Category Archives: Religion and Philosophy

Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/28/18: Expired Ethics, Sleeping Fact-Checkers, Ghosts, The Dumbest Ethics Train Wreck Of Them All…

It’s a beautiful morning!

1. When “Everybody Does it” isn’t just a rationalization. I was asked by a law firm to render an opinion as to whether particular conduct was a violation of the legal ethics rules.  A legal ethics opinion—bar associations issue these periodically to cover gray areas– in the jurisdiction said that it was, but the opinion was over 20 years old. The reasoning given in the opinion for declaring the conduct unethical was that the practice was “new to the jurisdiction” and might mislead or confuse the public.

Today, however, my research showed, the conduct is commonplace in that jurisdiction. Many, many law firms engage in it. What was new two decades ago is new no longer, and the reasoning for the opinion’s conclusion was based on conditions that no longer exist. Moreover, no firm has been punished for the conduct, and won’t be.

The firm was concerned that the legal ethics opinion had not been over-ruled or withdrawn. I said that it didn’t have to be. “Everyone” was engaged in the conduct it forbade, the bar had allowed “everyone” to do it, and if an issue was raised now, I am 100% certain that the old opinion would be withdrawn as no longer reasonable or germane.

2. One more human feature that makes ethics harder: the ability to simultaneously hold two contradictory and mutually exclusive beliefs.

I was watching one of the apparently inexhaustible supply of cable shows about haunting and paranormal investigations with my wife. This one climaxed in a session with a Ouija board, and the love of my life uttered, within seconds of each other, these two statements:

  • “It’s amazing how many otherwise intelligent people really believe in ghosts and demons.”
  • “Ouija boards! I wouldn’t allow one of those things in the house. I’m not taking any chances.

I have heard many other friends and acquaintances endorse both of these positions as well.

3. It is the study of how one discerns the truth, after all. Who needs it? They no longer teach ethics in our education system, and now apparently philosophy is on the way out. Claremont Graduate University in California will be closing the PhD program in philosophy and terminating two tenured faculty. Apparently the move was dictated by budget and “market considerations.” The Claremont colleges in Southern California are a distinguished and growing batch consisting of Pomona, Scripps, Harvey Mudd, Claremont-McKenna, and Pitzer. They still have a philosophy faculty, but I wonder for how long.

I was tempted to check the curriculum of these schools to see what kinds of courses were deemed worthy of support while a graduate degree in philosophy was not, but I decided that it would make my head explode. Continue reading

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Integrity Check For “The Resistance” And The News Media (But I Repeat Myself)

“The U.S. economy had a blockbuster second quarter, with growth surging to a 4.1 percent pace the Commerce Department said Friday. That was nearly double the first quarter rate of 2.2 percent and the strongest pace in nearly four years. President Trump has been steadfastly claiming that his policies will catapult the U.S. economy into a much higher rate of growth — 4 percent over the next few years. That would be about double the growth rate in recent years. And it would almost certainly mean a big boost in the standard of living for many Americans, with higher wages and better public services as the government raked in more tax dollars from a booming economy.”

This isn’t from Fox News or Breitbart. It’s from NPR. (Sometimes even biased new sources have no choice but to just report the news.)

Stipulated: The anti-Trump deranged are now fully incapable of admitting that this President has done something right or that he is capable of doing something, anything, right.  The New York Times already started pooh-poohing the positive report before it was released, with this story, Why Friday’s G.D.P. Number May Be a Size Too Big. (Hard copy headline: Get Ready For Sizzling Growth Data. Then Take a Deep Breath.)

Now I’m obligated to note that if President Obama’s stumbling, growth-restricting policies had produced a leap like this, no mainstream media news source would have offered anything but unrestrained praise, though Fox News might well have said, “Well it’s about damn time!”

OK, that’s out of the way.

