A Hanlon’s Razor Conundrum: The Case Of The Missing Cheerleader

cheerleader left out

This one made me want to cry.

Fourteen-year-old Morgyn Arnold grew up in Layton, Utah cheering for her six older siblings at sporting events, and worked hard to become an official cheerleader, like her father and sister before her.

Morgyn has Down syndrome, so being on the Shoreline Junior High School cheerleading squad as the team manager means more to her than being part of a cheer team does to most cheerleaders, giving her pride and a sense of achievement while providing the opportunity to make new friends. She also learned all of the dance moves so she could cheer in front of the home team crowd.

It is understandable, then, that she was, according to her family, heartbroken when the school’s yearbook came out a few weeks ago and Morgyn was not in the team picture or listed as part of the squad. What isn’t understandable is how this could happen. The school apologized and claimed it was a “mistake.” Morgyn’s sister Jordan Poole believes the cruel snub was intentional.

So do I.

Two pictures were taken, one including Morgyn, on the left, and the other excluding her. Why would there be two pictures, unless someone thought that they might choose to use the photo with only the conventionally pretty girls in it? Team mate Maddie Campbell, 15, said she did not remember whether the photographer or the team’s adviser asked Morgyn to sit out of some of the team’s photos, and does not recall hearing any explanation for the action. She says she thought it was a weird request at the time.

Well, now she knows why they did it. Sure enough, the photo without Morgyn was used in yearbooks and school social media accounts.

Hence the Hanlon’s Razor controversy. Hanlon’s Razor states that one should never assume malice when stupidity can explain conduct. But who is that stupid? And who could be that malicious?

Davis School District community relations supervisor Shauna Lund told The New York Times that the incident was “under investigation” and the school planned to work with the family to “make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Oh, I think it’s fair to say that they won’t leave out Morgyn’s photo again. THAT would really be stupid.

Then Lund mouthed the mandatory wokisms. “We also want to apologize to those who were impacted outside of that family who feel that something was done to not be inclusive. We want the student to feel like she is included in the community. We want to apologize for that mistake,” said Lund. The family doesn’t “feel” something was done: their daughter was excluded from the yearbook, which is not “inclusive” by definition.

Morgyn’s father, Jeff Arnold, is almost as bad as Lund. He said that instead of placing the blame on the school, he wanted to use the situation to raise awareness of the importance of “thoughtful inclusion and compassion.” “If we can find ways so that doesn’t happen to anyone else, that’s just what we want,” Mr Arnold said. “That’s all that matters, because we can’t go back and put it in the yearbook.”

No, but you can sue the school for negligent infliction of emotional distress. You know how to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else? Make it hurt. Don’t let these administrators get off with cheap pieties. Make it hurt enough that the little monsters who conspired to shun the Down Symdrome girl are made to regret their cruelty, and that the sleepy faculty advisor who let this happen under his or her watch is soon searching the online want ads

Poll says her sister has already forgiven everyone involved. Of course she has. Down Syndrome kids are usually instinctively kind and generous. One of their differences is that they seem to be imbued with a natural sweetness, and intrinsic ethical instincts. So, naturally, her school mates decided to rip her heart out.

Shoreline Junior High is fortunate that I am not Morgyn’s father, and if my wife Grace were her mother, the staff would have to hide out in Monument Valley. Trust me.

Post Script: Our professional journalists at work: In four sources, I found Morgyn’s name spelled Morgyn, Morgan, and Morgin, with multiple spellings appearing in the one article.

Yes, Some Things Are Worse Than Racism, Part 2: The Betrayal Of Daniel Miller

This seems like a propitious time to keep reminding people, especially those who are currently engaged in trying to tear up the culture and the nation into little pieces without a clue about what to do next,  that some things are worse than racism. Lots of things, actually. At some point, we will have to have this debate and that truth must be established.

In ethics, we judge conduct, not thoughts, beliefs, desires and even words, if they are not truly linked to unethical conduct. “Cancelling” people based on past racist or bigoted sentiments that do not seem to have been consistent with later conduct is unfair and  oppressive. The current movement to punish American citizens based on their failure to conform mandated thoughts and specific beliefs is at its core totalitarian, and is doomed to failure, or worse, success.

Playwright Arthur Miller committed one of the most nauseating acts of selfishness, cruelty and betrayal imaginable, but he wrote some of the most ethically resonant dramas in the American theatrical canon: “Death of Salesman,” “The Crucible,” ‘All My Sons,” “A View From the Bridge,” “The Price.” More than any other U.S. playwright, indeed writer in any genre, Miller earned a reputation as the culture’s herald of morality.  When he died in 2005, Miller was celebrated as perhaps our greatest playwright (he isn’t, but he’s certainly near the top.) He was also lionized as a lifetime ethics hero, in particularly because of his refusal to “name names” before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. His battle with HUAC caused  Miller to be convicted of contempt of Congress in May 1957, when he was sentenced to prison sentence, fined, blacklisted, and forced to surrender his  passport.

