Ethics Hero: Don Giuseppe Berardelli

Be sure to tell David Brooks about this..

Don Giuseppe Berardelli, an Italian priest, died from the Wuhan virus after giving up his respirator to a younger patient, a stranger.  The following is from the Google Italian to English translation of this source:

 Don Giuseppe had been archpriest of Casnigo for almost fourteen years and would have concluded his mission in Casnigo. He ended it earlier, in a hospital in Lovere, hit by the coronavirus. Already last year he had had health problems. His perennial smile, his availability, but also his activism in the realization of important and expensive works, that smile hid the worries.

He was a simple, straightforward person, with a great kindness and helpfulness towards everyone, believers and non-believers. His greeting was ‘peace and good’. Always friendly and available to the public administration, associations and not only those of the parish, he participated in all the events without ever being intrusive…. He was loved by everyone: his former parishioners still came from Fiorano after years to find him. But he also had an incredible ability to solve economic problems, to knock on the right doors for help.

This is the testimony of Giuseppe Imberti, long mayor of Casnigo: “Don Giuseppe died as a priest.  And I am deeply moved by the fact that the archpriest of Casnigo, Don Giuseppe Berardelli – to whom the parish community had bought a respirator – announced his will to assign it to someone younger than him.” Continue reading

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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Continue reading

Remember The Alamo Today, March 6, When The Fort Fell, And Entered American Lore And Legend Forever.

The following post was mostly assembled from past essays here about my favorite event in American History…

I will never forget my first visit to the Alamo, and seeing Texans weeping, openly, proudly, as they read the plaque with Travis’s words engraved on it:

Commandancy of the Alamo
Bejar, Feby. 24, 1836

To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World

Fellow citizens & compatriots

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country VICTORY OR DEATH.

William Barret Travis.

The story of the Alamo isn’t taught in schools outside of Texas. It wasn’t taught in my school, either: like most American history, I learned about the event though a thick mixture of pop culture, reading (Walter Lord’s “A Time To Stand” was a birthday present in 1961) and ongoing research. I recently completed “Texas Rising,” which was also just broadcast on cable as a mini-series starring the late Bill Paxton as Sam Houston. Historian Stephen Moore is a plodding writer, but he nicely puts to rest the currently popular politically correct slander that the defenders of the Alamo and the Texas rebels were fighting to keep their slaves, and trying to steal Mexico’s land. The Texians were opposing a dictator who had changed the terms under which they had come to the territory, and anyone familiar with the American character could have predicted what would happen when a despot demanded that they submit to unelected authority. The Alamo was a fight for liberty and democracy, and its martyrs exemplified sacrifice for principle and country.

From the official Alamo website:

While the Alamo was under siege, the provisional Texas government organized at Washington-on-the-Brazos. On March 2, the convention declared independence and the Republic of Texas was born, at least on paper. The Alamo’s garrison showed its support for independence from Mexico by sending its own delegates to the convention.While they were unaware that Texas had declared independence, the roughly 200 Alamo defenders stayed at their post waiting on help from the settlements. Among them were lawyers, doctors, farmers and a former congressman and famous frontiersman from Tennessee named David Crockett. While the youngest was 16 and the oldest defender was Gordon C. Jennings, age 56, most defenders were in their twenties. Most were Anglo, but there were a handful of native Tejano defenders as well. Legendary knife fighter and land speculator James Bowie was in command before falling ill and sharing duties with Travis. Several women and children were inside the Alamo, including 15-month-old Angelina Dickinson. Just before the final battle, Travis placed his ring around her neck, knowing she would likely be spared. One of the last messages from the Alamo was a note from Travis asking friends to take care of his young son Charles.

The final attack came before dawn on March 6, 1836. As Mexican troops charged toward the Alamo in the pre-dawn darkness, defenders rushed to the walls and fired into the darkness. Travis raced to the north wall but was soon killed. Bowie was most likely killed in his bed, while reports differ as to Crockett’s death. Many believe Crockett survived the initial attack but was put to death by Mexican soldiers soon afterward.

Mexican soldiers breached the north wall and flooded into the compound. The fierce battle centered on the old church, where defenders made a last stand.

The battle lasted about 90 minutes.

From the San Antonio Express News: Continue reading

A University Demonizes Diversity Of Thought

The headline in the New York Times last month read, “Indiana University Admits That Professor’s Views Are Vile, And That It Can’t Fire Him.” Nice. First, another party can’t “admit” someone else’s opinions are vile, as if there is a universal standard for “vile.”  Second, the headline assumes that the professor is the villain in this controversy, but then, that’s the Times for you: taking sides instead of reporting the facts.

I apologize for missing this chapter in the ongoing effort to intimidate and persecute anyone whose views do not align neatly with the mandated progressive orthodoxy.  The Times piece in question is dated November 23; not only was that my wedding anniversary, but I was also on an ethics training road trip without a functioning laptop. (I have one now.) I’m pretty sure I would have perceived the need for Ethics Alarms to bring some fairness to the assault on Professor Eric Rasmusen, though, as you will see, he is very capable of defending himself, if he could get a fair hearing (or reading).

The reason he can’t is because the news media has already decided that he should be shunned, as students try to run him out of academia and the marketplace of ideas.

