The Ethics Mess That Is U.S. Race Relations, Chapter IV: Prof. Henry Louis Gates Has Learned Nothing

A recent interview in the New York Times Magazine reminded me once again of what an arrogant, race-baiting, self-deluded and toxic presence Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates is on the American society landscape. It was Professor Gates, you will recall, who provoked a  racial incident with a white Cambridge , Massachusetts police officer who was investigating a report that an African American male  had broken into Gates’ home. The  African American male was Gates himself, who had returned from a trip to find his door jammed, and jimmied his own front door.  When Cambridge  police Sgt. James Crowley arrived at Gates’ abode to investigate a 911 call that said that two African American men had broken into the house,  Gates answered the door and immediately accused the officer of racially profiling him. He eventually flashed his Harvard ID, then demanded the officers name and ID number as well. The officer asked him to come outside for that information, and Gates came out onto his porch, again accused him of racial bias, shouted over his words and insulted him. The officer, who was a trainer in the area of avoiding racial prejudice, asked the professor to calm down Gates continued to shout, and a crowd was  gathering. After warning Gates that he was disturbing the peace, and would be arrested if he didn’t go inside—Gates kept saying it was his porch and he’d stay outside if he chose to—Crowley took the Harvard professor into custody.

Charges were quickly dropped, but Barack Obama, in a pattern that continued throughout his Presidency, weighed in on an event he know little about, and pronounced the white officer the villain of the  episode. (Gates was a friend of the President’s, and, of course, the African American.) Obama was properly criticized for his knee-jerk reaction by many, including me. (My multiple articles about this mess are still trapped on the old Ethics Scoreboard, currently off line because the hosting company messed up.) Embarrassed, as he deserved to be, Obama pulled a transparent public relations stunt of inviting the white cop and the black scholar to the White House for a so-called “beer summit.”

In a word, “Yecchh.” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/27/2020: “Macho Man” Rights, A Billionaire Jerk Contest, And More

Good morning!

Not thrilled to be up before Virginia’s sunrise, but looking forward to it…

1. It’s sad what happens to Ethics Alarms expatriates...One upon a time, uber-progressive blogger/cartoonist Barry Deutsch, aka Ampersand, was one of the most prolific, open-minded, articulate and reasonable commenters here. Then Barry banned himself because he didn’t like my pointing out that his blog is an echo chamber, after he censored my comment there noting that his SJW throng’s  position on the Trayvon Martin-Zimmerman affair was intellectually dishonest.  So Barry retreated to his self-made bubble. I check in on him now and then, and that admirable open-mindedness has disappeared in the marinade of relentlessly woke and intolerant fans.

Here’s how bad it is for Barry: this what he wrote on his “Alas! A Blog”recently: “Conservatives are against all immigrants (or at least all non-white immigrants), not just unauthorized immigrants.”

Tragic. Barry Deutsch now believes that anyone who disagrees with his far left world view is a racist. The Ampersand who followed Ethics Alarms would never think such a thing, much less publish it.

2. The trouble with billionaires. The class warfare being fomented by Bernie Sanders and others for a cynical and destructive power grab is an old formula that, when it works, always brings chaos in its wake. Throughout history, it has succeeded more often than basic economics and common sense would dictate in part because so many of the ultra-rich persist in being jerks. Does being a jerk make one more inclined to get rich, or does becoming extremely rich have a tendency to make one a toxic jerk?

That’s a question for the ages, but the behavior of people like billionaires Peter Nygard and Louis Bacon make things easier for class warfare demagogues like Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, just as it did for Lenin and Robespierre before them. This story, about their absurd and costly feud, illustrates how extreme wealth can permit one’s ethics alarms, not to mention sense of proportion, go dead.

