Category Archives: language

Comment of the Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/13/17: Rushing In Panic Around My Boston Hotel Room Because I Didn’t Get My Wake-Up Call Edition”

“Man! I am BORED out of my GOURD!”

As one might expect, abortion is one of the topics that can be relied upon to spark a lively discussion every time it is raised on Ethics Alarms. This is because abortion is a true ethics dilemma, where valid ethical considerations point in opposite directions. In addition, this ethics dilemma cannot easily be solved by balancing, because determining which of the ethical values involved, personal autonomy and the primacy of human life, should hold the superior priority involves resolving conflicting definitions.Complicating things further is the fact that the three main ethics systems—reciprocity, Kantian ethics, and Utilitarianism— reach disparate conclusions.

The subject of this intense and extensive comment by Zoltar Speaks! is another commenters assertion that the unborn do not qualify as “persons” within the protection of the law because they do not, as far as we know, have self awareness and are incapable of thought. I personally detest this argument, but I’ll leave the exposition to Zoltar. He got extra credit for beginning with the trademark quote that Ethics Alarms uses to designate a “Popeye.

Here is the Zoltar Speaks! Comment of the Day on the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/13/17: Rushing In Panic Around My Boston Hotel Room Because I Didn’t Get My Wake-Up Call Edition:

 

“I ain’t gonna take it, ’cause I can’t take no more!”

My understanding from your comments is that you don’t agree with a lot of what abortion activists use as arguments. However, you’re regurgitating intentionally modified long standing definitions to fit an agenda instead of using the definitions as they are. You are not parsing the words of an existing definition, you are not simply misunderstanding an existing definition, you are literally adding things to the definition of “person” that do not exist in the definition.

You are saying that a person is not a person until they can think and feel, and that is by definition false (see below.)

You say that “intelligent, informed pro-choice advocates” talk about thinking and feeling is when a person becomes a person.  I don’t care who presents that as an argument, it’s false. It is literally uninformed, and since you used it in this way it is literally showing a low level of intelligence. It’s bastardizing the English language into agenda-driven rhetoric:

Bastardizing: corrupt or debase (something such as a language or art form), typically by adding new elements.

I looked up as many definitions for the word “person”  as I could find and I found an obvious common thread: Person: A human being regarded as an individual. A human individual. A human being. A human being as distinguished from an animal or a thing. An individual human. The common thread is human and individual. Tthere is nothing in any definition I could find that could be construed as holding that a person is only a person if he or she can think and feel.

 Human Being, furthermore, is a man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapiens, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance. Is an unborn child a human being? Yes. Continue reading

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Filed under Bioethics, Childhood and children, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, language, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, The Popeye

Comment of the Day: “Desperate Ethics Quote Of The Week: Louis C.K.”

This is a combination of two comments, by the same wise commenter. I thought both were excellent, and together they are better still.

This is La Sylphide’s Comment of the Day on the post, Desperate Ethics Quote Of The Week: Louis C.K.:

Twice a summer I work as a “runner” for two huge music festivals: one country, one rock. I am often in close quarters, or in a car, with very famous people. I’m always professional. I’m always discrete. Rarely am I star struck. (O.k., driving Johnny Depp was pretty cool.) Most stars and their tour managers are kind and thoughtful. But now and then you get a blowhard, or two. One, very well known country star wanted me to share his cigar with him as I drove him to his private plane. “C’mon, sweetheart” as he held out the cigar to me, “it’s not THAT wet…” The whole car went silent. There I was, the only woman in a car with 5 men, a wet cigar, and a wink wink. I played dumb. I blew off his remark with a smile… They all laughed. Here’s the thing: he held no power over me. He couldn’t advance my career or ruin it. I had nothing at stake. And so yes, I can understand these women, in the same industry as Louis C.K., trying to make it, in a hotel room with him and wondering “wtf, do we do now ?!? How much damage will be done if we stay? How much damage will be done if we tell him to GFH? ” So very often, when you are dealing with someone who wields enormous power, it’s like navigating a mine field. For women, there are often split second decisions to be made: do I cross the street now because it’s late at night, I’m alone and he’s coming toward me, or if I cross the street will I anger him and make things worse.”

