Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/26/2020: Face Masks, Face-Saving, Faceplants, And Truths Too Awful To Face

1. Mask ethics:

See, when someone complains, she tells them they must be too close to her. Heck, why not decorate a mask with accident photos, abortion pics and fellatio snapshots?

  •  Michigan State Senator Dale Zorn, a Republican, was photographed wearing  a mask with a  Confederate flag design. I’d say the First Niggardly Principle applies: people are irrationally emotional about the flag, which is part of our history, still included in a couple of state flags, and a bold design, but there are less inflammatory design options. One has to wonder if someone deliberately displaying the flag is making a political statement, and since many of the possible statements are repulsive and divisive, it seems the ethical move is to choose another design. Like penises.

Zorn, however, not only wore the mask, he denied that it was  the Confederate flag, using a Clintonian argument ( it was more similar to the Kentucky or Tennessee flags, he said), then issued this apology:

So if he didn’t support what he knows the design represents to many people, why did he display it in a political forum?

  • I don’t know about you, but I’m thoroughly sick of conflicting information about the value of facemasks. This expert, for example, says they may make you sick.

Maybe that explains this confounding photo, from a recent flight into New York’s LaGuardia airport…

2. Trump’s face-saving tactic is a half-truth. In the wake of the latest fiasco, the President is going to limit the daily Wuhan virus press updates, and this is his explanation:

What is the purpose of having White House News Conferences when the Lamestream Media asks nothing but hostile questions, & then refuses to report the truth or facts accurately. They get record ratings, & the American people get nothing but Fake News. Not worth the time & effort!

He’s right about the media, which is why the White House briefings were suspended before the pandemic. But the President is leaving out half the reason: he is over-exposed, not playing on a field he’s qualified to play on, and stumbles like the “Are we exploring using disinfectant as medicine?” followed by “I was just kidding!” are reckless self-inflicted wounds in a Presidential campaign. Trump needs less exposure, not more, and apparently someone persuaded him to cut back. Good.

I will never get used to the President of the United States using juvenile, hackneyed insults like “lamestream media.” Continue reading

Observations On A Tender, Obnoxious, Unethical Screed

My original impulse was to post  this as an ethics quiz, with a heading like, “Is Bill Weir’s essay as bad as I think it is?”

Bill Weir is CNN’s climate correspondent. His wife just gave birth to a son, for which Ethics Alarms gives him a hardy congratulations and will wait for its metaphorical cigar. However, Weir chose to use this life event for an astoundingly long, self-indulgent, and in several ways unethical post on CNN’s site headlined, “To my son, born in the time of coronavirus and climate change.”

Read the thing, if you can stand it. Commenter Other Bill sent it to me with the query, “Is it ethical for this guy to have a child?” He was engaging in hyperbole, but the thrust of the question is valid. Here’s how the essay begins:

Against all odds you were conceived in a lighthouse, born during a pandemic and will taste just enough of Life as We Knew It to resent us when it’s gone. I’m sorry. I’m sorry we broke your sea and your sky and shortened the wings of the nightingale. I’m sorry that the Great Barrier Reef is no longer great, that we value Amazon more than the Amazon and that the waterfront neighborhood where you burble in my arms could be condemned by rising seas before you’re old enough for a mortgage.
The scent of your downy crown makes my heart explode. The curl in your Tic Tac toes fills me with enough love to power New York City.

Gack! I’m sorry, I have to take a break. Continue reading

Captain Crozier And The Ghost Of Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell, at the court martial he wanted…

Why I didn’t think to include the tale of General Billy Mitchell in the Ethics Alarms posts regarding Captain Brett Crozier, the former commander of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt who forfeited his job by going around the chain of command to protect his crew, I really don’t know. But it’s normal for people to forget about Mitchell, and I don’t understand that, either. He, like Crozier, was an unconventional Ethics Hero, and a crucial one. And he may well have saved the world.

