Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/15/2021: “Having A Hard Time Keeping Up” Edition

Just a housekeeping note…I am struggling to find a way to keep Ethics Alarms reasonably current and informative at a time when the ethics issues are resembling an avalanche from my point of view. Avoiding the trap of letting political matters eat the blog is also a constant chore; it has been for many years, but the problem seems to be getting worse. The daily warm-up format was developed to help me cover more issues, but it has become an amazingly time-consuming project, usually taking me two hours on most days. That’s still less than it would take to cover each of the four or five items in full posts (tagging, proofreading and completing the links now takes longer than ever, thanks to WordPress “improvements). Of course, posting 8 or 9 posts a day instead of just three or four would help traffic, which depresses me, but unfortunately, I have other responsibilities. Then there are the long-delayed but promised Part Twos and Threes that are staring at me like unpaid debts, making me feel guilty. I can’t believe the Ethics Scoreboard would have an essay a week, and sometimes not even that. I’ll figure it out….

1. Well, this makes me feel a little better...it appears that the commentariat on both Ann Althouse’s blog and the home of Professor Turley’s usually excellent analysis have also become overwhelmingly conservative as the progressives have fled except for a few determined souls. Ann and the professor are both left-leaning, but their integrity has led them to be critical of the progressive hive as well as the news media that nourishes it. Being objective is now the mark of an evil conservative, apparently, or so their critics claim. That’s a horrifying cultural development, but at least the flight of the progressives on Ethics Alarms was not an isolated phenomenon.

2. More on “Peril”...

  • The story in Bob Woodward’s latest book about Gen. Milley’s breach of the chain of command because, apparently, he was biased by several Big Lies about his Commander in Chief only rated page 16 coverage in the New York Times, behind, for example, Squaw Valley changing its name because a lifetime petty criminal was accidentally killed by a Minnesota cop. Meanwhile, this is front page, multiple op-ed stuff over at the Washington Post. It the Post’s Bob Woodward’s claims are true, then it should be a front page story in both papers. If it isn’t, THAT’s a front page story. 
  • Of course, the story may be garbage, but the Post won’t consider that. Example: in a piece by Greg Sargent called “Awful new revelations about Trump and Jan. 6 show Mike Pence is no hero,” this excerpt from “Peril” is cited as factual enough to be called an “awful revelation.” Trump and Pence are supposedly arguing about whether Pence should block the certification of the election:
“If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to?” Trump asked.
“I wouldn’t want any one person to have that authority,” Pence said.
“But wouldn’t it be almost cool to have that power?” Trump asked, according to Woodward and Costa.
“No,” Pence said. He went on, “I’ve done everything I could and then some to find a way around this. It’s simply not possible.”
 
How can these quotes be believed? It was a conversation between two people. Trump wasn’t Woodward’s source, and neither was Pence. Yet we are told that these are exact quotes. Unless Woodward was there, which he wasn’t, the account is hearsay at best, and maybe third- or fourth-hand hearsay. Greg Sargent, however, believes them, and a Post editor thinks that’s enough to justify representing a fabricated conversation as real.
 

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Ethics Observations On Gen. Milley’s Alleged Secret Calls To China

Milley

According to “Peril,” Bob Woodward’s latest pseudo-journalism relying on chatty leakers and other anonymous sources to expose the inside sausage-making of our government, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark A. Milley called his Chinese counterpart before the 2020 election and again after the January 6 riots because he feared that President Trump might start a war with China. From Woodward’s employer, the Washington Post:

In a pair of secret phone calls, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, that the United States would not strike, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and national political reporter Robert Costa.

One call took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that unseated President Donald Trump, and the other on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the Capitol siege carried out by his supporters in a quest to cancel the vote. The first call was prompted by Milley’s review of intelligence suggesting the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack. That belief, the authors write, was based on tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea, and deepened by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric toward China. “General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

In the book’s account, Milley went so far as to pledge he would alert his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, stressing the rapport they’d established through a backchannel. “General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”

Observations:

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Competence Check: Learn To Communicate, You Inarticulate Boobs.

I’ll make this quick.

Sullivan and U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne, spoke with ABC News’ Ian Pannell yesterday at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport about the evacuations taking place there. As the Taliban is taking control of the country, Sullivan said that his Marines are managing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, saying, “I think whether you’re in a combat situation or a humanitarian operation, the human element is always there. But this event is an unprecedented event. I have my years of deploy[ment] into combat and to other crisis areas… I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Then the two Ethics Dunce Congressmen, Seth Moulton, a Bay State Democrat, and Republican Peter Meijer of Michigan, both Iraq War veterans as the news media keeps reminding us (as if that excuses them), made a secret, unapproved visit to the Hamid Karzai International Airport on Tuesday “to conduct oversight” on the evacuation. They also said it wasn’t grandstanding. Of course it was grandstanding. The Administration’s anger at the two as well as Speaker Pelosi’s criticism was 100% appropriate.