Continue reading

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The Bad Judges And The Law Dog

The legal commentariat is much amused by a case out of Louisiana involving  the right to counsel. I don’t think it’s funny at all.

( Oh all right, it’s a little funny.)

Warren Demesme was being interviewed by detectives, not for the first time, about some alleged sexual misconduct with minors. He was read his rights, “Mirandized,” as they say, and said that he understood, and waived those rights. (He could, however, choose to invoke them at any time, per several Supreme Court rulings.)

At some point the interview got tense, and the suspect said,

“If y’all, this is how I feel, if y’all think I did it, I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog cause this is not what’s up.”

He was not, however, given access to a lawyer, and when he appealed his subsequent conviction on the grounds that he requested legal assistance and was not accommodated, the lower court rejected his argument, saying that he had not made his desire for a lawyer clear and unambiguous. Incredibly, the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed, writing in part,

The defendant argues he invoked his right to counsel. And the basis for this comes from the second interview, where I believe the defendant ambiguously referenced a lawyer..As this Court has written, “[i]f a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that is ambiguous or equivocal in that a reasonable police officer in light of the circumstances would have understood only that the suspect might be invoking his right to counsel, the cessation of questioning is not required.” State v. Payne (La. 2002); see also Davis v. United States (1994) (agreeing with the lower courts’ conclusion that the statement “[m]aybe I should talk to a lawyer” is not an unambiguous request for a lawyer). In my view, the defendant’s ambiguous and equivocal reference to a “lawyer dog” does not constitute an invocation of counsel that warrants termination of the interview and does not violate Edwards v. Arizona (1981).

Right.

And the vote on the Supreme Court in favor of this indefensible ruling was 8 to 1. 8 to 1!

Forget it, Jack. It’s Louisianatown. Continue reading

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Ethics Quote Of The Week, And A Few Related Diversions

My son is named after this President, incidentally.

The quote itself is by Ron Chernow, the historian who authored the recent well-reviewed biography of out 18th President, “Grant,”  “Hamilton,” the biography that inspired, we are told, the mega-hit musical. and “Washington” (won’t somebody send a copy to the fools at Christ Church?) was given to an interviewer as his description of another book, the Philip Roth’s historical novel  “The Plot Against America”:

[A] democracy can be corrupted, not by big, blaring events, but by a slow, insidious, almost imperceptible process, like carbon monoxide seeping in under the door.

Some random thoughts on this statement, which I believe is exactly right, and a lot more interesting than the more frequently used analogy about boiling a frog slowly:

  • Grant, as Chernow’s book (among others of recent vintage) documents, was present at one of those points when democracy seemed to be in the process of being poisoned, and acted forcefully.

By 1868, when Grant was elected to succeed Andrew Johnson, who had done everything he could to allow the South to resist extending civil rights to the newly freed slaves, the KKK had evolved into a powerful terrorist organization that referred to itself as  “The Invisible Empire of the South.” Under the  Klan’s first  “Grand Wizard,” the brilliant former Confederate cavalry general  Nathan Bedford Forrest, whites from all classes of Southern society joined the Klan’s ranks. They attacked and punished newly freed blacks for crimes like  behaving in an “impudent manner” toward whites, brutalized the teachers of  schools for black children, and burned schoolhouses. It also terrorized and often murdered Republican party leaders those who voted for Reconstruction policies.  In Kansas over 2,000 murders were committed as the 1868 election approached; in Louisiana, a thousand blacks were killed in the same period.

Grant entered office knowing that the Civil War victory could come apart. He made some bad appointments–Grant was naive about politics and trusted too easily—but his choice as Attorney General, Amos T. Akerman, was masterful. With Grant’s support, and the with the help of the newly created Justice Department under Grant, he vigorously worked to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave the vote to black men in every state, and the First Reconstruction Act of 1867, which placed tough restrictions on the South and closely regulated the formation of their new state governments. Between 1870 and 1871, the Republican Congress passed and Grant signed into law the Enforcement Acts, which made it a crime to interfere with registration, voting, officeholding, or jury service by blacks. Congress also passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which allowed the government to act against terrorist organizations.

