Rationalizations From The Victim Of A Tragedy

A week ago, I briefly discussed the report on the 2017 death of major league pitcher Roy Halladay who crashed his plane into the Gulf of Mexico  on Nov. 7, 2017. The 13-page report said Halladay had 10 times the recommended level of amphetamine in his system, plus an antidepressant, a muscle relaxant, a sleep aid and morphine.  He was also attempting aerial acrobatics and stunt flying.

Now his widow, Brandy Halladay, has issued a statement through the now Hall of Fame pitcher’s last team, the Philadelphia Phillies. She wrote,

“Yesterday’s NTSB report on Roy’s accident was painful for our family, as it has caused us to relive the worst day of our lives. It has reinforced what I have previously stated, that no one is perfect. Most families struggle in some capacity and ours was no exception. We respectfully ask that you not make assumptions or pass judgment. Rather, we encourage you to hug your loved ones and appreciate having them in your lives.”

From one perspective, it seems unkind to be critical of the lament of a grieving family member in the wake of such a tragedy. From another—mine—I can’t let public endorsements of multiple rationalizations like that one pass. I just can’t, and I have an obligation as an ethicist not to. It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it: the reason so people make terrible decisions by defaulting to rationalizations rather than ethics is that the culture marinates them, day after day, in these excuses for bad conduct. After a lifetime of hearing the contrived arguments , most people accept such self-deceptions as true. In turn, they engage in conduct, or excuse conduct in others, that causes extensive harm. Continue reading

Pre-Red Sox Opening Day Ethics Warm-Up, 3/28/2019: A Jerk And A Fick

Happy Day!

Just got home from a very well-received legal ethics seminar in time to get off a post, walk Rugby, pull on the ol’ Depends and settle in while the Boston Red Sox beat the Seattle Mariners in their first game defending their 2018 World Championship…

1. Humble Talent is back. Humble Talent, an Ethics Alarms  Commenter of the Year a few years back and one of the all-time outstanding participants in the ethics wars here, just registered his first comment in almost four months. Mu joy and relief are unalloyed. Welcome home, my friend.

2. A Keith Olbermann note. If you’ll forgive me for mentioning one of the biggest jerks in captivity twice in a day, Olbermann managed to enhance his reputation with this display of mega-jerkness. A Mississippi hunter  shot an unusual turkey completely legally, and KO decided that this was sufficient justification to ruin his life…

The editor of the paper had the proper bemused response, writing, “Keith Olbermann says Brian Broom should be fired for writing this story. What was I thinking? I guess I should have fired our outdoors writer for writing about a hunter killing an unusual turkey during turkey hunting season.” What kind of human being calls on the social media mob to make someone’s life  a living hell because he engaged in a legal act harming no one that that human being disagrees with? A really bad one—arrogant, cruel, irresponsible, and unfair. The Washington Free Beacon got a statement from ESPN, which currently employs Keith (when he’s in the mood, he’s an unusually astute and amusing baseball reporter), and they responded, “We have spoken to him about not making personal attacks.” Gee, that doesn’t seem to be working, does it?

3. A Fick sighting! Almost as rare as a white turkey is an Ethics Alarms Fick, a special designation for the peculiar ( and disgusting) breed of unethical person who is unethical, knows it, and rubs it in everyone else’s face, without regret or shame.

The Fick is pop star Cardi B, whose old Instagram video that resurfaced recently features her saying that she used to drug and rob men. The video, which Cardi says was made three years ago,  features the singer reminiscing about the time when she worked as a stripper — a time when, she said,

“I had to go strip, I had to go, ‘Oh yeah, you want to fuck me? Yeah, let’s go back to this hotel,'” she said an an Instagram Live broadcast filmed three years ago. “And I drugged niggas up and I robbed them. That’s what I used to do.”

When the immediate reaction was a series of attacks on Twitter, Cardi B doubled down, making it clear that she was perfectly at peace with her past crimes, tweeting to critics,

I never claim to be a angel I always been a street bitch Ya be glorifying this street rappers that talk and do that grimmey street shit but they can’t stand a street bitch!