From the Times:

The Bahamian pleasure palace featured a faux Mayan temple, sculptures of smoke-breathing snakes and a disco with a stripper pole. The owner, Peter Nygard, a Canadian fashion executive, showed off his estate on TV shows like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and threw loud beachfront parties, reveling in the company of teenage girls and young women. Next door, Louis Bacon, an American hedge fund billionaire, presided over an airy retreat with a lawn for croquet. Mr. Bacon preferred hunting alone with a bow and arrow to attending wild parties, and if mentioned at all in the press, was typically described as buttoned-up.

The neighbors had little in common except for extreme wealth and a driveway. But when Mr. Nygard wasn’t allowed to rebuild after a fire, he blamed Mr. Bacon. Since then, the two have been embroiled in an epic battle, spending tens of millions of dollars and filing at least 25 lawsuits in five jurisdictions. Mr. Nygard, 78, has spread stories accusing Mr. Bacon of being an insider trader, murderer and member of the Ku Klux Klan. Mr. Bacon, 63, has accused Mr. Nygard of plotting to kill him.

Read the whole thing. Continue reading

Evening Ethics Catch-Up, 2/26/2020: Goodbye Baby Peggy And Baby “Whoops!”

Sorry, this is later that I intended…

I’ve been working on accounting ethics, which always slows down my metabolism to Galapagos tortoise levels…

1.Worst lie of the year (so far)…In Winter Park, Florida, Jorge Torres was found dead , zipped into a suitcase. Suspect Sarah Boone insisted that it was all a tragic mistake. They  were playing hide and seek, she said, and he just hid too well. A cellphone video, however, caught his cries for help from inside the suitcase, as she said, “That’s what I feel like when you cheat on me!” Boone, however, told police that the wacky couple thought it would be funny if he got inside the suitcase. They were drinking at the time and who hasn’t zipped up a loved one in a suitcase when spirits run high? Unfortunately, Sarah passed out on her bed, and when she woke up hours later, poor Jorge was dead.

That’s her story, and she’s sticking with it.

2. Remember “Baby Peggy”? Probably not, but she was probably the last living link to the silent movie era, and she died this week at 101. She was also one of the earliest examples of the child abuse that became routine in Hollywood. Baby Peggy, real name Peggy-Jean Montgomery, had made about 150 movies by the time she was five-years-old, and was a multi-millionaire at four. As has been the norm with child stars from Peggy through Jackie Coogan to Gary Coleman, Peggy’s parents stole her money and spent it all. They also let her risk life and limb in pursuit of her “art” that she was too young to understand. During her silent-film career, “Baby Peggy”  was thrown from a speeding pickup truck, narrowly escaped a horse trampling and survived near-drownings and incineration. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Who Killed ‘Judith’s’ Baby?”

Enigmatic commenter Extradimensional Cephalopod (that’s not him in the picture, just a relative) returned to Ethics Alarms after an unexplained absence (though who knows how time passes in his dimension) to provide one of several excellent observations on the post and poll about “Judith,” the expectant mother whose faith in a “freebirthing” cult cost her unborn child his life. The comments of Tim LeVier, Humble Talent, JutGory, and Mrs. Q, among others, were all Comment of the Day worthy, but for now, I’m going to award EC the prize.

Here is the current state of the poll…

…and here  is Extradimensional Cephalopod’s Comment of the Day on “Who Killed Judith’s Baby?”

First off, I’m grateful for all the nuanced and well-considered opinions here. I can always count on getting reasonably well-balanced information about human society from people’s experiences here, and the encouragement that reasonable people are not alone–just not yet organized.

The poll didn’t let me vote multiple times, but I’m tempted to select “all of the above,” in the sense that “responsible” can mean “contributing to the problem and needing to change.” For “primarily responsible,” I’m obligated to go with “Judith,” since she is presumed to have ultimate decision-making authority in this case.

That survey question by the National Partnership for Women & Families spins so hypnotically, I’d like to take it off its axle.

“Giving birth is a natural process that should not be interfered with unless absolutely medically necessary.” Who wouldn’t agree to that?

1. Yes, giving birth is objectively and literally a natural process, in that humans didn’t deliberately design it. (Although I wouldn’t put it past them to have done so under a tight budget of time and money. I’ve supported software rollouts that were just as awkward and painful.)

