Thanksgiving Day Ethics Warm-Up, 11/22/2018: Turkeys And Vampire-Slayers

Happy Thanksgiving!

Now don’t let any “turkeys,” related or not, spoil it for you. This is a uniquely American holiday, celebrating our history, journey, values and culture, remembering the value of family, and extolling  qualities that Americans should all try to embrace in their daily lives: generosity, empathy, charity, loyalty, perspective, respect and gratitude. Once it was regarded as a religious holiday, but as the culture has gradually rejected religion, for better or worse, and not without the full complicity of organized religions whose conduct would repel anyone, the holiday has struggled to find new moorings. Its value as a yearly ethical touchpoint makes that struggle worth continuing.

1. Speaking of Thanksgiving “turkeys”...A helpful Twitter-user compiled these shots from various progressive websites and blogs:

Nice.

One of the things I have long been thankful for was the excellent training I received at our family dinner table from my proudly iconoclastic father, who could argue any side of any issues, and did, just to teach his kids that they better have a firm grasp of facts, logic, language, and critical thinking before making any assertion, lest they be made to look like fools. He also taught the value of an open mind, and resisting lazy conventional wisdom without foundation, like, say “Trump is a racist.”

2. This one is Obama’s fault. Though heated political arguments were always a potential part of family gatherings, it was Obama’s administration and his allies that made the disgusting decision to weaponize the holidays, commanding their human drones to arrive at gatherings ready to argue the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, and providing brochures and videos to help them accomplish the mission. (Bulletin from Justice Roberts: “There are no Obama Thanksgivings or Trump Thanksgivings!”) Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/22/17: Uber, Thanksgiving Hate, Accountability, Trump’s Unavoidable Choice, And Ruing The Day That Changed Everything

Good Morning.

…But 54 years ago it seemed like a beautiful morning in Dealey Plaza…

1 “President Kennedy is dead…” I heard those word over my little black transistor radio that I mostly used to listen to Red Sox games. Let’s see how many news stories take note of the historical significance of today: the anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas. It is the date when a disturbed crypto-Communist radical took the fate and future of an entire nation and culture in his hands, and squeezed them to pulp—one of the three or four most unethical acts in U.S. history. As readers here know, I am not a Jack Kennedy admirer. Nonetheless, in “Back to the Future II” terms, it’s impossible to imagine what 2017 America would be like had Lee Harvey Oswald not shot the top of JFK’s head off in 1963, but it’s easy to imagine that we would be better. The assassination created a violent shift in the time/space continuum, and we never got back on track.

2. Bye-Bye Uber, you’re also dead to me. Uber is untrustworthy and unethical, and anyone who trusts the company going forward is a fool as well as an enabler of corporate misconduct. This is signature significance: the company revealed that hackers stole 57 million driver and rider accounts last year, yet Uber withheld that fact from the public until now after paying a $100,000 ransom to the hackers. Ethical, competent, trustworthy companies don’t operate this way.

It wasn’t just the company’s juvenile and piggish former CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick. The company he created inherited his ethical deficits like a lethal gene. Any company is obligated to reveal hacks of personal data to members of the public who might be harmed by them immediately.

If you use Uber after this, you’re an idiot. You’re also sending the message that an epic breach of trust by a corporation will be shrugged off via one or twenty rationalizations, like 19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”

Keep sending that message, and pretty soon they’ll be using 1. The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it.”

3. More Tales of the Anti-Trump Deranged: This essay in the virulent Trump-hating CG is meant humorously, but also is serious in its nastiness. Joe Berkowitz’s call to good little resistance members and Hillary bitter-enders to “ruin thanksgiving” as their “civic duty” stands as a self-indictment of the ugly, divisive mindset that so much of the Left has descended into over the past year. In fact, with just a few tweaks, it could have been written by a conservative satirist—if there were such things.

One aspect of Trump’s election turning the U.S. into a “Nation of Assholes” that I did not see coming was progressives and Democrats feeling liberated to go full-asshole themselves. This article shows the phenomenon. In particular, Berkowitz demonstrates how the Left can no longer distinguish between legitimate policy disagreements and what should be a matter of non-partisan consensus. His argument for using Thanksgiving to punish Trump supporting relatives by turning a celebration of faith and family into a table-top Gettysburg goes like this:

They can’t stand idly by while President Deals tramples every other American tradition and yet somehow expect that Thanksgiving will be normal too. [Note: Supporting the elected President is one of those traditions, and a crucial one.]…Here are a few suggestions for how to ruin Thanksgiving, arranged by ascending order of righteous fury:

Don’t show up. For some parents, your absence will speak louder than any sodden arguments over the density of pumpkin pie. If you can’t even look them in the eye, they’ll know you mean business. [Note: Is he joking? I know many families who are eschewing family gatherings for exactly this reason. Yes, I put most of this on the Angry Left and Barack Obama, aided and abetted by late night TV comics and the news media. They have set out to divide the nation by race, gender, age, class and party, seeking to build metaphorical walls where once there were divisions that could be forgotten or ignored during recreation and the shared commonality of citizenship. .]

