Morning Ethics Warm-Up, October 10, 2018: Incompetence Special

Good morning, and I mean it this time…!

1. My only Red Sox-related note: One reason I know that the news media can’t be trusted is that when I have first hand knowledge of a topic or event reported in the paper, I often find the reporting lazily, inexplicably, factually wrong. Here’s a trivial but illustrative example: this amazing play (It’s at 1:04 on the video) ended last night’s decisive Boston 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series:

Here’s how the Times described it:

“Kimbrel then got Gleyber Torres to hit a dribbler to third. Eduardo Nunez, a former Yankee, gathered it and threw slightly wide of first base, but another former Yankee, Steve Pearce, stretched to glove it an instant before Torres touched the bag.”

What? “Slightly wide”? A millimeter wider and the ball would have been in the dugout! If journalists can’t get little things right, why should be trust them to convey the important stuff?

2. Institutional incompetence  The historical airbrushing continues. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Washington and Lee University has decided to make changes to the names of some campus buildings after concerns from students and faculty.

On Tuesday, the Board of Trustees announced that it will rename Robinson Hall as Chavis Hall, in honor of John Chavis, the first African-American to receive a college education in the United States. He graduated from Washington Academy, the predecessor of W&L, in 1799. Also, Lee-Jackson House will be renamed Simpson Hall in honor of Pamela Hemenway Simpson, who served as an associate dean of the college and helped move to a co-ed environment in the 1980s.

The board also announced that effective immediately, it will replace portraits of Robert E. Lee and George Washington in military uniforms inside Lee Chapel with portraits of the two men in civilian clothing.

An educational institution that thinks it is appropriate to airbrush its own history can’t be trusted to teach anyone. Robinson Hall is named after the man who established the college, John Robinson. Yup, he was a slaveholder, but he established the school, and deserves prominent recognition for that. The decision to strip Washington and Lee of their uniforms is particularly ominous, hinting of several obnoxious biases. Soldiers are taboo now? Or is this a strike against “toxic masculinity”?  If the idea is to pretend that Robert E. Lee  is only notable for his post-military career as president of the university, that’s absurd and dishonest: if Lee had never worn the Confederate uniform, he would never have led the school, and nobody would know who he was today. Washington’s military brilliance  supersedes  his civilian achievements in significance and historical impact, for without General Washington there would be no United States of America.

My position is that it is negligent for parents to entrust their children’s minds to stupid people and incompetent schools. Washington and Lee and its administrators now qualify for that category.

Continue reading

Senator Walsh’s Plagiarism

Walsh (top); Paul (bottom) "Whooo are you? Who, who, who, who?"

Walsh (top); Paul (bottom)
“Whooo are you? Who, who, who, who?”

U.S. Senator John Walsh (D-Mt) has an obligation to resign.

He was never elected to office;  Montana Governor Steve Bullock appointed him to fill the vacant  seat of Max Baucus, who resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China. Though he was Montana’s Lieutenant Governor at the time, Walsh’s primary qualification for the job was his military record and honors, including a master’s degree at the U.S. War College. The New York Times revealed this week that Walsh’s  2007 thesis, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy,” was substantially plagiarized, copied from other sources without attribution. Now the War College is investigating to determine whether Walsh’s degree should be revoked.

If this happened to a partner at a law firm, he would be fired. If it happened to a professor at a respectable university, he would be terminated. When it has happened to high ranking corporate officers, they have usually been forced to resign. The importance of honesty and trustworthiness to the duties of a U.S. Senator are more important than either of these.  Moreover, the fact that he could not complete an adequate 14 page thesis ( I am still reeling that the War College hands out masters degrees for such paltry work) without stealing the word of others does not inspire faith in his abilities as a lawmaker. Walsh has an obligation to resign.

