growth falls. Most people know this or should know this.

    Is it true that a person at the top got more in total even if his or her rate of growth of wage growth was less than half of what the bottom quartile realized. Sure, but having more does not translate into higher standards of living. If the wage earners at the bottom sees their incomes double they have a much greater chance of improving standard of living than someone at the top. A doubling of the wage at the lowest levels can allow people to purchase normal goods versus having to get by on inferior goods. I am using the economic definition of inferior goods. Examples: Owning rather than renting your home; buying a new car or late model car rather than buying someone’s beater car that has a limited life expectancy. Even the ability to buy in bulk to save money because the cash flow is improved or obtain a bank loan instead of paying outrageous prices to rent to own businesses are substantial improvements to one’s standard of living.

    There is also the law of diminishing marginal returns that must be considered. Even if the top quartile and the bottom quartile both find themselves with a million dollar windfall who is more likely to gain more emotional gratification knowing that they have an additional million dollars. The first owned home is far more gratifying than the purchase of the second and third homes which will lie abandoned at least a third of the year.

    In real and emotional terms wage growth of some substance will have a much greater impact on those at the bottom of the income spectrum than that at the top even if the growth rates are the same. There is some truth in the notion that one can have more income than they need simply because they have no place to spend it right now that will give them any measurable satisfaction. HOWEVER, AND THIS IS A HUGE CAVEAT: There could be a point in time that that uber-wealthy person finds a thing, cause, or other reason in the future to need to have those resources available to him or her. Simply because a person is wealthy today does not mean that they are insulated from the vagaries of the markets or that something of great importance to them may arise. Capping incomes at any level is an abridgment of the fundamental belief that we have a right to pursue our own happiness. For me, happiness is making the decisions on how to spend that which I alone earn.

    • Addendum:
      Quartiles or quintiles are not equally dividing up the population. They quartiles are determined by equalizing the incomes by the number of households. Example: If there are 4 households making $1 million in total and 10 households making the same amount you could have 2 different quartiles but the lower quartile requires more households to get to a given amount of income.

      There are far more people in the bottom two quartiles than in the top two quartiles. It is therefore possible that the lion’s share of all income growth may have gone to the bottom quartiles even if there is a massive difference in the amount an average household at the top received and the average of what one at the bottom received.

  2. #1. It’s a plane crash, so… To me that plane doesn’t look badly damaged. Sure, it will never fly again, but they’re not picking up bite-sized pieces of it out of the grass, either. Nor did it blow up upon crashing. Dishonest? Not here. A quote that shouldn’t have been quoted? Probably. Was the quote printed without seeing the photo? Maybe. Does that make it dishonest? I don’t know. But when I hear “plane crash” I expect to see a field of rubble, not something that is still easily identifiable as an airplane.

    • Well, yeah, but then the accurate description is “not badly damaged for a plane crash” is the minimum we should expect. Your two statements “not badly damaged” and “probably not fly again” are mutually exclusive, don’t you think? Would you say someone wasn’t badly injured in an accident but would never walk again?

      • The standard saying when I was an aircrew member was “any landing you can walk away from is a good one.” From that standpoint, this one doesn’t look too bad. All of the 8 crew and 59 passengers survived. The plane was a South African Air Force C-130BZ which made its first flight in 1962 (imagine that, an airplane almost 60 years old still in active military service). A fire broke out in the left wing and the wing broke at that point. The break was after the plane was on the ground and stopped otherwise the wing tip would be inclined backwards rather than forward. The plane was written off although there appears to be a good deal of it that is salvageable and could be used to repair other aircraft. Information was obtained primarily from Aviation Safety Net an excellent source of accurate information on aircraft accidents.

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