Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/28/2020: A Bad Couple Of Months For Museums And Sexual Predators

Good morning!

1. Related to absolutely nothing anyone is currently thinking about...I was re-watching “Spotlight” to remind myself that the news media sometimes does its job, and again was reminded how Hollywood constantly makes Americans more ignorant by its sheer arrogance and laziness. The film, which reasonably accurately recounts how the Boston Globe’s investigative “Spotlight” team broke the story of the extensive Catholic Church cover-up of pedophile priests, a scandal still unfolding now, 20 years later, has a scene in which a lawyer who represents the victims of such priests tells a reporter that he’s effective because he’s an “outsider.” “I’m Armenian,” he says. “How many Armenians do you know in Boston?” Having been brought up in Boston, I know that the answer to this question is “A LOT.” Boston was a center of Armenian immigration at the turn of the 20th Century, and its Armenian community, in the city and especially the suburbs, is huge and influential. There are many Armenian organizations as well. In Arlington, Mass., where my family lived, Armenian-Americans were prominent in business and government. The little side street where we lived, Brunswick Road, had ten families living on it: the Marshalls, the Gares, and the Moreland,  the Zeffs (who were Jewish, then two Sakoians, the Nazarians, the Catherians, the Berbarians, and the Masmanians. Just Googling “Boston Armenian conmmunity” would have let the film-makers know the scene was nonsense, and they couldn’t be bothered.

2. And speaking of  sexual predators…the cover-up of sexual predators in the coaching ranks for Olympic sports is being exposed slowly but surely.  Last month a lawsuit was filed against Richard Callaghan, an elite American figure skating coach best known for coaching Tara Lipinski to an Olympic gold medal in 1998 and coaching Todd Eldredge to a world title and six national championships. The suit alleges ongoing sexual abuse of one skater that endured over two decades. Callaghan’s victims were male, not female, but the story is familiar: parents guilelessly entrust their talented athletic children to mentor/coaches in swimming, skating, and gymnastics, without considering for a moment what attracts many of these people to working with children and teens.

Another sport that is coming to terms with a sexual predator is equestrian competition.  George Morris, an Olympics equestrian coach known as  a “kingmaker” for his success with riders,  was barred for life from the sport by the United States Equestrian Federation  based on an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct He is now facing lawsuits filed this month by two people claiming that he raped them as teenagers. Jimmy Williams, another  riding coach who guided many Olympians and  was also named in a lawsuit by a woman who said Williams had sexually assaulted her from the ages of 12 to 17.  Though Williams died in 1993, he was recorded as barred for life from the federation in 2018—yes, a dead man was banned for life— after an investigation by The New York Times revealed accusations by nearly a dozen women, including the Olympian Anne Kursinski, that he had preyed upon them as girls.

Parents are so desperate to live vicariously through their offspring that they willingly hand their kids over to the care of predators. I’m sorry to say this, but absent thorough, thorough investigation, it is irresponsible to trust these coaches. The history and what we know of human nature presents too much of a risk.

The same applies to allowing children to work in professional theater, TV, and movies. Continue reading

The Banjo/Damien Patton Affair: Can You Ever Escape A Disgraceful Past? Should You Be Able To?

Damien Patton is the the 47-year-old co-founder and CEO of the rising data gathering startup Banjo. The combination of the company’s success and its founders’ inspiring life story has made him the subject of many tech media and business publication profiles, for it is the kind of gutter to boardroom story on individual bootstrapping America has always celebrated.  He has described an abusive childhood that caused him to run away from home at age 15. He joined the U.S. Navy, then worked as a NASCAR mechanic before learning the craft of crime-scene investigation.  He  learned to code, and then became a co-founder of Banjo as he raised  nearly $223 million in venture capital for the Utah-based company.

However, Americans don’t like their rags-to-riches stories to begin too deep in the gutter. The tech news outlet OneZero uncovered transcripts of courtroom testimony, sworn statements, and more than 1,000 pages of federal records revealing that before he turned to coding, Patton was a member of the Dixie Knights, a Ku Klux Klan group active in the Nashville area in the late 1980s and early 1990s,  and not a passive one. He was was involved in shooting up a synagogue, for example. Understandably, this detail was something Patton did not highlight in his inspirational speeches before aspiring entrepreneurs.

The question is, now what? What does this mean today? What should it mean? Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Don’t Cheer Mississippi’s Westboro Baptist Tactics Too Loudly: You Never Know Who Might Hear You”

An Ethics Alarms commenter with the evocative screen name of Fuck you, who is a bit behind on his surfing, or perhaps a really, really slow reader, was moved to author today’s Comment of the Day on a post from seven years ago regarding the tactics used by Mississippi law enforcement to foil a legal demonstration by Fred Phelps’ merry band of homophobes.

