Messy Case, Messy Issues, Messy Commentary: The Trials of Curtis Flowers

The basic facts of the Curtis Flowers murder case are these: On the morning of July 16, 1996, someone walked into a furniture store in downtown Winona, Mississippi, and shot four employees in the head. Police charged  Curtis Flowers with all four murders. After 22 years of trials, mistrials and reversals, Flowers has faced juries six times for the same crime. He has been on death row since the first conviction, and the most recent one is being appealed. Many believe he is innocent.

I think it can be stipulated that this has been a badly botched prosecution, whether Flowers is innocent or not. There is no limit on how many times someone can be tried for the same crime, as long as the trials end in mistrials or convictions. The Flowers case suggests that we need a limit. If the system can’t get a conviction properly after a reasonable number of attempts—I don’t know what a reasonable number is, but I am confident that it is less than six—then the accused should go free. So far, Flowers has been in prison for over two decades without being convicted. That’s wrong.

It would be nice and reassuring if a knee-jerk liberal columnist like the New York Times’ David Leonhardt, whose background is in journalism and mathematics, not law, could inform the public about an outrageous case like this without mucking it up with ideological leaps of logic, unwarranted conclusions and progressive talking points. He can’t help himself, though.

Pity.

For his entire op-ed, he relies on this podcast about the case. A podcast about a legal case is like a documentary: it has a point of view baked into it. I admire the podcast, but it isn’t evidence. It isn’t the trial transcripts, or the decisions overturning the three convictions that were found to be flawed. Never mind: the Times writer sees “no good reason to believe that Curtis Flowers is guilty.” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/9/2018: Plan O, Bad Punditry, Racist Trash Talk, And Disrespecting a 101 Year Old Star

Good morning, World!

1 Golden Globes hangover I. Following up on a point made in yesterday’s Golden Globes post, presenter Natalie Portman’s much-praised but unfair innuendo that the directors nominated in the “best director” category were there because of gender bias rather than the quality of their work was an example of shooting the bystander rather than the villain. The fact that women don’t get the opportunities to direct major films that men do–as a result of many factors, none of which relate to the relative directing abilities of the two pools–is not the fault of the male directors who get the jobs, nor does the fact of discrimination make the films that women do get to direct inherently better and more award-worthy than they are.

That said, the bias against female directors is real, and dumb. Here is an excellent article about it.

2. A Nation of Silly People. I warned that electing Donald Trump as President would eventually turn us into a Nation of Assholes, and that has come to pass with unexpected rapidity. I did not see the development resulting in the US becoming a nation of silly people, though that process was well underway already. The rush to anoint Oprah Winfrey as the savior of the Republic based on a speech at an entertainment awards show, however, is new evidence of the damage done to the nation’s values by the Trump trauma. Oprah is a cult, pop culture figure; a democracy deteriorating into a society where celebrities and cult leaders become political leaders was one of the fears expressed by our Founders. For the Left to embrace Oprah is stunning hypocrisy, after more than a year of (correctly) accusing Republicans of nominating a Presidential candidate with none of the qualifications traditionally required to be taken seriously as a contender for the office. Many unhealthy trends of long standing pointed to this eventuality,it is true: celebrity obsession, poor civic education, ignorance of history, and new age gibberish, plus the stunning absence of legitimate leaders in both political parties. Having followed O for a long time, since her days in Baltimore as a rising life-style reporter, I recognize a lot of warning signs regarding her ethical instincts, such as her addiction to talking about “personal truths,” which is just a sneaky way of endorsing “alternate facts,” her troubling anti-vaxx statements, her promotion of fake experts like Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil, her race-baiting, and more. There will be plenty of time to elaborate on these if and when her candidacy becomes more than a twinkle in E!’s eye. I doubt that we’ll get there, but as President Trump proved, you never know in the United States of America.