But I digress. Moulton, who tweeted his reactions, wrote at one point, “I visited Kabul airport to conduct oversight on the evacuation. Witnessing our young Marines and soldiers at the gates, navigating a confluence of humanity as raw and visceral as the world has ever seen, was indescribable.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“Indescribable.”

This is not sufficient or acceptable. It is incompetent and lazy communication of information that the generals and the congressmen have a duty to communicate. Those descriptions could mean anything, and they deliberately or negligently leave their meaning to the imaginations of listeners and readers, when they didn’t see a thing. If officials can’t do better than that explaining a situation to the public through the news media, then they shouldn’t be talking to the news media, and they shouldn’t be officials.

Meanwhile, adding to the incompetence, reporters in a position to do so must not take such useless generalities as answers.

“What did you see that you have never seen before, General?”

“Please describe what you mean by indescribable, Congressman!”

Or go back to grade school and learn to talk. I’m sick of this.

Reader Comments Safari: Revealing NYT Reader Comments, And Althouse Reader Comments On Those Comments

Biden meeting

Blogger Ann Althouse has gone full circle and now allows reader comments again. I must confess that the episode cooled much of my long-standing enthusiasm for her blog: her reasoning in banning them was so arrogant and dismissive of the loyal readers who support her that she crashed her cognitive dissonance scale with me. (And I still don’t forgive her for refusing to include Ethics Alarms in her links; eventually she stopped linking to any other sites at all, which, come to think of it, was similar to banning comments.) I assume her traffic was crashing, or maybe someone she pays attention to pointed out that her constantly changing the comment hoops to jump through (“No comments, but you can email me with a comment, and maybe I’ll quote it as a comment…”) did not put the former law prof. in a flattering light. I don’t know, and don’t really care. I just know that I don’t check her quirky posts as often as I once did.

I checked today, though, and Ann posted on “Miscue After Miscue, U.S. Exit Plan Unravels/President Biden promised an orderly withdrawal. That pledge, compounded by missed signals and miscalculations, proved impossible” , a an article that I had already read in the print edition. The Times story describes a disturbing meeting President Biden had with his military and other advisors about the plan to pull out in Afghanistan. Ann read the online comments from Times readers and reported herself,

“If you go into the comments over there at the NYT and you put them in order of “most liked,” you’ll see an unbroken chain of comments supporting Joe Biden: “It seems to me that the media is being less than fair to Joe Biden over this,” “Has it really gone wrong?,” “Did the Trump Surrender Agreement with the Taliban provide for evacuation? If it did, what did it say? If it didn’t, why not?,” “Frankly I’m dismayed that the media is now declaring this a disaster,” “Thanks President Biden for making this brave decision albeit flawed execution. When we end this if there are no US troop live lost and Americans evacuated with as much of our allies. It will be remembered as a very good decision and no one will care about execution like Vietnam withdrawal.”

Good research there, Ann! I would never do that; I detest “likes,” which I regard as lazy substitutes for serious consideration. But her discovery is useful: this is a major reason, along with the biases of its employees, why the Times has abandoned journalism for progressive propaganda. Of course, I could read pretty much the same sad reactions from my own Facebook feed, if my “friends” didn’t block me from reading what they know I’d take apart, ruthless and with glee.

Then Althouse’s commenters had a field day, reminding me again how foolish it was to silence them. Among the best responses,

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This Is How Trust In A Democracy Dies…And When Trust Dies, Democracy Dies

pentagonbrief-1z0wty

I am late getting up the first post of this Saturday—experience shows that if there isn’t at least one post up by 10:30 am, the total traffic for the day will resemble that of Hooterville at midnight in mid-February—because I was watching with my face in a rictus of horror as the Pentagon’s various flacks tried to spin the unspinnable and treated the American public as idiots as well as the news media (but then the reporters are idiots, to be fair.)

