Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/6/2020: No, We’re Not On The Eve Of Destruction. Stop Saying That!

But thanks for an excuse to play the #2 most stupid psuedo-profound pop song of all time, #1 being, of course, “Imagine.” Take it away, Barry!

1. Mouse in the house. In the 30 years our home was patrolled by Jack Russell terriers, we virtually never saw a mouse (though Rugby literally wouldn’t hurt a fly). Lately, however, we have seen several, including a really, really cute one who is amazingly bold. This tiny mouse has big black eyes and little pink ears, with reddish brown fur. He also seems to like my wife, whom he crept up on the sofa to sit by repeatedly last night while she was napping. Ethically, we are at an impasse. I keep thinking about “Ben and Me,” the Disney cartoon about Ben Franklin’s apocryphal mouse pal, and my wife can’t bear the thought of killing her new fan. But we can’t have mice running around the house.

2. From the Ethics Alarms mail bag: Guess the rationalization! Steve Witherspoon aks what rationalization General Mattis’s fatuous statement, “We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers,”  from his attack on the President evokes. Several, in fact. It’s a clear #22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things,”  as well as the suddenly popular #64. Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is.” Riots in dozens of cities, arson, looting and attacks on over 100 police cannot be called “a small number of lawbreakers.” It’s also a neat #59. The Golden Rule Mutation, or “I’m all right with it!” As long as those “small number of lawbreakers” aren’t threatening Mattis or his family, he’s willing to accept what happens…to other people being victimized by rioters. Continue reading

“What’s Good For The Goose Is Good For The Gander” Isn’t “Good” For A Lawyer

New Jersey lawyer Brian LeBon Calpin might still be practicing law instead of serving a suspension for a year if he had only perused the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List. Or if he had followed ABA ethics opinions. Or if he had properly functioning ethics alarms.

A former client, a massage parlor owner, had  given him negative online reviews of legal skills and acumen. In retaliation, Calpin posted a negative review of her business, which he later defended with the “what is good for the goose is good for the gander” line. (It’s “sauce for the goose,”not “good,” you illiterate clod!) Calpin wrote,

“Well, Angee is a convicted felon for fleeing the state with children. A wonderful parent. Additionally, she has been convicted of shoplifting from a supermarket. Hide your wallets well during a massage. Oops, almost forgot about the DWI conviction. Well, maybe a couple of beers during the massage would be nice.”

Unfortunately, as Calpin would have known if he attended my last ethics seminar, the ABA has clarified in a recent ethics opinion what other state bar associations have held, which is that just because information about a former client is published and available to someone looking for it, unless it is is generally known as in “widely recognized by members of the public in the relevant geographic area”or “widely recognized in the former client’s industry, profession or trade,” the information is still protected by attorney-client confidentiality, and cannot be disclosed by the client’s lawyer. That’s the professional ethics prohibition on what Calpin did. The Ethics Alarms list explains what’s unethical about “sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” in Rationalizations 1, 2, 2A, 7, 11A, 17, 24A, 40A, 53, and 59.

As is usually the case, Calpin’s career shows other evidence of flawed ethics alarms. The disciplinary board noted that he had previously violated ethics rules regarding neglect, diligence, keeping clients informed, delivering client funds or property, and returning client property after representation. He’s lucky that he’ll get his license back after only a year.

Whether New Jersey residents should consider that lucky is another issue.

The Ethics Alarms Directory Of “Fake News”: Prelude

The first use of the tag “fake news” on this website was on March 4, 2015. That’s more than three months before Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President on June 16, 2015; the oft-published claim that Trump launched the term “fake news” to deride the news media for criticizing him and his Presidency is, ironically enough, fake news.