However, stating something to be “a natural process” in so many words implies on an emotional level that it is by default perfectly healthy and should remain purely natural, which is an appeal to nature fallacy. “Cancer is a natural process.” “Epidemics are a natural process.” “Hurricanes are a natural process.” There are plenty of natural things that I am very grateful civilization has altered or wants to alter using technology. Continue reading

And George Stephanopoulos Is Still On The Network How?

So ABC suspends a correspondent for uttering the truth that anyone paying attention already knew.

Project Veritas just got someone in trouble again by surreptitiously recording statements made under false pretenses. I think James O’Keefe’s stunts are always unethical, but this is worse than most, because he’s really not revealing anything we don’t already know.

Veteran ABC News reporter David Wright was suspended after executives reviewed footage in which he described himself as a “socialist.” Apparently he will no longer be on the political beat either. Wright also was heard criticiing ABC, saying of its approach to covering the news,

“I feel terrible about it. I feel that the truth suffers, the voters are poorly informed, and people also have the opportunity to tune into whatever they want to hear. And so, it’s like there’s no upside, or our bosses don’t see an upside in doing the job we’re supposed to do, which is to speak truth to power and hold people accountable.”

On second thought, maybe this was useful information. The duty of news organization is not to “speak truth to power,” but to inform the public. I don’t care what the David Wrights of the world think is “the truth,” and the fact that they presume to know is why we can’t trust them, arrogant entitled hacks that they are. Continue reading

Seven Ethics Observations On The Chaotic South Carolina Democratic Candidates Debate.

CBS hosted the debate, and its transcript is here.

1. Well that was embarrassing. I tried to find a YouTube clip of all the candidates simultaneously shouting,  talking over each other and waving their arms; I couldn’t, but I’m sure there are several, and I’m sure they will be used in Republican campaign ads. This group is objectively horrible even when they are coherent and well-behaved, but as I watched this debacle, I thought, “Boy, Facebook is really going to be cranky tomorrow.”

2. It’s not just the candidates who are to blame, of course. The story of the night was just how incompetent the CBS moderators were: timid, unprofessional, passive. In a situation like that, you have to blow a whistle, stop and warn everyone. You tell the group that if they don’t behave, there won’t be any more questions. You cut their mics if necessary. The moderators have a duty to do whatever is necessary to keep order, because the debate, which is supposed to help voters decide who our next President should be, is literally useless unless there can be an orderly and audible exchange of ideas.

Once again, the inept Gayle King was at the center of a televised mess. Oprah Winfrey’s “gal pal” <cough> has her job for one reason, and it’s her connections <cough>what is this in my throat?–and no other good reason. She’s a local TV news mediocrity elevated  beyond her merits, an example of the Peter Principle in action with a the ugly element of unethical influence added.

Usually the impact of King’s  glaring lack of ability is minimal, but in a case like this it does actual damage. Ann Althouse picked up on one example last night that annoyed me as well. Late in the debate, the moderators again asked the seven candidates to take a break from shouting over each other, and Joe Biden said, “Why am I stopping? No one else stops. It’s my Catholic school training.”

…Gayle King responds, “Vice President Biden, you’re a gentleman. Good home training. Thank you, sir.” But Joe Biden doesn’t want to be Gayle King’s good little boy. He says, “Yeah, gentlemen don’t get very well treated up here.”

 Good home training. Ridiculous. Biden was making a criticism — “Why am I stopping? No one else stops. It’s my Catholic school training” — a justified criticism, and Gayle King understood or pretended to understand that to be supportive of her and justifying her bonding with Biden, like the 2 of them are well bred and polite, but he cut her off.

“Gentlemen don’t get very well treated up here” — that’s superficially polite, not telling King she’s not doing her job, but the treatment in question is from the moderators.

