Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/8/20: In Which I Am At A Loss For Words


1 As predicted, the police shooting of a black teenager with a semi-automatic weapon resulted in a new round of riots, this time in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin because the officer involved was not indicted for 1) being a police officer, and  2) having to shoot a an African American who 3) resisted arrest. Of course.

Riots are unethical. Demonstrating against responsible and fact-based law-enforcement decisions whether to prosecute is unethical. Creating a culture in which it is presumed that enforcing the law against a particular race is racist is unethical. This is all what one political party, just one of two, is supporting, rather than clearly condemning. That too is unethical.

And supporting such a party is unethical, as well is ignorant.

While I was typing this, an ad, not “approved by Donald Trump,” featured a woman being terrorized in her car by a mob, and noted that the Biden-Harris ticket would try to disarm citizens while “defunding the police.” “Vote Against Biden-Harris to keep safe” the ad concluded.

I think that’s entirely fair.

2. I did not watch the Pence-Harris debate, and I may not even review the video or the transcript. There should be nothing left to learn about Harris at this point, after watching her giggling, incompetent performances in the Democratic candidates’ debates. I assume she made numerous counter-factual assertions, and I assume the best she could do was to level pre-scripted ad hominem attacks on the President to pander to the Trump Deranged Democratic base. I assume no one asked her about the apparent hypocrisy of her enthusiastic alliance with a serial sexual harasser and the object of a rape accusation when she savaged a nominated Supreme Court Justice based on far less. I assume no one will ask how she defends the open decision to base the critical choice of who stands “a heartbeat from the Presidency” on nothing, literally nothing, but skin color and gender, resulting in Harris  being chosen despite no relevant experience and clear rejection by voters in the primaries. And I assume the Vice-President was stolid, professional and boring, as he always is, thus sparking comparisons with the President’s uncivil, un-Presidential but wholly Trump-like performance in the first Presidential debate.

3. Which reminds me: by what possible thread of logic can the President conclude that he “won the debate’” as he said once again yesterday? Does he believe that? How could be believe it? What is his definition of “won”—that he was happy with his performance? Is he surrounded by nothing but toadying yes-men and yes-women who have showered him with praise for employing an undisciplined, really stupid and offensive strategy when it was obvious that the more he let his diminished opponent talk uninterrupted, the less capable he would appear? Does that mean that the President will employ the same uncivil and obnoxious techniques in future debates?

4. On an awkward note for me, I guess I should say something, however inadequate, regarding the Go Fund Me effort that has been set up on behalf of Ethics Alarms. That would be “I don’t know what to say.” I haven’t looked at the page nor read any of the comments here related to it. I assume everyone knows that my periodic bellyaching about my frustrations regarding the blog and being an ethicist generally is not aimed at attracting sympathy and certainly not charity. I expound on my annoyances as a matter of full disclosure. This is a blog, and by definition more personal than a straight professional ethics website would be. My state of mind does risk affecting my judgment on some issues, though I try mightily to be objective.  Readers should know about the static that surrounds what is supposed to be professional analysis.

I also, as close personal friends know, have never been comfortable with any positive statements or gestures regarding my conduct, or being the object of praise or honors. I even detested birthday parties as a child; my last one was 39 years ago, before my wife had figured this quirk out. I have plaques and award certificates scattered all over the house, gathering dust, wrinkles and mold. I don’t take photographs or keep mementos of what some would consider personal triumphs or successes.

That is not to say that I don’t appreciate being appreciated, or knowing that what I devote my passions and energy to are having a positive effect on others. That’s what I care about; it is why I have never accepted a job just for the money since I got out of law school.

I still don’t know what to say. Obviously.

5. Back to ethics: I know that I have said that I won’t promote Philip Galane’s Social Q’s advice column any more since he can’t resist “resistance” showboating, but his last column had a classic ethics question.

The issue: a questioner was given a lift to her dental appointment by her room mate, and because she was late for the appointment, the roommate was speeding. She was pulled over, and the questioner was indignant when her roommate handed her the ticket to pay. After all, she didn’t tell the roommate to speed.

This is one of those situations where both parties need to exhibit ethical instincts to reach an ethical result. It is the driver’s fault, and her assuming that the questioner was obligated to pay for the ticket is wrong. Yet the room mate was ticketed while offering help: the questioner should offer to pay the ticket, but isn’t obligated to. (If the room mate crashed the car speeding, would the questioner be obligated to pay for repairs? If she ran down a pedestrian…well, you see the problem.) Ideally, both parties would acknowledge shared responsibility, and agree to split the penalty.

