Saturday Morning Ethics: Christmas Countdown Edition

The story of that Christmas classic, Bing’s last holiday hit and also the last popular Christmas song that references its religious origins, is here.

I almost called this post the Clinton Impeachment Anniversary Edition, but decided to be more upbeat. It was on this date that William Jefferson Clinton became the second U.S. President to be impeached. Like the first, the unfortunate Andrew Johnson, Clinton was acquitted in the Senate. Also like Johnson, Clinton was impeached for genuine reasons consistent with the Constitution’s requirements. The next impeachment—did you notice how Democrats never mentioned it during the 2020 campaign?—-was very different: the Democratic House just decided it wanted to impeach President Trump and contrived an excuse to do it after three years of searching.

As veteran readers here know, it was the near complete absence of ethical analysis from the news media during Monica Madness and the mountain of rationalizations and obfuscations employed by Clinton’s defenders that prompted me to launch The Ethics Scoreboard, which in due course led to Ethics Alarms.

1. A bar exam ethics train wreck in California. The ABA Journal reports that more than 3,000 law school grads who sat for the State Bar of California’s remote October exam had their proctoring videos flagged for review, and dozens report receiving violation notices from the agency’s office of admissions. The issues flagged appear to be largely technology-based, and many claim they had no indication of a problem until they received violation notices. The flagging will create serious problems for those involved. A Chapter 6 Notice, as it is called, allows an applicant to respond in writing before any finding is made. If there is a determination that a test-taker violated procedures, bar actions could include warnings, a score of zero for the flagged sessions or the entire exam and negative marks on character and fitness evaluations, endangering the applicant’s prospects of receiving a license.

An individual can challenge the office’s determination and request an administrative hearing, and an unfavorable outcome can be appealed with the Committee of Bar Examiners and the California Supreme Court. However, those applicants’ October bar exam scores will be in limbo while hearings and appeals are resolved, and they will not be able to take the February 2021 exam when determinations of previous scores are pending.

The violations cited include examinees’ eyes being intermittently out of view of their webcams, audio not working; and test-takers not being present behind their computers during the exam. In other words, this is another disaster created by pandemic hysteria and technology unsuited to the challenge of providing an adequate alternative to in-person activity.

2. The scary part is how many people who pay attention to racists like this. A TIME magazine article explored the career of the amazing Helen Keller, the deaf and blind woman who graduated from Radcliffe College (now Harvard University) in 1904, worked for the American Foundation for the Blind from the mid-1920s until her death in 1968, was an activist for schools for the blind and braille reading materials and co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920. The article also included the verdict by black disability rights activist Anita Cameron that Helen Keller was “just another, despite disabilities, privileged white person.”

3. And speaking of racists...The Boston Red Sox have been deservedly embarrassed by Ernst Jean-Jacques Jr. who was honored by the team’s “Hats off to Heroes” program in August. The program was originally created to honor veterans, but team owner John Henry, a big-time Democratic Party donor who is addicted to progressive virtue signaling, allowed the program to expand its honors to “systemic racism” and Black Lives Matter activists. Jean-Jacques was praised by the team’s spokesman as a“pillar of the community,” for his participation in the “fight against social injustice.” His fight later included punching an 80-year old female Trump supporter in the face at a “Stop the Steal” pro-Trump rally in Swampscott, Massachusetts. This was caught on video, but we still have to say that the crime is “alleged.”

At this point, the difference between the NFL and Major League Baseball is that the former honors black criminals after they have committed violent crimes, whereas the latter honors anti-white racists before they commit the kind of violent crimes their rhetoric suggests they favor. [Pointer: James Hodgson]

4. From the Ethics Alarms “Who cares?” files: CNN thinks it’s newsworthy that Barack Obama liked a bunch of books. This is the news network that didn’t think evidence of a Presidential candidate’s son telling foreign officials that his father could put in a good word for their interests if they forked over enough cash was worth telling the public about before the election. Now the network is using its time and effort to promote Obama’s book (From the article: ‘I’ll start by sharing my favorite books this year, deliberately omitting what I think is a pretty good book — A Promised Land — by a certain 44th president,’ Obama joked.”) The same network, you will recall, treated the same 44th Presidents’ bracket picks in the NCAA college basketball tournament as worthy of broadcasting.

Why is Barack Obama’s book list news? He’s not a book critic or a scholar. He doesn’t give any reasons why he recommends those books. Nor have any standards been applied to the story: who has confirmed that Obama read them? How do we know the list wasn’t compiled by an intern who was told to find titles that sent the right messages and made Obama seem deep?

This is hackery. It immediately reminded me of the breathless stories about how President Kennedy read whole books in minutes. Years later we learned the claim was made up, but approved by JFK.

Here, by the way, is how one news aggregation site headlined the CNN story: “Last President that read books releases his favorites list for 2020.”

5. On the plus side in ethics milestones...Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol” was published on this date in 1843. I regard it as the greatest ethics story in English literature, and I read it, aloud if possible, every year.

12 thoughts on “Saturday Morning Ethics: Christmas Countdown Edition

  1. Re: No. 1; Bars are a Waste.

    I may have mentioned this before, but the Texas Bar Association offered a continuing legal education seminar about diversity in the legal profession. The majority of the presenters discussed white privilege and inherent bias white lawyers refuse to admit.