He’s saying: I have been polite and gracious, but you’ve presided over an event where rudeness wins. Catholic school may have taught me good behavior, but you, Gayle King, are teaching bad behavior.

… it’s interesting that King changed “Catholic school training” to “home training.” She cleaned the religion out of it for him. She erased his Catholic identity. And if it’s home training, the implication is domestication by a woman.

Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: John Hinderaker

“It is almost unbelievable how ignorant and ill-educated America’s college students are. They are well below average in every material way. For all my life I have been an advocate for higher education, but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that college is generally a mistake, as young people are mostly misinformed there, rather than educated. There are a few technical fields–medicine, engineering, possibly law–where such education is actually useful. Otherwise, we and our young people would be better off if they eschewed institutions like Colgate in favor of trade and technical schools, or immediate entry into the labor market. They couldn’t possibly do worse than to pursue the typical four-year liberal arts degree.”

—-Attorney-blogger John Hinderaker, in a Powerline post about the  hostile treatment conservative  author Heather McDonald received from Colgate students when she was invited to speak there.

The reason this seems almost unbelievable to Hinderaker, and the reason I chose this as an ethics quote, is that his painful conclusion that nobody wants to admit is true. I don’t want to admit it, and I was becoming convinced of this decades ago, when I  was part of the administration of Georgetown Law Center and discovered that we had Yale graduates who couldn’t write a coherent sentence, and later, when I had Stanford interns who thought Jane Fonda was an aerobics instructor and who looked at me blankly when I mentioned the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and still later, when a smart young woman who had graduated from Hofsta didn’t know who Jackie Robinson was, and when a Skadden Arps attorney with a Cornell degree guessed that the Civil War was fought sometime in the 1930s.

This is why I was not disappointed when my son, scion of a family with three Harvard graduates and a career Harvard employee, announced that he saw no point in going to college. Continue reading

Oh-oh…Ethics Quote Of The Week: Joe Biden

“My name’s Joe Biden, I’m a Democratic candidate for the United States senate—if you like what you see, help out, if not, vote for the other Biden”

Democratic candidate and gaffe grandmaster Joe Biden, speaking today, before tonight’s South Carolina debate,  to a South Carolina campaign crowd.

It isn’t that Biden’s statement has anything to do with ethics, whatever he was saying.  It’s that his bizarre pronouncement raises an immediate ethics issue. If we were playing “Ethics Password,” the announcer would say in hushed tones, “The password is fairness.” What is fair to Biden here, and how can I get past my biases to decide? I have believed for more than a decade that Biden is an idiot-savant with surprising political skills; I don’t believe you can say ridiculous and nonsensical things as often as he has for so long and not be inherently untrustworthy and more than a little addled. I also have found his demeanor, appearance and increasing tendency to speak in  gibberish of late evidence of precipitously declining faculties from a height that was never all that impressive to begin with.

And yet I am in favor of  giving any politician, disk jockey or improv comic the benefit of the doubt, because I know the perils of speaking extemporaneously from first-hand experience. Thus the question is, how eager should we be to shrug off this latest jaw-dropper from Biden as the natural and forgivable result of flying around the country and its inevitable “If this is Tuesday, it must be Saginaw” confusion? Is it just a particularly egregious example of wacky old Joe being wacky old Joe, and thus an occurrence where the Julie Principle is in play, or, in the worst case, is this latest head-scratcher so close to the former VP showing up nude with a duck on his head that an intervention is called for?

Help me out here.

 

And The Winner Of The “It Would Be A Better World If Everyone Read Ethics Alarms” Contest Is…Aalst, Belgium!

From the BBC:

Israel, Jewish groups and Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès were among many who strongly condemned the costumes in Sunday’s parade in Aalst.  Some critics said likening Jews to ants was similar to Nazi anti-Semitism, which persecuted Jews as “vermin”.

The Aalst mayor’s spokesman told the BBC “it’s our humour… just fun”. Peter Van den Bossche said “there isn’t a movement behind it” and “we don’t wish harm to anyone. It’s our parade, our humour, people can do whatever they want,” he said. “It’s a weekend of freedom of speech.”