Then, two years after the obituaries and tributes The Atlantic magazine revealed a horrible secret— not a skeleton in Miller’s closet, but a living, breathing, son.

Miller married the last of his wives, photographer Inge Morath (she came after Marilyn Monroe) in February, 1962.  The first of the couple’s  two children, Rebecca, was born on September 15, 1962. Their son, Daniel, was born  in November 1966.  Miller was excited about the birth until doctors diagnosed Daniel as having  Down syndrome. Against his wife’s wishes—she couldn’t have objected too strenuously— Daniel’s famous father sent the newborn to a home for infants in New York City within days of his birth, then four years later  to Southbury Training School, then one of two Connecticut institutions for the mentally challenged. There Daniel stayed until he was 17. Of that place, The Atlantic’s Suzanna Andrews wrote,

By the early 1970s, however, around the time Arthur Miller put his son there, Southbury was understaffed and overcrowded. It had nearly 2,300 residents, including children, living in rooms with 30 to 40 beds. Many of the children wore diapers, because there weren’t enough employees to toilet-train them. During the day, they sat in front of blaring TVs tuned to whatever show the staff wanted to watch. The most disabled children were left lying on mats on the floor, sometimes covered with nothing but a sheet. “In the wards you had people screaming, banging their heads against the wall, and taking their clothes off,” says David Shaw, a leading Connecticut disability lawyer. “It was awful.”

One observer reported that the institute reminded him of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/23/2017: Robots And “Star Wars” And Whiskers On Kittens

Good Morning!

1 When Darth Vader cuts off Luke’s hand, that’s not news. When Mark Hamill bites the hand that feeds him…In recent interview, Mark Hamill, the one-trick pony, one-role actor who had been playing cameo parts on SyFy cable channel movies because he wasn’t enough of a draw to put in “Sharknado 6,” criticized how director Rian Johnson had him play Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” “He’s not my Luke Skywalker,” said Hamill in a recent interview, who originated the part four decades ago, when he had a career.

This is astounding ingratitude, and shows a lack of professionalism that suggests it wasn’t only limited range that strangled Hamill’s non-“Star Wars” prospects. The movie is still in theaters. The fact that he is in the latest trilogy at all is a gift. If he wants to knock the film in about ten years or so when he’s doing Fishin’ Magician informercials on cable and his comments get him 12 and a half minutes of fame on TMZ, that’s fine, but right now, he has an ethical obligation to the studio and his fellow artists to do everything he can to make the “Star Wars” geeks want to see the film.

You know Luke—can I call you Luke?—most of those other actors aren’t as lucky as you were, and don’t have a cushy guaranteed lifetime income from a single surprise hit that easily could have ended up on the second half of drive-in double features.

May the Force slap some sense into you.

2. Update: Governor Kasich is an idiot. But I bet you knew that. Yup, John Kasich signed into law that Ohio bill that made it illegal to abort a fetus diagnosed with Down Syndrome. This law is going to be struck down as unconstitutional, and it makes no sense. Signing it into law displays a bad combination of incompetence and cowardice.

BOY, that was a horrible crew of Republicans who all were thinking about Donald Trump, “Well, at least I know I can beat THIS guy!” I know many people like me, including some moderate Democrats, who were rooting for Kasich because he seemed preferable to having another Bush, the theocracy craving Mike Huckabee, the corrupt Chris Christie, weird Rand Paul, diabolical Ted Cruz, not-ready-for-prime- time Marco Rubio, dumb-as-a-box-of-whoopie-cushions Ben Carson, scary Carly Fiorina, or, as the alternative, the venal, inept and frighteningly ambitious Hillary Clinton. No, he’s a conservative hack with an honest face. This proves it. Continue reading

The Ohio Down Syndrome Abortion Bill: Now We’ll Find Out How Smart John Kasich Really Is

The Ohio State Senate just passed a bill that  prohibits women from aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome. It will become law if Republican Governor John Kasich signs it—an astoundingly bad and probably unconstitutional law.

It criminalizes abortion if the physician has knowledge that the procedure is being sought due to a diagnosis of Down syndrome. Performing an abortion under such conditions would result in doctors losing their medical licenses in the state and being convicted of a fourth-degree felony charge. The mothers would not face criminal charges.

