Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/5/ 2019: An Intersex Revolutionary War Hero! An Unethical Feminist Trailblazer!

Good Morning!

Well, it was nice while it lasted. Thanks to prurient interest in a minor “Naked Teacher Principal” post, traffic on Ethics Alarms this week resembled those heady days of 2016, before ultra-Trump polarization, liberal commenter cowardice and Facebook’s ban took over. Incidentally, despite many thousand of “clicks,” the post in question didn’t get a single comment from the first-time visitors, meaning that said clicks were meaningless and useless.

1. About “Ma” Fergusen. As promised yesterday in my note about “The Highwaymen”, here is the “Ma” Fergusen saga, which is an ethics feast, though not a tasty one. (Source: Texas Politics)

Miriam Amanda Wallace (“Ma”) Ferguson (1875-1961), was the first woman governor of Texas. She served as the first lady of Texas during the gubernatorial terms of her husband James Edward Ferguson,  who was impeached during his second administration for extensive corruption. When James  failed to get his name on the ballot in 1924, Miriam entered the race for the Texas governorship, promising that if elected she would essentially be guided by her husband and that Texas thus would gain “two governors for the price of one.” She defeated the Republican nominee, George C. Butte, and was inaugurated fifteen days after Wyoming’s Nellie Ross, Miriam Ferguson became the second woman governor in United States history. Thus “Ma” helped set the precedent for future examples of wives being elected (irresponsibly) to offices they were not qualified for as substitutes for their husbands. “Ma” wasn’t the feminist pioneer she has sometimes been represented as. She was the opposite–you know, like Hillary Clinton.

Ma Ferguson (the “Ma” comes from her initials) pardoned an average of 100 convicts a month, and there was considerable evidence that she and her puppeteer husband  were taking  bribes of land and cash payments. The Fergusons also appear to have leveraged highway commission  road contracts into  lucrative kickbacks. Though an attempt to impeach Ma failed, these controversies allowed Attorney General Daniel James Moody to defeat her for renomination in 1926 and win the governorship. She (that is,  puppetmaster Pa) was back in  office in 1932, as she won the governorship again on the wave of discontent over the Great Depression.

The portrayal of “Ma” as a strong, independent executive in “The Highwaymen” would have to be judged misleading.

2. Speaking of women, sort of...An intersex  hero and role model may have emerged through the dim fog of history. Scientific researchers at Georgia Southern University claim that after years of study, their examination of skeletal remains of Revolutionary War hero, General Casimir Pulaski, ‘the Father of the American Cavalry’ has revealed that he  was biologically female.

Imagine if these had been George Washington’s remains… Continue reading

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/6/2019: Snowflakes, Catnip, Coups And Fake Bills

Good Morning!

[Here’s a Warm-Up warm-up that has nothing to do with ethics. In “Ben-Hur,” which I watched again last week, Charlton Heston’s character is know by three completely different names. One, of course, is Judah Ben-Hur. What are the other two?]

1. Virtue signaling and pandering are both inadequate to describe this. If only it were a joke—but it appears to be proof of institutional  brain rot.  The British army is reaching out to “selfie addicts,” “snowflakes,” “me me me millennials”—remember, I’m not making this up!—“class clowns”, “binge gamers”,and  “phone zombies”  celebrating the alleged virtues these juvenile behaviors demonstrate, such as self-belief, spirit, drive, focus, compassion and confidence. Here are two examples of the new posters:

Continue reading

Comment Of The Day (1): The Transgender Secret: Was I Right Then, Or Am I Right Now?

Many, many excellent comments followed this post. The issue, covered here before but long ago, was when a transgender individual is ethically obligated to reveal that fact to a romantic target, or partner. The Ethics Alarms poll on the question reached these results:

Here is the first of two Comments of the Day from The Transgender Secret: Was I Right Then, Or Am I Right Now?; this one is by Rich in CT.

