Ethics Survey: Ann Althouse’s “Big Question” [Corrected]

Reflecting on one of the mini-essays (by essayist/novelist Natasha Staggin) today’s obnoxious Times feature, “Future Cringe/One day we’ll look back on this moment and wonder: What were we thinking?,”  my favorite quirky blogger, Ann Althouse writes,

I love the big question, what are we doing now that we are going to be embarrassed/ashamed of in the future? I noticed this question when I was a child and heard things said about people in the past, as if those people were benighted and ridiculous. We are those people to people somewhere out there in the future. How can I avoid being looked at by them the way people today are looking at the people of the past?

One answer is to be more charitable to the people of the past. Realize that some day you’ll be in their position, and don’t you want those future people to be charitable toward you? Embarrassment is over-worried about. Maybe those people in the future are looking back at us and laughing about how prudish and uptight we were to think of them feeling embarrassed about us. That is, one day we’ll look back and be embarrassed that we were embarrassed.

Typical Ann: raising what she calls a “big question,” and almost immediately suggesting it isn’t so big after all, writing, “Embarrassment is over-worried about,” which is also an interesting sentence coming from a writer who is so often a language pedant.

As an ethicist who believes that human understanding of what is right and wrong constantly evolves and usually improves, my initial reaction to Ann’s question is, “What do you mean we?” I’ve been around a while, and I can honestly say that I’m not “embarrassed” by anything I once believed in, or any major reaction to the data life gave me. Individual deeds, words and moments, sure. I have plenty of past moments I wince to think about.

Stagg was talking about the Wuhan virus freak-out, so don’t look my way. I didn’t freak out, and I did my best to try to keep others from doing so, failing miserably. However, the pandemic is the kind of event one’s response should only be embarrassed about if one knew, or should have known, that one’s response was dishonest, cowardly, or destructive, or if one had a genuine choice and foolishly took the wrong one. The pandemic was a unique challenge, and we were, as Marty Baron ( Liev Schreiber) says in “Spotlight” when a Boston Globe staffer is admitting that he could have blown the whistle on the Catholic Diocese predator priest scandal sooner, just “stumbling around in the dark.”

Yes, I think Dr. Fauci should be embarrassed. Andrew Cuomo should be embarrassed. The New York Times should be embarrassed, and the health “experts” who endorsed the mass George Floyd demonstrations as an exception to their warnings about large gatherings should hide their heads under bags. But for the most part, I think the pandemic is a poor example for Ann’s question. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce (And Preening Jerk): Actor Alan Cumming


Alan Cumming, whose ticket to stardom was punched by acquiring his initial acclaim reprising a role that was originated by a superior performer (Joel Grey, the first “MC” of “Cabaret”) gladly accepted an OBE, the British award bestowed on the Scottish performer in 2009 by the late Queen Elizabeth II as part of her annual birthday honors list. Cumming was allegedly honored for his work as an actor as well as his campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights: the Crown was trying to pander to the LGBTQ crowd at the time. There is no way Cummings’ acting career warranted the honor itself. It was the equivalent of the Academy of Motion Picture Science giving a Lifetime Achievement Award to Demi Lovato.

Cumming happily accepted the honor and the prestige and publicity that go with it. Now, 11-years later, whatever momentum the Order bestowed on him has waned, as has Cumming’s career. ( His short-lived CBS series “Instinct,” where he played, badly, an academic who assists the NYPD solve crimes, was unwatchable.) And thus it is that he decided he could once again get headlines and stir social media controversy by marking his 58th birthday by announcing on Instagram,

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Institutional Ethics Dunce: The U.S. Congress

The House of Representatives passed legislation last week ordering the Capitol’s bust of Roger Taney, the Supreme Court Chief Justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision, to Hell, or someplace. It will be replaced by a new bust of Thurgood Marshall, the first black judge to serve on Court.

Of course it will. This naked political grandstanding wouldn’t be complete without installing a black judge’s image as a rebuke to the evil white judge. The legislation now heads to President Biden’s desk to be signed, probably followed by a victory jig.

The pandering legislation says that Taney’s bust is “unsuitable for the honor of display to the many visitors to the Capitol.” It currently sits at the entrance of the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol where the Supreme Court met from 1810 to 1860. Taney led the court from 1836 to 1864.

“While the removal of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s bust from the Capitol does not relieve the Congress of the historical wrongs it committed to protect the institution of slavery, it expresses Congress’s recognition of one of the most notorious wrongs to have ever taken place in one of its rooms, that of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s Dred Scott v. Sandford decision,” the legislation says. I wonder how many of the members who voted for the legislation know anything about Taney or have ever engaged in an objective reading of his opinion. My guess: not many. Maybe none.

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An Abject Grovel That Explains So Much

Ethics Alarms has frequently discussed the ethical and professional deterioration of the historian profession, as it, like so many other professions and institutions, has given up integrity for ideology and political agendas. History itself is under attack as a result, with historical censorship and airbrushing increasingly being favored over objective and balanced examination that does not distort past figures and events by the viewing them through the lens of “presentism.”