Show up and be kind of an asshole. No hugs; only stiff, formal handshakes. During the football game, talk about police brutality nonstop. Take any opportunity to emphasize just how much Bruce Springsteen and the entire E Street band loathes Trump….[Note: See?]

Scorched Earth. Not even a handshake; just stare, disgustedly, at their outstretched arms….[Note: Among the  inarguable outrages that the essayist claims justifies such treatment: not supporting an increase in the minimum wage, refusing to uncritically accept climate change propaganda, and the President speaking “almost exclusively in racist dog whistles and ‘locker room talk.'” You know, racist dogwhistles like opposing the tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee,  correctly stating that a white nationalist group has the same rights to assemble and protest as anyone else without being attacked,  or objecting to NFL players inflicting an incoherent protest on their captive audience. ]

I was asked for ethics advice regarding looming political disputes during Thanksgiving, and here it is: It is rude and unkind to raise a topic you know is emotional and painful for people at the table. So don’t do it, just as you wouldn’t (I hope) deliberately raise such topics as Cousin Cecile’s abortion, Jim Jr.’s arrest, or Uncle Ethan’s IRS problems. Continue reading

JFK’s Death, Hanlon’s Razor, And How Truth Gets Buried Forever

JFK Hickey

I am a student of Presidential assassinations (as you might guess by the posts on McKinley and Garfield), and have been most of my life, ever since I saw a TV special called “Web of Conspiracy” when I was 10, about the Lincoln murder. That led me to read the  best-selling book the special was based on, an 800 page, sensational analysis of the mysteries behind Lincoln’s death, by mystery writer Theodore Roscoe, who dabbled in history. The book’s theories and insinuating style are more convincing to a ten-year-old than an adult (I read the book many years later, and it drove me crazy), but the book still has a lot of fascinating tales and theories in it. I was hooked.

Oddly, the one Presidential assassination that has interested me least in recent years is the one I lived through, the assassination of President Kennedy. Blame Oliver Stone, Kevin Costner and Jim Garrison: “JFK” was the most dishonest movie I had ever watched (still is) and I walked out of it when its lies and distortions got too much for me about a third of the way through. Even before Stone’s brilliantly directed piece of crap. I was sick of the conspiracy theories, though Stone manufacturing a link to Lyndon Johnson was the final straw. Yes, the bitter Vietnam veteran really got back at LBJ; I hope it made him feel better. I, however, was soured on the whole topic.

I should have been paying more attention. Netflix is showing a documentary with the generic conspiracy theory title of “JFK: The Smoking Gun,” which was shown on cable two years ago. I missed it; if I had been aware of the film, the title and the subject matter—Oh, who’s behind it now? The Mafia? Nixon? Woody Harrelson’s father?—would have kept me away. But while I was on the road for a couple days doing ethics seminars for VACLE, my wife watched the documentary, and when I returned, sleep deprived, weak and submissive, she made me watch it.

Fascinating. And troubling. Continue reading

Kaboom!*: Will All Those Who Deny The Existance Of An Anti-Conservative Bias In The Mainstream Media Explain….

"Hey, he killed the President---he was a Teabagger, right?"

“Hey, he killed the President—he had to be a Teabagger, right?”

…how it is that both the Washington Post and the New York Times, in the days before  the anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, ran essays that link right-wing, radical, anti-liberal sentiment in 1963 Dallas with today’s conservative political positions? The Post, doing explicitly what the Times does slyly, even makes the connection direct. Its essay is called “Tea party has roots in the Dallas of 1963”—as in the implicit innuendos, ‘people like those in today’s tea party killed JFK’ and thus ‘the people who think like that probably want to kill this President too.’

We’re seeing a lot of liberal despair, nastiness and desperation these days, aren’t we? The instinct seems to be to lash out. Of course, one would think that competent, responsible  and fair editors of the two most prestigious U.S. dailies would read this tripe, hand it back to the authors and say, “Hey, go home, have a drink, and take a nap. It’s not so bad, really. Obamacare may be all right. We’ve got Obama’s back. Now, I’m going to do you a favor and forget you wrote this.”

But no. Continue reading

Grassy Knoll Ethics: How Deception Breeds Distrust

UmbrellaMan2

We once again must squarely face the hoary  quote from Walter Scott’s epic poem Marmion: “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” It is hoary because it is true, and this month’s Smithsonian Magazine reminds us of how true it is, recounting how well-intentioned deceptions by the news media regarding evidence in the assassination of President Kennedy helped create a conspiracy theory that will not die, and that may have begun the slow, relentless deterioration of America’s trust in its own government that has reached dangerous proportions today.

