Thank God It’s The Friday Ethics Warm-Up For The Weekend, 10/8/2021, Dedicated To Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow

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Mrs. O’Leary’s cow may be the most unethically maligned animal in U.S. history. On October 8, 1871, something caused flames to spark in the Chicago barn of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. The resulting two-day conflagration killed 200-300 people, destroyed 17,450 buildings, left 100,000 homeless and caused about $4 billion of damage in today’s dollars. While the fire was still raging, The Chicago Evening Journal reported that it all started “on the corner of DeKoven and Twelfth Streets, at about 9 o’clock on Sunday evening, being caused by a cow kicking over a lamp in a stable in which a woman was milking.” Then a verse to a popular song was added; pretty soon it was the only verse anyone remembered:

Late one night, when we were all in bed,
Mrs. O’Leary lit a lantern in the shed.
Her cow kicked it over,
Then winked her eye and said,
‘There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!’

There was never any convincing evidence that a cow started the blaze. The O’Learys had five cows, and they didn’t have names. It’s not even a sure thing that the fire started in the barn, but Mrs. O’Leary was a Catholic woman and an Irish immigrant, and Chicagoans were eager to have a scapegoat, or rather scapecow. One prominent historian who has studied the inquest transcripts believes that the true culprit was an O’Leary neighbor named Daniel ‘Pegleg’ Sullivan, who hobbled into the O’Leary barn to smoke a pipe, which then fell into a pile of wood shavings and subsequently started the fire. Nonetheless, Catherine O’Leary was ostracized, and became a recluse. In 1997, the Chicago City Council officially exonerated Mrs. O’Leary and her cow, which did just about as much good for Mrs. O’Leary as for the cow.

1. A new book shows that I have not lived in vain! Yesterday, a line from a depressing movie called “Kodachrome” sent me into one of my funks. During one of the many arguments between a dying artist and his middle aged son who hates him, the father (Ed Harris) sneers that he may have been a neglectful father, but at least he would leave something of importance when he died, unlike his son, a failed rock band recruiter for a record label. By purest luck, today I received a complimentary copy of “Reginald Rose and the Journey of 12 Angry Men,” a fascinating and thoroughly researched account of how the TV screenplay and the film came to be the iconic works they are. Author Phil Rosenweig also tells the weird story of how Rose lost control of the stage version of his work, and how for years the only script one could legally perform was a hack adaptation of the movie by a writer who didn’t understand it. Well, I’m part of that weird story, as is my old theater company, “The American Century Theater,” which became the first professional theater in the U.S. to present the screenplay on stage. Many were involved in the success of that production, including my wife,Grace, who produced the script by meticulously typing the screenplay from a recording of the movie (this was before the internet), and NPR critic Bob Mondello, who traveled by bus, in the rain, to a converted school auditorium to see the production, which he gave a sensational and much circulated review. There were many twists and turns after that, but eventually Rose’s version of “12 Angry Men” became the play most theaters produce. He got the respect he deserved, the endurance of the play, which is a genuine classic (I directed it four times) is assured, and yes, I was part of the reason why. Rosenweig, who interviewed me, accurately relates my role in the off-stage drama. You can find the book on Amazon, and here.

Now I can die in peace.

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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.

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Ethics Observations On Scott Adams’ Cat

Car relaxing

This issue was brought to my attention by Ann Althouse, who has a weird fascination with Scott Adams, the “Dilbert” cartoonist who emerged in 2016 as a “Trump whisperer,” much to his benefit and infamy. Adams recently tweeted,

cat tweet

This, in turn, prompted the predictable responses from people outraged at how Adams chooses to spend his own money, as well as the puzzled “it’s just a cat” crowd.

