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

Lunch time Ethics Warm-Up, 3/19/19: Madea, Plan C, And More.

Yum yum!

Winging off to San Diego in a couple of hours, so be on the alert for an Open Forum while I’m in the air. It’s amazing: I’m going to spend two and a half days of air travel and hanging around a hotel and airports to give a 75 minute legal ethics presentation, albeit to a mob of over 600 lawyers.

1.  From the Ethics Alarms double standards files…

Let’s see: this film has gross black stereotypes and a man in drag, but not in a good, transgender way. I assume nobody will disagree that if this film was made by a white man, it would be received with horror and declared racist, and the white filmmaker would be apologizing to everyone and everything in sight.

2. The return of Plan C! As most recently noted here, Plan C is the obscure and outdated Emoluments Clause. In a series of tweets reviving the specious accusation  President Trump is violating the Constitution by owning businesses while he is President, something never anticipated by the Founders and an issue that was barely discussed by the news media during the campaign, Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics who long ago declared himself a “resistance” ally,condemned the Embassy of Kuwait’s decision to celebrate its National Liberation Day at the hotel on Feb. 27. He wrote,

 “Kuwait got the message. Turkey got the message. Saudi Arabia got the message. The Philippines got the message. The question is: Which of our allies will stand with the American people, and which will seek to enrich our corrupt President? We will watch. We will remember.”

Oh, eat a bug. Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 8) stipulates that no federal officeholders “shall receive gifts or payments from foreign state or rulers without the consent of Congress.” But payments obviously means pay-offs, and payment for services isn’t a gift. Not are Trump organization receipts payments to the President. I note that Shaub is now a fellow at The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which I used to write about more before I got sick of it. It is the political equivalent of Media Matters, posing as an ethics watchdog when it’s agenda and biases are flagrantly partisan. I regard Shaub using his prior position as authority a breach of ethics: he’s posing as an objective analyst, and he’s not. Indeed, resorting to the silly Emoluments Clause to attack Trump is signature significance. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up: Algorithms, The Beatles, Baseball, Football, And Omarosa

Good morning.

1.  More Scorpion-Frog Ethics. I refuse to do a full post on Omarosa, the latest slimy opportunist the mainstream media is suddenly treating as a trsutworthy source because she claims to have dirt to spill on President Trump. To ist credit, NPR is at least flagging her sliminess, in a post titled “Omarosa Tells NPR She Heard Trump ‘N-Word Tape,’ Contradicting Her Own Tell-All Book.”

As I wrote regarding Manigault Newman previously (and the same applies to Michael Cohen), one can be nauseated by the disloyalty, dishonesty and venality of such scum and still have little sympathy for their victim, Trump, who was a fool to trust such obviously untrustworthy individuals, give them influences, notoriety and power they are unfit to have, and still claim to be hiring and appointing “the best people.”

The same sentiment applies to the biased, obsessed and incompetent news media. If journalists keep presenting present the likes of Omarosa, Cohen, Stormy Daniels, Michael Wolff, and, yes, James Comey, as credible first-hand Trump accusers, how can they expect the public to take any legitimate future accusers seriously, should any appear? Their predecessors will have all been obvious publicity-seekers, shake-down artists, motivated by personal agendas or greed, and obviously so. The news media, meanwhile, undermines its own credibility—what little remains–by so eagerly treating these tarnished sources as if they were not what they so obviously are.

2. They’re baaaack!. The NFL’s pre-season games are underway, and what do you know? The players are kneeling again, protesting during the National Anthem in what they deny is a protest of the National Anthem in what the news media regularly calls the “National Anthem protests.”  Wait, what’s that protest about, exactly? The New York Times has settled on “social inequality and police brutality.” And what do they mean? Here’s the latest interpretation by one of the most prominent Kneelers, Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles:

“Before we enjoy this game lets take some time to ponder that more than 60% of the prison population are people of color. The NFL is made up of 70% African Americans. What you witness on the field does not represent the reality of everyday America. We are the anomalies…”

Anomalies because they aren’t in jail? That sounds rather racist to me. Anomalies because they make millions of dollars? Are the Kneelers saying that all African Americans should be making a lot of money? That prison populations should be representative of the same demographic percentages as the public as a whole? Is he calling for affirmative action in the courts (social justice, I guess) or claiming that the large black prison population is caused by police brutality?  That’s funny: I assume that it is because a disproportionate number of blacks are committing crimes. Is that their fault, or the fault of NFL ticket-holders? This remains the most incoherent, self-indulgent protest ever, and one that prompted one of the President’s more accurate tweets–-two, in fact:

The NFL players are at it again – taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem. Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their “outrage” at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love………..Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of that money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!

