Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/24/2021: The Sarcasm Edition

First appearance in 2021 of my favorite Ethics Warm-Up intro. Maybe that’s why 2021 ethics has gotten off to such a rotten start…

In addition to its significance in the siege of the Alamo, yesterday’s date of February 24 has other important ethics markers, perhaps some more important than Travis’s iconic letter. Perhaps the most impact on U.S. history was this date in 1803, when Chief Justice John Marshall (no relation that has been shown to my satisfaction) handed down the landmark decision in William Marbury v. James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States, establishing the legal principle of judicial revie. That’s what gives the Supreme Court the authority to limit Congressional power by declaring legislation unconstitutional. I doubt very much that the United States would still exist as a free republic had not that case been decided as it was, yet the result was probably dictated more by partisan politics than philosophy.

Marshall, in his majority opinion, declared that acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution are not valid law and therefore are non-binding on the courts, and that the judiciary’s first responsibility is always to uphold the Constitution. And if two laws conflict, Marshall wrote, SCOTUS has the responsibility of deciding which law applies in any given case. Periodically members of Congress, pundits and even academics have criticized the decision, but there can be little doubt that had Marshall not led the Court to make this stand, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would have been quickly shredded.

This is particularly relevant now, when the Democrats in Congress have signaled that they want government authorities to decree what is factual and what is “disinformation,” while they also seek to weaken Second Amendment rights. Incidentally, there is a prominent statue of Marshall at the Supreme Court, and a recast in John Marshall Park, near Judiciary Square, also in D.C. Another recast is in Philadelphia. Marshall owned hundreds of slaves, which is entirely irrelevant to his essential influence on our government and values. Clearly, many, perhaps most, of the college students in the U.S. would prefer that a non-slave owner had headed the Court, even if it resulted in a nation that slipped into allowing the virtual slavery of all citizens to a national government that “knew what was best.”

1. Oh, sure. Why not? We all know that committees are so effective at leadership. A letter signed by three dozen House Democrats urge Joe Biden to relinquish full control over the country’s nuclear weapons in favor of a committee of legislators. “…Vesting one person with this authority entails real risks,” states the letter, inspired by Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California. “Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concern about the president’s judgment.While any president would presumably consult with advisors before ordering a nuclear attack, there is no requirement to do so,” the letter adds. “The military is obligated to carry out the order if they assess it is legal under the laws of war. Under the current posture of U.S. nuclear forces, that attack would happen in minutes.”

The naivete exhibited by the letter is frightening, but not surprising. Very few members of Congress have executive experience or useful backgrounds that would assist them in dealing with international crises. Taking the most threatening weapon in the U.S. arsenal out of the hands of the President would make the United States infinitely weaker on the international stage. For example, historians now know that President Dwight Eisenhower blocked Soviet aggression at least twice by threatening to use the atom bomb, notably during the Suez crisis. The threat worked, because the USSR knew that Ike wasn’t bluffing.

A nation cannot wage a war by committee, and any elected officials who think otherwise should be kept far, far away from any substantive decisions regarding our national defense. Of course, it’s possible that the motivation behind this letter is that Democrats suspect, or know, that President Biden’s cognitive deterioration renders him incapable of safely handling the responsibilities of the Presidency. Ironically, he will prove that theory correct if he capitulates to the letter.

2. And academic freedom ensures that a racist campus newspaper column by a white student would also be published… American University announced in its spring 2021 plan that students would have the option to apply for a temporary residential housing experience for half of the upcoming semester, allowing 1,250 full-time students to reside on campus from March to May 2021. Black student Kayla Kelly recently wrote in the campus paper The Eagle that the plan is a form of “settler colonialism” because most of those taking advantage of the opportunity will be “affluent white students.”

“Settler colonialism is a form of colonialism that replaces the original population with a new invasive species,” Kelly writes in part. “The settler system takes over the space, resources and culture of the environment it encompasses, displacing the original population…The large influx of predominantly affluent white students into D.C.’s “chocolate city,” a term that refers to its large population of Black citizens, could evoke similar effects of settler colonialism and negatively impact the community.”