How long does “the resistance” think it can get away with the intellectually dishonest, obviously unfair, self-indicting strategy of insisting on a parallel reality where double standards reign and no good news or welcome developments will ever, ever, prompt it to concede that the President was right, succeeded or improved the nation’s status? Indeed, why does it think it is getting away with that destructive, divisive and dishonest strategy now? Half the nation doesn’t trust the news media, meaning it cannot change anyone’s mind even when changing the minds is crucial. Democratic opposition to Trump appears to be personal rather than substantive, and it appears that way because it is.

The Ethics Alarms position, since it is an ethics blog (and yes, “The Ethics Alarms position” means MY position, Tim…) is that every single one of the reasons I wrote so many posts explicating them that led me to believe that Donald Trump should never be President stands. Every one. Nothing that he has done, and especially the manner in which he has done what he has done, alters my analysis in any way. However, he is President, so analyzing whether he should be is moot. Now the questions are…

  • How well are his policies and initiatives working?
  • What good are they doing for the country?
  • What harm are they doing, or might they do, and how do we mitigate that?
  • If there are long term benefits of his Presidency, what are they?
  • If there are long term deficits, what are they, and and how do we mitigate them?
  • How does the nation, the public and its institutions best ensure that the results of the President’s tenure on the nation and the culture are as beneficial as possible?
  • What have I and other analysts been proven wrong about, and what does this mean for future analysis going forward?

None of these tasks can be done competently by anyone who is so soaked in hatred, partisan agendas and bias that they are determined to deny the President his wins and “I told you sos,” and there have been a surprising amount both. Nor is it helpful to be willfully blind to the President’s strengths when they become apparent, and some have become apparent.

For example, he cannot possibly be as stupid as I assumed in 2016, and had concluded many years before. President Trump is something else, and I’m not sure what the word for that something else is, or, I suppose, he’s the luckiest bastard who ever lived. I am relatively certain that in the grand cosmic scheme Donald Trump is what philosopher Isaiah Berlin, in his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox” called a hedgehog, someone who, in words of the Greek poet Archilochus, “knows one big thing” as opposed to a fox, which knows many things. The thrust of the essay (and a later book) is that a lesson of history is that the hedgehogs tend to win out over the foxes.

Now I just have to figure out what the one big thing Donald Trump knows is. Based on the evidence so far, it is worth knowing.

_______________________

Pointer: Ann Althouse

 

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/23/2018: Look! A Trump And Biased News Media-Free Warm-Up!

Good morning.

The three days of heavy rain wouldn’t bother me so much if it didn’t make Rugby so miserable. You do NOT want to be cooped up with an unhappy Jack Russell Terrier. Trust me on this.

1. Baseball Ethics, Jerk Division. Watch this:

Yes, that guy deliberately took a baseball away from a kid who lost hold of it after it had been tossed to him by Cubs first base coach Will Venable during yesterday’s Cubs-Cardinals game. Apparently the child was given a replacement ball by the Cubs, and this one was autographed. The gesture also took some the inevitable heat off the jerk who snatched the ball. with the Cubs telling reporters that he had helped the same boy get a ball earlier in the game and wasn’t really a monster.

A few points:

  • That the kid ended up, as some commentators put it, “better off” because the jerk stole his ball is pure moral luck, and doesn’t make what the guy did any less wrong, cruel or despicable.
  • Neither is it mitigation that the same man—claims the Cubs—helped the kid get another ball earlier. What kind of ethical principle is that? “I helped you before, so this entitles me to steal from you now: all even, right?”
  • Please save some contempt for the woman the jerk gave the purloined ball to. She should have handed the ball right back to the child, She’s as big a jerk as her friend is.

2. Now consider this: what if the jerk was a federal judge nominated to fill a Supreme Court seat? Would that video be fair game to consider in evaluating his qualifications to be a SCOTUS justice? Let’s have a poll:

Continue reading

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The Ethics Conundrum Of The Undisciplined Mind: What Does The President Mean When He Says He Mispoke?

Today President Trump said he had “realized that there is a need for some clarification” regarding his remarks yesterday.

“In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t” The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative.”