37 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/8/20: In Which I Am At A Loss For Words

  1. 1. (shrug) This is nothing new, and expect a lot more going forward.

    2. I don’t think any minds were changed last night. Mike Pence made a more convincing case for the president’s re-election than the President himself did, and I hope the President was watching and gets his act together. Kamala Harris did ok at the beginning, but it seemed like the national security and law enforcement segments threw her off, especially the mention of Kayla Mueller, for which she could only apologize. I didn’t like the fact that she dodged on the Green New Deal and court packing. You know that means that the Dems ARE planning to pack the court, because if they weren’t they would have said so. Where she lost me was her statement that “I will not be lectured by the Vice-President.” Seems innocuous, but, at that point, she took it personally and let it be known that she can be gotten to. A president, or someone a heartbeat away from the presidency, can’t do that.

    3. The president just said he won’t do the next debate, since they chose to move to a virtual format. I thank that is game, set, and match for him, and he is set to go out like Walter Mondale and take the Senate with him

    4. I know the feeling, although it’s because I’m used to a lifetime of failure.

    5. Yup, this is a split ticket. 😀

    • Steve-O,

      Regarding #3, how likely do you think it is that Trump is announcing he won’t participate in order to force the debate back to in-person, or get some other concession, and once he has that, he’ll change his mind? This seems like one of those business propositions where you walk away to get the other side to come crawling to you.

        • Depending on the poll you look at, Trump is either 14 points behind Biden and looking at a landslide loss, or is polling well in Minnesota, Michigan, Florida, and among Hispanics and Blacks, which means a landslide victory for him. I don’t think we can really say one way or another until we actually tally all the votes on Nov 3rd.

          And 4th.

          And 5th.


      • Biden states that the sides agreed to the dates and any change would violate that which was agreed to.

        Once again no one is saying that in person debates were that which agreement was predicated. Suggesting this is a ploy by Trump is nonsense. The Trump team asked for the debates for a postponement to which Biden said no.

        Trump should show up in a hazmat suit and tell Biden to get out of the basement

  2. #4. I can appreciate not liking praise, honors, charity, and the like. I have some issues with that myself. But my wife and I both wanted to convey how much we receive from this blog by giving a little back. I just want to check, though — just about any laptop you do buy will have Windows 10. Are you okay with that?

    #2. I watched the debate, though I missed about 25 minutes while getting my girls to bed. The debate was closer to what I would have wanted (Lincoln-Douglas), and the participants for the most part behaved themselves, followed the agreed structure of the debate, and did not make spectacles of themselves. I thought Pence did well pushing the accomplishments of the Trump administration, and that Harris quickly lost her way when she strayed from talking points. It was a solid debate, and thus boring by our entertainment-conditioned society. However, when the one thing that has everyone talking is the fly landing on Pence’s head and sitting still for several minutes before flying off, then you know people didn’t really have their focus on what was being said.

    • I’m ok with that, just embarrassed. Thankful, but embarrassed.

      My WIFE, however, who has berated me for a decade for spending so much time on a non-income-producing product (actually two, since I never accepted any compensation for working about 20 hours a week on the theater company) is REALLY okay with it…

    • Ryan
      My understanding of the Lincoln Douglas debates was that the campaigns agreed on a format where one would speak for 60 minutes then the other would speak for 90 minutes and then the one going first would have 30 minutes for rebuttal. No questions were given by the moderator.

      None of these debates are anywhere close to that type of debate. Asking about China and giving 2 minutes to respond is ridiculous. The format is designed to give the side not in power to lob rhetorical grenades without ever being pressed on an answer. Are we assessing that which was done or the ability to play armchair quarterback who has the benefit of 20 20 hindsight.?

  3. 3. “Is he surrounded by nothing but toadying yes-men and yes-women who have showered him with praise for employing an undisciplined, really stupid and offensive strategy when it was obvious that the more he let his diminished opponent talk uninterrupted, the less capable he would appear? Does that mean that the President will employ the same uncivil and obnoxious techniques in future debates?”

    The answers to your questions are:

    * Yes, he is surrounded by toadies who agree with everything he says while looking out for their own best interests by leaking gossip and jumping ship when they have enough juicy tidbits to produce a book. His “best people” are his worst enemies, besides himself. Which brings me to….
    * Yes, because he thinks those techniques always work. And because fish gotta swim; birds gotta fly.

