Mid-Day Moldy Ethics Snack, 5/8/2019: Bad Charge, Bad School, Bad Father

Yechhh!

1. Do something, blame someone…In Plano, Texas, police have charged Lindsey Glass with violating a law making it a misdemeanor to negligently sell alcohol to a “habitual drunkard or an intoxicated or insane person,.” It seems she served Spencer Hight two gins, two beers and a shot of alcohol during two visits to the bar where she was working in September 2017, before Hight killed Meredith Hight and seven other people. After  police officers shot and killed him, an autopsy found that Hight’s blood alcohol level was about four times the legal limit. The  arrest affidavit said surveillance video shows  that Hight was unsteady, spun a “big knife on the bar,” and could be seen “pulling out a gun” from his waistband.

It’s a terrible charge, and an unethical prosecution.  Glass  texted a co-worker, another bartender, saying that Hight had been spinning the knife and told her had had to go “do some dirty work.” A report by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said  that the other bartender had called an owner of the bar, who instructed that  police should not be called. Glass was so concerned that followed Hight to his ex-wife’s home and then called 911, according to local station  Fox 4.

A lawyer for Glass emphasized  that his client had called 911 and said she had been commended by police. “It is shameful of the Plano Police Department to go after the person who was vital in trying to stop the horrific events of that evening,” he told Fox 4 and NBC in a statement. Exactly right. Police, spurred by public anger and frustration, want to find someone to blame. The fact that the drunk  went off and killed eight people is pure moral luck. It seems that the bartender went above and beyond her civic duty, at some personal risk, to follow Hight. She was originally commended by police for her actions. [Pointer: ABA Journal]
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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/21/18: Comments, Clarkson, Bitter Hillary, And Weiner Dogs Amuck

Good morning, all.

1. Housekeeping note: Some commenters are expressing displeasure that I suspended a regular participant here following what I consider to be excessively disrespectful discourse toward me. Well. when they try moderating an ethics blog read by educated, passionate and verbally adept people for nine years, I’ll pay more attention to that displeaure. The task is much like that of a lion-tamer in the circus: as I learned when I read the autobiography of one who survived until retirement, the big cats growling is fine, and even the occasional swipe for show is tolerable, but when they start being disrespectful, you either show who’s boss quick or you get gang-mauled and eaten.

In about two weeks, I have to fly to Boston—on my own dime, of course— to ask a judge to dismiss a $100,000 defamation lawsuit from a banned commenter here. Am I bit inclined to be less than charitable to rude commenter outbursts aimed at me right now? Yes. The matter at issue right now involved flat-out, unambiguous personal mockery and derision, and the Comment Policies, accessible for years on the link above, specifically designate “6) Mockery without substance”  as commentary conduct that is not appreciated, , and also notes that a commenter risks be discipline for “…Insulting me, in particular by questioning my integrity, honesty, objectivity, intentions, motives, qualifications, or credentials.”

The commenter who was suspended can return to the wars at any time he chooses, after offering an acceptable apology.

2. Breaking my vow already…to eschew writing about the aftermath of the latest school shooting, I have to mention that Lelly Clarkson’s emotional speech at last night’s Billborad awards was played this morning on CNN and Headline News—and I assume elsewhere—as if she actually was saying something of substance. She wasn’t:

Is the news media going to keep on trying to steer a policy debate with complex social, legal, constitutional, cultural and practical factors into this emotion-flooded, intellectually useless dead end? Apparently so. I’m sure Kelly is sincere, but “moment of action” is nothing but another way of saying “do something,” which itself is just another form of screaming at the sky. What action, Kelly? Unless you make a relevant proposal that addresses the event you are crying about, your statement is worse than useless.

We should not keep pandering to this invitation to turn off our brains regarding guns, yet that is what the news media is actively campaigning for us to do.  They are irresponsible to do this.

But we knew that. Continue reading

The Bill Maher Ethical Conundrum

Wits

“One of these things is not like the other…”

 

The Bill Maher Ethics Conundrum is not what you probably think it is.

Maher, the alleged comic and anti-conservative scold who hosts an HBO program, was chosen by a student committee to be the  commencement speaker for the University of California-Berkeley’s December graduation. This was a lazy, embarrassingly juvenile and politically-loaded selection, but Maher had also just recently used his show to join fellow atheist and neuroscientist Sam Harris in a condemnation of Islam, calling it  “the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.” Later on Maher nodded approvingly  as Harris also called Islam”the mother lode of bad ideas.”

This caused Muslim students at Berkeley to prove Maher correct about their religion’s entrenched intolerance of opposition, and they have been joined by other political correctness censors in the student body—there are a lot of them—to demand that the university rescind Maher’s invitation because of his “hate speech.”A  Change.org petition—-now THAT site is the real mother lode of bad ideas—now urges students to boycott the decision and asks the campus to stop him from speaking. It has gathered more than 1,400 signatures. The committee that chose Maher, naturally, backed down, but the University, so far at least, is sticking to its decision to invite him.

