Morning Ethics Warm-Up, July 1, 2019: Movies, Cultural Literacy, “A Nation Of Assholes,” And The Mystery Of The Fake Public Defender

Good Morning!

1. Any ideas about what was going on here? I’m stumped. This is New Orleans public defender—that is, former  New Orleans public defender—Ashley Crawford:

She began working for the Orleans Public Defenders last October, and since that time apparently handled over a hundred cases without having ever acquired a license to practice law. The Orleans Public Defenders said the bar certificate of good standing she presented to the office last fall when she was employed had been falsified, and Ashley used the bar number of another attorney. She’s fired now, and facing charges.

Crawford  graduated from  the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in 2016, then  clerked for a New Orleans judge beginning that fall. Judicial clerks are not required to pass the bar exam, though many do.

Why would she—would anyone—do this? Now she is facing criminal penalties, and will never be able to practice law legally. It should be far easier to pass the bar exam and be admitted properly than to fake having a law license. She also has caused havoc for the judicial system: any defendant convicted while being represented by Crawford has an automatic right to a new trial.

There’s a lesson, a tragedy, a made-for-TV movie here; I just wish I knew what the lesson is. Continue reading

Rugby’s End

For the first time since my son was about to turn 9 almost 16 years ago, our home is without the extraordinary sweetness and aggressive unconditional love of Rugby, my son’s (but really the whole neighborhood’s) extraordinary Jack Russell Terrier.

He peacefully expired after an injection, as he was held tightly by my son Grant, whom he loved beyond explaining, wrapped in the tattered baby blanket that a toddling Grant himself once held for comfort, and that had lined Rugby’s dog bed in my son’s apartment.

In the end, these decisions always come down to ethical values. We received from our vet the not entirely unexpected news that our dog’s sudden lack of energy and stability as well as labored breathing was almost certainly caused by progressive heart failure. Dickens, his more flamboyant and occasionally diabolical predecessor of the same breed, had perished of the identical malady just short of 15 years of mischief. The first question— Is there anything you can do?— was met by an answer we have heard before in earlier animal companion tragedies: “Maybe, but even under the best circumstances, the time will be short.” Continue reading

Last Resort Ethics Catch-Up, 6/19/2019

Desperately trying to salvage the day with the next one looking worse, and a lot of important ethics matters being swept toward the falls, were they risk being swamped by rapidly moving events…

1. Great sequence, unethical to make it…Not only was D.W. Griffith a film pioneer and a racist, he was also quite mad. If you haven’t see this sequence from D.W. Griffiths’ “Way Down East,” you must. That’s Lillian Gish on the ice floe, and actor Richard Barthelmess trying to rescue her for real. It was  shot on a frozen river as the ice broke up,  and Gish was really headed over the falls, though they were only a few feet high.  No stunt actors were used; Gish’s hair froze and she lost feeling in her hand from the cold. Her right hand was never quite right after that.

Things like this are what made actors’ unions necessary.

2.  What a mess.  The President’s Secretary of Defense nominee, Patrick Shanahan, resigned from the Acting-SOD role and removed his name from consideration in order to keep his family from being dragged through some awfully ugly mud, very little of which, it seems was of his making or germane to his qualifications for office.

Before their divorce, Shanahan’s ex-wife was arrested after punching him in the face; after the divorce, his son was arrested after attacking and nearly killing his mother with a baseball bat.  The Waltons this wasn’t. Shanahan tried to defend his son after that episode, arguing in a message sent to  his ex-wife’s brother  that his son had acted in self-defense and writing…

“Use of a baseball bat in self- defense will likely be viewed as an imbalance of force,” However, Will’s mother harassed him for nearly three hours before the incident.”

It was expected that Democrats would weaponize the memo against him in hearings, #MeToo-style.

Shanahan told  The Washington Post  that he wrote the memo in the hours after his son’s attack on his ex, before he knew the full extent of her injuries, to prepare for his son’s initial court appearance. He said  never intended for anyone other than his son’s attorneys and his brother-in-law to read it, but, of course, by showing the message to his brother-in-law it was no longer confidential.

Somehow, in a civilized culture, private tragedies like these should not become an impediment to public service. Yet it is hard to imagine how Shanahan thought it would not, since this is not a civilized political culture. Continue reading

Early Memorial Day Weekend Ethics Warm-Up, 5/24/19: Movies And Women, Real And Imagined

Good Morning!

My father loved Sousa marches. So do I. Sousa was a genius in a very narrow range, but a genius he was. The Liberty Bell was one of my dad’s favorites. Here is a great website to familiarize yourself with the great march-master’s creations; it has instant links to each march.

1. Since it has done such a superb job ensuring world peace, the U.N. moves on to the important stuff… Unesco has issued a report claiming that having female voices in machines like GPS’s, smartphones and personal assistant devices reinforces gender stereotypes and enables the oppression of women. From the Times:

“Obedient and obliging machines that pretend to be women are entering our homes, cars and offices,” Saniye Gulser Corat, Unesco’s director for gender equality, said in a statement. “The world needs to pay much closer attention to how, when and whether A.I. technologies are gendered and, crucially, who is gendering them.”One particularly worrying reflection of this is the “deflecting, lackluster or apologetic responses” that these assistants give to insults. The report borrows its title — “I’d Blush if I Could” — from a standard response from Siri, the Apple voice assistant, when a user hurled a gendered expletive at it. When a user tells Alexa, “You’re hot,” her typical response has been a cheery, “That’s nice of you to say!” Siri’s response was recently altered to a more flattened “I don’t know how to respond to that,” but the report suggests that the technology remains gender biased, arguing that the problem starts with engineering teams that are staffed overwhelmingly by men. “Siri’s ‘female’ obsequiousness — and the servility expressed by so many other digital assistants projected as young women — provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products,” the report found.