I voted “before having sex” and/or “when the relationship becomes serious”; as these were the earliest stages on the list. I also included “when marriage becomes a possibility” as the latest possible time to reveal. (I did not include “first kiss”, as this is too vague a time period)

My take would be as soon as practical (including at soon as the overt risk of a violent reaction is ruled out). The current consensus is that gender and orientation are spectrums, not binary absolutes. Within this logic, we have a duty to understand and respect our romantic partner’s place on the spectrum. One (of ant orientation) might be exclusively attracted to the extreme end of the female gender spectrum, for instance. This might preclude attraction someone with a surgically transitioned body. Since gender and orientation are considered persistent traits, it is not necessarily bias alone that dictates this exclusive attraction.

One must also consider cultural values of a partner. Any relationship I’ve been in, I’ve made known early on that kids (naturally conceived) are a long term goal of mine. On this basis alone, I might decline to pursue any women with known infertility. Were such detail withheld, I would feel extremely hurt and betrayed. Continue reading

The Transgender Secret: Was I Right Then, Or Am I Right Now?

I recently wrote here that I have been pleasantly surprised when looking back on old posts to find that I am almost always in agreement with them. Naturally, I have immmediately been confronted with an issue where I now question Past Jack’s verdict.

Ebony has a “confession’ article—it may be fake, but the issue isn’t—by a trans woman who writes in part regarding her husband,

We were months into dating and contemplating sex before it ever occurred to me that Carlos might need to know… It was wrong, but I chose to keep the secret rather than risk losing him. Now, four years later, Carlos and I are happy and madly in love! It has been a roller coaster, but we couldn’t be happier. But it’s this happiness that is causing me such pain because Carlos feels that it is time to add to our happy family. He is excited to be a father and his face lights up at the very thought. So how do I break his heart? How do I tell him that all of our trying has been in vain because, despite my best efforts to be the person I always felt I was, I’m still not who he thinks I am?

My answer: Suck it up and tell him the truth. Maybe have him watch “The Crying Game” a few times. The relationship has already been built on a material lie, and now adding to the dishonesty by concocting a reason why children are not an option just damages the relationship further.

I do think that transgendered individuals have a difficult choice regarding the timing of this revelation as they enter a relationship, but that’s a different issue (There’s a poll on that one coming up.)

In 2012, however, I did post following an Emily Yoffe advice column (“Dear Prudence”) , and came to the opposite conclusion, in contrast to Yoffe. Then I wrote, Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/8/18: Last Weekend Before I Have To Decorate The %^&$! Christmas Tree Edition

Good morning!

1. How can this be? Based on the same documents, the President crowed that Mueller had nothin,’ and the mainstream Trump-hating media crowed that the walls were closing in. It’s a confirmation bias orgy! Charges aren’t evidence, and attempted contacts with a foreign power isn’t “collusion,” and we’ve already talked about the theory that paying off a floozy not to kiss and tell, which is 100% legal at all other times, is a stretch to call and election law violation when the rake is running for President. No such case has ever been brought; it’s dubious whether one would prevail; even if it did, this is a fining offense at most. [ For the record, this is the “resistance’s” Impeachment Plan K, in my view, one of the lamest.]

Both sides are jumping the gun. In the media’s case, it’s more fake new, future news and hype.

2. Stare decisis vs. the prohibition on double jeopardy. In Gamble v. US, just argued before the Supreme Court, the question is whether the federal government can try a citizen for the same crime a state court acquitted him of committing. I’ve always hated the rule that it can (the cops in the Rodney King case were jailed that way), because it seems clear to me that the Constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy (that’s the Fifth Amendment) was intended to prevent such trials. Still,  previous Supreme Court decisions have upheld the convictions.  In the current case, it appears from oral argument that a majority of the current justices agree with me, but are hesitant to so rule because of the doctrine of stare decisis,  which means respecting long-standing SCOTUS precedent.

A ruling to apply double jeopardy would be a ruling against stare decisis, meaning that Roe v. Wade might have less protection than many—including me–have thought. Stay tunes, and watch Justice Kavanaugh’s vote particularly.

