Ethics Round-Up, 12/18/2019: The Day Before An Invasive Procedure Edition [UPDATED]


Even the satisfaction of knowing that the President reads Ethics Alarms, or at least thinks like I do…wait, that came out wrong. Anyway, today I expect to be uncomfortable, hungry and distracted, so who knows what might appear here today?

You were warned.

1. The Ethics Quote of the Day comes from ex-Marine and TV talk show host Montel Williams (who was very nice to me when I was on his show), on the “scandal” of some cadets flashing the dreaded “OK” sign during the Army-Navy Game:


“Both West Point and Annapolis are investigating, and it strikes me as defamatory that some in the media have branded these young people as racists without a shred of evidence. I understand that a handful of racists (perhaps living in their parents’ basements) attempted to co-opt the ‘OK’ sign as a symbol of white power … but that is not evidence that these kids were motivated by racial animus. We owe these young people, who had the courage to sign up to be part of the 1% who defend this democracy, better than this,”

I would say that we owe them better than even investigating such trivia. A ambiguous gestures are ambiguous, and no student, in a military academy or anywhere else  should have to defend or explain them. The students are entitled to the benefit of the doubt.  As with the “It’s OK to be White,” flyers, the rational, responsible approach by administrators is to ignore them, rather than to make a scandal out of nothing.

When will we see the first “It’s OK to make the OK sign” flyers? Heck, I may put some up myself…

2. Nah, there’s no progressive “war on Christmas,’ and there’s no mainstream media bias, either. And CNN’s Brian Stelter isn’t the most incompetent and absurd “media critic” since the term was coined! Imagine: Stelter asked on Twitter,

“Justice Neil Gorsuch is on “Fox & Friends” right now. The Q: How is it appropriate for a Supreme Court justice to try to goose sales of his three-month-old book by chatting on one of the most partisan shows on TV?”

More “Q’s”: Would it be appropriate for Gorsuch to chat on another network, like, say, CNN? Would “wtachdog” Stelter bitch about that? What does the level of partisanship of a show have to do with whether a Supreme Court Justice should appear there? Is there any rule or precedent holding that it is unethical for a sitting Justice to promote a book? (I’ll answer that one: no.)

Stelter’s whining wasn’t close to the most contrived objection to Gorsuch’s visit to the Fox and Friends couch, though. This was: Continue reading

Psychic Ethics: Sylvia Browne’s Dilemma

Sylvia Browne, under fire for not being a real psychic by people who should know better.

Sylvia Browne, under fire for not being a real psychic by people who should know better.

Growing up, I knew Sylvia Browne as one of the more colorful friends of my father, who knew her brother in the army. She visited from Kansas City every year or so, and her claims of psychic powers never came up, perhaps because my father didn’t believe in such things. My first inkling of “Aunt” Sylvia’s other life was when she pulled me aside in the fall of 1966, after hearing me bemoan the low state to which my beloved Boston Red Sox had fallen. They were going to finish the season in last place, the team’s vaunted youth movement was a flop, and I was disconsolate. “Don’t tell anyone I said this, ” she told me, “but the Red Sox will be in the pennant race next year to the very end. It will come down to the last two games.”

This seemed incredible to me, but what the heck: when the 1967 season tickets went on sale that winter, I sent in an order for two seats on the third base side for the next-to-last game of the season, against the Minnesota Twins. Baseball fans will recall that the ’67 season featured the closest race in American League history, with four teams, including the underdog Red Sox, staying essentially tied for months, with the pennant decided in the last two days at Fenway Park. Sure enough, Boston swept the Twins twice to make up a one game deficit and go the World Series. Sylvia called it.

During college and law school, Sylvia Browne fell out of my family’s life, but our paths intersected again when she showed up for a surprise visit at our home while I was studying for the Massachusetts bar exam in 1975. My job with the Mass Defenders had fallen through, and I had received an unexpected job offer from my law school to work for the new Dean. It would mean moving to D.C., which I didn’t want to do, and I was torn. This was the big topic of discussion while Sylvia was having dinner with us; my mother was emphatic that I should turn the offer down. For the second time, Sylvia pulled me aside for an unsolicited consultation. “Go to D.C.,” she said. “Your future wife is waiting for you.” I naturally assumed that she meant my current girl friend from law school, who was still in the District. “Not her,” Sylvia said. “Another. This job will bring you together, for good.”

I did take the job, although Sylvia’s advice played no part in it. Indeed, I forgot about the conversation completely until it came back to me right before I proposed to my wife, now my wife of 33 years, who was a work colleague of mine at the law school. Sylvia was two for two, at least where I was concerned.

Why I only had dealings with Sylvia Browne when the Red Sox were destined to go to the World Series I can’t imagine (Boston played Cincinnati in the 1975 classic), but the next time I heard from her was in 2004, the year they finally won it. She called me in my ProEthics office on November 17 of that year, and she was distraught. She was calling me, it turned out, not to give advice, but to receive it.  Continue reading