Observations:

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Friday Ethics Wars, 9/17/21: More Harvard Craziness, Woolly Mammoth Ethics, And The Importance Of Hiring A Competent Hitman

Death Star2

1. Fair Harvard, you continue to be an embarrassment. This is a candidate to make it into my “why I’m boycotting my reunion” note for the Class book: Giang Nguyen, executive director of Harvard University Health Services, sent a campus-wide memo telling students to follow these rules while eating and socializing in the dining halls. (I learned more eating in the dining halls and in late night snack sessions than I did in my classes):

“Eating and drinking together are a cornerstone of human social interaction, but there are ways to interact that minimize the time spent unmasked and in close proximity,” Nguyen wrote.

Among his requests to students:

  • Follow the “Quick Sip Rule” when drinking. Lower your mask, take a sip, and then promptly cover your mouth and nose. A straw can make this more efficient.
  • Do not linger with your mask down. If you wish to slowly savor a hot beverage, do it away from others.
  • Consume and cover! Consume your meal and immediately mask up when done.
  • Conversation, checking your phone, and other activities should be masked, even when you are in a designated indoor dining area.
  • If you are taking your time between bites (for conversation, for example), put your mask back on.
  • Dine in small parties of 2-to-4 people.
  • Avoid table-hopping.
  • Consider dining consistently with the same small group of people rather than a different group at every meal of the day.
  • Keep your close contacts to a minimum.
  • Limit each interaction to under 15 minutes.
  • Plan events that don’t involve eating, drinking, or removal of masks

My advice to the author of such a “request” were I a student today: “Bite me. Then put your mask on.” Harvard has a 94 percent vaccination rate among its students. As of this week, its test positivity rate is 0.18 percent.

2. Fake Woolly Mammoth ethics. This article managed to go on at great length about how a new company is planning to “de-extinctify” Wooly Mammoths and start new herds in Siberia as if it all made perfect sense. They’ve fooled private investors into giving them $15 million for the project: this is a scam, whether they know it or not. As far as the Times piece goes, it rates an ethics foul for never once mentioning “Jurassic Park.” Come to think of it, the article should have mentioned “The Producers.” Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D, and Emeritus Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, explains just how absurd the project is:

“What they are doing is making a genetically modified Asian elephant by inserting into its genome a maximum of sixty mammoth genes that they think differentiate the modern species from the extinct one: genes that involve hairiness, cold tolerance, amount of fat, and so on. What they’d get would be a genetic chimera, an almost entirely Asian elephant but one that is hairier, chunkier, and more tolerant of cold. That is NOT a woolly mammoth, nor would it behave like a woolly mammoth, for they’re not inserting behavior genes…Further, a lot of other genes differ between a mammoth and an Asian elephant. What guarantee is there that the inserted mammoth genes would be expressed correctly, or even work at all in concert with the Asian elephant developmental system? But it gets worse. Since you can’t implant a transgenic embryo into an elephant mom (we don’t know how to do that, and we would get just one or two chances), [the group] has this bright idea…’make an artificial mammoth uterus lined with uterine tissue grown from stem cells.’

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/31/2021: Good Morning, Even Though It’s Not Really Such A Good Morning…

Turner Classic Movies will be running “Singin’ in the Rain” again this coming Saturday at 6 pm E.S.T. It always cheers me up. Incredibly, the film now generally regarded as the best original Hollywood musical ever made (I’d rank “Mary Poppins” and “Swingtime” next) didn’t even warrant an Academy Award nomination in 1952, and the other all-time classic in that year’s Oscar race, “High Noon,” was nominated but didn’t win. The Best Picture winner was Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which has been mocked by film critics ever since. I just watched that film again: it must have been stunning on the big screen. TV doesn’t do it justice, and with the demise of big circuses, it’s also an amazing historical artifact. The movie isn’t art, like “High Noon,” and it’s not as entertaining a Gene, Donald and Debbie, but we will never see the like of “The Greatest Show on Earth,” the movie or the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus again. I’m grateful to C.B. for making it. (And that train wreck is amazing!)