In an essay on the website of the American Historical Association, the organization’s president, James Sweet, offered constructive criticism of the trend, writing in part,

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Comment Of The Day: “More On Nichelle Nichols: Regarding Althouse’s Misguided Snark”

This Comment of the Day by Tom P (who has been on a roll of late) is one of those “in case you missed it…” COTDs. Here he is on the ever-green topic of attacks on past conduct of others by those residing in the present, as raised in by the post, “More On Nichelle Nichols: Regarding Althouse’s Misguided Snark”…in case you missed it:


The thing about the past is that it is past. The past serves only two purposes. One role is to bring pleasure in the present as you remember past enjoyable episodes of your life. The second is as a guide toward future action. No matter how hard you try, the past cannot be changed or undone. Althouse’s  protestations serve no purpose. Slavery has been abolished for a few years now and all slaves and slaveholders are dead. The original producers of Star Trek are dead or no longer in business. There are no living aggrieved parties nor remedies available to them if they were alive.

More On Nichelle Nichols: Regarding Althouse’s Misguided Snark

In the introduction to this post, Ethics Alarms mentioned the passing of “Star Trek” icon Nichelle Nichols, whose obituaries prominently noted her participation in TV’s first inter-racial kiss. I wrote in part,

“She was more model than actress, and as her role developed, much to her disappointment, the part of “Uhura” became little more than set dressing. But she played one of the first  black female characters on TV to have a non-subservient role, indeed Uhura was fourth in the “Enterprise” chain of command…. In her autobiography, Nichols wrote that Martin Luther King told her that she was advancing civil rights objectives, and convinced her not to quit when William Shatner was getting too obnoxious” …

But Ann Althouse complained on her blog yesterday,

They got away with putting a beautiful woman in a minidress in the background of as many shots as possible, but what did she do other than provide eye candy for the little boys and little men who watched? She was the secretary, seated at the switchboard, receiving calls.

Come on. The sexual politics was ridiculous, and blackness was the device to make it seem progressive, or at least to shut up the critics.

And I mean no disrespect to Ms. Nichols or to any other black actor who accepted a role constrained by stereotypes. There should have been more offers. There should have been more roles.

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Ethics Dunce: University of Illinois Chicago John Marshall Law School


You knew I couldn’t let this one pass.

The UIC John Marshall Law School is officially changing its name to the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law. The decision, a capitulation to the unethical mentality of the cancel culture and historical air-brushing strategy embraced by the political Left, comes after months of review by a task force. The resulting report noted, “that despite Chief Justice Marshall’s legacy as one of the nation’s most significant U.S. Supreme Court justices, the newly discovered research regarding his role as a slave trader, slave owner of hundreds of slaves, pro-slavery jurisprudence, and racist views render him a highly inappropriate namesake for the Law School.”

The most influential and important jurist in U.S, history is a highly inappropriate namesake for a law school. Got it.

John Marshall was the fourth chief justice of the Supreme Court, (1801 – 1835), and the only essential one. He authored the majority opinion in Marbury v. Madison (1803) that established judicial review, giving the Court power to declare legislative acts and executive actions unconstitutional. Without Marshall, the Constitution wouldn’t work. He took a bold and controversial step to ensure that basic rights and principles would not be wiped out by a rogue Congress or a dictatorial President. How many landmark SCOTUS decisions does the nation owe to Marshall as a result? How different would our lives be without his deft adjustment to the balance of the Branches? Would the United States of America even exist at all?

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Observations On The U.S. Supreme Court “Final Four” For “Greatest Justice Ever”

The indispensible and, as far as I can discern, scrupulously non-partisan and objective Supreme Court analysis site SCOTUSBLOG, has, in a rare display of frivolousness, created a “bracket” quest for its readers to decide on the “the greatest Supreme Court justice” of all time.

The contest is now down to the “Final Four,” as a parody of the NCAA tournament that I somehow manage to miss every years because of my sock drawer emergencies. Writes James Rosomer:

This tenacious tetrad of justices (just enough to grant cert!) is an apt representation of 220 years of American jurisprudence. In their ideologies, their sensibilities and their historical eras, these four semifinalists are diverse in many ways – though the lack of racial and gender diversity also stands out as a sad reflection of the court’s history.

What matters is the intellectual diversity on the Court, not color or genes, but even SCOTUSBLOG apparently feels the need to pander to the woke mob. I’ll forgive Rosomer, and the readers who voted in the competition have mostly shown an admirable lack of ideological bias and substantial historical perspective. “A liberal icon, a conservative icon, an early 19th-century pioneer, an early 20th-century luminary” is how the blog correctly describes the finalists.

My favorite Supreme Court Justice was among the 16 entered, but didn’t make it to the finals. No, not John Marshall: my favorite is Hugo Black. That the best writer and the keenest legal mind of all (in my opinion) would lose to Earl Warren demonstrates the unavoidable vagaries of the term “greatest.” Is that intended to mean most important? Marshall has to win in that category. Most influential? Warren, perhaps, but that was as an administrator and leader, not as a judge.