Theeeeeen the criticism got a little too hot, and apparently the hip hop star’s publicist pointed out that defiance in this case might not be the smartest strategy. So then we got this:

Is that a wonderful parade of rationalizations and ethics rot, or what?

  • Nobody has to drug men (or women)and rob them.  That’s not an “option” for anyone with a conscience. No, she did not have to harm and rob men “to survive.” Millions of people in dire circumstances find legal ways to survive that don’t require harming others.
  • The men she drugged and robbed were “conscious and aware” that they were going to be drugged and robbed? Does anyone believe that, including Cardi B?
  • “Right or wrong”? “Whether they were poor choices”? Psst-–moron! It was wrong, and they were poor choices!
  • “I never claim to be perfect” is an especially dumb variation of Rationalization #19. The Perfection Diversion, or “Nobody’s Perfect!” and “Everybody makes mistakes!” We’re supposed to applaud because someone who drugged and robbed men doesn’t make the bananas claim that she’s perfect?  I bet she never said she was a walnut, either. So what?
  • “I always speak my truth” means she wouldn’t know truth from a bag of gummi worms. “My truth” is signature significance for an adherent of ethical relativity: whatever she thinks is right, is.  Cardi B. is a narcissist and a sociopath.

Several commentators claim that this junk shows that Cardi regrets her past. Boy, I wish I had more Brooklyn Bridges to sell. I doubt that she even wrote this herself. I also doubt that those sympathetic critics noticed what she tweeted before she was told to stop doubling down. Meanwhile, what would happen to a male singer who admitted that he needed to drug and rob women to survive?

Incident At Big Bowl

Am I the only one who has weird  encounters  every single time I travel? That can’t be. (Can it?)

This week, I had a quick trip to Boston (where my heart resides, so I have to visit it) to present a legal ethics program to recently minted lawyers. On the way, I tried to grab a meal at Reagan airport. The flight was at 6:30, and I wanted to eat before I had to get on the plane. I chose an allegedly fast food outpost near my gate, Big Bowl. It was not busy: maybe two people ahead of me, one behind. The order was simple: a “big bowl” of kung pao chicken with white rice, no drink. I paid, and got my slip with the number 555.

When they called 555, it wasn’t my order. They called 549 before that, and it wasn’t right either. All the numbers on all the orders were wrong, and the confusion added about 10 minutes to everyone’s wait, notably mine. Finally, they skipped the numbers entirely, and shouted out the contents of each order. My big bowl had been mislabeled 550, and for a while I had to argue with the customer who had the 550 ticket, until she realized she had ordered fried rice, not white rice.

Meanwhile the employees were just shrugging, giggling and smiling away. “You had the wrong number,” one said to me. “No, you had the wrong number on my order. Why?” She shrugged and smiled.

“That’s no answer, ” I said. “Do you have a system, or not?  Can’t you tell me what happened? I was inconvenienced. Part of what I’m paying for is service. Why did this happen?”

Another shrug. No acceptance of responsibility. No apology or anything remotely sounding like one.  At this point, a superannuated hippy who looked like she was ready to do a Joan Baez set intervened with a condescending, “They made a mistake. Mistakes happen.” Continue reading

Presenting Rationalization #36 C. “Donald’s Dodge,” And The Complete Up-To-Date List Of Rationalizations

But no, I guess you never did exactly say you were perfect...

But no, I guess you never did exactly say you were perfect

It is fitting, the night after Donald Trump demonstrated what  “making America great” would be under a President Trump by reducing the Presidential debates to the level of The Jerry Springer Show just by running for the office, to install an entry on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations list named for him.

36 C.  Donald’s Dodge, or “I never said I was perfect!” was inspired by Trump, as he employed it among the deflections, excuses and rationalizations in his epicly awful “apology” for his virtuoso display of vulgarity and misogyny preserved in an old video, and leaked to the Washington Post. It is a really vile rationalization, one of the worst on the list. It posits the theory that as long as someone never says or suggests that he is above a particular kind of misconduct, he shouldn’t be judged harshly for engaging in it. This logic requires a certain genius in unethical reasoning.