Contradicting what most critics took to be his message yesterday,  the President proclaimed his “full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies,” adding,

“I have felt very strongly that while Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that — and I’ve said this many times — I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”

Knowing what we know about Donald Trump—I’m not speaking here to the anti-Trump unhinged, who “know” that he is a fascist, colluding, cheating autocratic moron menace who stole the election and who is only President to con the nation and raid its coffers—what does all that mean? What does it mean when someone who thinks and speaks—and acts— like Trump does says, ‘I didn’t mean what I said’?

Not only don’t I have any idea, I don’t think it is possible to know. I see the following possibilities: Continue reading

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Monday Morning Ethics Wake-Up, 7/16/2018: Punking, Molesting, Grandstanding And Obsessing

My state of mind this morning…

It’s Monday again.

1. Ethics Neurosis. I failed to get an Ethics Warm-Up or an equivalent posted this past Saturday, and still feel guilty about it after feeling guilty all weekend. This is not healthy. I had an early morning seminar to teach as well as some urgent family business to tend to afterwards, and then found myself thoroughly exhausted. I just couldn’t rouse myself to the task, then felt like I was failing my duties of diligence and responsibility.

This is especially weird, because I’m kind of frustrated over the blog these days. Traffic continues to lag, having dropped about 10% since the overheated days of 2016, and 2018 is a little behind last year, meaning that there is a goodly chance that Ethics Alarms will have negative growth two years in a row after trending up for its first seven years. I attribute the slump to Mr. Trump, as the New York Times calls him, the “resistance,” as the large bloc of progressives, including those in the news media, who have refused to do the ethical thing and let Mr. Trump be the President he was elected to be without unprecedented disrespect, sabotage  and interference from them, and the rigid polarization, social and political, the two have created among members of the public who are now crippled by hate, anger and bias.

One of my Facebook friends, in this case a real friend who has occasionally commented here, recently noted innocently that one of Melania Trump’s dresses was gorgeous, and even though he had led with a disclaimer that he did not want his observation to prompt political invective, several of his own FBF’s reacted by attacking the First Lady. One called her a “ho;” another opined that she had no soul, which is the only way she could be married to this President of the United States. I told the latter commenter to “Get help,” and he responded by declaring me a racist. This is the kind of deranged logic that has caused committed leftists from visiting here, being rational, and discussing ethics. One of our prominent and most noisy excommunicants recently wrote me  to say that since I apparently approved of “putting children in cages,” he was glad to be gone.

Maybe such individuals will be able to reason objectively again some day. I’ve got to learn to stop beating myself up if they can’t. Writing an ethics blog is too much work and responsibility to do every day when it makes me unhappy.

2. Why I don’t give a damn what the Pope thinks. I watched “Spotlight” again yesterday, the Academy Award-winning film about how the Boston Globe broke the Catholic Church child molestation scandal 18 years ago. It ends with a disturbing four screens of small type listing all of the cities in the U.S. and the world where major child molesting scandals and cover-ups had been exposed. (There have been more since.) Come to think of it, I also lost some readers here over the Ethics Alarms (correct) position that a religious organization that could allow this catastrophe to happen had forfeited its moral authority and was untrustworthy.

Then I read a prominent story above the fold in today’s Times that begins, Continue reading

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Where Have You Gone, Ernest Hemingway? Of Baseball, Tanking, Winning, Trying, And Life…

This essay is only incidentally about baseball, but like so many things that sieve through my brain, it was sparked by a conversation about baseball. On the satellite radio MLB channel, one of the interchangeable hosts—I really have trouble telling them apart: some are ex-general managers who nobody will hire, some are ex-players, and a few are sportswriters, but they all seem to say the same things, though one says them with a bilateral lisp—was interviewing a New York sportswriter. That alone would normally prompt me to switch to the Beatles Channel (or the weather), but as I reached for the dial I caught one of the writer’s comments. He was talking about the fact that the New York Yankees’ opponent at the time, the Tampa Bay Rays, were almost a .500 team, and were competing despite a tiny payroll, unlike many other teams this year, which have adopted the controversial strategy of fielding cheap and crummy teams (called “tanking’) in the hopes of getting high draft choices as a reward for  miserable won-lost records.

