Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/8/21: Welcome To Christmas Tree Hell

[Nat King Cole’s rendition of this song always makes me smile: his German is so dreadful. But what a voice! It’s like hot cocoa with a marshmallow melting in it.]

Well, the 8-foot Concolor fir tree goes up today, meaning about four hours of prickles and dead light strands lie ahead. Can’t wait!

I have a Christmas ethics dilemma on which advice would be appreciated. As I think I mentioned, Spuds, who is a canine battering ram, was romping at night in the field behind our house with a group of dog pals when one of the owners, a next door neighbor of thirty years, zigged when she should have zagged and Spuds ran right into her. Her leg was broken in two places, and now her 71-year-old husband is facing caring for her for at least several months, also taking care of their two large Belgian Shepherds, as well as a disabled family member who lives a few houses down the street. Lots of the dog-owners have dropped off holiday food for the couple, and we want to send a nice Harry and David package. How do we frame the gift in a way that sends the implied message we want to convey (“We’re thinking of you, and hope you can enjoy the Christmas in spite of everything”) and not “Please don’t sue us!” ? (I am not at all concerned on that score, for reasons social and legal.) Should Spuds sign the card, along with us?

I’ll be damned before I ask “The Ethicist,” or worse still, “Social Qs”…

1. Look! A competent list for a change! The Independent issued a list of “The Magnificent 20: the Top 2O Westerns of All Time.” I’ve lectured and written about this most ethics-minded and American of film genres, and I was pleasantly surprised that almost all of the Westerns I regard as essential made the list. Graeme Ross, the author, knows his stuff. That doesn’t mean I agree with all of it. I am not a Sergio Leone fan, and consider all of the spaghetti westerns as anti-Westerns at heart, so those are two slots I’d fill differently. As usual “The Searchers” is too high (it’s #1), and “Unforgiven” made the list, a film that I thought was over-rated from the second it came out (Sorry Clint.)

Still, only one of the Westerns included is affirmatively dreadful (Brando’s misbegotten “One-Eyed Jacks”) and an unforgivable choice. On my list (which is longer), “Lonesome Dove” is #1 (“Shane” is #2) but it’s not technically a movie, I guess. I also would include “Silverado” in the top 20. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” is an essential inclusion on such a list; I don’t know how it was missed. Still, a responsible, respectful and fair effort—and John Wayne has more movies on the list than anyone else, even without “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Good.

2. “Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias!” This morning’s Times article about Saule Omarova, President Biden’s pick for a key banking regulator job, withdrawing from consideration yesterday described her in its headline as being “smeared” by Republicans as a Communist because of her birthplace in the old USSR. Smeared? Only a completely tone-deaf President being manipulated by statists would nominate someone to craft monetary policies with Omarova’s record. She grew to adulthood in the USSR, so questions about her ideological orientation are far from unreasonable, especially considering her thesis on Karl Marx written while she was attending Moscow State University in the 1980s, and her past suggestion that it would be a good thing for energy industries to go bankrupt in order to combat climate change. It is not as if the current Democratic Party’s elected officials don’t contain several prominent members at least sympathetic to Communism (The Squad comes to mind, and of course Bernie Sanders). Omarova, meanwhile, is prone to statements like, “Until I came to the US, I couldn’t imagine that things like gender pay gap still existed in today’s world.Say what you will about old USSR, there was no gender pay gap there. Market doesn’t always know best.” She also advocates the Federal government essentially taking over the banking industry.

Why would Biden nominate someone with such a background, record and views? She’s a crypto-Communist of color, and female, that’s all. The other stuff doesn’t matter.

3. If you think that coverage was propaganda, how about this report from CNN? And not just CNN, but shameless Democratic Party huckster Brian Stelter, who reports in his otherwise GOP bashing media newsletter,

The White House, not happy with the news media’s coverage of the supply chain and economy, has been working behind the scenes trying to reshape coverage in its favor. Senior White House and admin officials — including NEC Deputy Directors David Kamin and Bharat Ramamurti, along with Ports Envoy John Porcari — have been briefing major newsrooms over the past week, a source tells me.The officials have been discussing with newsrooms trends pertaining to job creation, economic growth, supply chains, and more. The basic argument that has been made: That the country’s economy is in much better shape than it was last year. I’m told the conversations have been productive, with anchors and reporters and producers getting to talk with the officials.

Cue Frank Drebbin!

Stelter also approvingly notes that “Dana Milbank was on CNN Monday to talk about his column. He told Brianna Keilar that the news media needs to “do soul searching and see what we are delivering to people…”  Milbank was echoing his Washington Post column that argued that the news media has an obligation to avoid criticizing Joe and the gang because the success of Democratic policies will determine whether democracy survives.

I guess it is a positive development that the mainstream media is being increasingly transparent about how it sees its function: to manipulate the public rather than to objectively inform it. Good to know, don’t you think?

