Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/20/19: Ancient Icelanders And Others Behaving Badly

Good Morning!

1. Confession: I called a stranger an asshole on Facebook yesterday. I had patiently explained to a Facebook Borg-infected friend that no, the Justice Department report on Hillary’s email fiasco had not proven for all time that she hadn’t “done anything wrong,” quite the contrary. The report revealed that she was directly responsible for over 600 security breaches (after saying otherwise for more than a year). That means that she was reckless, incompetent, irresponsible and dishonest, and, since the applicable statute doesn’t require intent, could have been prosecuted. The report did find that there was no evidence that Clinton deliberately set out to endanger national security, which was never the issue.

Some clod following the thread wrote that you “could sure tell who follows Fox News talking points.” Well, I’m sick of that lazy deflection, and anyone who uses it, especially on me, is an asshole, and needs to be told.  maybe ist not too late to get treatment. It’s even more of an asshole thing to say than the reflex “But ….Trump!” retort.

2. Yes, this is unethical. Yes, it is newsworthy. No, it is receiving almost no national coverage outside of conservative news sources. Rep. Katie Hill, Vice Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has been engaged in a three-way sexual relationship involving a  staffer and her husband. This would not matter to me, and should not matter to you, except that the woman involved is Hill’s subordinate. The workplace is not a dating bar or personal harem, not in the private sector, not in Congress. In addition, close personal relationships create conflicts of interest for the supervisor in any office. I would mention the inherent imbalance of power that makes it impossible for an employee to consent to a superior’s advances in such a situation, but of course Lee knows that, being an ardent #MeToo and Time’s Up! supporter.

The hypocrisy in the Democratic Party on this issue is wide, deep, and nauseating, except, I guess, to Democrats. Last week, discussing this issue with lawyers following my ethics seminar, a usually smart, fair, male attorney actually opined that Joe Biden’s serial non-consensual groping wasn’t really a problem because “he didn’t mean it to be sexual assault.” The lawyer really said this, though “I didn’t mean anything by it” has been the reflex excuse of every sexual harasser from Bill O’Reilly to Louis C.K.

3. Stipulated: President Trump’s harsh rhetoric in the aborted White House meeting with Democrats was one more stupid self-inflicted wound. Given the barrage of ad hominem attacks by the party that she leads, and the disrespect for the office that Pelosi herself has orchestrated (that mocking clap at the State of the Union speech alone was unforgivable), Trump was certainly provoked, but the President is not supposed to slide into the gutter just because his adversaries live there. It’s swell to be a “fighter”—Trump is probably correct that Mitt Romney would have been elected President in 2012 if he had a some Trump in him—but that doesn’t mean that gratuitous incivility and nastiness is a competent or responsible political strategy.

However, this image, part of a cartoon by Andy Marlette for the Pensacola News Journal earlier this year… Continue reading

End Of Week Ethics Alarms, 10/11/2019: The Liberty Under Attack Edition

Wait…

I’m looking forward to the weekend  even though I’ll be working throughout.

I’m obviously an idiot.

1. My Ethics Alarms doesn’t even “ping!” on this one.  KTVU, the Bay Area’s Fox affiliate, summarized the St. Louis Cardinals’ devastating win over the Braves in Game 5 of the National League Division Series with a chyron reading, “Braves Scalped.” The Horror! Exclaimed the always sensitive Yahoo! Sports, “That’s straight out of the yikes factory. Particularly given the conversation that’s surrounded the Braves recently. A Cardinals pitcher of Native American descent objected to the Braves’ infamous tomahawk chop and the team responded Wednesday by toning down its use of the chop. There’s not any good time to roll out a “scalped” headline, but this was a particularly bad one.” The headline to the story says the headline is “racist.”

OK, why? I want one good reason. If a team is going to call itself something other than “The Baseball Players,” which would be strikingly unoriginal, you have to admit, then metaphors and colorful language relating to that teams’ nickname are automatically appropriate. “Orioles’/Cardinals’/Bluejays’ Wings Clipped!”…”Red Sox/Whie Sox unravel!”…”Tigers/Cubs/ Declawed!”…”Nats Swatted!”…”Giants Dwarfed!”…  “Pirates Walk The Plank!”…”Diamondbacks Rattled!”…”Mariners Sink!” But “Braves (or Indians) Scalped!” is an outrage? The team lost 13-1! The Braves were down 10-0 after the first half-inning; it was an epic slaughter. I could u8nderstand the discomfort if Native Americans never scalped their adversaries, but they did. This isn’t some kind of historical slander. Let’s see…here’s some of a rather scholarly article on the subject of scalping…

