Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Ethics Heroes: The US Conference of Catholic Bishops’”

Socrates

We have a veritable Comment of the Day chain. Sarah B.’s COTD yesterday on the Ethics Alarms post applauding the U.S. Catholic Bishops for preparing to hold Joe Biden accountable for his open support of abortion had inspired two excellent questions, in sequence, from reader Curmie. Both were answered with brio by Ryan Harkins.

We’ve never had such a Socratic Comment of the Day exchange before, and maybe I should have a separate category for such delights, but I don’t. So I’ll just introduce this by saying, “Here is Curmie and Ryan Harkins collaborative Comment of the Day on the post,Comment Of The Day: ‘Ethics Heroes:The US Conference of Catholic Bishops.” (Curmie plays Socrates.)

Curmie: One question, or rather series of related questions, for Sarah B, from a long-lapsed Protestant:

As respects “grave matter,” is there an inherent element of volition in the act itself (it wasn’t an accident), and if so, is there a distinction between literally not knowing the sinfulness of an act (had no idea the Church forbids a certain action) and deciding for oneself that the act is innocent, despite Church doctrine? And, assuming any of these distinctions are relevant, are we talking about a disjunctive yes/no, or something along the lines of a continuum?

I’m thinking of the Ancient Greek and Shinto (to name two) concepts of pollution (as opposed to sin), and wondering if Catholicism is closer to the former than I had hitherto believed.
In a pollution-based theology, Oedipus is still guilty of incest despite his active attempt to avoid it. In today’s world, according to this idea, a driver who hits and kills a child who ran out into the street is still guilty, although the event was entirely accidental, and the driver did everything possible to avoid hitting the child.

Ryan Harkins: In backing up, the Catholic Church teaches that a sin is mortal if it meets three requirements: first, that it is grave matter; second that the sinner knows that it is grave matter; and third, that the sinner consents, or intends, to commit that act. Grave matter is grave because of the extent of damage it does, and this is regardless of intent. Killing someone is grave matter; they are just as dead if you didn’t intend for them to die. I think St. Paul encapsulates this idea in his letter to the Romans when he writes, “Sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses (Rom 5:13-14).” The point is that even though you don’t know that what you are doing is wrong, because the act itself is inherently wrong, it will still cause harm. So the gravity of an action is not a matter of volition.

Where volition enters the picture is in the second two conditions. A person might not know that an act constitutes grave matter, but this could either be an unintentional state, in which he is not culpable for his ignorance, or it could be willful ignorance on his part. One aspect of being Catholic is the assent to the Church as authoritative, infallible on matters of faith and morals. A Catholic then has an obligation not just to follow the Church’s instructions, but to learn what the Church actually instructs. This touches on what Sarah B was saying on primacy of conscience: we should follow our consciences, but we have a duty to properly form our consciences as well. On some matters where the Church has not made any official pronouncements, the faithful are allowed flexibility of opinions. But on many issues that are hot topics today, the Church has made pronouncements, and those are, as far as any Catholic is concerned, infallible and made so through the protection and guarantee of the Holy Spirit.

A Catholic does not evade culpability by concluding privately that an action the Church condemns is actually innocent. His rejection of Church authority would actually be itself grave matter, on the order of the great sin of the Devil, who said, “Non serviam.” The sin of pride has long been held as the father of all other sins. It is the sin by which we seek to supplant God as the arbiter of good and evil. For a Catholic, who ought to know that the Church claims infallibility on matters of faith and morals, to reject Church teaching, he either has to deny the Church, or he has to believe he has some higher authority than the Church.

As for whether we are speaking of a disjunctive or a continuum, my answer is both. When it comes down the end of the day, either you have committed a mortal sin or you haven’t. But because of the third condition for a sin to be mortal, the question of whether one actually committed a mortal sin can become murkier. Take an addict, for example. It is a sin of gluttony to engage in debilitating drug use. So the use of hardcore, recreational drugs like meth, cocaine, and heroin is grave matter. (The use of lesser drugs like caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and a few others do not fall into this category because the impact of moderate use is not very large. Drugs that have practically no “moderate” dosage are the ones that would constitute to grave matter.) But an addict has lost a great deal of his capacity to resist temptation. As he tries to quit, his falling of the wagon and using is of lesser severity than someone taking those drugs the first time. As he progresses, and he regains control over his appetites, then his culpability in slipping up and using again increases.

So there can be debate over whether a sin was actually mortal, due to the degree in which a person consents to a wrong. If someone resists temptation for a long time, but is eventually worn out by the struggle, did he really consent when he finally gave into temptation? However, this line of questioning can be destructive. Overly scrupulous people can argue themselves into condemnation over the slightest of offenses, and any of the rest of us would really like to rationalize our sins into the venial category, given the opportunity.

