Friday Ethics Potpourri, 9/24/2021: On PBS, Boeing, A Political Hack Law Dean, And Caring

Lawn sign

Many thanks to reader and commenter Jeff for bringing that lawn sign to my attention. It’s available here. I wish I had thought of it; one of these days I’ll get around to making a “Bias Makes You Stupid” T-shirt as an Ethics Alarms accessory. I would never post such a sign on my lawn for the same reason I object to the virtue-signaling signs in my neighborhood: I didn’t ask to my neighbors’ political views thrust in my face, and I don’t inflict mine of them. However, if a someone living in a house on my cul-de-sac inflicted a “No human being is illegal” missive on their lawn where I had to look at it every day, the sign above would be going up as a response faster than you can say “Jack Robinson,” though I don’t know why anyone would say “Jack Robinson.”

1. Roger Angell on caring…It’s September, and the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees start a three game series tonight with nine games left to the season. It could well determined which of the two teams will go on to the post-season, with a shot at the World Series. The encounter brings back a flood of memories, wonderful and horrible, about previous Sox-Yankee battles of note, including one from 1949, before I was born. I worked with a veteran lawyer at a D.C. association who was perpetually bitter about all things, and all because the Red Sox blew a pennant to New York that year by choking away the final two games of the season. For me, moments like this are reassuring and keep me feeling forever young: as I watch such games, I realize that I am doing and and feeling exactly what I was doing and feeling from the age of 12 on. Nothing has changed. Roger Angell, one of my favorite writers, eloquently described why this is important in his essay “Agincourt and After,” from his collection,”Five Seasons”:

“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitive as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look — I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naivete — the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball — seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”

A small price indeed.

2. PBS may be a progressive propaganda organ, but the facts will out. A streaming service offers the channel’s documentaries for a pittance, and they are a reliable source of perspective and enlightenment. One that my wife and I watched this past week was about the development of the FDA and other federal agencies that protected the public and workers. When workers at manufacturing plants making leaded gasoline started dying of lead poisoning, the government scientists’ solution was to just ban the product. General Motors and Standard Oil fought back and overturned the ban, assuring Congress that they could make leaded gas safe to produce, and they did. This was a classic example of why we must not let scientists dictate public policy: leaded gasoline transformed transportation and benefited the public. The scientists’ approach was just to eliminate risk; they didn’t care about progress, the economy, jobs or anything else. Science needs to be one of many considerations, and when scientists have been co-opted by partisan bias, as they are now, this is more true than ever.

3. On the other side of the coin, PBS just released this month a new “Frontline” documentary about the Boeing scandal surrounding the crashes of two 737 Max passenger planes. In an eerie flashback to the Pinto “Let ’em burn!” memo, Boeing, having discovered that a crash in 2018 that killed 157 people was due to a fatal design flaw, calculated that the odds against another crash were strong enough that there was time to fix the problem while still allowing the dangerous planes—at that point the most commonly used aircraft in the industry—to keep flying. But Boeing rolled snake-eyes in its gamble, and another nearly identical crash occurred five months after the first. Neither the pilots, the airlines nor passengers, and definitely not the FAA, had been alerted to seriousness of the problem.

And that is why we can’t trust corporations either.

4. I was going to put this in last night’s post about the Left going nuts, but it didn’t quite fit. Erwin Chemerinsky, is dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law and a long-standing, vocal partisan hack, how unethically uses his position and past erudition to make legal arguments that are the product of a lifetime pf progressive dedication. Any time he is used in an appeal to authority, it is obvious what is going on. But the legal profession has been thoroughly corrupted by bias, as has academia, so naturally, Chemerinsky is President-elect of the Association of American Law Schools. You would think that such an organization would want an objective, less openly partisan head, but that would require an objective, non-partisan membership to vote against him.

