After-Wednesday Ethics Reflections, 7/22/2021


I never got a chance to write the Wednesday warm-up, cool-down, or whatever it was going to be called yesterday, so I don’t know what this is. Something. A lot is rattling around what I laughingly call me mind, which is one reason I had trouble sleeping, I guess.

One thing I wanted to mention about yesterday, perhaps because I’m still thinking about Alexander Hamilton’s fatal duel with Aaron Burr on July 11, is that it probably marks the first recorded instance of an Old West show-down. On July 21st in 1865, Wild Bill Hickok, a rare genuine gunslinger who was a dead shot with a pistol, killed Dave Tutt in the street in Springfield, Missouri. Tutt drew his weapon first and missed, whereupon Wild Bill calmly took aim. Tutt died of a bullet in his chest a second later. By the standards of the time, this was an unusually ethical shooting. Most men were not good shots and didn’t want to risk finding out that the guys they had a quarrel with were, so fatal gun battles tended to be ambushes or a nasty surprise to the loser. (Wild Bill himself was murdered when he was shot in the head from behind while playing poker.)

Because I worry about such things, I wonder how many Americans under the age of about 40 know who Hickock was. Like most of the Wild West icons, his real life exploits paled in comparison to his legend, but once upon a tim, he was a well-known figure in popular culture. Guy Madison played him as a clean-cut good guy in white in a 50’s TV series pitched to kids (its sponsor was Sugar Pops). This was strange, since Hickock was famous for his long hair, buckskins, floppy hat and long mustache. Bill’s major contribution to U.S. lore was his poker hand when he was shot: two pair, aces and eights, all clubs and spades. This was known ever after as “The Dead Man’s Hand” and reputed to be bad luck. Director John Ford included the portent in every movie he could: if a character was doomed, there was a glimpse of his poker hand, and it was always aces and eights.

1. No self-respecting woman should accept an appointment like this. No responsible President should make one, either. Victoria Reggie Kennedy is Biden’s nominee for Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Austria. She’s no dummy, but the only reason she is getting this plum is because she was married to Ted Kennedy. In the press release, her credentials are inflated by all the honorary degrees and other goodies she got as organizations sucked up to Ted or his too influential family. Such an appointment is lazy and insulting: is there anyone cognizant who doesn’t see this as what it is, symbolic ring-kissing for Democratic Party royalty? Moreover, it is one more example—the fact that Biden is President is another— of how the party’s vaunted feminism is more mirage than real. There must be thousands of women who have better arguments for being the U.S. Ambassador to Austria than “I was the second wife of a U.S. Senator who was only elected because of his brothers and whose greatest accomplishment was getting away with negligent homicide.” If Victoria had any integrity, she would have asked Biden to appoint one of those women.

2. I’m not sure how this connects to ethics...honesty and courage, perhaps…but long-time Boston Globe reporter Jack Thomas has written what seems like a sincere and thoughtful column upon learning that he has only a few months to live. He seems convinced that he will have an afterlife, which may contribute to his upbeat reflections, and if that helps him through what he calls “the hell to come,” fine. He concludes his essay,

“As death draws near, I feel the same uncomfortable transition I experienced when I was a teenager at Brantwood Camp in Peterborough, New Hampshire, packing up to go home after a grand summer. I’m not sure what awaits me when I get home, but this has certainly been an exciting experience. I had a loving family. I had a great job at the newspaper. I met fascinating people, and I saw myriad worldwide wonders. It’s been full of fun and laughter, too, a really good time. I just wish I could stay a little longer.”

3. House Democrats are apparently determined to run the January 6 “insurrection” narrative into the ground, even though the eventual report by the newly assembled “select committee” to investigate the Capitol riot cannot possibly be anything else but partisan anti-Trump hit job, and is designed to be one. After Speaker Pelosi rejected two of the five Republican members nominated by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, he announced that the GOP would refuse to participate—except for rogue GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, whose position on Trump and the events of January 6 have been made throbbingly clear. This is an example of Congress being completely obsessed with political theater at the expense of the public interest. The report will please no one who hasn’t made up his or her mind already about the episode; its conclusions will have no credibility; and anyone who can’t write down what the findings of the kangaroo committee will be with 90% accuracy couldn’t beat Joe Biden in a game of Boggle.

