Saturday Ethics Romps, 10/2/21: Slap-downs, Stolen Art, Strokes, Silliness, Stupid Pet Owner Tricks, And More! [Corrected]

What do you think, hoax or not? Conservative blogs are all treating the video above as classic woke-boob self-own, but I am dubious. How did the video get posted, unless the fanatic vegetarian has a self-deprecating sense of humor, and what are the odds of that? If the video is real, it once again raises the ethics issue of dietary fanatics imposing their obsessions on helpless pets, or worse, infants.

1. The stroke of ethics! On this day in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke, launching an epic government ethics breach by his wife Edith and his doctor. They kept the public and government officials in the dark about the President’s true condition: Edith signed official documents, and the doctor was brought into some deliberations. Wilson slowly recovered to some extent, though how capable he was of discharging the duties of his office for the rest of his term, until March of 1921, is a matter of considerable debate and speculation. Despite this debacle, with the nation being led by an invalid figurehead with his inexperienced wife making key decisions, it took the assassination of Jack Kennedy, not long after the previous President, Eisenhower, suffered serious cardiac events during his Presidency decades later to trigger the passage of the 25th Amendment, which lays out the procedure for relieving a disabled POTUS. [Notice of Correction: the original version of this post had the dates wrong. Thanks to valkygrrl for the note!] The 25th, in turn, then spurred an ethics foul of its own, as “the resistance,” Democrats and their allies in the media tried to warp the clear intent of the amendment to justify removing Donald Trump from office, on the grounds that he was “unfit.”

2. When does pundit hysteria cross the line into irresponsible and incompetent journalism? Whatever the line is, Rolling Stone writer Jeff Goodell charged over it with this unhinged screed. When I read something like this, I always wonder how many readers are persuaded by it, and how many are astute enough to conclude, “This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” Here is how the article begins: “West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin just cooked the planet. I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense. I mean that literally. Unless Manchin changes his negotiating position dramatically in the near future, he will be remembered as the man who, when the moment of decision came, chose to condemn virtually every living creature on Earth to a hellish future of suffering, hardship, and death.” Even by the low, low standards of climate change apocolyptia, this is inexcusable. No U.S. bill can have substantial impact on the world’s climate by itself, and all but a few of the most extreme and politicized climatologists don’t claim that even the worst case scenarios would “condemn virtually every living creature on Earth to a hellish future of suffering, hardship, and death.” How can anyone trust a writer who spews out stuff like this? How can readers of Rolling Stone take a publication seriously that green-lights it? Is Twitter pulling down the tweets that link to the article? No, of course not. It’s not “misinformation,” because it’s a good lie, aimed at the Greater Good, I guess.

3. Museum ethics, and a secret. The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it will return a 10th century sculpture to Nepal. The sculpture, which was once kept in a temple nearby Nepal’s Durbar Square,was stolen 50 years ago and ended up in the Met collection. Researchers discovered problems with the icon’s record of ownership, and determined that it could not ethically keep the piece. It is a slow and stuttering process, but gradually Western museums are acknowledging the looting and theft that brought them some of their most treasured artifacts, and doing the right thing.

Now I must reveal a family shame: my Greek mother, during one trip to Greece, actually took a piece of the Parthenon and got it through customs. It sat on her windowsill (the marble was about the size of a six-inch block of cheese). “It was just lying there. Nobody would miss it!” she said by way of justification. (My mother’s ethics were unsteady at best.) My sister and I were horrified, and we asked her not to have the stone out in view when we were visiting. When my folks moved from Arlington, Mass. to Arlington, VA, the item vanished, or at least its whereabouts were never revealed.

4. “None are so blind as those who will not see.” Headline on page 11 of today’s Times: “Biden slides in the polls, but it’s unclear why.” Huh. I wonder what it could be? Everything is going so well!

5. There but for the grace of God and a reluctance to study very hard go I… UCLA accounting professor Gordon Klein was investigated, suspended and publicly rebuked after he refused to exempt black students from his final exam by sending a tart response to an email requesting special leniency for black students in the wake of the George Floyd episode

Following Floyd’s demise, Klein received a student email, reading,

The unjust murders of Amhaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, the life-threatening actions of Amy Cooper, and the violent conduct of the UCPD in our own neighborhood have led to fear and anxiety which is further compounded by the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on the Black community. As we approach finals week, we recognize that these conditions will place Black students at an unfair academic disadvantage due to traumatic circumstances out of their control. We implore you to mandate that our final exam is structured as no harm, where they will only benefit students’ grades if taken. In addition, we urgently request shortened exams and extended deadlines for final assignments and projects. This is not a joint effort to get finals canceled for non-Black students, but rather an ask that you exercise compassion and leniency with Black students in our major.”

The also asked Klein to give high grades to black students, because they are black. The professor replied,

Thanks for your suggestion in your email below that I give black students special treatment, given the tragedy in Minnesota. Do you know the names of the classmates that are black? How can I identify them since we’ve been having online classes only? Are there any students of mixed parentage, such as half black-half Asian? What do you suggest I do with respect to them? A full concession or just half? Also, do you have any idea if any students are from Minneapolis? I assume that they probably are especially devastated as well. I am thinking that a white student from there might possibly be even more devastated by this, especially because some might think that they’re racist even if they are not. My TA is from Minneapolis, so if you don’t know, I can probably ask her. Can you guide me on how I should achieve a “no-harm” outcome since our sole course grade is from a final exam only? One last thing strikes me: Remember that MLK famously said that people should not be evaluated based on the “color of their skin.” Do you think that your request would run afoul of MLK’s admonition?”