“I guess you have to admire the Rays,” he said, “though in this day and age, it makes no sense to try to be a .500 team.”

What a nauseating, unethical position, and how characteristic of the downward trend in American values and spirituality!  It makes no sense to try be a .500 team? This sentiment warps so much in American life today. It translates into the envy, resentment and anger that typical, normal, healthy Americans lug around on their souls all day because they aren’t rich like the people they see on TV, or the neighbor down the street who had wealthy parents and left him a bundle.

It makes sense for the Rays to try to be a .500 team because it means the team is doing the best it can, despite limitations beyond its control, to give its fans something to cheer and care about. It makes sense to try to be a .500 team for the same reason it makes sense to aspire to be the kind of steady, honest, hard-working middle class American who raises happy and well-adjusted children in a stable home but will never win any major awards or be the subject of features in their local newspapers. It makes sense to try to be a .500 team for the same reason it is right to work hard and well no matter what your salary, or whether you are being paid at all.

Ambition is a great motivator, as long as one understands that achieving one’s goals is often as dependent on chance and chaos as it is on industry and talent, and if you prepare yourself to be bitter about that, bitter is how you are likely to wind up.

I learned to love baseball passionately following a .500 baseball team–indeed a sub-.500 baseball team— that seemed like it would never be anything but. This was in an era where the New York Yankees literally won the pennant every year, with a rare exception now and then. The system was rigged to favor them, and had been for decades. The Boston Red Sox began every season knowing that getting to the World Series was a pipe dream, and their fans knew it too. Nevertheless, they tried. As an almost good team, they had a chance to win every game—not a great chance, when they were playing the Yankees, but a chance. Often the Sox made a good fight of it while going down: our hopes were raised, and there was that wonderful-horrible moment that is the beating heart of baseball where anything can happen from a miracle to a tragedy as the ball is hurtling toward the plate and fate’s resolution. Life is like that, and the sooner you realize and accept it, the better off you are.

The best hitters make outs 60% of the time, and the best teams still lose at least 35% of their games. The typical players and teams do worse than that, just like the typical American, indeed human being, loses a lot more often than he or she wins. The important thing, the thing that undergirds ethics, and integrity, and responsibility, and honor, is that you do the best you can, and pick yourself up when you fail, and try again. It’s not a bromide. It’s the only way to live without going crazy, becoming a serial killer, or surrendering to despair. Continue reading

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The SCOTUS Ruling In Trump v. Hawaii [UPDATED]

The Supreme Court properly and ethically  killed the burgeoning liberal judicial theory that different Presidents have different restrictions on how they can exercise established Presidential powers. The majority in in the just announced decision in Trump v. Hawaii conclusively struck down a Hawaii judge’s ruling that Trump’s hostile comments about Muslims on the campaign trail rendered his travel restrictions unconstitutional, while a similar measure ordered by a nice President for the right intuited reasons would be presumably acceptable. This seemingly partisan ruling required substituting mind-reading for the President’s stated reasons for the Executive Order, and would have established a terrible precedent in a number of areas.

Sadly, this was another 5-4 ruling where the Court seemed to divide along ideological lines. However, since it seems clear that the five conservatives would have ruled the same way no matter which party’s President had issued the order, while the liberal bloc was indulging “the resistance” with a “Trump is special” approach, only one side of the political divide appears to have left integrity and and objectivity in their spare robes. Many, many commentators around the web have noted that this should have been a 9-0 decision, and that the political bias of the Hawaii decision was flagrant from the start. I agree. The President’s authority in this area is clear and unambiguous.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the government “has set forth a sufficient national security justification” for its action. “We express no view on the soundness of the policy,” Roberts added.

More, from the holding: Continue reading

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