Gee, that’s funny: I thought the reason a woman’s dulcet tones were used in such devices is because they were easier on the ear than, say, HAL. Nor would it occur to me that a woman was being subservient or submissive when the female voice was coming from a lump of metal and plastic on a table.

FACT: Yes, a consumer should have the option of having a device speak in a male or female voice.

FACT: If the owner of such a device wants to insult it, make sexual comments to it, or crush it with a hammer, that’s none of the U.N.’s business.

FACT:  Programming AI to be adversarial to its owner, whatever voice the device is using, is unethical, and, obviously, bad business.

Unesco’s report is the epitome of manufactured offense. Continue reading

“Avengers: End Game” Ethics

I should begin by noting that there is no way I’m going to see this movie, unless I’m in the hospital, it’s on TV and my best alternatives are “Ellen” and Don Lemon.  I’m sick of CGI movies, sick of super-hero movies, and  have never been enamored of the genre since Christopher Reeve took Margot Kidder flying. As for this particular super-hero movie, the fact that it is 3-hours  is a minor problem, overwhelmed by the fact that I would have to watch the previous long Avengers movie, “Infinity War” to have a prayer of knowing what the hell’s going on.

However, many fans of such films are annoyed by the fact that “End Game” is so long yet has no intermission. They should be. One should be able to see the entertainment one has paid for without having to miss a chunk because nature calls. Movies don’t have intermissions any more, but that doesn’t mean there’s a good reason for them not to. Continue reading

Best Sports Movies? [UPDATED]

For some reason, the question about which sports movies are the “best” or individual favorites has turned up in all sorts of places this week, I have no idea why. When it turned up during tonight’s Red Sox broadcast, I decided  it was time to give my list.

(The Red Sox and Rays are tied in the 7th, 4-4.)

Most sports movies are ethics movies, and my favorite five all fit that description.

1. “Hoosiers“(1986) The Gene Hackman movie about a tiny Indiana town’s surprise victory in the state basketball tournament (the actual 1954 team is above),  covers many ethics themes, including leadership, integrity, sacrifice , redemption, learning from past mistakes,  and moral luck. The basketball games are surprisingly realistic, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score, evoking bouncing basketballs on a court, is one of my all-time favorites. Favorite ethics moment: after training the team to obey him without question, and teaching them to play as a team, not individuals, coach Hackman tells his players with one play left in the championship game that they will use their star, Jimmy, as a decoy, and let another player take the final, game deciding shot. After a long pause, Jimmy tells him, “I’ll make it.” And like all good leaders, Hackman knows when to trust his subordinates. He let’s Jimmy countermand his order, and Jimmy indeed wins the game. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/12/2019: “Seeing If I Can Function After Seeing That Fox News Video” Edition

Well, it was a good morning…

…until Arthur in Maine sent me THAT.

1. Record ethics. Kansas City Royals second-baseman Whit Merrifield is a fine young rising star, but the nation will never turn its lonely eyes to him.Playing against the Mariners this week,  Merrifield beat out a squeeze bunt that not only tied the game, but also extended his hitting streak to 31 games. That set a new franchise record, beating Hall of Famer George Brett’s 30 game consecutive hitting streak set in 1980. That seems unfair, you say? Most of Merrifield’s streak was last season, you say?

I agree with you. Baseball takes the position on consecutive game streaks of all kinds that the six months between seasons don’t matter or count. I see the logic, a bit: why should a player’s chance at a record be arbitrarily ended because the season runs out? I also have the answer: tough noogies. There is a material difference between hitting in consecutive games over a single grueling season and doing so with a vacation in the middle. I guarantee that if Merrifield’s record got close to Joe DiMaggio’s iconic 56 games, set in the single, famous season of 1941 (when Ted Williams also hit .406), Major League Baseball would have rushed in and disqualified Merrifield for the consecutive game record because it wouldn’t be set in a single season. THAT, of course, would have been redolent of the controversial asterisk put after Roger Maris’s 61 home runs in 1961, which broke another iconic record, Babe Ruths’s 60. (Maris’s record was set in a 162 game season, Ruth’s in a 154 game season.)

Fortunately, Merrifield’s record chase was stopped at 31 the very next day.

This is as good a time as any to mention that the player who got me hooked on baseball, former Red Sox shortstop Eddie Bressoud, whose 87th birthday is coming up (May 2), had a knack for hitting streaks at the start of season. he hit in 15 straight in 1962, his first with the team, and set the team record for a consecutive streak at the start of the season in 1964, with 20.

2.  “Don’t be evil” a distant memory. R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. , the founder of mainstream conservative magazine “The American Spectator” announced that the publication had been blacklisted by Google, following an investigative report by The Daily Caller that revealed, Continue reading