First, it argues that the application of integrity, an ethical value, to wrongdoing cleanses the wrongdoing. As long as one always beats one’s wife and never pretends to be above such brutality, it is less of an abuse of decency, and that as long as one’s misconduct doesn’t prove previous dishonesty, then the conduct is lass objectionable. In this Donald’ delusion has kinship with Rationalization #22, The Comparative Virtue Excuse, or “There are worse things.” Yes, I suppose showing oneself to be a boor and a misogynist is technically worse when you have represented to the world that you weren’t one, but pointing to that as a mitigating factor is an insult.

Second, it repeats the disingenuous assertion inherent in #19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” Continue reading

“How Can People Consider Voting For Candidates This Unethical?”: New York State Assembly Candidate Charles Barron (D) and Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis (R)

Barron (top); Ardis (bottom). Do your civic duty and vote: cyanide will be handed out when you leave...

Barron (top); Ardis (bottom). Do your civic duty and vote: cyanide will be handed out when you leave…

(“How Can People Consider Voting For Candidates This Unethical?” or HCPCVFCTU for short will flag the worst of the worst, the really awful politicians  whose lack of ethics should be a source of humiliation to all who support them.)

I have pledged to keep this category balanced between Republicans and Democrats, and since the first candidate featured was a Democrat and the utterly horrific candidate who came to may attention this morning also belonged to that party, I am featuring two politicians this morning to avoid the inevitable accusations that I take my orders from Glenn Beck and Fox News:

  • Charles Barron (D)  Barron is a New York City Councilman who is expected to coast to an easy victory after winning a Democratic primary for an open seat on the New York State legislature. He is an outspoken fan of Third World military dictators, Communist thugs and murderers, among them the late Libyan leader Muammar el-Quaddafi and former Cuban President Fidel Castro. “All my heroes were America’s enemies,” Barron proudly told the New York Observer in a recent interview. One of his favorite role models is Zimbabwe’s repressive President Robert Mugabe, whom he compares to Nelson Mandela. “I would love for him to come to Albany. I would love for him to come anywhere in the United States, really,”  Barron says. “I think he’s a shining example of an African leader on the African continent.”

Continue reading

Janay Palmer’s Ethics Fallacy Cornucopia


I suffer pangs of conscience as I do this to Janay Palmer, who has plenty of other pressing problems, but it you are going to put out a public statement on social media that threatens to melt the ethics alarms of millions, you can’t reasonably expect me to stand by and take it.

Palmer produced this on Instagram in response to the NFL’s bizarre do-over on her husband’s punishment, which combined with his team, the Baltimore Ravens, releasing him as persona non grata, effectively makes Ray Rice an ex-star running back for the foreseeable future:

I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it’s reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted options from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is a horrific [sic]. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!


  • Who is her “closest friend?” Ray Rice, her husband and sparring partner? If your best friend is prone to punch you silly in elevators, I think your relationship either has trust issues, or should have. Does she mean his career, which is what actually “died”? That’s telling, if so, and crassly. Was her best friend really Ray’s 8 million dollar a year pay check? Did that justify standing up for the right of rich, famous celebrities to knock their arm-candy around when they think nobody’s looking?
  • Competence check: like it or not, Janay is in the public eye, and what she has to say right now is likely to be read far and wide. How about having someone literate check out your screed before reminding us again what a cheat the public school system is?
  • Janay’s husband beats her unconscious, she lets him get away with it and sends the message to women trapped in abusive relationships that security and a ring is worth the occasional black eye, and her position is that Rice’s demise is the fault of the media and the public? Let’s go to the videotape, shall we?

