Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/21/2021: Happy Birthday U.S. Constitution! [Corrected]

Constitution signing

On this day in 1788, habitually cantankerous New Hampshire became the ninth and last required state to ratify the Constitution of the United States and make it the law of the land. December 7 of 1787 had seen Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Connecticut quickly signed the document. But Congress had voted that at least 9 of the 13 former colonies had to sign on before the document was considered adopted. New Hampshire, Massachusetts and the remaining states opposed the document, as it failed to reserve sufficient powers to the states and did not protect individual rights like freedom of speech, religion,the press, and the right to bear arms. In February of 1788, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and other states agreed to ratify the document with the promise that necessary amendments would be developed and proposed. The Constitution was ratified based on the compromise by Massachusetts, Maryland and South Carolina, making 8. New Hampshire made nine. The first Congress under the new Constitution adopted 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, and sent them to the states for ratification. Rhode Island, which opposed federal control of currency and was critical of compromise on slavery, was the last hold-out; the U.S. government had to threaten to sever commercial relations with the state to force it to sign on. Finally, on May 29, 1790, Rhode Island voted to become the last of the original 13 colonies to join the United States of America.

Today the U.S. Constitution is the oldest written constitution in operation in the world, and the only one predicated on ethical principles, thanks to the Bill of Rights.

I would have preferred to see Constitution Day made a national holiday over “Juneteenth,” since it was the principles laid out in the Constitution, along with the Declaration of Independence, that eventually led to the elimination of slavery, and the document has been the backbone of our republic’s epic success in other respects as well.

1. “Larry Vaughn Day”? I regret not noting yesterday that it was the anniversary of the release of “Jaws,” a milestone in American cultural history. It is also an ethics movie, and one that pops into my mind often, since the irresponsible conduct of the weaselly mayor of Amity, Larry Vaughn (Played by Murray Hamilton, who made a career of portraying human weasels), remains SOP for so many elected officials, locally and nationally, and also the leadership of corporations, associations, industries, sports, universities and <cough> religious organizations. Ethics Alarms has a Larry Vaughn tag, and I should have used it in dozens more articles than I have. He is the perfect symbol of leadership that, in the words of Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) will always “ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you in the ass.”

The U.S. could benefit greatly from a “Larry Vaughn Day” on June 20 in which every elected official and organizational leader be required to watch “Jaws.”

I may have seen “Jaws” more than any other film, though it is far from my favorite movie. With repeated viewings the holes in the script become annoying, I must say. For example, why don’t Sheriff Brody and Hooper, as they are trying to convince the mayor that there’s dangerous shark on the loose, mention the little detail that they found fisherman Ben Chapman’s chewed off head?

2. Ranked voting can be manipulated, so naturally progressives are excited about it. The New York Mayoral primary is going to use ranked voting, that Favorite Child of democracy critics. Voter can include their top five choices in order. In ranked systems, a candidate that literally nobody has as a first choice on the ballot can win, and voters can hurt a candidate’s chances by leaving him or her off their ballots completely even if in truth that candidate would be their second choice, in order to advance the cause of their first choice. These kinds of calculations are beyond the ability of the average voter (who supposedly has an IQ of 97), so various pundits and progressive organizations are putting out instructions on how to rank candidates in order to game the system.

To be fair, I should mention that the old-fashioned system produced the epicly incompetent Bill de Blasio, so I can sympathize with the desire to try something else.

3. OOPS! #1 Chad Hatfield, a Washington lawyer who specializes in representing Social Security claimants, argued before the Ninth Circuit in Rule v. Saul, and then realized that he was arguing the wrong case. [Here’s the video.] After the judges called his confusion to his attention, Hatfield explained that he had two Social Security appeals scheduled in back-to-back weeks, Rule and O’Rourke, and he came to the hearing for Rule prepared to argue O’Rourke. He then blamed the mistake on his “scheduler,” which is cowardly and wrong: he is responsible for overseeing his non-lawyer assistants. Then he apologized. Hatfield was lucky: the panel was nice, and he was given a ten-minute recess to prepare his argument for the right case. To his credit, he came back and did a pretty good job, all things considered.