…the languages of the eastern Indians contained many words to describe the scalp, the act of scalping, and the victim of scalping. A Catholic priest among the Hurons in 1623 learned that an onontsira was a war trophy consisting of “the skin of the head with its hair.” The five languages of the Iroquois were especially rich in words to describe the act …To the Mohawks and Oneidas, the scalp was onnonra ; the act of taking it, kannonrackwan . Their western brothers at Onondaga spoke of hononksera , a variation of the Huron word. And although they were recorded after initial contact with the Europeans, the vocabularies of the other Iroquois nations and of the Delaware, Algonquin, Malecite, Micmac, and Montagnais all contained words for scalp, scalping, and the scalped that are closely related to the native words for hair, head, skull, and skin. That these words were obviously not borrowed from European languages lends further support to the notion that they were native to America and deeply rooted in Indian life….paintings and drawings reinforce that image. The single most important picture in this regard is Theodore de Bry’s engraving of Le Moyne’s drawing of “How Outina’s Men Treated the Enemy Dead.” Based on Le Moyne’s observations in 1564-65, the 1591 engraving was the first pictorial representation of Indian scalping, one faithful to Le Moyne’s verbal description and to subsequent accounts from other regions of eastern America. The details—sharp reeds to extract the scalp, drying the green skin over a fire, displaying the trophies on long poles, and later celebrating the victory with established rituals by the sorcerer—lend authenticity to De Bry’s rendering and support to the argument for the Indian invention of scalping….[I]n the end, the American stereotype of scalping must stand as historical fact, whether we are comfortable with it or not.”

In summary, the word was obviously not meant literally to refer to a baseball game. Nor was the use of it was in no way libelous to real Native Americans. Yahoo’s pearl-clutching, and that of social media political correctness cops, is more offensive by far than the Fox chryon.

2.  As if you didn’t have to jump through too many hoops to fly already…In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act, which made the addition of a star to state IDs  and drivers licenses necessary to have access to nuclear power plants and federal facilities. Then some genius decided that access to airplanes should be added to the list. Continue reading

The Attacks On Free Speech From The Left Are More Dangerous Than Any Speech Progressives Want Banned

Another day, another progressive effort to erode pubic support and understanding for the First Amendment. This is at the root of America’s current ethics conflict: a perverse and puckish God has made one of the most unethical and least reflective of public figures  the crucial bulwark against a massed and relentless assault against core national values.

The New York Times, taking a hand-off from its ideological twin the New Yorker, has published an attack on free speech from New Yorker writer Andrew Marantz. Even though he is a professional writer, he has managed to complete an elite education (Brown, NYU School of Journalism) without managing to grasp the essence of freedom of speech, and why it is the structural load-bearing beam that allows our democracy to exist.

Marantz simply doesn’t get it, or he does get it, but would love to see less liberty and more enforced line-toeing by those lesser intellects and deplorables who cannot accept the inherent rightness of the progressive view of the universe. He writes, for example,

Using “free speech” as a cop-out is just as intellectually dishonest and just as morally bankrupt. For one thing, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private companies. Even the most creative reader of the Constitution will not find a provision guaranteeing Richard Spencer a Twitter account. But even if you see social media platforms as something more akin to a public utility, not all speech is protected under the First Amendment anyway. Libel, incitement of violence and child pornography are all forms of speech. Yet we censor all of them, and no one calls it the death knell of the Enlightenment.

I guess Brown has no mandatory course in government theory.  The Constitution is the enabling document of the U.S. mission statement—you know, the one that begins by announcing that there are inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That such a governing document that could only limit government restrictions on free speech also stood for a cultural, societal and ethical norm that freedom of speech was central to the Declaration’s summary of human rights would normally be clear to anyone who bothered to study the two documents as well as research the relationship between law, morality and ethics. It’s true that Richard Spencer can’t be assured of a Twitter account, but a society that denies him one is chopping at that load-bearing beam. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/2/19: While Basking In The Glow Of Another Life Lesson From Baseball

Go Nats!

The Washington Nationals had never won an elimination game in the National league post-season. They were 0-6 in such games going into last might’s do-or-die single Wild Card play-off at home against the Miracle Milwaukee Brewers. Following the script many Nats fans dreaded, the team’s Hall of Fame-bound ace, Max Scherzer, quickly gave up three runs while the Brew Crew’s storied bullpen kept the offense at bay save a solo homer from National shortstop Trey Turner. Heading into the bottom of the eighth, the Nationals had to face closer Josh Hader (he of the Hader Gotcha), who gives up hits less often than some pitchers give up runs.

