Sackler, Tufts, Cancel Culture And The 100th Rationalization: The Reverse Ruddigore

I have been waiting to find the ideal 100th Rationalization, officially #70 (there are 30 sub-rationalizations on the EA Rationalizations list. It’s “The Reverse Ruddigore,” the equally valid opposite of Rationalization #21. Ethics Accounting, or “I’ve earned this”/ “I made up for that”:

 You cannot earn the right to act unethically by depositing a lot of ethical deeds in the imaginary ethics bank, nor can unethical conduct be erased by doing good for someone else. The illusion that one can balance the ethics books this way is referred to on the Ethics Alarms blog as “the Ruddigore Fallacy.”  Nobody earns the right to be unethical, not even once, no matter how exemplary their conduct. An unethical act is just as unethical, whether it is performed by a saint, a hero, or a villain.

“Ruddigore,” for those of you sadly unaware of the joys of Gilbert and Sullivan, is the unjustly under-rated work by the Victorian geniuses that involved an ancient curse on a family that required a Baronet of Ruddigore to perform a crime a day or die in agony, courtesy of his re-animated ancestors, who otherwise hang around, literally, as portraits in a haunted gallery. One member of the family who has inherited the curse, Sir Despard, believes that he has found a loophole:

“I get my crime over the first thing in the morning, and then, ha! ha! for the rest of the day I do good – I do good – I do good! Two days since, I stole a child and built an orphan asylum. Yesterday I robbed a bank and endowed a bishopric. To-day I carry off Rose Maybud and atone with a cathedral! This is what it is to be the sport and toy of a Picture Gallery!”

Looking back on past posts, I laid the groundwork for #70 when I condemned the decision of Walt Disney World to remove Bill Cosby’s bust from the its Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame of Fame:

[L]ast I heard Bill Cosby was still recognized as a major trailblazer in stand-up, TV comedy, and television integration (remember “I Spy”?), an important positive cultural force for race relations and black community self esteem, and a spectacularly talented comedian with a unique voice and presence. None of that has changed. Those were the achievements that prompted Cosby’s bust’s inclusion in Disney’s Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame Plaza, along with celebrities such as Lucille Ball and Oprah Winfrey who, like the Cos, have been inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. O.J. Simpson is still honored in the College Football Hall of Fame, because he was one of the greatest college stars ever. His post-career hobby as a murderer, like Bill’s extra-curricular activities as a serial rapist, have nothing to do with the honor, just as Cosby earned and still deserves, his honor for what he achieved on stage and screen.

Subsequent bad acts no more cancel out past good ones than Sir Despard’s cathedral would make up for kidnapping sweet Rose Maybud. The current “Cancel Culture,” however, holds otherwise. In the latest episode, Tufts University announced today that it will strip the Sackler name from the buildings and programs on its medical campus, after a report censured the school for its relationship with the family whose drug company made OxyContin, the opioid blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths nationwide. Continue reading

Another Cancel Culture Episode In Canada

A retired pro hockey player accused the NHL’s Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters of calling him a “nigger” a decade ago when Peters was coaching him on a minor league team, the Rockford Ice Hogs, an affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. Peters apologized in a letter to the Flames management after the allegations, and two days later was  forced to resign.

The Nigeria-born  player, Akim Aliu, wrote on Twitter  that when he was playing for a minor league team a decade ago, Peters, who is white, “dropped the N bomb several times toward me in the dressing room in my rookie year because he didn’t like my choice of music.” Aliu further said that he “rebelled” against the coach as a result of the episode,, and that Peters retaliated by advising executives to demote Aliu to a lower-level league. The National Hockey League reacted with a statement saying that Peters’s alleged behavior was “repugnant and unacceptable.” The Flames immediately opened an investigation into Aliu’s allegations.

In a letter of apology, Peters wrote in part, “I was rightfully challenged about my use of language, and I immediately returned to the dressing room to apologize to the team. I have regretted the incident since it happened, and I now also apologize to anyone negatively affected by my words.”

Aliu, who played briefly with  the Flames, in  2012 and 2013, refused to accept the letter as sincere. There are, by my count, about 28 black or bi-racial players in the NHL, or a bit fewer than one a team on average.

There is so much I don’t understand about this story, it’s hard to know where to begin.

  • Yesterday Aliu met with NHL brass yesterday. Afterward, he told the press, “They couldn’t have been kinder and receptive to the message that we’re trying to bring. I think there’s just some big change coming and it’s long overdue, and I’m excited to see it come to fruition.” Wait, who is “they”? The NHL released a statement too:

  • Akim Aliu is being called a whistleblower.  If so, that was one slow whistle.

How does reporting an incident that took place ten years ago, in a different league, qualify as whistle-blowing in the NHL?

  • Were there other allegation against the Flames coach in his current job? Did he have a long record of bigotry and mistreating players? If this one late hit by Aliu about what happened with the <cough> Ice Hogs is really the whole thing, why did Aliu act now?