1. Now he tells us? In her review of a new book about President Andrew Johnson, the New York Times’ Jennifer Szalai concludes,

“But when Johnson was eventually impeached, it wasn’t for his subversion of Reconstruction; it was for failing to obtain Congressional approval before he fired his secretary of war. The articles of impeachment were “dryly legalistic,” almost all of them focused on violations of the Tenure of Office Act, passed by Congress just the year before. Republicans were trying to portray Johnson as a lawbreaker while studiously avoiding the matter of race. This fixation on technicalities, Levine says, “allowed Congress to impeach Johnson not for doing harm to hundreds of thousands of Black people in the South but for firing a white man….The impeachers may have been trying to be pragmatic, but playing it safe didn’t work; Johnson prevailed by a single vote. As one of his biographers, Hans Trefousse, once put it: ‘If you impeach for reasons that are not the real reasons, you really can’t win.’”

Yesterday I wrote about how the Times and others continue to reference Donald Trump in every negative context imaginable. What does it tell us that when the topic screams out for a Trump analogy that reflects poorly on his attackers, he isn’t mentioned at all?

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Afternoon Ethics Julep, 8/24/2021: Harry Truman Revelations For The Dog Days…

Mint Julep

1. Good Harry, bad Harry. I recently watched the 1961 interviews David Susskind did with Harry Truman in 1961. You can see them on Amazon Prime streaming. I was very impressed; I could not remember any President in my lifetime who appeared so candid, open, and sincere about his principles, certainly none of our recent POTUSes. Truman is not one of favorite Presidents; I regard him as a mediocre man thrust into a job far above his abilities who managed to do better than anyone could have predicted. He rose to the occasion as best he could, and that is deserving of respect. The interviews elevated Harry in my estimation.

Then, yesterday, I read a scholarly paper by Prof. Paul Campos of the University of Colorado Law School that shattered my newly grown regard for Harry. The Former Presidents Act (FPA), a 1958 statute provides ex-Presidents with millions of dollars in future taxpayer-funded benefits. One of the motives behind the House’s “snap impeachment” of Donald Trump was to ensure that he not be a beneficiary of the Act. (They failed. As Nelson Muntz would say, “HAHA!”) Campos’s research shows that while the FPA has always been explained as a response to former President Truman’s financial struggles in part because he refused to exploit his status as a former President cash in (like some Presidents of recent vintage), this was not just a false narrative, but a spectacularly false narrative. Campos writes,

Using recently released and until now unexamined archival evidence… in a complete contravention of the existing standard historical record, [it appears that] Harry Truman was, as a direct result of being president, a very wealthy man on the day he left the White House, with an estimated net worth, in relative economic terms, of approximately $58 million in 2021 dollars. …[T]his wealth was a result of both Truman’s enormous presidential salary — several times larger, in real terms, than the current salary for the office — and, more problematically, of the evident fact that Truman misappropriated essentially all of the multi-million dollar — in 2021 terms — presidential expense account that was set up for him by Congress at the beginning of his second term….[A]gain contrary to the current historical understanding, Truman made another fortune after he left the Presidency, by doing precisely what he claimed he was not doing, that is, exploiting his status as a former President to maximum economic advantage. Indeed, by the time Congress passed the FPA in response to Truman’s various claims that he was at least teetering on the brink of potential financial distress, Truman’s net worth was, in relative economic terms, approximately $72 million in 2021 dollars.”

Well, there goes that newfound respect! Truman was a member of the corrupt Prendergast political machine in Kansas City before entering national politics, so this isn’t as much of a surprise as it would be for some other icons.

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“Why Aren’t People Ashamed To Ask A Question Like This?,” The Sequel

In this post from yesterday, I asked the question in the headline regarding a woman who wondered whether it was ethical to dump her dog-walker because a friend claimed that she had posted insufficiently woke opinions on social media. I have a question to top that one now. On “Social Q’s,” the New York Times weekly advice column on manners and social interaction dilemmas that I seldom read any more because of columnist Phillip Gallane’s addiction to gratuitous partisan talking points, a question from “Anonymous” caused me to do a spit-take at breakfast. Here it is:

A few days ago, while I was driving home — way below the speed limit! — the neighbors’ dog darted into the street. (It looked like he was chasing something.) I slammed on my brakes and felt a thud. I got out of the car and saw that I had hit the dog. He was dead. I carried him to my neighbors’ house, but no one was home. So, I left him on the doorstep. I was going to write a note, but I chickened out. Now, the neighbors have posted signs around the neighborhood asking if anyone knows what happened. I feel terrible! Is it too late to speak up?