  • When I was growing up and becoming interested in the Presidents, a life-long passion that led me to both law and ethics, Grant was routinely listed as one of the worst in the line. All one heard from historians was about the financial scandals that rocked his administration. Grant’s great success in subduing the Klan was literally never mentioned. The main Presidential historian then was Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a member of Jack Kennedy’s inner circle. His job as he saw it was to minimize the contributions of any Republican President, like Teddy Roosevelt (“near great” in his rankings), Eisenhower (“below average”) and Grant (“failure’). Meanwhile, Woodrow Wilson, who dragged the U.S, into the first World War, botched the Versailles Treaty and who actively revived the Klan, being a stone-cold racist, was “great.” Naturally, I believed all of his distortions, which were largely those of the historians at the time, then, as now, often partisans and propagandists. It took me a while to realize that this had been my first encounter with the Left attempting to alter present perception by controlling the past.

That is one of the major sources of Chernow’s carbon monoxide today, except that the disinformation now emanates from the schools, colleges, and the news media. Continue reading

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Abashed Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/28/17 [Updated]

Good Morning!

1 Following a day in which various exigencies and responsibilities, plus fatigue and distraction, caused me to whiff on getting up at least three posts I thought were worthy of consideration, yesterday I failed to get any up at all. This makes me very unhappy, and I apologize. A fly-in, fly-out assignment in New York City had me up early and back late, whereupon I had my son’s birthday to acknowledge, the World Series to scrutinize and some aching feet to attend to. Priorities can’t be ignored, and being able to recognize when something you want to do and are devoted to doing just cannot be done well in the time allowed is a matter of life competence. Yet I hate failing loyal readers who care about ethics issues and rely on Ethics Alarms to explore them, and feel negligent when this occurs…fortunately, not very often.

Still too often, however.

2. The emergence of Hollywood director James Toback as a serial sexual harasser (at least) had me preparing a post about why theatrical directors are especially prone to this conduct. The gist of it was that in college, where participation in theater is often more social than aesthetic, directors forming romantic relationships with their cast members is neither taboo nor typically exploitative. Similarly, in community theater such relationships are not unusual or unethical, unless they interfere with a director’s artistic duties: casting an inferior performer because she’s your girl friend or because you want her to be is per se unethical. These are the cultures that produce many directors, and they enter professional theater, and later films, with bad habits that cannot be tolerated or continued in a professional context. Similarly, performers also come out of that culture. It may be difficult for some of them to comprehend that what is arguably acceptable in amateur settings is becomes unconscionable in a professional one.

However, this cannot explain Toback’s conduct. An astounding 200 plus women now say they were harassed or assaulted by him, and the list filled up in less than week. Compared to Toback, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby seem restrained.

Actress Selma Blair, for example, says her agent arranged for her to meet Toback for a possible role in one of his films after her career had begun with promise. Blair says the meeting was scheduled at a hotel restaurant, but  when she arrived the hostess told her that Toback wanted to meet in his hotel room. There, Toback asked her to perform a monologue nude, directed her to have sex with him, and said he would not let her leave until he “had release.” Then the actress says, he simulated sexual intercourse on her leg. 

I begin my sexual harassment seminars by stating that the problem is one of ethics. If you have respect for human beings regardless of gender, if you are fair to people you interact with, if you are caring toward them and obey the Golden Rule, if you apply the three basic ethics alarms checks (“Does this seem right? Could I tell my mother about this? Would I want this on the front page of my local newspaper?”), then you won’t be a harasser. But I can’t begin to explain how someone reaches the point of depravity and utter contempt for women that he would behave the way Blair describes Toback behaving. This is, to understate it, uncivilized. Was he raised by wolves? I suspect even wolves would be horrified by his behavior. My father never had to sit me down at 13 and say, “Jack, it’s time for a talk. It’s never right to simulate sexual intercourse on a woman’s leg when she has come to interview for a job.” I didn’t need to be told this. Who needs to be told this who isn’t already a dangerous sociopath?