Black was a First Amendment absolutist, and we could use his eloquence now. The black mark against Black is that he wrote the court’s majority opinion in Korematsu v. United States, which upheld Roosevelt’s decision to intern Japanese Americans during World War II. Black believed the judiciary should stay in its lane, and thus believed that the Court should not interfere with  legislative and executive actions during wartime. It is fair to say that everyone was wrong in the decision to take away the rights of Japanese Americans. Calling Black a racist, however is unsupportable. He joined the majority in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), which invalidated the judicial enforcement of racially restrictive covenants.He joined the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education (1954)decision that struck down segregation in public schools.

Black, however, staunchly opposed bending the law and law enforcement to accommodate civil rights activism. He opposed the Warren Court’s penchant for  reversing convictions of sit-in protesters, saying In 1968,, “Unfortunately there are some who think that Negroes should have special privileges under the law.” Unfortunately, there are more who think that now.

Black argued that waiving legal consequences for laws broken for  “good causes” could eventually lead to support for evil causes later. Black said he was “vigorously opposed to efforts to extend the First Amendment’s freedom of speech” to conduct. Ah, well, I’m a Red Sox fan; I’m used to losing.

Of the remaining four, I would think Marshall is the easy choice.

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Ethics Quote Of The Month: New York Times Columnist Ross Douthat


“It was mildly creepy to hear that the custodians of Theodor Geisel’s estate, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, consulted with a ‘panel of experts’ and decided to cease publishing six Seuss titles because they ‘portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.’ But it was much creepier that so few people notionally in the free-expression business, so few liberal journalists and critics, seemed troubled by the move.”

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, one of the paper’s three token conservatives (or perhaps “non-knee-jerk Democrats” is more accurate), in his column, “Do Liberals Care if Books Disappear?”

The question is a rhetorical one. Douthat knows the answer, and so do regular Ethics Alarms readers: “Only if the books that disappear are those they agree with.” Though the column focuses on the Dr. Seuss metaphorical book-burning, Douthat properly interprets what it signifies. Of course, he is appropriately late to the party, for it was obvious well before “If I Ran the Zoo” was under attack that the totalitarian-tending Democrats and their progressive supporters and allies were in favor of “good” censorship. Never mind—Americans rushed to their mailboxes to vote an anti-free speech regime into power anyway.

Better late than never for Ross, I guess. Here are some highlights (but read his whole piece):

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Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! You’re Cancelled, You Racist.

Suess birthday

Today is Dr. Theodore Geisel’s birthday. Better known to the world as Dr. Seuss, the author and illustrator of such classic children’s books as “The Cat in the Hat,” “Horton Hears A Who,” and my personal favorite, “Fox in Socks” because it drives my wife crazy, was born this day in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1904. Geisel, who used his middle name and his mother’s maiden name as his nom de plume, wrote 48 books (even some for adults). His work has now sold over 200 million copies and been translated into multiple languages. His style of verse and illustrating have been imitated and parodied countless times. Jesse Jackson even read “Green Eggs and Ham” on Saturday Night Live.

Nobody ever thought of Dr. Seuss books as “racist” until recent fads, events , cancel culture and The Great Stupid washed over the land. Well, OK, not “nobody.” Ethics Alarms had a post about the Seuss Museum in Springfield cutting a piece out of a Dr. Seuss mural because three prominent children’s authors who had been invited to attend the Children’s Literature Festival at the Museum threatened to boycott the event on the theory that the mural, painted to replicate a scene from Dr. Seuss’s first book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,”  was, they claimed, offensive. It had, said one of the grandstanding hysterics, a “jarring image” of a man with slanted eyes and a coolie’s hat using chopsticks to eat rice, because, apparently, Chinese people never wore such hats, don’t use chopsticks and hate rice. I wrote, while awarding the museum an Ethics Dunce designation (I’m thinking about adding a “Weenie of the Week”…what do you think?):

There is nothing racially jarring about Geisel’s painting of a “Chinaman” except to someone already looking for offense. Dr. Seuss’ drawings can be fairly termed cartoons. The definition of a cartoon is “a simple drawing showing the features of its subjects in a humorously exaggerated way.”  What are these juvenile children book authors asserting…that all cartoons are racially insensitive? That only cartoon of non-whites are offensive?…Normal Americans, meanwhile, understand the cartoon art form, recognize that features are exaggerated, and thus do not take drawings like those by Dr. Seuss (or Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons) as literal or malicious.

Well, silly me. I thought this was just a one-off moment of woke insanity: I have since learned that the Woke never sleep. In the post, I referenced “The Simpsons” and the fact that nobody had called for the elimination of Apu. Apu has since been cancelled as “racially insensitive.” The show also decreed that white voice actors can no longer portray black characters, so Dr. Hibbard has a new sound. Presumably “The Simpsons” will eventually seek a low IQ hick to voice “Cletis the Slack-Jawed Yokel” and a socially awkward MIT PhD. to do the voice of Prof. Frink.

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