That last part relates to the also incoherent NFL policy on kneeling during the anthem. On this, Jenkins told Philly.com, “Quite frankly, guys in our league don’t like being told what to do, what they can and can’t do. We don’t have this type of policies for the other causes we support, whether it be our ‘Salute to Service,’ or breast cancer awareness, or anything else. It’s just when you start talking about black folks, quite frankly. It’s disheartening, but we’ll continue to be creative.”

Huh? Employers in all professions and occupations tell employees what to do, and on-the-job protests disrupting the workplace are universally forbidden. (I know you guys are “anomalies,” Malcolm, but you still collect a paycheck…) Do these players really not see the distinction between engaging in a league-approved promotion like ‘Salute to Service,’ or breast cancer awareness, and a wildcat protest that annoys and insults paying customers? Is anyone going to fact-check that misleading statement,  as someone like Snopes undoubtedly will, regarding the President’s mistaken claim that “most of that money goes to the players”?

Then, “quite frankly,” we get the race card. Of course! “When all else fails…”

Does anyone seriously believe that if only white football players were protesting during the National Anthem, nobody would object? Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/8/17: Featuring The Most Depressing Question You Have Heard In A Long Time. I Hope.

Good Morning!

1 Yesterday there was a fascinating article on how the famous opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” was (perhaps) made. I have been meaning to make a comment about the new Sirius-XM Beatles Channel, which I had occasion to listen to for many hours while being trapped in traffic jams and construction driving back and forth to Virginia Beach and Richmond, and this is a good time to post it.

I have been getting lousy, dishonest, bait-and-switch service and products with such regularity lately, ranging from an investment firm that couldn’t send the proper forms to give me access to my own money, to Verizon, which has been giving me a six-month runaround while its slooooow WiFi breaks down for days, to Progresso soup, which either decided to put what looks and feels like ground up chicken bones in its vegetable soup, or just the can I bought, that I  had despaired of again seeing anything approaching excellence for the sake of excellence  from a U.S. business until I returned to Disneyland or Fenway Park. The Beatles Channel makes the grade. It isn’t just the songs, which would have made the channel a hit all by themselves. Sirius-XM includes scholarship, history, musicology, rare recordings, interviews, celebrity and non-celebrity disc jockeys and cultural analysis, around the clock, with new programming every day. I’ve sat through college courses that were less thorough, and too many courses to count, in both college and graduate school, that were less informative and valuable. There are some things worth paying for, and products that are better than you expected!

2. The New York Times  headline after a hard day’s night for the GOP in Virginia and New Jersey: DEMOCRATS SCORE TWO BIG VICTORIES IN TRUMP REBUKE.

I’m sure it was the koi.

This is flagrant spin and distortion, and unethical journalism. The New York Times should just put “You hate the President, you know you do” on the banner. The Times didn’t call last November’s across the board rejection of Democrats in state house races and Congress an “Obama rebuke,” though it was, and the results in Virginia and New Jersey cannot be fairly pinned on Trump. The two state governors races went pretty much as everyone assumed they would months ago. New Jersey’s result, from a very Democratic state, was a predictable rejection of its spectacularly failed and detested Republican governor, and Virginia’s election of a moderate Democrat over a Republican who tried to both reject Trump while trying to hitch-hike on some of his better positions was predictable as well.

I would also guess that the Donna Brazile revelations about the Democratic Party’s corruption is not on  typical voter’s radar, so the wave of self-hating Democrats staying home that some predicted did not materialize. The Texas shooting, however, probably activated the always vigorous “The Constitution be damned, think of the children!” knee-jerk progressive block to go to the polls.

By now the Times’ routine propaganda tricks are no surprise, but the practice of attaching editorial comments connoting negative implications for the President is neither fair nor objective. But then, the news media knows this: it is attempting a coup by poisoning public opinion. This is the major ethics story—and ethics crisis—in the nation today, and has been so for a year.

3. Now a compliment to the New York Times. Finally, someone wrote an relatively honest article regarding the causes of mass shootings in the U.S. “What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer” is the online version; the print edition headline is “Only One Thing Explains Mass Shootings In The United States.” Both headlines are misleading—the Times has a headline problem—but the article’s main point is correct: “The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.”

Not inadequate laws. Not enforcement. Not crazy people. Not crime. Not the NRA.

Just lots of guns.

Thank you.

The Times also correctly hints at—it could have and should have done more than hint—why we have more guns than any other country:

In the process of making a comparison between the US and Switzerland, which as the country with second highest gun ownership rate has far fewer shootings (Fun Facts! Switzerland, like Australia, isn’t the United States, and the Swiss, like Australians, are not like Americans), the Times notes,

“Swiss gun laws are more stringent, setting a higher bar for securing and keeping a license, for selling guns and for the types of guns that can be owned. Such laws reflect more than just tighter restrictions. They imply a different way of thinking about guns, as something that citizens must affirmatively earn the right to own.”

