August 2, A Date That Should Live In Infamy, But Doesn’t

I usually check the historical significance of dates. This time, I discovered that August 2 is one of the most ethically disastrous in history.

  •  In 1934, Chancellor Adolf Hitler became the absolute dictator of Germany with the death of German President Paul von Hindenburg. I think we can all agree that this wins the prize as the worst event on this date. The German army quickly took an oath of allegiance to its new commander-in-chief, and Germany’s democratic government was erased, with  Hitler’s Third Reich taking its place.

The result was genocide, world war, and the deaths of millions.

  • On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. This, in turn, led to the Persian Gulf War, which resulted in at least 25,000 Iraqi soldiers killed and more than 75,000  wounded in one of the most one-sided military conflicts in history. Only 148 American soldiers were killed and 457 wounded. The war also ended the lives of an estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians who died from wounds, lack of adequate water, food, or medical supplies. As Saddam Hussein exploited corruption in the U.N. and played games with the terms of the cease fire,   about a million more Iraqi civilians died as a result of the U.N. sanctions.

The Persian Gulf War led directly to 9-11, the Afghanistan War, and the invasion of Iraq, and indirectly to too many horrible results to count. Continue reading

A Popeye For John Lewis And His Fans

This post was in my head and keeping me awake all night, so I had to get out of bed and get it out

I was just about to let the late John Lewis go, when a Facebook friend inflicted the late Congressman’s  so-called “final words” on me with a post in Facebook that garnered bushels of likes and teary faces, immediately putting me into a quandary. The guy’s a lawyer, and should know better than to extol such transparent grandstanding, varnished over with dishonesty.

I almost—almost—wrote a searing rebuttal and reprimand. I didn’t, and it’s keeping me awake tonight. More on that in a moment.

First, regarding Lewis: I didn’t want to read his op-ed in the Times, knowing, as I knew Lewis’s routine well, that it would either make my head explode or make me want to blow it up. Writing such a thing itself is pure narcissism: Lewis was shuffling off this mortal coil with words designed to make those who do not know him, except by the dated accolades with which he has been celebrated by the fawning media, think he was a better man than he was, while making his detractors face being called racists if they call his piece  out for what it is. This, for example, was nauseating:

In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

This is the same John Lewis who  told NBC audiences the day before Martin Luther King Day and less than a week before the Inauguration that President-elect Donald J. Trump was “an illegitimate President.”  In 2017, Ethics Alarms pronounced this “an unprecedented act of vicious partisanship and unethical public service.”  I understated it. Lewis deliberately triggered the perpetual anti-democratic unrest that has led directly to today’s riots, toppled statues, and self-righteous hate. He isn’t the only public figure accountable for this, but he is the only one who assisted in tearing the nation apart while patting himself on the back as someone who has “done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love.”

“All,” Congressman? How about serving as an honorable example for citizens by accepting the leader chosen by our system as it has done for more than two centuries, and  not deliberately encouraging an insurrection? How about that? How does creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that requires citizens and businesses to support a Marxist movement or risk being “cancelled” let freedom ring?

I had to wrestle my rebellious gorge to the ground and place my violently rolling eyes back in their sockets when I read this at the start of Lewis’ screed: Continue reading

Friday Ethics Footnotes, 7/31/2020: 1619, Dumber Lawyers, And Trader Joe’s Stands Up For “Trader Ming’s”

1. Psst! This doesn’t send a message that is complimentary to minorities...The California Supreme Court, which oversees the state bar, agreed to lower the passing score for the exam. The objective is to raise the number of black and Hispanic lawyers. 40 % of California’s population is white, and 60% are not. But 68% of California lawyers are white, according to a new report by the State Bar of California.

Well, so what? Maybe more whites want to be lawyers; whatever the reason, lowering the standards for getting a license seems like a poor way to improve the situation, since it promises to add more dim attorneys. Why do all professions have to have identical demographics to the population at large?