His Wikipedia entry describes him as something of a trouble-maker. Was this just vengeance for a his mistreatment for a decade ago?

  • Does it really make sense to fire someone for what he said, with a different employer, that long ago, no matter what it was? Does this mean that Peters can never work again, and will have to wander the world, starving, begging, without friends or shelter? If a statement—not a crime, mind you, but just words, ugly as they may have been— made ten years ago is sufficient to make a man unemployable and a permanent pariah, then why not 20 years ago? Is our enlightened society now concluding that no one can change, or improve, or learn, and a single moment of anger or bad judgment justifying shunning him or her for life?

If I write that this seems cruel and excessive and indeed unethical to me, does that make me racist too?

My usual question as I enter ethical conundrums is “What’s going on here?” In this case, I have no idea, but I doubt that it’s good.

Comment Of The Day: The Betrayal And Ultimate Triumph Of Dorothy Seymour Wills”

The smartest –and most ethical—thing John and Paul ever did: agreeing to share credit for every song, no matter who wrote it.

On the topic of authors being reluctant or resistant to sharing authorship credits,I wrote in a replay in a comment to the post,

I have shared the authorship credits of several stage shows where I was the initiator and the creator of 75-95% or more. There are two shows, a drama and a musical, that have made substantial money without my sharing in any of it—one because I added co-authors out of respect for their non-authorship contributions, the other for which I got no credit at all despite making the alterations that made the difference between the show being a hit and a flop. My wife thinks I’m a sap and a patsy. No, I think sharing credit liberally is the right thing to do, and that generosity should be the rule, not the exception. And I will continue to do unto others what they should have done unto me, even if the others usually don’t.

Here is a different personal perspective on the issue, in mermaidmary99’s Comment of the Day on the post, “The Betrayal And Ultimate Triumph Of Dorothy Seymour Wills”:

I was a record producer in the early 1980’s. (Still am.)

In ones early 20’s it was unheard of to be a producer unless one was in the group. To be a woman in their early 20’s was shocking to most every man who would arrive to the studio to see me in charge. They often assumed my boss was coming.

The men were always respectful and helpful as I cut my teeth in those early days.

How did I get a job like that?

The label owner, who was a studio musician and had played with The Righteous Brothers and other acts, had heard 3 songs I wrote on an album (my boss chose them and was the producer) and loved them. He asked my boss who wrote them, and he said I had. (And that I assisted on production on those too) so the owner said. “have her write and produced the next record, this stuff is amazing!”

So along with my then boyfriend, I did.

Yes, later I was a mom and asked to produce for another label. (Women producers were still unheard of) and I accepted. I asked my husband to help.

I’ll never forget his reply.

He kindly declined saying. If he did, I’d not get the credit, They’d think, “Oh, she helped her husband and probably nagged for credit.”

I was hurt because I wanted him to share in it. He explained nicely again how it wouldn’t support my Dream. And he LOVED producing too .

I’ve often felt lucky he was so supportive, and reading this I realize how very fortunate I am to have had him by my side.

I’m glad this story is being told. This woman deserves credit and I can see why men would both want her to, and not. Continue reading

The Betrayal And Ultimate Triumph Of Dorothy Seymour Wills

There was an upsetting ethics story in the obituaries last week. It told the tale of the rank injustice perpetrated by a famous and much-honored researcher, historian and author on his collaborator, from whom he withheld  credit and recognition—because she was his wife.

Dorothy Seymour Mills collaborated for more than 30 years on a landmark three-volume history of baseball with her first husband, Harold Seymour. Their work, originally attributed only to him,  is regarded as the first significant scholarly account of baseball’s past.  (“No one may call himself a student of baseball history without having read these indispensable works.” John Thorn in 2010, then Major League Baseball’s official historian.)

“Baseball: The Early Years” (1960), “Baseball: The Golden Age” (1971) and “Baseball: The People’s Game” (1990) all were completed with substantial and indispensable contributions by Dorothy, who, unlike her husband, was not a baseball fan. (“You write a lot more objectively about a subject you’re not in love with,” she once observed.) She was the primary researcher, organized the projects, typed the manuscripts, prepared the indexes (ugh) and edited each book before it went to the publisher. Because of her husband’s failing health, she wrote a substantial portion of “Baseball: The People’s Game.” Yet her husband adamantly refused to give her an author’s credit. Each book bore only Harold Seymour’s name, and hers was relegated to the acknowledgments.  The first book in the trilogy, “Baseball: The Early Years,” received rave reviews.  Sports Illustrated compared Seymour to Edward Gibbon, the iconic historian who wrote “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Dorothy was invisible, and her husband wanted it that way. Continue reading

It Is With Great Reluctance That Ethics Alarms Concludes That As Generally Repugnant And Vulgar The Term “Asshole” Is, Mayor Pete Buttigieg Is One.

If this was just disgraceful pandering, grandstanding, and shameless virtue-signaling, he would only  have proven himself to be a jerk—a big jerk, to be sure,  but still just a jerk. But it is far more.

