Category Archives: Character

Comment Of The Day: “How Many Rationalizations Can You Spot In This Op-Ed?”

In the post, How Many Rationalizations Can You Spot In This Op-Ed?, I challenged readers to read the depressingly meat-headed New York Times op-ed by a defender of Nashville mayor Megan Barry. and challenged them further to identify all of the rationalizations and fallacies it contained. Only one of you took on the challenge in its full, horrible scope, in part because not everyone pays to get past the Times paywall. Fortunately one who did take it on was the newly-minted Michael West, who dissected the essay as if it were a pithed frog.

Here is his Comment of the Day, freeing me from the obligation to post the answers to my question.

Having reviewed the Rationalizations List, here’s my go:

Paragraph 2:
“Along with this confession, the mayor offered the kind of full-throated apology we almost never get from public officials: “I accept full responsibility for the pain I have caused my family and his,” she said. “I knew my actions could cause damage to my office and the ones I loved, but I did it anyway.””

But she doesn’t accept full responsibility. If she did, and clearly her affair led to extreme financial irregularities which amount to defrauding the public, then accepting responsibility probably requires resignation.

Paragraph 3:
“She ended her statement with a pledge: “God will forgive me, but the people of Nashville don’t have to. In the weeks and months to come, I will work hard to earn your forgiveness and earn back your trust.””

I don’t think “God will forgive me” is a rationalization. It may be an actual deeply held belief, but the State of Tennessee is a bit more hard-nosed. At best this is just poll-tested platitude, but at worst, it is meant to convince some people to forgive her also (which makes it a diversion, not a rationalization). Working to earn their forgiveness and trust is an appeal to 21A Ethics Accounting: Criminal’s Redemption. She thinks future “good works” can atone for past sins. They cannot. What atones for past sins is having that sin and its effects blotted out, which in the case of defrauding the public, the only atoning that works is resignation.

Paragraph 4:
“This promise did not seem like an act of damage control. This is the way Megan Barry really talks. The language of full emotional availability is her native tongue.”

Appeal for sympathy, which is the opener for the next string of rationalizations.

Paragraph 5:
“Perhaps that’s why this city loves her. She hugs schoolchildren. She looks genuinely joyful at city parades and festivals. She grieves that too many Nashville teenagers are slain by guns. When Max Barry, her own son and only child, died suddenly last summer, the people of Nashville wept with her. When she spoke openly about the drug addiction that killed him, we marveled at her courage and admired her resolve to bring addiction out of the shadows of shame.”

This is Ethics Accounting again. She’s a really great person…so it’s implied we should overlook this one thing.

Paragraph 6:
“But in a red state like Tennessee, this liberal mayor also has powerful opponents, and they are not idiots. An editorial in the conservative Tennessee Star wasted no time in calling for her resignation: “Barry and the fawning, liberal Nashville media are trying the Clinton defense.””

This is a diversion away from the miscreant by accusing the accusers of bad faith motives. #48 Haters gonna hate. Her critics are ONLY demanding accountability because they want a political advantage or want to win a tactical maneuver. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Leadership

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/21/18: Good Bye Billy Graham, Wise Words From Mike Rowe, And Learning To Say No To Children…

GOOD MORNING!

1 Billy Graham has died. Graham is one of those towering figures who outlived his fame, and now most Americans neither remember nor understand what he was and what he did. I will be doing a thorough post on Graham and his cultural impact, I hope. (Note that I haven’t even finished the 2017 Ethics Alarms Awards posts.) Like most of you, I bet, I had forgotten that Billy Graham was still alive until an episode of “The Crown” on Netflix prompted me to check recently. In that episode, based on a real event, a troubled Queen Elizabeth was inspired by hearing Graham in one of his speaking tours in Great Britain, and invited him to Buckingham Palace to advise her.

It was not Graham’s fault that his remarkable and broad popularity sparked the deplorable TV evangelist fad that created mega-churches, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, The Moral Majority, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jessica Hahn, and other frauds and swine that made much of America cynical about all religion.  On Google, Graham’s photo is lumped in with many of these if you search for “evangelist.” He deserves better.  In the high-profile evangelical world, Billy Graham was, as one article put it today,“an exception – a leader who valued integrity over ego, a husband who lived in a full and thriving marriage, a man who offered not only words to learn by, but a life to admire.”

