Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/13/2020: Let’s Talk About Something Other Than The Whateveryoucallit Virus [Updated!]

Good Morning!

1. Hmmmm. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Recognize those words? Might the news media have the sense and integrity to include them in stories about state governments “ordering” that there be no public gatherings of 500 or more (New York) and 250 or more (Washington state)?

Update: Massachusetts just “banned” gatherings of over 250. I’d like to see the research showing that numbers not ending in zero are unsafe.

As far as I can figure out, a state governor can’t unilaterally restrict the right to assemble even in a “state of emergency,” and whether such a draconian measure is permissible is subject to court challenge and judicial scrutiny. These two orders seem especially vulnerable. Why 500? Why 250?

I’d feel a lot better if organizations and the public would assert their rights and demand that governors, as Tom Cruise was required by Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” to ask nicely. This reminds me of Boston, of all places, meekly submitting in 2013 to a completely illegal demand by police that its citizens stay inside while the search for the Boston Marathon bombings was underway. Fear is a dangerous tool in the hands of the powerful, who have a nasty habit of becoming totalitarians if they sense any lack of resolve among their potential lackeys and victims.

2. Every now and then Jake Tapper’s once significant commitment to honest journalism creeps out of its post-CNN recruitment paralysis. Tapper recently opined on the air that Democratic voters were acting  like progressive  pundits:

“To be completely frank, I’m getting real 2004 vibes tonight…Democrats want to defeat an incumbent Republican so badly…that they decide which one is electable…and they decide, okay, it’s John Kerry, or in this case it’s Joe Biden… the point is that when you have the Democratic electorate deciding that they are all a bunch of Rachel Maddows and Chris Hayess and the like, that they’re just, you know, progressive pundits and they’re going to pick out who is the best one, maybe they don’t necessarily always know what they’re doing.”

“Hey! Where’s Tapper’s Kool-Aid? Get him a straw, quick!” I assume that within days, a former female guest will reveal that in 2014 Tapper complimented how she looked in her dress and asked, “Are you working out?,” leading to his immediate dismissal.

A fair point made by CNN critics: “I wonder why he didn’t say “Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo?”

3.  Gee, what’s more ethical...a murder-for-hire website where they take your money and don’t kill the intended, or one that takes your money and goes through with the hit? From the New York Times:  “A collection of online stores offer murder for pay. Researchers say they are scams, but people who want someone dead aren’t listening.”

I’ve been remiss in not formally entering “Kaufman’s Observation” among the official Ethics Alarms Concepts and Special Terms, a failing I will remedy today. I know I’ve referenced this  story several times.

George S. Kaufman  was a celebrated wit and playwright (“The Man Who Came To Dinner”, “You Can’t Take It With You”, and many more, usually in tandem with Moss Hart),  and moonlighted as  a panelist on the  early TV  show, “This is Show Business,” which often featured a celebrity who would consult the panel members about a personal problem. On one show, singer Eddie Fisher ( father of Carrie, husband of Debbie Reynolds and, scandalously, adulterous lover and eventual pre-Richard Burton spouse of Elizabeth Taylor) wanted advice from the panel because desirable women refused to go out with him because of his youth. Kaufman ‘s unsympathetic reply:

“Mr. Fisher, on Mount Wilson there is a telescope that can magnify the most distant stars to twenty-four times the magnification of any previous telescope. This remarkable instrument was unsurpassed in the world of astronomy until the development and construction of the Mount Palomar telescope.  The Mount Palomar telescope is an even more remarkable instrument of magnification. Owing to advances and improvements in optical technology, it is capable of magnifying the stars to four times the magnification and resolution of the Mount Wilson telescope. Mr. Fisher, if you could somehow put the Mount Wilson telescope inside the Mount Palomar telescope, you still wouldn’t be able to see my interest in your problem.”

This perfectly expresses my concern for the fate of those seeking hit men who get swindled out of their funds. In the future, I will express such a level of disinterest by citing “Kaufman’s Observation,” with a link.

4. Stairway to Heaven Ethics. Whew! That was a close one!The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, after hearing the case en banc ( that is,  before a full panel of 11 judges), decided this week that Led Zeppelin’s unbelievably pretentious classic “Stairway to Heaven” was not plagiarized, and no new trial would be needed.

A trial jury had previously determined that the  endless 1971 song  did not copy “Taurus,”  a  forgotten 1968 song by  guitarist/singer Randy Wolfe  that was recorded by his band, Spirit. After Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” was ruled plagiarism and the song’s writer had to  pay more than $5 million to the family of Marvin Gaye, it was feared that dubious claims of “borrowing” elements from a musical piece would prevail using  expanded and loosened legal standards, to a degree that virtually all compositions became targets.

In the 2016  jury trial, Led Zeppelin’s  lawyers argued that a chord progression and a descending chromatic scale , the musical elements that the lawsuit said had been stolen, were too basic to be protected by copyright.  Led Zeppelin’s  expert, a musicologist, said that similar patterns have been commond in music for over 300 years.

5. I don’t understand this story at all, but increasingly the values being exhibited in the United Kingdom seem alien to me. A British teenager was charging classmates the US equivalent of 64 cents for a squirt of hand sanitizer, which is apparently in short supply as well as being over-rated as a Coronavirus prophylactic. His school suspended him for that bit of entrepreneurial spirit.

He had made about eleven bucks before his business was shut down. The student’s  major purchase with his profits was a bag of Doritos.

28 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/13/2020: Let’s Talk About Something Other Than The Whateveryoucallit Virus [Updated!]

  1. To be just, aren’t many voters picking one they think can win even if they might prefer another candidate?

    May 2016: I remember standing at the crappy table they used to call a voting booth and wondering if I should vote for who I want or who would more likely win. I chose the former, but could easily imagine many choosing the latter.