Do you not know the story of William Lendrum Mitchell, born December 29, 1879, died February 19, 1936? You should. Every American should.

He grew up in Milwaukee., Wisconsin. At age 18 he enlisted as a private in the army, and by the age of 23 he had become  the youngest captain in the U.S. Army. It was a pattern; being a prodigy and trailblazer in the military came naturally to Mitchell. In 1913, at the age of 32, he became the youngest officer ever assigned to the General Staff of the War Department in Washington. At a time when most in the military considered the airplane a novelty, “a risky contraption” of little or no value in combat,  Mitchell immediately saw the potential of air power, and believed that planes represented the future of warfare.

The United States had only fifty-four air-worthy planes  when it entered World War I in 1917, and only thirty-five air-worthy officers, including Mitchell, to lead them. Again he was a first, this time the first  American officer to fly over enemy lines. He organized the first all-American Air Squadron; one of his recruits, Eddie V. Rickenbacker, became a legend as  Mitchell moved his American air units to counter Manfried von Richthofen, the “Red-Baron.” When Germans planned to unleash a major ground offensive and the Allied commanders were desperate to learn where  it was being mounted, Mitchell volunteered to fly low over the enemy’s lines, and his daring mission discovered thousands of Germans concentrating close to the Marne River. Armed with Mitchell’s intelligence, the Allies launched a surprise attack on the German flank and scored a major victory. Mitchell’s solo reconnaissance flight was hailed as one of the most important aerial exploits of the war. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/25/2020: The Quiet Before The Storm

Something’s coming.

(I’d have the West Side Story song up, but for some reason WordPress hasn’t been letting me embed videos lately.) Do you feel it? I sure do…

1. Our incompetent leaders, Part 645, 991. The proper anti-virus conduct as modeled by Nancy Pelosi on TV last week: take off your mask, wipe your nose with your hand,

…and touch the podium. Members of both parties demonstrated similar Wuhan virus safety awareness:

2.  Meme Wars…

[Pointer: Steve Witherspoon (not Other Bill, as I erroneously stated originally. Sorry, Steve)]

…and this (from the Babylon Bee):

3. You know, I really don’t care what someone like this thinks about illegal immigration. In a review of a pro-illegal immigration book by illegal immigrant (OK, she’s a “Dreamer”)

Quick diversion: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that “Dreamers”—people brought to the U.S. illegally as children—cannot access emergency funding set aside for college students who are enduring disruptions in their education because of the pandemic, because grants may only be given to students who are eligible for federal aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act,  meaning U.S. citizens. Naturally, she is being attacked as cruel and racist.

It is the correct, responsible, legal and ethical decision.

So she is laboring under emotional difficulties, a law-breaker herself, and a liar. That’s some expert you got there. She’s also not very bright, based on this statement from her book: Continue reading

Going Right Into The Signature Significance Files: The President’s Claims His Blather About Light And Disinfectant to Cure The Virus Was “Sarcasm”

Ugh.

President Donald Trump told reporters and the country yesterday that he was only testing the media when he suggested that using disinfectant and light to fight off the coronavirus was worth exploring. “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” he said.

Does anyone believe that? Anyone? It’s not quite a Jumbo—“What? I didn’t say that!”—but it’s almost as outrageous. Now, the “Trump is a liar!” tropes are re-energized (that’s no big lie, but it’s exaggerated and hyped), and the President has nobody to blame but himself. My sister, who actually participates in a Hate Trump neighborhood group, sent me a musical parody, “The  Liar Sleeps Tonight” (it’s not bad) yesterday.

I know what he was thinking: the news media did distort and misrepresent what he said, so “It was a test, and you flunked!” might have seemed like a good gambit. The flaw in that strategy is that the president’s  demeanor when he’s riffing is unmistakable by now.  The sarcasm excuse was desperate, and more importantly, needless.  Trump easily could have said that he was thinking out loud about some possibilities, and that most listeners understood that. What he said instead was stupid (and insulting), and, for what feels like the millionth time, handed a club to his critics.