What? WHAT? Do I understand this correctly? It will still be legal to abort a completely normal and healthy fetus, but a gestating child with the abnormality that ensures a mental disability will be protected?

Based on this logic, why wouldn’t Ohio seek to similarly protect embryos with other defects, like spina bifida? Missing limbs? Conjoined twins? By all means, let’s pioneer reverse eugenics in the United States. That will turn out well.

Ohio is the third state to pass a law outlawing abortions due to fetal anomalies, Indiana (signed by Mile Pence!) and North Dakota doing it previously. The Indiana law was struck down by a U.S. District Judge in September; I can’t imagine why all three wouldn’t be doomed for the same reason: the right to abortion doesn’t only apply to mothers carrying normal fetuses.

What kind of defective minds devise such laws? Do they identify with the fetuses they are saving?

Kasich hasn’t hinted whether he was inclined to sign this incredibly unethical and demented bill into law, but when he was asked about a similar bill in the Ohio House, he had called it “appropriate.”

Oh-oh.

Ethics Quiz: The Lettering Of Michael Kelley

Michael-Kelley-Down-Syndrome

Controversy in Kansas:

Michael Kelley is a high school student who has Down Syndrome and autism. He plays extra-curricular special needs basketball, so his family bought him a varsity letter and had it sewed to a school jacket to resemble the jacket the school’s athletes wear. The school’s special needs teams are not regarded as  varsity sports.

The school asked Michael to remove the jacket or the letter, since East High’s policies dictate that only varsity teams can wear the letter.

Now Michael’s mother is petitioning the school board to ensure that special needs team members get letters. Public reaction in Wichita is running against the school, which is being painted as cruel and lacking compassion by not letting Michael wear his letter jacket.

Your Ethics Alarm Ethics Quiz this almost spring weekend (March is back to being a lion here in the D.C. area) is this:

Should the school have let the special needs athlete wear his counterfeit letter jacket?

Continue reading

The Tangled Ethics of the Down Syndrome Cheerleader

There’s a lot going on here, and I may lack the ethics dexterity, or perhaps the courage, to figure it out.

I learned about the story on CNN this morning, as the newscasters were getting misty-eyed and “Awwing” all over the place. With a lot of fairly disturbing ethics issues rotting on my plate, I was looking for something uplifting to write about. I’m not sure whether this is it or not.

Here is the most recent on-line story about Kory Mitchell, a sophomore on the varsity cheerleading squad for Manitou Springs (Colorado) High School, who was born with Down Syndrome:

DENVER, Colo. – A Colorado teen with Down syndrome has made her dream of competing in a cheerleading competition come true.

Colorado’s 3-A cheerleading champions hail from Manitou Springs. At the top of their pyramid is a teenager who has overcome serious challenges in her life. The countdown is on as thirteen girls get one last practice in at the Colorado School of Mines. In minutes, the Manitou Springs Mustangs huddle will compete against other top teams.

Cheerleaders take center stage showcasing their spirit and synchronicity. The Manitou Springs Mustangs huddle one last time. And for the first time, joining them in competition is 16-year-old Kory Mitchell.

“She is full of life and full of energy and always wants to be a part of everything,” says her mom, Bonnie King, as she watches with pride.

Her daughter has dreamt about being a cheerleader since elementary school. Her mom is emotional.

But learning these already complicated routines is harder for Kory. “It`s just a tough road when you have a differently-abled child. And to see them have a sense of belonging and acceptance is what she wants, of course, is just so beautiful to see it,” mom says.

Kory’s teammates see what’s under the surface. Things like courage, patience and unconditional acceptance.

“She`s pretty spunky. And she`s got some sass. She loves being out there. It`s nice to see her smile and part of the team,” says one of her teammates. Sometimes competitions aren’t about who wins, but a little hardware doesn’t hurt.

Kory accepted the trophy and a hand from her teammates.

“It`s my dream come true. I love my girls a lot. I`m a big fan of cheerleaders,” Kory said.And Kory’s teammates are big fans of her. This was Kory`s first competition, but she has cheered with the team since last year at football and basketball games.

Observations (some of them reluctant): Continue reading

Now THAT’S An Apology: Chuck Klosterman (“The Ethicist”) Shows The Way

Chuck Klosterman, "The Ethicist," stands tall.

Chuck Klosterman, “The Ethicist,” stands tall.

In the past I have been very critical of  The New York Times’ current writer of  its “The Ethicist” column,  but there is no denying that Chuck Klosterman knows how to make an apology. Indeed, responding to a sensitive situation, he may have offered the most exemplary apology I have ever heard or read.