3.  Is wanting to/needing to/ actually taking steps to changing one’s sex a mental disorder? There have been a lot of articles about this lately, especially in light of evidence that peer groups, the news media, LGBT advocacy and parents are making many young children want to change their sex before they even know what sex or gender is. The question is itself deceptive, because it pretends that “mental disorder” is anything but a label that can be used or removed with a change of attitude or political agendas. Vox writes,

Major medical organizations, like the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association, say being transgender is not a mental disorder. The APA explained this in explicit terms when it stopped using the term “gender identity disorder” in favor of “gender dysphoria”: “Part of removing stigma is about choosing the right words. Replacing ‘disorder’ with ‘dysphoria’ in the diagnostic label is not only more appropriate and consistent with familiar clinical sexology terminology, it also removes the connotation that the patient is ‘disordered.’”

Well, “removing a stigma” is hardly a valid criteria for deciding whether something is a malady or not. What being transgender “is” can’t be changed by what we call it. Recently narcissism was removed from the mental disorder list—that doesn’t change the fact that narcissists see the world and themselves in a way that most people do not, and that this perspective causes them and the people around them a lot of trouble during their lives. The process worked in reverse with alcoholism, where being officially labelled a disease removed a stigma.

I once directed the comedy/drama “Nuts,” which opines that “insanity” is just a view of reality not shared by the majority. It was on this basis that the Soviet Union sent dissidents to mental hospitals. I don’t care what various associations or professionals call these minority positions: we know that they are using bias and political agendas to devise the label. This is one area where a phrase I despise, “It is what it is,” may be appropriate. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Andrew Sullivan

Which brings me to Kavanaugh’s testimony, which was spellbinding in a different way. He behaved, it seemed to me, exactly as an innocent man would behave if accused of a crime in his teenage years — especially a crime that was unveiled by his political opponents at the very last moment. It was one that he could not possibly refute (no one can prove a negative) and it catalyzed a media frenzy — multiple gang rapes! — that continues to get more extreme every day. There’s a reason we have statutes of limitation. When alleged crimes happened decades ago, proof is very hard, and allegations much easier. And when the alleged perpetrator was also a minor, we’re in a very weird and difficult place….

Of course he was angry. Wouldn’t you be if you were innocent or had no idea where this allegation suddenly came from? He wasn’t being accused of sexual harassment, or sexual abuse as an adult in a way he could have refuted or challenged. His long-lost teenage years as a hard-drinking jock were now under the microscope. Even his yearbook was being dissected. Stupid cruelties and brags from teenage boys were now being used to define his character, dismiss his record as a judge, his sterling references, his respected scholarship, his devoted family, his relationship with women in every capacity. He had to fend off new accusations, ever more grave and ever more vague.

…To the extent that the hearing went beyond the specifics of Ford’s allegations and sought to humiliate and discredit Kavanaugh for who he was as a teenager nearly four decades ago (a dynamic that was quite pronounced in some Democratic questioning of the nominee), it was deeply concerning. When public life means the ransacking of people’s private lives even when they were in high school, we are circling a deeply illiberal drain. A civilized society observes a distinction between public and private, and this distinction is integral to individual freedom. Such a distinction was anathema in old-school monarchies when the king could arbitrarily arrest, jail, or execute you at will, for private behavior or thoughts. These lines are also blurred in authoritarian regimes, where the power of the government knows few limits in monitoring a person’s home or private affairs or correspondence or tax returns or texts. These boundaries definitionally can’t exist in theocracies, where the state is interested as much in punishing and exposing sin, as in preventing crime. The Iranian and Saudi governments — like the early modern monarchies — seek not only to control your body, but also to look into your soul. They know that everyone has a dark side, and this dark side can be exposed in order to destroy people. All you need is an accusation.

—Andrew Sullivan in his essay today, essentially stating the same points we have discussed at Ethics Alarms, but in his own inimitable, erudite style.

He’s 100% right, of course. Andrew is also a gay, Trump-hating liberal, so this is a good essay to send to your friends who are teetering on the brink of madness. They won’t listen to me; maybe he can break through.

“McCarthy And Witch Hunts And Fear, Oh My!” PART I: Director James Gunn

I don’t care to live in a culture where law-abiding citizens can have their reputations and careers destroyed by people maliciously publicizing old or private communications to make them hated or distrusted, or worse, a culture where doing this to people is deemed virtuous. Such a culture is one based on perpetual fear, where individuals cannot express an opinion that they may change later, or make a joke to a select audience, or have a conversation expressing strong but spontaneous and transient feelings without risking personal destruction at the hands of someone who wishes them ill.