3. A “Nah, there’s no media bias against Trump” note: During the Golden Globes broadcast, NBC, that paragon of journalism integrity, tweeted this:

4. Fake news in irresponsible punditry.  I have been meaning to write about this op-ed by New York Times “contributing opinion writer” Kashana Cauley for more than a week now, and the task has seemed so odious that I have avoided it. It is as bad an op-ed as I have ever seen, full of false assertions, misrepresentations , rationalizations and racial hate. I wonder when the New York Times editors reached the point where they would regard such trash as fit to be published under its banner. Rather than dissect the ugly thing as I originally intended, I’ll let you do the work, with me just pointing out some, but far from all, of the features that make this such unethical op-ed page content. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/2/2018: Cheaters, Stoners And Head Explosions

good morning

(i lived in e e cummings’ old dorm room as a college freshman. never got him at all, but it would be great not to have to worry about the shift key)

1 Three wrongs don’t make a right. They track baseball’s Hall of Fame votes as they come in now, using those ballots that the baseball writers make public (not all of them do). It looks like neither Barry Bonds, nor Roger Clemens, the all-time “greats”—cheaters cannot be fairly considered great—who sullied the game and its records by using performance enhancing drugs, are not gaining support to the extent than many predicted, and will fall short again.

Good. That makes six years down and only four more to go before the two are no longer eligible for this method of entering Cooperstown. Not so good is the development that the newer and younger voters tend to support Barry and the Rocket while the older sportswriters they replace as voters did not. Why is this? Well, the young Turks don’t see anything wrong with illegal drugs, for one thing: they probably used–use?— them themselves. Next, they have been hearing the routine rationalizations and flawed arguments defending Bonds for 20 years, which can rot one’s brain—I know they have nearly rotted mine, and I know they are worthless. Mostly, I think, each succeeding American generation has less ethical literacy and competence than the one before. The field isn’t taught in grade school, is barely mentioned in the media, and unlike the good ol’ days of “The Lone Ranger,” “Father Knows Best”  and “The Defenders,” popular culture undermines an ethical culture more than it nurtures one.

There is also a new bad argument for letting in Bonds and Clemens, which would then open the floodgates for arguably worse baseball deplorables like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez—who knows? Maybe even Pete Rose. That line of reasoning  is that since the Baseball Commissioner, Bud Selig, who averted his gaze while the steroid epidemic was infecting every team and the evidence was undeniable, was admitted to the Hall last year by his complicit cronies, the cheating players he enabled should be forgiven too.

That this is increasingly being cited a justification by the younger writers tells us that mothers aren’t teaching their kids that two wrongs don’t make a right any more.

2.Three wrongs don’t make a right, Part II. In related news, California went all-pot-head at midnight New Years Eve. My conviction that legalizing marijuana is an abdication of government’s responsibility to protect society, a leap down a deadly slippery slope, and the product of greed and cowardice hasn’t abated one iota, but I’m happy to have a large-scale experiment to prove me wrong—or right. Now we can expect a wave of stoners as well as illegal immigrants into the Golden State—ah, what a paradise it will be! This creeping crud in U.S. culture is also in part the result of a terrible example of “two wrongs make a right” fallacy—I’m sure you have either heard it or—yecchh—used it yourself. “Alcohol and tobacco are worse than marijuana, and they are legal!”

Yes, about that: guess what is on the rise and killing more people? From the New York Times a few days ago:

[A]lcohol overuse remains a persistent public health problem and is responsible for more deaths, as many as 88,000 per year. … [T]here has been about a 50 percent uptick in emergency room visits related to heavy drinking. After declining for three decades, deaths from cirrhosis, often linked to alcohol consumption, have been on the rise since 2006….[B]inge drinking — often defined as five per day for men and four per day for women — is on the rise among women, older Americans and minorities. Behind those figures there’s the personal toll — measured in relationships strained or broken, career goals not met and the many nights that college students can’t remember.

3. Gee, thanks, David, I love starting a new year with my brains on the ceiling...David Leonhardt, one of the many Democratic operatives with press credentials (Instapundit calls them)  writing for New York Times, exploded my head with his New Years column, “7 Wishes for 2018.” His wishes 1, 2, 6 and 7 each would have done the trick by themselves, but collectively it was Krakatoa all over again.

Here are David’s four wishes: Continue reading

Paul Krugman, The Anti-Haidt

I don’t bother with New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman here, for the most part. He constantly discredits himself by intentionally misleading his gullible readers, hiding the ball, engaging in deceit as an advocacy tool, over-stating and hyping and generally bolstering his progressive opinions with a nauseating combination of intellectual dishonesty, hypocrisy and condescension. I have no patience with such columnists, or any publication that inflicts them on its readers.