“A Typical Son” is a perceptive and moving blog that documents the life experiences of a young boy with Down Syndrome and his parents. His mother occasionally  posted an open letter to Mr. Klosterman on the blog, citing his multiple uses of the words “retard” and “retarded” in various published works (Chuck was a film and TV reviewer prior to “The Ethicist” gig) over the past decade. She wrote in part…

“…Today people with cognitive disabilities and their allies are asking members of society to refrain from using the word “retarded” (along with all mutations of the word)… My question to you: Is it ethical to contribute to the denigration of the vulnerable? I am particularly interested because you, Chuck Klosterman, are The Ethicist for the New York Times” and the author of the following [examples of denigrating or mocking references to the mentally handicapped]…. Mr. Klosterman, you appear to be an unrepentant hater of people with cognitive disabilities. You are not using the word in an “I don’t mean it like that way…” sort of ignorance which I think would be much easier to redress. You are using the word in a “Those people are exactly who I am talking about” way.

Please enlighten me: What are the ethics of using the R-word? I am the mother of a seven-year-old son who has Down syndrome.  I believe your response to my question could make all the difference in the world.”

Here is Klosterman’s remarkable response: Continue reading

No, Mary, A Cure For Down Syndrome Isn’t Wrong, But Infecting Readers With Your Warped Ethical Reasoning Is

Let me know when Mary's gone and it safe to take my boot off.

Let me know when Mary’s gone and it’s safe to take the boot off.

The internet can carry the contagion of horrible reasoning with astounding speed, especially since so many of us have been slow to accept that being published no longer creates any likelihood that a writer has a coherent thought worth reading. Even knowing this, I was still taken aback by the startling ethics illiteracy on display in blogger Mary Fischer’s post  titled “Possible ‘Cure’ for Down Syndrome Seems So Wrong.” This is the kind of undisciplined, emotion-driven, bias and rationalization besotted thinking about life issues that Ethics Alarms was launched to combat, and yet reading Fischer’s sloppy substitute for thought, I still found myself wondering: How does someone get this way? How do they function in life if their method of determining right from wrong reaches conclusions like this? How many people read posts so devoid of anything resembling legitimate ethical analysis and  allow it to become part of their belief system?

I’m not even sure that I want to know the answers to these questions. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Grade The Misbehaving Celebrities!

Our subjects:

Oh, Bill...you're such a scream!

Oh, Bill…you’re such a scream!

Bill Maher, bad boy comic, political satirist and host of HBO’s “Real Time”

Maher’s fans

Ron Futrelle, former sportscaster and Las Vegas media personality

Sarah Palin, former governor, VP candidate, Fox commentator and conservative icon

All clashed over a joke made by Maher during a stand-up gig, and your challenge is to decide who gets the lowest ethics grade. Here’s what happened: Futrelle was in the audience for Maher’s show in  Las Vegas. Maher made a joke about Palin’s son, Trig, who has Down Syndrome. According to Futrelle, the joke  upset him, as well as the fact that the audience appeared to enjoy Maher’s using Palin’s innocent and mentally challenged child as a comedy topic, and laughed heartily. Futrelle began heckling Maher, eventually prompting an annoyed audience member to remind him that he was not the attraction, and suggest that he shut his gob. Futrelle persisted, and when confronted by security, left.

Through Futrelle’s blog’s account of his experience, Brietbart and the miracle of social media, Mama Grizzly Palin learned that her young son had been (again) converted into joke-fodder, and tweeted her reaction to Maher:

“Hey bully, on behalf of all kids whom you hatefully mock in order to make yourself feel big, I hope one flattens your lily white wimpy a#*.”

Our grading scale:

Exemplary ethical conduct.

Ethical and appropriate conduct that could have been better executed.

C  Acceptable conduct according to reasonable social norms

D Unethical conduct

Despicable conduct

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is, therefore, to accept this challenge:

Give Maher, Maher’s audience, Futrelle and Palin their ethics grades. Continue reading

Ethics Article of the Week: George Will On His Son’s Birthday

Happy birthday, Jon.

Conservative columnist George Will has only occasionally mentioned his Down Syndrome-inflicted son Jon in his columns, but when he has, it has provided an extra dimension to Jon’s father, who usually comes across in print and on TV as cynical, dour, and archly intellectual. Today is Jon’s birthday, so Will devotes the full column to him, his challenges, and, when all is said and done, ethics.

It’s a beautifully written piece, as Will’s columns often are, and a tender one. More importantly, however, it is an essay that should provoke thought, beginning with the fact that the only reason Will wrote this column is that he and his wife chose, 40 years ago, to do what 90% of all parents informed that their gestating child has Down Syndrome refuse to do: allow the child to be born.

The column is here

__________________________________________________

Graphics: Richmond Times-Dispatch