Kelly is welcome to her pro-segregation, anti-white, bigoted views. (“Species”?) She should not be welcome to circulate them in a campus newspaper. The paper’s editors, staff, and university administrators should be roundly condemned for encouraging racial division on campus. Yes, any adverse action taken by white students or their parents would be immediately labeled as “white supremacy,” just as principled opposition to “Black Lives Matter” propaganda has been shut down by the retort, “So black lives don’t matter, you racist?” But at some point, those concerned about fairness, equity and true “inclusion” need to show some spine and refuse to be intimidated by dishonest rhetorical tricks.

3. After all, professors must have a right to be “reprehensible”…Last summer, I wrote about University of Alabama at Birmingham professor Sarah Parcak, who tweeted detailed instructions and diagrams on how to topple an obelisk as George Floyd rioters in the college town  tore down a statue of Charles Linn, a Confederate Navy captain and one of the founders of Birmingham. In her post she suggested that “there might be’ an obelisk in downtown Birmingham,” and that the obelisks “might be masquerading as a racist monument.” There was a Confederate monument in Birmingham, and it is an obelisk. Sure enough, it was quickly attacked by rioters.

Twitter, of course, left her tweet up, because what she was inciting were good crimes and good violence that the Twitter “community” approved of, presumably. If Donald Trump had tweeted diagrams of the best way to breach Capitol security, I would rush to be first in line to demand his impeachment, conviction, and prosecution.

Parcak has continued to be vile force on the Birmingham campus. Her most recent outburst on Twitter was to write that she hoped that conservative figures like the late Rush Limbaugh “suffered until their last breath.” Nice! And why would any conservative-minded student feel comfortable in her classes? Why would one feel welcome at a university that employed such a vicious bigot? Professor Turley writes,

Parcak’s words are particularly concerning since she extends her desire for suffering to the broader array of conservatives. This includes viewpoints that are likely shared by many faculty and students at her university. It reflects a type of raging intolerance and hatred that undermines the faith of many that they will be treated with respect and civility in classrooms and on campus.UAB President Ray Watts issued a Wednesday night statement that said the university is “disgusted and extremely troubled” that Parcak engaged in such speech that is “so unprofessional and blindly inhumane and cruel.”

Then Turley writes,

However, what concerned me was the statement that the university was “reviewing the matter.” Parcak’s public commentary is vile and extremist but it is also, in my view, protected as free speech. She has a right to speak her mind about figures like Limbaugh even when her views are grotesque and offensive for many. We do not need the First Amendment to protect popular speech. Popular speech is not targeted precisely because it is popular. The test of our commitment to free speech is to protect speech that we find objectionable and wrong.

This is a theme with the professor, a Constitutional law specialist. Perhaps he is biased by the fact that he is also a professor who has sometimes seen his positions spark calls for his dismissal. However, there is no First Amendment right to be a professor at an institution when one’s irresponsible public statements undermine and injure that institution and its ability to educate its students. Turley calls the Parcak’s statements “reprehensible,” and an individual who habitually says reprehensible things is reprehensible. A university that continued to employ a reprehensible employee is therefor negligent, incompetent, and irresponsible.

19 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/24/2021: The Sarcasm Edition

  1. 1. In my opinion, the Vietnam war was essentially run by a committee of individuals who knew nothing about waging war, and that turned out to be a catastrophe. The same thing has essentially happened in every encounter since then. Committees don’t understand that the purpose of an armed force is to kill people and break things until the other side gives up. I’ve always liked the definition of a committee as being a group of people who can do nothing individually getting together and deciding that nothing can be done.

    Aside: I think that the best way to counter the invasion of women’s sports by men “identifying” as women would be to start referring to it as “transgender privilege.”

  2. First, John Marshall. He presided with remarkable objectivity over Burr’s trial for treason. His rulings and statements would be instructive on today’s world. Of course, Jefferson accused Marshall of being motivated solely by politics and part of a conspiracy against Jefferson and the Democratic Republicans. Item 2. Freedom of speech and press should welcome her views AND opposing views. If both are permitted, no reason at all for University censorship. Do you believe that a University or student paper deserves less freedom than a commercial paper?