4. Make of this what you will: A recent poll of college students asked if they would refuse to associate with someone of a different political orientation. The results were dramatic.

young Democrats poll

I make this of it, keeping firmly in mind that all polls are dubious by nature: the ability to respect and associate with citizens of different opinions and political views is essential to a healthy American society. The Left increasingly rejects that principle, which is a bulwark against totalitarianism.

5. I am seeing a lot of stories like this one about supposedly charitable agencies and non-profits. The Archdiocese of New Orleans last month agreed to pay more than $1 million to the federal government to resolve allegations that it filed false claims for disaster relief money after Hurricane Katrina. The Catholics got off cheap: a whistle-blower lawsuit claims that the archdiocese received at least $46 million in fraudulent aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Two points:

26 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/8/21: Welcome To Christmas Tree Hell

    • Top 20? Nah. But if there has to be an OK Corral film on the list, I’d sure rather have “Tombstone” rather than “My Darling Clementine.” I like “Tombstone,” but Kurt Russell just isn’t an A-list star with the presence to play Wyatt. (Unlike Fonda, Lancaster or even Costner). Val Kilmer blows him right off the screen.

      • Top 20? Maybe Top 40. I don’t think Kurt Russell’s lower presence is necessarily a bad thing for the whole film. Wyatt spends most of the first 2/3 of the film alongside his brothers, and most of the last 1/3 alongside the revenge ride posse, so that’s more ensemble material (Sam Elliott also has a pretty strong presence when he’s onscreen). Admittedly, when it’s just Wyatt and Doc, he plays more the straight man to Doc as the man with the best lines, and I was never all that impressed with the scenes that were just Wyatt and Josephine Marcus, but the action scenes deliver. BTW, I think the decision to cut a “Gethsemane” scene in the original script before the showdown between Doc and Johnny Ringo, where Wyatt kneels for a moment in a grove of trees and prays to God just to let him live long enough to take Ringo down, then rises and advances toward the appointed meeting with a clinking of spurs, which continues until Ringo faces a shadowy figure which turns out to be Doc, was a mistake.

  1. As to your preamble: a nice fruit box is a decent idea. An even better one would be something less perishable – for example, really good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Either way, though, I would leave Spuds’s name off the card – but I would include something along the lines of “Until [name] is up and about, we’ll be happy to walk your dogs for you, if that would help.”

  2. Re the poll. It took me a minute to understand that the activities listed on the graph you posted were what the student in question wouldn’t do. OK… so…
    I think the dating question depends a lot on what we mean by “dating.” If we’re talking, “hey, you want to go out to dinner and a movie,” then these results are troubling, as the being friends number for Democrats certainly is. But if dating is a testing ground for what might turn into a long-term relationship, then significant political differences could indeed be problematic; not every couple is James Carville and Mary Matalin.
    As for the “shop at” and “work for” responses, well, good luck with that, kids. Larger businesses in particular have local managers, district managers, regional managers, corporate brass, and majority stockholders. The chances of all of those people sharing a political ideology are pretty slim. It’s far more likely you’ll take a job with whoever will hire you, and despite the best efforts of both political parties and the news organizations that serve them rather than us, relatively few people wear their political affiliations on the sleeves… or even their bumpers.
    Even when there’s a fairly clear corporate philosophy, most people are going to shop where they can get the best net price for equivalent merchandise. “Net price” includes travel time, gas, etc., as well as price-tag. We can probably agree that Lowe’s is more liberal than Home Depot, Target than Walmart, Michael’s than Hobby Lobby. But I go to Lowe’s for furnace filters, Walmart for batteries, and Hobby Lobby for custom framing. Because of (or despite) their politics? Nope. Their overall quality? Nope. It’s simple: Lowe’s, Walmart, and Hobby Lobby are 5-10 minute drives; the others are 40-60 minutes away. Would I shop differently if the competition was the same distance from my house? It’s possible, but unlikely, at least to any significant degree. I know for a fact that the folks who run the tire place we always go to don’t share my politics. But they’re good at their jobs, they’re honest, and their prices are competitive. If I ever stop using their services, it won’t be because they voted for the other guy.
    Maybe… maybe someone will refuse to patronize Chik-fil-A or Starbuck’s because of politics, but if they’re the only place open at the airport when you’re hungry or thirsty (both have happened to me), then guess what?
    Despite semi-retirement, I still spend far more time with post-adolescents than with anyone else but my wife, and I strongly suspect that most of the ones I see are self-identified Democrats. They can be naive, and they can be misled. But they’re not stupid… certainly not as stupid as the folks at Generation Lab who came up with this poll.