The various contrived reports—What a wonderful and heroic job the U.S. military is doing in evacuating people! Teamwork! Coordination! Brilliantly executed planning! It’s a triumph!–were dripping with Authentic Frontier Gibberish like “throughput.” I don’t trust officials who won’t speak plain English. The Pentagon’s mouthpieces kept describing the situation as “fluid and dynamic,” over and over, obviously and deliberately misleading adjectives with false positive vibrations that were carefully chosen to deceive. It reminded me of Phillip Roth’s satire “Our Gang” in which White House spokesmen keep describing the President as “resting comfortably” when he is in fact dead.

When one of today’s liars was asked about one of his assurances last week that turned out to be completely false, his response was, “That was absolutely true at the time I said it.” He also kept repeating, “I’m not going to get into threat assessments at this time.”

How can anyone with sufficient cognitive ability to tie their shoelaces trust people who talk like this ever? How can they ever trust the organizations and institutions they represent? The answer is simple: They can’t.

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Ethics Quote Of The Month: Lincoln Brown

Taliban abuse

I try to keep my true rants to a minimum, as they are unseemly for one in my role. I also try, not quite so successfully, to tamp down my occasional impulse to write, “I told you so!” It really helps me a lot when a web pundit like Lincoln Brown, a former talk show host and conservative columnist, writes pretty much exactly what I am feeling.

Brown’s essay titled “Dear Leftists, I Hope You Can’t Live With Yourselves” is what I have been dreaming of posting on Facebook for my 200 or so left-biased Facebook friends, some of them real friends I once thought better of as well as a few relatives, who would write mouth-foaming screeds about President Trump’s emails but who have maintained absolute Facebook silence on the Afghanistan disaster other than to post a meek and deflecting, “I think it was time to get out of Afghanistan, right everybody?” Brown’s whole post is the Ethics Quote of the Month, but here are some highlights:

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Ethics And Leadership Failure On Afghanistan, Part I: In And Out

I’m not a foreign policy expert. (Is anyone a foreign policy expert?) so Ethics Alarms will go light on what “should” have been done by the U.S. in Afghanistan. The one thing I am unalterably convinced of now, as I was in 2001, is that the U.S. had to take strong military action against the Taliban after it aided and abetted Osama bin Laden. No nation can just shrug off a fatal, ambush attack on its citizens with a finger wag and a stern, “Now don’t do that again, or you’ll be sorry!”

Obviously staying twenty years in the pseudo-nation was way, way too long, expensive and costly in American lives, but dreaded mission creep set in. My approach after 9/11—and I think that of several past Presidents, including Eisenhower and Truman—would have been to strike hard, make sure as many military and government officials as possible were among the dead, accept the civilian casualties as unavoidable, and make sure that a properly frightening death toll—ten times what we lost on 9/11, perhaps, 30,000?—made the necessary point: “Don’t mess with the United States of America.” Once that message was delivered, get out. Colin Powell’s too often quoted nostrum that if you broke a country you were obligated to fix it should not have applied. Afghanistan was already broken; it was and remains a chaotic mess of warlords and medieval thinking supported by the heroin trade. Nobody can “fix” it. However, the Taliban was bad, and worst of all it oppressed women, so all of a sudden our objective became an ethical one, not retaliation but reform.

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Ethics Hero Emeritus: Rose Valland (1898-1980)

Rose-Valland

The remarkable 2008 documentary “The Rape of Europa” tells the story of the Nazi plundering of fine art across Europe. It is full of many accounts of heroism, none more impressive than that of Rose Villand, a meek-looking librarian out of central casting, who is as perfect and example of how ordinary people can rise to extraordinary levels of courage and innovation in times of crisis.

Rose Valland was born in Saint-Étienne-de-Saint-Geoirs, France on November 1, 1898. She earned two degrees in the arts from the École des Beaux-Arts in Lyon and also studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, then added degrees in art history from both the École du Louvre and the Sorbonne. Her academic credentials, however, did not immediately advance her career, as Valland began work at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris as an unpaid volunteer.

In October 1940, during the Occupation of Paris, the Nazis commandeered the Jeu de Paume Museum and converted it into the headquarters of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, the Nazi art looting organization created by frustrated artist Adolf Hitler. There The Nazis stored paintings and other works of art stolen from private French collectors and dealers, including thousands of works taken from Jewish-owned galleries. The museum’s collaborating curator, Andre Dézarrois, fell ill in the summer of 1941, and in a stroke of fate for civilization, Valland became the de facto director of the museum. Jacques Jaujard, Director of the French National Museums including the Louvre, gave Valland a daunting assignment: she was to use her post in the museum to spy on the Nazi art theft operation.