4. I’m shocked—shocked!—to find that there is flagrant hypocrisy in the Roman Catholic hierarchy! The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to approve a document that would prevent politicians like President Biden who have supported pro-abortion measures from receiving the holy sacrament. The General Secretary of the USCCB, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill was the official who read the voting results to the conference last month. After cell phone data revealed that he has used the gay dating app Grindr and regularly visits gay bars, Burrill resigned.

5. Prediction: The Britney Spears saga will not end well. The 39-year-old pop singer was allowed to drive a car by herself for the first time in 15 years as she gained the sympathy of the public, lawyers and courts in her pleas to “get her life back” after an oppressive conservatorship. She was then photographed holding her cell phone and apparently looking at it while behind the wheel of her $155k Mercedes Benz. Her ordeal and transformation into a profitable performing zombie began with photos of Spears engaging in dangerous conduct behind the wheel; one would think that as she finally is given an opportunity to prove she can take care of herself, she would be vigilant about such things. But no, and this is because she is not well, and probably can’t take care of herself. But as an American, she has a right to try. The fact that a lot of people count on Britney functioning as their cash cow does not justify allowing them to run her life.

11 thoughts on “After-Wednesday Ethics Reflections, 7/22/2021

  1. Arguably Wild Bill was the greatest gunfighter of them all, the only two who could challenge him were probably Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo, both of whom also met unpleasant fates (Holliday died of tuberculosis and Ringo almost certainly committed suicide). Ironically, Jack McCall, the man who shot Hickok in the back of the head, did it for no real reason other than notoriety. I’ve heard the original “Dead Man’s Hand” was possibly jacks and eights rather than aces and eights, at least that’s what the 1907 Hoyle’s said. Supposedly the cards were retrieved from the floor by a man named Neil Christy, but they’ve never been found, leave alone authenticated.

    1. Ring-kissing? Ass-kissing is more like it. BTW, as I’ve often said, powerful Dems will be able to grab all the ass they want as long as they keep voting for abortion. Feminists are willing to throw a few women under the bus so that others can do whatever with whoever consequence-free. OK, once in a while an expendable Dem from a safe seat like Al Franken will get thrown under the bus, but that’s it.

    2. Charles Krauthammer was another journalist who was able to write a dignified farewell to the world upon being informed he had only weeks to go. I know the feeling that Thomas describes, although I think the only time I felt it was after the end of high school, eating a Drumstick ice cream cone while reading a rather elaborate book from a trip to a bookstore that had been my graduation present to me. The board had been cleared, the slate was wiped clean, and all of my known troubles were behind me. I didn’t know exactly what lay ahead, but I knew it had to be better than what lay behind.

    3. One good thing about this committee, if it doesn’t finish up ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, it never will, because Speaker McCarthy will disband it.

    4. Color me unsurprised, as a lifelong Catholic who knew what was going on behind the scenes since I was 14. I’ve known some really great clergy in my day, but just as many fakes who were covering a non-celibate lifestyle or using it for access to kids.

    5. I’m torn. Britney almost destroyed herself, and there was big money riding on her, much bigger than on now-forgotten Welsh kid star Charlotte Church, who imploded personally and professionally at the grand old age of 16, and nobody did a damn thing about it (I think, in retrospect, that CC’s label had pretty much finished with her at that point). She needed to be responsible, but this conservatorship was beyond the pale.

  2. Regarding the January 6th “investigation,” I don’t they just write the report now? We all know how it is going to turn out, but I guess Congress has to spend a few millions of our money to come to an already-reached conclusion.

      • If they wrote the report now, they couldn’t have endless hours of “hearings” where the Dem representatives can blather away about Trump and existential threats to democracy, blah, blah, blah, right up until the 2022 midterms. No theater, no show.