The new fad contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination is returning thousands of dollars in donations because they came from two lawyers who had the audacity to represent Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as he attempted to defend himself against the contrived  ambush accusation of a sex crime, made in a Congressional hearing  on national television, a ploy designed to destroy his reputation. Buttigieg’s campaign said that it will not accept funds from people who helped secure the justice’s seat on the Supreme Court. You know. Dirty money.

Buttigieg’s campaign had received $7,200 from Alexandra Walsh, and $2,800 from Beth Wilkinson, Walsh’s law partner. Both represented Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation ordeal. As I have vowed to point out every time some ignoramus asserts that lawyesr must be punished for the character, conduct or beliefs of the clients they represent and are responsible or culpable in any way for what those clients have said or done (or NOT done), it is a core and essential principle of our legal system that such an assumption is not only wrong but dangerous. It threatens the right of every citizen to receive competent legal representation and access to our laws and other rights.

Here, once again, is my favorite ethics rule, from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct:

(b) A lawyer’s representation of a client, including representation by appointment, does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social or moral views or activities.

Whether the target is Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Harvey Weinstein’s defense attorneys (also here), Larry Tribe, Gitmo defense lawyers, or Clarence Darrow, Johnny Cochran, Leslie Abramson and other defense lawyers who defend murderers and worse, the false claim that lawyers who take on unpopular, repulsive or guilty clients have done anything less than protected  the Bill of Rights and the rule of law is either rank ignorance or a deliberate effort to reduce the civic literacy of the public.

Buttigieg isn’t a lawyer, but he is very well educated and has a reasonable claim to brilliance.  Thus he knows and understands what lawyers do, but is acting as if he does not, intentionally making the public stupid (or keeping it conveniently as stupid as it already is ) for his own benefit.

Despicable.

But that’s not all. Continue reading

The Last Of The Nazi War Criminals

Coincidentally, just as I am completing watching the Netflix documentary “The Devil Next Door,”  another former Nazi prison guard has begun trial on charges that he was an accessory to 5,230 murders at a German concentration camp in Poland during World War II.  “The Devil Next Door” engrossingly tells the strange story of a Ukrainian immigrant named John Demjanjuk who appeared to be a model U.S. citizen, respected neighbor and beloved husband and father in Cleveland before the U.S. decided he was really a former Nazi camp guard nicknamed “Ivan the Terrible” for his sadism and brutality at the Treblinka Nazi death camp in Poland. Demjanjuk was stripped of his U.S. citizenship and tried in Israel from 1986 to 1988 for crimes against humanity. A three judge panel convicted Demjanjuk and sentenced him to hang after a dramatic (and troubling) trial, but the former Ford auto-worker died while his  appeal was pending. Under the doctrine of abatement ab initio, he is still presumed innocent.

As I have written here before, I have many ethical problems with the concept of war crime trials, but “Ivan the Terrible” certainly tests them. Whether or not Demjanjuk  was Ivan, the Treblinka gas chamber operator was a monster even by SS standards, torturing the camp’s Jewish victims before their extermination. In the United States, I cannot imagine that that Demjanjuk would have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt: the evidence was compromised, the eye-witnesses often contradicted themselves and appeared confused (“Some were liars, some were senile, and some were liars and senile” is how Demjanjuk’s Israeli lawyer puts it on camera). The most damaging testimony against Demjanjuk was his own, and in the U.S. he never would have been allowed to testify.

Was he “Ivan”? All one can say is “probably.” The case was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, not even close to it.

At the time, it was widely believed that Demjanjuk’s would be the last Nazi war crimes trial, but now  Bruno Dey, 93,  a prison guard  in the Stutthof camp near what’s now Gdansk, Poland, is being tried in Hamburg, Germany. Continue reading

Fairness to Elizabeth Warren

Yes, even the 2020 Presidential race’s worst panderer and #1 demagogue deserves the same leave as any other lawyer, which is not to be held responsible for her client’s views and deeds. Every lawyer who ever runs for office or who comes within the cross-hairs of unethical pundits faces these attacks, which I have written about here repeatedly and pledged to address any time they come to my attention.Elizabeth Warren’s Days Defending Big Corporations” warns the Times, hinting at hypocrisy by noting,

“Ms. Warren has ascended toward the head of the Democratic presidential pack on the strength of her populist appeal and progressive plans, which include breaking up big technology companies, free public college and a wealth tax on the richest Americans…Against that backdrop, some of Ms. Warren’s critics have seized upon her bankruptcy work for LTV and other big corporations to question the depth of her progressive bona fides. How, they wonder, could someone whose reputation is built on consumer advocacy have represented a company seeking to avoid paying for retired miners’ health care?

Here’s how: a lawyer’s personal convictions, values and beliefs are completely irrelevant to her clients or choice of clients. Those who think otherwise don’t understand legal ethics, or lawyers, or their function in society. For the heaven-knows-how many-teenth time, here is critical Rule 1.2 b of the ABA Rules of Professional Conduct: Continue reading