Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/5/2020: Words, Spin, And Millard Fillmore

Because “Glibby-glop-gloopy” or whatever the hell Oliver is singing here makes about as much sense as anything else I’m hearing…

1. Today in The Great Stupid’s cancellation orgy:

  • The ABA Journal reports that the Massachusetts Appeals Court  wants the word “grandfathering” to be “canceled.” Ruling in a zoning dispute, the court said a structure built before the enactment of zoning regulations had a certain level of protection, but the court  didn’t have a good word to describe that protection because  it wouldn’t use  “grandfathering.”  “Because we acknowledge that it has racist origins,” the woke and silly judges declared.

Apparently the phrase “grandfather clause” originally referred to laws adopted by some states after the Civil War to create barriers to voting by African Americans, explained Justice James Milkey in footnote 11 to the August 3 opinion. Interesting! And completely irrelevant to how the word is used now. Now, if I were Ann Althouse, who is word-obsessed, I might spend hours looking for other words used routinely today that have unsavory origins. I don’t care what words originally meant or when  they were first used. The objective with all words is communication. “Grandfathered” is a useful word. I used it in my baseball lecture for the Smithsonian to describe how spitball pitchers were allowed to keep throwing the unsanitary pitch after it was banned for everyone else in 1920. The court’s kind of virtue-signalling makes people stupid and communication difficult, and shame on the court for indulging in it.

  • The University of Buffalo will remove any reference to President Millard Fillmore on its campus,though he helped found the school and served as its first chancellor from 1846 until his death in 1874. School officials said in a news release that its decision to erase the memory of an individual the university owes its existence to “aligns with the university’s commitment to fight systemic racism and create a welcoming environment for all.”

No, it aligns with craven cowering to Black Lives Matter intimidation  and statue-toppling mobs.  Millard Fillmore—-great name, crummy President—signed The Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act. Since it was a compromise, the school’s logic would require “canceling” all the anti-slavery crusaders who were part of it, as everyone at the time was desperately trying to keep the United States from ripping apart. When that effort failed, we got the Civil War, and more American casualties than any war before or since. How dare Fillmore try to stop that?

I think the Fillmore-cancelers should be obligated to explain how they would have handled the growing tensions over slavery and the cultural divide between North and South. I’m sure they have a brilliant answer ready.

As the suddenly “In” Fred Rogers would  say, “Can you say ‘hindsight bias’? Sure you can!” Continue reading

Encore! Presidents Day Ethics: The Presidents of the United States on Ethics and Leadership

It’s President’s Day, and I see that it has been five years since the most popular Ethics Alarms President’s Day post was published. That one, from 2011, reminds us of the ethics wisdom and leadership acumen of the remarkable men who have served their country in the most challenging, difficult, and ethically complicated of all jobs, the U.S. Presidency.

In the middle of a campaign season littered with some disturbingly unethical candidates, it seems especially appropriate to re-post that entry now….with some updates. In 2011, I left out three Presidents, including the current one. Now all are represented, most of them well.

So…

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Presidents of the United States of America:

 

George Washington: “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

John Adams: “Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.” 

Thomas Jefferson: “On great occasions every good officer must be ready to risk himself in going beyond the strict line of law, when the public preservation requires it; his motives will be a justification…”

James Madison: “No government any more than any individual will long be respected without being truly respectable.”

James Monroe: “The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.”

John Quincy Adams: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

Andrew Jackson: “One man with courage makes a majority.”   (Attributed)

Martin Van Buren: “No evil can result from its inhibition more pernicious than its toleration.”

William Henry Harrison: “There is nothing more corrupting, nothing more destructive of the noblest and finest feelings of our nature, than the exercise of unlimited power.” Continue reading

A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 2): The Good, The Over-matched, And Then There’s Abe

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The Presidents between #7, Jackson, and #16, Lincoln, are almost entirely unknown to most of the public: not one in a hundred can name them all, and of those almost none can name them in order. Eight one-term Presidents, all trying to stave off the civil war in various ways, and all failing that mission.

I will never understand why learning the Presidents in order isn’t a standard requirement in the public schools. It’s not hard; it is a useful tool in placing events in American history, and it prevents embarrassments like the Cornell law grad I once worked with who couldn’t place the Civil War in the right century. Besides, we’re Americans, damn it. The least we owe the 43 patriots who have tried to do this job, some at the cost of their lives, many their health, and many more their popularity, is their place in our history and their names.

On with hailing the Chiefs with some of my favorite facts about them:

James K. Polk

“Hail to the Chief,” which had been sporadically in use since Madison’s day, became the official anthem of the office during the Polk Administration. Polk was a small, unimpressive man, and it was said that he needed the musical announcement when he entered a room or no one would notice him. Looks can be deceiving. James K. Polk was as wily, tough and as ruthless as they come. One reason may be that he was another Presidential survivor of an ordeal that would kill most people: as a teenager, he underwent a bloody frontier operation for gallstones with no anesthesia, tied to a table, biting on a rag.

Zachary Taylor

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General Taylor, who was pursued by both the Whigs and the Democrats who both wanted to nominate him for President, was a great experiment  He was not a member of any political party, had never held public office prior  to becoming President, and had never even voted before becoming Chief Executive. He was also nearly illiterate. We often long for an apolitical President, a true, rather than a pretend, “outsider.” Taylor would have been an interesting test case, though the pre-Civil War political and social chaos was hardly the most promising period to try out the theory. Unfortunately he died of cholera less than half-way into his administration.

And he wasn’t even elected in a year ending in a zero! Continue reading

Presidents Day Ethics: The Presidents of the United States on Ethics and Leadership

In commemoration of President’s Day, Ethics Alarms presents the ethics wisdom of the remarkable men who have served their country in the most challenging, difficult, and ethically complicated of all jobs, the U.S. Presidency.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Presidents of the United States:

George Washington: “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” Continue reading