2. Updates:

  • By almost a 2-1 margin, readers voted that accusing Wes Anderson’s animated comedy “Isle of Dogs” of cultural appropriation was even stupider than Joan Walsh’s repeated use of the politically correct  and hilarious “strawpersons” on CNN. I thought it would be a lot closer.
  • Michael West gets his name on a Comment of the Day the very first time it appeared on an Ethics Alarms comment, with such a thorough examination of the rationalizations and logical fallacies exhibited in the Times op-ed defending the Nashville mayor’s unethical conduct that I won’t have to write one. I thank him, and Billy Graham thanks him. The Comment will be posted later today, but you can also read it here.
  • However,  if you haven’t gone through the exercise of reading Margaret Renkl unforgivable Times op-ed with the Ethics Alarms handy-dandy list of rationalizations by your side, you really should. Stupidly, I forgot that the Times is behind a paywall, frustrating many of you. I posted half the op-ed on the post last night. Posting the whole thing would have been unethical, but half, with a link, is fair use.

3. “Children’s Crusade” news and commentary

  • I almost made the Florida legislature an Ethics Hero for voting down an “assault weapons ban” with a throng of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had lobbied for te measure, in the chamber. I don’t have strong feelings about the measure one way or the other, but it is crucial that all lawmakers resist this organized effort at emotional blackmail. I don’t care what the kids are advocating. Parents spend years explaining to their children that they can’t go through life believing that demanding what they want is going to magically succeed, and now adults and the news media are telling adults that if these students shout, curse and cry enough, they should capitulate. Naturally, the news media tugged at our heartstrings by showing high school girls weeping after the vote. There’s no crying in politics, kids, and the most emotional advocates don’t always win, because, as Abe said, you can’t fool all the people all of the time.

Get serious, or get out.

If I were a legislator, I would announce that I would automatically vote against any measure where children are used as lobbyists, spokespersons, advocates, or props. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Heroes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Facebook, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Quotes, Religion and Philosophy, Rights, U.S. Society

How Many Rationalizations Can You Spot In This Op-Ed? [UPDATED!]

 

At the beginning of the month we discussed the scandal in Nashville, Tennessee, where the female mayor, —the news media tried oh so hard to bury her party affiliation deep in reports, but she’s a Democrat— was carrying on an adulterous affair with the head of her security detail.  Some quotes from the Ethics Alarms essay to refresh your memory for the horrors to come:

—She apologized “for the harm I’ve done to the people I love and the people who counted on me” but said she won’t be resigning. In a news conference, she said nothing illegal happened and no policies were violated.

—“I know that God will forgive me, but that Nashville doesn’t have to,” Barry said. “And I hope that I can earn their trust and I can earn your trust back, and that you will forgive me

—-This is classic appearance of impropriety.

—-In the Bill Clinton mold, the mayor is framing this as a matter of marital fealty rather than official misconduct—which it is—so she can argue that it’s just “personal private conduct.”

—-The conduct is unethical whether there are policies or not.

—-This is sexual harassment. The officer was a subordinate, and she was his boss, with the power to fire him or worse. There can be no genuine consent in such situations. In these cases with the typical genders reversed, neither the news media, nor the public, nor, in all likelihood, a hypothetical jury, would see it that way.

—-Barry’s playing the God Card is grounds to remove her all by itself.

—-Come on, #MeToo, show some integrity. Get this workplace predator kicked out of office.

Interestingly, a prominent and respected female, feminist Democrat who comments here with distinction argued in the comments to that post that this wasn’t even a newsworthy story outside of Nashville. Also interestingly, the New York Times disagrees, and even published a spirited—but stupid!—defense of Barry’s conduct, arguing that unlike, say, Al Franken, who was forced to resign for pre-political career conduct and unproven post-political career allegations, the fact that a Democratic mayor—FEMALE! Don’t forget that she is female!–was using state-paid employees under her supervision as a personal, state-funded dating pool does not mean she’s untrustworthy or qualified for high office.

Okey-dokey then! What we have here is an old-fashioned convenient double standard!

And this just in! Nashville’s main newspaper, the Tenneseean, reports that Rob Forrest, the Mayor’s married lover, earned substantially more overtime than the other bodyguards on Barry’s secuirty detail, $173,843.13  between July 2015 and January 2017, which was nearly $53,000 more than the other four bodyguards received combined. But, as several internet wags have noted, let’s be fair: Rob was doing more for the mayor than those other bodyguards..