Of course, any of this is tangential to the question of public support of abortion. On this the Church is very clear. Abortion is a grave evil, perpetuated against the most defenseless and the most innocent members of the human race. Any Catholic politician who advocates for expanding access to abortion is defending an intolerable evil, and any excuse of being personally opposed is insufficient. A politician is to be held to a higher standard in this regard than a private citizen because of his capacity to influence legislation one way or another. Since the Church has expressed all this, there should be no excuse for any Catholic politician.

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Baseball Has A Cheating Problem That Is Old, Was Supposedly Addressed Decades Ago, And Is Strangling The Game. It Is Relevant To More Than Baseball (Part 1: Introduction)

Baseball sticky

Since about four other readers pay any attention to my baseball ethics posts, let me say right up front why this a mistake. Baseball’s current pitchers using foreign substances on the ball problem is, ethically, exactly the same as our nation’s election cheating scandal, or the illegal immigration crisis. It arises from the same dead-headed rationalizations, intellectual laziness, and self-serving deception. We can and should learn from it. But we won’t.

If you want to ignore the latest baseball ethics scandal as a niche problem unrelated to greater ethics principles, be my guest. You will be missing an important and still developing lesson.

Baseball’s hitting is way down this year, and pitching is more dominant than it has been since the mid-1960s. There is a reason: almost every pitcher is using some kind of sticky substance on the ball. This increases “spin rate,” which before computers and other technology was impossible to see, much less measure. The faster a pitcher can make a ball spin, the more it moves, curves and dives at higher speeds. Sticky substances allow a pitcher to do that. Using them is against the rules; it’s cheating. But for years now, the same kind of ethics-addled fools who allowed Barry Bonds and other cheats to use illegal steroids and wreck the game’s home run records as long as they lied about it have let pitchers illegally doctor the ball.

This week, the whole, completely avoidable ethics train wreck became an engine of destruction for the National Pastime.

Unfortunately, one has to understand the context to comprehend what is going on now, and that means looking backwards, in this case, to 2014. Here, with some edits, are two Ethics Alarms essays that provide the context. The first was titled “The Abysmal Quality of Ethical Reasoning in Baseball: A Depressing Case Study.” The second, Pineda-Pine Tar, Part II: Baseball Clarifies Its Bizarro Ethics Culture, appeared 13 days later. Yes, what is happening now was foretold by conditions that were evident seven years ago. The remaining parts of this series will bring you, and the train wreck, up to date.

***

What happened was this: During last night’s Red Sox-Yankee game in Yankee Stadium, the Boston broadcasting team of Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy noticed a glossy brown substance on New York starting pitcher Michael Pineda’s pitching hand. It was very obvious, especially once the NESN cameras started zooming in on it.   “There’s that substance, that absolutely looks like pine tar,” play-by-play man Don Orsillo said. “Yeah, that’s not legal,” color commentator and former player Jerry Remy replied.

Indeed it isn’t.  According to rule 8.02(a)(2), (4) and (5), the pitcher shall not expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove; apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball; [or]  deface the ball in any manner.

The Red Sox, who probably knew about the gunk on Pineda’s hand, didn’t complain to the umpires, and just went about their merry way, losing the game. Asked about the stuff on his hand, Pineda demonstrated the full range of body language indicating that he was lying his head off. “It was dirt,’ he said. Later, when the ick appeared to be gone,  Pineda explained, he had just sweated his hand clean. Right. Whatever was on his hand—beef gravy, crankcase oil, chocolate syrup…the majority of pundits think pine tar—it wasn’t “dirt.” Pineda’s manager, Joe Girardi, was brazenly evasive.

The Yankee pitcher was cheating. This isn’t a major scandal, but cheating is cheating: sports shouldn’t allow cheating of any kind, because if a sport allows some cheating, however minor, it will encourage cynical, unscrupulous and unethical individuals on the field, in the stands, and behind keyboard to excuse all other forms of cheating, from corked bats to performance enhancing drugs. Cheating is wrong. Cheating unfairly warps the results of games, and rewards dishonesty rather than skill. Cheating undermines the enjoyment of any game among serious fans who devote energy and passion to it. Any cheating is a form of rigging, a variety of lying.

And yet, this clear instance of cheating, caught on video, primarily sparked the sports commentariat, including most fans, to cite one rationalization and logical fallacy after another to justify doing nothing, and not just doing nothing, but accepting the form of cheating as “part of the game.” I’ve been reading columns and listening to the MLB channel on Sirius-XM and watch the MLB channel on Direct TV since this episode occurred. Here are the reactions:

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The Latest Kentucky Derby Doping Scandal Should End Horse Racing…Let’s Hope It Does

Derby cheat

Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a postrace drug test, and if the results stand, his victory will be nullified. The horse’s Hall-of-Fame trainer Bob Baffert revealed the test results yesterday. The three-year-old colt tested positive for elevated levels of betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid and sometimes used to relieve joint pain in horses. Medina Spirit’s post-race test revealed 21 picograms per milliliter, which is more than double the allowed limit in Kentucky racing.

