Saturday Ethics Respite Before Holiday Madness, 11/21/2020: The Justice, The Pope, The Scouts, And The Chickens

This is annually the last day before everything goes bananas in Marshall World. From now until New Years, its like the Nantucket Sleigh ride, not quite as dangerous, but not as much fun either. November 22 is the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, my generation’s 9-11. It changed everything. The 23rd is my anniversary, #40, which my son is sure to forget and my wife, for various reasons, doesn’t like to celebrate. Next is Thanksgiving, always depressing now because what was once a vibrant table of 7-15 relatives and friends is now at most four and a lot of wistfulness. My birthday comes on December 1, forever tainted because my perverse father chose the date to die on, and fate chose me to find his body. Then it’s the anxious run-up to the Christmas holidays, which always follows in the deadest period for ProEthics, meaning that we are counting pennies at the one time of the year we don’t want to be. (There is also the annual tree drama, since both my family and Grace’s were addicted to real, meticulously decorated trees, and we have a 20 foot ceiling which makes any tree less than 8 feet look silly. The thing takes about 2500 lights, which I have the responsibility of hanging, and then over a hundred mostly unique ornaments, beginning with the yarn Santa my mother made for Jack Sr. and Eleanor’s first scraggly tree in their new Cape Cod-style home in Arlington, Massachusetts. It was 1948. Getting our tree up and decorated to family standards takes about twelve hours and multiple First Degree prickle wounds. I can’t wait.

On the plus side, I’ll finally finish the Ethics Alarms Ethics Guide to “Miracle on 42nd Street”…

1. No, I’m not surprised that the Catholic Church sexual abuse cover-up went straight to the top. Are you? I’m not even disappointed. This is what organizations and institutions do: they protect themselves, and sacrifice the victims of their misconduct.

The Vatican this month released a report that showed Pope John Paul’s role blame in allowing the disgraced former prelate Theodore E. McCarrick to continue in the Church’s hierarchy.

The investigation, commissioned by Pope Francis, who canonized John Paul in 2014, reveals how the Pope ignored a wave of accusations of sexual abuse and pedophilia against McCarrick. Three popes participated in the cover-up, but one of them, John Paul, has been canonized. So Catholic saints are now accessories to rape.

A reversal of the canonization, which may never have happened, is unlikely, but it may slow the rush to canonize future popes.

Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Flotsam And Jetsam, 9/16/2019: Ethics Movies, Clowns And Harvard Professors

…As I prep for a CLE road trip…

1. I finally saw “Doubt,” the film adaptation of the John Patrick Shanley stage drama about a parish priest suspected of child abuse. It’s an ethics film, and unlike many ethics films, made a profit at the box office.

I had seen the play on stage, and found it didactic and contrived; the film did not, I’m sure because the cast was so excellent. Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the priest were all wonderful, especially Davis, whose single scene in which she runs down a series of desperate arguments and rationalizations to justify allowing her son to be molested—maybe—is an ethics cornucopia. Unlike the stage production I saw, the movie benefits by having its protagonists appear less sympathetic than its apparent villain.

This goes on the ethics movie list, which is due for an update.

2.  Yet another ethics movie of more recent vintage is 2019’s “The Challenger Disaster,” a fictionalized recounting of how the decision was made to allow the doomed space shuttle to launch despite the warnings of Morton Thiokol engineers.  I wrote about this depressing ethics case study here , in a tribute to the primary Cassandra in the tragedy, Roger Boisjoly, and here,  about his troubled colleague, Bob Ebeling. The film’s hero appears to be an amalgam of the two. Here is an excerpt from a review on The Engineering Ethics Blog:

Even if you are pretty familiar with the basics of the story, as I was, the film is almost agonizing to watch as the launch time draws closer….The focus is always on Adam [the fictional hybrid of the engineers opposing the launch]: his belief going in that the truth is always a sufficient argument (it’s not, as it turns out), his doubts that he’s done enough to stop the launch, and his retrospective descriptions of what went on in the hours leading up to the launch…. the generally underlit atmosphere symbolizes Adam’s darkening mood as the critical conference call comes and goes, and the decision is made to launch. After Adam drives home that evening, he just sits out in the driveway in his car until his wife comes and gets into the seat beside him. …Later, during the  hearings that Adam and his fellow engineers attend, they come forward out of the audience and interrupt the proceedings after they hear a Morton-Thiokol manager lie about his knowledge of the seal problem. After the hearing, a sympathetic commission member finds Adam and reassures him that there are whistleblowing laws to protect him from repercussions of his testimony.