4. Pop that popcorn! Today major league baseball umpires begin checking all pitchers for the presence of “sticky stuff,” illegally applied substances designed to make the ball go faster and do tricks. This mid-season adjustment became necessary after decades of baseball leaders ship emulated Larry Vaughn [Item#1], and ignored the fact that pitchers were breaking a rule on the books since 1920. Expect game delays, angry pitchers and managers, and heaven forbid that a batter is beaned and seriously injured because the pitcher “couldn’t grip the ball.”

The latter is the risible lament of pitchers objecting to the long-delayed enforcement of the rule against putting gunk on balls. If you can’t control a ball you are throwing at 98 mph without cheating, then don’t throw the ball that hard.

5. Oops! #2 I should really devote a whole post to this, but the runway is already backed up. Rhode Island’s Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse called Juneteenth a “meaningful and historic acknowledgment of our past to help carry us forward toward justice.” The Senator’s present, however, is a different story. His family has long-time membership in the all-white Bailey’s Beach Club in Newport. (I didn’t think there were all-white clubs any more. I certainly didn’t think any progressive elected officials would be so hypocritical as to belong to one. I’m a gullible sap.) Both Whitehouse and his wife Sandra, as well as their families, have been members of the club for decades. Whitehouse’s wife is one of the largest shareholders in the all-white club. Asked by a reporter last week why he is still a member, Whitehouse huminahumina-ed, “It’s a long tradition in Rhode Island and there are many of them and I think we just need to work our way through the issues, thank you.”

10 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/21/2021: Happy Birthday U.S. Constitution! [Corrected]

  1. You have some problems with the dates in the intro:

    On this day in 1788, habitually cantankerous New Hampshire became the ninth and last required state to ratify the Constitution of the United States and make it the law of the land.

    The Constitution was ratified in Massachussetts on September 25, 1789, making eight. New Hampshire made nine.

    (The spell-checker also says you spelled Massachusetts wrong. For shame!)


    • And I lived there!

      Ugh. I had the order all messed up. Thanks: it’s fixed. The first nine were Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Connecticut, Mass., Maryland, and South Carolina.

    • Ugh. Careless wording–there were two Amendments from the Virginia equivalent of the Bill of Rights that didn’t make it into the final 10. They were noting like the ultimate 11th and 12th. Thanks. Fixed.

      • Well, in fairness, Jack, there were 12 Amendments and the first 2 were not passed. They were before the Bill of Rights.

        Then, the first one did get passed as the 28th (?) Amendment.

        I thought your wording was fair.


  2. 5. Uh, Sheldon, wasn’t slavery a long tradition in the United States and certain of the colonies?

    Sheldon descends from Robber Baron Charles Crocker. I guess he’d be called a private railroad car liberal.

  3. I quote this tweet.

    • “Ellie Kemper had to issue a groveling apology because she won a pageant crown in 1999 from a group that was segregated decades prior. Sheldon Whitehouse belongs to a club that is *still all-white TODAY* (after promising to quit years ago) & his response is “it’s a tradition.”

      I saw that, and it’s spot on.

  4. Ranked voting producing a winner that may have been no one’s first choice isn’t inherently problematic if the winner does result in an *optimal* balance, where the ultimate winner, while not making any particular majority absolutely jubilant, has the benefit of at least having a majority or sizeable minority absolutely virulent, like our current dichotomous system produced.

    But, the inherent and OVERRIDINGLY severe problem with ranked choice voting is that there’s no reason at all for nefarious organizations to spend exorbitantly on studies and marketing to figure out how to convince enough voters to vote a particular way to get a winner preferred by those doing the gaming of the system.

    That problem alone outweighs any potential benefits of “ranked choice” voting.

    About the closest anyone can get to ranked choice is “jungle primaries”, where any number of candidates from any party run, and the top two move on to the general, even if they are from the same party. Of course, this can be gamed by running a straw man candidate to spoil the opposition or by internally compelling candidates on your side not to throw their hat in the ring if it looks like the opposition is in danger of flooding the zone and therefore increasingly the likelihood none of their candidates make it to the general.

    Anyway, Ranked Choice voting pretty much ruins the notion of “one person one vote”.

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