“There is absolutely no evidence that shows having a higher score makes for better lawyers,” said UCLA School of Law Dean Jennifer L. Mnookin. “There is significant evidence that it reduces the diversity of the bar.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure letting people get law licenses by playing beanbag would also lead to a more diverse bar. There is no way to determine whether having higher scores on the bar exam correlates with being a “better lawyer,” but I guarantee not being able to pass the bar exam correlates with being significantly slower on the uptake that a lawyer who can.  Mnookin is saying that intelligence and critical thinking skills don’t factor in the practice of law. What an interesting thing for a law dean to say. Do you think she really believes that?

No one has been able to show that the bar exams anywhere have a racial bias, but since other explanations for comparatively low passing rates among African-Americans are not politically palatable, the George Floyd Freakout has led to this. California will now have dumber lawyers of all colors. Progress! Continue reading

Baseball Ethics While Watching Baseball, Part 1: “Nothing”

I should be writing an evening ethics potpourri, but I’m watching the Red Sox, who have been terrible, play the Mets, who I detest, so I’m too distracted. But while I was sitting here, two baseball ethics issues popped up. I can chew gum and walk at the same time, but I can chew gum and think about gum.

The first issue is schadenfreude-related. John McNamara died today in his eighties. He’s the Boston Red Sox manager most fans, including me, hold responsible for the Sox losing to the Mets in the 1986 World Series`. I’m sure Johnny Mac, as he was called, was a wonderful husband and father, but he was a lazy, terrible manager who got jobs when lazy, terrible team owners wanted to choose an organization man who wouldn’t rock the boat. He was incompetent, basicly, like so many middle managers in conventional businesses who take jobs away from better, harder-working, smarter people because they know how to play the right games and suck up to the right people. As a baseball manager his stock in trade was inertia. He had a flat learning curve, assumed problems would solve themselves eventually, and never took risks.

He was the epitome of a hack, in short. Such employees and professionals are a blight on society and civilization, but it’s not intentional, and not exactly their fault that there are too many of their breed, and that collectively they make life for the rest of us more nasty, brutish and short than it should be. Continue reading

The Supreme Court Holds The U.S. To A Promise

“On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever…Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”

Thus did Justice Neil Gorsuch begin and end his historic 42-page majority opinion this month in McGirt v. Oklahoma, as the Supreme Court ruled  in a 5-4 decision that the Creek reservation in eastern Oklahoma had never been “disestablished” by Congress, and thus the promise made in a series of 18th Century treaties ensured that the territory remains an Indian reservation for the purposes of federal criminal law, and quite probably in other areas as well.

The decision was overshadowed by more politically debated decisions this month, but it may be the most overtly ethical of the Supreme Court’s recent holdings. Among other virtues, it rejects the false logic of Rationalization #52. The Underwood Maneuver, or “That’s in the past.” That one holds that time erases accountability, an attitude  useful to the habitually unethical, because “moving on” gives them  an opportunity to repeat their unethical and harmful conduct, or worse.

The Underwood Maneuver manipulates the victim of wrongful conduct into forgiving and forgetting without the essential contributions a truly reformed wrongdoer must make to the equation: admission of harm , acceptance of responsibility, remorse and regret, amends and compensation, and good reason to believe that the unethical conduct won’t be repeated.  By emphasizing that wrongdoing was in the past, this rationalization all but assures that it is also lurking in the near future.

Potentially half of Oklahoma will be affected by McGirt. The issue was whether the state of Oklahoma could prosecute Indians accused of major crimes in Indian Country, or if, under an 1885 federal statute known as the Major Crimes Act, such offenses were within federal jurisdiction. The case hinged upon whether the Creek Reservation had been withdrawn or disestablished, by Congress in the lead-up to Oklahoma’s admission to the Union in 1907, thus causing Hugh Jackman to sing.

This is 3 million acres in and around Tulsa we’re talking about here.