    • I believe that such a paper has to have equitable standards. Would any campus paper in the nation countenance a student opinion that referred to black students as an invasive “species”? Should they?

      I reviewed the paper’s ethics code (which is pretty good!), and includes, “Racism, sexism, homophobia or any other type of identity-based discrimination will not be tolerated and will lead to repercussions, including a possible dismissal from staff.” If that’s the requirement of the staff, it would be pretty meaningless if the staff could promote racism by giving an OK to a non-staffer’s racist column. And I think Kayla Kelly IS staff, though it’s hard to tell. Should the university hold a paper to its ethics code? I would say yes.

    • At a State University, I would say that there is an argument to be made that the student newspaper isn’t as free as a commercial newspaper. The owners are the taxpayers and if the paper decided to libel and defame the majority of the taxpayers, the taxpayers may decide to do away with it. Although a private University, American University was Chartered by an Act of Congress and has viewed itself as a national university. Allowing the student newspaper to disparage the majority of the US population because of their race would be irresponsible and detrimental to the mission of the university. There is also the fact that the students of a private university fund that paper. You are forcing students to fund a paper to demean them because of their race. That hardly seems ethical. However, I looked up the United Methodist Church’s stance on racism and I believe this article is fully in line with their current teaching. I may think it unwise and unfair, but this is consistent with their message. A racist column by a white student would violate the UMC’s current teaching on race and not be allowed. The United Methodist church officially endorses some bigotry, but firmly stands agains other forms of bigotry. They call this progress.

      If a commercial paper wants to do that and doesn’t care who they insult, that is different. If they think there is a big enough market for racial hate that they can make a buck off of it, that is sad, but it is what it is. It is interesting that, in practice, this only goes one way. There is definitely a commercial market for some kinds of bigotry, but practically no market for others. It is glaringly obvious who the bigots are. The market for some forms of bigotry are so bad that I hear that some KKK chapters are now accepting Asian, hispanic, and even Black members. It is obvious that racial hatred was only a secondary purpose of the KKK.

      • Richard Nixon, in one of his books that was published after Ike death, revealed that Eisenhower quietly informed the USSR that if it attacked GB, France and Israel over the Suez mess, Ike would see to it the the US took out the Reds.

        We have only Nixon’s word on this, but at the time, it was considered a major revelation. I have the boodk somewhere…

  3. “Of course, it’s possible that the motivation behind this letter is that Democrats suspect, or know, that President Biden’s cognitive deterioration renders him incapable of safely handling the responsibilities of the Presidency.”

    I’m leaning this way. Democrats, historically, tone down arguments to dismantle the electoral college or diminish the power of the Presidency when their guy is in office. That’s why I don’t believe they actually want to do any of those things; it’s just convenient propaganda to use against a Republican President.

    However, if they are trying to remove significant power from even Joe Biden, there must be some underlying concern about his ability to make command decisions.

    Of course, I could be wrong. The Democrats have been going off the deep end for a bit.

    • A.M, I think Joe is already being run by committee, or Ron Klain. When he extemporizes, he’s incomprehensible. If he goes off script, he goes into the recesses of a very disorganized mind. I don’t think there’s a need for a committee in the Biden administration. There already is one. The letter is a grandstanding jab against Trump. They still think he’s president or fear he might get re-elected. Joe’s not going to be anywhere near the nuclear football.

  4. 3. From her wiki page: “Parcak was born in Bangor, Maine, and received her bachelor’s degree in Egyptology and Archaeological Studies from Yale University in 2001, and her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. She is a professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB); prior to that she was a teacher of Egyptian art and history at the University of Wales, Swansea.” She’s all of forty-one years of age. What a privileged little snot. As white as the driven snow. Shouldn’t she check her privilege? Isn’t she living on land taken from native Americans in a state built with slave labor? I guess she’s too young to know who George Wallace was? What a dope.

  5. “Taking the most threatening weapon in the U.S. arsenal out of the hands of the President would make the United States infinitely weaker on the international stage.”