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Anatomy Of A Pit Bull Narrative

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Rhoda Wagner, 60, was killed by three dogs that appear to have been some variety of pit bull-type breeds or pit bull breed mixes. She was caring for the dogs for her roommate. Jonathan Turley flagged the story for his own purposes: he was interested in talking about how the law treats such attacks. This one was in Pennsylvania, which has no “dangerous breed laws” (yet), and the owner had the dogs euthanized. However, as in almost all of the tragedies exploited by dog bigots to cast any dog that looks like pit bull supposedly looks as dangerous monsters, this story is missing too many facts to know who to blame and what happened.

Turley doesn’t help, and reveals himself as a a dog breed tyro by referring to the dogs as “pit bulls.” “Pit bull” isn’t a single breed, and as I’ve written here already too often, incidents involving eight or more distinct breeds, as well as mixes, are routinely reported as involving “pit bulls.” This accounts for the extreme statistics reported by anti-pit bull breed propagandists like dogsbite.org (which was naturally used as an authority in several of the articles about the Pennsylvania attack).

The police called the dogs “pit bull terriers.” The American Pit Bull Terrier is a breed, but unless abused or trained to fight, not one known for aggression. The few, inconclusive photos I’ve seen of one of the dogs suggest a Staffordshire Terrier mix of some kind, but who knows? There is no information so far about whether the three dogs were even the same breed or mix or from the same litter: police don’t know dog breeds. An incident can’t be used to impugn a breed or breed of dogs without accurate identification of what they were.

Next, as Turley notes, we don’t know if any of the dogs had been abused or had any prior incidents of aggression. Were they rescues? Many, maybe most, pit bull breeds and mixes are. Rescues—of all breeds— have special issues and triggers. Most important of all, how well were the dogs trained? All of the pit bull breeds are intelligent and train relatively easily. They also often will obey only their master. Not training large dogs adequately is negligence. (No, I still can’t get Spuds to lie down.)

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This Ethics Alarms Rebuke Of Instapundit Is Brought To You By Spuds

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Proving once again that dog ignorance and breed bigotry knows no partisan, ideological nor erudition boundaries, a bunch of conservatives are spreading false anti-pit bull propaganda. As is often the case, they don’t know what the hell they are talking about.

The impetus was an anti-pit bull abuse organization citing the work of Ann Linder, a Legislative Policy Fellow with Harvard Law School’s Animal Law and Policy Program, who wrote a paper, “The Black Man’s Dog: The Social Context of Breed Specific Legislation,” that argued that pit bulls have been unfairly tied to “gang violence by urban youths, as well as the hip-hop music scene.” The group then made the leap to arguing that anti-pit bull restrictions in the many American cities that have them are racist. Well, that’s demonstrably idiotic: the reason for all of those ignorant laws isn’t racism, but that the legislators passing them know zilch about dogs and are pandering to public hysteria. The hysteria is spread by the news media, popular culture, and a lot of otherwise intelligent people who should know better but don’t, and are too lazy and irresponsible to educate themselves. This group includes Conservative law prof and conservative pundit/blogger Glenn Reynolds. Shame on him.

Here’s the way it goes: since the pro-pit bull group cited a race-baiting Harvard scholar, that meant that the group must be made up of progressives, and thus wrong about everything in Instapundit Land. Conservative site College Fix posted about the foolishness of the “racism” claim. Instapundit host Reynolds snarked to his millions of followers:,

“Academics say fear of pit bulls is linked to… racism? I thought it was more about the biting: “Despite accounting for just 6.5% of all dogs in the United States, pit bulls were responsible for 66% of total fatal dog attacks between 2005 and 2017.” Why aren’t these academics following the science? I think they should be banned for “spreading misinformation.”