Frame 313 of Abraham Zapruder’s accidental record of one of the pivotal moments in U.S. history gave him nightmares, and when he sold the rights to his amateur movie to Life Magazine, he insisted that frame be withheld from the public, and not published. “We like to feel that the world is safe,” documentary maker Errol Morris explains in the article.“Safe at least in the sense that we can know about it. The Kennedy assassination is very much an essay on the unsafety of the world. If a man that powerful, that young, that rich, that successful, can just be wiped off the face of the earth in an instant, what does it say about the rest of us?” I understand, but withholding the truth is not the way to make the world seem safer. As the story of the conspiracy shows, it is how we end up trusting no one. Continue reading

November 22, 1963—The Dawn of American Distrust

In November of 1963, the American public’s trust in its government stood at over 75%. The previous President had been a revered general who guided the Allied forces to victory over Japan and Germany. We were united against a sinister, common enemy, world Communism, led by a shoe-banging dictator who promised to bury us. The new President was a young, glamorous and inspiring man of wit and vision, whose signature policy initiatives embraced American exceptionalism and virtue—the Peace Corps, space exploration. Even in a city with more JFK foes than fans, the President and his wife drove through the streets of Dallas in an open limousine. And on a bright and beautiful fall day, two rifle shots blew John F. Kennedy’s brains out.

Today, 48 years later, public trust in the government is below 15%, an all-time low. Protesters are in dozens of American cities, challenging the foundations of American progress and success. Large numbers of the public believe that the U.S. Supreme Court assisted in a successful plot to steal a presidential election, and that a U.S. President planned the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001; that the CIA invented AIDS to kill African-Americans; that Barack Obama’s presidency is illegal; and, of course, that there was a massive government cover-up of a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy, a conspiracy that might well have involved his successor, Lyndon Johnson.

It is the lack of trust, more than any single factor, that feeds the ruinous hate and partisanship that has made American government impotent at the worst possible time, with crises intentional, domestic and spiritual surrounding us. Continue reading

“Professionalism?” What’s THAT? Julie Chen, CBS and the Descent of Broadcast Journalism

Walter could keep it together. Not Julie Chen.

The Casey Anthony verdict is doing some good: it is exposing the awful deficit in objectivity and professionalism in the broadcast media.

The latest example: while CBS’ “The View” rip-off, “The Talk,” was underway,  viewers saw co-host Julie Chen break down as she tried to read the news that Casey  Anthony had been found not guilty of killing her daughter Caylee. Chen attempted to read the verdict, but was overcome with emotion  and was unable to continue, asking her co-hosts,  “Help me out here.”

In 1937, radio broadcaster Herbert Morrison was correctly criticized for being unable to keep his composure and report the flaming destruction of the zeppelin The Hindenburg without weeping and becoming unintelligible. In 2011, a woman described in her official bio as a “news anchor; reporter; and journalist” couldn’t compose herself to read the news of a not guilty verdict. Continue reading

Donald Trump, Birther

Classy as ever, Donald!

Donald Trump, whose pseudo-entry into the Republican presidential sweepstakes has had the effect of making all the other candidates and near-candidates look classy by comparison, now is playing the despicable “birther” card. It figures. Everything about Trump’s career, personal life and properties, even his hairstyle, has been an exercise in bad taste.

This tactic plays to the lowest lights in the Republican party, about 70% of whose members harbor serious doubts about President Obama’s place of birth. This is not surprising: it is pure confirmation bias. Most Republicans don’t like Obama, and so don’t trust him. The confusion about his birth certificate feeds that distrust, and confirms it. It seems plausible to them that such an untrustworthy sort is hiding his true place of birth. To someone who trusts the President, this is not plausible. The slow-motion furor over his citizenship confirms their already formed beliefs too: that the Republicans are fools and racists. Continue reading

Leslie Johnson, the Implications of Guilt and the “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” Confusion.

In the context of American justice, “innocent until proven guilty” means that nobody is legally guilty of a crime until a court proceeding has ruled so after a fair trial. The term is nowhere in the Constitution or Bill of Rights; it flows from the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment, requiring that no one can lose his or her freedom or property without due process of law. What it does not mean is that a wrongdoer is literally innocent of a crime until a jury or judge has officially declared that he is. If he did something, he did it, and if we all know he did it, we don’t have to pretend he didn’t or that we don’t.

I saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on television and get taken into custody on the spot, and still had to listen to broadcasters say he “allegedly shot Kennedy’s assassin” as if it was still just a theory. By this standard, John Wilkes Booth only “allegedly” shot Lincoln, since he was never tried. The fact that a theater full of people saw him do it, leap to the stage and run off derringer smoking, doesn’t mean a thing. He’s as pure as the driven snow, innocent forever. Continue reading

“Hard to Watch” Video: Responsible or Not?

Over at the Huntington Post, Jason Linkins praises the edict of NBC News chief Steve Capus to curb network Olympic coverage use of the video showing Nodar Kumaritashvili’s fatal luge run. “I’m glad this decision has been reached,” Linkins writes. “The video of Kumaritashvili’s fatal luge run is difficult to watch and I do not recommend that you do so. …Here’s hoping Steve Capus will remember having made this choice come September and break with MSNBC’s grim and pointless tradition of replaying the events of September 11, 2001 in real time.”

Linkins presumably regards Capus’s decision as “responsible broadcasting.” My question is, “What’s responsible about it?” Continue reading