With the Court holding that the Creek reservation was never disestablished, four other tribes— the Seminole, Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations in eastern Oklahoma— may benefit from similar rulings. Those tribes’ total territory covers  19 million acres where 1.8 million Americans now live, relatively few of whom are Native Americans. Continue reading

Tales Of The Niggardly Principals

Quite a bit of the censorship, word-banning and historical air-brushing we are seeing during the George Floyd Freakout, aka The Great Stupid, are fueled by ignorance, like that of the black D.C. employee in 1999 who forced  David Howard, an aide to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, to resign for using a “racial slur.”  (“Niggardly (noun: niggard) is an adjective meaning  stingy or miserly. It is derived from the Middle English word nigard, which is probably derived from Old Norse hnǫggr , meaning “stingy”) After Howard was reinstated, there was wide agreement that this was political correctness run amuck. Julian Bond, then chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said, You hate to think you have to censor your language to meet other people’s lack of understanding…Seems to me the mayor has been niggardly in his judgment on the issue” and noted that the US has a “hair-trigger sensibility” on race that can be tripped by both real and false grievances.”

Ah, those were the days! Imagine as statement like that coming from the NAACP today.

The core idea behind the three Niggardly Principles is that ignorance and stupidity should not be enabled, reward or encouraged, though it is unkind—unethical—to deliberately set out to offend someone even if the source of the offense is the individual’s knowledge or intellectual deficit. (That’s the Second Niggardly Principle.)

I do not think that one applies to this episode: Greg and Kjersten Offenecker, owners of The Nordic Pineapple in St. Johns, Michigan removed  the Norwegian flag and an American flag posted outside their Civil War-era mansion last week because morons had accused them of promoting racism in the largely conservative Michigan town.

The couple said they capitulated after receiving “at least a dozen hateful emails” and other complaints.  “I don’t see it because I grew up with the Norwegian flag.To me they are two distinct flags,” shrugged Kjersten.

They ARE two distinct flags, you cowardly, submissive enabler of race bullies.!You should have issued each sender of those emails an explanation. You should have put out a press release clarifying the difference between the flags. You should have extended a little time and commitment  to protect speech and expression from sinister efforts to intimidate and censor by the proto-totalitarian Left, which is getting less proto- by the hour. Too much trouble to do your duty to fight for American values and principles, is it? Then I pronounce you a lazy and irresponsible citizen.

Here’s the Norwegian flag next to the Confederate flag:

They are not the same design. They do not have the same colors. Why are you allowing people this stupid to dictate your conduct? And if you remove the American flag because some vile mutation of citizen complains, you are as anti-American as it is. You are the kind of submissive coward who would raise a Nazi flag because your neighbors insisted on it.

The United States cannot survive if it is dominated by the ignorant and the meekly submissive.

Boy, Norway is so lovely this time of year. I don’t know how you can stay away… Continue reading

The Murder Of Mary Phagan And The Forgotten Heroism Of John M. Slaton

I  just brought The Ethics Alarms Heroes’ Hall of Honor up to date. There are 44 men and women whose inspiring stories reside there, and I know who #45 will be: John Marshall “Jack” Slaton (December 25, 1866 – January 11, 1955),the 60th Governor of Georgia.

This won’t be the official entry for John Slaton; I want to do him justice, and the story of his moment of principle and sacrifice is not only complicated, but I am having a hard time settling the facts. The short version is this:

Mary Phagan, 13, an employee at Atlanta’s National Pencil Company where Leo Frank was the manager, died of strangulation on April 26, 1913. Her body was discovered in the factory’s cellar the next morning.  Over the course of their investigation, Atlanta police arrested several men, including the night watchman Newt Lee, Frank, and Jim Conley, a janitor at the factory. Lee and Conley were black; Frank was Jewish. Though this was the height of Jim Crow in the South, prejudice against Jews was as strong in Atlanta as racism.

On May 24, 1913, Frank was indicted on a charge of murder and the case was tried at Fulton County Superior Court beginning on July 28. The prosecution’s key witness was  Conley, who described himself as an accomplice, assisting Frank in disposing the girl’s body.  Frank’s defense lawyer argued that Conley was the real killer.

The jury pronounced Leo Frank guilty verdict on August 25, 1913. Then followed a series of unsuccessful appeals, the last being before the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected it in April of 1915. Georgia Governor John M. Slaton was a popular figure about to leave office, and considered a rising political star whose ascension to the U.S. Senate was likely, if not a forgone conclusion. It was assumed that he would quickly reject Frank’s request for a pardon, given the extensive appeals and the overwhelming public outrage regarding Mary Phagan’s murder.