For the record, the rationalization the President chose in this case is #64, Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is.”

Continue reading

End Of The Day Ethics, 4/24/2020: A Curse, A Whorehouse, And The Grim Reaper

Yay.

Another weekend…

1. Nah, there’s no news media narrative coordination! Twitchy has pointed out the remarkable conformity of language regarding the Joe Biden sexual assault accusation. Last week, CNN reported that Democrats are “grappling with questions” about Tara Reade’s allegations. This week:

Politico: “The movement is facing a new challenge: how to grapple with the allegations against Joe Biden without tearing itself apart.”

Jake Tapper on Twitter: “Democrats grapple with questions about Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden…”

Jeremy Scahill at the Intercept: “My aim in writing this piece was to put into words what many principled people are grappling with right now, not to tell anyone what to do. Recognizing and understanding the problem helps us all decide what we believe is right…”

Mother Jones: “Sexual Assault Advocates Are Grappling With the Allegations Against Joe Biden”

All independent, objective journalists, of course…talking points? What talking points?

2. This “sharing a life” concept seems to be beyond you…over at Social Q’s a woman who is living with her boyfriend to ride out the pandemic complains, “He eats significantly more than I do, including some foods I don’t touch. Still, we split the grocery bill, and I am paying significantly more for food than usual. How should I handle this?” Columnist Phillip Gallanes’ advice is impeccably ethical:

Try stepping back and looking at the bigger picture…Sure, he eats more than you, but are you twice as messy (while sharing cleaning duties equally)? Do you watch three times as much Netflix (but split the bill in half)? And I haven’t even touched on emotional labor yet. ..if you want your partnership to survive even after we’re set free again, consider all the contributions each of you makes.

Nice try, Phil, but I’m guessing that question is signature significance, and the relationship is doomed. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “You Know, Harvard, When You Have To be Embarrassed And Shamed Into Doing What Should Have Been Your Automatic Response Anyway If You Had Any Decency, It’s Too Late To Save Face.”

Veteran commenter Tim Levier comes to the defense (sort of) of both Harvard and nuance.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “You Know, Harvard, When You Have To be Embarrassed And Shamed Into Doing What Should Have Been Your Automatic Response Anyway If You Had Any Decency, It’s Too Late To Save Face.”

Can I play Devil’s Advocate here? (Maybe just devil’s half-advocate.) I mean, I think it’s delicious that Harvard is getting a first hand experience in “political correctness”, “public shaming”, and “fake news” all in one fell swoop; but this is an Ethics site and saying the truth should always be ethical.

Harvard’s endowment is $38.3 billion, but what does that mean? Endowments are donations intended not for the donation to be “used” but for the donation to be “invested”. The investment grows and pays income distributions to the target recipient. Sure, Harvard has an endowment of $38.3 billion, but that generates an annual distribution of roughly $1.9 billion. That’s a distribution during “good times”. Any bets out there that the distribution might crater this year?

Let’s assume it doesn’t. The $1.9 billion distribution is roughly 1/3rd of Harvard’s annual operating budget. That’s money that they were counting on, budgeted, and spent. Continue reading

Rationalizations From The Victim Of A Tragedy

A week ago, I briefly discussed the report on the 2017 death of major league pitcher Roy Halladay who crashed his plane into the Gulf of Mexico  on Nov. 7, 2017. The 13-page report said Halladay had 10 times the recommended level of amphetamine in his system, plus an antidepressant, a muscle relaxant, a sleep aid and morphine.  He was also attempting aerial acrobatics and stunt flying.

Now his widow, Brandy Halladay, has issued a statement through the now Hall of Fame pitcher’s last team, the Philadelphia Phillies. She wrote,

“Yesterday’s NTSB report on Roy’s accident was painful for our family, as it has caused us to relive the worst day of our lives. It has reinforced what I have previously stated, that no one is perfect. Most families struggle in some capacity and ours was no exception. We respectfully ask that you not make assumptions or pass judgment. Rather, we encourage you to hug your loved ones and appreciate having them in your lives.”