Continue reading

Ryan Braun’s Unethical Apology

ryan-braun-2011Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers star who has just accepted MLB’s decision to suspend him without pay for the remainder of the 2013 season for violating baseball’s anti-drug policies, issued the kind of public statement that helps us understand why the athlete thought using banned substances to improve his performance was acceptable. It is the statement of someone’s whose ethical instincts are not merely underdeveloped, but malfunctioning on an epic scale.

Braun released this mea culpa in the wake of the announcement of his disgrace, which also pretty much ends the already faint chances of his team for a successful season:

“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. “This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it is has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country. Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed – all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.”

This is about what one would expect from a guy who avoided being busted for steroids by the skin of his teeth two years ago on a technicality, and reacted by not only playing the martyr, but also by impugning the character of the man who handled his incriminating urine sample. Let’s look at this non-apology apology’s various and nauseating features. As usual, my comments are in bold : Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Rep. Ron Paul

Warren G. Harding, the patron saint of "Nobody's perfect!" presidencies.

“I don’t think anybody in the world has been perfect on management, everybody that’s ever worked for them. So, yes…  it’s a flaw. But I think it’s a human flaw… I admit that I’m an imperfect person and didn’t monitor that as well.”

–GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, responding to ABC’s Jake Tapper’s question about whether his accountability for racially inflammatory statements made in his name in newsletters published by him 20 years ago raise legitimate doubts about his management abilities.

Anyone who’s read this blog much knows what I think of the “nobody’s perfect” excuse for misconduct. To be precise in this case:

1. Nobody said you weren’t human, Ron. Humanity is a rather low bar for a presidential candidate, don’t you think?

2. There is a lot of territory between “perfect” and “letting people write racist and homophobic content under your name in a for-profit newsletter.” For example, the rest of the Republican field is as far from perfect as one could imagine, yet none of them have done that.

3. People who fail to fulfill core management functions when they oversee a project are imperfect, flawed and human, and also called “inattentive and incompetent leaders.” Imperfect, flawed and human individuals can be good and effective Presidents of the United States. Inattentive and incompetent leaders, however, cannot.

Unethical Quote of the Week: Patrick Lott

Patrick Lott, hard working role model

“I have always given my best and tried to be a great role model. No one is perfect. Thanks for the memories.”

—-Patrick Lott, Assistant principal at Bernardsville Middle School in Somerville, New Jersey, in a cryptic Facebook post earlier this month that was explained, sort of, when he was arrested for allegedly using a hidden camera to videotape boys in the Immaculata High School showers for a period of nearly three years.

I say “allegedly” because people get mad at me when I don’t, and because he hasn’t been tried and convicted yet. On the other hand, videos of nude teenagers showering were found in his home. Maybe they flew in the window.

“Nobody’s perfect” is one of the great and infuriating rationalizations used by scoundrels and their apologists,  and goes hand in hand with all the other clichés designed to discourage people from making the kind of ethical judgments that keep societal standards sturdy, ethical, and clear. It is right up there with “It’s not the worst thing” and “Judge not, lest ye not be judged” as bumper sticker dodges that set my teeth on edge, but “Nobody’s perfect” may be the most outrageous of all….at least when employed by someone like Lott.

There is a pretty big chasm between “perfect” and taking secret videos of naked kids when you are a trusted school administrator. This guy couldn’t see “perfect” with the Hubble telescope. And he says he’s always given his best—-this was his best? I shudder to think about what Lott would have done if he wasn’t trying so hard. He tried to be a great role model? For who…Penn State assistant coaches?

Lott’s statement is an outrageous plea for sympathy for all the wrong reasons. His best would have been to seek help of find another line of work when he realized he couldn’t control his desire to watch naked young boys. Trying to be a great role model begins with not breaking the law. And  one who behaves outrageously should not insult the rest of humanity by trying to suggest that we’re really not so different. Oh yes we are.

This is Lott’s disgrace, Lott’s shame, and Lott’s crime. The very least he should be able to do is accept responsibility, and not try to minimize his misconduct or suggest that it’s not all that different from overeating or going 45 in a 35 mph zone.