Why is this a Comment of the Day? It perfectly embodies the rudimentary, lizard-brain level of ethical analysis that predominates in the public, in much of the media, and among our elected officials. It is helpful, to me at least, to read such comments, for this is exactly the find of gut-level, emotion-based, legally and ethically ignorant reaction that my work exists to overcome. I’ll have more to say after the Fuck You has his say.

As an aside, it was nostalgic reading the names of the commenters on the original post. There, for example, fighting as usual, were liberal logic-cop tgt and uber-conservative Stephen Mark Pilling. Ah, those were the days…

Here is Fuck You’s Comment of the Day on the post, Don’t Cheer Mississippi’s Westboro Baptist Tactics Too Loudly: You Never Know Who Might Hear You—I’ll be back at the end:

Fuck you for this comparison. I know I’m coming in years later with this and I hope that others have already expressed a similar sentiment. I also understand the point you are trying to make. But still FUCK YOU. I sincerely hope that if you ever lose someone dear to you, these fucking hatemongers show up and protest that person’s funeral. FUCK YOU. Yes they have a right to protest but this type of shit should definitely qualify as a reasonable restriction, like yelling fire in a crowed theater.

FUCK YOU. This comparison is not only an insult to the Marine in question but also to the civil rights activists from decades ago that you just compared to the fucking WBC. FUCK YOU.

Once again Fuck you, you goddamn scum ass mother fucker. Oh, and FUCK YOU.

Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week, And A Few Related Diversions

My son is named after this President, incidentally.

The quote itself is by Ron Chernow, the historian who authored the recent well-reviewed biography of out 18th President, “Grant,”  “Hamilton,” the biography that inspired, we are told, the mega-hit musical. and “Washington” (won’t somebody send a copy to the fools at Christ Church?) was given to an interviewer as his description of another book, the Philip Roth’s historical novel  “The Plot Against America”:

[A] democracy can be corrupted, not by big, blaring events, but by a slow, insidious, almost imperceptible process, like carbon monoxide seeping in under the door.

Some random thoughts on this statement, which I believe is exactly right, and a lot more interesting than the more frequently used analogy about boiling a frog slowly:

  • Grant, as Chernow’s book (among others of recent vintage) documents, was present at one of those points when democracy seemed to be in the process of being poisoned, and acted forcefully.

By 1868, when Grant was elected to succeed Andrew Johnson, who had done everything he could to allow the South to resist extending civil rights to the newly freed slaves, the KKK had evolved into a powerful terrorist organization that referred to itself as  “The Invisible Empire of the South.” Under the  Klan’s first  “Grand Wizard,” the brilliant former Confederate cavalry general  Nathan Bedford Forrest, whites from all classes of Southern society joined the Klan’s ranks. They attacked and punished newly freed blacks for crimes like  behaving in an “impudent manner” toward whites, brutalized the teachers of  schools for black children, and burned schoolhouses. It also terrorized and often murdered Republican party leaders those who voted for Reconstruction policies.  In Kansas over 2,000 murders were committed as the 1868 election approached; in Louisiana, a thousand blacks were killed in the same period.

Grant entered office knowing that the Civil War victory could come apart. He made some bad appointments–Grant was naive about politics and trusted too easily—but his choice as Attorney General, Amos T. Akerman, was masterful. With Grant’s support, and the with the help of the newly created Justice Department under Grant, he vigorously worked to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave the vote to black men in every state, and the First Reconstruction Act of 1867, which placed tough restrictions on the South and closely regulated the formation of their new state governments. Between 1870 and 1871, the Republican Congress passed and Grant signed into law the Enforcement Acts, which made it a crime to interfere with registration, voting, officeholding, or jury service by blacks. Congress also passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which allowed the government to act against terrorist organizations.

  • When I was growing up and becoming interested in the Presidents, a life-long passion that led me to both law and ethics, Grant was routinely listed as one of the worst in the line. All one heard from historians was about the financial scandals that rocked his administration. Grant’s great success in subduing the Klan was literally never mentioned. The main Presidential historian then was Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a member of Jack Kennedy’s inner circle. His job as he saw it was to minimize the contributions of any Republican President, like Teddy Roosevelt (“near great” in his rankings), Eisenhower (“below average”) and Grant (“failure’). Meanwhile, Woodrow Wilson, who dragged the U.S, into the first World War, botched the Versailles Treaty and who actively revived the Klan, being a stone-cold racist, was “great.” Naturally, I believed all of his distortions, which were largely those of the historians at the time, then, as now, often partisans and propagandists. It took me a while to realize that this had been my first encounter with the Left attempting to alter present perception by controlling the past.

