Pre-Weekend Ethics Prep, 3/5/2021: Obama Disses Pete, John Defends The Redcoats, Harvard Beats Crump, And Zoom Strikes Again

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1. Today this post, from two years ago, is suddenly getting a lot of views. The reason: there was a resolution of the long-shot law suit by the descendants of two slaves in photographs owned by Harvard University. The slave’s descendant, Tamara Lanier, had employed Benjamin Crump, legal race-hustler without peer, to sue on the Hail Mary theory that

“the images are the “spoils of theft,” because as slaves Renty and Delia were unable to give consent to being photographed., and that Harvard is illegally profiting from the images by using them for “advertising and commercial purposes.” By keeping the photos, the lawsuit claims, Harvard has perpetuated the hallmarks of slavery that prevented African-Americans from holding, conveying or inheriting personal property.”

Sure, Ben….from the post:

“Harvard and other universities set themselves up for this by caving to historical airbrushing demands by the students they have helped indoctrinate, such as when Georgetown University established a policy giving an edge  in admissions to descendants of slaves who were sold to fund the school. I would say they have this coming and let them sleep on the bed of nails their laziness and cowardice have made, but therein lies a real danger. Harvard, which of late has been devising and defending one bad progressive idea after another (like discriminating against Asian Americans as Harvard’s own way of helping African Americans get admitted to the college), might just decide to be woke rather than responsible, and let Mrs. Lanier take the photos, thus setting a precedent with endless potential to cause havoc.”

Justice Camille F. Sarrouf of Middlesex County Superior Court this week acknowledged that the daguerreotypes had been taken under “horrific circumstances” but said that if the enslaved subjects, Renty and Delia, did not own the images when they were made in 1850, then their descendant who brought the lawsuit, Tamara Lanier, did not own them either.

Duh.

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Decided: The Ten Reasons I’ll Be Voting To Re-Elect President Trump [1-5]

John-Adams-Young

I’ll list these in no significant order, with the final section of the list following soon.

1. A commenter on this Althouse post (itself a motivation to vote for the President) wrote, “Althouse: ‘I could never lower myself to vote for someone like that. He’s icky. Eew!’” It made me realize that my long-held argument that voting for the President while maintaining my professional standards and integrity was impossible could be fairly accused of having the same motivation.

The election is for the benefit of the nation, not about how my vote makes me feel.

2. Four years ago, on the November 9, the day after Donald Trump’s shocking upset victory over Hillary Clinton, I wrote,

Give Trump a chance, and take note of those who will not. He is now in the most difficult job in the nation at the age of 70, with less relevant experience and preparation than any previous occupant of the office. For once, it’s a good thing that he’s an egomaniac and a narcissist, because otherwise he might be perseverating in terror right now. One cannot say that he begins with the most daunting set of problems any POTUS has ever faced, but it’s close. Give him a chance. Nobody becomes President wanting to fail, and not wanting to do a good job for his country and his fellow citizens.  Begin with that, and let’s see what happens.

I took note. Neither the resistance, nor the Democratic Party, nor the news media, nor most of the members of the public that were inclined to believe, trust and believe these voices, gave President Trump any chance at all. No previous elected President had been treated like that, and for good reason: our system does not and cannot work if the nation does not begin each new Presidential administration with the acceptance of its elected leader. The Democrats knew this, indeed they lectured Donald Trump on the subject when they were certain that Hillary Clinton would win.

The Axis of Unethical Conduct, knowing we had elected a President who would need more than the usual amount of support, burdened him further by according him less, hoping for a war, a depression, or a Presidential breakdown.

If this party strategy succeeds in achieving gaining power, it will become the norm. I have no illusions that the Republican Party is motivated by any stronger ethical ideals than Democrats, so if it becomes the norm, the nation is doomed to perpetual division, hate and conflict.

It is not enough to abstain in an election that will decide whether that will the fate of the United States of America. Responsible citizens must vote to reject it.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/30/2020: Zoomed Out

Zoom

Why is it that running a Zoom seminar from my office is far more exhausting than standing up and talking for three hours?

On the positive side, I was actually allowed to post an Ethics Alarms link today! I wonder if Sean Lennon reads Ethics Alarms…

1. And this woman was an early participant in the Democratic primary debates, in case you’re wondering how the party ended up with Joe Biden. New Age guru Marianne Williamson tweeted,

Williamson debate

Oopsie! Missed that “Thou shalt not steal” thing. So she came back with, “Actually, ‘Thou shalt not steal’ is of course in there. But my point about priorities remains the same.”

Wait, what point would that be? A) It sounds a lot like Rationalization #22. So because stealing isn’t as bad as murder, stealing is OK? B) Is she making a technical legal point that a man waving a knife around and refusing to drop it is “innocent” because he hasn’t been proven guilty? Or is her point that because the victim in the Philadelphia shooting may have been out of his mind meant that he couldn’t form the “mens rea” to be technically guilty of a crime? By these calculations, nobody who is shot by the police is ever guilty, because they are resisting the arrest that would eventually put them on trial.