To be clear, Professor Rasmusen is the victim of unethical conduct here, not the perpetrator of it. His “crime,” and it is not supposed to be a crime in the United States or academia, is asserting non-conforming views on his personal blog.  The news media framed the story to undermine Rasmusen by stating as fact that he “used his social media accounts to denigrate women, people of color and gay men.” That is a false and unfair characterization, Rasmusen uses his blog and social media accounts to cover a wide range of topics, often brilliantly, from the perspective of a Christian conservative. Continue reading

The Forgotten Ethics Hero: William Ruckelshaus (1932-2019)

I’m supposed to be student of American Presidential history, and even I had virtually forgotten about William Ruckelshaus, who just died. It was Ruckelshaus who, along with Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson,  rejected Ethics Rationalization #15, The Futility Illusion or  “If I don’t do it, somebody else will” when the United States of America needed a hero, and got two.

His moment of courage arrived on an October night in 1973 destined to be known in the annals of American history as  the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Ruckelshaus was then Assistant Attorney General, and President Richard Nixon, was panicked that the ongoing investigation by Special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox was closing in on his blatant obstruction of justice. A White House-triggered burglary of the Democratic National Committee’s offices at the now-famous Foggy Bottom condo complex and hotel in Washington, D.C., seemed about to bring Nixon down, so Nixon resolved to have cripple the investigation by having Cox removed.  Ruckelshaus was the second of three officials the beleaguered POTUS ordered to fire the Harvard law professor. For some reason Nixon thought this might relieve him from having to produce the  nine incriminating Oval Office tape recordings that Cox had subpoenaed.

Ruckelshaus, under Nixon the first head of the new Environmental Protection Agency,  had been named acting head of the FBI in April of 1973, replacing L. Patrick Gray III. He was soon named the top deputy to Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson. When Nixon ordered the mild-mannered Richardson to fire Cox that fateful night, Richardson shocked Nixon by refusing, and resigning immediately. That made Ruckelshaus the Acting Attorney General, and he was suddenly on the hot seat, tasked with carrying out Nixon’s legally and ethically questionable orders.

Cox had been guaranteed complete independence by Nixon and Attorney General Richardson during the prosecutor’s Senate confirmation hearings in May of 1972.  Congress directed that he could be  be removed only for “gross malfeasance” in office, and by October 20, 1973, there had been none. “I thought what the president was doing was fundamentally wrong,” Ruckelshaus said  later. “I was convinced that Cox had only been doing what he had the authority to do; what was really of concern to the President and the White House was that he was too close. He hadn’t engaged in any extraordinary improprieties, quite the contrary.” Continue reading

Thoughts Upon Reading The Comments To The Recent “Conscience Clause” Post

The comments on the recent post regarding the so-called conscience rule being voided in court generated the comments the topic always does. What follows is a relatively short, general post to frame the issues as clearly as possible.  Admittedly, when a post is titled “When Law and Ethics Converge,” perhaps I shouldn’t have to explicate with a post focusing on the difference between law and ethics. I strongly believe that conscience clauses undermine the law, and are unethical, as you will see.

Law and Ethics are not the buddies people think they are, or wish they were. If you look around Ethics Alarms, you see why. Ethics, as the  process by which we decide and learn what is good and right conduct, evolves with time and experience. A predictable cut of a society’s ethics are always going to be a matter of intense debate. Ethics are self-enforcing, for the most part and by nature, because being ethical should make us feel good.  Once an authority or power starts demanding conduct and enforcing  conformity, we are mostly out of the realm of ethics and into morality, where conduct is dictated by a central overseer that, if it is to have genuine authority, must be voluntarily accepted by those subject to its power.

Society cannot function on ethics alone. Without laws, chaos and anarchy result. Because chaos and anarchy are bad for everyone, no individual who has accepted the social compact may decide which laws he or she will follow and which he or she will defy—at least, not without paying a price, which is society’s punishment. In ethical terms, this is a utilitarian calculation: we accept laws that individually we may find repugnant, because allowing citizens to pick and choose which laws they will obey as a matter of “conscience” doesn’t work and has never worked. Ethics pays attention to history.

Thus it is ethical to obey the law, and unethical not to,  even if good arguments can be made that particular laws are themselves unethical. This is where civil disobedience comes in: if a citizen chooses to violate a law on a the basis of that citizen’s conscience or principle, the citizen also has to accept the legal consequences of doing so as an obligation of citizenship. Continue reading

When Law And Ethics Converge: Goodbye To The Trump Administration’s Unconstitutional and Unethical “Conscience Clause”

Today’s decision by U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer, voiding the Trump administration’s “conscience rule” that resuscitated the Bush Administration’s similar rule, is right on the law, and, more important for this blog, right on ethics. The Trump version, which was yet to go into effect,  allowed health-care providers to refuse to participate in abortions, sterilizations or other types of care they if they disagreed with them on religious or moral grounds.

It was an invitation to open-ended discrimination, and as objectionable in principle as allowing public accommodations to refuse to serve Jews, blacks or gays. This topic has been thoroughly explored on Ethics Alarms over the years, and I don’t have anything much new to say. In fact, perusing my various essays on the topic, my favorite is one that is so old, it was on the Ethics Alarms predecessor the Ethics Scoreboard (on which I am slowly making progress in my efforts to get it back online) and mentions Paris Hilton, working at Blockbuster, and an earlier incarnation of Colin Kaepernick in the NBA.

I wrote, in 2005, Continue reading