Morning Ethics Shout-Out, 10/28/2020: “And Tyler Too…”

I am ashamed: when I listed my anti-depression playlist, I somehow managed to leave out one of the best and most exhilarating songs of the group: The Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” I apologize profusely.

1. Self-delusion is not ethical. When Ben Ferencz, the last surviving lead prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, finally leaves us (he’s in his nineties now and still going strong), I will make him an Ethics Hero Emeritus. As the new Netflix documentary about his astounding and ethics-focused life makes clear, few have devoted the time and energy to the cause of human rights and justice any more intensity or longevity than Ferencz. My admiration of him is only marred by his advocacy for pacifism, which the last portion of the film highlights. Ferencz was instrumental in the creation of the World Court, a kind of standing extension of the Nuremberg Trials which the U.S. has, wisely, refused to participate in. The legal scholar speaks passionately for the  cause of eliminating war by substituting law and international tribunals. The idea is delusional on its face, and also cynically exploited by those who know the idea is impossible, but who support it as a way to impose world government, and the concomitant reduction in individual liberty that would necessarily entail.

As Ethics Alarms has discussed many times, one great weakness of ethics as a discipline is its drift toward utopianism, and its persistent destruction of its own credibility by advocating goals and standards that cannot be achieved, indeed, that defy history and common sense. Has anyone asked Ben Ferencz if he really believes that Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the USSR or current day North Korea and Iran would voluntarily submit to the edicts of a World Court? If he has, it did not make the documentary. One can understand why a man who has seen and experiences why Ferencz has during his long life would cling to the hope that some day war will be eradicated and peace will reign forever, but rejecting reality for comforting idealism does not, and never has, advanced the cause of ethics.

2. This would seem to be an easy topic for a bipartisan bill. (Why isn’t it?) Democrats introduced legislation making it illegal for banks and other financial firms to discriminate against their customers because of their race, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics. I thought this was illegal already, but the absence of any mention of financial services constitutes a loophole in the Civil Rights Act. Thus “The Fair Access to Financial Services Act,” introduced a week ago by members of the Senate Banking Committee, would explicitly outlaw discrimination against bank customers. Right now, it is legal for banks and other financial businesses to treat some customers differently based on race as long as the services aren’t denied entirely. Banks can legally use racial profiling to delay customer transactions, or require extra steps to prove their legitimacy.

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The San Quentin Ethics Conflict

California’s First Court of Appeals has ordered San Quentin State Prison to transfer or release about 1,700 inmates. That’s 50% of the prison population there, an edict based on the theory that San Quentin officials have not done enough to protect inmates from the pandemic. “We agree that respondents — the Warden and CDCR — have acted with deliberate indifference and relief is warranted,” the court said in its opinion last week.

50% was the figure recommended by a team of experts after they investigated the viral spread that has killed dozens and sickened hundreds at San Quentin’s maximum security facillity. The inmate reduction could be achieved through a combination of transfers and early releases, the court said.

The California Department of Corrections opposes the order. “Since March, the department has released more than 21,000 persons, resulting in the lowest prison population in decades. Additionally, we have implemented response and mitigation efforts across the system,” it argued in a statement. “As of today, CDCR’s COVID-19 cases are the lowest they have been since May (493 cases reported today, and over 14,000 resolved), with San Quentin recording only one new case among the incarcerated population in nearly a month.”

The Wuhan virus has infected more than 200,000 prison and jail inmates. Nearly 1,300 have died as a result, according to a New York Times database.  Civil rights organizations have argued for the release of inmates across the country, using the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment as their justification. San Quentin presents a particularly tough ethical trade-off. In its opinion, the court ruled that the state prison system had shown “deliberate indifference” to the safety and health of San Quentin’s inmates by not taking sufficient measures to protect them. This, the court wrote, was “morally indefensible and constitutionally untenable.”

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Noon Ethics Drill, 10/27/2020: Ready For The 2020 Election Freakout? [Corrected]

The above video, posted on Tik-Tok, seems to be a good introduction in a week that promises to see meltdowns of ethics, fairness, honesty and decency as November 3 approaches. For the first time in American history, the nation is in the throes for four freak-outs simultaneously, straining the bonds of community, comity and sanity to the breaking point. Freakout #1: the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck, of course. When any episode continues to trigger irrational, high profile words and conduct a full four years after its occurrence, that’s a freak-out. Or, as Dean Martin might have sung it,

When your brain starts to melt
From the loss Hill was dealt
That’s a Freak-Out!
(Chorus: That’s a Freak-Out!)

Then we have the Wuhan Virus Freakout, a direct outgrowth of the Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck, which was quickly joined by the George Floyd Freakout, also designated here as an Ethics Train Wreck, except that ethics train wrecks are only supposed to trigger chains of unethical conduct, not chains of irrational conduct.