Now let’s all read the op-ed*, by Margaret Renkl , whom the Times proudly describes as ” a contributing opinion writer.” This time around, I won’t get into such matters as the odd silence of the #MeToo warriors, who have set out to destroy successful men who were accused of being boorish on a single date. I won’t even question the competence of the Times editors, allowing such unethical, illogical, poorly reasoned hypocrisy to make its way into its pages to make Times readers more ethically inept than they already are. No, I just want to focus on Renkle and her claim that Barry shouldn’t have to resign, and the unethical rationalizations for wrongful conduct she gainfully employs along the way.

Here is the complete current list (some new rationalizations will be added soon, but this is plenty). These are just the titles; go here to get the full descriptions. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Romance and Relationships, Workplace

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/20/18: Cheaters And Useful Idiots

Good Morning!

1. A Whistle-blowing dilemma.The Ethicist in the New York Times Magazine is no fun anymore, now that a competent, real ethicist is answering queries rather than the previous motley assortment of Hollywood screenwriters and others of dubious qualifications. Even when I disagree with

  • “Given how little cheating is caught, reporting them would have meant that they paid a penalty that lots of others ought to — but won’t — pay.” Ugh! A Barry Bonds excuse! So because all guilty parties aren’t apprehended, everyone should get away with wrongdoing?
  • “Because many people in your generation don’t take cheating very seriously, your friends would most likely have ended up focusing on the unfairness of being singled out, not on their wrongdoing.” That’s their problem. The attitude the Ethicist identifies is 39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?” He’s correct that this will be the likely attitude of the busted cheaters, but since when did how wrongdoers rationalize their wrongdoing become mitigation?
  • “The intervention you were considering was likely, therefore, to be very costly to you.” Yes, doing the right thing often is.
  • “The burden of dealing with cheating in your school shouldn’t fall on you.” Boy, I really hate this one. It’s #18. Hamm’s Excuse: “It wasn’t my fault.”

This popular rationalization confuses blame with responsibility. Carried to it worst extreme, Hamm’s Excuse would eliminate all charity and much heroism, since it stands for the proposition that human beings are only responsible for alleviating problems that they were personally responsible for. In fact, the opposite is the case: human beings are responsible for each other, and the ethical obligation to help someone, even at personal cost, arises with the opportunity to do so, not with blame for causing the original problem. When those who have caused injustice or calamity either cannot, will not or do not step up to address the wrongs their actions have caused (as is too often the case), the responsibility passes to whichever of us has the opportunity and the means to make things right, or at least better.

This rationalization is named after American gymnast Paul Hamm, who adamantly refused to voluntarily surrender the Olympic gold metal he admittedly had been awarded because of an official scoring error. His justification for this consisted of repeating that it was the erring officials, not him, who were responsible for the fact that the real winner of the competition was relegated to a bronze medal when he really deserved the gold. The ethical rule to counter Hamm’s Excuse is a simple one: if there is a wrong and you are in a position to fix it, fix it.

Appiah doesn’t feel the full force of my fury because the case involves middle-school, and the questioner is a child. This is what makes it a toss-up. If this were college or grad school, I think reporting cheaters is mandatory. Appiah also says that he doesn’t care for honor codes because they are usually not followed.

Maybe I was wrong about him… Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, U.S. Society

No, Fergie’s Star-Spangled Banner Wasn’t The Worst Rendition Ever….[ UPDATED ]

Not even close.

This was…

The ethical problem in both cases is the same, however. The National Anthem is not, or should not be, an excuse for a performer to grandstand or make headlines by controversial renditions. The National Anthem is not about the singer. It is a musical declaration that the nation is strong and thriving, and that it is equal to whatever challenges it encounters. Performed respectfully and with skill and forethought, The Star-Spangled Banner can communicate this, and be stirring to all Americans irrespective of musical preferences and tastes.

Here is what a great rendition sounds like, just so you can get Rosanne and Fergie out of your brains…

[Be patient, however: the NFL won’t let any site play this but YouTube, so you have to click on the link, then listen to a gratuitous intro, then finally you get Whitney. Please come back afterwards: we’re not finished!]

 

That’s my favorite, but I have to say, Lady Gaga did great job in 2016. Here she is–same process as with the previous video. Sorry. You know…the NFL:

Just so you don’t think only female singers can knock the song out of the park, here is Chicago’s Jim Cornelison, a powerful tenor, whose rendition is fast, no-nonsense, and if this doesn’t get your blood pumping, nothing will.

UPDATE: All right, I’m going to have to post this, in my opinion the greatest rendition of the most dramatic and musically stirring of all national anthems, though it isn’t ours. The version in “Casablanca” is terrific, but this legendary performance is better:

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Citizenship, Etiquette and manners

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 2/17/18: Mueller And A Movie

Good afternoon..

