From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Age and the Judge,” And A Current Day Example.

The discussions regarding Joe Biden’s age-related decline reminded me of a post that had been languishing on the runway since mid February. It was prompted by a tip from Neil Doer (I think it was Neil) who pointed me to this article about  a well-respected federal judge in Brooklyn, Jack B. Weinstein who was retiring after more than a half-century on the bench. He’s 98 years old, and it seems like he’s been an outstanding judge. My position was and is, however, that it is unethical for a judge, and indeed any professional, to continue in a position of responsibility at such an advanced age.

Obviously, I would apply that principle to politicians and leaders as well. This is another area where professional sports, especially baseball, provides useful case studies that can be instructive. Players who were great at 25 are also better when they are 40 than the more average players, whose natural decline as the result of aging will usually cause them not be able to perform  at an acceptable standard by late middle age. The great player often will still be good, but almost no player (almost) will be as excellent in his late 30s and early 40s as he was in his prime. As the financial benefits and other perks of playing major league baseball have increased over time, fewer aging greats are willing to go gentle into the good night of retirement. Their last years are often sub-par, certainly for them, or worse, but they will not voluntarily retire. Check the records of Miguel Cabrera, Pete Rose, Willy Mays, and Mickey Mantle, to name just a few.

Famously brilliant and contrary judge Richard Posner took the unpopular position among his colleagues that federal judges ought to have a mandatory retirement age. He recommended 80, but in his own case, when everyone expected him to stay until the bitter end, he retired at 78, because, he said, it was time. I’m not convinced that 80 isn’t still too old, but at least it’s a limit.

I remember well my one meeting with Antonin Scalia at a bar function not long after he had joined the Supreme Court.  He was relaxed and jovial, and when I asked him how long he thought he’d stay on the Court, he laughed and said that he couldn’t imagine staying until they “carried him out,” like so many other justices. He said it was important to leave the bench “while you still have most of your marbles.,” and to him, this meant before 80. He said he would stay about ten years.

Antonin Scalia died while still on the Court, in his 20th year of service, just short of his 80th birthday.

Here, from 2009, is “Age and the Judge.”

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Ethics, Fish, “The Twilight Zone” and Renee Zellweger’s New Face

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Reene Zellweger, the squinty-eyed, chipmunk-cheeked actress who achieved fame in such films as “Jerry Maguire” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” emerged from a period of relative seclusion this week looking like someone else entirely. The consensus was that the 45-year-old had undergone radical cosmetic surgery—not the face destroying kind that actresses like Meg Ryan or Priscilla Presley inflicted on themselves, but the “I don’t care if my mother won’t recognize me, at least I don’t look old” kind. When an actor or an actress does this, since their faces are their trademarks, it is bound to make an impression, and it has.

It is a tragic spectacle illustrating the degree to which American culture elevates looks above accomplishments, individuality, integrity and character, especially for women. Zellweger, whom I foolishly assumed was immune to this sickness since she was so unconventional looking, is obviously a victim, but now she is part of a cultural contagion. A fish doesn’t know that it is in water, and culture is like that water, completely constraining our attitudes, culture and choices without our knowledge or control. When celebrities, who have influence far beyond what their wisdom, virtues and value should rightfully support, and who are seen as being experts in the matter of appearance, send the message to the young and contemporaries that even the forfeiture of one’s identity is a fair price to pay to avoid the signs of natural aging, that pollutes our water.

And poisons the other fish. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Hillary Clinton

Those are four words I once would have bet I would never type.

Real. Honest. Brave. Beautiful. Thanks.

The Secretary of State deserves them though, for appearing in public, before the cameras, with no make-up and just a touch of lipstick. Let Fox News and the Matt Drudge mock: Hillary didn’t “forget her make-up.” She just decided “to hell with it.” And, as the Washington Post correctly noted, she looks just fine.

I just spent an event sitting next to the wife of a friend. She must be pushing 70, and her face and hair would not provide a single clue that she was more than 45, except for this: but for the movement of her eyeballs and occasionally her lips, her expression was completely unchanging.It was creepy. Her husband, whom I hadn’t seen in about ten years, was aging normally, but now his marriage of 40-plus years looked like he had robbed the cradle, albeit the cradle of a family afflicted with genetic facial paralysis. What’s the point? Why do American women feel the need to feign youth, even to those who they can’t possibly fool? Hillary looks like a real person to me; my friend’s wife looks like she may crumble into dust when the sunlight hits her. Continue reading

Age and the Judge

U.S. District Senior Judge Malcolm Muir recently turned 95.  Many articles in the media celebrated his long and distinguished career, but none made the observation that should be as obvious as it is indelicate. Judge Muir should not be on the bench. He should probably not have been on the bench for the past decade. It is irresponsible for him to continue to be a federal judge. Continue reading