That is the U.S. culture, however, that extremists on both ends of the political spectrum are successfully constructing,  unles we stop them. Their tools are political correctness, invasions of privacy, abuse of technology, social media and its attendant mobs, and an utter disregard of fairness, decency and ethics.

Two recent example illustrate how serious the problem is. This post is about one of them.

Talented writer-director James Gunn, the creative force behind the  delightful  Guardians of the Galaxy movies was fired by Disney after his old tweets containing offensive jokes were uncovered and circulated on social media and the web. The tweets were deliberately sought by conservative blogger and activist Mike Cernovich,  to intentionally wreck Gunn’s career. Gunn’s real offense was that he has been a vocal “resistance” recruit and a prominent conservative-hater, so once Cernovich had the goods on him, the Right was happy to use them.

No doubt, Gunn’s old tweets included jokes that many would consider worthy of Roseanne Barr on a careless day, like

  • “Laughter is the best medicine. That’s why I laugh at people with AIDS.”
  • “I like when little boys touch me in my silly place.”
  • “The best thing about being raped is when you’re done being raped and it’s like ‘whew this feels great, not being raped!’”

Gunn, realizing that joking about pederasty, rape and AIDS was sufficient to get him Kevin Spaceyed for life, tried to explain:

Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over. In the past, I have apologized for humor of mine that hurt people. I truly felt sorry and meant every word of my apologies. For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn’t living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it. Anyway, that’s the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore. I don’t blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today. Love you to you all.

I believe him. I believe him, though something nasty in me would love to know if he was telling friends that the Milwaukee Brewers should punish Josh Hader for the racist tweets he made in high school, because this whole phenomenon is a Golden Rule matter. That has been the Ethics Alarms position forever, including during the 2014 Donald Sterling Ethics Train Wreck, in which an NBA owner lost his team, millions in fines, and his reputation after his mistress taped an ugly conversation they had in his bedroom and circulated it. I reiterated this position most recently in May of this year:

The position of Ethics Alarms on these incidents, which also includes spurned lovers sharing private emails to the world in order to humiliate a correspondent, the Democratic Senators who leaked the President’s coarse rhetoric about “shithole” countries that took place during a meeting that was supposed to be private and confidential, and Donald Trump’s infamous “pussy-grabbing” statements, is simple. Once the embarrassing words are unethically made public, they can’t be ignored, Once the embarrassing words have unethically made public, they can’t be ignored. Neither should the circumstances of their making, or the unethical nature of their subsequent use was weapons of personal destruction.

There is not a human being alive who has not made statements in private meetings or conversations, whether  those statements be jokes, insults, rueful observations or deliberate hyperbole, that would be horribly inappropriate as public utterances. Thus the feigned horror at such statements by others is the rankest kind of Golden Rule hypocrisy. In addition, the opprobrium and public disgrace brought down on the heads of those whose mean/ugly/politically incorrect/vulgar/ nasty/insulting words are made public by a treacherous friend, associate or colleague erodes every American’s freedom of thought, association and expression, as well as their privacy.

And yes, to anticipate the objection, I do not regard social media posts by non-public persons who later become celebrities to be truly public communications. They are, in the minds of the foolish individuals who send them, personal messages aimed at friendly audiences, and not intended for public circulation. In reaching this position I am influenced by the legal ethics and judicial rule regarding what is public knowledge regarding a former client that can be used by a lawyer . Simply because information is included in a public document that anyone can access doesn’t mean it is considered public enough for a lawyer to reveal it if the information involves a client. Most people don’t know about those facts because they don’t know how to find them, where to look, or whether the information even exists. Information doesn’t become truly public until it is widely accessible and disseminated. Once Gunn (and Hader) became celebrities, their social media presence was public, but not before. True, both Gunn and Hader should have realized that what they posted when they were nobody special had suddenly become a matter of public interest, and true, people need to start thinking that way, but most of our newly famous just don’t. Continue reading