While it is never good to kick a man while he is down, I wish the film had taken time to show in more detail the intensity of the ostracism that forced the real-life Boisjoly to resign from Morton-Thiokol after his participation in the hearings made him persona non grata at work. … Boisjoly made a new career out of giving talks to engineering students about his experiences. …For a complex, historically accurate, and thought-provoking take on the Challenger disaster, I cannot think of a better medium than “The Challenger Disaster”  for conveying the seriousness of the emotion-laden decisions that have to be made at critical times. It is not a fun movie, but it’s a good one. And I hope it does well in video-on-demand release, because engineers need to see it.

Also lawyers, doctors, corporate executives, military officers, government officials, journalists, students… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/9/2019: “I See Unethical People!” Edition

S-s-s-s-stretch those ethics muscles!

(although, to be fair, the items today don’t require much stretching…)

1. Rosie Ruiz, unethical icon, has died. Rosie Ruiz got her 15 minutes of fame—well, infamy—by briefly fooling officials and the media into believing she had won the 1980 Boston Marathon. “She jumped out of the crowd, not knowing that the first woman hadn’t gone by yet,” a source who Ruiz had confessed to told The Boston Globe. “Believe me, she was as shocked as anyone when she came in first.” She wasn’t even a skilled cheater.

Nonetheless, Ruiz maintained publicly that she had been robbed of a genuine victory, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. She even displayed her first place medal whenever possible.

Ruiz is an excellent example of how signature significance works. It would be nice to report that she went on from this one, impulsive, foolish scam and became a beloved and tireless worker for the common good. Uh, no. Cheating in a major athletic competition isn’t something anyone does who has functioning ethics alarms. Ruiz was charged in 1982 with grand larceny and forgery, accused of stealing cash and checks from the real estate firm where she had been a bookkeeper. This got her a week in jail and five years’ probation. In 1983,  she was arrested on charges of attempting to sell cocaine to undercover agents at a hotel in Miami and spent three weeks in jail. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce (Again!): The Daily Caller

 

Yeah, I know…”She can play on my violin any time she likes…”

Tucker Carlson’s toy, conservative website “The Daily Caller,” headlined the story I mentioned in today’s warm-up about a teacher who sent naked photos of herself to a teen-aged former student, this way:

“Former Miss Kentucky Arrested For Assaulting 15-Year-Old Teen’s Eyes With Her Naked Body.”

I’ve called Carlson’s site on this kind of idiocy before. It’s the brainless, macho, “yeah, I sure wish a teacher had mistreated me like that when I was a kid” jerkism that seeds the next generation of Harvey Weinsteins and Matt Lauers, as well as perpetuating the still flourishing double standard that sees a male teacher who has sex with female high school student  as a rapist, but a male student who is seduced by his female teacher as lucky dog.

This is one of many reasons I don’t watch Carlson’s popular show on Fox.  I really don’t care what assholes with those kinds of warped values have to say about anything. Teachers cannot use their position to prey on students, and it doesn’t matter how attractive the teacher is or how appreciative her victim is.  The fact that so many conservatives gravitate to Carlson’s frat boy attitudes is one reason to be wary of conservatives.

I haven’t checked…let’s see if the comments on this article express the usual Daily Caller reader perspective… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/30/18: Classless

 

1. Of unethical, and useless, unpaid internships. There is about as a good a summary of what is wrong with unpaid internships at the UConn website as you will find. My only complaint is that the piece, by Henry Zehner, ignores my long-time objection to these positions based on my experiences with various employers who forced me to use out-of-class students in ill-defined roles. (Yes, one of them was the current Secretary of Education.) Zehner mentions that the law requires interns to do substantive work rather than low level office tasks. He doesn’t mention that only the rare intern is able to do tasks “not requiring specialized training.” My experience was that interns usually had negative effects on my time, management and productivity, as I not only had to instruct them, but also often had to re-do whatever work they completed. (Julie and LeeAnn, wherever you are, I don’t mean you.) But as for the young man who was assigned to assemble  my foundation’s annual meeting board books and explained that it took him so long because the “little slips to label the dividers kept falling into the typewriter,” the less said the better.

2. More on the art vs the artist. Last week we discussed the folly of judging art according to the character of the artist, in my post [#3 in a Warm-Up] on the op-ed. “We’ve been too forgiving of unethical artists.”

Here is an example of an artist of disgusting art being found to be disgusting: John Kricfalusi, the creator of the animated “The Ren & Stimpy Show” has been accused by a 37-year old woman of sexually abusing her 20+ years ago, apparently with her consent, but since she was under 18 at the time, such consent is legally meaningless.  So, really, is her late hit, except to gain #MeToo creds. It’s too late to prosecute the cartoonist, and he was remarkably candid about his relationships with teens while he was having them. Kricfalusi had always admitted to his disturbing taste for under-age teenage girls.

Does this old/new information mean that parents should treat “The Ren & Stimpy Show” as taboo, and that channels that feature cartoons should refuse to show it, thus robbing the show’s creator of residuals and income?