2. Actual quote from Joe Biden yesterday: “Spending! We’re gonna roost. And we are gonna reduce prescription drug crisis experts acknowledge.”

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TV Viewing Ethics Revelations

“Once Upon A Time..” also features a glorious pit bull.

I watch too much TV, and have all my life. Or maybe not too much. Sometimes I think everybody else watchs too little, reality shows excepted. Three shows I watched this week made me a little bit wiser…

“The Clinton Affair”

What this new, and generally excellent review of the Monica Lewinsky mess teaches us is that the Republicans were looking for ways to justify getting rid of Clinton, though less intensely and openly as today’s Democrats have hunted Donald Trump. The main differences: the news media, which was mostly supportive of  Clinton throughout, with a few notable exception, like Chris Matthews; and, as Jonathan Turley correctly stated in his testimony, Clinton unequivocally committed crimes, not just by lying in court in the Paula Jones hearing, but by lying under oath in a deposition in which he swore under oath, that he could not recall ever being “alone” with Monica.

Monica is prominent in the documentary (boy, she is beautiful) and is allowed to appeal to the sympathies of the viewer. Indeed, she was vilified excessively: clips of a younger but no less smug and revolting Bill Maher arguing, with many guests in agreement, that she, not Bill, was the real villain. This was nauseating then, and nauseating still. At the same time, there are limits to how much sympathy one can direct toward Lewinsky, who made a choice that was both unethical and stupid. How could she imagine such a situation would ever turn out anything but disastrously? She keeps telling us how humiliated she was, as if she didn’t deserve to be humiliated. Continue reading

Of COURSE! “Think Of The Children!” Takes The Next Irresponsible Step!

Why do I I keep over-estimating the integrity of progressives?  I think this is because so many of my friends, classmates, colleagues and family members would call themselves liberals, and I cannot believe they would ever allow their ideological passions to bring them to such a devolved state. I believe, indeed I know, that they are smarter than that.

But the gun debate is like Twitter: it magically lowers IQs. I have read dozens and dozens of screeds, essay, calls to arms, and, of course, debate transcripts, and anti-gun zealots have yet to come up with an honest argument, much less a persuasive one. Employing various levels of civility, they typically  begin by vilifying their opponents, proceed to making sweeping generalizations, usually with the help of misleading or fraudulent statistics. Then come the rationalizations and the emotion-based fallacies: If it saves just one life…”;”Guns mean more to Republicans than the safety of out children…; “If other countries can do it…”; “This has to stop!…” ; “Nobody needs a gun…”...and on, and on.

These are childish arguments, now framed by Rationalization # 57. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”

 #57 is designed to end arguments before they start, using a conversation-stopper, dripping with sentiment, that only heartless curs and brutes can ignore. Bias makes us stupid, and since almost everyone is biased toward children, Rationalization #56 has the effect, and the intentional effect, of spraying Stupid Gas far and wide to ensure that reasoned analysis is impossible. It is an assertion that bias not only trumps legitimate objections to a course of action, but that it should….

Yet I did not see it-I DID NOT SEE IT!—that the next illogical step in the anti-gun crusade would be to turn the job of advocating for gun bans and confiscation to actual children. This is brilliant, when you think about it. They can’t make less sense than the adults in the debate, and since they are children, and in the case of Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, survivors, they guarantee that their adversaries will hold their fire. (Well, not me, but most of them.) Some of the most villainous despots in world history have used children this way. It’s cynical and cruel, but since these people believe that the ends justifies the means, let’s trot out the kids!

So there have been youth lie-ins, protests and walk-outs. There is, of course, an on-line petition  at Change.Org, where bad ideas go, and a looming march with this crystal objective:

“The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues. No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.”

And what would such a magic bill consist of? Hey, we’re just kids! We demand, and the adults are supposed to deliver! Isn’t that how it works? Continue reading

Which Presidents Would Have Tweeted Trump-Style If They Had A Twitter Account?

The tweet above from the President as he doubled down on his unusually stupid attack tweets against Joe and Mika got me thinking. He’s not entirely wrong. Trump is the first President to use social media personally and for candid statements and observations, bypassing the news media, and almost all of the previous Presidents had no choice in the matter. Fourth of July weekend always gets me thinking about the Founders, and the Founders get me musing about the Presidents, and I found myself playing this mind game: Which of our Presidents, had they has access to Twitter, would have used it in a Trumpian manner?

I should clarify some issues at the outset. None of the Presidents would have used Twitter in a stupid, juvenile and boorish manner like President Trump, because none of them were that stupid, juvenile and boorish. (On the other hand, none of their critics, being comparatively responsible and sane, would have argued that stupid, juvenile and boorish tweets were justification to remove the previous 44, as Keith Olbermann thinks.) By using Twitter in a Trumpian manner, I mean using it…

..Personally…

…for the purpose of by-passing the news media and White House spokespersons…

…in order to make declarations of intent, emotions or satisfaction, or

…to attack, accuse, denigrate, compliment, rebut, defend, joke, troll, or otherwise

…communicate directly with the public.in an unfiltered manner.

