April Fools Free Zone Ethics Warm-Up: Everything You Read Here Is Real, Unfortunately.

Happy Day Like Any Other Day.

Well, not “happy,” exactly…

I’m on record on Ethics Alarms as detesting April Fools Day, as well as regarding April Fools stunts by professionals, like lawyers and journalists, unethical though usually not sanctionable. It should be a children’s day, like Halloween, but adults are determined to co-opt all such days, ruining it for everybody.

1. I lost a good friend yesterday. It’s more than that really: the human race lost one of its finest representatives. His name was Dennis Nollette; he was a lawyer, a writer and a bon vivant, but most of he was one of those amazing people who made you feel good just by being around him. I knew him in laws school, where he was my room mate for a year; he also was a member of the casts of the three productions I staged when I was a student. Since graduation, I think I saw Dennis six times, never for long, but with him it seemed like the time melted away: he was always the same, always emitting his powerful positive energy, optimism, and love for those around him, and I always felt as close to him as ever.

And just like that, he’s gone. There was no warning; it all happened so fast. All I have now is an overwhelming feeling of loss, along with an acknowledgment of my duty to let as many people as possible know that he was here, that he made the world a better place by being here, and that those of us who remains should follow his example by making the best out of life, and encouraging others to do the same by our example. That was Dennis’s genius, and attention must be paid.

2. Maybe the Constitution IS a suicide pact…Justice Robert H. Jackson’s  famous line in his dissenting opinion in Terminiello v. Chicago, a 1949 free speech case, has come to mind many times in the past few weeks, as the news media and online sources have churned out some of the most irresponsible and outrageous essays in memory, many of them about how this period will “change America forever,” usually in undesirable ways.  90% of these screeds are nonsense and based on flawed reasoning. My current leader for the worst idea is this piece, by conservative gadfly Roger Simon: “Should We Postpone the Presidential Election One Year?”

It’s an incompetent question. Not only shouldn’t we, we can’t, and any suggestion from Republicans that we ought to even think about it would be instantly condemned as the attempted dictatorship by Donald Trump that Big Lie #3 has warned us about.  We also know that if the President did get an extra year, it would spent all of it defending himself against one impeachment attempt after another. Continue reading

The Heroic Bird-Watchers and The Shame of the Star Princess

If Captain Stubing had been at the helm, a tragedy might have been averted.

Rescue is a frequent topic on Ethics Alarms, usually in a disturbing context. We all have a duty to rescue others in peril, but we should never underestimate the powerful forces that often work against that duty. Rescue can be dangerous or frightening, and often there are perplexing questions about when an individual has done enough to ensure a rescue, and what constitutes “enough,” especially if the rescue fails.

In March, the Star Princess—a luxury cruise ship operated by Carnival—was on a cruise around South America. Three of the passengers were bird-watchers, who eschewed shuffleboard and the other fun activities organized by whoever was the counterpart to Lauren Tewes on “The Love Boat” to use their binoculars and telescopes to spot seabirds from the ship’s decks.

It was March 10 when one of the bird-lovers, Jeff Gilligan from Portland, Oregon., saw a boat with a person standing up in it, waving a dark piece of cloth. The vessel was at least a mile away.  Another Oregon bird-watcher, Judy Meredith, told reporters that when she focused her lenses on the boat, it was clear to her that the man waving the cloth was trying to get the Star Princess’s attention, and that the boat was drifting, without an engine. She went inside to try to alert the crew about the situation. After she talked to one crew member, she says, he called the bridge and she talked him through what she and Gilligan had seen.”I was trying to have a sense or urgency in my voice — and tell them that the boat was in distress, and they were trying to get our attention.” Another crew member used Gilligan’s telescope to look at the drifting boat, and confirmed their assessment. The boat was drifting in the open seas and in peril. Gilligan said that at that point “We were a bit relieved because he had confirmed that he had seen what we were describing. We expected the ship to turn back or stop or something.” Continue reading