A brief update on the latter is in order: Derek Chauvin, the villain in the piece, is out on bail. The news media is no longer even trying to be fair: the New York Times story, and indeed most of the news reports, refer to Floyd’s death as “a killing.” If they do that enough, it will be impossible to get a fair trial for Chauvin, and indeed, it might already be. There is considerable evidence that Floyd died from a drug overdose of his own making, meaning that there was no killing, or at least that the use of the word is misleading, since the victim killed himself, albeit unintentionally.

1. As for the 2020 Election Freak-Out we are already seeing in full bloom, the above video is an especially repulsive example of what Trump Derangement and partisan desperation hath wrought. The young woman above proudly and with a tear in her eye relates that she and her sisters devoted the final days of their dying father’s life to hectoring him to vote for Joe Biden. If true, the episode show the complete, family-wide absence of functioning ethics alarms. If it is a hoax, the thing is only slightly less unethical.

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Worst Ethics Role Model Of The Week: Hillary Clinton


I have no desire to magnify or dwell on Hillary Clinton’s failures and character flaws. She has reason to be miserable, just as Al Gore did; I really can’t imagine what it must be like to be either of them.

However, as Hyman Roth memorably said, “This is the life we have chosen!” Politics involves regular defeat and victory, compromises and disappointments, all under public scrutiny, with plaudits and jeers a routine part of the experience. If you can’t handle it, you’re in the wrong business. While I can be sympathetic to the stresses of the life, I also expect those who try to persuade us to bestow extraordinary honors, power and trust upon them to display extraordinary character or at least adequate character.

This Hillary Clinton has shown, repeatedly, she cannot do. The character is not there to  display.

Here is what she said in part in a guest appearance on Kara Swisher’s New York Times Opinion podcast, “Sway,” after  Swisher asked Clinton if she thought a woman president would handle the coronavirus pandemic more ably. [What an idiotic question, but that’s Kara Swisher for you…]

“I have no doubt, especially if it were me. I was born for that. I mean, that’s why I knew I’d be a good president. I was ready for crises and emergencies, and I would have done what you see these women leaders doing. You listen to the science. You bring in people in an open, inclusive way. You communicate constantly, you make the case by explaining why what you’re doing is in the long-term interests, not only of health, but also, of the economy. Yeah, I have no doubt in my mind at all that I would have stepped up to that crisis.”

Regarding the possibility of the President’s re-election, Clinton said,

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Georg Floyd Train Wreck Public Official “Racial Insensitivity” Controversies: Eight Case Studies

train wreck painting

It is instructive to periodically read what “America’s paper of record” represents as fair and informational reporting. Here is a fine example: an article below the fold on page 13 of the issue from three days ago. Its title in the print edition: “When Sorry Doesn’t Heal the Wounds.” The theme is small town mayors and other officials being held accountable for “racially insensitive remarks” during the George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck.

Case Study #1:  Brian Henry, mayor of Pawleys Island off the coast of South Carolina, whom protesters are insisting must resign for Facebook posts that “outraged and divided much of the community.”

 What did he say? He opined that the killings of two town residents had not received national attention because the victims were white and the suspect is black, and also characterized Black Lives Matter and antifa as terrorist organizations that were destroying American cities. He is in full retreat and grovel mode, saying at a news conference last month that conversations with friends, faith leaders and his staff had given him “a deeper understanding of racial inequality and the importance of diversity sensitivity, which is very much needed to heal Pawleys Island, Georgetown and our country.”


A. This is one more example of social media being a menace for public officials unable to keep their fingers still. Why would anyone on public office think it was wise or responsible to make either of these statements without good reason?

B. His first statement was obviously correct. People should not apologize for statements that are correct, unless the apology is for inciting controversy for no good reason.

C. His second set of assertions are also inflammatory but close enough to truth for social media horseshoes. Both groups depend on threats of violence to intimidate citizens into supporting them. Does that make them technically terrorist groups? I don’t care. They need to be de-glamorized and labeled the undemocratic and destructive organizations that they are.

D. However, again, if there was no good reason to make these observations on a little island town, it was foolish and unethical to stir up division by making it.

Case Study #2:  Boston School Committee Chair Michael Loconto, who was caught on audio in a virtual meeting mocking the Asian surnames of community members who wanted to speak. He apologized a few moments later, explaining that he was “talking about a children’s book.” (Right.) Eight members of Boston’s City Council called for Loconto’s resignation, and he stepped down,


A. Good. He should have stepped down.

B. “After the ongoing discussion about racism in our country, that type of comment could no longer be accepted,” said Ed Flynn, a city councilor who represents Boston’s Chinatown, as well as parts of South Boston and the South End. “Society will no longer tolerate or accept inappropriate comments from a member of city government.” Wrong. Ridiculing citizens seeking to be heard was never ethical conduct. Stop making everything about George Floyd. The hanging “inappropriate” is a threat to legitimate opinions and speech. Who decides what speech is “inappropriate”?  Society should not tolerate public officials showing disrespect for the public by mocking them based on ethnicity. Be specific. Freedom lies in the balance between details and vagueness.