If the original results are confirmed, Baffert will have a chance to appeal. Meanwhile, Churchill Downs suspended” Baffert “from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack.”

While the Derby’s winner is under suspicion, the second “jewel” in racing’s Triple Crown, The Preakness, takes place in five days. Medina Spirit will run, even as his legitimacy as Kentucky Derby is in doubt.

The Kentucky Derby is the only horse race most Americans know anything about or pay attention to: a cheating scandal in the Derby is racing’s equivalent of baseball’s 1919 fixed World Series. The difference is that baseball was on the ascendant in 1919, while horse racing today is is barely hanging on by its hooves. Moreover, drugging in horse racing has been epidemic for decades.

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The Entertainment Awards Catch-22

They never had any integrity, but before the Great Stupid, they could at least pretend. That was good enough to serve the real purpose of such awards and their televised ceremonies. Now, since they can’t even pretend, the awards have no purpose, and increasingly, no audiences.

The Grammys were the latest televised awards show debacle. That show’s rating hit an all-time low, following similar results for the Golden Globes, the Emmys, the Academy Awards (with this year’s new low on the horizon), and nobody ever watched the Tonys anyway. This result was preordained as soon as the organizations sponsoring and running the various awards competitions, enthusiastically applauded by the woke news media, decided to make honoring minority , especially black, performers a new mission.

By doing so, the organizations were admitting that the awards were never objective assessments of quality in the first place. Of course they weren’t, but the contrary illusion was crucial to the commercial mission of such awards: to promote the product and its creators. Movies that win Oscars used to get a big bump in ticket sales. Songs that win Grammys are downloaded more. The individual artists gain prestige that helps their careers. All of this is dependent on consumers buying the myth that the awards, any of them, are reliable measures of quality, and especially superior quality.

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Straining To Smear Merrick Garland, The National Review And Conservative Lawyer Ed Whelan Beclown Themselves…

fantasticks-archive-b0a32b1dd6

TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 2010 – The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ production of “The Fantasticks”. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

…because they don’t know what the hell they are talking about.

I, on the other hand, do.

Whelan, who is usually much better than this, writes in “Yes, Merrick Garland Found ‘Hilarious’ a Song About ‘Rapes for Sale’,

Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland, as a college student, wrote a review of the musical The Fantasticks in which he labeled “hilarious” a song that (in his words) “provides a shopping list of rapes for sale (e.g. ‘the military rape—it’s done with drums and a great brass band.’).” But the Breitbart account turns out to be accurate. (Here is Garland’s article from the Harvard Crimson’s archives.) I have no interest in defending Garland’s observation from his college days nearly fifty years ago,* but I will try to put it in some context. What a theatrical performance can make amusing is often difficult to fathom in the abstract, as Mel Brooks’s “The Producers,” involving a musical comedy about Hitler, demonstrates. I will note that “The Fantasticks” (according to this Wikipedia entry) ran, on and off Broadway, for 42 years (from 1960 to 2002), “making it the world’s longest-running musical.” So it would seem that many folks shared Garland’s enjoyment of the song. Not surprisingly, controversy arose at some point over the “rape” lyrics, leading lyricist Tom Jones to revise them—to eliminate the word “rape.”

It is hard for me to tamp down my contempt for Whelan’s piece, but I’ll try.

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So The New White House Press Secretary’s Pledge To Bring “Truth And Transparency Back To The Briefing Room” Lasts One Day!

Jen Psaki

In her very first press conference, new Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that when Joe Biden asked her to do the job, they talked of the “importance of bringing truth and transparency back to the briefing room.” Later she added, “If the president were standing with me here today, he would say he works for the American, I work for him, so I also work for the American people. So his objective and his commitment is to bring transparency and truth back to government, to share the truth even when it is hard to hear, and that is something I hope to deliver on as well.”

What a nice speech! And I would be shocked if a single member of the press corps didn’t know it was utter, complete, transparent bull shit. It did give various news sources an opening for another cheap shot against President Trump, because HIS press secretaries were always spinning and obfuscating. Not Jen! SHE worked for an honest President, so she will always be honest.

This was a stupid, stupid thing for Psaki to say. As Ethics Alarms has noted through two administrations and seven Presidential mouthpieces, these are paid liars. That’s their job. It’s a somewhat easier job when the news media is devoted to giving the boss a pass, as it was with Obama and now again with Biden, but even then, press secretaries are seldom transparent and often untruthful. All of them. In fact, Psaki was lying when she said she was going to be transparent and truthful, so she broke her pledge on Day One.