No. Kricfalusi’s art has value, if it has value, independent of his own private misconduct. “Lohengrin” is no worse or better because Wagner was a racist and an anti-Semite. The “Alice” books are wonderful, and our culture shouldn’t be robbed of them because Lewis Carroll was creepily obsessed with little girls.

Kricfalusi, for me, is an easy case. I always thought his work was sick and disturbing, and that no parent should allow any child under the age of 13 to watch it. I would feel the same if Kricfalusi was a certified saint. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/27/18: Redux And Déjà Vu!

Good Morning.

1 Yes, “enemy of the people” is accurate. I searched all over cable and network news this morning to find an outlet that wasn’t dominated by the breaking news that a President-to-be had an adulterous affair with a porn star 12 years ago. I couldn’t find one. The media-wide effort to undermine an elected President and his respect in the nation and the world at a time of great challenges and peril on all fronts is irresponsible, destructive, and demonstrates the collapse of journalism as a bulwark of American democracy.

Journalists don’t have to behave like this: they have chosen to, because they discern that a critical mass of citizens–bad ones–would rather see the President of the United States humiliated and weakened nationally and internationally based on his past than to permit him the same crucial advantage  that every other President since George Washington has been conceded and used. That is the inherent dignity and honor of the office itself. As I wrote here before, almost every President could have been embarrassed in this way, and some far more.  In the past, the public wouldn’t have tolerated it. A full year of “the resistance” and non-stop media attacks made this President uniquely vulnerable to ad hominem attacks, and the only protection left intact between sensational smears and responsible journalism were ethical standards, which is to say, with today’s journalism, nothing at all.

This is no less than a ruthless, ratings- and bias-driven attack on American institutions, and every future President, and the nation, and our democracy, and the world itself, will suffer for it. Ironically, Trump may suffer from it least of all, since no one who supported his candidacy cared about traditional standards regarding who was fit to inherit the legacy of Washington, Lincoln and the rest. Still, this concerted effort to reduce his tenure to endless character assassination does undermine him, and us.

I don’t know what the President meant when he dubbed the news media the “enemy of the people;” he does not use words with anything approaching precision or consistency. I do know what I mean by the phrase, however: an institution that exists to strengthen American democracy has been deliberately engaging in conduct designed to weaken it. That is the conduct of enemies of the people, and that is what the mainstream news media has become.

2. The next Black Lives Matter bandwagon. The news media was also playing tabloid in the Stephon Clark shooting controversy this morning, showing the dead man’s grandmother weeping, asking why he had to die, and asking why the officers couldn’t have shot him “in the arm.” We won’t see a resolution of this case for a long time, but that hasn’t stopped the NAACP, Al Sharpton, Clark’s family and the large number of police-haters on the left from concluding, before any investigation, that he was “murdered.” The family has also hired the same lawyer, Ben Crump, who represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, neither of whom were murdered, and both of whom are still referred to a murder victims on the Black Lives Matter website.

Déjà vu.

In Sacramento, California, on March 18, two officers responded to a radio call regarding a man who was breaking car windows.  The uniformed officers were checking the area on foot when a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter pointed them in the direction of a possible suspect, Clark.

He was seen running through a back yard, jumping over a fence, then looking into a car parked in the driveway of what was later revealed to be his grandmother’s house. The officers approached Clark, guns drawn, and ordered him to show them his hands,  a standard command.  Instead Clark ran, with the officers in pursuit. They ordered  Clark to stop, but he ran around the corner of the house and out of the officers’ view. Again the officers followed, then ducked back behind the house, shouting “Show me your hands! Gun!”, then “Show me your hands!” followed immediately by “Gun, gun, gun!” Both officers opened fire, emptying their guns, killing Clark.

Clark had no gun, just a cell phone. The video is inconclusive. Continue reading

KABOOM! Most Unethical Defense For Child Rape Ever…

headexplode

If your head doesn’t blow over this one, it’s missing something.

Richard Keenan, 65, the former mayor of Hubbard, Ohio from 2010-2011 and a self-proclaimed devout Christian, confessed in a group therapy session to having sex with a little girl over three years beginning when she was four. He’s now facing life imprisonment for rape, if his statements are admissible.

Prof Jonathan Turley discusses the legal issues involved with using admissions made in a clinical setting, and you can read about them here. I am posting to commemorate the ex-mayor’s other defense position, which is why my head is on the ceiling and walls of my office. Are you ready?

Keenan says that the sex was consensual, because the four/five/ six /seven-year old was a“willing participant, ” and..

…she initiated it.

I think that’s all I want to write about this now, or ever.

I’ve also got to go get an armful of paper towels.

Oh—how’s your head?