A parallel in the sportswriting field is the much lionized Thomas Boswell, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who writes for the Washington Post. Boswell has written several books, and is regarded by many as a deep thinker about baseball. (My wife and I once were friends with a couple that socialized with the Boswells, and invited us to join the four of them for an evening. I told them that I could not stomach being in the same room with the guy.)  Many years ago, Boswell was writing about the individual talents of the Boston Red Sox, a topic I know at least as much about as he does. In assessing then-Sox catcher Jason Varitek, Boswell noted that “Tek” led the league in passed balls, leaving the impression that this demonstrated a serious flaw in his catching abilities. But I knew, and more importantly Boswell knew, that the Red Sox  had a regular rotation starting pitcher, Tim Wakefield, who was a knuckleballer, and was the only starting pitcher in the league who threw that confounding pitch.  If a catcher regularly catches a knuckleball pitcher, he leads the league in passed balls, usually by a large margin. Always. It has nothing to do with how good a catcher he is, and Varitek was a very good catcher. Yet Boswell deliberately cited the statistic without explaining to his readers what it meant in Vartitek’s case. He did this because he was trying to argue that Boston had defensive problems. This is unethical advocacy, and unethical journalism.

After that, I only read Boswell’s columns to document his dishonesty. I was never disappointed. He’s a cheat, relying on the ignorance of his audience to deceive them.

Paul Krugman is like that. After I posted the quote from Jonathan Haidt’s speech in which the professor perfectly described the ideology-driven betrayal of the culture and our democracy by institutions of higher education, I recalled a recent Krugman piece in the Times that I had instantly dismissed as classic deceit. One passage was literally the anti-matter version of Haidt’s hard truth regarding the rot in our colleges, a deliberate lie that denied the existence of the problem in order to further Krugman’s perpetual attack on Republicans and conservatives.

Behold: Continue reading

A Popeye And An Unethical Quote Of The Month For The Times’ Lindy West

Popeye’s Quote:

“That’s all I can stands, cuz I can’t stands no more!”

Lindy’s Quote:

“[Megyn] Kelly happily trafficked in racist tropes for profit…asking repeatedly whether the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown were necessarily related to race..

Nope. I can’t let this pass, and will never let this pass again. The context doesn’t matter: Lindy West’s statement above is a lie, and deliberately perpetuate a falsehood to mislead Times readers, or perhaps to encourage them to mislead others. The New York Times editors should not allow lies the paper’s pages, not in news stories, and not from pundits. West can, if she chooses, state the factually untenable opinion that she believes the deaths of Garner and Brown were based on race. She cannot state that the position that their deaths were not based on race is a “racist trope,” which requires facts and evidence showing that either or both deaths were race-related.

There is no such evidence in either case. None, Not a shred, not an iota. Lindy West is calling Megyn Kelly a racist based on an assumption she holds because it is cant within her circles despite no evidence whatsoever. That is unethical punditry, and no responsible newspaper should allow such falsity in print. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/18/2017

1. After I criticized Prof. Glenn Reynolds for  his “tit for tat” reaction to the conservatives who disrupted the Central Park production of “Julius Caesar,” I noticed that he had posted a more moderate, ethical and responsible reaction to the same event, writing,

“I’d rather live in a world where this sort of thing wasn’t done at all. But it’s not clear that we’re better off living in a world where it’s done all the time, but only by lefties.”

Muuuch better, professor. Thank-you.

2.

This photo of a “teacher of the Year” being ostentatiously gay in a White House photo with the President was originally posted at the Huffington Post with the headline, “Gay Teacher Photobombs Trump With Fan.” Fake news, but never mind: the photo went viral with the teacher, Nikos Giannopoulos, being hailed for making a disrespectful gesture of defiance, since the LGBT community is committed to the narrative that the President is anti-gay. (He isn’t, but facts and the narratives of “the resistance” are not correlated.)

This account was unfair to both Giannopoulos and the President. I was ready to make him an Ethics Dunce—when you are a guest, you don’t set out to embarrass your host, President or not—until I checked the story. In an NPR interview, the teacher was asked about the President’s reaction to the fan, and replied,

In other words, both the teacher and Trump behaved impeccably, and the President displayed no hostility to a gay pride salute at all. Under no circumstances, however, can anything this President does or says be presented in a positive light. He’ll never be impeached that way. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces In Arms: Gloria Steinem And The New York Times Demonstrate How “The Star Syndrome” Works

Gloria 2017 (right), with her ghostwriter, Gloria 2007 ( left)

Last week, Gloria Steinem authored an op-ed in The New York Times headlined, “Women Have Chick-Flicks. What About Men?”.