  3. From the post on November 5, I have the impression that the injured woman was at least somewhat familiar with Spuds and that one of the frolicking puppies belonged to her. So, that being the case, I would tend toward the idea that she assumed the risk just by staying there and allowing her puppy to participate. But, did she know just how exuberant (I almost said aggressive) Spuds could be? Did she have an expectation that Spuds was under voice control while off the leash? Is she really comfortable with what her husband said, that it could have been anyone’s dog and not to worry about it?
    You have said that, in accord with the golden rule, you would not sue a neighbor given similar circumstances, and your expectation (hope?) was that they would think similarly and not sue you. But, “assumption of the risk, all the way” is taking a legal view, not necessarily an ethics view. How would the golden rule apply for someone who caused injury inadvertently? Shouldn’t there at least be an offer of restitution of some kind, an offer which could then be declined, so that the golden rule operated effectively in both directions?
    I would think that by now, some five weeks later, that you have spoken to the couple several times (neighbors of 30 years, right?), and that you know the answers to the questions I posed. If you haven’t and don’t know the answers, then there is no way you can just have a gift sent and expect that it will be received with good graces.
    A gift basket is a nice idea, but why not deliver it in person rather than sending it, and take the opportunity to once again express your dismay that the incident happened and your regret that your dog (well, you, really) was responsible. I know, I know, never admit guilt. But, this is not about a legal defense, but about ethics.
    Oh, yeah, also, dogs cannot sign cards on their own. We should refrain from assuming we know what they are thinking and from speaking for them.

    • 1. Exuberant, not aggressive. And she was well acquainted with dog. Indeed, their older Belgian is bigger and agressively herded Spuds, who didn’t mind.

      2. No, she knew that none of those dogs, including hers, were under voice control when romping like that.

      3. It’s a legal principle, but offering restitution implies fault. I have had conversations with the spouse where I opened the topic of what I could do to help, and was cut off, and told that it was an accident, could have happened with any of the dogs and to any of the owners, and , I quote, “don’t worry about it.”

      4. In the five weeks or so, I have learned that at least one other dog owner has suffered a broken leg in a similar collision, that two others have had concussions, and that the dog-owning community unanimously agree that if you stand out in a field with large dogs chasing each other, you’re accepting the risk…and again, the husband agrees.

      5. I have offered to shop for my neighbors, run errands, and help any other way they require.

      6. As a dog owner, I am responsible for what he does. This was, however, an accident, as much as if it had been my child who ran into an adult. I expect my neighbors to treat it as an accident, and leave it at that, as I would,

      • I appreciate the detailed reply. Given all this, I still would go with taking the gift in person and re-iterating dismay that the incident happened.

    • From the original post describing the incident, there are a number of factors that lead me to conclude that the collision was primarily the neighbour’s fault:

      1.) The neighbour needed to be verbally warned of an impending collision. At no time, in such a situation, should a person’s attention be diverted from the playing dogs and their current trajectories.

      2.) It was getting dark (do I have this correct?) meaning that even more attention was required to keep track of the dogs.

      3.) I get the impression the neighbour was not particularly nimble. This requires an even greater degree of caution (probably best to be seated in this case).

      I do agree that delivering the gift in person, inquiring about the recovery of the injured, and expressing dismay about the incident is a good idea. I just wouldn’t assign responsibility to my dog or myself.

      • 1. Indeed, I shouted, “Watch out!” before the collision.
        2. Not nimble.
        3. It was dark enough that the darker dogs were hard to see. Spuds, 70 pounds, white with big black spots, was probably the easiest. In fact, I warned her about the dark hound that Spuds was chasing, and she stepped aside to avoid him in time..and right into Spuds’ path.

    • “Oh, yeah, also, dogs cannot sign cards on their own.”

      But with a little help…

      Because their mutual admiration knew no bounds, I always helped my Dear late Golden Girl Hurley “sign” Christmas and Birthday cards to my Dear late Father.

      I used a thick tipped, wet magic marker for the signing, had Hurley use her nose to smear it, and then labeled the…um…result Hurley’s Boogs; it never got old for the recipient!

  4. Neighbor Dilemma
    Sure send them some kind of Christmas gift showing you’re thinking of them and don’t forget to send their dogs something special too. Personally I’d keep the message focused on typical holiday greetings for them and their family, it doesn’t have to say anything like “we’re thinking of you” because that is automatically implied with the gift.

    I like Arthur in Maine’s suggestion to offer to walk their dogs, it’s a really nice gesture but don’t leave that offer open ended, be specific if you choose to offer something like that.

  5. 3) I’m really not all that troubled about this, at least not about the government side of it. Anyone, including a government entity of any sort, has every right to do what it can to preserve and protect its image and reputation (short of outright lies/fraud/crimes of course) and I don’t blame the Biden Administration for doing P.R. on their own behalf. They can and should.

    On the other hand, the news media’s only real duty here is to listen politely and give it all the consideration it is due–which is to say, nearly none at all. (I say “nearly” because it’s entirely possible for a press release to contain new information that does indeed warrant reporting.) The news media has the responsibility for not being taken in by the spin and reporting it as fact.

    4) There’s a significant difference between people who have political beliefs and voting for favored policies/candidates, versus people who deliberately make a spectacle of putting those beliefs on public display because they WANT you know that this is the most important thing in the world to them.

    I have no problem with the former, but I do avoid the latter (with the stipulation that I do so in much the same way Curmie describes above).

    Speaking of Curmie: I agree that “dating”–if interpreted to mean “forming a relationship that might grow into the intimate, life-long type”–is a materially different category than the others. That kind of relationship requires shared values or it is doomed to fail.


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