Then, as they say, fate took a hand. With one out, uninspiring Nats pinch-hitter Michael Taylor reached first illicitly. A 3-2 pitch from Hader hit the knob of Taylor’s bat and immediately ricocheted onto his hand. It should have been called a foul, but the umpires ruled it a hit-by-pitch, sending Taylor to first base. Hader struck out the next Nats batter, then aging Nats slugger Ryan Zimmerman was called upon as another pinch-hitter. He barely connected with a pitch out of the strike zone, breaking his bat, but his weak “dying quail” bloop dropped in just over the head of the Milwaukee second baseman for a cheap and fortunate single. (On TV, Zimmerman could be seen smiling and shrugging sheepishly.) That meant the tying runs were on base for the Nats best hitter, MVP candidate Anthony Rendon. Hader gave him what is known as an intentional unintentional base on balls in order to face 20-year-old Juan Soto, a left-handed batter. Lefty Hader allowed left-handed batters to hit .143 this season. But young Soto lined a pitch into right center, and Brewers right fielder Trent Grisham, one of the heroes of the late-season Brewers play-off drive, did a Bill Buckner. The single got past him (he was charging the ball in what would have been a futile effort to throw out the tying run at the plate) , and all three runners scored. Incredibly, the Nats now led 4-3. After the Brewers went down in the top of the 9th without scoring, they, and not Milwaukee, moved on to the next round of the play-offs.

Lesson: In baseball, as in life, it is as important to be lucky as to be good. Chaos lurks in every second, and the illusion of control is just that, an illusion. A bad call, a fluke hit, and a horribly-timed fielding botch that the same outfielder avoids 99 times out of a hundred, and so much changed for two cities, two fan bases, and the 2019 post-season, affecting jobs, careers, reputations and commerce.

This is why we should never give up, never despair, and never get cocky. It is also why we should strive to live as ethically as possible. We can’t control whether we win or lose, but we can control how.

1. Again we must ask: when did the Democratic Party decide to abandon freedom of speech?  Yesterday, we learned that Joe Biden’s campaign wants the news media to censor adversary commentary from Rudy Giuliani, while claiming that no one who isn’t a public official is qualified to opine on TV regarding public policy.  Now Senator Kamala Harris, who also aspires to be President, says President Trump should be banned from using Twitter because he  uses the platform in an “irresponsible” way. Harris, in an interview with CNN host Anderson Cooper, also called for “other mechanisms” to make sure Trump’s words “do not in fact harm anyone”—you know, like harming her party’s election prospects by exposing its Big Lies and open coup attempts.

I wonder if the public sees how ominous the repeated Democratic calls for censorship are. Maybe the President will tweet about that.

Of course, the President’s use of Twitter is often irresponsible, but also a necessary end-around media propaganda aimed at unseating him and undermining democracy. It is remarkable that Harris, a Senator and a lawyer, somehow missed  that the First Amendment proclaims the importance of free speech to our society. It doesn’t only endorse the right to engage in responsible speech. I think, for example, that advocating censoring the speech of the President of the United States is irresponsible, but I’ll defend Harris’s right to do it—and my right to conclude that because she does it, she is an ignorant, dangerous fool. Continue reading

The Judicial Persecution Of Jonathan Vanderhagen

It began when Jonathan Vanderhagen petitioned Macomb County (Michigan) Circuit Court Judge Rachel Rancilio for sole custody of his 2-year-old son, Killian, arguing that Killian’s biological mother was unfit to be his son’s  guardian. Judge Rancilio disagreed and the child’s mother retained custody. Not long after the decision,  Killian was dead. Since his son’s death in 2017, Vanderhagen has harshly criticized the Rancilio’s custody ruling on Facebook. 

As a result, he was arrested and charged with a malicious use of telecommunication services , which includes using a telecommunication service with the intention of terrorizing, intimidating, threatening, or harassing someone, in this case, the judge. From Reason:

The case report filled out by Sgt. Jason Conklin of the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office notes that Rancilio was made aware of Vanderhagen’s posts, several of which included screenshots of her own Facebook page and pins on Pinterest. The screenshots are accompanied by captions promising to expose the corruption of the court system and calling Rancilio and Mary Duross, a 14-year veteran Friend of the Court who was involved in the custody case, “shady.”  “At no point does [Vanderhagen] threaten harm or violence towards Rancilio or Duross,” Conklin wrote in the case report.

Apparently some of the “threat” claim comes from the meme above and others like it that Vanderhagen—talented!—has created and posted on Facebook. That shovel! Scary! The caption says, “Dada back to digging [and] you best believe [I’m] gonna dig up all the skeletons in this court’s closet.” “I won’t stop till changes are made, people are held accountable, careers are ended, & these kids get the justice they deserve,” he wrote in another one of his “threatening” Facebook posts.