Those assumptions were wrong. A trial lawyer before entering politics, the Governor reviewed the evidence, acquired some evidence that had not been presented at trial , and interviewed some of the witnesses, including Conley. who had changed his story several times.  Slaton also heard arguments from both the prosecution and defense.

Although he knew, and had been warned, that taking any action favorable to Leo Frank would not only end his political career in Georgia but also place him and his wife in mortal peril, Slaton commuted Frank’s sentence from capital punishment to life imprisonment. In his official statement, he wrote,

I can endure misconstruction, abuse and condemnation, but I cannot stand the constant companionship of an accusing conscience, which would remind me in every thought that I, as a Governor of Georgia, failed to do what I thought to be right.

Continue reading

Six Ethics Problems With This Picture….And You Should Be Able To Find More

“Scratch” is a New York Times cartoon feature  in the Sunday Business section. This was the most recent installment. I’ll save my (disgusted) comments for the end…

  • The breathtaking leap of logic in the introduction represents such flawed logic that the Times Business Section destroys its credibility, such as it is, by permitting such an illogical statement on its pages. ‘Since companies have been foolishly pandering to hyper-woke complaints about, for example, the picture on a box of rice and the artwork on a package of butter, and statues of important and influential historical figures who were honored in their times are being vandalized and toppled by people who barely know who they are, it’s a ‘perfect time’ time to consider dishonoring the Founders and others without whom we would have no nation at all.’

Continue reading

A Banner Date In The History Of The Barn Door Fallacy: The Day The Concorde Died

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The Barn Door Fallacy is one of the most striking example of persistent human and bureaucratic incompetence, as well as one of the most destructive.

It is just as illogical as the old saw it is named after, yet the reflex reaction to almost every accident, tragedy or chaotic event is to immediately adopt extreme measures that are deemed necessary to prevent what has already happened. This occurs despite the fact that most such events were in situations already operating with known risks and virtual certainty that the disaster that eventually prompts the Barn Door response would occur. Nevertheless, taking reasonable measures to prevent the catastrophe is somehow never recognized until after the bodies stack up, and then being reasonable  is no longer an option.

Examples of this phenomenon, a triumph of incompetence, emotion and fear of responsibility over responsibility and reason, abound: the aftermath to 9/11,  the over-reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing; the end of airship travel after the spectacular explosion of the Hindenburg, the death of nuclear power in the wake of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.  The pandemic will undoubtedly lead to some manifestation of the Barn Door Fallacy. It even infects sports: all it took was a televised career-threatening injury to a franchise star catcher to make Major League Baseball drastically alter the rule regarding collisions at home  plate, and a freak accident breaking the leg of a player in a take-out slide at second base during post-season play-offs to prompt MLB to ban a routine aspect of the game—and an exciting one— practiced and accepted for over a hundred years. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Unethical Quote Of The Month: Joe Biden”

I bet Michael, when he submitted this Comment of the Day, had a feeling I’d groove on it. After all, it’s about a President, I’m a Presidents nut,  and he ends up agreeing with me, which is always welcome.

He also raises and interesting question that was not considered in the post. If we judged Presidents on a racism scale that weighted their attitudes according to how they compared to the culture and predominant beliefs of the day, which Presidents would come out looking best? That’s how baseball stat analysts judge players across eras, and it makes sense: players are compared to league averages while they were playing, and then the stats are adjusted accordingly.  For example, Carl Yastrzemski’s .301 average in 1968 was more impressive, and represented better hitting  in his offensive context, than Lou Gehrig’s .354 mark in 1936, when ten players hit at least .350.

Analyzed that way, Woodrow Wilson comes out as the most racist President, more than the slaveholders. Jefferson, despite being a slaveholder, looks relatively good in the context of his times. So, I think, does Teddy Roosevelt, unapologetic white supremacist that he undoubtedly was.

Here’s Michael’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Unethical Quote Of The Month: Joe Biden”: Continue reading