  4. I don’t think Pence was particularly boring during this debate: He really put Harris on the spot regarding her refusal to disclose whether she supported Supreme Court packing and her refusal to deal with the enormous cost of the woolly headed Green New Deal which she enthusiastically supports. It was clear at the end of the debate what a lightweight Harris is and how unsuited she is for the presidency should Biden check into a memory unit.

  5. #1 “Vote Against Biden-Harris to keep safe “

    Since there’s way, Way, WAY too much to vote against this Presidential election as far as the candidates themselves are concerned so I’m choosing to vote for policies that I agree with; therefore, I’m voting FOR something this year not against anything. I encourage everyone else to do the same, just making that decision is liberating!

  6. #2 I watched a couple of minutes of it this morning and Harris had a constant condescending look on her face when Pence was talking, which is exactly what I thought she’d do. Even though Pence comes across as a pompous ass most of the time, I think Harris really does think she’s better than everyone and it comes across in her facial expressions.

  7. #5 I’m not going to make assumptions on this one.

    Maybe this one could hinge on how the questioner was acting in the car at the time of getting the lift to the dentist appointment. What if the questioner was freaking out because of being late and/or intentionally pressuring the driver to get there their faster with subtle or not so subtle suggestions. Saying that the questioner didn’t tell the driver to speed could very well be an unethical rationalization trying to avoid the consequences of her previous unethical actions.

    Also; if the questioner didn’t want the driver to speed then the questioner should have told that to the driver.

    This is one where I’d tell the questioner to be an adult and work it out with the roommate and don’t get anyone else involved unless the questioner is willing to have the roommate to tell the other side of the story.

  8. I did think Harris looked smug — and I cringed. Let’s face it, professional women can’t do that. But I give her points — she has to look strong and powerful while at the same time showing warmth. Women are held to a higher standard than men in this regard. I think she did great overall threading that needle, but yes, she she could have been better.

    I was outraged at Pence for talking over her and the moderator consistently. Yes, Harris ignored the time limits as well a few times, but Pence was terrible, and he did not help himself with female swing voters by doing that. Very condescending.

    Harris did dodge on the Supreme Court question and she should have had a pat answer ready — I’m not sure why the campaign didn’t insist on that. It looked bad. What also looked bad is Pence evading many of the moderator’s questions and just giving his planned speech on something he was more comfortable talking about. I think if you read the transcript, he was more evasive by far.

    I personally thought Harris looked strong on the “I will not be lectured” part. It looked planned and practiced to me, not “emotional” as suggested above. Again, women running for executive leadership have it tough. It resonated for me, obviously not for others.

    I think the fly memes are funny, and I would think so if it had happened to Harris.

    • Still Spartan wrote, “I think the fly memes are funny, and I would think so if it had happened to Harris.”

      I didn’t even know what this was until I just looked it up.

      The fly meme and the comment I just saw associated with the meme are a good example of a little tiny piece of what’s wrong with politics and our culture right now, too many people are willing to sacrifice their core character by being petty to the point of absurdity. Funny or not, I really hate the new wave of communication by meme and what it does to the psyche of people.

      • “The fly meme and the comment I just saw associated with the meme…”

        Dangit, that “comment” should have been plural!

        “The fly meme and the comments I just saw associated with the meme…

        I guess I didn’t press down the “s” key enough.

        • Concur.

          Regarding musca domestica – I am reminded of the Nixon vs Kennedy debate. From Wiki:

          “Nixon insisted on campaigning until just a few hours before the first debate started. He had not completely recovered from his stay in hospital and thus looked pale, sickly, underweight, and tired.[33] His eyes moved across the room during the debate, and at various moments sweat was visible on his face. He also refused make-up for the first debate, and as a result his facial stubble showed prominently on the black-and-white TV screens at the time. Furthermore, the debate set appeared darker once the paint dried up, causing Nixon’s suit color to blend in with the background which reduced his stature.[33] Nixon’s poor appearance on television in the first debate is reflected by the fact that his mother called him immediately following the debate to ask if he was sick.[34] Kennedy, by contrast, rested and prepared extensively beforehand, appearing tanned,[a] confident, and relaxed during the debate ”

          Re: virtual debates: There is precedent (ibid)

          “The third debate has been notable, as it brought about a change in the debate process. This debate was a monumental step for television. For the first time ever, split-screen technology was used to bring two people from opposite sides of the country together so they were able to converse in real time. Nixon was in Los Angeles while Kennedy was in New York. The men appear to be in the same room, thanks to identical sets. Both candidates had monitors in their respective studios containing the feed from the opposite studio so they could respond to questions. Bill Shadel moderated the debate from a third television studio in Chicago”

          So gasbagging about how “unprecedented” a virtual debate would be ignores historical fact.