  3. And the “investigation” will try to avoid, at all costs, actually releasing to the public the hours of video coverage of the “insurrection,” and naming Ashli Babbitt’s killer. The mainstream media isn’t even asking. Such a monumental suspension of basic curiosity is absolutely appalling.
    Meanwhile, mere trespassers and vandals are being held without bond. I have to join Kurt Schlichter in wondering, “Are there any good apples at the FBI?” or in federal law enforcement generally.

  4. 5. I find the “Free Britney” groundswell disheartening. I guess too few people have seen what chronic mental illness can do to people. She needs to be protected from herself by good people to the extent such protection is possible. “Freeing” her is a likely death sentence, for someone.

  5. More people than you might think probably have a somewhat accurate knowledge of Hickok (James Butler Hickok…no actual Bill or William in his name) due to the TV series Deadwood, though they played fast and loose with some characters (like George Hearst) more than others. If you never watched it, it’s a brutal but engaging show.—the-facts-and-the-fiction/article_a024b6e5-7253-5dee-a36c-0ec6295c9eff.html

  6. Deadwood…brutal? Sugarcoat it whydoncha…

    I LUVed me some Deadwood; a marvelously depicted, brazenly unregulated existence, richly developed characters, superbly choreographed violence, more drinking than Animal House and Leaving Las Vegas combined, and a swearwords to dialogue ratio we may never see again in our lifetimes.

  7. On 4… The hypocrisy is rank, but I think the more important of the stories surrounding this case is how it came to be that Burrill’s cell phone data came to be public knowledge.

    “Responses to the scoop—which came courtesy of the Pillar, a two-person digital outlet centered around stories on the Catholic church—were mixed. Some obvious bigots cheered on the effort to expunge “sinners” from their Christian institutions. Others decried the piece as a blatant invasion of a dude’s right to privacy. The one question both sides were asking—but nobody seemed to have an answer for—was where this data even came from in the first place.”


    ““A mobile device correlated to Burrill emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020—at both his USCCB office and his USCCB-owned residence, as well as during USCCB meetings and events in other cities,” the Pillar wrote, noting that these data signals were “from a data vendor and authenticated by an independent data consulting firm,” that the outlet had personally contracted.

    With the help of this mysterious firm, the Pillar explained it was able to match the sea of kinda-sorta-not-really-anonymous signals that make up the bulk of many publicly purchasable data sets in order to figure out which one of those anonymous signals belonged to Burrill’s device.

    “Commercially available app signal data does not identify the names of app users, but instead correlates a unique numerical identifier to each mobile device using particular apps,” the outlet explained in its blog. “Signal data, collected by apps after users consent to data collection, is aggregated and sold by data vendors. It can be analyzed to provide timestamped location data and usage information for each numbered device.”

    After deducing that one particular device seemed to consistently frequent Burrill’s residence, a lake house belonging to Burrill’s family, and the USCCB HQ during meetings where Burrill was in attendance, the reporters figured that this was indeed… Burrill’s phone. When they mapped out where else this device wound up over the past three years, they found a roadmap littered with gay clubs and bars, all pinged by the “near-daily” signals beamed out every time Burrill opened Grindr on his device.”

    To summarize:

    Even though metadata doesn’t identify people, Pillar was able to infer the ownership of devices by assuming that the most commonly visited residential addresses belonged to the device owner. This is probably a reasonable inference that would work with most people.

    Once the owner of the device had been inferred, they were able to comb through the metadata of the device for anything that seemed sallacious.

    “But Jeff!” Someone might say, “It’s metadata, they can’t tell what you looked at or what you said, they don’t know your username, or credit card information.” Well, that’s true, but (Quoting from a slide from a 2013 presentation titled “Why Metadata Matters”;

    They know that you rang a phone sex service at 2:24AM and spoke for 18 minutes, even if they don’t know what you talked about.

    They know you called the suicide prevention hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge, but not the topic of the call.

    And they know you spoke to an HIV testing service, then your doctor, then your health insurance company in the same hour, but they have no idea what was discussed.

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