Case Study #3: Mark Chambers, the mayor of Carbon Hill, Alabama. He resigned after criticizing the University of Alabama’s football team’s support of Black Lives Matter.

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Unethical Quote Of The Week: Cher


“Right now our country’s gloomy
Fear is in the air
But when Joe’s President
Hope is everywhere
Troubles fly away
And life will easy flow
Joe will keep us safe
That’s all we need to know….”

Cher, singing a really bad parody of “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe” a Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg song from the 1943 all-black film musical “Cabin in the Sky,” at the 2020 “I Will Vote” Concert last night.

The original lyrics were,

“It seems like happiness is just a thing called Joe
He’s got a smile that makes the lilacs want to grow,
He’s got a way that makes the angels heave a sigh
When they see little Joe passing by…”

It’s not fair to hold campaign songs that put new lyrics to popular tunes to too high a standard. They are all pretty dreadful, and since rap and hip-hop took over popular music, the once-common practice has almost become extinct.

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Week Before The Big Day Ethics Warm-Up, 10/26/2020: Most Of All, “Thank-You!”

Thank you

The big day, of course, is October 27. That is the 26th anniversary of my son’s birth, which occurred in a genuine hell hole (I’ve been there) in Russia. For reasons Watson and Crick could explain, Grant Viktor Bowen Marshall is very different from his father in many fascinating ways: he chooses his words carefully and keeps his own counsel; he is confident in his relationships with the opposite sex; he has the magic touch with all things technical and mechanical, including automobiles and computers; he couldn’t care less about such things as politics, dinosaurs, old movies, magic and live theater. But in ways B.F. Skinner would understand, maybe he’s not so different after all in the ways that matter: Grant has always refused to be influenced by the crowd and peer groups; he is not a follower; he seeks out knowledge and information, is a risk taker, and shares some of my stranger tastes and sources of amusement.

Best of all, my son is kind, thoughtful, honest and courageous, and Grace and I could not be prouder of him. He has weathered far more challenges in the first quarter of his life than either of his parents had to, and come out of those tests a better and stronger human being who, I am certain, will be equal to anything life throws at him from here on.

October 27 is also the anniversary of the day the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 after 86 years of frustration. At the time, I told Grant that he had the Sox to thank for the fact that I would never forget his birthday, unlike, for example, those of his grandparents and mother. That landmark still means a great deal to me, even in a season where, for the first time in more than 50 years, I will not watch a single World Series game, and because of the sport’s unconscionable groveling to Black Lives Matter, my relationship with the Boston baseball team is in serious question.

Now on to the real topic of this post..

1. Thank you, everybody. Over the weekend, I received in the mail a check for over 2100 dollars, the result of the generosity and appreciation demonstrated by 47 Ethics Alarms followers. (One additional reader sent a gift directly.) The unexpected bounty was the result of a GoFundMe appeal by prolific commenter Steve Witherspoon, prompted by this whiny post written during a low point earlier in the month. I swear that it was not calculated to prompt anything but Ethics Alarms’ readers’ understanding of my state of mind, which is relevant to what topics I choose and often my analysis of them.

I haven’t felt this humble—as you might guess, humility is not one of my hallmarks—since my father helped us out with a mortgage payment during a professional crunch, telling me at the time that he admired my decision to be a self-employed ethicist rather choosing other more lucrative and secure options available to me, and that he wished that he had been able to chose a pursuit that he felt mattered for reasons other than feeding the family and paying the bills.

As it happens, your gift, like Dad’s, comes at a propitious time in the journey of ProEthics, for the lockdown has been hard on the ethics business. The gesture is most appreciated, however, as what Steve intended it to be, which was as a demonstration by readers that what I’m trying to do here does have meaning and value, something that I questioned in the referenced post.

Thanks. I needed that.

I promise to continue to strive to raise questions and prompt discussions here on the wide range of ethical issues facing us all, as well as the others that I just find interesting, and hope you will too. And I want to say that I am grateful and thankful to all Ethics Alarms readers, not just those who responded to Steve’s kind appeal.

I ended that October 4 post by writing,

“My whole life’s goal has been to try to stimulate people  and to build things that have a valuable purpose. Right now writing the blog just feels like sitting around and complaining, and little else. That makes me feel impotent, petty, and old.”

Because of Steve and the rest of you, I do not feel that way today.

(Well, maybe just old.)