It was standard issue male-bashing; biased and badly researched junk, but more interestingly, at least half of it was ten years old, substantially lifted from a piece Steinem wrote for the Women’s Media Center website in 2007. This kind of lazy self-plagiarism is a major ethical breach that respectable publications do not suffer gladly, at least when the miscreant isn’t a feminist icon that their editors worship, or at least feel has earned immunity from those annoying ethical principles lesser mortals have to deal with.

As an aside, it really is a silly op-ed, not worthy of publication the first time, much less plagiarizing now. Some excerpts:

I was on a flight from New York to Seattle when a long delay on the tarmac prompted the airline to offer us a free movie. As the flight attendant read the choices aloud, a young man across the aisle said, “I don’t watch chick flicks!” I knew what he meant, and so did the woman sitting next to me. A “chick flick” is one that has more dialogue than car chases, more relationships than special effects, and whose suspense comes more from how people live than from how they get killed.

Translation: “Men are morons, women are sophisticates.” No generalizations or stereotypes there…

Think about it: If “Anna Karenina” had been by Leah Tolstoy, or “The Scarlet Letter” by Nancy Hawthorne or “A Doll’s House” by Henrietta Ibsen — if “The Invisible Man” had been “The Invisible Woman” — would they have been hailed as classics? Suppose Shakespeare had really been the Dark Lady who some people still think he/she was. I bet most of her plays and all of her sonnets would have been dismissed as ye olde Elizabethan chick lit and buried until they were resurrected by stubborn feminist scholars of today.

Two words: Prove it. Since  very few  great female authors were writing similarly brilliant literature in those periods, Steinem’s bet is rigged. Where are those buried woman-authored masterpieces that stand up as the equals of “King Lear” and  “War and Peace”? I’ll make another bet: I bet if those works had been written by women, we’d know it, and they would be just as admired and immortal as the works authored by men. Has Gloria heard of Wuthering Heights? Jane Eyre? Frankenstein? Pride and Prejudice? Has she heard of Jane Austen?

But I digress.

The original article published referred to that airplane flight as taken by Steinem  “recently.” That word was taken out after Gloria’s cheat was discovered, and this “Editor’s Note” was added: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Times Op-Ed Columnist Frank Bruni

Mazel tov, ass.

Mazel tov, ass.

Is this column signature significance? Is it possible that someone could write something like this and not be an utter jerk?

I was considering writing a post about Scott Walker’s withdrawal from the GOP race for the Presidential nomination.  He realized he wasn’t going to win, and maybe even that he was in over his head, so he got out. Bravo. For proud people, quitting is an act of courage. It was the right thing to do, in contrast with the increasingly loathsome Mike Huckabee, who says that he and his theocratic, anarchistic view of government are in the race til the end. Great. Asked if he believed it was reasonable to have elected officials defying the Supreme Court, Huckabee answered, “If the Court is wrong!”

Anyone who can’t figure out what’s the matter with that answer should not allowed outside without a leash, much less allowed to vote, and this dolt is running for President.

But back to Gov. Walker. I knew he was toast the first time he spoke in the first debate. This is my business, one of them anyway. I have to measure presence, because leaders, like actors, have to have it. Walker disappeared on screen. He has slack expressions and a flat voice; he doesn’t project energy or authority. You can’t be a leader if you don’t seem like a leader. Before George Washington was President and before he or anyone else know what a President of the U.S. was, there was near unanimity that whatever it was, George looked like it.

Not Scott.

A lot of this is cosmetic and technique: give me two hours with a Scott Walker and I guarantee he will be 100% better on screen.  After the first national impression is made, though, it’s too late for me or anyone else. Say what you want about the other ten candidates and even the four outcasts, they have presence. (Well, not Dr. Carson, but he came closer than Walker.) Bruni, being ignorant and biased, thinks the reason Walker sunk was because he’s stupid.

This is the general attitude of biased partyists like Bruni: conservatives and Republicans are stupid, or they are evil. Bernie Sanders can toss out economic gibberish for weeks, and the Brunis of the world—the Times has about ten of them–won’t challenge the depth of his brain pan; Hillary Clinton can say that she had no idea that using a private server for communications raised security issues for the Secretary of State, which is so stupid and ignorant that it makes my toes hurt, and never have her IQ doubted. A Scott Walker, however, is presumed stupid, because, all conservatives must be….unless they are evil. Let’s see, the conventional wisdom on the Presidential candidates from the Republican side since 1952: Continue reading