The 2015 piece was about CNBC publishing as legitimate news a press release by an anti-vaxx group, a category of fake news called “Hearsay news” in today’s directory to come. I posted three more articles tagged “fake news” before Trump was elected. One of them was the Mother of All Fake News episodes, when the Boston Globe hit the news stands and front walks on April 10, 2016 featuring a satirical front page with headlines about a fictional, dystopian Donald Trump Presidency. “This is Donald Trump’s America. What you read on this page is what might happen if the GOP frontrunner can put his ideas into practice, his words into action,” went the introduction. I wrote in part

This is a spectacular  failure of professionalism and a journalistic disgrace. A newspaper is pledged to report the news, not imagine it. It is not ethically entitled to morph into Saturday Night Live or the Onion because it really, really, really feels strongly about an issue….No paper published such a “future news” piece about the world under Nazi rule, or the race war if civil rights laws didn’t change. No respectable publication predicted a similar dystopian future under President Huey Long, or Joe McCarthy, or what a U.S. with open borders would look like, or what a Ron Paul style US with heroin for sale off drug store counters would lead to. That is because this means of political advocacy and commentary is reserved for the features and entertainment sections, not where facts are supposed to be, and where readers must be able to expect a reasonable attempt at truth, not a showboating effort to distort it.

The episode marked, as it turned out, the beginning of an epidemic of metaphorical canaries dying in the poisoned mine of American journalism. Continue reading

“You Keep Using That Word, ‘Ethics.’ I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means…” [CORRECTED!]

The Wisconsin Ethics Commission is a supposedly essential and honorable government agency whose mission is “ to promote and strengthen the faith and confidence of the people of Wisconsin in their government, support the operation of open and responsible government, preserve the integrity of the governmental decision-making process, and protect the rights of individuals through the administration of Wisconsin’s campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws, and through readily available and understandable disclosure of information.​”

Democrat Scot Ross was named to Wisconsin’s state Ethics Commission last week.  What are his qualifications? Well, he’s a career partisan journalist and bare-knuckles political activist, neither of which are occupations that tend to build strong ethics alarms, or, as they are currently conceived, have any use for them. They do have a tendency to vomit out people like Ross.

This week,  the new ethics commission member retweeted a photoshopped image —Do I really have to show it to you? I guess I do— Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Month: Speaker Nancy Pelosi

There’s Joe, being Joe Biden again!

“Here’s the thing. I have complete respect for whole #Metoo movement, I have four daughters and one son. And there’s a lot of excitement around the idea that women will be heard and be listened to.There is also due process and the fact that Joe Biden is Joe Biden.”

 Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, on why Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden couldn’t possibly be true, as she responded to a question about how she justified treating Biden’s accuser differently from Bret Kavanaugh’s accuser.

“Joe Biden is Joe Biden.”

“Joe Biden is Joe Biden”????

Is there any conceivable reading of that statement that isn’t unethical?

Does she mean that Joe Biden isn’t Bret Kavanaugh, so he should be subject to a different standard? Unethical.

Does she mean that Joe Biden, being Joe Biden, is such a boon to American society that he deserves to get away with sexual assault?  That’s Rationalization #11, The King’s Pass. Unethical. Continue reading

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

“Pay What You Can” Ethics

A question in an advice column asked if it was unethical to pay nothing for a product or service that was priced at “pay what you can.” It reminded me of an ongoing disagreement I had with the board of my theater company regarding holding a “pay-what you can” performance in each production’s run. Many of the other Greater Washington theaters were employing the tactic, and one of the main arguments  for our theater doing the same was “Everybody does it.” You know what I think of THAT logic.

There was an altruistic, community spirited argument, of course: provide an opportunity for people who couldn’t afford typical theater prices. That sounds good, but in practice the theory was more ideology than reality. When we tried the gimmick, almost all of the attendees were people who regarded it as a chance to pay less than they usually did, as in “almost nothing.” People who don’t go to theater mostly aren’t interested in theater. Our prices were under 30 bucks a ticket, far less than many of our competitors, and children were admitted free, another concession to the needs of theater-loving families with limited budgets. Again, almost nobody took advantage of that benefit.