One other caveat: Trump would definitely be establishing new Presidential norms were his tweets less obnoxious and embarrassing. By the time his term(s) are over, he mat have given Presidential tweeting such a bad reputation that no future POTUS will dare use Twitter for fear of being compared to the Mad Tweeter of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

All right, on to the inquiry!

Which of our previous Presidents would have used twitter in one or more of the ways Trump uses it. based on what we know of their character and leadership styles?

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Ethics Quote Of The Week: John Adams, 1814

“I dare not look beyond my Nose, into futurity. Our Money, Our Commerce, our Religion, our National and State Constitutions, even our Arts and Sciences, are So many Seed Plott’s of Division Faction, Sedition and Rebellion. Every thing is transmuted into an Instrument of Electioneering.”

—John Adams, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Feb. 1814.

To add some perspective.

Of course, John was always a Gloomy Gus.

Idiot Ethics: A Brief Note

I used the term “idiot” three times in the recent post about Alex Jones. Periodically I get reprimands from commenters who chide Ethics Alarms for engaging in “ad hominem” attacks when it refers to a public figure as “an idiot.” IMy response is always the same: diagnosing someone as an idiot who behaves idiotically is not an “ad hominem attack.” Ad hominem means that one attacks a legitimate argument by attacking the arguer instead: “That must be wrong, because he’s an idiot!”  In the case of Jones, my point was very different: believing that John Podesta, in the middle of a Presidential campaign, would be running a sex ring out of a pizza place is per se idiotic, and it requires an idiot, like Alex Jones, to take such a story seriously. I’ll stand by that assessment.

Still you don’t read many pundits, and certainly no ethicists, who use that term, or related ones like dolt, dummy, moron and cretin. Is it unprofessional? It certainly isn’t common practice for professionals, though there are exceptions: the late Justice Scalia was not above calling out idiocy by name. I will even use the term occasionally in my ethics seminars, for example, to describe the lawyer who produced a hand grenade during his closing argument, and pulled the pin. Is this unfair? I don’t think so. Nor is it unfair to call the lawyer an idiot who recently had his pants burst into flame mid-argument to bolster his defense that his client didn’t deliberately set his car won fire, but that it spontaneously combusted.

Non-idiots don’t do things like that. If he doesn’t know he’s an idiot, someone needs to tell him.

Calling someone an idiot is an insult, obviously, and is a breach of civility. Civility, however, does not and should not interfere with the truth. Choosing to properly designate a prominent idiot as one is a public service, and to the more self-aware idiots, a kindness as well. Great damage can be prevented by making it absolutely unambiguously clear that someone is an idiot, as in “not smart, responsible, wise or educated enough to be trusted in his opinions or competence.”

Once upon a time, it was very rare for true idiots to rise to prominence and influence in the United States.  It was just too hard, and nobody was that lucky. This provided a great advantage over cultures where power and influence were conferred by birth.  Idiot kings and emperors were never in short supply. John Adams made the point that in America, the aristocracy, whose role in other nations was to stand as role models and typify the best of society, was uniquely created by ability, achievement, talent and intelligence. (John, a lawyer, naturally thought that lawyers fit the bill.) The bold concept behind American democracy was 1) that public education and civic duty would compel the citizenry to accept the responsibility of being capable of self-government, and that the “wisdom of crowds” would do the rest. Idiots literally could not rise to high office. They so obviously contrasted with the typical public servants that their careers fizzled out before the White House was within view. Stupid journalists, scholars, professionals and authors were also rare; indeed, it was once hard to find an idiot with a high school diploma, much less with an advanced degree. Continue reading

Obama, Trump, And The Avoidable “Two Presidents” Ethical Dilemma

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Yesterday, Donald Trump sent out not just one but three tweets that directly interfered with current U.S. policy efforts, involving the costs of a new jet fighter plane, nuclear weapons, and a U.N. resolution criticizing Israel. This understandably is causing consternation in the Obama administration, because Trump is exercising influence without authority. Until January 20, 2017, Donald Trump has no official position or authority in the government at all. He does have power and influence, however, because everyone knows that he will have authority very soon.

What constitutes abuse of the power and influence? Should a President Elect be a mute and invisible presence until he is officially sworn in, so as not to interfere with the current President’s discharge of his duties?

For the lame duck Chief Executive, with slightly more than two months left in office and vastly diminished influence, the ethical problem is different. How much should he defer to the incoming President, and not take actions that will seriously interfere with the policy directions the new President  may choose to take? Once the will of the people has been made clear at the ballot box, is it fair and responsible for current President to actively work against the likely agenda of the incoming President?

Finally, if a lame duck President is attempting to undermine the objectives of the incoming President before that President Elect takes office, is it unethical for the President Elect to use his influence and power to stop him, or at least mitigate the damage? Continue reading