What’s going on here?

I don’t think its a tough question: what’s going on is a concerted effort  by some Michigan judges of dubious skills and character to take vengeance on a citizen who hasn’t been willing to grovel at the the feet of the Robed Ones. Judges are like that all too often, but this is an unusually ugly example that begs for a serious reckoning with Lady Justice—for the judges. Continue reading

Ethics True Or False: “The KKK Has As Much Right To Have A Cookout As Anyone Else”

This is an excellent question to ask your Facebook Borg friends to determine if they support and understand the meaning of freedom of thought, freedom of association, free speech, and the Bill of Rights generally. Most of them will get the question wrong, because they don’t. Some of them will probably call you a racist for explaining what the correct and ethical answer is: TRUE.

It’s not a matter of debate either, unless one believes that the First Amendment is debatable—as, depressingly, a growing number of progressives do.

In Madison, Indiana, a mob of antifa members (with bandanas covering their faces)  and others conspired to prevent the local KKK chapter from holding its annual annual “Ku Klux Kookout” picnic in a public park. They beat the Klan group to the site, then confronted hoodless “Kookers”, who they outnumbered, and intimidated them into retreating after a ten minute confrontation.

“The ‘honorable sacred knights’ of the KKK showed up here at the park and were chased out within minutes because hate has no place here in Madison, Indiana,” Mike Gamms, one of the antifa organizers of the counter-cookout, or whatever you call it, said with misplaced pride. Continue reading

One More Time: A Correct Decision Because There Is A Right To Be A Jerk, Even Though Being A Jerk Isn’t Right

This decision should have been easy; it should not have has to go to an appeals court.

Carl and Angel Larsen (above) operate the Telescope Media Group, a Minnesota videography company.  In 2016, they claimed  Minnesota’s anti-discrimination laws required them to make videos of same-sex marriages, which they say their religious beliefs oppose. They challenged the Minnesota Human Rights Act as unconstitutional. The relevant provisions state,

“…It is an unfair discriminatory practice . . . to deny any person the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of a place of public accommodation because of . . . sexual orientation.

…It is an unfair discriminatory practice for a person engaged in a trade or business or in the provision of a service . . . to intentionally refuse to do business with, to refuse to contract with, or to discriminate in the basic terms, conditions, or performance of the contract because of a person’s . . . sexual orientation . . . , unless the alleged refusal or discrimination is because of a legitimate business purpose…”

The Larsens told the lower court that they wanted to make films that promote their view of marriage as a “sacrificial covenant between one man and one woman.” Thus they will only film heterosexual  weddings, to “capture the background stories of the couples’ love leading to commitment, the [couples’] joy[,] . . . the sacredness of their sacrificial vows at the altar, and even the following chapters of the couples’ lives.” They also, they said,  intend to post and share these videos online, in order to “affect the cultural narrative regarding marriage.”

 U.S. District Judge John Tunheim  dismissed their case, comparing  their stated mission of  promoting marriage as a bond between one man and one woman was comparable to posting a sign that said “white applicants only.”

Bad opinion, bad logic, bad judge. The couple made clear that they will “gladly work with all people—regardless of their race, sexual orientation, sex, religious beliefs, or any other classification.” However, as ” Christians who believe that God has called them to use their talents and their company to . . . honor God,” the Larsons decline any requests for their services that they feel conflict with their religious beliefs, and so state in their promotional materials.

In a 2-1 decision,  the three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit reversed, ruling that the Larsons have a First Amendment right “to choose when to speak and what to say.”

Of course. While one may argue whether a cake is “speech” under the First Amendment, there is no persuasive argument that a video or film is not protected communication and speech by definition. The opinion cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1995 landmark decision in Hurley vs. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, noting that the Court “drew the line exactly where the Larsens ask us to here: to prevent the government from requiring their speech to serve as a public accommodation for others.”

As with the various baker and wedding photo cases, I find the Larson’s conduct obnoxious, divisive and unnecessary. How does simply filming a wedding—I don’t care if it’s between a man and a musk-ox—constitute an endorsement, support, or a violation of their religious beliefs? It doesn’t. It can’t. Refusing to make a video of a wedding is an insult to any couple that requests it, and cruelly implies that they are less than worthy of association. Sure, the videographers have a right to withhold their services, but they are being jerks to do so. This is a Golden Rule matter. A law shouldn’t be necessary.

However, the Larsons should have the choice of whether to be good, ethical members of the community, fair and compassionate, and not be forced to act the way the State thinks they should act, even if the State happens to be correct, under threat of  90 days in jail and up to $25,000  in fines. Continue reading