Instead, he has been making lame excuses and rationalizations, and encouraging others to lie for him. He and his supporters are calling this  “a mistake.” Using someone else’s work to make up 25% of your masters thesis and taking credit for it is not a “mistake.” It is proof of a deficit in character. Had his plagiarism been discovered when he submitted the paper, he would have been kicked out of the masters program, presumably. The military is especially strict regarding dishonesty and dishonorable conduct. Would he have been appointed  if that had occurred? Presumably not. At least I hope not.

Flailing to find an escape, Walsh has played the veteran pity card, suggesting that the plagiarism may have been the result of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It doesn’t matter why he plagiarized, though this seems like a particularly slimy excuse. He plagiarized. His current credentials, which were among the factors that got him nominated, were based on a lie. Continue reading

Signature Significance Lesson: Pazuzu, The Judge And The Racist Email

"Your Honor, uh, you're not quite yourself today.."

“Your Honor, uh, you’re not quite yourself today..”

How many racist e-mails does one have to send out before it proves one is a racist? At Above the Law, legal affairs blogger Ellie Mystal says the answer is one, and I agree. Mystal writes:

“If you send one horribly racist email that actually manages to leak out into public discourse, it’s probably not your only one. Seeing a racist email from someone is like seeing a mouse in your apartment: there’s never just one. I believe in temporary insanity, but I don’t believe in sudden onset racism that magically appears once and only once and then disappears forever. Of course, whenever anybody gets caught in a racist email scandal, they always say that it’s the only one. It’s always “Whoops, that email was racist, but I’m not racist.” The racist email is always allegedly “out of character,” and the person always claims to have shown “poor judgment.” And that person always has some apologists, as if sending one or two racist emails is just something that “happens” in the normal course of business to non-racist people.”

The “out of character” nonsense is what Ethics Alarms refers to as the “Pazuzu Excuse,” as when someone explains that his or her full-throated expression of a vile nature “just wasn’t me” and “doesn’t express how I feel,” as if their being was suddenly possessed by the evil demon that made Linda Blair spit pea soup in “The Exorcist.” People try that excuse—and absurdly often are allowed to get away with it—because, at their core, they realize that signature significance is persuasive when judging character. Non-racists simply don’t send out racist e-mails ever, even once, and one such episode, all by itself, is convincing evidence that the sender is, in fact, a racist.

The racist under discussion by Mystal was retired federal judge Richard F. Cebull, appointed chief judge for the District of Montana by President George W. Bush in 2001. In 2012, Cebull got in trouble when he sent the following e-mail to seven acquaintances: Continue reading

Rejecting Mob Justice Even When The Mob Is Right: Ethical And Necessary

The Taco Bell employee-to-be,

The Taco Bell employee-to-be,

Prediction: Those who don’t comprehend the George Zimmerman verdict will never understand this one. Yet it is absolutely right and necessary in every way.

Summary: The Montana Supreme Court blocked an incompetent judge from changing an offensive and inexcusably inadequate sentence for a serious crime, because he was trying to do so as the result of public criticism.

Background: Judge G. Todd Baugh, an elected district judge in Montana’s Yellowstone County, sentenced  former high school teacher Stacey Dean Rambold to 15 years in prison with all but 31 days suspended—that’s one lousy month, friends— for having sexual intercourse without consent, also known as rape, with a 14-year-old female student (the teacher was 49 at the time) who later committed suicide while the case was pending. The judge, who appears to be an idiot (he later said that he can’t imagine what came over him) explained his decision at the time by saying that the underaged victim of the statutory rape was “older than her chronological age” and had “as much control of the situation” as the teacher.

Beginning with the late student’s mother, who reacted to the absurd sentence by screaming “You suck!” at the judge (Excellent diagnosis, by the way) and storming out of the courtroom, the ridiculous verdict caused an overwhelming backlash of negative public sentiment that spread nationwide. There was so much wrong with the sentence and the way it was arrived at that the mind, and conscience, boggles: Continue reading

Too Late For That Legacy, Sen. Baucus: Why Not Just Resign?

Sen. Baucus and, uh, staff...