Translation: The United States protects and guarantees the inherent human right to self-defense and autonomy, and Switzerland doesn’t. In the U.S., the wise Founders, government doesn’t have to grant you the right to own a gun; you already have it. Or in other words, Switzerland isn’t the United States. (See above.) God bless America.

The Times continues under the heading “The Difference is Culture”:

“The United States is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the opposite assumption: that people have an inherent right to own guns.The main reason American regulation of gun ownership is so weak may be the fact that the trade-offs are simply given a different weight in the United States than they are anywhere else.”

May be”? That’s exactly why Swiss-style “regulation”—as in “We tell you if you can own a gun and what kind of gun you ‘need., Citizen!”—isn’t an option in the U.S. The Constitution also gives the right to speech a different “weight” than other cultures do, and the amount of certainty required to send someone to prison, and when the police can search your home, and many other examples where this nation and this culture insists that individuals and individual rights come first, not government power. The fact that the United States accepts the costs of individual liberty is what makes it the United States.

There are so many guns in the U.S. because Americans like guns, and in this country, people generally can make and get what they like. They should like guns: the United States,more than others, owes its existence to guns. Our most popular entertainment involves guns. Most of all, the #2 mandate in the Bill of Rights guarantees that every citizen begins life with the right to own guns.

Mass shootings are a side effect of the Second Amendment and the core individual right to be armed. The only way to reduce such shootings is to eliminate that right and confiscate guns. Either the currently vocal anti-gun zealots understand this and are lying, or they don’t, and are ignorant.

[The National Review has some legitimate criticism of the Times data analysis, but it doesn’t affect the validity of the Times general conclusion.]

4. Here’s the depressing ethics note of the day, or perhaps the year. On the first day of jury deliberations at the bribery trial of Senator Robert Menendez, a juror asked the judge a basic question: “What is a Senator?”

I guess a necessary voir dire question or two was omitted by the lawyers .

The judge should disqualify that juror.

A Lesson In The Dangers of Wise-assery, Hindsight Bias, And Moral Luck

allan-sherman-2

Once upon a time, a fat, spectacled, pleasant amateur song parodist sold millions of records with what middle-aged college grads thought were witty musical critiques of Sixties life and culture. His name was Allan Sherman, and one of those witty songs was this:

Therein lies some useful lessons which we all should absorb:

1. What seems like a valid opinion today might well seem incredibly stupid to virtually everybody later.

2. Venturing outside your expertise is always risky.

3.  Everything seems obvious in hindsight. In most cases, it was anything but.

4. Yesterday’s wit is tomorrow’s ignorance.

5. Whether your opinion is going to make you look like a prophet or a fool is often nothing but moral luck.

6. Criticizing someone for views proven invalid by subsequent developments no one could have foreseen is consequentialism, and unfair.

7. People will do it anyway.

8. We are all Allan Sherman. We just don’t know how.

It’s hard to imagine now that John, Paul, George and Ringo are icons and deserving ones, but back in 1964 it was considered wise and clever to make fun of their hair, their fans and pronounce them untalented hacks. At the beginning of the British invasion, many sophisticates regarded the Beatles as indistinguishable from the legendary Dave Clark Five, and a passing fancy no more significant that the hula hoop.

Mock them now at your peril. Your time will come…in fact, it probably already has.

 

Comment of the Day: “The Beatles And Plagiarism”

Then there are Golden Rule considerations...

Then there are Golden Rule considerations…

There were many outstanding comments today, but I have a soft spot in my heart for any comment that completes a post that I decided to shorten by raising the issue I omitted for length. Thus johnburger2013 gets another Comment of the Day nod for his musings on the elusive lines between homage, inspirations, quotes and plagiarism in music.

The three examples discussed in my post are not close calls, I’d insist: my friend, actor/lawyer/ classic rock maven David Elias informs me that John Lennon actually confessed that he had plagiarized the Chuck Berry song, and his was the least egregious steal of the three. Other instances, however, are not so clear cut: If he hadn’t sung all of them, a case could be made that every Gary Puckett song was plagiarized from every other one. (The same, in fact, has been said of Chuck Berry.)

In researching the Beatles story, I found an entertaining site called Sounds Just Like which explores johnb’s “line.” Most are a stretch: No, I don’t think John Williams ripped off Darth Vader’s theme from Mary Poppins’ “A Spoonful of Sugar.” But I do know that Arthur Sullivan was imitating Mendelssohn big time in “Iolanthe,” and that recognizable musical quotes are important tools of the trade that should not be strangled by overzealous copyright prosecutions.

Here is johnburger2013’s Comment of the Day on the post, The Beatles And Plagiarism: Continue reading