    Oh, and Tennessee and Kentucky both delayed releasing their bar exam results this fall because some candidates were erroneously notified that they passed the exam.

    Bar associations are useless political advocacy groups. Sorry.


  2. Well, it is indeed a fact that Helen Keller was privileged, in the sense that she received support for her disability that a minority or someone with less family wealth almost certainly would not have.

    Based on the context of the article, I infer that in asserting this fact the point Cameron is trying to make is that we should not assume that everything Helen Keller did was due to her character strengths, but that we should acknowledge the forgiving environment she was provided. I think Cameron fears that if we focus on the histories of the most famous people, we forget what life was like for average people, and what forces made them that way. That’s a valid concern. I’ve experienced it myself when I realized what time periods the stories from my childhood took place in.

    If people could communicate concepts like this without me having to translate for them, that’d be great. I consider communication mindset to be a basic skill all adults need to have, but since the vast majority of adults don’t have it yet, I’ll temporarily settle for people giving me money to do it for them.

    I do object to Cameron’s use of the word “just”, because it implies to the listener that the sole factor in Helen Keller’s success was her socioeconomic privilege and that hard work was not involved. Either Cameron is assuming that everyone is hard-working and therefore succeeding with privilege is nothing remarkable (and I can attest that’s not true), or she has no concept of hard work and why it’s necessary to succeed. I’ll reserve judgment on that point until I know more.

    • But the point that Keller had an advantage being white is the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. She had a much, much greater disadvantage not being able to see or hear, so in total, she wasn’t privileged at all.She was at risk. She was disadvantaged. The white privilege trope intentionally ignores that all individuals have advantages and disadvantages in various proportions, and it’s up to the individual to deal with them by work, talent, good choices, and luck.

      Would any healthy black American argue that he or she would prefer to be blind and deaf than black? If not, claiming Helen Keller was “privileged” is nonsense. Which it is.

      • That makes sense to me. Most people who use the word “privileged” fail to achieve a nuanced understanding of how “privilege” actually works, a coherent definition of the problem as they see it, or a constructive response to said problem. That’s about average for humans, unfortunately. That’s why I developed a toolbox of foundational concepts to help people with those things.

  3. How is your progress on the Grand Finale of the Pandemic Crweates a Classic and Difficult Ethics Conflict?

    In other words, this is another disaster created by pandemic hysteria and technology unsuited to the challenge of providing an adequate alternative to in-person activity.

    It ties in with Sarah B.’s comment about that teacher.

    It would pass the equivalent of a 12 (b) (6) motion except for the complaint about how the online test is administered.

    People were judged guilty as cheaters due to the inherent limitations of proctoring an online test, and not specifically by any act by the teacher in question.

  4. <b#4: Obama’s book sounds extraordinary to me. It’s something of an accomplishment to produce 768 pages when “I”, “me” and “my” are such short words.

  5. 4.
    These are pretty much safe picks by our former president. It looks like he’s now competing with Oprah for ‘blurb space on the dust jackets as are the publishers for his blessing. I read one of his picks last year, “Exhalation,” by Ted Chiang (whose earlier book I liked) & enjoyed it. Literature & plain good writing about people you don’t know, & probably never will know, can be transporting & educational. Just like theater… Anyway, this is how I see them.

    “Jack” by Marilynne Robinson – I don’t read anything by her. PASS
    “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson – inequality, racism found everywhere in the USA. PASS
    “The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larson – Churchill historical fiction by author of “The Devil in the White City” & “Dead Wake.” Looks interesting – LIBRARY
    “Luster” by Raven Leilani – Modern May/December – Ebony/Ivory relationship with a quirky protagonist. LIBRARY
    “How Much of These Hills is Gold” by C Pam Zhang – Wild West from the vantage point of two Chinese immigrants. Lisa See is all I can handle at the moment. PASS
    “Long Bright River” by Liz Moore – Philly crime novel. I’ve walked those streets. – LIBRARY
    “Memorial Drive” by Natasha Trethewey – Memoir of a biracial childhood. PASS
    “Twilight of Democracy” by Anne Applebaum – Magazine article in “The Atlantic” worked into a book. PASS
    “Deacon King Kong” by James McBride – It’s the ’60s in the hood, Brooklyn, that is. LIBRARY
    “The Undocumented Americans” by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. PASS
    “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett – sisterhood & identity politics. PASS
    “The Glass Hotel” by Emily St. John Mandel – I enjoyed her recent “Station Eleven,” so this fictional exploration of a Madoffian world has some interest. LIBRARY
    “Hidden Valley Road” by Robert Kolker- real-life medical mystery tour of mental illness. Looks like the real deal. BUY
    “The Ministry for the Future” by Kim Stanley Robinson – Sci Fi, climate change. PASS
    “Sharks in the Time of Saviors” by Kawai Strong Washburn – Generational angst set in Hawaii. PASS
    “Missionaries” by Phil Klay – Ugly Americans in Columbia. An Action Adventure book with a lot to process. LIBRARY

  6. He’s been reading memos a long time, which would help him crunch the pages (or not). And maybe some readers are like critics: they leave at the intermission or write their reviews beforehand. These were picks, not reviews, released in a tweet, that were treated like news in an interview. So like you, I wonder (or not).

  7. I think the 1991 “Mary Did You Know?” has evolved into a Christmas standard. You hear it all the time now and all sorts of pop singers have covered it, etc.

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