Sen. Baucus and, uh, staff…

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) has announced that he won’t be seeking re-election in 2014, and the alert national media has spun this into many themed stories: how it further endangers the Democratic Party’s chances of holding the Senate; how it will remove one of the purported experts on the tax code from possible tax reform efforts; how, as Washington Post columnist Stephen Stromberg put it, Baucus has a chance to leave “an admirable tax-reform legacy” by negotiating a deal on a carbon tax. All of this misses the Tyrannosaurus in the room, and worse than that, leaves the impression that it doesn’t matter. Baucus is one of the most corrupt and untrustworthy members of the Senate, which is no small accomplishment, if not exactly an admirable legacy. He should resign now, as he should have resigned years ago. The fact that his colleagues didn’t force him to resign (like his former, similarly corrupt Republican colleague, Sen. Ensign) shows just how unworthy of the American public that body is.

Since he was last elected by the good people of Montana, Baucus…

  • Carried on an inter-office, and adulterous, affair with staffer Melodee Hanes
  • Blatantly favored her in the course of business, giving her an excessive raise and taking her along with him on costly junkets
  • Nominated Hanes to be a U.S. attorney, a plum job Hanes withdrew herself from consideration for after their clandestine affair was revealed
  • Probably pulled strings to get her a high-ranking job in the Justice Department, after the couple divorced their respective spouses and got married in 2011… Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Ronan High School Principal Tom Stack

This is a dream Gerald Molen had about Tom Stack. Stack is the one on the toilet.

Gerald Molen is a major Hollywood producer, and one of the best; among his accomplishments are “Rain Man,” “Schindler’s List,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Twister.” He was invited to deliver a speech to graduating seniors at Ronan High School in Ronan, Montana, and out of the graciousness of his heart,  agreed. Molen prepared a speech evoking the heroism of Oskar Schindler, and planned to ask the students to “imagine your future is a movie. Forty years from now, you’re writing a script about your accomplishments. What would that script look like?”

When Molen arrived to give his speech ( the high school is a 90 minute drive from his Montana home) the school  principal, Tom Stack, informed him that he had  decided to disinvite Moler. Apparently some parents had complained that Moler was a “right winger,” and objected to him speaking to the seniors. Stack didn’t care what the actual speech was about; mustn’t upset those progressive parents! Molen wasn’t welcome because of his political beliefs, and not even any specific belief. He was just one of those cruel and mean conservatives—you know, the ones Nancy Pelosi, Ed Schultz and Lawrence O’Donnell are always condemning—and his contagion couldn’t be allowed to spread. Molen, understandably insulted,  told the story to the Hollywood reporter.  Continue reading

Henry James, Mis-Matched Neighbors and the Naked Silhouette

Like most people, I grew up being told that it was dangerous to hitch-hike, because of the many predatory drivers waiting to pounce, and also never to pick up hitch-hikers, because some of them were serial killers. I always seemed to me that the odds favored an eventual convergence in which a psychopathic motorist picked up a murderous hitch-hiker. I wonder what happens then.

Neighbor disputes are often like this: pure chance places very different  people side-by-side, one an inconsiderate boor, and the other an intolerant jerk. We know what happens then: exactly what has happened in Great Falls, Montana.

Brian Smith objects to the large decal on neighbor Shanna Weaver’s car. The decal portrays a white silhouette of a naked woman. To him, it’s pornography, and he objects to have to look at it.  “My upbringing dictates that the human body is a sacred thing, not something that should be put on display,” Smith said. Weaver, however, is not inclined to remove it. “It’s my freedom of speech, which he can’t take away,” Weaver says. “It’s no different than the mud flaps that you see on trucks.”So Smith filed a complaint against Weaver for violating the local anti-pornography ordinance, which was a stretch. [In an earlier version of this post, it wa stated that Weaver sued him for harassment, and was thrown out of court. That was in error, and Ethics Alarms apologizes for its mistake.] Continue reading