Aalst lies 31km (19 miles) northwest of Brussels – the heart of the EU…The city drew much criticism for parading caricature Jews last year – so much so that it was dropped from Unesco’s cultural heritage list in December. After the outcry, Aalst itself had asked to be taken off the list….

There were also people parading in Nazi SS uniform-

– despite the fact that, in World War Two, the Nazis deported about 25,000 Jews from occupied Belgium to the Auschwitz death camp, where most were murdered…In Sunday’s parade some caricature Jews posed with a mock-up of the Western Wall – often called Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, a holy site for Jews. It was labelled “the wailing ant”, in Dutch “de klaugmier”. The Dutch for “wailing wall” is “klaagmuur”.

“This doesn’t encourage anti-Semitism; the reaction last year was over the top,” Mr Van den Bossche said. “Two hundred percent it’s not anti-Semitic.”

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up,2/25/2020: Remembering “Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee” [CORRECTED]

Notice of a correction: in the first version of this post, I mistakenly wrote that the famous photo above was  of the first Liston fight. It was not: this was the dramatic scene that ended the rematch. Thanks to Tim Levier for reminding me.

Good Morning!

1. Cultural literacy thoughts: I wonder…how many Millennial Americans—or among the post-boomer generations—recognize the context of the photo above? On this date in 1964, a brash 22-year-old black boxer named Cassius Clay (1942-2016) pulled off one of the great upsets in sports history, defeating world heavyweight boxing champ Sonny Liston, an 8-to-1 favorite, in a seventh-round technical knockout. The now iconic photo above captured the dramatic finale of the 1965 rematch, ending the speculation that Clay’s victory over the previously frightening Liston had been a fluke.

Indeed, the 1964 fight was just the beginning of a remarkable story.

After his stunning victory, the sudden celebrity attended a victory to a private party at a Miami hotel. In attendance was Malcolm X, the outspoken leader of the rising African American Muslim group known as the Nation of Islam. Two days later, Cassius Clay announced he was joining the Nation of Islam, and renounced his “slave name”  to adopt  the Muslim name, Muhammad Ali. As Ali, he became one of the most influential social and political figures of his era, affecting civil rights, politics, public attitudes, language and culture…and sports, of course, as  professional boxing’s greatest champion. After successfully defending his title nine times, Ali surrendered it in 1967 after he refused induction into the U.S. Army on the grounds that he was a Muslim minister and thus  a conscientious objector. His stand against the Vietnam War galvanized national opposition to the war, especially among students and the young. In 1971,  the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Ali’s draft evasion conviction, and in 1974, he regained his heavyweight title in a match against George Foreman in Zaire, enshrining his phrase “rope-a-dope” in our lexicon. Eventually Ali became  the first boxer to win the heavyweight title three times. His post-retirement diagnosis  of pugilistic Parkinson’s syndrome and the sad spectacle of the once loquacious and witty athlete’s slow decline into near speechlessness and impaired motor functionscontributed to the collapse of boxing’s popularity. Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan, and lit the Olympic flame at the opening ceremonies of the1996  Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia.

My mother, who like virtually everyone in her first generation Greek family was uncomfortable around blacks, once met Ali, who was seated next to her at a Harvard College function when she was Assistant Dean of Housing. She said later that he was the most charming, charismatic, beautiful man she had ever met in her life.

2. You can lead an idiot to child-proof packaging, but you can’t make him think. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics aimed at figuring out why there has been a steep rise in accidental poisonings of U.S. children according to CDC figures has come to a disturbing conclusion. Researchers analyzed nearly 4,500 calls to five U.S. poison centers in Arizona, Florida and Georgia over an eight month period in 2017. They found more than half of the prescription medicine poisonings occurred because parents and grandparents removed  pills and medicines from child-proof packaging to make them more easily accessible, to help the adults remember to take them, or more convenient for travel. Continue reading