Yes, yes, universities ought to be marketplaces of ideas where all views are welcome, and yes, it is hypocritical and offends the traditions of liberal education to stop Maher from stating his views on Islam, or re-telling “The Aristocrats,” or making a fool of himself, or whatever he’s going to do because some students or all students disagree with him, just as it was for Rutgers students to force Condolezza Rice into withdrawing after she was invited to speak at Rutgers. The dilemma illustrated by this flap is a classic ethics problem, which I will henceforth call the Bill Maher Conundrum, which has been long debated and never decisively settled:

Is the ethical nature of an act defined by its intent, or by an objective assessment of the act alone without reference to motive? Continue reading

Free Speech vs. Ethics: Goddard College and the Cop-Killer Commencement Speaker

Next gig for the Cheshire home invaders: Commencement honors at Goddard?

Next gig for the Cheshire home invaders: Commencement honors at Goddard?

Convicted  cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal was the commencement speaker at Goddard College, in Plainfield, Vermont today, having been chosen by graduating students. He is a controversial figure, convicted in the 1981 slaying of Officer Daniel Faulkner, sentenced to death, and eventually sentenced to  life in prison without parole after a long legal battle.  Abu-Jamal’s speech was prerecorded by Prison Radio and broadcast.

Goddard is not your typical college. It is liberal/radical even by current college standards. Students design their own curriculum. It holds 20 commencement ceremonies each year so students in each degree program can have personalized graduations. Abu-Jamal, himself a political radical, received a bachelor of arts degree from the college in 1996, completing his coursework by mail. Before the killing, Mumia was a member of the Black Panthers. While imprisoned he has become a cultural icon to the radical left as an activist against institutional racism.

As you would expect, a lot of people have problems with Mumia receiving this honor. Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the officer killed by Abu-Jamal, condemned Goddard’s decision.The Vermont Troopers Association issued a statement saying that it was “ outraged that Goddard College is hosting a man who shot and killed a police officer.”  But Goddard is proud as punch that its students chose the convicted murderer. Said the acting President:

“As a reflection of Goddard’s individualized and transformational educational model, our commencements are intimate affairs where each student serves as her or his own valedictorian, and each class chooses its own speaker. Choosing Mumia as their commencement speaker, to me, shows how this newest group of Goddard graduates expresses their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that.”

Well, that’s one way of interpreting it. Or, we might justly conclude that the graduates of Goddard have been taught to have contempt for decency, justice, law enforcement and the legal system, and since they admire murderous criminals, might see nothing wrong with being one. Ask me if I want to hire anyone with  a Goddard degree. Go ahead. Ask.

Naturally, defenders of Mumia’s honor think it is perfectly acceptable because it embodies the principle of free speech. I’m not sure it does….not at all. Unpopular speech embodies free speech. Encouraging popular and offensive speech by someone who is not worthy of emulation embodies bad taste, dubious values and anti-social priorities. Show me that Goddard students would welcome speeches by Ted Cruz, Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney, and then I’ll accept that the campus is supportive of free speech.

Meanwhile, why stop with Mumia? Why not have that Isis guy who beheaded the American journalist speak at commencement, with his hood, of course? Surely that would expresses graduates’ freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that. How about the Cheshire home invasion killers, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, who raped the family’s young girls and mother before burning their house down around them? If it’s free speech to allow the scum of the earth speak at a commencement, if someone is crazy enough to want to listen to them, let’s really go for it.

That doesn’t make it right, however. All allowing Mumia to speak at commencement shows me is that the students are exercising their rights to promote freedom of expression, and doing so in a context and manner that is less dignified, justified, respectful or reasonable than having the honor delivered by a circus performer who communicates in farts, Carrot Top, or Honey Boo Boo. It shows me that the culture created by Goddard is toxic, and that the students who graduate from there without sufficient resistance to its influence will range from useless to annoying to dangerous.

Their parents must be so proud.

________________________
Sources: Washington Post, Huffington Post, Philly

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Former Princeton President William G. Bowen

“I think that Birgeneau, in turn, responded intemperately, failing to make proper allowance for the immature, and, yes, arrogant inclinations of some protestors. Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today.”

—— William G. Bowen, former Princeton President and last-minute substitute 2014 Commencement speaker at Haverford College. Bowen’s predecessor as Haverford’s designated graduation VIP, former Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, had withdrawn in response to Haverford student protests that he had been too tough on the Occupy Berkeley protesters.

"Honored graduates: My advice is that when faced with determined opposition, if you know you are right, run away. Thank you."

“Honored graduates: My advice is that when faced with determined opposition, if you know you are right, run away. Thank you.”

Yes, bravo. Many pundits have commented on the epidemic of anti-free expression attitudes on campus, as various groups on campuses across the country have effectively vetoed speakers at Commencements and other forums that threatened to disturb their unshakeable belief in the infallibility of their judgment and analysis of the world before their 22n’t birthday. Yes, students are arrogant, immature, intolerant, easily misled and often ridiculous; we knew that. Thus it is up to the adults to set them straight and teach them some useful life lessons. One such lesson should be to refuse to back down in the face of criticism and opposition just because it will require character, fortitude and courage to do what you have every right to do. Continue reading