Somehow, the culture of Hollywood devolved to such a state that abuse of power and women became a social norm, and even conventionally acculturated adults had their values erased and replaced. That is the only way the Tobacks and Weinsteins could come to exist. That culture is now too sick and entrenched to be wiped clean by a few scandals. It is going to take a long time to change it, if indeed it can be changed. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, language, Race, Rights, Sports, U.S. Society, Workplace

Ethical Quote Of The Month: David Brooks, Channeling Yale Law professor Stephen L. Carter

First, a bit of a disclaimer:

In his Monday column for the New York Times, David Brooks evoked Yale Law professor Stephen L. Carter‘s 1998 book “Civility” to recommend how reasonable people should engage with “fanatics.” I like the quote a lot, with this caveat: Brooks makes it clear, as almost all Times op-eds do now, that by “fanatic” he means all those strange, nasty, stupid, hateful people who don’t subscribe to the New York Times world view and progressive cant. As a result, I have to take Brooks’ words with several grains of sea salt, and indeed try to forget that they are coming from a pundit who has at other times implied that President Trump should be removed from office regardless of whether he actually does anything that would meet the standards required by the impeachment clause or the 25th Amendment.

That and other opinions he has put into print–always in the measured words of the intellectual he styles himself to be—marks him as a fanatic in my book, just one operating under the cover of gentility and intellectual rhetoric. Now, it would have been easy for Brooks to dispel my suspicions and also to have a larger audience for his wisdom had he chosen, as his example of a fanatic, a member of the antifa, or a college student who believes that conservatives should be censored, or any number of leftist nut cases who are as plentiful now as the autumn leaves. But no. Brooks knows that wouldn’t endear himself to his colleagues like Paul Krugman and Charles M. Blow, so his first example of a fanatic, and his only American one, was “a Trump supporter” who threatened him at a baseball game.

Thus Brooks’ column manages to be condescending and arrogant, as well as partisan, because of his failure to harness his biases. The substance of his quote, however, comes via Terry Teachout, the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal, the critic-at-large of Commentary and a thoughtful moderate for an arts guy, and through Amy Alkon, a moderate conservative feminist Trump-hating blogger and author, and Professor Carter, who seems like a reasonable and not especially political sort. This is enough, I think, to cleanse Brooks’ words of their inherent hypocrisy. Deciding that those who disagree with you must be the fanatic in the conversation is, after all, a poor starting point for a productive discussion.

With those reservations and qualifications, here is the quote: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/21/17: Fake Bravery, Mysterious Hate Speech, Vindictive Ex-Presidents, And The Trans Fold-Out

I confess: I miss New England…

Good Morning.

Thank God it’s Saturday.

1 The definition of “courage” being used to describe some of the late-to-the-party revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s victims is more than a bit off.  For example, Academy Award  winner Lupita Nyong’o’s op-ed, in which she talked about her own harassment by Weinstein, was hailed by Kerry Washington, Ellen DeGeneris and others, including singer Janelle Monae, who wrote, “My hero. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for using your voice.”

Bravery? Nyong’o’s piece could be fairly described as kicking a dead horse when he’s down. There is no danger to Nyong’o now in joining the throng accusing and exposing Weinstein, whose head is on a metaphorical pike in Hollywood. Indeed, claiming victimhood now acquires sympathy and declares that one is joining one’s peers in a virtuous quest. There is nothing wrong with her op-ed or the fact that she wrote it, but it isn’t brave. It would have been brave if she had written it while Weinstein had power…and was still using that power to intimidate and exploit actresses

2.  A recent quiz in the New York Times threw some light, or maybe ice water, on the concept of “hate speech.” The quiz asked Times readers to judge whether a statement was hate speech, and contrasted the results with Facebook’s hate speech policy, and the kind of statement would be removed from the social media platform as violating its standards. Facebook defines hate speech as:

  1. An attack, such as a degrading generalization or slur.
  2. Targeting a “protected category” of people, including one based on sex, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and serious disability or disease.

Here were the samples; Times readers were asked to vote yes or no to the question, “Would this statement meet Facebook’s criteria for hate speech?”

A. “Why do Indians always smell like curry?! They stink!”

B. “Poor black people should still sit at the back of the bus.”

C. “White men are assholes.”

D. “Keep ‘trans’ men out of girls bathrooms!”

E. “Female sports reporters need to be hit in the head with hockey pucks.”

F. I’ll never trust a Muslim immigrant… they’re all thieves and robbers.”

The Answers:

A. Facebook: Hate speech. Times readers: 75% yes, 25% no.

B. Facebook: Not hate speech. Times readers: 92% yes, 8% no.

C. Facebook: Hate speech. Times readers: 48% yes, 52% no.

D. Facebook: It depends on the context. Times readers: 57% yes, 43% no.

E. Facebook: Not hate speech. Times readers: 80% yes, 20% no.

F. Facebook: Not hate speech. Times readers: 91% yes, 9% no.

Ethics Alarms: the concept of hate speech is a dangerous, intentionally vague, manufactured category of speech pointing to restrictions of free expression. There is hateful speech, insulting speech, bigoted speech, biased speech, cruel speech, uncivil speech and rude speech, but all of it is still protected speech.