That is one of the major sources of Chernow’s carbon monoxide today, except that the disinformation now emanates from the schools, colleges, and the news media. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: Unethical Website of the Month: Chimpmania, And The Unethical Petition Opposing It

ku klux klan

The post defending the right of the racist website Chimpmania to stay on the web despite its offenses to decency, civility and fairness predictably attracted racists to this blog—very articulate racists, I must say, but racists nonetheless. One of them, Paddy Roller, who operates his own, slightly less crude racist website, attracted this response from one of Ethics Alarms’ most thoughtful and passionate readers, known here as fattymoon. It is a deserving Comment of the Day, an open letter sparked by a racist screed posted here by Paddy, itself sparked by the post, Unethical Website of the Month: Chimpmania…And The Unethical Petition Opposing It.

[ Paddy and about six of his compatriots in hate have been banned here after violating my warning to eschew racist epithets rhetoric after I had granted them one reprieve. No more reprieves…if one of the Klan wannabes has a comment to this post he wants to have read, there had better be no uses of “nigger” in it.]

Here’s Fattymoon: Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011)

And he gave his book to Superman...

Author and folklorist Stetson Kennedy, who died this week,  is another important and courageous American that most of us never heard of. Let’s try to catch up.

After a back injury kept him out of World War II, Kennedy began a lifetime career of crusading against bigotry and what he called “homegrown racial terrorists.” He served as director of fact-finding for the southeastern office of the Anti-Defamation League and as director of the Anti-Nazi League of New York.

In his 1954 book “I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan,” Kennedy wrote that he gained entrance to the Klan by posing as an encyclopedia salesman and using the name of an uncle who was a Klan member. While posing as a member, he learned many Klan secrets that he put to use undermining the organization’s reputation and support. With evidence he snatched from the Grand Dragon’s wastebasket, he gave the Internal Revenue Service what it needed to collect an outstanding $685,000 tax lien from the Klan in 1944, and he helped draft the brief used by the state of Georgia to revoke the Klan’s national corporate charter in 1947. He also testified in other Klan-related cases. Continue reading

Don’t Cheer Mississippi’s Westboro Baptist Tactics Too Loudly: You Never Know Who Might Hear You

"Demonstrators? Just leave them to us."

Sgt. Jason Rogers, who was killed in action in Afghanistan, was buried two weeks ago in Brandon, Mississippi. As is its custom, the Westboro Baptist Church, fresh from U.S. Supreme Court-confirmed constitutional protection, was prepared to sully Sgt. Rogers’ funeral with its usual hateful chants about how God kills our soldiers to punish our sinful, homosexual-loving ways. Its plans were foiled, however, by a little bit of traditional Mississippi social control ingenuity.

A couple of days before the funeral, one of Fred Phelps’ vile cultists boasted about the upcoming protest while visiting a Brandon gas station, and the good citizenry on the scene gave him the sound beating they felt his sentiments warranted. Continue reading

Hero, Villain or Hypocrite: The Dilemma of the Undercover Dog-Fighter

The limits of absolutism and the drawbacks of utilitarianism both come under scrutiny in assessing the strange saga of Terry Mills, whom the ASPCA recently appointed as its Animal Fighting Specialist.

Beyond question, this is a job he is uniquely qualified to hold. In 2008, Mills worked for the FBI’s domestic-terrorism task force, and went under-cover for more than a year to expose and break up a national dog-fighting ring. His efforts resulted in many arrests, and the rescue of more than 500 animals. Accomplishing all of this, however, required Mills to become part of the culture he was attacking. He trained and fought his own dogs, engaging in the very cruelty he was working to prevent. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week

“He once had a fleeting association with the Ku Klux Klan, what does that mean? I’ll tell you what it means. He was a country boy from the hills and hollows from West Virginia. He was trying to get elected.”

Former President Bill Clinton speaking fondly—and dishonestly— of  the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV).

Bill Clinton has never had much understanding of  the principle of integrity. To him, wanting to get elected is justification enough for joining a violently racist organization that you don’t believe in, and giving support to a movement that you find offensive is a reasonable moral compromise to make in the pursuit of power. But how do we know that Sen. Byrd didn’t reject the Klan when the group’s cross burnings and lynchings became unfashionable in order to stay elected, while secretly sympathizing with them? Well, we don’t—and the facts support this interpretation more than Clinton’s. Continue reading

Pit Bulls and Bigotry

Writer Charles Leerhsen has experienced a conversion. After witnessing his best friend being viciously attacked and nearly killed on a city street without provocation, he has embraced bigotry with both hands. Now he writes screeds condemning not the attacker, but all individuals of the attacker’s race. In a passionate and angry essay for The Daily Beast, he denigrates not only those individuals but also anyone who defends them, such as “certain PC urban professionals who long to tell the world that they are super-sensitive and understanding souls.”

It’s an ugly essay, emotional, doctrinaire, and illogical, employing the well-worn racist technique of generalizing from the individual to the group and back again. Why would any respectable media outlet print such bile?

Perhaps it is because Leerhsen’s best friend was Frankie, a Wheaton terrier, and Frankie’s attacker was a pit bull. Continue reading