I could easily see myself sending a response like that. I also might just respond, “Nice try. No. Of course not.” I may have been tempted to mention that the characterization of the Amy Cooper episode and the circumstance of Breonna Taylor’s death were dubious at best, and that the cause and effect claims being made were specious. All in all, I’m glad I wasn’t the professor in this exchange.

The recipient of Klein’s slapdown circulated the reply to the campus, as was preordained, and thousands signed a petition demanding that Klein be fired for his “extremely insensitive, dismissive, and woefully racist response” and “blatant lack of empathy and unwillingness to accommodate his students.”

After UCLA launched the obligatory investigation, it issued a statement that “We apologize to the student who received it and to all those who have been as upset and offended by it as we are ourselves.”  Then it extended all exams, because the accidental death of a petty hood due to a single brutal cop is such an obvious justification for postponing tests at UCLA. 

Klein is now suing, while UCLA insists that the investigation and suspension were not due to his refusal to give preferential grading to black students, but because of the “tone” of Klein’s email. The tone may have been harsh, but it was also warranted. The request made no sense, and demanded deconstruction. That kind of tough language may not be every teacher’s style, or even the approved style in the Era of Weenies, but academic freedom should guarantee professors wide discretion to teach as they choose.

12 thoughts on “Saturday Ethics Romps, 10/2/21: Slap-downs, Stolen Art, Strokes, Silliness, Stupid Pet Owner Tricks, And More! [Corrected]

  1. 5.) I often find in life that no action is the best action — I wonder if Klein could have got away with ignoring the request.

    3.) Perhaps not applicable to the examples given, but what ever happened to “to the victor goes the spoils”? If an outside force invades, defeats the defenders, and then takes precious artefacts back home with them, is that some sort of grievous sin that must be atoned for?

    • I would say the concept of “to the victor goes the spoils” should be left in medieval and ancient times. The only just reason to go to war, under modern ethical standards, should be the defense of one’s country, or one’s allies. Taking spoils, even during a war launched under ethical reasons, perpetuates additional, unnecessary suffering to the civilian population of the opposing country, and creates extra incentive to perpetuate a conflict for self-serving reasons.

      As for museums returning looted items, I believe that when a people is wronged, they have one generation to seek “reparations”. After that generation has passed, everyone will have adjusted to the new normal, and subsequent generations cannot seek reparations without causing further complications and resentment.

      • As for museums returning looted items, I believe that when a people is wronged, they have one generation to seek “reparations”. After that generation has passed, everyone will have adjusted to the new normal, and subsequent generations cannot seek reparations without causing further complications and resentment.

        So freebooters need only hide the booty for a sufficient time or place enough obstacles to run out the clock and keep the spoils?

        • Basically they’d have to run out their OWN clock, and that of their children. In the meantime they wouldn’t be able to enjoy said spoils. If someone stole something valuable enough from me, I might move heaven and earth to get it back, but I would not expect my children or my children’s children to do likewise.

          On the other hand, If someone came to me saying, “Your grandfather took “x” from my grandparents, and I expect it back or monetary compensation”, first I’d want them to prove it. After being furnished with such proof, I would restore it.

  2. 5. The most racist thing you can possibly do is to assume someone is less than capable due to skin color. Why anyone thinks they can’t make the marks because they’re black without a “pass” of some sort is beyond me. On the other hand, the Boston school you highlighted a few weeks ago, a graduate from that school would struggle, no doubt, regardless of race.

  3. Currently, Hobby Lobby is suing a former lecturer at the University of Oxford for selling them $7 million worth of biblical parchments he supposedly stole from the Egypt Exploration Society. Dr Obbink (who won a MacArthur Genius Award), sold them the items. It is claimed that he used his position to loot the assets of the University for his personal gain and Oxford wants the items back. If I were Hobby Lobby, I don’t think I would return the items (as they are reportedly doing). Oxford dismissed Obbink, but have not charged him with embezzlement, theft, or anything of the kind. Now, do I think he stole them? Yes, I think he probably did. However, why was he just dismissed and not criminally charged? I suspect it is because people of that class don’t get charged when they steal $7 million. Criminal charges are for ‘little people’. I also suspect he wasn’t charged because an investigation would probably discover that it is standard practice for such people to take ‘minor’ artifacts and sell them for personal gain.

    I would demand a full investigation and criminal charges be filed before I returned the items. If Oxford isn’t willing to go on record and state that Obbink stole them, then I shouldn’t have to return them as ‘stolen’ items.

  4. 2) It is a revealing look into the mindset of progressives these days — when they have someone in their own party who deviates from the prescribed party line, how do they go about persuading him or her to return to the fold?

    Well, it appears that the preferred method is to trash that person, make ad hominem attacks ad nauseum, suggest that they might as well belong to the other party, and the like.

    What could go wrong with that?


    As a specific observation on this: Yes, primary Joe Manchin. Nominate someone who can be assured of getting at least 30% of the total vote in the general election. Please, flip the West Virginia Senate seat to the Republicans or flip Manchin to the Republicans. That’ll show him!



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