Scary Ethics Tales, 10/29/21: The Horror!

Marlon’s been getting a workout here lately, and that’s even with me trying hard to avoid him by periodically using Geena Davis’s iconic movement from “The Fly” as a stand-in. In more positive Halloween news, this morning’s musical Halloween ethics seminar for New Jersey Lawyers went beautifully. Mike Messer decided to replace his Boris Karloff riff for “The Monster Mash” with a New Jersey mobster impression for the parody I shared yesterday on the famous New York ethics case from the Seventies, “The Dead Bodies Case” (Also known as “The Buried Bodies Case.”). It was so funny that we’re going to try to get a YouTube video of it for law schools to use when they cover the case, as most do.

If you are not familiar with that case, which has been referenced on “Law and Order,” “The Practice” and other legal TV shows of yore, go here.

1. Now THAT’s an unethical wife! In Connecticut, Donna Marino, 63, is charged with forging her husband’s signature on legal documents, pension checks, monetary settlements, and social security checks after she convinced him that he had Alzheimer’s Disease. He didn’t, although he obviously is none too bright. Investigators concluded that she forged her husband’s signature on his checks and legal documents, then deposited the funds—$600,000 worth—in a secret bank account. This went on for 20 years before John figured out that something was amiss. Donna kept him believing that he had the dreaded dementia illness by telling him that he didn’t remember wandering aimlessly around the neighborhood and not knowing her earlier in the day.

Sounds a little like the plot of “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” one of my favorite Halloween movies.

2. Speaking of horror—Terry McAuliffe’s campaign. One piece of signature significance for a politician is how he or she reacts when facing defeat. McAuliffe, the Clinton fundraiser and acolyte who may be even more ethically challenged than they are (if that’s possible), is losing the battle with Republican Glenn Younkin (who is no prize himself) thanks to the Democrat stating outright that parents should stay out of the policy decisions regarding what their children are taught in public schools. As the old knight memorably said,

Now McAuliffe’s poll numbers are imitating John Malkovich at the end of “In the Line of Fire,” so he’s trying more and more blatantly dishonest tactics:

  • As I wrote earlier, he has hired one of the Clinton lawyers who facilitated the Russian collusion hoax, and when this was discovered, McAuliffe’s staff sent out emails in all directions asking presumably friendly media outlets to “kill this.” And I mean all directions: Jonathan Turley reports getting one. (I’m insulted.)
  • They even sent one to Fox News, which is remarkable given that the eeevil news network recently discovered and revealed that McAuliffe has spent nearly $100,000 advertising “fake news” websites on Facebook. The  advertisements have been viewed about to 3.5 million times, and are hidden on a Facebook page with a similar name to a local news website. The ads link to third-party websites that that promote Democratic candidates with partisan spin and propaganda. Fox is the only organization revealing this.
  • I was just informed by a reader that she recieved a false flag promotion now being sent to Virginia voters. “Today we received a ‘pro Youngkin’ flyer that appears to come from the GOP because it features Trump,” the reader writes, ” ….but just above the address box is a dark black line – look very closely at the faded lettering (I had to use a magnifying glass) and you’ll see it is funded by the Democrat party with the approval of McAullife.” Nice one! I may have received one of these, but all campaign literature goes directly from my home’s floor to the trash. A genuine Youngkin mailer warns of McAuliffe attempting to place Virginia under “dictatorship.”

3. Movie misinformation. A man is dead after gunning his car over the western rim of the Grand Canyon in an apparent suicide. See, in real life, the car doesn’t freeze in mid-air like it did for Thelma and Louise. There have been lawsuits over “misinformation” like that: in one 1993 case, Overton v. Anheuser-Busch Co., Michigan Court of Appeals, Richard Overton sued Anheuser-Busch for false advertising because after he drank a 6-pack of Bud Light, he did not see visions of beautiful women on a beach as he alleged the advertisement promised.  Richard sought damages, arguing that Bud Light’s deceptive marketing caused him emotional distress. He did not prevail, but at least he was still alive enough to sue.

4. I was looking for an example of a progressive professor fired for expressing an anti-conservative opinion, and I found one! History professor Lora Burnett is suing Collin College over her termination after she sent a mean tweet about Vice President Mike Pence while watching the Vice-Presidential candidates debate in 2020. She tweeted that the moderator in his debate with Kamala Harris should talk over him until he shut his “little demon mouth.” She also retweeted a post that referred to Pence as a “scumbag lying sonofabitch.” In a 30-page filing, Burnett alleges that Collin College, its president H. Neil Matkin and other college officials  refused to re-hire her after they received  pressure from donors to fire her for her opinion. (Now, if the school fired her on the grounds that anyone who thinks Kamala Harris is qualified to be Vice-President is too dumb to teach a Labrador tricks, much less students history, the school might have a defense.)

5. Another Grand Canyon-related story, this time concerning competence. We are so good at managing the environment—aren’t you thrilled that the latest version of the 1/2/2.5 trillion dollar Biden bill is especially full of  costly “anti-climate change” measures? What could go wrong?