HA HA HA! Good one, Glenn! Why isn’t this academic checking his sources before making a high-profile ass of himself by spreading misinformation? As anyone with a smattering of canine education knows, there is no breed called a “pit bull,” but anywhere from four to eight distinct breeds that are lumped together as “pit bulls” by people, apparently like Reynolds, who don’t know a dog from a garden hose.

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Sunday Evening Ethics Nightcap: Not Watching The Olympics Edition

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Happy birthday Louise Joy Brown, the world’s first “test tube baby” conceived via in vitro fertilization in Manchester, England, on this date in 1978 to parents Lesley and Peter Brown. The bioethics controversies that flowed from this landmark event and subsequent scientific advances have not stopped yet.

1. When the George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck meets the Olympics, this is the sort of garbage you are going to get, at least from Kurt Streeter. He’s the black New York Times sports columnist who really appears to believe that the main function of sports is to raise racial and gender grievances. Woke sports commentary isn’t just bad sports journalism, it’s also boring. Politics makes sports less fun and less of what it was intended to be, entertainment, not crusading. By “this” I mean columns like his most recent titled “The Olympics Rely On, but Don’t Support, Black Girl Magic.” Never mind that the headline is racially offensive at the outset—nobody should care what color bodies athletic “magic” comes from, and only bigots like Streeter view sports that way.

Streeter’s brief supporting his obnoxious thesis is based on selective facts and personal bias. Here are his examples:

“Simone Biles is one of the most brilliant talents at the Games. But if recent history holds and she tries her most stunning moves in Tokyo, gymnastics officials will place an arbitrary limit on her score. Some say this is meant to discourage other competitors from attempting similarly dangerous aerial maneuvers. I say the sport’s regulators cannot deal with her sheer audacity.

And what does this have to do with her being black? Nothing, and nobody has alleged that it is otherwise, though if Biles does not win her expected gold, I’m sure Streeter will be among the first to cry “racism.”

Naomi Osaka is …perhaps the most widely known female athlete on the planet…will get tossed under the bus if she is not polite and pleasant in her interviews with the news media, a backlash prompted by her withdrawal from the French Open because she did not want to participate in news conferences there. That pressure exists alongside the dread that she’ll be derided as either too Black or not Japanese enough if she does not win a gold medal.

Whose “dread”? Apparently Streeter’s, the race-baiter. Meanwhile, any athlete who is not polite and pleasant in interviews always gets criticism from the news media, and deserves it. She didn’t withdraw from the French Open because “she did not want to participate in news conferences,” she quit because she wanted special privileges to break the tournament’s rules, and was foiled. None if this has anything to do with race either, except that Osaka may have thought that her appeal to the King’s Pass might be especially hard to turn down since people like Streeter would be quick to call enforcement of the same rules for all “racist.”

“Gwen Berry is one of the most powerful hammer throwers in the world and one of the boldest athletes in protesting racism and injustice. But the Olympic overlords have made clear she’d better behave on the medal stand — or else.”

Those “overlords” have the same rules for everyone. Berry is bold in protesting what she isn’t in the Olympics to protest; she’s a narcissist and a lousy citizen who should have been kicked off the team once she proclaimed that she didn’t regard herself as representing the nation that is honoring her by giving her a chance to compete. Streeter thinks her “Black girl magic” isn’t being supported because she won’t be allowed to embarrass her team and act like an asshole on the world stage.

2. From the “Blind Squirrel Finds Nut” files…Criminal justice reform activists and some lawmakers are upset the the Biden Justice Department is inclined to follow through on a Trump-era memo by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel requiring inmates who were allowed out of stir to reduce the spread of the pandemic in prisons and whose sentences lasted beyond the “pandemic emergency period” to go back behind bars. Awww! How mean. Criminals will actually have to serve their sentences! Systemic racism, of course. But the Biden legal team concluded that the memo correctly interpreted the law, which applies to about 4,000 nonviolent inmates. There are still plenty of fanatics and anti-incarceration extremists among Joe’s minions, so they might get the policy reversed yet.

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