    Is this an illegitimate or unethical method of choosing?

    So long, Jake. If CNN doesn’t fire you, Maddow will have you offed. That is, unless she does it by one of those unethical hit websites.

  2. Indianapolis’ Mayor has issued a ban on 250 or more persons. So here I am at home, sitting at my dining room table, trying to work from home along with all of my other departmental co-workers. There will be no church this Sunday because our church is huge and they’re just going to do online services.

    In the meantime, our son emerged from his room and spent last night’s supper disparaging the United States and its government for not being like Korea and demanding every citizen go through testing.

    I have now banned discussion of Coronavirus in my home.

      • I should have a long time ago when he came home with the idea that we only dropped the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because the Japanese didn’t look like us.

        Sadly, he is out of school and the corruption had too much time to set in.

        …and all the public schools in Indianapolis are closed for the next two weeks.

        • I like all those various scenarios where if X had happened the Hitler could have won.

          I reply “Nope. They would have taken Germany to the point here every Germany city would have been nuked and they would quit just like Japan. “

          • No question we would have used the bomb on Germany. I read a book on FDR’s final year. When the Battle of the Bulge began, FDR allegedly stated he wanted to use the bomb on Germany, but was told it wasn’t ready yet. I’ve never read that assertion in any other book, so I can’t be certain it’s a fact. But I have no doubt he would have done it.

          • There was a real possibility that Germany could have won in Europe. That intolerable real possibility justified the intolerable carnage of the counter offensive. This is proven by Russia doing essentially that in Eastern Europe. Had the US been kicked out of Europe, we might have had a three-way cold war.

            What I think is absurd are any counterfactuals that possit Germany winning in Europe AND concurring the United States. Even the Man in the High Tower had to retcon decades in the past to assassinate a newly elected Roosevelt and have his dud of a VP botch everything for the scenario to be remotely plausible.

  3. 5. “He had made about eleven bucks before his business was shut down. The student’s major purchase with his profits was a bag of Doritos.”

    I can believe a bag of Doritos costing $11 in the UK.

    • Hey! Our prices are steep but not that bad. A bag of Doritos is £2.50 at the supermarket. Plus, the report I read here had the enterprising youngster blowing the £9 he earned on a kebab.

      Jack is right though. We’ve gone mad. Between police calling people to check their thinking for posting their thoughts online, recording of non-crime hate incidences, refusal to publish reports on grooming gangs for fear of being call racists and general nanny-state-isms, we have a serious uptick in knife crime and a useless opposition party in meltdown. Not good.

  4. #2 with the power of 20/20 hindsight, we see that Chris Matthews was destroyed for nothing. We all bought that Burnie was inevitable. We were all terrified that an unrepentant Marxist was going to win, and Msthews was right to be scared.

    Now we’re just waiting for the fat lady to finish the song.

    One would hope some on the left see what happened to Matthews and give pause.

    Just don’t hold your breath.

  5. Maryland implemented a similar ban on gatherings. I will attend anything I want.

    How plausible is it that the Chinese learned how the American press will use its power to weaken the American president when that president is unliked by the press. Could the virus be a means to make Trump vunerable so they can continue to pillage American intellectual property and push their global dominatiin strategy.

    • The virus is natural, and conspiracy speculation absent hard evidence to the contrary damages legitimate critical of the media coverage of the virus.

  6. A.M. Golden above: “So here I am at home, sitting at my dining room table, trying to work from home along with all of my other departmental co-workers.”

    No disrespect AMG; I just returned from a 250 mile/402.34 km western WESconsin road trip with my Dear eldest Brother, hitting Iowa, Crawford, Richland, & Sauk counties.

    We had the rare opportunity to visit the current owner of a “home” that once sheltered, and was likely built by, our Great Great Grandparents in the 1850’s.

    They bought the Akan TWP/Richland County parcel ~1856 from GGGammy’s brother; per the abstract of title, he purchased it from a Mr. Pierce, whom some of you may know as Mr. Franklin Pierce, our 14th President.

    Our biggest takeaway? We were dutifully relieved to find that, despite the COVID-19 MASS HYSTERIA freakout, it was abundantly clear that all of the MANY farmers we drove by/encountered worked from home today, too.

    • Congratulations on this trip and for being able to visit a part of your family’s past.

      We were required to work from home to prepare for a possible building closure. The technology set-up works differently remotely than at work which does affect our ability to do our jobs. Put a farmer inside a shop or an office and see how well his job works.

      But at least I can work.

  7. Personally, if I want somebody dead, I’ll take care of it myself. When you’re 74, life in prison is not nearly the deterr4ent it was 50 years ago.

  8. Large gatherings are being banned because social distancing is the most effective means of slowing the rate of transmission for the coronavirus. Seemingly arbitrary numbers are being chosen because it is impossible to determine or prove a safe number.
    We know the likely outcome of the one extreme case of not imposing social distancing: uncontrolled outbreaks like in Wuhan/Hubei, or Italy, or much of western Europe at this point. Either you build 12 hospitals by communist means or you ration healthcare and have a case fatality rate around 10 times that of better-prepared countries.
    Social distancing obviously works, but no jurisdiction wants to impose total lockdowns until absolutely necessary, for the obvious social/economic reasons you frequently cite.
    So the balance is local public health authorities issue orders to limit or ban gatherings of certain sizes and/or close certain facilities, based on the rate/risk of local transmission, case importation, etc.
    To ignore these orders is irresponsible just as refusing routine immunisations is irresponsible. I perceive and regret that the US media is using the situation to further denigrate your president, but questioning the severity of the pandemic or public health orders is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

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