My objections to “pay-what-you-can”: Continue reading

When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: The Michael Bublé Video

International singing superstar Michael Bublé has  been joined by his wife, Luisana Lopilato, on Instagram Live every day during the pandemic, entertaining his homes-bound fans. However, as you can see in the video above, a moment last week in which he elbowed Luisana with a hint of malice during a recent video livestream had creepy vibes, and it disturbed many viewers. The moment took only a second: as she started speaking over him, he made deliberate contact with her in a flash of anger, and she apologize to him. The celebrity news media, always eager for a scandal, publicized and criticized the incident, as the singer was flamed on social media.

I heard about the episode, and approached it assuming that it was a #MeToo over-reaction, with the singer becoming an innocent target being prepared as q sacrifice  for the greater good of womankind. Then I saw the clip, as well as some of the others shown in the  video above. Boy. I don’t know.

What I saw would make (and has made, in the past)  me very nervous if I observed the same kinds of interactions and body language between any couple I engaged with socially. How hard should it be to display good manners and not engage in questionable conduct like that on a live TV broadcast? The fact that the singer reacted instinctively in such an ugly manner strongly suggests that this is normal conduct for him, or worse, that he was restraining himself. Continue reading

Introducing The 102nd Rationalization: Kennedy’s Stall, Or “We’ll Cross That Bridge When We Come To It.’

The latest rationalization for the list came to my attention when I used it myself.

I have been reading various opinion pieces and reports about the stance of anti-vaxxers as researchers push to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible for the Wuhan virus.  A Daily Beast essay cautioned that the need for haste had to be balanced against the consequences of failure:

“Urgent as the need is, public health leaders warn, moving too quickly could have disastrous consequences not only for reining in COVID-19, but for vaccines more broadly. If a vaccine is released that doesn’t work well or yields dangerous side effects—especially in the face of an historic pandemic—it could empower anti-vaccine activists and reduce support for other longstanding vaccines that have gone through rigorous and exhaustive testing”

My reaction to that was instant: “What sense does it make to moderate your efforts to solve an urgent problem because you are worried about a possible future irrational reaction to an adverse result? “You cross that bridge when (and if) you come to it,” I thought. Then the faint sound of an ethics alarm ringing caught my attention. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “From Australia, A Cancel Culture Chapter That I Don’t Understand At All”

Reader JP, who is a minister, had a fascinating reaction to the post about the Australian cartoonist in the process of being “canceled” because he had the audacity to mock mothers who pay more attention to their cell phones than their infants. Australians, especially mothers and feminists, are furious…because he criticized conduct that nobody denies occurs.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “From Australia, A Cancel Culture Chapter That I Don’t Understand At All”:

“Is guilt driving the attacks on Michael Leunig? Is that it? They are punishing a truth-teller for using satire and humor to hold a mirror up to their faces like satirists and social commentators are supposed to do? If that cartoon sparks such anger, what would these people have done to Swift, Voltaire, Gilbert, Shaw, Parker, Wodehouse, Vidal, or even Dave Barry?”

A few years ago,  I was teaching this class on 1 Corinthians. It had been going on for about a month at this point where we got to the section on marriage, divorce, and adultery. Most of the class focused on the marriage part. Very little was said about divorce and adultery. I didn’t focus on it too much. In a class like this, I tend to let discussion stay with the interests of the class. I did address divorce and adultery as real problems of the church and  said they should not be ignored.

After class, a women came up to me and let me have it.  According to her, divorce and adultery were “none of the church’s business.” She was pretty passionate about it, so I let it go. She wasn’t at the next class  I assumed she was making a point because she thought that I would never agree with her.

A month later, her husband dragged her into my office, saying she been committing adultery. He wanted to know what he should do about it. She wouldn’t look a me. I suggested a professional counselor, and that was the last time I saw either of them. Continue reading