Sunday Ethics Cheer-Up, 10/25/2020: A Gaffe, A Cake, A Charge, And A Check

Well, I’m trying to cheer up, anyway. It’s raining, I’m behind in several projects, including several posts, I’ve been exhausted without good cause this weekend, and I’m depressed. I even broke out my anti-depression play list (21 pieces in all), with artists noted:

  • “One Fine Day” by the Chiffons
  • “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” by Spike Jones and His City Slickers, Doodles Weaver, soloist.
  • “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” and “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” (Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall)
  • “Only You” by the Platters
  • “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
  • The First Act Finale of “Iolanthe” and the Overture to “The Pirates of Penzance” by Gilbert and Sullivan
  • “I’m a Fool,” by Elvis.
  • “Neverland,” sung by Mary Martin.
  • “The Star Spangled Banner” by Whitney Houston
  • “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “When I Saw Her Standing There” by the Beatles.
  • “Where the Boys Are” by Connie Francis
  • “La Mer”by Charles Trenet
  • “The Carousel Waltz” by Richard Rodgers.
  • “Runaround Sue” by Dion
  • “Tessie” by the Dropkick Murphys
  • “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
  • “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash.
  • “A Christmas Festival” by the Boston Pops

If that group doesn’t restore my spirits, it’s time to head for the bridge.

1. I know Ethics Alarms has assigned Joe Biden’s now routine gaffes and misstatements to the Julie Principle category, but you have to admit, “We have the most extensive voter fraud organization in history” is special.

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Tolerating The New Racism


How long will it be before fair social critics, principled elected officials and ethical Americans firmly and decisively say “enough”?

Freed from the restraints of common sense, fear of hypocrisy and language by the George Floyd Freakout as well as the resulting Black Lives Matter Great Terror, writers, educators and politicians are openly engaging in racist speech and assertions without, apparently, fear of condemnation. After all, it is easy to tar any critics as racists themselves, because the new, acceptable racism is targeting whites. They think being characterized as monsters, murderers and habitual oppressors by virtue of the color of their skin is cruel and dehumanizing, the fools! Don’t they know it’s true?

I reached my limit regarding this Orwellian farce even before the ugly death in Minnesota of a career criminal from a likely drug overdose was exploited to justify riots, property destruction and the demonization (or intimidation) of anyone who couldn’t claim to be “of color.” Surely others unjustly vilified are reaching their limits as well. I hope so. History’s record of what happend to groups that meekly accept denigration and blame-casting in the vain hope that it will all “blow over” is not encouraging.

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Business Ethics: Tales Of Two Partisan Dunces

grocery Discount

1. The Trump Supporter: Jose Colon, owner of the Fresh Food Supermarket in Oakdale, New York,

Mr. Colon, a legal immigrant  from the Dominican Republic and a naturalized citizen, advertised a discount for supporters of President Trump on the store’s Facebook page last week.

“Trump supporters get 20% off.  Mention at the cash register you are a Trump supporter to get discount. (Excludes beer),” it read, as you can see above.

The store was immediately inundated with threats and social media posts advocating a boycott. Colon says he’s puzzled. .“We’re supposed to live in a free country,” Colon told Fox News. “This is weird. It’s crazy…We live in a free country where we support democracy, where we can go both ways, we can support left, right — whatever you want. I decided to vote and support the best interest, I believe, for this country.”

He has responded by offering the same discount to Biden supporters, and is claiming that this was his intent all along, though he is a vocal supporter of the President.

Let me try to explain what this particular citizen doesn’t seem to understand about his free country. It’s not going to remain free if people and businesses withhold goods and services from citizens based on their political beliefs, just as it is destructive to discriminate based on other criteria. If you want to break the nation into armed camps, having special restaurants, bars, grocery stores and movie theaters restricted to those of certain political persuasions is an excellent way to do it. What Colon did was well-intentioned, but un-American. He deserved the blowback, though the social media messages quotes don’t demonstrate any more civic comprehension than the grocery store owner seems to posess: what’s wrong with the discount isn’t that “Orange Man Bad,” but that it is unethical  for businesses to reward customers for their political views, which is the same as penalizing other customers for their political views. What does Colon think he’s doing? Buying votes with his discount?

I wouldn’t organize a boycott against a store that did this, but I wouldn’t buy groceries there again.

Then Colon’s solution to this dilemma of his own making was to offer the same discount to Biden supporters, discriminating against those who want to vote for the Libertarian or Green Party candidates, or Kanye West. Or me. Wrong. This flunks the Golden Rule test, Kant’s Universality test, and simple utilitarianism. In short, it’s unethical, and there is no ethical or civic defense for what he did. To be fair, the conservative news sources I’ve checked on this story, like Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, don’t seem to comprehend the problem any more than Colon does.

Meanwhile, does anyone believe that Colon always intended to offer a 20% discount to both Trump and Biden supporters as he now says? This is another reason for amateurs to stay out of politics: the pros lie better.

Well, usually.

2. The Biden Supporter: David Barrett, CEO of the software company Expensify.

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