1 Well, we have some exit poll results…on my integrity and denial question in the Mueller indictment post I started at 4 am, hence the late Warm-up. Based on the comments so far, I am going to be disappointed: the “Trump is guilty of something” crowd is, so far, arguing that an indictment statement including  “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election” means that the President’s election was illegitimate and that he is guilty of wrongdoing. We also have such jaw-dropping moments as a commenter praising the Mueller investigation for not leaking the indictments beforehand—wow. Leaks are unethical, and when a grand jury is involved, illegal. The leaking from the Mueller investigation and the Justice Department have been a national disgrace, and we are now at the point when government lawyers not breaking the law is deemed worthy of praise in some quarters.

Of course, we don’t know what was leaked. Since leaking grand jury testimony is so serious and always sparks its own investigation, I wouldn’t bet against reporters having been tipped off, but using the advance notice to prepare their “Trump’s still guilty!” responses.

A better example could not be found of how the the news media and the intentionally divisive partisan rhetoric of the past decade have caused a fracture in the ability of Americans to perceive facts unfiltered by confirmation bias. I find this disheartening. But exit polls are not always accurate…

2. An unexpected take on the indictments. Eccentric conservative blogger Da Tech Guy  had some interesting observations:

“Section 1 and section 24 notes that it’s against US law for “certain foreign nationals” to enter the US without a visa providing truthful and accurate information to the government. Apparently these laws don’t apply to dreamers and those who brought them…section 41 talks about identity theft including social security numbers; again, this could be a charge against the DACA kids…Section 85 completes the list, the illegality here is that they pretended to be Americans and didn’t register as foreign agents while doing activities that if done by Americans would be completely legal…Does that mean that DACA folks and illegals who have held political rallies will be indicted next?…Section 89-95 on count 2 and section 96 again notes identity theft and moving money via such theft., boy this could be an indictment of the illegal alien DACA crowd if they wanted. But they don’t.”

3. Ethics movie review! I watched Denzel Washington’s “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” twice last week, in part because it is a legal ethics movie, and in part because Washington’s portrayal of an idealistic autism-spectrum civil rights attorney whose ethics alarms get corrupted is so unusual for him. I’ll basically pay to watch Denzel play canasta. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Arts & Entertainment, Character, Citizenship, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Professions

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/8/2018: Tolstoy And The News,” (Item #4)

Frequent commenter Otto vanished from the wars for many weeks, and then nailed a Comment of the Day on his first day back. Boy I hate that: it’s as if he can register a sharp, thought-provoking analysis at will, like he’s toying with us. This time, his topic was illegal immigration, as he responded to the item about Nancy Pelosi thanking the parents of “Dreamers” for breaking our immigration laws.

Here is Otto’s Comment of the Day on the illegal immigration item in the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/8/2018: Tolstoy And The News :

…The only reason persons would immigrate to the U.S., legally or illegally, is hope for a higher quality of life than they could have in their home countries. Any positive differential between what they would achieve in their home country and what they would achieve in the U.S. with the same output of effort can only be attributed to living off the fat (wealth, capital, productiveness) of the American people (past, present, and possibly future). If their effort would achieve the same results (or better) in their home country, they would not immigrate. It is that simple.

While this is true, I don’t believe we should even consider the economic benefit to the U.S. when determining who should and should not enter the U.S. or become citizens – it sounds too much like using a person as means to our own ends. However, if we do consider economic benefit, Humble Talent is correct that we must include opportunity cost in our calculation. If admitting a farmer from Guatemala as a citizen precludes us from admitting a physician from Germany as a citizen, we must include any differential in productivity (economic benefit) between the two persons as a cost (or benefit) of admitting the farmer.

Of course, the myriad avenues of opportunity cost are not the only costs of illegal immigration. Assuming illegal immigrants purchase food, clothing, housing, and other commodities, their demand for these commodities puts upward pressure on prices that must be paid by all U.S. citizens. Assuming illegal immigrants seek employment, their supply of labor puts downward pressure on wages, a cost suffered by all U.S. citizens. If illegal immigrants seek an education, they contribute to classroom crowding and greater expense of education, which is a cost to all U.S. citizens. If illegal immigrants drive vehicles anywhere, they contribute to wear and tear on infrastructure, a cost to all U.S. citizens. If illegal immigrants receive any type of governmental benefit, it is a cost to U.S. citizens. If illegal immigrants receive any type of pseudo-private benefit (such as reduced rates on utilities), it is a cost to U.S. citizens. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement