Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/24/2021: The Sarcasm Edition

First appearance in 2021 of my favorite Ethics Warm-Up intro. Maybe that’s why 2021 ethics has gotten off to such a rotten start…

In addition to its significance in the siege of the Alamo, yesterday’s date of February 24 has other important ethics markers, perhaps some more important than Travis’s iconic letter. Perhaps the most impact on U.S. history was this date in 1803, when Chief Justice John Marshall (no relation that has been shown to my satisfaction) handed down the landmark decision in William Marbury v. James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States, establishing the legal principle of judicial revie. That’s what gives the Supreme Court the authority to limit Congressional power by declaring legislation unconstitutional. I doubt very much that the United States would still exist as a free republic had not that case been decided as it was, yet the result was probably dictated more by partisan politics than philosophy.

Marshall, in his majority opinion, declared that acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution are not valid law and therefore are non-binding on the courts, and that the judiciary’s first responsibility is always to uphold the Constitution. And if two laws conflict, Marshall wrote, SCOTUS has the responsibility of deciding which law applies in any given case. Periodically members of Congress, pundits and even academics have criticized the decision, but there can be little doubt that had Marshall not led the Court to make this stand, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would have been quickly shredded.

This is particularly relevant now, when the Democrats in Congress have signaled that they want government authorities to decree what is factual and what is “disinformation,” while they also seek to weaken Second Amendment rights. Incidentally, there is a prominent statue of Marshall at the Supreme Court, and a recast in John Marshall Park, near Judiciary Square, also in D.C. Another recast is in Philadelphia. Marshall owned hundreds of slaves, which is entirely irrelevant to his essential influence on our government and values. Clearly, many, perhaps most, of the college students in the U.S. would prefer that a non-slave owner had headed the Court, even if it resulted in a nation that slipped into allowing the virtual slavery of all citizens to a national government that “knew what was best.”

1. Oh, sure. Why not? We all know that committees are so effective at leadership. A letter signed by three dozen House Democrats urge Joe Biden to relinquish full control over the country’s nuclear weapons in favor of a committee of legislators. “…Vesting one person with this authority entails real risks,” states the letter, inspired by Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California. “Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concern about the president’s judgment.While any president would presumably consult with advisors before ordering a nuclear attack, there is no requirement to do so,” the letter adds. “The military is obligated to carry out the order if they assess it is legal under the laws of war. Under the current posture of U.S. nuclear forces, that attack would happen in minutes.”

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Ethics Observations On The University Archeologist’s Obelisk-Toppling Tweets

To topple, just read the diagram backwards!

University of Alabama at Birmingham archeologist Sarah Parcak tweeted detailed instructions on how to bring down an obelisk over the weekend, using 12 detailed tweets  as George Floyd rioters in the college town  tore down a statue of Charles Linn, a Confederate Navy captain and one of the founders of Birmingham . She then coyly suggested that “there might be’ an obelisk in downtown Birmingham,” and that the obelisks “might be masquerading as a racist monument.” There is, in fact, a Confederate monument in Birmingham, and it is an obelisk. Sure enough, it was targeted by rioters.

The esteemed professor began by saying her comments were a public service announcement.

“PSA For ANYONE who might be interested in how to pull down an obelisk* safely from an Egyptologist who never ever in a million years thought this advice might come in handy,” she wrote. “There might be one just like this in downtown Birmingham! What a coincidence. Can someone please show this thread to the folks there…Just keep pulling till there’s good rocking, there will be more and more and more tilting, you have to wait more for the obelisk to rock back and time it to pull when it’s coming to you. Don’t worry you’re close!… WATCH THAT SUMBITCH TOPPLE GET THE %^&* OUT OF THE WAY IT WILL SMASH RUN AWAY FROM DIRECTION. Then celebrate. Because #BlackLivesMatter and good riddance to any obelisks pretending to be ancient Egyptian obelisks when they are in fact celebrating racism and white nationalism.”

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