The tell is C. Times readers only voted that one statement wasn’t hate speech, the one that denigrated all white men. Of course they did. By Facebook standards, that vote is hate speech. I think.

Facebook can ban whatever speech it chooses, of course. The fact that it engages in this kind of vague, inconsistent, bias-laden censorship, however, tells us how much we should trust it: Not at all.

3. Speaking of bias, the Trump-haters in the news media—which is to say, the news media—were thrilled that both Barack Obama and George W. Bush delivered, on the same day, statements that were taken as rebukes to President Trump without mentioning him by name. Both Presidents were treading in serious hypocrisy mine fields, and neither were called on it sufficiently. Bush spoke of “fading confidence” in free markets: Gee, who was President when insufficiently regulated capitalists crashed the world economy? Obama, even more cynically, pointed to social, racial and economic schisms after his eight years of aggravating and exploiting them. Both Bush and Obama—and for them, this is a despicable ethics foul—conflated illegal immigration with immigration, to the seal-flipper applause of the open-border crowd.

The significance of these dual attacks is less than it appears. Bothex-POTUSes are motivated by personal animus and as well as personal bias. President Trump is doing an excellent job, as promised, of erasing Obama’s few substantive achievements and policy initiatives from the record, and he has only been at it for less than a year. Are you a a successful President if the primary lasting effect of your administration is reversal of progress in racial reconciliation? Obama’s enmity is predictable, but hardly based on objective consideration. Bush’s attack is even less so.  Candidate Trump’s attacks on President Bush’s brother were nasty and personal; the entire family has made no secret of the fact that it won’t forget, and hates the President’s guts/

The real ethics lesson, as well as a practical policy lesson is that being gratuitously mean to people isn’t just unethical, it is incompetent for a leader. This is one more area where the President shows a self-destructive lack of control and prudence as well as a flat learning curve. At a recent event, Paul Ryan, another target of Trump’s personal insults, mocked the President. John McCain has clearly decided that he will do whatever he can to undermine him until his last breath. Not only do the various public figures Trump needlessly insults and attacks occasionally have the opportunity to strike back in substantive ways, they also have supporters who will side with them even when those strikes are unfair or petty.

Deliberately making enemies is an example of life incompetence. It is so for a librarian or a short-order cook; it is even more so for a leader. It just makes it harder for you to do your job.

Why would you do that?

4. And now that Hugh Heffner is dead, Playboy is trying to make him roll over in his grave by announcing that it will have its first transgender Playmate.

Is this Ick, or ethics? Presumably, if the magazine has any integrity at all, Playboy chooses its Playmates according to their aesthetic qualities, not their medical history. These are women. Stipulated: French model Ines Rau is a woman, now.  Why is her selection focusing on how she got to be one?

Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Rau wasn’t chosen because she is a beautiful woman, though I am not saying that she isn’t. She was chosen because she is transgender, and beautiful enough. This was affirmative action. Reports say she is honored. Why isn’t she insulted? If President Obama told Sonia Sotomayor that she was being nominated as a Supreme Court Justice not because she is especially qualified, but because she is Hispanic, would Sotomayor have been pleased?

Rau is being exploited, as Playboy treats the transgender social issue as a fad, to sell magazines and get publicity. Predictably, many of Playboy’s readers are objecting for the wrong reasons: they are bigots. Playboy’s social media response is telling: “Standing on the right side of history.” This is, as Ethics Alarms has pointed out before, a facile dodge and a rationalization. “We’re on the right side of history” is weak variation of the Number 1 rationalization on the list, “Everybody does it.” It means “Everybody’s going to do it, just you wait and see.”

Color me dubious. Heterosexual men who buy girlie magazines are going to find transgender women more beautiful and sexually arousing because they once were biologically male?

Sure, Playboy. Whatever you say.

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