Chemerinsky, in the past, has been careful to couch his partisan bias and ideological agenda in plausibly reasonable terms, but like the organizations I highlighted in the previous post, he has apparently decided to let his inner unethical social justice run amuck, and consequences be damned. Well, good: I’ve know what the dean was for years, and now it should be obvious to all. He authored an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times—the paper that recently called African-American Larry Elder a white supremacist—entitled “Are Supreme Court Justices ‘Partisan Hacks’? All the Evidence Says Yes.” It is hard to adequately describe how dishonest and hypocritical the piece is. It could only be aimed at readers who know nothing about the Supreme Court and its most recent term, who might think, “Gee, this guy is a law prof and dean of a famous law school, he must be right.” In fact, he was lying,he was projecting, he was intentionally trying to undermine public trust in a vital government institution, he was weakening the rule of law, and he was disgracing both of his professions, the law and scholarship.

I said it was hard to adequately describe how dishonest and hypocritical the piece is, but Johnathan Turley has done an excellent job of trying, so I don’t have to. Read his complete and devastating rebuttal, which concludes,

What is most disappointing is to see a dean or any law professor engage in such personal and unsupported attacks on the Court. While the number of conservatives among the students at Berkeley may be small (and the number of conservatives on the faculty is even smaller), Chemerinsky is dismissing conservative jurisprudence as mere political hackery. He is also the President-elect of the Association of American Law Schools. This analysis tends to fulfill a narrative rather than inform the readers. With all due respect to Chemerinsky and his extraordinary career, such columns fuel the age of rage where reason is increasingly a stranger to legal analysis.”

Turley’s reserve drives me crazy in situations like this. A lawyer and scholar of Chemerinsky’s stature that issues garbage like this—and he has to know it is garbage—no longer deserves respect. Chemerinsky is the political hack, and he made that obvious to anyone willing to pay attention.

4 thoughts on “Friday Ethics Potpourri, 9/24/2021: On PBS, Boeing, A Political Hack Law Dean, And Caring

  1. 1. On 7/4/1949, the Red Sox were in 5th place and 12 games out. They were done. Or were they? Slowly the Red Sox climbed back and chased the Yankees. Two games in late September at Fenway resulted in Red Sox wins. They were now tied with the Yankees and traveled to New York for a makeup game. Boston scored four runs in the top of the eighth, held on for a 7-6 win, and was now in first place. Three games with the Nats included a loss and set up the final two games and history. What is forgotten is the remarkable comeback (they did a reverse in 1978) and beating the Yanks three straight. If only……

    • Oh, the Sox also were “done” in 1978, when they had blown a 14.5 game lead over NY in July and after two series losses to NY in September were three games behind the Yankees with only 8 to play. (I KNOW you know this story!) But the Sox won 8 straight, and after Looie Tiant shut out the Blue Jays on Sunday and the Yankkes lost, the state was set of a rare one-game play-off in Fenway the next day.

      But all anyone remembers is Bucky $%^%$#!#% Dent….

  2. 4. Lawrence Tribe, Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, Robert Reich, Chermerinsky, just to name a few. What is wrong with these guys? They seem to think we’re in Czarist Russia or NAZI Germany.

    I can see Chermerinsky on a faculty at a law school (unfortunately, like Reich). But dean? The guy in charge of raising, you know, U.S. Dollars for the law school to continue existing beyond the money it gets from the California legislature? Is his middle name Rasputin? Has he hypnotized or seduced the trustees of the university or the law school? How have these red diaper babies risen to the heights of academia and politics?

  3. … leaded gasoline transformed transportation and benefited the public.

    Actually, it didn’t, as originally it was utterly impractical whenever people tried it (quite a few did, quite independently). It turned out that the lead deposits from breaking down the tetraethyl lead rapidly fouled the valves and ignition, even though it solved the knocking problem. The real breakthrough for cost effective anti-knock solutions came later, when it was found that also using a further additive such as methyl or ethyl bromide would clear the fouling. (Actually, there are yet other anti-knock solutions that don’t use lead in the first place, like oxygenates, but they cost more and make the fuel work worse.)

    The world is full of bright ideas from bright but inexperienced young men that don’t work after all because of things the bright young men then found out the hard way, like beehives with slide out frames that work like drawers. Sometimes, other things make the bright ideas work after they have a track record of being independently discovered and then not working, like ball point pens. So the main credit in such cases should go to who did the hard work of making the bright ideas work and what that produced.

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