    Bingo. The farther left the Democratic Party goes, the more they try to weaken this country on the world stage. After all, European “soft power” has been so effective at stopping aggression.

    Wait a minute here, this is the first I’m hearing of Ike threatening to use nuclear weapons during the Suez crisis. As far as I know, Eisenhower pulled the rug out from under the Anglo-French-Israeli coalition, threatening to sell off bonds and stick it to pro-Israel groups in the US if they didn’t withdraw. The result was damage to both our allies and our relationship with them. This came right after he just stood there while the Soviets rolled right over “Free Hungary.” Help me out here, please?

    Frankly, these colleges might as well codify that different rules apply to different views. It’s really not that hard, Black Lives Matter has already written most of it out for them. They might as well have a separate orientation meeting for straight white male Christian students in which they are warned (in the case of non-public schools), “OK, listen up you Todds, Bretts, Seans, Neils, Olivers, etc. This is a private institution that no one has a right to attend and from which you can be dismissed at any time for any reason or no reason. You are the only group here that has no protection whatsoever. We don’t like you, and we’re going to be keeping an extra and specially close eye on you. One rumor that you laid a hand on a woman without consent, you’re outa here. One black person says you said something racist, you’re outa here. One gay person says you harassed them, you’re outa here. One Jewish person says…well, you get the point. My advice to you is this: do your work, play your sport if that’s your thing, do your other activities if that’s your thing, keep quiet, keep your nose clean, your head down, and your pants zipped up. Leave the people of color alone, they aren’t interested in what you have to say. Leave the women be, unless they indicate they are interested in you. You’ve got the rest of your life to be privileged.”

    • You are correct that Eisenhower did great harm to the protagonists over Suez (it was partly to do with Britain and France acting independently over the peace settlement for Vietnam in 1954). He also did nothing material to protect them from Soviet interference, since any threat of his to use nuclear weapons against escalation added nothing. Remember, at that point not only did Britain have the bomb but British delivery systems had not yet been brought under U.S. control. The original point of getting the bomb, for both Britain and France (which got it later), was to allow them to act independently.


    South Dakota’s attorney general killed someone with his car in September but claimed he thought he’d hit a deer.

    But “Days after South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg fatally struck a man while driving in September, detectives told the Republican official they had found a pair of broken reading glasses inside his Ford Taurus. They belonged to the man he killed.”

    “Ravnsborg told the detectives he didn’t see “anything” before he struck Boever that night. But detectives noted that Boever would have been hard to miss because he carried a flashlight that would have been like “a beacon of light” in the dark night.”

    “But Ravnsborg said that he will not step down. “At no time has this issue impeded his ability to do the work of the office,” Mike Deaver, his private spokesman, said in a statement to the Argus Leader.”

  7. “Settler colonialism is a form of colonialism that replaces the original population with a new invasive species,” Kelly writes in part. “The settler system takes over the space, resources and culture of the environment it encompasses, displacing the original population…The large influx of predominantly affluent white students into D.C.’s “chocolate city,” a term that refers to its large population of Black citizens, could evoke similar effects of settler colonialism and negatively impact the community.”

    I would suggest that the following cities were created and inhabited by predominantly white Europeans until another group moved in and displaced them: I ask Kelly was that displacement wrong?
    Atlanta, GA
    Birmingham, Al
    Baltimore, MD
    Richmond, VA
    Washington ( Chocolate City) DC
    Detroit, Mi
    New York, NY
    Philadelphia, PA
    Los Angeles, CA
    Kansas City, MO

    I think you get my drift. The quote above suggests that once a minority group displaces the majority group it becomes the supreme ruler of the land and that the original inhabitants should have not recourse. Kelly must have no knowledge of the demographic histories of DC and other cities.

  8. 1. That should work well. The comment reminding us of the committee handling Vietnam is dead on. With due respect to Cynical John, I prefer the adage that “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”
    2. Some might see it “colonization” when cities build low rent housing in the middle of traditional white neighborhoods and move in black residents. The problems with these who-was-displaced-by-who arguments is that it quickly becomes cloudy as to when various groups arrived. If Dr. Louis Leakey is correct we are all African-somethings, and non-native invaders.

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