The Germans, as explained in “The Rape of Europa,” took scant notice of the “little mouse” of a woman who kept her head down, seldom spoke, and appeared to follow orders. They didn’t even realize that she spoke German, but under their noses she was acquiring crucial information from the conversations of drivers, guards, and packers relating to the looted art treasures…60,000 of them. Villand witnessed the frequent shopping trips of Nazi Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering as he made more than twenty separate visits to the Jeu de Paume to select works of art for Hitler’s planned Führermuseum in Linz, Austria, and his own personal collection. Possessing a remarkable memory for details, she recorded her discoveries regarding the movements, names of the victims, number of pieces and where they were going, names of the agents responsible for transfers, names of the carriers, brands of the boxes, numbers and dates of convoys,as well as the names of the artists and the dimensions of the pieces that passed before her. She relayed the information to Jaujard and the French Resistance while keeping her own meticulous records. She warned the Resistance of convoys containing important artworks so that they would be spared, all while knowing that she would be executed as a spy if her activities were discovered by the Nazis—and at least twice, they nearly caught her.

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The Comment Of The Day Trifecta Continues, With P.M. Lawrence’s Further Observations On Custer’s Clash With J.E.B. Stuart in “July 3: Pickett’s Charge, Custer’s First Stand, Ethics And Leadership”…

Ethics Alarms has readers all over the globe and several regular non-American commenters as well. Their perceptions are always interesting and sometimes enlightening in ways the USA-steeped commentariat here would be challenged to duplicate. P.M. Lawrence is one of our esteemed foreign correspondents, and in this Comment of the Day on my post on the epic events of July 3, 1863 in a little shoe-making town in Pennsylvania…

As I mentioned in comments to earlier posts on this topic at this site, it is entirely possible that Lee planned Pickett’s Charge to work in conjunction with the attack on the rear. This follows from precedents in military history, of which Lee would have been well aware from his experience as an instructor. In particular, Gettysburg was an “encounter battle”, brought about by a less than planned encounter; when that happens, the major risk is that whoever withdraws first suffers a terrible pursuit of the sort Napoleon showed the world – so both try to fight it out, following the logic of game theory’s “prisoner’s dilemma”, “tragedy of the commons”, or “money auction”. (At least Lee was able to fight long and hard enough to thwart that worst possible outcome, and he may well have known that and been trying for that at the time, at least once victory was unlikely.)

Back to the precedents: Lee may well have modeled his tactics (not strategy) on Oudenarde, which was also an encounter battle; when that started, Marlborough realised his predicament early on and detached a Dutch flying column to march around the fighting to attack the French reinforcements in flank hours later, before those could reach and feed the fight that Marlborough was also feeding all along (in Grant’s phrase), a feeding which Marlborough had to do to keep everything in play until the Dutch blow fell.

However, to the best of my knowledge Lee never claimed later that he had been trying to do this, even though the similarities to precedents are striking.

By the way, U.S. culture has so changed its concepts and terminology that “honor” does not mean what honour now means in British English or other European languages, or what it meant in the U.S.A. of that era. I would venture to suggest that U.S.A.-ians do not now have access to this concept at all, what with language now steering them to a different concept entirely. Think how you could now access the old meaning of “gay”, if you even wished to. It’s the sort of thing Orwell brought out in “1984”. (Hint: police lying to suspects is not honourable – and anyone who argues otherwise is invoking different concepts, which is the point I am trying to highlight.)

Also by the way, it is an old precept that “the secret of military discipline is that the soldiers should be more scared of the sergeants than of the enemy”, which may have been at work here. It may be found in the writings of Montaigne and of Frederick the Great, with “officers” substituting for “sergeants” (the term “officers” also covers N.C.O.s in many continental European languages).

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/2/2021: Remembering The Epic Second Day Of The Battle Of Gettysburg

Little Round Top

On July 2, 1863, during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg with the fate of the Union and the United States hanging in the balance, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia tried to break through the line of General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac at Cemetery Ridge, Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top. More than once that day, only luck and chaos prevented July 2 from marking the end of the nation as we know it, and from preserving slavery at least a little longer.

All accounts of the battle on July 2 are full of the word “confusion.” Robert E. Lee ordered Lieutenant General James Longstreet to attack by moving his troops up the Federal left flank while General A.P. Hill’s corps threatened the center of the Union line. If coordinated properly, General George Gordon Meade wouldn’t be able to move his troops to reinforce the Union left, where Lee instructed Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell to make diversionary attacks and launch an all-out assault if possible. Lee’s plan, if successful, would force the Union army to surrender the positions it held on the high ground south of Gettysburg after the first day of the battle, and the entire Civil War might have been won by the South in a day.

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