Day Two, however, was hilarious, or cruel, or perfect, depending on your orientation.

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Does Anyone Understand How Twitter Could Post This?

Twitter Tweet

Twitter has been on a banning binge, including the President of the United States, and it chooses now to grandstand about open internet principles?Forget hypocrisy; this is closer to satire. What’s going on here?

Some theories:

  • Twitter Public Policy missed a crucial memo.
  • Some rogue intern is trying to make Twitter look ridiculous.
  • Twitter is gaslighting us.
  • The company is incompetent.
  • The company thought it would be funny to post a misleading tweet that would, under its own policy would mandate suspending Twitter’s account.
  • It literally believes that Donald Trump is an exception to all standards and principles.
  • Emulating the President it just helped elect, it has concluded that the American public only pays attention to what you say, not what you do.

Anything else?

Integrity Test At Harris -Teeter’s

I was doing a quick shopping run this afternoon at the local Harris Teeter’s, and ran into one of those little ethics challenges that eventually define us all.

As I was placing all my items on the conveyor belt, the nice old guy loading my cart—he’s helped me before—pulled the cart ahead so he could start putting in the bags. I had to catch up to to it to rescue the soft-drinks in the lower section of the cart. Eventually all was well and I was checked out— I saved 50 bucks!—and I rolled my bounty into the parking lot where I began loading it all into the trunk. Just as I thought I had finished, I noticed a large pack of paper towels (speaking of Bounty), maybe 15 dollars worth, sitting in the bottom of the cart in the front where I had originally put it. I got a horrible thought: had I left teh store without paying for it? I didn’t recall putting it on the belt. I decided that it must have escaped the old bagger’s attention when he pulled my mostly empty cart past the register.

So I was a paper towel thief. Now what? There was a huge line at all the registers. I could take the package to the customer service counter, but my receipt had the name of the cashier on it, and I worried that I would get her in trouble. I’ve been in these mess-ups before, and usually everyone would rather just avoid the hassle of getting it straight. I even considered driving back to the store tomorrow and just paying the money after explaining what happened. I checked the receipt, and didn’t see the item, but then I didn’t see several things I knew I had purchased. After avoiding several bouts of “Oh, hell, it just paper, why not go home and forget about it?,” I decided to be late coming home and to just get at the end of the line with the paper towels.

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“Barr Worked to Keep Hunter Biden Probes From Public View During Election” Says The Wall Street Journal. “Good!” Says Ethics Alarms.

William-Barr.

That’s exactly how the Justice Department should treat investigations that might come to nothing and yet could affect a Presidential election simply by the fact the investigation is occurring at all.

From the Journal’s s article, which came out two days ago:

“Mr. Barr was aware of the investigations involving Hunter Biden before the spring, the person said, though it isn’t clear when or how he first learned of the inquiries…Justice Department guidelines advise investigators against taking overt actions in a run-up to an election so as not to be seen as affecting the outcome.”

Huh. You’d never suspect that such guidelines ever existed from the ham-handed way the Obama Justice Department handled the Hillary Clinton email server investigation before that election. That time, the news media broke the story, and the investigation was first used as a way to mitigate the damage to the Obama administration’s candidate of choice, even to the extent of allowing the Attorney General in charge to stay in charge of it after the husband of the candidate whose conduct was being investigated—when that husband had appointed that Attorney General to a high post while he was President—openly attempted to lobby that AG while the investigation was taking place.

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Post-Thanksgiving Ethics Indigestion,11/26/2020: A Whole Lot Of Shaky Ethics Performances Going On

1. AstraZeneca! In Jurassic Park’s control center, as the first tour of the park begins having technical glitches, creator John Hammond turns with contempt to tech guru Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight, aka “Newman”) and spits, “Our life is in your hands and you have butterfingers?” That was the first thing that jumped into my head when I read this:

The announcement this week that a cheap, easy-to-make coronavirus vaccine appeared to be up to 90 percent effective was greeted with jubilation. “Get yourself a vaccaccino,” a British tabloid celebrated, noting that the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, costs less than a cup of coffee.

But since unveiling the preliminary results, AstraZeneca has acknowledged a key mistake in the vaccine dosage received by some study participants, adding to questions about whether the vaccine’s apparently spectacular efficacy will hold up under additional testing.

Scientists and industry experts said the error and a series of other irregularities and omissions in the way AstraZeneca initially disclosed the data have eroded their confidence in the reliability of the results.

Competence. Diligence. Responsibility. The duty of care. Trustworthiness.

2. Butterfingers II: The case of the premature obituaries. Radio France Internationale (RFI) mistakenly published online the obituaries of about 100 public figures who were and are still alive.Among those declared dead were Queen Elizabeth II, Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Carter, Yoko Ono, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot. Google and Yahoo then picked up the fake news, which was, of course, spread on social media.

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