On October 15, 1946, Hermann Göring cheated the hangman, as they say, killing himself in his cell by swallowing a cyanide tablet he had hidden from his guards. Göring was Hitler’s designated successor, as well as commander in chief of the Luftwaffe, and president of the Reichstag. As the man directly responsible for purging of German Jews from the economy following the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938 and initiating the “Aryanization” policy that confiscated Jewish property and businesses, he certainly was as deserving as any of the death sentence he received after being tried at Nuremberg for “crimes against humanity.” (He was also a very strange man, as this astounding tale about his relationship with his brother, who rescued Jews from the death camps, makes clear.)
I understand the ritual significance of the state killing a condemned prisoner, but I have never regarded “cheating the hangman” to be anything to lose much sleep about. Such people were determined to be unworthy of life in a civilized society, and they decided to carry out the sentence themselves. Thanks! The ethics of life-without-parole prisoners and the outrageously guilty (like Jeffrey Epstein) similarly shuffling off their mortal coils without permission is a tougher one, and some day I might ponder it sufficiently to write a coherent post. All I can say now is that when I hear of such an incident, or even when some particularly horrible murderer is killed by a fellow prisoner (as in the cases of Dickie Loeb and Jeffrey Dahmer), I’m not outraged, offended, or troubled by his fate.
1 A quickie ethics quiz was posed today on the Friday Open Forum, and I can’t resist commenting here. Esteemed commenter Willem Reese sparked a lively set of responses when he asked, “It’s clever, but is it ethical to do this with your dog?” regarding this photo:
My verdict? No, it’s not unethical, assuming the dog wasn’t in pain and wasn’t made uncomfortable. Dogs are not concerned with dignity in human terms, so “embarrassing” it is not a legitimate complaint. Nor is it signature significance for an unethical dog owner, because dog owners do these kind of things who love their animal companions beyond all imagining. However, I view doing such a makeover to a dog as a possible indication, rebuttable of course, that the human responsible does not have sufficient regard for living things. Dogs are not props, and an owner who makes a dog look like that is treating it as a prop. I feel the same way about parents who dress up babies, because this…
…too easily metastasizes into this...
and worse, THIS:
But I digress. My answer to Willem’s question would be one that I often put in my legal ethics seminar multiple choice answers: “It may not be unethical, but I wouldn’t do it.”
2. Baseball ethics. An umpire’s terrible call did terrible damage in the final second of the decisive Dodgers-Giants play-off-game last night. The San Francisco Giants, the team with the best record in all of baseball in the 2020 season, faced elimination from the play-offs by the team they beat, the L.A. Dodgers, over 162 games in a five game face-off. The score was 2-1, with the Dodgers having taken the lead in the top of the ninth. The Giants had the tying run on first, and though there were two outs, there was hope: a home run by batter Wilmer Flores, who had only one strike to spare, would give the hometown Giants a dramatic victory over their hated rivals.
Far fetched, you say? Not really: the last time the Giants were in that position against the Dodgers, this happened:
But what happened last night was that Flores checked his swing, and the first base umpire said his bat had crossed the plate.Flores was called out on strikes. The replay quickly showed that Flores’s at bat should have continued. The call was wrong. “This is bad,” opined Fox color man Ron Darling.
You bet it was bad. This was a historic game between the best two teams in baseball who had the exact same record including the post-season: each had won 109 games. Not only that, the two teams involved constituted the longest rivalry in sports, dating back 130 years when the Giants played in New York and the Dodgers played in Brooklyn. It was unjust enough that either team would be eliminated at such an early stage of the post season, but at least the elimination of the Giants should have been clean.
Two years ago, baseball analyst Bill James suggested that the calling of checked swings as strikes needed to be liberalized, with only the most egregious swings across the plate being called strikes rather than letting the umpires guess at close calls. That rule would have stopped last night’s botched ending. Just give the batter the benefit of the doubt, if there is any doubt.
3. Ethics Dunce: Mike Huckabee. According to reports, former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee and a 2016 candidate for the GOP Presidential nomination has a net worth of $18 million. So why is he shilling for a mail-order sleep aid on cheap TV ads? Ever since Tip O’Neil stepped out of his suitcase in a Samsonite ad, former elected officials and politicians have continued to further erode public trust by acting like snake-oil salesmen. Bob Dole pimped for Pepsi and an erectile dysfunction pill, for heaven’s sake. Yuck.
Fortunately, most former leaders get it: this is not appropriate, damages the public trust, and reduces public servants to a low status indistinguishable from other celebrities. Do you believe a celebrity who is hawking a product? I don’t. And when the likes of Mike Huckabee tells me that before Pill X, he never could sleep through the night and now he “falls asleep the moment [his] head hits the pillow,” I assume he’s like every other pitch-man reading a script.
Yes, yes, I know: Americans already think of politicians that way. Well, that’s a huge problem, and it is the job of responsible politicians to try to fix the problem, not to make it worse.
4. Tony Baretta has this one...Op-ed writer Jesse Wegman spun the sad tail in a recent Times essay about the convicted felons in Florida who can’t vote because Florida law requires them to serve their sentences and pay their fines before they can gain back the right to participate in elections. Apparently 700,000 people in Florida are barred from voting because they can’t afford the financial obligations stemming from a prior felony conviction. Wegman thinks that’s “too many.” Sure it’s too many: too many felons who have yet to pay their debt to society. “It’s like I’m not a citizen,” ex-felon Judy Bolden says. “That’s what they’re saying.” She owes over $53,000 dollars from a conviction 20 years ago, No, Judy, they are saying you’re a bad citizen, because few good citizens commit felonies, and if they do, they show their sincerity in wanting to become good citizens again by paying all fines and penalties as well as serving their time.
I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about allowing ex-felons to vote. Laws excluding them have gradually been eliminated in most states. Not to be cynical about it, but this has happened as Democratic legislators figured out that a disproportionate number of the felons are black, and thus are potential votes in their party’s column. You know the drill: that “disparate impact” allows Democrats to argue that the Republicans want felons banned from voting as a racist tactic to keep blacks from the polls—just like Jim Crow! I don’t trust the judgment of any ex-felon absent knowing more about them; on the other hand, I don’t trust the judgment of a lot of law abiding citizens either.
But Wegman’s efforts to make me feel sympathy over the great injustice Florida is inflicting on all these ex-cons desperate to vote are transparently political. Interestingly, all we are told is how long ago his examples were convicted and how long they served time in prison. We’re never told what they did: might make them less sympathetic, I guess.
Wegman makes valid points about how many of the former felons were not properly informed by the state of how much they owed, and according to some of those he interviewed, there isn’t a user-friendly method to pay. Florida also sells old unpaid fine debts to debt-collectors,who may charge high interest on unpaid debts, and the state suspends the driver’s licenses of people who miss a payment, making it difficult for them to work. These are all valid areas for reform. Nevertheless, all of these problem flow from an adult’s decision to defy society and break the law.
Tony Baretta, the quirky private eye played by Robert Blake in the TV series “Baretta,” liked to say (in addition to his catch-phrase, “And that’s the name of THAT tune!”), “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” He might have added “or you can’t pay the fine.”