Comment of the Day #1: The Eventual Firing of Daniel Picca: Why Our Children Are Not Safe In Public School

child-endangerment

One aspect of Ethics Alarms that provides me with both satisfaction and pride is that participants in the events that sparked particular ethics commentaries sometimes comment on the posts, providing fascinating and useful perspective. Such a comment arrived yesterday, a heart-felt and wrenching testimony by a former student who was one of the many abused by teacher Daniel Picca, in Montgomery County (Maryland) schools. My post had focused on the fact that his proclivities were well known by 1995, yet it took school administrators until 17 years later to fire him.

I also note, ruefully, that the original post concluded by pointing out that the tendency of those in positions of authority to postpone confronting reality, to avoid confrontation and to rationalize inaction even in the face of undeniable peril to others was mirrored in the U.S.’s irresponsible approach to the conduct of the leadership in Syria and Iran. It was written in 2012.

Here is Sergio Madrid’s Comment of the Day on the post, The Eventual Firing of Daniel Picca: Why Our Children Are Not Safe In Public School:

As a former student, this is all true. I was too young to know it back then, but this man is a calculating monster. Reading this story does not surprise me one bit.

Back in the day (early 90′s – Rachel Carson Elementary), he had kids from my neighborhood help him come clean his classroom and we did challenges for candy. He had a closet FULL of candy. I can reflect that his “Picca Magical Dollars” was an excellent motivator in the classroom – it was also my neighborhood’s downfall for young boys at the time. The magical bucks were used to buy candy on Fridays (if we chose to spend our money) and that candy was the bait for young boys. We were too young to even know. After school, we would clean his classroom and he would have me sit on his lap. He would have me flex and he squeezed my muscles. I do remember one incident where he squeezed and did not let go. I squirmed in agony and would back and head butt him – busted his lip and he got up and yelled at me to leave his room and go home.

Too bad I’m late. I really wish I would have stepped up on this man. He IS a monster and let me tell you …. he single-handedly destroyed all my African American and Latino friends in 5th grade with his malicious words and style. They were targets from day one and NEVER recovered to be successful students in school. I still remember all this some 20-25 years later.

Although I do not know where he currently is, keep this man away from ANY schools with young children. If one person reads this – please understand it’s very real and true. I didn’t hide my real name. He was my 5th grade teacher. Real shame and sad to read these articles.

Ethics Hero: Judge Chet Tharpe

Same crime, same county: Guess which sexual predator-teacher got the tougher sentence.

Same crime, same county: Guess which sexual predator-teacher got the tougher sentence.

Florida Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe sentenced former Hillsborough County teacher Ethel Anderson to a stunning 38 years in prison this week for performing oral sex and other sex acts on a 12-year-old boy she tutored on weekends. “There are those that believe that nothing’s wrong if the defendant is a woman and the victim is a male,” Tharpe said as he sent the sexual predator to prison. “This court does not recognize gender. If it’s proven, as an adult, that you had sex with a child, you can expect to go to prison.”

This was an ringing and much needed message to send to a county, indeed to a country, that have often seemed confused about how to handle women who rape their underage students using the authority and trust they have as teachers. Especially in Hillsborough County, though, for it was here that ex-teacher Debra Lafave pleaded  guilty in 2005 to having sex with a 14-year-old boy,and was merely sentenced to house arrest by Judge Thorpe’s colleague Judge Wayne Timmerman. Why? Interesting question. LaFave’s lawyer famously argued that his movie star gorgeous client was too attractive to go to jail (recall the recent post here about defense attorneys appealing to bias), and it worked. Continue reading

The Eventual Firing of Daniel Picca: Why Our Children Are Not Safe In Public School

Wait…is that a CHILD’S hand?

Today, in a scathing editorial, the Washington Post related the shocking story of the firing of Daniel Picca, a Montgomery County, Maryland  elementary school teacher who was suspected by school officials of having inappropriate relations with male students since at least 1995. This was, said the Post, ” a stinging indictment of a school bureaucracy that for almost two decades believed it had a problem but reacted with a seemingly endless flow of ineffective warnings, letters, reprimands and — most appalling — reassignments of the teacher to other schools and other students.” Montgomery County, it should be noted, boasts of one of the finest public school systems in the nation….or so we have been told.

Picca, as was detailed by a hearing examiner  in 2010 and by an administrative law judge this year, had been warned for 17 years about his conduct with young boys, including inappropriate touching, having students sit on his lap, “wrestling” with the boys and inviting some to an extracurricular “Strong Boys Club” of his own invention, where he encouraged male students to remove their shirts, according to student testimony. In 1995, county child protective services  said that Picca was responsible for “indicated child abuse.”The school system now says it missed this, somehow—not that it didn’t have plenty of evidence already. Continue reading