          But there’s been a lot of that recently,

  9. 2–This is the 1st time, and likely the last, that I’ll spend any time listening to Harris.

    Not to pick nits, but am I the only one that finds her voice annoyingly grating?

    Ironically similar to my reaction to Tim Kaine’s.

  10. Thinking about the polls and I remember watching them in 2016 when they showed a very similar picture. I spent time steeling myself against the prospect of another Clinton presidency. As I’ve said I didn’t vote for either candidate. When Trump won, I was relieved that Clinton hadn’t won but still apprehensive about Trump.

    Since then I’ve been agreeably surprised by Trump — he’s run about as normative a presidency as was possible, given the circumstances. And he has, by far, done more to achieve his campaign promises than any president for a long time — perhaps in my entire lifetime.

    So, thinking of where we are, I remembered a passage in Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising, that has stuck in my mind for decades:

    2)WARPLAN …

    It’s line 3 that sticks in my mind, and I think is definitely appropriate here.

  11. 5. Especially easy for me to relate to from personal experience. But no encounter with police involved.

    I was in college. I borrowed a guy’s brand-new car. It had manual-crank windows. I cranked the driver’s side window once. I don’t recall why I acted to lower the window. I know I cranked it without any abusive or excessive force; it was the same normal cranking sensation I had felt for years when lowering car windows: a slight bit of torque resistance.

    As I cranked, I felt a slight increase in torque resistance, but still, nothing that felt unusual. Once again, I had no sensation that would have given me a thought to amp-up my cranking torque excessively. I had no suspicion to believe that the mechanism would not work as designed. Then I felt and heard something snap inside the door. The sensation was one of suddenly reduced torque resistance on the crank. As I watched in surprise and horror, in a span of a couple of seconds, the window wobbled on its own as the glass fell down into the interior of the door.

    After a bit of a windy drive home, when I returned the car (we all lived in a college dorm), I told my classmates about what happened before I was even able to tell the owner. They were all advising me – expecting me – to pay for the fix. My outward reaction to all was in effect, “No. Are you crazy?!” My thinking was: I just happened to be the unlucky one who did that one window-crank. Chances were pretty good that no matter who had been the driver and window-cranker at that moment, that thing would have broke. To me, it was a clear case of “no bill.” Besides, surely the owner had a new car warranty.

    I did consider that it would have been kind and charitable and grateful toward the owner in thanks for borrowing his car, if I offered to pay for the repair. I did not, however, feel obligated to act in undeserved guilt for “breaking” someone’s property. The broken thing was defective.

    I didn’t pay; I did not offer to pay. I’m sure the owner would have preferred that I paid him. He seemed disappointed in me and angry at me for the break having occurred “on my watch,” and for my refusal to pay or offer to pay. My advisers seemed to regard me the same way. I didn’t want the owner or classmates to think that way, but that was beyond my control. I don’t know if a warranty covered the repair fully, or if some kind of deductible expense applied. I did not care; it was a no-fault malfunction.

    Should I have paid for the fix? In whole? In part? To this day, I say “no” to all three. My particular Golden Rule application in that situation – both then and now – was, is, and would be that if the car had been mine and I had been the lender, I would not expect the borrower to pay or offer to pay.

    • Epilogue: From that point forward, I bummed rides until I could afford my own car. Guess what? The very first time I let a guy borrow my brand-new car, somebody sideswiped it at highway speed. That’s what the borrower told me, and I believed him. My insurance did not cover the repair. I paid a little over $50 for the bodywork to restore a look as if the damage never happened. I never even spoke to the guy about paying the repair bill. He never offered anything; he just said “sorry!” when he returned my car. That was just fine with me.

      • YAY!! was able to donate!! woo hooo!! so happy to be able to do something to show Jack the appreciation for HIM and all he does.

        also. Jack, i’m not sure if you are a Mac User or not (highly recommend if you aren’t due to excellent support and everything) but right now they have the last few days of the educational discount (you would qualify as a teacher) and you get FREE air pods with purchase!!!

        if you need a link let me know! great new fast laptops out!

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