From one perspective, it seems unkind to be critical of the lament of a grieving family member in the wake of such a tragedy. From another—mine—I can’t let public endorsements of multiple rationalizations like that one pass. I just can’t, and I have an obligation as an ethicist not to. It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it: the reason so people make terrible decisions by defaulting to rationalizations rather than ethics is that the culture marinates them, day after day, in these excuses for bad conduct. After a lifetime of hearing the contrived arguments , most people accept such self-deceptions as true. In turn, they engage in conduct, or excuse conduct in others, that causes extensive harm. Continue reading

A Professional Ethics Case Study…From Broadway

Before you read the post, can you guess who that actor is in the Afro?

Lately I’ve been helping a lot of lawyers seeking to create so-called Rule 5.4 law firms in the District of Columbia. In these firms, unique to the District, non-lawyers can be full partners. This means that they can share in the firm’s fees, which is something otherwise forbidden and a major ethics breach in the 50 states. Lawyers cannot, must not, dare not share their fees with non-lawyers…unless those non-lawyers are partners in the same firm.

There are certain requirements for that to happen, and the main one is that the non-lawyers must be supervised by a lawyer in the firm to ensure that the non-lawyers don’t engage in conduct that would be unethical for a lawyer.  The legal profession is justifiably wary that the unique priorities of the legal profession cannot be easily absorbed or understood by those who have been trained and influenced in a different culture.

It is right to be wary. Lawyers have enough trouble avoiding violations of their own rules; doctors, accountants and others, steeped in different alignments of values, can’t just shift gears like suddenly being in a law firm is like test driving a sports car. For so-called “non professionals,” a category that is increasingly contentious, it may be even harder to adjust, if not impossible.

Lawyers are often  overly optimistic about their non-lawyer partners’ ability to learn the importance of keeping all client confidences, not crossing over into the unauthorized practice of law, sensing possible conflicts of interest and illicitly soliciting clients, or engaging in misrepresentation and deceit, to name just a few. Lawyers tend to think that all professional ethics should be fungible. It’s a dangerous misconception, and there is a little cautionary tale from, of all places, Broadway, that illustrates it.

It has been mostly forgotten, but in 1969, a musical called“Buck White” opened at the George Abbott Theater. Its unlikely star: draft-resisting ex-heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

Yes, you read that correctly. Continue reading

The Dumb Ad-lib/Malicious Reporting/Confirmation Bias/Big Lie Cycle, ‘Inject Disinfectant’ And ‘Shine Light In The Body’Chapter

Boy, am I ever sick of these stories.

The pattern is so familiar its completely familiar and would be boring if it weren’t so annoying. President Trump ad-libs something that popped into his head, using his unique stream of consciousness/if James Joyce had a 1000 word vocabulary version of communication. The news media rushes to interpret it in the most negative way possible, and reports that as what he both said and meant. Democrats, “the resistance” and especially social media addicts who barely have vocabularies over 1000 words themselves rush to say and write that the President is a Nazi, or racist, or moron, based on the deliberately misleading reports by people starting from the assumption that he is all three….the essence of confirmation bias.

Then people like me, being  reasonable, public spirited and unbiased,  point out that this is not a fair interpretation of what he said, whereupon such people are attacked as enablers of Nazis, racists and fools. Even after the original report is shown to be malicious fake news or close to it (my position is that if it’s almost fake news, it’s fake news), politicians, and unscrupulous pundits like Joe Scarborough, and your Trump Deranged friends and mine continue to repeat them. The President said that the white supremacists were “good people.” He said that Mexicans were rapists.  He said the Wuhan virus was a hoax. Now, thanks to yesterday’s blather, they will be saying that he told people to “inject” or drink bleach and disinfectant as a cure for the virus. Continue reading