Scientists convinced themselves and others that a foreign species of plant called a tamarisk, first noticed before WWII around the Grand Canyon, was threatening waterways. Conventional wisdom came to declare the plants a menace, casting them as “machine-like monsters pumping away scarce Western water.” First there was a 20-year government campaign of cutting, bulldozing and spraying tamarisks, all in a attempt to make them “a convenient scapegoat for the complex problems encountered by government water managers,” as one expert now says. The myth spread that each plant consumes an impossible 200 gallons of water per day: wrong. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a tamarisk uses less water than the average cottonwood or willow. Never mind: In 2001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) won approval to introduce the  tamarisk leaf beetle (genus Diorhabda), like the shrub itself a foreign species, into the U.S. as a “biocontrol agent.”

About as long as a ladybug, but with a thinner body that’s green or straw-colored, the beetle kills the tamarisk, the leaves of which  are the only thing the beetle eats. It and its larvae extract the nutrients from the plant, rendering the leaves dry and brown.  Over the next several years, the agency spread the beast in Texas and six Western states, including all five of Arizona’s neighbors. 

Guess what happened? Oh, come on, it’s easy. That’s right: now the bugs are out of control, and causing more environmental problems than the plant they were imported to fight.

16 thoughts on “Scary Ethics Tales, 10/29/21: The Horror!

  1. Re 5: Isn’t the story about Australia and rabbits widespread enough? Or the story about the old lady who swallowed a fly at least?

    • The real parallel here in Australia of making one introduction to fight another, only to have the second go wrong even worse, is the cane toad. Rabbits weren’t introduced to fight an earlier introduction.

      The rabbits here in Australia are a little understood case. They were actually released a few times around Sydney without trouble. However, when they were released near Melbourne they prospered as is, and then went on to acclimate and adapt incrementally until they could flourish nearly everywhere. I have heard that something similar happened with the (invasive) blackberry.

    • My favorite variation was in the Canadian High Fiction of Steven Erickson;

      “Udinaas remembered eating smoked eel from Moss River, one time when the trader ship had docked in Dresh. Delicious, once one got used to the furry skin, which was to be chewed but not swallowed. He had since heard, from another slave, that the eels had been transplanted into Dresh Lake, producing a strain that was both bigger and nastier. It had turned out that those eels captured in Moss River were juveniles, and few ever reached adulthood since there was a razor-jawed species of predatory fish resident in the river. No such fish in Dresh Lake. Adolescent swimmers from Dresh started disappearing before anyone realized the adult eels were responsible. Razor-jawed fish were netted from the river and tossed into the lake, but their behaviour changed, turning them into frenzy feeders. Adult swimmers from Dresh started vanishing. The slave who had been relating all this then laughed and finished with, ‘So they poisoned the whole lake, killed everything. And now no-one can swim in it!'”

  2. #4. Actually, there are two cases involving Collin College, and others apparently simmering. With luck, I’ll have my piece on them both (and three other cases of university bone-headedness, one of which–the most egregious of the lot–you’ve written about, Jack).

  3. 3. My father has a book chronicling deaths recorded in the National Parks, perhaps more people need to read the tale of the despondent man who sent himself careening off the rim only to discover while airborne that he really did want to live.

    Luckily for him, he managed to simply seriously injure himself and none of the emergency responders who extracted his broken body were harmed by his recklessness. He’s paying hefty fines.

    Looking for a online account of his story, I read one other who must have had a very painful climb back up to obtain help. Then there’s also a guy who very similarly changed his mind just as his hands left the rail of the Golden Gate bridge managed to survive the fall and even had a sea lion assist him to shore.

    Not many extreme suicides offer a second chance. Reach out to a hotline if you need help.

    • I mean… we just don’t know what could happen by planting rice… that doesn’t move in fields supervised by people.

      You scoff, but these are matters where common sense is a poor guide (which is why so many “what could possibly go wrong?” releases have gone wrong). For instance, rice is adapted from a genuinely wild marsh grass*, which did spread within its own habitats without deliberate assistance. There are at least three possible mechanisms for that spread: vegetatively (think kudzu); by airborne seeds (even if that doesn’t usually happen, there are sometimes very strong winds); and, spread by animals accidentally giving seeds or shoots a lift (and water fowl do like to visit or stay in rice paddies).

      So, just by way of example, we know (for certain values of “we”) that Magpie Geese are too much of a pest to allow rice to be grown successfully in Australia’s Northern Territory using current strains and methods. But we also know (for certain values of “we”) that Hypervitaminosis A can occur in humans and other species; can we be sure that Magpie Geese wouldn’t perish or at least be fended off if they found a, so to speak, feral patch of such Vitamin A rice? For they would then be bringing the mountain to Mohammed, even if the rice just sat there. And could we be sure that such rice wouldn’t then be able to flourish despite the pests, and then spread? And do we want to risk the geese for the sake of the rice, rice that wouldn’t even help farmers as it wouldn’t be where they were?

      * Rice has a sneaky trick to survive waterlogged roots, which kill most plants by cutting off the oxygen the roots need as they aren’t doing photosynthesis in the dark of the soil. Rice turns its stems and roots into snorkels by making them hollow, which saves them as long as they stick at least a bit out of the water for long enough.

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